Marisa awoke just before seven, feeling alert and refreshed. The one silver lining of this whole affair, she reflected, was that she had been sleeping better than she ever had in her life.
She had to restrain herself from simply sprinting out the door to the nearest southbound subway. Arriving too soon at The Olympian (God, the pretentious name, it made her want to vomit) would force her to deal with too many people leaving on their way to work. She forced herself to eat, forced herself to do the dishes and brush her teeth, forced herself to check her bag one final time.
She could have emailed Brad and called in sick at work that day, but Marisa had simply forgotten what day it was. As she prepared, the Monday-ness of that morning was completely lost on her.
Only once she thought she would arrive at the right time did Marisa open the closet and take out the aluminum softball bat.
Quentin Hallam rubbed his eyes, stifling a groan. He was looking at another all-nighter, trying to break Katherine Alexander. It had not been as easy as he had hoped.
Keeping her in trance indefinitely seemed like a powerful weapon at first, but he constantly kept running into reminders that trance was still trance. Reminders that he should not have needed, honestly; he had taught and deployed all of these lessons over and over again. But every time she spoke, her voice keeping that trance monotone despite starting to show strains of exhaustion, he would get excited again and forget everything he ought to know by heart.
“How are you feeling, Katherine?” he said for perhaps the fiftieth time.
“So tired...” her head had started to hang. She couldn’t keep it erect for much longer than a few minutes. He had decided to let it go after the third painful cramp in her neck muscles.
“But the music is so relaxing, isn’t it, Katherine?”
“Yesssss...” She let the word out with a breath, dragging it out over three syllables.
“What is the problem, Katherine?” The hope was that she would respond, Marisa.
This hope had been repeatedly dashed over the course of the night. “Sore ... all over ...”
“Relax, Katherine,” Hallam said. “Listen to the music and relax.”
Kat was not not relaxed. The cramps and muscle pains that were coming more and more often to her back and neck were there, but she was only intermittently aware of them, and they did not hurt. Kat, who had never in her life gone into trance deep enough to experience anesthesia in her limbs, would have been amazed if she were able to process it.
“How are you feeling, Katherine?”
“Sore ... and relaxed...”
Her voice had become raspy, and Hallam understood that he could continue no longer without supplying her with water. He cursed himself inwardly. Should have thought of this before I started.
Perhaps he could provide her with intravenous feeding? He had no experience with such things — though he had his doctorate in an ostensibly medical field, he did not consider himself “that kind of doctor” — but the internet was a phenomenal tool for learning. He turned his attention away from the System Room feed long enough to Google “homemade IV” and found the results quite enlightening.
Hallam went to his kitchen, but found no clean glasses. In the short term, she would need bottled water; in the longer term, he would need more esoteric supplies.
Hallam said into his phone, “You’re doing so well, Katherine. Think back to the first time you were hypnotized. It would be so relaxing to tell me about it.”
As he went to put on clean clothes, Hallam heard Kat’s voice, strained from dehydration and several instances of sobbing over the previous night, begin to recount the tale. He didn’t need to listen. He had heard this story before.
Marisa’s phone said ten-fifteen AM when she arrived at The Olympian. The weather had warmed ten degrees from the day before, and Washington Square Park was already in full swing. This would be the first park-blanket day of the year.
Marisa did not pause to enter the park or make her plan. She’d had more than enough time to plan already. The only thing she had really worried about was taking the aluminum bat onto the subway; you never knew who might freak out about such things. But she had dressed for softball, sweatpants and a plain blue T-shirt, and no one had given her a second glance.
The tall and beefy man with the name tag ROBINSON was at the Olympian’s front desk again. Marisa had hoped he would be the business-hours regular, and she was right. She got his attention, and he buzzed her in.
“Hi,” Marisa said, approaching the desk. “I was here yesterday, looking for my girlfriend?”
“Yeah, I remember,” Antoine Robinson said. He did remember this girl, but if someone had asked him to remember what her girlfriend looked like, he would not have been able to give a description. He was neither telling the truth, nor lying, when he next said, “Haven’t seen her around.”
“I’ve asked around all over the neighborhood,” Marisa said, adding an apologetic note to her voice. “This is the last place I’m sure she visited. Can I show you the picture again? Just to be sure?”
Antoine Robinson had seen a similar missing-person story develop on his block, as a kid, and he was sympathetic. Perhaps something from deep within his subconscious was driving him as well, as he said, “Sure.”
Marisa took the picture of Kat out of her backpack, and held it up before Robinson’s face. Robinson saw the auburn-haired woman in the picture. He had a moment of—
(Haven’t I seen...)
—recognition, before his thoughts skittered away from him.
Later, he would say the sensation was like listening to music on the subway, not really looking at anything at all, and then realizing that you were staring down a person the entire time, creeping them out without meaning to do so. Except that, with the photo of the auburn-haired woman, he never had the moment of realization. He stared and stared, letting his mind wander.
There was no music, but that didn’t matter to him at all.
This was the key part of Marisa’s plan. If it didn’t work, she would have to back out and try something else. Probably something stupid and dangerous.
After their third or fourth scene together, a particularly long and involved fantasy about vampires, Marisa had said to Kat, That was so amazing. How much work was it to write that? How long did it take? And Kat had stunned her with the reply, I didn’t write anything. Once you were in trance, you did all the hard work yourself.
Marisa didn’t know how to put a person in trance, or so she thought. But as she had drawn up her plan she had realized that, in this case, someone had taken care of the trance already. All she had to do was be a vaguely hypnotic presence, and Mr. Robinson would do the hard work all on his own.
However, being a hypnotic presence wasn’t as easy as Kat made it feel. Marisa measured her words carefully before saying, “Are you concentrating on the photo, Mister ... um, Mister Robinson?”
Robinson’s head went down, then up again, a slow-motion nod.
“That’s great. I ... uh ... really appreciate it.”
Robinson said nothing, and Marisa cursed herself. Say something useful, brain! He doesn’t care how you feel right now!
First things first. Calling him Mister was going to drive her crazy. “What’s your first name?”
“Antoine.” What does trance feel like with Kat? Like I’m going down and feeling great. “You’re going great, Antoine. You can, um, you can concentrate better on the picture if you relax even more. It’s like being in the building’s elevator. You’re at the tenth floor, and going down ... floor nine ... floor eight...”
His body didn’t show any further signs of relaxation as she counted him down. His arm and head remained perfectly still, holding the picture in exactly the same place as when he’d first seen it. His eyes remained locked on the image of Kat, with nary a blink to be seen. Marisa was familiar with this. Body catalepsy was one of the first things she and Kat had done together, before either of them had been comfortable trying a full scene.
“Second floor, you’re almost there ... and at the ground floor, deeply relaxed. So deep. Uh ... really deep.” Get to the freakin’ point, Svengali. “So deep that you can easily remember the woman in the picture. Have you seen her before, Antoine?”
“Yeah,” he muttered.
“Did you see her with Professor Hallam?”
His brow furrowed, just a little, but enough for Marisa to notice. “Can’t say.”
“You don’t know, or you can’t say?”
“Can’t ... say.”
Marisa grinned. That specific denial was almost an affirmative in itself. It was a confirmation of what she had believed yesterday: Hallam might have covered his tracks, but not perfectly. Some aspect of his suggestions to Antoine had caused the security guard to associate Kat’s face with trance. Hallam had been sloppy, probably because he was in a hurry.
She’s up there. Has to be. I’m coming, baby.
Still, she reminded herself to stay calm. She’d made a plan and it was working out so far. “Do you know Professor Hallam?”
His brow smoothed. “Yeah.”
“How well do you know him?”
“Helped me with my gambling problem.” The words came out slow, and Marisa was surprised to hear them. She did not expect that he would be deep enough to admit such a thing.
“Did he help you using hypnosis?”
The brow furrowed again, just in the slightest. “He ... helped me with my gambling problem.”
There are some things Hallam blocked. Not everything, because Hallam was sloppy. But the important things.
She had assumed Hallam would do this, from the moment she saw the security guard in trance yesterday. Nothing about her plan had changed. She would stick with it.
“Antoine,” she said, keeping her voice as low and even as she could manage, “Does this building have cameras in the elevators?”
“Do you have the ability to hold an elevator in the middle of the trip?”
Marisa took a deep breath. Here we go. “Antoine, the next time you see Quentin Hallam in an elevator cameras, you will hold that elevator.”
“Not supposed to,” he muttered. “Only in case of emergency.”
Marisa bit her lip. Kat would not panic.”It is an emergency, Antoine,“ she said, fighting hard to keep her voice calm. “When you see Quentin Hallam on that elevator camera, you’ll realize what an emergency it is. It is an emergency and you must stop that elevator.”
She repeated that last sentence twice more. The security guard did not object. “Do you understand, Antoine?”
“My friend in 15F is expecting me. My friend in 15F is expecting me. I’m going to call up now.”
Marisa took the photo out of his hand. “Oh well,” she chirped, then immediately cursed herself. You told him your friend is missing! Don’t sound happy! “Thanks anyway,” she said, a little more morose.
“Uh … yeah,” Antoine Robinson said, blinking. “Sorry I couldn’t be of more help.”
Marisa walked out, but she stopped at the building directory, sticking her foot in the door to hold it open for a few inches. She dialed for 15C.
Quentin Hallam stood in an aisle of the local grocery, consulting Google on his phone, trying to determine if the various plastic bags on the shelf would work as an IV bag. He jumped when the phone vibrated in his hand.
FRONT DOOR, the notification proclaimed. Like many buildings in the current era of Manhattan gentrification, residents could arrange for front-door calls to go direct to one’s mobile phone.
I should ignore it. I’m not expecting anyone or any packages, so no good can come from answering.
But what if it was the Ivan woman? What if she had come back to him? What if the System had done its job after all, only a day late? He wasn’t sure how such a thing would happen, but he was in uncharted territory with the System.
Hallam tapped to answer the call. “Who is this?” he said, unaware of how rude he might have sounded.
“You know who this is,” Marisa Ivan’s voice said into the phone.
As soon as he heard the tone of her voice, his heart sank. She had come back, but not for the reason he had expected. He was suddenly aware of how very public a place he was in. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Who is this again?”
“I’m the person you sent this to,” Marisa said. After a brief whine of feedback, he heard his own voice over the speaker. You will send me an email containing your phone number. You will send me an email containing your phone number. You will send me an email...
“I’m sorry,” Hallam said, looking around himself. He was alone in the aisle, but maybe someone in the next aisle over could hear his half of this conversation? “I don’t know what you mean.”
“I know about Ashley,” Marisa said. Hallam staggered, grabbing a shelf to keep his balance. How do they BOTH know? Katherine already told me that she hadn’t told anyone else.
“I…” Hallam said. He had no idea how he could continue to play dumb here, but he was in public. There was no other way to play it. “I th-think you have a wrong num-number?”
“Is that how you learned hypnosis?” Marisa said. She mused slowly, genuinely curious. “Get rid of a childhood stutter? How do you move from that to sleeping with your students and kidnapping total strangers?”
“You don’t know what you’re fucking talking about,” Hallam hissed into the phone. He wasn’t sure of the last time he had said that particular curse word aloud.
“Look, this is simple,” Marisa said. “I want my girlfriend back. You don’t want to go to jail. I want you to come down into Washington Square Park and sit on the edge of the fountain. Most public part of the park, you won’t be able to stage a concert for me. I’ll join you, and we’ll make a deal.”
Come down, Quentin Hallam thought. A light finally appeared at the end of this tunnel she was trying to herd him into. She thinks I’m in the apartment. I can take her by surprise.
“I wish you would calm down,” Hallam said into the phone. “If you would just calm down and listen to me, I think you’ll find that—“
“The music isn’t playing, Quentin,” Marisa said. “And neither am I. Washington Square fountain in fifteen minutes, or the entire world is going to find out about what you tried to do to us.”
Quentin Hallam dropped his grocery basket into the middle of the aisle and sprinted out of the store.
Marisa put a hand on the wall to steady herself.
She’d felt it, just for a second. That twinge in her mind when he’d emphasized the words calm down and listen to me, the way Kat would sometimes do. Then she had remembered—
—how her last trance in front of this building had ended. She wondered if she would react the same way if Kat put her under again.
When. Think positive. WHEN Kat puts me under again.
Marisa strode back into the lobby. “I need to see my friend in 15F,” she said. “Figure out why she said my girlfriend had been here.”
“Whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa,” Antoine Robinson said, holding out a palm in a stop-sign gesture.
Marisa stopped dead. Some hypnotist I turned out to be, she thought. “What is it?”
“Gotta sign in,” Robinson said, indicating the clip board in front of him on the desk.
“Oh, yeah, right,” Marisa said, hoping she sounded as sheepish as she felt. She signed her real name. If the police needed to be called, a lie would not do.
Seconds later, she was on the elevator, headed up. Hallam soon would be trapped on the elevator, headed down. If she was very lucky, his front door would be unlocked. If she was just a little lucky, pounding on the door would get Kat to open it. Otherwise, she would call the police and let them sort it out, with Hallam safely stuck in the elevator and unable to use his music.
She thought everything was working out perfectly. She could not have been more wrong.
Hallam arrived across the street from The Olympian, and stopped short before running through the intersection.
No one was standing at the directory. Via the lobby’s elegant floor-to-ceiling windows, he didn’t see anyone but the security guard.
“Shit,” he said softly. He had hoped to ambush her here, but she was already gone.
Hallam glanced to his left, into Washington Square Park. He could see the fountain, but the park was already too crowded for him to open to spot one woman from this distance. He wondered if she was even there at all. Was she really just going to sit down and make a deal? It seemed unlikely. Maybe she was just trying to distract him, pull him away from the apartment.
Even if that were true, what can she possibly do? Call the police: if she were going to, she would have already done it. Knock down my front door: Please, she’s probably a hundred pounds soaking wet.
Maybe she was bluffing, maybe not. Maybe he couldn’t afford to call her bluff, maybe not. But no matter what, Quentin Hallam was not going into that park unprepared. He had given himself plenty of time, and this was why.
He crossed the street in the direction of the Olympian. As he did, he tapped into the app which would unlock his front door.
Marisa exited the elevator at the fifteenth floor. She looked up at the other elevators: the digital readouts said that both were in the lobby.
He hasn’t left the apartment yet, she thought. Or Antoine stopped the elevator on the ground floor.
She had planned for this: she had considered and discarded many options before finally deciding that the softball bat would be simplest, and that was why she had brought it. She stood in front of 15C, preparing to “knock” on the door with the bat, making an impact loud enough that he would be forced to open it. As she stood there, there was a metallic thunk.
He just unlocked his door.
Part of her wanted to run. But an even greater impulse drowned that out. Marisa turned the door handle and thrust her shoulder into the door, exploding through it, hoping to strike Hallam with the door on the way in.
She had a vision in her mind, of the door striking Hallam hard enough to break his nose, and her knocking him out with the aluminum bat afterward. It wasn’t until she stumbled into a hands-and-knees position on the floor that she realized she was in an empty apartment.
He’s not here. Unlocked the door using his phone or something. Why would he do that if he were trapped in the elevator? Doesn’t matter, get Kat and get out.
She looked around the room, calling Kat’s name. Heavy shades had been pulled on the glass door that led to the balcony. Bright sunlight peeked around the edges of the shade, making the room seem gloomy. There was a slight odor, what one of the girls in her college dorm had called the Smell Of Dude.
Marisa looked around at the door. She had gone into it so hard that the handle had punched into the wall, despite the presence of a springy door-stop. She yanked the handle out of the hole into the plaster, shut the door behind her, and locked it again.
She turned to see a hall, with a bathroom at the end and doors on either side. A two-bedroom apartment. The door on the left was ajar, blue computer light playing on what little she could see of the walls inside. The other room had a closed door, with yellow light coming from underneath.
Marisa turned the knob on the right-hand door.
The room was empty except for the table with the computer on it, and the chair where Kat was sitting.
“KAT! Jesus, baby...”
She ran to her lover’s side. On impulse she grabbed the headphones and pulled them off, throwing them onto the floor below the computer table.
Almost as soon as the headphones came off, Kat began to make sounds. She was too thoroughly exhausted and dehydrated to scream, but she began making some kind of whiny, depleted keening. Kat writhed in the chair, arms jerking in place; it was only at this moment that Marisa noticed the hospital-quality straps holding Kat’s arms.
“Oh my God, Kat, let me get you out of...” she trailed off into muttering as she worked frantically on the straps.
When Marisa got the second strap undone, Kat fell out of the chair in a convulsive movement. She continued to writhe on the floor, looking like she had a painful itch in that impossible-to-reach place on her back. Marisa wanted to take Kat in her arms, but she wasn’t sure if it was safe to try. She saw the circular red dots on Kat’s legs, thinking that she had been drawn upon with a Magic Marker for some reason.
“Kat? Kat, it’s Marisa. Can you hear me?”
Kat was babbling between gasping breaths. “Marisa ... problem ... music ... sore ... wet...”
“Kat, it’s Marisa. Kat? Kat.” Marisa put a hand on Kat’s shoulder, and Kat recoiled violently, rolling over on the carpet away from her. Kat looked at her for the first time, and the look of sheer terror on her face lanced Marisa in the heart.
“Kat,” she said quietly, showing the palms of her hands to indicate no threat. “Kat, it’s me, it’s Marisa.”
“You have to get out of here,” Kat said. Her voice was a guttural rasp.
“I know, baby,” Marisa said. “We both have to get out of here. I’m here to take you home.”
“Home?” Kat said, as though she had never used the word before. “I don’t ... I can’t ... I took you home and it was a disaster ...”
What the hell? Is she talking about when I went to meet her parents? “Kat, tell me how I can help. What did he do to you?”
Kat shook her head. “Not sleep,” she whispered.
“No,” Marisa said agreeably. “There’s no time for sleep. We’ve got to get out of here.”
“No,” Kat said, shaking her head harder. “Hypnosis ... is not sleep.”
“That’s right,” Marisa said. Kat had told her this many times, to counteract the fact that many of Marisa’s somnabulistic trances felt like long naps.
“But the music,” Kat gasped. “The music keeps you in trance.”
As she finally understood, Marisa covered her mouth with her hands. “Oh my God,” she said, the words coming out muffled.
“It’s like sleep deprivation,” Kat gasped. “But not. But not ... not? I don’t ... I can’t ... what day is it?”
“Oh my God,” Marisa said into her hands a second time. She’s been awake this entire time, and I took a break yesterday for eight hours’ sleep.
“The sleep deprivation,” Kat said in her raspy whisper. “Or whatever it was ... he was using it to brainwash me. Old memories ... emotions ... I came so many times ...”
She looked up at Marisa, her pallor growing another shade whiter. “Are you real? Are you him? No, you must be you, I can’t hear the music. But maybe he doesn’t even need the music anymore ...”
Kat’s eyes were red, her cheeks streaked with dried tears. Marisa felt a lump in her throat forming as well, at seeing the pain her lover was in, but she swallowed it hard. Even if he’s stuck in the elevator, it won’t last all day. Get moving, or you’ll end up just like her.
“Kat, this is real. I’m really here, and we are leaving.”
Quentin Hallam walked across the lobby to the front desk. “Antoine,” he said, “Have you seen a woman pass through here, mid twenties, brown hair to her shoulders?”
“Yeah,” Antoine Robinson said. “You just missed her. You saw her friend?”
“What’s that?” Hallam had to exert considerable will not to shout the words.
“She said she was looking for her girlfriend. Went up to see a friend in 15F about it.”
“Huh,” Hallam said. “She asked me about it, but I didn’t know what she was talking about. Might be a disturbed former student. Call me if you see her, will you?”
As Robinson acknowledged that he would do so, Hallam was already walking away. There was an elevator sitting at the ground floor, and he entered it.
Antoine Robinson looked down at the elevator cameras and saw Hallam, riding up. At that moment, he had the curious feeling that he was two people. One was damn near in a panic—
(It’s an emergency! Gotta stop that elevator!)
—and one was trying to assert—
(If that elevator is dangerous, why’d I let him board?)
—reason. Robinson’s had hovered over the read ELEVATOR STOP switch, quivering, as the two phrases ran around and around in his head.
(Gotta stop the elevator! But I let him board! Gotta stop the elevator! But I let him board!)
Antoine blinked, feeling a shudder run up his back. The elevator was empty. The floor indicator read 15.
For not the first time in the last three days, Marisa thought, now’s the time to call the police. The difference was that, this time, she had evidence and she had the burner phone.
She took the plastic device out of her bag and thumbed the on button. Nothing happened.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” she whispered.
She pressed it again. She held it down for ten seconds, like she used to do to reset her iPhone. Nothing. The battery had never charged.
“Fucking piece of junk!” she said. She wanted to throw the phone against the wall, but thought better of it, dropping the plastic brick back into her backpack. Even if the store had sold her a defective, leaving that kind of evidence behind was a bad idea.
She went to the computer table. She looked at the Mac’s screen, seeing nothing but video and audio apps. “Hey Siri? Dial nine-one-one.”
No response. Perhaps he had disabled Siri, or the microphone.
“Can’t get out,” Kat muttered. She sounded like she might start sobbing. “Never getting out.”
“We’re getting out,” Marisa said. “We are.”
She went into the hall, intending to call down to the front desk, but she saw from across the room that there was no call-box by the front door. The building must be so high-tech that they handled everything through mobile phones.
“Fucking technology!” Marisa exclaimed. She looked across the hallway, at the room she hadn’t yet been in. If Kat had all of their phones on her when she got taken, then they might be in that room. But Hallam might have hidden them so well that it could take her an hour to find them. Or he might have destroyed them, and she would be on a wild-goose chase. The only other option was...
She hurried back into the room where Kat was. “Come on, Kat,” she said. “Get up. We’re walking out of here.” When she put her hand on Kat’s shoulder, Kat recoiled again, crying out in pain as she did so.
This time Marisa did not let her go. She lunged forward, grabbing Kat’s arm. “Kat! Kat! We have to get out of here. I’ve got Hallam out of the way, but I have no idea for how long. We have to go now.”
“I can’t,” Kat said miserably. “The things he did to me ... I can’t feel my foot. My back hurts so bad. My legs are cramping, I can’t even stand.”
“Then I will fucking carry you,” Marisa said. She had no idea if she could do it — carrying a person was much different than lugging a cello across Manhattan on the subway — but at this point she was willing to say anything to get Kat moving. “Come on, hands and knees, I’ll pick you up.”
“Leave me,” Kat whispered.
“What? No! We’re getting out of here together.”
“You don’t understand,” Kat whispered, her voice wavering. “What he did to me? It worked. I want to hear that music right now. I’m desperate for it. It’s the only thing that will make me feel all right. And if he came in that door and promised me a warm bed, I would do anything. Anything.”
If Marisa had not been so focused on Kat at that moment, so completely enveloped by the sensation of What the hell am I gonna do now?, she might have heard the door thump in its frame.
Hallam walked up to his apartment door and turned the handle. The door thumped in its frame. Hallam froze, perfectly still, perfectly paranoid.
I know I unlocked it. I know I did.
The girlfriend couldn’t have gotten in. Could she?
He had unlocked the door with his phone. She could have gotten in between then and now. But how could she plan for that? She could not possibly know that he even had the ability to control the door with this phone. Plus she had obviously assumed that he was in the apartment when she called him using the directory.
Maybe it was as simple as her lying in wait for him, planning to hit him with pepper spray or some such when he left the apartment. And when she heard the door unlock, she had gone right in, only to realize he had never been there.
He had to assume she was in the apartment. If so, then she was stuck there with no backup. If she had a burner phone like his, the police would already be here. The mobile phones were in his safe, and he did not have a land line, so no calls would be happening from inside that apartment.
A hundred pounds soaking wet, he thought again. Go in there and overpower her.
Hallam was no fighter, and never had been. One-on-one with a desperate person, would it really matter if she were half his size? Plus she could have found his stun gun. He had to assume she had found it.
The System. Play it on your wi-fi speaker.
But if he did that, he would have to turn the music off in order to get in, or the System would lay him out as well. Could he move fast enough to subdue her, while she was still recovering? He doubted it. Even drowsy, it wouldn’t take much effort on her part to pull the trigger on a stun gun.
Still, what choice did he have?
“Go,” Kat rasped again. “You can’t help me. You can’t trust me. The music is all I have left.”
Marisa thought about giving her the headphones, then dragging Kat out of here once the music had put her under. But that plan would only work for the length of the headphone cable. Maybe...
To hell with maybe. Kat says it’s all about confidence. I’m doing this. We’re getting out of here.
Marisa reached into her backpack and came out with her lighter. It was a silver Zippo, a gift from her father at a time when a nicotine habit was the only thing they had in common. She had quit months ago, and intended to stay quit for life, but she had kept the lighter. Never know when you might need some fire, her father would have said.
“Kat, do you remember this?” she said, holding up the lighter.
“You should leave me,” Kat moaned.
“Kat, shut up and look at me,” Marisa said. Kat’s eyes snapped to her, almost reflexively.
“Just take a breath and listen for a second, okay?” Marisa said. The lighter caught the amber light from the half-dead bulb and played a reflection over Kat’s eyes. As her chest heaved, Kat blinked.
“Listen to me for just a minute,” Marisa said, lowering her voice and slowing it down. Kat blinked again. Hallam and his fucking music did all the work here. Just think about what works on you.
Marisa asked, “Do you remember this lighter, Kat?”
“Uh-huh.” The reflected light played over Kat’s eyes. She blinked again, slower.
“I don’t use this lighter anymore. I don’t need this lighter anymore. Remember?”
“Remember,” Kat murmured.
“You helped me with that, Kat. You changed my life. Remember?”
“Remember,” Kat murmured, her pace and inflection exactly the same.
“Think of green, Kat,” Marisa said. “Think of what it feels like to be green. Think of what you want me to feel like when I’m green.”
“Green,” Kat murmured.
Marisa felt a twinge of heaviness in her own eyes, and blinked them roughly. Get on with it before you put yourself under. “What is more green, Kat? The last two days with him, or the last two years with me? What is more green?”
“You,” Kat said, voice breaking. There were no more tears; she was badly dehydrated. “Always you.”
“Then stand the fuck up and let’s get out of here.”
Kat stood up instantly, like a shot. As soon as her eyes were away from the lighter, her legs went wobbly, and Marisa moved into her armpit, looping one of Kat’s arms around her shoulders. They moved as one out of the room, slowed by Kat’s limp and Marisa’s attempts to hold both the aluminum bat and her backpack in her off hand.
They were maybe six steps from the door when the room filled with music. Bass, theremin, weaving melodies of a not-Hammond organ. Marisa did not see the speaker, and never had.
“Oh nuuuuuuuhhh...” Kat slurred. Her body turned into dead weight, became too heavy to carry. Marisa had to go to her knees to lower Kat gently to the floor.
As the locks shot on the front door, Marisa let her head nod to her chest. She sat on her knees, hair hanging in her face, as Quentin Hallam entered the room, fingers plugged firmly into his ears.
Hallam felt terrific. The fingers were so deep in his ears that it was a little painful, but he felt no drowsiness, so the discomfort was completely worth it. He strode into the room, seeing both of the lovers inert on his carpet, basking in the sensation of victory.
The Ivan woman’s face was obscured by her hair. That would never do. Carefully balancing on one foot, Hallam used his other foot to brush her hair aside.
He saw something white in her ear, and was momentarily confused. Earrings? He might have had time to react if he had known them for what they were: wearable white-noise earbuds that Marisa had bought at Best Buy the day before. Kat’s email had contained no text other than a link to the device that she had thought would work best.
Hallam had enough time to think, That could interfere with the System, before Marisa lifted her head and swung the aluminum bat upwards between his legs.
She was swinging one-handed via an awkward grip, but her veins coursed with adrenaline, and the whole reason she had decided to play possum was to get a shot that couldn’t miss.
For Quentin Hallam, the sensation was like a bomb going off in his lower gut. He had never broken a bone or passed a kidney stone; the pain in that moment was the worst pain of his entire life.
Marisa changed her grip on the bat, swinging with both hands, hard as she could. The bat connected to the side of Hallam’s face with a solid impact that Marisa felt all the way up her arms. His jaw was profoundly shattered, and Hallam then had a new landmark for the worst pain of his entire life.
Hallam stumbled into the kitchen and nearly face-planted onto the tile floor. He threw up noisily, then moaned in agony as the motion further traumatized his maimed mouth. Despite the terror and agony trying to shove each other aside in his head, Hallam was suddenly sleepy ... and only then did he realize that he had removed his fingers from his ears to clutch his crotch with both hands.
Despite it all, he welcomed the music carrying him away as his body went numb.
Marisa raised the bat with both hands, ready to strike again if she needed to. She watched Hallam go slack, curled up into an approximation of the fetal position, his head lying in the middle of a pool of vomit.
“And sleep,” Marisa said to his inert body. This struck her as rather lame trash-talk, but she reassured herself that he wouldn’t remember it anyway.
Marisa went to Kat, took hold of her limp wrists, and began the laborious process of dragging her out of the apartment. The front desk, and its ability to dial 911, beckoned.