Final sneak peek at my upcoming novel! Out TOMORROW!
It’s – he glances at the bedside clock – nearly three am.
Normally he might shoot the shadow figure in his doorway. But he recognized her shuffling steps all the way down the hallway.
He turns on the lamp to get a look at her face, but it doesn’t do much good. She’s got her assassin face on. Her dead face with her dead eyes.
“What is it?”
“I’m… leaving,” she finally whispers. “I… wanted to spend some time with you before I go.”
“Go? Go where?”
There’s no mistaking the emphasis the second time. Or, Niko realizes as he peers closer… Her eyes aren’t dead, they’re haunted. Finch is terrified just to be speaking the word, let alone –
“You’re leaving,” he realizes. Really leaving.
Their voices are hushed for the practical reasons, he supposes. Finch probably has a jammer in her pocket to take out the multitude of microphones hidden all over this room, maybe sewn into their clothing. They whisper so as not to be overheard the old-fashioned way. But… it’s more than that. More than the practical reasons. They whisper because Finch is defying the closest thing to God either of them has probably ever seen in this world. Oh, they’ve caught glimpses, he thinks, both of them, of emotions more powerful than their bloody God. But that doesn’t negate Her almost omnipresence. Her glacial, grey eyes that look out over the whole of the world and see its every happening, see the entire world composed of series of dominoes and she chooses just which ones to tip over, to watch the intricate patterns, crashing to the ground.
She is in this very air they breathe. Perhaps they are both only dominoes even now. They think they are plotting an escape. Truly they are only another figure tipped, falling, setting off the end of their world as they know it.
But his granddaughter – such bravery – she cuts him off.
“I don’t want to be her… puppet anymore,” she whispers. She snorts. “I want to be a real, live girl.”
Niko has the incongruent thought to wonder: Where on earth did she ever see that movie? Read that book? And as much as it pains him, he has to point out:
“You do know, in the original story, Pinocchio is hung? At one point he is sold into slavery. As an ass. And at the end he’s right back where he started. Except now he has learned to be ‘well-behaved’, so things go better for him.”
Because if that’s the key to happiness, Finch is probably doomed. ‘Well-behaved’ is hardly her style. Niko pulls up his pillows behind him so he can sit against the headboard, winces at the dull throb at the base of his back, has to shake free a feeling of nausea.
“Yes,” he answers her.
Finch – so out of character – she actually comes forward then, sits on the end of his bed. In nearly fifteen years… She has never been the sort of girl to sit on the edge of his bed. Even when she was a small child she only eyed the quilted expanse warily, like she’d be struck down if she enjoyed such comforts. Even when Niko had coaxed her, tried, he can admit to himself now, to do some small things a grandfather might do, read her a story, tuck her in… Somehow even as a toddler Finch had known he was no grandfather to her. The closest she had ever come to him was standing with a chubby hand clutching the baseboard for balance.
Foolish it has taken him so long to realize: “You were the one in Kashin.”
He’s sure it’s the dawning horror causing his stomach to roil, sweat to break out on his forehead now, on his upper lip. She killed his man. The one guarding his most precious secret.
“You were the one in Derbent.” And the other man, and the other secret.
And, finally, “You were the one in my office.”
She’d put things back in their place, of course. Precisely where they came from. Too precisely. And that’s how Niko knew, actually. She’d put everything back in just exactly its proper place. Things he should have picked up and moved during the week. Little items that would have been nudged to this side or the other on his desk.
It’s with a shock of sadness that he realizes why she’s sitting on the end of his bed now, why she wanted to spend some time with him before she left.
“I didn’t drink the brandy,” he denies, even as his stomach roils anew, as he realizes the sweat is rolling down his spine now, breaking out over his bare arms atop the coverlet.
Finch shifts closer, murmurs, “You are a creature of extreme habit, Grandfather. You can’t sleep without your brandy. Two fingers in a snifter.” She sighs. “You did drink the brandy.”
Not his usually stash. Not once he’d known someone had been snooping around his office. He’d left the bottle on the bar untouched. He’d –
Dipped into his emergency supply. The bottle hidden in the bookshelf, sealed with wax.
“It is possible to reseal a bottle.”