White cat, p.30

White Cat, страница 30

 часть  #1 серии  Curse Workers

 

White Cat
 


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Page 30

 

  You think that I’m dying, but I’m laughing at you.

  I hate that I love this. I hate that the adrenaline pumping through the roots of my body is filling me with giddy glee. I’m not a good person.

  But deceiving Anton and Barron feels fantastic.

  I can hear footsteps echoing around me, moving toward her. “I’m sorry, Lila,” says Anton. “I know that—”

  “You should have killed me when you had the chance,” she says.

  Someone touches my shoulder, and I almost flinch. Rough bare fingers on my neck, looking for a pulse. The one thing I can’t fake. He pulls open my jacket. If he unbuttons my shirt, he’s going to see wires.

  “You’re a little devil, Cassel Sharpe,” Grandad says under his breath.

  Clever as the devil and twice as pretty. I force myself not to smile.

  “Give me the gun,” Anton says, and this time I do open my eyes a sliver. He’s got the knife in one hand. “You know you don’t want to do this. ”

  “Get against the sinks!” she says.

  He drops his knife and swipes his hand toward her, knocking the gun out of her grip. It skitters across the floor.

  She lunges for it at the same time he does, but he gets to it first. I try to get up, but Grandad presses me back down.

  Lifting the gun, Anton fires three times into her chest.

  She staggers back, but she isn’t wired up so there’s no bang, no blood. The pellets hit her harmlessly, bouncing to the floor.

  We’re made.

  Anton stares at her, then at the gun in his hand. Then he looks at me. My eyes are wide open.

  “I’ll kill you,” he growls, throwing aside the fake gun. It hits the tiles so hard a piece of it chips off.

  This is bad.

  My grandfather gets between us, and I try to shove him out of the way, as a voice comes from the other side of the room.

  “Enough,” Zacharov says, into a sudden pocket of silence. He climbs unsteadily to his feet and stretches his neck, as though it’s stiff.

  Anton stumbles back, like Zacharov’s a ghost. We all freeze.

  Barron points an accusing finger in my direction. “You played me. ” He sounds unsteady.

  “You’re all playing,” Zacharov says in his accented voice. “You were like this with water pistols when you were children. Waving them around and soaking everything. ”

  “Why did— What did you know?” Anton asks. “Why did you pretend—”

  Zacharov grimaces. “I would never have believed that you, Anton, would betray our family. I would never have believed that you would plot to kill me. You, of all people, who I would have made my heir. ” Zacharov looks at my grandfather. “Family means nothing anymore, does it?”

  Grandad looks from Barron to me, like he’s not sure how to answer.

  Anton takes two steps toward Zacharov, his mouth twisting in an ugly way. Barron picks up the knife that Anton dropped and flips it around in his hand. Flips it closed, then open again.

  I roll over and push myself up, skittering across the floor on fake blood. I manage to get up onto my knees.

  “You’re never going to leave here alive,” Anton tells Zacharov, gesturing to Barron and the knife.

  I have only one card left to play, but it’s a good one. I stand. This is like being on the roof of Smythe Hall all over again; if I slip, I die.

  “I’m not afraid,” Zacharov says, still looking at Anton. “It takes guts to kill a man with your hands. You don’t have the balls. ”

  “Shut up,” says Anton. He turns to Barron. “Give me the knife. I’ll show him scared. ”

  Lila rushes Anton, but her father grabs hold of her arms and pulls her back against him.

  Her lip curls. Her eyes smolder with banked fire as she stares at her cousin. “I’ll kill you,” she says.

  Barron doesn’t hand over the knife, but he does start to smile. He raises the tip to Anton’s throat.

  “Don’t point that thing at me,” Anton says, shoving at Barron’s hand. “What are you waiting for? Give it here. ”

  “I’m pointing the right way,” Barron says. “Sorry. ”

  I take a deep breath and spring my trap. “We’ve been meeting with Zacharov for months, Barron and me. Right, sir?”

  Zacharov gives me a hard look. I imagine he’s fed up with my shenanigans, but he’s got to realize that keeping the knife at Anton’s neck is the most important thing. Zacharov’s fingers tighten on Lila’s arms. “That’s right. ”

  Barron nods.

  “No, you haven’t,” Anton says to Barron. “Why? Even if you’d screw me over, there’s no way you’d screw Philip. ”

  “He’s in this too,” says Barron. He twists the knife in his hand, letting the fluorescent lights reflect off the blade.

  “Philip would never turn on me. That’s impossible. We planned this together. We planned it for years. ”

  Barron shrugs his shoulders. “If that’s true, then where is he? If he was so loyal, wouldn’t he be here?”

  Then Anton looks at me. “This doesn’t make any sense. ”

  “What doesn’t make sense?” Lila asks. She cuts her eyes toward me for a moment. “You think you’re the only one who can betray people, Anton? You think you’re the only liar?”

  I can see the conflict in Anton’s face. He’s still trying to figure out his next move.

  “We had to be sure you were serious about killing the head of our family,” Barron says. He doesn’t look confused; he doesn’t even flinch.

  “But he’s going to kill you, idiot,” Anton says. He sounds lost. “You threw everything away for nothing. You kidnapped his daughter. You’re dead men. He’s going to execute us all. ”

  “He forgave us,” Barron says. “He made a deal with Philip and me to let that slide. It was more important to prove that you planned to kill him. We’re nobodies. You’re his nephew. ”

  Zacharov snorts softly, shaking his head. Then he extends his hand toward Barron, who gently drops the knife into Zacharov’s hand.

  I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding.

  “Anton,” Zacharov says, letting go of Lila as though he suddenly realizes that he should. “You’re outnumbered. Time to pack it in. Get down on the floor. Lila, you go get Stanley. Tell him there’s something in here we’ve got to deal with. ”

  Lila wipes her hands on her dress and doesn’t look any of us in the face. I try to catch her eye, but it’s impossible. She heads toward the door.

  Zacharov is the one who meets my gaze. He knows that I played him, even if he doesn’t know how. He gives me a slight nod of his head.

  I guess I proved myself after all.

  “Thank you, Barron. And Cassel, of course. ” I can hear the grind of his teeth as he thanks my brother and me for a lie. “Why don’t you both go with Lila and wait for me in the kitchen? We’re not done here. Desi, you make sure they don’t wander off. ”

  “You,” Anton says, looking at me. “You did this. You made this happen. ”

  “I didn’t make you into a moron,” I say, which maybe isn’t the smartest thing, but I’m dumb and giddy with relief.

  Plus, you know I’m terrible at keeping my mouth shut.

  Anton lunges at me, closing the distance before I can react. We crash backward into one of the stalls, and my head slams into the tile beside one of the toilets. I see Grandad grabbing for Anton’s neck like he’s going to pull him off me, but Anton is way too huge and hardened for that.

  His knuckles slam against my cheekbone. I lean up, cracking my forehead against his skull hard enough to make me dizzy with pain. He arches up, like he’s going to punch me again, when his eyes lose focus. He falls heavily on top of me and just lies there, heavy as a blanket.

  I scrabble backward, not caring about the filthy floor, just trying to get out from under his weight. He looks pale, his lips alrea
dy going blue.

  He’s dead.

  Anton is dead.

  I’m still staring at him when Lila leans down and touches a wad of toilet paper to my mouth. I didn’t even realize I was bleeding.

  “Lila,” Zacharov says. “Come on. I need you out of here. ”

  “You ever think you’re too clever for your own good?” she asks me softly, before going back over to her father.

  Grandad is holding his own wrist, hunched over it protectively.

  “Are you okay?” I ask him, pushing myself up and leaning heavily against the wall.

  “I’ll be okay when we get out of this bathroom,” Grandad says. Then I notice that his right hand is bare and his ring finger is darkening, blackness spreading down from the nail.

  “Oh,” I say. He saved my life.

  He laughs. “What? You didn’t think I still had it in me?”

  I’m embarrassed to admit that I forgot he’s still a death worker. I’ve always thought of his being a worker in the past tense, but he killed Anton with a single touch, a press of fingers against a vulnerable neck.

  “You should have let me help you,” Grandad says. “I overheard them talking after dinner that night when they dosed me. ”

  “Lila, Barron,” Zacharov says, “you two come with me. We’ll leave Cassel and Desi alone for a moment to clean themselves up. ” He looks at us. “Don’t go anywhere. ”

  I nod as they go.

  “You’ve got a lot of explaining to do,” Grandad says.

  I’m still pressing the wad of paper to my cheek. Real blood drooling from my mouth drops onto my shirt next to the fake blood. I look down at Anton’s body. “You thought I was still memory worked—that’s why you were trying to drag me out of here. ”

  “What was I supposed to think?” Grandad says. “That you three had some ridiculously complicated plan? That Zacharov was in on it too?”

  I grin in the mirror. “We’re not in on anything. I forged Barron’s notebooks. Barron believes everything in those books. He has to, what with his memory loss. ”

  That’s what I did that last day and a half. What I stayed up all night doing. Rewriting pages and pages of notes in handwriting easy to forge because I already knew it so well. I constructed an entirely different life for Barron; the kind of life where he’d want to save the head of a crime family because Zacharov is Lila’s dad. The kind of life where my brothers and I worked together for noble purposes.

  The easiest lies to tell are the ones you want to be true.

  Grandad frowns, and then understanding smoothes his features out into shock. “You mean he never met with Zacharov?”

  I shake my head. “Nope. He just thinks he did. ”

  “Did you meet with Zacharov?”

  “Lila wanted us to take care of things ourselves,” I say. “So, also no. ”

  He groans. “This is trouble heaped on top of trouble. ”

  I give Anton’s body a last look. Something glitters in the light. Zacharov’s diamond tie tack near Anton’s left hand. He must have taken it from his pocket.

  I lean down and pick up the pin.

  Zacharov is leaning against the doorway when I stand. I didn’t hear him come in. “Cassel Sharpe. ” He sounds tired. “My daughter tells me that this was her idea. ”

  I nod my head. “It would have worked better with a real gun. ”

  He snorts. “Since it was her idea, I am not going to cut off your hand for touching my skin. Just tell me one thing—how long have you known you are a transformation worker?”

  For a moment I open my mouth to protest. I didn’t work him; how can he be sure that I wasn’t faking? Then I remember the blowback, and me twisting on the tile floor. “Not long,” I say.

  “And you knew?” Zacharov turns to Grandad.

  “His mother wanted to keep it a secret until he was old enough. She was going to tell him after her release. ” Grandad looks over at me. “Cassel, what you can do is very valuable to some people. I’m not saying your mother was right, but she’s a smart lady and—”

  I cut him off. “I know, Grandad. ”

  Zacharov is watching us, like he’s weighing something in his mind. “I want to make this clear: I never agreed to let your brothers live. Either of them. ”

  I nod, because I can hear that he’s not done talking.

  “Your grandfather’s right. You’re valuable. And now you’re mine. So long as you keep working for me, your brothers stay alive. Understand?”

  I nod again.

  I should tell him I don’t care. That it doesn’t matter to me if they’re dead. But I don’t. I guess it’s true; no one will ever love you like your family.

  “We’re settled here,” he says. “For now. Go into the kitchen and see if someone can scare you up a clean shirt. ”

  Grandad pulls back on his right-hand glove. Now one of its fingers hangs as floppily as those on his left hand.

  “Oh. I found—,” I say to Zacharov, holding out the Resurrection Diamond before I notice something strange. A corner of the huge rock is chipped.

  Zacharov takes it from me with a tight smile. “Thank you once more, Cassel. ”

  I nod, trying not to let it show that I know the Resurrection Diamond can’t protect anyone. It’s worthless. It’s made of glass.

  Outside the bathroom the party is still going full swing. The noise crashes over me like a surreal wave, music and laughing and speeches loud enough to cover gunshots. None of what’s happened—definitely not Anton being dead—seems real in the dancing light of the chandeliers or reflected in thousands of champagne bubbles.
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