Chapter 32: Bodywork
Leo Drye said, “Give me that!” Thompson handed him the phone.
He screamed into the handset. “What do you mean you can’t find her?”
Drye cut the excuses off when the man on the other end started to talk. “No details! You’re on a cell phone, stupid.”
He threw the phone onto the floor. Thompson moved to pick it up.
“This is your mess,” Drye growled. “I don’t want to hear about any more problems. Go help them find it.”
Leo slumped into his chair, watching the near catatonic captives in the monitor.
The boy knew, he must know. He had the gold coins. He must know where the books are.
Angelo Benedict had not told him what those books were, but it was clear what they meant to him.
“I never want to see your face again, unless you bring me my books!”
He was exiled until he corrected the problem.
I had been so sure. The gold coins were important, to be sure, but there had been two chests stolen from Angelo’s office. One was his coin stash. The other had a million in cash, another one point five in bonds. And some books, undescribed.
But there were no signs of cash or bonds among the junk in the Chevy.
He stashed it somewhere. Mark Haskell put it somewhere and the kid found it. He has it. I just have to convince him to tell me.
Deena stared at her naked reflection in the mirror. She scooped another spoonful of peanut butter and put it in her mouth. She fully intended to eat everything in the apartment until either her body filled out, or the nanobots told her it was enough.
Secretive little critters. They never said anything.
The reflection showed a horror story. Even cleaned up, she showed bullet-hole scars, and lines she guessed were the results of repair work. All of the new skin was albino white.
Drinking a couple of gallons of water had eased the skeletal look.
Each time at the mirror, things appeared better.
The scars will go away. She was confident of that, at least.
I no longer look like Bryony. She sighed. They killed the Bryony clone. I might as well make it official.
She turned on the clippers and began shaving off blonde hair to the bare scalp. I was Bryony for a bit, but no more.
Luther listened to Katy’s hoarse breathing. At least she was asleep, finally. Her bruises and untreated cuts left her with little to do but whimper when she was awake.
I wish I could sleep. Between aching in sympathy with Katy, and monstrous memories of Deena dying before his eyes, there would be no sleep, no rest, for him.
I have to think about something else.
Why couldn’t the nanobots have saved Deena? Why did they have to bail out early? They used her for transportation, and then left. They owed her more than just hair color and muscle tone!
What were the aliens trying to do? Using the native life forms without permission or payment sent a poor message. Eventually, they would want to make contact, wouldn’t they?
Humans would want to contact aliens, but maybe it wasn’t a universal urge. But why else would aliens send the nanobot probe to Earth?
They went straight for the San Andreas Fault. Deena had said that they could gather water. Earthquakes happened when a faultline, under pressure and locked in place, finally slipped free. If nanobots could gather water and deliver it to the right place underground, they could make the fault slip early and trigger an earthquake on demand.
Luther was too emotionally drained to react. So we may have delivered a weapon. The aliens want to hurt us, not to study us. The idea settled over him, adding another layer to bear.
Thompson parked behind the other car. Jorge Galvez stepped out the passenger side. Enrico stayed at the wheel.
“This is the place, right?”
Thompson nodded and walked over to the edge of the street. Even in the dim glow of the streetlights, he could see the trail he had made dragging the girl away. Even the bloodstains were visible. It might take a rain or two to wash them away.
But at the end of the trail, there was no sign of the body.
“These?” he pointed to several branching trails radiating from the place where she had been dropped.
Jorge shrugged. “We went looking. But there’s nothing here.”
Thompson turned back. At the brothers’ car, he said. “Clean this.” He pointed to the bloodstain. “After that, you’re done here.”
The brothers looked at each other but neither questioned him.
Thompson watched as they went to work. They were effective at what they did, and they had worked public streets before.
Shortly, the street was stain free. They looked at him, and then left.
Thompson had no intention of bothering Leo Drye any more about this. The man didn’t like to hear bad news.
But neither was he ready to ignore this mystery either.
The girl was dead, no doubt about that. Dead people just don’t get up and walk off.
So, someone had collected her body for their own reasons.
He doubted it was the police. Police would have staked the place out.
Who could have known what happened here and possibly wanted leverage against him or the man he worked for?
Thompson looked uphill, toward the apartment complex, just out of sight around the corner.
Deena sat in the closet, reading one of Katy Ferril’s old fashion magazines and eating apples. There were only two rooms in the apartment where light wouldn’t show to the outside. The bathroom and this closet.
When daylight came, she would move back into the bedroom, but for now, she couldn’t sleep and she was uncomfortable eating in the bathroom.
If she could just keep the refrigerator light from coming on every time she reached inside, she would be happy with the arrangement.
I like this one. The magazine model, a dark skinned Latina, was displaying colorful silk scarves. Deena ripped the page out of the magazine and clicked off the light.
Padding barefoot into the bathroom, she closed the door behind her and turned on the vanity lights around the mirror.
Her new black hair was growing out quite well. She passed a comb through it.
Hey, I have a figure again. It wasn’t as good as Bryony’s but that was no longer her goal. The food was going straight to muscle. It was the ultimate dieter’s fantasy.
She had been eating non-stop since she had arrived. It was clear that she wasn’t really digesting the food. It probably reached her stomach, but the busily little nanobots were disassembling it before it reached her intestines.
Maybe I’d better slow down. Her jaws had started to ache from all her chewing.
And it wasn’t only food and water. She had a couple of pennies taped to her stomach for zinc. When the urge to find some element 24 came over her, she rummaged through Katy’s jewelry box until she found a silvery bracelet that felt good to the touch.
A lot of her special ‘gifts’ were coming back. Faintly, like voices heard in the distance, she was beginning to pick up radio signals.
I wish I could go for a run. Being cooped up in this apartment was necessary, but restricting.
But to go outside, she needed to appear healthy, and a lot different from either Deena Brooke or Bryony Sawyer.
She wet the magazine page under the faucet and pasted it to the mirror at eye level.
Side by side, she stared at the model’s face, and her own. Motionless, she lost track of time, but when she was done, her eyes were no longer gray, instead they were a deep dark-chocolate brown so intense it was hard to see her pupils.
Kuper Rooney muted the television when the second knock on his door came, louder than the first. “Wait a minute!” He threw on a shirt and opened the door.
“Oh!” He hadn’t seen the man since that first encounter in the bar, but they had talked recently on the phone. “Yes. What do you want?”
Thompson moved in without an invitation. Rooney backed away.
The big man walked through his manager’s apartment, checking each room, opening closets and the refrigerator. He even checked the trash dumpster outside.
“Hey, I don’t know what you’re looking for, but I’ll help any way I can.”
Thompson looked at him as if he were bug that had learned to talk. “If it’s here, I’ll find it.”
Rooney asked, “Hey! Can I rent out the Ferril chick’s apartment?”
Thompson stopped his investigation of the laundry room. “Has she paid her rent?”
Rooney stuttered, “Well...ah, no. She hasn’t paid.” He didn’t meet the man’s eyes. The gold coins hadn’t been official payment had they? He hadn’t mentioned those to anyone.
Thompson said, “Don’t rush it.”
“But if she’s not coming back, I could....” Rooney stalled out under the impassive examination.
Maybe it wouldn’t be a good idea to rush it. If the cops asked how he knew she was missing, it could be uncomfortable.
Thompson said, “Show me her apartment.”
“You want to rent it?” He grabbed his set of keys from his desk. “You know someone who might be interested?”
They walked half way there before Thompson’s phone rang.
“Yes.” He stopped. Rooney waited patiently.
Deena clicked off the bathroom light the instant she heard the close-by radio signal.
Once again, she heard the echo of the other side. It was a very irate man, but she couldn’t follow what he said.
“Taking care of business.” The guy on this end didn’t believe in talking.
Deena opened the bathroom door and crept through the darkness to the window. Through a crack in the drapes, she looked over the parking lot.
Under the streetlights, the large figure looked cold and demonic.
A gun was pointed at her. It flashed.
She stumbled back, shaken from the memory.
It was the same guy who had killed her. And he was coming to the apartment!
“I need you here, right now!” Leo screamed, his voice distorting in the tiny cell phone’s speaker.
“Twenty minutes.” Thompson said, and pressed the END button.
Rooney asked, “Do you still have time to look at the apartment?”
Thompson turned back toward his car. There were other places he would need to check. In spite of appearances, Rooney was still the most likely body snatcher. Perhaps he would drop his guard, now that he appeared to have called off his search.
Someone had the body, and it would have to be disposed of.
But now, Leo needed his expertise. No surprise there. Leo would use a sledgehammer when what was needed was a scalpel.
Deena finally realized that he wasn’t coming in. Her heart was still tripping away at a furious pace, but she crawled down from the top shelf in Katy’s closet.
That was stupid. It wasn’t a place that would have hidden her.
And there was evidence of her presence all over the apartment, from the bloody clothes in the trash barrel, to the rows of open food containers lined up on the kitchen counter.
If he had caught me there, naked and in a confined space, I wouldn’t even have been able to defend myself.
“Clothes,” she whispered. Her body shape had stabilized. She had to see if any of Katy’s stuff would fit her.
She picked out a couple of outfits in the dim light and took them to the bathroom where she could see.
The first dress was all wrong.
Not with this skin color.
It was almost done. The nanobots had matched the magazine model’s complexion. She held up her arm, and grinned.
Mom never would let me get a tan. I wonder what she would think now.
Her face and the model’s were certainly different, but she didn’t need to fool the lady’s mother. She just needed a whole new identity that would pass unnoticed in Los Angeles.
This other outfit is too fancy. What else did Katy have?
Rummaging in the closet, she felt a chill, wondering what the gunman would be doing in twenty minutes.
Was Luther in his power, somewhere within twenty minutes driving range?
I should have been ready! I could have followed him back to their hideout.
She located a simple denim dress, a little short for her mother’s taste, but probably conservative for Malibu. It would fit.