Chapter 36: Escape
“You’re losing your hair.”
Deena turned his way, and as she did, the air conditioner vent caught strands of black hair and filled the air with them.
“Sorry. I didn’t think about the shedding. Is there a comb in this place?” She started looking through the glove compartment.
“Tell me if you see any cash. We’ve got a full tank of gas—they were going to take me to Las Vegas—but I’m broke.” There had been some gold coins on the floor, left from Leo’s tirade, but he hadn’t thought to pick them up.
“Hey, yes! Three hundred dollars in fifties.”
Luther nodded, but it didn’t lighten his spirits. “Pocket change for parking lots and gas refills. It won’t get us far.”
Deena found a comb. She ran it through her black hair, pulling out large clumps. Luther began to see a trace of red underneath.
“I had just barely gotten used to your new look. Now you’re changing again?”
She nodded. “It seems wise. When the police and fire department dig out the security office, they’ll find tapes that might have my picture on it.
“And as you said, I won’t believe Thompson or Leo Drye are dead without more proof.”
“Your eyes are getting lighter. What will you look like?”
She smiled, “You’ll see soon enough.”
“So,” he asked a minute later, “you were shot. I saw that. What happened then?”
She shrugged, sobering. “Then I died. I took three bullets in the chest. It tore me up pretty bad. My heart was gone, I’m sure.
“I woke up in the field where they had dragged my body. The nanobots were working on repairs. I wasn’t breathing. My heart wasn’t beating. The insects had already started on my corpse.”
Her eyes started to water. “I’ll talk about it later. Basically, the nanobots made essential repairs. I made it over to Katy’s apartment and ate everything there to bulk up. I chose a new look as a disguise.”
She had started to cry and it was building on itself.
He reached to take her hand. Her skin was hot. He looked. Her skin was lightening. The red hair was coming through the remains of the black.
Deena whispered, “I killed people back there, didn’t I?”
“We don’t know, not really.” He was lying, but it was the thing to say.
“But that’s the way to bet. I had Ruben lock up the doors. People were trapped. And then the house collapsed on them.
“Luther. I didn’t ask for the place to be destroyed! I wouldn’t have done that. Why did the nanobots get so destructive?”
She shook from the emotions. The traffic was safe enough—he unhooked her seatbelt and pulled her closer into the circle of his arm.
Luther decided to take Interstate 5 north. The coastal route was too slow and he certainly didn’t want to go to Las Vegas.
“You know, when the building collapsed, I didn’t think about the people being killed. I was only worried about Ruben.” She looked at him. “What does that say about me?”
“They were strangers. They weren’t people you knew.”
She straightened up and reached for her comb. “The old Deena would have cared about them anyway.”
“You’ve been through a traumatic experience.”
“Ha! I died, Luther!” She tugged the comb and with each stroke, the hair reddened.
He shrugged. “Not really. The nanobots probably....”
She glared at him, “You weren’t there! I was! Bullets tore me apart! I was rotting in the sun! I was dead!”
Sagging over her comb, she sniffed at tears. He pulled out a tissue for her.
“Luther, I may have lost my soul.”
She blew her nose, and began tugging out the black hair from the comb with furious intensity.
“I died. The real Deena went off to heaven, and then I woke up again—like a zombie. You should have seen me. I was a walking skeleton.
“Then I went out and killed people. And I didn’t even care!”
Luther stared at the road ahead. The big truck traffic was slowing down as they climbed the mountains.
His voice was bitter. “I didn’t care...don’t care about them either. They were bad people, doing horrible things. Even the guards and the other servants. Surely they weren’t ignorant of who they worked for.
“People like Drye know the legal system is imperfect. People with enough money and power can carve out little islands where their word is the only law, and they can torture and destroy anyone who gets in their way.
“It ate me up, at first. The injustice of it all made me crazy. Drye, Benedict, and even monsters like Thompson could live outside the law. And just to live, I had to become like one of them, ignoring the law, hiding from the police, forging documents.
“But the system is a big compromise. Big Police can be just as bad as Big Crime.”
“I know how it works,” she said impatiently. “I’m getting an Incomplete in Government as we speak.”
Luther persisted, “You have to understand it. Otherwise, you’ll never be able to have any peace.
“From my viewpoint, you were an Angel of Justice, putting to right an evil that the police couldn’t correct. I don’t buy your killer zombie idea.
“But you can never go back to being a simple honest cog in the system. It’s smart to change your looks. A survivor’s description or a videotape of Dark Deena will go into some police report and they will be looking for you.
“The legal system has no place for an Angel of Justice, even if she were sent down by God himself.”
Deena peered into the mirror every few minutes. The nanobots were faithfully following her visualization, but she didn’t really trust them, for more reasons than one. She would have preferred to do a full body alteration naked in front of a full-length mirror, but with Luthor close enough to touch, this was hardly the time or place.
They certainly went beyond my visualizations on that house. The little critters certainly have a talent for destruction. What were they planning for San Francisco?
Luther was plainly worried about her, and Katy. She was worried about him. There was a hard twist in his words. The scars were on Katy’s face, but they were in his brain, too.
But I’m not tinkering with his memories. Maybe it will be worth it with Katy, but it feels dirty.
“What’s that on your arm?” Luther asked.
She held it where he could see better. “That’s my tattoo. Like it?”
He checked the road again and then frowned at her barbed-wire armband decoration. “They can do that?”
“As long as I keep the image in my head focused. Skin pigments are easy. Look at my eyes.”
“No. I mean around my eyes.”
Sparing another look at the road, he nodded. “You’ve added eyeliner. Isn’t that just makeup the hard way?”
Deena shrugged. “Not if you don’t have any makeup. Now look at my chin.”
“It’s square. I thought I was imagining it. You had high cheekbones during the rescue, didn’t you?”
“Yes. The girl in the magazine had them. I’m not really altering my bone structure, but it’s easy enough to add padding in the right places. See my arms?”
“Are you going for a body-builder look?”
“Yeah! Mean and muscular. I just have a need to feel dangerous right now.
“Do you think I should add freckles—to go with the red hair?”
He shook his head. “Save your strength.”
Luther doesn’t like it.
Well, too bad! It’s my body. I’ll change it however I like.
Deena put aside her comb and said, “I’m starving.”
Luther brushed the back of his hand against her bare shoulder. “You’re hot, probably from all the changes.
“Bakersfield is just up ahead. We’ll stop there.”
A groan came from the back seat. “Did someone say food? I could eat a horse.”
A passing car honked as Luther pulled over to the shoulder.
“Katy? Are you okay?”
She tried to get up, but the seatbelts were holding her down.
“Hang on.” He got out and went around to her door. Deena was right behind him.
Katy had gotten the first buckle free. He helped with the others.
She blinked widely. “Oh, I feel like I’ve been asleep for an age.”
Luther couldn’t keep his eyes off her face.
Not only were her cuts completely healed, but now she easily looked ten years younger. Deena’s nanobots had repaired more than just the injuries.
Katy reached up and massaged her face. Luther held his breath.
“Boy, I feel strange.” She frowned at him.
“Lu ... Luther.” She smiled, getting it right. “What are you doing here? For that matter, where is here?”
“It’s a little bit hard to explain,” he began, knowing that he had no idea what to tell her.
“You were captured by Leo Drye and drugged,” Deena supplied.
Katy looked at the rough looking redhead and smiled, “Do I know you?”
“Deena,” she held out her hand. Katy winced slightly as they shook hands.
Luther asked, “What do you remember? We’ll try to fill you in.” He could see no reaction on her face to Deena’s name. Just how much memory had she lost?
Katy struggled with her recollections. She shook her head. “It’s all mixed up. You were upstate.” She looked at him and asked, “What does Deena know?”
Deena said, “I know Luther’s real name is Luke Haskell, and that Leo Drye was trying to find something his father stole. That’s why he kidnapped and drugged you.
“Someone convinced him that this new drug would open up all your memories. Instead, it caused you to hallucinate. By the time Luther and I came to your rescue, you were screaming from the drug induced nightmares. We got you out right before an earthquake destroyed Leo Drye’s house.
“Hopefully, Drye didn’t make it.”
Luther nodded, confirming her fantasy. It was a better story than the real one. The drug story would give her a way to handle the real memories of torture if they resurfaced.
“We swiped Leo’s limo and headed out of town. Katy, I’m sorry, but I don’t think you can go back to your old life. Whether Leo died or not, we don’t know how much the Benedict organization knows.”
They drove into town, Deena and Katy chatting in the back.
“Steak?” he asked, guessing Deena would need protein.
There was a chorus of approval from the rear.
Katy stopped dead in her tracks as they walked into the restaurant. She stared at her reflection in the glass, and then reached up to feel her face.
As casually as he could, Luther asked, “What’s wrong, Katy?”
“My face. Something has happened. I used to have wrinkles.”
“Oh nonsense! Katy, you’ve always had a great complexion and you know it.”
He whispered, hoping for a distraction, “Sometimes people would hint that you and Dad had something going on.”
She blushed and shook her head. “I could never do that to Alice.”
One last glance at the mirror, and she took Deena’s hand and they went on in.
After watching the women eat twice as much as he could, he handed Deena the rest of their cash.
“Just wait here. Drink lots of tea and have dessert. I’ll be back within the hour. Business.” He slipped out of the booth.
Katy leaned closer. “Well, now that he’s gone, tell me everything!”
Deena looked down at the empty plate. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Sure you do. I’m his honorary aunt, didn’t you know? You can tell me everything.”
Luther sat down to join them only a little bit later than he had projected.
The two seemed to be fast friends. Well, he was glad of that.
“Katy, here is fifteen hundred dollars.” He handed her the folded stack of bills. “It isn’t much, but the gold is gone, and it’s the best I could do.”
Deena asked, “Where did you get this?”
He shook his head. “Don’t ask. But let’s say we no longer have a limo to get us around town.”
He squeezed Katy’s hands. “Deena and I have to vanish. I don’t like leaving you here, but we have to keep moving and two can do that easier than three.”
She had tears in her eyes. “I know that, Luke. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I was just telling Deena that I have a friend here in Bakersfield that could probably put me up until I can get established.”
“When we come back to visit, what name should we look for? It can’t be Katy Ferril anymore.”
She nodded. “I feel like spring. I’ll be ‘Amber Spring’.”
Outside, after tearful goodbyes, Deena followed Luther to the parking lot.
“I hope we don’t have to walk. I don’t think you could keep up with me.”
He grinned. “No. I thought a biker chick would like a motorcycle.” He handed her a helmet from an obviously second-hand Honda.
“Get on. We’ve got a lot of miles to make.”