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To: Ian Hoyt <[email protected]>
From: Arabella Hoyt <[email protected]>
Subject: Where are you?
What is going on? You aren't answering any of the numbers I have for you. You said you had confirmation that they were in Rome and you were moving in. So help me, if you screw this up again, Ian, I don't know what I'll do.
I'd better hear from you soon.
The Sons shoved me in the back of a car. One of them sat with me. I thrashed ineffectively, yelling at him. I don't know what I said. I was beside myself, angry, frightened, and concerned for Jason. I didn't know what they were going to do with him. Tears were rolling down my cheeks. I probably threatened him. I probably begged for Jason's life. I probably swore and swore at him.
"Can you make her shut up?" asked one of the Sons as he started the car.
The man in the back seat with me pulled out a syringe. He plunged the needle into my arm.
The world started to fade away into blackness.
The last thing I remembered hearing was someone saying something about an airport . . . .
Everything hurt. My wrists were sore and chafed. My chin and teeth ached. The gunshot on my arm throbbed. I moaned and rolled over in bed.
Where was I?
My eyes snapped open. I was in a bedroom. There were expensive sheets on the bed I lay in. The walls were painted pink, but they had been plastered with posters. Familiar posters. Bands I liked. Movies I'd watched. They were my posters. From my old bedroom, back in Bramford. There was a bookshelf in the room too. It seemed to be filled with my books. But this wasn't Bramford, and this wasn't my old room. It was just all my stuff.
"What the hell?" I muttered.
"Zaza?" said a voice. Someone rushed over to me.
"Chance?" I said.
Chance threw himself at me and hugged me in bed. "Oh my God, you're okay!" he said.
"Ow," I said. "Chance, you're killing me here."
He sat up, perching on the bed next to me. I pushed myself into a sitting position, groaning when it hurt as bad as it did.
"Sorry," said Chance.
"Where am I?" I demanded.
"It's good to see you too," he said sarcastically. "I wasn't worried about you or anything when you and Jason just disappeared from the school after the whole prom got shot up."
"Where am I?" I repeated.
"Grandma's," he said.
Grandma Hoyt's house? "In New Jersey?" I said.
Chance nodded. "Yup. That's where she lives."
"I went to sleep in Rome," I said. I'd been out for the entirety of a fourteen-hour plane flight. Whatever that guy had given me in the car must have been really, really good. "How did I get here?"
"Grandma said that you were in an accident and that some of her business associates in Italy found out about it. They were able to get you sent back here. But when you got here, you were totally out. I thought you were like in a coma or something."
I threw the covers of the bed aside and got up. Jesus! That hurt even worse. That tackling thing they'd done to me must have really damaged me. "I wasn't in a coma," I said. "I was drugged. A bunch of men jumped Jason and me. They tied me up and knocked me out. And I ended up here."
"Where is Jason?"
"You don't know?" I asked.
"I asked Grandma about it, and she said no one knew where he was."
"Really?" I said, hopeful. Maybe Jason had gotten away. Maybe . . . I started for the door to the room. "I've got to find him," I said. I had my hand on the door before I realized I was wearing a frilly, full-length nightgown. I looked down at it. "Ugh," I said. "Where did Grandma Hoyt get this?"
Chance shrugged. "It's kind of cute on you, though."
"I'll have to change," I said. I crossed the room to the closet. It was empty. There was a chest of drawers. It was empty too. "Okay," I said. "I have no clothes."
"Yeah," said Chance. "Well, maybe we could go to the mall. I have a credit card. We could get you something."
"I don't have time to go to the mall," I said. "I don't know where Jason is. And the last time I saw him, he was being wrestled to the ground by like ten guys with guns. I have to find him."
"Yeah?" said Chance. "Well, I don't know where my girlfriend is either."
That made me pause. "Mina?" I said. I had assumed Chance and Palomino were okay. After they'd been sent home, away from us, I figured everything would be fine.
Chance sighed. "It's my fault," he said. "She was freaked out about the baby and everything. I told Grandma about it. I thought she could help. But she called Mina's parents, and they shipped her off somewhere to one of those places where they send girls so they can have a baby and then they take it away so no one will ever know."
"Oh my God," I said. "You're kidding."
"I can't even call her or talk to her. They won't tell me where she is. And Grandma says I'm forbidden to ever see her again."
"Chance, I'm so sorry," I said, hugging him. I meant it to be comforting, but it was kind of silly, since Chance was way taller than I was. He was growing like a weed. He hugged me back, though.
"I was freaked out," he said. "I mean, we're kids. I'm not ready to be a dad. But this is just wrong. Nobody asked us. They just took her away. And they're gonna give our baby—my baby—to some strange couple somewhere. I'll never even see him!"
"No," I said. "Chance, that is not going to happen. Once I find Jason, he and I will find Mina, and we will get her out of there. I promise you that."
"Yeah," said Chance. "I saw the way you guys were shooting at the prom. Zaza, where did you learn to shoot guns like that?"
I sighed. "That's a long story. For now, I just have to get out of here." Where was I going to go? How was I supposed to find Jason? I decided to concentrate on the more pressing issues. "I'm going to need to borrow some of your clothes," I said to Chance.
He sized me up. "They're not going to fit you," he said.
"I'll need a belt," I said. It was so annoying. I'd carried that bag with clothes and the laptop all the way out to the street outside the monastery. I must have lost in the scuffle with the Sons. I seemed to be cursed never to keep a closet full of clothes.
Chance shrugged. "You can try, I guess," he said.
We went to his room. He gave me a pair of his shorts. They were really long, so they fit me like pants. I cinched the waist up as best I could with a belt and threw one of his t-shirts on over the whole thing. I didn't have a bra, which really sucked, because I felt like I was wearing pajamas, flopping all over the place. But it was better than the stupid nightgown.
As we headed down the steps, I considered my options. I didn't know where Jason was, so I was going to have to find someone who could help me find him. Who did I know who could do that? Maybe if I could get in touch with Hallam? I had no idea how to do that, though. If Jason had been captured by the Sons, though, he could very easily be—
No. I wasn't going to think that. I'd held Jason in my arms when I thought he was dead before. I'd gotten him back. He couldn't be dead now. No.
The important thing was to get out of this house. "I'm going to need a car," I told Chance. "Do you know where Grandma Hoyt keeps her keys?"
"We're going to need a car," said Chance. "I'm coming with you."
I stopped on the stairs, looking up at Chance, who was behind me. "No way," I said. "You can't come, Chance. It is way too dangerous. I can't take care of you. And I won't let anything happen to you. I have lost way too much of my family. You are all I have left. You stay here where it's safe."
"I hate it here," said Chance. "And if you and Jason are going to get Mina, then I have to come with you. I have to help her. I can't just sit here."
"I don't care if you do hate it here," I said. "You're not coming, and that's all there is to it." I turned and continued down the steps. Chance hurried after me.
"You can't just leave me here," he said. "I'm going!"
"Going where?" said a voice.
Grandma Hoyt floated in front of the steps. She was a tall woman with gray hair, which she pulled into a severe bun at the back of her head. She always dressed impeccably. Today, she was wearing a cream-colored suit. Her arms were folded over her chest.
"Hey Grandma," I said. "Listen, thanks for getting me out of whatever you got me out of back there. But I can't stay. I have to go. I don't know where Jason is."
"Jason is at the Sons' headquarters in England," said Grandma Hoyt. "And you're not going anywhere. He's been arrested by their internal police. There will be a trial, and I have no doubt he'll be executed for his crimes against the organization. You'd do well to stop thinking about that boy. He's the past."
Trial? Executed? Crimes? "Grandma," I said. "I don't think you understand."
"No, Azazel, I don't think you understand," said Grandma Hoyt. "Your great-uncle and I have been searching for you all over Europe for the past several months. I've been beside myself with worry ever since you got mixed up with that boy. Now when Weem was heading the organization, there wasn't much I could do. But now that Ian is in charge, I've been able to get you home and safe and sound. And I've been able to do what I could to eliminate the threat of Jason."
I was stunned. I'd known that weird things were going on with my grandmother for some time. She had ties to the Sons. And she'd been helping my brothers Gordon and Noah earlier this spring. But I hadn't thought that she thought Jason was a threat. "That's why you were helping Noah and Gordon?" I asked. "Because they were trying to kill Jason? You want him dead?
"Child, I never wanted him conceived," said Grandma Hoyt. "Now you march back up those steps and put any ideas of getting out of here out of your head. You are my only blood descendant, and I'll be hanged before I allow you to bring shame to the Hoyt family."
I didn't move. This was so bad. What was I going to do? "You can't talk to me like that," I said. "I stopped being someone's child a long time ago. I'm leaving. You can't stop me."
"Maybe I can't personally, but I'm sure the armed guards on every door and at the gate can," she retorted. "Up the steps!"
Grandma Hoyt refused to actually give me any clothes. If I didn't have clothes, I couldn't run, or so she said. She forced me to attend dinner in my nightgown. We ate in the formal dining room—Chance, Grandma, and I all gathered at the end of the long, narrow table. I was going to refuse to eat. I sat sullenly at the table, staring at the elegant drapes and the garish modern art on the walls. When they put the food in front of me, however, I realized I was famished. And refusing to eat was kind of childish, anyway, wasn't it?
I dug in. Grandma Hoyt kept up a steady banter of lighthearted conversation. Well. Not really conversation, because neither Chance nor I said anything. Instead, it was a monologue. She talked about the parties of the season, who was getting married, and what designers they were using for their dresses. She said that later on, perhaps when I calmed down, we needed to work on planning my coming out party. I was a bit old to be a debutante, she said, but I needed to be presented to society. I was her granddaughter, after all. She may not have had much say in my upbringing thus far, but she was going to make up for that.
I glowered at her over my boiled potatoes and peas. I hated this woman. I wasn't going to do anything she suggested. I'd checked out the doors after she'd said they were all guarded. She was right. There were burly men at every exit. Through the window, I was able to see the gate to her estate. It was also heavily guarded.
I didn't know how yet, but I was going to escape from this fortress, if it was the last thing I did.
Dinner lasted an interminably long time. Afterwards, I went to my room. Chance asked if I wanted to talk. He was really confused about what was going on. "Who are the Sons?" he wanted to know. I wasn't in the mood to explain. I apologized but said he was just going to have to be patient. Eventually, I would explain everything.
I just wanted to be alone. In my room, I examined the windows. I was on the second floor. I didn’t know if a drop out of the window would harm me terribly. I could unlock the window and probably get the screen out. While I was checking this out, I noticed that there were a bunch of large Doberman pincers wandering around on the grounds. They looked mean. So that meant if I jumped out the window, I was going to have to get past the dogs. I could possibly scale the fence that surrounded the property, and maybe if I was lucky, there wouldn't be any guards on the opposite side. But in doing so, I'd probably set off some kind of alarm. And, of course, I didn't have a gun.
If I tried to escape and failed, Grandma Hoyt would probably triple the security. Who knew, maybe she'd handcuff me to my bed or something. No. I needed to do this right. I was going to have to plan. And I needed something waiting for me once I got out. I wondered if Father Gerald could get me in touch with Hallam. There was no phone in my room, but I did have a computer.
I looked up Christ is King Catholic church in Shiloh, Georgia on the internet. I found a phone number, which I scribbled on a piece of paper and stuck in the pocket of my nightgown. (It had pockets. Go figure.)
I was considering whether or not I could make friends with the kitchen staff and get some food to bribe the dogs with, like a big steak or something, when there was a soft knock on my door.
"Who is it?" I yelled.
"It's your grandmother."
Go away, I thought. But I wasn't going to give her the satisfaction of speaking to her, not even to tell her to get lost.
She opened the door and came in. I plopped down on my bed, my back to her. Gently, she sat down next to me.
"Azazel," she said, "I wanted to talk to you."
I didn't look at her.
"I know," she said. "You hate me. You don't want anything to do with me. You think I'm ruining your life." She reached over and tucked a strand of my hair behind my ear. It was a tender gesture. A motherly gesture. I pulled back from her, as if she'd stung me. "I know you can't see it now," she continued, "but I'm doing this for your own good. One day, you'll look back on this, and you'll see I was right."
Was she insane? I untucked my hair from behind my ear.
"We really need to get you an appointment with a decent stylist," she mused. "That color is absolutely terrible for your skin type."
Oh my God. The love of my life was going to be executed across the ocean. It was her fault. And she had the gall to talk about hair stylists?
"Listen," she said. "I wanted to come in to talk to you. I know you're angry. And I'll give you time to calm down. But I wanted to explain to you a few things. I don't know if you understand exactly what's happening here."
"I understand perfectly," I said. "You're keeping me prisoner while you have my boyfriend killed. It's sick and horrible. You're an evil person."
She sighed. "I thought you might think something like that. Let me try to start at the beginning. You never met your grandfather—Grandpa Hoyt. He died before you were born."
What did my grandfather have to do with this?
"I would have never met you if my parents hadn't been killed by the Sons," I said. "They killed your daughter. Both of your daughters. Why don't you hate them?"
"The Sons didn't do that," she said. "Edgar Weem did that. He gave those orders." When she said Edgar Weem's name, it was like she was saying a particularly disgusting word. She reminded me of Michaela Weem. Then she clenched the comparison. "Vile man. Vile."
Michaela had said those exact same words. I suddenly turned to my grandmother with interest.
She continued. "Your grandfather was a complicated man, Azazel. A good man, but not without his weak-nesses. When I met him, I was barely older than you are. I did not come from a wealthy background—"
"Yeah," I muttered. "You're a gypsy or something, right?"
Anger flashed in her eyes. "I've done a lot of work to cover up that fact. I don't know how you discovered it. But, yes, my family was Roma. We traveled in a caravan throughout the United States. I had always been both blessed and cursed with dreams—visions more accurately. And I saw him coming. Your grandfather." She smiled then. "He was so beautiful then. Very charming. I was besotted with him from the moment I dreamed of him. When he arrived, coming to our carnival, I was not surprised to see him. But I was surprised when he seemed to take an interest in me.
"We had a whirlwind romance, the way only young people can. His family was against it. They wanted him to settle down with someone proper. Someone who befit his social standing. They were horrified when he married me. It was a love match. We were blissful. At first.
"We didn't know it then, Azazel, but our elders were right. Love does not last. All the problems they predicted would happen did indeed happen. Your grandfather tired of me. I was hopeless when it came to fitting in socially, and I had to learn the hard way, pulling myself up to a station of respect within society. And all the while, I had to do this while your grandfather was blatantly unfaithful to me. There were whispers everywhere I went. I was the gypsy girl who'd married into money because my husband had been crazy about me, only to be disinterested in me in just a few years.
"It wasn't easy. As a woman, and an originally poor one at that, I was kept completely in the dark about your grandfather's money and about his ties to the Sons. I knew nothing of who they were. But we did socialize with members of the Sons on a fairly regular basis. It was then I met Edgar Weem. He was young. Quite a lot younger than I was. But so excited, eager, and full of energy.
"The Weems and the Hoyts have never gotten along. There has been a long-standing feud between the two families. Edgar and I both knew this, but we had an affair anyway. It was short. He was far too much my junior, and in the end, he took his vows to the organization too seriously to continue it. He had made vows of celibacy, you see.
"But I was able to learn much about the Sons from Edgar, who was quite open about the organization and about the prophecies with which he was so obsessed. It was clear that your grandfather had absolutely no interest in the organization. Instead, he left that to his brother, Ian. I was able to use my knowledge to make myself invaluable to Ian. After all, I had a certain amount of control over the Hoyt fortune. I used that control to cement my position in the family.
"After your grandfather died, I remained in control of the fortune, instead of having my coffers skimmed by the Sons. We had no male heirs, but it was okay, because I was able to perform the duties your grandfather had performed.
"And that was when Edgar Weem blackmailed me. He had the information that we'd had an affair, and he knew that would ruin me. It would have ruined him if it had come out as well, but he knew I'd never let that happen. He wanted two things from me. He wanted me to bless his union with some ridiculous girl, so that she could bear what he thought was going to be the Rising Sun. And he wanted my financial and influential backing to help him rise in the ranks of the Sons. He wanted to sit on the Council. He wanted to be in control.
"I was livid. First of all, it was insult that he had left me entirely because he wanted to honor his vows of celibacy. Here he was with some slip of a thing, who he was trying to sire a child upon. I hated him for that. And I hated him for trying to use what had been between us for his own gain. Furthermore, he would be working against the Hoyts, my own family, because he was a Weem. I was siding against my legacy with this horrible man. And I had no choice.
"This Rising Sun he intended to erect would be his child. He would be able to mold the child as he saw fit. And he would wrench the power completely away from the Hoyts. I knew exactly what he was doing. He said it was about noble things, about bringing the Rising Sun into the world. He claimed to believe in the prophecies. But I saw through him. It was a power play, pure and simple. He was a despicable, wretched, scheming man. I wondered if he hadn't orchestrated the entire affair with me entirely for that purpose.
"When he arrived here with that girl, that Michaela, I could see immediately that she had an impressionable mind. So I did the only thing I knew to do. The only thing I could think to stop him. He wanted me to use my gypsy powers to help him and his child. So I used my gypsy upbringing all right. But not in the way he thought. I planted ideas in Michaela's mind. False visions. I thought if I could turn her against Edgar Weem and the child, that she would just get rid of it."
"What do you mean, you planted ideas in Michaela's mind?" I asked. Just how freaking powerful was my grandmother?
"It's a bit like hypnotism," said Grandma Hoyt. "It's something I learned in my carnival days. It's been useful other times as well. When Edgar Weem alerted me that a Brother named Anton Welsh knew our secrets, I was able to place certain ideas in his head as well. Not the ideas Edgar would have wanted, of course, but then he was too stupid to realize that I was always working against him. Always."
My head was spinning. Grandma Hoyt was responsible for what both Michaela and Anton thought? "What kind of ideas did you plant?" I asked, even though I was pretty sure I knew the answer.
"I told them that the child, that Edgar's child, was an abomination," said Grandma Hoyt. "That he shouldn't live. That he would bring nothing but evil to the earth. And I didn't bless him, instead I cursed him, so that my predictions would come true."
"A gypsy curse. I cursed him to descend deeper into darkness as the power inside him—power already bestowed by others—grew. Soon, he won't even be human." She took my hands. "So, you see, that's why I want you away from him, darling. I know you think you love him, and I've felt that way before too, but what you don't understand is that those passionate feelings are adolescent. They fade over time. They don’t last. I'm not saying it doesn't hurt now, but it will get better."
I snatched my hands away from her. I was reeling from what she'd just told me. She'd planted the visions in Michaela's head? And the idea that Jason was an abomination? "Wait," I said. "Did you plant the vision of the vessel in Michaela's head?"
"Of course not!" said my grandmother. "I don't know where she came up with that ridiculous idea. I wasn't pleased at all when she didn't just terminate the pregnancy. Instead, she wove this elaborate conspiracy to get rid of Jason, and she involved my own daughter in it. I was less than amused by that."
"Your own daughter you weren't speaking to," I pointed out.
"Because she wouldn't listen to me when I told her that the whole thing was ridiculous and made up," said Grandma Hoyt.
"So the only reason Michaela hated Jason was because you hypnotized her," I said to myself more than her. That was so strange. It made everything different. Suddenly, there weren't any visions stating that Jason and I were evil or that we'd do terrible things together. It was all just ravings of a hypnotized woman. Except . . . "Michaela's visions were sometimes right, though," I said. "It couldn't have just been because you hypnotized her."
"She wasn't right," said Grandma Hoyt, dismissing that entirely.
"But she was," I said, and I explained about her prophecy and the men in the church in Shiloh.
Grandma Hoyt shook her head. "She didn't have a vision, Azazel. She put the suggestion in your head. Then you put that suggestion in those men's heads. You planted their insanity."
"I didn't hypnotize them," I said, confused.
"Yes," said Grandma Hoyt. "You did. And this is why I wanted you here with me, Azazel. Neither of my daughters had my gifts. But you are special. They are strong within you. You have dreams as well. Dreams that suggest the future. Dreams that show you things. And you can also exert your power over the minds of others. You are stronger even than I am."
What she said made a certain amount of sense. But I wasn't sure that I actually believed it.
"I can teach you how to control and hone your gifts," she said.
I glared at her. "So that I can be like you? No, thanks."
"What does that mean?"
"Okay," I said, "I get that you're mad at Edgar Weem. He sounds like a big jerk. I'd be mad at him too. So if you have these powers or whatever, why not use them on him? Why didn't you just make him go take a big jump off a building or something? Why this elaborate scheme? And why involve Jason, who was an innocent, unborn child and had never done anything to hurt you?"
"The power doesn't work like that," said Grandma Hoyt. "You can't just go around messing with the minds of everyone you meet. Only impressionable minds can be used. Edgar wasn't suitable."
"Jason was just a baby," I said. "You disgust me. You're a vile woman." I threw her words about Edgar Weem back in her face.
"Azazel, you must wipe thoughts of Jason from your mind. He is gone. He was a violent, terrible boy. He wasn't a good influence on you. And he would only have hurt you in the end. My curse would have seen to that. The boy is little more than a walking time bomb."
Oh. Screw her curses. Maybe they only worked on impressionable minds too. I stood up from the bed, fuming. I couldn't believe this. My entire life, everything that had gone wrong, was all my grandmother's fault. It was her fault that Michaela had tried to use the Satanists to kill Jason. Sure Satanism was weird and a little gross, but beyond the ritual killing of Jason, it didn't really hurt anybody. If it hadn't been for that, maybe I could have simply dealt with my crazy Satanist family. They might still be alive, too. Essentially, my grandmother's actions had caused pretty much every bad thing that had ever happened to me.
I spun on my heels, staring at her. She sat so prim and proper on the bed, her back as straight as if an ice pick had been rammed up her spine. And as I stared at her, I hated her.
"Do you have any idea what you've done?" I said. "You set things in motion. It's your fault that so many people are dead. And you just use people like they're your pawns. You just move them around. Like Palomino. Taking her away from Chance."
Grandma Hoyt got to her feet. "Palomino is in a facility in the Sons' Headquarters. I assure you, she's quite safe. And it's for her own good."
"Her own good?" How could she be so self-righteous? Didn't she see what a horrible hag of a woman she was?
"I'm sure I've given you a lot to think about," said Grandma Hoyt. "I'll let you think." She swept out of my bedroom.
I stood, rooted to the spot, seething. All I could think about was what an absolutely terrible person she was and how much I hated her. I tore out of my room after her.
She was standing at the top of the staircase.
"Grandma!" I screamed.
She started and lost her balance. She went tumbling down the steps, crying out.
Chance came out of his room. "What's wrong?" he said.
Grandma Hoyt's body came to a stop at the bottom of the steps. Her neck was twisted in an unnatural way. She was crumpled into sickening position, her legs and arms like a pretzel over each other. And her eyes were wide open, staring up at me. But she wasn't moving.
I took a step back, my hand going to my open mouth. "Oh," I whispered.
Chance clambered down the steps to Grandma Hoyt. He knelt by her, shaking her shoulder. "Grandma?" he said.
I'd just accidentally killed my grandmother.
Copyright (c) 2009 Valerie Chambers