Teasers & Deleted ScenesAshton, VA, October 2009
Chaz Villette walks through the door to Hafidha's burrow's antechamber, and she can tell in five seconds that she's not going to enjoy this conversation. She reads her predestination to unhappiness by the angle of his shoulders. It's in the lack of advance warning too, and only confirmed by the detail that his arms are full of file jackets rather than cupcakes.
He speaks to her valet--it's LaShawn today--turning his head aside for privacy. She's getting damned good at reading lips. Trust her baby brother to have noticed.
Whatever it is, it's bad. She knows, because the valet nods and withdraws to the other side of the soundproofed door. And Chaz crosses the antechamber, sits down at the card table beside her burrow's shimmering, semi-transparent wall, and lays his burden out before him, squaring each jacket with the table's edge like somebody with borderline OCD.
He doesn't ask permission to sit.
That's a bad sign too.
"What," she says. "Is it Thanksgiving already?"
He answers, but she can't hear him. The conversation holes in the transparent sheathing are too small to jam even a fingertip into--she could break it with a crochet hook, but they'd just gas her--and the mesh muffles sound the same way it blurs light. Hafidha will spend the rest of her life looking at everyone she loves, and the little sliver of October world she can glimpse through the windows, through a haze of copper spun fine as silk.
She rises from her bed and sets the sweater she's knitting aside. It's supposed to be for Daphne, and she wonders if the Bug will ever let her finish it. She concentrates on how much it twists inside her to walk across the scatter rugs on the tile floor, and the Bug doesn't do a thing to stop her from going to Chaz. Maybe it knows what's coming, too. Maybe it can read Chaz's face, the tired lines drawing the corners of his mouth down, as well as she can.
Maybe it just knows that it hurts, so she can keep doing it.
She sits down across from her baby brother and folds her arms. "It's a bad time."
He nods, face impassive. Then he opens the file jacket in the middle and extracts an eight by ten black and white photo of a toddler, a pretty plump-cheeked girl with a cheeksplitting smile and a head full of two-strand twists secured with bright cartoon elastics. Tweety Bird. Sylvester.
He says, once more, "Your birth name is Jacquelynne Destiny Carroll."
He might as well have stabbed her in the chest with one of the bamboo skewers he uses for checking the done-ness of cake. She shakes her head; her mouth is full of words she cannot say.
"I know you know." Chaz lays the photo down on the open file folder. Face up, curse him. "I know you know, because every electronic record pertaining to your birth, your parents' death, and your adoption has been scrubbed out of existence. Utterly wiped. I only know two people who could manage that, and one of them is fictional. It took Todd and me four months to put the narrative back together, Hafs. There are still a few hardcopy newspaper morgues around, but--you did a really good job."
He smiles, a little flash of crooked teeth under a Roman nose that belongs on some other face.
"That girl is dead," Hafidha says, grating it out one breath at a time. The skewer's still in her, probing around, looking for a vulnerable spot. But all the spots are vulnerable.
Chaz nods, staring down at his big awkward hands. He speaks as if relating a case history, any case history at all. Something of only academic interest. "She died on July 14th, 1977, at approximately 2 am, aged 21 months, 14 days. She was killed in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, in New York. With her died her mother Letisha, her father, Monroe, and her brother, Martin, five years old."
She wants to open her mouth, to say Chaz. Don't. Please. And she does--she gets her lips apart, but her voice coils up in her throat like a snake and chokes her. She could make herself vomit easier than making herself talk. Maybe she will--vomit. Maybe she will topple her chair over, bang her head against the cork-padded floor. Anything, anything.
She can feel the Bug in her, drinking up the hurt, and she knows she'll sit right here until it's done.
Chaz continues, inexorable, soft. Telling her a story. "It was one of the hottest days of the year, and New York City was burning. Two lightning strikes and a malfunctioning breaker had crippled a power substation on the Hudson River. The lights went out in Gotham."
"The Summer of Sam," Hafidha chokes out, shaping her lips around the words and forcing air through her voicebox to make the words hiss out. All those esses. "Nineteen seventy-seven."
Chaz smiles a shy little flicker and nods. Pleased with her. Proud. "But it wasn't David Berkowitz that killed the Carroll family. And it wasn't the rioting and fires that rattled their neighborhood that killed them either."
"No," Hafidha says, and now the Bug lets her talk. She's cooperating, going the way it wants. Feeding it the hurt that wells up from the scabs Chaz is picking off. Picking, picking.
She doesn't remember any of this. She doesn't remember the people in the photos she knows Chaz has concealed in the other folders: the strong brown man with the porn 'stache and the big dark eyes like pools, the full-hipped woman with her red-black hair worn natural and her swingy bellbottoms worn a little too tight, the snub-nosed boy in coveralls. She hopes he hasn't brought the autopsy photos. She's seen those too, and she never needs to be in a room with them again.
"The adoption records were sealed."
"Duke," Chaz says, as if that explains everything.
Which of course it does.
He clears his throat. "They weren't bad people," he says. Encouraging her to continue, to finish his story.
"I never knew them," she says. "But no. They weren't bad people. They were getting-by people. Letisha worked. Monroe worked, but got laid off. It was the Seventies. Everybody was getting laid off. So Monroe started making deliveries for a friend--weed mostly, and cash, and larger quantities of both than the corner boys handled, because Monroe was hardworking and responsible and had a good reputation in the neighborhood. He didn't do much more than a beer or a toke on the weekends, and neither did Letisha. So he wasn't skimming. He was doing what he could."
"I know." The bone-pain sympathy in Chaz's voice sends a thrill of delight through the Bug.
She takes a breath. "Monroe didn't keep dope or cash at home, ever, but the three soldiers who wanted to go into business for themselves didn't know that. That night was the perfect opportunity: the streets were in riot, two blocks of Broadway in Brooklyn were aflame, the emergency rooms were flooded and what passed for police were very, very busy. The soldiers broke in while the family was asleep--they were all sleeping in the living room, because the power was off and it was the only room with cross-ventilation--and held them at gunpoint, demanding to know where the drugs and money were hidden. The dark and the heat and the lick of flames against the sky probably contributed to raising the adrenaline levels in the room. So did the screams of the toddler in her crib."
"It wasn't her fault what happened," Chaz says. The Bug doesn't want to hear that; it digs its hooks in and makes her keep talking.
"This is speculation," Hafidha says, "but the police believe that the three men began to pistol-whip Monroe. Letisha attacked one of them with a lamp, defending her husband. The youngest soldier, nervous, fired a shotgun blast into her abdomen.
"It was a bad neighborhood, but it wasn't the kind of neighborhood where people ignore the sound of a shotgun. The assailants knew the police would be called. So they put the barrel of a .45 in Monroe's mouth and pulled the trigger. Letisha was still alive. The intruders dragged Martin in from where he was hiding and shot him in front of his mother to force her to talk. But time was running out, and Letisha was no longer conscious. After a cursory but destructive search of the apartment, the invaders fled.
"Martin was pronounced on the scene. The parents both hung on long enough to be loaded into an ambulance, but only Letisha lived to reach the hospital. The emergency rooms were crowded; the streets were insane. By the time she got there, it was too late. She died in surgery. The attackers were apprehended on other charges; the youngest agreed to testify against his companions in the triple murder case for a reduced sentence. He contracted hepatitis in jail and died of apparent institutional malnutrition in 1985." Hafidha drops her chin onto her knuckles. "Did you know that New York has not executed a death row prisoner since 1976?"
"Yes," Chaz says. He folds the file jacket closed and shuffles it off to the side, in a stack by itself.
"That little girl," Hafidha says. "Jacquelynne Destiny. Would it have been better for her if she lived?"
"I don't know." He looks up, looks her in the eye for as long as either of them can stand, and looks down again. "I'd have missed you."
It's so patently ridiculous it makes her snort, even if the Bug wants to tell her what an idiot he is for saying so. She manages not to sound sharky, but she can't keep the words in. "I'm afraid the bus for Witch Mountain just left."
"The Anomaly," he says, "is acquired. Prenatal exposure seems to predispose the mature jammer to resistance. There's limited evidence that it reinforces certain pathways in the brain that later provide... resilience... to the Bug. Remember when you agreed to let Reyes take your DNA? Hope Mitchell and I--" He pauses, swallows, trying not to give the Bug a crumb. "--Hope Mitchell and I both exhibit signs of genetic damage. Which is probably anomalous in origin."
Hafidha folds her hands to hide that they are shaking. "What's that got to do with me?"
"You do not exhibit that damage. Not...all of it."
"I see." "Damage"--a mutation--that means he is out there, in the real October sun, and she has to get hers filtered and third-hand. "Where's Professor X, Hank?"
Stray strands of hair stick through his fingers every which way as he makes a fist at his nape. "There's also some less limited evidence that the Bug spreads most consistently with the traumatic death of the original host."
"Like a mushroom shooting out spores."
"Like a spider feeding its young on its corpse," Chaz counters. But he refuses to be derailed. All on one breath he says, "And when she was five years old Letisha James was molested by an uncle who later committed suicide after killing his own wife and three children."
"Letisha wasn't a jammer."
"No," Chaz says. "Letisha had the first crack. And the inoculation." His ridiculous Adam's apple bobs in that ugly stork throat. "Like William Villette when he raped his sister Addy. But like him then--like Addy, after he raped her--she wasn't a jammer. Yet. If she'd survived that night in 1977, though. She might have been. Instead, she died, and passed the... infection on to her daughter, and to the young man who killed her."
She wants to keen, to crumple to the floor. She wants to wrap her arms around Chaz sitting there so still and sore and rock them both until they can cling to each other and scream like the lost children they are. Her baby brother.
Fathered by the same monster. She never knew how prophetic she was.
She sits dry-eyed, hands folded. She bites her cheek until she tastes seaweed and copper. She drives her nails into her palms until red crescents mark her flesh. The words still come out through her teeth, bright and cheerful as tea party conversation. "So I hear you're going to drill a hole in Eddie's head. Maybe you can borrow one of my crochet hooks and try to fish out the Bug with that. What do you say, Platypus?"
Chaz stands. He leaves the folders on the table. The photos are for her, but he won't put them inside her cell, when the Bug can destroy them. He presses a hand to her cage and says, "I love you, Hafidha."
His fingers trail across the plastic as he turns and steps away.