Written in Red Page 68

She gave Meg the “woman down on her luck but still has some pride” look she’d practiced in the mirror last night. And she didn’t look at the hot chocolate she shouldn’t have bought if she was broke—especially when places charged extra for disposable takeout cups.

Meg fiddled with the pens on the counter. Finally she said, “I can ask Vlad if they hire extra help on occasion.”

“Appreciate it.” Asia took a deep breath and put just the right note of false cheer in her voice. “Time for me to get going.”

“Thanks for the hot chocolate.”

With a careless wave, Asia left the office and hurried back to her car. It sounded like a little thing, but Simon being away from the Courtyard so soon after that incident out west was a solid nugget of information—especially when the newspapers and television news still didn’t know what happened in Jerzy. Simon’s absence was a good indication that the Others were somehow involved, and informing her backers was money in the bank for her.

And Simon being away gave her time to find out more about Meg and the man in the white van.

* * *

Days and months and years of training images and sounds. Snips and clips and photographs of the beautiful and the terrifying. Movies and documentaries and carefully edited bits from the news. During all those lessons, the Walking Names never told the girls which images were make-believe and which ones were real. Real was a word with little meaning beyond the cells and the physical things done to girls who were no longer useful enough to be “pampered”—things that gave the rest of them “the full experience” for the visions required by particular clients.

And there were the other images, the ones that swam under the surface of memory and rose without warning or context. The ones that came from prophecies. They looked different, felt different. Sometimes felt too alive, were experienced too much. But they were veiled by the euphoria, and the Walking Names didn’t know the girls never forgot anything that was seen or heard during the visions. No, nothing was really forgotten, but those rememories, as Jean called them, couldn’t be deliberately recalled like the training images.

Meg shook her head, pushed those thoughts away, and went back to sorting mail. Thinking about the compound wouldn’t do anything but give her bad dreams tonight. She needed to remember something that would help her deal with Sam. Had she seen anything in all those binders filled with images that would be helpful now?

“Meg?”

She heard the voice a moment before Merri Lee poked her head in from the back room.

“Would you like to split a pizza with Heather and me?” Merri Lee asked. “Hot Crust is in the plaza a few blocks from here, and today is one of the days a Courtyard bus takes terra indigene for a shopping trip. Henry said he would pick up the pizza for us as long as I ordered a couple of party-size pizzas for the Green Complex.”

Meg frowned. “Doesn’t Hot Crust make deliveries?”

“They used to, but there was an . . . incident . . . and they won’t come to the Courtyard anymore.” Merri Lee brightened. “But maybe they’ll start delivering again now that you’re the Liaison.”

Meg searched her memory for images of different kinds of pizza. Images of people eating pizza. She had been given a piece once in order to know taste, texture, and smell.

“I don’t like the little salty fish,” she said. She wasn’t sure that was true, but she hadn’t liked the look of them.

“Neither do we,” Merri Lee said. “We usually get half with pepperoni and mushrooms and half with sweet peppers. Is that good for you?”

“That’s fine. But I don’t have any money.”

“This one is on us—a welcome to the Courtyard. The last Liaison made Heather and me uneasy, so we are really glad you’re here. And speaking of money.” Merri Lee handed an envelope to Meg. “Your first pay envelope. It covers the three days you worked last week.”

Meg opened the envelope and stared at the bills in various denominations.

“I know,” Merri Lee said. “Most companies write paychecks. In the Courtyard, you get cash, and it’s up to you to set enough aside to pay your income taxes, because they don’t bother with anything like that either. You can open an account at the Market Square bank so you could write checks for expenses outside the Courtyard. Or there’s a bank in the plaza that the Business Association uses when they write checks for outside vendors.”

“I don’t think this is the right amount,” Meg said, riffling through the bills. “It’s too much for the hours I worked last week.”

“That’s the other thing about working for the Others. You will never get less than what they agreed to pay you, but sometimes they give you more without explanation. We figure it’s their way of saying ‘Good job—don’t quit’ without actually having to say it. They don’t do it every week, but Lorne says if you don’t get a bumped-up pay at least once in a month, you should take it as a warning that you’re doing something the Business Association doesn’t like.” Merri Lee headed for the back door, saying over her shoulder, “They’re predicting more snow tonight. I hope it misses the city. If it piles up any more, we’ll have to climb snowbanks and go into our houses through second-story windows.”

Training image. Snow and barren, vertical rock. Men clinging to the rock, tied together with ropes.

Ropes. Safety lines. Buddies.

Prev Next