Girl of Nightmares


Page 49


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Thomas doesn't quit, even though the figure that attacked us is doubled over. An arm waves a feeble defense, and the sound of air being dragged into his lungs is sharp and thin.

"Stop!"

I put my hand out and Thomas pauses his chant. It wasn't me who spoke.

"Stop, stop!" The figure cries, and waves for us to get away. "You win, right? You win."

"Win what?" I bark. "What were you trying to do?"

The figure backs away slowly, down the sidewalk. In between the gasps for breath is what sounds like shreds of laughter. The figure backs into the streetlight, clutching his chest, and pulls down the hood of his sweatshirt.

"It's a girl," Thomas blurts, and I sort of elbow him. But he's right. It's a girl, standing in front of us in a plaid cap and looking innocent enough. She's even smiling.

"This is the wrong street," she says. Her accent sounds like Gideon's, but looser and less precise. "If you're looking for Gideon Palmer, you'd better follow me."

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

The girl turns on her heel and promptly walks off. Just walks off, like two minutes ago she hadn't ambushed us on the street and tried to kill me. She expects us to follow, figures that we have to, if we want to make it to Gideon's before our legs give out underneath us. And we do follow, with reservation. This behavior, plus the attack, probably qualifies her as ballsy, or cheeky at the very least. Isn't that what Gideon would say?

"You were only off by two streets," she says. "But around here, two streets can make quite a bit of difference." Her hand points right and we turn together. "These are real proper houses this way."

I stare into her back. Beneath the plaid cap, blond hair trails down in a tight braid. There's a confidence in her strides and in the way she's not paying any attention to us, right behind her. Back on the sidewalk, beneath the streetlamp, she hadn't apologized. She hadn't been embarrassed in the slightest. Not about attacking us, not even about losing.

"Who are you?" I ask.

"Gideon sent me to collect you from the station." Not exactly an answer. Half of one. Something I might say.

"My mom told him we were coming."

She shrugs. "Maybe. Maybe not. Wouldn't have mattered. Gideon would've known. He has a way of knowing just about everything . Don't you think so?"

"Why did you attack us?" Thomas asks. The question comes through clenched teeth. He keeps shooting me these dagger eyes. He doesn't think we should trust her. I don't trust her. I'm just following her because we're lost.

She laughs; the sound is lilting and girlish but not high. "I wasn't going to. But then you brandished that knife, all Crocodile Dundee. I couldn't resist a little tangle." She half turns, flashes an imp's grin. "I wanted to see what the ghost killer was made of."

Ridiculously, part of me wants to explain, to say I had jet lag and was running on an hour's sleep. But I shouldn't care about impressing her. I don't. It's just her cocky smile that makes me think so.

The street we're on now is more familiar than the others. We're passing by houses with brick fences and low, iron gates, well-pruned shrub borders and nice cars parked in the driveway. White and yellow light sneaks out from between drawn curtains, and around the foundations are flower beds, the petals not yet pulled closed for the night.

"Here we are," she says, stopping so abruptly that I almost run up against her back. The curve of her cheek tells me she did it on purpose. This girl is quickly wearing on my last nerve. But when she smiles at me, I have to force the corners of my mouth down. She unlatches the gate and holds it open with an exaggerated gesture of welcome. I pause for a second, just long enough to register that Gideon's house has barely changed, or maybe it hasn't changed at all. Then the girl jogs around to the front to get the door. She opens it and goes through without knocking.

We squeeze into Gideon's entryway, making enough noise to make water buffalo blush, our suitcases knocking into the walls and our shoes squeaking against the wood floor. Ahead of us, through a narrow passage, is the kitchen. I catch a glimpse of a kettle on the stove, spewing steam. He's been waiting. His voice reaches me before I see his face.

"Finally found them, my dear? I was about to call down to Heathrow to inquire about the flight."

"They got a bit turned around," the girl replies. "But they're in one piece."

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