The Doll 31（文稿）
Manage episode 310290955 series 3051597
Munroe hunted for transportation along the side streets of Nice.
Here the pedestrian traffic was lighter and those who took note of their passing fewer,
but even off the main streets and busy walkways, the occasional passerby turned to stare at Neeva and her odd getup,
which worked as much as a distraction from her face, and as such a disguise, as it did a beacon.
Neeva, seemingly oblivious as to the liability she was to Munroe, continued on, head up and shoulders back.
Irritated by the girl’s ignorance, Munroe nudged her. “Keep your chin down, eyes to the sidewalk,” she said, “Unless you’re trying to be recognized and stopped.”
Neeva dropped her head, and Munroe skirted her around yet another corner to another street, keeping the trail as random and unpredictable as possible
so that Lumani would be forced to follow and couldn’t, even with reinforcements, set an ambush.
Down one more block, around a corner, and finally, on a narrow street with cars parked only on one side, their tires up against the curb to leave a single lane for two-way traffic,
Munroe found what she wanted: a vehicle plain enough to garner little attention, new enough to be considered reliable, old enough to still be hotwired. And it was unlocked.
Through the window, Munroe checked the fuel gauge. Three-quarters of a tank.
She pulled the roll of tape from the backpack, ripped off a strip with her teeth, and tossed the tape and the pack at Neeva.
“Get in the back,” Munroe said. “Keep an eye out— let me know if anyone curious or angry heads this way.”
“We’re going to steal a car out in the open?”
Munroe opened the front passenger door and pointed with a head motion.
“Consulate’s about a kilometer that way. Just start walking. Pretty Boy will be by shortly to give you a lift.”
Neeva climbed into the back.
Munroe checked the emergency brake and set the car in neutral.
Lay across the floorboards and, head beneath the steering wheel, removed the plastic cover beneath the mechanism, searched for the wires that would take her home, and said,
“This makes you an accomplice— no longer an innocent victim. The people in the consulate saw you walk out and follow me on your own, without coercion.”
“Why do you keep trying to scare me off?” Neeva said. “I understand the consequences.”
Munroe pulled at the wires. “Just checking,” she said, “making sure you know there’s a path between death and freedom, and it might not be a happy place, either.”
Neeva huffed in reply, and with the piece of tape stuck to her forehead, Munroe used her nails and teeth to pinch and strip.
She’d have been faster with more experience, but it’d been a while since she and Logan, still young and stupid, had played anarchists with other people’s cars.
The ignition caught. Munroe taped the exposed wires and scooted out from beneath the seat and got behind the wheel.
Leaned over to shut the passenger door, then put the car in gear.
If they were lucky, they wouldn’t need to stop between here and Milan, might not have to go through this process again,
and with the border only forty minutes away along the highway— a route they could take now that Munroe was certain Neeva wouldn’t be banging on windows and screaming for help from passing cars and tollbooth operators— odds were good that they’d be in Italy before the car was reported stolen.
Munroe checked for traffic and pulled onto the road. To Neeva she said, “If you throw that bag all the way to the back, you can come up front.”
Neeva tossed the backpack behind the rear bench and squeezed between the two front seats, jacket and doll dress tangling as she dragged herself forward.
“I really think new clothes would be a good idea,” she said, then settled and buckled in. “Why do you keep avoiding the backpack?”
Munroe checked the rearview. Lumani was out there, she knew it, knew he knew she knew, and his continued invisibility added to the pressure inside her head.
She turned onto a main street and followed instinct toward signage, and the signage toward the highway.
Glanced at Neeva and found the girl staring, waiting for something. “What?”
“The backpack— why do you avoid it?”
“The phone has a tracker and a bug in it. I pulled the battery, but just in case.”
Neeva’s forehead creased, and the same girl, who while dodging killers and kidnappers would, if given half a chance, have pranced down the streets of Nice with her head held high, glared at Munroe accusingly, as if she’d been betrayed.
“Why do you still have it?” she said.
“Now you’re an expert, too?”
Neeva crossed her arms and stared at her lap.
Munroe said, “It’s the only way I have to communicate with them— I have a few things to sort out before I can get rid of it.
“Listen, you chose to come along, uninvited, so if you’re going to stick around, you need to zip it and let me lead.
“If you question me every step of the way, I’ll give you back just to get rid of you. I need quiet right now.”
“I was just asking,” Neeva said.
“And you’re still annoying me,” Munroe said. “I’m not your friend. Just because I saved your life doesn’t make me a nice person.
“I didn’t do it for you, I did it for my own reasons— just like what you’re doing here isn’t for me but for yours.
“So since we’re stuck with the phone for now, the plan is to move fast, stay a step ahead, and avoid saying anything that allows them an advantage. Get it?”
Neeva nodded. “Not stupid,” she said, and despite herself, Munroe smiled.
“Good,” she said. “And when we do get a real phone, you need to call your parents.”
“And tell them what?”
“For starters, that you weren’t re-kidnapped, because it’d certainly make my life a hell of a lot easier if my face isn’t on every other television, right next to yours.
“And since you won’t be on the flight they booked, they probably deserve to know the reasons why.”
Neeva sighed. “It’s not going to be a pleasant conversation.”
“Welcome to the world of difficult choices. You’re doing a brave thing, Neeva, but it only counts if the ones you love know you’re doing it of your own free will.”
THE HIGHWAY OUT of Nice took them along the coast farther inland than the regional roads,
a scenic straight shot into Italy that bypassed border control, cut through tunnels, skipped towns, and made a mockery of the wasted time it had taken to drive the opposite direction.
Munroe stuck to the highway only until they diverted past Genoa, and the beauty and grandeur of the coast and the mountains and the tunnels phased into a bland industrial flatness.
She used Arben’s money to pay the toll and exit the highway.
Smaller roads meant slower going, but they also meant that Lumani, in whatever powerful vehicle he drove, wouldn’t be able to overtake them on speed alone.
Neeva broke the silence. “What happened to the scarface guy?” she said.
Munroe glanced sideways but didn’t answer.
“At the consulate you said the pretty boy was still out here,” Neeva said. “And you said he and him as if there was only ever one. So what happened to the other? Did he follow us into the garage?”
“There are some subjects better left alone,” Munroe said.
Neeva stared at her hands. “I’m in this of my own free will, so I kinda earned the right to know.”
“He’s dead,” Munroe said, and Neeva nodded, satisfied.
THEY APPROACHED MILAN from the south, following signs toward the city center until they were thoroughly into a mix of civilization and Munroe’s focus changed to locating the metro.
She continued through a residential area of apartment blocks and dead-ended at Famagosta, a station with not much more to it than a large bus exchange and several parking garages.
Took the car up a ramp. Found an empty spot, switched off the ignition, and abandoned the vehicle.
The metro station, down a long level, was clean and well lit, with frequent trains running into the heart of Milan.
Munroe purchased tickets at a vending machine, the price, at one euro per trip, shockingly low.
Gusts of hot air blew out from the tunnel, propagating the stale smell of burned metal, hydraulic fluid, and machine oil— the universal underground fragrance that belonged only to the tracks.
She kept her arm linked in Neeva’s, boyfriend to girlfriend, and as in Monaco and Nice, passersby paused or did a double-take when they caught sight of the costume,
but this time Neeva kept her chin down, and from the smirks and sometimes outright staring, it was evident that people focused so much on the clothes that they failed to take notice of who wore the outfit.
Neeva whispered, “Won’t he follow us in?”
Munroe shook her head.
Lumani would be an idiot to attempt to track them through the subway, not only because of the cameras and security, but because of how easily he could miss them by even one train.
She said, “He’ll wait for us to surface and follow from there.”
They rode the line to Milan’s central station, where, as it was now nearing the end of the workday, the building bustled with early twinges of rush-hour traffic.
They transferred up a level, and yet another, to the main lobby of the station, a high-domed hall, one long side of which led to the tracks for the distance and high-speed lines, and the other to the outside.
Through this part of the station, travelers, national and international, fed in and out of the city by the hundreds of thousands each day.
Neeva twisted around, her face turned upward, eyes wide in wonder at what was said by some to be the most beautiful station in the world, and tripped.
Munroe caught her. “Sightseeing is going to get you killed, okay? Focus.”
Outside the station, streets were trash-strewn, narrow, and congested with traffic, and Munroe searched out the storefronts for what she knew had to be nearby.
Came at last to what she wanted: a small shop sandwiched among a strip of mom-and-pop stores,
glass windows entirely filled with colorful phone-card and travel advertisements that touted rates to mostly third-world destinations;
a business that provided the means to make cheap international calls and Internet access by the minute.
Inside, Munroe set Neeva by the front, where she could watch the street from the cracks between the window posters, and handed her the backpack.
“If you see someone familiar,” she said, “don’t try to be brave. It sounds stupid because I won’t be far from the door, but they can move fast.
“Scream ‘fuoco’ with everything you’ve got. Noise is your friend.”
Neeva mouthed the word and nodded.】
“And don’t step into the open doorway. If he’s watching, he’ll just as easily take you with a tranquilizer and carry you off.”
Munroe turned to the nearby counter, where an elderly man, the business’s only apparent employee, took Munroe’s money while casting an occasional stare in Neeva’s direction.
The phone booths closest to Neeva were occupied, so Munroe took what was available, trying to keep an eye on the girl while she punched in a seemingly endless stream of numbers and codes to dial Bradford’s number.
He answered on the first ring. “Hey,” he said. “Where are you?”
“Milan,” she said.
“Yes, but I’ve got to make this quick because I’ve not only got a tail, I’ve got Neeva with me, too.”
“I’ll explain it as soon as I’ve got more time.”
“I need your address,” he said, and she read the details off the receipt.
In an exchange of business, without any of the emotional undertone that had punctuated their previous conversations, Bradford ran through step-by-step directions that Munroe jotted down;
an address she dare not put into the phone’s browser or plug into the GPS in case that, too, transmitted details back to Lumani.
“Your guy needs to know I have a tail,” Munroe said.
“Can you shake it?”
“They’re like a bedbug infestation.”
“I’ll warn him,” Bradford said, and Munroe heard the smile in his voice. “Be safe.”
“My very best,” she said.
Neeva still stared out the window when Munroe approached, and the old man still studied Neeva.
“Anything?” Munroe asked, and Neeva shook her head.
A clothing shop three doors down toward the train station displayed discount signs in the windows, and Munroe walked Neeva to it and stepped inside.
Counted out most of what was left of Arben’s money, found an oversize long-sleeved shirt that could replace Arben’s jacket and a stylish hat Neeva could use to tuck her hair underneath.
Although the two pieces didn’t entirely erase the ridiculousness of Neeva’s getup, combined they helped to make her clothing more of a choice, and by implication far less attention-garnering.
“We’ll get you something else later,” Munroe said. “For now this is all I’ve got money for.”
“It works,” Neeva said.
They returned to the station and Munroe searched for storage lockers, found none, and so followed the signs for Deposito bagagli, the manned luggage depot where for a fee baggage could be screened and left behind.
She stopped when she saw the line, five people deep. Turned a slow circle, scanning shops and people, searching faces for the curious and familiar.
Shrugged off the backpack. Opened it long enough to pull out the tape, phone, and travel documents.
Shoved everything, including the tape, bulky and uncomfortable, inside her jacket,
then with a subtle re-check of surroundings, pushed the pack and the remainder of its contents into a garbage bag.
Neeva’s mouth opened and her lips formed a question, but she stopped before the words came out.
Munroe took her elbow and pointed her toward the escalators. “Keep walking,” she said.
If she could have, Munroe would have left Neeva at the station and returned to collect her when business was finished.
Partners in general added complications, inevitably had to be protected and typically got in the way.
Neeva, in particular, and under these circumstances, with her lack of training and childlike trust, made for an exceptional burden.
But she couldn’t risk the separation. Not even running decoy.
If Lumani was even half the predator and a fraction the strategist she assumed him to be, he would know this stop at the station and the sudden movement of another tracker was his prey, masking scent.
To be certain, he’d be forced to check out all leads and it would cost him time, and that was all she’d done by abandoning the backpack and the equipment: purchased time.
Munroe looped from the upper level, wound through crowds, down again to the track they’d just used, returning in the direction from which they’d come.
Reached the platform, and with Neeva sliding back against a tiled wall in order to catch her breath,
Munroe scanned faces, waiting for the mechanical announcement and the hiss down the tracks.
The approaching roar, the squeal of brakes meant another ride, another chance at freedom.
Waiting passengers approached the doors, and Munroe maneuvered Neeva into the thick of the crowd, stepping to the side to allow those within to exit.
Near the stairs on the opposite platform, Munroe caught the first sign of familiar.
Recognition came first in a flash of color and a glint, as if light had reflected off metal or an oversize briefcase.
Munroe stepped onto the train and, hand on Neeva’s shoulder, guided the girl behind standing passengers, but the move wouldn’t have made any difference.
Lumani stared at Munroe through the glass and on his face was a gloating smile.
The train began to move and he touched an index finger to his forehead and tipped it toward her.
“Was that him?” Neeva said. “Pretty Boy?”
Pulled the pieces of Arben’s phone from her pockets. Put the battery in and powered the device on.
“Are you worried?”
“Not yet,” Munroe whispered, and Neeva, taking the cue, kept silent.
Another text waited when the phone finally booted. Another picture, of Alexis, this time naked, blindfolded, and spread-eagled against a concrete floor.
Munroe clenched her teeth and deleted the image. To focus on anything other than the moment would mean mistakes, would mean death,
and by default allow innumerable other girls to fall into the same fate as Neeva and Alexis. She would stay the course.
Warm and uninvited, Neeva’s hand touched Munroe’s arm. Munroe tensed. Neeva withdrew. “Sorry,” she said. “I forgot.”
Munroe nodded and forced a pained smile of acknowledgment, scrolled to the phone contacts,
and, with paper and pen she’d taken from the phone shop, wrote down Lumani’s and the Doll Maker’s numbers.
Then, with the phone still on, Munroe dropped it into the jacket pocket of the woman standing next to her.