The Innocent 38（文稿）
Manage episode 310290923 series 3051597
The necessities of the evening over, Munroe took the stairs up; ten floors in a slow climb that allowed her mind to purge everything left after those two hours at the restaurant.
Of the four who’d gathered at the table, Munroe was undoubtedly the only one who had stepped away with a lighter burden.
Predictably, Bradford opened the door before she reached it.
He’d taken time to put his jeans back on, although the rest of him was still bare.
She reached the threshold and he grasped her hand, drew her to him, pulled her inward and down to the sofa. The door shut.
She laughed, and he, hands wandering and mouth grazing hers, said, “I missed you.”
Those three words, so basic in their simplicity, encapsulated far more than either would admit.
It felt for the moment as if language could never suffice for what touch communicated.
Bradford’s hands roamed, hers reciprocated in kind, and she kissed him with the same intensity with which he’d drawn her to him.
His skin was warm against hers as the clothes fell away, and again their bodies tangled on the couch, each moment timeless, until they were spent to exhaustion and lay wrapped in each other’s arms.
Munroe rested her head on Bradford’s shoulder, body up against his while his fingertips stroked through what was left of her hair, the silence long until Bradford finally spoke.
“The guy’s name was Patrick,” he said.
Munroe shifted, chin to her hand atop his chest so that they were face-to-face. “The guy I tossed into the garbage?”
Bradford nodded. “Devin Patrick. He carried a badge, but he wasn’t NYPD.”
“An impersonator,” Bradford said. “He used the badge as a weapon, and he’s been at it for a few years now.
“The more the department digs, the more they find, and the less they like what they see— so, in a way, you did them a favor.”
“Are they burying it?” she asked.
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say burying,” he said. “Back shelving, maybe.
“But unless someone throws some evidence in their direction I don’t think they’re planning to look hard.”
Munroe returned her head to its resting place. “It’s good news,” she said. “Not necessarily that they aren’t looking, but that what I did might have been justified.”
“You already know it was justified,” Bradford said, “but I’m sure the confirmation is welcome.”
Munroe allowed the silence to swallow her. Bradford was right, the confirmation was welcome. More than welcome.
“Will you sleep?” he said.
“No,” she whispered, “not tonight.” And it wasn’t that she was afraid to fall asleep, afraid to dream or of the nightmares.
She was nearly certain that the dreams weren’t coming back, but not certain enough to tempt fate tonight.
Not with Hannah sleeping in the other room, and not when they were so close to the assignment’s end.
The nightmares had vacated, leaving a delicious weightlessness in their wake.
Perhaps the change had come because she was back on assignment or that so much killing had caused a pressure release, but she knew better.
For the first time in as far back as she could remember, she had allowed herself to feel the one thing she desperately craved from those closest to her but never afforded herself: acceptance.
She had a gift, and without fighting against it, without loathing her own nature, she’d let it serve her.
Bradford’s insight— his words— had meant something,and although she’d never been and would never be one to need approval or another’s validation to be whole, in this one weakness, where she was so desperately alone, another hunter had shown his face.
Sometimes it’s not wrong to kill.
There would be time later for sleep. For now, the gift had saved a child, and then she’d lived to tell of it,
and if the pieces fell into place as Munroe planned, tomorrow the last of the remaining strings would be brought tightly together.
Bradford shifted into the rhythm that had come to symbolize peace, and Munroe slid off the couch, squeezing his hand in reassurance as she left.
She pulled her shirt over her head, found a blanket, and placed it over him, and wandered into the other room of the suite.
She sat on the edge of the bed, and, her mind draining itself empty, watched Hannah sleep while the clock made its rounds and the predawn eventually arrived.
At six Munroe stood, removed the IV, collected the paraphernalia, and pulled it into the living room.
Her call to room service brought Bradford’s eyes open, although she expected that he’d been awake from the moment she’d begun moving about.
He joined her at Hannah’s bedside a few minutes later. “Why don’t you go clean up,” he said. “It’ll be a few before she starts to pull out of it. I’ll keep an eye on her.”
Munroe nodded, headed to the shower, and a long, hot ten minutes later, returned.
“It’ll be soon,” Bradford said, and they both turned toward the door and the heavy knock that reverberated from it. Hannah’s eyes twitched.
“I’ll get it,” Munroe said. “Take a shower while you can, because once she fully wakes, I want you and all of the equipment permanently out of sight until her mom gets here.”
Bradford nodded and turned. Munroe followed after him toward the door, collected the tray, and returned to the girl.
Only these last remaining hours until she fully discharged her duty, to Logan, to Charity, to Heidi and Gideon and to all of the children of The Chosen.
The bathroom door opened and closed, followed shortly by that of the main door as Bradford left the suite.
With this last, Hannah’s eyes rolled open. Her eyelids fluttered in the gradual open-and-shut of groggy cognizance until she slowly turned to face Munroe.
The room was still dim, and Munroe knew from experience that focus would come slowly.
Hannah would sleep and come back again several times before she was fully aware. Munroe took Hannah’s hand and squeezed it.
Hannah’s first instinct would be to question, but her body’s physical needs would beg priority, and this was to Munroe’s advantage.
“How do you feel?” she said.
Hannah turned toward the sound of her voice. “I have to use the bathroom,” Hannah said. “Really, really bad.”
“I’ll help you up,” Munroe said. “We’re going to go slow, okay? Because you’re weak and woozy, and if you’re not careful you’ll stumble.”
Hannah nodded and licked her lips in that dry fuzzy-mouth way of having been under the influence of the chemicals in her blood.
The girl struggled to sit, and Munroe slipped an arm behind her, helped her to her feet, and kept her balanced.
In the bathroom, Munroe held the door open for light and kept the fluorescents off.
Not only to spare Hannah the harsh glare, but so that the girl wouldn’t catch a glimpse of Munroe’s face and be prematurely frightened.
Mission accomplished and the return made less wobbly than the way there, Hannah lay back down and, eyes closed, said, “Where am I?”
“Montevideo,” Munroe said. “Are you hungry?”
“Starving,” she whispered.
Munroe brought the tray to the bed and placed it where Hannah could both easily see and reach it.
Hannah turned toward Munroe and said, “Who are you?” but the intensity of the question was quickly dispersed when the girl caught sight of the assortment of facturas on the plate.
“My name is Miki,” Munroe said. “We spent the day together in the kitchen, do you remember?”
There wasn’t any reason to spell out the amount of time that had since passed. Being put under wasn’t like waking from sleep.
Hannah would have no awareness of the lost hours, and as far as the girl knew, it was now the morning after.
Hannah nodded at the familiar reference, and as the mental fuzz faded, creased lines of worry crept to her face, but panic didn’t set in.
This was the bonus of having kidnapped a child who’d spent her life being shuffled from one place to the next, and handed to one stranger after the other.
“You look different,” Hannah said. “What happened to your face?”
“I got in a big fight,” Munroe said, and she smirked. “The other guy was ten feet tall, I had to climb on a chair to reach him, but I beat him up anyway.”
Hannah smiled. “Maybe a ladder,” she said, and she ate.
Between bites, the questions came. “Where are we? Why are we here? Where is Sunshine?”
Sunshine? Ah, Sunshine, the name of the woman that Gideon hunted.
“She didn’t come with us,” Munroe said, the kinder, gentler version of she had no right to keep you.
Hannah took another bite, and then another, eyes down toward the bed, processing, thinking.
“Why am I here?” she said. “I shouldn’t be here, I don’t have permission. Where’s Elijah, where’s Morningstar? Where’s my mom?”
“There are some people who love you very much who want to meet you.”
Hannah was quiet again, putting away more food than any child her size had a right to consume,but then, food like this didn’t come often in the Havens, and that had been part of Munroe’s reason for having ordered it. An easy bribe.
“Are you the reason they sent me away from the Haven? Did you take me away from Sunshine?”
“Yes,” Munroe said. “I did.” Her voice was soft. Tender. Provoking what was to come wasn’t easy, but she had to do it.
Hannah’s face reddened. Tears welled. “Why? Why would you do that? I need to go back.”
“Tell me about your dad,” Munroe said.
Hannah’s voice went up a notch. The tears gave way to anger.
“If you’re trying to find out where he lives, you’ll never get that from me. I don’t know where he is, but even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you. I would never.
“That would be—” Her voice broke, as if fighting for the right word. “That would be disloyalty to God and to The Prophet.”
“All right,” Munroe said. “Tell me about your mom.”
“Your real mom.”
Here, Hannah grew silent. She wasn’t the confident, defiant child from the kitchen, nor the angry one of a second ago. “My mom didn’t want me,” she said.
“Do you remember her?”
Hannah began to cry again. Hearty drops trailed a line from her eyes to her chin and down her neck.
In spite of the bravado she’d displayed in the kitchen, Hannah was an abandoned little girl aching to be wanted, yearning to matter to someone.
Munroe reached out and pulled the girl to her shoulder, held her tight until the tears subsided,and then whispered, “What if I told you that your mother wanted you? That she wanted you very much?”
Hannah sat up and pushed away, wiped a defiant hand across her face. “It wouldn’t matter,” she said. “She’s of the Void.”
“The Void is a scary place, isn’t it?” Munroe said.
“God can’t protect you or keep you safe in the Void,” Hannah said,“and even worse, when you’re outside The Chosen you can be taken over by the Devil.”
“Like your mother?”
Eyes to the bed, Hannah nodded.
There was no point in countering the fear or the belief; anything said would only create mental dissonance and be rejected out of hand.
Hannah would learn in her own time and through her own experiences which fears were founded and which weren’t, and that was the only way it could be.
What the child needed now was only to be heard and to have her current emotions validated, and she needed this before she was reunited with her mother.
“It’s scary to think that it could happen to you too, isn’t it?” Munroe asked.
“But even if she’s of the Void,” Munroe continued, “it still feels better knowing that she wanted you, doesn’t it?”
“Even if it doesn’t change anything, it still feels better.”
“Your father wanted you too,” Munroe said.
Hannah sniffed. Wiped her nose along her sleeve. “I know. But God’s work comes first.”
“I meant your real father.”
“He is my real father,” Hannah said. She paused, looked to Munroe, as if she wasn’t completely sure, and added, “Isn’t he?”
Hers was the tone of hopefulness, the voice of an abandoned child setting aside everything she believed to be true,even against the path to her own salvation, in the hope that maybe there were parents somewhere who truly wanted her.
This was dangerous ground, to be trodden carefully.
“I don’t have all the answers,” Munroe said, “but I have known your mom and dad— your real dad— for a very long time. In fact, your real dad is my best friend.”
“Did they send you to come get me?”
“They did,” Munroe said. “They’ve been looking for you for a long time.”
Hannah started crying once more, this time a slow silent well of tears that dripped steadily onto the bedcover, and Munroe understood the tormented conflict.
There was relief in the idea that she was wanted, but this was overcome by the terror of the Void and being taken outside the protective covering of The Chosen.
Munroe placed a hand on top of Hannah’s, and the girl, eyes red and swollen, looked up.
“I don’t know your life, Hannah,” Munroe said. “I don’t know all the places you’ve been or the people you’ve met, who you’ve lived with or who you haven’t,“but I can tell you what I know, the things that happened before and things that you probably don’t remember.
“I can tell you that Magdalene is your aunt— your mother’s sister, and that David kidnapped you away from your parents, and that he was only your mom’s boyfriend at the time.”
Hannah’s eyes glazed in disbelief and she returned her focus to the bed.
“My dad and I look the same, we have the same last name, and Magdalene may be my aunt, but she’s American and I’m Venezuelan, and so is my dad.”
“I have passports from three countries,” Munroe said, “and I don’t carry a passport from where I was born and raised, so what does that make me?”
Hannah was silent, her eyes still on the bed, and Munroe said, “Have you ever wondered why you move around so much?”
“We all move.”
“But you have moved more, haven’t you? Did you know that David is wanted by the police or that he used to carry an American passport,“but he couldn’t get it renewed without getting arrested? Did you know that you used to carry an American passport too?”
Hannah looked up again, eyes accusing. “Is that true?”
“Yes, it’s all true. And although I don’t have the proof with me, it’s easily found if you are willing to look for it.”
Hannah was quiet again, sullen.
“I’m going to tell you a little story,” Munroe said. “After that, if you have any questions I’ll answer them.
“And then, if you would like to get cleaned up, I have a change of clothes for you, because in about”— Munroe paused and stretched for the clock—
“I guess in about an hour or so, your mom will come walking through the door— your real mom, the one who never wanted to let you go,“the mom who has spent eight years trying to find you and who has saved up all that love just for you.”
Hannah was fighting back tears again, but she did well at putting on an air of bravery. She crossed her arms.
“And this guy you say is my dad?”
“He’ll be here soon after.”
“And then what?”
“What would you like to happen after that?”
Hannah looked toward the window. “I should go back to the Haven,” she said.
Munroe said, “But is it what you really want?”
She’d asked a question Hannah couldn’t answer without betraying The Prophet and The Chosen.
In giving Hannah the opportunity to meet parents who loved and wanted her, Munroe had offered the largest apple this little Eve could desire.
But the apple was in the Void, a forbidden fruit, the great unknown: the evil fear.
And to a child raised in The Chosen, it was much better to return to the Devil she knew than to face a Devil she didn’t.
Hannah had no concept of free choice, hadn’t the ability to grasp that it was permissible to want what her heart wanted, and so Munroe pressed on.
She told of David Law and the steps he’d taken to steal Hannah away from Charity and Logan.
She spoke of the events that followed, and went on to describe Charity down to the intricacies of her personality.
Munroe followed these with stories about Logan, shenanigans that a child could appreciate, until Hannah began to smile naturally and occasionally laugh.
When Munroe was certain that the girl’s defenses had been lowered, that a small bond had been forged, and that Hannah felt comfortable with the territory they would soon cross together,Munroe gathered the change of clothing that Heidi had brought and nudged Hannah toward the bathroom.
They were sitting cross-legged on the bed, picking the best parts from another round of food that Munroe had ordered, when the phone rang.
Hannah’s eyes grew wide, and the worry creases made an instant comeback.
Munroe stretched to reach the bedside cradle, and in response to Bradford’s voice on the other end said only, “Yes, go ahead.”
To Hannah, Munroe said, “In just a minute the front door will open and your mom will come in.
“When she does, I’m going to step around the corner to give you two some privacy, okay? But I’m here, and if you need me, you call for me, right?”
Hannah nodded, the fear self-evident. On instinct, Munroe ruffled the child’s hair.
Hannah squirmed to get away and ran her fingers over the top of her head to straighten out the mess.
Munroe laughed. “Just like your dad,” she said.