He laid out several sheets of paper. Or no, not paper. Pictures. Photographs. Full color. Graphic.
“Wayne Flowers, age forty-seven. Mara cut his throat and took his eye as a souvenir.”
Noah’s face was impassive, his eyes flat.
“Deborah Susan Kells, age forty-two, died of several dozen stab wounds, inflicted by Mara with nothing but a scalpel. Robert Ernst, age fifty-three, father of two. Mara stabbed him with a scalpel as well. His body could barely be identified by the police when they found it, rotting in a rest stop in the Keys.”
Noah didn’t look at me for confirmation, but he lifted the picture of Dr. Kells from the table. Then looked at his father.
“Did you know her?” he asked. “Do you know what she’s done to Mara? To me?”
It hit me then, how little Noah knew. It scared me.
“I do,” David answered.
Because he hired her, I wanted to say. I wished I could stand up, grab his shirt, make Noah listen, make him understand. But the drugs, David’s drugs, made sure I couldn’t.
“Do you know about—me?” Noah asked coldly.
“Your mother hid it as long as she could, but I found out when she died. It’s why she and I were chosen.”
“To be your parents.”
David closed his eyes, and when he opened them, a quiet fury had settled in his face. “The man you call Lukumi, whom I knew as Lenaurd, manipulated your mother, recruited her, then introduced her and me so we could breed. You were planned, Noah. Engineered.”
Noah practically radiated frustration. “For what?”
“To be the hero,” David said, looking at Noah like he was his greatest disappointment. “To slay the dragon. But you fell in love with it instead.”
HAD MY FATHER BEEN DRIVEN mad by the loss of my mother? By perpetual disappointment in his son, perhaps? I may never know.
“I hear electroshock therapy has come a long way in the last century,” I say to him. My wit falls on deaf ears.
“All I ever wanted for you, Noah—all most parents ever want for their children—was for you to be healthy, to be normal. But I’m part of the reason that never happened for you,” he says. “Your mother and I, we are both carriers, both unmanifested, of the original gene, the one that makes you abnormal.”
I nearly laugh out loud at the word. “All right. Fine. How long have you known?”
“Your mother left papers, letters,” he says flatly. “I didn’t believe them until you were eight years old.”
I search my memory for a hint and find none.
“You managed to climb up onto your dresser while your nanny was in the bathroom, and dove off it. You cracked your head open. I was terrified.” A brief, flickering smile appears on his lined face, and in that moment an image of my old bedroom materializes in my mind, high-ceilinged with dark wood trim. The floor had an inlaid pattern to it. I climbed my tall dresser to get a better look, and when I did, the floor seemed to take on dimension, to recede, as if I could jump into it. So I tried.
“I rushed you to the hospital, but by the time we arrived, your wound was nearly closed. I ordered a private doctor to attend to you, to take you for CAT scans, MRIs, blood work—nothing turned up. You were perfectly healthy,” my father says with a bitter smile. “Except for the fact that you kept getting hurt. No, not getting hurt—you were hurting yourself,” he adds nastily.
I want to hit him so badly.
“There was the fractured leg at nine.”
When I jumped off the roof at our country house, hoping I would fly.
“The adder bite on the Australia trip when you were ten.”
When I uncovered a snake beneath a pile of leaves, and decided I had to hold it.
“The broken hand at twelve.”
After a fight with my father, when I punched the wall.
“The burns at thirteen.”
When I set fire to the garden my mother had planted years earlier, which my father loved more than he loved me.
“And the first time you cut yourself, when you were fifteen.”
When I had had enough.
“And in between, there was the smoking, the drinking, the drugs—exercises in contempt for the life your mother and I had given you.”
A refrain I have heard so many, many times before. Boring.
“Psychologists and psychiatrists insisted you were traumatized by your mother’s murder. At five you were too old to forget it—”
“But too young to talk about it.”
False. No one tried.
“So you lashed out at the world, at me, at yourself. Your mother gave up her own life to have you, and you kept spitting on her memory.” My father’s eyes are thankfully missing that telltale maniacal glint, but still. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so furious. It’s oddly riveting.
This might be the longest conversation we’ve ever had.
He pauses to regain his composure and withdraws a kerchief from his pocket. Good God. He dabs it at the corner of his mouth. “I couldn’t look at her things after she died. I could barely look at you, you looked so much like her. But in time, I managed to force myself. She wrote about what she had done, what you were, what you would become. No wonder the psychiatrists and doctors were useless.” He shakes his head in disgust. “They couldn’t begin to comprehend your affliction. So I hired Deborah Kells.”
I realize, as my father confesses his involvement in the plot that has ruined the life of the girl I love, and my life by proxy, that I should feel a profound sense of betrayal. Righteous anger, perhaps. Shock, disgust, wrath—any of these would be perfectly normal.
That he hired Kells to experiment on the others and Mara, that he let Jude torment Mara, torture her—that much I could actually believe, monstrous and psychopathic though it was. If there were any profit to be had in it, my father would make it. That is a thing that makes sense. And the Lukumi bit is an interesting touch, I admit.
But the dragon business, this hero shit? Complete madness. My father is unhinged.
And yet he looks so normal. Particularly next to Jude, who is twitching, possibly drooling a bit, I can’t quite tell.
My father confirms my assessment with every word he speaks. “Deborah had theories about how to find others like you, and theories about how to cure them. I had her record her monthly progress and send the videos to me so I could keep up, but nothing in them promised to help you. Not until she found your Mara.”