Louis stalked back to his room and dressed into yesterday’s clothes. His wallet was still in his pants pocket, so he was ready to go. He exited the penthouse—without leaving a note—locked the front door from the inside, and strode down the hallway, down the elevator, and then got blown back when he opened the outside door.
Chicago was a hurricane, the way the gray rain cycloned whatever hadn’t been tied down. Determined pedestrians with their hoods pulled down over their faces hunched against the wind. Louis’ almost leathery tan arms prickled in the unexpected cold, but it felt good. He didn’t even mind the water that dripped from the tip of his mohawk and down his face.
It wasn’t hard to find a diner close by and, it being a weekday, it was easy to get a seat. The waiter scowled at the trail of dirty water Louis left on the carpet. Louis sat next to the window and stared out at the street as he waited for his chocolate chip pancakes. This would show ‘em.
When they came, he put a couple large forkfuls into his mouth. And they were okay. But he realized he wasn’t hungry, and ended up letting the waiter take the rest of it away.
Louis sat in the booth quietly, methodically shredding napkins. He caught himself scanning the area for Adam or Summer, expecting one of them to slide into the booth across from him, uninvited. Adam would greet him and comment on something from class, or one of the million things he was pleased about. He would probably ask about last evening—No, he wouldn’t. But he would have told Summer, and Summer would bring it up first thing, with the accusatory slant she put on everything.
When the waiter’s subtle “Leave please” hints started losing their subtlety, Louis paid for his food and left. He stood under the overhang for a moment, watching the storm. A woman in baggy jeans and a winter coat walked in front of him, trying to get out of the rain if even for a few feet. She looked at him beneath her shaggy black hair and seemed astonished, like she recognized him, but then hurried on against the wind.
Louis was confused, but since he had left the penthouse to enjoy himself, he shrugged it off and followed at a distance; that was the way he wanted to go, and he had wanted to go that way first. The woman kept glancing back and the thought crossed his mind that she might be with the people that were after Paul and him.
They stopped at a crosswalk and were side by side again. Standing beside her, Louis realized that in the time between the diner and the crosswalk, she had put on glasses.
“Louis,” she said almost to herself.
“Sorry,” Louis said, wringing a few drops of moisture from his t-shirt. “You must be mistaken. No Lou-ee here.”
“Don’t give me that,” the woman said. “It’s me. From yesterday.”
Louis tried to remember if he had met this woman before. Then he recognized her voice. “Seer?”
Seer pushed her tongue into her cheek in annoyance and stared at the traffic light.
Louis glanced around at the other people waiting for the crosswalk. He turned up his collar and angled his head downward, trying to hide his face. If Paul knew he had let the Death Angel’s second in command see him without his mask…
“Relax. Your face isn’t anything new.”
Louis didn’t respond. He watched the glowing red across the street and hit the metal button behind him again. Finally the cars stopped and the sign glowed green. Seer stuck close to him as they crossed the street with the crowd.
“Hey, can I talk to you?”
“It’s a free country.”
She grabbed his arm to slow him down. Then, glancing around – suspiciously, Louis thought – she pulled him down the other side of the block, away from the crowd of people.
“Have you had lunch?” Seer asked, still scanning the area.
“Eat with me, anyway.”
Louis frowned and yanked his arm away from her. “Actually, I’d planned to walk around downtown.”
Seer wasn’t amused. “Ugh, alright,” she said and smiled an irritated sort of smile. “Lead the way.”
Louis walked forward, very aware of his sloshing shoes. If the rain bothered Seer, she didn’t show it.
“Listen,” she faltered. “I keep having these visions about your death. I thought that after I warned you last night, they would stop. But they haven’t. Which means you’re still planning on doing whatever it is you’re going to do.” She hit him harder than was polite.
Louis rubbed his arm, annoyed. “I’m not doing anything. For the love of—if anyone’s doing anything stupid, it’s Paul—I mean, Nightshade. He and that creepy boss of yours ran off this morning to who knows where. So why don’t you tell me what it is I shouldn’t be doing and I won’t do it!”
She hit him again, harder than last time.
“It’s that kind of thinking that’s going to get you killed, stupid. Don’t you get it? No one who really knows him calls him a ‘creepy boss.’ He’s your boss, too. And he’s also the only reason you two haven’t gotten caught.”
Louis sniffed in disdain. “He hasn’t done squat since I started working with Nightshade.”
“Would you use a little judgment and not throw names around in public?” Seer said, looking around.
Louis rolled his eyes and motioned to the people in front and behind them on the street. “They don’t care. Don’t you get it? No one cares.”
Seer stared him in the eyes. “Get a hold of yourself, Louis.” Her irritated tone had melted into a plea. “Even as I look at you, I see you dying in my mind. And along with you, everything we have worked for.”
“Would you stop staring at me like that? Fine, I’ll be careful. Not like I’ve been doing anything bad.”
“But your thoughts are bad. And that’s where it starts. One of these days, before the next conference, they’ll lead you to do something reckless, and that will be it.” She shook his shoulders. “Please get it through your thick head: you will be the death of all of us.”
“So tell me what I do, and I won’t do it,” Louis said evenly.
“I don’t know what it is that you’ll do.”
“Then get off my case, will you?”
“Your state of mind, Louis, is going to get us all killed.”
“My state of mind, huh? Thanks for the warning. I’ll just take up yoga and fix it.”
“This isn’t a joke, stupid.”
“Who’s laughing?” Louis kicked a lamppost. “I’m freaking out, okay? Here you tell us that we need to get out of Rocheford, and then you tell me the Death—the boss is going to kill me because of my ‘state of mind.’ Well you know what? Maybe my state of mind wouldn’t be so messed up if this world wasn’t so messed up.”
“I can’t do anything about that—“
“Exactly.” Louis stopped under an overhang and put his hands into his pockets. “Neither can I.”
Seer stood in the rain and stared at him for a moment before joining him.
“Do you know what the official slogan for the Host is?” she asked gently.
“’An eye on your heart, an eye on your friend, an eye on the world.’ It’s called ‘The Three Eyes Pledge.’ It’s been interpreted many different ways, but the most traditional understanding is that it’s about loyalty: looking out for yourself, your friends, and the good of humanity. Taking on the responsibility to protect all three.”
“Paul says it means you can’t trust anyone, not even yourself.”
“Like I said, many different interpretations. Knowing how the people around you interpret the slogan is a good way to know who’s good business and who you should stay away from. It tells you their motives for joining and what they think the Host is about. While we’re on the topic, what do you think it means?”
Louis shrugged and stamped wet shoe marks on the concrete. “I guess that you’re in charge of yourself, and you shouldn’t trust your allies too much. You know, keep an eye on them and if they start acting strangely, toss ’em.”
“Why?” Louis asked. “What do you think?”
“I go with the traditional view. But your interpretation is very similar to the leader’s.”
Louis sighed and forged ahead into the rain. Seer ran after him.
“What?” she called.
“I don’t want to be compared to him,” he answered.
“Why? You think like him, you’re quiet like him, you even walk hunched over like him.”
“Shut up, alright?”
“Alright. My. So touchy.”
“You’re ruining my vacation.”
“You being in Chicago is not a vacation,” Seer said flatly.
“No,” Louis said as he walked briskly ahead, halfheartedly trying to lose Seer. He was tired of talking. “My vacation away from the penthouse.”
Seer stopped, but seeing as Louis wasn’t going to, she jogged to catch up to him. “Why are you away from the penthouse?”
“’Cause I want to be,” huffed Louis. “and I can do what I want.”
“Oh geez, this may be it, this may be the thing.” She massaged her temples. Seer scowled at him and pointed back down the street. “Get back there right now.”
Louis recoiled. “What? No.”
“Knowing you, this is the steam of some latent adolescent rebellion. You don’t want to cross them.”
“I cross Paul all the time.”
“He’s mostly harmless, but he’s also a groveler. He won’t protect you from the Death Angel—you heard how he interprets the slogan—and the Death Angel is not harmless. Hurry up.”
“I’d like to see you make me.”
At that moment, Seer gave him a hard kick to the backside and Louis stumbled a few feet in the right direction. He stood up straight again, raising his fists, realizing he had wanted to fight for a long time, even if it was against Seer. Seer wasn’t in a battle stance, though her eyes were flaming with confrontation.
“Think of the future, Louis,” was all she said.
Louis lowered his hands.
“Please don’t sacrifice us all to fulfill whatever vendetta you have against authority.”
“I’m not,” Louis tried.
Seer raised a hand in farewell, then put it in her pocket and walked away.
Louis absently rubbed his new sore place. He was motionless for a good forty seconds before turning around and heading back down the street. He didn’t go straight back to the penthouse, though. He stopped somewhere for coffee and stayed there for a while.
When he got back to the penthouse, Paul heard him from the kitchen and hurried in a muted scurrying sort of way to intercept him in the entryway. Louis didn’t need to see his eyes to know how angry Paul was; it was never much of a mystery. Paul’s head was red and round like a cherry and veins popped out on the backs of his clenched hands. In no time at all, one of those hands was clenched in Louis’ wet t-shirt.
“Where were you?” Paul demanded in the annunciated version of monotone that betrayed the worst level of irritation. “We have been here worrying about you for half an hour.”
“Worrying about me, huh?” Louis grinned. Paul struck him across the face. A full on, palm-open slap. A disciplining-your-subordinate kind of slap. And it was more embarrassing than stripping at gunpoint. Louis’ jaw hardened and he glared at Paul. “Cut it out.”
“Don’t you dare tell me what to do. Not now, not ever! Do you know what you’ve done? You idiot! You…you…augh!”
Louis didn’t move or lower his gaze. He almost wanted Paul to hit him again, because that would be enough incentive for him to hit him back. But Paul didn’t; instead, he pushed him away and glanced back at the kitchen. Louis wondered why Paul didn’t want the Death Angel to hear. Wasn’t all this just showing off for him?
“Your brilliance only goes so far,” said Paul, “You can’t just do whatever you want.”
“It will go as far as I want it to and I’ll do whatever the hell I want.”
Paul stared at him, turning purple. His silence was worse than his yelling. His cheeks trembled with the effort of keeping his voice even: probably an old habit. “And how far is that, may I ask?”
Just then the Death Angel padded in from the kitchen. His calm smile was in sharp contrast to Paul’s expression. He had a sake cup cradled in his hand.
“Countersink, you are soaked to the skin,” said the Death Angel. “See, Nightshade? I told you not to worry.”
Paul lowered his head. “And you were right, as always, sir.”
The Death Angel took a sip and smacked his lips pensively. Louis hoped he hadn’t heard his exchange with Paul.
“Do you drink, Countersink?”
“Please make an exception. After you shower, of course.” The Death Angel led Louis past a bewildered Paul and down the hall.
A/N: All Seer wants for Christmas is to not be surrounded by idiots.
Previously one of my least favorite scenes that, through editing, has become one of my favorites. I heard a saying about artists that seems to flawlessly express my experience editing this monster: “You have to know when to stop. If you keep touching it up, you’ll ruin it.” That’s not the exact wording, but it’s close.
In editing Countersink, I keep having new ideas of characters and themes and personality traits and physical traits and a frame for the story…on and on and on. I’m still early enough in the process that these “what if?” scenarios are good, but there will come a time when I have to force myself to throw my hands up and declare, “IT IS FINISHED!” even though I can think of fifteen more things to tweak.
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