33

BY THE NEX MORNING, Alex was noticeably more alert. While not entirely out from under the numbing influence of the drugs, he did feel as if he was coming out of a long, dark sleep. He knew it would take more time for the drugs to get out of his system. Also, even though he had spit out the last dose of Thorazine, it wasn’t possible to spit out one hundred percent of it. At least he’d been able to completely eliminate the pills.

The first thing he did when he woke was to take the cup from the night before, the one with the medications in it, and crumple it up inside a paper napkin just to make sure that there was no chance the people who collected the trash would see any syrup or pills and alert the staff.

If anyone found out that he wasn’t being controlled by the drugs, they would put him in physical restraints. These people were only posing as medical professionals, after all. They were hardly interested in his well-being. He didn’t know how many of the staff were involved in the scheme, so he dared not trust any of them. For all he knew, the whole place could be in on it.

When a nurse came in with his morning dose of medications, Alex acted the same as he had been acting for days — lethargic, uninterested, sleepy — and repeated his trick of spitting the Thorazine and the pills into the water cup and throwing it away.

Almost immediately after the nurse left, Dr. Hoffmann strolled briskly into the room. Alex concentrated on sitting still and staring. He finally looked up, blinking slowly as he met the doctor’s gaze.

“How are we doing this morning, Alex?”

“Fine.”

“That’s good to hear,” he said as he pulled the blood-pressure cuff from a pocket.

He wrapped the cuff around Alex’s arm and pumped up the bulb, then read the dial as he let air out. When finished, he pulled the stethoscope from his ears.

“Just as I promised, you’re getting acclimated to the medication.” He wrote on his chart as he talked. “Your blood pressure is coming back up. It’s a little surprising, but everyone reacts differently. You’re young and strong, so your body is handling it well.”

Alex stared without answering.

“Feeling any more alert?”

“A little,” Alex said, trying to sound distant.

The doctor’s face took on a serious set. “Good, because it’s about time for you to start answering questions. Some people are going to be arriving soon for a visit, and they’re going to want to talk to you.”

“All right,” Alex said as if he didn’t care.

“These people think it’s time for answers. They aren’t going to be as indulgent as we’ve been in the past.”

Alex let his gaze wander to the floor. “All right.”

“You had better be prepared to give them those answers or things are going to became rather unpleasant. Especially for other people. You don’t want that, now, do you?”

“Please,” Alex mumbled, “don’t hurt my mother.”

Dr. Hoffmann stood, sliding his pen into his breast pocket. “That’s going to be up to you, Alex. If you don’t want people hurt, then the easiest thing to do is to simply answer their questions. Understand?”

Alex nodded.

“Good.” He started away, then turned back. He stood near the door frowning as he studied Alex’s face. Alex stared off without blinking, without moving.

“I’ll see you soon,” he said at last.

Alex nodded. The doctor tapped his palm against the doorframe for a moment as he watched Alex, and then he was gone.

Once alone, with the door closed, Alex paced. It felt good to pace, to move his muscles. He also hoped pacing would help to work more of the drugs out of his system.

Until he could figure out what to do he needed to avoid raising suspicions, so when it was time for lunch he shuffled down to the sunroom with the other patients. He ate about half of the beef-and-noodle casserole even though he was too excited at being able to think to be hungry. Afterward, he stayed in the sunroom for a couple of hours, sitting and staring and keeping up appearances as he kept an eye on the staff, the whole while trying to come up with a plan.

As he sat pretending to be in a stupor, he let anger course through him. It felt good to be able to feel angry at the people doing this, to embrace that rage and focus it.

He was worried about his mother, but he was far more worried about Jax. She was the one from another world, so she was the one in the greatest danger. She had said that she recognized people from her world, like Sedrick Vendis, and Yuri, the passenger in the plumbing truck that had almost run them down. It was likely that some of these people would recognize her. Icy dread washed through him at the thought of what they might do to her.

Alex returned to his room, where he paced some more as he ached with worry for Jax. He missed her. He missed being with her, talking to her, seeing her smile. He wanted her safe. He felt responsible because she wasn’t. He’d brought her to the hospital and right into a trap.

He returned to the sunroom when a woman from the cafeteria told him it was time for dinner, and after dinner waited in his room for the nurse to bring his evening medication. As before, he sat with only the reading light on and when she came in he repeated his trick of disposing of the medication.

Not more than an hour later, when he was thinking that maybe he should go to bed so that no one would be suspicious, Henry showed up.

“How you doing, Alex? Doc says that he told you about meeting some new people.”

Alex only nodded.

“Well, don’t just sit there staring, let’s go.”

Alex hadn’t been expecting it to be this soon. He hadn’t come up with a plan yet. He blinked slowly up at Henry. “What?”

Henry huffed in irritation and marched over to haul Alex up out of his chair. “Come on. People are waiting.”

Alex followed behind the orderly, shuffling along in imitation of the way he had walked when under the influence of the drugs. He had to force himself to go slow. Henry whistled to himself as he led Alex down the hall and through the nurses’ station.

It was late, long after visiting hours, so there were fewer people on duty. Several of them talked about charts and changes to medication orders, paying little attention to Henry and his charge. They were cooking something on a hot plate sitting on a small counter at the head of the aisles with the charts. It smelled good, like chicken soup.

Alex was puzzled as to where Henry was taking him. He did his best to make it a slow journey. Rather than go into any of the patient rooms, or to the sunroom, Henry surprised him by turning him in to the women’s bathroom.

Alex couldn’t imagine what was going on, but he had to play along, not ask questions, and act uninterested. His only safety was in everyone thinking he was drugged. The bathroom looked almost identical to the one on the men’s side, only reversed. They passed the row of sinks and empty stalls. The place was deserted. At the back of the room Henry pulled out his keys and unlocked the door leading to the showers.

Alex could see that inside the entrance area it looked just like the men’s side, with benches bolted to the wall. The entire entrance was done in white tiles. The grout was old and discolored. Pipes, covered in what looked like dozens of layers of white paint, filled one corner from floor to ceiling. The showers were around a corner and Alex couldn’t see them.

Henry shoved him through the doorway. Dr. Hoffmann was waiting in the entrance area. There were a couple of other men there as well, orderlies, and Alice, the nurse.

A man came out from around the corner. He was bigger than the doctor, about Alex’s size. He wore tan slacks and a beige shirt with a vertical blue stripe down the left side.

He had the eyes of a predator. He moved like one as well.

The hair on the back of Alex’s neck stiffened. He knew who the man was from the description Mr. Martin, the gallery owner, had given. It was the man who had bought six of Alex’s paintings and then defaced them. Jax had also told him about this man.

He was Sedrick Vendis, right-hand man to Radell Cain.

“This him?” Vendis asked.

Henry nodded. “Alexander Rahl.”

Sedrick Vendis glided close, until he stood almost toe-to-toe with Alex. He studied Alex’s face before gazing into his eyes. Alex didn’t like how close the man was standing. It was a violation of physical space intended to challenge and intimidate. He forced himself to stay still and act numb.

Alex knew that, being this close, he could probably kill the man before anyone would be able to react. He gave serious consideration to doing so. The rage within wanted him to act.

But if he did, it wouldn’t help Jax. It was the wrong time and place. It would gain him nothing in the bigger picture. He had to use his head. At least now his mind was working.

He blinked slowly, keeping his eyes out of focus as he stared at nothing, trying to look completely passive.

“Tell me about the gateway,” Vendis said in a quiet tone of undiluted threat.

Alex shrugged, but didn’t answer.

Vendis smiled. It was as wicked a smile as Alex had ever seen.

“I’m not here to play games, as you will soon learn,” Vendis said, just as quietly, just as menacingly. “Come with me. I have something to show you.”

“All right,” Alex said in a slur.

He shuffled along behind Vendis, the rest of the people following behind Alex.

As he rounded the corner, the long row of showerheads sticking from the white tile wall came into view. Just like the men’s shower, there were no partitions. The showers were in one long, open room with a drain beneath each showerhead.

Alex went numb with dread.

About in the middle of the row, Jax, blindfolded, her hands bound together, was hanging by her wrists from one of the shower pipes projecting from the wall. She had to stretch in order for her tiptoes to reach the floor.

She was naked.

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