Home > Strange Angels (Strange Angels #1)(16)

Strange Angels (Strange Angels #1)(16)
Author: Lili St. Crow, Lilith Saintcrow

“Huh?” He shook his hair down over his face, but the grin still remained. It made him look a little bit older, cutting lines into his baby face.

“Thanks.” The word wasn’t adequate, and I searched for something else to say. “Nice gloves.”

“Hey, you know.” He scooped up the tray and my still-full cup of ice-cold coffee. The unibrow waggled at me, and then he actually, of all things, winked. “Chicks dig guys in gloves.”

I actually laughed. Call it a miracle.

CHAPTER 7

“You’re kidding,” I said for the fifth time. “In the mall?”

“It’swarm and it’s safe. It opens up in plenty of time to get to school in the morning.” Graves ran his hand back through his hair and checked the hallway. “Come on.”

I’d never been behind the scenes in a mall before. They’re huge places, and the stores are only half of it. Behind each store and threading through the entire complex were maintenance hallways and office space, just a thin doorway away. Graves loitered in the hall leading to the restrooms until it was clear, produced a thin rectangle of plastic—it looked like a credit card—to slip the lock on one of the doors with the ease of long practice, and motioned me through. He looked over my shoulder when he did, and his face was a lot older than usual, but it smoothed out by the time he pulled the door closed and made sure it was locked.

Muzak filtered into the maintenance hallway only faintly, for which I was unendingly grateful. My right hand ached, both from the kickback of the nine-millimeter and from air hockey. He played a mean game, this beaky little boy, and it was take-no-prisoners time once I beat him in the first two rounds.

I hadn’t thought about zombies for five-whole-minute stretches, while lunging over the top of the table. It was easier not to think when you were moving.

Our footsteps echoed on bare concrete. The walls were unpainted, and dust grimed the corners. “How often does anyone come through here?”

“Not very. The maintenance staff is gonna want to go home just like everyone else; if anyone’s left after they lock up it’ll be a miracle. Even the janitors leave early on days like this.” He took a right and led me into a confusing tangle of corridors that all looked the same. It was warm, at least, and I suddenly realized I was exhausted.

I shifted my bag higher on my shoulder, the strap cutting through Dad’s jacket and my T-shirt. The wool of my gloves rasped against my hands. “You do this often?”

“When I have to.” His shoulders hunched, but he slowed down so I could keep up with him. “We have to stay back here for a little while, until everyone’s cleared out. Then it’s safe, and we can play.”

“Play what? More air hockey?” I just wanted to take my boots off and sit down somewhere. A crying fit sounded good, too. Really good. Not to mention a hot shower and some television, while I was at it.

“If you want. Anything we want. They’ve got cameras, but most of ’em don’t work. The parent company that owns the mall is too cheap to put in real cameras, so most of ’em are dummies anyway, and the ones that do work don’t have any tapes or anything. Come nighttime, this place is a playground. There’s shit here you wouldn’t believe.”

I wanted to ask him if he had to go home sometime soon. Decided not to. His home life was his own problem; I had plenty of my own.

Graves turned sharp left, and I found myself in a cavernous space with a huge garage door pulled down, dumpsters lining the walls on the other side. A cardboard-crushing machine telling everyone to Reduce Reuse Recycle! with a cheerful cartoon mouse waving under a yellow-painted sun glowered at us. I shivered, hearing the wind pick up outside the big garagelike door. Thin fingers of cold air caressed my face.

It wasn’t the low moan of the wind at dusk, but something about it was hungry and ugly just the same. The shivers plucked at the aching muscles of my back, made the rug burn on my left hand prickle.

I kept expecting to hear the tapping again, or the screaming sound of dry tendons working, or a shuffling step.

“You okay?” Graves had turned to face me and stood with his hand on a stack of pallets leaning against the wall. He’d pushed his hair back, tucking some of it behind his ears, and I had to admit he wasn’t bad-looking, just babyfaced and beaky. I could see the adult face underneath, in the way his bones held his face up. Even if his eyes stayed muddy instead of greenish.

I’m not going to be okay for a while. I just have to figure out what to do. I swallowed a lump in my throat, my stomach unhappy with the sheer amount of grease in a mall bacon cheeseburger. “Copacetic.”

“Okay. You can’t tell anyone about this.” He hesitated.

I could have told him now wasn’t the time for him to be having second thoughts. “I don’t have anyone to tell. You’re about the only person I know here.” Cut the crap. I’m tired.

He nodded, chewing at his lower lip, then turned and shimmied sideways behind the cardboard crusher.

You have got to be kidding me. I took a deep breath, hitched my bag around so I could squeeze through the narrow slice, and followed.

There was barely enough room for me and none at all for my bag. Still, I struggled through, almost hit my head on something metallic, and whispered a curse. Graves fiddled with the wall and—miraculously—a door opened inward. “They forgot about this once they put the dumpster and stuff down here.” His voice echoed and fell flat. There was a click, and warm electric light played over the dirty concrete wall in front of my face. I squirmed around the side of the door frame and almost fell into another hallway. “This used to be an office when it was a loading dock for Macy’s. When they did the big remodel two years ago they closed this all up, bricked up the back of the office and stuck all those dumpsters and stuff against the wall. I wondered if you could still get in here, and whaddaya know. Neat, huh?”

   
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