Ten minutes is not an awfully long time, but it definitely seems like it when spent with your true love-turned-psychopath.
Luke drove Vera back to the taxi rank headquarters rather than the flat, but she never opened her mouth to complain. She couldn’t, I think- Vera was caught in the kind of frozen horror that takes planets out of orbit for centuries.
He unfastened her seat belt with gentle, gentle hands, wrapping his arm round her shoulders as he helped her up and out of the car. She couldn’t be bothered to shrug him off, or maybe she just felt too numb to move on her own.
“Don’t hate me,” begged Luke, as he led Vera through the backdoor of the taxi rank office building. “I couldn’t bear it if you hated me, Vera.”
A pause. “I don’t hate you,” muttered Vera, almost to herself. “Because this isn’t you, Luke. It isn’t you, and soon the real you is going to goddamn wake up and realise what you’re doing.”
“I can’t help what I’m doing.”
“You said you were going to kill those two girls.”
“I didn’t. I said that they were going to die.”
Vera looked at him, her gaze hard. “And if you’re not doing anything about it – hell, if you’re speeding the process along like you seem to be? Isn’t that just as bad as killing them?”
Luke bit his lip and didn’t answer.
Walking along a narrow corridor, they stopped at the last door at the end of the hallway.
Luke shrugged miserably, then reached out and knocked on the door. He gestured to Vera. “After you, my lady.”
She glared at him. “Piss off. I don’t even know what’s in that room.”
Luke made a non-committal grunt of acknowledgment. “Right. Obviously.” He cleared his throat. “After me, then, I suppose.” Taking a deep breath, Luke pushed open the door and stepped through it. Vera stayed outside the door, panting heavily as she began to realise the enormity of the situation.
There could be anything in that room. Anyone. There could be guns or… Or dead bodies… Or…
“There’s a person outside, isn’t there?” a woman’s voice asked Luke from inside the room. “Please, do tell them to come in.” The voice paused. “If they don’t co-operate, of course, you have my full permission to use force to bring them here.”
Luke reappeared outside the room, his arm instinctively wrapping round Vera. This time, she shrugged it off. Pushing past him, she gritted her teeth and stalked inside the room. Inside her pocket, her fingers closed round her keys to the flat. They were pointy, she supposed. If she had to, she could always stab someone with the pointy end.
Inside the room, there was a woman sitting behind a desk. She was around middle aged, her hair coiled up in a bun. “Good morning,” the woman said to Vera, pleasantly. “You can call me Cassandra.”
She didn’t ask for Vera’s name in return.
Instead, she turned to face Luke, folding her hands. “How much does she know about this, Luke?”
Luke’s eyes widened, bemused. “N- Nothing.”
“No…” Luke said the word like a question.
“Really?” asked Cassandra, pretending at surprise. “Because, you know, I could have sworn that taking this girl up here and showing her these offices is not ‘nothing’. Letting her know about your involvement with us is not ‘nothing’.” She gave a harsh, choking sort of laugh. “Not everyone in the world has your adorable little memory loss problem.”
Luke paled, the colour draining from his cheeks. It was as if he had once, long ago, been the night in all of its rich midnight blue. Now, he looked as leached of colour as the grey skies most common to London daytime, glittering stars replaced by faded birthmark clouds.
It was a poor trade.
“She doesn’t know,” said Luke, eyes darting in his head. “She doesn’t know about the-“ He stopped short, his eyes bugging out of their sockets. “Please,” he said, the plea in his voice more apparent than a total eclipse of the sun. “Please, I’m begging you, please don’t-“
“Don’t what?” said Vera, backing up against the wall. Her voice rose higher, almost hysterical. “Don’t what, don’t what? Luke, what are you talking about?”
Cassandra smiled from where she sat behind the desk. It was curious. She had a kind of overwhelming presence about her, Cassandra. She’d have been a wonderful talent on the West End. When Cassandra wanted their attention, Vera and Luke couldn’t help but stop and look at her and wait.
Really, she could have commanded the entire cosmos if she’d wanted to.
“He’s begging me not to kill you, darling,” said Cassandra, drawing out each word. “You know too much already. Not your fault, of course- all his, for showing you it. Still. You’re probably going to die.” She tilted her head to one side. “Unless your memory is as convenient as Luke’s, that is.”
Vera swallowed. "What do you mean?"
"He loses his memory," said Cassandra, sweetly. "Hasn't he told you? Or rather, he blocks his memories. It's a strange, big world he's got himself tangled up in and Luke prefers not to think about it. Even better- forget about it all together. Some people do that, you know. It's called post traumatic stress or something else medical."
Cassandra waved her hand. "It doesn't matter, really. The memories come flooding back every time Luke drives near this taxi rank office. I think his brain's almost programmed him that way." She flicked her tongue over her teeth, smiling. "He knows that if he didn't remember, he couldn't do his job. And then... Oh, he'd be in trouble."
Vera chewed on her lip, her palms sweaty. "What's his job?"
"I-" Luke started, ignoring Cassandra's icy stare as he tried to answer Vera. "I don't kill anyone, Vera, I promise. I don't. I just-"
"He delivers people. Like luggage," finished Cassandra, flicking a speck of imaginary dust from her collar. "Then they get taken away- and at the end of the day, do you want to know what? They're not even recognisable as people anymore. Science experiments, officially, but I'll tell you what I think? The people doing the dirty work - the people that kill all these girls, I mean - I think those people just want to have fun." Cassandra arched an eyebrow. "Wanting to relax. Let off some steam." She smiled at Vera ."Do you know what that's like, darling?
Vera tried to speak, but all that came from her throat was a low, guttural growl. It was as if all the Heavens had exploded and she's been caught up in the blast somehow and amidst all that gorgeous, beautiful Heaven, she's forgotten how to speak the human tongue.
Shrugging, Cassandra pointed her finger at Luke. It was long and elegant, its nails shaped. "I don't know why he brought you here. It only means that we're going to have to dispose of you, and that's such a bore."
She said the phrase so simply, with so little effort, it was as if she was talking about the weather.
Luke looked at Vera, his eyes gaping moons. "Vera, Vera, I swear, Vera, I didn't mean this... Vera, when we were talking last night, I didn't know that this was what I did during the times I couldn't remember stuff, honestly, Vera... and once you were in the car and I realised and I remembered about all this... I couldn't stop because we were already late to drop those girls off and I needed to do my job... Vera, please- Vera, come on, believe me, Vera-"
He was just doing his job. Except, Luke's day job wasn't just taxi service. He also doubled as some kind of screwed up delivery man- but he didn't deliver packages. Oh, no.
Luke delivered people to their deaths.
Vera looked at him, her face stained with tears that fell like molten ash onto her cheeks. "I know you didn't mean this, Luke. I know."
She knew, because she still trusted him. She knew, because despite it all, despite everything, Vera loved Luke.
He loved her back. "Vera," said Luke, his voice as fragile as shards of moonlight before they shatter. "Vera. You're not going to die. I won't let Cassandra kill you- I won't let anyone kill you."
Cassandra looked up from where she sat behind the desk. "Were you two having a little last moment together? Sorry, it was just so boring that I started to take a nap." Her lip curled. "I'm sorry, Luke, but there's no two ways about it. Vera's going to have to die for the things she knows- this location, for one thing."
"I won't let you."
Almost involuntarily, Cassandra's eyes rolled back in her head. "Yes, yes, you've said that already, darling. But the thing is, I'm not going to be the one to have to try and kill her." She paused. "You are."
Reaching into a draw at her knees, she slid a knife across the desk towards Luke.
Cassandra smiled. "You could use it to stab me, instead of this girl," she said, flashing her teeth. "But I know that you won't. There's security footage of all the things that happen in this building. If you dare to make a single wrong move, I've made orders to have it turned into a movie and sent to your flat. You won't remember all this, by then, because you never remember in the evenings. You'll pick up the movie and put it in your DVD player and then - shazam - all those memories you thought you'd lost, playing to you on a screen. All the people you ever received orders to head out and collect and...deliver."
She shrugged nonchalantly. "So what'll it be? That one piece of sanity you have left- the time when you can't remember what you do in your day job?" She gestured in disgust at where Vera stood, back against the wall. "Or, will it be this girl?"
Luke didn't even think about it.
Snatching up the knife from the desk, he leant forward, reaching for Cassandra. He might have actually grazed her, too, had it not been for the speed with which she picked up a revolver from where it lay at her feet, shooting Luke backwards.
Cassandra whistled appreciatively. "Hmm," she said, wiping her hands. "That was the wrong decision, darling, but I have to admit you've got guts."
Rising to her feet, she stood over where Luke lay sprawled on the floor. She kicked him in the side, tutting to herself. "Oh, get up," she told him, gritting her teeth at the blood that spread onto the toe of her boot. "I can aim. It was only a shoulder hit."
When Luke didn't respond, Cassandra knelt on the ground, frowning as the back of her knees creaked just slightly. "Old age," she tutted, leaning forwards and sliding the knife from Luke's fingers, slippery with his own blood.
"Now, listen," Cassandra said, her face at Luke's height. "Listen to me, darling. I'm going to say this again and I'm going to say this one last time. There's not going to be anymore funny business, either, unless you want me to make sure every last person you've ever spoken to is dead by the end of the month."
"Bitch," croaked Luke, speaking round the red that coated his mouth. The colour of sunsets- which is ironic, really, because the sunset of his life was just about then. "You goddamn bitch."
Cassandra tilted her head in the direction of Vera. "You're going to kill this girl, Luke. Or I'm going to kill her for you, and I'll make it painful." She stood up again, straightening her skirt.
"Oh, and darling," she added, as an afterthought, "Luke, darling- do please try and mind your language."