Chapter no 20

Hell Bent

Does it ever feel like none of this is real?” Mercy whispered. They were sitting in the common room with Lauren and another member of the field hockey team, making construction-paper flowers for Liquor Treat. They’d set the room up as a gloomy garden with chocolate soil pots they’d fill with gummy worms. “All I can think about is Friday night.”

They had a lot to accomplish before Halloween and only a few days to get it done. Alex had brought home recommended reading that Dawes had curated for her and Mercy, and they studied it in their room between classes and meals, then stashed it under their beds. She still didn’t know how to feel about Mercy putting herself in danger, but she was also grateful to not feel so alone, and Mercy’s excitement was a tonic to Dawes’s constant worrying.

This is real life,” Alex reminded her, holding up a glue stick. “The stuff with Lethe … that’s the distraction.”

She was reminding herself as much as Mercy. The cool weather had shifted the feel of campus. There was something impermanent in the first months of the new semester, a warm softness that left it malleable in the waning days of what was no longer summer, but didn’t yet feel like fall. Now hats and scarves emerged, boots replaced sandals, a kind of seriousness took hold. Alex and Mercy still cracked their windows or sometimes opened them wide—the dorm heaters had embraced the new season with too much zeal. But tucked away in the JE reading room or meeting with her philosophy TA at Bass, Alex felt a strange sensation creep over her, a dangerous comfort in routine. She wasn’t sailing through her classes, but she was passing, a steady stream of Cs and Bs, a cascade of hard-won mediocrity. All of this can be lost, she told herself as she bent her

lips to another cup of tea, feeling the steam on her skin. This ease, this quiet. It was precious. It was impossible.

She was sticking googly eyes on a sunflower when her phone pinged. Alex had almost forgotten about Eitan, or maybe hoped he’d forgotten about her now that Oddman had paid his nut, and the novelty of her as muscle had worn off. The text was an address Alex didn’t recognize, and when she looked it up, she saw it was in Old Greenwich. How the hell was she supposed to get there?

“Do you want to take a theater class next semester?” Mercy asked. “Sure.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Just my mom.” In a way it was true.

“My parents won’t like it,” Mercy went on. “But I can tell them it will help with public speaking. Shakespeare Acted is the only one open to non–theater majors.”

“Shakespeare again?” Lauren asked, repulsed. She was an econ major and constantly complaining about anything that involved more reading.

Mercy laughed. “Yeah.”

I’ll beat thee, but I should infect my hands. Alex couldn’t remember what it was from, but she was tempted to text it to Eitan. Instead she texted Dawes and asked if the Mercedes was at Il Bastone.

Why? came the reply.

But Alex wasn’t in the mood for the mother hen protecting her boy’s precious car. She was putting everything on the line for dear Darlington and she needed transportation. She waited Dawes out and eventually her phone pinged again.

Yes. Don’t leave the tank empty.



Alex liked driving the Mercedes. She felt like a different person in it, more beautiful, more interesting, the kind of woman people wondered about, who wore ladylike little flats and spoke in a soft, bored drawl. Of course she’d bought the car for herself. It had just called to her from the lot—a sweet old thing. It wasn’t practical, but neither was she.

Alex put on the radio. There wasn’t much traffic on 95, and she thought about skirting the main roads to drive along the coast for a while, or looping up to get a peek at the Thimble Islands. Darlington had told her that some held famous mansions, while others were too small for much more than a hammock, and that Captain Kidd had supposedly buried his treasure on one of them. But she didn’t have time to indulge her rich-girl road trip fantasies. She needed to finish this errand with Eitan and get back to prepare for the Manuscript ritual tomorrow. Alex wanted to reassure the Praetor that she was ready and did not require additional supervision.

By the time she reached Old Greenwich, dusk was falling, the sky softening to a deep, undiluted blue. Most towns didn’t look nice right off the highway, but this place didn’t seem to have a wrong side of the tracks. It was all pretty shop windows and rambling stone walls, lacy trees spreading black branches against the gathering dark. She followed the navigation down a gently curved road, past rolling lawns and sprawling old homes. Now Eitan’s messages made more sense.

She’d had to look twice when he’d given her the name and the vig:

Linus Reiter, 50.

50 large? she’d asked.

Eitan hadn’t bothered to reply.

The name sounded like it could be a tech guy, and she knew Eitan had high-profile clients in Los Angeles, women who snorted Adderall to stay thin, TV execs who liked to party with poppers. None of that felt right for a place like this—tasteful, monied—but at least she understood how Eitan had let this guy get so far in. He must have known the dupe was good for it, and he was happy to gobble up the interest.

She slowed the car and then just sat, letting it idle as she stared at the address emblazoned on one of two big river-rock columns, each topped by a stone eagle.


She was looking at a huge wrought iron gate set into a high wall covered in ivy. She couldn’t see much beyond it except for the slope of a hill dense with trees and a gravel driveway disappearing into the evening gloom.

She scanned the wall and the gate for cameras. Nothing obvious, but that didn’t mean much. Maybe people in Old Greenwich didn’t think they needed protection. Or maybe they were just more discreet about it. If Alex got caught here, she was definitely getting arrested, and then Anselm and the board wouldn’t bother with talk of second chances. They’d just toss her out of Lethe. Professor Walsh-Whiteley would probably throw a party. Or at least host a wine-and-cheese hour. But what choice did she have? She couldn’t just say, Oops! I rang the bell, but no one was home.

Alex sat, undecided behind the wheel. She didn’t see any Grays lurking around, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to head up the hill without knowing she had backup. This guy could have a whole staff of goons on call like Eitan. But she also wasn’t sure she was ready to let another Gray in, not after what had happened with the old man at Black Elm and that kid she’d used for the Oddman job. The connections were too powerful, too intimate. And there was always the chance one of them would get inside her and refuse to leave.

She reached into her coat pockets and felt the comforting weight of the brass knuckles she’d stolen from the Lethe House armory. “It’s not really stealing,” she murmured. “I’m Dante after all.” Virgil.

Except she wasn’t either right now. She was just Alex Stern and she had a job to do. She parked the Mercedes a few blocks away and looked up the satellite view of the property while she waited for full dark. The house was enormous, and it had to be at least a quarter of a mile up the long driveway. Behind it, she saw the blue lozenge of a swimming pool and some kind of guesthouse or pavilion.

At least beating up a rich guy would be a novelty.

She locked the car and gave it a pat for luck, then strolled to the eastern corner of the wall, grateful for the widely placed streetlamps. She’d seen no one on the road yet, except a slender woman jogging behind a double stroller. Alex slipped the brass knuckles over her fingers. They were actually solid gold and rough where the strands of Samson’s hair had supposedly been woven through. She didn’t know if that was myth or reality, but as long as they let her punch through walls, she didn’t much care. “My heels are fetter’d, but my fist is free,” she whispered to no one. Or

to Darlington, she supposed. Samson Agonistes. But he wasn’t there to be impressed by her Milton.

The metal on her knuckles made her grip awkward, but the extra surge of strength in her hands let her pull herself over the wall with ease. Even so, she hesitated before dropping down onto the other side. She was in her black Converse, and all she needed was to break an ankle and freeze to death waiting for Dawes to come get her.

She counted to three and made herself jump. Thankfully the trees had already started to lose their leaves and the ground was soft with them. She jogged toward the house, paralleling the driveway, wondering if she was about to see flashlights or hear the shouts of security guards. Or maybe Linus Reiter had a hungry bunch of Dobermans to sic on her. But there was no sound except her footsteps in the mulch, the wind shaking the pines, and her own labored breathing. Darlington would have been laughing. Twenty minutes a day on the treadmill, Stern. Sound body, sound mind.

“Yeah, well, you’re the one stuck doing naked yoga.” She paused to catch her breath. She could see the hulking shadow of the house through the trees up ahead, but no lights on. Maybe Reiter really wasn’t home. God, the thought was beautiful. Even so … 5 percent of $50,000. That would be more money than she’d ever had in her life. Eitan had suckered her into this work by threatening her mother, and she’d been too stupid to botch the first job, too used to falling in line. But maybe she’d gotten comfortable. Violence was easy. It was her first language, natural to slip back into, ready on her tongue. And she couldn’t pretend that the little nest egg she’d started to build wasn’t a kind of hedge, something to fall back on if Yale and Lethe and all of their promises fell apart.

When she finally arrived at the top of the hill, she paused at the tree line. The house was nothing like she’d expected. She’d imagined it would be all old brick and ivy like Black Elm, but it was an expansive, airy white thing, a pile of architectural meringue formed into a steeply tilted roof, striped awnings over the countless windows, a grand terrace perfect for lawn parties. She had no idea how she was going to get in. Maybe she should have glamoured herself, but she hadn’t had time to plan.

Alex figured she was already guilty of breaking and entering, but the thought of smashing a window made her jittery—and that made her mad. So much for the cannonball. She wouldn’t have hesitated if she’d been back in Oddman’s neighborhood. It was Linus Reiter’s wealth that frightened her. And for very good reason. This wasn’t some bottom-of-the-pecking-order New Haven drug dealer, and Eitan wasn’t going to pay her bail if this all went sideways.

“Fuck me,” she muttered. “Maybe a drink first.”

Alex choked back a scream and whirled, her feet tangling. A man stood behind her in a spotless white suit. She checked herself, nearly toppling. She couldn’t make out his face in the darkness.

“Did you come up here on a dare?” he asked pleasantly. “You’re older than the kids who usually ring my doorbell and knock over my flowerpots.” “I…” Alex searched for a lie, but what was there to lie about? Instead

she sent her mind seeking through the town. There were no Grays around the house or its grounds, and it wasn’t until she reached a sprawling middle school building that she found that blur, that crinkle in her consciousness that signaled the presence of a Gray. Just knowing she could call on one was a comfort. “Eitan sent me.”

“Eitan Harel?” he asked, his surprise clear.

“You owe fifty large,” she said, feeling ridiculous. The estate looked impeccably kept, and from what she could see, Linus Reiter did too.

“So he sends a little girl to collect the debt?” Reiter’s voice was bemused. “Interesting. Would you like to come in?”

“No.” She had no reason to, and if she’d learned anything in her short and thorny life, you didn’t walk into a stranger’s house unless you had an escape plan ready. That went double for rich strangers.

“Suit yourself,” he said. “It’s getting chilly.”

He strolled right past her and up the steps to the terrace. “I need to collect tonight.”

“That won’t be possible,” he called back.

Of course it couldn’t be easy. Alex gave a tug on the schoolteacher, drawing her closer to the mansion, along the streets of Old Greenwich. But

the Gray would be a last resort.

She followed Linus Reiter up the steps.

“So what’s with the Gatsby act?” she asked as she followed him into a vast living room decorated with cream-colored couches and blue chinoiserie. White candles glowed on the mantel, the big glass coffee table, and the bar in the corner, illuminating shelves of expensive bottles that gleamed like buried treasure, amber, green, and ruby red. Billowing clouds of white hydrangeas were arranged in heavy vases. It was all very glamorous and grandmotherly at the same time.

“I was aiming for Tom Wolfe,” said her host, heading behind the bar. “But I’ll take what I can get. What can I offer you…?”

He was searching for a name, but all she said was, “I’m on a schedule.” If you were stupid enough to break rule number one and follow a stranger into his house, then rule number two was do not drink anything from a rich stranger who was on the precipice of being upgraded to rich weirdo.

Reiter sighed. “The modern world keeps such an unrelenting pace.”

“Tell me about it. Listen, you seem…” She was unsure how to continue. PleasantGenteel? A little eccentric but harmless? He was surprisingly young, maybe thirty, and handsome in a delicate way. Tall, slender, fine-boned, his skin pale, his golden hair long enough to brush his shoulders, the rock god style at odds with that impeccable white suit. “Well, I don’t know what you seem, but you’re extremely polite. I don’t want to be here and I don’t want to threaten you, but that’s my job.”

“How long have you worked for Eitan?” he asked, assembling glasses, ice, bourbon.

“Not long.”

He was watching her closely, his eyes a pale grayish blue. “You’re an addict?”


“Then it’s for money?”

Alex couldn’t help the bitter laugh that escaped her. “Yes and no. Eitan has me in a bind. Just like you.”

Now he smiled, his teeth even whiter than his skin, and Alex had to resist the urge to take a step back. There was something unnatural in that

grin, the waxen face, the princely hair. She jammed her hands in her pockets, slipping her fingers back into Samson’s knuckles.

“Darling girl,” Reiter said. “Eitan Harel has never and will never have me in a bind. But I’m still trying to solve the puzzle of you. Fascinating.”

Alex couldn’t tell if he was hitting on her, and it didn’t really matter. “You’re not short on cash, so why not transfer the fifty to Eitan, and I’ll leave you to whatever wealthy men get up to in their mansions on a quiet Wednesday night. You can move around the furniture or fire a butler or something.”

Reiter took his drink and settled himself on one of the white couches. “I’m not giving that oily bastard a dime. Why don’t you tell Eitan that?”

“I’d love to, but…” Alex shrugged.

Reiter made an eager humming sound. “Now things get interesting. Just what are you supposed to do when I don’t hand over the money?”

“He told me to hurt you.”

“Oh, very good,” said Reiter, genuinely pleased. He leaned back and crossed his legs, spread his arms, as if welcoming an unseen crowd to enjoy his largesse. “I invite you to try.”

Alex had never felt more tired. She wasn’t going to hit a man who wasn’t interested in defending himself. Maybe he got off on that shit or maybe he was desperate for entertainment. Or maybe he’d just never had reason to be afraid of someone like her and his imagination wasn’t up to the task. But she could tell he loved his gracious home, his beautiful objects. That might be all the leverage she required.

“I’m short on time and I have a hot date with Chaucer.” She tipped a vase off the mantel.

But the crash never came.

Reiter was standing in front of her, the vase cradled in his long white fingers. He’d moved fast. Too fast.

“Now, now,” he tsked. “I brought that back from China myself.” “That so,” said Alex, backing away.

“In 1936.”

She didn’t hesitate. She clenched the brass knuckles in her fist and swung.

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