Sunset BoulevardLos Angeles, California
Lucas Darby stumbled through heaving waves of neon signs and drifting shadows, straining to make sense of the muffled whispers he heard. Drugs had forced him to endure a neverending silence, where even the music in his head had died. But now the voices had emerged and quenched a killer thirst in his soul. Even though he couldn't make out what they told him, simply hearing them brought light to his shadows.
Unable to focus his eyes, he ignored the blur to concentrate on what he heard in his mind. Most of the words were too garbled. The few messages that came from deeper inside him, those words felt like his thoughts, but they were in voices he didn't recognize.
I hear you now. Don't stop.
Even when he let his thoughts reach out, he had no idea who "the others" were or if they heard him. Without drugs to cloud his brain, the voices had returned, and with fresh eyes, he saw the colors, too. Beautiful prisms of fluid light radiated off ghosts without faces. Bodies drifted in front of him in colors that wavered like heat shimmers off hot asphalt.
"Watch where you're walkin', kid."
Lucas got shoved. An old man's face leached from the darkness before it got swallowed by glistening ooze that bled down his world.
He didn't know if he said the word aloud. Even at fifteen years old, speaking didn't come naturally to him. His mother told him that as a baby he hummed a strange melody before he ever spoke. One day, the music stopped and he felt as if he'd lost an arm.
He missed the music. Nothing felt right without it.
Over the years, drugs had invaded his body like poison, but as the meds drained, new sensations finally came. Strong perfumes mixed with body odor and the smell of alcohol, fryer grease and hot dogs wafted on the night air. Images spiraled in front of him. Shapes of people emerged from a rush of colors and made shadowy obstacles as he kept his feet moving on a sidewalk that didn't end.
Don't stop. Stop and the Believers find you.
Lucas didn't know if those thoughts were his. He only knew he had to obey.
The Copperhead ClubWest Hollywood
Rayne Darby kicked back at the bar drinking alone, nibbling on stuffed olives and nursing a watered-down pineapple juice with extra cherries and an orange slice. She scrounged for food wherever she found it. Not because she had to. Three squares and the food pyramid had never been her thing, but her lame excuse for dinner had triggered thoughts of her mom. Her parents would hate how she lived, especially if they knew she had her seventeen-year-old butt in a bar.
But with both of them deadkilled in a private-jet crash five years agothey never knew how she turned out. Some kids might envy that she didn't have anyone waiting up for her and no one argued about the choices she made. Living on her own for the past six months, she did whatever she wanted, whenever. Sometimes she liked how freedom tasted. Now just wasn't one of those times.
Liquor bottles on mirrored shelves were awash in green spotlights with two bartenders eclipsing the eerie glow as they worked. Rayne had moved her bar stool into the shadows near a stockroom. Avoiding the light made her feel invisible. Hunched over her drink with her head down, she wore what she had on earlier that day, not bothering to changefaded jeans, her favorite black Led Zeppelin T-shirt and an old brown leather jacket that was too big for her. Something she'd inherited from her father.
Everything about her said, Don't mess with me.
She'd come to hang with the band, but when a sudden rush of dark wrapped around her mood, she didn't feel like playing nice. She found the nearest shadow and morphed into it. With school out, forgettable jobs by day made the Copperhead something to look forward to...most nights.
Raising a finger, she got the attention of Sam, her favorite bartender, and fished cash from the pocket of her jacket. Sam had given her that squinty you're full of shit look until he carded her last year. She had the cred. Her ID looked totally legit. At first she thought he'd turn out to be a real tool and boot her ass anyway. But after he saw that she didn't abuse the privilege by ordering alcohol, he let it go.
Besides, beer tasted like horse piss. Not that she had firsthand knowledge of that. She only knew she didn't like beer. One night of puking into a nasty public toilet in another bar had cured her of wanting a repeat. After she visited the capital city of Spewcanistan on a not-so-temporary barf visa, she decided to lay off the booze bullet to the brain and make a change in scenery. Here, she felt at home, especially with Sam watching over her like a big brother. The guy turned out to be seriously cool.
"With all the fruit juice you're downing, I'd say you're fully immune to scurvy. That could come in handy if you were a pirate." Sam shot her his signature deadpan expression.
"I'll keep that in mind if I see Johnny Depp."
"You ready to switch up to OJ, live on the edge?" the young bartender asked as he wiped the counter and gave her a fresh napkin.
"Think I'll have the main course. Dose me with spicy tomato juice, straight up."
"At the risk of sounding like I'm stalking you, you want extra celery?" Sam crooked his lip into a smile.
"Good one. LMAO," she said with her serious face. "Yeah, whack me with extra vegan sticks. Thanks."
"Coming right up, moneybags."
Sam tolerated her and never questioned why she racked up frequent-flyer miles at the Copperhead. Even during the school year, she came to hang. The truth was that she hated being alone in her apartment. She needed the noise, but tonight she had more of a reason to show. She knew the band.
Archimedes, Watch Out was a pop-punk band with solid gang vocals, on tour out of Texas. She followed them on MySpace and Twitter and had seen them before at the bar. Austin, the keyboard guy, had a fierce stare online that gave him edge, but in person he had soft marshmallow for a heart. The front man, Dalton, had an amazing voice that would take them far, and Tommy played sweet riffs on guitar that matched his eye-candy good looks. All the guys were totally hot looking. That worked for her. She needed the distraction of being in a crowd with a drool-worthy boy buffet on stage, guys who knew how to dish out a heaping side of decibels.
With a fresh tomato juice in front of herand practically a whole thing of celeryRayne tossed a bill onto the counter for tip money, then noticed her cell phone light up and felt the vibration on her fingertips. She recognized the number. Her jaw tightened as she debated answering. Against her better judgment, she nudged her head to Sam and gestured to let him know she'd be in the storeroom, the only quiet place to take the call. Being a regular had its privileges.
After she got behind closed doors, the music dulled to a belly thump as she said, "What's up?"
Her older sister didn't waste any time pissing her off. "What's that noise, Rayne? Where are you?"
"It's my stereo. I've got it cranked to brain bleed." Rayne didn't have a stereo. "Why are you calling, Mia?"
"Where's Lucas? Is he with you?" Mia got her attention by going full-on parental. If Rayne ever felt the need for drama from another mother, her only sister knew how to pile it on.
"What are you talking about? Why would he be with me? You've got him under lock and key, sister dearest." When she heard only a deep sigh on the other end of the line, she dialed back the smart-ass and asked, "What's going on, Mia?"
"Haven Hills called. He's not on the grounds. They can't find him."
"What?" Rayne slumped against a metal utility shelf. "That's not possible."
"Well, apparently, it is." Mia's voice carried a razor's edge. Typical. "He can't do this. I'm responsible. If you're hiding him, I swear I'll find out."
"Damn it, Mia. Why do you always.?"
She didn't see the point in arguing. Her sister was as flexible as concrete. Rayne had learned that the hard way. Haven Hills Treatment Facility on Sunset had been the home for their younger brother, Lucas, for the past three yearsa real suck fest for Lukebut Mia got off on being in charge after their parents died. The private mental hospital had ties to Mia's employerthe Church of Spiritual Freedom.
I never should have let her take you, Luke.
Losing her baby brother to guys in white coats had broken something in Rayne. Even though Lucas needed serious help, Mia's rushed decision to commit him had shattered what remained of their family, and Rayne had never seen her sister's betrayal coming. She felt stupid. And worse, she'd let her brother down in a way she could never make up for, not when Mia had restricted her visits to him. In his condition, she never could explain, either.
That had been the last straw before she'd moved out. Rayne couldn't fake being okay with her sister using Lucas as a pawn between them. He became the main reason Rayne had put everything on hold. How could she get on with her life when his was in the crapper? Luke didn't have anyone else who really cared about him. He couldn't even look after himself.
She was the only one who loved him the way he turned out.
"Will you call me when they find him?" Rayne grimaced, hardly believing she actually had to ask. Instead of answering her question, Mia had one of her own.
"Will you let me know if he contacts you?" When Rayne didn't say anything, her sister sighed. "Yeah, didn't think so."
She tightened her jaw when the silence between them got too loud.
"Mia, he's my brother, too. Pleas...