When she glanced back over her shoulder that way, was she looking through the camera’s lens in an effort to meet his eyes?

She was about to say something, Dorian felt sure. Was it his name?

The picture on the screen showed empty, sun-blinking water and a line of wooded coast to the left. Then it went black. Replay. He was starting to feel precarious, and he wished he was sitting down, but Steve had the only chair.

Of course, the FBI already knew mermaids were out there. Dorian had told Luce that himself several months ago. But he was pretty sure Luce’s worst fears hadn’t come to pass. FBI agent Ben Ellison had told him that the authorities “were still reviewing the options.” As long as the feds weren’t actually trying to exterminate the mermaids, why would Luce risk provoking them?

There she was again, looking back as if she could see him watching her. Dorian leaned closer to the screen, trying to make out the look on her face. He was desperate for any sign that would tell him what she’d been thinking in those moments, but she was too small, too distant. All he could tell was that she was hurt and unsmiling. If he could get to Anchorage, get on a plane, somehow drive from Seattle to the coast . . .

She’d be long gone, of course. She already was.

The screen showed nothing but water dropping into sudden blackness.

“It has to be fake,” Steve said again. His voice was murky and unconvinced, and he still wouldn’t look around “Right?”

“Of course it’s fake,” Dorian snarled, too roughly. “How the hell could that be real?”

“I thought maybe you’d believe it . . . since you kept drawing her . . .”

Her. What did Steve mean by that? “Crissake, Steve. I was drawing a comic book. Like, it was imaginary?”

“The one you used to draw, though . . . She really looked like . . .”

Irrationally he’d started hating Steve a little for coming this close to the truth. Dorian forced himself to stay calm. “Not so much,” he said coldly. “Just the hair.”

His phone was ringing again. Dorian had a good idea who might be calling.


“Steve?” No response. “Steve, I’m going to take off, okay?” Dorian felt a little bad for lying now. He wiped his sleeve across his face.

“Oh—sure. See you later.” Dorian wondered how many times Steve would watch Luce swim through sunlit water before he got tired of it. But Luce was supposed to be his, even if all he had left of her was memories. No one else was allowed to watch her this way, to see just how beautiful she was.

Once Dorian was out on the street he stared around in a daze. Gray mist curled between the small wooden houses, and at the bottom of the street he could see the iron-colored shimmer of the small harbor, the dock where he’d sprawled face-down, his body leaning toward the water to kiss Luce goodbye after she’d brought him home late at night. It took him a while to pull himself together, walk down to a lonely spot on the beach again, and call Ben Ellison back.

* * *

“It’s her.

“I’m assuming you’re referring to the video? It’s Luce, you mean?” Why did Ben Ellison’s surprise sound so phony? “But, Dorian, it’s hard to see much detail. Are you certain?” His doubt sounded phony, too.

“Yeah I’m certain. Why would she do that? She was always worrying, like if humans really knew the mermaids were out there they’d come after them and wipe them out.”

Even Ellison’s silence sounded wrong now. It was taut and strange, and it took him too long to reply. “Well, Dorian, I was hoping you would have some insight. Into what she might be trying to accomplish through this.”

“Why would I know anything? You didn’t even know that was Luce.”

“She matches your description.” This time Ellison’s response came too fast rather than too slowly. “Quite well. It did occur to me that she might be . . . your friend.”

“I bet she doesn’t think of me as a friend anymore.” Dorian heard how bitter he sounded.

“You know her very well, though, Dorian.” This time the voice on the phone had an odd touch of gentleness to it. “Of course, there’s something about this video that strikes anyone—anyone with any real knowledge of the situation—immediately.”

“It looks like she’s hurt.

“It does, yes.” A pause. “But that’s not what I meant. She doesn’t sing.”

Dorian had trouble understanding where this was coming from. Of course Luce didn’t sing. “Why would she?”

“This is the first, the very first, publicly available evidence for the existence of mermaids. It shows a mermaid clearly stopping and looking back at a group of people. There’s no question that she’s aware of them. And then she goes peacefully on her way. No singing, no enchantment, and nobody winds up drowned.” Ellison almost sounded impatient now.


“So if you were attempting to convince people that mermaids are simply beautiful, harmless girls—girls who just happen to have tails—then allowing this video to get out would be a very good move. In terms of public relations.”

“But I’ve told you! Luce doesn’t even believe in killing people! She wouldn’t . . .” She wouldn’t even kill me, Dorian thought glumly. Not even when I was pushing her to do it.

“Naturally, though, she’s aware that other mermaids don’t share her ideas about the supreme value of human life.” There was something in Ellison’s voice that confused Dorian. He sounded prickly and on edge. Ellison was usually very steady, calm even when he was insulted.

“Well, sure. But there’s no way Luce would have sung to those people! Another mermaid would, maybe, but . . .” He was so agitated, Dorian realized, that he’d completely missed what Ellison was implying. Suddenly he understood. “You think she let them tape her on purpose? To convince everyone that mermaids don’t go around killing?”

“I think it’s quite clear that this was a deliberate maneuver, yes. The way she comes to the surface and looks back at the camera . . . There’s no other reasonable explanation.”

“Luce wouldn’t think like that.” Dorian couldn’t imagine that Luce would be so calculating. “She acts kind of crazy sometimes, like she’s stupid brave, but public relations? That’s just not what she’s like.” It sounded lame, even to him. But he felt sure. Whatever the explanation was for Luce’s behavior, it wasn’t what Ellison thought.

“People are enthralled. Simply by watching this clip.” Ellison sounded like he was complaining about it.

“I know,” Dorian snapped.


“I know.” Was that what Steve was? Infatuated?

“And this mermaid . . . Luce . . . she knew that they would be.”

No. No, she didn’t.” Dorian thought about it. “She knew her face was magic, but that just made her uncomfortable. Luce is pretty shy. It wasn’t something she ever tried to use.”

Something in Ellison’s silence made it clear that he didn’t believe a word Dorian was saying. “You see, Dorian? You have valuable insights to offer after all.” There was a distinct edge of sarcasm to the words.

“You think I’m full of shit, though.” Dorian was curt.

“I think you’re still trying, in whatever ways you can think of, to protect her. It’s understandable enough, given what we can see of her, but . . .”

Dorian felt even more annoyed. It sounded like Ellison thought he’d only loved Luce for her beauty and gracefulness, that he’d simply been out of his mind, addled by enchantment like all the idiots who were sitting in front of their computers now, gaping slack-jawed at that clip. It wasn’t like that with us, Dorian wanted to say. I actually knew her. It’s different. “I’m just telling you what she’s like. You don’t know anything about her.”

Вы читаете The Twice Lost
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату