Cassie took a deep breath and knocked on the door. She thought she heard someone moving around inside, but no one answered. She knocked again. “Voice in the Wilderness Ministries!” She darted a glance at Julilla, who was struggling not to laugh. “Jesus loves you!”
More scuffling, then a male voice. “Go away. We’re not interested.”
Cassie tried again. “Let us share the good news with you, brother!”
“Hope and salvation!” Julilla added. “And food!”
There was a sound of keys turning in locks and bolts being slid back. The door opened a crack and an eye peered out. “What kind of food?”
“Loaves and fishes. Manna from Heaven. The fruits of the Lord’s creation.” Cassie wedged herself into the doorway as the young man tried to slam it shut. “Jesus loves you and wants—”
“We’re pagans, goddammit,” he said, trying to force the door closed. “Satanists. Heathens. We spit on Jesus.”
Julilla added her weight against Cassie’s. “Satan’s cool. The devil you know, and all that.”
The door fell open and the girls stumbled into the room. They didn’t have time to recover before they heard the sound of a pump-action shotgun. They looked up to see a girl standing on the other side of the room, training her weapon on them. She was dressed in black and her skin was startlingly pale without her gray face paint. Her thick black hair lay coiled at the nape of her neck and the look in her eyes was almost as lethal as her weapon. “Put your hands up, nutjobs.”
By now the young man, also in black, equally pale and with the same glossy black hair and eyes had drawn a semiautomatic. “We’re not interested in salvation, but we don’t mind helping you get to yours.”
“Now, be cool,” Julilla said. “We aren’t here to make trouble.”
“If you didn’t want trouble, you shouldn’t have forced your way in here.” The girl motioned with her gun. “Stand over there.”
Cassie and Julilla edged in the direction indicated. “Do you do this to everyone who wants to talk to you about God?”
“You’re risking your eternal soul,” Cassie added.
They looked for some means of escape, but the boy trained his gun on them and the girl came forward and motioned for Cassie and Julilla to remove their robes. When they moved too slowly to suit her, she patted them down and found the Glock.
“How many people have you sent to the Kingdom of Heaven with this?”
“It was for protection on the street, not to hurt you.”
“No bullshit, please.” She took away Julilla’s knife and disarmed Cassie of pistol and pepper spray. Then she bound both girls’ wrists and ankles with rope. When she was done, she stepped back and admired her work. “So,” she said, “why don’t you tell us what you’re really after?”
* * *
Several hours later Cassie and Julilla sat on the sofa, rubbing the rope burns on their wrists. Convincing the strange young couple to untie them hadn’t been difficult, but being allowed to leave was another matter. As for the laptop, the “twins” as they called themselves, flatly refused to part with it, claiming it held the key to the “fountain of youth.” So Cassie and Julilla found themselves watching Danica, otherwise known as Thing Two, scroll through documents on the computer, occasionally stopping to read something aloud and shake her head. “I understand little bits of it. But not enough to put all the pieces together.”
Thing One, Danny, lay on the floor at her feet, flipping through a book of scientific terms and gazing up at her from time to time with a look that was pure adoration. “You can do it. We already established that the thing that looks like an E means ‘sum.’ And the triangle means ‘change.’”
“Delta,” Danica said, still staring at the screen. “You’ve got to call these things by the right words.”
Danny jumped to his feet with the lithe move of a cat, took her narrow chin in his hand and forced her to look at him. Then he planted a lingering kiss on her lips and slipped his tongue into her mouth.
Cassie and Julilla recoiled in disgust.
“You kiss your sister that way?” Cassie said.
Danny drew back glanced over his shoulder. “You got another way in mind?” His traced a finger down Danica’s throat toward her breasts. “Maybe someplace else?”
Danica pushed his hand away. “Stop teasing those poor prudes.” To Cassie she added, “He’s not my brother.”
“But you said you’re twins,” Julilla pointed out. “How can you be twins but not siblings?”
“Don’t you just love a mystery?” Danny slipped his hand under Danica’s shirt and she shifted in her chair to give him better access.
“It looks like Dr. Brody was involved in some pretty important research,” Danica said, trying to focus her attention on the screen. “He was getting money from national endowments, corporations, private investors—” She moaned softly as Danny knelt beside her, pulled open her blouse and took one of her nipples in his teeth. “Baby, don’t do that.” She ran her fingers through his hair. “You’re distracting me.”
“Not to mention us,” Julilla said. “Don’t tell me we’re going to have to watch you two have sex.”
Danny stopped what he was doing long enough to tell her, “You’re the ones who forced your way in here. Deal.”
Cassie and Julilla looked away while Danny returned to sucking one of Danica’s breasts.
Danica tapped a few keys with one hand, the other still toying with Danny’s hair. “Don’t leave hickeys, honey. That’s gross.”
“Look,” Cassie said, “You’re never going to get those docs figured out at this rate. Let us take the laptop. We promise we’ll let you know what we find out.”
Danica tried to push Danny away but he dug in with his teeth. She flinched and tugged at his hair until he let go. “How do we know you’ll do any better?” she asked Cassie. “Brody’s son is what, thirteen?”
“Fifteen,” Julilla said. “And we’ve got someone else if he can’t read it.”
“Yeah, the art chick.” Danica contorted herself so Danny could work on the other nipple. “We tried to get information from her place, but—”
“You’re the ones who tore up her workshop?”
“Only the first time. We have no idea who did it the second time.”
“Copycats,” Danny muttered. He stood and tried to pull Danica to her feet. “They all want to be like us.”
Julilla rolled her eyes. “As if. Incestuous freaks.”
“We’re not siblings,” Danica insisted.
“We’re just twins,” Danny said over his shoulder as he pulled Danica toward a back room. “Don’t go anywhere. It would be a pain in the ass to have to hunt you down and kill you.”
“We don’t like blood,” Danica added, grabbing the door keys off a small table.
“Speak for yourself, baby.”
They disappeared into the back of the apartment, leaving Cassie and Julilla staring after them. “I thought I’d seen some weird shit since the Telo,” Julilla said. “But this tops it.”
“So what do we do now?” Cassie glanced toward the door. Every lock and bolt had been set and as far as they knew, the only keys were in the bedroom where from the sound of things, the twins were wasting no time.
Julilla jumped to her feet and started looking for another way out, paying particular attention to the windows.
“You’re crazier than they are if you think I’m jumping out a third-floor window.”
“I don’t think that’ll be necessary.” Julilla examined the window sill with the same thoughtful expression Cassie had seen the night they saw Danica in the hotel. “Pack up that computer. Preferably in a backpack of some kind.”
“We don’t know the password. Once we turn it off, it’s useless.”
“As long as they didn’t change it, the password is in Doc’s notebooks or that e-planner. Besides, once we’ve got possession, Freak One and Freak Two will have to work with us.”
Cassie shut down the laptop and slipped it into the first pack she found, wrapping it first in one of the twins’ discarded jackets to pad it. Then while Julilla finished getting the rappelling contraption in place, she scanned the room for anything else worth taking, swiping an acid-etched glass amulet and a packet of almonds.
When all was ready, she went to the window and peered down in dismay. “I’ve done rock climbing,” she said, “But there’s nothing to hold onto here.”
“That’s what the rope is for. Get moving, in case they’re just having a quickie back there.”
“No time. If you can’t get a foothold on the building, grip the knots in the rope with your knees and feet to slow your descent. Now, get.”
With a deep breath, Cassie moved out onto the ledge, gripped the rope and began lowering herself, telling herself it was no different from the times she went rock climbing with her eco group. Except that her shoes were all wrong, she had no gloves to keep from getting rope burn, there was no safety harness, and her life and maybe even the lives of others depended on getting down safely.
Above her, Julilla muttered something about what a shame it was the twins had locked up their weapons, then started down the rope while Cassie hoped that it would hold the two of them. Her hands burning now and her arms shaking with the effort, she reached the broken-out first floor windows and lost her ability to stabilize herself against the building. The rope swung for a moment and Julilla cursed. Unable to find something to steady herself with, Cassie closed her knees and feet on the rope, and with a silent prayer that Doc would have some kind of salve for her hands, slid the rest of the way to the sidewalk.
A moment later, Julilla dropped to the ground beside her. “Don’t just stand there!”
They took off running.