Home > BZRK (BZRK #1)(9)

BZRK (BZRK #1)(9)
Michael Grant

Noah dribbled it, did an agile pedalada, and back-heeled it to Mohammed.

“I can, too, do a fuckin’ Chilena,” Little Cora insisted, referring to a bicycle kick that involved somersaulting to kick a ball out of the air. Little Cora felt no sentence was complete without the modifier “fuckin’.”

“You can do it once, maybe,” Mohammed insisted. “Then you fall on your head, and it’s six weeks in hospital.”

Little Cora charged at him, took the ball, and kicked it with impressive power and very poor aim at the nearest wall. It struck the bars on the back window of a pizza restaurant and took a wild bounce toward a motorcycle locked to the fence. The fence separated the alley from the train tracks, and just as Mohammed started berating Little Cora, a train went roaring past obliterating the banter.

Noah grabbed the handlebar of the motorcycle and righted it before it could topple over. Then he went after the ball, which had rolled some distance.

A young man got there first. He stopped the ball, dribbled it a bit just to show he knew how, and kicked it away from Noah and back to his friends.

The man was Asian—Chinese, Noah guessed—and startlingly handsome. Definitely not someone from this neighborhood.

The man said, “Noah?”

And that froze Noah where he stood. His friends moved closer, slowly, protective but wary.

There was nothing threatening about the man. He didn’t bare his teeth, he didn’t move farther forward. He met Noah’s gaze easily.

“Who’s asking?”

“I’m looking for Noah Cotton.”

An American accent, at least Noah thought so.

“That’s me,” Noah admitted with a blend of defiance and indifference. He was a city boy, Noah, bred for wariness.

The American was in his early twenties, tall, especially for someone of Chinese background, thin, immaculate. He wore a long, navy cashmere coat over a dark suit, over an expensive white shirt held at the neck not by a tie but by a sort of white floral pin.

“My name is Nijinsky,” the American said. “I’m a friend of your brother.”

“Nijinsky. That sounds Russian.”

Nijinsky shrugged and smiled, offering a glimpse of amazingly perfect white teeth. “It’s an odd name, I must admit. Most people call me Jin.”

“Why are you looking for me?”

Nijinsky looked down, gathering his thoughts. Or at least acting the part of a man gathering his thoughts. Then he said, “Well, Noah, Alex asked me to look in on you if … if anything ever happened to him.”

Noah’s breathing suddenly felt labored. “Yeah?”

“Yes. Your brother was doing very important but very dangerous work. He had a special talent, you know.”

“He was out of the army. Quits with all that.”

“This isn’t about the army.”

Noah stared at him, and the man looked back with black, almond eyes fringed by girlishly long lashes. His expression was open and frank. Like he was hiding nothing.

Nijinsky glanced meaningfully at Mohammed and Little Cora, who had strayed ever closer.

“It’s all right, guys,” Noah said to his friends. “Too wet out, anyway. Tomorrow, eh? After school.”

Little Cora had never been one to take a hint, but Mohammed was. He grabbed her arm and said, “Come on, then, LC.”

“I’m taking my ball,” Little Cora said belligerently, but she followed Mohammed down the alley and around the corner.

“What happened to Alex?” Noah blurted.

“You mean—”

“You know bloody well what I mean, don’t you?” Noah interrupted.

The outburst brought no anger to Nijinsky’s expression, just compassion. “I know that Alex suffered a sudden, complete mental breakdown. Almost overnight he went from being a normal, if perhaps intense, person to being what people might call a raving lunatic.”

Now Noah’s chest was pounding and he was breathing hard, too much emotion pushing out from where he’d buried it. “I saw him, you know? Twice I went to see him. Right? In that awful place. They have him chained up like a fucking dog!”

Nijinsky nodded. Nothing more.

The rain came on in a wave, rushing down the alleyway. Nijinsky pulled an umbrella from his coat pocket and opened it seconds before the first fat drops hit. He stepped closer, to cover Noah as well, but Noah wasn’t having it. He stepped back into the rain, letting it beat on his bare head and shoulders.

“He’s sitting there in that place, just babbling, just, just …”

“What does he say? When he’s babbling?”

“Nano nano nano. I know, it sounds kind of funny, doesn’t it?”

“No. It doesn’t, Noah. What else does he say?”

Noah shook his head. “Something about a bug man.”

And there, at last, that tightening of Nijinsky’s impassive eyes, that twitch of his upper lip. And the warm compassion flowing from Nijinsky was, just for a moment, a cold front.

Noah had not missed that split second of something dark. Sadness? No, although maybe that was part of it.

Fury. That was it. Fury. But quickly extinguished.

“Anything else?” Nijinsky asked. And now he wasn’t bothering with the mask. He knew that Noah had seen some little bit of truth in his eyes. The bullshit was over. Truth was on its way.

“Yeah,” Noah said. “This word. He started screaming it. Just screaming it like a … like a …” He couldn’t talk for a moment. Too much. Too fast. He pressed his back against the wall, partly shielded from the worst of the downpour.

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