The Vanishing Stair (Truly Devious, #2)(8)

This was the best part—physically crawling out onto the grass in the dark, like some newly born creature of the night. Her eyesight had grown used to the void, and now the night seemed brilliant and alive. She didn’t need a candle to find her way through the trees to the path to Apollo. She picked up a small stone from the ground and took careful aim at an upstairs window.

A moment later, she heard the slide of the window open. A knotted rope slithered down. She saw Eddie’s feet first. He had tattooed stars on the soles of both his feet in black ink. He wore nothing but a pair of blue silk pajama bottoms; he made no concessions to the cold. He dropped the last few feet elegantly and shook back his blond hair. Apollo was a big building, intended for classrooms, but it currently housed four male students on the second floor. Eddie shared this side of the building with only one other person and could have walked right out the front door, but where was the fun in that?

He followed her into the grove of trees, and once there, he pressed her back into a tree. She took his face in both hands and kissed him roughly, running her hands down his bare back.

Edward Pierce Davenport was the first and only person Francis had any respect for. He came from the same kind of wealthy background as she did; he was from Boston and his family was in shipping. Eddie had made it his life’s mission to disappoint his family, and he had been doing exceptionally well at this. There were tales of seducing maids, wandering naked through formal dinners, filling an entire bathtub with champagne. He had been expelled from four of the best schools in the country before his parents got on their knees and begged their friend Albert to take Eddie to the mountains where he might stay out of trouble for a few minutes. Or, at least, make trouble in a remote setting. That was enough.

Eddie and Francis met the first day, at the picnic on the lawn, making eyes over the cold fried chicken and lemonade. He saw the copy of True Detective she had in her bag. He quoted some obscene French poetry. And that was that. Eddie was suddenly tame, or so he seemed. Francis, it was said, had been a very good influence.

Eddie introduced Francis to poetry—the swirling, wild storms of the romantics, the jigsaw realities of the modernists and surrealists. He conveyed his dream—to live a life in which every impulse was to be followed. He showed Francis the various things he had learned in his romantic life, and Francis was an apt pupil.

Francis told Eddie about bomb-making and read him stories of Bonnie and Clyde and John Dillinger and Ma Barker. Eddie embraced them at once. They were poets—machine-gun poets who brooked no compromise, who rode any road they wished, who drove laughing into the sun. And so, on the lawns, in the library, in corners and basements, Francis and Eddie formed an inseparable bond.

Over that fall and that cold winter, they began their study into the art of crime. At the right time, they would take one of Ellingham’s cars, fill it with dynamite, and leave. The time would be soon, when the ice melted off the mountain. On a clear day, when no one was looking, they would go drive west and rob banks. Francis would blow out the vaults. Eddie would write their story. They would make love on the floors of safe houses, on the road itself until the road ran out.

She pulled back from the embrace to tell him what was going on—Dottie missing, the police coming—but he eased down to the ground, taking her with him. Her desire to tell him this interesting news was overridden by a different sort of desire. There was nothing in this world as beautiful as Eddie lying there on the ground, his chest bare. He was not a nice boy; he was a dirty, wild boy, almost as dirty and wild as Francis herself. She had been with other boys before, but they fumbled. Eddie knew precisely what he was doing. He played with his speed. He could move slowly—achingly slowly. He drew her down now and ran his hand along her side inch by inch until she hardly felt like she could bear it.

“I have something to tell you,” she said, breathless. “You’ll like it.”

“I like everything you tell me.”

There was a sound nearby and the two of them froze in place. Albert Ellingham walked past, his pace quick. Francis pointed at him silently and indicated they should follow. They kept their distance, trailing along toward the still-under-construction gymnasium building.

The room Albert Ellingham had entered was for the new indoor swimming pool. It was a large, vaulted space, cold and open, with white and aqua-blue tiled walls. The pool had no water yet—it was just a smooth concrete opening. There was no heat, so the room felt like an icehouse. Francis was cold in her coat; she could only imagine what Eddie was feeling. But that was the thing about Eddie—he never registered pain.

Inside the doorway, there was a large cart full of building supplies. As the only light in the space came from a single lantern on the far side of the room, Eddie and Francis were able to secrete themselves behind this with no difficulty. The high ceiling, empty pool, and tiled walls provided perfect acoustics; they could hear every word even if they couldn’t see much from where they were crouched.

“Albert!” Miss Nelson said. Francis heard quick steps and looked over the cart to see two figures embracing. Francis slapped herself mentally. Of course. This is why Miss Nelson’s hair was so carefully done. This is why she wore small diamond earrings that were unobtrusive and yet far beyond her means.

“Marion,” Albert Ellingham said, his voice husky. “Something has happened. Someone has kidnapped Alice and Iris.”

Now the cold on the outside was matched by a cold within—but cold with a spark, like the light madness of the sky before one of the wild Vermont snowstorms.

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