This one Amelie herself unlocked, with a key she kept in the small clutch purse she carried. She didn’t bother to open it; she had people to do that for her. She merely handed it over. Claire trailed her into the next room and was surprised when only two of the guards came in behind her. One of them shut the door, which sounded like it locked with a snap.
They were in a plain concrete room with a white table that was, as far as Claire could tell, bolted to the floor, as were the two chairs on either side of it. There was a big steel ring locked onto the table on one side. Apart from that, it couldn’t have been more blank and boring.
Only two chairs. Claire wondered if she was supposed to sit across from Amelie, but no, that didn’t make any sense unlessshe was the one being questioned. Unfortunately, that wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility.
It was a guilty relief to hear the sound of metal grinding and doors opening and closing somewhere else. Finally, a thick silver door on the far wall slid open and a guard came in, wearing not a black suit, but a black knit sports shirt and blue jeans. There was a hard-to-see emblem embroidered in the same color on the shirt. Amelie’s Founder symbol.
He was a vampire–that much was obvious from the unnatural shade of his skin–but other than that, he looked boringly mundane. An all-American kind of guy, no different from half the boys Claire went to college with daily. Neatly cut brown hair, a friendly and professional smile, a confident set to his expression. He looked more like a personal trainer than a prison guard.
He stepped aside, and Kim shuffled in.
Claire drew in a sharp breath. She remembered Kim way too well; she’d been a lying, traitorous b***h, but she’d started out okay enough. She’d always had a kind of bizarre charm, but there was no trace of that now. Her face was pale, set, and expressionless; Claire saw faces like that in the hospital when she’d visited her dad after his last heart attack. People who looked like that were focused on just getting
through the minute, the hour, the day. They had no future and no hope of one.
Kim’s hair had grown out long around her shoulders, and part of it was still dyed Goth black, but the rest was dirty blond. Her visible piercings were no longer so visible, even in her ears, because she wore no jewelry at all. She was wearing a knit shirt like Mr. All-American, only hers was in bright yellow. The embroidery on the front read prisoner in giant black letters, with Amelie’s symbol up in the corner. Claire guessed it was the same on the back. She wore stretchy, yoga-style pants and sandals.
Her fingernails were short, and two were bleeding from where she’d bitten too deep. No funky nail polish now. Kim looked sad and alone and more than a little frightened, especially when she saw Claire and Amelie.
She fixed on Claire, though, and took a step forward. Her guard tapped her on the shoulder gently, and Kim looked away and went still. He guided her to the chair. Without a word, she sat and put her hands on the table.
He pulled out a set of handcuffs and hooked one to her right wrist and one to the steel ring on the table. Then he stepped back and turned into a parade-rest statue near the metal door.
Kim kept staring down. Where was all that bad attitude she’d displayed from the beginning? Or the bitterness? Or the crazy–that was what Claire remembered her best for at the end. Now she was just…empty.
Amelie said, "Claire, sit down. You wanted five minutes. You have them. I suggest you use them well."
She hadn’t wanted it like this, with the two of them surrounded by staring, listening witnesses. Claire was suddenly very glad she’d spilled the beans to Amelie in the limo, because having this conversation while trying to hold all that inside would have been very difficult. Probably impossible.
Kim didn’t look up even when Claire sat down. She looked cold. "Kim?" No response. "Kim, you remember me, right?"
Kim looked up then, and her eyes were hot and angry. "Of course I do. Who forgetsyou ? How’s Shane, by the way? Getting tired of schoolyard crushes yet?"
The sudden flare of rage made Claire flinch, but after a glance at the man standing behind Kim’s chair, she wet her lips and continued. "Shane’s in trouble," Claire said.
"Good." Kim sat back in her chair, as far as the cuffs would allow. "Hope it’s fatal for both of you this time."
That was harsh, even for Kim. Claire was surprised. She could understand Kim’s anger toward her, but why Shane? He’d always been the focus of her stalkerish obsession. "You don’t mean that," Claire said.
"Oh, I completely do. I’ve had therapy, you know. I’m in touch with my feelings and crap." Kim raked untidy hair back from her face with her left hand and laughed. It sounded raw and aggressive. "He never cared about me; I know that now. So screw him. And you. Thanks for dropping in." She glanced backward, at her guard. "I’m ready to go back now, sir."
"Kim," he said, still smiling. He had dimples, even. "Her five minutes aren’t up yet. Be nice."
Kim faced Claire again, once again back to that thousand-yard stare and closed-down expression.
"There’s a Web site that’s operating," Claire said. "Running encrypted video. Do you know anything about it?"
"Because I did the whole encryption thing first?" Kim shrugged. "Why would I? They haven’t given me a computer to play with, you know. Said I had to earn one. Screw that. I’m not playing the games to get what I want."
"You were working with someone outside Morganville, though. You were planning to make a deal for a TV show. That was what all the streaming video was for. I think whoever it was found another…source. And another program."
"Good for them." Dismissive words, but Kim was eyeing her with a little more interest. "What kind of show are they running?"
"Pay-per-view," Claire said. "Extreme fighting."
"Withvampires ?" Kim actually laughed. "Dude, that’s brilliant. I should have thought of that. Would have been a lots-better show than you sickeningly cute couples playing house and getting your wild thing on."
Claire wanted to smack her–badly. But she took a deep breath and said, with unnatural calm, "I need to know how to break the encryption and figure out how to trace it to the source. I figured you’d know."
"Sure, I know, if it’s the same encryption I put together," Kim said, and leaned back in her chair. "But why should I tell you?"
"Because it’s the right thing to do?"
Kim rolled her eyes. "Wow, you actuallyare an idiot. Do you think the vamps are going to do the right thing once you point the finger at whoever’s behind it? You think this is all going to end with somebody getting a slap on the wrist and a fine? I was lucky, you know. Lucky to still be breathing.People are going to die. You need to get that through your head. It isn’t about theright thing. It’s about the thing that gets you something. If you think the world works any other way, you’re just as stupid as you look."
Claire said, "You know, you’ve got something wrong."
"What is that? I swear, you’re more clueless than a Care Bear."
"You think that because I want to do what’s right, because I want to make things better, I’m weak," Claire said. "Or that I’m stupid. But I’m not. It takes a lot more strength to know how bad the world is and not want to be part of that, give in to it. And Ido know, Kim. Believe me."
Kim’s sneer faded as Claire stared at her very steadily. Then she looked away. "You should say that after you spend a few months in this hellhole."
For the first time, Amelie stirred from where she stood at the back of the room. She advanced to the table, leaned forward, and rested her palms on the flat surface. Her gray eyes were intent and level on Kim, and again Kim couldn’t hold her stare.
"You might bear in mind that in earlier times, young lady, your crimes would have meant you died in a particularly horrible way, with your screams ringing in the ears of decent folk," Amelie said. "You’re kept in a clean cell, with decent if unremarkable food. You receive reading material and have television. In what way is that ahellhole ? What can someone of your age possibly know of survivinghell ?" There was a keen edge to her voice that Claire had rarely heard. "The man guarding you today knows of hell, very well. He can tell you what it was like to survive in a prison camp with nothing to eat but crawling insects and rotten bread, foryears , until one night his life was taken–"
"Saved," the guard in the knit shirt said.