The Vanishing Stair (Truly Devious, #2)(9)


“That letter,” he said. “Truly Devious . . .”

Francis had the urge to vomit. Beside her, Eddie hissed excitedly through his teeth.

“You need to take this,” Albert Ellingham said.

“My God, Albert, I don’t know how to fire one of these things.”

Had Miss Nelson been given a gun?

“Cock the hammer, pull the trigger. Now, listen to me. I have coaches coming at daybreak. The students must be on them, and so must you be. Wake them before sunrise. Have them take only what they need. I’ll have everything else sent.”

“Albert, one of the children is—”

“There’s no time. Take the train to New York and go directly to the apartment. I’ll contact you there as soon as I can. Go. You need to go now.”

“Albert, I’m sorry. I’ll—”

“Now, Marion.” Albert Ellingham—America’s king of newspapers, of radio—sounded on the verge of tears. Francis and Eddie hunkered down as Miss Nelson hurried back out the door. They heard Albert Ellingham convulsively sobbing for several minutes before he did the same.


ABOUT AN HOUR AFTER STEVIE FOUND EDWARD KING IN HER HOUSE, she was in the back of an SUV, making its way toward the airport. The sun had long set, but there was an extra darkness in this car from the tinted windows. There was an additional shadow in the form of the person sitting next to her, on the massive leather seats, sipping a bottle of sparkling water and consulting his phone. Edward King had said very little on this ride. His security agent sat in front of them, staring straight ahead. There was nothing but the muted lights outside and the various little controls within.

As promised, the back of the SUV had enough room for Stevie’s boxes and bags. Some had never been unpacked and were simply ready to go. Her clothes had to be gathered up from hampers (some still dirty) and the dryer and the closet and drawers. All her little possessions, her banged-up books and overwashed black clothes, and sheets with bright stains on them where a laundry pod had exploded . . . a bag of hastily collected cords . . . all of these things were lifted and stuck into the back of the SUV with a clinical competence by the driver and the bodyguard, like law enforcement taking the evidence away from the scene. Bag it. Stick it in the car. No matter how shabby, no matter how small.

Stevie kept her backpack with her, clinging to it. This was all she really needed, should she decide to open the door at a light and spring out. Her computer. Her wallet. Her meds. Her notes. Her phone. The tin.

“So,” Edward King said, tucking his phone into his pocket. “You excited to go back to school?”

Excited was not the right word. Stevie needed to go back and she wanted to go back, but the accompanying emotion was anxiety. Anxiety and excitement are cousins; they can be mistaken for each other at points. They have many features in common—the bubbling, carbonated feel of the emotion, the speed, the wide eyes and racing heart. But where excitement tends to take you up, into the higher, brighter levels of feeling, anxiety pulls you down, making you feel like you have to grip the earth to keep from sliding off as it turns.

This was the sympathetic nervous system at work, her therapist had told her. To work with anxiety, you had to let it complete its cycle. Stevie tapped her foot against the SUV floor, telling the cycle to get a move on. What was she anxious about? Going back to the case, going back to her friends, going back to her classes, going back . . .

To see Edward King’s son. And he was a complicated person to go back to.

The last time she had really had contact with David was the morning after she had confronted Ellie, and Ellie had run. She and David had returned to Minerva together. They went into Ellie’s room and sat on her bed. David had looked so beautiful that morning. The light came down on one side of his face and he seemed to glow. His dark hair fell in finger-length curls that flopped rakishly across his forehead. He had eyebrows that had natural peaks, raised in constant amusement. His nose was long and fine. His worn T-shirts pulled against his frame, revealing muscled arms. . . .

She wanted to kiss him, but there was a noise outside, something overhead. He got up to see what it was, and she leaned back and put her hand on the tin. It was tucked in Ellie’s bed.

The noise was a helicopter landing on the lawn. David ran outside. Stevie assumed the helicopter was part of the search effort, but when she reached David and saw what he was looking at, everything changed. That was when she saw the word KING on the side. That was when she looked between Edward King and David and saw the resemblance for the first time. David said to her, “Meet my dead dad.”

What happened next was very strange. Edward King stopped halfway when he saw David and Stevie. He nodded, then turned toward the Great House. The helicopter left. There was no one around at that moment who read the side or saw Edward King, at least that Stevie could tell.

David turned to Stevie and said, “And now you know.”

He waited for her reaction, but none came. Her brain could not process this—that the only guy she had ever felt like this about, had so much contact with, that David was the son of . . .

With every passing second of her silence, David’s smirk grew wider.

“Yeah,” he said. “That’s what I thought.”

He turned and walked away. Those were the last words they exchanged. David avoided her for the rest of the day, and she avoided him the day after that. And then she was gone. They had not communicated since. She had thought about reaching out to him a few times, but too many emotions jumped in the way—revulsion, fear, sadness.

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