First time reading? Start at the beginning here.
Less than a week earlier, Val had left Blueblood in the lake house with the excuse that she had errands to run. She’d driven about a mile through rural Illinois, past farm fields that had recently been harvested and woods with picturesque autumn foliage. Her hands had gripped the steering wheel at the ten and two o’clock positions, one of them gloved and one bare. She didn’t like looking at her right hand. Even with the glove covering it, she could picture the bulging blue veins visible on frostbite-black skin. It nauseated her.
She’d pulled up to a wooden house in the middle of nowhere. It had a long, winding dirt driveway and was surrounded by trees that blocked it from view of the road. The closest neighbor was about six miles away, which was closer than Val would have liked, but far enough that any screams wouldn’t carry. She walked up the creaky steps to the front porch, which was full of dead leaves and spider webs, and knocked on the door.
Irma opened it, her gaunt face breaking into a smile. “Val.” The older woman ushered her inside. “Can I get you anything? Would you like some tea?”
“I’d rather see our guest first.” Val shrugged out of her coat.
The inside of the house was cozy, full of rocking chairs and lace doilies. The previous occupant had evidently been a fisherman, as the walls were full of cutesy art proclaiming “Gone Fishin’” and “Good things come to those who bait.” Irma led Val up the stairs, and Eddy was waiting for them at the top.
“I thought I heard you come in.” He grinned and pulled Val into a tight hug. “You ready to meet the preacher?”
“As ready as a poor sinner can be.”
Eddy pulled a keychain out of his pocket, keys jingling as he brought them to a doorway down the hall. There was a big bolt lock on the outside of it which was fastened with a padlock, and after Eddy finished with that, he selected another key for the lock on the doorknob. Finally, he opened the door. The bedroom inside was free of clutter, holding only a daybed with embroidered pillows, a hand-carved wooden dresser, and a couple of chairs. A man sat in one of them, middle-aged and forgettable-looking, with a few days’ worth of stubble on his face. His shadowed eyes went straight to the open door behind them.
“Bartholomew,” Val greeted as Irma closed the door firmly and stood guard in front of it. “Can I call you Bart? Barty?”
The man didn’t answer. Eddy pulled up an empty chair for Val, who sat and crossed her legs.
“I’m gonna go with Barty,” Val said. “So Barty, do you know who I am?”
He nodded, swallowing.
“And you know why you’re here?”
“I don’t have real powers.” His small voice was strikingly different from the deep, booming baritone he used in front of congregations. “I keep telling them.”
“Well, I do have powers. I can read minds, so let’s cut the bullshit, okay?”
His eyes widened, and he shifted uncomfortably in his chair. He was thinking that he should have registered his powers with the government so he could have gotten protection.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Val said. “The government’s version of protection is locking you up in a room somewhere while they experiment on you. I don’t think you’d be better off.”
Barty jumped, and his gaze shot to the window. The cheery periwinkle curtains couldn’t hide the bars on it.
“Well, yeah,” Val replied to the unspoken thought. “But the difference between me and the government is that I’m planning to let you go after you do a job for me. I don’t want to stop you from relieving old ladies’ arthritis and curing cancer or whatever.”
“I can’t cure cancer.” His gaze darted to her face before falling again. “I’ve tried. I can make them feel better for a little while, but that’s because I’m negating the effects of the chemo, which just makes them worse.”
“Well, luckily for you, I don’t have cancer, then,” Val said airily, but her smile quickly fell. “This is what I want you to cure.”
She pulled the satin glove from her right hand, and Eddy swore loudly. Even the normally silent Irma sucked in a sharp, noisy breath. Val watched Barty to avoid looking at her hand. She was still having trouble accepting it as part of her body. Barty didn’t make a sound like Eddy and Irma, but he pulled away from her, jerking his chair.
“What the— What happened?” he asked.
“A little gift from Blueblood.”
Barty shook his head. “I’ve never healed anything like that before. I don’t know if I can.”
Val had been holding her hand out for his inspection, but now she returned it to her lap. “If you can’t, then I’m going to be violently disappointed.”
Barty stared at her hand, and Val perused his mind. Stress had given him acid indigestion, a burning pain that spread from his stomach to his chest. I’m going to die, he thought. I can’t fix it. I’m dead. Oh, God. God, I know I’ve done wrong, but please don’t let them kill me. Please—
Val soothed him telepathically, finding the confidence under the panic and amplifying it.
But it looks almost like frostbite, and I’ve healed that before. If it’s just damage to the cells, then I should be able to…
Val raised her blackened, peeling hand in front her, palm up. “Try,” she said.
His chin quivered. Then he reached out and grasped her hand with both of his. Val had lost some feeling since Blueblood’s touch, but she could still tell that his grip was limp and his skin clammy. She waited, hoping for a miracle.
Barty had closed his eyes, his brow furrowed as he sought something he couldn’t see. Val was about to dive into his mind when she jerked. Her hand felt as if it had been submerged in warm bathwater. She peered at her skin. Was the black fading, or was it wishful thinking? No, it was real. Her protruding blue veins began to sink and fade, and her skin changed back to its normal color. Val looked up at Eddy and Irma and beamed at them. The effects started where Barty made contact with her skin and traveled up her arm, spreading an odd but pleasurable warmth. Her hand became something she recognized again, right down to the mole on her wrist.
When all traces of the infection were gone, Barty released her and slumped forward, breathing like he’d just run five miles. Val lifted her hand in front of her face, turning it backwards and forwards and flexing her fingers. Everything felt completely normal, making her grin.
The Black Valentine was back in the game.
So it’s been ten months real-time since I posted the previous appearance of good old Barty in the Interlude. Hope you guys didn’t forget about him. 😉
This is the last flashback, and next week we’ll be back to the roof of the DSA building for the final confrontation between Val and Blueblood. There are just three more updates until the series is over. *cries*