Andrea Lobotae and Cinna have the same taste in drinks. I feel like it shouldn’t bother me, but I get the feeling it will. She only drinks one, with dinner, just the one screwdriver, so thick with pulp that it clings to the wall of her glass. I wonder if she planned it.
She makes easy conversation, doesn’t talk about things that go over my head or people I don’t care about. She doesn’t even mention today’s death toll in the Games. They’re on in the corner of just about every room, so I know she knows, but she doesn’t mention Marvel or Rue. Her house Avoxes serve us a light meal course by course and stand just out of sight, watching like guards. They probably are guards, or were. Lobotae doesn’t talk about them, either.
She apologizes to me in the middle of dessert. I’m startled enough to drop my spoon into the bowl, and I ask what she means. She says, “Oh, you can’t possibly have forgotten our dalliance in Tantalus. I wanted to apologize for any damage I did to your clothing. If you like, you can send me an equivalent bill.”
My glass chatters in my hand, and I have to set it down before I shatter it. “Don’t worry about it,” I say, force my voice to even out. “I wasn’t wearing much clothing.” Apologize to Cinna for ruining his design, I want to tell her, but the last thing I want to do is drop his name in front of her.
She smiles, lips just slightly parted around the rim of her glass. “I only mention it because I plan on taking precautions against that tonight.”
“Your dry cleaning bill,” she says. “And mine, for that matter. I have no intention of fucking you.”
Well. I haven’t heard that from a client before. I blink, try to make a joke out of my confusion. “So are we going to be playing cards?”
She laughs. “No. I only said that I have no intention. You will be performing your intended function.”
My intended function. I look down so she won’t see the color rise in my cheeks. She probably does, anyway.
“Just not with me,” she clarifies, and drains her glass. One of her Avoxes, a young blond woman, comes by to clear the glass away from the table. Lobotae raises a hand to stop her. “Take off your clothes.”
I push back my chair and stand.
“I didn’t mean you, Finnick,” Lobotae says.
I remain standing. I don’t trust myself to sit.
The young woman looks at Lobotae, then at me, and I can’t bring myself to meet her eyes. She doesn’t say anything. Of course she doesn’t say anything, she’s an Avox, she can’t stop this any more than I can and I have to grip the back of the chair hard so I don’t double over and get sick. I still can’t look at her directly. Out of the corner of my eye, I see her unzip her bodysuit and peel it off her shoulders and I want to cover her back up, throw the tablecloth over her, anything, but I stare at the chair instead.
Lobotae thanks her, low and even and unperturbed. “Good. Now kneel.”
The Avox does, right where she was standing, until she’s almost in the shadow of the table. She folds her hands in her lap, and I realize that she’s waxed down almost everywhere just like I am: no pubic hair, no blemishes, not even stretch marks along her sides. This Avox was a Capitol citizen once.
It doesn’t make me feel any better.
Slowly, I ease my hands off the chair, straighten. I’m still trying not to look at her. And then Lobotae tells me, “Finnick, she can’t undo her hair on her own. Do it for her.”
I’m sorry, I want to tell her, but the words wither in my throat. I clear it, or try to, but nothing happens. Her hair’s soft and thick and curls near the bottom, the way some of my cousins’ hair does. I’m not going to think about my cousins right now. I don’t want to think of anything right now.
“It’s lovely hair, isn’t it, Finnick?” Loboate leans one elbow on the table. “Hold it tight and fuck her mouth.”
She doesn’t have a tongue. Something awful and dark claws at the pit of my stomach, and I can’t help trembling. Lobotae must see it. She doesn’t care. I thread my fingers through the young woman’s hair; she’s shivering too, right under her skin. And she’s doing her best not to look at me. I don’t blame her.
I take as deep a breath as I can, and it clogs my throat. “I’m not hard enough yet,” I tell Lobotae. “I can’t.”
“Oh,” she says. “A pity.”
And she waves the other Avox over.
“Take care of that,” she tells him. “And Finnick, would you rather he stimulate you manually, or via your prostate?”
I close my eyes, wish I could close my ears, too. “Whatever he wants.”
“He doesn’t get to decide. You do,” she says. And I know Snow’s spoken with her, even before she adds, “It’s your choice.”
Hatred washes through my veins, sick and hot, but when I think I want to kill them all it’s perfectly cold. Sharp. Clear. Like the water in the river during my Games.
I don’t say anything. I take her male Avox by the hand and guide it to my groin. He hangs his head, and undoes my pants, and though I do hear Lobotae commanding him to get my clothes off entirely it’s distant and echoing somewhere in the back of my mind. He gets me hard enough, I’ve managed that before and I’ll manage it again and when Lobotae tells me to I hold her girl Avox by the hair and guide myself into her mouth. It’s more spacious without a tongue. She has nothing to block her teeth.
Lobotae makes sure I finish. It takes longer than I think she’d have preferred.
It’s not the only thing she has me do to her Avoxes. To tell the truth, I don’t believe most of what I do, no matter how hard she tells me to thrust or how many fingers she tells me to shove in. I’m not the one giving the commands, I’m not even the one obeying them. It’s not my body. It’s not. I wouldn’t do this.
But I am.
My name is Finnick Odair. I am twenty-three years old.
There’s supposed to be more to it than that.
I offer her a cigarette.
She says she has her own.
That’s fine; I drugged them too.
Lobotae’s almost smoked the cigarette down to a stub before she starts yawning. “Finished?” I ask her.
“Apparently,” she says. “It looks as though you’ve worn me out after all.”
I nod, take the cigarette from her, grind it out and pocket the stub when she’s not looking. I’d rather not have her look too closely at what was in it, and I know she has the equipment. She beckons me to follow her as her Avoxes escort her to bed. I don’t look at them. I hope they’re not looking at me. They probably are. I’m sorry, I want to say, but words are as useless for me as they are for them right now.
She lies down but doesn’t invite me into bed. Small mercies. She sends her Avoxes out, has me kneel by her bedside, and runs her fingers through my hair until her hand slackens and slips from it. I’d shove it off faster, but I can’t risk waking her up. I stand, slower than I’d like, stare down at her. The drug isn’t a paralytic, but even if she woke up with my fingers wrapped around her throat, she couldn’t fight me off in time, couldn’t call her Avoxes to--
--no. No. I almost slump back to my knees; my throat dries and the space behind my eyes pounds. That’s not who I am.
Please let that not be who I am.
My hands aren’t shaking. Much. That’s good. I rest my head in my arms and breathe in, the same way I do when I swim. In for one stroke, out for three. In. Out. It’s not enough, but it has to be. I don’t have much time.
Loboate’s personal computer is in her study across the hall. I don’t have any trouble getting there, and it’s not like the Avoxes are going to stop me. I sit down at the console, bring up a search window, and start hunting up files on Red Horse. Honestly, that’s about as much as I can do with computers, and Beetee once said that my typing is the slowest he’s ever seen on a two-handed man, but he was probably teasing, and at least I have an excuse. It’s not as if my family boat had any ranged navigational equipment.
It would help if I could spell Red Horse correctly. I think I’m hitting the right parts of the keypad. I look down. I’m not.
There’s a subset of folders: too many to look through in what time I have. I run a second search for “Snow”, which I type one finger at a time like I’m punching the touchscreen. That at least shrinks the Red Horse folders from two dozen to two.
Two folders. They’re small enough, I can steal one of her drives and get them both. I tap and drag them off to copy them first, and only look after I know they’re secure. They’re lists of chemicals, which doesn’t surprise me given what Lobotae’s into, but if I just went through all that to steal the components of the President’s rose cologne, it wasn’t worth it. I start to laugh, then clap my hand over my mouth. It’s not that funny.
Have I missed anything? Yes. Argentia Usher. Once I manage to spell “Usher” without reversing the s and h, it links to about five files, probably too many to transfer to the drive. I quickly page through the first four files, and they’re more lists of chemicals like Snow’s. The last one is a jumble of nonsense text and symbols. Well, whether it’s encrypted or corrupted, I’m sure Beetee and Wiress will know what to do with it, so I drag it in.
That’s everything, I think. I withdraw the drive, slump in the chair and stare at the console for--I’m not sure how long. None of it makes any more sense no matter how long I look.
My fingerprints are all over the thing. Shit. I pad down the hall to the bathroom, take out a washcloth, bring it back and wipe the console down. There, that should do it. I can explain a used washcloth a lot more easily than I can explain a fresh set of prints. Do people even check for those anymore? What else could I have left? I don’t see any strands of my hair near the computer, but flakes of skin, even sweat--
Forget it. I don’t know how to get rid of any of that, and I’m not going to learn before she wakes up. I sit down again, ball the washcloth in my fist, hug my knees to my chest. The computer’s light doesn’t warm my skin at all. I want to go home.
I’m going to steal her credit information first. Just in case.
Drusus doesn’t tell me I look like hell warmed over, which must mean I really look awful. He hands off my overnight bag to an Avox and sweeps me into a hug. He hasn’t done that in--I don’t think he’s ever done that. I can’t lift my arms to hug him back the way he’s holding me, but I’m not sure he wants that anyway, so when he lets go I don’t try.
“What happened?” I ask. There’s a smile that should accompany that, but I can’t quite manage one.
“Nothing,” he says. “Come on. You want a drink before or during?”
Drusus laughs, a little. That’s got to count for something. But he has one of the prep team get me something and ushers me off to the bathroom. He starts programming the shower. “I haven’t ever seen your eyes like this.”
I should turn that into a joke. I can’t think of a punchline. Maybe I am the punchline. “I’ve slept better.”
“Yeah.” He sets it up, lets the steam start running. It’s hotter than he usually makes me take. “Cinna said you saw her last year. Lobotae, I mean.”
“Guess she liked what she saw.” Drusus hands me a candle; I forget for a second what he’d want me to do with it, but once I get a whiff of it I remember, and breathe deeper. It smells fine. I nod and hand it back to him. “Did you get to watch any of the Games while you were there?”
“No,” I say, rub my arms. My skin still isn’t settling right; it feels like there’s a gap between it and my muscles, like the rest of me’s shrunk but I’m supposed to stay the same size. “But I think I caught the parts I was supposed to see.”
He nods. Someone puts a drink in my hand.
Drusus looks me over for bruises. I think he’s surprised when he doesn’t find anything at all. He even looks between my fingers and under my heels. I finish my drink and take off my pants so he can keep looking, but when I let them fall to the ground something in their pocket thunks.
“Wait,” I say, and scoop them back up. “I forgot. There’s something--” How do I explain? Better not to. “I just need to take care of this.”
He says it’s fine, and once he turns away to check the shower I take the drives and her credit information out of my pocket and bring them to the bedroom. The running shower’s pretty good cover, so at least Dru won’t pick up what I’m saying.
I turn on the television, check the sponsorship directory, and dial in.
“Hello!” someone far too cheerful says on the other end of the line. “Thank you for calling in to the Sponsorship Offices for the 74th Hunger Games! We appreciate in advance any contribution you’re willing to make.”
If they put me on hold, I’m going to kill them. I want to laugh again, and have to stifle it.
“If you would like to contact the mentor for a specific District, state the District number and I’ll put you through! If you would like to make a general donation, or sponsor a muttation or non-tribute combatant, just say ‘Seventy-four’. If you have questions concerning odds, kill counts, and total accrual by District, just say ‘Races’. If you’re calling to get in touch with the representative Gamemaker, announcer, commentator, or another staff member, and you don’t know your party’s extension, just say ‘Directory’. For all other calls, please say ’Operator’ or wait on the line--”
I grip the phone tight enough to throttle it. “Operator.”
“You have selected ‘Operator’. A representative will be with you shortly. Thank you for your participation in the seventy-fourth Hunger Games! Please hold.”
They have no idea. They really have no idea. I double over and don’t know I’m going to start laughing until I do. What else can you do here? Ask people if they’d rather sponsor a tribute or a mutt, I guess. That thought sends me into another fit of laughter, and then I wonder if someone funded the crack down the dam in Annie’s Games, or the vines that almost killed me.
I stop laughing.
“Seventy-fourth Hunger Games sponsorship offices, Fulvia speaking.”
I cough and remember to raise my voice about an octave before I say, “Iustinian Warbeck. I’m Andrea Lobotae’s secretary.”
“I’m sorry, if you can’t reach her personally, you won’t be able to contact her through us.”
“I’m not here to contact her,” I say. I wish I’d written this down. Too late now. “I’m here on her behalf. She’d like to make a donation.”
“That isn’t precisely legal for a Gamemaker, you know--”
“She’s not trying to sponsor a tribute. This is about the rule change.”
“The rule change?”
“Aren’t you taking up a collection to allow a rule change? Two tributes from the same district can win? I saw it on Capitol Beat and Circus Minimus. And Wear and Tear,” I add for good measure, “Dr. Lobotae mentioned something about it there too.”
“Yes,” Fulvia says, “a lot of people have been calling in about that. It’s called the Gemella fund. The Head Gamemaker said he would concede to the rules change if a certain amount was reached--”
“How close are you?”
She tells me.
“Then let my boss be the one to put it over.”
“But she’s a Gamemaker--”
“If a Gamemaker can’t throw her weight in on a Games-related decision, who can?”
“You have a point. But are you sure you’re authorized to--”
“Andrea Lobotae is recovering from a night with Finnick Odair.” That’s technically true. I still have to grit my teeth to say it.
“Oh.” I can practically hear her blushing. “Did you get to see him? In his--”
“Yeah,” I tell her, and look down at myself. “And out of it.”
“Well! Okay. Ah. Just give me Dr. Lobotae’s credit information and I’ll page that in. Bear in mind that the rules change might not be announced officially until it passes through Head Gamemaker Crane.”
“Of course,” I say, and reel off the information. My head’s reeling, too, and it’s a minor miracle that Fulvia can’t hear my heart hammering through the phone. I hope I’m right about Lobotae, that she wouldn’t take a matter like this to the authorities if the rule change turns out to be a success. I have to be right. If I’m wrong--I don’t want to think about it.
“All right, then!” Fulvia’s voice isn’t as steady as it was before. I have to wonder what she’s up to. “Thanks for your--well, her--contribution, and may the odds be ever in your favor!”
I nod, though she can’t see it, and hang up. The phone slips from my fingers. I breathe. Well. I did it. I can’t believe I did it, but I did.
Drusus coughs from the bathroom doorway. “Finnick.”
If he’s not saying anything, neither am I. I stand, force my hands to uncurl. “All right,” I say. “I’m coming.”
“That was a contender for the second-worst day of my life,” I tell Cinna, and I don’t elaborate. Aloud, anyway.
Nothing, as far as I know, can top the worst day of my life, which is the day Mags had a stroke and Annie broke down and I still had to be at work, both before and after, and couldn’t tell either of them about it. But that means that this day, since it’s up for second-worst, is in competition with the day I was reaped, the day I killed Pacifica, the day I killed three tributes who weren’t Pacifica, the day I got shot twice, the day I had to watch my Games, the day that included the night with Johanna in Augustus’s Daughter, my first day at work (not that I knew it then), that one really awful fundraiser (which also involved Lobotae), and the day I told Annie just what Snow wanted me to do in the Capitol.
I think the odds are pretty good. In fact, I’d bet on it. That was the second-worst day of my life.
Cinna helps me not think about that, for a while. I didn’t bring champagne this time, since I couldn’t swing by my apartment on the way, but we make do with what we’ve got.
He doesn’t even bring her up until long after, and that’s just to say, “I wish I’d tripped her out the door of Tantalus. Into heavy traffic.”
“That doesn’t sound like you.”
“I know. Maybe Haymitch is a bad influence.”
“He’s a terrible influence.” I stretch out and reach for the remote. “We should leave this on.”
He nods, and slides up to straddle my back and rub out my shoulders. I remember the first time he did this, though it’s a bit hazy considering how drunk I was. It surprised me. He surprised me. Then I almost fell asleep.
“Thanks,” I tell him quietly.
“Of course,” he says, just a whisper behind my ear.
“How have you been?”
“I sent the dress and the suit to the machinists,” he says. “Just in case one of them wins.”
I smile into the mattress, but I think Cinna feels it anyway. “Well, the odds seem to be in your favor.”
“I won’t jinx it.” He shifts his weight down, starts kneading under my shoulders. “When do you have to be at--work?”
I crane my neck to look at the clock. “Another hour and a half? Two? Looks like I’m starting to pull night shifts.” I smile again, mean to laugh, but all that comes out is a sigh.
“You should be in prep.”
Now I let him see me smile, the kind that makes Annie crack up. “Why don’t you prep me?”
He coughs, blushes. “Am I encroaching on Drusus’s territory?”
“I’d worry more about encroaching on Annie’s, and no, you’re not.” I’m surprise how easy it is to bring Annie up, and how little it takes, but then Cinna’s always brought out the best in me in one way or another. I can talk about her here. I can share that part of me with him.
Cinna’s smile softens, washes over his jaw. “Tell me something about her?” he asks, and doesn’t stop working the knots out of my back.
There’s so much to tell, but one image floats to the top. “I love the way she dances,” I say. “I think I fell in love with her the first time I saw her dance. Or I was already in love with her, and that strengthened it.” I laugh. “She’s so free when she moves. Her hair floats around her and she swings from partner to partner and she spins so fast I’m always afraid she’ll fall, but she never does. Looking at her--”
I am looking at her now, her bare feet and sun-flushed cheeks and her arms raised over her head, signaling me closer. Dance with me, Finnick. And I want to. I want to so much.
This is why I try not to think about her when I’m in the Capitol.
“Looking at her, you think anything could happen,” I finish, when I can.
Cinna’s hands settle on my back. I barely feel his fingertips.
“I’ll make something for her,” he whispers. “To wear when she dances. Is that all right?”
“Yeah,” I say. “That’s more than all right.”
He traces the ridges of my spine, and I crane to look up at the television. The screen’s split to six places: Cato and Clove together, Katniss up a tree, the girl from Five and Peeta barely visible under their cover, and Thresh, Chaff’s last tribute, skewering a snake over a small fire. The commentators in the top-right corner are chatting, and there’s text running across the bottom of the screen, MASSIVE IMPACT ANNOUNCEMENT SHORTLY, TUNE IN.
“Early for a feast,” I mutter.
Cinna hums low in his throat. “Final six.”
“Still early.” I stretch out for the remote and turn the volume up.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the Gamemakers have heard your voices, and I am pleased to announce that they’ve instituted a rule change in this year’s Games.”
Rule change. My head snaps up, undoing all the work Cinna put in to loosen it, but I’ll apologize later. He’s half-watching the screen and half-watching me, mouthing the words along with Templesmith--and with the entire Capitol, no doubt. No. With the entire nation. What I wouldn’t give to be in the square back home right now, watching the news ripple across the crowd.
“For the first time in the history of the Hunger Games, if the last two tributes remaining alive are from the same District, they will both be declared victors.” He pauses. “I repeat: if the last two tributes remaining alive are from the same District, they will both be declared victors.”
The tributes are hearing it the same time we are. I almost forget to watch them, until Katniss screams Peeta’s name.
The other tributes might be too far away to hear that, but we all did. I glance at Cinna. He’s beaming.
“She’s as genuine as he is,” he says, like he needs to convince himself. “She just doesn’t know it.”
“Well, she might now.” Maybe. I’m hardly one to criticize other people for being slow to realize what their feelings mean.
“I think she’d better run.” Cinna points at Peeta’s corner of the screen, where the camera has honed in on his face, and his sweat leaves cold streaks in the dirt and leaves. “He didn’t hear it.”
Katniss smiles at the camera now, her face tilted toward the moonlight. I’d peel all the grime off her face if I could, so everyone could think of her for just one second as a normal teenager, up a tree, who’s finally been told she can have something she wants.
I turn to Cinna instead. “Let’s get something to drink.”
“I think we have to toast to Andrea Lobotae.”
I haven’t seen the victor’s lounge in this much of an uproar since the dam broke during Annie’s Games, and Johanna and I had gotten into a fistfight before that, which ratcheted up the tension more than a little. It’s been at least half a day since the rule change by the time I manage to make it in, no thanks to my schedule, and everyone is still up in arms.
“There’s nothing against it!” Brutus shouts from the corner. Gloss seems to be restraining Cashmere from clawing Brutus’s eyes out.
“There’s nothing against it, or there’s nothing against it because you can bring two of them home?” Cashmere snarls. “It’s ridiculous, it’s a cheap ploy--”
“No shit it’s a cheap ploy, it’s the Games,” Johanna says, rolling her eyes. “Raise your hand if you think the change is gonna last.”
Chaff raises his stump. “This count?”
“Ha, ha.” Johanna sprawls all over Haymitch’s usual couch with her feet over the back, and taps her ankles against each other. “Like it matters to you.”
“Thresh’s got as much a chance as any of ‘em.”
“As any one of them,” Beetee says. “I don’t buy it for a second.”
“Mags?” I ask.
She shakes her head, no. “Maybe for Two. Never for Twelve.”
I decide not to translate that as-is, considering how murderous some of us look. I wonder if we look more like ourselves now: Brutus tensed and ready, Cashmere’s hands forming into claws at her side, Johanna’s smile too sharp for anyone’s comfort, even the cool remove of Beetee’s eyes behind his glasses. Even Chaff, sitting placid at his console, looks about two seconds from throttling someone with a telephone cord. It’s impossible to forget who we are, but sometimes it’s easier to remember.
And where the hell is Haymitch?
“What are we even arguing about?” I ask.
Everyone concerned answers at once, but Brutus’s “The rules!” and Johanna’s “Your crazy nymphomaniac girlfriend!” stand out more than the rest.
I ignore Johanna. “Is there actually a precedent?”
“No,” Brutus says. “That’s what I’ve been saying. If there’s no precedent, there’s nothing against it either. Like with Chaff transferring the money to Haymitch. Nothing against it.”
“So what happens when the sponsors decide to kill them all?” Cashmere scoffs.
“They kill them all,” Brutus says. “That’s the precedent this sets. We’re here for them.”
“We’re here for us,” Gloss snaps. “Once the sponsors can pay enough to change the rules--”
“The sponsors already pay to change the odds,” Seeder cuts in from the corner. “I don’t see how changing the rules is any different.”
Cashmere rolls her eyes, but at least she turns away from Brutus. Mostly. “That’s why we have Gamemakers. Once the people buy them out, there’s no one actually in control of the Games. It’s a ridiculous precedent to set.”
“No one used to control them at all,” Mags says. That, I’ll translate so everyone can hear. Mags is old enough to remember the first, if she tries, and the Games before the tenth at the very least.
“But I’m not sure I agree,” I add. “Gamemakers, sponsors, Snow--either way, the Capitol’s setting the rules.” I look Gloss and Cashmere over. They’ll know what I mean. “You’d just prefer the Gamemakers to do it.”
Between that, and Gloss’s hand on her shoulder, Cashmere backs down; once she settles back into her chair and turns away, Brutus drops his guard and goes back to his console.
I almost hadn’t noticed Cecelia was here, but she sighs, and the cushion of her chair sighs with her as she settles deeper into it. “It’s awful,” she says. “Dangling something like this in front of the kids, I mean.”
Enobaria takes off her headset and looks up from her console. “What do you mean?”
“You don’t believe for one second that they’ll let the change stand, do you?” Cecelia turns her head away from the screens, closes her eyes. “Giving those children hope--”
“--is exactly what the Games are about,” Enobaria finishes for her. “I can’t believe you’ve forgotten that.”
“I haven’t forgotten.”
“Right, can’t forget something you never knew. How did you win your Games anyway?”
I guess I should accept it as proof that everyone’s a little crazier than usual that someone said that aloud. Cecelia may be a wife and mother now but she isn’t any less a victor and--well, usually how we deal with that kind of insinuation depends on who’s in the room. I saw Brutus break a man’s nose once when someone implied he was getting soft. And Mags, I remember the last time Uncle Jonas said it in front of Mags, and he was trying to be nice and make a joke and he still walked around like he had his tail between his legs for a week.
Cecelia just taps her nails against the arms of her chair. Her voice is like ice. “Say that again. Say that like you mean it.”
Enobaria grins so that all the points of her teeth show. “I said, I have to wonder how someone with that perspective won her Games.”
If Cecelia had hackles they’d be standing on end. Not to mention Brutus and Gloss and Cashmere, still seconds away from tearing out each others’ throats. Even Mags’s knuckles are whitening around the handle of her cane. I hold her shoulders. Someone has to lighten the mood. It’s probably going to be me.
But at this point, I might want a fight as much as the rest of them.
“She tracked him down yet?” Haymitch bursts through the door and straight for his console. He smacks Johanna’s outstretched legs on the way, and she squawks at him, but all he does is give her a filthy grin and smooth out his pants as he sits. “Well? Anyone gonna answer me?”
“A few minutes ago,” Seeder says, like she’s tripping over the words.
“Well shit,” Haymitch says. “I’ll catch the replay.”
The tension hasn’t disappeared from the room, but at least it’s thin enough that I can try to change the subject. “Where were you?”
“Having a word with Crane. Thing is, Crane thought he was having a word with me.” Haymitch laughs and holds his hand out to Chaff to swipe his pen. “Looks like I’ll have to convince him otherwise.”
“What happened?” Cecelia asks.
“Rules change,” he says. “Seems some of the money came from the inside.”
“We caught the rules change,” Cashmere says icily, but Gloss overlaps her with, “From the inside?”
I wonder if I should pretend not to have heard. No, that’ll draw too much attention. I glance over instead, much like everyone else is doing.
“Like Gamemaker politics matter to us down below.” I swear Haymitch is smiling brighter than the television screens. “For what it’s worth, the change stands until it doesn’t. And until then, I’ve got two to keep alive, not one.”
“Two?” Johanna raises an eyebrow. “You didn’t give Peeta shit.”
“You’ve gotta forgive me, sweetheart, I’m used to putting all my eggs in one tight little basket.”
Now I pretend not to have heard.
“Also, advance notice to the rest of you clowns,” Haymitch goes on. “There’s gonna be a feast in a couple days, if enough of ‘em are still alive. So start saving up.”
“Who’d you blow to figure that one out?” Johanna, of course. At least it’s not directed at me, for once.
Haymitch laughs. “Only got one mouth, but I got two ears.”
Johanna rolls her eyes. “That’s an image I didn’t ever want to see.”
“I swear it goes in one and out the other.” Haymitch props his feet up on the console, which blocks out one of the televisions, and starts making notes and calculations. But the way he’s turned, I can see him shading in a big bold 4, so I keep my eyes on his paper.
3 days for Beetee to decode, he writes. Good job.
Haymitch crumples up the paper once he’s sure I’ve seen it, and starts on the next page, new numbers, new notes. I really have to wonder how much of this he’s planned, how much he’s winging like the rest of us.
It occurs to me that I’ve never seen Haymitch’s Games. It would probably explain a lot about him.
The next time Haymitch looks my way, I scratch my arm, or that’s how it should seem to the cameras. I hope Haymitch can see the letters I’m scratching out on my skin, the lines flaring white before they vanish: meeting?
He smirks, and writes a simple TBD in the corner of his page.
Some of the other victors might have the free time, but I don’t. I sink into my chair, twist my neck to get a better look at the clock. “I can’t believe I only have an hour left,” I say. “I thought I had more than that. Every time I think I have free time these days, it slips away before I realize I have it.”
“You’ve gotta sleep sometime,” Haymitch says. “Either now or when you’re dead.”