The Compassion Trap
By Gil Hale – firstname.lastname@example.org
Ezra saw no sign in Whiting of the unease Mason was showing. Whiting looked confident and ready to deal. He strolled in ahead of Mason’s man and nodded to Ezra. “I see you’re on time, Thorpe. I hope that means you’re ready to do business.”
“Then there are a few preliminary checks I’d…”
He broke off and Ezra’s attention also shifted sharply. Mason’s man had closed the door to the office while they were speaking. Now there was the sharp snick of the lock turning. Ezra saw alarmed comprehension dawning on Whiting’s face and knew it was mirrored on his own.
“Mason!” Whiting began angrily.
The two side doors to the office burst open and Ezra realised that Mason’s nervousness had had very good cause. He’d set them both up.
“Get out of here, it’s Miller!” Whiting shouted, obviously to Josephs listening somewhere. Ezra fervently hoped, in the split second it took him to realise this, that he was in the van and that this wouldn’t be a total disaster. Even as he shouted, Whiting fired from his pocket, hitting Mason high in the shoulder, then he went down under a handful of men. Almost certainly his previous employers Ezra realised, both from Whiting’s shout of recognition and the way they looked and handled themselves. He placed his hands on his head, showing he was offering no resistance.
The CIA men ignored this, slamming him backwards over the desk behind which Mason now lay holding his arm and swearing. Whiting still seemed to be struggling. Ezra was spreadeagled and searched, and winced as the acute angle put pressure on his unreliable shoulder joint. The men holding him looked as if they enjoyed his discomfort. Even so, naively, he didn’t expect what they did next. Perhaps his mind was too much on the complete reversal of their plans that had happened in barely a couple of minutes.
The men holding him looked at one another. Quite deliberately, one gripped him and the other pushed down sharply. The abused joint capitulated, dislocating with a flare of agony that was made worse as he was forced further over. Briefly the room disappeared in a red haze, and he had to bite back a cry, then managed to recapture his sense of what was happening. His back up needed to know something more than this confused noise.
“Ellison! Larabee!” he yelled.
His idea was to let them know the situation was out of his control, especially as he was afraid the men subduing Whiting were going to leave him in no state for questioning. He didn’t expect the names to have the effect they did.
The two men holding him let go so smartly he might have laughed if he hadn’t been hurting so much, and there was a perceptible change in the level of noise in the room. I’ve found the magic words, he thought giddily, then the office door fell down and Chris, Jim Ellison and assorted members of Cascade’s finest came in over its remains. Ezra incautiously tried to straighten up, and the pain returned so forcefully he lost track of things for a minute.
He blinked away the haze and looked up into the concerned eyes of his team leader. “Josephs? Did you get Josephs?” he asked Chris.
“No chance,” Chris said bitterly. “He was waiting off site somewhere. Where are you hurt?”
“Just the shoulder. Those bastards thought it was hilarious to put it out.”
Ellison materialised behind Chris and between them he was lifted not too agonisingly to an upright position. He tried not to gasp audibly.
Miller was justifying himself to their backs. “You should have kept me informed. I fail to see how any blame attaches to us.”
Ignoring him, Ellison asked Ezra, “You weren’t offering any resistance?”
Ezra shook his head. “I was standing with my hands on my head from the minute they entered the room.”
“Who was it?” Chris asked quietly. “Which ones.”
The men indicated looked sullen, and Miller said again, “We cannot be held responsible for a misunderstanding. My men believed they were dealing with a criminal.”
“You routinely injure people who are not resisting arrest if you think they may possibly have a criminal record?” Ellison asked.
“We thought he was resisting,” one of the men said, apparently taking confidence from Miller’s support. “It was a mistake, all right?”
Ezra saw the barely perceptible glance which flicked between Ellison and Chris Larabee. He was probably the only person in the room remotely prepared for what came next. They moved with simultaneous speed. The two men who had handled him with such deliberate brutality went flying back into the wall. One crumpled to the floor, bleeding copiously from his nose; the other clutched his mouth moaning.
“Oops,” Ellison said. “Another of those mistakes, I’m afraid.”
“Misunderstanding,” Larabee agreed smoothly. “Sorry, Miller. We thought they must be a pair of criminal thugs. Were they two of your men?”
Miller swallowed his anger, and said coldly, “I don’t think you have any further need to be on these premises. Perhaps you’d like to leave and let us finish our operation.”
“Not before we come to some sort of agreement,” Ellison said. “We had the perfect set up to bring Josephs here. You’ve lost him for us and I don’t know what that’s going to mean for our missing men. I want access to Whiting.”
Whiting had been subdued so thoroughly that Ezra doubted he would be capable of talking for some time. Miller didn’t answer Ellison’s demand though. Instead he turned to Mason who was shaking and still trying to stop the bleeding from his arm.
“You told me only Whiting would be here.”
“I didn’t,” Mason said bitterly. “You told me you knew what deal I had on tonight. How was I to know you only knew half of it.”
Miller looked slightly sick, not least perhaps because of the number of people outside his own organisation who could testify to this screw-up. “Take them both away,” he said to his men. “All right, Ellison. You can talk to him—later. I’ll be in touch with Captain Banks to arrange it.”
Ellison nodded, then seemed to dismiss the CIA from things he considered worth thinking about. He turned to Ezra. “We’ll take you along to the hospital, but if you like I can put your shoulder back first. It will save you some discomfort getting there.”
“I really don’t see the need to bother the medical authorities. This is not the first time I have suffered the problem,” Ezra said. “I would be grateful for your ministrations, but then it would be more useful to see if we can retrieve anything from this debacle.”
Ellison felt his shoulder very gently, his fingers perhaps able to feel more than the normal signs.
“Brace him,” he said to Chris.
“Chris Larabee, bracing personality,” Ezra murmured, trying not to think about what was coming. Ellison was good though. It hurt very, very much for a few seconds and then the relief was worth it. He took a couple of deep breaths, the room came back into focus, he ignored the fact he was leaning rather heavily against Chris and that Ellison seemed to be patting him reassuringly on his good shoulder and said, “Now, may I assume we have some sort of plan of action?”
It was at that point he realised just why men like Miller and Banks probably viewed this as an unholy alliance.
“Think we told you the plan,” Chris said.
“An X ray will show up any related damage,” Ellison agreed. “They’ll prescribe something for the pain as well.”
“Cascade General?” Chris asked.
“It really isn’t urgent,” Ezra said weakly.
Chris slid a hand under his good arm and Ellison opened the door. “We’re not going to get anything out of this mess until Whiting is capable of talking, and I doubt if that will be before morning. Henri—maybe you could let Simon Banks know what went down here tonight. There’s nothing more we can do for now.”
Ezra’s throbbing shoulder hurt enough but it felt trivial to him, compared with the thought of how much they had hoped, and how little they had gained, from all their planning.
Josephs drove back to the warehouse in the early hours of the morning. He had been waiting a couple of blocks away from Mason’s office in a small hired car; he’d sped away instantly at Whiting’s shouted warning, and spent the intervening time first making sure no one had followed him, and then returning to his base—cautiously. He was extremely shaken by what had happened. He and Whiting had been confident no one knew of their connection with Mason. He felt no personal concern for Whiting, but apart from the inconvenience of losing his services, there was the very real danger he would talk. Sooner or later most people did. In Whiting’s case he thought it would be later, but he did not intend to gamble his safety on that. He and Freddy would have to begin putting everything they could into storage and moving out. He’d been thinking it through as he drove slowly and circuitously back. He would have to end his current indoctrination of Tanner and Sandburg a little early, but he had almost completed things satisfactorily there. A cheap enough, sleazy enough hotel wouldn’t care about the state of anyone brought in so long as the rooms were paid for, so he would be able to carry out the final stage of induced addiction before he left them on the streets.
If nothing else went wrong. He had tried to contact the warehouse after he was confident no one had come after him, and had got no answer. That was not in itself so alarming. They often left the answering machine to pick up, and if Freddy was in another room he might not have heard his voice—but Freddy ought to have been expecting a call by now, or something to explain why they weren’t back. He called again when he was close, and again got no reply. He did not believe Whiting would have broken this easily. The warehouse should be safe. Could Freddy have left the place unattended for some reason?
The sight of the open door to the building made him even more concerned, yet everything seemed quiet. He decided to pull in and park. There was no sign of a problem otherwise, and people setting traps did not leave such obvious signs. It was quiet inside too. He ran up the stairs, and the anger that built in him at the sight of the empty trolleys was almost uncontainable. His hands clenched on the metal sides so hard that they went white and numb. It was minutes before he could even begin to think clearly.
Where would they go? How had they got away from Freddy? He saw the broken bottle on the floor. No blood, but it looked like a weapon. One of them had not only wakened, but been capable of this. It had to have been Tanner. He was the fighter, and it was his readings that had been anomalous. But however he had managed this, Tanner had definitely been confused and in no state to follow a rational course of action. It was extraordinary he’d managed to recognise Sandburg.
He glanced at his watch. They could have been gone for as much as six hours by now. Presumably Freddy was out searching for them. He went hastily back downstairs and started the car again. Tanner had been the easiest to convince that he was from the streets, belonged there, and would never leave the streets. He would go and look where the homeless of Cascade congregated. Dirty water found its own level, like any other.
Blair woke slowly, to total darkness and confusion. He was stiff and chilled, and he seemed to be curled up in some damp and rather smelly hole. He couldn’t remember how he got here. Come to that, he couldn’t remember where he had been before he got here, and the sense of disorientation made him jerk upright in alarm.
That was when he realised that someone was curled up in the hole with him, someone who had one arm clamped around him. He smothered a yell and tried to struggle free, which was when he realised that he was actually buried in the hole. A hand closed over his mouth, and complete panic set in.
“Quiet. ‘s okay Blair. We’re safe here. Just be quiet,” a voice whispered in his ear as he began to struggle. “Don’t think anyone’s near, but don’t make a noise anyway.”
Blair stopped struggling, though he didn’t feel much less alarmed. The voice though was sort of familiar. Why couldn’t he remember where he was or what he was doing here. The hand shifted from his mouth and he gasped with relief.
“Sorry,” the voice whispered. “Thought I’d wake up ‘fore you did. You remember anything?”
“No,” Blair said. Then, though a name came into his mind from nowhere, “Vin?”
“Yeah. Keep it down. This is a lot too close to the place we just got out of.”
The words brought a jumble of sensations, of fear and thick darkness and a hated voice. He shuddered and the arm clamped around him again. “We’re okay now. We’re not going back there.”
“Where are we?” Blair whispered.
“Sorta dumpster, just outside this lab place. Here.”
Cold plastic was pushed into his hands. He realised it was a bottle and fumbled in the darkness to open the lid. Cola. The sweet fizziness seemed to wake him up a little, but waking did not clear the muddle of thoughts troubling him.
He felt the shrug against him. “Can’t sort it out. Don’t even know where we are. Don’t reckon it’s Denver.”
“Air smelt wrong. Smelt like it was somewhere near the sea.”
Blair’s mind threw up another image at random. He struggled for a name and found it. “Cascade,” he said. “I was in Cascade.” But his memory went no further. He had a feeling he’d been in Cascade for a long time, but he also seemed to remember being on the move… no, more than that, on the run. He realised his head ached and that the air was unpleasantly stuffy around them. “I can’t hear anything,” he said. “Can’t we open this up a bit.”
“Wait,” Vin said, but he moved, and perhaps opened up the covering above them a little. Blair couldn’t tell. A long time seemed to pass. Vin moved again, and this time the breath of colder fresher air drifted in. Vin settled back. “It’s dead quiet. Clouds cleared a bit, and it looks not that far off dawn. If we’re lucky, they might’ve been back, found us gone and gone looking.”
“I heard three of them. One’s out of action, won’t bother us. One was a professional type. Then there was the doctor, scientist or whatever. I knew who he was, but I can’t get hold of it.”
Blair couldn’t get hold of any of it, except a sudden longing to be far away from here before he tried to think about it. “Wouldn’t it be better to go before they come back?”
“Need to be sure they’ve gone,” Vin said. “Don’t think we’re up to movin’ fast, and anyway we got no shoes.”
Blair hadn’t woken up enough even to consider what he had on. The thought bothered him now; he was wearing sweats that felt too large and unfamiliar and his feet were bare. “Why?” he asked, though he wasn’t sure if he wanted to know.
“Couldn’t find our clothes, so I took what was there, but there weren’t no shoes, ‘n the ones on the man I took down were too big.”
“Okay, this was too much information. Blair didn’t want to think about why he hadn’t been wearing clothes, and he had no idea what man Vin was talking about. “But where were we?” he said slowly, hoping that might make more sense of it.
“Told y’ it was a sort of lab place,” Vin said. He had been cautiously pushing the roof of their hideout back, and his mind seemed to be more on what was out there than the conversation. “Bit like a lab, bit like a clinic. Weren’t there for our health though.”
Blair felt abruptly colder and more afraid. Something between nightmare and memory was coming back into focus. “Like the place we burned down,” he said.
Vin dropped back beside him, gripping his arm painfully. “Don’t think about it,” he said angrily. “We can’t, not now. All we got to think about right now is getting safe away from here. Whatever we done, we don’t deserve what he’ll do to us, okay? We’ll get as far from here as we can, then we’ll talk, but not yet.”
He let go and Blair rubbed his arm. He couldn’t remember ever hearing Vin sound quite like that; not that that would make it the only thing he couldn’t remember of course, but he felt at a level below thought that Vin never sounded so close to not coping with something. It bothered him that he couldn’t get Vin straight in his mind either. He’d sound young one minute, older the next, and Blair’s image of him kept shifting as well. Uneasily he realised he felt that way about himself too. How old were they? He had no idea, and that made him feel so weird that he decided Vin was right. Thinking about it all now would be a really bad move.
Vin moved again, this time standing right up and looking around. “It’s been quiet a while. Don’t reckon anyone is here. Doesn’t mean they might not be on their way back though, so once we’re out of here we move off the premises fast, okay?”
Blair stood up, and realised he felt shaky and vaguely giddy. He lurched on the uneven footing, and had to hang on to Vin for a moment. “It’ll settle,” Vin promised, steadying him. “Just wait a bit. I got you, okay.”
The night around them was absolutely quiet except for distant traffic. Blair got his balance, and they scrambled down, and ran regardless of the roughness on their bare feet until they were off the site and onto a neighbouring one, where they slid along the edge in the darkness and hoped for no watchmen or dogs. Luckily the area seemed to be semi-derelict. They saw one man who was probably a nightwatchman, but he didn’t see them.
“Where are we going?” Blair whispered. He realised the sky was definitely lighter now. They didn’t want to be hanging around once the sun got up.
Vin didn’t answer, but he tugged his arm. In the next lot there were some trucks, rough looking even in the half light, and crates and barrels stacked haphazard. Blair followed him to crouch behind them. “What now?” he asked.
Vin gestured towards the building at the end of the lot, and Blair realised its lights were on.
“Looks like they might be making an early start,” Vin said softly.
A few minutes later a man came out, got into one of the trucks and drove off. That seemed to be what they’d been waiting to see. “Wanted to make sure they weren’t loading up,” Vin explained. “Come on.”
He’d already chosen one, Blair realised, as they passed the two closest to them; then he realised why—the third had sacks piled in the back, far from a perfect hiding place, but probably enough given that it was still fairly dark. He tried to flatten himself as much as possible. “Worst comes to the worst they’ll probably just shout a bit,” Vin said. “They’ll think we’re trying to keep warm.”
They heard two more engines start and depart. It sounded as though the trucks were leaving in the order they were parked. Blair felt his heart beat a tattoo so loud it ought to be reverberating off the metal, but if it did the driver must not have heard it. He got in and drove off like the others. Once they were definitely on the way, Vin pushed the sacks away from their faces.
“Think we made it,” he said.
“But where are we going?”
Vin shrugged. “Wherever it is, it’s better than where we were.”
Chris was getting kind of used to drinking coffee with Jim Ellison at dawn. Neither of them were sleeping much, and once there was daylight it seemed a waste not to get up. They didn’t talk, just drank the coffee in shared awareness that another day had arrived and they still hadn’t found Vin or Blair.
This morning was slightly different because he glanced from time to time into the small room where Ezra was deep asleep and hopefully going to stay that way. They’d been lucky at the hospital. The nurse who mainly dealt with Ezra was so young, so pretty, and so thoughtfully considerate of his welfare that the undercover agent had been constrained by his own sense of chivalry to be something like the perfect patient. He’d almost jibbed at the end when it came to the loathed painkillers, but she’d looked at him with such sweet expectation of his cooperation that he’d swallowed the things with less protest than Chris had ever seen him make. Chris’s own private assessment of the situation was confirmed when the nurse glanced at him and Ellison as she turned away, and winked. He’d have to go back and thank her, and get her to write a game plan for the nurses in Denver.
Ellison hadn’t hurried the drive, and thanks to the painkillers Ez had been almost asleep by the time they arrived at the loft. His argument that he’d be fine in his hotel room had trailed off as soon as Chris sat him down on Sandburg’s bed. His eyes had closed and he’d tilted over against Chris’s shoulder while Ellison was still fetching some extra pillows, so they’d simply eased him back and let him sleep. Chris—who’d had an extremely bad couple of minutes after he’d heard the shot in Mason’s room—was glad to have him where he could be sure he was okay.
Ellison refilled their cups and glanced at his watch.
“I’ll ring Simon in a minute and see if Miller has been in touch yet.” They’d contacted Banks immediately after the debacle, and Chris had called Josiah who would tell the rest of Team 7 how it had gone down, or failed to go down.
“Whiting didn’t look in good shape,” Chris said, “and I don’t suppose we’ll get a go at him until they’ve finished with him.”
Ellison nodded. “I know. And unless Josephs is completely insane he’ll have already moved. I’m not building too much hope on what we get out of Whiting but…”
The sentence did not need finishing. They weren’t sure what else there was to build hope on at the moment. They’d come close twice now, and the let down seemed worse each time. Doing nothing though was not an option. “It’s six thirty,” Ellison said, pushing away the depression. “If Simon hasn’t heard from them, he could at least call and find out the state of play with Whiting and Mason.”
Blair realised that in a world which currently made little sense, at least the geography was stable. He knew these streets. It wasn’t a part of Cascade he usually saw much of, but he’d driven through here… driven?… he shook his head to clear it. Sometimes he felt as if his mind was splitting. He had a clear memory of driving, yet his mind also told him he had no car, no job, had been on the run for some indeterminate length of time. He couldn’t even understand why he knew Cascade so well, but he did; he could have drawn a map of it more easily than he could remember his age.
“We should get out while the truck’s in this area,” he told Vin. “I know this place. There’s a mission a block away where they have a basement full of clothes and stuff people have given, and they let the homeless have them as well as poorer families.”
“There’s an intersection coming up,” Vin said, not questioning his judgement. “We’ll have to be quick when we jump but there’s not much traffic yet.”
Blair did his best to be quick—coordinated was more of a problem. He stumbled as he landed and Vin had to catch him and pull him onto the sidewalk out of the way of a car he hadn’t seen. They weren’t exactly inconspicuous either with clothes that were too large and bare filthy feet. The truck driver with quite surprising speed was out of his side door and confronting them before Blair had even got his balance back. He must have felt the vehicle move as they jumped.
“We didn’t take anythin’,” Vin said hastily. “Just needed a lift.”
“I’m not a taxi service,” the man said, but although he was rough-looking enough, his expression was not unkind. “What you did was stupid, and dangerous.”
“Hadn’t a lot of choice,” Vin said.
“I can see that. What do the two of you think you’re going to do now?”
“Go to the St James’s mission,” Blair said, suspecting some genuine concern behind the question. “They’ll give us shoes…”
He trailed off, feeling Vin nudge him. Maybe he shouldn’t have told anyone that. But the man said slowly, “Well, they’re good people. They won’t ask you what you’re running away from. You’d better get over there fast. Anyone who sees you looking like you do at the moment will be calling the police.” He turned back to his truck, then around again. “Here; while you’re waiting, get some breakfast.”
He tucked the money into Blair’s hand and ignored their thanks, driving off without looking back.
Josephs was back at the warehouse, furiously packing what he needed. He’d found the unconscious Freddy and left him where he was. With Tanner and Sandburg gone, and the prospect of the CIA closing in, the man was no use to him now. He’d driven around for the few remaining hours of the night, but seen nothing and the handful of people he’d asked had seen nothing either. He’d shown the photos he’d taken of Tanner and Sandburg the day after he half cropped their hair; the word would get out that he’d pay well for any information about them. Once he’d established himself somewhere in the area, he’d follow that up. Meanwhile he had to augment his cash, and among the many drugs he had on the premises were some he ought to be able to find a street market for. He took everything that seemed of any value and was gone by the time the sun was up.
Simon Banks wasn’t sure who was in the fouler temper, Miller who’d been up all night, or himself after yet another early start. They snarled at each other in an argument only limited by their mutual knowledge that the call was probably being recorded. As usual at the end of such confrontations, they both felt they’d had to make unnecessary concessions. Miller wouldn’t give an inch on Whiting: he wasn’t ready to be questioned even by them yet; he was one of their own anyway, and the PD could damned well wait until they’d finished with him. However, he was prepared to give Mason up, though he didn’t sound happy about it. Mason was in Cascade General. Ellison and Larabee would have to go through the proper channels with the doctors, but as far as the CIA were concerned they could do what they liked with him.
Not as far as Simon was concerned though. When he called with the information he gave them the option of following procedure to the letter or letting someone else do the questioning.
Ellison sounded aggrieved. “What do you think we’re going to do to him? Dangle him out of the ward window by his ankles?”
Simon could have done without that thought. “Just do it by the book. I’ve arranged for you to see him, but there’ll probably be a doctor or nurse present, maybe even a lawyer knowing the type.”
“We’ll make sure we don’t leave any witnesses,” Ellison said with grim humour. At least Simon hoped it was humour. The only tone he ever picked up really clearly these days in his conversations with Larabee and Ellison was an underlying note of desperation.
Blair had found his way with no problem to the mission. The muddle in his brain didn’t seem to extend to navigation, which was odd because he almost hear someone making a joke about his navigation skills, and he wished he could capture the thought of who; there was a warmth to the memory that didn’t seem to belong to this life he was leading.
“Vin,” he said softly as they waited for someone to come and open up the small office and the basement store. “Do you find it hurts—like really hurts, headache and jumping muscles and so on—to try and think about some things?”
“Why do you think that would happen? And why can I remember how to get here and not how old I am or why I’m in Cascade?”
“Must’ve been the doctor,” Vin said. “He messes with minds; that’s his type of doctoring. Reckon he did this—he used pain, electricity maybe, as well as drugs. The memories are there; just hurts to get hold of ’em.”
Blair stared at him, appalled by the idea and by the casual way Vin offered it. “What do you mean, electricity and drugs?”
“Why d’you think you were out of it. Reckon they’d been drugging us a while. I was a day waking up, and the way they talked, they’d had us for some time. I c’n remember voices, or one voice, and questions.”
Blair thought, remembered that and more, and found he was shivering.
“Leave it,” Vin said, but his arm slipped warm around Blair’s shoulders. “We think too much, that’ll finish us. We know where we are, we know who had us. That’ll do for now. Once we got the clothes, we’ll find somewhere real quiet and put together what we can remember. Okay?”
Blair nodded. “So long as we do think about it then. We can’t just leave it indefinitely. We need to talk.”
Vin didn’t answer. They waited in silence now. Blair had no idea of the time and couldn’t see a clock anywhere, but the street was getting busier and more people seemed to be going past. They drew back into the doorway as far as possible, trying to be inconspicuous. After a while a big African American man, old enough to be retired, came up and with him a couple of even more elderly ladies. Vin, who would have been in front of Blair if it had been armed thugs, took one look at the women and slid even further into the shadows, leaving Blair to deal with it.
“Uh, my friend and I… that is, we wondered…” Damn. He was sure he was usually so much more eloquent than this. Luckily the man seemed to have no trouble getting the idea.
“That’s all right. Come on in. We can see what you need, can’t we girls?”
Blair admired his nerve in addressing the women like this. They may have been frail and heading towards eighty, but they made up in authority what they lacked in physical force. Perhaps they’d run schools—or corporations. They certainly looked as if they could.
“Don’t stand gawping, young man,” the more elderly of the two said to him. “Move inside. We don’t encourage people to hang around the entrance. We try to be considerate of our neighbours.”
“Sorry ma’am,” Vin said quietly, following Blair in. “We don’t want to be no bother.”
“Any bother,” she corrected him, but less tartly than she’d spoken to Blair. “You don’t want to be any bother; and you’re not. This is exactly why we’re here.”
With a lack of justice which Blair knew it would be sexist to think of as feminine, both of the women spoke to him very firmly every time he opened his mouth, while they softened every time Vin looked at the floor and mumbled. It didn’t really matter though. Without any questions they were accepted in the building and offered coffee in the small office. They weren’t even asked for their names, though in an apparent effort to put them out their ease the man introduced himself as Ed, and the ladies as Harriet (the slightly less formidable one) and Charlotte (probably ex-military in Blair’s revised opinion. Did the US have lady generals?) The thought of calling them by their Christian names didn’t put him at his ease in the least.
Ed watched benignly as Vin spooned sugar into black coffee. “That’ll warm you up, and in a minute Lottie here and Harriet will take you downstairs and find you something to wear.” Boggling at the Lottie—the man must be fearless—Blair almost missed the next bit. “And we have hot water in the basement. Would you like to get a shower?”
“That would be great,” he said enthusiastically. The smell of damp cardboard and worse was clinging to him. “I could really use a shower.”
Vin shook his head at him almost imperceptibly.
“Why not?” Blair whispered.
“We’re filthy. Mess the place up.”
Charlotte appeared to have hearing as sharp as her tongue. “Nonsense. Everyone who comes here has a problem with access to good washing facilities. When you’ve finished we will expect you to clean the showers and place the towels in the laundry, that’s all. You can do that can’t you?”
“Yes Miss Charlotte. If’n you got any other jobs, we’d gladly do some more.”
She almost smiled at him, even if it was rather as if he’d just said his tables correctly. “Good boy. Now follow me.”
To Blair’s relief, Vin made no further demur about getting a shower. A short while later they were in the cubicles, equipped with ultra hygienic soap, a sachet of shampoo from a corporate donor, and a thin but very clean towel. It was bliss. How long it was since he’d had a shower Blair had no idea, but it must have been quite a while. Even apart from the cardboard, he smelt of sweat and something salty and general unwashedness. He luxuriated in the hot water until he heard Vin outside getting dressed. They’d been found clothes that fitted—they were old, but clean and warm. And he had socks and shoes, which he was sure he’d never thought of as a luxury before now. Nightmares still lurked at the edge of his thoughts, but he could ignore them for a while in the relief of being clean and comfortable again.
They scrubbed out the showers. Blair had a vague feeling that normally he was less than conscientious about this, but he followed Vin’s lead and they left the area spotless. After that they swept and stacked high shelves and generally made themselves useful until lunchtime, when Ed offered them another coffee and a sandwich.
“We finish now,” he said. “The place will be locked up until 2:00, then another group comes on. I’ve got a paper for you here that gives you the addresses of the local night shelters and a free clinic. Is there anything you want to ask about?”
“If you have any problems you can come back tomorrow morning,” Harriet told them. “We can always use a couple of willing workers.”
“We’re grateful ma’am,” Vin said. He turned to go, hesitated a moment then looked back and added. “Don’t think we introduced ourselves. M’name’s Vin, this is Blair. We really ‘preciate your help.” He hurried off then and before Blair could say anything as he caught up, he said defensively, “Ain’t like tellin’ ’em our proper names. They’d been good to us, anyway. Seems rude to go off and never give ’em a name.”
“I wasn’t grumbling,” Blair said. “I would have told them our names at the start. I thought you didn’t want me to.”
“Reckon people are looking for us,” Vin said. “Not just the doctor, others too.” That suggestion came too close to the nightmares Blair was successfully avoiding.
“You think the doctor will bother to look for us?”
“Likely. We’ll spend what’s left of the money that truck driver gave you, and find somewhere real quiet to go.”
“And put together what we remember?” Blair said slowly, feeling no enthusiasm for it now, but knowing it had to be done.
“And put together what we remember,” Vin agreed. The words fell soft and ominous, and the gentleness of the morning was gone.
Mason was in a private room, and seemed to be recovering well. A nurse came in and out occasionally, but Mason had no lawyer present. He seemed, in fact, to positively welcome a visit from the PD. His grievances were entirely with the CIA.
“Pity you couldn’t deal with Miller the way you dealt with his men,” he said. “Am I under arrest by the way?”
Chris glanced at Jim Ellison who shrugged. “I didn’t arrest you, and I think Miller has washed his hands of you. I’m not sure exactly what offence you’d committed anyway. We’d just be grateful if you could help us with the case we’re on. I’d like you to take a look at these.”
He placed on Mason’s lap the better facsimiles they now had of the Denver front pages from fifteen years ago. Mason read them, rather puzzled as to what he was supposed to be getting from them. “I don’t quite follow. What case are you on now. This is what—fifteen years ago?”
“We’re trying to track down Whiting’s scientific colleague.”
Mason looked again at one of the more lurid headlines. “You’re telling me Whiting’s Dr Joseph’s had something to do with these appalling events?”
“I’m telling you Whiting’s colleague is the Dr Levine in those reports, and has only been known as Dr Josephs since he escaped from justice in Denver.”
Mason looked genuinely horrified. “You’re serious aren’t you. I had no idea, I swear. I thought the man must have something on his record but nothing like this. Is this why the CIA are so interested in him?”
“In a way,” Ellison said.
Mason hesitated. “Those bastards practically set me up to be shot.”
“Helping us isn’t going to mean helping them,” Chris said, seeing what was bothering him. “We’re interested in bringing the man to justice, openly.”
Mason was silent a while. Partly Chris suspected it was because he was still weak enough to find the conversation a strain, but he was also reading the papers they’d given him, and perhaps thinking over his past dealings with Whiting and the connections with the CIA. Whatever conclusion he came to, it was enough.
“I’ll give you what help I can,” he said. “I’m not sure how much use it will be.”
“We just want a place to start looking for Josephs,” Ellison said. “Any pointer you’ve got. Anything at all.”
A nurse came in, checked something and frowned. “You’re tiring my patient.”
“It won’t take long,” Mason told her. “I’d like to finish this.”
He waited until she’d gone, and said slowly, “I think I might be able to give you a lead to the right area, though I can’t guarantee it. Have you got a map?”
They’d come prepared. Ellison handed it to him.
“On Tuesday, when Whiting left our premises, one of my men thought he’d picked up a tail. He followed on some way further behind, and got in touch with me. I asked him if he thought Whiting was aware of it, but whoever it was was good. Now, we could have contacted Whiting, but he was jumpy already, and I didn’t want to spook him and lose this deal if it was nothing serious. I sent out a second car which managed to block the tail, and my first guy just followed on until he was sure Whiting was clear. I was going to look into it before I warned Whiting—but about an hour later Miller and his goons came down on me with some pretty unpleasant threats and set up the mess you saw last night. Evidently it had been a CIA tail. What might be useful to you, is that Whiting was heading into this area when my man left him.”
Chris looked at the area he was indicating on the map. “That’s mostly industrial,” Ellison said. “Warehouses, depots and so on. A warehouse on a quiet lot, maybe?”
“I don’t know how you’ll narrow it down,” Mason said, “but that’s the best I can give you.”
“If you want to thank me, rub Miller’s nose in the mess he’s made.”
“We’ll do our best.”
They left Mason to rest. “We can’t set ourselves up against the CIA though,” Ellison said as they made their way back to the truck. “If this business is ever going to come out, it can’t be from us, or even someone like Kelso.”
The same thought had occurred to Ezra as he slowly surfaced to something like capability of thought. He was still in the loft. He’d been wakened with a cup of palatable coffee, and left to his own devices. There hadn’t been even a hint of a suggestion that he had to stay there. Chris had put his car keys on the bedside table and Ellison had said that he ought to be able to decide for himself if he could drive, but anyway, if he wanted to get a taxi the number was by the phone. Without the impetus of any need to assert his independence, he had really not felt like making the effort to return to his hotel room. Ellison had even, with rare consideration, pressed his jacket and left the materials available for him to restore the rest of his garments to pristine condition. It was only now, with the benefit of his third cup of coffee, that he began to wonder if all this had been some unexpectedly subtle psychology on their part.
Surely not. Ellison and Larabee might be many things, and the combination was an interesting dynamic—though rather overwhelming in a confined space. But not subtle.
It was that which turned his thoughts to Miller, and the fact that something really quite subtle was going to be needed there. There had been an idea at the back of his mind for a little while now, though he had not yet explored its possibilities. This morning seemed a good time to do so. It would take his mind off the lingering ache in his shoulder… and off Vin. Perhaps this visit to Mason would produce some more promising lead. In the meantime…
He picked up the front of the National Register from fifteen years ago, and looked at the byline, and the name he had noticed before. Then he tried to call his mother. That was not always a simple proceeding, but this time it only required three calls before he heard her familiar, “Ezra?”
He thought sometimes that she was less hostile to his chosen career than she had once been; she was definitely less hostile to his chosen friends, and he was able to tell her about Vin and know that she at least comprehended his feelings.
“Why, darling, I remember the case in Denver. It was quite dreadful. For some reason I can actually picture the headlines.”
“The National Register was one of the papers that followed the story.”
“Ah. I see. That would be the reason, of course. I’d forgotten that it was that period. Darling, I know you liked the man. It was very sweet; you were so chivalrous then, what were you fourteen? Fifteen? You made it painfully clear his attentions were acceptable, but it was always a business arrangement on my part. Our interests coincided for a while, that’s all. I haven’t been in touch with him in years. I believe he went very boring and academic, if you can call parapsychology academic. He always did prefer those stories; I think he just happened to be the man on the spot for that one in Denver. The University of Georgetown is where I last heard of him. If you want to talk to him, I really think you might as well contact him yourself. He was always rather fond of you.”
There was a definite finality in her tone. Well, he had always been aware she disliked involving herself with past affairs, and the information she had given him was enough. “Thank you, mother,” he said politely. “You’ve been very helpful, as usual.”
Maude ignored the ironic note. “I hope things work out for your Mr Tanner. Whatever his other failings, he has always struck me as a survivor.”
She rang off. Ezra looked at the phone rather blankly. She had actually meant that last remark to be comforting, and, oddly, it was. Now he needed to find the phone number for The Georgetown Institute of Science.
Jim Ellison was missing his guide. Logically of course, he wouldn’t be trying to find this elusive trail if he hadn’t lost him in the first place, but at the moment all he was thinking of was how he really didn’t know where to start and how useful it would be if someone said ‘do it this way’. They had driven straight down to the district Mason had indicated on the map, and it was extensive. They could call on the resources of the PD, but he was reluctant to do that with so little to go on. He felt he ought to be able to use his senses to give them an advantage, but he had too many options.
“We can rule out all the depots, and anywhere busy,” Larabee said.
That was fair enough. He looked at the map again. Mason had shown them the road Whiting had been on. That would suggest some plausible boundaries to the search. But what exactly would be his best approach.
Larabee took out his cell phone. “You drive us to the best place to start. I’m going to call Ezra again. He might have something useful to suggest. He’s adaptable; he handled the idea of you listening in well.”
He had called Ezra’s cell phone when they first left Mason’s ward, but it had been busy. This time he got through. Ellison listened to both sides of the conversation. He could tell by a number of small familiar noises that Ezra was still at the loft, which proved their psychological skills weren’t as lacking as most people seemed to think.
“Describe the area to me,” Ezra said.
“How do you mean, describe it? It’s a typical warehouse area, not that far from the docks. It’s big, if that’s what you mean.”
“Is it modern? Would scientific equipment be common?”
Larabee looked at Ellison, who took the phone. “There would be offices with computers on most sites. It’s a long way from being a science park if that’s what you mean. It’s the cheapest end of the industrial area, and a lot of places are just storage.”
“Then I would suggest that you work past each site with potential, using a combination of hearing and scent. If I remember correctly, you mentioned a distinctive odour at Redlands. It’s possible that some of the same chemicals would have been used again. To put it crudely, you might search for an odour resembling that of a hospital, which ought, I imagine, to be unusual in that geographical context. If you can find it in conjunction with any quantity of electronic equipment, that would be worth investigating. Is that practicable?”
“I don’t know,” Jim said lamely. “Look, you seem to have some ideas about this. Why don’t we come back to the loft and get you? It wouldn’t take long.”
“Perhaps that would be advisable,” Ezra said smoothly. “As you have apparently deduced, I am indeed at the loft and I’m quite certain Mr Larabee’s abrasive style is not conducive to the most efficient use of anyone’s senses.”
Larabee grinned as the call was terminated. “Think it just dawned on him we’d conned him into staying put?”
The extra time spent collecting Ezra and returning in his car was worth it, Jim found. The undercover agent seemed to have an instinct for what it felt like to use enhanced senses; perhaps it was because he so often had to think himself into someone else’s lifestyle. Once they actually began, they also found the number of sites that were really quiet was minimal. Even so, it took a while to drive past and eliminate them efficiently. One seemed promising but proved a disappointment, turning out to be simply a warehouse storing medical supplies with a number of temperature monitors running.
“It does demonstrate that you’re searching effectively,” Ezra said.
For some time after that, the sites were too busy or obviously wrong—he discovered he could recognise fabrics and wood by their smells. Then late in the afternoon, they paused at a lot which was empty of vehicles, and he found he was again hearing the multitude of tiny noises that suggested a sizeable amount of electronic equipment. No Sandburg; he could tell that without even trying, but then they had not expected to find Josephs or their men even if they found the right place. A lead, preferably ahead of the CIA, was the most they’d hoped for.
“It’s on the upper floor,” he said slowly, trying to pinpoint it further.
“Excellent,” Ezra said. “Now perhaps it would be possible to use the direction you have, and test for the scents we want?”
It was more difficult to extend the ability to pick out smells over a distance. The medical supplies warehouse had been full, but now he was trying to find something much more elusive. “I don’t know,” he said, frustrated.
“Do you remember the smell at Redlands? Is there a hint of anything like that?”
“There are other things—food I think, and… beer?”
“That would not be impossible. Presumably Josephs and his companions had to live in whatever place they’d found. Can you pinpoint the electronic noises?”
“Yes, just about.”
“Just focus on those for a while and dismiss the rest of the room.”
He focussed. Some indeterminate time later he jerked back to awareness of the interior of the car, a distinct pain in his arm and an argument going on heatedly. “I cannot believe you did that! It was completely uncalled for. I am quite sure Mr Sandburg does not resort to violence in this situation.”
“Oh come off it, Ez. Ellison was a Ranger. He’s not made of glass.”
Jim blinked, rubbed his arm where he guessed Larabee had thumped it, and said, “All right. I think this is worth looking at. I’m sure I was picking up something like the right smell.”
“People?” Larabee asked.
Jim realised he had filtered out any noise but the machines. He concentrated again for a moment. “One. He’s not moving about. Might be asleep.”
The warehouse door was not locked, and Jim was picking up clearer signals now, scents and sounds that matched the profile he was searching for. They walked up, cautiously—and into a room that stopped them short. It was what they’d been looking for, and somehow that made it more shocking, not less. And Blair and Vin were not there. Jim felt a surge of anger at the sight of the empty trolleys, and trailing wires, the equipment that indicated all too eloquently what had been going on. Larabee was quicker, moving to haul up by the throat the man sprawled half asleep on the only chair. “Where they hell are they? What were you doing to them?”
The man, coughed and struggled ineffectually. “Wasn’t me,” he gasped out. “I didn’t know he was nuts, not before we came here.”
Larabee dropped him on the floor. “Where are they?”
“I don’t know. They got away. One of ’em was playing possum. Little bastard stuck me with a needle full of dope. Who are you? If Henshaw sent you, he’s lost them, and Josephs.”
The man, now Ellison looked more closely, still seemed half doped. Perhaps that was why he was so willing to talk. He took out his ID. “Cascade PD. You’d better tell us what you know about this.”
The words ‘they got away’ had raised his hopes sharply, and Larabee looked as if he was prepared to listen before committing bodily harm.
The man got up unsteadily, and identified himself as Frederick Turner. “I don’t know anything about this. I was just doing what Whiting ordered. Have you got Whiting?”
“The CIA have got him. I don’t want to know about your orders. I want to know what happened to the two young men who were here.”
“I told you. They got away.” Even without his enhanced senses Jim would have known that the garbled account that followed was the truth. Turner waved his hand at the broken bottle. “He was going to stick me with that. Made me get in the store room, and by then the stuff he’d injected me with was working. I only woke up about an hour ago. Josephs must have been here though. The store room door was open, and there’s stuff missing—drugs, stuff that would sell. I don’t know anything else.”
Jim looked at Chris Larabee, who was completely still now, staring at the broken bottle as if he could see Vin holding it.
“You are certain they made their escape?” Ezra asked quietly.
“Hell, no, I ain’t certain of anything. They were supposed to be asleep. Couldn’t believe it when one of ’em went for me. Don’t see how they could have gone far. The other one was definitely out of it, and they hadn’t got clothes…”
He trailed off, wisely, as Larabee turned towards him. Jim dared not be anything but the cop for now; if he let himself feel, or thought of Blair on the trolley, vulnerable to whatever they chose to do to him, he would lose it completely.
“Take him down to the car,” he said abruptly to Ezra. “Handcuff him. I’ll meet you down there.”
He walked over to the trolleys. He was aware of Blair’s scent here, rank with sweat, and now he began to think again, he realised he could see the marks of bare feet on the flooring. Bare feet must mean Vin and Blair. With that and the scent, maybe he could track them from here. Larabee came to his side. “What is it?”
“Footmarks. Bare feet. They’re easy to see on this surface.”
Larabee nodded. “I can just about make something out. Can you follow them?”
The footprints were thick around the trolleys. He moved away towards the door, and found them clearer there, two sets. “They were walking unevenly,” he said. “There’s some on the top step, then a gap, then several. Some here by the door…”
He cast around outside, failing on sight, but tuned in now to the lingering salt-sweat smell of the men he was tracking. He followed it like a thread to the dumpster, Larabee a silent support next to him—silent until he saw the abandoned hollow in the pile of damp cardboard. “They were there?”
It didn’t look large enough to conceal two people. The sight of the small damp hole pushed all the wrong buttons. He could imagine too well from Turner’s words and the uneven footprints how they must have dragged themselves in there, in their only hope of escaping detection.
“Vin’s near claustrophobic.”
Okay, it was pushing all the wrong buttons in Larabee too. Jim looked for some sign that they’d got out of this on their own terms. Ezra reappeared. He didn’t say how he’d made sure Turner would stay put, but Jim knew he wouldn’t have come back if he weren’t certain the man was secure.
“Vin can handle it if he’s the one in control,” he was saying to Larabee in surprisingly plain terms. “From what Turner says, they escaped at night. He would have made this, and known that he could push it back a little if he needed.”
Jim couldn’t find footprints on the rough surface of the lot. He cast ahead for scent, lost the one he’d been following but found “Blood?”
He could smell it but not see it. For a moment he drowned in the smell, expecting to see a pool spreading in front of him, and then he realised with a shock that it was tiny drops, a smear. “Bare feet,” he said aloud, understanding. “They’ve scraped a bit. I can track this.”
Now that he knew what he was looking for, he walked fast, following the slight trail until he lost it in a depot where trucks seemed to be pulling in for the end of the day.
“I think it finishes here,” he said at last. “Maybe they got a ride.”
They had to tackle it officially from there, identifying themselves to the man in the office and asking to question his drivers, in spite of his assurance they were forbidden to give lifts to anyone. They gathered them into the office, lucky that it was the time of day most of them checked in, and Jim easily identified whose heartbeat raced as they all denied having carried passengers. He wanted the man’s cooperation, not to lose him his job, so he dismissed them all and walked over to him as they left. “Mind if we take a closer look at your truck?”
The man’s heart raced again. He looked at Jim, and at Larabee behind him, and muttered a sullen agreement. Jim could tell that Vin and Blair had been in the truck before he reached it; he was rescued from how he was going to explain his certainty by the driver saying, “All right, you know, don’t you? I didn’t know they were in there until they jumped out. They looked to be not much more than kids. I didn’t think they were in serious trouble.”
This wasn’t what Jim had expected. “They aren’t in trouble,” he said quickly.
“Nor are you, I assure you,” Ezra added. “The rules of your company are not our concern, and you were evidently unaware of your passengers. Did they ask you for any help?”
Less sullen now, the driver shook his head. “They were running away from something, that was easy enough to see. I thought it must be from the cops or some institution or something. They said they were going over to a mission that’s near where they jumped , and I knew the folk there would help them out.”
This wasn’t making sense. Why would Vin and Blair not have simply called for help once they were safely away from Josephs.
“They wouldn’t have had any money,” Larabee said to him doubtfully. It wasn’t really an explanation; they could have walked up to any police car or council office.
“I gave them a bit,” the driver said. “They looked a bit rough. I thought maybe they hadn’t eaten in a while.” He paused. “They looked nice kids underneath. If they’re not in trouble, I’d say they thought they were.”
It was the second time he’d referred to them as kids, and if it wasn’t for the fact Jim’s senses were assuring him Vin and Blair had been in the truck, he’d have been beginning to think he was making a mistake here. Larabee, without that assurance, looked at him for it.
“They were definitely here,” Jim said to him quietly. “The rest doesn’t make sense to me either.” He turned back to the truck driver. “What time did you drop them off?”
“I didn’t drop them off, they just stood up and jumped. It was early—maybe 6.30.”
So in twelve hours they hadn’t managed to contact anyone. Could Josephs have caught up with them after all?
“Perhaps we should visit this mission,” Ezra said quietly. “They may have been confused, or even sick.”
“They weren’t sick,” the truck driver said. “Hungry maybe, and looked like the clothes they had on were a few sizes too big, but apart from being barefoot they were okay. Look, I’ve finished here. I can show you how to find the mission if you want, though I’m not sure anyone’ll be there now.” He paused, briefly suspicious again. “If they’re not in any trouble, how come the PD and the ATF are looking for them?”
“They had been abducted,” Ezra said. “We are trying to restore them to their homes.”
It would never have occurred to Jim to say that, although he supposed it was the simple truth. It certainly got rid of the truck driver’s last reservations. They went back and collected the car, with the grumbling Turner still inside, and followed the truck driver into one of the worst areas of Cascade.
All the way, he couldn’t stop picturing Blair barefoot and confused on these streets he wouldn’t walk himself with any enthusiasm. Larabee, stony faced beside him, only spoke once. “Vin used t’ live like this. Someone said Josephs was ranting about sending them back. They got away from the man. What if they haven’t got away from whatever he did to them?”
Blair had let Vin lead, because Vin seemed to have a knack for going along these rough streets unobtrusively as if he belonged in the area. They’d bought some bread and a couple of apples. Now they were looking for somewhere to go. They passed an open piece of ground with a basketball area and some scrubby grass and bushes, but its quieter corners were littered with syringes as well as paper and Vin said, “Wrong sorta quiet.”
“Where are we going then?”
“Don’t know yet. Nowhere the homeless go. The mission was okay—small, not too obvious. But anywhere like a shelter, that’s where we’d be looked for.”
He turned sharply down a side street Blair hadn’t noticed. It was unpleasantly dirty, with trash spilling out and overcrowded housing between the few stores. Vin stopped, leaned casually against the wall as if he and Blair were talking over some deal. “See that store, next but one?”
“The one that’s locked up?”
It had a few old books and older ornamental goods behind its barred window. They looked as if they’d been gathering dust for years, but the handwritten note on the door, saying the owner was ill, was recent.
“We need to get round the back,” Vin said. He looked around. There were children playing outside the neighbouring building and its door was open, showing a long dirty hallway with apartments off it.
He seemed so sure what he was doing that Blair followed him without questions, along the hallway, down a few steps and out into a yard shared by trashcans and washing. A woman who’d just finished pegging up children’s clothes looked at them suspiciously.
“Lookin’ for Tracey,” Vin said.
“Ain’t no Tracey here.”
“She’s new. Jus’ moved in.”
The woman lost interest, and went back inside. “Now,” Vin said quickly, and scrambled over the wall into the tiny yard behind the closed store. Blair followed, scraping his hands in his haste not to be left behind. Vin was already tinkering with the grimy window, using a piece of broken stone. “See if there’s a nail around or… no wait, I got it. Weren’t catched properly.”
Once they’d pushed it open and climbed in they could see why. The catch had rusted completely through. It probably hadn’t been touched in years. They stood in a dusty store room empty except for two boxes of old books. “This is quiet,” Vin said. “Nothing worth stealing, no money around. Should be all right here for a night.”
They didn’t go through to the front room with its window on the street, but they found a second back room with a torn leather couch and a desk piled with yellowing pieces of paper, and better still, there was a tiny washroom.
Blair sat heavily down on the couch. He’d felt better during the morning, but he was exhausted again now and his head ached dully. Vin dropped next to him. “Okay to rest now,” he said. “You hungry?”
The food Blair had eaten that day sat heavily on his stomach. He wondered how long before that he’d not eaten. He shook his head.
“Nor me,” Vin said. “Better if we save it, anyway.”
“We need to think what we’re going to do,” Blair said. “Food for a night, shelter for a night. We need to think further ahead than that.”
“Later,” Vin said. “You look like I feel. I got to get rid of this headache ‘fore I can face talking.”
Blair was too tired to argue. Maybe if they slept, they’d sleep off some of the confusion that still seemed to be clogging his brain. On the edge of sleep he imagined he was somewhere else entirely, a room of his own, with books and possessions, and above him was…
He jerked upright, but he’d lost the thought, only a vague emptiness remained.
Josephs walked from street to street, night shelter to soup kitchen and found no sign at all of the two men who had escaped from him. His anger had some time before passed any bounds of rationality, but he was unaware of it. The money he’d made so far, he passed into the hands of the most violent or dangerous men he met in those places, and he showed them the photos of Tanner and Sandburg. If it took all the resources he had, he would see that they came to the sort of miserable and desperate end he had planned.
“I don’t know what he was doing to them!”
Freddy Turner was in the unenviable position of being the only person available at the moment to answer questions. They had found the mission, and tried to get in touch with any of the staff, but it was taking time. Leaving it to Ezra, who was manoeuvring his way through the complications of volunteers and answering machines, Chris had come with Jim Ellison down to one of the interview rooms to talk to Turner.
“You were in the room most of the time. What did you see or hear?”
“I didn’t hear anything. He did it all with tapes, since we moved to the warehouse anyway. Or he did it real quiet, that sort of low voice shrinks use. We didn’t pay attention to it.”
“What did you think he was doing? You must have wondered.”
Turner shrugged. “I just wondered when we’d be able to go out. I suppose I wondered when he messed with their hair, that was a bit weird.”
“Messed with their hair?”
“He cut it odd. Chopped it off about shoulder level, and sort of ragged. Made ’em look younger he said. Tell you what, he took some photos of them. Might still be some at the warehouse.”
“Why did he take photos?”
“No good reason I don’t think. He was sort of gloating. He was like that. He liked it if they yelled in their sleep.”
Chris didn’t even know he’d picked him up by the throat until someone came in and made a fuss. Ellison got rid of them, but not long after that Banks appeared and hung around. He went and put a call through to Rafe and Henri who were checking out the warehouse, and told them to look for photographs, but he didn’t leave for long.
Turner really didn’t know much, but the bits of information they dragged out of him, along with what they’d learned of Josephs, began to make them wonder just what sort of mental state Vin and Blair could have been in.
“You think it’s possible they really don’t remember who they are?” Banks said doubtfully.
“Josephs did that for the CIA,” Ellison said “Messed with people’s memories, gave them false ones. Now it’s not easy to do that reliably, especially without monitoring and over any length of time, but if they just escaped and were confused…”
“Or if he only blocked more recent memories,” Chris said slowly. “We know he talked about sending them back to where they were fifteen years ago. No way he was going to make them believe they were thirteen again, but I’ve seen Vin on a weekend, hair messed, torn jeans, when he doesn’t look old enough to drink. They’re not big, either of them. That truck driver thought they were youngsters on the run because they were in trouble. Could they actually believe that too?”
“No,” Banks said. “Come off it, Larabee. You believe your man, with that military background and his years in the ATF could be conditioned like that? I don’t think so.”
Chris didn’t answer. Like Ellison, he doubted if something like that would hold indefinitely, but temporarily…? He wasn’t about to say to Banks that there was a side of Vin that had never forgotten growing up on the streets. Mostly it showed in the lengths he’d go to to help out any charity working to make things better there, but Chris saw something else just occasionally—a lonely self reliance, a kind of inability to believe he was really valued except for what he could do. He could believe a man as clever and manipulative as Josephs could have tapped in to that. And Sandburg? He didn’t know, but it hardly sounded as though he’d had the sort of childhood that would make it impossible for him to imagine having to fend for himself.
Banks gave up waiting for an answer and went to take a call. Ellison looked at Turner. “Well, we’ve finished with you. I think we’ll give you to Miller now. A goodwill gesture. You know Miller?”
Turner did. He wasn’t happy, at all. Too bad. As soon as the PD had everything they wanted from the warehouse, they were generously going to cooperate with the CIA, and if the men in suits could do to Turner things that the PD wouldn’t contemplate, Chris wouldn’t be losing any sleep about it.
Banks came back. “That was Rafe. They found a photo. He’s bringing it back here for you to take a look at.”
Chris looked at his watch. Nearly 10:00. The chances of Ezra getting through to anyone who would see them tonight were diminishing. He’d noticed Ez getting paler and paler as the evening wore on, too. As soon as they’d seen this photo, they’d better call it a day.
The best Ezra had managed was an elderly woman who seemed to have put the fear of God into him much more effectively than Chris ever managed, and who said she would see them at 7 a.m. the next morning. “She definitely saw them though. They seem to have spent the morning there doing her chores. I gather the old crone took to them.” He hesitated. “She also appears to have mistaken them for substantially younger than their age, although she appears to be of such advanced years herself that it’s possible she thinks of anyone under fifty as a boy.”
“You did well to get that much,” Chris said. “Leave it now. You look as if that shoulder’s hurting.”
“I assure you the shoulder is fine,” Ezra said firmly.
Ellison, to Chris’s silent applause, ran a hand very lightly over it and said, “I can feel the heat of it from here. It’s healing, but it’s sore. Your heart rate’s a bit elevated too. You ought to take some painkillers.”
“That is a completely unwarranted invasion of my privacy,” Ezra said indignantly.
“As your team leader, I reckon I’m entitled to a correct medical assessment,” Chris said. “Here, is that your man Rafe, Ellison?”
Rafe had gone directly into Simon Bank’s office, so they followed him without waiting for an invitation. Banks was staring with an extraordinary expression at A4 photograph in front of him. It had evidently been put together with shots taken from a digital camera. He turned it around so they could look at it, and Chris dug his nails into his palms so he would not speak before he had control of his voice.
Whatever Josephs had managed to do to their minds, here was the evidence of his intentions. Vin and Blair looked more like the picture in Blair’s album than the two men they were. Pale, their faces thinner, and their eyes closed in the shot, hair roughly cut and hanging around their faces, they looked nearer eighteen than adult. Josephs had superimposed the faces on a backdrop of some redlight area. It reminded Chris of a poster he’d once seen at a seminar about drugs on the streets. No one ought ever to see Vin vulnerable like this. He took it and turned it over.
Banks looked at him with something unacceptably like sympathy. “There was some suggestion among the men you originally interviewed that he planned to addict them to heroin. It doesn’t appear he got that far.”
“How do you know?” Ellison asked, his voice tightly controlled.
“I asked Turner myself after you’d finished with him. The batch of heroin had arrived but not been opened. He thinks that Josephs had been about to start that stage, but last night’s events and their escape saved them from that. But from this, it does look as if he was trying to set them up as homeless. I’ll get the nightshelters checked, and you’d better start in that area tomorrow. Now go home and get some sleep. They’re probably safer now than they were a couple of night’s ago.”
He sounded strained. Chris realised that he looked on Sandburg as one of his own, and that photo was enough to shake anyone who knew either of them. Ellison picked it up and slid it into a folder. “Goodnight, then, sir. We’re starting with a lady from the St James’s Mission at 7.”
Chris waited until they were in the elevator. “What are we really doing now?”
“We’re going to look for them and for Josephs. No one sick enough to produce a picture like that would give up easily. He’ll be looking for them as much as we are, and in the same places. I plan to get to them first.”
It was very dark when Blair woke and he felt completely disoriented. He wondered if his alarm had gone off and reached for the bedside lamp, then felt the torn leather under his hand and realised he’d been dreaming. The room he’d dreamed he’d woken up in was remarkably clear in his mind; it must have been somewhere he’d once stayed, but he was awake enough now to remember where he was and to realise that the warmth he was sprawled against was Vin.
“Go back t’sleep,” Vin said.
“Were you awake?”
“No. I just sleep light.”
Blair had lost all track of time. It must have been late afternoon when he’d fallen asleep. “How long do you think it is until morning?”
“Two, maybe three hours.”
He’d slept for nearly twelve hours then. No wonder he felt quite wide awake. He went to drink from the washroom sink, fumbling noisily in the dark. Other dreams were coming back to him now, disconnected but vivid. As he pulled his feet back up on the couch, one image stopped him dead. An old book. He could almost smell the pages he’d seen in his dream. A picture stood out in his mind, with what seemed like childhood memories of looking at the simple drawing many times: a drawing of a warrior, on guard over his people. A sentinel. Suddenly for a nauseating second or two he was back somewhere floating in the dark, guarding a secret from a questioning voice.
He floundered, remembered the secret, and sat upright, astonished that he could ever have forgotten something so important. His sentinel. He had found a living sentinel. It clashed with his other memories in painful and jangling confusion, but he knew it with absolute certainty.
“What’s wrong?” Vin asked softly.
“I remembered something. Something really important. I’ve talked to you about sentinels, haven’t I?”
“Tribal warriors? C’n see further, hear things a long way off t’ protect the folk? You told me about that way back. That’s what you were going to do. Be a…”
“And find a sentinel. You told me that first when we were kids.”
Blair had that memory too, huddled up with Vin whispering in the dark in some makeshift shelter. How long had he been on the streets? Part of his mind said forever, but he could also see himself studying, writing about enhanced senses—writing about his sentinel. Nothing fitted. He began to shiver.
Vin pulled him close, offering comfort more than warmth. “Reckon you were dreaming,” he said. “My mind’s been full of stuff, things I’d a liked to have, mostly.”
“It was more like a memory than a dream. Vin, I know a sentinel. I can hear myself talking to him, telling him how to use his senses, but I can’t see his face.”
“After effect of the drugs,” Vin said. “That’s why the dreams seem real. You’ve always wanted t’ find a sentinel. Me, I dreamed of having a horse.”
“”Big, ornery creature, but mine. Called him Peso. Could see myself riding that horse alongside some cowboy type, even smell the air ‘n the grass.”
“Maybe you do have a horse somewhere.”
“Don’t reckon that’s too likely, and I don’t reckon your sentinel is either.”
Blair could understand where he was coming from with that, but he still did not believe the things he was remembering were no more than a dream. Apart from anything else, if he’d imagined a sentinel as a sort of wish fulfilment surely he would have created a noble and cooperative one. He had a distinct impression of his own voice calling his sentinel an asshole.
“I think the sentinel is a true memory, and if so some of the others can’t be,” he said stubbornly. “We ought to see what each of us remembers, then we might have some idea of why we were in that place.”
Vin shifted uneasily next to him. “I got that a bit clearer,” he said unexpectedly. “Been thinking about it on and off when I been awake. It don’t all fit together, but it makes sense of some things.”
He was trying to sound calm, but Blair could feel that he was the one shuddering now. “Go on,” he said.
“I was awake in that lab a day near enough. I heard quite a lot of talk. Those men were planning some kinda deal: the doctor was going to brainwash some business fellow, getting paid by a rival by th’ sound of it. Get his secrets, condition him t’ act certain ways. Sounds a bit farfetched, but they were discussing it serious enough.”
“You think someone paid them to do that to us.”
“No. I thought about it, but I can remember the way that doctor spoke about us, and the way it felt when he came near. We were his own little pet project I’d say. And I got to thinking about that, and—you know how if you kind of think round a memory sometimes it’ll come?”
“I remembered that doctor. He didn’t look quite the same, but it was him. Experimenting.”
He stopped. Blair waited, feeling the thoughts press ominously at the edge of his own mind. Vin started to say something, got up abruptly and went into the washroom. Blair was sure he didn’t want to get to grips with this memory; even more sure when the sounds he heard were definitely Vin being sick. He hesitated, knowing from somewhere that Vin hated to be fussed, then got up and went to him anyway.
” ‘m okay,” Vin managed, straightening up and getting cupped hands of water.
“Come and sit down,” Blair said, wishing there was more light. He really didn’t want to do this, not now, not in the dark, but he was sure Vin needed to say whatever it was he’d recalled.
“It was th’ experimenting gave me the lead,” Vin said, dropping onto the couch. “And—you didn’t see how he’d got us—wires everywhere and machines and stuff. I was half dreaming, and then I could see ’em. Kids hooked up like that. A baby even. It was the doctor. He’d done this to children. And someplace, sometime we’d seen him at it.”
His voice was so soft it was hardly audible, but every word seemed to drop slow and bitter into Blair’s memory, and he too saw what Vin had recalled. He was standing looking down a short passage into a room from a sci-fi horror movie. Only it wasn’t a movie, and the crying was real. “There was a boy, a handicapped kid, in a cage…” he said slowly. “The doctor standing there. He looked up at us…”
The rest of the memory was gone, or broken up. He sat silent a while, feeling cold and sick, and unable to get past the blinding pain in his head to understand what had happened next. He thought Vin was quiet for the same reason, ’til he felt the way he was shaking, and put out an uncertain hand to Vin’s face and felt the tears. He put his arm round him, but he knew that what was coming must be as bad as it could get. He’d never seen Vin cry.
“We wanted t’ help them,” Vin said, his voice almost under control. “I don’t know how it went wrong. Still can’t fill the gap. But I c’n see the fire, and I know we started it. Maybe we were trying to stop him and something electric shorted, I just can’t remember. But I can see that building coming down… and no one could get out.”
Blair could hear his own voice screaming at a firefighter that there were people inside. It was an isolated moment, but he knew it belonged with this, and he thought he could see the building burn. This was why he was running. This was the unbearable thought he had pushed away from his mind when he woke up in the dumpster. It filled his mind now, uncontrollable. His head was spinning with the ugliness of it, but he could no longer hold back the thoughts. He saw the flames rising from the roof and spinning giddily up into the night sky and between the pain in his head and the cold creeping into his heart, he began to spiral up with them. The flames swirled, and took him dizzily with them, and he thought he heard Vin’s voice a long way off, but it couldn’t hold him. The flames faded away into the darkness, and the darkness overwhelmed him as well.
It was welcome, the dark, a place without feeling or thought. But like all comfortable things, it was fleeting. He became aware of warmth against his face, and a hand rubbing his back.
“Jim?” he thought fuzzily, but the thought ran into the barriers of his mind and shattered.
“Blair? C’mon, Blair.”
Vin. Sounding very close to the edge. It was Vin he was held against, and Vin was shaking as badly as he was. “What are we going to do?” he said muffled into Vin’s shirt. “That’s why we were running, isn’t it?”
“Must be. I can’t put it together right, not all of it. Maybe we weren’t just running, but we went after the doctor, only something went wrong.”
Blair would have lifted his head off Vin’s arm but it was too heavy and aching. One other thing he knew. “My mom. Naomi. If I hadn’t run, she would’ve been in trouble. She has to be free, Vin. She’s someone who can’t be shut in. I remember being afraid of them arresting her…”
“I remember a man,” Vin said slowly. “Can’t get the name. Can’t really get the face. Weren’t my dad. I know I never knew my dad. But someone I couldn’t bear to know I ever set a fire… and children dying in a fire…”
He rested his face on Blair’s hair a while, and Blair guessed tears were blotting out there. His own eyes closed and the pounding in his head dimmed a little, but he couldn’t shut out the replaying images. They must have sat for a long time, but he had no sense of its passing until he realised the room was light now, with the thin light of very early morning. He moved stiffly to sit up, and Vin shifted to accommodate him.
Vin looked awful in the grey light, deep shadows under his eyes, and his face gaunt where his hanging hair didn’t hide it, but he’d been thinking, and he sounded decisive now.
“Something we got t’ do,” he said. “If th’ doctor’s here, he’s got t’ be taken down. Someone sick enough to start that kind a experimenting ain’t goin’ t’ stop, and there’s homeless folk enough around here. With the other stuff he was doing, the police ought t’ be able t’ get him. We got t’ get someone onto it.”
“But they’d have to have facts and places… Who’d listen to what we can half remember?”
“We’ll get facts ‘n places. I told you, the doctor’ll be looking for us. That cuts two ways. We’re looking for him now, as well. And in th’ meantime, we’ll write it down—that there’s this man in Cascade, that he might be looking for street kids, or homeless folks with mind problems. We c’n leave it at that mission place. They’d not just let something like that go, and they’d know who to warn.”
“We can’t go back there.” He didn’t want to face anyone he’d ever liked, even that briefly.
“We c’n leave a letter. You write well. There’s not much in this place but there’s paper and pen on th’ desk. Write down all we know, and we ought t’ be able to leave a letter before anyone’s there.”
Neither of them wanted to eat. Blair sat at the desk and started to write, and Vin searched the drawers.
“What are you looking for?”
Blair saw it was an old table knife, probably used by the owner for opening post. Vin went outside, came back with a piece of stone, and while Blair wrote he was uneasily aware of Vin sitting there, patiently sharpening the blunt knife into a sharper and more dangerous tool.
Jim Ellison and Chris Larabee were on Miss Duncan’s doorstep promptly in the morning. Ezra, when they dropped him back in his hotel room, had agreed that two visitors were probably enough. “She seemed entirely immune to my charms over the telephone anyway,” he said. “I would recommend that you do not assume her to be a sweet old lady. Probably the person who ran your training in special forces would be a safer comparison, although I am sure her language will be impeccable. I will provide the day’s bulletin to Denver and dissuade them yet again from leaving en masse for Cascade, and I have a few other phone calls I would like to make.”
“He’s too cooperative,” Chris grumbled as they left him at the hotel. “It’s a bad sign.”
“Maybe Miss Duncan scared him.”
The lady did indeed turn out to be formidable, though they made a good first impression by their punctuality. She did not of course know that they had been sitting outside in the car for a while, after spending the night in an unsuccessful attempt to trace either Josephs or Vin and Blair. They’d found neither, but, worryingly, had picked up from the whispers Jim could overhear that Josephs had been ahead of them. They did their best to put the word about that anyone who did any harm to Vin or Blair would find himself in more trouble than he could handle, and there were plenty who took that warning seriously, but that didn’t mean there weren’t harder cases who would think the risk was worth it if Josephs would pay. Of Josephs himself they found no trace. Jim put as many men as he could get onto checking all the hotels and boarding rooms in the area. They snatched a couple of hours sleep in the truck before ringing Miss Duncan’s doorbell at exactly 7 a.m.
She waved them in and was speaking firmly before they’d left the porch. “You do realise that in order for us to work successfully we need an element of trust in our relationship with people on the streets. Are you telling me you have strong grounds for arresting these boys?”
“No,” Jim said quickly. “I thought Mr Standish explained to you. They’re not in any sort of trouble.”
“He did say that,” she admitted. “However, I know a conman when I hear one. I paid far more attention to the facts, and the facts are that you, Mr Ellison, are a detective with Major Crimes, and Mr Larabee is from the ATF. That does not convey an impression that there is no trouble.”
“It’s not Tanner and Sandburg who are in trouble,” Chris said. “It’s the people who forced them into this situation. We just want to get them safely back off the streets.”
They’d agreed this was a simpler approach than trying to tell her the full story, some of which, anyway, they could hardly disclose.
Miss Duncan looked at them with out any great confidence, but motioned them to take a chair. With tactical efficiency, she remained standing, a small but dominating presence. “And exactly why is it your responsibility? Are you telling me there has been a major crime involved here? And even if that were the case, I doubt it would necessitate bringing in federal officers from Denver.”
Jim glanced at Chris, who gave the slightest gesture of assent. “We’ve a personal interest,” Jim said. “Sandburg is a student at Rainier and has been riding along with me as part of his studies. Tanner works with the ATF.”
Miss Duncan refrained from snorting; presumably it was too unladylike. She asked, “You are quite sure there is no error in the people we’re discussing? They introduced themselves to me simply as Vin and Blair.”
“Blair Sandburg and Vin Tanner,” Jim said.
Miss Duncan nodded. “Well, perhaps I can see Blair as a student, though I find it hard to imagine him studying anything that involves police work. In what capacity are you expecting me to believe Vin works for the ATF?”
Chris leaned forward. “Miss Duncan, Vin’s not as young as he’s looking right now. He’s a skilled agent, and he’s a close friend of mine. And I don’t think he’s safe where he is.”
Miss Duncan hesitated. The tangible sincerity of Chris’s words seemed to have made some sort of impression. “I fail to understand why, if this is true, they should have been barefoot on the streets.”
“We’re grateful to you for helping them,” Jim said. “We’re not certain we fully understand either, but if you can help us to find them, perhaps we can get it sorted out. And get them home.”
Miss Duncan at last sat down. “A home is what they need,” she said. “We see many people, as I’m sure you can imagine, but those two boys made a deep impression on me yesterday morning. Harriet—Miss Trent—and I were very much hoping they would return today. I can tell you nothing about where they went, detective, it’s something we don’t ask, and I’m sure you or your colleagues will have tried the obvious places. However, it’s quite possible they will come back this morning or some future morning. You may wish to come with me to the mission?”
“Thank you,” Jim said. He could of course have put the place under surveillance without her permission, but this seemed a better way, particularly as he didn’t know quite how confused Vin and Blair might be. “I’m not sure what time you normally open up, but if you were happy for us to go there early, that would be helpful. We’re concerned that other people are looking for them as well, and I’d like to check the area’s safe.”
Miss Duncan looked at him piercingly. “I really don’t think you’ve told me everything relevant, young man. However, there is no reason why we should not go to the mission now and finish this discussion there. I prefer to drive myself. You may follow me.”
Obediently, they did. “I could use her for interrogations,” Jim said with feeling. “What do you think we ought to tell her?”
“I should refer her to your captain. Look out, she’s turning.”
Jim turned and nearly ran into the back of her as his eyes went to the sidewalk following some instinct. “It’s them,” he said abruptly, feeling Blair’s presence before he saw him. He pulled up sharply, and jumped down, Chris immediately behind him.
It was Vin and Blair, though he’d hardly have known it without the evidence of his other senses and the photo he had seen. They were coming towards them, but their attention was behind, glancing back as if they were looking for something. Three things happened at once. Miss Duncan, realising why Jim had stopped, drew up right next to the two of them. Blair looked up and saw Jim, went as white as if he’d just seen something horrifying, grabbed Vin’s arm and they bolted back the way they’d come. And three rough looking men appeared from some side turn or doorway and moved to attack them.
Vin swerved, pushed Blair out of the way and slashed at the one closest. The man jumped back, momentarily blocking the other two, and Vin and Blair were past them. They were out of reach now, but the men who’d just tried to attack them weren’t. Jim had never felt more like hitting someone, and Chris was right there with him tackling the three thugs before they could turn in pursuit. As an arrest, maybe they overdid it. Jim flattened the third man into the sidewalk and was aware of the precise tones of Miss Duncan. “I think perhaps that is enough, detective.”
He straightened up and without replying walked to the truck and called it in. Chris stood watching the men, and none of them moved so much as a finger. Jim wouldn’t have in their position. Chris looked about like he felt. He could not forget the fear on Blair’s face, or the panicked pounding of his heart as he’d looked at Jim. What the hell was going on? How could Blair so easily believe he was his enemy. There ought to be more to their friendship than that.
When the three men they had arrested had been taken away, they walked with Miss Duncan the half block to the mission. Jim had expected her disapproval, both for their violence in making the arrest, and because she must have seen the reaction they got from Blair and Vin, but she said nothing and her manner was more that of someone deep in thought.
She unlocked the mission door, and led them into the office. “Let me make you some coffee,” she said. “I think you had better explain to me just what happened there.”
“I don’t know what happened,” Jim said, and it came out with more of his frustration and pain than he intended.
“No, I saw that,” she said. “You both look—well, devastated. I appreciate that you expected something very different. Sit down and drink your coffee, and we’ll talk when we’ve all had time to think.”
She picked up the post as they obeyed, and sorted it out, opening a few of the envelopes. Jim drank the coffee without tasting it. Chris drained his in a couple of gulps and sat there rubbing a grazed knuckle and brooding. Miss Duncan made a small sound of surprise, and he glanced up, but did not bother to try to see what she was reading. To his surprise, though, she came and put it into his hand.
“Is this part of what you haven’t been telling me?”
Jim read it, holding it where Chris could see, and tried to suppress the ache he felt at the familiar handwriting, and the even more familiar reminder that Blair’s first thought was seldom for his own danger.
The letter was a muddle, a potent testament to the confusion Vin and Blair must be feeling, but its point was clear. They knew Josephs was in the area, and they believed he was a real danger to the homeless; Jim had never even considered this side of the matter. His whole attention had been focussed on the fact that the man was a danger to Vin and Blair.
He handed it back to Miss Duncan. “Yes, that’s part of it. It’s a complicated case, and not quite what you’ve got here, but the man is in the area, and we’ve a number of officers out looking for him. You would do well to warn anyone involved with the homeless. There will be men from the PD visiting the night shelters, hostels, clinics and so on, and I’ll see they do what they can to ensure people’s safety.”
She asked no more questions, though she read the letter again carefully, and commented, “They are clearly confused, about places and dates, and even their own status. I hope you realise that that is almost certainly the cause of their reaction this morning.”
Jim couldn’t speak. Larabee said briefly, “Seemed clear enough what they felt.”
“On the contrary, I think that would be a facile judgement. You got out of your… vehicle… in a manner that made it very clear you were law officers of some sort. I am quite convinced that both those boys, however mistakenly, believe they must keep clear of the law.”
“They recognised us,” Jim said.
“And that perhaps just made their situation harder. It is even more difficult to face someone for whom you feel respect, if you believe you’ve done something wrong.”
Jim needed to get away and think about this somewhere else. If there was anything he was absolutely sure of, it was that Vin and Blair would not return here. He stood up abruptly. “Thank you,” he said. “You’ve been very helpful, Miss Duncan.”
“Charlotte,” she said. “I wish I could do more. I shall be in St James this afternoon, and I shall sit and pray for you and for Vin and Blair. I don’t think they will come back here now, but if they do, I shall see that they wait here until you come, and that they understand just how much you want to help them.”
Jim wondered if he even knew how much himself. It was like a physical pain since he’d seen Blair looking about ten years too young and desperately in need of someone’s protection. As they walked back to the truck, Chris said softly, “I use to wonder what Vin looked like as a kid. Use to think, maybe if I’d known him then I’d’ve been ready to offer some kind of hand. Never imagined him looking at me as if I was his worst nightmare.”
That just about summed it up.
Jim pulled out into the traffic. “We going to update Ezra?”
“He’s a right to know. They all have. Maybe one of the others would’ve got a better reaction. Maybe anyone but us…”
On that bleak note they abandoned the conversation altogether, driving in silence to Ezra’s hotel.
Continue on to Part 4 of 7