He looked at the gas gauge. He chose the exit for Wilsonville. He found a gas station close to the interstate and pulled in. The attendant came to the window as they drove up to the pump and Michael handed him his credit card, hoping that he still had enough funds to cover a tank of gas. Aden sunk down into the seat. She was struggling to breathe. Her whisper trembled. The man went to pump the gas and Michael turned his full attention to her.
He could feel her body shaking. He looked around. There were dozens of people at the gas station. He scented the air. The immense density of odors assailed his olfactory system. There was no way he could even begin to sort all of that information. He leaned back in the seat and closed his eyes, struggling to regain control. There are a lot of things out there. The attendant brought the card and slip back to the window. Michael took it and pulled away from the pump. He moved toward the back of the building, trying to put some distance between all the people and Aden.
He pulled into a spot and fished his phone out. The number was at the top of the recent calls list.
I never called him yesterday. The phone rang on the other end only once. Are you all right? Thank god. Let me step out into the hall. He could hear the din of the crowd fade in the background and a door close. I was getting worried. Have you cracked it?
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Michael looked over at Aden. Not exactly. The carrier is dead. We may have a bigger problem. Take a breath! Now is not a good time. His breath was rapid. I took all your stuff there. Michael, trust me on this. There was a moment of silence. There are other reasons. Michael put the phone back in his pocket and looked at Aden. She shook her head. You can drop me off. Not a chance! She started to reach for the door handle but he grabbed her hand, Aden! He felt his lungs contracting, struggling to expand. Aden reached across and touched his chest. The contact was like an electric shock.
He gasped. Air rushed in and he felt light-headed. The whisper was deafening. Aden closed her eyes. Michael, I am legally dead. Daniel signed my death certificate. George is right. He could feel the ripple that went through her. She pulled her hand away and covered her face. Michael wished there was more room in the over-packed little car.
He desperately wanted to put his arms around her. Maybe Mary will let me use the attic of the garage. Bill renovated it a long time ago, intending to rent it out. He even added stairs down to the back alley. She nodded. He managed to reach over far enough to brush the loose strand of hair away from her face.
She looked up at him. Then stay with me. I need you. He struggled to lean far enough over the cup holder to reach her lips. He was relieved when she responded. The hard plastic dug into his side. He reluctantly broke the kiss. She took a deep breath. We should get going. I need to get us some food first. He looked over at the convenience store of the gas station. It might not even be cooked but it will be food.
He turned back to her. Michael got out of the car and jogged to the little store. They had a small hot deli and he got a couple of pizza sticks and a bag of joes. He grabbed a couple of sodas and returned to the car. Aden shoved her hand back into her pocket as he opened the door. She looked up at him and wrinkled her nose.
Oh, yummy. Grease covered mystery food. He got in and handed her the food.
It will have to do for the moment. Remember, food helps. She peered into the bag. She handed him one of the pizza sticks as he pulled back onto the road. Michael munched on the spicy attempt at imitation pizza while navigating the increasing traffic as they neared the major arteries of the city. He took a few of the joes but let Aden eat most of them. He went west onto Aden crushed up the empty, greasy bag. I still think it should be called Killjoy Avenue. She sighed. Mary never did like me. Her question caught him off guard. He almost missed the off ramp but managed to slide into the lane at the last moment.
We got into an argument a few weeks before you called me. He fought the tightness in his throat. He made the turn onto 14th. Matt had a lot of crazy ideas in his head. It was hard for him when dad died. He never really accepted it. He felt Aden tense and looked over at her. Was she thinking about the death of her own father? He had to focus on traffic to get into the turn lane for Lovejoy. When he could look at her again she had relaxed. Her hand was shoved tightly in her pocket again. What was she carrying around? Some memento of her past? The streets flashed by.
They were almost to 22nd Street. He debated on the safest place to drop Aden off where she was least likely to be seen. She sat up and looked around as he turned up 22nd. Drop me off on Pettygrove. I can walk from there. She looked over at him. How do I get in? Michael pulled to a stop under one of the trees that lined the street.
Matt does. When Mary gets mad at him and locks him out of the house, he hides out in the attic. Could he be there now? Michael watched her unclip the seat belt. She looked at him. She got out and moved quickly toward the buildings. She ducked between them and disappeared. Michael tried not to let his fear overwhelm him. What had Joseph taught him? He went around the block onto Quimby. He could feel Aden. He doubted anyone had seen her. Motion in his peripheral caught his attention as he turned off the engine.
Someone was running toward him. Uncle Mike! He grinned and opened the door. His niece flew at him and he caught her in a bear hug. Whoa, there, Fleet Foot! You almost knocked me right back into the Middle Ages. Carley laughed and squeezed him tight.
Where have you been? Michael looked up at his nephew who had come to a stop a few feet away. And what does Simon say today? The screen door banged and Michael looked up. Mary was coming down the front steps. Her face was taunt. Michael sigh. Yup, that about sums it up. The door banged again. Mary looked back. Mom, you need to go back inside. Rachel ignored her and rushed up to Michael as fast as she could manage on the rough concrete. She threw her arms around him. And how was school? Do you have any homework? Michael sighed and gently disentangled himself from her embrace.
Come on, Mom. Carley scuffed her shoes on the sidewalk. Simon dropped his book bag on the lawn and peered into the car. Packed pretty tight. What is all this stuff? Scientific equipment mostly and a few of my things. Simon leaned closer and blocked out the sun with his hands. You have a guitar! Will you teach me to play? And where are you going in the meantime? She had planted her hands on her hips. That was never a good sign. Carley slipped her arm around his waist. She gave her mother a defiant glare. Mary started to say something but Michael cut her off.
I know the house is packed. I can pull the car into the garage for the night and crash in the attic. Mary sighed. If you leave it out, it might get stolen. Michael looked toward the garage. He could feel Aden watching them and was relieved. Something shattered in the house and Mary lost her composure. She turned and ran up the front porch steps. Simon rolled his eyes. I seriously doubt Uncle Mike will want to hang out with you any more than Uncle Matt does.
Michael tried not to laugh at the look of disappointment on her face. Simon shrugged. He left a couple of days ago. He turned, grabbed his backpack, walked up the steps, opened the screen door, and disappeared inside. Carley was studying the ground, tracing the cracks in the sidewalk with the toe of her sneakers. You could say that. Uncle Matt and Mom got into a fight and Simon thinks Mom was right.
She looked up at him sideways and a loose strand of hair slid down over her face. Michael sighed. I know. He looked up at the attic window. He could feel Aden looking down at him. I need to get this stuff inside. He turned back to his niece. Not with this stuff. Carley sighed. I guess Simon told her what I did to Kyle Keller in the cafeteria today.
She stuck her hands in her pockets and dragged her feet toward the porch. Mary met her at the door. They exchanged a few tense words and she waited until Carley had disappeared inside before coming down the front steps again. Things are really bad with Mom right now.
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Michael recognized that tone. She was holding back her anger, bottling it up as usual. Michael looked toward the house. She nodded and held out a card to him. The detective that was here left this. He wants you to call him. Michael glanced at the card. The emblem of the Portland Police Department was embossed on one corner. The name and title were printed in bold letters: Andrew Yeager - Homicide Division.
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He swallowed hard and slipped it into his pocket. As soon as I get a chance. Michael felt the world spinning. He caught himself on the roof of the Mazda. Not yet. Simon shoved open the screen door and stomped onto the porch. Mary closed her eyes and sighed deeply. She looked up at Michael. Welcome home. She went back into the house. Simon turned and walked away.
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Michael watched his nephew pass another boy. Neither said anything to the other. The other boy disappeared back around the wall that lined the alleyway between the houses. Simon kept on walking. Michael flipped the card around in his fingers. How had the police known he was involved? He glanced in the car. Aden had taken the case of files with her. He felt a chill go through him. He shook it off and picked out the boxes for the first load.
Aden met him at the top of the stairs. She reached for the boxes he was carrying. He passed them to her. What would a Portland Homicide Detective want with me? He followed her inside. Aden set the boxes on the floor. She was biting her lip. Ryan Peters knew you were involved with the virus research. If he left any notes on his desk they might have been found. Michael leaned against the door frame and worked his jaw.
I did his autopsy. Would that have seemed suspicious? Aden shrugged. It depends on what Ryan left behind. She turned to survey the small room. Are we going to be able to get all that stuff in here? Michael laughed. I figured Clem could use it. He moved across the room and opened a door. She glanced inside then went to the small window that looked down the driveway toward the front street. Michael came up behind her, desperate for contact and put his arms around her. She tensed but he refused to let go. We will figure this out.
I promise. He kissed the side of her neck. She pulled away. I can at least meet you inside the garage and carry things up while you bring them from the car.
He went down the stairs and almost tripped over the boxes stacked in the garage. He might find some clean sheets for the bed. Aden had been right about the limited space. He managed to find the box of bedding and Aden disappeared into the bedroom with it.
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He shuffled a few more things around and found some kitchen supplies and canned goods. His stomach was growling. The attempt at pizza had worn off. Aden came back and watched him dump a generic can of noodles in tomato sauce into a dish. Are you seriously going to eat that? He dug through the box and pulled out a can of condensed soup. There might be veggies and little Vienna sausages in there, too.
She went to the box and pulled out a can labeled noodles in cheese sauce. Is this what you were eating before you came to Sweetvale? Michael opened the microwave and frowned. He pulled out the book and replaced it with his bowl. She left the can on the box and slumped against the wall by the window. He waded around the obstacle course and sank down behind her. I made you a promise and I intend to keep it. He kissed the top of her head. She got up and pulled him to his feet. She picked up the can and studied the label.
They ate in silence and Aden washed the dishes. Michael looked over the stack of boxes.
With these. She patted the file case. This is what David was working on when he disappeared. And Duval told me he came from Portland. Somewhere in this city is Duval's master who calls himself the Jackal. Portland is a pretty big place. What do you suggest I look under? Aden frowned and opened the case.
How about churches? I bet they have a section. She tapped the page. Michael knew the name. It was battered and stained. He rubbed the cover and sighed. Jack got a lot of his information from Gunther. He turned to the page and found the address. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and opened the browser. The request bar appeared on the screen. Michael smiled. That was something he had missed. Sweetvale could keep its sacred spots!
Aden watched the city sliding by. They had opted for the car since it would have taken forever with all the bus and Max transfers. At least that had been her argument. She could feel them, especially when Michael had to stop for traffic lights. The streets were full of people. She tried to tune it out but the sensation made every nerve of her body vibrate.
He believed there was someone in his own department trying to stop his investigation. Aden considered the idea. If he was like us. She looked over at Michael. Are we vampires? Aden looked back out the window. Somewhere out there were others like Duval or like them. How many were there? She noted the change in the buildings as Michael found a place to park.
Not the greatest neighborhood. Michael got out and came around to open the door for her. I guess those are the ones that need churches the most. He sighed. What would Joseph say? She looked down the block and spotted the church. Aden was relieved that there were fewer people on the streets here. She stayed close to Michael remembering how much that had helped her around the others before.
They walked up the steps and found the doors unlocked. Aden entered and was amazed at how big it looked on the inside compared to the exterior. She noticed a young man in robes coming toward them. He set down what looked like a long curved lighter. The Castle of Llyr 1. City of Beasts. Kingdom of the Golden Dragon. Forest of the Pygmies. Hatter M. Volume Three, The Nature of Wonder.
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