|Primary Characters:||Frank Black, Jordan|
|Description:||Former tech Doug Scaife comes to find Frank Black to warn him. The two men decide to travel together. Along the way, complications arise.|
Former FBI agent Frank Black lay stretched out on one of the beds in the sparsely furnished room, dozing lightly. On the other, his daughter, Jordan was curled up, fast asleep. Since he’d taken his daughter and gone on the run from the Millennium group, of which he’d once been a member, he’d never let his little girl out of his sight. Now they slept in cheap hotel rooms, rented rooms or even – in the car. It had been a long time since Jordan had been able to go to school, but in her strangely grownup way, she’d never once complained. She seemed to understand the necessity for concealment.
A sudden noise made Frank look up, eyes instantly wary. Frank was on his feet even before he’d fully interpreted the sound. Someone was knocking on the door. Glancing around, he tried to plan their retreat. He’d chosen the room because it had a back door. Not that it was any guarantee. They could have it watched too. Gently he nudged Jordan’s shoulder.
“Come on, honey. Time to go.”
She looked up, instantly awake, but with no sign of alarm in her eyes.
“Why? It’s ok, daddy. Open the door.”
There were times Frank was wondering if his child saw more than he did. Visions or not, there were many things he didn’t know or saw clearly.
“Just do as I tell you, sweetie.”
He made sure she was sitting up and reaching for her things, before he moved stealthily towards the door. On his way, he glanced discreetly though the threadbare curtain. The street seemed empty. Nothing out of the ordinary for this time of night.
“Who is it?”
The voice sounded vaguely familiar and the associations it gave him weren’t alarming. Though how had this man found him? No one was supposed to know where he was.
“Yes? What do you want?”
“Please let me in, mr Black. I – have important information for you.”
A touch of alarm in the voice. Why? Glancing over his shoulder on Jordan, who was now fully dressed – she never put on a pyjama anymore, Frank tried to make up his mind. Did the man outside pose a threat to them or – He knew he wouldn’t have long to make up his mind. If it had been the Millennium group, they would have been inside the room by now, and if it was the FBI –
Slowly, reluctantly, Frank unlocked the door and opened it. He gazed suspiciously at the young man who was standing in the hallway, glancing nervously behind him. A little boy, a few years younger than Jordan, was leaning on the young man’s leg, looking overtired and miserable.
Slightly more reassured, Frank stepped aside and let the man and the boy inside. He locked the door again and cast another look outside. Still nothing.
The young man looked familiar. Frank didn’t recall his name, but he knew he’d met him through the FBI. Despite that, something told him the young man wasn’t here on Bureau business.
The little boy was pale and looked as if he was about to pass out from exhaustion. It was clear that if he wasn’t allowed to rest, he’d begin to sway on his feet.
“Why don’t you let your little boy lie down?”
Scaife gazed at the boy, eyes filled with concern.
“How about it, sport? Want to lie down?”
The boy nodded, clearly too tired to protest. To Frank’s surprise, Jordan, who must have picked up on his change of heart, and had stopped packing, got up and approached the boy.
“Would you like to lie on my bed?”
The boy nodded again. Jordan took his hand and led him towards her own bed. She solemnly helped him up and even fluffed up the pillows. Mutely, the little boy let her take care of everything. Apparently content, Jordan lay down herself, on her side. She seemed pleased with the company. The little boy must have dozed off immediately, because he didn’t make any sound or moved about.
Content that his daughter was resting comfortably, Frank made a sign to Scaife to follow him into the small hallway leading to the bathroom. He didn’t like the idea of inviting his uninvited guest into the bathroom, but there was nowhere else they could talk.
Scaife didn’t appear to have any objection.
It was obvious that Scaife too was tired and also nervous. On edge even. Something urgent must have sent him chasing after them. Frank frowned as he tried to think of a reason for such haste.
“I – have some important information for you. Concerning the Millennium group.”
“I see. How did you know where to find me – us?”
Scaife stretched his back and began to rub his neck.
“It wasn’t easy. I’ve been tracking you for weeks.”
Reading Frank’s change of expression, the young man held up his hand in an appeasing gesture.
“Don’t worry about it. The FBI doesn’t know I’m here.”
Frank wasn’t nearly as sure about that, but he let it go for the time being. In the morning, or even – when he’d assessed the importance of the information Scaife had referred to – tonight – they’d have to move on. Not that he and Jordan ever dared to stay in the same place for more than three nights.
Scaife wasn’t finished yet. The words began to spill from his lips. Frank recognized the behavior. Scaife wasn’t a field agent. In fact, Frank wasn’t even sure he was an agent. He could be a civilian employee of the Bureau. A tech. Yes. Frank was beginning to recall the circumstances of their meeting. The young man reminded him strongly of Brian Roedeker, another FBI employee.
“I – when I found this – I realized at once that I wasn’t supposed to know. As you probably know already, there are connections between the FBI and the Millennium group and – once you’ve seen for yourself, you’ll understand that – I had no choice. They were going to – eliminate you and – anyone else who had seen this information.”
The touch of alarm in Scaife’s voice seemed more understandable now. Frank wouldn’t put anything past the Millennium group and the agents working with them would be just as dangerous. For a second, he recalled Emma Hollis. But he couldn’t allow himself to dwell on the past. Emma had made her choice and who could blame her? If he hadn’t been aware of the stakes, who knew if he might not have done the same, if only he could have saved Catherine’s life.
“Can I take a look at that file?”
For a second, Scaife stared stupidly at Frank Black, then he smiled sheepishly. He handed over the file which he’d been clutching under his arm.
Frank scanned the pages rapidly. Yes. He had to agree with Scaife. Even if the young man was inexperienced with field work and could have no idea of the full magnitude of the situation, there was no doubt Scaife had made the right choice.
This changed things. He would have to be even more cautious. If he was caught, he couldn’t even be sure they’d spare Jordan’s life. She was old enough to remember and to be able to tell people of what had occurred. Remembering how she’d taken care of the little boy, led Frank to consider Scaife’s situation. The young man would be completely incapable of staying ahead of the pursuers on his own. It was close to a miracle that he hadn’t been caught already.
Frank didn’t like it, but he was forced to face the truth. He’d have to take Scaife and his son with him. Two men and two children. That would attract attention. Frank studied Scaife for a moment in silence. They were too different. The age difference might be great enough for them to be father and son, but only barely. Younger brother? No. Nephew? Perhaps. They’d have to think of a reason for them to be travelling together.
Frank faced the possibility that some people might even jump to the conclusion that they were a couple. Lovers. Despite the age difference, that wouldn’t be impossible. The assumptions of others didn’t concern Frank or bother him. On the other hand, such a misunderstanding might draw attention to them. No. He’d think of something later.
Scaife was sitting on the edge of the bathtub, looking as if he might fall asleep and slide to the floor at any second. Frank was sorry he’d have to tell him that it was time they were on their way.
The young man’s eyes fluttered open and he looked up, startled. Just as Frank had guessed, he’d begun to nod off.
“How did you get here? By car?”
“You’ll have to leave it. Do you have anything you’ll need to get from it?”
“Jamie’s jacket. A change of clothes for him in his backpack. I – didn’t have time to get anything else.”
That explained the disheveled look. A technician might not dress as formally as an agent, but the last time they’d met, Scaife had been better dressed.
“We’ll need to go. I’m sorry. If we carry the children downstairs, we might not have to wake them. That briefcase -”
“I’ll hang on to it. Thanks, mr Black.”
The young man fixed him with a gaze which might have embarrassed another man. Frank saw it for what it was. Relief, possibly mixed with admiration. There was no harm in it. Even if there had been a hint of a crush, Frank wouldn’t have minded. It wouldn’t have concerned him, except so far as he might have hurt Scaife’s feelings. Still, if he wasn’t mistaken, Scaife was decidedly heterosexual. It wasn’t just the fact that he had a son which convinced Frank of that. He thought he could tell.
“If we’re going to be travelling together, you’d better call me Frank. Now, we’ll have to hurry. In – less than an hour people will be going to work. It would be better if we were on our way by then.”
It proved easier than Frank had expected to get ready to leave. Jordan turned out not to be asleep and instead of being carried outside, she held on to her father’s hand. Scaife carried the boy and, rather awkwardly, held on to the briefcase containing the dangerous file.
Frank, ignoring Scaife’s protests, held out his hand for it. They couldn’t draw attention to themselves by dropping classified papers on to the sidewalk. After a brief pause, Scaife complied.
He placed his son in the backseat of the car and went to pick up his few possessions from his own car. Jordan got in beside the little boy.
Five minutes later they were on their way. Frank glanced at the children, in the backseat. The little boy was fast asleep and Jordan, who had somehow managed to lift the child’s head onto her knees, was beginning to nod off, her head resting on her bundled up jacket. She had a hand laced into one of the straps on her backpack and the other was on the little boy’s hair.
Having reassured himself that the children were comfortable, Frank’s gaze fastened on Doug Scaife. The young man looked almost as exhausted as his son, but not quite ready to doze off just yet. Now might be a good time to talk.
“I – didn’t know you had a son. In fact, I didn’t know you were married.”
“Not anymore. Lisa and I got a divorce two years ago. She didn’t handle my work hours very well. Now I blame myself for not making more of an effort. It’s just that -”
“Yes, I know.”
“You see, Lisa died eight months ago. Car crash. And her family – well, let’s just say that I couldn’t leave Jamie there. Her sister has four kids of her own and her brother -”
Doug made a face. Clearly, his late wife’s family were even less suited to look after the little boy. Even so, Frank thought that a life on the run must be worse. If he’d had anywhere to leave Jordan – No. If Doug loved his son as much as he loved Jordan, then naturally, he’d take him.
“I see. Listen, we’ll need to get out of town. Jordan and I never stay for more than three nights in the same place. Normally, we’d just move on to another hotel or -”
“No one followed us. I made sure of that. Give me some credit. I’ve gone through the Academy too, even if I spend most of my time in front of a computer or – I mean I used to.”
“Of course. It’s just an added precaution. I suppose we’ll need to – think of an explanation for us travelling together.”
Doug looked startled. The thought hadn’t occurred to him. As the potential implications sank in, Frank fancied he saw Doug’s face turn pink. Not that he had time to pay attention. Most of the time he kept his eyes firmly on the street ahead. If he continued in the same direction, they’d be leaving the city in maybe twenty minutes’ time.
“Oh. Yes, of course. What did you have in mind?”
Doug didn’t like to suggest that they travel as father and son. He felt that might be considered – too forward. On the other hand, he absolutely refused to risk being seen as a gay man, travelling around with his older lover and – whoever the kids would be assumed to be.
“So far I haven’t had any idea, but by the time we get to the next hotel or motel or – whatever we’ll find, it might be best if we had our explanation ready.”
“I suppose we don’t look enough alike to be family members. Or -”
“I was thinking you might be – my uncle. Or – maybe – if I’d had an older sister – my brother-in-law.”
“That’s a good idea. Whichever you prefer.”
“Yes. Either will probably do.”
Doug relaxed a little. At least that delicate problem was out of the way.
“You can get some rest now, if you like. I’m just going a couple of miles up the interstate. There are several suitable cities within reach.”
“Oh. Just wake me if you want me to spell you.”
In the end, Frank didn’t wake Doug until he’d already made up his mind where to go. This was a city to which he had no obvious ties, one where neither the Bureau or the Millennium group would think to look for them. At least he hoped so. There were no guarantees. For a moment, he remained sitting behind the wheel, after he’d turned off the ignition. He closed his eyes and for once, voluntarily tried to call on his gift. At the moment, he felt nothing. No threat, no uneasy premonitions. That would do.
The young man came slowly awake and the look of disorientation on his face told Frank that for the time being, Doug probably didn’t remember where he was or why he was here. A look of awareness came into his eyes and Dough stretched his back.
“Ok. Where are we?”
“At a motel. I was hoping we’d attract less attention out here, but – maybe we’ll move closer to the center tomorrow night.”
“Ok. We’d better wake the kids.”
Frank nodded. He opened the door and stood up, trying to ignore the pain in his lower back. Stretching, and breathing in deeply, he reached for the handle of the other door.
“Jordan. Come on, sweetie. Time to get up.”
She smiled warmly at him and gently disentangling herself from the little boy, she put on her jacket and grabbed her backpack. Standing outside the van, she hung the backpack over her shoulder and reached for his hand. They waited until Doug had picked Jamie up, backpack and all, and was following them to the reception.
The zit-faced young man glanced at them without curiosity.
“I would like a room for my daughter and myself.”
“Preferably next to my nephew and his son.”
“Hang on. I’ll check.”
The young man glanced at the wall, beyond the other men’s field of vision.
“Yeah, we have two adjoining rooms.”
He handed Frank a key, then another to Doug.
“It’s over there.”
He leaned out and pointed. Apparently, he wasn’t even going to come outside and show them. Fair enough. Frank could see the building he was indicating. Stairs were coming up the front wall. Even from their distance, he could see numbers on the walls next to the doors.
It turned out he was right. Their rooms were on the second floor. Frank unlocked the door and let Jordan in. She ran to the bathroom. While she was busy in there, he checked out the layout of the room. There was a back door, but since it was leading away from their car, it could be difficult to make their escape. The window gave him a good view of the parking lot, and he was hoping he would spot any uninvited guests before they came too close.
Once they’d settled in, Frank and Doug called for takeout and while the children were chattering happily over the pizzas, the two men talked in soft voices.
Somehow, their conversation touched on Emma. Emma Hollis, Frank’s former partner.
“I can’t believe she’d sell out like that.”
Doug’s vehemence startled Frank. The young man seemed to be reacting rather strongly. Frank didn’t need to resort to his gift, which he wouldn’t have in any case, to realize that Doug must have felt something a bit more for Emma, than just professional camaraderie. Even so, he found it hard to understand exactly why Doug took her change of allegiance so hard. He wasn’t kept wondering for long.
“Especially after working with you, sir.”
“Frank. I’m not working for the Bureau anymore.”
“I know. I guess – I’m not either.”
“It’s not your fault, s – I mean, Frank. Once I’d found that information – That was it.”
“I realize that. Bad luck for you and little Jamie.”
Doug sighed. Frank had a feeling he was thinking more about losing of his ex-wife, than any of the later developments. That was something Frank could sympathize with. He still felt a searing pain every time he recalled something about Catherine. Whenever he was caught off guard, the same thing happened, again and again. Even if his feelings of guilt had receded, he still missed her painfully.
After the meal, the children watched tv together. Later on, Frank called for more takeout and eventually, both children went to bed. Frank unpacked his laptop and set it up.
Doug had returned to his room to watch tv, with the sound off. From time to time, he glanced at his sleeping son. Jamie was sprawled all across the bed, deeply asleep.
In the morning, they moved on into the city center. They took the opportunity of buying more clothes and other necessities for the children. Doug managed to supplement his own wardrobe as well. Towards evening, they had dined and were searching for a hotel room. They were out of luck. The better hotels were filled up by delegates at a convention. That was un unexpected complication. Each time they found a likely looking place, they were turned away.
Frank began to look for some rooms to rent. If they felt reasonably sure of not being followed, they might risk staying for a few nights in the same place.
Eventually, they were given directions to a man who had some rooms to let. By now, the children were dozing off, in the backseat. Jamie was already curled up, his head leaning on Jordan’s shoulder, her arm protectively around him.
To Frank’s dismay, he realized this neighborhood could hardly be described as safe. He could tell Doug had noticed as well. Here and there, small groups of young men, were standing, wearing hooded jackets, unmistakably drug dealers. On both sides of the street, scantily dressed females stood or walked about, eyes fixed on the cars crusing by slowly.
This was no good. Frank was about to turn and say so, to Doug, when suddenly, Jordan began to cry.
Frank glanced at his daughter, in the rearview mirror. She was staring out the window at a car which was slowing to a stop some distance from their van. It seemed the driver was negotiating some kind of deal with the young man, who was standing, somehow posing, as if he was trying to attract attention. No great mystery about his trade.
“What’s the matter, darling?”
Before Jordan had time to reply, Frank sensed something. The scene outside their windscreen changed. A deserted area near the docks. Warehouses. Back alleys with dumpsters. The young man he’d just seen up ahead was being slaughtered. Someone – the man from the car – was attacking him viciously. The young man tried to ward off the attack, but he was unarmed and soon, he was slumped down, his back to a wall.
The dizziness passed and Frank was once again looking out through his windscreen. Nothing seemed to have changed. The young man was still in conversation with the unseen driver, but that couldn’t last much longer. Any second now they’d come to an agreement about the price and then –
“Daddy, please. Don’t let the man kill him.”
Doug stared in disbelief at the little girl in the backseat. He’d heard talk about Frank Black’s – intuition, but he’d had no idea the child had inherited his – gift.
It only took Frank a split second to make up his mind. He never stopped to consider the consequences. As long as there was something he could do to stop such an atrocity from occurring, he would.
Before Doug could think to call him back, he was out of the car and on his way.
With Doug and the children in the car, Frank couldn’t very well drive up to the young man and pretend to offer him a better price. Instead, he’d have to improvise.
Ignoring the man in the car, Frank walked up to the young man and approached him so closely, he was hoping the driver would take him for a dealer or even – though that was tricky – a cop.
The young man stared at him, not quite sure what to make of this approach on foot.
Frank cast one sharp glance at the driver, whose face was half turned away. That, if nothing else, convinced Frank the vision he’d seen had to be true. The guy didn’t want to be recognized. To Frank’s relief, the guy took the hint and drove off.
“What do you want?”
“I – could you come with me? It’s important.”
The young man studied him thoughtfully for a few seconds, then shrugged.
“Whatever. As long as you have the cash, I’m cool.”
“It’s over here.”
Frank nodded towards his van. Time enough to try and explain himself later, when the young man noticed the other man and the children.
To his relief, Doug had moved into the backseat and was sitting there, with Jamie on his lap, when Frank held the door open to the young man. A look of stunned disbelief flew across his face. He stopped in his tracks and seemed about to turn and leave.
“Hey. I don’t do kids. You’ve come to the wrong guy. Sorry.”
Frank put a hand on the young man’s shoulder and felt him tense up.
“Don’t be alarmed. I just need to discuss something with you. It’s nothing – you need to concern yourself about.”
The young man hesitated again, but something about Frank’s features must have reassured him. Again, he shrugged.
“Ok. Suit yourself. Two on one’s extra, but as long as it’s nothing – weird, I’m cool.”
Frank was barely listening. His eyes were scanning the street for curious bystanders. Nothing appeared to be out of the ordinary. The man, who had been about to pick up the young man, appeared to have disappeared for the time being.
Doug’s face took on a deep, brick red color and he studiedly looked away. It was interesting to see Frank Black’s gift in action, but this – it was just too – embarrassing.
Frank closed the door behind the young man and got into the driver’s seat and drove off. To his relief, no one outside could have seen the children. Two men crusing to pick up a hustler was nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing that would make any potential witnesses remember them especially. Frank didn’t spare a thought for Doug’s reaction. This was just too important to let embarrassment stand in the way.
He decided to find another motel, again outside the center. They might as well have saved themselves the trip, except for the fact that they’d almost certainly saved this young man’s life.
He found one, looking so much like last night’s place, it was ridiculous. Even the young man in reception was a bit like the first one. Frank decided to get the two rooms himself, leaving Doug, the children and the nameless young man in the van. That way, there would be less likelihood of them being seen and remembered.
Doug parked the car close to their rooms, and trying to ignore Frank’s protege, he took it upon himself to bring Jordan inside. If Frank was going to play den mother to a male prostitute, potentially a drug addict, the children would be better off in his room. He got no argument from Jordan. She seemed to have adopted Jamie. The two children got along so well, they could have been brother and sister, despite the difference in looks.
Frank was grateful Doug had thought to keep the children together. He unlocked the door and showed the young man inside, then risked having a few words with Doug.
“I’ll just keep him here for – a day or so. After that, he can go wherever he likes.”
“Sir – I mean – Frank – I don’t get it. How did you – I mean – what happened?”
Frank hesitated. The longer he left the young man alone in the room, the more likely it would be that he’d take off. Besides, he’d only explained his gift to very few people.
“It’s a bit complicated. I – that young man is in danger. The driver of that car – if I’m not mistaken, he’s a cold blooded killer.”
“Yes, I – guessed that, but – how did you know that?”
“I’ll have to explain later. It’s just that – usually – I’m right in my guesses.”
“So I’ve heard. Ok. Keep an eye on that guy, but – what if he – needs a fix or something?”
“I’ll deal with that if I have to. Is it ok for Jordan to stay with you?”
“Of course. She and Jamie get along great.”
“Good. I’m – sorry about this complication. It was just – an emergency.”
“Ok. I understand.”
Judging by Doug’s puzzled features, he didn’t. Far from it, but Frank didn’t have any more time to try and explain. Doug would just have to wait.
Once inside the other room, Frank looked around for the young man. Like Doug, he was far from thrilled at the added complication. Especially so soon after having to take on Doug and Jamie. Still, he had to admit that if Doug hadn’t been around, it would have been difficult to keep an eye on both Jordan and his young protege.
To his alarm, the young man was nowhere to be seen. Frank frowned in dismay. He really didn’t need this. The sound of the toilet flushing made him relax slightly.
Some water splashed, then the door opened and the young man came out.
“There you are. Isn’t the other guy coming?”
“Uh – no. Sit down.”
The young man’s eyebrows shot up. He glanced at the bed, then shrugged again and sat down.
Not until now did it dawn on Frank that he didn’t have any likely explanation as to why he’d picked up the young man. While he was still working as an agent, he might have been able to find a pretext in one of his open cases, but now – Playing for time, he walked over to the window to keep an eye on the parking lot. He felt a touch of alarm, when he noticed that a man was standing in a doorway not far from his and Doug’s rooms and seemed to be staring straight at their doors. After a few more seconds, the guy opened his door and vanished inside. Maybe it was just a coincidence.
He turned and faced the young man, who was staring at him, a mix of expectation and concern on his face.
“What’s your name?”
“Yes. What can I call you?”
“Nick. I suppose you’re wondering why I brought you here.”
Nick flashed him a smile, which must have been intended to be inviting.
“Not really. As long as it isn’t anything really kinky. It’s your money, you decide.”
“Uh – yes.”
That was another complication. He didn’t have all that much money. Life on the run, with a child, was taking its toll. His savings were dwindling at an alarming rate. Still, unless he paid up now, the young man – Nick – would return to the city and as long as that man was at large, Frank sensed there was still danger.
“Right. How much is it?”
“Depends. On how long – and what you want to do.”
“Uh – yes. What about twenty-four hours?”
The young man’s eyebrows shot up again. Apparently, that was an odd request.
“Five hundred. What do you want to do for – twenty-four hours?”
“Nothing. Just sit down. Get some rest. I’ll – talk to you later.”
“Hey, if you’re from some church, you can just -”
“No, I’m not from a church.”
“Are you a cop?”
There was a touch of suspicion in Nick’s voice now.
“Ok, I don’t get it. What do you want? I think – I’ll just get going.”
“I – just – want to talk to you.”
“Ok. Why didn’t you say so? What’s your fantasy? Coach and high school football player? No, wait. How about this?”
Nick giggled as if he’d just thought of something really funny.
“A cop and a hustler? No? Teacher and student?”
“Are you hungry?”
“I could eat. What? You’re going to feed me already? Ok. Whatever. It’s your money.”
“I’ll call for pizza. Just a second. I’ll just go and have a word with my – friend.”
“Is he going to be joining us?”
“Ok. Suit yourself.”
Frank told Doug to order takeout for the children, then returned to do the same in his room. He might as well eat. Anything to give him time to think of some cover story. He should have thought of that earlier, but the vision had come on so quickly, he’d just had to go along.
Frank picked up the phone and ordered pizza for two. If he just opened the door a crack, the pizza delivery guy wouldn’t see his visitor. Not that it mattered. The guy could think what he wanted.
Nick was watching him with interest.
“So, what’s it going to be? Father and son? I told you, whatever is cool with me.”
“Would you like to watch tv?”
“Ok, I really don’t get it. Are you going to tell me, or what?”
Following a sudden inspiration, Frank, blurted out the first words that came into his mind.
“I’m a writer. I’d like to interview you.”
Again, a look of suspicion crept into Nick’s eyes.
“I’d like to talk to a young man who -”
“A hustler? Why? Who’d want to read that?”
“You’d be surprised. So, is it ok? I’ll just need to – review my questions and so on. Watch some tv while I’m – going through my – files.”
“I guess it’s ok.”
By the time the pizza had arrived, Nick had made himself comfortable on the bed. It seemed to Frank that he was actually beginning to enjoy himself.
To Frank’s relief, Nick didn’t show any signs of impatience. Once he’d had a likely explanation for his presence in the room, he stopped paying attention to his alleged interviewer.
Towards evening, a newscast caught Frank’s eye. Something made him take a closer look. The pretty, young reporter was telling the viewers about a serial killer who had just been picked up by the police. Though half-covered by his jacket, the man’s face came into view, as he was being led from the police car, into police headquarters.
Nick sat up and stared.
“That guy – he’s the one who almost – you know, earlier today, when you came and talked to me. He’s the one who -”
“The one who was about to pick you up?”
“Yes. Did you hear what she said? A serial killer.”
Nick glanced at Frank, as if seeking reassurance. In the meantime, the young Asian reporter went on to tell the viewers about the suspect’s earlier victims. It turned out the man had been picked up in a routine traffic control. He matched the description of a suspect who was wanted in connection with a series of brutal killings. The victims were all young male prostitutes or drug addicts.
As the full realization of what he’d just escaped sank in, Nick paled and sank back against the pillows.
“I – could have been dead. Do you think -”
He broke off, unable to continued. Frank thought he could guess what the question would have been. Was that why the man had been about to pick him up? Frank had no doubts about that, but to say so, would most likely alarm Nick even further.
“Take it easy. Whatever he was after, he’s no longer a threat. The police have him in custody. There’s nothing for you to worry about.”
It was a while, until Frank’s reassuring words filtered through to Nick. Eventually, he nodded, but didn’t appear much cheered.
Something seemed to strike him and he looked up, fixing his eyes on Frank.
“You – if it hadn’t been for you, I would have – You saved my life.”
Frank didn’t reply. What was there to say about that? That had been his intention, but how could he tell Nick that without giving away his secret?
“If you like, we’ll – forget about the interview. I could always find someone else. You can go, if you like. Keep the money.”
Nick didn’t seem to hear him. Frank was getting restless. The young man was safe now. They could be on their way again. Still, he didn’t want to throw Nick out. Who knew when last he’d slept in such a comparatively decent place?
“You know what? Just stay here, if you like. Spend the night. I’ll be in the other room.”
Finally, Frank’s words seemed to filter through to Nick.
“Could we just wait? Tomorrow, I’ll answer your questions.”
“Ok. Get some sleep. I’ll order some breakfast for you.”
Nick’s eyes were once again fixed on Frank, with such an adoring expression, Frank winced. He really didn’t need this on top of everything else.
“You’re being so nice to me.”
“Yes, well, I’ll just – Just take it easy, ok? I’ll be back in the morning.”
“Oh. Ok. Thanks.”
In the morning, Frank guiltily made up some questions on the spot, then pretended to take notes. Still, he had to admit that he hadn’t been able to think of anything better. At least an interview was far less embarrassing than Nick’s cheerful suggestions the day before.
After buying the kid breakfast, Frank agreed to drop him off in the center. Not, he noted, in the same street where he’d picked Nick up, but that wasn’t his concern.
It was a relief, to finally be free to be on his way. Frank intended to spend just one more night in the city, then move on to another. He was hoping no one would have thought to mention him to any investigating cops, but he didn’t think they’d have reason to pay attention to him.
That night, he woke up to hear Jordan crying again. He turned on the light and sat down on the side of her bed.
“What is it, baby? Did you have a bad dream?”
“It’s those men, daddy. The ones you know. Peter Watts and – the others.”
Instantly alert now, Frank leaned closer. Now that he was paying attention, he felt distinctly uneasy. Something was wrong.
“Are they coming for us?”
“Yes. They found Nick. They’re going to hurt him, daddy. To make him tell them about you.”
Frank tried not to let on he was surprised to hear that Jordan knew the young man’s name. He hadn’t mentioned it to her and he was sure he hadn’t said anything to Doug either. There was no way she could have known, unless her gift had told her.
“We’d better get going. Pack your things, sweetie. They’re not going to find us. I’ll just go and wake Doug and Jamie.”
“What about Nick? You’ll help him, won’t you?”
Frank sighed. Launching a rescue operation would place him and Jordan, not to mention Doug and Jamie, at considerable risk. Exactly what he wanted to avoid. On the other hand, his meddling in Nick’s life, had put him at risk. He didn’t have a choice. Somehow, he had to find a way of rescuing the unfortunate young man from the Millennium group. He had no illusions about what they’d do to someone they’d consider expendable.
“Yes, darling. I’ll try to help him. Now hurry. I’ll be right back.”
It didn’t take them long to gather their few possessions and get into the van. Staying on the move, would help them avoid being detected, but it didn’t solve Frank’s problem concerning Nick. In the end, he decided to ask Jordan. If she had an idea where Nick had been taken, he wouldn’t be forced to try and call on his own gift. On the other hand, any second now, a vision might come to him. Concerned about his ability to keep the van on the road under those circumstances, Frank pulled up on the side of the road.
“Doug – would you take over? I might need to -”
He didn’t finish. How could he explain the situation to Doug, without coming across as a second rate tv psychic?
Doug didn’t question his request. A minute later, they were on the road again.
“Jordan, do you know where Nick is now?”
“They dragged him into a big black car.”
“One like this or an ordinary car?”
“More like an ordinary car, except bigger and with dark windows.”
“Do you know where they’ve taken him?”
“It’s a big building. High. Many floors.”
“Is it a warehouse or an office building?”
Jordan stopped to consider.
“Offices. There are other men like them. Peter Watts is there, but he’s not in the same room as Nick.”
“How long ago was that, honey? Do you know?”
Jordan shook her head.
“Ok, sweetie, you did well. I’ll do what I can to find Nick.”
Frank leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. Normally, this wouldn’t help much. The visions came when they chose to. Except this time, he’d already had a feeling something was wrong. He might as well try. Maybe something would come to him.
The office building Jordan had told him about was in the same city. They hadn’t had time to take him far. Frank didn’t see anything, but somehow, he knew that Nick was still safe, if not for much longer. That didn’t take him any closer to the location of the building. The Millennium group didn’t have any particular connections in this city, to Frank’s knowledge. Suddenly, it occurred to him that this might be something to do with the FBI. That didn’t help much either. If so, the security would be too rigid. But there was no FBI field office in this city. He was sure of that at least.
Something else occurred to him. There was a connection to the group. He’d missed it earlier, in his rush to pick a safe place to go. A company. A research facility for an electronics corporation which the Millennium group had consulted from time to time. Maybe he would be able to make his way inside that building. But he needed time, time he didn’t have.
“Doug – do you think you could find the blueprints of a certain building?”
“How? I don’t have anything to work with. When I left I just managed to bring a cell phone and my PDA. That won’t be much use here.
“I have a laptop and a modem. My cell phone will dial up a connection and -”
“Ok. We’ll need to stop.”
Fifteen minutes later, the children were chattering in the backseat, while Frank and Doug sat staring at a computer screen.
“You realize I can’t hack into their systems? They’d be on to me in a few seconds.”
“I know. What can you do?”
“I can access the yellow pages. There should be a map. Hang on. Is that what you were looking for?”
Frank didn’t think the place looked promising, but on the other hand, they wouldn’t begin the actual interrogation there. They’d need to transfer Nick to one of their own facilities. The transfer would be their opportunity.
He hated to put Jordan in so much danger. If he’d had another car, he would have asked Doug to go on ahead and decide on a meeting place. That would be risky enough, if he should be caught. On the other hand, they might not be quite as eager to get their hands on Jordan if they had him. In any case, he had to take the risk. He couldn’t leave poor Nick in their hands. Not when it was his fault he was there in the first place.
Frank forced himself to think like an FBI agent again. When they’d come as far with Nick as they could, they’d bring him outside. Not out front. There had to be a back exit.
Doug pinpointed its location and now he was waiting in a back alley. If Frank found Nick, and was able to bring him along, they’d meet there. If not – Frank had told Doug to go on ahead on his own. He’d catch up with them later on. If he could.
Only now, did Frank allow himself to consider the Millennium group’s resources. If they’d been prepared, they’d brought enough muscle to keep Nick under control and deal with him. His only chance would be if they’d been caught unawares. They couldn’t have known he and Jordan were in this city. It must have been sheer luck, from their point of view, that someone, maybe the man who had been staring at their rooms at the motel, had spotted them.
It was no use standing around, speculating. He’d soon know.
In a way, the familiar situation helped him relax. When he’d been a field agent, he’d often staked out a building and sat for hours, until his quarry showed up. This wasn’t that different.
He forced himself not to glance at his watch. Time always passed more slowly than you thought. In any case, he didn’t have too long to wait. The door opened and a man stepped outside. He was wearing a suit and his face was unfamiliar. After him, Nick was walking, uncertainly, as if intimidated. Only one more man followed.
Frank drew in breath. Peter. He hadn’t counted on facing his old friend like this. If he recognized Peter, even from this distance, naturally, he’d be identified too. Not that it changed anything. He set out, diagonally across the street, staying out of their sight for as long as he could.
Finally, he intercepted them, just before they reached the car. There was no time to plan his course of action. Besides, a sudden attack might give him the advantage. Before the first guy had time to react, Frank’s fist made contact with his chin. Seconds later, Frank followed up with a kick to the knee. The guy stumbled and almost went over.
Nick saw his chance and took off across the street. Peter did nothing to stop him. For a few seconds, his and Franks eyes met, then Frank turned and ran, following Nick. The other man seemed to have recovered and his hand went to his pocket. Frank knew he wouldn’t have time to get out of the line of fire. For a second, he almost felt the bullet eat into his side. Then he heard Peter call out something and the guy let his hand drop again.
Frank didn’t stop to follow the situation more closely. He was round the corner and heading for the alley where he knew Doug would be waiting.
Nick was just ahead of him. He was faltering, then turning to see if Frank was catching up. Frank pointed towards the alley and Nick continued running, a little more slowly now.
They reached the van, and Frank gestured for Nick to get in. He threw himself into the backseat, yelling at Doug to get going. The engine had been kept running and it only took Doug a few seconds to get it in gear. He stepped on the gas and turned a corner. To Frank’s relief they didn’t run into Peter Watts or his people.
In Frank’s absence, Doug had consulted the internet and had found a route which would lead them away from the center and out of town. If they were quick enough, they might get ahead of their pursuers. Frank was concerned they might have caught a glimpse of the van and called ahead to someone who might be able to set up roadblocks. Doug’s information had told him parts of the Bureau were in league with the Millennium group. They might also be connected with local law enforcement agencies.
He hesitated. If they didn’t leave the city and instead chose to lay low, they might elude Peter Watts and his people. On the other hand, they might be trapped. No, he didn’t think they could risk staying. They had to get out.
At least Doug seemed to be an excellent driver. He turned corners and passed crossings in a very skillful way. Frank kept glancing behind them, and as far as he could tell, they weren’t being followed. That was no guarantee. As he knew, Peter Watts could be subtle.
He glanced at Jordan, to make sure she was ok. She seemed calm and unconcerned. It occurred to him that she might know more about their pursuers than he did at the moment.
“Sweetie, do you know if we’re being followed?”
“Yes. They’re looking for us, but they’re not going to find us. It’s ok, daddy. We’re safe.”
Frank allowed his senses to strain outward for a moment. Jordan could be right. He didn’t sense anything alarming.
For the first time, Doug cast a look at Frank, in the rearview mirror.
“Keep going. It’s ok. Let’s get out of here. Just let me know when you’d like me to take over.”
“I’m fine. Fortunately, the tank is pretty full too.”
Nick turned and stared at Frank. It was as if he couldn’t quite make up his mind about him.
“Who are you?”
“I’m just – no one special.”
Doug made a slight noise, but Frank ignored him. Nick stared at Doug, then back at Frank.
“Those men – they were asking about you. Are you – wanted?”
“No. Those men aren’t the police. They’re looking for me, but they have no – formal authority.”
“Who are they?”
“An organization which – has its own agenda.”
“So you’re not going to tell me. Fine. You saved my ass again. It’s not as if I’m not grateful.”
“Nick, for the time being, it might be safer for you, if you – came with us. We can’t force you, so if you don’t want to come, you don’t have to. It’s just that – those men might still be looking for you. They might still believe you have information about me.”
“I guess I don’t have any choice. Ok. If you’re sure you want me.”
Frank leaned back in his seat. At least they were still safe. His mind returned to the moment when Peter Watts had stopped his associate from firing at him. What did that mean? He didn’t trust Peter, but there was no question his old friend had saved his life today. On the other hand, he knew the Millennium group wanted him alive. That could be reason enough. It was hard to guess what their intentions were.
That night, they spent at a camping site. The chalet was big enough for all of them, so at least there wouldn’t be any awkwardness about the rooms.
It was time Frank reviewed his options. They had to plan ahead. Maybe it was time they left the state. The Millennium group had a long reach, and they seemed as determined as ever to get their hands on him. Frank frowned. The visions had never been easy to live with and never had he felt more burdened than now, when he was on his own, and his and his daughter’s survival depended on his ability to make the right choices.
Despite that, he had a feeling something or someone was keeping a protective hand over them. He’d just have to trust in that feeling and believe they would be safe. Using his professional skills and the visions, he would be able to keep ahead of the pursuers. The millennium wasn’t too far off. When they got that far – if they got that far – everything would be different.