|Primary Characters:||Frank Black, Lara Means, Brian Roedeker, Jordan|
|Description:||Frank has a vision about Lara Means. Apparently, she’s still alive and in need of help. Frank contacts Brian Roedeker to find Lara and get her away from the Millennium group.|
He was walking along a seemingly endless road. It appeared to be the middle of the night. Everywhere he looked, there was almost complete darkness. His eyes could barely discern the road he was walking on and parts of himself. As he was walking along, he heard his clothing whisper and his shoes creak slightly. That was all.
He was filled with a growing terror. Somewhere in the darkness, something was waiting. He looked down on his hand. It was empty, though he’d known that all along. Where was Jordan? How long had she been gone? He turned and tried to run back along the road, but he had no idea how far he’d come or how far he was going now.
Screaming her name, he continued running, but his voice seemed to be swallowed up in the darkness. He had no way of knowing where the invisible sense of menace came from. All around, it seemed. Whatever it was that waited for him, was watching, cunningly following his every move. He sensed a smugness, as if whatever it was, was gloating.
Again, he tried to call out his daughter’s name, but again, his voice fell flatly without reaching very far around him. A sob tore itself loose from his chest and made its way up through his throat. Hot tears stung his eyes and he knew that Jordan was lost forever. He was lost forever.
Someone touched him. A hand grabbed his collar and shook him lightly. The voice calling out to him seemed familiar.
“Daddy, wake up. Why are you crying? It’s ok. We’re safe.”
“Yes. You were crying. It’s only a dream. There’s nothing here.”
Frank Black’s eyes made the transition to the soft light which cast an uncertain circle of light. Where was he? The room didn’t seem familiar. It took his mind a few seconds to get over the sense dislocation and remember. He and Jordan were on the run from the Millennium Group, his former employers. They were in a hotel room.
He took a deep breath and focused. Nothing. Jordan seemed to be right about one thing. There was nothing threatening them at the moment.
“I’m sorry, pumpkin.”
Jordan’s fingers touched his wet cheeks solemnly. Filled with shame, Frank took her hand and held it.
“It’s ok, baby. Go back to sleep. I’m fine now.”
His daughter shouldn’t have to watch her father fall apart like this. It was – undignified. On the other hand, nothing about their lives was ever normal. You didn’t get to choose whether or not to be born with their ‘gift’. It just happened, like it or not. He sighed and glanced at his wristwatch. Only three thirty-five. Time enough to go back to sleep for an other hour or two. He turned over, trying to find a more comfortable position, but failed. Lying on his back, he tried to stretch out. Again, he turned over, this time away from Jordan’s bed.
It was no use. He had to get up and walk around a little. If he didn’t go further than the corridor outside, nothing could happen to Jordan. She’d still be safe. Maybe he could risk sitting on the fire escape for a while. Some air would help.
As Frank was about to climb out onto the fire escape, he froze in mid-movement. Someone else was sitting there already. Poised to draw back, Frank tried to identify whoever it was. Something about the figure appeared familiar and even before the person out there turned and said his name, he had begun to relax.
The young man moved aside to leave Frank room to sit down. He did, with some effort.
“So you couldn’t sleep either?”
Frank was wondering if what was making Nick so restless was the need for drugs. Though he hadn’t noticed any needle marks on the young man’s arms, Frank knew that most prostitutes were drug addicts.
“No. Bad dream.”
“Oh. You get a lot of those, huh? Me too.”
Frank was sure Nick’s dreams couldn’t be anything like his or Jordan’s visions, but someone with Nick’s troubled past probably had plenty of experiences to recall and process during the night.
“Yeah, you know, the usual.”
Nick was being deliberately vague, and Frank couldn’t blame him. He wasn’t going to pry into the unfortunate young man’s past.
“What about you?”
The usual? Not really. Not by any definition, but Frank didn’t know how to tell Nick that so he didn’t even try.
“My dream was – vague. A sense of threat coming from the darkness. Nothing clear.”
“Oh. I’m sorry. Listen, Frank, you don’t have to tell me anything. You know I’m grateful to you for saving my life. I’m not going to question my luck. It’s just that – I can’t figure it out. Why you show up just as I’m about to be – you know. Then again, I’m in trouble and there you are. How do you know? Are you sure you’re not a cop? I mean – if you are, it’s cool. Honestly.”
“I was a – cop, once. Not anymore. I’m not a criminal either. It’s just – complicated. I told you. Some people are looking for me.”
“That’s complicated too. Would you believe me if I told you they’re the bad guys?”
“Sure. Whatever. The bad guys are after you and your kid. All the more reason to get the – heck out of town. Instead, you show up and pull this superhero act and not only once. Why? I’ve never met anyone who’d risk so much for someone like me.”
“Nick – sometimes I get – premonitions. Do you know what that is?”
A wry grin appeared on Nick’s face.
“I dropped out of school when I was fourteen so – I guess I haven’t heard that fancy word before.”
“Ok. It’s like having advance warning. I sometimes get a feeling – a hunch – and – well, usually, that hunch is right. Do you see what I mean?”
“You’re like pscyhic? Wow. That’s way cool.”
Psychic? Frank winced. He was hoping he didn’t come across like one of those tv psychics who would find your lost keys and rings for a small fee.
“In a way. I don’t talk to the dead, usually, but sometimes I see things.”
Terrific. Now he sounded like some escaped lunatic. Nick wasn’t stupid, no matter how little education he’d had. Any second now he was going to jump to the conclusion that his savior was a delusional middle-aged man, who had abducted his daughter, or – who could tell? – some other kid – and was travelling around the country, imagining himself persecuted by men in suits.
“That’s cool. Really. So you, like, saw that killer and knew what he was going to do to me?”
“Nick – let’s just -”
“No. Please. What was he going to do?”
“I want to know. What did you see him do to me?”
“The same he’d done to the others. He was – stabbing you.”
“That all? Ok. Thanks. I mean it. My life might not seem like much but – I think I’d rather OD than go out like that.”
“Nick, are you -”
“I’m ok. I – had some stuff and – well, now, I’m ok, really. I wasn’t hooked on it.”
“That’s good, because – we can’t afford to take any chances. While you’re with us, it would be best if you could just -”
“Not break any laws? Sure. Whatever. You feed me. Pay for my room. What else do I need? I’m cool.”
“If there’s anything – else. Like clothes or -”
“Listen. I’m not doing anything for you, so why are you being so nice to me? I told you, I’m cool.”
“It’s not a question of doing something -”
“No? It is for me. I pay my way. No one keeps me. So you don’t want my ass. Fine. There’s gotta be something you want. I can drive. Would you like me to take turns driving? Or don’t you and your friend trust me?”
“Do you have a license?”
“Do you? I mean, in a name you can show to the cops?”
He had a point.
“Good. Thanks. I’d appreciate the help.”
“I’ll think about it. As you might have noticed, my – friend – isn’t really doing anything to contribute either.”
“Yeah, I’ve been wondering about that. What’s the deal here? He your boyfriend?”
Frank was grateful for the darkness. If his face changed color, at least Nick wouldn’t notice.
“No. We worked together for a while. Then – he found some important information and shared it with me. Our former employers would be prepared to – let’s just say we’re both in quite a bit of danger.”
“Ok. I get it. Does he have any money?”
“Does he pay his share of the – costs?”
“No. Doug wasn’t able to bring much cash.”
“That’s what I thought. I could help pay for gas or the rooms or food or something. It’s only fair.”
“By turning tricks?”
“Why not? It’s not as if you or your friend would have much luck in the street. And the kids -”
“Hey, don’t even -”
“Sorry. I wasn’t serious, you know. Like I told you, I never go for any strange shit like that.”
“Yes. You told me. Nick, I told you, that we can’t afford to draw attention to ourselves. Nothing illegal. Besides -”
Frank couldn’t think of a way to tell Nick he just didn’t like the idea of him placing himself at risk like that. Nick turned his head and faced him.
“You’re worried about me. You really care about me.”
There was a note of disbelief in Nick’s voice as if he could hardly trust his ears.
“Now that’s weird. My old man didn’t care either way. Before he took off, when I was like ten or so, he did his best to beat the crap out of me and my mom and the other kids. Then my mom’s boyfriends – you get the picture. No one’s ever cared about me.”
Again, Frank didn’t know what to say. To Nick it must have seemed hard to believe that anyone might care about him.
“You know, if there is something you want, you can just say so. I won’t tell your friend. What about your wife?”
“Your wife or girlfriend or – the kid’s yours right?”
“Yes. Jordan’s my daughter.”
“So where’s her mom?”
“My wife is dead.”
Something about Frank’s tone must have convinced Nick not to continue his questioning. After a moment’s pause, he went on.
“So anyway, if there’s something you’d like to do, it’s fine with me. It wouldn’t be the first time with a married man. Happens all the time. Nothing to be ashamed of. I mean, what the hell, it’s just sex, right?”
“Nick, I don’t want anything. Just – try to avoid catching anyone’s attention and be prepared to run at a moment’s notice, that’s all I ask.”
Nick looked as if he was about to say more, then changed his mind. When he spoke again, it was about something completely different.
“Do you know what time it is?”
Frank glanced at his wrist. Ten past four. He’d been out here for too long. If anything happened to Jordan –
Nick got up, stretched and yawned, then began to make his way inside again. Frank followed. In the corridor, Nick once again turned to face Frank.
“Thanks. You’re really something.”
Frank didn’t reply. What could he say? It’s nothing? That would be far too much like saying Nick was right. His life wasn’t worth much. And anything else – In any case, Nick didn’t wait for a reply. He vanished inside his room and closed the door behind him.
After making sure Jordan was ok, Frank sat down on his bed. In less than an hour he’d be up anyway, going out to get breakfast for all of them. Two hours or so later, they’d be on their way again.
It was getting late. They’d been driving for more than six hours, with only a short break for lunch. Frank had let Doug take over behind the wheel, and he was leaning back in the backseat, dozing off. The two children were already asleep. Jordan was leaning against her father and little Jamie against Jordan. From time to time, Doug glanced backwards to make sure the children were ok. He noticed Nick doing the same. Doug had to admit that the young man hadn’t been any trouble. He kept himself to himself mostly and so far he hadn’t exhibited any alarming behavior around the children. In fact, when he did interact with them at all, he sounded friendly and normal.
Doug was beginning to get concerned. According to Frank, they’d soon find a smaller road branching off the one they were on, but so far, he hadn’t seen anything like that. He was afraid it had been such an insignificant dirt track he’d missed it. Maybe it was time to stop and check the map. At least Frank had told him the name of the small town.
After spending almost three months in various average sized cities, for some reason, Frank had led them into the less populated interior. Doug had never been this far away from a city. Neither had his son. He could tell Nick hadn’t either. When were they going to learn the reason for their change of plans? If Frank had had another vision, he hadn’t thought to share it with the other members of his group.
Though he had tried not to be obvious about it, Doug had been studying the little girl closely. If his guess was correct, the child shared her father’s gift. As far as he could tell, there had been nothing out of the ordinary in the girl’s behavior. She’d been unusually attentive when it came to Jamie, that was all, but Doug was only grateful for that. Her care had helped his son adapt to living on the road.
Suddenly, a piercing scream startled Doug out of his concentration, almost making him lose control over the car. The scream died down to a low moaning and whimpering. For heaven’s sake what was going on? That wasn’t one of the children, it was Frank Black. Doug began to scan the road ahead for a suitable place to pull up. Irritatedly, he glanced from Frank to Nick and back again. He was busy. Why couldn’t that good for nothing hustler do something?
“Nick, see if you can wake Frank up. He’s frightening the children and anyway, I can’t focus on the road with him going on like this.”
Nick nodded eagerly, unfastened his seat belt and leaned across into the back seat. He put his hand on Frank’s arm and shoved him lightly.
“Hey. Frank. Come on, wake up.”
Jordan was fully awake by now, but since Jamie had been startled by the noises, and needed comforting, for once she didn’t pay attention to her father.
Again, Nick called Frank’s name and, adding emphasis to his words, he began to shake Frank’s shoulder.
Frank’s eyes opened wide, and for a second, the look in them frightened Nick. It was as if Frank was seeing something other than the interior of the van. Something Nick was hoping he’d never have to see. The look reminded him of what Frank had told him. About how he’d seen the killer stabbing him. What was Frank seeing this time?
“Hey, it’s ok. Nothing’s wrong. Is there? Did you -”
Doug made a noise of derision. If that fool was going to make things worse and frighten the children even more –
“You know what, we should probably try to find that town. Right, Frank? If you’re ok -”
Frank blinked a few times, then nodded. He coughed to clear his voice.
“Yes, Doug. I’m ok and you’re right. Why don’t you consult the map while – the rest of us take a break. Jordan? Jamie? Nick? Anyone needs to go outside?”
Jordan shook her head.
“Uh oh. I’m not going outside. I want to go in a real bathroom.”
“Are you sure you can hold it that long, Jordan?”
She shot her dad a glance which seemed so grown up, while at the same time so typical of a child her age. A girl her age. Daddy really didn’t get it. Or so Frank imagined her thoughts would be on the subject.
It soon became clear that if Jordan wasn’t going, then neither was Jamie. Frank could only hope the boy was right in his estimate of how long he could manage without a bathroom.
Jamie shook his head and turned away from Frank. He seemed sleepy and disinterested in anything other than a warm, comfortable spot to curl up in.
Nick gazed thoughtfully at Frank, who didn’t notice. His mind was still on his dream – or vision. In the past couple of weeks, the dreams had kept getting worse. Now he woke up in a cold sweat almost every night. Something was wrong and he couldn’t see it. For some reason, Jordan didn’t seem to share his concern. Maybe she was growing out of the gift.
Frank got up and walked off some distance from the road. It wasn’t until he’d already begun to relieve himself that he noticed that Nick had followed. The young man was standing a few yards away doing the same. He was staring at Frank in a way that was beginning to unnerve the older man. Surely Nick wasn’t still –
Frank was about to return to the van, when Nick began to speak.
“Frank – can we talk?”
Reluctantly, Frank stopped and waited for Nick to catch up.
“What happened just now – was it another dream or vision?”
“Does that mean we’re in trouble? Or just some of us? One of us?”
Frank hesitated. He didn’t feel comfortable discussing his gift with anyone. Least of all, someone who wasn’t fully aware of the situation. On the other hand, Nick must be alarmed. He deserved to know, just like Doug did.
“That’s the trouble. I don’t know. It’s never been this vague before.”
“Your daughter – is she – like you?”
“Does she know more about – what’s going on?”
“Not this time.”
“Oh. Is there anyone else who could help?”
Frank was about to say no, but suddenly, he recalled something from last night’s dreams. Lara Means. Why had he dreamed about her? She’d been dead as long as Catherine, or so he thought. He’d never had confirmation about her death, but it had seemed inevitable that she’d been lost in the outbreak of the epidemic. Now, all of a sudden, he wasn’t so sure anymore. In the dream, she had seemed alive, and he’d had no indication this was a vision showing him a time past.
Judging by her surroundings, she must still be in the mental institution. If he was right in his guess. It was a big if. In any case, he could only find out if he was willing to risk Jordan’s safety, his own and everyone else’s.
“I’m not sure. There was one person. A woman. I thought she was dead, but now I’m not so sure.”
“Could you find out?”
“Maybe. Doug might be able to do something.”
“Are you ok, Frank?”
“Yes, I’m fine.”
For a while longer, the unnerving stare was fixed on Frank’s face, then Nick turned and began to walk back towards the van.
Doug glanced curiously at Frank when he sat down again. Why had those two been gone so long? Surely, they hadn’t – Oh, what was the matter with him? Frank wouldn’t – Doug broke off in mid-sentence, when he heard someone saying his name.
“Doug – do you think you could trace someone for me?”
“I’ll do my best, but – in any case, we’ll have to wait until we’re inside somewhere.”
“Of course. I was just hoping that you could find out if this person is alive.”
“Sure. What’s his name?”
“Her. Lara Means.”
“Oh. Wasn’t she -”
“Ok, I’ll do what I can.”
“You might as well check on Brian Roedeker. I have a feeling that he could tell us about Lara.”
“Did you know Brian?”
“Of course. We worked together a few times.”
Later that night, when they’d finally had something to eat and the children were safely tucked up in bed, Doug began his search.
“I found Brian, of course. At least his address is the same. It says here he’s on leave from the Bureau. Or rather – he wasn’t hired full time, right?”
“I don’t think so, no.”
“He’s still on their list, but not currently working. As far as I can see here.”
“What about Lara?”
“Nothing, since she was admitted to the – clinic. Either she’s still there or – in any case there’s no record of her death.”
“What’s going on? What about Lara Means?”
“I don’t know. We’d better get back to the coast. If she’s still alive and – coherent – I’ll need to talk to her.”
Doug’s eyes widened.
“Don’t you think that’s a bit risky? A little too close to home?”
“I know. You and the others could stay in a motel room while I try to make contact.”
“If they’re still keeping an eye on Brian -”
“But they won’t. Why should they? They have no reason to suspect I’ll try to contact him.”
“Why not? Any known associates. You know how their minds work. And you and Brian used to work together on more than one occasion.”
“I’ll keep a low profile. It’s just that – Lara’s visions were even stronger than mine. If she could – explain the series of – dreams I’ve just had, it might be in our best interests.”
“You’ve had more of those visions?”
Doug glanced anxiously towards the bed where the two children were curled up together.
“I don’t know. Hopefully nothing immediate, but I’m afraid it’s not clear to me right now.”
“Right. Then I guess we’d better get going. First thing in the morning.”
Doug had been right. Brian was still living in the same dump he’d been the last time Frank had seen him. He looked dejected and tired. Frank was wondering what could have caused the change. Could it be that he’d been that fond of Lara? Or – had he lost his job because of his connection with a former agent? Frank felt a stab of guilt. If that was the reason, he was responsible for another person’s fall from grace.
He was waiting in the shadows outside Brian’s home, keeping well out of the light cast by the streetlamps.
Brian was about to get into his car, when a barely discernible hiss caught his attention. To Frank’s relief, Brian didn’t whirl around, or made any ostentatious moves. Discreetly, the computer expert glanced around.
“Brian – can we talk?”
Frank heard Brian breathe in sharply. For a while, Brian didn’t say anything, but he began to go through his pockets, in a slightly exaggerated way, then swearing loudly and turning on his heel. He vanished inside the house, leaving Frank alone, tense and watchful. A slight noise, coming from the garage, made Frank glance over his shoulder. There was just a hint of light, coming from inside a door which seemed to be open just a crack. He wasted no time inching closer.
Quietly, he stepped inside, waiting while Brian closed and locked the side door. His host didn’t turn on any more lights. Instead, he turned on a radio. He sat down in a chair and leaned back and closed his eyes. Frank held back, keeping out of sight of the window behind Brian’s back.
“Well? What are you doing back here?”
“Why don’t you leave her alone? She’s had enough trouble because of all this -”
“Brian. Is she still alive?”
“Obviously. Isn’t that why you came back?”
“Yes. I need to speak to her. We’re all in grave danger.”
“Listen, with all due respect. I don’t believe what they’re saying about you. You didn’t kill that guy and everyone knows that, but -”
“The one who was found dead in your basement.”
“They’re saying I had something to do with that?”
“Yes. That and – that you might have had something to do with your wife’s death.”
Frank closed his eyes and pressed his knuckles against his eyelids. Catherine. He couldn’t believe they’d – It was a while before he was able to get himself under control again. It was only logical, after all, that they’d pick a serious accusation. Corruption, excess violence against a suspect – none of that would justify their continued interest in him.
“Like I said, I don’t believe that or -”
“That you’re – insane. I know there’s something going on, but Lara’s been through enough, ok? Leave her alone. So you’re in danger? What about her?”
“I’m aware of the risks, Brian, but if I can just talk to her and get her advice on – something – I’ll leave you two alone.”
“It doesn’t work that way, and you know it. Once they know you’re back, they’ll never leave her alone. There are times when I think they might -”
“You know – just – get rid of her. It wouldn’t be difficult to find a plausible explanation. In a place like that. Suicide. Some other patient might – or they might simply make a mistake about her dosage or – you know how it works.”
“Brian, please. I’ll do my best not to draw attention to her or you. Tell me, is she – coherent?”
“Coherent? Yeah, some days. Most of the time, she’s just -”
Brian covered his eyes with his hands as of trying to blot out a scene from his memory. Again, Frank was struck by his apparent affection for Lara. The way he remembered things, Lara hadn’t returned his feelings.
Brian looked up, a pleading look on his face.
“Tell me what you want to know. I’ll ask when the nurse is outside. If – Lara’s speaking that day, she might reply.”
He was touched by Brian’s loyalty to a woman who at the best of times couldn’t be described as very appreciative of his attentions. Gently, he prepared to disappoint Brian.
“I’m sorry, Brian. It would be best if I could see her. Talk to her myself. Sometimes -”
“What? Those visions are communicable?”
“In a way.”
“Ok. I guess – It’s just that someone at that clinic is in their pay. I don’t know who it is, but someone’s checking up on her. Whoever it was was really interested in me, for quite a while. Then, I guess they lost interest.”
It seemed to Frank that Brian must have been spending a lot of time with Lara. Again, he was touched. It occurred to him that the unknown person or persons Brian was referring to, who were keeping an eye on Lara, didn’t necessarily mean the Bureau. The Millennium Group could easily be openly involved. He knew Brian had heard of the group, so it wasn’t unlikely that he’d made the connection.
“If we try to pass you off as a relative or old friend – I don’t know – maybe they won’t realize it’s you.”
Brian sounded uncertain. Frank shared his misgivings. Any visitor would be subjected to the same attention. He’d need to think of another way of approaching Lara. Even in his desperate need, he couldn’t place a helpless woman at risk.
Brian was nervous. He kept glancing at his watch. Frank sensed his misgivings and shared them, but if Lara could help him see what was threatening Jordan and the rest of them, he felt he had to risk it. Night was falling quickly now even at this relatively early hour. There was a chill in the air that Frank hadn’t noticed before. The two men scanned the entrance to the clinic, watching for any sign of unwarranted attention. There was no one there. By a side entrance, Brian had noticed that the staff would sometimes come out during their short breaks and have a smoke or chat for a few minutes.
Despite the falling temperature, two women were standing there now, their faces in shadow, only slightly lit up by the flickering light from their cigarettes. Frank could see how they were hugging themselves, trying to keep warm in their nurse’s uniforms. That gave him an idea. It was risky, but coming here at all was risky and he didn’t think this would add to the danger.
“Brian – when do you usually come and see Lara?”
“Oh, in the mornings and the afternoons usually.”
“And how long do you stay – in the afternoons?”
“Until they throw me out. Before dinner. They serve that at – seven – seven thirty, depending on how much work there is and how many nurses on that shift.”
“It’s five forty-seven now. Still some time to go. Ok. Go on in. I’ll stay here and – say at fifteen minutes before seven – go and talk to the nurse at the reception desk. Hold her attention for as long as you can. She’s the only one in the reception area?”
“Normally. They have security guards, but they usually sit in their room, keeping an eye on the CCTV.”
“They’re – to the right? Away from the staff entrance where the nurses are – were – smoking – until a minute ago?”
“That’s right. Why? What are you going to do? If you’d just let me ask her – I’m sure no one would notice. Lara won’t mention it to anyone. She may be heavily medicated, but – she never gives anything away.”
“I’m sorry. You wouldn’t be able to understand what she tells you. Don’t worry. I’ll be discreet. This won’t take long – if she’s talking.”
“About that – actually – she hasn’t been really coherent for – I don’t know – three weeks or so. It’s like it’s getting worse.”
Frank glanced searchingly at Brian’s face. For a few weeks now, he’d been feeling the threat growing too. What was going on? Was he and Jordan the targets or – this hadn’t occurred to him until now – could it be that it was Lara who was in danger? In that case –
“Did you notice any other changes in her?”
Brian didn’t reply at first. It looked as if he was deep in thought. Frank imagined he was thinking about Lara. He could hardly think of a less likely couple than the computer expert and the sharp, bitter Lara. Still, that was love for you.
“Now that you’ve mentioned it – she’s been – sick, lately. For a few months, actually. I thought that was just side effects of the medication.”
Brian nodded absently.
“Brian – any other symptoms?”
“She seemed dizzy the last time I saw her. Two days ago. Yesterday, they wouldn’t let me see her. Do you think it’s significant?”
“I don’t know. Go on. See if they’ll let you in today. If not – keep the nurse talking as long as you can. I’ll think of something.”
Frank didn’t want to alarm Brian, but the symptoms he’d listed could match those of someone exposed to a toxin of some kind. Were they trying to poison Lara? He was getting increasingly certain that this time, his visions didn’t warn him of a danger to himself or Jordan. Why hadn’t he realized sooner that Lara wasn’t dead? He’d merely assumed she’d been killed during the epidemic.
As he sat watching Brian vanish inside and strike up a conversation with the nurse behind the reception desk, Frank had a feeling he’d need to move fast. He didn’t wait for Brian to finish his conversation. Instead, he opened the car door and slipped outside. His breath showed white against the hazy outlines of the cars in the parking lot.
Slowly, he walked towards the staff entrance. To his relief, no one was standing outside it or immediately inside the door. The short corridor inside was empty. He slipped inside and glanced around. If someone challenged him, he’d better think of a plausible cover story. Why should he approach the side entrance when the main entrance was so much more obvious? But no one showed up to challenge him.
After a moment’s hesitation, he tried the first door. It led to a locker room. Wrong room. Women’s underwear hanging from pegs above the benches told him that, if the feminine scents drifting towards him from the showers didn’t.
The second one led to a washroom. It wouldn’t do him any good either. Inside the third room, this time smaller, the men apparently changed their clothes. He couldn’t see any white coats in there, so he still hadn’t found anything useful. Outside, he stopped and listened. From afar, he could hear voices, soft, feminine voices, talking. It must be coming from the main corridor, further away. Silently, he opened the last door.
This room was some kind of staff cafeteria. There were a few tables, chairs and a coffee machine. By the wall was a coat hanger and there, to his relief, were two white coats. One seemed ridiculously short, obviously a woman’s. The second one was longer and wider. It looked as if it would fit him. The name tag said Nurse Paul Landers. Frank pulled it off and dropped it to the floor. When Paul Landers returned for his coat, he’d assume it had fallen off. By that time, Frank was hoping their assumptions wouldn’t matter to him or Lara.
Hurriedly, he put the coat on and entered the main corridor. Brian had left the reception area, but the nurse on duty, seemed to be browsing a glossy lady’s magazine. She didn’t look up when he passed her. According to Brian’s directions, Lara’s room was facing the back yard. Frank’s own observations told him there was another exit, not far from her room. It was closed and it might be locked or alarmed. Except Brian had told him that some members of the staff would sit outside, drinking coffee, when the weather was nice.
Frank slipped into the bathroom opposite Lara’s room. He left the door open a crack and kept an eye on the corridor. As soon as Brian left, he’d make his move.
He was getting restless. When the staff began serving dinner and handing out medication, there would be too many comings and goings. He should have let Brian know he’d be needing the car round the back.
Finally, Brian left Lara’s room, and fortunately, there didn’t seem to be anyone else around. Frank hissed to Brian through the crack in the doorway. At first, Brian didn’t appear to have heard him, then he stopped and kneeled, all his attention on his shoelace. As far as Frank could see, the shoelace on the left sneaker really had come undone.
“The car. Round the back. Five minutes – ten maybe.”
Brian didn’t reply, but when he got up, he touched his wristwatch as if the bracelet was itching. Frank hoped that meant he’d heard him, but didn’t want to risk drawing attention to himself by repeating his request.
When Brian’s footsteps had receded and at least one more minute had passed, Frank stepped out into the corridor, looking right and left. No one seemed to have spotted him so far. In a few strides, he was inside Lara’s room and had pulled the door shut behind him.
Lara was lying on her back, eyes partially open, but Frank could see that they weren’t focusing. For a second, he was afraid she was dead. He bent over her, straining his ears to catch any sound she might make. To his relief, she was breathing, though very slowly. He placed his fingers on the side of her neck. The pulse was slow, but steady.
Her skin didn’t feel clammy to the touch, but warm and dry. Not unusually warm, as far as he could tell. She seemed to be ok, apart from the medication.
He looked around to find something to cover her with. The thin white gown she was wearing would attract attention. If her clothes were in her room, he didn’t see them. He didn’t have time for a more thorough search. Her blanket would have to do. If someone saw him carrying her, the game would be up, but – he glanced at his watch – he still had at least twenty minutes before dinner would be served. In his experience, the staff wouldn’t be anywhere near the patients so soon before such an intense period of work.
Quickly, he picked Lara up. The last time he’d seen her, she’d been a tall, strong looking woman. Now she appeared to have shrunk. She was as light as a feather. Clumsily, Frank did his best to wrap her in the blanket. By the door, he almost dropped her, when he had to fumble with the handle, and once he had the door open, he stopped and listened. No one seemed to be close by.
As quietly as he could, he made his way to the back entrance. Again, he almost dropped her as he reached for the handle. To his relief, the door wasn’t locked. He managed to get it open, then slipped through. It fell back and closed behind him.
Where was Brian? Anxiously, Frank gazed around the back yard. Too late did he stop to consider that it might not be possible to drive a car into it. Fortunately, that didn’t turn out to be the case. He didn’t want to pass all those windows, but Brian might be cut off if he ventured too far. On the other side of Lara’s room, to his right, there were no more windows. Lara’s appeared to be the last on that end. If only Brian could –
It seemed Lara’s friend had already thought of that. Skirting the edge of the yard, Brian was able to turn and get quite close to Frank. Impatiently, he walked the last few paces. Brian got out and opened the back door.
“Here. Let me -”
He scrambled inside and waited while Frank managed to lay Lara’s unmoving body on the seat beside him. Her head now rested on his lap.
“In the ignition. Go.”
Frank slipped into the driver’s seat and put the car in gear.
“Brian – I’m sorry, I think this means -”
“That I’ll have to go on the run as well. The thought had occurred to me. What made you decide to bring her along?”
“Your description of her symptoms. And a – hunch.”
“One of your – visions?”
“Something like that. Is there anything you need to get from the house?”
“No. I figured I’d better keep a packed bag in here, just in case.”
“Since I showed up?”
“No. For a while now. I might not have a – sixth sense – but – I don’t know – something’s been bothering me. Someone might have been watching me.”
“What about this car? Do you think it might be bugged?”
“It was at one time. They keep putting them back, but I – let’s just say I’m one step ahead of them.”
“Brian – I – think you’ll need to leave it behind. It’s registered to you, right?”
“Yes. Oh. I guess we’ll be quite a crowd now. You did say Doug Scaife was travelling with you now?”
“Doug and his son and -”
“Your little girl?”
“Yes, Jordan’s with Doug and Jamie now. There’s someone else too.”
Frank was wondering how he’d explain Nick’s presence, but he was saved the necessity of replying, by a sudden noise from Lara. She was whimpering as if in pain.
Brian began to stroke her hair, soothingly, but Lara twisted away from his hand.
She was wailing, and to begin with, the words were too slurred to make much sense, but eventually Frank thought he discerned a few words.
“Don’t let them -”
“Did you hear that, Brian?”
“She’s saying ‘Don’t let them -‘ I can’t get the rest.”
“No. Me neither.”
Brian did his best to calm her down and eventually, she fell back, clearly exhausted. While keeping his eyes on the road ahead, Frank couldn’t help glancing backwards now and again. Travelling with a sick woman, as well as two children would be difficult and such a large group was bound to attract attention. They’d have to think of something, but in the meantime, all Frank wanted was to reunite with Jordan and the others.
The van might not be large enough to fit them all, but for the time being, he thought it would be ok. Lara could lie in the back, with Brian keeping an eye on him. Someone would be sitting with the children and the rest in the front seat. It would be a close fit, but they’d manage. What else could they get? A trailer? That might be best, but even that would only do for meals. Four grown men, a sick woman and two children would need more space if they were going to rough it.
It occurred to Frank that they could rent a house. Even if Nick had been seen by Peter Watts and the bodyguard, he might be able to escape their attention. If Frank gave him the money for the deposit, and he mentioned that someone – his girlfriend – Frank thought not – his sister? – more likely – was going to stay with him or possibly a friend or two, the landlord might not have to see them all.
It might be time to get rid of the van anyway. He’d discuss the trailer later, with Brian and Doug.
That night, they slept in a run down old motel. The middle-aged woman in charge only took one look at Doug and Frank, then her gaze returned to the tv set on the wall. She didn’t even ask them if they could find their way to the rooms they’d requested. They appeared to be the only ones staying at the motel and she didn’t seem to find the fact that so many people were travelling together at all odd. If she did, she clearly didn’t care.
Frank didn’t like to let Jordan sleep in the bed in his room. The sheets looked far from clean and he fancied the blanket smelled. Still, out here, this was all they’d been able to find. He put his jacket on the bed, covering the pillow, then encouraged Jordan to lie down, without undressing.
She looked doubtful.
“Daddy, I don’t like this room. It smells.”
“I know, sweetie. There’s nothing to be done about that now. It’s late. Try to get some sleep.”
She sounded sullen and irritable, completely unlike her normal self.
“I’ll go get the sandwiches in the van.”
“I don’t want the sandwiches. Can’t we get takeout?”
“I don’t know. I’ll try.”
“Wait. I want to sleep with Jamie. Can’t we sleep in the van?”
“It’s difficult, pumpkin. We can’t all fit in there.”
“Me and Jamie, then.”
“No. You’ll need to have at least one adult with you. Doug or me.”
“Why? It’s ok. No one’s going to look for us here.”
Judging by her tone, she wasn’t even using her gift. She was just being peevish.
“What’s wrong, sweetie?”
“Don’t you know?”
“It’s Lara. She’s going to have a baby.”
Frank stared at Jordan. Suddenly, she sounded different. The fretfulness from earlier was gone, replaced by this wide-eyed eagerness.
If she was right, it put a rather different slant on Lara’s symptoms. Casting his mind back to Catherine’s pregnancy nine years earlier, Frank thought he recognized the signs. Nausea, dizziness. Maybe it wasn’t poison after all. The question was – who was the father?
“I’ll go and check if there’s something to eat. You’d better come along to Doug’s room. If you like, you and Jamie can watch tv before dinner. If Doug says it’s ok.”
Jordan jumped up from the bed, clearly relieved not to have to stay in the squalid room alone. Doug had no objection to letting Jordan watch tv with Jamie, while Frank went to look for takeout. On his way to the reception area, Frank looked in on Nick, who was stretched out on his back, his head propped up by some pillows, watching tv.
“I’ll go look for takeout.”
“Good. I think those sandwiches have gone stale. Want me to help?”
“No, that’s ok. You watch your show.”
Nick nodded and glanced back at the soap opera on the screen.
Frank knocked on Brian’s and Lara’s room. It only took Brian a few seconds to come to the door. He was still fully dressed.
“I’m going to look for takeout.”
“Ok. Great. Anything else?”
“How is Lara doing?”
“About the same. Come on in.”
From what Frank could tell, she did look about the same. Possibly, she was now merely sleeping, but the difference was slight.
“Could I – ask you a question?”
“Is there any possibility that Lara might be – pregnant?”
Brian’s face hardened as a look of outrage settled on his features.
“What are you suggesting? That I’ve – taken advantage of a sick woman?”
“I wasn’t suggesting anything. Do you think it’s possible -”
“I haven’t – done anything.”
“Ok. It’s just that -”
“What? Did you have a vision?”
“Not me. Jordan. She seems convinced that Lara is going to have a baby.”
“I – don’t know. It’s not as if I’ve – taken a good look. She’s still wearing that – hospital gown.”
“I see. You’d better make sure.”
Brian seemed strangely reluctant to approach the bed. He glanced uneasily towards Lara’s unmoving form.
“I don’t know. It doesn’t feel right. Couldn’t you – I mean – you used to be married and -”
“I thought you and Lara -”
Brian’s face took on a little color and he studiedly refused to meet Frank’s eyes.
“Go on. I’m sure she won’t mind. I mean – it’s not as if you’ll need to – do a physical examination.”
“If there’s any other sign – we’d have to risk taking her to a doctor.”
Self-consciously, Frank bent over Lara and pulled down the blanket – the one he’d taken from the clinic. Just as Brian had told him, Lara was wearing the white gown. Fervently hoping she’d at least be wearing underwear, Frank pulled the gown up a little bit. What little he saw, reassured him. He pulled the gown a little further and took a look at Lara’s abdomen. She’d grown so thin since he’d last seen her, the swelling was obvious. Frank awkwardly put his hand on the abdomen. Nothing. He had a vague idea you didn’t feel any kicks until much later.
Brian had approached and was glancing at Lara’s abdomen. His hand hovered uncertainly above her, but didn’t make contact.
“Is that -”
“That’s what it looks like.”
“How soon do you think we’ll need the doctor?”
“Right away, I think, but – that might be hard out here.”
“It’s probably safer here anyway.”
“I think – we might wait until her medication wears off. If she’s – coherent enough, you might be able to go and see a doctor together. As – a married couple.”
This time, it was obvious that Brian was blushing.
“Who did you have in mind?”
“I’ll ask him, but really, I would have thought you’d prefer – Lara would probably prefer it.”
“Do you think so? I thought maybe she’d be more comfortable if – you did it.”
“Me? No, Brian. I really don’t think the doctor will find it likely that a man of my age would -”
Something appeared to occur to Brian and the blush faded as the thought sank in.
“That medication – do you think it might have harmed the baby?”
“If the staff knew about her pregnancy – and it seems likely that they did – then presumably, they’d keep that in mind.”
Frank was about to pull the gown back down again, when suddenly, Lara’s eyes opened and she seemed to be looking straight at him. Involuntarily, he pulled back, hoping she wouldn’t misinterpret his proximity.
Brian glanced at Frank, then back at Lara.
“Did she say thanks?”
Lara’s eyes fixed on Brian, with a less friendly stare.
“Are you deaf? Yes, I said thanks.”
“Sorry. What did you -”
But Lara, who still appeared to be exhausted, seemed to think she’d said enough. She closed her eyes again and went to sleep, or in any case, ignored them.
“I think – she means for bringing her here.”
“I’ll go look for that takeout.”
Frank needed to think. Brian had said he didn’t have anything to do with Lara’s pregnancy. Did that mean she’d been sexually assaulted at the clinic? It was possible, but Frank had an uneasy suspicion that something even more ominous might be behind her condition. Would the Millennium Group really be prepared to go that far and if so – why? Another question was who could be the father. Perhaps it didn’t matter. All they were after might be another person with visions. On the other hand, there wasn’t enough time for that. Not before the Millennium. Unless – the baby was for something else.
In the morning, Jordan astonished Frank by demanding to be taken to Lara’s room. Frank sat down on his own bed and watched Jordan’s face curiously.
“I need to talk to her.”
“You see, Lara hasn’t been well, and – it’s hard for her talk right now.”
Jordan looked at him as if he was an imbecile.
“She’ll talk to me. And I’ll talk to her. It’s ok, daddy, but we need to talk.”
“About – the things she sees. You know.”
Frank suddenly felt cold, even if the air in the shabby room was suffocatingly hot. He took care not to let any of his alarm creep into his voice.
“Have you seen things too, baby? Recently?”
Again, Jordan gave him a look, indicating that she knew what he was doing and she disapproved. After a few seconds, she appeared to relent, looking as if she was humoring him.
“What do you see?”
“The baby. Peter Watts. Those other men.”
“Are they close?”
“No. They don’t know where we are. Don’t you see them too?”
“Now can I go and talk to Lara?”
Frank hesitated. It might be a good idea. Lara might respond to Jordan’s attempts to speak to her, even if she normally bit off Brian’s words with a sharp retort. Frank had seen for himself how she could snap out of her daze unexpectedly and speak quite coherently, only to retreat inside herself again. It occurred to him that most of what he’d seen might have been due not to the medication, but her own defence mechanisms.
“Ok, darling. We’ll go and ask Brian if it’s ok.”
To Frank’s surprise, Lara was sitting up in bed, having breakfast.
Brian met them in the doorway.
“There you are. I was about to go and get you. Lara was asking about Jordan. Do you think she could talk to her?”
“Yes, that’s why we’re here. Jordan said she wanted to see Lara and -”
Brian stared at the child in confusion.
“Oh. Come on in.”‘
Jordan stood beside the bed, watching Lara eat, a solemn look on her face.
Her voice was much warmer than it usually was. Frank was amazed she could sound so – friendly. At least until she turned away from Jordan.
“You two, out.”
Brian began to fidget beside Frank.
“But, Lara -”
“You too. Out. Go on. We’ll only be a few minutes.”
For the first time since their arrival that morning, Lara faced Frank.
“If it’s ok with you. I just want to talk to Jordan.”
“Ok. Don’t you want to talk to me?”
Lara hesitated. She pursed her lips, seemingly in distaste, then reluctantly, she relented.
“Yes. I guess so. Ok, you stay. Brian, out.”
Frank nodded towards the door.
“It’s ok, Brian. Just – help Doug and Nick pack up the van. We’ll be right out.”
Lara scowled at him, impatiently.
“I can dress myself, you know. You’ve seen enough of my body.”
“Lara, I never -”
Frank sat down on Brian’s bed and watched Jordan do the same, on the side of Lara’s bed. To his surprise, Lara actually smiled at Jordan.
“Daddy will help you. He won’t let the bad men take you.”
For the next two or three minutes, Lara and Jordan didn’t mention the visions at all, or the ‘bad men’ as Jordan put it. Despite that, Frank had a feeling that some kind of exchange had taken place. It couldn’t just be his imagination that Lara was looking a lot better, compared to last night. Somehow, Jordan’s presence made her better.
At the end of those three minutes, Jordan got up.
“I’ll go and sit with Jamie.”
“Hold on, pumpkin. I’ll walk you there.”
Jordan gave him a look, which seemed to be saying he was wasting his time, but again, she humored him. As soon as Frank had made sure Doug was in the van, along with the other men, and little Jamie, he returned to Lara’s room.
She stared at him, one eyebrow slightly raised.
“Doug Scaife’s little boy.”
“And Doug Scaife is -”
“He used to work for the FBI. Brian knew him back then and -”
“Oh. Right. You know, if – we all make it – I think he’s the one.”
“I’m not sure -”
“Oh, come on. Can’t you see it? He’s Jordan’s guy. Or will be when they’re older.”
“Do you think -”
“If you just took the time to really look, you’d see that too.”
“Ok. Lara – I don’t know if you – know about – your condition, but – ”
“I’m pregnant. Yes, I know.”‘
“Oh. Do you know who -”
“No. I was pretty much out of things when it happened. When it must have happened. I don’t think anyone – I mean – I think I was inseminated.”
“That’s what I was going to ask you.”
“I’m not sure, but that’s the only explanation I can think of.”
“You don’t have any idea why?”
“No, but if it’s those guys, then it’s not going to be anything pleasant. For me or the baby.”
“I think you’re right about that.”
“Thanks. I said that last night, right? Thanks for getting me out and – letting me and Brian tag along.”
Her voice was surprisingly soft when she mentioned Brian’s name.
If Lara noticed Frank’s reaction, her only reply was asking him to leave.
“Now you can get out too. I think you’ve seen enough too, just like Brian.”
“Lara, I assure you -”
“Out. I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
Her estimate was off by at least twenty minutes, but Frank was used to that from Catherine. The other men didn’t appear unduly concerned either. Doug at least, had to be used to women’s timing and Brian, obviously, must have expected Lara’s arrival to be late.
Finally, they were on their way. Frank and Doug had discussed renting a house and they’d agreed to keep an eye out for a suitable place. In the meantime, they’d just keep going. Even if the Millennium Group had lost track of them, there was no guarantee that they wouldn’t find them again.
Especially now, that they knew about Lara’s pregnancy, it was more important than ever, to stay one step ahead of their pursuers. They had too much to lose, to risk letting them get close.