|Primary Characters:||Emma Hollis, Frank Black|
|Description:||Emma Hollis is coming to the realization that she’s made a big mistake when she joined the Millennium group. Before long, her father’s dying and she knows it’s all been for nothing. Can she find a way of escaping the group’s clutches or is she in too deep?|
Emma Hollis was looking out the window. Outside, it was pitch dark and though the headlights from passing cars kept showing up and receding, she wasn’t really looking at them. She wasn’t looking at anything. Deep in thought, she didn’t hear that someone was saying her name.So weak and slurred was the voice, chances were it would have taken her longer to pick up on it, even if she had been paying attention.
The truth was, she was trapped. From the moment she’d heard about her father’s condition, she’d known she was out of options. Whatever she chose to do, she was damned. Again, her mind turned to her former partner, agent Frank Black. She knew he sometimes saw things other people didn’t. Had he foreseen her dilemma? If he’d been in a similar situation, what would his response have been?
She’d known all along that she’d be forced to compromise. What she hadn’t known was quite how complicated it would get. Now she knew that compromise didn’t really enter into the equation. Every assignment the Millennium group gave her pulled her deeper into the morass of semi-legal methods and outright felony. There were times she even thought she was risking her very soul.
A sudden chill came over her and she pulled her jacket closer around her. She shook herself. That was nonsense. Frank Black’s ideas about the Millennium group’s work were exaggerated and bordering on hysteria. Still, sometimes she had to force herself not to openly show her own reaction to the work she was doing. She had a feeling she was constantly being watched. Evaluated. Her loyalties being questioned.
Finally, the voice filtered through to her. She whirled around and faced the old man, stretched out on the bed.
“Dad? Can I get you anything?”
“Come here, girl.”
Like in her childhood, she didn’t hesitate to obey. She sat down on the edge of the bed, anxiously watching her father’s face. He’d lost weight. The eyes appeared to be sunken. Yet as the Millennium group had promised her, his mental capacities were still sharp, though his body appeared to be failing.
“Yes, dad. What’s wrong?”
“I’ll tell you what’s wrong. You. You always were stupid, girl. Your sister was the smart one.”
“What are you talking about, dad?”
“You, consorting with these people. Don’t you think I know what you’ve done?”
Emma’s eyes widened. Her father’s tone was harsh and the steely glint in his eyes told her he was serious. How had he guessed what she’d done? As far as she knew, he didn’t even remember the doctor’s diagnosis. Again, she felt a chill go down her spine. After a brief pause, she pulled herself together. If her father knew about what she’d done, then he must know about his own condition.
“Was I supposed to let you die?”
The look of contempt hurt, just as much as the words that followed.
“Why not? If it was my time.”
For a moment longer, he held her gaze, then the look in his eyes softened and she could see his hand reaching for hers. She took it and held on to it.
“Don’t be a soft touch, Emma. I’ve had a full life. Let me go.”
He squeezed her hand and she left the sentence unfinished, waiting for his next words. Now his voice held a note of warmth – and pity.
“When I’m gone, get the – get out of here. Promise me that, Emma. I don’t want no daughter of mine doing the Devil’s work. That’s not how I raised my girls.”
Again, a note of steel crept into his voice, but she could tell the strain was wearing on him.
“Ok. I’ll try, but these people, as you put it – they’re not going to let me go that easily.”
Without a conscious thought, she’d lowered her voice and now she was virtually whispering, her mouth inches from her father’s ear.
Her father nodded, and the grip on her hand loosened, as he lay back, apparently satisfied. At least that was a vote of confidence – his belief in her ability to find a way of disentangling herself from the clutches of the Millennium group.
She rubbed her eyes. What time was it? Glancing at her watch, she was stunned to realize it was barely seven pm. How could she be so tired already? It was time to go and she got up, stretching and breathing deeply. She hated to leave her father, but she knew she couldn’t spend the night, sitting at his bedside. Maybe she would think of something, some way of making her escape, on her way back to the office.
Outside, sitting in the car, trying to stay alert, she changed her mind about going back to the office. She’d go home, get something to eat and think things through. For once, she could allow herself an early night. Usually, she’d be busy until close to midnight, going through files, comparing reports, writing her own reports and gathering data from various operations.
She hadn’t realized until now that she’d lost all interest in her work. A couple of months ago, she’d still been passionate about her work. Now, the thought of her desk, with its piles of files and sheets of papers made a knot form in her lower back. Her neck felt sore too, she noticed and she tried to loosen it up a bit. Thoughtfully rubbing at her neck, she recalled her father’s words.
She didn’t want to even think about losing him. He was all the family she had. Still, if he did – when he wasn’t around anymore, her reason for going to work for the group would be gone. They must have taken that into account. The question was – what would they do about it? She knew them too well not to know that they would have made contingency plans.
If she was going to get away, she’d need to move fast. The problem was, they might have anticipated that. She was being watched, it was no use deluding herself about that. They’d be keeping an eye on her day and night, especially when her reason for staying would no longer exist.
It was useless. She wouldn’t be able to think of anything tonight. Tonight, she’d get some rest. Maybe tomorrow or – in any case soon – she’d figure something out.
In the cab, on her way back from the airport, her thoughts turned to her father. For the past couple of weeks, his health had declined further. Though the staff at the nursing home were evasive, she thought she could read between the lines. Whatever treatment the Millennium group had been able to get him, his body was failing and there didn’t seem to be anything anyone could do about it. Had he given up or was it simply as he’d told her, that night six weeks ago? That his time had come.
Emma felt a stab of pain at the thought of finding herself all alone. For a few minutes, she struggled with herself, but eventually, she was able to force herself to face the possibility that her father only had a matter of weeks, or even days. Being sentimental wouldn’t help.
She’d intended to go home and drop off her suitcase before seeing her father. Now a sense of urgency made her change her mind. Giving the driver the new address, she pulled herself up. Outside, the streetlights flickered by, but her mind wasn’t focused on them. The plan she’d come up with wasn’t much of a plan and still, she had no idea if it would work.
Standing in the doorway, anxiously studying the limp form stretched out on the bed, Emma tried to discern any movement or the slightest noise. It took her a long time, holding her breath, to finally pick up on the faint sounds of her father breathing.
A slight movement from behind her made her whirl around. She wasn’t sure what she’d been expecting, but the look on the middle-aged woman’s face at once made her feel relieved and sad. The woman in the white coat smiled and held out her hand.
“Ms Hollis. I’m Doctor Wyler.”
She remembered the woman as one of the team of doctors handling her father’s treatment.
“Can we talk?”
The somber look on her face told Emma what the talk would be about, but she forced herself to smile politely and nod.
The doctor led her to a spacious office, facing the park.
Emma sank down onto the chair the doctor had indicated.
The doctor studied her face in silence for a moment before clearing her throat.
“As you know, your father’s condition has deteriorated rapidly in the past couple of weeks. I’m afraid we’ve reached a point where it’s only a matter of time.”
“I – understand. How long -”
Emma angrily broke off. Her voice, which normally carried under any circumstances, had been about to break. She coughed and took a deep breath.
The other woman forestalled her.
“Not long. A few days maybe.”
Emma blinked and looked away. She’d been prepared for this. It didn’t come as a surprise, but it still hurt. An icy hand seemed to be gripping her heart. This was all too familiar. Twice already, she’d been in this situation, though the first time, she’d been too young to really be aware of what was ahead of her. This time, she knew only too well what was to come.
“I see. You’ll call me when -”
“Of course. If there’s anything I can -”
“Yes. It’s fine. I’ll – can I see my father now?”
“You can go in. Sit with him for a while. He won’t be conscious.”
She’d known that. Somehow, the way he’d been lying there, had told her everything. Besides, ever since their conversation that night, she’d known what to expect.
Stiffly, she got up and after a final polite nod, she began to walk back to her father’s room, slowly and reluctantly. She was dragging her feet, but long before she was ready, she was there.
For a while, she remained standing in the doorway, then with an effort, she made herself go inside. She sat in the chair beside her father’s bed for as long as she could take it. With a hand pressed to her mouth, she ran outside and stood in the chilly dusk, unable to stop the sobs that were shaking her. She had no idea how long she remained standing outside. Eventually, she became aware of being stiff, and cold. She’d forgotten her suitcase and had to go back for it.
At home, she didn’t bother going to bed or changing clothes. She left her suitcase unpacked, in the hallway. After a while, she must have dozed off. The sound of the phone ringing startled her and she sprang up, grabbing the phone in one hand while staring at her other wrist to check the time. It was six minutes to midnight.
She knew what it was about, of course, but she didn’t have the strength to do more than listen, then hang up the phone, with only the barest of acknowledgements of what the person on the other end of the line was saying.
Standing with the receiver still in her hand, she paused, as if frozen. Frozen was an accurate word. She felt cold, chilled to the bone. It was a long time since she’d felt this numb. Taking a deep breath, she forced her mind back to the matter at hand. On an impulse, she grabbed a few garments out of her drawers, then after some thought, added a few more things. She stuffed it all into the already full suitcase but was able to get the lid shut, with some effort.
Struck by a new thought, she opened the suitcase again, pulled everything out, then stuffed it into a sports bag. This, while less elegant, was more spacious and she was able to cram a few more things into it, before zipping it closed. She tossed her jacket onto the armchair she’d just left and stepped out of her pants. At the bottom of her closet, she found a pair of jeans, an old t-shirt, a sweater and an anorak. She put these on, then grabbed her coat and put it on as well. Kicking her shoes off, she hurriedly laced on her newest sneakers, which she used for jogging.
All this had taken barely ten minutes. Her toiletries were already in her bag. Time to go. She threw the sports bag into the trunk of her car and drove off.
A nurse showed her into her father’s room and left her there, with a promise of coffee or anything else she might need. Emma shook her head. She didn’t need anything.
Her father was still unconscious. At one point another doctor looked in. It was a young man Emma instinctively disliked. She had a feeling he was one of the Millennium group’s informants.
“Is there anything I can do for you, ms Hollis?”
“Will my father regain consciousness before the – end?”
“I see. Thank you.”
She turned away from him, dismissively. When she looked again, he’d left. She had no idea how long she remained sitting at her father’s bedside, but a sudden noise from him startled her out of her reverie.
His voice was barely more than a whisper. She leaned closer to catch his words.
“Remember. Your. Promise.”
“Yes, dad. It’s ok.”
She was wondering if she ought to call the nurse, but her father made another attempt to speak and she leaned closer still. The words were unintelligible and eventually, he fell silent. Hot tears burned her eyes and her vision blurred. She tried ineffectually to wipe away her tears and when she could see again, her father had stopped breathing.
A piercing sound from the machine her father was hooked up to, called the nurse, and suddenly, the room was filled with activity. Emma got up and moved towards the door, leaving the staff to do what little could be done.
By now, she was thinking clearly again. She knew she’d be paying the price later on, but for now, she found she was able to detach herself from the situation at hand. This was her opportunity. Someone would have called the Millennium group. For all she knew, someone might be on his way to keep a closer eye on her, but if she was lucky, no one would expect her to make her move so soon.
Her car was parked around the back. At this time of night, the parking lot was more or less empty and most of it was covered in darkness. The lights from the building didn’t reach that far into the night and Emma had chosen her spot with care. It would only take her a minute or less to get her sports bag. If she left her coat, it might give her a less conspicuous appearance.
When someone offered her a cup of coffee, she accepted.
“I’ll just -”
She indicated the washroom. The nurse smiled understandingly and left, presumably to get that cup of coffee. Emma waited until she was alone, then made for the exit. There were security guards on duty, but at this time of night, they’d be in their room, keeping an eye on the monitors, but hopefully, not as alertly as in the daytime.
Straining her ears for sounds of pursuit, Emma silently made her way to her car. She dumped her coat in the trunk, then grabbed the sports bag. The street was only a few yards away. Once there, she began walking slowly and resolutely. She was heading for the bus stop a block or so away. At this time of night, there wouldn’t be any buses leaving, but it was the best she could do at the moment.There had been no way of getting another car without attracting the group’s attention.
She pulled a sports cap out of her pocket and put it on. Normally, it wasn’t the sort of image she liked to project, but right now, she was grateful for every little thing she could do to alter her appearance. Later on, there might be more she could do.
It looked as if she might have moved too fast for them. So far, there hadn’t been any sign of pursuit. She’d taken the first bus in the morning, changed at the central station, then withdrawn all the money she had in her account. From now on, they’d be aware of what she was doing, if they hadn’t picked up on it already.
The way she saw it, she had two choices. Either she got on a Greyhound bus and left the state, or she bought a cheap second hand car and took the interstate out of here. Either way, she’d need to think of somewhere to go. Until now, she hadn’t had time to consider that stage in her plans. Right now, what she was leaving was more important than where she was going.
If she paid for her ticket in cash, the bus seemed the best alternative. She could always get a car later on. Picking a destination at random, only keeping locations of the Millennium group’s offices in mind, she bought a ticket and got on the bus. No one seemed to be paying attention to her.
As she waited for the bus to leave, she had a prickling sensation that someone was watching her or at least looking for her. The feeling got stronger, and she was about to get off the bus, when the driver sat down in his seat, glanced around the interior of the bus, without curiosity, then turned the key in the ignition.
The engine began to rev up and the bus came to life underneath them. It was a long time before Emma began to relax, but eventually, she concluded that at least no one was on the bus with her. Halfway to her destination, she began to get nervous again, and on an impulse she got off. At the smaller bus station, fewer people were about, and she glanced around, trying to spot any unusual interest in her.
No one seemed to be paying attention to the few passengers who had got off. Even so, filled with foreboding, Emma discreetly studied the other passengers, but they hurried off, seemingly indifferent to her. While she thought out her next step, Emma went to the ladies’ room, then sat down in the cafeteria. She ordered a coffee and a sandwich, which she didn’t touch. The coffee helped her clear her head and banish the drowsiness which kept intruding on her.
It was time she made up a plan. Ever since she’d made her decision to join the Millennium group, her former partner, Frank Black, had been on her mind. There was no reason to believe she’d be in his thoughts, but for some reason, she couldn’t stop thinking about him. The Millennium group was looking for him, so it would be wiser to stay away, but despite that, she couldn’t help wanting to see him again. She knew she wasn’t attracted to him, and they hadn’t been close friends, but – there was something about him which made her feel as if he knew more about what was going on than the group. He, if anyone, could make sense of the frightening events which were being reported from around the country.
Besides, now that she was on her own, Frank Black was the only person she felt even remotely connected to. On the other hand, she knew that the group might have anticipated her move and be waiting for her, if she managed to find Frank Black’s hiding place. At least she had some idea where he might be. One of her assignments had been to keep track of Frank Black. Despite his skills at keeping out of sight, he’d left minute traces of his passage and the group had followed his every move.
Before her trip to the East Coast, she’d had indications he was hiding out in the countryside. She’d kept that knowledge to herself and carefully destroyed all traces of her search. As long as she made sure she wasn’t followed, she could make her way there and hopefully find Frank.
She had another reason for wanting to see her former partner, one that she wasn’t willing to admit to, even to herself. Frank Black’s approval meant a lot to her. In a way, he reminded her of her father, only much gentler and accepting. If she could be forgiven for her treachery, she’d accept her new situation, without complaining. Besides, she had to warn him that the group was closing in on him.
At the moment, she refused to consider how her reception would be. She was all too aware of Frank Black’s reaction to her defection. But even if he didn’t welcome her, she’d still warn him and – share some information with him, something she was sure he’d want to know. This knowledge, more than anything else made her aware of the group’s true nature.
Four days later, Emma was bone weary, and desperately longed for a chance to rest. It had been nearly eighteen hours since she last had a shower, changed her clothes and sat down to a proper meal. Not that she would have been able to unwind enough to appreciate it.
She glanced at her watch and decided she’d have time to visit the washroom before her bus was due to leave. It was only about six in the morning, and the line of washbasins stood empty. She’d met the cleaning lady on the way out, and the room smelled more or less fresh.
After using the facilities, she went to wash her hands. This early in the morning, she still felt drowsy so she splashed a little water on her face, hoping it would help revive her. She’d learned soon enough not to overdo the coffee. There were no restrooms on the buses, and this far into the countryside, the stops were few.
She looked up and instantly tensed up. Peter Watts was standing behind her, his hand reaching for her. Emma whirled around, and dodged his hand, trying to make for the exit.
“Wait. I’m not going hurt you. Please hear me out. As you know – I’ve left the Millennium group. You have nothing to fear from me.”
She swallowed hard. Nothing to fear? That remained to be seen. At least he didn’t hold any weapon in his hand. She glanced towards the exit, checking if he’d left a guard at the door. Nothing. Of course, that didn’t prove anything.
Noting her reaction, Peter held out his hands, as if to show her they were empty. To further emphasize his harmlessness, he backed off to stand with his back against the wall on her left. Despite herself, she began to breathe normally. She didn’t trust him, but at least he wasn’t going to knock her out and drag her back to the group. At least not right away.
“Ok. I’m listening.”
“It’s important that I get in touch with Frank Black.”
“Do you know where he is?”
If Peter thought she was going to volunteer any information, he was mistaken. Seeing that she wasn’t going to reply, he went on.
“You’ve been working for the group until very recently, am I right? That means you’ve been privy to more information than I have.”
She found that hard to believe.
“What makes you think I know where Frank Black is?”
“You’re on your way to join him now, aren’t you?”
“Why should I?”
This time, Peter was the one not to reply. The look in his eyes seemed to say, don’t take me for a fool.
She wasn’t going to underestimate him. Even without the group’s backing, which he might or might not lack at the moment, he was a very dangerous man. She didn’t trust him and suddenly she realized that she’d never liked him. There had always been a subtle hint of menace in everything he said or did.
“Emma – I know what I’m asking, but we both care about Frank, and we both know what their plans for him are. For him and little Jordan. If we work together, we might be able to save him.”
“I don’t know anything about their plans for him or the little girl. What do they want with him?”
“We don’t have much time. If you come with me, I’ll tell you anything you want to know.”
He thought she was stupid. A stupid, gullible young woman. Her anger made her forget her fear and the look on her face must have conveyed something of her feelings to him. He changed position against the wall, making Emma tense up once again, her eyes fixed on his hands. Unable to check her reaction, she glanced over her shoulder to make sure no one was going to attack her from behind.
“Emma, I’ve come alone. I’m not here attack you or try to make you go back. All I want is some information. If you don’t want to give it to me, then I’ll have to keep looking on my own. And in case you’re wondering, I’m not going to have you followed. I don’t have the resources for that, for one. We both want the same thing. Why not work together?”
“We want the same thing? Ok, tell me what it is I want.”
“We don’t have time for this. You’re going to warn Frank about the group. Since you’re here, I’m assuming your father passed away. I’m sorry. You might not believe me, but I’m sorry we had to use those methods to – recruit you. I told them it wasn’t a good idea.”
Suddenly Emma recalled her bus. She glanced at her watch. Too late now. It would be leaving in less than a minute. But it was just as well. If Peter Watts saw her get on it, he’d know where to look for her. She might be able to cash in her ticket and get another one. But first she needed to lose Peter.
“If that’s all you have to say, I’m going to have to -”
“You’ve missed your bus. I’m sorry. If you’d trust me, I could at least pay for your ticket, but I’m not going to insist. Fine. You don’t trust me. I suppose I shouldn’t have taken it for granted. If I had more time, I might be able to convince you, by sharing information, but I don’t think I will. For your safety. The less you know, the better. You might not know this, but all they want from you is to have you work for them. If they catch you, that’s all they’ll do to you. As for me -”
He shrugged. Emma took that to imply that he knew too much and that the group weren’t going to allow him to go free, not since he’d changed his allegiance. If that was true. She wouldn’t put anything past them. Besides, by now, she was paranoid enough to believe in any number of rival groups. Even if he’d really left the Millennium group, there could be others. Any one of which he might be working for.
“To show you my good faith, I’m going to let you decide who leaves first. You or me. I’ll give you a head start.”
She didn’t reply. He was playing games with her and she wouldn’t be taken in that easily. In any case, she thought she knew her job well enough to lose a tail. Without waiting for his reaction, she turned and walked out of the washroom, forcing herself not to run. Outside, she sat down in the cafeteria and got that cup of coffee anyway. Now that she wasn’t going on the bus, she might as well make good use of her time.
After cashing in her ticket, she spent several hours making sure no one was following her. It occurred to her that Peter might have had her bugged somehow. She had no equipment to scan for that, and she wasn’t in a position to leave everything behind, so she compromised by undressing and shaking each garment, safely locked inside the stall in the same washroom she’d just left. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. She opened her sports bag and perused each garment and other object, including the bag itself. Nothing.
Finally, she decided she didn’t have any more time to waste. She considered using her meager savings to buy a used car, but decided against it. If she needed to ditch it later on, she’d lose money on the deal. There was no other bus station in the small town she’d never even heard of before and she knew that unless she was going to hitchhike, a bus would be her only way of getting out of town. She wasn’t quite desperate enough to risk catching a ride in a stranger’s car.
The next bus took her even further out into the countryside. Outside the windows all she could see were fields. This time of year, nothing was growing on them and everything was dark. Grey, brown, beige – even black. In the distance, the greyish blue of the mountains provided the only change in the monochrome scenery. The sky was grey too.
She couldn’t allow herself to relax even for a moment. As far as she could tell, she wasn’t being followed, but by now she was too shaken to trust her own ability to spot someone shadowing her. This was exactly what she couldn’t allow herself to do. Get so hysterical and paranoid she’d trip herself in her panic. Forcing herself to take a few deep slow breaths, she finally managed to master her fear.
At her next stop, she knew she was getting close. If she was right in her guess where Frank Black was hiding out. She’d heard about the missing FBI tech and she’d made the assumption Doug Scaife was travelling with Frank. That had given her an idea. Just her luck, though. A white guy, but what difference did it make? These days, surely no one, not even a hick, would find the idea of an African American woman and a Caucasian guy together offensive or unbelievable.
Swallowing her pride, she decided to use that as her cover story. She was looking for her boyfriend, who had gone away with his – uncle? Somehow, she didn’t think anyone would see her and Frank as a credible couple and he wasn’t old enough to be her – stepfather? Uncle by marriage? Possibly, but she decided to stick to this guy Doug. She didn’t know him, but she’d seen him a couple of times and though he was far from her type, at least he was the right age, roughly.
When she got off the bus, she realized that she stood out, in more ways than one. Naturally, hers was the only black face, at least as far as she could see. Besides, she was the only one to get off the bus. More than that, of the three or four people she could see, all were older men. Frank’s age or older. Most of them older. The one who was Frank’s age seemed to be a store owner. At least he was closing up the general store just about then. Typical. She was stuck in the boondocks, in a town like this, at closing time. Great. If she was out of luck, there wouldn’t even be a motel.
The store owner was watching her with some interest. Surely, he couldn’t be working for the group? She sternly told herself not to be paranoid. The guy began walking towards her.
“Miss? I couldn’t help noticing that you’re a stranger in town. Can I help you?”
He sounded sincere, and – she could always tell – not a bit racist, which was a relief.
“Is there a motel here?”
“Well, there’s a place off the highway, a couple of miles up that road, but it would be difficult for you to get there, this time of the evening. Wendell has a few room above the bar. It’s not really a place for lady, but – that’s about all there is in this town, I’m afraid. Unless -”
He seemed to be thinking something over, and Emma tensed up, hoping he wasn’t going to proposition her. His next words made her feel ashamed of herself.
“Miss Pringle has a room she sometimes lets to temporary visitors and newcomers. Before they can find a place of their own. I’m sure she’d like to help you. Her house is just down the road – over there. The white house.”
Emma glanced in the direction he was indicating. The buildings on that side of the street weren’t all businesses. Some of the houses seemed to be private homes. The white one looked well kept. Besides, even Wendell’s rooms above the bar, not fit for a lady, would suit her. She was hoping to find Frank and Doug, then get out of the town center as fast as she could.
“Thank you. You’ve been very helpful. I was just wondering – You see, I’m looking for my boyfriend. He – we had a bit of an argument and he left with his uncle and – well, he hasn’t been in touch for weeks. I’m getting worried. He was supposed to go up here, and I was hoping -”
She was hoping her story didn’t sound too far-fetched, but if the guy thought so, he didn’t give any indication of it.
“I don’t know, miss. There haven’t been any African Americans coming through here for – oh, at least a year, I think -”
“My boyfriend isn’t African American. He’s white. His mother didn’t approve and -”
She broke off, self-consciously. Lying just didn’t sit right with her. She felt ashamed of herself all over again. As far as she could tell, this guy was a decent person. She hated making up ridiculous stories about her personal life. But it seemed to be working. The guy seemed to accept her story.
“Oh. I’m sorry. Of course I shouldn’t have assumed – yes, there was a party of people. An older man, three younger men, a woman of about your age and two children. A little girl and a boy, some years younger. Sound familiar?”
“Yes. I just didn’t know he was bringing the entire family.”
She hurriedly described Doug Scaife the way she remembered him, then just in case, the ‘uncle’ – Frank. The guy must think she was terrible at descriptions, but at least there wasn’t a look of disbelief on his face. In fact, to Emma’s embarrassment, he looked sympathetic.
“Yes, that sounds like one of the young men and the older man. The young woman seemed to be in poor health.”
Emma forced herself to think of something. Nodding as if she knew exactly what she was talking about, she blurted out the first thing that came into her mind.
“His cousin. She’s been sick. We were hoping she’d be better by now, but apparently these things take time.”
What things, she was hoping the guy wouldn’t ask. Who on earth could that sickly young woman be? And the other young men? Not to mention the little boy. The last time she’d seen Frank, he certainly hadn’t had an entourage. Just Jordan.
“Where can I find them? I have to talk to him and -”
“Of course. They rented the Hiram place up the Sheldon road. I suppose you could get Larry to take you out there tonight -”
“He drives the only cab in town. Yes. On Friday and Saturday night, he’ll be at the bar, but tonight, he’ll definitely be driving. Why don’t you come inside the store and call him from there? Or I could call him for you.”
“That would be very kind of you. I think I’ll just go to the bar. Do they serve sandwiches and that kind of thing?”
The guy looked doubtful.
“I suppose so. This early, there won’t be many customers around, so I’m sure it will be ok. Ask Wendell. If he doesn’t have anything, he’ll have Sally make something for you. Unless you’d like to come into the store. I have some -”
The guy seemed to be calculating what he had to sell which might suit her, but Emma didn’t want to stay a minute longer than necessary, even though the guy seemed nice enough. If Frank was only a mile or so outside of town, she wanted to go and see him as soon as possible.
“I’ll find out. How long do you think the cab will be?”
“Five minutes, unless he has a fare. I’ll let you know.”
“Thanks. You’ve been very kind.”
Larry showed up less than ten minutes later. She saw him through the window, so all she had to do was pick up her bag and go outside again. Apparently, the helpful guy from the store was still busy closing up, so she didn’t see him again. She was hoping he wasn’t busy reporting her to the group. If so, she and Frank and his entire entourage were in trouble, but by now, it would be too late to do anything about it. Her instincts told her the guy was just what he seemed to be. The group hadn’t reached this town yet.
Larry, too, seemed helpful enough. At least he picked up her luggage and put it in the back of the car. On the drive up to the farmhouse he didn’t say much, but he got out of the car to help her with her luggage again, then promised to wait for five minutes or so, while she made sure she was in the right place. She tipped him generously so he’d find the waiting worthwhile.
Now that she was here, she was hoping that she’d found the right people, but also, that Frank would be willing to receive her. Having come so far, the thought of being turned back didn’t seem appealing. Taking a deep breath, she walked up the driveway and unable to think of anything else to do, she knocked on the door. She was wondering if Frank or Jordan – she’d guessed that the little girl shared her father’s visions – had sensed her coming. If so, would they still be around?
No one answered the door for so long, she was beginning to think that was exactly what had happened, but eventually, a young man in a baseball cap opened it and peered outside. He had the looks of a homeless guy or even a prostitute. Emma was beginning to think she’d made a mistake.
“I – I’m looking for a man named Frank Bl-”
She broke off uncertainly, wondering if Frank even used his real name out here. If she’d done anything to blow his cover, she’d never forgive herself. But the young man didn’t seem to find her request all that odd.
“Oh. Yeah. Hold on a sec. I’ll ask.”
He pulled the door to, but didn’t shut it again. She could hear him calling Frank’s name. The low murmurs in reply didn’t tell her anything, and she couldn’t hear what the other person was saying. She could, however hear the young man’s reply.
“I don’t know. Some black chick. She was asking for you. Come see for yourself. Or is she one of -”
By now, the other person had approached the door and his next words were loud enough for her to hear them. The voice was familiar. Filled with relief, she turned towards the cab and smiling and waving, tried to convey to him that he could get going. Clearly, she was successful, because the driver stuck his hand out the window, gave her the thumbs up sign and drove off.
When she turned back towards the door, Frank Black was standing in the doorway.
She couldn’t read the expression on his face, but she was too relieved to worry about his reaction just yet.
“Frank – I -”
“You’d better come in.”
He stepped aside and let her walk by. Someone was coming down the stairs, but Emma couldn’t see who it was. The light was on his back and his face was shadowed.
“Who is it? Oh. It’s her.”
The tone didn’t imply any warm welcome.
“Doug, not now. I think – Emma’s just lost her father.”
Frank turned to face her again. This time, the look on his face was filled with sympathy.
She nodded, unable to reply.
“I’m sorry. You look tired. Come and sit down.”
“I can’t believe you have the nerve to show your face here, after what you’ve done.”
Frank sounded just as – serene and wise as he always did and Emma found herself wanting to tell him everything. At least she’d now found her dear boyfriend. A good thing he wasn’t really her boyfriend, or she’d really come all this way for nothing.
Frank ushered her into a living room, where the young man who had opened the door to her was sitting, watching some tv show. From there, they went into a large, pleasant-looking kitchen. Frank gestured for her to sit down. She noticed that Doug Scaife had followed. He didn’t sit down. Apparently he preferred standing there, staring at her disapprovingly.
“You’re right. My father passed away a couple of days ago. By then – I’d realized my mistake. But what was I to do? Let my father die?”
She sounded defiant and she was almost hoping Doug Scaife would begin to argue with her. If he did, she’d give him a piece of her mind. But either her explanation had satisfied him, or he respected Frank’s wishes. In any case, no one replied.
Maybe now was the time to lay the cards on the table.
“You probably know this already, but the group is looking for you, Frank.”
“Yes. I know that.”
“They’re very eager to find you. And – as far as I know, they haven’t found any leads yet.”
“Then how come you’re here?”
Doug again. Of course he had to get a word in.
“I found some indications you’d come out here, but I didn’t report it to them and I erased all traces of the data from the hard drive.”
“Did you know Peter Watts had left the group?”
“Yes, and in any case, it was inevitable, I think.”
She would have liked to ask Frank why that was inevitable, but she didn’t feel up to it, just then. Right now, all she wanted was to sleep for a week.
“He found me. This morning, he was in the washroom at the bus station. He wanted to know where you are. I didn’t tell him anything and I made sure he didn’t follow me here. In any case I missed my bus.”
“I see. Thank you, Emma. Would you like something to eat?”
Doug was watching her, and this time, she had trouble reading the look on his face. She was so tired.
“I said, would you like something to eat. Or would you prefer to get some rest?”
There was something else she had to tell Frank, but not while Doug was in the room. This was too personal.
“Yes. I’d like to get some rest. Is there a -”
As if reading her mind, Frank got up, and taking her bag, he walked ahead.
“There’s a room on the top floor. I’ll show you.”
“I can take her up -”
“It’s no trouble. Would you keep an eye on the children? It’s getting close to their bedtime.”
“Oh, Jamie should have been in bed by now. Excuse me.”
Emma remembered wondering about the little boy.
“Oh. I was wondering -”
The stairs winding upwards, were slightly uneven and at one point Emma almost hit her head. They’d picked a funny old house to stay in, but it seemed nice. Peaceful.
Frank took her to a room at the end of the passage. They passed several doors, presumably leading to other rooms, but they were all closed and she couldn’t hear anything.
He opened the door and let her walk in first.
“There’s supposed to be linen and so on in the cupboard over there.”
“Thanks. Frank – there’s something I think you need to know.”
“Ok. Why don’t we sit down? You look exhausted.”
“But first – Frank – can you forgive me?”
Her question seemed to puzzle him.
“For – selling out and -”
“Emma, I understand. If they’d offered to save Catherine – Believe me, I understand. It’s ok. Forget it. Doug – well, I’m sure he’ll calm down soon. He’s – let’s just say he was disappointed, because – he – expected more of you. When he’s considered the matter, I’m sure he’ll understand too.”
She felt light-headed with relief that Frank had forgiven her. Until now, she hadn’t realized quite how much that had meant to her. For a moment, she almost forgot what she had to tell Frank.
“You’re tired. We can continue this conversation later. Get some rest.”
“No. Wait. This is – you won’t believe what they did – do you remember a woman called Lara Means?”
“Lara? Yes, she’s -”
“They – inseminated her. She’s pregnant.”
For a second, Emma thought Frank had had a vision about Lara Means, then it dawned on her that he had to mean something else.
“Yes. In fact, she’s here.”
“That was news to me. I’m glad. Poor woman. From what I hear, she was completely delusional and -”
“She’s doing much better now.”
“Oh. That’s wonderful. But Frank, do you know whose sperm they used?”
“No. She didn’t have any idea how it happened or anything about it.”
“I see. Frank – I don’t know how to say this, so I’ll just say it – somehow they must have managed to obtain sperm from you. The baby is yours.”
For once, something took Frank completely by surprise. It looked as if the news made him stagger, and for a moment, Emma was worried that he was going to pass out. Hurriedly, she gestured for him to sit down. He did so, without a word. His face was pale and the look in his eyes haunted.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. They want – they are hoping to breed a special child – one with – certain gifts. Someone like Jordan. Except this child will have the sight from both parents.”
“I can’t believe they’d do something like that. And I don’t know how it’s even possible – oh, well, I don’t suppose it matters. We just have to make sure Lara and the baby are safe.”
“Of course. I’ll help as much as I can. It’s just that – I wasn’t able to bring my gun or anything – but I’ll do my best.”
“Thank you. Emma – I’m glad you’re here. I’ve been concerned about you.”
“That’s more than I deserve. Doug Scaife was right. I’m a traitor.”
“No. They found a way of entrapping you. It’s typical of how they work. They look for your weak spots and they get to work on you that way. There was nothing you could have done about it. Like I said, forget it. Your coming here, and the information you brought will make a difference.”
“It’s very generous of you to say so. Are you sure it’s ok that I stay here?”
“We can stay for a while longer at least. And you’re very welcome here. Doug will – come round.”
“Oh, that reminds me. Who are the other two young men? The guy from the general store in the town, told me there were three young men travelling with you.”
“One of them is Brian Roedeker. He’s a close friend of Lara’s.”
“Oh, the computer guy. I didn’t know they were friends.”
“No, I don’t suppose it was widely known.”
“What about the other guy?”
There was a pause and Emma got the impression Frank was embarrassed about something. Who was that young man?
“It’s a long story. We – had to bring him for his own safety. His name is Nick.”
That didn’t explain very much, but Emma was too tired to be very interested. Since she was staying on, she assumed she’d find out more about the mysterious Nick sooner or later.
For the first time since she’d gone to work for the Millennium group, she felt she could sleep calmly and peacefully. Something told her Frank would have advance warning if their enemies were closing in. For a while at least, she could afford to let down her guard a little.
Two minutes after Frank had closed the door behind him, Emma was fast asleep. When she woke up, she didn’t remember any dreams.
At the Millennium group’s headquarters, two men were talking. One of them, a man in his late sixties, was staring sternly at the other man, who was about thirty.
“I thought I told you never to let Emma Hollis out of your sight.”
“I know, sir. She was just going into the ladies’ room. The old man had just died and she was in shock and -”
“Apparently, she wasn’t in such a bad way, she couldn’t give you the slip. Do I need to remind you of the penalty for failure, Jennings?”
The young man’s face lost all color.
“No, sir. We’ll find her.”
“Her and Frank Black, and especially Lara Means. Is that clear? Time is running out.
The young man couldn’t quite stop himself from breaking into a run on his way out of the great man’s office. He knew far too well what he could expect from him, if he let the group down. The fugitives would be found and in time for the Millennium.