Tuesday, November 30, 2010

nano 2010 - Day 20

(written 11/21/2010 - total words 51,735)

For the next hour the three of them sat on the couch watching the local news team deal with the history, crimes, chase, and death of Cesar Bigby. The details were slow to be released by the sheriff’s office, so most of the time, the news team was just rehashing what was already well known. Cal was finding it numbing to see the same pictures and video clips over and over. He did note that none of the footage shown at the scene had a black SUV in it, and there was no reference to the FBI agents, but even his game of searching the background for black SUVs or agents grew old.

Angel sat next to Cal, holding his hand. Cal was trying to gauge when to introduce her to his mom. A local commercial for a car company came on, blaring.

Cal grabbed the remote and muted the television.

“So mom,” he said, sitting sitting forward. “This is Angel.”

Angel scooted to the edge of the couch and smiled.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Cannon,” Angel said. “This probably isn’t the best time.”

“Don’t worry about it, dear,” Cal’s mom said, then looked back to the television.

“I never thought we’d see this day,” she said.

“It’s back on,” she said to Cal. “Turn the volume back on.”

Cal turned in back on and they were back in the looping news.

“Is the pizza in the kitchen?” Cal asked.

“Oh,” his mom said. “Yes, I put it in the oven.”

She waved her hand in the direction of the kitchen. Cal looked at Angel and tilted his head towards the kitchen. She nodded. They got up and he led her to the kitchen.

* * *

Five minutes later, they had warm left-over pizza straight out of the microwave. They sat next to each other at the table in the kitchen.

“Are you okay?” Angel asked Cal.

“Yeah,” Cal said, realizing he’d been staring at the pizza box over on the kitchen counter. “I’m just confused.”

“Your mom seems pretty shaken up,” she said, looking back towards the den.

“We went through a lot when my dad was killed,” Cal said. “It seemed like they were going to catch Bigby, but he just disappeared. It was tough to feel very good about that. A few months later, they seemed to just stop looking for him.”

“You’re okay with it, though?” she asked.

“There’s just too much going on right now,” Cal said. “Bigby said he was sorry he killed my dad. He seemed to really regret it. Like it was some big mistake.”

Cal took a bite of pizza, thinking as he chewed.

“Him getting caught or killed isn’t the end of it for me,” he said. “Not like it is for her. There’s something more to it. Something I need to find for my dad.”

“Do you want to open the envelope?” she asked. “Maybe there’s something in it.”

Cal went over to his jacket and pulled the envelope out of a pocket. He walked back and sat down, putting the envelope on the table. There was printed writing on the back that said Hallmark.

The front door slammed. Cal grabbed the envelope and put it on his seat, under his thigh.

Rob came into the kitchen, destroying their peace.

“Alright,” he said. “Pizza.”

He pulled out a slice and took a bite, then turned and saw Cal and Angel. He raised his eyebrows in question at Cal and pointed to Angel with his pizza. Cal and Angel looked at him.

“Yeah,” Cal said with a sigh. “So Angel, this is my brother Rob. Rob, this is my friend, Angel.”

Rob walked over to Angel, wiping his hand on his pant leg and offering it to her. They shook hands.

“Hi, I’m Rob,” Angel said, “Cal’s brother.”

“So I’ve heard,” Angel said with a pleasant smile. “Nice to meet you, Rob.” Rob looked over and nodded to Cal.

“Rob,” Cal said. “She’s right here. She can see you, too.”

Rob laughed and stood between their chairs.

“So what are you kids up to?” he asked.

“Did you hear the news?” Cal asked.

“Nope, what’s going on?” Rob replied.

“They killed Cesar Bigby,” Cal said. Rob’s smile vanished. “Mom’s watching the news in the den.”

Rob nodded and went to the den. That was one way to get him to go away. They watched him leave.

“He seems nice,” Angel said.

“I don’t know,” Cal said, pulling the envelope out from under his leg. “He’s been nice the last few days. That’s not normal. I don’t know what to think, but I don’t trust it.”

He looked down at the envelope and tore it open.

There was a greeting card. It was a watercolor beach sunset scene. Two seagulls flew in the sky right below the words “With Sympathy” in large, decorative script.

He opened the card. A wad of wet paper plopped out of it. There was writing inside, though it was fuzzed out due to the waterlogged card stock.

“What’s it say?” Angel asked, apparently tired of waiting to find out.

“I’m trying to read it,” Cal said. “The writing is all blurred together.” And Bigby’s handwriting was small and hard to read to begin with.

He thought he had the gist of what was on the card, so he started to read it aloud.

“Sorry, kid,” he read. “Some of this is going to be hard to understand.”

“First,” Cal continued. “Your dad. You can’t trust anybody in this game. I learned that the hard way. I’m not making excuses, I pulled the trigger under my own free will. I was happy to do it at the time, thinking I was finally doing something for good. It wasn’t until later that I found out I’d been tricked. Your dad didn’t need to die. In fact if he’d stuck around, a lot of this probably wouldn’t be happening. Though, honestly, if I didn’t kill him somebody else would’ve. He was a good man, and seemed to know what was going on, but I don’t think he ever thought they’d come after him in that way. He had too much faith in people. In the system.”

Cal took a breath and looked at Angel. She reached over and put a hand on his arm.

“So watch out for yourself. Don’t think that anybody’s on your side. Everybody’s out for themselves. Try not to think about things as good an evil as you dad did. There’s no black and white. There’s just the ones that you’re with now, and the ones you’re against now. Tomorrow they might not be the same.”

“The portal has to be closed, though. That’s one thing that won’t change. It’s a danger to the area, and maybe to more than just the area. If left open, it will continue to attract more and more dangerous things to the area until the thing behind has enough strength to come through. It’s in the area somewhere, but we never found it. It should be around a lot of water, not that that narrows things down much around here. These specific things seem to take their power from water. That means they should be vulnerable to earth. Metal. Never really tested that out. You need to find the portal and close it. More on that later.”

Cal paused again, flipping the card over for the text that continued on the back.

“The lake,” Angel said.

Cal nodded, then continued.

“The things you’re dealing with now, and make no mistake, they are things, not humans, have a spell over the area. They call it a veil. People see what they want, with slight tweaks as the things see fit. People’s minds won’t accept things that are too much of a stretch, but with people who are criminals, like me, and teenagers, like you, it’s easy to make up stories that play logically with people’s fears. Look for stories that are inconsistent from one person to the other. Stories that change over time. That’ll show you where they’re focused. Where to strike. The things are dangerous, but they’re most powerful with people’s fear. They rely on their mental powers to confuse and frighten people into submission. This means most of the people in the area will be working against you.”

Cal squinted at the card. The writing was getting small, cramped at the bottom of the card.

“Some people have a natural ability to see through the veils. Your dad did. We never found out why. Keep the raven’s totem on you. It will allow you to resist their attempts to manipulate your mind. Somewhat. Nothing will work perfectly. Just remember that it’s all in your head, and be ready to be really confused, and remember there are no coincidences.”

Cal flipped the card over.

“That’s it,” he said.

“What about that?” Angel said, pointing to lump of wet paper on the table.

Cal passed the card to Angel and picked up the paper. It looked to be five or six pages folded in half, but they were stuck together. The writing he could see was completely washed out into vague blurs that mixed with the pages behind it. He tried separating the pages, but they just fell apart into mush.

Cal swore and slammed the paper down on the table. Little pieces of gelatinous paper sprayed out onto his shirt.

“We could have used the information in there,” he said, picking bits of paper off of his shirt. “That’s just my luck.”

Angel handed the card back to Cal.

“Regardless,” she said. “It seems to mostly validate what Jason told us. We know where the portal is, and we have a plan to close it.”

“But this is from Bigby,” Cal said. “I mean, should we even trust what he’s saying? What if the portal is a good thing?”

“I hope you’re just playing devil’s advocate there,” she said. “There is no way that pond scum is a good thing.”

“But using his own logic, we can’t trust him,” he said. “He says there’s no definite good or evil, that sides are always changing.”

“He said the portal had to be shut down,” she said. “It sounded like that was a certain thing.”

“Yeah,” Cal said, rubbing his face with his hands.

He sat with his face in his hands, eyes closed, trying to figure out what to do.

“What’s the commotion in here?” he heard his mom ask.

Great. Like things weren’t complicated enough.

He pressed his palms into his eyes and took a breath, then sat up. His mom had taken the seat across from him at the table. He heard the thumping of Rob going upstairs to his room.

“Nothing, mom,” Cal said. “Just getting frustrated with things.”

“What’s that,” she said, pointing at the congealed mess of paper in front of him.

“Some notes that got wet,” he said. “Ruined. Very important notes.”

“Sorry to hear that,” she said.

“Yeah, me too.” He said.

They sat with that for a bit.

“Anything new on Bigby?” Cal asked.

“No,” she replied. “I had to turn it off. It was just the same crap over and over. Those old pictures of your dad.”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Cannon,” Angel said.

Cal’s mom looked at Angel and smiled.

“Thank you, Angel,” she said. “I’m sorry I haven’t been a very good host tonight.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Angel said. “I understand.”

“So,” Cal’s mom said.

He could feel her shifting gears. The conversation he was dreading was coming.

“Why do you go by ‘Angel’?” she asked.

Cal’s face grew warm, an indicator of the embarrassment he was feeling, though he was interested in the answer as well.

“Well,” Angel said. “I hate ‘Beth’. I’ve just never liked it. And my dad used to call me Angel when I was little. I found out in sixth grade that I could tell the teachers to call me anything I wanted, so I told them to call me Angel. It stuck.”

Cal’s mom nodded.

“And what’s your last name?” she asked. “Cal and I were having a hard time remembering what it was.”

Cal winced. Angel looked at Cal and smiled.

“Massenberg,” she said. “I’m not all that fond of it either.”

“What do your parents do, Angel?”

“My mom’s a lecturer at the community college. English. And my dad’s a Psychology professor at NYU.”

“Your parents are divorced?” Cal’s mom asked.

“Yeah,” Angel replied.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Angel said. “Things were a mess before they broke up. At least it’s somewhat civil now.”

“How’d you end up in Aberdeen?” Cal’s mom asked.

“My mom grew up here,” Angel answered. “When they split, she came back here.”

“Do you like it here?”

“Not really,” Angel replied. “I’ve spent a lot of time in New York with my dad and step-mom. I like it much better there.”

“Yes,” Cal’s mom said with a smile. “The city does have it’s charms, doesn’t it.”

“Yeah, I’m going to move back with my dad once we’re done with high school.”

“That will be fun,” Cal’s mom replied. “What are you going to study?”

“Mom,” Cal cut in. He couldn’t take it any more. “Enough with the twenty-thousand questions. This isn’t an interrogation.”

“Cal,” his mom said. “I’m just trying to get to know your girlfriend.”

Cal felt his face blushing at that. Angel didn’t meet his eye either.

“I’m sorry,” his mom said. “I know this is uncomfortable for you two, but it’s not easy for me either.”

Cal started to say something, but Angel put her hand on his.

“It’s okay,” she said.

Cal was annoyed at getting cut off, but he held his tongue.

“I know,” his mom said. “How about we play a game?”

Cal couldn’t stop a moan from escaping. Please don’t let her pull out Hungry, Hungry Hippos or something.

“I’m in,” Angel said.

“You like cards?” his mom asked.

Cal was apparently not needed in this conversation.

“Yeah,” Angel said.

“Cal,” his mom said. “There’s that shoebox of cards in the garage. Can you go get it.”

And with that he was dismissed, sent off on some mundane mission to the garage.

He slammed stuff around in the messy garage looking for the shoebox. When he did find it, the lid popped off and decks of cards went everywhere. He was imagining his mom breaking Angel down to tears, and returning to find Angel gone and his mom sitting there with a smug look.

He rounded up all of the decks except for the one that slid under the shelf. There’d been a giant wolf spider that used to live under there. He could keep that deck.

Cal returned to the kitchen to find his mom and Angel talking. Nobody was crying. Small miracles.

He plopped the box down on the table and slid the lid off.

“Ooh,” Angel said picking up a deck. “I haven’t played Spades since I was in New York.”

“Let’s play it then,” his mom said holding her hand out.

“Can you play with just three?” Angel asked.

She handed the deck over to Cal’s mom.

“Yeah,” his mom replied. “It’s easy. I’ll show you.”

She popped the deck open and started to shuffle.

“It’s every girl for herself, though,” his mom said with a mean looking smile.

Angel smiled back.

Cal was worried. He wasn’t really a card player, and, aside from a suit, had no idea what Spades was.

* * *

It was a painful night for Cal. He felt the need to keep playing as his mom and Angel were clearly enjoying themselves, but he was getting brutalized. He felt some relief that they were getting along, but it was at a cost to him. They shared the role of alternatively coaching him and beating him.

They finished a game, in which his mom came out on top with Angel close on her tail, and Cal so far behind that he could’ve been down in his room reading comics.

The deal went to his mom, but she stacked the cards up and put her hands on top of them.

“So Cal tells me you guys are in some trouble,” she said.

Angel looked at Cal, apparently as shocked by the change in direction that he was. He nodded, and she looked back at his mom and nodded.

“He says you guys aren’t playing around with drugs.”

Cal sighed and put his head on the table.

“Or alcohol, or doing anything illegal, but you’re potentially in danger. And you can’t go to the cops or me for help.”

The three of them sat in silence.

“Do I have that right?” she asked Angel.

Angel nodded.

“Yes, that’s about right.”

His mom nodded.

“I want to help you guys if you’re in danger,” she said. “I can’t let you just go out there and get hurt.”

Angel looked back at Cal.

“Mom,” Cal said. “I told you. You can’t help.”

His mom started to argue.

“You can’t,” he repeated. “I wish you could. I wish you, or Sheriff Bradshaw, or anybody who wasn’t me, Angel, or Oscar to step in here and make it all go away, but you can’t.”

He was going to add that he had to continue his dad’s work, but that would just bolster his mom’s fears.

His mom rubbed her lips together and stared at Cal. Angel looked down at the table nervously.

“I can’t not worry about you,” she said.

“I know, mom,” he said. “I’m not asking that. I just need some time to get this straightened out.”

“How much time?” she asked.

He looked at Angel.

“A week?” he asked, more to Angel.

She shrugged.

“We should know something in a week,” he said. “Do you have to work? We could have pizza again. Maybe Oscar could join us.”

His mom continued to stare at him. He could see her trying to make the decision. It was out of his hands now.

“I’ll make sure I have the night off,” she said. “I’ll see you both in a week.”

She stood and put the cards back into their pack. She threw the pack into the shoebox and put a hand on Angel’s shoulder.

“It was nice to meet you Angel,” she said

“It was nice to meet you too, Laura,” Angel said as Cal’s mom left the kitchen.

Laura? How chummy did they get while he was out in the spider-infested garage.

“I think it’s probably time for me to go,” Angel said.

Cal nodded and they stood up and put their dishes in sink.

They shared a few nice kisses at her house before they said goodbye. That made everything better. Everything made a little more sense, was a little less crazy. The ride home was pure joy. His head hit the pillow still wearing a smile.

Everything was wonderful until he fell asleep and the dreams came back.

Monday, November 29, 2010

nano 2010 - Day 19

(written 11/20/2010 - total words 48,570)

Cal dropped Angel off and headed home, keeping an eye out for the black SUVs. He wouldn’t fare so well on his scooter if they decided to run into him.

He got home without incident.

“Where have you been?” his mom asked as he passed the living room.

He stopped and peeked in. She was sitting with a book in her lap.

“School was out over two hours ago,” she said. “You’re supposed to come straight home.”

“Oscar was in an accident, mom,” Cal said. “We went to check on him.”

She sat forward, a worried look crossing her face.

“Is he okay?” she asked.

“I think so,” Cal said. “He’s got a broken arm, and his face is a little messed up, but he seems pretty good. A little out of it, though.”

“What happened?” she asked.

Cal hesitated, weighing what he knew happened, and what Oscar and his mom, and probably the rest of the world, thought happened.

“It’s not clear,” he said. “He hit a guard rail.”

His mom frowned.

“He just ran into one?” she asked.

“I guess.” Cal shrugged. “He must have lost control of his car or something.”

“That doesn’t sound like Oscar,” she said. “He’s such a careful kid.”

“Yeah, I know,” Cal said. “It doesn’t make sense to me either.”

His mom’s sixth sense was going off. She didn’t seem to be buying his story. He could see it as she looked at him, measuring him. She could smell the lie.

“What?” he asked.

“Who’s ‘we’?” she asked.

Cal shook his head in confusion.

“What are you talking about?” he asked.

“You said ‘we went to Oscar’s house’. Who’s ‘we’?”

“Angel and me,” Cal said, mentally preparing for trouble. “She’s Oscar’s friend too.”

His mother was silent, she just nodded her head.

“Come in and sit down,” she said, nodding towards the couch.

She closed her book and put it on the end table. That was a bad sign. She was preparing for a long talk.

Cal sat down with a sigh, just wanting this to be over with already.

“What?” she asked.

“Nothing,” he responded.

“Don’t roll your eyes at me and say it’s nothing,” she said. “What’s going on with you?”

“I just don’t want to talk about this,” Cal said, feeling an anger growing inside.

“About what?”

“About Angel,” he said. He could hear the anger in his voice, but he didn’t care. “About Oscar. About the FBI. About school. About anything.”

She nodded and gave a look of understanding, but how could she understand? She didn’t know half of what was going on, and the parts that Cal did tell her about she didn’t believe.

“Cal,” she said. She was trying to be soothing, but it was coming across as condescending.

“I need to know what’s going on,” she said. “I heard from your school that you’ve had some more tardies and absences. That isn’t like you.”

“Did they tell you that most of those were from being pulled over by a sheriff for no reason?” Cal fired back.

“Sheriffs don’t pull you over for no reason, honey,” she said.

“He pulled us over because he said we were on a ‘hit list’,” Cal said. “Everybody’s got this idea that we’re some kind of juvenile delinquents.” Cal’s voice was getting louder, his arm movements more exaggerated.

“Oscar got some silly ticket for going like five miles over the speed limit and changing lanes improperly, or something stupid like that,” Cal said. “Totally made up crap.”

She just sat in her chair, leaning forward with her elbows on her knees and her chin on fist. It was infuriating.

“We’re not criminals, mom,” he said. “We’re the same kids we were two weeks ago. Nothing has changed.”

“Something’s changed, Cal,” she said. “I just don’t know what.”

Cal sat back on the couch looking at his hands in his lap, avoiding the unasked question.

“You look like you haven’t slept in two weeks,” she said. “That’s for certain.”

He rubbed his hands, still avoiding eye contact.

“If you don’t tell me what’s changed, then I have to guess,” she said.

He looked up at her and shrugged.

“What’s your guess?” he asked.

“The only thing I see that’s changed is the appearance of your new little girlfriend,” she said. “Angel.”

Cal’s defensiveness strengthened.

He started to say something he knew he’d regret and stopped himself, letting it out in a breath. He shook his head and leaned forward, putting his head in his hands and rubbing his temples.

“Do the math, Cal,” she said. “What else has changed? Nothing. You meet this girl, and suddenly we’ve got big problems. And now your friend has been in an accident.”

Cal looked up at her sharply.

“How is Oscar’s accident Angel’s fault?” he asked, and accusation in question form, his anger spiked by the fact that the accident really was related to everything else. Only nobody else knew that.

“It’s just how these things work,” she said. “You start playing around with stuff-”

“Stuff?” Cal asked. “What’s ‘stuff’?”

“I don’t know, Cal, you tell me,” she said. “Drugs? Alcohol?”

Cal growled in frustration.

“No, mom,” he shouted then lowered his voice. “No. The FBI told you that, right?”

She nodded. He noticed her eyes were watering.

“Forget the FBI, mom,” he said. “This is me, Cal. Let’s just talk, just us. Do you really think we’re doing drugs? Does that make any sense to you?”

“Cal, you kids are in a lot of trouble,” she said. She wiped at a tear going down her cheek. “Nothing makes sense to me right now.”

“But mom, you know me,” Cal pleaded. “You know I wouldn’t get mixed up in that stuff.”

“I know you, Cal,” she said. “But I also remember what it’s like to be sixteen.”

“I’m almost seventeen.”

“I remember what it’s like, Cal,” she said. “There’s a lot of stuff out there.”

“But I’m still me,” he said.

She was hiding her face in her hand now.

“Mom,” he said.

Her body shook with a few sobs then stopped. She sniffled, then looked up at him.

He felt tears in his own eyes.

“Mom,” he said. “You’re right. We’re in a lot of trouble.”

She nodded.

“But it’s not what you think it is,” he said.

“Then what is it?” she asked.

He stared at her. She wouldn’t believe him. They got to her already.

Besides, if he could convince her of the truth, then she would be in as much danger as he was. He needed some way to get her off his back without involving her.

“It’s not Angel,” he said.

“Then what is it?” she asked again.

She wouldn’t believe him.

They got to her already.

She raised her eyebrows.

“I can’t tell you, mom,” he said finally.

“You can’t tell me,” she repeated. “Well that certainly answers things.” Her sarcasm stung.

“I’m serious, mom,” he said, looking at her. “I can’t.”

“Why not?” It was her turn to yell.

“Because A) You wouldn’t believe me, and B)”, he paused trying to find the right way to say it. “We’re in danger mom. If I could convince you of the truth, you’d be in danger too.”

She frowned at him.

He held a hand up.

“I am not on drugs, I’m not drinking, I haven’t broken any laws,” he said. “But I’m serious about this.”

She shook her head.

“Cal,” she said. “If you’re in trouble, we should talk with Sheriff Bradshaw. Is it the Lemolos?”

“Mom, I can’t,” he said. “I need you to trust me.”

“I want to trust you, Cal,” she said.

“Then trust me, mom.”

She just shook her head.

“What are you worried about?” he asked.

“I don’t want you to do something that you’re going to regret,” she said.

“Can you tell me something specific?” he asked.

“I think this girl, Angel, is a bad influence on you,” she said. “And Oscar.”

“Mom,” he said, frustration growing again. “Angel’s not a bad influence. You’ve never even met her.”

“Then let’s meet,” she said. “Dinner. Tonight? I don’t have to work. I’ll order some pizza for us.”

Cal sat back. This is not the night he wanted to do this.

His mom stared at him. Whatever piece of the war he’d won tonight, he knew he wasn’t winning this particular battle.

“Okay,” he said. “I’ll check with her.”

She nodded.

He pulled out his phone.

MOM FREAKING, he texted. WANTS 2 MEET 2NITE. DINNER?

“Done,” he said to his mom.

She nodded and they sat in silence until his phone bleeped again.

GULP, Angel replied. SURE. WHEN?

“When?” he asked his mom.

“We don’t seem to be doing anything right now,” she said.

He looked down at his phone.

NOW? he texted.

They waited in silence again.

OK, Angel responded.

Cal looked up at his mom. He felt crushed between these two worlds colliding. The anxiety of how the night would play out formed a tight knot in his gut.

“Alright,” he said. “I’ll go pick her up.”

“Good,” she said.

They both stood, combatants taking a break between contests.

“I’ll order the pizza,” she said. “And I should probably call Oscar’s mom.”

“Don’t mention any of what we’ve talked about to her,” Cal said.

She started to argue.

“Mom, please. Not until you and I have talked more.”

She sighed, then nodded and left the living room.

Cal grabbed his stuff and went to get Angel.

* * *

Cal was sitting at a stop light, worrying about what was going to happen when he got home with Angel, trying to figure out how to prep Angel so she didn’t say the wrong thing. In the back of his mind he registered the sound of the motorcycle, but he didn’t pay it any attention until it pulled up next to him.

He glanced over at the big bike, the big man on it, the raven patch on the arm of his black leather jacket.

A Lemolo was sitting next to him. He was an older man, heavy set, and unshaven. He wore a helmet that wasn’t much more than a yamilka, and was staring at Cal through dark sunglasses.

“Pull over into that parking lot,” the man said, pointing across the intersection with his chin.

Cal looked at the parking lot. It was a small corner lot with a closed dry cleaner and a little coffee kiosk, also closed.

“Why?” Cal asked, noting that there were no other cars on the road. No people around. No witnesses.

“Because if you don’t, I’ll run you down,” the man said. He revved his engine to drive the point home.

The light turned green.

They both sat at the stop line.

“What’s it going to be, Calvin?” the man asked.

Cal looked forward and nodded. He took off a bit shakily and make a clumsy left hand turn into the parking lot. The man followed, his bike thundering in the quickly fading light of the quiet evening.

* * *

Stan sat in his chair, willing himself to stay awake. The woman was still talking. On and on. The same monotone voice. How does a person like this get into any position of authority? He glanced at others in the meeting, and saw the same masks of boredom.

He was about to interrupt her and spare everybody from further suffering when a spike of pain drove through his right temple. He cringed and tried not to react too strongly. The man to his left looked over and Stan covered his reaction with a cough.

“Excuse me,” he announced to the group, continuing to cough. “Need some water.”

He exited the room and hurried for the bathroom, loosening his tie. He needed some privacy. He slammed the bathroom door open, then locked himself in a stall, cursing. These things never happened when it was convenient.

Bigby was back.

* * *

Cal killed the scooter’s engine and got off of it, keeping it between him and the Lemolo. He started to take his helmet off, but then thought better of it and left it on.

“Relax, kid,” the man said. “I’m not going to hurt you, but we don’t have much time. I need you to listen to me.”

“Take off your glasses,” Cal said, surprised at his bravery.

The man smiled and nodded.

“Smart kid,” he said, removing his sunglasses. He had brown, normal eyes. He wasn’t an agent.

“Good enough?” the man asked.

Cal nodded, and the man put his sunglasses back on.

“They’re already on to me,” the man said. “It won’t be long. Walsh was supposed to contact you, but, well, he bet on the wrong horse.”

“Here,” he said, shoving a small yellow envelope towards Cal.

“You’ve got skin in the game now,” he continued. “That’s everything I’ve got. I hope it helps.”

Cal looked down at the envelope, confused. It looked like a greeting card. The man placed it on the seat of Cal’s scooter.

The man pulled a necklace out from under his shirt. There was a triangular piece on the cord. The man kissed it, then took the necklace off and handed it to Cal.

“Put this on,” the man said. “Never take it off.”

Cal looked at it. There was a Raven’s head on it. He flipped it over to find some writing he couldn’t make out.

“Hey,” the man said, rapping his knuckles on Cal’s helmet. “Don’t screw around. Put it on, it’ll protect you.”

Cal put it on.

“And be careful with that binding,” the man said “They can find you with it.”

“What binding?” Cal asked.

“The coin,” the man said. “From the Tsaitko.”

Cal started to ask the man what he meant by a ‘psycho’, but the man started his motorcycle, filling the parking lot with a roar of thunder.

He kicked the kickstand up and seemed about to leave, then hesitated. He looked over at Cal.

“I’ve done a lot of bad shit in my life, Calvin,” he shouted over the engine. “There’s only one thing I’d change. And I’m not asking for forgiveness, understand that, but I’m going to be dead in a few minutes, and we won’t have this chance to talk again.”

He reached over with a huge hand that encompassed Cal’s entire shoulder.

“Your dad was a good man,” he continued, squeezing Cal’s shoulder lightly. “I’m sorry I killed him.”

He let go of Cal and popped his motorcycle into gear.

Cal’s eyes dropped to the patch on the front of the man’s jacket. It had a rocker over the top that said ‘Big Chief’, and one on the bottom that said ‘Bigby’.

“Bigby?” Cal asked. “But you didn’t kill my dad. Walsh said you were FBI.”

Bigby laughed. It was loud like his motorcycle, and just as menacing.

“I’m about as far from FBI as you can get, son,” he shouted. “It’s just more of their mind games. I think you know by now that you need to be careful about who and what you believe.”

He shook his head and looked around then back to Cal.

“They’re coming,” he shouted. “Be careful who you trust.”

With that, he accelerated away, shooting out of the parking lot into the street, and disappearing up a hill.

Cal stared after him, eyes watering. Cesar Bibgy?

He hopped on his scooter and started it, thinking he could follow Bigby. As he strapped his helmet on he heard sirens. Looking over his shoulder he saw two sheriff’s cars racing from the direction he’d come, they blew through the intersection and sped up the hill. Closely behind them was a black SUV with blue and red lights flashing through the windshield.

Cal sat, frozen, as he watched the SUV disappear over the hill, chasing after Bigby. He could hear the sirens in the distance. He heard tires squeal, then popping sounds.

He shook himself out of his trance. That SUV may be coming back. He had to get Angel and get home.

* * *

Cal’s mind was whirling when he knocked on Angel’s front door. How did Bigby find him, and what happened.

Angel opened the door. She looked generally happy to see him, but there was some tension about her mannerisms.

“Hi,” she said and started to step out.

“Hey,” Cal said, putting a hand out. “Can we go check the news for a bit? Before we go?”

Angel gave him a curious look.

“Sure?” she said, leading him back to the den. “Why?”

“I think they just caught Cesar Bigby,” he said.

“Who’s Cesar Bigby?” she asked, flipping the television on.

“The man who killed my dad.”

“Oh,” Angel said quietly. “Here.” She gave Cal the remote.

They flipped through the local stations, but none were showing news.

Cal turned off the television and put the remote down on the couch.

“What happened?” Angel asked.

Cal told her about his encounter with Bigby.

“What was in the envelope?” she asked.

“I didn’t open it yet,” Cal said, patting the pockets of his jacket.

“No,” he said as he realized the envelope wasn’t in any of his pockets. He hurried out to his scooter with Angel close behind. He searched around the scooter.

“The envelope,” he said, looking up at Angel. “I don’t have it.”

* * *

They followed Cal’s route back, going slow, searching the dark streets for the yellow envelope. They found it in the parking lot where Cal had gotten it from Bigby. It was in a puddle and soaked through.

Cal swore as he picked it up, water dripping out of it.

His phone bleeped.

PZ9A HERE, his mom had texted. WHER ARE YOU?

He swore again and typed out an answer.

ETA 10 MIN, he responded.

“We’ve gotta get out of here,” Cal said getting back on the scooter. “I’m sure the agents saw me sitting here when they came by.”

He started the engine as Angel climbed on behind him. Even her presence, pressing into his back did little to change his mood.

* * *

They got off his scooter and Cal remembered what they were heading into.

“So my mom’s probably going to ask you a ton of questions,” he said quickly, hoping his mom wasn’t watching them from a window.

“Yeah, I figured,” Angel said.

“The agents got to here. She believes you’re the bad influence that’s causing all of the problems.”

He could see Angel wince at the accusation.

“Hey,” he said, putting his hands on her shoulders. “I know you’re not. You know you’re not, but all my mom has is what they’ve told her. I think I got through to her, though. Her one condition on trusting us is that she get to meet you.”

“Great,” Angel said. “Like this isn’t stressful enough.”

“Don’t worry,” Cal said. “You look nice.” For the first time he noticed that she was dressed a bit more conventional than usual. “And you’re a great person. My mom’s going to like you.”

“Once she sees that I’m not some drug-dealing corrupter of Aberdeen’s youth,” Angel said.

Cal wasn’t sure how to respond.

Angel gave him a little smile, and he smiled back.

“Yeah,” he said. “That’s right. So leave all of your drugs out here on my scooter.”

Her smile broadened.

“You ready?” he asked.

“Almost,” she said, leaning in to him.

He leaned down and kissed her.

* * *

“Mom?” Cal called as they came into the house.

He heard the television playing in the den and led Angel that way. His mom almost ran into them coming out of the den. She had tears running down her face.

“He just got here,” she said into the phone.

She put the phone down to her chest and hugged Cal.

“They got him,” she said, hugging Cal tight. “They got that bastard.”

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Work Complete!

I just finished the story last night. It weighs in at just over 64k. This means the final "episode" of the story here will be posted on Dec 6.

I actually have a complete, start-to-finish, "zero draft", which is a first for me. I thought nano would get my butt in gear for a new story, but I didn't expect to get this far. I didn't even expect to make the 50k. I guess it's good to try new things and challenge yourself.

I thought I'd be all like "woohoo, I'm done*", but instead my mind is now split. Half of me wants to jump back in RIGHT FREAKIN' NOW and start editing. There are some neat things that developed later on that need to be fed back into the first parts, and some scenes that aren't being all they can be. The other half of my mind is still careening along the storyline into sequel territory. It's annoying as I want to put this down for a little bit, but I'm worried that if I don't write while the inspiration is hot, I may lose the momentum. A third half (math is hard) just wants to sleep and maybe do something crazy like read a book or watch TV.

Overall, I'm really happy with the zero draft. I haven't read it through in its entirety yet, but I have been reading through the old scenes as I dump them on the blog here. It's much tighter than I expected when I started. I figured it would start out well, but then grow like a Peep in a microwave, not gaining any substance but vastly growing in scope until the internal structure completely fails and all you have is this deflated gooey mess that you don't want to eat and is really hard to get off the plate once it cools down. Or something. Anyways, it was a pleasant surprise.

Happy reading!

* with this step

Nano 2010 - Day 18

(written 11/19/2010 - total words 45,269)

Cal knocked on the front door to Oscar’s house. Angel waited nervously behind him. As the supposed agent of corruption of Cal and Oscar, she was hesitant to come, but Cal convinced her that it would be okay.

Oscar’s mom’s car was in the driveway. She wasn’t normally home this early.

Footsteps leading up to the door, and Oscar’s mom opened the door. She smiled when she saw Cal, though there was a sadness in her eyes. Her expression remained polite when she looked at Angel, but something in her eyes turned cold.

“Hi, Mrs. Marinez,” Cal said.

“Hi Cal,” she said.

Cal stepped to the side and motioned Angel to come up next to him.

“This is Angel,” he said, holding her hand.

He could see Mr. Martinez’s looking at Angel, checking her out, comparing her with the images the agents had put in her mind.

“Angel?” she asked. Her tone was friendly, but there was a tension in it that had an edge of threat in it. “That’s a unique name. It’s nice to finally meet you.”

There was a stress on the ‘finally’.

“It’s nice to meet you too, Mrs. Martinez,” Angel said. Cal could hear her discomfort in her voice.

“Is Oscar here?” Cal asked.

“Yes,” Mrs. Martinez said. “He got home this morning. I think he’s awake now.”

She stood aside to let Cal and Angel in. She didn’t take her eyes off of Angel.

“Got home?” Cal asked.

“Oh dear,” Mrs. Marinez replied. “I didn’t call you did I?”

She closed the door and put her hand to her forehead.

“I’m sorry, Cal,” she said. “It’s been a long night. Oscar got into an accident last night on the way home from work.”

She paused, and Cal realized he needed to react appropriately, but he couldn’t think of what to say.

“Is he okay?” Angel asked. “What happened.”

Mrs. Martinez had a brief sour look, but responded.

“Yes,” she said. “He’s okay now. We were in the ER all night long. Mostly waiting. He got banged up pretty badly. He broke his arm.”

Cal and Angel exchanged a worried glance.

“It seems he was driving a bit too fast and hit a guard rail,” Mrs. Martinez continued.

Angel squeezed Cal’s hand. He could barely keep himself from correcting Mrs. Martinez.

“Is he in his room?” Cal asked.

“Yes,” Mrs. Martinez replied. “I think he’s awake now. Go on up.”

They went down the hallway and up the stairs. He could feel Mrs. Martinez watching their backs.

Cal knocked on Oscar’s door. He heard a muffled answer the sounded like a positive response. Cal opened the door. Oscar was propped up in his bed, a Chemistry textbook ignored in his lap.

Cal winced as he approached the bed. He heard Angel take in a quick breath. Oscar looked bad. His hair was a mess and he had a pale, gray sheen to his skin. His left forearm was in a cast, and the left side of his face was swollen and bruised. A square of gauze was taped to his forehead.

He gave them a weak smile when he saw them.

“Oh my God,” Angel said. “What happened to you?”

“I don’t remember much,” Oscar said. “After I left work, I was driving home. I guess I was going too fast and lost control.”

Oscar looked down at the unopened textbook.

“I totaled my car,” he said.

Cal looked at Angel. She looked as worried as he felt.

“Hold on,” he said to Angel.

Cal went to Oscars door, checked to make sure the hallway was clear, then closed the door and walked back to the bed.

“Oscar,” Cal said. “You didn’t go to work last night.”

“What are you talking about?” Oscar said, shifting to look at Cal. Pain flashed on his face.

“Do you remember talking with Jason?” Cal asked.

“At the comic book store?” Oscar asked.

Cal nodded.

“You mean when we saw Walsh get taken by the agent?” Oscar asked.

Cal shook his head. He supposed it was good that Oscar remembered Walsh and the agents.

“No, Oscar,” Cal said. “Last night?”

Oscar looked at him, then looked at Angel.

“Last night, we talked with Jason about the agents and the lake,” Cal said. “We came up with a plan.”

Oscar frowned and looked back down at his book.

“I remember talking to Jason about the plan,” Oscar said slowly. “But that wasn’t last night. I worked last night.”

“When did we talk with Jason then?” Cal asked.

“It was,” Oscar’s voice faded out. “I don’t know.”

“Oscar,” Angel said, leaning over the bed. Her voice had a hard edge to it.

“Listen to me,” she said. “You didn’t go to work last night. You met us and we went to talk with Jason. Afterwards we got some burgers, then you were driving us back to my house. We got hit by another car and Cal and I left you with your car.”

Oscar looked at her with alternating looks of disbelief and comprehension.

“That’s not-,” Oscar said, rubbing his forehead with his right hand, carefully avoiding the painful spots.

Oscar dropped his hand.

“I don’t understand,” he said.

“What happened to you?” Cal asked. “You were fine when we left you and the car.”

“I was?” Oscar asked, frowning.

“Yeah,” Angel said. “We all got out of the car and had a conversation. We decided it was best if Cal and I weren’t seen with you since you were supposed to be at work.”

“I don’t know,” Oscar said. “I had some pretty weird dreams, but I was in a lot of pain. The doctor said I my head might be a little fuzzy for a while.”

“What did you dream?” Angel asked.

“I dreamt about us,” Oscar said. “About going to the golf course and seeing that thing in the lake. And what it made us see.”

Oscar took a breath, he was clearly trying to remember something.

“It was weird,” he continued. “It was like I didn’t want to remember these things, but they kept popping up in my head. I kept trying to hold onto them, but the pain was so intense. It was hard to concentrate.”

“For some reason,” Oscar said. “I thought of the agents, and how the one had Angel. My arm hurt so bad. I started thinking one of them had me and was crushing my arm, slowly. And it looked like what you guys said. Really big eyes and teeth, gray skin.”

Cal jumped when Oscar’s door opened.

“Let’s keep his door open, kids,” Mrs. Martinez said coming into the room.

She stood at the foot of Oscar’s bed and looked at him with her arms crossed.

“How are you feeling?” she asked Oscar.

Oscar started to nod, then winced.

“I’m okay, mom,” Oscar said.

“You need your rest,” she said. “I think maybe it’s time for your friends to go.”

They said their goodbyes and Mrs. Martinez escorted them to the front door.

“What did the doctor say?” Cal asked Mrs. Martinez.

“He said Oscar was pretty beat up,” she replied.

“Did he hurt his head?” Angel asked.

“Yeah,” Cal said. “He seemed pretty out of it.”

“He’s had a rough night,” Mrs. Martinez said. “They said his arm was pinned between the car and the guard rail. I guess there’s not a lot of traffic on that road. He’d been stuck like that for at least an hour. That’s a long time to be in so much pain. The doctor said he was lucky to not lose the arm.”

“What about his face?” Angel asked.

“He was in an automobile accident, dear.” Mrs. Martinez said. Cal could hear a harsher tone in her voice when she talked to Angel. “He apparently hit his head on something.”

“But the airbags went off,” Angel said.

Cal squeezed her hand, and Mrs. Martinez gave her a puzzled look.

“In his car,” Angel said. “I mean, it had airbags, right? They’d go off and protect his head.”

“No,” Mrs. Martinez said. “He had an older car. They said that sometimes in the older cars the airbags don’t deploy properly.”

“His head’s okay though?” Cal asked.

“Yeah, his brain is fine,” Mrs. Martinez said. “He’s just shook up. And on some pretty heavy pain medication.”

They said thanks and goodbye and headed out to the scooter.

“Something’s wrong,” Angel said.

Cal shushed her.

“She’s watching,” he said without turning. “Let’s get out of here and then we’ll talk.”

* * *

They sat in the comfy chairs by the front windows of Starbucks.

Cal looked around to make sure nobody was in hearing distance.

“Yeah,” he said to Angel, leaning forward onto the low table between them.

“Something’s definitely wrong,” he said. “Cal didn’t look like that when we left him.”

“And it was a hit and run,” Angel said.

Cal nodded. He looked down at his coffee, disturbed.

“Do you think an agent got him?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Cal said, a chill running down his neck. “I don’t think that was a dream.”

“Poor Oscar,” Angel said.

“I wonder how long it had him for,” he said. “And why would it torture him like that?”

“Information?” Angel asked. “That’s usually what people are after. Unless they just like hurting people.”

“So then they know about our plan?” Cal asked.

He looked up at Angel.

“I think we have to assume they do,” she said.

“It’s just like Jason said,” Cal said.

“How’s that?” Angel asked.

“We’ve upped the ante by killing Agent Parson,” he said. “They’re playing by different rules now.”

“So what do we do?” she asked.

“We can’t let up,” he said. “We have to hit them again. Hard.”


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Nano 2010 - Day 17

(written 11/18/2010 - total words 41,809)

Cal sat on the stairs at lunch. It was hard to sit still. His back and neck ached and his head hurt. He must’ve hit his head on something during the car crash. He touched a tender spot on the side of his head.

He waited for Angel. It had become the new normal. He waited, then Angel joined him and they waited for Oscar. He wasn’t sure if that was Oscar’s way of giving Angel and him some time together or not, but Cal was looking forward to it today.

Angel sat next to him and leaned into him. He started to put his arm around her, but he wasn’t really sure what to do, so he just put it back in lap.

She looked at him with a smile. She was wearing her glasses again, and she looked really tired.

“Hi,” she said.

“Sleep well?” Cal asked with a smirk.

“Nope,” she replied. “You?”

“Nope.” Unpleasant thoughts of his dreams returned.

Angel hooked an arm in his and squeezed.

“It was nice with you, though,” Cal said looking out at the people walking on the lawn.

“You liked Chekhov?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he replied, trying to remember that feeling of laying on her lap.

Cal felt content just sitting with her. Apparently she felt the same, as they sat in comfortable silence, enjoying being together.

As Cal watched the other students around them, he noticed the crowd was starting to thin out. He fished out his phone and popped it open, checking the time.

“Where’s Oscar?” he asked.

Angel looked behind them and shrugged.

“He keeps showing up later and later,” she said. “I hope he gets here soon. I’m starving.”

Cal texted him to see where he was, then looked back to Angel.

“So what did you think about Jason last night,” Cal asked.

“He’s still creepy,” Angel said. “I’m not excited about risking our lives based on comic books and D&D stories, but what he said made some sense.”

“I don’t know what to think about it,” Cal said. “I was hoping he’d know more, or have some more solid advice.”

“Like you said, though, we don’t really have anyone else who we can go to.”

“Yeah.”

Cal looked around at the nearly deserted school grounds. He flipped open his phone again.

“What’s Oscar doing?” Cal asked.

“You know what he’s got for fourth period?” Angel asked. “Maybe he got held up by something.”

Cal nodded, putting his phone away.

“Let’s go check it out.”

* * *

Empty schools are unpleasant spaces. The hallways are superhighways made to handle masses of students. Without those masses, they’re empty. Quiet. Exposed.

Cal and Angel crept down the hallway. Cal had a strong feeling of not belonging here, the few students they came across skittered away, and the few adults frowned at them. Turning a corner, they saw Mr Miller walking down the hall, his shoes making little squeaking noises. Cal spoke in hushed tones to keep avoid attracting his attention.

“He’s got Mrs. Brennert for English,” Cal said. “Not sure which classroom is hers.”

“It’s that one,” Angel said pointing to the second door on the left. “I have her for first period.”

Mrs. Brennert emerged opened the door as they got there, almost running into them. She let out a little yelp, and Cal heard Mr. Miller’s squeaking shoes stop.

“Angel?” Mrs. Brennert asked. “Can I help you with something?” Cal looked down the hall and saw Mr. Miller looking at them. Probably too far to walk back. Too much work.

“Mrs. Brennert,” Angel said. “We’re looking for Oscar. Did he stay after class?”

“He wasn’t in class today,” Mrs. Brennert said.

“Oh,” Angel said. “Well thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Mrs. Brennert said. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning. Get some sleep tonight.”

She gave Cal a suspicious look, then closed the door and headed off towards Mr. Miller and the teacher’s lounge.

Cal and Angel watched her walk. When she got to Mr. Miller, they had a brief exchange and Mrs. Brennert continued. Mr. Miller continued to give them the evil eye.

“Let’s get some food,” Cal said motioning for Angel to head back the way they’d come.

Once they were outside the front door, Cal flipped his phone open and called Oscar.

He clapped it closed.

“Straight to voicemail,” Cal said.

They got to the deli and stood in a long line.

“I hope this doesn’t make us late, again,” Cal said.

He turned to look at Angel. She caught her glancing at something out of the corner of her eye. When she looked at him there was a brief hint of something troubled in her eye.

“What’s that?” she asked.

Cal followed the direction of her glance and saw a table of guys snickering and looking over at Angel. He knew those looks all too well, but since Oscar beat up the bully, both he and Cal were left alone. News travelled fast. Oscar had gotten instant street cred, and Cal benefitted as well due to association.

Angel noticed him looking at the guys.

“Jerks,” she said.

They noticed him looking too. He had never been a fighter, and knew he couldn’t possibly win a fight against the handful of guys at the table, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that he wasn’t intimidated. After all the crap he’d been through lately, these guys were nothing. He stared at each guy, one by one, and one by one, they looked away. Some were dismissive, making rude gestures, saving face in front of their friends, but they didn’t look back.

He let Angel go in front of him, turned his back on the guys, and put his arm around Angel.

“Yeah,” he said.

They got their sandwiches and ate while walking back to school.

“What do we do about Oscar?” Angel asked.

“I’m not sure,” Cal said. “I’ll run by his house on my way home from school, and see what’s going on with him.”

“Have you talked to him at all since we left him last night?” Angel asked.

Cal thought about that. A lot had happened last night.

“No,” he said. “No I haven’t”

He wondered what happened after they left Oscar alone with his car and started to worry.

* * *

Stan sat forward in his chair, frowning at Benson. This was the kind of thing he was afraid of.

“I thought I was clear about the not killing thing,” Stan said.

“I stayed within your commands,” Benson said.

“You rammed his car into a guard rail,” Stan said. “Why?”

“They’re too mobile,” Benson replied. “Since you won’t bring in extra resources, we needed to limit their options.”

Stan let the jab go. WIth the weakened portal, he may have no choice but to bring in more resources, the big guns. But that had it’s own set of problems. These problems, while far from contained, were at least controllable. It had damaged the portal, though, and that had to be dealt with.

“I can think of many ways in which that could have been accomplished more safely,” Stan said.

“It was the simplest option,” Benson said. “They were perfectly safe.”

“No, they weren’t perfectly safe,” Stan said. “Don’t mistake your stupid luck for your ability to keep them safe. You don’t have the power to control that level of causality.”

At least he hoped they didn’t. They weren’t supposed to.

“Especially not if there are other players on the board,” Stan continued. “And that’s a pretty clear fact at this point. Go argue with Parson if you don’t agree.”

“They split up after the crash,” Benson said. “They left Martinez behind.”

“And?” Stan prompted. For not being human, they certainly had a flair for the dramatic.

“I circled back and interrogated him,” Benson replied. “He is also very resistant.”

“Yes,” Stan said, annoyed. “He’s been with Cannon and Massenberg. I would expect him to have some resistance.”

Stan looked at Wilson.

“What about Ms. Massenberg?” Stan asked. “What have you dug up?”

Wilson and Benson shared glances, then they looked back at Stan.

“Nothing of interest,” Benson said. “She’s moved around a lot, but the only location near a source was in New York City, and we no longer consider that source of consequence.”

“But the series of events that brought her here is of consequence,” Stan said.

“Your need for causality is getting in the way of our work,” Benson said.

“Yes,” Wilson said. “Her mother could have just as easily taken a job in a different city.”

Stan sat up a little. They hadn’t teamed up on him before. That was the problem with the missing third. He hoped he could fix this before having to summon a third.

“I know she could have,” Stan said flatly. “This isn’t a question of probability. The point is that she has a timeline that coincides too closely with ours. A lone pawn hoping to slip by unnoticed.”

Wilson wasn’t going to find what Stan wanted because neither Wilson or Benson believed it to be true. Stan would have to do his own digging around.

“They’ve been to the golf course,” Benson said.

Stan looked at Benson. Now that was a point of interest.

“When?” Stan asked.

“I couldn’t find that out,” Benson said. “I was pushing Martinez hard already. You didn’t want me to kill him.”

“Right,” Stan said. “Though pushing the boy hard will have it’s own problems.”

“He was corrected,” Benson said.

“But Cannon and Massenberg weren’t,” Stan said. “They may suspect something.”

“They already suspect something,” Benson said. “But they can’t do anything about it.”

Benson had a point, though Stan was uncomfortable with him being so forward about it. Still, Stan wasn’t happy assuming that they had everything under control. He’d seen that go sideways on others too many times.

“What did they see at the golf course?” Stan asked.

“All I could get was that they have been there,” Benson said. “All three of them. There was some imagery in his mind that tasted like it.”

Stan sat up. “The Other?”

Benson nodded.

This was bad news. If it was reaching out to them- no, that couldn’t be. If it were doing that, he would have felt it. Somebody had contacted it, though. It couldn’t have been Martinez. The agent wouldn’t have survived that.

“Keep track of everything those three do,” Stan said.

He released them and his home study returned to normal.

He was sweating and breathing hard. He wasn’t sure how much longer he could keep going like this. Whatever his adversary was doing, it was a displaying masterful subtlety.

Stan stood up, wiping the sweat off his brow with his shirt sleeve, and unlocked the study doors. He pushed them open and went to the kitchen.

He took a sip of his Diet Coke and looked out the large windows. A hand rubbed his back.

“You’re pushing yourself too hard,” his wife said from behind him.

“Tis the season,” he said.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Nano 2010 - Day 16

(written 11/17/2010 - total words 41,809)

They sat under a tree a few blocks from Angel’s house.

“It’s still there,” Angel said, putting her binoculars and turning towards Cal.

“What should we do?” she asked.

Cal tried to think, but he was too tired, too sore. He laid back in the damp grass and looked up at the sky. Grey-orange clouds reflecting the city lights drifted by. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, trying to put some order in his thoughts. The accident, the kiss, Jason’s warning, the agents, the kiss, the kiss, the kiss. Stars peeked through an area where the clouds had thinned out. Stars that became eyes.

“Cal?” Angel asked.

He sat up quickly.

“What?” he asked, shaking his head.

“You fell asleep,” she said. “Should we try sneaking back through the backyard?”

She looked back through her binoculars.

“I don’t see anything moving,” she said. “but the SUV is still there.”

She looked at Cal. He was trying to consider their options.

“Okay, we’re sneaking through the backyard,” Angel said standing up. “Get up.”

They walked around the block, and up the street behind her house. The houses were dark. Cal had no idea what time it was, but it felt really late. They reached the house behind Angel’s and went through to the back fence.

They looked through the fence. The house was dark and quiet. A loud motorcycle went by, making Cal cringe from the noise, but it didn’t seem to alert anyone of their presence.

Angel looked at him again.

“Can you make it over the fence?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Cal said. He was pretty sure he could.

She nodded and pulled herself up and over the fence. Cal thought going first probably would have been the right thing to do there, but the thought had showed up a little late. He pulled himself up to the top of the fence and bent over it.

“No,” Angel hissed. “Sit up and put a leg over the fence.”

He followed her instructions and she talked him down much more gracefully this time. Cal crouched with Angel, looking at the dark house, afraid to move. Afraid to expose his position. Afraid that an agent would come out of the shadows at any minute.

“Let’s go,” Angel said, grabbing his hand.

She led him across the yard to the back door. No agents attacked them.

Unlocking the door, they slipped inside, which only made Cal feel marginally better.

They worked their way through the dark house, Cal hoping that Angel would see any agent before it attacked them. They got to the kitchen and Angel looked out the window.

“There’s the SUV,” she said.

Cal looked out. It was right there on the street, right in front of his scooter. Even if he wanted to leave Angel alone, he wouldn’t be able to get to his scooter without going by the black SUV, and that wasn’t going to happen.

“I guess we wait?” Cal asked.

“Yeah, we can go back to the study,” she said, then closed the blinds on the kitchen window.

They went back to the room with the big sectional sofa. Angel turned on a lamp, casting a warm glow over the book filled room.

“You want some hot cocoa?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he replied smiling and followed her into the kitchen.

Angel filled up two mugs and put them in the microwave. She put two packets on the counter, turned, and leaned back covering a yawn. They stared at each other across the kitchen, the hum of the microwave filling in the silence between them. Cal could feel his eyes drooping.

“You look tired,” she said.

“Haven’t had a lot of time to sleep these days,” Cal said. He left out the part about the nightmares.

“Yeah, things have gotten pretty crazy,” she said.

Cal rubbed his eyes.

“Yeah,” he said. “Sorry to get you mixed up in all of this.”

She frowned and gave him a look like he was crazy.

“You didn’t,” she said. “I was right there with you, deciding to see what was going on. It was Oscar who didn’t want to.”

“Ugh,” Cal said, thinking about Oscar trying to explain stuff to his parents. “Poor Oscar. Yeah, maybe we should have listened to him.”

“Now you’re just being silly,” she said. “If we had listened to him, all of this stuff would still be going on. Only nobody would know about it. And there’s still be three agents.”

Cal smirked and nodded.

“I guess,” he said.

“Plus,” she continued. “Maybe you and I wouldn’t have met.”

She smiled and Cal returned it. The microwave beeped, shattering the peace.

Angel turned and prepared the cocoa.

“Is your mom back?” Cal asked.

Angel looked over her shoulder with a puzzled smile. Did he say something inappropriate?

“Oh,” Cal said, realizing what he could have been hinting at. “No, I just mean, won’t all of this talking and stuff wake her up?”

“Yeah,” Angel said, pushing a warm cup of cocoa into Cal’s hand. “She’s back, but probably asleep. She’s a really deep sleeper. It takes a lot to wake her up.”

Angel nodded for Cal to follow and walked back into the study.

They sat on the couch, sipping cocoa. Cal guessed she was as tired as he was. Through all of thoughts tumbling around in his head, an old question came to the surface. He didn’t know if he really wanted an answer, but he couldn’t let it go.

He turned towards her, bringing one leg up on the couch.

“Can I ask you something personal?” he asked.

She finished a sip and smiled and turned towards him. Their legs were touching.

“Sure,” she said. “Shoot.”

He took a sip, stalling.

“What’s the deal with Ivan?” he asked.

Her smile faded slightly.

“Ivan,” she said dropping her head back and looking at the ceiling.

“Ivan is a jerk,” she said.

She looked back at Cal, but didn’t look him in the eye.

“He’s in a band,” she continued, “which I thought was cool. I thought he was different, but he just wanted what all boys want.”

She shrugged.

“I’m a boy,” Cal said.

“Yes, you are,” Angel said looking him in the eye.

She reached out and stroked his cheek with a finger.

“But you’re nice to me,” she said softly. “You protect me.”

She smiled, continuing to stroke his cheek. Her eyes were glistening.

“You’re my Thor.”

“Hey,” Cal said with a laugh. “I told you not to call me that.”

“Does it really bother you that much?” she asked.

“No,” he said.

“Good.”

They both sipped their warm drinks.

“Don’t worry about Ivan,” she said. “He drove away.”

Cal nodded.

“I’m glad,” Cal said.

“Me, too.”

Angel held up a finger.

Cal froze.

“Hold on a sec,” she said, putting down her mug and standing up.

“What’s going on?” Cal asked starting to push himself up.

“No, it’s okay,” she said. “I just want to share something with you.”

She went to a bookshelf and ran her finger along the books. Finding what she wanted, she pulled it out and got back on the couch, sitting right next to Cal. Her warmth felt good. She flipped the book over so that Cal could read the cover.

“Anton Chekhov,” Cal read. “There’s no ‘h’ in Chekov.”

“There is in this Chekhov,” she said opening the book and flipping through it.

“This is The Lady with the Dog,” she said. “One of his most famous short stories.”

Cal finished his cocoa and put the mug in his lap. He rested his head against her shoulder, catching a brief scent of her smoky perfume, as she started to read. The words were nice, but meaningless to him. Her voice was beautiful.

* * *

He opened his eyes slowly. He felt warm and comfortable. Feelings that had been absent from his life during the past few weeks. His head was resting in Angel’s soft lap, her arm was draped over his shoulder.

He pushed himself up, being careful not to drop her arm. Her other hand was on the book on the other side of her. She didn’t wake as he sat up. She must take after her mom. He stood and crept into the kitchen, peeking out through the blinds. Relief flooded trough him as he saw only his scooter outside.

He crept back to the study and looked at Angel. He couldn’t believe how lucky he was. He kissed her forehead and her eyes fluttered open. She looked confused.

“Are you leaving?” she asked, her voice crackling with sleep.

“Yeah,” Cal said. “I have to get home and get some sleep.”

“Is the SUV gone?” she asked, standing up groggily.

“Yeah, we’re all clear,” he said.

“Okay.”

She walked around the couch and shuffled with him to the door, then wrapped her arms around him in a long hug goodbye. They pulled apart, arms still around each other.

“Be careful riding home,” she said looking into his eyes.

She leaned in and kissed him. With the shock of the first kiss over, he was more aware of her soft lips this time. The warm line of metal from her lip ring pressed gently into his lower lip.

They pulled apart. He knew he had to go, but he didn’t want to leave her or this feeling.

They released each other and he opened the door.

“Goodbye Thor,” she said smiling.

He smiled back and headed towards the scooter. It was chilly out, but he barely noticed with the warmth inside him. A part of his blissful mood did falter as he saw the beginnings of dawn behind the western mountains. He needed to get home.

Fortunately there wasn’t much traffic out at this hour of the morning. He got home quickly and was asleep the second he fell onto his bed.

The eyes were back, watching in his dreams.