(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.”
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?”
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.