(written 11/22/2010 - total words 54,624)
Bigby. After almost two years, why would he come back, and why wasn’t he protected better?
Stan looked up at Benson, then down at Wilson’s binding on his desk. Bigby knew enough to take out Wilson, but not enough to keep himself alive.
He traced the engravings in the metal with his finger, remembering coming up with the design, and the excruciating pain of activating it. He wasn’t looking forward to having to do that again.
Bigby had to know that he would die if he came back, so why come back?
“It must have been Bigby at the golf course then?” Stan asked.
“That is unclear,” Benson responded. “The problem with surrounding the portal with a golf course is all of the people you have walking around it. It makes it impossible to find any individual tracks.”
“Yes, yes,” Stan said. As if he’d had any choice in the matter.
“Of course, Bigby would know enough to cover his tracks,” Benson added.
“He does know that,” Stan said. “And how to pass the fence, and how to break a binding.”
“I think we’ve answered our mystery,” Stan said.
Benson sat still. Stan wasn’t sold on his hypothesis and was hoping the agent would share its insight. He should know better.
“What did you find out about Bigby?” Stan asked. “Where was he hiding? How did he sneak in?”
“We know nothing,” Benson said. “He had nothing on his person that would allow him to hide so well. He just showed up, set of alarms and we killed him.”
“Where did he show up?” Stan asked.
“A parking lot to the north of town,” Benson replied.
“He passed it off,” Stan said more to himself to Benson.
“What would it look like?” Stan asked.
Stan had no experience with Bigby’s sponsor. No way of knowing how things would work on that side. Benson should have some idea.
“Metal,” Benson replied. “Triangular. Not too large. They tend to be very light weight, but powerful.”
That would be nice. Everything Stan had to deal with was large and heavy. He fingered Wilson’s binding again.
“Likely a raven on it somehow,” Benson continued. “That’s a favored creature.”
Stan smirked. The Lemolos. But he’d taken care of the Lemolos. The Lemolos would have killed Bigby faster than Stan had.
Which circled back to the question of why Bigby would return to certain death.
“He brought something else,” Stan said.
“Like what?” Benson asked.
“I don’t know, but he was a messenger,” Stan said. “He delivered something. Find out who he met with. Whoever he gave that item to would have disappeared.”
“It was Cannon,” Benson said.
Stan frowned at him. How long had he had that information.
“Cannon has been hard to fix since Bigby showed up,” Benson said.
Stan steepled his fingers and sat back.
“Then we need to know what else Cannon got from Bigby,” he said. “But you won’t be able to do anything to him if he’s got protection, especially if Bigby has explained things to him.”
“Correct,” Benson replied.
Stan had a brilliant idea. He sat forward and smiled with excitement.
“But Ms. Massenberg does not,” he said. “You’ve already roughed up Martinez. If we target his friends he will cooperate. Or, if not, he will at least be isolated.”
“Hit Massenberg hard,” he said.
“Can I kill her?” Benson asked.
Stan held the agent’s gaze. He needed to keep him on a tight leash, but he also needed results.
“If you must,” he said, hoping he wouldn’t regret it.
He released the agent and returned to his office. His phone was ringing, but he ignored it. Benson was a goner. He’d have to pull in more support, but that would take a long time. He wouldn’t have the strength or the opportunity until at least spring.
If he could get his hands on Bigby’s items that could change things though.
Finally things were going his way.
* * *
Sunday mornings at Denny’s are the worst. First it’s completely dead. Completely boring. Cal did some sprayer olympics, shooting water down from the top of the counter to see which piece of toast would reach the disposal first.
Then churches started getting out and everything went crazy. It was wall to wall dishes from then until the end of his shift at 4pm. After the first few hours of boredom it was usually a welcome change, but the physical nature of the work was getting to Cal.
Everything hurt. He stopped keeping track of where he had picked up different bruises and scrapes. In general his body just ached. Every movement caused complaints from some muscle that felt it was doing more than its fair share.
All he wanted to do was to sit in a hot bath and get a moment of relaxation. The problem is he’d probably fall asleep, and that wouldn’t be relaxing at all. He would have thought his dreams from falling into the lake would have gone away by now, but they were still there. Every time he fell asleep. And every morning he awoke feeling like he was drowning, completely unrested.
Cal did the best he could, but the dirty dishes were piling up. The bus boy kept coming in and complaining to him. First they were out of bread plates, then it was forks, then it was glasses.
Before he knew it, Cal was sitting in the locker room. Another shift behind him. Another six and a half hours of his life literally down the drain. The locker room was quiet, though it felt cold. Being in a room with Bessie was like being in a sauna. After a shift in there, everywhere felt a little chilly.
The relative quiet was nice, though. He tried to catch the whirlwind of thoughts blowing through his head and put them in some kind of order.
What was he going to do?
Thanks to Rob, Cal had been talked into trying to play freshman football. In the one training session he’d gone to, the coach repeated a saying: “How do you eat a elephant?”. He’d heard Rob use it before. It was a standard of the football team. It was a call and response in the Church of Jock. The players would all call out the answer “One bite at a time.” Much like the rest of football, or any sport really, it never made any sense to him. He got hung up on the metaphor. Why would he ever want to eat an elephant?
Well, he had an elephant to eat now. Which bite was first?
He reached up and grabbed his phone from the shelf in the locker. He had a text message from Oscar.
COME OVER AFTER WORK? Oscar had texted.
SURE, Cal texted back.
There was a bite of elephant he could work on. He thought about inviting Angel, but decided that maybe Oscar would want some one-on-one time. He finished getting changed and headed out to his scooter.
* * *
Mrs. Martinez seemed much happier to see him today. He hoped it had less to do with Angel’s absence than he thought it did.
The stairs to Oscar’s room were yet another burden he had to push himself through. There was no bounding up these stairs. Each one was work. Each one tried to stop him.
Oscar’s face was more normal looking today, though the bruising was darker. He had a pretty bad black eye.
“Where’s Angel?” Oscar asked.
“Not sure,” he said. “Did you text her?”
“No,” Oscar replied. “I figured you’d bring her. I have some questions with our chemistry homework.”
Cal shook his head. Would he ever escape Chemistry?
“How are you feeling?” Cal asked.
“About as bad as I look.”
“Can you close the door?” Oscar asked.
“Sure,” Cal said, walking over and shutting the door.
Oscar pulled himself out of bed and shuffled over to his desk chair. Cal sat on the foot of the bed.
“I’m really confused,” Oscar said to Cal.
Oscar looked really worried.
“I know what happened in the accident,” Oscar said. “I remember it clearly.”
Cal felt a wave of relief.
“But,” Oscar continued. “I can’t shake the image of that thing crushing my arm.”
“Wait,” Cal said shaking his head. Now he was confused. “Back up there. What do you mean you know what happened in the accident? What happened?”
“I lost control of the car,” Oscar said slowly, purposefully. “I hit the guard rail, and the car spun around. My arm got pinned between the car and the guard rail.”
“That’s not what happened, Oscar,” Cal said.
“How do you know?” Oscar said. His eyes were scared, pleading for Cal to explain things.
“I know because I was there,” Cal said. “Angel too. It was a hit and run accident. I assume it was an agent, but I didn’t really see the other car. It was big, though.”
Oscar frowned at him.
“We decided that Angel and I should leave,” Cal said. “We’d lied to our parents about having to work last night. We didn’t go to work, we went to talk with Jason and his friends. We got hit on the way back. If Angel and I had been there, our cover story would have been blown, so we left.”
Oscar looked down at the floor, nodding.
“That all sounds right,” he said. “But I can’t reconcile it in my brain. It just doesn’t fit.”
Cal looked at Oscar, considering if he should share what he and Angel had found out, trying to determine if Oscar was trustworthy.
Oscar looked up, questioning the silence.
“Can I trust you?” Cal asked.
“What does that mean?” Oscar asked. “Why wouldn’t you be able to trust me?”
“They got to you, Oscar.” Cal said. “The agents got to you, but I don’t know what they did.”
Oscar looked down at his cast.
“You can trust me, Cal,” Oscar said looking back up at Cal. “I’m confused, but you can trust me.”
“Do you remember what we were going to do?” Cal asked.
“Of course,” Oscar said.
“We’re going to chlorinate the lake,” he said.
“You think that’s a good idea?” Cal asked.
“I think it’s the only idea we’ve got,” Oscar said.
Cal nodded. That sounded like Oscar.
“These agents,” Cal said. “They do stuff to people’s minds. It’s some kind of manipulation. They make people think certain things. They’re doing it to the whole town. I think they did it to you, too, but it’s not sticking very well for whatever reason.”
“How do you know this?” Oscar asked.
“I ran into Cesar Bigby.”
“No,” Oscar said, astonished. “You ran into Bigby? Where? Didn’t he just get killed?”
Cal filled him in on what details they had.
“Bigby,” Oscar said shaking his head. “Man. I’m sorry, Cal.”
“It’s just more reason to figure this stuff out,” Cal said. “More reason to follow through with our plan.”
“Yeah,” Oscar said, turning and rummaging through the papers on his desk. “I pretty much just sat in bed yesterday, so I did some calculations to see how much chlorine we would need to shock the lake.”
“Shock the lake?” Cal asked.
“It’s a burst of chlorine that you do the first time to wipe out everything,” Oscar said.
He found a note pad and flipped through it, then paused reading.
“Uhm,” he said looking up at Cal. “Let me run through these again. Maybe those pain meds were stronger than I remember.”
Cal was going to offer to help, but it seemed awfully close to chemistry.
There was a knock at the door and Mrs. Martinez came in.
“It’s time for your medication, Oscar,” she said.
Oscar winced as he stood up and hobbled back to his bed.
“You need to rest up for school tomorrow,” she said.
Cal got the message.
“I should get going,” he said. “I could use some sleep myself. I’ll see you at lunch tomorrow.”
“You kids are always so busy,” Mrs. Martinez said, looking at Cal as he was leaving. “You need your sleep. It’s important for your brains.”
“I agree,” said Cal with a smile.
Mrs. Martinez waved him off, and Cal headed back out to his scooter.
* * *
Cal didn’t get much rest. He was trying to stay awake in fourth period, but it was tough. The teacher’s lecture on the French Revolution wasn’t helping. The eyes that watched him when he slept did, though.
Finally the bell rang. There was some mercy left in the universe.
Oscar showed up early, so Cal didn’t get any alone time with Angel. Cal guessed it was better as they needed the time to plan, but was still somewhat disappointed. He realized that he’d neglected to tell Oscar anything about how things were developing with Angel. They were holding hands as they walked across the school lawn. If Oscar had noticed this change, he didn’t bring it up. It didn’t seem to bother him.
They got their sandwiches and sat at a table in the corner.
“You look awful,” Angel said to Oscar. “Are you feeling okay?”
“Yeah,” Oscar said. “Things hurt less, but ache more.”
Angel grabbed Cal’s hand. She had a concerned look on her face. Oscar did too.
“Are you okay?” she asked Cal.
“I’m okay,” Cal said slowly, not understanding their sudden concern. “Why?”
“You just passed out,” Oscar said. “Just sitting there with your eyes closed.”
Cal looked at him, then to Angel.
“Really?” he said.
“Did you get any sleep last night?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Cal said. “I went to bed really early.”
“You don’t look like it,” she said.
“I don’t sleep very well these days,” he said. “I keep seeing stuff from the lake.”
“That was over a week ago,” Angel said.
“That’s still going on?” Oscar asked.
“Yeah,” Cal said, not sure how much he wanted to divulge. “It’s been pretty consistent.”
Angel squeezed Cal’s hand.
“What did Jason say about you contacting the thing in the lake?” she asked. “Something about remembering you?”
“Yeah,” Cal said, his memory fuzzy. “Something like that.”
“Is it talking to you?” she asked.
That wasn’t a pleasant idea.
“You mean like when we were at the golf course?” he asked.
“Maybe,” she said. “I don’t know. Is it the same?”
He thought about it. He didn’t recall the violent imagery, just the eyes. There was a familiar feel to it, though.
“It’s not that same imagery,” he said. “But it’s a similar feel.”
“We need to stop it,” she said. “Break the connection.”
“That’s the plan,” Cal said.
“No,” she said. “You look horrible. People go crazy without sleep. We need to stop this thing now.”
“Yeah,” Cal said. “I’d certainly vote for sooner rather than later. I guess there’s no reason to wait, really. We can dump chlorine in at any time.”
“No,” Oscar said. “It does matter. Maybe you can kill one of these agents and everybody forgets them and goes about their business, but we’re going to be vandalizing the country club.”
“We shut down the portal and the agents go away,” Oscar continued. “And we’re still the kids who vandalized the koi pond. I’d like to avoid that responsibility if we can.”
“If it even works,” Cal said.
“Well if it doesn’t work,” Oscar said. “I certainly don’t want to get caught.”
“Are there actually koi in that pond?” Angel asked.
“I didn’t see any,” Cal said, wondering if the millions of eyes were actually koi.
“SUV,” Oscar said, nodding towards the parking lot.
Cal followed Oscar’s nod, and found that there was indeed a black SUV passing by outside the diner.
“Lunch is over,” Angel said.
They bussed their table, then hurried back to school.
Cal hung back with Angel as they entered the school. Oscar seemed to get the hint and excused himself to get to class early.
“Are you going to make it through the day?” Angel asked, looking worried.
“I’m going to be okay,” he said. “But I want you to take something.”
He reached into his shirt and pulled out the raven’s totem.
“Bigby said you should leave that on,” Angel said, shaking her head.
“He told me that it would protect me,” Cal said.
“Then you should keep it,” she said.
“No, I want you to keep it,” he said. “I don’t have SUVs sitting outside of my house. I don’t want you to be in danger.”
“All of us are in danger,” Angel said.
“Remember Parson, before I killed him? He was after you. Not me, and certainly not Oscar. He just knocked us out of the way and went right for you.”
“I don’t want that to happen again,” he said starting to lift the necklace.
“No,” Angel said, pushing his hands down. “You’re sleep deprived and being a dope. You need to keep that necklace on.”
“I couldn’t deal with it if you got hurt,” he told her.
“Well I couldn’t deal with it if you got hurt because of some stupid chauvinistic stunt,” she snapped.
He started to argue
She kissed him.
“They gave it to you for a reason,” she said. “Stop being stupid.”
The bell rang.
She kissed him again, then went to her class.