Authors: Lynnie Purcell
“Chuck Norris could kick Mr. T’s ass any day of the week!” Alex said.
“How is the data sorting going?” Jackson asked Alex, probably to shut us up.
“Oh…I forgot about that. Clare distracted me,” Alex admitted.
“Margaret and I are going back out tonight, and we’d love to not simply wander around
aimlessly,” he said pointedly.
“Right. Data sorting…” Alex said. She pulled the laptop toward her and started examining the dots with a level of concentration I envied.
I watched Alex watch the screen for a minute, fast realizing that data sorting was a one woman job. Plus, I hadn’t come down all this way to watch a screen. “Can I go out tonight with you guys?” I asked Jackson.
“No, not tonight,” he said.
“Tomorrow?” I asked.
“We’ll see,” he replied.
Something in the tone of his voice had me doubting it. Had Margaret’s encounter with the
Watcher made him rethink his promise to let me help save people? Did he think I was too human for such a deadly encounter? I looked down at my hands. What would have happened if I had
encountered the Watcher instead of Margaret? Would they have casually uttered ‘the usual’? I doubted that, too. Frustration and helplessness welled up inside as he left to join Margaret in their room.
Two long days passed with me cramped in that godforsaken room. At the eve of both days I
asked Jackson if I could go out only to be met with “maybe tomorrow.”
The idea that Daniel was out risking his neck, while I was locked away in a room, was driving me crazy. Alex wasn’t as affected. She stayed glued to the computer, directing Jackson and Margaret to the areas with the most activity. There was another encounter, another ‘usual’ result, but nothing worth mentioning twice... at least, not to Margaret and Jackson, who were rather blasé about their extracurricular activities.
On the morning of the third day, we got news from Daniel.
Alex was at the laptop while I paced from my room to the living area in restless energy.
Margaret stepped in front of me, one eyebrow raised. I thought she was going to make a
comment about my pacing, when, instead, she handed me the note.
Confused, I unfolded the scrap paper and saw Daniel’s handwriting:
Serenity’s contact was
good. I was taken to the nest, and managed to convince them not to sell me into
slavery, which is good. I start the initiation process today. I have to do some
ritual they call the ‘gambit,’ to become part of their nest. I won’t be able to
contact you for a while. Be safe. The Shadow
I read the letter three times. It was far from reassuring. But at least he hadn’t been murdered…or sold into slavery, which apparently had been a risk he hadn’t shared with me.
“Define ‘a while,’” I muttered to the paper, annoyed at his vagueness. “Getting sold into slavery was a risk?” I asked Margaret.
She nodded and her violet eyes were strangely sympathetic. “Every single day…We’re going out again this morning. Stay here.”
“Sit. Stay. Roll over. Woof,” I said.
“Right,” Margaret agreed. Her black hair swayed gently as she turned from me to join Jackson.
They left quietly, their hands linked as the mentally communicated with each other...I assumed they were communicating ways to annoy me more.
I went back to pacing. Alex stared at the monitor and ignored me, used to my pacing by now. But I’d had enough. “I drove ten hours in a smelly van to get locked in a room!” I said to nobody. I paced back into my room. “While they just breeze in and out, as if they were on a long vacation!
Sit, Clare, stay in this room, Clare, go insane Clare! And Daniel…sending me that stupid note!
What about it is supposed to make me feel better?” I brandished it in furious agitation.
Alex shut the laptop and moved so she was blocking my path. “Let’s go do something, then.
Jackson and Margaret aren’t our parents.”
“What did you have in mind?” I asked.
“Shopping,” Alex said automatically.
“Oh, it’ll be fun…and it’s a lot safer than running around looking for trouble,” Alex said.
It didn’t take me long to come to a decision. “All right, but let’s be careful.”
“As in, go out the back way, so the nosy front desk dude doesn’t tell the whole French Quarter where we went.”
“I like it,” Alex said.
I pointed at the window in my room, and she nodded. I climbed out first, on to a large walkway then I helped Alex out. We turned to go down the stairs and saw a woman with her pre-teen son staring at us in shock, having witnessed our entire escape.
I frowned and said very seriously, “Our door wouldn’t open. We’re going to tell management about it right now. You should probably check yours.”
I grabbed Alex’s arm and marched her away from the perplexed pair. Alex was in full silent giggle mode. I couldn’t fight my laughter for long. Clutching at her arm, we giggled our way through the back entrance and out to the street.
My first impression of being free was of the heat; the humid air sizzled in waves as it bounced off the stone of the street. Sweat started to trickle down my back as Alex and I laughed our way up the narrow, balcony entrenched road of our street. The beautiful buildings, and closed-in streets, were a reminder of what I liked about coastal cities, and the flat roads, and humid heat, reminded me what I liked about King’s Cross. We finally stopped giggling as we reached the intersection of our road and started directing our feet toward shopping. I hadn’t done much shopping on my last visit, but Alex was a pro. With an uncanny sense of direction, she found us a long row of shops full of clothing and early morning tourists.
“Hey, Bourbon Street,” she said pointing to a sign. “That’s famous, right?”
“I suppose,” I replied.
Sweaty people moved around the shops in a slow saunter of tourist ease. Men in high socks and big hats, to ward off the sun, stared at maps, while their spouses pointed out every innocuous thing as a novelty. We passed such a couple as we window shopped, the wife pointing at a
building, her face excited. I put on a northern accent and leaned close to Alex, imitating the woman. “Oh, look there, hunny, it’s one of those parking meter things I’ve heard so much about!
And look, it’s one of those gosh darn automobiles!”
Alex lowered her voice to mimic the man, who appeared irritable. “We have parking meters back home, woman!”
“Yes, but these parking meters were built by the French, don’t ya know!” I said in that same northern accent.
She laughed at me. “Oh, look! Sandals!” She pulled me inside a shoe store with a jerk.
We shopped the stores along Bourbon Street until it was lunchtime. The voices around me were incredibly loud and obnoxious, but I welcomed the way they erased my worried thoughts. I
didn’t want privacy when all I could think about was Daniel and the danger he was in. It was the sort of distraction I had desperately needed.
We were circling the shops for a place to eat when I saw trouble. Margaret, her violet eyes flashing strange colors in the bright sun, stormed toward us with a vengeance. I nudged Alex in the ribs to get her to stop window shopping.
“This wasn’t my idea,” she said automatically when she saw Margaret.
“It was all your idea,” I pointed out.
“Yeah, but I wouldn’t have done it if I had been alone. You’re the one that snuck out,” she said.
“You’re the one that didn’t stop me,” I said.
“You’re the one that’s looking for something to do, so she won’t think about Daniel,” she said.
“Know-it-all,” I muttered.
Margaret stopped in front of us. “What do you think you are doing?” she asked in a low voice.
“I think I’m chillaxing with a friend,” I said.
“Are you bringing back chillax?” Alex asked.
“I was thinking about it,” I admitted.
“It wasn’t a good idea the first time,” she told me.
“Like this little trip, you mean?!” Margaret hissed. “You don’t know who could be watching…”
“They don’t know we’re down here,” I replied.
“It is best not to assume what they know,” she said. “You should not have endangered Daniel’s mission out of a moment of adolescent ridiculousness. Now, go!”
Alex and I, both sheepish at the scolding, started down the street with Alex in the lead. Margaret marched on our heels. The anger radiating from her lean form added heat to the already hot day.
I didn’t try to apologize to Margaret. For one, I knew she would scorn the words. An apology didn’t right the wrong. Secondly, I didn’t feel very sorry. Getting out of that hotel had felt good.
Besides, how much danger could we really be in?
We were at the intersection of the street to our hotel when that question was answered. I felt eyes on the back of my neck as strongly as if the person were next to me. It was a slow realization that prickled my senses, gradually making my body tense. I turned to search for the watcher, wanting to place a face to the eyes, and saw that Margaret was tense, coiled tightly. She, too, felt the eyes on us. From her expression, I knew it wasn’t Jackson. Her eyes went distant and a strange breeze billowed softly down the street. It was a wonderful reprieve from the stagnant air and her hot temper. I breathed in deeply, and smelled salty air and sand.
“That feels nice,” Alex said, as the breeze ruffled her hair.
The breeze stopped and Margaret’s eyes cleared. She reached out and put her hand on mine.
Walk faster…away from the hotel. Put Alex between us. Be alert.
I didn’t question her; I simply did as she asked. Margaret dropped my hand, and I moved in front of Alex. To her credit, Alex didn’t ask what was going on, or question my sudden turn away from the hotel. Perhaps, she felt the eyes on us as well. I maneuvered down another narrow road, and the eyes lifted from my back.
“False alarm?” I asked Margaret.
“Keep walking,” she said. She pointed for us to go in another direction her eyes busy and her body tense.
I wasn’t sure if she was trying to punish us for sneaking out without her knowledge, or if she was being overly cautious, but she made us walk for two hours before she let us go back to the hotel.
I saw a lot of the city – not that I got to enjoy it. I was too tense, wondering when the attack would come. Alex kept quiet, and I focused on trying to see all the things Margaret was seeing. I felt like I missed a lot. With new calluses on my feet as a souvenir, Margaret finally directed my feet back to the hotel. When the door to our room was shut securely, she let out a strange sigh.
Then she glared at us and stormed through to her room. I sat down on the sofa and stared at the empty television, feeling guilty and annoyed at the same time. Alex sat down next to me,
returning us to the state we had been in before we had snuck out.
“What was that about?” she asked me.
“Someone was watching us. Couldn’t you feel it?” I asked.
“No…but there were lots of people on the street. Anyone of them could have been curious about us. Haven’t you ever people-watched?” she asked.
“Not really,” I said.
“It’s an interesting sociological experiment to see people in crowds like that.”
“If you say so,” I replied.
She plucked at the arm of the sofa. “You don’t think it was a casual people-watcher?” she asked.
“I don’t think Margaret thinks it was which makes me think it wasn’t.”
“Who’d be watching us?” she asked. I made a face at her. It was obvious who would be watching us. “Right. I don’t guess there is anything we can do about it,” she said.
“Trust me. Margaret will take care of it.”
“Oh, I trust you,” she said.
“They’ll never let us out now,” I said quietly.
“They might,” she said hopefully.
“And Elvis isn’t dead,” I said.
“I have my doubts.” Alex popped off the sofa and grabbed the laptop. “I’m going to stare at this thing some more.”
“Let me know if you find anything,” I said.
She nodded and took the computer into my room for privacy. I went back to staring at the empty television.
Jackson found me in that same spot hours later. “Sneaking out?” he asked.
“We just went shopping,” I said.
“I see. That makes it so much better,” Jackson said.
I shrugged and kept my eyes on the television. I wasn’t in the mood for him to guilt me into anything. He reached out with one hand and spun the sofa around, so that the television was to my back. It was startling, mainly because the sofa was so big and he managed it with minimal effort.
“Come on,” he told me.
“Come on, where? You’re not going to kill me and dump the body in the bayous, are you?” I
“I was thinking about it…but, sadly, no. I figure the best way to keep you from acting like a teenager is to keep you occupied.”
“It usually works,” I confirmed.
We walked into his room. Margaret was gone, though I hadn’t noticed her leave. The room was pristine, the bed untouched. I wondered if they had gotten any rest since getting here. It made me feel doubly upset for my days spent in nothing but rest.
Jackson picked up two fencing foils I hadn’t noticed he had brought from the corner of the room.
They were shiny and ominous in his hands. He pointed at me with one. “You are going to learn to fence. When you’re not fencing, you’re going to work out.”
“Are you going to teach me?” I asked, hoping he didn’t mean for Margaret to teach me.
“When I’m here.”
Alex had followed us into the room. “Can I learn?”
Jackson shrugged. “Sure. When I’m done teaching Clare.” He handed me a foil and stepped
“Learn now?” I asked.
“Yep.” His brown eyes flashed with dangerous emotion. I knew I was about to learn a lesson I wouldn’t forget. I also knew I was about to get my real penance for sneaking out.
Jackson’s method of teaching was brutal. He didn’t waste time with words, and he certainly wasn’t kind. Two seconds after he came at me, I was disarmed, lying flat on my back, and