“What are you up to?” Billy asks for what feels like the zillionth time.
“I’m almost there, you’ll figure out soon.”
“Why can’t you just tell me?”
“Because what if someone’s listening? Besides, you should be able to figure it out. You’re smart.”
“You know I can’t see what you’re doing, right? Just hear you.”
“Well then maybe you should look at your tracking device and figure out where I am and maybe you’ll get an idea of what I’m doing.”
I hear Billy typing away frantically on a keyboard. No doubt he’s seeing how I’m nearing Lake Oroville, an enormous reservoir outside of the old national forest. And if he’s smart, which he most definitely is, he’ll be figuring out right about now what one would do with a deep lake like Oroville when they have something they are trying to hide.
“Oh, come on, really? You think that—“
“Shh,” I shush him. “Seriously, if this is going to work, we need to keep complete radio silence on it.”
“And this is what’s happening, I don’t care what you think.”
“Seriously, Billy, I don’t care.”
I pause momentarily and then, realizing he’s being quiet, I continue talking.
“But the thing is, you’ll need to make sure to get it out into the middle of the, erm, thing. That way it will be, um, most effective.”
“And you don’t think I’ve already thought of that?”
We all climb into the vehicle with Maxine and sit in silence as we drive down the road. I stare out the window, noticing how we seem to be driving deeper into the smog and smoke of Burbank, instead of away from it.
“So, where is Alvin at, anyway?” Eve asks before I do.
“Oh, I was thinking you were already being aware,” Maxine answers from her spot in the front passenger seat. “He is waiting for you at the Rhodes’ home.”
“He’s at our house?” The Geek shrieks. “Where we were about to go to?”
“This is true,” Maxine answers. “He has been expecting you.”
“But I thought you said they had lost us,” Eve says quizzically.
“He has, but he also was expecting you may be deciding to return home. Turns out he was correct, no?”
“That’s good, isn’t it?” Eve whispers conspiratorially. “To have him on your turf?”
“Maybe,” The Geek answers with a frown on his face.
Things don’t look very good the closer we get to our home. First, we go through a wall of bright flames as several city blocks worth of buildings are currently being devoured by the fire. Then, the flame stops, and there is nothing but smoking husks of what used to be our neighborhood. Finally, we arrive home to our little house, which is the only place in at least two miles which appears completely unharmed by the fire.
Three big and mean looking men stand outside the front door as we pull into the driveway. Our entourage fills the street, but I still don’t feel comfortable.
Not that I should.
Alvin Alexander is already out the front door, a malicious smile on his face. He struts almost gleefully toward the car. Maxine steps out to greet him.
“Maxy, baby!” Alvin cheers as he pulls Maxine into a hug. “What have you brought me? An army? How did you know?”
Maxine shrugs him off, obviously not comfortable with the physical contact, and looks through the windows at us. “Mr. Alvin, I believe you should be happy to know I have returned your missing merchandise.”
“What?” Alvin says, cocking his head to the side as he looks at the SUV we’re sitting in. “Wait, no? Really?”
His eyes light up. He runs to the back door and pulls it open wide, a look of sheer joy erupts across his face as his eyes land on us. “Cyrus!” he shouts. “I thought I had lost you!”
Alvin looks to the men flanking our front door and snaps at them. They immediately join his side and pull us out of the vehicle, effortlessly. We are dragged into the house without another word.
We are shoved down roughly onto the couch in our living room and Alvin enters, the teeth he bore in a smile outdoors are now almost predatory.
“Thought you could get away, eh?” Alvin sneered. “Thought you could somehow manage to keep yourself hidden? When the entire country knows who you are and all want you dead?”
I find myself feeling quite cool at the moment. Everything feels right, like it should be. Almost like it has all been leading up to this very moment. I begin to feel rather gleeful about it all. And although I know I shouldn’t, a slight smile creases the corner of my lips.
“What do you think is so funny, Mr. Rhodes?” Alvin screams, getting in my face.
Something about his reaction digs into that smile and cracks it even larger. I can’t help it. Maybe it’s the shock of knowing I’m about to die, maybe it’s just how ridiculous every single moment of my life has been for weeks, maybe it’s that I haven’t sleep in who knows how long and I can’t tell if the sun outside is rising or setting. I don’t know. All I know is that right now, this very moment, has suddenly become incredibly funny.
A chuckle bursts out from between my lips before I can catch it.
A vein in Alvin’s head looks like it’s about to burst. Maybe that’s how we’ll get out of this whole thing alive? He’ll have an aneurysm because he doesn’t know how to interact with young people.
He gets closer to my face, his forehead pressing against mine, his warm breath beating down against my chin.
“You won’t find this all so funny when I slit your neck, now will you?”
“Oh, come on Alvin, you’re not going to slit my neck,” I say, leaning back in my chair to try and free myself from his smell. It’s not exactly terrible, but a little like mildew. And grass. And something else I can’t quite place. Like black licorice almost.
“No? And why won’t I do that?” he asks, standing up to his full size and attempting to determine what I’m hiding.
“Because, for some reason which I certainly don’t understand, you need us. That’s why you didn’t kill us when you found us in that tunnel. Maybe it’s because deep down you think you owe us something, maybe because we got rid of Miss Nile so you could take her place, but I think it’s something more. I think there’s something you can’t do without us.”
“And what makes you think that?”
“I don’t know,” I say with a confident sigh. “But since everyone needs us for something, I’d say the odds on me being right are in my favor. So what is it, Al? What do you need from Cyrus and his astounding band of adventurers?”
“Why wouldn’t it be Eve’s adventurers?” Eve asks with a nudging smile.
“Enough!” Alvin shouts. “Throw them into the basement until I can arrange to get them placed back in confinement.”
Go to Chapter Thirty-One