- “I don’t know you,” I tell Malcolm.“I’m trying to help you. To keep you safe.” He waves his hand. “The rest is just extra. Can we start fresh?”I shake his hand. If Rory appointed this man to watch over me, I can give him a shot. There have to be several reasons I was given to him instead of Julian or Atalanta. It’s just bizarre that the man I know the least has the strongest tie to me. I want to learn more about him and my brother.Julian watches us interact with a smirk on his face. He knows something I didn’t–about Malcolm, that is. I wonder what it could be.“All right,” he says to Malcolm, “you’d better get going. Attie and I might go on a run of sorts tonight.”I don’t know what he’s talking about, but the scowl on Malcolm’s face tells me it’s not good. I come right out and ask.“What are you talking about?”Malcolm’s scowl intensifies. “She doesn’t need to know about any of this, Julian.”“It’s too late,” he says. “Don’t be stupid. She’s involved.” He looks pointedly at me. “And don’t speak about her as though she isn’t there. It’s rude.”I feel a surge of affection for Julian. He seems to care about me, too. I don’t understand why Rory didn’t make him my guardian. I’m most comfortable around him. Maybe he has some kind of dark side I don’t know about.Malcolm goes to put his arm around me. Without meaning to, I flinch. He withdraws and shoves his hands in his pockets instead. “Damita, Rory wouldn’t want you to know about all this. He never would’ve wanted you to go out on a run.”“She’s not going,” says Julian. “She just asked what it was.”There’s a knock at the door. Julian gets up and answers it. Atalanta blows a stream of smoke into the room.“Where have you been? I thought we were going…” She makes eye contact with Malcolm and her voice dissipates. “Oh my God! How long have you been here?” She rushes toward him and pulled him into a hug. “Julian and I were worried sick!”Julian scoffs. “She was. Not me.”I don’t believe him. I haven’t known him long, but Julian Hartwell doesn’t seem to be apathetic about anything.Atalanta flicks ashes off her cigarette, waltzes into the room, and plops down on my lap. I freeze in shock. She grabs my hand and pulls my arm around her waist.What’s wrong with this woman?“Julian and I are going on a run, Malcolm? Isn’t that exciting?”His face doesn’t change as much as it had before. “So I hear. Same place as last time?”“We’re going to try down by the docks,” Julian says. “China said she knew a guy, and he might have an idea what to do.”“Speaking of China,” Atalanta says.Julian clicks his tongue. “What, you talked to her?”“I need to tell you all something,” Atalanta says. “It concerns everyone.”The room is all ears. She leans forward, placing her hands on her knees.“Wesley Cray has been spotted in the woods near Rory’s house.”
While Julian, Malcolm and I sit in my motel room, I can’t help feeling stupid. I thought my brother told me everything. After knowing him for so long, I didn’t think him capable of keeping secrets from me. Now they truth comes out. I feel sheepish and silly. The worst part is that Julian and Malcolm don’t seem at all surprised by my ignorance. If anything, they expect it. That makes me feel worse.
Malcolm is the first to change the subject—it isn’t so much of a change of subject as a shift in mood. He leans forward from his seated position on the edge of the bed. “When we got involved in this conspiracy, Rory was determined to make sure you were taken care of. If anything happened to you, he wanted me to become your guardian.” When I don’t say anything, he continues. “As long as you’re okay with it, that is.”
What am I supposed to say? I’ve known the man for all of ten minutes. He said he was close friends with Rory, but I have no proof. Sure, Julian knows him, but Julian hasn’t proved his relationship to my brother, either. Can I trust anyone?
“I don’t know,” I say.
Given the circumstances, it’s the most honest thing I can say. Malcolm seems nice enough, but is he guardian material? I have no idea. What if the whole situation is somehow a trap? What if Malcolm, Julian, and Atalanta are all in cahoots to murder me? What if they killed my brother?
“What are you thinking?” Julian asks.
I’m sure what to tell him. The truth is awkward. I can’t very well come out and say I don’t trust either one of them. I don’t know what they’ll do or how they’ll handle it. So, I lie instead.
“I was only thinking about Rory,” I say.
“We’re going home,” Malcolm says.
I don’t know what he means. When he says “home,” is he talking about the house I shared with Rory? That’s not a home anymore, just a house. And it certainly doesn’t belong to Malcolm.
“A policeman is coming to get me,” I say.
For all I knew, this is true, but it also makes a convenient excuse. Malcolm can’t take me with him if we’re expecting the police.
“No, he’s not,” he says. “I already talked to him. They don’t need to question or harass you anymore.”
I know from the light in his eyes that he means every word. In spite of the brevity of our relationship, he’s serious about protecting me. No wonder Rory chose him to be my guardian. Still, I don’t like that my only way out has been taken away. I plan to retaliate however I can.
“You don’t have the authority,” I say.
Malcolm sighs. “We’ll never get anywhere if you fight me at every turn. Why don’t you trust me?”
I’m not sure where to start. For one thing, I never met him prior to my brother’s death. I don’t know anything about him. Then there’s the fact he’s involved in the conspiracy. He has no problem with committing treason. What other crimes is he comfortable with?
- The minute I see the car, my heart stops. I saw it earlier at the house, but it’s somehow different now. Changed. It doesn’t look different, but it feels different. As we get closer, I’m struck by a sense of dread. Something’s off. I can’t explain it. Somehow I just know.Julian must feel something, too. He stops short of the car and turns around. His face is tight. “This could be a trap.”“Yeah, I thought about that.” Rory was murdered and the police haven’t caught the killer. What if he wants to silence me next?“I’ll go first,” Julian says. “That way, if something happens…” He lets his voice trail off. Neither of us wants to talk about death.By the time we get around to the side of the car, we realize that the driver’s side door is wide open. There’s no one sitting behind the wheel. The keys dangle from the ignition. A faint beeping echoes into the parking lot, reminding the driver what he left behind.“I don’t understand it,” Julian says. His face is creased in fear and frustration. “Someone had to drive it here. Where did they go?”I scan the parking lot for clues. There aren’t many other cars around and certainly no people. Where could the driver be?Then, I hear a door slam. Mine and Julian’s heads snap up in the direction of the noise. Someone walked out of the front office. The man is tall, dark-skinned, and radiating charm. I take a step back. I know nothing about him. The way he eyes my brother’s truck makes my skin crawl.Julian’s shoulders slump. He smiles. “Malcolm. What are you doing here?”The man keeps his eyes on me. “This is her then? Damita?”“How did you get my brother’s keys? They were in his bedroom.” My stomach ties itself in knots. I step closer to Julian. Even though he seems to know this man, I have no idea how. My brother knew him, too. So why haven’t we been introduced yet?“He told me where they were. Is there somewhere we can talk?”“Neither of you should probably be seen with me,” says Julian. “I’ll go back upstairs first. We can reconvene in my room.”I remember Atalanta and wonder if she’ll be there, too. I’m still not sure how I feel about her. Julian trusts her, at least on some level, but he expressed concerns for my safety with her around. What does it all mean?“The officer who dropped me off yesterday said he was coming back,” I say. “They want me to answer a few more questions.”“Your brother was my friend,” Malcolm says. “I’ve heard a lot about you.” I’m sensing a pattern in my brother’s circle of so-called friends. Malcolm digs the toe of his shoe in a crack in the asphalt. “I’d really rather you and I have this conversation in private.”I want the opposite. “I’m not comfortable being alone with you. Julian,” I say, “can you come to my room with him?”Julian nods. “Of course. I’ll be upstairs in my room. Knock when you get up there.”With my eyes, I implore him to stay. With his eyes, he dismisses me.
I rush over to the window to verify what Julian said. There is, indeed, a black station wagon, with a scratch on one side, that looks exactly like the car that Rory drove.I feel unsettled. I can’t understand it. Why is that car in the hotel parking lot?If I didn’t drive it, the only other person to drive it was Rory. The keys are hidden in his bedroom. Unless the police officer found the key, which is entirely possible, I can’t understand who has the ability to open his car. Even if the cops have the key, why would they drive his vehicle?“The keys were in his bedroom,” I tell Julian.“I’m sure they were,” he says.“So what is his car doing down there?”“I was hoping you knew.”My heart pounds in my chest. “What do you think we should do?”Julian hesitates. “I don’t know,” he says. “I just don’t know.”I can tell by the look on his face that he’s absolutely horrified. I know exactly how he feels because that’s the way I feel, too. I can’t imagine why someone would want to take my brother’s car. Are they trying to send some kind of message?“What do you think we should do?” I ask.“It might be dangerous to go down there.”“But you think we need to check the car out, right?” I hope that’s what he’s thinking. I want to know what’s going on, and I don’t want to go down to the parking lot alone.He nods. “I’ll go. You stay.”“No.”“Damita, it’s dangerous.”“That’s my brother’s car.”He gives up trying to argue with me. I can tell by the tension is his face that he disagrees with my decision, but he clearly respects me enough to let me tag along. When he holds the door open for me, I’m a little surprised.“What’s the matter?” he asks.“I never imagined a sky eyes would hold a door for me.”“Come off it,” he says. “It’s all right. Let’s do this.”I don’t feel like arguing with him, either. We have no idea what’s waiting for us downstairs. The longer we put off our investigation, the more I fear something will happen to the car—something decidedly not good. As though things can get worse.I slip past Julian without touching him somehow. I can’t handle touching him. Just talking to him feels bizarre. Close contact is illegal.He waits for me at the top of the stairs. He stares up at the ceiling.“What’s wrong?” I ask.“Not a fan of stairs,” he says. “I’m afraid of heights.”I study the staircase. It contains two flights. “It’s not even that steep or anything, you know.”“I know,” he snaps. The subject is closed.I wonder if there’s any way I can help him. “Would it be better if I went down the stairs first?” I don’t wait for an answer. We’re running out of time.“I’m coming,” he says.I don’t look back. It’s hard for me to believe that someone comfortable with plotting treason can be afraid of stairs. The only thing I was afraid of was losing my brother.Now, I am fearless. There’s nothing else that anyone can take away from me.