The interview room was not nearly as tense as he would have expected, but as he sat himself down Phillip found his own heartbeat creeping faster. He hesitated for just a moment before picking up the manila folder in front of him; some scrawled handwriting on it indicated that it was Katherine’s preliminary report. “Sorry I’m late,” he said.
“It is of no consequence,” Daniel said. He was seated on the couch, next to Mirielle; Katherine was on her other side. “I trust the recording equipment is functioning properly?”
“Ben checked it himself, and I watched for a moment before I came up,” Phillip said. From the other single chair, Chloe glanced at his face. He got the feeling that she was looking at him for more than just assurance that he was there, but it was just a hunch. “We should be in the clear.”
“Excellent,” Daniel said, “then we may begin. Would you kindly summarize your findings, Doctor?”
Katherine cleared her throat. “I ran Mirielle MacKenzie through three iterations of the Magnusson Dependency Index. On average, she came away with a thirty-seven over ninety-four.”
“I don’t recall the meaning behind those numbers off the top of my head,” Chloe said. It was obvious to Phillip that she was obfuscating her knowledge for the benefit of the cameras; besides, he wasn’t sure what they meant, either. “Could you explain further, please?”
“The top number indicates the likelihood that a decision will be influenced by a pre-existing controlling relationship,” Katherine said, “while the lower number indicates the subject’s awareness of the domination, as well as their likelihood to break out of such a relationship. A copy of the test results and preliminary analysis is in that folder. In my opinion, the top number is a little high, but I think that we can work with it.”
“Indeed, your mental fortitude is quite impressive, Mirielle,” Daniel said, “considering the experience you have endured.”
“Thank you,” Mirielle said.
“Maybe we should turn our attention to that,” Phillip said. “That is, if you feel comfortable talking about it.”
“Of course,” Mirielle said. “I’m just… not used to talking much.”
“Take as long as you need,” Chloe said. She smiled warmly.
“All right.” Mirielle took a deep breath. Phillip wondered just how much courage this was really taking. She had to know she was being filmed; Katherine had to have told her. The threat of this tape, and what she says on it, coming back to Alex somehow must be a powerful mental block to have to overcome, he thought. “The first thing you’re probably wondering is that yes, Rob is Alex’s son.”
“The thought hadn’t occurred to us,” Katherine said.
“It always looked like he wasn’t,” Mirielle said, “and given the way they act, I think a lot of people probably thought that. Anyway, he doesn’t look like his father, so I think Alex was always afraid that maybe Rob wasn’t his.”
“This is going to sound really wrong,” Phillip said, “but was there any reason to suspect this? I mean…”
“Did I cheat on Alex?” Mirielle asked. “No, no I didn’t. I don’t blame you for asking that, either. Up until Rob was born, Alex was a perfect gentleman. It’s not like he hits me now– well, he didn’t before Saturday– but he was a sweetheart before we had Rob.”
“If I may conjecture,” Daniel asked, “the trigger for the abusive behavior was not the birth of Rob, but rather the lack of resemblance that Rob showed. Alex believed that you were having an extramarital affair. Did Alex ever pursue a course of lineage verification?”
“A paternity test,” Chloe said, gently.
“No,” Mirielle replied. “I brought it up just once, and he said he wouldn’t believe it even if it came in.”
“Last I checked, he no longer has a say in it,” Phillip growled. “If a judge throws it out, then we’ll have problems.”
“We should run one ourselves,” Katherine said. “It might be none of our business, but consider it pro-bono work.”
“Thank you,” Mirielle said. “I honestly don’t know why he doesn’t believe me. I do everything he asks, and it’s… it’s just not good enough sometimes.”
“How does he tell you this?” Chloe said.
“Outright,” she replied. “After we had Rob, I had to quit work, so I was spending all my time at home. You know how having kids is,” she said, glancing at Phillip. “It gets messy. One night Alex just snapped, saying that if I was home all day, the house should be spotless.”
“I see,” Daniel said. “As Rob grew up, did the situation ameliorate itself once you returned to work?”
“I didn’t go back to work, if that’s what you’re asking,” Mirielle said. “Alex saw the applications I brought home and threw them out. I tried to hide them, but that’s around when he started going through all the cupboards once a week.”
“No privacy,” Phillip mumbled. “Couldn’t you have kept that stuff at a friend’s house, or your parent’s or something?”
“I moved here from Houston,” Mirielle said. “Alex and I met at Pitt. He convinced me to drop out and marry him.”
“What were you studying?” Katherine asked.
“Literature,” Mirielle replied. “I used to write, too, but after Rob, I couldn’t do that anymore.”
“He was reading everything, huh?” Phillip said.
“I couldn’t even use the computer, after a while,” she said. “He put a password on it, and didn’t tell me what it was.”
“I understand,” Daniel said. “This pattern began all at once, I presume?”
“No,” Mirielle said. “It was weird. Sometimes he’d do something in response to something I did, and other times he did stuff for no reason at all. He accused me of sneaking behind his back in ways I didn’t even think of.”
“Classic paranoid schizophrenia,” Katherine said. “Textbook, in fact.”
“It got worse once Rob started talking and going to school,” Mirielle said. “I knew Rob was bright, and when we took him in for kindergarten enrollment, all the schools we went to said so, too. But Alex hated all of them. We only settled on Seneca because he said ‘it was the best of a bad bunch’. He never told me what was so bad about them.”
“We’ll have to get a list of the schools you visited,” Chloe said. “We might be able to have the files unsealed to try to make a connection.”
“Miss Reed,” Daniel said, “under Pennsylvania Department of Education privacy regulations, enrollment interviews for students not joining that school are kept only for a maximum of three years. I believe that the other schools will have destroyed their records.”
“Damn,” Phillip said. “Well, we can at least try. A kid like Rob leaves an impression, you know? I bet we could get the interviewers to talk about him.”
“Alex is pretty memorable himself,” Katherine said. “Please go on, Mrs. MacKenzie.”
Mirielle took a deep sigh. “Once Rob started bringing homework home, Alex didn’t take much notice of it, until he brought home his first report card, too. That’s when things got really bad.”
“Rob was underperforming?” Daniel asked.
“No, the opposite,” Mirielle said. “Rob was outstanding in all his subjects. But Alex hit the roof. He started ‘helping’ Rob with his homework, making him change answers.”
“The net effect,” Katherine said, “was that Rob’s grades started getting worse. No wonder we almost didn’t find him.”
“Right,” Mirielle said. “And because Rob was getting bad grades, it made Alex even more angry with him. I tried to encourage Rob to just get some answers wrong on purpose, so Alex wouldn’t change the right ones, but then Alex made ‘all’ of them wrong.”
“Rob could have made a second copy for Alex to muck up,” Phillip said.
“We tried that,” Mirielle said. “Then Alex took away his backpack whenever he wasn’t doing homework, and accused Rob of sneaking behind his back.”
“This guy just keeps getting more and more lovable,” Phillip growled.
“Let me just make sure that we’re clear on this,” Katherine said. “Alex never gave any indication of what would please him?”
“No,” Mirielle said. “After Rob was born, he became completely unpredictable. He’d be fine one moment, and then enraged the next. There was no pattern, no reason. It just… happened.”
“And in any of these fits of rage,” Daniel asked, “did he ever raise his hand against you or Rob?”
“No,” Mirielle said. “Not until this past Saturday. That’s when things got really bad. I think,” she said, “that he started to catch on to what was about to happen.”
Mr. Walsh didn’t stand up before he started speaking. “I understand there might have been some problems with the election process,” he said. “I called Gene and Deacon away in order to give us a chance to talk about this without either of them intimidating you.”
“What about me?” Fran asked, standing up.
“That’s part of it as well, Miss Ballathy,” Mr. Walsh said, smiling. “Let me explain. I saw what was written on the ballots.”
Jeanne’s heart leapt into her throat. This wasn’t what she wanted to happen. She was fairly certain that this wasn’t what Gene expected, either. The prophecy from before echoed into her mind once more: “The teachers always side with Deacon. Deacon always knows.” Everything had backfired.
“It surprised me, I have to admit,” he continued, “but in the end I suppose I did say that it was completely private. The secrecy of the ballot is a strength of the democratic process, that allows the people to convey their will directly to their government, without fear of being thrown in jail for it. I guess all of you took this just a little bit too literally.”
Wait, Jeanne thought. All of us?
“I want you all to know one important thing. No matter what happens in this school,” he said, “you should always feel like you have the ability to come to any teacher with any problem you might have. Even if it seems like maybe none of them ever listen, we do. Since it came to this, however, we need to talk about Deacon Flay.”
Instantly the students burst into a clamor. Deacon was a bully, they said, Deacon hurt Andy, Deacon rigged the election. Mr. Walsh put his hands up, calling for quiet. Jeanne sighed and glanced around her; Nick and Tegan were both slowly exhaling. Maybe we hadn’t been caught after all, she thought.
Mr. Walsh stood up. “Deacon’s dad is an important person in the city, and because of this he had asked many teachers to let some of the things that Deacon did slide without getting him in trouble. This was wrong, on everyone’s part… but there’s something that Deacon and his dad didn’t know.” He grinned widely. “We were asked not to get Deacon into trouble. We weren’t asked to forget what he did. And as it turns out, Deacon’s dad is no longer able to ask us to overlook what’s going on.”
The students started cheering. “This is impossible,” Tegan whispered. “Are we dreaming?”
“Don’t count on it yet,” Jeanne said. “Something weird is going on.”
Fran raised her hand as the cheering died down. “Why are you telling us?”
“I saw what most of you wrote on your ballots,” Mr. Walsh said. “Deacon has caused a great number of you to get into trouble for things that he started, or framed you for. It’s not even kids from this class, and it’s certainly not from just this year. I’m telling you this because I want to offer an apology. I’m sorry I had to hide all this from you.”
Jeanne puzzled it over in her mind. That explained why Deacon was in the principal’s office, and why he looked so pitiful as they passed by; but it didn’t answer why Gene was there as well. More than that, it didn’t explain who had organized the other kids into writing that Deacon had bullied them. “Something is definitely weird,” she murmured.
“You all did a very brave thing,” Mr. Walsh said. “Whenever Deacon did get in trouble, his dad found out who had told, and then told Deacon. It’s not unreasonable to think that this meant Deacon would have a very good chance of figuring out who told on him this time. Albert Einstein said that ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.’ What you kids did the other day was insane. But it was also brave, and insanely awesome. I’m proud of you.” All of the students, Jeanne included, started clapping and cheering. “There is one other thing I’d like to know, though,” Mr. Walsh said. “Someone had to start the idea.”
The alarm bells went off in Jeanne’s mind. This had to be it, she thought. “Don’t say!” she hissed. “It’s a trick!”
“Miss LaFayette?” Mr. Walsh said. Jeanne turned deep red. “Am I to assume that you don’t believe me?”
She stood. “Yes, sir,” she said. “I mean, all we have now is your word, and you’ve just said that you’ve been lying to us. We don’t have any proof that you’re not going to go tell Deacon’s dad.”
The teacher seemed to study her for a moment, then smiled. “You’re absolutely right,” he said. “You don’t have any reason to believe me, at all. Very good thinking. But, you’re just a little wrong there.” There were some chuckles, but Mr. Walsh scowled. “Don’t laugh. What if she had been right, and didn’t say so? I can guarantee you now that Deacon is in the worst trouble he’s ever been in. If she was right, and you all did tell me who set this up, Deacon’s father would have found out. And whoever you lauded as a hero today, would be a martyr tomorrow. Everything you did would have been for nothing. So, points for thinking, Jeanne, but you’re over-thinking this. Allow me to prove it. Would you please come up here?”
Jeanne shifted her way through the row and into the aisle, then walked carefully up to the stage. She eyed Mr. Walsh as she approached, trying to figure out his motives; however, her heart was racing from embarassment and potential shame, and that threw off her perceptions. She had to concentrate on her footsteps, so as not to stumble.
As she came closer, Mr. Walsh reached into his shirt pocket and removed a piece of newspaper. He unfolded it and handed it to her, sitting back down on the stage. “Miss LaFayette, please read the headline aloud to the class.”
She glanced over the newspaper clipping before beginning. It was from that morning’s Tribune-Review, and looked like it had been torn from the rest of the newspaper in an awful hurry. “City Councilman Flay Arrested On Corruption Charges,” she said. “Deacon’s dad is in trouble?”
Mr. Walsh nodded. “Specifically, for bribing and coercing school boards,” he said. “It must run in the family.” The students laughed, and Jeanne got a little chuckle out of it. “In any event, he doesn’t have the ability to fire us anymore. Which means he can’t force us to protect his son anymore.”
“So that means we can go nuts on him, right?” shouted a boy in the second row– Ian, Jeanne noted; there was obviously no honor among bullies. It took him all of two minutes to turn on his friend.
“No, absolutely not,” Mr. Walsh said. “You can go back to your seat now, Jeanne.”
She handed him the newspaper and returned to her place between Nick and Tegan. “Was that for real?” Nick asked. She could only nod silently; Mr. Walsh was beginning to speak again.
The teacher jumped down from the stage and took a step closer to the front rows. “Deacon has caused a lot of trouble, and he’s in a heap of trouble for it now. What happens to him now is up to Mr. Lorentz and Mrs. Callahan.” The name of the school’s superintendent sent chills through the students. “Part of democracy includes trusting the government to make corrections once the wrong has been discovered. Deacon may have broken the rules, but he is also still protected by those rules. He was able to get away with what he did because his father’s actions removed those protections from all of you. Just because you have that protection back, does not mean he automatically loses it. Just leave him alone, and everything will work itself out.”
“So should we say who it is?” Fran asked. “‘Cause we know.”
“I don’t think it’s as important as the fact that someone did,” Mr. Walsh said. “I suppose we can just leave that a secret for now.”
“It was Gene, wasn’t it?” a girl asked. “That’s why he’s not here.”
Jeanne blanched. Oh, right. My brother’s still in with Mr. Lorentz, too.
“Saturday was a turning point?” Chloe asked.
“Yes,” Mirielle replied, leaning back on the couch. “You saw the start of it, when Alex got upset here.”
“‘Getting upset’ isn’t exactly the phrasing I’d use,” Phillip said. “He went nuts.”
“It didn’t surprise me, really,” Mirielle sighed. “He gets like that at home, but it takes a lot for him to do that in public. You really got under his skin,” she added, glancing at Daniel.
“I suppose,” Daniel said. “It was a calculated risk, bringing Alex into the interview. I dare say that it may not have paid off in the way I expected it to.”
“We’ll discuss that aspect later,” Chloe said, cutting off Phillip before he could speak. “In any event, Mirielle, after you left the Foundation, what happened?”
“When we got home, Alex started doing things I’ve never seen him do,” she said. “He started throwing things, ripping pictures… At first,” she added, “he wasn’t paying attention to where he was throwing stuff. After Rob got hit with a remote, he started aiming for him.”
“I’m not surprised,” Katherine said. “Rob is the focus of his rage. It’s only natural for him to try to neutralize what he thinks is the source of his trouble. How good would you say Alex’s aim was?”
“What a dreadful question, Doctor,” Daniel said, scowling.
“It’s not without merit,” Katherine said. “If Alex got him good enough, there’ll be bruises or wounds– evidence. Something concrete that we can show to the cops.”
“I still don’t think we can go to the police with this just yet,” Phillip said. “But yeah, knowing just what happened would help. Did Alex get Rob good?”
“Sort of,” Mirielle said. Her voice was cracking; Phillip wondered if this questioning was still such a good idea. Despite Katherine’s tests, he wasn’t entirely convinced that Mirielle was in the clear. “Rob got out of the way of a few things, but when he knocked over the bookshelf…”
“The bookshelf?” Chloe gasped. “Please tell me you mean a small one…”
Mirielle shook her head. “Six feet tall at least, covered in our books from college. Heavy ones. They pelted him… he was bleeding when he came out from under it.”
“For the record, what were your actions during this time?” Daniel asked.
“I was trying to get out of the way myself,” Mirielle replied. “I was screaming at him to stop, but he wasn’t listening. He wouldn’t listen. So I told him I was going to leave him. That got his attention.”
“I can imagine,” Phillip said. “So what happened then?”
“Well, he started ignoring Rob,” Mirielle said. “He didn’t throw things at me anymore, either. He just started swinging. I tried to get away, but he got me a couple times. He was screaming now, telling me that I couldn’t leave.”
“Those were his exact words?” Daniel said.
“Close enough,” she said. “Then he said that I couldn’t ever get away. Even if I did get away, he said, there wouldn’t be anyplace safe for me, or for Rob. He said we’d die before we left him.”
Chloe stared at Mirielle, gazing into her eyes. “Do you believe that he could carry out such a threat?”
The response came immediately. “Absolutely,” she said. “If I didn’t know he was in school, I’d be terrified that Rob was already gone. I can’t stay with him anymore. If I go back to him, he’ll kill us both.”
“Do you find something amusing in this, Mister Brookfield?” Daniel said, scowling. All eyes turned to Phillip.
He was wearing a wide grin on his face. “No, no,” he said, “what Alex did is appalling. But the fact of the matter is, we’ve got everything we need to nail him to the wall. It’s all over now but the crying.”
“Awfully confident, aren’t you?” Katherine asked.
“You said it yourself,” Chloe said. “We needed physical evidence of the abuse, as well as reason to believe that it would continue to escalate unless there was intervention. Now that we have this, we can contact the police without fear.”
“Perhaps the evidence is on our side,” Daniel said, “but we are not entirely immune to danger just yet. You fail to recall that, technically, I am guilty of kidnapping an adult and a minor.”
“The cops will realize that there was no alternative,” Phillip said.
“I doubt that,” Daniel shot back. “We have no evidence that Alex would not calm down once some time had passed. This was, after all, an unprecedented occurrence in the MacKenzie household. It is entirely possible that Alex could have shown remorse.”
“If that’s the case,” Chloe asked, “then why did you take them away from the house?”
“That’s a good question,” Katherine said. “Why– no, wait, how did you get them out of that hellhole?”
“I gave Mirielle an easily-concealed cellular transponder,” Daniel said. “It was a cellular phone configured as a panic button. She needed only press it to indicate that she was in immediate danger. I did not, however, expect it to be used so soon.”
Mirielle nodded, and produced a small device from her purse. It was identical to the penlights that sat in the basket on the receptionist’s desk. “The bulb,” she said, indicating the LED on the end of the light, “comes out, like this.” She twisted the LED and pulled the assembly out; instead of a series of batteries, the casing held a microscopic array of circuit boards and solder points. On the end opposite the bulb were three small switches.
“When the switch is turned on,” Daniel replied, “the device transmits a signal through an old cellular phone network. It is a very expensive piece of equipment, if I may say so, which was purchased on my own. No record of its purchase is on any of the accounting ledgers of the Indigo Foundation.”
“Spy gear, huh?” Phillip said. “Slick. All right, so you hit the panic button,” he added. “What happened then?”
“I coordinated with her a time to escape,” Daniel said, “and once Alex had fallen asleep, I spirited them away to my apartment. It was quite anticlimactic.”
“I was expecting an epic battle myself,” Katherine said. “So that’s it, then? Sunday morning you were just… gone?”
“Yeah,” Mirielle said. “Alex called the police when he saw we were gone, I guess. Probably didn’t even remember the night before.”
“You think alcohol had something to do with his behavior?” Chloe said.
“No, he doesn’t drink,” Mirielle said. “I did, a little, but once I got pregnant that was over fast.”
“We are losing sight of the reason for this meeting,” Daniel said. “And we are running out of time. Mirielle and I should return to my apartment soon so that we are prepared for when Rob departs school.”
“Fair enough,” Chloe said. “All right, just a few more questions. Mirielle, you are aware of why the Indigo Foundation contacted you in the first place, correct?”
“Of course,” Mirielle said. “Rob’s eligible to be part of some advanced learning class.”
“That’s right,” Katherine said. “However, the events of the past few days have changed things a little bit. We need to make it clear that there’s no connection between the two situations.”
“To an outside observer,” Phillip said, “it could look like we were intentionally driving a wedge between you and Alex simply so that we could get Rob into the Twilight Wings program. That’s not our intent at all.”
“Initially,” Chloe continued, “we did not want to get involved with your private life. However, it’s become abundantly clear to me that the incidents of Saturday link your issue to the Foundation. We have a recording of the interview from Saturday, as well as a recording of this session. We are willing to present these to the police on your behalf, with no preconditions.”
“Does this stop Rob from joining your program?” Mirielle asked.
“Only if you want it to,” Daniel said. “But bear in mind, the tests that we have performed indicate that Rob is only a likely match. He may be further discovered to be ineligible.”
“I don’t think there’ll be a problem at all,” Katherine said, “but just to have it out there, there is a very, very small chance that Rob might have to be turned down.”
Mirielle paused. “This is a big decision,” she said.
“We will assist you in your domestic violence case, regardless of your decision about Twilight Wings,” Chloe said. “Of course, our assistance is also at your pleasure.”
“I need your help,” Mirielle said. “I just… yeah. It could look like you’re using me, or I’m using you, or…”
“Mrs. MacKenzie,” Phillip said. “It’s been my experience that people will think what they will think, but that the truth always speaks for itself. Do what you feel is right, and to hell with how it looks.”
Daniel stared at Phillip for a moment, before speaking again. “We do not need a decision immediately,” he said. “We have time. Alex does not know where you and Rob are. I believe that that information is secure in the hands of the Foundation.”
“We’ve also already made arrangements with Seneca to not notify the police that Rob showed up for school today,” Chloe said. “We’d get a call if there were any problems.”
“Speaking of school,” Phillip said, “it’s getting late. How about we get some lunch,” he added, “and then go our separate ways for the day? We can discuss this again tomorrow, once you’ve had some time to think it over.”
“That sounds like the best course of action,” Chloe nodded. “All right. Shall we order in?” A grin crossed her face. “Do you like Italian food, Mrs. MacKenzie?”
Jeanne groaned and stood up; there was but one period left in the day, and neither Gene nor Deacon had returned to class. Her brother had missed lunch, which was cause enough for her concern, but the fact that he hadn’t had his gear collected from her made her suspicious. Deacon, of course, was not missed.
The rumors had started flying as soon as Mr. Walsh dismissed the class from the auditorium: Deacon’s dad was a drug dealer, or part of the mob, or something equally unpleasant. Try as she might, though, Jeanne couldn’t block out envisioning Deacon himself as any one of those things. They all fit him, but it wasn’t fair.
The last class of the day was computer class, but Ms. Pastukhova was out today. That was cause for as much hushed mumbling and rumor-slinging as the rest of the day’s events; rather than busy herself with the substitute’s assignments, Jeanne simply closed her eyes and listened. Tegan and Nick were in different clusters this time, and the seat to her left was Gene’s.
The seat was pulled out, and her brother sat down. “Hey,” he said, smiling.
“Gene?” Jeanne asked. “I was so worried about you!”
“It’s nothing, really,” he said. Other students had started to crowd around him. “I’m not… I can’t talk about it.”
“What happened to Deacon?” Ian asked.
“Yeah, where is he?” came another call.
Gene shook his head. “Mr. Lorentz said I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone,” he said, “or I’d get in even more trouble.”
“You’re not in…” Jeanne started, before noticing something on his face. “Oh. Okay.”
“Class,” the substitute said, “there will be plenty of time to talk after school is out. Please concentrate on your work.” There were groans and shuffling as the rest of the class went back to their seats.
Gene logged into the computer; Jeanne was already set up. Both knew their way around the machines, and had long ago defeated the most pertinent of the access controls managing the instant messaging capabilities. Within moments, a window appeared on Jeanne’s screen, bearing some exhortation in German. Jeanne smiled, reading the message; she responded, in kind, with “I was wondering, yeah.”
“It wasn’t as bad as it looks,” Gene replied. “Mr. Lorentz just wanted to know about the notes.”
“So he did find out?”
“Yeah.” Gene frowned, concentrating. “Mr. Walsh figured it out because of our writing-hands.”
Jeanne giggled; he didn’t know the word for ‘handwriting’ yet, it looked like. “Okay, so what happened?”
“I got a lecture about accusing Deacon of things he didn’t do,” Gene wrote, “before he said that I got lucky.”
“Lucky? That doesn’t sound good.”
“It’s weird,” Gene replied. “He said that Deacon didn’t know anything about yesterday, but he did know about today.”
“Yeah,” Jeanne typed. “Rob was supposed to be here today. What did Deacon know?”
“Well, that’s where things get weird.” Gene frowned again. “I told him that we knew Rob was coming to school today, and when he wasn’t there, we got worried. But Mr. Lorentz said Rob had an excuse from his dad today.”
“From his dad? They probably mean that his dad knows he’s missing,” Jeanne wrote.
Gene shook his head. “No, he showed me the note and everything,” he replied. “And then what Deacon said made things weirder.”
“Deacon told Mr. Lorentz that he saw Rob getting into a silver car,” Gene wrote. “It looked kind of like Katherine’s or Ben’s, but shorter and older-looking. Not, you know round like Chloe’s car.”
“It wasn’t nearly as cool as Chloe’s car, I bet,” Jeanne wrote. “But silver? And old?”
“We’ve seen a car like that before,” Gene wrote.
“I know, but I don’t know who it belongs to,” she replied.
“Daniel would know.”
“Maybe he saw Rob getting out of Daniel’s car,” Jeanne wrote. “It makes sense that Daniel would drive him to school if he was supposed to be hiding.”
“Yeah,” Gene typed, “but if he did drive Rob to school, Deacon would have said that he saw Rob getting out of a car. Not getting into one. Deacon’s not that dumb.”
“This feels weird,” Jeanne typed. “We should tell Phillip.” She reached to the contacts list, but Phillip was not online at the moment.
“I thought about that too,” Gene typed; the response had switched to English. “Daniel and Chloe aren’t on, either.”
“What about Katherine?”
“Nope,” Gene typed. “Probably nobody’s at the Fortress. They’re probably talking to the cops.”
“I hope so,” Jeanne typed. She closed the instant message program; the substitute was getting too close to their cluster, and it would have been too much trouble to guess the security key a third time. Gene followed suit immediately after, and the two occupied themselves with their busywork for the rest of the day.
When class let out, Jeanne and Gene quickly hurried out to the courtyard; several police cars were around the main gate, and a couple of news vans as well. A familiar forest-green sedan was parked a little way away from the gate. Daniel waved to the children from its driver’s seat, and they approached it.
“I trust you had a good day at school, Miss Jeanne?” Daniel said, smiling.
“Yes, Daniel,” she replied. “Are you here to talk to Mr. Lorentz again?”
“No,” he replied. “Gene, hello. You had a good day as well?”
“Sort of,” he said, chuckling. “I didn’t get in trouble, if that’s anything.”
“It always is,” Daniel grinned. “Oh, I do not believe that you have been introduced properly. Children, this is Mirielle MacKenzie. Young Rob is her son.”
“Hello, Mrs. MacKenzie,” Jeanne said. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Rob’s said a lot about you,” Gene said. “I’m Gene Nagy, and this is my sister Jeanne LaFayette.”
Mirielle smiled. “Rob talks about you both a lot, too,” she said. “I’m glad to have met you. Tell me, is Rob with you?”
Gene and Jeanne exchanged a nervous glance. “Er, no,” Gene said. “But it should be okay, right?”
“Why do you say that, Gene?” Daniel said, the smile gone from his face. Jeanne was always worried about making Daniel angry, but that emotion wasn’t one he was feeling now, she thought. The fear is almost as bad, she added.
“Well, he had the excuse from his dad, right?” Gene said.
“What excuse?” Mirielle’s eyes widened.
“His dad came to get him,” Gene said. “That’s what Mr. Lorentz said, anyway.”
“No,” Mirielle said, her voice cracking. “No!”
Jeanne stepped back from the car, but Daniel spoke. “No,” he said. “Get in, children. We have no time to waste. Stay here with Mirielle, and I shall be back out in a moment.”
Ten minutes later, Daniel was parking the car in front of the Old Mansion. Mirielle was in full tears now, and Jeanne and Gene were confused and scared. Daniel had never shown this much pure anger before, as far as Jeanne could tell, and it was probably for the best that Gene was all but ready to go into his ‘shutdown’ mode. Things were bad, she thought.
Phillip greeted the children with huge hugs that lasted for the better part of a minute. It was easy to tell that he was scared as well, she thought, but this was impossible. Phillip always had things under control, always knew what to do. This was not supposed to be able to happen.
It was, she thought, completely impossible. Phillip always did things right, she added. The only times things go wrong are when we mess him up, she thought, glancing at Gene. So if things are wrong now, then what did we do to cause it?
Phillip let the children go and looked them both in the eye. “I’m glad you’re both safe,” he said. “Things have gotten worse with Rob.”
If we did something to cause more trouble, she thought, then Phillip would have said so. He didn’t. Therefore, she thought, maybe we haven’t done something yet we were supposed to do. But what if he wants us to think we need to do something? What if we’re not supposed to do anything at all?
“His dad took him,” Gene said. “I don’t see why–”
“His father was the one person on this planet who absolutely could not be trusted with him,” Daniel said. “I would sooner have let Rob loose on the streets than risk letting Alex recapture him.”
That’s not right either, Jeanne thought, frowning. Doing nothing is what got us into this mess. What was it that Mr. Walsh said? “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Doing nothing made things worse. Doing something might not make things better, but at least it’s something.
“It was my fault,” Mirielle sobbed. “I said he should go back to school… I talked you into…”
“Enough!” Jeanne screamed. “I have had enough!”
All eyes focused on her; she was breathing heavily, her long hair starting to frizz around her, and her eyes seemed to glow with rage. “Today has sucked,” she announced. “I have been worried sick about everyone that I love, everyone that I care about, and there has been nothing I can do about it because I always have to think about everything I do. Well, that sucks!”
“That’s just the way–” Phillip started.
“No!” Jeanne snapped. “No, you only think you need to think everything through. Why can’t we just go and get Rob back?”
“Jeannie,” Gene said, “it doesn’t work like that.”
“Why not?” Jeanne said. “We know his dad has him. We don’t want his dad to have him. There’s nothing stopping us. We can just go and take him.”
“We have to call the police, we have to get everything ready…” Daniel said, but it was obvious that he didn’t entirely believe it.
“No, you don’t,” Jeanne said. She grinned. “You’re overthinking it,” she said, relishing the word. “He’s gone. We go get him. Simple.”