Jo stalked into the motel room and hurled her bag across the room. It struck the wall with a resounding thud and for a moment almost seemed to stick there before falling to the floor. She did not want to consider what was on the wall that could possibly have made it do that.
“Calm down, Jo,” Malcolm said from behind her. He pulled the door closed with a solid click of the lock. “We can’t be going off the handle, here.”
“What?” Jo turned on him with her best ‘I’m the Captain and you have really pissed me off’ look. This time she did not need to fake it. She was gratified to see him recoil a bit. “What did you say?”
Malcolm raised his hands in front of himself in a placating gesture. “If we’re going to get through this, we need to be calm. Think things through. I can…“
“Stow it! Just stow it, Malcolm!” Jo was half-inclined to march over there and smack him silly. This was all his fault. All of it. If he hadn’t gone and…
And what? Tried to do the right thing?
Snarling, Jo forced that little voice in her head away before it stole her fury. Anger was all that kept her going right then. She needed it.
Malcolm just looked at her silently, his face smooth. But his eyes told a different story. He was stricken, stricken to the core, and beyond his fear she could see guilt and concern. For her wellbeing, she was sure. Jo’s momentary fury at him left and she slumped down onto the edge of the bed. It was hard as a rock. Typical.
“What are we going to do?” she asked, and inwardly cringed at the despair, the hopelessness that she heard in her own voice. “I gave up my career – my life – for this. And now it’s over?” Horrified, Jo heard her voice break at the end. She was not going to cry. She had not cried since her father died, and she had promised herself…
She could not help it. Tears welled up, and she could not suppress a sob. That first one unleashed the floodgates. She sagged down, cradling her face in her hands and wept. She wept for herself, for Malcolm. For the helpless babies that were being destroyed. For everything. At some point, Malcolm sat next to her on the bed and pulled her close. She fell asleep weeping on his shoulder.
* * * * *
The next morning dawned clear, with only a few high stratus clouds in an otherwise pristine sky. Any other day, Jo would not have noticed so much. But today, the beauty of the new day kindled something within her. Looking out the motel window toward the sun as it slowly peaked above the mountains to the east, Jo felt the despair and grief from the previous night wash away. Yesterday had been horrible, yes. But today was a new day, and could be better.
She turned away from the window and sipped at her coffee – Malcolm had slipped out before she woke and returned with it, along with bagels – and found herself wishing the same could be said of the motel room.
It still sucked.
She had thought the motel they crashed in with Raúl was bad, but at least that place had been cleaned sometime in the previous year. This place stunk and had dust on every horizontal surface. If she had been in a state to notice last night, there is no way she would have consented to stay there. She felt grimy just looking at the room, but she did not even think about using the shower. There was no telling what had taken place in the bathrooms of a place like this. But there had been little choice last night; by the time Pedro’s men were finished with them it was late and they could either use this place or wander around for a while trying to find someplace else. That prospect was even more unappealing than the conditions of the motel.
All the same, it was a good thing they weren’t staying.
“Ok, what’s the plan?” Jo had a couple ideas, but none of them were very appealing or likely to succeed. Hopefully Malcolm had come up with something.
He rolled his shoulders in an almost-shrug. “First we need to find a place where we can stay for a while. Settle in. Then,” he ran one hand through his hair in the same way he did back as a non-qual on his first starliner when he could not answer a superior’s question, “we find some more support.”
Oh great. He had no more clue what to do than Jo did, and between the two of them he was the expert in the underworld. They were so screwed.
Her doubt must have showed on her face, because he smiled in a manner that Jo supposed was meant to be comforting. “It’ll be ok, Jo. I know some other people. We can get a team together, figure out a way to make some money…”
“I’m sorry. What? We’re not trying to start a business here, Malcolm.”
Malcolm sighed and looked down at the floor. “Jo, I think you need to face the fact that we’ve lost.”
Malcolm scowled, the first genuine emotion he had shown since leaving Pedro last night. “What would you have us do, Jo? We’ve only a little money, no contacts, no friends. No way to fight, or even find out what the NSA is doing with those eggs.” He spread his hands helplessly. “They beat us. I’m sorry, but it’s true.”
Jo snorted. “I thought you said there were other underground cells all over the world.”
“There are, but…”
“Pedro doesn’t speak for all of them. We’ll just head on down to Australia and make contact down there. They may still want to help.”
Malcolm looked at Jo for a long moment. Surprise, then excitement flashed across his face. Then that faded back into resignation. He shook his head. “It wouldn’t work, Jo. I’ve only ever dealt with the cell here in Quito. I wouldn’t know how to get in touch with the Brisbane group. And even if I did,” he sighed, “Pedro will send word to the other cells that we can’t be trusted. They will not give us the time of day.”
“We should try anyway.”
Malcolm rolled his eyes. “And how will we get there?”
Jo blinked. “What do you mean? We just hop on a plane and go.”
“They take biometrics at every airport, Jo.”
“Oh crap.” Jo had forgotten about that.
Malcolm nodded. “I’ve not left Quito, except by car, in eighteen months, for security reasons.”
Jo found herself biting her lip in frustration, something she had not done since she was a girl, and forced herself to stop. This was going to be even more difficult than she thought. “Well, we’ll figure out a way. We have to keep going, Malcolm.”
“I don’t see how. I think it would be best to take some time to get our feet back under us first. Get some cash flow, make some new contacts.”
“How much time do you think those eggs have? If I were Chandini I’d be making preps to close up shop right now.”
Malcolm had no response to that. He simply frowned and looked away. Truth told, there was merit to his notion; it was hard to be effective without a solid footing. But there was no time! All the same, the obstacles seemed insurmountable.
There had to be a way. There was always a way.
“Well,” Malcolm said as he rose from his seat, “we won’t figure it out right this second. For now, let’s find a better place to hole up.”
Jo could not argue with that. Just the thought of leaving this place behind lifted her spirits considerably.
* * * * *
They emerged from the motel room into the morning sunlight, and the earlier optimism Jo felt watching the sunrise returned. She slung her bag over her shoulder and inhaled deeply, reveling in the fresh morning breeze for a moment and letting her mind go while Malcolm went to the motel office to settle the bill.
The motel was nondescript, easily exchanged with any of a million similar places, except for its level of upkeep; just a row of rooms with doors opening onto a small parking lot and the office at the far end. At this time in the morning, the parking lot was next to empty and Jo imagined most of the rooms were as well. This place struck her as more of a place where people come for just a short time at night with people they have no intention of seeing again, or with whom they do not wish to be caught. She had heard a term once: No Tell Motel. It summed the place up perfectly.
Jo shook her head, smirking at the judgment she was making. She was not so different than those Johns and cheating spouses at this point, was she? On the run, fearful of being caught.
But at least she was trying to do something good.
Malcolm returned, the resignation and grimness gone from his face now that they were taking action. “We’re all set.”
They set off walking.
The motel was on the outskirts of one of Quito’s northern suburbs, though suburb was probably the wrong word for it. Most suburbs were fairly well-to-do and nice, while this place could charitably be called down on its luck. It was strange to see the closed businesses, the boarded up buildings, the destitute-looking people so close to the wealth and extravagance of one of the world’s greatest cities.
“How did this place get so run down?”
Malcolm eyed a man with hungry eyes who watched them as they walked past. For a moment Jo almost thought the fellow was going to do something, right there in the daylight, but instead he looked away, defeated.
“I heard that there was some sort of scandal with the town’s mayor and a large business owner. Millions of credits embezzled, or some such.”
“That wouldn’t drive the entire town to poverty,” Jo said. “Not unless it was in isolation. This…” She gestured to yet another house that looked as though it was barely standing. “This is horrible. Why hasn’t anyone done something?”
Malcolm raised an eyebrow at her. “They are. Most of the people here are on public support of some sort or other. The local chamber of commerce is trying to encourage businesses to return…”
“…but it takes a lot of encouragement to get someone to be the first to go into a situation like this,” Jo finished for him.
Malcolm nodded. “Becky told me about some of the projects the CFL was doing here to try to pull the people out of their learned helplessness. Progress was…slow.”
Jo mulled that over as they walked. She should not have been surprised; she had seen poverty on every world she had visited. Some had it worse than other, but the poor were always there. And, it seemed, would always be there. It was sad, but she had more immediate things to worry over at the moment.
After a couple of kilometers, they came to an intersection with a larger road and turned south. It took a moment, but Jo realized it was Highway 35.
“Is that safehouse you mentioned before near here?”
Malcolm looked sidelong at her, confused, for a moment. Then he blinked in surprise. He looked around at the buildings and signs on the road, and grinned. “It is. About five clicks ahead, and then left another couple of kilometers.”
“Is it continuously manned or just available for whomever needs it?”
Malcolm’s smile grew until it nearly stretched ear to ear.
* * * * *
I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy. Stay tuned in a few days for the next chapter, or, if you don’t want to bother waiting a couple months to read the rest book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.