Chapter Thirty – One
A House In The Valley
After another kilometer, the dilapidated buildings Jo had almost become accustomed to walking past grew more sparse until they passed a lone refueling station at the extreme southern end of the pitiful little town. Then it was just her, Malcolm, and the open road. Jo was tempted to feel guilty that she did not even know the name of the little island of despair they had just departed. But she would very likely never lay eyes on it again, one way or the other.
It actually became pleasant, walking along the empty road under the midmorning sun. It reminded Jo of good times in the past, with her family from the starliner. Hiking the Vine Peaks of Talos. Braving the winds along the eternal terminator of Gliese. Watching the aurora on Centauri. Those and a hundred other wonders that the planetbound never get to see. Never dream of seeing, because they do not know they exist. Or if they do, they dismiss them as fancy or something beyond a person’s reach. It truly was a blessed life Jo had been dealt. Or rather, that she had chosen. Even if all of this turned out poorly, which it seemed it was going to however she tried to keep her spirits up, it had been a good life, and she was thankful for it.
The trick was to make sure things did not turn out poorly.
Small clusters of buildings, businesses and residences, began to appear, one and all in much better repair than those in the shanty they had left behind. Before long, the road resembled more a typical suburban stretch of highway, with businesses and strip malls interspersed with crossroads leading to residential subdivisions. It was like stepping forward in time from some godawful place in history back to modern times.
They reached a busy crossroads. Two refueling stations stood catty-corner on either side of the intersection, and opposite them two competing fast food joints, each catching traffic heading in one of the main directions. The traffic had gotten heavier, but was still far and away from what could be expected down in Quito proper. Still it was substantial compared to what they had seen for the last couple of hours.
“We go left here,” Malcolm said.
The street was named Vía de la Valle, and true to its name over the next couple kilometers it wound its way higher into the mountains along the side of a steep grade into a sheltered valley. It was immediately clear that this was a more upscale community: large houses perched higher up the side of the hill, surrounded by carefully sculpted grounds complete, in many cases, with swimming pools. Schools, churches, restaurants, and all manner of other businesses and entertainments were visible down in the valley and along the side of the hill, all beautifully designed and maintained. Jo was immediately struck by the contrast with where they had just been.
“Amazing that things are so much different here, only a few kilometers away,” she mused as they stopped for a breather. “I did not expect the safe house to be so impressive.”
Malcolm chuckled, wiping the sweat off his brow with the back of his hand – it had grown quite warm as the morning turned to afternoon. “It is not one of those.” He gestured toward a particularly large house perched atop a rise not far away. “Our place is down in the valley. We’ll take the next road down. It’s not far now.”
That was good to hear.
Of course, not far is relative, as Jo decided when, an hour and a half later, they finally reached the bottom of the valley. By then she was wet with sweat and feeling quite parched. Why had they not stopped back at those fast food places? At the time it did not seem a big deal, but she was feeling the lack of sustenance now. Jo normally walked a lot, at least compared to most people she knew, but she was all hiked out. Her feet were throbbing and her legs felt rubbery, and she wanted nothing more than to flop down onto a chair and drink a river. And then eat a cow.
She looked longingly at an outdoor shopping center ahead that sported no less than three different restaurants. “Can we get a bite to eat?”
Malcolm pursed his lips, then shook his head. “The house is stocked. Better that we keep a low profile.”
Jo understood the notion, and agreed with it. But damn if she did not feel like taking another step. At least Malcolm looked about as beat as she did, but he voiced no complaint, just kept on hiking. She adjusted her bag on her shoulder and followed.
* * * * *
Malcolm had not been entirely truthful about the safe house.
It was no mansion, to be sure, but it was one hell of a nice place. At least from the outside. Two stories tall, with a large front porch and quaint, welcoming architecture, it sat on a secluded lot a hundred meters or so from the nearest neighbor. Somewhere Jo heard the trickling of running water, and she presumed a stream ran somewhere through the grounds. Whoever owned this place had some money to his name. Jo wondered how the Underground had gained use of it.
The door was locked, naturally, but the security system had not been updated to accommodate database implants. Or at least, it still retained just a simple keypad so a person could enter the security code manually. Whether an implant would work or not was anyone’s guess, but it did not matter. Malcolm knew the code, and within moments they were inside.
Less than a minute later, Jo flopped onto an incredibly comfortable leather couch in the first floor’s spacious living room. Spacious did not even begin to describe it, actually. It was almost as big as Jo’s entire condo, and was impeccably decorated with tasteful artwork on the walls, a couple of nice sculptures, furniture that all looked at least as comfortable as the couch, and a large brick fireplace with a televid display above the mantel.
“This,” Jo said, “is one hell of a safe house.”
“Thank you,” said a voice from behind her.
Malcolm froze where he stood, halfway into sitting in one of the stuffed chairs near the fireplace. His eyes widened in shock, in sudden terror. In confusion.
Jo sat bolt upright and looked behind her, toward the hallway leading deeper into the house.
Isaac stood there, dressed casually in jeans and a burgundy collared shirt and holding a glass filled with an amber fluid – scotch? – In each hand. He looked at them with something that could either be irritation or amusement and said, “Welcome to my home. Would you like a drink?”
* * * * *
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.