Well I suck. I missed Saturday’s chapter and I missed Tuesday’s. Sorry about that. Without further ado let’s get to the next chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy, shall we? Don’t forget, it’s available in ebook and trade paperback from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.
Chapter Thirty – Two
Jo was speechless.
Apparently Malcolm was as well, because his only reaction was to fall into the cushions of his chosen chair as though his legs had given out from underneath him.
Isaac smirked and walked over to them. As he rounded the couch, he said, “I assumed you would make your way here.” He paused and, leaning over, held out a glass to Jo. She took it with a trembling hand and took a long drink. It was scotch. And good scotch, at that. Isaac turned away, toward Malcolm. “I hoped you would not. It was a foolish thing to do. Pedro wasted no time in spreading the word. If anyone else were to find you here…” He left the rest unsaid, instead handing the glass to Malcolm, who accepted it silently but did not drink immediately.
Isaac snorted loudly and took a seat in the other stuffed chair. “So. What should we do with you two, hmm?”
The fact that he bothered to ask the question thawed the ice that had formed in Jo’s stomach at his approach. If he was not sure whether to put them out, or turn them in, or let Pedro know what they had done maybe there was a chance they could get out of this without having something worse happen to them.
Then it hit her. This was not just an opportunity to avoid further trouble. He said if anyone else had found them it would be trouble. Maybe… Maybe he would help them? It was too much to hope for, but Jo found herself clinging to that hope like a life vest.
“What…” She cleared her throat and took another sip of the scotch, then started again. “What did you mean this is your house?”
Isaac looked at her like she was daft. “I meant what I said, girl. It’s my house. It’s owned by a company that I own. So therefore…” He shook his head and rolled his eyes. “I see you listen just as well as you make friends.”
His tone was scornful, but Jo expected little else, based on their last meeting. She also suspected his gruff exterior was a cover for what lay beneath, based on their last meeting. All the same, that comment stung.
“We’ll be on our way then, Isaac,” Malcolm said. He rose from his chair.
“Sit down, boy,” Isaac snapped and gestured peremptorily for Malcolm to do just that. Malcolm complied, his expression wary, worried.
Silence loomed for a while, Isaac looking at the two of them in turn and them watching him. Jo was reminded of the exhilarating yet terrifying moment when the aliens first stepped aboard Pericles. What were they? What did they intend? They were armed, as her people were. Was their meeting to end in bloodshed?
Finally Isaac broke the silence. “Pedro…” He broke off and shook his head with a disdainful smirk. “Pedro is even more a fool than the two of you. But at least you’re honest about your foolishness. Pedro, though.” He paused, looking Jo straight in the eye. “He sees power games more than anything else. He’s always wanted to be in charge and now he’s found a way to do it. Makes me wonder why he’s with CFL at all; he misses the point entirely.”
That little spark of hope that seemed too much to cling to now grew into a flickering flame within Jo. “What are you saying, Isaac?”
His eyes narrowed. “I’m saying, girl, that Pedro doesn’t speak for all of us.” He snorted softly and managed a half-grin. “Least of all, not for me. We all thought this alien business stank to high heaven and we needed to help make it right. I for one – and I’m more than just one – still think that, regardless of what that boy says.” Isaac stood up, abruptly. “Make yourselves at home. We’ll talk more later.”
He walked out of the room, moving quickly in spite of his hunched posture. As he disappeared down the hallway, he said over his shoulder, “Bedroom at the end of the hall is mine. Don’t let me catch either of you in there.”
Jo, speechless once again, looked back at Malcolm. His jaw hung wide open; he could not have looked more shocked if Jo suddenly sprouted feathers and flew away.
* * * * *
It should have been a very comfortable night. The house was comfortable enough, the bed soft enough, the blankets thick enough. But Jo found she was unable to sleep. She tossed and turned all night, unable to make sense of the sudden turn in her fortunes. To go from having nowhere to turn to suddenly having an ally again, and from such an unexpected source, had her thoughts and emotions in a whirl. Finally, sometime late in the night – or rather, early in the morning – she drifted off into a fitful slumber.
Her dreams were strange, a mixture of being chased and finding a hidden treasure, and other things she could not recall when she finally awoke to the early morning sunlight streaming in through the window. She stretched, luxuriating the the expanse of bed and blankets, and was tempted to just lie there. She was certainly tired enough; her eyes felt gravelly, as though she had not slept at all.
But there were things to do, and suddenly it seemed there was hope for the future. So, regretfully, she got up and went about the morning routine. She lingered perhaps a bit too long in the shower, but it was so good, and considering the circumstances a little indulgence was probably warranted.
She felt like a new woman when she donned freshly-laundered clothes and descended the wide stairwell to the house’s first floor and turned into the kitchen. And boy was it a kitchen: spacious, state of the art, immaculately clean, and perfectly organized. A person could make some real art in a kitchen like that. She was the first one down, apparently, so she put on a pot of coffee and looked through the cupboards for something to eat.
A few minutes later, while she was busy scrambling some eggs, Isaac walked into the kitchen. He was fully dressed in slacks and a white collared shirt and tie, and looked as though he had been up for a while. He raised one eyebrow as he saw what she was doing.
“I do appreciate a woman who knows her way around the kitchen,” Isaac said.
Jo rolled her eyes, but found herself chuckling. “Do you want some eggs?”
“Don’t mind if I do.” He pulled out one of the stools that rested next to the counter and took a seat.
Jo scooped some eggs onto a plate, pulled a fork out of the drawer, and slid both across the counter to him. “Why are you helping us, Isaac? Really.”
He shrugged. “Doesn’t really matter, does it? What matters is you’re not as out in the cold as you thought you were.”
That was hardly satisfactory, but Jo had to admit he had a point. “So what happens now?”
Isaac shrugged and took a bite of his eggs. He chewed slowly and swallowed, then nodded approvingly. “Not bad, girl. You might have a future.” Then he grinned, showing his teeth, which were shiny white and perfectly straight. Jo had not noticed that about him before, but she was hardly surprised. Aside from his burn scars, Isaac was the image of understated wealth. At least as long as you did not look at his house. He stood and walked around the counter to a cupboard, where he retrieved a glass, then poured himself some water from the sink. “In a little while,” he said after taking a shallow drink, “I have some people coming over later. Friends of mine,” he looked at her and raised an eyebrow, “and of yours. We’ll have a palaver and decide how to proceed, then we’ll be off.”
Isaac snorted and sat back down on his stool. He cast a withering glance at her, then went back to eating his eggs and said nothing more.
* * * * *
Isaac disappeared after breakfast without saying another word. He simply returned his plate to the sink and grunted at Jo, again giving her a look of disapproval, as though she had said or done something to offend him. Then he left, leaving her to wonder what the hell had just happened.
Not long after, Malcolm rose from the evening’s rest and came down to the kitchen, clad in a bathrobe. Jo was just about done cleaning up from her and Isaac’s breakfast when he arrived, looking around the kitchen curiously.
“How are you feeling?”
Jo shrugged and, not trusting herself to speak, just kept on scrubbing at the pan she had used to cook the eggs. Malcolm gave her a curious, wary look, but said nothing more. He just grabbed some bread and jam and made himself some toast, then he left to get ready for the day.
It was not that she did not want to talk with Malcolm. It was more that Isaac had her baffled. What was he playing at? He put on a show of being an uncaring, callous old man – though truth be told he was not really all that old – but there was clearly much more going on with him than that. He worked for, or rather with, the Underground, but he was more than willing, eager even, to break with them as soon as he disagreed with what they were doing. And yet he allowed them to use his home, or at least one of his homes, as a safe house. It could not be that hard to trace the house’s ownership, and if the NSA or another agency found out how the house was used it would doubtless cause no end of trouble for him. He was a walking contradiction.
It was intriguing. And unsettling. If he was so willing to go against the Underground after clearly having cast his lot with them, how eager would he be to back Jo and Malcolm if they got in real trouble?
Jo grit her teeth and attacked a particularly stubborn bit of grit on the pan. She hated answering to someone else for her wellbeing. Absolutely hated it. It was much better to be in charge, to make her own decisions and rise or fall based on that, not someone else’s whims. Which she supposed is why she loved being Captain so much, and why she was good at it.
It did not take long to finish cleaning up, and she stalked away to freshen up before Isaac’s friends arrived.
She might as well not have. Isaac was coy about exactly when his guests were to arrive, or who they were. So there was little to do except wait. Fortunately, the house was marvelously equipped with all the amenities a body could want, so Jo spent the morning and most of the afternoon camped out in the upstairs library with a book tablet that she had always meant to read but never got around to.
At one point, not long after lunch, the strangeness of her situation struck her. Only now that she was a wanted fugitive did she finally have free time to read. Even during the year-long shifts aboard ship, she generally kept busy enough with her duties that reading eluded her. Or she just kept herself entertained with other things. But now, with maybe her life literally on the line, she found the time. It was odd.
Finally, as the sun was beginning to sink below the mountains to the west – at first it surprised her because it was still early, but then she remembered they were deep in the valley – Isaac came to join her in the library.
“They will be here in about an hour,” he said.
Jo tapped the tablet display and put it to sleep, then stood and returned it to its places on the small shelf that held Isaac’s reading collection. “Will you tell me now who I’ve been waiting for?”
Isaac smirked. Or was that a half-smile? “I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise.”
With that, he left her alone again.
Jo sighed. This cloak and dagger bit was starting to get very tiresome. Very tiresome indeed.
* * * * *
Jo took a few minutes to freshen up and change into clean clothes. Not that the clothes she had on were particularly dirty, but after having been on the run so often lately, Jo found she had become attentive to every little blemish and wanted her shirts, at least, as clean as possible. And she wanted to make a good impression on whomever these mysterious visitors were, and the t-shirt she had on was not going to do the trick. When she descended the stairs in a nice, conservative collared blouse and slacks, she felt more than ready to face whatever came with at least a bit of dignity.
She was not prepared for Malcolm, as she entered the living room.
He had, over the last couple weeks, become as rumpled as Jo felt, even during their short stay with the Underground. Planning Becky’s rescue had taken so much time and effort that neither Jo nor he had been able to get much rest. But this evening he had apparently decided to become human again as well. And he did it with style. He wore dark blue, pleated slacks and an off-white shirt, open at the collar, and over that a sports jacket that fit well enough that Jo wondered if it had been tailor made for him. Overall, he projected an image of understated style, and it was hard not to stare.
Malcolm turned to face Jo as she entered the room and smiled, inclining his head in greeting, but he did not say anything. Hs eyes spoke enough, though, as they gave her a quick, approving once-over. In spite of herself, Jo felt a little rush of pleasure at his approval.
Enough of that. They were not first-tour crewmembers on a their first run away from their parents, playing at romance anymore. She was the Captain, and he…
Well, he wasn’t in her crew anymore, was he. And she was not the Captain. That admission pained her, all the more because she had never allowed herself to think it before. She was no longer the Captain. For good or ill, that part of her life was over. Even if she managed to come through this without being crucified by the NSA or any number of other government agencies, it was beyond unlikely that McAllister would take her back on.
It was like a piece of her died. Or rather, like a piece of her had already died, and she just now realized it. The momentary pleasure faded, replaced by a sense of loss more profound than she would have thought. It was just a job, after all.
Right. Go on telling yourself that.
Malcolm’s smile faded a bit. “Jo? Are you alright?”
Jo forced a smile onto her lips. She nodded. “Yes. Just thinking.” She took a deep breath and walked over next to him. “Do you know – ?”
The doorbell rang then, drawing her eyes toward the entranceway.
“I think we’re about to find out,” Malcolm replied.
* * * * *
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.