Disclaimer: I don't own Touched by an Angel. As for the rest, I'm never really sure how much I own and how much I just happen to be writing about. I'll let you make that call for yourself.
A/N: Although this is a sequel to One Our Hope In Despair, I've tried to make it understandable as a separate story. Hope it makes sense. And if it doesn't . . . well, you could always go read the other story . . .
The Edge of Our Dreams
"Blueberry Falls Police Department," Monica read the sign. "Why do they call it Blueberry Falls, Tess? There's not a waterfall for miles -- hundreds of miles. We're in the middle of nowhere!"
"No, we're in the middle of Minnesota. Now get in there, Miss Wings."
Monica shrugged. "If you say so." She opened the door, and a bell jingled.
"Just a moment!" a woman's voice called from a nearby room. Within seconds, an officer appeared, straightening her uniform. Her bright red hair ran long down her back, and bright grey eyes studied the angel intently. "Ya here ta apply fer the job?"
"I . . . I suppose so," Monica stammered, a little surprised by her accent.
The woman looked her over. "Yer hired."
"What? Aren't you going--"
"Look, Miss . . ."
"Look, Monica, we're not exactly swarmed with other applicants. This is a small town, an' the pay ain't that great. Ol' Steve was able to live on it 'cause he was single. But he retired four months ago next Tuesday. Since then, yer the first person ta set foot in here lookin' fer a job. So if ya want it, ya got it."
Monica nodded. "It'll be a pleasure."
"Pleasure's got nothin' ta do with it, Rookie. Like I said, this here's a small town. Ya won't be gettin' much excitement. Only thing that's happened fer months on end is a couple o' teens gettin' a little drunk at a party. An' that stolen bicycle, but, technically, that happened outside o' town. If yer in this fer pleasure, Rookie, ya picked the wrong town."
"Well, there's nothing wrong with a little peace and quiet," Monica pointed out cheerfully.
"Oh, I'm all fer peace an' quiet. But I mean, look. This is the Police Department an' the Fire Department. Tony's in the library, which doubles as a jail. The town hall out back? It's also the post office, the church, an' the theater. The most excitin' thing that's happened all year is a family moved inta the ol' convent down the street."
"Are you trying to . . . scare me away?" Monica asked with a smile.
"No, o' course not. I'd be crazy ta chase ya away, when more help ain't likely ta show up fer another few months. I just want you ta understand what yer signin' up fer."
"I understand, Officer . . ."
"Daniels. Officer Daniels. But call me Kate. Everyone does. I'll take ya on over ta meet Tony. He mostly just runs the library, but he's on call fer anything. Then there's Victor on the night shift. A little quiet, but a great guy. He usually comes in 'bout seven. Tony an' I sleep here. There's four bunks in the room back there; yer welcome ta join us."
"Thank you. I didn't really have a place to stay."
"Ya looked the type. I think you'll like it here. It's a small town, like I said, but the people're friendly, as long as ya don't act too out o' the ordinary. And I mean very out o' the ordinary. We put up with some pretty strange stuff 'round here. Why, that family that just moved in, their daughter died three years ago this spring. Young girl, I'm told, 'round fourteen. Just found 'er dead in the woods. Police never solved the case. Freaked the family out, so they finally moved out here, where memories couldn't hurt 'em. Other daughter moved out ta college three . . . no, four months ago. Need to change that calendar; it's been November fer more 'n a week. Today's Friday, right, Rookie?"
"Yes," Monica answered, relieved to be able to get a word in. "So it's just the parents at home now?"
"No, they got a little boy. He's 'bout eight now, I think. Odd little thing -- never talks ta kids his own age. Oh, all the teachers've taken a likin' to him, o' course. They like the quiet 'uns. School's in Coppersville, ten miles from here. We had a school here twenty-somethin' years ago, but it closed when there was only one teacher left. That's ol' Mrs. Carpenter over on Cobbler street. She'll go on an' on 'bout how they should never have closed the ol' thing, but it was probably fer the best. The roof was leakin' an' there was insects all over an' -- oh, that's the phone. I'll get it." She dashed into the room she had come from, leaving Monica alone at last.
Monica let out a deep breath and looked around. A window to her left showed a rapidly setting sun, which lit the newly harvested fields. A highway ran through the town, their only connection to the outside world.
No sooner had Monica decided to sit down and wait than Kate rushed back through the door, throwing on a coat and tossing another to Monica. "Put this on, Rookie; you'll need it. We've got trouble. The little Baker boy's gone missin', never came home from school. Parents are figurin' he was kidnapped, but I'm guessin' the kid ran away. He's the one I told ya 'bout, always been a bit odd. Tony!" she called into another room.
A tall, dark-skinned man emerged. "What is it, Kate? I was helping Rebeccah with her research project."
"Forget the research, Tony, an' close the library. We got a missin' kid. An' none o' that garbage from ya 'bout not bein' able ta do anything fer twenty-four hours. That's why the family didn't bother calling those dopes up in Coppersville. Call Victor an' get him in here. Then follow the highway north, all the way ta town if ya hafta. Rookie an' I'll take the road south; if he ran off, my guess is he'll have gone that way."
Kate didn't even wait to see Tony's nod of approval before throwing the door open. "C'mon, Rookie!" she called, and Monica hurried after her.
There, waiting for them in front of the building, all dented and rusty, was a blue car that looked ready for the scrapyard. "'Eighty-two Chevy," Kate bragged, flinging the door open so hard Monica thought it might come off. "She's old, but she runs like a dream. I attached the lights an' sirens myself." They both climbed in, and Kate started the engine. The little car sputtered to life.
"Hey, Rookie, get a flashlight out o' the glove compartment," Kate yelled over the car's banging as she pulled out of the driveway. "We'll need it if we hafta get out."
Monica opened the glove compartment, and dozens of objects, from a flashlight to handcuffs to an old apple core, spilled out.
"Tony's been drivin' again," Kate observed as Monica sifted through the rubble. "That's his copy o' Moby Dick. The spare gun's Victor's -- always keeps it in here. Paranoid, I tell ya, always thinkin' he's gonna ferget his. Like we ever need 'em," she scoffed, pulling onto the highway. "Keep yer eyes peeled, Rookie."
Monica stared out the window. But for minutes, minutes that seemed like hours, they saw nothing. Darkness crept over the horizon, taunting them, threatening their search. How would they ever see anything?
Suddenly, she saw him, barely visible in the fading light, a man kneeling in a ditch that ran along the side of the road. Beside him was a small figure, a child. "There," she pointed, but Kate had already seen him.
"Looks like Mom an' Dad mighta been right, after all," she commented, pulling over. The man jumped up, turning to face them, but Kate was already out of the car, and her gun was pointed straight at him. "Don't move," she ordered firmly. "Rookie, get me a pair o' handcuffs. An' the first aid kit."
"He fell in the ditch," the man explained, surprisingly calm for someone who had a gun pointed at his chest. "I think he twisted his ankle; he can't get up."
Monica gave the handcuffs to Kate. The man raised his hands. "Look, I'm not gonna fight you. Just get the kid to a doctor and out of the cold."
Kate nodded to Monica. Keeping clear of the man, Monica made her way to the boy, who was shivering with cold despite a sweatshirt that was obviously far too big for him. He looked nearly asleep, but no sooner had Kate uttered the words, "Ya have the right ta shut up," than his eyes flew open.
"What's going on?" he demanded. "Wait! It's not his fault! I--"
"It's all right," Monica assured him. "We need to get you back to town."
Just then, a car pulled over, a red convertible that Monica would have recognized anywhere. But in the driver's seat wasn't Tess or even Andrew. It was Henry.
"Need a lift?" the Angel of Death asked casually, climbing out. He easily scooped up the little boy. "You look like you could use a ride."
The other man whirled around but didn't say anything. Monica, though, could tell he wanted to. She'd seen that look, the "What are you doing here?" look that often greeted Angels of Death. Henry looked up, and, for a moment, Monica thought she saw him wink. The other man relaxed visibly and turned back to face Kate.
"Take him ta the doctor," Kate called to Henry as she finished handcuffing the stranger. "Straight inta town, take a left on Maple, third house on yer right. Ya can't miss it."
"No problem!" Henry called back, helping his young companion into the passenger's seat. Without even asking Kate to repeat the directions, he took off down the road.
"Yer turn ta drive, Rookie," Kate instructed Monica as she ushered her captive into the back seat. Monica obediently took the wheel, and Kate climbed in next to her, watching their passenger the whole time.
The drive back seemed even longer than their venture out. The silence was broken only by the constant clanking and clattering of the old car. The stranger said nothing, and Monica didn't look back. Something about him, though she couldn't place it, made her uneasy.
At last, they arrived at the old building. "Show our guest inside," Kate ordered. "I'm gonna call the Bakers, let 'em know the kid's okay."
Monica nodded, climbed out of the car, and opened the back door. The stranger climbed out, a little clumsily because of the handcuffs, but he still had a certain calmness, a sureness that made Monica more than a little nervous.
Tony greeted them inside. "Hey, there, Rookie. I'll show you where we're going. It's a little hard to find through all the bookshelves." He led the two of them back through a dimly lit hallway and into the library. Flipping on the lights with one hand, he motioned to the left, behind a desk, with the other. "We've got a cell there, one over by fiction, and one over there by the magazines and newspapers. What's your pleasure, my friend?"
The stranger remained silent, simply looking around. His black hair, which seemed darker than even the darkness outside and made even his tan look pale, ran halfway down his neck. He wore black shoes, black pants, and a dark blue t-shirt. His eyes, which were blue, scanned the room, and at last came to rest on Monica's. She took a step back, startled. His gaze seemed to pierce right through her, allowing him to see exactly who she was. Monica looked away, and the man turned his gaze to Tony.
Tony looked away just as quickly. "No preference? All right; we'll try fiction. Nice view of the garden out the window near there. But, then, all the flowers are dead now, so I guess that really doesn't matter," he added nervously. He led them over to the cell, which looked surprisingly like a normal cell, rather out of place in a library. Fumbling with his keys, he at last undid the lock. The stranger walked inside without question. Tony undid his handcuffs and quickly left, locking the door behind him.
The cell was empty except for a ledge, long enough for a bed, which stuck out from the wall. It obviously hadn't been used recently. Monica looked around. Satisfied, she was about to leave, as well, when the man spoke.
"It's funny, you know?" he said quietly, almost to himself, but clearly addressing Monica. "She actually told me I had the right to shut up. She wanted me to be quiet. You'd think they'd want you to talk."
Monica turned. There had been something about his tone, something that told her the comment had been more than it had seemed. "Why do you say that?"
The man shrugged. "Just an observation. But, then, I guess you never know. I'm new to this, after all -- being in a jail, that is. It's certainly nicer than what I thought it would be."
Monica smiled. "You don't need to say that. I wasn't the decorator."
The man stared, and Monica realized he was genuinely confused. "I wasn't kidding," he said at last. "I meant it, honestly. It's not what I expected."
"Well, I . . ." Monica was at a loss. "I . . . don't want to see what you expected, then."
The stranger smiled warmly and sat down on the ledge. "No. No, I don't suppose you would. I don't suppose anyone would want to see it." He hesitated, as if unsure what to say next. "My name's Eric, by the way," he said at last.
"Ya got a last name, Eric?" came a voice from behind Monica. The angel nearly jumped, but it was only Kate.
"Peters," Eric said after only a moment's pause. "Eric Peters."
"Well, Eric, seems like ya won't be here much past mornin'. Kid insists yer innocent. We'll give him the night ta think it over, but I don't think he'll budge. Says he ran away, tripped, an' fell in the ditch. Says ya found him 'bout five minutes before we did and didn't go get help 'cause ya didn't wanna leave him alone. He also said ta give ya this back." She tossed the sweatshirt the boy had been wearing through the bars.
Eric caught it expertly, then lay down and stared up at the ceiling. "Tell Sam he doesn't need to lie," he said at last. "He ran away, it's true, but I found him early in the morning. We were together 'til you found us. He fell about ten minutes before that."
"What were ya doin' all that time?" Kate demanded.
"Walking. And sometimes . . . hiding from cars," Eric admitted, his gaze never straying from the ceiling, as if he could see through it to the sky.
Kate stared. "So ya approved of his runnin' away!" she accused.
"No," Eric answered flatly.
"Then why help him?"
"What was I supposed to do? Force him to come home? He thinks his parents don't need him. He knows that what they really need is the one thing they'll never have again -- his sister, Morgan. And around them, he's constantly reminded of the fact that he doesn't even know how she died. They have a mystery, a mystery his parents have abandoned as hopeless. But he's still searching, searching for answers that nobody can give him."
"How do ya know all this?" Kate asked, stunned.
"He told me. All you have to do is listen. But no one does that for him. His schoolmates are too young to understand. His parents want to forget the whole thing, and his sister, the one person who might be able to help him, is at college now. Sam just needed someone to listen to him!"
"Well, he's got it now," Kate sighed. "Word is the guy who brought him in took a likin' ta the kid. He's stayin' at their house tonight."
Monica looked up. "Can I go see him?"
Kate checked her watch. "Yer off-duty, Rookie. Ya can do whatever ya want."
Eric sat up and turned to face Monica. "You know him. Henry."
Monica nodded. "He's an old friend."
"Would you tell him something for me?"
"Tell him . . . tell him the robin is perched in the pine tree, but the raven arrives at midnight."
Eric smiled. "He'll know what I mean. Just remember. The robin is perched in the pine tree, but the raven arrives at midnight. If you mix up the birds, you might confuse him a little, but I think he'll still get it."
Monica sighed. She wasn't going to get an explanation. "All right. If you say so. The robin is perched in the pine tree, but the raven arrives at midnight."
"Exactly," Eric agreed. "And thank you."
"You're welcome," Monica replied, and turned to go.
She'd barely made it out the door and into the night air when Kate caught up to her. "I'm comin' with ya. Ya don't know where yer goin', an' I'm curious."
Monica shrugged. She had no choice and nothing to hide. If Henry trusted Eric, there was nothing to worry about. And if he didn't, then the message didn't matter. Either way, there was nothing to be afraid of.
"What do ya make o' his story?" Kate asked, leading the way.
Monica turned. "I'm not sure," she admitted. "He knows Henry, and I trust Henry. And if he wanted to kidnap Sam, I think he'd have a better getaway plan than walking along the highway."
Kate nodded. "Ya have a point. An' he may not be a kidnapper, but somethin' 'bout him bothers me. He's too calm, too sure. If he's innocent, he should be at least a little scared o' bein' accused o' somethin' he didn't do."
Monica shrugged. "He probably is. Some people are that good at hiding their feelings."
"I think he's hidin' more 'n his feelin's. Ya saw how reluctant he was ta give me a last name. An' what 'bout the message he told ya ta give this Henry ya trust so much?"
"I have no idea. Maybe he is hiding something, but that doesn't necessarily make him dangerous."
"Not by itself. But what were ya talkin' 'bout when I came in?"
"He said the jail was nicer than he'd expected. But the strange thing is, I think he meant it."
Kate stopped in her tracks just outside a tall old building. "That's odd."
"A couple o' weeks ago, a kid came in an' said the same thing. I think he was in here fer an English project. Came in, saw the cells, an' said one word: "Nice." An' he said it with such . . . sincerity that it scared me outta my wits. I didn't know what the kid was thinkin' an' I didn't want ta. All I wanted was ta get outta there quick as I could. I felt the same thing with Eric. That stare o' his, it's somethin' else." She shuddered. "Well, this is the place."
Kate raised her hand to knock, but before she could strike the door, it swung open. An older teenager stood in the doorway, watching them with bright hazel eyes. She took a step towards them, her light brown hair blowing wildly in the night breeze. "Who are you? What do you want?"
Kate took a step back. "Avanwë! What're ya doin' here?"
"This is my family's house. What are you doing here?"
"You're Sam's sister?" Monica asked.
"That's right," the teen nodded. "And you?"
"My name is Monica. This is Kate. Is Henry here?"
Avanwë's eyes flared. "How do you know him?"
Monica stepped back next to Kate. "We're old friends. I have a message for him."
"Avanwë?" came a woman's voice from inside the house. "Who's there?"
"Two police officers; they want to talk to Henry."
A woman came rushing up behind Avanwë. She had short, curly blonde hair and blue eyes. "Oh, Kate. Hi. And this must be your new officer. I'm pleased to meet you." She extended her hand to Monica, who shook it gratefully as Avanwë stepped back inside the house, allowing them to pass. Kate followed Mrs. Baker inside. Monica hesitated, then followed them, avoiding Avanwë's gaze.
Mrs. Baker led them into a large room with several sofas and chairs. Sam sat on one of the sofas, his leg resting on a pillow. He was a small, pale boy with curly blonde hair and bright blue eyes. Beside him was a short, plump man who was packing a small bag. Sam's father sat in a nearby rocking chair, a tall man with dark hair and dark eyes. On a sofa across from them, looking perfectly comfortable, was Henry.
"Monica," he smiled. "Good to see you. May I introduce Mary and Thomas Baker, Sam Baker, and Doctor Tim McDonald."
"Actually, I was just leaving," the shorter man explained cheerily. "Just take it easy, Sammy. I'll be by tomorrow to check up on you."
"Thanks, Doc," Mrs. Baker smiled.
"Any time, Mary. Good-bye!"
"Bye!" Sam called with a smile.
"What brings you here, Kate?" Mr. Baker asked once the doctor had left. "Victor was already by to get the story. It was all a simple misunderstanding."
"Let's sit down," Kate suggested. Monica sat down next to Henry, Kate in another chair, and Mrs. Baker where the doctor had been sitting. Avanwë remained standing in the doorway, her bright eyes taking in the whole room at once.
Kate sighed. "Sam, I have a few questions fer ya."
Sam crossed his arms stubbornly and faced the wall. "I already told Vic everything."
"Eric told us he was with ya all day, Sam," Kate explained.
Everyone startled. Avanwë strode a few paces forward. Henry looked up. "What are you suggesting, Officer?" he asked defensively.
Sam whirled around. "It's not his fault! He never tried to attack me or threaten me or anything! He just wanted to help!"
"Are ya sure, Sam?" Kate pressed.
Henry shook his head. "Officer, I happen to know this man. He's secretive and mysterious and no doubt appears suspicious, but he's no kidnapper. I assure you, he was only trying to help."
Kate sighed. "People ain't always what ya think they are, Henry."
To everyone's surprise, it was Avanwë who spoke. "I was about to tell you the same thing."
Kate was shocked. "Ya think he's innocent? You, o' all people? This man may have tried ta kidnap yer little brother!"
"If so, he was doing a lousy job of it. They got what? Ten miles out of town? At most? And all that happened to Sam was a mild ankle sprain."
Monica nodded. "I agree. He didn't seem like the type to make a mistake like not planning a getaway."
"He's got a good deal of common sense," Henry agreed. "Believe me, Officer, if he wanted to be out of the state by now, that's where he'd be, with or without Sam, however he wanted it."
Kate crossed her arms. "Sounds dangerous ta me."
Sam looked up. "Dangerous? Yes, he is, and so is Monica, and so is Avanwë. Even you, Kate, are dangerous in your own way."
"What?" Kate asked, amazed.
"Don't mind that," Mr. Baker shrugged. "He's quoting The Lord of the Rings, or near enough."
"Morgan used to say that," Sam said quietly.
"Morgan never ran away!" Mr. Baker shot. Then he sat back, surprised by his outburst. "I'm sorry, Sam. I just don't know what to say. I'd rather believe that this man came and tried to kidnap you than believe that you tried to run away."
"I'm sorry." Sam was on the verge of tears. "I . . . I just needed to get away . . . for a while."
"Well, it worked. And what have you got to show for it? A sprained ankle and a man in jail!"
"You didn't mind when Morgan left! She was out in the woods alone all the time!"
"She was older. And she still . . ." He broke off, unable to finish. "Who knows? Maybe that's it. Maybe if we'd been a little more careful about where we let her go alone, none of this would've happened. After all, she was with that Andrew fellow."
Monica, who had been watching Sam, turned immediately to face Mr. Baker. "Who?"
It was Sam who answered. "The day she died, Morgan brought a friend home. His name was Andrew. They went out in the woods together. That night, Avanwë found her, dead. We never saw Andrew again. But I don't think he hurt her. Avanwë told us she saw an angel, that Andrew was that angel, and that he said it was an accident. And angels don't lie. And they don't kill people."
Avanwë nodded. "You're right, Sam. They certainly don't."
There was a long silence. Monica looked around. Probably, she guessed, a lot of their conversations ended like this, with neither side able to prove their point. The parents were left unable to explain why an angel would lie, and Avanwë and Sam were left with the question of how it could possibly have been an accident. All four seemed resigned to the fact that the discussion would go nowhere, so they might as well abandon it. Kate had looked ready to say something, but a sharp glare from Avanwë had stopped her. Henry was studying the others just as Monica was.
At last, Monica remembered. "Henry, Eric wanted me to tell you something. He said the . . . the robin is perched in the pine tree, but the raven arrives at midnight."
Monica was watching Henry for a reaction. She knew Kate was, too. And she could tell that Henry knew it, for he gave no sign of what he was thinking. At last, he looked up. "Tell him I understand," he said.
"Henry! I'm not going to keep running messages back and forth, waiting to get enough clues to figure out what's going on!"
"I'm sorry, Monica, but I don't have a choice." He stood up. "I should go."
"Wait!" Sam called. "Where are you going?"
"I've taken advantage of your hospitality long enough."
"Please stay," the little boy pleaded.
"I'd stay if I were you," Avanwë put in. "He doesn't take a liking to many people, Henry."
Henry nodded. "All right, then. But I need to speak to Monica for a moment, alone." He motioned to the hallway.
Hesitantly, all too aware of the eyes watching her, Monica got up and followed him. Henry led her out the door and into the night. "Monica, have you seen Andrew?"
"No," Monica answered, a little surprised by the question. "I was with Tess earlier--"
"Right now, I don't care where Tess is," Henry interrupted. "But I am concerned about what Andrew might do."
"You're going to get tired of hearing this, Monica, but I can't explain right now. What I can tell you is that there are bigger things happening than this family, but, once again, they are the link that connects everything."
"Again? Henry, what happened three years ago? How did Morgan die? Did it have something to do with Eric? He didn't kill her, did he? But then Andrew wouldn't have told them it was an accident. Unless it wasn't Andrew. Then--"
"Monica, please. You're just going to have to trust me. You need to do something that isn't going to be easy. You have to leave. I know you want to stay here and help Sam, but he isn't your assignment. You need to put all this aside for a moment, go back, and give Eric a message. Tell him not to escape. That will be hard for him. Years of experience are urging him to seize any opportunity for freedom, but he needs to stay put until morning. And tell him that after midnight does not count as morning. And, by the way, if you have the time, mention that I wasn't the only one who broke his code. Avanwë knows what I'm doing."
"Yes. But she asked me to stay, anyway. That's a good sign that she's got our backs."
Monica cocked her head. "You need a teenager to cover your backs?"
Henry smiled. "Like I said, I don't have time to explain." With that, he turned and headed back into the house.
Moments later, Monica and Kate were on their way back to the jail. "I don't like this, Rookie," Kate complained. "What's goin' on?"
"I wish I knew, Kate. But you'll have to ask Eric. Or Henry."
"What'd he tell ya?"
"To tell Eric not to escape. Apparently, he thinks Eric's capable of it."
Kate nodded. "That pretty much rules out Henry plannin' a rescue attempt. Didn't seem like the type, anyway."
"Henry? He wouldn't hurt a fly."
"Even if he thought a friend was in danger?"
"He's not. If he's innocent, he has nothing to worry about. If he's not, Henry won't help him."
"Ya seem awfully sure o' that."
"I am. Henry--"
"Look, Rookie!" Kate interrupted, pointing at the jail. The door had been thrown wide open.
They both rushed inside. "Kate, thank God!" Tony called. "He escaped. Vic was trying to fit a pillow and blanket through the bars of his cell. The pillow wouldn't fit, so he opened the door. It was only for a second, but that was all he needed. He pushed Vic out of the way -- he's stronger than he looks. Vic grabbed him, but he broke free and knocked him out. I was going for my gun when there was a bright light, blinding. By the time it faded, he was gone. The phones are all dead, and I didn't think I should leave Vic. He came out of it just before you showed up."
Monica stared in disbelief. A bright light? Andrew? But it couldn't be. He wouldn't, would he? Well, maybe if he thought Tony was going to shoot Eric. But still . . .
"Guess yer friend was wrong, Rookie," Kate pointed out. "Why'd he run if he's innocent?"
"I . . . I don't know," Monica admitted.
"He wouldn't, Rookie. Means he's as dangerous as I thought he was. So we need ta find him -- fast. I'll call Coppersville; they'll cover the main road. But I don't think he'll use those. He seems ta have more sense 'n that. He'll lay low. Tony, I want ya ta search the park. There's plenty o' places ta hide there. Rookie, I want ya over by the Bakers' house. He tried ta take Sam once; he might decide ta try again. I'll check garages, cars, anythin' he might hide in." She tossed a gun to Monica. "Yer gonna need it, Rookie. Let's go!"
Monica hurried obediently out the door and down the street that would lead her to the old convent. Everything was going wrong. If she'd come back earlier, Eric may have listened, and none of this would have happened. But how could she still believe he was innocent? Maybe it was Sam's insisting. Maybe it was Henry's confidence in him. Whatever it was, something told her this was a mistake.
She quickly reached the house, and circled around to the back. There, behind the hose, was a row of pine trees, a windbreak against the northern storms. In the moonlight, she could see two figures, one tall, the other short. Eric and Sam! She raised her gun. "Stay where you are!"
The figures turned. "Monica?" a voice asked. But it didn't belong to Sam or Eric.
"Henry!" Monica exclaimed, lowering the gun. "What are you doing?" Coming closer, she could see that the boy wasn't Sam at all. He had long black hair and grey eyes that shone in the moonlight. His skin was darker than Eric's, but she still couldn't help the question, "Is this Eric's son?"
Both stood still for a moment, surprised. Henry was about to laugh. At last, the boy spoke, but he didn't sound at all like a boy. "No, but that's not a bad guess . . . Monica, was it? My name is Latano." He held out his hand.
Monica hesitated, then shook it. The boy had a firm grip, but not too tight. "How do you know Henry?" Monica asked once he let go.
"Oh, I've seen him around for a while, but we officially met about three years ago."
"Three years this spring?" Monica guessed.
Latano cocked his head. "How much do you know, Monica?"
"Not much. Only that that's when a little boy's sister died, and that it has something to do with Eric, who, by the way, Henry, escaped from the jail a few minutes before I got back." She glared at her fellow angel. "Are you going to tell me what's going on now?"
"No, he isn't," came a voice from behind her. Monica turned to see Andrew and Eric standing together. "He isn't," Andrew repeated, "because I am. If you want me to, that is, Monica. You know too much for me to leave you in the dark, taking blind shots at the truth. But, Monica, the truth isn't always what you want it to be. It can be a terrible burden. I can't force this on you. As Morgan would say, no one may lay it on another."
"Someone's been reading The Lord of the Rings again," Henry smiled. "What'll it be, Monica."
Monica didn't hesitate. She had to know what the connection was between all this. "I want to know," she said confidently.
"All right," Andrew nodded. "Latano, where are the others?"
"They're here." He gave a call like an owl's and four others emerged from behind the row of pine trees.
Andrew smiled. "Monica, allow me to introduce Noka, Tandro, Rona, and Balo." He pointed in turn to two boys and two girls. "Let's sit down." The new arrivals were seated before he finished the invitation, and the others quickly complied.
Andrew took a deep breath and began. "This all started a long time ago, Monica, but I only learned of it two and a half years ago, in the spring. Maybe you remember the day. You and Tess dropped me off at a school. A ninth-grade English class, to be precise."
"Yes, I remember. Tess and I spent the rest of the day at a small restaurant. I had quite an interesting talk with a waitress."
Henry smiled knowingly. "Would her name, by any chance, be Sarah?"
"Yes," Monica agreed, surprised. "How did you know?"
"She was there to keep you busy, Monica. She's an angel, too."
Andrew turned to Henry. "You never told me that."
"Sam didn't think it was a good idea to have them checking in on you."
Andrew smiled. "Good point. Well, soon after I arrived, a fight broke out in the classroom. It wasn't hard to find my assignment; she was hit in the head with a pencil sharpener, and then a table fell on her. Her name, as you may have guessed by now, was Morgan Baker. To make a long story short, she ended up inviting me to her house.
"After dinner, I followed her downstairs only to find an old man and what I believed to be a young boy. The old man's name was Peter; the boy was Noka here. I was going to tell her parents, but Morgan insisted it would be dangerous. When she took me outside to meet the rest of the group, I learned why.
"Besides Morgan, only Peter and Eric were human. The others are elves, from an island in the Pacific Ocean that few people -- even angels -- know about. The island is being attacked by gleems, flying monsters who are trying to take over the world. Eric is about to interrupt me and explain that what they ultimately want is peace, but that -- let me see if I can get this right -- peace held together by force isn't peace; it's a cease-fire, and it doesn't last. How am I doing so far?"
"You must be doing something right," Eric grinned playfully. "She doesn't look half as skeptical as you did."
Monica blinked. "I'm just . . . I don't know what to say. Keep going; maybe the pieces will fit together eventually."
"Good point," Latano agreed. "You know bits and pieces from all over the place. Keep going, Andrew."
"I didn't believe them at first. And it only got stranger. Turns out the leader of the gleems -- Athos -- had been captured by the elves a little while back. They -- Morgan and her friends -- set him free because Angelica, his second in command, wants to jump right to the taking-over-the-world part of the plan. But the elves didn't understand that, and banished them from the village. They were now the Woodland Wanderers, outlaws from the very place they were trying to protect."
"Hey, that's a good line," Noka commented. "You should go write movie scripts, Andrew."
"Like you'd actually go see them," Andrew returned with a laugh. To Monica's surprise, the whole group burst out laughing.
"Sorry," Noka apologized through the laughter. "Blind joke. You'll get used to that."
"I'm sorry. I--"
"No, please. I take it as a compliment that people can't tell. You're not the first."
"No, you're not," Andrew agreed. "Anyway, they had -- have, actually -- a spy working with the gleems who told them an attack was going to take place later that day. So, before I had the chance to wonder if I should try to find you or Tess and tell you what was happening, I found myself on their island, in the forest, and, thanks to some quick thinking by Tandro and Latano, in the elf-village."
"It wasn't that hard," Tandro shrugged. "As soon as he turned his light show on, all I had to do was tell them that he was a Sandroma. That's our name for angels."
"Which I hadn't told them, by the way," Andrew added. "So you can imagine that left me rather flustered. That's when Henry showed up. After a quick visit to Athos, I headed back for the battle. And I use the term broadly; this was one weird battle. See, the gleems don't actually want to kill the elves. It's part of a whole conquer-versus-destroy thing that Morgan would have given a whole lecture on if she'd had time. So, basically, what happens is the gleems will attack until everyone is hurt -- not dead.
"But things went wrong. Athos had been trying to find an antidote for a certain poison he'd been planning to use on their arrows. Since he couldn't find one, he decided not to use it. But one arrow was missed when he did a check. When the gleems realized Morgan had been hit with it, they brought her back to their tower. Peter followed on foot. Athos was mad with grief, and stabbed him through the chest. They died together -- Peter and Morgan -- and Henry and I brought them home.
"The rest you know, more or less. We brought Morgan's body back to her family. Avanwë found us and told her parents it was an accident. Which it was, Monica. Athos never meant for it to happen. They were close, friends, actually, as odd as that sounds."
"Why . . . ?" Monica hesitated. Which question should she ask first? "Why not tell them what happened?" she asked at last. "And why didn't Morgan ever tell them?"
Latano chuckled softly. "Your friend thinks a lot like you, Andrew." He looked up at Monica. "He suggested the same thing. But Athos has threatened to kill them if they ever find out. I don't know that he'd follow through, but it's not a risk Morgan was ever willing to take. She never wanted them involved in this. As hard as it was to hide it from them, she felt that it was worth it. To her, they represented innocence, the best that the world has to offer. They still to, to us. They may be locked in a stalemate when it comes to explaining her death, but they're safe."
"We still keep an eye on them, though," Eric added. "That's how I knew Sam had run away. I caught up to him and stayed with him. Part of me wanted to make sure he didn't get hurt. The rest of me just wanted to be with him. He's so much like Morgan, it almost scares me. Neither of them ever fit in. Neither of them ever trusted easily. But Sam . . . he trusted me the same way Morgan trusted Peter from the start -- for no apparent reason, and without question. I almost told him the truth, several times. I think, at last, I understand how hard it was for her."
Andrew nodded. "So now you have it. What do you think of the truth?"
"It's not what I expected," Monica admitted. "But, then, I'm not sure exactly what I expected. I never would have imagined this."
Henry nodded. "I know what you mean."
Monica turned sharply. She'd nearly forgotten he was there. "How long have you known?"
"Oh, I've lost track, Monica. But don't feel bad. There are very few of us who know -- Sam, Andrew, Adam, Sarah, me, and now you."
"There's one thing I don't understand."
"Only one?" Eric grinned. "We're doing pretty well, then."
"Your message, Eric. "The robin is perched in the pine tree, but the raven arrives at midnight." What was that supposed to mean?"
Eric laughed. "You're right; it's not obvious. I had to mangle it a little bit to avoid suspicion. The 'robin' refers to Robin Hood and his Merry Men, which has been our little nickname for ourselves ever since we were banished. The pine trees, obviously, are right over there. I was trying to tell Henry that the others were here. The raven, which meant "Nevermore" arrived at midnight, meaning they'd be there 'til midnight."
"What happens at midnight?"
"Nothing," Eric shrugged. "But if people -- or angels, for that matter -- try to sneak out of a house later than midnight, people start to wonder what's going on. By the way, Henry, what did you tell them you were doing?"
"I didn't. And they didn't ask."
Andrew nodded. "They never do, Henry. Even Morgan's death couldn't change that."
"She was grateful for that, Andrew," Latano said quietly. "Every time they didn't ask was one less time she had to lie to them. And--"
"Wait," Henry interrupted. "Do you hear that?"
"Footsteps," Noka agreed quickly. "One person, headed this way, fast."
"Get behind the house, and stay close," Eric whispered. "All of you. If it's the cops, Monica, you and I go out; say you found me. I'm the one they want. Now, everyone, quiet!"
Monica didn't have time to argue. They all hurried to the safety of the shadows behind the house. Monica huddled close to the wall. How could she do as Eric asked? How could she simply turn him over? Even if, in the end, they decided he hadn't kidnapped Sam, he'd attacked an officer and fled their custody. He wouldn't be welcomed with smiles back at the jail.
Yet he'd sounded sure of his decision. The last thing he wanted was to drag more people into this. If he gave himself up, the police would stop searching. They wouldn't find the others.
The footsteps came closer, but then stopped suddenly. There was a small chuckle, and then a man's voice called, "Come on out, Jekyll!"
"Jekyll?" Monica asked in a whisper.
But Henry just grinned, his face alight with recognition. "It's all right," he assured them, stepping out of the shadows. The others did the same, hesitantly. At last, Monica followed.
The new arrival was about Henry's height, slightly shorter than Eric. His hair, which ran down to his shoulders, was either brown with streaks of black or black with streaks of brown; in the moonlight, it was impossible to tell. His light brown eyes scanned the group, and quickly came to rest on Monica. The angel stepped back as though struck; something was very odd about his gaze. Eric had made her nervous; this man made her terribly uncomfortable.
Henry didn't notice. He ran up to the newcomer wearing a huge grin. "You had us worried for a moment there. The police are after Eric."
The man cocked his head. "And I thought Peter was the only one of you who got accused of kidnapping."
To Monica's surprise, Eric didn't try to defend himself. Instead, he burst out laughing. "Well, one of us had to step up to the plate. But really? Sam ran away. I was just making sure he didn't get hurt. But his family has every reason to be cautious."
"How is he? Sam, I mean."
"Aside from a sprained ankle, he's all right. I see you heard somehow."
"Yes, but my sources are obviously slower than yours. Well, I'm relieved. I'll admit when I saw you, Jekyll, I was a little worried. But who's this?" His gaze turned again to Monica. "I don't believe we've met before."
"Monica. I'm a friend of Henry's." It was a safe answer, the safest she had. Somehow, she didn't want to tell him any more than she needed to.
The man nodded, then bowed deeply. That was enough to startle Monica, who had expected a handshake. "Any friend of Jekyll's is a friend of mine, Monica. I'm Athos." He held out his hand.
Monica stared. "What?"
Athos smiled slightly. "I see Jekyll's told you a few things."
Monica took a step back. "Henry, what's going on? You told me--"
"I told you the truth, Monica. This is Athos, the leader of the gleems, and Morgan's friend."
Athos nodded. "Yes, I was--"
"Oh, yes. Her "friend". What a wonderful way you have of showing it, too."
"Monica--" Andrew started.
"Don't you start, too!" Monica exclaimed. "There's a little boy in that house whose sister isn't coming back home again because of your warped notion that the world would be better off with you in charge. Well, forgive me for thinking that this family would be a lot better off without your little war! And forcing her to keep it from her family? That's just as cruel. They have no idea how their daughter, their sister, died! All they're left with is a terrible mystery that will haunt them until they finally learn the truth." She stared at Athos, tears streaming down her cheeks, and was surprised to see that his eyes, too, were moist with tears.
"Monica," he said slowly, quietly. "Please, if you'll just let--"
"No, Athos! You may be able to fool the others -- even Andrew and Henry -- into thinking that you really care, but I know better. You can't even begin to understand the suffering you've caused. And you--"
"Monica!" came a voice from behind them. Avanwë stepped out of the shadows behind the house. "What's going on?"
Monica stepped aside, allowing her to see Athos. Instantly, Avanwë's hand shot up. Athos was sent flying backwards and landed on his back in the grass. Avanwë strode forward until she was standing over him. "What did I tell you about showing your face here again?"
Athos coughed and tried to sit up, but collapsed again, winded. Eric rushed to help, but Avanwë turned sharply and Eric was knocked off his feet.
"Stay out of this, Eric," Avanwë spat. "I'm doing you a favor. I'm doing you all a favor. It's time this slug got what he deserved."
Monica stared, shocked. What was going on? "You know?" she asked. "You know about all this?"
"Oh, please," Avanwë scoffed. "You really think I'd feed my parents all that "accident" junk if I didn't know what really happened? No, I'd be looking for answers, the same as them, the same as Sam. But I have my answers, Monica."
"Avanwë," Athos said weakly, almost a whisper. "It was an accident."
"Some accident. And killing Peter -- was that an accident, too? You really expect me to buy any of it? A war isn't an accident, you fool. And neither is this!" She raised her hand.
"NO!" Eric shouted, and rushed between her and Athos. Something like a bolt of lightning struck him in the chest, and he fell to the ground beside Athos, eyes closed, breathing heavily.
Athos got to his hands and knees. "Eric? Eric, are you all right?" He took Eric's hand, and Eric grasped it tightly.
"Avanwë," Eric said slowly. "Sometimes . . . when tempers are unleashed . . . when mistakes are made . . . innocent people are caught . . . in the crossfire. Avanwë. It was an accident." He opened his eyes, and his ice blue ones met Athos' light brown.
Avanwë stepped back. "Go! But don't let me see you here again!"
Athos slowly got to his feet, then helped Eric up. He turned to go, but then stopped and turned back to Eric. "There will always be a place for you at my side, my friend."
Eric smiled warmly. "And you will always be welcome among us, should you change your mind."
Athos shook his head, then turned and slowly walked down the street. Eric turned to see Monica staring at him. "What did he mean?" she asked.
Eric took a deep breath. "I was his second in command for over twenty years, Monica. We know each other well. And that's how I know you're wrong. He does care. He didn't risk coming here for nothing, just to satisfy some whim." He turned to Avanwë. "He and Morgan had something special, Avanwë. They could look past their differences and find some common ground."
"I can't imagine what the two of them could have in common," Avanwë scoffed, echoing Monica's thoughts.
Eric shook his head. "I can't explain what it was, but it was there. It was real." He turned to the elves. "We should go. The police could come at any moment. That is, if you're not going to arrest me, Officer Monica."
Monica smiled. "I think you have enough to worry about . . . Eric Peters. That's not your real name, is it?"
Eric laughed. "My name's Eric, all right. But Peters? No. It was the first thing I thought of. I'm sure he wouldn't mind."
Henry smiled. "No. He doesn't."
Eric's ice blue eyes seemed to sparkle in the moonlight. "I'll see you around, then." He and the others headed off into the shadows.
Avanwë sighed. "Well, that's that."
Monica turned. "Avanwë . . . what was that . . . that thing that happened?"
Henry chuckled. "Funny that you ask that, but didn't think to ask how Athos could see us, in the dark, behind the house."
Monica sighed. "Everyone has their little secrets, it seems."
"So it seems," Avanwë agreed.
"Have you . . ." Monica hesitated.
"Go ahead," Avanwë prompted. "I promise not to hurl you into a tree."
Monica smiled. "It's just . . . Have you ever thought about telling Sam the truth?"
Avanwë let out a deep sigh. "I'd be lying if I said no, Monica. Sometimes I want so badly to tell him something, anything, truth or no. I've even thought of writing him an anonymous letter telling a huge fish story about a hunting accident or something. I've come close, but I've always backed out of it. I'm not sure why, but it never felt right. It's not what she would have wanted. Maybe someday -- somehow -- it will be safe to tell them. Until then . . . it's a secret, the secret she always managed to keep from them. I only hope I can live up to her example." She turned and went back inside the house.
At last, surrounded only by Andrew and Henry, Monica collapsed onto the grass. "I don't understand."
The other two sat down. "Understand what?" Henry asked.
"Athos. How can you just accept that he murdered Morgan and Peter? How can the others casually chat with him, and you -- how can you pretend to be his friend?"
Henry crossed his arms. "Let me tell you something, Monica. Things aren't always so simple, aren't always laid out in black and white. Athos is a man who lives in the grey areas, not quite sure where he belongs."
"What do you mean? Right and wrong don't change, Henry."
Henry smiled. "You're right. Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear. Nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. Or gleems, for that matter. But listen, Monica. The first time I met Athos -- actually met him -- was right after his brother, Aramis, had died. The two of them had been separated at birth, you see. Athos was raised by the gleems. Aramis was found on the doorstep of a church and became a priest.
"To make a long story short, Aramis was captured and murdered by the gleems. Athos never meant for them to kill him, but they got carried away and it happened just the same. Well, all I wanted at that moment was to give him a piece of my mind, so I marched right on down to his room and told him exactly what I thought of him, his army of gleems, and his little plan to take over the world. All the time I stood there yelling at him, he didn't even budge. He didn't yell back. He didn't throw a punch. He just sat there, silent.
"At last, Sarah, who was with me, interrupted me, and I realized who I was yelling at. He was a man, like any other, sitting there, crying, devastated by the death of his brother. That's when I realized it wasn't my place to judge him."
Andrew looked shocked. "You never told me any of that."
"I didn't know what you'd think, Andrew. You accepted him so easily, so freely."
"Well, I met him before Morgan and Peter died." He paused. "That's how you got your nickname, isn't it? Jekyll?"
Henry smiled. "Yes. He saw such a sudden change in me, he couldn't resist attributing it to something. Henry is, after all, Dr. Jekyll's first name."
Monica shook her head. "Henry, what kind of a friend threatens their friend's family?"
Henry sighed. "You don't believe me. You're looking for a way to prove I'm wrong. I can't tell you what he was thinking, Monica, or even if he would ever follow through. I doubt it, but I wouldn't take the chance. And I can't prove that he and Morgan really were friends. He could tell you. She would tell you. But, really, I don't think I'd believe it if I'd just heard it from the others and not from her. You'll just have to decide what to believe for yourself, Monica."
Monica shook her head. "I don't believe it. I think it's an act, all of it. He's fooled everyone, including you. But I won't fall for it, and neither will Avanwë."
"So you . . ." Henry hesitated. "You think she should have killed him when she had the chance."
"No. She should forgive him. I should forgive him. I should love him as the Father does. But I don't have to like him." She shook her head slowly, staring off into the shadows. "And I don't have to trust him."
Oh, dear. That ending just begs for another sequel. I'll write it when I figure out what it's going to be about. :) Well, if Monica knows now, eventually Tess is going to find out . . .