SMeyer has the originals. . . I just have their coffee.
Thanks to furious kitten, ElleCC, and B-Rizzle-Dizzle for beta support, and to everyone for reading and reviewing!
~ Chapter 10: Chaos On The Ground ~
Chicago, Alice's POV
"Wait!" shouted Edward, launching himself out of his furious pacing loop and into the kitchen.
"No," I said firmly, unscrewing another piece. "This has to be done."
"Not about that," Edward said with exasperation from behind me. "Jasper."
"Jasper will be home in"—I checked my watch—"eight hours, give or take. You can give him the earful he deserves then."
"Alice! Listen to what I'm saying here!"
"Edward! You haven't said anything yet!" I wheeled and shook my piece of the espresso machine at him. "Until you have something useful to contribute to the world of conversation, you can take your over-caffeinated ass back to the living room."
Edward glared at me. I was strung out with worry over Jasper, and he was just plain strung out. I could hear his heart racing at an inhuman speed from across the room, aided by his raging emotions and double shots of espresso. The glint in his eyes, however, wasn't a wild one. He had a purpose behind this tirade other than halting my dismantling of his coffee set up.
I sighed and slumped back against the counter. "What?"
"We caught Bella on camera at the crime scene, right?"
"Jasper smelled her in front of the hotel, right?"
He grinned triumphantly. I just looked at him blankly. "Edward, that trail of logic doesn't make a point." I was beginning to wish I'd been allowed to go with Carlisle and Esme down to the lab. Unfortunately, Mr. Nonsense-Spouter needed a minder to ensure he put something in his body besides premium gourmet coffee and leftover birthday cake, and I'd drawn the short straw.
He remained triumphant as he continued, refusing to be nonplussed by my uninspired reaction. "Cameras, dear Alice. My point is cameras. Get Jasper to tell us the name of the hotel again and then you can hack their cameras and we can find Bella."
I nearly face-palmed myself for not thinking of it sooner, stopping when I realized I still had an espresso spout in my hand. Running over to my computer, I powered it up while pounding out a message to Jasper on my phone. I remembered the name of the property, but I needed one other detail. Were there cameras at the hotel?
Behind me, I heard the tell-tale clink of pot to cup. Whirling around I shouted, "Edward! Put that coffee down now. You've had enough." He backed away from the counter, clutching both pot and cup to his chest as I advanced. "You can't abuse your human body just because your vampire substructure lets you. Give me that coffee." He shook his head and pulled his precious liquids up tighter into his chest, not fully processing that he'd backed himself into a corner.
My phone dinged, signaling a reply from Jasper. I made no move to answer it. "Hand over the pot, Edward, and no one gets hurt."
"Sandwich first." He glared at me, but I had other things to do – like hack some camera systems ASAP – so I did a little lightning snatch and sprinted for the sink. His earlier evil eye was nothing compared to the look I got as I firmly poured both pot and cup down the sink.
"You're a bitch, Alice."
"I'm your sister, Edward. Sandwich."
He grumbled his way over to the refrigerator, muttering about adoption not counting and cruel and unusual punishment while I whipped out my phone. In the elevators, I think. I pinged the website. Security video control system? Why yes, yes we do have that. I chuckled evilly . . . this was going to be fun.
Famous. Last. Words.
Fucking Russians had fucking good security at that hotel. I actually had to send Edward to the lab to get Esme to help me hack them out. Carlisle pointed out, hours in, that it would have probably been easier and more useful to hack the city's traffic cams to get the taxi plates than messed with a hotel system, and both of us gave him dark looks over the tops of our computers.
Edward had learned his lesson for the day and simply made sure I could see him eating his sandwiches. He was building them up like Dagwood Bumstead, creating towering masterpieces that took him nearly half an hour to assemble, and then methodically putting them away with no apparent enjoyment.
He was washing them down with water and pouting like a five-year-old. A smart five year old, because he hadn't said one word to me about not getting a cup of coffee per sandwich. The critical gears were firmly in my pocket, and I was busy. Instead, his glowering silence spoke volumes about the injustice in the world.
Jasper got home and discovered us all gathered in the dining room. Esme and I were next to each other, hacking our hearts out. Edward sat at the end of the table, eating and glowering. Carlisle hovered and paced, offering Ed unwanted nutritional advice and waiting, like the rest of us, for a breakthrough.
"No luck?" asked Jasper, earning himself a full set of cold stares. "Guess not," he said, taking a seat next to Edward and sliding out the gun and canister of darts.
Edward snatched them up and whipped open the canister, shaking out the darts into his palm.
"Careful with those!" Carlisle was by his side in an instant. "Mixed dosages have bad reactions."
"I'm aware," said Edward coldly, his voice stiff from hours of disuse. He disregarded his own green darts and focused in on the fourth, twirling it between his fingers and holding it up to the light. Carlisle hovered nervously.
"You don't know what that is or where it has been, Edward. Be careful."
"The tip looks clean. Your opinion, doctor?" He passed the dart over to Carlisle, who took it as though it were a loaded nuclear bomb. Ever since he and Esme had joined forces, he'd gotten a lot more careful about his chemical adventures. It was kind of cute to see my fearless father figure gingerly protecting his quasi-immortal ass on her behalf, but he wasn't going to let himself be shown up by a human, either. Especially not when that human was Edward. They respected each other as scientists, but there was no denying that they could push each other as men.
"I don't see visible residue, but we should still run it through the lab for traces. Definitely not one of our formulations, either."
Edward nodded. "It should be a good insight into what the Volturi are developing. Jasper, did Laurent give any indications as to when James took this from their labs?"
Jasper shook his head. Esme looked up from her screen at him. "It would have been nice to have been able to ask Laurent directly, Jasper." Her eyes dropped back to her screen, but the reproach was nevertheless a stinging one.
Jasper's eyes flicked over to me. I shook my head. No sympathy in this corner. "He's not answering his phone. Not even Victoria has heard from him. You were the last person to see him."
He gave a sigh and buried his head in his hands for a moment. When he pulled himself up, he had a resigned look on his face. "I have to go hunt. If I wait, I might try to eat Ed."
Edward grimaced at both the nickname and sentiment. "I'm under-caffeinated, Jasper. I'll taste like shit."
"Oh, for the love of all that's holy. Fine. Fine. You want to kill yourself by drinking three pots of double roast a day, fine. Be my guest." I started winging pieces of the espresso machine at him from across the table, aiming directly for his head.
He ducked and left Jasper to pick the pieces out of the air before they went through the windows. "Jesus, Alice. You're getting as bad as he is."
"It's this fucking system! I can't break into it and the traffic system is giving Esme fits and the whole thing is a mess and nothing is in English." I could feel Jasper shifting to send calm my way, and I didn't appreciate it. "Do not calm me down, Jasper Whitlock. I want to be upset about this right now."
He came over to me, hands full of parts, and kissed my ranting forehead. "Relax, babe. You'll figure it out. Ever since I showed you computers, there hasn't been one to beat you." His words did nothing to calm me down, so I just huffed and watched him lead Mr. Coffee to his holy land and gift him back the parts before heading out to hunt. Or more likely, down to the clinic to snitch a real snack. I knew my man through and through, and even fresh deer was not going to be cutting it for him right now.
Esme kept typing, and Carlisle wandered over to watch. He couldn't help but lean in to give advice, and I could see her brow furrow in slight annoyance. Then he whispered something else in her ear and she smiled while I rolled my eyes. Young lovers they might not be, but they were still gut-wrenchingly adorable when they weren't being 100% business.
I banged on the keyboard in pure frustration and earned myself a loud beep, followed by the angry whir of the processor. Great, I thought, just great. Now I've busted the damn thing.
Program windows started to open and close as some system process executed. I huffed into my bangs and threw myself back in my chair to watch the destruction unfold. Just my luck to get right into the heart of a program and then lose my cool and ruin all my hard work.
And then, miracle of miracles, a video system opened. Just like that, I was in. I nearly fell out of my chair in shock before setting my fingers gently back on the rows of my poor, abused keyboard. "Esme, I need some help with the translating." The commands were still all in Russian, and she was picking it up faster than I was.
In the background, I could hear Ed snapping in the final pieces of his precious espresso machine. In front of me, however, I could see the corridors of the hotel, full of people bustling around. Workmen were walking a new slab of granite into the lobby area, no doubt doing some kind of remodeling.
Esme watched for a moment, then typed a set of characters. Nothing happened. She frowned and repeated her command, then tried another. "I think it is limited to a real time feed."
She shook her head. "Not responding."
Edward came in and stood behind us briefly, watching. Did he imagine her in those halls? His breathing and heart rate gave away nothing.
I turned back to Esme. "Any luck on the traffic cams?"
"I have the suburbs and the airport freeway, but I'm still working on the downtown cams." She went back to her computer and typed a few more lines of code. Since Carlisle's suggestion, she'd taken point on the traffic system and made much faster progress than I had with the hotel's cameras.
Edward and I watched her as she pecked and peered at St. Petersburg's system. Distracted briefly by his caffeine craving, he wandered back into the kitchen and twisted a few knobs. Naturally, this meant that he missed the big moment.
"There they are!" I yelled, pointing to the screen. "It's definitely Bella."
Advancing the frames, it became clear that the camera wasn't a continuous stream. Instead, the images moved like jerky flipbook cartoons, appearing on the sidewalk and stepping to the curb. Captured from the side, Bella's face was agonized as she clung to the shirt of the man carrying her.
"Who's that?" I asked Esme as she paused the frame on a clear shot of Bella hanging on the meter while her new friend stepped out into traffic.
"I'm not sure," she muttered zooming in. "Looks like human, but big. Check out the muscles on those arms!"
We both stared as she zoomed back out and advanced the frames again. There was Bella, swept up by her unknown savior with one rippling arm and cradled tightly against his chest while they stepped out into traffic . . . and right in front of the plate numbers we needed. "Damn, damn, damn," I muttered. "What are the odds?"
Esme nodded. She zoomed around a couple different frames, but between the knees of Mr. Mysterious and the St. Petersburg traffic there wasn't anything useful. Finally she just left it on the shot of the two of them in street, Bella's eyes closed as she lay against a chest that was impressive even in low resolution black-and-white. Flicking the screen gently, Esme commented, "In a city full of strangers, only Bella could find a friend like that."
"Mmmm-hmmm," I agreed. "But they look like a lot more than friends."
Fired up behind me, both Edward and his espresso machine gave a low, menacing hiss.
Teasers available now; Chapter 11 available someday (soon, I hope!)