[09-23-2013] Cliffies, anyone?
Bella woke up feeling numb, as if she'd overslept. She stirred in her bed, stretching her arms and legs; Charlie hadn't called her yet, so she surmised that it was still early in the morning. A few more minutes of rest won't hurt, she decided, curling up under the blankets. The memories of the dream she'd just had were still vivid in her mind.
She was in her car with Edward, and he was driving. It was nighttime, and there weren't many other cars on the road. It seemed they were on one of those back roads among the hills that Bella had admired in the Italian countryside. They were talking about having dinner together, and then Edward said he had a special plan for her.
"Does it involve something naughty?"
"Miss Isabella!" Edward reprimanded her; he seemed stern, but his eyes sparkled with mirth. "I didn't know you had such a dirty mind."
She crossed her arms in front of her chest. "There are so many things you don't know about me yet..."
He looked at her sidelong. "You're far too tempting, you know that? Right now, I'm considering changing my plans."
"Without telling me what they were in the first place?"
He smiled at her. "I was thinking about music."
"Music? Hmm...there are many nice things that can be done with musical accompaniment."
"Isabella..." came his playful warning, almost a growl.
She'd woken up before finding out what Edward had in store for her; she blamed the previous night's concert for the musical references, and as for the rest, she surmised she'd transferred to her oneiric world her desire to be with Edward as if they were just a guy and a girl falling for each other, without the complications that plagued them in real life.
She turned onto her side and looked at the alarm clock on her nightstand. That's impossible. Bella rubbed at her eyes and checked again. 11 A. M.. No way had Charlie waited so long before going to the lodge. She had purposefully neglected to set her alarm clock the previous night, knowing her father was an early bird and would wake her up. Or at least, she'd assumed he would. She kicked away the blankets and angrily yanked on the first clothes she could find by her bed. Damn, Charlie. As if you didn't know. She groaned. She'd told him that there were things she needed to discuss with him, and that they would go to the lodge together. Had he left alone on purpose to avoid taking her to his facility and to Edward? Why was he treating her like a little girl, making decisions in her place? He'd never acted that way before.
She retrieved her phone and tried to call her father. No response. "The number you've dialed can't be reached at this time," the electronic voice of the answering service informed her. "Please try again later." To put the icing on the cake, her phone beeped, signaling that the battery was almost dead.
Rushing through the rest of the house, Bella saw no sign that Charlie had been home—no half-unpacked suitcases, not a single thing out of place. She grabbed her car keys and hurried outside, a new worry already forming in her mind. What if something had happened at the lodge and Charlie had been alerted on his way back from Portland? He would have called her, unless...Bella tensed, wondering if he could have discovered how she had tampered with the security system. He'd be angry as hell if he found out, and it would explain why he was avoiding her. It wasn't his usual behavior, but what did she know? After all, in the past she'd never betrayed her father's trust, and she couldn't even recall an occasion when he'd been disappointed in her.
The radio blared to life when Bella started the car. She left it on, even though she wasn't in the mood for music; at least it would keep her company on her way to the lodge.
She glanced at her phone, which had run completely out of charge and turned itself off. I'll charge it when I get to the lodge. Contrary to her usual driving habits, Bella pressed down on the accelerator, eager to reach her destination as soon as possible. She was afraid that Charlie would blame Edward for her recent behavior and would think he'd convinced her to alter the security system. I'll tell him it was my idea. Another fear crept through her mind: her father could have alerted his former colleagues at the Bureau, handing Edward over to them. What if they had already taken him? Bella sped up. Even the few minutes she would gain by going faster might be precious.
She'd already left the city center and was heading toward the route that would take her to the lodge when the newscast began. She didn't pay attention to the usual reports about politics and the economy, and if she hadn't been fully focusing on the road, she would have already switched the radio off by the time the announcer started on the crime news.
"An FBI agent has apparently committed suicide in Tacoma last night. Brian Sherman was found dead in a motel room."
Bella slammed on the brakes and pulled over.
"Sherman was found in the shower with his wrists slashed. By the time the motel manager discovered the body, the blood had been completely washed away. The body was drained of blood, evoking haunting parallels with the most famous cases Sherman worked on. He and Charles Swan were the leading agents when the serial killer known as the Drainer, who remains at large, killed..."
"No!" Bella cried out, hunching over the steering wheel. Sherman and her father were good friends, and even if she wasn't supposed to know it, she was aware that Charlie had received confidential files from his former colleague after he'd been removed from the Drainer's cases and eventually retired. Sherman had been skeptical about Charlie's theories and didn't know the real purpose of the lodge, but Bella was sure that, if her father had decided to involve the Bureau and reveal that he'd captured and was studying a vampire, Sherman would have been the first person he would call. Bella's head was pounding and she felt dizzy, but she had to get to the lodge. Sherman's blood...drained... "No, no, no," she repeated to herself and rubbed at her eyes, as if she could push away the dreadful images her mind was conjuring up. She swallowed hard, fighting against the urge to puke.
Gingerly, she guided her car back on the road. Charlie will be crushed. Her eyes were brimming with tears as she thought of the new blow that was going to hit her father. According to the news announcer, Sherman had killed himself, but Bella couldn't help but notice how similar the circumstances of his death were to the Drainer's modus operandi. But Edward had told her that the killer had been stopped.
Dread surged through her in the form of violent shivers. Two killers, Edward had said. Nomads go wherever their thirst guides them, but they tend to have a routine and return to the same places, sooner or later. Could it be...? Bella shuddered; had the nomadic vampire returned? If he was the one responsible for Sherman's death, what could the police do to stop him? Bella thought about everything her father had accomplished with his research about vampires and their weaknesses. Could he find a way to stop even a supernatural creature–a deranged nomad preying on innocent people? What could humans do against his speed and strength? Unless...if Edward was willing to cooperate and help them, perhaps they had a chance of preventing more deaths. He despises the vampires who kill humans. He says he doesn't want to be like them...
By the time Bella arrived at the lodge, she was in such a hurry that she didn't pay attention to the cars in the parking lot. "Edward," she called out, rushing inside. "I need you," she babbled, hoping that he could hear her even when she was still outside.
"Charlie," Bella mumbled at the guard as she entered the hall. She was short of breath, and at first the guard didn't understand why she was so upset. "Where's Charlie?" she repeated.
"He isn't here. I thought he was coming today, but you're the first one here."
Bella rested her hands on the guard's desk, leaning on it for support; her head was spinning, and her knees were threatening to buckle at any moment.
"Are you okay?" the guard asked. "Do you want a drink of water?"
She shook her head.
"Have you already tried to call Charlie?" the guard asked.
"Phone...doesn't work..." she panted.
He retrieved his phone. "No problem. I'll call him, okay?"
Please pick up, Bella silently prayed.
The guard frowned. "It says it's turned off."
Edward paced up and down his cell like a caged lion, desperate to know more about what had Bella so upset.
When Charlie hadn't showed up at the lodge, he'd imagined that Bella had changed her plans and decided to talk to him at home first, preparing him for the truth about the Drainer's homicides before it was time to confront his prisoner. Even though Edward had assumed that conversation would happen at the lodge, he would understand if she had decided not to involve him—one of the beings Charlie resented most—in that private and sorrowful moment.
But then Bella had arrived, calling his name. Edward had been afraid that Charlie had reacted badly when she'd told him how she'd gone to the observation gallery against his will in order to discuss the homicides with the subject.
As if those scenarios weren't bad enough, what Bella had said to the guard was opening different possibilities that were even more alarming. The months he'd spent following Charlie's mind had taught Edward how much he cared for his daughter; he would have never left her in the dark, neither calling her nor answering her calls, unless something terrible had happened.
Bella thought back to what Charlie had told her the previous afternoon. He'd said that the conference had gone well and that he would be getting home late, but hadn't mentioned anything about the assistant he was traveling with. As much as the idea of talking to Walsh repulsed her, especially in her current situation, Bella found herself dialing his number.
"Bella, are you home?" he asked her as soon as he answered the call, without any of his usual smarmy greetings or inane jokes.
"I'm at the lodge. Have you heard from Charlie since you came back from the conference?"
"No." Walsh sounded tense, and it only increased Bella's fear. "We didn't come home together."
"How is that? I thought you were leaving Portland yesterday evening. Charlie said he would get back late last night."
"Actually, he left in the early afternoon, and I came back on my own. I'm on my way to the lodge–can we talk in person?"
Panic choked her as she realized that Charlie had lied. "Of course."
It wasn't long before Walsh reached the lodge, but every minute was torture for Bella. She considered going to the observation gallery, but she thought better of it. As long as she didn't know what had caused Charlie's sudden, inexplicable change of plans, she didn't want to complicate things further by continuing to visit Edward behind her father's back. While she waited for Walsh, she spent the time trying to reach Charlie's phone again and searching the Internet for news about Sherman's death.
As soon as Walsh arrived, he led Bella toward the office where Charlie and his assistants worked together and invited her to sit down. "I have something bad to tell you about one of Charlie's former colleagues," he said without preamble.
"Brian..." she murmured.
Walsh nodded. "You've heard the news, then."
"Do you think his suicide has anything to do with Charlie?"
"I don't know yet. But I believe that the Drainer is back."
"But why now?" Walsh's guess was adding fuel to Bella's worst fears. He didn't know anything of Edward's revelations about the homicides, and chances were he thought that there had been only one killer, but he'd come to the same conclusions that she had. As for Bella's question, she was afraid she already knew the answer. What were six years, compared to a vampire's life? Edward had told her that vampires had to avoid exposure, but as long as Sherman's death was considered a suicide, no one would suspect that it could have been the doing of an inhuman creature. The only one who'd pursued that theory, even if it was absurd, was currently out of reach.
Walsh seemed lost in his thoughts and didn't reply to Bella's question immediately. "The freak might know more than he's telling us," he seethed.
Certainly more than he's told you. "But Charlie has ruled out any connection between the subject and the homicides." She hated Walsh calling Edward the freak, but she had to avoid arousing suspicion about her relationship with their vampire prisoner, so she refrained from calling him by name.
Walsh's reply was ominous. "Charlie is excellent at what he does, but even the best can be wrong sometimes."
Shortly after the meeting with Walsh, Bella's phone rang, but the caller ID didn't match anyone she knew.
"Miss Swan?" The masculine voice on the other end of the phone didn't belong to Charlie.
"This is Agent McGreen, FBI. You're listed as Charles Swan's next of kin—is that correct?"
"He's my father. Do you have any news about him? I haven't been able to reach him since yesterday afternoon."
"Miss Swan, would it be possible for you to come to our headquarters in Seattle?"
"I'm out of town right now, but I can be there in a couple hours." She choked back the tears. "Please, Agent McGreen, tell me if you've got something about him."
"I'm sorry to inform you that we found your father's car sixty miles north of Portland. We have good reason to believe that he was involved in a car accident."
Bella forced down the lump in her throat. "How is he?"
"Miss Swan, we've found the car, but we couldn't find your father."
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