When Keelan was asked on the day he was discarghed what he knew about Robert Murrell and why he’d been at that bus station that day, he had looked down at his hands and remained silent so long I’d thought he wouldn’t speak. When he finally looked up I saw a hollowness in his eyes that solidified the air in my lungs.
“What do you know about Robert Murrell?” The question was spoken softly, but had an awkward weight to it as if there were a set of old fashioned scales and his side had a little more mass than mine.
I forced myself to slowly exhale and draw in air before answering. I didn’t know what to say. On the one hand it was public record, on the other he seemed to know more than he was letting on. The question felt like playing Russian Roulette; say the wrong thing and I could lose him.
“He was an associate of Jeanine Mor,” Alex spoke up when I’d taken too long, “aka the Architect, and was known as her private hatchetman, aka the Spectre.” Keelan nodded slowly as if this was not new information, as if it was just what he’d expected. “He’s killed dozens, that we know of across, the US and is suspected of a handful of assassinations overseas. His last job was a couple in Texas, Beth and Mark Beetle. He was a science teacher. She was the manager of a mom-and-pop health food story. They were quiet ustanding citizens with no ties to any criminal activity. We don’t know why they were targeted. Their backgrounds were clean.” His voice trailed off as Keelan looked down, his left hand picking at the cast on his right as if picking at the scab on an old wound.
“Too clean…” I said. Then it struck me like a punch in the kidney. “That was them, wasn’t it? Your parents?”
He opened his mouth several times, like he wanted to speak but couldn’t force the words out. In the end, he just nodded. I had a driving need to protect him but how do you protect someone from their past? His eyes met mine and I realized what the hollowness in his eyes had been; he’d been lost in memories of his parents, of their death. I reached for him, to pull him into a hug, to shield him, to comfort him, to give him everything I had and never let him go. Instead, I settled for covering his hands with mine. “I’m so sorry.”
Keelan shook silently as he gripped the cast more tightly. “Yes,” he said after a moment, withdrawing his left hand and wiping his face, “he was there-”
“What?” I was lost. Who was where? Had I asked a question? Had Alex?
“Murrell, he he was there the night my parents died, but-”
“Alright, Mr. McCormick, here we are,” a nurse bustled in pushing a wheelchair. “Your ride’s waiting downstairs, and-” she paused looking between the three of us. “Oh, I’m sorry officers, I hope I wasn’t interrupting.”
“No,” Keelan said before I could open my mouth, “thank you. I’m very much ready to get out of here.” The chuckle he gave her was strained.
Before the nurse could push him out the door Alex asked, “What were you going to say about Murrell?”
“Oh, it was nothing. See you later, Haven?” There was a small rise at the end of my name as if he wasn’t sure of the answer.
I smiled. “As you wish.”
Keelan covered his mouth on a burst of laughter, real laughter, and I smiled. Alex didn’t even try to disguise his roar. “Really, Haven? Princess Bride?”
I ignored him. It was clear Murrell knew that Keelan had survived the attack that had killed his parents. I had a cruiser posted outside Basil’s house and had even managed to talk Basil into making sure his brother never went anywhere alone.
I hadn’t realized at the time that Keelan’s doctor had been Avery’s wife. We’d had cruisers watching her house since the trailer park incident. When we went to discuss anything she might know about Murrell, Karen Ellory M.D. was nowhere to be found. What we did find, however, was the photo I’d glimpsed in her office before. On the side angled away from anyone in front of the desk, where only she could see it, was a picture of Murrell, herself and a small boy, much younger than his current sixteen years. Dr. Ellory’s son did look an awful lot like his father.
It had only been a couple days since we’d seen her and we spent the next couple weeks searching for anywhere she might have run to. Our last lead was a cabin in a forest just outside the reservation and therefore outside of the Guard’s jurisdiction. We contacted local law enforcement with a request to check the property. They reported a fire had broken out at the address and the debris was still being cleared. They would let us know if they found any remains. I had the sour feeling that they would.
I scrubbed my hands over my face. There was nothing I could do with exhaustion making my mind run itself in circles. Besides, I needed to shave this sparse five-o-clock shadow before I went over to have dinner with Keelan. Basil had said he’d cook if I’d keep his brother from rearranging his house for one night.
Keelan opened the door when I knocked and my grin petered into an awkward smile as he just glared at me.
“Um, surprise. Basil invited me to dinner. With you. Tonight.” I cleared my throat trying to remember what I might’ve done to earn this death stare. I couldn’t think of anything. “I see you got your cast off? How does it feel?”
He looked pointedly at the street behind me and back. “My arm feels fine. I feel worse for the babysitters you’ve told to sit on me in the freezing cold.”
Right. “Ah, yeah, you told me Murrell-”
“Isn’t going to come after me.” He let out a long breath. “Look, he said he wanted to talk. I didn’t believe him at the time, but,” he grimaced, “I mean, he didn’t even have a gun on me. It was a beer bottle. He used a smoke bomb as a screen and didn’t personally hurt anyone.”
“He caused a panic and people got caught in a stampede. You got caught in the stampede.” I couldn’t believe we were doing this right here on the porch.
“Look, he’s gone now anyways right? Took his wife and kid? What more would he want from me?”
“Wait, how do you know that?” He sucked in his lips looking a little sheepish. “Keelan? That’s not public information.”
He narrowed his eyes at me. “Fine, but you better not get angry with him.”
“Who?” He turned and walked back inside and I had no choice but to follow, closing the door behind me.
“I mean, it’s not like he said not to tell you, but I figured it was need to know information.” He took my coat and hung it on a mirrored coat rack on the wall.
“Who?” I was beginning to feel like an owl.
I wiggled a finger in my ear as if cleaning it. “I’m sorry, what? I can’t have heard what I think I did.”
“Alex told me. Or rather, he told Basil while I was opening up the living room a little. It really made me feel claustrophobic before.” We stopped in the entryway to the living room and he was right, pushing the couch away from the front window and back to the far wall really did open the space up. Blackout curtains would be good if he planned on being able to see the tv screen, especially in the summer, but otherwise it was a good setup.
Right now, Sean was watching an animated musical about an ice queen, but instead of staring transfixed at the moving colors and lights he was dancing to the songs in that jerky way that was only cute on kids.
“Why did Alex do that?” A voice inside angrily said it was my place to have told him or not and I didn’t like someone else taking over. I shook my head to get rid of the thought. Bison were very territorial but this was weird.
“Maybe because I said I was going to run away.” I growled at the same time what sounded like pans crashed in the kitchen. I wasn’t the only one upset at the thought. Keelan just beamed at me, reached up and patted my cheek. “Don’t worry. I won’t run as long as you dismiss the watchdog.”
I grin, seeing an opportunity. “Promise?” I asked, my voice low.
Keelan’s breathing hitched when he met my eyes and his face couldn’t be redder if he’d dunked it in beet juice.
Just then Basil came in and swept up his son. “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” I let out a breath, deflating.
“Whatever, Batman,” Keelan said, playfully sticking out his tongue at Basil.
Basil smirked. “Dinner’s ready.” He turned and headed back to the dining room.
I motioned gallantly for Keelan to lead the way and he did. “Besides,” he said as he passed, eyes gleaming, “If I don’t run, you can’t chase me.”
I stalked him into the kitchen as he giggled and walked faster. Once in the dining room, I had to make Keelan sit and not help with bringing out the large platter full of grilled cheese or the pot of tomato soup. He grumped but I knew his arm still had to be a little sore or he wouldn’t have let me. As I grabbed the platter, Basil brought out the soup and Keelan set Sean up in his high chair. I just shook my head. It seemed he was incapable of sitting still.
Keelan looked around at the food with a frown.
“What?” I asked.
“There’s something missing… Ah! I got it!” He snapped his fingers. “Pickles! I’ll go get them.”
Basil raised an eyebrow, “You don’t like pickles.”
“You haven’t seen me for ten years,” Keelan retorted, bringing in a jar of pickle spears and setting them between the grilled cheese and the tomato soup. “There. Perfect.”
Keelan ended up eating most of the pickles, mostly squeezing the juice and seeds onto his grilled cheese before dipping it in tomato soup. Basil refused to try it, but I was partners with Alex and had learned some things weren’t as bad as they sounded, so I gave it a go. Once. Once was enough. After dinner, Keelan insisted on cleaning up and I offered to help him. Not so much offered as simply jumped right in without permission. He tried to push me out, but as I stood head and shoulders above him with at least twice as much muscle, he couldn’t budge me. I took him stomping back to the sink as aquiescence and began the task of drying and putting away the dishes. We got into a mini water fight until Basil cleared his throat as he came in for some bowls, spoons and triple chocolate brownie ice cream stashed in the freezer.
“I suggest you wrap up soon if you want any,” he said, waving the treat in front of Keelan’s face. Keelan rushed through washing after that.
“I’ll be right in, I’m just gonna take the trash out,” Keelan said as he dried off his hands and shooed me toward the living room. Basil had dished out a bowl of ice cream for me and Keelan. The hollow thud of a trashbin falling over, glass clanking and crashing while cans and other waste made hollow or thunking sounds, came from the rear door. I rushed through the kitchen and out the back. Keelan was righting a large green trashcan so it’s wheels were pointed away from the house and replacing the scattered detritus inside it.
“Keelan, you alright?”
“Yeah,” he forced out a chuckle. “You know me, just jumping at shadows.” He looked pale and his movements seemed overly controlled and a little shaky as if he were fighting a rush of adrenaline. But if it had just been jumping at shadows, why did he act as if he was still hyper aware of them?
I took deep breath in through my nose as I scanned the driveway and yard where someone might reasonably hide. I neither saw nor smelled anything that didn’t belong. Still. Maybe I’d have the Guard watching the house switch to plain clothes rather than removing them all together. At least as long as I could.