2.09: A Midnight Picnic, and Other Schemes

Henry tried to marshal his thoughts. Order them, to make some sort of sense. The further he traveled in time from what he witnessed on the Festival, the less real it felt. How could it have been real? People flying. Wolves in the park. A storm that hadn’t really existed. Whenever he allowed himself to sit on the memory the logical center of his mind kept insisting that it was all somehow a show, and that he needed to leave before whatever cruel play he’d found himself in progressed any further. Every other part of him told him that it was all real. Then there was the matter of his inevitable arrest, the reality of a dead man walking around town, and Niles. It all swirled together into an aching ball of anxiety in his gut.

Distraction was the only way to deal with it. The Anderson was a hive of constant activity, as the four quasi-resident artists prepared for their upcoming exhibit. Jason, the bald man who painted the mural of the boy with the cigar, spent most of his time fretting about how light was going to hit the back wall. Hiro, the man with more hair than he knew or cared to deal with, worked frantically to get his newest leatherworks ready in time for the show. Jessica didn’t show up much, and when she did she seemed distracted. 

Henry helped them clear and scrub the floor, store the supplies, and set up showcases for the finished work. There was always something more to do. It was exhausting work on an already exhausted body, but he was happy to be doing it.

Leia showed up on the morning of his second day there. She wore a plain black sweatshirt instead of her usual uniform, and a pair of shades rested on her head. Her lips were pursed tight. “I still can’t find your boy,” she announced, by way of general greeting.

“While I do find him handsome,” Kara said, pausing in her task of dragging a barrel out back, “that hardly makes him ‘my boy.’ Both parties have to be interested to make that work.” In the background the other three artists continued on with their own projects unperturbed, not even bothering to look up.

“Be that as it may, you still know him the best around here.”

Henry watched from the rafters, where his hosts had been kind enough to provide him with a blanket and a thermos for such occasions. He made a mental note to ask for a pair of binoculars next time. On the floor, Kara shrugged. “I already told you where he’s staying. You didn’t find him there?”

“Obviously not.”

“Then he must have left the village.”

Leia was silent for a moment. “Could he?”

“Don’t tell me you’re becoming a believer. I have a nifty tracking talisman on sale right now.”

“You know I hate it when you start talking cryptic,” the sheriff said. She sighed, and took a look around the warehouse as though seeing it for the first time. “But I suppose that’s the point. The place looks nice. It was the right call, pulling out of the community center. I want to know if Henry shows himself around here.”

He waited a few minutes after the door fell shut behind her, before clambering down and helping Kara hoist the barrel. “How illegal do you think it is to hide from the police?” he asked. “On a scale from misdemeanor to felony.”

“You don’t want me to answer that. How illegal do you think it is to knowingly conceal a wanted criminal?”

“I haven’t committed any crimes. Unless you count the hiding.”

“Somehow I think they will. Are you sure all of this is worth it?”

“I can’t let her dig up Emmaline yet. Not until I know what will happen. Not until I can talk to Clair.” They hauled the barrel outside, and dumped its waste water out on the parking lot. It puddled in the cracks of the broken pavement, and slowly sunk away. “Did you mean what you said, back then, about me being trapped in Tortus Bay?”

Kara considered him. “Do you want to leave?”

“No.”

She easily slung the empty barrel over her shoulder. “Well, I think that’s the heart of it. There’s no force field, if that’s what you’re asking.”

At night cold wind whistled through the empty warehouse, making it impossible for him to sleep. So he lay awake, or perched on the rafters, trying to do anything besides letting his thoughts unspool down the tangled alleys they wished to explore. Not for the first time, he wished he had some sort of hobby. Surrounded by just about every art supply a person might need, and he was bored. He added ‘TV’ to his mental wishlist.

When the wind picked up, it sounded—if only distantly—like wolves. Like howling, rising and falling. Then banging. Henry’s eyes snapped open. That wasn’t the wind.

He skimmed across the rafters, crouched against the wall, and peered out of the window. When he saw who was knocking on the door, he hurried down to answer it.

“Niles?”

The man stood there, shivering slightly, in a puffy black coat and wrapped in more scarves than Old Tommy had sold in a lifetime at his general store. “Kara came around to tell me where you were staying. This was the only time I could make it over. Figured you could use the company.”

Henry smiled. “I could.”

“I brought food. Thought we could have a midnight picnic.”

“You know there’s no refrigerator in here? You’re a lifesaver. Come in.”

He hesitated. “I know I’ve been avoiding you. I know we have to talk. But I don’t want to.”

“You don’t?”

“Not at all.”

***

Aria got in touch the next day, while Henry was stowing the last of the paints in the supply room. He smiled for the camera. “Why do you always video call?”

She shrugged, and sipped her coffee. There were heavy bags under her eyes. “I like to see who I’m doing business with.”

“Does that mean we’re doing business?”

“It does. Have I finally caught you at a good time? You’re not out for one of your constitutionals, are you?”

He perched up by the window. “I’m staying put.”

“Good. You know, you seem very outdoorsy for the kind of position I’m offering you. Athletic, almost. I hope you realize you’d be sitting in a chair all day.”

“Well, three phone calls isn’t a great sample size.”

Aria shrugged again, and set her coffee aside. Behind her, people chatted and walked in and out of view. The office was busy. “Why do you want to meet with Beth?”

“I think there’s something more going on with her late husband than anybody knows. And I think I might be in a unique position to help.”

She nodded. “As you know, my main job is managing things here at inHale. On the side, I’ve become something of the go-to person for the entire village’s technical woes—of which there are multitudes. I listen, ask them if they’ve turned it off and on again, and occasionally reset a router. Basically the same thing I was doing growing up, only now I charge for it.

“Anyway, the point is that I managed to get in contact with Beth, and convinced her that there’s something vague wrong with her internet. She’s expecting one of my people at her place this afternoon. She insisted on the time. You know the type. I don’t imagine she’ll ask too many questions.”

“I can do that. But how am I supposed to get past -”

Aria frantically waved her hands in front of the camera, until he stopped talking. “I can’t help you with any other obstacle you may or may not encounter. None of which I could possibly know anything about.”

“Why are you doing all of this for me?”

“Do you know how few people in Tortus Bay know how to answer a video call? Don’t get me wrong, you’ve had your own struggles in that department, but I figure you’re still overqualified for the position. Besides, any friend of Kara’s is a friend of mine. I’ll talk to you again tomorrow.”

Henry hung up and sat there for a minute, chewing his lip. The warehouse was cold, but the sun streaming through the window lit his back with warmth.

“Scheming?” Kara asked, as she walked with an armful of paint-splattered rags. “I know that face, and it always means scheming.”

“I have a way in to talk with Beth Brihte.”

“So your plan is to walk into a spooky murder house, from which many people have recently heard blood-curdling screams, to talk with a woman who has been seen less in the last couple weeks than her supposedly dead husband?”

“That’s right.”

She dropped the rags. “How can I help?”

“I need a way around the roadstop on Glosspool.”

Kara laughed. “You’re in luck. I may have just what you need.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s