Audrey walked to the Hunt Club. The streets of Haven were quiet, most of the good citizens sound asleep in their beds, and the walk didn’t take her very long. She had not slept at all and jumped at every little sound as she walked, the combination of tiredness and the caffeine-high putting her on-edge. Gravel crunched beneath her boots as she turned into the driveway toward the Club. At this hour, the building would be deserted but the gate was not locked. She saw John waiting under the trees and headed his way, stifling a yawn.
“Did you sleep at all?”
Audrey remembered what he said about breaking into the morgue. “Did you?” she challenged.
He shrugged. “Got me there.”
“So, am I going to get a call about someone mutilating a corpse and stuffing its mouth full of garlic?” She tried to keep her tone light as she asked. What she really wanted to know was whether she should expect a pissed-off Reverend Driscoll at her door.
John gave his quick smile. “That’s just for vampires and it doesn’t work anyway. No, you won’t get a call. If they do an autopsy and the ME is paying attention he or she might have a few questions, but I’m betting it’ll be okay.”
She wouldn’t take that bet, but she nodded. “Good to know.” She yawned again.
“Really, Parker, are you up for this? If you’re too tired…”
“I’ll be fine. Let’s go.”
John clicked on a flashlight and led the way into the wood. “You’ll need to show me where Driscoll died. Are those wendigo kids still around?”
“No, we sent them to – ”
John interrupted, “Don’t tell me where they are. I just need to know about the threat.”
“Good. I’ll make you a deal, Parker.”
Audrey frowned, not sure she would like this, but she nodded. “I’m listening.”
“I don’t know what we’re going to find. Maybe nothing. Maybe something important or dangerous. If there’s a Troubled person involved, I’ll follow your lead. You seem to understand the Troubles better than anyone. But if it’s anything else, you follow mine. Deal?”
Audrey was surprised he would compromise that far. “Deal,” she agreed.
The place where she had shot and killed the Rev – or his doppelgänger – was a long way from the Hunt Club. Audrey didn’t want to go back there so soon. Whatever the truth, in the moment Audrey pulled the trigger she believed the Rev was human. Not a man she liked. An enemy, even, but still a man. She was not by nature a killer. Only imminent danger to another innocent life could have made her pull shoot and she still regretted doing it. Watching him die would haunt her for a long time.
It was dark in the woodland and she wasn’t sure she could find the way. Audrey hesitated, looking for a familiar landmark. Trees, trees and more trees. With the sun barely breaking the horizon, all directions looked the same to her.
“Lost already?” John asked, but his voice was gentle, not scornful.
“It’s dark, and we didn’t start from the Hunt Club yesterday,” Audrey explained.
“Sorry. You’re right. This way.” John started in a different direction. “What are you packing?”
“Police issue .38. I didn’t have time to borrow a rifle.”
John slid the backpack from his shoulders without breaking stride and pulled out a rattling tobacco tin. He shone his flashlight onto the lid then gave it to her. “If you’ve got a spare clip, fill it with these instead of your regular bullets. They’ll fit your .38, but your aim won’t be as accurate, so if you need them be sure you compensate. They’re iron.”
“Why iron?” Audrey took the tin from his hand.
“What works against the supernatural depends on the creature. Everything has a weakness, even the immortals. For shape-shifters it’s silver. For demons you use holy water or salt. Wendigo – fire. The thing in Driscoll’s shape didn’t blink at silver so it wasn’t a ’shifter, it was a changeling.”
“What’s the difference?”
“A shape-shifter really does change form. A changeling just makes you think it looks like whoever. It’s an illusion. Look at it in a mirror or a reflection and you’ll see its true face. Cold iron will kill them. Regular lead bullets will just piss it off.”
Cold iron, Audrey remembered from childhood stories, was said to be proof against the fairy folk. Were fairies real, too? If so, she doubted they were miniature supermodels in ballgowns with gossamer wings. More likely evil imps stealing children and drinking blood, or something equally horrible.
“What about angels?” she asked.
John gave her an odd look. “What about them?”
“You said holy water and salt kills demons. So what about angels?” If demons existed, their opposites must also be real.
“Holy water doesn’t kill demons, it just hurts. Exorcism is how you send ’em back to Hell. Angels…they’re tough. I know a bit of warding, but if there’s an earthly weapon that can kill them, I don’t know about it.” He pointed ahead of them. “I think you came into the wood from over there yesterday. Think you can find your way from here?”
The ground beneath Audrey’s boots was soft from the recent rain and she felt her feet slipping occasionally as they walked. They had been walking for some time and there was enough light now that she had put her flashlight away. They were heading uphill, Audrey slightly ahead when she heard a loud crack.
She whirled around. John was gone.
His voice came from below her. “Parker?”
Only then did Audrey see the hole in the ground. Her heart sped up and she had to force herself to remain still. They had been walking over ground covered with vines and leaves and other plant-matter. There was a steep drop on their left side, but neither of them had realised the plant matter extended over the cliff edge. It had given way under John’s weight. Audrey’s mouth went dry with fear. She couldn’t even be sure she stood on solid ground.
Moving as slowly as she could, Audrey crouched down and edged back until she was sure the ground under her was real. She lay flat and pulled the vegetation aside so she could look down. John lay below, partly covered by dirt and leaves. He gave her a wave, letting her know he was conscious.
“John, are you okay?”
He lifted something away from his legs. “I don’t know,” he called back to her. “I’m hurt, but it might not be bad. Can you find a way down?”
Audrey looked. She would not risk climbing down the nearest slope: it looked too unstable. “I’ll have to go around,” she told John. “Is there any immediate danger?”
John took the question seriously and looked around himself, examining every angle before he answered. “I think I’m safe.”
She told him to hang in there and climbed gingerly to her feet. She found a broken branch and took a moment to strip it down so she could use it as a staff. Only then did she start looking for a safe way down into the gully. She checked the ground ahead with the staff before each step she took. It was slow going, but it wouldn’t help anyone if she moved too fast and got hurt. Audrey had to go quite a long way before she found a stable path down. Once she did, though, she could move faster.
From below, it was easy to see how John had fallen. The rock and dirt formed an overhang and the vegetation had grown over it, widening the overhang and concealing the edge.
Audrey hurried to John’s side. He had a pocket knife in his hand and was slicing through the left leg of his jeans. There was blood on the denim.
“What happened?” she asked, slipping the pack from her shoulders to find the first aid supplies. She hadn’t packed much.
John pulled the torn denim away from his knee. Audrey could see the skin around his knee turning purple and swelling. There was a shallow cut on his calf: it looked as if he’d sliced through his skin when he cut the denim away.
“I twisted my knee when I landed,” John explained. He ran a hand over the swollen flesh. “Sprained it, I guess. Tore the ligaments.”
Audrey grasped his hand and turned it over. His palm was shredded: she guessed from his attempt to break his fall. She opened a pack of antiseptic wipes and gave him two of them for his hands. “I don’t have any ice, but I’ll bandage that knee,” she offered.
“Thanks,” John said.
Compression was important for a sprain, Audrey knew, but even with a good bandage she did not think John would be able to walk out of the wood, and the one she had was not good. She wound the bandage around his knee as firmly as she could, and fastened it with a safety pin. She pulled the cell phone from her pocket and checked for a signal. She had only a single bar.
She dialled Nathan’s number.
“Nathan, I’m in the wood with John Winchester. He’s hurt. Can you get a team out here?”
“What are you doing in the wood?” Nathan demanded.
“I can walk, Parker!” John growled.
“No, you can’t,” Audrey told him, then, to Nathan, “Right now what I’m doing is sitting with an injured man asking my partner for help.”
“Oh. Right. What’s your position?”
It was only when Nathan asked that Audrey realised she didn’t have a clue. She turned to John. “Do you know where we are?” she asked, without much hope.
John gave an amused smile. “About two and a half miles due north of the Tanner property, I think.” He pulled the map from his pocket, glanced at it, then gave her co-ordinates.
Audrey relayed the co-ordinates to Nathan. “That’s our closest guess,” she added, but the phone crackled and she wasn’t sure whether he heard her. Nathan answered, but the signal kept dropping out and she couldn’t understand a word. Then it went dead. She swore and shook the phone, but couldn’t get the signal back. She pocketed it.
“I can walk,” John repeated stubbornly.
“Maybe you can walk now,” Audrey agreed, “but it’s several miles to the nearest help. If you walk that far on a compromised knee you could permanently damage it. So if you want to be walking tomorrow, we’ll wait.”
“Did Wuornos get our position?”
“I’m not sure. But he knows we’re in the wood and he knows you’re hurt. He’ll find us.” She rose to her feet. “If you can walk a little way, John, let’s at least get you out of this mud.” She offered her hands to help him up.
John was heavy and his knee was worse than he admitted. It took several attempts to get him on his feet and Audrey saw he couldn’t put weight on the injured leg. She gave him the stick she had been using to test the ground. “Lean on this and my shoulder. We don’t need to go far. There’s a fallen tree over there.”
“I’ll make it,” John said, but he spoke through gritted teeth.
Slowly they stumbled toward the fallen tree trunk. John began by trying to lean on her as little as possible, but after just a few steps he gave up the pretence that he could walk and let her take his weight as they moved, one painful step at a time. Audrey worried about that knee, but it wasn’t far and once they reached the tree trunk she was able to get him seated. John looked pale. She offered him water, chastising herself for not doing that sooner.
John took the bottle and drank. “Thanks.”
The woodland around them seemed unnaturally quiet.
Audrey stretched out her hand to take the bottle from him. “Do you hear that?” she asked.
The next thing she knew, she was lying on the forest floor. John was beside her.
“Audrey,” he said softly.
The gentle pressure of his hand on her shoulder prompted her to sit up. She let him help her. She blinked to clear her vision. Her head felt full of cobwebs.
“Are you hurt?” John asked. He was still supporting her with one hand on her back.
“I don’t think so,” she answered. She wasn’t in any pain, not even bruised. So why was she on the ground?
“Do you hear that?” Audrey asked.
“Hear what?” John responded, but as he spoke, he understood. He could hear nothing. Not the chirping of birds, not the wind in the trees all around them. He heard his own breathing, and Audrey’s. Nothing else.
John saw the figure appear at Audrey’s shoulder. “Great timing, Gabe.”
Audrey startled and began to turn toward the newcomer. His fingers touched her forehead and she fell. Gabriel caught her deftly and laid her gently on the woodland floor.
“Was that your idea of a joke?” John demanded, indicating the ledge above them. He never knew where he stood with Gabriel. Gabe was the only reason he was alive, but he was also the reason John was trapped in Haven, unable to help his sons. Gabriel was all the power and arrogance of an archangel in the body of a trickster-god. An unpredictable – and irritating – combination.
Gabe glanced up and smiled. “Nothing to do with me, John. We need to talk.”
John shrugged. “I didn’t think you were here for the lobster.”
Gabe reached out toward John’s injured knee. John stopped him. “Miracles are hard to explain, Gabe. I’ll be okay.” He didn’t want to be under any further obligation to Gabriel.
Gabe looked uncharacteristically serious. “No, you won’t. This damage won’t heal without help.”
“Then it won’t. It’s not life-threatening. Leave it alone and tell me what you need from me.”
“Dean and Sam are in some trouble. I’m going to get them out of it, John,” he added quickly, “but there’s something Dean wants me to do.” Gabriel turned away, gazing off into the distance. “If I do as he asks, I may not be able to keep my promise to you. Or my obligation to her.” His eyes flickered to Audrey.
John narrowed his eyes. He trusted Gabriel because he knew they were on the same side, but the former angel could be ruthless in using others for his own purposes. Or his own entertainment.
“Gabe, you can break the chain you’ve got on me any time you want. We both know it. What do you really want?”
“Your opinion. Your instinct about Dean.”
Gabe seemed worried, so John took the question seriously. “This thing Dean wants you to do; does it involve Sammy?”
Gabe just looked at him. “Everything involves Sam.”
Right. “I mean, is it about Sam’s safety, or his life?”
Gabe considered. “Not directly.”
“When it’s about Sam, Dean’s judgement gets messed up. He can’t see the big picture past his brother.”
Gabriel gave a quick smile. “Family does that to all of us.”
John looked at him sharply. Family for Gabriel meant the other archangels. Including Lucifer. If this thing involved his family, it was serious. “Do as Dean asks. That’s my advice,” he said firmly.
“You’re sure? Even if it means…”
It meant Gabe might die. John understood that. But the stakes were about as high as they could get: literally, the fate of the world was in the balance. That justified a lot of risk.
He looked down at Audrey, who still lay unconscious on the woodland floor. “Gabe, just tell me how I’m supposed to help her. Tell me who she really is.”
Gabriel sat down on the tree trunk. “I thought you’d have worked that out by now. She’s Haven’s guardian.”
John shook his head. “She’s not an angel.”
“Not any more. She was once. All angels were forbidden to come to Earth in human form, or to take a vessel. She felt that was the only way she could protect Haven. So she chose this.”
“Not exactly. It wasn’t disobedience. John, all I can tell you is she has the power to end Haven’s troubles. Forever. But she has to remember, or rediscover that for herself. You have to keep her alive so she can.”
“End the Troubles? But I thought – ”
Gabriel raised a hand. “It’s quicker to show you, John.”
John was not a fan of Gabriel’s method of show-not-tell, but though his instinct was to pull back, he made himself remain still. When Gabriel’s hand touched his forehead, the rush of sounds and images was overwhelming. He tried to move back, but Gabe grasped his shoulder, holding him in place while the torrent of knowledge poured into his head. John was forced to absorb all of it.
The woman he knew as Audrey Parker had far more courage than John had imagined. She sacrificed everything, her own existence, for Haven. Sacrifice was something he understood. They could not be more different in their origins or in what they wanted, but they had this one thing in common. He understood, too, what Gabriel risked in helping her over the centuries. He knew the obligation Gabe felt. John would never be sure whether it was Gabriel’s doing or his own free will, but John knew he had to honour that obligation. He would protect Audrey, for as long as he could. For as long as she needed a protector.
Gabriel released him. “Thank you, John. I owe you.”
“Keep my boys alive.” That was all John wanted from Gabriel. It was the only reason he got himself involved in the first place.
Gabe nodded. “For as long as I can,” he agreed.
John would have demanded Gabe break the chain holding him in Haven, but suddenly it didn’t seem important. Chain or not, he was not leaving Haven now. He had agreed to protect Audrey and she was here. So he simply nodded, and offered his hand to seal the deal.
When Gabe was gone, John went to Audrey’s side. It was three steps, and he nearly cried out with the pain from his knee. He should have let Gabe heal it. Too late now. He half-fell to the ground beside her and struggled to sit up. Only then did he reach out to her. She looked peaceful, lying there.
“Audrey,” he said softly, and as she opened her eyes, he helped her to sit up.
“I thought you might be angry I told people you are Troubled,” Audrey said, her eyes sparkling over her martini glass.
John shrugged. “Everyone in Haven is Troubled, Parker. Those who think they’re not just haven’t discovered it yet.” It was how she had explained to Wuornos and the others that John couldn’t go to the hospital. The hospital was outside Haven’s limits, so John couldn’t go there. They called a local doctor for help instead. He, too, had insisted John needed to visit the ER but had accepted Audrey’s explanation of why that wasn’t possible.
John had a brace on the injured knee and a crutch to help him walk, but the injury was frustrating. Walking to the Grey Gull took three times as long as it used to,and he was in constant pain. It was nothing he couldn’t handle, however, and it would get better with time.
“What about your inquiry?” he asked her. “Will they press charges for the Rev?”
“I don’t know.” She sipped her drink again, but the smile was gone.
John withdrew an envelope from his pocket. “Well, this might help. It’s not sealed.” He had written down his conversation with Reverend Driscoll from the morning before Audrey shot him, as closely as he could remember it, and found a local notary to witness it. His statement made it clear that Driscoll went into the wood with murder in mind. John didn’t know if his testimony would have any credibility for a police tribunal, but it was the best he could do.
Audrey read through the statement quickly. “He really said all this?”
John nodded. “And a few things I thought it best to leave out. But it’s the truth as I remember it. You can use it if you think it will help. Or maybe hang onto it in case you need the evidence later. Your call.”
She slipped the envelope into her purse. “Thank you, John.”
“I owed you that.” John finished his beer. He would need to order another; there was someone else he needed to speak to before he could head home. In fact, if all went well he didn’t expect to reach home much before dawn.
Audrey stayed with him a little longer, but when she finished her drink she went to the bar to order a fresh one and didn’t return. John stayed where he was, making his third beer stretch to the end of the night.
When most of the patrons had left, John carried his empty glass to the bar. Duke Crocker was there, stacking glasses while he waited for the establishment to empty.
“You’re here late tonight, John,” he remarked.
“I was hoping to talk to you,” John told him.
Crocker shook his head. “Not interested.”
“You want answers, don’t you? About the past?”
Crocker poured himself a drink and leaned on the bar opposite John. “What would you know about it? Did Audrey tell you that?”
“I’m looking for some information myself. For Audrey. I need help to find part of the puzzle.”
Crocker’s eyes narrowed. “Why me?”
“Because you’re her friend and because what I need to do isn’t legal.” John slapped his injured leg. “I can’t do it alone.”
“Do what, exactly?”
“Three of the stores opposite have security cameras,” John said quietly as they walked through to the rear of the building. “The only way in through the back is that window.”
Crocker gazed up at the small window. “I see why you needed help.”
John grunted an irritable acknowledgement. He could have climbed to the window if he were fit, but that wasn’t the only reason he had asked for help. Crocker was close to Audrey, but he had also been close to Driscoll; John wanted to know where he stood. That Duke Crocker had a reputation as the go-to guy in Haven for smuggling and other shady activities simply gave him a way in.
Crocker climbed up to the window easily and pushed against the frame. It opened to his touch, the broken clasp dangling, and Crocker grabbed the frame with both hands, hauled himself up and slithered inside. John heard a crash from within, and Crocker swearing. It was followed by silence.
“Coming?” Crocker asked as he finally opened the rear door.
John followed him into the Haven Herald office. He closed the door and clicked his flashlight on. He made for the store-room at the back, where the files and back issues were kept.
Crocker was ahead of him. “What are you looking for here?” he asked. “You know you can just search the Herald archives online, don’t you?”
“I’m looking for what they didn’t publish,” John answered, but didn’t explain further. Newspapermen were organised by nature and the filing cabinets were ordered by date, each drawer clearly labelled. He pulled open the drawer for 1983 and began to search through the files within.
John knew a little about Simon Crocker’s death, certainly enough to recognise the date. He pulled the files relating to that week and handed them to Duke. “All yours.”
Crocker took the files to a nearby desk and leaned over them, examining the files by flashlight.
Satisfied the man was distracted, John searched for the date that really mattered to him: the date of the Colorado Kid murder. He knew that no one who was present that day had any memory of it, but he was convinced that wasn’t the full story. The Colorado Kid photograph that had been published in the Haven Herald was well known, but photo-journalists never rely on taking just a single photograph. They take ten, fifty, a hundred. Only one of those will be published but the others are never thrown away. They may exist only as negatives or contact prints, but they are kept on file. John wanted the pictures of the Colorado Kid scene that were kept out of the newspaper.
John found the file easily: it was the only one in the 1983 drawer that had been well used. Someone kept returning to this file. But the photographs he sought were not there. There was a plastic insert of the kind used to store 35mm negatives, but the strips were gone. John put the file away, muttering a curse.
Crocker looked up. “Something wrong?”
“Something missing. Do these guys have a safe?”
Crocker nodded toward the next room. “I didn’t bring tools for safe cracking.”
John grinned. “That’s not a problem.” He headed into the office. A safe would be built into the wall somewhere. Somewhere hidden, but not usually particularly well hidden. He looked around and lifted the notice-board away from the wall. Nothing behind it but blank wall. There was a picture on the next wall: the safe wasn’t there, either. Then John turned the flashlight down to the floor, and there he found it: grooves in the linoleum where a heavy metal box had been moved and moved back repeatedly.
He cursed again. It would have to be at floor level. Gritting his teeth against the pain in his knee, John got down to the floor and dragged the heavy box aside. Behind it stood the safe he was looking for: it was an old model, the combination-lock a single dial on the front. John put his ear to the door and began to turn the dial. He closed his eyes, concentrating on nothing except the sound of the tumblers in the lock, slowly turning the dial one way, then the other.
When the lock finally sprang open, John found Crocker standing over him. “What kind of handyman knows how to crack a safe?”
“One who reads a lot of Raymond Chandler mysteries,” John answered. It was half-true. The hard-boiled detective stories gave him the idea; Bill Harvelle taught him the skill. It wasn’t a skill a hunter needed often, but John had been glad for it a few times over the years.
He opened the safe door and shone his flashlight inside. A gleam of silver greeted his eyes and he jerked back in shock. “Holy shit!”
“What?” Crocker crouched down to peer inside.
John reached into the safe. He was looking for Haven’s secrets, but this was the last thing he had expected to find. He withdrew the weapon and raised the blade before his eyes. In the darkness, it seemed to give off a faint glow of its own.
“What is it?” Crocker asked.
“A weapon. A very rare and special weapon.” John set it down between himself and the safe, so Crocker could not easily touch it and shone his flashlight into the safe again. There was a couple of thousand dollars in cash, a diary with 2004 on the cover and several large envelopes, most of them labelled. He sorted through the envelopes quickly and found one labelled with the date he wanted. He opened it and glanced inside to confirm it held the missing negatives and contact prints.
“Finally. Let’s go.”
“What’s so important?” Crocker asked. He stood, then offered a hand to help John rise.
John accepted the help, pissed-off that he needed it, but grateful for the offer. He stuffed the envelope into his pocket and picked up the silver sword. He straightened and rubbed his back, stiff from being on the ground for so long.
“I don’t know if they’re important until I examine them,” John hedged. “But they were in the safe. Someone’s hiding something.”
“Photos from the Colorado Kid murder?”
Crocker was sharp. John nodded reluctantly. “Yeah.”
Crocker shoved John against the wall, moving so fast John couldn’t defend against it. His hands dug into John’s shoulders, bruising. “What side are you on?” he demanded.
John reached behind him for his gun, trying to keep the movement subtle. “I could ask you the same,” he answered.
“I’m on my side, damn it. But if you do anything to put her in danger…”
John relaxed. Crocker was loyal to Parker. That was all he needed to know. “I won’t do that,” he said. “I can’t tell you why, but I’m going to do everything I can to protect her. I’m helping her find out what happened to Lucy Ripley.”
“And what’s that thing? The…weapon?”
John hid it under his coat. “Sword. It’s a sword.” He bent to close the safe, spun the dial to reset the lock and pushed back the box that concealed it. He checked with his flashlight. It looked untouched. With luck, the Teague brothers wouldn’t notice they had been robbed for some time.
What the Hell was an angel’s sword doing in a safe in the Haven Herald office? Did the Teague brothers even know what it was?
John managed to evade the rest of Crocker’s questions by pointing out how late it was, but he knew the man would pursue the issue later. He would have to make up his mind how much of the truth he could tell Crocker. As he walked home, the weight of the sword in his coat bothered him. John wasn’t much of a believer in destiny, but he was probably the only person in Haven who would have recognised the sword for what it was. That seemed a bit much to be coincidence.
A moment later he realised that wasn’t true. Audrey Parker would know exactly what the angel-sword was. She might not understand how she knew, she might not believe it, but she would know it. Hell, it might be hers. Was it possible Lucy Ripley killed the Colorado Kid?
John recalled the autopsy report on the Colorado Kid. Two wounds, made with a long, double-edged blade. It was consistent with the angel’s sword. But if that was indeed the murder weapon, it was more likely Gabriel who wielded it. That would certainly explain the amnesia suffered by everyone close to the event. Gabe was good at covering his tracks.
John examined the contact prints before he went to bed, but he already knew what he would find there. All he needed was a clear shot of the body to see the scorch marks of an angel’s wings. He found it: just one of the many photographs, blurry but clear to a man who knew what he was looking for. The Colorado Kid was an angel in a human vessel: something forbidden to all of the angels at the time. What John didn’t know was what it meant. For that, he needed the answer to the same question he started with: who was the Colorado Kid? And why?
Audrey knocked on the basement door. After a few moments, it opened. John stood there with a knife in his hand.
Audrey looked at the knife. “Something wrong, John?”
He glanced down at his hand. Apparently he hadn’t realised he was brandishing a weapon. “Oh. No. I’m just doing some whittling. Come on in, Parker.”
She followed him into the small apartment. His display of Haven’s Troubles on the wall had grown. A canvas sheet lay across his bed and on top of it lay a long piece of wood surrounded by shavings and chips. She asked permission with her eyes and picked it up.
The cane was sanded smooth on the outside but not yet painted or polished. John had been hollowing it out at one end, creating a tube of the wood. Audrey ran her finger around the inside of the tube.
“Going to fit a shot of whiskey in your cane?” she guessed.
John smiled. “No. A weapon.”
“It can be done, but that takes a custom build. It’ll be a knife.”
“You know that’s illegal, right? You need a permit to carry a concealed weapon in Maine.”
“Sure thing, Officer Parker. But you know I don’t kill humans.”
She gave up. She could throw John in jail and he wouldn’t care. He lived by his own rules, no one else’s. “John, I came because…well, I found something.” She offered him the printout of the articles she’d found. “After what you told me, I’ve been watching the news for, you know, omens. Signs.”
John’s smile vanished; replaced by his poker face – blank, giving nothing away. He took the pages from her hand and sat down on the bed. Audrey waited while he read. She tried not to watch him, but her eyes kept being drawn back to his face. She wasn’t sure if it meant anything, but she suspected. She had read the journal he left with her: the letter to his sons. There was a lot in it he hadn’t explained – his intended reader wouldn’t need the explanation – but she got enough to fill in most of the missing details.
John let the printout fall from his hand. It fluttered to the floor. He watched it fall.
“John?” Audrey asked gently.
“You know what it means,” he said. His voice was tight and controlled. “Or you wouldn’t have come.”
She swallowed. “I wasn’t sure. Is it…?” she didn’t quite know how to ask.
“It’s over,” John said flatly. “And we ain’t burning, so I think…I guess that means we won.” He was still staring at the ground.
“Isn’t that good?”
“Yes, it’s good.” His voice was flat and dull, as if he meant No, it’s terrible.
“Your son,” she guessed.
John nodded. “They’re most likely dead. Or worse.” He tried to stand but fell back on the bed. “Parker, I think…I want you to leave.”
“I’m not sure you should be alone.”
“I won’t do anything stupid. Just go, Parker. Please.”
“Alright.” Audrey took a step toward him. “John. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
He didn’t look up. Quietly, she left him alone.