It was dark by the time SMS pulled Pavelec’s car into a hollow among the trees. The road to get here had been twisting and unpaved, leading them several kilometres off the highway. The last 10 minutes of travel had brought them beyond even the gravel roads, bumping through branching, barely-marked dirt paths. Bailey guided SMS through the web of trails, assuring him that she knew the spot well. SMS hoped her confidence extended to finding their way back out again. He’d been thoroughly lost for a while, now.
Finally Bailey instructed him to park the car under the shadows of a copse of ancient Douglas Firs. She pointed to a wedge cut out of the side of one of the trees. “I did that years ago,” she said.
“Good memory or bad?” asked SMS.
Bailey grinned and looked at him with her head cocked slightly to the side. “Depends what mood I’m in when you ask me.”
SMS decided he’d rather not follow up on that cryptic comment, so instead he kicked open the car door and got out to stretch his legs. Bailey did the same, unfolding her long body like an accordion as she climbed out of the cramped interior. Pavelec followed. The gangster they’d captured was still out cold in the back seat.
Leaving the two women to their own devices for a few minutes, SMS headed towards a gap of dark sky he could see between the trees not far away. He grabbed a fallen branch and whacked idly at a few tree trunks as he crunched over the pine needles. Stepping around another mighty fir he found the trees opening up and came suddenly to the edge of a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The white-crested waves were breaking on the rocks far below, the sounds of their rushing and crashing reaching him at a delay, creating an eerie disconnect between what he saw and what he heard. The salt-soaked wind was fresh and cold. He gazed up at the starless, blue-black sky, lit dimly by a low sliver of moon.
Before he quite knew what was happening, he found himself sitting on a soft bed of pine needles, hugging his knees, with silent tears streaming down his cheeks. For several minutes a tidal wave of emotion swept over him, the deferred impact of a day full of intense fear and stress. He’d grown so comfortable in his work with Innis, buried so many things, and they were all being dredged up today. His security was being threatened from all angles. It was too much to deal with all in one day. Too much.
Eventually the sensation passed, and SMS stilled his ragged breathing. Eight or nine stars were out by now, and the moon was climbing higher.
A pine cone whizzed out of the trees and struck SMS sharply in the back. He turned over his shoulder with a glare and saw Brenda Bailey grinning from the shadow of the trees. “Sorry,” she said. “I can never resist throwing these things. Pavelec’s got the guy awake now. She thought you’d want to be there for the questioning so you can tell Innis about it or whatever.”
SMS sighed and turned wistfully back to the stars. He furtively wiped his eyes on his sleeve, hoping it had been too dark for Brenda to see his tears, then stood and followed her back to the car. He felt better, now, having released some of his tension.
The clearing was lit by the car’s headlights, which cut swathes through the deepening darkness. Moths danced in the light, casting tiny flickering shadows. Pavelec had set the scruffy Indian man on the ground, leaning him back against the tree with the gash in its trunk. His ankles and wrists were tied with some rope that she must’ve taken from the trunk.
“There you are,” said Pavelec, when Bailey and SMS stepped into the clearing. “Don’t wander off again. Quit wasting my time.”
SMS shrugged a half-apology and leaned against a tree at the edge of the clearing, wrapping his arms around himself as protection from the cold. He wished he’d grabbed a thicker jacket when he’d left the house this morning.
Pavelec stood over the gangster with her hands on her hips. “Time to talk. We’ve gone to a lot of trouble to get our hands on you, and there are pretty big questions we need answers to, so you’d better make yourself worth our effort. Let’s start things off easy. What’s your name?”
“P-Pavit,” stammered the man.
“Uh huh. All right, then, ‘Just Pavit,’ here’s what I want to know: what happened on the night you found Walter Carton dead?”
At the mention of Walter Carton, Pavit’s thick eyebrows knit together in a frown. He looked up at Pavelec. “Carton? I cannot tell you about Carton. Jovo told me—”
“Jovo’s dead,” said Pavelec. “She was killed by the same people we saved you from. So maybe show a little gratitude and answer the question. Unless you’d prefer us to stop asking nicely…” She lifted the hem of her jacket to reveal the pistol tucked into her waistband.
Pavit looked from Pavelec to Bailey and SMS in turn. SMS tried to look disinterested, but he saw that Bailey was baring her teeth in a disturbing, half-cocked grin. The shadows falling over her eyes gave her a disconcerting, otherworldly visage.
Pavit muttered something under his breath in Hindi and closed his eyes for a few seconds. “Okay, I will show you,” he said.
“Show us?” said Pavelec.
Pavit nodded. “Yes, I can show you everything I saw. I am a special. Prōjēkṭara. A projector. But you must untie my hands.”
Pavelec looked dubious. “If you’re a special, why should I trust you enough to free your hands? How do I know you don’t have some ability that will allow you to escape, or attack us?”
Pavit lifted his shoulders plaintively. “If I had such a skill, why did I not use it against the soldiers when they were trying to kill me before?”
“Don’t trust him,” snarled Bailey. “He looks like a rat.”
SMS countered: “He has a point. If he had any kind of ability that we should be afraid of he would’ve used it before, when his life was definitely on the line. Besides, if he could shoot spikes out of his fingers or something crazy like that, I guarantee Innis would’ve known about it and tried to recruit him before, and I’m usually in the loops on those things. I’ve never heard of the guy, so his ability can’t be all that threatening. If he needs to have his hands free to show us whatever he wants to show us, then I say let him have his hands free.”
Pavelec nodded. “You’re right. We would’ve heard about him at the SU, too, probably.” She turned back to the gangster. “Okay, Pavit. I’m going to untie your hands, but if you make any sudden moves I’ll put a bullet through some part of you, and I’m not sure I can predict where. My aim today has been a little… erratic.” She knelt and worked the knots free, then pulled the rope away from the man’s wrists.
Pavit wiped his palms on his pants and looked cautiously up at Pavelec. He cast a sideways glance at Bailey, suppressed a shudder, and slowly put both hands out in front of him, fingers and thumbs held out at 90-degree angles to form a rectangle between both hands, like he was a movie director sizing up a shot. He closed his eyes.
A flicker of light crackled around his hands, then expanded to fill the space between his fingers. A fuzzy black-and-white image hovered in the air, like the screen of an old television. It showed a shot of a small, somewhat run-down house, viewed from a sidewalk.
“Walter Carton’s house,” said Pavit, describing the flickering image. “Jovo sent me with payment for the last time we used Carton’s services. This is what I saw.”
As he spoke, the ‘video’ began to roll.