It only took Griff 30 seconds to leap to the bottom of the carpeted stairs, pound down the hallway—receiving a funny look from some nameless bald grunt who he had to shove past—and slip into the kitchen, where he found Francis—she handled the mornings, didn’t she, and Fiona did the evenings and overnight?—in her usual position, sitting at the table holding a newspaper flanked by a tall glass of orange juice and a Starbucks venti something-or-other, from which she took alternating sips as she read.
She wasn’t reading right now. Instead, her eyes were closed, and she was frowning harshly, as though in deep concentration.
Francis’s “personal assistant”, a blond bodybuilder with a massive forehead and formidable biceps, was sitting a few chairs over. Griff had never learned this particular goon’s name, either. They’d shared some time in the gym several months ago, and ever since then Griff had avoided him as much as possible, to save himself the embarrassment. Griff had improved his strength and stamina by leaps and bounds over the past six months, but it would probably take years of dedication to approach this behemoth’s raw power.
The blond monster looked up from a plate of sausage and hash browns, eyes signalling a mix of curiosity and warning.
“We may have a problem,” blurted Griff.
Blondzilla shook his head. “You ain’t the only guy we got watchin’ the perimeters, you know. We’ve got the minivan handled.” He nodded to a walkie-talkie sitting on the table.
“There’s something more going on here,” Griff insisted, directed his voice towards Francis. “There were two other people in the back of that van; I felt them. And then they just disappeared. It’s like they—”
“Settle down,” grunted Blondzilla. “Let the woman concentrate.”
“But this could be—”
“Look,” said Blondzilla, starting to stand, but Francis, face still frozen in concentration, interrupted him.
“How sure are you of what you sensed?”
“I… Well, pretty sure.”
“You felt it while in bed?”
“Yes,” Griff confirmed. “I couldn’t fall asleep, and—”
“So it’s possible you were only half-awake when this strange ‘disappearance’ took place?”
“It’s possible,” Griff was forced to admit. “Look, I understand this is your call, but I really think we’ve got to take a closer look at that van. I may not know exactly what we’re protecting here, or even who we’re protecting it for, but I do know how much they’re paying me, and that kind of money suggests we shouldn’t be taking chances when something weird comes up.”
There was a quiet moment as Francis digested this outburst, eyes still squeezed tightly shut as she chewed on her bottom lip.
Blondzilla picked up the walkie-talkie. “Van’s almost out of the bubble by now, probably. If they were gonna pull something, they’d have done it by now. And if they were planning something, why do a drive-by and put us on alert? If you want, I can buzz the sentries right now and tell ’em to keep their eyes open, maybe follow this van a bit and see what the driver gets up to, but we get a dozen randoms coming by every day. We’ve got no real reason to think this one’s special.” He waited, thumb on the walkie-talkie’s transmit button, for Francis’s decision.
A few more seconds passed. Then Francis said, “Have them stop the van and check inside before it leaves the illusion field. Griffin is right. We shouldn’t take any unnecessary risks. If anything seems suspicious, have them bring the driver in.”
Blondzilla shrugged. “You’re the boss.” He called in the orders.
The immeasurable instants of the journey through the purple void were tinged with the same darkness that Naomi had felt back in the park when she’d dragged Candace and the kidnapper along with her, but the effect was much less pronounced, still somewhat jarring but relatively subdued. Naomi barely had time enough to wonder where the difference came from before the world blinked back into existence under her feet and she and Sky dropped down onto the dirt road, falling the two or three feet that they’d been raised off the ground while they’d been sitting in the van.
Naomi smacked down on her tailbone and let out an involuntary yelp, rolling onto her side. The women released their grips on one another and Naomi took a moment to catch her breath. When she looked up, Sky was up on one knee, eyes narrowed, staring at the tree line, one hand held up in front of her with her fingers held together in a snapping position.
What is she planning to do? wondered Naomi. Does she want to get someone’s attention?
Sitting up, Naomi noticed a wide gravel driveway leading off the dirt road, back among the trees, leading to a long, homey-looking three-storey mansion. Was that what the invisibility field had supposedly been hiding? She’d expected something more industrial, more foreboding, with barbed wire fences and big, yellow “KEEP OUT” signs. But of course, if you could turn the entire place invisible, why would you need those more mundane forms of security? And if anyone saw the place—from the sky, for example—the presence of too much security might raise some red flags, too.
Still, Naomi had figured…
Her train of thought was interrupted by the sound of Sky’s fingers snapping sharply: once, then twice. Two seconds later, Naomi heard a rustle and the crack of a tree branch. She followed Sky’s stare in time to see someone in a camouflage-patterned uniform topple out of a tree like a ragdoll.
Naomi frowned. “What just…? Did you…?”
“Come on,” said Sky. Staying low, she hustled over to the fallen sentry.