It was wrong. This was all wrong: from the blue water shimmering in the inlet and the white-sailed little boats creaking and swaying as they ventured out to sea, to the rippling verge of emerald grass that lined the clean, quiet street atop the hill overlooking the idyllic Victorian scene, everything was wrong wrong wrong. How could those people laugh and lounge and swim while Naomi paced from tree to car to trash can, navigating a futile little loop and taking frequent, furious glances at the powwow on the lawn a short way off.
Francis had taken Miguel a little ways up the hill and sat him down on the grass. She’d been crouched there with him for several minutes now, listening quietly, speaking occasionally, and wearing a facial expression that dripped with overwrought, almost vacuous sympathy. Naomi wasn’t sure what she was finding harder to believe: the fact that this Miguel, this murderous madman, was being comforted and consoled instead of handcuffed and hauled off, or that Francis—sarcastic, intense, vengeance-bent Francis—was the one doing the comforting!
If it took much longer for the cop to accomplish, well, whatever she was trying to accomplish, Naomi wasn’t sure she’d be able to stop herself from running over there and giving the skinny Latino a swift kick to the back of the head, just for the sake of doing something.
Griffin and Emily were leaning against the car they’d come in, talking quietly to one another. Naomi saw them out of the corner of her eye as she paced back across the grass towards the tall fir tree, kicking a pine cone out of her way. They were following her progress with their eyes; she could feel their stares. Let them look! she thought, but refused to acknowledge them by making eye contact: she wasn’t looking for any kind of calming influence from Emily right now.
Swiping idly at an exposed root with her toe, Naomi glanced over towards the therapy session on the grass and saw that Francis was standing up. The cop stepped around Miguel and approached Naomi, all evidence of kindness or compassion draining out of her face the moment her back was turned to the man she’d just been comforting.
“We’ve got a lead,” reported Francis in a low voice. “Miguel is pretty torn up. He’s closer to his birds than you might think. He doesn’t just talk to the things, you know: we brought him in for a psych evaluation once—part of a pilot project we had running with the Specials Unit before the government cut our funding some—and it turned out he actually connects to the things on some deeper level, emotionally or mentally or even physically on some level. He feels their pain, to some extent at least, so you can imagine what it must have been like to send so many birds to their deaths today. He’s barely hanging on. Innis must’ve had a pretty firm grip on Miguel to convince him to put himself through the things he’s done today, with the fire and the kamikaze on the convoy…”
“What convoy?” asked Naomi.
“Doesn’t matter right now,” said Francis. “What does matter is that Innis clearly pushed Miguel much too far. The man’s completely broken, and he blames it all on Innis—entirely rightly, of course. Luckily for us, Miguel knows at least part of Innis’s plans. He says there’s a house not far from here that they’re apparently planning to use as a staging area for getting their jailbirds out of the country.”
“Good,” said Griff, who had just come to join the conversation. “Let’s go. What’s the address?”
“Not so fast, kid.” Francis shook her head. “We’ve spent enough time diving headlong after these people today. It’s worked so long as we were in the middle of the chase, but now that we’ve finally got a stationary target it’s time to take a more measured approach.”
Naomi studied the cop’s expression. “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying it’s time for all three of you to go home—or at least rejoin your family, if your ‘home’ has been reduced to charcoal and crow bones.”
As Francis delivered this pronouncement, two police cars rounded the corner and pulled up along the sidewalk. Three officers got out and stood waiting expectantly. Francis said, “You’ve all been very brave, and we’re thankful for your help. Griffin, I wouldn’t be alive without you, and Naomi, without your determination we never would have found Miguel. You’ve done great, but we’re going to take it from here.”
Naomi watched a look of relief come over Emily, and saw Griff’s shoulders sag as he let out a long, slow breath. The two of them turned wearily towards the cop cars, ready and willing to surrender their involvement at last.
It was all wrong. It wasn’t over yet: Naomi couldn’t turn back now, couldn’t leave things in someone else’s hands. “No,” she whispered, almost inaudibly. “No, I—”
“No,” said another voice. Him. Miguel. He was standing, facing them, his posture conveying a somewhat wavering determination. “No,” he repeated. “She stays. She has to stay!”