The engine of the car idled, somewhat discontentedly it seemed to Naomi, grumbling and coughing amid its low hum, as the four pursuers sat quietly at the edge of the intersection, releasing their pent-up breath and feeling not just air, but hope and conviction escape from their lungs.
“Tell me, Griffin,” said Francis from the front seat, “that you didn’t just say what I think you said.”
He turned his head, mouth drawn into a thin, tight line, eyes dark, and seeing the expression on his face, none of the three women in the car needed him to repeat the statement he had just made.
It was gone. The bird had flown too far for him, beyond the reach of his special sense, and its escape meant his escape, Naomi felt sure. Innis… He had lied to her, manipulated her, and all along she had known he was doing it, or at least that he was doing something, and she’d let it happen, allowed herself to believe that there were good reasons for everything, that it was all justifiable somehow. That man had deceived her so thoroughly that he had caused her to deceive herself, and that was what she hated him for most, she decided, even more than the kidnapping of her friend, the murder-by-proxy of all those people—all those cops!—and now the torching of her parents’ home. Her grudge was beyond personal: Innis had attacked her free will, her conscience.
She leaned forward against her seatbelt. “We can’t stop here.”
“What can we do?” protested Emily. “If it’s gone, it’s gone. How are we supposed to find one single bird lost in the middle of Victoria?”
“She’s right,” sighed Griff, “we’re done. It’s my fault. I was driving, and I was too slow. I’m sorry.”
“We’ll get them somehow,” Francis asserted. “We’ll bring in every special we know of until we find one willing to talk, and we’ll pull that thread until their whole rotten network falls apart, I promise you that. We may have lost out today, but there’ll be another opportunity. I’m not giving up on these people, not until I’ve made them pay. But for now, Griffin, we need to take these girls back to their parents. I’ve gone through enough today without getting called a kidnapper on top of it.”
“Don’t turn this car around!” said Naomi. “We aren’t done yet, not until I say we are.”
“That’s not your call, kid,” said Francis. “I shouldn’t have let you come with us in the first place. It’s too dangerous for you two.”
Naomi balled her fists. “What gives you more right to face that danger than I have?!”
“My badge,” stated Francis flatly. “And my gun. And my experience. And my ability.”
Unswayed, Naomi shot back, “These people manipulated me, kidnapped my friend, and attacked my family. This is my battle to fight more than it is yours!”
Francis’s face froze into a stare of such deep, dark emotion that Naomi’s rage subsided, and she realized her entire body had been trembling. In the driver’s seat, Griff had lowered his chin to his chest and was silently staring at his feet.
The light turned green, and the car behind them honked a couple of times, unheard, before finding a gap in the other lane’s traffic and pulling around them, the driver glaring.
In a soft voice, Francis said, “My sister died today. My twin sister. Don’t tell me whose fight this is.”
Naomi dropped her eyes. “I… I didn’t…”
“You want revenge for what they’ve done to you? You want to punish them, see them suffer, and then go home and call it justice? Fine. Go to it. Make your suggestions. I’m all ears. But don’t you dare try to tell me whose fight this is.”
No one said anything for several seconds.
“Well, go on,” jeered Francis, “tell us what to do. What’s your big plan? How are we going to find our lead back?”
“Speak up, kid! Enlighten us.”
“I just thought…”
“Uh huh?” sneered Francis, flopping back around in her seat to face forward and folding her arms tightly across her chest. “Don’t hold out on us now!”
The disrespect stoked the embers of Naomi’s resolve just enough to restore her voice. “We might as well drive as far as the last place Griff sensed the bird, that’s all. Better to do that than turn around and give up entirely.”
Griff looked up at Naomi, then turned to his eyes to Francis, as if asking permission.
“What do I care?” said the cop. “I have no stake in this, remember? Do what she tells you!”
Griff hesitated, seeming unsure whether to take her words at face value, but then he pressed the gas pedal down, eased through the intersection—receiving a few more jeering honks from the other drivers who had continued to stream around their stationary vehicle—and directed the car towards the place where he had lost the trail.
No one spoke while they drove for several minutes. The atmosphere in the car smoldered with tension and the warming rays of the rising sun.
“It was here,” Griff said at last, “heading that way”—he pointed—”when I last sensed it.”
They pulled up to the sidewalk on a residential road a short distance out of downtown Victoria, alongside a narrow ocean inlet. The sun sparkled off the water in a way that on any other day in her life Naomi might have described as beautiful, but today was only harsh and glaring.
Francis chuckled ruefully. “What next, Captain? See any clues?” Seeing that Naomi wasn’t rising to her barbs, she said, “Ah, forget this,” and kicked her door open, stepping out onto the sidewalk.
Following the officer’s exit with her eyes, Naomi gasped and grabbed Emily’s wrist tightly. A hundred meters ahead, parked on the opposite side of the road, was a chillingly familiar blue car.