Mary drove the stretch from Alexandria to North Dakota. On the west side of Fargo, she stopped at an anonymous local-chain gas station that was attached to a Subway sandwich shop.
“This food is evil,” said Mary, looking at her sandwich. “When compared to Twinkies and Mountain Dew in the gas station it may be the lesser of two evils but it is evil nonetheless.”
“Fuel. Just raw fuel,” mumbled Sean between bites as he drove west on I-94, “Even the lettuce tastes flat; as flat as the country around here.”
“Any landscape without mountains in the distance seems weird to me,” said Mary, “Or one without an ocean view.”
“A sea of grass,” replied Sean, “We could move out here, into an old farmhouse. Do you think anyone would be able to find us?”
“Hiding in the open, The Purloined Letter approach?” said Mary.
“That might have worked in Poe’s day, but everything’s connected now,” said Sean, “We wouldn’t last a week. Are you making any headway in those books of Emily’s?”
“Yes. Yesterday, in the churchyard, I received the final revelation of my powers. The Book of Keys gives the precise instructions on how to enable them, when I sleep everything sorts itself out. My ‘superego’, or whatever one may choose to call it, shuts down—enabling my inner mind to work. If you don’t mind driving in silence, I’m going to nap some more.”
“I’m fine, although this road is straight and flat now, we’ll be getting some varied terrain in a few hundred miles. If you are awake by then you can drive.”
“You can handle it? I’ll be out for a while,” said Mary.
“That coffee was bad but strong.”
As Mary slept, Sean thought about what steps they might have to take to ensure their safety in Seattle. He already knew that their apartment in Seattle had been under surveillance. Although moving would be an option, any new place would have the same issues. He had checked into renting another unit in the same building—leaving their existing apartment intact. The situation with the baby would be dealt with later. Sean had felt safe in Decorah, but he knew that the security it offered wouldn’t have lasted long, especially since they would be unable to ‘hide out’ at Tina’s after she sold the farm. Things would probably change a lot between now and then; he finally figured that it was best not to over-think the whole thing. The time passed uneventfully. Mary was deeply asleep, murmuring from time to time, and didn’t stir until they were well into Montana, approaching Glendive.
“Hmm,” said Mary, yawning, “We’re out of flatland, I see. How long have I been out?”
“Over five hours,” said Sean, “We’re in Montana now. There is a town where we can stop about three miles ahead.”
“My sleep schedule is going to be messed up for a while, I’m afraid,” Mary said, “Hopefully, my old office at ADR hasn’t been renovated yet. It’s perfect for an all-nighter. You can bring in a cot and join me if you want, but I get the sofa.”
“That’s not a bad idea. I’ve been thinking about our security situation. A few days spent in the bowels of ADR would give us a chance to reconnect without exposing ourselves. I’ve come up with some other options as well,” said Sean.
“What are you thinking?” said Mary.
“We should keep our current place as a ‘front’, but see if we can rent a furnished unit in the same building. How’s your relationship with the rental agent?"
“Tight. I’ve saved his ass a couple of times on background checks. He’ll keep his mouth shut,” said Mary, “There’s your exit.”
It was six-thirty by the time they got back on the freeway. Mary begged off driving and as soon as they were on the freeway she resumed her slumber. Sean drove on through the sunset and by ten o’clock had reached the same motel in Billings where they had stayed on the trip out. As Sean was checking in, Mary waited outside the car, sniffing the air. She could sense the presence of her ‘friends.’
The assassin was waiting, in the dark, in his truck parked on an overgrown cow-path, well hidden from the road. He had stopped about a quarter-mile away from his target, which was on the other side of a wooded hill. At 0130, he got out of the vehicle, strapped on his assault vest, and slung a rifle over his shoulder. The vest’s holster contained a high-power handgun. The firearms were backups. His lethal weapon of choice tonight was much smaller: in appearance and size, it was similar to an asthma inhaler. It contained a fast acting poison which would breakdown without a trace under heat. After he had ‘neutralized’ his targets, the plan was to loosen the gas fitting at the stove, letting the house become a bomb. A timed incendiary would ignite the gas and destroy the dwelling. Some carefully placed, untraceable accelerants would make sure that the old timber-frame house would be completely consumed. By that time, he would be out of the state, on his way back to the east coast. He strapped on a pair of night goggles and headed for the woods. A distant thunderstorm covered the sounds of his footsteps in the underbrush.
After Sean and Mary had been sleeping a couple of hours, Mary woke up, hearing the call of the coyotes. In a state of heightened awareness, she put on her clothes and went out to the picnic area behind the motel. She walked past the benches and out about a hundred yards into the brush. Standing still, she was aware of animals surrounding her on the scrubby plain. As she felt the coyotes' fur brush her legs her mind began to form images—images that she knew were coming from the eyes of the animals. The images became clearer. She was able to make out Tina’s house, with its light shining from the kitchen. A thunderstorm was raging in the sky behind it. As the viewpoint of the images kept shifting, Mary now understood that she was seeing through many eyes—the coyotes in Iowa—somehow connected with those who were around her in Montana.
Suddenly, the images merged and focused on a man in military gear, emerging from a wooded area. The coyotes near Mary had become agitated and were whining.
“I miss the kids already. And Edwin,” thought Tina. She unsuccessfully tried to sleep. But there was more to it. There was an underlying sense of dread. Something was not right. That feeling, along with an impending thunderstorm, had roused Tina from bed. She went into the kitchen and put water on to boil for tea. When the tea was ready she took it into the parlor.
“Coolumonlou… coolumonlou… moolumaloo…” Mary intoned, channeling The Book Of Keys, and the animals became quiet. Mary now understood what was happening. The man was an assassin, sent to murder Sean and Mary. He was a day late, but that fact wouldn’t save Tina. She knew that she had to act. She began another chant from Emily’s book, this one much more powerful:
“Acheratte… secherratte… naberettu… acheratte… secherratte… naberettu…” As she kept chanting, the man in Iowa continued to walk towards Tina’s house. Faint wisps of St. Elmo’s Fire formed a crown above his head. Mary continued her chant: “Acheratte… secherratte… naberettu… ”
The man was now in the farmyard and had paused in the shadow of a tree.
“GETAKKA!” Mary shouted, and her vision was obliterated by a flash of lightning.
Tina had only been sitting for a few minutes when a brilliant bolt of lighting, arriving with a simultaneous boom, shook the house and interrupted the electrical service, plunging the parlor into blackness. After the echoes of the thunder had died away, Tina went to the window. The tree in the yard, the one which had been damaged in a previous storm, was burning. On the ground next to it was a body, also on fire.
After the vision faded, the coyotes dispersed into the brush and a dazed Mary wandered back to the motel room. In the darkened room she tripped over a chair and fell onto the bed, waking Sean up.
“Mary, are you all right?” said Sean. “What happened?”
“I think I’ve just killed a man,” said Mary.