“We are really sorry about this.” Adele glanced over at Phil.
“You’ve mentioned that.” He glanced down at where his wrists were still cuffed together, though they’d put a little wrapping to make sure the cuffs didn’t hurt him. It hadn’t taken him long to figure out they weren’t actually going to threaten him or harm him, but he was still being fairly cooperative. “If you are telling the truth about being held in this lab, then you need —”
“Phil, I appreciate that you are trying to help and after we’ve all escaped we will happily cooperate.” Adele patted his shoulder.
“You do understand it doesn’t work that way, right?” He raised an eyebrow. “You are guilty of kidnapping, and the longer you keep me prisoner the less chance you have of not going to prison over it?”
“Phil, if we let you go, Xue’s folks are going to try to kill you to shut you up because they don’t know what you saw or what we told you.” Greg shook his head. He was driving, and Yala had claimed the passenger seat. He hadn’t wanted to sit next to Phil, as Phil had short hair.
“I’m a cop, and I’ll be surrounded by other cops.” Phil sighed. “Look I appreciate the concern and it is legitimate, which will go in your favor, but like I said, the longer you keep me prisoner —”
“You’ve got a really nice car.” Natalya patted the windowsill. “Did you rebuild this yourself?”
“Changing the subject won’t help either.” Phil leaned his head back on the neck rest.
“Phil…” Greg put the blinker on before changing lanes. “You are handcuffed between two beautiful women, and you’re going to stay that way probably for another day or two, so uh…” He shrugged. “Just relax and enjoy it.”
“They abducted a police officer and stole his car?” Xue stared at Genna. “How in the hell can a group that incredibly stupid be escaping us?”
“The officer’s car is an older model.” Genna looked down at her notes. “No GPS or on star or any other tracking system. They’ve got an APB out already, but considering how long it took them to realize they had taken his car, they may already be across state lines depending on which direction they went.”
“We need more…” Xue shook his head. “Call Gismondi.”
“Sir, while I’m certain the Cabal has the resources to catch them…” Genna lifted her head. “I have my doubts they’ll return the creature to you after acquiring him.”
“I…” He turned toward her, then slowly nodded. “No, Genna, you’re right.” He straightened. “See if you can get one of them on the phone. Tell them if they turn the creature over to us not only will we pay them, but we’ll make the unpleasantness with the university go away.”
Natalya blinked when her cell phone began ringing. “Okay, don’t recognize the number.” She looked up. “Think it’s the hostage negotiator or what not?”
“Would they even have your number?” Greg raised an eyebrow.
“Probably not. I just got this phone. Only ones who…” She stared at the phone. “Xue’s people.”
“You should take the call.” Phil glanced at her. “Put it on speaker.”
“On speaker?” She blinked at him.
“If he confesses to anything, it’s kind of in your best interest that I hear it.” He nodded. “Anybody have a tape recorder?”
“No, unfortunately.” She took a deep breath, then answered. “Hello.”
“Natalya.” Xue’s voice came back over. “You’ve taken something that belongs to me.” In the front seat, she noticed Yala bare his teeth.
“No, you should have recovered the van by now.” She shook her head.
“I’m not interested in playing games young lady.” Xue’s voice managed to sound both calm and angry. “I’m prepared to make you an offer.”
She looked around at her friends, then shrugged. Phil nodded to her encouragingly. She smiled, then exhaled. “I’m listening.”
“We will make the legal unpleasantness go away. Both the current matter and the issue with the university. In addition, we will pay you one million dollars. In return, you will hand over the creature.” She saw Phil’s eyes go a little wide at Xue’s words, and he mouthed ‘what creature’ at her.
“You’ll make the legal unpleasantness go away…” She swallowed. “How?”
“A simple case of mistaken identity, of course. You will be provided with alibis.” Xue paused for a moment before continuing. “Do you still have a hostage?”
“Assume yes.” She glanced at Phil again.
“If you don’t wish to dispose of him yourselves, you can turn him over when you deliver the creature and we will handle the matter. You and your friends can return to your lives.”
“We’ll think about it.”
She hung up the phone. Phil stared down at it, then looked back up at her. “What creature?”
“Uh…” She looked at her friends. “What do I tell him?”
“Don’t think it matters.” Adele patted Phil’s shoulder. “He’s not going to believe it.”
Phil sat on the rest area bench, quietly hyperventilating. Adele and Natalya were patting his back soothingly. Greg glanced over at Yalathanil. “That may have been slightly more demonstration than necessary.”
“Perhaps you are right.” Yalathanil gave a small shake of his head.
“Think you could change the hair color of your human form?” He raised an eyebrow.
“I don’t know.” Yalathanil tilted his head. “I haven’t tried.” He half-closed his eyes, then opened them again a moment later. “Anything?”
“Still black.” Greg folded his arms.
“Huh. Not sure what to flex while wearing human shape.” Yalathanil frowned.
“You two aren’t helping right now.” Natalya glared up at them.
“What?” Greg shrugged. “He asked for proof Yala is a merman, now he has proof.”
“So many teeth…” Phil took a few deep breaths.
“Cut him some slack.” Adele rubbed Phil’s shoulder. “He’s had a very long day.”
“I had to kill somebody today.” Greg glared, then blinked at Yalathanil patted his back.
“Is okay. He needed killing.” Yalathanil smiled at him.
“That…” Greg started to glare at Yalathanil, then sighed. “Is a good point, actually.”
“I’m sorry, Greg.” Natalya slowly nodded. “Are you alright?”
“I’m bottling everything up and have one hell of a nervous breakdown scheduled for Tuesday.” He took a deep breath. “Just hoping we hit ocean before then.”
“The lakes.” Phil looked up.
“You don’t need the ocean, you just need a big fucking body of water, something he can hide in.” Phil took a deep breath. “We are in Iowa right now. Head northeast into Wisconsin, and go to Lake Michigan. About eight different waterways to the ocean.”
They all stared at him. “Okay…” Adele exhaled. “Yala’s never seen a globe, but how the hell did the rest of us miss that?”
Yalathanil watched Greg wash his face in the sink, then hesitated a moment before approaching him. “Are you alright, Greg?”
“I, uh…” Greg exhaled. “I don’t know yet. I, uh…” He glanced up at his reflection in the mirror, then turned to face Yalathanil. “I was in the Navy for a couple years, so I’ve been trained with weapons. And I kept in practice, cause we were…” He shrugged. “Never know when you might need a tranquilizer gun or something.”
“First time you killed one of your own kind.” Yalathanil put a hand on his shoulder.
“Yeah.” Greg nodded. “Thing is though, I keep playing it and…” He swallowed. “Every time I do the same thing. It’s not that I can’t find any other option, but I don’t even try. And now I wonder what that makes me.”
“I kill one of my kind, once. A long time ago.” Yalathanil nodded. “I will kill at least one more, perhaps two.” He shrugged.
“You…” Greg blinked. “Why do you say you will kill another?”
“He…” Yalathanil sighed, wondering what he should even tell Greg. If he had the right words. “He breaks laws. Pretend to be human, interact with your world. I learned this, and he learned I learned this. He could not kill me without risking the curse, so…” He looked down at his hands, then clenched them into fists. “He sold me to Xue.”
“You were betrayed.” Greg swallowed. “I’m sorry, Yalathanil.”
“Is strange. I am…” He exhaled. “I will break the same laws.”
“Yala?” Greg blinked.
“You are my friends.” He reached up to stroke Greg’s cheek, then ran fingers through his hair. “I will visit.”
“If you would get in trouble for…” Greg started shaking his head.
“I will not give you up.” He took a deep breath, then pulled Greg forward to kiss him. Then he pressed his forehead to Greg’s for a moment. “So, laws must change.”
Adele smiled at where Phil was rubbing his freed wrists. “Thank you.”
“Either this is a dream and I am going to wake up any moment now…” Phil exhaled. “Or I am so unbelievably fired after this.”
“Yeah, I know that feeling.” Adele sighed, then held the kitten to her, petting it more to comfort herself than to keep it happy. “I have no idea how I’m going to explain anything to my dad.”
“Terrorists.” Natalya spoke up from where she was making sandwiches.
“Terrorists?” They both looked at her.
“Yep.” Natalya nodded. “Terrorists. You foiled plot. Ra ra patriotism, ra ra flag, ra ra freedom. Cue applause.”
“The irritating thing is that probably would work.” Phil accepted the soda she passed him.
“Not only will it work, two years from now you can run for sheriff and win on it.” Natalya shrugged, then put the sandwiches on plates. “We don’t have any forks.”
“I’m a police officer. Not a sheriff.” Phil shook his head.
“Wait…” Natalya blinked.
“The sheriffs were the ones that we just walked by after Yala shapeshifted, remember?” Adele took one of the plates, then waved Greg and Yalathanil over. “The cops put guards and tails on us and we had to slip them. Much more professional.”
“Thanks.” Phil took one of the plates. “I think.” He exhaled. “Alright, you can’t take any more calls from Xue, because he can probably figure out what tower you’re connecting to even if you don’t have GPS, which means he can figure out what direction you are going.”
“Okay.” Natalya nodded.
“And by now they will have an APB out on my car, so…” Phil winced. “Your best bet is going to be finding a similar model and switching the plates and I cannot believe I am now advising you to commit criminal activity.” He took a couple more deep breaths. “Changing your appearances would also help. Just changing hair color or shaving would do a lot.”
“I can lose the beard and tie my hair back.” Greg nodded.
“What?” Yalathanil blinked. “I like the beard.”
“It’s temporary.” Greg smiled at him. “Grows back fast.”
Yalathanil gave him a skeptical look, but nodded. Phil blinked. Natalya chuckled. “The beard is the source of most of Greg’s charm. It’s how he befriended Yala in the first place.”
“That’s not quite how it worked.” Greg shook his head.
“It is close.” Yalathanil shrugged.
“Nat, you and I can both go ginger, claim we are siblings.” Adele nodded. “And Phil…”
“Oh, let’s get him glasses. He can totally Clark-Kent his way through.” Natalya nodded eagerly.
“I do not understand all those words.” Yalathanil frowned.
“See…” Phil pointed as they came through some trees. The glimmering expanse of water spread out before them. “Lake Michigan.”
“I am suddenly extremely nervous.” Greg leaned forward, frowning.
Natalya continued driving. “Why?”
“Things are going according to plan.” Greg frowned.
“Oh.” Yalathanil shook his head. “He’s right.”
“How is things going to plan not a good thing?” Phil turned to look at them.
“Well, the last time things were going to plan…” Greg took a deep breath. “Cops kicked down my door and we ended up taking you hostage.”
“Oh.” Phil settled back into the passenger seat. He was silent for a moment. “Maybe you have a point.”
“Just get to the water. We’ll get a boat, and then just get to the water. Once Yala is in the water, we can call my dad, and he can get us out of this.” Adele started nodding. “We can—”
“Gray suburban.” Phil’s voice interrupted her.
“What about the gray suburban?” Natalya blinked.
“It’s following us.” He glanced at her, then nodded at the road. “Keep going. We need to stay in populated areas. They want witnesses even less than we do.”
“Thanks, Phil.” She smiled back at him. “Alright, tourist trap, here we come.”