Chapter 17: Departure
IAN loaded his backpack into the van and climbed in, sitting beside me in the dimly-lit interior. Joseph shut the door, and before long, we were on our way out of Winter’s Edge through a long network of tunnels.
About a half hour later, the air had grown stale, so I opened the vent beside me.
Lena and Reilly sat one row back, Jesse beside them, and Murph and Kat were in the front row with a wall blocking our view of the driver and passenger. Artie rode shotgun in the front. Blacked-out windows prevented us from seeing outside, from seeing the path in and out of the city.
I leaned over to Ian. “We’re almost to the city gate. From there, it’s less than a half hour to the safehouse.”
As if on cue, the persistent knock of the diesel motor slowed, then fell to an idle as the whine of the turbo died down.
A click sounded. The weight of the van shifted on the passenger side. Joseph had exited the vehicle.
Ian frowned. “Are we getting out?”
“No,” I said. “We’re not allowed. Only a few people are allowed to see the gate. They’re the only ones who know how to open it.”
“There are multiple gates inside the gate,” Murph said from up ahead.
“Why multiple gates?” Ian seemed to go deeper with his questions, always wanting to know the inner workings of things. I liked that about him.
The sound of moving gears and scraping stone filled the tunnel. Joseph had just activated the gate’s lift mechanism.
Reilly spoke up. “Some of the gates are metal, some are stone. It’s designed so that Asa can move certain components in the metal gates allowing her to lift all of the gates. It’s our failsafe just in case the lift mechanism malfunctions.”
“If Asa can move the gates,” Ian said, “can’t the Hunters bring a Telekinetic in here and do the same thing?”
“Do we really look that stupid, dimwit?” Kat sounded humorously condescending. “Asa has to move the internals into position before the gears can move the doors at all. No Telekinetic has the power to bend or break those gears. If the Hunters ever find this place, it’ll take them forever to figure out a way to get through the gates.”
The van’s suspension sank slightly, and a door shut on the passenger side. We continued through the tunnel, and the smell soon became tainted with sewage. Everyone acted as if it were normal. Everyone except Ian.
He sniffed, then cringed. “What is that smell?”
“Sewers,” I said. “There are endless miles of storm drains and sewers around Denver. Some parts are big enough for us to get through. We won’t be in them long.”
“Why do I suddenly feel like a teenage mutant ninja turtle right now?” he said.
I frowned at him, but Murph laughed, clearly getting the reference.
Soon, the dissipating smell signaled our exit from the sewers. The smooth ride on the concrete was exchanged for the bounciness of a dirt road until we hit the highway.
Moments later, our blackout windows went clear.
Ian grimaced for a second. “How’d the windows do that?”
“The glass has millions of nanoparticles that let light through when electricity is run through them,” I said, “and block light completely when there’s no electrical charge.”
“That’s awesome.” Ian touched the glass curiously. “Isn’t that dangerous in a car?”
Kat let out a pfff! “It’s not like the front windshield’s done that way, Einstein.”
Ian snorted a laugh, finally getting used to Kat’s goading.
The Denver lights shined in the distance as we entered the city limits. The metallic clatter of the chain-link gate sounded a bit later as we arrived at the warehouse complex.
“Is this it?” Ian said.
“Almost.” I squeezed Ian’s leg that rested against mine. “Our warehouse is at the back corner”
After a short drive, the sound of an opening warehouse door resonated outside and the van pulled in. Everyone unbuckled their seat belts just before Joseph opened the side door to let us out.
I climbed out and stretched. Ian followed suit.
I slung a backpack over my shoulder and motioned for Ian to come along.
The inside of the warehouse was mostly empty. Its rusted, gray metal panels and filth-clouded windows made it fit in with the other buildings in the complex. One corner was taken up by what one would expect to be a large, two-story office area made of more haggard, gray sheets of metal, devoid of windows.
“Welcome to our vacation home,” I said.
“What, that?” Ian gestured toward the office-looking structure.
“Yeah, that’s what we call this safehouse. Isn’t it great?”
“You’re joking, right?” he said. “We’ll be eaten by giant rats while we sleep.”
“Oh, it’s not so bad,” I said. “You get used to it after a few runs.”
“Don’t listen to her.” Kat’s voice dropped an octave. “You never get used to it.”
“Oh, come on, Kat. It’s not that bad.”
“So you really don’t mind staying here?” Ian said.
“I’d live here if I could.” I smiled. “Let me show you the inside.”
“Yay!” he said with mock enthusiasm. The look on his face was priceless.
I dragged him to the door, excited, and turned my key in the lock.
As the door opened, I saw yet another priceless look on his face. A look of you-got-me-again mixed with admiration.
A beautiful living area lay before us with leather couches and a big-screen TV.
He shook his head with a snort. “Well played.” He gawked at the television. “What size TV is that?”
“It’s an eighty-inch, but the theater screen dwarfs it.”
“What theater screen?”
We moved into the living room, bags in hand.
“The one in the theater room.” I walked to a black-curtained entrance beside the living room and pulled them apart to reveal our massive screen with rows of leather seats before it and a wet bar in the back.
“Oh, wow. I’m home.”
“You like it?”
“Yes would be an understatement. I’ve never been in a house this size.”
“This is just the first floor.” Kat climbed the stairs next to the kitchen.
“There’s another floor?” Ian’s eyes grew larger.
“Of course,” I said. “It’s got a huge game room, another kitchen…it’s like another house stacked on top of this one.” I motioned toward the stairs with a nod. “Come on. I’ll show you your room.”
After we all unpacked and settled in, Ian and I played pool with Murph and Reilly upstairs, while everyone else played cards downstairs.
Eventually, we moved to the second-floor living room and unwound for the night. Ian and I fell asleep on the couch watching an old episode of Firefly.
The tinkling of utensils along with the smell of coffee stirred us from sleep the next morning.
After breakfast and showers, everyone gathered at the large table in the warehouse surrounded on three sides by lockers, workbenches, and tool cabinets full of gear and weapons.
My hair, makeup, and clothing were different than usual. Retaining our anonymity was a top priority. Ian seemed to like my new look, from what I could tell. Not that it mattered.
Joseph looked at Artie. “Lena’s going with you today, right?”
Artie’s eyebrows rose. “Oh, yes. She’ll be good help in the junkyards.”
Lena rolled her eyes and folded her arms, sulking.
Joseph turned to Murph and Reilly. “You two are on farm duty.”
Farm duty was simple. Load the produce into covered trailers and sell them to local farmers at a wholesale price. We made a lot of money very quickly, and the farmers made a lot of extra money off our produce.
Joseph turned to Kat and Jesse. “You two are on supply duty.”
Supply duty was basically shopping for our community’s necessities. Thankfully, I hadn’t gotten supply duty that day. I’d never liked driving a van.
Joseph looked to us. “Ian. Abby. You’re on gold duty.”
Gold duty was the easiest. Load unrefined gold into a hidden compartment beneath the back seat of our gold transport vehicle and take it to a local refinery. Tomorrow, we’d finish by picking up the refined gold, depositing it into various banks and storage units, and selling a large portion to gold dealers. The last twenty percent would go back to Winter’s Edge.
But something wasn’t adding up.
“Really?” I said. “You’re putting Ian on gold duty his first time out?”
Joseph nodded then looked back and forth from me to Ian. “You two could pass for brother and sister. Tell them he’s your younger brother who’s just started working at the company. They think you’re twenty-four, and Ian’s ID says he’s twenty-three. Artie set it up already. Have them call me if there’s a problem.”
Artie smiled in confirmation, bouncing his eyebrows at us.
I cocked my head. Was this some screwy test for Ian to see if he’d try to steal from us or was Joseph just not wanting to work with me today? It didn’t make sense.
Normally, Joseph posed as my dad who was grooming me to take over the company when he retired. When he wasn’t available to go with me on a gold run, I’d usually take someone like Reilly or Jesse who’d pose as employees. But taking Ian was just odd. I wasn’t going to complain, though. I liked Ian’s company. So I let it go with a reluctant, “Okay, Dad.”
“I’ll be running some personal errands.” Joseph tossed a wallet, a wrist watch, and a small, black radio cell phone on the table that slid to a stop just in front of Ian. “Here’s your new identity. Your name is Jason Tillman.”
Ian slipped the radiophone into his pocket, put on the wrist watch, then picked up the wallet and flipped through it, examining the license and other credentials.
Joseph opened a nondescript gray locker. “Locker 13 is yours. Put your old ID and anything else on your person that identifies you in here and lock it up. Key’s in the lock.”
Ian rifled through his pockets and removed a few things, storing them in the locker, then snapped it shut and locked it.
Joseph tapped his watch. “Your watch is synchronized with all of our watches and the clocks in all of the cars. Remember, never use your powers unless absolutely necessary. Otherwise, you’ll pull Hunters your direction.” Joseph looked at everyone. “If you’re attacked, use rendezvous point C.” He pointed to it on a map laid out on the table. “That’s the corner of Lincoln and 17th, downtown. If you have to evade Hunters, one of you takes the vehicle, if possible, and the other runs on foot unless you’re sure they haven’t seen your vehicle. Split up in different directions, lose them, and don’t run with your powers all the way to the rendezvous point or Hunters will track you. We’re not the only ones with Watchers.”
“Got it.” Ian slipped his new wallet into his pocket as he studied the map of Denver with the rendezvous points marked on it along with the shop location, gold drops, and all our other important destinations. He stood and looked to Joseph, probably already having memorized the entire map with his photographic memory…which made me kind of envious. “What happens if we have a run-in with the cops?”
“Don’t worry about that. Your ID checks out. The only time you have to worry is if the cops aren’t around. The people who fund the Hunters have their fingers in everything, including the police. If Hunters are on to you, they’ll make sure no police are around so they can do their job. Which means you better get out of there fast.”
“If you’re running from Hunters, headed for the rendezvous point, your radiophone has a high-powered scrambler for street cameras. Knocks them out for a few blocks. The switch is on the side.” He held up his phone and tapped the switch. “The switch below it turns all the stoplights green for you. It’s similar to what police cars and fire trucks use. Should help in a getaway. But if two people try to use these at the same intersection, one of them is going to get a red light.”
Ian had his phone out of his pocket, finding the switches.
Artie chimed in. “Oh, and it’s a burner phone, so you can dispose of it if you think you’re being tracked.”
Ian looked at the phone, impressed.
Joseph slid envelopes to everyone with their spending money. “Everyone meets back here at 6 p.m. regardless of what you’re doing. Let’s get moving.”
Everyone snatched their envelopes and dispersed. Ian opened his, pleased to find a little cash inside.
Joseph looked at him. “That ought to get you started. You’ll have a lot more next time as long as you work when we get back to Winter’s Edge.”
Ian nodded. “Thanks.”
I motioned for him to come with me. “Let’s get loaded up.”
Ian wore a brilliant blue, dress shirt with black slacks. Joseph had asked him to wear nicer clothing today for our job. His hair was a little more businesslike, and some slight stubble decorated his cheeks and chin.
“So, who are you supposed to be?”
“Ashley Tillman, Daddy’s little gold mining protégé.” I showed Ian a sassy smile and put my hand on my hip as I stuck it out. It was an exciting challenge to fool people, and fun to dress up in a chic white dress, gold earrings, and flashy black and gold sunglasses, none of which I’d normally wear.
“What am I, your personal assistant?” Ian raised a reluctant eyebrow as we passed the house.
“What a great idea.” I colored my tone with overproduced excitement.
“Hey, wait. I wasn’t making a suggestion.”
“Too late. Should’ve thought before you opened your mouth.” I laughed. “Jason Tillman. My little brother and new personal assistant, AKA errand boy. I like it.”
Ian shook his head. “Oh, great.”
We reached a large sliding warehouse door with a small outlet box sporting a pair of octagonal buttons. One red, one green.
“You’ll like this.” I pushed the green button.
The garage door beside us slid sideways with the sound of clanking metal and mechanical reeling.
Ian’s eyes lit up as he saw what lay on the other side. Several exotic cars lined the wall, parked backward at forty-five-degree angles.
“That’s an Aston Martin One-77.” Ian pointed at the silver beauty of a car. “That’s one-point-six million dollars sitting there. How on earth did you get that?” His jaw hung wide open while a puzzled look wrinkled his brow.
“You and Abby will be carrying about that much in gold today, actually.” Joseph’s voice was nonchalant.
“Oh, sure,” Ian said. “Because everyone likes to keep a cool one-point-six mill on hand in case they get in a jam, right?” He half-smiled, then caught sight of the next car. “Another Aston…theVanquish? And that’s a McLaren P1 beside it.” Ian’s eyes widened. “That’s another million dollars.”
“We mine that much gold in a few weeks,” I said.
His eyes went exceptionally wide at his next discovery. “A Bugatti Veyron? Good Lord. That’s one of the fastest production cars in the world.”
“We have one that’ll beat it,” I said.
Ian shot me a confused glance. “Which one?”
I smiled. “You’ll see.”
He caught sight of the next exotic car. “Oh, wow. A Koenigsegg. Are those even legal here in the U.S.?”
“Yep,” Murph said. “It holds the record for the highest speeding ticket ever written. 242 mph. I got it in Texas a week after we got the car.” He gave a low chuckle from his belly.
“That was you?” Ian said.
“Uh-huh.” A proud smile spread across Murph’s face. “The cop said he could take me to jail but that if he owned the car, he’d probably do the same thing.”
“Nice. That made national news.” Ian turned his head a little further to the right to see the supercharged Range Rover. “Your taste in SUVs is even good.”
I flashed a smile at him. “We like a fast getaway.”
Ian’s expression suddenly changed to bewilderment. “Do you ever get to drive these? Don’t you have to keep a low profile?”
“We’ve found that sometimes, the best way to stay off the Hunter’s radar is to stand out,” Joseph said. “If you were a Hunter, would you think people with powers would be bringing attention to themselves by driving exotic cars?”
“No, I guess not,” Ian said. “That’s kind of a gutsy move. I like it.”
“It’s worked for us so far,” Joseph said. “May not always, though.”
Ian walked to the right to see the last two cars in the lineup.
“Ah,” Ian paused, looking at the new BMW M3. “That’s one of my favorites, ’cause it could actually be in my price-range one day…maybe.”
The blue Bimmer was beautifully sleek. Fun to drive, too.
“Maybe you’ll get a chance to take it out tomorrow,” Joseph said. “I don’t think I’m ready to give you the keys to one of the exotics just yet. And besides, we don’t use that car for gold transporting. We use the one next to it.”
Ian caught sight of the last car in the lineup and shot me a look of disbelief. “You’re joking, right? An old Ford Taurus?”
“Hey, that’s my baby,” Murph said. “Don’t talk bad about her.”
Murph folded his arms, staring at Ian as he spoke. “Abby, which car is the most fun?”
I nodded at the jet-black Ford. “The Taurus.”
An offended frown sprang up on Ian’s face.
“Why is it the most fun car here?” Murph didn’t move a muscle, like a lawyer leading a witness with questions.
I stretched a devious grin slowly across my face. “Fifteen-hundred horsepower.”
“’Nuff said.” Murph nodded and took his victory.
“What the— How the—” Ian could no longer form full sentences. I loved it.
Murph pointed to the front, then back. “Thousand in the front. Five hundred in the back.”
Ian went slack-jawed. “It has two motors?”
“Three,” Murph said. “It’s a ’91 Taurus SHO. The stock motor’s a three-liter Yamaha V6 with some modifications, and we’ve got a massive centrifugal blower on it with two turbos to generate power for the two electric motors in the back.”
“Did you say electric motors?”
“In the back?”
“Uh-huh.” Murph was as serious as it gets. He didn’t joke about his baby. “We have two two-hundred-fifty horsepower electric motors in the trunk. One for each tire. The torque is crazy.”
“It’s all-wheel drive, too?”
It was fun watching Ian like this…like a kid in a candy store.
“Of course,” Murph said. “How else would it get traction?”
Ian just shook his head. “Why a Taurus, though?”
“Which would you rather drive if you were transporting a million in gold?” Joseph said. “An armored truck that’d draw attention to you and be hard to maneuver in a getaway or a car no one would ever suspect as a gold transport vehicle? A car so old, no one would even want to steal it.”
Realization washed over Ian’s face. “Smart.” Then he looked back at the exotics longingly.
The Taurus sat slightly lowered with its subtle cues that said I’m not your typical car. It wasn’t half bad looking…for a Taurus. Maybe it was some latent soccer-mom part of me that thought that.
Ian leaned toward me. “So you like cars?”
I half-smiled but didn’t answer. Nothing wrong with a little mystery in a girl.
“Almost forgot.” Joseph nodded to Artie.
Artie reached into his pocket and pulled out a small pouch, then tossed it to Ian. “Those are tranq neutralizer pills. If Hunters tranq you so that your powers won’t work, take two of those to neutralize the tranquilizer in your bloodstream. The tranqs will inhibit your powers within a couple of minutes, and the pills can take a minute or two to kick in, so you may be without your powers briefly.” Artie looked like he was done, then he suddenly started up again at his usual speedy, nervous pace. “If you use your powers after you’ve been tranqed, the tranquilizer will take effect quicker, leaving you without your powers sooner and for a longer period of time. Use them wisely.”
“Got it.” Ian stashed the pouch in his pocket.
Joseph tossed me the keys to the Taurus. “Load up the gold and let’s get some work done, people.”