Chapter 10: Impatience
Into the night, we had gone north up the 113 then east on the 112 skirting the Sound. We wouldn't risk a course that included any hindrances and opted for a seemingly indirect route to maintain momentum. The tracker in keeping with the plan followed the Jeep as we dropped south to Tacoma then north on the 5 in straight shot. James maintained a calculated distance.
Emmett pointed out that like us, the tracker was keeping out of range from our prying ears while he communicated with his accomplice, Victoria. That may be part of the reason for his caginess. Yet, something wasn't quite right. James was suspicious. If Emmett was correct, and through Victoria, James learned that other vehicles left our home, the tracker would know something was up.
It was my presence that kept him on our trail, that and Jasper's decoy. The way I had reacted in the field convinced James that I would never leave Bella. This is what I banked on as we raced to the North Cascades where an ambush awaited him.
When the snow-shawled mountain range that spined from Washington to British Columbia came into view, an impatience closed over me. Carlisle and Emmett caught my mood. We wanted to take this James out quickly.
Dawn was few hours away when a signpost announced our intended destination was within miles. The migratory occurrence of black bears, cougars, and the occasional grizzly made the North Cascades a decent hunting ground for my family. We knew the terrain well. It was chosen for this operation for that very reason.
The road entered a pass where the trees' long branches ribbed out like flying buttresses in a cathedral. With Carlisle still flooring the gas, I looked to Emmett. Simultaneously, we both shoulder-rolled out of the Jeep and out of sight.
We moved from one hiding place — a tree, a boulder — weaving a shallow pattern on either side of the road. James' scent was in the air, but damn if I could place it. His thoughts were even more elusive. Every attempt to sync up with his mind failed. When we backtracked to the open highway, James still remained unseen and unheard.
It was decided Carlisle would park the Jeep and safeguard the area around it knowing the tracker would seek out Bella there. We could triangulate more effectively with a stationary target. Emmett and I split up on either side of the road scouting for James' trail.
He was near. I could feel it even if the forest wouldn't give him up. Moving in increments, I allowed myself to sense for a displacement, the slightest disturbance in the atmosphere. The minutes could have been hours as I waited for an inkling of his exact whereabouts.
Then without prescience, James' thoughts surrounded me in an animal call. My head and body twisted in a whirlwind. Ultimately, with viewfinder focus, I spotted him standing on a rise of earth a number of miles away. Venom pounded through my limbs feeding my nerves and muscles. Now the hunter becomes the quarry.
Centering the tracker in my sights, I waggled my fingers at him bidding him to come, to settle this now. The only gesture he made was a smirk of boredom.
Signaling Emmett, I charged through the densely foliated glen in a direct line to James while Emmett looped around to close in from behind. I swiftly closed the gap between us. In a few moments, I was going to wring the flesh from his face.
"Amateurs…" the tracker yawned then back-sprung off the butte disappearing from view.
I shot forward like a cold seeking missile and found James retreating into the compact forest. I gave chase but immediately lost visual contact. Layers of panic packed my chest. I knew he couldn't outrun me, but he was a far better trickster. My only chance to salvage our plan was to trap him here.
There was a vibe in the air that a hunt was in progress. The living inhabitants who called this place home seemed to sense it. The report of wildlife scattering from an area several miles to my left indicated James was heading toward Diablo Lake. "Lake," I texted Emmett and rushed ahead in my pursuit.
At an overlook, I glimpsed James circumference the steep lakeshore. He peered up at me archly before cutting in between two birches. Their rapier-like branches gave the impression of swordsmen about to duel. That's just what I wanted.
In no less time it would take to hurl a rock through those sparing birch trees, I pushed my way into the valley. The frenzied first wave of fleeing animals set off a rippled exodus throughout the vicinity giving way to a stuffing silence. Even the wind and water became inert.
"It's just me and you now. Come out and face me you coward!" My voice went no further than the space before me, but James heard me.
I scanned the shoreline of Diablo Lake and found Emmett a mile upriver. I pointed into woods behind me. Emmett nodded and ran towards its direction. As I turned away from the lake, the turquoise pool gurgled an incoherent warning. Spanish explorers had named these waters and its surrounding forest primeval after the devil. I felt his presence here. In one fast move, I elbowed into the ranks of soldier pines and aspens to meet him.
The fragrance of maidenhair and licorice covering the understory of ferns was carried by the moisture in the air. But in its package was the scent of an immortal. "Show yourself!" I shouted. There was no answer. There was no sound.
James' scent led me east where the rainforest's lush plant life thinned under a more sere climate. After countless miles and several false leads, I crossed courses with my brother.
If either one of us cornered the tracker, we were to text our location or let out a signal that would be picked up by our supersensory hearing. For hours there was nothing but the song of the forest. Emmet was shaking his head as we both came to a stop.
Have we lost him? He husked inwardly. My brother's frustration was only outmatched by my own. We both understood that if we didn't kill James here, our con would be uncovered. And to my dismay, it appeared the tracker had decamped completely.
My cell phone purred in my pocket. It was a text from Carlisle that read, "ER back clear here." In the event of being hacked or tapped, it was established protocol that we spoke and texted briefly and in code. From my father's message, I learned that Esme and Rosalie had returned to Forks and that Carlisle was just as unlucky with the tracker as we had been.
It was well after noon when we met up with him. He had remained in the proximity of the Jeep that was parked far off State Route 20 and had hid Bella's decoy underneath the backseat. If the tracker came within radius of the Jeep, his vampire vision would recognize the dress form as an imposture. But at the very least, its complete disappearance would hopefully stump him.
Carlisle placed Bella's t-shirt in my hand that he removed from the stashed decoy and saved for me. I hefted the folded fabric. Bella's scent winnowed into the air before I tucked her t-shirt in my inner pocket.
Crestfallen, I hung my head. "There's no trail. No sign. Nothing."
"What about Rose and Esme?" Emmett flopped his eye-line onto Carlisle.
"They drove west on the 101 and made it to Olympia before running out of gas. Victoria double backed to Forks. Rosalie was able to track her on foot."
Despite our streak of losses, the scent confusion stunt had held the female's interest long enough for Bella to make her escape. They must be past the Arizona border by now. She was safe, but at this stage it was by no means permanent.
James had left nothing leading nowhere. Unlike tracking an animal or even a human, there were no footprints, no telltale broken shrubbery or flattened vegetation, nor interruptions in the soundscape. Natural order remained undisturbed. There was only his scent trail that at times jinked in a straightaway only to be lost to sharp angles and reappear again in another confounding location.
From our clash on the baseball field, he knew we were fighters, but he also now knew we were not the most experienced trackers. And he called our bluff. It appeared we were victims of some elaborate stagecraft in retaliation to our poorly mounted ruse.
My patience was wearing thin. It was as if, like mind-reading was for me, invisibility was his talent.
Then abruptly my thoughts congealed as warning chafed against my skin. A voice that contained all the warmth of prerecording squirmed into my head. Amateurs…
My muscles corded wanting to twist away from my bones. "He's here!" I cursed.
Carlisle and Emmett lunged forward onto their hands readying for an attack. I scented the air. There was nothing. They did the same and likewise came up empty.
With the Jeep as the center, we spread out like spokes from a wheel. There was an unappeasable need in me to hurt something, to kill something. KILL JAMES.
A short diameter away, Emmett yelled out, "Got it!" When I sided my brother in the pursuit, James' scent at last ribboned the air. He was close.
Carlisle went to retrieve the Jeep. I texted the word, "South" then boosted my speed, quickly outstripping Emmett. Kicking over the forest floor, my heels never met the ground. I couldn't lose the tracker. I would not lose him.
For half a day, we hung on James' trail always one move behind. The sky's pallet had turned a dreary boiled gray. Its low cloud cover folded over each end of the horizon like a dirty quilt. Sheltered from the sun, we could travel unencumbered. It also meant the tracker held the same advantage.
At an outlying suburb of Vancouver, Carlisle pulled into a gas station to refuel the Jeep and call the hospital alerting them that he was attending to a family emergency. That was what this was a million times over.
Vancouver was as far as we were able to trace James. Yet, there was no evidence he had fled the area. Emmett and I had ringed the perimeter, checked every point of egress. Unless he escaped by way of the Pacific, our instincts told us that he was lurking somewhere within Vancouver's limits and might be ferreted out.
With a full tank of gas, Carlisle ditched the Jeep at a Radisson subterranean car park to join our search party on foot. We remained separated to cover as much ground as possible. We were to report to each other every hour, but before the next hour's deadline, my cell phone came alive in my hand. "Airport." It was a text from Emmett. My anger and frustration developed planetary proportions.
When I found myself in a vacant alley, I gouged one wall with my fists and kicked a hole in another. I arrived at the car park with my father only moments after me. Carlisle's battered expression said what I already realized.
James knew Bella wasn't with us. He didn't go to the airport to leave a false trail. He had boarded a plane. The tracker's best option was to go back to where this began. He was on his way back to Forks and would most likely reconvene with Victoria to decide their next strategy. His choice was obvious. That we lost him again, distant warnings belled.
This time I drove and made it to the airport without any idea how we got there. We assumed Emmett would be curbside waiting to be picked up. But adding to my ailing patience, he was nowhere in view. I ditched the Jeep in a loading zone and along with my father blew through the automatic glass doors.
It was nearing evening and at an interval when the usual airport bustle was at an ebb. At the far end of a ticket counter, I found my brother. He was conversing with an airline agent as Carlisle and I approached.
Emmett glanced over to us. "Oh, here they are. Kimberly, I'd like you to meet my father, Dr. Cullen, and this is my brother, Edward."
The agent detached her gaze from Emmett to rest it on Carlisle and then after a prolonged second to me. Gee! She commented interiorly. From her Midwestern accent, I recognized she was a fellow Chicagoan turned Canadian resident. Carlisle and I both nodded in reply at Emmett's introduction.
"This is Kimberly." My brother unfurled his hand to her. "She's kindly assisting me with our… situation. Aren't you, Kimberly." Emmett's high wattage grin reminded me of a denture commercial. As for Kimberly, her equally affected smile overshadowed her other features.
"Um, Kimberly? Paging Kimberly," Emmett teased. Her eyes climbed back onto him and flickered skittishly under a fringe of blonde bangs. But when Emmett's fingers danced in midair, she attacked the keyboard.
Carlisle and I remained silent as my brother continued, "You see, I explained to Kimberly how our cousin James, released from institutional residency, may have took an unauthorized holiday." Emmett punctuated this line with a wink to the airline agent. "We just want to make sure he's okay without any needless entanglements."
This is what Bella meant by, "dazzling." I've witnessed it performed by any member of my family. As Bella often accused, I've employed it myself. However, this time, with surgical concentration, I watched my brother make his finest effort to glean information that could put us back on James' trail.
An agent three computer terminals away cocked a suspicious eye toward our little grouping. His nameplate advertised himself as, "Cooper." He wiped a hand over his bald head and took a step in our direction. But in a moment of fortuity, a harried traveler plopped a carryon on the counter before him. A vein that forked on Cooper's forehead wiggled.
Edward, security cameras. My father mutely cautioned. He shifted himself in such a way that obstructed the view of two visible surveillance cameras. I did the same. We couldn't block all of the cameras covering this end of the ticket counter, but any amount of visual impediments would help deter curious airport security. There was still the matter of Cooper as I held him in my peripheral vision to my left.
In between checking in piece after piece of luggage, he volleyed investigative glances toward his coworker's direction. Under my brother's spell, Kimberly remained unaware of any scrutiny and continued her arpeggios on the keyboard.
The traveler at Cooper's terminal then initiated an argument about checking in her Bichon Frise dangling in a carrier under her arm. Beads of sweat appeared on the agent's reddening pate, and his interest in Kimberly's project atrophied.
"Here you go. These are the passenger manifests for the four flights that left for Sea-Tac in the last five hours." Kimberly simpered as she passed Emmett a sheave of papers and engaged him with a look one could only describe as worshipful.
The ego boost my brother enjoyed at being able to do something good in this bad situation plummeted when he examined the lists. His thoughts smudged together before I could read them. Then remembering himself, Emmett took the agent's hand and remarked, "Kimberly, you rock. Your attention to customer service is only eclipsed by your beauty." And he kissed her hand.
Kimberly stretched out for Emmett as he backed away from the counter. My shoulder bumped into his when I stole the papers from him.
"Thank you Kimberly, you were a great help," Carlisle concluded then joined us as we disappeared past the doors.
Emmett told Carlisle, "He took a puddle jumper to Seattle."
"What is it?" My father queried when Emmett and I stalled near the Jeep that remained unmolested in the loading zone.
I showed Carlisle one of the lists. Through his eyes I saw it again. Passenger #44 Edward Cullen. Icicles formed on the back of my neck. The tracker somehow used my name for his escape to Seattle.
Half-crazed, I stared numbly at the road careering the Jeep past the outflows of airport traffic back to the highway. Downshifting gears, it willingly accepted an abusive velocity. For the most part, neither one of us said another word as we sped southward toward Washington. The upbraiding silence was only broken when I pounded the steering wheel and repeated chain after chain of expletives.
James may be demented, but he wasn't stupid. When he discovered our ruse, he opted against a clean getaway and risking entrapment, chose to goad me to resume the chase. He wouldn't have done so without a plan. But what of his plan? What were his motives?
Although blocked in obtaining his prize, he was disturbingly unconcerned. Avoiding combat, but maintaining a trace, it seemed he didn't want to lose being hunted as much as I didn't want to lose him as my prey. He was not only a skilled tracker but a trained target. James actions were enigmatic as they were aggravating, capably eluding every single one of my telepathic nets.
There was one thing I did learn. The tracker was disappointed. When I glimpsed his thoughts in the Cascades, the game was becoming tiresome. James was expecting a challenge, a perfect unalloyed experience. But for him, this contest lacked the complexity, the sophistication he yearned for. He deemed this event beneath even that of a children's board game.
My mind drifted, and I was reminded of another game that I've observed humans play with children. Someone would stick out their palm and prompt, "Gimme five!" and the child would slap the offered hand. The instigator would raise their hand higher and encourage, "Up high!" and the child would eagerly swat the hand again. "Down low!" and the extended hand would drop several inches from its starting point. As the small hand swung over to hammer the last "gimme five," it would miss as the presented palm retracted all together along with the taunt, "You're too slow…" James was right. We were amateurs.
The sun was making its vanishing act behind a tarp of clouds hastening the night to begin its shift. Free from the danger of being overhead, Carlisle was on the phone to Esme.
"She went straight for the Swans', but everything's okay. Chief Swan wasn't home," Esme reported.
An early bird, Charlie had already departed for work. Esme was staying on him for protection. She ordered Rose to cover Victoria.
Rosalie was fully, although begrudgingly, on board and had tracked Victoria from the Swan residence to the high school, the Thriftway, the roads leading in and out of Forks, and out to SeaTac. Though, just as her male counterpart, Victoria proved a challenge to shadow.
"Darling, we just left the airport. We believe James will be landing in Seattle and headed for Forks," Carlisle cautioned.
"I see…" Esme's voice held all the distress that I could no longer keep at bay.
Carlisle relayed that she was to stick with Charlie. Rose was to watch Victoria who would inevitably reunite with James. They were to keep clear of the hostiles until we arrived.
"I love you, too. Be safe." Carlisle spoke into the phone before snapping it closed.
In a lost corner of my mind flared a memory when Bella's greatest threat was — me.
Despite Emmett's and Carlisle's companionship, within the confines of the Jeep, a capacious loneliness came over me.
Carlisle detected what would be fractional changes to human perception. He verbalized my thoughts into action. "We should call Alice."
When I dipped my head in agreement, he had my sister on the phone and rapidly recounted what Esme had told him.
Knowing Bella was just on the other side of line, I was desperate to rip the phone from Carlisle's hand but demoralized after another fiasco. What would I say to her?
"How's Bella? Is she all right?" Carlisle inquired.
We didn't wait long for a reply.
Both relieved, Carlisle responded with, "Good."
He then updated her on what meager progress we had made. I grew more dispirited.
"He's on a plane back to Forks," Carlisle sighed his discouragement.
Even though we could hear their conversation perfectly well, my sister's next words prompted Carlisle to switch on the mobile's speaker function placing it in its holster on the dash.
"I just saw him."
She then explained the scene she witnessed — a long room with wooden floors and mirrors that wrapped along the space, their coverage only interrupted by a horizontal band of gold that bisected the walls into two halves — James watching and waiting. She went on to describe another vision of the tracker operating a VCR and studying the fuzzy lights and images of a television screen.
Alice said conclusively, "Whatever made him get on that plane… it was leading him to those rooms."
I gripped the cell phone in a fist and asked for Bella.
"Bella?" Alice questioned. Before I repeated myself Bella's voice broke through.
"Hello?" she muttered breathlessly.
I tamped down competing feelings of longing and fear and thumbed the phone off from speaker.
"Bella." I made my voice sound even.
"Oh, Edward! I was so worried."
"Bella," I hauled in a long breath, "I told you not to worry about anything but yourself." Her line of concern was all wrong, but hearing her, knowing she was safe, salved any annoyance.
"Where are you?"
Keenly aware of Bella's stress-laden tone, I said, "We're outside of Vancouver. Bella, I'm sorry — we lost him. He seems suspicious of us — he's careful to stay just far enough away that I can't hear what he's thinking. But he's gone now — it looks like he got on a plane. We think he's heading back to Forks to start over."
"I know. Alice saw that he got away."
I had lost the tracker and Bella knew it. Failure challenged my honor, my pride, and by admission, my ego. There was only one consolation. James was going to a place where she wasn't.
My confidence in that part of plan bolstered me a little. "You don't have to worry, though. He won't find anything to lead him to you. You just have to stay there and wait till we find him again."
"I'll be fine. Is Esme with Charlie?"
There was something about what she said and the way she said it that had my alarm bells ringing again, but she had also asked about her father. "Yes — the female has been in town. She went to the house, but while Charlie was at work. She hasn't gone near him, so don't be afraid. He's safe with Esme and Rosalie watching."
"What is she doing?"
"Probably trying to pick up the trail. She's been all through the town during the night. Rosalie traced her through the airport, all the roads around town, the school… she's digging, Bella, but there's nothing to find."
"And you're sure Charlie's safe?"
"Yes, Esme won't let him out of her sight. And we'll be there soon. If the tracker gets anywhere near Forks, we'll have him."
"I miss you."
"I know, Bella. Believe me, I know. It's like you've taken half my self away with you."
"Come and get it, then," she dared in that tiger-kitten way that always slayed me.
"Soon, as soon as I possibly can. I will make you safe first."
"I love you."
Her voice floated the hundreds of miles to me.
"Could you believe that, despite everything I've put you through, I love you, too?"
"Yes, I can, actually."
"I'll come for you soon."
There were tears in the breathing between her words. "I'll be waiting."
After a silent farewell, I slowly folded the phone. When the connection was lost a dark pneumatic feeling blotted my heart.