Chapter 11: Two Rooms
Making decent time, we arrived in Forks a little after two hours. A persistent rain welcomed us home. I didn't take my usual comfort in it. After two days we had accomplished nothing. There was only one slim silver lining.
Following several phone calls, Emmett obtained confirmation that an Edward Cullen had indeed landed at Sea-Tac airport. James had just an hour on us. If his plan was to connect with Victoria, with any luck we would corner him here.
Although James' allegiance with Victoria didn't present any true solidarity, the female may choose to interfere which would mean a death wish we would be obliged to honor. There was no relishing the prospect of it. I just wanted this whole thing over and done with. If that meant two vampires would meet their end, so be it.
When Carlisle spoke with Esme, she was minding the Swan home. Esme could see that Chief Swan had the TV on, but he was occupied with placing calls and leaving messages for Bella's mother. Knowing Charlie, he wouldn't get any rest until he knew his daughter was safe. When this was finished, Bella would have a lot of explaining to do.
It was settled that Esme would keep an eye on Chief Swan until we confirmed James was dead. Carlisle called Rosalie next.
"I lost her," was Rose's jaded greeting.
"Five minutes ago —"
"What do you mean you lost her!" I yelled before Rose could finish.
My sister fired back on top of me. "You heard me!"
Carlisle wouldn't hand the phone over when I reached for it. He continued, "What happened?"
Now at the front of our home, I slammed on the breaks waiting for a response. Rose didn't answer.
"Rose." Carlisle commanded.
"Look, she got away. I followed her through the park then she disappeared."
I banged my head against the back of my hands that were strangling the steering wheel.
After a few further seconds of silence Rose went on. "I didn't mean to lose her. She knew she was tagged. I kept my distance, but it was like she was tipped off."
"Rose, I want you to go to the Swan residence. In all probability Victoria is with James," Carlisle speculated. "We'll resume the search from here. You stay with Esme."
After hanging up the phone, he looked to me then to my brother as we entered through the front doors.
Emmett spoke up. "Right. We should split up. I'll take the park —"
"No, I'll take the park," I interrupted and pulled the backpack over my shoulder. After what we learned from Rose, it was likely that Victoria didn't go far to meet up with James. They could still be in the area. My brother figured this.
"They could be anywhere. Chances are they're not near Forks now." Carlisle was one step ahead of us. "Alice said she saw the tracker in two rooms. He should be heading there now, which means he will be in a place where there are people — a town, a city. But we should make certain that neither James nor Victoria are in this town or anywhere nearby."
My father then proposed, "I think one of us should search Forks beginning from town center while two scope out north and south. There's a chance we'll locate a recent trial. And we can box the tracker in."
Since the start of the hunt, I lacked perspective. I thought of myself as a surgeon operating on himself. My grossly impaired rationality made my efforts laughable. Taking my father's lead, I attempted to extrapolate forward, "If the tracker knows Bella isn't with us he might believe she never left Forks. Even if he believed she isn't here, he'd want to be sure."
Emmett knocked his fists together. "Well, when he doesn't find her, I'd be happy to add to his disappointment."
At this, my brother agreed to take the southern leg and I relented to take the northern half. Carlisle would begin his search in Forks. We set off immediately.
Midnight came too soon and without a promising outcome. In four hours, I had quartered territory as far north as Neoh Bay across to Port Townsend crisscrossing my way down the cape. Emmett had trekked down to Olympia then East to Tacoma. Carlisle was able to trace Victoria's scent in town. It was faint, but it was definitely vampire. There was not a whiff of James.
It was apparent that both he and Victoria were nowhere within the Peninsula. I, along with Carlisle and Emmett, assembled back at our home. In a perverse game of déjà vu, it was like we were reliving Diablo Lake again. It was pathetic.
Carlisle had brought out various maps and spread them out on the dining room table to decide our next tactic.
With a jump, my cell phone hummed against my chest.
"Alice?" I answered and hit the speaker button.
At once Carlisle and Emmett flocked around me.
"He's going to Bella's house," Alice warned.
"Let's move." I ordered.
I was about to flick the phone closed when Alice interjected, "No, listen. He's coming to Phoenix. Bella's house in Phoenix."
"What?" I said in sheer bewilderment.
"I had another vision of the VCR room. When I sketched it out, Bella recognized it as her mother's home. And there's another thing. The room with the gold band — it's the dance studio she went to years ago. It's not far from the house."
Alice's voice trammeled. "He's coming for her."
The cold venom that ran through my veins turned to ice.
Alice whispered into the silent connection, "Edward?"
"I can't believe this is happening…" I uttered leadenly. "I'm taking her away… out of the country…"
Emmett had the backpack in his hand after emptying it of anything that would be considered travel contraband and was crossing to the front door. I followed lockstep with my father beside me. The phone was still on speaker.
Carlisle took it from my hand. "Alice, we are going to get Bella out of there as soon as we can."
I gazed at my father too shell-shocked to protest.
"We're heading for the airport now," he said. "We'll call you before our flight." Then he closed the phone and placed it back into my pocket.
"Give me one moment." Carlisle disappeared upstairs to his study and reappeared with his medical bag. Emmett slanted a glance to me. He noticed the bag, too. We mutely agreed not to acknowledge the omen.
I remained taciturn when Emmett drove. Carlisle, seated in the back, was on his cell phone making arrangements. The side of my head fell unto the passenger window as I let my misery overtake me.
Emmett risked a look my way, "Hey bro, we got this."
When he realized I wasn't going to respond, he counted up his thumb and then his forefinger. "Get Bella the hell out of Phoenix. Then kill this tracker. Double done. No problem." Emmett said with over-confidence.
I sank into a bog but managed to lob a series of questions at him that weltered in my brain. "What about the dance studio? What about that? Alice saw James in that room first. Why would he be there? And where's the female in all this? We thought he came to Seattle to reconnect with her, but all this time he was on his way to Phoenix!?"
Emmett waited before answering me. "I don't know. There was always the possibility he'd go to Phoenix when he heard Bella plant that false lead. It just shows he's desperate." Contemplatively, he added, "He knows Bella's not with us. Okay. Point goes to him. His choices are to stay in Forks to lie and wait for her or head to a place that may offer more clues to her location. He has nowhere else to go."
Emmett took his eyes from the road and turned his head to me. "If he's in Phoenix, he's definitely snooping around, but we'll be long gone before he knows it."
I considered my brother's logic. "If he knew how close he is… Emmett, if anything were to happen to Bella…" I rubbed the heels of my hands into my eyes to erase my thoughts.
Carlisle finished his conversation with one of his travel contacts. "No charters are available until this afternoon. But there's a redeye leaving for Phoenix at three-thirty. We should be there before ten o'clock their time. This is the fastest option."
"That'll work!" My brother snapped his fingers, brighter siding things. "You see, we'll have Bella out of Arizona before James has any idea what's happening."
Disconsolate, I nodded as the Jeep skimmed the road with phantom speed.
Emmett had us at Sea-Tac within an hour. There was time to park the Jeep at an extended stay lot and for Carlisle to contact Esme with an update.
On the drive to the airport, Carlisle, Emmett and I established a new plan.
Once through the doors, we went straight to the gate where Emmett verified James' flight from Vancouver had landed. James' scent was there. It led to a ticket counter then to another gate in concourse three.
Learning from our last mistake, we didn't stop there. We frittered away four hours searching for him in the wrong location. We could no longer make assumptions about James' behavior.
I went to work in obtaining the passenger logs for flights from Seattle to Phoenix. After scanning restaurant stalls, I found an airline employee taking a break at a closed Burger King. There wasn't another soul. I stretched out my legs by the dozing gentlemen and filched his blazer slung over the chair beside him.
When we arrived at an unmanned area of the concourse, my father and brother had the most audible and diversionary discussion about some spoiled travel plans. I threw on the blazer slipping behind one of the many unattended counters. All that was missing was an official badge. Fortunately, hacking into one of the computer stations proved unproblematic.
The occasional traveler and the even less visible airport staff paid us little attention as they went about their sleep-deprived business. Already armed with what I believed was James' departure gate, what I needed to do required less than a minute.
There were two flights to Phoenix that James could have taken. As I toggled down the logs, I found a passenger who had purchased a ticket with cash minutes before a flight that left five hours ago. The name listed was Ralph Palazo.
A flashback of a stolen ID flared in my mind. Ralph Palazo, one of the victims James and his retinue murdered two days ago under a highway off-ramp. This was no coincidence. The tracker, under the dead man's name, had taken a flight that left from concourse three to Phoenix.
I made eye contact with Carlisle as I stepped out from behind the counter and shed the blazer.
"He went to Phoenix. He used an alias, but I recognized the name. It belonged to one of his previous kills."
Emmett placed a knuckle to his mouth. Damn, the bastard's good.
Carlisle vocalized his made-up mind. "We knew as much. But this will not affect our plans."
We checked in and made it through the metal detectors without incident. While Emmett examined an atlas included among the items in the backpack, Carlisle and I took to our cell phones booking several outbound flights from Phoenix. At the last minute, we would decide where to take Bella.
It took no time at all securing the various arrangements. Then everything halted. I scanned the space before me. A sense of isolation pervaded the airport and its nearly empty terminals.
I thought of Bella's home and the dance studio and the tracker's plans for them. By using my name, James expected that we would discover he returned to Seattle. However, he hid his next destination — Phoenix to those two rooms.
This monster was a veteran assassin. I didn't want to think of the blowback that could result from his change of tactics. Within my dormant humanity, a real mortal terror grew.
With the first announcement to board finally broadcasted, my body ached from the strain of keeping the anxiety inside me in check. It bit and pawed at me like a living thing.
I speed dialed Alice's number. "We're on our way. Keep her safe for me, Alice." I muttered quickly.
"I will." She promised.
Before either of us could say anything further, I rung off the phone. For two days I was without Bella. I was starved for her. I needed to see her, feel her, see for my own eyes that she was safe. If I spoke to her now, if I heard her voice, I wasn't sure how I would handle myself when again we had to say goodbye. Heartsick but headstrong, if I couldn't have all of Bella, I would wait.
Carlisle and Emmett stood on either side of me in a gesture of support. We observed first class passengers and other travelers create a line in front of a flight attendant checking boarding passes. Despite the early hour, the gate now hosted a small but respectable crowd.
I allowed my thoughts to discompose to the white noise of voices and visions of those around me. The second announcement came for the remaining travelers. Our party joined the shortening queue.
In a random sequence, I skipped from one mind to another through the concourse.
There was a glitch, an unaccounted splice in time. It might have been a hallucination, but it pulled my hair trigger alert. From the edge of a maintenance worker's vision, a flag of orange hair waved then disappeared behind a rectangular pillar.
I went pealing after it. Carlisle and Emmett were at my heels without question. There was no time to think, but as I ran, a name pushed past my lips, "Victoria."
I found the maintenance worker first who was just outside the concourse. I then spotted the pillar. Several feet from it was a door with a sign that read, "Authorized Personnel". Victoria's scent led right to it. Venom was pumping through my veins. My fingers closed over the door's metal handle.
A hand, Carlisle's hand preempted me. I whipped my head to glare at him.
"No," he said. "Even if she's on the other side of that door, it doesn't matter. We need to get to Phoenix." Carlisle emphasized each word and let go my arm. I was shocked to the point that my brain couldn't free a response.
A mumbled last call of our flight bleated over the terminal's PA system.
"Just Emmett then. He can still catch her!" I urged fanatically. Emmett stepped forward.
"No." Carlisle answered in a still yet incisive tone. My brother and I looked to Carlisle gobsmacked. "We must stick to the plan. There's no time now. Please trust me."
As we raced back to the gate, Carlisle opened his cell phone and got my sister on the line. "Rose, Victoria was here at the airport. I need you to get here now." Following an empty pause, Rose replied in an affirmative. He clicked off the call.
Emmett then voiced what we were both stewing about. "Victoria's probably warning James right now that we're on our way!"
"I know, son. But she would have done that before you caught up with her. Then what?" Carlisle said. "I wouldn't have been surprised if this was a trick to set off some alarm, to create a road block, trip us up somehow. Victoria has remained hidden until now. I don't think her appearance was a mistake on her part. We've been fortunate not to have any run-ins with the authorities, but we mustn't press our luck. If we went through that door we would have never made this flight. She doesn't want us in Phoenix. She probably believes we're on our way to kill James. Even if she's on her way to join him, this is the fastest means to get to him and to Bella."
My father reminded us of one of the many reasons why he was the leader of our family. Emmett and I were silent, cuing him that we supported his tact. My muscles were jittering from the letdown of inaction while my self-esteem was feeling the bruising from redefining stupidity. I was put out that I fouled up again, but I couldn't be more grateful for Carlisle's presence.
As we zipped past groupings of travelers at adjacent gates, our quick clip attracted attention. Emmett and Carlisle must have noticed when I did, faces that popped up in our direction. We slowed to an acceptable jog to our gate. It was almost empty.
"Gentlemen, you've cut it close." The flight attendant reprimanded but still took our boarding passes.
I walked ahead then turned to Carlisle, "I'm sorry." Emmett added a contrite expression to my apology. Carlisle squeezed my arm and placed his other hand that held his bag to Emmett's back. Together we walked through the gate.
At the end of the corrugated tunnel another flight attendant greeted us and examined our ticket stubs.
"Row eighteen E, F, and G is on your right." The flight attendant grinned brightly when we went by. I had my fill of airports today.
"You have enjoyable flight, now. We should be in Phoenix in no time."
No time was precisely what I had.