Road Whose Course Does Not Turn Back

Chapter 10

It wasn't often that Nancy felt like fighting. Admittedly she had a temper, but most days she found herself able to tie it down. She was no longer the irascible girl she'd been when she was sixteen. Her father had taught her early on to control the rage in response to injustices long enough to think through how to right them. But things at the site had quickly gotten confusing. Nobody's allegiances were completely clear. Well, Lou's was. He considered himself his own ally. At least Nancy knew where he stood—he didn't want to be here at all. But she didn't know why Holly, Richard, and Alex wanted to be here. She didn't have time to talk to them to find out. Sonny barely seemed to care about the black market's presence here. He had his own agenda, and he didn't even know what it was. Or at least, he didn't seem to. That irritated her.

But at the top of her mind was Dylan. His vagarious loyalties were more than irritating. They were disconcerting. Nancy knew people could change, but for some reason she could only barely bring herself to give him the benefit of the doubt.

All of these contributed to her current bad mood.

She kept at it, though. Maybe she could figure out Dylan's behavior yet. Carson also taught her not to jump to conclusions. That got in the way of finding the truth. So maybe she was wrong about Dylan.

Maybe he was talking to others on Henrik's team and she hadn't noticed.

Not that she thought that was the case, but it didn't hurt to exhaust all the possibilities.

She turned to look for a familiar head of orange hair to consult, only to find that Sonny didn't appear to be around. Frowning, she walked toward the hill that hid the vehicles.

Then she saw him. Or rather, a tuft of orange, dark with the darkening light, among the grass and moving with the breeze. It rose at the sound of her footsteps.

"Nancy." Sonny broke into a small, closed lip smile. His eyelids drooped and were slow to blink.

As she approached she saw that he had been lying face-down. Apparently she had interrupted his nap.

"You look tired," she said, speaking her observations aloud.

"Just waiting for the tents to go up." He pushed himself up with his elbows and sat back on his ankles. "What's going on?"

"They're putting up the tents." Nancy sat down in front of him. "You could help, you know."

"I could," he said.

Nancy waited for him to continue this thought. When he didn't, she spoke. "Has Dylan been talking to you?"

"Huh?" Sonny's brow wrinkled in confusion. "No. Why? Is that important?"

"Could be." Nancy watched the tents rise. The workers were all on the other side, making it look that the fabric rose by itself. "He didn't really want to talk to me just now. He's not talking to anybody else we came with, either. It's almost like he's trying to… distance himself. Be careful around him."

"Do you always assume the worst when you see things?"

"Prepare for. I prepare for the worst."

"Maybe you should chill out," Sonny yawned. "He probably just had a bad day."

Her teeth jammed together. She knew she'd say that. She could tell herself she didn't feel like fighting today. But it'd be a lie. There was still so much unsaid about everything. "I came here to do a job." She stared at him. "It's my job to notice these things."

"No. It's your job to help me find evidence that this place is significant," he replied, unaffected.

Nancy bristled. "It's my job to look for evidence of illegal sales since in your case I'm still not convinced I'm looking for anything."

This seemed to hit the mark. His lips pulled inward. His eyes narrowed. "This? Still?"

"Look. We've established that you tend not to pay attention to the people you enlist to help. You hire them and then leave them to their own devices. You don't see if they're in trouble. You don't see if they're turning away and helping the people we're supposed to be investigating. That puts everybody in danger." Nancy said coolly. It had to be said, she told herself. It was ugly, but it had to be said.

He sat up. "I don't investigate people. I investigate places. And maybe, just maybe, people don't need to be babysat. Dylan knew what he was getting into."

"I thought Jamila talked to you about putting other people in danger."

"She did. And now I'm informing the people of danger beforehand. Not just dragging them out here, since you all seemed to hate that." He raised his hands in the air, spreading them outward to denote a headline. "Giant, bright disclaimer with neon letters and five exclamation points."

"But how is that enough?" Nancy's voice rose over his, "when you're looking for something that isn't real? How is that worth putting people's lives in danger? How can you justify it for eyegoggles?"

"That's why," he began deliberately, "I tell them about risks and let them decide. It's not on me to justify it anymore."

"But he didn't know about the alien stuff. Isn't that right?"

"I don't know what Jamila told him."

Nancy crossed her arms. "Maybe you should know."

"Why is this a problem? We're not killing people or drowning puppies. One of the side effects is making everybody see what's happening here. Illegal sales. Isn't that right up your alley?"

"But you couldn't care less about that, could you?"

He looked at her as if she had three heads. "Of course I do!" he protested.

"Then why don't you look into those?"

"Because they have people for those. Like you. That's not my area of expertise."

"Fine. You look into the place," Nancy spat, "while I clean up your mess by seeing no one gets hurt."

His eyebrows rose incredulously. "Mess?" he scoffed, sweeping his arm outward. "Does this look like a mess?"

Looking out at the sky, Nancy agreed it was beautiful. "But you're not deceived by appearances," she pointed out. "You have to know there's something behind all this."

"Right now, there isn't. It's just you, me, and the sun setting."

She shook her head. "You don't get it. You know what this looks like? Does the world ever look like aliens were here?"

"To me it does."

"To most people it doesn't. But you don't listen to most people, do you? You don't buy into appearances." She paused. "It's my job to catch everything behind that. I see the parts."

"I see the whole," Sonny said quietly, meeting her eyes.

Silence.

"Do you maybe want to work with me again after this?"

"I'd have to think about it," she replied before she could agree.

"Take your time," he said at the same time.

She chuckled, dispelling the awkwardness. "I will."

Nancy looked at her knees while Sonny's gaze went to the sunset.

"About Dylan," Sonny leaned his head to the side and rubbed his ear against his shoulder, "what were you saying about him?"

"He's distancing himself. Right now I have no idea why."

"Well, I hope it's just a bad day."

"So do I."

Nancy's hands fidgeted in her lap. She didn't know how to broach the next topic. "José talked to me earlier," she began finally.

"I saw that he did. Everything all right?"

"At first I thought he suspected me of something. He'd always be staring at me like he didn't trust me."

"Do you think we're still safe here?"

"Yeah," she laughed shortly, "actually. Turns out he wanted my help. He was just figuring out whether he could trust me."

"And of course he can completely trust you," Sonny quipped.

"Of course." Nancy deadpanned. "And everything does seem to be going perfectly here. Except for one thing."

Sonny said nothing, but he looked impatient, like his life hinged on these types of cliffhangers.

She took pity on him and continued. "They suspect Dylan. José does, at least. He actually wants me to work against him, find proof that he isn't to be trusted."

"Oh," he replied. "Well it's lucky they got you for it, then."

Nancy became puzzled. "Why lucky?"

"Because you can look out for him. Hide everything from José."

"But José is going to expect me to give him something. I can't just say, 'Oh, by the way, Dylan's a stand-up guy. See you later.'"

"Then be careful. Keep saying you need more time."

"I'll do what I can, but I'm sure that José will be keeping an eye out, too. If he sees Dylan doing something suspicious, I can't really deny it without him seeing that I'm trying to cover for him. I can't give too much conflicting information."

"What's your approach going to be?"

"Right now, I don't know. But I don't think we have much time left here. I can find a way to stall for a little bit. The only one they don't trust is Dylan. And I can't make them trust Dylan. Dylan has to do that himself." She paused thoughtfully. "I don't know if I trust him, either. And José won't just let go of that anyway. I think we have to hurry."

"Feeling the time crunch, huh?"

"Yeah. You?"

"Yeah, although it's disappointing." Sonny's voice lowered. "I know a little bit about Mayan glyphs, and I brushed up more on it before leaving. Also I brought a book or two. If we find anything with text, I think I'm prepared."

"And if we don't find anything?" Nancy asked, surprising herself when she felt a pang at the thought.

"We leave. If we didn't find anything, it isn't the right time." Sonny picked at some dirt with his hand and shrugged. "But I think it is the right time."

"Okay," said Nancy.

He looked at her. "Do you have any more theories for the symbol on the bowl?"

"Working on it."

"Yeah, well, try not to lose sleep over it. You seem like the type."

She smiled at her knees. "I won't."

For what seemed like hours they sat in front of the sky, not thinking about anything, not even each other. But the sun sank slowly, dragging time across its eyelid. Nancy's mind was peacefully blank before a realization burst forth. Why she so badly wanted to find something here. Sheepishly she smiled and laughed a little, turning away and catching a few stray hairs in front of her eyes. "I need to know what's going on. Just like every other case. I was waiting for it to set in."

"Hmmm." Sonny jerked his head toward her. "You need to know what's going on?"

"Yeah," she admitted with another chuckle.

"Do you?"

"Yes." She replied hesitantly. Where was this going?

"How did the pyramids get built?"

"I don't know."

"Do you need to know?"

Her eyes flashed. "Yes."

"You've gone twenty years without knowing."

"Enough!" She groaned. "It's just something I've been thinking about lately."

"We're not going to find all of the answers here. Just some of them. And something I think is an answer probably won't be an answer for you. Let's be honest."

"So?" Nancy asked.

"So," Sonny inflected, tilting his head, "we're not going to find everything here. All we need's about two thirds. That's what it was last time."

"With the beacon?"

"With the beacon."

Nancy thought back to Pacific Run. It was a little hazy in her mind, swirled around memories of a breakup, a letter home she'd written in full denial—she turned her head farther away—a conversation, a kiss.

"Did you think about the beacon? What lay behind that?"

"I-" Nancy tried to remember late nights after getting back, tossing and turning on two pillows and an idea. Nothing came to her. She'd actually slept well after that case. Yes, she squinted upward, now that he mentioned it, she had once said she almost wanted to know where the stories ended. But after that she must have forgotten, had never turned to wanting. "No," she said in astonishment. She turned to him. "No, I didn't."

He bit his lip and stared down at the grass, looking pleased for some reason Nancy couldn't quite put her finger on. "I've thought about what you said that first night," he said to a blade of grass. "I thought about what you said in River Heights when I came to ask for your help, and I thought about what you told me last week."

Nancy didn't know what he was alluding to, and she was beginning to feel sorry she had ever opened her mouth around him at all.

"You're not the girl who finds all the answers, but you want them all," he remembered pensively, curving forward with his head bowed. There was some solemnity to the gesture that made Nancy uncomfortable in relation to the introspective conversation topic. "You tried turning down a case. You've never turned down a case."

She sighed. "And where should I suppose you're going with this?"

"No clue." Sonny shrugged. "I don't know where I'm going with it."

Nancy rolled her eyes.

"Wait." He straightened. "I know where I was going with it."

"I came to the same conclusion and if it's all the same to you I'd rather not hear it twice in one day," she cut across.

"Fair enough, I guess, Nancy. Just be careful."

She rose. "In order to be careful, I've got to go."

"Tell me when you've got a theory on that bowl, all right?"

"Will do." She started to walk off to the tent.

Then stopped.

She still had to broach a final subject. About what José thought her intentions were with these conversations with Sonny. The one she was dreading. "Oh," she added, "and now he thinks we're spending so much time together because I'm interested in you."

At this Sonny nodded slowly. His mind was elsewhere, she noted. "And he wants you to spy on Dylan. Cover him as best as you can. I'll work on the artifacts."

"We don't have any with text yet," Nancy reminded.

"I know. But I can try and think back to other artifacts that have been found and look for connections. We'll find what we need in time." Sonny craned his neck backward at her. "Keep me updated about Dylan, too. Look for how much they trust him."

Nancy laughed. "If you're worried about what Jamila told you, I doubt she's all that concerned over Dylan getting killed."

After a few seconds he joined in halfheartedly, filling the air with soft, airy chuckles. "That's not going to happen."

"Good." She continued walking. "You can go back to your nap now."

"Nah." Sonny rocked forward onto his knees and stood. "Think I'll go back too." He caught up with her, and they continued talking about everything unrelated to the case just as stars started filling the sky.


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