Plots and Plans
“What did you learn?” I asked as Kenz slid into the booth across from me. It was still early morning, the sun not yet risen even though the eastern sky had begun to pale. Only a couple of hours had elapsed since Jones called. Kenz activated a Zone of Silence Mark IV and waved for the waitress. She was dressed in her Librarian uniform: dark blue tailored slacks, a matching tunic with gold trim and buttons, and a flowing cape. Unlike when we made the book deposit at The Second Story, she wore her normal face. I was in disguise. I whistled softly and she blushed. We had been married for a month now and she still had trouble getting used to the idea that she could turn my head so easily. I was still adjusting to it as well. We were both in our mid forties and had had little time for pursuing a relationships.
Kenz frowned, “Nothing yet. I will.” She reached for the sugar as our waitress set a steaming mug of coffee in front of her and then refilled mine. She smiled at the young woman, “Thank you Emma.” She waved away the offered menu. “I will have one waffle with strawberries and a side of bacon.”
The waitress hurried away, long black hair shining in the morning sun that streamed through the window. I leaned forward, hands reaching across the narrow table, my eyes intense. Kenz squeeze my hands in one of hers as she took a sip with a sigh. She avoided my gaze with a shake of her head. “You know I have to go in. I have to go to work.”
“You don’t. we could find another way. Kristen could…”
“No, Kristen couldn’t,” Kenz whispered intensely. She let go of my hands and brushed a strand of curly brown hair from her face. “We cannot put her in such a position. Yes, she is Shadow Web, and also Enforcement Division, but she cannot let the two overlap. She can, however, relay the information we seek to a Librarian 1st Class.”
I sighed and shook my head before taking a sip of my own coffee. “I still don’t like it. It is too dangerous for you. I would not be able to stand it if you got hurt. I got you into this.”
Kenz raised an eyebrow, eyes flashing sudden heat, “You got me into this? Yes, it was through you that I made contact with the Shadow Web.” She leaned forward until out noses were inches apart. “But I got myself into this. Why do you think I did not kill you or arrest you that night? Why do you think I gave you my private number? I love you John Smith, and I am glad you want me safe, but this is what I have been working toward all my life.”
I held up my hands in surrender, “Okay, okay. I get it.” I tried to smile, but I’m sure it looked more like a grimace. I didn’t say anything more. I might be dumb sometimes, but I knew better than to argue with Kenz when she had her mind made up. I didn’t have to like it.
“Those kids who disappeared from The Second Story have to be held somewhere on Library property. I plan to find out where. Then we can decide what to do about it,” Kenz said through gritted teeth. I would hate to be the one holding those teens when she found them.
I nodded, trying to control the shake in my hand as I reached for my mug. I patted the pockets of my coat, “I have some books to deliver. These have the messages we agreed on. I’ll wait to see if anyone finds them and contacts us.”
We finished our breakfast and I walked her to the door. On the sidewalk, I hugged her quickly and whispered, “Be safe, my love. I’m sorry I tried to take the choice away from you. Just please be smart.”
Kenz kissed me warmly and patted my cheek, “I will. Good luck with finding friends of the missing kids.”
I watched her from the door of the diner as she hailed a cab and disappeared into the morning mist.
Brin paced the length of Logan’s den, hands fluttering in front of her. She tried to keep her breathing even and controlled, because if she gave into her feelings she would totally lose it. The others stayed out of her way as much as possible. The others stayed out of her way. She might be the tiniest one in the room, but she was a force of nature when aroused to anger. Now she was a hurricane.
Irene shadowed Brin, black braid swinging as she moved. She wheeled on Logan, who was in a corner conferring with Kortney and Justin. “When is Abel supposed to get here? We need him.”
Logan didn’t answer. He looked up grim-faced and shook his head. His jaw was clamped, the muscles standing out in knots. Brin’s mouth fell open as if she had just realized how much the disappearance of their friends had affected him. He was quiet most of the time, but people looked up to him and expected him to lead, a role he relished. Brin forced her way between Logan and Justin and put her arms around him, “We’ll find them,” she whispered, her voice starting to crack.
Jack held up his phone, “Abel just messaged me. He knows. He said he’s looking from a couple more guys, then he’ll be here.”
Irene nodded, “So what’s next? I want to go to the store.” Audrey seconded the thought, and a few others chimed in their agreement.
“And do what, exactly,” Logan said quietly. “Are you planning to just march up Mr. Flores and demand to know what happened to our friends?”
Brin stood up and joined Irene, “If that’s what it takes, yes. I’m going with her.” Jack shrugged and joined them, then Kortney followed.
“Mr. Flores probably doesn’t know anything about it,” Logan replied as he rose and motioned Justin into motion. “I guess it wouldn’t hurt to check it out, though. We can at least look for clues. But if anyone talks to Flores, it should probably be me.” He caught Brin crossing her arms and added, “And Brin.” He checked the time on his phone, “Almost 10. The store will be open by the time we get there. Let’s move.” The group filed out of his den and began the hike into the center of the city.
Kate stirred with a moan. Her cheek was on fire from where the woman Babs had slapped her. She also had bruises along both sides, her ribs aching. There was a dim light from a small lamp shining and she could just make out Juli’s form to her right. Her friend slept fitfully, an occasional moan escaping her lips. Kate was thankful that the ED personnel had spared her face. The one named Anne had managed to calm her partner a little. There was just enough light to see another door besides the one that the guards had used and hoped it was a bathroom. Still, if she couldn’t get free, it would not help.
“Kate, are you awake?” a voice called out in the near darkness. Colt. Kate’s heart leaped in relief. He had not heard him even move for hours. The ED goons had really worked him over as they demanded to know what the teens knew about contraband books.
“Yes, I’m here. How are you?” Kate answered, whispering.
“I don’t think I have hurt this bad since the first day of football. Did they leave?” Colt asked. “How’s Juli?”
“Either passed out or sleeping,” Kate answered. “What are those jerks looking for? Why did they bring us here?”
“Banned books,” Colt replied. “It’s a good thing we didn’t have any on us. I know Logan found something good, but he had already left.”
Kate remained silent for a few moments. The sound of Juli’s breathing changed from slow and even to forced and ragged. Kate struggled against the straps that bound her. She desperately needed to pee and now Juli was in distress. “Colt,” she cried out, “We’ve got to help her. She’s in trouble.”
Colt grunted and gasped, straining and squirming in his seat. “Almost. Almost. A little more.” He gasped and slumped, exhausted. “I just need a little more slack. I tensed my arms when they strapped me in. There’s a little give, just not much.”
Kate held her breath as he rested and then started trying again. She could hear him strain and wished she could help.
“Kate, are you there? Where are you? Where am I?” Juli’s voice was weak and strained. Kate could hear the agony she felt.”
“Juli, try to calm down,” Kate soothed. “I’m here and so is Colt. He’s getting himself loose right now.” She hoped sounded more sure than she was. She took a deep breath. “Don’t you remember? Those ED thugs brought us here last night. How badly are you hurt?” Colt was still struggling with his bonds.
“I, I don’t know. Everything hurts and I need to go pee really bad,” Juli whimpered.
“That makes three of us,” Colt answered. He kept working at the straps. “Do either of you feel like anything is broken? Can you breathe okay?”
The girls didn’t have time to answer before Colt yelled in triumph, “Got it! I got my arm loose!” within moments he had freed his other arm and then his legs. He found the light switch, then hurried to release Kate, who helped him free Juli. She investigated the door and found a rest room. At least they would have that much comfort. Kate sent Juli first while Colt searched the room for anything they could use either to escape or to use as a weapon. Nothing. One small desk with a monitor and clock on it. The monitor was turned on, but blank. The system was down again.
Juli returned and Kate took her turn in the restroom. She felt more hopeful with that pressure off. While she was washing her hands, she heard a loud crash and hurried back to find Colt standing over the ruins of the desk. He had smashed it against the wall. He wrenched one of the legs the rest of the way off and handed it to Kate, who took it with a grin. He armed himself and Juli in a like manner, then went to take care of his own business. When he returned, he took up a station next to the door. “We might not get away, but at least we can return the favor for them hurting us!”