Ell

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Epilogue

The air still smelled of smoke.

Reeves waved a hand in front of his face, trying with little success to ward off the unpleasant odor. The fire had started in the gardener's building, hopping to the generator shed via a liquid fuse of splattered gasoline. It had clearly been meant to spread to the hospital itself, but aside from a badly scorched section of wall, the oversized facility remained untouched by the blaze.

The fire interested him little. Arson was something he'd seen before, something he knew how to deal with. It was the rest of the whole bloody mess that really irked him. The bastard had just waltzed right in, killed half the staff, probably Elinor as well, and vanished into the night like some psychopathic phantom.

Irritated, Reeves flipped open his phone, pressing four on the speed-dial. The second the line connected, he snapped out, “Kent, where the hell are you?”

“On the way, sir. Just following up with the site supervisor, they've finished with the staff interviews. I thought you'd like that info in my report.”

“Yes. Thank you. Hurry.”

“Yessir.”

Reeves hung up.

From the front, Elm Hope Hospital looked quite peaceful and serene. Had it not been for the numerous police and federal vehicles arrayed across the front parking lot, one would never have been able to tell that anything out of the ordinary had occurred.

The hospital's main door slid open, allowing a wiry young man to exit the lobby. Robin Kent had only been an agent for three years, but had already made a name for himself as the FBI's leading on-site investigator. He'd been assigned to Reeves as assisting investigator, and was already proving himself to be an invaluable asset

“Good morning, sir. Want the papers, or shall I deliver the report verbally? There are several key issues I'd like to express my-”

“Papers,” Reeves grunted.

Kent nodded, disappointed, and handed over the bulging folder.

Reeves flipped through a few of the sheets, his attitude slowly shifting from anger to dismay. Things had gone just about as badly as they could have.

“The doctor in charge, this, ah, Anderson. He's dead?”

“Yes sir, we found him at the entrance to the garden maze they have out back. I was waiting on the autopsy report before I filled in that section, but it's... ah, it's pretty disturbing. Looked like a bear ate his face off. Our shooter never made it out that far, so we really have no idea what happened to him. Took a good chunk out of his stomach, too, the white-coats are finding intestines more than thirty feet from the body.”

“And the shooter. You have him?”

Kent pursed his lips. “Nope. He shot about fifteen of the medical personnel before our man Isaac put a round into him. We found about half the psycho's blood on the floor outside the ICU, but no corpse. No drag marks, either, it's like he just vanished into thin air. Anyways, we're cross-referencing the blood samples, should have a match back from the lab any time now.”

Reeves groaned internally. They wouldn't find the elusive Roy in any of the databases, he was sure of that. He turned a few more pages, skimming the witness reports.

“Survivors are saying they saw SWAT hit the building... Was that our department?”

Kent shrugged. “No idea. As far as I know, we never had a team authorized, and the sheriff's department is coming up negative on that one as well. If there was a squad on-site, it wasn't our guys. We're still working on that particular riddle.”

A ghost team. Probably the ones who'd moved Roy's body. With an irritated grunt, Reeves flipped back through the report.

“Got anything solid for me?”

Kent laughed. “Got a hole.”

“What?”

“A hole, in the fence out back. More a tunnel, really, considering how ridiculously thick the brush is around this place. Something dug its way out from the inside. We're still guessing bear on that one, though we haven't found any tracks or hair samples yet. Whatever it was, it bent the steel bars like they were tinfoil. No way a human could have done that.”

Reeves didn't bother disagreeing. He handed the file back with a muttered “thank you” and began to walk back to his vehicle, his mind already on other topics. Kent didn't follow, organizing the papers back into their proper order.

Jericho. He'd set all this up. Testing the girl, Elinor. Pushing her, seeing if she'd break. Seeing if she was ready. If Anderson's demise was any indication, Jericho clearly had his answer.

Drawing his phone from his pocket, John hit the '1' on his speed-dial. His superiors needed to know. There wasn't much that could be done at this point, but he had to try. There was still a chance...

“Direct line one, secured. If you are a licensed agent, please say your name and identification number, or enter it on the-”

“John H. Reeves, one-eight-seven-oh-six.”

“Please hold.”

A long pause as the computerized system did its work.

“Connection error. Please repeat your-”

“John H. Reeves. One. Eight. Seven. Zero. Six.”

Again a pause. A cold trickle of unease wormed through Reeves' stomach, and he placed a hand on the trunk of his car to steady himself.

“Connection error. The number you are entering has been invalidated. Please contact the-”

Reeves let the phone slip from his hand. It hit the pavement with a solid crack, but he didn't hear it.

Invalidated.

They'd gone to phase three. He'd been burned.

With fingers that shook ever so slightly, he took a pack of cigarettes from his pocket, drawing one out and placing it between his lips. He felt around for his lighter, but it wasn't in any of his customary carrying places. It wasn't in his car, he was sure of it. Where had the blasted thing gone?

Footsteps behind him, slow, carefully paced.

“Hey, Reeves? Mind looking at something?”

Agent Kent.

Reeves made no effort to turn. He thought briefly of drawing his sidearm, but decided against it. The cigarette hung limply from his mouth, cold and useless.

The other agent spoke again, only a few feet away now. “For what it's worth... I think you're a good guy, Reeves. If things had turned out differently... well, anyway, it was a pleasure working with you, sir. I'll be sure to send a card to your family.”

The click of a bullet being chambered, the sound of finality. Still, Reeves did not turn. Instead he lifted his gaze, looking off over the distant mountains. He didn't blame his employers, really. They had delayed the game as long as they could, but now, inevitably, it had begun.

Elinor was awake.

Everything started now.


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