Logan turned into the trees just after he said those words, and Ashley followed his back. The open, flat bike path gave way to the uneven ground of the woods, with its rises and dips and roots. As she ran she was conscious of the sound of her footsteps over the broken ground, and other footsteps out of synch with the tread of her feet. Of Logan’s pounding ahead of her, but also other feet she couldn’t see through those trees, feet that came awfully close and stayed with them for stretches.
Every so often Logan turned abruptly, trying to get away from those same steps she guessed, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, until looking between the trees she glimpsed an exit from the park, one they hadn’t used. The eastern gate, she guessed, on the far side of the park.
They went out through the gate and made their way through the streets around the park, back to their car as the sound of sirens filled the air. Emergency services responding to the report of a shooting, she guessed, the police getting ready to close the area down. She hoped that the perimeter of the restricted area would not reach the three blocks out to their car, and it hadn’t by the time they reached the parking spot. Still, the sound of the sirens, the sight of the police cruisers, added that much more urgency to their movement as they drove away.
Again Logan had the wheel. He spoke to Ashley as he did so, but she couldn’t hear him above her own thoughts.
Ashley had fired her gun many a time—on the shooting range, never at an actual person. Even if the bullets in her clip were just electroshock rounds, she still saw the flash and heard the bang and felt the weapon recoil in her hand as she pointed it at another person who went down right in front of her, just as if she were shooting any other gun . . .
And then when she turned her head to look back she saw Blake being shot once, twice, she didn’t know how many times, the sight of his limbs flailing, his body hitting the ground to never get up again, because those weren’t electroshock rounds their pursuers had been shooting at him.
God, Ashley saw that now every time she closed her eyes.
Colby and Lloyd and Henry (she couldn’t forget Henry, she told herself, precisely because he’d had nothing to do with all this) and now Blake, it seemed as if everywhere they went, anyone they came into contact with died, died abruptly and violently and horribly. But Blake was the only one of those people she’d really met, the only one to whom she’d actually talked. (God, she’d been starting to like him. She wished she’d got to know him better, that someone had got to know him better, thinking of what it was for a person to lose someone they’d hoped to spend their life with, what it was to carry the burden of a secret life year after year.)
And Blake’s was the only one of those deaths she’d seen with her own eyes.
Ashley thought of the way he’d tipped them off to the presence of the surveillance before she noticed it, before Logan noticed it. Maybe because he knew the area, maybe because he’d seen the face of that bicyclist somewhere before.
They just didn’t know, and probably would never know, which made Ashley think of that quest to which Blake devoted himself for so many years, trying to bring his girlfriend’s killer to justice. Another thing that would never happen now.
Maybe he’d hoped that even if he couldn’t do it himself, he would help others to do it, somehow, but even that prospect had been cut short, because of the interruption of the meeting, because Blake was now dead and with him whatever lead he might have offered them. Because as all they had was the likely meaningless pseudonym under which he’d been blogging, there was no prospect of tracking down the evidence he’d accumulated in his years of searching. In all likelihood those Men in Black were at his place, grabbing anything there was to find. It was likely, too, that other friends of theirs were out looking for Ashley and Logan, intent on finishing what they’d tried to do when they blocked their path out of the park . . .
It started to rain, then, the dark clouds she had seen earlier pouring forth, walking sheet after sheet after sheet across their path all the way back to the hotel. When they parked in their space in the Clay’s lot the streets looked cleaner, and the air smelled fresh, but Ashley still pictured Blake’s corpse lying right in the bike path where she’d seen it fall.
They got out of the car, walked into the hotel. Logan stopped in the alcove in the lobby containing a pair of vending machines to buy two cans of Dr. Popper and two little bags of Leigh’s potato chips. That struck Ashley as a very odd thing to do under the circumstances, but she didn’t say anything as they proceeded upstairs to their room. What she did instead was run to the bathroom and throw up in the sink.
As she heaved her last, she noticed that Logan was holding her hair back.
“Are you all right?” Logan asked her then.
“I think so,” Ashley said, not really meaning it, and Logan probably knowing she didn’t mean it. What the hell was fine, at a moment like this?
Logan led Ashley out of the bathroom, sat her in the room’s armchair, then went over to the desk where she saw the soda cans and the chips sitting. He gave her one of each.
“Drink this, eat that,” he said. “It’ll settle your stomach.”
She did as he told her, drinking the soda and eating the chips as he pulled up the desk chair in front of her and sat down in it and drank his own soda and ate his own chips.
When she finished the chip bag she had to admit that her stomach did feel at least a little better.
“I’m sorry. About reacting like this,” she said, thinking of how green her face must have looked when they were in the car.
“It’s all right,” Logan said. “It happens.”
These last six days of tension, coming on top of the tension that had surrounded this stupid, miserable job ever since that first meeting with the Client what seemed like a whole other life ago, and then being in the middle of that gunfight . . .
“You have to understand that Blake put his life on the line to try and catch Melanie’s killers. That he was walking around with that gun just showed how seriously he took everything. So you didn’t bring him to this. All right?”
Ashley wasn’t convinced of that. If they hadn’t showed up Blake would have just gone on publishing that little blog, still alive, and even if he managed to go beyond that, “might be killed” was a different and far preferable thing to “murdered.” And even if she was wrong about all that, and she didn’t think she was, she didn’t think that could make much difference to how she felt. That it wasn’t making a difference to how Logan felt, any more than Lloyd’s involvement in a criminal enterprise had made to his reaction to that man’s death.
But dwelling on all that wouldn’t help anything.
“All right,” Ashley said, and continued dwelling on it anyway behind the front she put up to match Logan’s own front. Again he went on talking, filling the air with words, and Ashley went on seeming to listen until she heard yet another siren. She reflexively focused on the sound, heard its pitch rise as it closed, fall as it moved away.
For the time being, at least, it wasn’t a sign of official concern with them, but then she didn’t know how long that would be the case. After the shooting the cops were doubtless all over the park. And just as in Baltimore, the official story would doubtless be something other than what had really happened.
They had to get out of Charleston. But knowing they had to leave the place was one thing, knowing what they’d leave it for was another, Ashley thought, and put everything that had been weighing so heavily on her to one side in a way she hadn’t been able to think of doing a mere five minutes earlier.
“That Sebastian de Ruyter Blake mentioned,” Ashley said. “Did you ever hear that name before?”
“I didn’t catch it when we looked at the file the first time,” Logan said, “but we can try again.” He got the laptop out of his backpack, set it on the desktop, turned his chair to it and ran another search. “No Sebastian de Ruyter. No Sebastian either. Just a de Ruyter. But the name does turn up a half dozen times, and maybe we’ll find that he gets referenced more than that, if we can match him up with a code name. So let’s see if we can’t follow that lead.”
As Ashley stood behind Logan looking over his shoulder he typed that name into Googolplex—and got at the top of his list of hits an Instapedia article about a neuroscientist by that name. Logan clicked on it.
“There’s a picture,” Ashley said, pointing to an image in the upper right corner of the screen. “Enlarge it.”
Another click blew the photo up to a size much larger than the screen, and Logan zoomed out to fit the whole thing in.
To her shock Ashley recognized the face in front of her.
He was the man who stood in the window of the white room in her recurring dream.