Ashley and Logan spent the next three days laying the groundwork for the operation. As it seemed best to wait until they were in Chicago and all ready to go before making a move toward Mackelvore (which would also be handy in case they had to fall back on a plan B), Ashley decided not to rush into an approach. Instead she set up an account at Emily Madewell and learned her way about the site, while sorting through their information about Todd, developing an image of who he was and what he was looking for and how they could use that to get to him.
Meanwhile Logan concentrated on the logistics of the operation. He was still not happy about the plan, but as always, he did accomplish everything he promised her. His connection delivered the goods they required, making the hand-off in Century Park without a mishap. Logan also found a suitable safe house in the gated community of Montrose in Mahony, Illinois. Three-quarters of the community’s houses had yet to sell, including the houses to the right of the one they were renting, and the one directly across the street from them, which meant there would be few eyes about to catch the sight of vehicles going in and out of the gate set in the six foot high stone wall surrounding the property.
When Logan finalized the deal to rent it through the end of the month of October they checked out of the Cordell, got in the hatchback, and left Atlanta behind. Cutting northwest from the city they drove through the Blue Ridge mountains, which astonishingly looked every bit as blue in the distance as their name promised, and then emerged from them on the plateaus of central Tennessee and west-central Kentucky.
Beyond it was the Midwest, which was as much an undiscovered country for Ashley as the South, and more immediately surprising. She had imagined that a state like Indiana would have flat, perfectly level ground stretching to the horizon in every direction, but they drove over a good many gentle hills. Ashley was surprised, too, at seeing the green of forests as well as the gold of grasses, woodland of that kind not part of her mental image of these states. But it was the grass that predominated in the vistas she saw from the car’s windows, the wild grasses of the plains, the domesticated grasses of cropland.
At the end of a long patch of farmland Ashley saw a sign reporting the exit to Mead just two miles ahead.
Maybe there was more than one Mead in the state of Indiana, but Ashley doubted it. She continued to watch that side of the road, wondering if she would be able to glimpse it from the car. Several miles past the exit she didn’t think she had, or would, and then wondered what it was that she could possibly have hoped to see. A few buildings in the distance?
And yet, she wished she had seen even that much. It would have been a connection of sorts to Julian—a part of him he’d never wanted her to know, perhaps, but that may have made it more intriguing rather than less. Because secrets were tantalizing, yes, but more importantly because secrets like that were the only way she had now of ever knowing him more fully than she had before.
Not that there was anything there to hear him tell it. He’d only mentioned the place a couple of times, and even then denied that there was anything left there, even for Gary Weiner, let alone Julian Montfort. Dad skipped out on his family when Julian was twelve, mom worked and drank herself into an early grave after that. He had an older brother, but they hadn’t had a real relationship since he left home himself.
“What about friends?”
“How many friends from Leigh have you kept up with?” Julian asked her, and Ashley remembered how, despite her intention of keeping up with all her friends after the move, with e-mails and phone calls and the rest, they soon enough went their separate ways.
“And that’s exactly how it is,” Julian said. “If people don’t die, they move on, and that’s the end of things.”
And so there was no one for him to leave anything to but her, as he ultimately did, bequeathing to her the business, the apartment, and all the rest of his not inconsiderable worldly possessions.
Despite the length of time in which they’d been together, in which she had seen beyond any doubt that there really wasn’t anyone else in his life, the completeness of the bequest still came as a surprise to Ashley, and she found herself thinking of those possibly still-living relatives who it seemed should have known about Julian’s passing. She’d thought about getting in touch with them, telling them about the fact.
But Ashley knew that Julian had steered clear of his old life for good reason. Part of the price of assuming a new identity the way he had was the unending fear of being discovered as someone other than the man he said he was, the man others had known him as for so long. Part of it must have been shame at who that man had been, where he’d come from. But there was a practical element to it as well, given the other questions it would raise about how Gary Weiner became Julian Montfort.
If people around him asked those questions, and found the answers, everything for which he’d worked for his whole adult life would have been in jeopardy. And her position was just as delicate, because of how close she’d been to him, and how he’d acquired all the things that he’d left to her, and the ways in which she’d continued with his business. And getting in touch with his relatives risked creating problems for them as well, the opening of old wounds, their entanglement in the complications Gary created in transforming himself into Julian.
“Something on your mind?” Logan asked.
“No, just tired,” Ashley said lamely (though she was tired after all these hours on the road), and then went on to think of Mead again every time they passed a sign pointing the way to some small town of which she’d never heard, which was often along that stretch of road. Sweetwater. Midway. Providence. Bern.
“We do need a break,” Logan said. “A real one. Not just an afternoon off like we had Sunday.”
“It’ll have to wait,” Ashley said.
Logan was one of the very few people in the world who knew that Julian Montfort had not always been Julian Montfort. But Ashley didn’t think that he knew that the man he’d been before was specifically Gary Weiner from Mead, so that to him Mead was just another little town of which he’d never heard. And even now she didn’t see fit to tell Logan, like it was not her secret to share.
So many, many secrets, Ashley thought, remembering what Julian told her about the burden of carrying them. She thought, too, of how many more secrets she’d made since learning about the secret side of Julian’s life, secrets that existed only because of those people, and their experiment—
The thought focused her at once. Yes, they’d make Mackelvore talk, Ashley told herself. She told herself, too, that finally, finally, finally they were getting close to the truth of the matter, to knowing what this was all about and maybe having something they could actually use against the people who’d dragged them into all this. “Follow the money,” someone had said once, because nothing ever happened without it, and with Mackelvore they had the man through whose hands the money had passed.
Up ahead were suburbs that put Ashley in mind of nighttime soap operas about scandals behind white picket fences, and beyond them, as night fell, she made out the bright lights of towers that cut a fairly respectable skyline. It belonged to Indianapolis, a city of eight hundred thousand stretching so far over the prairie that it touched the sprawl of other cities, which touched the sprawl of still other cities ringing the Great Lakes, to create another megalopolis, another nearly continuous cityscape of fifty million stretching from Montreal to Saint Paul. The highway now wound north and west toward what they saw on their map as the upper left corner of the state, and the edge of Chicagoland.
Friday night the American Midwest experienced the first bite of this winter, which Ashley experienced as all the more of a shock having just come up from the southeast in the midst of its late summer swelter. Instead of T-shirts and shorts it was all sweaters and jackets now on the people they saw out for the evening, breath fogging in front of them like dragon’s fire as they walked along. The heater kept Ashley and Logan warm overnight, but they still needed warmer clothing, and Ashley kept her eyes open for a likely place.
Saturday morning she spotted a mall, where they found an Allison’s just opening. As Logan waited with the car she hurriedly supplemented the wardrobes they’d bought in Baltimore with coats and jackets and sweaters, and then they continued on their way.