ALEX DIALED THE NUMBER. “I’ll put it on speaker so you can hear,” he told Jax.
“Lancaster, Buckman, Fenton. This is Mr. Fenton.”
“Mr. Fenton, hi. It’s Alexander Rahl.”
“Mr. Rahl, I’m so relieved to hear from you.” The man sounded like he meant it. “I was beginning to worry. Is everything all right? I mean, it’s been over a week since you had said that you were going to call. I was beginning to get concerned.”
Alex hadn’t realized that he’d lost track of that much time drugged up in Mother of Roses. “I apologize. I was distracted by some things for a few days, but I’m free now.”
“That’s good to hear. Say, I’ve been seeing on the news about the big fire you had out your way, at Mother of Roses. Do you know anything about it?”
Alex wasn’t sure what he should say, so he decided to be vague. “Some. Why?”
“Well, the thing is, one of my associates, Mr. Buckman, took ill earlier this year. His doctor thought that he was possibly suffering a breakdown of some sort, and as a result had fallen into a rather severe psychosis. They couldn’t seem to get to the bottom of it, so Mr. Buckman was sent out your way to Mother of Roses Psychiatric Hospital for extended care. I guess they specialize in that sort of thing. It’s a private care facility where he has been receiving specialized evaluation and treatment.”
Alex’s mouth went dry. “Treatment? From who? Do you know his doctor’s name?”
“The specialist in charge is Dr. Hoffmann. I was just wondering if you knew anything more about the fire. You know how unreliable the news can be. I haven’t been able to find out anything about Mr. Buckman. I don’t know if he’s all right or not. The news reports said that a number of patients died in the fire, most of them on the ninth floor. That’s where Mr. Buckman was confined.”
Alex shared a look with Jax. “I’m terribly sorry. My mother died in the fire at Mother of Roses. She was on the ninth floor.”
“Dear God.” He was silent for a moment. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize. You have my deepest sympathy, Mr. Rahl.”
“I remember very well your mother not being able to take title to the land because she fell ill, but I had no idea that she was at Mother of Roses. What a strange coincidence that Mr. Buckman was at the same institution, and on the same floor.”
“Yes, that is quite the coincidence.”
Alex didn’t generally believe in coincidences. His mind raced as he tried to fit the pieces together.
“Have you tried contacting the authorities here in Nebraska to find out if Mr. Buckman might have been one of the people who escaped the blaze? I’ve heard that it was quite a chaotic scene but most of the patients did manage to escape.”
“I heard the same encouraging news. I’ve tried to get more information, but there seems to be quite a lot of confusion right now. Being a lawyer, I was able to get ahold of the state hospital authority, but no one can even find a patient register.”
“Are there other records?” Alex asked.
“I was told that the records at the hospital were destroyed in the fire. There were supposed to be backups of all the patient files kept off-site but there was apparently some kind of problem with the backup — they said it might have been a computer virus or something. No one knew about it until they went to retrieve the information and discovered that it was corrupted beyond recovery. So, the authorities there are in the dark even about how many people might have been under care at the facility. That makes it even more difficult to determine how many may have died.
“—Oh, I’m sorry. Here I am going on about Mr. Buckman and side issues when you lost your mother there. You probably need to get back to making arrangements.”
“No, it’s all right. There aren’t really any arrangements to be made. I don’t have any living relatives. My grandfather died a short while back. Being confined in a mental hospital all these years, my mother didn’t have any friends or really even know anyone. There’s actually nothing to be done. I will have to wait for any remains to be found — if they ever are. The fire was pretty intense. For now, there’s really nothing I can do.”
“I see. Are you headed here, then?”
Alex thought that he detected an odd tension in the question. “Yes. I will need to look into what flights are available. I’ll try to get the earliest flight we can going to Boston.”
“We? You have someone with you?”
Another pause. “That’s wonderful. Congratulations.”
“Thank you. You’ll get to meet her. She’s a wonderful person. She has been helping me get through the loss of my mother. Her name is Jax. She’s here with me now. I have you on speaker if you would like to say hello.”
Jax leaned in at Alex’s urging. “Hello, Mr. Fenton.”
“How do you do? I’m so sorry to hear of your unexpected trouble.”
“Thank you. We’re doing the best we can.”
“I look forward to meeting you soon, then.”
“We can’t get there fast enough,” Jax said.
“I’ll let you know as soon as I have a flight number,” Alex put in.
There was a long pause. “Mr. Rahl, I suggest that you not fly.”
Alex’s antennae went up. “Why is that?”
Again a pause. “Mr. Rahl, may I be honest with you?”
“I wish you would.”
“I fear that certain people may be watching the airlines, trying to find you.”
Alex’s blood went cold. “Certain people?”
“It’s possible that you could be in danger from these people. They might be expecting you to head here. They may be watching airports and bus stations — any kind of place you would go to take public transportation. I don’t mean to alarm you, Mr. Rahl, but I believe that these people could possibly be dangerous.”
“I think I know what you mean.”
Another pause, longer this time, as if the man was considering what to say, or maybe how much to say. “Have you been approached, or. . threatened by anyone?”
“I think we’re talking about the same people. I’ve run into them already.”
“Are you all right?” he asked in a rush. There was genuine concern, even alarm, in his voice.
“Yes. Right now I think it best if I get there as soon as possible. I have your address—”
“Well, the thing is. .” There was another pause before the man went on. “I fear that these same people might be watching my offices. I don’t really have any way to tell. I’m sorry — I don’t mean to alarm you unduly. It’s possible that I’m simply being paranoid.”
Alex took a deep breath. “Mr. Fenton, this is too important for us to keep up this pretense. You were honest with me, I’m going to be honest with you. You need to listen to me and listen carefully. These people are killers.”
Alex didn’t know if the man would scoff, or hang up.
“I’m listening, Mr. Rahl.”
Alex thought that it was a good sign that the lawyer didn’t try to minimize the danger. In fact, the man sounded concerned, even frightened.
“First of all, I’m Alex.”
Alex could imagine the man smiling with relief. “My first name is Myron, but if you call me by that name I’ll sue you for pain and suffering. Everyone calls me Mike.”
Alex smiled. “I have enough on my plate without a lawsuit. Mike it is. I know it may sound far-fetched, but you need to trust me about all of this. I know what I’m talking about. I need you to do exactly as I tell you. First thing, does this number show up on your phone?”
“Yes. I’ll have it in the caller ID memory.”
“No, you won’t.”
“But my phone—”
“I don’t want you using any phone you have now. These people can somehow track you with your phone. From now on I don’t want you to touch any phone you presently have. Don’t use your cell phone. Don’t even take it with you. Do you understand?”
Alex thought that it was promising that Mr. Fenton wasn’t freaking out or recommending that he see a shrink, and even more significantly, he wasn’t arguing. “Memorize this number. Don’t say it out loud. Don’t write it down. Memorize it.”
“Good. It’s possible that the phone I’m talking on is now compromised because I’ve called your regular phone. I’ll have to throw this phone away after I hang up. I have another. Add one hundred forty-three to this number and you will have the number of the new phone. After you leave your office, buy a disposable cell phone and call me back on my new number.”
“Are you married? Do you have family?”
“No. Not close family, anyway. I have. . good friends that I will need to talk to.”
“All right, but don’t take any phone that you have now with you. Best to get several cell phones. Use one of those others to call your friends. Make up some excuse — tell them that you will be away on business or something for a while. After you talk to them, throw that phone away; it could become compromised by calling them and then the people you’re worried about could use that new phone to track you.”
“All right. What else?”
“We’ll need a place to meet. Don’t say it now. Wait until we talk later. I know that these people have the ability to track people through phones, but I don’t know if they can listen in on conversations. I don’t want to find out the hard way that they can. I’d rather be too cautious than spend eternity in my grave wishing I’d been more careful.”
“I understand. I will pick up some phones and call you then.”
“When you leave your office, go home and pack a bag. You need to stay away from any place you are known to frequent. Don’t go stay with a friend. Don’t stay at your office or at a club if you’re a member of one. You need to go somewhere that you don’t frequent, a place you’ve never been. Make sure you aren’t followed. Once there, don’t go back to a known location or these people could be spooked enough to pick you up right then and there.”
“I understand.” There was a pause. “Alex, are you sure that such extreme measures are necessary? I mean the staying away from any known locations and all?”
“The fire at Mother of Roses was set deliberately. They murdered my mother and I would bet that they murdered Mr. Buckman as well. They killed a number of innocent people just so that they could destroy any records of what they were up to.”
“Dear God. You really think so?”
“I don’t think so, I know so. I was there. I saw Dr. Hoffmann set the fire to cover their tracks.”
Alex waited for a moment, trying to guess at the silence.
“I must tell you, Alex, you have just confirmed my worst fears. We’ve been trying to gauge if the danger is real. You have just answered a lot of our questions for us.”
“Who is this ‘us’? Who are you talking about?”
“I think you’re right,” Mike said. “It would be best if we talk later.”
“You’re right. That makes sense.”
“I’m going to be leaving my office immediately. I will take all the title documents with me. I will have everything we need to transfer the land into your name. I realize that it may seem like a silly formality in the middle of all of this other business, but I assure you, it is vital that it be done.”
“I’d like it taken care of myself. I want that land in my name.”
“Good. I’m glad. I think it best if I not go home, though. I think the risk has now become too great. I’ll buy whatever I need. I will pick up some phones, as you suggest, and call you.”
“Good. Please be careful.”
“I will. Thanks, Alex, for leveling with me.”
“Jax always says that it’s best to tell the truth.”
He chuckled. “I’ll call you later today. I’ll also make arrangements so we can meet and take care of everything.”
“Mirrors,” Jax said.
“Oh yes. I know this sounds crazy, but you need to stay away from mirrors. If you stay someplace with a mirror, cover it immediately.”
“I haven’t had any mirrors in my office or house for years.”
Alex and Jax again shared a look.
“In fact, it’s been so long since I’ve been near a mirror that I’m not even sure what I look like anymore.”
“Do you have a rearview mirror in your car?”
“Yes, of course.”
“That’s a mirror. You need to break the rearview mirror off the windshield and break out or remove the outside mirrors. If you break the glass out, make certain that every speck of mirror is gone.”
“Is that really necessary?”
“I found out the hard way that it is. You may not be as lucky as we were. Take the mirrors out of your car.”
“I’ve always been so careful with mirrors, and all this time I never thought about the rearview mirrors in my car. This explains some things. I’m glad you’re so thorough. I will remove them before I start the car.”
“I think we’re going to have a lot to talk about when we get together.”
“More than you know, Mr. Rahl.”
“Right. I will call you later, Alex. And I especially look forward to meeting you, Jax.”
“Stay safe,” she said. “And be careful.”
“I understand. Good-bye.”
“Good-bye,” Alex and Jax said together.
He closed the cover and then dropped the phone in a plastic cup full of water.
“Well, what do you make of that?” he asked as he slipped the other new phone, the one he hadn’t used yet, into the pocket of his jeans.
“It’s obvious he knows something.”
“I wonder how,” Alex said. “I guess that the sooner we get there the sooner we’ll find out. We’d better get going.”
“How are we going to get there?”
“I don’t see that we have any choice. We’ll have to drive. If we flew we could be in Boston in a day. But by the time we can get on a flight it’s liable to be two days, maybe even longer on such short notice. Driving will take close to three days, but if we drive, Cain’s people won’t know where we are or when we’ll show up. I want to keep them in the dark as much as possible.”
“Just as well, anyway,” he said as he put his jacket on to cover his gun. “I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of giving up our weapons in order to fly. Airports have metal detectors, like at Mother of Roses. They won’t let you take a weapon of any kind onto a plane — not even a small pocketknife.
“We’d have to pack our weapons in the luggage. If anything happened they would be useless to us locked away in the baggage compartment, the same as they were useless to us when they were locked away in the truck. Besides, the luggage could be lost, or stolen, especially if Cain’s people are watching, trying to catch us flying. They would probably snatch our bags to make sure we were unarmed.”
Jax pulled the silver-handled knife from behind her back. She twirled the blade through her fingers and caught it by the tip. She held it up, the handle before him. It was then that he noticed, for the first time, that the ornate scrollwork formed the letter R.
“There is no way I’m giving up this knife just so that they will let me go up in the sky.”
Alex’s gaze moved from the knife to her eyes. “Why is there an R on the handle?”
“It stands for the House of Rahl. It’s an ancient weapon, an exceedingly rare weapon, a weapon carried by only a very few people now.”
“Why do you have it?”
“For the same reason I volunteered to come to this world. Because I believe you are the one to stop this madness. Because I believe in you, Alexander Rahl.
“This is the knife I was sharpening when I made the test cuts on that tree in the painting you made. You painted those test cuts in your painting, those test cuts made with this knife as I was sharpening it in preparation for coming here. You are connected to this blade in more ways than one, just as you are connected to everything else.”
“Are you positive, Jax?”
She smiled. “I’m as positive of it as you are, and you’re dead certain of it.”
Alex smiled back. “It’s scary how well you know me.”
He pulled the phone out of the glass of water, then opened it and broke it in half. He handed the broken pieces to Jax. “Here. There’s a dumpster across the lot. I’ll put our things in the truck. You throw this away.”