47

LOOK, THERE,” JAX SAID, POINTING. “Hammond Street, two miles.” Alex glanced over at the green sign in the mist as they sailed past it on their way north. It was late in the afternoon. Traffic was getting heavier as rush hour approached.

He looked over his shoulder to make sure the road was clear as he pulled into the right lane. He had just gone by a woman in a small car who looked to be terrified by the weather conditions. It was annoying not having a rearview mirror, but to get over his annoyance Alex had only to recall the desperate fight when a man from Jax’s world had appeared in the back seat of the Cherokee. Alex saw that the woman he’d just passed had a death grip on the wheel. Her eyes stared unblinking straight ahead as she single-handedly created a traffic snarl, so afraid of danger that she had become danger itself.

Jax pointed. “Hammond Street, one mile.”

Over the long drive, Jax had developed into a good navigator. It had only taken her a short time to overcome her uneasiness at traveling at highway speeds. She was now an old pro.

She was good at reading maps and had good eyesight, so she was adept at picking out signs in the distance for different highways they had needed to take on their way east and then north. She also kept a lookout for any cars — or pirate plumbing trucks — that might be following them. Several times they had taken exits and detours to be certain that cars that stayed on their tail were not really following them.

Jax had been amazed at the size of some of the cities they had gone through and couldn’t get enough of the sights and changing scenery as they crossed the country. She was a tourist in a strange land. Her childlike wonder never failed to make Alex smile.

They had stopped at night only long enough to get the sleep they needed to keep going. Alex knew that they both were still working the drugs out of their systems. Jax especially still needed rest to recover from her ordeal. Given the nature of the people after them, they knew that they had to stay alert. It was also fatiguing to constantly remain on the lookout for anything that might be suspicious.

Alex had been able to persuade her to cover herself up with a blanket in the back seat and get some sleep along the way. He could tell how much she still hurt because he didn’t have too difficult a time convincing her to rest. She hated missing all the sights, and she didn’t like leaving him to be the lone lookout, but she needed the rest and she knew it.

As they drove up through the seemingly endless woods of Maine, she looked to finally be a lot better. She had stared longingly out the window at the passing forests. He knew that they reminded her of home.

Alex turned on the windshield wipers as he took the Hammond Street exit. From his brief look, the city of Bangor seemed old and tired. Some of the houses did look grand, but in a bygone-era sort of a way. It looked like a peaceful, low-key place to live, a place where people made do with what they had, and not a whole lot ever changed, except with the slow rot of time.

He followed Mike Fenton’s directions and in short order they saw the red glow of the sign for the Downeaster Motel. There were a lot of cars in the front parking lot. The portico in front stood at the head of two parallel sections of rooms running back from there in a U shape.

As he drove slowly through the lot, he scanned the cars for license plates from Massachusetts. He saw a number of them here and there. Maine being a tourist destination, there were plates from all over. Some of the cars were packed full with belongings pressed against rear windows. Some of the trucks had kayaks or bicycles attached to their roofs.

Alex drove around to the far wing of the two-story building that extended back to end at a small area of residential woods. A lot of cars were parked for rooms up closer to the office, but farther down the side was mostly deserted except way at the end, where there was a cluster of cars. By the room numbers on the doors he knew that was the place he was looking for.

When he reached the end he made a U-turn and parked on the slight slope at the back of the broad lot so that if he had to he could get the Cherokee rolling downhill to start it. So far, on their trip east, it had behaved itself, failing to start with the key only once. He supposed that if someone had been chasing them it would have failed to start more often.

Parking as he had also put the driver’s side closest to the room.

“You ready?” Alex asked as he watched for any activity.

Jax carefully scanned the whole area, appearing to take note of every detail. “This makes me nervous.”

“I can’t say that I disagree.”

Jax took his hand and squeezed it, offering reassurance. They’d made it through tough situations before.

Alex hooked a magazine pouch on his belt on his left hip. It held two seventeen-round magazines. He double-checked to make sure the magazines were placed in the pouch with the bullets facing forward so that if he got in a gun battle and had to draw them to reload, he could use the index finger of his left hand to feel the tip of the hollow-point round at the top of the magazine to help guide it into the gun in his right hand for fast, blind reloading. He lifted the Glock from its holster and held it in his lap, his index finger lying along the slide.

Alex opened the phone and hit Redial with his left thumb. Mike Fenton answered.

“This is Alex. We’re outside.”

Alex watched and saw the drapes open a crack as the man peered out.

“I see your truck. We’re so glad you’re here, and that you’re early. Come on in. Everyone is dying to meet you.”

“How many of you are there?”

“Including me, nine.”

“I want all of you to come out of the room. Leave the door wide open. I want everyone to move away from the door, toward the woods at the back. Stay in plain sight. Jax is going to go in and check the room.”

“Alex, I can understand that you would be a little nervous, but we—”

“If any one of you does anything threatening, I won’t hesitate to shoot them.”

Mike went silent.

“Do you understand?” Alex asked.

“I do,” Mike said. “I don’t blame you for being cautious. You’re right. We’re happy to do as you ask.”

“Thank you.”

Alex closed the phone.

“If you hear any gunshots, hit the ground,” Alex told Jax. “Understand?”

“Yes. I think they’re sincere.”

“I hope so, but I’m not going to take any chances. You be careful in there, will you? If you have any problem I’ll be there in a flash.”

Jax nodded. “Just don’t miss if this turns out to be an ambush. There’s two of us and nine of them.”

Alex offered her a smile. “It’s their tough luck to be at such a terrible disadvantage.”

She squeezed his hand as she returned the smile.

Alex watched as the people started filing out of the room. They strolled casually, talking among themselves so that it wouldn’t look suspicious to see that many people standing around in the parking lot. There were seven men and two women. They were all dressed casually, similar to but perhaps just a little better than most any tourist traveling up to Maine for a vacation.

“The trees smell so good,” Jax said to herself.

“What?”

“Nothing. Just thinking of home. The balsam trees remind me of home.”

As Alex watched the group amble off into the lot closer to the trees and out of the way of the open door, he squeezed Jax’s hand again. “Be careful.”

She winked at him. “You too.”

He watched her walking across the lot, mesmerized by the graceful shape of her, by her fall of long blond hair, by how beautiful, how precious she was. There was no other woman in the world like her.

How he wished she was from his world.

He knew that if they ever accomplished what they needed to accomplish, accomplished what she had come to his world to do, and they found the gateway and somehow were able to make it work, she would have to go back to her own world.

Along their long trip east, when she had told him what she knew about the gateway and how it could be used to take things back to her world without a lifeline, he had asked if it was possible for him to go through the gateway, too.

Jax had said that that was one thing she was certain of: no one from his world could ever go to hers. Lord Rahl, the man who had separated the worlds, who had sent people to this world, had made certain that that could never happen.

She could come here, but he could never go there.

Alex didn’t know how he would be able to endure her leaving. Without her in his world — in his life — his world would be dead.

The group of people all took in Jax without looking obvious about it as she walked toward the room. She disappeared inside.

None of the people looked concerned. Alex thought that was a good sign. He hated to be so melodramatic about the whole thing, but he’d been fooled by Cain’s people before. He wasn’t going to take chances if he didn’t have to.

After a few minutes, Jax reappeared in the doorway. She gave Alex the all-clear. He holstered his gun and hopped out of the truck, pulling his jacket down over the weapon. Jax started ushering the people back into the room, then stood just outside the door, waiting for him while she watched them like a sergeant at arms.

As Alex joined her, she put an arm around his waist. “They don’t look like a dangerous lot,” she whispered.

“That’s what we’re hoping.”

“But that doesn’t mean they aren’t.”

“I know.”

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