Rachel shook her head. Her expression said she had clearly wanted to hear Jørn say what he had just said; that maybe Etta was responsible for the coma victims, but hearing him actually say the words was obviously far more impactful than she had thought. “Wait, what brought this on? I mean, are you sure?”
“Yes, I am sure, and it has nothing to do with the news or Taubmen, so no need in even throwing that log on the fire. I figured you would be happy about this.” His gut soured. He certainly wasn’t happy about it.
“I am happy to know we can really investigate all possible options here, but I am not happy about the cost of it.” Her voice lowered. “I mean you grandfather-in-law, your fiancée, both of them happen to be on the list of victims so, I can’t even imagine…”
She didn’t need to say it, and no she couldn’t imagine. He was glad she had refrained. Coming to grips with the fact that Etta hurt Heidi, that she may have been the reason why she died…more bile sloshed through his stomach. He grimaced. If he didn’t get it to get it together he was definitely going to give himself an ulcer. It was all he could do to pretend that nothing was wrong last night laying with his back towards Etta, not sleeping a wink.
“If you don’t mind my asking, and you can tell me to shut up if you need to, but what happened to suddenly make you feel like she is culpable? I mean it’s a leap from your stance a couple weeks ago.”
He had been thinking Etta was responsible for something dealing with the ascensions and the Seats for a long time. He had worn the list scratched on paper thin with all the suspicions he had about her. But the list was private. She didn’t need to know about the list. He had already settled within himself that he would not give Rachel all of the details, but that he would tell her what was needed. “I saw something last night. Etta d didn’t know I was watching her.”
Again that coaxing looking arose upon Rachel’s face. He rubbed down his face and forced his lips to move. He hated recalling what had happened to Heidi back then. It had turned him hard to the bottle, drove him deep into Etta’s arms and then wedged right in between them even though he had been sober for years. Nevertheless, he needed to back there if he was going to get to the bottom of it all. He refused to spend another year wondering if his wife loved him, had ever loved him, all while suspecting that she had killed his fiancée just so she and Baldwin could accomplish some goal.
“Last night I saw Etta directing a pair of Lotus,” Rachel gasped, her mouth falling open. “She didn’t even speak, but I could tell she was directing them.”
“If she didn’t speak, then how do you know she was the one directing them, and even if she was directing them what does that have to do with the comas?”
“She thought she was alone. No one else was there, and I certainly wasn’t driving them. They literally moved in sync with her, like they were tethered to her somehow.”
Rachel was the one to wipe her face this time. She then pulled a legal pad from her desk and started writing. “We need to be writing all of ths down. People from the last ascension said she could control the Lotus, and now you have verified that.”
“So what makes you think this has anything to do with the comas? Driving Lotus is one thing, it’s a creepy thing, but it certainly doesn’t explain the comas. What I recall hearing is that she just pointed at Vanessa Wong and she fell out. Lotus were there of course, but no one said anything about a Lotus doing it.”
“Have you ever seen a person being chosen by a Lotus? They go into a catatonic state. With Heidi,” His throat seemed to close up. He forced it open, swallowing down the cottony lump that had formed there. “With Heidi, she just didn’t come out of it. Etta was there when it all happened. She was right there.”
“But you said before that she didn’t do this to Heidi,”
“That was before. But now I realize things aren’t as they seem. Not at all, not with her. Not with them.”
Rachel cocked her brow at his tone. “Them?”
“Etta and my cousin, Baldwin Falk. I am not saying that she is wicked,” God, he prayed she wasn’t. “But things just aren’t as they seem, for better or for worse.”
“So he is alive then, Baldwin? I mean I didn’t think Etta had murdered him or anything.”
“Oh he is alive and well. I heard them talking on the phone last night.”
“And he is the ringleader for the revolt against the ascensions, right? Etta is supposedly his spokes person?”
Yes, I love you forever. I will not leave you. Etta’s words to Baldwin sounded off in his head. His jaw clenched. “Supposedly.”
* * *
It was getting harder and harder for him to come back from wherever it was that he was being drawn to. The weight on him felt like molasses; thick and heavy and nearly unmoving. But what made it even harder was the force of will it cost him to want to leave this place at all.
No, he wasn’t there yet, heaven, but he was definitely somewhere in between and the in between was like liquid sunshine to chilly bones, with the promise of more if only he would just give in to its draw upon him. Baldwin wanted more.
He centered his mind, focusing on the tiniest sliver of cold and dullness. Life, the world where Etta was, the place he had come from, certainly held nothing of life compared to this. He had actually never felt more alive. But, Etta, she needed him. They had started on a mission and they were going to finish it, together.
The point of return, the cold, danced across his face before suddenly being cut off as if someone else had passed by in front of him. Someone had. Baldwin couldn’t see them, but he could feel them. He stopped, still sensing their presence and waited in the pulsing warmth and light, before finally taking a step towards the cold again.
If Baldwin was dead and dancing between his former life and eternity, it stood to reason that there were many others who were doing the same.
A familiar voice stopped him mid-motion. The distinct timber of Albert Castle’s voice called to him again, before the blurry figure of the man stepped forward.
“Baldwin? Baldwin Falk, is that you? It’s me. Etta’s grandfather, Albert Castle!”
They spoke his name in unison before Baldwin took the lead. A strange defensive air rushed inside him until it was washed away by the warmth and light. This was neutral ground they were standing on, a place far too sacred for the Towes or the Pulse to tread upon.
“I know who you are, Mr. Castle.” He clamped his mouth shut. He didn’t know what else to say. After all this was the first time that he had encountered anyone here, in this place apart from the old visions that he was having of Etta.
Mr. Albert scratched the side of his head and looked around. Cold, the cold from the land of the flesh and bone was fluttering off and around him like vapors from an ice cube. Baldwin looked down at his arms and hand. There was nothing coming off of him which only meant one thing, Mr. Albert was still alive, but toeing the line of transitioning to another place.
Still cautious of the man who had played his and Etta’s enemy for the last few years, he asked him, “Mr. Albert, do you know where you are?”
The expression on the older man’s face was nothing short of utter confusion, lucid confusion, not some residue from having battled with Dementia and Alzheimer’s. He chose to use his words wisely. If Albert Castle was still alive, which he suspected he was, Baldwin certainly was not going to be the one to tell him to walk into the light. What he would do however was use this moment to his advantage—to the world’s advantage.
No one needed to know he was dead, especially not Albert Castle. He had once been a puppet of the Pulse. There was no guarantee that he still couldn’t be used. But as long as the Pulse believed he was alive then they plan would continue moving forward as hoped.
He asked Mr. Albert the question again.
This time Mr. Albert shook his head and chuckled in a light-hearted way that Baldwin had never seen. He doubted if Etta had ever seen it before. “You know what son? I don’t have the foggiest idea as to where in Sam’s Hill I am. Last thing I remember was heading to Ms. Hattie Mae’s house. You know Ms. Hattie Mae, the lovely woman who lives on the corner of Booker and Main?”
Baldwin nodded. Hattie Mae was about ten years older than Mr. Albert but that didn’t interfere with their flirtatious meetings one bit. Etta had said something about the woman giving her grandfather more than sweet potato pies whenever he went to visit her. She said the woman gave him a hint of life no one else had. But Hattie Mae had died about a year after Mr. Albert had gone missing and come back converted to the Towes.
Mr. Albert went on. “I tell you, that woman sure knows how to make a good pie.” He winked at Baldwin and rubbed his hands together. “Anyhow, I was on my way there and—”
“You made a wrong turn.”
The confused look clouded his face again. “What’s that?”
Baldwin pointed towards the point of the cold, the direction of physical consciousness. “You made a wrong turn. Actually we both did, but if you follow me you will get there in no time.”
He smiled and waited for Mr. Albert to start heading away from the warmth, grateful that the sweetness of the thick molasses glow hadn’t yet gotten hold of him yet. He watched him and waited until he had passed back through to the other side before forcing himself to follow suit.
He also needed to figure out how to tell Etta that her grandfather was about to die without letting her know how exactly he knew about it.
* * *
Etta snapped the dove grey jewelry box closed and set it on the table next to the other charms she had fashioned from her latest batch of Lotus seeds. She intended to give one to Rachel that afternoon, but she had lost track of time, a lot of time.
She grabbed another seed and started working on her last piece. She had not bothered to open up the store. She had given Kyle a couple days off and couldn’t man the ship herself. She certainly wasn’t going to hire anyone new on. Instead she hauled the lower frequency Lotus seeds to the secret room and started working on her project with the same mechanic motions that a person working an assembly line used.
She just couldn’t pull her mind from last night, let alone get the fragrance of the woman’s perfume out of her nose. Each time she inhaled and recalled it her jaw tightened. The searing, hot anger that Jørn tried to mask from her, the lies laced in truth, all of it had occupied her mind so much so that—
“Ssss!” She hissed as sharp pain lanced through her finger. The jewelers’ tool had slipped awkwardly across the stone and stabbed her finger, drawing blood. Her phone rang just as she was heading for a bandage.
It was Jørn. She rolled her eyes and let it slip into voicemail. What the heck did he want? The phone buzzed again. She starred at it, debating whether or not she was going to answer it when it went into voicemail again, then a third time.
“Who was that?” Baldwin’s voice came at her from across the room.
Etta looked at him, and then the phone before dropping it into her purse. “It was Jørn?”
“What did he say?” Nervous energy began to burn dimly around him.
Etta cocked her head. What was going on? “He didn’t. I didn’t answer. Why?”
“Maybe you should call him back, now actually.” He closed the distance between them, gesturing towards her purse. “He is at the hospital right now, right? What if,” He paused, more nervous energy permeated the atmosphere. “What if it’s Mr. Albert?”
She slid her thumb down the face of the phone and typed in her pass code. She had not considered there being an emergency with Mr. Albert. His condition had not changed at all since he had been admitted to the hospital.
“What makes you think that there is something wrong with Mr. Albert? Why are you so nervous?” She didn’t bother beating around the bush.
Baldwin rolled his eyes and then stared at the ceiling, fishing for a response. “Call it intuition. Just call him back will you?”
She huffed and dialed her voicemail instead. The only thing she heard was a recording of the phone hitting the receiver.
* * *
Jørn was wanted to slam down the phone, yank it out of the plug, and launch it across the hall. It was her grandfather who had gone into cardiac arrest! Her grandfather who had flat-lined, and yet he was the one in panic mode because of it. He was the one left caring. But then what was he to expect? Etta was the one who had probably put Mr. Albert in the coma in the first place.
“Did she answer?” Rachel came around the corner and stood by him. Her hairline damp from the rush of adrenaline she had just had ripping through her. It was by the grace of God that she and Jørn were with Albert Castle when he started crashing. They had only been there for a few minutes when he just all but bottomed out.
Rachel was just about to call time death, when his pulse kicked back on of its own volition, almost as if someone had hit a switch and turned on a light. It didn’t make sense, but neither did anything dealing with his current state.
Jørn sighed and set the receiver back into place. “No, she didn’t.” Part of him was glad that she hadn’t. He was feeling so out of wits he didn’t know if he would have been able to control his tongue if she had.
Knowing his wife and her recent behavior, she would have probably answered him with her usual nonchalant tone which would have only fueled his desire to tongue lash her. For all he knew, she had probably planned for the man to die. He winced at the thought, feeling ashamed for thinking it and fearful that it might have been true.
Rachel didn’t say anything else. She only nodded and squeezed his shoulder. That was his cue. The day had been long enough. The conversation with Rachel even longer, and still they had not scratched the surface of all the information they were going to have to dig through in regard to their coma patients.
And then, if or rather more than likely when they discovered that Etta was indeed the reason that four people were in the hospital in nonresponsive states, with a fifth dead, what was going to be their next move? What was going to be his next move?
His brain locked at the thought. It had had enough already, he had had enough. He needed to get some sleep.