To say he felt like he was committing the worst kind of betrayal was an understatement. All of this was going completely against his character, and that still quiet voice that kept nagging at him, prodding him with the words, “Things are not as they seem.”
Jørn wanted to believe it was true, but there was just that part of him that warned it was better for him to have a safety net, be prepared to ahead of time to break his fall rather than letting the fall catch him off guard.
That was the problem with walking by faith—being all in.
He chewed the inside of his lip and pressed against the ache that had punched at his heart with unrelenting fist. He had been honest that morning, he told Etta the truth, he did not trust her. There was no reason why she should have been surprised by that, let alone hurt. And Etta had been hurt. The look in her dark eyes, the strain of her usually well-oiled tone as she called after him had unmasked the truth of her heart. She was choking down her tears.
Had he no self control that morning, he would have found himself on his knees, apologizing and attempting to soothe her with his words.
His fist clenched and he bit back a word that was very close to a curse. Loving her was making him crazy. He couldn’t be objective when his heart was so tightly knit to hers.
He was glad that Arnold needed to take a bathroom break. He didn’t know the man and the last thing that he wanted to do was let his guard down with him. Gaining information was one thing, spilling his own was another.
So far the only thing that Arnold was interested in doing was interrogating Jørn. Suspicious, Jørn took his time in answering each question, of course after first letting it be known that he had no intention of sticking around much longer for this. He had come because Arnold had told him he could help him.
Arnold insisted that the questions were not a part of some ulterior scheme, but a means to glean what Jørn already knew. “No need in repeating things you already know.” He had said.
Jørn had played along in the hopes that he would get some answers of his own. He didn’t want to waste time with playing the defensive end, but from the very first moment that Arnold stated that Etta had murdered Baldwin, that is exactly the role that he took.
Arnold had leaned back and considered him with a scrutinizing eye, but also one with a lot of compassion. The man had been down this road before. He obviously recognized that the truth was hard for loved ones of victims and perpetrators to hear. In this case Jørn was also wearing both of those hats as well.
They were certainly not off to a good start.
He tapped his fingernail against the concrete table top of the hotel room Jørn had rented out. The hotel was nearly an hour out of town, just about fifteen minutes away from the exist that led to Maryam’s home and office. That was convenient. Should anything else the man had to say or show make Jørn go crazy he could quickly seek mental help. Arnold told him over the phone that it was safer for them to meet in a room that wasn’t under Arnold’s name. He tactfully, but discreetly, mentioned that Sergeant Henley had been watching him, knowing who Arnold was. Jørn agreed and got the room.
Now he wagered should things really go south with Etta he at least had a place to hang his hat; close enough to keep his commitments with work, far way enough from probing eyes.
Arnold emerged from the bathroom, his brow raised. “Sorry about that. My guts haven’t been right since eating this chicken sandwich from the other day.”
Jørn’s brow rose as well. “Are you taking anything for your,” He jutted his chin towards the bathroom. “…condition? You could dehydrate and that is not safe for anyone, least of all a man of your age. It could lead down roads you don’t want to go, cardiac arrest being one of them. No offense.”
Arnold sighed, resting his hand across his stomach, his fingers splayed out like a fan. “None taken. I am no spring chicken.” He managed a smile.
“I can recommend a few over the counter products before I leave, but I think if you are not yourself come tomorrow you really ought to get to an urgent care facility.”
“Noted, now back to why you came out here. I know a lot of people out here have their own agendas against your wife. She is some what of a super hero to most, a means to an end for others, but that is not me. The only thing that I want, the only thing that I have wanted, is for that boy, your cousin to be able to rest in peace.” He tapped his finger against the folder that he had given to Jørn. “The last time that I saw his case I didn’t get a chance to really dig like I wanted to. I did dig enough to come to the conclusion that he was in fact dead, however. And I am sorry to be the one to tell you that.”
Arnold paused. He must have noticed the tensing in Jørn’s jaw, that or his guts were rolling again. Jørn was actually grateful for the short lived silent moment. He didn’t want to believe Arnold, especially in light of tracking down “Nobody,” the unknown person who resided at Westhaven, the one he was certain was Baldwin. He still hadn’t brought that up to Arnold. If the man was as good as his record showed, as good as he had claimed to be, then he must have had knowledge about Nobody, more so than Jørn.
If that was the case, he was playing his cards as close to his chest as Jørn was. He wasn’t offering the information and neither was Jørn.
Arnold spoke again. “I don’t in any way claim to be some cyber genius,”
“Baldwin is. He was always gifted with that kind of thing.”
Arnold nodded and raised his hand, continuing on as if he had not been interrupted. “…but I do know how to follow cyber trials. And I know others who are much better at it than I am. I am also fluent in the language that people speak when they plan to fall off the radar, as is being suggested by your wife in regard to Baldwin. There are telltale signs, patterns. The thing is Baldwin Falk has no such trail, or “red flags,” if you will, that would indicate anything like that. Actually the only thing that we have is a dead end.”
“But that doesn’t mean that he is dead.”
“I know you don’t want to believe that. Nobody wants to believe that about a person they love. But it doesn’t change the facts. If Baldwin were alive,” He dove right back into where he had left off prior to his emergency run to the bathroom, shooting out his list of facts with enough detail to make Jørn’s head explode.
Nearly five minutes later, Jørn broke into his neatly detailed explanation. “So you think this all incriminates Etta, how?” There he was again, back on the defensive. He needed to check himself, hear the man out. At the end of the day he didn’t know who was at Westhaven, not for sure. What he did know was that Baldwin was still a no show, Heidi was dead, and that Etta had somehow managed to control the Lotus, the very things that had killed Heidi. She could have been controlling them all along.
Arnold didn’t even seem to blink. Instead he reached into his briefcase and pulled out another stack of papers. The man was very old fashion in his way of sharing information. Opening it up, he pulled out several legal documents.
“What are these?” Jørn asked, nearly reluctant to pick them up. Arguing down speculation was one thing, arguing against documented proof was another.
“Look at them, Jørn. These are the legal forms for bank accounts, executorships, etcetera. All signed by Baldwin Falk and even notarized.”
They were bank statements, forms indicating that Baldwin had put everything that he owned in Etta’s name, bank accounts, ownership of the apartment, even stocks that he owned in companies that weren’t really worth that much; it was all transferred into her name.
He felt his heart drop and his fingertips grow cold. The cotton that had formed in his mouth and throat was too much for him to swallow down, and left him barely able to chew.
“Notice the dates on those, they are all signed by Baldwin about two years after Etta was accused of murdering him.” That was around the time Jørn had shown up and was trying to get her to vacate the premises.
“Okay?” Jørn managed, his eyes skating over the pages.
“Well there are two very big problems with those documents. The first is the person who signed these documents, Harriet Lembanks, had a stroke and lost the usage of her motor skills in March of that year. She quit notarizing documents immediately after that, however all of these forms are signed and dated sometime after September of that year.
“It could be a convenient misunderstanding since Mrs. Lembanks died in December of that year and all of her notary instruments were “misplaced,” during her husbands move out of town.”
Jørn’s throat constricted.
“Now I am sure that you are thinking, speculation again, that there is no way for me to prove anything is out of order here. Well,” He slid another document across the table. “These are scanned copies of Harriet and Baldwin’s signatures. The ones on Etta’s forms are not only forgeries, but really bad ones.”
Jørn finally looked up and met Arnold’s gaze. Arnold let out a long and compassionate sigh. “Now if your cousin were indeed alive, and was indeed working with Etta on some campaign against the sequence and the ascensions, ask yourself why would he, and why would she for that matter, go to such lengths of fraud when all he had to do was just sign the papers? One reason. There is no Baldwin to sign them.”
Jørn finally shook his head, pulling himself free from the crippling paralysis he had fallen into. He had not intended to throw the ace from his sleeve about Westhaven, but what choice did he have?
Heaven knew he didn’t want to believe Etta was guilty of murdering his cousin, of murdering Heidi. This was his last ditch effort, and he was going to try it for his own hearts sake. “I see all of this Arnold,” He slid the papers neatly together. “And, I am not trying to, nor can I, try to justify any of what you are showing me,”
“There is more.”
Jørn pressed his lips together and let out a breath through his flaring nostrils. “I am sure there is, but, I still believe that there is a chance that Baldwin is alive.” He pulled out paperwork of his own, showing the cell phone bill with the highlighted number on it. Before he could say a word, Arnold spoke.
“Westhaven Psychiatric. I know the number. I looked into that myself.”
“And?” He didn’t want to sound too eager lest the man choose to clam up on him.
Arnold wiped his face with his hand just as a pained grimace caused the muscle in his cheek to twitch. He spoke with paced words. His stomach was eating at him again. That wasn’t good. “And it is not Baldwin who is there. I had hoped it was, but it was not. Good lord!” He managed to get out before his face became ashen and he rushed back to the bathroom, slamming the door behind him.
Jørn let the professional in him take over his mind and emotions. He almost wanted to scream at the timing. Right when he was getting some truth, his only source was stricken with illness. What were the odds?
“Arnold?” He knocked on the door, grimacing himself as he heard the sounds coming from behind the door. The man was erupting from both ends. He needed to get to the hospital. “Arnold, I am going to pack up your things. I am taking you to the hospital—”
“No!” He hacked a bit more and then the toilet flushed. “Just, just call me an ambulance or I can get one myself. If Henley finds out we were together he is going to want to know why. That is no good. I will be alright.”
“Let me be the judge of that.”
A few moments past before Arnold opened the door. He was covered in perspiration and looked beyond ill. Jørn checked his pulse unhindered by the mess from where his vomit had missed the garbage, or the pungent odor of both types of his waste. Dissatisfied with his numbers, Jørn started to pull him up from the ground. “Let’s go, Arnold, the sooner we get moving the sooner—”
Arnold made it to the bed and pulled his arm free. He pointed a sharp finger at Jørn and an even sharper gaze. “I said no! I am not going to let you mess this up! I have already called an ambulance,” He showed Jørn his cell phone. “They are on their way. I can assure you that I am not going to die within the next fifteen minutes so, do us both a favor, no do us all a favor; you, myself, and your cousin, and get out of here. If Henley finds out I met with you, he will be on me like white on rice and that won’t help either of us get to the bottom of this.”
Jørn growled, irritated at the circumstances and irritated with Arnold’s constant mentioning of Rick Henley. “What does Rick have to do with any of this?!”
Arnold blew out a breath. “More than I can say right now. Suffice it to say I do not trust him, and neither should you. Now, get me a bottle of water from the fridge and go. I will call you when I am less of an embarrassment to myself. You have my word.”
Jørn waited until Arnold was resting back against the pillows of the bed and a full bottle of water had been consumed. He tried again to wait for the ambulance, but finally relented to Arnold’s demand especially when he told him he would not help him any further if he didn’t leave.
Feeling like his head had been caught in a swarm of bees, he gathered up his papers, jumped in his car and gunned it down the freeway. He was not surprised at all to see that he was making his way towards Maryam’s exit.
* * *
Etta had hidden away in her office, taking her time with the managing of accounts and bills for the store, leaving the floor and customer care all in Kyle’s hands. He seemed less frazzled when she briefly saw him before pulling herself behind the office door. Usually if the kid needed her help on the floor he was beyond willing to let her know so. Also, the accounts had been neglected and the last thing she wanted was to find herself without an income and store to keep when the war over the sequence was over.
Life would go on when this was finished and the less fragments she had to put back together the better.
Being in the office also helped her head. She didn’t know what Clive had going on down in the chapel, but the frequency of his activities was so amplified and assaulting to her senses that she could have almost sworn it was coming out of her very store. She pressed her eyes shut and deepened her concentration, allowing the vibrations and frequency from everything else in the room to build up a barrier of white noise.
Hearing the tick of the old clock on the wall, she pulled her eyes opened and sighed with relief. She had thirty-five minutes to get to Doris’ for dinner—a much needed reprieve and safe haven from a day that had tried to gut her from its very dawn. She would even allow Doris to feed her a mixing bowl filled with egg salad just as long as the woman gave her a hug. She really needed one of those after the way Jørn had bruised her heart that morning.
She frowned as she thought about what Jørn had said to her. He didn’t trust her, and maybe he had good reason, but that didn’t take the edge off the pain it caused her in hearing it. More than anything, it was the coldness to his tone and the fact that the he was having an affair—
“Something is wrong with Kyle.” Baldwin’s voice broke through her thoughts.
Etta shrugged. “I know. He has had it hard around here. I feel kind of bad for him, but he knew what he was getting into. What we are doing comes at a high price. We are screwing with some alien entity who tends to take everything very personally, and with that comes back lash. I don’t think he likes his new car that I got him either. That could also be it too.” She turned her desk chair around and fed several papers through the shredder.
Baldwin came closer. “That is not what I mean. There is something wrong with him. Like he is, he’s,”
Etta narrowed her eyes at him, her stomach suddenly soaring. Baldwin had not said it, but Etta knew what he was alluding to. She slowly shook her head as if beyond exhausted. She was. “Don’t tell me that.”
“He is not himself, Etta. I have been watching him since we’ve been here. There are little things off with him, like there were with Mr. Albert when he first—”
“What is wrong with the men in my life?!” She cut him off and thrust her arms out dramatically before letting out a heavy sigh. “Okay.” That was all she could manage. Suddenly frustrated, shot up from her chair and began to grab her things. She didn’t have the head to deal with this, but she could at least find out for sure. If Kyle had been changed, had been the Pulse’s recent convert, she shouldn’t be surprised. She had taken three people out of the Towes hold. She knew They would strike back. “We can talk in the car. I need to be at Doris’ in the next thirty minutes.” She needed it now more than ever.
Masking herself as if there was nothing wrong, and kicking herself for not paying closer attention; for not considering that the ruckus she was experiencing was indeed coming for the shop and not from a floor below, she exited her office and immediately caught Kyle in her sights.
He turned and met her gaze, the assaulting sound that she had tried to avoid radiated violently from him. Etta rolled her head around her shoulders suddenly wishing the Pulse was actually there for her to beat into a pulp for what it had done to him. Etta didn’t want this for Kyle, she didn’t want this for anyone, but she knew there would be casualties in this war.
“You heading out?” Kyle asked. He stood in front of the display of Secret Keepers, restocking them. The foul grey of his once brilliant aura taunted her.
Etta narrowed her eyes and smiled. If Kyle knew what the Secret Keeper dolls really were, then the Pulse certainly did now. The only thing left was to figure out what They intended to do about them. She said, playing dumb. “Yes. I told you have a dinner date with Doris.” There was a strange glint in Kyle’s eyes at the mentioning of Doris’ name.
Etta’s hand tightened around the thick strap of her leather purse. Not Doris, too. “There is still a bit of maintenance that I obviously didn’t get to today, Kyle, so if you could stay a little afterward and take care of that?” She raised her brow, her usually antics in getting Kyle to do more work than he wanted to do. He always huffed and made some snarky remark about being the only one who actually worked the store anyway. This time he did not.
Instead he only shrugged. “Sure, no problem.” He started putting more dolls on the display. “Have fun with Doris.”
Etta turned and headed for the exit, her chest constricting. “Thanks, Kyle. You’re a real doll.”
He chuckled. “Thanks. Have a good night.”
Etta snarled and grabbed her keys from her purse, whispering under her breath, “You were supposed to say, “I hope not.””