After the dishes were done, Jean and I went out to check out the food truck. I opened up and checked every cabinet and door inside. Jean went around the outside to check the tires and look underneath, as well as checking out the outside storage compartments. I heard the generator start up and shut down after a minute or so. Then Jean was back inside, and sat in the driver’s air seat.
He started up the engine, found it ran as smooth as ever, so turned it off again. “Yup, everything is here except the key-chain. I suppose that’s missing for a reason.”
“And everything is the same inside as before, except there’s no food or paper or plastic-ware. Like it just came off the lot.”
“That maybe where she actually got it from. She’s pretty resourceful.”
I leaned up against the order counter. “Any idea where Chaz might be?”
Jean got up out of the driver’s seat and sat on the broad dashboard away from any knobs or controls. “I can’t contact him for some reason. He’s somewhere that the pendants don’t work — which is a new one for me. I can sense anyone else I tried to contact — and did contact a few of them. But no one’s heard anything about him good or bad.”
“So there’s no leads to follow to track him down?”
“No, but we’ve got the word out. I was hoping Meg would give us some idea, but the only thing she’s told me is what you heard — that Chaz is going to be just fine. Of course she can’t tell us anything that is about to happen, so that vague reassurance is probably bending the line, even for her.”
I just looked at the narrow floor of the food truck. Reassured or not, being without Chaz is never easy for me. And the food truck was just reminding me of how close we’d become since our first summer job together with Jean.
“Hami, maybe we should do another road trip. The saloon will be fine for awhile, and I need to see how the engine is running over the road.”
“Just a joy ride, or did you have something in mind?”
Jean smiled. “Actually, there’s a little festival going on just down the road. And another food truck is probably just what they need. At least, it’s what we need. Helping someone else is a great way to get your mind off things.”
I gave a wry smile at that. Comfort cooking makes for great comfort food.
“OK, Jean. Pull it up around back and we’ll stock her up again. Might have to pull in somewhere to get some extra burgers, cheese and buns. But milk and ice cream are in good supply in my saloon kitchen as well as ketchup, mustard, and the condiments. I’ll go up and make sure everything is still shut off upstairs, and put the heavy front door shut to keep the desert dust from blowing in while we’re gone.”
- — — -
Before long, we were on our way down black top that passed for a state highway in front of the saloon. We were headed east, the sun at our backs. Jean was driving, the radio on low. I was sitting in the bus seat behind him, with the latest Ghost Hunter anthology. It was a simple way to catch up with what everyone else we knew was doing. Without any too-racy or dull parts.
After a half-hour driving on the long, straight roads, Jean turned off the radio and cleared his throat.
I dog-eared the page I was on and look up at the mirror over his head. “Yes?”
“There’s someone been behind us for awhile. Same distance. Not even enough sense to get a beater truck or a four-wheel drive. Just a black SUV. With no real dust on it.”
“Someone is following us.”
Finally Meg and I stopped sinking. The ground around us was more rock and clay than anything else. But breathable to us Lazurai, just like it was air. And a weird sensation, because I’d only heard about it.
“It’s OK Chaz, you can let go now. You’ll be fine on your own since you made it this far.”
I dropped my arms and stepped back. “I guess that’s a relief.”
“As far as I know, they can’t track us down here. Now we have time to answer all the rest of your questions. But we have to keep walking. I’ll teach you how to glide down here, and we’ll make better time than on the surface.”
Gliding was kinda like cross-country skiing. Your arms swung out in front to keep your balance, and you took long strides with each step. A lot like roller or ice skating. I had to trust her to lead us. Mostly it seemed we were following a particular rock seam. But I didn’t have time to look around much, as we picked up speed quickly.
“So you’re a cross between Betty and Tess?”
Meg laughed. “That’s a simple way to put it. I just finished my training at Rochelle’s with her Lazurai nursing school, and Ben’s Academy for the Paranormal Detective Inclined.”
I smiled at that description. Ben was a bit stuffy about things, but could take a joke, too. I had only met him once, but he had a firm handshake and wise, comforting eyes. Didn’t say much, but I saw him smile slightly more than once at a few things that came up during that celebration.
“And what’s your connection to Tess?”
“More like a distant relative. As I said, one in a billion will manifest this. We’re lucky we both knew about John. Otherwise, we’d probably never have met. Time and space are huge haystacks to go fishing for needles in.”
“These guys that are watching us — what’s their scene?”
“Meddlers. Well-financed, apparently. And into these gizmo’s they carry around. I’d run into them before and wound up pretty well beaten up. Just got away in one piece and then Betty fixed me up — just like I figured would happen, just not how.”
“So you know future events as well?”
“And that might be why they are after me. You’re just a sidebar to them. They’d like to know your talents, too, but they knew I’d come after you, so they set a trap.”
“Meaning that’s why you wouldn’t come through that shimmering circle thing?”
“Yea, the portal. They could pick me up en route if I did. You, too, but they probably figured that having you with me would slow me down.”
Just then she did slow, with her arm out in front of me. So I dropped my pace and stopped with her. Meg was concentrating on something. Then turned to me and noticed my frown.
“Oh, sorry. Sometimes I have to concentrate on the ‘ley-lines’ that are all around us. Those are the time-space coordinates that people generate into their future, or vice-versa — it’s debatable. Anyway, we need to do some tricky moves to throw them off. Somehow, one of their gizmo’s has a database of all the sightings of me through history, and it seems to be updating itself all the time.”
Then she closed her eyes. “Oops.” She opened them again. “Worse, they are tracking all the Ghost Hunters. What a game of chess.”
Meg looked around and then crouched into a sitting position, on a rock formation that was slightly different than the one below it. Flat on top, and about knee high. “Let’s take a moment. Come. Sit.”
She patted the rock shelf as if it were a bench outside one of those gas stations with a convenience store attached — like Chuck’s Place, down the road from us.
So I sat and let her think things through. Whatever passed for light down here suited her. She looked calm and pretty. A lot like Hami. And my heart twinged at that, but I let it calm down. Meg said she was fine. I had to trust her like I did breathing rock underground.
After awhile, Meg looked at me. “Thanks for waiting. Like I said, chess. We take a move, they counter-move. When we stop, they either move — or stop. The rest of it is figuring out our possible moves ahead and then their possible moves ahead. But the trick is that they don’t know what they don’t know. And I can know roughly what they are going to do, as I can see their converging patterns out ahead.”
“So you can tell the future?”
“Not exactly. There are strong convergences, but that’s about it. And no, I can’t see my own ‘ley-lines’ or just what is going to happen to me. But I can see anyone’s lines after I’ve met them once. Then I just have to concentrate, focus on just what probably will happen ahead of them.”
“Meaning you’re working out how to get us both safe?”
“Well, it’s worse than that. Your Hami and Jean are headed into a messy tangle right now. There aren’t a few clear lines for them to follow to get out of what’s coming.”
I frowned. “So you should take me out just ahead of where they are going to wind up and we can wait.”
Meg frowned and shook her head. “Which is just what they want. An ambush.”
“But we can’t leave them walking into it themselves…”
“No, of course not. The trick is that I don’t know that they haven’t somehow tapped into these pendants. Because yours quit working in that space they sent you to. At least they can block them somehow. Meaning, we dare not warn them about it, because that would give us away.”
I just breathed deep to calm myself. “What do you suggest?”
“I have a plan. It’s risky, and is going to tie up our ley-lines into a pretty bad knot. And if I’m right, it will mess up their database with loops. If this works, I’ll be able to take their whole network out of commission — or at least disable it for a while.”
I turned to her, eyebrow raised. “Well? How about cluing me in?”
She turned and put her hand on my shoulder.
“OK. Listen closely. This can seem confusing. But Hami and Jean are depending on your courage in this…”
Continued in Part 4…
Can’t wait to see how this turns out?
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Originally published at Living Sensical.