BWI Airport, Baltimore, MD — June 21, 2004
The problem with sitting in the back of a large airplane, Chloe knew, was that you were always going to be one of the last ones off the plane when it arrived at the gate. Even having no luggage in the overheads didn’t help—there were just too many people in the aisle between her last-minute seating and her targets up in first class.
The one thing in her favor, however, was the inevitable time lag between when passengers disembarked—and when their luggage actually showed up at baggage claims.
So when Chloe followed the rest of the passengers from the Chicago-to-Baltimore flight to the baggage area, the vampires and their mortal assistants were still there, waiting on their luggage along with everyone else.
Great. Now what? She had no idea. Clearly they would be going somewhere—but where? Dawn would be coming soon, and vampires would need somewhere to stay, secret and safe. It was unlikely she’d be able to overhear the address they told a cab driver, or be able to follow them, even if she had a rental car ready to jump into at the door.
Why was she even here?
They’d seen her, of course. There was nowhere to hide, and she doubted she could have hidden from them anyway, now that they knew to watch for her.
She was all alone here. What had she been thinking? Why had St. Clair insisted—ORDERED—that she get on that damned plane?
The young man—TJ, who had chatted with her on the plane—left his luggage with his companion, and walked over in her direction.
TJ, at least, did not frighten her. He’d been friendly on the plane, in a somewhat dorky but not uncomfortable way. (Not at all like the creepy suggestive looks she’d gotten from the businessman across the aisle; in fact, his keeping her company for part of the flight had finally made the sleazebag give up.)
But now what did he—or those vampires—want with her?
“Hey, you made it,” TJ said, a bit awkwardly. “Here we are.”
Chloe managed a thin smile. “Yeah,” she said. “Together again. Yay.”
“So what are you gonna do now?”
“Uh—“ Chloe looked away, checking out the transportation options. Which were, of course, not much help if she didn’t know where she wanted to go. “I guess I’m supposed to keep following you.”
“Kinda hard to do that if you don’t know where we’re going.”
“You could always just tell me.”
“Yeah. Or you could just come with us. We’re going to a hotel. We could get you a room. Your own room, that is, nothing nasty or weird. Until you figured out what you wanted to do. I—I just kinda hate leaving you here all by yourself.”
Chloe hesitated, then rubbed at her eyes. “I have no idea. I mean, what’s your thought here? Do we all get together and do lunch at the hotel restaurant…or breakfast? Honestly, this is all starting to feel a little bizarre.”
He shrugged. “Yeah, I know. I don’t get it. But the Professor, he’s okay. And they said you could come if you wanted to.”
“You mean none of this makes any sense to you either?”
“Not really, no. Lots of things don’t right now. But unless you’re gonna get right back on a plane today—might as well come along, right? You look beat.”
“Good point…” Chloe hefted her backpack over one shoulder. “Thanks.”
Maybe it would make more sense after a good night’s sleep—or at least a very long nap. And maybe she could learn something, enough to satisfy St. Clair.
She followed TJ back to where the others waited. “So, uh… Introductions,” TJ said. “This is Professor Hewitt, and Mr. Copperfield, and Diane.”
Copperfield—her interrogator—just gave a half-smile and little wave, but Professor Hewitt’s smile was much warmer, with a touch of St. Clair’s charisma. He also had a very crisp British accent. “So glad you could join us, Chloe. Come along. I reserved a car, I think it will hold us all.”
The car was a large Lincoln, with more than enough trunk space for all their luggage—except one satchel that the Professor only relinquished to Mr. Copperfield’s hands. Chloe kept her backpack, which she held on her lap as she, TJ and Diane slid into the back seat.
“Alright, then,” Copperfield said, settling the satchel down between his feet in the front seat and unfolding a map. “We’re going to want Interstate 195 West, until we can get on the beltway—“
He stopped abruptly, lifting his head from the map. “Dammit,” he grumbled. “Another one.”
“On the curb, to the right,” the Professor said quietly. “No matter, we’re leaving anyhow.”
Copperfield didn’t turn to look, but Chloe did. One of the baggage handlers did seem to be watching them with more than just casual interest. A chill ran down her spine. No wonder they saw me. They just… knew. She wondered if that guy reported to St. Clair too—or to someone else, someone here in Baltimore.
“Talley-ho, and we’re off,” the Professor said, cheerfully, and the car moved out into the exit lane.
There was very little talking, save for Copperfield giving directions. It soon became clear where they were going was not downtown Baltimore, but somewhere else. It was all she could do to stay awake enough to hear those directions, so she might have some idea of where she was. Neither of her companions in the back seat were any better off. When one of them yawned, the other two soon followed suit—but the men in the front seat remained unaffected.
By the time the car finally pulled into the parking lot of a Ramada Inn, Chloe had totally lost track of where they were. The Professor inquired at the front desk, and gave her a keycard for a hotel room just down the hall from their own.
“Time for bed,” Copperfield said as they get off the elevator, covering his mouth with his hand for what was clearly (at least to Chloe) a fake yawn. “I don’t think I’ll even set an alarm.”
“Right,” the Professor said, looking at his watch. “It is very late, we’ll definitely need the recovery time. Let’s meet this evening and work out the details of our business… around nine, I think will be good.” He put the keys to the rental car in TJ’s hand. “Just in case you want to go somewhere later. Get some rest, it’s been quite a long night.”
He and Mr. Copperfield vanished into their room and shut the door.
TJ unlocked the next door down the hall. “I could sleep for a week,” he said, dropping his duffle bag on the nearest bed.
“No, you won’t,” Diane said. “You’ll be hungry by lunch time.”
“Yeah, then I’ll be ready for a nap afterwards.”
Chloe paused at the door to their room, her own key-card in her hand. “I am just totally confused,” she admitted. “I guess I should pay your professor back for the room…”
“Don’t worry about it,” TJ said. “At least not tonight. Look—“ He found the inevitable pad of paper and pen on the hotel desk, and scrawled a phone number on it. “Here, this is my cell number. Just give me a call when you feel like going out for some lunch, or late breakfast—or whatever. Or call this room, 312. Okay?”
Chloe accepted the piece of paper. Ramada Inn, Towson Maryland, it said across the top, and then a phone number… she could look up the area code later. “Thanks. Uh… good night.”
“It’s gonna work out, Chloe,” TJ assured her, putting the do not disturb tag on the doorknob. “Night.”
In her own room, Chloe kicked off her shoes and sat cross-legged on the bed, with TJ’s hastily scrawled phone number in one hand, and her cell phone—still turned off from the unexpected plane trip—in the other.
I am going to miss my classes tomorrow.
I’m in fucking Maryland.
No one else knows where I am. If something happens to me, they’ll never even know where to start looking for my body.
It would be dawn soon—she could already see the early gray light through the sheers over the window. So the Professor and the very scary Mr. Copperfield would soon be sleeping, but Professor St. Clair, back in Chicago, might still be awake. She could call, ask for instructions. Maybe he’d just tell her to call a cab back to the airport and come back home….
Or maybe he’d still be angry. She couldn’t call him now, not with nothing to show for it. She had to have something to tell him, to make up for her screw-up at the airport, and the price of the ticket. Something about these travelers, where they’d come from, what they were doing, something. Something to make him proud of her again.
She put the phone on the side table, and left it powered down. Might as well save the battery, she didn’t have the charger with her anyway. Tomorrow. She could call tomorrow…. After she had something to report.
And hope it was good enough, so he would let her come home again.
When Chloe woke up again, it was past noon. There were (once she mustered the courage to turn the phone on again and check) no messages, not even a demand for more information she did not yet have. She wasn’t sure if this was a bad sign or a good one—did he expect her to know what to do next? Or had he written her off as a bad investment, and was already checking his class lists for his next trusted assistant?
No, no… She could at least leave him a message, right? So he knew she was still on the job, still following through on… on whatever this was. Taking a deep breath, she called his daytime number, and then requested voicemail.
“Hi, Professor. It’s Chloe Lehrer. I made it to Towson and now I’m just wondering…what the next best step would be, what you had in mind? Um, you can reach me at my cell number if you want. I guess I’ll just keep doing…what I’m doing until I hear from you. Thanks…bye.”
She was still contemplating her phone (and the piece of paper with TJ’s cell number on it) when there was a knock on her door. She opened it a crack, to see TJ and Diane standing out in the hall.
“You hungry?” TJ asked. “We’re going to hunt down a wild omelet—or whatever it is they serve at Denny’s at this hour.”
She was, in fact, hungry. And maybe she’d be able to find out a bit more—make St. Clair happy again. “Sure,” she said. “Lemme get my shoes on, and I’m good to go.”
The day was hot and bright, and the walk to the Denny’s down the block was just long enough to make them appreciate the cool rush of the air-conditioning as they went inside. The awkward weirdness of the night before seemed very far away.
They settled into a booth, with Chloe and Diane on one side and TJ taking up the other. “It’s lunchtime—okay, late lunch. Definitely burger time,” TJ said, glancing over the menu.
“If it’s got eggs, I’m good,” Diane said. “Breakfast served all day, just what I need.”
Chloe looked at the menu, calculating how much cash she had, and when she’d be able to hit an ATM. She ordered a cup of soup and half a sandwich from the budget menu.
“You can get more if you want,” TJ told her. “We’re good for it, don’t starve yourself.”
“No, really,” she assured him. “This is fine. I—I don’t eat that much. And grilled cheese is comfort food.” Shit. Watch what you say!
“Yeah, I can see that,” TJ agreed.
Once the waitress had taken their orders and brought the first round of drinks, however, an awkward silence fell, all of them pretending (at least for the moment) to be more interested in getting their drinks sweetened or stirred to their satisfaction than looking the other people at the table.
“Okay, this is weird, right?” Diane said at last. “Can we all just agree on that, and then get down to figuring out what’s really going on? Like, why did you get on the plane and follow us here?”
“I’m not really sure,” Chloe admitted, nervously. “I mean, my professor told me to, but I still don’t really know why.”
“You told me you were going to visit your grandmother,” TJ put in, puzzled.
“I had to tell you something. It was the first thing that popped into my head. Everybody’s got a grandmother, right?”
“Okay,” TJ said. “But you were watching us, last night. At Starbucks. I saw you. And all we were doing was having coffee. Hanging out, waiting for our connection. What’s so suspicious about that?”
“If anything,” Diane added, “Realizing some stranger is watching us, that’s much more suspicious than anything. At least the professor and Mr. Copperfield seemed to think so.”
“Nothing—I mean, that’s not it.” Chloe looks very uncomfortable. “Really I wasn’t told a lot. Just to look out for the things you always look out for.”
“Things you always look out for…?” Diane frowned. “Like what?”
“You know, like the coffee,” Chloe explained. “Mr. Copperfield, he was pretty good at it, but your professor…you should remind him to swallow when he puts the cup to his lips. Makes it look more natural, like he’s actually drinking it.”
Diane and TJ exchanged puzzled frowns across the table.
“But—why would that be something to look for? I mean, he was drinking the coffee—wasn’t he?” TJ asked. “Who orders coffee at a Starbucks if you’re not going to drink it? It’s not cheap.”
“Exactly,” Chloe said, certain this proved her point. “Because…people don’t just normally go around buying stuff and pretending to drink it. So, that’s one thing to look for. Food, too, of course, but most people don’t go to Starbucks for food.”
“Not at that hour, anyway—well, unless you’re TJ,” Diane amended.
“Hey, I was hungry,” TJ said, then refocused his attention back to Chloe. “And anyway, you didn’t finish your coffee either. I heard it go thunk when you threw it out. You must’ve had at least half of it left.”
“What—?“ Chloe stammered, caught off-guard. “Oh, maybe I did—I was nervous, that’s all. I just wasn’t thinking—it’s not the same thing.”
“Not the same thing as what?” Diane repeated. “You’re not making any sense—“
The waitress arrived with their food. Chloe was grateful for the reprieve, even though the conversation was eroding her appetite even for comfort foods. And every attempt to explain her actions was beginning to feel more and more like an ill-fated game of charades.
In fact, as they began to eat their assorted lunches, Chloe was beginning to wonder if these two had any idea of what she was talking about at all.
No. It couldn’t be. They couldn’t possibly be that clueless. They were traveling with those men. They clearly didn’t even question why neither their professor or Mr. Copperfield had joined them for lunch. Or why they were traveling only at night.
Unfortunately, the distraction of the food didn’t last nearly long enough.
“Okay,” TJ said, after he’d wolfed down his entire burger and half his fries. “So you were watching us in Starbucks, and you said Mr. Copperfield and Dr. Hewitt didn’t drink their coffee. And then you followed us, because this professor told you to. And then when we spotted you, he told you to buy a ticket to Baltimore out of the blue and just follow us here? But then Copperfield said you could leave… so why didn’t you? I mean, he was scaring the shit outa you, I could tell.”
“Yeah, he was pretty scary,” Chloe admitted. “I mean, I know how they usually react to that kind of thing, and…and he was asking questions I couldn’t—I didn’t have answers for. I didn’t want to follow you. It’s just what I was told to do.”
“Wait, who’s they?” TJ asked. “Copperfield? Or your professor? I’m confused.”
“I mean Copperfield and your professor, and — and my professor,” Chloe said, hoping against hope they’d pick up the clue. “You know how They are… don’t you?”
“I’ve had two cups of coffee and I’m still completely confused about this,” Diane said dryly.
“Okay,” Chloe said, stirring the residue at the bottom of her cup. “How long have you two been with these guys?”
“I’ve had Hewitt for three semesters,” TJ answered. “Just met Copperfield the other night. He’s an old … I dunno, business acquaintance, I think? Hewitt’s a good guy, though. He only sounds like a twit, really. He’s sharp, sharp as they come.”
“Right, TJ, that’s enough detail,” Diane put in. “But yeah. I just started working for Dr. Hewitt a few weeks ago, and we just met Copperfield. Why?”
“I’m just saying…” Chloe glanced out the window for a second, reminding herself that it was broad daylight and They could not hear. “And it’s all I’m going to say…in all that time, have you ever seen them eat or drink…anything?”
“Well, yeah, I mean—Charles is British, likes his tea and all….” TJ hesitated. “When we had those sandwiches. He had the salmon….didn’t he? Or was it the chicken salad.. Damn. I don’t remember.”
“Of course, he eats—how can anyone not eat?” Diane said, though with less certainty. “I mean, we’re meeting for dinner tonight, aren’t we?”
TJ’s brow wrinkled. “We’re meeting tonight, but didn’t Charles say at nine? That’s way past dinner time.”
“Not for Europeans,” Diane pointed out. “And restaurants are generally open ‘till ten or eleven. We could ask to make it into a dinner meeting.”
“But my stomach’s on American time!” TJ protested.
“Fine, get a burger to go, to tide you over,” Diane told him. “I think a late dinner sounds just fine. Just to settle the issue, right?”
Chloe nodded, but her smile was entirely fake—because it had just occurred to her how deep a mess she was really in. If these vampires hadn’t told their mortal attendants what was really going on, they were not going to be happy if they figured it out (or worse, could blame it on her). Maybe Dr. Hewitt was a forgiving sort—but that still left the very dangerous Mr. Copperfield, and she was here entirely on her own. Shit. Now what am I gonna do?
To Be Continued….