PART 35: THE WOUNDED
His pencil tapped idly against the pages as he looked down at what he had written. There no longer seemed to be any clear cut way to extract his characters from the situation into which they had been placed.
“I hate it when that happens,” Hank Waterson grumbled. He finally tossed his pencil aside and left his novel behind in the study, figuring he could use something to drink. The phone rang on his way to the kitchen, so he stopped in the hall to answer. “Hello? Yes, this is Hank Waterson,” he replied absently. His knuckles went white. “There was a what? Where is she?! Oh my God… okay, I-I’ll be right there!”
Slamming the phone back down, Hank turned and charged out of his house, coming back only long enough to grab his car keys.
“Where is she? Where is my daughter??” Hank Waterson demanded as he charged up to the front desk at the hospital, breathing hard.
“Take a moment to calm down, sir,” the receptionist advised. “Then tell me your name.”
Hank turned to see who had spoken. It was some teenage kid with glasses. No, wait a minute, he knew this guy. Nice kid, they’d met about a month ago. He came to see Carrie every so often, to help her with math. What was his name? “Frank?” ventured Carrie’s father once he’d managed to catch his breath.
Frank nodded. “They… Carrie’s still in emergency. It’s supposedly not as bad as it looked, but…”
“You mean you were there when it happened??”
Frank bit down on his lip as he nodded again. “But it all took place so quickly, sir… I-I’m sorry, there was nothing I could do…”
“It’s fine. It’s not your fault,” Hank assured, resting what he hoped was a comforting hand on Frank’s shoulder. “Still, if… if possible, I’d like to hear more. Once I’ve checked in with the appropriate people.”
“S-Sure, I’ll be over there,” Frank noted, gesturing to the nearby waiting area.
When Carrie’s father came over a little while later, Frank felt his body tense up. It was fine though, he told himself. He’d repeat the same story that he’d given to the police.
“Good news,” Mr. Waterson said. “They’re doing everything they can for her.” He paused. “There’s every chance she’ll pull through.”
“You don’t sound that confident,” Frank observed.
“I…” The tall man sighed, and sank down into an adjacent seat. “I guess I’m not,” he admitted. “I mean, they’re doing their best, of that I’m sure… it’s only, I heard similar things after my wife…” He stopped. “You don’t need to hear about that. What DID happen then? It was at your house, I’m told?”
Frank swallowed. Time to lie again. “It’s… it’s all kind of hazy actually,” he said. “It’s like I told the police, someone got into the house – I guess they were trying to rob us – and they surprised me and Carrie in the sitting room. A couple of shots were fired, the person escaped, and I called 911.”
Carrie’s father nodded, and reached out to touch Frank’s knee. “Thank you for doing that. I’m sure every second counted. Oh, and good to see that you weren’t hurt either,” he added. “I suppose this was somewhat traumatic for you too… where are your parents?”
“Around,” Frank said. He’d made them drive him to the hospital, after making a preliminary report for the police. “But I told them I’d feel better waiting here, with another classmate.”
“Oh? Who’s that?”
“Me.” As Luci walked up and held out a can of juice from the vending machine towards Frank, Carrie’s father turned his gaze upon her.
Perhaps sensing the older man’s scrutiny, the ponytailed asian girl jerked her gaze back over at him. “Hello, YES?” she said pointedly. Mr. Waterson pulled back at her manner, and Frank belatedly realized they might not have ever met.
“Oh! Er, Luci, this is Carrie’s father… Mr. Waterson, this is, er, Luci Primrose, a mutual friend,” Frank said hastily. He took the proffered juice can from her.
“Luci…” Hank said slowly. “Oh, of course! You’re the young, intelligent one Carrie’s mentioned on occasion.”
“I suppose so,” Luci replied guardedly, still sizing him up.
Mr. Waterson lifted an eyebrow. “Um… Luci, is everything okay? Have I said something wrong?”
Luci shook her head. “No,” she vocalized at last. “It’s only that I’m a bit surprised to see you here.”
Mr. Waterson raised a hand to forestall Frank’s protest. “Why do you say that?” he asked.
Luci glanced back in Frank’s direction only briefly before looking back at Carrie’s father. “I figured it would take you longer to arrive. After all, from what I’ve been able to learn through Carrie, you never took much of an interest in her.”
Frank stood, aghast. “Luci, maybe we should find my parents and–”
“No, that’s all right,” Mr. Waterson interrupted with a sigh. “She is right, after all.”
Frank winced. “Oh, I don’t know…”
“If it takes a life or death situation for me to meet someone’s Carrie’s been spending her time with, I can hardly claim otherwise, can I?” he retorted wryly. He smiled at Luci. “You certainly share Carrie’s spirit and determination. The two of you must be close.”
The corner of Luci’s mouth twitched, but the elder Waterson missed it, having already looked at the floor. “I fear that ever since her mother left us, me and Carrie have been drifting further and further apart,” he admitted. “It’s on me. I have tried to be the best father I can, yet I seem to make the wrong decisions at crucial times.”
“I’m sure you’ve always tried your best,” Frank assured, sitting back down. He placed his own hand back on Mr. Waterson’s knee.
“I can still remember back when we had it all worked out,” Carrie’s father continued, seemingly to himself. “My wife worked during the day, while I took care of Carrie and did periodic work on my novels. In the evenings, Elaine would take over while I worked part time at a phone call-in centre. We only really saw each other on the weekends, but at the time, it was enough. It was only supposed to be until we’d raised enough money to give Carrie a good life anyway. The trip to Bermuda, that was going to be the turning point.” He paused. “I guess in a way it was.”
Frank and Luci exchanged looks. “I was sorry to hear about your wife’s disappearance down there,” Frank ventured.
“She TOLD you about that?” Mr. Waterson said, looking back at him with a measure of incredulity. Frank nodded. The adult continued to stare for another few seconds, then returned his gaze to the ground. “I should have told her myself, back then,” he said. “I simply couldn’t believe it had happened.” He smiled sadly. “It’s funny, really. Before I met Elaine – Carrie’s mother – I’d never even considered marriage. Then after we met, I couldn’t imagine life without her. I always thought that somehow, that meant I’d know if she died… that I’d feel it somewhere. Yet I still haven’t, not to this day.”
Luci cocked her head to the side. “Have you ever expressed those feelings to Carrie?” she wondered.
Carrie’s father shrugged. “She won’t listen. I can’t blame her. For years, I had her convinced that her mother would be coming home. We didn’t even attend the memorial service. I was so sure that Elaine would be found…!” Hank briefly clenched his fist, then let it drop open. “Carrie’s never forgiven me for hiding the truth the way I did. And there’s no way I can make that up to her.”
There was an uncomfortable pause. “Well, I’m sorry to say this, but you’re probably right,” Luci said at last. “However, that’s no reason to pull away from Carrie. Avoiding her isn’t helping matters.”
“Avoiding?” he frowned. “Have I been avoiding her? Hm. Perhaps I have been, at that. She’s been reminding me more and more of her mother of late… not only in appearance, but in her willpower, and her drive to shape the world the way she wants… how can one lone man even handle that?” His smile became genuine. “It reminds me of a story my wife once told me, from back when she was young herself. Elaine nearly brought a whole orphanage down to it’s knees.”
Frank sat up straighter, even as Luci blurted out, “Did you say ORPHANAGE??”
Mr. Waterson nodded. “Yes, Carrie’s mother spent the first several years of her life in one. She was left there as a baby, never knowing who her real parents were… a bit of a shame, really…” Hank stopped at the expression on Luci’s face. “I’m sorry Luci, now I HAVE said something wrong.”
“N-No,” Luci stammered out, shaking her head. “It’s nothing.”
“Luci doesn’t know who her real parents are either,” Frank offered up.
“Oh. Well, you seem to be dealing with it all right, that’s good to see,” Carrie’s father said. He paused as he caught sight of his watch. “But look at me, babbling on endlessly to the two of you about irrelevancies when you should be getting back home. I can keep your families updated with information, so there’s no need for you to stay here personally. Dijora and… Primrose, was it?”
“Yeah,” Frank said. Still, it didn’t feel right to leave.
Mr. Waterson seemed to pick up on his hesitation. “They probably won’t even let you see Carrie, outside of visiting hours,” he pointed out. “Go. I’m sure everything will be fine.”
“How can you be so sure?” Luci challenged.
This time, Carrie’s father didn’t flinch back from Luci’s scrutiny. “Because after losing my wife – I’ll be damned before I let anyone take my daughter away from me too.”
Frank tossed the empty juice container into the trash receptacle. He and Luci had moved out of line of sight of the elder Waterson. “Okay Luci, what’s on your mind?” he asked. She’d had that partly thoughtful, partly annoyed look on her face for several minutes now.
“You want Issue A first, or Issue B?”
“Issue B,” Frank said. He was pretty sure he knew what “A” involved.
“Fine. The bit about Carrie’s mother being an orphan? It reminded me of Linquist,” Luci stated.
Frank adjusted his glasses. “Linquist did come to my mind too. Except… Carrie’s mother disappeared over thirteen years ago. Even if Linquist was checking over adoptees back then, which seems unlikely given how his interest is more recent, what are the odds that his crazed ravings are in any way connected to fact, let alone to her? And could he really have made an entire plane vanish?”
“It’s unlikely,” Luci yielded. “You’re right, of course.” She frowned. “Just a funny feeling, that’s all.” She fell silent for another few moments. “Okay. So. Did you tell Mr. Waterson about Julie?”
Frank let out a long breath. Back to Issue A. “No,” he admitted. “Luci, we need to keep that quiet.”
Luci shook her head. “Frank, WHY?” She paused to make sure there was no one in earshot before whispering, “She shot Carrie! Should we defend that simply because she escaped into the past with our time machine?!”
“There’s more to it than that,” Frank protested. “It’s as I told you before the ambulance showed up, Julie was acting funny.”
“Frank, Julie’s never been normal. Remember the flyer?”
Frank shook his head. “No, listen, the whole incident didn’t make sense.” He slapped his index finger into his palm, deciding he had to justify this as much to himself as he did to her. “First, Julie arrived at my place totally calm and collected. Then she was shaking like a leaf. Why?” He added a second finger. “Second, she shot at Carrie knowing I was there and could I.D. her, yet she took no direct action against me – not until I provoked her. None of which sounds like a typical Julie plan.”
Luci opened her mouth as if to interject something, but Frank kept talking, adding a third finger to his tally. “Third, and most importantly, what on earth was her motive? Why shoot Carrie, and then decide to undo, well, everything? Why not simply avoid shooting anyone in the first place?”
Luci stared, seemingly wondering if he was going to add another point. “So, what, you think Julie was set up?” she asked at last.
“I don’t know,” Frank admitted, spreading his arms out, wondering if he sounded as frustrated as he felt. “So until we DO know something, we keep Julie’s name out of it. There was a robber. You didn’t get to my house in time to see anything, and then you came here to the hospital. End of story.”
Luci rubbed her nose. “For THIS, you don’t compromise,” he heard her mumble. She looked back up at him before he could think to comment. “Okay, look. You HAVE to realize that as soon as Carrie regains consciousness, Julie’s name is going to come up!”
Frank nodded. “True. But this delay? Will give me enough time to talk with Clarke.”
“With…” Luci’s vexed look became thoughtful. “Hm. What do you think Clarke knows? How much are you planning on telling him about what happened? Are you going to mention the time machine?”
“Clarke gets the whole story.” Frank rubbed the back of his head. “As to the time machine… I’ll have to mention it. But as you pointed out to Tim a few days ago, we’re pretty sure Clarke already knows.”
Luci nodded. “True enough.” The young girl rocked on her heels for a moment. “And the only person who might object is Carrie, and she can’t exactly vote right now. Thing is, if you’re right? If Julie was somehow blackmailed into what she did? Something big is going on. Maybe bigger than we can handle.”
“Hey, if you have other options, I’m open to suggestion here.”
Luci opened her mouth to respond, but ultimately shook her head. “Nothing comes to mind,” she said. “I’ll keep thinking though.”
“Okay,” Frank agreed. “I’ll let you know how it goes with Clarke.” He glanced over towards the clock. “So unless there’s anything else…?”
Luci started to shake her head in the negative, but then she grimaced. “Okay, yeah, one other thing I want to ask.”
“Sure, Luci, anything.”
The young girl pursed her lips. “Carrie and me… we’re not so alike, are we? I mean, we’re not ‘close’, like her father said, right? I’m mean she’s so… so… while I’m not so… I mean, I’m not like her, am I?!”
Frank felt at a loss as to what the actual question was there. “Not really. Why, does something about the comparison bother you?”
“It annoys me that her father said we were close, within minutes of my first meeting him,” Luci said. She crossed her arms. “I mean, you don’t think I’m going to be like Carrie two years down the road, right?”
Frank grinned, as he tried to picture Luci spinning her hair in her fingers and batting her eyelashes, trying to get random boys in the hall to carry her books for her. “Trust me, Luci,” he said reassuringly. “I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”
Lee whistled absently as he finished reshelving the last of the books. A quick glance at his watch told him he was just in time, the library would be closing in another two minutes. “Another day, another dollar,” he mused aloud. He quickly wheeled the book trolley back to the rear of the building, resisting the urge to ride on it.
It was as he walked back to the stairs that some movement caught his eye back in the records section. “‘lo? Anyone there?” Lee called out. He saw the movement again and decided to check it out. “Hello?” he called out again. “Library’s closing in under a minute, get going while the getting going’s good.”
There seemed to be a figure standing in the shadow of the main shelves. “Time’s up today, buddy,” Lee continued. “Come back tomorrow.” The figure didn’t respond. “Look, I can totally see you,” Lee observed. “And the library is closed, so I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
The figure finally stepped forwards. It was a person wearing a cowl which concealed their face; Lee couldn’t make out any features. “You are going to do something for me now,” he – it was a male voice – said. “Listen carefully. You will turn around, and forget that you ever saw me. Understand?”
“Uh huh,” Lee replied. “Sure, buddy. You been reading ‘Hypnotism for Dummies’? Come on, I’m serious, library’s closed.”
The figure stepped closer. “I SAID, you will turn around, and forget that you ever saw me,” he repeated. “Understand?”
Lee rolled his eyes. “Hey, Judy!” he shouted out, hoping the head librarian would hear. “We’ve got a stowaway back here! Looks to be part of some weird cult!”
Said stowaway quickly reached up and pushed back his hood, allowing Lee to take in the features of a nondescript thirtysomething male with longish, dark hair. “I am not part of a weird cult,” the man said in obvious irritation.
Lee grinned. “Customer’s always right, of course. I simply call ’em as I see ’em.”
The man glared. “You have a very closed mind, and little to no understanding of what’s really going on around you.”
“Yeah, that’s what my friends always say. Now, are you gonna leave the library or not? You can always come back tomorrow, you know. This is how libraries work.”
“Oh, very well,” came the grudging reply. “What time do you open?”
“Hours are posted out front,” Lee said automatically. The man let out another quiet grumble and began to move past him. “Oop, hold on,” Lee remarked, extending his hand to block the way. “Is that a book of bound newspapers in your hand? Those can’t leave the library, sorry.”
The man turned. “I need some of these articles.”
“Well, take a snapshot or photocopy them then,” Lee replied. The man nodded and moved off towards the photocopier station. “But not now,” Lee added. “Seeing as the library closed five minutes ago.”
“You really are trying my patience.”
“Is there a problem here?” came a new, female voice.
Lee turned to see the head librarian approaching. “No problem, Judy,” he assured her. “Whatzizname here was looking to photocopy old newspaper clippings, except he left it a bit late.”
Judy nodded. “Right, the photocopiers will have powered down by now,” she stated. “Can you come back tomorrow, sir?”
“Oh, well, fine!” the thirtysomething said. He tossed the book of bound newspapers angrily into Lee’s arms, with enough force to make Lee stumble, then stalked off towards the stairwell.
‘Now there,’ Lee mused, ‘goes a guy accustomed to getting his own way.’
“I’ll follow him to make sure he gets out,” Judy said. “Can you possibly reshelve that volume before you leave yourself?”
Lee nodded. “No problemo,” he affirmed with a grin and a thumbs up. Judy smiled back and headed off, while Lee quickly tracked down the proper place for the records he was holding.
It was as he was sliding them in that he noticed a piece of paper sticking out. Likely a bookmark of sorts. Vaguely curious, Lee pulled the volume back out and flipped open to the page in question. He frowned. The three year old headline referred to the recent purchase of their town’s biggest house, by a wealthy out-of-town family.
“Bizarre,” Lee murmured. “Why’s a dude like that reading up on the LaMilles?” After a moment of thought, Lee shrugged, replaced the volume, and returned to the library’s front desk to sign out.