“Detective Lisa thinks it was another test,” Emily explained over dinner.
“Detective Lisa?” Pierce asked.
“Maria’s term. There is a Melissa Morrison being assigned to her room for next semester. Melissa is currently rooming with a Lisa who is dropping out of school. Apparently, Melissa’s first roommate was an Abby, but Abby threw her out after a week. Curious that Abby is the one Melissa talks about all the time. Anyway, Maria started saying Detective Lisa just to distinguish her from Melissa’s current roommate. Of course, Maria was hoping for a single, but she says now that Owen is gone it hardly matters.” Emily quieted. She imagined she was babbling.
Pierce understood. “You know, I don’t think Owen went along with Professor Hilde’s use of his work, especially after the murders started.”
“The suck face murders,” Emily said and added, “Jessica’s term.”
“I think Owen did not know how to stop it without being implicated and getting blamed with the rest,” Pierce finished.
Emily nodded. “That is what we all think and Maria has found some comfort in that.”
“I’m glad,” Pierce said and then he paused as if being glad was something special that he needed to think about. Emily waited and nibbled, but in the end, Pierce just brought them back to topic.
“So it was a test. What kind of test?”
Emily swallowed. “They were sent in to navigate a crowded place. They were probably instructed to kill someone, or at least to defend themselves and let nothing get in their way. And they were instructed to fetch something. Jessica pointed out that it had to be something easily broken to see if they could fetch it without breaking it.”
“Purely by chance. They would have had no problem otherwise. It was a well planned operation.”
“I’m not so sure it was by chance,” Pierce mused. “They may have waited to go when they knew you were at the mall. That may have been part of the test.”
Emily paused with her fork halfway to her mouth. She looked all around the room. “You mean like I am being watched?” she whispered.
“That seems possible,” Pierce said. Emily thought, great! by which she meant terrible. Now she was going to be paranoid for sure.
Pierce got her attention. “I want to show you something.” He looked around to see if it was safe before he pulled out a long, sharp knife. “I’ve been practicing with it. Zombies, you know.”
“I figure if I am going to be with you, I need to learn to defend myself.”
“Not that I could hope to defend you, but I consider Karyn my inspiration. She did not hold back at the firing range or the frat house, or at the end, I believe. I ought to be able to do no less.” He put the knife back in the inner pocket of his jacket.
What could Emily say? The Undead started their set and it was too loud to speak in any case.
They finished dinner at the Hive but before they left the restaurant, Pierce’s phone rang. He did not say much other than “Hello. Yes,” and, “I’ll be right over.”
When they got to the entranceway where they could talk, Emily spoke first. “Not another emergency.” She frowned and folded her arms as Pierce tried to hug her.
Pierce pulled back to study the situation. “Important, but not an emergency,” he said. “Why did you say it like that?”
“Sneaking off again to meet Zimmer and get another box loaded in the trunk in an alley behind some old warehouse?” Pierce put it together in his mind. “I went for a walk after you left. I saw you,” Emily admitted.
“Men with guns?”
“Oh, right. Regular army.”
Emily threw her hands down to plead with him. “What were you doing there?”
Pierce thought before he spoke. “I’m not supposed to talk about it, but since you saw, I will tell you. You have to promise not to say anything to anyone.”
Emily folded her arms again and nodded slightly, but did not actually promise in case she had to say something.
Pierce accepted that. “Genetically altered grain that will grow in marginal, even arid conditions to be tested. Imagine huge sections of the Sahara growing wheat. Doctor Zimmer is testing the genetic stability. Others, in other labs, are testing the nutrition and fiber content and whether or not it may go wild and predatory. The government wants to be sure it is stable and safe.”
“Oh, they don’t want the Chinese or anyone else to get their hands on it. The army was asked to escort the various samples around the country and you know army overkill. I can’t imagine Chinese spies in the back streets of Trenton, New Jersey, but you never know.”
This time Emily thought about it. She decided. “Okay.” She threw her hands around Pierce because she wanted some kisses. After all, he said important, but not an emergency.
Just before Thanksgiving, Henry Schultz walked into the gas-mart by the university campus to buy some 9 X 12 manila envelopes. He foolishly tried to strike up a friendly conversation with the clerk. “I need to send reports and the safest way is still the old fashioned way. Handwritten letters cannot be hacked, or even read when they are written in linear A.”
The clerk just stared dumbly and said, “Five-nineteen.”
While Henry reached for his money, a young punk came in with a gun. He pointed it at the clerk and demanded the cash from the register. He shrieked the words nervously, and Henry knew the young man was on crack or something. Henry did nothing until the punk turned the gun on him. “You, too. Give me your money.” Henry felt more than willing to do that.
A knife spun out from the aisle and sank deep into the crack-head’s upper arm. He howled as Emily came running to the front. Henry moved fast, like a blur of motion. He knocked down the man’s hand which sent the gun to the floor. He punched and the man went sprawling back into a coke display. Then he swung as Emily arrived. She could not avoid the punch. He hit her right in the jaw. She flew back ten feet into an end cap, buckled the shelves, knocked three shelves completely off the rack and knocked everything off the shelves to scatter across the floor. Emily went out cold, and did not wake up until officer Rob Parker arrived to help her up.
Emily found a manila envelope in her lap when she woke. Her knife had been put inside and a note appeared scribbled on the outside in a kind-of gothic script. It said, “Emily, you dropped this toy and always clean your weapons.” A symbol of some sort had been drawn beside the writing, a simple cross with an asterisk above it.
“Dick?” Rob looked up at his partner. Dick nodded.
“I’ll be here a while. The ambulance will be along, shortly and this guy isn’t going anywhere.”
“This has to be quick,” Rob told her. He wanted to run the lights and weave through traffic.
When they got in the car, Emily turned to the policeman. “Robert, isn’t it?”
The man nodded but said nothing as he took off, grinning.
Lisa took one look at the note and turned pale. Emily, Ashish and Latasha who was visiting all saw something in the woman’s face they had never seen before. If it was not fear, it was a close cousin. Lisa turned to look at Emily.
“Your sword dealer?”
“Henry Schultz,” Emily nodded.
“Edna told me about a Heinrich Schultz, but she met him way back in the First World War.” Lisa thought aloud. “You said he was old?”
“He couldn’t be that old,” Emily said. “That would make him over a hundred, even if he was just a baby back then.”
Lisa said nothing for the moment. She turned on Emily and her face and words were very stern. “What were you thinking?” Another scolding. Emily got a lot of that lately. “I half-expected Latasha might try to take out some drug dealer in her neighborhood. I didn’t expect this from you.”
“He was being robbed,” Emily meekly defended herself. “I was in a position to help. Can’t I do that?”
“No.” Lisa surprised her. “To begin with, and I know this will sound strange considering the impact you have had on campus, but who and what you are is best kept secret if at all possible. My own husband does not know exactly who and what I am, at least not all the details. The only reason I told Ashish some details is because it comes up so often in our work. Otherwise, warrior women have gone down in history as remarkable individuals, unsung heroes or not even noticed at all. The world does not need to know there are a bunch of us at any given time, even if it is a very small bunch. The rule is, without provocation, we do not interfere with the normal course of human events. Our place is more like disaster prevention and that is all. Is that clear?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Emily said and Latasha echoed the words.
“And more important, your place is not to take the law into your own hands. You were not elected to be a vigilante. That can get you into big trouble.” Lisa glanced at the manila envelope.
“But what if the thief shot that nice old man?”
“I’ll get you a pair of handcuffs!” Lisa put her hands on the table and leaned over to stare hard at Emily. “I have had to call in favors and apply a lot of pressure to the thief’s lawyer to keep you from being sued.” Lisa put her hand to her head. “That’s it. I have a headache.” Lisa told them to get out, and without another word about the old man, the envelope or the symbol on the back. Emily took Latasha out with her having judged it to be the only safe thing to do. They would ask questions later.
“I bet he is already gone,” Ashish said.
“No bet. You are probably right.”