The infection, he thought. The infection.

He closed his eyes as the doctor went to work, and all he could think about was one thing: to kill Stetson.

Chapter Nineteen

I tapped my fingers on the armrest of Carla’s patrol car. The fog was working its way through the trees. Creeping along the grounds up to the observatory. Anna and Jared were both in the back seat behind me.

We were quiet now, but a few minutes earlier, it had been our worst argument yet. Anna had been furious. I tried to make her understand. I thought I did. I just wanted her close to me. I didn’t want her out of my sight, especially after she blatantly disregarded the rules.

Now we were both calm, contemplative. Collecting ourselves, our thoughts. My own thoughts, for some reason, were a bit scattered. Harder to organize.

Must be tired, I thought.

Anna had looked like I felt. Like hell, that is. Her eyes were red from tears. Not the blood-red eyes exhibited by my brother and his possessed friend. Carla had stayed out of it altogether, bless her. Jared was afraid of me, I think. He should have been. He had tried to calm Anna, and had actually done a bang-up job.

I turned in my seat. “Look, honey, you can do your research someplace else.”

“I can’t do it elsewhere,” she explained again. Admittedly, her words were being lost on me. I was losing my focus a bit. She said again, “Jared is the best hacker in town. He says we can’t research from a laptop.”

My brain turned—or tried to turn—but I couldn’t think of a solution. I was a field agent, for crissakes. I worked with animals and bums and rowdy campers.

Carla said, “Your living and working quarters, both here at the observatory and at the zoo, are probably bugged by now.”

I knew this, but I hadn’t wanted to scare Anna any more than she was. The Los Feliz home probably wasn’t bugged. In fact, I knew it wasn’t. If it had been, my brother would have been long gone, probably never to be heard from again. Panic briefly gripped me. He was my brother, dammit. Not the enemy. Still, we would have to be extremely careful returning there. Undoubtedly, we were being watched, even now.

Earlier, when Anna and I had finally gotten a hold of each other, I’d headed straight up to the observatory with Carla. Anna had given it to me with both barrels blazing, demanding to know why I had locked up my brother in the basement—and in the dark, no less.

I explained why. He’d been violent. So much so that I’d feared for my safety and his. Mostly, I feared for Anna. Light seemed to bother both Mike and Joey. So, I’d left them in the dark, and felt horrible about it.

But at least they were alive, I thought.

She wanted to know why I hadn’t gotten them help and I told her that I was working on that. That I had to find a doctor I could trust. That I absolutely could not let my flesh and blood fall into the hands of those blood-sucking government fiends.

She had simmered down. She knew I only had my brother’s best interest at heart. Yes, I supposed I would turn him in, finally, if it meant saving his life. But right now...

Right now, I needed to know what the hell was going on.

“I know I can find something, Dad,” said Anna now, and Jared nodded along, too.

I looked at the boy. “What do you need?”

“Access to the computer in the observatory.”

“Fine. Promise me you and Anna won’t sneak off or anything...we’ll wait for you here.”

The boy had actually looked relieved. “I promise.”

And he and Anna dashed up to the observatory.

* * *

It was almost thirty minutes later.

I tapped my fingers on the steering wheel. A sort of irritated burning seemed to be working over my flesh. I rubbed my skin absently. Mercifully, Carla hadn’t been summoned anywhere. We didn’t talk. Mostly, I didn’t want to talk. My brain kept replaying the scenes with my brother, the basement, the APB, and my daughter yelling at me, accusing me of doing something horrible to my brother. The space rock.

Space rock? I thought again. Unbelievable.

“What’s wrong with your arm?” she asked.

“Nothing, why?”

“You’ve been rubbing it for a few minutes.”

I shook my head. “I’m just worried about Anna. Do you think we should go check on them?”

“No, let’s give them a few minutes longer.”

“I can’t imagine what they’re doing.”

“Kids and technology seem to go hand in hand,” said Carla. “Using a computer or smart phone is hardwired into them from birth.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose. My head ached. When had I last eaten? Carla was watching me closely. Too closely. Why was she looking at me like that? I felt a rare flash of irritation toward her. I don’t think I had ever been irritated by Carla.

A call came through her radio. A group of kids down the hill were creating some havoc at the Greek Theater.

She looked up from the radio. “I can ignore it.”

“You shouldn’t.”

“I want to stay with you, Jack.” Her eyes said more than her words. Unable to stop myself, I suddenly leaned over and kissed her. She returned the kiss softly.

“Jack...” she whispered.

Whoa. Too much was happening. My head spun a little. From the kiss. From fatigue. Shock. Maybe all three.

“Take your call,” I pulled away. “You have to. I’ll take the kids.”

“Take them where?”

Where, indeed? “I guess we’ll have to go home. I’ll leave my truck here and we’ll hike down.”

Carla’s radio summoned her again. She spoke into her attached mic. “Ten, ninety-eight.” Which, in police speak, meant she was available for the assignment.

“I’ll come by later,” she said.

I nodded, thought about kissing her again, and decided against it. After all, I really wasn’t feeling well, and I didn’t want our first kiss to get her sick, too.

Warmth spread into my heart as I watched her drive down into the mist. The feeling was, I was certain, love.

At least, I hoped it was.

* * *

Just as I headed up the steps, Anna and Jared exited the building. My daughter carried a notepad with her. It was open and filled with what appeared to be scribbled writing.

She saw me and her eyes widened. “Daddy. You won’t believe—”

“Shh,” I said, looking around again. “Let’s head to my quarters first and talk about it.” We appeared to be alone at the observatory. That, I knew, could be deceiving. You’re being paranoid, I thought. The quarters was a one-room office near the observatory. Walking distance.

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