Chapter 143

“This is ridiculous,” Alice said, shaking her head. “We’re really going to believe a crazy story given to us by some girl we’ve never even talked to?”

“She was telling the truth,” Nick reiterated. He used the past tense because after her revelation Agatha had quickly excused herself. In her defense, the room had reacted somewhat less than calmly to such an accusation and only now was reason reasserting its dominance. “That doesn’t mean she really saw what she thinks she saw, but it means she believes it.”

“So then maybe she made a mistake,” Alice said hopefully. “Maybe Hershel and Mary just went somewhere on their own.”

“And turned off their phones?” Vince asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe they didn’t want to be interrupted,” Alice said, clinging desperately to the hope of her fantasy.

“I’m afraid we have to assume the girl was right,” Mr. Numbers said, walking into the room and joining the conversation.

“You heard what happened?” Vince asked.

Before Mr. Numbers could bother coming up with an explanation, Nick beat him to it with the truth.

“They constructed this whole place to monitor us, Vince; obviously the room is bugged.”

“Correct, but hardly the most pressing matter at the moment,” Mr. Numbers said, ending the conversation on ethics before it could even begin. Though normally such a discovery would undoubtedly hurt the goodwill his charges held toward him and Mr. Transport, at present Mr. Numbers would rank it as a “non-concern.”

“Hershel and Mary’s phones were both dumped in a trash can near the edge of campus,” Mr. Numbers said. “There are also tracking chips in some of their pieces of clothing, and in their bodies, all of which I’ve confirmed seem to have been disabled. Whoever orchestrated this abduction had a tremendous level of skill and a high level of knowledge regarding the safety procedures we put in place to deal with situations just like this one. I’m afraid both of the coaches fall into that category.”

“Wait, you bugged our bodies?”

“Priorities, Miss Adair. There will be able time for you to mourn your violated privacy at a later date. Right now we have two of your group confirmed as abducted and no idea if the rest of you are being targeted for a similar attempt,” Mr. Numbers chastised her. He turned his attention to Mr. Transport. “I’ve spoken with our home office and we are going into an immediate lockdown. They will be sending an enforcer as additional protection until a safe extraction point in determined. He will arrive within the hour.”

“And what about Hershel and Mary?” Vince asked. “What’s the plan to help them?”

“We have been tasked with ensuring the safety of you, our remaining charges,” Mr. Numbers said, several degrees of cold forced into his voice. “I’m not certain what efforts will be undertaken to reclaim your friends, but I do know that we are not going to be part of it.”

Mr. Numbers and Mr. Transport looked at each other. They both knew their role in the company. If home office wasn’t sending their team after the abductees, then it meant no one was going after them. The company had decided to protect the three it had rather than chase the two it lost, and it was sending down a representative to make certain the orders were complied with.

“No,” Vince said, shaking his head. “We’re going after them.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Mr. Numbers said. “You have no idea how to find them.”

“There has to be a way,” Vince replied with a shrug. “I’ll find it.”

“That is not a plan, that is a slapdash idea that will culminate in nothing more than putting yourself at risk by leaving a safe environment,” Mr. Numbers countered.

“I don’t care. I won’t sit around while my friends are in trouble,” Vince said. “Though I’ll admit I’m out of my depth and welcome your help.”

“Ludicrous; we have our orders and we are complying with them,” Mr. Numbers said.

Mr. Transport, on the other hand, stepped toward Vince and softened his voice to a kinder tone, as if in hopes of reasoning with the boy.

“Vince, you need to think about what you’re saying. Even if you could find them, what would you do when you caught up? Coach George is much stronger than you, and Persephone has ample cunning to go with power.”

“No question about it,” Vince agreed. “But I won’t be alone. I’ll have Alice and Nick. Besides, I don’t have to beat them. I just have to keep them busy long enough to make sure everyone gets away.”

“What does that accomplish? You’d just be trading in your own freedom for theirs,” Mr. Transport pointed out.

“Yes. I would,” Vince agreed. “Though I doubt it would come to that. The coaches could have taken any of us. If they took those two then it is because they’re the ones they wanted.”

Mr. Transport stared at the boy for a long moment. He’d been in charge of these kids for nearly a year now and he’d seen them change and grow so much in that short time. Mr. Transport still remembered Vince on that first day, so awkward and uncertain in how to handle himself. The boy had gotten comfortable here, but the one thing he’d never truly overcome was that lingering fear about his power. It tainted everything he did, colored his own confidence and how he carried himself through life. There was no fear in his eyes right now, though, only a relentless drive to act. Looking at those eyes, Mr. Transport realized the only way he was going to stop Vince was to knock him unconscious, and even then he wasn’t one hundred percent sure the boy’s body wouldn’t keep crawling toward the door.

“We’ll help you,” Mr. Transport said.

“We most certainly will not,” Mr. Numbers disagreed. “Mr. Transport, do I need to remind you that-”

“Enough, Luke!” Mr. Transport said, whipping his head toward his partner and raising his voice. “They took our fucking kids. Mary and Hershel, the students we’ve watched over and we’ve said we were responsible for. We said we would protect them and that rat son-of-a-bitch snatched them right out from under us.”

“While I understand your attachment, there is no need to let emotion cloud our judgment,” Mr. Numbers said, his voice remaining perfectly even. “We have our orders and we will comply with them.”

Mr. Transport scooped something off the coffee table in a fluid motion and strode over to his partner. When he next spoke, his voice was no longer raised; instead it was a whisper with the intensity of a deathbed confession.

“They took our kids. I’m not the company and I’m not some stranger. Don’t pull the automaton act with me. I know you aren’t unfeeling. I know you’re pissed off. I know you’re aware that no one else is going to help them.”

“They are not ‘our kids’, Mr. Transport. They are just our latest assignment. An assignment that has been altered.”

“Sure they aren’t,” Mr. Transport said. He slapped his right hand into Mr. Numbers’ own palm, pressing the object he’d nabbed from the table into the shorter man’s flesh.

Mr. Numbers turned his hand up slowly, revealing the white king from the chess set resting between his fingers.

“They took Mary and Hershel. And the company is just going to let them go.”

“We have spent our lives as loyal employees. How do you recommend we even go about the act of committing treason against our handlers?” Mr. Numbers asked.

“Easy. With a whole lot of lying,” Mr. Transport replied.

“You’re sure you want to do this?” Mr. Numbers asked.

“I am.”

“We don’t have long before the enforcer arrives.”

“Then we’ll move fast.”

Mr. Numbers curled his fingers around the chess piece, grasping it tightly in the ball of his fist.

“I’ll go talk to the other half,” Mr. Numbers said.

“I’ll drop you off in a moment,” Mr. Transport said, giving his partner a brief smile. He turned to address the others, who had been watching their hushed exchange with growing trepidation.

“We can’t do much, but we’ll help,” Mr. Transport announced.

“Thank you,” Vince said. “With all of us working together I know we can help our friends.”

“Yeah, just one problem with that,” Nick chimed in, taking a few steps away from the other two. “You guys can have fun riding up and playing cowboy, but my ass is out of here.”