Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Chapter Thirty-Six: Landed

Safely back in Seattle, Compass marvelled at how fluid her definition of “safe” had become in the last few months. Once, “safe” had meant having a job that paid the bills, a roof over her head, a reasonable amount of money in the bank and no balance on her credit card. “Safe” used to mean no overt health concerns like lumps or bloody goo when she coughed or wounds that wouldn’t heal. Now “safe” was an altogether different animal. The word now included states of being that she once took for granted, states so obvious she previously wouldn’t even have thought to include them in her definition: “no one’s pointing a gun at me right now,” for example. Or “I’m not on a plane with a cursed emerald – I’m ‘safely’ on the ground with it.” Safe had become so tenuous that even “my mother’s dying at home with her parents rather than on her own” qualified. There was a measure of safety, even in that.

“Safe” did not, however, encompass having a cursed emerald in her backpack.

So now the question became, where to store the emerald? Mina’s house was out of the question – Oliver knew where it was, or at least someone in heavy boots did, and Compass wanted no more interactions with the Man in the Big Boots, be he familial, fatal or both. Mark couldn’t keep it unless he fancied living in (or as) a charcoal briquette, and Compass refused to foist it off on her grandparents. That left her apartment, which had been the obvious choice from the beginning.


Mark’s face went all stony at the mere mention of it.

“Why not?”

Mark sighed, then shifted his weight onto the other foot, spent a few seconds determinedly not looking Compass in the eye, then sighed again.

“Because Oliver knows where you live.”

Bits of Compass’s brain came unglued and flopped around inside her head for awhile. She sat down, hard, on her couch, the backpack slipping off her shoulder, the emerald inside making a heavy clunk as it hit the floor. When she could organize her thoughts enough, she realized she was missing some fairly pertinent information.

“How do you know that?”

Mark sat next to her on the couch and took one of her hands in both of his. “I followed him here once. I staked out your Mom’s house a few times, figured he’d show up there, remember? Well, once when Mina was out, he broke in. Either he picked the lock or he had a key, I couldn’t tell, it was dark. Whatever, he got in fast. He wasn’t in there long – ten minutes, maybe? Then he came out, got in his truck and drove straight to your place. I figured he’d found your address in her house, maybe in an address book or something.”

“That’s why you’ve been so tired. You’ve been watching my house.”

“I was hoping you wouldn’t notice. I didn’t want to scare you.”

Compass took a deep breath. His eyes were so concerned, his hands so warm, love just about oozed out of every pore. He was so gallant, so protective; it made her feel a bit safer, just to be sitting next to him on her couch. It also deeply pissed her off.


He dropped her hand. “What?”

“Look, Mark, I appreciate chivalry as much as the next woman, and anytime you want to stand up and offer me your seat on a crowded bus or drape your cloak over a mud puddle, you’re welcome to do so, and thanks. But don’t even think of leaving me out of my own adventure.”

“Look, Com-”

“I’m serious, Mark. I’m not playing Wendy to your Peter Pan, do you get that? I’m not going to sit around not getting my dress dirty, waiting to be rescued. I fucking hate women who do that. So don’t shove me into that role.”

“This isn’t a fairy tale.”

“So what makes you more qualified to play the hero than I am? Honey, it’s a very nice penis, but it is just a penis.”

“I know that.”

“I know you do. But don’t think you’re protecting me by keeping me in the dark. I don’t want you to fight my battles for me; I want you to fight them with me, do you see the difference? I’m not some limp little maiden that needs rescue, and if you don’t understand that, you can back on out of my fairy tale, Peter Pan.”

“Fine, whatever, but do you understand how it terrifies me to hear you talk about what’s going on as if it were happening in a children’s story? You have to take this seriously, Compass!”

“I do. I am! As much as I can. I know there’s a potentially dangerous man out there who wants what I’ve got. I understand that. I understand the possible consequences of that. But I also know that I’ve got a huge honkin’ cursed emerald in my garage-sale-four-dollar backpack and ghosts who want to help me, and that the only corpse so far went down with an erection big enough to merit newspaper headlines. I'll take it as seriously as I can, OK? I’m in this every step of the way, and don’t you dare give yourself the right to hold anything from me.”

They glared at each other for a long moment, until Compass’s lips twitched upwards into a shallow little smile. Against his will, Mark’s lips did the same.

“It is kind of ridiculous, isn’t it,” Mark said, by way of apology.

“It really is,” Compass agreed, by way of the same.

Brave heroes both, they reached across the space between them and held each other. A minute or two later, one of Compass’s cats came and rubbed its face on her backpack, then leapt away, hissing, and they were suddenly reminded of the question at hand.

“So, promise not to make unilateral decisions like not telling me stuff?”

“Fine. So what do we do about the rock?”

“I think it stays here. There’s nowhere else to take it, Mark, and don’t go all Easter Island Face again, please; think it through.”

“I still think your grandparents-”

“I said no. My grandfather lives in that house, and he’s a man. I won’t risk either the curse of the stone or the curse of the unwanted, possibly felonious ex-husband.”

“Why not send it anonymously back to England? Back to the Museum?”

It seemed the most reasonable solution; really too easy, in fact. It made Compass nervous and uncomfortable to have such a blithe answer to such a complicated situation. She nudged the backpack with her foot, imagined she could feel a slight electric humming coming from inside.

“Let’s think on that one a little. It’s too late to do anything tonight, anyway. Do you think it’s OK for you to spend the night?”

“OK? We have to ask permission from a pissed-off, long-dead witch now?”

“She’s burned down banks, Mark.”

“True. But your dad likely knows you have the stone. I think we should maybe get a hotel.”

That solution was so perfect, relief rushed over her like a waterfall. She took the cats to Todd’s, just in case, and they checked in to a quiet Holiday Inn on the outskirts of town, near the airport they’d just come in from.

The emerald – or its expired ex-owner – was quiet that night, and nothing happened to interrupt the first sound night’s sleep either had gotten in quite a while.

The next morning, they had breakfast in an IHOP and made their choice.

“Blueberry pancakes.”

“Apple cinnamon.”

Beyond that, they were out of ideas. Mark still advocated sending a package with a fake return address to the British Museum. A brief note, typed on a computer at the library, to explain that the jewel had been found in someone’s attic; it’d be easy, he insisted. Story over.

Compass still wasn’t at all comfortable with that idea. There was simply too much risk. The safest course, she’d decided, was to figure out what Amelia Hines wanted done with the stone.

“And how do you propose to do that? Séance? Ouiji board? Automatic writing?”

“I don’t know.”

“Hey, maybe Henry and Sophie can talk to her, like a dead person’s intervention or something?”

“Very funny. I’m a little surprised at you. Call yourself a scientist, yet the idea of actual research never enters your mind.”

“Well, good luck with that, my dear. Directly after breakfast, I’m off to work. That place that people go to earn money, perhaps you’ve heard of it.”

“Briefly. That was enough. I’m off to the library. Perhaps you’ve heard of it, a place with books and scholars?”

“And drunks and addicts and homeless people.”

“Homeless scholars,” she corrected him.

Just then, their food came, and they dug in. Halfway through his stack, Mark looked up to see someone grinning at them through the restaurant window. Less than 24 hours into a promise to share all new information with his Partner in Adventure, Mark nudged Compass with his foot.


“What?” Her mouth was full of pancakes, a thin trail of syrup or butter leaking out one side of her mouth.

“Your dad’s here.”

He gestured with one elbow to the window, but Oliver was already gone.


NuclearToast said...

Holy crap, does Oliver have a GPS tracking unit on our poor Compass?

Ash said...

Yikes!!! I hope Compass put the emerald in the freezer. Everyone knows that where you store scary things! P.S. Sorry I am so late to read this chapter. Please post another soon and I promise I will not be such a slacker. :)

Ash said...

I am jonesin' for some compass!

Ash said...

Keeping us hanging huh?!?!?! ;)