Dr. B sat on his couch, staring at his phone with such intensity he didn’t hear his wife speak to him. It was only when Shirley stood in front of him that he stopped trying to guess Overdrake’s next targets and gave her his attention. Her black hair was twisted into a messy bun, curls escaping here and there. The smile that usually accompanied her expression was gone, replaced by weariness.
She picked up a Journal of Archaeological Science that had been draped over the couch arm and returned it to the coffee table. “We’re all packed. Nathan is putting his things in the car. Katie is in her room pretending if she doesn’t come out, the universe will readjust itself in her favor.”
“She’ll forgive us eventually.” His youngest two children had no Slayer powers. He’d never spoken of them to Slayers and had made sure Bess hadn’t either—an attempt to keep Overdrake from finding his children and using them as leverage.
Dr. B had tried to give them normal lives. But now there was no normal and he had to send his family to live with his father in Bluemont, Virginia. Less than three thousand people lived there, mostly in homes nestled into the base of the Blue Ridge Mountain. Such a small place would escape becoming one of Overdrake’s targets.
Shirley glanced over her shoulder in the direction of Katie’s room. “I keep telling her we’ll be safer the farther away we are from DC, but she wants to stay with you.”
“I imagine her friends are also part of that request.”
Shirley shook her head. “She’s convinced if you stay behind, Overdrake will end up killing you.”
Her sudden fear was probably the result of his gunshot wound. He adjusted his arm in the sling, testing to see how much pain the movement caused. The injury seemed to be healing. It felt like a nail digging into his muscle rather than a railroad spike. “She knows Overdrake has no way to track me and I intend to keep it that way.”
Dr. B himself had never done any actual fighting in Slayer-dragon battles, a fact that made him feel useless and somewhat cowardly. He was asking teenagers to fight fifty-ton carnivorous reptiles, while he stayed out of the way.
He had no choice, though. He didn’t have any skills that would give him an advantage against a dragon and at the best of times was only a decent shot. “I’ll talk to Katie,” Dr. B added.
Shirley gestured to the phone in his hand. “Who are you calling?”
“Well, isn’t that’s nice.” Shirley tilted her chin down, only half teasing in her reproach. “You can’t even wait until your family leaves town before you call an ex-girlfriend?”
Dr. B grunted, refusing to rise to the bait. “Trust me, it’s not that sort of phone call.”
Shirley pursed her lips. “Isn’t Bianca thin and pretty?”
He brought up her contact information. “I’ll call her while you’re here so you don’t imagine up ridiculous things I might have said to her.”
“That’s not necessary,” Shirley started, but he took hold of her hand and pulled her onto the couch next to him.
“In just a moment you’ll be completely reassured.” He hit the call button and held the phone far enough away from his ear that Shirley could hear.
Bianca picked up after a couple of moments. “Hello, Jameson.” Her voice had a hopeful lilt to it as though he might have good news about Aaron of Dirk. He hated to disappoint her.
“Hello Bianca.” He cleared his throat uncomfortably. “I’m calling to ask you to come to DC for a bit.”
Shirley raised her eyebrows and mouthed the words, “I’m completely reassured.”
He ignored her. “I’ve been in contact with a few congressmen,” he said into the phone. “I’d like you to testify to a committee and inform them about Brant.”
“Absolutely not.” Bianca didn’t bother to hide her incredulity. “I might as well come out of hiding and stand about with a target on my forehead.”
“We’ll be discrete. Brant won’t know you’re here.”
“He’ll know,” Bianca said. “He has people in the government.”
Bianca sighed, a sound that still managed to sound like a protest. “I don’t know names. But if I say anything about Brant, he’ll find out. He’ll find a way to punish me—”
“And what’s the alternative—live in a country where Brant rules? Is that what you want for your children?”
“Of course not—”
“Then you’ll have to be one of the people who stands up to him.”
Bianca paused, then let out a breath. “If I give the government information, they might end up hurting Dirk or Aaron. Both are with Brant.”
Shirley patted Dr. B’s knee, wordlessly encouraging him not to back down.
“None of us want that,” he said. “That’s one of the most important reasons for you to talk to the committee—to tell them that Brant has kidnapped Aaron and is using Dirk against his will.”
The silence on the phone stretched as Bianca considered his words. They both knew that Dirk was probably not being used against his will, but there was a fine line between persuasion and brainwashing. Overdrake had undoubtedly crossed it.
“The committee will only know what you tell them,” Dr. B emphasized. “You’ll let them know that Dirk has done what he could to protect the Slayers—including helping them kill Tamerlane.”
Shirley’s eyes widened at this statement. Bianca’s tone conveyed the same surprise. “You’re going to tell the committee about the Slayers?”
“I’ll inform them that Slayers exist but won’t reveal who they are. Congress needs to know about the Slayers so they can make sure armed forces don’t attack them during a fight.”
Bianca made an incredulous sound. “Congress won’t believe anything about dragons.”
“Probably not, which is why you’ll bring one of your scales. Experts should be able to determine it’s not man-made. Sooner or later, people will see the dragons for themselves. When that happens, the committee will remember your testimony.”
Bianca stayed quiet for a long time. Finally, she said, “I’ll need some guarantees from the committee before I talk to them.”
Dr B. wasn’t in a position to make many demands of congress. “What sort of guarantees?”
“I’ll think about it and let you know. If you hear anything about Aaron or Dirk, call me.” Bianca hung up after that. She probably wanted to end the conversation before he could ask anything else of her.
Dr. B set down the phone and took Shirley’s hand in his. “And that is why you don’t have to worry about Bianca and me. She’s not my type. My type is brave and self-sacrificing, like you.”
Shirley leaned her head against Dr. B’s shoulder and her curls brushed against his neck. “I don’t feel brave, running off and leaving you here.”
“It’s necessary.” Dr. B dug around in his pocket, searching for the key he’d put there earlier. “That reminds me, I have something for you to give to Bess.” He pulled it out and handed it to his wife.
She turned the key over in her hand. “Is this for Bess’s car?”
“Booker drove it to Bluemont yesterday and parked it three streets behind my father’s house.”
Shirley stared at the tiny Honda symbol, then back at him. “You want her to run away from your parent’s house?”
Dr. B held up a hand in protest. “I have suggested nothing of the sort, and if questioned, I can honestly say I don’t know any of Bess’s plans. My instructions have always been that she should stay with her grandparents. I simply found that key and gave it to you.”
Shirley shut her eyes for a moment, gripping the key. “Maybe I’m not as brave or self-less as you think. I don’t want to give it to her.”
“I know.” He reached out and put his arms around her. She buried her face in his chest and hugged him back. It was such a familiar action, something they’d done thousands of times—most of the time without much thought. Now he felt her warmth, her heartbeat, and smelled the soft scent of her shampoo. Even simple things meant more since the attacks began. “Perhaps you shouldn’t give Bess the key,” he said. “Perhaps I’ll never forgive myself if you do. But how can I send the other Slayers into battle without a shielder?”
Shirley lifted her head. “We could leave. All of us. We could take the Slayers and their families, get on a plane and fly to the other side of the world.”
“And then we’d be happy? Knowing we could have helped, could have tried to protect this country, but we ran away instead?”
“The Slayers are just teenagers,” Shirley pointed out, misery twining through her words. “It would be different if Overdrake had waited five or ten years to attack, but . . .” She didn’t finish. Five or ten years wouldn’t have really made any of this easier. In fact, more time could make things harder. In ten years, the Slayers could all be parents.
He shook his head with resignation. “Even if we decided to run, we wouldn’t be able to convince the Slayers to come with us. They’re fighters. And so is Bess. If we don’t help her, she’ll never forgive us.”
Shirley didn’t answer. She just laid her head back on his shoulder.