Well, there were a lot of wheels turning the next day, I will say that.
Jack and James had debated the next part to death. James thought it necessary; Jack thought it expensive. James offered to pay for it himself; Jack wouldn’t consider that. James argued that it was the most visible portion of the plan and scrimping was ill advised now; Jack conceded both points but he didn’t have to like it.
He liked it less while we were doing it. Monica and Jessica showed up on time as his ‘nurses’. His family surrounded him – you’d never have guessed he’d helped his brother Kevin paint trim the day before. And the ambulance crew carefully loaded the ‘invalid’ into the bus, waiting respectfully for the tearful goodbyes to subside, before driving away with Jack, Mrs. Scarlotti, Mr. Scarlotti and Tresmayne. Tim followed in his own car.
That last bit had been my only contribution – if we were seriously sending him away for his own good and still assuming Vinnie was out to get him, there’s no way we’d send him without the protection of our most powerful member. I saw him off with the rest of them and then spent the afternoon with the Scarlotti’s – that seemed more fitting and besides, Donna had to show me the adorable little jacket she’d bought last week.
I beat Lisa at Clue and she bested me in Scrabble – although I got a particularly nice triple word score with one of the terms from Intro to Logic – probably the only use i’ll ever get from that class. Mike showed me his character sheet – it was four pages long and made less sense than the syllogisms I’d been taught in Logic. When Jane threatened to get out the Monopoly board, I decided I’d been there long enough for appearances. Besides, it was almost time for Daddy to drive me to New Jersey.
Mr. and Mrs. Scarlotti were getting out of Tim’s car as I came out the door. I exchanged condolences as somberly as I could. Mr. Scarlotti kept winking at me – I could see where his boys got their senses of humor. Still in character, just barely, I waved to Tim as he drove off to park and went home before I started laughing.
Which I did once inside. Once I had my composure back, I went back out and headed for the bus stop. It was still early so going to campus was a perfectly plausible assumption – it was just wrong. Two stops later, I switched buses and three stops after that, got off on a street I’d never been on before. I waited maybe fifteen minutes. Daddy drove up and I climbed in.
All that had been Mr. Myers contribution – he was a ‘better safe than sorry’ sort and had seen one too many James Bond movies. But I did as instructed, and my father drove me to New Jersey, chuckling all the way.
We stopped at a nice little bungalow in the suburbs of some bigger town – frankly, we’d never left town that I could tell. The lady who met us at the door looked just like her brother – no way to miss that Scarlotti face. Jack’s Aunt Lydia welcomed me into her home while Daddy moved his car into the garage.
“Okay, isn’t that a lot silly?” I asked Jack in his aunt’s living room. “If they followed the ambulance here, they know where you are – and that something is up.”
He nodded, “Yep, but it will make Thompkins and Mr. Myers happy. And I suppose extra caution isn’t a bad thing.”
I smiled, “Then you should have warned me about these brownies.” I told him, taking my second. “These things are hazardous to a girl’s waistline.” I turned toward the kitchen, “The brownies are divine, Mrs. Porter!”
“Lydia, dear.” she called from the kitchen, “I’m glad you like them. Do you like snickerdoodles?…”
Two hours, five more cookies, three boxes of goodies and one very full girl later, we were driving back to New York. “Your aunt is lovely – but I’m never getting near her kitchen again!” I told the backseat as Daddy drove.
“Too late – she knows where you live. Wait until Christmas!” Jack’s disembodied voice told me.
“Aren’t you New Yorkers supposed to be inhospitable?” I teased.
“She’s all Jersey – lived there her whole life.” Jack replied, “Besides, it’s a myth. We just don’t make eye contact on the street.”
On some little side street I could never find again on a dare, Daddy stopped and let Jack out. He would hit the rooftops and head for home – after giving Daddy and I a head start.
Once close enough that only one bus stop would be necessary, Daddy let me out, waiting until I was safely on the bus before taking the car back to the garage. Once back on our street, I strolled over to the Scarlotti building. It was still light out and the boys had decided on a game of stick ball – evidently every boy in the neighborhood. I watched from the stoop, with the rest of the girls. With the street bustling with so much activity, I could sit quietly, paying attention to something else.
Finley had no sense of the familiar – or any creature except James – nearby. Neither did I. I was well aware that the enemy had a concealment that could fool me, but I doubted it would fool the naked eye. The building was inundated with kids – a weasel would be spotted in a second. Only a concealed, human shaped creature could go unnoticed – but that eventuality had also been foreseen.
Jack’s family had lived in their building for almost twenty five years – and they knew everyone. His sisters were playing the ‘who’s that?’ game with other neighborhood girls. The very few faces they didn’t recognize, they got names for and a wealth of detail only gossipy girls can get. But none were from the adjacent building and the weasel never showed itself, either visually or to Finley and I.
It finally got too dark to play and the gathering began to break up. I went home – any more Scarlotti time would be suspect now. I got a text from Jack – he and Tresmayne were back and now sharing the tiny attic apartment. I sent a text back, not mentioning that Finley and I had both felt the return – once they were inside. Tresmayne had concealed them so well that no one sensed their approach – exactly as planned.
The stage was now set – and the final act could begin.