…. EPISODE 42…..
….. Posted by uc beverly…..
Two hours later, Rebel, Riley, and I are standing outside Dr. Harwood’s secret lab, ringing the doorbell and waiting for him to answer. Hopefully.
Draven and the others are not impressed at having to wait in the newly stolen van—we traded in the Forest Service SUV when Jeremy realized it had a GPS beacon—but if Dr. Harwood has knowledge of hero secrets, I’m pretty sure finding half a dozen villains on his doorstep isn’t going to put him in the mood to talk. I mean, sure, I’m a villain too, but he doesn’t necessarily know that. Unless he’s been following news from the outside world.
I pull my hair forward, trying to make sure my mark is covered.
The longer we stand here though, the more anxious I become. We’ve been standing here for five minutes and have rung the doorbell several times. If he’s coming to answer the door, he should be here by now. Or at least have acknowledged us via the intercom installed above the doorbell.
Four vehicles are parked in the circular driveway in front of the house. The white pickup I saw in Jeremy’s satellite feed, a black Porsche, and two totally generic silver sedans. The hood on the Porsche was still warm when we walked up—Riley swears that’s why he touched it, but I’m pretty sure he just wanted to pet the sports car.
The fact that Dr. Harwood hasn’t opened the door tells me either he really doesn’t want to talk to us or something is really wrong. Either way, standing out here isn’t going to get us the information we need.
Rebel presses the doorbell one more time. No response. I start knocking on the heavy wooden door, calling, “Dr. Harwood? It’s Kenna Swift. I really need to talk to you. Please, Dr. Harwood, open up. It’s about my mom.”
He had seemed really worried about her when he gave me that cryptic message. Has he heard about what happened to her?
There’s still no answer.
“Something’s not right.” Rebel hugs her arms around herself.
“I don’t like this,” Riley says, pressing his face to the long window on the left side of the front door. “Dr. Harwood wouldn’t leave you standing out here like this. He cared about your mom.”
I try not to let the past tense get to me, but it’s so, so hard. Every once in a while I can let everything else that’s happening push the reality from my mind, can forget about how she died in my arms, how we had to leave her body in that helicopter to burn, but then something will remind me and I’m flattened by her absence all over again.
She’s dead. She’s really dead, and nothing I do will ever change that.
It’s a terrible thought—and an infuriating one. I pound harder with my fist, determined to get his attention.
“Kenna, stop,” Draven calls, and I turn to find him striding up the front walk, the rest of our team at his heels. “I don’t like this.”
“That’s what I said,” Riley tells him. “If he wanted to answer the door, he would have done so by now—even if he was coming from the very back of the house.” “Maybe he didn’t hear us,” I say, grasping at straws.
Dante moves to Rebel’s side. “You were pounding loud enough to wake the entire county.”
“So what do you want to do?” Jeremy asks. “I can try to hack the security system and see if I can get in that way.”
“Hold your horses, Neo.” V scoots around me. “Has anyone tried the door?”
It’s a rhetorical question because she’s turning the door handle even as she asks. I expect her to be disappointed—Dr. Harwood has always been a stickler for security—but the door swings right open. An invitation if I’ve ever seen one…or a trap.
I raise my eyebrows at Draven, who just nods before taking a step into the house. I brace myself for I don’t know what. An explosion, maybe, considering the way the last twenty-four hours have gone. But there’s nothing. No alarm, nobody coming to check on the opened door, nothing.
My sense of foreboding grows, and I step in behind Draven.
“Wait outside,” he tells me, but I just roll my eyes at him.
I know he’s trying to protect me, but seriously. I’ve never played the damsel in distress and I’m not about to start now.
“If you’re in here, I’m in here,” I answer, walking beside him and grabbing his hand. “Besides, Dr. Harwood is less likely to shoot you if he sees me.”
“If he’s likely to shoot anyone,” V says, following me into the house, “then I’m taking the lead. Anton hired me to—”
“Guard our bodies,” Draven says, stealing the words out of her mouth. “Yeah, we get it.” He pulls me close as he gestures for V to move ahead. “Be my guest then. Do what you need to do.”
“What I need to do is keep you safe,” she snarls, flipping him off as she moves into the lead, a gun appearing in her hand as if from thin air. “Any thoughts as to where this lab is situated?”
“My guess is underground,” I tell her. “If he’s got secrets, he’s going to want to keep them that way. So the lab would probably only have one way in and out.”
“Two, actually,” Jeremy says, pushing to the front of our team so he can glare at V. “There’s an emergency exit.”
“And how do you know that?” V asks.
He waggles his phone at her. “Because I downloaded the blueprints from the county assessor’s website.”
Suddenly V gets a lot more interested in him—or at least his phone. “Show me.” “Basement stairs off the kitchen,” he says, pointing to the plans. “Like Kenna said, it’s underground. And since those stairs are in the pantry, I’m pretty sure it’s also secret.”
“Great. Another secret hero lab,” Deacon says, crossing the threshold behind us. “Never thought I’d find myself in one of those again.”
“You don’t have to come,” Draven tells him immediately. “You can wait outside—”
“And what am I going to do out there? Practice tai chi?”
“Besides,” Dante says, “if he’s outside, who will put out the fire when Nitro gets scared.”
“I don’t get scared,” Nitro argues. “I just get…” “Flustered?” Riley offers helpfully. Nitro beams. “Exactly.”
“Will you idiots please shut up,” V growls.
Deacon waves her forward. “Lead the way, bodyguard.”
She snarls at him, but does as he suggests, cautiously making her way through the foyer and down the hall to where Jeremy says the kitchen should be. We follow, hot on her heels.
Gun extended in front of her, she makes the turn into the kitchen. And then stops so fast that I nearly run into her. She holds a hand up, signaling for us to stay back. “Describe Dr. Harwood,” she says.
“Older guy,” I say, referring to a mental picture, “balding on top with a bushy mustache.”
“Kinda Mr. Clean meets Mark Twain?”
“Then I have some bad news.”
I push past V into the kitchen, and my heart plummets. His body is laid out on the kitchen floor, surrounded by a pool of blood.
I scream, my hand tightening instinctively on Draven’s.
“Help him,” I tell Draven.
“Help him!” I’m desperate, even though I know there is too much blood for his wounds to be anything but fatal. When Draven doesn’t move, I shout again, “Help him!”
“I’m trying. But I can’t bring someone—”
“Fine,” I say, shrugging out of his grip. “I’ll help him.”
Then I’m on my knees next to Dr. Harwood, his blood seeping into the denim of my jeans. I don’t know what I can do—CPR? Electroshock? Prayer? Something. Anything. I try them all. And when I have no other options left, I place my hands over his chest, wishing for just a moment that I could have Draven’s power, that I had the ability to heal.
Something inside me shifts, and suddenly there’s a strange vibration emanating from my hands. “What the—?”
I pull my hands back and stare at them. As Draven pulls me back to my feet, he gives me the strangest look.
“It gets worse,” V says, from the other side of the room. Every instinct I have is screaming for me to run the other way, but I don’t. I gave up the chance to do that a long time ago. Walking away isn’t an option anymore.
Instead, I move to her side. And get my first good look at what she’s seeing.
Dr. Blankenship, another scientist who worked at the lab with my mom—and who carried lollipops in the pocket of her lab coat that she was always willing to share—is lying behind the kitchen’s center island. Blood is still leaking from a gaping wound in her chest, but when I start to drop to my knees to try to staunch the flow of blood, V stops me.
“She’s already gone,” she says.
“How do you know?”
She looks at me grimly but doesn’t answer. Instead, she moves on as I bend to check Dr. Blankenship’s pulse. V was right. She’s dead. “There are two more over here,” Draven calls from the pantry.
I join him there, looking through the doorway Jeremy told us would be there. The doorway to the secret lab.
“You don’t need to see this,” he tells me, catching me around the waist and trying to pull me away.
But I need to see it. I do. Dr. Harwood, Dr. Blankenship—I knew them. I liked them. They were always kind to the nerdy little girl who had too many questions and even more hypotheses, always took the time to answer my questions or check in on me and see how I was doing when my mom got wrapped up in her research. I want to know who else is here. Who else I care about is dead.
I’m pretty sure I know the answer even before I shoulder Draven aside and look down the stairs. My mom had a core group of four friends at the lab that she did almost everything with—probably because they were the only ones she could trust in Rex’s viper pit. Which means that if Dr. Harwood stayed true to form, Drs. Destry and Villanueva are down there.
The thought makes me shake. Silent tears leak down my face as I look at the two bodies tangled together at the bottom of the stairs. Dr. Villanueva is lying in a pool of her own blood, and Dr. Destry is beside her, his neck obviously broken, his body sprawled at a funny angle.
“No,” I gasp, stumbling down the stairs toward them. “No, no, no!”
I’m vaguely aware of Draven following after me. I drop to check their pulses. Just in case.
There’s nothing there.
As if from far away, I hear Rebel scream. Hear Riley moan in distress. They both spent nearly as much time at the lab as I did through the years. They know these people almost as well as I do. I mean, just before all hell broke loose a couple weeks ago, Rebel snuck into Dr. Blankenship’s lab and scattered hundreds upon hundreds of lollipops over every available surface.
She’d laughed when she saw it. Laughed and given us each a lollipop.
I laugh at the memory, a loud, hysterical sound that has Draven wrapping both arms around me and pulling me to my feet.
“It’s okay, Kenna,” he tells me. “It’s okay.”
“It’s not,” I sob into his chest. “Nothing is ever going to be okay again. These people were my friends.”
“I know, love,” he says, rocking me softly. “I know.”
“We have to get out of here,” V says from the top of the stairs. She’s so unemotional, so blank, that a part of me wants to slap her. Four people are dead here. Four kind, wonderful people, and she doesn’t care at all.
But I do. I do.
“What we need to do,” Riley says as he joins me at the bottom of the stairs, and his voice sounds shakier than I’ve ever heard it, “is search this lab. See what they were working on that might have gotten them killed. And see if there is any information about scarlet phoenix.”
He’s right. I know he’s right, and still I can’t bring myself to skirt their bodies, to walk around them like they’re nothing. They were people and now they’re dead because they got in Rex’s way. Just like my mother.
I scream, a loud, anguished wail that echoes through the stairwell. Draven tightens his grip on my shoulders and pulls me closer, and for the first time I realize he’s shaking as badly as I am.
He didn’t know these heroes—true heroes—but he is just as affected by their deaths as those of us who did. His empathy only makes me love him more.
I give myself a minute, one short, finite minute, to grieve. To try to wrap my head around these new and senseless acts of violence. To add them to the growing list in my mental catalog. Then I pull away from the comfort of Draven’s arms and force myself to walk around the bodies of my mother’s best friends and move deeper into the lab, trying to look at it with objective eyes.
It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But then, these last couple of days have been filled with hard and terrible things. As I move to the laptop still open on the desk, I can’t help wondering how many more people need to die.
“Don’t touch that!” Jeremy shouts as I reach to wake up the computer. “It could be a honeypot.”
“A what?” Draven demands.
I freeze, my finger hovering over the keyboard.
“He’s right,” V says. “The bodies are still warm. Whoever did this might still be—
She breaks off as a loud crash echoes through the house above us, followed by the unmistakable sound of breaking glass and booted footsteps pounding over the hardwood floor.