Evening breezes undulated the bluegrass and carried with it the earthy scents of late spring mixed with the faint odor of manure from the racing stables a mile down the lane. The long, winding lane. The lane that was lined by towering oak, maple, and elm trees which gave way to an unruly, overgrown understory which, this time of year, was anchored by a riot of orange day lilies that stretched, unchecked, all along the drainage ditches. If one was driving, the effect was of passing between hundred-foot-high walls of green that had been up-lit with rows of fire. The startling, wild beauty made it easy to become distracted.
Thousands of meandering roads just like this one snaked and twisted throughout the state. They were all equally confusing to navigate unless you were as intimately familiar with them as your own spit. It was the one thought that had kept Meagan’s fear in-check — mostly — in the time she’d been holed-up here. The thought that made her stomach tighten and quiver with anticipation, however, was the knowledge that he was coming. Tonight.
Tendrils of her long brown hair caught in a draft as she sat on the back stoop of the abandoned distillery that had become her home… for lack of a better word. On the outside it was little more than stones and aged wood set into the side of a hill: a dilapidated old-timer’s still. Copper tanks with lichened patina peeked through a window in a barn that was set farther back into the same hill. But inside the hill, sleek stainless steel appliances, quartz counter-tops, slate flooring, Italian-leather upholstery, and state-of-the-art technology belied the shabby exterior. In the evenings, though, Meagan preferred the creaky old porch swing for a chance to watch the sun set behind the rolling green hills and to commune with the sounds of nature.
“Can I get you a drink?” Ephraim called from inside.
Meagan chuckled. “I’m ahead of you,” she replied, sipping the Buffalo Trace/Sprite Zero in the lowball in her hand. An abundance of good bourbon was one of the perks of Kentucky-living that she’d never been able to fully appreciate in her youth, something she’d remedied in the six months she’d been back. It blunted the edges of her tension and kept the dreams at bay — the nightmares and the other ones. They were unnatural and all-too real. The first kind made her panic and frequently writhe in pain. She’d wake to the sounds of her own shrieks, clutching her body for cuts and bruises she was sure she’d incurred, and terrified that Raj was in the room. The second kind caused her another kind of pain, one that couldn’t be soothed and wouldn’t abate until she saw him again. And that would be tonight.
She was no longer going by Suzi; there was no point to the facade. Shortly after she and Daniel had met-up with Ephraim, the three of them had agreed it was time to go on the offensive, and that it would be best for all of them to split up to cover more ground. Since Raj had proven that he was actively after Meagan, she’d had to go into hiding. Ephraim had pulled strings with some “connections” and had secured her, complete with 24/7 bodyguards, at this base in the heart of the Bluegrass State. It was the last place they hoped either Raj or Melissa would find her. From here, she’d been able revisit the orphanage. Or what remained of it, anyway. It was now a blackened ruin that was unrecognizable as a place that had once housed dozens of children at at time. A place where she and four other children had been singled out for their “potentials.” A place where friends had turned into mortal enemies.
She noted, though, that at least the cave on the riverbank at the property’s back end was intact.
Ephraim had taken the flash drive and was using the evidence on it to create an airtight case against Raj. He was still holding his full time job with the police department, but when his schedule permitted, he’d been flying down to Florida to work on angles there, including verifying Meagan’s evidence. Ephraim also came to Kentucky frequently to check on Meagan and exchange any information he’d uncovered.
But she hadn’t seen Daniel.
Daniel — she had no idea if he was still going by “Sam” — had tracked a mysterious lead to the Pacific Northwest. She had no idea what it was about, and Ephraim claimed to have no idea either. He said they just had to trust Daniel. Meagan did trust him, both of them, with her life. But she wasn’t sure why they were keeping something from her. She didn’t dwell too long on this doubt, though, since she was keeping a secret of her own.
When she and Daniel had retrieved her duffel-like bag from her apartment, she’d let him and Ephraim think that the only thing of importance about it had been the flash drive inside. What she didn’t tell them was that the bag, itself, was important… in a potentially catastrophic, earth-shattering way. Once she’d been alone, Meagan had taken a knife to the leather bag, slicing it open and removing the fabric lining to reveal the old map that was imprinted on the leather underneath. The map was now folded beneath an innocuous stack of blue jeans and sweaters in the safe house’s closet. So far, thanks to her diligent and ever-present bodyguards, she’d only had a chance to verify that the map began at the entrance to the cave at the back of the orphanage’s property.
A voice called, pulling her from reverie. As she looked away from the setting sun, she saw the silhouette of an approaching male. A baseball cap was pulled down, hiding his eyes, and a royal blue UK t-shirt stretched across his muscular chest. Meagan’s stomach flipped, and as she watched him stride through the yard, she smiled.
* Note to TRG and any of our readers who might not know (as I didn’t, before having lived there): UK, here, refers to the University of Kentucky, not the United Kingdom. UK apparel is exceedingly common in the Bluegrass State. It is probably visible on fifty percent of the population at any given time. (This is due to the lack of any major, professional sports teams. And maybe also because royal blue looks good on everyone.)
Over to you, Hasty Words….