Chubs rubbed his forehead. “And you believe him? The only thing Liam ever said about him was that he used to set his toys on fire when he didn’t get his way.”
“I believe him,” I said. “He won’t hurt us. He’s one of the few who doesn’t want us gone, apparently.”
“Gone?” Chubs asked, alarmed.
I let Jude explain; his stumbling, rambling explanation was coated by rough grief, and it made the story that much more horrible to hear.
“No, no, no, no, no,” Chubs said. “You’re just going back, hoping that they manage to pick out all of the bad seeds?”
“Don’t say it like that,” Jude cried. “It’ll get better. Rob’s gone, right? Cate will let us know when we can come back.”
“You and Liam will be safe—at least from the League,” I told Chubs. “They won’t come after you. You get it, right? You understand why I told Cole I’d do this?”
“Sure. I get it,” he said, his voice cold enough to drive a chill through even my veins. And again, I read the question he was really asking in the silence he left to fill the space between us. I knew what he wanted to ask, because it was the same thought that had been circling in on me for days.
If the intel is that important, why would you ever give it to the League?
Of all the training, and Ops, and the League-sponsored explosions I’d been unfortunate enough to witness, none seemed half as dramatic as Chubs’s thrilling tale of escape.
We pulled into an old camping ground for the night, just outside of a city called Asheville in western North Carolina. I’d managed to fill most of the five-hour drive with explanations, and the whole thing had left me drained. I didn’t put up any kind of struggle when Chubs and Jude argued for stopping.
We did a quick walk-through of the area to make sure it was clear of other visitors before returning to pull supplies from the SUV. I popped the latch, stepping back from the door as it opened.
“Oh my God,” I managed.
The whole thing was just so…impressive. A wall of small, stacked plastic tubs and drawers, all labeled with handy reminders like: FIRST AID and ROPE and VITAMINS and FISHING HOOKS. The care and forethought it had taken to put this all together was impressive, if not completely terrifying in how ruthlessly thorough it was.
Jude gave Chubs a long look of appraisal. “You had day-of-the-week underwear growing up, didn’t you?”
Chubs merely pushed the glasses up the bridge of his nose. “I don’t see how that’s any of your business.”
He laid out the entire story for me as we set up the tent that had been folded neatly under the backseat. Vida, at least, was able to get a small fire going with a lighter.
“I don’t actually remember most of this stuff happening,” Chubs said, struggling with the tent’s frame. “The League brought me to the nearest hospital, which happened to be the one in Alexandria.”
“Not Fairfax?” I asked, smoothing the damp hair away from my face. Jude and Vida were doing their best to listen to all of this while pretending they weren’t.
Chubs shrugged. “I have a vague memory of seeing some faces but—I told you that I look like my dad, right?”
“Well, one of the doctors recognized me. She used to work with Dad, but transferred—Anyway, it’s not important. They managed to stabilize me, but this doctor and her staff knew I needed to be in a better-equipped hospital. So she got on the phone and tracked Dad down. He was going to meet us at my aunt’s restaurant, remember?”
“He was able to meet the ambulance when it arrived at Fairfax Hospital; they already had a fake ID prepared for me, so that’s what they registered me under. They kept an oxygen mask on my face the entire time. I got walked through two sets of security guards, and no one looked twice.”
“And they didn’t tell the agents who brought you in,” I finished. “The League has no idea what happened to you. You’re still listed as MIA in all of the related Op files.”
Chubs snorted. “They tried telling the agents I coded out and died, but they didn’t bite. One day my dad had six different people come to him fishing for information, but they didn’t get a word out of him.”
The real trick hadn’t been admitting him at the new hospital under a false name. The hospital had become well versed in a don’t-ask-we-won’t-tell policy when it came to dealing with the government and their requests for information, so much so that they were nearly shut down a good half dozen times. Dr. Meriwether’s stroke of genius was to hide his son, “Marcus Bell,” in an isolated room in the maternity ward for treatment. When he was strong enough, he was zipped up in a body bag and taken out of the hospital in a rented hearse. The League agents found the transfer paperwork and tried to connect the dots, but Chubs became a ghost the moment he had been wheeled into Fairfax Hospital.
From there, it had been a matter of finding a place for Chubs to recuperate and build his strength back up again.
“I will leave it to you to imagine what it was like to live in a ramshackle barn in upstate New York for four months,” he said, grimacing as he rolled his shoulder back. “I will go to my grave smelling hay and manure every time I close my eyes.”
The old barn belonged to a close family friend in the Adirondacks—and it had been isolated, cold, and lonely, by the sound of it. His parents could only come up twice to see him without sparking suspicion, but the elderly woman who owned the farm was there twice a day to help with his physical therapy and provide food. Mostly, though, he was bored to tears.
“I like to think I get along pretty well with the elderly, but this woman looked like she dragged herself up from the crypt every morning.”
“Yeah, to feed and nurse you,” I reminded him.
“The only books she had were about a crime-solving spinster bothering people in her small village,” he said. “I’m allowed to be a little bitter about the experience.”
“No,” I said, “actually, I’m pretty sure you’re not.”
“How did you end up doing all of…this, though?” Jude asked.
Chubs sighed. “I actually have to give Mrs. Berkshire credit. It was something she said after I told her about how I got out of Virginia—that the last place people tend to look for the hunted is among the hunters. She fell asleep midsentence, of course. I had to wait four hours to be blessed with the second half of her old-lady mysticism.”