Harold got out of the car first and scanned the house. He didn’t spot us immediately, even though we were sitting in plain sight. His abilities only involved wood, no super strength, no fast healing, no extra speed. Wood was enough.
“Over here!” I called to him, drawing his focus to the bar with a wave of my hand.
Jacob got out of the car as well, a pistol in his hand. He stood back for a moment and scanned the house and grounds for threats. Harold walked in through where his front door had been as opposed to climbing over what remained of the wall in front of us. Jacob followed a moment later.
As Harold came into the bar he looked the liquor over, shrugged and pulled a glass down for himself, which he filled a shot into from my bottle. “Help yourself gentlemen.”
“Harold!” Jacob scolded.
“I figured it’s all an insurance write off anyway.” I said.
He nodded, “It is.” Harold held a hand out to Anaj. “I’m Harold, pleased to meet you. I do believe I owe you some money.”
Anaj stood and shook Harold’s hand and shook his head, “Such a debt, incurred in such a manner cannot be enforced.”
“I like him.” Harold said, turning to me, “But I’ll have a check sent over to your company. That is your cab, isn’t it?”
“Yes. You are too kind.”
I stood up too and Harold embraced me. I stiffened from shock as he pounded my back and even rubbed a hand against the side of my head where I had been shot. “I can’t believe you’re alive! Does Anaj know what happened?”
“He knew, I had a helluva time convincing him who I was.”
“Did you flag him down? How did you get out? What happened?”
I disentangled myself from Harold’s embrace, shook Jacob’s hand and gestured at the two men to sit down. “I’m surprised your security team isn’t surrounding you with a hundred bodyguards.”
“Who is to say they aren’t?”
“They know where I am.” Harold scowled at Jacob, “He insisted we tell them and they insisted on providing a discreet escort.”
This alarmed me, “But they don’t know I’m here, do they?”
“I’m not an idiot, Compass. I told them I had sent a retainer out to the house to gather a few personal items I had forgotten, which is why the alarms were tripped. Jacob intercepted and cut off the feeds from the basement before anyone else watched them; he is my chief of security, and he knows his job.”
“Was.” Jacob said, “I was the chief of security. I retired, but I keep my fingers in the pie and work as a special liaison to Mister Harrel, for which I am compensated well.”
I snorted at that, “Okay, fine, you covered your tracks. I stayed here because of what you offered. What do I have to do to get your discreet help? It has to be very discreet if word of this gets out…to anyone, I’m sunk.”
“We know.” Harold said, “But you don’t have to do anything. You don’t get it, do you? We are on the same team. Not only that, even if you didn’t work for Andro, I owe you.” He took hold of Jacob’s arm with one hand, “We owe you, for you did. Let us repay our debt to you.”
“I’m not sure I did anything you wouldn’t have done for me.” I said frantically thinking of how I could prevent Harold from getting all ‘chummy’ like he seemed to want to do. “Sure, okay, I was here to call in a marker you never expected to have to pay. Right now I need a place to stay, someplace where I can do some research, I have a lot of investigating to do. I’ll need a car. I’ll need, well, maybe this weapon.”
Harold shook his head, “Done. And I’ll toss in an identity too. What do you want your new name to be?”
“And a last name?”
“Give me a minute…let’s use Folsom.”
“Like the prison in Northern California?”
“Exactly.” It was the prison Slice had escaped from.
“Billy with a ‘y,' right? Middle name?” Harold was typing things into his phone now.
“Yeah, with a ‘y.' Middle name…let’s see…” I thought about who I might need to appease later. Andro? No, Cain? Larken? No. Ah, yeah, got it. “Gary.”
“Billy Gary Folsom.” Harold wrinkled his nose. “It doesn’t flow off the tongue, does it?”
“It’ll do.” I said.
“Sure. It’s fake anyway.” Harold finished typing into his phone. “We should probably get you far away from here. Can you drive up to Reno this morning?”
“What’s that? Seven hours on the road? Sure, but what am I driving?”
“Let’s check the garage.” Harold got up, and the four of us followed him to the garage where Jacob had been when I first pulled in. Someone had moved the motorcycle off the driveway. Jacob tried the first door, and it lifted easily.
“I thought breaking in would be harder than that.” I said.
“I left it unlatched in case we needed access. Power is out in here. The basement checked out fine, and there is auxiliary power there.” Jacob said moving into the dark, yawning opening to a workbench along one wall. I turned my flashlight on and played it along the bench, the light was enough for him to see what he was looking for, a battery powered spotlight, which he took off the bottom shelf of the bench. He then removed the battery from a cordless drill and plugged it into the flashlight, it wasn’t brighter than my beam, but it did flood the light out in a wider arc. He shone it over the rest of the garage bays, which were full of cars.
“Sports utility?” Harold asked. Jacob highlighted a Range Rover that cost more than my annual salary.
“This one? Let’s check it for damage.” The garage doors weren’t perforated like the ones in the woodshop, but there were holes in them. The Rover was at the front of the line, right next to the garage door, the only damage I could see was a bullet hole in the fender above the tire on the passenger side. “Let me pop the hood.”
Jacob did so and said, “It looks like there might be a hole in the wiper fluid.” He traced the bullet’s path to the firewall. “Shit.” Opening the passenger side door, he put his finger in the bottom of the seat. Then followed the hole through the back seat and out the back of the vehicle into the radiator of the sedan behind it. There was a small box in the cargo area behind the rear seat along with 3 short pieces of construction lumber. “Well it went clean through; I don’t see any obvious debilitating damage. Let’s start it up.”
“I thought you would have bullet proof cars, Harold.”
“No, they cost a lot and wear out quickly because of how much they weigh. It’s cheaper to rent them than buy one and maintain it.”
Jacob reached up and detached the garage door's safety latch so he could pull the door open. I motioned that I would get it and as I did so he hopped into the car and started it up. It purred like a kitten, and after I had the door out of the way, we stepped back so he could pull the vehicle out.
He left the engine running and popped the hood again, where he turned a keen ear to its workings. “Yeah, I think it’ll do.” After he had killed the engine, he stepped back into the garage and came out with a roll of duct tape and a partially filled bottle of windshield wiper fluid. It took him a few minutes to reach the hole in the fluid reservoir with the tape. “Everything is so damned tight in these newer vehicles. Still, they have a reputation for being tough.” Jacob shut the hood and handed me the key.
“Try not to get a ticket, Billy.”
“Where am I going?”
“Nowhere just yet.” Harold said. He turned to Jacob. “I’m going to need pictures of him for the i.d., so the instructions will come to you, could you stay here and program the address into the car’s GPS?”
“Billy, if you’ll step inside with me for a minute.”
“What about Anaj?” I asked.
Anaj spoke up, “I’ll get your things loaded into your new car from the cab.”
“Okay.” I turned and followed Harold into the house, wondering why he wanted to talk to me alone.
He moved us upstairs into what looked like a spare bedroom. Rummaging around in the walk-in closet he came out with a black shirt and blond wig. “A wig?”
“Yeah,” he answered, “I know it’s crude, but just go with me. In this thing, no one will recognize you.”
“They’ll notice I’ve got a wig on.”
“It’s a good wig. Not something used for Halloween.”
“Do I want to know why you have wigs out here?”
“Blonds have more fun.” He answered with a laugh, tossing the wig to me.
I turned the thing over in my hands, it was short haired and larger than most ladies wigs I had seen, “Do you use this for sex?”
He whispered, “Don’t make a fuss, it’s Jacobs’. It’s clean, okay, no body fluids on it. Just put it on so I can snap a few pictures of you in it for the license and passport.”
“You might have to stay dead, Compass.”
“I can’t wear a wig for the rest of my life!”
“Well, you could, but we’ll dye your hair blond tonight. It might be short term, we just don’t want anyone recognizing you; your face has been plastered all over the web and newspapers.”
“Fine, I’ll put on Jacob’s sex wig.” I pulled it onto my head, and Harold fussed with it for a while, combing it down and making sure my own hair didn’t peek out from underneath it. “What a black man needs with a blond sex wig is beyond me. If you think I’m not going to poke fun at him for this, you’re wrong.” I muttered.
“C’mon, we have to take the photos in the basement, it’s the only place with lights.”
I followed him down two flights of stairs, and we both heard Jacob and Anaj talking outside. Once in the safe room, Harold flipped on the lights and a put me up against a dull concrete wall. “Try not to smile.” He set up for the shot, then stepped back to mess with the wig again.
“Any truth to what the LGBT community is buzzing about?”
“You were at the Bircus party, with Cain…and others. Some locals in Vegas are holding a memorial for ‘one of their own’ a brother of the LGBT community.”
I looked him in the eyes, and I said, “What did you hear?”
“You were all over the map at her party, got involved with a couple of guys, Cain for one.”
“I won’t deny it.”
“You mother fucker.” Harold said his voice low and angry, “How could you treat me like you did all those years ago?” A block of wood flew towards my face, I barely blocked it in time, it deflected and swung around from the other side.
“I’m sorry.” I dropped my hands to my side and closed my eyes. “I’m sorry Harold. For everything.”
“You were in the closet and what you said…” he paused and took a deep breath before continuing. “They say you were, you are, the ‘B’ in LGBT.”
I cracked on eye open; the wooden block was hovering by Woody’s head. I nodded, “I…would you believe it only just started. I mean, I never had these feelings until recently…I didn’t really know and…now…I do.”
“I don’t know whether to kill you or hug you. We’ve all been ‘confused,' Billy, some lucky people aren’t; they know right away. With your family, where you grew up, I can see you being repressed, yeah. But you’ve been away from Auroria, you didn’t have to go back! I…argh!” His voice pitched upward again in anger, and I heard the block fly into the wall by my head, “It wouldn’t fucking do me any good to kill you; you’d just come back.”
“I hope. I don’t know. I’ve never come back from the dead before.”
He laughed at that, “Yeah, I have to kill you. Now open your eyes and let me get some shots of you for your new identity.”
After taking half a dozen shots of me, he tossed the black shirt to me, “Put this one on for some more shots.”
“Why?” I was changing as I asked, more curious than defiant.
“A rooky mistake is to use the same photograph for your new driver’s license and passport. We won’t be making that mistake. Now let me comb your hair differently.” He stepped up and gave my hair a rough combing. Harold stepped back a few times to survey his handiwork before taking another dozen shots, “That should be good enough.”
“We’re done here?”
“For what it’s worth, I really am sorry. I can’t take back what I said, what I did, but I own it. It’s mine, it was me when I was younger, and I’ve learned to be a better man. I’ll take my lumps from you as part of the price I have to pay.”
“Look, we’ve all had a rough couple of days. You just keep trying to be a better person. I owe you for what you did to help Jacob, I’ll pay that back. Whether I like you or not depends on what you do from here. This explains a lot for me and for how we’ve reacted to each other over the years, it doesn’t forgive it or brush it under the rug, but now I can, maybe…relate better? I don’t know, it just puts things into a context, something that I couldn’t do before.”
We went out and saw Jacob and Anaj at the cars. Jacob grinned and said, “Nice look.”
I forgot I was wearing the wing. I took it off and said, “Sorry, Harold said I should wear it.”
He looked puzzled and glanced from me to Harold, “Why are you sorry?”
“Harold told me it’s your wig.”
Jacob looked at me and said, “I’ve never seen that thing before in my life.”
Behind me, Harold’s laughter rose into the pre-dawn light. Everyone is a comedian these days.