Wake of Deception

By Sasha Devore All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Action

An Orchestrated Effort

Hanu had been waiting for hours, but still no sign of anything unusual. He was starting to wonder if La could follow through on his word. Or maybe he tried to escape, but was caught. Would he hear word of the attempt? Well, the assistants had already gone home for the night, so there was no one at the front desk to overhear gossiping. The only company he had to look forward to was the scout who patrolled the building. Every once and a while he would enter, silently take a turn up and down the hall, then leave.

He listened hard anyway. Maybe he’d hear some explosions or a siren to indicate that things were happening. He just hoped that events were being set in motion. Hanu could hear another prisoner cough or sniffle from time to time, but nothing more than that. Perhaps he was supposed to get himself out of the cell and meet with them somewhere. No, that would be a stretch. He just wished the message hadn’t been so vague. Just three words: tonight we escape.

It would have been helpful if La could have told him a little more information, like who he meant by ‘we’. Was it just he and Hanu who would escape? Because if that were the case, odds were quite slim that it would actually happen. Or was Tui in on it too? Was Tui willing to give up all the pampering, as well? If Hanu remembered correctly, Tui was the tougher of the two, so that would definitely give them a slightly more realistic chance of escaping if he were in on it.

But even still, they needed someone who had access to resources. A couple of nine year olds, no matter how tough, wouldn’t be able to outwit an entire faction of Ancients in their own fortress. Hanu doubted that they had any Underground friends that would be coming to bust them out, but that’s exactly what they needed.

Just as Hanu was about to give up, he heard someone enter the chamber. It was feint, but he could distinctly hear the door swing open and then close with a gentle click. He stood up and put his face as close to the door as he could. The air grew thick with anticipation. He wasn’t sure if it was his eagerness or the buzz on the door that made his hair stand on end.

Moments later the double doors slowly opened. He could hear slow and unsure footsteps. These didn’t belong to the scout. Whoever it was seemed to be looking for something. They would pause occasionally before moving on a few steps more. Hanu stood up.

A few seconds later he could see that it was a woman. She wore glasses and her hair was bobbed around her face. She stopped short, startled by Hanu’s appearance. He must’ve looked like a lunatic, standing at his door wide eyed, he thought.

“Hanu?”

“Who are you?” he asked cautiously.

“My name is Celia. I’m a surrogate. I take care of the twins,” she said more urgently now, looking back up the hall. “We have to get you out of here quickly. I sent the scout to the fifth floor, but he’ll probably be back soon.”

Celia tried to pull at the door but she jumped back, shocked. She reared back to kick it down but Hanu stopped her.

“No, no, no! Just hit the button and open the door, don’t bother with all of that. The controls are down there,” he pointed.

Celia trotted down the hallway to the console at the end. He could hear her playing with the knobs. She turned the buzz off, so he leaned against the mesh to see better, but then she turned it back on and shocked him.

“Which one?” she whispered urgently down the hall.

“Don’t worry about the knobs- use the buttons to open the doors. Just hit them all.” Hanu didn’t remember now which set of buttons actually opened the cells. Andy was the operator during their rescue mission.

Then Hanu heard the cell doors open, one at a time. He shook with excitement. When his finally slid open, he took a nervous step into the hallway.

“Let’s go,” she said, grabbing him by the elbow and running through the doors.

“Someone will be in the lobby. How are we going to get past them?” he asked as they got on the elevator.

Celia didn’t answer. Instead she took a couple deep breaths and ran her hands through her hair. She looked extremely nervous, which made Hanu question whether they’d actually get away tonight. But he was out of his cell and halfway through the building, so he couldn’t really complain at this point. The doors opened on the first floor.

“Delores, honey, can you get me a mop and some towels? I got sick in the elevator and I need to clean it up quickly,” she said, peeking her head out into the hallway.

“Oh, Celia I told you not to eat that taco. Hold on, let me see what I’ve got,” Delores said.

“I’m going to go to the restroom real quick, I’ll be right back to clean it up. Just set the bucket by the elevator, will you?”

Hanu could hear Delores shuffle for a bit and then a door closing. She must’ve gone into a closet to get some cleaning materials. Then Celia beckoned for Hanu to follow as she walked out of the front doors.

Hanu was free. He looked up into the sky, and took a breath. It was the first breath of fresh air in what seemed like ages. But the moment was short lived, because she was pulling him into the shadows now. Though there were no sirens, Hanu still had to be vigilant, he realized. He followed her as she ran toward the wall. Once they were leaning up against it, she turned to Hanu.

“I’m saving you because Tui and La wouldn’t leave without you. Keep up. We have to get to the residential area, and that’s maybe a mile and a half away. Don’t ruin this for us, please,” she urged.

Though her words were stern, she had a caring face. Her brown eyes were warm and compassionate. She must think a lot of the twins to do this for them.

“I’ll keep up,” Hanu said, nodding affirmatively.

The two ran in the moonlight, keeping as tight as they could against the District wall. Hanu knew they only had so long before Delores realized Celia wasn’t in the bathroom. He wondered if she would alert anyone about the strange encounter, or if she would just dismiss it. Either way, the scout would soon return to patrol duty and notice that Hanu was missing. Then an alert would be sent for sure.

Hanu had so many questions for her, but he was winded enough already. He hadn’t seen this much action in a while, and his body was punishing him for it. They kept it up for quite some time, only slowing to check their bearings or to avoid scouts. He was good at that by now, though. Hanu didn’t realize how large the District of Operations was. It was like a small city, with a recreation center and all.

They eventually arrived at their destination- a large house in the residential area. Celia swiped her left wrist under the doorknob, and the door clicked open. Hanu was confused.

“This is your house?” he asked.

He wasn’t sure why she would be bringing him back home. Did this woman plan to keep him and the twins hidden away at her house?

“Yes it is, but we’re not staying long,” she said rushing through the dark. Hanu fumbled around, trying to keep up as she dropped a bag by the front door. He could hear footsteps on the staircase.

“Hanu, is that you?”

“La? Tui?”

But there was no time to talk. Celia swept them out the front door and around the side of the house. Then she went into the neighbor’s garage and pulled out a Nomad. The boys ran to the vehicle as she threw the door open. Tui dove in first, followed by his brother, and Hanu jumped in last. He barely got the door closed before she was pulling forward.

Celia drove quietly through the neighborhood, with both hands on the wheel and sitting erect. Everyone was too shaken to speak, so they sat hunkered down in the back, holding their breaths. They entered the tunnel system, driving a little faster now. Hanu couldn’t believe they were just driving out of the District of Operations, as if they were just off to run errands. He never could have dreamed up this type of escape. He silently took back all of the doubtful thoughts he’d had about this woman.

“It seems like everything is going as planned,” she finally said.

The boys watched, wide eyed. As they approached the gate everyone sunk down as far as they could for a security read. She pulled up to the console and rolled her window down to press a button. The red laser scanned the vehicle.

“Abnormal scan. Please present access credentials,” a cool, automated voice said.

Hanu could see the beads of sweat forming on Celia’s forehead. She rifled through the various compartments inside the vehicle, looking for something. Then she pulled out a small key ring and inserted a square chip into the drive.

Click.

As the gate opened she looked back nervously to make sure nobody else had followed. Then she pulled out of the District of Operations and into the night. For a couple of miles they just looked out of the windows in silence. They were traveling again, escorted by a District representative. But this time it was toward freedom.

“So where are you taking us?” Hanu finally asked.

“Didn’t really think that all the way through. I feel like we need to get out of the city, though. Maybe to one of the fringe cities- we can hide out there,” she said.

Clearly this woman wasn’t a part of the Underground, Hanu thought to himself. She didn’t have a clue how fast the Council would catch them if they tried to do that. They had to get rid of the vehicle and their trades as fast as they could if they wanted a chance of survival. She had to have thought about that when she planned the escape.

Then Hanu’s heart started racing. He suddenly felt panicked. He fought the urge to jump out of the vehicle and run as fast as he could away from them. He looked at Tui and La. Their contented faces shone in the moonlight. They looked at each other satisfactorily, grinning. What if this was another one of Aric’s tricks? What if it was an attempt to get information on the Underground? Of course. If he was busted out, he’d naturally try to return to the Underground. All they had to do was track them down. La said it himself- the twins had given up, and all they had to do was cooperate with the Ancients and they’d be pampered for life. That’s why it had been so easy to get away- not a siren, or alert, or at least one single shouting scout giving them chase. They basically strolled out of that building unhindered. Hanu felt sick. His hands started shaking, and he couldn’t breathe.

“Hey you okay back there?” Celia asked.

Hanu laid down in the seat, trying to hide his alarm. He had to think clearly. This woman could be genuine. The look on her face when she told him not to ruin it for her and the twins was genuine. He could believe that, at least. She was a caring woman. He put that face in his mind, and forced himself to calm.

“Celia,” he said quietly. “Why are you helping us?”

She was quiet for a moment. He couldn’t tell if she was making up a lie or if she was considering how best to answer the question. He watched her gentle face twist into a frown.

“When I came back from University, I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I wanted to do something I thought was meaningful, and helping children was always at the front of my mind, so I applied to be a surrogate. I’ve lived at the District for twelve years now, raising orphans for the Ancients. Some of them work in the District now, but others sometimes just disappear.”

Celia turned down another street, checking the rearview mirror again. “I learned to not ask questions about them. I figured that I’m doing so much good for a lot of children, so a couple gone here and there shouldn’t matter. But I always knew. I heard stories about where they ended up.”

Her face was stern now as she decided which way to go. She was driving in circles, and they would be caught soon if they kept it up. Hanu wasn’t sure if he trusted her yet, though.

“So why them? What made you decide to help the twins escape?” he asked.

“I’m just tired of it. I can’t ignore the feeling in my gut anymore. It’s just eating away at me, you know? I don’t want to be involved in all this anymore; I want to be free. And I want the twins to be free. When they brought them to us they said it would be temporary- that we were to clean them up and pamper them before they went for override.”

Tui and La grimaced at each other. Apparently they didn’t know that bit. “I told you, La,” Tui said.

“Well if you didn’t know they were going to override you, why did you want to get away?” Hanu asked La. “Why give it all up?”

“He’s my brother. He sticks with me because I protect him. Always have, and always will,” Tui said proudly as he poked a thumb into his chest. La conceded to his brother’s claim by nodding agreeably.

“And I just know that these Ancients are full of baloney. I can feel it.”

“Well said,” Celia agreed, smiling.

Hanu was as satisfied as time would permit, because now there were lights off in the distance, approaching them. A Convoy.

“Hey, we need to ditch the vehicle,” he said urgently. “You need to drive faster. Do you know where the Bathtub Resort is? It’s a bar in the Entertainment District.”

“Yeah, I know it.”

“Get us close to there, but not too close. We’ll leave the Nomad and run the rest of the way,” he said. The twins groaned at the thought.

Celia was driving like a madwoman now, looking in her rear view mirror. The twins crouched back down in the seat now as the Nomad silently moved down the metal street.

“So what’s at the Bathtub Resort?” she asked over her shoulder. Hanu wasn’t sure how much he should tell, though. He knew they needed to get rid of their trades, but he still didn’t trust that he could take them to Paula.

“Someone who will keep us hidden,” he said.

He would talk to Toni first and ask for his advice on what to do next. Toni was one of the experts, so he would decide if they should be granted passage or not.

“So you guys were just going to drive off and hope to not get caught?” Hanu asked, looking out of the back window. The lights were further away now, but he knew they were tracking the vehicle. They needed to mislead whoever was in that Convoy.

“Well I thought we’d be long gone by the time they noticed we were missing. Plus, my neighbor is gone for the next four days. I didn’t think they would notice his vehicle was missing until he got back. I had a pretty good plan, you know.”

“No complaints here,” Hanu said. “Are we close yet?”

“Maybe three miles or so.”

Hanu started looking for places to ditch the Nomad- an alley, the front of a supply store, a dimly lit park space. If only they had one of Harris’ scramblers they wouldn’t have to move so frantically. They were approaching the outskirts of the business district and getting ready to cross over into the entertainment side of town when Hanu thought about it.

“The courtyard! Get us to that courtyard with that statue in it!” he said, shaking her shoulder wildly.

“The Fountain of Hope?”

“Yes! Get close. Park at one of those shopping centers,” he said, pulling one of the twins up from the floor. “When we stop, get ready to run to the fountain.”

Celia pulled the Nomad right onto the sidewalk in the middle of a shopping center. The boutiques and shops abutted one another without break, so they had to run along the brightly lit windows to find a way through to the park behind. Celia found a narrow alley, and they squeezed through into the shadows.

“Where are we going?” Tui asked.

“There’s something here. Or, it was here,” Hanu said, leading them through the bushes. He had nothing more than the moonlight to guide him. He could see off to the north- a trellis. “Come on!”

Hanu was on his hands and knees now, sweeping under the bushes. It had to be here. He could see lights off in the distance, winding through the courtyard. The Convoy again. Celia pulled the twins further behind the trellis.

“What are you looking for, Hanu?” Celia asked.

“This.”

He was holding up a smooth, round rock to the light.

“It’s a scrambler. They can’t locate us by your trades anymore,” Hanu said, smiling. He sat down next to the twins and leaned up against the trellis. They watched as the Convoy drove around the shopping plaza.

An hour later they were standing outside of the Bathtub Resort. Hanu got a strong sense of déjà vu as he approached the narrow doorway. He knocked three times and took a step back. Toni should be here, he thought. He remembered the last time he was at the Bathtub Resort the old man said he stayed all night to take care of business related things. Hanu was sure that this was the very business he was talking about.

Nothing.

He knocked again. Tonight of all nights, Toni had to be here. Celia and the twins hid behind the marquee. He could see that they were growing anxious now. They had no vehicle and no plan, and the Council was already after them. They were in way over their heads. Hanu decided they should get off of the sidewalk- get to a more hidden spot and wait it out until morning. He turned to walk away when the door cracked. It was Toni.

“What do you want?”

“It’s me, Hanu. Remember me? Harris brought me here a few weeks ago. We got the Harriet-”

“I remember you,” he said in a hollow voice. “I don’t serve after hours anymore. Sorry, guys.”

Hanu moved in closer to the door. “Why? What happened?”

“It’s too dangerous nowadays,” he said before he closed the door. “I’m sure you can find another way.”

Hanu looked over to the others. Celia was looking up and down the street nervously now, cupping the twins under her arms as if it would hide them.

Hanu failed. That was the last trick he had. But at least they had the scrambler. He led them into the alley behind the Bathtub Resort.

“We have to think,” Hanu said.

“Just how was this man going to hide us?” Tui asked, eyeing the building.

Hanu figured he owed them at least a little more information. “The Council will always be able to track us down by our trades, and we can’t always rely on this scrambler. We need to remove them and become invisible. That’s the best way to hide,” he said, looking from Celia to the boys.

“And that man would’ve done that?” she asked.

“Yes, but apparently he’s not in the business anymore. I wonder what’s going on.”

“Isn’t there anyone else who could do it?”

Hanu was racking his brain. It’s not like he knew a whole heck of a lot of people as it was. And he didn’t know anyone besides Toni who actually did the surgery. But maybe Harris would know of someone else who could.

“We’ll have to do a lot of walking tonight. We need to take advantage of the darkness and get where we need to go,” he said, talking more to himself than the others.

He knew he could get them to Harris’ house from here. Hanu remembered the way since they were forced to walk so slowly the last time. Would he mind Hanu showing up on his doorstep in the middle of the night?

“I know a person who might know how to get it done. He’s our only hope now.”

So they set off slowly, cautiously, through the streets towards the Residential District. He was looking for the building with a bronze statue out front. Their vigilance paid off, though, as they knocked on Harris’ door just before sunrise.

“Lookey here!” Harris said as he threw the door open. He pulled Hanu into the apartment, and the others filed behind. “I thought you were gone by now, what happened?”

“I ran into some trouble,” Hanu said sheepishly.

Harris was more serious now. He bit his lip as he looked at the others. “Hanu, you should have stayed put. It’s not safe anymore.”

“I heard. We went to the Bathtub Resort and Toni said he wasn’t serving anymore. What’s going on?”

Harris walked over to the window and peeked out. “Was that you during the Bowl, then? You went back for the twins?”

“Well, yes. But I was caught. Been there ever since. But Celia helped us bust out,” Hanu said, smiling at Celia. Harris pulled a large box from under his coffee table and opened it. There were different colored gemstones and crystals in it as well as several darker ones. It was a rock collection.

“So you guys all have your trades, I presume,” he said testily. Hanu knew he had inconvenienced Harris by coming here.

“I had that covered,” Hanu said, putting the scrambler on the table. Harris picked it up and rolled it in his hands, laughing.

“You’re a resourceful one, aren’t you?”

“Harris, we just need to get them removed. Do you know anyone else that can help us?” Hanu asked.

“I do,” he said, looking at Celia. “Does she know everything?”

“Celia?” Hanu asked. He was embarrassed to say he didn’t trust her enough to tell her everything. “Well, I figured I’d leave that to someone else, actually. I’m not in the position to really say anything.”

“Smart boy,” Harris said, putting his shoes on.

“What do you mean, everything?” Celia asked indignantly.

“Sorry to keep you in the dark, but being as things are the way they are…” Harris said as he tied his shoes. Then he grabbed a bag and put a loaf of bread in it. “How do we know we can we trust you?”

At this, the twins interjected. “She saved us. Celia would never do anything to hurt us!” Tui said.

“Yeah, she ran away with us. She left her whole life behind and everything,” La added.

“What do you think?” Harris said, looking at Hanu. He was honored that Harris thought so highly of his opinion, but he really didn’t trust himself to judge it.

“I’m just… I think so, but… I don’t know,” he admitted, looking down at his shoes.

“Well what do the voices say?” Harris asked with a wry smile. Hanu smiled, too. Celia cut in, angry now.

“Look guys, I may not have had the best plan, but I had good intentions. I don’t know what you guys mean by ‘everything’, but as long as the twins and I can be together and safe, I don’t care. I’m not a spy or anything like that, if that’s what you’re thinking, so whatever illegal operation you guys have going on, I don’t care as long as it gets us as far away from the district as possible!”

At that, Harris took a final glance out of the window. “Alright. That settles that, then. Let’s go.”

They were walking up the street now, as casually as they could. It wasn’t unusual for a couple of people to be walking through the neighborhood at dawn, so they blended well enough. And if the Council was locating them by their trades, they were covered.

“You know the little coffeehouse across from the elementary school down here?” Harris asked Celia.

“You mean Halgoria Reform?”

“No, there’s another school,” he said. “It’s further up the road here, and there’s this pink coffeehouse across from it. It’s on Hopkins Street.”

“You mean Neoma Prep?” Celia asked. “That Coffeehouse is not pink, dude. It’s purple.”

“I’m a man. Why should I worry about all these delicate color distinctions?” Harris argued playfully. “You knew what I was talking about, right?”

“Everyone knows the difference between pink and purple!” La chimed in.

“Here, let me open this chartreuse door for you,” Harris said, bowing and pretending to open the door of a supply store.

“That door is blue. Chartreuse is nowhere near blue, just so you know,” she laughed.

“Whatever,” Harris said, laughing now, too. “Anyway, that coffeehouse down there-”

“It’s called Tantra Coffeehouse,” Hanu interjected. He remembered it. He would pass by it every day on his way to school. He remembered smelling the fresh coffee. It smelled so good, and it always reminded him that he would soon be in class. It sort of got him ‘in the zone’ every day. And he always wondered what kind of name that was- Tantra. It was painted inside of a lotus flower on a large sign in the front of the building.

“Yeah, that one. You from around here, kid?” Harris asked.

“Yeah, so we better lay low. Someone might recognize me,” Hanu answered, walking closer behind Harris now.

Harris put his arm around Hanu and pulled him into a half hug as they walked. “Well anyway, Tantra is where we’re going. When we get there you’ll order the Harriet. Three of them with lemon, okay?” he said to Celia.

Hanu smiled now. He was happy to see Harris again, and even better, he didn’t have to drink that stuff again. The twins were not going to happy, though, he thought to himself, laughing. He grabbed Harris tighter as they walked down the street.

“You know Harris, you should come with us,” Hanu suggested, looking up at the man’s tired face. The familiar smell of oregano wafted from his sleeve. “You said yourself that things are getting bad here.”

“Yeah, it is getting tight here. We thought maybe the Council knew something at first. They came in and beat Toni up pretty bad. Tore up the place, too, looking for something. But it turned out they hit up every joint in the Entertainment District. It was random, but Toni decided it wasn’t worth it. He’s laying low now.”

“And you?”

“Well it’s not like I have a whole heck of a lot to do with anything. Well, I guess I do know a few things, but I don’t think I’m really a major player here.”

“How do you guys know each other?” Tui asked.

“Well, actually, when the Convoy flipped and we all ran our separate ways, I ended up hiding in a pile of garbage,” Hanu said. “And Harris found me.”

“And it was gross,” Harris said, squirming. The twins were laughing at Hanu now.

“So how about it, Harris, why don’t you come with us?” Hanu pressed.

“Look sharp, guys,” Celia said, looking up at the holographic trees they were passing. She was trying to hide her face from a Convoy that was driving slowly past them now. If they weren’t laughing it up they would have noticed before. It slowly drove by, but didn’t stop. Maybe they didn’t recognize them.

“You know what guys, we should probably move faster,” Harris said, picking up his pace.

Hanu wasn’t quite sure that they had gotten away. Harris hid a grimace behind a half-hearted smile as he ushered them across the street, grabbing one of the twins as they went. They ducked into an alley that came out on the other side of the block.

“We should be okay if we don’t come across any more of those things,” Harris said as they walked past a public park space.

Hanu could see the elementary school off in the distance now. They were close. They passed a couple of people, here and there, but there was really nobody around to blend in with. As they crossed the street another Convoy drove behind them, a little faster than the first one. There was no mistaking it. They were spotted.

They ducked behind an apartment complex, hoping to lose it, but when they came out on the other side, another Convoy was coming around the corner. It stopped, and a group of scouts got out. They ducked back into the alley behind the apartment building.

“Celia, get these kids over to the Coffeehouse. I’m gonna hold them off for a while.”

“Harris, you can’t do that! They’ll take you into the district,” Hanu argued, but Harris cut him off.

“I haven’t done anything wrong, Hanu. I’ll say you guys asked me for directions and then I’ll throw them off the trail. Trust me.”

Hanu had a bad feeling about it, though. He knew that they’d been seen and that the scouts wouldn’t be nice about it. He tried to pull Harris further into the alley.

“Harris, they’ll torture you,” Hanu pleaded.

“You know what,” Harris said, watching the scouts march up the street. “After I deal with these guys, I think I will retire. I’ll meet you at the coffeehouse and we’ll go to the Underground together, okay?”

Hanu nodded his head. He knew he wasn’t going to win, so he let the man go. Harris nodded at the group and turned onto the sidewalk to meet the scouts.

They were saying something to him now. Hanu couldn’t hear it. Then Harris held his arms out, saying something back.

“Come on, let’s go,” Celia whispered. But just as he was turning to go, he saw one scout rear back and punch Harris in the gut, sending him to the ground. Hanu wanted to scream, but she had already put a hand over his mouth and was pulling him back into the alley. Hanu fought as the twins grabbed his arms, wide eyed.

“We have to get out of here,” one of them whispered. But Hanu couldn’t just leave Harris now. He was the one who saved Hanu in the first place- and he helped his friends get to the Underground. Harris was a good person, and he was finally going to go to the Underground, himself, to be free.

Two of the other scouts picked him off the ground and the first one was kicking him in the face now. His blood pooled on the sidewalk in a dark puddle. Hanu struggled against Celia and the twins. The scouts were killing Harris, and they just wanted him to walk away like it was nothing. Hanu tried to get to him, to save him, but he was overpowered. Celia slapped Hanu in the face.

“Snap out of it!” she said. “Just snap out of it, Hanu. He knew it was dangerous going out there like that, but he risked it to save you. If you have any decency you’ll do what he asked you to do. The worst way to disgrace his sacrifice is to go out there and get yourself caught!”

Hanu yielded. He stopped struggling and allowed Celia to pull him down the alley. He didn’t really care what happened anymore. They had done so much to him already. How could it get any worse? After all they’ve done- separated him from his family, tried to experiment on him, hunted him down and tortured him- they went further. How could they excuse the fact that they beat a man to death outside of an apartment building in broad daylight?

The Coffeehouse was just around the corner. Celia pulled Hanu past the school, his school. Teachers were walking up the steps leading to the entrance and children were taking turns on the swing-set before the morning bell rang. People were going on with their everyday activities, unaware of what was happening to an innocent man just a block away. They bolted across the street and through the glass door. The barista, who had been cleaning glasses with a small cloth, helped Hanu into a seat.

“Hey, we need three Harriets, with lemon,” Celia said, looking through the window.

“Uh, let me get the boss,” the woman said, wringing the towel in her hands. She disappeared into the back room quietly.

A few minutes later a man with sandy hair and blue eyes came around the bar. He wore a T-shirt and cargo shorts with sandals. He hardly looked like he would be anyone’s boss.

“Hi, I’m Adam. How can I help you?” he asked, smiling candidly.

Celia, who had gotten her composure back by now, stood up and crossed the room. “Hi’ I’m Celia. My friends and I here need help. Harris sent us, and he told me to ask for the Harriet. He said you’d know what that meant.”

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