Heroes and Villains
Chapter 19 — End of the World, Redux
”The greatest strength we hold is trust. To give yourself over to another, to become one mind with each other, that is the true potential of the human soul. Let those in whom you hold absolute faith fill the weaknesses of your own spirit. For those who would break trust: give them no quarter, for they shatter that which can never be truly repaired.”
~Cinza, The Rallsburg Diaries
Hailey dove out of the sky, landing on the concrete in front of the glass double-doors. Quite a few people shrieked. She didn’t care. Quickly letting Jessica go, Hailey wrenched open the front door of the building and marched up to the receptionist desk.
The terrified young woman behind the counter stood up straight, her knees visibly knocking together.
”W-welcome to Luther, R-Renalds an—”
”Where is he?” Hailey asked. Jessica finally caught up to her, tapping her on the shoulder, but Hailey quickly shook her head before returning to the receptionist.
”The author of your Diaries,” Hailey snapped.
Her voice dripped with venom. She could feel rage boiling over in her face, like she were in the middle of a blazing fire. They’d flown almost non-stop from Ohio all the way back to Redmond, stopping once for food and finally arriving just past lunch. Jessica was looking a little light-headed, since she’d supplied Hailey with a lot of energy to keep them flying fast the whole way.
”I don’t know who that is,” said the receptionist meekly, cowering under her glare.
Jessica grabbed Hailey’s arm and pulled her back. Hailey glanced over. Jessica looked angry. Her hand came up. She lightly slapped Hailey in the face, just enough to really get her attention.
Hailey stopped. Jessica glared at her, pointing at the young woman behind the desk, utterly terrified. Hailey took a deep breath, forcing herself to be calm.
”Whatever you have to do, please,” she forced through rigid teeth. “Whoever’s representing him. Call them.”
”R-right away.” She fumbled for the phone. “Mr. Portman? Yes, this is Julie. Yes, reception. No, don’t hang up. I need you down here right now. It’s an emergency.”
”Tell him Hailey Winscombe is here to see him,” Hailey growled.
”…Yes, sir. Hailey Winscombe.” She paused, while whoever was on the other end spoke something very quickly. Hailey was about to try and listen in, but they stopped. Julie looked back up at her. “Mr. Portman is on his way down right now.” She hesitated, looking anywhere but at Hailey herself. “C-can I get you anything?”
Hailey stayed right where she was, still breathing heavily. The flight hadn’t exactly been easy, but she still felt too pumped up on adrenaline to even stand still. She started pacing, fully aware of the sea of eyes watching her every move.
She’d just dropped out of the sky in the middle of the day. She was surprised there wasn’t more of a fuss going on. At the moment, no one seemed to want to move. They were all waiting to see what happened next—what she’d do next.
Hailey wasn’t going to give them a show. She was here to shut down the show.
The elevator doors pinged. A sharp-dressed man with a poorly-shaved goatee stepped out. His eyes lit up as he spotted Hailey. He walked forward, extending his hand in greeting.
Hailey walked straight ahead, brushing right past him and stepping into the elevator. “Not here,” she snapped over her shoulder. To his credit, Portman recovered remarkably fast, turning on a dime and joining her in the elevator.
One silent elevator ride with Portman and a bewildered Jessica later, they arrived in what she assumed was the nicest suite in the building. Tasteful minimalist artwork surrounded soft comfortable office chairs, with wide tables perfect for piles of paperwork to sign. All points of a high-powered law firm experienced with high-profile clients.
Hailey had been in a couple of these rooms before, back when she’d actually still been interested in her mother’s career. Usually they were full of people. This room was totally empty.
Portman took a seat on one side, gesturing for them to take the opposite. Hailey finally sat down, though she still couldn’t stop fidgeting. Throughout the conversation, she was gently moving her chair back and forth, tapping her feet on the legs, anything.
”The famous Hailey Winscombe, I presume?” he started, with a wry smile. She returned it with a stony glare.
”Look, I’m in a hurry. You guys are the ones publishing the book, right?”
”We represent the client. Pro Paradigm is the publisher.”
”Okay, so you’re definitely who I want to talk to.” She leaned forward slightly, putting her elbows on the table. “Where’s Nate Price?”
If he was surprised she knew who their client was, he gave no sign. “I’m not at liberty to divulge that information.”
”Wrong answer.” She rolled her hand over, and a ball of flame flickered into life in mid-air above it. His eyes got wide. Jessica tensed up too, and Hailey saw her murmuring something under her breath just in case.
”Oh my god…” he murmured.
”What, he didn’t show you any magic?”
”I’ve never met the client. We have a strict policy with our clientele who require anonymity.”
”But you knew his name.”
The man puffed up his chest, just a little. “Well, I am a senior partner at the firm.”
”The only one still here for lunch on a Friday,” Hailey noted aloud. She let the fire dissipate into the air, realizing how little the guy actually knew. He wasn’t who she needed to talk to after all.
Portman frowned. “That’s not—”
She stood up, feeling too impatient to keep dealing with him. “Where’s the guy above you?” Jessica got up too, following her lead.
”Who’s in charge of Nate’s case?”
”I can’t disclose that inform—”
”Are you serious right now?” Hailey growled. Her arm started to move upward again, but Jessica grabbed her. Hailey twisted around.
Jessica was pointing out the window, where a sizeable crowd was starting to gather down below. Several news vans had pulled up, and guys with cameras were positioning themselves around the front doors. They were way up on the fifth floor, but even so, it was pretty obvious what was happening.
”Someone must have called them in,” Portman commented mildly, also watching out the windows.
”One of your people?”
”Of course not. It’s much easier to let publicity happen naturally these days. If people think anything’s manufactured, they’re less likely to engage with it.” He glanced over at her. “You’re a public figure now, Miss Winscombe. They’re going to be all over you.”
”They already were,” Hailey muttered.
”The FBI as well, and local police. You’ve got a lot to answer for.” The phone on the desk rang, but Portman ignored it. He was watching her instead.
Hailey murmured a quick spell, and suddenly everyone on the ground was thrown into sharp focus. She could see all of them perfectly. Some of the anchors she even recognized. One of them had interviewed her mom once, a piece on some charity work she did for her company years back. They were all staring right back up at her, though none of them could actually see her through the tinted glass on the fifth story.
”How long do I have?” she asked, turning back to Portman.
”Well, this is private property, and it could easily be argued you’re meeting with counsel.” He shrugged. “The federal agents will only be delayed until they can get in touch with their favorite local judge to issue a warrant. If you were to make us your official legal representation, I’m sure we could delay the press indefinitely. “
She laughed. “Are you really trying to give me a sales pitch right now?”
”Can’t fault me for trying, can you?”
Hailey ignored him, looking at Jessica next to her. It’s time. No more running and hiding. I have to beat Nate at his own game. She pointed out the window, making a motion with her hand like a waterfall.
Jessica shook her head. She held up her hands to her face, as if to hide, punctuating it as a question.
Hailey shrugged. “I think that’s done now,” she added, feeling a rush of excitement. With another murmured spell, one she’d practiced and refined so many times that she could do it without thinking, Hailey’s hair and face rearranged themselves back to normal. She took off the fake glasses and dropped them in her bag.
Ignoring the gawking Portman, Hailey gestured at her face, then down at the crowd again.
Jessica hesitated. She looked down at the crowd, muttering under her breath words Hailey couldn’t understand. Finally, she looked back up. Jessica pointed at herself and shook her head, her blue-brown hair flying wildly.
”You sure?” Hailey asked, tilting her head slightly.
She nodded. She gave Hailey a small smile and pointed out of the window, nodding.
Hailey hugged her tight, releasing the spell on her appearance as she did. “Hey, Mr. Portman?”
”Y-yes?” he spluttered, as if coming out of a stupor.
”Got a bathroom I can use?”
If Hailey was finally making her real public debut, she wasn’t going out there looking like that.
Jessica closed the private restroom door behind them and locked it with a satisfyingly loud click. As a secondary measure, she cast a spell on the door itself, pressing at the metal to wedge it into the frame. It wasn’t going to open without some serious force behind it.
Meanwhile, Hailey had dug out a pouch of chalk dust from her bag, along with a pair of moonstones and another pair of malachite. She handed the chalk to Jessica, who floated it out in a dusty haze. As Hailey set out the little candle holders at each point, the chalk landed in a perfect astroid on the restroom floor.
”It’s a good thing we don’t have to clean up after,” Hailey laughed. She was giddy with anticipation.
Jessica rolled her eyes, righting one of the candle holders that Hailey had knocked over as she stepped into the center of the chalk. The gemstones floated out to each holder and landed with tiny clinks, echoing slightly off the tile walls of the room.
As Hailey started, a thrill of danger trickled through her mind. Ritual magic was still a rarity. Even Cinza and her people tended to avoid it, with only a couple experiments involving the golems since their last disastrous attempt in Rallsburg. They all feared the potential consequences of a broken ritual. For Hailey, such painful results were always evident, of course—but even so, she had performed more successful rituals than anyone else in the world, as far as she knew.
She closed her eyes, reaching out mentally along the lines of chalk to the gemstones. Unlike the normal process of just ripping energy out of them, the ritual allowed her to feel them in a more nuanced way. She could tell how the moonstone shaped her ability to change the color of an object, altering how it reflected light, while the malachite helped her shift the texture and composition. She drew them in, and in an instant she’d already changed the color of her hair. It was trivial to her now, starting at the roots and working her way down, shifting the structure of each strand to a shiny golden-blonde hue.
With the number of times she’d practiced the spell, Hailey had eventually worked her way up to doing multiple tasks simultaneously. Just as she moved the moonstone energy into her hair, she also brought the malachite to change the texture and shape, twisting it just slightly so it formed natural waves instead of the plain straight hair she’d adopted.
While she still held the malachite in her mind, Hailey sent it flowing around the skin on her face, washing away every freckle and blemish as she went. Suddenly, her skin was perfect—maybe even too perfect.
She released everything with a gasp, her eyes fluttering open. The chalk dust had vanished, though the moonstone and malachite were mostly intact. Jessica set to gathering them up, but stopped as she glanced over at Hailey.
Hailey looked in the mirror. She had gone too far, but could anyone really fault her for it? Every imperfection was washed away. It wasn’t that she was suddenly an unbelievable, exaggerated form of attractive—it was still Hailey in the mirror—but it seemed like a perfect version of herself. Like she’d just had professional makeup done for hours to make her skin absolutely flawless, her hair perfectly clean and catching the light, her eyelashes just right, her lips soft and full of color. Hell, even her nose looked attractive, and she’d always hated her nose. Suddenly, it wasn’t off-center anymore, or weirdly straight.
And all of it was permanent.
Hailey glanced at Jessica, suddenly feeling a little nervous. “Jess?”
Jessica shook her head slightly, realizing she’d been staring at Hailey with her mouth hanging open slightly. She gave her a quick nod of approval, but Hailey could see her eyes lingering.
Hailey grinned. She floated the handful of candle holders out of Jessica’s arms, dumping them back into her bag. She gave Jessica another hug, who returned it after a moment’s hesitation, then turned and opened the bathroom door. Jessica vanished into thin-air, not wanting to be seen quite yet, but Hailey was ready. She walked right back into Portman’s office, where he was still watching the crowd below with a concerned expression.
He looked up, and his jaw dropped even further than the last time.
”Does that window open?” she asked casually.
Hailey took a deep breath. “Show time.”
She found the latch for the window and pulled it open. Stepping out onto the ledge, she closed it behind her without looking, shoving it gently back into place with her mind.
It only took a few moments for someone to notice her. They began shouting. It was like someone just kicked an anthill as people began swarming, turning cameras up to catch her.
Some people screamed. Hailey fell through the air, enjoying the whistling breeze for a few moments. She spread her wings wide and pushed hard.
Her descent slowed, and became an easy controlled glide down to the pavement. The crowd of cameras and press made way, quickly reforming a circle around her as she touched down, with only a few quick steps for balance before she stood upright.
There were so many clicks, camera flashes, and shouted questions that Hailey felt totally blind. She didn’t even bother trying to answer, just glancing around the crowd with a nervous smile. It gave her a surprisingly long time to think, since each journalist, paparazzi, or just random onlooker were all practically climbing over each other to get the first word from her.
Right back at the center of the crowd. You got this, Hales. Just like old times.
Except it really wasn’t like old times. The old crowds were all people she knew, or at least invited by people she knew. Her parties, her friends. Her word was law there.
Here? She was totally alone.
What the hell was I thinking? I’m probably on TV in front of the whole world right now. What am I supposed to say?
She glanced around. The furor was dying down as they realized she still hadn’t said anything. There were still a few shouted questions, mostly from the back, but a wave of silence was overtaking the gaggle. She could hear the bustle of the city beyond, as the rest of the world continued on regardless of the monumental event taking place in front of a law office in Redmond.
Oh man, this really is monumental. I’m the first person with magic to ever really show up and say something. This is gonna be in all the history books, isn’t it?
What if I just flew away again? She laughed aloud briefly at the image in her head, which caused another flurry of activity, another burst of photos, another couple shouted questions before they all fell silent again. Oh god. I totally froze up. I can’t speak.
She looked back up at the window she’d jumped from. Her eyes were still enhanced from earlier, since she’d never let go of the spell. It didn’t actually make things up close harder to see, it just let her see details on things much further away easily if she focused. Just like normal eyes, except that she had a way longer depth of field, or whatever the right term was.
Jessica was sitting up on the roof peeking over the edge, barely visible even with her eyesight. She gestured slightly, obviously trying to get Hailey to notice. She kept pointing at herself, motioning over and over between that and the crowd below.
Go get her?
No, Jessica had pretty clearly indicated she didn’t want to be on TV.
Be like her?
Not likely either.
Be like… me. Be myself. Oh.
Hailey could do that. It was easier than trying to think of something profound and important to say, anyway. That was all Cinza and Rachel’s thing.
She looked back at the crowd, letting her nervous anxiety manifest on her face. She cracked a smile.
No one moved. No one said a word. A couple cameras clicked, but as she looked around, they appeared to be taking pictures automatically. Everyone was frozen in place.
Hailey glanced back up at the building. “That was pretty crazy, huh?”
”What are you?” asked a breathless man near the front, holding up a microphone from a local TV station.
”I’m Hailey. Hailey Aurora Elizabeth Winscombe. I’m twenty-two, I’m majoring in business, I’m a Leo—not that those mean anything at all… and I’m one of the awakened.”
She took another deep breath, turning to stare at the nearest camera.
”I’m here to call out the so-called survivor of Rallsburg. The guy who’s responsible for stealing the diaries of a good friend of mine.” She glanced around the crowd, pausing for effect. “Wherever you are? Stop hiding. Call your lawyers and get out here. We need to talk.”
A cacophony as the floodgates opened up, a dozen voices yelling over one another.
”Miss Winscombe, where have you been hiding?”
”What happened in Rallsburg, Hailey?”
”Did you just say Cinza was your friend?”
”How did you just do that?”
”What happened to Cinza?”
”Can you fly?”
”What are you?”
Hailey had been ignoring every question since, but as the last one cropped up again, she turned and fixed her eyes on the man who had asked. The crowd fell silent instantly at her reaction, but Hailey didn’t let her anger show.
This is the most important moment in the world, and I’m standing at the center of it. Whatever I say is what everyone’s gonna be talking about for days. Weeks. Years. Centuries, maybe.
Don’t screw it up.
She smiled. “I told you, I’m Hailey. I’m awakened. I’m one of the good guys.”
”…What does ‘awakened’ mean?”
”Were you always like this?”
”Who are the bad guys, Hailey?”
Crap, maybe not the best way to start this off… Oh god, what are Cinza and the others thinking right now?
I shouldn’t be doing this. We need to regroup.
Hailey glanced around again nervously. “Sorry, everyone. I gotta go.”
Before anyone could say another word, Hailey coiled her legs and leapt into the air. Her wings unfurled in an instant and beat down hard, sending a huge gust rolling through the crowd. More than a few hats were blown off. Hailey quickly ascended to the roof, where Jessica was suddenly nowhere to be found.
Hailey knew exactly what Jessica would do. She held out her hands right as she passed the lip of the roof. Two small, invisible hands clasped onto her forearms like vices. Hailey swung her around in midair, and Jessica found a grip, clinging to her with both arms and legs.
Another hard wingbeat and they were moving, flying south while a herd of cameras and vehicles on the ground tried in vain to follow.
The Greywoods camp was eerily silent as Hailey and Jessica landed, but there was smoke issuing from Cinza’s chimney nonetheless. Yusuf and Joe looked up from the field curiously as Hailey landed, since she wasn’t expected. She ignored them, heading straight for Cinza’s cabin. She tried to compose the words in her head to explain what had happened, but she couldn’t think of anything.
She didn’t have to. Cinza and Ruby were sitting together on their wide chair, both staring at the monitor. There were tears on Ruby’s cheeks. As Hailey entered, she turned away and hid her face in the thick cushions.
”I will end him,” said Cinza, her arm around Ruby’s shoulder.
”I couldn’t find him,” Hailey sighed, taking one of the chairs opposite. Josh bolted into the room a moment later, his mouth open.
”We already know,” Hailey interrupted.
Josh glanced at her. “When’d you get here?”
”Like thirty seconds ago. We had to outrun a helicopter that chased us across Tacoma. Jess made us invisible, but I could’ve sworn it was still following us, then it made a few wrong turns and we got away.” She leaned back in the chair, stretching out from the hard flight. “Also, I got outed too.”
”By your own choice,” Cinza said quietly. It wasn’t an accusation.
They’re gonna know all of us sooner or later… “…Yeah.” Hailey looked back at her. If Ruby was so devastated, Hailey expected Cinza to be doubly so—but she was practically radiating pure, focused rage.
If she weren’t so angry at him herself, Hailey might have pitied Nate in that moment. Cinza would tear him to pieces if she got her hands on him.
”Ruby…” Josh started.
”Don’t look at me,” snapped Ruby, her voice muffled by the chair. “You both saw it, right?”
”Well… no,” said Hailey, glancing between them. “As soon as I saw the first couple channels talking about it, I flew straight to the lawyers Nate hired. I didn’t really have a chance to look at anything. I read a little bit more when we stopped halfway across to eat, but my phone was almost dead.”
”Ruby got outed,” explained Josh, before Cinza could speak.
”…I mean, that’s not surprising,” said Hailey.
”No, I mean her real name and everything. Her dad. Where she’s from. Age, birthday, appearance, preferences, favorite foods. A whole fuckin’ profile.” Josh glanced at Cinza oddly. “That was some diary.”
”No one was ever meant to read them. They were private,” she snapped.
”Ruby’s real name?” Hailey asked, surprised. For some reason, she’d never really considered the idea. She’d always doubted Cinza’s name, but she’d never bothered to consider that her girlfriend’s might be fake, too.
Josh looked over at Cinza again, as if seeking permission. Cinza sighed. “It’s public record now. You’ll hear it sooner or later. Her name is Hannah Newman, and she’s from Tacoma. She ran away from home at fifteen and ended up in Rallsburg, May before last.”
Hailey did the quick mental math. “So she’s… oh. Oh god.”
”Cinza, don’t let them—” Ruby started, still muffled. Hailey could barely hear her over the crackling fire and the rain that was beginning to pour down on the roof. Jessica opened the door, letting in Scrappy, who ambled through and sat down next to the fire.
Cinza ran a hand through her hair, shushing her and holding her close. “Ruby, I shall never in an eternity of life, be they god or devil or the force of nature itself, allow anyone to take you from me.”
”…Cinza, you’re not gonna have a choice,” Josh said uneasily. “If she’s a minor, we all know how this looks. The law’s never gonna let her stay with a cult.”
”This isn’t really a cult…” said Hailey.
”You think anyone’s gonna care? As the resident non-member, this is absolutely a damn cult and anyone sayin’ otherwise is kiddin’ themselves.” Josh held up his hand as both Cinza and Hailey opened their mouths angrily. “It’s a good cult, calm the fuck down. But until she’s eighteen, it’s gonna be a shitshow.”
”When is that?” Hailey asked gently, looking back to Cinza.
”Next September,” she replied. “Far too long.”
”It’s so stupid,” Ruby cried. “I’m not going back to him. Never.”
”They can never find you here,” Cinza reminded her, hugging her close. “You’re safe.”
”For how long though?” asked Hailey uneasily.
”Forever, if they want,” Josh said with a shrug. “It’s totally self-sustaining now. I mean, it’s fuckin’ November and we’re still growing food outdoors. We’ve got electricity, heat, everything. The magic’s solid.”
”The rest of the world won’t be so simple,” said Cinza, finally loosening her grip on Ruby, though the girl didn’t move an inch. She continued to run a hand through the thick red hair as she spoke. “We’ll be safe, but our moment has come. We can’t let this pass unchallenged.”
”Unchallenged?” Hailey asked.
”If all they have is Nate’s word and my writing, they will make assumptions. Many of which will be false.”
”What exactly do they have?” asked Josh. “We gotta know what we’re up against.”
”I wrote down everything. Everything that happened, everything I thought and did and saw, to the best of my knowledge and my memory.” Cinza glanced over at the wall of journals, barely visible through the thick starry curtain that separated the cabin into rooms. Hailey squinted, and sure enough, it seemed to be locked up tight, instead of an open shelf as before. “Based upon the volumes that remain, they have every event from the end of July last year until May fifteenth, after we gathered in the library. Three books in total.”
”Son of a bitch,” he muttered.
”I’m sorry,” said Hailey, “but I wasn’t really there for most of that… What does that mean?”
”Second coup?” Josh asked, glancing at Cinza.
She shook her head. “I was only tangentially involved, so I didn’t record much of it. Ruby and I left Rallsburg for much of November. Certainly not enough to condemn anyone.”
”Thank god. But still… That’s gonna have the names of everyone, yeah? And what we can do, who was in charge, everything.” He slumped in his chair. “Shit, I’m gonna be all over that aren’t I?”
”You were the most frequent visitor to our ritual,” Cinza replied, with the faintest smile creasing her lips.
”I needed a distraction after Rika stabbed me in the fucking back,” he muttered. “Okay, so they’re gonna know everything about us.”
”They already do,” said Hailey. “They already went over all of us when the town got wiped out, remember?”
”Like you’re the same person you were before?” asked Josh. He shook his head. “That’s not what I’m really worried about.”
”Rachel,” added Cinza with a nod.
”She shot Jackson. Right in front of me,” said Cinza quietly.
”Self defense, right?”
”As long as we advocate for her.”
”What about you?” asked Josh, looking over at her. “You and Ruby killed a couple people too…” He trailed off, realizing what he’d just said so casually.
Cinza nodded, unperturbed. “I will probably be forced to answer for that. I’m not an expert on legal matters, but I think that too would be construed as self defense.”
”They were trying to kill us,” murmured Ruby. “How more self-defense can you get?”
”We need Jackie,” muttered Josh, pressing his hands to his face.
”I’ve been trying,” Hailey sighed. “I promised Agent Ashe I would.”
”Shit!” Josh sat up suddenly. “He’s on our side now, right? Ask him for help.”
”I don’t know about on our side,” said Hailey dubiously. “But I can try.”
”Should we really contact them as our first move?” wondered Cinza aloud. “We may be stepping right into a trap, if we place ourselves in the hands of federal agents on the first day of the new world.”
”Not really our first move,” Josh pointed out. “Hailey already showed off live on national TV. They can’t bury her.” He glanced over at her. “Nice speech, by the way.”
”A bit short for my taste,” commented Cinza. Hailey was glad the mood was finally warming up a bit.
”Everything’s too short for your taste,” she teased back, grinning.
”Perhaps I’m overcompensating for something,” Cinza added mildly, smiling as well.
”What’s going to happen to us?” asked Ruby, finally looking up. Her face, streaked with tears, chilled the mood back down to ice-cold. No one answered, while the fire crackled away and Jessica glanced between them, sitting up against the wall with Scrappy curled up by her side.
”It’s time to face the real world, my love,” Cinza said, kissing her on the forehead. “Our brief stay from the public eye is past. The second emergence has begun.” She looked up at Hailey. “I suppose you’ll be representing us.”
Hailey glanced between the two of them, uncertain. Josh nodded. “She’s the best choice.” He raised his eyebrows pointedly. “I mean: damn, Hales.”
She shrugged. “I’ve been waiting so long to go back to normal. I kind of overdid it.”
”It paid off.”
”You look too perfect,” commented Cinza. “It’s unnatural.”
”You think it’s bad?” she asked, surprised.
Cinza smiled. “Of course not. We are unnatural. Embrace it. You’re beautiful, Hailey, and your magic has only served to bring out the best of you.”
Hailey did her best not to blush, but hearing that from Cinza made her feel positively glowing. Ruby looked up at the words, and she nodded her agreement.
”Okay, this is all uplifting and shit, but don’t you have some phone calls to make?” Josh said pointedly. Hailey nodded, still basking in the praise a little bit. She pulled out her phone and started scrolling through the contacts. Jessica looked up as she stood, but Hailey just pointed at the phone in her hand, and she nodded.
Hailey stepped outside. There was a wide, comfortable bench on the front porch, under the awning. She bundled up in her thick flight jacket, pulled her scarf in close, and tapped the name on her phone.
”Yeah. Listen, I—”
”Look, you can call off the search. If Jackie’s busy, I get it. Just let her know she should get in touch, when she can, yeah?”
”That’s not why I called.”
”…I’m gonna hate whatever you say next. Fuckin’ hell.”
”You don’t know?”
”Know what? …Oh fuck. I’ve been… out of town. What happened?”
”Check the news. Magic’s out. Everyone knows.”
”…Jesus Christ. But we weren’t— We were still getting ready. Fuck.”
”…Doesn’t matter anymore. Why’d you call?”
”There’s a lot of stuff we have to answer for. I was hoping I could come in and talk to you. You know, officially. On record.”
”Ask me again two weeks ago.”
”Damn, Hailey, you think they let me stick around after that shitshow in Tacoma? I’m suspended—unofficially, but I can do fuck-all for you.”
”…So if I go into the FBI…”
”Take a good fuckin’ lawyer. I have no idea who you’re gonna be talking to.”
”What should I do?”
”Look, I’m not even supposed to be where I am. I’m burnin’ vacation time just to be here.”
”Don’t worry about it. Look, just be careful. If what you’re sayin’ is true, then the moment any of you show your face they’re gonna be on you. Sooner someone talks, the better. My guys just want answers, they’re not really lookin’ to make this into a full manhunt and shit. Just…”
”Make it public. Really fuckin’ public. Everyone should know you’re goin’ in, everyone should see you come out at the end of the day. Don’t let anyone disappear you.”
”They couldn’t if they tried.”
”Can you stop a fuckin’ bullet?”
”…I don’t know.”
”Then don’t waste this bullshit confidence on me, girl. You’re movin’ up to the professional league here. Get the best lawyer you can afford and play it safe as fuck.”
”You’ll be all right, kid.”
”Thanks, Agent Ashe.”
”Jeremy, please. We’re friends, ain’t we?”
”…Yeah. Thanks, Jeremy.”
”What were you thinking? My phone has been ringing off the hook all day. I had to block every number just to see yours on my cell.”
”Did you see the news?”
”Yes. Daniel pulled me out of a meeting to watch. It’s about time you quit messing about with those awful haircuts.”
”Mom, that wasn’t really the point—”
”Yes, I know. It’s public knowledge. You’re quite famous now. I’m currently barricaded in my office, as it were, with two uniformed officers waiting to escort me home.”
”It’s just on the company’s dime, and I’m pretty sure we can deduct it. Hailey, are you okay?”
”Yeah. Actually… I’m way better.”
”Well you certainly look better. Did you really have to jump off a building on live TV though? You gave me a heart attack.”
”I can fly, Mom.”
”That doesn’t mean you aren’t still affected by gravity!”
”I really need—”
”Do you know how terrifying it is to see your own daughter falling off a building, on TV, in the middle of the day?”
”I need your help.”
”Well why didn’t you say so?”
”…Look, I need you to hire a lawyer.”
”Hailey, I already have a lawyer.”
”Mom, I need a lawyer.”
”…Why on earth would you need a lawyer?”
”The best one you can find. Criminal law, I think. Probably. And I need him right away.”
”Criminal law? Hailey, what—”
”No, Mom, I haven’t committed a crime.”
”I have to go in and talk to the FBI, and I don’t think I should be alone when I do.”
”We knew this was coming sooner or later.”
”No we certainly did not!“
”Mom, they’ve been looking for me for months, and everyone else who was in Rallsburg.”
”But you’re… you’re just—”
”What did you think was gonna happen when they found out?”
”I don’t know. Not… that!“
”We don’t have a whole lot of time. I need to find someone, and I can’t really do that if the FBI are breathing down my neck the whole time.”
”That Nate Price boy?”
”Who is he?”
”A rich kid who’s trying to get more rich by stabbing all of us in the back.”
”That’s a little dramatic, Hailey.”
”It’s the truth.”
”Daniel is coming up with a list of potential lawyers. I’ll narrow it down and have one for you in an hour or two?”
”Hailey, will you come by, please? Before you go in.”
”…Does your office have roof access?”
”I have no idea. Daniel, does this place have a way to get on the roof?” … “Yes, apparently.”
”I’ll meet you there. Five o’clock.”
”I told you, Mom, I don’t have a whole lot of time. I have to find Nate and stop this, but there’s no way I’m getting to him if his lawyers are standing in the way.”
Hailey and Jessica landed on the roof of the office, promptly at five. Her mom was waiting there, along with a young man she didn’t know. His eyes widened only briefly as she glided into view. Jessica kept herself hidden, clearly unsure about the other man.
”The lawyer?” Hailey asked, rather unnecessarily.
”Yes. I warned him.” Stephanie nudged him forward slightly.
”Miss Winscombe, a pleasure,” he said, holding out a hand. Hailey shook it hesitantly. “My name is Jefferson Baux, criminal defense attorney with Hanford Jenkins.”
”As I understand it, you haven’t necessarily committed any crimes, but you’re looking for legal representation when interacting with the Federal Investigation Bureau, correct?”
”Yes, that’s right.”
He smiled. “A wise move, ma’am. Everyone has their rights, even the presumed deceased.”
”Uhh, about that. How do I prove myself… not dead?”
”Well, thankfully, there were never official death certificates issued for most of the unidentified deceased from Rallsburg, so you aren’t considered dead. Only those without relatives to protest were declared. Your legal status is currently ‘missing’, but I’ve no doubt it has been changed as of today.” He smiled. “That was quite the showing you made outside LRP.”
”I’m currently in the process of requesting an advance copy of that notorious book, but without an actual case to tie it to, it may be difficult. Could you call it libelous?”
With how Cinza writes? “…Probably not. What about if the original author didn’t want it published?”
”Will she declare so openly? Currently, she doesn’t exactly… well, exist.”
”Yes. This isn’t my specialty, but I did some quick research. The pseudonymous writer doesn’t any have rights in these circumstances. Presently, she’s considered a creation of Pro Paradigm. The original author does hold power, as she held copyright to the words the moment they were put on the page. If she came forward to claim the diary as her own and block its publication, that may work. However, given the nature of the case and the national public interest, there will be considerable pressure to allow it despite the legal precedent protecting personal journals and diaries.” He shrugged. “It’s currently slated to be published on Tuesday the thirteenth, as I understand it.”
”In four days?” Hailey asked in dismay.
”They’re making a huge publicity push already. This isn’t really my area of expertise, but I’ve never seen any media marketed this heavily, this fast. I’m assuming they’re already well aware of the potential legal ramifications and the possibility that the original author is still alive.”
”So they don’t care, to put it bluntly.” Jefferson shrugged again. “They’ll make more money than they’ll ever be at risk of losing in a suit. It’s business as usual.”
Hailey had to fight to control her anger for a moment. There wasn’t anything to take it out on. No one on that rooftop was responsible. Just Nate.
”I understand you want to talk to the FBI as soon as possible?”
”Well, I’d have to advise against that. I’d like a little bit of time to prepare before we go in, if we can manage it. The weekend, at least.”
”But… if it’s publishing on Tuesday—”
”Frankly, Miss Winscombe?” Jefferson took off his glasses and pulled out a small blue microfiber cloth, polishing the lens. “I don’t believe you can stop this. The publishing engine’s already moving. The books will be in every major retail store by tomorrow, to prepare for the launch day. They’ll put them under lock and key to prevent early leaks, but the printing is already done. There’s millions of copies across the country. It’s practically impossible to prevent it.”
”Focus on what you can do,” he added, putting his glasses back on and straightening them. “You can prevent Mr. Price from making a dime of ill-gotten gains. You can make sure your side of the story is heard. And you can finally start living a normal life again.”
”Yeah… about that last one.”
He smiled. “Okay, so you’ll never lead a normal life again. Lead a new life. Whatever you want. I’m just your lawyer.”
”How much am I paying you?”
Stephanie cleared her throat. “Enough.”
”Give him a raise, Mom. He’s pretty good.” Hailey smiled slightly, trying to joke her way out of the despair slowly settling in. “We’ll go talk to the FBI on Monday then, Mr. Baux?”
”Monday,” he agreed, holding out his hand. She shook it, much more firmly this time. “An honor to meet you, Miss Winscombe.”
”Could you wait back in my office?” asked Stephanie. “I’ll be there to discuss payment in a minute.”
As soon as he was gone and the door to the roof clicked shut, Jessica appeared out of thin air, stepping up next to Hailey.
”Would you please warn me next time?” Stephanie gasped, pressing a hand to her chest.
”Sorry, Mom,” said Hailey. Jessica just rolled her eyes.
”So…” she started, but trailed off, staring out over the skyline. Her building wasn’t even close to the tallest, but it still had an excellent view from the rooftop. It might have been pleasant, if not for all the industrial units scattered around and the constant noise.
Or the overwhelming, world-class weight of anxiety bearing down on all three of them.
”Yeah.” Hailey put an arm around Jessica’s shoulders, hugging her close. Stephanie joined them, putting arms around them both for a tight group hug. Jessica leaned into it, as did Hailey. For just a moment, Hailey could pretend her mom would just take care of everything for her again, like when she was little.
Hailey’s phone rang. She stared down at it like it had said something offensive, ruining the moment.
”Answer it,” Stephanie whispered, staring.
She didn’t recognize the number. “Hello?”
”Miss Winscombe?” asked a crisp female voice.
”My name is Linda Milgram-Renalds. I represent a client to whom you recently issued a public… summons, let’s call it?”
Hailey’s eyes narrowed. “You’re Nate’s lawyer.”
”Miss Winscombe, my client has a response your request.”
”He’ll agree to meet and speak with you, in person. On one condition.”
”You will both appear on the Evening Show with Russell Wallace on Monday night, and talk face-to-face on live television.”
”This is our only offer. Please reach out to this number with your response by eleven o’clock tonight. I’ll be awaiting your call.”