Rion awoke staring at the blue and white sky. His cheeks felt dry and leathery, probably from crying himself to sleep.
He stood up, shook out his stiff joints and looked out over the rooftop’s edge. He had climbed up here after they dropped him off. Where else was he going to go? The roof of the warehouse was the only place he knew that could be safe.
Last night had not ended well. Rion could not stop asking questions about the building, but Vian was weaving in and out of streets to elude the cops, and Scooter and Skyler were yelling frantically, giving unneeded advice and updates on the pursuit.
They hid in a dark alley. No one breathed a word until five minutes passed without a flash of red lights or a siren. “I think we’re good,” Vian said.
“We lost them early,” Scooter said. “The longer a chase goes, the more likely they’ll catch you.”
Rion said, “What was that building? Do you know what used to be there?”
“Shit, I don’t have a fucking clue. I just heard about it from Thad.”
“Looks like it might have been a small business of some kind,” Skyler said.
“Thank you, genius,” Vian said.
“You don’t know anything about it at all?” Rion said. “You don’t know what it was used for?”
“Shit, Rion,” Vian turned back to him, “All Thad told me was how to get there. I don’t even know the address.”
Scooter said calmly to Rion, “That’s how you do things in the underground. You give someone specifics. Then you get caught. Then the cops beat a confession out of you, and all your friends just got implicated.”
“I didn’t even know the cops had been there,” Vian said.
Skyler said, “It looked like a science lab. There was a lot of machines and computers.”
“I saw a lot of pictures of the brain,” Rion said.
Scooter nodded. “Probably medical research. They aren’t always in big fancy buildings. There’s low-end companies, too.”
“Would you two shut up?” Vian said. “I’m trying to listen for cops.”
“Dude, they’re gone,” Skyler said. “It’s been ten minutes. The cops are going to be wondering what four guys are doing in a parked car in an alley.”
Vian grimaced and turned his car on again. “Thad’s just lucky we got some decent shit, or I’d be kicking his ass now.”
“I found some glass bottles,” Scooter said.
“Yeah, I did too,” Vian said. “And a whole box of eye droppers.”
“I got some batteries,” Skyler said. “And some cold medicine.”
“Rock on. What’d you get, Rion?” Scooter asked.
“Um, I… I didn’t get anything.”
The car clamored in groans and expressions of disbelief and “Aw, you fucker”s.
“I’m sorry,” Rion said.
“What were you doing that entire time?” Scooter said.
“I got distracted,” Rion said.
“By the fucking building?” Vian said.
“I was trying to figure out what kind of building it was.”
“Good job, Scooter,” Vian intoned.
They didn’t answer any of his questions after that.
They drove back to the warehouse, where Rion asked to be taken. They sped away so fast, Rion had to jump back or his feet would be run over.
He climbed up to the roof, where it was even colder, but he could sleep without wondering if the homeless people would attack him. The only sounds were the rushing of trucks, thrumming like a heartbeat. He couldn’t stop repeating the night’s events in his head, how much he’d screwed himself over. He slumped down on the icy, flat surface and cried until he fell asleep.
The next morning, he awoke with a clearer head. Daylight canvassed the sky in blue and white. There were no cars parked in front of the garage, so he climbed down and waited.
Crappy looking cars sat abandoned on the street. Homeless people slept on the sidewalk.
And there was advertising everywhere. On mailboxes, billboards, sign posts, vertical wall banners, painted murals, and on the road. Soft drinks, electronics, food, casinos, insurance companies. Everything the people who lived here couldn’t afford.
Why didn’t anyone ever do anything to clean it up? Perhaps it was too overwhelming. Perhaps Tuesday was right–there was so much bureaucracy it wasn’t worth putting people in jail anymore.
Even the weeds in the parking lot had overgrown, allowed to sprout from tiny places and take over. But he was here, not doing anything, so he started to pick them, one by one. It was something to do until the doctor got there to open up.
There was something satisfying about removing the ugly, unwanted elements from the seams in the pavement. And it gave him a chance to think about the lab. It had to be his sweater, the girl was wearing in the photo. It was the same size, same shape, and smelled of dusty flowers. And somehow it was connected with a man who was doing science experiments on the brain. So what was the connection?
Rion kicked a displaced ragwort. He didn’t even know if the man in the picture was Dr. Mason. Maybe Dr. Mason was the attacker. Maybe Dr. Mason was a character in a book. Who the hell knew?
He could theorize all he wanted, but it wouldn’t get him any closer to finding answers. If he only he could get in touch with Tuesday. Any police station should be able to help direct him.
But he had no money, and no one in the pharmy would let him call a cop. Maybe Dr. Kinneburg would, if he knew what it was for. Maybe they could talk after their appointment this afternoon, when the topic was open.
This sounded like a good plan, and Rion attacked his mission to purify the lot with more intensity. Until he came upon a particular large weed. He grabbed its thick stem and yanked. It gave, but didn’t come out.
Rion stared at it, wondering why it was so tough compared it to the others. Its stem was thicker than a flower’s, but its leaves didn’t match. Was this a flower that had managed to take root? Had all the plants he’d taken out been weeds, or were some of them different?
Before Rion could worry about it, two cars pulled up. One was carrying a car load of teens, including Scooter. The other was Doctor Kinneburg’s.
“Well, nice to see you here bright and early,” the doctor said.
Rion smiled back, not mentioning that he didn’t have anywhere else to go. The doctor started unlocking the warehouse as Scooter approached him.
“Scooter,” Rion said. “I’m sorry about-“
Scooter shook his head, “Hey, man, don’t worry about those guys. They’re chumps. They’re nothing. Giving the new guy a hard time.”
“But I didn’t get anything for you. I failed in my mission.”
“Hey, don’t worry about it.” Scooter spoke at a lower volume. “Next time’ll be better, trust me.”
Rion smiled. There would be a next time. “Okay.”
The doctor finally got the garage open and they headed in. It reminded Rion of the hole in the building. Maybe it was a garage that blasted open, but that hole was made by something that was not a machine or an explosion. The precision of the opening was too clean, like someone removed those bricks from the wall.
Maybe he made that hole? Did he have the power to do that? Was he the one who was attacking Dr. Mason? He hoped not–he didn’t want to be that sort of person. Maybe he burst in trying to save him, or her. Or maybe Mason was a bad guy and he had to take him out. Arrgh, so many questions.
Rion realized Scooter wasn’t carrying any of the stuff he’d taken, so he assumed he’d already traded it in. “How much did you get?”
“How much did you get? For the stuff? You already sold it to the doctor, right?”
“Oh, oh, shit, I haven’t even gone through it yet. Got to make sure there’s no junk in there, you know. It’s still sitting under my bed at the shelter. You want to go through it with me?”
“Sure,” Rion said.
“All right, why don’t you come back with me after work. We’ll go through it then.”
“That’ll be later though,” the doctor said, appearing in front of them. “We have a half-day today, and I’m taking Rion to a specialist afterwards. Look at his headaches. Remember?”
“Yes, sir,” Rion said.
The doctor laughed, “You can call me, Kinney. Come on, let me show you what you’re doing. Scooter, join the others on mortar and pestle.”
“Aye-aye,” Scooter said.
Rion followed the doctor. He wanted to ask him if he had brought any food, donuts, juice, maybe a dead rat they could roast on a spit. But saying he was hungry would have been pathetic.
The doctor opened up the storeroom, where boxes and half-opened cartons littered the floor. “Basically, all I want is to get this neatened up. Organize it. You don’t need to do anything fancy.”
“Okay,” Rion said.
“For the opened packages, see if you can find what drug they are, then put them in a container. You said you were good at finding things. Now’s your chance to show me.”
“No problem,” Rion smiled.
“Thanks for doing this,” the doctor said, “I never have time to go through this, and no one else wants to try. I know, it sounds weird, when everyone’s working for their supper” the doctor shrugged. “But they get picky. They won’t stay long enough to complete the job, and I need someone I can trust to do so. Anyway, call for me if you need anything.”
Rion nodded and started at the nearest object–a cardboard box of cough drops, with half the shrink wrap off.