Thanks, Marie. That's what I go for, to make Macbeth believable and leave the reader some sort of point of reference to use.
And now that I'm back to working on this stuff, I'm currently doing the boring part of book prep before trying to work out a publishing route. Namely, going through and fixing all the typos, grammar errors, etc. Wish me luck with that sleep inducing stuff, please?
But here's the plan for this book. I am going to shoot for getting two chapters done a month. We'll see how that goes, but I need practice again on keeping a schedule and making myself write more. So thanks for all the encouragement, you guys. It definitely helps
"Canst thou remember A time before we came unto this cell?" - Prospero, Act I, Scene II
Throughout the years since my first vision, there have been very few constant, dependable facts. So incredibly rare is something I can point at and say that what I know about it, I know with absolute certainty. Even less since my true past was revealed to me.
Up until five seconds earlier, one of those preciously scant hard facts was that my parents were absolutely innocent from all of this. I had known, solidly and completely known that neither of them knew anything about my situation or true identity, that they were simply Shakespeare loving civilians.
And if I hadn't thought that they could possibly know anything about my life, the idea that one of them could be a murderer was so far off my radar that it might as well have been a cotton ball on Neptune for all that I could have seen it coming. The accusation nearly made me stumble, even as my throat closed off completely. Even if I'd been able to speak past the dark lump in my throat, I had no words.
He had to be wrong, right? My father was… pretty much as far from a killer as you could get. I mean, sure he was a bit anal retentive about cleanliness. He wore his hair close and short, his clothes were always neatly pressed and he was very clear about where things go. He was a man who always had a plan, who always knew what he wanted, and laid out a plan of how to get it. He was an architect though, which from what little I know, is pretty much the poster child profession for needing to plan things out before you do them.
Aaron Baston was careful, precise, and absolutely not a murderer. He was my father. Not as warm and cuddly as some, maybe, but he'd certainly never killed anyone.
"Look, kid," Often was saying. She had already moved between us. "you wanna throw wild accusations out there, pick someone else. There's no way. Mac's dad, and please note the seriousness with which I am treating this situation that I didn't make a 'mac daddy' joke, is not a killer. I think she might've noticed, I'd think that something in her…" She trailed off, not sure of how much to say, before shrugging. "Something would have told her."
"Yeah?" Nicholas's voice was a low snarl. "Well I've got something that 'tells me' things too. It's called my eyes." His own were burning a hole through Often and into me. "I saw him. I saw that man take my sister. He's the one that killed her. I saw him, and I'll never, ever forget what he looked like, ever. So unless your father has some evil identical twin--"
Often interrupted at this point. "Not entirely out of the realm of possibility, considering the last few weeks."
Nicholas pressed on. "Either way, that's him. That's the guy I saw." His hand came up, finger pointing accusingly. "Why did he do it? Why did your father take my sister? Why did he kill her, huh? Why?! Who is he? Who is he, Macbeth?!" Somehow, I didn't feel any better about him finally saying my name correctly.
My mouth opened, but no sound came out at first. I had no idea. No clue what to say, whatsoever. What could I say? Finally, I turned and moved toward the Target again, to the payphones. The only words I could manage were a tightly spoken, "I'm going to find out."
I didn't take the phone card back. If my parents did know anything about… any of this, if any of it was true, the absolute least they could do was accept a collect call. That's me, extracting vengeance one semi-inconvenient phone bill at a time. Maybe I'll see if Often can get us to Zimbabwe for the next one. That'll teach them.
My sense of humor faded as I dialed and spoke my name for the collect service. I held the phone tightly, looking anywhere but at the other two.
The phone rang through to my father's cell phone. It rang, and rang, until his familiar voice mail picked up. He never didn't have his phone on him, and it was still early. He'd most likely let it ring through when he didn't recognize the number. But I disconnected, then picked the phone up and dialed through again. I'd do this all day until he finally answered if that's what it took. I wanted answers.
After the third try, I shoved the phone down once again. Finally, I looked back at the others. "No one's answering." I explained, unnecessarily. They weren't blind.
"Maybe he's skipping the country," Nicholas retorted darkly before adding, "or off killing some other innocent girl. Hard to answer the phone when you're elbow deep in--"
Often stopped the boy with a sharp nudge and a terse voice, "We don't know anything yet. Just stop. Mac, try your mother?"
I grimaced, but turned. "Yeah, I can do that. I can get her. I'll get someone on this phone if I have to stand here all day long hitting buttons until my fingers bleed." I punched in the number. "Answer the phone, mom. Pick it up. You know your daughter uses payphones, so just answer it. Answer the phone!"
She did. The phone clicked and then a recorded message asked if she accepted the charges. Without pause, my mother's voice filled the line after she acknowledged that she did, "Macbeth, are you all right? Which city did you…" She hesitated before finishing. "get off to this time?"
As far as my parents knew, I had dropped entirely out of college for a sudden midlife crisis a couple decades too early. I had claimed I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and I was going to hitchhike across the United States until I figured it out. You can imagine the kind of reaction that brought. Here's a hint, if you're ever in a similar situation, just claim you're going to university in Zimbabwe. It'd save you a lot of tears.
"I'm in Detroit, mom." I answered, trying not to let anything show in my voice. "I need to talk to dad, but he's not answering his phone. Tell him to answer."
There was silence for just a moment, before she responded, "Sweetie, your father is… he's on a trip. One of his scouting expeditions." My father commonly went out on trips to look for building locations for new projects. "I can have him call you, what ummm, what number can he reach you at?"
This complicated things, and I could feel Nicholas glaring as if half convinced that I was speaking in some secret murderer code to warn my dad. He was angry, and I couldn't blame him. I wasn't exactly a bowlful of sunshine myself. But I tried not to take that out on my mother, even as my hand gripped the phone receiver tighter.
"Just call him. He'll answer you. Tell him I'll call back in two minutes and he needs to answer the phone this time. Tell him it's important."
There was trepidation in her voice. "Are you in some kind of trouble? Are you safe, Macbeth? You said you're in Detroit. All I hear about that place is all about the gangs and the dirt…"
Was I safe? I resisted the urge to snort. "Mom, I'm fine. I'm standing in front of a grocery store, and it's not exactly Crime Alley. Just tell him to answer the phone."
After a second of hesitation, her voice came back. "Okay, sweetie. I'll tell him. You tell your father if you need anything, all right? I really think you should--"
I didn't have time to hear this lecture, or plea, or whatever it was. "Gotta go, mom." I interrupted. I paused before adding, "Love you, tell him." Hanging up, my hand held the receiver before I let out a sigh. "Two minutes. Then I'll call him back. I'll get to the bottom of this, I promise."
Nicholas didn't look fully convinced, but at least he wasn't outright glaring at the moment. Instead, his gaze was focused on the picture, and there was a look of such forlorn loss that wiped away his entire tough guy persona that all I wanted to do was hug him. Call me a sappy little girl if you must. But he looked so terrible in that second, obviously remembering his sister and no doubt his father as well, that I couldn't help it.
I might have even taken a step that way, if Often hadn't spoken up. "Kid, you want a soda?" She was moving to the machine, smoothing out a dollar bill on the way.
His dry, sarcastic tone returned even if the sorrow didn't quite leave his eyes. "Yeah, by all means, give me a root beer. That ought to make up for everything. Maybe you'll get lucky and end up with a twofer so you can erase the grief about my dad dying too."
"Screw that." Often responded idly, already putting the dollar in the machine. "I get two and the extra's mine." She drew the can from the machine, passing it over to him before looking my way. "You gonna call him back, babe?"
"Yeah, babe." Nicholas emphasized the second word while popping the tab on the can. "You gonna call him back?"
"That's Miss Babe to you, buddy." I retorted. His only response was a raised eyebrow. I sighed and picked up the phone again. My fingers found the buttons practically from muscle memory at this point, and I listened once more to the ringing tone.
This time, however, the phone clicked over and I heard my father answer with his customary, "Aaron Baston speaking." It was the same clipped, precise tone I'd grown up with, and I had to fight the urge to smile. It was, after all, the first time I'd heard his voice in some time. I'd avoided calling home since Craig was taken. I didn't have any idea what they thought had happened. Maybe they thought he'd gotten the urge to wander the country as well, and were busy lamenting what they must've done to have two such irresponsible children.
"Dad, it's me." I said. Then I winced. Duh, he knew that. Mom would have told him. "I…" Now I wasn't sure how to go on. What did I say? Dad, do you remember kidnapping and murdering a teenaged girl? Do you recall having an evil yet goatee-less twin? There was no way to start this conversation. "Are you busy?" Nicholas looked like he wanted to throw that soda at me for that one.
"Macbeth," my father responded carefully, "your mother said that you had to talk. She said it was important and you were going to keep using the payphone until I answered. Tell me what's wrong. And while you're at it, why don't you tell me why you can't go inside and get one of those prepaid phones so you don't have to use the dirty public one? If it's a question of money, we can pay for it."
"Dad, I told you before," I started with a sigh, "I don't need money from you or mom. I'm okay. I mean, I had to ask you…" I trailed off, putting one hand on the brick wall next to me while raising my gaze upward.
His voice came back, interrupting my thoughts. "Had to ask what, Macbeth? Sweetie," Terms like that always sounded strange coming from him, unnatural. I'd always thought he was just awkward at displaying affection. "you can tell me. Stop beating around the bush."
I didn't move, but my eyes closed. I wanted to throw the phone against the wall, but I kept cool. "Dad, what do I do if… I find a runaway kid?" I heard Nicholas let out a choked noise of anger, but Often stopped him from talking.
There was a pause from the other end of the line, before my father responded. "Call the police, and keep him with you."
"Yeah." I agreed. "But he says his parents abuse him." Even more noise from behind me, but I ignored it.
"Stay with him," my father advised. "until the police get there. Help him explain. Make him explain."
"I guess so." Turning away from the wall, I met the incredulous stares from both of the others. "I've got another friend with me. She can help me stay with him. He's pretty messed up though." Pausing, I pointed to Often and gestured her forward. When she came, I held one hand out for her to wait a second. "I think you should talk to 'em."
There was a sigh from the other end of the line. "If you really think I should talk to her, before the two of you can handle it."
Flinching, I shook my head. "No, no you're right, Dad. I can handle it. We can. We'll just call the police and wait inside." Turning away from the thoroughly confused others, I added, "Thank."
He started to speak again, but I hung up. Maybe it was stupid, but I couldn't do it anymore. I couldn't talk to him.
"Hey!" Nicholas came forward then. "What the hell was that? Did you just chicken out or something? Why didn't you ask him?"
"Come on." I was already walking to the doors.
"What?" Often was moving after me, grabbing Nicholas by the arm. She was still confused, but followed my lead. "Did you forget about Mister Overly Enthusiastic Security Guard?"
"He's better than what's out here." I responded, moving inside without looking back.
"What…" Nicholas echoed my words. "What's out here? What the hell are you talking about?"
"He said I should go inside and get a cell phone." My reply was dark. "Go inside and get a cell phone."
"Okay…" Often's head shook. "So what?"
We were in the store by then, and I cut to the right, moving quickly past the registers. "I said grocery store. I told my mom I was in front of a grocery store. I wasn't thinking at the time, because they do have groceries. That was the whole way I got past Pete the guard before. But I said grocery store. He said 'go inside and get a cell phone'. Why the hell would he think I could get a cell phone from a grocery store? Unless…"
"Unless he already knew it was Target that you were in front of." Often finished, moving faster.
"Yeah," I replied. "Then I tested him. I said I found a runaway 'kid'. I didn't say which gender. He immediately said 'him'. Could be a guess. Then I got you to come like I was going to give the phone to you, but I mentioned the runaway. He should have thought I meant for him to talk to Nicholas. But he said he'd talk to her if it would help. He had to be watching." I was glaring now, and a couple of shoppers were moving out of the way rather than pass nearby.
"What?!" Nicholas's retort was even louder now, more aghast. "You mean he's outside? Let's go kick his ass!"
"No." My voice was hard, I knew. Maybe too hard, because he stopped talking. "I want answers. I want to know what's going on. I want to know how much of my life was fake, how much he knew about even before this. I want to know what else he's lying about. If they knew about Maisie, if they know what happened to Craig, if they've been in on it the whole time. I want to know." I reiterated strongly. "I am going to know."
Often kept a firm hand on Nicholas's arm while trotting to keep up with my pace. "So, not to belittle the plan or anything, but how are we getting answers out of him if we're running away?"
"We're not running away." I replied, finally stopping in front of the door I'd been looking for. "We're coming here." I tapped the sign next to the door. When they saw it, both of them groaned. The sign was marked 'security'.
Taking a breath, I pushed the door open and stepped right into the small room. "Hope we're not interrupting!"
If I'd been in a better mood, I probably would have been amused by the look of confusion, then shock that crossed Pete's face as the security guard stared at us. He sputtered once, then jerked himself up from the desk where he had been watching a movie on one of the screens, ignoring the rest of the security monitors.
"Often." I said. Without another word needed, my friend vaulted the desk, landing beside Pete. Her hand took the pepper spray from his hand that he'd been producing, and she tossed it into the corner before giving him a hard shove that made him stumble back into the corner. While she was dealing with that, I moved to the monitors and began to scan them.
Pete was pissed off now. "Hey! I don't know what the hell you little delinquents think you're doing, but this isn't funny. When the police find out about this little prank--"
"Oh hush, Pete." Often's head shook. "We're not here to hurt you or steal anything. We just need to borrow your cameras for a minute. Then we'll be out of your hair and you can go back to watching…" She paused, looking toward the screen he had been focused on. "Dude, FernGully? What are you, ten? Even I think that movie's a serious load, and if you knew what I was, you'd be like 'oh damn, my taste really does suck'."
Nicholas had edged around the desk to watch with me. "Where is he?"
I started to shake my head, and then raised a hand to point when I abruptly saw him. "There. He just came in." Frowning, I left my finger near the screen. "He's on the phone… who's he talking to?"
"Probably his evil sidekick." Nicholas muttered. He then realized he may have gone too far, and added in a low voice, "sorry." He kept watching the screen, before nodding with his chin. "Probably this guy." There was another man on a cell phone, coming into the store while making a beeline for my father. Both of them were putting their phones away as they turned to converse.
"He looks a little like a taller Seth Green, doesn't he?" Nicholas commented. When I didn't answer, he turned to look at me. "I said--" He blinked at what must have been the look on my face. "Hey, what? You know that guy?"
"Mac?" Often called from where she was keeping Pete out of the way. "What's wrong?"
My finger traced over from my father, to the man he stood casually conversing with while both surveyed the crowd of shoppers. "… him." That was all I could get out at first. My mouth worked, and I swallowed twice to clear the lump out of my throat. "It's him."
"Him who?" Both Often and Nicholas spoke together. Then I realized there had been three voices. Security Guard Pete had, bewilderedly, asked the same thing.
My finger stabbed hard against the screen, against the red-haired man's face. "Him." I repeated. "It's him." Before they could ask again, I went on. "The first one. My first one. The first man I ever stopped. The murderer. The psycho from the apartment next to Carter. It's him."