Detective Addison gave them the name of a hotel on the outskirts of the city that was vetted by the police as a safe location for them to lay low. Zoe drove Zeb and Espinal there, and a plain clothed officer followed behind in an unmarked vehicle. The officer’s name was Chris Webb, and he was one of the best, according to Addison.
They checked in, Zoe and Zeb in one double-bed room and Espinal and Webb in an adjoining double. They opened the doorway between the two rooms as soon as they got in, the siblings feeling a bit too jumpy to be alone.
Zoe let Zeb use the shower first, though he tried to get her to go ahead of him. Always looking out for little sis, she thought. It used to infuriate her when they were teenagers, always feeling like he thought she was some helpless baby.
Now, however, she was infinitely grateful for his slightly hovering presence. They had made a super quick stop at a department store on the way, and Zoe had picked out a few changes of clothes for her brother while he and the officers stocked up on food and other supplies.
The room was small but appeared clean. The two beds in her and Zeb’s room were covered in thin quilted duvets with what looked like little gold seahorses on a deep turquoise background. The carpet was worn thin as well, and was a dark color somewhere between brown and red. The walls, thankfully, were plain cream with only two framed abstract pictures someone – she guessed a local amateur artist – had painted in shades of aqua, brown and yellow in an attempt to tie all the colors of the room together.
It didn’t work.
A glance into the “grow ups” room, as she had dubbed Espinal and Webb’s room, showed theirs to be almost identical in horribly untasteful decor. The bathroom had looked clean when she had checked it out as they first arrived and there was a mini fridge and a TV. All in all, not a bad place to wait out the conclusion of a police manhunt for the guy who wanted them dead.
Zeb came out of the bathroom while she sat on the end of her bed – the one by the door – flipping through the channels on the little television set. “There’s nothing about any of this on the news,” she informed him.
He was now dressed in one of the new outfits she’d picked out for him, jeans and a slate grey button down. He’d always looked best in classic colors, she thought, and took every opportunity to dress him up in the hopes he’d finally find “the girl.” She wanted to see him happy. And she wanted another female around to hang out with. She never had time for friends, with her own hectic schedule, but family she always made time for. Two birds…,she figured.
“I’m not surprised,” he said, sitting on the end of his bed wearily. “I doubt Addison wants to give Seve a heads up that she’s coming for him.
She had a thought. “She’s really pretty, don’t you think?”
He scrunched his nose. “Detective Addison?”
“Yeah. And she seems smart, capable. I like her.”
“You’re only saying that cuz she isn’t going to prosecute your boyfriend.”
“I’ve heard of Stockholm Syndrome, but I’ve never actually seen-”
She threw the first thing that came to hand as hard as she could at him. Unfortunately, it was the remote. And it hit him square in the face. “Zoe! What the frick?”
She felt flushed with embarrassment and anger in equal parts. She hadn’t meant to hurt him. “Sorry! I just – I don’t know, I just reacted.” Then the anger took back over. “Just don’t talk about him like that. Or me. It wasn’t like that.” Not really.
“I was kinda kidding, Zo,” he said, taking the remote and flipping through the channels some more. “Besides, if you’re gonna sit there and try to fix me up with a cop, I’m gonna have to tease you about Andres. I think it’s in my job description.”
“Okay, fine, I won’t mention Gail again.” She knew she was pouting a bit, but she didn’t care. Zeb had hit a nerve, and one she’d much prefer was left alone. Of course she’d been attracted to Andres, he was an attractive guy. But her main focus had been to try to help save his life, and his soul. Romance had not been what she was after. Not even when he’d told her she was beautiful, or when he’d touched her face…
Espinal knocked on the dividing door and stuck his head into their room. “Everyone okay?”
She smiled at him. “Fine.”
“Good. Because I would hate for us to start going for each others’ throats just now.” He said it lightly, as if joking, but there was an edge just below the surface that told her he meant it very seriously. She wondered if he’d been through anything like this before or if he was feeling just as lost as she was.
“Just a little sibling tiff,” she replied.
“She tried to kill me with the remote,” Zeb reported, deadpan. “I think I’d like to press assault charges.”
Espinal surprised her by replying, equally deadpan, “Oh, I wouldn’t advise that, señor; I think she just might finish the job on both of us if you did.” Then he winked at her and went back to his room.
She turned to Zeb. “I like him. Can we keep him?”
Zeb laughed. “He’s your responsibility if we do.”
“Isn’t it a trip that he’s related, well, sort of, to Andres? I mean, that’s just really weird to me,” she said.
He hitched the corner of his mouth up. “I’m starting to not be surprised by anything God does. Awed, grateful, bewildered, whatever, but not really surprised. ” He shrugged. “I guess He just gave us the one person who could help resolve this whole thing.”
“It just blows my mind,” she said. “God pretty much rocks.”
“Yeah,” Zeb laughed. “Pretty much.”
She knew he meant it, but there was just a slight dissonance in his tone that made her think he was of two minds about it about something in particular. She also thought she had a pretty good idea what it was. “How are you doing, Big Brother?”
He looked at her, a bit surprised by the question apparently. “Me? I’m fine.” He pointed at her arm. “You’re the one I’m concerned about.”
“This will be fine in a week or so. I meant, are you feeling dizzy or anything?”
“Not really. Not so much right now. There’s a little pressure, and a slight ringing, but nothing like any of the attacks before.” He shrugged. “I’m okay.”
“Are you going to tell Mom and Dad about it soon?” Then she suddenly realized, “We haven’t told them about any of this. Do you think we should call them?”
He shook his head adamantly. “No. I don’t want them to know anything about any of this until it’s over. Mom would just freak out and Dad…well, he’d just want to come here and fix it all.” He thought a moment. “I think I might tell them about the Ménière’s. I don’t want them looking at me any differently, though. Like I’m different.” He looked at her. “Even though I will be, won’t I? I’ll be…deaf.”
He said it with such desolation in his voice that her heart ached. She left her bed and came over to sit next to him. She took his hand and looked him in right in the eye. “You will still be you. You will still be my pain in the butt older brother who thinks he can protect me from the world and tell me I can do anything I set out to do at the same time. I’m sorry that this one part of your life will change, I really am. But this one thing doesn’t make you you, okay?”
He swallowed and his eyes glistened. “You know, you’re pretty darn special, kiddo. Thank you.”
A tear slipped free of her lashes. “Thanks for noticing.”
He laughed a little and then kissed her on top of her head. “Now, the really important question: what are we going to watch while Espinal goes off to save the world?”
“Hmmm…anything but a crime movie or soccer.”
“I second that,” he said, flipping the channel again. He finally settled for something on the History Channel. No surprise there, she thought. She raided their half of the supplies and brought out a bottle of water for each of them.
“I’m gonna go clean up,” she announced. “And change out of these clothes,” she added.
“Hmm?” Zeb asked, looking over at her.
“I’m gonna go change,” she said a little louder. She hoped it was just that he had been engrossed in the show, but she had a suspicion that he had already lost a little more of his hearing in the last couple of days. She hadn’t said anything, but she noticed at the police station that he was watching everyone’s faces a little more closely than usual as they were all talking.
She took her bag into the bathroom and dug out a different set of clothes. Once she had stripped down, she really assessed her condition for the first time. She had huge bruises on her hips and shoulders, scrapes and scratches on her knees, shins, hands and forearms. The bruising around the gunshot wound was really ugly, and she needed to change the bandage already. There was a cut on the edge of her left ear and the cut on her forehead was a little swollen.
She looked like she’d been through Hell. But it could have been much worse, she thought. It could have been far worse, and she was just really grateful to still be alive to help her brother through his own crisis. She cleaned herself up a little better than she had been able to in the truck stop bathroom and put her own clothes on, relishing the feel of clean clothes that actually fit.
When she came back out into the room, Webb and Espinal were there, too. Web was a slightly older guy, she pegged him around the fifty mark, with brown hair and eyes. His face was almost handsome, yet also very much non-descript. Zoe figured that if she ever saw him again after all of this was over, she probably wouldn’t recognize him. A good trait for a cop who doesn’t want to be noticed.
“What’s up?” she asked.
Webb answered. “Delfino just made contact. He’s going to help us.”
Zoe’s heart skipped a beat. “How?”
“Don’t worry,” Espinal said, “he is going to meet me in the park. He’ll make sure to slip away while Seve isn’t watching. I’ll bring him back here and Webb will let Detective Addison know where to pick up Seve.”
“Right,” Webb said. “We’ll all sit tight here until I get the all clear from Gail. Then, you all can go back to your normal lives.” He smiled at them.
Normal lives…Zoe wasn’t sure she knew what that would look like anymore. She then realized that she hadn’t contacted the hospital. Her ‘normal life’ might include unemployment now. She frowned at that but then her mind caught onto something Espinal had said: Andres was coming here. She was really, really glad she had changed clothes.
“So, when does this meeting take place?” she asked.
Espinal looked at his watch. “In about twenty minutes. He said he needed a few minutes to get away from Seve, then he’d drive out of the way and make some unnecessary turns to try to make sure he isn’t followed. I’m going on over now, though.”
She began to shake. She wasn’t sure why, but she was extremely nervous about this. “Please be careful,” she told him.
He nodded. “Of course.” He then exchanged a few quiet words with Webb. And then he was gone.
Zoe started praying, her heart beating double-time against her ribs.