Over the next couple of weeks, I discover that Brian has not told me a vital piece of information: Doc Simmons knowing my secret means I have a second, non-optional part-time job. She is absolutely relentless, and it’s not so much that she won’t take no for an answer, as it is that she just doesn’t hear “no” in the first place. No matter what I say, she brushes it aside and assumes that my objections are situational and temporary. It doesn’t seem to occur to her that I might not be as interested in getting to the root of this as she is.
In fairness, I do want to know what’s happening to me. But if I let the doc have her way, I’d be doing twelve hours of testing every day, with no time off for good behavior.
The worst part is, I can’t even complain. It’s not like she’s asking me to do things that she could do herself. I’m the only one who can give her the data and samples she needs. And while I’m fitting the testing in around my thirty-five hours a week at a burger joint, she’s doing the same thing around her who-knows-how-long at the hospital. So it’s hard to be like, “Can we do this later? I had a long day putting meat on a bun,” when I know that she was up before me literally saving people’s lives.
On the plus side, under Doc Simmons’s guidance, I’m expanding my power much more rapidly than before. And while she’s thrilled to see that I’ve moved from 500 degree Celsius fires to 3000 degree ones, I’m just excited to see that I can ignite metal now.
Side note: never tell a scientist that you can’t convert Celsius to Fahrenheit in your head. Doc Simmons almost threw me out of her lab that day, nanomachines or no. All I said was, “So Fahrenheit is basically double Celsius, right?”
She gave me a look that could practically melt steel itself, and spouted off some formula that, I’ll be honest, sounded made up. So I said, “Well, what’s 500 degrees Celsius in Fahrenheit, then?”
“932,” she said without hesitating.
“Great, so basically double,” I said.
When I tell you that I’ve never seen a look of such disdainful fury, please remember that this includes the time someone hated me so much she literally summoned lightning from the sky to kill me. The doc stalked out of the lab, and I genuinely didn’t know if I should be there when she got back. It seemed pretty possible that she was going off to find something sharp to stab me with. Fortunately, when she came back, she was calmer, although she still didn’t talk to me much for the rest of that day.
In my defense, I wasn’t baiting her. With rounding, that’s basically double. Doc’s not a “basically” kind of person, though. She likes precision.
Meanwhile, work goes along surprisingly well. I’m trained up, which is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, I know how to do basically everything around the restaurant now, so I don’t feel like an idiot when a customer asks for a Freëzie and I have to stare dumbly at the register to figure out where the button is. On the other hand, it means that I’m not paired with Matt for all of my shifts now, and the assistant manager B-Rock is kind of a jerk.
Don’t get me wrong; he’s nowhere near as bad as Edgar, my boss at the museum. B-Rock and I just rub each other the wrong way. He’s just this big, slightly disheveled, slightly slovenly guy who’s always ready to call out someone else’s imperfections. Everything he says is just a little bit sarcastic and a little bit cutting. Spending a day working with him is draining. I’m just constantly on edge, aware that any mistake I make may be called out.
And on the days that I don’t make mistakes, even his compliments are laced with sharp edges. “You did good work, Dan,” he says, dropping his tone on my name like it’s some kind of slur. “Just learn to relax and you’ll do great around here.”
He’s got a half-smile when he says it, too, like he understands perfectly well why I can’t relax. I can’t decide if this is some sort of hazing period or whether he actually dislikes me, but either way, it’s an obnoxious way to spend the day.
After one ten-hour shift with B-Rock, I’m walking home and slowly calming down, just letting the breeze wash over me and enjoying the pleasant afternoon air. A mile’s walk is just about enough time to let go of the stress of the day, so I’m approaching peacefulness as I head up the sidewalk to my house. There’s an unfamiliar car parked out front, but I don’t think anything of it until the door opens and Officer Peterson gets out.
“Afternoon, Dan,” he greets me, and all of my tension slams back in like it was attached to me by rubber bands.
“Officer Peterson! Hi. Do I call you officer when you’re not in uniform?”
“That’s fine. No jacket in this weather?” He raises his eyebrows at me.
“I, uh, forgot it at work. Didn’t feel like going back in for it. I just walked briskly.”
He dismisses this with a half-shrug. “Mind if I come in and talk to you for a minute?”
“What? Um, sure. I mean, no, I don’t mind.”
We walk into my house, where the absolute first thing I see is my jacket hanging on a hook by the door. I resolve to tell as few lies as possible in this conversation, since I am clearly terrible at it.
Peterson doesn’t seem to notice; he walks on past, into the kitchen, and takes a seat at the table. He motions for me to join him.
“Can I get you anything?” I ask, but he shakes his head. I pour myself a glass of water and take the seat across from him.
“Mr. Everton,” he begins, “I want to talk to you informally — and I stress that part — about a car accident that occurred near here recently.”
I laugh nervously, and hope it sounds like genuine humor. “I don’t even have a car!”
“This was a one-car accident,” Peterson says. “There were several curious things about it. For example, the car appeared to have hit something which was no longer on the scene, something perhaps the size of a person.” His eyes never leave my face.
I swallow some water, suddenly acutely aware that my bruises have not totally faded yet. “Oh?”
“Yes. And also, the car caught fire afterward.”
“That happens in accidents, right?”
“Less so than the movies would have you believe. And rarely does it start from the engine block, as this one did.”
I swallow another drink of water and ask, “Why are you telling me this?”
“I thought you might have seen or heard something, Mr. Everton. This happened on the night of the robbery at Børger, only a few hours afterward. And it occurred to me today that the place it happened is on the way home for you. Perhaps you heard something and disregarded its importance.”
“I wish I could help you.” I sincerely, fervently do. I hate lying to Peterson, mainly because I’m so bad at it, but the alternative is worse. I killed a man — accidentally and in self-defense, but still. It’s not going to help my argument that I can be trusted.
“The vehicle belonged to one of the robbers,” he says casually. “Fingerprint evidence suggests that he was the one driving at the time. A man named Vince Amano. So maybe it’s lucky for you that you didn’t see anything. With that timing and location, it seems like a pretty good bet that he was looking for you. Can’t speak to what his intentions were, of course, but I can’t imagine that they’d’ve been good. You might have had quite a fight on your hands if he’d found you.”
Peterson knows. He clearly knows. He knows I was there, he knows I was hit, he knows I burned the car. And he’s still saying that it wasn’t my fault. I’ve got to tell the guy what’s going on. Unless it’s a trap! He could be setting me up, luring me in. He’s smart, he’s good at reading people, he knows what I want to hear. I want to trust him. I need to trust him. I can’t trust him.
I try to take another drink of water, and find that my glass is empty. “Wow, lucky for me that he didn’t find me,” I say weakly.
Peterson looks disappointed. “Yes, lucky. Well, I was just playing a hunch.”
He pushes his chair back, stands up from the table, and heads for the door. “Ah, I see you have another jacket at home for when you forget one at work. Lucky indeed. Enjoy your evening, Mr. Everton.”
He closes the door behind him, and I slump down in the chair. Banging the side of my glass gently into my head, I say quietly, “Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.”