My self-righteous satisfaction has faded by the time I get back to my car, and I sit down in the seat with a heavily exhaled breath. Pulling out my phone, I reply to Brian’s email:
Dupont was a bust. Either didn’t know anything, or was covering it up well. Probably a dead end, but I’m going to see where he goes after work, just in case it’s anywhere interesting. If you don’t hear from me again, this was a bad choice.
I copy Regina and the doc on it, too, just in case either of them has anything useful to suggest. Also, I was only half-kidding about the “if you don’t hear from me again” part. Probably everything’s going to be fine, but on the off-chance that this goes horribly wrong, I’d like as many people as possible to know where I last was, and who was there with me.
I lean my seat back so that I can see the front door of Dupont’s building in my side-view mirror without sitting up, and settle in to wait. The office hours he sent me suggest that he won’t be going anywhere for at least three hours, but it’s possible that I’ve thrown his day into disarray. If he does know anything about Ichabot’s secret business, he’ll almost certainly be contacting him now.
I should have dissolved his phone. Then again, I want him to contact his boss, so that I can trail him to a meeting. Anyway, it’s not like he doesn’t have a cell phone.
Speaking of which, I check mine again. No time has passed. It’s going to be a long three hours. Minimum; that’s if he leaves right at the end of his office hours. What if he does administrative work after? I could be here all night.
I probably have time to go get some food right now. But if I’m wrong and he takes off while I’m gone, I’ll never even know that he left. I could end up sitting here watching an empty building. Well, not empty, but empty of my target, anyway.
I sigh and browse the internet on my phone, keeping the mirror with the building’s entrance in the edge of my vision. I don’t know how anyone conducted a stakeout before the internet.
For that matter, I don’t know how anyone conducts a stakeout now. In TV shows, it usually goes, “Settle in. This could be a long night,” and then a quick cut to, “Wake up! Something’s happening.”
I don’t have a partner to wake me up, so it had better not be that long of a night. Come to think of it, though, I do know someone who should be a little more knowledgeable about stakeouts. I flip through my contacts and call Officer Peterson, my friend in the police department.
“Friend” might be a strong word. Supporter? Aider and abetter? He picks up when I call, at least.
“Mr. Everton.” He sounds wary.
“Officer Peterson! Hello. How’ve you been?”
“Fine. Please tell me you’re calling before you’ve created a situation this time.”
“Hey, ow. Everything’s fine here.”
“Mhm. Are you manifesting again?”
“Am I what?”
“Are you displaying new powers, indicating a likelihood of upcoming damage to the political and physical landscape of my otherwise fair city?”
“I mean, I wouldn’t have put it that way, but yeah. I can, uh…dissolve things now.”
“Good. That doesn’t sound destructive at all,” Peterson says dryly.
“Well, I’m not DOING it,” I say defensively, which is technically true in the immediate sense.
“I’m glad to hear that.” There’s a pause, after which he says, “Was that all?”
“Yeah, I mean, you’ve repeatedly asked to be in the loop, so I’m just letting you know.”
“Thank you for that consideration, Mr. Everton.”
“Yeah, absolutely. Hey, while I have you here, though: can you give me any tips on stakeouts?”
There is an extremely loaded silence on the other end of the phone, followed by, “The best tip I can give you is that they should be left to the police. Handled by private citizens, they are more commonly referred to as ‘stalking.'”
“Oh, sure, I’ll pop right down to the station to fully explain this situation,” I say sarcastically.
“Mr. Everton. Please trust that resources are being devoted to your problem.”
I sigh. “Fine. Thanks. Good talking to you.”
“When I take a long road trip,” Peterson says in an apparent non sequitur, “I like to take upbeat music to keep my energy up.”
“All right, but –”
He talks over me. “My preference is to have someone accompany me, so they can take over as driver in case my energy flags. That way we can keep going in shifts through the night, if necessary.”
Oh. Road trip as metaphor. This is a “can’t officially condone your behavior” situation. Got it. I keep quiet and listen.
“Anything that takes my eyes off of the road is bad. Anything that promotes general alertness, including live conversation or phone calls, is good.
“And although a lot of people swear by it, I personally try to avoid coffee. The potential for having to pull off for a bathroom stop at an inopportune time is too high,” he concludes.
“Thank you for the road trip tips. I appreciate them,” I tell him sincerely.
“Don’t mention it,” Peterson says, probably also very sincerely.
As it turns out, Peterson has nothing to worry about. The stakeout is a bust. On the bright side, I don’t have to wait particularly long to be disappointed. It’s less than half an hour before Dupont emerges from the building, gets into a red Subaru and drives off. I tail him for a few miles before he pulls into the parking lot of a hardware store and heads inside.
Just as I’m starting to wonder if I should have followed him inside, he re-emerges with a plastic clamshell package in one hand. He tosses it onto the passenger seat as he gets back in his car, but it’s not until I’ve tailed him back to his office and I see him walking inside with it that I realize that what he’s bought is a new doorknob. Prosaic, but sensible. Honestly, I don’t really know why I expected him to go anywhere else first.
He’s back outside only a few minutes later, and this time a slightly longer trip ends with him pulling into the driveway of a neatly-kept-up one-story house. He lets himself in the front door with the familiarity of home, and I reluctantly conclude after a little while that that’s probably because he lives here. I’d been hoping that maybe it was a nondescript safehouse that he was meeting Ichabot at, but through the window I can see that he’s on the couch with his socked feet on the coffee table, giving every appearance of settling in for a lazy evening.
In fairness, once someone disintegrates parts of your office, maybe it’s just time to call it a day and try again tomorrow. I was really hoping that he was part of Dr. A’s conspiracy, but so far that seems to be a conspiracy of one.
I jot down his address in my phone anyway, just in case, then drive back to my place for my own lazy evening. No one’s written back to me with new ideas now that Dupont’s gone nowhere, so I figure I’ll give it a few days and see what else comes to light.
If things go the way they have in the past, I can likely expect my nemesis to launch an attack on me at some point in the near future, which ought to provide a pretty definite idea of what to do next. So at least there’s that to look forward to.
That said, the next three days go by with perfect mundanity. By the time my weekend rolls around, I’m actually getting sort of paranoid about the fact that nothing has happened. I’m reading the local news religiously every morning, scouring it for anything weird or unexplained, but it seems that everything’s normal except for me.
I text Brian:
I had a thought
what if I’m my own nemesis?
this is all a mind game until I get twisted & paranoid & disintegrate myself
Not the worst assumption sand
That you don’t have a nemesis I mean
If he’s not showing you can go straight to icky bot sand sand
“Why do you keep writing ‘sand’?” I send back.
I’m using voice to text
The keyboard on this new phone is funky so I’m just tacking at it sand
And it doesn’t like the way I say
Oh that’s just fact ink great sand
I snort with laughter, picturing Brian’s frustration. He’s a pretty laid back guy, but there’s nothing like a new phone to really raise your irritation levels. In terms of “most likely to make a saint swear,” I’d put new phones on par with trying to start a lawn mower.
“You want to get together to discuss a plan of attack?” I write.
Pretty swamped at work right now but I have an idea
Set something up with dock and red Gina and I’ll make it work
I’ll deliver you more information when I have it
Seriously its stupid that I can’t say ess e and Dee sand fox sand
At this point, I’m crying with laughter. I decide not to share this fact with Brian, though. Later on, he’ll see the humor in the situation. Right now, that’s the sort of admission that could end a friendship.