Touring Under Pressure
02: A Big Night
Alex and the others got to the Reliant Stadium early, though still later than Patricia and her band had. Still, their passes gave them access, although the door guard gave them a wary look. Alex knew that band members typically gave these types of passes to groupies that would sometimes hang around the entrance, so he could only imagine what the guard thought of him and the women surrounding him. However the man didn’t say anything, simply shaking his head as they walked past.
Strangely enough, their backstage pass didn’t give them clearance to wander the stadium before it opened, so they knew they were on their own when they snuck into the main portion of the stadium. In order to minimize their exposure they separated, with Alex and Gail heading along one level, Cate and Grace took the second level, while Devon and Lacy took the third level. They figured they’d spread out later as people started entering, but for now they were just trying to remain unnoticed.
“Hey, you! You’re not allowed here,” a security guard called out.
“Oh, sorry,” Alex responded. “I’ve got a backstage pass but I got lost.”
“You’re nowhere near the backstage area. That’s behind the stage. You should know you’re not allowed out here.”
“Sorry, I got confused, I’m heading back there now,” he called out as he turned around and headed back. But as soon as they got around the corner they ran downstairs to do an end run around the guard, hoping they didn’t run into either him or another one. If the guards got reports of multiple people wandering the halls they’d know they were up to something.
When Alex and Gail reached the front of the stadium, just in front of the main entrance by the ticket booth, Alex entered the men’s restroom, just as they’d planned. The idea was he’d wait until the doors opened to the ticketholders, and then the girls would position themselves around the building to watch the people wandering around, watching for anyone that seemed to be looking for something.
The building filled up quickly, but it took a while for everyone to get situated, so Alex had a long wait. They’d agreed that Alex would remain in the restroom, hiding in the far stall, while Gail remained outside, keeping an eye out for trouble. Alex felt like a peeping tom, waiting around while men walked in and out of the bathroom. He made sure to keep his feet to himself, to prevent someone assuming he was here for more than just keeping time.
It was getting close to the time Patricia’s lead act was supposed to begin and the restroom was still busy.
“Hey,” some guy called out from the end of the restroom, “is there anyone here I should be looking for?”
Alex’s head snapped up and he quietly cursed to himself before exiting his stall.
“Yeah, I’m looking for the same guy,” another man called out. “My girlfriend sent me in here to find him, but all these dicks look the same to me, and I’d rather not examine each one,” he finished, producing nervous laughs from everyone there.
Alex cautiously glanced back and saw a big black man with a big belly and large meaty hands. He had a graying beard and a dark mustache. The other man was thin and white, tall with short hair. Alex waved at them and then walked to the far wall to wait for him.
When they drew near, they both looked Alex up and down as if trying to evaluate just what kind of sex freak was hiding out in the men’s room, but neither one asked about that.
“What’s this about? Why did our girlfriends ask us to come looking for you in the men’s room? How’d they even know you were in here?”
“Shh, I’d rather we not attract too much attention, if you don’t mind,” Alex told them. They both waited for Alex to explain what was going on.
“Look, surely you’ve both noticed that your girlfriends are good at guessing what’s going to happen. Perhaps knowing when someone is going to blow up before they do, or knowing who’s attracted to someone when no one else did?”
The two men looked at each other, then turned to face Alex again.
“Go on,” the big black man told him.
“They both have a particular talent that is in a dormant phase,” Alex explained. “However, it’s strong enough for them to feel me here, despite the distance and the cement walls. I was hiding here to try to prevent this from happening, and hopefully it’s minimizing it, but I guess it was to be expected a few would get through.”
“A few what?” the other man asked, looking perplexed by both the situation and Alex’s explanation.
“Just do me a favor. Go back and tell your girlfriends that their intuition was spot on and that I’m hiding in here until everyone is seated and the concert is about to begin. If I come out any sooner I’m likely to cause a scene, as I’m sure you can imagine given how your girlfriends are reacting to me. Once I do, I’ll explain what’s going on, but it’s going to be confusing. Tell your girlfriends to be prepared for some strange experiences. I can’t really describe what those experiences are, but watch carefully how they respond.
“By the way, there’s a woman out there, she’s small but she probably looks like she could take on either of you. Her name is Gail. Have your girls talk to her. She’ll give them an idea of what to expect.”
“Are you shitting me?” the white guy asked.
“He’s got a point about Vanessa,” the other guy pointed out. “And I’m guessing he was right about your girlfriend as well. I don’t know what he’s trying to pull, but he’s not going anywhere since there’s no way out of this restroom other than through that door, so we’ve got nothing to lose waiting to see what happens.”
“Man, we paid good money to see this concert, and if we hang around all day to listen to this kid, we’re going to miss the damn thing,” the wiry white guy complained.
“Hey, we did too, but we came to listen to Ms. Kennedy. We’ve loved her stuff since her first album, but it’s going to be a while before she comes out, so we have time.”
“Yeah, well we came here to see the new act. Someone named Patty Moore. Everyone’s been ranting about her performances. She’s supposed to be the newest thing, and we’re going to miss her if we stay here.”
“I’ll tell you what,” Alex said, trying to reach a quick compromise, “Patty’s a good friend of mine, and if you stick around I’ll arrange for the four of you to meet her. I’m sorry but I don’t know Diane at all, so I can’t make the same offer for her.”
They stood there and seemed to consider that, at which point the white guy seemed to notice Alex’s back stage pass, which had slipped out of his shirt. Alex saw what he was looking at, blushed and hurriedly shoved it back inside his shirt.
“All right, we’ll wait. But if this is some stupid publicity stunt or some scam, I’m—”
“Look, I’m just waiting for the crowd to ease a bit. You’ll understand why I’m avoiding people when you see how your girlfriends respond to me. But I’ll tell you this, I’ll get you inside before she performs, and you can still meet her afterwards. You may not get to your seat, but you won’t miss a thing.”
The two men glanced at each other again and seemed to come to an understanding. “All right, we’ll go along with it, but I’m withholding judgment until I figure out what’s going on.”
“Well, don’t expect too much,” Alex told them. “I still don’t understand it, and I’m not sure you’ll hear enough to explain what’s going on.”
They both grumbled but left, whispering to each other as they went. Alex was concerned that he might be facing problems if women were seeking him out in the men’s room, going so far as to send their boyfriends in after him. At least they hadn’t come in themselves, but then he figured Gail probably headed them off before they could attempt it.
Alex reentered his comfortably isolated stall and waited again, trying to attract as little attention as he could. It wasn’t a long wait.
‘Alex, this is Patricia. I just thought I’d warn you that the shows about to start. People should be heading inside so it should be safe for you to head out.’
‘Thanks. I appreciate the heads up,’ he replied.
Just then the lights in the bathroom dimmed. Alex didn’t know how long he had, but he figured it would take a while to talk to the two couples, assuming they’d take more time because of the men being involved. He collected himself on the way out of the nearly empty bathroom, and headed outside.
He gave Gail a heads up as he exited the men’s room, so she was expecting him. He kept his eyes lowered, trying to scan the feet of the people in front of him. It wasn’t a very effective way of keeping track of things, but he was able to notice a group of people near him, and the legs of several women took a halting step. He turned and walked towards the group, finally looking up.
The same two men were standing there beside their supposed girlfriends, Gail, and another three women. Alex first met the eyes of a slightly heavy set black woman, who immediately squealed and sank to her knees. While her boyfriend tried to help her, Alex looked at a shorter woman standing beside her. She was standing with the other man that Alex had met, and she clutched his side as her eyes went wide and she took a hesitant step back. That man glanced between Alex and his wife, trying to figure out what was transpiring between the two of them, but Alex didn’t have the time to consider him just then.
Since he’d nearly reached them, he quickly took in the other people surrounding them. Gail was on the far right, there was a young girl to her right, standing beside Vanessa, and there were two other girls standing to the right of the little group. Because they didn’t respond as dramatically Alex assumed they were simply Watchers.
“What the fuck did you do to my girlfriend?” the black guy with the graying beard asked when Alex stopped in front of him. He started to reach toward Alex, but Gail firmly grasped his hand just as his Vanessa reached up to hold him back.
“No, Wayne, don’t. You don’t know what you’re getting into. He’s not going to hurt anyone. He’s… he’s…”
“He’s an angel,” the other woman answered. She was a good six inches shorter than her boyfriend, and looked a little worn with some heavy laugh lines in her face despite her apparent young age. Alex figured the lines under her eyes might due to a lack of sleep, but he wondered whether she had a predilection for wrinkles or just smiled too much.
“Really? Why do you say so?” another woman standing beside her asked as she looked at Alex in wide-eyed fascination. She wore a flowered blouse and blue jeans and had scarlet hair Alex knew wasn’t natural, since that color only came out of a bottle.
“Can’t you see it? He glows like an angel. He’s so bright I can’t even see his eyes. I saw him when he first walked out of the bathroom, then his true nature was revealed as he shed his mortal skin,” the girl he’d just activated told the others.
“Uh, Megan, he’s just a normal guy. In fact, he’s a scrawny little thing who looks like he just got out of high school.”
“Hush, Ryan,” she insisted. “Don’t say such things. You don’t question a messenger of God when—”
Alex had enough by then, so he finally stepped in.
“OK, let’s all calm down. Let’s keep our voices down, but the rest of you need to know that what these girls are seeing is very real. They just don’t realize what it is they’re seeing. All they can see of me is a glowing white light, but what they haven’t realized yet is that everyone looks different to them now.”
As Alex revealed this, the two women glanced at the others around them and looked almost as surprised at them as they were of Alex.
“They are seeing everyone’s life energy. It’s a real gift and it’s very useful, but it’s best if we don’t reveal what’s happened to them for obvious reasons.”
“Uh, what obvious reasons?” Ryan asked.
“You don’t want your girlfriend locked up in a nuthouse, or taken into custody by government officials looking for new tools they can use to spy with,” Gail whispered gravely to him. That took the guy by surprise, and he glanced back and forth between Alex and Gail trying to determine if she was serious. Alex’s expression convinced him and he stopped talking, figuring he’d see what unfolded before he overreacted.
“They’d really do that?” One of the other girls inquired. This one was a really young girl with long brownish hair that fell over one shoulder. She and the girl with scarlet hair both looked young enough to still be underaged.
“How can they arrest an angel?” Vanessa asked.
“Easily,” Alex answered. “If they can nail God’s son to a cross, they’ll have no problems arresting an angel. But I’m trying to tell you that I’m no angel, and I wasn’t sent by God. I’m just someone with a unique genetic trait that somehow activates a related genetic trait that each of you have.”
“Each of us?” asked the third Watcher girl. This one was only a little older than the other two, possibly a friend or an older sister with shorter dark hair and a stripped dress.
“Yes, you three have a milder form of what these two have. You can feel the energy that I give off, but you can’t see it, nor feel it as strongly as they do.”
The lights dimmed again, distracting the discussion. The girls started excitedly talking but Alex quieted them.
“Look, stay here and talk it over. We’ve got a lot to talk about, but right now I need to see how many others like you I can find. Gail here can help you understand what you’re going—”
“Like hell I can,” Gail interrupted him. “You aren’t getting away from me. There’s no telling what might happen to you in this crowd.” Alex sighed in exasperation.
“Fine. Come along, but the rest of you stay here. We’ll be back in a minute.” Alex turned backed after taking a couple of steps away. “Oh, Ryan, if you and Megan want to watch Patricia perform, you’d better come along because we’ll probably be distracted for much of her set.”
Megan and Ryan looked at him in confusion, but Megan decided the issue when she clutched Ryan’s arm and pulled him along behind Alex, who’d already set off for the entrance to the stadium.
Although Alex hadn’t been keeping track of it, it seemed clear that the band had just come out. Patricia was midway through her introductory speech as he entered.
“… the feelings that you have. They tell you who to trust and what you should do. Listen to them. Follow them and they’ll lead you to the man who’ll change your view of the world.”
As Patricia continued Alex walked in, looking for anyone that seemed drawn to him. He spotted a woman who turned just as he came to a stop. Their eyes met and that was it.
“Those instincts will lead you to the one who’ll change—”
“It’s HIM! It’s him. He’s come to save me. Oh God!” the woman screamed as she collapsed in front of Alex. Everyone around them turned and looked, the woman’s scream attracting everyone’s attention. Patricia tried to recover quickly to help cover for Alex.
“Well, someone thinks I’ve rambled for too long, so without further ado…,” Patricia said as she turned and brought her hand down in a signal to her band, and they immediately set off on a song which drowned out anything the woman before Alex might have said. However, it didn’t refocus everyone’s attention as they continued to watch the woman and the strange young man standing awkwardly before her.
‘Quick, get up,’ Alex told her telepathically, which shocked the poor woman that much more. ‘I can’t explain now, but we’ve got to get out of here. I’ll explain everything outside.’ With that Alex spun and hurried out, although Gail remained behind.
Alex hurried out into the outer rim of the stadium where he saw the people he’d left earlier looking at him in surprise. Figuring he was relatively safe, he glanced back and saw the woman who’d exclaimed over him hurrying after him, followed by Megan and Ryan. He also noticed a couple more people clustered around the passageway entrance, so he headed back to the waiting group he’d left earlier.
“What happened?” Vanessa asked.
“A minor complication,” he answered, turning to regard whoever came out after him.
“Who was it?” the young looking brunette asked, not even bothering with what had happened.
“I activated another Se… another person,” Alex answered, looking around to see if there was anyone who could overhear what he was saying. There was no one near them, but he noticed a stadium employee watching the group gathered outside the show. Alex’s attention was pulled back when he detected someone enter the corridor.
The woman who’d exclaimed over him ran out first. She was short with whitish blond hair with dark eyelashes and a nice outfit, unlike the ‘rockers’ in attendance who all seemed to dress in t-shirts and jeans. As she headed towards him, several more people appeared behind her, Ryan and Megan among them.
The new people, two young women and a couple of guys, looked between Alex and the blond. Alex didn’t know who they were, but he knew he needed to handle them. The sheer number of people they were encountering was becoming a problem. So far Alex hadn’t had a chance to get to know anyone, and more people kept approaching him. It was going to take a lot to figure out how to adjust to this new approach, as he could see now he wouldn’t be able to take the time to speak with each new follower anymore. Instead he’d have to rely on the other people with him who were scattered around the stadium watching out for others, to tell these people what they needed to know. If he tried to do it himself he’d soon become inundated, and they’d only attract even more attention on what he was doing.
‘Come stand by me but remain silent, I need to get rid of some of these people,’ Alex told the blond.
Alex was hoping to use Gail to intercede on his behalf, but she was nowhere in sight at the moment. The others, seeing the blond heading towards him, followed along.
“What did you do with our friend?” asked a young woman in a red striped t-shirt, who sidled up alongside the woman who’d just followed him out.
“He didn’t do anything,” she hurried to answer, trying to discourage her friends from speaking in her defense.
“What are you talking about?” asked another guy. “You just made a scene in there yelling about this guy had ‘come for you’. Who the hell is he and how does he know you?”
Alex was getting ready to respond when Gail finally showed up, leading another three people. Alex groaned. Things were definitely getting out of hand.
“Listen,” Gail called out, distracting the people asking Alex questions, “it’s just a case of mistaken identity. I don’t think she knows him, and he didn’t actually do anything,” she blustered, trying to invent some excuse for the woman’s behavior, but it achieved what she wanted it to. Alex could tell who was listening to her, and those few who couldn’t keep their eyes off of him. The three women that Gail had brought out all looked at him in wide-eyed wonder, and so did one of the men standing amongst the friends of the blond.
‘Pardon me, Miss…’ Alex asked the blond. She turned, looking dumbfounded, but she answered him aloud.
“I’m Lauren Albright.”
‘OK, Lauren, could you take your friends aside and tell them you thought I was someone else, possibly a past boyfriend you were worried about. We need less people out here. We don’t need to attract more attention than we already have,’ Alex told her. She acted on Alex’s suggestion immediately.
“Look, guys, it was all a big mistake, I thought…,” she said as she led them a short distance away so she could explain things to them privately.
Seeing his chance, Alex approached the other people he was sure were Watchers. The original people he’d left behind trailed along, and Ryan and Megan clustered around him as well.
“All right, this is starting to get out of hand, so I’ll give you the shorthand notes,” Alex told them. He hurried to fill them in as quickly as he could, trying to project the same information to Lauren telepathically. “You each have a unique trait which attracts you to me. As you might have noticed, some people respond even more than that. The people who are attracted to me fall into different categories. People like Lauren are what we call Seers, or type 1s because they can literally see the life energy that everyone has in them. The reason you were each attracted to me is because I have more of that energy than most people have. The rest of you we refer to as Watchers, or type 2s. We call you that because your tendency is to just stand back and watch me. You can feel there’s something important about me, but you generally don’t trust your instincts. You need to get over that. These ‘feelings’ of yours are much more than that, and they can aid you in whatever you do.”
Several people started to ask questions but Alex waved them off, wanting to finish as quickly as he could before anyone else showed up, or Lauren’s friends returned and he wouldn’t be able to speak freely anymore.
“This seems to be a genetic thing, though we really don’t know much about it. The trait is carried on the X chromosome, so it’s likely it runs in your family. You should consider who might also have it amongst your relatives. However, it seems to be limited to women for reasons that aren’t worth getting into right now.”
The lone man started to speak up but Alex cut him off.
“You’re an exception, so far we’ve only had two others like you, and in both cases it turned out that they had a unique condition where they have an extra X chromosome. The dual chromosomes seem to override the Y for some reason, although maybe there’s some requirement that both chromosomes are present for some reason, frankly we don’t have a clue. Now, quickly, just so I know whom I’m talking to, who are each of you?”
They quickly introduced themselves. It turned out the guy was Frank Osmon, a 32-year-old artist, while the three women came from a variety of backgrounds.
Alex had been keeping a watch on the other group, and Lauren seemed to have convinced her friends, because they started to head back into the auditorium while she headed towards Alex and his group. But then the girl in the red striped T-shirt called out, walking rapidly up to them.
“Hey, if you don’t know him, why are you staying out here? There’s something you’re not telling us.”
Lauren headed back, once again trying to pacify her friends, and Alex realized they didn’t have much time.
“OK, we have way too many people here to escape notice, so here’s what we’re going to do. Megan and Ryan, go watch the concert and enjoy yourselves. We can discuss what you need to know later. You three,” he said pointing at the three Watchers that Gail had brought out, “I want to head upstairs to meet my sister. She’s up there looking for anyone that looks lost, so she should notice you right off. Now—”
“Uh, Alex?” Gail interrupted him.
“What?” Alex asked a little sharply, beginning to feel overwhelmed. But instead of answering, she simply pointed behind him. Alex turned to see Cate herding three other women towards him down the hallway from the staircase leading to the second floor. Alex groaned again.
“OK, change of plans, you three head up to the third floor. There should be two girls up there doing the same thing. Chances are they’ll have some more people waiting to see me. Tell one of them to bring them down, then have the other one explain what’s going on. You three,” he said indicating the original three girls, head up and talk to Morgan on the second floor. Tell her that Cate will be up in another minute.”
With that, people hurriedly scattered in several different directions and Cate brought the new batch of people to join them.
“Here’s a new bunch of converts,” Cate announced. “It seems Patricia made an announcement for everyone to ‘follow your instincts’ and how they’ll ‘lead you to someone who will change your life’, so all the Watchers are now actively looking for you. Somehow she managed to get the normally reticent Watchers to become more aggressive.”
“Thanks. We have our hands full here as well. I’m sending these girls to the others so we can teach them what they need to know without grouping too heavily down here.”
“You know they’ll all want to meet you, though,” Cate told him unnecessarily.
“Yeah, but I figure if I give them a brief overview that should satisfy them. The rest of you should be able to give them the details they’ll need to know.”
Cate looked at the crowd standing around Alex. “Seers?” she asked.
“And their boyfriends. I sent the watchers away. There’s another one inside watching the concert and there’s—”
“I’m sorry,” Lauren said, speaking to Alex as she walked up with her friend behind her. “I can’t get my friend Lisa Grady to leave until I tell her what’s going on.” Alex sighed once again. It seemed to be his new thing.
“Cate, this is the other one. Her name is Lauren. Lauren, do you trust your friend, Lisa? Can she keep a secret, even though it’s strange and is likely to generate a lot of buzz?”
Lauren seemed to stop to consider that, but she ended up nodding her head. “Lisa and I go way back. If something is going on in my life, she’ll want to know what it is. What’s more—”
“Never mind. If you trust her then that’s good enough for me,” Alex replied. He then gave the basic spiel to the new people as well. Lisa was at first surprised, then skeptical, but given how seriously everyone else took what Alex was saying she kept her doubts to herself.
The entire evening was much the same. There was a constant stream of people coming out, being ferried by people Alex had assigned to this task, stopping just long enough for them to meet Alex. Alex was feeling close to being overwhelmed. Before, they’d sought out city centers to find high enough concentrations of people to find new followers, but now they had too many to process. It’s one thing to walk along a busy pedestrian mall, and quite another to have thousands of people standing within shoulder length distance of each other. This scheme of Patricia’s was probably the biggest thing they’d stumbled onto yet. They were finding a huge number of new followers in a very short time span. Now if they could just avoid getting into trouble.
“Hey, you there, you can’t be standing around selling drugs in the open,” yelled an approaching security guard leading a policeman along behind him. Alex and the others with him looked up in alarm, but no one moved, unsure of how to respond.
“What are you doing here?” the cop asked them. “The concert is that way.”
“Sorry, officer, we were just talking. We’ll head back inside now,” Alex answered, trying to appear polite.
“They’ve been here since the concert started,” the security guard informed the policeman. “There’s been a steady stream of different people coming and going.”
“Is there a problem, officer?” Gail asked, walking up and flashing her backstage pass. Luckily, despite her lack of security credentials, she still carried herself like an officer of the law and knew how to talk to cops.
“These people are dealing drugs,” the security guard said. The cop didn’t look so sure, but he was looking them over, looking for any sign of wrongdoing he could detect. Alex noted the cops badge said his name was “Lawrence”. Alex hoped none of the news girls was carrying anything, or else they might all be in trouble.
“The kid’s with me. I’m assigned to protect him,” Gail explained, flashing her private security license at him. “He’s clean. He doesn’t have anything illicit on him. He’s just busy interviewing audience members for a story he’s doing.”
Officer Lawrence looked over the document, then looked Alex and Gail over before looking over the people surrounding them.
“If you’re going to do interviews, it will have to be outside. You can’t create an obstacle to public egress,” he announced. “You don’t look like the typical druggies. For one thing none of you scurried off, but if I catch any of you congregating here again I’ll run you in and we’ll continue this little discussion there.”
Alex was about to say something when Gail cut him off. “We understand. I’m sorry to have upset things, but I thought it wouldn’t cause a disturbance. We’ll head into the concert now.” With that she took his arm and guided him into the concert. The others looked at each other for a few moments and then trooped in after him.
“What was that about?” Alex asked Gail. “We need somewhere we can talk.” He found he had to shout to make himself heard over the noise of the concert.
‘You can’t do it out in the hallway anymore,’ Gail told him telepathically, since that was the only way to be heard over the loud droning music. Patricia had closed her act a while before to thunderous applause. Her set had been a quiet sedate affair, yet her response had been thunderous. The current lead act was bellowing a hard rocking tune, yet the audience wasn’t as excited. ‘You’re attracting too much attention. All you need is a public record linking your name to the concert here. See if you can find any more people here on the floor. I’ll talk to the others and get them to talk to whoever you’ve met, telling them to meet us out in the parking lot after the concert.’
‘I’m not sure it will work, but we’ll do what we have to, I guess,’ Alex replied. ‘We’ll make our way over to the far side. Hopefully the cop and security guard won’t be looking for us over there.’
‘Just don’t get caught. We want to keep your name clean for as long as we can, and we don’t want your name linked to any concerts where people might talk about meeting the ‘Angel’,’ Gail explained before letting him go. She stopped a few of his followers to issue some terse instructions as he headed off.
Despite the difficulties, they actually managed quite well. One of the girls ran up to alert the other girls on the other floors. They got Cate to head outside where anyone wanting information could go to discuss what they’d stumbled upon. The other girls flanked Alex, whispering instructions or writing down contact information to the girls that would walk up to Alex.
By now the audience was already starting to thin out. Despite her best wishes, Diane Kennedy just wasn’t generating the level of excitement she’d been hoping for, so many listeners were heading home already. That helped to cover the people heading out to discuss things with Cate, and it also disguised the large group clustering around her a little ways from the entrance. When the audience thinned a little more, Alex figured they’d had a good night and he’d better call it a night before anyone else noticed what he was doing. Signaling everyone still helping him, they headed outside. When another security guard approached them Alex had one of the Seers stop him to report an ‘altercation’ with someone back in the stadium. That distracted the guards enough to allow Alex to slip outside with all of his followers.
The people talking about him to Cate were excited to see Alex and they swarmed him as he drew near, but Gail kept them at bay, helped by the fact they were afraid of antagonizing him. He gave a few words, making sure he spoke telepathically to the few Seers amongst them, connecting them to the Seers in Carbondale. But Alex had another decision to make. Who was to be in charge of the Houston followers? But even more important than whom to put in charge, was who could protect his people here. This was his last night here and he needed to assign someone the role, and ideally Alex should boost them to ensure the community here stayed safe.
“Lauren, I need someone who can watch over my followers here in Houston. What’s more, I need someone who can alert me if the authorities start taking people into custody should we ever get exposed. I know it’s asking—”
What he left unsaid, was why he needed someone who could communicate with others. Namely, that if anything happened to him, say he was to die after having been exposed for some odd reason, the community could be cut off just when they’d need to reach out to the other communities.
“Uh, excuse me,” Megan said, coming up behind him, “but if you’re worried about the police doing something, then maybe I can help.”
“Yeah, I’m listening,” Alex told her.
“Well, I’m involved in a law firm, and both my father and my brother members of the Houston police department. If anything were to happen, I’m sure there would be several people who’d alert me simply because they’d be concerned that I may be involved. I’d be the perfect person to keep a watch on things.”
Alex looked at her skeptically, and then glanced at her boyfriend, Ryan.
“There’s more to it than that,” Alex told them. “In order to ensure I hear anything that happens, I need to, uh, boost someone so they can communicate to anyone in the organization.”
“And you can only do that through becoming sexually intimate with them?” Megan asked. “Cate already explained that.”
“Cate told you that?” Alex asked, glancing meaningfully at Cate.
“She told me privately,” Megan hurriedly explained. “I was the one who decided to inform Ryan. I wanted him to know what was going on.”
Alex nodded. While they’d had troubles before in informing spouses before, he wanted to maintain his followers’ relationships, and keeping secrets wasn’t the best way to do that.
He stood back and regarded Megan, not sure what he was getting into here. “Look, as good as that sounds, I have a real problem with screwing up established relationships.”
“Hey, look man,” Ryan said, stepping forward for the first time that evening. “As confusing as all this is, Megan already spoke to me about this. I don’t understand it, but she told me that this was the most important thing she’s ever gotten involved in, and she’d gotten into some heavy stuff before. I know it’s strange, but I’m willing to let her go through with this if she thinks it’s necessary.”
Alex blinked, unsure how he felt about that, but Ryan continued. “The only thing is, I want to be there. I know this is a really odd situation, but this is the modern world and strange things occur all the time. But I really want to make sure she isn’t going to want to run off with you. I figure if I’m there I can determine if she’s getting too involved with you.” He looked Alex in the eye. “Megan says she trusts you to do the right thing, and that you wouldn’t come between us, but I just need to be sure.”
Alex’s mind was dancing as he tried to figure out how to deal with this strange offer. Despite his normal restrictions, it sounded like Megan really was the best person to take over the Houston operation. It sounded like she was used to a certain amount of organization, and her connections would mean a lot. But Alex didn’t like stepping into the middle of something. He was also nervous that Ryan might see this as a potential group sex thing, but he had to make a snap decision because the night was getting late, and they had to leave early the next morning.
“All right. Here’s the deal, I’ll take you and Megan back to the hotel with us, along with Lauren. Since we have a couple of Seers I want to make sure we have duplicates that can carry on if anything happens, or someone is out of town if something goes wrong. I just want you all to know, I’m only doing this because there’s no other way to manage this. I don’t like the idea of forcing my way into an existing relationship, but if you think you can manage this, I can’t see any easy way to avoid it.”
“If it makes you feel any better,” Megan said, “I can now feel Ryan’s sincerity in this. I don’t think he’s trying to trick you. I think it will work out.”
Alex glanced at both Lauren and Gail, both of whom hesitantly nodded their acceptance to him, though Gail’s was actually more of a helpless shrug. Though she might not be overly fond of the idea, neither one was willing to tell him it was a bad idea.
“In that case, we’ve got ourselves a date,” Alex told them, wondering just how much trouble he was getting himself into.
“Hello? This is Anthony Barlow,” Anthony answered hesitantly, afraid of saying much before he knew who was calling. He really wasn’t cut out for this skullduggery nonsense. It took too much out of him trying to hide phone calls from his wife. He’d had to run into his den to answer two phone calls before this one, only to have to take the phone back out to his wife because it had been for her after all. He was sure she was going to think he was having an affair before long.
“Yeah, this is Harry Wittmore, calling in with my daily report,” the voice on the other end said.
“Man, am I ever glad you finally called. I’ve been waiting for your call all night,” Anthony told him.
“What can I say, these investigations involve odd hours, and I’ve been working overtime trying to get a lead on this kid. I can’t guarantee I’m going to call at any particular time. After all, you wouldn’t like it if I called you, and then found out I some something more important an hour later, would you?”
“No, I guess not.”
“Fine, now calm down. You’ve got to learn to deal with this just like any other phone call. Don’t go hiding it from your wife or you’ll create more problems than you already have.”
“OK, I’m calm,” Anthony replied, although he sounded like he was anything but at the moment. “What have you found out?”
“Not much. It seems there aren’t many men in this organization, or rather, there aren’t many men asking questions that these people trust. I’ve learned there are supposedly some other men involved in it, but none are apparently in the know, so no one’s going to talk to a man about what’s going on.”
“So you haven’t discovered anything?”
“I haven’t said that. What I said is it’s hard to discover anything, but we’ll talk about that in a minute. So far I’ve learned that this kid you referred to is the hottest thing to hit New Orleans since the Pope visited here way back in ’87.”
“Go on,” Anthony prompted him, anxious to learn anything he could.
“Well, it seems everyone knows something about him. It’s been the talk of the town for months now, and there was a spike in interest in the last week when the major networks all did reports on him during their evening news broadcasts.”
“Really? Damn, I missed those. I only read the Wall Street Journal and only watch CNBC and CNN in the evenings.”
“Well, none of those carried it. Apparently the other stations thought it was fluff news, so they didn’t cover it in much detail, giving just a cursory overview. It was mostly covered by Fox news because they were playing up how it was an affront to the Christian community.”
“Oh, no wonder I didn’t see it then. I typically stay away from the usual political nonsense.”
“Anyway, the big news media didn’t turn up much of interest. They basically parroted the reports of a local reporter who first broke the story. I’ve just e-mailed you the video clips from the different broadcasters and copies of the newspaper clippings from the local reporter.”
“How… I never gave you my e-mail address,” Anthony argued.
“I’d hardly be much of an investigator if I couldn’t look up public records on one of the biggest names in the Beaumont financial world, now would I?” the detective asked.
“No, I guess not,” Anthony answered defensively. He didn’t feel comfortable with a detective investigating him at the same time he’s doing an investigation for him, but he really couldn’t complain when he’d only looked up public information.
“It seems this kid is only interested in women, although he doesn’t seem to be interested in wealthy women or women with connections, so I’m not sure what his scam is. The people here claim he’s performed several miracles, which is why they made the religious connection. Supposedly he brought someone back from the dead, he converted a prostitute, and he healed a blind woman, but none of these reports is all that miraculous. They each have other explanations for them.”
“That’s not surprising,” Anthony answered, his voice dripping with attitude. He already knew this kid was scamming his daughter. That isn’t what he was interested in. “Look, I’m not interested in the Reader’s Digest Condensed Version of his history, what I want is the dirt on him. Something I can use against him.”
“Yeah, that’s the thing. If no one is willing to talk to me, I can’t get that kind of information. So I’ve got an idea, but it’s going to add to your costs,” Harry warned him.
“I’m not overly surprised. What is it and how much is it going to cost me?”
“Well, since no one here will talk to a man, I want to bring in an associate who hopefully they’ll talk to. I’ve picked up enough clues she should be able to gain their confidence, and hopefully she can get some real information. As soon as I get your authorization I’ll fly her out. Her bags are packed and the next flight out leaves in an hour.”
“Well get her out there, man. I told you this is important, and that I’m willing to pay for some decent information. You should have brought her out on your own. Next time, if you have to pay someone off just go ahead and do it. You don’t need to ask me first. I told you before; as long as you itemize your costs so I can review them I’m fine. I might question tickets to Fiji, or a thousand dollar bottle of champagne, but anything related to this case I’ll OK.”
“That’s good to know. Look over the stuff I sent you and I’m sure I’ll have something good by this time tomorrow,” Harry concluded. “I’ll call you about this time then,” and with that he hung up.
Anthony wasn’t pleased, but he couldn’t really expect miracles. It took time to dig up dirt on people. He could wait for decent information, but he was afraid if it took too long his daughter might do something stupid. He’d have to watch her and make sure she didn’t. And if she did, there will be hell to pay, that he promised himself.