This Must Be The Place



Scene Title This Must Be The Place
Synopsis Desdemona Desjardins takes a journey across the country.
Date September 7, 2018

A bubblegum pink 2008 Nissan Versa isn't the most discreet vehicle.

But neither is Desdemona Desjardins.

The battered, decade-old car was left abandoned outside of the Safe Zone for her; just a two mile walk north from Jackson Heights, keys in the ignition. Its color isn't a stock and standard vehicle coloration, instead applied with spray paint to hide the rusty body beneath. It's an ugly car, for an ugly journey.

But as she sits inside and swings the door shut, a thought crosses Des' mind:

Maybe she won't come back.


Taking the ruins of Interstate 78 out of New York City, Desdemona's journey cuts through the worst-targeted parts of New York and New Jersey and the urban parts of Pennsylvania. Bridgewater, Easton, Allentown, all lay in ruins. Nature has reclaimed much of these cities, grass growing up between fissures in split asphalt, saplings rising up in small stands of juvenile forests in bombed out cellar holes. But there's also the human tragedy, the tent cities, the detritus of society who refuse to move into the Safe Zone, the stubborn and the struggling.

By the time she reaches rural Pennsylvania the juxtaposition is staggering. It looks like nothing has changed, this far away from New York. Farmlands spread out as far as they eye can see in either direction along the roadside. Silos, red barns, hedgerows, and sparse forests give everything a pastoral feeling. The sun breaks through the clouds, casting shafts of amber light down on verdant pastures and farms still occupied after all this time. Beyond the urban centers, the world moved on; nothing lays in ruins out here.

But not everywhere is like this in Pennsylvania.

Des' trip takes her precariously close to the tall chain link fencing surrounding the Raven Rock Mountain Complex, where US military are still encamped years after the war ended. The entire complex was cordoned off, razorwire erected, warnings against trespassing posted. During the daytime the flood lights around the complex aren't on, so from a distance it just looks like a construction site. The necks of tall cranes rising up over hills, the echoing sounds of heavy machinery working.

The landscape around Raven Rock is craters, trees flattened by fuel-air bombs, rusting hulks of tanks and missile batteries overgrown with vines and tall grass. Dead cars parked along both sides of the road. It reminds her of the choices she made.

Of the sides she took.


Interstate 81 winds through Appalachia, cutting northeast to southwest through Virginia's rolling hills and forested mountains. There are ghost towns everywhere out here, empty remnants of big box stores, derelict gas stations gutted by fires long since gone out. At one point. Des is forced to drive off road for a quarter mile to avoid the wreckage of a 747 strewn across the highway amid the rusted wreckage of old cars that were in the crashing jet liner's path. The broken shards of fighter jets dot the nearby mountainside, and scrub vegetation grows up in the craters once made by air-dropped bombs.

A handful of the towns along the way are populated; Staunton, Lexington, and ironically Roanoke. Enough places to stop and fuel up, places where gasoline prices reach $22 per gallon thanks to scarcity and inflation working hand-in-hand. The people who live out here are different than the folks of the Safe Zone; they're salt of the earth types, living off the land and making do with what society has left to offer them. There's no Yamagato Industries out here to quickly refabricate fire stations or repair hospitals, no easy way back until the country finds its own footing again.

Someone could disappear out here, and maybe never be found again.


Much like Pennsylvania, rural Tennessee hasn't seen much from the war. Even better is the fact that many of the states cities are still intact. Worse, that means someone living as a fugitive has to work harder to remain off the radar. Most towns and cities are struggling to make ends meet, though. Buildings lay vacant, businesses closed, and homelessness is rampant. Squatters, she imagines, must be everywhere among the unrestored outskirts of these still-living communities. But the novelties of power, traffic lights, and the resemblance of the pre-war world are hard to ignore.

Kingsport, Knoxville, Chattanooga, it's all intact in as much as it can be. Evidence of fighting is still present in the demolished remains of some large buildings, places where riots turned into fires and city blocks fell. But the cities they're a part of keep on living, and the people here are nothing like the hard working and hard living settlers up north in the NYC Safe Zone.


So much of Des' journey is through the rural, backwoods corners of the United States. Northern Alabama, when off of the main roads and into the winding backstreets feels as though humanity has simply left the Earth behind. Wild stretches of forest and overgrown trailer parks, suburbs that look more like farmland, all interspersed with sudden blooms of civilization that would look more at place in a third world country, of which America may now classify.

From Huntsville to Decatur, though the Bankhead National Forest and its towering evergreens, down dirt and muddy roads around stalled lines of long-destroyed automobiles, all the way to Hamilton and into Mississippi. It's a long and winding road, and one that has come with fewer and fewer stops for gasoline along the way.


Northern Mississippi is a breath of fresh air, a return to the semblance of civilization that never really felt the brunt of the civil war. Here, Des is able to stop in the town of Winona and get gas, rent a motel room, and sleep for the night. The town has a population of 8,000, swollen from the roughly 5,400 before the war as refugees flooded in from more affected settlements to the north and south. The Red Roof Inn winds up being a surprising reprieve from the long journey, where hot coffee and a good breakfast make the town feel far more civilized than the food rationing and urban decay of the Safe Zone.

The more Des spends out there, away from New York, the more she's left to wonder what the allure of living in the shadow of Manhattan's corpse really is. Is it something as simple as nostalgia? Is the pull of the past so strong as to be distracting to the human tragedy that are the desperate people who are trying to rebuild those ruins?

A colorful man in the diner has the opinion that the country should just "pour concrete over the whole place."

Maybe he's not wrong.

Crossing the Mississippi turns out to be a larger endeavor than Des' first imagined. Every bridge from New Orleans to St. Louis was destroyed during the war to act as a roadblock to advancing ground forces. It takes a full day for Des to secure passage on a personal ferry with a handful of others looking for westernly travel. But it's the Mississippi where she's forced to leave the Versa behind.

Aboard the Ferry, Des is left feeling isolated and vulnerable. People are watching her. A middle-aged man with a white-haired woman young enough to be his daughter keep staring, and maybe for good reason. Her face was plastered across newspapers. Someone was bound to recognize her.

Thankfully, hide and seek comes naturally to Des.


On the other side of the Mississippi, finding another vehicle becomes job number one. The town of Tallulah offers an opportunity, requiring Des to steal the keys from a driver parked at a truck stop, then steal his 2009 Fort Escort, driving it off into the Louisiana night. Back on the road, Des avoided the town of Monroe Louisiana, even though it was the next habitable stop on her way, just 8 hours from her ultimate destination. Some fates just shouldn't be tempted.

Louisiana hopscotches between war-torn and bombed out towns surrounding air force bases and National Guard posts, to rural scenes of untouched pastoral beauty. Only the presence of derelict checkpoints, concertina wire topped barricades, and derelict military vehicles serves as a reminder of what happened here, though the locals from town to town talk of the war as though it never ended. Whispers of the name Pure Earth are on most folks' lips here, and graffiti depicting a noose painted in the colors of the American flag are a reminder that bigotry and hatred are a hydra:

Cut off one head, and two take its place.


Texas might as well be a tomb.

What isn't consumed by vegetation is swallowed by sand. Nearly every settlement Des' travels through since passing the dilapidated sign welcoming her to the Lone Star State has been a ghost town. Marshal, Athens, Tyler, Longview… all either empty or home to scattered refugee camps and makeshift tent cities. The regions closest to military bases look like scenes out of the second World War, with buildings pulverized flat to the ground, like a tornado had come through and decided to park for a few hours.

Feral dogs wander the highways, lines of fire-blackened cars can be found on stretches of freeway that cut through the ruins of places like Waco and Temple, places where blue canvas tarps and corrugated metal siding patch up houses and residents living far from the cities sit on stockpiles of scavenged provisions and likely enough ammunition to last another civil war. Georgetown and Round Rock are surprisingly lively, electric lights burn in darkened windows at dusk, street lights still function and the National Guard holds roost where law and order has otherwise not quite returned to the status quo.

Austin is a mixture of these extremes, and reminds Des most of the Safe Zone. Intermittent city blocks lit by electricity, crumbling office buildings and demolished businesses sitting adjacent to residences, FEMA trailer parks, and sprawling multi-acre refugee encampments. She doesn't even pass through Austin's heart, just skims its outskirts on her way southwest. By nightfall, Texas is dark, and with the sky blanketed by encroaching clouds not even the stars bother to come out for the night.

San Antonio, TX

September 7th

8:38 pm

San Antonio is a crater. It's the only way to describe it.

The divisive fighting that started here in the early days of the civil war must have burned white hot. Between the Martindale Army Air Field and the 25th Air Force Headquarters, San Antonio was a target too valuable to remain unscathed. What little remains of the city are steel and concrete skeletons grasping at the night sky, littered with uncontrolled fires burning from god knows what source. Molten vehicles are fused to the bombed streets, twisted wrecks of tanks, missile batteries, and crashed aircraft litter the sandblasted remains of a once populous city. It doesn't bode well for Des' final destination.

Out the western side of San Antonio, there's nothing left of Lackland Air Force Base, just skeletal wreckage that stands black against the blue of night. Civilization's bruises, or perhaps more accurately the blood pooling at the bottom of civilization's rigored carcass.

Past Lackland, things become a little less urban, spreading out into abandoned suburban sprawls patchworked with fire-gutted neighborhoods. There's no sign of habitation out here, no street lights, no lamps, just rows and rows of cookie-cutter houses in terra cotta coloration on identical streets made less uniform by the damage caused by once rampaging wildfires.

The address written on a yellow packing envelope that Desdemona has followed out to this desolate place leads to the abandoned, walled compound of an Evolved Relocation Camp. The concrete walls surrounding Redbird Ranch are mostly intact these days, though the gates have long since been torn off their hinges and left to rust in the street. Turning into the resettlement camp, the headlights on Odessa's beat up old car track across split asphalt, past abandoned cars lacking wheels, past houses blackened from old fires.

162 Cardinal Way is a modest-sized ranch, identical in design to all of the other houses on the street. Its attached garage is burned out, door warped from the heat. The building's front door hangs open, front windows are smashed. There's no sign of habitation.

But this is the place.

For the space of five minutes, Des just sits in the car, her hands wrapped loosely around the steering wheel as she stares through the windshield at the unassuming house in front of her. All that way for this moment. Flexing her fingers slowly to alleviate the ache from having them curled for too long, she reaches for her glasses on the dashboard. She doesn’t need them, but it completes the disguise, and while she may not need that, it gives her some measure of comfort.

With a deep breath, she unlatches the seatbelt and listens to it wind its way up before reaching across her body, with a look into the side mirror out of habit, and opening the door. One boot meets pavement, then the second. She leaves the driver’s door open as she moves to open the one behind it and pull out a cabled sweater in shades of oatmeal. It’s seen better days, but it wards off the evening chill adequately enough. She pulls it over her head, over the navy blue tank and black leggings that have been comfortable to travel in.

Des shuts the back door, then the front. She turns to face the building again and stares it down like it’s challenging her. She’s thinking of all the places between now and New York that she could have simply stopped in and made a new life for herself. If only she didn’t have so many questions. If only she didn’t need answers.

Moving around the back of the car, the trunk is unlocked with the key, which is put back in her pocket lest she wind up locking it inside. She rummages in her hiking pack until she locates her flashlight. A click of a button at the end ignites the artificial torch. She pushes the trunk closed carefully, then marches up to the open door, the light shines ahead of her.

The house looks to have sat abandoned for months, but not as long as some of the others here. The first thing that Des notices is the smell, a stink of rot and decay clinging to the air. It isn't fresh, but rather the lingering odor of death that sets a tone for everything here. The second sign something is wrong is that the front door was forced open, splintered by a blunt force at the doorknob.

Inside, the front door leads directly into a spacious living room. Wall to wall carpeting in mocha shades, walls of rich cream coloration. A gray cloth sofa nearly blocks view of the horror show immediately on display in the living room. Right from the doorway, this place tells Des what it is.

It is a tomb.

A hospital bed rests in the back right corner of the living room, a body laid out on it is covered by a quilted blanket. On the wall behind the hospital bed is a mural in long-dried blood. A familiar half-helix symbol.

The symbol.

The cuff of her sweater is pulled down over her finger tips and held up over her mouth and nose. She’d been told Jean-Martin Luis was dead, so the smell of decay is not unexpected. Except she would have though the broken-in door was a sign of someone having done a welfare check, having found him and removed him.

It signifies the opposite.

Her mouth drops open behind the sleeve pressed over the lower part of her face, her eyes go wide behind the big red frames. “What the hell?” she asks aloud to the empty space. She should have brought a camera. Documented this. For whom? Richard, she supposes. As it is, the image is likely to be burned into her brain. She won’t need a photograph to recall it.

The light sweeps over the symbol — the symbol — on the wall as she makes her way toward the corpse. Des isn’t squeamish in the least, but dread still takes up residence in the pit of her stomach, its position fortified with every step forward. This isn’t a vigilante’s work. Unless maybe that vigilante is Jessica Sanders, and she’s not known for calling cards like this.

This was done knowing someone would eventually come looking for Doctor Luis.

The blanket over the corpse looks to have been left post-mortem, a gentle dignity likely not afforded by his killer. As she pulls the blanket away, the who of that matter feels all the more obvious. Jean-Martin Luis died in his bed, run through the heart with a sword. The blade is gone, but Odessa is intimately familiar with the wound shape and size.

The symbol, the sword, there's only one person that comes to mind who both would and could do this. And Adam Monroe certainly didn't cover Luis after murdering him.

Curiously, the house doesn't look to have been ransacked. No signs of burglary. There's medical equipment beside the bed, a portable generator in a hall leading to the collapsed garage, a stack of unused yellow packing envelopes, and an old CRT television with two VCRs set below it on a rickety wooden stand. There's a stack of old VHS tapes beside it, too.

From the look of things, Luis lived in just this one room.


“Ah, my old friend…” Des closes her eyes and lets out a heavy exhale. “I am truly sorry.” She can only hope the man was asleep and never knew what happened. Lifting her head and turning away from the corpse, she starts to survey the rest of the room. Things appear to be… tidy enough. Des can’t imagine Adam came all this way just for a little bit of murder. Whatever he was after, he must have known exactly where to find it.

She lifts her gaze back to the symbol on the wall. Or this was a message. But for who? Who did Adam Monroe expect to come looking for Luis that he wanted to find this? How many people would even understand what it meant?

The carpet silences her footsteps as she moves across the living space to crouch down in front of the television and start looking through the VHS tapes. She called it once when she said the handwriting on the package Richard received was elderly rather than childlike, but she hadn’t counted on the writing being Jean-Martin’s. “What did you have here?” she mutters to herself. It occurs to her to check the generator to see if there’s any life left in it. Perhaps she can discover exactly what information he was sitting on all these years.

All told, there are seven tapes. And as Odessa looks at them she recognizes that they’re not VHS, but whatever proprietary mess Richard had to find a player for months back. All this has just been sitting here, exposed to the elements. Thankfully, Texas doesn't have too many of those.

Examining the tapes, she sees they’re all labeled rather opaquely:

Poor Choices
Wrong Turn
Broken Watch
Systemic Failure

Unfortunately, there's no electricity here to power the player, unless that generator still works. As she looks back over her shoulder to the small generator, Des spots a file folder poking out from under the sofa.

Those are all delightful titles that Des is sure to get around to watching right away. She shakes her head and smiles a little ruefully at how plainly things are stated. One hand rests on her knee as she begins to lever herself back up to her feet. She pauses in midstream, dropping back to her crouch. She pivots on her balls of her feet.

“Well, well, well…” Des reaches out to gingerly grasp the corner of the folder and tug it toward her. “What do we have here?” Folding her legs under her now, she holds the flashlight in one hand, pointing it down at the file as she starts to leaf through it.

The folder was untitled, the first few documents are horrible photocopies of medical records, with the data input looking to me a mix of handwriting and a typewriter. There's a list of symptoms on one chart, indicating fatigue, nausea, intermittent blindness, weakness in extremities, difficulty breathing, and low blood pressure. The symptoms seem familiar, but Des can't quite place it.

The next page is another medical report from the same quality, including a black and white photocopy of a dark-skinned girl of maybe five or six years old. The file indicates the patient clearly at the top:

Suresh, Shanti

The Shanti Virus. Suddenly, Des understands the familiarity. She had worked with this virus, to dubious results. Continuing to page through the folder, there's more medical records written in a language she can't read, all pertaining to Shanti. They come from numerous hospitals in India, and leafing back to the original files they all appear to be Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. The attendant physician: Victoria Pratt.

Old, largely useless information these days. Monroe murdered Pratt nearly a decade ago and the Company is long gone. Flipping to the next file, Odessa finds her heart stopping in her chest.

It's an old black and white medical record, this one in French. The photograph in the copy is a light haired and fair-skinned woman intimately familiar to Des.

It's her mother.

The name at the top of the document reads:

Luis, Juliette

Hello, Shanti, my old friend. Once familiarity sets in, Des sort of skims the documentation. She’s seen a lot of this information before, just in a different presentation. She knows the symptoms of the virus inside and out. Less familiar with the patients, however…

The words in French seem to swim before her eyes. Not because she can’t comprehend them, but because of the image that accompanies them. And the name. “No,” she whispers, eyes large. They cast back up to where Jean-Martin lays, disbelief and tears both present. “Who am I?” How can Juliette Luis look just like Rianna Price?

Wiping at her eyes with her sleeve, Des squints down at the file, hoping desperately for some answers in the xeroxed pages.

A death certificate issued in Lyon, France for Juliette Luis on April 8, 1974. Cause of death is listed as “asphyxiation resulting from symptoms of unknown viral infection.” Curiously, the document lists some of Juliette’s physical qualities and one bit stands out:

Hair: BL

Just like Rianna in all of the files Odessa had seen, including her visit at the hospital.

As she continues to flip through the folder, there is a third file taken from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Also a photocopy, this one has a vaguely familiar photograph that's too badly washed out to really make out details. But then, the name.

Varlane, Magnes J

The date on the document:

February 3, 1988

Below it, a death certificate:

February 8, 1988

And the cause of death: Asphyxiation resulting from symptoms of unknown viral infection.

Des shakes her head slowly, an accusing glance shot to an errant strand of her own brown-dyed hair. She remembers things differently than… She sighs, discomfited by what she reads on the page.

The photo of Magnes Varlane causes her to swear under her breath in French. “How the… hell?” Not that she’s a great authority on Magnes J Varlane, but she knows the man was younger than her. This date of death should be roughly the year he was born, if her estimates are right.

She should have brought vodka. This is a vodka read. Briefly, Des considers checking the kitchen, but decides against it. It’s not terribly surprising that Luis would have kept the file with information about his late daughter, but she feels like more than melancholy nostalgia. There must be something here that… Explains something? Answers anything?

The last document in the file is a list of information pertaining to the Varlane family, on Commonwealth Institute letterhead. The first file also has a photocopy of a Primatech Paper dossier:

Name: Peter J. Varlane
DOB: 3/22/41
Classification: Special
Designation: Cellular Replication
Observation: Bishop, Robert
Role: Non-affiliated, executive management of pharmaceutical arm of Company, Biomere Corporate Holdings LLC.
Notes: Antisocial personality disorder stemming from untreated adult-age trauma. Willingness to perform morally questionable activities provided proper reinforcement. Strong familial loyalty.

Not Company material. Keep on close observation.

Marital Status: Married
Spouse: Donna "Dawn" Varlane (née Ashford)
Date of Marriage: 11/8/1960
Children: Son (Magnes J. Varlane; deceased), Daughter (Felicia Varlane; illegitimate), Daughter (Clara Francis Varlane; estranged)

This file rests squarely on crisp Institute letterhead.

DOB: 2/8/68
DOD: 2/8/88
Notes: Exposed to what would later be classified as the Shanti Virus during a family trip to India in 1973. Survived for 14 years with the disease. If assessment is correct, longest-recorded survival time for Shanti Virus. Health was maintained by father's ability. Died 2/8/88.

Classified: Heisenberg, Hydra
DOB: 2/8/88
Notes: Biologically replicated from original son by cellular copy of brain tissue by way of Pete Varlane’s ability. Clone created at newborn development level. Claimed to be birthed at home, normal birth certificate filed. Afflicted with Frontotemporal dementia and Huntington’s disease. Attempts at curing, both Evolved and non have only mitigated and delayed new onset. Believed to be repercussions of cloning process.

MAGNES J. VARLANE (Tertiary Clones)
Classified: Heisenberg, Hydra
DOB: Varies
Notes: Biologically replicated from Alpha clone. Typically suffer fatally degenerative cerebral issues within 2-3 years. Cloned from Alpha Clone’s current age, born “fully adult” but with some psychological irregularities. Unknown number of tertiary clones active at any one time. Each requires cerebral tissue sample from Alpha clone.

MAGNES J. VARLANE (Aberrant Clone)
Classified: Heisenberg, Hydra
DOB: 5/7/2006
Notes: Biologically replicated from Alpha clone. Was abandoned after believed to be experiencing cerebral decline. Has managed to stay plateaued at higher than expected functional levels since cloning date in 2006. Brought in for bag and tag examination. Appears to not be suffering from other tertiary clones’ degeneration. Pete backed away for wider observation.


File Photo, 1974 (from left to right)
Magnes J. Varlane (age 6), Pete Varlane (age 33), Felicia Varlane (age 2), Donna Varlane (age 32), Clara Francis Varlane (age 5).

“My God.” Magnes Varlane is a fucking clone. That explains so much, while being completely unexpected. Des rubs her face with her hand and reads over the information about the Varlane family. Clara Francis Varlane feels like it shouldn’t be a coincidence, given the way the convoluted world she dwells in seems to work. She remembers Clara fondly, closing her eyes for a moment and trying to remember if she thought she looked anything like Magnes.

With a groan, she continues. Pete Varlane was trying to resurrect his only son. Would Luis have done the same for Juliette, given the chance? Des blinks down at the page and considers Kara. Did someone try to resurrect her mother? “Damn it, damn it, damn it,” she grits out between her teeth. If only she’d been able to gain more access when she was still within the Institute. Is this what Luis had promised to tell her one day?

Did he know about a connection between his daughter and her mother?

Closing the folder, Des finally climbs to her feet, leaving it to sit on the couch as she heads toward the hallway to check on the generator.

Walking down the hallway to the generator, Odessa passes by a bathroom largely unused save for empty orange pill bottles lining the floor. Bromocriptine, Selegiline, Rivastigmine, and Benztropine. Common medications for people suffering from Parkinson's Disease.

Across from the bathroom Des finds a bedroom, empty of furniture save for a few cardboard boxes, shrink-wrapped cassette tapes for whatever ancient player Luis has, possibly bought from a collector before the war fully hit. There's stacks of folders in here too, documentation on the ACTS containment systems, adynomine and adynotyline test records, basic clerical information for the Institute’s most recognizable hardware.

At the end of the hall where a tarp cordons off the collapsed garage, there's a diesel generator. But after a quick inspection, Des finds it bone dry. She won't be powering anything here.

“Shit.” Des nudges the generator with her toe as if accusing it of having run dry on purpose. Stalking back the way she came, grabbing the file folder as she passes by, she heads out of the house and back to the car to exchange the folder for an empty duffel bag from the trunk. “Should’ve brought Lynette,” she mutters to herself as she sets the flashlight down on the living room floor and starts loading the tapes into the bag. She could grab the video equipment, but once she makes it back to the Mississippi, she’ll be traveling only with what she can carry, and she’s not going to be able to haul all of this.

With the tapes tucked away, she moves on to the bedroom and starts picking through the folders there. Anything remotely interesting goes straight into the bag. “Why did you keep all this stuff, Jean-Martin?” She wanted to distance herself from the Institute, figured anyone who didn’t go to ground with them would want to do the same. And when did he stockpile all of this here? “I have half a mind to bring you back just to ask you what the fuck.” Then again, it was his life’s work, wasn’t it? If Des had been given to feel much in the way of ownership of her work, she might have felt similar difficulty letting go. Everything she did was for someone else. The reminder leaves her feeling angry.

Ultimately there's more garbage than gold in the files, most of it irrelevant now that the arcology is destroyed. But records on things from Bella’s Refrain experiments to studies on negation drug alternatives, chemical compositions of negation gas, theories on material negation designed to interfere with magnetic fields. Most of this may have come from satellite offices, and as Des is filing everything away she sees all of the letterheads reference San Francisco.

Once the files and tapes are tucked away, the night is still as dark and foreboding as it was before. There's not much left for Des here, just the stink of Luis’ rotting corpse and one final reminder of the fates of people in her orbit. Whatever it is Luis was doing with the twilight of his life, Adam Monroe stopped him before he could finish.

Zipping up the bag and pulling the strap onto one shoulder, she swings the light of the flashlight out ahead of her again and waits a moment before stepping out of the empty bedroom and back into the living space. There’s guilt that fills her. Maybe if she had sought him out sooner, she could have looked after him. Prevented this.

But apart from putting his return address on the packages he sent to Cardinal and his surrogate daughter, Luis made himself hard to find. What hope would Des have had? Stepping back out into the night, she resolves not to cry over her former benefactor’s fate. Not until she gets back to New York.

The files and tapes are set inside the trunk and locked away. Should she even go back there? Maybe she should just stop in Winona and demand Richard come to her with that video machine of his. Settling back into the driver’s seat of the car, she grabs the atlas sitting in the passenger seat and flips the pages until she gets to Texas.

How far is it to Odessa? Why not make it a homecoming?

The light fades after the door’s been shut long enough and Des agitatedly pounds the map light in the ceiling to revive it. She squints at the little scale in the bottom that tells her how many miles are in an inch on the page and frowns. That’s a trip for another time, perhaps. She shuts the book and tosses it back onto the seat, reaching up to turn off the light again before reaching for her seatbelt, then putting the keys in the ignition.

“Goodbye, Jean-Martin.”

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