Having Dr. Porter’s phone number was huge. Alex wasn’t planning to call her, but having it made it possible to look up her address. One of the nice things about working for Mr. Darcy was having access to information that, technically speaking, they really shouldn’t have access to. One of those things was a database of information that happened to make it possible to do a reverse look up on cell phone numbers.
What made it better was that able was able to access that database from his cell phone. He and Harold were back in the minivan, parked just down the street from The Four Horses. Alex tried looking up her number, without success.
“Hmm, she’s not in here,” Alex said.
“Did you try the White Pages look up?” Harold said.
“No, no one ever comes up in there anymore,” Alex said.
“I would think it’s worth trying, Mr. Minor,” Harold said. “If she’s an expert on Thomas Smith in this day and age, I’d guess there’s a good chance that she’s not into high technology.”
Alex was doubtful that it would work, but didn’t want to give Harold an opportunity to say “I told you so,” later if he didn’t do it now, so he tried checking the White Pages.
Her name and address came up immediately.
“Holy crap, so there are people still using landlines as their primary phone number?” Alex said. “Here she is.”
Alex plugged her name and phone number in to the GPS, and discovered that she lived just a few blocks away from where they were.
“This is too easy,” Alex said.
They drove over to Dr. Porter’s neighborhood, and parked just a little short of the address Alex had found. Dr. Porter lived in a two story home that looked as if it was probably historic, and would probably be quite charming if it was kept up a little better. As it was, the yard was overgrown, and it was in dire need of some fresh paint.
The shades were all shut tightly, and there didn’t appear to be any lights on inside.
“I don’t think she’s home,” Alex said.
“I don’t think so either,” Harold said.
“Should we wait?” Alex said.
“I can’t think of a better plan. Can you?” Harold said.
“No, not really,” Alex said.
Alex hated doing stake outs. He wasn’t made for sitting still. Harold, in contrast, seemed to be perfectly suited to them.
They waited, and watched. Alex tried to keep his fidgeting under control, while Harold simply sat quietly as if he had nothing better to do or anywhere he’d rather be.
It was getting fairly late in the evening, and the neighborhood had been dead quiet for at least twenty minutes, until they saw some headlights approaching in the distance. The car kept coming until it reached Dr. Porter’s house, and turned into the driveway. Alex and Harold both leaned forward and paid attention to see if Dr. Porter herself was home.
The headlights shut off, and the driver’s side door swung open. Kaylee got out of the car.
“What’s she doing here?” Alex wondered out loud. Harold said nothing.
Kaylee shut the door of her car, and walked to the front door of Dr. Porter’s house. She rang the doorbell, and waited.
After a couple of minutes, she rang the doorbell again, then knocked several times. She didn’t get an answer.
Alex and Harold watched as she left the front door, and walked around to the back of the house. Alex assumed there was probably a back door to Dr. Porter’s house. A few minutes later, she came walking quickly back around the house, and went straight to her car. She got in, slammed the door, started the engine, and backed quickly out of Dr. Porter’s driveway.
“Let’s follow her,” Alex said.
“Why follow her? We’re looking for Dr. Porter,” Harold said.
“Didn’t you see her hustle back to her car? She’s either pissed off, or hurrying to catch Dr. Porter. Either way, she might get us closer to figuring out where Dr. Porter went,” Alex said.
“I think you might just be getting impatient, but I suppose it might be worth a try,” Harold said.
He started the minivan, and followed at a distance behind Kaylee’s car.
Kaylee led them back through St. Paul. There wasn’t much traffic, and Harold and Alex both felt like they were extremely obvious in their crappy minivan. Harold made an effort to keep some distance between them in order so she wouldn’t panic and drive straight to a police station. It would be a little hard to explain to the police why the two of them were following a young woman as she drove at night. “Because we’re looking for magical artifacts that were stolen and think she might know where to find them,” was rarely an acceptable excuse.
She made a left turn. When Harold and Alex made it through the same turn, they were dismayed to see that she was turning on to the on ramp for the freeway to Minneapolis.
“Well, there she went,” Alex said. “Back to Dr. Porter’s house, I guess.”
“Nonsense,” Harold said. “Here we go.”
He turned down the on ramp, and stepped on the gas. The minivan slowly gathered steam.
“You know, we really don’t have to do this,” Alex said. “There’s every possibility that she doesn’t know where Dr. Porter is any more than we do.”
Harold said nothing, and continued accelerating. They could see Kaylee’s car not too far ahead, in the center lane.
Harold merged on to the freeway, the minivan hopping and lurching as the suspension rebelled against everything Harold asked of it.
We’re going to die, Alex thought.
The minivan bobbed and weaved like a punch drunk boxer as Harold changed lanes to follow behind Kaylee. The slightest breeze seemed to shove them to the side of their lane, and Harold had his work cut out for him just keeping the minivan going in a straight line.
“God, I hope she exits soon,” Alex said. He was clutching the armrests so tightly that his hands hurt.
The road and wind noise inside the minivan as they drove at sixty five miles per hour was astonishingly loud. The side windows rattled, and there was a cacophony of creaks, squeaks, groans and rattles from various places.
Ahead, the road curved to the left through an incline. As they drove through it, the front end of the minivan dived, and then bucked over and over. Harold let off the gas and held the wheel with straight arms, trying to keep from over correcting and making things worse.
The minivan drifted into the left lane. Fortunately, there was no one next to them at the time, though the driver behind them honked his horn at them.
“Sorry to inconvenience you, we’re just trying not to die up here,” Alex yelled back at him.
After a couple of seconds, the minivan settled down again, and Harold was able to keep it, more or less, under control again.
When they looked again, Kaylee had gotten quite a bit further ahead of them, since Harold had needed to slow down. It was hard to tell, exactly, which car was hers now.
Harold grimaced, and stepped on the gas.
“Oh god,” Alex said. There was a difference between getting a thrill and actively trying to kill yourself, and Alex wasn’t sure they were on the right side of that line any more.
The minivan shook and shimmied… and suddenly settled down and started driving smoothly as they reached seventy five miles per hour.
“Interesting,” Harold said.
Alex couldn’t believe it.
“So this thing is manageable below forty five and above seventy five?” Alex said.
“So it seems, Mr. Minor,” Harold said.
“OK, I guess we just need to spend more time speeding, then,” Alex said.
Eventually, they caught up enough again to identify which car was Kaylee’s. At least, they hoped so. At any rate, they made a decision, and continued following a silver Honda Civic that was probably Kaylee’s.
They had to slow down again to keep from passing her, which meant the minivan started to shimmy and shake wildly.
Alex and Harold were both greatly relieved when Kaylee finally exited the freeway. They followed behind her, and were only moderately terrified as the front end of the minivan dove as Harold braked.
Back on city streets, the drive seemed much more reasonable.
Eventually, they reached an apartment complex with outdoor parking. The Honda parked, and Harold followed suit, several spaces away.
Alex watched the Honda, and was relieved when he saw it was, in fact, Kaylee that got out of the car. He opened his door, which seemed as if it was creaking even louder now, and jumped out of the minivan. He hurried to catch up with Kaylee.
“Excuse me,” Alex said as he came up behind her.
Although Alex wasn’t certain she would be happy to see him, he wasn’t expecting what happened next.
Kaylee turned around quickly, and she was holding something up in her right hand. Alex couldn’t see what it was, but he heard a hissing noise, and suddenly his face felt wet. And then the burning started. His skin felt as if it was on fire, and his eyes stung so badly he couldn’t open them. It became hard to breathe, as well.
Alex went to one knee, and then sat down on the ground, unable to do much more than that. He’d been gassed during basic training in the military, but he’d forgotten just how much it sucked.
He heard Harold somewhere nearby say, “I’m not sure that was strictly necessary. Sorry if we’ve frightened you, however.”
“What the hell are you two doing here?” Kaylee said.
“We came hoping you might be able to tell us how to find Dr. Porter,” Harold said.
Alex nodded, then decided that he wasn’t going to do that again. Moving was not fun at the moment.
Kaylee sighed, and said, “Sure, whatever. Come inside so he doesn’t freak my neighbors out.”
Harold took Alex under the arm, and helped him to his feet again, saying, “Up you go, Mr. Minor.”
Alex was still completely unable to open his eyes, and started to wonder if the burning would ever stop.
Kaylee opened the door, and led the two of them inside, Harold keeping one hand under Alex’s upper arm to guide him.
When they reached Kaylee’s apartment, Harold asked Kaylee for a wash cloth, and led Alex into the kitchen.
“We need to get this oil off of your face,” Harold said. “There’s not much I can do for your eyes, you’re just going to have to let your tears flush it out, but at least we can get most of it off.”
“K,” Alex grunted.
Kaylee brought Harold a wash cloth, and Harold quickly wetted it and used a bit of dish soap to work up a lather. He handed the wash cloth to Alex and said, “Use this to wash your face, and be sure to rinse off as well as you can manage.”
The relief from washing his face wasn’t instant, but he could feel the burning start to subside. After a few minutes, he could open his eyes for a split second, and he tried to keep blinking in hopes of getting all of the oil out of his eyes. He could feel fiery tears running down his cheeks.
Once he was about as composed as he was going to be able to get, Alex sniffed, cleared his throat, and said to Kaylee, “So, do you know where we can find Dr. Porter?”