Saturday morning we spent the night at a little roadside motel on our way to the Hedgewood, and Julian got up super early, but that’s not abnormal. He often gets up a bit early to go out and jog — it’s a big part of his anti-eldritch monster program.
But Saturday morning, he didn’t come back.
At first we thought he was just taking an extra long run, or maybe getting breakfast — that’s not abnormal either. Neal and I took long showers, waiting. Then we packed up the room.
When he hadn’t come back an hour later, Neal called his phone and it went straight to voicemail, and that’s when we started to get worried.
“Let’s get our shit in the car,” Neal said, disconcertingly uncertain as he called Julian again. I could hear the ringing distantly.
And then when we opened the door the rabbit was gone. We’d parked across the parking lot from our room so we weren’t telegraphing which room was ours. But the rabbit wasn’t there.
Neal just stood there, staring for a long moment.
Then he dropped his bag back on the floor in our room and without a backwards glance, strode for the motel lobby.
The kid at the desk was probably like 17, and didn’t even look up from the desktop when we came in.
“How can I help you?” he drawled.
“I need access to your security cameras,” Neal said.
“Because —” Neal began and then stopped and took a breath. “Our car was stolen,” he said. “I’d like to see who.”
And when the kid just looked over his shoulder for someone with authority to rescue him, Neal added with an extra edge in his voice, “Listen, I need the last two hours of your parking lot security footage right now and I’m not leaving here until I get it, do you understand me?”
The kid hesitated like he was considering whether he needed to make a scene, and then visibly gave up.
“Whatever,” he said, and started clicking around until he brought up the cameras. Neal went around the desk and took the mouse from him, leaning over the desk onto his palms.
We watched silently as Neal backed up the footage until the rabbit was there in the corner of the screen and then he pushed play.
There was Julian, walking across the parking lot, but he wasn’t alone.
I crowded closer the screen, watching as a car drove up, idled beside him. We watched as he spoke to whoever was in the car, as the car doors opened and strangers got out, opened the rabbit’s door for him. There was a moment of hesitation.
“He’s explaining that the car won’t work unless he drives it,” Neal said.
“Who are they?” I asked, squinting closer. They all had hats or hoods on, their faces shrouded.
Neal shook his head. “No idea, but I have a guess.”
Julian got in the driver’s seat, and the strangers got in, too. He pulled off the curb and drove on.
“What is he doing?” I asked.
“They’re armed,” Neal said. He rewound the tape and sure enough — barely visible, or merely suggested through jackets and in pockets, they were all armed. But while I was looking for weapons, Neal was looking at Julian.
“There,” he said, tapping the screen. “Look.”
Julian had rolled the window down and was signing with one hand against the side of the car. I could barely see what it was with the video quality, but Neal knew. I could tell because he pushed off the desk and stormed out of the lobby without another word. All I could do was chase him.
“What was he saying?” I asked, skipping to keep pace.
“Allen,” Neal replied. “He was just spelling out Allen.” He stopped abruptly to breathe, his hands going into his hair. He said, very loudly, “FUCK.”
And that’s when the mounting anxiety became the sudden rush of cold and tingles and tight chest that meant impending panic attack.
“Neal?” I managed and he seemed to remember I was there.
He exhaled and forced a strained smile. He put his hands on my shoulders. “It’s okay,” he said. “We’re gonna find him.”
But he was definitely using a faking-calm-for-the-kids tone, and then he led me back to our room. Where else were we gonna go? Julian has the car.
After that it was a whole bunch of phone calls.
Neal started by calling Celeste, and to our immense relief, she picked up.
“What do you need?”
“Hi, I need to find the rabbit,” Neal said, ignoring her tone.
“Again?” Celeste said.
“Yeah,” Neal said. “Julian took it, but not um —” he broke off and I think that’s when Celeste realized there was something really wrong.
“Where are you?” she asked in a different tone, and Neal filled her in briskly. She told him she’d call him back with the information and Neal hung up.
“Now what?” I asked.
“I need you to make some phone calls, can you do that?”
I nodded, even though calling people is like… very low on the list of things I enjoy doing or am any good at.
“Call Beverly,” he said. “Call Lana, call the Silas Walther. Tell them everything we know, can you do that?”
I nodded again, even though the thought of trying to talk to Silas Walther on the phone is literally the worst thing I can think of.
“What are you gonna do?” I asked.
“I’m gonna get us a ride,” he replied, with a somewhat heavy sigh.
So I made those calls — it was awful because halfway into each of those conversations, they asked what they could do to help, but like I don’t fucking know what they could do to help, all Neal told me to do was tell everyone what was going on, so they were some really awkward phone calls.
And meanwhile, Neal called Jon Cooper.
I didn’t hear the conversation, because at the time I was trying to tell a somewhat frantic Beverly that Julian is missing and he has the car and we’re pretty sure he’s in trouble, but no there’s nothing really that she can do and we’re going to find him. But by the time we were done with all our calls, everyone had been informed and Cooper was on his way towards us.
The good thing about me not having had my shit together Friday night is that we drove several hours towards Cosima, and then several hours the other direction back towards Hedgewood hospital, so we were literally only an hour and a half out from Cooper, so by the time Celeste was able to call us back with the rabbits current location, Cooper was almost there.
And that’s how I’m writing this from the back of Jon Cooper’s fancy black SUV.
Honestly, it shouldn’t have been this simple. Cooper didn’t even stop the car, he called us from the motel parking lot.
We threw our bags — our bags, and Julian’s — into the back of the car and then Neal climbed into the passenger.
“I really appreciate this,” he said.
“It’s no problem,” Cooper said, easily. Then he added, “Shiloh, there’s water in the back, grab a few, will you?” And then while I passed the drinks forward, Cooper went on: “What kind of situation are we looking at? I brought some uh — some weapons, just in case we need to get armed up, but —”
“Listen,” Neal interrupted. “I’m only asking for a ride. You don’t owe us anything.”
Cooper shrugged. “Is Julian in danger?”
Neal hesitated. Then he said, “yeah, I think so.”
“Then we’ll go get him,” Cooper replied.
Just like that.
“But,” Cooper added, “I’m gonna need you to tell me what’s going on, because I owe you one for that Belsavic situation, but I’m not trying to get caught up in anything —” he hesitated, looking for a way to say that he was out if we’re the criminals in the mess we’re in. He settled on, “petty.”
Neal exhaled a helpless, exhausted, somewhat hysterical giggle. Then he explained. He explained everything, including the details of their dog saint powers, which was why Julian might have become a target.
Cooper listened to and accepted all of this calmly. Then he said, “Okay. We’ll find him.” And that was that.
We’ve been in Cooper’s car for two days now. Celeste keeps us up to date with where the Rabbit is.
Neal asked if I wanted to go on to Hedgewood, but it can wait.
The Allens have gone totally radio silent. They’re not answering calls from anyone, not even the Walthers — and they’re not the only ones. It’s been deafening silence from anyone at all connected to Billy Ace.
Yesterday afternoon, Valerie Scelerat called to ask Neal if he knew anything about why they were getting packages with various hunters papers in them.
“Yesterday we got all Ray Steward’s aliases — all his IDs, all his passports, all his credit cards,” she said. “And that’s alright, makes our job a little easier. But he’s far from the first lately, and we’re starting to get a little worried, is all.”
Neal is trying to keep it together for my sake, but he’s hanging on by a thread. He’s not eating, he’s barely sleeping. He’s pale and reserved and a thousand miles away.
He’s put a hard ban on reassuring words. We’re all scared, and he can hear any doubt behind our hopeful comments.
We just drive and hope that whoever calls next has good news.
Nothing feels real. We can all feel the future waiting for us, gnashing its teeth.