We finally caught up with the rabbit today.
It was miles off the main highway, abandoned on the side of the road, it’s nose dipping into a ditch. It was dark so the car swam up at the end of our headlights.
I knew it was abandoned at only a glance, but we all sat frozen in Cooper’s car, watching.
Neal looked stricken, his expression vacant. He got out of the car slowly.
We’ve been zig-zagging across the country chasing this fucking car, and now here it is. It looked weird and unfamiliar on the side of the road like that. It’s been home for a full year but abandoned there like that it just looked cold and moldy.
Neal opened the door and climbed into the driver’s seat, so I got into the passenger. The seat was cold, almost damp. The rearview mirror was askew.
I watched as Neal put his hands slowly on the steering wheel as if uncertain it was real. The keys were in the ignition. My feet crunched on a BBQ chip bag on the floor, but Julian hates BBQ chips.
Maybe it was the chips that finally got him, but Neal finally had the breakdown I’ve been waiting for. It was actually kind of a relief to see him finally blow up and flail and hit the steering wheel because he’s been simmering for days. I knew what Cara would have done — she’d have climbed into his lap and made him stop beating up the car, but I’m not brave enough to do that so instead I screamed at the dashboard and hit the ceiling and kicked the glove compartment in solidarity until we’d exhausted ourselves. We sat staring out the windshield, limp, chests heaving.
“What do we now?” I asked, breathless.
He shook his head. “I don’t know.”
We sat there, defeated, for maybe three minutes. And then the phone rang.
It was Bass. “Hey,” he said. “You left the highway.”
“What?” Neal said.
“You left the highway, did you find the rabbit?”
Neal and I both did a double take I think. “What?” Neal repeated.
“Look, I’m really sorry, I didn’t catch it at first, but I think they ditched the rabbit, and now I’m not totally certain where they’ve gone,” he went on, as if we should know what the fuck he was talking about. “I’ve still got them within a few hundred miles, right, they can’t go that fast, but it’s gonna take me a second to know where they are for certain.”
“Bass, what are you talking about?” Neal asked, but he was already starting the rabbit’s engine.
“I’ve been following your progress,” Bass said. “Didn’t they tell you? I’ve been on the phone with Celeste and Beverly every hour for like four days.”
I felt like someone had poured a bucket of warm water on my head; it felt nice but totally unexpected.
“Whoever these guys are, their plates aren’t registered anywhere, so they’re not easy to trace,” Bass went on as if this wasn’t news to us. “But I’m still on it and I’ll keep you posted on whatever comes up. Did you find the rabbit?”
“You’re tracking them?” Neal said, slow to catch up.
“Yeah of course,” Bass said. “Bev said it was an emergency.”
Neal looked completely lost.
“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, no it is.”
Bass went on with more specifics: “We’ve got Knock and Daryl on track to meet you guys probably tomorrow morning, and the Kellihers were moving to head them off at the pass, before they ditched the rabbit.” He hesitated. “Look, I know it’s not the best news, but I had them at a gas station like six hours and Julian was for sure alive.”
Neal just sat there. He leaned his elbows onto the steering wheel, and pressed his eyes into his hands.
“Neal?” Bass said when the quiet had stretched. “Look, I know, I’m sorry I lost them —”
“Stop,” Neal said, slightly muffled. “You’re doing great.” His voice was a little rough. “I didn’t know —” he broke off and cleared his throat. “Bev didn’t tell me she’d called in the calvery. Sorry, you just have really good timing.”
Bass was quiet for a moment before saying, “I mean, what are we gonna do, let them kidnap Julian?”
Neal didn’t reply but I saw him smile. And then, when he turned to reach for the seatbelt, he froze.
“Hey Bass, I think I’ve got a lead,” he said. He gestured at me and I leaned around him to look closer — and there, scratched into the plastic behind the seatbelt, it said, RENO. Neal explained to Bass quickly, hung up, and shouted at Cooper through the window.
Neal called Beverly as soon as we were back on the highway.
“Everything okay?” she asked. She sounded harried, her voice a little scratchy with exhaustion.
“I just got off the phone with Bass.”
Beverly didn’t say anything for a moment. In the background I could hear groups of people talking loudly, and I heard something clatter nearby.
“Yeah, I called in the cavalry,” she finally admitted.
“You didn’t think to tell me?”
“I figured you have enough to deal with,” she said, and then after a moment, “This is the best I can do, alright? It’s taking everything I’ve got not to be out there on the road myself, but they need me here. There have been three other incidents like Julian’s this week — a perfectly innocent alchemist turned up dead yesterday, and —” she stopped. “Look, I just really need you to find him, okay? I’m sending out everyone I can spare, I just —” she broke off.
“We’ll find him,” Neal promised her.
“I know.” And then, after a moment, “Oh, and you were absolutely right about Celeste. I stand by everything I’ve ever said about her, she’s still a smug, haughty nightmare, but damn if she hasn’t been a god send these last few days.”
“Is she making you say that?” Neal asked and Bev laughed.
“I’ll never compliment her to her face, she’s smug enough,” she replied. And then after a moment, “are you okay?”
“No,” Neal replied.
“Nope,” I said loudly so she could hear me.
“We’ll find him,” Beverly said.
“Yep,” Neal agreed, and they hung up.
I feel… hopeful? I feel scared. I feel angry. I think, most confusingly, I feel fucking bored. The road is so fucking long. I feel like we haven’t seen another person on it in hours and hours, and all I can do is look out the windshield for taillights and hope they’re the one’s we’re looking for. Something bad is about to happen. I don’t know what yet, but it’s going to be a fight. I need it just be over — Neal’s like an exposed nerve, and I just miss Julian. I really miss him.
I swear to god if they’ve hurt one beautiful hair on his head