Simon glanced at me. I said sure. As we made our way to the front doors, the couple from Paul’s building noticed us. Expressions alarmed, they conferred. They followed us, the woman now on her cell phone, talking fast. I could catch snatches of the conversation, enough to know that we were indeed their targets . . . and now we were slipping from their grasp again. Whoever was on the other end must have said to pull back, because they stopped and watched us go.
The women drove a typical government vehicle—a plain midsized car with parking stickers for children’s services. When Simon saw those, he relaxed.
“It’s okay,” I murmured as they opened the doors. “The guys who’re after us?” I gestured to the corner of the building. “Back there.”
As we drove from the lot, we watched the couple, who watched us, the woman still on the phone, the man discreetly checking the government car’s license plate number.
“I’m actually not that hungry,” I said. “Can we just go to your office or whatever?”
“Of course.” Ms. Morris—in the passenger seat—smiled back at me. “We’ll order pizza while we get this—”
Her phone rang. She talked for a minute. I could hear both ends of the conversation this time. It was her office, telling her that the Albany police had handed us off permanently. We were to be taken back to where we started and turned over to Detective Fulbright.
“Do you want to stop to eat first?” she asked us after she explained the new plan.
“Can we grab something back home?” Simon said. “There’s a great pizza place there.”
She said that was fine, and her partner turned onto the road leading to the highway. I watched out the back window, but there was no sign of a black SUV or anyone following us. They’d backed off for now, probably figuring they knew where we were going—to the child services offices in Albany. We’d be safe . . . for a little while.
Ms. Morris asked us to tell our story again. Simon stuck to what he’d said to the cops in Albany, in case they checked. Ms. Morris said they’d make sure our local department launched a missing person’s case for our dad.
She called and asked for Detective Fulbright, but he was out with the rest of the force, on accident duty. While she was on the line, the desk sergeant told her not to bother bringing us in. The parents of the boy I’d thrown had decided not to file charges. The police would look after the missing person’s report, but we were now the responsibility of children’s services.
“Nice if they’d told us that before we headed out in this weather,” she said as she explained to her partner and us. “But as long as we’re almost there, we should stop by the house. You boys can pack bags and we’ll take a look around, see if we can’t figure out what happened to your dad.”
She said she was sure it was just a misunderstanding, but I could tell she didn’t believe that. I’m sure she’d seen single parents disappear before when they decided it was all too much for them.
“If we don’t figure this out tonight, is there anyone else we can call for you?” she asked. “I know Derek’s parents aren’t in the picture, and Simon, I’m guessing your mother . . .” She waited for him to fill in the blank.
“Took off when I was two,” Simon said. “I don’t remember her and we don’t have any contact with her. My dad doesn’t have any family around either. It’s just us.”
He glanced at me and mouthed, “Andrew?” but I shook my head. After what happened to Paul, I wasn’t getting Andrew involved in this.
“That’s fine,” Ms. Morris said. “We’ll take care of you until we find your dad.”
Our house had been ransacked. The child services women didn’t notice, because whoever had gone through our stuff had tried to cover his tracks. Being on the run, though, Dad had taught us to notice things that aren’t quite the way we left them.
We didn’t tell the women. We just looked around and made note of what had been touched. Mainly stuff in Dad’s office. They’d checked out the desk in our room, too. What did they expect to find? Dear Diary, Dad gave me a list of places to hide in case he ever disappears. Here they are so I don’t forget them.
The women had us pack our bags. They said they didn’t expect we’d be gone long, but we should take as much as we wanted, so we’d be comfortable in the group home. That’s where we were going. They expected the move to be temporary, so they weren’t looking into foster care, presuming we’d be happier in a group home, since it meant we’d be together. We said yes—we didn’t care where we went, just as long as we weren’t split up.
We were almost finished packing when Ms. Morris got another call. I didn’t hear much, just a word that made my gut freeze.
“Shit.” Simon took a deep breath. “Okay, let me handle—”
“Boys?” Ms. Morris came into our room, looking confused and concerned. “I just got a call from our main office. They were checking your file and pulled up one with similar names. For boys exactly your ages. Simon Bae and Derek Souza.”
“They lived in Buffalo ten years ago, then disappeared.” She paused. “The department thinks they’re you two.”
“Buffalo?” He frowned. “We’ve lived a lot of places, but I don’t remember Buffalo. Don’t remember those names, either.”
“You’d have been quite young.”
“So if that’s us . . .” He frowned, then burst into a grin and elbowed me. “Maybe we’re part of the witness protection program. That’d be cool, wouldn’t—?”
He stopped. His expression changed to worry. I kept my face blank. My acting skills were nowhere near his, so I always let him take center stage.
He turned to Ms. Morris. “If we were in the witness protection program, would that mean Dad . . .?” He swallowed. “Is Dad in trouble? He’s a lawyer and he can have some scary clients . . .”
Ms. Morris put her hand on his shoulder. “I’m sure it has nothing to do with your dad. It could just be a clerical error. We’ll investigate. In the meantime, they want us to take you to a group home in Buffalo, so they can sort all this out.” She managed a weak smile. “It’s going to be a long night, boys. We won’t have time to stop and eat, but we’ll pick up dinner on the way, okay?”
We said it was. What else could we say? We finished packing and headed back to the city we’d left ten years ago. Buffalo.
Simon slept in the car for a couple of hours after we ate. I didn’t. I kept thinking about whether this was the right thing to do. Should I have tried harder to escape? The more I thought about it, the more I knew what Dad would have said. Take refuge with humans until he found us.
And if he didn’t find us? I wouldn’t think about that yet. For now, a group home was the safest place for Simon. And, maybe, the safest place for me. They’d have counselors there. I couldn’t tell them that I was a werewolf, but maybe they could help me make sure the wolf never hurt anyone again.
When we got to Buffalo, it was past midnight. Ms. Morris had taken a bunch of calls from her supervisor, trying to find a place for us. Finally, when we were in the city, she had an address.
We drove for about another fifteen minutes, then headed into an older area of town. Finally, we turned into the driveway of a big two-story house. White with yellow trim. A light blazed in the front window. The porch lights flicked on and the front door opened.
Ms. Morris twisted to face us. Simon was awake now, quiet, just looking around.
“We have a shortage of spaces in Buffalo,” she said. “Keeping you two together is important, I know. This is a new home, one that hasn’t even officially opened yet. You’ll have it all to yourselves for now. Sound good?”
A woman stepped onto the front porch. Short, gray-haired, chubby. She looked like someone’s grandmother.
“And there’s Mrs. Talbot,” Ms. Morris said. “All ready for you. Let’s get you boys out of the car and into the house. I’m sure you’re exhausted.”
We grabbed our bags from the trunk and trudged to the front door. Another woman appeared behind the first—younger, thinner, watching us carefully.
“Welcome to Lyle House, boys,” she said.
“We have to get out,” I whispered. “Find an exit. Any exit. Then whistle, but softly. I’ll hear you.”
Simon, Rachelle and Chloe ran in different directions. We had to search the factory before Dr. Davidoff and his armed gunmen found us.
Why was the director of our group home chasing us with armed gunmen? I had no idea, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to stop to ask.
As the others ran off, I tried not to wince at the amount of noise they made. Davidoff and his guys would find us for sure. All they had to do was stop and listen.
Damn it, this shouldn’t have happened. And it wouldn’t have happened if Chloe had stuck to the plan. Sure, the reason she hadn’t stuck to it was because I’d disappeared just as we’d been about to escape, and she’d found me in the middle of my first Change into a werewolf. Before we could run, the group home’s psychiatrist, Dr. Gill, had spotted us.
Chloe had stayed behind to search for me because she knew my brother Simon wouldn’t leave otherwise, and she knew it was more important that he get away because he was the one who could find our dad, and get everyone out of Lyle House.
So I suppose, if I was being generous, I should say she did the smart thing. I could say she did the brave thing. I could say she’d done the decent thing. But I wasn’t feeling generous.