Leaving the station house with Archibald without taking Ruby's car bugged me, but in the end it didn't matter, since the ass didn't bother asking me how I'd gotten to the station house, but simply assumed I'd go with him. I didn't follow. I stood in front of the jail and wondered how long it would take for him to notice that I wasn't behind him. The answer was that he turned the corner onto another street, and had yet to look to see if I was trailing him. I went the opposite direction and ducked into an alley.
It was nearly dawn; none of the bars were open, and I wasn't going to wander stupidly around that questionable neighborhood in downtown San Diego. There were more than a few homeless folk wandering with their shopping carts and talking into cell phones. The homeless had quickly adapted to faking phone calls to avoid being picked up and put in short term mental health hospitals. I waited a full ten minutes and then went the long way around to retrieve Ruby's car.
After carefully checking my mirrors for anybody following me, I drove back slowly to my erratic friend's home in one of the older sections of San Diego. The neighborhoods were just coming awake, and there were people walking dogs, and others jogging up and down the hills, trying not to pass out with the stress of the steep hills and the dry air. It was fall, but the Santa Ana winds coming off the desert were making the static electricity generated by the winds pull all the moisture out of the air. With the Santa Ana winds there was this odd crackling to the very atmosphere I was breathing in, and it seemed to make the air feel alive.
It took me a while to feel safe enough to drive back to Ruby's, but once I was there and I couldn't see anyone behind me, I pulled into her driveway and went up to her front door. I knocked softy and she yanked it open and pulled me inside saying, "Goodness, Delilah, you are still alive!"
Biting back my instinctive, 'What, you wanted me dead?' automatic reply I said, "Sure am."
She looked at my blue scrubs and asked, "Where did you go? I thought you were heading to the jail. You look like you've been operating."
"In a way, I have," I said while closing the door behind me. The thick door kept the outside noises down and I felt my shoulders drop in relief. Once the volume dropped, I looked to Ruby and said, "Your town is totally screwed up, you know?"
She laughed and said, "Yes."
I was exhausted and starving. Not waiting for permission I went to the kitchen and began inhaling everything sealed in the fridge. Unopened water, cheese, some lunch meat in the original package and finding some eggs, I quickly made some microwaved scrambled eggs. If Ruby had bothered to inject something inside the egg ... at that point I didn't care.
Once fortified, I answered the tons of questions she asked. I didn't have a cell phone, because that was deemed questionable by the cops and kept when I'd been somewhat reluctantly released, so I wasn't bothered by Archie, who by now was probably screaming my name coupled with obscenity-laced words. As far as I was concerned it totally served him right for leaving me inside jail for so long. Grabbing a container of bottled water, I sat back and waited for Ruby's reaction. She'd uncorked another bottle of wine and it was only a bit after seven in the morning.
"I can't believe you haven't contacted the committee yet!" Ruby fingered the stem of her now empty wine glass.
"Come on, Ruby, you think they'd be able to help? Hell, they still believe trolls are just misunderstood shifters with an ill deserved reputation for murder and mayhem." My disgust was plain for her to see.
"Add in that Archibald hates me. He didn't even try to find out if I was okay until after daybreak. Had I been in real trouble I'd be dead by now. I mean, really?" I waved off her offer of wine. I was happy to drain another bottle of chilled water. I tossed the empty into the blue can next to the sink. Even I knew how environmentally aware the state was, and didn't want Ruby to be fined for throwing a recyclable container into the common trash. She didn't strike me as the type to turn the bottles and cans into a recycle center for nickels and dimes given all the soda cans, wine bottles and empty water bottles already cluttering the blue trash can.
She growled and said, "Okay, I get it. Go to bed for a while and once you wake up we'll figure this mess out, all right?"
Nodding, I wasn't as sure, but I needed to sleep and get my focus back.
"Sounds great." With that I made my way back to the bedroom she'd let me take earlier. I was beyond exhausted. I stripped out of the baby blue scrubs and got in the shower and simply let the hot water pound me nearly senseless before I roused myself enough to wash my hair and scrub every inch of my body. I got out of the water and stumbled with sheer exhaustion. Not bothering to do much more than wring the water out of my hair and tousle it somewhat dry but closer to damp, I dropped the towels and fell into the bed.
* * *
Ruby's guestroom was utterly dark when I woke up. Not a bit of light filtered inside. I was disoriented as to what time it was, and once I put on a bedside lamp, I saw that there was an old-fashioned clock on the wall. Looking at the arms, I saw that the big hand pointed to the twelve and the smaller one the four. Given how well rested I was, it was possible that it was actually the following day, an early four a.m. But I wasn't frozen-aching from sleeping too long without moving, so I gathered it was probably four in the afternoon. I roused myself enough to dig through the clothes I'd brought with me; I had stuffed them into the small closet and dresser what seemed like a week ago, not a little over twenty-four hours. I tossed on some clothes and a pair of sandals. When in Rome -- the weather was still much nicer than fall on the East Coast, and I felt like it would be nice to relax for a minute or three.
At least until Archie figured out where I'd hid. Considering how long he left me in jail, I guessed that I had a week or so before he thought outside the box. The only thing worrying me was if Sam surfaced, how would he find me? My cell phone was lost to the property department of the jail, and I doubted I'd see anything even if Archie did his job and got out all my personal belongings. I wasn't holding my breath over that either.
Once I got into the kitchen I'd yet to see Ruby, but the niche near the front door was burning some incense. I was pretty sure she'd put a spell or two on, because I felt calm yet I could feel a pushing sensation in my chest -- like if Ruby didn't care for a visitor they'd be vomiting up their stomach lining. She was definitely using some heavy hitting spells.
Pulling open the fridge, I wasn't in the mood for eggs, but saw that Ruby had gone out during the day, and there were a wide variety of packaged meals from Trader Joe's and Sprouts, two of the more Southern-California-trendy health food stores. I smiled at the idea she went out of her way to make me feel safe. I guess my carefully choosing of snacks in the early morning hours hadn't been overlooked by Ruby.
I microwaved one of the dishes, and soon was nibbling on a certified organic with no genetic mutant ingredients vegetarian something or other. It wasn't bad but my stress over Archie's leaving me in jail so long was still pushing at my last nerve. I recycled what I could and washed what I couldn't trash.
I found that Ruby actually had the local newspaper delivered, and it was on the coffee table opened and obviously read. Taking that as an invitation, I flipped through the San Diego Union Tribune. I didn't find anything of interest until nearly at the end of the local section. There was an article about some petty crimes and robberies that seemed to have escalated to more violent crimes. Nothing out of the ordinary for mid-sized cities. It was the article beneath about a vagrant who had been picked up for suspected murder and possibly a serial killer. I found it interesting that the paper had even reported the arrest. Usually Sam would scope out the papers and squelch such reports, but it seemed in my handler's absence good old Archie had skipped that important detail. Sam always told me that the Devil was in the details, and from what I saw, Archibald Roberts wasn't good at simple things like covering our asses. It didn't surprise me, but gave me further cause to forget how to phone home.
I heard a sound of something mechanical thumping through the house and I snatched up one of the nicely-honed filet knives in the wood block in the kitchen. Standing off to the side of the family room, I smelled her before I stabbed her. Ruby was home.
Spinning into the room, she laughed, saying, "Delilah, you are so funny!"
I dropped her knife and grinned, "Can't blame a girl, can you?"
She said, "Nope. You okay?"
"Mostly. Thanks for the room and board." I didn't go over the top thanking her for the sealed food, because she had killed a few to protect her ass recently, which resulted in her being exiled to the West Coast for a decade or more. She'd told me one thing, but I was pretty sure that Vermilion Court vampire blood running through her body -- that wasn't her own blood -- anything that sounded like an automatic response was quite possibly yet something added to her spirit. Aster Star had donated quite a bit of blood to my friend, and as she was the next contender to the vampire throne, her blood was far stronger than the average vamp.
Still laughing, she answered, "Okay, so I think you need a break. Want to take a walk?"
Shrugging I said, "Why not?"
I didn't have much more than some basic fake ID and a bit of money. With Archie on my trail I wasn't going to use a credit card, so I stuffed the ID and cash in my pocket and followed Ruby. The air had a bit of warmth in the wind, so I figured San Diego was still getting the Santa Ana wind. Some papers played the oddity up, because it wasn't always predictable and often there were more incidents of road rage and violence. I could understand that; I was tense already and the air was crackling.
As we trailed down the hill I asked, "Do you have a disposable cell with you?"
"Of course," she said, and pulled out two phones from her purse. "Cricket's latest low level phone and some pay as you go sort from Walmart. Both are clean. After I didn't hear from you last night, I picked up a few items."
Nodding, I grabbed the Cricket phone then I took a pause in our hike and dialed Sam's home phone from memory. I knew he never answered but let all his calls go to voice message. I left him one he'd understand. "Hey, Sam. Sorry I missed you on the Left Coast. Hanging out and enjoying the fun in the sun. I'll check in tomorrow."
It wasn't anything that I'd done that would be on the Amber Consulting Firm list of codes because it wasn't. Sam and I had long ago decided when one of us was in trouble to leave a message on our home answering machines. That was the code. It meant that we'd been compromised. My saying tomorrow meant no more calls until one of us could reach the other on our cells or physically find each other. I'd go to my cell provider and report mine stolen tomorrow, and get a new phone with same number. It took time, but with the dark talents that surrounded us it was the only choice.