“She’s not,” Travis said.
Rod raised an eyebrow. “How do you know?”
“Remember when she was negotiating how much the Blue Leader’s cut would be? I could hear both sides of the conversation. She’s running off to meet the guy now, and then they’re coming back here. The place might be bugged, but she doesn’t have time to pay attention to us now.”
Travis gave everyone a confident smile. “Now we’ve just got to figure how we’ll escape.”
Tara turned away from the wall to say, “But how? She took everything that might help.”
Still sounding confident, Travis said, “I don’t know, but this is our best chance. The League’s been in worse situations than this, and survived. I’m sure you have too. I’m sure if we keep our minds on the goal, we’ll get out.”
And right there, that was the football player coming out. I’d heard him with his team, oh, dozens of times it seemed like while we were together, and he’d sounded exactly like that.
I’d loved that about him—everything sounded possible. It wasn’t always true, but believing it could only help.
I looked over at Samita. “You said you could do something if you had your equipment. What?”
Samita looked up from the floor. “If I had my chalk, I could put up a protective circle.”
Travis nodded approvingly. “That’s what I’m looking for. Do you have to have chalk?”
Samita didn’t say anything for a second, but then said, “No. I could use anything that leaves a mark.”
Travis held up one hand, and watched as it turned grayish. His fingernails grew, and turned milky white.
“What about if you told me how but I drew it?”
Samita shook her head. “I have to. You won’t be able to do it right.”
Travis’ expression tightened, but he only said, “Are you sure about that?”
Samita didn’t do nearly as good a job of hiding her frustration when she said, “Yes.”
“OK. I’m not trying to push. Just trying to get us over the hump here.”
Samita didn’t say anything.
Travis looked over at me. Yeah. As if I had any ideas. Okay, I had plenty of ideas, but none of them were going to help us disarm a bomb—not to mention bombs plural. Especially if I didn’t know where they were.
I said, “I feel like we’re going in circles. We can’t try anything because we don’t know anything. We don’t know anything because we don’t dare try anything. I should phase out and find out what happens. The room might not blow up.”
“And it might,” Travis said, “How are we going to handle that?”
“I don’t know. If you can hear a hint of it, maybe you and Rod could jump through the walls backwards, so Samita and Tara don’t get hurt?”
Travis didn’t say anything. Then, “I was hoping for something a little less desperate.”
“I don’t know if you noticed, but desperate is all we’ve got right now.”
Travis exhaled, and put his hand to his chin, sitting and thinking.
I couldn’t complain. I got it. I’d just proposed something that might kill half the group—not including me, but maybe including him. You didn’t do that casually. I didn’t really want him to.
I might have sat down myself then, except that I happened to put my hand in my jacket’s pocket. I didn’t, as it happened, find a ring of invisibility (and what a relief because that would have been completely useless).
Instead I found something wrapped in plastic. I pulled it out. It was a fortune cookie.
I hadn’t taken any of the fortune cookies that came with the bill. I knew that because I haven’t liked them since I was, I don’t know, thirteen? For one thing, they’re about as Chinese as I am, and for another, they’re almost all sugar.
I unwrapped it, broke the cookie open, and ate it. It was just as sugary as I remembered.
I read the fortune. In red letters, it said, “You are your own best help.”
The other side informed me that my lucky number was 42.
It was highly anti-climactic. I’d half expected to find something useful in the cookie. It was possible after all, that the lion statue had slipped it into my pocket, but if that were true, he’d given me the wrong cookie. I’d gotten the regular cookie instead of the obliquely-insightful-if-you-looked-at-it-sideways cookie.
I threw the fortune in the bucket in the corner of the room. None of us had used it for the intended purpose.
Looking away from the bucket, I noticed the door, and I realized something.
Julie wouldn’t want to blow herself up. She’d have to turn the bombs off before she came into the room. The only question was how soon.
I crossed the room, and sat down. I pulled my jacket off, and pulled it partly over my head as if I were trying to block out the light. Then I put my fingers in my ears.
So, maybe I should have told everybody to do the same thing, but if she had any cameras in the room, Julie would notice.
Travis gave me a look, his expression carefully blank. He’d noticed.
It wasn’t more than ten minutes before she came back, and that was good, because keeping your fingers in your ears for more than a few minutes gets old quickly.
I’d taken them out for a second when Travis said, “She’s opening the door in the alley.”
I put them back in, creating the best seal I could.
Not long after, Julie started saying something to all of us in the room. I don’t know what. I couldn’t understand it, but, that didn’t stop me from feeling strangely relaxed when she spoke.
I wondered for a second why I had my fingers in my ears, but then I remembered.
I sat there, and I might have sat longer, still wondering when I should start to do something, but she didn’t let me.
Julie said something, and then everyone started walking toward me.
I phased backward through the wall.