“Well,” I said, “it turned out that you could find uranium on Amazon, but they sold it in such small amounts that if you wanted to do anything interesting you’d have to buy a lot of it and I don’t think we really have the facilities for working with it anyway.”
I started to tell her exactly what sort of things I’d need to buy, but then I stopped, because sometimes I do notice when I’m telling people more than they’ll ever want to know.
“Tell you what,” Rachel said, “I’ll take the coats and leave you two here together. You’re putting them over there like last time, right?” She pointed toward a door on the wall across from us.
“That’s it,” Haley said.
I kept the guitar on my back.
“Are you going to carry it the whole time?”
“I know it looks weird, but that’s the only way I’ll have it with me if something happens.”
From the expression on her face, I could see she wasn’t happy about it, but she didn’t argue either.
“Do you think something might? It seems like he left and went to Chicago last week.”
“We’re only two hours away.” I shrugged.
“Let’s get some food and then I could introduce you to everybody. Maybe you could lean it against the wall someplace close while we’re talking.”
The next hour went quickly. I got food — a lot of it — and met people. I knew her parents already, but I met uncles and aunts and cousins. I noticed Travis as well as Marcus and his parents.
Travis was talking with Rachel next to one of the couches by the TV.
“Oh, that’s interesting,” Haley said when she saw where I was looking.
“Should I be seeing something I’m not?”
“They went out a couple years ago and then they broke up here. Loudly.”
“Huh. Here, as in at this party?”
“Two years ago exactly.”
I looked at them a little longer. They didn’t seem to be anything more than friends now.
I decided not to think about it any more because it would be really weird if they did start dating again.
A woman’s voice said, “Excuse me.” It sounded familiar though I couldn’t immediately place it.
“Sorry,” I said, moving away from the table. I’d been blocking access to the shrimp and some cookies that I didn’t recognize. Haley had told me the names, but they were in Italian and I didn’t remember them.
I did recognize the woman. I’d tried to sell her a subscription to Good Housekeeping not long ago.
As she took some shrimp, I realized that Marcus had been right after all. She really could pass as the Executioner. She’d have to hide her red hair, bind her breasts and maybe wear a costume with padding in the right places. She seemed a little short for a guy, but she could gain an inch or two with the right shoes…
She turned toward me, “Aren’t you the one who tried to sell me the magazines?”
“Uh, yeah. Sorry. I was helping a friend.”
“Helping friends. I’ve gotten into a lot of trouble that way myself. Where’s she?”
“Cassie’s with her mom. I think they’re somewhere in Indiana for Christmas.”
“Hi, Gena,” Haley said.
Gena said, “Hey, Haley.” To me she said, “Sorry about shouting at you. I got stressed out while I was cleaning out the cottage and being constantly, and I really mean constantly interrupted that day.”
“No problem. I gather people don’t like salesmen,” I said.
“Salesmen are okay. I’ve done sales. I’d been getting calls all day from work even though I’m on vacation. Pardon my french, but, fuck that, you know?”
“Yeah,” I nodded. “So what do you do?”
“I’m an administrative assistant. Sounds like they really do need me, especially when I’m not there.”
She talked about her job in some office in Chicago, men she’d dated and eventually walked off to talk to one of her neighbors.
More people had come in in the meantime. The place had gotten full. Haley ended up pulling me around to meet yet more of her relatives, most of whom were visiting from out of town. By the time another hour had passed I’d made a lot of small talk with people I barely knew, forgotten almost every name and face I’d been introduced to, and had begun to feel tired.
I put up with it because it was part of the plan.
First, before explaining the plan, two assumptions. The first assumption: Despite all that had gone on these last two weeks, the Executioner might show up anyway. The second: That leaving him (or her) alone would be the best idea, but if something did happen, we needed to have as many of us there as possible. Cassie, Daniel, and Vaughn were out because they’d never been there before and didn’t hang out with Haley or Travis socially. Everyone else had a reason to show up.
The plan was fairly pathetic. It went like this: If the Executioner did appear and started hurting people, we’d beat him into the ground. Meanwhile, Daniel, Cassie and Vaughn would find a way to get here if we couldn’t handle it.
As I said, it wasn’t a good plan, but it was all we had.
In the meantime, those of us who were inside were going to see if we could recognize the Executioner before he started killing people — which meant Haley and I had to look natural. For her, this meant introducing me to relatives until I wanted to scream.
All of which meant that when Haley’s mom called her into the kitchen to help, I felt relieved to stand by myself drinking punch and meditating on which of the barbecued chicken wings I intended to eat first.
I looked up from my plate to find Marcus next to me, holding his own plate of food. “So,” Marcus said, “do you still like us?”
“Just asking. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t my family. There are too many people and it’s too loud. Between the television, the stereo playing completely different music and people talking. It adds up. Also, you’re standing here alone.”
After checking to see if Haley was coming up behind me, I said, “Honestly, I like everybody, but a smaller crowd would be nice.”
Marcus nodded. Then he looked across the room. “Did you see anything suspicious yet?”
“No. Not really.”
“Me neither. Except, hey… Do you know those guys? They’re the first people I’ve seen that I don’t know at all.”
I followed his hand over to the buffet. A black man in his thirties and a white woman in her forties stood in the buffet line, the man wearing sweats, the woman a casual suit. The man talked and laughed with one of Haley’s uncles. The woman appeared to be checking over the whole room.
“Yeah,” I said, “I know them. The guy’s Agent Satterfield. The woman’s Agent Brecker, both of the FBI.”