Part 1 - Chapter 23 - The Escape

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I dreaded going back to classes. As the days rolled on, though, it turned out to be a blessing. The routine of school distracted me from dwelling on the horror show that had been my first mission. Except every night, when I closed my eyes to go to sleep, dead men's faces floated against the backs of my eyelids. I would never be the same. The best I could hope for was coming to terms with what had happened.

Still no news, good or bad, about Jacko. I wanted to believe he was alive and well, and I harbored an unreasonable notion that if something bad happened to him, I would somehow feel it. He was out there.

In the spring, before the end of my senior year, my eighteenth birthday came and went. I didn't want a party, and nobody offered to give me one.

Trent graduated at the top of our class. No surprise there. His chiraptophobia was getting better. He wasn't able to shake hands with his grandmother when she handed him his diploma, but he did allow her to lay a hand on the top of his shoulder.

Along with my diploma, Judge Severn handed me my release papers. Finally, I was now officially an ex-con.

Boone met with me in his office. I ended up in the ugly black leather chair again. I swore that someday I'd burn the thing.

"By now it should be no secret to you what this academy is all about," Boone said while sitting behind his desk. "Judge Severn has influence over lower court judges. Those judges screen accused adolescents for potential candidates to attend our academy. We evaluate all of our students and choose potential Heralds. Regardless of whether a student becomes a Herald, everyone receives a good education. After graduation, all students are released from their criminal sentences and have their records expunged. This provides them an opportunity to get on with their lives in a conventional way.

He grinned and said, "But you have an unconventional life ahead of you."

I yearned for a conventional life.

"It starts tomorrow," Boone said. "Be at a briefing at eleven a.m."

"Another mission?" I asked.

He extended a hand. "Welcome aboard, Sing, officially that is."

I shook his hand for what I figured was the last time. I hoped to never see this man again.

During the walk across campus to my apartment, I finalized my plan. My bank opened at nine. I was going to withdraw my entire twenty-thousand in cash and catch a bus out of Las Vegas. Destination: anywhere. I'd lay low for as long as my cash would hold out and find a job.

The only thing lacking in my plan was trying to figure out how to pick up Jacko's trail. That, I would have to deal with later.

When I reached the apartment complex, I found Grant unloading groceries from his car. He had a lot of bags. The Heralds had been gone for a couple weeks, I assumed on a mission. As much as I hated to admit it, I missed their company.

"Give me a hand, Sing," Grant said.

We walked to Larry's door. Since we both had our arms full with grocery bags, Grant gently kicked at the door instead of knocking.

Larry opened, his arm in a sling. "Thanks for shopping for me."

"What happened to you?" I asked Larry.

He glanced down at the sling. "I took one in the arm."

"Shot?"

"Yeah. Don't ever get shot, Sing. It hurts like hell."

"Is it serious?"

"I'm out of commission for a few months, but I'll be okay."

From behind me, a voice said, "Congratulations, Sing."

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