Fifty-Eight - Ira

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Three days after I mentioned Celestia to Thierry, he vanished from the safehouse. Linkin was the only one with the vaguest of clues of where he went, mentioning that Thierry told her the night before that he had some business to take care of. She and Stuart seemed to accept the explanation of Thierry having criminal things to do and couldn't be hanging around us all the time, but every time I saw Linkin alone, dread settled in my stomach. This wasn't meant to happen. I was sure that he set off to find Celestia on his own, the one thing that I repeatedly told him not to do, night after night out by the lake. He didn't even tell me that he'd found anything on Celestia before he took off.

Our existence slowly turned into a game of ignoring the fact that we had no idea what to do next, silently giving up on our plan to go back to Dell Island for the lack of any useful information. As careful as we could, we explored this small French town, figured out the best bakery and coffee, took walks on the beach with caps lowered past our eyebrows. I took my phone everywhere, even when I went to shoot by the lake by myself, just in case. Still, no Thierry. Not even Linkin could reach him.

I was woken up by my phone vibrating under my pillow one night, an annoyance to deal with after I could finally sleep. "Wait," I said when I picked up, then held the phone close to my thigh, fetched my gun, made it quietly downstairs in near-darkness, slipped on a coat, and opened the balcony door. "Yes?" I held the phone back up to my ear.

"I got her," Thierry said.

"Damn you, Thierry. We were supposed to be working together on this." I paused before adding, "Thank you."

"You want to come or not?" Thierry said in his usual grumble. "I can do this myself."

"Uh..." I didn't expect an invitation after his disappearing act. "Of course. Where are you?"

"I can arrange for someone to pick you up in fifteen minutes," he suggested.

"Sure," I said. I imagined Celestia bound and gagged in a room with Thierry and shuddered. "What do I tell Linkin and Stuart?"

He hesitated. "Tell them Thierry needed a good shot." I could have been wrong, but he sounded slightly proud. "They won't be happy with any explanation."

"No, but I'll be there."

"Ten past three. Wait outside the side door," Thierry said before hanging up. I quickly went upstairs, got dressed, and wrote a short explanation to stick to the top of the staircase. I was out the door by five past, and tugged the hood of my black hoodie up and felt the now-familiar shape of my handgun in my pocket.

The sedan slowly pulled up at 3:10am sharp with its headlights off. I could make out the bearded man behind the wheel who rolled down the window. "Qui?" I asked in my very broken French.

"Thierry," the driver replied. "Clare?"

I nodded, but he didn't give any indication to let me in. I fumbled for words. What would be Thierry's code without giving me away? "Eagle." The passenger door popped open.

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An anxious knot grew in my stomach on the drive to where Thierry was, and it was made even worse by the language barrier between the driver and me. I kept replaying the times on the surface of Dell Island when Celestia and I were still friends and thinking how perfect our new lives were going to be. I looked out of the window and there was nothing to distract me. The driver didn't say a thing when he stopped outside an abandoned building and unlocked the doors. With my insides clenched, I could only nod with gratitude.

There were no lights outside the building, nor could I see any from the inside that gave away Thierry's position. I knocked on the door doubtfully, but it swung open in my face in a matter of seconds.

"Finally," Thierry said. There was light further inside, but I couldn't hear anything. "You weren't followed?"

I shook my head. I'd been looking in the rear-view mirrors the entire trip here. Letting out a shaky breath, I asked, "You got anything so far?"

"She's quiet," Thierry said, leading me to where the light was. A single bulb floated above our heads, and there was a slumped body tied to a chair in the middle of the room. My heart hammered against my ribs, and I almost backed out of the building. The hostage lifted her head, the three-gill slits on either side of her neck clearly visible under the ceiling light. I noticed a scarf discarded to the side, far from where Celestia was.

"I'm alive," I said, tightening the grip on my gun. Taking a deep breath, I cocked my head to the side and let adrenaline turn a terrified Ira into a completely new person. "But you won't be if you don't cooperate."

"Ira." There was something different about Celestia's voice. I saw it in her dark eyes too. There was a strength. I would have been proud of her.

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