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(Catch up, here)

Grampy puts Barrett’s cell phone on speaker. Gene’s voice is more high-pitched than I imagined. Almost whiny. Pompous. “Knew it was only a matter of time before I heard from you,” Gene says, nasally. “Yeah, well…” Grampy trails off. “Heard you retired.” “News to me. Listen—” “You need my help, I know. That’s the only time anyone ever calls me.” He sounds a bit bitter, I note. “Look, the word on the street is that your little granddaughter was sent to bring you in. She there with you?” “I’m here,” I growl. I don’t like where he’s going with this. “Listen, Gene,” Barrett says. “Everything’s out in the open on this end, so it won’t do you any good to try and stir up trouble.” His protective stance surprises me. “Of course not,” he says. “Wouldn’t dream of it. The point I’m trying to get across is that the organization knows she’s there with you. She’s half-way done with her assignment, and they’re getting’ nervous that she hasn’t checked in yet. If they start to think she’s gone rogue, bad things are gonna happen.” He’s right, dang it, and I don’t like it. “I’m not due to check in until tomorrow,” I say. “Only if you haven’t found Abel by then. But they know you have. Once an assignment’s been completed, there are new rules. You may be new to the organization, but you know the rules as well as your grand-pappy does.” “I really don’t like this guy,” I say in a stage whisper. “Join the club,” Gene says. “I think they meet on Tuesday’s.” “It’s Wednesday’s now, we changed the day. Conflicted with bridge.” “Ha ha ha, very funny.” Grampy winks at me. “From what I understand,” Barrett says, crossing his arms across his chest; they double in size. “You have to help us and can’t notify the organization that you’ve been in contact with us, correct?” There’s a pause before he answers. “Yes.” He doesn’t sound happy about it. I want to know what would stop him. It’s almost like there’s a spell or something. But I know that can’t be the case. Anyway, now’s not the time to start opening a new can of worms. “Then how are you going to help us?” Barrett asks. “You mean, how is June going to help us?” “What?” I sputter. “This is only going to work if June takes care of this. This is your problem to begin with. They’re only going to back off if you’re the one to meet them.” “Meet them?!” Grampy roars. “Out of the question. Absolutely not.” “And it has to be alone,” Gene says. “Alone?” Ruthy says. “That’s not a smart—” “I’ll do it,” I say over the clamor that’s erupted. Everyone silences. “I made the mess, I’ll clean it up.” “That’s right,” Gene says. Grampy doesn’t argue, but I know him well enough to see that he’s upset with my choice. “What do I have to do?” “Call them. Set up a time to meet them. Tell them you’re having difficulty locating Abel, that he got a decent head start on you, but that you think your getting close. Updating them in person will give them more confidence that you’re not trying to pull one over on them.” “And what if it doesn’t?” Grampy asks. I imagine myself as a strong, lone tower in the middle of a snowfield. Everything is silent and cold. If things go wrong, I’ll be all alone.

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