The ride back to the house was so much more enjoyable than the ride there. At least for Quinn. With her winning tucked firmly into her jacket, and her companion’s arm around her waist, she felt powerful. Her concerns from earlier had been confirmed. The sky had already lightened significantly by the time they got out of The Parlor.
They reached the Safehouse, and parked the bike. Quinn put the money in the lockbox.
“Holy cow. How much are you at now?”
“Wow. What do you need all that money for?”
Another crossroads of honesty. But she had come this far by being open. Why not go further? So many people to lie to. It genuinely felt good to have one less.
“Two reasons. Firstly, to be able to get out of Oceanview once I graduate. Second, to pay Father back for letting me stay here, free of charge.”
Kaye looked so touched, upon hearing that. “That’s so sweet! I bet your parents would be proud.”
“No such animal,” Quinn replied without thinking about it. Then she turned white. What had she done?! That was a huge thing to divulge and she did so without thinking!
Her roommate looked shocked. “What do you mean, ‘no such animal’?”
“I…it’s nothing. Just ignore it.” She turned to start heading out.
She grabbed her arm. “Talk to me, Quinn! Why can’t you trust me?!”
Visibly shaking, her mind was moving so fast that the thoughts just tumbled over themselves and got lost in translation. Nothing coherent came through.
“Because I’m afraid to talk about it.”
“Because if I talk about it, it’s real. And then I have to talk about other stuff. Once that gets started, I don’t know where it stops. I’m scared, Kaye.” No lie anywhere in that. The concept of coming totally clean was absolutely terrifying.
Putting her arms around her waist, Kaye hugged her. “You don’t have to tell me everything. Just the stuff you’re comfortable with. I promise, I won’t ask for more than that.”
Looking up at her. “You mean it?”
“Yes. Just tell me what you are okay with telling me.”
Quinn looked outside. The sun would be rising soon. At this point, it would be better to just wait out the dawn and then returning when the gate opened. She’d done it before.
“Okay.” Leaning against the wall, she slid down to the floor.
Kaye came over and sat down next to her, putting her hand on her arm.
“So far as I know, there are no parents. I mean, I don’t think I was born in a test tube or something, but they looked far and wide for my parents after Father found me. Never found any. Now he’s my legal guardian.”
“You mean Father McCormick?”
“Yeah. The closest thing I have to a parent.”
“How did you meet?”
The fear bit at her. “I’ll tell you, some other time. Not right now.”
Kaye nodded. “Okay. Whenever you’re ready.”
“Thanks. It’s hard to talk about this stuff.”
She leaned her head next to Quinn’s. “I bet. Can’t imagine what it’s like. Being an orphan.”
“It’s so hard sometimes. Never have anywhere to go on holiday break. No one sending me letters asking how I am. Then they all look down on me because they think I’m poor. But you know what, I’d rather they look down on me than pity me. The idea of being seen as some charity case by those girls pisses me right the fuck off. All those fucking…” She stopped as she saw Kaye wince at the language. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay. Just not used to having someone around who swears. That’s all. Growing up, my parents would have washed my mouth out with soap if I had talked like that.”
“They actually went the distance with that? Not some vague threat?”
“Oh no! My dad is Navy. We grew up with VERY strict discipline. You act out, you get punished. No exceptions.”
“It’s not so bad,” Kaye replied, shrugging. “I know he cares about me siblings and I.”
“How many siblings you got?”
“Two. A brother and a sister.”
Finally it occurred to Quinn how you she was having a granola conversation with someone, getting to know them. Who was she? Despite herself, she couldn’t help but notice how warm her companion was. After a night of poker, up against one of the most skilled opponents she had had in a long time, she was exhausted. Very quickly, she felt consciousness leaving her.
“Pay attention, Quinn!” the woman shouted. Towering above her, with her brown hair tied back in a perfect military bun, she struck and imposing figure. The little girl in front of her cowered.
“This is important information! Now, who can tell me how the Treaty of Versailles contributed to the beginning of the Second World War?” She turned to face Quinn. “Perhaps you can be so kind to answer, Quinndolyn, as you were so eager to pay attention!”
Getting some of her air of defiance, she stood up. “It destroyed the German economy through the War Guilt Clause. They lost all of their colonies, along with a manufacturing territory and Saarland to France. Poland was given sea access that split Germany in two. The Treaty also took away Germany’s ability to arm their soldiers. This caused a far-right party to grow, along with armed militias that undermined the weak government.”
“What other event assisted the rise of the Nazi regime?”
“The Burning of the Reichstag. It became a rallying cry against the Allies.”
Clearly she was annoyed at the fact that her student had actually had the right answer.
“I guess you do actually listen, instead of staring at the wall.”
There were no windows in this place. It was deemed that distraction would be detrimental to the students. No artwork of any kind was hung in the hallways. Nothing that could take away from the classroom. The art prodigies had their own section. They had windows. To take in the beauty that they would then capture in their artwork. None of which she ever saw.
No, Quinn was part of the group who studied strategy, mathematics, history, and things of that nature. For what reason? She didn’t understand anything about this place. Just that they were on an island and there was no escape. Not for lack of trying.
Sitting back down, the teacher continued with her lesson. There was a small noise as something hit her desk. Looking down, she saw something folded up like a paper football. Unfolding it, there was a message – nice answer! It came from a boy with black hair. He always looked like he was too cool for this place, even in their white shirt and pants that was the uniform. What was his name? She tried to remember, but nothing came to her. There was something else that came to her. He wasn’t just a friend. He was also a comrade. There was a plan. What was it? Why couldn’t she remember? Just then, a whack on her head.
“Pay attention, Quinn!” The world started slipping away.
Her eyes opened with a start. Sunlight was pouring in through the tattered curtains. The two girls was leaning against each other. Kaye was so warm. Another dream. It scared her. What was that place? Who was the boy? There had been a couple now. They were so vivid, like a memory she didn’t want back, forcing its way into her subconscious. Who was she? Then it occurred to her about the time. It was definitely time they got back to the Academy.
“Kaye, wake up.”
Making this little noise, her eyes opened. “What time is it?”
Looking at her watch. “It’s noon.”
“Oh crap! Is that bad?! How will we get back in now?!”
Quinn chuckled. “It’s okay. I’ve done it before. Truth is, you being here makes this easier.”
Kaye cocked her head to the side. “Why?”
“Because now I have a cover story – you’re trying to get me in shape. It’s believable.”
Her friend smiled. “You had this figured out before you went to sleep, didn’t you?”
“Yeah. I always have a plan.”
Giving her a wicked look. “Always. Would be a bad gambler if I didn’t.”
She gave her a shove. “You’re bad.”
“I’ll take bad.”
The two giggled, getting up.
“So, we just walk in through the front gate?”
Quinn nodded. “Yup. Walk right in, with me looking sufficiently miserable. Given that we’re gonna have to walk uphill on the road, I doubt it will be acting.” She motioned for them to get moving.
“Hey Quinn,” her friend called out behind her.
“Thanks again, for last night. That was awesome. It was great to watch you work.”
Another warm feeling inside. “You’re welcome. Let’s go.”
Detectives Williams and Xiong got to the Academy. They parked Williams’ car at guest parking. He figured that perhaps it was best to take an approach that wasn’t completely direct, but close enough. Father McCormick had found the girl, and was her legal guardian. Perhaps he could shed some light on who she is. They knew that if they went at him with the angle of her being connected to the woman who was murdered, he would lock down.
“So, what’s the play?” Meng asked.
“We’re following up on some things, still trying to find parents for the girl. Keep it light.”
This campus was pretty fantastic. Fall was in full, with the colors on the trees changing. Reds, yellows, oranges, as far as the eye could see. Buildings made of stone and red brick. The fence had the look of an old Victorian manor. This was quite the setup. A church at the center of it all, with stained glass windows and a beautiful wooden door.
Heading into the administrative building, the two walked right up to a rather charming young woman who was sitting at the desk.
“Hello there!” she said, rather perky. “Welcome to the Oceanview Academy of St. Galentine. How can we help you?”
“Hello. My name is Detective Michael Williams, this is my partner, Detective Meng Xiong. We were wondering if we could speak with Father McCormick.”
The girl got a worried look. “Oh dear. Did something happen?”
“Oh no. Nothing like that. We’re looking into an old case involving a student, and we wanted to see if he could give us any additional information.”
She got much more relaxed, nodding. “Okay. I don’t see that he has anything scheduled, so let me see if he’s in his office.”
The two took a seat.
The young lady walked back to Father McCormick’s office.
“Father?” she asked, knocking.
“I have a couple Detectives here. They were wanting to talk with you about an old case?”
Immediately he felt nervous. So little happened in this town, and even less of it involved his students. Had the day finally come where they came back to ask about Quinn?
“Alright. Show them in.”
In a locked drawer of his desk, he still had the dog-tags and gun that he found on her. Nobody knew about it. Not even Quinn. He didn’t want her to have to know about this. Every time he asked if she remembered anything, she said no. It was an awkward conversation point, so he didn’t press it. After two years, that girl was as close to family as he would likely ever have. Given how she acted around him, he liked to think the feeling was mutual. They’d never had a really in-depth conversation about it, but that’s what he liked to think.
In walked his secretary, along with the Detectives. One was an older man, with a look of having walked the hard path in life. The second was a younger man, Asian, who looked similarly having been through a battleground.
He walked over. “Hi there. My name is Father McCormick. And you are?”
The first man held out his hand. “I’m Detective Williams.”
Second man held out his hand as well. “I’m Detective Xiong.”
Motioned for them to take a seat by his desk. “Please, have a seat. Can my secretary bring you anything?”
“No, I’m fine.”
“Nothing for me either, thank you.”
Taking a seat, he felt his pulse quicken. “So, how can I help you today?”
Williams sat back, looking at ease. Best to exude that this is casual.
“We’re doing a little following up on an old case of ours. Nothing serious. It’s to do with one of your students – Quinn Pierce. Seeing how she’s doing. We’ve looked everywhere we could think to find her parents, but nothing’s turned up. We know your policy in terms of students interacting with law enforcement, and we definitely don’t want to ruffle anyone’s feathers. So we figured we’d talk to you, as you’re her guardian.”
Father McCormick nodded. “Of course. Anything I can do to help.”
“We appreciate that.”
Xiong pulled out a writing pad and pencil.
“So, when we spoke with Ms. Pierce back when she first was found on the shore, she claimed amnesia. Any changes with that?”
He shook his head. “No, none. I ask her fairly regularly, but she claims nothing has come back.”
Williams nodded. “I understand. How is she doing? Any problems?”
The Father let out a sigh. “Well, it’s tough, being in high school. Some of the girls are not especially nice. Her scores are at the top of her class. Every subject. Save PE, of course. She’s a little too frail for her own good.”
Interesting. Frail, smart. “Lots of friends?”
He shook his head. “No. For a while, it looked like she wouldn’t have any, but she’s gotten quite close with her new roommate and a classmate of hers. Makes me happy. Worried a bit. It’s not good for a girl to be in school and be alone.”
Feeling confident that they had breached the topic with enough questions out of “concern,” Williams decided to poke a little harder.
“I totally understand. There is something I had been wanting to ask about, Father – when you found Quinn outside the school, was she found with anything?”
“Anything we could use to identify her. A wallet, pictures, objects of any kind? We’ve been coming up empty, mostly because we have nothing that could give us a clue where to look. It’s like going line fishing in the open ocean at this point. We’re looking for some way to narrow the field of view.”
Now Father McCormick was in an awkward spot. He did his best not to show it, but if the police really were trying to help, would it be for the best? The mark on her shoulder, the dog tags. Was that something they needed to know? What about the gun? But then, if Quinn had done something horrible, would she be prosecuted? And if whatever organization was associated with that brand came looking for her and tried to take her away, could he stop them? No one who does that to a child is someone you can trust. What could he tell them?
“Nothing that I can think of, officer. Just her in the clothes we found her in.”
Williams looked hard at the man, then changed gears. “Alright then.” He reached into his jacket and pulled out a card. “If you have any further information, please feel free to call.”
He nodded. “Of course, Detective.”
“Thank you for your time.”
They shook hands, and the two Detectives left. Father McCormick sat back down at the chair of his desk, looking at the card. His mind was awash. So many ugly questions in the back of his mind. What was the right thing to do? If he told them about the gun, she could get arrested. He genuinely believed she didn’t remember who she was or where she came from. Whatever horrible thing had gotten her to his school, it wasn’t something she wanted to remember. Why should she go into a prison cell because of something she has no memory of? A gray cloud was gathering over the Academy, and Father McCormick couldn’t shake the feeling that this was just the beginning.
Williams was walking with determination.
“So, what do you think?” Xiong asked.
“I think that man was lying through his teeth,” he replied.
“But we have no proof. So we can’t get a warrant to search the place.”
“So what’s the next step?”
Getting to his car, he unlocked it and stepped inside. “The next step has two parts. First, we need to get that girl into our office and talk with her. There’s more to this story, and she’s the key. But we can’t do that without something to get her there.”
His partner frowned. “Think we could scare her into talking to us?”
“Maybe, but the problem with that is that if it doesn’t work, she’s gonna go to the Father and we will hit a brick wall. It may be worth our time to see if we can get her there willingly. Exactly how we do that is something I have to think about.”
Meng nodded. “What’s the second part?”
“The second part is finding out what the symbol pertains to. The trident doesn’t look like your average trident symbol you see. It has that ugly modern design. Sharp angles and pointed. Plus, the pointy end starts closer to the middle. That’s unique. If we can find out who that symbol is associated with, we may be able to get in touch with them. From there, we can learn a great deal.” Thinking back on the initial investigation, their attempts to figure out what the symbol was in reference to didn’t lead much of anywhere. But it was a half-hearted effort. Williams was sure that unless they found a weapon or someone tied to the killing, it wouldn’t matter. Now he knew someone tied to it, so this symbol took on a whole new meaning. A girl with no memory, who washed up on the shore, while the woman was found in a boat. These things were connected. The trick was to find out how.
It all lay in the fact that the person with that same mark was a kid. That couldn’t be a coincidence. So looking into schools or organizations that dealt with children would be a good start. Meng could find out how to get the girl into a room to talk. He would focus on this mysterious organization.
Getting back onto campus didn’t wind her as much as she expected. Tired, but not super tired. Maybe a little sleep goes a long way. Perhaps that was her problem overall. The two headed back toward their dorm. Catch up on some more sleep, take a shower tonight when everyone else had gone to bed. Victory was sweet. Made sweeter because of the company she had. Impressing her mentor had been fulfilling, but having a friend cheering her on was even moreso.
They were about to enter their Hall when Sister Sarah caught sight of them.
“Quinn! Kaye! What has you two all dressed up like that?”
Quinn gave her roommate a faux dark look. “This evil harpy dragged me out to exercise. Something about me dying if I don’t get in better shape.”
The two chuckled.
“Well, she is right. Good on you, Kaye.”
“They’re still serving lunch in the cafeteria, if you’re hungry.”
“Thanks, but I’m hitting the sack,” Quinn replied.
Kaye wrapped an arm around her. “We’ll get this one in shape yet.”
Sarah shook her head. “Silly girls. You have a good day now.”
They continued their journey to their room. Once inside, Quinn immediately started stripping down. Once she got her sweatshirt and tanktop off, she stopped, hearing the intake of breath.
Turning, she frowned. “What?”
Her roommate looked so sad. “That mark. It never stops freaking me out. It looks so painful. Does it ever hurt?”
She shook her head. “No. It looks worse than it is.”
“How did you get it? If you don’t mind me asking.”
The tense nervous feeling was back. “I’ll tell you, someday. Someday soon, I promise.”
Putting her hand on her shoulder, Kaye smiled at her. “Okay.”
That contact, it felt so good. A sense of elation came into Quinn. Part of her never wanted it to end. If only it never had to. Being touched by this girl. What was this feeling? Then it ended, and she was back in her right mind again. Sleep was necessary. If only that part never had to end. But then, there were the dreams. They scared her. They were happening more frequently. What was going on?
The golden glow of the late afternoon was drifting into the window when there was a knock on the door. Quinn sat up, rubbing her eyes. Her roommate was out like a light. Dragging herself to the door, she saw Father McCormick standing there.
“Father!” she whispered.
“Hey, kiddo. Can we talk?”
Seeing the look on his face, she nodded. “Sure.”
Quick as she could, she put her shoes and something wearable in a public space on. The two headed to Father McCormick’s office. Couldn’t help but notice Sister Margaret staring daggers at her as they passed.
Getting to his office, he closed the door behind them.
“Something happened today, Quinn, and I thought you should know.” There was a long pause. “I had a visit from the police today. It was about you.”
Suddenly drained of energy, she fell into a chair and slumped. “Did they say what they wanted?”
“The Detective said that they wanted more information to help find your parents. But it didn’t feel like that to me. It felt like he was fishing.”
Her mind was racing. “Fishing for what?!”
“I don’t know. They asked if you had anything on you when I found you. It seemed like that was really important to them.”
Quinn looked right at him. “Did you?”
The head of the school avoided her gaze for a minute. What was the right thing to do? He had gone to her. So was it for the best to tell her? It had to be. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out the key to his locked drawer. Opening it, he took out the dog tags and the gun, putting them on his desk.
Walking over, Quinn was shaking. Her hand reached out and took the tags.
ID No. 56714
What was this? She had an ID number? What were these programs? Part of her couldn’t shake a familiar feeling, seeing this. It was required that they wear it all times. Failure to do so would result in reprimand. Usually getting hit on the knuckles. Some things were coming back to her.
Then there was the gun.
“This was on me when you found me?” she asked.
Father McCormick looked awkward. “No. You were holding it.”
Her heart stopped. Why did she have a gun? For what purpose?
“Father, you said that you found me because you heard a gunshot. Was it me? Did I shoot somebody?” Despite herself, tears were welling up. She didn’t want to believe that she could have done something like that. But then there was that dark side of her. The one that wanted to hurt people who had wronged her. What could she have been capable of?
He walked over and put his arms around her. “I don’t know, sweetie. But I don’t believe you could do anything to hurt anyone. Not unless you had no other choice.”
The words washed over her. She wanted to believe it. But that darkness, it was there. It wanted her to hurt those who hurt her. To make those who humiliated, embarrassed, or upset her pay for their actions. How far would an urge like that take her?
“I wish I could remember,” she said. “I’ve been having dreams. I see a school, but not like this. It’s a scary place. They hurt us there. If we acted out in any way, they hurt us. It’s a bad place. I don’t want to remember.” Looking up at Father McCormick. “I don’t know what to do.”
He hugged her tighter. “You do whatever you think is right, kiddo. God brought you to me, and I swore I would look after you. So I will. Whatever you decide to do, I have your back.”
“Thanks, Father.” The name was more than a title to her. In her mind, he was the closest she would ever have to a real parent. Until she could find the people who hurt her, and get an answer out of them.
They separated, and she looked back down at the gun.
“I have to know. If for no other reason, than to look after myself. The police are sniffing around. How long until someone else does?”
The Father nodded. “I understand. What do you need from me?”
Nothing, she thought. In no way did she want him any more involved than he already was.
“Look after the dog tags and the gun. Tell no one.”
“You got it. They did ask how you’re doing, to break the ice. Things okay with the roommate?”
The warm feeling came back. “Yeah. Great, actually. She’s really nice. I like her.”
He smiled. “I’m glad. I worried about you, for a while.
Quinn gave him a wry look. “I get the feeling you were the reason she became my roommate.”
“Guilty as charged,” he replied with a smirk.
The two chuckled.
“Language, young lady.”
Until next time, a quote,
“Art thou afeard?
Be not afeard
The isle is full of noises,
sounds and sweet airs,
That give delight and hurt not.” – Caliban, The Tempest