Tony breathed deep and tried not to panic. K.J. was out of reach. Jackson couldn’t be trusted. For all he knew, the police were looking to arrest him right now. He needed to get back to town undetected and there was no time to call a cab. He needed to catch a break.
Fortunately, a break came in the form of the powder-flecked young woman who was going home to change. Tony caught up to her at her car, startled her, and pressed the remaining bills in his wallet into her hand.
“I need a ride back to town,” he said. “It’s an emergency.”
“I don’t know if I should…” the woman protested.
“Please,” Tony insisted. He didn’t want to knock her down and grab her keys, but if it came to that, he would.
Finally, the woman – she said her name was Karen – reluctantly agreed and Tony slunk down in the passenger’s seat of her silver, twenty-year-old Camry as they headed back toward the university. Along the way, Tony put the rest of it together. Saruzal rearranged spelled Lazarus. It was a made-up sounding name and a fitting cover for someone living life anew. Emily Saruzal was Emma Hand.
But where could Emma/Emily be? It was unlikely she was still working in special collections that day, not if she knew what Tony and K.J. were up to. This wasn’t his town. She could have a dozen hiding spots he didn’t even know about, unless… “Are you familiar with the university?” Tony asked his driver.
“Yes, I graduated from there just last year,” Karen replied. “Why?”
“Do you know where the former chancellor lives?”
“Sure, everyone knows that,” Karen replied. “It’s a big old house with a wrought iron fence.”
“I need you to get me there as fast as you can,” Tony told her. The girl was scared, but his tone left little room for argument. Karen ran the Camry hard and as they picked up speed, Tony prayed they wouldn’t veer off the road or get pulled over. Luck was with him again.
Pulling back into town, it dawned on Tony that he was behaving foolishly. He had no idea what he was doing. He was about to approach the probable lair of a madwoman with no weapon, no assistance and no plan. Adrenaline and worry had brought him to this point, but his course of action stopped making sense five minutes ago. He could go to the police and ask to speak to someone other than Jackson. He could contact K.J.'s paper. He could…
His doubts stopped when he saw the house. Just as Karen said, it was big. The ex-chancellor lived in a once-grand neocolonial with white paint that had begun to fade and peel near the roofline. The railing on the second-story balcony was rusted and the American flag that hung over the front porch had seen better days. A low iron fence snaked around the perimeter, enclosing everything save for a long front path which doubled as a driveway. In that driveway, closer to the house, sat K.J.'s blue Mazda.
Sweating and breathing hard, Tony turned around and began scanning the back of Karen’s car. His eyes finally settled on a collapsed camera tripod.
“I need to borrow this,” Tony said. The tripod was far from an ideal weapon, but it could deflect the blade of a knife. “If I were you, I’d get away from here, go someplace safe, then call for help. Make sure it’s someone you trust. Do you understand?”
“I…I think so,” Karen stammered. Tears had begun to stream down her eyes.
“Hey,” Tony said, exiting the car with the tripod. “I’m just playing a hunch right now. It could turn out that everything will be OK.”
He knew even before he entered the house that he was lying.
Holding the tripod in front of him like a torch, Tony walked from the street to the front of the house. The door was unlocked and no one appeared when he opened it and stepped inside. He passed through a foyer, the wooden floor creaking under the soles of his feet. He briefly considered a winding staircase with a white balustrade, but opted for what lay to the right instead.
Tony turned and entered a dining room. High-backed chairs with gold upholstery sat like minor kings around a heavy wooden table. A dusty chandelier hung overhead. Beneath it, a candleholder centerpiece had acquired a crown of red wax. The room beyond was an open parlor, a thickly carpeted place with oversized easy chairs and handsome stonework around the fireplace. In the center of that room sat a man in a wheelchair.
Jackson had not been lying: John Hand was a sick man. He was almost entirely bald, save for a short fringe of white at the very back of his head. His skin was pale and loose and his eyes lacked focus. An oxygen tube fed into his nose and Tony could hear the click and whoosh sounds of the tank on the floor beside him. His bony hands trembled, but he managed to point a finger in Tony’s direction. It was an order to approach, a vestige of the dying man’s once-considerable authority.
Tony walked slowly toward the ghoul of a chancellor, the tripod at his side now – no harm intended.
“Where is she?” Tony asked softly when he was in whispering range.
With great effort, the old man tilted his head upward. It was a slight gesture, but it told Tony everything he needed to know. The tripod back in front of him, Tony headed cautiously for the stairs.