"Hey, Sav, you still got the phone with Mom's SIM card in it?" Emily asked.
I nodded, pulled the phone from my pocket and handed it to her.
She tried to press the keys then had to hold down the power button to turn it on. Immediately it buzzed and beeped as a f lood of missed calls and messages hit it one after the other.
"What in the world?" I muttered as Emily handed it back to her.
The only people who had this number were my parents, Tristan and...Anne.
Twenty-two missed calls from Anne, plus eleven missed text messages. I checked the first missed text.
Ron says the Clann and Keepers nearly caught S&T. WTF is going on?
Okay, so she'd heard about our little return trip to Jacksonville. No big deal. Ron also would have told her we escaped safely. So what was with all the rest of the missed calls and texts?
I read the next one and froze.
Michelle & Carrie missing, Clann took them! Ron says Keepers sent to kidnap them.
"Oh, my God." I held the phone so Tristan could read it aloud. He had to take the phone from me because my hand was shaking it too badly to let him see the words.
I stared at the dinette table's mottled tan-and-brown laminate surface, the colors blurring as my eyes stung. It was my worst nightmare playing out all over again. Only this time the Clann had taken two of my best friends instead of my grandmother.
And this time, it was Mr. Williams in charge instead of Mr. Coleman.
"But why-" Emily began.
"Lucy." The word rolled out of my mouth like a church bell tolling. "The Keepers must have tracked our smell to Michelle's house. I need to call Anne."
Tristan held out the phone to me.
Anne picked up already shrieking. It took me a long time to get her to stop cursing and calm down enough to tell me the whole story. But it was still faster than trying to wade through the missed calls and text messages.
"Ron says after you guys escaped, the Keepers reported back to Mr. Williams and he went ballistic," Anne said so loudly I had to hold the phone away from my ear. At least this let everyone else listen in, too, though. "He ordered all the Keepers to go on patrol and try to track your scents. Two Keepers said they picked up your scents at Michelle's house. But Michelle was sleeping over at Carrie's. I was supposed to go over, too, but I was grounded." She didn't go into a lengthy explanation of why she was grounded. "Then Carrie's parents saw the girls were gone and called me thinking we'd all snuck out somewhere together, since they'd left their cars and keys and everything. I called Ron, and he checked with the Keepers, and..."
I pressed my fingertips to my pounding temple. "But they don't know anything! What's the point of taking them, even if Michelle has my mother's dog and it smells like us?"
Tristan scowled and reached out to hold my hand. "I've got a feeling Mr. Williams was looking for any excuse to take your friends in for interrogation."
An image of Nanna, held in the air by a spell, her mouth stretched open in a silent scream, filled my mind. Oh, God. If the Clann were doing that to Carrie and Michelle...
"We have to get them," I whispered. "Does Ron know where they're holding them?"
"Yeah-" Anne said.
"No, we can't, not yet," Emily said. "Not now that we have the proof we need to take Mr. Williams down!"
I rose as far as the dinette table's edge would let me and leaned over the table toward her. "They've got my friends! Who knows what they're doing to them right now. We have to rescue them."
I was wrong about Mr. Williams. He really was that evil. This was all my fault.
Emily glared back at me. "I'm sorry they got caught up in this. I really am. But if you rescue your friends before we take care of Mr. Williams, he'll only put a target on them and their families. They'll be in even more danger than they already are. Do you want your friends and their families to have to go on the run just like us?"
Crap. She had a point. Growling, I forced myself to sit down.
"Sav?" Anne called out from the phone's speaker. "What are we going to do?"
"She's right," I said through gritted teeth. "We've got proof that'll get Mr. Williams removed as Clann leader. Once he's out, we'll free Carrie and Michelle."
"But-" Anne said.
"I'm not forcing them and their families to go on the run," I said.
"I can't believe you! You're going to let them be tortured, maybe even killed?" Anne yelled.
I set the phone down on the table, turned my head and buried my face against Tristan's shoulders. God help me, but that was exactly what we had to do. Please let them be okay, I prayed.
Tristan picked up the phone and spoke to Anne in a rapid murmur just slow enough for her to follow, outlining our plan against Mr. Williams. But from her loud cursing, I gathered she wasn't any more appeased. She wanted a rescue mission now, and she didn't care about the consequences as long as Carrie and Michelle were freed. Everything else could wait.
"You tell that redheaded witch that if anything happens to our friends, it'll be her fault!" Anne said.
The line went dead.
Clearing his throat, Tristan ended the call and handed it to Emily. You know she didn't mean that, he thought to me.
I propped my elbows on the table and buried my face in my hands, scrubbing at my burning eyes. I had no clue whether Anne meant that last part or not. Either way, she was right. Our friends were enduring who knew what at the hands of Mr. Williams and his buddies within the Clann because they were my friends and had tried to help me and my mom. And now they would have to endure the Clann's torture even longer, again because of me.
A tiny ember of heat glowed to life in the pit of my stomach, then exploded into a virtual bonfire, heating every part of me from the inside out.
Tristan was right. Mr. Williams needed to die.
"You don't mean that," Tristan said, startling me and making me jump.
I stared at him. "Oh, yes I do. He needs to be stopped permanently. What human prison would hold him, though? None, and the Clann doesn't have a prison for descendants, either. So the only way to ensure he never hurts anyone ever again is to kill him."
"Fine. But let me be the one to do it. You're ticked off enough to do the deed yourself, but you and I both know later on you'd regret it."
I scowled at him. Was he serious? "So it's okay for you to have his death on your conscience but not mine? Why?"
He blinked several times. "Because you have me to do it for you."
"So you're saying I'm not capable of doing the dirty work myself?" I could hear my voice rising, not in volume, but in tone.
He rolled his eyes and scowled. "Look, I'm not trying to be sexist here. I know you're perfectly capable of doing it yourself. All I'm saying is, why should you have to when I can do it for you? It's taking out the trash. You have the ability to do it, you've probably done it a bunch of times, too. But why should you have to if I'm around to take care of it for you? That's a guy's job, to do the dirty jobs so you ladies can keep your hands, or in this case your consciences, clean."
I looked at Emily. Her eyes were wide with disbelief, too.
She shook her head. "It's got to be something Dad taught him. That's all I can figure."
Tristan sighed and crossed his arms. "Dad always said real men look after the women they love and protect them from the dirty parts of life wherever they can. Maybe it's not politically correct or whatever, but that's how I was raised." And I'm not apologizing for it, he finished silently.
I sighed. Another battle for another day. Besides, while his old-fashioned belief in this area was wrong, it also came from a place of love and pure intentions. "Look, Tristan, all I'm saying is if this comes down to a battle and any of us have a clear shot at Mr. Williams, none of us should hesitate to take it. Okay?"
Tristan frowned. "Sis, make your calls to the Clann quick." Then he dialed Dad's number. "Better step on it. The sooner we get this hearing over with and Mr. Williams removed as leader, the faster we can get her friends released."
Hopefully before any permanent damage is done to them, he thought to himself then cringed as he remembered I could hear his every thought. Sorry.
I didn't reply. What was the point? My head was filled with the exact same thoughts and fears.