Episode 3: Everyone Hates Moving Day

part of: The Shadowed Ones

by Jeff Beardwood

The days that followed our strange, aborted mission were a flurry of activity. New accommodations were found for each of us in the team and moving arrangements were made. All my belongings were packed by friends of our cause, so that I was not visible in my old neighborhood. I was the first to be relocated, since I was seemingly the most vulnerable. Maere had abandoned his place that very evening because we had assembled there after being discovered. Maere had stayed with Clive since while arrangements were made.
As usual, all possible caution was exercised, both in our daily movements and in attaining our new homes. Identities were preserved. No connections were left between the old and the new. Our belongings were few and the transport of them was undertaken a little at a time.
Although very busy, these days were reassuringly uneventful. There was no sign of the Wanderer, Katia. Nothing happened that made us suspicious or drew further attention to us.
Even with all of this, when it was time for me to return to my old place to pick up the last of my belongings and hand in my keys so as not to raise suspicion with the old landlord, Maere insisted on extreme caution. We waited until after nightfall, to use the shadows to our advantage once again. Panther was to keep a vigil at my new place, watching for any movement out of the ordinary. I was supposed to walk into my old apartment, gather my bag and walk back out quickly, wasting no time. Meanwhile, Peanut was assigned to keep watch for anyone following me as I left. If there was any doubt at all while I traveled a circuitous route to my new place, Peanut would sound the alarm and I would be intercepted by another member of the team. It all sounded a little paranoid to me, given how quiet the week had been and the precautions we had taken, but Maere was adamant.
Everything seemed to go extremely well. I returned the keys and left with the last of my belongings. The landlord told me he would be sorry to see such a quiet, reliable tenant go and shook my hand. As I walked out the front door, I felt a huge wave of relief. The nightmare of my foolish action was over at last. I walked across the street heading in the opposite direction of my new home at first, just as we’d planned. I deeply breathed in the cool winter air and exhaled completely. For a time, I even forgot Peanut was following behind me as I wove through the streets. It was easy to forget Peanut was around. I knew he was there and I had seen no sign of him as I started my walk.
As I so often do when I walk, I lost myself in the hypnotic motion, the rhythmic breathing, the familiar crunching sound of my footfall in the snow as my thoughts wandered. All of the practices of a Shadowed One were automatic…the quiet stride, the detailed observation of my surroundings, the invisible movements. Sometimes the way to best remain invisible is to blend in; to appear like you belong in the setting.
As I walked block after block, my mind drifted. I remembered stories about trackers in this land when it was a frontier. They were legendary, knowing their surroundings so acutely they could learn from the patterns and details their surroundings revealed. Then I thought about Peanut and Panther, our own modern day trackers. The skills were not so very different. Instead of knowing the wilderness like the back of their hands, they were experts at reading our urban setting.
It was at about this point in my reverie I noticed another set of footsteps approaching quickly from my left. I froze in place, listening. They were closing fast…coming directly toward me. I turned toward the sound, letting my bag fall from my shoulder ready to drop it and make a run if needed. How could I have let my guard down so completely that I didn’t hear this approach well before? Then I saw Maere step out of the darkness, striding briskly up to me. He reached out and grabbed me by the elbow, guiding me to the right off the sidewalk and back into the shadows. At least I knew now how I had not sensed the approach sooner. Missing the movements of a member of my team was nothing to be ashamed about.
“What’s going on?” I asked as Maere quickly led me away from the path I’d been weaving to my new home.
“Don’t know. Peanut signaled we’ve been compromised,” was all he whispered.

Our plan was a little different this time. Instead of jeopardizing revealing the locations of our new apartments, we had picked a public place to meet if things went badly. Maere and I went directly to the busy coffee shop we’d selected. It was easier tonight. Our risk was limited. All we were guilty of was moving my belongings, after all. As we’d hoped, the coffee shop was crowded and loud. As I said, sometimes the best way to be invisible is to blend into your surroundings.
We sat at a corner table where we could talk without fear of being overheard, though while we waited conversation was pretty sparse. Marty and Clive arrived very soon after we did. Panther was a little longer. After getting Peanut’s signal, he had further to come and had good reason to move with caution.
For over two hours we sat there drinking coffee, chatting about nothing, looking out the window watching for Peanut.
“Something’s wrong,” Marty said.
“Think about it,” Maere said. “Peanut is going to be very cautious. We don’t know what he saw that set off the alarm and made him call off the move.”
Marty stared into his coffee cup as he swirled the last mouthful of it around and around.
The waiting was driving me nuts. It gave me way too much time to let my imagination run wild. What if I had been followed? I mean, why else would Peanut have signaled trouble? Who would have followed me if not the Wanderer? I didn’t like the directions these thoughts led at all.
I’m sure everyone else was suffering the same kinds of doubts. I could read the worry on their faces. It was too easy to let fear replace reason.
After more than three hours sitting at the coffee shop, it was getting a little harder to blend in and be invisible. Although it was a 24-hour operation, most of the patrons had gone home to their beds. The few that remained were spread thinly among the tables. Some read newspapers. A few chatted quietly amongst themselves.
The waitress came over, not sure what to do with us. I’m sure we seemed like squatters after all this time.
“Can I get you gents anything else?” she wanted to know.
“Maybe one more round of coffee, please,” Maere suggested. My bladder fluttered a small spasm at the thought. “We were hoping to meet one more friend here tonight. Looks like we might not see him, but we’ll give him a bit more time.”
“There he comes,” Clive said, squinting out the window. We all peered out into the darkness, even the waitress.
“I don’t see anybody,” she said.
“Another round of coffee and add a large tea with no milk or sugar please.” Maere ordered. “That’s what our friend likes to drink.”
She had one more glance outside into the empty gloom before turning to get the drinks.
“Clive, you are a wonder,” I laughed, almost giddy with relief.
“How anybody could see that far into a dark night is beyond me,” Marty chuckled.
“Could count the bolts on the bottom of a red-eye jet if it didn’t fly by so fast,” Panther joined in.
Clive was genuinely enjoying his moment of celebrity when Peanut did, in fact, enter the coffee shop. Maere raised an eyebrow, asking a thousand questions with one gesture. Peanut just shook his head from side to side in the negative.
“Have I got a story for you guys!” he said, sitting down as the waitress returned with our drinks.
“Well, we can’t really hear them all here at this hour,” Maere suggested delicately.
We waited while the waitress reluctantly left us. She was no doubt just as eager to hear as we all were.
“We have a couple of rooms in the motel across the street,” Peanut said, going through his familiar elaborate ritual to remove his tea bag. First he dipped it under three times, then squeezed it with his spoon against the sides of the cup in each of the four directions on the compass…always north first. Finally he raised the bag up to eye level to inspect it, before setting it on the lid of his opened cup.
“Motel rooms? That necessary?” Maere asked quietly.
“Extremely,” he answered before taking a sip of his tea and breathing out a sigh of contentment.
Peanut’s elaborate ritual did nothing to appease my nerves or my impatience, both rubbed raw in the long hours of waiting.
“Let’s get settled for the night then. I, for one, can’t wait to hear this story,” I told him.
Peanut lowered his voice and leaned closer, across the steam rising from his cup, “That’s quite a pen pal you chose, Daegle. I’m sure it was her, and she’s quite remarkable.”