The outside of the building had been very non-descript. The only thing that really stood out was the well kept and fenced-in grounds so out of place with the surrounding homes.
Wenton would have guessed Dell was taking him to meet girls, but this was something more. He would have politely turned the one his brother had picked out for him down had that been the case. Wenton still saw his wife’s face on just about every other woman he saw. No, the fact his brother had brought him anywhere else showed true growth. It also meant he might not know him as well as he thought. Wenton was proud and disappointed at the same time.
He nudged his arm as they followed the lispy man in the Brookes Brothers suit. “Where are we?”
“In a minute.” Dell’s voice was distant. He was uncomfortable with something and that made no sense at all. He did know where they were, didn’t he?
They came to a security desk and the man spoke in a low voice to the guard sitting behind it. Somehow, the security man was fixing him and Dell in the same stare. It was impressive and intimidating until he blinked and nodded.
The man who’d led them in stood upright and turned around.
“I’m sorry, gentlemen, I’ve forgotten my manners.” He stuck his hand out between Dell and Wenton. “Larry Nibor.”
“Oh, Dr. Nibor,” Dell stepped in front of the offered hand and took it, gave a few good pumps. “Windel White. This is my brother Wenton.”
“Pleased to meet you.” Wenton took his hand. It felt squishy, like if he squeezed it Nibor’s eyes might bulge out of his head and schloop back in when he let go. He resisted the urge to wipe his hand on his pants.
“I appreciate you giving me the title, but I’m not a doctor.” Wenton noticed that the man hadn’t stopped smiling since they’d arrived at the front door. “I’m the director, though.” He looked at the security guard. “Lenny, we’re going to go in now.”
“All right, sir.”
Nibor went to the side of the desk and walked over to a door that occupied an entire wall. It had to be ten feet by fifteen. He punched in a code and slid his hand into a port. The door beeped and a green light came on just above his head. Things inside clicked and whirred and then the door began to slowly swing open.
Nibor turned and spoke to the group. “We currently have three tanks in operation, with a fourth to come online sometime next month.” He looked at Dell specifically. “I believe you wanted Tank three, correct?”
Dell swallowed. “Yeah.” What was going on with him? They followed Nibor inside.
“Y’know, we appreciate you coming down. With the coming legislation, we could be potentially put out of business before we even begin. A significant amount of money has been invested already and we’ll need to solicit more funds to go on to the next phase of the project.”
“Well, the mayor’s office is just trying to get ahead of this whole undead thing,” Dell said. “We want to wind up on the right side of the fence. I appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to… show us your research.”
“Research?” Alarm bells started going off in Wenton’s head. He hadn’t missed the ‘undead’ thing. Wenton didn’t do well around the dead. His grandparents, his uncle—he hadn’t been able to physically go to any of their funerals. He was always grateful that his parents had been cremated. But that urn with both their ashes in it… Wenton was glad Dell had taken it. The only funeral he’d been able to attend—and even then just barely—was…
He turned to Dell.
“Who’s in Tank three?”
Dell shifted. There was definitely something he hadn’t told him.
“It’s uhh… y’know, I was just thinking of you. Y’know, you’ve just been so… y’know how you’ve been. Not like you, but… C’mon, it’s almost been two years!”
Wenton took a step back from his brother.
“Is that my wife in there? Is that Cara?”
Dell dropped his head. He didn’t say anything, but Wenton had his answer.
“How could y—” he stopped short on his sentence. Dell felt really small.
“Gentlemen?” He took his eyes away from Dell, looking over to the man he’d forgotten was in the room. “Is there an issue?”
“No.” Dell was back on the clock, his face had none of the guilt from a second ago. “Just having a little chat with my consultant.” He turned to Wenton. “You can examine her for yourself. Get those answers you’ve been wanting.”
Wenton stared at his brother several minutes. All the answers he’d been wanting were potentially on the other side of that door. He finally looked over at Nibor.
That Nibor guy was a weirdo. Dell had to wash his hands for a half hour to get the creep off after he’d met him two days ago and he’d had to resist the urge to recoil from it tonight. Wenton was pissed at him, but in the end his little brother would come around. He hoped. But Dell had to try something.
It was all because of the kid. Sure as shit Dell loved him and would take care of him if he absolutely had to, but there was no way little Toddy wasn’t going to get screwed up somehow, someway. Dell didn’t know anything about taking care of kids. He’d tried babysitting his nephew once and damn near killed him. By the time Wenton and Cara got back home, Dell was sobbing worse than the baby. It would have been one thing if they had never had any kids and Cara had died. He could get a nurse or something for his brother, but foster care was no way to raise a child.
No. He had to get his little brother back on track and this was the best—the only—way he saw how. He watched Nibor punch in another code after giving Wenton the same explanation he’d gotten the other day, and then the door to Tank 3 lifted.
Wenton’s eyes slid over to him before going inside. He looked like he’d already seen a ghost.
Not yet, little brother, he wanted to say, but no words felt appropriate just then. Wenton went inside and Nibor closed and locked the door behind him.
“Why the lock?”
“Just a safety precaution.” Nibor waved his hand through the air like he was conducting at the DSO.
You didn’t lock the door when I went inside, he thought, but didn’t say anything. He walked back to the entrance to this big room.
This had to work.
Even if Wenton hated him for the rest of his life.
Dell could admit, even if only to himself, this was more for him than his brother. It was selfish, but he would live with that.
He turned to the officer behind him. Duvall, his name was.
“So how was your weekend?”
The wall of a man declined his head to him, his face as unreadable as a sheet of steel, especially behind those sunglasses.
“Went to Belle Isle.”
“Oh, that’s cool. What was going on there?”
Another pause before answering. Dell was sure that was his subtle way of saying he didn’t care for conversation. “Family reunion.”
Dell gave several head pumps, nodding slow and long and folding his arms.
They stood in silence for a while, Nibor staying over by the door. There was a coffee pot over by a wall and Dell made himself a cup. Lots of cream,lots of sugar.
It was really terrible coffee and he had to sip small amounts of it for it to be tolerable. He resumed his spot a foot away from the executive protection officer.
Dell was about three-fourths of the way done with the coffee when Wenton emerged.
Dell met Nibor at the door before the man could begin questioning his brother.
“You can expect a copy of the mayor’s report probably in a few days,” he said, taking the man’s hand and giving it a shake. Nibor tried to look over his shoulder at Wenton and Dell side-stepped to block his view.
“Okay, I’m sure that will be excellent,” Nibor said. “But could I perhaps have his initial impressions?”
“Well, that’s not really how these things are done,” Dell said, still holding Nibor’s hand. “Maybe he can give you a first-blush sometime this morning. I can give him your card. But he’d have a report to you by Wednesday or so.” He let go of Nibor’s hand and turned to his brother. “You ready to go?”
“I want her,” Wenton mumbled. He still had a look of dull shock on his face.
“I want her.” Wenton looked at him. Dell knew that look. He remembered the tantrums when they were kids and Dell got something and he didn’t. Wenton had put up a fuss then and looked like he was about to now. If Dell didn’t think of something right now to placate both men this would turn south in a very bad way.
“Excuse me, what did he say?” Nibor asked.
“He said,” Dell slowly turned back, “he wants to take it with us. To examine it in a more natural environment.”
“That’s absolutely out of the question.”
“Look, the mayor has a few million federal dollars of his own to ferret through this undead business. Maybe your grant falls through, maybe it doesn’t. It might be nice to have a safety net, don’t you think?”
Nibor licked his lips. For the first time tonight, his cool exterior melted away. He looked nervous.
“I will need to make a few phone calls. But this is not what we were—”
“Make your phone calls, Mr. Nibor. We’ll wait.”
Nibor retreated into an ante-room. Dell turned to his brother.
“What the hell are you making me do?”
“I told you. I want her.”
“You mean like want want? What are we talking?”
Wenton blinked. “No. I know she isn’t my wife, but… she has her memories.”
“And?” Dell shook his head, trying to understand or hoping common sense would sink into Wenton’s head.
“Look, it’s like I always said. Something else happened. Cara wasn’t even supposed to be on that side of the city. She told me—”
“Who told you?”
“The she—it.” Wenton pointed to the tank.
“So you were actually able to talk to it?”
“Look, I set this all up for you to get peace of mind. So you could say goodbye.” Dell got really close to his brother. “There was a lot of string-pulling to get you in here. What you’re asking for is using good will I don’t have. When Nibor comes back I’ll tell him we changed our minds about taking that thing.”
“No. I meant what I said. I want her.”
“Are you insane?” Dell’s voice was a high whisper. “Where are going to store that thing? Are you going to put it in your basement? With your son?”
“You didn’t think about it. I know. But call this off now and let’s get home. I can take care of the report.”
Wenton’s eyes had been roaming around the room. They locked onto Dell. “No. I meant what I said. Something else happened to Cara. This thing can prove it. Help me piece it together.”
“The police investigation is closed. Nobody’s going to open it again on the basis of whatever it has to say.”
“I don’t care. I need to know.” Wenton beat his chest with his palm. “After what you just pulled, bringing me here, you owe me.”
That stung in a way Dell hadn’t intended. He wanted to argue more. To try to get reason into his brother, but he was at a loss.
“Okay. But two days. No more. Got it?”
They stood in silence for what felt like at least ten minutes. Dell could hear Nibor in there occasionally, but couldn’t make out what the man was saying. Finally he came out.
He looked like he must have taken a moment to calm himself, like he’d been smoothing down the front of that expensive suit jacket until he’d recomposed himself. Nibor was tall, easily six-eight, and strode across the room to them, looking like a well-dressed train the way he pumped his arms with each step.
“My superiors have acquiesced,” he began slowly, “to your request of lending you 38-X4. You may take it now or in the morning, whichever is your preference.”
“It’s kinda late,” Dell said. He felt his brother loom closer and sensed his objection coming. “We need to make a few arrangements in preparation.”
“We’ll take her now.”
Dell forced a smile. “Whatever works best.”
“Very good. You will have a period of twenty-four hours from the time the 38-X4 is released into your custody.”
“I want three days.”
What the hell?
This time Dell did look at his brother, stabbing him as best he could with daggers in his eyes. Wenton looked sheepish a second, but didn’t back down. He looked back at Nibor.
Nibor winced as if he’d been punched, but he held his tongue a moment before speaking. What was this costing him?
“Very good.” Nibor forced his own smile and extending that well-manicured paw of his again. Dell shook it and found none of the soppy fish-hand the man had given before. It was dry and firm.
“So, uhh, what do we do?”
“Wait in the lobby. There is some information I need to give you and then the 38-X4 is yours for the next seventy-two hours.” He escorted Dell and his brother to the door, with the executive protection officer firmly in tow. The giant door shut behind them and they rejoined the other guard at the desk.
Dell was incensed. Here he was, hanging his neck out for Wenton and his brother does almost everything possible to screw him over. If he could have trusted the aside would have been for Wenton’s ears only he would have laid into him right now. But he could wait until they got back in the limo.
It didn’t take long.