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The Elves were the first to arrive at the airfield around five-thirty the next morning. Gwyn, with Gareth and Alex riding with him, pulled up shortly after. Standing by the van, the Wiseman Elves saw Gareth helping the Mortal out of the car with Alex grimacing slightly as if in pain. Gareth said something to him that made Alex laugh and it was a cheerful sound, full of mirth. Only when Alex limped over to them did they see him sporting a couple of bruises on his arms.
“So, what does the other guy look like?” Glorfindel asked knowingly.
Alex gave them a boyish grin as he jerked a thumb at Gwyn. “You’re looking at him,” he said.
“Ah, I see,” Glorfindel said. “Are you going to be okay for flying?”
“Sure. I’m fine. Gwyn was playing at my level, not his. He was pretty bruised himself last night, but they don’t show as much.”
“I heal faster, but you’re only limping because you fell over the patio chair.”
Now Alex looked embarrassed. “Yeah, stupid chair snuck up behind me when I wasn’t looking.”
The others laughed. About then, Sanderson drove up in a rented vehicle and they saw Rufus was dressed in civilian clothes. He was somewhat subdued and when he saw Alex, there was fear in his eyes, fear which Alex ignored, glancing at Sanderson, who shrugged.
“Ah, Nate and Rufus spent some time in the cockpit after you all left,” the lawyer explained. “I have no idea what was said between them but when they exited the plane, Rufus looked like he was going to keel over. Nate stayed with him while I went and got the car I’d arranged to rent. He hasn’t given me any trouble.”
“Nate has a way with him, that’s for sure,” Alex said with a nod. “Okay, let’s load up and get on our way. Rufus, does the cargo hold open the same way as before?”
Rufus nodded. “Sure and I be tryin’ it out yesterday. You should be havin’ no problem getting it opened, at all, at all.”
“C’mon,” Alex said to the others, grabbing his duffle bag, and the others followed. “Here, you’ll need to move to the front or the back and leave this space clear,” Alex ordered. When everyone was in place, looking decidedly squashed, Alex cleared his throat and, giving them an embarrassed look, he began singing. “When Irish eyes are smiling, sure, ’tis like the morn in Spring. In the lilt of Irish laughter, you can hear the angels sing.”
To the surprise of them all, there was a snicking sound and then a visible crack appeared on the floor and they could see the outline of a hatch. Alex bent down and crooked his fingers at a certain place, apparently releasing a latch, for he pulled up on the hatch, revealing a small space which Rufus had apparently used for smuggling items.
“Voice-activated lock?” Glorfindel asked as they peered into the open space, looking impressed. Alex just nodded and threw his duffle bag into the hold, motioning for the others to hand him their own bags to stow, which they did.
“This plane may look like a beat up junker, but it has state-of-the-art electronics. Rufus stole it from the Agency when he left it.” He flashed them a smile. “I helped him.”
“Yes, of course you did,” Glorfindel said almost admiringly.
“And if you be done playin’ with Louise, then, I’ll be needin’ to get to the cockpit to be doin’ my preflight,” they heard Rufus say from outside and with a gesture from Alex, they filed out.
“She’s all yours, Rufus,” Alex said as he exited the plane. “We’ll just bring over the cooler in the meantime.”
Rufus nodded, refusing to look at Alex as he climbed into the plane. Alex hesitated for a moment, as if unsure whether to go after Rufus or not, then gave a mental shrug and went to where the others were standing by the hangar door. Glorfindel gave him a searching look.
“Everything all right?”
“I guess,” Alex said with a shrug. “Rufus seems… quiet.”
“Lord Námo often has that effect on people after one of his little chats,” Finrod said with a slight smile. “I’m sure he will be fine.”
“It’s going to be a long trip,” Glorfindel said to Alex. “I know you plan to act as a copilot, but if you need a break, let me know and we’ll switch places. Hell, I can even take over for Rufus if necessary."
“You?” Alex couldn’t help saying, giving the ellon a disbelieving look.
Glorfindel smiled. “Search and Rescue, remember? I was flying planes like this one before you were born.”
“Oh. Yeah, okay. Well, thanks.” He turned around and saw Rufus in the cockpit. Their eyes met and Rufus gestured just as the engines revved up. “I think the pilot’s done with his preflight check, so why don’t we get on board and get out of here? We’ll see the rest of you in a few days.” He shook hands with Gareth, Barahir and Sanderson and gave Finrod, Amarië and Valandur a slight bow before heading for the plane.
“We’ll call you when we reach Syracuse,” Glorfindel said to Finrod as Gwyn said his own goodbye to his brother before lifting the cooler and making his way to the plane where Alex waited to help him. Glorfindel was the last to board, pulling up the steps and closing the door with a final wave to the others who were now moving toward their vehicles to move them away from the entrance. As soon as the way was clear, Rufus pulled out of the hangar, talking to the tower and getting permission to taxi toward the runway. They had to wait a few minutes for their turn and then they were in the air and flying east.
As predicted, the flight was long and tedious. Rufus flew southeast over mountainous terrain, eventually skirting the eastern edge of the Canadian Rockies as they flew over Alberta, making their first stop at Edmonton to refuel. In all that time, Rufus remained subdued, limiting his speech with Alex sitting in the copilot’s seat to giving him necessary instructions. Alex did not attempt any kind of conversation with him, content to sit and think, mentally playing with his constructed language which he had decided to call Cymurian for now until he came up with something better. He had brought along his laptop, meaning to work on the project in the evening when they were at the hotel.
The curtain separating the cockpit from the rest of the plane had been pulled back to make it feel less claustrophobic. Glancing over his shoulder, Alex saw that Glorfindel and Gwyn had both brought e-readers and they were occupied with those. Gwyn happened to look up and gave him a warm smile and Alex smiled back before returning his attention to the front.
They made two additional stops along the way with Rufus avoiding the larger metropolises and using smaller airfields to refuel. About halfway across, Alex switched places with Glorfindel to grab a nap. The Elf proved more than capable of flying the plane and even convinced Rufus that it was okay to take a catnap as well. There was a bit of shuffling as Gwyn offered Rufus his seat so he could recline while napping and Glorfindel moved over into the pilot’s seat while Gwyn settled beside him. Thus, for about an hour or so, only Glorfindel and Gwyn were awake, holding a quiet conversation as Glorfindel gave Gwyn a little flying lesson, teaching him how to read the various instruments. Only when they were approaching their final refueling stop did Glorfindel suggest that Rufus take over. By now, both he and Alex were awake, so they played musical chairs again, as Gwyn put it, until they were back in their original seats.
It was after eight in the evening before they came to Syracuse. Once the plane was safely down and properly parked, they made their way to the Avis car rental agency to pick up the car Alex had arranged for previously.
“Whew! It’s sticky,” Gwyn commented as they stepped outside the air-conditioned terminal, waving his hand before him to get the air moving. “I’d forgotten how humid it can be here in the summer.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty muggy,” Alex said as he checked to see where the rental car was parked. “We don’t have far to go, though.” They loaded up the car with their bags and climbed in with Alex at the wheel. Once out of the parking lot, they only drove a short distance to the Holiday Inn Express that was situated right at the entrance to the airport, providing easy access to downtown Syracuse according to Alex.
“We’re maybe ten minutes tops from downtown,” he said as he pulled into the hotel parking lot.
“So what are our plans for tomorrow?” Glorfindel asked as they climbed out and reclaimed their bags.
“I don’t know about the rest of you, but I intend to spend the day relaxing by the hotel’s indoor pool, maybe work out in their fitness center,” Alex said as they made their way inside. “That was too long a trip and we have to do it again on Monday.”
“I’ll be needin’ to submit another flight plan,” Rufus said.
“And we’ll need to restock the cooler,” Gwyn added.
“Not a problem,” Glorfindel said. “While Alex is lolling by the pool, you and I can go to the store and stock up. Rufus, I’ll drive you to wherever you need to be to submit the flight plan, but then I think afterward I’ll join Alex by the pool.”
“Sounds grand,” Gwyn said.
“And if you behave yourself, Rufus,” Alex said, giving the older Man a meaningful look, “there’s an authentic Irish pub and restaurant called Coleman’s and we’ll go there for dinner. They even have a leprechaun door, if you can believe it.”
Rufus had no time to comment as they were at the reception desk and for the next several minutes they were busy registering. Their rooms were on the second floor though not next to each other. Alex and Rufus were three doors down and on the other side of the hall from Glorfindel and Gwyn. Alex indicated that he was too tired to visit and complained of still feeling sore from the bruises gotten during his sparring match.
“I just want to take a hot shower and fall into bed,” he told the Elves. Rufus admitted to his own weariness so the two Mortals wished the Elves goodnight. Alex handed Glorfindel the car keys. “In case you and Gwyn want to take a drive around. I’m sure there are bars somewhere in the area if you’re in a drinking mood. Oh, and here, take these as well,” and he handed him another set of keys, the keys he’d made Rufus turn over once the plane was locked up. No one failed to notice the grimace Rufus gave them when he saw what Alex was doing, but he said nothing and soon the two Men were alone in their room.
“I should handcuff you to the bed,” Alex said conversationally as he plopped his bag on one of the beds and unzipped it, emptying its contents and stowing them away in a drawer, “but I see there’s actually nowhere to handcuff you. We’re definitely not in the right kind of hotel.” He flashed Rufus an amused smile but the ex-smuggler just scowled as he sat on the edge of the other bed watching Alex unpack.
“Who are they?” he finally asked and then shook his head. “No, what are they? And Nate… you know I don’t scare easily, but he…” Rufus looked decidedly green at that moment and Alex stopped what he was doing and went into the bathroom, returning shortly with a glass of water, which he handed to the other man. Rufus gave him a surprised but grateful look and drank, his color slowly returning.
“It’s too complicated to explain,” Alex said, sitting across from Rufus on the other bed. “Maybe someday soon you’ll find out. Right now, all you have to know is that Loren and Gwyn are the good guys, so treat them accordingly. As for Nate… well, that’s a horse of a different color and if he scared the hell out of you, welcome to the club. He scares us all.”
For a long moment the two just sat. Alex idly rubbed his arms where the bruises were yellowing, thinking about the hot shower and how good it would feel but he knew he needed to deal with Rufus first. Rufus, for his part, appeared to be in deep contemplation, but finally he looked up. “And us? What about us? What happens to me after all this?”
“That depends on you,” Alex replied. “Technically, you’re on parole and I know that you’re not supposed to cross state lines and all, but you’re out on the Agency’s orders thanks to Maddy. Once we’re done here and safely back in Fairbanks then you are free to go, sort of.”
“What will you be meanin’ by that, boyo?” Rufus demanded, his eyes narrowing in suspicion.
“I meant what I said earlier, Rufus. I own Louise, which means I own you and if you ever hope to have her back, you will do what I say.”
“For how long?”
Alex shrugged. “Maybe five years, which, you know damn well would be the length of your parole were you released in the normal way from prison. So, consider me your parole officer. I’ll set you up with a place to live and an honest job but there will be times when I’ll need your particular services and when I call on you, you will deliver or else.”
“Making threats, are we, boyo?” Rufus said with a sneer.
“You know me better than that, Rufus,” Alex said gravely. “I never make threats, only promises. Mess up and I take you out. You have this one chance, and it’s a limited-time only deal, to turn your life around and make something of it. You’ve been hiding too long in the shadows, Rufus; time to come out of hiding.”
Rufus gave him a searching look. “You’re no longer with the Agency, are you?”
Alex shook his head. “I left last year. Now I teach French and Italian at a community college and I’m working on my Masters in Linguistics.” He paused and gave Rufus a shy smile. “I even have a girlfriend.”
“Get out!” Rufus exclaimed in astonishment, dropping his brogue in shock. “You, the great Artemus Gordon Meriwether , with a girlfriend? The guy who puts women into two categories — enemy or non-enemy — and treats them all as if they were nothing more than tools to be used or not?”
“Hey! I’m not that callous,” Alex protested, looking embarrassed and uncomfortable, knowing full well that he’d been just like that when it came to women, but that was before. Before Wiseman. Before Felicity. “And yes, I have a girlfriend. That’s not a crime.”
“Sure and you’d not be kissin’ the blarney stone on this, would ye, boyo?” Rufus retorted with a grin, amused at the way the other man squirmed before him.
“Okay, time to change the subject,” Alex said. “I’m going to take a shower. Try not to do anything stupid like leave while I’m in the bathroom. If I have to hunt for you, you will regret it.”
Rufus held up his hands in surrender. “Don’t be takin’ all the hot water, boyo. I’ll be wantin’ me own shower after ye.”
Alex nodded as he gathered his toiletry bag and a change of clothes. Rufus held out a hand to stay him and Alex gave him an enquiring look.
“Thanks,” Rufus said quietly. “For Louise, I mean. I never expected to be seein’ her again.”
Alex nodded. “I know how much you miss her,” he said softly and they both knew he wasn’t speaking about the plane. Rufus just nodded, a look of gratitude in his eyes. “I’ll be out in five minutes,” Alex said as he headed for the bathroom, closing the door, leaving the other man sitting on the bed lost in memory.
Sunday morning, they all met at the hot breakfast bar that the hotel offered and then Glorfindel took Gwyn and Rufus to stock up on food for the trip back and to submit a flight plan while Alex worked out at the fitness center and then swam a few laps in the pool before settling himself in a lounge chair with his laptop to work some more on Cymurian. The others joined him a couple of hours later, Alex faintly amused by the other guests who watched in open-mouthed astonishment as both Glorfindel and Gwyn removed their bathing robes to reveal their lithe bodies clad only in swim trunks, their long hair already encased in the required swimming caps, covering their ears. Both Elves ignored the Mortals around them as they entered the pool and began swimming laps. Rufus contented himself with sitting in a lounge chair next to Alex and watching a group of young females in their twenties sitting on the edge of the pool with their feet in the water as they conversed.
“They’re much too young for you, Rufus,” Alex said with a smile as he saw where the other man was looking. “Get everything squared away for tomorrow?”
Rufus nodded absently. “We’re all set. Ye be wantin’ me to stay by Louise and have her ready to roll as soon as ye get your errand done?”
Alex shook his head. “No. Sorry. I don’t trust you that far, Rufus, not yet. You’ll be coming with us to the bank when we go to retrieve what we came here for.”
“And what is that, exactly?” Rufus asked.
“Need to know,” Alex replied shortly and Rufus did not pursue the subject further. Glorfindel and Gwyn finished their laps and joined the two Mortals, commandeering a couple of chairs. “So how do you find Syracuse?” Alex asked the Elves.
“It’s not that hot out, only in the eighties, but the humidity here is very high,” Gwyn commented. “You could almost see the water in the air and it’s hard to breathe. I’m glad we’re only here for another day.”
“You used to live in this area, though,” Alex pointed out.
Gwyn nodded. “Further east. It’s been so long, though, I’d forgotten about the humidity. It’s all this water around us and where Syracuse is used to be swamp land until they drained it. There are still swamps in the area.”
“It does feel as if we could have thunderstorms later,” Glorfindel said. “At least, that’s the prediction. Apparently, it’s not uncommon to have hailstorms in summer here from what the meteorologist was saying on the radio.”
“Take it as it comes,” Alex said philosophically. “While you were out I called Coleman’s and made reservations for six o’clock.”
“I don’t be havin’ anything fancy to be wearin’, though,” Rufus said, entering the conversation for the first time.
“That’s okay. It’s a casual dress kind of place. Just so long as you look neat and clean, that’s all that matters. We’ll leave around five-thirty. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go take a shower and maybe follow it up with a nap. I can’t believe I’m still feeling washed out from yesterday.”
“It’s probably jet lag,” Glorfindel pointed out. “Don’t worry. We’ll keep an eye on Rufus for you.”
Rufus scowled but did not contradict him. “Thanks,” Alex said. “I’ll see you all later.” And with that he gathered up his things and left. For a while, the two Elves and Rufus just sat staring at one another, but finally, Glorfindel offered them a slow smile. “There’s a halfway decent bar not far from here. Gwyn and I found it last night when we went out for a bit of a ride. Interested?”
Rufus could only nod, not quite sure what to make of these two. “Good,” Glorfindel said, rising. “Let’s go change. Tell Alex we’re going out for a while but we’ll be back in time for dinner.” They did just that. Rufus found Alex sitting up in bed with the laptop on his knees. He apparently had showered and was now wearing just a pair of boxer shorts and a T-shirt. Rufus explained that he was going out with Loren and Gwyn to a nearby bar for a drink.
“Fine by me,” Alex said with a shrug, his attention on the laptop.
“Sure and ye wouldn’t be wantin’ to join us, then?” Rufus asked as he threw on a pair of cargo shorts and a T-shirt.
“Nah. I’m good. I really do want to take a nap… just as soon as I figure out what form the subjunctive should take.”
Rufus stared at him in disbelief, then snorted as he strapped on a pair of sandals. “Enjoy your nap, then,” he said as he headed out. Alex just nodded, only half aware of the fact that he was alone again.
When Rufus returned a couple of hours later, Alex was fast asleep, but stirred when he heard the man entering, instantly alert. “Have fun?” he asked around a yawn as he stretched and climbed out of bed.
“It was okay,” Rufus said with a shrug. “Gwyn and Loren… something about them puts my teeth on edge. They’re uncanny, they are, and no one should be allowed to be that beautiful, especially men.”
Alex grinned knowingly. “Let me guess. All the women in the bar were hot after Loren and Gwyn and no one bothered to pay any attention to you, Irish brogue or not.”
“It’s unnatural,” Rufus protested with a scowl.
Alex just laughed. “I’m going to shave and get dressed and then the bathroom’s all yours,” he said and for the next half-hour the two busied themselves with dressing for dinner, joining Gwyn and Glorfindel in the lobby. Coleman’s, it turned out, was on the southeast side of the city. The rental was equipped with a GPS so Alex was able to drive without too much trouble. They entered a residential area, climbing up one street where at the top they discovered a traffic light with the red light on the bottom and the green light on top. There was a small park nearby with a sign that read Welcome to Tipperary Hill.
Turning left at the light, they went downhill to where Coleman’s was situated. Alex found a place to park and they headed inside, stopping first to admire the two English-style phone booths, one about half the size of the other, clearly for use for the Little People, as Rufus put it, and next to the entrance was a smaller door for leprechauns. Inside they saw a small bench next to the leprechaun door and smiled at one another in amusement.
Alex spoke to the hostess, giving her his name and moments later they were passing through the bar area admiring the dark wood and stained glass with Celtic motifs. There was even a live band playing Irish music. The hostess seated them on the enclosed veranda overlooking the street with a church across the way. A waitress came over and took their drink orders, all of them ordering beer of one stripe of another, and then they silently perused the menu with its mix of Irish and American dishes. Alex eventually settled on fish ’n chips, while Rufus ordered bangers and mash. Glorfindel decided on balsamic salmon, while Gwyn decided to try the sirloin Tipperary that was simmered in a Jameson whiskey cream sauce. They ordered Irish soda bread and Guinness onion rings to share as appetizers.
“A pleasant place,” Glorfindel commented as he sipped on his Guinness and looked about. There were a few other dinners nearby and through the glass doors they could see into the bar where people were quietly drinking. Being a Sunday and early yet, there were few patrons.
“And it’s authentic,” Alex said with a grin, “or it claims to be.”
“It’s authentic enough,” Glorfindel said. “So, tomorrow, we retrieve the item from the safety deposit box.”
“And what item would that be?” Rufus asked curiously.
“An item of importance to us,” Glorfindel answered smoothly, then turned to Alex. “So, should we drop you and Rufus off at the airport to get the plane ready while I take Gwyn to the bank?”
Alex shook his head. “No, we stay together, all of us. I don’t like the idea of us separating.”
Glorfindel frowned slightly. “Premonition?”
Alex gave him a surprised look. “Don’t know, but every time I think about us separating I get a very uneasy feeling.”
“Surely you don’t think we’re in any danger?” Gwyn asked in surprise. “We’re just going to the bank and then we’ll be back at the airport. What could possibly go wrong?”
“From your lips to the Almighty’s ears, lad,” Rufus said with a roll of his eyes.
“Amen,” Alex whispered, not looking at anyone.
Gwyn looked to comment, but the waitress returned with their dinners and the topic was dropped. The rest of the time was taken up with eating and even Alex relaxed enough to enjoy himself as Glorfindel regaled them with a tale of his last trip to Ireland. Alex realized the ellon was careful to make it sound as if it had been a recent trip taken only a few years ago rather than one that was a century gone. Glancing at Rufus hanging on every word, he wondered how the ex-smuggler would react when he finally learned the truth about the so-called ‘Little People’.
Note: Coleman’s actually exists and you can visit their website at www(dot)colemansirishpub(dot)com. The traffic light at the top of Tipperary Hill where Milton Avenue and Tompkins Street meet does have the green light on top and it’s the only traffic light in America like that.
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