I hit send and wait awhile for a reply that doesn’t come. Then I fall asleep in a bed that’s probably infested with bedbugs, thinking that it would be all right if only Matt was here next to me.
“Who are you talking to?” I ask Mason when I walk into the kitchen the next day. He has his cell pressed to his ear and a coffee mug in his left hand. He scowls at me for the interruption and shakes his head.
“If it’s David, please ask about my backpack,” I whisper. Mason is a killer multitasker: he hears and gives me a thumbs-up. I pop bread in the toaster and wait, then, because there’s no jam, I use a butter-like substance that I hope doesn’t kill me. I sit down and start eating, watching Mason and trying to will him to ask about my backpack with my mind. Right when I think he’s forgotten, he comes through.
“Thanks for the lab inventory,” Mason says. “Can I ask one other small thing?” He pauses to listen. “Great, thanks. Daisy needs her school backpack. It’s red, with a black-and-white patch on the front. I think it’s in her room…. Hang on.”
He looks at me.
“Yes, on the right side of my desk, on the floor,” I say.
Mason repeats the directions and then agrees to hang on while David goes to look for it. “No, the right side.” He pauses again. “Yes, do that,” he says.
I take another bite of toast, waiting for confirmation that the bag is on the way. Instead, Mason looks at me while he speaks to David.
“I can’t believe it,” he says. “Nothing else is missing in the whole house but a teenager’s backpack? Guess that rules out involvement from the program.”
Except that it doesn’t, I think to myself as my stomach sinks. I put down my toast, no longer hungry.
I know it was about Case 22.
And that has everything to do with the program.
In fact, it has everything to do with God himself.
When Mason hangs up, I catch him before he rushes out of the room.
“I need to talk to you,” I say seriously. It gets his attention. “And Cassie, too.”
“Okay,” Mason says, a concerned look on his face. “Is everything okay?”
“Not really,” I say. “Let’s get Cassie, and I’ll tell you what I mean.”
When my guardians are settled at the table across from me, I begin my prepared statement.
“I believe that God killed Nora Fitzgerald,” I say directly, looking Mason, then Cassie, right in the eyes. Mason’s eyebrows scrunch up in confusion; Cassie looks as surprised as she is capable of looking.
“That’s quite an accusation, Daisy,” Mason says. “Why do you think that?”
“Well, a few days after Nora spotted me at the mall, I was on the system and stumbled across a folder for a twenty-second case.” I leave out the part about Matt.
Mason looks at me like I’ve just claimed that the earth is flat.
“But there are only twenty-one cases,” he says.
“I know,” I say. “But this was number twenty-two. I was curious, of course, so I opened it, but the name was confidential. The relocation town was listed as Franklin, Nevada.”
“Okay…” Mason says.
Distracted, Cassie checks her watch and shifts in her seat. I know she’d rather be working.
“I told Megan about it,” I say. Suddenly, Cassie attacks Mason with her eyes, probably annoyed that he’s given me access in the first place.
“Daisy, you need to keep what you see in there to yourself from here on out,” Mason says.
“Fine,” I say. “But Megan’s not the point. Anyway, she and I were messing around online and we found an article from Frozen Hills that said that Nora Fitzgerald had been killed in a car accident. But then we found her alive, on Facebook.” Cassie looks confused this time: I wonder if she’s going to call me on what I’m saying. I’m messing up the timeline and leaving out David’s involvement, but basically, it’s right. I speak quickly so she won’t question me.
“Anyway, I’ve been talking to Nora,” I say. Mason’s jaw drops. Cassie inhales sharply.
“You’ve been talking to a girl who thinks you’re dead?” Mason asks, sitting straighter in his seat.
“See?” Cassie says to him. “You give her too much freedom. Now look at what she’s done.”
“You guys are totally missing the point,” I say forcefully. “The point is that Nora was killed—on purpose—then relocated because she knew about me. Except that she wasn’t told anything real. She thinks that her family’s in the witness protection program.”
Cassie rolls her eyes, then stands abruptly.
“I’ve got real work to do,” she says. “I’m going to let you deal with this mess, Mason.”
She leaves the room and Mason stares at me for a long time before speaking again.
“Daisy, I can tell that this is really bothering you,” he says. “So I want to understand. It sounds to me like maybe the agents following Nora because of the sighting took advantage of the situation when she crashed. They made the call to fix the problem by Reviving and relocating her. It stands to reason that they wouldn’t want to divulge program secrets, so they kept it from her. I’m not seeing how God fits in here.”
“I was getting to that,” I say. I take a deep breath and try to explain my hunch to Mason. “When we went to the aquarium when we first moved to Omaha, there was a guy who talked to me in the big ocean exhibit. He was there, asking questions, and then he disappeared. I couldn’t remember a thing about him other than that he had a lisp.”
I take a gulp of air.
“Anyway, when Nora told me about the crash, she said that the Good Samaritan who saved her sounded like Daffy Duck. Like he had a lisp. And when she described the situation, it sounded really weird. Like the guy didn’t move or react quickly, and he called a ‘friend’ instead of nine-one-one. It got me thinking.
“I wondered if it was the same guy. At first, I thought he was an agent, but in that case, why didn’t he identify himself to me that day at the aquarium? The only person I can think of who might talk to me anonymously, then kill Nora, is—”
“God,” Mason says pensively.
“Right,” I say.
There’s a flash of something in Mason’s eyes.
“What?” I ask.
“Nothing. The lisp thing just reminded me of… Nothing,” he says. Then he shakes his head. “Why would God be in Omaha? He has no connection to Omaha other than me and Cassie, and he never meets with agents in person. There’s no reason for him to be there.”
“Who knows where God goes or what he does?” I ask.
“Well, he doesn’t kill people,” Mason says in a way that makes me feel like he’s trying to convince himself.
“He didn’t used to,” I say. “But you’ve said yourself that there are upsetting changes happening to the program. Like the new lab, like God wanting you to Revive new people—”
“I did say that,” Mason interrupts. “But this is over the top. We’re testing a drug that gives people life—we don’t take it away. There’s no way Nora’s accident was at God’s hands.”