“Is that . . . a pseudonym?”
“Armin Lenaurd,” I said. “The Lenaurd protocol.” I didn’t have to try very hard to remember where I’d heard that before. The list was burned into my memory. We’d just seen it.
J. L.: artificially manifested, Lenaurd protocol, early induction.
“I want to kill myself,” I said calmly. “Like, I actually want to die.”
“I’m missing something.” Stella said.
“You saw the list—with our names on it, what was wrong with us.” They both nodded. “If ‘J.L.’ and ‘C.L.’ are Jude and Claire Lowe,” I explained, “it means that there was some protocol, written by the author of this obscenely boring book, that basically explained what was done to them.”
“?‘Artificially manifested,’?” Jamie said quietly. “?‘Early induction’ . . . that would mean, what? The doctors were trying to cause the effects of the thing we have—in normal people, maybe?”
“Jude is hardly normal,” I said.
“Maybe that’s why,” Stella said quietly.
“Why he is the way he is,” Stella said. “But wait. If there’s a whole book about this thing that’s wrong with us, maybe we can stop it.” Her voice rose in pitch. “There might be a cure. It might be in that book!” She rounded on me. “Mara, where is it?”
“I gave it to Daniel.”
“My older brother.”
“So if we find Daniel, we find the book, and we find the cure—”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Back up a second here, eager beaver,” Jamie said. “If there even is a cure in that book, which is a huge, massive ‘if.’ I mean, the Lenaurd protocol, whatever it is, was used on Jude, right? And I’d say it’s not working out so well for him. So are we sure we’d even want whatever else might be in that book? Like, Kells kept talking about how she was trying to ‘cure’ us and ‘save’ us and shit, and I don’t know . . . ending up on her side doesn’t feel right.” Stella opened her mouth to speak, but Jamie cut her off before she could. “Also, now that I know what’s actually wrong with me, I’m not sure I’d even want to fix it.” He paused. “Is that crazy?”
No one answered.
“Anyway, whatever. There’s no way to know if what we need is in that book, but there’s another problem.”
“Jude?” I asked.
“No. I mean, yes, he’s a problem, but another one.”
“How we’re going to survive without money?”
“No, another one. Listen,” he said, sounding exasperated. “Kells was a medical researcher. But it takes money to run the kind of facility she was running. Who was funding it? And how many people knew, or know, about it? About us? And are any of them going to be even mildly pissed that their staff was butchered and their research lost?” he went on. “And speaking of research, how many carriers are there? We can’t be the only ones, which means somewhere out there, there are more of us. Do we try to find them? What if they find us?”
“That’s a lot more than one problem,” Stella said.
Jamie wanted answers. Stella wanted a cure. I wanted Noah. And to punish whoever had taken him from me.
Jamie bit his lip. “So. Where do we start?”
WE COULDN’T AGREE ON WHICH problem to solve first, so we started by identifying what each of our problems had in common: Horizons. Stella withdrew the file folders she’d culled from Kells’s office and set them down on the table. This was what she’d taken:
Seven pages of patient records for someone we’d never heard of.
Twenty-three pictures of what seemed to be the insides of our throats and other places, and lab results from samples of our hair, spit, and pee.
One drawing of me, by me, with black scribbles over my eyes.
And a too-many-pages-to-count tax return for the Horizons Group, filed by Ira Ginsberg, CPA. The address was in New York.
With what little we had (Stella kept apologizing), Jamie suggested we follow the money. Stella and I agreed. But all of us would have to visit our parents first.
We didn’t know how pressing the parent problem was, which in and of itself was part of the problem. Where did they think we were? What did they know? All three of our families believed in Dr. Kells and had put us into her care—out of ignorance, not malice, but still. We couldn’t exactly show up on their respective doorsteps and explain the situation in good news–bad news format: Hey, Mom, I’ve been tortured and experimented upon, but don’t worry because my tormenters are dead. Because, P.S., I killed them. I didn’t know about Stella and Jamie, but in my experience, telling the truth only led to not being believed.
But Jamie was pretty sure (“Just pretty sure?”) he could manage to convince our parents of our general welfare enough to avoid statewide AMBER Alerts and enough to possibly find out where they thought we were, and with whom. Maybe they’d been contacted by someone other than Kells. Maybe one of the other Horizons employees was in on it (though Stella didn’t think so). We needed to talk to them to find out.
And there was a fourth house we needed to visit, though Stella and Jamie didn’t know it yet. I needed to know what Noah’s parents believed. I needed to know if there’d been a funeral. Just thinking the word made me ill.
We left No Name Pub with full stomachs but not much else. Charlotte, the owner, tried to help us find a ride, but no one was heading to Miami that day. She offered to put us up for the night, but there was no guarantee that anyone would be heading to Miami the next day either, and none of us wanted to wait. So Charlotte, kind soul that she was, offered to wash our clothes and pointed us to a little tourist shop nearby that she and her husband owned, where we could change into one of half a dozen T-shirt variations on the I LOVE FLORIDA theme while our clothes dried. Jamie and Stella had shoes in their bags, but I, having no bag, had no shoes either, so Charlotte gave me a pair of flip-flops from her own closet. After everything I’d been through, I’d thought I couldn’t be surprised by people anymore. But Charlotte proved that I could.
Stella was already wearing a spare T-shirt of Jamie’s (the yellow one, with the text I AM A CLICHÉ), so Jamie and I were left to pick our poison, so to speak. He ended up with an I FLORIDA shirt. I picked WELCOME TO THE SUNSHINE STATE. There weren’t a lot of options.