The handful of weeks following the explosion of Jack Freed and his limo pass by in a blur of hiding in basements and snatching glimpses of how the public is reacting to Freed’s death. Answer: really, really badly. Jay can sympathize; he’s torn up, too, but mostly because he’s being blamed for it.
Will takes to staring at maps and art prints and the space above Jay’s shoulder while he speaks, like eye contact is something to save for special occasions or serious conversations. More serious, anyway. The venn diagram of the conversations between the three of them is a circle labelled How To Not Go To Prison and/or Die.
Currently their ideas about how best to go about those things involve keeping their heads down, holed up in an unfinished suburban bungalow. Will disappears for hours at a time, apparently trying to set up a meeting with someone named Jodie.
While he’s gone, Jay and Tyler take turns tinkering on the laptop they liberated. Sometimes, usually after someone brings up Kim or barbeques or Christmas, talk turns to the logistics of going back to their old lives.
“Even if all of this just- went away,” Tyler says, gesturing. “Do you really think we could go back to how things were before?”
Maybe. Jay sure as hell would try. Tyler shrugs. He’s just lost his minesweeper game – the little yellow face has a pair of Xs for eyes. He boots up their shaky wireless internet and searches for pictures of dogs on bicycles. “Will should be back soon,” he says absently.
Will Traveler. That's the sort of name that you type into a search engine and get nothing for your trouble. Jay's done it, of course, tapped "Will Traveler" into Google and come up with incredibly unhelpful results. "Did you mean 'will travel'?" Google asks politely, and no, he fucking did not. ‘If A = 0.4s, at what time will traveler B overtake traveler A?’
Sometimes Jay catches glimpses of Will-Who-Was(-Fake), and sometimes Jay thinks he has opportunities to expand that glimpse into a moment, or maybe even several minutes at a time. Tyler sees it, too. Jay knows this because sometimes when Will is out killing people or whatever it is he does when he’s away, Jay and Tyler go into the bathroom and turn on the shower so that they can talk without worrying about potential bugs. On this occasion, they sit on the edge of the bath-tub and have the What To Do About Will Argument, take 259.
“Just leave it alone,” is Tyler’s final word on the matter, mostly because this is when the front door slams, distantly.
They emerge from the bathroom together, nonchalantly, to find Will leaning up against the wall in the hallway, carefully expressionless, although his mouth twitches just a little when he takes in their rumpled, slightly damp appearance. Steam billows out the door.
“May I?” Will says, not really a question, and slides easily past them and into the bathroom, closing the door firmly behind him. Jay thinks he may have had a bit of blood on his collar.
The shower starts.
“By the way,” Will calls, only a little muffled, “These walls are not soundproof.”
He’s right. Two weeks later Jay wakes up to a surfeit of muffled noises he can’t identify, until he follows them to the source and discovers Will choking a man to death in the motel bathtub.
Jay involuntarily drifts a half-step backwards. The man is enormous, his great meaty hands groping for a grip on Will’s shoulder or his hair. Will is sitting on the guy’s chest, and his back is facing the door but he’s not making a sound. Jay imagines a blank face – knows he’s being unfair and doesn’t care.
Jay has only just managed to open his mouth (“...Will?”) when the man in the bathtub finally strikes a winning blow – Will’s left side, where the gunshot wound has only mostly healed. Will doubles over. Arms snake out from under him and close around the fabric of his zip-up. In half a moment, they’ve rolled in place: Will’s pressed up against the floral-patterned tile, the man using one arm to hold him and the other to start manoeuvring himself out of the tub. He growls in stops and starts.
Jay stumbles back to the bedroom, scoops up the laptop, covers the distance back to the bathroom in six strides, and bashes the meaty man over the head. The guy topples sideways into the bathtub, where he lies still.
And here is one of those old-world glimpses: squinting into the semi-dark, Will looks for all the world like some poor grad student who’s just been attacked by a psycho in his bathroom. The moment could hold, if Will would say “what the fuck” or exchange wide-eyed looks with Jay or maybe cry a little. He doesn’t, of course – rubs at his bleeding forehead and throws Jay an absent thank-you. He reaches beside the sink and plucks up his gun from where it must have fallen.
Jay lets the moment go. If they get out of this whole conspiracy situation alive, they’ll owe it at least in part to Will 2.0: terrorist assassin robot edition.
“Do you know this guy?” Jays says weakly.
“Come on,” says Will. “We need to move. Don’t turn on any lights.”
Jay collects Tyler from the bedroom and they meet Will downstairs. Once Will is reasonably satisfied that no one is waiting to shoot them from the bushes, they slip out the back. Jay slides into the driver’s seat of the waiting car they rescued from a junk yard a few days back. Tyler is beside him, clutching the laptop. Will takes the back.
“Explain,” Tyler demands.
“Someone broke into the house,” says Will.
“Oh, all right,” says Tyler. There is a pause. “Explain more, Will.”
Will does so, in the tone he adopts whenever he explains anything to them – that matter-of-fact way that distracts from all the parts he’s leaving out. He finishes with, “We’re only just starting to feel the fallout from the bombing. Bombings.”
Tyler slowly, deliberately sets the dead laptop on the dash. “Excuse me,” he says, and lists all the reasons why Will is no longer allowed to assign severity levels to other people’s ruined lives. When he’s run out of fingers and still has not gotten to classics like ‘this is all your fault’ and ‘this doesn’t mean I want to talk about it but my dad trying to have me killed is legitimately traumatic,’ Jay waves him off.
“Okay,” says Will. “Okay. What I mean is the net’s going to get tighter.”
“More people looking for us,” Jay says.
“More kinds of people,” says Will. “Between citizens looking for terrorists and government assassins we’re kind of running the gamut, here.”
Jay suddenly decides that he really, truly does not want to chat about survival chances right now. Or possibly ever.
“Government assassins,” says Tyler. “Does that mean we get to meet more of your spy friends?”
“No,” says Will, unconvincingly.
It’s been two days and everywhere they go, within the span of 8 or so hours they (that is, Will) spots signs of enemy spy surveillance. This is scary and frustrating, but admittedly way better than the alternative of not spotting them and being kidnapped. Or killed. Or framed for a third bombing.
Currently they are hunkered down in a crumby motel in a little nowhere town. Jay discovers a further situational development when he sneaks into the lobby to grab a continental newspaper and orange juice.
He returns to the room and waggles the paper at Tyler and Will. “Guys,” he says. “Has someone been leaving us notes?”
“Do you like me,” Tyler says quietly, automatically.
Will adds, without looking up from his laptop: “Yes, no. Please check one.”
There is a pause. Jay can practically see Tyler file this exchange away in his head for future examination. Jay could save him some time: the pit of sleep deprivation they’ve been digging themselves is reaching critical mass. China? The ocean floor. The homeland of the great and noble mixed metaphor.
Jay regroups. “It’s in the paper. Will’s friend from the bathroom?”
Will shoots him a dirty look. Tyler snatches the paper away and narrows his eyes at the article on page 3. “New Haven,” he reads. “Written on a note and safety-pinned to the dead guy’s sweater. New Haven must be us – someone who knows that’s where we lived.”
“That’s not difficult information to find,” says Jay, “and wait, hang on, what, that guy is dead?”
“That guy is dead,” Tyler confirms.
“No, we – it was self-defence! And I only hit him with a laptop!” Jay says.
“And I slit his throat while you woke up Tyler,” Will adds.
There is a brief, stunned silence.
“Seriously?” says Tyler. He rubs his neck.
“It was him or us,” Will says, perhaps a tad defensively. “I made an executive decision.”
“Seriously,” Tyler repeats, at a marginally louder volume.
“I would just like to state for the record,” Jay interjects, slowly, “that I think killing defenceless people while we’re trying to clear our names is going hurt us in the long run.”
“Don’t worry about it for now,” says Will.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“I mean the note. Look, what does this tell us?” says Will.
Answer: surprisingly little. As far as sinister notes go it is, they decide, quite vague. The plan stays the same – meet up with mystery woman and possible-willing-to-give-them-information Jodie. Don’t talk about all the morally ambiguous things they are going to have to do over the next who-knows-how-long. Relatedly, avoid the plethora of people who are after them, not let their arguments devolve into fist fighting (again), and keep tabs on the unfolding saga of government/familial corruption.
That last one is more of a long-term goal.
Every so often, when they talk about their ultimate endgame – that reliable mantra of clear names, go home – Will makes noises about how that won’t ever be the case for him.
And Jay says things half-hearted things like: When our names are cleared we’ll throw you a bone here, Will. When we can go back to our lives we’ll let them know you helped us, Will.
The unspoken underbelly of Will’s little comments is that he says them like he wants to. Like he wishes he could go back to his fake Will Traveler life with his fake Will Traveler friends, set up camp there and live like none of this happened. Finish his MA and play first-person shooter games.
“Jay,” Tyler had said. “You really think we can just pick up where we left off?”
He meant their pre-Drexler lives, but all Jay can think is please check one.
What’s easy to forget is that Will, despite his recent tendency to avoid eye contact and be deliberately, frustratingly obtuse about social interactions, is still in many ways the socially savvy and manipulative person that he must have been in order to – well. Do his job.
One grey and dreary morning, Will sits down at the kitchen table and makes Jay the awful, sole focus of his attention.
“Uh,” Jay says. “Is there something on my – what’s up, Will?”
Will stares at him blankly for several long moments, and then says, “We’re meeting Jodie today.”
“Oh,” says Jay. “Well, that’s refreshingly honest. Usually you just disappear and come back with severed hands and ID cards.”
“Based on previous interactions, I need backup to meet with Jodie,” Will says, apparently deciding to ignore that last part.
“Based on – I thought you said you didn’t know Jodie!”
“Yeah, that was a lie,” Will says. Tyler is napping on the couch. The little bastard must have deliberately chosen this moment to spring the news on Jay; Tyler has a tendency to throw things (playstation remotes, slushies, various food items) when upset, and Will has a recently acquired (re-acquired?) tendency to let his body make executive decisions involving choke holds and guns when there are things flying at his head. Will watches Jay process this, and then adds, “I was hoping I wouldn’t need your help on this one.”
“And why is that?” Jay challenges.
“Because Jodie is one of my ‘spy friends,’” Will says, and, horrifyingly, actually lifts his hands up off the table to make air quotes.
“And?” Jay asks, when no further answer seems to be forthcoming.
There is a pause.
“She’s – scary,” Will says. He looks like he means it, and Jay is torn between wanting to believe him, and wanting to punch him in the face.
Business as usual, then.
Except it’s not exactly business as usual. Once they’ve woken Tyler up and he’s done shouting, they pile into the car, and instead of staring out the window like he usually does, Will spends the entire drive staring at Jay and Tyler. It’s incredibly disconcerting. Tyler’s driving, so he doesn’t notice until they are 20 minutes away from their destination, after which he starts stealing narrow-eyed glances first into the rear-view, then at Jay in the passenger’s seat.
The GPS that Jay stole –and it was not exciting, it was terrible, that’s his story and he’s sticking to it – beeps quietly and informs them that their destination is ahead, 5 metres to the right. They pull off the road beside a neat little pink house with a neat little garden. The lawn looks regulation short, and there is a smart car parked in the driveway. They stare at it from their vehicle, leaving the engine idling. “I really thought this was going to be an abandoned warehouse,” Tyler says, finally.
Will shrugs, opening the back door and crawling out, but doesn’t reply.
Jay and Tyler exchange glances. “What was that,” Tyler hisses, and Jay grimaces, shrugs, and gets out of the passenger seat without replying, either.
They walk up the sidewalk toward the front door; the weather has cleared since the morning, and there’s a white-haired couple weeding a flower bed next door. The woman waves at them, smiling. Jay feels deeply unsettled. “Just stay calm,” Will mutters at them, “and don’t say anything. Jodie’s going to be – provocative.”
“Are those spies too?” Tyler whispers, jerking his head at the elderly couple in the other yard. Will spares them a glance, then shakes his head.
“Nope,” he says. “Civilians. So be careful: if things go wrong, they and everyone else on this block could die.”
Jay sucks in a breath, startled, but when he glances over at Will he notices the corner of his mouth twitching, the way it used to whenever they drew all over Tyler’s face when he drank too much tequila and passed out under the kitchen table, and didn’t notice the permanent marker Yosemite Sam moustache for hours the next morning. “Was that a joke?” Jay demands, and then they’re at the front door and Will is ringing the doorbell.
A tiny woman with dark brown hair and cruel eyes answers the door immediately. “Will,” she says, opening the door wider and gesturing them inside. “Do come in.”
Jay has begun to understand what Will meant when he said Jodie was going to be provocative. In the eight minutes, she’s made two veiled threats against their lives, and one not-so-veiled insult about Will’s height. When she fails to get much of a reaction, though, she gets out a manila folder full of papers and passes it to Will.
He flips through it, briefly, and then jerks his head up when she says, “Same old Will.”
“What does that mean?” Tyler asks, before Jay can stomp on his foot.
Jodie smiles at them, deceptively warm. “He makes a lovely addition to anyone’s tool kit,” she says. “I had him in mine, for a while.”
“If this is a sexual metaphor -” Tyler starts, and then Jay really does stomp on his foot.
“Where’s the rest,” says Will, voice flat. “You’re missing at least two pages of-”
She waves him to silence. “Don’t have those,” she says. “Sorry,” she adds belatedly, in a voice that means she’s actually kind of delighted. Will returns to the folder, but it only has half his attention; the rest is split between Jodie, the door, and Jodie again. At one point she catches Jay’s eye, curls her lips into a smile, and winks at him.
Jay watches Will speed read conspiratorial documents and then check their exit, and keep the same expression the whole time. Jay could squint, and see Will-Who-Was-Setting-Them-Up pouring over study notes for chemical formulas. Or maybe Will 2.0, blank-faced and empty, who it’s okay to use because he’s dangerous and a professional liar and only in it for himself anyway.
Jay could see these things, but he- doesn’t.
“This gets us somewhere,” says Will, looking at Jay and Tyler in turn.
Oh my God, thinks Jay. Will has feelings.
And- okay. Jay knew that Will is not a robot. You’d only have to take one look at him while he explains how he’s going to bring down the people that killed Maia to know that. But that’s been useful too, hasn’t it, fury that can be carefully siphoned off in manageable portions for things like threatening ghosts, or digging deeper than he should. Things like getting involved in peeling back layer after layer of deadly conspiracy, instead of just shooting Jack Freed in the head and disappearing to someplace warm and far away.
Jay sits as still as he can and tries his best to catch Tyler’s eye. Their track record for nonverbal conversations is lacklustre at best, but Jay really, really needs Tyler to be telepathic right now.
Will’s turned to Jodie. “Who knows you took these?”
It is exactly half past the hour, and a kettle begins to shriek. Jodie excuses herself and disappears into the kitchen. The kettle does not turn off. Barely audible behind the noise, Jay hears what might be the back door opening.
Will slaps the folder against Tyler’s chest and draws his gun in a pair of simultaneous motions. Jay half-expects him to go charging out of the room toward the ominous noises, but instead, Will shoves him and Tyler out of the living room, hard, and urges them toward the front door. He hangs back half a step, watching their six, but by the time they topple into the street, sprinting back to the car, he’s level with them again. Jay thinks he sees the elderly couple waving out of the corner of his eye. Will is on his left side, gun still out but neatly hidden from the locals behind Jay’s body. Tyler is a couple steps ahead; once Jay and Will have thrown themselves into the car, Tyler hammers on the gas and they are away. The even rows and yards of suburbia give way to crowded streets, then to open highway.
“Think we’re safe?” Tyler pants. He’s clutching the wheel in a death grip.
“Jodie will probably take care of it,” says Will. “She’s a terrible person,” he adds, without a trace of irony, “but she owes me one.”
Jay considers this. “You didn’t really need backup, did you,” he says. It’s not a question.
“No,” says Will, almost hesitant, drawing the word out. “I, uh. I did need backup.”
Are we in this together, Jay wants to say. Can we be in this together.
“Okay,” he says instead.
Tyler raises an eyebrow, opens his mouth as though to say something, and then apparently thinks better of it. “I could kill for a chilli corn dog,” he says, and then hastily backtracks. “But I am perfectly capable of obtaining one without killing anybody. ...And so is everybody in this car.”
“This isn’t just about corn dogs, is it,” says Will.
“Tyler and I like chilli corn dogs,” says Jay. “And you like slitting people’s throats. We’re going to have to reconcile this eventually.”
“I like corn dogs,” Will says.
“Please be serious,” Tyler says.
“My corn dogs are from a very different place than your corn dogs,” says Will.
“Oh God,” says Tyler.
“I have the money to pay for my particular kind of corn dogs, but you could never afford them,” Will says, taking a chance but mostly losing the thread of the already tenuous metaphor. He seems to sense this, but soldiers on anyway. “Even if you were to somehow obtain enough money for these specific corn dogs, it would mean totally giving up the kind of corn dogs you liked in the first place.”
“We don’t particularly want anybody to be eating your kind of corn dogs, though,” says Jay. “Including you.”
Will looks oddly touched and also intensely frustrated. “I have eaten many-”
“Okay, come on, STOP,” Tyler begs. “Please stop killing people when they’re down, Will, this is ridiculous.”
“I can’t promise that,” Will says, heatedly.
“I know it’s – habit, or training, or whatever,” says Jay, “but Will-”
“Look,” says Will, sounding intensely uncomfortable. “If I – If I were to compromise and pause to think to myself, ‘What would Jay and Tyler do?’ whenever this comes up – and it will – is that acceptable for the time being?”
This is of course the moment when someone tries to run them off the road, but, Jay thinks, as they weave back into heavier traffic, they have actually made some progress here. All things considered, it’s been a pretty okay day.
Jay’s standards may be slipping.