"Oh, for God's sake!" Audrey cursed, slamming the heel of her hand against the steering wheel. She muttered a few more colourful curses and then shook her head. "Okay, Parker, time to stop relying on technology and use your common sense."
Flicking on her indicator, she pulled over to the shoulder and switched off the car. Even though she hadn't seen another vehicle in over an hour, she turned on her hazard lights as a precaution. Just because everyone she'd passed on her journey through northern Maine had told her that this road was rarely used didn't mean she was going to risk getting mowed down by the one unexpected semi-trailer.
The highway was as dark as it was empty, so she switched on the overhead light to see while digging through her backpack for her cell phone. Audrey had given up on the GPS unit in the rental car – it claimed the road she was on didn't actually exist – and was hoping that the mapping app in her phone might be of more use. Failing that, she had a telephone number for the FBI offices in Bangor. As much as she hated the idea of making a bad impression with local field agents, if they could get her closer to her motel room, she'd be happy to take a little ribbing over getting lost.
The cell phone had fallen all the way to the bottom of the backpack's main compartment. As she jammed her fingernail into the bag's seam, Audrey cursed herself for not buying the paper map she'd seen at the last gas station along the road. Finally, the bag gave up its prize. Audrey tapped her password into the phone, only to find that she didn't have any network connection at all.
Audrey tossed the phone back into the bag, shut off the overhead light, and started the car. It appeared she had two choices: drive back to the little rest stop she'd left two hours ago, or go forth and see what she found. Even though turning back was probably the sensible choice, Audrey had a gut feeling that if she kept going forward she'd end up in the right place.
It had been twenty minutes since she'd started driving again and Audrey was beginning to wonder if anyone lived in central Maine at all. She hadn't seen a single road, trail, sign, or light in over two hours. The needle on the gas gauge was starting to droop and she resolved to turn in at the first hint of civilization. She needed a shower and a bed as much as the car needed fuel.
Trees flashed by, unbroken ranks of black trunks and grey shadows. Suddenly, Audrey slammed on the brakes. There had been something in the forest reflecting the headlights. Shifting into reverse, she rolled backward along the highway until she spotted it again. A tiny, overgrown sign announced, Storybrooke - 1 mile.
Audrey snorted. Storybrooke? Visions of a tourist-trap town danced in her head. But at least a tourist town would have a motel and a gas station, perhaps even an all-night diner where she could murder a stack of pancakes.
Checking her odometer, she drove the next mile slowly. That turned out to be a good choice, since the road to Storybrooke was almost as easy to miss as the sign had been. Turning off the highway, Audrey started to doubt her theory about motels and diners - the road looked barely used and nothing short of forbidding.
The woods on either side of the road seemed to be growing thicker as she travelled toward Storybrooke. They were just as dark as the rest of the forest, but something in the way the moonlight filtered through the canopy created the impression of shapes moving through the trees. Audrey felt goosebumps rise on her arms but put it down to the rapidly dropping temperature until she saw a bright flash of light off to the right – nowhere near the beam of her headlights.
Slamming on the brakes again, she peered into the darkness, trying to spot the source of the flash. She waited for a few minutes, but there was no further lightshow. Eventually, she decided that sleep took precedence over figuring out the glow – although something about the lights struck her as unnatural.
Another ten minutes' drive and she found herself turning onto the deserted main street of Storybrooke. The place wasn't quite as cutesy as she'd feared, although it was very Main Street USA. But even looking as normal as it did, something about the town struck Audrey as strange. She looped around the downtown looking for a hotel, and for a hint to why the town seemed off to her.
The big clock tower tolled midnight as she rolled to a stop in front of Granny's Inn, the only house with its front light still on. Grabbing her backpack from the car, Audrey looked up at Granny's. It was just as cutesy as she'd feared, and it also looked closed. Unfortunately, it appeared to be the only hotel in town, so Audrey climbed the front steps anyway.
She let herself in through the front door to find an empty foyer. Shaking her head at the risk the owner was taking, she made her way to the reception desk. A small sign announced, "Please help yourself to a key. Breakfast is at 8. Granny" and a cookie tin held ornate keys with numbered tags. Audrey laughed as she plucked the top key from the tin.
She made her way to room seven, alternating between being amused and wondering what it was about the town that set her instincts on edge.
Monday morning light crept across Emma's bed. She curled deeper into the pillow for a few minutes in the hopes of avoiding the day to come.
"Time to get up, Emma." Mary Margaret's head popped into view around the doorframe. "I've made you a proper breakfast, so you'd better get up if you're going to have time to eat it."
Emma smiled into her pillow as the brunette whisked out of view. It was like being mothered by a pixie. As she sat up and stretched, she thought of what Henry would have to say about that idea. Even if Emma were willing to buy into the idea of Storybrooke as a land of lost fairy tales, the concept of her landlady as her mother was too much to swallow - Mary Margaret was younger than Emma, or at least acted like it. Half of the time, Emma felt as though she was Mary's older sister.
The scent of cinnamon toast came wafting through the door and Emma set aside all thoughts of fairy tales in favour of the world's fastest shower. She was going to need time to enjoy her breakfast.
Full of cinnamon French toast and hot chocolate, Emma set out for the day. As she locked the apartment door behind her, thoughts of the task she'd set herself warred in her head. On the one hand, she didn't want to risk yet another confrontation with the mayor, but at the same time, she knew she couldn't continue to work for the sheriff if he was reporting back to that woman.
The mayor's campaign to drive Emma out of town had become a subtle and poisonous series of attacks. The latest seemed to involve situations that only Henry and the sheriff were aware of, and since Henry was hardly likely to tell his mother about Emma's plans, that left only one source. It frustrated Emma to find that she had a false ally in Storybrooke - she knew she could wrap the man around her finger with one smile, but now she realized that he had probably always been playing her against the mayor. With people like him around, she knew she had to be doubly grateful for the true friends she did have.
Emma smiled, remembering the night before. Mary Margaret had thrown a One Month Anniversary party for Emma. One month in this mad-house of a town, and Emma had been amazed to find out how many people considered themselves her friend. Until Henry had dragged her to this strange little corner of the world, Emma had been a solitary creature. Perhaps it was growing up in the foster system, but she had never been one to get close to anyone. She knew how to exist on the fringe, with one foot out the door, and it was this attitude that gave her such an edge in hunting bail-jumpers. At the same time, it did mean that she could count the people she'd considered friends on one hand.
Here in Storybrooke, over a dozen people arrived at Mary Margaret's with food and drink to celebrate Emma's anniversary. It was possibly the best party she'd been to, and the strangest. Mary and her coma-patient friend had spent the entire evening dancing around each other, and Henry had done everything in his ten-year-old repertoire to push them together. Emma wondered where the kid had gotten his romantic streak: neither of his mothers had an ounce of sentimentality. She had caught Archie Hopper trying to analyze Ruby in a corner - psychologically, not physically. This supported Henry's Jiminy Cricket theory in Emma's eyes, since most straight men couldn't form thoughts around Ruby and gay men worshipped her as a mini-diva, but not Archie. No, he wanted inside her head.
By the time the party broke up and Archie and Ruby left to smuggle Henry back into the mayor's house, Emma had begun to feel a foreign warmth and comfort that she thought might be belonging. She took strength from that as she marched towards the police station. The confrontation she was about to begin wasn't going to be pleasant, but somehow the knowledge that there was a crowd of people who would have her back was helping to keep Emma calm.
As she crossed Andersen Lane, she noticed a young woman coming down the front steps of Granny's. Emma stopped walking to examine the stranger. She was blond, early thirties at most, and shorter than Emma, even in low-heeled boots. Her clothing was nondescript, perfect for keeping a low profile. Emma should know - she had similar outfits for tailing skips. Most importantly, the woman wasn't someone that Emma knew.
Even though Storybrooke wasn't a small town, Henry had pointed out almost every citizen during their many afternoon walks. Emma had an excellent memory for faces, and this wasn't one she recognized. She knew from experience that the town didn't attract tourists often, if at all, and this woman didn't look like a tourist, anyway. She couldn't say why, but something about the woman set off Emma's radar.
After a moment's hesitation, she turned and walked towards the stranger. Just as Emma came within speaking distance of the blond woman, Granny came bursting out of her front door, lace cap flapping as she ran down the steps.
"Emma, Emma, oh thank the saints! I need you, please," the old woman panted as she rushed down the sidewalk.
"Granny, breathe. Deep breaths," Emma said, catching the old woman's hand and stroking it gently. The tissue-soft skin was cold: probably shock, Emma thought. "Okay, when you're ready, tell me what happened."
From the corner of her eye, Emma noticed the stranger had gone still and was eavesdropping without a hint of subtlety.
"It's Ruby," Granny wailed, and Emma felt her heart skip a beat. The young woman, who was usually with her grandmother, was nowhere to be seen.
"What happened to Ruby?" Emma did her best to keep her voice level. Images of Ruby chatting happily with Archie and Henry crowded in her head. If anyone had hurt that girl... "Is she home? Should I speak with her?"
Granny gripped Emma's hands tightly and nodded. Emma let out a slow breath, happy that the girl wasn't missing but knowing that that didn't rule out all manner of other horrors. She wondered what could have happened in the few hours since Ruby left Mary Margaret's, and if the stranger standing on the sidewalk had anything to do with it.
Audrey stepped forward as the two women moved towards the Inn's front gate.
"Perhaps I can help," she began, cutting herself off when the younger woman – Emma, the old woman had called her – turned to glare at her.
"Help?" she asked. "Do you know what happened to Ruby? Because unless you do, as much as we appreciate your offer, I think you should leave this to professionals and carry on with your vacation."
Audrey bit her lip to hide a smile at the other woman's protective stance. The tall blond wasn't very muscular, but she had an imposing physical presence to go with her aggressive attitude. She had maneuvered herself between Audrey and the old woman without drawing attention to the shift. A second glance showed Audrey the glint of what was probably a law enforcement badge on the woman's hip and the bulk of a combat baton in one boot.
"As one professional to another," she began, "please give me the courtesy of letting me pull my I.D. out. Just the I.D."
Audrey watched the blond adjust her stance and nod. She reached slowly into her jacket and pulled out her badge. Handing it to Emma, she let her hands drop to her sides.
"FBI?" The old woman's voice was nearly a squeak. "What on earth is the FBI doing here? In my Inn?"
"Getting lost on the highway," Audrey said reassuringly, nodding at Emma. The other woman handed back the badge and returned her attention to Granny.
"Let's go talk to Ruby. Does she need a doctor? Can you bring her to speak with me?" she asked as she guided the older woman into the house. Emma had clearly dismissed Audrey.
"Look, I know this is your town, but I would like to help. It just feels wrong not to." Audrey followed Emma on to the porch. She watched a faint frown cross Emma's face.
"I know the feeling. But..."
"Your town, your rules," Audrey said quickly.
"Actually, it's not my town," Emma said. "And I'm still not clear on the rules."
Before Audrey could follow up on that intriguing statement, Granny came back out on the porch. "Ruby is in the parlor and wants to talk to you."
Audrey quirked an eyebrow in inquiry and Emma shrugged her permission. They followed Granny into a room that had been lifted out of the Victorian era, all lace, china figures, and hideous wallpaper. Sitting on the couch was a young woman who looked like a time traveler, dressed more for a rave party than a cream tea. She had masses of dark, red-streaked hair and arrestingly lovely eyes. At the moment those eyes were ringed with smeared makeup and there were tear tracks on her cheeks, but Audrey recognized a certain fierce strength in the girl's gaze.
"Hi Ruby," Emma began, crossing to sit beside the brunette. Audrey leaned against the doorframe and did her best to stay out of Ruby's line of sight. She didn't want the presence of a stranger to make the girl uncomfortable.
"Hi Emma. Sorry Gran bothered you," Ruby began, but Emma interrupted her gently.
"No bother. I was walking by and I just wanted to see how you were doing. Can you tell me about it?"
Audrey watched with admiration as Emma extracted Ruby's story without rushing the girl or upsetting her obviously flighty grandmother. Ruby had been at a party at Emma's house the night before, and had left with two men, Archie and Henry. They had dropped Henry off first, she had walked with Archie to his apartment, and then she decided to take the scenic route home.
Ruby had walked down to the hospital grounds and sat by the river for a while. She said she had felt slightly uneasy, but put it down to the noise of the crickets, which was still unusual to her. Audrey was amazed by the contrast between the girl's cosmopolitan appearance and her small-town naiveté: sitting alone by a river in the middle of the night and she was weirded out by crickets? Right.
Eventually, Ruby remembered the basket full of leftovers that she needed to get home and into the fridge. She cut through the woods that separated the hospital grounds from Andersen Lane, which is when the attack happened.
"I was almost to the end of the path," Ruby said, her voice thin with stress. "And the crickets stopped. Went silent. At first I was glad – such a strange noise – and then I realized that I felt even worse. Then they started up again, really loud."
She took a deep breath and turned to her grandmother. "Granny, could I have a cup of tea?"
Granny looked like she wanted to refuse, but Emma chimed in, "I would appreciate one, too. If you could."
Granny fussed for a moment, but finally left the room.
"Sorry, I didn't want to scare her any more than she is already," Ruby explained.
"I get it," Emma said. "So, what happened next?"
"Well, when the crickets started screaming, I turned around and looked at the woods, properly. There was something moving out there. So I ran." Ruby shuddered and Emma reached out to rub a hand up and down her arm. "And just when I got close to the end of the path, he came out of the woods. He had a knife or something and he was snarling at me. Like an animal, not like words."
"A knife?" Audrey asked, and Ruby looked up, startled. "Did you get a look at the knife?"
"Not really," Ruby said after examining Audrey for a moment. "But he cut my coat." She reached behind the couch and pulled out a light fall coat, patterned with red poppies. "Don't let Granny see it. I don't want her to know."
As the coat unfolded, a long tear in its skirts came into view. It looked ragged, like the attacker had used a serrated knife. A large one, in Audrey's opinion.
"Can I take this?" Emma asked. Ruby nodded with a shudder.
"I never want to see it again. Burn it for all I care."
Emma hid a smile quickly, and then asked, "What happened then?"
"I don't really know. He cut the coat and I screamed and ran faster. By then I was on Andersen and it was like he just stopped. I ran all the way home and didn't look back. Sorry."
"Don't be. You saved yourself," Emma pointed out. "That's what mattered. I'll take it from here. I might need to ask you some more questions, but they can wait until this afternoon. You let your grandmother fuss over you for a bit."
Ruby smiled weakly, but Audrey could see that the girl was sitting straighter and that her hands had stopped trembling. Emma wrapped the coat in her lap into a tight ball and tucked it behind her back as Granny returned with a tea tray.
"Thank you, Granny," Emma said, standing. "I think I'd better get to the station and write this up. I'll let you know as soon as I have any information. 'Til then, I think you and Ruby should carry on with your day."
Emma nodded at Granny's thanks as she left the room and gestured to Audrey. Audrey followed her to the foyer.
"Were you serious about helping us?" Emma asked.
Audrey nodded. "I'd be happy to. There's something odd going on here – that knife cut doesn't square with a stalker who just gives up. And Ruby didn't mention any previous stalking incidents."
"Nope. And I can't think of anyone in this town who would do this. So any fancy FBI profiling, or whatever it is you do, would be great."
Audrey smiled at that. She was her division's leader at man hunts; this was exactly what she did.
"If you have the time, of course. I don't want to interrupt your vacation with work," Emma continued.
"It's not a vacation," Audrey replied. "I'm on my way back home from the coast. But no one's expecting me right away." Actually, she wasn't entirely sure when she needed to report back in – the details were a little fuzzy in her head. She must have made a note in her phone. But it did mean she had time to help Emma and Ruby.
"That's great. This isn't anything like what they usually deal with in this town. It's certainly not what I'm used to dealing with. Stalkers… Creepy."
"Yeah, I know," Audrey agreed. "I've dealt with a few violent stalkers in my time; it's never easy. Let me know how I can help."
"Well, if you could take this to the police station that would be great." Emma handed Audrey the red coat. "I'll call and let them know you're coming. I should call my boss, that's Sheriff Graham. You'll need to check in with him, I suppose." She checked the time on her phone. "I have to run an errand, but I'll meet you at the sheriff's department in an hour."
With that, Emma was out the door, leaving Audrey standing in the front hall with a torn coat and a sense of disorientation. There was something strange going on in this town, and she got the feeling that it involved more than a young woman's stalker. She leaned back into the parlor.
"Sorry to bother you, but could you point me in the direction of the police station?"
Emma cursed herself for thinking about fitness and the environment when she'd left for work. Her beloved Beetle was sitting in its spot behind Mary Margaret's building and recess was starting in twenty minutes. She was going to have to hustle to make it to the school in time to catch Henry.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, a voice was pointing out that she didn't really need to consult with a ten-year-old about a police matter. That, in truth, ten-year-olds should never be consulted when it came to violent crimes. But Henry wasn't an average kid, and Emma knew that as soon as he heard a hint of what had happened to Ruby he'd be all over the case.
If there was one thing the One Month party had made clear to Emma, it was how willing she was to help Henry by playing along with his stories of fairy tales and lost happy endings. The kid was pretty amazing and if a little make-believe helped him deal with his life, Emma wasn't going to deny him his dreams. Especially when his dreams sometimes connected to reality a little too well. If Henry's knowledge of the town could help the police to understand Ruby's stalking problem, Emma would just have to ask him about it.
"Thank you, Jeremy," Mary Margaret said with a smile, closing the door behind the student aid. She unfolded the note he had given her as she made her way back to the front of the class.
Hi MM, it read, I need a quick chat with Henry. I'll be at the side gate of the track field if he can get away during recess. I owe you huge for this. thx E
Mary Margaret bit her lip to hide a grin. Emma was up to something, as usual. And she was dragging Henry into it too. Which was a change from the usual, where Henry pulled Emma along in his wake. The two of them were so well matched it amazed her sometimes. She made her way over to the young boy, who was working on a very lumpy clay figure of a…
"Henry, is that a troll?" Mary Margaret asked. "It's very impressive."
"Thank you, Miss Blanchard," Henry said politely. "It's just like the one that you fought with Prince Char… John Doe."
"It does look like the trolls from your book. I quite like it," she said, crouching down beside his work station. "Henry, I just received a note from Emma. She would like to talk to you at recess. Now, I'm happy to let you slip away, if--" here Mary Margaret had to put a hand on Henry's arm to keep him in his seat, "--if you promise to be very quick and to come right back to the school when the bell rings."
"Thank you, Miss Blanchard," Henry said, beaming. "I'll be as quick as I can. And I won't get you in trouble at all. I promise."
Mary Margaret explained to Henry where Emma wanted to meet him, thinking that she had broken more rules since Emma's arrival in town than ever before. But it was for a good cause – Henry and Emma clearly had a special connection that needed to be encouraged for both their sakes. Henry was a much happier child now that his birth mother was in his life, and Emma seemed to be finding a kind of contentment in Storybrooke. And Mary Margaret took great pleasure in helping Henry and Emma be happy.
Sometimes Mary Margaret found it bewildering, the strong connection she felt with Emma. She never would have taken a stranger into her house until she met Emma. She certainly never expected to care so deeply about the other woman after such a short time. Some days it felt as though she had known Emma all their lives - like sisters, family - but Mary Margaret knew that was impossible. She had spent her whole life in Storybrooke, and Emma had grown up in the outside world. It was a mystery, but it was also a blessing, this new friendship, and Mary Margaret was grateful that Henry had brought Emma into her life.
Emma watched Henry race across the track field, a manic grin on his face. She couldn't help but smile back at the kid. If enthusiasm were contagious, this kid could infect the whole town.
"Emma!" Henry flung his arms around her waist, his forehead bouncing painfully off her sternum. "What's up? Miss Blanchard said you wanted to see me. Is it a fairy tale? What's going on?"
"Whoa, kid, slow down," Emma said, crouching down to meet his eyes. "I just needed to ask you a few questions about Ruby and Granny."
"Oh yeah?" Henry asked. "Why?"
Emma knew that she couldn't lie to the kid, but she wanted to give him the barest of bones so as not to scare him. Or get him overly excited, she thought, as she watched his eyes gleam.
"After Ruby left you at your house last night… you did get in okay, right? Your mom didn't notice?" On his nod, she continued. "Ruby was walking home through the woods and a man scared her – he was following her. She's not hurt, just scared. So I thought I'd ask you if Ruby was in your book, and if you knew anything that could help me find this man."
Henry's eyes widened to the point Emma feared they might pop out of his head. "Ruby was followed by the Wolf?" he squeaked excitedly.
Emma sighed. It didn't take an expert to see that Ruby and Granny would be Henry's stand-ins for Red Riding Hood and her grandmother. It had been a parallel that Emma had spotted immediately. Unfortunately, Ruby's attack showed that there was also a "Wolf" out there who needed to be caught.
"I don't know if it was the Wolf," Emma began, trying to strike the right tone. Just because she was starting to agree that the town was full of people whose lives were very similar to fairy tales didn't mean she was going to leap to the idea that Ruby had been chased by a wolf-man. "But it was someone who followed Ruby through the woods. I was wondering if Ruby was in your book."
"Of course she is," Henry said patiently. "Her and Granny and the Wolf. They're all in there."
"Okay." Emma felt a rush of relief. "So who is the Wolf, then? I don't think you've pointed him out to me yet."
"Oh, I don't know the Wolf. A lot of the bad guys don't live in town. It's not like you see trolls on Main Street, right?" he asked, giggling a little at his own joke.
"They don't live in town? Does that mean they live in the forest?" Emma asked.
"I dunno," Henry admitted. "I guess they aren't here. Or they weren't until you came to town." Emma winced, but Henry patted her hand. "It's not your fault. The barrier is breaking down. That's a good thing."
Emma smiled down at Henry. He was taking the whole Wolf idea very well. She was once again amazed at how chill the kid was – of course, he had two very strong, self-sufficient mothers, so she shouldn't be too surprised. And he was too young to understand the true danger that the stalker posed to Ruby, so that probably helped.
If Emma was honest with herself, Henry's fairy tale theories were starting to rub off on her. The Wolf/stalker was a threat to Ruby, but if he was like criminals she'd dealt with in the past, he was also a threat to Granny and anyone else at the Inn, just like in the story. That FBI lady looked like she could take of herself, but Agent Parker worried Emma on another level: she clearly wanted to help, but she wasn't likely to accept that their best lead might come from a ten-year-old who believed that fairy tales came to life.
"Thank you, Henry. I appreciate your help," she said, turning him in the direction of the school. "Now you had better get back before the bell."
"You'll come back and get me so we can catch the Wolf?" he asked over his shoulder.
"Meet you here at 3:45, kid. Promise," she replied with a small wave.
Emma watched Henry bolt across the school grounds and smiled. That kid was something else.
"So if I'm understanding you, everyone likes Ruby a lot, but nobody likes Ruby too much? That's what you're trying to say?"
Audrey crossed her arms over her chest and stared at Sheriff Graham. The scruffy lawman ducked his head to avoid her gaze and mumbled his agreement. He was obviously intimidated by her for some reason, which Audrey found amusing.
"All right, then," she continued, "I guess that means we have to go through the usual checklist. I don't suppose you have any sex offenders in town we should check out, or men with a history of this sort of behaviour?"
"No ma'am," the sheriff said, glancing at the computer on his desk. "We don't have men like that in Storybrooke."
Audrey had to admit that his accent made the statement sound charming, but it also sounded ridiculous. Storybrooke might be small, but every town had a few troublesome citizens. Either Sheriff Graham didn't do his job very well or he was hiding something, and Audrey was starting to get the feeling that the whole town was hiding something.
The Sheriff leaned against his desk, crossing his arms in imitation of Audrey's posture. He met her eyes for a few moments, but couldn't hold her gaze. She smirked but decided to take pity on the man.
"Miss Swan, your…"
"Your deputy said she'd be right along. I think she was going to meet an informant."
The sheriff nodded, his mouth twisting into a grimace. Whoever this informant of Emma's was, Sheriff Graham did not approve. Just as Audrey was opening her mouth to follow up on that idea, the woman in question walked in.
"Hey boss, Agent Parker." She breezed past Audrey and stripped off her jacket, dropping it and her bag on an empty desk. "Any idea what's going on?"
"Not much," the sheriff said, wandering over to lean on Emma's desk. "I can send the jacket to the city for proper tests, but it looks like the attacker was using a long serrated knife. I thought we could go out to where the attack happened now that you're back."
Audrey watched in amusement as Sheriff Graham fawned over the tall blond woman. It was doubly funny because Emma clearly knew he was trying to be charming and ignored it. Perhaps she was as suspicious of the man as Audrey was.
"Ruby works at the diner tonight. She'll be finishing around eleven, so if this guy comes out at night…" Emma trailed off.
"We should keep an eye on her," the sheriff said with a nod.
"Actually, I was thinking that we could catch him in the act," Emma said, glancing in Audrey's direction with a slight roll of her eyes. Audrey bit back a smile.
"That too, of course," Graham said hastily.
"If you need, I can help with that," Audrey offered. "I'm sure that stakeouts aren't an everyday occurrence around here, and I've got a lot of experience."
Emma stepped forward, but before she could speak, the sheriff cut in. "That's very good of you, but we can take care of this ourselves. Emma chased bail jumpers, so she knows how to do this."
Emma turned to him with a glare. "Yes, I happen to have lots of stakeout experience," she said. "But we could still use your help to set this up."
Before Audrey could respond, a dark-haired woman swept into the room.
"What is going on, Sheriff? Why did I only find out about this situation when I stopped at the diner for my morning coffee?"
Even though she was addressing the sheriff, the woman glared at Emma. Emma met her eyes without flinching, but Sheriff Graham did an impressive imitation of a possum. Audrey decided that as the neutral party, she should intervene.
"I believe that's my fault. I was the one to bring Ruby's jacket in and I've been monopolizing his time ever since."
The imperious woman turned to Audrey, her right eyebrow rising. "And you would be?" she asked.
"Audrey Parker. Agent Audrey Parker, FBI." Audrey met the other woman's eyes and held her gaze. "I've just offered Sheriff Graham my assistance, Ms…"
"This is Ms Mills, the mayor of Storybrooke, Agent Parker," the sheriff said, stepping forward.
"Please, call me Regina," the mayor said, extending her hand to Audrey. It looked like a queen's gesture to a subject. For a moment, Audrey considered what reaction she would get for kissing the hand but decided not to add to the tension in the room.
"And what is the FBI doing in my town?" Mayor Mills asked, her voice cool. It sounded like the FBI was about as welcome as a bed bug infestation.
"Oh, this FBI agent is here on her own, lost," Audrey explained. "I'm just on my way home from the coast and I got turned around. Ended up here in Storybrooke, staying at Granny's. That's how I got involved."
The mayor nodded dismissively at Audrey. She continued to cast suspicious glances at Emma while the sheriff explained what they knew. Audrey listened with half an ear, distracted by Mayor Mills' presence. There was something off about the woman, something more than just her irrational hostility towards Emma.
"And did Ruby say anything else about the man?" the mayor asked Sheriff Graham.
"No." Emma spoke when the sheriff glanced at her. "She said she never turned back to look at him."
"So we have a violent man in this town attacking women, but no idea what he looks like?" The mayor's question sounded like an accusation and the sheriff flushed under her gaze. She turned to Emma. "And is this why you went to the school to talk to my son?"
Emma's face went blank with shock.
"What, you don't think I have people keeping an eye on you?" Mayor Mills asked, walking slowly towards Emma. "I know exactly what you did this morning, having that insipid Blanchard girl sneak Henry away. I should have her fired."
"No, no." Emma took a step towards the mayor. "Leave Mary Margaret alone. She's not part of this."
"Isn't she? She gave you a place to live; she conspires with you over Henry." The mayor's voice softened. "I think she's almost as much of a thorn in my side as you are."
"Excuse me, ladies." Sheriff Graham spoke softly, but both women turned to glare at him. "I believe we were talking about Ruby?"
"Oh, yes." Mayor Mills took a step backwards and smoothed a hand over her hair."Ruby. Poor girl must be distraught. I should stop by to check on her. I'm sure she's in need of some comforting after her ordeal. And after being questioned by Miss Swan," she finished with a glare in Emma's direction.
"I'm sure that her grandmother is taking good care of her." Emma's smile was sweet, but her eyes were hard. "She's like a mother to Ruby."
"Yes, she's the mother who raised her. Not the one who left, ah, died."
Audrey was having a hard time understanding the confrontation unfolding in front of her. Emma's decision to visit Mayor Mills' son was odd, but the mayor's response seemed extreme. The way that the woman alternated between her initial regal behaviour and spitting threats was difficult to understand. Audrey felt like she was watching a con artist lose track of her public persona, letting her true personality through.
She suddenly realized that that was what had been troubling her about Storybrooke. It was as if everyone was playing a role, except perhaps Emma. Audrey's instincts for the unconventional suddenly kicked in full-force. If the whole town was hiding something, there was no point in being suspicious of every person who acted strangely. Instead, she would have to approach the situation from a different angle.
"I'm going to come with you when you go to the woods." She looked pointedly at the sheriff, ignoring affronted looks from Emma and the mayor as she cut off their argument. "I need to see the scene, get a feel for the place."
"I think that Deputy Swan and I can handle this," the sheriff protested.
"I'm sure you're right." Audrey smiled and turned to the mayor. "But I'd like to help. Ruby seemed very upset, and I do have some experience in this area. I've run several successful man-hunts."
The mayor's lips curved into a smile, but her eyes remained cold. "I think that's an excellent idea. This is not something that happens in my town, so we could use the aid of someone with experience." Audrey heard Emma coughing curses into her hand. "Sheriff, give Agent Parker all the assistance she needs."
With that pronouncement, Mayor Mills swept from the room.
Emma watched the mayor leave, the sheriff trailing in her wake. She was furious that the woman had ignored her contribution to the investigation and then accepted Audrey Parker's help without a blink. Her need to exclude Emma knew no bounds, apparently. And Agent Parker wasn't helping matters - less than a day in town and she was bowing to the mayor just like everyone else.
She turned to her desk and grabbed her jacket. Shrugging into the red leather, she asked, "So, am I allowed to tag along to the crime scene?"
She knew she sounded like a sulky teenager, but some days this town just got to her. If it wasn't the mayor's attacks, it was the rest of the town's fear of the woman or Henry's blind faith. They all made Emma uncomfortable. Henry concerned her most, especially given the discovery that the mayor was spying on him at school. The kid wasn't exactly sensible and Emma worried daily what might push him into a repeat of the anger that sent him into a collapsed mine chasing his fairy tales. Knowing that his adoptive mother was tracking his every move wouldn't help.
"I'm sorry if you felt insulted by what I said." Audrey stood beside Emma's desk. "I have no idea what you two were arguing about, but we were getting off topic. And I got the feeling that the mayor needed to put me to use so she wouldn't feel uncomfortable having me around."
"She isn't good with people who don't dance to her tune," Emma allowed.
"Yeah, I have the feeling that if she could have, she would have banished me or something."
"You're not the only one," Emma said with a smile. "She had me in that cell within days of arriving in town. I think seeing me on this side of the bars makes her grumpy."
"The mayor had a deputy arrested?"
"I wasn't a deputy then. But yes, she arranged to have me arrested. We have a bit of a history."
"Apparently," Audrey said dryly. She looked as if she wanted to ask about it, but only said, "I wanted to make sure that you knew that I was saying those things for the benefit of that woman. We should be working together on this. I think you have good instincts. And I need someone with an insider's point of view on the town who will be more honest than the sheriff is."
"I'm hardly an insider, but I'll tell you what I know." Emma was impressed by how quickly Audrey had caught on to Sheriff Graham's habit of glossing over the truth. "And I'm getting the feeling that you have pretty good instincts too."
Audrey grinned, making her look like a mischievous teenager. "So I've been told. Usually after everyone ignored my instincts, disasters happened, and I was proven right."
Emma laughed. She was returning to her initial belief that Audrey Parker would be an ally in the search for Ruby's attacker. The woman was observant and intelligent, which meant she was probably ready for whatever strangeness Storybrooke decided to throw their way. Even if it was the Wolf in human form, or whatever Henry's book predicted.
"C'mon, FBI, let's get out to the woods before half the town goes to check out the scene of the crime."
Audrey looked at her quizzically.
"Oh, I'm not kidding. Gossip spreads faster than the flu around here, and if the mayor found out about this at the diner, then you can be sure that most of the town knows what happened."
"Good grief. Small towns are strange."
"Tell me about it," Emma sighed, leading Audrey to the town's lone police car. "All my life in cities, feeling completely anonymous and invisible, I thought I'd like a sense of community. But some days I miss the city."
"I can imagine. I grew up with no privacy whatsoever." When Emma raised an eyebrow, Audrey explained, "Foster homes. Three to a room and a different bunch of kids every year. Anyway, I can't imagine living in that kind of fishbowl again."
Emma nodded. She knew exactly what Audrey meant. When you had no family, it was hard to feel like there was anyone you could trust with your secrets. Except, maybe, someone who had been through the same experience.
"I grew up in homes too," she said as they drove through town. "That's part of why I'm here." When Audrey didn't respond, Emma continued. "I got pregnant when I was young. Too young. And I knew that I didn't want my kid to grow up like I did, so I arranged a private adoption. I thought it would be the best thing for him. Anyway, ten years later, this kid shows up at my place. So I brought him back here, back home."
"The mayor's son." Audrey nodded. "That conversation makes a whole lot more sense now."
"Yeah, the mayor adopted Henry, but there's something wrong in their life and I just… I don't know what… I just can't leave right now." Emma hit the brakes a little more forcefully than necessary as she pulled into the hospital parking lot.
"Fair enough. I know how you feel," Audrey said. "Sometimes you just get a feeling about a situation."
Emma smiled gratefully at the easy acceptance. "Anyway, we're here. The path starts just over there," she gestured towards the woods lining the river bank, "and goes all the way to Andersen Lane."
"Alright, let's check it out." Audrey hopped out the cruiser. "If we can figure out where this guy came from, maybe we can spare Ruby the experience of playing bait tonight."
"Yeah, her and Granny both."
"You think the grandmother's in danger?" Audrey asked as they reached the trailhead.
Emma bit her lip. She couldn't explain her Red Riding Hood theory to Audrey. Good instincts were one thing, but buying into real-life fairy tales was another.
"I'm thinking," she said slowly, trying to figure out how to frame the idea, "that if he is a truly obsessed stalker, that there's a chance that he might try to get into Ruby's house. Which would put Granny in danger. You, too, for that matter. Not that I want to scare you."
Audrey grinned at that. "If I'm in that Inn, I think he's in more danger than I am." She turned and made her way down the trail. "And I find this town more strange than scary."
"You don't know the half of it." Emma muttered under her breath as she followed.
"Over here," Emma called. Audrey pushed her way through a shrub to join her. "I've got more signs of a trail. He was heading towards the road."
Audrey looked down at the bruised leaves and bent twigs and shook her head.
"I cannot believe you can figure all that out from, well, that. You're way better at this than I am, and I had to take a course," she said. "Is this what they teach in bail bondsman school?"
"No." Emma stood and brushed her hands off on her jeans. "This is what they teach in the many crime and survivalist documentaries that you watch while sitting in crappy motels waiting to catch skips."
She strode off in the direction of the road, leaving Audrey to stare after her. Complicated woman, Emma Swan. She hurried to catch up, calling out, "How far from the main highway do you think we are?"
"About five miles, probably," Emma said after a moment's thought. "Why?"
"When I was coming into town last night, I saw lights in the woods. Really bright lights, but just for a moment." Audrey stopped to replay the event in her head. "I was about ten minutes from the highway, driving around 30 miles an hour."
"So five miles from the highway," Emma said, nodding. "Where were the lights?"
"Almost directly to my right, so ninety degrees from the road. And a few hundred yards into the woods."
"That way, then," Emma pointed. "Which is where this guy was headed."
Audrey followed, cursing the thick Maine woods that seemed determined to snag her hair and leave sticky goo on her jacket. Ten more minutes of battling nature and she was ready to retract her comment about the lights. And then Emma called out:
"Audrey, here! I think you were on to something."
Audrey shoved her way around a particularly prickly spruce tree and found Emma standing over a very large manhole cover. She gaped at it for a moment, and then asked, "Why is there a sewer grate in the middle of the woods?"
Emma laughed. "It's not a sewer grate. It's the cover for a mine tunnel air shaft. And it's been moved recently, see." She pointed at a dark smear on the metal where the rust had been scraped away and the disturbed ground around the grate.
Audrey stared at the metal grill in amazement. There was no way that a person could move that thing on their own, she thought. It must have weighed over a hundred pounds. Perhaps an extremely strong man, fuelled by the adrenalin of the chase, could have managed it. But what did that have to do with the light show she had seen?
"So the question is, how'd he shift it?" Emma muttered, walking around the grating. "There's no sign of machinery around here. Maybe a pulley." She glanced up at the tree branches. "Or maybe explosives. Could that have been the lights you saw? Except there's no hint of a blast."
She continued to talk as Audrey examined the grating more closely. The air rising from the mine shaft was foul, making bile rise to her throat. It smelled of animal droppings, rancid meat, and misery. Audrey pulled her head back and gasped fresh air. If the stalker had hidden himself in the tunnel, he either had no sense of smell or was seriously unhinged.
"However he got in and out of here," Audrey said, standing, "I think this is the place. We should retrace his path and pick a couple of vantage points to stake out. And arrange for someone to follow Ruby and someone at the Inn."
"Works for me," Emma said, "although we probably should run it by Sheriff Graham, too. It being his department and all."
Audrey laughed. "Sure it is. Maybe we should just run it by the mayor?" She smiled at the look on Emma's face. "Kidding. Still, let's get out of here and get everything set up. He was active a little before midnight yesterday, but we should be in place by dusk just in case."
"All right, but do you mind if I drop you off at the station? I have something I have to take care of first," Emma said as she started back the way they had come.
"Sure," Audrey agreed absently as she braced herself to battle the undergrowth yet again.
Emma left Audrey with the sheriff and rushed towards the school. She was late to meet Henry and worried that the mayor might have dragged him home. As she rounded the corner by the diner, she caught sight of his slight figure, bowed under the weight of his backpack.
He was trudging along the sidewalk, head down, and Emma felt her heart crack a little at the sight. The poor kid probably thought she'd stood him up. She kept her pace even, not wanting to draw attention, and soon her longer legs let her catch up with him.
"Hey kid," she said quietly. "Sorry I'm late."
Henry's head popped up. "Emma!"
His grin was irresistible; Emma found herself smiling as she gestured to the diner.
"Buy you a hot chocolate to apologize?"
"With whipped cream? And cinnamon?"
"Of course. What's the point otherwise?" She tried to make a serious face, but it just made Henry laugh. "C'mon, kid. If you're quick I might spoil your appetite with a slice of pie."
"Can we talk to Ruby while we're there?" Henry asked. "I want to ask her about the Wolf."
Emma sighed as she pushed open the diner's door. "I don't know about that, kid. She's pretty shaken up, so she might not want to talk about it."
"Please?" Henry begged, stripping off his bag and jacket. "I just want to help."
"I know, kid," Emma said fondly. "I get that. But why don't you let me ask first. Then if she wants to talk about it…"
Henry waited impatiently while they were served their hot chocolate and pie. He managed a few sips before bursting out, "Can we ask her now?"
Emma looked around. Ruby was standing at the order window, chatting with the cook. She looked a little tired, but other than that there were no signs of her midnight ordeal. Emma was about to raise her arm to signal the waitress when a shadow fell across the table.
"Sheriff Graham thought I might find you at the school, but I happened to see you through the window. Is that hot chocolate?" Audrey Parker was standing beside their booth. Emma stared at her blankly.
"The second best hot chocolate in town," Henry answered for her.
"Second best?" Audrey asked.
"Yeah. Miss Blanchard makes the best hot chocolate. But I'm not supposed to go to her house, so I have to drink this instead."
"Well, second best is probably good enough for ordinary days. Save the good stuff for special occasions, right? I'm Audrey Parker, by the way."
Henry shook Audrey's hand solemnly and asked politely, "Would you like to join us?"
"Would you mind?" Audrey was looking at Henry, but Emma knew the question was directed at her.
"No problem," Emma said after a moment, shifting over so Audrey could slide onto the bench next to her. If nothing else, the FBI agent would distract Henry from his interest in Ruby's situation.
"So are you here to catch the Wolf?"
Or not. Emma tensed, ready to intervene.
"The Wolf?" Audrey asked.
"Yeah, the Wolf who was chasing Ruby."
"Oh, the stalker. Well, I'm helping Emma and the sheriff with the case. I'm really here because I got lost and needed a place to stay for the night."
"And you came here?" Henry's voice was high with incredulity. "No one comes here."
"It is out of the way," Audrey agreed.
"No, I mean no one comes here," Henry said firmly. Emma recognized the voice he used when lecturing her on his fairy tales. "Emma's the first new person in town since forever."
Audrey smiled, clearly thinking this was the exaggeration of a little kid, but Emma knew better.
"Henry, you mean that no one has ever moved to town, or had visiting family, or anything?"
"Yup." Henry slurped his hot chocolate and ended up with whipped cream on one cheek. Emma pulled a napkin from the dispenser and wiped it away. "Everyone from the book has always been here. No one else. Except you. And me. And now her. There must be something special about you," he added, turning to Audrey.
Emma could see Audrey's expression out of the corner of her eye. The other woman looked blank for a moment, and then visibly shook off the idea and smiled at Henry.
"So why do you call Ruby's stalker the Wolf?" she asked.
Before Emma could interrupt, Henry was off.
"Because he is. He's the Wolf and Ruby is Red Riding Hood and Granny is Granny." He reached into his backpack, pulled out the book and flipped to an illustrated page. "Look."
When Audrey turned the book to face their side of the table, Emma leaned in. The illustration was astounding, bright and detailed, and she had to admit that Ruby could have been the model for Red Riding Hood.
"See, there's Ruby, and there's the Wolf." Henry's blunt finger landed on a shadowy figure hiding in the painted trees.
Emma felt frozen. She wasn't sure where she stood on the kid's fairy tale theory, but she wasn't going to let Audrey Parker cut him down.
"That's amazing, Henry," Audrey said. "This is a beautiful book." She flipped through the pages while Emma tried to collect her thoughts. "You said that everyone in town is in here?"
"So who's the Wolf?"
"I told Emma this morning, I don't know. I've never seen him. I think he lives in the woods."
Audrey flipped back to the Red Riding Hood story. "And comes out of the woods at night…"
"I guess," Henry sounded uncertain. Perhaps even a little scared, Emma thought, like he'd just realized that this was a real bad guy in the real world rather than a fairy tale. Emma decided it was time to step in.
"We found a trail in the woods today, kid. We're going to stake it out and catch him tonight, so Ruby and Granny and everyone else will be safe." She nudged Audrey's elbow.
"We'll lock him up, Henry," Audrey added, catching Emma's eye. "So he can't hurt anyone."
Emma watched the kid's shoulders relax and let out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding.
"What time is it?" Henry asked abruptly.
"Four-twenty-five," Emma replied. "Why? Got another date? Oh, wait, your appointment with Archie!"
"Yup. And I'm almost late." Henry gulped down the rest of his hot chocolate, getting more whipped cream on his face. He squirmed while Emma wiped him clean, and for a second, she wondered if this was what it was like to be a mom.
The moment passed as Henry pulled away to pack his bag and zip up his coat. Standing awkwardly at the end of the booth, he stuck out his hand.
"It was nice to meet you, Miss Parker."
"It was nice to meet you, Henry." Audrey shook his hand gently. "Thank you for showing me the book."
"You're welcome. Bye!"
Henry waved at Emma and raced out of the diner. Emma watched through the window as he darted through pedestrians on his way to Archie's office.
"Is it the sugar, or does he always move that fast?" Audrey asked.
"He's a fireball," Emma smiled. "Never walk when you can run."
"Can't imagine where he got that from," Audrey said, moving to take Henry's seat. "So that book... That's pretty impressive. Who made it for him?"
"I don't know." Emma realized it was true. Perhaps if she did know, she'd be able to help the kid sort out his fairy tale dreams.
"But you didn't come here to ask about a book," she said, hoping to avoid further discussion.
The look Audrey gave Emma implied that she did want to ask about the book. Instead, she picked up a menu.
"I'm here for some dinner and to fill you in on our plans for tonight. And I think I want hot chocolate, too."
Ruby stopped at her front door and waved at an apparently empty street. Audrey bit her lip to keep from laughing. It seemed the girl's understanding of 'undercover surveillance' was about as good as her grasp of 'subtle wardrobe choices.'
She waited a few moments, watching lights flick on and off as Ruby made her way through the Inn. They had tailed the waitress all the way from the diner to the Inn, with no success. Ruby had meandered through the woods so slowly a snail could have caught up with her, but there hadn't been a hint of movement in the trees. It looked like everything was fine, which made Audrey uncomfortable.
A burst of noise on her borrowed police radio indicated that the sheriff was ready for them to come out of hiding. Audrey made her way to join him and Emma on the corner of Andersen Lane, casting one final glance over her shoulder at the Inn.
"I guess he decided not to try again," Sheriff Graham was saying. Audrey shook her head. She couldn't get rid of the feeling that something was wrong. If it wasn't Ruby's stalker, she had no idea what might be putting her on edge.
"I'm going to go check on her," Emma said. "Just let her know that everything is okay and that we'll be watching the house."
"Thanks, Emma. I'd better go write this one up. Mayor Mills will want a full report tomorrow." The sheriff and his deputy shared tired smiles.
"Of course. Because nothing is allowed to happen in this town without her knowing," Emma said sarcastically.
The sheriff sighed, but walked away without a response.
"So, Audrey." Emma made her way to stand beside Audrey. "Walk you home?"
Audrey snorted. "Yes, please, Deputy, protect me for the next half-block."
The other woman laughed quietly as they made their way towards Granny's Inn. "I really thought he'd be out tonight," she said. "I wanted to catch this guy. But I'm glad Ruby made it home without being attacked."
Ruby's scream split the night's calm.
"I jinxed that one, didn't I," Emma called as she broke into a run. "You go in front. I know where the back gate is."
Pounding footsteps hinted that the sheriff had returned. "I've got the side," he panted as he came up behind Audrey.
Audrey un-holstered her gun and clicked on her flashlight as she made her way into the Inn. She could hear sounds of a struggle coming from the back of the house and made her way cautiously through the door to Ruby and Granny's living quarters. Ahead of her was a short hall with a door on either side.
The door to her right opened outwards, letting moonlight spill into the hall. As a gun leading an arm made its way into the opening, Audrey realized this was the side door the sheriff had mentioned. She waited until he fully entered the building before drawing his attention and then gesturing in the direction of the noise.
Several very long seconds later, they stood at the second door, positioned for entry. Sheriff Graham turned the knob silently, and then stepped back for Audrey to push open the door. She burst into the room, gun raised, just in time to watch Emma crash through the picture window and tackle Ruby's attacker to the ground.
Audrey immediately holstered her gun and moved to help Emma to subdue the man. He was fighting violently, and Emma was clearly struggling to keep his arms pinned. When Audrey managed to capture one of his wrists in her handcuffs, she realized why. The man was incredibly strong, so much so it took both women to twist his arms into position for cuffing. Even after he was restrained, Emma remained seated on his lower back.
"You have something against doors?" Sheriff Graham asked Emma as he helped Ruby to her feet.
"It was locked. I forgot my picks at home," Emma explained, struggling to keep the attacker pinned to the floor. "This is a bit like riding a bucking bronco."
Audrey took a moment to check on Ruby, who stated she was "fine, no thanks to him" and then kicked the handcuffed man in the ribs. The sheriff led Ruby out of the room after that, returning a few minutes later to say that the girl was set up in the parlor with her grandmother and a strong drink.
During all of this, the attacker didn't say a word. Audrey found it disconcerting. It wasn't as though he had been silent; he'd made plenty of noise. But there hadn't been a single recognizable word mixed in with his growls, snarls, whines and whimpers. Audrey asked him all the standard questions, with no response.
"Do you think he's mentally ill, or something?" Emma asked after they'd been through Audrey's questions twice. "Or on some kind of hallucinogen that makes him unable to speak?"
"I don't know," Audrey admitted. She crouched down beside the man's head and tried to catch his gaze. He kept shifting his head away from her, as though he didn't want her to see his eyes. From what she could see of his face, he was a middle-aged man with weathered skin and a short beard. His hair was thick, but not as dirty as she would have expected from a man who lived in a tunnel in the woods.
Audrey sat back on her heels, trying to sort out the contradictions this man presented. He was probably a vagrant, but surprisingly clean. He was probably mentally ill or addicted to drugs, but he'd managed to sneak past all their watchers and into the house without anyone noticing him. She watched him for a few moments, and all of a sudden, he looked up and met her eyes. Audrey felt a bolt of shock run through her. Those were not the eyes of a sane man. They were feral and vicious, filled with more anger than she had ever seen.
"The Wolf," she whispered to herself.
Suddenly, the man began to buck and twist so wildly that Emma fell off his back. As she rolled into the cupboards, the attacker fought his way to his feet and tried to move in the direction of the broken window. Audrey grabbed his cuffed hands as the sheriff caught the man across the shoulders. They wrestled him to the ground just as the mayor entered the room.
"Oh my God," she pronounced, staring down at the four people scattered across the floor.
"Mayor! I didn't expect…" The sheriff struggled to hold their captive still. "I only called to tell you it was over."
"I had to come over to check on poor Ruby. And see that this… creature is taken care of."
Audrey nearly lost her balance as the man on the ground snarled and attempted to lunge towards Mayor Mills. She glanced up at the brunette to see that the woman had gone sheet white.
"I think you should leave, Mayor Mills," Audrey said. "I don't think he likes… um… women with dark hair," she improvised. Maybe it was the dark hair, but Audrey had a feeling that their captive had some specific dislike of the mayor.
The mayor stared at her blankly then shook herself. "Of course. Of course. You're right. I'll let you get on with your work." She glanced down at the man on the floor one last time and left the room.
"Okay, that was odd, even by her standards," Emma observed, rolling to her feet. "Let me give you a hand with him."
Some of the fight had gone out of the attacker when the mayor left the room, so Audrey, Emma and the sheriff were able to haul him to his feet. Between the three of them, they managed to wrestle their prisoner out the back door and into the police cruiser the sheriff had called.
"Well, how did you like your first day in Storybrooke?" Emma asked as they watched the sheriff drive away.
"Really?" Emma's eyebrows rose. "Not exhausting and insane?"
Audrey laughed as she led the way back to Granny's Inn. "Trust me, I've got lots of experience with exhausting and insane. This was not that bad."
"Well, maybe tomorrow something more exciting will happen."
Audrey stopped walking. Emma turned to look at her. "You will stay a little longer? For a normal day, at least?" she asked.
Audrey could see the hopeful expression in the other woman's face. She understood it. But even if she was able to see the possibility of a really great friendship with Emma, it wasn't enough.
"I have to keep going," she said finally. "I can't explain it, but I know that I need to move forward. I just have a feeling that there's more for me to do, and that it happens out there."
"Storybrooke's not exactly a happening town," Emma said.
"I wouldn't say that." Audrey smiled. "A lot happened today. And I think you've got a lot to do here." Emma nodded. "So maybe this is where you need to be. But I haven't found that place for me yet."
"Girls!" Granny's voice called through the window. "I've made hot chocolate!"
Audrey followed Emma up the back steps. As they reached the door, Emma stopped and turned to Audrey, her face serious.
"I'm sorry you can't stay, but I get it," she said, smiling faintly. "You will find that place where you need to be, you know. Probably where you least expect it, but you will find it. I have a feeling."