As I listened to the story of Cross’s adventures, I couldn’t help but marvel at how fortunate we had been, even with Cross’s foolish desire to pursue the truth.
“You know, Martin,” Cross’s voice, though weak and raspy, still had a hint of his usual enthusiasm. “I believe I may now have an inkling as to how our slippery friend keeps eluding me.” He raised his head to look toward me, but fell back as the effort to move was more than he bargained for.
“You mean, you know where he’s hiding in the alley?”
“Precisely, or perhaps more precisely, I know where in the alley he is not hiding!” Cross stopped for a moment to catch his breath once more. “I’ve been to that alley a dozen times since we first followed and lost him, there is absolutely no place in that alley that he could remain without my seeing him. There’s no door, no window, no low wall to climb over, no underground access…just brick and mortar walls with no hole for even a rat to squirm through. Not even the rat that is our slippery suitor could fit through the cracks in those walls!”
By this point, Cross was gasping for breath. He had worked himself into such an excitable frenzy that I expected him to pass out at any moment. He was desperate to get up and even more desperate to be moving, and his inability to do either was sending him into an excited mania. I moved closer to his pallet and wiped the thin stream of blood and sweat from his forehead.
“Cross, you must calm yourself.” I struggled to my feet, the tear running across my kneecap throbbed with each step I took. But, my condition was nothing compared to the miserable figure that lay on my sitting room floor.
When I returned from the kitchen, Cross had managed to slow his breathing enough that his gasping was barely noticeable. “Here, try and drink some water.” I lifted his head to the cup in my hand, the feverish heat from the back of his head sent a tremor through me. I really didn’t know to what extent he was injured.
“You know, I really have been blind, Martin. It was one thing to believe I was following him into an alley, and quite another to continue to believe that the alley held the secrets to his disappearance when it should have been obvious at once that it did not.” His tone was calm, but morose. All excitable enthusiasm seemed to slip away from him. “Why it took me so long to realize my mistake, I don’t know.”
“Everyone’s entitled to a mistake, Cross.”
“Not the same mistake more than once! No, not like this!” A fury exploded from Cross that I’d never imagined he possessed. It was enough to send him into a violent coughing fit. I placed a hand on his shoulder and could feel the trembles of emotion rolling through him. And, just as quickly as the fury rose, it subsided.
“I should have known the first time we lost him that there was no place to escape from the alley. The second time, I should have known he was leading me to that alley.”
“Of course. What better way to confuse me? What better way to track his enemy than to lure him into a blind? What better way for the hunted to become the hunter?”
His voice sank to almost a whisper. “I should have expected it. I should have anticipated his tenacity, especially after he followed us to the lab on campus.”
I sat back, staring past Cross, suddenly horrified at the realization that we had been tracked that afternoon and neither one of us knew.
“The moment has come for planning, my dear chap. And, after the events of last night, I’m sure our friend believes the worst about me.” A fiery glint sparkled from Cross’s eyes. “It’s time to use my death to our advantage!”