WHO: Kaden WHEN: Thursday and Friday WHERE: SO CLOSE to Canada. SO CLOSE! WHAT: The final leg of the journey to freedom WARNINGS: None
The last few days, the rain was constant, and the going was slow. Kaden had driven past so many flat and open fields, so many trees struggling to come back to life after the winter, so much road, endless, endless road. He’d seen scattered farm houses, wide open towns, towering silver grain silos. At the edge of Lake Michigan he’d stopped to eat a burger and stared, a thousand yard stare across the endless water. He’d been shaken by the enormity of it, an enormity he could almost comprehend as opposed to the enormity of what he was doing, which, as the days struggled by, he failed to comprehend, more and more.
He didn’t need to comprehend, he just needed to keep going.
Kaden was so, so tired. When he finally – finally – arrived in the little town of Pembina, North Dakota, right up against the Canadian border, he was too worn out to be afraid, and hired a motel again. It was cold, this far north. It was cold and he desperately needed to lie down in a bed, covered in blankets.
It had been ten days since Ronan’s death. Since their escape. It had taken so much longer to get here than they’d planned.
But Lil T was still alive, so, he was doing something right. And somewhere along the line he’d stopped being terrified that he was going to break the baby whenever he picked him up. Lil T was still a few weeks away from smiling (the internet said) but it was gonna be so worth it, when he did. Kaden changed his nappy on the bed and thought about the baby smiling to see him one day, and just burst into tears.
It was in Pembina that Ronan had organised to meet someone to help get them across the border. “But why do we even need someone?” Kaden had asked, after they’d picked up the passports, before they’d reached Marcie’s on that final night when life was still sort of okay. “We’ve got these.”
“Because this guy doesn’t ask questions,” Ronan said. “The passports’ll make sure he doesn’t get in trouble, letting us through all official like. And he won’t ask questions about where the baby’s mother is, and if anyone comes asking later about two guys crossing the border with a baby, he’s not going to say anything.”
“Not even to Ares?”
“He doesn’t work for Ares,” Ronan said. “He’s just in it for the money, and we have money.”
They hadn’t had the time to talk about it much more than that. Kaden had the guy’s name and where to find him and the reassurance that he didn’t work for Ares, which… didn’t feel like much reassurance, not for Kaden’s nervous stomach.
But he was scared of those questions at the border. He was scared that without Ronan – officially the baby’s father – he’d raise too many red flags on his own. And if Ronan thought this guy could help… Kaden had to try and force his uneasiness aside and try. After the most solid sleep he’d had in days (solid but still deeply cracked into two-or-three hour increments), Kaden strapped the baby to his front again (he was getting the knack of this, slowly) and stepped out into the cool evening.
Lincoln may not have looked like Ares’ men, but he had a shady feel about him. They were meeting in a laundromat-cum-drycleaners, and Kaden had two machines going at once, trying to wash the last ten days out of his clothes. Every shirt he owned smelled of fear. The only other person in the laundromat was a middle aged man pulling his clothes out of the drier, and as soon as he’d gone, Lincoln stepped out from the back room. Kaden was pretty sure this place was a literal money laundering front. What other reason for a dodgy customs official to have a second job here? Shady. Shady shady.
The guy didn’t look like Ares’ men, which was why Kaden didn’t run, immediately. He had a neat shirt, neat trousers, buffed shoes. His muscles weren’t ridiculous, but his watch looked expensive, a lot like the one Peitho had helped Kaden steal. Kaden put his hand protectively over Lil T’s back as Lincoln walked toward them, and told himself that shady was what they needed, he and Lil T, to make sure they weren’t stopped at the last hurdle.
“You’re late,” Lincoln said, eyeing them up. He had a grizzled look about him, despite being clean shaven, despite the neat cut of his salt and pepper hair. “Days late, and there’s only the one of you.”
Kaden nodded, holding back a sarcastic comment about his observational prowess. “I couldn’t help it,” he apologised. “But we’re here, now. Can you still – will you – does the deal still hold?” He winced internally at his own false starts, at the words he finally landed on that sounded like he was living a movie. Kaden had no idea how to talk to real criminals like he was one of them.
“Show me your documents,” Lincoln said, and Kaden pulled them from his pocket and handed them over, watching as Lincoln looked through them.
What was he looking for? Kaden spun a little from side to side, keeping Lil T moving so he’d stay asleep. The tension was growing so thick, Kaden felt likely to snap under the weight of it. Seriously, what was he looking for?
“Good,” Lincoln said, passing them back. “My shift starts at eight tomorrow, but don’t come through till after twelve. There’s a line of checkpoints, I’m second station from the right. Got it?”
“Second from the right,” Kaden said. “Why – why not till after twelve?”
Lincoln did not look like a man who liked to be questioned. He reminded Kaden of Barak, in that regard. He reminded Kaden of a lot of men in his life. Cy. His father. His uncles. “Supervisor has an afternoon meeting, he’ll be tied up from lunch for a few hours. Unless you wanna risk an extra pair of eyes looking the two of you over?”
“No no,” Kaden shook his head, fighting the urge to back away. “After twelve is fine, that’s great. Thank you.”
Lincoln bounced his fist off the top of the washing machine. “Thank me in cash,” he said. “Price doesn’t change just cos there’s one less of you. Full price at the check point or I start asking questions.”
“Yup, sure, full price,” Kaden nodded, and kept nodding. Sometimes dealing with these don’t-question-me men it was just best to agree, and keep agreeing, keep him happy. Lincoln gave him a last long look, and turned to leave without another word.
Kaden’s heart did not calm down, not till the loads of laundry were done, not till he was back in the car and driving away. He didn’t like this… Kaden didn’t know if he had a choice, but he didn’t like trusting a man that Ronan had met while involved in an arms dealing operation.
He didn’t like that midday tomorrow was like, fifteen and a half hours away. That made him very uneasy.
Did gods need sleep the same way humans did? Ares could cover a lot of ground in fifteen hours. A lot, lot more than Kaden could.
“Am I just being paranoid?” he asked Lil T. “What do you think? Do we trust this guy and wait, and hope he lets us through? Or do we make a break for it on our own first thing in the morning, huh, and risk raising suspicions?”
The baby didn’t answer, and Ronan was dead. When it came to this decision, as with… everything else from here until forever, Kaden was all on his own.
Lincoln wasn’t stupid. He wasn’t a War Dog, but the business arrangement they had was a lucrative one. When Tragos had reached out all those days ago, offering cash for averting his eyes at the border just like he’d done when the boys bought the guns across, he’d agreed. But the ripples had spread out through the War Dogs’ contacts, far and wide. Lazarus had texted him himself. Everyone was looking for this boy and Ares would kill to find him.
And Lincoln liked his tongue in his mouth, thank you very much.
In the end, Kaden’s mother’s voice won.
The risks of relying on other people were too high. The cost of trust too great. Ronan might have learned to trust his gang brothers to watch his back, but Kaden had only ever trusted Ronan, and Ronan was dead.
His mom was right. In the end, you only had yourself.
Kaden crossed the border about eighty miles away from Pembina, at a smaller crossing, on his own. The crossing itself was two hours by road, but it took Kaden almost four and a half to get there.
It was near midday on the eleventh day since Ronan's death, and Kaden felt a hundred years older.
Lil T slept through, and Kaden drew on every acting skill he had and let himself be chatty, be a little nervy. Voice always hushed, so as not to wake the baby, but perfectly obliging when border security asked to have a look in the trunk.
He’d tucked the little good luck charm into the baby’s car seat, hiding it under the shark blanket. If there was any luck at all left in it, he hoped it would keep Lil T asleep, and above suspicion.
He’d deep cleaned the car, as much as he could. The trunk was as neat as Ronan had packed it when they left New York, the back seat was clear of fast food packets and coffee cups and formula stained bibs. It didn’t look like he’d lived in it, though the smell lingered.
He’d buried Ronan’s gun, out the back of an historic Icelandic church on the road out of Pembina. He couldn't take that across the border. He shouldn’t have even carried it this far, but his mind had been swamped in grief and responsibilities for ten days, the gun in the glove box had been the last thing on his mind. And so long as he got across the border, he wouldn’t need a gun.
He had his story ready, the names of the invented parents he was staying with in Winnipeg, their address, their backstories. How long he was staying, how much money he had. The baby was his nephew, the son of his brother and sister-in-law, who had split up before the birth. Kaden (James) was helping out by bringing the baby and all the stuff up to his brother’s place where he, his brother and their parents were going to look after him, while the baby’s mom was in hospital down in Minneapolis. His brother couldn’t come and get the baby himself because he couldn't miss the days off work and their parents car had broken down.
He looked like he belonged, dressed in his freshly laundered clothes like a disguise. He looked up at the sky as something dark flew overhead, and said in surprise “Oh, neat, drones!”
He looked like a guy who might say ‘neat’. He thought, maybe, the Canadians would like that.
And then that was it.
He was in Canada.
He’d done it.
After eleven days of running, of constant stress, of grief that knocked him stupid, after eleven days of movement and fear and sleeping in the car he could stop. He’d made it. He’d outrun gods.
He was almost delirious with relief when he arrived at the motel, less than an hour past the border and on the main road north. Kaden kicked off his shoes and lay the baby down on the bed, collapsing beside him, tickling his stomach. “We did it,” he whispered, as Lil T waved his fist (triumphantly?) in the air. He wished he could talk to Ronan, to tell him that they'd made it, that his death had not been in vain. He wanted Ronan to know this so much it hurt. Maybe later, he'd call Marcie again, and tell her instead. But for now, all he had was the baby. “You and me, kiddo. We did it.”
Kaden beamed at him, and then, his hands starting to shake too badly to use, Kaden burst into tears.