Tex sat on the couch and strummed a tune on his guitar while Aspen anxiously paced the length of the apartment. His eyes never left her because he was that drawn to her, even when she was doing nothing more than walking off nervous energy.
“Did Wally give you any idea what he wanted?” he asked when she finally passed close enough to the couch that he wouldn’t have to shout his question.
“He just asked if I could get away from the café for a meeting at the safe house,” she replied with a huff. “I wish they’d just call this place your apartment.”
Tex nodded and kept playing.
Aspen suddenly stopped and turned to face him.
“Are you playing The Imperial March as a soundtrack to my pacing?” she asked with just a hint of dark side energy in her voice.
Tex smiled. “It seemed appropriate.”
“Well cut it out,” she ordered. “Play something more upbeat.”
Tex complied by strumming the opening chords of Do Wah Diddy Diddy.
“What makes you think I’m not already working on that?” he replied with a wink and a smile that was one part cocky and one part hoping she wouldn’t ask to hear it.
Before Aspen could share whatever witty remark had formed in her head, there was a knock at the door. Tex placed the guitar on the couch next to him and stood up. He shared a quick, worried look with Aspen, who then strode towards the door.
“Make sure to check the peephole before Wally has a conniption,” he suggested.
Aspen peered through the spy hole. “It’s definitely Wally, but should I give him a hard time and ask him to show his badge?”
Tex shook his head emphatically. “Let’s save that one for a time when we know he isn’t coming to deliver bad news.”
Neither of them had heard from Champ and they were very worried about their friend. They didn’t want to talk about it, but the fact that he was still in the hospital was an elephant that took up most of the empty space in the apartment.
Aspen nodded her agreement and slowly opened the apartment door.
Wally smiled at her from the hallway. “You checked through the peephole before you opened the door. Nice work.”
“Well, I’m philosophically opposed to being murdered, so I’m not going to just open the door without peeping. Even if that word does make me sound like some sort of a pervert,” Aspen replied with a shrug.
Wally chuckled. He could appreciate the stress Aspen must be under, so her little bit of wise ass humor was a good sign that she was handling it well.
“I have a surprise for you,” he informed her and waved at someone out of Aspen’s line of sight down the hallway.
Seconds later, Champ stood in front of her with a massive smile on his ancient face.
“Champ is back!” Champ declared and smothered her in a bear hug.
Tex rushed over from the couch while Wally nudged the duo inside the apartment so he could close and lock the door behind them.
“So good to see you, buddy!” Tex shouted as the old man leapt into his arms and vanquished that unwelcome elephant from the room.
“Champ never wants to be separated from his friends again. Champ had another dream, Champ saw the angel, and now Champ knows that everything is going to be alright.”
“Just like the song said,” Aspen remarked with a smile as she joined the hug.
There was another knock at the door. This time, Wally checked to see who was out in the hall. Aspen couldn’t help but notice how he placed his hand on his holster as he did so.
He finally opened the door so that Ng and Vlak could enter the apartment.
“It looks like the reunion was a rousing success,” Ng observed with a smile.
Vlak just nodded and took it all in like a robot programmed to absorb every particle of data he could mine from a situation.
“You guys will have plenty of time to catch up when we’re gone,” Wally said in hopes of gaining everyone’s attention. “There is something we’d like to talk to you about, though, while we’re here.”
Aspen led Champ over to the couch. Tex moved his guitar and leaned it against the wall so that all three of them could sit together.
Ng and Vlak hovered behind Wally and allowed the rookie to take the lead. After all, this was his idea and he deserved the spotlight.
“We’re at a bit of an impasse as far as leads go with the warehouse crew,” he explained. “As you know, the place was completely cleared out when we searched it, the owner claims to have no knowledge of anyone using the space, and we haven’t been able to track down the vehicle that pursued you. The CCTV feeds in the area couldn’t even provide an image of the occupants of the vehicle that could be used with our facial recognition programs.”
“So you’re saying these guys are ghosts?” Tex asked.
He sat very close to Aspen and gripped her hand tighter than he realized. Merely thinking about that night shot his anxiety levels through the roof.
“No criminal can cover his tracks perfectly,” Ng assured them. “However, in this case, we seem to be dealing with a group that is either very good or extremely lucky. Wally, however, has an excellent idea.”
Wally smiled slightly, still not used to receiving praise from a superior.
“Aspen, you had eyes on that place for several nights. Although all three of you probably saw the men who chased you, it stands to reason that you not only saw more of them, but might also have their images burned a little deeper into your memory.”
Aspen nodded that this made sense.
“I got to thinking,” Wally continued, “that you are an excellent artist. Do you think you could draw mug shots of any of the men you saw at the warehouse?”
Aspen’s eyes lit up. Finally, an opportunity for Art Girl to use her superpowers to fight crime!
“Yeah!” she replied emphatically. “I could totally do that. What didn’t I think of it?”
Wally smiled and Vlak gave him a congratulatory pat on the back. Then the agent went back to observing the group.
“Is that something you could start on now?” Wally pressed his luck. “I know you have to work, but this could be a very important break for us.”
“Let me get my sketch pad and pencils,” she replied. “I can take it to work with me and do it there. I sketch all the time, and it’s probably more of a red flag that I’m not there right now.”
“Champ wants to see his stuff and where he’s supposed to sleep!” the old man declared as Aspen scurried off to collect what she needed.
“I put everything over here,” Wally explained. “Let me show you.”
“Champ doesn’t like people touching his stuff, but Champ totally trusts you. Thanks, Wally.”
Wally led Champ towards the back of the apartment, leaving Tex alone on the couch. Unsure of what to do, he reached for his guitar and strummed it almost absentmindedly.
Sensing his unease and correctly assuming it had to do with remembering the night of the chase, Ng went over to comfort him.
“My brother plays the guitar,” she told him.
“Is he any good?” Tex asked and seemed happy with the distraction of a conversation.
Ng shrugged. “He seems to think so.”
There was no reason for her to reveal how talented her brother was. She assumed that while Tex most likely knew the world famous guitarist she used to take baths with when they were children, he probably had no idea the man was her brother.
That was the beauty of stage names.
Tex chuckled. “Maybe we can jam sometime. I’m always looking to meet fellow musicians.”
“That sounds fun. Let me see if I can arrange it the next time he’s around.”
Tex nodded and looked longingly in the direction in which Aspen had vanished. Ng took this as her cue to exit and wandered off to join Wally and Champ.
Vlak saw this as his opportunity to pounce, or at the very least, to finally say something. He casually walked over to the couch.
“Do you have any idea who her brother is?” he asked.
Tex shook his head and strummed an ominous chord. “No, but musicians don’t need to know each other to jam. We share a natural bond.”
Vlak raised an eyebrow. “I suppose, but I’d want to at least know a little something about the other person before I agreed to a pay date. Maybe I’m just weird that way.”
The FBI chuckled and walked off.
Tex strummed the opening chords of Loser by Beck and could have cared less if Vlak was able to identify the tune.
TO BE CONTINUED…