Without another word, he passed his phone around for us to see, and the glow of the screen illuminated a terse, urgent message in bold, capital letters:
ALEX SAYS HE MUST MEET WITH MEAGAN AND COURTNEY ASAP WHILE AGENT CARTER IS OUT OF TOWN. URGENT! SET UP A MEETING!
The unexpected message sent a ripple of surprise through the room. The possibility of meeting Alex, with its myriad of questions and uncertainties, dawned on me. Yet, amidst this, there lay a sliver of hope—a chance at uncovering much-needed answers.
"I'll arrange it," Downing quipped, and no one objected.
"Set it up for tomorrow," Chase growled. Turning to Jose, he ordered, "Hoist the anchor and head back, full speed ahead."
Just as we were grappling with the gravity of the upcoming meeting, Chase's voice broke the silence again, his words carrying a distinct undercurrent of humor to lighten the mood. "Jose," he called, "Now that we're soon to be plunged back into this cloak-and-dagger stuff, I think it's about time we restocked the bar."
Our laughter skittered over the dark waves as the engines churned beneath us.
Jose's lips twitched in a suppressed smile. "Aye, aye, Captain."
It had been onlya few hours since we disembarked from theTit for Tat II,and now,as we arrived at the county jail, Chase and Brad bid goodbye to Meagan and me. Their solemn expressions bore witness to their discontent at being instructed by an FBI agent, someone other than Downing, that they couldn't join us in visiting Alex inside his hospital jail cell.
The reason for their exclusion became more apparent as Meagan, Downing, and I treaded our way through the chilling labyrinth of the underground tunnel connecting the jail to the hospital. The space was constrained, and there simply wasn't enough room to accommodate all of us.
This was not an ordinary visit. We were not ordinary visitors. This underground passage was necessary to maintain a low profile amidst a bustling jail filled with prying eyes and eager ears. Downing had warned us, "The walls here have ears, and information, whether true or twisted, is a currency."
As we walked down the dimly lit corridor, it seemed like it would never end, and each step we took was accompanied by a creepy echo. The air was stale and heavy, which made me feel like it was clinging to my skin. I got goosebumps when I felt fear and anticipation running down my spine. This made me acutely aware of all the sounds and shadows around me.
"Stay close," Downing instructed, his voice echoing in the chilling silence. And in that haunting quiet, we moved forward, each footfall a step deeper into uncertainty. We were walking a razor's edge of danger and revelation, yet a necessary piece of the puzzle in our trek to discover the truth about the Rosedale curse.
"Are you okay, Meagan?" I grabbed her hand.
"I don't.... no, I'm not okay...." Her voice trailed off as we followed Downing along the hallway.
Rounding the corner, a woman was waiting at the door ahead who I assumed was Kathy, Alex's nurse. She was a slight figure, somewhat lost in the looming shadows. Her pallor starkly contrasted the murky surroundings, making her appear almost ghostly. Wearing scrubs that seemed too big for her thin frame, she appeared as worn down and tired as the faded walls around us.
Something about her felt off to me. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but the unsettling feeling was nagging at the back of my mind. But then, everything felt strange this morning.
Kathy straightened up as we closed the distance between us, offering a weak, almost apologetic smile that didn't quite reach her eyes. She extended a hand toward us, her grasp trembling ever so slightly. "Hello, I'm Kathy. Please follow me."
Leading us through a set of heavy double doors, we entered a stark, white room that was a makeshift hospital within the jail's confines. The harsh fluorescent lights overhead cast long, cold shadows, making the room feel more like an interrogation cell than a place of healing.
And there, in the far corner of the room, lay a man who looked more like a phantom than a living being. His skeletal body bore a stark contrast to the hospital environment around him. A gasp next to me broke the silence, Meagan's soft whisper barely reaching my ears, “Alex…”
This was Alex! This frail, haunted figure was the man whose actions had sent ripples through our lives. His cheekbones and jawline were unnaturally sharp, jutting out beneath the hollows of his eyes. A sheen of stubble covered his shaved head, giving him an unsettling, almost vulnerable look.
But his eyes, hollow and devoid of life, held my attention. His arms, bare and exposed, bore traces of old needle marks, a chilling testament to his chosen path. Yet, as he lifted his trembling hands, I could not help but feel a pang of sympathy for him.
Kathy guided us to a set of chairs placed in front of a plexiglass screen. As we sat, the reality of the situation weighed heavily upon us. Behind the screen, Alex turned his gaze towards Meagan, a flicker of recognition crossing his gaunt face. His lips trembled as he whispered her name, and for a brief moment, I saw a glimmer of the man he must have been before this ordeal.
"Alex... Oh, my God!" Meagan breathed, tears welling in her eyes. "Why did you do it….”
Alex got up from his bed, shuffled slowly closer to us, and sat at a table on his side of the screen. He had watery eyes, and he pleaded with Meagan to forgive him. His voice was unsteady, broken. His confession began with a palpable heaviness, each word tumbling out as if it physically pained him. Alex's narrative was disjointed, his voice breaking at times, each sentence like a painful stitch in the fabric of his remorse.
"I'm so sorry, Meagan," he said, his voice cracking with emotion. "I didn't mean for any of this...."
Meagan nodded silently, tears streaming down her face. "Can you tell me what happened?"