Chapter Twelve: Nootau
"What?" Nootau managed before Edwige grabbed him and pulled. He fell forward from momentum but managed to stay upright. They whirled down the stairs as Olive barreled toward the guard. "But—"
"Shhhh!" Edwige hissed, trampling down the stairs. "Don't screw this up!"
"But!" His protest began anew. A heavy thud echoed above them.
He'd been giving an awful lot of that lately, but more noise, the squawk of a radio, sounded. Another voice joined the screams as another pair of footsteps started in the stairwell. They were going to get caught. Everything inside Nootau told him that the gig was up. His breathing became hard and heavy. His heart managed to lodge up in his throat. After another bend they lost the light and were bathed in darkness.
"The basement," a voice hissed from behind Nootau. He jumped, startled. When he glanced over his shoulder he noticed the familiar mohawk.
"Shut it!" she shouted, then passed them. She held the security guard's light in her hand. "Follow me, quickly."
They didn't stop. Nootau didn't even question how she managed to get past the guard or what that white stuff was. He couldn't get the breath to ask. He just followed her in an endless series of twists and turns until they saw two distinct doors with red lights glowing defiantly above them. A rather ominous sign if anyone asked Nootau.
They doubled over, breathing heavily once they stopped. Olive set down her bag and got out her "Codifier." She plugged it into the panel by the door.
"I will get you into the underground walkways then go out the back exit," she explained, the light going green above the door. "They won't know where you've gone since the signal will be on the door outside."
"How?" Nootau asked.
"Are you questioning my expertise?"
"Better not be." She smiled as she ushered them through the door. "Besides, I took some precautions when getting the snacks."
"Precautions?" Nootau said but the door was already shutting behind them.
Olive waved then disappeared from sight.
Aegeus grabbed Nootau, pulling him along. "Let's get some distance between us and the building."
"Where are we?" Nootau asked, falling in step.
"Chicago, burned down several times. Mid-1700s was the last time, right?"
"Well, when they rebuilt the architects designed an underground walkway system to connect the different buildings. Between the wind, rain, snow and temperamental weather they wanted to give people an easier way to get around." Aegeus flashed a smile. "Over the decades, the walkways have been expanded shut down, all sorts of things. But a lot of people these days have forgotten about them."
Edwige nodded. "I figure cars and buses changed how people thought when it came to traveling so the walkways just aren't the first thing they think of anymore."
"Probably," Aegeus and Nootau agreed.
Their footsteps echoed down the hall. An uneasy walk with an orange glow from the lights. Nootau trailed right behind Aegeus and Edwige, needing to be near them. They still felt too close to the building for his comfort.
After several turns and long walkways, Aegeus signaled for them to stop. They gathered the gloves Olive game them and stuck them in a bag in the backpack. What Aegeus did next stumped Nootau for a second when he closed his eyes and cocked his head. Nootau frowned when he let out high frequency note. The shrill sound echoed down the halls.
"What is he doing? Is that... Echo location?"
Edwige rolled her eyes. "Aegeus is a merman."
Right. Something Nootau didn't have a ton of experience with, but then again, any merperson he'd been with before wasn't in a situation where they'd been on the run. Echo location found stuff, that much Nootau did understand.
"Isn't that for underwater?" He asked.
"He can use it above water, just doesn't work as well."
"It's harder to decipher," Aegeus said, opening his eyes. "Seems we're still on our own."
That was good news. "What next?"
Edwige turned and looked down the walkway. "Find one of the Underground exits and lay low for a while."
"You mean the network is the Underground?" Nootau asked. "Like literally?"
Aegeus and Edwige shared a smile, but he answered for the both of them. "No, but not all the paths are remembered as well as others. And not everyone has access to all of them, or some of the old buildings that went down instead of up."
"Sooo, the Underground," Edwige continued and waved a hand. "Has 'acquired' them."
"Will Olive be okay?"
That knowing look crossed over their faces again. A pang welled up inside him, but Nootau pushed it away.
"Am I missing something?"
Edwige looped her arm through his and started them down the walkway. "The bureau has had its fair share of incidents. Olive most likely tagged the building as a sign of protest, so even if she gets caught they'll assume she's done it in protest again."
"Wouldn't be the first mission she's carried out there."
Aegeus chuckled. "Nope. And so far, her cover has worked."
That didn't exactly do anything to dissuade the guilt settled in Nootau's stomach.
"It'll be okay," Aegeus said after a minute. "We can lay low for a couple days or a week or whatever we need then get a move on."
"Is that really okay?"
"Yeah," they answered.
But Nootau wasn't so sure. It was one thing to uproot his life. It was another to ask two near strangers to do the same. But he let Edwige guard him anyway. He wouldn't be able to make it out of the tunnels without their help. Maybe once they got back to Aegeus's and Edwige's place he could get the info and sneak out then.
What they'd done was enough. Had to be.
Edwige snuggled closer. A contented smile graced her lips. The guilt threatened to drown him. By the time they reached their exit, Nootau was numb from the anguish spreading inside him. Ahanu was already dead. Olive might be captured by the police. And his two bedmates? The possibility of something bad happening to them stung more than it should.
They were kind, loving, happy people. Maybe they weren't rich, but they certainly weren't hard up. Something Nootau never had. Something he didn't want to steal from their harmony. Their lives.
When Edwige pulled him up to a stop, Nootau followed suit confused by her mischievous grin. Aegeus chuckled and stepped around them. He pushed open a door. Nootau missed the sign as they pulled him into a room. The lighting threw him off. The colors and faces not making sense. When he realized it was blacklights he regarded the smile she wore.
He leaned down. "Where are we?"
She pointed behind her. Nootau glanced up.
A neon red sign took up the wall. No wonder the lighting felt off. It clashed big time. But the name.
"Where have you taken me?"
Her bubbly laughter didn't help his confusion.
Aegeus wrapped his arms around Nootau's waist and pulled him against him. "Don't you know a brothel when you see one?"