The Sequels to Syrrah's Game SGSequels

chapter 46

Wednesday, September 27th, 8:51 AM

Minneapolis, MN


“Wait a minute, Dana.” Evan placed his hand on her shoulder, halting her movement toward the ramp. “We should not go out the way we came in.”

“You’re right. Hal. And…and who knows who else.” She took out her sunglasses from her jacket’s inner pocket and put them on. “Your hat. And your shades.”

He smiled. “Oh yeah.” He removed the hat from his jacket’s pocket and hooked it on his head. “I need to be able to see now. I’ll put on the sunglasses once we get out of here.”

“Okay. But which way should we go?”

“I saw people way down at the other end, leaving their vehicles, but they didn’t exit over here.” He pointed to the distant right corner from the ramp’s basement level position. “Has to be another exit over there.”

“Yeah, but. What about meeting up with someone else?”

“It will be all right. Besides. I have the gun.”

“Yeah, with one bullet.” She began heading along the parking lot’s road leading to the left side of the expansive garage. “Come on.”

He followed her, flanking her right side, her steps faster than earlier. “But are you up to this? Do you feel okay?”

“Yes, I do, thanks. I think the rush of adrenaline from Hal’s bullshit woke my body up, you know?”

“Well, okay. Just keep me informed.”

“I’m still shaking a bit, but I’ll get over it.” 

Evan kept his senses alert and heightened, keeping watch all around them as they walked. He noticed people again, exiting or entering vehicles, but on the distant north side of the large building. No one was nearby, not even behind them.

“I need to ask,” he said. “If your dad, Carter, and Hal are a danger to you, and a danger to me, and you don’t want to involve the police, what do you plan to do now?”

“I don’t know, honestly. I just know I need some coffee and food right now.” She glanced at his hands. “And you need to wash that disgusting creature’s blood off of you.”

He held out his hands. Globs of blood stains were everywhere. His jacket did a poor job at removing any of it. “Yes, true that.” He realized something else. “And thank you, Dana, for attempting to defend me.”

“Of course. It was the least I could do after my shitty treatment of you at the party.”

“Why did you do it, though? Why did you hang with him? Someone you obviously despise, referring to him as a disgusting creature.”

“Because I basically had to, Evan. That’s really all I can tell you right now. You’re just going to have to trust me about this.”

“Okay. I understand. But, though I thanked you about attempting to defend me, really, Dana, you need to let me do this. That’s why I tried keeping you behind me. It’s a lot harder for fighting off an opponent, at the same time--” 

“While protecting me,” she interrupted. “I know, I know. I get it, I get it. And I’m sorry. I’ll try not to do it again.”

“It’s all right. I’m just trying to be my very best for you.”

“And you are, Evan.”

She picked up the pace. He could easily keep up with her, but he still felt concerned by her sudden need to move faster. 

She didn’t speak, and he kept quiet too. A few older people were walking to their vehicles up ahead, so it was a good time to do such a thing.

About a minute later they arrived at the building’s end. From Dana’s request, Evan entered a single toilet bathroom, though leaving the door open so she could stand within the doorway, and he washed his hands thoroughly. Then with Dana helping, he wiped down the jacket and other spots on his clothing, using damp paper towels, until no trace of the blood could be seen, at least in the dim lighting of the area.

He also determined once he was wiped clean that he only had some minor scratches and abrasions and that most of the blood was from Hal. And interestingly, none of his wounds were bleeding much now, if at all.

Soon after, Dana led them into an empty, quiet elevator near the bathrooms. She pressed the button for the street level. It was a quick trip up, but enough time for Evan to don the sunglasses again.

When the door slid open, they entered a foyer and then exited outside to South 5th Street.

“I don’t see Hal anywhere,” she said quietly. “Do you?”

The sun was brighter, warmer, and allowed better lighting everywhere, a needed benefit from under these shades. He scanned all around, to the left and right from where they stood on the sidewalk and across the street to the other sidewalk. Traffic was somewhat heavy, one-way, in a northward direction, but he still was able to get enough of a view. “No. I don’t see him. Maybe he actually left the area.”

“I hope so. I don’t trust him.”

“Where do you went to go now?”

“Starbucks, at City Center.” She headed to the left. “Come on. Let’s get out of here.”

She led them only a short distance until stopping. “We need to cross.”

He looked across the street to where she stared. “An alleyway?”

“Yes. I already checked on the map. It’s a back entrance to City Center. Less people.” 

He glanced inside the vehicles and buses passing by. Except for those vehicles with tinted glass, he could see most people didn’t show much interest in either of them, like earlier. “I’m not comfortable with this. And people are basically ignoring us.”

“At the moment. Someone will eventually find out. Besides, you’ll protect me.”

To their left, the nearby intersection traffic light turned red. The traffic stopped eventually and gave them clear passage across the road. 

Not hesitating to think about it further, she began her trek across the street. Evan followed her. They had to step across Metro Transit line rails embedded in the road, though he made sure, glancing left and right, that no trains were nearby.

They arrived at the sidewalk and then stepped across and entered the alleyway. Dana took the lead again, though Evan walked near her, on her right side.

The alleyway was dark, dirty, with some type of corrosion growth from water or mold growing on the sides of the lower brick walls. And the smells. Rotten food from garbage. Urine. Even sewer reek. “Not the most pleasant walking path, Dana. You sure you’re okay with this?”

“Exactly why I’m okay with it. Good cover, ya know?”

“Sure. Maybe.” 

They continued walking. No one was nearby or up ahead in the alleyway.

She didn’t talk much. She just seemed eager to get to Starbucks. And she was definitely walking faster than before the brawl with Hal.

When at the end of the alleyway, about thirty yards in length, Dana led them to the right, northward more or less, on to another long alleyway. This alleyway was somewhat wider than one car width and had plenty of those metal waste containers for business garbage collection. Each time they passed by one, smells of rotting food and other waste filled the air around them, worse than the other alleyway. A few people stepped outside to toss out garbage or do other things, but none seemed to notice who they were.

She often looked up and around at the tall buildings.

Made him wonder. And he finally had to ask. “What are you looking for?”

“Oh, just curious. Making sure we’re heading in the right direction.”

Their path also led them under several of those enclosed pedestrian footbridges or tunnels, part of that Minneapolis skyway system Dad often talked about. They kept moving, passing by a few other people who again didn’t notice them, and soon arrived in that parking lot next to the famous Bob Dylan mural wall. Dana acknowledged the mural, said she had seen it before, but continued walking past it. She led them to the parking lot exit that arrived onto Hennepin Avenue, directly next to another one of those underground parking spots. She passed by it and took a left onto the sidewalk.

Evan stayed to her right, on the side closest to the street. “I thought you didn’t want to be near traffic.”

“We have no choice at this point. There is no other way, except for walking through the hotel next to us, but we probably need a keycard to get in.” 

He looked up a moment while they walked. He roughly counted fifteen floors. “Sure is tall. Like where we stayed, at the Hilton Minneapolis.”

“It’s the Embassy Hilton. But that’s nothing compared to City Center. Has like fifty-two floors. You’ll see it up ahead.”

“Yeah. I’ll check it out.”

The sidewalk was wide. More people were walking about than along the other sidewalks. Dana kept her head down, the hat doing a pretty good job of hiding her face. They passed by bike racks and tall metal streetlights. A few people did look at them, even with some alert, wide eyes, but they didn’t say anything. This wasn’t good. Eventually, though, they arrived at another traffic light intersection, between Hennepin and South 6th Street.

“It’s over there. To your left.”

He looked up in that direction. “Yup. That is one tall building. So, where are we heading now?”

“Straight ahead. We’ll be entering City Center from Hennepin.”

She waited for the pedestrian light signal, the countdown orange hand, to turn to the white walker.

And it was taking too long. He wondered of her thoughts. “You doing okay?”

“Yeah. I am. Just wish this goddam light would turn. Then again, not sure why I want to hide away anymore. What difference does it make now? Hal for sure told them.”

Traffic was loud and distracting and flowing to the south, their left, on 6th Street, another one-way road. 

“You have enough on your plate right now. Just stay in disguise.”

“Yeah, yeah. I will. For now.”

The white walker sign appeared. Evan again stayed to her right, making himself a barrier from any turning vehicles or bikers, and then headed across the road with her.

She walked on the sidewalk until finding a glass door entrance. Above the entrance were signs reading Minneapolis City Center and 615 Hennepin Avenue. She pulled to open the door but had some difficulty. Evan immediately helped hold the door for her, allowing them both to step inside a foyer area. He opened the next set of doors for her and they entered a wide hallway leading into a mall up ahead.

“At least we haven’t seen any sign of Hal yet,” he said, keeping on her right, but a bit behind.

“Yeah. And let’s hope it stays that way.” She was looking around the hall. White walls. Numerous hanging paintings and murals. Or tall windowed sides of various stores. “Looks the same like I remember. They used to open later, like ten, so we’re lucky they open at nine now.”

“Maybe the stores aren’t open yet though.”

“I know Starbucks is and that’s where we are heading.”

He sneaked a few glances at her, beneath her hat, as they continued walking. Her facial skin he could see, unhidden from the sunglasses, still appeared pale for her. But probably not best to say anything now. Coffee and food, like she said, would probably help a lot.

Soon they were walking within the main part of the mall, a large open area with a stunning ceiling. One side of this area, to their left, consisted of the side of a building five to six stories high. The opposite side was a building four stories high. A high, metal-framed glass structure covered the top of this uneven structure, as a slanted transparent ceiling. And there was an escalator some distance before them, leading to the mall’s second floor.

Still no sign of Hal or anyone else who detected Dana’s presence.

She pointed up ahead to another mall hallway, beyond the escalator on this same floor. “That way, for Starbucks.”

She remained mostly quiet with their walk, but Evan continued to watch all around them, for any hint of trouble. But fortunately, few people were walking around the mall. And those he did see were mostly older, laidback, unaware. Yet he did catch glimpse of an older man, walking away from them down the mall’s other hallway, carrying a black case, who did look a bit familiar. 

Why, though? Didn’t matter. He wasn’t heading their way.

It wasn’t long before they were within Starbucks. And it was packed with several lines of people. 

Dana quickly showed her discomfort again, keeping her head down, the hat and sunglasses hiding her away. Her earlier words at not caring if people saw her now seemed to have been forgotten or ignored. But he did his best to shelter her, stay closer to her, and after she gave him some cash, he ordered and paid for the specific coffees, ice in hers, and donuts for them both. And again no one seemed to notice their true appearances.

She didn’t want to sit in the decorative, homey Starbucks seating area. It was too crowded for her.

They walked back out into the mall. Evan recalled seeing a narrow hallway, off the main walkway, leading to a rather dimly lit, hidden lounging area. With her holding the coffees and a bag with the donuts, so he could keep his hands free, he guided her in direction of this lounge area.

It was apparent they weren’t the only ones seeking a less crowded, quieter place. Several other Starbucks customers were coming and going down this hallway too, food bags and coffee containers in their hands. But still, they didn’t notice Dana or him, obviously more occupied with their daily lives. And once at the lounge area itself, it was far emptier of a location than in Starbucks. Only a few people sat on some chairs and sofa seats.

Dana sat on an empty sofa in the room’s corner. No one was close by, the nearest person maybe fifteen feet away. Evan sat to her right.

She placed the coffee and donut bag on the coffee table before them. She looked at him, from beneath her hat, sunglasses yet on. “I used cash because I don’t want them searching me out, even if Hal knows already.”

“Yes, I’m aware.” He took a sip of his coffee and leaned closer to her. “Are you ready now to tell me more of what’s going on here? I understand about Lloyd, Hal and Carter, the danger aspect and all, but I just need to understand this better, to protect you better.”

She removed that small zipper purse from inside her jacket’s pocket. “Another reason I needed something to drink.” She unzipped the purse and removed a small, round plastic pill box, not much larger than a quarter. She clipped the pill box open and took out four different pills from a bunch of similar ones. “The doctor who treated me said I was lucky. I could have died from the combo of oxy and alcohol. So, I’m decreasing the oxy and taking some other pills for pain and oxy withdrawal.” She cupped her hand, tilted her head back, and poured the pills into her mouth. “I guess you can see why I wanted ice in my coffee.”

“Okay. I hope all that works for you. But you never answered my question.”

She took a big sip of her iced coffee and swallowed the pills. She looked at him. “If I told you…you would never believe me. So, it’s pointless.” 

He gazed into her sunglass-covered eyes just below the brim of her hat. “Try me.”

She pressed her lips together and frowned slightly. She reached out to her coffee cup, touching the sides of it yet seemingly lost in her thoughts. But then something captured her attention to her right. “Who the heck is that?”

Evan quickly focused his eyes along her sightline. A man was approaching, his stride determined. Now it became clear why that man, earlier, carrying a black case, seemed familiar, though the view was only on his back side. Frank Ragno. That pushy, annoying reporter in Casper. Just wonderful. This might not end well. “He’s a pap, I’ve seen him before.” 

“Great. Oh well, what can we do. Here comes the party.”

Frank soon arrived by them. He grabbed a chair and pulled it over near the end of the coffee table, several feet from Evan. He sat down and gave a hard glance around them both. “Well, well, well. You know, I thought my eyes were lying, but after getting tips from my Twitter fans, sightings of you two walking around town in disguise, I had to follow up.” He focused on Dana. “Hello, Ms. Zypher.” He looked at Evan. “Hello Mr. Turrone. I mean, you two celebs didn’t honestly think your fans wouldn’t catch on, eventually, did you?”

Dana stared back at him. “What do you want?”

Frank leaned closer in her direction. “Look. I know you two want to stay incognito, so I’ll keep my voice low. So, let’s keep an air of cooperation here.” 

Anger began simmering in Evan. This was the last thing Dana needed now. “Didn’t like you then. Still don’t like you now.”

“I see.” Frank did a slight, reprimanding finger motion at Evan. “And that’s the kind of disrespect that will get me all loud and noisy.”

Dana placed her hand on Evan’s shoulder. “Let me deal with this.” She sighed. “Not feeling the best, here, as you must know. Again, what do you want?”

“My apologies, for your illness, Ms. Zypher, although from what your fans relayed, you seem much better. So here’s the thing. I’ve been covering you for years, since your first YouTube videos when you were sixteen. And as I told your boyfriend here, on--”

“Uh, no,” she interrupted. “He is not my boyfriend. He’s security.”

“Could have fooled me, but okay. See, I was wondering how it is, he calls out to you, at your Casper walk-in, and you stop, frozen, and barely turn your head back. I’ve never seen you do that before.”

“I was only a bit surprised, because he called me by my last name. That’s all.”

“Yeah, quite the surprise, when I’m sure you’ve heard fans call you by your last name before. And I’m sure that guy he beat on was quite surprised too. Quite the dangerous, unpredictable guy you got here, Dana.”

Evan couldn’t contain himself anymore. He swiped off his sunglasses. “Yeah, exactly Frank.” He stared dead on at him. “Which is why I would advise for you to leave, right now.”

Frank stared back. “Is that a threat? Are you seriously conveying a threat to a news reporter?” 

“No, it is not a threat. It is a guarantee.” Evan knew his anger was emanating with intensity from his eyes, because Frank shifted his stare to Dana.

She reached out for her coffee, her hand shaking as she grasped the cup. “Evan. I need to leave. I’m…I’m not feeling so well.” She slowly stood up while holding her coffee.

“Sure.” Evan put back on his sunglasses. He seized hold of his coffee and the bag of donuts, standing up with her, locking his eyes and awareness on Frank at the same time. “I agree. We should leave.”

Frank stood up too. “Not to add to your discomfort, Ms. Zypher, but I hope you realize your boyfriend here came from a religious cult family. Something I hope you’ve been aware of.”

She covered her mouth and handed her coffee to Evan. He quickly rearranged all he was holding so to take her cup, holding it securely. Her hand yet over her mouth, she swallowed hard and looked at Frank. “You…you can say and do whatever you want. I…I don’t care anymore.” She began maneuvering herself around Frank and then took off down the hallway.

“Congratulations,” Evan said, staring daggers at Frank, even if through his sunglasses. “You just did add to her discomfort, big time.” He moved away from him and rushed after Dana.

“Oh yeah?” Frank called out, from behind Evan. “Well I’m sensing quite the disrespect and rejection here. Hey! Everyone! There they go! Dana Zypher and her beau, Evan Turrone!”

Trying not to drop the donuts or spill the coffees, Evan continued moving, ignoring startled eyes and confused expressions, until reaching up to Dana. She was just nearing the end of the narrow hallway. “I can’t believe he just did that!” he said, low enough however so no one close could hear. “If anyone needs a hard beat down, it’s that loser jerk!”

“I need a bathroom,” she said, nearly crying. “Get me to a bathroom.”

He recalled seeing bathrooms, on the main walkway, not far from here. He glanced back at the lounge area. People were standing up from their seats, staring, holding their phones out, but appeared confused, disoriented. Frank was likewise holding a camera up and recording. But Frank stayed back. And no one was following Dana.

Out on the main mall walkway, Evan clutched the two coffees and donut bag with his right arm and circled his left around Dana, attempting to support her and get her moving faster. And she didn’t resist.

She covered her mouth and kept moving.

He saw the bathroom’s entrance hallway up ahead, on the left. Arriving by it, he guided Dana until he brought her before the door of a single stall, family-type bathroom. He checked the doorknob. It was unlocked. He opened the door for her, confirmed no one was inside, and she walked in. He asked if she wanted him to come with her, but she said no. However, he requested she leave the door unlocked and she did.

He listened carefully while she was in the bathroom. She was throwing up again. The poor, poor woman. His heart felt crushed and broken. He had to help her. He just had to get the truth out of her, one way or another. But then, of course. What about the consequences?

He held his ear near the door. She was coughing, and heaving less, but she was not yet completely done. He wondered about what Chella had said, about Carter pressing too hard on Dana’s sternum, from the CPR. Yet, she seemed okay in this regard, didn’t mention any chest pain up to this point. Would it make things even worse to discuss it with her now?

His mind hunting for solutions, he could think of only one. He searched in his pocket with his free hand for the Unihertz and brought it out. He did all the recent phone security steps and promptly clicked on Art’s number.

He waited, looking around for Frank, or any other paps or fans, but fortunately no one was approaching, except for people strolling by out in the mall. He stepped far enough away from the door, near the opposite wall diagonally across from it, so Dana couldn’t hear.

“Evan,” Art said, once answering. “I know your thoughts, but we are getting conflicting signals.”

“Conflicting signals? What do you mean?”

“The EBEs, and other entities, attempting to conceal Dana’s true circumstances are fighting us in the extreme now.”

“Damn. Please Art, please tell me, will she be safe, and the rest of her family, be safe?”

“To the best of my and Kamal’s combined efforts, we were sensing positive outcomes, but we are no longer able to confirm, adequately. That is the issue right now. We do feel quite confident that Neraeh and her parents will be safe, but we are not sure for you and Dana. I am sorry I cannot give you a more definite answer.”

“Well, so much for watching out for us, and how you--”

The bathroom’s doorknob was clicking, turning. Evan immediately swiped to end the call. He shoved the Unihertz back in his pocket. He walked over and reached for the door, helping to open it. 

Dana stepped out, holding her hat and sunglasses. A light scent of vomit still floated in the air from the bathroom. Her face was pale, her eyes blood-shot with dark circles beneath. The blond wig framing her face didn’t help at all, only emphasizing her exhausted, weakened condition. She definitely did not look that good. “Are you feeling better? Is there anything I can do for you right now?”

She couldn’t even look him in his eyes. “No…no I’m not feeling better.”

He glanced around, checking for Frank, fans, or other paps, but again, none were approaching. He looked at her. “What’s wrong, Dana?”

“Besides the fibro…and leftover shit from my stupid drunken episode.” She swallowed, and then eyed him closely. “Yeah. I was throwing up again. Hope you don’t mind, but, the Embassy Hilton. I want to go there. I need to rest.”

“Wait a minute. What you need, if you’re feeling like this, is to go back to the hospital.”

“Damnit, Evan. Hal threatened us both and lumped my so-called dad and Carter in with it too, and you want to expose us like that?”

So-called dad? Interesting she said that. “Okay, sorry. We can head to the hotel. I just wonder if you need medical help, that’s all.”

“Oh, believe me, I do. But I need more help than they can do for me.” She made her way around him and then stopped a moment. She put on her sunglasses and hat again. She looked at him. “Good. Your hat and shades are still on.” She stepped closer to him. “Here. Give me those coffees and donuts. We can get more later.”

“I agree.” He handed them to her. “They’re just getting in the way right now.”

She headed out toward the mall, tossing the coffees and donuts into a trash container along the way. Her steps were slow at first, but then she picked up the pace.

He followed her, until they were both out in the mall walkway. He walked along her left side since she stayed more on the right of the main walkway.

His eyes and senses alert, Evan noticed the same few men and women, up ahead, who had been nearby when Frank the dumbass made his scene. They were sitting on benches in the center of the walkway. And they were staring at him, and Dana, mumbling, pointing, with one of the women even arising from the bench. “They see you.”

“I know. Up ahead. You see where we can turn right? That will lead us out to Sixth Street.”

“I see it.”

She walked faster. He did the same and remained near her.

Dana turned down this other hallway, just as those people were about on them. She increased her pace, until arriving at the glass doors to the outside. Evan turned back a moment and called out to these people, firmness in his tone, explaining Dana wasn’t feeling well, and she needed her space. His behavior and words obviously impeded them; they stopped approaching, only staring at first, but then apologizing and saying they hope she feels much better soon, or even asking how or why she got hospitalized. He didn’t answer and focused back on Dana.

His eyes astutely searching, he could see Dana was standing outside on the sidewalk, but bent over, holding her stomach.

He rushed out the doors and ran up to her. He grasped his hands on both her shoulders. “Are you okay?”

She breathed in shakily, several times, before gradually standing up straight, her body trembling as she did so. “I think so. We need…we need to get a room.” She pointed diagonally across the street.

He continued to hold her shoulders and looked around. One of those glass-windowed pedestrian tunnels was connecting the second floor of City Center to the second floor of the Embassy, almost directly above them, but more to the north. “We could go up there, that glass walkway. Traffic wouldn’t be a concern then.”

“No.” She loosened her shoulders free from his grasp. “I don’t care if I get hit by a car. Do you?”

“Well, of course I don’t want you getting hit. It’s my job to protect you.”

She stared at him from under her sunglasses. “I mean, do you, Evan, mind if you yourself get hit?”

What sort of question was that? Something definitely wasn’t right with her. “I don’t want to get hit. I’m only eighteen. But if it means saving you, then yeah, I’ll take the bullet, or the car strike, whatever it takes.”

She gave him a half, smirky smile. “Yeah. Whatever, I guess.”

He wasn’t sure how to respond to that.

She walked up to the edge of the sidewalk and directed her sightline to the Embassy’s entrance.

Evan rushed over to her left side, positioning himself to protect her from the one-way southbound traffic on Sixth. Her recent behavior had him on edge. He took a secure hold of her shoulders again. “Don’t shrug my hands off. Got it?”


He kept his eyes to the left, on the traffic light. Vehicles were slowly stopping at the intersection. “Or I’ll embarrass you and pick you up and carry you across.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not a baby.”

“No, but you’ve been sick. Don’t fight me on this.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever.”

The last vehicle passing through since the red light, a maroon Dodge Ram the same year as his own, zoomed by, leaving the street free of traffic. He began walking by holding her shoulders, but then took hold of her left hand, since she now seemed able to walk. They even jogged the last few steps up to the Embassy’s front doors.

The Embassy had the same revolving door entrance like the Hilton Minneapolis. He continued holding her hand, and pressed the door’s edge to swing around, bringing them into an entrance foyer. The doors might be similar, but this hotel definitely lacked the spectacular high-ceiling spacious abundance of the other Hilton. He looked around. Stairs and some elevators ahead, some sort of restaurant, bar, and lounge combo to the left and the reception intake desk to the right. He headed toward the reception desk yet holding her hand.

She pulled back on his determined motion. “Hold on.”

“Why? What is it?”

“Just wait. I got to check something.” She reached into the inner pocket of her jacket with one hand and pulled out her phone.

Making sure his awareness was in high gear, Evan scanned around. A man in a business suit walked nearby but didn’t show them any interest. No one else was nearby. But this place. Brown and white floors. Dark brown wall, gold elevator doors. White, tan and maroon colors elsewhere. A disturbing flashback suddenly entered his thoughts. That underground base. The commons area, with those seats and that TV. And the hull, surrounding him. And Dad. And the others. His breathing ramped up. He shook his head and stared at the floor, forcing it away. Not being very alert here, Evan!

“Hey,” she said. “What’s wrong?”

“What? Oh, nothing.”

“You sure? You just squeezed my hand and shook a bit.”

“I did? I’m sorry. Did I hurt you?”

“No, you didn’t. So why did you do that?”

He smiled at her. “I’m okay. Just a bad memory.”

“Well, all right. Come on.” She tugged on him, pulling him toward the entrance. “I saw a store outside, up the street. Need to go there. Besides, can’t have you acting all weird and shit in front of everyone.”

“Oh, I’m acting weird? Who was the one who nearly collapsed to the sidewalk out there?”

“Hey. I’m not feeling well. What’s your excuse?” She kept him walking toward the revolving doors. “Can you release my hand now?”

“Yeah, sure. But you need to stay near me.”

When on the sidewalk, Dana headed south. He stayed on her right side, the side near the parked vehicles and the road. She soon led them inside the second store down from the Embassy, some food and drinks business. His arising suspicions while they walked soon proved true; she went directly over to the vintage bottles of wine and other liquors. 

“I need one of these,” she said, picking up a Copper and Kings 750-milliliter bottle of brandy.

“Uh, what?” He drew closer to her, so no one could hear. “You just recovered from alcohol poisoning! You know, the doctor, the close call, and decreasing your oxy?”

“That’s where you’re wrong.” She spoked quietly too. “Still recovering. I need a slight buzz to get over this. Can’t do it cold turkey, you see.” She turned and faced him. “I can’t use my card to pay for this. I’ll get traced. And, not sure what to do about the hotel room, too. Kind of why we’re here, trying to figure this out.”

He knew exactly what to do. He dug into his jogging pants pocket and removed his wallet. He opened the wallet and revealed that wad of cash. “Remember the money you gave me, in Chicago?”

She stared at the money. “You still have that?”

“Never spent a cent.” He removed it and handed the money to her. “Five hundred dollars.”

She placed the brandy on the shelf. She gently took the bills from his hand. “Wow. Well, thank you.”

“It is your money, so no problem.”

After a few more words, especially about the dangers of mixing alcohol with her prescription pills, Evan ultimately lost their disagreement. She would not change her mind. She insisted on buying the brandy. However, she also picked up some pretzels, potato chips, and cheese cubes, so at least those could help lessen the alcohol effects some.

Upon stepping up to the counter to pay, the older guy behind the counter requested Dana’s ID. Fortunately, though when he eyeballed her ID card, he didn’t seem to have a clue who she was. He simply put all her items in one sturdy brown paper bag and completed the sale.  

Evan again walked on the street-side of Dana, while they went back to the Embassy, though she didn’t want him holding her hand, or even putting his hand on her shoulder. He sighed and simply stayed near her, and ever alert. 

At the Embassy reception desk ordering the room, a middle-aged Asian woman, who eerily reminded him of Akina, did seem to realize who they might be. The woman gazed at him and Dana with a curious, perplexed and even amused expression. And even though they could pay in cash, they still needed a credit card. Evan supplied his. Dana decided on a regular king-sized bedroom, with a bathroom, but no suite. At this point, several other people behind the desk, two men, were staring more than they should be, and smiling, but they said nothing. And none of them seemed concerned about the bag of items Dana carried.

Dana led Evan over to one of those elevators with the gold-plated doors near the entrance.

“Eleventh floor,” she said, eying the Embassy’s keycard, numbered 1112, once in the elevator. She pressed the number 11 button. “Here we go.”