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©2019 by Alanna Peterson. All rights reserved.

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Sunday June 21

Cyrus gazed through the window as he washed his hands in the deep white sink of the sweltering kitchen. A feast was spread on the picnic table outside, illuminated by flickering lanterns. He walked through the door as if in a trance, listening to Frida describe the offerings. There was a frittata made with freshly-collected eggs, filled with homegrown shiitake mushrooms and parsley and sorrel; a cast-iron skillet heaped with roasted rosemary-garlic potatoes; a glass bowl full of deep-red cherries; a salad of spinach, sliced strawberries, and toasted almonds; a loaf of brown bread, sliced thickly, with a nearby pot of rhubarb jam; a pitcher of goat’s milk. 


The sight of this abundance nearly moved Cyrus to tears. But he restrained himself; he’d already cried in front of Andi once today, and wasn’t about to do it again. He’d even managed to keep it together when he woke Roya and told her what happened. She'd been confused at first, and even after he'd gone over it several times she didn't grasp the full implications. To her, the situation seemed easy enough to fix. “We'll tell the police the truth. Then they'll have to let Baba and Maman go, and we can go home.”


Cyrus couldn't quite explain that it wasn't going to be that simple.  


At the table, despite the pit of heaviness in his stomach, Cyrus piled his plate high. Roya passed a jar of sauerkraut to Andi, who took one whiff and pushed it to Cyrus.


“Sure you don’t want any? It’s good for you! Packed with probiotics!” Cyrus teased, giddy from the presence of all this food. He scooped out a bright magenta forkful—the kraut was made from purple cabbage—and took a bite of his frittata. It was probably the most delicious thing he’d eaten in his whole life.


When Gretchen and Frida sat down, Cyrus thanked them for the meal. Although the answer was obvious, he asked, “So you don't believe what everyone's saying, then?” 


“No! Of course not,” said Gretchen. “Anyone who has met your family would know you'd never do such a thing. Your mother's friend Kelly, she is trying hard to spread the word that you are innocent. But, unfortunately, the authorities are not listening.” 


“Why not?”


“She was arrested at the protest too, but they let her go because they didn’t have enough evidence against her. Still, she has continued to push back, and published an online piece this week that showed every lead detective on the case has ties to Richard Caring. Some of them used to work as his security guards. He has a long history of partnership with Seattle's Police Chief, and he financed the state attorney general's election campaign. He even has connections to the FBI investigators involved.”


Cyrus's brief giddiness faded. Andi had been right: the police couldn't be trusted. 


“They’ve been doing everything in their power to cast doubt on her credibility,” continued Gretchen. “And they’ve been very successful painting her as a fringe conspiracy theorist. She’s lost a lot of support.”


“But we knew something else must be going on, and when you turned up... well, it is clear that you have been through an ordeal,” Frida said. “We want you to know that you are safe here, and can speak freely. Orting—the nearest town—is miles away. We have fifteen acres, and if anyone comes near, Astro will let us know.” The dog, seeming to understand, descended the porch steps to begin his patrol. “If you are not ready to talk yet, that is fine, but can I ask… what happened?”


Cyrus and Andi looked at each other. Gretchen and Frida seemed trustworthy, but he wasn’t sure it was a good idea to tell them everything.


Andi apparently came to the same conclusion. “You’d never believe us.”


“Yeah. In fact, we should get going after dinner. Don’t want you guys to get in trouble for harboring terrorists,” Cyrus added, although he had no idea where they would go.


“We are willing to take the risk. What is important is that you are safe, and get the rest you need,” Gretchen said.


Roya caught Cyrus’s eye. “Please, Kourosh, can we stay? This is a good place. And I’m so tired.”


Cyrus again looked to Andi, and she gave a slight nod. “Okay. Thank you,” he said to Gretchen.


“Before this, we were somewhere awful,” Roya explained. “A farm where they did experiments. A bad lady from Nutrexo kidnapped us and trapped us there. She hurt my brother. She poisoned him.”


Gretchen and Frida looked at Cyrus in alarm. “Naveed,” he said. “She’s talking about Naveed. He’s okay, though. Roya, be quiet. They don’t need to know all that.”


“Yes, they do! Because someone has to find him! He’s still out there in the forest, and you said we were going to send help, and I don’t want him to end up like the crows—” 


“The crows?” Frida asked.


Roya was sobbing now, rambling about dead crows and maple syrup and barns and mushrooms and helicopters. Cyrus moved to the seat next to her, holding her while she cried.


Frida reached across the table to pat her hand. “Do not worry. In the morning we will search for your brother. We know these woods very well.” To Cyrus and Andi, she said, “You know why the crows have been dying?” 


Cyrus and Andi remained silent. Roya was hiccupping too hard to answer.


“We want to help you,” Gretchen said. “But we can't unless you tell us what happened.” 


Cyrus considered this. Roya had already told them too much, and besides, it was obvious that they were in way over their heads.


Andi again seemed to be thinking along similar lines. “We might as well.” 


So they told Gretchen and Frida about SILO. Andi recounted what she had learned from Dr. Snyder about the new weedkiller, about the EcoCows with the calm-inducing protein in their milk, about Blazin Bitz Crave being released in about a week. 


Frida interrupted, “Did you see the place where they kept these EcoCows?”


“Yeah,” said Cyrus. “They were crammed into this barn. It was like nobody ever cleaned it, either. It was disgusting.” 


“I knew it.” Frida leaned back in her chair. “Sometimes, a horrible smell comes on the wind. It is the stench of miserable animals, of waste collected. We have not been able to find the source, and there are no records of such an operation in this area. But when it comes, it is unbearable. Outdoors, indoors, it doesn’t matter. You cannot get away.” 


“It is bad for farm workers, too, keeping animals so crowded,” Gretchen added. “I just read an article last week about… where was it, Nebraska? Iowa? There was a disease outbreak at a feedlot, and many of the workers caught a terrible infection. It usually is cured with antibiotics—but in this case they were not effective and some of the workers died. The farm gave their cows so many antibiotics that the bacteria became resistant to treatment. It was lucky they contained it before it spread.” 


Andi nodded. “Dr. Snyder said she gave the cows antibiotics all the time, but it didn’t seem to do any good. Those poor animals looked so sick.” 


“Yeah, that place was filthy. Good thing we had gloves on, huh, Andi?” Cyrus spooned rhubarb jam onto another slice of bread, then continued describing how they’d escaped, and how they’d become separated from Naveed. Roya chimed in at the end, eager to attribute their successful journey out of the woods to that crow she called Omid. Normally, Cyrus would have been offended by the suggestion that a bird had been leading them all this time, ignoring that he had been the one to navigate them back to civilization. But, considering the circumstances, it seemed a waste of energy to get upset about something like that.


When they finished, Gretchen said, “I... I don't know what to say. I am so sorry these things happened to you. But I am glad you turned up here. And I am glad to know about SILO. Now that we know what it is, we can fight against it.” 


“So, how are we going to do that?” Cyrus asked. 


They were startled by a flickering shadow, and turned toward the light, seeking its source. It was only a moth fluttering against a lantern. 


“We'll just tell the police,” Roya said, spitting a cherry pit into her palm. 


“No! Weren't you listening?” Cyrus's frustration returned. “We can't go to them. They're on Nutrexo's side, and Dr. Snyder's had plenty of time to destroy the evidence. Plus, I did something wrong, remember? The flash drive? They'll arrest me, and since I did one stupid thing they won't believe anything else I say, like what happened with Maman—”


“We do have some proof about SILO. That presentation of Dr. Snyder's,” Andi reminded him.


“They'll say I made that myself. Or I'll just get in more trouble for stealing it, too.”


“It'll be okay,” said Roya. “Andi and I will back you up.”


“It won't matter! Don't you get it?” Cyrus saw that Roya was on the verge of tears again, but he couldn't stop. “What story do you think people are going to believe: the family with Middle-Eastern roots resorts to violence to get their message across? Or the respected researcher kidnaps four kids so she can experiment on them in her secret lab?”   


“They'll believe us! Because it's the truth!” 


Frida spoke up. “Roya, I want to believe they will accept the truth. But I am not sure yet that calling the police is the best path. We need to think on it.”


“We will do whatever we can to help you,” said Gretchen. “But now is the time for eating and resting. We can make a plan when morning comes.”


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