Tom Jurgen’s latest case takes him and Rachel to a nudist camp—the perfect hunting ground for a flesh-eating monster.
Saturday, April 14, 2018
I’ve faced down vampires, zombies, demons, and giant mutant chickens. But I’d never felt as nervous as I did now.
Rachel slapped my bare butt. “Oh, don’t worry. You’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.”
“Easy for you to say.” I scanned her up and down. At least no one would be looking at me with Rachel at my side.
She kissed my cheek. “You asked me here, remember?”
“Yeah.” I reached for her hand. “Thanks for coming.”
“Oh, it’ll be fun.” She pulled at the door. “Come on.”
* * *
Amelia Dixon had hired me the day before. “I don’t know what my husband is doing anymore.”
We sat in the kitchen of their Arlington Heights house, sipping coffee. “Lately he’s been going away every weekend. Friday to Sunday. He says it’s business. But I don’t know.”
“Okay.” Good coffee. “How can I help you?”
“Follow him.” She leaned forward across the table. In her fifties, she had long blond hair with black roots, and dark circles under her eyes. “I want to know who he’s meeting with. I don’t care if he’s having an affair. I’m more worried about . . .” She lifted a hand. “This place.”
She and her husband Walter Dixon lived in a suburban castle surrounded by other mansions. All it lacked was a moat, but the nine-foot tall wrought iron fence, complete with a speaker at the heavy front gate, fulfilled that role just as well.
“Walter’s in real estate, but I really don’t know much about his business. He’s got a company called DX Holdings. I’m just worried that he’s involved in a problem.” She poured me more coffee. “I’ve got my lawyer looking into it, but I really want to know what’s with all these weekend trips.”
I nodded. It sounded easy enough—though tailing cars for a long period of time can be tricky and exhausting. I’ve done it often enough as a private detective. But I had tools at home that could help.
“So.” She pulled out a checkbook. “Tom Jurgen?”
“That’s me.” I gave her my standard retainer amount, and she handed over a check.
This was Thursday. At 6 a.m. the next morning I was down the block from the house, watching for Dixon’s black SUV to leave through the gate. I’d driven home and back yesterday to give Amelia Dixon a tracking device to plant on the vehicle. It was tied to the GPS in my phone, so I wouldn’t have to keep Dixon in sight the whole time, wherever he went.
Part of being a P.I. is the fun electronic gear I get to use sometimes.
We headed out. Got on the highway. Got on another highway, then on the toll road to Indiana. The Friday morning rush hour was mostly going in the other direction, so even without the tracking device, I was able to keep Dixon’s SUV in sight almost the whole way. Eventually we were on I-65 in Indiana, where the traffic was light, and I could hang back, flicking between radio stations as the road rolled by.
After close to two hours and one rest stop—Dixon, not me—we reached our destination:
RIDGE HILLS SUN RESORT. I looked at the sign from the far side of the road.
Did that mean what I thought? I watched Walter Dixon’s car stop at the gate. He rolled down his window, flashed a card at the booth, and then pulled through as the gate opened.
I waited by the side of the road for half an hour, just in case Dixon decided he had the wrong address, or he was only here to drop off a package, or something like that.
In the meantime I looked up Ridge Hills on my phone.
Yeah. It was a nudist camp.
“Volleyball, swimming, hiking, fishing, and more!” the website promised. “Plan your visit today!”
After 45 minutes I started my Honda and headed for the nearest town. The app on my phone would alert me if Dixon’s SUV started moving again. In the meantime, I was hungry.
I found an exit and pulled into a diner. Inside, I used the restroom and then sat down to order waffles. And bacon. And coffee. I looked over the Ridge Hills website some more while I waited.
In addition to swimming, volleyball, and something called pickleball, the place offered horseback riding, dance lessons, stargazing walks, and movies under the stars. The circular pool looked huge, filled with bare, laughing bodies. The horses were tall, and the people mounted on them looked like they were having fun.
None of the photos showed anything . . . explicit. You could tell that people were nude, but there was nothing that would have gotten an R rating in a movie theater. A red banner across the “Rules” page advised “NO UNAUTHORIZED PHOTOS.”
I checked the rates and reservations. The daily rate was $62. A weekend membership was $400 for two people. It included a cabin, meals, and a complimentary fruit basket. A yearly membership was $2,000 for a permanently reserved cabin, meals included for the days spent there.
They had some openings for this weekend.
The waitress came with my waffles and filled up my coffee. “Anything else?”
I hid my phone. “Not right now.”
After a few bites, I called my client.
“A nudist camp?” She snorted. “Well, that’s not what I expected.”
“A nudist camp?” She snorted. “Well, that’s not what I expected.”
“It looked like he had a membership. He showed them a card at the gate.”
She thought for a moment. “Can you go in and find out what he’s up to?”
“Maybe.” I hesitated. “I’d have to buy at least a day membership. If you want me to stay the weekend—assuming he’s staying there until Sunday—I’ll need to get a room. And it would be less suspicious if I had someone with me.”
“Go ahead. Get receipts. I’ve still got my own checking account.”
Great. “All right. I’ll be in touch.”
“Can you get pictures? If he’s banging some naked bimbo?”
“The rules frown on photography. I’ll see what I can do.”
“All right. Call me when you know anything.” She hung up.
I attacked my waffles. No crisis has ever made me lose my appetite. And although this wasn’t exactly a crisis, it sure wasn’t something they’d covered in the private eye manual I’d bought from the bargain table at Kroch’s and Brentano’s 20 years ago.
I paid and went back to my car, trying to think about how to sell this to Rachel.
Her phone buzzed once. Twice. “Hi, jerk.” It’s one of her pet names for me, along with “idiot” and “asshole.” I’d gotten used to it over the years. “Where are you?”
“Indiana. Hey, you wouldn’t want to come down for the weekend, would you?” I braced myself.
“Doing what?” She sounded suspicious.
“It’s a nudist colony. I tailed my client’s husband here. She wants to know—”
“Hah!” Rachel’s laugh almost split my eardrum. “I am so there! This should be good. Send me the address.”
I thought I’d have to talk her into it. This was even more disturbing. “Okay. It’s a few hours. Bring me my toothbrush and my laptop. And a change of clothes.”
“For a nudist camp?” She laughed again. “This is gonna be good.”
We hung up. I texted her the address. Then I wondered what I was going to do in my car until she got here.
I pulled up to the gate, Rachel beside me. She’d parked her Prius in a lot at the next town.
I rolled down my window. “Hi. We’d like two weekend passes?”
The guard—dressed, thank god—checked a screen and nodded. “We’ve got some vacancies. Park up there and then go to the office.”
I spotted Dixon’s SUV in the lot. We parked, Rachel grabbed her overnight bag from the back seat, and I locked the car.
“Thanks for coming,” I said again.
She punched me. “I wouldn’t miss this for anything.”
Rachel has red hair and wide hazelnut eyes. She’s my upstairs neighbor, kind of psychic, and also my girlfriend. I hadn’t really expected her to be so enthusiastic about this. I held her hand as we walked through the door into the office.
A man stood up behind a reception desk. Dressed appropriately for a nudist camp. By which I mean, completely undressed. He was in his fifties, with a beard and a bit of a pot belly. “Welcome to Ridge Hills! I’m Perry. How can I help you?”
“We . . .” I focused on his face. “We’re hoping to get a weekend membership.”
“Sure thing.” He tapped at a computer. “We have a nice cabin available. Your names?”
“Tom Jurgen. Rachel Dunn.”
After a few minutes and a credit card transaction, I signed a sheet of paper and we got two temporary membership cards. Perry handed us room cards and a list of rules: No photography, no sexual conduct out in the open, absolutely no harassment of any kind, and carry a towel to sit on.
He turned to find a chart of the resort on a desk behind him, and I noticed a square bandage on his bare back, three inches wide. “Ouch. What happened there?”
“What? Oh, that.” He looked over his shoulder. “Scraped my butt on a fence. Stung like hell.” He laughed, then pointed out the resort’s feature—hiking, tennis and volleyball, swimming, horseback riding, and even croquet. “You’d be surprised, but lots of people like croquet.” He smiled. “Try it.”
“Thanks.” I shoved the keys and membership cards in my pocket. Then I wondered how I’d carry them later without any clothes.
We walked outside to look for our cabin.
A man and a woman threw a Frisbee on a wide green lawn next to the office. Two men sat cross-legged on the grass, sharing a newspaper.
A slim woman walked by, listening to music on the phone strapped to her arm. She nodded to us, singing under her breath.
All of them were nude. None of them were supermodels or porn stars, although the guys reading the newspapers were . . . fit. I saw Rachel checking them out as we passed. And the woman throwing the Frisbee looked as if she worked out more than her partner.
Four elderly people sat at a table in front of a cabin playing cards. A young man lugged a 12-pack of beer under one arm, talking on his phone. Rachel checked him out too.
Finally we found our cabin. Rachel tossed her bag on the bed. “Okay. We’re here. Now what?”
I shrugged. “Now we go looking for my target.” I showed Rachel the photos Amelia Dixon had given me. “Memorize that face. It’s all we’ll have to go on.”
She smirked. “This is going to be different.”
“Yeah.” I kicked off my shoes.
Rachel pulled off her shirt. “Try not to get too distracted out there.”
I figured we’d start at the pool. It was a warm summer afternoon, a Friday, and Dixon didn’t sound like the volleyball or horseback type. So we grabbed towels, and our room keys, and checked the map for the route to the pool. Rachel carried a small purse slung over one shoulder with our phones, and we both wore sandals we’d found in the bathroom. Other than that, we were, well, completely nude.
We passed more nude people, of course. All shapes, ages, races, and sizes. Most of them smiled and said hello, except for one middle-aged couple who looked angry with each other. Rachel pointed down a row of hedges, and we headed toward the sounds of splashing and laughing.
Something poked at my side. I stopped and turned. Nothing—except a breeze pushing at the side of the hedge. I rubbed my hip. My skin stung.
“What?” Rachel looked back at me.
“Nothing. I thought I—felt something.” Like porcupine quills brushing against my body. But I didn’t see anything but shadows across the wooden walkway.
The pool had a lap lane, and two people were swimming with hard, swift strokes as if they were racing each other. On the other side of the line, men and women treaded water and chatted near the pool’s edge, or floated on rafts, baking their skin the summer sun. Mid-afternoon, not too hot, with a cool breeze over the water.
A bar served cocktails. and Rachel bought a beer and a Coke. I was still taking my anxiety meds, which meant I couldn’t drink, and given my state of nervousness at walking around stark naked, that was probably a good idea.
“Relax.” Rachel nudged my arm. “It’s nothing anyone here hasn’t seen before.”
I glanced at her. Then looked away. “Yeah.” I peered through my sunglasses, looking for—
He was sitting at a table beneath an umbrella, drinking what looked like scotch, talking to another man about the same age—balding, overweight, sweating on the towel underneath his thick legs.
Well, that was easy.
“Find someplace to sit.” I took a swig of my Coke. “That’s him. I’m going to try to listen.”
“How about if I walk around and distract him?” Rachel grinned.
I rolled my eyes. “Then he might stop talking.” Also, I didn’t enjoy the thought of anyone seeing Rachel like . . . this. Even though I’d noticed a bunch of eyes checking her body out as we walked. Not all of them male. “Plus, you’re distracting me enough already.”
Rachel giggled. “Okay. Meet you in a few minutes.”
I had to walk around the pool slowly, trying not to watch Dixon the whole time. When I got close to his table I took another swallow of Coke and stood, pretending to just enjoy the sun. Which, to be honest, felt pretty good.
A curly-haired blond woman in her forties—my age—looked up from a chair. “First time, huh?”
Was it obvious? “Uh, yeah.”
“Don’t worry. You get used to it.” She closed her eyes.
“Good to know.”
“–And then it all goes to Xenon.” Dixon sipped his scotch. “I get 20 percent. That’s not right, especially when I send half of that to Torwald. You’ve got to fix that, Vann.”
“These things take time.” Vann was drinking white wine. “You know that.”
“How long? I’m coming down here every weekend, my wife’s going to start getting suspicious . . .”
I sauntered away.
Rachel had found her own table topped by a blue umbrella, and also two new friends—both young guys with deep suntans. All over.
She waved as I walked over. “Right here! This is Tom. My boyfriend.” She held my hand as I sat down. “This is Jason and . . . what’s your name again?”
“Gil.” The other guy laughed. “Nice to meet you, Tom. First time here?”
Why did everyone keep asking me that? “Yeah. But I’m getting used to it.”
Jason stood up. “We’re going to shoot hoops. Want to come?” He was obviously asking Rachel, but he included me in the offer. Out of pity, I supposed.
Rachel laughed and shook her head. “Not my game. Nice meeting you.”
They walked off. I noticed a long bandage on Gil’s butt. I glanced at Rachel, but I didn’t want to draw her attention to another man’s buff, toned body.
I drained my Coke. “So, you’re making friends. Not surprised.”
She kicked me with a bare foot under the table. “Who was that blonde chick you were talking to over there?”
“Just, uh . . . okay, we just said hi. And I was working. Sorry.”
“Look.” Rachel leaned next to me. “You asked me here. I’m helping. Those guys were just being friendly. Everyone here is friendly. Did you notice I told them you were my boyfriend right away?”
“Yeah.” I shook my head. “Sorry.”
We’d had a rough patch. Fixed things up. And we were okay now.
But it was different with all the nudity. People were looking at Rachel—and Rachel was checking them out in return.
She reached out to stroke my arm. “What’d you find out?”
Oh, right. I was working. “The other guy’s name is Vann. Dixon is worried about not getting enough of a return from the money he’s sending to something or someone called Xenon, and then to something else called Torwald. Give me my phone.”
Rachel tossed her little purse on the table and stood up. “Knock yourself out. I’m going swimming.” She leaned down, her lips tickling my ear. “And by the way, that woman at the next table in the big floppy hat? She’s totally checking out your butt.” She dug her fingers into my arm. “Talk to her and I’ll kill you.”
“Uh . . . right.” Maybe that was fair. I watched Rachel as she strode toward the pool. Then, of course, I turned around to check out the woman behind me.
Long arms, slim legs, and a hat that hid her face. If she noticed me, she didn’t give any sign. Maybe she was sleeping in the sun.
My laptop was back in the cabin. So I used my phone to look up Xenon and Torwald.
A search for Xenon, Zenon, Zhenon, Shenon, and every other spelling I could think of got me nowhere—or everywhere, with more than a million results. Xenon was No. 54 on the periodic table of elements, and it was the name of at least 2,000 companies on Google. Some of them were even involved in real estate, but I couldn’t any connection to Dixon or his company, DX Holdings.
Torwald, on the other hand, turned up close to 200,000 hits, but once I narrowed that down, I had only about 200 hits that corresponded with “real estate” anywhere near Chicago. I found links to DX Holdings on most of them.
Rachel walked up, dripping, and wiped her body off with her towel. “Anything?”
“Just a minute.” I tapped my phone. “I think . . .” Then I looked up. “Nice swim?”
“Invigorating.” She sat down, planting her towel beneath her butt. Just like the rules said.
“Okay.” I glanced at her, but tried to keep my mind on business. “Dixon’s shuffling money around. I’m not sure it’s anything illegal, but he was angry talking to Vann. I’ll have to call my client again, see if she recognizes any of those names.”
“Right.” Rachel leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes. “We can get dinner soon.”
“Uh, yeah.” I tapped my phone. “Let me just, uh, make a call . . .”
“Hello?” Amelia Dixon sounded as if she’d had a few cocktails too.
“Tom Jurgen here. Your husband is meeting with a man named Vann, and they’re talking about two companies named Xenon and Torwald. That’s all I could overhear.”
“Vann.” I heard a slurp. “Bald guy, heavy?”
“Drinking white wine.”
She laughed. “That’s Vann Meadows. I don’t know exactly what he does. He used to come to the house, but I haven’t seen him for months. He and Walt would talk in his office for hours, and then all of a sudden Vann wasn’t coming over anymore. You think he’s driving all the way to Indiana just to talk to Vann? And leer at naked bodies?”
An anorexically skinny girl in her twenties lurched by on crutches, accompanied by a young African-American man who glared at me. I looked across the pool.
Dixon and Vann were still talking, ignoring the bare flesh all around them.
“I don’t know. Have you heard of Xenon? Or Torwald?”
“Torwald, yeah. They’re partners in some real estate deal. Xenon I’ve never heard of. Oh, wait . . .” She paused. “I saw some emails from them. I only read one, it didn’t make sense. Just a bunch of numbers. Okay, I spy on his email. I’m just trying to protect myself.”
“Right.” Without wives and girlfriends spying on emails and social media, my business would dry up. Except for the vampire and demon cases. “I’ll see what more I can find out. But I have to say, right now, this may be all I can get. I’m not sure I can listen in on them more closely.”
“Whatever you can get.” She sighed. “At least . . . I don’t get it. A nudist camp?”
I risked a glance at the naked woman in the floppy hat. Fortunately Rachel seemed to be asleep. “I’ll be in touch.”
Back in our cabin, we munched on apples and pineapple slices from the promised complimentary fruit basket while we checked our email. And then . . . well, we’d been naked all afternoon.
After a while we took a shower together and then headed to dinner. Rachel wore a T-shirt and blue cutoffs, and she’d picked up a pair of athletic shorts for me.
The dining room looked out at the pool. A handful of people were still swimming, splashing and laughing in the water, or laying out in the twilight sun.
Inside we found a buffet. Most people wore shorts, shirts, and sandals. A few men were completely nude, and some of the women wore only thongs or bikini bottoms. I looked for Dixon as I picked up slices of chicken and salmon, ignoring the steak. Rachel piled her plate with salad. She’s a vegetarian.
“Oh, look!” Rachel pointed. “It’s Jason and that other guy! Let’s sit with them.”
Peachy. We sat down as Jason and Gil said hello again.
“So where are you guys from?” Rachel poured herself some wine from the carafe in the center of the table. “We’re in Chicago.”
“Indianapolis.” Jason was sipping a beer. “I met him at a dog park. Then he brought me here.”
“We’re married.” Gil clutched Jason’s hand. “This is our anniversary.”
I shouldn’t have been so relieved. “That’s great.” I lifted my glass of water. “Congrats.”
They kissed. Then Jason smiled at the two of us. “What about you? One day soon?”
Rachel poked at her salad. “Maybe.”
Gil sliced his steak. “Wow, this looks good. Nice and rare.”
Rachel looked ready to gag. Like I said, vegetarian.
I peered around the dining room. No sign of Dixon. Wait—I saw Vann in the corner, sitting between two young women, laughing as he gulped some wine. A moment later Dixon joined them, a towel over his shoulder, carrying a plate heaped with steak and vegetables.
I leaned forward. “Go listen.”
“What?” She slammed her fork down. Jason blinked at me.
“Just . . . walk around behind them. They might recognize me from before. Pretend like you’re going out to the pool. Don’t, you know, get their attention. Just listen to them.”
The girls were giggling. One of them stroked Dixon’s arm. Rachel grimaced. “They don’t look like they’re talking business.”
Yeah. “Maybe you’re right.” I shrugged. “Let’s just eat dinner.”
“No, it’s all right.” She stood up and smiled at Jason and Gil. “Be right back, guys.”
I watched her go. Jason winked at me. “You’re a lucky guy.”
“That’s what she tells me. All the time.” I sipped my water.
Rachel pulled her T-shirt off and folded it over her arm as she approached the table in just her shorts. Dixon ignored her, more interested in the girls on either side, but Vann looked up at Rachel and smiled.
I was ready to lurch up and challenge them both to a duel to the death, but Rachel walked past them. The lights from the pool lit her shoulders as she opened the door behind them, and then she was gone.
I heaved a sigh. Then I stood up, gulped some water, and grabbed a roll from a plate. “Save our food. We’ll be right back.”
I went out the front door and circled the building, looking for Rachel. She was standing near the gate by the pool, leaning on the fence and looking out at the water. Three people were swimming, and a group was still chatting at a table even though the sun was down.
“So, did you hear anything?” I leaned against her shoulder and offered her the roll. The part I hadn’t eaten, anyway.
Rachel shook her head. “They were just flirting.” She took a bite. “Did you see that blonde with the big—oww!”
She bent over, almost collapsing to her knees. I held onto her shoulder, keeping her up as she reached around her back, grunting. ”What?”
She held up her hand. It was stained with blood. “What the . . .”
I leaned around to look at her. Blood leaked from a gash on her leg, just below her shorts. It didn’t look deep or life-threatening, but it wasn’t a bee sting.
She’d draped her T-shirt over the fence. I yanked it and pressed it against the wound. “Hey!” Rachel winced. “I like that shirt!”
“I like not seeing you bleed.” I caught her hand. “Let’s get some first aid.”
A tall skinny man pushed through the pool gate. “You okay?”
“My girlfriend got—wounded somehow. Do you know where we can find some first aid?”
“They have stuff up at the office. Do you need help?” He held out a hand. “I’m Jack, by the way.”
“I’m fine.” Rachel stood up and held the T-shirt to her skin herself now. “Rachel. Tom. But thanks.”
“Same thing happened to me a few weeks ago.” He pointed to his foot. “Must have scraped it somewhere. Stung a lot. Anyway, go to the office. They’ll help you.”
“Thanks.” She hobbled off.
I tried to hold her hand, but she shook me off. “I can walk, Tom. It just—stung, is all.”
Stung. Just like Perry the office manager had described his “scrape.” “I didn’t see anything. You were just standing there.”
“Uh-huh. But I felt something. It was there, right behind me, for just a second. And then I was bleeding and you were ruining my shirt.” She leaned against me. “You’re buying me another one.”
I wasn’t sure I could expense that, but I’d worry about it later.
Perry was still in the office. “Oh, my.” He brought a first aid kit out of the back room. “I’m sorry. When you’re nude, it’s very easy to get cut or scraped by a bush or a rock or a fence—”
“She was just standing outside the pool.” I pulled a pack of alcohol pads from his hand. I wasn’t letting anyone touch Rachel’s leg but me.
“It just kind of zipped by. Ow!” Rachel yelped as I cleaned the gash. It was three inches long, and looked like something had taken a bite out of her skin. Fortunately the gouge was shallow and stopped bleeding as I fumbled with the largest bandage I could find.
“Does this happen a lot?” I looked for a wastebasket. Rachel sighed as I threw her T-shirt away. “I’m seeing a fair number of bandages on people. Like yours.”
He shrugged. “Like I said, people get scrapes and bruises they don’t expect when they’re nude. Minor wounds are part of the risk members assume when they sign up. Even for weekend memberships.”
I remembered signing a form when we checked in. It had covered bee stings, falling off horses, and sunburn, but I hadn’t noticed anything about being maimed or mauled by invisible forces.
Perry gave us a bag filled with extra first aid supplies, mainly alcohol pads, antibiotic ointment, and more bandages. Rachel smoothed the bandage over her thigh. “I guess I’ll live. At least my shorts are okay.”
More than okay, but I didn’t want to say that in front of Perry. “All right, thank you.” I remembered the dinner I’d left with Jason and Gil. “Let’s see if we can still get some food.”
Our plates were long gone, and so were Jason and Gil. I couldn’t blame them. We hit the buffet again and sat down, Rachel wincing as she tried to find a comfortable position.
“So what do you think?” I sliced my salmon.
“I think I’m not going swimming tomorrow.” Rachel stirred up her salad. “And other . . . activities may not take place as scheduled.” She kicked my ankle.
Darn. I glanced around the dining room, seeing more and more bandages on areas I’d been trying to keep my eyes away from up to now. Okay, most of them were probably sports-related, sliding on the tennis court in pursuit of a flying ball or banging a shoulder against the wall of the pool. But I saw one woman with gauze wrapped around her thigh as she made her way to the dessert tray, limping with each step, and a short man with tattoos over half of his body sporting a big bandage around his shoulder.
Maybe I should start asking people. No, that was a bad idea. But how else could I find out what was going on? If anything was? “You okay?”
Rachel gulped some wine. “I felt something. Not just the bite on my ass, but . . .” She wiped a hand across her forehead. “I need to go to bed.”
Her eyelids were drooping, and her arm dropped on the table. I helped her up.
Back in the cabin I wiped off her gash again with more alcohol pads, applied a new bandage, and found a bottle of Tylenol in her purse. “Take these.” I pushed a glass of water at her lips.
“I’m fine.” She swallowed. “Just let me rest.”
I pressed a hand on her forehead. No fever, no infection. I set a bottle of water on the table next to the bed.
“I’m going to take a look around outside.” I had no idea what was going on—or if it even connected with Dixon and my client. But I’d brought Rachel here, and she’d been attacked. She’d probably forgive me. It wasn’t the first time I’d gotten her in trouble with some kind of supernatural monster. But I couldn’t sit around wondering what was happening outside. Whatever had attacked Rachel might come back again. And more people might get hurt.
“I’ll be fine.” She managed a weak punch to my ribs. “Just . . . be careful.” Rachel closed her eyes.