Once upon a time there was a man. He was not an extraordinary man by any means. In fact, the man was quite plain and rather boring in appearance. His pale grayish eyes matched his nondescript conservative suit, which hung on his medium frame like burlap. His shoes were a dull brown. His slow deliberate gait mirrored complacency as he ambled toward the crowded bridge. Though he moved slowly, he had a heightened sense of awareness of where he was at and where he was going.
Those on the bridge paid him no attention. The busy Sunday crowd was self indulged in the warm spring day, after a week of foul weather had engulfed the small coastal town. Seagulls squawked and flapped noisily as they ignored both the man and the Sunday crowd, pecking and tearing apart bits of food left carelessly on the walkway.
The sun shone brightly, however John still blended in with the scenery, becoming invisible in plain sight, the best way to not be seen.
Suddenly John felt a hand on his shoulder, it's grip was tightening quickly. He had been walking with his hand in his coat pocket and it tightened around the cryptic note he had received under his door that morning. It was the note that had changed everything about his mundane life. Even as he turned to see whose hand had demanded his attention, his mind still struggled to understand what it could mean. He turned as calmly as he could manage and involuntarily breathed out a hoarse, "You!"
His mind instantly flashed back nearly 18 years to that night he had tried so hard to forget. Though outwardly calm, panic began to set in. It looked as if the face staring back at him hadn't aged a single, solitary day since that cold night under the street lamps on that forsaken road.
"You look rather healthy for someone who is supposed to be dead" said the tall thin owner of the offensive hand.
"I'm fine", he managed, fearing that his calm exterior had cracked ever so slightly. He added cautiously " I went to your funeral. It was very well attended."
"Design has that effect on events, doesn't it?" his unexpected companion responded icily.
John tried to think about what started this all in the first place and how did it come to that night under the street lamps on No Name road. It seemed like an eternity since that horrific fire that had taken the small mountain town they had both called home. But, his mind reeled, it had only been 18 years. He feared the secret of what they had witnessed that night would be plastered on the front page of the local paper tomorrow, although he knew better.He often wondered if the horrific acts that day were just part of his imagination but he still felt the cold steel in his hands to this day.
The clouds overhead seemed to respond to his morosity by darkening a few shades. The thin man, Mitch (at least that used to be his name) spoke calmly, " We need to talk".
"And I suppose talking is my only option at this point." said John.
Mitch's mouth twitched in the corners, as his cold steel eyes burned through John. The glare was red and palpable.
"I really didn't want it to come to this either" Mitch said through his obvious distaste, " but if we don't work together nothing can be done to stop what I fear is coming sooner than we think."
"And just what is it that's coming?" John asked, with a tremble in his voice.
"The truth", replied Mitch.
"What about the agency? What are they going to do?" John asked, though he knew the answer.
"They certainly won't stop looking, John."
"They don't know what they're looking for though; all the evidence was totally obliterated in the fire." Mitch quietly said with trepidation.
"Not all the evidence" John stated with a enigmatic tone of voice while his grip on that cryptic note loosened; as he was trying not to draw attention to it. His hand had already begun to sweat from gripping the note so tensely, so he hoped that the ink hadn't smeared. With the final piece of evidence (to John's knowledge) in his hand, the agency after them both, and his memory of the cold steel bar covered in blood; John could start to see how the fires tied into the big picture.
* * * * *
Three hundred miles to the south Morton Skyler sat in his overstuffed chair in his extravagant 10th floor office looking out the large windows at the surf. He made a steeple of his fingers as a grin cracked across his face. He had built the diversified business of his to nearly a billion dollars, with the help of very carefully selected employees whose only ambition was the next bonus. "Mr. Skyler, your wife is on hold. Line 3," squawked his underpaid and underestimated secretary of 20 years.
His secretary had been loyal since she started, even if she did know some of his "questionable" methods of operations. In fact, in a way, she was enamored with the pertinacity of his endeavor, and the results that had fattened her wallet.
She had even been on board with his tactics eighteen years ago, which had increased his wealth exponentially despite the extreme loss of life he had not counted on. But that was only the beginning.
There was still the nagging realization that as wealthy that move had made him he had still failed to accomplished his original purpose in Glenview, that one 24 acre piece, and he had yet to acquire that because of the Lewis brothers. But of course, the Lewis brothers would fall too, just like anyone else that got in his way.
He thought bitterly of their father who had used his deceptively humble position in the capitol to bring his own father's manipulative ploy for power to an ignominious end. But his cracked grin widened at the thought of the plans he had set in motion.
He had a hunch that the latest batch of feelers he had sent out may flush the Lewis boys out of hiding. Little did Morton know that the feelers he sent out would bring to him his own personal downfall.
* * * * *
John and Mitch moved their conversation to a more private location, a bench overlooking a small pond. They decided to put aside their differences for a very brief moment and go after the real enemy. What was most disturbing was the circumstances that had been the deciding factor for the change of heart. Each brother knew they could and would blackmail each other out of pure hatred but it was the life of an innocent child at stake. The last thing John had expected was for Mitch to produce a cryptic note he had received, on yellow stationary, torn in half, a perfect match for Johns note.
"These won't solve our problem", said John, gesturing to the notes, which together formed just one key of many.
Mitch scowled at John and growled in a low tone, "Do you always give up so easily you coward!"
"It has kept me alive this far", John snapped back.
"So how did you manage to find me ?" John asked after smothering his uncomfortable rise of anger.
"In this day and age it's just a click away, John." Mitch said cryptically.
"Well if it makes any difference i've known you are custodian for the Mason county airport for some time" said John smugly, "I knew you couldn't stay away from flying" "Mason county huh, is that what it looked like?" Mitch chuckled despite the seriousness of the situation. Mitch thought about how he missed that place and the brief moments there that brought him happiness. His face shifted as he thought of how grim their lives had become in the past few years. He shook off the emotions and told John that they needed to come up with a solid plan for going after Morton. John replied,"It may come as a surprise to you, but I have learned a few things over the years, and I need to show you something that will help us." Mitch tugged at his beard thoughtfully as his gaze fixed on John, finally with the serious expression this situation warranted.
John said decisively, " We need to go to my place to organize something, we have a better chance than you think." Mitch nodded wordlessly and they melted into the crowd, crossed the bridge, and hailed a cab. Each brother tossed the worthless notes into the trash because each knew that a good plan was forming quickly. As the taxi pulled away a small thin man sporting a straw hat and a hawaiian shirt casually lounged beside the trash and surreptitiously retrieved the two torn pieces that lay on top of the can. The thin man carefully placed the notes in his briefcase and then spoke to his phone, "Call Morton". John and Mitch disappeared into the crowded traffic as their cab sped off down Sixth Street.
* * * * *
"No Donna, I won't be home until late," Morton replied gruffly to his wife on the phone.
"Of course it's important!", he fumed. He should have been elated after the phone call from Frank Barton about the Lewis brothers, but it rankled him to no end that they were alive and well and located at the last area he wanted them be. If the Lewis brothers pieced it together too soon, it could destroy what he had worked so hard to build. Bitterness began to boil up from the anger that Morton felt towards the brothers causing those all too common acidic spurts that burned up his throat leaving a nasty taste in his mouth.
Frank Barton was a patient man and was in no hurry to discover the destination of the taxi. Morton had waited 18 years so far, what difference would a couple of days mean? Suddenly from behind Frank, the Lewis brothers grabbed him and shoved him into a van. Frank's mind reeled as he screamed in protest because he was sure he had seen them leave in the taxi. He had not taken into account they had been highly trained years before, it was evident they had not forgotten it. The van door slid shut with a bang as Frank cracked his forehead against something metallic inside, and then everything went dark. Mitch looked sideways at John as they leisurely pulled out into traffic, "I didn't remember you being this good," he said with a growing tone of respect.
"Do you think we gave him enough time to send our message to Morton?" John answered. "We would be foolish to assume otherwise, I'm just glad you spotted him, I am going to have to keep my eyes open," said Mitch. Frank groaned from the floor of the van behind their seats, blood trickling from a gash on his forehead.
He didn't begin to regain consciousness for nearly 30 minutes, just as the brothers pulled up to a large older warehouse in a seedy commercial area. Tossing Frank on a stretcher, the brothers surreptitiously transported him into the warehouse by way of a side entrance which looked as if it hadn't been opened in quite some time. The warehouse seemed to be divided into three large sections. Mitch had noticed when they arrived that the section on the far end wore a large faded "Joe's' Used Books" sign out front. Mitch chuckled as he noted the dust caked on the sign like layers of medieval mud. "Don't laugh," said John quietly, "I learned a lot from dad about structural subterfuge." Mitch laughed, a loud cackling laugh that spoke of the tension of the last few years as he spat out, "Do you hear yourself?"
John chuckled, "Let's just say I have a pretty good place to stay out of sight, and keep up on what is going on at the same time." Mitch noted the picture of an old P-51 airplane fastened securely to the back wall as he responded in a more serious tone, "What is it you have in here, John?" "That's just soffit to house a heating duct," he replied, "We'll see the bookstore in a few minutes. " Mitch raised an eyebrow in John's direction when he replied, "So no airplanes huh?" "If you remember correctly, that is YOUR passion, as much as books are mine," said John, "Probably why the gulf between you and dad." Frank moaned and squirmed from the stretcher. "The book store is just through this door, it's a good thing he's not conscious to know where he is yet."
"What did you have in mind?" "We'll just sit on him for a while, Morton knows our general location now but he won't know where to look ,there's lots of open country here." "Well we're gonna have to do something about all that racket he's making." "Got it covered brother, just a couple minutes yet and you will see what my trepidation has helped me set up." "Those are long words for a small town boy", Mitch cackled. They had been carrying the stretcher through rows of old used books with ten foot tall shelves, until John stopped at the end of one dim row. "Is this the way to the bat cave?" Mitch snickered again as he mentally recorded John's process. "I hadn't thought to call it that, but I guess it's kinda like that ,I just call it my retreat." Answered John as he produced a small remote from his pocket. Impressed, Mitch mused, "I'm glad you didn't fold down one of these books like a lever."
"There is a hidden manual switch ," said John as a six foot section of the wall swung silently away from them. The cleverly built space beyond bloomed outward, a geometrical masterpiece hidden inside the heart of the warehouse. "The warehouse is 75 feet by 300 feet," explained John as they carried the stretcher into 25 foot wide room. "With all the bells and whistles too." Mitch said with a whistle of adoration. Mitch looked around in wonder as he gawked at the space which ran nearly the entire length of the warehouse, a corner of this section held a long table with numerous monitors and electronic equipment. Bundles of wires and cables ran along tidy bracketed enclosures above his head. John directed Mitch to a bed on one side of the room,"We'll secure him here and doctor his head,no one will hear anything as the walls insulated" Mitch noted a first aid kit hung with exacting care near the bed, opened it, and removed gauze, a pressure dressing, tape, and a small bottle of peroxide. John retrieved the cellphone from Frank's pocket and smiled,"Do you know how much information you can get from these?" Mitch nodded, "Yes sir, that thing is a wolf in sheep's clothing if I ever saw one before."
Suddenly there was three chirps coming from one of the monitors. "That's the perimeter fence." said John with a note of dismay creeping up in his voice. He was relieved when he checked the monitor, "Just a deer," he said ,"The cameras are motion activated." Mitch peeked up at the video feed as he finished up the bandage on Frank's injured scalp. That particular monitor was split into six segments which alternated every few seconds until something prompted a specific camera. "What's this fancy gizmo in the middle, John?" Mitch asked as he walked over to the massive control bank. "It integrates data from all the computers , helps speed up the search process a lot. " replied John. John tapped a few keys on a keypad and a hidden panel whirred open in the ceiling. John handed Mitch the phone he'd found in Frank's pocket, "You'll find a cord to fit that in the drawer right there , this will give us information to encourage Frank to be honest with us." Mitch worked quickly, finding the appropriate cables, and plugging the phone in.
John tapped at the keyboard for a moment, then a large monitor blinked into life. He clapped his hands together and stretched his fingers, "Right, let's get to work". As he stretched his fingers, one of the knuckles on his right hand popped loudly and startled them. "Guess we are a little bit more on edge than we thought." Mitch said with a long sigh. He chuckled shakily and then began to methodically work. "Well I have to say I was pretty uneasy about that note but the fact that it brought you here is a great relief" admitted John. "That was some solid cryptography." Mitch said, raising an eyebrow in John's direction. John had an incredulous look on his face and his jaw dropped in surprise and he hoarsely whispered, "No! Oh no!" The screen showed the routes Frank had been taking with dates and times, there was a large group of activity in the vicinity of the 24 acres that had once been the Lewis home. Bile began to creep up John's throat and his pulse began to race as he tried to reason with what he saw on the screen. "They've been watching me longer than I thought." John managed. "What?" Mitch exclaimed on the edge of panic; let me see that! Mitch looked at the digital readout which showed dozens of locations and timestamps littered around the old estate. " I managed to keep that 24 acres by a series of sales to different "companies", Morton couldn't know we are still the owners but he is sure snooping around!"said John. "Aha! I've got an idea of how to take care of our 'friend' Morton once and for all", said Mitch confidently. " I'm all ears",replied John, "I just wish dad was around to be in on this, they were unable to find any cremains." "I just don't know" Mitch said, "there's just something very fishy about that whole fire thing; there's something that we're missing." The fire they both remembered all too well had been national news as Glenview had lost over 3000 homes and businesses and upwards of 1000 people killed and scores of victims never accounted for, John and Mitch included. "We'll get rid of him by giving him exactly what he wants." Mitch said with a twinkle in his eye and a wide smile. John smirked in response but noticed that Mitch's shoulders were slumped as if there was a ton of weight on them. John stopped what he was occupied with and looked Mitch square in the face and said,"Mitch,I know I never saw you after that night until today but that is all behind us, we need to move on and focus on this, no one is at fault here, you got that?"
"Yeh, yeh..I hear you," Mitch mumbled and turned away. The lights on the control panels and computers in front of them blinked in silence for a few moments. The almost deafening silence actually gave both men a little time to reflect on their eroding and precarious situation. "Well" said John suddenly, "I'm thinking while we are waiting for this to finish we ought to check out the homestead, it's just twenty minutes away by chopper." "Don't tell me you've got a chopper behind a hidden panel too." Mitch chuckled. "I've got a Bell Robinson 44 in the far section of the warehouse, I' ve been busy the last 18 years, trying to deal with this stuff." "Single-engine, two-bladed main rotor, two-bladed tail rotor, and a skid landing gear?" Mitch asked with excitement. " I actually added some wheels on the skids to make it easier to get in and out of the hanger, planes are not my passion like you but I've found this machine very useful." Mitch replied, "Yes, I can see that it would indeed be quite useful and well...also quite an asset and backup if things go sour. "Before we go let's give Frank something to think about " said John as he pulled out a DVD from a drawer. Mitch laughed from his gut, "Oh yeah, another little disappearing act would frustrate him to no end".
John turned on a television near where Frank was secured and soon they were viewing a purple dinosaur singing about a happy family, "This is on continuous play, he will be really glad to see us when we return." John tapped a few keys on the keyboard and a metallic whirring could be heard deeper inside the warehouse. Mitch chased away the little nagging thoughts of trepidation that tried to emerge about the old homestead. John led the way down the length of the room through three different sections before opening a door revealing a baby blue aircraft in a well stocked shop. The aircraft was spotless, as if it had been polished earlier that day. Mitch suddenly chuckled and said" What in the name of insanity made you put that DVD on, I always hated that when I heard it as a kid." "It's rather enjoyable to irritate you, brother", smirked John. "Seriously, I think Frank will be quite ready to answer some questions when we return."John continued. Mitch nodded his head but kept silent about his nagging doubts. His mood shifted when he refocused on the beautiful helicopter that was tucked away in the cleverly behemothic warehouse. John ' s next words gave him a further boost," I see in your flight folder you were rated on the big brother of this bird, if your comfortable with it I'll let you take her later."
Mitch raised an eyebrow, "Just how long have you been tracking me anyway?" John laughed " In this day and age you're just a click away." Mitch's laugh stopped short in the middle when he noticed something very unusual about the smooth, navy blue helicopter in front of him. "This is not a stock 44; who are you and what did you do with my boring big brother?" asked Mitch. "How did you afford all this?" "It was a little tricky but dad's estate went to the trust of which you and I were trustees, since you and I were presumed dead the trust was handled by Tritech Enterprises, which is run by an illusive board, and two of the board of three are sitting in this chopper" replied John. Mitch stared in amazement at the presence of his old friends Dave and Jerry, whom he had flown with on many occasions. "Hey Mitchie" said Dave " Has John told you yet there is a slot open on the board?" "My friend," Mitch said, looking squarely at his brother, "John has neglected to tell me quite a bit in the last few years." "Well now I know you're still with us, we can change that, as no cremains were found I still wonder about dad, he was always a little mysterious." John said. "Yeh, Dad was pretty quick minded, so we have to be careful of making a false assumption," Mitch replied thoughtfully. After moving the chopper out to the pad they donned headsets as John completed his checklist.
As Mitch listened to his brother go through the checklist on the headset he thought he detected a slight tone of triumph. They soon lifted off and swung towards the west flying low over the contour in the terrain. The hills and scattered structures rolled past underneath them as if they were a large green river, full of debris. "There's a lot to tell you Mitch" said John through the headphones, " but I 'll start with the fact that the forty acres surrounding our original 24 is owned by Tritech or one of our sister companies, that drives Morton nuts." "Go on." Mitch said, making a conscious effort to remember every detail.
We honestly don't know exactly why he wants our property so badly, it may have something to do with his dad being implicated by our dad, but there's lots we haven't figured out because of dad's structural subterfuge " said John.
Mitch sighed heavily, "Yeh, I can't put it all together either."
"When we get there we"ll show you another aspect of the mystery" said John.
"I'm not too into mysteries and the unknown you know, so I hope this new stuff will bring some things around, " Mitch spat out.
"Unfortunately, mystery still exists brother." John replied, crackling over the headset.
John answered " Let's just say we have a very compelling reason to hang on to this property."
The buzz of the main rotor entertained them for a few moments as each man was consumed by his own thoughts.
"We are getting close but we will do a spiral recon to make sure we don't have any uninvited guest" squawked John.
Maneuvering in large loops, scanning, and keeping an eye on the digital readout in front of them, John slowly honed in on a landing pad nestled among some tall evergreens.
The landing pad was actually all that remained of a large shop sitting on a 10 acre level spot backed up to steep wooded terrain with a grand view a valley below.
With a sudden exclamation, Mitch spotted a minute but brightly colored object nestled in one of the tall cedar trees!
Taking note of Mitch's gasp, John gracefully guided the helicopter into a gradual upward swing that would take them away from the landing pad as he responded, "What do you see Mitch?"
"It's Mighty Mouse come to save the day," spat Mitch, "I can't help the sarcasm, but I simply cannot find it again!"
Laughter broke the tension as Jerry said " I think we should go back and see if the dinosaur has convinced Frank to tell us what kind of activity Skyler has been up to here"
"The dinosaur?" Dave asked through squinting eyes from behind Mitch, scrunched down with a book he had been reading during the short flight.
John told him about the activity that Frank's phone had shown on the map and related how he had left Frank.
"Well this was a fun flight, brother, but why did we come all this way just to turn around?" Mitch pried.
"I just don't want to underestimate the enemy, Frank could have been doing more than just snooping around there as I'm sure Skyler has access to many devices you can't get at a sporting goods store" said John.
"By the way, when are you gonna let me fly this old Cadillac?" Mitch laughed. "You know I'm dying to try some barrel rolls."
"As soon as I've walked you through all of my modifications, you'll be on the top of the list, little brother." John said with a smile.
"Jerry" said John " when we get back to the bookstore maybe you can use some of your special weapons expertise and find something that Mitch might have seen. Skyler may be using some sophisticated surveillance or something that could be detrimental to our health."
He continued " We need to find out more about Frank and see how accomplished he is with his technology."
A short while later, the helicopter was stowed neatly away and the four men stood in a semicircle in front of Frank, who sheepishly grinned at his bruised and bloodied wrists. His attempts to escape had left their mark, but the bandage to his head remained in place and appeared to be free of fresh blood.
They just stared at him for what seemed like the longest time. Then John spoke" Guys, I 've got some steaks and baked potatoes , how about we eat before we hear Frank's story. They all went in the kitchen which was on the other side of nearby partition but just before they did John said " I've got some really good headphones so you won't be bored Frank."
"Headphones?" Frank squeaked, a little ashamed to have been broken out of the spy-guy mask he had worn before his capture. "Guys, I could use a potato myself if..."
He stopped mid-sentence as Jerry plopped headphones onto his head and pressed a button on the control panel, initiating the wireless sound input to his headphones.
They set about preparing the meal and discussed the next step. "I'm thinking we find out all we can with our electronic resources before we ask Frank any real hard questions " suggested Dave. They all agreed and John went to the computer to start an extensive search on Frank to add to the information gleaned from his phone.
Being adept at computer work, John was able to gather quite a bit of information from public records. However, he had his limitations, and breaching Morton's network was beyond his skill level. He glanced at Dave, still reading his book, and said, "Dave, you're up."
"I'm on it" said Dave as he rolled his chair up to the keyboard. "While I'm in here I can see if some of his purchases include extreme surveillance or fancy weapons." He began tapping away and whistling the dinosaur tune.
"I'll get the food going." Jerry said, walking into the miniature kitchen area tucked into one corner of the area.
"Well-done on the steak, Jerry." said Mitch, mentally cringing at the thought of the fine-dining steak standard of normal culinary preference, with pink in the middle.
"Oui, Monsieur." Jerry tossed back.
The aroma of the anticipated meal soon drifted through from the kitchen area. Mitch and John busied themselves sorting through the incoming information to keep it organized. Frank lay there grimacing and moaning quietly with his eyes closed.
Mitch eyed their prisoner and then shook his head at John. "What do you have playing in those headphones anyway? It's not opera is it?"
"Something much worse" chuckled John. " He's still envisioning purple dinosaurs I'm sure. We need to account for his disappearance for Morton 's sake, like his car in the river or something, any ideas?"
"Not yet, but our little buddy in there might be able to help us out with that. He didn't look too particularly loyal given the circumstances. Maybe, a little more music would help him see it our way." Mitch finished, breaking into a laugh that made even the imperturbable Dave look up for a moment from his keyboard.
Mitch stopped laughing abruptly, a grin slowly forming in his lips. "What?" asked John. Mitch said" Maybe we could help things along a little with a text message from Frank's phone that would raise some serious doubts about his loyalty. "
John's mind race through options as he responded, "We could. We could indeed."
Both turning, they looked at Frank who looked just as miserable as anyone who'd been forced to listen to the racket being spewed from his headphones.
"Let's see what Dave comes up with and we may just get Frank to call personally" said John. "I got a sound effects tape that has some great gun battle background. We could convince Skyler Frank was killed if Frank cooperates and Skyler wouldn't know where because I turned off the phone tracking."
"What's the angle? We hold onto him for a while and see how much story we can get, but then what? Sooner or later, Frankie boy's gotta go home." Mitch sighed.
Dave who had been working on the computer within ear shot whistled and said " Maybe not, Frank has been less than loyal for some time. Its apparent he is not a staunch fan of Skyler. Want me to print this stuff out?"
"No need, beam it to our phones. This place is Bluetooth capable throughout. Give us the short version out loud. " said John excitedly, looking forward to this new twist.
Morton fumed as he paced back and forth in his office.He had a flare of hope when he had received the quick call from Frank, a short message " I may have 'em , I'll get back to ya." Now he had not heard any more since and it drove him nuts.
Then he had been notified of a ridiculous display of incompetence with his security unit at Langor's facility. Were it not for his confidence with his contingency plans, he would be worried. He resisted contacting his on-call team for the time being, but pressed a button on his desk to page his secretary into the room.
Janice Smoltz ,his secretary came and stood in front of his desk. "Yes sir" she said "What do you need?" She hoped it was something quick as she had other work to do. She had worked for him for years but had noticed him changing lately, not for the better.
As usual Morton's instructions were clipped and abrasive, but clear. She was to tap into Frank's phone and record Frank's location history, then report back to him. Her eyes squinted slightly as she wondered to herself what Frank had gotten himself into this time.
"I'll arrange it." said Janice. He was good at telling her to do things she was not qualified to do, knowing she would delegate the chore to the right department. She told herself she would have to start drawing boundary lines with him for her own sanity.
Morton was used to her making things happen, so he rarely considered what her actual qualifications were. As far as Janice was concerned, that worked for her. The less Morton knew of her, the better.
She dialed the number for the IT department to pass on the request as she thought of her career. She was making good enough money but she was beginning to think she was spinning her wheels. She had been loyal to Skyler over the years to provide for family, but still hurt over losing one of her daughters in the tragic fire so many years ago.
That fire, shrouded in mystery as it was, had changed the face of an entire town. Several people had died and the locals who remained seemed to prefer silence on the subject. It was somewhat of a legend until the global audience became bored and moved on to something more recently sinister.
She knew that Skyler had wanted a specific plot of land in Glenview at the time but did not know why.The events that followed were not clear. Lately he was becoming more obsessed with it and suspected the Lewis brothers were still alive and somehow stymied him from getting it.
What she remembered from the story that had hit the news for weeks was that the Lewis brothers had died along with the rest. Morton may be arrogant and pompous, but he wasn't an unintelligent man. The Lewis brothers must still be alive after all.
She didn't have the whole picture but had heard conversations about their father also. It sounded like Morton's father had gotten on the south side of the law years ago and died in prison. She wondered if it had anything to do with the obsession of the Glenview property.
There were a lot of disconnected pieces buzzing through her head, but she couldn't quite piece them all together. The IT department's information would be essential. Nearly forgetting what she had been doing, she refocused when a voice on the other end of the phone said, "Hello?"
"Morton wants a location scan on Frank's phone, make it for the last 36 hours" said Janice in her business voice. She hung up the phone and sat down to her neatly organized desk. She began to continue her work and realized the intercom from Morton's office was still in the transmitting mode.
She clicked it off, thankful that what she had been thinking hadn't slipped out while the intercom was on. She got back to work, but soon found herself looking online for articles relating to the fire. She had too many unanswered questions.
The ringing interrupted her, and before she answered she noticed on the caller id it was Frank's number. This ought to be interesting ,she thought to herself. She tapped her intercom and announced" Frank is on line one."
After transferring the call to Morton's office, she could hear the anger seeping through the door as he spoke to Frank. She couldn't distinguish what was being said, but after a few minutes, Morton steamed through the door, slamming it behind him. "Get the on-call team in here, now!" he fumed.
Janice tapped a few numerals on her phone which enacted what the military may consider s red alert. A few minutes later several tactically dressed members of Skyler's workforce exited the elevator. "We are going to have to move fast " said Morton succinctly "I think Frank Barton is dead!"
Janice mentally reeled, feeling certain that Morton had been talking to Frank. The caller id had confirmed that it was, in fact, Frank's phone. But if Frank was dead, who had Morton been talking to that got under his skin so effectively?
Morton spoke with tight lips as he briefed his team in his office. " I'll just let you hear the call to start with" he said as turned to his phone system. "Boss, I think I'm in over my head" came Frank's faint voice which sounded like he was in a factory of some kind.
"This thing goes deeper than we suspected. I don't think I'm gonna make it out of here alive. They've got some kind of...hang on."
A door opening was heard, followed by two gunshots. Then the connection was lost. " We will use the coordinates of the last transmission to check this out, it's a bit of a flight but we'll get there asap, I want closure on this thing" spat out Morton.
"Yes sir." the leader of the strike team said dutifully. "We'll get it done, sir. Count on it."
Back at the bookstore John sat across from Frank who was now unrestrained. " Don't you feel better now Frank ?"John asked casually. Frank looked a little forlorn and answered timidly " It's not not like I had a choice with what you guys have me, wasn't the phone sending out signals when we called making it easy to find you?"
"Signals yes." said Dave, who had returned to his book, but momentarily looked up. "Perhaps not the ones you'd expect it to send however. If it can be sent, it can be bent."
We just made it appear to be coming from one of the other phone numbers in your contacts." continued Dave. " But you have some electronic background, like the sensors you planted on the homestead for instance. Not exactly run of the mill equipment."
"Homestead? No that was the IT..." Frank paused, realizing that the brothers knew more than they were willing to openly admit.
"Steaks are ready boys. " Jerry said, walking over with a plate, steaming, smelling of fresh barbecue. "Here you go Frank, mystery meat lump sound good?" he added, tossing an old MRE onto Frank's lap.
The intercom on Skyler"s desk buzzed. IT on line one Mr. Skyler " said the business like Janice. Morton put his phone on speaker and said " Go ahead, we are looking ar the map, is Barton still in Prescott?"
"Sir, Barton's phone is no longer active." the voice on the loudspeaker said. "It's last known location was Prescott, but it's gone off the grid. What do you want to do now sir?"
" It's strange though that the number of his last call was from a phone in Fresno. We aren't sure what to make of that." Morton blanched a little when he heard that, he was so hopeful that he was just gaining closure about the Lewis brothers.
The strike team stood dutifully aside, waiting to be dismissed on their mission. Unbranded bulletproof vests, helmets, and assorted gear lay next to them, ready to be hauled away at the bark of an order. Morton paced a minute and then said, "Change of plans boys."
" You are going to Prescott but in civilian clothes. We will cover that town like a blanket and the target site in Glenview as well. Get the B team too " commanded Morton.
"I want those brothers, our escapee, or Frank's corpse found. This has gone on long enough. We can't afford any more... unprofessional work."
"I want to put more snoopers on Tritech also, I want to know everything about them . If I can't get that site legally then I'll do whatever it takes. There is something there that my father was after and it got him killed."
"So make no mistake gentlemen. This is personal. I pay you quite well for moments just like this."
Janice had been aware of some of these details but was shocked to hear about Morton's father. She quickly turned off the speaker of her intercom as the terse meeting broke up. She decided she would do a little investigating on her own.
Janice had been aware of some of these details but was shocked to hear about Morton's father. She quickly turned off the speaker of her intercom as the terse meeting broke up. She decided she would do a little investigating on her own.
Janice's mind whirled crazily as she thought of her position. She had admired the way Morton had managed to manipulate the situation after fire, people were vulnerable and had no clue how he had taken advantage of them. But there had to be more to it after seeing him change so much, for that matter she realized she had changed also.
She quickly removed the packaging and tossed a meal into the microwave. Working such long hours had often relegated her to swift meals, and even swifter breakfasts. As the microwave buzzed, she tapped a few keys on her laptop and opened a file called "memo manual", innocuously named to add some level of obscurity to its contents.
She opened the file and deliberated where to start. The fire in Glenview was 18 years ago but she knew there had to be something before that. She thought of Morton's mention of his father so she minimized the screen and typed in Morton Skyler to see if she could find out his father's name.
* * * * *
The wind slipped low over the ground as it hurried onward to its next rendezvous with a storm. Grain danced as the wind rushed by, rippling gracefully. The moonlight blanketed the fields in a comforting sheet of pale blue. The previously calm mid western night generated an oppressive feeling of loneliness as a lone hitchhiker wrapped his thin coat tighter against the intrusive gusts. The coming storm seemed to suck him towards it as if the vacuum he felt inside was being played out in the weather. He raised his chin a little occasionally to peruse the surrounding fields of wheat, his restless eyes seeking for anything at all that could provide shelter before the tempest broke around him.
The pitter-patter of the first droplets of rain tapped at his hood. The road ahead was darker even than the road he had left behind him, promising no shelter from the cold that waited just on the other side of nighttime. His feet crunched on the loose gravel on the road, he abruptly stopped and peered to his left across the open field to the forest beyond it. There had been no cars for hours and he desperately hoped there would be some shelter in the trees. He listened to the wind moan and thought for a brief second he heard an approaching vehicle. Bowing his head against the wind he scanned the road as far as the diminished light of the moon would allow. Deciding he had seen nothing in the forest, and had heard nothing on the road ahead, he plodded onward in the ever-deepening darkness. His thin coat was no defense against the droplets of rain, which grew fatter with each passing moment, and his undershirt began to cling to his skin as it slowly became soaked. Rain seeped into his shoes and saturated his socks as his gait began to tell a story of being defeated.
He trudged on, glancing up less and less frequently. The road bent slightly to the north and rose a few feet, which stirred him from a monotonous mindset. Off to one side, a few feet off the road, a dark silhouette caught his eye. His pace slowed almost imperceptibly but he continued walking, afraid that if he looked, he might see something. He had traveled only a few feet when he noticed movement again. Despite his efforts to ignore it, his eyes darted to the side of the road, scanning. His pulse quickened as the dark shape slipped through the tall wet grass and bumped against his leg. He froze, looking down in the darkness at something whimpering and groveling at his feet. Then he calmed himself and bent over to touch an animal with long wet matted fur, and he was instantly full of compassion. Its antenna drooped in the rain as it cowered at his feet. Its tentacular whiskers wandered, smelling out this new creature wandering down its road in the cold darkness. The bioluminescent feet remained a dull, shaded blue as it seemed to ask with its unusually large eyes, "Friend?". He slowly knelt avoiding any sudden moves, he did not want to frighten the pathetic looking creature. When he was near enough to it ,the creature suddenly leapt up into his surprised arms. As he stood in wonder, one of the appendages raised it's slender form and pointed in the direction of a darkened brush field. As he turned toward the field, the creature began sniffing wildly at his neck and his face, and the man squinted, trying to push the creature away. His tired eyes abruptly creaked open toward consciousness as the odor and nuzzle of a ragged, muddy golden retriever investigated his clothes with its curious snout. He didn't even remember curling up in the ditch to sleep. The late morning sun was a sharp contrast with the extreme weather that drew him to shelter on the roadside. He fought the grogginess the seemed to want to drag him back into a darker world. Reality flitted from thought to thought causing him to question every facet of the situation. The squeaks and rattles of an old pickup in the distance brought him back into focus. Dust rose in clouds as brown as the truck itself as it approached. Rocks skittered and bounced away from the tires as the pickup came to a halt next to the man. He had no idea how long he'd been out. His body was stiff from inactivity, as stiff as his dried out clothes. He tried to turn his head towards the approaching footsteps. His vision dimmed and faded to a blackness that ate time. He awoke hours later, feeling the bumps and shakes of an old pickup ride, and hearing the now familiar squeaks and rattles that came with it. He wondered if he should dare to open his eyes. He knew what was happening would not disrupt and plans he had, for he had none. His hand groped in his pocket for his thin wallet. Even as he put his hand on it his mind struggled to make sense of the contents. A circular, metallic disk occupied the majority of his wallet. It was smooth on all sides with no discernible holes or features in it, except for what felt like a button in the center. Instinctively, he pressed it. The next thing he knew he was being lifted to a long table. Bright lights blinded him but as he tried to shade his eyes he realized his arms were pinned to his side. He heard a low hum as the lights moved slowly up and down his body. The table whirred and clicked him into an upright position. His arms and legs pinned, he was force to stare ahead at the darkness in front of him. One light remained fixed above, angling downward onto his face. From behind the light he heard a nasally voice. " So you are still with us Mr. Lewis. Do you know where you are?" He squinted, trying find the source of the voice. The featureless darkness provided no answers. A draft of icy air washed over him from somewhere in the darkness to his left as he heard a loud metallic clunk. The bright lights had dimmed and his eyes adjusted to normal overhead bulbs. Standing around him were two men and a nurse in white. "We've run a few tests and your overall health is adequate but you really need some proper nutrition for a while . " said the nasally voice. "Yes, yes, quite good. But I'm afraid there is still a significant spike during the rainstorm stage. Can you tell us something about that Mr. Lewis?"
He struggled to make his mouth form words. When he managed to accomplish it his voice sounded strange to him. "You...... you......know me?"he asked timidly. "Come now, Mr. Lewis, snap out of it.", the nasally voice said, pushing aside the nurse and coming into view. "We'll have none of that nonsense as if it's your first time in the simulator. We've a lot riding on you Mr. Lewis!" "You have certainly let yourself go but your worn out drivers license let us know you are. You did know it expired 15 years ago I assume.You are also a long way from California, just where have you been?" A few tense moments passed as Mr. Lewis began to focus in on the scene before him. His memory was as foggy and dark as the rainstorm he'd endured. The nasally voiced man began to tap his foot with impatience. The hitchhiker's mind was spinning as a flood of vague memories bombarded him. He was running for his life from flames and an unremembered adversary, suddenly there was s train roaring in his head. "Can you help me?"he asked. "Put him under again." his interrogator said with disgust in his voice as he nodded his head at the nurse. "We don't have time for this. Keep him under until he finds the note." As they turned to go Charles Lewis had a brief moment of clarity. "Is the dog ok?" He asked clearly. The three stopped and stared at him with a curious look. "The dog", he repeated, "is the dog okay?" The three huddled closer and the ringleader brought his face within a foot of Charles. Charles suddenly remembered everything. As quickly as his memory returned, so did his wits. His only course of action now would be to feign the amnesia that had so recently imprisoned him. "The dog with the big eyes and blue feet is ok? Charles remembered the man in front of him as Dr. Langor. He remembered the stench of his breath as it huffed in his face. "Who are you?" he asked with an inward smirk that he didn't let show on his own countenance. He desperately needed some time to collect himself better and find out where he was now that he knew who he was. His face was a blank canvas as he thought of the possibilities. One very important thing was he still had the disc and they would not have any idea what it was or how important it was. The blue-footed dog ploy seemed to be doing the trick. What a gift that had been in his latest run through the simulator. He almost laughed aloud in spite of his efforts to maintain his composure. He no longer felt purposeless as his mind raced to try to grasp everything at once. The agency had him but he knew things about the group that they didn't know themselves. He longed to know more about the aftermath of the horrific fire that as far as he knew started on his own property. That fire had changed everything. The so-called doctor in front of him seethed in an angry pout. But just as he was about to respond, an alarm blasted through the building. The three spun around and rushed toward the exit. As they did one of the underlings in his haste dropped his clipped on security badge. Charles was left sitting on the table as the door slammed behind their retreating figures. With no time to waste, Charles got to work. He deftly slipped a small non-metallic pin from a hidden pocket on his pant leg just next to his bound hands. Working past the pain in his wrist from working at such an odd angle, he eventually freed the hasp from his right wrist. Once free he retrieved the badge from the floor and went to the door. The alarms were still resounding through the building as he slid the badge into a slot beside the door. The door opened silently and he cautiously looked up and down an empty hall. Turning left, he kept his back to the wall and crept. He slowed as he neared a doorway with a small porthole window in it. He considered rushing past it, but stopped when he heard voices inside. "You do realize this is the worst possible time for this to happen, don't you ?"an authoritative voice said grimly. The reply came from Dr. Langor " I had nothing to do with this, I was working on Mr.Lewis. It was probably one of your new personnel not trained properly." Charles chuckled silently to himself and scooted past the door. At the next corridor, he swung left and entered a massive hangar bay, complete with helicopters, fixed-wing crafts of many types, and some machinery he didn't recognize. He paused for a moment, thinking how much his sons would enjoy this space, and then refocused so that he could make it back in time to save them. Off to the left he spied what looked like a pilot's lounge. After finding it empty he found a first aid kit and retrieved a pair of scissors and entered a restroom,locking the door.He was shocked when he looked in the mirror but wasted no time in changing his unkempt look. After cutting some of his bedraggled beard and shaggy hair, he returned to the lounge and peeked into a few drawers and cupboards. He found a standard issue flight suit that would fit him well enough. As he finished donning the flight suit, he heard startled voices echoing down the corridor he had just come through. A last minute glance around the room revealed a well worn ball cap hanging in a corner behind the door. He grabbed it , stuffed it on his head and hung the badge on his lapel. He exited the lounge and walked quickly to one of the aircraft, examining it carefully as if he had every right to be there. Dr. Langor appeared bustling through, taking his glasses off in frustration, now about 40 yards away in the giant hangar bay, and barked at Charles in a hurried stutter. "You... you, worker! Have you seen a man, a man wearing... Oh, you're useless." Langor fumed as he stomped away into another hallway on the opposite side of the bay. Charles breathed a sigh of relief as he watched the retreating figure. He needed some time to gather his thoughts.He knew he was at an agency compound but he didn't even know what state he was in. It wouldn't be long before security recognized him on one of the many cameras littered throughout the facility. He calculated he had about 20 minutes before his feeble disguise stopped working. That gave him just enough time to do some snooping. After a quick look he too see if the coast was clear he entered the hallway again and casually walked down the hall glancing at the doors to try to determine what might be informative and more importantly empty. There was a door on the right he was approaching and he suddenly heard someone around a corner in the hall. He carefully looked in the port and entered after seeing it was unoccupied .
The voices carried on past the office he hid in, leaving him free to investigate. Inside, he found what looked to be a pilot's office paraphernalia and personal desk. A cup of steaming coffee sat on the small table in one corner. He went into a bathroom and was pleased to find a razor in the cabinet. He quickly shaved and picked up a jacket lying in the corner to change his appearance a little more. After exiting the bathroom he checked the hall and sat down at the computer at the desk. He knew he had to make this quick. Someone had to have left that cup of coffee ready to drink in a hurry. They could be back any minute. He wasn't sure the level of this alarm or the reason but did remember that the agency had a twenty minute all clear time limit after the alarms stopped.He guessed that the alarms had gone silent about five minutes ago. He tapped the keyboard tentatively, it had been a long long time since he was in this mode. The monitor kicked to life with documents already displayed. Whoever had just left hadn't even bothered to lock the computer. He scanned the desktop looking at the scattered icons, disapproving of the lack of organization.
He opened a couple of files and found that from the data that he was in the Boulder, Colorado facility.After closing those he opened one that listed outgoing flights. He had to come up with a solid plan to get anywhere but here.
Another file seemed to be an employee roster. It had thousands of names on it. This structure must be far larger than he had thought.
He thought to himself that the larger size of the facility could make it easier to get out due to the number of employees. He turned away from the computer and put on the jacket, as he did he put his hands in the pocket and felt a set of keys. This added some possibilities of answers to his dilemma.
As he was about to stand up, he clicked open one last folder that looked to be no more important than the rest. Inside were a dozen or more documents detailing something called "The Stromfeld Project". Despite the peculiar way it was named, it didn't pique his curiosity much, until two names caught his eye, listed discreetly in the header of one of the pages.
Martin Skyler and George Harper were men he had dealt with in the past. Skyler had gone to prison for a multitude of high level extortion charges and manslaughter. Skyler had been the victim of an unsolved murder after his incarceration.
The murder had made headlines across the nation due to Skyler's connection to George, a corporate executive he'd been photographed having lunch with three months before Skyler's conviction. Mr. Harper had, of course, sprinkled sugar on a few speeches, dismissing the lunch as one of chance, having no significant meaning. George Harper was a poison wearing sunglasses.
He desperately wanted to see more but there was no time. He exited the file and took a quick drink of coffee before going to the door. On the way to the door he noticed a small refrigerator, opening it and grabbing a sandwich wrapped in clear wrap.
Next to the sandwich, oddly enough, was a set of keys locked together with an orange, aluminum carabiner. He snagged them and stuffed them into his pocket, raising an eyebrow at the oddity of their location . Unwrapping the sandwich as he walked out into the hallway, he did his best to appear as if he belonged.
As he sauntered down the hall he began to form a possible plan. When the owner of the car keys realized they were missing they would be watching for his escape attempt in that car. Maybe he shouldn't be in too big a hurry to get out as it would be easy to get overlooked in a facility this big.
As if triggered by his unwarranted comfort, alarm bells began to sound throughout the facility. A pre-recorded voice blasted over the speaker system, "Stage four lockdown: All personnel report to assigned staging areas. Secure all access corridors."
He fought down the tense feeling rising in his chest and tried the first door he came to. It was locked but he tried the badge in the electronic lock. It opened quietly and he saw he was in a fairly large room filled with shelves of various items.
Circuit boards, cooling fans, and a wide array of other computer repair parts were meticulously aligned and placed in colored bins. Rushing through the room, he found a doorway to yet another hallway, at the end of which lay a row of elevators. A shout from an adjacent room forced his decision to sprint toward the elevator.
He quickly pressed the up button on every elevator and then went through the door to the stairwell and began to walk purposefully down the stairs.He stopped momentarily to examine a plastic sign describing the fire exit procedures, now he at least had an idea of where he was in the building. When he reached the main floor he looked through the glass window into the main corridor, there were several people all dutifully bound for some destination looking bored with the whole matter.
Snagging an empty clipboard that had been discarded on a desk, he walked with his head down towards it, doing his best impression of someone too busy to be bothered. He could feel the warmth of sunlight and freedom from the other side of the front doors of the complex as he pushed on the handle. But the door didn't budge.
An armed security guard was approaching and spoke as he got closer,"Badge please." Charles reached down to the fortuitous badge and partially covered the photo with his thumb. Waxing a little bold he replied " I know you're doing your job but some of us have to be somewhere time."
The guard fixed Charles with an icy stare that could have frozen a lake in seconds. He seemed too annoyed with Charles' supposed, and partially accurate, impatience to notice his thumb covering just enough of the photo.
"This is a stage four lockdown, Captain, in case you didn't hear." the guard said, disdain permeating his demeanor.
"We are all on the same team here, remember? said Charles. "Dr Langor gave me explicit instructions and a time deadline. I want this situation over as much as anyone , call him if you like but he won't be happy about the delay" bluffed Charles.
The guard clenched his jaw, unwavering with his glare, but then reached into his coat appearing to press a button inside. A buzzing could be heard along with the clunk of a latch as the door unlocked.
"I'd probably get fired for bringing Langor the wrong coffee." the guard murmured as he turned away from Charles and resumed his militant pose.
"Thanks " said Charles in a sincere tone," I'll tell Dr. Langor you are doing good work." He stepped through the exit door and walked with purpose while looking at his clipboard , toward the corner of building. He needed to get a better idea of the layout before his next move but it had to be before the owner of the keys raised an alarm.
As he walked, his mind flashed back to that dark, rainy road he had experienced in vivid detail. It had all felt real enough to bet a dollar on, until that strange dog had scratched through the surface of the facade. The depth of the evil at work here was palpable.
He paused beside a secluded spot provided by the landscaping to recon his prospects. He estimated the parking he was looking at held almost a hundred vehicles. He started up the sidewalk to check out the other side of the large building just as the alarms ceased their cacophony.
With any luck, the masterminds inside the facility would assume that he had been contained by the lock-down and would commence a door-to-door search inside. Making it outside of the building was one chore, but escaping the heavily fortified exterior of the facility would prove to be another challenge altogether. The menacing concertina wire atop the formidable 12 foot high walls promised that he would need a gate, a vehicle, or the ability to pole vault like an Olympian.
He walked around the corner of the building and heard a whining noise. He saw a garbage truck attaching its mechanism to a large bin. He realized the bin was located not far from some large bushes and ducked behind them. If he was fortunate he may be able to conceal himself in the bin when the workers weren't looking.
An idea struck him and he rolled with it immediately, having grown accustomed to trusting his gut in life. He carefully left his hiding spot behind the bushes and then strode boldly up to the driver of the truck screaming, "Hey, this is a stage four lock-down, buddy! Get out of that truck and report to the main entrance immediately!"
"So just am supposed to do about this garbage, we won't be back till next week if I leave now " shot back the driver. Charles continued with the bluff and said " You lose your contract you won't come back at all." The driver thought for a second and climbed out if the cab."Whatever, I won't have to smell it."
The driver stormed off toward the front entrance and Charles hopped up into the cab. Quickly hunting down the right levers and buttons, he stowed all of the moving pieces of the truck and began driving toward what looked like a main entrance. As he drove, he threw on the spare safety vest which sat on the passenger's seat.
He took note of the direction the driver had started and drove around the long way to the gate as not to cause a chase scene from the driver. He reached the gate and hoped his fortuitous badge would look like what he had noticed the driver wearing. The gate guard saw him approach and actually started to open before he could come to a stop, so he flashed his badge in a farewell and exited the facility carefully watching his rear view mirror.
Glancing back one last time, he noticed the gate guard reach for the phone, answer it, and look up in his direction. He grinned wide as he rounded the next corner, and couldn't help breaking into a laugh the corner after that. After a few minutes of driving, he stashed the truck in an alley and ditched the garb he had borrowed from the facility.
The next step was to take care of some essentials like funding. He was broke, nothing but the clothes on his back , an expired driver's license and some keys he'd kept. The important thing was he still had the disc.
He walked casually out of the corner alleyway and onto a crowded sidewalk. As he walked, his eyes made quick note of details around him, just as he'd been trained to do. Among his immediate chores was a desperate need to find something to wear that wasn't so institutional.
He also needed time to try deal with all the flooding memories that bombarded him. The here and the now was having trouble melding with the vague memory of running for his life and somehow ending up in an empty train car not remembering who he was. He had the mangled drivers license that looked like him but the much of information was not legible.
His boys must think he was gone. They had to by now. It felt like it had been years since he'd last talked to them.
As he walked along the street he noticed a pickup truck backed up to a house with a piano in it. An obviously frustrated man was in the truck struggling with one end of the instrument all alone. As he approached he noted no one else around or even noticing the dilemma the man was in.
"Let me give you a hand." he said, running over.
"Thanks, I was about to have a hernia, Doc." said the man, sweat dripping from his brow. "I've got two more of these to deliver today or I'll lose yet another contract."
"You don't have any help? asked Charles. The man grunted "Naw' my so called help called in sick again. I have done this by myself with the right equipment but I sure need help now,"
"Well my schedule's open today if you need a hand." said Charles. "I do freelance work all the time where I'm from. But I would need some better clothes to work in if you have any spare coveralls laying around."
"There's some behind the seat in the truck that should fit you, my name is Mac Johnson" said the big man as he extended his hand.
"I should probably tell you that if you turn out to be some low-life who's trying to get one over on old Mac, I'll crush you like a bug." said Mac with a serious tone. "But if you're honest, no bug smashing necessary. Fair enough?"
"Fair enough " answered Charles "I can help you but can we do this as gentlemen or do you want some kind of paperwork?" Mac replied " I hate paperwork, as far as I'm concerned you are just a friend helping out."
Mac climbed onto his paperwork soapbox for a few minutes as Charles switched into the old coveralls, helped load the piano, and hopped up into the passenger seat of the truck. As they rumbled down the highway, Charles' mind flashed back to the squeaking and rattling of the old pickup truck that had come down the road while he was at the facility. There was something about that experience that lingered with him, and he made a mental note to give it more thought once he had secured a better position.
Mac headed back to the piano store that he worked for to get another piano. As they traveled Mac passed the alley where Charles had ditched the garbage truck, he noted the truck was surrounded by three police cars. Charles breathed a quiet sigh of relief and was glad for the distraction of Mac pointing out various points of interest.
As they passed the turnoff toward the facility, Charles casually asked, "What's down that way? It looks pretty nice."
"Oh, you don't want to go down that way." Mac responded with a note of disgust in his voice.
Those guys down there make me tired" said Mac. "Colorado Springs would be better off without that group of apes." Why, what do they do?" Charles asked innocently.
"Your guess is as good as mine. But I hear a lot of things that don't sound above bar. Like they do animal experiments or something like that."
"Whatever they are a doing makes me no difference " said Charles. They soon arrived at the piano store and had another piano loaded. As they made their way across the city Mac asked "So where are you staying?"
"To tell you the truth, I'm not quite sure. The last few days have been a little rough. I just need to get back on my feet."
"Well , Charles, I think I'm a pretty good judge of character, and I think you're all right. Would you like to stay in my mother-in-law apartment , my Wanda is a great cook too. You're welcome to as you helped me out of a tight spot today."
Charles weighed his options internally. Mac was a nice man and he could use the help, but he hesitated, not entirely certain what security assets would be sent after him. The garbage truck had been found extremely quickly.
He considered it for a moment thinking of the possibilities. Mac had expressed a dislike for the agency which was a step in the right direction. All risk considered he decided he should accept.
"You've got yourself a deal Mac." Charles said, beaming. "And if there's anything I can do to help you out, just say the word. I can't tell you how much I appreciate this."
As he rode along he began to plan his next move. He had too get acclimated to his new reality. He would get to library and research what happened to Glenview after he escaped the attempt on his life that night.
After a few minutes of silence, Mac said in a somber tone, "I know there's something you're not telling me. I've seen kinder folks that would still take your wallet when you weren't looking. What you ain't tellin' me says more than what you are."
Charles thought for a moment before replying" Mac you are a perceptive man. I am indeed in a dire situation that I have no right to have you involved with. It's quite a long story, I believe I can trust you with the nutshell version if you are game."
"You do that" Mac replied. "I don't expect every detail, but a man's got a right to know what he's fixin' to sign up for. Now, are you in trouble with the law or what?"
"I'm not even sure where to start." said Charles. "What is the date today?" "April 24th" replied Mac curiously. "What year?" asked Charles.
"This ain't the movies son; you expect me to believe you're some kind of time-traveler coming from the future or that some alien got you to fly to..."
"It was the facility we passed." Charles interrupted.
Mac gave him a long, intentional stare, measuring his face for signs of deception.
Seeing none he decided to trust his gut , " Go on ,I'm listening." He said cautiously. "Forgive me" said Charles " I can relate to RIP Van Winkle and it's difficult to think clearly."
"Let's just say I have some memory gaps. I'm not sure how much was taken from me. Please just tell me what year it is." Charles said, his disciplined exterior temporarily collapsing as he thought of his boys.
Mac hesitated having never been in a situation like this. "It's 2002" he offered glancing at Charles to see his reaction. Charles was stunned, he had lost his second wife in a mysterious accident 20 years ago, and he remembered their son blaming him , then came the night of the fire in Glenview.
But what year had that occurred? His eyes scanned nothing rapidly as his mind tried to make sense of the data being given to him. "2002?" he managed.
" I'm having a little trouble grasping this . I work..... worked with President Reagan administration as an ...........information custodian. There must be a connection .......... I was taken from my house before it was burned."
"Well look, " said Mac "either you're the best actor this side of the Mississippi or you got a screw loose. But you ain't dangerous, not to me anyway. Just take you some time at that apartment and get yourself sorted out."
"I can't tell you how much I appreciate this. I'll help you in whatever way I can I return. Moving pianos seems a very simple thing for me to do up against sorting this out" said Charles sincerely.
Mac thought a moment and then said, "You don't seem to be on the kindly side of that facility neither. If you find yourself needing something bigger than what you'd think to ask, you let me know mister Charles. I don't know what they do there, but I got a gut feelin' it ain't right."
"I do feel a little conspicuous with what I have on under these coveralls. Do you think we could stop and get some clothes at some out of the way store? I would be glad to work off what they cost, I am pretty handy at building stuff " said Charles.
"After what you've just told me, that seems simple enough. You just let me know if any of your memories start leaking back in. I don't mind helping out someone in need, but they better be just that."
Mac and Charles were able to finish delivering two more pianos with no hitches. Mac said "Well, 3:00 and done for the day , thanks for the help Charles. We'll head home and you can meet the wife."
Charles was exhausted. Adrenaline had kept him going at just the right times for the past 24 hours, but he felt out of shape. Whatever contraption they'd had him locked into at the facility had clearly not allowed for him to take part in his usual physical training.
Back at the facility Dr. Langor was sitting in a chair facing three very serious superiors." We have discovered that our guest initially wandered off because there were 10 days he did not receive his medication" said the one nearest him. "Think carefully before you answer but can you explain this lapse of judgment and how it affects our agenda?"
Dr. Langor blanched at the question, being fully aware of the consequences of mistakes under the reign of Morton Skyler. He had supervised the operation of this facility without error for over 15 years, and yet he felt the oppressive weight of what lay before him now. He paused long enough for the man in the center to clear his throat and prod, "Dr. Langor?"
"I ... I have had some personnel problems" he began weakly. "We are very aware of your lack of people skills" broke in the senior board member. "The question is do you realize this one was not one of our dispensable test subjects?"
"I know that he was... valuable." Langor stammered.
"Valuable doesn't begin to describe it! He was they key to our research!"
"You do realize, Langor, that this corporation would not have existed had Lewis not been detained? There is much more than your job at stake if there is more light shed on our practices! You WILL find him , and you will find out how he escaped!"
"I'll find him. I'll find him." Langor managed, ecstatic to even have another chance to redeem himself in the eyes of the board and Morton himself.
"See that you do," the man in the center said sternly, "or you'll find yourself a patient and not a doctor in this facility."
Mac pulled up to two story house with a neat yard . "Well come on in and meet Wanda" said Mac cheerfully. They climbed out of the truck and entered a tidy comfortable living room. "Wanda," called out Mac "There's someone here I want you to meet."
Having dozed off on the drive to his house, Charles felt refreshed, but filthy. What he needed was a hot shower, a good meal, and uninterrupted sleep.
"Food's still hot if you want some fellas." said Wanda, ushering them into a dining room straight out of the 1940s, complete with wallpaper, ornate chairs, and a china cabinet.
"I'm kind of dirty ma'am to be sitting at your table " said John apologetically. Wanda brushed off the comment with," Nonsense, Mac is dirty most of the time,always working out back in his shop."Charles thanked her and sat down to food he had forgotten existed.
"I'm kind of dirty ma'am to be sitting at your table " said Charles apologetically. Wanda brushed off the comment with," Nonsense, Mac is dirty most of the time,always working out back in his shop."Charles thanked her and sat down to food he had forgotten existed.
The table was adorned with corn on the cob, fried chicken, and a large bowl of bean salad. Wanda brought another plate and a set of silverware, and then poured another cup of freshly squeezed lemonade for Charles. He stood near the table, waiting patiently for Wanda to finish and for Mac to hang up his weathered hat and coat.
Mac motioned for Charles to sit down and moved to a chair at the head of the table. "We are thankful here so we say grace." He spoke on a low heartfelt prayer and finished with a strong " Amen."
Charles beamed at Mac and Wanda. There was a part of him that had given up on the sort of ideals they embraced; hard work, prayer, and corn on the cob. He waited patiently still, not wanting to be the first one to take a bite, although he felt famished.