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 non-descript conservative suit, which hung on his medium frame like burlap. His shoes were a dull brown. His slow deliberate gaite mirrored complacency as he ambled toward the crowded bridge. Though the man ambled along 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 Smith still blended in with the scenery to the point of almost completely camouflaged. Sometimes being in plain sight was 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 attended your funeral, it was very well attended . "
"Design has that affect on events, doesn't it?" his unwanted 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.
John 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 like 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 over stuffed 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.Meanwhile John and Mitch had 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 l'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 acidy 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 "Joes' 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 yeh, 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 se 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 immerge about the old homestead. John led the way down the length of the room through three different sections before opening a door revealing a naby 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.