*This chapter contains strong language, lab animals, scientists with no social skills and a touch of violence.
16. The Far Side
I sagged against the far side of the first security door. It felt like the first dead space I'd ever been in. I wonder how long I could stand here before Gail calls in a security detail? I took my time walking to the next door anyway. After the interrogations and debriefings it was nice to be alone in my head.
There was no one in the elevator even though it was time for the shift change. I enjoyed the quiet on the way down and flexed my hands in my pockets to keep them warm. The halls were warmer and crowded. Both shifts filled every available space. I had to endure a lot of curious chatter while I ducked my head into each lab looking for White. I spotted his hair, vivid red as ever, in the back of A-6. Forrest was back there too—his dark, bald head gleamed in the fluorescent lights.
Damn. Isn't he supposed to be at home? I didn't want to talk to White in front of Forrest but I had a schedule to keep. I worked my way through the maze of tables covered in test tubes and complicated machines, past the rows of rat cages that looked like big clear Tupperware bins. As I got closer I could feel their concentration on the microscope in front of them.
White moved aside and Forrest bent to the scope with White watching. I bet he doesn't see it. He's always so focused on what he wants to see.
Forrest's focus was less worded, intent on the look of the slide in the scope. There were flashes of pinks and blues from the slide.
"Ray?" I rapped my knuckles against a table to get their attention.
Forrest jammed his eye against the eyepiece on the scope, cursed and straightened up to rub it.
White looked startled but smiled the instant he saw me. "Andrew! I wasn't expecting to see you for a few days." Want to look at these slides? We've had a really interesting reaction with the dogs and the Hex-62. He beamed and indicated the scope with his head.
I smiled back even though I was nervous. It was easy to get caught up in White's enthusiasm. "I wouldn't know what I was looking at. I came down to get clearance to see one of the subjects." I was proud of how steady my voice was.
I fought to keep my expression even as Forrest turned to stare at me. He doesn't like to have anything to do with them.
White's eyes got wider and his grin slipped. "Sure Andrew, if you want. I mean some of them are pretty unstable so you'd have to use the interview room, interview protocols." He shrugged. "Who do you want to see?" You've never asked to see them before. Is something up? Craig's not checking up on us again is he? Remember last year when he had Brandt do that independent review? That was-
"I'd like to talk to Matthews," I said, cutting across the beginning of his tirade. I did my best to look calm while they both stared at me. White's mouth hung open.
"She's just out of treatment two," Forrest said with a hint of censure. They're fragile during the first couple of weeks.
White looked at him and then at me. I'm sure you've got a good reason. "I don't think he's going to go in and agitate the subject, Forrest." He reached for the phone on the wall. "I'll have Chip set her up in interview room five. If you want to see her now?" Don't mind Forrest, he'd have them all behind glass forever if he could.
I nodded and Forrest observed me while I waited and didn’t offer any conversation. He looks nervous. Why would he want to see that one when the mission was such a screw up?
"So what's the interesting reaction with the dogs?" I asked and caught his eye.
He tilted his head to one side without a trace of embarrassment that he'd been caught thinking about me. "Their serotonin levels shot up on the new formula. Since it was supposed to suppress them Ray's getting excited. He thinks-"
"She'll be there by the time you get down to five," White interrupted. You've got half an hour, tops, she's scheduled for another treatment at 6:00 p.m., he told me, his curiosity bright in his mind.
"Thanks." I ducked back between the tables before he could ask me any more questions. Fast but not too fast while their eyes were on me. I didn't walk too quickly in the hall either, though it was empty. What had seemed like the most important thing on earth this morning seemed like a terrible idea now. What the hell are you going to say to her?
I turned down the hall to five and felt the attention of the guard posted outside the door. He looked long enough to recognize me and nod before he turned his gaze back to the wall.
"Hey Chip, Matthews in there?" I asked when I was close enough.
He looked at me again and nodded. "Sure thing Agent Piken, cuffed to the chair. I made sure the water and cups were out of her reach." This one must be hard core if he's questioning her, he thought with approval. He opened the door for me without further comment, forcing me to go in.
"Thanks, Chip. I'll knock when I want out." I said as the door shut behind me.
Andrew, I corrected automatically. I stood with my back touching the door and stared, I had expected her to look different. She was in her white jumpsuit, not the blue scrubs the other subjects wore. Seeing her in the clothes she'd worn at Park Slope, calling me Brad, was too strange. Things from The Slope didn't belong here, they didn't mix. "How are you?" I flinched at my own casualness and moved to take a seat. You look good. She did look good; her skin had a healthy tone and her hair was down, dark and shiny over her shoulders.
"You look like hell." You would pick now as the time to check me out. Or maybe you were hiding it better before? she added with humor I wasn't expecting. I wasn't sure what'd happened to you after I made it to the trees. Her tone was expectant; for her good humor and undeclared forgiveness she wanted details about her escape that the docs wouldn't give her.
I poured a glass of water, then a second and pushed it into her reach. She took it with her free hand and twisted the other against the handcuff that linked her to her chair.
"I'm sorry about those, it's a regulation here." The cops got me. It took three days for the guys to get me out, I told her. I took a sip from my glass.
She watched me over the rim of hers and drained half of it at once. "That must've been interesting." Whatever they're giving me is making my mouth dry, she explained when she felt my attention on her glass.
"It's one of the side effects. You should tell White though; he's keeping very close tabs on your case." You're feeling ok otherwise? I asked. I didn’t want to talk about the interrogations.
She finished the rest of her glass and pushed it back across the table so I could refill it. "I got the feeling Dr. White was excited to see me. I got the impression that he was about to wet himself.” I went through every psych test in the book when I got here. You'd almost think this was an asylum. Her tone wasn't playful anymore, it was accusing.
I twisted my glass in my hands; this was what I'd been afraid of. "I'm sure White's already told you that you can be released if you complete the program."
"If I don't end up crazier you mean," she said with real bite.
I met her eye. It's a better shot than Park Slope. Wasn't your sentence life? Life in group, playing cards in the rec room, and bars on the windows?
"As opposed to no windows?" she shot back. She took a deep breath and her expression softened. Tell me you expect me to get out of here one day.
"I do." You knew that back at The Slope or you wouldn't have come with me.
Maybe I just thought you looked cute in those white pajamas. She winked. "You look pale now, what'd the cops do to you?"
I rubbed my face with my hand. It felt greasy. "Questioned me, repeatedly." You're not going to ask me about the treatments?
She sipped now but her second glass of water was half gone. "They sat me down with some charts. The other one, the bald one-"
"Yeah, that one. He even drew some diagrams."
"You're very calm about this," I couldn't help saying. A lot of people have to be sedated at this stage.
She set her cup water down and spread her hands. "You were there. What's worse than being a path at a place like The Slope? Here, well I'm going to lose it. But hell, even if I end up crazier I won't have to hear the other crazies." At least you could block that out. Most of us weren't so lucky.
I leaned in, elbows on the table. "So you don't care if you're not a path anymore?" You want to be normal.
She shrugged. I don't know about normal. What's normal? That's all perspective. "I want to be free. After ten years in that place I'll take it however I can get it."
I nodded though I wasn't sure I understood her. "That's the best attitude to have." Otherwise you'll go insane.
She blinked at me and we both laughed.
A real threat if I wasn't already. She laughed harder.
You could always go Lowery crazy and spend all day counting puzzle pieces. Tears leaked out of my eyes I laughed so hard.
"Or I could think I was Cleopatra like Newman," she said and tried to catch her breath. I thought he made better speeches as Marc Anthony.
I waved a hand at her. Stop, you're going to kill me.
"Not with a plastic cup, Slick," she deadpanned, wiping her eyes.
I smiled and checked my watch. "I have to go." I stood up. "I'll get Chip to take you back to your room." I hear you get 300 channels in there.
"Better than watching the Price is Right every day. Gailmy would pitch a fit when it wasn't on.
I went to the door and raised my hand to knock. "Would you mind if I came back in a few days?" I'll be out on assignment until then.
"Ah, more procurement," she said. You'll have to check my schedule with the good doctors.
I knocked, loud enough to startle Chip. I'll do that.
He threw opened the door, eyes eager. Did she try something? I bet she tried something.
"Get her back to her room. Put a note in the chart to have her checked for dehydration," I said with a hard look.
He stood straighter, almost at attention, and moved to the side so I could get out. "Yes, sir."
I smirked to myself and hurried up the hall and back to the main labs. The halls were almost empty again, everyone was inside, working. I passed a couple of techs rolling cages of monkeys over to B-9 and they were too busy trying to keep the rattling cages on the cart to pay any attention to me. I'd missed my shot at dinner before the flight, but if it got in on time I could always get something before I went to the house.
I tapped my foot in the elevator surprised to find that I was humming too. I gave a wave to Helen, who took the security desk from six to two in the morning, picked up my duffel bag from my office and made my way to the motor pool.
I would've preferred to take my own car but I was leaving this one at the airport. I took one of the bland brown sedans in the lot. It had air conditioning, a strange musty smell, and bad speakers. There was almost no traffic on the way to the airport. I parked on the roof and emailed Jamie with the lot and space number so he could come pick it up.
I felt light going into the airport with my small duffel and my one-way ticket. I was back.
I spent the flight listening to the Beatles and going over the recon that we'd lifted from the FBI office in Cheyenne. We had lucked out on this one. Just as he came to the top of the pickup list the Cheyenne guys started watching him on suspicion of a marijuana crop in his basement. Some growing and dealing. Since that was one of the few things he wasn't doing they watched and when they got nothing they stopped and left a thorough report for us to use.
The plane landed on time and the van was in long-term parking, exactly where Jamie said it would be. I set my bag on the seat and put on my sweater against the chill. I bent forward, leaning against the steering wheel, and dug the metal box from under the seat. The 9mm Glock was a carbon copy of my service piece. It had been threaded for the silencer that was in the box next to it. The leather shoulder holster was well worn and with a few adjustments it fit. I slipped it on over my sweater and put my coat back on. The gun settled under my left arm and the silencer went in my pocket.
I stopped at a diner off the highway to get dinner and run over the target's routine again. Owen Alexander didn't go out on Wednesday nights. Mondays and Tuesdays were delivery days and Thursday through Sunday he was at his nightclub. When I parked in the alley behind the house the lights were out according to the schedule. Even his trashcans and recycling bins were set out in the perfect order noted in the report.
I walked casually to back gate even though the cold cut through my coat. The neighbors didn't need to see anyone running to or from the house. I opened the gate and went straight across the dark yard. The screen door on the covered porch stuck in the frame and I felt exposed, struggling with it in plain sight of the other houses. I opened myself up as much as I dared to make sure no one was peeking out one of the dark windows. The door rattled open as I caught a flying dream from the next house over.
I slipped in and closed the door behind me. I had to blot my hands on my jeans to keep from dropping my picks. There were alarm stickers and alarm contacts in the windows but the FBI surveillance team had checked the alarm company records and found they'd never been near the house. No security company had, it was all for show. Still I felt the tension pile on my shoulders as I picked the lock on the french doors.
With the Glock in hand and the silencer screwed on, I closed myself in behind my block. The last thing I needed was Alexander getting up for a glass of water or taking a leak and feeling me in his house. One hard projection and he could get to the shotgun under the bed before I could get to him. No silencer there. That would bring the neighbors for sure.
My shoes didn't make any noise on the thick carpet and there was enough light from the lamp over the stove to let me see down the hall without my flashlight.
I counted the doors as I went past. First door on the right was a bathroom, just like the floor plan. That made the next one the guest bedroom and the second on the left the master suite.
The master bedroom door stood halfway open.
When I nudged the door with my foot it squealed and a figure popped up in the bed. Even in the near darkness I knew it wasn't Alexander. He didn't have blonde hair and the first thought that hit me had a feminine tone.
What the hell? "Who're you? Owen, who is this guy?" She bent and shook him awake with one arm, her eyes on me.
I could feel Owen Alexander wake up tense, picking up on her tension, picturing the shotgun under the bed.
The double tap from the silencer echoed in the room and the woman slumped over Alexander in the bed. He knew that sound and shifted to get out from under her weight, feeling out hard for me as he struggled. I caught him high in the shoulder with a third shot and rushed the bed, covering him with the Glock. "Stay down and do what I tell you or the next one goes through your eye. Got it?" The first projection you make in my direction will get you just as dead.
He nodded hard and looked up into my face with wide eyes. "Whatever you want man, we're cool. We're cool." Russians? Not cops, not feds, I am too fucking old for this shit, he thought to himself without a passing thought to the dead woman in the bed now that his own survival was at stake.
Waiting for the wound to heal would put White a few weeks behind. He wouldn't work on any of them while they were injured. "Good, I'm glad we're clear. Now sit up slow, real slow." When his head lifted off the pillow I hit him with the butt end off my gun. He slumped back against the bed. It would have been too hard to get him to the van awake and bleeding. White would have to deal with two injuries.
I dug to make sure he was out. There were amorphous memories, nothing lucid. I unscrewed the silencer and put it back in my pocket. The baffles weren't any good after three shots and the Glock was easier to handle without it. I held the gun in one hand and got some towels from the bathroom. I put one under Alexander's shoulder to check for blood. The bullet hadn't gone through so I leaned hard on the entry wound with another towel until the bleeding slowed. I tied the towel down with a belt I found in the closet. I wiped the blood off my hands and pulled out my Blackberry. I dialed ten and got Gail's cheery voice on the answering service. "You've reached Lawson and Son's fine Carpets, no one is in the office to receive your call. Please leave a message with your name, number and the reason for your call and we'll get back to you as soon as possible."
"This is Agent Piken. I need a medi-pickup at Warren ASAP and a cleanup at pick-up point seven with one disposal." I hung up and jogged through the house to the back porch. I crossed the lawn and didn't let myself run to the van. It wasn't a total loss. At least it wouldn't be if I could get Alexander to the air force base before he bled out or the bullet got into an artery and killed him. The thought of what Craig would say if that happened made me walk faster.