Up to this point, every scientific detail has been thoroughly researched and included as fact. There are a few spots in this chapter where I use, how shall I say, “author’s prerogative” to advance the plot in the way it happened in my mind.
This was a fun chapter to write. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed creating it.
Once again, a huge thanks to GaiusPetronius. He helped me catch a couple glaring plot holes. He also helped, once again, to polish any rough edges I may have left behind. I made some changes after his edit, so I claim responsibility for any errors remaining.
“C’mon pal, get your ass up!” one of the FBI agents yelled at me, roughly tugging on the cuffs. To say I was shocked was a gross understatement. No, I was confused beyond thinking straight. The only things I could actually think about were the ticking I was hearing from my Explorer’s engine and Kat. Where was she? Was she safe? At least she’d be kept out of the clutches of the McMahons. I couldn’t hear her anymore, so they must have either taken her inside or gotten her into another vehicle.
“Where is she?” I finally croaked out.
“Like fuck we’d tell you!” another agent piped up. “Can you believe this guy? Kidnaps the lady and delivers her right back.”
“Yeah, what a fucktard.” The agents were conversing as if I wasn’t even there, acting as if I was like the same kind of “perps” seen on TV shows. But what could I say?
“I didn’t kidnap her!” I tried protesting. “I picked her up off the…”
“Shut up, asshole! Don’t forget anything you say can and WILL be used against you.” The supposed gardener, the one wearing the tropical shirt, came around to the front, facing me. “Do as we say, cooperate with us, and things will go smoothly. You don’t want to see what happens if you resist…” The iciness in his voice sent chills down my spine, worse than the coat-less journey out to Helen’s car while I was with Kat. Kat… did that really happen just 4 days ago? And now this? What the hell was going on?
“Let’s go, boys!” The group followed suit, piling into a van that hadn’t been there just moments ago. I tried looking around to spot Kat, but I couldn’t see or even hear her. I just hoped she was ok. She had sounded so pained and hurt. In my mind’s ear I could still hear her voice calling out my name.
As I was roughly shoved into the van, another agent clipped my handcuffs to an anchor in the floor, another agent using a plastic tie to secure my feet together. Where were we going from here? I imagined they’d take me to some unmarked building and interrogate me, or throw me into some cell for a while. At least that’s what they did on TV and in the movies. But then a black bag suddenly went over my head. I hadn’t expected that. It was thick too, my breath immediately heating up the interior. I found it more difficult to breathe. And the van was fucking hot. It didn’t help I still had on my snow pants and boots, but at least I had taken the upper layers off, leaving just a t-shirt.
“Gecko, where are we goin’ again?” I heard a voice from the front area of the van.
“Fuck, Dingo, pay attention next time!” One of the guys to my right practically screamed. That same icy voice, now filled with rage, made me shiver. “Drop point R-Four-Two-Two! Ask again and I’ll shoot you myself.” Drop point? What did that mean? And was he joking, or being serious? I didn’t have any idea how FBI agents actually conversed but this sounded, I don’t know, somehow “off.” I felt the van lurch forward, rapidly gaining speed. Each turn and bump was painfully tugging on my cuffed hands. At one point, a turn was taken so abruptly, my head was thrown into an agent’s knee. He then, in turn, kicked me away. Was this how criminals were treated behind the scenes? And how about the fact I was innocent? Maybe Kat would explain it to the other guys and this whole misunderstanding would go away, and we could be back together. I couldn’t believe how much I missed her already. I tried to imagine how much time had elapsed since I pulled into her parents’ driveway and agents piled on us from every direction. I think it was about 4 or 5 pm, with the sun just setting. I couldn’t even guess what time it was now, or even gauge how long I’d been in the back of this van.
It was quiet, save for the road noise. No one had said anything. There had been a couple of light coughs, but no words had been exchanged since Gecko had threatened the driver, Dingo. What odd names. I understood Gecko, but Dingo? Wasn’t that an Australian dog? Unless the agent was from Australia… but his voice sounded much like the people I grew up around – very plain. The time seemed to crawl and I was getting more and more anxious the longer the van traveled. It was going straight at a high speed now, suggesting we were on a highway or interstate. Where were they taking me? casino şirketleri I began counting the bumps I felt in the road. They seemed to be coming every second or so, like a crack or segment in the road at regular intervals. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I kept counting. It was the only thing I could really focus on anyway.
I’d been counting for a while, having reached over 500 when I felt the van change course just slightly, with me leaning forward now. It felt like an offramp. That seemed correct as the van slowed nearly to a stop before making a hard turn. So I was right, we had been on some kind of limited-access highway. The van continued at a slightly slower pace than before. There were no bumps or cracks to count this time, so I let my mind drift back to Kat and our time together. I remembered her telling me her story of how she was abducted – first sketchily at the diner, then in more detail at the cabin. And suddenly it was as if a bell chimed inside my head. I realized I was speaking before I could stop myself.
“The reports said multiple men abducted her.” Shit, I spoke. Was I not supposed to? But that was a pressing detail I felt could absolve me, even partially.
I was on my side before I even knew what hit me. Pain had erupted on both sides of my head – one side from hitting the floor of the van, the other from God knows what smashed into me.
“Are you retarded or something?” The same voice spoke up, the one the driver had called Gecko. “What part of ‘Shut up!’ do you not understand?”
“Gecko, chill, he said alive and unharmed.” A voice said somewhere above my head. This voice was low, relaxed, but sounded authoritative. My head was throbbing, but at least I could still hear and understand what was being said. He? The voice said ‘he.’ Who was he talking about? A supervisor or superior or something?
I heard a scoffing sound from where I thought Gecko was. “You are one lucky sonofabitch, let me tell you that, buddy,” followed by a chuckling sound. “Anyone else and you’d be dead already.”
What? Dead? Did the FBI do that to people? Before I could think on that further, the van pulled to a stop. I felt my arms being unhooked from the floor. Hands gripped me around my shoulders and feet, lifting me up off the floor of the van and out into open air. The first thing I noticed was the air temperature. I had expected it to be milder, but it felt chilly. I also noticed a lack of any sound except for a few crickets. I was carried for several seconds before being roughly dumped onto the ground. Since my arms were bound behind my back and the bag still hung around my head, I couldn’t identify the terrain, whether dirt, grass, concrete or something else.
“Here’s the deal, buddy: You got lucky. You just got yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Listen to this after we pull away. Do what it says, and you’ll never see or hear from us again,” Low-And-In-Control said to me. I felt something hard and heavy drop onto my back, just above my cuffed hands. “But make any sudden moves before you hear us leave and we’ll shoot you. Goodbye, Mr. Goodman.” The cuffs were unlocked and removed from my sore wrists. I did as they said and remained as motionless as I could. The sounds of feet walking away from me, doors closing, and the van peeling away were the only things I could hear.
I lay there and waited for what seemed an eternity, until I could not hear the van any longer. Slowly, I brought my aching arms up to push myself off the ground, feeling that hard, heavy object slide off my back. I pulled the bag off my head, but I might as well have left it in place. It was dark, nearly pitch black. Virtually nothing was visible in front of me. Off in the distance, on the horizon, I saw the glow from some city. I hoped it was Phoenix. But, seeing as I didn’t know how long they’d driven me, it could’ve been Tucson. I doubted it was Flagstaff, since I hadn’t felt any significant altitude changes, although I really wasn’t sure anymore, especially since the air felt so cold. I remember as a child, some of the surrounding deserts would get bone-chillingly cold at night and during the winter months.
Remembering the thing that had landed on my back, I searched around me for where it was. Finding it, I fiddled with it, trying to figure out what it could be. The guy had said to listen to it. It felt roughly square in shape, perhaps 8 or 9″ on one side. I felt some kind of seam or split along the sides. As I fingered it some more, it dawned on me: I was holding a portable DVD player, much like the one Kat and I had purchased to play movies. I found the latch release and popped it open, pressing the button I assumed was the power switch.
When the screen flicked on, a little white triangle appeared in the corner, and the screen faded in from black to the image of an elderly man sitting at a desk, books behind him. Looking into his eyes, I felt terror. He began casino firmaları speaking, in a tone that was equally frightening and commanding.
“Greetings, Mr. Goodman. My name is Edmond McMahon. I imagine, since you’ve been around Miss White for a while, you may have heard a few things about my family – mostly, I presume, about my grandchildren, Jasmine and Jasper. My son, Stanley, you probably didn’t hear much about, since he wanted to make amends with the White family. He didn’t have any spine. Those White bastards have always been getting their way, yet looking like noble, lawful people the whole while.” Edmond slammed his fist on the table. “They don’t know a fucking thing about running a business! Sure, Doug has built up a pretty large company. But he had everything given to him along the way. Those businesses were already up and running when he got them. He didn’t have to scrape and penny-pinch. He didn’t have to struggle to make ends meet. No…” He started chuckling. “My business, my empire – this is how you run things; neat, efficient, cost-effective, and productive.
“Mr. Goodman… Paul, you are lucky, son. Normally, if someone had come poking their nose where it didn’t belong, they wouldn’t be breathing right now. Neat, efficient, cost-effective, and productive. But you, you’ve written those damned papers – climate-control papers that have started appearing in scientific journals. I’ve been around. I know how this stuff goes. Some cub reporter on a slow news day gets hold of those journals, reads your articles, figures out enough from the abstracts to see something newsworthy. Pretty soon, stories start appearing in the popular press, the so-called Main Stream Media. You get your almighty doctor’s degree, find yourself on the lecture circuit, and all the Chicken Littles get stirred up again. And that is bad for my kind of business. I’d like to have you killed, each part of your body left somewhere buried in snow – that’d be ironic, wouldn’t it, Paul?” His stare, even through the screen, made my blood run cold. The man looked to be in his 70s or 80s, but had such an icy stare to him that I started shaking. I didn’t think it was the cold making me shiver, either. The video continued, showing Edmond with a smirk.
“I’d just love to have you buried piece by piece in snow. But, being that you’ve written what you have, any unfortunate end to your life would likely raise the wrong sorts of suspicions and send authorities sniffing around here, especially since you’ve had contact with Miss White. That would be most undesirable. So… you get to live.” He leaned forward. “But I promise you this: if you so much as show up around my business in any way – poking your nose into the White family affairs, meddling around with that little bitch, or fucking around with anything I am even remotely associated with, you can consider your miserable little life at an end, along with your family, friends, associates… Well, I’m sure you can get the picture.” He chuckled, or rather cackled, a hideous, evil sound. “But if you don’t… let me demonstrate to you just how much I know.”
The screen turned to black with white words scrolling past. First were my parents’ names, their address and phone numbers, what looked like their social security numbers… How did this guy get this kind of information? Next came my aunts and uncles, my cousins and their kids, followed by my roommate, his girlfriend, my professors… My stomach was turning sour. The list kept going on and on, names I realized I hadn’t been in contact with for very long, but there they were, nonetheless. When I thought I couldn’t take any more, the screen faded back in to Edmond, with his creepy, smirky grin.
“So Paul,.. do I make myself clear? I’ll say it clearer for you. STAY…THE FUCK… OUT OF… MY… BUSINESS!” His fist hammered the table with each word. His face was red, a vein popping just above his eye. I briefly wondered if he could get a heart attack or something, acting like that. But his point was clear. And he scared me, he scared me shitless and pissless. He continued, after taking a deep breath and wiping his brow with a handkerchief.
“The only name I left out of my list is Miss Katherine White. I saved her for last. If you continue to poke around in my business, she gets the special treatment. I’m talking about torture, Paul – the kind of torture that makes people beg for death. I won’t elaborate, as I’m sure you might be able to imagine.” He cleared his throat. “The best part is that I can make it look like you did it.” He pulled out a small device, and pushed a button on it. I heard Kat’s voice. ~Dad… I’m… not ok… really… harmed… saw me on the side of the road… riding… had… me… trapped for so long… tell… Mom… bye…~ He clicked the device off. How the heck had he done that? That was some intense voice-manipulation. That would probably explain why he knew, or suspected, at least, that she was coming güvenilir casino back. He must have had her father’s phone tapped.
“Now, you’re in the desert, Paul. And if you want to survive, I suggest you listen carefully. Stand up. Now.” I did just that, standing up, still holding the player. “Walk towards the glowing horizon.” Again, I followed his orders. I doubted a trick now, as I was pretty sure if he intended me dead or harmed, I wouldn’t be holding this video. “Walk straight for 50 meters. You’ll find your vehicle waiting for you, everything you had still inside. Remember, Paul, I know how to find you and all your loved ones. You contact the police about this, or the FBI…” He pulled his finger across his throat. “And don’t even think about showing this video. In fact, I’d recommend you throw this player as far behind you as you can and sprint toward the glow. Unless you like pieces of plastic embedded in your skin. You have 10 seconds.” The player turned black, a giant green 10 on the screen. It turned to 9 and I assumed this guy wasn’t kidding. I turned around, closed the lid, and chucked the player like it was a discus, hoping it went far enough. I turned back to the glow and started running as fast as I could, trying to count in my head. When I thought the time had run out, two things happened at once; behind me, I heard and felt a blast more powerful than I thought possible from that tiny DVD player, and I found my Explorer, running into it full tilt.
I knew I was dazed. Lying on the ground, staring up at the starry sky, I wondered which had caused the dizziness. I tilted my head back slowly, trying to see any indication of the explosion. I think I may have expected a fiery blaze, a residual flaming crater, anything except the blackness I saw. I slowly got to my feet, leaning on my Explorer for support. Damn, that hurt. As my mind came back into focus, my experience in chemistry told me that any kind of explosive, given the size of that DVD player, wouldn’t have caused the chaos I had been imagining. I chalked it up to my frayed nerves.
So I hadn’t been arrested, hadn’t been charged with kidnapping. That would have been a more desirable outcome, as I thought about it. Kat would have testified and cleared my name and we…
Kat! Fuck, that bastard must have her! But what could I do about it? If I went to the authorities, even the FBI, he clearly said he’d retaliate. I didn’t want that for anyone, and most of all not for Kat. But I couldn’t just leave her in the clutches of such a loathsome, twisted man. One thing I knew for sure: I had to figure out where the hell I was right now.
I climbed into my Explorer, immediately searching for my phone. I usually tucked it into a side pocket while I was driving anywhere. I sighed in relief, seeing it was still there. Remembering Kat’s words that she had put her contact information into my phone already, I searched through my contact list. Finding her name, I opened it just to make sure. In the number line, instead of her digits, the words ‘NICE TRY BUDDY’ were listed. Well, that just sucked. Not that they’d likely let her have her phone. Or that she even had it to begin with, since I hadn’t driven her to her car where she said she had left her belongings.
That’s it! I could look there, try and find where she had parked, see if it was still there. I racked my memory, trying desperately to remember if she had told me any details about the abduction, any information about her car, the location, the restaurant name… I sighed. It wouldn’t matter anyway. The police would have tried combing the area over for details, likely seizing the car as evidence. And even then, there was no guarantee how much of a hair-trigger rage Edmond McMahon had. Would he act on his threat if I so much as went to look for her information? Probably – he sounded like he had control, information, and an ability to get others to do the dirty work for him.
I pounded my fist into the steering wheel. I know it didn’t help anything, but I was at my limit of frustration. I figured I’d call my parents and let them know I was ok. They were expecting me, once again. I pulled up their contact picture and hit dial.
“Hello?” Dad’s voice answered after the first ring. Sheesh, did Dad just wait by the phone all the time these days?
“Hey Dad, it’s me again.”
“Paul, are you ok? We’ve been worried about you. You’re late.” At least it was Dad, and not Mom yelling like she tended to do.
“Yeah… I, uh… well I ran into some trouble again, and we’ll probably have to stay at a motel tonight.” I was surprised how easily the lie came to my lips. I felt bad, but I didn’t want to get my parents involved in whatever crap I had just stumbled upon.
“Thanksgiving is only a couple days away. Will you make it?”
“I’ll give it my best, Dad.” I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it, or how that was going to work out.
“Ok, Son. We love you. Take care and keep us updated if anything happens.”
“Alright, love you too, Dad. Tell Mom I love her too.” I wondered, if I did get involved, would I even be able to see my parents again? Or anyone? I shook off the thought.