I held the probes between two fingers, then triggered the timer. My finger throbbed where the jolt of electricity flowed through it; I let go of the twin leads, rubbed the two fingers together and shook my hand.
Good. These ought to work out nicely!
I attached the leads to the blasting cap, tied them off with a length of electrical tape. Holding the cap gingerly, I slid it into the small block of plastique, formed the doughy explosive into a ring around the cap. I attached the detonator to the block of explosive, keeping the battery unhooked as I did so.
I placed the last of the blocks of explosives into the Alice-pack lying on the table, closed and fastened the flap. I smiled to myself, turned to glance out the window at the driving rain. I'd never worked with explosives before, but the manuals were available on disc in the 'frame and I'd made good use of them. Fez had been somewhat alarmed when I'd asked for seven pounds of plastique, but had delivered it without question. I'd taken an unfinished room on the top floor of the Watts Centrex East Tower, just in case I did something wrong and blew myself to kingdom come.
The designs I'd seen were thorough and exact, and I'd gone over every detail carefully. It had taken me about two hours to put the devices together...
I turned away from the small arsenal of weapons and explosives laid out on the only piece of furniture in the room to find Sabina Griffith standing in the open doorway. Sabina was studying me with an intense gaze, her eyes flicking to the Alice-pack stacked beside the rifle, shotgun, and two pistols I'd selected.
"I've got a date," I said.
Sabina met my eyes for a moment. "Just what every girl wants, seven pounds of plastique..."
Damn Fez! "I'll keep that in mind."
Sabina walked past me, stopped at the table. "This is quite a collection you've got here. A Benelli twelve gauge with white phosphorous exploding shells, an HK G-36 with armor piercing rounds and, if I'm not mistaken, a Narinkov G-7 with juggernauts. You plan on starting a war?"
"Not starting one, finishing one."
"You've certainly got the equipment for it," Sabina mused. She turned to face me. "Okay Chandler, what's going on?"
"This is none of your concern," I said, shaking my head.
Sabina offered me a tight smile. "Sure it is. You've got enough plastique in there to blow two or three floors off this building. There are men women and children working and living in this complex. Including your friend Fez and his family. "
"They're in the other tower," I answered. "Besides, I don't have to explain anything to you; I haven't had to explain myself to anyone since these bastards murdered my mom and dad over twenty years ago..."
"No, you don't," Sabina met my eyes again and held them for a long moment. "What's going on with you?"
"I don't know what you're talking about..."
She laughed. "You seem bound and determined to get yourself killed!"
"If I do, then I'm going to take as many of them with me as I can!"
"Are you listening to yourself, at how crazy you're sounding..."
"Sabina, fuck off!"
"Sorry! You can go running off half cocked, threatening violence and mayhem at every corner, until you start putting innocent people's lives at risk."
"If that's all you're worried about, I'll be gone in a few minutes..."
"Gone where?" Sabina demanded.
"It's a secret."
"The ACRP? How are you going to get there? The place is ringed with police, police who have orders to bring you in without much regard as to whether you're breathing or not..."
"Fez is letting me borrow the chopper and his pilot again..."
"Have you taken a look at the weather outside? They're calling for severe thunderstorms and high-winds; helicopters aren't the most stable aircraft in good conditions..."
"Your weather forecast is duly noted. Thanks!!"
Sabina leaned against the edge of the table. "Are you that suicidal?"
I blinked, glanced past her. "No..."
"I wonder what Elaine would have to say about that?"
"Elaine has nothing to do with this!"
"Bullshit Chandler!! That woman shot and killed someone to save your goddamned life last night! She's been dealing with the consequences of that, all day today! As long as she keeps busy, she doesn't think about it so much; when she closes her eyes, she still sees that mans head exploding from her bullet..."
"And this is supposed to do what for me?"
Sabina changed her tact. "Do you want to do this by yourself?"
I frowned. "By myself?"
"Yeah. It's a simple question: Do you want us out of this?"
I didn't say anything.
"If you do, just say the word and we'll be gone. I've already talked to Fez; he's got a transport waiting for us at the airport. Kenny, myself, Elaine, and Gail can all be on it and be in the Hawaiian Islands by day-break. Molokai doesn't extradite..."
"Y-you'd do that?"
"You don't seem to want our help," Sabina said. "Kenny and Elaine have worked their asses off for you. Thom Pressler too for that matter. If everything they've done for you means so little, I'll go round them up and we'll all get on that plane and leave!"
"If you want..."
"You goddam, ungrateful bastard!!" Sabina exploded. "You think this is all about you, all about what they did to you and your parents..."
"Why don't you ask Gail?! You lost your parents and may lose Velma; Gail has lost everyone. Her parents. Her extended family. Her people..."
"I know that!"
"So going up to the ACRP and killing anyone who gets in your way is going to bring them back?! Will doing what you're thinking of doing bring Velma back or is it all about revenge at this point, all about having a head to carry through the halls?!!"
I pushed past her and reached for the pack.
Sabina grasped my arm and wouldn't let me go. "'Where doest thou goest, trapped by thine anger, pain, and the closing entropy of thine own death...'"
"Chandler, we're all here because we want to be here. We're in this as far as it goes because we believe in what we're doing, what we're fighting for! Let us help!!"
"I-I don't know if I believe in what I'm doing anymore..."
"You wouldn't be standing there, prepared to take on an army by yourself if you didn't believe..."
"I could be suicidal like you said..."
Sabina reached out and stroked my cheek. "I don't think so. Focused. You're so focused on the task at hand, you're being blinded by hate and that hate can get you killed because that's all you're feeling. You can't see anything else, can't feel anything else. Your entire being is consumed by it. You have to let go of it or it will eat you alive."
I searched her eyes for a long moment. "Where...did you get that?"
"Gail. I haven't known her for very long, but even with everything that's happened to her, she still has this inner peace and tranquility..."
"Shael na fahr..."
"I don't exactly understand the concept but her words have a ring of truth to them," Sabina said.
"You like her, don't you?"
She nodded. "I do, but I feel she's as focused on finding these answers as you are and as long as she has that focus I am just there peripherally for her. I'd like these feelings I have for her to be returned, but I think they never will be..."
"Time will tell..."
Sabina surprised me by slipping into my arms. I could feel her tremble as I held her and when she looked up to meet my eyes I felt something drawing me into them...
"Chandler, I've got a question for..." Elaine Ford strode into the room, halted in her tracks when she saw Sabina in my arms, "...you..."
Sabina pulled away as we both turned to face Elaine.
"Am I interrupting the two of you?" There was a hint of something in Elaine's eyes, a little flash of fire.
"No, we were just talking," Sabina said.
"Does everyone in Watts know where I am?!" I complained.
"I used the computer," Elaine explained. "Apparently everyone who enters the twin towers complex is tracked from the time they enter, 'til the time they leave. I fed in your name and the computer told me where to find you."
Sabina smiled. "So you were about to ask a question?"
Elaine frowned for a moment, then nodded. "Who's the 'old man'?"
"Old man?" I asked.
"Yeah," Elaine nodded. "When you were questioning Henry, he said that the hit order was put on you after you'd gone to see the 'old man'. I think his words were something to the effect of 'you'd gone to see him at the city archives and they felt you were getting too close!'"
"Shit!! Dammit, you're absolutely right, Elaine!"
"Right about what? Who is he?"
"Sol Levine's his name. He's the caretaker of the Los Angles Archives..."
"Chandler and Velma went to see him to try and dig up some information about the ACRP," Sabina explained.
"What did they find out?" Elaine asked.
"Not much," I shrugged. "Not enough for someone to put a hit out on us...unless..."
"'Unless' what?" Sabina demanded.
"Unless they think Sol knows more than he told us!"
It was Sabina's turn to frown.
I looked at her. "Sol said his son-my fathers partner in homicide back then- kept a file on the ACRP. When my parents were killed and Sol's son was ambushed and murdered, Sol said he looked for that file but it was gone..."
"So they got it?"
"Maybe not," I shook my head. "Maybe Sol's son hid it and Briggs and his people think he still has it..."
"I don't know. Sol's gotten old; he said himself that he doesn't remember all that well anymore."
"So Briggs' people came after you because they thought you had the file..." Sabina said.
"Which I don't."
"I'm getting that headache again," Elaine said.
I smiled. "I wonder..."
Both women looked at me.
"My father and Sol's son were close, even though my dad was considerably older than he was. From what I remember, the two of them used to do everything together. If Sol's son had a file on the ACRP, my dad knew all the contents of that file..."
"Which is probably what got him killed," Sabina supplied.
"But what about your mom?" Elaine asked.
"They figured dad told her about it. That made her expendable as well."
"Jesus..." Elaine shook her head.
"So the question now is-what happened to that file if Governor Taylor's people didn't get it?"
"I don't know," I shrugged.
"Chandler, you said the two of them hung out together after work," Sabina said.
"Did they have some place they liked to go to after work, a bar, a nightclub, something like that?"
"No, my dad really wasn't the type. He drank sometimes but my mom never liked it so he didn't do it all that often..."
"What about hobbies, something they liked to do in their off hours?"
"I wish I knew, Sabina! I was so damned young when my folks were killed; if my dad and Sol Levine's son had a boat or flew model airplanes, I don't remember ever hearing dad talk about it! I just don't remember!"
"Sol would remember," Elaine said.
I glanced at her, felt myself smile. "You're...that's an absolutely wonderful idea!!"
"It is?" Elaine asked.
Elaine looked slightly befuddled. I saw her glance at the single table behind me, watched her eyes trace over the items lying there. "Are you planning on going somewhere?" she asked me, re-meeting my eyes.
"Not right-away, no," I shook my head.
"I've checked every available data-base in the city Chandler," Kenny Baltimore said. "If there's a Sol Levine in this town, he doesn't subscribe to any phone or tri-d service that I can find."
I thought for a moment. "What about retirement records from the police department?"
"By the time I got in to take a look at them, they'd be finished running a reverse trace on us. They couldn't get to us in here, but I don't want to bring that kind of heat down on Fez," Kenny said. "Especially with the ISP involved!"
"Kenny," Elaine said, leaning forward. "Can I get onto the Bainbridge 'frame from here?"
"Shouldn't be any problem, as long as somebody like Chandler didn't hire somebody like me to write their security software."
"That's the great thing about Bainbridge, Kenny!" Elaine grinned. "He trusts me implicitly with the security access codes. I can get into any part of the computer network I want."
Kenny smiled. "Chandler, I like this woman! Take the chair and I'll talk you through it."
Elaine did. Within five minutes she was in and directed her search to the 'RECORDS-MEDICAL' section. She typed in LEVINE, SOL, NEW LOS ANGELES and waited while the machine did a search. The holographic display flashed.
"Here we go," Elaine said. "Solomon Isaac Levine 1340 East Fifth. Says here that there is no phone or contact information available. Pretty good health for someone his age too-no major complaints, except for a little arthritis."
"Okay so we do this the hard way," I said.
"How do you mean?" Kenny asked.
"Since there is no way to contact him by voice or electronically, we go see him," I answered.
"Won't he be working?"
"Not on Monday's. The archives are closed on Sunday and Monday."
"Only you'd know that," Kenny offered.
"That still leaves us with a pretty good problem though-how do we get into downtown with every cop in the city looking for us?" Sabina asked.
Elaine turned in her chair and faced us. "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit..."
"What are you talking about?" Sabina directed the question to her.
"Kenny's pretty handy with this 'frame isn't he?"
"I'm the best!" Kenny answered.
"How hard would it be to tap into one of the law enforcement webs?"
"As long as it's not the city's, not difficult at all..."
"The three of you would look pretty good in handcuffs!" Elaine said.
Kenny smiled. "Ooo, I like this plan!"
"In that case, maybe you can explain it to me," Sabina said.
"It's simple-I'll tap into one of the Southland Law Enforcement Nets and send out a bulletin that myself, Chandler, and you Sabina have all been captured outside the city..."
"You can do that?"
Kenny beamed. "Absolutely!"
It was my turn to smile. "It'll have to be some small town in the middle of nowhere, without access to immediate data transmission relays..."
"Leave that to me, Chandler!" Kenny said.
Booking photos and information on the three wanted citizens (us) were transmitted via the Southland Law Enforcement Net to all available departments from as far north as Santa Barbara to as far south as La Jolla. Within minutes of their transmission the police communications network in the city went crazy. Kenny Baltimore sat listening to all the chatter, a smile as wide as the Grand Canyon creasing his pale face. I had to admit, I was enjoying it too.
"So where were we captured?"
"You ever hear of Lagos del Sol?"
"Lake of the Sun? Nope."
"Good. The cops are going to be running their asses off trying to find it since 'Lagos del Sol' folded up as a town 25 years ago..."
"Won't they figure that out?" Sabina asked.
Elaine grinned. "So how were you three desperados captured?"
"In a way that's very plausible for some small town in the middle of nowhere-we were arrested for a traffic infraction and didn't have enough money to bail ourselves out with. When they ran us, the hit came back and the Lagos del Sol cops held onto to us, prideful of a major bad guy capture!"
"So how long do you figure we have until our little ruse is found out?" I asked.
"Four to five hours, six at the outside."
"Plenty of time," I mused.
"Okay, the cops in the city won't be so hot to get their hands on us now. That still leaves us with a number of checkpoints to go through before we get to Sol Levine's," Sabina offered.
"I've been thinking about that," I said. "How many of you remember your ancient history?"
"As related to what?" Sabina asked.
"The Trojan Horse."
"One of my all-time favorites!" Kenny enthused.
"I know the story Chandler, but how does the story of the Trojan Horse tie into what we're doing?" Sabina asked.
I smiled. "The Trojans piled a bunch of their best soldiers into this big horse and the people inside the city saw that they'd gone and brought this giant horse inside their walls, thinking, 'hey they're all gone so cool, we'll just take this nifty horse they left us'..."
"I know that. You still aren't answering my question!"
I glanced from Sabina to Elaine, then back to Sabina. "What's the fastest way to get a man to forget about what your face looks like?"
"Chandler..." Sabina warned.
"You make him notice certain other, shall we say...assets?" Elaine offered.
I smiled. "Precisely. I figure we can borrow one of Fez's limo's, dress you and Sabina in some fairly tight, semi-revealing evening outfits..."
"You're not suggesting what I think you're suggesting..."
"Yes Sabina, I am."
"But that's so obvious..."
"They're men Sabina. Men aren't very complicated when it comes to a pretty face! Or other things!" Elaine said.
"I know but...oh, all right!!"
"Great! Now all we have to do is figure out a way for me to go along," I said.
"I think you'd look terrible in a dress!" Kenny dead-panned.
I chuckled. "True. Driving is also out so, like our friends the Trojans, I'll use Sabina and Elaine as my pretty distractions. We'll empty out the booze cabinet and I ought to just fit inside..."
I picked up a nearby phone handset and dialed Fez's personal exchange.
"What are you doing?" Elaine asked.
"Scheduling appointments for the two of you in the salon downstairs..."
"This had better work," Sabina said, unenthusiastically.
"Holy God!" Kenny Baltimore exclaimed.
I turned in my seat as Sabina and Elaine re-entered the room. Both had undergone transformations that would've rendered them almost unrecognizable, even to their own parents. Elaine wore a long, silver-colored vinyl dress with a diamond studded choker around her neck. Her lustrous hair was piled atop her head with ringlets framing her face.
"Why thank you, Kenny!" Elaine smiled.
I glanced at Sabina. Her dress was similar to Elaine's, only copper colored. She'd had her hair done in a slightly more sophisticated style and wore heavy emerald and diamond ear-rings. For once in my life, I couldn't think of anything to say that would've been more eloquent than Kenny's words.
"How do you like your new look, Sabina?" Kenny asked.
"I feel like a hooker..."
Kenny swallowed, looked quickly away.
Sabina saw him. "What? Chandler..."
"Well..." Instead of answering her, I handed Sabina an identification card.
She opened it and I saw her jaw muscles start to flex. "No, absolutely not!"
"What is it, Sabina?" Elaine asked.
"He's had us listed as pleasure girls!"
Elaine looked at me with a raised eyebrow.
"I needed a way to get us through the checkpoints with as little hassle as possible," I explained. "I know someone at one of the services and since she owed me a favor, I figured now might be a good time to call that favor in..."
"If that's the case, we could've used Danny Raines' Cross Zonal Pass!" Sabina said.
I shook my head. "Too risky. If you want to draw attention to yourself, just start flashing one of those baby's around..."
"So Elaine and I end up flashing our..."
"I don't mind," Elaine said.
Sabina faced her. "What?"
"I don't mind. All my life I've loved playing dress-up. This is just one more chance for me to do so!"
"Great!!" Sabina sighed. "The lady doc has a hooker dress-up fetish!"
"Sabina, I'll understand if you don't want to do this. Kenny could always use someone else as back-up on the computer console," I offered.
"And what, I'm supposed to let Elaine go out there by herself?!"
"Elaine won't be by herself. I'll be in the car with her," I said.
"Look at it as a challenge, Sabina," Elaine said. "You've done undercover work before; you'll be there to make sure I don't screw everything up!"
Sabina sighed again. "If any of you ever say so much as one word..."
"I won't!" Kenny announced.
"My lips are sealed!" I agreed.
Sabina looked resigned, finally nodded. "All right, let's do it..."
The four of us left the room for the bank of elevators. Waiting for the car to arrive, Kenny gave Sabina a sidelong look.
"Sabina, the color of that dress really brings out the blue in your eyes..."
What she told him he could do with himself was humanly impossible, even for the most flexible of Indian yogi's.
"Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3," Kenny's voice flooded the headset I was wearing, causing me to wince.
"Pot down your volume a few points Kenny," I whispered. "You're rattling my eye-teeth!"
"Sorry boss!" he answered. "That better?"
"Much." I was lying on my right side in the liquor cabinet, facing towards Sabina and Elaine. Even with the door to the cabinet open, I was starting to sweat and I could feel my back muscles tightening up. "How's everything looking on your end?"
"Five by five," he said. "The microwave down-link is go, so if any of the checkpoints want to run a make on Elaine or Sabina, I can spoon-feed it to them."
"Hopefully we won't need the link."
"You two okay?" I asked Sabina and Elaine.
"Yeah." From Sabina.
"This is kind of exciting!" Elaine grinned.
"First checkpoint coming up!" Kenny said into my ear.
"Got it!" I pulled the door closed and eased the .45 from my belt. The limousine slowed, then stopped.
I heard the window opposite Elaine power down.
"Good evening ladies!" a gruff, male voice said through the window. "Could I see your identification cards and transit papers please."
"Of course!" Sabina said.
There was an interminable silence as the checkpoint officer examined the documents.
"Everything seems to be in order. Have a pleasant evening!"
The window powered up and we were moving again. I took a long breath, slid the door open to let some cooler air in. "Good job. The big one's coming up; we get through that one and we'll have it made."
"My hearts beating so fast I'm surprised that cop didn't hear it!" Elaine offered.
We were silent for the next few minutes.
"Central City checkpoint coming up," Kenny said.
I closed the door again.
I never like it when Kenny says 'uh-oh'. If he curses or pounds on something I know he has the situation under control; 'uh-oh' usually means something in the universe has conspired to put a monkey wrench into his well-oiled plans.
"What is it?"
"Sonofabitch, I've lost the microwave signal!"
I was seriously sweating now as I felt the limousine start to slow again. "What happened?!" I demanded.
"There must be some nearby source that's blocking my down-link out!" he said.
"Can you get it back?"
"What if you boost the gain?"
"It'll burn out the transceiver. Dammit!"
The limousine had stopped, moved a few feet, then stopped again. "Kenny..."
"It's gone, Chandler. The only way I can get it back is if you get out of there!"
"Sonofabitch!" I pushed the cabinet door open. "Sabina, the down-link is gone. Something's blocking our signal."
She glanced up at the monitor in the overhead panel and shook her head. "We're five cars from the front of the line. Can he get it back?"
"And we can't turn around. The cops see that, they'll be on to us in a flash," Sabina mused. "I knew this was going too smoothly!"
"What are we going to do?" Elaine asked, suddenly wide-eyed.
Sabina was lost in thought for a long moment. "Elaine, do you trust me?"
"Yeah, I trust you..."
"Good! Just follow my lead!" Sabina said. "We've got a checkpoint guard walking back towards us..."
I closed the door, pulled the .45 close to me and thumbed the hammer back.
"Sabina!" Elaine exclaimed.
"Chandler, what's going on?" Kenny called.
"We've got a guard right on top of us and can't get turned around. I think we're about to find out just how good Sabina's social skills are!"
I listened. There was a rustle of fabric, a soft 'Mmm' from the general direction of Sabina and Elaine, followed by a throaty giggle. I raised an eyebrow...
The guard knocked on the window nearest Elaine. Someone moaned out loud, ignoring the knock.
"I can't talk right now, Kenny," I answered, my voice tight and very low.
The knock came again, harder and more insistent than before. I moved my finger from the trigger guard to the trigger...
The window powered down.
"Yes?" Sabina asked.
"Uh...what's going on here?" the guard sounded somewhat startled.
"Oh! Have we done something wrong officer?"
He was silent for what seemed an eternity. "You...didn't answer my knock right away..."
"I guess we weren't paying any attention to what's going on outside this car," Sabina's voice was syrupy sweet and very sexy. "We were...well...you know...occupied?"
"So I see!" the guard chuckled.
"You understand don't you. Terri and me were married this morning and I just can't keep my hands off her..."
"The two of you are..."
"At 11:00 this morning," Elaine answered.
"This is your honeymoon?"
"Umm hmm. Terri wanted to take me to this club down in Long Beach where they have all these spectacular dancers and I guess we kinda' lost track of time. We're not breaking curfew or anything, are we?" Sabina asked, her voice dripping with innocence.
"Not for a couple of hours..."
"Did you need to see our identification cards?" Elaine questioned.
"Uh...you aren't carrying any type of contraband or weapons in the car, are you?"
"I simply despise guns...except on a man in uniform!" Sabina said.
The guard was silent again. "I tell you what-since it's a special day for the two of you, I'll give you a pass on looking at your papers..."
"You're so kind, officer..."
"I hope you enjoy the rest of your stay here!"
"I'm sure we will!"
The window powered up once more.
"Oh man, he bought it!" Elaine exclaimed.
"The power or female persuasion..." Sabina offered, cryptically.
Sol Levine's house was a one story bungalow at the end of a pleasant, tree-lined street, across the Los Angeles River from downtown. The driver parked the limousine out of sight of the house and Sabina, Elaine, and myself walked back to it. A single light was on in what I guessed was the kitchen, it's dull light cutting the gloom just enough for us to see our way up the front steps.
"We're at the house, Kenny," I said into the radio mic.
At the front door I raised my hand to give it a knock.
Sabina caught my hand. "Wait..."
"What is it?" I asked.
"Something doesn't smell right here..."
I looked a little more closely. The front door was open just a bit, leading into an inky black room.
"Kenny, did you pick up anything out of the ordinary when we came down the street?"
"Not a thing," he answered. "Why, do you have something?"
"I'm not sure. Sol's house is standing wide open and it's dark as pitch inside..."
"I'd advise caution. There could be a booby trap inside..."
"What about a window?" Elaine pointed to one, further down the length of the porch.
"I'd say give it a shot, Chandler. Most people go in a door, not through a window," Kenny said.
I went to the window, grasped the lower sash. It wouldn't budge. "Locked."
"Let me take a look," Sabina said. I stood aside, watched as she pulled a thin bladed knife from under the front of her tight dress.
"Where did you get that?" I asked.
"One thing you have to know about me Chandler-I always carry some type of weapon..."
Sabina slipped the blade between the upper and lower window sashes.
I glanced at Elaine who'd been very quiet since the downtown checkpoint. "So how did the two of you convince that guard to let us through..."
"Two people can play the Trojan Horse game!" Sabina answered for her. "Just a little bit to the...THERE!!"
She handed the knife to me, then raised the window.
"That's pretty good," I said.
"My instructor was one of the best..."
"I'll go in and take a look. If there aren't any bombs, I'll let you in the front door."
"Be careful," Sabina said.
I climbed through the window, my .45 in my right hand. Once through I pulled the mini flashlight from a rear pocket with my free hand; I was in a small bedroom, with a fish-tank gurgling away in one corner. I walked across the room, turned left through the open door and followed a short hallway to the main living area. I stopped, played the light across the front of the house.
I went to the front door, did a close inspection of it.
"Anything?" Sabina called to me on the comm channel.
"Nothing that I can see. I'm opening the door."
I reached for the door knob. As I did so, I sensed someone else in the room. I started to turn, my .45 coming up.
"I wouldn't do that!" To emphasize the point, the disembodied voice pushed a pistol barrel hard against the back of my head.
"Who wants to know?" the voice demanded.
"It's Chandler Harrison..."
"I don't believe you..."
"Turn the light on and see for yourself."
"It's there, to your left," Sol said.
I found the switch panel in the darkness, thumbed the button. The room was instantly flooded with light.
"Turn around, but do it slow. I may be old, but from this far away I don't miss," Sol told me.
I did as he said. His old face seemed relieved as he saw me and his expression softened.
"God Sol, you scared the hell out of me!" I said.
He grinned. "Climbing through my window like that didn't do a great deal for my heart rate either!"
"Chandler, is everything all right in there?" Sabina asked. "I hear voices."
"Sol, a couple of my friends are outside. Can they come in?"
He nodded, lowered his ancient pistol.
"Come on in Sabina!" I called to her, via the comm channel.
Sabina opened the door, peered inside.
"Come on, it's safe!" Sol said. "I'm just one old man with an even older gun."
Sabina nodded. "I take it you're Sol Levine?"
"Yes young lady, that's me!"
Sabina entered the house, stood aside to let Elaine pass. When she had, Sabina closed the door. "We were kind of worried about you when we got here and saw your place so dark and your door standing open."
"With good reason," Sol said. "Someone besides the three of you were here earlier tonight."
"Any idea who?" I asked.
"Not really. I got here just as they were coming out of my house. If I hadn't driven into a neighbors driveway, they would of gotten me!"
"Can you describe them for me?"
"Couple of big guys. They were wearing casual clothes like they were trying to fit into the neighborhood-they didn't. I've seen the type a hundred times before-they looked like a hired gun and his back-up man. Pros."
"I was afraid of this..."
"I've been keeping up with the news. You're taking an awfully big chance coming here, so it must be important," Sol said.
"I have a few question I need to ask you..."
"I told you everything I could about the files I gave you..."
"I know, Sol. This isn't about those files. I need you to tell me some things about my father. And your son."
"You told me Stan and my dad were close, that they became friends..."
"It took awhile. Your dad and my boy were the same personality types, so they clashed from the first moment they met..."
"What brought them together?" Elaine asked.
"It was the car."
"Yeah," Sol nodded. "That old California Highway Patrol car, the one you drive now."
I looked at him. "They worked on it together?"
"Sure. They spent most of their off-time working on it. My son became a pretty good welder and body man from all the time he worked on that car with your dad."
"We didn't have a garage at my house," I said. "Where did they do all the work on the car?"
Sol smiled. "Right out back here. There's a stand alone garage; it was a bit tight with the car in it but they didn't seem to mind all that much."
"Sol, I want you to think hard on this," I said. "When my dad and your son were ambushed and killed that night, was the car in your garage?"
"Yes, it was."
"Yep. The engine had broken a connecting rod when they'd taken it up the street a few days before. They were in the process of pulling the engine out when they were both killed."
I rubbed my tired eyes. "Is it possible your son knew someone was on to him..."
"I'd say highly probable from the way he was acting. He was nervous, always looking over his shoulder everywhere he went. The only time I ever saw that before was when a cop was dirty and IAD was closing in on him."
"So, was he dirty?" Sabina asked.
I glared at her.
Sol waved it off with a slight smile. "No, young lady he wasn't dirty. He'd had his chances, but he believed in what he was doing and always turned the money down when they offered it to him."
"Sol, about that file your son kept..."
"I don't know anything more than what I already told you."
"I know. You said when he was killed, you went to look for the file but it was gone..."
"Like the crew of the Mary Celeste..."
"You checked the house..."
"From the attic to the crawl space; not a sign of it!"
"Did you check the garage?"
"No," Sol shook his head. "I didn't check the garage!"
I frowned, chewed my bottom lip for a moment.
"You don't think that file's still out there in the garage do you?" Sabina asked me.
"Not in the garage, no. If it had been in the garage, a competent person doing even a cursory search would've found it..."
"And these guys were good. Everything was put back exactly where it should've been," Sol advised.
"Then that leaves...what?"
"The car!" Elaine said.
"The car?" Sabina glanced at her.
"In all your years with the ISP, how many times did you do evidentiary searches of peoples cars, unless it was specified?" Elaine asked.
"Hardly ever. People just don't keep the incriminating types of things we were looking for in their...cars..."
"That was over twenty years ago, Elaine. That car has probably been cleaned, gutted, rebuilt, and rebuilt again in that amount of time," Sabina offered.
"Not really," I said. "I completed the restoration when I got old enough. Since then I haven't done very much with it, other than a new engine five years ago and a few repairs when it needed them."
"But still, isn't that a bit far-fetched, thinking that a file from twenty some odd years ago might still be in the car somewhere?"
"Not really. They're still pulling artifacts up from what remains of the Titanic, to this day..."
"And if something is sealed properly to keep moisture out, papers can last forever," Elaine added.
"There is one way to find out for certain," Sol interjected.
"Check the car and see."
"Precisely," Sol nodded.
I called Mike Lindstrom at home from the limousine as we drove towards Glenoaks Boulevard in the nearby City of Glendale. He agreed to meet us at his shop and was waiting by the door as we pulled into the parking lot.
"Hey Chandler!" he said, a touch of a smile on his face. "Man, this had better be good 'cause I was having me the best dream..."
"I'll make it up to you, I promise," I said.
Once inside with the doors securely locked I introduced him to everyone. Mike seemed to be very impressed by both Sabina and Elaine and hardly looked at me as I introduced them.
"And this is Sol Levine. His son was my dad's last partner."
"Sol," Mike shook hands with him. After much discussion with Sol, we'd persuaded him to come with us. One old man with one old gun wasn't any type of match for two professional killers and I guess Sol had been around long enough to know his limitations.
"Okay," Mike said, turning to me. "You said something about there being some papers hidden in your car..."
"Yeah. We have reason to believe that shortly before my dad and Sol's son were killed, they might have stowed a file, sealed in an airtight container, somewhere inside my car."
Mike frowned. "Chandler, I did all the restoration work on that sucker for you. My guys completely removed the body from the frame, removed and replaced the head-liner, and even replaced the foam in the seats. If there was a file in there, anywhere, we would have found it. We didn't."
"What if it wasn't inside the car, in the interior I mean..."
"The frame rails?"
Mike looked skeptical. "Twenty years is a long time. The frame rails on these cars were hollow box tubing, with egress points for a body jig located on all four corners. Those points are holes about one inch in diameter. Do you have any idea how much water and dirt a one inch diameter hole can let inside of something?"
"Sol's son was a welder. He and my dad worked on that car every chance they got. They knew the file they had was hot stuff and knew they couldn't hide it in any of the usual places. It's got to be somewhere inside one of those frame rails..."
Mike sighed. "If it is, let's hope we find more than scraps of paper."
We followed Mike through his shop and into a walled off work bay. He flipped on harsh overhead flourescent lights...
"Holy Christ!" I said. My old Chevy with it's dented doors and bent sheet metal had all four of those doors, the hood and trunk lids, and the interior removed. I faced Mike. "What happened?"
"It was supposed to be surprise," he said. "I was getting a couple of my best guys to fix her up for you..."
"That's great Mike, but I can't afford..."
He waved my protestations away. "I can't let you drive this nice old ride around with it looking like a reject from the demolition derby!"
"Mike?" Sabina interjected. "Do you have an office in this building?"
"Yeah. The staircase beside the door where we came in..."
"Anybody want coffee?" she asked.
"I could use a cup," Mike nodded.
"I'll take that as a yes. Come on Elaine. Sol, you want to come with us or stay with them?"
"They killed my son," he said. "I'll stay here."
Sabina nodded and walked away with Elaine.
"Man, you been holding out on me!" Mike said as they left. "That Sabina is a real hotty!"
"Yeah, too bad she's only into the non-Y-chromosome scene."
"What?! You mean she and Elaine are..."
"No, just Sabina."
Mike shook his head. "Man!! Let's get this thing up on the lift and see what we can find before I start crying my eyes out!!"
An hours worth of tapping with a flat faced body hammer and searching with a flashlight got us nothing. I was starting to get frustrated and almost to the point of thinking I'd taken off on a wild goose chase when Mike frowned, then chewed his bottom lip thoughtfully...
"What is it?" I asked.
"Get the chasis manual off the table over there and let me have a look at it."
I brought the book to him, stood silently as he flipped through it until he found what he was looking for. "Bingo!!"
"These old cop cars from back then had a lot of structural steel added so they could stand up to the rigors of all those crappy roads," Mike mused. "The doors, the floor pans, engine mounts and most everything else had extra welds or metal added to them. But," Mike grinned, "nowhere in this book do I find an extra box rail running inboard of the primary rail on a diagonal axis to the floor support under the rear of the front seat..."
"Let me see that!" I looked at the floor-pan of the car, then studied the diagram in the book. "Shit, you're right!"
"Umm hmm. This little sucker right here!" he tapped it with the flat headed hammer. Instead of a hollow 'ring' the box rail 'thonked'. "Sounds to me like there's something in there!"
"Why don't we take a look?"
"If you would kindly hand me my cutting torch..."
The section of removed box rail fell to the floor with a resounding crash. Mike hurriedly picked it up with a pair of tongs.
"I hope we didn't crispy fry what's in here..."
He held the section of rail vertically and gave it a swift shake. As we watched a small, plastic-covered sleeve fell onto the floor.
I reached for it, then picked it up.
"Is it all right?"
The thick plastic case was a little warm but appeared un-harmed.
"Man, what is this plastic?!" I said, after fighting to open it for a minute or so.
"It's been vacuum sealed. Try this," Mike handed me a knife.
I slit the plastic along one seam, pulled the case from the plastic. I opened the case.
"It's an old style mini-disc..."
"It fits the time frame we were talking about..."
"I hope you have something that'll play it," Mike said. "They haven't made anything to decode one of those in quite awhile!"
I smiled. "I think I might have it covered."
"So what now?" Mike asked.
"I let you get back to your nice dream..."
"C'mon Chandler, you've got to clue me in..."
"It's probably better that I don't at this point," I shook my head. "There are too many folks interested in finding me. I wouldn't want to get you or Lysette hurt."
"Good luck to anybody hurting either one of us..."
"Once I get this thing figured out, I'll tell you..."
"If that's the way you want to play it."
"I need you to do one other thing for me too..."
"You didn't see me. You haven't heard from me and you certainly don't know where I am!"
"Chandler who?" Mike said with a throaty laugh.
Sabina, Elaine, and Sol were all in Mike's office when I entered. When I held up the old style mini-disc Sol bowed his head and closed his eyes.
"Sol?" Sabina said, quietly to him.
"Stan had bought a new computer a few weeks before he was killed. He played around with it for hours, putting most of his case files on those discs. I'd forgotten that until you held that disc up just now. I'm sorry."
Sabina squeezed his shoulders with an embrace. "There's nothing to apologize for!"
"I hate being old. Nothing works the way it used to and sometimes I can't even remember my own address..."
"Sol, you put us on to all this," I said. "If it hadn't been for you tonight, I'd still be tilting at windmills!"
He nodded slightly, unconvinced.
"Mike, that's some collection of old National Geographics you have there," Elaine said, trying to lighten the mood a bit.
"Thanks," he said. "I've got every issue from the turn of the century until they ceased publication in '53."
Elaine looked puzzled for a moment...
"What is it Elaine?"
"There's something about those old magazines..."
"Chandler?" I'd almost forgotten Kenny Baltimore was still on the other end of the comm link.
"What is it Kenny?"
"We got trouble..."
"They figure out our little ruse all ready?" I asked, joking.
"No, this is far more serious," he continued. "I've been monitoring the communications relay for the ACRP while you and Mike were busy, just to keep an eye on things. A message just went out ordering all their people back to work first thing tomorrow morning..."
"It gets better. The LAPD's been told to get off the site..."
"How the hell did Governor Taylor pull this one off?!" Sabina demanded.
"I'm trying to get the details now," Kenny said. "I think you'd better get back here, Chandler. This whole thing is starting to implode!"
"Son-of-a-bitch!" I swore, wondering what the hell else could go wrong
Kenny was in the conference room with the triangularly shaped table when we arrived back at the Centrex. He looked as harried as I'd ever seen him, with dark circles under his eyes and his long hair going in three different directions at once. I realized I was probably pushing him too hard and tried to cool my anger when he rose to greet us.
"What happened?" I asked.
"Is there anything that's not in this case?" I asked, rhetorically.
Kenny managed a smile. "It seems that when Governor Taylor declared martial law all those years ago, one of the little looked at provisions was one allowing him to suspend judicial authority in times of crisis..."
"What?!" Sabina asked.
"I checked myself. Section 32(a) gives him pretty much carte blanche to suspend constitutionally elected judges and to supercede their authority, should an emergency arise..."
"You tell me," Kenny shrugged. "The whole thing is written so nebulously that he can basically call a hang nail an emergency. And make it stick!"
"Jesus Christ!" Sabina said, shaking her head.
I mulled over what Kenny had just told me.
"Kenny, how difficult would it be for me to do a search on the 'frame from this room?" Elaine asked.
"Not difficult at all. You ever use an interface controller?"
"I'm not very proficient with one, but..."
Kenny smiled. "It's simple once you get the hang of it..."
I joined Sabina by the far end of the table. "What do you think?"
"About Governor Taylor? I think he wants to bury the evidence. And us along with it if he gets the chance."
"Agreed. With the police out of the picture, you can bet your sweet ass that by darkness tomorrow, all traces of whatever's buried up there will be gone..."
"And without that evidence..."
"We're screwed," I said.
"You still up for that little trip you were planning to take earlier this evening?"
"Now more than ever!" I nodded. "I could also use some help..."
Sabina smiled. "I'm sorry about coming down on you so hard!"
"Don't be. You were absolutely right; I was being an asshole..."
I chuckled. "If I said anything to hurt you..."
"Tough as nails!" Sabina answered. "If you don't mind though, I think I'm going to go change. For this Cinderella, the ball is over!"
"You did good out there tonight."
I rejoined Elaine and Kenny. Kenny turned to face me.
"What is she up to?" I asked, indicating Elaine who was now seated with the interface controller on her head.
"She didn't say."
"Oh, I've got an antique for you," I pulled the mini-disc from my jacket pocket and handed it to him.
Kenny turned the disc over in his hand, a faraway look in his eyes. "These were great old pieces of technology, built back in the day when the average person out there could afford to have a private machine of his or her own. The things you could do back then..."
"Will you be able to read it?"
"It'd be a lot easier if I had my van; without it, I'll have to jury rig something. It'll take me a couple of hours," Kenny said. He glanced at Sol who was sitting in one of the chairs at the table, staring at his hands. "How's Sol doing?"
I started to reply...
"There!" Elaine called out. "I knew it!!"
I glanced at her, puzzled.
"Kenny, how do I transfer files to the graphics buffer again?"
"It's simple. Go down two, across one..."
I tuned them out and went to Sol. He glanced up as I took a seat on the edge of the table.
"I'm all right Chandler..."
"We're very close to nailing these bastards!" I offered.
Sol nodded. "Will it make much difference in the grand scheme of things? Stan and your parents are still dead. Nothing we do will bring them back."
"No, nothing we do will bring them back," I agreed. "Maybe they'll rest easier though, knowing that their killers will face justice."
Sol met my eyes. "Thank you."
Sabina came in the door, changed once more into the blue and black, night-time fatigues. "That's much better!"
I smiled. "The dress really did bring out the blue in your eyes!"
Sabina laughed. As she tied her hair into a pony tail, the phone nearest her rang.
"Holy shit, you're right!" Kenny exclaimed. "They look almost exactly the same!"
I frowned again, wondering what they were talking about.
"Chandler, phone for you," Sabina tapped me on the shoulder.
"Phone? Who is it?"
I took the handset. "Talia?"
"Ch-Chandler?" It was Talia's voice, strained with emotion.
"Talia, what's wrong?"
"It's T-Thom. Oh my God!" she sobbed.
A chill went through me. "Talia? Talia, what happened?"
She couldn't talk.
"Shh. Shh Talia.. You need to calm down a little and tell me what's happened."
"I-I'll try. Let me catch my breath!"
She was silent for an agonizingly long moment. I noticed that the room had gotten very quiet and all eyes were on me.
She took a long breath. "I'll try to hang on..."
"Okay. Tell me about Thom..."
She took a second, longer breath. "S-some men stopped him on the street. He's been arrested!"
"Arrested?! Arrested for what?!
"Th-they found out he swiped that sample of explosive from the lab," she explained fighting to hold on to her emotions once more.
"That's not too serious a charge after what's happened. A good attorney can get him reinstated in no time."
"He's also being charged with sedition..."
"The investigators found-found-had-had information tying Thom to some radical group trying to overthrow Governor Taylor. He's being charged with treason!"
"Jesus Christ! Thom working with a group trying to overthrow the government?! That's completely absurd!!"
"It gets better!" Talia had regained her composure; the tears were replaced by a burning anger. "Just before he was arrested, a friend in the department called to warn me; there's an arrest warrant out for me too, charging me with conspiracy to commit treason!"
"Where are you Talia?" I asked.
"I'm not sure exactly...I jumped on one of the 'lev's after I dumped my car."
"Take a look around and tell me what you see."
Sabina moved in close to me. "What's going on?"
I held up one finger. "Talia?"
"I'm still here," she answered. "I'm in a phone booth so I can't see much. There's some kind of sculpture in the center of a large solarium..."
"Yeah. The sculpture is of a pair of hands letting go of a white dove..."
"Sounds like you're in the main-line station just off Wilshire Boulevard..."
"That fits. I've been riding around for hours, trying to think of what to do. I finally thought to call you," Talia said.
"Has anybody noticed you?"
"Just some lady who was pissed off because I was hogging the phone!"
I smiled. "Okay. Do you know how to get to the Centrex?"
"I've-yeah, I can find it."
"Get here as soon as you can. I'll leave word with Fez's people you're coming!"
"Chandler, what are we going to do?! They execute people for treason..."
"For right now Talia, I need you to keep yourself together and get down here. You fall apart, somebody's going to notice you..."
"...and if somebody notices me, I'm dead," she finished the thought.
"That was a rather poor choice of words on your part, but you're essentially correct," I said.
"Okay, I'll get there as quickly as I can," she said, hanging up.
I replaced the phone, took a deep breath and rubbed my eyes. "Thom Pressler's been arrested."
"What?!" Kenny said, not believing his ears.
"Someone turned evidence over to the police tying him to a radical group trying to overthrow Governor Taylor. He's being charged with treason. There's also an arrest warrant out for Talia, even as we speak."
"Man, this just keeps getting better and better!" Kenny said, anger in his voice. "Thom Pressler being charged with treason is the dumbest thing I've ever heard! Thom's so square he probably sleeps in LAPD pajama's!"
"It's called a pogrom," Sol suddenly announced.
"Sol?" Elaine asked.
"A consolidation of power," he continued. "You round up all your enemies-real or imagined-and put them away. Once that's done, there are no voices of dissent. The Russians were masters of it when my parents were your age. The U.N. mid century was quite adept at it, as well."
"And Governor Taylor is expected to announce his candidacy for Republic President this evening," I said. "With little or no dissent, anybody care to wager how large his winning margin will be?"
"This is all starting to sound like something out of the history books, the old Nazi regime..." Kenny said.
We were silent for a long moment.
"Chandler?" Elaine called my name.
I glanced up at her. "What is it?"
"I need you to take a look at something..."
"Is it what you and Kenny were working on just now?"
She nodded. "It's kind of important."
"Show me what you have."
The room lights dimmed slightly. In the center of the table the holo projector switched on. A vertical image appeared, rotated to the horizontal and began to take on depth. Once the depth was there the image went back to a vertical axis and hung in the air, at eye level. We were staring at a lush mountain valley. Dotted around that valley were a series of oblong shaped ditches with earth moving equipment parked nearby.
I blinked and met Elaine's eyes across the table. "Where did you get these photos?"
"Ever since I first saw the ones you showed me, something struck me about those photographs..."
"I remember you saying there was something familiar about them, like you'd seen them before," Sabina said.
"Exactly! When we were in Mike Lindstrom's office earlier tonight I saw all of his old National Geographic magazines. My parents used to subscribe to it as well and they had an attic full of the things. When I was a teenager, I went up there one afternoon and started looking through them."
The image changed to a high altitude shot of the valley. The piles of dirt could be seen, with what appeared to be the same (or similar) construction equipment at work.
"The holos we're looking at right now-they aren't images of the ACRP, are they?"
"No Chandler," Elaine shook her head. "These were taken in the early 1990's in a place halfway around the world called Bosnia."
"Bosnia? I've never even heard of it," Kenny said.
"What was in those holes?" Sabina asked.
Without speaking, Elaine pulled up another image. A large army truck was parked at the edge of one of the holes; two men (prisoners) in ragged, blood stained clothes were throwing bodies from the covered truck onto more bodies, already tossed into the hole.
Another image...the two prisoners who had been unloading bodies were now on their knees at the edge of the same hole. Behind them, two military officers smiled, the barrels of their pistols less than a foot from the back of the prisoners heads. One of the prisoners was starting to fall forward and I realized that he'd been shot...
"Oh Christ!!" Kenny said.
There were about a dozen more photos and holos, some extremely graphic.
"The press at the time called it 'ethnic cleansing', a nice, antiseptic kind of phrase for the mass murder of innocent men, women, and children who were killed simply because they had different religious beliefs than those in power..."
"Are you saying that's what we have here?" Kenny didn't want to believe it.
"I don't know," Elaine shrugged. "We have a massive project, undertaken in secrecy. Evidence suggests that whatever was buried there 20 years ago, is now in danger of being swept away for good."
"This can't be possible..."
"Tell that to Gail, Kenny," Sabina said.
Kenny gulped, his skin paler than before.
"Elaine, where did this evidence come from?" I asked.
"From many sources. The satellites Kenny was talking about. Spies on the ground. Hell, you saw the photos I put up-there were soldiers standing there posing for their buddies with a foot on a pile of bodies, like a hunter would do after killing his first big deer!"
"How many people were killed?" Kenny asked.
"Tens of thousands. No one really knows because there were places the local governments wouldn't let authorities into. Some guesses ran into the hundreds of thousands," Elaine answered.
"And these numbers were small compared to what the Nazi's did," Sol said. "At one place called Babi Yar 60,000 to 80,000 people were murdered..."
"Kenny, we need the information on that mini-disc," I said. "While you're working on that, run a search through the populace data-bank from 20 years or so ago. Gather whatever statistics you can on missing or disappeared individuals-age, race, gender. I want to know what kind of numbers we're talking about."
"I can give you one number without even having to check the data-bases: 2744 homeless and dispossessed people who were ordered from the city when Governor Taylor started his 'clean-up'."
"They were escorted from the city limits and told never to come back. The ones who did were...shipped upstate..." I wanted to believe my words but they sounded hollow in my ears.
"Did you ever see any of them come back?" Kenny asked.
"I'll run the numbers," Kenny said with a determined look.
I turned to Sabina. "Get your gear and meet me on the heli-pad in thirty minutes."
I was standing in the deserted top floor room, staring at the Alice-pack lying on the table. The windows across the way rattled as thunder ebbed and flowed through the city...
"Hmm?" I turned to find Elaine Ford staring quietly at me, a look of concern on her face. I offered her a little smile. "What's up, Elaine?"
"I have to," I nodded. "We need photographic proof if nothing else, before they can cover their tracks..."
"Turn over what we have to the ISP."
"A wanted fugitive accused of murdering a half dozen people? I hardly think they'd believe me!"
"So what, you're going to rush off and quite probably get yourself killed?"
"What am I supposed to do, Elaine? If you have any suggestions that'll work, I'll be very happy to listen to them!"
She crossed the room, all elegance and grace in the long silver gown. For the first time I noticed just how beautiful she was, noticed the tears threatening to roll down her cheeks. Her eyes met mine and for a moment I wished-I wished I didn't have to go.
"Elaine, I'm not that easy to kill," I said. "In fact, I'm likely giving Governor Taylor's people fits right about now!"
Elaine took my hands in hers, trying to smile as she did so. "You can be a trying individual, even on a good day!"
I smiled down at her. "Why do you think nobody will have me?!"
She closed her eyes for a moment, then looked down at our clasped hands. "That's not true. I..."
A single tear slipped from her left eye and slid down her cheek. "I always hoped...you know...that you and I could...but your heart belonged to someone else!"
I lifted her left hand to my lips and kissed it. "You're very special to me..."
"Shit! Not that line, Chandler!" she suddenly exploded. "I hate that! It's on a par with 'I love you as a friend' another male, easy way out!!"
"No, shut up for a minute!" she was crying, tears of anger and regret, tears that most men in my position wouldn't or couldn't understand. "You always have to talk; not this time, not until I get this out!" Elaine quieted slightly. "When I first met you, there was...I was drawn to you. I'd never met anyone like you before, strong and confident, but vulnerable when he had to be. I see how you are with your friends, the way you care about them and...GOD I wish you could care about me the way you did-do-about Velma!!"
I held her face in my hands, using my thumbs to brush away those tears. "Sabina kinda' told me there was something more between us..."
"That's because she's a woman, not some thick-headed man who can't figure it out for himself!!"
"I can be a little bit dense sometimes!"
"Sometimes?!" Elaine smiled through her tears. "You should've married Velma three years ago..."
I nodded. "Too late now I guess..."
"Chandler, I know I'm no raging beauty compared to someone like Sabina or Gail; I just wish we could have a chance..."
There was something in her eyes, a fire, a diamond bright sparkle that I'd seen in Velma's eyes a hundred times. Elaine slid into my arms and I kissed her, long and slow. We both reveled in the contact, wanting more but knowing there wasn't time...
"Oh God!" Elaine sighed as she broke the kiss.
"I have to do this..."
Elaine was crying as we kissed again. I could feel her heart thump against my chest, feel the warmth of her in my arms. For a moment nothing mattered except Elaine and I wondered why I'd never allowed myself...
Someone coughed behind me.
Elaine broke the kiss and looked towards the door. "I guess it's that time..."
I glanced over my shoulder. Sabina was standing there, a heavy caliber assault rifle slung across her body.
"You two need another minute?" There was something in her voice, a gentle query that said everything in five words.
I met Elaine's eyes. "I promise you, I will come back..."
Elaine kissed me, then pushed me away. "Sabina, try to keep him from getting his ass shot off!"
Sabina nodded. "I'll do that!"
I picked up the Alice-pack and joined Sabina at the door. "I'll see you later, Elaine. I promise."
"I'll be here."
I slung the pack over one shoulder and followed Sabina down the corridor to the stairs leading up to the roof. At the roof landing, Sabina grasped my arm.
"You sure about this?" she asked, giving me one final out.
"We don't have a choice," I said.
I'd never been more glad to step out onto solid ground. The helicopter trip to the ACRP had been like a roller coaster; if it hadn't been for the skill of the pilot we would've crashed a dozen times, buffeted about by high winds, heavy rain, and the lightning storm.
Once on the ground the pilot shut the engines down. As the twin turbines wound to silence, I looked around for Sabina. She was near the back of the helicopter, bent over with both hands on her knees. I didn't have to ask what she was doing; my own stomach was still doing nasty little somersaults and I could taste bile in my throat.
"You okay?" I asked.
She nodded as thunder boomed through the valley. "I'll live. I vote we walk back, though."
I chuckled. "After that ride, I'm with you!"
"Let's get our equipment unloaded," she said as she spat.
Five minutes later we had everything out.
"We came loaded for bear," Sabina offered.
She was right. Each of us had a rifle and two pistols, along with a pair of light-weight, anti-flash night-vision glasses. I had the seven pounds of plastique made into bombs inside the Alice-pack and Sabina carried a high resolution video camera and it's transmitter in a hard pack on her back.
She adjusted the straps on the pack until it fit more comfortably. "It's been awhile since I last carried one of these..."
"Me too," I said. I pulled the radio transmitter from my belt, flipped the switch to 'ON' and fit the mic-boom into place. "Let's see what kind of signal we have-Kenny, how do you read us?"
"Not too badly," he replied. "There's a little more noise on the channel than usual, but this storm is kicking ass right now."
"Tell that to our stomachs!"
Kenny laughed. "Rough trip?"
"So rough I'm wondering who's bright idea this was..."
"That would be yours, Boss!"
"I did my best," the pilot called.
"Believe me, I know!"
"The microwave relay is set," he advised us. "Anything you record will be sent back to home base."
"Got it. Do you think anybody heard us land?"
"The way that storm was raging when we set down, I doubt it. Just in case though, I'm initializing full countermeasures. Anybody not wearing an identifier had better be Superman because I'm shooting first and asking questions later."
"Roger that! We've got a ways to walk so I guess we better get started."
"Keep us advised," Kenny said over the comm link.
The combination of the pouring rain and the tangled landscape made for tough going. We'd barely covered a mile in one hour and I was winded, tired, and wondering what the hell I was doing out in the middle of nowhere in the middle of a forest full of trees in the worst lightning storm I'd seen in ten years.
"We get back, I've got to get in better shape than this!" I gasped.
"I thought I was in better shape than this!" Sabina joked. "How much farther do we have to go?"
"About another half mile. At least most of that is downhill!"
"Thank God for small favors!"
We continued on in silence for awhile. A particularly loud roll of thunder seemed to echo and re-echo through the hills around us, followed by long fingers of bright violet lightning cutting the sky.
"Ouch!" Sabina said.
I stopped walking, turned around to face her. "You okay?"
"Yeah. The glasses went to overload just then. I'll be seeing spots for awhile."
"Kenny, you out there?"
The comm link popped and crackled and I thought I could hear Kenny's voice buried under all that noise.
All I got back was the same burst of noise.
"So much for communications," I offered, to the trees at hand.
"Damn! Let's hope the video up-link will work..."
"Kenny said it would..."
"He said the same thing about the comm link."
"Something I've been wondering about Chandler."
"Shoot." We were walking again and we did appear to be going down hill.
"How did you ever get hooked up with a common little crook like him?"
I smiled. "I busted him when I was on the force. There was somebody selling F/R technology in my area..."
"Yeah. As you know Fantasy/Reality technology is tightly controlled. When it started popping up all over the place I dug around a little and found out it was Kenny."
"So you arrested him for it?"
"Hunh unh. By that time I knew I was going to leave the force. I saw what Kenny could do with a box full of I/C's and chips, so I cut him a big break. I busted him for possessing unlicenced technology..."
"But he was building the stuff. Probably with stolen parts and schematics..."
"You could've sent him to prison for 20 years," Sabina said.
"A fat lot of good Kenny would've done me locked away inside prison," I said. "He served 18 months. When he got out, he owed me one. He's worked for me ever since."
"You know he's into a lot of illegal stuff..."
"Yeah. Shit, half the stuff he does for me could get us both locked up for those 20 years you were just talking about!"
"You do that a lot, don't you?"
"If you mean working for favors, yeah. It's come in handy, more than once!"
Sabina followed along behind me for a moment, silent. "You know you're going to have your hands full when you get back..."
"There was a lot of emotion in that kiss. Those kisses."
"It just felt right," I said.
"Just make sure you didn't kiss her for all the wrong reasons. She really cares about you."
I nodded, pointed ahead. "Looks like we're almost there."
I stopped, felt Sabina slide in beside me. We were at the edge of the forest, overlooking a large bowl shaped valley cut out of the local hills. It stretched away in front of us, farther than I could see in the green glow of the night-vision glasses.
"I didn't think it'd be this big," Sabina said.
"Yeah. This is going to be like looking for a needle in a stack full of needles."
"I'll start the video running..."
I walked to the edge and saw we were looking at more than a twenty foot drop to the valley floor. The ground below us was cris-crossed by dozer and earthmoving equipment tracks, but appeared to be solid enough to walk on...
"How close are we to the area in those satellite photos?" I asked.
"About two thirds of a mile that-away,"Sabina pointed north, north-east.
"I think we're going to have to circle around to the other side and see if we can find another way down. We go down this way, half the embankment's liable to cave in on top of us."
"Not good," Sabina said.
"No," I said, "not good at all!"
"Chandler? How do you read me?" Kenny's voice suddenly burst through the static, filling my left ear.
"About time you got back. What did you do, go have dinner?"
He laughed. "The atmosphere is so ionized, I don't know how long I'll be able to stay on with you..."
"At least with the atmosphere so loused up, it'll make tracing our communications almost impossible!"
"Anybody manages to trace this, they had better be a damned sight better than me. And that ain't easy!" he answered. "What's your location?"
"We're in the area. At the moment we're looking for a way..." A wash of static filled my headset once more. "Kenny? Kenny, you there?"
"Gone again?" Sabina asked.
"Can we take a break for a minute?"
"I could use one myself," I nodded.
"I thought one of the great things about So-Cal was the fact that it never rains down here," Sabina said. She'd removed her black cap and was wringing the water from it.
I smiled. "All the old songs were wrong..."
"Now he tells me!"
I started to say something further when I felt the ground under our feet give a little shudder. I met Sabina's eyes.
Before I could get my hand up to reach for her, the ground gave a second, harder jolt. Sabina let out a piercing cry as she fell away from me, swept into the darkness below. I turned, trying to get away from the earth-slide, but I felt my feet go out from under me. I was falling, end over end as rich, wet earth surged over me, insinuating it's way into my ears, under my clothes, trying to enter my mouth and nose to take my breath away. I somehow managed to get a hand over my nose and mouth, hoping I wouldn't be crushed by some gigantic boulder or swept along tree.
Silence. I tried to take a breath and felt something warm and wet enter my mouth. For a moment I panicked, unsure. I was...on my stomach? On my back? On my side? Which way was up and which down? I moved my legs but they felt heavy, almost stuck. Then I felt movement outside of myself, heard a voice calling my name.
Hands dug the earth away from my face.
"Chandler?" It was Sabina, covered in filth, a jagged cut over her right eye oozing blood. Her night-vision glasses were gone, but from the green glow around her I could tell I had somehow managed to keep mine.
I gasped for air and immediately started coughing, practically retching the mud and water from my mouth and lungs. It took...I don't know how long for me to at last get my breath. Once I had, I helped Sabina as she worked to free me.
We dug me out and she helped me to my feet.
"You okay?" she asked.
I nodded. "Yeah. You?"
"I've lost most of my equipment. The camera pack's gone and I think I might have a dislocated shoulder. A broken rib or two as well from the feel of them," Sabina said, wincing with pain.
I did a quick look around with the night-vision glasses. If the camera pack and the rest of her equipment was there, it was under four to five feet of mud. "Nothing..."
"I think we were lucky. We could've been killed."
"I need to get you to a doctor..."
"I'll live!" Sabina answered. "We came here to do a job; let's do it!"
"No," I said. "This whole thing has gone sideways! The equipment we needed to get the proof is gone. You're hurt and bleeding and...we'll have to get what we came for later!"
"There is no later!"
"Take a look around us! They won't be able to get bulldozers or other equipment back in here for days. As saturated as this ground is, they'd get buried up to the axles!"
Sabina seemed to think my words through.
"We give what we have to the media. We give it to whomever we think might listen. We get it out there for everybody to see and the people will want to know what the truth is..."
"If they care..."
"They'll care because we won't let them forget about it. Let's get out of here!" I said.
"We..." The words died on her lips as her eyes came up and looked at me. "Chandler..."
I heard the sound, the far off crack of a rifle shot. Sabina's eyes were wide and slid down to look at the front of her shirt. Something had burst through the material; as I watched a second, bright red gout exploded from her, pitching her forward. The sound of the shot followed as I reached out and caught her body and lowered her to the ground.
"Oh Jesus! Oh NO!"
High intensity lights flooded the area and I could see people running towards me. I went for the gun in the holster around my ankle, was bringing it up and around as the foot caught me. The booted foot delivered a blow to the side of my head, spinning me around and sending me face first into the mud beside Sabina. My eyes fixed on her. Sabina's blue eyes were focused on nothingness; with one final escape of air she was still.
Rough hands grasped my clothes and lifted me to my feet.
"This him?" A voice demanded.
"That's the fuck, yeah!" A second answered.
"What does Briggs want us to do with him?"
"He said bring him back to the site."
"What about the bitch?"
"Yeah. Real dead."
"Leave her for the crows. We'll put her with the rest of them when we get the chance!"
A punch sent me spiraling into darkness.
"We're still waiting for the arrival of Governor John Taylor. Governor Taylor is expected to announce that he will be seeking the Presidency of the California Republic, in a speech given to long-time supporters at this downtown hotel..."
"Man, will somebody cut that shit off!"
"Hey, that's our Commander we're talking about..."
"Commander shit! I'm doing this for the money, not for some overblown idea of racial purity! The last asshole who tried that racial purity deal ended up dead in a ditch out behind his Reichstag. Some dude by the name of Hitler..."
"Well I believe in the cause!"
Laughter. "You would!"
A third voice. "What's the matter with setting high ideals and following them?"
"Pie in the sky! How many people you think would follow this guy if they found out what we really got buried out there?"
A door opened.
A new voice. "You all look comfortable enough!"
"Yes Mr. Briggs..."
"Good. Get out!!"
"Get the fuck out of here!!"
"What about him?"
"He's one man," Briggs answered. "If you incompetent fools tied him securely enough, I shouldn't have a problem!"
Silence again. I don't know for how long.
"Wake up!" A gloved hand slapped my face.
My eyes didn't want to move.
Ice-cold water splashed me and I gasped. "Wha-what?"
"There. That's much better."
I looked up at him, my head still fuzzy.
"Chandler Harrison I presume?"
Darien Briggs smiled down at me. "You're a very difficult man to kill, Mr. Harrison!"
I blinked. The side of my face hurt and I could feel dried, crusted blood along my jaw line. "I'm glad I put a monkey wrench into your well laid plans."
"No monkey wrench. This had to happen, sooner or later. All we had to do was sit here and wait for you to show up. Quite clever really, us ordering the police off the site-we knew you couldn't resist the temptation to come roaring in here to save the day!"
"The games not over yet," I said.
"I think it is," Briggs nodded. "Most of the players in our little drama are dead. The ones who aren't, soon will be once you tell us where they are."
"You don't actually think I'm going to tell you, do you?"
"Probably not. Talia Pressler though..."
"Talia?! What the hell have you done to her?!"
"Hmm. I see I've touched a sore point with you..."
"Where is she?!"
"A couple of my men have her. Right now they haven't done anything to her. But..." Briggs' smile was cold, "...she's a nice looking lady. The two who have her haven't been with very many nice looking ladies in their lives, human ones anyway. I'm certain they're looking forward to 'entertaining' her, especially after missing your wet-back friend the other night!"
I bit back a reply. Briggs was trying to push my buttons and I needed to stay calm, to try and figure a way out of the situation I was in. "They're probably a couple of limp dicks like you!"
Briggs' punch was lightening fast and brutal.
I tasted blood and spat it out, aiming for his shoes. "T-touch a sore point!"
"Not really!" Briggs shook his head. "I just wanted to do that. I've been wanting to do that since this whole thing began!"
"Take your best shot!"
Briggs studied me for a long moment, then narrowed his gaze. "You're not half as tough as you think! I can do things to you that will have you confessing to being Jack the Ripper. You'd believe it too!"
"If you're so sure of yourself, how about a fair fight?" I offered.
He flexed the fingers of his right hand. "What kind of fair fight?"
"You and me, one on one..."
"You haven't heard the payoff yet."
"I'm all ears," he said.
"If I take you, I walk..."
"Oh really? What happens if I take you?"
"Then I give you what you want."
Briggs crossed his arms over his chest. I could see him mulling it over. "I don't think you'd do it. You hold honor and integrity too highly; you'd never sell out your friends..."
"It was worth a shot," I said, meeting his eyes. "I figured you'd be a gutless coward and not take me up on the offer!"
Briggs hit me again, harder than before. "See Harrison, I've got this nice dossier on you. I know about all those karate lessons you took while growing up. What level black belt are you again-an eighth?"
"Sorry, I don't go in for all that martial arts crap. Not unless you count the ancient one of ching- ching POW. I'm sure you've heard of it!"
"Stop it, you're killing me with your jokes!"
Briggs smiled. "So, you gonna' tell me what I want to know?"
"Go piss up a flagpole!"
Briggs chuckled. "Oh well, I guess my boys will get to play after all. I hope she's a screamer, because I really like screamers..."
"Get you off, do they?"
"Speaking of screamers, you should've heard Alicia Denniston. Boy, if she didn't sound like a cat caught on an electric fence when we were doing her! Of course, at the time she was! Jumper cables, steel wool and a car battery are so useful in situations like those!"
"Is Alicia dead?"
"Out there with the rest of them. Bunch of low-life trash, sponging off of society. That's going to change though, once we get real power!"
Briggs looked at me, then smiled again. "He had the right idea you know. He wanted to save his people from the un-pure."
"History has judged him to be a mass murderer, a lunatic with delusions of grandeur. Kind of like your boss!"
"Oh, my boss is just a catalyst!" Briggs said. "Once people see what we want to accomplish, they'll fall in line."
"White is right?"
"And California is for-humans...white humans."
"Yes. We'll take the help the other races offer. Once we have the power, we'll deal with them too."
"You're still forgetting one teensy-weensy little thing!"
"And that would be?"
"If you have a dossier on me like you say, then you undoubtedly know about Kenny Baltimore..."
"I'm sure he's probably deciphered Stan Levine's file by now. And, I'm also pretty sure I've missed my deadline for checking in with him. Before I left, I told him if he didn't hear from me by ten o'clock, to go ahead and put Stan Levine's complete file up on the matrix. If you have a link here, we can probably take a look..."
"Stan Levine's file?" Briggs said. "That was an interesting night. Your father wouldn't lay down and die; he kept fighting, killed two of my best people! It was kind of sweet actually the way your mother died, holding his hand like that! It tugged at my heartstrings for a minute until I put a bullet into the back of her head!"
I closed my eyes.
"You want to give me a hint where the file was all this time?"
I met his eyes, stared into them. "In my car. My dad and Stan were restoring it. I guess Stan figured out you guys were coming after him and he put it there, just in case."
Briggs removed a .45 caliber pistol from under his jacket. "It hardly changes anything. We don't succeed this time, there will be others. If not John Taylor, someone better will come along..."
"It'll be a little difficult mobilizing an army from the end of a rope, don't you think?"
"You know, it's too bad Harrison because I really like you. You're like a pit-bull when you get hold of something and pit-bulls and I have a certain kinship with one another," Briggs lowered the forty-five caliber Colt between my eyes and cocked the hammer back with his left thumb.
"You could let me walk outta' here," I offered.
Briggs laughed. "I do that, they'll come after me. I got a wife and two little girls in San Mateo. You know what they'd do to my wife and precious little girls? There wouldn't be enough of them left to put in a cardboard box for burial."
"I can get you protection. Your family too."
He shook his head. "Sorry, I just do what they tell me to do. Nothing personal about it."
"You'll forgive me if I do take it personally. I've never particularly cared for someone holding a gun to my head," I said.
"That's fine," his finger tightened on the trigger and I could almost see the bullet at the other end of the cold-steel barrel. "You rationalize it however you want."
"We can't talk it over?"
"Talking's done and there's no real use in stalling. The cavalry doesn't come riding over the hill anymore like it used to in those old twentieth century pics."
"There's always hope."
"Not this time."
I saw movement behind him. Someone who looked like half a mountain had just fallen on them raised a shovel to shoulder level. "I wouldn't be so sure!"
Briggs laughed. "You don't think I'm actually going to buy your little ploy, do you?"
At the last second Briggs must've sensed someone behind him. He started to turn, but the shovel came around in a full, home-run swing. It caught him in the back of his head; Briggs stood for a moment, teetered and fell face first onto the floor.
"Asshole!!" Sabina Griffith said.
I stared in open mouthed silence. "S-Sabina?"
She offered me a pained smile. "You act like you've never seen a walking dead person before..."
"You want out of that chair or are you going to set there and gawk all night?!"
"Cut me loose!" I said. "Then help me get smiling boy here situated. I've got a special surprise for him..."
I pulled the ropes around Briggs' legs as tight as I could get them. For the first time I noticed my Alice-pack sitting on a table near the door. I went to the table, picked up the pack and carried it back to where Briggs was seated.
"What are you going to do?" Sabina asked.
I smiled. I pulled out one of my plastique bombs and pressed the battery into place. I pushed the 'set' button on the small digital clock face, then stuck the plastique onto the side of the chair.
"Briggs? Briggs, wake up!" I slapped his cheek; he stirred, murmured something out loud. "Briggs!!" I slapped him harder; his eyes opened, focused on me. "Good, you didn't kill the sonofabitch!"
"Wha-where am I?" Briggs asked.
It was my turn to smile. "I guess you should've listened to me!"
He glanced past me, his eyes widening as he saw Sabina. "You-you're dead!"
"Apparently not as dead as you thought!" I quipped. "Not as dead as I thought either, which begs the question-how are you here?"
"I'm not sure exactly," Sabina answered. "The whole thing was weird. I was someplace warm and safe, then I was back here lying in the mud again, with holes in my shirt. With NO wounds."
Briggs seemed to at last realize his predicament. His left arm was handcuffed to the chair, while his right was free.
"What the hell's going on here Harrison?!" he demanded.
"Turnabout is fair play. You got to ask me a few questions-now it's my turn!!"
"Wrong answer, pal!" I pulled another plastique bomb from the pack and casually tossed it to him. His eyes went wide as the bomb landed in his lap. "I'm sure you recognize what that is, what those are actually. There's another one on the side of the chair."
Briggs glanced down, saw the flashing numbers on the read-out. "Are you crazy?! That much plastique will blow us into the next century!"
"Blow you into the next century. We intend to be long gone before then!"
"You can't be serious about leaving me here!"
"Deadly," I nodded. "I'll give you a chance though. All you have to do is answer one question for me."
"I've got five more of these little jewels. The only bad thing about them is I've never built a bomb before so I'm not sure how well made they are. One of them could go off accidentally if I jar it. Like when I toss it to you?"
"Just one question. It's not even a difficult one!"
"What do you want to know?"
"Talia Pressler-where is she?!"
Briggs didn't answer. I reached inside the pack and pulled another bomb and showed it to him.
"I've got all night," I said.
I could see it in his eyes; Briggs was scared. He was the type of man who was always in control of everything around him. He was suddenly tied to a chair in the middle of nowhere, looking at eternity...
"My men will be back!"
"Dead. All of them," Sabina relayed. "I'm very good at my job!"
"Talia Pressler-where is she?"
"G-go piss up a flag pole!"
"Hey, that was my line!" I quipped.
"Chandler, I don't think he wants to tell us..."
"I kinda' get that impression too, Sabina. Too bad we don't have a car battery and jumper cables around..."
Sabina glanced at me. "I've got an idea."
I watched as she stood up and walked over to the door. Beside the door was a long, dark-blue rain coat. Sabina pulled the coat off the peg it was hanging on and went through the pockets.
"I love the electronics age..." she produced a small black box with a lid on it. Sabina opened the lid. "This is nice. I always wanted one."
"What do you have there Sabina?"
"It's a message-er/comm unit. A lot of people on the go like to keep one."
"Oops, this one has a pass protection feature. I can't get into it."
I smiled at Briggs. "Try 'PIT-BULL'."
Sabina keyed in the phrase-the unit gave a beep. "I'm pretty impressed. You been taking lessons from Gail?"
"No, it's just something asshole said earlier..."
"Now...all I do is scroll down through his messages and...San Pedro has a lot of warehouses in it, doesn't it?"
"Why, did you find something?"
"Umm hmm. All of his messages are standard, run of the mill stuff. Until this one-'We have the package you asked for. Awaiting further instructions.' The address is 13450 Bayshore Vista Drive."
"Bayshore Vista Drive is in a sectioned off part of old San Pedro, down by the waterfront."
"I think that might be where they're keeping Talia Pressler."
"Thank you Mr. Briggs, you've been a great help!!" I walked around the room for a moment, lost in thought. I stopped in front of several shelves, saw the hacksaw lying on one. My mind focused on it for a moment before I picked it up. I put the bomb in my other hand down, carried the hacksaw back to where Briggs was seated.
"Remember when we were talking about movies earlier..."
"You know, about the cavalry not coming over the hill in the nick of time anymore?"
"Since I got a second chance-thank you by the way Sabina-I've decided to give you one. That pair of handcuffs you're wearing belonged to my great grandfather. They were made by a company named Peerless back in the day when quality meant something..."
Briggs met and held my eyes.
"There was a movie I saw once, back when I was a kid-you are right handed aren't you?"
He shook his head. "Left..."
"Then this is going to be even more fun!" I smiled. "See, those old Peerless 'cuffs were tough-chromed, case hardened steel. I had to cut through a pair of them once, with a hacksaw. It took me a bit under five minutes and I, was under no rush!"
"What are you talking about?" Briggs' eyes were wide.
"I see you noticed the timer on my little present stuck to your chair-five minutes. If you really work at it, you ought to be able to cut through those handcuffs with a few seconds to spare. Or..." I felt my gaze narrow, "...you can cut through your wrist and have enough time to get out of the building before the bomb goes off!"
"Chandler..." Sabina said.
"Umm hmm. The great thing about being crazy is that no jury in the world is going to convict me after everything that's happened to me. I might get a few months in a psych ward somewhere, but that's it..."
"For God's sake, I have a family!!" Briggs pleaded.
"Velma Martinez had a family too!!" I said, my voice cold, deadly. "Sisters and a mother who are grieving even as we speak! Soledad Martinez has lost so much-first her husband, now a daughter, a daughter who had so much promise!"
"You have a chance Mr. Briggs! More of a chance than you gave Velma, more of a chance than you gave Alicia Denniston!"
I smiled, reached down and pressed the 'start' button on the timer. "I think I'd get 'started' if I were you-five minutes isn't a lot of time."
The rain had slowed from a torrent to just a down-pour as Sabina followed me from the building.
"You think you can get a message out to the pilot with that thing?"
"Get him in here. We've got a lot of stuff left to do tonight..."
"Do you think he'll get loose?" Sabina asked.
"That depends on him," I answered.
Sabina seemed lost in thought for a moment, then shook her head. "Nothing..."
I smiled. "The bombs probably won't go off anyway..."
We were a quarter of a mile from the building when I first heard the helicopter approaching.
"Looks like it worked," I said to Sabina.
Behind us there was a sudden flash of intensely bright light. A second and a half later the concussion wave arrived, filling the hills with man made thunder.
"Hmm. I guess I'm a pretty good bomb builder after-all..."
The helicopter set down one hundred yards from us. We ran for it and climbed in and hooked into the comm system.
"You two all right?" the pilot asked as we lifted off again.
"Yeah. How are communications?"
"In and out. You look like hell Chandler!"
"I feel great though!"
"When you came in, were you running thermal imaging scans?" Sabina asked the pilot.
"Did you pick up anyone running from that building, just before the explosion?"
"Negative. There was someone inside. He was getting out of a chair or something. Then the explosion happened."
I stared at what remained of the burning building as it disappeared into the gloom under us. I could feel Sabina looking at me; I palmed the radio controlled detonator and slid it into my pocket, trying not to smile.
"Fuck you, Mr. Briggs!" I said under my breath.
Text From A Speech Given By Governor John Taylor...
"My fellow Angel-my fellow Californians!" (Two minutes of raucous applause follows.) My fellow Californians, a great new day awaits us. We stand at a juncture between what was and what is possible, a juncture between the past and the future. We are poised at the start of a new age, an age where you and I and our families can once more feel safe from those who want to tear us down!
"I have seen the future my friends, a future of peace and prosperity, a future where no will be left behind. We hold that future in the palms of our hands..."
"Any luck yet?" I asked the pilot.
"Give it a shot. We're out of the mountains..."
"Go-Team to Base," I called into the radio mic. "Go-Team to base, come in please."
"Chandler, thank God!" It was Elaine's voice, worried.
"Elaine put Kenny on..."
"I can't," she said. "When you missed the first and second contact times, he went charging out of here. I don't know where he went!"
"Did he get that disc decoded?"
"Yes," Elaine answered. "It's all true, everything!"
"Elaine, I need you to take the information to Fez. Tell him to put it out there, in the matrix..."
"I don't understand."
"They're on to us! The people in charge are going to be running for the hills! We need to stop this, we need to stop it now!"
Elaine was silent for a long moment and I thought I'd lost contact with her.
"What's going on?" I asked, hearing something in her voice.
"N-nothing," she answered. "Are you on your way back?"
"Not directly. They have Talia Pressler. Sabina and I are going after her..."
"Chandler, this is Fez cutting in. Could you use some help?"
"Not with this," I shook my head. "This is personal."
"Very well. Is there anything I can do?"
"Yes. Put a team on Governor Taylor. If he doesn't know this thing's going to hell, he soon will. I don't want him to get away."
"He won't. Anything else."
"Yes. Contact the ISP and tell them I'm turning myself in, outside the Nakamichi Plaza Hotel in one hour."
"Do you have any idea where Kenny disappeared to?"
"No, I don't," Fez confessed. "He left the building twenty minutes ago in one of my vehicles. We tried tracking it, but he's very good at what he does."
"I know. Fez, if I don't see you for awhile, I owe you a great debt of gratitude..."
"It was my pleasure. Maybe now we can get this city back to where it's supposed to be!"
"I'll see you-later."
"I'll be waiting!" she said back, her voice choked with emotion.
I closed the channel.
"I understand everything but the turning yourself in part," Sabina said.
"Are you kidding me!" I smiled. "A notorious criminal like me will get so much media..."
"If some itchy trigger fingered cop doesn't shoot you first."
"That's the chance I'll have to take!"
"What about me?" she asked.
"I'll cover for you. As far as I know, you died out there in that ravine tonight..."
Sabina met my eyes. "Alicia's-dead isn't she?"
I nodded. "Probably since the night she called you."
"I guess I've known that for awhile," Sabina said, closing her eyes. "If she were still alive, she would've found some way to contact me..."
"What are you going to do?"
"I don't know. I haven't been thinking that far ahead."
"I'll ask Fez to get you some new papers. With those, you can go anywhere in the world you want. There's also a nylon bag in my room back at the Centrex-you'll be able to live comfortably on what's inside that bag."
She glanced away. "Without Alicia..."
"Chandler, we've got San Pedro coming up in five minutes!" the pilot called to me.
"Time to go to work!" Sabina said softly, pulling a forty five caliber pistol from her belt.
Text From A Speech Given By Governor John Taylor...
"And so, I come before you once more, asking for your kind and loyal support. You and I have faced many challenges over the years, but none so formidable as the one we face this night!!
For too long, The Republic of California has suffered at the hands of fools, incompetents, and just plain lazy politicians, the same politicians who have given away our birthright to foreign interests! Our people, the people of this sovereign nation, genuflect before these outside governments, kowtowing to the Empire of Korea and to the threats of the Chinese. My fellow Californians, it is high time we took back this nation from them, high time our people had enough food to eat, enough clean air to breathe, had the money to be able to afford to live the way our masters in Sacramento do! We will take the government of this nation by storm and the thunder of our people will echo across this once great land, until we can be free from the jack-boot of those who think we do not matter..."
We leapt from the helicopter skids, directed by the pilot's voice.
Coming in high over San Pedro, the thermal imaging sensors had scanned each building until they detected warm bodies inside one tumble-down warehouse. The pilot circled out over the bay, then dropped in between two warehouses as thunder shook the sky once again. He hovered above the battered pavement long enough for us to jump off, then swung the tail around and flew back out over the water just above wave level.
Sabina followed me at a dead run along a rain slickened dock, her breath rasping slightly in the radio mic. During the flight she'd pulled a second pair of night-vision glasses from the center console. From the time she put the glasses on until we landed, her expression had fixed into a cold stare.
I slowed to a trot, hugging the side of the warehouse opposite our target.
"It doesn't look like they heard us," I said, peering at the two teams of guards in front of the warehouse. "What do you think?"
"I think no one walks away."
"Works for me."
Sabina handed me a silencer for the forty-five as she screwed one into the barrel of her own gun.
"Let's do it!" I said.
We walked out into the low light, strode towards the warehouse. It was reckless, but sometimes the direct approach works best.
"Hey, dickhead!!" Sabina called.
The guard nearest her looked up. Sabina fired twice, two bullets to the head. She spun quickly on the other guard and fired twice more. My two went down in a similar fashion and I was ejecting the magazine with it's three remaining rounds as we walked. I slapped a fully loaded one into the pistol and waited for her by the door.
I slung it open; Sabina followed me into the warehouse. Inside, I held up a closed fist, motioned for her to go right. The room where Talia was being held had probably been the shipping office at one time and was located in a separate little wing off the main structure. Sabina had the direct approach, while I could circle around and take care of any covering fire. I heard Sabina fire two more times, followed by a loud, echoing crash.
"Sabina?" I whispered into the mic.
"I'm fine. I hope they believe it's rats making all this noise!"
I found one roving guard, sitting on a staircase near the back of the warehouse, smoking a cigarette.
He looked up and was just as quickly gone.
The corridor was relatively short and not very wide, perhaps able to take two men shoulder to shoulder as they walked down it. The door at the end of that corridor seemed a thousand miles away, a thousand miles of no cover and no place to retreat to. Military people like to call them 'kill-zones'; I consider them suicidal but it was too late not to play the hand we'd dealt ourselves.
I shifted the forty-five to my left hand, brought my right hand up, my fingers flat (cover me). Sabina tapped me on the right shoulder and I crept away from her, bringing the forty-five back to my right hand as I did so. Twenty feet later I was outside the door, pressing my ear against it to try and gauge what was going on inside.
"Me like this one!" A deep male voice was saying. "She softer than other one, more beautiful!"
"Me wish boss man would call! Me want to do things to this one! Me like the smell of fear in her! Me excited!!"
I'd dealt with Orks a time or two in my past; they weren't the brightest light-bulbs in the strand but were completely loyal to their employer and could take an incredible amount of punishment before going down. One was bad; two was more than any human could handle.
Inside the room fabric ripped, followed by a muffled scream. Both Orks laughed.
"She terrify so easy!"
Time to make my move...
I rapped loudly on the door. "Hey, which one of you dog-breaths is supposed to talk to the man?"
"Yeah 'he call'. He want to talk to one of you."
"On the phone?"
"Where the hell else, idiot?!" I answered.
I backed away from the door, made sure my pistol was ready to fire. The door swung open and the Ork stepped through. He was larger than most, almost seven feet tall, with shoulders so large they practically touched the walls of the corridor.
"Where he at?" the Ork asked.
"He in hell, where you go now!"
The Ork saw the pistol in my hand, tried to back away. I began to fire, one shot, two, three, four, five to the body. As he stumbled backwards I fired the last two into his head...
"Chandler, get down!" Sabina called out.
Number two was charging through the door an axe large enough to cut me in half in hand. There was only one place for me to go as he ran at me at full pace-I dove between his legs, ducked under his questing hand and scurried past him into the room. Outside, Sabina emptied her gun into number two. I heard the empty clip hit the ground, then another couple of shots.
"Chandler, you okay?" Sabina joined me inside the room.
"Yeah I'm...dear God!!"
Talia Pressler was tied to a wooden pallet with metal wire binding her ankles and hands. Where the wires bound her, blood oozed from her torn skin and flesh. Most of her clothes were ripped off and her face was battered and bruised and covered with dried blood.
She opened her eyes, met mine. There was a hint of recognition there.
I pulled the gag from her mouth. "Talia..."
"Chandler? Is-is it you?"
"Yeah sweety. We've come to get you out of here!"
A single tear slid down her right cheek. "I did-didn't tell them anything!"
"That's okay, Talia! It's over with now. I'm taking you home!"
Text From A Speech Given By Governor John Taylor...
"And with that, I hereby formally give notice to those, both inside and outside of this city, who would seek to deny us access to the most basic of human rights, that we will no longer be your lap-dogs. We Californians are tired of playing second fiddle to puppet masters overseas, we are tired of giving, and giving, and giving some more, and never receiving anything back!! A new day is dawning my friends, a day where we can look up at the sky, a day where we can taste the freedoms once guaranteed to us by a document that included these words-"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness...
(Five full minutes of applause followed.)
"How's she doing?" I called to Sabina over the comm link.
"Better," Sabina replied. She was holding Talia in her arms as the A-Star swept over the city, headed back towards downtown.
I leaned forward in my seat. "Talia?"
She looked at me through her one non-swollen-shut, puffy-eye, managed a smile as she drew the blanket more tightly around her.
"They-they didn't..." she said.
I nodded, glanced up at Sabina. "Get her to MLK..."
"Done," Sabina nodded. "I wish you'd reconsider this! By now, everything we have is all over the matrix. You don't need to be the sacrificial lamb..."
"I'm not," I shook my head. "I need to know that John Taylor pays for his crimes, that he can't just walk away..."
"He won't walk away, I promise you that," Sabina answered. I met her eyes for a moment and there was something there, fleeting, and I didn't know what.
"Chandler, where do you want me to set this thing down?" the pilot called back to me.
I glanced at the display on the screen above me. "The intersection of Wilshire and Broadway looks good!"
He grinned. "You know how to make an entrance, I can say that for you!"
I chuckled. "You've risked your ass doing all of this for us and I don't even know your name..."
"Davis Graham. I'd shake hands but we'd probably crash!"
I laughed. "No need to do that!"
Graham nodded in agreement. "It's bad for the paint job!"
"You-you be careful."
"I'm always careful..."
"That's what I'm afraid of!" Talia smiled through the grime and pain on her face. I reached out and took her right hand, gave it a squeeze.
"We're coming in," Graham said. "Am I clear on the right?"
"Bring her down."
The skids touched pavement; I opened the door.
I reached over and shook hands with him. "Thanks for the ride!"
I turned in my seat and faced Sabina. "If I don't see you again, good luck!"
"What about the money I owe you?!"
"I'll catch you the next time around!"
I stepped out of the helicopter, hurried across the intersection. I ran towards the Nakamichi Plaza Hotel as the helicopter took to the air, spun gracefully in a circle until it was facing south. Davis Graham accelerated away as I watched the helicopter disappear into the fog shrouding the glittering spires of downtown.
The Plaza Hotel was ringed by armed guards. Approaching on foot, I felt two men fall in beside me, then two more behind them. They marched me in lock step to the courtyard outside the hotel where Jonathan Mathias was waiting.
"Are you armed?"
"There's a forty five caliber pistol under my fatigue jacket," I answered.
One of the ISP Strike Team members behind me removed the gun and handed it to Mathias. "You've been a busy man tonight..."
"It keeps me from getting bored."
Mathias smiled. "You do understand, you're under arrest..."
"Yes. And you understand that if anything happens to me, especially after what's been put on the matrix tonight, that there will be a board of inquiry like you've never seen before to expose all of the ISP's dirty little secrets. I think it's interesting that the ISP had an inkling about this some time ago and they buried the report, buried it until Sabina Griffith dug it up again."
"Things happen Mr. Harrison. We had no real proof until tonight."
"Still, a lot of people died needlessly so you could feel good about your paperwork."
"Speaking of Sabina: was she on board that helicopter with you just then?"
"Sabina's dead. She was shot and killed by one of Darien Briggs' men this evening."
"There was an explosion as I left the ACRP. I can't say for certain, but I've heard Xentex is very volatile if it's not handled properly..."
"I've heard the same."
I nodded towards the door leading inside the hotel. "Shall we go in and say hello to the Governor?"
The grand ball room was filled with a thunderous ovation when we entered. John Taylor was standing behind a dais, his right arm above his head, waving to the faithful. Behind him, a twenty foot tall video playback monitor was showing his smiling face, a face that suddenly darkened as an aide leaned in and spoke into his ear. For a moment, anger clouded his features, an anger that was suddenly replaced by a look of fear. Armed men in black tactical gear were working their way around the room, down every aisle, guarding every door. I watched a half dozen heavily armed men slither in around him, boxing him in.
The applause began to lessen as those assembled in the room noticed the dark clad Strike Team.
"Ladies and gentlemen, my friends. What you see here is what I was talking about earlier," Taylor spoke into the microphones mounted to the dais in front of him. "These men are an Internal Security Police Strike Team, sent here by the Republic President to quash our campaign!"
I could see people in the audience turn to look at the armed men, then look up to see their beloved Governor. They were believing his lie, buying into it.
"I am a danger to them, to their power structure. You can see that by what's going on in this room..."
"Hey, what's that?" A voice yelled from the crowd in front of him.
The image on the video monitor had changed to a single photograph of John Taylor, in uniform. He was standing with another man I recognized as the Chief of Police beside a ditch into which other uniformed men were pouring bags of some kind of white powder. You could easily see the bodies in the ditch, see the red blood soak up the white quick lime...
Taylor stared in disbelief at the screen, his mouth moving but making no noise. The image changed-Taylor was standing by a line of troops. A few feet in front of those troops human and other beings were falling head first into the ditch, faces and bodies misshapen from high caliber bullet impacts.
"Dear God, it's true!!" A female voice said.
The room had gotten quiet enough to hear a pin drop.
Taylor gulped, tried to smile. "My-my friends! This is all a trick, done to discredit me, done to discredit all of us, to discredit our cause !"
Image number three showed John Taylor smiling as two uniformed men threw the body of a young woman into the ditch...
"Lies! They're all lies!!" Taylor shouted, trying to quell the growing discontent in the room, the room where, only moments before, those assembled would've followed him to the fires of Hell. "They've done this to destroy us, to destroy the dream we have of making California whole again..."
"And how many of these faces that aren't white like yours will be around to see that dream come true, Governor Taylor?" I shouted to him.
"You?!" Taylor raged. "Don't believe him! That man is a common crook, a murderer, a seditionist!!"
"My crimes are small potatoes compared to yours. Why don't you tell everyone what's buried in the ACRP, Governor?"
Faces swung from me, back to Taylor, waiting for an answer. "I-I don't know what you're talking about!"
"Ladies and gentlemen," I said. "The photographs you see on the screen behind our esteemed Governor were taken more than twenty years ago. The Governor wanted to give us back our city, make the streets safe for us. You remember MacArthur Park, the way it used to be an enclave for the homeless? What you see on that screen up there is their enclave now, twenty years dead and forgotten in the cold ground..."
"I tell you it's not true!!"
"There's a sickness festering around this man and his people. Those people on that screen meant nothing to him because they didn't have a voice in this society. They were the poor, the dispossessed, the infirm of mind and body. And the young. They were all people like ourselves but with one perceived shortcoming- they had nothing, nothing but the clothes on their backs. No one would know they were gone, no one would care because society had forgotten about them long before Taylor's troops rounded them up and took them from the city!!" I implored.
"Lies, damnable lies!!" Taylor bellowed.
"See for yourselves folks," I said. "Everything is on the matrix. Dates, names, numbers. Read them for yourselves, but know that behind each number was a man, a woman, a child, a being. They didn't have much, but they had the dignity, the courage to get up every morning and try to make it through another day! You and I bitch and moan about how hard we have it-those people gave it their best as they tried to raise a family. They're gone now, but as long as we live the high ideals this man preached but didn't believe in, we can make sure that their lives were not taken in vain."
"You fucking bastard!" Taylor had a gun in his hand, pointed squarely at me.
The world slowed around me; a roar crashed through the silence and I felt an agonizing burst of fire in my chest. On the platform overlooking the room, Governor John Taylor twisted around and fell away, his body pulsing blood. The pain in my chest felt crushing; I glanced down to see a half inch in diameter wound in the center of my chest, a dark splotch of blood beginning to run.
I heard cries, screams as people turned and ran from the room. I was on the floor, staring up at the ceiling, at the beautiful dark wood beams. I coughed once, felt an intense peace come over me. I was above my body, watching as Mathias and another man worked to restart my heart. I watched, felt a warm glow envelope me and my body didn't seem important to me any longer.
I was standing at the edge of a forest, not unlike the one Sabina and I had visited earlier in the evening. The air was warm and scented with honeysuckle and lilac, the sky a radiant, almost joyful blue. The valley formed a great bowl that stretched into the distance; in that distance I could see the tall spires of a crystal city, while before me, long grasses covered the floor of the valley, forming ripples and wakes as the wind stirred. I watched those grasses move, felt the sun on my face and arms...
"Pretty isn't it?"
"Umm hmm," I spoke. "Is this..."
Velma Martinez looked at me, gave a brief nod. "In the future. I can't say when, but it's long after you and I have turned to dust."
I faced her. "So angels time travel too?"
She smiled the smile I loved so much. "Where we are right now is but a tick on the cosmic clock. We are born, live, grow old, and die, but time barely notices us..."
"But we do count, we do mean something?"
"And me? I was in a similar place with you once before. You made me go back that time..."
"This time it's your choice. Your spirit, what you were, is in a place between what you see here and what you had there. It sounds kind of hokey but it's the best way I can explain it."
Velma nodded. "Yes."
"If I choose to stay, will we be...together?"
"If you wish. I know I would like it!"
I smiled, reached out and took her face in my hands. "I wish I had told you how I felt..."
"I know how you felt!" Velma answered. "I could see it in your eyes, every time you looked at me. Of course, I wasn't exactly forthcoming with my feelings about you either!"
I kissed her, the way I'd always wanted to kiss her, kissed her until our bodies trembled in the warmth of the day.
"You don't know how much I've wanted you to kiss me that way!" Velma beamed.
"Am I allowed to ask a few questions first, before I make my decision?"
Velma smiled; she knew me too well. "Generally. I can't give you specific answers, especially if you decide to return. If you do stay, you won't believe what you'll see."
"What I did tonight-er-all those however many years ago; did it change anything?"
"Look over there and you tell me?"
I followed her gaze. Three small children came out of the forest and gazed at the bowl shaped valley. As I watched the youngest one (a little girl with braids and with freckles dotting her cheeks) stepped forward.
"It's so beautiful!" the little girl said, awestruck.
"This is the place mentioned in our books. Many died here, but the valley eventually became a shrine to life, not to death," an older boy explained.
"There is a monument down in the center of the valley, a simple stone wall with the names of all those they found here."
"Can we go see it?" the little girl asked.
"We'll have to walk awhile..." a second boy, about the girls age said.
"I can do it. Besides, the day is too perfect to go back so soon..."
"Okay, but we need to go this way," the older boy said.
The three children walked past us. The little girl swivelled her head as she passed, a slight frown on her pretty face. She continued to watch us until she and the two boys disappeared from sight.
"She saw us?"
"So I did make a difference?"
"That's for you to judge," Velma said.
"You saved Sabina..."
"Not me, no; sometimes second chances are given when lives that aren't supposed to be taken, are lost. She remembers a little of what happened to her. As time passes, she will forget most of that, along with the pain of her loss."
"...loved her. Both realized it too late I'm afraid."
I suddenly thought of Elaine Ford, the way she'd looked at me as I left the Centrex, the way she'd made me promise her that I'd be back...
"She waits for you, the way you waited for me," Velma said, her voice so soft, so gentle.
"I have to choose now, don't I?"
"Velma, I don't know if I can!"
"You can. In these fleeting moments we've had together, we've loved a thousand lifetimes worth. Elaine has one life, a life she hoped to share with you. If you choose to stay, her memory of you will dim in time, but that love she felt will always be there..."
"Will she be happy?"
"I can't answer that question..."
"Dammit! I love you Velma!"
"And I love you! I'd love for you to stay and be with me..."
"I'd be breaking her heart..."
Velma smiled through tears. "I think you've made your decision. It's the right one for you!"
"Velma, I'm sorry..."
She held my hand tightly in hers. "Don't be! Maybe sometime in the future we'll catch up to one another again! I'll be the one with the wicked laugh and the bottle of Tequila..."
"I'll make sure to bring the limes!"
"Good bye, Chandler."
I kissed her again, then held on. In the forest behind us men, women, children, elf, Ork, and others walked forward into the light.
"I love you Chandler..."
With a gasp, I awakened. Something, someone was resting their head on my chest. Elaine. I opened my eyes and found myself in a hospital bed, staring at a bland white ceiling. I slowly lifted my hand and brought it up to touch Elaine's hair. She stirred in her sleep, but didn't wake up.
She murmured an unintelligible phrase.
"Elaine? Elaine, wake up!"
She must've heard my voice, because she opened her sleepy eyes.
She suddenly sat bolt upright, her eyes wide. "Chandler!! You're awake!!"
"It's about time, don't you think!"
Copyright 2001 - M.S. Costello