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Singularity, Part 2
A Four Visitors Story
Start at the beginning of the Four Visitors series
"What the fuck do you mean? The wrong girl?"
Alex was trying to keep his voice down. Nick was somewhere in the house and Alex wanted to make sure his brother was involved as little as possible. The mission had seemed easy: a working vacation. Spend some time with family while you helped coordinate the handling of a little problem in your home town. No trouble at all.
Jamie's voice was tense, but not panicked. The son of a bitch was probably enjoying this. It had been too long since Jamie had gotten to do the kind of work he really enjoyed.
But shit, Alex thought. Two days into the operation and it had already turned all clusterfuck on them.
"Okay. Slow and from the beginning, Jamie."
"I got to the address before dawn. The Blanco girl lives in a basement room out back. Spotted her taking off on her bike a little after sunup. Went in to check out the apartment. They've got dogs so I circled around through the woods. This other girl must have showed up while I was getting into position. I had to double back once because there was a goddamn swamp back there."
"Shit, you lost line of sight?" Alex realized he felt good about pointing out where his partner had deviated from training. It was the first time they'd worked together, and Alex felt like it was important to establish the right kind of chain of command. The kind where Alex gave the commands and Jamie obeyed them.
"Yeah, fine. I broke protocol."
Alex wasn't done. "Damn straight you broke protocol. But hey, it's not like anything bad happened. Just a fucking bystander that we're gonna have to clean up. No biggie."
"Look, I'm sorry. Now let's deal with it. What do you want me to do?"
"Let me think."
Alex started to go over their options, but he wasn't getting anywhere. He hated operating from a distance, leaving the implementation to subordinates. Alex needed to see the scene on the ground.
He tried visualization. Then he sat down and tried taking it a step further. The remote viewing training came back to him fast. He'd never been great at it, but he could usually pick up on some details.
He saw the crumbling boards and peeling paint of the house, the broken down pickup truck out back. He traced the flow of the creek that ran across the property into the swamp out back.
The swamp didn't show up in the satellite imagery. That old bullshit about being able to read the license plate on a car from space was mostly just that: bullshit. Sure you could do some impressive things when you were looking at camps out in the desert, but nobody had ever invented a good way to see through tree cover.
Alex could see the swamp. It was working. He steadied his breathing and traced the stream back into the yard and tried to fix on the door to the apartment.
There it was. The door was shut, but Alex knew that Jamie had a light on inside.
The headache came on fast. Alex was taking too long. He had to get a look inside that door. He focused on the stairs he knew were on the other side, and he focused on Jamie. That would help.
The door dissolved away.
Darkness. No, blackness. Smooth and straight like a wall. And cold. Alex pressed into the wall and a chill like a blade of ice tore through his head.
"What the fuck,?!?"
"Alex? Alex? You okay? What's going on?" Jamie's voice coming out of the cellphone.
Alex held his head. The operation was going to hell fast.
Jamie was about to hit the panic button. Alex couldn't let that happen.
"I'm here." He forced his voice steady.
"Alex? What happened?"
"Nothing. I just... I don't know. Okay, look, something's wrong in there. You need to get out."
"What about this girl?"
"She can ID you?"
"I don't think so. I hit her pretty hard and fast. I don't think she ever saw it coming."
"Okay?" Alex suddenly had the feeling he was missing something. The girl. The bystander. Alex had stopped believing in random coincidence a long time ago.
"Give me a description on the female." Alex went back to protocol. Protocol was always comforting, even at times when nothing else was.
"Caucasian, teenager, maybe seventeen or eighteen. Five eleven, skinny, athletic build. Blonde. Freckles."
"You got it."
The headache was still bad. It got worse when Alex started moving. He reached the bathroom stumbling and knocked a can of shaving cream off the shelf of the medicine cabinet grabbing for a bottle of painkillers. He didn't bother reading the dosage. He put ten in his mouth, turned on the water, cupped his hands and splashed enough water into his face to choke down the pills.
He finally got his breathing back under control when he saw his brother's reflection in the mirror.
Nick was standing behind Alex, holding Alex's phone with the photo that had just decrypted of Tina, unconscious and in restraints.
"Shit, Nick. This was a mistake."
"She's my girlfriend, you bastard! What the fuck have you done to her?'
Alex saw the punch coming, but his head was still too muddled to react in time. He lost his footing and his face hit the toilet seat. His mouth started to fill with blood.
Nick pulled him to his feet, but Alex wasn't muddled enough to let Nick get another strike. He broke Nick's collarbone with a palm strike and reversed the grip on the hand that was trying to haul him up. Alex shifted his weight, applied the right pressure to Nick's elbow and wrist, and Nick's face slammed down into the toilet seat. The seat cracked this time. So did Nick's nose.
Alex wasn't about to make the mistake his brother had made. You don't let a man up when you've got him down. Alex put the boots to Nick until he stayed down. He pulled up short of cracking his brother's ribs. At least he thought he did. He didn't have time to make sure. Anyone but his brother would have been left dead. He hoped the kid was grateful.
Alex dialed Jamie as he gathered up his gear and headed into the garage where he'd parked his rental car.
The call went to voice mail.
"Now what?" Alex muttered as he peeled out of the garage and headed into town.
Tina didn't think she'd been out for very long, but it had been enough. A set of plastic restraints bit into her wrists. A dirty cloth had been tied to gag her mouth. The man with the TASER was sitting on the stairs, with his phone, texting somebody.
He shoved the phone into his pocket and grabbed Tina under her armpits. Tina kicked for his groin.
Except that her legs didn't work.
She'd come back to consciousness, but the effects of the TASER still lingered. She was dragged up the stairs, her ankles bouncing hard off the concrete at every other step.
The man was big, and he was dressed in a camouflage jacket and hunting cap. A thick beard finished off the look. He looked dangerous.
He got her up to the door at the top of the stairs, flung it open and threw Tina out onto the dirt before stepping out himself.
The business end of a garden shovel slammed into the side of the man's head, and he dropped like he was dead.
Tina screamed into her gag, which proved to be surprisingly ineffective at keeping her silent, so much so that the old guy holding the shovel signaled for her to quiet down.
"I'm on your side," he whispered. "There could be more of them."
The old man with the long white ponytail opened up a Swiss Army knife and cut the ties that bound Tina's wrists.
"Come on. Into the woods. Can you walk?" He had already taken three steps in that direction.
Tina wasn't sure if she could walk.
But it wasn't just her height that had gotten Tina her spot on the varsity roster. Tina could play hurt. It was just something she'd always done. Ignore the pain, get back up, get in the game. Get taped up or iced up after it's over.
Tina realized that she had damn well better get off her ass and get back in the game.
Her legs were numb, but they held her up.
The old man smiled, nodded, and made for the woods at a jog.
He led her right through the swamp. She fell twice. Cold mud soaked through her jeans and seeped into her sneakers.
He finally stopped by a cluster of boulders on some high ground past the swamp.
"I don't know," Tina said. "I think so. Legs starting to work again. I gotta call the cops."
She reached for her phone. It was gone.
"I'll get you to help," the man assured her. "I'm John Crowell. Got a farm about a mile up."
"What were you doing here?" Tina asked.
"Heard someone was looking for me. Figured I'd save 'em the trouble."
"You mean the guy who jumped me?"
"Oh, I sincerely hope not. His is not the kind of attention I'm interested in getting. No, I mean your friend Una."
Tina had almost forgotten about Una.
"What does all this have to do with Una?"
"Can't say I know," John said. "That's why I figured I'd talk to her."
"So what do we do?" Tina asked.
"You okay with coming back to the farm?"
"I'll be late for school."
"I'll get detention," Tina added.
"Power lines are over the hill there straight ahead. I'm turning left. Turn right and you'll come out on by the service station on Evans Road. They'll make a phone call for you. Mention my name. Anyway, your choice."
John turned and started walking.
When they got to the power lines he turned left.
Tina turned left with him.
They walked in silence under the high tension lines, getting the occasional glimpse into a junk-strewn back yard or a little patch of cornfield that probably supplied a roadside stand.
Tina considered making for one of the farmhouses. She didn't know John Crowell. She had no idea what his part in all of this was, but she was pretty sure he hadn't just wandered across her path by accident.
Tina considered herself a good judge of character, well, except when it came to the decision to date Nick.
No, Tina realized, even in that decision. She knew exactly what kind of person Nick was. She had chosen him anyway. So she decided she could go ahead and trust her judgment of character. John Crowell had helped her. He'd had every opportunity to leave her, every opportunity to hurt her, and he'd done nothing but help.
Nick wiped the blood off his face with the arm that was still working. He couldn't even hold the towel with his right arm. He dragged himself out of the bathroom and out front to where he'd parked.
He knew where he was going. He'd never been to Una Blanco's apartment, but a couple of his buddies had scouted it out. They were planning to get her back for screwing up their fun on New Year's Eve.
He gripped the wheel with his good hand. Now it was Nick who was thinking about payback.
Alex found the front portion of the house empty. The landlady had apparently gone to work sometime between the girl arriving and all hell breaking loose. The dogs raised a fuss, but they were locked inside the house.
He found Jamie out back laid out with a probable concussion. There was a shovel lying in the dirt a little distance away. He put Jamie's arm over his shoulder and carried him around front to his car. Alex laid Jamie across the back seat and then went around and sat down in the driver's seat.
Jamie moaned, interrupting Alex's attempt to clear his mind.
"Shut up, Jamie. Just lie there and shut the fuck up or I swear to God I'll go get the shovel you got hit with and finish the job."
Jamie shut up. Good. The concussion probably wasn't all that bad.
Alex started the breathing exercises again, clearing his mind as he visualized the scene by the stairs to the basement apartment.
It worked. The dark wall was still there, but this time Alex didn't try to test it. The headache had mostly cleared up on the ride over, but Alex wasn't about to take the chance of it coming back.
He concentrated on the woods, trying to focus on the direction the girl had taken along with whoever had decided to play Good Samaritan.
He could see the swamp, the little path, the power lines. This was beginning to make sense. Alex shook his head, bringing himself back to the here-and-now. The remote viewing had given him the basic direction. He hoped he could rely on old-fashioned tracking for the rest.
"Stay low and stay out of trouble," he warned Jamie.
He got out of the car and headed into the woods.
The transition from the dried weeds and scrub of the power lines to John Crowell's back yard was sudden and disorienting. John held a hand out to Tina and she ducked through a gap in a wooden fence and found herself in a winter garden of juniper, pine, holly, and winterberry. Dozens of bird feeders hung from the branches: plastic store-bought feeders alongside hand-whittled wooden ones and works of finely-crafted metal each in a different shape. There were wind chimes, too, and copper pinwheels that spun and looped in the breeze.
Tina caught the flash of a male cardinal flying for the cover of the thicker trees across the garden, and she suddenly wanted to forget about the cold and the pain and everything that had happened to her. This place begged for exploration.
Tina didn't have the time. Crowell was already making for the back door.
Tina hurried after him.
Nick didn't recognize the number. If he hadn't been at a red light, he wouldn't have had a hand to spare to pick up the phone. As it was, he winced in pain as his bruised ribs parked a fire through his side when he reached for the phone.
"What's up?" The light turned green and the truck in front of him got moving. Nick pressed on the accelerator as he spoke.
"Oh my God! Tina! Are you okay? Where are you?"
"Nick, something terrible happened!"
"What? You know? Nick, how is that possible?"
"I just know things. I'll explain when I see you. Tell me where you are!"
"Farmhouse at the end of Willow Street. It's okay, Nick. I'm all right."
"Just hang tight. I'll be right there!"
He folded up the phone up and leaned on the gas pedal.
Watching from the stand of trees where she'd hidden her bike, Una quietly observed the man who'd tested the shield around her apartment. She knew it was the same man. His aura stank of the lives he'd ended, and Una was fairly certain she'd recognize this one for the rest of her life.
Una watched him walk into the woods. She thought about her task and thought about her plans. But still, she kept thinking about her physics homework. Una thought of decaying orbits. Of ellipses turned to spirals, and of moving bodies circling closer and closer toward their inevitable collision.
Una waited a full minute, then slipped quietly after the man with the aura of death.
To Be Continued
Image and story by Rick Silva, Copyright 2010