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|Overseer - chapter 11 and 12 (partial)
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|Author:||Jim the old guy [ Nov 29, 2006 7:22 pm ]|
|Post subject:||Overseer - chapter 11 and 12 (partial)|
Chapter eleven: Saturday, Nov. 14, 2037 A.D.
Slade awoke in a cold sweat. His nightâ€™s rest had been disturbed by images of Samuel Jones choking him to death. All night he tossed and turned, unable to control the fire within his soul. Sam Jones; Bunker 13; Friday the 13th; sirens blaring loudly in his mind. Whether he turned hither or thither, back, left side, right side, or stomach, he was plagued by a kaleidoscope of psyche-permeating apparitions.
As usual, he sat up on the edge of the bed, closing his eyes, concentrating on his mantra. Breathing deep through the nose, exhaling through slivered lips, he soon regained the control he needed to carry on. Standing, he began to perform several Tai Chi moves, focusing on the present, forcing past events into the deep caverns of his mind. Soon, all would be normal again.
â€˜But why? Why am I having so many problems carrying out a few assassinations? Does it have anything to do with my near failure in Mexico? Was that the beginning of the end? Maybe I should finish this job as soon as possible and retire to the quiet confines of a nice little bungalow in Brazil, the only country where authorities cannot extradite known criminals.â€™ These thoughts tumbled through his mind, looking for a place to coagulate into a single thought pattern, discernible to the human whose mind was now being tormented with doubts and misfortunes.
A cold shower would be the next step in recapturing his vitality. After several minutes, he was toweling off when he happen to look out the sliding door towards the ocean. The sun was bright (must be a low radiation day), the sky was as clear as it could get, and the wind was calm. His next stop would be the sand, lounging on a lawn chair on the beach. There he could fully refresh himself and concentrate on the next order of business.
As he was about to exit the lodge, his cell phone rang.
â€œI have another contestant for you. However, itâ€™s becoming too dangerous for us to meet. So, hereâ€™s what I would like you to do. In the next hour, you will receiver a small packet from UPEX. Inside is a key to a P.O. Box and some instructions as to how to figure out which Post Office it belongs to. Iâ€™m taking these precautions for a very good reason. Carl Linskyâ€™s daughter has hired a PI to investigate her fatherâ€™s death. His name has been added to the entire list of people I want you to eliminate. Now, of course, some of them you have already, shall we say, processed and some have yet to be assassinated. But, in order to ascertain the names on the list, you will need to connect an electronic chart to an electronic grille by using the adapter cord. Once you have worked out the grille/chart puzzle, the names will light up on the LCD screen attached to the chart. Then, electronically, the names will move in a certain pecking order and the name of the Post Office will become apparent. Is that clear?â€
â€œClear as spring water.â€
â€œGood. By the way, your Swiss account is getting pretty fat. I hope you are pleased with our arrangement. And remember, thereâ€™s plenty more where that came from. Oh, I almost forgot. Did you get the passcard from Mr. Jones?â€
â€œYes sir, I did. Itâ€™s hidden right here in my lodge.â€ Slade was being polite because of his good humor. He knew today would be special and he had a feeling it would be one he would not soon forget.
â€œGreat! Iâ€™ll make a point to pick it up later. Leave it in the P.O. Box.â€ Click! The line went silent.
â€˜Maybe I will, maybe I wonâ€™t. Iâ€™m beginning to think those passcards are the key to my future success and retirement. Right now, though, Iâ€™m heading for the beach. I better take my key with me. If some PI is on my tail....â€™ And off he went, with renewed vigor and a new attitude. Things were starting to brighten on the horizon of his violent life.
Not many of Big Surf Lodge renters have visitors, especially when one considers the reason why most people come here. But, today would be different. A run-down, rust coated speeder lands in the parking lot. An old PI dressed with a southwestern flair exits the speeder and heads for the managerâ€™s office. Upon opening the fully worn main door, a little bell tinkled, signaling Papa Johns that someone had entered. However, Papa Johns was in the â€œlibraryâ€, a more polite handle for the restroom, reading the morning paper. Ergo, he either did not hear the bell or he simply ignored it. Nothing short of a 6.0 or higher earthquake would move him off the pot.
After a few seconds, Sonny Fletcher realized the desk clerk or manager was not coming, so he helped himself to the register. He knew that Big Jim Slade would not use this alias when signing in, but he had an idea of what name he would use. In Mexico, he used an anagram of his name. Sure enough, Lodge #6 was rented to James L. Digbi, aka Big Jim Slade.
Exiting the office, he located #6 and covertly approached it, keeping his eye open to spot any nosy neighbors. Nary a soul was stirring, so his approach was kept secret. Now, though, he would have to worry about Slade himself. Where would he be? Inside? On a mission? Cautiously he rounded the corner of the lodge, espying the sliding door wall on the back deck. Thatâ€™s when he spotted Slade on the beach, getting a suntan. â€˜That ego-tistical maniac was actually enjoying his stay in the San Francisco areaâ€™, Sonny mused.
The door wall was locked. No problem. Sonny took out his lock-pick and adroitly popped it open. Then he entered and quickly began to search every room. The kitchen drawers and cupboards contained nothing of interest; the living room was devoid of any important items; the closet held clothes, but little else. Frustrated, Sonny checked the bathroom. He even lifted the top off the toilet, but found nothing but water inside. He was getting anxious, unsure of how much time he had left before Slade would return. Since Sonny did not carry a gun any more, he did not want to confront Slade; he just wanted to take something important from him.
Exiting the bathroom, he looked on the bed. There was a briefcase on it, but it was handcuffed to the metal railing. Sonny tried to remove it, but his efforts were futile. He had a lock-pick set but not a handcuff key, and this type of handcuff required a special key. He then checked the covers, the mattress and under the bed. Still nothing. Something in his peripheral vision caught his attention. He looked up, but it was just a sea gull that had landed on the deck furniture outside the sliding door. Whew! Sonny wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead. He carefully checked to see if Slade was still on the beach. He was. Good.
Sonny felt something in the room was trying to tell him to â€˜look here.â€™ He surveyed the room carefully, and then he noticed it. The large picture above the bed was slightly askew. Could it be that Slade hid an article of some importance behind the picture? Slowly, but surely, Sonny removed the picture. Thatâ€™s when he heard a speeder approach the lodge. Breathing shallow and fast, Sonny looked behind the picture, but nothing was there! â€œDamn!â€ he muttered aloud. And just as he was returning the picture to its hangers, the tip of his fingers of his right hand touched something foreign on the back side of the frame. Feeling for it, he removed a green computer card of some sort. It had the letters STG stamped on it. Sonny smiled. He knew he had found something worthwhile, because Slade had hidden it.
Time becoming a factor, Sonny replaced the picture, making sure to leave it exactly the way he found it. He knew Slade was a professional of a superlative degree and he would notice if anything was out of place, even the tiniest of faults. Thatâ€™s when he heard the same speeder leave. Good. Must have been another renter who stopped by to get something they forgot. So, he slipped the computer card into his pocket and turned to leave. Thatâ€™s when he froze in his tracks.
A figure in the door wall, partially blocking the light shining through, was standing there, unmoving and staring at Sonny. Seconds went by before Sonny realized he was holding his breath. The Angel of Death was watching, waiting for the right time to strike. But Slade was the type who enjoyed striking fear into his victims. Sonny knew this, and, although his heart was beating loudly and quickly, he wasnâ€™t afraid. At least not like he was afraid since Mariaâ€™s death in Mexico.
Moving slowly, Sonny approached Slade. Each noticed that neither of them had a gun. This fact may be Sonnyâ€™s only chance of escape. On the other hand, Slade was known as a martial arts expert and Sonny was no where near the man he used to be. Too much drink, too little exercise.
â€œUPEX deliveryâ€, as Slade held up the small package. That was the speeder Sonny heard moments before.
Sladeâ€™s smile was indicative of the smug, boastful person he had become. â€œSo, the coward has returned. Iâ€™ve waited a long time for this moment. If itâ€™s anything I hate, itâ€™s to leave a job unfinished. You should have let me finish you off in Mexico.â€
â€œLike you did Maria?â€ Sonnyâ€™s bravado was growing. He hated this man more than anything in the world. This poor excuse for a human being took from Sonny the only thing he loved - his wife. And, Slade didnâ€™t just kill her, he mutilated her, torturing her before she died. His abhorrence for this walking piece of excrement was magnified by these thoughts.
Slade smiled. â€œYeah, like Maria. Only Iâ€™m going to enjoy killing you even more than killing her.â€ And Slade began to slowly approach Sonny. In a move to deflect Sladeâ€™s attention, Sonny acted nervous, looking down at the floor. Slade smiled. His superior skills had the old PI shaking in his boots. But thatâ€™s not why Sonny looked down. He saw that Slade was standing on a small rug designed to catch the sand from oneâ€™s feet as they entered the lodge. If he could distract Slade somehow, maybe he could....
Thatâ€™s when Slade took the small UPEX package and tossed it on the end table. Of course, in order to do that, he had to glance sideways for a mere second. Sonny charged, his head lowered and connected with Sladeâ€™s stomach. But Slade was lightening fast. Only momentarily did he lose his breath. Just as quickly, he brought his right knee up to meet Sonnyâ€™s chin. Sonnyâ€™s head snapped up, lower lip cut and bleeding down his chin. Staggered, he knew what was coming next. Slade punched him in the stomach, causing him to drop to his knees. The plan, however painful, worked. When Slade turned sideways and cocked his right leg for a karate kick, he paused long enough to smile down at his victim. Thatâ€™s all the time Sonny needed. He grabbed the rug and yanked it with all his might. Slade tumbled backward and bumped his head on the floor knocking him silly. Sonny leapt to his feet, left arm cradling a breathless midsection, and stepped over Slade. He slid the door open as Slade was trying to grab his leg. But Slade only took hold of Sonnyâ€™s boot. Looking up at Sonny, Sonny looking down at Slade, he smiled and plowed the boot into Sladeâ€™s face. Sladeâ€™s grip loosened allowing Sonny to skip free.
The old PI made tracks to his speeder, about three lodges down the lot. He was almost home free. Just a few more seconds and heâ€™d be airborne.
Slade scrambled wearily to his feet. He could chase Sonny, but the old fart might make it to his speeder before Slade could get to him. So he ran to the bathroom. On the hook was his overcoat. Reaching into the left pocket, he removed the gun. And THEN he ran outside to find Sonny.
As Sonny neared the dilapidated vehicle he pressed the remote to open the driverâ€™s side door. Just a few more feet and he would be gone.
Slade rounded the back corner of the lodge and headed for the parking lot. He saw Sonny about to enter the speeder. He smiled and took aim. Click! Oh no! He grabbed the wrong gun! It was the new one he bought to use for Russian Roulette.
Sonny turned sideways to throw his right leg into the speeder. He saw Slade out of the corner of his eye drawing a bead on him.
Slade fired again and again. Click! Click! Click! Bang! Smoke and fire spat out of the barrel as the hammer connected with the firing pin.
Sonny reached for the door to close it when a sharp, burning pain pierced his lower left side. He grimaced in pain but was able to shut the door as the speeder left the pavement. Off he went, Slade becoming a miniscule dot in the distance.
Slade was angry, livid and cursing as the speeder flew off into the sunlight. But he took solace in the fact that he knew the one shot he fired had hit its mark. Disappointed beyond measure, he returned to his lodge. The first thing he did was check the back of the picture. The passcard was gone! â€œFletcherrrrr!â€
Sonny landed old Betsy, his rust bucket of a speeder, outside his decaying apartment house. Wincing, he exited the vehicle and staggered to his room. Off balance, he pushed his way through the door only to fall to one knee. Regaining his composure, he rose and made his way to the kitchen sink and cleaned up a bit, taking a warm wet cloth and pressing it against his wound. The pain made him take a quick breath, but he pressed it just the same. He had to stop the bleeding.
Next he called UPEX and had them stop by his room. He wrote a note to Murphy in hopes he would receive it before he passed on. He knew he should have gone to the hospital, but that would just stir up unnecessary trouble. Besides, his soul was at peace and he no longer cared if he lived or died. He just wanted to join his lovely Maria. Looking up to the ceiling, he prayed aloud, â€œPlease, Lord, just give me a little more time. I know Iâ€™m not the best servant of yours, but Iâ€™m ready to make amends.â€ With that he lowered his head and prayed.
Opening his eyes, Sonny looked at the clock on the wall and noticed mere minutes had passed. If he just sat there, he might not have enough will to live. So, he reached under his bed and pulled out an old metal box with a broken clasp on it. He tossed back the lid and extracted a yellowed envelope. Contained within was a black piece of plastic with worn grooves on it. Memories of long ago danced a ballet in his mind as he went to the ancient Victrola and placed the disc upon the spindle. Flipping the switch, the disc dropped onto a turntable and the needle arm slid over the first groove, settling upon it ever so gently. The 33 1/3 disc moved in a circular motion while the diamond needle read the grooves in order to put forth the music he loved most dearly. â€œMaria,â€ the singer began and Sonny smiled.
Next, he opened the drawer to his nightstand and withdrew a small notebook and pen. He had some things of interest to share with his new friend, Tex Murphy. Events that he knew he would not have time to share with him personally. His life force was flowing out of him with every drop of blood oozing from the gunshot wound in his side. So, there he sat, writing and listening and dying. Soon, ever so soon he would see his sweet Maria again.
Slade regained his composure and set about his business. First, he went to the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of spring water. It went down smooth and fast. Next he went to the front room, picked up the small rug and tossed it over the edge of the deck to the beach below. â€œDamn thing nearly got me killed.â€ Finally, he opened the UPEX packet and drew out the items inside. A Post Office key with no number on it; a chart with numbers and letters on it; a grille to place over the chart; an adapter cord for the grille; and a LCD attachment for the chart. He put the last several items together and started working out the puzzle. Minutes later he had the complete list of names. He read over the list carefully and then decided to burn it, but not before he pinpointed the Post Officeâ€™s location.
Going to his overcoat, he took out the handcuff key and unlocked the cuffs securing the briefcase to the bed. Using his favorite numbers to open the case, he placed the chart, grille and cord inside and locked it. Then he dressed, took the P.O. Box key and headed for the Mill Valley Post Office. Maybe, just maybe, he could salvage what was left of this miserable day. Recalling an old saying, he shook his head in disgust. â€˜Donâ€™t worry about Friday the 13th; be wary of Saturday the 14thâ€™. But in Sladeâ€™s case, both days had been equally frustrating.
The Post Office box contained a new portfolio of Sladeâ€™s next victim. Some mutant named Greg Call. Heâ€™s back in town after some hiatus at an unknown location. Staying at the Simpson Arms Hotel in the old city. Room 212. There was a note attached that stated it had to be done right away. Apparently things were moving faster than his boss had originally anticipated. â€˜Sure, why not,â€™ thought Slade. I need something to perk up my spirits. Nothing like a good killing to cap off a lousy day.
So, Slade sped over to the hotel, hoping to find his prey waiting to be killed. But, the room was empty. It seems Greg Call was out somewhere. Disappointed but not deterred, Slade waited in his speeder. It would give him time to mull over the last two dayâ€™s activity in an effort to analyze the infamous events that nearly cost him his life.
Friday, Nov. 6, 2037
On the lam since the deaths of Val Davis and Rona Morgan, Larry Hammond rises from a restless sleep. He scanned the one room apartment he was renting and decided it was serving his interests for the time being. Sequoia Avenue was located in the old city and was home to every type of mutant derelict, drunkard and vagrant imaginable. T&D (theft and death) were commonplace occurrences, especially in this hell-hole of an apartment building. The door could only be secured by using a hasp and lock combination, which, of course, was not very secure at all. Often, while lying on the insect infested bed, trying to fall asleep, he could hear screams or gunshots coming from the street below. So then, why was he staying here? Why choose a flop when he could afford much better? If he felt he was in danger, why not move to another part of the world?
The project and his fellow workers were the answer. Additionally, he needed to talk with his best friend one more time. Things have become ugly since someone on the inside of the project was selling them out. First was Val Davis. Dying in the speeder accident seemed acceptable until Rona Morgan died a few days later. Accidental poisoning was totally unacceptable. And then he knew that both â€˜accidentsâ€™ were really well planned murders. Greg Call had warned him after Morganâ€™s death that things could become rather dicey from then on. With his work on the project just finished on Nov. 1st, he immedi-ately went into hiding.
However, he still needed sustenance and that made him vulnerable. So, only at night would he venture out into the dangers of the neighborhood; only at night he dared traverse the shadows and alleyways in an effort to find food. Oh, not from garbage cans or trash bins. No, no! He would use those hidden routes to find a 24 hour liquor store or convenience store. Buying foods that didnâ€™t need cooking was becoming monotonous and tasteless, but the lack of major appliances in his room demanded it.
Therefore, he opened a new box of Flakes of Frost, the most popular sugar-coated cereal on the market today. Kids loved it; so did Larry Hammond. Munching away, he popped open a can of soda and washed down the little bits of flakes still stuck to his teeth. It was not the healthiest meal, but it would suffice. While chewing a mouthful of flakes, he reached over and picked up an ear piece that resembled a hearing aid. But this one was different. Contained within was a microscopic MP6 tuned permanently to NNC (National News Center), a 24/7 hour news radio program. To activate the device, he merely had to gently squeeze it. Once to turn it on, again to turn it off. He squeezed once and stuck the unit in his right ear.
After the weather, sports and several commercials, after a half box of cereal and two cans of soda, they finally got around to the news. Headlining last nightâ€™s events was the apparent suicide of Dr. Carl Linsky, noted neurosurgeon currently on leave from the North Hill Clinic. Larry dropped the box of cereal, spilling flakes on the floor for the ants and cockroaches to feast upon. He didnâ€™t care. Carl Linsky - dead? He was shocked! That makes three down, five to go. And he was one of the five.
The news devastated Hammond. Reporters on the scene had interviewed several eye-
witnesses as well as the detective in charge, Eve Clements. Since Linsky was well known in the San Francisco area, six people identified him from photos provided via the news media. The problem the police were having was locating the body. The current under the Golden Gate Bridge was strong and the body could be far away by now. Still, divers were working tirelessly and they hoped to find him soon.
Larry squeezed the fake ear piece a little harder than normal, but the MP6 shut off just the same. What to do? What to DO? He needed to talk with his friend, Greg Call. But how would he find him? He had been in seclusion since the projectâ€™s inception. Just then, there was a knock on the door. Larry jumped, holding his breath, heart racing like a bongo player recording on fast forward.
â€œLarry, open up, itâ€™s me, Greg.â€
Recognizing the voice, Larry relaxed a bit and unlocked the doorâ€™s makeshift security. â€œHey, Greg, did you hear the news?â€
â€œYes, about an hour ago, and thatâ€™s why Iâ€™m here. We need to talk.â€ The next hour or so was spent raking over the details of the project and the direction it was heading. Neither of them knew the one who was selling out the project from the inside, but one thing was for sure: it wasnâ€™t Val Davis, Rona Morgan or Carl Linsky. And they knew it wasnâ€™t either of them. That left only three possibilities. One was highly unlikely, the other two much more likely.
Finishing with a warning, Greg Call left the apartment and his friend alone. He had to return to his lab and finish his work. Not on the project, but, rather, a secret project of his own. So much to do, so little time.
Larry, on the other hand, was shaking in his shoes. â€˜How in the world did Greg find me?â€™ he wondered. And, if he found me, so could others. Maybe the person or persons responsible for the deaths of the other three. This was getting out of hand. There were few places as unknown as the Flamingo Hotel. And yet, his friend had found him. Tonight he would move again. Also, he would no longer take a back seat to the events unfolding around him. He needed to take positive action and now!
Sunday, Nov. 8, 2037
Larry Hammond, relocated to an abandoned warehouse, was listening to his ear size radio. The anchorman had just announced that Linskyâ€™s body had been recovered from the icy waters some distance from the bridge. Identification was possible only through the efforts of the coronerâ€™s office and by his daughter.
That was the break Larry was waiting for. He knew where Linsky lived and he would dare to venture out in an effort to tail his daughter to see if he could find a clue. He hoped she would be staying at Linskyâ€™s house. If necessary, he would contact her personally. Something needed to be done and time was running out. It would be risky, but it was better than sitting around waiting to be killed.
Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2037
The funeral went without a hitch. Attended by his daughter Sylvia and several friends and colleagues, there was another visitor no one even noticed. Larry Hammond, parked on the far side of the cemetery, watched in earnest, using high powered binoculars, as the eulogy progressed. But he was not watching or listening to the deacon conducting the services. He was scanning the crowd, attempting to recognize any familiar faces.
He spotted Arnold Sternwood, director of North Hill Clinic. Also, he recognized John Klaus, an expert surgeon in his own right, standing next to Linskyâ€™s daughter. Several others he did not know came up to her after the ceremony and offered their condolences. She thanked them, tearfully, and then headed for the speeder waiting to take her home. Unknown to Hammond, she was still suffering from the frightful experience of having to make the final identification of her fatherâ€™s body. That particular memory would be long lasting, to be sure.
Once Miss Linskyâ€™s speeder was airborne, Larry followed her, at a safe distance to be sure. She went directly to her fatherâ€™s house and entered via the garage door. Larry parked in his usual spot, behind a dumpster at the end of the street. While each house had its own garbage cans, the dumpster was used by the local residents for dumping non-recyclable materials. Ergo, it provided good cover for Larry and allowed him to spy on Miss Linsky from a safe distance. No one came near the dumpster for two days now, and he hoped it would stay that way.
Now, if only she would make a move that would give him some reason to continue following her.
Thursday, Nov. 12, 2037
Munching on his favorite cereal, washing it down with his favorite soda, Larry Hammond was becoming restless. How did PIs do this stuff? â€˜Stakeouts are for the birdsâ€™, he thought. If she doesnâ€™t make a move soon, heâ€™ll just give up and move to another state.
He sat upright when he saw Sylvia Linsky exit the house and open the garage door. She backed out the speeder and headed for the new city business district. Larry followed closely, careful to change lanes, drop back, pull forward, so she would not notice. On the other hand, Sylvia had no reason to suspect anyone would follow her. But Larry was not aware of that, so he just kept tailing her cautiously.
Minutes later, Miss Linsky parked her speeder in the parking garage of the business complex located at 813 Fourth Street. Pulling in a few spots away, he let her exit the garage before he followed her. Watching the lights on the elevator, he made a note of the floor where it stopped. Pushing the up button, he patiently waited until the doors opened. Entering, he pushed the button for the tenth floor.
Exiting the elevator, he slowly walked around, peering into each office until he heard Sylviaâ€™s voice. It was office number 1015. He stood outside the door, listening intently to every word. She seems to be in the process of hiring a PI to investigate her fatherâ€™s death. Like Hammond, she did not believe her father was suicidal.
Now all he had to do was start tailing the PI. If heâ€™s any good, heâ€™ll drop him a line and help him along the way. Larry didnâ€™t know everything about the project, but he knew enough to supply some needed leads should the opportunity arise. And if he lived long enough, he just might be able to bring this whole sordid affair to a successful conclusion. IF he lived long enough.
Chapter twelve: 2043 A.D.
Chelseeâ€™s apartment - still
â€œWow, Tex, you actually met J. Saint Gideon? In person?â€
â€œYeah, you want to shake my hand?â€
â€œUh, no thanks. I would hope that you have washed it at least once since then.â€
â€œFunny, very funny. Now can I get back to the story?â€
â€œIn a minute, sweetie, I just want to briefly recap what youâ€™ve told me so far. First, you met Sylvia Linsky six years ago when she entered your office. She hired you to investi-
gate the suspicious death of her father. Doing so, you get to meet some interesting people. Det. Eve Clements, Delores Lightbody - did you ever date her? Never mind. Who else? Um, Arnold Sternwood, Sonny Fletcher, Wanda Peck, who Iâ€™m getting to dislike more and more, J. Saint Gideon, Jorge Valdez and a Frank Schimming. Howâ€™s that so far?â€
â€œVery good! Iâ€™m very impressed.â€
â€œBut, if I understand the story thus far, you seem to be getting more confused as each day passed. It certainly sounds confusing to me.â€
â€œYouâ€™re right. It was like I was trying to piece together a large puzzle. Most people would start with the edges first and then work the areas that appear to be colored the same. Well, thatâ€™s what the case was like up to this point. However, after leaving the Rank and File Chess Shop, I returned to my office for some much needed rest. Boy, was I in for a surprise.â€ I pause for emphasis and to let Chelsee stew for a minute. We men just have to do that to women now and again. Keeps them begging for more. Anyway, I light up another Lucky and gulp down my fifth glass of bourbon. Say, Iâ€™m starting to feel pretty good. I could tell this story all night. Booze has that effect upon the tongue.
â€œUh, Tex, do you mind?â€
â€œWhat? Oh, the story! Yeah, right. Well, when I opened the office door, the vid-phone was ringing. Upon answering, I come face to face with a short, balding mutant who talked out of the side of his mouth. He wanted to know if I was investigating the death of Carl Linsky. We exchange verbal thrusts and parries for a minute or so, then finally settled upon the issue at hand. He told me that if I left my office right away, I would find the lab of Val Davis unoccupied. This spurred my interest since he also informed me that she and Linsky were working together on the STG project.â€
â€œThat was your first hard evidence proving that the project really existed,â€ Chelsee stated excitedly.
â€œExactly. Also, the impression I got was the project was definitely secretive in nature. Well, needless to say, I rushed right over to the lab, using the directions provided by my mysterious friend. Sure enough, the door was unlocked and the place was empty. Well, almost empty.â€
â€œWhat do you mean, almost empty?â€
â€œIt seems Val Davis was a biological engineer and did research in that field using various kinds of animals. They were in cages, but they looked sickly and unhealthy. I shuddered to think what experiments were performed on these poor, helpless, dumb animals. Especially once I noticed the Radiation Chamber.â€
â€œRadiation Chamber? Sounds like things are about to heat up.â€
â€œNice pun. You know, with that kind of wit, you might become a PI - when you grow up, that is.â€
â€œGee, thanks, Tex.â€
â€œAnyway, I searched the room carefully and found some things of interest. There was a computer on the counter that was identical to Linskyâ€™s and Clarkâ€™s. However, it seemed that a powerful microscope was attached to it. I thought that was strange. But the mysterious informant said I was to find â€˜the chess move,â€™ so I figured it might have something to do with this peculiar setup.
â€œMy search was quick, but thorough. I knew from previous experience that I would need a passcard and a passcard reader if I was to get into the computer.â€
â€œWhat about a password? Wouldnâ€™t you need that too?â€
â€œVery good, again. As a matter of fact, there was a small piece of paper taped to the side of the microscope with the letters NEQUE written on it. Surmising this was probably a scrambled chess term, it took only seconds to rearrange the letters to read Queen. But, I still needed the passcard/reader combination to get the computer to work.
â€œAfter a few minutes, I realized that one or both of those items was probably inside the Radiation Chamber. Ignoring the two large yellow warning symbols on the door, I pushed the open button and entered. Walking but a few paces, the door automatically shut behind me. Thatâ€™s when the siren sounded and I heard a computerized voice say, â€˜Radiation at level one.â€™â€
â€œYou entered that chamber knowing there could be radiation poisoning awaiting you? That was a bit foolish, donâ€™t you think?â€
â€œNot necessarily, Chelsee. Most chambers of that type have a control panel on the inside in case of emergencies. All I had to do was open the panel and push the button.â€
â€œOh, I didnâ€™t know it was that easy.â€
â€œActually, it wasnâ€™t. When I found the control panel and opened it, someone had taken a laser blade to the circuits. Several of them where cut and unless I repaired them soon, Iâ€™d be toast.â€
â€œWho was responsible?â€
â€œI wasnâ€™t sure, but my PI instincts told me it was probably Slade. He seemed to be one step ahead of me throughout this entire case. At any rate, I needed to do something and quick. Remembering the circuit repair kit I pocketed when I was searching Linskyâ€™s warehouse, I pulled it out and ripped it open, spilling several minute metallic items on the floor. The automated voice blared again, â€˜Radiation at level two.â€™ I quickly checked the radiation gauge. If that level reached ten, Iâ€™d be fried.
â€œI picked up a few of the small repair circuits, tried to connect them, but wasnâ€™t having much success. Thatâ€™s when the voice announced, â€˜Radiation at level three. Danger: radiation level extreme.â€™ Oh boy! This is fun. The faster I worked, the behinder I got. Finally I came to the conclusion that I needed to slow down and think things through.
â€œI traced each damaged circuit and determined that if I completed one vertical and one horizontal circuit, it would act as a shut off. So, taking one repair piece, I connected it to the far left vertical circuit and twisted the bare wires to it. Nothing happened. â€˜Radiation at level four.â€™ I was beginning to dislike that guyâ€™s voice. Taking another repair piece, I attached it to the same left vertical circuit at another location and I was rewarded with a green connection light.
â€œNow for the horizontal circuit. I took the tiny repair piece and went to attach it to one end of the damaged circuit. But, I dropped it - again! No problem since I had one piece left. â€˜Radiation at level five.â€™ I quickly connected it. No green light. But I thought I had it all figured out! Sheesh! This is frustrating! Thatâ€™s when I noticed there was one more connection to make. Looking on the floor, I couldnâ€™t find the piece I dropped. Sweat was beginning to form on my forehead. My mouth was as dry as a cotton ball. My head was starting to pound to the beat of the blaring siren. â€˜Radiation at level....â€™ I know! I know! Radiation at level six you computerized moron!
â€œI needed to settle down if I wanted to survive this ordeal. Thinking of the great Sherlock Holmesâ€™ favorite slogan, I soon found the last tiny repair piece. It was in the cuff of my pants. I took it out and connected it to the horizontal circuit, causing it to turn green and shut down that hideous siren. The doors popped open and all was well.â€
â€œThat was a close call. By the way, what is that slogan the great detective used?â€
â€œ â€˜When you have eliminated the obvious, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.â€™ If it wasnâ€™t on the floor, it had to be on my person. The cuff was the most logical place to look.â€
â€œElementary, my dear Bando.â€ Chelsee smiled at that tidbit of wit. â€œAnyway, on the floor behind the experimental chair was the passcard reader I needed. But, try as I did, I just could not locate the passcard itself.
â€œI exited the chamber and attached the reader to the computer. Once again, only more slowly, I searched the entire lab. Finally, I ended up in front of the large cage containing a small gorilla. His name was Koro. I looked at him squarely, but he hardly noticed my presence. He was too involved in trying to open a small metal box. I said to him, â€˜Say, Koro, you wouldnâ€™t happen to know where I can find a computer passcard, do ya?â€™â€
â€œSounds like you and Koro talk the same language. Thatâ€™s not too hard to accept, considering you and him are not that far apart on the evolutionary scale.â€
â€œWhat do you mean by that?â€
â€œMy point exactly, monkey boy.â€
â€œNever mind the bad jokes. Let me finish my brilliant deduction. Uh, where was I?â€
â€œTalking to the gorilla?â€
â€œOh, yeah. The gorilla. Well, feeling dejected, I put my hands in my pockets. Thatâ€™s when I extracted the last banana. It looked very inviting, especially since I had little to eat all day. As I was about to peel it, a thought occurred to me. The metal box!â€
â€œThatâ€™s where the passcard was hidden.â€
â€œHave I told you this part of the story before?â€
â€œNo, but it just seemed the logical hiding place. Elementary, my dear Murphy.â€
â€œTouchÃ©! And youâ€™re right. I took out the bottle of sleeping pills and stuffed three of them into the banana. Tossing it into the cage at the feet of Koro, I enticed him to eat the banana. He quickly grasped it, tore off the peel, and devoured it in one gulp. Two minutes later, he was out for the duration. Now all I had to do was open the cage and get the box. I searched everywhere, but no keys were to be found. However, I did find an animal control device.â€
â€œWhat was that?â€
â€œWell, you lay people would call it a pole. I extended it into the cage and urged the box over to my eagerly waiting fingers. Opening it rewarded me with Val Davisâ€™ passcard. I went to the reader, swiped the card, typed QUEEN and... nothing happened. This had me confused until I remembered the attached microscope. So, I placed the card under the scope and the computer screen automatically magnified it 20 times. On the bottom left corner of card A was the letters Qxd7. This must be the chess move the informant was referring to. Thatâ€™s when it hit me.â€
â€œNo, smarty pants. The idea that if one passcard had a chess move on it, then maybe the others do as well. So, I took out passcard E, Linskyâ€™s, and placed it under the scope. It had the letters Rd1 on it. Clarkâ€™s passcard, G, had the letters Rxe7 written on it. These are chess moves, but I was only a novice player and wasnâ€™t sure what they meant. However, I made a special note of them in my notebook. I had a feeling they would come in handy.â€
â€œNot so fast, my dear. I have a long way to go with the story. I had determined that I reaped all the info I could from Davisâ€™ lab. It was getting very late and I was extremely tired. Besides, Iâ€™d had about all I could take of those whimpering animals. And the possibility that someone would return soon was increasing. So, I left.
â€œWhen I got to my speeder, I remembered the informantâ€™s words that he would be watching. Without turning my head, I looked everywhere to see if I could find a tail. None, but that didnâ€™t mean he wasnâ€™t following me. He could have been anywhere. There were still several speeders in the parking lot and even more flying overhead. Bushed, I decided to forget about him and head back to my apartment.
â€œWhen I opened the door, I stepped on a hand written message. It must have been delivered while I was at Davisâ€™ lab. I picked it up and was surprised to see it was from Sonny Fletcher. It beckoned me to come to his room immediately. He had some info on Slade he wanted to share with me. So, tired or not, I headed right over. To this day Iâ€™m glad I didnâ€™t go to bed and wait to talk with Sonny the following morning.â€
â€œIâ€™ll tell you why.....â€
Saturday, Nov. 14, 2037 11 pm
I land my speeder in front of Sonnyâ€™s despicable and run down apartment building. It reminded me of a grease trap on an army base just after noon mess on a sweltering hot day. And it smelled even worse, like a porta-potty at a chili cook-off. Maybe this would be the last time I would need to visit Sonny. I canâ€™t take much more of this place.
As I traverse the short hall to his room, I notice the door is partially open. This seemed odd considering the last time I left the door open he checked the hall and closed the door. It appeared he was worried someone was watching. But not today.
I knocked lightly.
â€œCome in,â€ said a voice full of confidence and elation. Was this the same Sonny?
Entering, I heard a delightful tune playing on an old style record player. It was called â€˜Mariaâ€™ and sung by, if I got my Texans correct, Bob Wills who was surnamed The King back in the mid twentieth century, by Texans, that is. We all know the real King was Elvis Presley.
Something else caught my attention as I entered. Sonny had metamophasized into a new creation. His hair was combed back, he had donned a clean, pressed pair of khakis, a clean dark shirt and a cowboy strand tie with a turquoise broach holding it together. I was thoroughly impressed.
â€œSonny, que paso, hombre,â€ I asked animatedly.
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