John Livingston Harvard returns and finds himself working for the government, but this time as an undercover agent for the F.B.I. He and his partner have been tasked with uncovering the latest plot by the Coeptus Guild. Children are quietly disappearing throughout the country. Not just any children, but only those of genius IQ's from troubled or poor homes. The task force set up to deal with the Guild has uncovered information gleaned from the home of a dirty judge that the Guild is responsible and Benevolence has nothing to do with it. The project is merely fuel for the Coeptus Guild's burning desire for power.
John and fellow agent Frank Carlotta travel to a small and isolated town in the mountains of Oregon. Who in this tiny hamlet can be trusted? Like all small towns, they are suspicious of strangers but are they typical small town reservations or are there deadly Guild members hidden amongst them?
It's going to take time but they need to discover what it is that the Guild is up to. Who is friend and who is foe? With typical ruthless efficiency, the Guild becomes aware of their efforts and intend to clean up the entire project. The missing children are found at a rural compound but who are the real victims? Is it just the children or are there those on the staff and some in the community who have been duped as well? Killing them all and letting God sort them out is not an option.
“There is no truer cause of unhappiness amongst men than, where naturally expecting charity and benevolence, they receive harm and vexation.”
Anyone strolling the grounds of the remote school would be awestruck by the majestic beauty of both the surrounding mountains and the Elizabethan architecture of the massive, three story main building. It was a setting one could describe, at the very least as pleasant, peaceful and certainly conducive for the serious studies that went on behind the solid, stone walls. The fact that the administration building and the other outbuildings were of a more modern, utilitarian brick design did little to detract from the stately setting. Standing at the entrance, soaking up the scene for the first time, one of the administrators remarked that it was like a bit of heaven placed here on earth by God himself. That said, some of what transpired, the reasons for the activity behind the great walls was anything but God like.
* * *
Rosalie Mendez sat staring out her third story window as her math instructor droned on and on about, it seemed to her, the same thing and she contemplated a question increasingly on her brilliant mind. Was she a happy girl or not? Some dunce in the back row just wasn’t getting it, which was a little unusual since all of her classmates were very bright. She was bored since math was her specialty. She understood and could readily perform multiplication from the age of four. Rosalie was eleven and she was way above that level of math, as was everyone else in the room, though she currently had an increasing interest in the medical field.
So now she sat, staring out at the rolling hills and woods that surrounded the facility and wondered if she was happy or not. A year ago, she could have answered that question with an unqualified, “Yes!” or, “Si,” in her case. Her family had lived in motels and flop houses for as long as she could remember. They were poor, dirt poor. She did vaguely remember living in a small house, more rightly called a shack in Mexico, but that had been a very long time ago.
That had been before her loving parents had discovered what an especially bright child she was. Coming from generations of Mexican peasants, no one in the area had ever remembered a child as smart as Rosalie and all agreed that it was a shame that she couldn’t get a better education. Everyone recognized that she was special, even her name marked her as unique. Rosalie was not Hispanic, rather the French variation of the Italian, Roselia, which her parents understood to mean, ‘rose garden’ and in their eyes, she was all of that and more.
Which was why her father decided that they needed to move to the United States. Of course, they had little money and no chance of getting into the country legally. So they did it in the time honored fashion of crossing the border in the middle of the night, through a hot and perilous desert. She knew that for as long as she lived, she would never forget that terrifying ordeal. Her little heart had pounded so hard she had thought she would surely die but she had remained focused on their goal, quashed her fears and had stoically taken it all in stride. They has crossed with other peasants, one of whom had been bitten by a rattlesnake. The group had stopped only briefly before leaving the stricken woman out there alone, to survive as best she could. Her father had been very upset, but in the end had agreed with everyone else that they could not afford to be caught. The man they had paid to lead them across the border promised he would notify the authorities as soon as everyone else was safe. To this day, Rosalie never knew if the man had kept that promise or not. Her highly rational brain told her most likely he hadn’t. That same rational brain told her the woman’s likely death wasn’t her fault but the other side of the scale was weighed heavily by a sense of guilt.
After days of difficult, terrifying travel, they managed to find themselves in a small, two story bungalow on the north side of Chicago in a predominately Hispanic neighborhood. They lived there with four other large families and though the conditions were cramped, Rosalie didn’t care. She was an unusually happy child and could adapt to almost anything. She had never seen such relative opulence. It was a wonderful place! She, as was her way, made friends with everyone in the place almost immediately and they responded in kind. What about her was there not to like? Rosalie was always polite and as considerate of others as any child her age could be, always wanting to please.
But as the months passed, her parents became increasingly perturbed by the crowded conditions. People slept in every chair, on every table and clear floor space available, including the bathtub and the closets! Her father had managed to get a job at a construction company and her mother cleaned houses. They decided that they made enough money to get a room at a cheap, smelly motel that rented rooms by the week and so they had moved. It was still crowded, but nothing like it had been. Their little family at least had some semblance of normalcy and Rosalie was enrolled in the local public school. Though it may not have been the best school by American standards, it was a far, far better education than they could ever have hoped for in their little town in Mexico.
Years passed and they moved from hotel to hotel as income dictated. But no matter where they moved, Rosalie’s parents made sure that she, her younger brother and sister, always attended the same school. They often used the address of their original bungalow to qualify for the same district and then painstakingly drove the children to school each morning and picked them up each night. Rosalie excelled, always at the top of her class. Her parents provided for her and her siblings as best they could and they even though they were poor, they were a happy and loving family.
Then, a year ago, she had been called to the principal’s office. Two women who she had never seen before were waiting for her. She was told that there had been a terrible accident and both of her parents were critically injured. The two women were from the Department of Children and Family Services, DCFS, and were there to take her to the hospital to be with them.
A tearful and scared Rosalie climbed into their car and they drove from the school grounds. One of the women received a call on her cell phone and after hanging up, informed Rosalie in a somber and gentle tone that her parents were dead. She was stunned! Her whole, happy little world crumbled around her. She barely heard the women as they told her that they would be taking her to stay with someone else while they searched for family members to take her in. Her highly intelligent brain had gone numb, but the same fortitude that had gotten her through the desert calmer her enough to ask about her brother and sister and was told that others from DCFS would also attend to them and she would see them soon.
But she never did. The next day she was whisked aboard a private plane that landed at a remote airfield. That in itself was a wonder to her for she had only seen an airplane from a distance, let alone flown on one. She was then taken to the facility in which she now sat. She was provided with her own, dormitory style room that she shared with another girl about the same age.
Compared to her previous living conditions, it was luxurious. She even had her own laptop computer, though no access to the internet. Having had little experience with that mysterious digital world, she didn’t miss it and all the programs she needed were either loaded onto her computer already, or she had access to them via the school’s in-house network. She was provided with new clothes and more food than she could ever have imagined. And the teachers! She soaked up the knowledge like a sponge, though she soon found that in spite of the fact that she was still consistently at or near the top of her class, she had to work very hard to keep up with her classmates. She didn’t realize it, but the facts were that while most children her age were in the seventh grade, her class’s current curriculum was at a university level!
Notwithstanding the elevated school level, everyone here was very nice, helpful and provided her with everything a child would need. Even toys were provided, though most of them had some sort of educational value. Christmas and all of the holidays were celebrated and Rosalie and most of the other children here were as happy as any orphan could be.
But she missed her family, especially her Mama and Papa. Whenever she asked about her brother and sister, she was told that they had been placed with other families. Which, they said, was good, but they reminded her, her siblings were not as fortunate as she was to have been placed in such a fine environment. That certainly seemed to be true, but she still missed her family and sometimes she even missed their cramped little motel room living quarters, eating McDonalds on the bed or celebrating Thanksgiving with a Walmart pre-roasted chicken. At least they were all together then.
Her attention and her gaze returned to her math instructor, who was furiously writing on the black board as he continued to clarify the problem that had confounded the dodo head. Bored, her mind soon wandered once again. She guessed that her lot in life was as good as she could hope for, given the circumstances. But she so wanted to talk to her brother and sister. She wondered where they were. Were they happy? Did they ever miss her? There had to be a way to find them. There just had to.
* * *
Zack Matthews was eight, big for his age and like Rosalie, he was daydreaming about his predicament. He didn’t know Rosalie Mendez, but if Rosalie’s chair had fallen through her math class floor, she would have struck Zack directly on the head. In many ways, he was the antithesis of Rosalie. From early on, Zack was aggressive to the point of being mean, questioned everything he was told to do and loved to knock people about. In short, he was a bully. If given the chance, he had all the makings of a great football player some day… or a hit man. His moral future hung in the balance at this juncture of his short life and only time would tell to which side the scale would fall.
His family’s financial situation was opposite of Rosalie’s as well. His parents were well off and Zack had everything a little boy could want and in many cases, more. He had a horse, an ATV, lavish birthday parties and spent his summers at a camp in the nearby Adirondack Mountains of New York. His family wasn’t in the multimillionaire range, but they had good jobs and they had no problems spending money. They lived for today and worried about tomorrow… tomorrow.
However, the difference in income was offset by the differences in their family life. Zack’s parents were more concerned about themselves and their careers than they were about establishing a family foundation. They were consistently indifferent to him. It was almost as if they had been expected to produce children and so they complied, with one, Zack. Now they could tell their bosses and clients that they had children and could trade stories with them when needed. On some basic level, they did care about Zack, but neither took the time to show him what little affection they did feel and his father was short tempered and sometimes violent. Though he never took the time to think about it, Mr. Matthews was teaching his son that if he was bothered by something, the best way to make it stop was to blow up and become violent. Everyone paid attention then.
In keeping with that train of thought, everyone at Zack’s school knew of him, for several reasons. To begin with, even at his age, he was extremely good looking and all of the girls wanted him to like them. It amused the lad to play them off against one another, telling first one girl then the next that he wanted her to be his girlfriend. Of course, when confronted, he would deny everything, which sometimes caused him to be in hot water with the girls, but it never lasted long and with a very brief passage of time, they would all be fawning over him once again. This only reinforced the notion that he could pretty much get away with anything he wanted.
The boys, on the other hand, were all afraid of him. He was the rare bully that had the brawn and the will to back up his bullying. One of his many classes back at home had been in karate. He originally took them in a class setting with other students, before one instructor after another refused to work with him because of his aggressive, unruly nature. But he caused such a ruckus over this, that his father found an instructor that would come to their home for private lessons.
This same type of behavior also brought the unwanted attention of his teachers and school principle. Invariably, the school would contact his parents and it was usually his father that would come and get him. Zack’s strength and martial arts knowledge did little good against the beatings his father would subsequently give to him. It wasn’t his behavior per se that upset his father. It was the embarrassment and the lost time from work that aggravated him.
There was one other reason that everyone at Zack’s school knew of him and in this he really was like Rosalie. Regardless of his behavior, Zack’s IQ was way above the genius level. Though close, it was even a tad above Rosalie’s. Seeing his potential, if only he would stay out of trouble, more than one teacher at his previous schools had tried to take him under their wing, had tried to talk to him and his parents about what he could accomplish. One by one, they failed to get through to either Zack or his parents.
He and Rosalie had one other thing in common. One day, only a few months ago, he was called to the principal’s office. There, the similarities ended. Unlike Rosalie’s bewilderment as to why a summons from the vaunted office had been issued, Zack figured that some kid had ratted him out for yet another foul deed. He wondered which kid and which deed and how he would extract his revenge.
He was soon surprised to learn that for once, he wasn’t in trouble. Instead, he was informed by two women that he had never seen before, that his parents had been tragically killed. These two women were from his parents’ attorney’s office and would be escorting him to their office where they would notify next of kin to come and pick him up. Zack complied and while in the car, tried to sort out his feelings. After a few hours at the attorney's office, he was informed that none of his relatives were willing to take him under their care. Given his behavior record, it really wasn’t all that surprising.
That being said, any child psychiatrist examining Zack would have come to a surprising conclusion. Zack, by nature, wasn’t a mean child. He had merely reacted to external forces that had prevented him from showing his true demeanor. Unlike some individuals, he actually wanted to be loved and to show love in return. His unruly behavior was merely a way to emotionally protect himself and it was his cry for the attention he so desperately wanted.
So that was was why he, like Rosalie, sat day dreaming about his predicament and his feelings. In spite of the way his parents had treated him, they had still been his parents. Like all children, the only thing he’d ever wanted from them was to be loved, to pay attention to him. Now, that could never be and much to his surprise, he suddenly realized that it saddened him that he would never see them again. He missed them, terribly. He was so different from Rosalie, yet so much the same.
* * *
Now if Rosalie’s chair had indeed fallen through the floor and on top of Zack and if both of them had subsequently continued on and fallen to the first floor, they would have landed on Hetty Lang. Hetty was a thirty-four year old, divorced school teacher who, it just so happened, was also staring out the window, deep in thought and also pondering her current situation.
Hetty was the picture of an up and coming school Marm and was in the prime of her teaching career. She was thin, wore glasses and had a perpetual scowl on her face. Her long dark hair was always tied in a bun or at the very least was held together by a hair clip of some sort. A stern look from her, it was said, could turn a student to solid stone, at least temporarily. But like Zack, her appearance belied her true self.
In reality she was a warm hearted woman who had a stedfast zeal for teaching others. She loved children and desperately wanted some of her own. But her loser ex-husband did not share her desire for an offspring and it had caused some vicious fights over the years. He had eventually found someone that wasn’t always pestering him about conceiving and had left Hetty suddenly, without warning of any type. She had come home from school one day to find all of his things gone and a copy of divorce papers sitting on the kitchen table.
Far from being upset or even surprised, she merely looked up an attorney in the phone book and gave him a call. In fact, she found that she was actually relieved. She had cried a bit, but that was over the lost chance to have children of her own and had nothing to do with her divorce. She knew she was rapidly approaching the point where the odds conception without complications of birth defects were diminishing. That said, she was finding it increasingly difficult to foresee a future where she could meet a man, fall in love, get married and still have enough eggs left in her to bear children.
So she put all her efforts into her profession, trying to come up with new programs, pushing the students to do their best, urging the other teachers and faculty to do more. But she found that the ways of most of her peers were set in stone. They were perfectly happy with the status quo and though she succeeded in getting some of her programs through, mostly all she did was to alienate the majority of the school staff. She became profoundly frustrated and unhappy with the situation.
Then one day, she met a kindly old gentleman at the local coffee shop who commiserated with her about the state of public schools. She continued to bump in to the old man, who, it turned out, was a retired professor and she began to open up to him about her teaching vexations. Their meetings became planned and she looked forward to the sight of the kindly old gentleman as she entered the coffee shop.
On one particularly bad morning, after her latest teaching proposal had been turned down in no uncertain terms, the retired professor offered her an alternative. There was, he said, a new school opening up that was going to cater to gifted, underprivileged children. It was, for the most part, in a dormitory setting and they were looking for outstanding teachers to staff it.
However, he explained, there was a caveat. The school did not have the resources for the untold numbers of children who would be interested. Further, he stressed, the school was for lost and poor children only. If word got out that it was geared toward an intelligent, high end curriculum, then the more fortunate would attempt to buy their way in. When that failed, they would undoubtedly find some way to undermine the institution. Because of this, he continued, the school was intentionally located in a remote area and secrecy was paramount. She could tell no one of the particulars of her job or of her students.
That wasn’t a problem for Hetty. Her mother had died some years before and she rarely talked to her father. She had no real ties to anyone now that her husband was gone. The proposition instantly gave her seemingly rudderless life a sense of purpose and she eagerly accepted the position. She made the move and in no time at all, she had settled into her new surroundings. Though it was quite a change, the warm, flat state of Florida, to the cooler, mountainous state of Washington, she fell in love with the area. This past winter had given her the first real taste of snow and she found that she reveled in it, so clean, so pure, so… cool, in every sense of the word. She didn’t think she would ever move back to Florida.
Hetty also found that far from being ostracized for her novel ideas, she and her proposals were welcomed with open arms. And her students! They were every teachers’ dream come true, incredibly bright and for the most part, well behaved and happy to be there.
So why was she staring out the window and feeling… well… she wasn’t quite sure. Everything here seemed perfect. Maybe that was the problem. She wasn’t used to having everything in her life going so well. Was she waiting for the other shoe to drop, perhaps? The only thing close to a problem that she had seen, concerned a boy named Zack. Everyone agreed that he was a trouble maker. He was certainly smart enough to be at the school, but disruptive to say the least. However, she thought, she didn’t like the looks that the Headmaster was giving the boy and the conversation that she had overheard between the headmaster and his assistant, Miss Wells. It sounded like they were thinking of removing the boy entirely from the school.
That, in Hetty’s opinion, seemed a bit drastic. She had seen much worse behavior and a lot more of it in public school. Not only that, but she thought she detected a lot of good in Zack. To her, it seemed that his antics were more of a cry for attention or perhaps frustration or perhaps both, than anything else.
A soft, “ping,” from the overhead speakers indicated that it was the end of the current class and the end of her break. That meant the students had ten minutes to get to their next class and she to hers. She rose from her desk, collected the teaching materials she would need and headed for the door. As she did so, she thought again of Zack Though she didn’t really know him, she felt a strong compassion for him and didn’t want to see him tossed out like some defective tool. Perhaps that’s how he’d been treated in the past and that was the reason for his actions. “Yes,” she thought, “I think I’m going to look into Zack’s background and see if I can find a reason for his behavior.”
* * *
“You may kiss the bride,” the priest loudly proclaimed to the man standing before him. John Livingston Harvard bent down and kissed the former Susan Browning. John’s nine year old daughter, Mary-Kate, looked on with a grin. When they finished kissing, a bit longer than the man of God thought was proper, the priest raised his hands and announced to the crowd of well wishers with a smile, “I present to you, Mr. and Mrs. John Harvard.”
As they stepped down from the alter, John motioned for Mary-Kate and took her tiny hand in his. Together, the three began walking toward the rear of the church. There were many people gathered to greet them. Nick Giovanni, his best friend, current Police Chief and presently acting as best man, stood looking on with a huge grin on his face. He had known John a long, long time. They had joined the police force together and had eventually become partners. Usually, there was a very special bond between men who watched each other’s backs in situations that would send most folks scurrying for safety and this was no exception. John had been a good, reliable partner and he was glad that John had finally found himself a good woman.
John and his fourth wife had divorced shortly after Mary-Kate had been born. He had retained custody of Mary-Kate and a very special relationship had grown between them. That said however, nothing could replace the companionship of a full grown woman and Nick couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen his friend so happy. John met his new wife in less than pleasant circumstances. He had left the police force and had gone into business as a private detective. Sue had been kidnapped by a ruthless consortium of individuals known as the Coeptus Guild. John had located her and in the ensuing gun battle, all of her captors had been killed. Though she had come through the ordeal relatively unscathed, John had been grievously wounded. He had lapsed into a coma and Sue had stayed at his bedside for days, leaving only to shower and eat.
When John had finally returned home, Sue accompanied him, caring for him and Mary-Kate as he brought himself back to health. An attachment had grown between them that had blossomed and resulted in the current proceedings. They made a good couple and Nick could only hope that this marriage would last. The failure of his last one had nearly broken John and Nick shuddered to think what would happen if his friend had to face it yet again. John was a strong man, mentally as well as physically, but there was only so much any man could take. Nick didn’t think he, himself, would have been able to deal with as much.
Much the same thoughts were going through the mind of Frank Carlotta who also stood, greeting John with a smile and a nod as he and his new wife walked by. Frank was a sergeant with the Sheriff’s office. He had only really known John for about a year, but he had also come to learn that John was good in tight situations and they had developed a strong friendship. He’d worked with him on yet another case involving the Coeptus Guild. Once again bodies had been dropping like flies, although this time, neither he nor John had been seriously hurt.
After ten minutes of hugs and handshakes, the new Harvard family entered Nick Giovanni’s gleaming new black SUV and were driven to a local banquet hall for a small, but very posh reception. It was well beyond the price range of John, but his new in-laws, Peter Browning and his ex-wife, Dana, were way more than financially well off. Dana, who already had money, had remarried into even more and Peter owned his own software company and that provided him with most of the luxuries that life could provide. They both liked John and they were happy that their only daughter had finally met her soulmate.
Sue, a genius level programmer, had never been married before and her parents had just about given up hope that she ever would be when John had come along. It wasn’t that she wasn’t pretty. She was definitely, what is known in guy circles, as a, “looker.” But she had some emotional scars left over from her parents’ divorce that had previously caused her to bail whenever a man got too close. She just didn’t trust men, which made her attachment to John all the more ironic. With a track record like his, she should have been running for all she was worth in the opposite direction. On the contrary, she had instead felt a calming presence whenever she was around him and she trusted him implicitly.
Her trust wasn’t misplaced. John had made some serious relationship errors in judgement when he was younger and had fortunately learned from them. That was a good thing because both he and Sue knew that what was coming would be a trial for both of them. Later, when dancing the first slow dance on the dance floor, they held each other tight and John whispered in her ear, “I love you Sue. I wish I didn’t have to go.”
“I know you do,” she whispered back. “But you have to. These people have to pay for what they’ve done, for what they’re still doing. We’re going to have the rest of our lives together. I can spare you a little longer while you do what needs to be done.” She hugged him tighter and put her head on his shoulder. “Just come back safe,” she said without looking at him, fighting back tears.
“I will,” he said. “You can count on it.”
* * *
While Rosalie, Zack and Hetty were contemplating their situations, a full continent away, Judge Raymond P. Walton III, sat in his jail cell, thinking about his predicament. It was, he decided, not good, not good at all. He was a kindly looking, slightly overweight old gentleman with neat gray hair. His years of being on the bench and deciding the fate of others, had caused him to develop an authoritative bearing about him, tinged with a slight air of arrogance. Any unknowing person who talked to the Judge even briefly, would have decided that he was a pillar of the community, a good upstanding citizen and public servant, trying to right the wrongs of the world.
But as with Hetty Lang, looks can be deceiving and the Judge was proof in point. There was nothing kindly about Judge Walton. He had been responsible for the deaths of countless people and that was usually after they had been imprisoned and threatened if not tortured. There were countless other crimes in his resume, including theft and fraud. Fortunately for him, the authorities knew absolutely nothing about the vast majority of his wrongdoings.
The reason for his current imprisonment was the cold blooded murder of his own wife, who also happened to have been a Federal Agent and the attempted cold blooded murder of his own adult son. But they suspected much more than that and they were furiously digging through his life, trying to discover what else the Judge had been involved in. Like busy beavers building a dam, industrious agents from several federal agencies were tracking down every lead, every little nugget of information gleaned from his computer, his finances, files at his home and his case files as they attempted to uncover the full extent of his villainy. Being the extremely intelligent person that he was, the Judge realized that these efforts would probably not be in vain, the autopsy of his life was beginning to yield some interesting results.
The Judge had a decision to make. He knew that he did not want to spend the rest of his time on earth rotting in some jail cell. He also knew that if he betrayed them, well, he wouldn’t have to worry about rotting in jail. He’d be rotting in a casket and he knew that better than anyone. It had been quite the conundrum. But in the end, the Judge did what the Judge always had done, decided that his personal comfort came first.
He had called one of the agents assigned to him and told him he wanted to meet. He also informed the agent that he was ready to talk, for the right price. That price began with his freedom and would progress from there. However, he stressed to the agent, secrecy was of paramount importance because they had eyes and ears everywhere, including the very Federal agencies that were investigating him. The agent had agreed to most of his demands right there in that interview room. The Judge knew he would. They weren’t at all happy over the fact that he had gunned down his wife, one of their own, but they were willing to sell their soul over the chance to get at them.
Besides, the Judge thought, the killing of their agent, his wife, wasn’t personal really, it had been business. She had been using him to get to them. Her fatal mistake had been that she didn’t realize that he was one of them, until it was far too late. His son, well, the man was an imbecile and didn’t deserve to take up precious air that more deserving people could use.
The, “them,” in this case, was the Coeptus Guild, a shadowy, powerful group of individuals who sought fortune from any place they could find it and they didn’t care if it was legally obtained or not. They concentrated mainly on high tech stuff such as computer programs and hardware. If the Guild became aware of something they wanted or thought would be profitable, they would do what they needed to get it. Their normal modus operandi would be to first approach the creator of the item in question and try to buy it, at a reasonable price of course. If the owner would not cooperate, intense surveillance was set up on the individual and then they would threaten those closest to him, usually his family. If the individual tried, at any time to contact the authorities, they would kill him. If the threats failed, they would take the next step, kidnap the individual.
Once they had them in custody, all sorts of coercion would be used, from the killing of loved ones, family member by family member, to his or her own death. If the person in question caved in to their demands, the Coeptus Guild had no problem with giving the individual a very fine price for the software or hardware in question. It was sufficient an amount to pretty much ensure that the individual would never go to the police. That was coupled with the stern warning that if the police were ever to become involved, well, there was still the matter of the health of their loved ones. If, after all of this, they failed to coerce the person to give up their work, the person involved would… disappear, never to be heard from again.
They had a huge number of dummy corporations set up all over the world. They had some real assets of course, but none of them had any obvious links to the core group that composed the Coeptus Guild. By selling and reselling the item in question to the point that the authorities could nab, at most, some semi-innocent wrong-doer, they succeeded in insulating themselves from the original crimes. The result of all of this efficient smoke and mirrors routine was that on the very few occasions that someone had gone to the police, nothing was ever confirmed. It was like chasing a ghost. They never even got to step one.
That is, until John Livingston Harvard got involved. It was a simple enough case to begin with. A bright computer programmer, Susan Browning, had developed the ultimate hacking program that could break into any computer system in the world. That wasn’t her intent though. She developed it only as a means to develop an anti-hacking program that would render all computer systems safe from this evil malady. For obvious reasons, Coeptus Guild wanted it. Push came to shove and they ended up kidnapping her. Soon after that, Harvard became involved and it all went rapidly downhill.
Harvard succeeded in not only getting Susan out of the clutches of the Guild, but also managed to expose enough of their operation that the authorities now knew that Coeptus Guild wasn’t some imagined boogyman in the night. However, they still weren’t getting very far until… John Harvard… again.
And this time he had uncovered a real prize, Judge Raymond P. Walton, III. Which is how the upstanding Judge came to be in his current state of affairs. The authorities didn’t know it yet, but the Judge was one of the core group. They had unknowingly scored a direct hit by capturing him and the Judge knew that Coeptus Guild would spare nothing to get him back, at least he hoped. But he’d been here almost a year and they had made no attempt to contact him. He thought there was probably something going on behind the scenes to secure his release, but he saw no evidence of that. On the contrary, all he saw was the relentless march of the agents as they got closer and closer to the real truth. Finally, the Judge decided that it was time to take matters into his own hands while he still could. If, by some miracle, the Feds managed to uncover everything, he would have no bargaining chips. He had one big chip to offer them. As a matter of fact, it was the chip of all chips, but he would offer it only as a last resort because giving them this chip, would certainly stack the odds of a long life against him. The Guild would never rest if they found that he had given up this chip.
The Judge’s thoughts were interrupted when his cell door opened and two Federal Agents stood before him, indicating that it was time to go. He followed them out into the sally port that led past the rows of cells containing other prisoners. The Judge suddenly, with angry shouts of protest, attacked one of the agents. It had all been prearranged for the benefit of any curious onlookers. He was dutifully subdued and told in equally loud, angry voices that he would be taken to solitary confinement. Instead, he was loaded into a waiting car in the basement garage and driven from the jail.
He rode in silence until they arrived at a Federal building a few miles away. The agents pulled up to an overhead door at the back of the building and pushed the button for the remote control that operated the door. It failed to open. The agents cursed and after repeated attempts, decided to park next to the door and walk the Judge into the smaller side door. They had, after all, had problems with the door just recently. They got out and with one hand on the Judge’s arm, began walking the few steps to the side entrance.
* * *
Billyray Jenkins was known by a few select members of the Coeptus Guild by many names, but all knew that he was the best at what he did. They had used him many times, all over the world and he had never failed them, except once. Here, in this same stinking little town. It had been his only failure and it had cost him dearly. Frank Carlotta had managed to find him and wound him severely. He’d not only failed his mission, but had been nearly killed as well. Almost as important, his identity had been discovered.
The Guild knew that Billyray was an immense asset and so they not only forgave him for his failure, but spent the time and money to give him a new identity, which included a new face. The plastic surgery had been painful, but well worth the effort and he was free to roam at will, until the Guild called him for his next assignment.
That is exactly what they had done a few days ago. The mission was back here, in this town and Billyray looked at it as his chance of redemption, both to the Coeptus Guild and to himself. He wanted to complete his task for the Guild, then settle a little unfinished business with Frank Carlotta and that Bastard, John Harvard. He knew he had the Guild’s blessings when it came to taking out Harvard, Carlotta was a little bonus for himself. Trouble was, he couldn’t find either of them, which was really surprising because Carlotta was a cop. He should have been easy to pick up.
From his perch on the rooftop, he saw what was obviously an unmarked Federal car pulling up to the garage two blocks away. He glanced down at his watch. They were right on time. He reached down and picked up a small box with an antenna protruding from it. He pushed the button and microseconds later, a high energy radio signal fried the circuits of the garage door opener on the Federal building. He hoped it would have the desired effect. It did.
After a moment, the car backed up slightly and did what Billyray had planned on it doing. The agents parked next to the big door. The doors of the car began to open as Billyray cuddled up to his favorite possession, a Remington Model 700BDL rifle with a Leupoid Ultra Mark IV sniper sight. For that was what Billyray was so good at. He was a sniper.
Through his view finder, he watched as a gray haired old man exited the back seat. One of the agents grabbed his arm and began leading him to the side door. The sniper took in a large breath and slowly let out about half of it until his breathing eventually stopped entirely. He zeroed in on the back of the Judge’s head as it spun back and forth, obviously looking for threats. Billyray gently began to squeeze the trigger. He had no idea that his target had once been his handler. A split second later, the Winchester .300 magnum round was on its way and it no longer mattered.
The Judge never saw his attacker. Never heard the sound nor felt the bullet as it entered his skull just behind his ear and blew out the front of his head, peeling his elastic face from his skull almost as neatly as a hunter skins a deer. His last thoughts, as he wildly searched for the danger he was sure was there, were, “Christ, I don’t like this. It would be just like them to plan this garage door thing. I wonder where the fuck…”
Billyray smiled and calmly began packing up his weapon. “And so it begins,” he thought.
There was a very simple reason that Billyray couldn’t find John Harvard and Frank Carlotta. At the very moment that Judge Walton went to meet his maker, they were just stepping out of a rusty, beat up old 1977 Pontiac LeMans. Frank closed the driver door with a shove and winced as it complied with a loud, groaning, protesting creak. He walked his forty-three year old, five foot ten inch frame to the back of the car, and proceeded to unscrew the gas cap in preparation for fueling. His piercing gray eyes subconsciously scanned the area for possible threats. As the tank began to fill, he leaned his muscular torso against the car and smoothed his jet black hair, which was combed back away from his forehead. They were at a truck stop off Interstate 84 near the Oregon/Idaho border. From there, they were going to take Rt. 20 into Oregon and head for the mountains, which were still some distance from their present location. The tank was over half full, but neither of them had been to Oregon before and they weren’t sure how many gas stations they would encounter before reaching their final destination. The distance between the truck stop and the small town they were heading for looked pretty desolate on the map.
“You want me to drive a while?” John asked Frank, who had been driving since they had left their last hotel, six hours before.
“Nah, I’m fine, though I have to admit that the smells coming out of that building are making me hungry,” he said, nodding toward the truck stop restaurant. They had been surprised to learn that truck stop food could be pretty good and reasonably priced.
“Yeah, me too. I think I’m going to take a look. If I’m not out by the time you’re finished, then I like what I see and I’ll wait for you.”
“Sounds good,” Frank replied.
John ambled over to the restaurant and walked in. He wasn’t disappointed. Two large, rectangular serving areas in the middle of the seating area functioned as distribution points for a hearty looking buffet. The place looked clean and the copious amount of truckers was proof enough that the food would most certainly satisfy their palates. John’s feelings of hunger quickly throttled up to ones of famished.
A pleasant looking blonde woman moved toward him, bearing a huge smile across her cheery face. “How many in your party honey?”
John couldn’t help but flash a return grin toward her amiable persona as he answered, “That will be two, milady. My buddy is getting feed for our steed.”
She giggled as she looked over the man standing before her, He looked to be in his mid to late forties and stood just over six feet tall. He was solidly built, handsome and was most likely an ex-football player, maybe even pro from the look of his well maintained body. His black hair was parted to the side, with an unruly lock that hung down in a Reganesque fashion. His smile melted her insides and she decided that though he was substantially older than her, he was still a, “hunk,” and she would definitely go out with him, if he were to ask. “My, what a charming gentleman you are,” she replied lightly. “You’re here for the buffet? That’s what everybody wants.”
“With a smorgasbord such as this,” he waved his hand toward the buffet with an exaggerated flourish, “how could we resist?”
Her giggles turned to an outright laugh. “Then I won’t give you menus, unless you want them.”
“Nope. Just show me to our table.”
She escorted him to an empty table and John sat down. Frank joined him a few minutes later,
“Looks like a pretty good spread. You know, I think I could live in these places.”
“Hah!” John returned with a smile. “That’s only because you don’t have a woman at home to cook you a descent feast now and then. These places are better than I thought, but there’s nothing like a good meal at home.”
“Yeah, well… I’m working on that.”
“And it’s working out for you… how?”
“Listen asshole, did we come all this way just so you can scorn my nonexistent sex life, or are we going to eat?” and with that, Frank got up and started toward the buffet in an exaggerated, obviously fake huff.
John followed suite and a short while later they returned to their table with plates piled high. A couple of more trips were required before both men felt satiated and when they were finished, they sat contentedly as they jabbered about life in general. They were just preparing to leave when Frank’s encrypted cell phone rang. The phone was the property of the U.S. Government, F.B.I. specifically and John had one as well. It reasonably assured that any conversations taking place on them would be safe from unwanted listeners. Both men looked quickly about for anyone close enough to hear any forthcoming conversation and Frank answered it with a barely audible, “Hello.”
“Frank, we gotta problem,” said Stuart Carlotta, Frank’s older brother, an agent with the F.B.I. “Judge Walton just had his head blown off.”
The alarm was obvious in Frank’s eyes as he motioned for John to pay the bill and rose from his booth. “Hold on,” he said to Stuart as he quickly headed for the parking lot. Walton was the main reason for them being there. Information obtained from the nefarious Judge’s computer had indicated that the Coeptus Guild was involved in something substantial in Oregon, something referred to as the, “Novus Project.” They weren’t quite sure what it was, but there were enough ambiguous references to it to justify sending Frank and John out there to look into it.
Shortly after the Judge’s arrest, the F.B.I. had secretly brought them into their fold, thereby giving them Federal powers to conduct themselves however they saw fit to help bring down the Guild. They were now officially known as agents Harvard and Carlotta, though currently both men were traveling under different names. Both had been given carefully chosen new identities, or, “Legends,” in trade speak.
A, legend is a meticulously planned identity that would hold up under close scrutiny. How close would depend on how detailed the legend went. Some legends took years to assemble and included such things as fake yearbooks with the assumed names, false prison records, college diplomas, fake parents, it could go on and on. Frank and John’s identities had been hastily thrown together in a few months, but were designed to hold up pretty well. The Coeptus Guild’s prowess at cross checking was found to be comparable to a lot of the world’s security agencies. In fact, it had been discovered that a lot of those agencies had Guild members working within them. Because of this, few knew, even within the F.B.I. itself, that Harvard and Carlotta were working for them and even fewer knew of their new personas.
Though the operation had already been put in motion, the fallen Judge had recently decided to cooperate with the authorities in exchange for a lighter, if not totally dismissed charges. They had been nearing an agreement with him for his full cooperation, in exchange for which they would put him in the witness protection program. He had already given them some information, enough to whet their appetites for more. However, the Judge had still not coughed up any information about the Novus Project. It had been obvious that he was holding that as an ace card, proof enough that whatever it was, it was definitely worth looking into. They had continued to put pressure on him, even passing up some juicy tidbits of information in their quest to find out more about the mysterious project. They finally felt he was very close to caving.
They had hoped that by the time Frank and John had gotten to Oregon, the Judge would have filled in a few details so they could focus their investigation quickly. It was now apparent that would not happen.
When Frank reached the car, he looked around again for anyone close by. He got in, put the key in the ignition and turned on the radio. He tuned it to a Country music station with a male artist singing his heart out. There was a purpose to this. Anyone who might be attempting to listen with an eavesdropping device, either planted in the car itself or with some sort of a, “shotgun,” mic, would be defeated by the overriding sounds of the singer and his accompanying band.
“Okay,” said Frank. “What the fuck happened?”
“Well, we were bringing him in, hopefully for the last time,” Stuart replied. “We were going to lay it all out on the table. Either he tells us everything, including the Novus Project, or we’re done talking. We had his protection program all set to go. The Judge was going to have a sudden heart attack, from which he would not recover. He would then be hustled off to a safe house where the real work would begin. We were going to show him his protection package, at the same time making it clear, now or never. We were quite certain he would take it. He was getting desperate, you could see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice and he was scared.”
“Apparently with good reason. So how did they get to him?”
“The two agents brought him to the underground garage, but couldn’t get the overhead door to open. They have had trouble with that door lately so they didn’t think a whole lot of it. They parked next to the building and were going to take him through the side door, it was only about ten steps. Next thing they knew, the Judge’s brains were splattered all over the place.”
“Sniper?” Frank knew from past experience how much the Coeptus Guild loved to use snipers.
“You guessed it. Whoever it was had somehow gotten into the building and planted a device into the circuitry for the overhead door. At the appropriate time, he activated the device and that was it for the door. It was well planned and executed without fault, pro job all the way.”
Frank looked over as John got in the car. “The problem here, as I’m sure you’re aware, is that the sniper had to know the Judge was going to be there and at what time. So, any idea as to who your mole is Stu?”
Stuart sighed and confessed, “Not a fucking clue. There are very few people who know about the meetings and fewer still know the details, especially the times. The question is, did one of those people knowingly pass on the details or is it a case of loose lips with the wrong person? At this point, even I do not know who to trust. I’m contacting one of my buddies at the CIA to look into it. The point is Frank, I don’t know how much support we can give you out there. I’m afraid of telling anyone about your progress. Sorry bro, but until further notice, you guys are on your own. I’ll help out as much as I can, but you’re going to have to rely on other sources for your grunt work.”
Frank was in a familiar position. He was an ex-special forces sniper and was used to going in-country for long periods of time, relying on his own resources and wit to survive. He was as well equipped to pull this off as anyone and Stuart knew it.
“Frank, hold on, my other line is ringing.” Frank heard Stuart pickup us his office line and begin talking. As he waited, he brought John up to speed.
“You don’t think…” John began.
“Billyray? Yeah, I do. He sure knows the terrain and he definitely has the skill set.”
“How the hell did he pull that off? He’s only been gone a few months and every cop and Fed in the area has a picture of him.”
“I don’t know,” answered Frank. “But what concerns me more, is what about our legends? I wonder if they’re still intact.”
Frank turned his attention back to the phone as an obviously shaken Stuart began talking, his voice was grim. “I don’t believe this. Things are going from bad to way fucking worse,” he groaned. “The Judge’s house has blown up and if that’s not bad enough, the room where the majority of his files were kept here at our office, also just went poof.”
“Holy shit! You got major fuckin’ problems there Stu.”
“Yeah, well, our problems are your problems, if you know what I mean.”
“I know,” replied Frank. “John and I were just discussing it. Anyway you can look into our legends, we’re concerned about them?”
“As you should be. However, the good thing is that very few people know about you and John and I’m fairly confident about the those that do. I’ll do what I can to look into it Frank, but I’ve just been called into a meeting and the whole building is on lock down while we try to sort this out. In fact, they’re expecting me any minute. I’ll find out what I can and call you when I learn something.”
“Okay, but watch yourself Stu. It looks like Coeptus Guild is in the middle of a major cleanup campaign and I don’t think they’ll hesitate at this point to take out one little old F.B.I agent if it suits their purpose. Hell, for that matter, they may just do it for GP, ‘General Principles.’”
There was a moment of silence while both men mulled this over. Finally, Stuart said, “Maybe you guys should pull off until we know more about what’s going on. I’m not particularly worried about my welfare, I have plenty of backup around, but you guys are literally walking into the lion’s den and you have no one but yourselves to get you out. Hell, they may already know your new names and be eagerly awaiting your arrival. John would be a specially prized nugget for them.”
Frank thought about that a moment as he looked over at John. “I’ll talk it over with him, but I’m pretty sure he’s going to feel the same as me. We already knew that this Novus Project looked pretty substantial. In my mind, what we’re seeing now confirms it. We jerk this thing around and they may well pack it up and move elsewhere, which means we could lose the thread completely. As far as I’m concerned, we’re going.”
Frank heard his brother sigh on the other end of the phone. “Alright, I know better than to try to talk you out of it. Just watch yourselves, will you?”
“We will Stu. You’d better get to your meeting. I’ll talk to you later.”
They hung up and Frank looked at John. “Well, things are really getting interesting already.” He filled him in on the latest news. When he was finished, he asked, “So, do you want to back off and wait until they sort it out?”
John didn’t hesitate, “No fucking way. If anything, I think we should get there as fast as possible, before they have time to close things down. We should at least try to find out what they’re up to, exactly what this project is. Then, if they move it, we at least know what we’re looking for.”
Frank nodded his head in agreement. “Yeah, I feel the same way. Still, I’m a little concerned about our legends. Stu’s right, they could be just waiting for us. On the other hand, he did say that he felt comfortable with the few people who know about us”
“Then let’s do this, let’s drive into the general area, we’re only a few hours away. We’ll get a motel room and hold off driving the rest of the way until the morning. Hopefully Stu will have been able to find out something by then.”
“That’s sounds like a plan I can live with,” replied Frank and with that he turned the key in the ignition. The engine instantly roared to life. An alert passerby would have been puzzled by the smooth, powerful sound of the starting engine. It simply didn’t fit with the battered and worn exterior of the old Pontiac LeMans. The dilapidated exterior of the vehicle belied its true nature. The original 455 cubic inch engine had been replaced with a new LS7, a seven liter, overhead valve, fuel injected Corvette engine that produced an astounding 505 horsepower. That power was transferred to the wheels through an equally new and efficient six speed transmission. In fact, pretty much every hidden component of the vehicle, suspension, drivetrain, brakes, all had been replaced with new and vastly improved equipment. Frank could have driven the vehicle onto any NACAR track and done quite well.
To combat the in-congruency of the sweet sounding, muscular engine to the shabby exterior, hidden switches had been provided to cause a variety of malfunctions, from the extinguishing of one or more headlights or tail lights, to temporary breaks in the exhaust system, causing it to sound loud and in need of replacement. Other switches caused one or more cylinders to misfire, making it sound like the car badly needed a tune-up. Last but not least, a kill switch had been provided to ensure that only authorized personnel could start the vehicle. Anyone attempting to open the hood of the vehicle would have been confounded by the apparent fact that the hood latch did not work. It did, but it could only be activated by flipping yet another hidden switch inside the vehicle.
Frank backed out of his slot and onto the highway. Soon, they were headed west on Rt. 20 in Oregon. John was surprised by the mostly flat, desolate nature of the terrain. He had always envisioned Oregon as a mountainous state with heavy forests. A lot of the State is that. However, the southeastern and central portion of the state is what is known as a, “high” desert, though a much cooler one than the commonly known deserts in Nevada and Arizona.
There were long stretches of road that were straight as an arrow and bereft of vehicles. It was on one such stretch that Frank and John saw the blue twinkling lights of a police car, far in the distance. As they got closer, they saw that a State Trooper had apparently pulled someone over, though they weren’t close enough to see what was in front of the blue Dodge Charger squad car. It was offset from the vehicle that had been stopped and it wasn’t until Frank was actually moving over to pass, that they could see in the distance what was happening in front of the squad.
The scene jolted them both to full alertness. Frank quickly slowed and moved the car toward the shoulder of the road, some distance behind the squad. Four men had been standing between the two cars. However, none of them had been the trooper. Both John and Frank had seen the blue uniformed man lying on his back in the middle of the group. They didn’t know what was going on, but it didn’t look good.
“Shit!” John cursed. “We can’t let this go Frank.” Their whole mission could be compromised if they got involved with anything that drew attention to themselves, such as the possible killing of a cop and the apprehension of the suspects. On the other hand, John had been a decorated ex-cop and Frank was a current Sergeant on the County Sheriff’s department and now both men were technically Federal Agents. Their duty to this officer in need was more urgent than their mission. Not only that, but John and Frank were men of action. Ignoring something like this simply wasn’t in their nature.
“I know John.” Frank looked over at him. “But let’s try to keep the gunplay out of it.” He knew that John had fired his weapon in the line of duty way more than the average cop and was quite proficient at it. They were all justifiable shootings, but they had to try and minimize their exposure and having four dead perps wasn’t exactly the definition of minimizing.
John didn’t respond, but did reach into the back seat and grab his coat. Frank looked at him with a puzzled expression. “You go by the left side of the squad, but wait until I throw this over the windshield.”
“Ah,” Frank grunted. He knew what John was planning. They didn’t know if the squad was equipped with a dashboard camera or not. However, most squads had them these days and John was going to throw the coat over the windshield, blocking the camera. Then, he and John could take whatever action was necessary to assist the cop, without being recorded by the camera for future examination.
Both men got out of the car and flipped off the safeties on their guns. They put the weapons back in their waistbands, out of view. As they approached the rear of the squad, they could hear the men.
“Fucking pig!” yelled one. John and Frank could hear the obvious sound of a man being kicked. There was no response from the trooper. That wasn’t good.
“Listen Tom, we need to get out of here,” said another, grimly. It wasn’t an order, just an obvious suggestion. It would appear that ‘Tom,’ was the most likely leader of this little group of thugs.
“Yeah, well, we can’t just leave him here,” said ‘Tom.’ “We need to take him and his fucking car somewhere and get rid of them.”
“Hey, here comes a car,” squealed one of the men.
“Quick help me move him away from the road before somebody sees him,” Tom ordered.
John and Frank looked up and could indeed see a car coming at them. At this point, none of the perps had noticed John and Frank’s quiet approach. They ducked behind the squad and could hear the men dragging the trooper. John held up his hand to Frank, indicating for him to wait. Frank nodded silently. They wanted to wait until the vehicle passed before taking any action..
A moment later, the passing car went by. It was obvious that the driver had not noticed anything amiss, indeed, he didn’t appear to have even noticed them at all. But as the four suspects watched the car go by, they noticed the old LeMans.
“Hey!” said one of them. “Where the hell did that come from?” They all looked at John and Frank’s car.
“Gigs up,” said Frank quietly. Since all of the men were now on the right side of the car, he added. “You go on the left side now.” He stood up and walked along the right side of the squad, calling out cheerily, “Hi guys. What’s going on? Can we be of assistance?”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw John walk up to the windshield and throw his coat over the center of it. The four men also saw the action.
“What the fuck did he do that for?” asked one of them with an obvious look of growing apprehension.
“Don’t you boys know about dash cams? They record everything in front of the car,” John said with a smile on his face that did nothing to comfort the four men, all of whom looked to be in their early to mid-twenties.
He looked down at the prone trooper. His face was covered in blood, some of which had splattered onto his blue uniform, but John could see no obvious wounds to his torso. Hopefully, the man was just unconscious.
“Yeah, we know about them,” said the apprehensive one. “But why did you do that?”
“Because,” interjected Frank, “we don’t want the camera to see us helping you out.”
Confusion was plain on all of the faces of the four men. One, the biggest and the meaner looking of the four, boldly stepped forward. “And how, exactly, are you going to help us out, old man?”
“Well,” answered John, “we’re going to help, by stopping you boys from doing something stupid, like killing this cop and dumping him and his car somewhere. You must be Tom.”
Tom’s surprise over the fact that John knew his name was short lived as a look of anger took hold of him. “Look, asshole, if you know what’s good for you, you’ll take a hike and forget what you’ve seen here.” With that, Tom reached down and pulled a seven inch hunting knife from his waistband.
“Oh no,” groaned Frank. Everyone’s attention focused back on him. They saw Frank roll his eyes in an exaggerated manner and a smile splay across his lips. “You really shouldn’t have done that. I’m kind of surprised that my friend here hasn’t put a bullet right square in the middle of your forehead already. But I suppose it’s because we had a prior agreement that none of you pussies were worth wasting good bullets on.”
Tom was confused. A normal person would be scared to death, facing four strapping young men who had just taken out a cop and one of whom now held a large hunting knife. Neither of these guys looked scared. In fact, they looked as though they were rather amused by the situation. It was definitely cause for concern.
And now they supposedly had guns and were not going to use them? Tom decided that they were bluffing. He didn’t know who they were, but his passion was getting the better of him. For Tom was a man of great passion and the anger at the audacity of these two men was more than he could bear. He was going to gut the big one who had thrown his coat over the windshield, like a fish.
He looked at John. “Fuck you asshole!” he snarled and started toward him. “You guys take out the other one.”
John was patiently waiting for Tom to make his move. He heard Frank to his right. “I can’t believe you fuckers are going for it. John, try not to kill him please.”
Tom heard Frank as well and hesitated. “Who the fuck are these guys?” he wondered as he warily approached John, who took no defensive posture and simply stood before him like he was waiting for a bus. Tom heard his friends as they jumped Frank. He was becoming increasingly disconcerted over the cold calmness of the two men. He could hear the sounds behind him and it didn’t sound like it was going well for his compadres, the three to one odds notwithstanding. This whole thing just didn’t make any sense, no sense at all. He began his attack on John by quickly thrusting forward toward John’s seemingly unprotected midsection.
What Tom didn’t know, was the fact that John was a fourth degree black belt in a form of martial art that was designed to take on multiple opponents at the same time. Originally taught only to palace guards and royalty, the form focused on putting down opponents quickly, usually lethally, so the martial artist could turn his back on them in order to concentrate on the next assailant. When taking on multiple attackers, one didn’t have time to waste exchanging blows and dancing around. Tom also didn’t know that John was in superb shape, running every day and brutally forcing himself to perform endless martial art movements called, “katas,” that were designed to improve and maintain speed, strength and flexibility.
Tom couldn’t have known that he was picking a fight that he couldn’t possibly win. He also couldn’t have known that Frank wasn’t anyone to be trifled with either. He was ex-special forces and had served in combat on several fronts. Taking down three unarmed bullies with no training would be as easy as making breakfast for himself, as Tom’s companions were currently in the process of learning.
Tom lunged forward and John quickly spun to the side and used his left forearm to redirect the plunging knife harmlessly away from him. With the bottom edge of his right hand, he chopped downward at Tom’s knife wielding wrist, causing the knife to fall to the ground. Then, in one blurring motion, he stepped toward Tom and with the top edge of his right hand, followed Tom’s arm up toward his head, striking a vicious blow to his throat. Instantly, whatever fight was left in Tom, evaporated into thin air.
John’s forward momentum continued as he jumped high up in the air. At the top of his arc, as he passed behind Tom and spun so that he was now facing Tom’s back. Both of John’s hands reached down and grabbed the man’s shirt, one hand on either shoulder. As gravity took over and John’s momentum made him begin to head earthbound, he held onto Tom’s shirt as he fell to one knee, jerking Tom off his feet causing him to violently fall backward.
Tom was fortunate that John did not want to kill him, for the actual ending of this particular movement was to have Tom’s back slam into John’s raised knee, breaking his back. That was supposed to be followed by a coup de grace, a plunging elbow to the throat, just for good measure. Instead, John used the movement to merely slam Toms head and torso into the ground. The last thing Tom saw was the bright blue Oregon sky, then stars inside his head, then… nothing.
John looked down at Tom’s unconscious form, then up at Frank. He was just in time to see Frank’s last opponent spinning through the air. The fact that the man made no attempt to break his fall told John that he was already sleeping just as soundly as the fallen Tom.
He stood up and smiled as Frank looked over at him. “Good timing. I was just finishing up here as well. How’s our friend there?” He motioned to the trooper.
Frank didn’t say anything, but moved to the man and knelt down. As John approached, Frank looked up. “He appears to be okay, but he has a nasty wound to the back of his head.”
“Good. Let’s get these guys secured and use the squad’s radio to call it in.” They found some plastic handcuffs in the patrol car and used them, as well as the troopers handcuffs to bind up the four men. Then, they loaded all of them into the rear seat of the squad. They also found a coat in the trunk of the car that they used to replace John’s coat.
When they were finished, John entered the squad and moved to the UHF radio. He had already found the car’s apparent number and so he keyed the mic. “Base from 431.” He didn’t know what the normal protocol was for the Oregon State Police, but it didn’t really matter as they responded to his call quickly.
“Who is this?” came the stern response from the State Police dispatcher. “Where is trooper Johnson?”
“Ah, well, this is a concerned citizen. There appears to have been some sort of altercation here and the trooper has been struck on the back of the head. He appears to be okay, but he’s unconscious and needs an ambulance immediately.”
There was a moment of silence as the dispatcher took in this information, then she came back on the radio. “I say again, who is this? Are you the one responsible for this?”
“No, I’m just a concerned citizen. You’ll find the four men responsible handcuffed in the back of the squad. Ah, they may need some medical attention as well.”
John threw the mic down on the seat of the car and got out, taking the tissue with him that he had used to handle the mic. He didn’t want to leave any fingerprints. He could hear the dispatcher calling for him again. He shut the door and looked over at Frank. “Time to get the hell out of Dodge.”
“I agree, let’s get out of here quick. We don’t know how close his backup is.”
After retrieving John’s coat, they hurried back to their car, performed a u-turn to avoid the squad’s camera and were soon racing down the highway. They were only about four miles away when they saw the first trooper scream by them at a high rate of speed.
“Whew! That was cutting it close,” Frank muttered.
“Maybe we should get off the main drag a while,” John suggested.
Frank complied at the next side road and they spent several hours leisurely cruising back roads as they meandered toward their ultimate destination in the Cascade mountains.
Night was just falling as they pulled up to a small old hotel that appeared to be nicely kept. They opened the door to the lobby and caught a strong smell of curry. There was no one behind the desk. A small sign by a hand bell indicated that it should be rung to summon assistance.
Not surprisingly, the bell was answered by an older, tiny woman of middle eastern descent whose heavy accent made it difficult to understand what she was saying. After struggling through the language barrier, Frank paid with cash and put his assumed name on the registration card. A short time later, they opened the door to their room and were greeted by an old, musty smell. Even from the door, John and Frank could see both of the double beds had mattresses that made the terrain of Afghanistan look flat. Frank groaned, “This oughta be a pleasant night.”
John laughed as he threw his duffle bag on one of the beds. “Bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch. Is that what I’m going to have to put up with all night, old woman?” He didn’t wait for an answer, but instead went directly to a tiny television suspended in one corner of the room and turned it on. “I want to see how much attention our little roadside assistance has gotten. Let’s see how much they know about us.”
Frank grunted, dropped his bags in a corner and approached the TV. John flipped through the channels until he came upon an overhead view of the scene on Rt. 20, obviously taken from a helicopter. A woman reporter was speaking.
“… they aren’t sure who the samaritans were and the suspects in the case aren’t cooperating at this point, except to say that several men attacked them for apparently no reason. They had stopped to help Trooper Johnson, whom they had found on the side of the road, near his police car. The four suspects say that the men snuck up behind them and attacked them before they had a chance to defend themselves.
This of course, is in direct contradiction to Trooper Johnson, who is recovering from a severe head wound on the back of his head. In his statement, he says that he had stopped the vehicle the four men were riding in, for speeding. The driver and a passenger got out of the suspect vehicle and approached the trooper as he got out of his squad. After a brief conversation with the driver, a passenger, later found to be Thomas Lateen out of Portland, kicked the trooper in the groin, causing him to fall to the ground. A short scuffle ensued which ended when Mr. Lateen struck the trooper on the head with a rock, causing him to lose consciousness. Thomas Lateen is a known drug dealer and was later found to be wanted on numerous warrants for running a meth lab and other drug related charges.
A short time after the original fight in involving Trooper Johnson and Thomas Lateen, OSP received a call from Trooper Johnson’s radio, informing the dispatcher what had happened and asking that an ambulance be dispatched. She said that the caller was calm and, ‘very official,’ sounding. Help arrived within minutes and the responding OSP trooper found an unbelievable scene. Trooper Johnson was still unconscious and lying on the side of the road. His head had been propped up with a rolled up blanket taken from the trunk of his vehicle. A makeshift bandage had been wrapped around his head to control the bleeding. All of the suspects were found, handcuffed and unconscious in the back of the patrol car. What really complicates the situation is the fact that a coat had been placed over the windshield of the car, blocking the trooper’s dash camera that records all of the events taking place in front of the squad. It would have recorded all of the unfolding events had not the coat been placed in its strategic position.
Who were these ‘good samaritans’ and why did they go to such lengths to hide their identity? Are they wanted men themselves and if so, for what? Lots and lots of questions, but the good thing out of all of this is that Trooper Johnson is expected to have a full recovery and some dangerous criminals are behind bars. OSP asks that anyone that may have seen something or has any knowledge of the events today, call your local OSP office…”
“Well, it appears we’re in the clear,” said John as he looked over at Frank. “I’m starving again. You ready for some food?”
Frank chuckled. “I swear to God, I’ve never known anybody that can eat like you. You’re always hungry. Alright, let’s go see what we can rustle up. Got to fuel up for next big adventure.”
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