Title: The Human Touch
By: Amy Jonas
Archive: Sure just let me know
Diclaimer: As soon as I win the lottery they'll be all mine but until then The Lone Gunmen are owned by the letters FOX and the numbers 1013.
Summary: The Gunmen learn an elderly homeless man's death ties into their investigation of a pharmecuticals company.
Daewoo Pharmaceuticals 1:10 am
"Testing; can you read me?" Byers tapped his headset; glancing at his associates for confirmation that their communication was working. Frohike's short and stocky form emerged from the shadows. Tossing a cutting tool into the van, he gave Byers a thumbs up in reply.
Langly grinned as he pulled his long blond hair into a ponytail, securing it with a grubby rubber band. "Everything's a go." He jumped into the back of the van, already bringing up the building's security on his laptop even before his butt touched the chair.
"Security will be ready when you are," Frohike told him as he joined Langly.
Satisfied, Byers turned to Jimmy, "Ready?"
The younger man nodded and they moved toward the opening in the chain-link fence that Frohike had cut for them. Byers slipped through easily while Jimmy had to squeeze past the jagged wire . As they started jogging into the bowels of the compound, they heard Langly's voice in their headsets, "Bring us back some souvenirs."
Langly was of course referring to the anonymous e-mail they had received that morning. The tipster accused executives of Daewoo Pharmaceuticals of destroying and falsifying data that proved their latest miracle drug, RP10 had an insurmountable failure rate. With FDA approval only weeks away the four journalists were determined to uncover the truth and get the evidence.
Cautiously, they continued through the darkness until they came to the narrow pathway that lead to the rear of the building. The dirt trail cut through what had once been a carefully maintained recreational area, but neglect from company budget cuts had left it overgrown with brush.
After traversing half the commons area, Byers stopped suddenly and grabbed Jimmy's arm. "I thought I heard something," he whispered in answer to Jimmy's questioning look. They stood silently, listening to the night. The constant din of cicadas surrounded them while an owl hooted somewhere in the distance.
After a minute passed without hearing any other noises, the tension that threaded Byers' muscles eased. He shook his head, ready to dismiss the sound as his imagination when he heard the sharp report of snapping twigs. Byers stomach twisted nervously, someone was moving in the thicket. He glanced at Jimmy; the younger man's worried look indicated he had heard it as well. For a moment, Byers entertained the notion that a security guard was making an outside sweep of the grounds, but years of experience and instinct argued that underpaid security guards rarely left the warmth and comfort of their stations.
Signaling Jimmy to move ahead of him, Byers watched the larger man's dark form for a moment before sweeping his gaze over the trees and foliage, attempting to determine which direction the sounds were coming from. More twigs snapped. Someone was just ahead and getting closer. Byers felt his heart thudding in his chest.
The next few seconds became a blur as a black shape burst from the thicket, crashing into Byers. His legs flew out from under him and he slammed backwards into the ground. His breath rushed from his lungs. The prowler tumbled on top of him. Byers gasped for air. Green eyes, inches from his own, widened in astonishment from a slit in the black ski mask. Then there was pressure on his chest as the man pushed against him, leaping to his feet. Byers rolled onto his hands and knees, coughing, just as the man withdrew a deadly looking hunting knife.
"Don't move!" The man rasped.
Byers froze, barely aware of the sharp pain of a stone cutting into his palm. His eyes trailed the knife's tip as it waved inches from his face. Moonlight gleamed off its serrated edge. His heart slammed against his chest, trying to break free from the confines of his chest. Nervousness radiated off the other man in waves. Byers knew that one sudden move on his part and the man would strike like a cornered rattler. "Hey!"
Both men jerked around to see Jimmy racing toward them like a determined bull, oblivious to the danger. Byers wanted to shout at the younger man to stop when out of the corner of his eye he saw the prowler unconsciously take a step back. Though thick and solid, the intruder was smaller in stature than Jimmy. After a second's hesitation, the man turned, fleeing into the darkness until even his muffled footfalls disappeared.
"Byers, are you ok?" Jimmys' worried face towered above him.
Byers released a shaky sigh of relief. "I'm fine." He accepted Jimmy's hand and was yanked to his feet. "I don't imagine you got his license plate number," he joked, brushing non-existent dirt from his dark clothes, allowing him time to regain his composure.
Frowning, Jimmy peered into the darkness where the man had run off, "I don't hear an engine. Do you want me to check?"
Byers sighed as he picked up the headset that had fallen off in the scuffle. Jimmy took things too literally at times, "Jimmy, it's an old joke." The younger man nodded, his attention wandering back toward the brush, scanning it. Byers checked to make sure the headset was working properly then spoke into it. "Frohike, what's your status?" Langly's voice came over the headset. "We're waiting on you guys. Their security is a total joke. The guard at the main desk is watching Attack of the Killer Tomatoes." Despite the disdain in Langly's voice, Byers knew the hacker never missed a chance to watch the movie so he could mock it. "Shut up, punk." Frohike took over the conversation. "Byers, where are you guys? We have enough tape for a loop when we shut off the cameras at the back entrance." "We ran into an intruder," Byers said dryly. "Are you guys ok?" concern threaded through Frohike's voice. "Do you want to abort?" "We're fine. I think we should continue with the plan." "Copy," replied Frohike. "Just be careful out there." Byers grinned as he cut the transmission. "Let's get moving, Jimmy. Jimmy?" Byers glanced around but Jimmy had disappeared. His stomach knotted with frustration and concern at this development. Jimmy could sometimes be distracted in his enthusiasm but Byers knew he wouldn't just take off. "Jimmy!" He whispered as loudly as he dared, "where are you?" "Byers, over here," Jimmy's anxious voice drifted from the underbrush. "Call 9-1-1." Byers removed a small flashlight from his pocket and plunged into the thicket, careful to avoid any dark shapes that might trip him. His mind raced as he considered the possibility that the prowler had doubled back but quickly discounted it. Whatever the prowler's agenda, he had been as startled to see Byers and Jimmy, as they had been to see him. He pushed the thought aside for later consideration when the shrubs opened to a small clearing. Panning the light, he saw Jimmy kneeling in the earth, not moving. He approached cautiously. "Jimmy?" He whispered. "Are you ok?" Jimmy's head turned slightly, "The bleeding won't stop." Byers' heart lurched at the distress in Jimmy's voice. Thinking he had been injured, Byers rushed forward, pausing only when his light illuminated a figure stretched out on the ground before the young blond. Jimmy was pressing his hands firmly on the person's chest, attempting to staunch the blood that covered his hands. Assessing the situation, Byers quickly removed his cell phone from one of his pockets and punched in 9-1-1. He briefly told the operator what happened, giving flawless directions to their location. He then reported to Frohike and Langly, giving them a thumbnail description of the unexpected turn of events. He also told them to leave before police arrived. Frohike argued with him, "We're not leaving you guys." "Frohike, you can't do anything to help," Byers pointed out, "and besides, do I have to remind you what we are doing is illegal? We may need to be bailed out tomorrow." Frohike conceded reluctantly and Byers could hear him telling Langly to pack it up. Then the signal went dead. Byers slipped his cell phone back into his pocket then crouched next to Jimmy who was talking quietly to the man. The man's deeply lined face was the color and texture of dried leather, a result of years of exposure to the sun and elements. It made him appear older, but Byers placed his age in his late fifties. The old man's clothes were thin, ragged and covered in layers of grime. His eyes were glazed from pain as he gasped, trying to catch his breath. A trembling filthy hand reached up, grasping one of Jimmy's blood slicked hands. "Pl - lease," the man begged, forcing the words through his pain, "h - h- elp" "You're going to be ok," whispered Jimmy. "Help is coming, hang on." He held the old man's hand gently, feeling frail bones pressing against dry, thin leathery skin. He glanced desperately to Byers hoping he would have an answer but Byers glanced helplessly back and shook his head. "Don't.....leave me." Jimmy turned his attention back to the old man, his anguish and fear ripping through Jimmy's heart. Tears stung his eyes as he clasped the man's hand tighter, wishing they could do something for the man. "We're not leaving you," Jimmy said fiercely; his vision blurring, "you're not alone." Byers watched the old man's desperate eyes search Jimmy's then turn to him. Their eyes met for a second before the old man's body shuddered as he struggled for breath and then stilled. The two men kept a silent vigil beside the man until they heard the wail of sirens in the distance. After a moment, Byers stood up and placed his hand on Jimmy's shoulder. "I'm going to meet the ambulance and police," he said quietly, "will you be ok?" Jimmy nodded. As Byers left to meet the ambulance, he continued to hold the old man's lifeless hand. "I'm sorry we couldn't help you," Jimmy whispered.
A little more than six hours later, Byers and Jimmy walked out of the police station free men. Langly and Frohike were waiting for them next to the van. Frohike was back in his usual attire of combat boots, dark pants and leather Kevlar vest with his trademark black leather fingerless gloves. Langly had changed into his standard heavy metal band t-shirt, jeans, and hi top sneakers. He leaned against the van watching their silent approach. "So how were the accommodations," he cracked, "did you get room service?" "Langly." Frohike shot him a withering look meant to silence him. "Don't mind him, guys." Byers looked exhausted and troubled while Jimmy stared at his hands as if all the answers in the world were written on them. Now was not the time for Langly's sarcasm. "He's just gloating because he wasn't cooling his ass in the hoosegow." "We were not arrested," Byers said. "The police questioned us at length about the murder. When they finally decided to believe our account of what happened last night they were going to charge us with trespassing. Luckily, Daewoo refused to press charges; I think they were embarrassed that not only did we almost break in, but an elderly man was killed on their property." "So who was he?" Frohike asked.
Byers shrugged, "As far as the police are concerned, he was a vagrant looking for a place to sleep. They figure he surprised the burglar and was killed." "Too bad." Langly pushed himself away from the van and brought the conversation back to business. "So now what do we do? The FDA is going to approve RP10 if we don't find proof that Daewoo falsified their data. People could die." "We have to tread carefully; the murder showed Daewoo they have serious security breaches," Byers said. "We also need to discover who sent that e-mail." "I already tried," Langly told him, "It came from a zombie machine; whoever sent it covered their tracks pretty well." "Zombie?" Jimmy looked up, his interest piqued. "Like Night of the Living Dead?" Byers shook his head, "A hacker hacks into another machine by embedding a program in a program or e-mail. When the user opens the e-mail, the program becomes alive and the hacker can then use the `host' machine to hack into other machines." "I'll hack into Daewoo's security and see what's new." Langly said. Jimmy watched as the guys started to get into the van. "What about the old guy?" They stopped and looked at Jimmy. "What about him?" Frohike asked.
"When I asked Detective Rosen to let me know when they found out who the old man is, he said a homeless man's death wasn't a priority. That he had more important cases to solve." Jimmy glanced at his hands as he thought of his conversation with the detective. He looked up at his friends, his blue eyes pleading. "He shouldn't be forgotten because someone doesn't think he was important nor had any money. He might have family who's worried about him." "Jimmy," Byers said gently, "I understand how you feel, but if the police have no leads..." "Detective Rosen said he has a Special Forces tattoo on his forearm!" blurted Jimmy. Off the guys' confused looks, he clarified, "Uh, the old guy, not the detective." "Special Forces," Jimmy had Frohike's attention, "Didn't they run his fingerprints?" Jimmy shrugged, "The detective said something about a backed up case load." Guilt spread over his face as he took a snapshot from his pocket, handing it to Byers. Langly and Frohike crowded on either side of Byers to see the picture. "The detective gave you this picture of the tattoo?" Langly asked suspiciously. Jimmy lowered his gaze; his face turned a light shade of red. "You took it," declared Langly breaking into a grin. "The boy scout takes a walk on the wild side." "He went for a cup of coffee and took the file with him," Jimmy mumbled, "except for the picture." "Jimmy, did you tell him you were a journalist?" Byers queried. Their cover was that of an independent security firm hired by one of the Board of Directors, who was conveniently out of the country, to test security. Jimmy nodded, "Was I not supposed to?" Langly started laughing. Frohike grinned, "Kid, he gave you the picture. You have a source in the police department." "So, we'll try to find out who he was?" Jimmy asked, relieved. "No promises, but we'll try." Langly told him, "Now get in the van."
When the Gunmen returned to the lair, Langly went straight to his computer and connected to the internet. While he looked over Daewoo's security, he scanned the tattoo into the computer then ran a search. Byers said he was going to take a nap and requested they wake him when Langly found something. Frohike settled comfortably on the red leather couch. Turning on the TV, he flipped through channels until he found an episode of Junkyard Wars. Frohike loved to watch as the two teams competed to be the first to build something using only what they found in a junkyard. Jimmy took a quick shower then changed into a green t-shirt and jeans. He came downstairs carrying his art supplies, settled into one of the workstations and began drawing the old man from memory. Frohike soon wandered by during a commercial break on his way to the kitchen for a snack. He tossed a curious glance at the pad, "Hey, that's pretty good." Jimmy studied the drawing critically, "Thanks. I'm kind of out of practice. I figured it might be easier to find out who Sam is with a picture." "Sam. Who's Sam?"
"The old guy. See, I figured we can't keep calling the old guy the old guy, so I decided to call him Sam after my Uncle Charlie until we uncover his real name." Jimmy said in one long breath. Sam after his Uncle Charlie, Frohike thought watching Jimmy fix a line in the drawing. He decided not to touch that one and instead dragged another chair next to Jimmy. He considered carefully what he was going to say. "Jimmy, I don't think you should get your hopes up too much on us finding his real identity." Jimmy carefully set the drawing pencil down and looked at Frohike. "We don't know how long that man - Sam - has been living on the streets. For all we know he may not have wanted to be found." Frohike held up his hand when Jimmy started to protest. "It doesn't mean we won't try, we will. Your drawing will help. Langly will scan it and post it to every database we can think of. It may take time. You understand?" Jimmy picked up the pencil, glanced at his picture and nodded, "Yeah, I understand but..." Langly's exuberant shout of triumph interrupted him. "What did you find?" Frohike went over to Langly. "First, Daewoo tightened their security. They tripled the number of their nighttime security and also installed some high tech surveillance as well." ""You sound way to happy about this," Frohike accused him. Langly smirked, "Given enough time a five year old with an erector set could beat their security." Langly stretched his arms over his head and straightened his back, cracking his spine. "As to the other thing, I found something very interesting. I received hits from a couple of Veterans of Foreign Wars sites confirming the tattoo is Special Forces. Only one VFW said it came from the Vietnam era so I narrowed the search and got a hit from a military database with real heavy duty firewalls." Langly grinned, tapping a key "At least heavy duty for its time. I found this." The screen turned bright green with a black square in the center that slowly formed into words. "Project Mirage," Frohike read, "what the hell is this?"
"Dunno," Langly hit some more keys and soon the logo was replaced by a proposal summary of the project. It suggested that the mental and physical endurance of American soldiers could be increased through a series of behavior and neurological modification drugs. The results would make for a stronger soldier who could withstand the rigors of battle and torture if captured by the enemy.
"Dammit," Frohike growled, not liking the implications of the report. It was another government faction wielding power to further its own secret agenda at the expense of the American people. A few seconds passed and then information started scrolling down the machine. "What is this?"
"It's a bunch of CAT scans." Langly studied the information on the screen.
"Jimmy, go get Byers," Frohike told Jimmy.
The younger man shot an interested glance at the monitor before nodding and hurrying away. Byers must have been awake because less than a few minutes later he and Jimmy returned. Having shed his funky poaching outfit, Byers now wore one of his brown suits, his hair neatly brushed and his beard newly trimmed. Byers must have been unable to sleep.
"What did you find?" he asked, joining them at the computer. The four men watched screen after screen appear with the data. After a few minutes they had to admit they weren't sure what the data meant. Frohike, Langly, and Byers exchanged looks; they needed the information deciphered quickly and quietly.
Langly sighed, "Do it."
Jimmy looked at each man in turn, "Do what?"
Byers made the call to Yves, and after some reluctance, told him she would be right over. Langly continued to search the database for other information. He found only one other piece of information that startled him. "Guys check this out," He brought up a black and white group picture of men wearing white lab coats. "It's the scientists of Project Mirage." A smug expression filled Langly's face as he cropped one of the face's from the picture, enlarged it, then moved it to the top right of the screen. "This man, Arthur Crandell, is the project leader." The man had thick wavy hair, a thin face and dark bright eyes.
Byers examined the picture closely, "Why does he look familiar?"
Langly hit a key and another picture, this time a color photo was placed next to the black and white one. Both were of the same man, only in the right picture, the man was older, heavier and with less hair. "Gentlemen, meet Alan Gavin, President of Daewoo Pharmaceuticals Research and Development."
"I'll be damned," Frohike exclaimed as the doorbell rang.
"I'll get it," Jimmy hurried off, returning moments later with Yves.
"What do you have?" Yves asked. Langly brought up the data then stepped back to make room for her. Yves studied the information, frowning. She brought up first one group of CAT scans then another, then put all of them on the screen. "These are CAT scans," she finally said almost to herself.
"Tell us something we don't know," Langly said.
Yves ignored Langly's sarcasm, "There are two scans each of ten different people. These bottom scans show normal healthy brains," She tapped the scans at the top of the monitor. "These scans are of the same people, except there are abnormalities in each one."
"What kind of abnormalities?" Byers asked.
Yves didn't answer right away; instead she brought up the summary. "Project Mirage," she said pensively. "I've heard rumors it was an active military project 30 years ago." She glanced at the Gunmen before returning her attention back to the screen. She pointed to the top scans. "Scientists targeted different sections of the brain using radical drugs to increase physical and mental strength. Some say it was a success but there were a myriad of side affects that varied between the subjects, anywhere from severe memory loss to hallucinations to loss of motor functions."
"What happened to the Project?" Byers asked. Yves glanced at Byers, "There are differing rumors but the most probable one is that it was shut down because of a lack of funds." Yves glanced at her watch. "Where did you find this information?" "I was doing a search and one thing lead to another," Langly said evasively, "until I discovered this." "We can still do an expose on it," Byers said, determined. "People have a right to know. Langly, download the information." Langly was already ahead of him. His fingers flew over the keys and the message "Downloading" popped up on the screen. They watched as the download bar started rising: 15%...32%...45%. Then suddenly the information disintegrated and was gone. Langly swore, "Shit! There was a self-destruct program embedded in the information. We lost it all." Yves checked her watch; "I have an appointment I need to get to. Good luck." "I'll walk you out, Yves." Jimmy said quickly, following her. "Thanks Yves," Frohike said absently watching Byers. The narc was staring thoughtfully at the now blank computer screen. "I wonder if they are using any of the Mirage information in their present research." Byers looked at his friends as they considered his words. "Think about all the raw data Gavin may have accumulated from the experiments. If they applied the data toward current research -" "You're thinking he used information from Mirage," Frohike guessed. "and applied it to RP10 in order to get onto the market faster." "If it's true, we have to find the proof before RP10 receives its FDA approval." Byers said. Langly's computer beeped, alerting him to an incoming e-mail. "Guys," he said after opening it, `it's another e-mail from our anonymous source." "The RP10 data will be removed from Daewoo tomorrow night and destroyed. You must expose the cover up before more people die." Byers read. Langly sat back in his chair; cracked his knuckles and began typing, "I'm going to find our mystery source. I've still got a few tricks up my sleeve." "What's Langly doing?" Jimmy whispered when he returned. "We received another e-mail from our mystery source; Langly is tracing it," Byers said. The three men watched as various windows popped up on the screen to the tune of Langly's furious typing. After a moment, Jimmy said in a soft voice, "Do you really think `Sam' was one of those test subjects?"
The lack of a response from Byers made Frohike glance at the two men; their attention was on the screen, but Frohike could see they were lost in their own thoughts regarding `Sam'. While they waited for Langly to work his magic, Frohike decided to distract them from their somber mood. Frohike reached up placing a hand on each man's shoulder; pushing him away from Langly. "You should see the picture Jimmy drew, Byers. It's really good."
A small smile formed on Jimmy's face at the compliment from Frohike. Byers came out of his reverie, allowing himself be directed toward the worktable where Jimmy had left his sketchpad.
Byers studied the sketch, agreeing that Jimmy did an excellent job, "Where did you learn to draw?"
Jimmy was pleased that Byers liked it. "I took some classes in high school and college." "Hey what's this?" Frohike flipped toward the back of the sketchpad. There were drawings of the guys separately and together. The one of them together, Jimmy had drawn them staring stoically toward the horizon with a waving American flag behind them. Frohike's picture had him sitting at the kitchen table, a look of pure determination on his face as he worked on one of his inventions. Jimmy had drawn Byers standing in a dignified pose with his arms folded, behind him was a portrait of John F. Kennedy in the same pose. Byers really liked the picture and asked Jimmy if he could have it. Flattered, the younger man agreed. Frohike flipped the page and started laughing. Langly's picture was less serious. The hacker stood atop a pile of computers in a classic superman pose with his blond hair flying out behind him. Underneath the mountain of computers was a dejected Kimmy Belmont trying to crawl out. A balloon coming from his mouth had him saying, `His Kung Fu is the best.' "The guy's a jerk," Jimmy stated at Byers questioning look. "He's always putting us down." "Langly would love that," Frohike said, "but we would never hear the end of it." He flipped the page but it was blank "That's all there is." Jimmy went to take the pad, but something in his voice alerted Frohike's reporter instincts that there was something more. Grinning, Frohike moved away from Jimmy. "Well, what do we have here," Frohike teased, "Byers check this out." He flipped to the back to reveal a drawing of Yves Harlow. Seated at one of their computers; her expression was one of concentration as she studied the information on the monitor. There were several other sketches as well. One was of Yves angry, her black eyes flashing. "Do you know how many millions you cost me?" Frohike said in a mock British accent as he turned the page. The last picture stopped Frohike's laughter. The third drawing showed Yves from the back. She was turned slightly as if she had remembered something. A slight smile curved her lips, but there was a veiled sadness behind her dark eyes. Jimmy's smile diminished, remembering when he had drawn the picture. It had been a month ago when they guys had gone to some weekend computer convention in Baltimore. While they were gone, Jimmy had decided to indulge in a movie marathon complete with Pizza, beer and a large bowl of microwave popcorn. He was about to pick an action video when the buzzer rang. He was thrilled to see Yves when he checked the monitor. He quickly admitted her, but realized almost immediately that she was preoccupied with something that was bothering her. When he asked her about it, she brushed off his question with a vague answer.
Even though he doubted she would stay, he invited her to watch a couple of movies; so he was surprised and happy when she agreed. He carefully picked out some comedies from his stack of videos. Then they settled on the couch, their shoulders occasionally brushing and watched My Cousin Vinnie, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Monty Python's The Holy Grail (Langly's recommendation) while splurging on popcorn. Yves had laughed. Jimmy thought it was the most beautiful sound he ever heard. He was dismayed when the last movie ended and she rose from the couch to leave. He walked her to the door. At the last moment, she turned around, hugged him whispering a thank you in his ear.
Thinking of that day, Jimmy snatched the sketchpad away from Frohike more forcefully than he had intended, startling the two men. He didn't mind that they saw the other pictures of Yves or the teasing that ensued; but that picture was private.
"Bingo!" Langly's exclamation saved Jimmy from having to explain his actions. Their attention was diverted to Langly who was eyeing them smugly. "I found the computer." He locked his hands behind his head and leaned back in his chair.
The VW bus parked at the curb of a dilapidated apartment building. The four men climbed out of the van surveying their surroundings. Broken bottles and garbage scattered across the sidewalk spilling onto the street. The white paint job had long since faded to a dingy gray and was peeling in places though it was difficult to tell with all the different colored graffiti that covered the building. "Are you sure this is the correct address, Langly?" Byers asked. Langly nodded looking like he wished he had made a mistake, "Our anonymous computer is in this building somewhere." "Lets do it," Frohike said.
They walked up several cracked steps to the stoop. Byers grasped the door handle, opening the door. The hinges protested loudly and Byers noticed that the lock was rusted and broken. Shaking his head, Byers entered to find that the lobby was relatively trash free. Down the hall where the first floor apartments were, the four men discovered the walls were paper-thin. They heard a loud argument between two men consisting mostly of profanity. In another apartment, a baby wailed. The hallway was also covered in graffiti. "Damn," Langly complained pinching his nose shut, "what is that stench?" "Smells like backed up plumbing." Frohike glanced around then moved toward the small sign on the wall that said ELEVATOR. There was a handwritten sign which read `out of order' taped to its closed doors. The torn and dirty sign looked as if it had been there for weeks. Byers was disgusted by what he was seeing. "Remind me to do an article on slum buildings." Frohike took a small devise from the inside pocket of his leather jacket. He flipped a switch and it began emitting low beeps. "What is that?" Jimmy asked, fascinated. "It looks like a tricorder from Star Trek." Frohike and Langly headed for the stairs while hovering over the devise. Byers fell back to join Jimmy. "Computers emit low levels of electromagnetic waves. Frohike's devise scans for those waves and sends the location of the computer back." Jimmy considered this information. "Like the sonar we used for my blind football team." It wasn't quite the same but it would do Byers decided. Seeing Frohike and Langly were already on the second floor landing, they hurried up the stairs. When the four men reached the fifth floor, the machine emitted a steady stream of beeps. Frohike consulted the data and turned left, walking slowly until he reached the third apartment. He glanced at the guys behind him then rapped on the door. When there was no answer, he tried the doorknob. It turned easily under his grip and he pushed open the door the rest of the way. "Hello?" he called entering with the guys close behind him. The apartment was dingy with the same foul smell as the rest of the building. The few pieces of furniture were shabby; the tan couch was leaning on one side. The kitchen contained a chipped wooden table with two folding chairs around it. In the sink were dirty dishes. "Someone lives here," Byers observed.
"Doesn't look like anyone is home," Frohike said. Langly glanced around the apartment, "There is no computer here." He poked Frohike in the ribs, "Are you sure you're using that thing correctly." "Of course I'm using it correctly, you moron," Frohike growled, pointing toward the door. "There's the bedroom, it's probably in there." When no one moved, he rolled his eyes and went to the door, opening it slowly. He peered inside. "It's in here," he reported disappearing into the next room. The computer was on top of a small table against the far wall. On the other side of the room was a filthy stained mattress on the floor. A thin, faded and worn blanket lay across it. The lack of furnishings gave the room the appearance it was being bigger than it was. Langly plopped into the chair and turned on the computer. While Frohike and Byers watched the hacker, Jimmy wandered toward the makeshift bed. Next to the wall was a small stained and torn box that contained some personal items. In it was a tattered book with the cover ripped off, several small stones that still had dirt clinging to them, a pen and several copies of The Lone Gunman. "There's nothing on the computer," Langly decided. "It's been wiped clean". "Stakeout?" suggested Frohike.
Byers agreed. "We need to talk to this person and find out what he knows." ""Guys, check this out". Jimmy held up an issue of the Lone Gunman. The headline proclaimed, "The Truth about the Gulf War Syndrome". Byers went over and took the issue from him. Jimmy picked up the book and began flipping through the pages. Tucked between some pages, he found a picture yellowed with age, its edges worn. It was of a little girl smiling broadly in to the camera. Jimmy turned it over and found a faded inscription in a child's handwriting. "To Daddy, I love you, Marissa." He put the picture back in the book, when he noticed that one of the poems was highlighted. Jimmy read the poem aloud, "Tis the human touch in this world counts, the touch of your hand in mine. Which means far more to the fainting heart than shelter and bread and wine, for shelter is gone when the night is o'er and the bread lasts only a day. But the touch of the hand and the sound of the voice sing on in the soul away." As Jimmy spoke the last line, he thought of how Sam had desperately clutched his hand as he died. "It's his. Maybe he sent the e-mail." "Jimmy, I seriously doubt it. I would say our anonymous source used this place so no one would discover his identity. Most likely, he is an employee at Daewoo. "Sshhh", Frohike motioned for everyone to be quiet. "Someone is out there", he whispered pointing toward the closed door. They all froze, listening to the footsteps moving around in the outer room. Jimmy and Byers joined Frohike and Langly near the computer. The door opened and a man entered but when he saw the Gunmen, he stopped. His eyes widening with panic darted to the computer, which was still on. "Sorry, wrong apartment". He turned and fled from the room. Jimmy dropped the book and took off after him. Frohike joined the chase only a couple of paces behind them. When Frohike reached the hall, he was surprised to find that Jimmy was already racing down the stairs after the mystery man, their footsteps sounding like thunder. Then he heard a crash and quickly peered over the railing, in time to see the man scrambling to his feet and then disappearing from view. He must have jumped to the ground level. On the second floor landing, Jimmy's surprised look turned to grim determination. He gripped the railing and vaulted it, barely maintaining his balance when he landed. He rushed off in the same direction. Frohike hurried to the second level, looked over the railing at the 8-foot drop. He shook his head. "Oh, hell no", he muttered running down the stairs then out the front entrance. "Dammit!" He panted, scanning the empty street. Now that the adrenaline rush was over, he could feel his legs aching from the race down the stairs. He slowly sat down on the top step to wait. "Where is he? Did you get him?" Langly asked breathlessly moments later as he and Byers exited the building. "Does it look like I have him?' Frohike demanded, irritated. "I lost them but Jimmy was right behind him". Langly sat down next to Frohike, poking him in the ribs, "A little out of shape?" "I didn't see you running down five flights of stairs after him" "I'm the software guy. You're the man of action, remember?" Langly grinned, "Ten bucks says Jimmy comes back alone". "You're on," Frohike agreed.
It wasn't long before they saw Jimmy and the man walking toward them. The man was almost a full head shorter than Jimmy with sandy brown hair, a thin square face and thin body. Although he was walking freely next to Jimmy, a deep frown creased his face. "Guys", Jimmy announced sounding as if he had just taken a stroll around the neighborhood and bumped into a friend, "This is Bert Jenson". To Jenson he said, "These are the guys I was telling you about: Frohike, Byers, and Langly". Byers stepped forward, "Mr. Jenson, I'm sorry we startled you, but we need to discuss the accusations you made against Daewoo in your e-mails". "They're not just accusations," Jenson said, "I-" he clamped his lips shut as if he was struggling with a decision. Byers caught Frohike and Langly's eyes and shook his head, telling them to wait until Jenson spoke. "I'll talk to you, but not here. There's a restaurant a few blocks away."
The drab, stained drapes, pulled tightly closed, afforded Yves the privacy she needed in the motel room. This caused two problems. One, it created a dark, claustrophobic feel that the dim light from the three lamps could not chase away, creating an oppressive feeling that there wasn't enough air in the room. It wouldn't have been nearly as bad if she could have cranked up the air conditioning to high, filling the room with somewhat passable circulating air; but the damn thing wasn't working. She had fiddled with the mechanisms and actually got it going. There was a brief respite before it began exuding a burnt musty smell before dying completely.
The second problem was that the poorly lit room created a haven for cockroaches. The scrabbling sounds against the bare floor only added to the building anxiety in her chest. The impulse to run to the grimy window and fling it open, flooding the room with fresh air was escalating. Thinking about it only made it worse. Refusing to succumb to the feeling, she thrust the headset she had been clutching in her hand over her head.
"The money from this deal will make us flush for quite a while."
Yves closed her eyes, focusing on the inflexible voice of Logan Wulf, the arms dealer she was staking out. Taking slow even breathes; she listened to the conversation.
"Are you sure about this Wulf? We've never handled this type of merchandise before. How are we going to unload it?" This was the voice of Marc Carter, Wolfs' partner, though it was clear Wulf was in charge.
"I know people who deal with this kind of merchandise." Wulf's harsh voice became molten as if responding to an unspoken reaction. "If you don't have the balls for this Carter -." He left the threat hanging.
There was a minute pause before Carter replied. "I'm in this all the way, Wulf. You know that."
Yves heard a knock on the door from the next room. There was silence and then the sound of a door opening. A woman's voice, seductive and throaty, "Logan baby, we have company tonight.?"
"Dammit," Yves whispered, annoyed, her eyes flying open. With the arrival of the woman, the discussion was over and so was her chance of learning the meeting's location.
"It's just you and me, Carter was just leaving,." The woman giggled and Wulf spoke again, this time to Carter. "Your concerns are duly noted. Just be here at 1200 hours tomorrow."
Yves couldn't make out his muttered reply but she suspected he had his own rendezvous planned. When the door slammed shut, Yves removed the headphones. She would give Carter a few minutes then follow him via the tracking device she had planted on each man's automobile.
Alan Gavin, Yves mused, pulling her laptop toward her as she concentrated on extracting information from it, the name sounded familiar. The simple task helped occupy her mind, and she welcomed the distraction. The information she found was intriguing but his picture surprised her. His image had been on Langly's computer when they were examining the CAT scans. Her investigation connected to that of the Gunmen's. She needed to speak to them but first she would verify Carters destination.
The anxiety shadowed Yves as she rose too quickly from the bed, grimacing as something crunched under her boot. With relief imminent, she hastily gathered her equipment. The urge to flee across the room was intense but she forced herself to maintain some measure of control and walk at a normal pace. Still, she flung the door open more forcefully than needed and strode into the sunshine. She leaned against the door, took one long deep slow breath, and held it, appreciating the sweet, fresh air that filled her lungs before releasing it slowly. She started to feel like herself again, cool and in control when she heard loud passionate moans coming from the next room. Rolling her eyes, she slammed the door shut, muffling the sounds. She had work to do.
The restaurant was a small Mom and Pop operation, clean with a sign boasting the best home-cooked food. The Gunmen and Jenson had found a table large enough to accommodate the five of them. They all had coffee cups in front of them, Jenson also had a hamburger and fries; Jimmy, and Langly, the two bottomless pits each had a large side of Fries. Jenson waited until the waitress refilled their coffee cups before speaking. "I worked at Daewoo as a research assistant," Jenson began. He related to the Gunmen how he was responsible for preliminary testing, analyzing and interpreting data on any number of ongoing projects. He had up until two weeks ago worked closely on the RP10 drug with Dr. Samuel Clark. "What happened?" Byers asked.
"Last month I came into work to do a round of tests on RP10 when Dr. Clark entered the lab and told me the tests had been completed and the data compiled the night before. Since then we were allowed access to the reports but never the raw data. According to Dr. Clarks' analysis RP10 would be ready for FDA approval almost a year ahead of schedule. Jensen sipped his coffee and looked at his untouched burger, "I was worried Dr. Clark was cutting corners, so one night I stayed late on the pretense of working on another project. I preformed my own tests on RP10. The results from the simulator program were disturbing." "What were the results?' Byers prompted Jenson when he stopped speaking. Jenson swallowed nervously, "In my simulations, RP10 had a failure rate of 17%. I was sure there had to be an error so I repeated the test but each time the results were the same. There were indications of some fairly radical side affects as well." "Did you report your discovery to anyone?" asked Byers. "I went to Alan Gavin personally and showed them to him. He said he would launch an investigation immediately." Jenson laughed bitterly, "Two days later, Security finds drugs in my locker. Next thing I know, I'm before a review board and I've been fired. My reputation is destroyed and no one will hire me. I never did learn who set me up." "How do you know they plan to destroy the evidence?" Frohike asked. "I still have friends at Daewoo who believed me. My friend overheard Gavin speaking on the phone that tomorrow he will get rid of all the data from both projects. Until then, Gavin was going to keep the data in his office safe". The four men glanced at each other, "You said both projects. Do you know what the other project is?" "No, I can't think of anything he might have been referring to." Jimmy unfolded the picture of Sam and presented it to Jenson, "Do you know who this is?" Jenson studied the picture, "Sure. He's this old guy that would hang around the main entrance. He wasn't quite all there. Suffered from hallucinations, delusions. But he never approached anyone and seemed harmless so security didn't bother him. I felt sorry for him and gave him some food a couple of times. One of the few times he talked to me, he told me where he was squatting. So when I was fired I decided to use it to send those e-mails to you guys." "Did you know he was killed last night," Jimmy asked quietly. "My friend told me it was big news at Daewoo," Jenson said. He glanced at his watch, "I have to get to work. I'm late as it is." Byers handed him a business card, "Mr. Jenson, if you think of anything else please call us." Accepting the card, Jensen tucked it in his pocket then got up and left the resturant. The waitress came by and set the check next to Byers. Langly shoved the last of his fries in his mouth; pointing to Jenson's untouched plate, he mumbled, "Can we get a box for that?" Nodding, the waitress moved to check on the next booth. Frohike reached across the table, grabbing the check from Byers, telling him, "I've got it, buddy." Smirking, he presented it to Langly. "You owe me ten bucks, blondie, pay up." Langly stared at Frohike a moment before realizing he was serious. Grumbling under his breath, Langly snatched the check from him and went to pay while the others went out to wait in the van. Five minutes later Langly remembered he had forgotten the leftovers in the diner. When they returned to the lair, Langly went straight to the computer and brought up Daewoo's security plans. While they looked good on paper, the technical aspects could be easily defeated. The part they would have to worry about was increased number of security guards. Langly figured that if they could coordinate the guards' movements, it wouldn't be too difficult. Byers pointed out that the guards would be more alert after the murder on the premises and with the increased guards they should proceed cautiously. Langly disagreed, saying they would be less alert because of their number and no one would expect something to happen so soon after the murder. Frohike jumped in saying they had to decide something and voted for immediate action. Jimmy, listening to the discussion, was the only one to hear the phone ring. He quickly left to answer it; when he heard who it was on the other end he hurried back. "Guys," Jimmy raised his voice trying to get their attention to no avail. Jimmy took a deep breath and shouted, "GUYS!" "WHAT?" Demanded Frohike and Langly in unison; glaring at him. "Bert Jenson," Jimmy gestured toward the phone, "he's on hold. Byers excused himself and hurried to the phone only to return less than a minute later. "Mr. Jenson heard from his friend." Byers answered the other three men's inquiring looks. "She said she overheard the combination to Gavin `s office safe when he took over one of the tours at the last minute." "Tours? They have tours?" Frohike asked. "Yeah, I saw it on their homepage," Langly confirmed. He looked at his friends, realization dawning on him, "oh." He jumped on the internet, "They have a tour of the facility twice a day; one at 12 noon and the other at 4 PM." "Why would they have tours if they don't want anyone to know what they are doing?" Jimmy wondered. "Sometimes the best way to hide something is to put it in the open where everyone can see it," Byers told him. "Yeah, and it says here the research labs are on the tour schedule," Langly said. He brought up the schematics for the building. "Gavin `s office is just off the tour path." "It should be easy enough to part from the tour, search Gavin s' office then rejoin the tour on its return." Byers said. "Simple and efficient." "Good," Langly stated, already thinking of other more important things. "Whose turn is it to cook `cause I'm starving?" The Gunmen stared at each other; it had been a long two days and no one felt like cooking; not even Frohike who truly enjoyed creating culinary masterpieces. After an interminable length of time, Frohike burst out with an exasperated, "Why don't we just order a pizza," He strode to a desk and began rummaging around in a drawer. Finding what he was looking for, he turned, raising his hand up for them to see the deck of cards in his hand. He grinned, "Who wants to get taken in poker?" Byers ordered the pizza and as Jimmy ran out to pick it up, Frohike shouted after him to buy some beer. "None of that light shit," Langly yelled after him. Frohike and Langly went to the storage room, brought out a card table, and set it up. Byers made sure there were plenty of munchies set out. Before long, Jimmy returned with two extra large stuffed crust pizzas with extra cheese and a case of Michelob. They settled into the game drinking beer and eating the cheesy pizza. "I see you're five and raise you five," Langly mumbled around a mouth full of pizza. Frohike drained his can, tossing it one handed into a large garbage can Byers had Jimmy drag in from the alley. The idea had been to keep the area as clean as possible but Frohike, Jimmy and Langly kept moving it further and further away as they pretended it was a basketball hoop, tossing trash into it. "Two points!" Jimmy cheered as Frohike's can hit the side and fell in. Frohike tossed a chip into the pot then grabbed another Michelob from the small cooler next to the table. "I see your five."
"Well, well, just when my opinion of your intelligence was beginning to elevate I discover the four of you perpetrating a stereotypical male bonding ritual." A female voice said in a slightly mocking tone. Startled, the Gunmen turned in their chairs to peer through the dim light to see Yves Harlow leaning against a worktable watching them.
"Just wait a while, Yves," Langly sarcastic comment was without rancor, "later we're going to strip to our shorts, drink beer and belch the alphabet."
"Langly," Jimmy admonished as he and Byers stood up. Byers because it was good manners; Jimmy because it was Yves.
"Did it ever occur to you to ring the doorbell," Frohike questioned, dropping his cards on the table. The pleasant buzz he had going quickly disappeared.
Ignoring Frohike's comment, Yves' hand slid to her hip as she walked slowly toward them. She glanced at the mess that littered the floor then looked at the Gunmen, "Redecorating?"
Byers, more than a little embarrassed by the mess, asked, "What can we do for you Yves?"
Yves directed her attention to Byers, "I believe it's what we can do for each other. I have reason to suspect our two investigations have overlapped."
"What makes you say that," Frohike asked.
Yves related what she overheard then paused before continuing, deciding how much she wanted to reveal them. "Wulf and Carter are arms dealers, but their operation has been strictly small time. I wondered what their interest was in Alan Gavin, so I did a background check. Everything is Beyond-reproach, it raised my suspicions, so I examined his background closer. Everything except his years at Daewoo is false. I suspect it has something to do with those CAT scans you almost had." Yves' smile was brief.
The Gunmen already knew about Gavin s' false identity, having discovered it before she arrived. Byers told her about their anonymous e-mail that lead them to McDougal, the death of the old man and how their search lead to Mirage and how they discovered Gavin was the Projects leader. "We are fairly certain he has been incorporating the Mirage information into RP10 to stabilize it, but it still exceeds safe levels."
Jimmy looked at them, "So, Gavin is going to sell Mirage to this guy Wulf?"
Frohike nodded, "Wulf can sell it on the black market, unless he already has a buyer."
"Well he's not going to get a chance to sell it," Langly said firmly. "We're going to sneak in there tomorrow, get the proof and then expose Gavin and his company."
"You can't do that," Yves's eyes stormed. "Without that information, I'll lose my chance to stop him."
"Well, we're not going to give Gavin a chance to disappear with our story," Langly shot back.
Byers stepped in to play mediator between Langly and Yves. "Where is the meeting taking place, Yves?" He asked calmly.
"I don't know," Yves admitted reluctantly. She met their eyes as if challenging them. "Wulf has been extremely close-mouthed about the location. I've decided the best course of action is to assume Carters' identity so I can be at the meeting first hand.
Byers thought for a moment. "I think I have an idea that will satisfy all of us." He waited until he had everyone's attention. "Since we were planning on sneaking into Gavin s' office during the lunchtime tour, I suggest we wait outside the building and follow Gavin to the meeting. That way, once the exchange has been completed, we can stop both Gavin and Wulf."
"Fine," Langly grudgingly agreed.
Yves nodded her assent to the plan.
"Now that we have everything settled," Frohike said, "my boys and I are indulging in some deserved down time." He looked Langly, Byers and Jimmy, "Gentlemen?" He ignored Yves' snort and sat back in his chair, picking up his cards.
As Byers and Langly took their seats, Jimmy asked, "Do you want to stay, Yves? We have plenty of pizza left." As if to prove it, he opened the pizza box, showing her the leftover pizza that was now cold, the cheese congealed.
Yves glanced disdainfully at the leftovers. "No thank you."
"Jimmy, it's your turn," Frohike reminded him impatiently, "the bets' up to five bucks." When Yves walked away, Jimmy shrugged, chucked the box under the table and returned to the game, adding his chips to the pot.
Yves pretended to examine the papers lying on the table, but she was more interested in observing the Gunmen. Frohike proved to be an excellent poker player. He took the game seriously and didn't hesitate to bluff. Byers was cautious and didn't take many chances. However, if his cards were good, he was steadfast and saw the hand through. Langly tended to be a pitbull, both in his playing and betting. Frohike would occasionally goad him into a betting war. Jimmy approached the game optimistically, rarely folding even when he should. Occasionally he would surprise the other guys and win a hand.
She moved to the light table, passing a cursory glance over the desk when something nestled among the papers caught her eye. She pushed aside the other items to reveal a drawing of a man. Sensing someone watching her, she looked up. Jimmy was watching her intently. When she smiled at him, he grinned and went back to his cards, laying them down on the table. He had stayed in with a pair of four's. Yves shook her head slightly, sighing.
"This is very impressive," Yves said lightly, holding up the drawing, "Who is this?"
Jimmy turned to look, "That's Sam. He's -"
"- he's Jimmy's uncle." Frohike interrupted, pulling the pot toward him. He did not intend to talk shop for the rest of the night, he just wanted to play some poker with his buddies and have a little fun, but with Yves lurking about, it was impossible. Jimmy was more interested in sneaking peaks at her and Byers was on his best behavior. Even Langly was more subdued.
"If you think that is good, you should see some of the other pictures Jimmy drew," Langly grinned mischievously. Frohike was about to take a swallow of beer when he started laughing. Jimmy stared at his cards, his ears turning pink. Byers smiled.
Yves arched an eyebrow at the Gunmen, which Langly and Frohike seemed to find funny and started laughing again. She set the picture down on the table, glaring at the Gunmen. They were looking less like the men she had come to respect and more like college boys at a frat party. Yves decided it was time to leave.
"Tomorrow," Yves reminded them as she headed for the door.
"Ay Ay, Ma'am." Frohike snapped off an exaggerated salute and watched her flounce out of the warehouse, slamming the door behind her. He leaned into the table and said, "Jimmy, did we ever tell you about the Flukeman?"
Several hours later, empty beer bottles, snacks and discarded pizza boxes littered the table and floor. "...and Fro is sitting with his feet propped up on the desk taking pictures." Jimmy had asked how the guys had met Agent Scully and Langly had gleefully related Frohike's first meeting. "and he says, `She's hot. She's really hot.' Man you should have seen Scully's face!" Byers laughed, "Remember what he told Mulder that one time?" He mimicked Frohike's voice, "Tell Agent Scully I've been working out. I'm buff." Jimmy almost choked on his beer, he was laughing so hard. Frohike had been taking the ribbing good-naturedly. Of course, revenge was a dish best served cold, he thought. He pointed a card at Jimmy, "Laugh it up, Jock boy; at least I wasn't caught in my underwear." Langly started singing Bad to the Bone. Jimmy blushed furiously as the others burst out laughing. Shortly after Jimmy had joined the Gunmen, the guys had gone on a stakeout, leaving Jimmy to hold down the fort. Alone in the warehouse, he had cranked up his CD player and ran out dancing in only a white shirt and underwear doing his impression of Tom Cruise in Risky Business. Unknown to him, Yves had bypassed security and was hacking into the computer network when Jimmy came out. It was Jimmy and Yves' first meeting. It was also how Jimmy discovered hidden cameras monitored the entire warehouse. "Langly, do you remember what we did with that tape?" Frohike asked the hacker. "It's around somewhere," Langly sniggered, pretending to think, "or did we send it to Yves?" Byers smiled at Jimmys' horrified expression. Glancing at his watch, he was surprised to see how late it was. "Guys," he interrupted the teasing banter, "we should call it a night." Langly stood up and stretched then quickly ran up the stairs before Byers could suggest they clean up the mess. "Frohike, you didn't really send the tape to Yves, did you?" Jimmy asked. Frohike grinned and took off up the stairs. "Frohike!" Jimmy ran after him. Byers found himself once again alone to clean up. He quickly tossed the garbage in the trash and piled the dishes in the sink. He would do them tomorrow. He quickly wiped the table, making sure there were no crumbs that would attract bugs. Heading toward the stairs, Byers noticed a light above one of the workstations still on. He went over to switch the light off when the drawing of the old man caught his eye. He picked the picture up, studying it. Something around the old man's eyes reminded him of his father. He had seen it in the clearing when the dying man had fastened his gaze on him. He hadn't realized how much it had shaken him. After discovering the truth about conspiracies within the government, Byers couldn't imagine not fighting to expose the truth to the American people nor could he comprehend doing it without his friends. His work on the newspaper had caused a chasm in his relationship with his father, Bert Byers believed his son was throwing his life away. When John learned his father was trying to stop a secret government factions' twisted agenda, he thought they could bridge the gap between them; their relationship strengthened by a similar quest. Together, they had succeeded in stopping the faction's plan. But his father's decision to remain silent about it and go into hiding disappointed and angered Byers. It still did. Nevertheless, he feared for his father's safety, if he would ever see him again. Now he worried that when his father died, would he die alone? Would anyone know Bert Byers had family? Friends? Would anyone care enough to attempt to uncover his real identity? Byers stared at the picture but it revealed no answers. He lay the picture back on the table, switched off the light and went to bed.
Daewoo Pharmaceuticals 11:33 a.m.
The next day, the mobile command unit was positioned in Daewoos' parking lot with a clear view of the main and front side entrances. Frohike, Langly and Byers put in earpieces and Byers clipped a small mike to the inside of his suit, making sure it was well hidden.
""We'll still be able to communicate, but we need to keep it to a minimum," Langly told Jimmy who was manning the periscope.
"But we told Yves we were just going to follow Gavin to the meeting," Jimmy protested unhappily.
"We will follow him," Frohike said as he jumped out of the van, Byers right behind him. "But first we are going to take some pictures of the evidence in case something goes wrong."
"You still don't trust her," Jimmy accused them. "You think Yves is just after the money."
The other three men glanced at each other. Byers allowed a small sigh before patiently but firmly informing the young man. "Jimmy we've been over this. We do trust Yves, but after what happened last month with Morris Fletcher, the fact remains we still don't know anymore about her than we did before. One of these days, Yves will have to decide if she really does trust us. People like Morris Fletcher don't just give up and go away."
Jimmy averted his gaze, ashamed by his outburst. He fingered the periscopes' controls, knowing Byers was right. If they hadn't escaped, the guys could have been killed and Yves - who knows what that bastard Fletcher had in store for her. He raised his eyes. "Yeah, I know," he said, contrite. "I'm sorry."
"We still have a job to do." Frohike reminded them, checking his watch.
Langly hopped out of the van. Turning to close the door, he noticed Jimmy's downcast expression. He grinned, "Chill out dude, or you'll end up as uptight as Byers."
"Be careful Langly," Frohike half-joked as they headed toward the entrance of the building, "he might take that as a compliment."
Byers shot them a malevolent look as he straightened his tie. "I am not uptight."
Their quiet snickers followed him as they entered the building to find a large spacious lobby. In the center was a circular information desk with the words DAEWOO PHARMECUTICALS. Underneath in smaller letters was IMPROVING THE FUTURE BY HELPING THE PRESENT. "Charming," Frohike muttered under his breath. Langly snickered as they surveyed the lobby. A bored security guard wandered around while the receptionist sat behind the information desk with a false smile plastered on her face. The woman glanced up at them expectantly when they approached. "Hello," Byers said, "We're here for the tour." "Of course," She said; her tone indifferent, "the tour will begin shortly. Have a seat with the others." She pointed with her pen toward a small group of seven people seated against the wall next to a glass display. She returned her attention to the monitor in front of her. Byers and Langly started to head toward the waiting tour group but stopped when Frohike leaned in closer to the woman. She looked up quizzically, "Yes?" Frohike smiled playfully making a point of reading her gold plated nametag, "Thank you, Glenda. You've been very helpful." The woman stared at him for a moment as if trying to figure him out then broke into a smile. Shaking her head, she turned back to her monitor. "What was that all about?" Langly asked glancing back at the receptionist. "Always leave `em smiling." Frohike said. "Not that you'd understand." Joining the small group, Langly dropped into the only vacant seat while Byers studied the glass display. There were about two dozen pictures, each with a white card underneath identifying the people. Most of the pictures were of members of the Board of Directors. He spotted a couple pictures of Alan Gavin with another scientist identified as Dr. Sam Clark. Within a few minutes, the tour guide, a slim blond woman wearing a navy suit, strode briskly up to the group. She clapped her hands quickly several times until she had everyone's attention. "Hello everyone." Her voice gushed cheerful enthusiasm. "I will be your guide today as we explore the exciting world of research and development at Daewoo Pharmaceuticals, where we improve the future by helping the present." "Great," muttered Langly, "Tour Guide Barbie." Frohike snickered as the group followed the woman through large steel and glass double doors. The woman continued her overly rehearsed speech. "Daewoo has a long history of helping the public. First, we will see a short movie on Daewoo's auspicious beginning and the visionary man behind it all. Then we will go to a viewing room where we will be able to witness researchers working on the cures for tomorrow." "What is this Disney World," Langly muttered. A devious grin formed on his face and he questioned loudly, "Will that be live or autoerotic?" "Langly" Byers cautioned quietly, "we're supposed to be keeping a low profile." His words were drowned out as laughter rolled through the group and people looked around to see who had spoken. The tour guide stopped in her tracks and turned to face them. Her eyes widened and her poised demeanor faltered briefly. "Auto -." Her tone turned icy as she said haughtily to the group in general, "Sir, there are no animatronics on Daewoo's tours. The research you will see will be live. Now if you'll follow me, we will head toward the viewing room for the movie." The woman quickly spun around, leading the group foreword. The Gunmen hung back from the rest of the tour when they saw the hall that led to the executive offices. Glancing at the departing group one last time, they darted down the hall arriving at a series of offices, each with a name on the frosted glass doors. Choosing the noon tour had not been a fluke. It was when the executives normally took their lunch hour. The second to last office had Gavin's name on it. Frohike tried the door. Finding it locked; he whipped out his lock picks from his pocket. It took no time to take care of the locks. He pushed open the door and waved his friends in with a flourish. "Never leave home without them." Langly and Byers rolled their eyes as they walked past him. Langly immediately went to the computer sitting atop a large oak desk. As he searched the contents Byers began systematically going through the two large black file cabinets against the wall. Frohike started searching for the hidden safe. "There are delete commands up the yin yang," Langly announced. "Langly, would you even know if you're yin has been yanged." Frohike shot at the hacker as he continued to pull books off the shelves hoping to find a hidden compartment with the safe. "Shut up, Doohike!"
"Make me, punk."
Byers barely registered the whispered insult fest as he combed through the files but after a few minutes, it began to grate on his nerves. He shoved a file back in place and whispered harshly, "Guys, we're supposed to be looking for evidence." "I have something." Langly stuck his tongue out at Frohike. "It's a copy of an e-mail Jenson sent mentioning RP10." "Print it," Byers said.
Ten minutes later, Frohike flipped through the last book in the bookcase then slammed it back into its place. "There's nothing to indicate a hidden safe here, no info on Mirage or RP10 either." "Nothing in the file cabinets either." Byers closed the drawer and looked around the room. "We need something that corroborated Jenson's accusations. We have to keep searching." "We've combed this entire room, buddy. This office is clean." Frohike said. Langly and Frohike exchanged perplexed looks as Byers scanned the office then walked toward the door. He stood there looking over the office for a moment then he started walking, counting his steps. "What are you doing man?" Langly asked. Byers smiled, "The numbers Jenson gave us. They are not a combination to a safe but a location in the room." He stopped. "20, left 10." He turned, walked 10 paces, "right 8," he turned again and walked 8 paces. It took him to the desk. Frohike wandered over glancing at the concrete ceiling. He and Byers dropped their gaze to the floor. Langly, still at the computer, snickered, "Sorry dude, X does not mark the spot. The desk is clean." He followed their gaze to the floor under the desk, "You're not serious." But he got up from the chair and moved away from the desk. Frohike took a small penlight from his pocket, playing it under the desk. "Hmmm." He got down on his hands and knees and crawled under the desk. "The carpeting is different under here," his muffled voice said. He backed out a little then his hand reached inside his combat boot, pulling out his leatherman then crawled back in. Byers and Langly heard a tearing sound then soon a ragged piece of carpeting was thrown out. "It's the safe," his muffled voice reported. A few moments later, they heard the thud of metal door hitting the floor. "Aarrgh mateys, we have treasure," Frohike said in his best pirate voice. He backed up, the flashlight in his mouth and clutching several bulging folders. Handing them to Byers he said, "There are more." And he crawled back under the desk. In all, Frohike found 7 thick file folders, four videotapes and a dozen disks. Frohike crawled out, closing his leatherman and returning it to his boot. "This is the corroborating evidence we need," Byers exclaimed. "The Mirage data is here as well, connecting Gavin to it all. The information is meticulous. There is enough information for a number of front page exclusives!" "Too bad you'll never print any of it!" The Gunmen whirled to see Alan Gavin standing just inside the office pointing a gun at them. He stepped aside to make room for another man whom Byers recognized as Dr. Sam Clark. He had a gun as well. "What do we do now?" Clark asked Gavin. "Cover them while I search them." Gavin ordered walking to the Gunmen. "Put your hands where I can see them." Gavin quickly patted them down. He found Byers' cell phone, Langly's penknife and Frohike's lock picks. Frohike allowed a small smile as he glanced at his boot. Gavin missed his leatherman. He heard Langly asking Gavin what he was going to do. "We're going for a little drive." Gavin said. "Um. I get carsick real bad," Langly protested, "and I'm out of Dramamine." Gavin shoved the gun in his abdomen. "Uh, car ride sounds fun," he said with a weak grin. In the van, Jimmy's stomach twisted into knots as he tried to figure out what to do next. The guys had told him to stay in the van, but now they had been taken prisoner by Gavin and the only sounds coming from the headset was the hiss of static. Jimmy checked the monitor, but they hadn't come out the front entrance. Gavin had said he was taking them somewhere. Maybe they went out another door. A building that big probably had a bunch of exits and he would never see them leave. "Dammit!" Jimmy felt helpless and unsure what to do. Then the crackling white noise ceased and he could hear Byers' voice. In his hast to turn up the volume, he accidentally tripped the record button. ".....private entrance in the back."
"I use it when I want to slip away from nervous board members." Gavin said. Jimmy quickly swiveled the periscope toward the back of the building just in time to see the guys being shoved into a black stretch limousine. Jimmy grabbed his cell phone, ready to call Yves, but then lowered the phone when he remembered Yves would be undercover. The police were out as well since he had no idea where Gavin was taking the guys. He dropped the cell back into his pocket. He decided to follow them.
Frohike, Langly and Byers were into the back of the limo facing the road while Gavin sat across from them training a black matte gun on them. Frohike had been watching out the window. He had seen Jimmy following behind them at a distance that he thought was too close for comfort, but when Jimmy suddenly turned off a side street, Frohike started worrying. It had been almost ten minutes since he had seen the van and now the scenery changed from commercial businesses to something empty and desolate.
"Where are you taking us?" Frohike hoped that if Jimmy were still in range, he would hear the location and call the police. Frohike shot a glance at Gavin when there was no answer. The man was staring blankly at them but was holding the weapon so tightly his knuckles were white. This wasn't a good sign.
Byers had been silent since they left Daewoo. He glanced at Frohike then directed his attention to Gavin. When Byers spoke, his voice was soft and calming, "You're going to sell Mirage. Why?"
Gavin turned his head to look at Byers, "Why shouldn't I? It's mine." His eyes glazed a moment then blazed with anger and bitterness. "This transaction will give me what I should have received 30 years ago."
"A jail term?" came Langly's snide retort. "Recognition. Respect." Gavin continued as if he hadn't heard Langly, bitterness lacing his voice with intense fury. "Mirage was MY baby. They came to me because I had the credentials to get the job done. I had carte blanche over the entire project. Anything I wanted, they gave me, money, subjects, equipment as long as I produced results and I did. For five years." He pinned the Gunmen with such a furious look, Langly swallowed nervously. "But then they fucking turned on me. They were planning to cut me from my own work. Nothing against me, they just wanted their own people on the project. MY project." "That must have been difficult for you." Byers' voice was low and soothing. Gavin had become rigid, the gun quivering in his hand. Then he relaxed, settling against the plush leather. He smiled, "I wasn't going to allow it to happen. I was smarter than they were. I made duplicates of all my work and smuggled them out of the building. I short-circuited the security safeguards; then set a fire. It swept through the complex destroying everything." Gavin laughed, arrogance thick in his voice. "Stupid fools never knew what really happened. I changed my identity and when enough time passed, I took over Daewoo as President. It was the perfect place to assimilate my research. RP10 would be my shining moment. All I had to do was compensate the proper people at the FDA. " "But things were not going according to plan. One of the research assistants discovered RP10 was a failure. I dealt with him accordingly but he contacted you people. Then RP10 ended up in the wrong hands at the FDA. When they announce their findings, everything will be taken away from me again. Therefore, I hired someone to torch the labs and destroy everything. But the fool screwed up and killed some goddamn vagrant."
"The vagrant," Byers said. "We have evidence he was one of the Mirage test subjects."
"Impossible," Gavin waved the gun as if dismissing the idea. "The subjects that survived the fire were farmed out to approved government facilities for their remaining years. The Gunmen did not attempt to hide their disgust at Gavin's casual disregard for human life. "After today, my research and I will disappear and I will no longer have to concern myself with Daewoo Pharmaceuticals."
"We're here Dr. Gavin," Dr. Clark alerted them from the wheel. The car slowed then turned. The Gunmen had been listening intently to Gavin that they hadn't realized they were on a dirt road. From what they could see, it looked like they had turned onto a long winding driveway. Then they passed a small boarded up building that looked like a security booth. The Gunmen were now curious as well as concerned. After a couple of minutes the limo stopped.
Clark quickly exited the car and opened the door for them. Gavin, clutching a bag containing the Mirage information, ordered the Gunmen to get out with a threat to shoot if they tried anything. Once they were out of the car, they glanced at their surroundings. They stood near a tall building that had a large sign dangling from a thick rusted chain. The sign read Murdock Shipping and Receiving Bldg 1. The building looked abandoned. Windows were busted out; weeds grew up along the sides. On one side of the building were several industrial dumpsters that teemed with trash, wooden crates and junk. The driveway was actually a road that went past at least three other similar buildings further down the road.
Light hit Frohike in the eyes and he glanced toward the source. For a brief moment, he saw the sun reflecting off glass from the roof before it vanished. It had to be Jimmy; somehow, he had followed them without being noticed. He hoped Jimmy didn't do anything impetuous. He tried to catch Byers and Langly's eye but their attention, as well as Clark and Gavins', were focused further down the road. He turned to see plumes of dust rising in the air. Wulf had arrived.
A big black SUV pulled to a stop a couple of feet from the limo. The drivers' side door swung open and Frohike knew at once that the man who stepped out was Wulf. Dressed in military fatigues, the man was 6 feet tall with an athletic build. His hair was in a military buzz cut. Even though the man wore black mirrored sunglasses, Frohike could feel his steel gaze sweep over the group. His movements projected the air of someone who was used to being obeyed.
The passenger stepped from the vehicle and circled around to stand beside Wulf. He had brown hair with a similar buzz cut, except his hair was longer. He also wore fatigues as well as a heavy jacket. This was Carter, who Yves was supposed to be in disguise as, but Frohike could not see any of the slim dark haired beauty in the man. This meant that Yves had succeeded in duping Wulf into thinking she was Carter or she had failed. Frohikes' question was answered when Carter met his eyes, dipping his head a fraction.
"Who are these men, Gavin?" Wulf's granite voice demanded answers.
Gavin swallowed his earlier bravado deflating. "They're reporters. We found them snooping in my office."
"So you decided to give them an exclusive interview?" Wulf demanded. Langly snorted nervous laughter, quickly choking it back when the man settled his mirrored gaze on him. "Carter!" Yves stood at attention, waiting for orders. "Recon the area. Make sure no one else is here."
Yves glanced at the Gunmen, "What about them?"
Wulf removed his sunglasses and slid them in a pocket then withdrew his own weapon. "The doctors and I are going to move this party inside." When Yves didn't move, Wulf barked, "GO!"
Yves jogged off in the direction of the dumpsters. Wulf, along with Gavin and Clark, pointed his weapon at the Gunmen. "Inside." Clark walked around the group and grabbed the rusted handle of the door. It protested loudly as he swung it open. Gavin pushed Frohike and the group entered the building.
Inside, light struggled though the grime covered windows barely illuminating a large open area. An assortment of junk littered the floor. Darkness coated the edges of the lighted areas producing the illusion that it was feeding off the feeble sunlight that managed to enter the building. The air smelled old and musty. Frohike glanced up, narrowly distinguishing the faint outline of a catwalk overhead. "What do we do with them?" Gavin asked. "What do you think, Gavin? Find something to tie them up." Gavin flinched at Wulfs' tone. His eyes darted around before seeing a pile of junk; on top was thick cable like rope. He snatched it up, he and Clark shoved the Gunmen toward a structural beam, quickly tying them to it, making the knots tight. "What are we going to do?" Langly whispered after Gavin rejoined Clark.
""We need to remain calm," Byers said glancing in the direction of his hidden mike. "I'm sure Jimmy has already called the police."
"What the hell are you doing," Langly whispered, seeing Frohike attempted to inch down.
"Shut up, you idiot," Frohike hissed. "If I can reach my leatherman in my boot, I can cut us loose. And Byers, I doubt if Jimmy can hear you, I'm pretty sure he was watching us up on the roof. I saw what was probably light reflecting of off binoculars."
"He better not try anything stupid," Langly asserted. He jerked as if goosed. "Hey, watch those fingers."
Yves found the side door of the van open and Jimmy's cell phone in the front seat, proclaiming for anyone to see that the signal was `roaming'. She picked up the cell phone and turned around; almost expecting - needing - to see Jimmy behind her, worried and determined to do something to help his friends. But the only thing she saw was dust swirling in the breeze.
She scanned the building. There was a rusted metal ladder bolted to the side that ran the height of the building. Broken windows ran across the building near the top. Only one of the windows interested Yves. The glass was totally gone and Yves knew in her heart that Jimmy had scaled the ladder and entered the warehouse.
Dammit, thought Yves turning back to the van. What was he thinking? Yves was furious with herself, for not stressing how dangerous Wulf was. The Gunmen had obviously gone into Daewoo to look for their evidence. She had expected that because she would have done the same. Although she hadn't expected they would be caught and now Jimmy was in there as well. She jumped inside the van and went to the laptop. She hacked into the 9-1-1 system, sending several squad cars to their location.
The sharp report of gunshots echoed from the open windows of the building. Yves' heart stopped, her head whipping toward the sound. She listened for any further sounds but none were forthcoming. She tossed the cell phone onto the seat and leaped out. Adrenaline surged through her veins as she raced to the entrance, refusing to think of what she might find. Stopping just before the entrance, she withdrew her weapon, and then entered the building.
Inside was shadowy, the air stale and musty smelling. Ignoring the twinge of panic, she walked further in. She saw the Gunmen, tied to a thick structural beam. Langly was paler than usual, anger and worry battled on their faces. Relieved to see they were alive and relatively unharmed, she followed their gaze to see the two Daewoo scientists dead on the ground. She kept her voice steady as she directed her look at Wulf. "What happened?"
"They outlived their usefulness." His eyes bore into Yves, his tone daring her to challenge his authority. Yves held his gaze; knowing Carter couldn't show any weakness to this man. After a moment, Wulf barked, "Report."
Yves knew if Jimmy attempted to help the Gunmen, Wulf would not hesitate to kill him. She had dealt with his type too many times before and there was only one way to protect Jimmy. "I found a van filled with surveillance equipment hidden behind some dumpsters." Wulf scanned the darkened warehouse before striding to the Gunmen. "Who else is here?" he demanded. Byers thought quickly, understanding Yves' reasons for giving away Jimmy's presence. Byers spoke before Frohike or Langly did. "The van is ours," Byers admitted, putting just enough fear into his voice. "Our associate, Jimmy followed us here." He heard Langly's quick intake of breath and Frohike curse under his breath.
"Call him." Wulf raised his gun pointing it at Byers' head. "Tell him to come out."
Byers suddenly felt as if he was spiraling toward the depths of the muzzle like a star being sucked into a black hole. Memories of Baltimore and Vegas assaulted his mind until he felt bile rise to his throat. He couldn't draw air into his lungs. He fought the fear that rose from his soul like a thick cloud. Then he felt the warmth of Frohike and Langly's fingers touch his hands. He gathered strength from their contact. It grounded him in reality. He wasn't alone.
Wulf laughed, sensing Byers' fears. Without moving the gun, he turned, yelling, "Jimmy, you have five seconds to get here before l splatter the pencil pusher's brains all over."
"NO!" Jimmy's choked plea resonated from the darkness. "Don't please! I'm coming." The youngest Gunman materialized like a wraith from the shadows on the catwalk nearly thirty feet up. "Five seconds," Wulf repeated. "One,"
Frohike continued to slice through the thick rope, still only half way through as they watched Jimmy high on the catwalk frantically looking around. Jimmy stepped back into the darkness and then he reappeared, running. Then he leaped off the catwalk, but instead of falling to the ground, he hung suspended in midair, swinging in quick jerky circles. He had snatched a rope that hung from the ceiling. "Two!" shouted Wulf.
Yves held her breath, forcing herself to tear her gaze from Jimmy to Wulf. The ex-soldier had his gun pressed against Byers' forehead as he watched Jimmy. She couldn't even attempt a wounding shot; Wulf would reflexively squeeze the trigger, killing Byers. She looked back to Jimmy, watching his hand over hand descent of the rope. He was fast but it wouldn't be fast enough. "Three," shouted Wulf.
Jimmy looked up at the rope than at the distance he still had to go. His heart pounded in his ears, his eyes locked on the gun pressed against Byers head. There was no way - and then Jimmy remembered something he used to do in high school P.E. with his friends. He released his grip on the rope, letting the friction of the rope guide his fall. His palms burned from the rapid descent, but he barely felt the pain, his only thought was the countdown and the fear for his friends. Near the end he let go of the rope entirely, jumping safely to the ground. "Four."
Jimmy rushed toward Wulf, who leveled his weapon at him. Jimmy skidded to a halt, nearly tripping over the bodies of the Daewoo employees, threw his hands up in the air. He glanced at the guys hoping they had a plan. They always had a plan. "Good boy," There was a condescending edge in Wulf's voice. He pointed with his weapon to the bag with the Mirage materials next to Gavin s' body. "Pick it up and bring it to me." As Jimmy picked up the bag, Yves heard the distant sound of police sirens. They did nothing to ease her fears, for Wulf's response would prove dire for the Gunmen. She had to distract him, turn his attention to her. Give the Gunmen time to do - something. She hesitated a millisecond then leveled her weapon on him, shouting, "Wulf!" Everything happened at the same time. The ropes fell away from the Gunmen just as Yves yelled the ex-soldiers name. Wulf whipped around, training his weapon on Yves. He laughed, a brutal sound without humor. "You don't have the balls, Carter." The sirens were now unmistakable. "Shit," Frohike muttered as the four men watched the stand off. While Yves was no killer, Wulf had already proven he would kill without compunction. The man seemed to be challenging Yves, or rather the man Yves was impersonating, to make the first move. Jimmy set his jaw, took a couple steps, raised the bag and swung. It grazed the back of Wulf's head, forcing the man to stumble off balance. Yves seized the opportunity, kicking the weapon from Wulf's grip then followed it with several well-placed high kicks. Wulf fell backwards hitting the floor with a groan. He was still conscious when Yves strode over to him. Kicking his weapon away from him, she removed the voice-changing retainer. In her own voice, she told Wulf coldly, "Apparently I do have the balls."
When the police arrived on the scene, they found eight people, two of whom were dead, and one unconscious. This had created some tense moments for the Gunmen and Yves, complicated by Langly's offensive remarks as to the officer's intelligence, when Byers tried to explain the situation. The verification of the Gunmen's press credentials made the officers more willing to believe their story. Now, nearly an hour later, Frohike, Langly and Jimmy stood by the van watching the police activity. Byers and Yves, who had removed her latex mask, were still talking to the officer in charge. Byers shook hands with the officer while Yves signed something, then they turned and walked toward the van.
"Don't tell me," Langly scowled as they neared, "Yves just scooped us out of the reward after we almost got killed. Yves smirked and crossed her arms, "I wasn't the one who told the police they had a pea sized intellect." "There is no reward," Byers assured Langly, "Yves was just signing a receipt for her weapon." Frohike pointed behind her, "Looks like your date is leaving without you, Yves." They all turned to see the police put Wulf into the back of a squad car. Yves rolled her eyes, the corners of her mouth curling up, "I guess I'm going to need a ride." Her smile faded as she looked past Frohike to Jimmy who was watching them, his usual exuberance missing. "Jimmy, let me see your hands." Frohike, Langly and Byers watched with sudden interest as Yves went to Jimmy and took his hands gently in hers turning them palm up. "Oh Jimmy." His palms were red with angry looking friction burns on them. "It's ok, Yves. It doesn't hurt." He assured her, trying to pull his hands from hers. She touched one of his palms. "OW!" He protested. "We're putting something on this," Yves told him firmly, leading him into the van where the first aid kit was. Frohike slapped Byers and Langly on the back, "Come on guys, we've got some stories to write."
The following week was a busy one for the Gunmen. Additional digging proved their story on Daewoo was much bigger than they first imagined. They uncovered evidence that the Board of Directors, not only had knowledge of Gavin's activities but had supported it in the hopes of getting their cash strapped company out of the black. The Justice Department was now investigating the company and had frozen all assets. Yves turned over copies of the information she had on Wulf and his operation to the Gunmen. Though the Gunmen suspected she hadn't told them everything, it was enough for another front-page edition.
When the Associated Press picked up both stories, the Gunmen were jubilant. Frohike decided to fix a celebratory dinner and cooked up a storm. After the meal, Yves, who had been invited, helped Jimmy with the cleanup while Byers went to finish writing up notes on the two cases for their files. Frohike was working on his `Straight from the Man' column. Langly was at his computer, ostensibly doing some research but the occasional sounds from the speakers suggested he was playing a game. When the doorbell rang, Byers finished jotting down his notes then closed the folder. He rose from his seat and went to see who was at the door. Checking the monitor, he saw a woman about his age. She wore a conservative navy suit with a light blue blouse. Her dark brown hair hung loose around her face. The woman glanced nervously at the monitor, her fingers worrying the strap of her purse. Byers opened the door. "Hello, May I help you?" "Is this the offices of The Lone Gunman Newspaper?" She sounded doubtful after she glanced past Byers into the warehouse. "Yes it is. I'm John Byers." Byers said in a reassuring tone. "Would you like to come in?" "Yes, thank you." She stepped inside and Byers closed the door behind her. Frohike and Langly abandoned their tasks to see who was at the door. Jimmy and Yves, having heard the doorbell, soon joined them. "This is Melvin Frohike, Richard Langly, Jimmy Bond and our associate Yves Harlow." Byers introduced each in turn. The woman smiled, talking as she opened her purse, "My name is Marissa Franklin...." She opened a folded piece of paper and showed it to them. It was the picture of `Sam' that Jimmy had drawn except this was a computer printout. "....this is my father, David Franklin." Her voice caught and her brown eyes welled with tears. "Thirty years ago, he had been reported killed in action." Byers handed her his handkerchief, "Would you like to sit down Miss Franklin." He gestured to a chair, "Jimmy please bring Ms. Franklin a glass of water." "I'll get it," Yves offered. When Jimmy had told her what they were doing to find the old man's identity, she thought it was a lost cause. She hadn't thought anything would come out of the Gunmen's endeavor, but Jimmy had believed it would, so she kept her doubts to herself.
"No, it's ok," Marissa interjected before Yves left the room. "I can't stay. I did want to thank you for everything you did and tell you how much I appreciated your efforts." She looked at the men and the woman as tears slipped down her cheeks. She quickly dabbed her eyes, a simple thank-you just seemed so inadequate for what she was feeling.
"When my father died, it was very difficult for my family, not only did we have to deal with his loss, but we couldn't bury him. The military was vague about his death; saying his missions were classified. I was too young to understand and my mother couldn't answer my questions; I don't think she understood it herself, but she put on a brave front for me. I remember having nightmares for years afterwards; waking up screaming for my father."
"I needed answers. When I was old enough, I wrote letters to the military, talked to anyone who would give me the time of day; and filled out hundreds of forms, often in triplicate. Every request for information was wither denied or buried in mountains of red tape. I talked to other veterans, hoping someone would remember him and even made the journey to Vietnam three times with families of other M.I.A. soldiers. I spent 20 years searching for my father and never found any answers." Marissa faltered, thinking they must consider her crazy but she saw only sympathy and understanding in their faces.
"Twenty years," Melissa repeated the word as if startled by it. "I had become so obsessed with learning my fathers' fate I pushed my friends and family away. I had no one special in my life, no close friends, and I was estranged from my family. I was alone. I realized I had to make a decision; I had to give up my search if I wanted a normal life. I cried for two days. I felt as if I was letting my father down, abandoning him but I knew he wouldn't want this for me. I had been ready to give up," a sob caught in her throat, "when a friends' daughter; searching the internet for information for a school project saw the drawing with a D.C. phone number."
She went to Jimmy, "Detective Rosen, told me how you and your friends didn't give up when the police did." She hugged each man in turn, then looked at them again. "Thank you for bring my father back to me," she whispered; her voice catching. She checked her watch, "I have a plane to catch...I'm taking my father home, but I needed to thank you personally." "Wait," Jimmy said quickly. He turned and ran into another room, than came back moments later holding something in his hands. "These belonged to your father, and I think you should have them." Marissa accepted the items from Jimmy, looking at them. It was a worn book of poems. Something was holding a place and she opened the book to find a picture of her when she was little. She smiled remembering when her father had taken the picture. She carefully placed the picture in her pocket then looked at the poem. Her heart swelled as she read the poem `Tis the human touch in this world that counts, the touch of your hand and mine,
Which means far more to the fainting heart Than shelter and bread and wine;
For shelter is gone when the night is o'er, And bread lasts only a day,
But the touch of the hand and the sound of the voice Sing on in the soul away.
She looked up, smiling at the Gunmen and Yves. "My father was a literature professor. He loved poetry and this was one of his favorites. He strongly believed in the sentiment behind the words." She clasped Jimmy hand for a moment then pressed the book to him. "I want you to have this." Jimmy looked startled for a second then accepted the book, holding it to his chest. She glanced at the group one more time before turning and walking out of the warehouse.
If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Amy Jonas
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