Although the door was no longer attached to the wall, the outside of the house looked fine. The snow was melting away and the beginning of spring was right around the corner. It was a beautiful time of year to live in a place surrounded by trees and water. Soon the greenery would be in full bloom and people would come out of their houses to enjoy the weather. There would be life on Hidden Valley Lake once again.
So, when Karen and Brick approached the Wehde house, they expected everything to go smoothly until they saw that the door was missing. Karen had been walking fast until Brick pointed out the open doorway. She would never admit it, but she walked fast because she was nervous about talking to Mitchel, more nervous that he wouldn’t be civil.
“You going to shoot him?” Brick asked when Karen pulled her gun from the back of her pants.
“No, I’m just going to scare him.”
“The man can shoot electricity from his bare hands…yeah, I’m sure he’ll be scared of the gun.”
“He also heals rapidly,” she said creeping up to the house.
“He what?” Brick stopped before stepping on the porch.
“Yeah. Did I forget to mention that?” Karen asked expecting no answer in return.
“Is that gun loaded?” Brick joked as they walked into the house.
The house could be in the process of being stripped and sold for parts or being torn down and rebuilt. The furniture was thrown all over the house. The walls were cracked, smashed, and parts of the drywall were still falling to the ground. There was a hole in the ground the size of a foot or a bowling ball. The TV was smashed, the drawers on the floor. Nothing in the house was intact.
“What the hell happened here?” asked Brick. He looked through the damage, “This isn’t how I remember it. It looks like there was a world war in here.”
“I think there was,” she said kneeling to the ground.
“What do you mean?” Brick asked. He was looking through some of the rubble.
Karen pulled some hair that was stuck in the wood of the broken floorboard. It was hard to distinguish what color it was because it was covered by a hardened layer of dried blood. She pulled pieces of it apart trying to decide what it was exactly.
“What’s that? Hair?” Brick walked over to her side and kneeled down next to her.
“Fur? All of this was done by an animal?” he looked around the room in amazement. He wondered how an animal could do all of this damage. He wondered why an animal would do it.
“No, the TDAA was definitely here looking for Mitchel and by the looks of things they found him.”
“The TDAA, huh? Let me guess…Eric.”
“You know him?” Karen asked looking around for more evidence of what happened.
They both continued to search the room. They weren’t looking for anything in particular. They wanted to find Mitchel but it was obvious that there was nobody left in the house. Brick meandered to the corner of the living room where the carpet meets the wooden floor of the kitchen. He bent over and picked up a cracked pictures frame. Inside the frame was a picture of William and his wife Melissa at the Grand Canyon. A picture that Brick had seen twenty-three years earlier when it was in much better condition than now.
“I wonder what happened.”
“I’m guessing Mitchel scared Eric off into the woods and then decided to leave. There isn’t a reason to stay here.”
“Why do you think Eric ran off?” Brick asked. He placed the picture on the shelf that it once was on. He set it up and faced into the heart of the living room.
“Because we’re not looking at a dead animal in the middle of the room.”
“Maybe Eric arrested Mitchel. That’s possible.”
“No, it’s not,” she assured him. Brick turned from the picture to listen to her reasoning, “You don’t arrest Mitchel. You run from him, you die, or you kill him and there’s no— “
“Body on the floor…” he interrupted knowing where she was going with that. He looked around the room, glanced into the kitchen, and dropped his arms to his side. “So, what’s the next part of your plan? Head to Chicago?”
“No. I still really believe that we need Mitchel to beat my dad. You don’t understand what kind of people he has working for him inside that place.”
“Well, that’s great and all, but how are we supposed to find him?”
“Well, he thinks that he has to kill Michael,” she reached into her back pocket and pulled out a folded envelope. She pulled the note from inside and handed it to Brick. “That’s Michael’s address. We just go there and hope Mitchel is waiting. We hope it’s not too late.”
“Why does Mitchel think he that he has to kill his own brother?” Brick asked, but he could see by the expression on Karen’s face that he already knew the answer. She refused to make eye contact to the point where she turned her back to Brick completely. “Oh my god. You guys told him that he has to. You convinced him to kill his flesh and blood!”
“Look, I told you that I made some mistakes, alright? I messed up following their orders, but I’m done now!”
“Well let’s hope it’s not too late. Wait…did your people contact Michael?” again her silent response gave away an answer Brick didn’t want to hear. “Unbelievable.”
“Brick, I’m trying to fix it!” they stumbled around the mess arguing with each other.
“Are you? Are you really? Why in the world would you make them both believe that they needed to kill each other?”
“If they both manifest their powers completely then they may end up killing us all. They are destined to go to war against each other. What if innocent people are in their path?”
“Don’t lecture me about them, Karen. I was trying to fix this problem before you were even born,” he threw his arms up in the air.
“Well, you failed! You, Gazet, William, you all failed because now they are out there looking for each other.”
“Because of you! Don’t you get it? If you and your lunatic father just left them alone, then none of this would have ever happened. You did this and you need to stop blaming your problems on other people.”
Karen stared at Brick for a moment. Her eyes, her posture both indicated that she was waving the white flag. She only had so much energy left and wasting it arguing with Brick about something that had already happened was pointless. She walked through the mess and fell onto the couch. She put her head on the back and covered her face with her hands. She blocked out all the light. She stared into the darkness of her hands.
“Mitchel and I were together for almost three years, Brick. I was so stubborn and unapproachable, and trying to reason with me was beyond stupid, but Mitchel didn’t care. He helped me let it all go. I didn’t care about winning or being right with him. He complimented me so perfectly. I would be with him right now if I could. I would take all of it back just to be out there lying in the grass watching the planes fly over us,” she leaned forward to put her elbows on her knees. She tossed her gun onto the cushion next to her and put her fingertips together. “I messed up and I’m trying to fix it, but I can’t fix this alone, Brick. I need your help. They can’t die because of a mistake that I made. I can’t live knowing that one of them is dead because of me.”
Brick looked at the note she had handed him one more time. Michael lived in Indiana. It was on the way to Chicago, but if they didn’t stop in Indiana, there was no reason to go to Chicago. Karen was right in the beginning. They need Mitchel’s help to stop the TDAA.
“Karen,” Brick bent down in front of her, “I’m not going anywhere. I don’t want anything to happen to those boys either, but you need to listen to listen to me. If things get out of control and there is no reasoning with him, with either of them,” he reached to her side and picked up the gun. Slowly he opened her hands and wrapped her fingers around the handle. “You know you’re going to have to pull the trigger…or I will.”
“I know,” she looked him in the eyes and smiled. After a chuckle she said, “You are like the older brother that I never had.”
“And you are the annoying sister I never wanted.”
Teachers will say that their time off, whether it is for summer vacation, a holiday, or just a simple weekend, is much needed. Dealing with children all day and lecturing about the same topic year after year takes its toll on a person. The long hours and low salary don’t help at all either.
Michael relaxed in his backyard on the comfortable outdoor furniture. The March weather was beginning to warm up and he loved sitting outdoors breathing in the fresh air. They were still a couple of weeks away from spring, but the groundhog must not have seen his shadow because winter was ending quickly.
There was still a chilly breeze, though, so Michael put on a light jacket and sat with his feet up on the patio table and his fingers interlocked behind his head. He was staring up into a clear blue sky that resembled a painting of a warm summer day. It was as clear as it had been all year, the clouds were flawless, puffy and full. At this very moment, there were sure to be little kids lying on the lawn imagining the clouds were shaped like animals.
Michael wasn’t imagining any animals or looking for any constellations, simply staring. The rest of the world was still, and almost nonexistent, to him. The air that he breathed was cool and fresh as it entered his lungs. He closed his eyes but could still soak in the beauty of the day without continuing to look at it.
The smell of the grass and the cooking odors coming from other houses on the block filled his nose. He could hear a lawnmower down the block getting its first start of the season.
All the calm was thrust out of his body when a certain someone hopped onto his lap. It startled him, but he still managed to catch her and wrap his arms around her. Her smile spread from ear to ear and immediately lit up his.
“What were you doing?” Brittany asked after a quick peck on the lips.
“Finally relaxing,” his voice sounded like talking even released stress.
“Did you see any bunnies?” she asked looking up at the sky.
“Haha, I was just thinking about that,” his thoughts were distracting him. He looked out of his yard, staring past Brittany like she wasn’t sitting on his lap.
“Michael, can you please just talk to me? I’m starting to get so worried,” she said
“Can we not talk about this right now?” begged Michael.
“No, we have to,” she stood up at the exact moment that Michael was pushing her off in frustration. “Because I don’t understand it. And I’m sorry but I need to understand.”
“Why? Why do you need to understand?”
“I’m your girlfriend. You do remember that, right?
“There’s nothing to talk about, Brit.”
“How about…you’re looking for your biological father. The one you told me was crazy. The one you said you never wanted to see again. How about we talk about that?”
Michael stood up to walk off his frustration. He moved in circles around the patio looking at the grass, the plants, and the trees. He looked at everything except his concerned girlfriend.
“Michael, talk to me!” shouted Brittany.
“Brittany, I just need to talk to him, ok?” he turned to her. He looked beaten, on the verge of tears. “I just have to find him. Can you just trust me and leave it at that?”
She could see how this was eating at him. Everything was going so well until one day it all flipped. Since then, Michael was trying everything to find William. He talked to the police, checked phonebooks, searched the Internet, but there was no way of tracking him down. The police checked his house again but it was still abandoned. It was in a worse mess than before. The police found that the walls busted and cracked and the front door smashed all over the floor.
“Brittany, I love you. I love you so much I would confide in you about anything in this world, but not this. I’m sorry, but I just can’t. Not yet. I need to understand it more.”
“Understand what?” asked Brittany. She moved closer to him and held his hands in hers. She pressed them to her lips and then to her heart. “Michael, please.”
Michael dropped his chin to his chest. He closed his eyes and felt his hands being covered by hers. It felt nice, safe. But as safe as it felt, she would never be able to help. She wouldn’t even understand. He felt the warmth of her hands but he opened his eyes wanting nothing more but to open them and find that she was gone. He wanted to be alone. He wasn’t even sure of what he was going through, but it was his problem to solve, not hers. He was tired of being questioned because he didn’t have any answers. For all the number of questions she asked, he had that many more.
He looked up at her ready to ask her to leave. In fact, he wasn’t going to ask. He was going to tell her to leave. He needed to be alone, but when he looked up, he couldn’t say anything. Her green eyes looked at him hopelessly because even she knew that anything, she said wouldn’t help his problems. She wanted to help, but in reality, all she wanted to do was listen. He finally understood that.
“Ok,” Michael caved.
“Ok,” she replied to him. She tried to stay sincere, but she was finally getting answers. She was so concerned about her boyfriend and now he was finally letting her in. She was giddy inside and started to smile.
“Ok, ok. Relax,” Michael smiled and pulled her in for a hug. “I’m going to talk to you about this, but some things I have to keep to myself for now, ok? Just for now.”
“I understand. I’m just asking for a little bit at a time.”
“So…how about we meet at O’Dooleys at eight o’clock. We’ll talk about it over a good dinner. Sound good?” he proposed.
“It’s a date,” she kissed him. Pulling his lips tighter against hers and then smiled at him. She kissed him one more time. A small, quick one this time and then walked around the house yelling back to him, “I’ll see you at eight.”
Once she left, Michael’s smile was wiped from his face. It was almost dusk. The bright sky was changing to a soft orange. During their conversation, the clouds had vanished and were being replaced with dimly lit stars. It was going to be a beautiful night
He looked down at his hand. Stared at it as if he was moments away from talking to it. He started to move his fingers. Slowly at first, but then quicker. He checked his palm and then the back of his hand. He looked over every inch of his hand. He tightened the muscles and then relaxed. Tense. Loose. He rolled his eyes and dropped his hand to his waist.
After a moment of listening to the sounds of his neighborhood, he checked both of his hands once again but there was no change, just as normal as before. He dropped both of them to the side.
The sun had fully set. The stars were sprinkled across the canvas of the dark sky. Michael slipped his jeans on and patted down his upper body with an already damp towel after stepping out of the shower. Droplets of water still hung to his body, but he was already late to meet Brittany. He slipped a t-shirt over his head and pulled it down over his waist. He looked into the mirror. The tips of his fingers pulled at his hair, but not with the intention to change anything.
He put his arms through his jacket as he made his way down the stairs. John and Merry had once again gone out for the night. They seemed to be out more than most parents were. They lived a fun lifestyle. The Vernors weren’t rich, but they were comfortable enough to celebrate just about anything; Christmas, graduation, promotion, good test grade. Too much wine and leftovers.
They drove together and left behind Merry’s car for Michael to take. He grabbed the keys off the counter. He moved quick and even looked around the house like he was doing something he wasn’t supposed to. He opened the garage door and hopped into the car. The seats and mirrors weren’t set up to his liking. The seat was too close and the mirror was pointing towards his crotch.
He turned the mirror so that he could see out the back window. Then he reached to the side of the seat and pulled the lever toward the back of the car. The seat moved back slowly. Humming as it slid.
He started the car. After the initial growl, the engine started producing a smooth rumble, a pure sound. He flipped the headlights on, which reflected heavily off the back of the garage wall and blinded Michael’s vision.
He threw the car into reverse and began backing up. The car was moving before he even looked into the rearview mirror. He knew his driveway went straight back and didn’t expect anything to be in his way. He glanced in the rearview mirror and saw that it was too dark to look through that little thing. He turned around and put his hand on the back of the passenger seat. He slammed on the breaks.
The car wasn’t moving any faster than a slow roll, but the car jerked back and then forward to a complete rest. Michael shifted his automatic transmission back into park and opened his door. He never buckled his seatbelt, so getting out of the car in a hurry was easy. Michael was so angry when he was getting out that he could only mutter words of disgust.
“I heard you’ve been looking for me,” said William as he stepped out of the darkness and into the light of the garage.
Michael looked at his father. His real, biological father was once again standing in front of him. It had been weeks since the last time they had seen each other when Michael told him to leave him alone. Then, as luck would have it, he was standing in the driveway and Michael had been looking for him.
“What are you doing here?”
“I heard that you were looking for me. Here I am.”
“Who told you that?” asked Michael.
“Does it matter? I’m here.”
“No, no. You’re right. I was looking for you,” confessed Michael.
“Well, is now a good time? I don’t know how much longer I’ll be around town.”
“Umm,” Michael thought out loud. He thought about Brittany. He promised to open up to her about everything. But the ‘everything’ he wanted to open up to her about was standing right in front of him. All the questions he had were about to be answered. “Get in. Let’s go for a drive.”
“Sounds good,” William said as he walked to the passenger door. “Nice car.”
Michael watched William sit in the car and close the door behind him. Michael looked around the yard and the rest of the neighborhood. As far as he knew, they were alone. He wasn’t being followed. Michael wasn’t really sure what he was doing, but after what happened to him in the bathroom, he knew there was something strange going on and that William had dealt with something like it before.
After Gazet’s car accident back in late September 2012, he was immediately taken to a hospital in Ireland, but within hours the TDAA landed their helicopter, had a legal document issuing an immediate transfer of Gazet, and had him in the TDAA medical center by the end of the next night. Because it happened so quickly, Gazet didn’t have time to pack anything. All of the clothes he had been wearing over the last couple of months were given to him by Paul.
Packing wasn’t proving to be a difficult task. He had the clothes that he had worn the day of his accident and some of his belongings that were taken out of his totaled car. There was nothing else, just the clothes on his back.
He sat in his room staring at the wall. It wasn’t his choice to be in that building, but Paul really did make it feel like home. He pulled him from Cell Block U and put him in a hotel style suite. He had his own king size bed, refrigerator, his own TV, closet, and dresser. He was told that he would be free to leave the building whenever he wanted, and Paul made sure that he was. Gazet had left on several occasions and always came back. The only time he wasn’t allowed to go anywhere was when he had a scheduled procedure. But he had had enough of all of that. It was time to cut the cord and leave the TDAA.
“You sure you want to leave all of this behind?” asked Paul. He leaned against the doorway with his arms crossed.
“You promised me that you would make me comfortable here. You didn’t disappoint. Thank you for that.”
“I’m a man of my word, Gazet.”
“I guess you are.”
Paul had a spring in his step and quickly approached Gazet’s side, “Then stay. I promised you that I would find a way to help you and I will. I just need a little bit more time.”
“I’m sorry, Paul. Time is the one thing I’m running short on and I can’t spend the rest of mine here under a microscope.”
Gazet struggled to get to his feet. Paul reached down and held his arm lifting him to his feet. Gazet limped with his cane in hand over to the bedroom window. He looked down at the cars. He saw the lights of busy Chicago far off in the distance. The city looked tiny from where he stood.
“I’m so close to finding an answer.”
“What makes you think that? None of the tests have given you any useful information about Abilities. How are you close to finding an answer?”
“Because there aren’t many more tests that we can run. One of them has to work.”
“It won’t, Paul. You need to accept the fact that we may always be a species impossible to understand. It’s not in fate’s plan for you to understand us.”
“There is no fate, Gazet,” Paul said once again rushing to the side of Gazet. “Don’t you get that by now. You of all people should understand that fate isn’t real. You can see the future. You see one thing happen that you don’t like— you could change it. You saw those boys destroying our world and you split them apart.”
“But you are forcing them back together. You see I tried my best, but it still happened. No matter how many curveballs we throw, no matter how many roadblocks we put up, fate will always win. Those boys are going to destroy us no matter what we do.”
Gazet placed his hand on Paul’s shoulders and decided that it was finally time to leave. With a pat on his back and a smile, Gazet stepped away from the TDAA Director and headed for his room. Paul was left with a pathetic frown plastered on his face. He felt like an utter failure because he truly believed that he was a few more tests away from finding the answers they had all hoped for.
At that moment, his thinking changed. He wasn’t ready to accept anyone walking out on him. His frown faded and his eyes grew wide. An idea popped into his head that he felt was worth trying. There was always a way to manipulate another person, and if anyone could think of a way to trick Gazet, it was Paul.
“Why are you lying?” asked Paul.
Gazet was nearly out the door before he turned back, “What are you talking about? Lying about what?”
“Claire. Why are you making up such a ridiculous story?”
Gazet stared into the eyes of a monster. He cursed at Paul as loud as he could…inside his head, of course. He called him names, and wished bad things down on him, but said nothing insulting out loud.
“Gazet, I lost someone, too.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Gazet turned to leave but Paul aggressively pulled him back. It put pressure on Gazet’s bad leg and he writhed in pain.
“Gazet, I know all about you. Do you know why I’m so good at what I do? Because I know my clients.”
“They’re not clients. They’re prisoners,” Gazet’s tone had changed rapidly. Something had irked him.
“You weren’t. I’m good to the people that are good to me. If you could go back and do things differently, would you? Would you try anything new? If you could go back and save Claire, would you?”
“Of course, I would. I’d give anything to bring her back.”
“I know you would. So please help me. From one broken-hearted husband to another, please help me save my wife.”
Paul released Gazet’s arm flattened his sleeve that was wrinkling from Paul’s tight hold. He looked him in the eyes and after a deep breath Paul said, “I’ll show you.”
After the long walk to Paul’s office, mostly because of Gazet’s limp, Paul closed the door and helped Gazet to the desk. Gazet put one hand on the desk to balance himself so that he wouldn’t fall over. Ever since Paul grabbed him, he was in more pain than he had been in a while.
“The TDAA was constructed to get the most dangerous Abilities off the streets. To protect the people, but something happened over fifteen years ago that put a new agenda on my desk. That’s why I brought you here. That’s why I brought in a handful of Abilities who have had no dangerous history at all.
He pulled from his pocket his most prized possession. Something he considered the source of his entire existence. The chrome key that unlocks the drawer in his desk. He showed it to Gazet and with no words to say, he held it up so that Gazet could see it. Gazet opened up his hand and caught the key when Paul dropped it.
“What is this?”
“A key to what I’m about to show you, something that no one has ever seen before, not even my own daughter.”
Paul took the key back and held it like there was nothing in the world that could remove it from his hands. Something so small had been the biggest factor for all of his decision making and he was finally exposing the truth to someone. He was a hypocrite to the full extent. Minutes ago, he told Gazet that keeping a secret would ruin him and Paul was the biggest secret keeper of all.
He walked over to the front side of the desk and dropped to one knee. Gazet, being the short man that he was, stood up on the tops of his toes to see over the desk, but that instantly put pain in his leg. He dropped to the flats of his feet and limped to where he could see what Paul was doing.
Once Gazet could see, Paul put the key in the drawer and, after a moment of hesitation, turned it. The drawer unlocked. When it unlatched, it startled Gazet. In his defense, he had no idea what to expect.
Paul pulled open the drawer to explain the red button to Gazet. He used a moment of silence to give Gazet enough time to lean over and see what was inside. At this point, Gazet was ultimately confused. He tilted his head to the side as if he was expecting more than a small, seemingly powerless red button.
“It’s a button?”
“It’s a button.”
“To do what?” asked Gazet.
“Give me back my wife,” Paul pushed the button and the bookcase behind Gazet popped open. It made the noise of a microwave door opening once the button was pushed, but much louder, four or five times louder than that.
Gazet turned around slowly after hearing the wall open. His reflexes were not too great. He wasn’t a young kid anymore. Paul placed his hand on Gazet’s back for a moment before walking over to the bookshelf. He put his hands on the side and before he pushed it open, he smiled at Gazet almost embarrassingly.
The door swung open, with a push by Paul, like a secret passageway door to an old mansion. Once the door was open, Paul stepped back out of Gazet’s line of sight and then waited for a response. Gazet’s mouth opened slowly, but wider with each step that he took towards the secret.
On the other side of the wall was a room. It wasn’t as big as Paul’s office, but was almost half as big. There were heart monitors, there were IV tubes, and a breathing machine. There was a cushioned chair in the corner. There was a tray of untouched food on a tall cart on wheels. And then there was a hospital bed with a lady lying unconscious, tucked under fleece blankets.
“Gazet…I would like you to meet my wife.”
Gazet had walked to the side of the bed and stared at the lady lying there. She had no reaction to noise or touch. She didn’t open her eyes or move a muscle. She was in an induced coma and it was a deep one. Paul stood on the other side of the bed. While Gazet couldn’t take his eyes off of the woman, Paul couldn’t take his eyes off of Gazet. He watched him as he held his wife’s hand tightly.
“What the hell have you done? How could you do this to your wife? We have to wake her up.”
“No, Gazet. She wanted this. This was all her decision. As much as I tried to fight it, she wouldn’t let me. She made me do this.”
“Why? I don’t understand.”
“She’s an Ability.”
“An Ability?” Gazet repeated astonished as anyone would be to hear the Director of the TDAA was married to an Ability.
“Like I told you I’m not a bad guy. She knew that about me.”
“So, what happened? Why the coma?”
“She was telekinetic. It was amazing to see what she could do. I knew that there were some out there but never saw one. They were a very smart group. It was almost impossible to catch one,” Paul pulled up one of the chairs and sat down on it never letting go of his wife’s hand. “Anyway, for the first couple years of our marriage she could only manage little things. Pencils, books, and then lamps and computers. Stuff like that. But as the years went by, she managed to get more power. She was moving couches across the room and moving the car into the garage.”
“She pushed herself too much,” Gazet finished.
“Yes. She was taking on more than she could handle and it started to affect the rest of her brain. She was becoming forgetful. Her attitude was changing drastically. I told her that the doctors…” he paused to look at her. A tear fell from his eye, “They told me that her powers were going to kill her. They said they could probably cure her, but there wasn't enough time. That’s when she ordered the doctors to put her into a comatose state. She refused to give me any say in the matter.”
“So, she’s been like this for over ten years?”
“Yes. If she wakes up, she may have only a few days left before it kills her…maybe a couple of hours.”
"Why don't you put a collar on her?" Gazet asked.
"It's not a cure, Gazet, only a containment. With a collar, her brain would still weather away. It would only be a matter of time."
“I’m sorry, Paul. I’m so sorry, but this isn’t right. You need to put an end to this. You need to let her go.”
“What?” Paul rose to his feet, finally relinquishing her hand. “You said that you would do anything to get Claire back.”
“I would, but not this. You’re keeping her in a body that doesn’t want her anymore. This isn’t natural.”
“Gazet, don’t you understand,” he moved around to Gazet’s side of the bed, “A couple of more tests on you and I will find out why you are the way you are, why she is the way she is. I can save her.”
Gazet wanted to help more than anything. It wasn’t just him, either; he wanted to help her—and the only way to do that was to do more tests. If the tests worked, Paul could cure her and she would wake up. If the tests didn’t work, then Paul would realize there was no answer to his question and he could pull the plug. He could finally let her rest in peace.
“I will meet with your doctors tonight. I will spend the next couple of hours brainstorming with them, trying to find the right test that will give you the best shot of finding your answers. If that test doesn’t give you the results you need or if we can’t come up with that test, then I’m leaving. First thing in the morning. I’m going.”
“Thank you. I will never be able to repay you for this.”
“Find a cure for us and it’s a start,” said Gazet as he limped out of the hospital room and out of the TDAA Director’s office.
Paul bent over his wife and kissed her on the forehead. Then he stared at her face. Her eyes were closed, face calm. It was the same look she had for the last decade, but she made it look beautiful. She hadn’t changed at all. She was still the same lady in the picture behind his desk. She was flawless.
“We are so close. We’re going to be a family again,” he said. He kissed her on the forehead one more time and then the buzzer to his phone rang. He straightened up and wiped his eyes. All the emotion drained out of him by the sound of the buzzer. He had, like so many times before, to hide this room and the way it made him feel.
He closed the door behind him locking it in place. It was just another wall of books and nobody would ever know the difference. He wiped his eyes one more time and straightened his tie. As far as he was concerned the last twenty minutes never happened. He pushed down the intercom button and opened the door for another visitor. This time the Marine entered the office.
He wasn’t the smiling type or the type to show any emotion at all, but he had a spring in his step. The way he walked indicated that he might have good news to share and Paul caught on to this instantly. That was Paul though. He was one of the very best at reading people.
“Lawrence, what can I do for you?” asked Paul. He was one of the very few people who called Lawrence by his given name because not many people knew his name. Lawrence was a very guarded person and didn’t share much with anyone.
“Mitchel, got away,” Paul let out a sigh after hearing this and walked around to his desk chair. Lawrence continued, “We threw everything at him. I must have multiplied fifty or sixty times and then Eric came after him full clawed, but he’s strong. He displayed a level of power that I have never seen before. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“And yet you look relieved, almost happy."
“Am I happy?” asked Lawrence. He seemed to be leading Paul on to some big news, but Paul wasn’t catching on to that.
“Yes, you do seem happy. You seem un— “
Lawrence leaned forward and dropped a gun onto his desk. The look of the weapon shut Paul up. His eyes took in every inch of the gun and slowly his hands reached out for it.
It was silver, pure silver very similar to the key that opened Paul’s drawer, which meant one thing—the gun was indestructible. The handle was thick and easy to hold, hard to let go. The trigger was also one of a kind. It was thin, but long. Long enough to wrap all four fingers around it if someone wanted more leverage when they were shooting. The barrel of the gun was thin like a ballpoint pen or a straw, but the top part of the gun, the slide, was thick and rigged.
“Do you like it?” asked Lawrence.
“Like it? I love it. What is it?” Paul was like a kid that just got item number one on his Christmas list.
“It’s a brand-new tranquilizer gun. The boys on weapons detail whipped up a prototype for me and I gave the green light to go ahead and manufacture it.”
“A tranquilizer?” Paul said with less satisfaction.
“Well hear me out,” Lawrence pointed at each part of the gun as he told Paul about it. “The handle…nobody is going to drop this bad boy. The trigger long enough to help the weakest people fire. Look at the size of that slide. There’s enough recoil in there to shoot out a dart with as much G-Force as a space shuttle.”
“But it’s a tranquilizer, Lawrence.”
Lawrence pulled one of the darts from his pocket. Inside the short, thick, clear dart was a small amount of red liquid, “Each dart is filled with a formula created using the very same formula…inside the Babbitt collar.”
Paul took his eyes of the gun and slowly rose to his feet staring a hole in Lawrence’s eyes the entire way up. He didn’t smile at first, but when Lawrence’s wouldn’t go away, he let his out too.
“This dart will take away an Abilities’ powers?”
“Yes, sir, it will. Once hit, the dart ejects the formula and will leave the Ability completely powerless for twenty minutes.”
“What? Twenty minutes. That’s all? The Collar duration is permanent”
“Well because this formula is inside the bloodstream and not on the exterior of the body, any longer than that could kill. Don’t worry. Twenty minutes is long enough to get the Ability down, into handcuffs, and then slap the Babbitt Collar around their neck.
“How are you so sure?” asked Paul.
“We had a field test.”
“Who was the subject? It can’t just be anyone. We need someone who will try and fight back.”
“Sir,” he began with a smile on his face, “We used Eric.”
Paul forced his smile to go away, “Where is he now?”
“He is pretty angry. We had to lock him up in Cell Block U,” Lawrence smirked.
“Lawrence, just because he can be an animal doesn’t mean he is an animal. Have someone let him out.”
“Yes, sir,” Lawrence began to leave the room, but Paul stopped him.
“What are these made from?”
“Chrome. We had a few dozen ores left. Someone must have imported a whole truckload and only used a handful so they’ll last for a while.”
“Work on finding a more indestructible material. See what we have left of the methyl Methacrylate. Until then I guess some chrome is better than none. Great work, Lawrence.”
“There’s one more thing, Paul. You’re not going to like it.”
“One of my informants in New York told me that Karen was at The Crate.”
“It’s sort of an underground fighting competition for Abilities. A betting place. Karen was there.”
“Why?” Paul asked with some anger in his voice.
“We don’t know, but she left with Gazet’s friend, Brick.”
“I don’t believe this. She’s really going to do this.”
“Sir?” Lawrence was confused. Nobody except Paul knew of Karen’s hidden agenda. It involved everyone in the TDAA, but Paul wasn’t ready to have order his agents to capture his daughter.
“Nothing. Let her be. I’m having her work on a special undercover assignment. She’ll be fine. Thanks for notifying me.”
Lawrence nodded and left the room. He left Paul with the gun. Paul was a perfectionist when it came to his work. He would spend hours with the gun. Find what works, change what doesn’t, and become more familiar with the gun than any of his employees.
He sat back down, but as soon as he touched the chair, he shot to his feet. He placed the gun on the table and rushed over to his bookcase. He began skimming the book titles from one side of the shelf to the other. A thought had popped into his head and he was going to solve it instantly.
He pulled a book on the human anatomy that covered everything about the human body for the things beginning with the letter A all the way to the letter F. He flipped through pages quicker than a high-powered wind fan could do. He brushed through the C pages and ran his finger up and down looking for the correct word.
And then he came across it. He started reading each word carefully and even started over a couple times to soak the information into his brain. He was a smart man but he worked hard to be that way. He read everything there was to read. Of the three hundred books lining the wall, he read each one…twice.
“I don’t believe it…chromosomes.”
Although O'Dooley's promoted itself as an Irish restaurant, it was more of a tradition place. There was actually very little Irish to it. It was as traditional a restaurant as could be. The tabletops were all clear glass covered with a white cloth. The chairs were all made of steel with the exception of the red padded backs. The booths were a dark maroon. The main entrée on the menu was Prime Rib. There were hamburgers, and chicken, and even the Dooley Dog for the kids. There wasn’t a hint of Irish in the place.
Brittany sat at the bar in a tan sweater and a pair of fancy jeans. She wasn’t a beer drinker. If there isn’t another drink anywhere around, then she would force herself to have a beer, and she’d enjoy it, but she didn’t sit around thinking to herself, “I need a beer.” She was a rum and coke drinker. Even before she was the legal age, back in high school, she stuck to rum.
The digital clock that hung on the wall above all the bottles of alcohol read 8:56, which meant that Michael was an unprecedented twenty-six minutes late. He wasn't the kind of person to be late. He was actually the kind of person who considered being on time to be late, but with everything going on in his life, she wasn’t worried about it. She figured he was taking care of something on his way to the restaurant.
Maybe, she thought, he's getting me flowers.
“Is this seat taken?” came a strong voice from behind her.
She smiled and spoke before turning around, “Only by you, good,” she cut herself off as she turned around. “I’m so sorry, I thought you were someone else. I've been waiting for someone and you sound exactly like him.”
“Oh, a boyfriend?” he asked.
“Well, if he’s the jealous type I can go to the other end of the bar?”
“No, it’s ok. Go ahead. Sit,” she offered the stool to him.
He slipped off his jacket, put it on the back of the chair, and sat down. His forearm was wrapped in a bandage. He looked at the bartender who was in the middle of helping an older couple. They weren’t entirely sure of what they were ordering, though, so the bartender stood in front of them in silence waiting to get the drink orders.
“Making him jealous might not be the worst thing,” Brittany said before a quiet laugh.
“I said it might not be too bad of an idea to get him jealous. Maybe he'll notice me a bit more.”
“Oh. Sorry to hear that,” he wasn’t focused in their conversation. He was waiting for the bartender so that he could get his drink.
“No, I’m just kidding.”
“Hey, can I get a Rolling Rock?” he called down to the bartender. He saved the girl from listening to the annoying couple. She grabbed the beer and set it on the bar. Brittany’s new friend took a big sip as soon as the bottle was in reaching distance. He reached his hand out to Brittany, “I’m Mitchel.”
“Brittany Goudreau,” she shook his hand.
“It’s nice to meet you, Brittany Goudreau,” he said. They both gulped back their drinks.
“Ouch. That looks painful," she pointed to the tightly wrapped bandage on his forearm.
“This? No, it's just a small scratch. Funny story, though. I got scratched by a very mean cat."
"A cat, huh? A little advice, if you're here to meet girls, you might want to make up a better story," she joked.
"Hey…it was a big cat," he pulled off the bandage to unveil a completely healed wrist. Stains of blood were on the inside of the bandage.
"Wow. Fast healer?" she asked.
"Yeah. You could say that."
She giggled at the thought of a cat hurting a guy bad enough to where he needs to wrap his arm, but then she felt bad and covered her mouth. She struggled to hold back laughter, but she managed to do it.
“So…are you meeting someone?”
“Not exactly. I'm actually looking for someone."
"Do you have a type?" she asked with the Rum and Coke straw in her mouth.
"Ha, no, it's not like that. I’m actually looking for a guy,” he responded. He chuckled when he saw the expression on her face. “No, not like that. It's a business meeting, not personal.”
“It’s pretty late for a business meeting.”
“Well, I guess you could say that time doesn’t really exist in my line of work.”
“What line of work is that?” she asked.
“That’s a long story.”
“It looks like I’ve got time.”
“Like I said, though, time isn’t really factor.”
She smiled and a puff of air shot out her nose. He intrigued her. He had a way about him. Chicks always go for the bad boys, and nice guys always finish last, but Mitchel didn’t seem to be either one of those. He was somewhere in the middle. He seemed lost, but she could sense that he would have no problem being found, he just didn’t want to be.
“But what about you?” he asked. As the words were on the tip of her tongue, he cut her off, "I'm going to guess a nurse."
“No, I’m a teacher.”
“That would have been my second guess.” At this point, Mitchel’s beer was halfway gone. He was enjoying the conversation so much that he didn’t realize how fast he was drinking it. It had been a long time since he was in a meaningful conversation about something other than…him being an Ability.
“Why those two guesses?”
“You seem like the kind of girl that likes helping people.”
“You think that? I mean I do, but why do you think that? Is there something about me?" she was curious as to how Mitchel saw her. She worried about what a lot of people thought about her and a first impression with a stranger is the perfect time to ask that question.
“Well, it doesn't take much. You’ve got a boyfriend, but you didn’t mind that I sit here. And you just…seem nice. I don't know, maybe you thought I needed help or advice so you let me sit here.”
“Oh boy,” Mitchel turned his body towards Brittany for the first time during their encounter. “We don't have time for the amount of advice I could use."
"I thought time didn't matter in your world," she said with a smile.
He pointed at her and smiled back, "See and you listen. You've got 'I like to help people' written all over you."
"But really, is there anything I can help you with?"
"No. Just a slight problem in my business and personal life…coming together."
"Really, I've been talking about this for what seems like the last four months of my life. I need a break from it," he finished the rest of his beer and held up the bottle so that the bartender would slide him a refill.
"I didn't mean to pry."
"Oh no, it's fine. It's good to feel comfortable with yourself enough that you can ask strangers personal questions…but I am just as comfortable deflecting those questions with questions of my own. Would you like another drink?" he pointed to her drink that still was half full.
"No, I'm ok."
"Alright, I'm going to take another guess…English teacher?"
Her face scrunched up. She hated to disappoint him, “No, math.”
“I guess I’m not as good at guessing as I thought,” he said with a smile. “What’s going on with your boyfriend? Why’s he so late?”
“I never said he was late,” her smirk may have showed a sign of flirting.
“Oh please. Pretty girls don’t show up to dinner early to grab a drink at the bar. He’s late.”
“Yeah, he’s late.”
“Do you need advice?”
“No. He’s great. He’s just been very distant lately.”
“Oh god, no!”
“You’re sure?” he asked sincerely.
“I’m positive. He’s actually found a lot of stuff out that has turned his life upside down.”
“I’ve been down that road. What’s he found out?”
“Well…” She didn’t know if she should get into it or not but after a slight pause, she figured he won't tell anyone. They don't even know the same people. “He was adopted four days after he was born and for his whole life, he thought his biological dad was dead. Turns out he wasn’t.” She was expressing so much for not knowing this guy. He had a genuine presence, though. For all she knew he was a true unbiased source, which was hard to find outside of a psychiatrist. “His dad showed up one night and turned out to be completely nuts. At first, he told him to leave us alone and never come back, but now for some weird reason all he's been doing over the last week is looking for him. Once I digest all of that, he tells me that now he has a brother somewhere out there that he never knew about either.”
Mitchel was sipping his beer at that point. He stopped. The bottle still tilted up pressed against his lip, but he lowered the bottom of the bottle enough to stop any beer from pouring out. He swallowed what was in his mouth.
He smiled. It was a crooked smile. Like when a child is getting yelled at, but for some reason starts laughing and can’t stop. He wiggled his nose and pursed his lips to hide his amusement.
“Sounds like he’s got a lot on his plate,” Mitchel said.
“Yup,” she took a couple of sips from her glass in hopes that the silence would change the subject. As nice as it was to talk about Michael, she may have said too much. It was the guy next to her that she wanted to know more about. “So, what’s your story?”
“Not much of a story,” he lied. “Only child,” he lied again, “never knew my mom and don’t really get along with my dad.”
“Sorry to hear that. No girlfriend?”
“I did. We broke up a couple years ago.”
“I'm sorry to hear that. Do you still see each other?”
“From time to time,” he said, again having to hold back a smile. If only she knew the real relationship with Karen.
“Well, what happened?”
Mitchel didn’t know what to say. She had been very honest with him about Michael, the brother she didn’t know he had. But his story was complicated. More than she’d ever understand.
“Her father, uh…didn’t approve,” he was only a few sips in to his second beer. He stood up and pulled money from his wallet and tossed it onto the counter. “Well, I've got to get out of here and find my guy.”
“He's not meeting you here?" she asked.
“No, I wasn't sure if I could go through with this meeting. I needed to clear my head."
“I understand that. So now that your head is clear, are you going to find your guy?"
"Yeah. I think I'll track him down."
"Good luck," she smiled and waved. Immediately after she felt embarrassed that she gave such an enthusiastic wave like she was waving to a neighbor across the street.
“Yeah, nice talking to you.” Mitchel smiled at her and turned away. He couldn’t walk away though. He felt like he was leaving behind a sad girl. He couldn’t leave a sad girl pouting. Nobody could. “Hey, can I give you that piece of advice?"
"Oh, sure," she said with excitement that the conversation was continuing.
"You know how guys are always taking their girlfriends to the movies, or basketball games, or auto shows, ya know, things that girls have no interest in?” He waited for her to nod and then kept going, “Well it’s not because guys just want to do what guys want to do, well with some guys it is, but the majority of guys do that for the same reason that girls drag their boyfriends to mall or to a lame party."
“And why’s that?”
“So that you’ll understand them. Guys just want their girl to understand them. Once you do, either two things will happen. One: you’ll realize it was never meant to be and go your separate ways. Or…well you know what two is.”
“Live happily ever after,” she assumed.
"So…" she was failing to comprehend his point.
"So, all I'm saying is that maybe Michael might be afraid to let you in about all that stuff. Maybe he's afraid you just might stop loving him if you knew the truth."
“Did your old girlfriend understand you?”
Mitchel looked around the restaurant like he needed to find the answer, but he already knew what it was. He looked at one of the couples sitting at a booth and smiled at their happiness. He looked back at Brittany whose faith in love seemed to be depending on the answer to her question.
“Yeah, she did, and we didn't live happily ever after.”
Another goodbye wasn’t necessary. Mitchel nodded to his new friend and then left the restaurant.
She didn’t know if it was the answer she was looking for, but it was a good answer. During their brief encounter, she found herself really liking him. Not in a sexual way, but not in a big brother looking out for her kind of way, either. It was a perfect moment. It wasn’t ruined by lust, or infatuation. There would never be a violent outburst of displeasure, or a bad breakup.
Two people came together because for ten minutes out of one day of their entire lifetime their fates brought them together. Their time together would forever remain perfect. Those ten minutes could never be tainted.
A text from Michael, the only contact he made since they spoke in his backyard earlier that afternoon read: “I’m sorry.” She read it and sighed in disgust. She dropped the phone on the bar and shook her head. She looked around the bar feeling like everyone's eyes were on her, but they weren't. She was just angry.
Then she had a thought. She picked her phone back up and brought up her text message screen. She stared at Michael's name. Brittany didn't open the menu of all the text messages they had sent to each other, she just stared at his name.
I never told Mitchel that my boyfriend's name was Michael, she thought.
About the author
Video Production and Creative Writing major at Ball State University.
Published Fiction author - novels Dead Last series and Abilities series.
English and journalism teacher.
Husband and father.