Saturday, May 7, 2016

Red Watch, Part Two

In two hours Rachel had a local address for Red Watch. I’m not sure if she used her computer skills or her magic. She’s not exactly a Hogwarts graduate, but she can be pretty impressive with the right spells and charms. I didn’t really want to know. Especially since she insisted on meeting us there.
            So she was waiting in her red Prius in front of the building, a loft-style structure on the west side of the city. It was six-thirty, and night was falling.           
            “You owe me dinner, and this time I’m not bussing my own tray,” she told me as Hailey and I got out of my car.
            Hailey held out her hand. “Hi. Gina Hailey. You’re . . .?”
            “I’m Rachel.” She jumped out and locked her door while I was got red hair that matched her car and green eyes like a cat. “I’m Tom’s associate. Not assistant.” She held out her hand. “Also his girlfriend.”
            I gave her a quick look. “Really? You denied that the last time we went to the bar and hot men were hitting on both of us.”
            “I will be, as long as you’re paying for dinner. After that, we’ll negotiate.” She planted her butt against the car and looked at the building. “Second floor. Name on the buzzer is ‘Rain Consulting.’ The name on the lease is ‘Meadows Associates.’”
            Hailey nodded. “That’s Suzanne Meddoes.” She spelled it for us. “She claims to be one of the leaders. I talked to her on the phone once. She’s—tricky. But they won’t want to cause a scene.”
            I looked up at the second floor with a sigh. “Even if they’ve got Adrian tied up in the corner?”
            “They trust me—some of them do, anyway. And if he’s there, I’m not leaving without him.” Her tone was quiet, but determined.
            “Let’s do it, then.”
            So we walked to the door of the building. I felt like the Cowardly Lion leading the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodsman. Woods-lady? We found “Rain Consulting” on the board inside the door, and I pressed the buzzer. Twice. “Hello?”
            “What? Hello!” The male voice sounded confused, as if no one ever called for entry. “This is Rain Consulting, and we’re—”
            Hailey leaned forward. “This is Gina Hailey. I’m here for my boyfriend, Adrian Bennish.”
            “He’s not, uh, nobody here by that name. Who is this?”
            “Gina Hailey. I’m not leaving without him.” She took a breath. “I’ll call the police.”
            “No, wait, wait! Is that you, Gina?”
            “Reg?” She smiled in surprise. “Is that you? How are you doing?”
            “Uh, fine, I guess. Just a minute—”
            Rachel pulled on the buzzing door. “Open sesame.”
            The office was a short elevator ride up. A sheet of paper printed with “Rain Consulting” was taped to a solid-looking door.
            “Who’s Reg?” I double-checked my jacket to make sure I had my Taser.
            “I met him once or twice. At some protests.” Hailey shrugged. “Nice guy, really.”
            Rachel looked at me. “So press the buzzer, okay? Or are you going to kick the door down?”
            “Not with my new Nikes.” I had some experience trying to force my way into houses and rooms where people didn’t want me—and then trying to talk my way out of police cars and jail cells where I didn’t want to be. “Legally, we can only ask to come in. Even if they’re actually holding him prisoner in here—”
            “I’m not leaving without him.” Hailey bit her lip.
            So I pressed the door buzzer.
            “Gina?” Reg was a skinny white guy in a flannel shirt, holding a coffee mug like a defensive weapon. “Whoa. It really is you.”
            “Hi, Reg.” Hailey forced a smile. “Where’s Adrian?”
            “Uhh . . .” He backed away. “Maybe you should come in.”
            The dark office had a loft ceiling, but otherwise the place looked a lot like New Earth, only longer and emptier. Desks, computers, and posters of animals being tortured and rain forests being cut down. Fluorescent lights hung from the beams, half of them dark, and a lamp next to the front reception desk seemed to cast more shadows than light. 
            “You know it’s great to see you, but—” Reg set his mug on a table. “But I can’t say anything. I just run the computers and stuff. You know that.” He looked at me. “Who are these guys?”
            “Tom Jurgen. I’m a private detective.” That always sounded more melodramatic than I liked. “This is Rachel. She’s, uh—”
            “We’re a team.” Rachel clutched my hand. “Team Jurgen. Right?”
            Yeah. I squeezed her fingers. “Right. And this is—”
            “Goddamn it, Reg!” Hailey’s face flushed. “We’re here looking for Adrian! I’m not leaving here without him! Can you help me out, or not?”
            Reg stood behind the table, helpless. “I don’t know. Maybe—but only—”
            “Hang on, all of you.”
            She emerged from behind a cubicle wall like a witch who wanted to listen to us before revealing herself: A tall blonde woman in a long black skirt. She had deep blue eyes, high cheekbones, and a smirk on her face. “What’s going on, Reg?”
            “I let them in.” Reg shrugged. “Sorry.”
            “Oh, damn it.” Hailey gazed at the woman, like someone meeting a movie star in a coffee shop. “You’re—”
            “Yeah.” She nodded. “I’m Suzanne Meddoes.”
            The head of Red Watch. This was getting more complicated every minute. And I didn’t feel a whole lot closer to finding Adrian.
            “Nice to meet you in person, Gina.” Meddoes smiled. “We have more in common than you think.”
             “I’m not leaving here without Adrian.” It was sounding like Hailey’s mantra.
            Meddoes looked us all over. “I can’t let any spies from Earth First go searching our place. We’re doing important work here.”
            Hailey snorted. “Like liberating those test animals in Indiana last month? Most of them died the first day. You did over twenty thousand dollars’ worth of damage on that lab, and the cops investigated us for that. Half our staff got hauled down for questioning.”
            Reg waved an arm. “That wasn’t our fault. We didn’t—”
            “Let’s stick to the subject.” I stretched my neck to gaze as far back through the Red Watch office as I could. Nothing, but the lights were dim. “Why don’t you let us take a quick look here? We could be out of here in five minutes.”
            Hailey planted her feet firmly on the floor. “I’m not leaving here—”
            “—without Adrian,” Reg and Rachel finished together. Hailey glared at them.
            Meddoes sat down and crossed her legs with a sigh. “Look, I’m not a crazy paranoid. But I have lots of reasons for not wanting random strangers poking around in here. It doesn’t have anything to do with your boyfriend. But he’s not here.”
            “You know, we’ve got other ways to find him.” Rachel looked at Hailey. “If you’ve got something personal of his, I can—do some stuff.”
            Like I said, Rachel has some special skills. She doesn’t like to advertise them, but a little magic comes in handy when you’re a P.I.’s girlfriend.
            “I’ve got a key for his apartment.” Hailey stared at Rachel. “What are you talking about? Super bloodhounds? Drones that can track his DNA?”           
            “Ssh.” She pressed a finger to her lips with a grin. “Not in front of the R-E-D-”
             “Oh for God’s sake, we know how to spell!” Meddoes slapped a hand on the table. “We need Adrian’s help. But no one’s holding him prisoner. We can contact him. We’ve just been trying to . . . persuade him to help us. ”
            “Persuade him? How?” Hailey’s arms trembled. “Do you mean—”
            “Waterboarding?” Rachel stood next to her, ready to restrain her—or maybe back her up. “Electric shock? Whips and hot wax? Some people like that, you know.”
            Meddoes raised an eyebrow. “Oh? Do tell.”
            I put a hand on Rachel’s shoulder. “It was only that one time.”
            Meddoes laughed. “Who are you again? I think I heard your name.”
            I straightened up. “Tom Jurgen. I’m a private detective, and I’m looking for Adrian, but I don’t actually work for Ms. Hailey here. I just—”
            “He’s working for Whitmer.” Hailey took a step away from me. “But right now I’ll go with anyone who can find Adrian.”
            Meddoes smoothed her skirt. “I can respect that. I’m not an evil person, Gina. I just want to do the right thing. Maybe I should let him explain.” She stood up and smoothed her skirt. “Reg, would you set up a call?”
We took a desk in the rear of the dark office. Reg hit a few glitches setting up the Skype call, but in ten minutes Adrian Bennish was staring at us through the computer screen. He had deep blue eyes and a thick mustache. In the background I saw a motel room—an unmade bed, wrappers from fast-food joints. “Gina?”
            Rachel squirmed next to me. “Oh yeah, now I get it,” she whispered. “Yummy.”
            “Right,” I muttered. “I’m not at all threatened. Or jealous.”
            “Ade!” Hailey shrieked with relief. “Oh, god, it’s good to see you. I mean . . .” She straightened up, embarrassed. “What the hell’s going on? I don’t hear from you, and then this private detective shows up, and now you’re working with these assholes from Red Watch? Do you know anything at all about them? They’re terrorists!”
            Meddoes smirked at me. “I’d slap her,” she whispered, “but it’d be more fun to listen to them argue for a while.”
            “But it would waste time.” I leaned forward. “Adrian? Listen, I’m Tom Jurgen. Shereece Crowley hired me when you didn’t show up for your appointment. Can we talk?”
            “Crowley? Oh my God.” He turned his face away from the screen. “What are you doing with this guy, Gina? You can’t believe anything he says if Whitmer got to him!”
            “I’m not sure who I believe right now.” Hailey glared at me, and then at Meddoes, but she saved the real heat for Adrian. “I didn’t know where you were! At least he and Suzanne were willing to talk to me.”
            He turned back to stare at me. “What do they know about Whitmer? What did he tell you?”
            “He showed me your brother,” I said. “He says he needs your transfusion as soon as possible. Why are you hiding out?”
            “Because—because . . .” He shook his head, his face pale. “I got suspicious. He wasn’t getting better. So I went to these guys. Red Watch. They’re the only ones who would take me seriously. And then they showed me . . .” He groaned. “Something horrible.”
            “You need to see it too.” Meddoes looked at Reg. “I want to show them the August 10th documents.”
            He frowned, as if Meddoes had asked for the stolen formula for Coca-Cola. “Excuse me.” He had to lean down and reaching around Hailey’s shoulder. He tapped some keys, searched the files, and split the screen. “Here.”
            It was some sort of spreadsheet showing a cascade of multicolored line segments rising and falling across a grid of dates. “Research Data” was visible at the top. The numbers and scientific symbols made no more sense to me than an Etruscan scroll.
            Reg magnified the text. “Look at this.”

A3/8-15: As before, subject A3 begins reversion to normal status after developing resistance to CR153 in the 30-45 day range. Fever grows as antibodies fight the CR infection. New generation of CR154 expected within 10 days. Exposure should continue at 50 days.

            Did that mean . . . “Where’d you get this?”
            “We managed to establish a relationship with one of Whitmer’s research associates.” Meddoes crossed her arms. “But we haven’t been in contact with her since Shereece Crowley escorted her to the gate two days after we got this.”
            Oh, no. “They didn’t—”
            “She’s alive.” Reg sighed. “We have emails from her, but she won’t cooperate with us anymore. She’s home in Santa Fe, or somewhere.”
            “So if I’m reading this right . . .” My own blood felt cold. “They’re growing more of the Costa Rica flowers in those greenhouses behind the facility. The same flowers that started this. They’re not trying to cure Larry. They want Adrian’s blood to keep him alive while they search for a cure.”
            “That’s why we need Adrian to go up there.” Meddoes opened a drawer in the desk and took out a slim black pen. “With this.”
            I’d seen devices like this before. “It’s a camera?”
            “If we can get video of what Whitmer is doing, along with this document, and Adrian is willing talk about what he’s seen—”
            “No!” Adrian shouted through the screen. “If I go back there they’ll keep turning him into a zombie!” His face was flushed. “If I stay away, maybe he’ll get better.”
            “We don’t know that for sure.” Meddoes pointed to the spreadsheet. “There’s another report that indicates that one of them isn’t getting any transfusions—it’s designated C1—and it’s not improving at all.”
            “He called it a control subject.” I thought of the female, naked, prowling back and forth in her tiny cage. “So it’s probably a little more complicated than just providing more blood.”
            “I don’t care about that.” Adrian’s eyes looked dark and bloodshot. “I know that’s terrible, but all I care about is my brother. If I can help him—”
            “This is the best way to help him,” Meddoes insisted. “Your brother, and all the others.”
            “So what are you going to do? Attack the lab the way you did in Indiana?” Hailey leaned back, clutching the chair’s arms. “That’s not going to—”
            “We don’t just wreck things!” Reg shook his head. “Those animals were being tortured. We freed them!”
            “And what good did that do? You looked like terrorists! And the rest of us have to deal with it.” Hailey took a deep breath. “We’re on the same side, but you guys make it worse for everyone.”
            “We’re just trying—”
            “Are you guys ever going to shut up?” Rachel pounded a hand on a desk. “Listen to Tom! Or else we can just go home. Right?” She gave me a wink. “Come on, Tom. Talk to them.”
            Suddenly they were all paying attention to me.
            I gulped. “So, I used to be a reporter.” It felt like a long time ago. “You can look up my bylines. Except my editors didn’t want to print my stories about vampires and demons and stuff like that. So I got fired, and that’s why I’m a P.I. now. That’s why you should listen to me.”
            “Because you’re a failure?” Meddoes laughed.
            “Shut up,” Rachel said.
            I wanted to kiss her and marry her. But I still had my job to do if I ever wanted to get paid. “Because there’s no way you can get into that place. They’ve got fences, cameras, locks—and Crowley.”
            I’d be betraying my client. Of course, some of my clients have turned out to be possessed by demons or driven by blood lust. Or just stupid. Professional ethics didn’t compel me to help anyone break the law—and breeding zombies probably violated a zoning ordinance, at least.
            And they were right about Whitmer. He was as much a monster as the creatures he had locked up. And he probably wouldn’t pay me after this was over, either.
            “I was only hired to deliver Adrian,” I told. “But not in chains. My point is that I can get inside if I’ve got Adrian with me. Then we can get the video, and you—” I looked at Hailey. “You can get it to the right people. Can’t you?”
            She blinked. “Sure I can.”
            “Wait a minute.” Reg walked around the desk. “This is our project. What has New Earth been doing while your boyfriend was out there helping Whitmer create an army of zombies? We can’t just drop this in your lap—”
            “No. They’re right.” Meddoes circled the desk to his side. “They’ve got credibility. Contacts. And Jurgen gives us a better way in than Adrian would have on his own.”
            Reg frowned, but after a moment he gave a reluctant shrug.
            “Adrian?” I leaned down, Hailey right beside me. “Are you willing to do this?”
            Part of me hoped he’d refuse and I wouldn’t have to go through with it. But Adrian swallowed. “Okay. One last time.”
            Damn it. I straightened up up. “Then the only thing I need is some help with is printing out my invoice.” If was going to screw over a mad scientist, even if he was my client, I wanted at least a chance of getting paid.

No comments:

Post a Comment