Part 35 of an original tale that delves into the unexplored realms of the human mind. Hired by her lover to find a raven haired beauty, Benjamin Bering must avoid the local police as well as the agents of a nonexistent government agency who are after him and the woman. There are just two problems. The woman is in a coma and her body has been stolen. (Part 1 can be found HERE.)
"So, 'Old Gravedigger' wants a powwow does he?" I mused.
"What do you suppose he's up to, Ben?" Stu asked.
"For the record I was dead set against this meeting," Susan interjected. "I don't see how we can trust a cold-hearted bastard who ordered all those women executed in Viet Nam."
"Unless he was under orders himself," I reasoned. "Besides, I've been thinking about the general in a different light lately. I had a lot of down time for thinking while I was in that hospital bed."
"Him taking orders?" Stu grunted. "I thought he looked every bit the man in charge that evening in the press room when they shut down your story."
"Stu, there was one thing that night that's been nagging at me ever since. I thought it was curious then that Mr. King and the general would be shaking hands. King, as any responsible owner of a business should be, was always concerned to a fault about the bottom line. I just can't see him shaking hands with a man who just grabbed a handful of money from his bottom line!"
"Now that you mention it, he never even protested when the story and everything related to it were confiscated," Stu replied. "You're thinking that King was expecting the raid?"
"Not only expected it, but gave the order." I stated with confidence. "Stu, I wasn't in that conference room, but you were. Did any of the board members show any signs of protest or complain at all?"
"Yeah. Two of them were pretty hot under the collar and demanded that the story be run."
"The same two from Chicago who were killed in a plane crash just after they left Boston?" I offered.
"You aren't suggesting ...?" his voiced trailed off before he lapsed into silent thought.
Susan had been staring out the window, herself lost in thought when she spoke, "Ben, I know there were a couple of incidents where it appeared that the general was helping us, but what if that help was self-serving? Do you honestly think we can trust him?"
"Of the two incidents to which you are referring, I'd have to say it was indeed intended for us to find the plans for that Neuro-Headpiece. The existence of such devices with built-in transmitters and receivers, certainly boggles the imagination."
"...And that thing in the package?"
I patted my coat pocket where the object rested. "Perhaps the general will tell us what purpose it serves."
"Ben," said Stu from the front, "this meeting with the general would also suggest that he's aiding your investigation in some way. Besides this meeting, those plans, and that device in your pocket there must be other occurrences that have led you to question his allegiance."
"Honestly Stu, I'm working on a hunch here. I've been sensing that someone has been aiding us almost from the beginning. It could be that someone is playing both sides from the middle with an agenda of their own. I'm not sure."
"I've learned to trust your hunches over the years, Ben. I see no reason to ignore one of them now," Stu voiced as a vote of confidence.
"Thanks Stu, I appreciate that," I responded while reaching forward to pat his shoulder. "I first suspected outside influence when I viewed those discs featuring a history of their research going all the way back to the sixties. I began wondering why someone would send to Michael and Michelle evidence of research preceding their own work, especially the one disc depicting the damnable work in Viet Nam."
"It could have been a warning, but no, it wouldn't make sense to issue a warning after they'd already taken over their research," Susan reasoned. Her eyes widened with enlightenment, "Wait a minute! The discs weren't necessarily meant for Michelle and Michael, were they?"
"Atta girl!" I said touching a finger to her lips. "You're beginning to think a lot like me. Although, I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing." I waxed serious once again and said, "The Feds and Mr. X knew I had been contacted and that I was working on a story. Someone in their circle copied the discs and made them available knowing that I would see them."
"From what Susan has told me," said Stu, "the general doesn't exactly come across as a good guy on those discs."
"No he doesn't," I responded. There was a noticeable reduction in the speed of the car as Stu slowed down to pull into the lot of a roadside diner. Knowing that some of the best food is served in truck stops, my stomach growled in anticipation of the culinary delights it would soon be receiving.
Having placed our orders I picked up where I had left off with my narrative. I was trying to explain why I thought it was the general who had been discretely offering us help. If there were any holes in my theory, between Susan and Stu I was certain that they would pick up on them.
"There was the night that Michael, in Michelle's body disappeared. They were assaulted outside of the New Place by two men, the same two bastards who attacked Susan and me five nights ago! The general just happened to be in the area and claimed to have witnessed the assault. His version of what happened however, was quite different than Michelle's account."
"Hardly the actions of a man trying to help you with your investigation," Stu interjected.
"True," I nodded, "when you consider that the results of the general's statement placed Michelle in custody for assault and rape charges. Looking back on it, I found it a little too curious that it was Sergeant Brock O'Day who answered the 911 call. As we now know, the general and O'Day knew each other quite well, having served together in Nam."
"What I can't understand," Susan said, "is why the general would then call the police station to have the charges dropped and to let Michelle go free. That's assuming it was in fact the general who placed that call."
Stu set his fork down and addressed the subject, "Since the operative word seems to be assumption, allow me to throw one out there. I'd bet that there were patrons from the bar and possible passersby starting to gather at the scene. The last things this general would have wanted would be witnesses and any attention drawn to himself or to the man and woman."
I chuckled and gave a thumbs-up to my boss. "Stu, you're scaring me. Even you are starting to think like me. Yes, that's the way I see it. Per the general's orders O'Day then cuffed the man and took him to headquarters, effectively negating any possible statements from the crowd. Of course, the general also determined which ambulance service would pick up the unconscious woman."
Stu mimicked my thumbs-up gesture and said, "You seem to have everything wrapped up in a neat package, Ben. As an editor-in-chief of a newspaper who is pledged to be a responsible journalist, I'm going to assume that your assumptions are correct."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence, Stu," I stated. I placed my elbows on the table and continued, "There was another incident that in and of itself doesn't necessarily point to the general, but seems to tie in when combined with the others. It took place in the garage where we found those plans. We were fired upon by armed security. For some reason the ammunition they were using wasn't bullets, but rather they were shooting tranquilizer darts at us."
"A trap, perhaps? They didn't want to kill you. They wanted you alive," Stu uttered thinking aloud. "Were they out to capture you? If so, why?"
"They want us alive? Is that so?" Susan snapped. "Then why the bomb?"
"I have to admit, that has me worried!" I said responding to her outburst. "Have we outlived our usefulness to them? Are we getting too close for comfort? Maybe they have split into factions within their ranks, one wanting to keep us alive and the other wanting us out of the way. If I'm right, then the general must be part of the former."
There was a grim appearance to Stu's facial features. "Has it occurred to you that maybe they're onto the general? The general might be expendable and is on the run."
"What would bring you to think that?" I asked.
Stu glanced at his watch before answering, "I took the call from the general early this morning. He requested the meeting and insisted that it be far removed from the city. He also asked, and he was adamant about it, that only the three of us and Brock O'Day know about it."
"Did he say why?" I asked.
"Only that he fears for his daughter's life!"
(To be continued in part 36 on Monday, 3/30, with Familial Ties That Bind.)