Part 42 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.)
Stu could sense our discomfort and tried to allay our concerns. "Without the password for Check Mate's mainframe, General Gates won't be able to download those discs. In order to process your membership applications the receptionists will have to log in, thus inadvertently giving him access."
"I don't know about looking for a soul mate," I said glancing at Susan, "I'm more inclined with to stick with the current arrangements."
Squeezing my hand Susan giggled playfully and responded, "Well, a little window shopping never hurts."
"Ahem," Stu sighed. "Finally, during the screening process the general will be able to gain access to the client files. From there he will be able to get into the sub-routines and programming."
With a hint of reluctance I asked, "Why am I thinking that while he's getting into their files, they'll be getting into our heads?"
"We're going to be hooked up to those headpieces?" Susan noted. "Every time one of those damned things is on my head, one way or another, I know I'm going to get screwed."
With a gentle poke to her ribs I said, "My dear, aren't you in the mood?"
"Oh, I'm in the mood," she said before throwing in a dig, "I'm just frustrated waiting for you to deliver."
"Children, children," chided Stu. "I'd tell the two of you to get a room, but we haven't got the time." He unfolded a piece of paper he'd removed from his pocket and waved us over to the table. "The general gave me a detailed diagram of Check Mate's floor plans. You need to study them. You're going to need to know the layout like the back of your hand."
"Uh, Stu," Susan said as she ran a finger along a path indicated on the plans as the main corridor. "One-O-one, one-O-three on the left, and one-O-two, one-O-four on the right ... Odd numbered rooms to the left and the evens on the right ... It looks like a simple enough floor plan to me. Why the need to memorize it?"
Stu nodded, "You did note that only the main entrance and the reception area have windows?" He waited until we both concurred and continued, "Within seconds of the general's intrusion into the mainframe, the security system will be activated. The power to the entire complex will be shut down for ten minutes and the whole place will be thrown into total darkness. Every door will be automatically locked and sealed, effectively preventing all entry and exit through them."
"If I'm right in assuming that we are to take action while the power is out, won't Susan and I be trapped in the screening rooms?" I posed to Stu.
"General Gates will have already taken care of that matter, Ben. He's probably working on that even as we speak. He will be overriding the lock down mechanisms of specified doors, including the screening rooms. You'll be able to move about freely to carry out your assigned tasks."
Susan looked confused when she offered, "How are we to move about in total darkness?"
From another pocket he produced three pairs of what appeared to be sunglasses and handed both of us a pair. "Compliments of the general," he said. "Earlier in the week Gates spray painted marks on certain doors and control panels throughout the complex. Those marks will only be visible in the darkness with these glasses."
I let go a low whistle, "All the planning and precision that only a general could orchestrate!"
"Oh yes, there is another important bit of information you'll need to know. When the power is killed, listen for the sound of the door locking. You must then wait thirty seconds before you enter the corridor."
Susan raised her eyebrows, "Because ...?"
"A knockout gas will be released from the ceilings. Anyone not in a sealed area will be rendered unconscious by the gas. That includes anyone inside the main entrance as well as the reception area. Gates said the effects will last about thirty minutes."
I tapped Stu's shoulder, "In all this confusion, where will you be?"
"I will come through the main door after both of you have been sent to the screening rooms. How's this for originality?" he said with a broad grin. "I'll be posing as a newspaper reporter writing a feature on their company and its services. I'll tell the receptionist that I'm there for a 5:30 appointment with Mr. King." He picked up a paper bag on the floor from the corner of the room and dumped its contents onto the table. "Also compliments of the general ... a genuine military gas mask ... which I'll put on the moment the receptionists' computers go offline."
"...Which should give you just enough time before the power goes off and the gas is released," I said. "That's cutting it awfully close, Stu."
To demonstrate, Stu slipped the mask over his face and pulled tight two straps on either side of his head. The exercise had taken barely three or four seconds. His voice muffled by the mask he said, "I took the opportunity to practice a few times earlier."
Susan and I listened closely as Stu proceeded to elaborate on the rest of the general's plans. I was impressed at how all of our assigned tasks had been choreographed as if we were a special forces unit about to raid and to take over an enemy's headquarters.
When Stu had finished reciting the general's plans, we each grew quiet and replayed our courses of action within our own minds. I could sense no misgivings, but avid determination in the two of them. As for me, I felt uneasy about the simplistic perfection of Gate's strategy.
"If you gentlemen will excuse me," Susan said breaking the silence, "I need to freshen up a bit. If I'm going to fill out an application, I'll need to look my best." She patted me on the backside, winked and while turning away blew a kiss to me. I watched the sensual sway of her body until she disappeared behind the bathroom door.
"I can tell by the way she looks at you, Ben," said Stu, "that she's in love with you."
"As am I with her," I said in response to his observation. "Is it not apparent in the way I look at her?"
"It is indeed, my friend. When all of this over, when all of our lives are normal again, I hope you don't think it presumptuous of me, but I'd be honored to be your best man."
My broad smile was a preamble to my reply, "Whoa there, Stu. Hold onto your rice. We haven't known each other for that long. However, when and if that time comes, I can think of no one else I'd want standing by my side, Stu."
I patted him on the back and turned my attention again to the floor plans before us. I traced and retraced my finger over the lines representing corridors, screening rooms, the laboratory, the security shack, and even the large decorative statues of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere which were an obvious tribute to King's British heritage.
"I don't know, Stu," I announced, "Perhaps it's the skeptic, the reporter within me, but it seems all too perfect."
"What do you mean, Ben? Do you see a flaw in the general's plan?"
"No. That's just it," I replied running my hand through my hair. "I cannot see any flaws. Gates was so confident that his plan will succeed. With all of his arrogance there must be something he would have overlooked because he would have seen it as no threat."
Stu rubbed his chin in thought and suggested, "Like ... Maybe he left one of his flanks exposed?"
The sudden twitter of my cell phone interrupted my thoughts. "Who? Who would know this number?" I queried aloud. When I viewed the incoming number upon the small screen, I remembered that I had recently called that very number.
Ben? What in the hell is going on up there?"What do mean? Uh ... Nothing. Nothing we can't handle."
Bullshit! Benjamin Bering, don't you lie to me! You're up to your eyeballs in deep shit."I ... I don't know what you're talking about, Rosie. Look, I'm rather busy right now ..."
Damn it, Ben! First I get a letter from that so and so father of mine telling me that my daughter is alive ... that my baby didn't die twenty-five years ago!"Rosie, you have to believe me. We were going to tell you ... when ... this is all over!"
You knew this? And you didn't tell me! You bastard!
Well, that might me sooner than you think.There was a moment of silence on the other end. Then I heard raised voices in the background and I next heard Brock O'Day's voice.
Because who just walked into my place? None other than Brock O'Day and some strange man named Michelle. Can you believe this? They're trying to convince me that he is really a woman and that a man is in her body!
Nothing's going on? Nothing, you say? Bullshit!
Ben? This is Brock. Listen, where ever you are, stay put. Don't go near that Check Mate place. It's a trap!"What do mean a trap? How'd you know where we were?"
Michelle ... he ... she 'heard' from Michael. They've been 'talking' to one another."No! Stay out of it, Brock." There was dead static on the phone. Brock had disconnected the call. I looked over at Stu who had been listening to my part of the conversation. I stuck the phone in my pocket, snapped my fingers and declared, "I think I've just found that exposed flank!"
Look, I won't pretend to understand this mind-talking stuff, I guess you know all about it. But I believe her ... him ... Oh hell! I believe both of them!
We're coming up there as soon as I hang up. Please, stay where you are. It's a trap. You've been set up!
Susan approached from the back of the house at that moment. "Who was that on the phone? Is everything alright?"
I thought quickly and replied, "Wrong number. Someone trying to sell me vinyl siding." I gazed at her and smiled, "Wow! You look good enough to eat!"
She winked and struck a seductive pose, "Thanks. Maybe they'll match me up with someone with a big appetite."
"Ouch!" I barked. "I suppose I deserved that?"
"Kiddies, keep the hormones in check for now. It's time to hit the road," Stu said reminding us of our appointment.
Susan slipped her hand around my arm and chimed, "Wait until they take a gander at us down at Ben and Susan's Lonely Hearts Club!"
(To be continued in part 43 on Friday 4/24, with Mr. Black's Gambit.)