Part 55 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.)
The unlikely scenario that had placed Rosie in the futuristic control module was not lost on me. I could almost picture her in an apron with a spatula in hand asking me, 'How do you want your eggs?' My erstwhile sister-in-law seemed just as at home in that lab as if she was taking an order behind the counter at her diner back in Boston.
I faced Bishop King and said, "Gates made it a point to tell us that Rosie was the key to everything. It would follow then that he knew she would be, ah, for lack of a better word, activated if he failed to achieve his goal - whatever that goal might have been. If he was incapable of 'turning her on,' then he must have known that someone else could. Do you think he was working with that person?"
He shook his head in dismay, "I suspect that the general received the instructions for that thing and its ancillary programs by transmissions of thought. I doubt that he would have remembered any such contact."
"Ben," Michelle pleaded, "let's try to find Michael. I know he's here somewhere."
"Yes, you're right," I reacted. I pointed to the two statues on either side of the door through which we'd entered into the lab area. "I suggest we begin our search at the King Arthur figure."
Standing before the sculpted image of the legendary king Michelle said, "I noticed that earlier you seemed to being paying particular interest to this figure. I assume it has nothing to do with an appreciation of art."
"Right on both counts," I responded. I walked around the statue and studied the point where it and the wall met. "The clue that convinced me that Michael was here at Check Mate was from a cryptic poem that had been left in my mailbox." I indicated with a tilt of my head one of the others across the room, "It was from that young intern, Dave. For some reason, I felt there was more to the poem's message than just Michael's geographic location."
"Like an underlying message?" she asked.
"Precisely. The first line of the poem was 'She who must go last sits before the king'. The word 'king' could be a reference to your benefactor over there, Mr. Bishop King. It is unlikely that it refers to the King on a chessboard," I paused for a moment and then extended my arm. "Or it could have been pointing me to that statue of King Arthur."
Michelle mused momentarily and said, "...And 'she who must go last' suggests Black, which could be a reference to a game of chess in that the black pieces' first move follows White's opening. Of course, Michael's surname is Black ... and he happens to be a she." A puzzled look came to her face, "Pardon me for saying, but all of that reasoning seems to be quite convoluted."
I handed to her the folded piece of paper containing the full poem and nodded, "It does, doesn't it? I'm guessing that Dave wrote it in such a cryptic way in the event his poem fell into the wrong hands ... say those of General Gates. He was hoping that only I could decipher, not only the directions to the facilities of the Check Mate Dating Services, but also the hidden clue."
Looking up from the written lines of poetry, she smiled in anticipation, "The actual location of Michael and my body!" Her smile faded, "I don't see ..."
I patted his shoulder and said, "I have determined that the rest of the poem is just a poem, except for one word ... castle. Well, I thought I might have been going too far out on a limb when I assumed this place was that cryptic castle. Maybe I read too much Alexander Dumas when I was a kid, but I've always pictured a castle as having a dungeon."
Michelle grinned, "Ah, a basement!" She then shuddered and said, "...And this basement happens to have a ticking bomb in it!"
"Besides the bomb, there is another problem," I asserted. "There appears to be no entrance to said basement. The plans the general gave us for this place did not indicate a basement."
Brock O'Day, who seemed to have recovered from his ordeal had moved beside me, "We opened every door in this place. There are no stairways leading below this level."
I turned my attention again to the statue, "That brings us back to King Arthur!" I scanned the sculpture from the crown on its head to its feet resting on the floor. It was then that something caught my eye on the floor in front of the figure. I backed away and studied the floor area around us. "Of course!" I exclaimed. "Look at the floor in front of the statue. It's worn smooth while the rest of the floor has a rough texture. The way to the basement is behind the statue!"
O'Day roared, "That heap of stone must weigh a couple of tons! Surely you don't think we can move it?"
"Ben!" Michelle cried out. "From the poem ... 'a pawn sends a ring' !"
Her meaning didn't register until I looked up at the statue's right hand and allowed my eyes to rest upon the large ring on its finger. "Michelle, if you were in your rightful body, I'd kiss you!"
Not knowing what to expect, if anything, I pressed on the center of the ring's stone. There was a faint clicking sound and I moved back a couple of steps. There was barely a sound as the statue begin to move forward away from the wall.
"I'll be damned!" Brock blubbered. He bolted to the wall and stared dumbfounded as a large growing opening appeared in the floor where the statue had been resting. While the shadow of the Arthurian statue was clearing the opening the first steps of a descending stairway were becoming visible.
By the time the statue had come to rest, Dave and Bishop King had joined us by the mouth of the gaping stairwell. From below there could be heard a series of switches and within moments the basement floor below was bathed in bright lighting.
"Dave," I said to the intern, "That was one helluva poem!"
The young smiled and said, "I was so afraid you wouldn't be able to solve it. I wanted to tell you, but I couldn't. What ever it was that Gates planted in my head, it was too strong."
"I understand, Dave," I assured him. I glanced back at Rosie who was busy tapping away on the keyboard in front of her. She looked up, smiled and winked. "I can't even begin to comprehend how she's doing what ever it is she's doing," I said to the others, "but our credo for now should be ... In Rosie We Trust. "
Brock O'Day, his service revolver drawn, had already begun moving down the stairs into the basement. "Wait for my signal that it's safe, everyone," he called out.
I froze as I felt a tingling sensation within my head. I relaxed when I realized it was Rosie's thoughts permeating my own.
"Ben, there is in fact a bomb down there rigged to propane tanks along the far wall. The timer is set to go off in ten minutes. I've tried, but I cannot disarm it. You must disconnect the body from the wires. The green and yellow wires are connected directly to the running programs ... they must be the last ones to be removed. If not the bomb will detonate without warning. As for the bomb, any attempts to disarm it will also set it off, as it has a mercury switch and any change in temperature, even by one degree will trigger it."I glanced at Michelle and her nod assured me that she had also received Rosie's broadcast thoughts. We were the last two to set foot on the basement floor. What greeted our eyes was a massive chamber, its walls stretching almost as far as we could see.
In what appeared to be the center of the cavernous expanse was a large glass tank about three feet above the floor and suspended from the ceiling. A myriad of wires ran from it into four consoles on the floor positioned below each of the four corners of the tank. From the consoles the wiring snaked outward and were connected to dozens of cot-like tables on either wall. Dangling above each cot were the all too familiar headpieces.
"Oh, my God!" Michelle cried. "Michael, what have they done to you?"
I moved to her side and gasped. Her naked body, in which Michael's mind existed, lie as if in state. Although the body was motionless, the rise and fall of the chest and breasts bore proof that there was life. Spaghetti-like wires seemed to be attached to all of the body's pressure points.
"Shut down one console at a time. Follow its wires to the body and gently remove them. Repeat this process for each console. Remember, don't touch the green and yellow wires until all of others have been removed from the body."Michelle responded to Rosie's instructions, "We understand, Rosie."
"Holy shit!" O'Day's voiced boomed from the other end of the basement. He was standing about three feet from the explosive device. "This damned thing is going to go off in seven minutes."
"Brock!" I screamed. "Get away from it!"
"There isn't enough time for you to remove all those wires," he muttered. I could detect panic in his voice when he spoke again, "Maybe I can stop it. I once had some training as a backup for the Bomb Squad."
"Mr. King," I shouted, "Take over for me. Michelle will direct you." I shuffled past him and raced to where the stubborn policeman was hovering near the digital display of the timing device.
I launched myself from my feet and tackled him, our bodies landing in a heap a safe distance away from the bomb. He struggled and tried to force me out of his way. I grabbed hold of both of his wrists. "Ben, you crazy bastard. We're all going to die when that thing goes! Let me up!"
"Brock! Listen to me!" I screamed in his ear. "That thing has a temperature sensitive trigger! Even your breath could set it off!" When I felt his body relax beneath me I loosened my grip on his wrists.
We both sat up and looked back at the digital display. Brock shook his head and mumbled, "Three minutes! We're toast!"
"Ben," Michelle shouted, "We're almost finished. Only the green and yellow wire connections to go."
"Ben, there is an emergency exit from the basement ... a tunnel up to the parking lot. There's a panel ten feet to the left of the propane tanks. You must hurry. You only have about two minutes.""Thanks, Rosie!" I shouted. "You better get yourself out of there ... now!"
I jumped up and found the panel Rosie had indicated. I pressed a red button on the wall and stood back as the panel slid aside. A welcomed rush of fresh air met my face. "Brock, help us with the body, please," I pleaded to him.
He was at once on his feet rushing to the tank where Michelle and King were struggling to remove the body. He reached into the tank and cradled the naked woman's body in his arms and bellowed, "I've got her. Now go! Run like hell," he said to them. "I'm right behind you!"
I was waiting by the tunnel entrance and stood there herding them through the opening in the wall. As O'Day carrying Michael entered the tunnel I chanced a quick glance at the timer display. It had hit thirty seconds and the display had begun to flash. I scrambled through the opening.
I felt the earth tremble before the sound of the actual blast reached my ears. Winded I fell onto the pavement of the parking lot even as clouds dust and a ball of fire belched from the tunnel. I felt the heat from the fireball as it passed over me within inches of my head.
We watched in stunned awe as a series of explosions rocked the facility. We had to scramble across the lot as debris began to rain down upon us from the sky. Huge plumes of black smoke billowed high into the air. Several large pyres danced wildly consuming what remained of the former building's walls.
I had just managed to get to my feet when one final explosion, more powerful than the previous blasts, rocked the area for several miles. The force of this blast sent me flying almost six feet from where I'd been standing.
"That was the gasoline tank for the company's fleet of vehicles," Dave uttered.
I struggled to feet once again, and slapped at my chest to remove some the soot and dust that was covering me head to foot. "Rosie," I said, "Are you okay?" I waited for a minute and called out to her again, "Rosie? Rosie, tell me you made it out of there!"
I looked at Michelle and she shook her head, "Nothing. I don't sense her."
I took off running to where the main entrance should have been. We were on the opposite side of the lot. Exhausted from our ordeal I was breathless when I reached what was left of the front of the building. I saw movement on the lot about a hundred yards away. I fell to my knees beside a woman's prone body. I turned her over and recognized her as Mary Samples, one of the two receptionists, and the one who had shot Susan. She was dead.
To my left I heard a weak moan. Underneath some smoldering boards I discovered Vickie, the other receptionist. She was barely conscious but managed to whisper, "She warned us just in time." She lost her tenuous hold on consciousness and closed her eyes.
Kneeling, I slumped forward until my head was resting on my arms and began to weep. "Rosie!" I uttered in vain. "God, she didn't make it."
(To be continued in Part 56, on Monday, 6/8, with Ben and Brock: Road Trip .)