Hey guys! Yeah! That pretty much explains everything you need to know. Chapter 1 can be found at the following link if you scroll down and click on “older posts”. https://odysseynerds.wordpress.com/category/in-the-shadows/
Click “Continue reading” to continue… reading…
Eugene shifted the rental car gear into park, watching 215 Kirchoff for any movement. There was none. This had better be the right house, the GPS in the rental car was of dubiously low quality. There was no way to check the house number in the dark.
Eugene had taken off from the hotel as soon as Richard entered the bathroom. He no longer trusted Richard, and for good reason. Eugene began to mark off the incidents on his fingers as he though about it. He wants to prevent me from calling Jason, an act of which I know is correct. He claims to be keeping Charles off his back but it seems that he could put both Charles and Anders in jail with a simple police call. That was two warning flags, both of which involved suppressing the “good guys” from doing their duty. Richard seemed to be a retrograde in some form, “looking out for Number One”, as Richard would so delicately put it.
Eugene returned his hands to the steering wheel, tapping on it. This was a foolish idea, being here. Logic held that if there were two keys, and Richard was supposed to murder Mr. Whittaker for the first one, then Charles would murder Felix McClean for the second one. Lucky for Eugene, when he had been looking through the briefcase he had memorized the address.
But what was he going to do if Charles showed up? I am merely in the vehicle and I am petrified at the thought. What a ridiculous idea. He could call Jason, but what was Jason going to do?
What would Jason do?
On a whim, Eugene picked up his cell phone. It would have enough battery to make an emergency call. Lucky he had shoved it in his pocket after the crash. It feels as if that crash was months ago. It had been a long night, and was about to get longer still.
The cell powered on, instantly displaying that it was low on battery. He would have about thirty seconds or less. He flipped through his contacts, looking for- there it was. It was a long shot, but Jason would waste too much time. He clicked the name, it instantly began to call.
“Tasha Forbes speaking.”
Eugene blew a sigh of relief. “Hello, Miss Forbes, this is Eugene Meltsner.”
“Well, well! I had forgotten about-”
“This is an emergency, I have to speak quickly. There is a house on 215 Kirchoff here in Chicago. The man inside is about to be murdered!”
“Hold on, what-” The phone clicked off, dropping the call. Now it was completely dead.
Eugene set the phone in the center console, still not satisfied. What if no one came? It was at least a quicker line to the law, instead of calling Jason, who would call some friend, who would call some other friend. Jason’s old division was here in Chicago, why not call them directly? Which he had done, but this had brought him to his original question: What if no one came?
He grinned to himself, resting his chin on the steering wheel. The choice of words called for intrigue, and if Tasha Forbes was anything like Jason, she would not pass it up.
So, he waited until the red car pulled up under the streetlight, and Tasha herself cautiously stepped out. He followed suit, making sure he didn’t look suspicious. The cold night air bit hard, and Tasha started huffing towards him. Her hand was shoved in her jacket pocket, a sure sign she had a gun.
“Well, well!” She surveyed Eugene, surprise in her voice, “You haven’t changed!”
“I could say the same for you.” She really had changed, aged quite a bit since he had last seen her almost ten years ago.
“But you won’t.” She saw right through the half-complement. “So, is this a trap or is the man in the house really going to be murdered?”
“He is assuredly. It is a rather long story and I apologize I could not be more detailed, my phone ran out of battery.” He glanced toward the house. Still nothing. “I suppose I could start at the beginning-”
Tasha held up a hand. “Eugene, don’t,” She blew a sigh. “I’m not part of the NSA anymore.”
“You’re not?” Well, so much for the quickest path to the law. He should have just called 9-1-1.
“No. I found it too painful to keep going back to Odyssey for this or that. So, I freelance.” Seeing Eugene’s expression, she quickly added, “For the good, for the good. But, I promised myself I would never go back. So before you go and give me some sob story, please just tell me what you need.”
Eugene felt himself almost at a loss for words. “Jason is alive, you know.”
“He faked his death, I figured as much. I’m not here to relive the past.” Her eyes glittered in the dark. She would never be happy, never be satisfied. She hoped changing her life was the way to get it.
Licking his dry lips, Eugene took a breath of the chilly air. “All right, well, the man in 215 has in his possession a key. Another man is going to attempt to get it.”
“And you need the key?”
“Well, I suppose I wish to keep it from the murderer, yes.”
Tasha was all business now. “And if I were to call the police when the murderer shows up, that would solve the problem of the murder, and you can get what you want.”
Eugene took a step back. “I don’t want said key.”
Tasha shook her head. “I get the picture. Give me five minutes.” She started to walk across the street.
Eugene felt himself pale as he watched her knock on the door across the street. Was she insane? She began a conversation with the resident as she pulled something from her pocket, showing it to him. The man disappeared and the door closed.
Eugene watched Tasha waiting for some time. He began to grow concerned as the seconds ticked by. Tasha seemed quite confident and relaxed- of course he didn’t know why- and he was nearly about to walk over and ask her what it was all about when the door opened again. The man reappeared. He handed Tasha something from the doorway. They shook hands, and in all appearances they parted on good terms.
And just like that, the door was shut and she was tramping back across the street. “I got the key.” She tossed it to him, reflecting the orange street light. It was attached to a red lanyard.
“I don’t understand, how did you come of it so quickly?” He hoped with all of his heart that she didn’t pull a gun.
“I still have an FBI badge. A little old, but I explained what was going on and that he had nothing to worry about.”
Tasha shook her head, “No, he said he was Evan McClean. About Jason’s age. I told him I needed a key, and he mentioned that it was probably the one his father left after he died.”
Interesting. “Did he perchance mention how long ago his father passed?”
“Three years. Died in a car crash. That was all he told me. Anyway, so you can go now and I will call the police as soon as the murderer gets here.”
Eugene felt a heavy load lift from his mind. “Ah, thank you very, very much, Tasha. I am indebted to you.”
“Yes you are. That’s how I make a living.” Her smile could be felt through the darkness.
Eugene nodded. “I will make the arrangements.” He turned back toward his car. “You’ll be receiving a check from Jason.”
“I can’t ever get away from him, can I?” she said in a darkly humorous tone.
Eugene didn’t reply, opening the door of the rental car and sliding in. He didn’t know what to say. Tasha seemed to want to leave it all behind, all the memories. Still searching for a happiness she would never find.
Pressing the button to turn on the engine, he pushed the key into his pocket to sit along with some loose change. It was exactly the same as the first, only on a lanyard. He would gladly let Tasha deal with everything else. He had both keys now, and needed to get them to Jason.
The car binged at him, the musical chime that tended to be annoying if repetitive. What was its problem tonight? He concentrated on driving down the street for the moment, trying to remember how to get back out.
“Make an immediate U-turn.” The dubious GPS startled him, still set on going to 215 Kirchoff. He stopped at the end of the street, turning off the directions, and then surveying the GPS map to see how he might get back to the highway.
He shivered a little, turning the heat on. The gas gauge read that the car was at a quarter tank, not nearly enough to get back to the airport near the hotel. There was a flight to Connlesville, leaving in two hours. This was how he had gotten the rental car, it was an airport rental that was open 24 hours per day, and was conveniently located next to the hotel as he had made his escape from Richard. All that was left to do was to purchase a ticket for the surely empty plane, and go home.
It was ironic, he reflected as he turned left, how the keys had been passed around. The one in the briefcase was meant to go to Felix McClean, but Felix was deceased. So now they were coming back to Jason. I would hope that Jason knows what to do with these. After all that Eugene had learned, about how they were linked to a ready-to-launch missile in the hands of a power-hungry man, it was perhaps best that they just destroyed the keys. It certainly would be detrimental to allow them to fall into the wrong hands.
Now, where was a gas station? He cruised through the residential area, knowing how to get back into town. He thought he had passed one right on the edge of the neighborhood…
Orange streetlights framed the empty parking lot of a corner market, a Shell gas station next to it, illuminated by its own bright white lights. It was a desolate, lonely spot, but it would have to do. The wind made the trees of a small park further on look like angry ghosts in the night.
Pulling into the “Qwik-Mart”, he slowly drove through the empty lot, ignoring the directional arrows. There wasn’t a single soul here. The gas station up ahead was at least brightly lit, and as he pulled into it, it felt like he had come into a safety zone from the night.
Parking in front of the second gas pump, he shut off the engine and blew on his hands. It was going to be cold and windy out there, especially after the warm car. But- immediately or forever naught.
Jason at some point had told him that it was actually “Now or never”, but that was such a layman’s way of putting things! Eugene smirked to himself for a moment, but it was wiped from his face as the wind jerked the car door out of his hand.
Wrestling it shut, he fumbled for his wallet, quickly choosing “regular” for the car, and making the debit card payment. Now to wait for the tank to fill. He eyed the blue pay phone at the end of the station, mounted to a support pole. Two quarters required. It would be worth it to stand in the biting wind, if only to tell Jason and Katrina that he was all right.
The loose change clanked against the key as he quickly strode over to the wind-buffeted square pole containing the phone. He slipped the two large coins into the pay slot, and dialed Jason’s house, hoping he would be there.
The phone began to ring. Eugene put his back against the south side of the pole to escape the howling wind.
“Hello, you’ve reached John Whittaker.”
Chills went up Eugene’s spine as the answering machine played its recording. “Please leave a message after the tone, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”
Jason had wrecked the recording part of the answering machine a long time ago. Hanging up the phone, Eugene tried to shake off the eerie moment as he dialed Katrina’s cell phone. She probably wouldn’t pick up to the unknown number, but she would surely listen to a message. As the phone rang, he glanced back around the pole at the car. Still there. Probably still filling with gas.
“Hi, this is Katrina Meltsner. Please leave a message.”
The tone sounded, and Eugene cupped his hand around the mouthpiece of the phone. “Hello, Katrina. I am in Chicago, I intend to take a flight home as soon as I can. Richard is not trustworthy, but please tell Jason I have-” He stopped mid-sentence, a car door slammed somewhere behind him. Glancing around the pole again, he was shocked to see Bennett Charles angrily striding towards him. “K-Katrina, tell Jason…” He wouldn’t say it now. Charles was too close, he might hear over the wind.
“Tell Jason what?” Charles called, still coming. “That you have the second key?”
Trembling, Eugene spoke into the phone. “Katrina, I love you.” He put the phone back on the hook. That would have to do.
“Well, well.” Charles looked almost fat, bundled in his fancy suit, his coat, his round bald head had a harsh specular highlight in the bright light. “Look who’s here.”
“Sir, I wish to take your leave.” Eugene’s voice shook, this was about as firm as he was going to get with this unpredictable man. He would already have been dead a few hours ago, if Richard hadn’t interceded for him.
“Take my leave?” An amused chuckle. “You’re not so innocent. I guessed your foul purpose when you left the hotel. Trying to get the key was quite ingenious, but I am not outsmarted that easily.”
Click. A pistol, gleaming black in the white lights of the gas station, was whipped out of his pocket and pointed past Eugene.
“Aren’t you, now?” Richard stepped out of the darkness, dangling the first key between his middle fingers. “Thanks for leaving your car unlocked, Eugene.”
“Great hallucinations!” Eugene gasped. “Richard!”
Charles turned a dark shade of red, a look on his face clearly showing he was put down, but not confounded. “I should have guessed.”
Richard tossed the key in the air, cupping his hands and catching it again. “Yes, you should have. So, you gonna go home cryin’ to your boss?” Richard was very self-satisfied, thought the wind blew the key and it hit his nose the next time he tossed it in the air. Charles was not amused, and neither was Eugene.
Though he was not impressed by Richard’s shenanigans, Charles seemed to study him and his key closely. The gun that has been raised and pointed at Richard was lowered slightly. “I am almost tempted to let you take it,” his voice was barely above the wind, “To watch it destroy you, Maxwell.” A hard gust of wind blew Charles’ next ominous words away.
Richard’s eyes had turned to a hard squint against the wind, trying to figure out how Charles guessed. “You ought to go, while the goin’ is good.”
Charles suddenly burst into a wicked, triumphant laughter. “You’re a coward, Maxwell! Your whole plan is nothing but cowardice!”
Richard suddenly took a step forward, as if he intended to attack, and Charles was supposed to run. Charles didn’t flinch. He had called Richard’s bluff, and not only that, had called Richard’s entire plan, though they were the only two that understood it.
Charles raised his gun again, pointing it at Richard. “You let Meltsner leave.”
“What?” Well, this certainly was confusing. Eugene took a step backward as if Charles was crazy for letting him live.
Charles turned his head towards Eugene, one eye still on Richard. “I am allowing you to go, if you take the key that you have.” He nodded at Eugene’s right pocket, it wasn’t hard to tell that it and the lanyard were there. “We’ll call it my revenge.”
Eyebrows coming hard against his eyes, Richard growled at Eugene as he passed. “I’m not done with you yet, Houston.”
“Richard,” Charles said warningly, as if he had heard it over the wind.
Eugene walked slowly back to his car, waiting for some kind of gunshot to come. It didn’t. Charles was truly letting him go.
Richard waited patiently until he heard Eugene’s rental car drive off, then he said, “Well, Charles, you gonna keep me here all night?” He shoved his hands in his pockets, and Charles was instantly paranoid.
“I don’t ever want to see you again, Richard, do you understand? Even if you chicken out as you always do.”
Richard lifted a lip in a sneer. Well, I won’t. “Sure, sure. I guess that means you aren’t ever going back to Ruell, or the missile launch base?”
Charles snorted. “You take me for a fool, like you? I don’t wish to die. Seeing though your plan has saved my life.”
“Yep, it sure has.” Which is sure a shame, I would have liked to include you. Oh, well. Richard shrugged his shoulders, digging his hands deeper into his pockets. “Wait- you’re not going to tell Ruell and all his small fry?”
Charles seemed to relax slightly, as if finally coming to an agreement. “Of course not. Lunacy is all around this operation and I’d just as well see it blown off the face of the planet.”
“That is what you’re going to see.”
“I know. And because you intended to put me with the rest of them, I’m just making things harder for you. I don’t like you, Richard, even though you are getting Ruell and his misguided demons off my plate.” Charles wrinkled his nose at the thought.
Richard thought a moment, and then decided to have a last taunt at Charles, since there was no threat of death. “Actually, things won’t be that hard. You planted cocaine on Eugene’s son, remember?”
“And I also remember that over the phone you told me that Buck isn’t his son.” Charles flashed his teeth, pleased with his retort.
Richard felt his anger flare up again. “I swear, I hate you.”
“I know. You seem to hate everyone who’s wronged you, Richard, that’s why you have this devious little plan. But since I want you to stay for a few more minutes, tell me how you plan to get your key back.” Charles seemed interested, however mild. Just a way to pass the time.
And as just a way to pass the time, Richard decided to tell him. “Well, it’s simple. Eugene has already been awake for twenty-two hours or so. It’s been a long day.” He paused, taking a step back as a particularly loud and hard gust of wind hit them. “You already got it so that the cocaine is planted on Buck, he’s probably already at the police station. In which case, Eugene gets home, it will probably be a few hours of this, a few hours of sleep if he’s lucky, and then up in the morning he gets to deal with it some more. At some point he’s gonna crash, and I will strike.” To illustrate the effect, he spread his hands out as if he was pulling off some ninja move.
“Strike,” Charles repeated, “What an interesting word choice. I assume you consider yourself similar to your doomed missile.”
“In more ways than you know.”
“I don’t know what to do,” Katrina paced back and forth in front of Buck, snow boot heels noisily striking the clean floor of the police station, “I can’t get through to Eugene or Richard.”
“There’s no need for that at the moment,” Detective Polehaus shoved the door of the office open as he entered, “as far as I’m concerned, this may be an open-and-shut case.” He leaned on the metal desk with his fist after pushing aside the ‘Don Polehaus’ nameplate.
Buck took a deep breath, trying not to feel intimidated. “Sorry for using your office, Detective.” Buck reflected uncomfortably that he was sitting in the Detective’s office chair behind the desk, but moving out might appear suspicious.
“What do you want me to do, turn all the lights on in the station? It’s one-thirty in the morning, Buck, what do you think you were doing with a bag of cocaine?”
Buck felt himself turn red, just from mere pressure. “I told you already, I don’t know how it got there.”
Katrina had stopped pacing and was now standing against the wall. “You said this may be an open-and-shut case, Detective?”
A slight grin played over the Detective’s face as he remembered the last time Katrina had been keeping the peace between him and Buck. “Well, I have some very good interrogation tactics, and telling you that I have all the evidence I need is one way of getting the truth out of you.” His face turned serious again. “The fact of the matter is, Buck, I believe you.”
Buck felt a wave of relief wash over him.
“But,” the Detective continued, “I need hard evidence to clear you. Someone called in saying that you would be out and have a package of cocaine in your backpack, but that doesn’t say anything other than someone knew you had it.”
So that’s how he knew to get me.
“So,” Polehaus rose to his full height and folded his arms, “What’s your side of the story?”
“I was in the alley-”
“No, no,” Waving a hand, Polehaus cut Buck off, “I mean at the beginning. Give me one good reason that you were out at one in the morning.”
“Oh.” Buck turned a darker shade of red, and an uncomfortable silence ensued. It was made even more uncomfortable because Polehaus was noting his hesitation. “I was escorting Jules home.”
Polehaus merely raised his eyebrows, Katrina said, “You were- Buck, was she at our house?”
“She wanted to borrow school books.” Even saying it sounded stupid. She did it– Buck felt that any doubt would be purposefully blind to the truth. “I see it now. I gave her my backpack and she put the cocaine in it.” His voice sounded unreal- as if he hadn’t imagined in the world that this would ever happen.
“She was up in your room in the middle of the night.”
Buck raised his hands. “Nothing else happened. She came to my window, I let her in, she took my backpack and went back down, and I followed.” His heart began to beat faster, worried that the expression on Katrina’s face was one of disbelief. “Honest! Miss Katrina, there was about a five-minute time gap between when you left and when she came! And it took us about fifteen minutes to get to the alley, and then ten minutes to get me back here. There was no time! There was-”
“Buck- Buck stop.” She put a hand on the panicked boy’s shoulder. “If you’re telling the truth-”
The phone on the desk loudly rang, cutting Katrina short. Detective Polehaus swept up the cordless phone, nodded to Katrina and Buck, and stepped out of the office, shutting the door behind him.
Buck swiveled the office chair to face Katrina head-on, intending to speak. She, however, spoke first.
“Buck,” She said gently, “I hope you’re telling the truth.”
“I am!” He had a level insistence.
“And I’m glad. But it’s going to be very hard to prove it. You know that it’s wrong to be out at night for any reason.”
“I just wanted to make sure Jules didn’t get herself hurt on the way back.” Some idea that turned out to be. “I just wish I could quit messing up.”
“Buck, we are going to help you through this.” She saw where this was headed. “You are at fault, yes, but don’t tear yourself down.”
Buck’s eyes took on a dim look, remembering the past. “I ought to, I can’t give what anyone needs.” He knew he was being over-dramatic, but at this point it was the truth.
“You don’t have to give anything.”
Slightly raising his voice, Buck began to contend at a rapid rate, no longer looking at Katrina. “All I can do is bring you pain.”
“That’s not true!”
“So what, I’m supposed to believe that there’s never-ending love?”
“Of course, that’s what I’m trying to give you!”
“That’s what you said right before you abandoned me, mom!”
Buck sharply drew in his breath and flushed, suddenly realizing who he was talking to. “I-” He half looked at Katrina, “sorry. All the things- that I wanted to say but never did.” No. It was just a few. But it was enough. Now he couldn’t look at her. Didn’t take much to set you off, meathead, way to go. He silently chided himself.
“Buck-” She started to say something, but Detective Polehaus knocked on the door and entered.
“Well”, he shoved the phone back into the holder on the desk. “That was the Connlesvile Juvenile Detention Center.”
Biting back a curse, Buck groaned and pushed a stray lock of hair away from his eyes. “You reported me, didn’t you?” He almost sounded betrayed. He almost felt betrayed.
The Detective squinted, almost as if that was an insult to his dignity. “What do you expect? That’s the law!”
“You said you operate by your own book!” Buck wasn’t expecting his retort to catch the truth, but he saw that he had. Polehaus had expected him to be guilty.
Trying to smooth things over, Katrina stepped between Buck and the Detective. “What did they say?”
“They are sending a case worker tomorrow morning to receive my report, and then at three o’ clock they are taking you to court.”
“Aw, no.” Buck rubbed his forehead, absolutely sure he would break into a sweat any moment. So, they were going to try to get him removed. Now I’m in for it. “They sure aren’t wasting any time.”
Detective Polehaus looked at him sharply. “Drug possession is a serious offense.” His demeanor softened, however, a moment later. “I have a lot to do tomorrow but if I can help prove you’re innocent, I will.”
“Thank you, Detective Polehaus.” Katrina said quickly, lest Buck say something stupid. Having the Detective on their side was a power worth reckoning.
Suddenly, Katrina’s cell phone started playing one of the songs from her favorite musical. She pulled it out of her pocket, and contemplated the number calling.
“Unknown?” Buck stood up behind her and looked over her shoulder. Darn. He still felt a slight hope- what if it was Eugene calling? Katrina didn’t answer to unknown numbers, maybe the caller would leave a message.
It rang for as long as it could, Detective Polehaus looking at the both of them, wondering why they didn’t answer.
It stopped ringing, and they waited for about twenty seconds. Then the message tone binged, on the lock screen of the phone it showed a new message from the same number. Katrina tapped it, opening it up to listen to what the caller had to say.
A few seconds later, Katrina’s mouth opened slightly, the phone to her ear. Buck watched every expression with keen interest. He could hear the voice on the phone, even over all the background noise. It was Eugene. Katrina’s eyebrows furrowed, she looked worried. And just within ten or fifteen seconds, the message was over.
“I don’t know if I’m relieved.” She said slowly, putting down the phone. “He’s in Chicago, and he said that Richard is not trustworthy. His message ended on a rather sudden note.”
Throat tightening, Buck tried to calm his imprecations against Richard. If anything happened to Eugene-
“He is going to take a flight home as soon as he can. He made it sound like maybe within the next few hours.” Katrina still didn’t look relieved.
“Should we go to the airport?”
She nodded. “I think so. Was there anything else you wanted, Detective?”
Polehaus shook his head, rounding his desk. “Nope, you are free to go for tonight. I might need you back tomorrow, though. This is tricky business and I think I might have a fresh idea in the morning.” He nodded at Buck, as if to say You may leave. Seriously.
Buck obliged, happy to be out of the office, and happy to be out of the police station. He followed Katrina to the car, where they would be going home for a short while and then to the Connlesville Airport.