Element

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THIRTY-SIX

Unlocking the door quickly, he burst into the room and pressed the power button. Like a sociable cat, the computer responded with an electronic tone and he was greeted by the Mac OS logo. Executing a half turn, Ashley Argile reached for the light switch. Behind the Venetian blinds, his office lit up. A dialog box appeared and he typed in his password. It loaded his desktop and as it did, he opened up the blinds so he could see out. All along his desk, things were as they had been before. The yellow Post-it at the same crooked angle. The stapler in the same corner of the desk. He went to the folder marked Mod Squad and opened it. He clicked a file and under an option menu, brought up its properties. He checked the last opened date. It was correct.

But it was impossible… impossible…

The car came to rest beside the restaurant and they got out to stretch their legs. Stretching until his back cracked, John yawned. Elgoibar was a nice enough looking city. They walked across the parking lot and went into the restaurant. They weren’t going to be in long. They just wanted some burgers and coffee.

The patrons of the rest stop were typical for any country. Truckers, young people. They fit right in. Off to one side, there was a row of computers. John would use one as soon as he ordered. He learned a short time later there were no burgers. Alas, the place only had a deli, which was connected to a rather large gift shop. He ordered a BLT and started unwrapping it as he walked to one of the Apples. He loaded Aim Express. Scott was online. But away. John debated whether to leave a message. It was risky. If his sister had gotten to him. He decided to chance it.

AngryLabMonkey: Hey, coming home soon. See you in a few days.

He stared at the inactive window as he waited. Josh sat down beside him.

“Who’s that?” he asked.

“An old friend of mine. He’s not online though.” He left the window open and started eating.

Nordictrax: Cool. See you soon.

John put his food down.

AngryLabMonkey: Have you talked to my sister again?

Nordictrax: No. Where are you?

AngryLabMonkey: A rest stop.

Nordictrax: Where?

AngryLabMonkey: I can’t tell you…

Nordictrax: Pfft…

AngryLabMonkey: Okay, okay. Spain.

Nordictrax: Oh shit. Did you hear about the bombing there?

John stopped chewing.

AngryLabMonkey: Yeah, a little.

Nordictrax: If your parents knew you were there…

AngryLabMonkey: I know.

Nordictrax: So are you coming home through London?

AngryLabMonkey: Yeah, I’m going to hang out there Thursday night and fly out early the next morning. Anything going on in your life?

Nordictrax: Well, let’s see. I got a summer job teaching SAT prep classes. Um… I have a new fish. Saw a movie. Wasn’t very good.

Josh tapped him on the shoulder and gestured to his watch.

AngryLabMonkey: Nice.

AngryLabMonkey: Hey, Scott. I only have a few seconds. But. I think I might have gotten into something over my head.

Nordictrax: What do you mean?

AngryLabMonkey: I can’t tell you. Not now. Not until I get home. Maybe never. But… These kids I’m with. They… We… I think I may have bitten off more than I can chew. And. I’m actually a little scared. But there’s something I have to do. Before I leave.

Nordictrax: John, talk to me.

John looked at the screen. He began to type. But stopped. He looked at Josh. He looked at the beginning of the sentence he had initiated, cursor blinking at its end. He balled and unballed his fists.

AngryLabMonkey: I have to go Scott. I’m sorry. I’m gonna swing by London and then head home. I’ll be home soon. Bye man. I miss you.

He was about to log off when another conversation opened.

ElleM09: John? It’s Elle. Are you there?

He looked at it thoughtfully for a moment. And logged off. The closing of the window felt like a hand squeezing his gut. He stared at the now empty desktop, body hunched over the bench. He looked at Josh. And picked up his food again.

The telephone rang a third time and he picked it up. He was sitting in a restaurant, Anna across from him.

“Zdravstvuite?”

“Ruslan?”

“Da?”

“It’s Zharov.”

“Where is my money? I was promised a full two hundred thousand, not one-fifty.”

“You did not kill anyone in Spain.” He leaned on the table with his elbow.

“I was seven hours away and it was impossible to predict where they would be standing. Of course I did not kill anyone.”

“Nevertheless.”

Ruslan exhaled loudly. “Is the offer still open?”

“It is.”

“And do you have any idea where they are now?”

“We have a hunch.”

Three thousand, five hundred miles southwest, Scott Boles was sipping orange juice when his telephone rang.

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