Suspicion grew in Ted like an ugly weed. Once Ethan had planted the seeds, they sprouted in the dark recesses of Ted’s soul, twining and twirling tendrils up and out until they inhabited every crevice.
Ted had traded on the market tips he had heard during Ethan’s debriefings and had made twice his annual salary before Churchill yanked him from the project. If Ethan was right about the stocks, wouldn’t he also be right about Ted’s wife? Ted Buckner had only fleeting reason to question his wife’s loyalty until Ethan’s taunts.
Or had the farmer just wanted to bust Ted’s balls? He had plenty of reason.
Young wives. He’d been warned.
Cheryl Buckner had a centerfold body and she liked to show it off. Ted thought of how men swarmed around her at the company Christmas party and the softball games. Had he made a mistake? With Cheryl only twenty-four, should he have worried more about their fourteen-year age difference?
Ted had no evidence, but over the past several weeks, he had seen little discrepancies in Cheryl’s schedule. She showered more, ostensibly from her more frequent visits to the health club. Wasn’t she already fit enough, toned enough?
Ted could think of only one thing to do.
Even though midnight had long since passed, Ethan did not sleep. In his dark bedroom he felt a shift in air pressure and heard the low vibration of the entry door hinge. Visitors entered at all hours, checking his vital signs, drawing blood. He shut his eyes as a light switched on in the living room.
Minutes went by and nothing happened. Curious, Ethan got out of bed and put on his blue terry cloth robe. As he stepped into the living room, he thought he was dreaming. On the sofa sat Ted.
“The leather bars close down early tonight, Teddy?”
Ignoring the jibe, Ted said, “How badly do you want to get out of here?”
Ethan felt surprise for the second time in the same minute. For Ted not to rise to the bait was unusual.
“What could you possibly have to say about me getting out of here?”
“I want your help. You help me, I help you.”
Ethan dropped into a stuffed chair. “How could you help me?”
“This place isn’t a maximum security prison. I could get you out.”
“And what would you want in return?”
“Were you just busting balls about my wife?”
“If I answer that, I’m giving you something free. I’m not inclined to give you anything free.” For emphasis, Ethan scratched the burns under his left armpit.
“All right, I’ll give you something first. I can shut off any part of the camera system it might take to get you out of here.”
Ethan’s mind raced. How could he use Ted? “Just shut off? How much access do you have to the security system?”
“Quite a bit. Like for instance, we’re not being recorded right now.” Ted pointed to a camera near the ceiling. “All dead. A friend of mine is doing maintenance on the video decks that handle this apartment. They’ll be off for an hour. All legit and justifiable and entered in the logs.”
Ethan nodded. A plan formed in his head. “What do you want, Ted?”
“Two things. I want something concrete to nail my wife with. She’s cheating on me, right?” Ethan nodded. “I want her dead to rights so there’s no chance of having to pay alimony. Second, I want more of the stock tips you’re giving Churchill.”
“In other words, you want to get rich and get single.”
“That’s kinda the idea, yeah.”
Ethan stared into the big man’s eyes and made his decision. “All right. I’ll need several things in return. This is not negotiable.”
“I want the surveillance video from the lab, the one with the soldering iron.”
“Now, wait a minute…”
Ethan cut him off. “You can edit the damn thing any way you want so you can’t be identified. I just want something that shows what’s happening to me and that puts Churchill in the control room while it’s happening. I want Churchill. You win a get-out-of-jail-free-card for giving him to me.”
Ted stroked the black stubble of his beard. “You’re asking too much. Churchill will point the finger right at me no matter what the videos show.”
Ethan’s brown eyes widened into a relaxed stare. He gazed at Ted with a calmness that disconcerted the other man. “Maybe you need incentification, Ted. Remember the incident with your wife?”
The technician’s eyes narrowed.
“I’ve checked on her more than once. She’s not sleeping around. She has frequent, shall we say, appointments with the same man.”
Ted’s nostrils flared. “Don’t shit me.”
“Ted, I know who the other man is. Churchill. When I met him face-to-face, I immediately recognized him.”
“You’re making this up.”
“Prove it for yourself. Look under your bed. Churchill dropped a Cross pen last time he was visiting and he didn’t notice. It has his initials: AC. Andrew Churchill. He has a matching mechanical pencil on his desk if you need proof.”
“Bastard goes to my house?”
“Sometimes. Or they meet in a motel near her health club.”
Something broke in Ted. “I make my money first. I want to be clear before the hammer falls.”
“You’ll be rich enough to run so far, they’ll never find you. That’s if anyone even believes Churchill’s accusations. By then he’ll have no credibility.”
A far-off look crept across Ted’s face. “I like that.”
“Can you get a video camera in here?”
“I want to record a statement.”
“Why not use the videos off the surveillance system?”
“I want to tell my story.” Ethan didn’t add that the story would have certain embellishments.
Ted screwed his face up and said, “I want to see some gelt up front, before I do any of this. ’Cause once I’m in, I’m in deep.”
“That’s fine with me. I have something for you.” Ethan stepped to the kitchen counter and picked up a slip of paper and a pencil. “Here’s a stock symbol. Tomorrow it closes up twenty points. The smart move would be to buy thirty-day call options.”
Ted held the paper like it might evaporate any second. He squinted at Ethan. “How does a farmer know so much?”
“Being a farmer doesn’t mean being stupid. I went to college and I actually know how to read.” Ethan waved his hand in dismissal. “Tomorrow, we start, Ted. That quote seals the deal. How do I get the video camera?”
Ted pondered for a second. “I can borrow a really small digital recorder. I’ll put it in a lunch bag and stick it in the bushes near that tree you always sit under. Record what you want, then leave the bag in the bushes. Be careful, though. You’re photographed out there too.”
Ted got up to go and stood awkwardly facing Ethan.
“You don’t have to shake hands, Ted. I wouldn’t want to.”
Ted nodded and looked relieved. He left without another word.
A rare smile crept across Ethan’s mouth.