“It will turn around, Fanning. He said it would drop. We have to wait. At the close those stocks would be way down, he said. Then tomorrow we cover the short positions and buy long. The market rallies like crazy.”
“What, like it’s Easter? Our portfolios will rise from the dead? C’mon, Churchill, the market’s only open another ten minutes and it’s still rising like a kite. If I don’t liquidate these short positions now, we will be deep, deep under water.”
“Tomorrow. Let the market close. He said get out in the morning. In the next ten minutes the market will dive again.” Churchill’s voice sounded desperate.
“Maybe he made a mistake. I told you we should have gotten out earlier today. After the drop at , you would have made fifty million. All that’s gone now. If the market keeps rising, our losses can be astronomical. How do you intend to cover these short positions?”
Sweat broke out on Churchill’s forehead and palms. Everything had been going so well.
“Churchill, you get this West on the phone. I want to talk to him. I need a very big reason not to pull the plug.”
Churchill barely heard Clark Fanning’s voice as his mind churned over his plans. He intended to pay off the Avalon Group tomorrow. He had to hold on. This had to work or everything would fall apart.
The broker interrupted Churchill’s reverie. “Andrew, I’m watching real-time quotes. Right at this moment, if we bail, I will have wiped out my entire retirement, a lifetime of savings. You won’t even be able to make payroll next week. We are seriously, deeply in shit. The market’s open for eight more minutes. If we wait...” He didn’t want to say it.
Andrew Churchill ran through recent events. The wolves had been at the door, but he had fought them back. He had made the breakthrough that would make him a billionaire and a power broker unlike anything the world had ever seen. Then in the bat of an eye it all washed away? He thought of Ethan. Reality triumphed over hope. His thoughts imploded and he saw how he had been manipulated for the fall.
“That goddamn royal bastard farmer screwed us, Fanning. He set this up. I’ll rip his liver out.”
“Six minutes left. I just pushed a button on my computer, Andrew. I’m out. I’ve lost everything, but I won’t go in the red. What do you want to do? I’ve already set up the trades. I just have to push a button.”
“You’ve lost ten million dollars since we started talking.”
Andrew Churchill knew when he was beaten. He wouldn’t be able to pay off the Avalon Group. He would lose everything and be so deeply in debt he would never get out. And for what? Some dumb-ass shit-kicking farmer. “Godammit all to hell! Just do it, Fanning. Get me out.”
“How bad? How much do I owe on margin?”
“You don’t want to know, but thank for Social Security.”
Churchill hit a button on his intercom. “Mary, get me the sky taxi from BWI. I need it on the roof helipad ten minutes ago. And have Dolci meet me in the lab.” He hung up and dug in his bottom desk drawer. He pulled out a Taurus .38 revolver and made sure it was loaded. The intercom buzzed.
“Sir, Doctor Dolci is headed for the lab and the sky taxi just made a drop-off across town. They’ll be here in ten minutes.”
“Christ, at least something is working out.” He headed for the lab.
Without even thinking, Ethan punched in the security override code for the test lab’s door. Inside he rummaged through the refrigerators until he found a vial of Memnon. He grabbed a hypodermic from a drawer and sat on the bed from which he had launched himself so many times.
To hell with Churchill and all the rest. I have to go back and get Beth.
The past two days did not matter now. He would go back to that clearing and enter Ethridge’s dying body like he had never left.
Ethan did not hear the door open, but he felt a presence. When he turned, he stared down the barrel of Churchill’s revolver. “West, you must be incredibly proud of yourself.”
Ethan glanced at the wall clock. “Market just closed, I see. Have a tough day?”
“Not half as tough as the day you’re going to have.”
Ethan continued to prepare his syringe, ignoring Churchill.
“You’re not jumping out of here, West. Not yet.”
Ethan smiled. “Getting a little melodramatic there, Churchill.” Ethan lifted the syringe to the top of his head and began lining it up with the tiny plug in his skull.
“You’re beginning to bore me, hotshot. Be glad you’re not behind bars.”
Churchill lifted the revolver and aimed from only four feet away. He pulled the trigger and the lab rang with a deafening explosion. The plastic syringe disintegrated and part of the heel of Ethan’s right hand went with it.
“Jesus H.” Ethan yanked his arm down and gawked at the blood oozing out of his hand.
“I’ll kill you if I have to West, but I’d prefer you going along with my plan.”
“I’m sick of your plans.”
“Yes, well, you just ruined all of my plans. So, I’m taking you somewhere and I’m not letting you up for air until I’ve recouped my fortune.”
“And how do you propose to do that?” Ethan wrapped a towel around his hand and scowled at Churchill.
“No more Memnon to the brain for you. We go back to the weak dosages. Just enough to get you a day in the future. You give me winners every goddamn day until I say stop. Then I let your sorry ass go.” Churchill’s nostrils flared and he breathed as if he’d been running.
Ethan said nothing. He saw the signs of panic in Churchill. The sudden shift in his finances had pushed him to the brink of madness. Ethan couldn’t afford to provoke Churchill too badly or he’d lose his source of Memnon. He needed it one more time. The bastard had him over a barrel.
The lab door arced open and Dolci strolled in only to come up short at the sight of Churchill with a gun on Ethan. “Andrew?”
“Glad you could make it, Cliff. Over here please.” Churchill unlocked the door to a storage closet.
“What’s going on?”
“Just stand here, Cliff.” Churchill waved the gun at Dolci. With his other hand he pulled a loaded syringe from his pocket and flicked off the plastic needle protector with his thumb. Before Dolci could react, Churchill rammed the syringe into Dolci’s neck and emptied it. Dolci spun around, his eyes wild. He lost his balance and Churchill heaved him into the closet where Dolci clattered to the floor.
Churchill spun around and pointed the .38 at Ethan. “Over here, West. In the closet.” Ethan stepped to the doorway. “Inside you’ll find scissors. Cut Dolci’s shirt up the middle.” Ethan, now curious, did as he was told.
“Now open that nylon satchel on the floor.” Ethan found the parcel and zipped it open. “Take it out. Now unravel those wires and get the red electrode. Yes. Take off the plastic protector and press it to Dolci’s chest above the sternum. Yes. Now the other one. Put it on his left side on the lower ribs. Good. Now press the power button.” Lights danced across the small console at the other end of the electrode wires.
Dolci’s panicked eyes looked up at Ethan, pleading. His limbs no longer moved. He could barely open his mouth to say, “It hurts, Andrew. Oh, God, it hurts.”
“Be over in a minute, Dolci.”
“Why, Andrew, why?”
“You shouldn’t have threatened me with that ambulance ride earlier, Cliff. That was the mistake that got you here.”
“But why, Andrew? Why are you doing this to me? What can it give you?”
“Dolci, you’re an insurance policy, just in case.
“You don’t need to know.”
A sickly moan came from deep inside Dolci. His voice hissed out, barely a whisper now. “Jesus Christ, Andrew, this is killing me.”
“I know. That’s the idea.”
Dolci’s eyelids fluttered and closed. The breath he had been holding sighed out of his mouth.
“West, lean down and put your ear to his chest.”
Ethan kneeled over Dolci’s motionless body. “Nothing.”
“The wonders of pharmaceuticals. Now press the big red button on that device.” Lights danced across the machine. It beeped and Dolci’s body jerked. Churchill pulled a second hypo out of his pocket and flicked off the plastic needle protector. “Now place this in Dolci’s hand. Put his thumb on the plunger. That’s right. Now hold the end of the needle against your neck.”
“Don’t break the skin. Just hold it there. A little more forward. Good. Now set his hand down, pull those electrodes off his chest, and close the door.”
Churchill motioned to the exit. “Up to the roof. We’re going for a little trip.”
Ethan stepped into the hall and up the stairs. He needed a minute to clear his head and try to figure out what the hell just happened.
They reached the helipad and waited. In the distance, a tiny dot grew larger. Soon they heard a thwocking roar and a six-seat commuter vectored in for a perfect landing. Churchill kept the revolver in his jacket pocket as they boarded. Once seated and airborne, Churchill asked the pilot to close the connecting door to the flight deck for privacy.
Ethan’s mind raced. He had missed something.
Churchill pulled a clear glass bottle out of his jacket. “This will last about a week. That should be long enough to get rich again. Then you go free.”
“Why didn’t we just stay at the lab?”
“That little video. I still don’t know how you made it. Somebody else must have helped you. You have the means to bribe anybody at NR. One fat stock tip and they’re rich. That place isn’t safe. The cops could show up any time if your little nurse friend gets a conscience. And I don’t need that place anymore.” Churchill’s gaze wandered off Ethan to the chopper’s ceiling as he visualized his redemption. “Make me a billionaire and I think I’ll be happy without my company.”
Ethan spat, “You’ll never be happy.”
“Oh, you’re a farmer and a psychologist, I see. Happiness for me right now would be to shoot bullets into your body, West. The only thing that’s stopping me is that if I kill the golden goose, I don’t get the golden eggs. And I really want the golden eggs.”
Ethan calmed himself, thought of the big picture. Churchill seemed as insignificant as an insect. “I don’t need special powers to see into the future, Churchill. You’re a bully. You like to win. Why would a megalomaniac like you be willing to let me have what I want after you get what you want?”
“I’m not a greedy man,” Churchill leered.
“People like you get what they think they want, then they find what they really want is more.”
“A philosopher.” Churchill grinned.
“No, a realist. Without my death you’ll always have jail time hanging over you.”
“A cynical philosopher.”
Then it hit Ethan. Why did he need Memnon at all? He had body-jumped without returning to the lab for Memnon. He had no Memnon when he jumped from old man Watson to Billy. Why did he think he needed it now? He saw the flaw in his assumptions. His real body remained alive. To leave it he needed Memnon. But if his real body died?
If I’m wrong, I’ll be dead and Beth will pay the price. But Churchill will kill me anyway. Same result.
Ethan closed his eyes and went through the sequence of thoughts he used before a jump. He got to the point where the only thing linking him to the here and now was the link between his spirit and his body. He attenuated that link until he barely felt it. Outside his body, held to it by a thread of energy. Memnon had been the tool that made it easy to get to this point. Now, what if he went further on his own?
For a moment he felt panic so encompassing that he froze. Like leaning out over , he felt all that energy that could so quickly gobble one up, knowing that the slightest misstep would spell annihilation. In desperation, Ethan reentered his body. He willed his heart to beat, his lungs to gasp. He fought the inertia of all that blood, all that fluid that had come to rest in his veins. Feeling like he had been drugged, he opened his eyes, lifted his hand off his knee. It looked as it always had, but it felt heavy. His body weighed a ton.
Churchill looked at him strangely.
Ethan’s systems began to function again. He began to feel normal. He had learned something significant. He believed he could step off without Memnon.
What if I’m wrong?
Then you’ll never see again.
He had only one way to find out. Only one way to truly free himself from this time and the anchor of his own body.
Ethan jumped to the helicopter’s exit, threw the latch, and swung open the door. Immediately, a siren blared, warning the pilot. Wind howled through the passenger compartment.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Churchill screamed.
“I’m leaving now, Churchill. I don’t need you or your drug.”
“Are you insane?”
“No. I just want to have no way to return to this body. I don’t want to be tempted to come back.” Ethan put one foot on the threshold and lanced a malicious grin back at Churchill. “Thank your stars I don’t have time to really deal with you.”
“I’ll shoot you!”
“Be my guest.” Ethan began to step through the hatch.
Churchill screamed, “I’ll kill that nurse! Her daughter and her babies!”
“I’ll kill them slow, West, and it will be your fault.” Churchill’s eyes danced like pinballs as his thin lips smeared back in a grimace.
Ethan had thought he could walk away from Churchill and all of it. A vision of Jasper executing the highwayman came into Ethan’s mind. “Only one thing to do with a mad dog,” Jasper had said. Ethan turned, shaking his head. “Everywhere I go, I meet vermin like you. Where do you people come from?” Ethan stalked straight for Churchill. Fire belched from Churchill’s revolver, then again. Ethan grabbed the gun and yanked Churchill out of his seat, ignoring the pain that screamed through his guts. This pain held no comparison to what he’d experienced as Billy. He grabbed the executive in a bear hug and grappled him toward the hatch. “You just couldn’t leave it alone, could you, Churchill?”
Churchill fought back and howled like a banshee when he realized what Ethan intended. Twenty years younger than Churchill and working a farm, Ethan’s muscles knew how to work. And work they did, dragging Churchill to the hatch and beyond.
As they fell through the sky, Ethan gripped Churchill. He stared into those ice-blue eyes that flashed so madly with panic that Ethan wasn’t sure the executive would even understand as he yelled, “Looks like no more plans for you, Churchill. See you around. Then again, maybe not.” He released Churchill and watched him pinwheel through the air.