Sophia felt she was crumbling. It was hard enough to maintain her equilibrium after Lynette fainted, but now, the deep feelings of dread that had attacked her after the comps returned to bring her down again. She’d wanted to confide in Jason, but he’d just spiel one of his simple pep talks. “You can’t let things worry you,” he’d quip, and he’d inevitably add, “If I let everything get to me, I’d be locked in an asylum.” Then he’d frown, twitch his lips, pop in a cigarette, light it, tilt his head back, and blow seven perfectly symmetrical smoke-rings. Those smoke rings still awed Sophia, but they didn’t relieve her sinking depression and worried feelings.
Tonight, she watched his smoke-rings dissipate and felt her mind, her spirit fragmenting with the wisps of smoke. If the truth be known, she told herself, all of us belong in an asylum. The thought that in merely four hours, they would be breaking the law kept reverberating in her brains. It was no longer a silly fantasy. They’d be terrorists, even if they avoided harming human beings. Perhaps they’d lowered themselves to their adversaries’ level. Well, perhaps not quite. Last month, she’d contacted a friend in the university’s counseling department about de-programming clinics. She’d learned that cult abductions had become quite a problem, especially in the Denver area. So she helped Lynette and Shirley get contacts there. At least, after Francois and Ralph lost their jobs, their wives would have a chance to get them help. She didn’t have as much hope that she could get Daniel to accept any counseling, though. It appeared he was too far gone to re-join reality.
Tonight, she rapped her fingernails on the table and ordered another glass of wine, her third this evening—more than she’d had in one sitting for several months. She watched Lynette and even joined her for “Desperado” and two more songs, but her heart wasn’t in it. On the one hand, she worried they’d draw too much attention to themselves. On the other, this way, they probably appeared more innocuous, more like typical tourists. Still, she kept scanning the room to check if anyone paid much attention to them. So far, only three serious drinkers leaned over the bar, their heads bent and elbows on the counter, and in a corner booth, a young couple dressed in suits focused only upon each other. Two large palm trees blocked their table from anyone’s view, and the band was far enough away not to be able to see them clearly over the floodlights. Then, she worried when she saw a young girl come in and slide into a booth. She’d stared at Jason, who thought he knew her. Now he was talking to her, but she wasn’t sure whether the girl might be a witness against them.
She also worried about where Adam would wait for them. Even if he were safe in Oshi To’s rental car, she didn’t want him waiting by himself in The Lines parking lot. How could she explain where she’d been, what she’d done? And what if the boy mentioned something about the building to someone, someone like Daniel?
“Sophia, dear,” said Lynette, who then leaned her head on Sophia’s shoulder. “Did Shirley tell you what Ralph said?”
She shook her head.
“He’s starting to question the Goon’s tactics. Says he needs to talk to her sometime alone—away from here, where he won’t be bugged.”
“Really? So you think he’s behind Fieldspot’s bug?”
“Has to be.” Lynette lifted her head and her eyebrows. “Unless she’s with the CIA. And what would they want with me?”
Sophia smiled but said nothing. Then she watched the girl talking with Jason get up and follow him back to their table. Jason grinned broadly. “Guess what?”
“We’ve got a babysitter. And, better yet, she has a room upstairs. Meet Cavale, a former employee of mine.” Then he wrapped an arm around Cavale’s back. “She can be trusted.” He grinned. “As long as she doesn’t get scared and run.”
Sophia glared. Like she needed something else to worry about?
Jason feigned a frown. “I’m kidding, Sophia.”
To keep from arousing suspicion, the group left in segments. First, Oshi To left, and told them where to meet him before they entered The Lines parking lot. Then, Cavale took Adam to her hotel room. Finally, Lynette and Shirley slipped away to the hotel’s all-night coffee shop, and Sophia and Jason stayed in the lounge but moved to the booth where Cavale had previously eaten and downed at least a carafe of coffee.
Sophia stretched her arms, wriggled her fingers, then she lay her head back against the seat. She stared at the long-stemmed glass before lifting it, swirled the wine until the ice cubes clinked. The wine had relaxed her until she felt a bit like Beatrice Blaine, except Sophia hadn’t acquired a taste for whiskey and soda.
Jason patted the back of one of her hands then gently massaged it. “You know you’re very pretty when you relax,” he said. “Then the lines in your forehead go away.” He smiled, and his eyes gleamed.
“Thanks. This hasn’t exactly been a relaxing ‘mission,’ as Lynette calls it.”
He laughed. “She’s a character, isn’t she? Hope she straightens out that man of hers.”
“She will,” Sophia said. “Once she gets him out of this city, DC—a city too deep in politics and manure.”
“What about you and your man?”
She forced a smile and shook her head. “He isn’t my man. I’m not sure he’ll be open to de-programing. Unfortunately, the reverend has twisted one of the most important verses of the bible.”
“You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free,” she said. “It’s John 8:31.”
The group gathered again a few blocks from The Lines. Jason, Sophia, and Shirley followed Oshi To and Lynette to an underground station.
As they stepped down to the underground railway, Lynette glanced around and asked, “We’re taking the Metro to The Lines? That seems silly. We could walk there more quickly.”
Oshi To laughed. “Not quite. You and I will follow a special passageway—believe me, this city’s full of hidden passageways—while the others will wait here in the station for us, as if they were catching a train.”
So Oshi To led Lynette through a labyrinth of corridors to a door sporting a sign saying “UC-WSM” and “Employees Only.” Oshi To opened it with an electronic key. Once inside, he nodded to a guard, who smiled and bowed low for The Reverend’s son. Oshi To nodded at him.
After they were out of the guard’s earshot, Oshi To turned to Lynette. “At this time of night, there are only four guards, once in a while, six. So that’s all you need to move out of here.” Then, he smiled. “And we’ll take your gift up to the editorial offices, set the timer, and join the others.”
“Won’t someone mention to your father you were here?”
“Perhaps. But that doesn’t worry me tonight. During the past three months, I’ve been coming in about three times a week.” He grinned. “Dad thinks I’m coming around. But I just wanted to make sure I wouldn’t arouse suspicion. Just the same, it’s crucial that you set the timer so we have plenty of time to be far away—and so when Jason calls to make sure the guards leave, the bomb squad won’t have time to defuse the timer before the bomb blows. Timing is of the essence.”
Lynette nodded. The effects of the wine seemed to dissipate. Suddenly, she felt very sober. She hoped she’d remember everything Jason had told her about setting the timer. She’d written down all the instructions, but left the list in an envelope in her duffel bag. She wondered if Oshi To knew anything about setting timers on bombs, but she was afraid to ask him.
None of the guards acted suspicious, and the two of them passed by each one without ado until they reached the guard outside the advertising and editorial offices. Then, that man squinted and asked Oshi To for an ID. “Sure,” he smiled brightly, looking for the man’s expression to change when he read his last name.
But it didn’t. The guard maintained the same, dour look all the while he checked Oshi To’s driver’s license and after he returned it to him. “And what’s that?” He pointed to Lynette’s sculpture.
“A gift,” Oshi To said. “For one of the editors.”
“But what is it?”
“It’s a vase, a sculpture, actually,” Lynette said, her voice almost breathless. “It’s a surprise. That’s why we had to come so late—or so early, however you view it.” Just after the words spewed out, she wanted to bite her tongue for suggesting the word, “view.”
The guard crossed his arms. “I’d like to take a look at it.”
“Well, uh . . . .” Lynette glanced at Oshi To, to the guard, then back to the reverend’s son. “If I open it, it won’t look much like a gift anymore.”
“Can’t you re-wrap it?”
Lynette frowned. “I suppose. But I didn’t bring any extra wrapping paper, so it won’t look as nice. It’ll look like someone tore it open and re-wrapped it. I mean, isn’t that kind of tacky, especially for a gift?”
The guard squinted. “Can’t you open the top of it?”
Lynette inhaled deeply. “I suppose. But I don’t want to tear the wrapping.” She gently poked a small opening in the top. “See. It’s a ceramic mushroom. A vase shaped like a mushroom. It’s a birthday gift—a ‘gag’ gift—for a friend of mine who hates mushrooms.”
The guard frowned, drew a forefinger across the top of the mushroom, and scowled again. “Uh, okay.” Then he seemed to study Lynette’s face for a few minutes. “Haven’t I seen you around here before?”
She shook her head. “Don’t think so. Maybe you’re confusing me with someone else.”
He stared at her a few seconds more and then finally, looked away.
She and Oshi To rushed back into the editorial offices. “Hope that fifteen-minute checkout didn’t throw us too much off schedule,” Lynette said. “The others might start to panic.”
Oshi To shrugged. “He’s always been a stickler. Like he didn’t know me. Brother, such a phony. He’s been here more than ten years.”
“We need to stick it in the center of the room,” she explained, “to be most effective.” Lynette held the sculpture close to her chest. “I need to make sure it’s balanced well, so it won’t fall. And I need you to play lookout for me, especially with that snoopy guard.”
“Maybe we can hide it behind some chairs just in case he comes in while you’re setting the timer.”
“Yes, or after we leave.” Lynette glanced behind them. “Do you think he’ll think of this package when Jason calls this in?”
“Hmmm. Don’t know.”
“I could unwrap it. He didn’t see much of the sculpture.”
Oshi To nodded. “Good idea. And maybe we should set it to go off later, you know, in no less than an hour, maybe an hour and a half. Can you do that?”
“I think so.”
“That way, it will be less likely, especially if Jason gives them only a ten-minute warning.”
“You’re sure they can all be out in ten minutes?”
“They could do it in seven, probably.”
They quickly placed the bomb in the center of the room, amid four chairs. The solid backs of the chairs helped hide the sculpture, too. Then Lynette fiddled with the timer and prayed, “Lord, don’t desert me now. Help me set this right. And sorry I’m using violent means. But hey, we’re destroying only property here—evil machines—machines that lie about you, too.”
“Say when, and we’re out of here.” Oshi To alternately watched Lynette and scanned the doors.
“Okay, just a minute.” She stared at the inside of the mushroom stem, which housed the bomb. “Okay, now.” She fiddled with the timer once more. “There. Got it! One hour, thirty-five minutes.”
Ohsi To grabbed one of Lynette’s hands and led her out of the editorial office. They slowed to a casual pace just before they met again with the guard who’d been so curious about Lynette’s gift. Oshi To smiled broadly at the guard. “G’night.”
The guard seemed to force a stiff smile.
Just after they left the building, raced through the mazes of underground corridors, then stopped to sigh and breathe heavily a few minutes, they entered the underground rail station. Even if the Metro remained far cleaner than the New York City underground, tonight it was so deserted, and thus, it gave Lynette an eerie feeling. What was worse: None of the others were there. No Jason, no Sophia, no Shirley. Only a sleepy looking—or drunken—man with a black eye slumped on one of the benches. He snored loudly. Lynette marched over to him and shook his shoulders gently.
“Have you seen anyone down here?”
“Eh?” The man blinked his eyes.
“We were to meet three people here.” Lynette spoke slowly, enunciating each word carefully. “Have you seen anybody, especially within the last half an hour?”
The man slobbered and mumbled something inaudible. Then he closed his eyes again.
“Oh no. He’s no help.” Lynette frowned, and tears rimmed her eyes. She looked back to Oshi To. “Do you think they got arrested?”
“Why would they?”
Oshi To wrinkled his nose. “I don’t think so. They weren’t dressed for it.”
“One of the Kennedy kids was arrested in Georgetown—”
“That was a long time ago. And it was political.”
“Yes, now, they just arrest security risks.”
“No. Wrong racial profile.”
“Then where are they?”
Oshi To shrugged. “They’ll be along.” He looked first down one set of tracks, then he glimpsed at those running the opposite direction.
“And if not?”
“Everything will still go to plan. We’ve completed the hardest tasks.”
“I’m not sure. We’ve got to lure those guards out of there. Somehow.”
“We have more than an hour before we need to call them. If the others don’t show up, you can call The Lines security.”
“But I can’t. That guard knows my voice now.”
Oshi To shook his head. “All of them know mine.”
“True.” Lynette frowned, then sat on one of the benches across from the drunken man. She looked at her watch. “Fifty-five minutes until we—or someone—has to call.” Then, while Oshi To paced back and forth and looked alternately down each set of tracks, she watched the man sleeping on the bench. “Hey!” She waved Oshi To over to her and pointed at the man. “If nothing else—”
“You’re kidding. He’s out cold.”
“We have almost an hour to sober him up. And no one knows his voice any more than they know Jason’s.”
“Right. And we can count on this guy not to tell anyone, too.”
Lynette frowned and dug in her purse again. ”Maybe I have something in here to help wake him. Besides, he smells like rotten beer. So I think he’s a drunk. If so, he probably won’t remember calling. Or he’ll think everything was part of a dream.”
“No.” Oshi To shook his head.
“What phone will we use anyway?”
“There’s an inn with an outside phone booth not far from here. The call should take thirty seconds or less so they can’t trace it.”
Lynette had pulled a bottle of Tresor from her purse and dabbed some on a tissue. She was about to dab the smelly scent on the man’s face, when a loud rumbling sound shook the station. She stopped and clutched the tissue. Oshi To sat beside her on the bench.
A Metro train roared into the station, then it whizzed past without stopping. Lynette sighed. “I’m really getting worried,” she said and watched Oshi To continue to pace. At least, it wasn’t too cool in the summer. Nevertheless, she felt chills and started to shiver. She wondered if it was because they were underground, or if her nerves had broken down and she was losing her mind. Just when she was about to burst into tears, finally, another train arrived, and in it, three passengers stood: Jason, Sophia, and Shirley. Lynette sprang to greet them.
“Where did you go?” She nearly cried again. “And why?”
“A guy started staring at us a lot,” Jason said. “So I figured we’d take a short tour—skip trains a bit to throw them off—especially before I made the call. I didn’t want anyone in any official capacity to hear my country drawl. And I timed it so we’d still get back here close to the same time you did. We were a few minutes late, but hey, we’re close.”
Lynette drew the three of them together in a hug. “I’m just glad you’re back, safe and sound.”
The group quickly took the steps up to the street level. There, a slight wind hit Lynette’s cheeks, but it didn’t give her chills. Instead, it relaxed her in the muggy southern evening. She glanced at the others, and chattered. “And here, we’re at least a mile from the building. So we can see everything—but we’re far enough from the line of fire.” She looked down the hill toward The Lines. “And far enough that the guards or anyone else won’t see us and connect us to the event, as Oshi To calls it.”
Oshi To smiled, then, and glanced at Jason. “I’ll walk you to the phone booth. If anyone sees us, I doubt they’ll connect us to the event.” He studied his watch, then drew fingers through his hair. “We still have plenty of time. We want them to have enough time to get everyone out of there—but not enough time for anyone to dissemble the bomb—or investigate it.” He looked back at Jason, who no longer smiled. “Remember, just give the warning—and be sure to stress that the bomb will explode in less than ten minutes. Then hang-up. The faster you do, the less likely anyone will be able to trace the call.” Jason nodded and quickly fell into step beside Oshi To as they hiked toward the inn.