Omni Business Park (ALG Office), Dallas.
13 seconds later . . .
“What is all of this stuff?” I say, my eyes trying to figure it out. There are all kinds of large screens, computers, scanners, monitors, and gadgetry I can’t even figure out. The walls are pristine white. Spaceship white. There is stuff here that I will never understand no matter how long I have to learn.
This is like being inside some secret nuclear lab.
Some discrete military project.
“Money was not an object when I had my dad’s contractor do the designs,” Ricky said as he led me to a large floor-to-ceiling window that faced down into the interior of the building. Several floors below us was a garden, and several restaurants where people could relax during their lunch break, or on their way in and out of the bank on the first floor.
On the different screens on the walls there were all sorts of things floating by. CNN here, MSNBC there. We even had Al-Jazeera—you know, that middle-eastern news station that shows westerners getting their heads chopped off and stuff.
There were screens scrolling words in languages I’d never seen before. It was like the whole world was streaming by us, in real time.
I turned to Ricky, What is this place?
“This is our H-Q. Our headquarters.” He walked in pointing to several computer terminals that were covered in plastic. “These babies here aren’t even available to the public. My dad knows this dude over at Apple,” he shrugged.
What’s so special about them?
“They’re the fastest computers on the planet earth.”
I laughed, but Ricky didn’t. He nodded, his eyebrows raising. “No, seriously, Jack. This technology is at least three or four years from being made public. It’s all stuff they were working on for the military, and some budgeting bullshit put the project on hold.”
So, I said, it’s better for surfing the web?
Ricky sighed like I’m the dumbest dumbass that has ever walked the planet. “This gives us a competitive advantage.”
“Over the monsters we’re hunting for.”
Ricky really is a cunning bastard some times. I smiled, looking at the dormant computers as if they might be the first step in us saving the world. Technology will be on our side, this time.
“We’re going to need to be able to do research on a global level, as fast as possible. These Evils, or whatever, they probably won’t be making too much noise. But they have to leave footprints somewhere. We find out what their footprints look like . . . ”
He clapped his hands together suddenly, “Bam! We got their asses.”
For the next couple of minutes I just walked around looking at the different screens and interesting devices. There were large unopened cardboard boxes from Best Buy and Circuit City, and near them were smaller, plastic bags and containers that had electronic components and gadgetry that could probably be used to develop a nuclear fission program.
How much did all of this cost?
“Lots,” Ricky said as he knelt down and played with some electrical box that had several flashing lights on it.
Who paid for it all?
It’s all investor money, he tells me as he stands up and walks toward the west-facing wall, which is the giant window that goes from carpet to ceiling. And Ricky’s glancing upwards at something.
Investor money? Who are the investors?
Ricky’s looking down, then up, then down again, staring at something I obviously can’t see. “Oh, uh . . . my parents. They’re the investors. They own fifty-one percent. You, me, and Ms. Josephine, we own the other forty-nine.”
But I never put up any money, I told him. I don’t even have any money. Seriously, I only get like five-hundred and twenty-nine dollars a month from County Services. That barely keeps me in pizza.
“Our money is Sweat Equity,” Ricky says as he touches some button near the window and it suddenly turns black. Like pure magic. One second you can see through it, the next, it might as well be a black mirror. He looks back at me with a devilish grin, “Liquid crystal.”
I don’t understand about sweat equity. I don’t even understand much about equity.
“Don’t stress, dude. Our investment is our time and effort. Thus, sweat.” He touches another button and the giant black mirror becomes a window again. Somebody should get Ricky a television series.
“This is our new business. We are the After Life Group. A-L-G.”
So . . . what do we actually do to turn a profit, again?
Ricky walks back to me, placing his hands on my shoulders. “We are going to rid people of unwelcome supernatural forces and negative spiritual entities.”
Like Ghostbusters? I ask, kind of warming up to it. I just saw Ghostbusters 2 the other night, so I’m kind of experienced in this field.
His eyes rolled, “No, Jack. Not like Ghostbusters. This will be for real. We are going to investigate hauntings, and possessions, and anything phantasmic that comes our way. This will be our excuse to ask the kinds of questions we will eventually have to ask in order to find the twenty-three Evils. You get it?”
I have to admit, Ricky is way smarter than me on lots of things. “So,” I say nodding, “ . . . this is just our cover.”
He smiles, nothing but pearly white teeth.
What happens when we actually get jobs? I ask him kind of nervously. What do we do then?
He shrugs, “We’ll just have to wing it. Heck, most of them will probably be swamp gas and old plumbing. And if we do come across a bona fide haunting, well . . . you and Ms. Josephine can figure it out.”
I ask him, Do our other ‘investors’ know what we’re up to?
His lips seem to lower over his teeth as his eyes dart around a bit. “Thing is, it’s hard to convince people that we have a mission assigned to us from the land of the dead. The whole, you die, and wake-up, and die again thing . . . it’s hard for people to wrap their minds around.”
Fair enough, I said. But I hope nobody expects us to turn a profit.
“You’d be surprised,” he said, walking across the room to a small table with a bunch of paperwork on it. As he’s thumbing through some technical stuff he says, “We need to get more oranges. We’re out of oranges.”
“I didn’t eat the last one,” I explain. “I left it for you.”
He nods to himself, “Well, we need to go shopping, anyway.”
I figure now is as good a time as any to tell him about the guy in our building. I tell him, “Hey, you know that kind of young guy that we see on the way into the elevator every now and then? The one who lives below us a couple of floors, I think he’s single?”
Ricky looks up, considers my question, then nods, “Yeah, the attorney guy.”
Right, well, he’s on his way out. His apartment will probably be on the market soon.
Ricky stops shuffling through his papers and turns his head slightly, “I doubt it, Jack. That guy runs marathons and stuff. He was voted as one of Dallas’s most eligible bachelors last year.”
Well, I say, as many spooks as I saw around him, he’s probably going to stay a bachelor.
Ricky turns towards me, “Shit. That sucks. I was going to try and put that guy on retainer for us. Supposedly he’s some badass attorney.”
I fold my arms, “Unless he’s going to represent us from the Land of Sorrows, I’d say we need to keep shopping.”
And then we hear a knock at the door.