Marcus Matthews was anxious. No one around him could tell, but he was. Whereas Sebastian may have needed work on his poker face, Marcus had no such problem. People closest to him always commented that they never knew if he was up or down. In his line of work, he couldn’t afford to show what was really going on inside his head.
But this was serious. The only time he ever heard from his fellow ‘Keeper’ members was when they were summoned by The Conductor. So when James Ellison called him and said that he wanted him, Will and Lynn to meet him he naturally assumed that The Conductor had instructed him to set it up. When James said that The Conductor didn’t know about it and to keep it between them, he knew something was up. He almost considered trying to get out of it, but he and his fellow American members had always supported each other, so the least he could do was show up.
He was the first to arrive at the deli, but within fifteen minutes his three colleagues had arrived as well. The usual pleasantries were exchanged, only shorter since the four of them had been communicating more frequently lately. The other three, as always, waited on James to begin. After all, he was the one who called this meeting.
“I guess you’re wondering what this is all about, so I’ll get to it. I assume that each of you are through training our young friend?”
When each nodded in agreement James continued.
“Good. And I also assume that each of you gave him the full, if abbreviated course? As you were instructed?”
“Yeah, The Conductor said to treat him like one of our own recruits, which is what I did”, answered Lynn, almost defensively. “Marcus, Will I assume you both did the same?”
“Of course. That was what The Conductor said, so that’s what I did”, Marcus replied. “What are you getting at James?”
James paused a beat before continuing, choosing his words carefully.
“Does any of this strike you as odd? I know we all assume that he is grooming the kid to take his place, but something occurred to me this week and I can’t stop thinking about it.”
The other three men sat patiently as they knew that James had something important to tell them.
“He has instructed each of us to train this kid like our own, to show him our entire operation. And we all have done that without question. But why? Even The Conductor himself doesn’t know the inner working of our operations. He has on multiple occasions described his role as administrative. Even though we all know he is much more than that. But still he allows each of us to run our own autonomous operation without knowing all the details. He is the one who has stressed over the years how important that was. That no one person, even The Conductor himself, should have access to all of our groups’ information.”
“So what are you saying?”, asked Marcus. “Sebastian doesn’t have access to all of the operations. Just the four of us. Right?”
“That’s what I had assumed. Then last week I was in Europe on SandCorp business and I met with our French friend. He mentioned that his protégé, the young lady that was with him when we all met a few months back? Anyway, he told me that he and our other European friends were instructed to give this young lady the same treatment we are giving Sebastian.”
The other three looked at each other in amazement, then back to James, knowing that he wasn’t finished.
“I didn’t say anything about our arrangement with Sebastian and The Conductor, but I naturally got a little suspicious. Before heading home, I came up with an excuse to have the jet stop over in Tokyo. I met with our friend there and tried to casually bring up if anything new was going on. Finally, after a long night of drinking, he admitted that, yes, as a matter of fact there was something peculiar going on. He and the rest of the Asian and African contingent had been instructed by The Conductor to show one particular recruit the ropes of all their operations. He then pulled me to the side and said they he and his colleagues assumed that The Conductor was grooming this young man to take his place. Again, I didn’t say anything about Sebastian, but I said yes, that does sound like a logical explanation. An hour later I was back in the air, and as soon as I landed, I called you three.”
The three men sat there in silence for a few minutes, each trying to figure out The Conductor’s motives. It was Lynn who finally spoke up.
“Maybe it’s a test. The Conductor has narrowed the list of his possible replacements to these three kids and now he wants to see what each of them are made of. That’s the only explanation I can think of.”
“Maybe so. And I’ve never been one to question The Conductor before, but something’s not adding up. Because no one in the history of our group has ever known the location of every home base. Now these three kids each are in possession of a third of that information.”
Now it was Marcus’ turn to speak up. “And if those three kids ever were to come together? Let’s not forget, they aren’t even full fledged members yet. What if they all of a sudden have a change of heart? They could destroy everything this group has worked for.”
“That’s why I was so concerned. I don’t think there’s anything we need to do just yet. But I thought you all definitely need to be aware of the situation.”
The four men again sat in silence, but this time they all had the same thought.
‘What the hell was The Conductor up to?’