STAR FINDER

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Chapter 5: Field of Nightmares (Not Dreams)

Modeled after the real-life marine species that added chambers to its shell as it grew, the Nautilus Organization’s many branch offices (or chambers) were differentiated by numbers. Chamber 7 (C7) commanded the Washington, D. C., Maryland, and Virginia area. Their offices were located between K and L streets in northwest D. C. in a black glass ten-story edifice. A scant three miles from its target: Cosmo and Lillian Randall.

Security at C7 and the search for the Randalls was under the direction of one man. Elliot Waldo Fields, a burly man with a flabby belly and the thick body of a professional wrestler.

At precisely seven P. M. with the determination of a bulldozer, he pushed through the bulletproof glass doors of the law offices of Volkov & Pajari. No one with those names worked inside and no one practiced law in this building. In fact, the mission of these employees was the exact opposite of what was advertised on the marquee. C7 worked at the fringes of society and broke every law.

Sweat poured over Fields’ chalky skin. He grunted. His thick thighs rubbed as he stretched his short legs to go faster and step wider. His scuffed leather shoes, still wet from a freak two-minute downpour made annoying squeaking sounds as he crossed the black and white marble floor to the security desk. The men behind the desk came to attention. Recognizing their boss, a guard pushed a button allowing Fields to pass through the turnstile without breaking stride.

Hooded piggy eyes looked up from his texting to send the guards a cursory glance over half-frame reading glasses. His middle finger pushed the frames up on his flat nose. Fields didn’t acknowledge the public first-floor businesses—an Italian restaurant, a beauty shop, and a messenger service—even though many nights he dreamed of Vito’s mouth-watering veal Marsala. The four-star eatery was popular. Its chief charged exorbitant prices and rich and famous Washingtonians flocked to Vito’s Trattoria. It was a tasty front and a lucrative business.

Nautilus didn’t need the money. The group had limitless financial backing. Their tentacles reached around the world and into the pockets of the rich and famous. The organization was a survivor, always adapting, just like its namesake cephalopod relatives from the Jurassic period.

Field’s clammy fingers slipped off the doorknob of Room 102. He grabbed a rag off a shelf and wrapped it around the knob. The door opened. Once inside, he submitted to a thumb print scan and repeated his password twice into the voice-sensitive speaker camouflaged by the red lips of a framed Lady Gaga poster. It was someone’s idea of a joke. He found women with full lips untrustworthy and ripped the paper off the wall.

With access verified, the elevator doors opened and Fields stepped in. This was the only above ground entry to the crucial upper floors where the real work of Nautilus took place. What business? Bribery, extortion, murder, they did it all. Anything that extended the organization’s influence and power was a worthy goal. It had been so for centuries.

Fields dabbed at his glistening bald head with a stained handkerchief. He slipped his key card into a slot and the elevator took off. He punched number six. He’d check in with his team and see if they had filled their quota before reporting to the tower, the tenth floor where only Nautilus’s elite were permitted.

Listening to the hum of electricity coursing through the building relaxed Fields as he rode upward. His shoulders dropped. Back hunched. His usual inflexible expression softened. This building was home and where he had gained his reputation as the boogieman. Here he was free to be himself.

He watched the floor numbers illuminate and then darken. Two through five passed in a flash—those were storage areas, some used, some unfinished. He looked down at his gray wrinkled suit. Opened his jacket and sniffed. Perspiration stained his mint green shirt. Well, he had slept in his clothes, but who cared? He wasn’t modeling for Vogue.

When the doors slid wide, he stepped out smiling. This was his office. The sixth floor was all him. This space was used for confinement and interrogation. He had a small, windowless, room off to the side. He didn’t go for warm and cozy. He mused, I’ve done some of my best work here.

Steel girders and cinderblock walls lacked heat or cooling ducts in this section of the building. The temperature was cold and damp or hot and humid. In other words: designed for discomfort. The place was sound proof so none of Vito’s patrons would have their meals spoiled by the moans of the dying or the screams of the damned.

One of Fields’ most trustworthy lieutenants waved, signaling she’d join him shortly.

While he waited, he strolled over to his desk in the corner and picked up the daily nerd report. There was good news if he translated the cyber lingo correctly. He glanced around. Watched his people at work.

His pretty blond lieutenant made shushing sounds to someone lying inside a metal coffin suspended between saw horses. A head bobbed up and she pushed it back down and locked the lid. She went to the sink and turned on the water that fed into the container. As it began to fill, the person inside bumped the walls and wept.

Grabbing a towel to dry her hands, she joined Fields. Side-by-side they strolled by the holding cells.

He slapped the palm of his hand with the rolled-up nerd report and in a gravelly voice said, “Now we’re getting somewhere.” He waved the pages in front of her. “How’s it going with you, Wanda?” He head-bobbed toward where the filled coffin overflowed through holes drilled in the top. The water dripped down onto the concrete floor and swirled around the drain.

“Nice to see you, boss. It’s all good.” Eyes cold and blue as Artic ice matched his. They were just two sociopaths gossiping on the job.

“What’s with Irish. Terry Corbett. Anything yet?”

“A little. He’s close to breaking.” Wanda, a toned five seven rested both fists on her curvy hips. “I never knew the Gaelic language had so many swear words.”

“Location. I need Randall’s location?”

“I don’t think he knows. But I can tell you with certainty that they have been passing notes in school.”

“I got that message from the nerds.” Again, he held up the report. “What else?”

“Randall came to D.C. for a special type of computer chip and Terry is his go-between. When it was ready, he was supposed to pick it up, pay Joey, and delivering it to Cosmo. You remember quirky Joey? He disappeared off the grid about the same time as Cosmo.” She hunched one shoulder. “Doesn’t matter.”

“Is that all you got out of him?”

“Don’t worry. I’m not done with merman. I’ll call when I’ve got more.”

“Good. You never disappoint. Keep at him.” All the warmth in Fields voice drained away when he switched views and eyed the swarthy man at the far end of the open space. “How’s the new hubby treating you?”

“We’re good.”

As if he knew they were talking about him, Wanda’s husband looked up and waved.

Leo Bruno was Hollywood handsome with dark wavy hair and that golden Italian complexion that gave him a perpetual tan. His T-shirt was wet and clung to his six pack like a rubber glove. He was lean like a whip. All six foot three of him. Summing him up Fields thought, he’s too pretty.

“I see the appeal.” Fields imagined olive oil seeping out of his skin. This guy is slippery. He’ll need to be watched. “But, remember, he’s here because of you. He hasn’t yet earned his place. So far, I don’t see his value. I don’t trust him. His eyes, they are too close together.” Black seeds, shifting with the wind. When you’re not looking at him all that charm he’s oozing vanishes. “Wouldn’t you rather collect a widow’s pension? I can help you there.”

“Boss, let me at least enjoy the honeymoon.” She laughed.

“I’ll keep the offer on the table. Okay, down to business. Give me the numbers. I’m on my way up to the tower.” Fields eyes ranged over the inmates.

Two groups of five cells each were lined up end-to-end down the center of the floor. Kids, boys and girls, ages ranging from seven to late teens, were scattered among the cells. They laid on the cement floor or stood with their arms dangling through the bars with the hopeless expressions of adult inmates serving life sentences.

A boy of about eleven yelled to the others. “Hey, that’s the fat dude who promised us money. What’s going on old man? This ain’t no clinic.”

All the kids perked up and stood to face Fields. They yelled, their small hands and thin arms jutting through the bars. “Let us out of here!” They shook the bars.

Wanda nodded at one of the guards. “Let ’em have it.” He picked up a firehose and turned it on full blast. Many of the kids were knocked off their feet and slammed into the bars. Silence returned.

“Sorry about that boss. All’s under control. Twenty-eight in the cells. Four upstairs waiting for brain scans, and blood draw for DNA.”

“We needed forty.”

“Recruiting as we speak. Canvassing the southeast section of the city. That should net us our quota. Do you understand what’s going on here boss? Are these homeless kids going to be organ donors or somethin’?”

“Need to know. And I’m not on that list, yet. Any sign of Randall’s kid among these?” Cosmo and Lilly were his priories. A festering wound that never healed. They had escaped on his watch.

“Nope.”

“Keep looking.” They had come full circle to the waiting elevator. “I’ll check in later. I’ve got a plan.”

Frantic metallic pounding vibrated the coffin where Terry, Cosmo’s friend, thrashed and banged.

Fields glanced over as the elevator doors began to close. “Wanda take care of that.”

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