The Second Time Around

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Dr. Mathis pulled his car onto the gravel road slowly, carefully. He didn't want to risk the tires throwing any stones hard enough to chip the paint. His jeep was more than thirty years old, but it had all of the original parts still connected and running well. He'd devoted meticulous care to this vehicle since it was the first he'd purchased with his own money. When he'd purchased the Wagoneer in 1981, it was Jeeps premier sport utility vehicle. That was the year before he and Rebecca had married, and he'd had visions of children and even possibly grand children in their future.

When the children never came, they'd gone to a doctor only to find that Dr. Mathis was sterile. That news had nearly destroyed their young marriage. In the end, they'd been forced to rewrite the plans they had envisioned for the future, and they grew closer than ever. The Wagoneer was the one part of that dream life that Dr. Mathis had been unable to let go of, and he'd kept it with the hopes they might one day adopt. As careers grew, though, and life got in the way, he'd slowly abandoned that hope as well.

Now he drove the jeep down a dusty gravel road in a valley of the Virginia Mountains with only the starlight overhead, and the short reach of his headlights to show the way. There were no signs, no markers, and no mailboxes on this road. It wound through the trees and crossed a small river twice.

Finally, Dr. Mathis saw a guard post ahead with a thick metal gate and fence crossing the road. Signs were posted as he approached the checkpoint that warned the guards on duty were armed and authorized to protect government property with the use of force if necessary.

Dr. Mathis felt his mouth go dry.

As he approached, a guard dressed in camouflage stepped out of the small building while another picked up a black phone with no dial or buttons. The guard that stood in the road with one hand raised had the other gripping an assault rifle that hung from a strap around his neck. He had a black tactical vest on, and no insignia or badges of any kind. He didn't speak or make any motion, simply stood a good four feet in front of the closed gate and held his hand up, his meaning abundantly clear.

Dr. Mathis slowed his jeep and stopped, dust swirling around the front of the vehicle.

The guard inside the shack hung up the phone and stepped outside. He spoke briefly to the man standing in front of the vehicle, and immediately the soldier dropped his hands and half raised his rifle. It wasn't exactly a threatening gesture, but the man seemed like a coiled spring, ready to move at the slightest hint of danger. His eyes were locked on Dr. Mathis.

The other guard who had been on the phone stepped around to the driver's side door and tapped lightly on the window. This man didn't have an assault rifle, but his right hand was resting nonchalantly on the grip of a .45 pistol. He stood and waited patiently for Dr. Mathis to crank down the window.

"I think you're lost, sir," The officer said, "Best turn around and head back the way you came."

"I would love to, sir," Dr. Mathis said, his voice shaking a bit, "But I told a friend that I would come, and this is the address he gave me."

"That friend have a name?" The security guard asked, his eyes narrowing.

"Paite," Dr. Mathis managed to say, though his tongue felt like sandpaper. "Gregory Paite."

The guard's frown deepened, and for a moment he didn't move. "Wait here, put the car in park, and keep your hands on the steering wheel," He said finally.

The guard turned without another word and stepped back into the shed. He picked up the phone and talked for a moment, then listened. He nodded his head several times, spoke briefly again, and hung up. When he came out, he tapped the security officer twice on the right shoulder, and the man relaxed visibly. Apparently that was some signal, and he stepped back out of the roadway, letting his assault rifle hang from the sling once again.

The senior security officer stepped up to the driver's side window once more. "Okay, seems they were expecting something like this might happen. You are to drive forward. Do not make any turns off the main road. You'll come to a long garage building at the base of a damn. Park in the parking lot and step inside the double doors. Wait in the lobby and someone will be with you shortly." The guard's eyes grew serious as he leaned slightly into the window. "We're going to be keeping an eye on you, sir. If you deviate from the road or attempt to any other buildings or doors, action will be taken. You won't get another warning, understood?"

Dr. Mathis nodded, but the officer shook his head. "I need to hear you say it, sir."

"I understand, officer," Dr. Mathis stammered, sweat beading on his forehead.

The security guard nodded, and stepped back from the vehicle. The massive metal gate began to slide noiselessly out of the way. Once it had cleared the gravel road, it stopped, and Dr. Mathis pulled through.

In his rearview mirror, Dr. Mathis saw the metal gate roll closed with a finality that sent a shiver up his spine.

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