The first time I heard it, I thought nothing of it at all... nothing. I've been in the newspaper game for more than twenty-seven years and that kind of experience gave a guy an edge and even that didn't prepare me.
I'd been beaten, shot at, even stabbed a couple of times over the years but I always got the story... always. But this one... this one was big... too big perhaps... maybe we were ready, maybe not. Either way it wasn't my call.
None of which filled me with the fear, the trepidation, the anguish of five little words that still haunted me today...
"Is okay. I have cousin."
By 7:00 AM the following morning, I stood in the lobby, ready for the day. True to his word, Carlos was there on time.
"Morning, sir," he said, offering his hand in greeting.
"Morning, Carlos," I returned, giving his hand a quick shake.
I followed him across the lobby and then outside to stand in the morning sun. We made small talk as the minutes slowly ticked away. I glanced at my watch several times becoming more uncomfortable as each new minute slipped by.
Carlos made no outward sign that he noticed my discomfort. It was clear I was going to have to say something.
"Ah, here we are," he said cheerfully, raising his right hand to flag down a passing car.
I turned in surprise and disappointment as a faded blue sedan sputtered to a stop in front of us, belching out a small cloud of blue smoke with a sharp bang.
The mournful creak of metal pierced the air as the driver's door swung open.
Dressed in a rumpled black suit, a very large, heavyset man unfolded himself from behind the wheel, tucking his shirt into his slacks as he rounded the front of the car.
He ran his fingers through his hair frantically, trotting up the steps to the landing were we waited.
"Carlos, my friend," the man said loudly in a strong Slavic accent, throwing his arms around the young man, lifting him off the ground. At long last he sat him down, patting him heavily on the back.
"Mr. Peter Anderson, this is Dimitri Rurik Petrova," Carlos said cheerfully, patting the large man affectionately on the chest as he spoke.
"Nice to meet you," I responded, offering my hand. "My friends call me Pete."
This close to me, Dimitri seemed even larger than I first thought. His face was square, his skin painfully pocked, but pleasant over all, giving him the appearance of an out of shape football player.
"You are friend to Carlos, you are friend to me. We are friends now. Yes?" he said before grabbing me, hugging me, giving me the hello he had just given Carlos.
"We're late, Mr. Petrova," I admonished, now irritated with having been handled like a rag doll.
"Call me, Bob," he returned, rocking his weight from heel to toe, swinging his arms playfully.
"Bob? How the hell do you get Bob from Dimitri," I asked, trying not to laugh.
"Bob... is American, yes? I now American... now am Bob," he explained holding his arms out wide as if to hug me again.
"We're late, Bob," I tried again, looking at my watch.
"Bob drive very fast, make big city reporter on time. Everything okay... yes?" he offered, holding his hands out as if driving, jerking his head and shoulders from side to side, weaving through the imaginary traffic.
"Okay, no harm, no foul. Let's go," I huffed, tucking my laptop under my arm, starting down the steps.
"Uppp, uppp, uppp," Bob called after me, running down the stairs in front of me. "Business first," he said firmly.
"Ah, sorry. I was in a hurry," I offered honestly.
"Bob understands. Pressure always first in head," he said, placing his hands behind his back. He then turned around, his back to me, his fingers wriggling wildly.
I didn't get it. I turned to look over my shoulder at Carlos still standing on the landing above us.
He smiled broadly and gesturing, pretended to count money out in the air.
"Sorry, I don't understand," I said firmly, irritated with the thought we were more than thirty minutes late and he was looking for a tip after having done nothing at all.
"Is impolite to embarrass Bob's new friend over little thing of money," he said without turning to face me, his fingers wriggling all the more.
Frustrated, I took a five out of my pocket, placing it in Bob's hands.
"Can we go now?" I groused.
"Yes sir. Right away, sir," he bellowed happily, racing to the vehicle to open the door.
The car, a 1987 Lincoln, had seen better days. The passenger door moaned painfully, dropping a little with a metallic pop as it yawned opened all the way.
I turned to give Bob an apprehensive look.
As if reading my mind, he glanced at the rusting chunk of metal parked at the curb and then to me.
"What? Is good car," he said defensively, without a word from me.
I climbed into the back seat, sliding in over the tattered upholstery. The smell of unfamiliar food filled the interior.
Bob wrestled with the door, rocking the car, finally getting it to pop in the other direction before slamming it several times to get it to catch. He ran around the front to jump behind the wheel. The engine roared to life, spewing a huge cloud of blue smoke and then died. Again, he twisted the key, pumping the gas. The engine cranked ever slower as if the battery was about to die.
"Mother of God, Bob swears to make bathtub of you," he muttered as he continued to torture the engine in an attempt to start the metal monster. The sound of his endeavor grew weaker and weaker until he stopped altogether, throwing his huge arm over the seat.
"Is seat belt," he said flatly.
"Seat belt. Bob's friend must have on seat belt," he scolded.
"You gotta be kidding me," I griped but dutifully snapped the belt.
He nodded with satisfaction, turning forward once more.
He turned the key and the engine jumped to life and to my surprise, continued to run. A moment of silence was shattered as AC-DC's "Highway to Hell" began to thunder from the rear speakers.
Without so much as a backward glance, Bob roared away from the curb, catapulting us into traffic. I barely noticed the sound of screeching tires behind us as I made a mad grab for the door to balance myself. To my shock, we were doing sixty before the end of the block. I stretched out my arms to each side, bracing against the wild swings as Bob wove in and out of the honking cars.
Two blocks farther down the road, we were in the left hand turn lane as Bob swung hard to the right, cutting across three lanes of traffic.
"Holy shit. You trying to kill us?" I shouted over the music.
"Is okay. Bob not die in car... have dream and see Bob die in the arms of a beautiful woman," he shouted in return. Nodding his head in beat with the music, he made another death defying right hand turn and then slammed on the brakes, making the tires cry loudly in response.
"What about me? How did I die, Bob? In the back seat of this rust bucket or what?" I asked angrily.
It took me a moment to pull myself together. Looking about, I realized we were parked in a gas station. Almost without my notice, Bob had gotten out of the car and now stood by my window.
"Bob is waiting," he said insistently, his back to me, his fingers wriggling once more, the car idling roughly in time with the music.
"You need gas? Why the hell didn't you fill the tank before you picked me up?" I cursed angrily.
"And have Bob's new friend think Bob cheated him? No. Bob is honest man. Now, you are making Bob late. Embarrass Bob no more," he said.
"Unfucking believable," I said, angrily yanking out my wallet, retrieving a credit card, pushing it harshly into his hands.
Taking the card, he kissed it, jumped into the air to give a little sailor kick and ran around to the other side to pump gas.
I watched anxiously as the numbers flashed by, growing larger and larger, punctuating my frustration with each new click.
I had become concerned the pump would reach my card's limit before finding the top of Bob's tank. The dials continued to spin well past the point I thought they should have stopped.
"Bob, where's it all going? Are you pouring gas on the ground?" I asked, pushing my head out the passenger window.
"Bob has extra tank in trunk. Only have to stop once," he returned with a satisfied look, pointing to his head with a nod.
"Jesus H Christ," I said to myself, returning to the middle of the seat.
It took awhile for the car to reach its limit but after $350 Bob returned to his place behind the wheel.
"Forget something?" I asked, leaning forward to tap him on the shoulder.
"Is okay. Bob already make copy," he said matter- of-factly, passing my card over the back seat between two fingers.
I wasn't sure if he were kidding or not but before I could question him further, I found myself scrambling to get off the floor, struggling to fasten my belt.
"Damn, Bob, give a guy a moment," I complained.
He flashed me a smile in the rear view mirror, holding up his fingers in an okay sign before tapping the dash in time with the music.
I was pressed into the back seat deeper and deeper as we drew closer to the freeway, accelerating faster and faster.
Once in the fast lane, we were obviously trying to set a new land speed record, passing cars to our right like they were parked. I gave up any attempt to work on my laptop, repeatedly being thrown from side to side. For all its faults in a parking lot, the car ran like a rocket on the open road, undulating up and down as we swung from lane to lane. Secretly, I had begun to pray that the cops would find us and pull us over, bring this dilapidating juggernaut to a safe conclusion before we lost too many parts along the road.
As luck would have it, there were no police to be seen.
Buildings fell away at a frightening rate, becoming open ground, which eventually gave way to a thicket of trees as I became more accustom to Bob's driving. At long last we slowed, coming to a stop on the side of the road.
"Not out of gas, are we?" I asked sarcastically, looking around.
"GPS not working so good," he said, slapping the side of the device duct taped to the ash tray.
I had been bounced around in the back seat so much I hadn't noticed it before now.
"Says this way, but this way dirt road. Bob not certain," he offered apologetically.
"Let's give it a try." I shrugged. "Slow, Bob, slow. Give my liver a chance to catch up with us," I added quickly. "Okay?"
He took my advice and we rolled slowly, the sound of the dirt crunching under the tires. The trees became more dense as the road wound its way through them.
After twenty minutes or so we came upon a clearing, a wide spot in the dirt. At the opposite end, a peeler core fence straddled the road. Parked just beyond it were two pickup trucks. Several men sat in the back of each truck, nine in all, each dressed in hunting outfits. Two of them slowly made their way to the opening in the fence, each with a rifle resting on their shoulders.
"Howdy, boys," one of them said as he walked up to the car.
"Hi. I'm Peter..." I started, rolling down the window.
"I know who you are, Mr. Anderson. The professor has been expecting you," he said, lifting the shotgun from his shoulder. He stuck it through the rear window, poking Bob. "Didn't say nothing about your K.G.B. friend here though."
"Bob Russian, not K.G.B. Not spy just because Bob born in Russia," he said, looking straight ahead.
"Still makes you a stinking Commie... right?" the man said, poking Bob with his weapon once more.
Bob popped open the car door and the man pushed against it to hold it closed.
Bob took a deep breath as he swung open the door, pushing the man out of the way despite all efforts to the contrary. Standing up to his full height, he squared his shoulders, which brought several of the other men running.
"If Bob K.G.B. Bob stick little gun up your ass and blow your nose," he said softly.
"Ain't no Commie alive can take my gun," snarled the man - before turning his head to spit.
Then, to my shock, Bob pushed his antagonizer with his right hand and backhanded the man with his left, snatching the shotgun out of mid-air and cocked it with one hand.
The sound of angry voices as well as several guns being cocked at the same time shook me to the core. I had to stop this.
"Hang on, hang on," I admonished, stepping out. "Let's not get carried away here. We're here to see..."
At that moment I was interrupted by the arrival of two late model pickups that entered the clearing sending up clouds of dust.
"What's going on here, John?" a young man asked, jumping from the first truck almost before it stopped.
"Is okay, tripped over his own feet. Everything fine here," Bob voiced sternly, throwing the rifle to the newcomer.
"John? What the hell, man?" the new arrival asked, looking to the other men for an explanation.
"It's like he said... I tripped. It's nothing," John said, getting up. He dusted himself off, grabbing his gun from the younger man, eyeing Bob with retribution well in mind. "Anyone follow them?"
"No. Not that anyone could. Hell, he left us fifteen minutes behind and we knew where he was going," the young man said, removing his baseball cap, slapping it against his leg. The two men just stood there, looking at one another.
"Better call Doc," the younger finally said, replacing his cap.
"Good idea. He's expecting me," I said.
"Call, Bob wait," Bob injected, folding his arms, leaning against the car.
The man with the rifle stepped away, turning his back to us, removing a cell phone. After a few minutes, he flipped the phone closed and returned.
"Take him up," he said, pointing at me. "He stays," he continued, indicating Bob.
"If I go, he goes," I said firmly.
It was clear if Bob was left here on his own, nothing good would come from it.
"Doc said just you," the man with the rifle repeated.
"Well, if he wants me to interview him, have him contact me at my hotel," I said, getting back into the car. "Let's go, Bob."
"Keep your pants on," the rifleman said, waving a hand to stop Bob from getting into the car. He turned, walking several feet away to call again. He gestured in the air as he spoke, his voice becoming more
strained. "Alright, send them up," he shouted, giving an angry wave of his arm.
The car door creaked as Bob slipped behind the wheel. He paused for a moment, eyeing the men that now gathered at the front of the vehicle. It was unsettling to see such a group, all with weapons, look in our direction at the same time.
The sound of the struggling engine filled the air and my heart faltered right along with it.
"Now's not the time, Bob," I scolded.
He turned, throwing his arm over the seat, giving me an annoyed look.
"Is belt," he said, lifting his chin in my direction.
All I could do was smile in return and snapped my seatbelt.
"Is good now," he said and with that the motor roared to life.
We pulled through the split rail gate. Ahead of us, a pickup with four men holding rifles seated on its sides, behind us two more trucks equally armed, followed.
We bounced along the dirt road for close to ten minutes before a building revealed itself among the trees.
The trucks pulled up in cloud of dust to the west side of the building, emptying out almost before they rolled to a stop.
Bob stopped in front, turning off the engine.
"Lots of guns... must be good story," Bob observed, getting out to open the door for me.
"Got that impression myself," I said, apprehensively, slipping from the back seat to stand next to him.
From the outside, the two story house, for lack of a better description, had no real architectural style. With a confusing array of roof angles it was a contractor's nightmare, appearing to be merely an aggregation of unrelated rooms. Each seemed to have been added when in the possession of a new owner.
A large, broad, open porch stretched across the front of the building. Tracing its limits were three thin, parallel rails. The front door swung open and a man appeared.
"Professor Thorpe?" I asked, pushing past the armed men that lined the path to the porch.
"I'm Donald Thorpe," the newcomer responded dully. With white hair and a thin build, long lanky limbs, he appeared to be in his early sixties. He was dressed in the same camouflaged clothing as many of the others.
"I'm Peter Anderson," I said, offering my hand in greeting.
"I know who you are, Mr. Anderson. I've spoken to your editor several times. I must admit, I am surprised to actually see you here. It would seem saving the world isn't high on his list of priorities." He didn't take my hand, opting instead to stand in the middle of the porch, eyeing me closely as he lit a pipe, puffing lightly.
"Saving the world? Is that why everyone here has a gun?"
"You'll have to pardon my friends, Mr. Anderson. They think I need protecting. As hunting enthusiasts they sometimes get a little carried away," he said, puffing on his pipe.
"Protecting you from what? Or should I say whom?" I pressed, stepping onto the porch.
Several of the men reacted, instantly moving closer as I approached.
Professor Thorpe lowered his head slightly as if attending to his pipe and waved them off.
In response, they stepped back a few feet but remained on alert.
"Touchy," I prodded, pointing lightly at the men with guns.
"Seems to be going around," the professor countered, pointing as well.
Without my notice, Bob had moved to stand close behind me on the porch. Under the circumstances, it was comforting.
"Look, I've come a long way. I'd like to get your story so we can both get on with our lives," I said flatly, removing my pocket recorder, clicking it into the on position. "Alright?"
He looked about to each of the men, as if searching for someone in particular, before tapping his pipe on the bottom of his boot.
"Turn it off, Mr. Anderson," he said without looking directly at me.
I did as he asked and clicked off the recorder.
"Let me ask you a little something first..." He stepped closer.
"Sure," I answered, suddenly uncomfortable with his proximity.
"Do you believe in ghost?" he asked in all seriousness. His eyes were piercing, his jaw set square waiting for an answer.
"I think such things are possible, but I've never experienced it firsthand." I said, thinking as fast as I could.
He chuckled, losing his serious expression and all the men followed suit.
"Spoken like a true politician, Mr. Anderson," he said, grinning. "Let me ask another... you believe in UFOs?"
"Almost as much as ghost," I returned, trying to control my grin.
"Sounds to me, like you can write a fair story," he said, extending his hand in greeting for the first time.
"Fair is my middle name, sir," I said modestly, taking his hand. As soon as I let go, there was a tug on the back of my coat. "Oh yes, this is my..." I caught myself as I was about to say friend. My mind flashed quickly to other words... driver... guide... none seemed to fit. "Bob," I said at last.
"Pleasure to met you, Professor," Bob said, almost perfectly.
"My friends call me Doc. Perhaps I can change your mind, Mr. Anderson. Please, come inside," he said.
Bob and I followed him as the door opened untouched. Standing behind it, another man with a revolver. He held the barrel upright, close to his shoulder, giving both Bob and I a jaundiced look over. I was startled by his presence. He was large... shockingly large... larger than Bob and that was saying something.
His face was square, pitted, rough, and held a most unhappy expression. His blond hair had been cut short, flat on top and little more than stubble up the sides.
He wore a beige, double pocketed, safari shirt with a shoulder holster strapped over its surface.
"Put it away, Carl," the professor said under his breath as he passed.
The man did as asked, sliding the gun in a holster under his left arm. He shifted his weight, crossing his arms, leaning against the wall.
I wasn't sure what was more intimidating, the man's physical size or the way he openly wore his firearm.
"You'll have to ignore Carl. He's a bit anti-social," Thorpe said, waving a casual, disinterested, hand toward the man.
"Yeah, that would have been my guess," I returned.
The room, surprisingly large, held a sizable stone fireplace on the wall across from the door. At its face stood a black, stylized, wrought iron screen. Behind it, a small fire consumed what was left of three pieces of wood, warming the room. The mantel was made from a log that had been halved, its top smooth and flat, its bottom still clad in bark. Its hearth, tan sandstone projected several feet into the room, appearing to hold the furniture at bay.
Placed squarely in front of the fireplace was a long, rectangle coffee table built from a wide, dark wood. At its center a glass inset, framed in polished brass. Paralleling the table's length, two small couches faced each other. Small tables at the end of each held western designed lamps.
To the left of the door, a hall that, with the exception of a single door, continued out of sight uninterrupted.
To the right, at the opposite end of the room, an alcove of sorts held a small desk. The professor headed straight for the desk, pulling open one of the top drawers, searching its contents.
"Ah, here we are," he said, pulling a computer disk from the drawer. "Carl, get the lights," he ordered.
The man obeyed without a word.
As I turned my attention back to Thorpe, he extended his arm, clicking a remote control.
"Gentlemen, please be seated."
The sound of a motor engaging filled the room and a movie screen lowered itself from the ceiling, hanging over the mantel.
Thorpe busied himself at his computer, depositing the disk, clicking at his keyboard.
I took off my coat, throwing it over the back of one of the couches.
Bob and I sat across from each other as the screen flickered to life.
"This, Mr. Anderson, was taken three months ago," Thorpe said, coming around to sit on the couch with Bob.
The serious tone in his voice surprised me, making me pay extra attention to the screen.
A single spot of light, little more than a pinhead, appeared on the screen, bouncing about wildly and then a panicked voice... a woman's voice, assaulted us.
"I got it. I got it. It's heading this way," she cried excitedly.
"We have to go. Karen, do you hear me? We have to go," another woman's voice shouted. Its tone sent shivers up my spine.
"Not yet. Hang on. Shit, look at it," the first voice returned.
The picture jarred back and forth wildly, accompanied by the sound of someone running. Bramble, rocks, fallen logs all streaked across the screen before the person carrying the camera fell to the ground, stabilizing the device on a rock.
"Karen," the second voice screamed from the background, barely audible over the heavy breathing filling the room with its sound.
"Holy shit," the woman's voice breathed as the image zoomed in closer.
On the screen, the picture grew larger, brighter but still I was unclear what exactly I was looking at. Slowly, in the center of the screen, an orange globe of light began to change, flexing, growing longer, before changing its color to blue. Then, to my surprise, it split, becoming two orbs of spinning blue light. Each spun about as if they were held in the gravity of the other or connected by a pole.
They began to spin faster and faster and then in a blink of bright green light, the orbs became four. At this point they separated, flying in opposite directions only to make a broad loop, skyward. Now, at unbelievable speed, they headed back to the original point.
"Oh, my God," the voice whispered and the camera wavered for a moment as it sought to capture the advance of all four orbs.
In less than a heartbeat, as the lights rushed together, they collided, and in a silent explosion of green light, became seven. Each appeared to hang, scattered at a different point in the sky and then, as if drawn by an unbelievable power, each snapped into a different part of the sky, forming a straight line... like an elongated ellipse. They began to glide floating slowly, forming a wedge of sorts as they silently drifted, just over the treetops. Then, as if given some unseen signal, they all shot skyward like bullets in a radical, twisting arc, slowly looping at their upper limit before racing desperately to earth.
One after the other plunged straight into the ground, disappearing from sight with only the smallest puff of dust to mark their passing.
Shocked, I tried to catch my breath, organizing my thoughts, believing we were done, shifting my weight on the couch. So, too, did the person holding the camera. The images shifted as she got to her feet and ran to the spot where the lights had vanished.
"Right here. The God damn things went into the ground right, fucking here," she shouted, either to herself or to her friend off camera, stomping her foot repeatedly on the hard ground. "God damn," she whispered excitedly. "The grass is dying."
She pointed the camera at the ground as the grass withered right in front of our eyes, turning a pale yellow before crumbling to dust.
Then, a low pitch whine filled the air.
"Shit, shit, shit," she cried and began to run away.
Finally coming to a stop, she trained the camera at the spot where the lights had dove into the ground.
A beam of blue light shot straight up out of the ground and the hum grew louder with it. Suddenly, what appeared to be a person manifested within the light. It seemed to be there and yet not, all at the same time, vacillating between solid and God only knew what. At the moment of solidity, a red beam of light jumped from the tube of light toward the camera.
There was a heart wrenching scream and the camera fell to the ground. Now, the unfocused image, as if the camera had been wedged between two rocks, filled the screen. No sound other than the drum, drum, drum was present, growing louder and louder, like a thousand angry bees drawing closer.
Then, as the hum became unbearable the image jiggled as the camera moved. An unfocused figure, someone, something... a translucent being, flashed before the lens and then the camera went dead, filling the screen with blackness.
The lights suddenly snapped on and my eyes struggled to adjustment to the new condition.
"Well, Mr. Anderson? What do you think now?" Thorpe asked, retrieving the disk from his computer and handed it to me.
"I have no idea what to say," I answered honestly, taking the disk.
"You can keep it. I have others," he said, before busying himself with his pipe.
"You assume this is real?" I asked as delicately as I could.
"Very. I have the memory card and the actual camera," he said between puffs of smoke, shaking his right hand to extinguish the match.
"And the women?" I asked, turning the disk over in my hands.
Thorpe glanced at me initiatively as if he were mulling over the decision to tell me or not.
"We don't know," he said softly.
"You got the camera from them, right?"
"It belonged to Karen Scott and her sister, Carol. Their bodies were never found, just a burn mark on the ground were we believe they fell."
"How did you get the camera?" I asked, now more in suspicion than belief.
"That's a long story, Mr. Anderson. Suffice it to say I have a large number of people who believe what I believe."
"And that would be?" I prompted.
He hesitated, looking at Carl briefly.
"I believe, Mr. Anderson, that we... you and I... have a level of responsibility to warn the world about this very thing. I believe that these women were the first of many to give their lives in an effort to warn us all. I believe that an invasion of unimaginable scale is at hand and that the human race faces the very real possibility of annihilation," he said, staring intensely at me as he spoke.
Silence filled the room as my mind grappled with his words.
"Good movie. Bob like very much. Popcorn would be nice but Bob say time to go," Bob said loudly, slapping his hands on his knees before standing.
Following Bob's lead, I stood, examining the disk, reaching for my coat, heading for the door.
"Ah, like little kid. If Bob not here can never get dressed," Bob said, grabbing my coat from me.
I put in one arm and struggled to get on the other sleeve as Bob pulled me around. With both arms in the coat at last, Bob hauled me around by the lapels, spinning me about to face the hall.
Irritated beyond belief, I glared at Bob as he fussed with my coat, patting and smoothing my shoulders.
"Stop it, Bob," I growled.
He continued pawing at me, refusing to make eye contact with me.
I was about to punch him to make him stop, when I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. The hall door was now open a crack. Someone was watching us. I tried not to look directly at it.
"Thank you, Bob," I said, adjusting my shoulders slightly.
From the corner of my eye, the door slowly, silently closed.
"Now," I said, turning to face Thorpe. "How do you know the women are dead?"
"The police found their car, their purses, their money. My people found the camera."
"You hid it from the police?"
"I hid it from the government," he confessed.
"I thought you worked for the government."
"I did, so you can understand my mistrust."
"Well, Doc. I have to admit it's interesting. I'll have to have it checked, just to be sure, look into it a little. You understand," I said, slipping the disk into my jacket pocket.
"Don't take too long, Mr. Anderson. You may regret it," he said ominously.
"Well, help me out. What else do you have?" I pressed.
"I beg your pardon?"
"What else do you have?" I repeated. "You know, any other proof? A piece of a spaceship, signed autograph from Elvis?" I joked. I don't know why I said that but I was stunned to hear it come out of my
mouth. I'm usually more professional, not allowing my personal feeling to color what I write.
"Mr. Anderson, I have proof that would curl your very toes, proof beyond any possible doubt. Proof that would just as soon kill you as look at you,"
"I'd like to see that as well."
"In due time, Mr. Anderson. In due time. Do your homework and we'll talk again," he said, turning to Carl, nodding.
Almost instantly, Carl yanked at the door. I was startled by the harsh rattle it made as it swung open.
"You can see yourself out," Thorpe said dully, before walking away.
Bob and I filed out the door with Carl close behind, threading our way through the throng standing outside by the car.
Bob opened the car door for me, placing his body between me and those that been leaning against it.
He hesitated briefly as one of the men remained in place against the driver's door. Bob closed mine and stepped close to the man.
"Bob count three," he said menacingly, placing his large hand on the handle. "One."
"Bob," I said, opening my door.
"Two." His voice was low, the air suddenly filled with tension.
A moment of silence passed before the man relented with a huff.
Bob slid in behind the wheel, as several of the onlookers moved to stand in front of the vehicle.
"Is belt," he said, absentmindedly staring forward.
"Way ahead of you, Bob," I returned quickly.
The car roared to life, jarring itself harshly backward as it vaulted into gear. Bob threw a huge arm over the seat and swung the car back toward the road.
"Thanks, Bob," I said gratefully. "That was very uncomfortable."
"Must be good story," he said lightly as we bounced down the dirt road.
"How long was the person in the hall watching us?"
"Door just opened a moment before... Bob see and thought you should see."
"Kind of interesting, don't you think?"
"What do you think is down that hall?"
"Maybe, kitchen... maybe proof beyond doubt," he said, twisting his hand in the air, like flipping a coin.
"I'd like to know for myself, Bob. Wouldn't you?"
Bob shifted his weight in the seat. Reaching up, he twisted the mirror to look at me.
"Say again for Bob," he said in all seriousness, his voice low, his eyes locked on mine.
"If you can arrange it, I want to see for myself," I said, holding out a fifty.
"Is okay, I have cousin," he responded with a smile, waving off my money.