The endless possibilities filled my mind by the time I arrived home, but quickly faded at the sound of my father’s deep grinding coughs. I was astounded at his ability to sleep through the constant eruptions. Next to his bed was a half-empty medicine bottle and several pills scattered on the nightstand. He looked extremely uncomfortable and that cough - it grated the ears and must’ve hurt worse than it sounded.
I pulled the covers up to his chin and noticed he was sweating profusely. I wiped his forehead and placed a fresh, cool cloth in its place. I was worried because this didn’t look good. Should I stay home, I wondered, but figured there wasn’t a whole lot I could do. I would ask him about my brother when he was feeling better.
Twenty minutes later, I arrived to a packed house at work. I pushed my way through the crowd and caught Mrs. Han’s eye. The look she gave me was one of relief and annoyance.
“You’re ten minutes late, Trenton,” she said, while handing a customer his bag of food.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Han. It won’t happen again.”
“That’s unlike you. Is everything okay?”
“Yes, it’s just my father’s not doing so well.”
“Do you need to go home?”
“No, it’ll be fine. Again, I’m sorry.”
“That’s okay. Get to work now as it will take your mind off other things.”
I nodded and took over the register. Forty-five minutes later, the flurry subsided and allowed my mind a bit of wandering room. Was that Number Nine, I wondered, and had the sneaking suspicion he would show up tonight.
That line of thinking only lasted a few minutes as the evening’s second wave of orders hit. I pushed through like a real trooper and actually found the monotony of menial tasks helped keep my mind off life’s other problems. Mrs. Han sure called that one.
Thirty-five minutes later, with the last set of agitated eye balls walking out the door, Number Nine brushed past and flashed his usual grin. I’d been expecting his arrival, but only part of me was eager to engage him.
“Good evening, young man. How goes things?” he asked, pleased to have the waiting area to himself.
“Fine,” I replied, but part of me wanted to ask outright whether he’d been at that old warehouse.
“Not ready yet, huh?”
“Not quite. We’ve been pretty busy tonight, but I’m sure it’ll just be a few minutes.”
“That’s fine. In fact, that gives us time to chat,” he stated with a refined sharpness only a foreigner who’d learned English from the Brits could pull off.
“Well, if you’re talking about those numbers you gave me, thanks a lot. I used them and was shocked at the information.”
“Glad I could help, but before you ask, remember that wasn’t your life and it should have no impact on what type of person you are or what path you ultimately choose. It is your life, after all.”
“I guess that means your scholarship offer still stands?”
“Of course it does. Have you given it any further consideration?”
“I have, but I’m still not certain. I mean, I’m definitely thinking about it, but I just don’t know.”
“Well, you might want to expedite your decision making process,” he suggested firmly. “Time is running short and we have to make our recommendations to the board very soon.”
“I know, but if it’s not meant to be then it’s not meant to be, right?”
“That’s one point of view, but I thought you might enjoy the opportunity to potentially work with your friend Allison.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just that we sometimes collaborate with the government on projects and believe it’s good to have interns working together. I guess you might call it long-term relationship building.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Those same interns, although very low on the totem pole right now, will someday rise to more prominent positions and it always helps knowing the person on the other side of the table when ironing out issues.”
“I guess so,” I replied, but didn’t fully understand what he meant.
“You’d be surprise how far that type of thing can take you. Networking is key ... and we like to build networks, Trenton. We believe you can help us do that.”
“So I’d get to work with Allison?”
“No promises, of course, but I’m sure your paths would cross. Besides, we believe having someone in our firm who knows Allison Montgomery the way you do will pay dividends in the future.”
“What does that mean?”
“Oh, she hasn’t told you, huh?” he said, surprised. “Well, I guess there is a possibility that even she doesn’t know.”
“Our sources tell us that your girlfriend was an important historical figure.”
“What ... I thought she was a biologist and a detective or something like that. I didn’t know I was dating Sherlock Holmes.”
“Very amusing,” he replied. I thought it better to not tell him we’d broken up recently because I wanted to hear this. “She wasn’t chosen for that internship by accident, you know?”
I didn’t like his accusation. It diminished Allison’s hard work and made it seem that her internship was a foregone conclusion, regardless of merit.
“Order,” Mrs. Han yelled.
“So who was I, Mr. Watson?” I asked, handing over his bag of delicious food.
“Oh, you might not find it a laughing matter if you actually opened your letter.”
Number Nine had me flummoxed. I really wanted to know if it was him who had emerged from that building a couple of hours ago. The half-written name above the front door came to mind and hit me square in the chops.
“Did you say your company name is Romulus Incorporated?” I asked, trying not to show my anxiousness.
“Yes … well Romulus International, actually. I had hoped that you would look us up.”
“I have and was wondering if you happen to have an office down in the Biddle manufacturing neighborhood.”
“Biddle...,” he repeated as if searching for the right file in the depths of his mind. “Oh, yes you mean on Franklin Street?”
“That’s the one.”
“Yes, however you must’ve really done your homework because I don’t believe that’s on any of our marketing literature. In fact, it’s quite an unknown quantity. I’m impressed, Trenton, how did you hear about that location?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” I lied. “I suppose someone mentioned it. I’ve been asking everyone, you know.”
Number Nine’s eyes glistened like pearls at first light. “It wouldn’t happen to have something to do with your friend Matt, would it?” I was caught with my hand in the cookie jar and must’ve looked the part too. “I dare say, you do have some unique friends. First Allison and now Matthew.”
“How is Matt unique ... besides his lack of palm prints?”
“Disabilities can often times be a great motivator.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m sure you’re aware, but Matthew is a genius.”
“Pure and simple off the charts brainiac.”
“But his test scores were in the eighties.”
“Eighties,” he nearly yelled and had to contain himself. “Trenton, he scored in the 99th percentile.”
“Are you serious?”
“Absolutely. In fact, when it came to our attention, we had him tested again and there’s no doubt, the boy’s extremely intelligent.”
“I always knew he was smart, but not like that.”
“Well, we were very happy to find out because he’s been using his talents well.”
“What do you mean? Does it have something to do with that warehouse on Franklin Street?”
“You’ve been very busy, haven’t you? Anyway, it turns out your friend has discovered a technique to identify his past lives.”
I immediately thought of Matt’s secret lab. “So that’s what he was working on.”
“I’m sure it was ... which is all the more reason why it’s important for you to open up your Past Lives Letter.”
“I don’t understand. How could that have anything to do with Matt?”
“Trenton, you’re a nice kid and I’d hate to see you taken by surprise.”
“I’m guessing that you and Matthew haven’t been getting along too well lately, right?”
“Well, maybe, but how would you know that? Did he say something?”
“He didn’t have to,” he said and looked around for eavesdroppers. “Let’s just say that Matthew was not always an upstanding citizen in his past lives.”
“What does that mean … was he a bank robber or something?”
“I wouldn’t doubt it if he knocked over a few banks in his time, but that would be child’s play compared to other aspects of his past.”
“What are you saying?”
“At his apex, Matthew was a very powerful and dangerous person who-”
“I don’t believe it.”
“Then you certainly won’t believe the rest because it has everything to do with you.”
“You’re crazy. There’s no way you could know that.”
“Believe it or not, he was your nemesis and always has been.”
The devil himself couldn’t have looked more foreign to me than Number Nine. I stepped back and banged into the counter. What in the world was this man up to? Better yet, what in the world was Matt up to? Could this be true? Absolutely not, I thought, and shook my head.
“I think I’ve heard enough.”
“Of course,” he replied, evoking a compassionate voice, but I still saw the horns and smelled sulfur. “We can discuss it once you’ve had time to digest it all.”
I shook my head slowly as Number Nine picked up his bag and stepped toward the door. However, before exiting, he turned and said, “One more piece of advice, you might want to advise Allison to be careful on her mission. It’s my understanding she may be in some sort of danger.”
The door closed before I could react. Now what in the hell did that mean? Allison in danger ... what?