I re-emerged from my trance breathing heavily. Dr. Marconi was across the room at the sink and had his back to me. I focused on my immediate surroundings, adjusting to this new reality. Which one was real, I thought, and tried to get up, but couldn’t. My legs were free but my arms wouldn’t move. I soon discovered why.
A set of heavy plastic straps kept my arms snug tightly to the leather chair. I hadn’t seen those before and realized this chair was made for more than comfort.
Dr. Marconi turned around and my eyes widened – he had a black eye. He studied me while drying his hands as if he were trying to determine which part of me was sitting in the chair.
“What’s going on?” I asked. “Why am I strapped to the chair?”
“What’s your girlfriend’s name?”
“What?” I replied, confused, but figured I should answer by the serious look on his face. “Allison Montgomery, but we broke up.”
He tossed the hand towel onto the sink and stepped closer, still studying me.
“And who was your birth-father?”
“Colonel Mendoza. What happened to your eye?”
He touched the purple shiner and winced slightly.
“We at least have an idea now who’s been showing up during your blackouts.”
“You suddenly began speaking Chinese, repeated the name Ben Min with authority and before I knew it, we were struggling ... and it took quite an effort to restrain you,” he declared, indicating his eye.
“I did that to you?” He nodded. “I’m really sorry. I mean-”
“Don’t mention it, Trenton. It wasn’t really you, or at least the you here now, if you know what I mean.”
“I guess it’s good that you lift weights,” I joked, trying to uncap the tension.
“That’s true,” he replied with a slight grin. “I think we definitely made some progress today.”
“I’m not so sure. I mean, if I was speaking Chinese then maybe I was right in being afraid. Maybe Number Nine had good reason to try and recruit me.”
“Let’s not jump to conclusions. We still have a lot of digging to do. And now we know how to approach the situation in a safe manner,” he said, eyeing the straps. He reached over and began to loosen the first one.
Muffled voices suddenly interrupted from outside and I thought I heard Ms. Petrovich. A moment later, the secretary popped her head in and requested the doctor step out. She eyed me suspiciously and did a bad job of trying to cover it up. I watched frantically as Dr. Marconi stopped unstrapping me.
“Okay,” he said and walked toward the door without untying me completely. “I’ll be right back, Trenton, just hold tight.”
I tried to peer through the small crack in the door as it closed, but couldn’t make out who was in the waiting area. It didn’t matter because I was pretty darn certain I’d heard Ms. Petrovich’s voice and didn’t want to face her right now. For all I knew, I was already wanted for treason even though I hadn’t done anything wrong.
I quickly ripped the remaining plastic strap loose and eyed the secret door. Maybe I’d make a good politician one day, I thought, as I snuck down the secret passageway. I was certainly following in their footsteps.
I sprang down the stairs with my heart racing a million miles a second. Without thinking, I burst through the bottom door and spilled into a gangway where the hustle and bustle of the mid-day lunch rush rang loud. I thought about heading south toward the river but a barrage of heavy steps coming from that direction dissuaded me. I would have to try my luck with the busy commercial street I had used to enter the building.
I poked my head around the marble corner and saw no government types guarding the door. I moved the opposite way and had to force myself not to run. My best bet was to blend in and as far as I could tell, none of the suits occupying this street was out for a lunchtime jog.
At the corner, I was forced to make a decision. I could either go straight or turn north – maybe it was northwest, but I could never tell which way I was traveling in this crazy city. However, the man with the eye patch walking my way two blocks ahead made the choice for me. Then I heard yelling from behind and turned to see Ms. Petrovich and two of her lackeys racing my way. Feeling pinched, I cut north by northwest and started to sprint.
As I ran, I couldn’t decide which party chasing me was worse. On one hand, there was the U.S. government and on the other, there was a nut job who had a vendetta against me. Either way, I wanted to find refuge soon because I couldn’t afford another blackout.
I scanned the area and two suspicious suits turned the corner two blocks ahead. They closed ranks and I felt the end was near when a voice interrupted.
“Mr. Locke, this way!”
I cocked my eyebrow. Down in the garden entrance of the adjacent retail shop stood Number Nine.
“It’s either Ms. Petrovich or me, young man,” he urged, waving me closer.
Ms. Petrovich and her boys tightened the noose and I figured Eye Patch had decided to split sensing a bigger jungle cat was on the same hunt.
I shook my head and realized if I went with Number Nine, then I would at least be buying more time.
“Trenton!” Ms. Petrovich yelled from a block away.
Hearing her voice jolted me into action and I jumped down the steps. Number Nine locked the door behind us and led me down the hall.
“This doesn’t change things, you know?” I said as we scurried down another set of steps.
“Don’t be so sure,” he shot back and opened a small wooden door that looked about as old as the city.
“I can dissuade Allison from going back.”
“Valiant try, Mr. Locke, but she’s already left.”
“How do you know that?”
“We know everything.”
“That still doesn’t change things,” I said rather unconvincingly.
“No?” he asked as we moved down a dark hall that seemed more like a tunnel. “Allison is the key and embedded deep within her subconscious lies the answer to both of our countries’ problems. It is for that reason that your mission has changed.”
I thought about this for a moment and offered, “So even if she doesn’t retrieve the information from Crimson James, there may be a chance that the impact of meeting herself in a past life would somehow trigger the answer.”
“Very good and that’s exactly why your mission has been slightly modified.”
“What do you mean?”
“You must keep her in the past or our agent on the ground will make certain she stays there ... one way or another.”
“But Allison’s not a scientist. She couldn’t convey the thoughts in a tangible, scientific way even if it were in her subconscious.”
“That’s something my employer can’t take a chance on. If we can’t get the information, then no one will. Understand?”
I stared at him, enraged, my mind swirling.
“Why didn’t you just stop her here?”
“Too risky, Mr. Locke. Easier to do it in another time.”
I shook my head, trying to concentrate. Number Nine led me up a long set of narrow steps and we emerged in a musty cellar.
“It looks like we made it,” he explained.
“Made it where?”
“Your ticket to the past.”
I glared at the grinning spy and wondered desperately what in the world I should do.