He woke up with a start in a dimly lit room. His head ached, the blood pounding into his brain with a steady, but incessant, thump in time with the beating of his heart. He couldn’t remember where he was. Or who he was.
The last thing he remembered was lying down in bed with his wife, Corey, who was also his boss. They had made love just before her falling asleep. Their children were in Shrewsbury with her aunt and uncle, so there had been no worries of being disturbed. When she fell asleep, he had gone downstairs to fix himself a warm glass of milk.
He thought he heard a noise behind him. Then, he heard a woman’s urgent voice. The voice was familiar; one he had learned to trust over the years. But it wasn’t the voice of his beloved wife. Behind you!
He swiftly turned around, prepared to defend himself and his family. And then...
“And then...” what? What happened?
He had been here for days. He knew that much. Naked except for the tattered remnants of a robe and a pair of briefs. At least his captors allowed him the dignity of being partially covered.
The throbbing of the many bruises all over him beat a counterpoint to that of his head. He was dirty and had more than a few days’ worth of growth on his face.
He was also sweaty. The room felt muggy and stuffy. The air almost stale. He could feel his sweat seep into the many unhealed cuts he had received. Stinging. Some of the cuts, he knew, were just short of being fatal. But not by much.
For some reason, his captors wanted him alive. He thought he knew, but in his muddled brain he couldn’t remember why. It was obvious, he was being tortured for information. He wondered what.
He looked at his surroundings. A basement, maybe. It almost seemed familiar. The little light that lit the room, came from a small window above his head.
He went to adjust himself into a more comfortable position when he discovered he couldn’t move his arms. That’s when he noticed his arms secured above his head. Each wrist bound by a separate chain coming out of the wall. In vain, he tried to jerk free until his wrists bled. Adding to the days old dried up blood already running down his arms.
Where’s Jasmine? he thought. Jasmine? Who’s Jasmine? He didn’t know. The name somehow seemed familiar. Important.
An image of a woman came unbidden to his mind. She was Indian. Not the Native American Indian, but from the sub-continent of India. She was a beautiful woman dressed in the style of the Victorian-era. He wasn’t sure, but he believed it was natural for her to appear in such an antiquated manner.
Just as he thought he remembered who the woman was, the thought drifted out of his reach. It lost itself in the currents of his swirling mind of half remembered thoughts.
His mind drifted that way for countless minutes. Each time he thought he recognized something, he hungrily reached for it; as if he were a man in the desert searching for a way to slake his thirst. As before, the memories flitted away from his grasp. A butterfly flitting away on a gentle summer’s breeze disappearing from view.
He grasped at one such memory and held on to it. It seemed important. At that moment, it was the most important thing in his life. A life preserver in the torrential sea of swirling memories that threatened to pull away with each angry surge.
It was a memory of a woman. Different from that of the other woman. What other woman? He couldn’t be sure. For a moment, he thought he remembered another woman. But his addled brain could barely hold on to the one he now grasped.
In the memory he desperately clung to, the woman was five feet, nine inches tall. She had military length dark brown hair, short enough to fit under a flying helmet, brown eyes, medium brown tanned skin, and very fit while weighing around one hundred forty-five lbs. She appeared to be younger than him. Somehow, he knew she was only a few years older. How do I know that? How old am I? Who am I? Who is she?
As if in answer another memory floated by. He snatched at it and held onto it, just as he did with the first. Once again, he almost lost hold of the original memory of the woman. It was of the same woman. She was in an office somewhere; dressed crisply in a military style uniform. In her hands, she held towards him a worn book. “Sign it ‘To Corey’ —,” the woman said in an almost familiar voice.
He anxiously reached for the memory of the book. It would give him a clue to who he was. Just as his hand touched the book, the memory faded. He let out a scream of frustration.
“To Corey —”
He came across another memory involving this woman. It involved an old plane set in the middle of a field. Then he lost it.
“To Corey —”
Corey. That was her name. Somehow, he knew Corey was the name of the woman whose memory he still clutched.
He had to get back to her. Had to get back to Corey.
The man had been searching for weeks.
Standing six feet, one-inch-tall, his ordinarily immaculate dark hair, with the beginnings of gray showing at the temples, looked disheveled and needed the hand of a barber. And he needed a shave. His plain suit, showing evidence of long use and travel wear, was expensive in cut. Slim of build, but well-toned, the man checked into the hotel provided for him by his employer, and went up to his room.
He casually tossed his valise and briefcase onto the four-poster, king-sized bed. His only other luggage was the nondescript case which contained his laptop. This he set on the polished oak table; four matching chairs surrounding the table.
He had spent most of the day searching for the whereabouts of his missing quarry. As before, he had found no signs of him. But then again, the city was large, and he had not expected to find his missing person right away. He had hoped to put an end to his long search.
He glanced at his watch. Time to check in, he thought as he absently lit up a cigarette. He pulled out his cell phone and hit the speed dial as he sat down on the bed.
“Yes?” a melodic female British voice answered.
“It’s me,” he said in his low, fairly deep, very cultured voice, with an accent that clearly showed his British Upper Class background.
“Have you found him?”
“No, Ma’am,” he replied for what seemed like the umpteenth time since he began this assignment.
“How close are you to finding him?”
“I’m not sure,” he answered. “This is the last place left we know of, that he’s been to.”
“Are you certain?”
“Yes, I am. I’ve already been to the other places.”
The silence on the other end lasted so long, he thought he might have lost the signal.
“Ma’am?” he asked. “Are you still there?”
“Yes,” the voice replied in what sounded to his ears like a sob. “I’m here. I was just thinking, is all.”
Another brief pause.
“You must find him,” she continued. “You know how important he is to m… to all of us.”
“I understand,” he said his voice catching. “He’s important to me also.”
“Thank you, Commander,” she said in a not quite shaky voice. “Was there anything else?”
“Just one thing,” he said reluctantly. “Is there a possibility he might have gone rogue?”
He got up and paced. Already knowing the answer before he asked. He needed to hear it from her.
“I refuse to believe it, Commander,” she replied, the cold, iron hardness in her voice coming through. “Not of him. I was there the day he took the Oath. In fact, I’m the one who administered it.”
A slight pause.
“You didn’t see his face,” she quietly went on in remembrance, “nor hear his voice as he swore. There was this look and feel about him; a confidence, strength of purpose, and what could only be described as reverence, exuding from him with each word. By the time he’d finished, I wanted to break down and cry; I had never been so moved before in my entire life. It made me proud to know there were people like him still in the world after all that had happened; and I felt a shame within me, knowing I didn’t share the qualities he possessed that day. It still shames me to admit that I feel I still don’t; even after all this time.”
“So, in answer to your question, Commander,” she went on with quiet conviction. “No, I don’t think he, of all people, would turn rogue. The day I believe it, will be the day I resign, find a secluded convent somewhere and become a nun.
“Does that answer your question, Commander?” she asked in a more normal voice.
“What about you? Do you believe he went rogue?”
“Of course not,” he answered, a mix of shock and insult in his voice.
“I know you don’t,” she said placidly. “And I know you asked because you were being efficient. It’s the reason I assigned you and your team for this job. All of you are trustworthy and know him best. I have the utmost confidence in you, Commander.”
“Thank you, Ma’am.”
She must have sensed the hesitation in his voice.
“What is it Commander?”
“Does anyone suspect anything about his disappearance?”
“Only the Senior Commanders and Section Leaders know he’s missing,” she answered. “Everyone else thinks he’s on one of those missions that will add to his growing living legend status.”
The man chuckled, “Well, he is a legend.”
“I know,” she replied, a hint of a smile in her voice. “He’s also one of our best, if not the best, operatives we have on staff. Even more reason to find him.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll find him. One way or another.”
“I know you will, Commander,” she said with a sigh. “When you find him, please pass a message on to him for me.”
“Tell him his family loves him and needs him to come home.”
“I’ll pass that on.”
“There is one other thing you must tell him, if nothing else, Commander.”
“Yes, Ma’am?” the man asked after a slight pause when she didn’t go on. “What would the message be?”
“‘Uxbridge’,” she said almost softly.
“Yes, Commander,” she said firmly and clearly. “‘Uxbridge’.”
“Got it, ‘Uxbridge’,” the man confirmed. “I’ll make sure he gets that message above all.”
“Right, then Commander,” she said decisively. “Check back with me in twelve hours. Sooner if you find him. Good luck.”
Just like that, she ended the conversation, and the man heard the distinct click of the call being ended.
The man held the now silent phone in his hand, contemplating the phone conversation for a moment before he placed it back on his belt. Then, he went back to the bed and sat down, pushing aside the valise. And sat considering the briefcase for a moment before pulling it to him. His strict orders were to give the contents of the briefcase to his quarry once it’s determined he was alive and well.
With a sigh, he worked the built-in combination lock, providing the proper sequence and opened the briefcase. Inside was a hardback book, several composition book-sized journals and a simple jewelry box that fit in the palm of his hand.
He pulled out the box first and examined it before opening it. Inside was a necklace. The necklace, itself, was simply made. The simple, plain beads, once shiny in their various colors, were now dull and lifeless in appearance; placed to emphasize the tiger claw, also dull. Its luster having long since faded with time. The necklace was an antique, and a prized family heirloom. The man, as he held it, almost thought he heard a female’s voice. One filled with worry and loss.
Setting the necklace aside, he pulled out the hardback book. It was much battered and well read. He could just make out the title of the book and its author. “The Adventures of Sir Roger and Lady Jasmine Bixby, by William Anthony Nall”. On the back jacket of the book was a head shot of the author. It showed the face of a man of Anglo-Indian descent, about twenty-five years of age. The eyes in the picture were almost piercing as they gazed at the viewer, but also showed an intelligence that few could match. He opened the front cover and read the simple note scribbled on the first blank page. “To Corey” and signed with the initials “RBP”.
Closing the book, he placed it back inside the briefcase and set the necklace, back in its box, on top of the book. He then reached for the journals. He had been through them several times already, since the start of this assignment, looking for clues as to the possible whereabouts of the owner of these items.
The journals, for the past several weeks, had been his guide, taking him, step-by-step, to each place named, hoping to find his elusive prey. Now, he was in the last place mentioned. Well at least in the same city.
He glanced at his watch again. The remaining three members, with an additional possible fourth, of his team wouldn’t be arriving for another six hours. They had orders to meet him here if they hadn’t heard of his success before then. He would need their help. All of them.
All the absent team members had gone through Basic with the missing person; he was the team’s true leader. They had been with the missing man in their early days of training, gaining well deserved attention when the training assignment they’d been on had gone terribly wrong.
Each in their own way gained the admiration of their peers and superiors. But it was their leader’s star who shone the brightest. The others were perceived to be the support mechanism behind much of the subject’s success. Not one to stand in the limelight by himself, the missing team leader always shared his success with his teammates. In fact, he was reluctant to be in said limelight. But knowing he had become a symbol personified throughout the Organization, he accepted the laurels offered him with grace and humility. It was his way. A way that has added to his legendary status.
Knowing he had plenty of time, the man closed the briefcase, leaving the journals on the bed. He set the valise and briefcase on the floor, kicked off his shoes and picked up the first journal.
Inside the journal, as he opened it, were several folded sheets of paper attached to the inside cover. He unfolded the papers. The topmost dated June 12, 1999. Reading over the papers he saw, once again, the now familiar brief sketch of the missing man, his lineage and some comments about him. All of which he had long since committed to memory.
After reading the pages, he folded them back into place and turned over the first page of the journal.
He started reading... from the beginning... again.