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Chapter 13 - Applewood

Chapters 13

Floyd Taylor

Montage Mountain Main Stage

7:14 P.M.

A lot of people think that just because I can’t speak that I’m unable to communicate. The more dimwitted people think that just because I can’t speak that I can’t hear. That is the furthest from the truth; I can hear better than 99 percent of people. And that’s why I think I gravitate to music so much. This moment Sasha gave, this feeling, transcends language, impossible to describe with our limited vocabulary.

Its 20-minute duration was enough to distract me beyond repair; I was so caught up in the moment that I forgot the significance of our current reality. I looked off to the right where Sasha would be, and I couldn’t see her. I stopped dancing immediately and looked to the crowd walking up to the middle of the stage.

I signed: “Sasha step to the back and wave if you’re in the crowd.”

The crowd went wild, thought I was signing to them or dancing. I ignored their praise. Sasha couldn’t have left me, I would feel like a little boy who lost his mother at the store. So I waited and waited. Five excruciating minutes of anxiety later I was starting to freak out. I began to think to myself.

“What if something happened to them? What if they were captured? We did draw some attention to ourselves when we were tackled, what if someone saw us?”

As I walked off stage one of the musicians called back to me: “That was incredible what your friend did. Come by the studio anytime man!” I gave him a thumbs-up, I didn’t have the time to think about my future, it would be meaningless without Sasha. I was hoping they were just around the corner of the stage; they weren’t. If they weren’t at the food court, I wouldn’t know what to do.

I hastily walked to the food portion of the festival, scoured every booth, nothing. This was my worst nightmare, being alone. And not being able to call for help. A dream I used to have as a child, come to life in a terrifying manifestation. It was like someone was holding a pillow over my face – suffocating. I swear if I could only use my voice just this once.

But nothing came out, and I began to cry.

That’s when I remembered.

My phone is working.

The vocalizer was my only hope. I had to consult it. So, I typed in my words and turned my volume all the way up.

“Help.”

“Please. Help.”

I asked for help with my phone completely risking exposure, but I had no choice, and still, it didn’t work. Everyone idly brushed pass me, and occasionally I caught a glance, but they all looked at me like I was a disabled person. Not that I wasn’t; but I was sick of the world perceiving me that way. And these thoughts began to anger me when I looked around and saw that nobody was responding to my cry for help. Music is my voice, but it will only work if others can understand how I speak first. Damn it; I’m so fucked.

I was trembling at that lingering idea, such an awful thought.

The fear was starting to settle in when I felt the hand of sincere intention on my shoulder. I turned around and saw an older man with white hair in a black suit.

“Hello. Are you Floyd Taylor?”

I nodded to him.

“Hi, son. We didn’t mean to scare you; we were ordered to wait till you got off the stage to bring you in.”

This would take more than the mere notions of nodding and shaking my head. I had to use my phone; I saw them looking at it. Whoever they were they had Sasha. It was necessary.

“Who are you? Where is Sasha?”

“Relax son; We’re the F.B.I., Sasha is safe, we’re charged with escorting you to Virgil’s destination.”

I looked at him sensing some suspicious nature about him. “You already know everything huh?” He laughed slightly as he calmly began to lead me out of the festival.

“Sasha told us everything son. Let’s get you to her before she starts to worry.” I thought I saw a malicious grin come out of his mouth as we made our leave. I couldn’t be sure; it wasn’t until I got to their car that I knew they were legitimate. Government plates and their uniforms were convincing enough. I should’ve known they would catch up to us eventually. I was just hoping we shared the same goals.

*****

Sitting across from him at the booth in that diner I was sure that he would go with us, I had no choice; I told him everything. I even asked VIRGIL if he was a real agent, he completely checked out. He was rubbing his face incessantly and randomly staring off into nothing. And his eyes were drooping; I knew that look. He had been awake for days. He was struggling to comprehend what I had just told him when the waitress brought him his order.

“Here’s your coffee sir.”

“Three shots of espresso?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Excellent, love your accent by the way.” The waitress nodded to him, and we all stared at him for nearly half-a-minute while he chugged an entire cup of coffee. Maybe he did it to give us all, or give himself, a moment to think or maybe he wouldn’t have able to stay awake without it.

“Whew!” He slammed the cup down on the table and leaned in towards me. “Okay. Okay. Here’s the thing Sasha.”

“Yeah?” I knew there would be a catch.

“Nationwide blackouts will start shortly after nightfall, and I can’t bring you in if the nation is tearing itself apart.”

“Will people really freak out that bad if they lose their power?” I asked.

“Days after Hurricane Katrina, people were shooting at the helicopters bringing them supplies. This is an entire nation; we can’t afford to find out. This country’s hope is being sewn by you Sasha, everyone believes in you. Just before the radios went down, you’re all they talked about. We will take you to Boston. In fact, that looks like we’re going to Cambridge doesn’t it Harry?”

“M.I.T.?”

“I think so, Harry. We’ll take you to this destination, but afterward, we do have to take you in.”

Afraid of what the government had in store for me, I had my concerns, and they were hardly small. I was still shaken up from being captured, and Courtney and Trevor hadn’t spoken a word since our “arrest” Courtney called it.

I nudged both of them while the waitress came up and refilled Quinn’s coffee. “Will you two relax? At least they’re on our side.”

“Like bodyguards?” Trevor asked nervously.

“Exactly.”

I wonder how it felt for them – they had been chasing us non-stop for over 24 hours, and now they were our security detail. “I just have one question.”

“Yes, Sasha?”

“Do we have any reason to be worried? What are you going to do with us after all of this?”

Agent Harry sitting next to Quinn leaned in sensing my distrust. I’m sure he connected with that, he needed to prove their devotion to me. “Look, if you’ve done nothing wrong, then you have nothing to fear. We just want what is responsible for this, and now we know it’s not you. We are invested as you to get the bottom of this. You can trust us.”

“But can we trust that thing living in Agent Quinn’s hair?” Courtney blared out, and we all laughed slightly at his expense. He had almost no reaction, all that came out was a sigh as took another sip of his coffee gazing out into the wild setting of Pennsylvania’s northeastern mountains.

“You kids let the F.B.I. worry about Agent Quinn’s clown haircut.”

“Okay! I get it!”

“I’m worried about my cousin.”

“Don’t worry he’ll be here soon; my men are bringing him. In fact, they should be here any minute.” Pensky looked at his watch and stood up cracking his neck.“I need to piss boys.” Agent Pensky slapped the booth behind us and headed towards the back. The short agent then followed his lead but headed towards the door.

“Where are you going, Arnold?”

“I left something in the car. And I want to watch the sunset over the mountains.”

“I’ll get a take-out box for you then. You need the keys?”

“I left it unlocked Quinn.”

Arnold leaped out the door and headed towards his car. We stood there and took a minute to acknowledge the shift in our journey consciously. It was a reflective moment, and honestly, it was a good thing they found us. What happened at the intersection earlier was horrifying, and I don’t ever want to go through that again.

*****

Special Agent Quinn

Applewood Diner - Outside Scranton Pennsylvania.

7:44 p.m.

I finally felt relieved. Like I could finally rest. It felt sensational to accomplish our mission. Now only one remained, get Sasha to MIT and end this. Pensky’s guys needed to hurry up, every second we spent waiting for them shortened the distance between Gable and us. But since we hadn’t heard from him for awhile I figured we threw him off quite a bit. I’m sure the communications blackout stunted his progress, or I hoped at least.

“We did it, Harry.”

“Yes, we did Quinn.”

I yawned and looked out the window over Harry and saw two vehicles drive into the lot. Pensky’s guys had shown up right on time. Eight men stepped out of the cars four of them wearing agent uniforms. I thought Pensky said there would be four but I appreciated the backup. I’m sure they understood the importance of this mission.

“Look Harry.”

“Yup, I see the kid.”

“Hey, waitress! Can we get our food to-go?”

I inhaled the rest of my coffee and wiped the drips of it off my filthy undershirt. Floyd flew through that diner door and ran to Sasha the moment he saw her. It was a warm reunion. Now that we were all united we could finally get back on the road.

But something was very wrong.

I felt a disturbance in the air; I’m not sure what triggered it.

As Floyd was talking to Sasha and the other two with the robot voice on his phone I felt my stomach churn and I looked out the window to see if Arnold was still by the car. He was nowhere to be found. What happened to him? Instinct has never failed me before; the air was thick, so I signaled to Harry right as we stood up.

“Unholster your weapon, Harry.”

“What?”

“Just do it, Harry. Something doesn’t feel right.”

“Everything is going to plan.”

“My point exactly Harry.”

Harry nodded and we both un-holstered our sidearms. I’m glad the feeling was mutual, and the suspense was starting to kill me.

When the next man walked through that door, I found I had every reason to be anxious. It was Gable in an F.B.I. Uniform along with his seven other goons. I dropped my guard, and it killed us.

I failed.

Floyd had no idea, but why would he? And where the fuck was Arnold, my head started spinning, and I felt my whole world vibrate violently. Gable walking into the diner immediately caught eye contact with me and approached.

“Hello. Must you be Agent Quinn? Agent Allen, happy to help reunite the family.” Gable glared at me, and I disgustedly shook his hand. I knew what he was doing, I could not alarm Sasha, and I’m sure he had his other four men watch the exits. There would be no escape this time.

“Yeah. Pleased to meet you.”

“Let’s take a seat.”

We sat back down in the booth; the Sergeant took the inside and Gable sat directly in front of me. How in the fuck did he find us? He must have been following us this whole time. Maybe he had always been one step ahead of us.

The waitress then interrupted our reunion with the colonel and brought us our take-out food. She set it in front of me, and I began to go through it, checking the contents.

“That’ll be sixty-seven dollars and 82 cents.”

I began to go through my wallet when Gable insisted. “Here you go, miss.” He said as he handed the waitress a hundred dollar bill. “Keep the change, but could you bring me a cup of coffee?”

“Thank you. Cream or sugar?”

“Neither. I’ll take whatever is in the pot.”

“One moment sir.”

I sat there. Perplexed, we were fucked. I didn’t know what to say, I wanted Gable to speak first, but he was just staring at me, patiently waiting for his coffee. It was his way gloating to me, and it was like torture. Every minute, every second of this was excruciating. Maybe we can still find a way out of this; I just need to know what his plans are.

After what seemed to be like the longest moment of my existence. The waitress brought Gable his coffee, he thanked her and took a sip.

“Now that’s some damn good coffee.”

“So, what now Gable?”

He took another sip of his coffee and slowly set the cup on the table, adjusting his posture before he would speak to us again. “You’ve done your job wonderfully. Now it’s time for me to take over this investigation, are you listening?”

“Yes,” I answered.

“Good. I don’t like to repeat myself so please, try and pay attention. I will forgive all of the treacheries; I will forgive all of the lies if you hand the girl over to me.”

I leaned forward and slammed my fist on the table. “That’s not going to happen.” Especially considering the lengths, we had to go to catch her.

“You have no choice, Quinn. My men outnumber you four to one. There are only two ways this plays out.”

“Quinn, we have to do what he says.” Harry was right, but Gable was wrong about one thing. I guess he didn’t know Pensky and Arnold were with us. Still, they had us 2 to 1, but I liked those odds a lot better. From the corner of my eye, I saw Pensky walk out of the bathroom – he looked over at our booth and saw that his men had been replaced by imposters. Without a second glance, he knew something was amiss, he nodded to me and receded into the bathroom.

“Okay we’ll hand her over – but you’re taking us with you.”

Gable shook his head taking a final sip of his coffee. “We can accommodate you; you’ll have to follow the rules. And I know,” he said as he touched my nose looking at my hair “I know that you like to break them.”

“I have two questions for you Gable.” Harry inquired.

“Ask away.”

“One, are you really in Air Force Communications?”

“Of course Harry. But I also serve a private sector in developing state of the art technology; I guess you can say I helped create this “virus” but you’ll soon learn it’s less of a virus and more of a cure.”

“Two, what did you do with Agent Allen?”

“I killed him; I shot him in the head. I then used his contacts, and that led me directly to you. Ironic, your reinforcements were your downfall – you may have eluded me if you didn’t call them in. And now a good agent is dead because of it.”

“They’ll hang you for this Gable.”

Gable smirked and signaled to his men to prepare our leave. “No Harry, when I bring Sasha to the source I will own the government, and so much more. If you stand in my way, you two will end up exactly like Agent Allen. Do you understand?”

“Yes.” I reluctantly nodded my head.

“Okay then.” He adjusted his tie and whispered to Harry and I before he would stand up. “We’re going to make our leave. Sasha doesn’t have to know about this. Stand up and follow my lead.”

Sasha did need to know. I couldn’t let him take control; he was just as bad as I made him out to be. Worse, he knew what was at M.I.T., and we did not. For the first time on this mission, we were helpless, completely at the mercy of the very man, we tried so hard to outrun. And while we were trying to outrun him all he had to do was outsmart us.

Gable and his men stood up, and we followed suit. I saw Pensky peak out the window. We were we willing to risk everything to take control of it again. And wherever Arnold is hiding, he better come through cleverly, we won’t succeed without him.

*****

We walked out of the restaurant, something was wrong – but I couldn’t figure it out. All these agents show up, and Quinn and Harry are completely silent, and it seemed like these new guys were keeping them from us.

We walked down the flight of stairs leading up to the Applewood Diner and headed into the parking lot. The approaching sunset was beautiful; it’s light reflected off the forest, it’s color seamlessly blending into the trees which were also starting to shed their leaves. It was incredibly soothing and aesthetically pleasing, but it still didn’t distract from the invisible tension I was sensing.

Where were the other two agents?

“The black charger right?” The older man asked Quinn.

“Yeah, here.” Quinn threw one of the agents the keys, and they entered Quinn’s car.

“Alright, Sasha you’re riding with me, Harry and Quinn. Mathis will follow us in the charger. Kline and….” The older man was giving orders when Pensky appeared.

“Stop right there Gable!” My heart fell through my chest; it was a betrayal, made all the more evident as all of them drew their guns.

“Gable,” I whispered to myself and looked up to the older man next to us. I heard that name before. I then became paralyzed – the man chasing after us. The man Virgil warned me about.

“And who are you? Quinn’s backup?” Gable scoffed.

“Shut up! I have your man. I will kill him like you killed Allen you bastard.”

I tried to step away from Gable, but he firmly grabbed my arm laughing looking over to Quinn. I stared at my friends and trembled, we were all petrified with confusion and fear.

“This is how you plan to improvise Quinn?”

“I’m sorry Sasha! Everything is going to be alright. I promise.” I nodded to Quinn as tears fell down my face. I stared directly at him – his extremely confident eyes I will never forget. We never broke his concentration as he and Gable were aiming their guns at each other.

“You know? I’ve always said that to achieve success you have to have the will to do what the other person won’t.”

We all stood still, not sure what Gable meant until he turned and fired half a clip of bullets into the man Pensky was holding hostage. The bullets tore through the soldier and Pensky. Brad absorbed several shots to the chest and fell over coughing up a massive amount of blood.

“Sasha get down!”

Pensky fired as he fell over and Harry managed to gun down the agent to his side before taking a shot to the stomach from the Sergeant. He felt the bullet enter his abdomen and he dropped to his knees, blooding pouring from his body. He struggled to stabilize himself on his elbows and knees.

We all dropped to the pavement, bullets flying over our heads. Quinn was shocked by Gable’s move and fired a round at him. Even from Quinn’s shock, his aim was accurate, and his shot took off half his of Gable’s left ear. He covered it groaning in agony. Quinn rushed him, but he wasn’t fast enough. I couldn’t see very well, my head covered, but Gable was also accurate, and Quinn took a bullet to the head and fell flat on his face.

We couldn’t tell if he was alive or dead, it all happened so fast. I just saw Gable step over to him and walk over to Harry clutching his ear, blood streaming down his hand.

“Son of a bitch! What did I tell you would happen, Harry?”

“Go fuck yourself, Jimmy.” Harry tried to draw his weapon again but before he could Gable emptied his clip into Harry’s back, and he fell over to his side. Gable groaned in pain, and his Sergeant ran up to him.

“Sir! Are you alright?”

“I’m fine. Get me a patch kit.” He said as he looked in our direction. His remaining men surrounded us at gunpoint, and he signaled them to bring us to him.

“Take the blonde girl too; I’ll need her if Sasha decides to misbehave like our agents here,” Gable said he kicked Quinn’s limp body.

“No!” Trevor clawed at Courtney as they began to drag us to the cars. These guys weren’t in the mood to fuck around, they immobilized Floyd and Trevor with their tasers and hit Courtney and me in the face with the ends of their guns. I couldn’t process what was going on, and almost losing consciousness from being struck didn’t make my perceptions any easier to realize.

“Look! We don’t have time for this shit! You’re taking us to Boston, Sasha. Let’s roll!” Gable signaled his men to rally up, and they stuffed Courtney and me into the back of a big silver sedan. They wasted no time leaving; I couldn’t struggle I could just see the tears in the eyes of Floyd and Trevor. We were torn from them, kidnapped, this was my greatest fear this journey, and it was coming to life, far more terrifying than I thought it could’ve been.

Only one good thing came out of this. I’d never seen so much blood, so much death, deliberately at the hands of another; I would never consider myself a murderer again after seeing what Gable did to those agents. They didn’t check their vitals before we left, I was hoping one of them had to be alive. At least one, or we were done for.

*****

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