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Chapter 7 - Bloom

ACT II

Chapter 7 –

Special Agent Quinn

FBI Command Center, Oklahoma City.

7:43 P.M.

Let’s see here, I’ve been awake for nearly 48 hours, and I’ve worked almost all of that. It’s not even Saturday yet, and I have 25 hours of overtime. Maybe I’ll buy that jet ski I’ve been eyeballing for the past two months. But then again if we don’t fix this, it won’t matter. The timer on my watch tells us we have only 64 hours left. The quota I’m sure will continue to drop.

We hit the jackpot at the school, not only did we uncover personal information about Sasha but they had files on the other three as well. All of the pieces We needed were in front of us; we just had to assemble in exactly the right way.

“Damn it, Harry. Where the hell is that pilot at? He’s wasting valuable time.”

“Everything costs a little more time Quinn; things aren’t exactly getting better. You heard about the power station in Virginia.”

I couldn’t hold my patience anymore; we had to reach this girl. I flung my chair out from underneath me and began to pack my briefcase.

“Quinn? Whoa, whoa, what are you doing?”

“I’m not waiting for the military to show up and take control of our investigation.”

“They already have Andrew. We just haven’t met them yet.”

I walked up to Harry and poked him with my finger. “I refuse to lose any more time. That is our only ally right now. The people in this are the only ones who know of the girl’s identity right?”

“For now.”

“Let’s make damn sure we keep it that way. Hey, Arnold?”

“Yeah Quinn?” Arnold inquired from across the gym floor.

“I want you to go out back and bring me the fastest car we have parked outside!”

“That’s mine though!”

“It’s for the greater good! Your car is the only thing that can catch up to this girl on time! That’s an order; I’m not waiting for this pilot anymore!”

Harry looked at me and simply nodded no words needed to exchange between us. And he began to pack up his things. I felt a sort of foul stench in the air just as I was about to reach the door. Harry was scurrying behind me to get everything together. Then I saw him burst through those double doors with a team of a dozen other soldiers. I knew our confrontation would be inevitable, but this was too soon.

“Going somewhere?” He asked.

Harry saw the military’s entrance, and he tripped over a chair. He would forget something crucial when he did, and I wish I wouldn’t have been so distracted, or I would have noticed.

“Yeah, me and my partner here need to grab a bite to eat. We’ve been working nonstop chasing this lead for the past 6 hours.”

He smiled and patted me on the shoulder. “Excellent, why don’t you bring us up to speed while my men set up their stations. You got a place for us?”

“Well, you’re taking over aren’t ya? We got some witnesses to interview. Take our desk in the center in there. I can’t stand sitting in that godforsaken chair anymore.”

“Doesn’t the bureau have dress policy? That hair is something else son, but I get it.”

“It comes with seniority on the job. I’m sure you understand sir.”

After subtly exchanging insults I glared at him and saw him staring at my hair as if he understood. I suppose it wasn’t strange to him considering he was 60 years old; he had already passed his mid-life crisis. I read his file; we knew who was going to show up, we wouldn’t be pretty poor agents if we didn’t.

“The name’s Agent Andrew Quinn, this is my boss Agent Harry Westin.”

“Colonel Jimmy Gable. Air Force Communications.” I have a few questions to ask you two before we get to work.”

Understand I never wanted to hide information from my government. But I did not trust our good colonel here. This man joined the Air Force at 18, Graduated in top five of his class at WestPoint. And after that his file is completely blacked out, it was far beyond my clearance level. All I know is that he’s been in the Air Force for 42 years, he does something with the military’s communication satellites, and that he is one of highest people on their payroll. God only knows the things he has to lose from this crisis. And also, I cannot trust a man without a past.

Then I saw Arnold pull up out front, a black charger, and I remembered our contingency plan for when the military arrived, I just had to think of an excuse to leave.

“You know that time is a resource we cannot afford to lose Colonel. With all due respect, our colleagues here can answer any questions you have.” I waved out to the high school’s gymnasium, and the twenty other agents nodded and took in my silent cue. No mention of Sasha, we did not put her on paper anywhere, except for the files that were in our briefcases.

Colonel Gable nodded reluctantly and idly brushed by and let us through. “Well, I can’t very well interrupt your investigation can I?” I could tell he asked that suspiciously “We’ll update you immediately if we find anything, sir.” I said as we hastily made our way to the car.

“I’m sure you will Agent Quinn. Look forward to working with you and Agent Westin.”

“Likewise sir.”

He then stopped me; he gripped my arm before I walked out. It did not feel like the grip of a man who sat behind a desk. “Just one minute Agent Quinn.”

I could feel that he already knew we were deceiving him. This one had a formidable sense for detection. I started to sweat as he took a few moments and finally asked his question.

“I want a delicious cheeseburger. Where’s a good place?”

I hid my relief; I could not afford to give him any more hints. “We went Nic’s Grill earlier this afternoon, phenomenal food. Check it out.”

“I will. We’ll discuss some proceedings when you two get back.”

“Of course.”

We escaped the frying pan, and I made sure we were out of earshot before I would make my next comment. “Harry, you know damn well we aren’t coming back.”

“Got a girl to chase Quinn.”

“Damn right.”

I walked over to Arnold in the driver seat and waved to him. “I’m driving! Get in the back.” Arnold shook his head; it must suck to take orders from a dickhead like me. His boss just made him sit in the backseat of his own car. We wasted no time getting on the road. I slammed on the gas and began to go as fast as we safely could.

“Jesus Christ! Slow down Quinn!”

“Shut up Arnold. Does this thing have a full tank of gas?”

“Just filled it this morning.”

“Didn’t I tell you to shut up?”

“But you asked me.”

“Arnold shut up! What’s the plan here Andrew?” I shrugged at Harry’s question and jumped a curb in the charger to avoid a traffic-infested intersection. I saw Arnold squirm in the backseat. This kid stole a love interest from me this summer, so, he and I weren’t exactly on the best of terms. And I like to hold grudges over petty shit sometimes. I’m too old to be single.

“This car tops out at 150 I’m guessing. We can go about an average of 120 on the highway, sirens the whole way. Sasha and the others should be in Springville right now, which is four hours away. Where they are going, it will take us half the time as long as we can keep a high speed.”

“Great. Fucking great, don’t kill us please.”

“Arnold you talk far too much. So we’ll meet up with them in Saint Louis?”

“Yes, radio ahead to our friends in Tulsa to do the same thing, they can be our scouts, and they’ll be able to get a jump on them and maybe even spot Sasha before they drive into Saint Louis.”

“And we’ll grab her before the military even knows who she is.”

“Yes, Harry. But we won’t have a lot of time before that happens. We should not make the mistake of underestimating the colonel, so let’s get this done as fast as possible. Buckle in.”

*****

I’ve been in this damned car for 5 hours, and I’m already regretting this journey. For the first hour, Courtney and Trevor begged me to turn on their phones, and out of spite, and also because I knew he needed it more than anyone else, I turned on Floyd’s phone.

They weren’t too happy about it, but they accepted it nonetheless, the rest of the time we spent awkwardly in the car. I think after about 4 hours of hearing Trevor trying to strike up a conversation that Courtney decided to lash out at him.

“We should’ve stopped in Springfield for food. I’m dying here.”

“You know Trevor you might be the fakest dude I’ve ever met.”

Trevor turned to her and looked at her cockeyed; I thought he was going to slap her. I wanted him to I still hated every word that came out of her mouth. If it wasn’t for Floyd’s music drowning out every word she spoke I probably would’ve done it myself before leaving Oklahoma City.

“What did you say?”

“I didn’t stutter. I said you are fake. You hate everything about every single person in school. We all see in on your twitter feeds, all your comments. Why are you trying so hard to get along with everyone?”

Trevor sighed and shook his head; he seemed unsurprised by Courtney’s lack of perspective. “The internet was always a place where I could pretend to be someone else. We have no choice but to get along with each Courtney. Ever since what happened I’ve wanted so badly to make friends, but when everyone blamed me for what I did, I changed.”

“You did something terrible, Trevor. And somehow you got away with it. You don’t deserve to be liked by anyone.”

Trevor barked back at Courtney “the people of the court said I wasn’t at fault and says who? You? You’re the biggest bitch in the whole school, the only reason you have any friends is because they use you. They only like you for your wealthy parents and all the perks they provide you with; If I were rich, I would never be like you.”

“Oh, I’m sorry Trev are you jealous of me?”

“How could anyone be jealous of a coke-whore who’ll drop out of her final semester due to drug addictions?”

Courtney’s lip vibrated intensely; I could see the rage building in her face. “You should’ve died along with your sister. You’re such a loser that you can’t even kill yourself right.”

Trevor completely lost his integrity for holding back and punched Courtney over and over. They bumped into Floyd, and he began swerving all over the road. I jumped to hold Trevor back and yelled at Courtney.

“God damn it! I’m done! Pull over Floyd! We’re ditching these two on the side of the road!”

Floyd began to slow down and signal over to the shoulder of the freeway, Trevor was tearing up, fiercely trying to escape my hold and attack Courtney some more. “It was people like you that made us try! You have no idea what I’ve been through!”

I held Trevor as he began to sob, his episode was authentic, I remembered after hearing their argument. Two years ago Trevor and his sister attempted to commit suicide. I didn’t know the details, but he was similar to me. A bully was charged with first-degree manslaughter; he was making their lives a living hell at school. But Trevor was the one who ultimately convinced her to pull the trigger.

Floyd stopped the car and looked back to us.

“Sasha please, I beg you. I know you’ve done a terrible thing, but so have I. This scar forever reminds me of what I’ve done.” He pulled his v-neck over and showed us a bullet wound in his shoulder. “I need this just as much as you. It’s her we should ditch.”

I agreed with Trevor, plus I could always relate to him more. What value did Courtney have to me? She wasn’t damaged like us; she was picture perfect, I didn’t care if Courtney told anymore, all she did was cause problems.

“I’ll tell the whole world about you, Sasha.” Courtney pulled that card once again, but it wouldn’t work a second time.

“Go ahead! That’s a risk we’re all willing to take if it gets you out of this car.”

“But, you can’t.”

“I am! Get out Courtney!”

Then very unexpectedly Floyd stood up for Courtney speaking with his vocalizer. “Let’s give her one more chance.”

“Floyd? Are you serious? Her of all people? She is the last one who deserves a second chance.”

“Everyone deserves a second chance, Sasha. If she can’t convince you then, we’ll leave her.”

I hesitantly then rolled my head over to her. Floyd was right, as much as I hated her, I wanted to prove I wasn’t as heartless. So Courtney’s fate on our journey rested with me. “You sure do know a lot about all of us Courtney. But we don’t know a lot about you; it’s time for you to tell us.”

I saw Courtney squirm, nowhere to go; she couldn’t lie. She had no choice but to let go. “I’ll tell you. But please give me time. I’ve never told anyone before. I live in hell every day of my life. The school is the only way I escape, every hour I’m away from my house is a fucking blessing. At least what happened to all of you happened in the past. I live it every day!”

Sign language is very useful to learn to tell if people are lying, and she was a bad one. I could tell she would’ve held this back unless it was a last resort. She didn’t want anyone to know; she couldn’t ask for help, her helplessness turned her into a monster.

“You did and said a lot of terrible things to us, Courtney; you have no right to criticize any of us. Why should I forgive you?”

She grabbed my hand softly, and I saw that wall she put up around herself start to peel away, it revealed a better part of her. “Look, Sasha, I know it’s impossible for any of you to feel sorry for me. I have no real friends; my parents don’t give a shit about me, no one loves me. That’s why I do drugs, that’s why I’m so cruel. It’s the only release I can find. I just want a chance to change that. Please, Sasha, give me one more chance. I promise I’ll behave, I promise I’ll change.”

“I’ve heard that before,” I said still not convinced.

“Look.” Courtney then threw her phone out the car window, and it landed in the middle of traffic.

“That was me. Just like I’m addicted to everything else I am addicted to my phone. All the social media accounts, all of the other bullshit. All I want is enough money to move out of Oklahoma so I can get away from that hell I call a home.”

Even knowing I may have eventually fixed her phone she threw it away. I understood her pain, and I definitely understood her need for time to tell us about her private life. We are all damaged in some way. But I felt good about giving her a chance to prove herself.

“So? Are we good Sasha?”

“Yeah. I guess.”

She smiled, and Floyd started up the car and signaled to get back on the freeway. Trevor finally broke his silence. “So much emotion! It’s almost like we’re some kind of fucked up family. I love it, let’s go, Boston!”

My phone then pinged.

Battery Low.

“Do either of you have a charger, Floyd has an entirely different phone than me.”

“Maybe if you would’ve fixed my phone I would’ve brought it.”

“Floyd stop at the next gas station. I don’t think it’ll be good if my phone dies.” And sure enough, it heard my question.

If this phone turns off, so will I.

5 percent. Danger close. I couldn’t let this journey end now; I was just starting to enjoy myself. Floyd quickly sped up and took the next exit he saw.

I don’t know why Floyd had to choose what seemed to be the largest and most populated gas station in all of Oklahoma. The place was packed when we walked in. Standing in a line of about a dozen people I was looking at the phone chargers with Floyd while Courtney and Trevor were getting coffee.

“Cherries jubilee, or sea salt caramel?”

“Just drink it black, you’ll have fewer decisions to make.”

“See I have standards unlike you and I like my coffee to taste delicious and not like liquid garbage.” Trevor shook his head and spread his philosophy to Courtney. “Courtney being addicted to coffee is exactly the same as being addicted to crack. You can smoke good crack, or you can smoke bad crack, but at the end of the day, you just need to smoke some fucking crack.”

“Well if I did smoke crack, I would have to put cherries jubilee in there somewhere. Thanks, Trev, you made my decision easier.”

“No problem.”

I shook my head, and as they walked in line behind us, the cashier was ready to ring us up. I placed five portable chargers, two car chargers and multiple cords that fit my phone in front of him. He looked at me as if I was insane; I imagined how weird it must’ve looked to him and the people in line behind us.

“You know that won’t work right?”

“So you’ve already given up?” I reached into my bag to grab a 100 dollar bill to pay for all of this. Courtney and Trevor got coffee, but of course, they didn’t have any money. So they pushed through Floyd, and I and placed their coffees on the table. And when they did they bumped me just right, and my phone flew out of my bag and landed directly in front of the cashier.

All four of us froze.

I began to sweat profusely, how could I possibly explain this? The only way out would be the truth, anything less they would suspect us to be responsible.

“You? You got it to work?” The cashier asked as I quickly snatched my phone off the counter and left the bill, trying as hard as could to make it out of there before a scene would occur. “Here keep the change, We’ve gotta go.” When I tried to leave he grabbed my arm, and Floyd caught his. We were in a standoff, and now everyone in the store could see my working phone.

“I’m not going to hurt her man. I just need to know. We can’t call for help; we can’t find out what’s going on. We’re all blind, and freaking out. And I see you here with a working phone. How did you do that?”

I knew that eventually this was bound to happen, I just didn’t think it’d be hours into our journey. What would a dozen people at a gas station say? So I decided to relieve their tension. “It’s not the end of the world. This is a virus that’s doing this to your phones and computers, and we’re going fix it. Anyone who still has a phone gather here.”

The cashier leaped from behind the counter and collected in a circle with the other customers.

“Now what?” they asked completely distracted they didn’t notice that Courtney was stealing a pack of cigarettes from behind the counter.

“Hold your phones up so I can take a picture.” I could see the wonder, and hope glimmer in their facial expressions their eyes all opened wide when I held the phone up and took that picture. And just as it had done before with my uncle, Sam, and Floyd, it healed all of their phones. I relieved them of their worry, but still, I knew we had to leave as soon as possible.

“Don’t tell anyone about this! We’re trying to keep this a secret.”

“What’s your name?”

“Please miss we need to know!”

I smiled very faintly as I signaled Floyd to go out and start the car. “My name’s Sasha Taylor. And we found a way to fix this. I’m sorry, but we have to go.”

“Thank you! We will remember you!”

We quickly ran out to the car parked at the pump and Floyd took off. Every second longer we spent there meant our exposure. We would just have to get gas at the next stop. I wasn’t mad at Courtney and Trevor like I thought I would be. What happened in there felt good, it felt great. Like I was reconnecting the world one cell phone at a time. But then the dread hit me; soon the entire world would soon find out about the power I held in my hand. It’s horrifying to think how easily this situation could be misconstrued. Nonetheless, we pushed on, four hours until we reach Saint Louis.

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