SCREENS

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Chapter 8 - Convergence

Chapter 8 –

Special Agent Quinn

Outside Saint Louis, Missouri

11:47 P.M.

We made better time than I thought. But also we didn’t have the resources to catch Sasha the way we wanted to. Do you have any idea how many Red Jettas are driving through Saint Louis? It’s a lot, too many to keep track of. I wish we would’ve had the time to look up her plate number. If the internet or any computer would’ve been working it would be no problem. But we tried to narrow it down. Red 2006 Jetta with four passengers entering the city from 11:20 – 11:50 P.M. We used every man and woman we could and managed to track down four cars fitting the description.

“Let’s hope this is the one. The others check in Harry?”

“Yeah this is the last one, don’t follow too close.”

“You act like I’ve never tailed anybody before. A couple of unfaithful ex-wives, and all the criminals in-between.”

“Be sure to put that on your resume when you’re applying for my job.”

“Already have Harry.”

I forgot Arnold was sitting in the back; he was pretty upset that was driving his car going nearly 130 the whole way here. He was checking the radios to hear if our suspect was popping up anywhere, that kept him busy for hours, he finally found a signal that the virus had not touched.

“Hey, guys? I got something here!”

Arnold handed Harry the radio, and the newscast began to play.

“A little over four hours ago a young girl with three others stopped at this gas station just outside Springfield Oklahoma. She had with her a working cell phone, and according to the gas station attendant, she had reconnected all their phones. So, what do you think about this sir?” The reporter asked the gas station attendant.

“She seemed to be in a huge hurry; she was hiding that she had a working phone, when It fell out right in front of me I didn’t know what to think. She wanted us to keep this a secret, but others gossip, and here I am talking to you.”

“Do you think she’s responsible for this?”

“I highly doubt a girl in high school has the capability of shutting down the world’s communications. I believe what she told us. She is out to fix it.”

“Thank you. We’ll provide updates as quickly as we can. This is Valeria White, reporter for…”

Harry quickly turned off the radio and threw it back to Arnold who clumsily caught it. “Shit.”

“Now it’s not as bad as it looks Quinn. He didn’t mention her name.”

“Colonel Gable is going to hear this immediately.”

“Then we have to make sure we get to her before anyone else does Andrew. See look they’re getting off at this exit. Go Quinn Go! Stay distant.”

*****

We were all exhausted and barely managed to keep our eyes open. I know that Floyd had never driven this far from his home without his Dad. We had to stop; we needed to rest, I’m sure everyone felt the emotional exhaustion as well. It was one hell of a day. So, I made Floyd get off on the next exit he saw.

“Where are we going?” Courtney asked through her yawn.

“Floyd, Sasha, can we please get something to eat? We gotta stop somewhere.”

I then consulted the oracle that was my phone. “Virgil?”

How may I be of assistance?

“We need a place to rest, eat, at least till the sun rises again.”

Rerouting. Take a left in 0.8 miles.

Little did I know that it was taking us to a five-star hotel where a double room was going for $1500 a night. We parked the car at the valet station and Courtney with giddy with laughter. “Oh my god, look at this place it’s beautiful.

“I would’ve been fine with a crappy motel.”

“You gotta take full advantage of what you have Sasha.”

Courtney held my arm and quickly led us to the hotel. This place was unreal; I never felt so out-of-place in my life when we walked in with our ratty clothes. I’ve never had the luxury of staying in a hotel outside the nightly price tag of a holiday inn; it was pretty overwhelming. The manager was impatiently waiting for us, dressed in a sharp suit, and was already shooting judgmental glares at our group. I’m sure he thought we were in the wrong hotel. Nonetheless, he was polite as we approached the counter.

“How can I help you?”

“We have a reservation for tonight.”

Minutes till midnight it felt strange checking in a hotel of this caliber. “I’m sure you know our computers are down, so we’ll have to see what we have available.”

We waited as the other hotel concierge handed him a list of available rooms, all in hand-written form.

“Okay the only room we have available for four is a penthouse suite. That runs $2,131 a night after tax. And we can only accept cash; I’m sorry for the inconvenience.” I took great satisfaction when I pulled out my bank envelope, how often do you see an 18-year-old girl with thousands of dollars on her person after all?

“That works. I hope large bills are okay.”

I handed him 22 bills, and he promptly checked them to make sure they were real. He nodded with a shocked look on his face over to the bellhop and smiled to us. “Okay then our bellhop here will take your bags, and check-out is 11 a.m. Enjoy your stay.”

“Oh, we will,” Courtney assured the manager I’m she was disgusted that he assumed we weren’t worth this experience. Maybe it would cause her to be less judgmental herself down the road. It was very satisfactory watching the bellhop struggle to take our things to a separate elevator though.

The ride through the glass elevator had us all struck, the city was spectacular at night, and it’s light reflected off the Mississippi River in a brilliant show of light. It didn’t just stop there, the hallway to our room was like something out of a movie, they spared no expense making the corridor seem aesthetically beautiful despite how simple it uses was to its guest, even this hallway felt like an escape, maybe it was the unique light fixtures.

We then walked into an enormous suite, a full living room, two king size beds each with their own bathroom, a full kitchen and bar, and even a washer and dryer. I did not contain the excitement the others did as we walked into the place, even stepping on the imported rug in the door I just smiled. But in a way, I was starting to feel a shred of what happiness was like again. I’d have to be a total recluse to admit that this room didn’t make me feel a little happy.

“Holy. Shit.”

“Sasha! I love you girl!” Courtney giggled as she bounced around the living room.

“Oh my god look at this!” Trevor grabbed a 17th-century sword that was held on the wall and began to swing it in front of Floyd. I then caught Courtney sneaking behind the bar.

“No Courtney!” Courtney broke the lock on the bar cooler and placed the bottle she found inside on top of the elegant countertop.

“Do you know what this is Sasha?”

“Nope. Put it back. We’re not drinking. We have to wake up in seven hours.”

Courtney smiled and continued her attempt to persuade me. “This is Blue Label Scotch.” This is 300 dollars a bottle Sasha.”

“Blue label? Trevor asked as he poked his head around the corner.

“Yeah, Trevor. Hey, Floyd!” Floyd looked up, he was shocked that one of the others acknowledged him, and I was pissed. Floyd walked up to Courtney and poured him and Trevor a few sips into a chilled glass. “He’s never drunk before Courtney! He’s not starting tonight.”

“I think that’s up to him Sasha. Some of us have to let loose. Cheers everyone! To Sasha! The savior of the cell phones!”

“To you Sasha!”

Floyd laughed silently and looked in my direction with his glass raised. I signed to him.

“You sure?”

“Absolutely cousin. It will take a lot for me to get drunk.” He replied with his vocalizer, and the others laughed, ready to take their shot. I sat down on the sectional sofa and nodded to him and raised my hand to be part of their toast. Their glasses clung, and they swallowed their shots.

“Wow.”

“Mhmm, good choice Courtney.”

“I know my drugs. How was your first sip of liquor?”

Floyd answered by grabbing the bottle and pouring another glass for himself. “I think he likes it.”

“Hey don’t drink all of it mute!”

Floyd swigged his glass and typed his words into his phone. “If only you were mute Courtney, maybe we’d like you.” They laughed at Courtney as she snatched the bottle away from Trevor. I even saw her smile slightly.

“I take back all the comments I put on your account Floyd; I like this guy.”

I was glad Floyd was having a good time, maybe if I were a different person I would’ve joined in, but I wanted to have some time for myself. I needed it to think or maybe to say goodbye to what could be the last little alone time I would have before we got back on the road. I needed this, a reflection, something that has always been important to me. So I stood up and addressed the others while they continued to drink.

“I think I’m gonna go out for some fresh air; I saw there’s a balcony on top of this building. If you need me, I’ll be there.”

“See ya later party-pooper!”

*****

Agent Quinn

Downtown Saint Louis, Missouri

12:43 A.M.

“How was your piss?”

“Good Quinn. Could I please sleep in the driver’s seat, if we’re going to wait for her until the morning? I know you’re the boss but please show me a little decency, you wouldn’t have gotten here quickly without me.”

“No. This is your shift. We’re going to get some shut eye.”

We were waiting in the parking garage of the hotel behind the pillar where Sasha’s car was parked. We had it all planned out. When the valet comes in the morning for Sasha’s Jetta, we would flash our badges and commandeer the car, taking her in on the spot. We could’ve busted through to the hotel to her room, but I needed to get some sleep, and no matter what the military would be at least 6 hours behind us, I’ve given Colonel Jimmy Gable till 2 A.M. to learn about Sasha, someone will leak it to him eventually. I’m too old for these sleepless nights anymore. I desperately needed sleep. I was battling my body to stay awake at this point.

“Should’ve brought my pillow, Harry.”

“Get some sleep Quinn; I’m going to try to learn as much about Sasha as I can before we nab her in the morning.”

Flipping through his briefcase I saw Harry’s face light up, but not in a good way. Just before I was about to shut my eyes, he started to turn his briefcase inside out.

“No, no, no, no no!”

“Oh my god Harry! Can’t this wait till the morning?”

“The newspaper article Quinn!” Harry shouted at me as he shook my shoulders to wake me up again. “The newspaper about Sasha’s accident!”

“What about it Harry?” I asked rubbing my eyes.

“It’s gone!”

I became alerted, my slumber would have to wait. “Wait. What the hell do you mean? Did you drop it?”

“I must’ve. Back at the office when I tripped over my chair, I thought I dropped something, but we didn’t have time.”

“Fuck! The Colonel is probably right behind us now.” I slapped my face and took a large swig of my 3-hour old gas station coffee with extra, extra espresso. “Alright, Harry? Arnold? Get ready we’re going in and grabbing her. Are you paying attention, Arnold?”

“Look!” Arnold pointed through our narrow view in the garage. A van drove up to the back of the hotel, certain developments in the past minute triggered my severe paranoia. I know cleaners sometimes come at night, so this was either going to be very bad or nothing at all.

“Binoculars!” I snapped my fingers at Arnold who then handed me them. I zoomed in on the van. They could’ve been freelanced cleaners, and their van stated so but, something seemed off. “What is it, Quinn?”

“Could be cleaners, or it could be our friends from the military.”

“I’m sorry Quinn.”

“I see something, Harry.”

I hate that my instincts are always right. I focused inside of the vehicle, and I saw another man hop out the back also wearing a jumpsuit, but unlike the other cleaner, I saw him give his partner a pistol which he placed in the back of his pants. Our counterparts gave us no time to catch up, and now they were ahead of us by 300 feet.

“Let’s go boys!”

“I just got comfortable!”

“Shut and hurry up Arnold! Sprint to the stairs!”

I cocked my gun and jumped out of the car. Harry and Arnold followed suit and readied themselves. We were going to get this girl; we could not let her fall into their hands. And I was willing to pay any cost to assure that she would be coming with us and not the colonel.

*****

I waved my feet in the infinity pool that belonged to the edge of our hotel. Staring out at the Arch illuminated by the full moon I had some useful reflections. I started to think about my situation tracing back to all of the things my mother and my father had taught me over the years. Maybe, I wasn’t totally at fault for my accident; I realize this when I look at people like Trevor people like Courtney. We all have secrets, we all have pasts, and we all hold regret. It’s how we deal with it that defines us.

As I was enjoying my solitude and clearing state of mind, Trevor surprisingly came up and sat next to me.

“I expected my cousin.”

Trevor smirked and began to take off his socks, lucky the wind was strong up here, so I didn’t have to experience the horrible odor he emitted. “Yeah, well don’t expect him to drive in a few hours.”

“Great.” I shook my head, and Trevor took his place next to me.

“Thank you,” he said.

“For what? You’re the only reason we’re here. You blackmailed me remember?”

“Yeah, but, I didn’t realize this trip would be so transformative you know?”

“Not really.” I did, but I wouldn’t admit it to him.

“Here,” he handed me his drink, and I refused. “Come on Sasha. One sip won’t kill ya.”

I took a sip of scotch, and I found it was very smooth. “Don’t tell me you’ve never drunk before.”

“I have. It’s just been awhile, don’t know if it’ll ever happen again.”

Trevor leaned back and cracked his neck, relaxing as he put his bare feet into the pool. “After I tried to kill myself, I stopped going to parties too.”

“What happened exactly? Unless you don’t want to share.”

“I’ll learn ya a little bit. I can finally talk about it without shedding tears.” I could tell he wanted to share it with me, and honestly, I’m glad he did, because after I had heard his tale, my life felt a little less lonely. “I came out two years ago. We used to go to a private school, so it wasn’t an accepted thing in that kind of environment. My sister took the flak too because she also only liked girls.”

“I always thought you were gay.”

“I never tried to hide it, Sasha. Anyway, we were targeted by this bully; he said horrible things about us. We told the Principal, the other teachers, but nobody listened because this bully was a star athlete operating under a screen name. He was a troll.”

“You didn’t think to tell your parents?”

Trevor scoffed at my remark “my parents are meth heads, my father sold drugs to “his family” Chinese-American gangsters, and my mother molested both of us.”

“You had no relief.”

“Nothing, Sasha, there was no escape not at school, not at home. We couldn’t breathe. My sister said we were suffocating. So I came up with the idea to end it all. I put our father’s gun to my sisters head, and after writing our suicide notes on a Facebook post, she pressed the gun against her head and pulled the trigger.”

“How do you survive a shot to the head?”

“You don’t. I didn’t get shot in the head. The bullet went through her skull but changed paths and exited through her neck and the bullet got stuck in my arm. Life is full of surprises.”

“My god Trevor.”

He had to be one of the most tragic people I’ve ever met. His story moved me; it was worse than my own, I understood why he never trolled me. I killed my only family just like he killed his. Now here we are, both full of regret.

“What happened after that?”

“Police came by and threw my parents in prison for nearly a dozen charges. The bully’s account was traced he was charged too, and the principal of my old school was fired for his negligence. I went to live with my grandmother in Oklahoma City after that. Everything and everyone was on my side for once in my life; I did nothing with it. As much my grandma and the other members of my family tried to rehabilitate me I accepted none of their help. Shit, I couldn’t even kill myself right. Sometimes I wish I had. I think about it every day.”

“How did you get over that?”

“You don’t get over things like that Sasha. You just survive, we’re survivors you and I. It’s how we deal with the pain. You separate yourself from everyone and wade in your grief, and I take on the form of a social media troll, someone who drove me to kill myself.”

We then sat in silence as we took in the night air, the waves of light from under the water bathed us as we sat and reflected. After a minute I wanted to break the silence.

“Survivors.”

“Survivors Sasha. But maybe we don’t have to be now; maybe we can build something to fill those holes inside of us. I know one day I want to look back and say I did more than survive.”

“Me too.”

He jumped up and offered his hand to me, just as I had when I knocked him down yesterday. “Well now for the real reason I came up here. Floyd and Courtney are wasted, they drank that whole bottle. So how do you want to deal with this?”

“God damn it.”

*****

Agent Andrew Quinn

In Pursuit of Forces Converging On Sasha Taylor.

12:50 A.M.

It’s good to know that all of those hours I spent at the gym are finally seeing some action, it’s been far too long since I’ve been on the field. Life’s been so boring for so long, maybe that’s the only thing that was keeping me from sleep. Harry kept up with me just fine. Arnold, on the other hand, was out of shape, guess I shouldn’t expect much from an office geek. It didn’t matter once we hit the stairs though. That completely took the wind out of us.

“I’m not gonna make it Quinn.”

“Alright, Arnold you useless turd. Go by the back door, if they try to escape you; I’ll be waiting. You better not screw this up. Here” I threw my walkie to him. “Let me know the minute you see anything unusual.”

“Yes, boss. I won’t let you down.”

“You probably will, but we won’t fail.”

Harry shook his head at me, we didn’t have time to talk about it, but he knew why I was hard on the kid. I needed to take out my aggressions on someone, at least until we met these cleaners. And after about 10 minutes we finished our climb to the penthouse.

“Finally, here it is Harry.”

“Eyes peeled.”

I crept through the door with my gun off safety and saw that we were too late. The cleaners were at their room and were knocking on their door. I heard loud music, but I wanted to wait.

“What are you doing Quinn?”

“Wait till they pull out their weapons. Just because the network is down, it doesn’t mean we can’t follow Rules of Engagement.”

We waited and waited. They never answered the knocking, and thank God they didn’t because they were prepared to take them. They set their bags down and took what looked like tasers out of their concealed hiding places and the prepared to breach the door; the third man was about to set an explosive on the door when we made our move. They would never get the chance to capture Sasha; we had these fuckers.

We vaulted through that door and aimed our weapons down the hallway. “FREEZE! FBI!”

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