Larry touched his nose and moved it to one side then the other. It felt as pliable as putty, creaking and crunching like a rusty hinge. He tongued each of his recently repaired teeth, then felt around his gums and found that everything had healed quickly.
Sarah’s Subaru turned and entered the carpark from the main road and stopped a few feet from Larry. Jobe waved from the front passenger seat, then wound down the window and called out to his dad. Larry smiled and waved back. His vision blurred for just a moment before he wiped his eyes against his T-shirt and sniffed back brimming tears. He felt strongly for that little guy. Yet something still niggled at the back of his mind. Something that had happened when Jobe and his wife had become sick. He shrugged it off and scooped Jobe up as he ran into his arms.
Sarah wiped at tears trailing down her cheeks as they talked about Paul and if they would find him safe. The FBI and CIA had begun looking into what had happened and were at this stage being given support by INTERPOL Washington.
“I would know if something bad had happened, I would feel it, I’m sure of it. Don’t you think?”
Sarah’s eyes pleaded with Larry to agree. She wiped again at her cheeks and fixed her hair in the mirror. Larry watched her sort her makeup and dab at her nose. No one would even have guessed she had been crying moments earlier.
Larry wondered if he would also get some sort of divine nudge if something had happened to his brother. So far nothing yanked, or even touched, at his spiritual senses.
“You look good, Larry. It’s not so bad,” Sarah said.
Larry’s brow creased. He knew he didn’t look good at all.
“No really, when you explained what happened to you on the phone, I was really worried, but you’ve got nothing to be concerned about. Jobe, your father looks good doesn’t he?”
“You look alright, dad. Your nose looks bigger, but you look good.”
Larry moved to the back seat with his son so they could talk. First hearing his son’s stories while at the farm and then telling his own. If his mother had been here right now, he felt certain things would have gone back to normal much sooner.
They arrived at Healesville Police Station on the other side of town in a few minutes. Bradbury cast his eyes over the three and settled on Larry and his plaster cast.
“You fared alright, Mr Emerson. Considering Sonny’s condition and what your kidnapper put you through, I expected worse.”
“Detective,” Sarah began, “I’m staying at the station until we hear about my husband. Jobe can stay in my care while you have Larry do what he has to do.”
Sarah looked over her shoulder and bent her head at her protective detail. “I don’t think they have to be around while I’m here, do they? I have my own car, I’m sure they can go do whatever they normally do.”
Detective Bradbury nodded.
“Ferrars and Tims,” Detective Bradbury said to the SOG officers. “Head to the hospital and send Jones back. And you two,” he said to the remaining officers, “you head up to Kinglake and help sift through the rubble.” Then to Larry. “Mr Emerson, I’d like you to sit with, Mr Charmers, here and see if you can drum me up a likeness of the three men who took you.”
Larry nodded. Upon sitting down, Larry wondered what went through the mind of a man who had just lost thirteen of his people in one day, and will possibly lose a partner of just as many years any moment.
Bradbury continued to give everyone the same calculating frown and appeared to go on as normal. Larry assumed he must be feeling some sort of loss, he was just taking great pains not to show it.
“Hello, Larry. Please call me, Craig. Nice to meet you.”
“And you, Craig.”
“Shuffle your seat over here and I’ll go through what we’re going to do.”
Larry sat across from him and saw he not only had a sketch pad, but also a laptop. Different shaped noses, eyes and chins scrolled down on one side of the screen. In the middle, a face changed its features so quickly it became a blur.
“Right, so Larry, I’ve been loading new updates which shouldn’t take much longer, but what we’re going to do is use the EFIT-V system on my laptop here. It uses an interactive genetic algorithm that...” Craig looked up at Larry’s unmoving expression, “Although you don’t need to know anything about that, I guess. I’ll be using hand sketching as well. If the suspect is aged around 20-30 years, and doesn’t have any unusual facial traits, such as a tattoo, or scar, then the computer program is a better option. However, in most circumstances we stick to our sketches since the majority of criminals aren’t a very pretty bunch.”
The artist laughed at his own joke, his mouth creasing into deep smile lines. He then said the word, Mercy, after laughing. Larry smiled along with him and watched as the updates came to a finish.
“Alright, first tell me a little about these people.”
After less than an hour of inputting data from Larry’s explanation, the computer program generated a face. It looked very much like the large bodyguards he had seen—in a sort of generic way, and it had only taken a few seconds to render.
The sketch of the Russian took longer, almost 2 hours. Craig asked Larry more questions than when he had used the program and then kept prodding Larry to make sure what he had already drawn was accurate.
Once the artist had all the details and began concentrating on refinements, Larry got up and walked the length of the station to stretch his legs and back. He found himself at the coffee machine and licked his lips. A rumor from Jones suggested this coffee tasted so good that no one settled for less afterwards, not even the coffee house Paul had sworn by and claimed out-served all of the city franchises—both in flavour and portion.
Larry studied the dials and knobs and a pushed a button which he assumed would get the machine going. Nothing came out, although the machine sounded like it was doing something.
Larry’s pants pocket vibrated and a familiar tune sounded. He reached down and grabbed his phone.
‘Hello,’ Larry said.
‘Is this, Mr Larry Emerson?’ the voice asked.
‘Yes, this is, Larry Emerson.’
Jones overheard and signaled Bradbury with an urgent wave of his hand.
“Please hold a moment, Mr Emerson, we have a, Mr Paul Emerson, here to talk to you.”
“Yes, thank you!”
“Hi, Loz?’ Paul said.
“Paul! What happened to you? Where are you? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Is Sarah okay? Her phone’s always busy.”
“Yeah, Sarah’s fine. She’s looking after, Jobe. She’s here waiting for word on you. What happened to you? Where are you?”
“I’m in San Francisco, if you can believe that? We flew here with that colonel you told me about. He knows quite a bit about you it seems. And Loz, he told me about the virus you gave me. He thinks it can be duplicated from my blood. I don’t know why you did what you did, but we’re going to need to talk about that some day.”
“Of course. I wanted to tell you. I don’t even know why I didn’t. I’m still not sure if it helped you, but I hope it worked?”
“Hmm,” Paul said. “The colonel’s dead. Redcliff, that is. He died when we landed in Melbourne and we were shot at. The colonel’s soldiers disappeared as soon as we touched down in San Francisco. We got to the Australian Consulate with the help from the pilots. Now we’re waiting to see what happens next.
“They’re still trying to work out what to do about us not having passports and visas, let alone if they believe us. Tell Detective Bradbury what’s going on. Maybe he can speak to someone so we can get back sooner.”
Larry had long ago switched to speaker phone, allowing Bradbury to hear the conversation.
“He‘s listening in. I’m just glad you’re okay. Are you safe there?” Larry asked.
“Guess so, but, where is safe? I don’t know who I should be trying to be safe from!”
“Paul,” Bradbury said. “I’ll speak to someone shortly and get you both moved to a secure location. I’ll call back with details soon. Do not leave the consulate until I have someone there to protect you. Don’t even walk outside to get something to eat.”
The detective moved away to make a call.
Larry continued to tell Paul what happened after he was taken. The destruction of the police station. The people who had died. His own kidnapping. Then he spoke about Sarah.
“How’s she holding up?” Paul asked.
Larry could hear Sarah yelling at someone on her phone. He walked to a visitor waiting area where she paced the room from the desk to the window and back.
Sarah looked up and saw her brother-in-law’s face and so ended her phone call without saying good bye.
“Ask her yourself.” Larry handed the phone to Sarah.
She hesitated in taking it from him.
“It’s Paul, he’s okay,” Larry said.
Sarah’s expression changed in an instant. Her eyes glistened. She tried to talk but only started crying. Larry watched for a moment and felt his own chin tremble and so left the room while blinking to clear his eyes. Any anyway, he was still interested in trying out the coffee.
Paul’s head dropped then banged against the desk. He jerked back up and blinked at the dark windows. The buildings opposite were even blacker, intermittently reflecting random headlights from the street below. He couldn’t sleep. His back and shoulders were so sore that he was sure his body would never be the same again. The plastic chair with its minimal cushioning and firm back may as well have been an instrument of torture. And the desk, it came to just the right height to dig into his side and maximise discomfort. This had to be the most amazingly poorly engineered construction ever. Either that or it was actually a sadist’s pure brilliance in ingenuity.
The Australian Consulate-General building did not commonly put people up for the night, so it had been ill equipped to give any night time conveniences or comfort. Earlier, the Consul-General had grudgingly agreed to allow Paul and Gerald to wait within the offices, which currently were the safest place for them to be, considering that for now the US military were not above suspicion. Safer at least until they were escorted back to Australia.
For dinner, Paul and Gerald ate McDonald’s located on the ground floor inside the building. Paul felt hungry again a few hours after eating. But the McDonalds didn’t open again until morning.
Paul reached up and rubbed his neck and felt a knot of nerves the size of a golf ball. He rubbed until it loosened into a tangle of spaghetti.
Neither resting back in the big chair, nor laying his head on the table had brought him comfort.
Gerald’s snores emanated from his curled position in the centre of the floor. He had been asleep for the last two hours and didn’t look to be waking anytime soon.
Paul stood, stretched his legs, and wandered over to the black windows overlooking the city street. Downtown San Francisco had become a former skeleton of it’s daytime fevered self as it closed on midnight. It had then diminished further as the early hours crept in. The Consul-General, as well as the few people who had staffed the office, were all home and likely long ago asleep in their beds.
Cars continued to hum by. The occasional truck rumbled. Gerald still snored. Paul thought of the quiet he could easily obtain when back home at Kinglake and how sleep always came so easily.
“Get me on a plane,” Paul said. “I want to get out of here.”
Paul rubbed the same knot again. It had bunched so tightly this time that he couldn’t actually work it lose.
“Pull your heads out of your asses and get me out of here!” he said and kicked the window which shook, wobbling his reflected image.
Gerald stirred but did not wake.
Paul put both palms up against the cold window and pressed his forehead against the glass. He looked down the many stories to the concrete expanse at the foot of the building. He blew his cheeks out to make a blow fish but stopped, too annoyed to try. His forehead chilled against the pane of glass and his mind fogged.
He lifted away leaving a mark on the window and turned back to the desk. Maybe now he felt tired enough to sleep. He would try the chair one last time. He heard a crack like a stone hitting a windscreen and felt something jab at his side like he had pulled a muscle in his back. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth as he gasped.
He put his hand to his side to rub the spot and found it wet. Another crack. This time he fell forwards and stumbled. It burned his skin and he swayed as if the building had begun to move in a spiralling circle. He called for Gerald but everything that came out of his mouth jumbled together into random consonants.
Gerald woke and snorted. He breathed deep and coughed.
“Hey? What’s wrong, Paul?” His voice croaked.
“Ahh, I... it hurts, I don’t...” Paul turned. A breeze blew at his fringe and tickled his forehead. Time slowed and a second lasted an hour. A red beam of light dance over two small holes in the glass.
Paul heard another crack and realized in that moment, just before light exploded in his mind, that someone had shot at him once more and he was about to die.
“Fifteen. We have a security call from suite 1800, at 575 Market Street, downtown. You in the area, fifteen? Over.”
“This is, fifteen. I can be there in about five minutes.”
Orange lights flicked on and reflected off shop windows and parked cars. Tires squealed on the asphalt like a cat’s lonely wail. Security car fifteen spun and turned to head north up Market Street and on to the driver’s fifth call for the night.
“Please note that this is a Consulate suite. Federal Bureau have been notified and are en route. You are advised to open and investigate but not to interact. You get all that, fifteen?”
“Yeah I got it, over.”
Jake didn’t like call-outs to diplomatic buildings. Loads more paperwork. Then, endless questions from not only head office and the Bureau, but the involved country as well. In the morning he would have to go see the Feds himself. And it would be on his own time. No pay, which had to be criminal.
Jake stopped at 575 Market Street and waited in the confines of his mobile workplace. He always stayed in the car until he felt certain someone wasn’t lining him up to be a target for either a shooting or stabbing. His vest sat on the back seat. He eyed it and wondered if it would really stop a bullet.
He watched and waited.
Jake checked his glock, put the clip back in and kept the safety on. He holstered the weapon and collected his keys and flashlight. No one moved outside and the streets appeared to be free from any suspicious cars. Could even be a false alarm.
The grey building had a serene feeling about it. Sort of imperialistic. Rows of flags mounted on both sides of the road represented the embassies within, each one whipping in the wind as if to the tune of their own national anthem.
As Jake reached the outside of the building he found the correct key on the issued holder and unlocked the side service door. It creaked over the whir of the wind. He went through and locked it behind him.
Barely a reflection shone back from the polished floors as he clacked across to the elevators. The front desk seemed incomplete with no one behind it, dark and still. The indoor plants and rows of seating along each wall had a grainy dull look about them under the reduced lighting, like an under exposed photo.
He inserted his night key, punched in his code and hit the floor for suite 1800 and waited. No elevator music. He hummed a tune he had heard playing on the radio before the interruption for the call-out.
When he reached the suite door he tried the handle. Locked. No evidence of forced entry. Jake relaxed. It would only be a check and leave situation. He would be back behind the wheel in minutes drumming to a beat of his favorite tunes and eating the left over roast chicken still sitting in his unopened cooler box. The Feds wouldn’t even need to question him.
He whistled while looking for the key, turned the lock and walked inside. The odor hit him full force. An unmistakable smell of salty blood—and lots of it. Which could only mean he would find someone dead inside.
Jake drew his gun and held it high, ready to aim it anywhere he saw movement. His finger a hair from the trigger. He searched the dark room, not daring to look for the light switches just yet. His heart pounded. He put one foot in front of the other like on a tightrope and made his way around the reception desk.
“Security! If there is anyone here speak now and raise your hands high. I’m armed and will not hesitate to shoot if I deem you a threat.”
Jake said this with no quaver in his voice. His rehearsed speech had become so ingrained he didn’t even think when he said the words. His wife had said it sounded menacing. He only wanted it to be direct and to the point, but liked the idea of menacing as well.
No voices returned. No movement. Nothing.
The air conditioner hummed. A metal flap vibrated in one of the ducts.
He walked into the first room. The darkness gaped out in front like a deep pit. He widened his eyes to try and see more. Turning on the light may expose a person in here, but it would also expose him.
In the next room two shapes lay like shadows on the carpet floor. Dark pools spread out from the bodies in halo form. Jake’s hands dripped with sweat. His fingers slipped as he fumbled for the microphone button attached to his shoulder. A bead of water rolled down his back and settled where his shirt met his pants.
“This is, fifteen. I need a paramedic for two people with severe wounds in suite 1800, 575 Market Street, downtown. I need them yesterday.”
“On its way.”
Jake found an interior light and turned it on. He knelt next to the first still form and saw he was clearly dead; the man stared blankly at the ceiling. Jake moved to the second one. He had a pulse but also multiple wounds to his body including one to his head.
Neither had any identification or other personal belongings. Strange that the staff should be working so late at night. Why were the lights off?
Jake found the first aid kit in the kitchen and took the whole thing down from the wall. Inside he found a single bandage. He wrapped it around the largest wound and tightened it. Blood dribbled in little fountains from two other holes. He put napkins over them.
Neither had a weapon and he found none near the two men. A breeze blew his hair. He raised his hand to scratch his head but stopped when he saw the blood on his hands. The breeze blew again. He wished he knew where to turn off the blasted air conditioner.
He looked up at the rattling vent. Then saw himself in the window’s reflection crouching over the two bodies. It reflected everything in detail; the blood, the office furniture, his own drained pasty complexion. But, the glass had something wrong with it. Holes. Bullet holes and glass on the carpet. A dozen holes, all of them distorting the illusion of a second room and a second Jake.
“This is, fifteen. Sniper fire from across the road of suite 1800, 575 Market Street, before I arrived. Inform emergency services and Federal Bureau to use extreme caution,” Jake said over the radio while moving away from the window. “One survivor of the shooting is weak and needs help immediately.”
“Acknowledged, fifteen,” the voice said.
Ten long minutes later Jake heard the faint sound of a car screeching to a halt. More followed shortly after. Then the wailing of the paramedic siren crashing into the night. He wouldn’t be alone much longer and this business would be someone else’s problem. Running footsteps came from the hallway. Jake kept his weapon ready.
“Jake Shephard, raise your hands in the air from the position you are in, your sidearm still in one of your hands. Once you have done this, please make us aware of your position by calling out your security clearance number.”
Jake did so, and called out.
Four men in suits stood next to Jake seconds later, their guns drawn but pointed to the ground and their badges out. Relieved, Jake left the room allowing the FBI to take care of the crime scene. He glanced back just before leaving and saw that the lights were now on in the building over the road—people running from room to room. All coordinated by an agent in the room Jake had been standing in.
For the remainder of the night he would not work. Following protocol meant returning to base and awaiting the counselor. And once they cleared him, then there would be the paperwork and questions.
Still, it was better than a regular job. And the last seven years had been the best years of his life.
Detective Bradbury took the phone from its cradle while continuing to tap at keys with his left on the keyboard.
“Bradbury,” he said, then changed the phone to his other hand and reached for his coffee mug.
Detective Bradbury listened for a few moments, then stood and searched the police station. First craning his neck to see into the kitchen then back to where Larry sometimes stared at the images of the men he had identified.
“Emerson. You here?”
Larry’s head came into view from around a doorway.
“Detective?” Larry saw the phone in his hand. “I’m here. Is it Paul?”
Larry trotted down the hallway to come and stand in front of the detective’s desk.
“It’s the Consul-General’s office in San Francisco, they want to speak to you.”
Larry took the phone from the detective.
“Larry Emerson?” a voice said.
“Yes, it is.”
“My name’s, Noah Warren, I’m the Consul-General for the San Francisco office. I’ve some terrible news regarding your brother, Paul Emerson.”
Larry’s cheeks lost all their color.
“He’s alive, but barely.” Noah paused for a moment, but Larry said nothing. Noah continued. “There’s been an incident involving gunfire in the building where your brother stayed the night.” Noah picked up the pace. “Unfortunately, Gerald McKlay, died almost immediately. I’ve made contact with his family already. Paul is in intensive care and under guard at the San Francisco General Hospital. The doctors believe he’s strong enough to survive, although they’re unsure if there’ll be brain damage until he regains consciousness.”
Larry’s chest twisted in pain. His breathing came in short gasps.
His family! His brother...
His body shook. The phone slipped through his fingers, but he gripped it again in time before it fell.
The plastic cracked as he tightened his hand into a fist.
“He’ll be fine,” Larry said, barely loud enough for Noah to hear.
“I’m sorry, Mr Emerson, I wish I could give you better news. Is there any way you or maybe his wife, could come to San Francisco? The doctors say it may help with his recovery to have family with him. We would guarantee your safety while in the US, of course.”
Larry grunted as he thought of the great job they had done so far.
“I’ll come. I need to take care of something first, but, I’ll come.”
Larry put the phone in the cradle. He didn’t look at the detective. He walked along the hallway to the room where he had left Sarah and Jobe eating and watching TV. He closed his hand around the door knob. It creaked as he clenched tight. He opened the door and stepped inside with the precision of a drunk trying not to fall. He stood in front of Sarah and looked down. Sarah took another bite from her sandwich. He had to tell her. He didn’t know how to, but he had to. Still, he didn’t move, or say anything.
“Are you going to sit?” Sarah said. “What’s wrong?”
It only took another moment before she realized what Larry would say next. Then she screamed.
“I’ll organise someone to accompany you, Sarah, and your son to San Francisco,” Bradbury said. “Jones. He can stay with you for a few days to make sure the people they assign can be... trusted.”
Larry nodded. He hurt all over and his throat burned with choked back tears. He felt so tired. He really just wanted to go home. Go and have a normal life. The strange thing was, he didn’t even know what that was anymore.
He nodded again to the detective and walked outside to find Sarah. She had run out not wanting to listen to anyone. He would have to talk to her—somehow. All three of them would go to San Francisco to see Paul. All of them would help Paul get better.
Jobe sat with Sarah, talking. Sarah looked to be okay. Again, all her tears had vanished, her face a mask. Although her eyes had stayed red. She looked up and smiled.
“Sarah, are you okay?” Larry asked.
“He’ll be okay, Larry,” Sarah said. “I know he will. I’ll go and make sure that he is. I know this sounds silly, but I feel that he’s with me right now and will stay that way for a long time. He’ll wake and he’ll be fine.”
Larry could only agree, nodding. He didn’t know how she could turn herself around so quickly, maybe it was all that she could do?
Her positive outlook somehow gave him hope as well. He wanted Paul to be alright more than anything. Why not believe he would be?
“He will,” Larry said.
Larry held her hands and gripped them for a moment then let go.
“Come on, Jobe, we’re going to see you’re Uncle Paul and help him get better.”
“Jones,” Larry said as they reached his patrol car. He realized he didn’t know the constable’s first name. He couldn’t remember Matthews’ first name either. “I have to go somewhere once we arrive at my home. I know you’re supposed to come with me and protect us, but I have to do this alone. I’ll have to meet you in San Francisco afterward.” Larry didn’t pause, not wanting Jones to reply until after his prepared speech. “I know Bradbury won’t like it, but tell him that I think I can get more information on the viruses and maybe get in contact with a person from the board at Sincorp, but only if I go and take care of this myself.’
Jones shook his head and stared back at Larry. Then shook his head again while looking down and kicking the curb.
“Larry, you’ve been through a lot. You were almost killed. I don’t know if I believe in luck, but I don’t think you should give it a chance to run out.”
Larry didn’t answer. He saw that Jones wanted to think it through.
“On the other hand, if you think it will help with getting those murdering bastards, then I might be able to look the other way.”
“Thanks. It’ll be worth it, I promise.”
“Yeah, I think I’ll tell Bradbury tomorrow after you leave and then have him yell and threaten to kick me off the force. It’s too nice a day today to have my ass torn out from under me.”