Stratus Fear

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Chapter Thirty-two

The emergency room physician-in-training wanted me to spend the night in the hospital, but I couldn’t stand to be in any more enclosed places. As I told him, I had just developed a bad case of claustrophobia. Plus, I was tired and out-of-sorts, having spent countless hours telling and retelling my story to the responding officers while the nursing staff dressed my wounds, mainly cuts and bruises. The two officers who had found me in the bushes had been sympathetic but relentless in their questioning. I remembered nothing more than the crashing of glass and then running for my life. I do know that when the officers found me they immediately called an ambulance, but after that my mind went blank. I guess I passed out on my way to the hospital.

Now in the wee hours, I left the hospital with no place in particular to go. My ankle felt fine in the brace they had put on and I could walk normally again. I just wanted to be outdoors, in whatever fresh air could be had, and so I drifted over to the nearest park and sat on a bench. I should have felt hungry, but they had given me apple juice at the hospital to stabilize my blood sugar and that seemed all I needed for now. I hadn’t even called anyone, not Bender nor Libby nor even Rogue. I just wanted to be alone without having to answer any more questions. Briefly I wondered about Dane. Had he died from his gunshot wound, had he escaped with the others after Joffe set the detonation, or had he been left behind, to perish in the explosion? I had no way of finding out.

I also had no idea how long I had been sitting on the bench. Perhaps, I had dozed for awhile, or just sat there in a daze. Whatever state I had been in, the fog had finally lifted and I knew I was ready to tackle the world again. But before I left the bench, I idly watched a group of children create iridescent streams of bubbles with their little plastic bubble pipes. I felt a bittersweet tug as I remembered doing the same as a child, creating those fun, sudsy bubbles either by waving a wand or by blowing into the pipe…

The pipe! I knew now where Koz had hidden the information he had gathered on Senesco. The disc had to be in his Meerschaum pipe. Jumping off the bench, I sprinted out of the park and then jogged the rest of the way to my apartment, suddenly energized in body and mind. I would clean up first, and then return to Terre Celeste and Alpha Village.

I made sure that the management had secured Koz’s place while I had procured an apartment key to come and go as I needed. Now as I entered, I stepped gingerly around the mess still in place. I would have to employ someone to come in and clean up, but not until I could go through Koz’s mountainous supply of books and papers. That alone could take a month or more. But what else did I have to do?

Now before I did anything else, I took a trash bag and got rid of all the food left out on the kitchen countertop. I didn’t want to think about Koz and our sandwiches, or the fact he had been interrupted in the middle of fixing them, only to be killed so senselessly. Bologna and pickles were no longer on my list of gourmet food, or food to eat period. Needless to say, the apartment reeked of rotting meat and vegetables, and I had to use three air fresheners as well open the windows to make the place fit for human occupancy again.

Then and only then could I get down to business. I found Koz’s pipe beneath a clutter of papers on his side table, where he usually kept it in his neat pipe holder, although now the holder was nothing but pits and pieces of fine wood. I used a kitchen knife to gently pry into the pipe bowl and then dig out the little disc. Bingo! It was there just as I imagined, an older-model data storage unit but still viable. I thought about taking it back home where I could study the information at my leisure, but in the end, I decided to view it here in the apartment. I found it fitting, a posthumous tribute to a good friend.

Thorough as always, Koz included all the data I had tried to copy, and then some. He mentioned a contact, a corporate mole, within the Senesco organization, a contact he simply referred to as BD. Towards the end of the digital display, Koz’s face came on the screen to personally leave me his parting words: “You may by now, Cadye, deduce who BD really is, but by the time you review this disc, he will probably be in custody along with the rest of his colleagues. I can say he was a tremendous help, his regular duties that of promoting the Senesco Institute, but his clandestine and moral duty that of revealing the true horrors of the Senesco agenda. Go with it, Cadye, darling, and God be with you.”

Freezing Koz’s image, I blew him a kiss. You too old friend!

As I wiped away a couple of tears, I tried to replace sentiment with logic. Could BD actually be Dane Merrick? Perhaps, he had been telling the truth, that he hadn’t wanted to go along with Joffe’s experimentation plans. Still, he should have gone to the authorities with his concerns. Instead, he decided to covertly blow the whistle on the Senesco operation through Koz. But why the secrecy? Did he fear discovery, reprisals? Of course, Joffe rewarded his PR man by shooting him when Dane expressed his displeasure. Perhaps, displeasure was too weak a word, more like disgust for what Joffe and his minions had done and what they had in store for me. Then again, maybe I wanted to cling to the notion that Dane might be a good guy after all.

Turning off the screen, I slipped the disc in my pocket and decided to go to the station and talk to Keefe Bender, my boss. He’d probably ball me out, and then tell me I had done a brilliant piece of investigative work. I probably deserved both, the chastisement and the accolade. Hell, I had almost fried for the job.

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