Stratus Fear

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Chapter Thirty-three

Now with Koz’s disc, we had enough to launch a major investigation into the Senesco Institute, although all the major players had disappeared. We—as in the police, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, and the FDA—figured Mendell Joffe and his executive staff had probably left the country. I thought about Switzerland, where Joffe mentioned he had gone as a child for treatment. He could very well have another facility in the Swiss Alps, but we wouldn’t know until Interpol decided to do an investigation. Those Senesco employees who had stayed behind had been questioned thoroughly, including Dr. Nutter and Tiffin Hillary, the receptionist. They all swore they had no knowledge of any secret testing, despite being knee-deep in Progerus L50 research. The institute attorney, Paxton Huxley, represented the entire group and put a blanket gag order in effect, meaning that the Senesco employees were off-limits to further questioning. Therefore, we would have to accept their initial depositions as fact, at least for now.

Bender did as I expected, both chastising and praising me, with more chastisement than praise, but I did get a promotion and a raise out of it. Needless to say, Libby Farah looked at me differently, and I wondered if I had impressed her at last. Because of the notoriety of the case, I had been interviewed by the Channel-4 news team. At least one person saw the broadcast. Dolores Rico, the former club dancer and now the de la Rosa’s housekeeper, called to congratulate me. She even invited me to lunch with her employers, both de la Rosas, on Terre Celeste, for a garden luncheon, no less, on their patio. I just had to name the day. I thanked her, but politely declined. I hadn’t planned to return to Terre Celeste any time soon.

As for Koz…well, my parents took over the funeral arrangements and my brother officiated at the memorial service held in Lompoc. According to the coroner, Dr. Chaudburi, Koz had been hit by one of his statues, Einstein no less, and some minute bits of the granite had stuck in the wound. It made me sick just to think of it. Afterward the service, we went to the San Rafael Mountains to scatter Koz’s ashes as per his request. My father would place his old friend’s apartment up for sale, but he wasn’t in a hurry to do so, nor was I to sift through Koz’s belongings. We would get to it eventually.

But now I remained extremely grateful for Koz’s help. Without the information he garnered, we wouldn’t have obtained the arrest warrants for the four fugitives-at-large—Joffe, Hendricks, Tijeras and Merrick—even though we still had no positive proof that Dane perished in the explosion. So far, the investigating technicians hadn’t found any evidence of human remains in the institute ruins. It remained a toss up as to whether Dane would come out dead or alive. And I didn’t know how I felt about it, happy or sad or just indifferent.

A few days after the funeral, I received a call from Arianna who had some good news to impart. She had petitioned the court to re-execute Gavin McAllister’s will so she could use the money to start a non-profit institute to aid the victims of the Senesco testing. Her fellow companions—Eman, Dreama, Topher, Valentine and the rest—wanted to help out as volunteer counselors. Even though I had admired Arianna in the past, my estimation of her went up 200%, and I now admired the other companions for their help, those wonderful people whom I used to think of as nothing more than pretty ornaments. Unfortunately, when I asked Arianna about Fauna Vixen, she had less enthusiastic news to depart. Fauna had gone into seclusion after her aging had accelerated and left her looking like an eighty-year-old. Poor kid. What a waste of a life. Even with some monetary compensation coming her way, she could never buy back her youth.

An interesting bit of information caught my eye. I had been reading the Los Angeles Times, something I did from time to time, and I noticed a small article concerning a widow’s discovery of a cache of money. The widow, Simbi Grover, had discovered over $50,000 that her deceased husband had hidden away. When asked how Buckley Grover came by the money, Mrs. Grover simply replied, “He earned it fair and square. And that’s all I’m gonna say.” I certainly couldn’t argue with her. She and her kids had put up with a lot thanks to Buckley Grover’s hit-man mentality and subsequent death, albeit horrific and ghastly. His family deserved the bonus, blood money or not.

Rogue had returned at last, his mother much better thanks to his tender loving care. He planned to stick around for awhile, and I told him all my incredible news, although I left out the part about spending the night with Dane. We seemed to be hitting it off better these days, as if the separation had been the catharsis we both needed to reboot our relationship.

Chapter Thirty-four


His voice made me stop short at the door. I had been on my way to work. Now I retraced my steps, back into the apartment, and shut the door.

“Thank…God!” I sputtered. “Dane!” I couldn’t see him. The comlink screen remained a blank, but I could hear his voice as plainly as if he stood beside me. “Are you all right? Dane?”

“Yes, it’s me.”

“Where are you?” Since I couldn’t get a visual, I assumed him was calling from a public comport.

“Right now I can’t tell you. I wanted to call you the minute I found out you had survived the explosion. I wanted to hear your voice again.”

I slumped down on the sofa. “Dane, what happened?” I heard him sigh deeply.

“It…was crazy. After they took you to the heat lab, Mendell decided to get rid of all the evidence. He gathered what he needed of the files, and then set the detonator to go off. He had the system installed just in case something like this happened. At the last minute, he decided to take me with him and the others. We went to Dr. Nutter’s residence. Zeff has a home lab, and he extracted the bullet and then patched me up. Mendell planned to leave the country on his private jet with Renata, Dalton and myself. But at the airport, I gave them the slip and boarded the next available commercial flight.”

“Out of the country as well?”

He paused. “Yes, I had to get away. But I want to tell you, Cade, I wanted to die as soon as I knew what Mendell had in store for you. I wanted so desperately to save you, but I couldn’t move. It’s so miraculous, how you managed to escape the explosion.”

“Dane, listen!” I had to change the subject. “Tell me, were you Dr. Fediyoskin’s contact, the one who revealed what Joffe had been doing?”

“Yes, but Dr. Fediyoskin promised to keep my name out of it.”

“It is, Dane, rest assured. Koz…Dr. Fediyoskin revealed your identity to me; but before I turned over the evidence to the district attorney’s office, I erased any mention of how and where he had obtained his information. Even when the DA asked me, I feigned ignorance. So, you’re safe.”

“For now.”

“Dane…did you kill Dr. Fediyoskin?”

He hesitated for a moment. “No, Cade. I think Mendell might have done it himself, but I’m not sure.”

That made sense. Koz would have allowed the Senesco head inside the apartment to “discuss” the information. But when Koz turned away for a moment, Joffe had seized the opportunity to kill the old man and then search for the disc.

I took in a deep breath. “Dane, why don’t you come back and testify? I’m sure I can talk the DA into granting you immunity in exchange for your testimony.”

“I can’t. I’d be signing my own death warrant.”

“How so?” I asked, confused. I just didn’t understand his reluctance. Dane had been willing to expose the Progerus L50 testing before, but now seemed almost afraid. I could hear the tremor in his voice, although faint but still discernable.

“Mendell Joffe would have me killed,” he told me plainly. “He knows a lot of very important people. You’d be amazed at the extent of his contacts, public officials, people in high offices, and those attached to the underground. I wouldn’t stand a chance.”

“But we can help you, Dane! There’s the witness protection program—”

“That won’t stop Mendell and those who have a stake in Progerus. You don’t know the extent of his influence, Cade. His contacts go very high up.”

I had to believe him, at least for now. “I wish you would confide in me. Perhaps, if I came to you, we could work this out together.”

“I’d like that, Cade…but I can’t, even though I miss you so much. As soon as I found out that you lived, I wanted turn right around and come back, just so I could hold you in my arms and not let you go for a very long time.”

I held my breath, couldn’t speak for a moment, even though I wanted to shout, sing, beg, grovel, anything to get him to return, not necessarily to see justice done, but to do what he just said—to hold me close.

“Detective? Cadye?”

“Yes,” I murmured. “I’m still here.”

“I’ll contact you again, when I settle somewhere, somewhere safe.”

“Tell me, Dane, where did Joffe go in his jet?”

“To Luxemburg. He’s started a clinic there a couple of years ago, and now, I suppose, he’ll operate from there.”

Luxemburg. It was right next door to Switzerland. I would have to call the district attorney and see what he could do about extraditing Joffe and all those involved in Progerus. I could already see the red tape growing and growing…and the headaches—and maybe heartaches—that went with it.

When Dane paused for a moment, I listened to the background noises. I thought I heard traffic and then a couple of men’s voices yelling in what sounded like Spanish. So I figured Dane had skipped to Mexico, or Central or South America. I could find out by requesting the passenger rosters for international shuttles, and then follow his trail, a piece of cake if he used his credit cards.

Suddenly Dane’s tone changed, from intimate to officious. “I have to go now, detective. I’ll call you again as soon as I can.”

“Wait! Dane!” I tried to swallow the lump in my throat. “I have to find you. I have to know where you are.”

“Not now, Cade, please.”

“Yes, now! Don’t you see, I have a job to do! I can’t just let it go, especially if your life is in jeopardy. I have to try—”

“Then do what you have to, detective,” Dane interjected, “in your official capacity. But I want to give you a message, and you can take it however you want. Just know, Cadye, that no matter what happens, I love you.” With that, he cut us off.

For several minutes, I just sat there, shaking. When I finally forced myself to calm down, I tried to think clearly and logically. First, I would call Bender and put in my request. I had a fairly good idea that he’d understand what I had to do.

I offered Dane my help, and all personal feelings aside, I had to try.

Yes, I had to try.


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