“You’re hurting me,” I exclaimed. I jerked my arm and Mayor Lockley loosened his grip. Not completely, but enough that I could move my arm around inside the sleeve of my coat.
“Sorry, Ms. B. I didn’t realize I had such a tight grip but, I wouldn’t want you slipping and hurting yourself. The wind’s starting to ice up the sidewalk and roads. I slid a couple of times already this evening.”
Yeah sure, I thought. “Well, I really don’t need your support, thank you. I’m perfectly capable of walking on my own, icy walk or no.” I pulled my arm again.
Mayor Lockley stopped and glared at me. The look was pure hatred. For an instant I thought he was going to slap me, but then his smile re-appeared and he let go of my arm.
I settled my coat on my shoulders and looked around. “Where did the children go and what were they doing out here, in the first place?”
“Children, Ms. B? There are no children out here. It’s much too cold and late. Are you feeling okay?” He reached forward as if to check my forehead for fever. I slapped his hand away.
I glared at him. His concern was false and he made no effort to conceal it. There was a definite smirk behind his eyes and I figured I’d get nowhere, this way. We were well past all pretenses of good social manners. In a voice dripping with disdain, I asked “What is it you want, Lockley?”
“Ah, I see – yes, let’s dispense with the false pleasantries. I know who you are, what you are and why you are really out here – Agent Bloom.”
I hid my shock well, I thought. His smug demeanor wasn’t quite as obvious as it could have been. He still had doubts. I pressed forward as confidently as I could, “What in the world are you talking about?”
Lockley and I locked eyes for a few seconds. I was determined not to back down, but slowly an evil smile spread across his face. He leaned forward and it was all I could do not to take a step backward. “Agent Bloom, Rachel Bloom; FBI agent, make that undercover FBI agent. Oh, don’t try to deny it. Yes, you came here to catch a bus but not to go to your parents, isn’t that so? No, you came here because you are running, Agent Bloom. You’re running for your life!”
His words hit me like a runaway train. Involuntarily, I sucked in a deep breath but I kept my face stoic, at least, I tried. My mind raced. He knew my real name, the name I was born with and the name I’d given up so many years ago. He knew that I was an FBI agent. Most, disconcerting, although those first two were bad enough; was the fact that he knew I was running – for my life, as he’d so succinctly stated. That alone told me that he had information of which only two were privy, me and Agent Wilkes and I certainly didn’t tell him!
Trying to talk my out of this, to lie and bluff, were no longer options. Of the two basic human reactions in an emergency, fight or flight;I knew instinctively that flight was my only real option.
I eyed my antagonist. Mayor Lockley was much bigger and stronger than I, but he was also a desk jockey; most likely out of shape and certainly not expecting me to do anything he couldn’t handle. Why else would he be here, alone? He’d underestimated me and I was determined to take full advantage of his mistake.
Surprise is often the best foundation of an attack. If I simply took off and ran, I’m sure his surprise would be enough to allow me several steps head start. I was wearing soft, rubber soled boots with no heels. They were light, had grip and I was in good shape. I jogged five miles, three days a week. If I got the jump on him, Lockley would never be able to keep up.
I mentally prepared myself and tensed my leg muscles, bending slightly in the knees for a quick push off. Lockley must have read my mind. He grabbed me by the lapel of my coat.
Without the slightest hesitation I changed plans. I kicked him in the crotch with everything I had.
Fortunately, Lockley let go of my coat as soon as the pain I’d inflicted blazed across his consciousness, and he did what all men do in that situation – he grabbed himself with both hands, screamed and doubled over. I used those precious seconds to start a hundred yard dash down the road.
I was fifty yards away, a few feet from the corner of the block before I looked back. A quick, over the shoulder glance was enough to see that Lockley wasn’t following. He was on his knees, still holding the balls that I had hopefully, crushed beyond repair.
I looked back around, turned the corner at the Merchant’s Bank and ran smack into Pete coming from the opposite direction.
The force of the collision should have knocked both of us down. Hell, it should have knocked me out. It was like running into a brick wall.
Though the collision was powerful, Pete had no problem grabbing me in a bear hug with only a small step backwards to absorb my headlong rush. Pete was in his sixties, at least; but he was solid as a brick wall and strong as a bull.
He had me, but he didn’t have my arms. I immediately began flailing away; swinging wildly and not particularly concerned where my fists landed. They say that panic can lend a person incredible strength and it worked for me. I didn’t know whose side Pete was on and at the moment I had no reason to believe he was on mine.
“Ms. B ! Hold it, Ms. B. It’s me, Pete. I’m…” Smack, I caught him in the mouth and immediately regretted it as a lance of pain shot from my knuckle to my shoulder.
That was enough for Pete. He released his bear hug and with lightning speed, grabbed both of my wrists in his big hands. I got one, ineffectual, kick in before he spun me around and pulled me into his body; my arms now crisscrossed over my chest and wrists still confined in bands of steel.
“I’m on your side, damn it. Quit fighting me, I’m here to help.”
I stomped his right foot with mine as hard as I could. He grunted, but that was all. Soft soled boots are great for running but for stomping, you need something harder and heavier. He didn’t release his hold one iota, either.
“Listen – listen, Rachel. Agent Wilkes sent me. He called and told me that your cover was blown and you were catching the bus. He wanted me to make sure you got on the bus. I was on….”
I stopped struggling. Wilkes sent him? Wilkes, the traitor, the only person on this earth that could have given my personal information to Lockley and told him I was catching the bus?
I needed a new plan, but I needed more information. “Who are you and how do you know my name?” I said.
“My name is Pete Armstrong. Special Agent Armstrong out of the Atlanta office. I came here a couple months before you. I know your name because Wilkes told me it would validate me to you.”
Oh, Jesus! “OK, let me go and we’ll talk.” Pete let me go and I turned to stare at him.
Before saying anything more, I stepped back to the corner of the bank and peeked around the way I’d come. There was no sign of Mayor Lockley, my suitcase or the children. I couldn’t decide whether any of that was a good thing or a bad thing.
Turning back to Pete, I said, “What do you know about Mayor Lockley?”
Pete shrugged his shoulders. “Other than the fact that he’s an egotistical, pompous **** – not much. I’m relatively certain that he’s involved in whatever’s going on around here, but I’ve no leads. Honestly, I wasn’t making any progress and that’s why you were sent here.”
The eyes are such a give away when you know what to look for. As I related to Pete what had just happened, I never took my eyes off his. I left nothing out, including the fact that Agent Wilkes was the only one that could have betrayed me.
When I got to that part, Pete was already shaking his head in denial. “No, Ms B – Rachel. Joshua Wilkes is an honorable man, I’ve known him for twenty years; he and his wife Barbara are good friends of ours, me and Jessie. There’s no way…”
I moved to within of inch of him, still maintaining eye contact. “****, Pete. There is no other explanation. Wilkes double crossed me.”
Pete was at a complete loss for words, but that was okay; his eyes told me want I wanted, needed to know. He knew nothing about Wilkes’ double-cross; he was not part of the conspiracy. While I was relieved to see the innocence and confusion in Pete’s eyes, I was still not one hundred percent sure.
I stepped back and away several steps.“You carrying a gun, Pete?”
Pete, lost in his own thoughts and inner turmoil, took a few seconds to respond, “A gun? Yeah, I’m carrying a gun. Why?”
“One or two?”
He snorted, “Hell, I ain’t no Wyatt Earp…one, just one. Again – why?”
Never breaking eye contact, I said, “Give it to me,” and extended my left hand.
Pete’s hesitation lasted only a fraction of a second. He was a smart guy and I’m sure he understood that giving me his gun would absolutely certify his innocence in this mess. He pulled the pistol from a shoulder holster inside his coat and held it towards me.
“Good job, Pete. You got the bitch!”
Pete’s head snapped up and his stare went over my shoulder. I whirled around and saw Mayor Lockley with two other men.
I recognized one of them, Jake’s dad, before Lockley hit me with a round house right that knocked me out.
* * * * * * * * * * *
I awoke on an old army cot in what appeared to be a supply room of some kind. The only light came from a window, high up near the ceiling, but I could easily discern shelves lining the walls with stacks of cleaning supplies, paper products, mops and brooms. Pete’s room at the school, I wondered? Similar, but I didn’t think so.
They’d left me untied and as I tried to stand up a wave of dizziness washed over me, forcing me back to a sitting position on the cot. I put my head down between my legs, willing away the dizziness and trying to think. I remembered Pete handing me his gun, but I didn’t have time to take it. I remembered the surprised look in his eyes, someone saying, “Good job, Pete…” and Lockley hitting me. After that, everything went black.
I still had my coat on and I suddenly thought of my cell phone. I reached inside my pocket. It was gone, of course, but I found something.
I pulled out a piece of paper and quickly unfolded it. I stood, thankful that my dizziness had passed, and faced the window to get the meager light on the note.
It read, “It’s not how it appears. I’m on your side. I still have the gun.” There was no name but it could only have come from Pete.
It was uplifting to know that I had not been wrong about Pete and that I had an ally out there somewhere.
The door burst open and someone entered the room. I didn’t want anyone to find the note so, without much thought, I waded it up and stuck it in my mouth; swallowing, as I turned to face my captors.
A tall, gray haired man filled my vision. He reached forward and touched my chin where Lockley had cold-cocked me. “That’s a nasty bruise you have there, Ms. B.”
There was no sympathy in his dark eyes and I jerked my head away.
“Still feisty, I see. Well, it is of no matter, anymore. May I introduce myself? I am Professor Wilhelm Beckmann, my colleague here,” he turned to indicate a woman in a lab coat behind him, “is Doctor Barbara Wilkes.”
My surprise must have been more evident than I’d hoped because he continued, “Ah, I see you recognize the name. Yes, Dr. Wilkes’ husband, in his position with the FBI, has served our cause invaluably over the years.”
I wouldn’t give him the pleasure of knowing how confused I was. Instead, I decided to remain “feisty”. “Where am I and what right do you have to hold me?” I asked.
Professor Beckmann chuckled. “Well, Ms B., we obviously have no right at all to hold you but; believe me, other than yourself no one cares or will ever find out what became of you. As to where you are…you are in my laboratory, ten miles from town.”
I looked over his shoulder at Dr. Wilkes. She was mid-forties, short black hair with an evil, pinched looking face. “I know of no laboratories anywhere around town and I’ve never seen either of you before.”
The Professor laughed, Dr. Wilkes smiled – I’m sure she thought it a smile. I didn’t and the thought crossed my mind, only a double agent or traitor would marry an ugly bitch like her. It was all I could do to stifle a laugh aloud at the thought. It’s funny how your mind can find something humorous, even in dire situations.“
I should hope not! It wouldn’t be much of a secret if my laboratory were known, now would it, Ms B? Secrecy is vital to the success of my work. As to having seen us; neither of us has ever been in town, not once.”
I bet secrecy was vital. “Just what is your work, Professor?” I asked. I didn’t think he’d tell me, but I had nothing to lose and often times, egomaniacs will give detailed information to anyone who asks when they’re certain to have the upper hand. In my case, he wouldn’t think it dangerous. He had no intention of me ever getting out and telling anyone else.
He raised his chin and thought for a second. He looked back at Dr. Wilkes before continuing. I guess he got her okay or something because he turned back to me said, “Ah, yes, my work. I am a neurologist, Ms B. I am also a psychologist with a specialty in parapsychology. I am conducting experiments that will eventually produce a super race! A race of humans that is impervious to disease, capable of utilizing not forty percent of their brain power, but upwards of eighty percent! A true Ueber Mensch!”
He watched me closely, curious as to my reaction, I suppose. I disappointed him.
“Oh, I see,” I laughed. “You’re a neo-Nazi with visions of Hitler grandeur!”
I pissed him off. He slapped me. He grabbed me by the throat and pulled me forward until only a few inches separated our faces. His breath stank of garlic and cigarettes.“I assure you, du scheiss Weib, I have no illusions of grandeur and IF I were emulating anyone, it would not be that idiot Hitler.”
He released me and pushed me a step backwards. I reached up to rub my neck as he said with an evil grin, “Professor Doctor Josef Mengele, perhaps – but certainly not Hitler.”
My heart sank. I didn’t know what he was doing; but, like Mengele, he was doing it on children. Now, I knew why the cemetery was full of children and young adults.
As tears pearled in the corners of my eyes, I also knew that my past had come full circle.