Carol awoke the next morning to a skull-splitting hangover. Her limbs were lethargic, heavier than usual. She could already sense her shortened fused. Sherry still snored from the couch, Buddy now across the room, splayed out between the coffee table and television. Carol reset the recliner, sat upright to hug her head. A murky version of the night returned, the day before it frightfully clear.
During their binge, Carol had silently resolved to seek out DePaul. She wasn’t sure what to do or say, but she would wake Sherry, inform her, then attempt to find a way to DePaul. Carol fell to her feet, shuffled to the kitchen with Buddy groggy at her heels. She let him out the door, made her coffee, then woke Sherry. After a fashion, they discussed her decision over a cup of coffee.
While he was well known, DePaul wasn’t a celebrity like Evans had been. He’d be relatively easy to contact; a business man for hire that they could meet under a false pretense. In the meantime, Carol hoped to discern the point to it. Babcock had said his patients retained none of their memories or personality. Carol had to be careful to test him without making him suspicious, find some way to discern if he’d truly been changed.
The ride to Sherry’s to shower and re-dress was infected with yawns and Buddy’s whimpers in the truck’s back seat. It was a risk taking him along with his weak stomach, but Carol felt more comfortable cleaning up barf than leaving him alone. The brief intermission at Sherry’s was followed by a stop at a fast food joint for more coffee.
Sherry inched them along the drive-through’s queue while Carol’s eyes rose absently to the side-view mirror. A blue sedan maneuvered into a space a few cars back, the man in it only just visible. Her eyes narrowed, the truck rolled forward. Sherry’s voice sounded, honed Carol’s vision. She grappled a coffee handed to her, suddenly recognized the car: She’d seen it at the rehab center just outside the city. The man inside was on his cell-phone again, as he had been when she’d first seen him.
She spoke at a hush as Sherry cranked up her window, “Someone’s following us.”
“Don’t make it obvious. The blue Ford, five o’clock.”
Buddy’s ears perked up in the back seat. He sniffed at the air, caught their scent, began to whimper louder. Sherry pulled forward, took her time to let the car follow. She adjusted the side-view mirrors with a subtle hand, pulled onto the avenue.
With a clear view of the restaurant’s exit, they rolled into the far lane, stopped at a light. The sedan reappeared, hesitated. The light changed, the truck started forward. The sedan waited a moment longer, eased out into the morning traffic to settle a quarter-mile behind them. Carol gave a few, precise directions, weaved them in and out of traffic. The sedan fell in line behind them, weaved carefully, disappeared again only to emerge moments later, nearer by. Carol tested the car, made errant turns for no discernible destination.
Sherry was agitated, her knuckles white over the wheel, “What should we do?”
“Can Mike help?”
“I doubt it,” she replied, her voice higher than usual. “Even if he could, I don’t think he’d want to be involved in this.”
Carol surveyed the gridded streets; there were plenty of places to park, leave the truck to hide in. On the other hand, Buddy couldn’t follow them, and she wasn’t going to leave him behind. Moreover, hiding only prolonged the inevitable. Whoever followed them likely had orders from someone, possibly even knew where they lived. There could be no end without some confrontation.
The weight of the holstered pistol at her side comforted her, Buddy’s quiet, helpless whimpers swallowed little fear she had left. Her eyes closed on a mental layout of the city to study it. To the North was an old, abandoned train-yard that would give her room to move in– If the car followed them that far. The truck’s digital compass read out “NE” from below its rear-view mirror. Her mind raced, connected her destination to a side road ahead.
“Make a left.” Sherry’s face rippled with confusion. “Just trust me, make the turn.”
Sherry winced, maneuvered the truck off the four lane avenue onto a smaller, two lane side-street, “Wanna’ clue me in here?”
The truck’s compass shifted to “N.” They kept forward, moved with the speed limit through sparse traffic that revealed the car behind them still followed. They were blocked on either side by high office buildings, but would soon pass through older, residential districts before the road made a ninety-degree left. She tried to map the road in her mind; the turn would lead them north-west, then the road Teed off. A right at the T, then a left, and another into the train-yard.
She watched the sedan, “Right.”
They turned, the sedan disappeared. A moment later it curved onto the road behind them. She glanced at Buddy in the rear-view mirror; he moaned, fidgeted. She knew the behavior well, encountered it each time they headed for the Vet. This was different though, more intense. All of his instincts told him to run. She sympathized.
She looked to Sherry, directed them through the next left. The train-yard began to sprawl out beside them. Sherry’s knuckles and fingers had turned purple. Obvious terror formed sweat on her forehead and upper-lip. Carol winced. She didn’t blame Sherry for her fear, she was a twenty-eight year-old, sex-fueled workaholic used to the fast paced, metropolitan lifestyle. She could’ve never been prepared for this, doing what they had to survive, right wrongs. For that matter, Carol wasn’t sure she was any different, but had led them here all the same.
“Left,” Carol directed at the yard’s small access road, the sedan far behind on the empty road. “Carrie?” She squeaked.
“Pull in to one side. If he follows us in, we’ll pull forward, block him off at the gates.”
Sherry’s sweat doubled, her face drained of color beneath the oily sheen. Carol’s violent reaction and confrontation with Babcock had struck too quickly for Sherry to react. This time it had been a slow slow build that allowed her nerves to get the best of her. Buddy’s whimpers didn’t help. Carol reached back with a hand, rubbed Buddy’s muzzle without turning. She couldn’t afford to alert their pursuer.
They rolled along the short entrance to the train-yard, the chain gates wide open with one half hanging from its hinges. It rolled past the passenger window. Sherry immediately veered right, parked parallel to the gate. They would have precious, few seconds to block the man in once Carol gave the word.
The truck came to a rest beside an outcrop of stacked box-cars that lined a rusty, barbed-wire chain-link fence. The yard was massive, a maze of rusted steel and worn rail-roads with stacks of weathered ties every few hundred feet. Carol’s heart pounded, her breath ragged. Buddy flattened himself against the seat, each breath a high wheeze of terror.
Carol soothed him, “Quiet down, Buddy. Please.”
He went silent, albeit not without a reservation in his eyes. Carol slouched in her seat, made herself as difficult to spot as possible. Sherry followed, her breath laden with fear, terror. Her hands tight, purple fists.
Five minutes passed, then ten. No car appeared.
“M-maybe he’s out there, w-waiting for us,” Sherry stammered at a whisper.
Carol rolled in her seat watch see truck’s rear through the side-view mirror, “Maybe. Either way, we wait.”
Fifteen minutes and Carol was disheartened; twenty and she already had another trap planned. She wasn’t giving up, letting this man try to silently hound them. Before she had threatened the doctor, she wouldn’t have given his presence a second’s thought, but she sensed more at work now. They’d arrived at the first rehab center with the man already tailing them. Someone had wanted them followed even before they’d learned the truth, there was no reason for them to stop now. She suspected someone had intercepted Mike’s request for DePaul’s records, had been watching for any inquiries about him– someone on the inside.
How high does this go?
Carol moved to speak, suddenly stopped. A movement in the mirror caught the corner of her eye as a man inched his way toward the rear of the truck. They flattened further, invisible, but Carol caught a glimpse of him. His shoes crunched gravel, headed away from the truck, but she didn’t hear it. She was caught in utter shock.
“Son of a bitch!” Carol spit at a hush.
“What? What’s going–”
“Back the truck up, but stay in it.”
She threw open the door, drew her pistol. The truck started as the pistol’s sights zeroed in on the man’s head. He turned, startled by the noise. Carol’s teeth ground together.
“You son of a bitch!”
It was Art Warren, the state-man that dealt with Ed and Chuck– the one that so peculiarly resembled Pee-Wee Herman in his tweed and bow-tie. Both gone now, replaced by fresh-pressed khakis and a windbreaker over a button-up shirt. Even the Brylcreem slick in his hair had been washed away to a spiked, jet blackness.
“Warren, you son of a bitch! Talk!” She yelled.
He cocked a smug grin, shouted back, “What makes you think I’ll tell you shit? The gun? You won’t fire it.”
He began to step forward in time with Carol. She fired a round into the ground in front of him. He flinched, smacked by gravel that dusted the air.
Carol’s steps were slow, deliberate, “What the hell’s going on! What’re you doing here?”
The state-man shook off the shock, resumed his steps to continue closing the distance. He no longer needed to shout, “Yeah, big girl with a gun. Didn’t really think you’d make off with those files so easily, did you?”
Carol made a mental calculation, the gun at eye-level. A single bullet whizzed past his left ear, ricocheted off an over-turned rail-car and into oblivion.
Warren froze, his smug superiority fell away to a shaky calm, “What d’you want to know?”
“Who the hell are you?” Carol said as the truck’s door opened and shut behind them. Sherry stepped for her side as Buddy woofed and howled in the truck. Carol judged the situation, awaited the man’s reply. By his smugness, it was clear he was armed. His only problem lay in accessing his weapon. It was clear between them that she wouldn’t miss again, but Sherry was in danger now. On top of that, Buddy was an easy target. If she lost the upper hand, some one would die.
He took a few steps forward, and Carol’s aim landed on his head, “Close enough.”
Sherry squinted beside her, refused to believe her eyes, “Pee-wee!? Art? You’re following us?”
He considered his options, replied in earnest, “Leon Greene.”
“Who d’you work for?” Carol demanded.
“When I’m Art Warren, it’s the Ohio State Government. Unfortunately, public service doesn’t quite pay well enough, so Leon Greene takes some matters into his own hands.” His eye twitched, “But does it really matter? You can’t expect to walk away from this.”
“It matters to me.” Carol said, her aim steady. “I’ll offer you the same deal I gave Babcock; you tell me what I need to know, I’ll let you go.”
He considered it with a tilt of his head, “It’ll only add to your confusion, send you in the wrong direction. But I’ll give you what you want.” Carol allowed him a few steps forward, “Your bosses aren’t the philanthropists they appear to be, but they’re more opportunists than they let on.”
Confusion trickled into the back of Carol’s mind, “I need more.”
“What the hell’s he talking about?” Sherry whispered.
Greene took another step, spoke casually, “Mordin and Henderson employ me under the table to … clean up, their messes.”
Carol finally saw the last, hidden pieces of the puzzle revealed. She still wasn’t certain how they fit together, but at least now she could affix them given enough time. Greene’s words lent a certain kind of sense to her bosses’ success in such a weakened economy. If they had major investments on the side that Greene kept track of, was involved in while retaining his hand in state affairs, the firm would receive as many deferrals as it would need while for the firm to avoid formal inquiry. In the meantime, Ed and Chuck would be getting rich off whatever it was they’d invested it. The only thing left was how the rehab centers fit in to it. She gathered Greene wouldn’t know that.
“So you’re… what, some sort of spy?” Sherry asked.
“I suppose you could call me that, I consider myself more a P-I.”
“Pee-Wee Herman gag’s a bit much,” Carol scoffed.
Sherry agreed, “Yeah, makes you stick out, not blend it.”
He laughed, “You’d think so wouldn’t you? Fooled you though.”
“This is ridiculous,” Sherry said dismissively. She shot a look at Carol, “You really believe Ed and Chuck’re behind all of this?”
Carol’s grip on the gun tightened, “How do I know you’re not lying?”
Greene shot her a disappointed look, “You question it now? After you’ve already figured it out?”
She blinked off the ridicule, “I need evidence. Physical proof.”
“I can’t give you it,” he said earnestly. “But I’d assume its not to hard to find, if you know what to look for.”
Carol eyed him, “What’re you saying?”
His head bobbed subtly as he explained, “This kind of operation’s not something you make public, but it’s also not something you keep track of without leaving a trail. I assure you it won’t be hard to find. There’ll be paperwork, ledgers, computer files. I’d start there.”
He was right, she knew it. The evidence would be simple enough to find now. Ed and Chuck both suffered various levels of obsessive compulsiveness, a disorder that required they keep meticulous details of every thing in their lives. It was a curiously fortunate coincidence that had originally brought them two together as friends. Now, it would undoubtedly condemn them, reveal their involvement in the rehab program. There friendship may have even been the catalyst to their schemes.
While some things still required an explanation, she was satisfied with Greene, would keep their deal, let him go.
“Drop your gun on the ground, and go.” He reached for it under his jacket. “Other hand. Good. Slow.” It fell to the ground. He stepped forward. “I ever see you again, and I won’t hesitate. Get lost.”
Sherry returned to the truck, pulled away from the gate. Greene stepped within arm’s reach of Carol as she lowered her gun.
“I trust you won’t say anything to either of them,” she said, eyeing him.
He gave a laugh and smiled, “Wouldn’t dream of it. I’ve been waiting for this cluster-fuck to blow up in their faces for years. Always thought I’d go down with them…. Guess not.”
His smugness returned, “I know.” He explained, “My name won’t come up, and even if it does, I’ll be gone. I got paid well and that’s what mattered.” He stepped away, “Good luck.”
She holstered her pistol, “What if I need more?”
“You won’t,” he shouted as he disappeared past the gate.
Carol sighed, retrieved Greene’s pistol, and returned to the truck. She handed it to Sherry, pointed to a lever on one side, “Safety on.” She flicked the lever. “Safety off.”
“What am I supposed to do with this?”
“Just don’t aim it at any of us and you’ll be fine. I’ll help you learn.”
She attempted a weak smile, “Okay, whatever you say.”
Sherry backed up from the train-yard, Greene and his sedan already long gone. Carol scanned for him, sensed their deal would be kept.
“We need to find Ed and Chuck,” she instructed.
“Ed’ll be home, and Chuck’s probably at the office getting ready for tomorrow.”
A corner of Carol’s eye twitched, “Let’s go see Chuck then.”