“Observe. Vid from 2:03.”
He scrolled the bar back until the time-frame read 2:03:4956. From an overhead view, a teenager stood with his hand on the door panel. He took it off, then did it again.
“What is he trying to do? Press a button?”
Harrington sat back in the folding chair. “What do you think he’s doing?” he snapped.
Greene dotted his brow with a handkerchief. The warehouse basement where they had set up their temporary operations center had no air conditioning or ventilation. And the multiple laptops, cell phones, and crappy television monitors–all hooked up through tangled black cords–generated a lot of heat.
“Then he is aware of his power,” Greene said.
“I think so. But not to its full potential.”
“So he lost some of his power?”
“Either that, or he doesn’t know he has it. By all rights, he should be dead. So clearly something different happened.”
Chains clinked in the background. Both Harrington and Greene flicked their heads toward the back, to a loading garage blocked off by a fence. They froze and waited. Nothing happened.
After thirty seconds had passed without another sound, the two of them relaxed and turned back to the screen. “Run the parking garage video again,” Greene said quietly.
“We already ran the license plate number. It was fake. The car’s probably stolen too,” Harrington said.
“I want to see the driver.”
Harrington grunted and scooted up to the keyboard. As he navigated through the file structure, he said, “If we don’t find something to report before the call…”
Greene pointed to the car. “He looks like just some hippie. I don’t know what he has to do with the boy. He wasn’t at the hotel.”
“So why pick him up? Was he doing him a favor?”
“I don’t believe that,” Greene said. “You think some stranger would scoop up someone he doesn’t know and drive off?”
The video angle changed. They watched themselves run across one corner. Then a maroon Cadillac with a tan leather top drove across.
Harrington paused the video and zoomed in on the windshield. “All I can tell is that he’s black and had dreadlocks.”
Greene pointed to the screen. “Maybe he knows him. Maybe they arranged a getaway.”
“Maybe, maybe, maybe!” Harrington threw up his arms and walked away. Chains jangled again. Harrington turned his head to the back, eyes wide and alert.
When the silence returned, he sat back down calmly. “It’s all conjecture. They won’t accept conjecture,” Harrington hissed.
Greene picked up his coffee mug off the particle board. “He’s never seen us before. But he got scared anyway. Why?”
Harrington rolled his eyes. “Who knows. Contact was broken days ago. Anything could have happened.”
“Which means he’s done something wrong in that time. He feels guilty.”
Harrington yawned. “We don’t have time for confessions and interviews. We need results.”
“Do you want them to make us-” Greene nodded toward the back.
“Shhh-shut up,” Harrington said. “I don’t want to think about it.”
The cell phone chirruped and shook like a monster trying to get out of a cage. Both of them jumped. The chains rattled again.
They looked at each other. Neither picked it up. Then Harrington grabbed the quivering box.
“Harrington,” he said. “No… No, sir. I understand…” There was a long pause as Harrington listened. “We… We will. No, we don’t believe so. I don’t understand why either, but we were there. You already have our reports.” Another long pause. “Then we have lost him. What about other resources? … Yes. Yes, I understand. Then I suppose… we have to…” Another pause. Then Harrington’s face lit up. “Oh, I see. Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. I appreciate that… Yes, I understand. Thank you.” He clicked off the phone.
Greene remained looking frightened. “Did they give the order?”
“Yes. But this time, we send him in alone.”
“All alone? No back-up?”
“Well, he said something about one of us needing to act as a proxy. Also they’ve secured a S.W.A.T. team.”
“Wait, so they’ve told the Feds about this?” Greene’s eyes grew wide.
“Hell, no. They’re not stupid. They fed them some bullshit story about a terrorist cell. They’ll deploy around the perimeter to prevent escape. Then we send him in.” He gestured to the back of the warehouse.
“Two men enter, one man leaves,” Greene said.
“Something like that. Better than nuking the city.”
“Yeah, I suppose.”
Harrington sighed. “Let’s get him ready.”
Greene nodded. Neither would admit the crawling feelings in their skulls as they walked into the sectioned-off area.
Greene fished a key out of his pocket and fit it in the gate. “You know, he’s the only one that lived, besides…” he thumbed back to the video screen.
“I know. If you call it life.”
Greene opened the gate. Beyond, a large object, about five feet tall, twisted under a brown tarp. Under the edge of the sheet, two chains extended out, connected to hooks in the concrete floor. They rattled like Marley walking up to Scrooge’s bedroom. “He knew we were coming,” Harrington whispered. “He always knows… everything.”
Greene crept closer to the fluttering tarp, then looked back at his partner. Harrington put his hand on his holster and nodded.
Greene bent to the floor, darted his hand in and yanked away the tarp, sliding over what was underneath.
His eyes, covered by round dark glasses, were turned to a upper corner of the wall, like he wasn’t paying attention to them. A brown overcoat enveloped his entire body, from his feet up to the collar covering all but the top of his head. Each floppy sleeve had a thick metal cuff around it, attached to a chain.
His face was pale with bulging veins. The few wispy dark hairs protruding from his large, round, misshapen head looked almost comical, like a short, fat kid wearing daddy’s clothes. But his grotesqueness made him resemble some kind of man-turtle.
“Gray?” Greene said.
“Mmm, so the picture is red then?” His voice was high, and child-like, as if he were in a dream. It felt like he was putting the words inside their mind, enforced by the fact that they couldn’t see his mouth moving. “There’s a lot of ants on the ground.”
“Y-yes,” Harrington said. “You then know about-“
“There is one. I can see one,” he chirped.
“Is that the one we’re looking for? Do you see-“
“The boy is a puzzle. He is more interesting. They are not out for your life. Nor mine. I feel he is not my brother. I feel no one is.”
Greene looked at Harrington and shrugged. “If you help us look for him-“
“Reward is fleeting. You lie. You will forever lie. He is a game. Cat and mouse? You want to play?”
“Yes. Gray. Can you find him? Can you lead us to him?”
Gray turned his bulbous head to Greene. The coal black lenses regarded him with a cat’s curiosity.
Faster than any human could react, Gray reached out with his right arm and scratched Greene’s hand.
Greene yelped and yanked his hand back. A thick streak of red ran down to his wrist.
“You should have said hullo,” Gray said.
Harrington pulled out his gun and aimed it at Gray. “Stop. Now.”
Gray looked at the gun like it was a new toy he couldn’t figure out how to use. He whispered, “There was a largish lump of butter in the flour. It has to be absorbed.”
“Do not do that.” Harrington slipped into a parent’s tone. “That is bad.”
“This is its first chance to get out into the world. There. I will give you five beetles.”
“Listen to me. This is not a release. You are not getting a reward for this. This is to avoid punishment. Do you comprehend that, mother fucker?”
Gray looked down sadly. “I am crap at parties.”
“Do you understand? We’re not asking, we’re telling.”
Gray looked up. “I am planning to put the garden beneath the gazebo. I would like to do that now.”
Harrington took that as ‘yes’. “Fine. Let’s go, then.” He put the gun in its holster and searched in his pocket for his keys.
Gray pulled his shackled wrists to his mouth. “Unlock,” he whispered in a mouse-quiet voice. The cuffs snapped open and clattered to the ground.
Greene and Harrington froze, then sidled to the corners as Gray stepped off the platform. They stood rigid and alert, expecting anything unexpected.
Gray walked out into the middle of the warehouse. He looked up at the ceiling, as if he was a prisoner who hadn’t seen the sky for ages.
“Did you know?” he sighed back to them, “They call him Rion now.”