As they waited for the lights to dim and the video to be cued back up, Billy cleared his throat to get the NSA chief’s attention. Something in his gut told him that after the video Josh might “forget” that he did not have any assurance that ESS would work the investigation. As one of three founders, and as the member of the leadership team with the responsibility to keep ESS from being diverted from its strategic plan that was developed by the team and their vigilant board of directors and this NSA-led project was a diversion.
Josh looked up from the pile of papers on the table in front of him. Billy saw the the brief flicker of doubt in his old friend’s eyes before it was hidden behind what he guessed was the agency’s approved blank look. “In Elko, likely Friday, Coke and I will present the agency’s request—”
“President Early is making the request…”
“…through your agency. No matter how you cut it, the NSA is the operator,” Billy said, incensed. “It’s their investigation. You’re just cloaking it with the president’s authority so as to give the NSA cover to be in the middle of what should be turned over to the FBI and state law enforcement. And dragging us into it.” Billy held the gripped the arms of his chair underneath the table where Josh could not see as he fought for control. During their college days, Josh had always gotten the best of him. Angeline had called Josh her stoic boyfriend. The stoic, nearly implacable Josh was still there. Ultimately, this implacability had been what had bored Angeline. Billy glanced over at Coke, who most times was the least calm team member, but for whatever reason seemed to be enjoying all of this. It was not calm, Billy saw in Coke’s eyes, but a waiting. He would strike, but only when Josh would not be able to strike back. As the Marine stepped back in, Billy tried again, this time with a measured control that he did not feel inside and using words that conveyed his distrust of the man who taken his friend’s place. “Don’t think watching this video doesn’t mean ESS agrees to take this investigation on.”
The lights dimmed and the feed first for the audio started, then the video portion. “It’s streaming from NK,” Josh said by way of explanation.
Billy’s back hit the chair and he would have run out of the room or covered his eyes except that Angeline had watched it and for her sake, he had to know what had upset her. Now he knew. She had not been exaggerating when she had compared favorably the brand of horror and gore Stephen King employed to this. Two men were being torn apart by a pack of emaciated out-of-control pit bulls. His voice echoed the disgust and horror. “Is this live?”
“No,” Josh said. He pointed the laser remote in his hand at the screen, circling the times at the bottom with a red circle. “These would read the actual time in NK.” He checked his watch, a green glow emitting from the face. “It’s two hours later there now.”
The screen went dark and for a few seconds, Billy thought it was over. He sat up only to be flattened back in his chair with the resumption of the feed.
“Was that a technical difficulty?” Coke asked.
To Billy’s amazement, Coke had sounded unaffected. He glanced over at Josh, who was flipping through a series of screens on his laptop. His expression was as unreadable as usual. Billy looked to his left at Coke and was relieved at observing Coke’s breathing fast, as if he were about to hyperventilate. I’m not the only normal one here.
“It was not, here or there…not in feed…satellite shows a dark area and then bright lights again,” Josh said, throwing the satellite feed up on the screen to the left. He circled the stadium with the laser. “It’s—”
Coke interrupted the spy chief. An urgency lit his voice. “Something’s happened. There’s only one man out there.”
Billy examined the video more carefully, though his stomach rebelled, turning over as a dog’s teeth ripped the flesh from the cheek as Josh took over the controls of the feed from the Marine.Josh stopped, reversed, and magnified that portion of the video, throwing it up on the screen to the right.
“Not enough time to get out of the stadium; it looks to be at least 500 feet to the closest gate, maybe more,” Josh commented, panning the center feed around to facing the entryway the truck that brought the crate with the dogs inside. “The door has electric locks.” He threw up a shot of the door magnified.”Three.”
“If it’s like any other doors or gates with electric locks, it doesn’t open fast,” Coke said, sitting up, scrutinizing the solid grey metal door and the control panel with its three flashing red lights.
Josh punched up the time underneath the right screen. “Sixty-five seconds.”
“So where did the second man go?” Billy asked, counting the dogs on the center screen with his finger. “Seven. All of the dogs are still there.”
“You have access to schematics or drawings on this?” Coke asked, scrutinizing the feed on the right screen as Josh changed the angle to show different parts of the stadium.
“Likely…”Josh said, a smile slowly forming.
Billy scowled back, annoyed at what Josh’s smile assumed. He had swiveled in his chair to face Coke, having seen enough of the carnage, though still not understanding what in the video had gotten to Angeline. There was nothing personal on there and she was not the type to act the distressed lady at the stuff that usually upset more modest feminine types. His mind went to Aunt Trula’s last words in their phone call. He too wondered about his aunt’s reference to Memoirs of a Geisha. After she had returned from Baltimore, Angeline had regaled the team with her visit with Aunt Trula for the team loved hearing about the eccentric old spinster and her quest to read all 1001 books. The mention of the book made no sense. Aunt Trula never reread a book and never before now had wanted to rehash past discussions. So what gives? Asian ye—
A hard slap on his shoulder caught him staring hard at Coke. He was about to ask what for when he noticed Josh looking at the both of them. He kicked Coke under the table, prompting Coke to turn for a moment and look at him. “What?” he whispered.
“Fucking sonofabitch…escaped…and I wanted…,” Coke said, his tone hard, angry though low.
Billy turned back around, prepared to tell Coke he was seeing what he wanted to see–Angeline’s attacker. On the way over, Coke, his temper legendary, had spat out what he intended to do the good doctor.
“No one messes with Angeline,” Coke had said before recalling an incident that had involved their great grandfather and a transient who had attempted to rape his wife. “He deserves spikes being driven in his feet and…”
Seeing the jerk of the taxicab driver’s head and his worried glance in the rear view mirror, Billy had cut Coke off that point. The words never came as he was struck dumb. Just before the seven dogs closed on him, the doctor’s face, what remained, had been featured in a close-up.
“What?” Josh asked, mimicking Billy as the audio and video feed ended abruptly and the center screen changed to snow.
Feeling Josh’s eyes still on them, he again kicked Coke. “Leave it…for now.” With barely a turn of his head, Billy explained. “He’s a dog lover…”
“Mistreating them, not feeding them,” Coke said, taking Billy’s cue, finishing the answer.
“Angeline won’t arrive until Thursday night…6, I believe,” Billy said. Coke and he were on the way to Darnell’s widow’s house. They would be early as the meeting with Josh had ended after the video had ended, Josh having been called away on another matter. Coke drove, being the more familiar with D.C. traffic. Coke always drove like his passenger was a woman on the verge of giving birth. It did no good to suggest or yell at him to slow down. In fact, it usually made it worse. So Billy gripped the arm rest, his knuckles white, and kept mum as Coke negotiated a traffic circle. He closed his eyes as their loaner Lincoln suv competed with an suv in the left lane. Only inches separately the speeding vehicles. “I was…” Billy groaned as the suv next to them leaned into them, almost scraping them. Coke jerked the wheel to the right, the right front wheel hitting the white nubs that signaled the end of the road. “Shit! That was close.”
Coke’s response was to laugh as he leaned on the horn and gave the other drive a finger.
Taking a breath, Billy continued. “As I was saying before we almost bought it” Billy glared at Coke who shrugged, “I was thinking about two meetings for Friday– one for the team in the morning and then one in the afternoon for the team and staff.”
“Vote on the DH project as our new research team has named it? Then move forward with the staff? Jackie and Carla should be in on the first meeting,” Renee said, as Billy put her on speaker. “I’ll get Gwen to set them up. Lunch for the first meeting. Dinner for the second meeting.”
“We can’t include Research in the first…not classified…we have to send a video up-link of the meeting to Josh and only leadership team has classification to be in the room,” Coke said, turning up the volume on the suv’s aux jack.
“I was going to ask this anyways, but how about we move the talk about the group to Thursday night? That’ll give leadership status…at least quasi….enough for Josh. We really need Jackie and Carla there so they get the full details.They’ll know eventually,” Renee offered.
“And, if they don’t join? Then what?” Billy asked, relaxing. The lanes were significantly wider and traffic thinned the further they drove. “We’re going to be late getting in…around 7.”
“If Angeline talks to Jackie…makes sure she understands that she doesn’t have to participate…just keep her mouth shut, then Jackie will join, and Carla—”
“Carla’s all right,” Coke said, finishing Renee’s sentence. “Angeline will be there already and we’re flying to Elko and we have dinner on the flight so I say Thursday night works.”
Billy punched Coke in the arm. He tried one last time to put the meeting back to Saturday night. He was tired already and had a lot of work to catch up on. “Brandon and Barb okay with this?”
“They suggested it. She wants to see Temple Electronica-Purity
at the club Saturday night and Brandon will switch with you and open the club for you,” Renee said. The club was one of two nightclubs located on the ESS grounds. One, on an isolated patch of land catered to heavy metal and hard rock while the other club located just inside the East gate catered to rhythm and blues, soul and jazz–all Barb’s favorites. Security saw to the first club while the leadership kept tabs on the second club with each member of the team taking turns in welcoming the performers.
Billy threw up his hands. “Set it up then. No longer than an hour. Friday’s going to be long.”