Preface: This is Chapter 1 in a full-length novel. If you are interested in reading on, please feel free to email me at the address at the bottom of the home page.
“Do you work for the government?” I asked.
“No,” he answered, not looking up from his laptop. Of course that was the answer he was going to give. I silently chided myself for my stupidity.
“Would you tell me if you did?” I asked, more annoyed at myself than expecting an actual response.
The man looked up from his computer for a moment and eyed me. He had sharp features, though not unattractive. “Yes,” he answered, holding my gaze for a moment longer before breaking away to continue his work.
The second of eye contact surprised me so much that for a moment I had forgotten to comprehend his response. The “yes” convinced me of the honesty behind his first answer, however. Weren’t government agencies required to identify themselves or something?
I walked around the empty room, save for two folding chairs, the laptop and the card table it rested on. How I had arrived here was far more vexing, however. When I had gotten off work from the local news station, (yesterday, I assumed) it was nearing midnight. The parking lot attached to the station was as quiet as it always was. Everything was exactly as routine until I felt what I thought to be a bee sting on my neck. I started to swat it away, only to find a needle and blonde woman pressing the end of it. It only took a second for the fatigue and dizziness to set in. Then I heard a “Hey!” from the adjacent parking lot, but as if through a paper towel tube. Unable to sustain my own weight, I fell to my knees, hand flying sideways into my car in a feeble attempt to stabilize myself. The shout came again and two men rushed over. One came to help me up again, but I felt drunk, working hard just to keep my eyes focused. The other man swatted at and gave chase to the woman at the end of the needle. My last thought before I blacked out completely was about how strange it was that the parking lot was so populated this time of night.
Then I woke up here, with this man, who had not been one of my protectors, to the best of my recollection, typing away on the computer. “Am I your prisoner or are you here to protect me?” I asked him, just trying to understand the situation.
“Both.” He didn’t look up. Okay then.
I remembered something I saw on the news once about how kidnappers treated their prisoners better if they knew their names, so I decided to try.
“My name is Anna –“
“Anna Charlotte Pitt,” the man finished for me, clearly annoyed. “If you please, I’m trying to work.” What was I supposed to do? Having grown up a fan of the Sherlock Holmes novels, I decided to try to get answers from my surroundings. I had long ago concluded that the methods were largely ineffective in real life, but at least it couldn’t hurt now.
First, the room. It appeared to be an entirely empty office, and without windows. The walls were of drywall with only one door, a paneled roof, and two vents on the floor, one on each side of the room, and neither large enough to fit anything bigger than a house cat through. Okay. Office building by the tiling in the roof. They were near the core of the building, since there were no windows and office buildings were always lined with windows. Probably not the first floor, as the vents were on the floor and not the ceiling.
The table and chairs were makeshift, both folding, suggesting they had been put there in a hurry. The laptop the man typed on was a Dell. Nothing special there, more than likely. As a reporter, I spent a lot of time around video equipment, but I had picked up some about computers. I was by no means “hacker” quality, though.
I turned my attention to the man. He was dressed in a collared, professional shirt, but without the jacket or tie needed to make it a suit. Slacks, black. No visible mud or scuffs on the shoes. Hands appeared uncalloused, as if he spent much of his time doing precise work instead of manual labor. The knuckles did appear to have been scarred before, though. A tan around his collar suggested he had spent some time outside. He worked in real estate, I decided. Probably even procured this building. It was a fanciful explanation, but it suited me.
Suddenly I noticed him eyeing me as I studied him. I looked somewhere – anywhere – else until I heard the keyboard resume clicking. Aware that I wasn’t pacing anymore, I started again, hoping for another angle on the contradictory man. In the past, I had had a knack for determining if people were telling the truth, and it seemed he was honest, at least. How much he would reveal, though, was another question entirely.
“Can I go home soon?” I asked. Assuming today was actually the day after my most recent memory, I had no work and no particular place to be. The only one to notice my absence would perhaps be my dog. Even she got enough snacks and attention from the neighbors while she was in the yard that she would be set for food and content, save for missing her bed last night.
There was no change in the man’s focus nor any suggestion he had heard my question. “Maybe I’ll just kill you and walk out,” I said, flippant, throwing my hands in the air. Suddenly and silently the man stood and glided up to me, standing at least half a foot over me and glaring down. I knew immediately I would be outmatched if it came to a fight. I held his gaze, not wanting to show how intimidated I really felt. For the first time since I got off camera, my heart was racing.
After what felt like an eternity, but really couldn’t have been more than ten seconds, the man blew air out his nostrils and went back to the table. To my surprise, however, he closed the laptop instead of sitting in front of it. He then picked it up and went to the door. He paused, however, with his hand on the door handle.
“Stay.” His voice was firm. He had turned his head slightly to speak over his shoulder, but did not face me. He then simply opened the door and walked out. Now was my chance to escape. I assessed the room again, but even as I did, I realized a voice inside me didn’t want to. What had happened last night? Why me? The little voice was growing with my curiosity. I was going to figure this out. I had to admit it to myself, I was a reporter, born and bred.
“Stay.” Black had spoken with authority, but he had left to seek some. If she was smart, it wouldn’t take much for the wall to fall apart if the reporter struck it with a leg of the folding chair. But Blue was outside the door as Black exited and could stop her, if need be. Black needed to see the boss. And needed to get out of that room, if he was perfectly honest with himself.
The door to the Saturday’s office was slightly ajar, so Black stepped in and waited to be acknowledged. The room was dark, with a map of the city projected on a dry erase board providing the only light.
“Join us, Black,” the older man, standing, invited. He was in charge of the whole operation, the one they called Saturday. The founders were a group of seven, and they had addressed each other by days of the week. Three were now dead or presumed dead, including Black’s brother, another departed from the organization, and another arrested, leaving only Saturday and Tuesday left. The rest of the people involved under Saturday called each other by the names of colors. Tuesday’s people were all types of rocks or minerals, as Black understood it. That naming scheme had proved far less finite and far more telling than the days of the week.
His last name actually was Black, incidentally, but only a few, those who were a part of the organization before him, knew that. “Where is Tuesday?” he asked after being invited into the conversation. The man ran his own division of the organization in Arizona but was nearby for a visit.
“Here,” chimed in the hollow male voice over the speakerphone in the center of the room. “Any news on our reporter friend?”
“Nothing that I could find,” Black said, setting the laptop down on the conference table and plugging it in so that it may charge. “She’s a reporter, if you can go so far as to call what she does news.” News in this town mostly consisted of cats stuck up trees and fundraising events. “Her most recent story was about a comfort animal that found its way home.”
“Selfies?” Saturday asked. An odd question, but it didn’t take Black long to understand why he asked. If there were many, it would imply a superficial person, in which case she was likely targeted for blackmail of another person or ransom. In contrast, if there weren’t any, they could assume she was the target of her own merit.
“Two,” Black answered. “Both for stories.”
“Only child. Mother died in a car crash two years ago. She doesn’t seem to have spoken to her father since.” Black glanced around the room. Two others were there, Green and Scarlett. Scarlett was the only female in the twenty-some-odd people Black had met within the organization. She had flirted with him on multiple occasions, but Black suspected she got a thrill and obtained much of her power that way, and he had quickly lost interest.
“Graduated in journalism two and a half years ago and signed a contract in that town before moving here to report. Most of the pictures she posts are of her dog or coworkers. There seems to be nothing significant about this woman.”
“Then why would they be targeting her?” Saturday mused. Green, who was normally the one who focused his efforts on the opposition, shifted in his seat but did not offer an answer. It was he who provided the tip that they were targeting Anna and he was there to help protect her and bring her in last night.
“Did you ask her directly?” Tuesday asked through the box in the center of the room.
“No,” Black confessed.
“Good. Let her go, but keep an eye on her. They might show themselves again. So long as she knows nothing, she can’t harm us. We’ll get more if we can capture her attacker.”
“Black, you and Cyan bring her back to her car.”
Black nodded and exited the room, leaving the laptop behind.
I sat in the back seat of the car in an uncomfortable silence. The man had put a bag over my head and told me not to remove it until he said so. I obeyed, aware of little more than the fact I was being brought through an elevator, outside the building, and guided into a car.
“Okay,” he said after ten minutes. “You can take it off.”
I gladly reached for it and pulled. Fresh air was welcomed in contrast to my stifled breathing in the bag, and I looked around. We were near the downtown area and could have come from near anywhere in the city. My driver, on the other hand, was vaguely familiar. Where did I know him from? Had I interviewed him for something before?
“Where are you taking me?” I asked.
“Your car is at the news station,” the man driving said. Ah! He was one of the people I had seen the night previous when I got off work.
“That’s it?” I asked.
“Until we know why they were targeting you, yeah.”
“Who are ‘we’ and ‘they’?”
“’They’ are the government.”
I bristled at the comment. “The government is on our side. Of the people, by the people, for the people.” I knew several cops, an attribute that proved helpful as in my line of work, and they were all good people.
“Locally, I’d agree,” my driver said. “Not nationally.”
Feds? Why on earth would they be after me? And why not arrest me straight out for whatever the cause was? Then the law could sort it out. The law rarely failed, in my experience.
“What’s your name?” I asked, curious. If I figured anything out, I would be interested in contacting him for an interview. This one was much more conversational and nicer than the one on the laptop earlier.
The man hesitated only a moment before answering. “Cyan.”
“Is that your real name?” I asked, skeptical. This whole cloak and dagger routine was getting old.
The driver turned the wheel, taking the off ramp toward the station. “No.” Fair enough. I waited for the light to turn green before he pulled into the parking lot. As “Cyan”, if he wanted to be called that, slowed the car to a stop, he grabbed a bag from the foot area of the passenger seat. “There you go,” he said, handing it to me. It contained my purse, keys, and phone. All the things that had disappeared at the time of my abduction.
“Uh, thanks.” I put everything back in their respective pockets.
“Off you go,” he insisted, though gently.
The moment I stepped out of the surprisingly expensive-looking car, Cyan sped off, the sudden speed closing my door before I could. I went to my car and paused. I could verify this man’s story right now. We had a digital archive of all the press releases – I could see if my name was wanted on any of them.
I stared into the planter next to my parking spot as I thought. The sod had been disturbed and a branch of a bush smashed in. It looked like a crime scene, but without the tape. Why not double check?
“Are you on call this weekend?” Matt, the weekend producer, asked as I walked in.
“Nah,” I responded, not eager to volunteer to help. Suddenly I realized I had nixed my reason for being there at all. “My, uh, battery died. Is Suzanne here? I’ve an idea for a story.” If there was actually some sort of government conspiracy, I had the chance to blow this wide open.
“I think she’s in her office with Jenny right now.”
“I’ll wait, then.” I sat down at my computer where I had a clear line of sight of the room and to Suzanne’s office. I opened the network folder that held digital copies of any press releases faxed to us. There were several that had come in between when I had last read through them and So Cyan, and his whole organization, whoever they were, were wrong. I rubbed my neck and stretched, realizing too late I had pressed on the tiny bruise where the needle had gone in. Was it a case of mistaken identity? Possible, I supposed, but unlikely. I had a pretty public face in this town, especially since I was the only dark-haired female reporter at the station.
The door to Suzanne’s office opened and Jenny stepped out, writing herself a note on her tablet. I was four steps away from my desk before I realized the warrant database was still open on my desktop. I sprang back, clicked the little “x” in the corner, and rushed to the boss’s office.
I had been in this little room a hundred times, at least, in my past six months here, but my inner child still felt like I was in the principal’s office every time. This despite the fact that Suzanne was one of the best and most caring bosses I could ask for.
“Anna! Have a seat.” Suzanne clicked her mouse a few times before turning her attention toward me. “How’s it going?”
“Going well,” I answered. Part of me felt like I should be panicked after yesterday’s ordeal, but I really wasn’t. More like curious. “A story has just fallen in my lap. How hard would it be for me to take the week off to pursue it?”
“A week? What’s the story?” Most days I was assigned two stories; one if it was a big deal. Suzanne’s surprise at my timeline was understandable, now that I thought about it. I just wanted to do this right, if it turned out to be anything at all.
“I’m not sure yet. Could be nothing. I’d come back in after I know it’s concluded.”
“I don’t see why not. We’re at full staff this week, so we could spare you. You’d have to use the time to work, and if it doesn’t pan out, then apply vacation time afterward. Fair enough?”
“Thanks,” I said, standing, eager to leave before she could rescind her approval.
“Oh, and Anna?” I turned and smiled, despite my inner dread that she might change her mind.
“Keep track of how much time you spend on this. If it turns out to be worth a week of your time, HR will need exact numbers.” Right.
“Will do. Thanks!” I grabbed my camera from my desk and left before I could be stopped again.