Sunday, August 23, 2009

Lead Thoughts and Lost Horizons, Part 5

[Note: This has been on hiatus far too long. I've been meaning to get back to it, but life just kind of passes by. Either way, my intention is to get an entry a week or so. There's much story left to tell.]

The dream slowly drifted away, leaving only the faint traces of a strange scene. He couldn’t remember specifics, only setting and idea. His dreams were always like that.

A sold out theater. Movie, live show, it didn’t matter. He’d been sitting half way back, in the middle of the main section of seating, surrounded by strangers, friends, and family. He laughed in all the appropriate places, cried at all the right times. He was part of the crowd. But he was still alone.

On either side of him were empty seats, oppressive in their silence.

The fact that he wasn’t in an empty bed surprised him, cleared away the last, lingering mists of the lethargic dream state.

Dawn.

He turned and looked at her, sleeping peacefully, the hint of a smile on her face. The clock on the night stand behind her read 2:04.

He wanted to go back to sleep but knew it wouldn’t happen now. He’d never been good at falling asleep, at least not since Basic. And a life lived in secret, first running around jungles and deserts, always in enemy territory, then on the lam, constantly in danger, hadn’t helped. It had been useful, had saved his life on several occasions. He wasn’t ready to give that up, even if he was capable.

He looked at Dawn again. He didn’t understand her, probably couldn’t. She’d let him in. He’d put her in danger, probably in more ways than he would ever know. But she, too, had put him in danger. They'd found him when he decided to stay in one place. Even though that had ultimately been good he still felt trapped.

“You deserve better,” he whispered. She didn’t respond. “You need to find someone who’s actually able to stay with you.”

He rolled out of bed, pulled on the pair of jeans sitting on the floor, and grabbed his cell phone from the nightstand on his side of the bed. He pulled Smith’s card out of the pocket of the jeans and snuck in to the living room. It was time to arrange a meeting, time to start moving again.

After he dialed the number he stared at the phone for a long while. It was a tougher decision than he’d realized. He knew he couldn’t stay, but suddenly realized he didn’t really want to go.

Still, he knew that in the end he had no choice. He pushed the call button.

The phone on the other end picked up on the second ring. “Smith.” It wasn’t the voice of someone awakened from sleep, but someone who was fully alert.

“I, uh…” he wasn’t sure what to say. He’d expected to leave a message on Smith’s voicemail. “This is, um, this is…Alex Simkins,” his own name sounded strange in his ears. “I’m sorry to bother you at this hour.”

“I’m always awake at this hour,” Smith said. “I assume you’re calling to talk about the job.”

“Yes.”

“Be at my office at 9. We’ll talk then.”

“Your office, 9 am.”

“That’s what I said. Anything else?”

“No, not right now, Special Agent Smith.”

“If you get in to any trouble with law enforcement, just show them my card.”

The call cut off.

He flipped the phone closed, stared at it for a moment, then turned back towards the bedroom. Dawn was standing in the doorway, loosely wrapped in a robe, arms crossed over her chest. She looked like she was about to start sobbing.

“So I guess this is getting to be a thing with me,” she said.

“What?”

“The men in my life disappearing from my bed.”

“I…” he had no idea what to say, “I can’t explain it. But this is what I have to do.”

“Yeah, whatever.” She shook her head, then turned and walked back in to the darkness of her bedroom. “You’re just saying that to make your cowardice sound like bravery, you know.” The challenge seemed to come from the walls around him.

* * *

He’d passed through Chicago a few times before, so he knew enough to head in to the city with enough time to account for traffic. But 290 was almost completely empty when he got on. He knew it was a weekday, probably a Tuesday, but those distinctions really didn’t matter anymore. His life had been lacking those standard demarcations for so long that he had a hard time remembering half the time.

It looked to him like the rest of the world had taken on that same attitude. Five cars were headed in to the city when he got on the road. A few more trickled on to the highway as he got closer in, but he never had to drop the Acura’s speed below 65.

Closer in to the city the highway passed next to the tracks for the El trains. Almost no one waited on the platforms. The trains seemed empty. Police with dogs walked up and down the platforms. He caught a glimpse of a cop checking the ID of a commuter.

Traffic began to slow down as he got closer in to the city. Several police cars and a SWAT truck sat off to the side of the road, lights on. Something was going on. Something serious. They generally didn’t send SWAT to car accidents.

The situation rapidly became clear. There was a security checkpoint. Two big, concrete barriers had been set across the ramp to Lower Wacker, forcing traffic in to a choke point that passed beneath a building that stretched across the highway.

He rapidly corrected his assessment. It wasn’t a choke point, but a kill zone. Several second and third floor windows in the building had been broken out. The snouts of .50 cal machine guns poked in to the open air, covering the roadway.

Traffic from the other direction, however, wasn’t being blocked. Apparently they were worried about something getting in to the city but not concerned about what might get out. Rob thought about the collection of guns in the trunk of the RSX and briefly regretted bringing them with.

But there was no way to know. Besides, what was he supposed to do with them? He sure as hell couldn’t have left them at Dawn’s place.

Even with traffic completely stopped the wait wasn’t long. There weren’t many cars and apparently the police weren’t requiring full searches.

An officer tapped on his window. He rolled it down and handed his license over.

“Alex Simkins,” the cop said, reading his ID. “What brings you in to the city today?” The question was delivered in a surprisingly pleasant tone.

“I have a meeting,” Rob replied, deciding not to take any chances. He flashed Smith’s card.

The cop’s eyes widened. He handed the ID back. “Well, then, you’re clear to go, sir.”

“Thanks, officer.” Rob decided to risk a question. “If I may ask, what’s going on?”

“I couldn’t tell you, sir,” the cop said. “I think you know the man to ask, though.”

“Ah. Thanks.”

“Have a pleasant day, sir.”

Rob tossed off a quick salute, rolled up his window, and drove in to Chicago.