(I promise I am working on a Celestial Matter's sequel. Still, I hope this one doesn't disappoint.)
It was always quiet in here.
Maybe that's why I come every once in a while. I come when I need to clear my head, when I need to think. It was a familiar place, always the same. It was a place that seemed to be stuck in time. And in a city where everything is always moving and always changing, stability is something very precious indeed.
I was sitting in a smooth mahogany pew in St. John's Church. It was an old church, the stain glass windows were slightly grimy, and the hymnals and the leaflets showed signs of wear. The deacon was lovingly replacing the candles on the altar and watering the flowers sitting on the banisters. He was an elderly man with balding grey hair and small glasses. He was hard of hearing, but was quick with a smile.
He always nodded when he saw me sitting in the pew. He never came and talked, maybe he sensed I didn't want to speak, or maybe he simply wanted to leave me to my reflections. I didn't know, but I always returned his nod with a smile.
St. John's was located on a little street in the heart of Queens New York. It wasn't my neighborhood, and I always looked a little out of place with my suit, tie and silver watch. But no one ever bothered me. It seemed even criminals respected a man who sat alone in a Church. I had come here so much now that no one ever seemed to even notice me anymore.
I always sat in the same place, but I never prayed.
I wasn't a believer.
Faith in God was not what dragged me back to this wooden bench time and again. I came for the solitude, for the companionship of the old walls and the smell of old incense.
It was, in a way, an escape from the constant pace of my life, my job, and my worries.
Sitting nestled in my coat pocket was a little black wallet. Inside the fold of leather was an FBI badge and an ID card. They both declared me as Special Agent Jonathan Creed. I was an FBI Agent, and a successful one at that. But I hated the job. An agent doesn't have any friends but other agents. An Agent doesn't have any lover but the Bureau. Well, that last part wasn't true, many agents had families, but they were families who you couldn't discuss your day with, so I saw little point in pursuing that.
I slowly rose from the pew, and nodded to the elderly lady who was weeping in the pew behind me. I quietly moved down the aisle, and out the old wooden double doors, into the cold bite of the New York City winter. I drew my coat around me, and hurried to my car. It was an unassuming black sedan. It was last year's model, an inconspicuous Ford. This year's Bureau model was a Chevy.
The sun hadn't come up yet, it was only 5:30 in the morning. But the city that never slept still had cars on her roads. Hence it took me close the forty minutes to get from the center of Queens to 26 Federal Plaza, where the district office was held. I parked up and walked through the glass doors. Paul, the large red haired man who guarded the entrance nodded at me as I swiped my clearance card.
"Mornin' John," he boomed in his warm gravelly voice.
I gave my traditional greeting, "How are you Paul my man," I said, forcing as much cheer into my voice as possible.
"Not bad, John, not bad. Could do with a little sunshine but probably in'nt gonna happen."
I simply smiled again, "Well, never give up hope Paul."
Paul buzzed me through to the elevator and I got in.
The office was set up like most police stations. There was a center area of cubicles where all the new agents worked. The executive offices were built into the surrounding walls ... This center area was called the 'bullpen'. It was a chaotic place, where phones constantly rang, and agents had to dutifully answer.
Most calls where bullshit.
But one in one hundred phone calls were legitimate tips, so all calls were answered, processed and recorded.
I had never worked in the bullpen.
Something for which I was greatful.
My office was a little room along one of the walls. Plain letters on a simple wooden door stated, 'Special Agent Jonathan Creed'. My office was about as big as a walk in closet, with just enough room for a desk and a file cabinet.
The same file that I had left on my desk last night still sat there. The tab was marked UniCORP. I scooped the file off my desk and turned right around. I had to report on this today with the branch executive Agent.
Special Agent Jones.
I had spent two months on this case and I was finally ready to proceed to the next stage. All I needed was Jones's say so.
Samuel Jones could be described as ... average. He had a face that one looked at, and then instantly forgot. He had short brown hair that was graying at the temples, brown eyes and a plain face. He always wore a gray suit with a gray tie and a white shirt. This wardrobe was accompanied with plain brown shoes and a brown belt. He was, in all respect of the word, forgettable.
Only on closer examination would one notice that behind his eyes blazed a sort of fire. He had a hot and uncontrollable determination that had allowed him to rise to his current office, and hold it, against all the backstabbing and closed door politics that happened all too often in the FBI.
He was sitting at his desk, calmly flipping through some other file.
I poked my head in.
"Mr. Jones, we had a meeting scheduled for seven O'clock?"
He looked up from his files. "Ah yes, Jonathan, it slipped my mind." He said absently. He indicated a chair. "Please, sit down."
I lowered myself into the chair, and handed him my folder. He simply glanced at it, and set it back down.
"John, I've been reading these things all morning. How about you just tell me what's in it and I'll read it later."
I cleared my throat. "As you know sir I've been looking into some of the dealings done by UniCORP, and what I've found is a little disturbing. Not only do I suspect them of tax evasion ranging somewhere into the multimillions, but recent evidence leads me to suspect the company of developing illegal software."
Jones clasped his hands together. "Illegal how?"
I cleared my throat. This is where things got bad. I had no proof, only speculation.
"Well, you see sir, last year they developed the Ragnok satellite system. The year before that they perfected the military grade P.A.T.H. OS which is now used in every tank, sub, and missile of American origin ... suffice it to say sir, these people are intelligent and wildly driven. But this year the only thing they have developed worthy of note is JumpTECH, which is some sort of automatic parachute landing technology. This tech already existed, they just took it and made it a little bit better."
Jones was now looking curiously. "Your point?"
I once again cleared my throat, confident that I at least wouldn't be laughed out of his office. "I suspect that JumpTECH was merely a cover for what they have really been producing. That the only way they could hide so many tax dollars from the IRS is if they were constructing something that technically wasn't on the market."
"Well sir, last year they hired one Dr. Elijah Brigs. This wouldn't be very incidental if he were a physicist, or an engineer or something that has any business working on JumpTECH. But Dr. Brigs is a neuroscientist, and let me be clear ... he is a very good neuroscientist. I pulled his file and apparently his was sacked from John Hopkins three years ago. The details in the file were not very specific, but they simply said, 'Breech of Scientific Code of Ethics.' Now that makes me wonder, why is a neuroscientist working for UniCORP when nothing they have produced even resembles brain work?"
I could see the wheels turning in Jones's head. He liked where this was going. He liked it a lot.
"I assume you have a plan Jonathan," he said.
I smiled. "Some of my underground contacts have said they are having what they call, a 'little garage sale' going on in one warehouse 5B off the docks.
Jones was smiling. I could already tell I'd sold him on my little sting.
He drew himself up. "Special Agent Creed, I gather you like to do your own field work?"
"Good, I am then hereby authorizing 3.5 million dollars to be used to pick up an item from this little 'garage sale'. You will be given a Bureau alias that has not been compromised and you will infiltrate this little party and bring back hard evidence."
I stood smiling. "Thank you sir."
Jones tossed back a mug of what must be cold coffee. "You've never been wrong before. Let's hope you can keep your no hitter career going."
I rented a limo to take me to the warehouse. I needed to look like dropping a million dollars on a new computer would be second nature to me. I looked at my fake ID again. My name was Ike Hale. I was a Canadian billionaire who liked sports cars and made his money by managing hedge funds. In essence, my money appeared from nowhere, and was untraceable. But when it came to billionaire's I've found that everyone is happier not asking questions.
I arrived at the warehouse at eleven at night. It was poorly lit outside but there were several cars parked outside. Several of them were Mercedes, even more were Ferrari, and of course, there was a whole drove of limos, coming in and out to pick up their clients. Most limos simply idled in the expansive parking area, the chauffeurs smoking cigars or reading newspapers while they waited.
I told my chauffeur to wait here. He nodded, and pulled out a book of Sudoku he saved for just such an occasion.
At the front door, I was greeted by a scary looking Eastern European bouncer, who was checking invitations. The real Ike Hale had been invited to this little get together. But he had a lot of pressure being put on him by the Canadian government, and as an act of good faith they leaned on him until he gave up his invitation.
I produced the little piece of expensive looking stationary, and was waved inside.
It was dark and dingy. Crowded around were about fifty or so incredibly rich individuals who were clearly uncomfortable with their surroundings, but were willing to risk it. When UniCORP said they have something of interest to sell, most felt they simply couldn't refuse.
We loitered inside the dark interior for about thirty minutes. About twenty of the individuals had already left, muttering under their breath things like, 'don't they know who I am', or 'a dirty warehouse ... really'.
There were only twenty nine people who had decided to stick it out and see if there was anything fruitful to come of their trip out here.
Finally, after what seemed like an hour, a small wiry man in a dark suit and a red tie bounded out from the warehouse's back room.
He smiled genially to all the people gathered, most of whom, were frowning at him.
"Sorry for the wait everyone, we had a bit of a problem with some of the merchandise, but it is all settled now." He gazed out amongst us. "Now, I bet you are all wondering why you are here exactly.
Every single person grumbled in what sounded like the affirmative.
"Well, we are going to have a little auction tonight, with technology that has stepped right out of the pages of fantasy ... unfortunately, we aren't going to tell you what it is. At least for the first item anyway." His smile grew to a smirk. "The bidding starts at one million."
There was a small gasp from the crowd. As I expected, the incredibly rich buyers had walked out the second they had seen the less than ideal surroundings. The people left were as comfortable with million dollar mystery auctions.
I raised my hand.
The little man acknowledged me with a nod. "I have one million, do I hear a million five."
A pudgy man that was already sweating through his suit raised his hand.
"Million and a half."
I decided to raise it to all I had, and jump several stages. It would perhaps scare away other bidders.
I raised my hand and stated, "Three million five."
There was a small rumbling through the crowd, and the pudgy man shook his head.
The wiry little man smiled. "Sold, for three million and five hundred thousand dollars."
The little man pulled out a little laptop from his brief case, and politely asked for the account number.
I rattled off the FBI account, which would automatically put a bug in their system and allow us to trace the money.
He was positively beaming when he saw the purchase clear.
"Now it is time for you to see what you've bought."
Slowly from the back room a bound goddess was lead out in front of me.
She had beautiful cascading red hair and sparkling green eyes. And she was bound with handcuffs and had duct tape over her mouth. There were tears flowing from her eyes.
I could feel my stomach sinking.
Somewhere from the back of the crowd someone shouted, "This doesn't look like new software, it looks like a kidnapped super model!"
The wiry man smiled again. "Ah, but my friend, she is the technology. But allow me to demonstrate."
He turned to me produced a plastic wrapped cue tip. "Please swab your mouth sir."
I hesitated for a brief second then put the cue tip in my mouth and swished it around. I gingerly handed it back to him.
"Now please observe." He said.
He gently moved the girl's lock locks from the back of her neck, revealing her pale jaw line.
He placed the cue tip on the back of her neck.
"Just under her skin is a microchip that has been fused to her spinal cord. The chip sends special frequencies to her brain, and controls various actions and feelings in her mind and body. This unit's chip is currently inactive. A chip is activated when a sample of DNA is placed for about a minute on the back of her neck, long enough for her pours to absorb it and for it to touch the chip's sensor. As soon as that happens the chip activates and the sensor is permanently shut down, making it impossible for a new strain of DNA to be imputed into the chip."
My stomach turned. This girl had some sort of minicomputer attached to her spine, and I couldn't do anything but watch as she struggled weakly against her bonds, trying to avoid the cue tip that was touching her neck.
I then heard a barely audible click.
The man smiled. "We have a successful input ... she'll pass out soon as the chip begins to activate. Perhaps she'd like to speak before that happens." He ripped the masking tape off her mouth.
She was quivering. She seemed barely in control of herself. Tears fell freely from her beautiful eyes.
She sobbed, "You can't do this to me. I'm a person ... I am a human being for God's sake ... I just want to go home ... I just want to ... just want ... please..." The red headed girl closed her eyes, and slumped to the floor. A small gurgling noise was audible from her mouth. Unconsciousness had taken her mid sentence.
The wiry man motioned to someone, and the bouncer from the door scooped the girl into his arms, and brought her over to me. He set her down at my feet.
He smiled a toothless grin. "Enjoy yur purchuse ser."
The entire time I was watching this ordeal I had been pressing the panic button. The panic button was a pen I had in my pocket. To activate it all I had to do was triple click it in under a two seconds.
Response time was usually five minutes.
The wiry man had already re-started the bidding. Except that now the rich buyers knew what they were paying for, the bidding had already reached eight million.
The FBI responded to the panic call in four minutes and twenty three seconds. They burst through the door in full swat gear, just as another girl was being led out from the backroom. The wealthy buyers all hit the deck, while the wiry man simply held up his hands. His face was a mask of pure hatred. The European bouncer made a run for it. He was shot in the back twice with automatic rounds.
The arrests all took place within seconds. Everyone was carted into FBI cars, and were spirited away into interrogation rooms, where they would all eventually be sprung by high powered lawyers.
The wiry man, however, was not so lucky. Apparently his name was Richard Dribble, and he was wanted in thirty states for backroom dealings and several accounts of insurance related arson. All the girls were immediately rushed off to the hospital, including the red head that had fallen unconscious.
It was all over now, and I was standing by the dock, looking at the nighttime ocean.
After all the commotion and arrests had taken place, Jones himself appeared on the scene.
"You took a big chance calling us in. If the 'probable cause' angle doesn't clear in court then we are in a huge mess of legal trouble." He let that hang in the air for a second. Then he broke into a laugh. "But I have never heard of 'probable cause' as good as human trafficking right in the middle of NYC."
He took note of my mood and his smile faded.
"You did good work today Jonathan. Don't forget that."
He walked away and disappeared into the throng of milling people and flashing blue and red lights.
My mind drifted back to the red headed girl, and how she had begged right in front of me. How she desperately screamed that she was a human being, and not a science project.
I tried to picture the Church of St. John's in my mind. I tried to calm my raging emotions. But to no avail. The tranquility I found in its old walls was lost to me
I felt dizzy.
I threw up over the pier into the dark waters below.
I was sitting in my office with the lights off.
I was doing my usual victory ritual. The ritual involved closing the blinds and telling my exploits to a bottle of scotch. It was four in the morning. I could hear people milling about the bullpen. They were making calls, getting calls and dealing with lawyers.
As expected, all the rich individuals were no longer sitting in our interrogation rooms. The little lawyer bees had already stormed in. They were ready with claims that their client had no idea what UniCORP was selling, and that they were all morally horrified at the idea of human slavery and simply wanted to go home and forget about it.
The DA said there was absolutely no way we could prove them wrong. In the end, all of them walked.
I swiveled around on my chair in the dark office. Half my bottle of scotch was gone, and I was pouring myself another glass. I don't know why I like to get drunk when I close a case, maybe I'm an alcoholic.
I peeked through the blinds to the street below.
The city always looked beautiful from my window. The night lights of town sparkled off the skyscrapers, and little headlights could be seen moving about the streets. The window was cold to the touch. No surprise. Snow blanketed the trees and sidewalks, and everything looked very peaceful.
Man's city glowed like a gem in the night air. Its radiant peace was a sharp contrast to the shrill sound of voices busily going about Bureau business. Phones were ringing incessantly in the distance, angrily waiting to be answered.
I would have to go out there again soon. I was lead agent on the winter's most exciting case. I would go out there into that throng of people, and stand under the obnoxious fluorescent lights, and tell them they were all doing a great job.
I downed the last dregs of my drink, and grimaced.
There was a knock at the door.
"Come in," I said. Even I could tell my voice was slightly slurred.
Special Agent Jim Brown opened the door.
If I called anyone at the Bureau my friend it would Jim. He was the only one who looked past my age, he was neither jealous of me, nor a rival of my position. He didn't look down his nose at me. He was my superior, and he was the only one who knew how I liked to unwind after a case.
"You drink too much of that stuff you know." He said in his naturally calm and smooth voice. Jim was the specialist at interrogation in the New York chapter of the Bureau. He had a mastery of words that made you feel like you could trust him.