Howdy readers. As promised, here is the third section of Time Snatch. I’ve made this section about 5,000 words as a little gift for those who have been sticking with this story so diligently. I’ll be interested, when the full story is out, to hear from you guys about how you liked this method of delivery. In some ways it reminds me of a soap opera, giving you a bit more of the story before leaving you with a mini-cliff hanger. Hopefully I can continue keeping you guys engaged in the story until the very end. For those who haven’t read the first two Time Snatch sections, I would highly recommend hopping into those first before starting with this story. Maybe once the entire story is posted to the site, I’ll put them all together into one ginormous post so it can be read in one continuous sitting without having to shuffle through different links. As always, I hope to hear from you guys. Leave me a comment! And if the Mayan’s were right about tomorrow, I hope you all have a happy end of the world!
Time Snatch, Part 3
My head was splitting, and my normally sunny disposition was being tested to the limit. But between the blood trickling down my neck from the gaping wound on my head, the obstructed blood flow to my hands from cuffs fastened too tight, and the cold unforgiving metal seats of the prisoner transfer vehicle that sent shocks of pain sprinting through my spine every time we caught a bit of turbulence, I don’t think anybody could blame me.
That’s not entirely true.
Raines could make a compelling case for blaming me, but hey at least we were still alive. Though for some that’s not as uplifting a fact as for others.
Raines sat sandwiched between two guards on the bench across from me. Her head hung in her chest as she stared despondently at the ground. For a woman who had never disobeyed an order, she sure picked a hell of a time to start.
I shifted my weight to the side in an attempt to get a more comfortable amount of blood flow into my legs. The guard to my left dropped his shoulder and shoved me against the guard to my right, who in turn shoved me back. Both men kept their eyes pointed forward, seemingly unaware, or at least uninterested, in the plight of the man wedged tightly between them.
There were no windows in the back of the van to gauge the distance we had travelled. The bank was less than twenty minutes from the precinct, and though I’m sure we were making great time weaving through traffic with the blue and red lights flashing on top, I was surprised to feel the sudden deceleration of the vehicle as we banked hard to the right. The two guards beside me shot questioning glances to the two guards beside Raines who, for her part, had looked up from the ground which had held her interest ‘til this point.
“Bathroom break, already?” I said feeling the creases in my brow punctuating the question. Raines’ face was frozen in a similar look of confusion, as the guard to my left spoke into the radio strapped to his shoulder.
“Why are we stopping?” he said.
Everybody in the back of the van held their breath as the vehicle continued its deceleration before jerking to a complete stop as if issuing a non-verbal response to the guard’s question.
“Answer me, Doug.” He said again with more urgency in his voice. “Why are we sto…”
The sentence would forever remain frozen on the tip of the guards tongue as the Life Counter on his arm, and those of the three other guards in the back of the van, suddenly sprang to life with the familiar three beeps of a person whose Life Time had just run out. The small charge implanted in their brains released a fatal jolt of electricity as the final beep hung in the air. The muscles in their bodies fired, and contracted all at the same time before releasing their rigor mortis hold on them. My stomach knotted, and I watched helplessly as the guard sitting to Raines’ left turned stiff as a board, the sound of his neck snapping from the convulsion was that of a tree branch being broken over a knee. He remained upright and rigid for a moment longer before slumping to the ground like dirty laundry strewn across a bedroom floor.
Before I could process what had taken place, the backdoor to the van was thrown open. I turned my face away from the blinding light of the sun which came pouring through the open door.
“Slowly step out of the vehicle.” The silhouetted figure said from outside the van.
Raines and I exchanged worried glances. I stood, hunched over from the low ceiling, and stepped out of the van into the blinding sun. The air vibrated with heat as my clothes, immediately moist from perspiration, clung to my body. We were high up on the roof of a building just large enough to accommodate the dark black van with the word POLICE on the side that Raines was now emerging from like a Neanderthal first stepping out of her cave to find a new foreign world. Her eyes were tiny slits as she raised an arm to shield herself from the harsh sun overhead. It took a moment to gain my bearings, but then on the Eastern horizon I could make out the familiar shape of the International Time Bank. Though I couldn’t be sure of the particular building we now stood, I could say definitively that it was not the police station.
“So, you’re working with Malcolm, eh?” I said to the police officer who was pointing his automatic rifle at us. He shifted his weight from foot to foot, holding us in the crosshairs of his weapon as he decided what to do next.
“Me? No, you’re the one working with that lunatic.” The officer said as his voice slowly rose in pitch towards the end of his sentence.
“What makes you think we’re working with him?” I said suddenly wishing very much that my hands weren’t still cuffed behind my back. There’s something disconcerting about facing a firing squad without the means to shield one’s self.
“Why else would he have killed those men in there?” The officer said pointing with the barrel of his gun towards the van. “One second I’m driving back to the station, and next thing I know my partner’s Life Tracker is beeping. The poor son of a bitch put his head through the window when the charge went off! How is something like that even possible? That man had at least thirty years left, but bam, out of nowhere, no Final Countdown, no nothing. Just snuffed out like a candle.”
The officer was growing increasingly agitated recounting the story as Raines stepped forward. “Everything’s going to be okay.” Her voice showed amazing calm given the tension of the situation. “Why did you bring us here instead of back to the precinct?”
“He told me too, over the holo-screen, said I would be next if I didn’t pull over at this building and let you out.” I could see the man trying to suppress the quivering of his lip as the beginning of tears accumulated in his eyes. “Please, I have a family.” He said pleading with his eyes as much as with his voice. “I don’t want to die.”
“Nobody is going to hurt you.” I said stepping towards the officer. “We don’t work for Netten, we’re the ones trying to catch him.”
Taking a step back, the man kept his gun locked on me. “Why would Netten kill police officers to have you released, then?” he said unwilling to trust us.
“Your guess is as good as mine.” I said.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
“Oh god,” the gun clattered to the ground as the man’s eyes grew wide and his face contorted with the realization that he was about to die. “Tell Laura I love h…” The man’s head jerked back violently, pointing his head towards the sky, as he dropped forward to his knees where he paused for what seemed an eternity before collapsing face down on the blistering asphalt.
“Why is Malcolm doing this?” Raines said turning away from the body in disgust.
“Birds don’t need a reason to fly.” I said fishing the keys to handcuffs from the man’s pocket. “And crazy don’t need a reason to be crazy.”
I rubbed my chafed wrists as the metal bracelets fell to the ground.
“What are we going to do?” Raines said as I placed the key in her handcuffs and with a twist, released the lock. She turned to face me with eyes desperate for a plan, and wished I had something uplifting to say. Hell, at this point I’d settle for something just a little witty to say.
But nothing came. No words. No inspirational speech. I was left with nothing more than the nauseating feeling that we were being toyed with; batted about like a cat with a string. And at that moment we were undoubtedly the string, being tossed around by the slightest breeze.
“Netten wanted us free, that much is obvious.” I said wiping the sweat from my brow. “He is going through a lot of trouble to keep me alive, and out of jail. For him this only ends when he has personally enacted his revenge on me.”
“If he wants revenge so badly, why doesn’t he just kill you and get it over with?”
“There’s no thrill in winning if your opponent doesn’t have anything to lose. I’m a dead man, regardless. Now he just wants to torture me.”
“He’s not the only one.” The bite in her voice betrayed how deeply she felt those words at the moment.
“I never said I didn’t deserve any of this.”
“Well, we’re officially fugitives, so what’s our next play?” Raines said crossing her arms in front of her chest.
“Good question.” I said as I mulled her words around in my head.
“When I caught Netten the first time I had to completely shift my way of thinking. With most criminal masterminds, it’s relatively easy to put yourself in their position and figure out what they want.”
Raines nodded in approval. “Once you figure out what they want, it’s not so bad figuring out how they intend to get it.”
“Exactly,” I said. “So how do you inflict the maximum amount of pain on a man who doesn’t care if he dies?”
As soon as the words had left my mouth the answer became obvious, so painfully obvious that I could have kicked myself for not having thought of it earlier. The look of realization flashed across Raines’ face a moment after mine as we said, “Tracy.”
“Slow down, Tom.” Raines said as I gripped the steering wheel between white knuckles. “You’re not going to do Tracy any good if you drive us through a building.”
I was conscious of her words in the same way you’re conscious of the soft pitter patter of rain against a rooftop on a cloudy day. There was no ability to process the words, on my part though. The rational half of my brain had shut down, giving way to the primitive self-preservation side. Though in this case, my body’s desire wasn’t to preserve me, but my offspring. My foot sank deeper until the acceleration pedal of the police van was pressed flush against the floor as I raced against time to my daughter’s house.
It was outright stupid of me not to think Netten would go after my daughter, but I had been so caught up in just finding him, I never thought about what his next move would be. It’s like playing a game of chess where you’re so focused on getting the other guys’ king you never think to protect your own.
Now I just prayed I wasn’t too late as I reached over to the holo-screen on the center panel. I held down a button and spoke to the vehicles computer system. “Computer, call Tracy Mandel.”
Calling, Tracy Mandel.
With a clenched jaw, I ground my teeth together while maneuvering through the rush hour traffic. The large vehicle rocked sluggishly to the side in response to my veering. I glanced down at the odometer.
The silence that filled the cab while the computer called Tracy was unbearably loud. I wanted to scream, to shatter that immovable timeless silence which roared in my ears as I willed a voice to pick up the phone on the other side.
My blood turned to ice. A shiver of fear twitched through my body, the hairs on my neck stood straight, and knowing took hold of my muscles. I turned to see the face that had spoken on the holo-screen. My eyes confirmed what my ears had feared, and suddenly the walls of the van began closing in around me, the weight of the world drove the air from my chest. Panic gripped my mind as I struggled to find the words to speak.
“Netten.” The word sounded like it had been spoken underwater. “What’ve you done with my daughter?”
“Oh, nothing, yet.” He said grinning the smile of a man who knows he is inescapably winning. “We were just catching up on old times. It’s a pity that you two grew so far apart after your wife’s passing. I understand that must have been a terribly difficult time. From what I hear, losing a loved one can be a very traumatic ordeal.”
“Don’t hurt her.” My voice was filled with more pleading than bravado. “I’ll do anything you want.”
“I know that, Detective Mandel. But I’m glad to hear you’ve come to the same conclusion.” Malcolm said stoking the fire I felt burning in my chest with an air of condescension.
“What do you want from me?”
“I already told you what I want. I want a challenge, a worthy opponent. You were once the most worthy of all opponents, but now look at you. You’re barely hanging by a thread. A thread I gave you by the way, though no need to thank me for that.”
“I’m sorry to disappoint.” I said weakly.
“Don’t be so hard on yourself. That little stunt at the ITB was quite the scene. Never in my life did I think to witness a man and a woman survive a jump from a ninety story building. Speaking of men and woman, I’d be correct in assuming Detective Raines is seated beside you?”
Raines twisted the camera so that it focused squarely on her.
“Good.” Malcolm said. “I have an errand I need the two of you to run for me.”
“Like hell.” I said slamming my foot down on the brake to avoid the stopped traffic ahead. The sudden loss of forward momentum pulled the breath from my chest as the seat belt held me pinned to the seat.
“Go ahead and save the heroic diatribe and just remember what truly matters here, I have your daughter. And if you ever want to see her again, you’ll do as I ask.” Malcolm said pausing to give way to the electric humming of the holo-screen. “Is that going to be a problem?”
So this is what my life had become, an unwitting accomplice to a mass murdering megalomaniac. This morning I woke up expecting to be dead by now.
Why can’t anything ever go to plan?
I didn’t have a choice though. One way or the other, I knew Tracy was living on borrowed time as long as she was in the hands of Netten. In the end, Malcolm Netten was going to get what he wanted from me. Though it was something I had managed to push to the back of my mind with the aid of countless bottles of booze, the truth remained clear as day; I would do anything for my daughter.
“I’m sorry to rush you, Detective Mandel, but you’ll understand when I say that I’m running on a tight schedule. I’m going to need your answer now, or I’ll simply put a bullet in your daughters head and let you live out your remaining hours of your pathetic life with the knowledge that you couldn’t protect either off the woman you loved most.”
The muscles in my neck spasmed, causing a rush of air from my nostrils that was hot against my lip, “What do you want me to do?”
“That’s a good sport, Tom. The address of your target is already waiting in your vehicles navigation system. Be at that address in precisely thirty minutes and I’ll give you your next instructions.”
How could this man who had been out of prison for less than twenty-four hours have such far reaching access to the digital infrastructure? It just didn’t make sense. The Vice President’s son from the International Time Bank might have been able to help Netten override the Final Countdown safeguard, but now this mad man was tapped into the private satellites reserved exclusively for the Police.
Realizing just how far reaching Netten’s network of support was made me sick. Judging by the look on Raines’ face, it was safe to say she had come to a similar conclusion.
“What do you want us to do there?” Raines said asking the question that was sprinting through my mind like a gerbil on a wheel.
“Are you sure you really want to know? I’d hate to ruin the surprise.” Netten said tauntingly.
Raines did not offer a response as she glared at the screen. For just once, I wish her proverbial death stare had a more literal ability. God, wouldn’t that be useful right about now.
“There’s a man there by the name of Joseph Denton.”
I know that name. I’m sure I’ve heard it before, but the memory was hazy, and the name seemed only to have been half-whispered.
“Who is that?” Raines said circumventing the mental gymnastics I was going through to recall the name.
“For the time being, that is not important. All you need to know is that I will be calling back to this holo-screen in forty five minutes and I expect Mr. Denton to be dead.” Netten said letting his words hang in the air. “If you fail to complete this assignment, well… we wouldn’t want a repeat of last time, now would we?”
Malcolm Netten let out a surprisingly deep laugh, for someone of his feint frame before disappearing from the holo-screen, leaving nothing but empty air hovering above the center console.
Turn left in 1000 feet onto Warp Way 202. The computer generated voice said over the speaker system.
Netten’s words, “we wouldn’t want a repeat of last time”, gnawed at the back of my mind as I decelerated to make the turn. He knew all the right buttons to push, and he was pounding the hell out of them.
“How do you beat an opponent who has spent every waking moment of the past decade plotting against you?” I said. “We’re hopelessly behind the curve, Raines.”
Raines must have taken my words as an admission of defeat as she placed her hand on mine. “You do something unexpected. Something he couldn’t possibly plan for.”
“Are you saying I should just let him kill Tracy?” Just hearing those words hurt. I pulled my hand out from beneath Raines’ and tightened my grip on the steering wheel as I merged onto the Warp Way.
The magnetic suction of the Warp Way locked onto the van as it slingshot us through space. I kept my hands on steering wheel, trying to enact some modicum of control, despite the fact that the magnets were in complete control of the ride now.
“You know that’s not what I mean, Tom.”
“But you’re just throwing it out there so I can mentally prepare for the worst case scenario, is that it? I sharpened the edge of my voice so that the words would cut as we hurtled through space at over 600 miles per hour.
“That’s not what I meant at all.” She softened her tone in response to the harshness of mine. “You asked a question, I gave you the only answer I know. How you interpret that information is up to you, but remember, you’re not in this alone.”
I’m a stubborn fool, a fact that I’m quite used to at this point in my life. But until that moment, I hadn’t really stopped to consider what this all meant to Raines. Win or lose, I was still looking down the long barrel of deaths gun. For Raines, it wasn’t the same. Hell, it might even be worse. She had a lot of years left on her bones, and our ability to stop Netten now was certain to determine if she would be spending those years a free woman.
I turned to Raines who was staring at the world zipping by the window and said, “I’m sorry, ya know. Not just for today, but for the past nine years.”
It was fast, almost imperceptible, but I saw it. The rush of blood to her cheeks as she raised a hand to brush a strand of dark brown hair from her face. “Don’t get all sappy on me now, Tom. We still have a job to do.”
“Yep…” I said rubbing a thumb against my stubbled chin. “Save the girl, stop the bad guy, clear our names.”
I caught my breath in my throat. Crouching low between bushes near the fence, I listened. The dirt was cool to the touch as I placed a hand against the ground for balance as I waited to make sure I hadn’t been seen. The sun cast long shadows on its downward descent for the evening. I could see a sliver of the orange and yellow ball of light dipping down behind an apartment complex in the distance. I looked to the sky to see the string of headlights on the Warp Way zooming by in an incomprehensible blur. The only sound they made was that of air behind pushed aside, by vehicles slicing through the atmosphere.
“You’re clear.” Raines’ voice chirped in my earpiece. “I’m approaching the house now.”
“Roger, that.” I sprung to my feet before I finished speaking. With a quick two steps I put a foot out against the side of the house and used it as a spring board to jump. Stretching, I barely managed too latch the top of the twelve foot wall with one hand. Using my momentum, I swung a leg up and over the top of the narrow wall. I lowered myself down the other side of the wall before dropping the remaining six feet. Splintering pain exploded through my knees as I absorbed the impact of the hard ground. I put a hand against the wall to steady myself before trying to walk it off. The daggers that were being jabbed into my leg subsided with each additional step I took towards the clear glass door at the back of the house. By the time I reached my post at the back door, the adrenaline being pumped through my body had numbed the pain in my leg completely.
“Ringing the doorbell, be ready.” Raines said. “Somebodies coming.”
My muscles were pulled taut like a cat ready to pounce. A moment later the back door of the house slid open. A man stepped out of the house and looked nervously about while he buttoned his jacket. He didn’t make it more than a couple of steps away from the house when I stepped out from the shadows with my pistol pointed at the back of his head.
“Joseph Denton?” My voice cracked the silence of the evening sunlight which danced across the sky. The man’s body went rigid. He wore the look of a child afraid of the dark before bedtime plastered across his face as he turned around slowly.
“You don’t want to do this.” Denton said with a disconcerting amount of calm in his voice.
Raines appeared in the back door a moment later. “Let’s get him inside before one of the neighbors see’s us.” She said glancing at the large house to the left overlooking Denton’s backyard.
“You heard the lady,” I said circling around Denton. “Back inside.”
Denton showed no sign of hurry as he walked into the house. As I stepped inside, I slid the back door shut behind me.
“So” Denton said lowering his weight onto a stool beside what was a well-stocked corner bar. “Who are you? And what do you want?”
“At the moment, I’m thirsty.” I said cutting a straight line for the liquor cabinet. Raines stepped in front of me, her fingers wrapped tightly around her police issued firearm that hung loosely to her side. “But I suppose that can wait.” I turned back to Denton. “Somebody wants you dead. If I don’t kill you in the next ten minutes, he’s going to kill my daughter.”
“Let me guess, Malcolm Netten sent you?” Denton said tracing a finger in a circle on the countertop. “I suppose there’s no way I can talk you out of this?”
“Maybe you can save yourself, depends on what you can tell us on why Netten wants you dead.”
“I’m the man who taught Netten everything he knows.” Denton cocked an eyebrow to the side causing a deep wrinkle to crease his forehead. “This right here is a play straight from my book. Eliminate those who have the power to stop you, though Malcolm always did have a need for theatrics, which is probably why he sent a police officer and a drunk to do his dirty work.”
Denton’s revelation flipped a switch in my mind and the light bulb of enlightenment went off in my head; I remembered.
“He mentioned you that night.” I pointed a finger accusingly at him as he licked his thin lips before parting them just enough to see the teeth behind his smile. “The night he murdered my wife, Netten said I had you to thank for this. What did he mean by that?” I stepped in close, towering over him as I brought the barrel of my gun to the side of his head. “What did he mean?” I said raising the volume of my voice.
“Without having been there, I’m not sure I can offer a satisfactory answer.”
The gun in my hand made a click as I released the safety with a finger, “Try.”
“Then you’re a dead man.”
“I’m dead regardless. Or would you have me believe you’d put the life of a stranger above that of your own daughter.”
Maybe I shouldn’t have started by telling him that part. It’s hard to bluff a man when he knows the cards you’re holding.
“Right now you’re the only person who can help us find Netten.” Raines said from behind me. “Which given the circumstances seems like something you should want as much as us.”
“I’ll make you a deal. “ Denton said studying Raines thoughtfully, letting the silence linger in the air. “If you let me go, I’ll tell you everything I know.”
Lifting my wrist to check the time on my watch I said, “Can’t do it. Netten is calling in five minutes to verify you’re dead.”
“Well then I suppose we have five minutes to make it look like I’m dead.” Denton said plainly.
“It’s not as simple as just making you look dead. Netten has fully breached the ITB system, he’ll be able to check their database directly to make sure your death clock is at zero.”
“Oh, don’t be so dramatic. Why do you think Malcolm sent you here to kill me instead of just pushing a button and microwaving my brain?” Denton said pointing too something behind me. I followed the path of his finger with my eye to a shelf on the other side of the room where there sat an object hovering in mid-air within a glass case. “I used to steal years like Malcolm. For decades I lurked in the shadows of the ITB network, siphoning a year here, a year there.” Denton paused to look at Raines. “This is all completely off the record by the way, Detective.” He said before resuming. “Now, Malcolm showed a lot of promise, and like most great men his ambition was his greatest strength and ultimately his greatest weakness, leading as it were, to his downfall. You see, I was motivated by a fear of dying. Malcolm, though, he doesn’t fear death. His desire to steal came from the need to prove he was the best, not just better than me, but better than everyone. Every minute of every hour he took from another man was his way of showing it.”
Denton stopped speaking as he pulled a cigarette from his pocket and placed it delicately between his lips. Reaching across the counter he grabbed a box of matches. His movements were deft as he pulled a single match from the box, pulled it across the side of the box, and held the burning stick an inch from the end of his cigarette. The flame danced across the wooden match and I couldn’t stop staring at the dancing shadow it cast on Denton’s face.
“Have you ever stopped to wonder why it is we have the death clock in the first place? Where did it come from? Who’s crazy idea was it to cap our lifespan at seventy-five years?” he said.
“What’s any of this have to do with finding Netten.”
“You can’t possibly hope to beat your opponent unless you understand why he does the things he does. You have to understand why he’s making his next move. For now, we know his next move, or as far you’re aware of at least, is having you kill me. But in order for you to understand that move, it has to be put in a context. To have the context, you must understand why he made the move before this, and the move before that, all the way back to the beginning of the game.”
“So that’s all this is then, a game?” I said crossing the room to examine the object hovering in its glass prison.
“I assure you, to Malcolm it is.” Denton said. “I can help you win, but I’ve grown quite attached too living, and if you want my help, you must decide right now if that is an arrangement you are prepared to keep.”
I bent over to study the object in the glass. From across the room I didn’t notice, but up close it was clear the glass was magnifying the object held within. I grabbed the glass casing around the object and carefully lifted it up. The device disappeared to the naked eye without the benefit of the magnifying glass entombing it. As I lowered the glass case back down, the wires and circuits of the computer chip reappeared. “What is this?”
“That’s the true reason Malcolm sent you here to kill me.” Denton said. “Now, he’ll be calling any moment. Do we have a deal?”
I turned, searching Raines for advice.
“I don’t see what choice we really have.” She said.
“We got a deal, but if you double cross me, I’ll put a bullet in your head.”
“That is without a doubt,” Denton said as a holographic keyboard appeared before him as he put his wrists together. “The last place I’d want you to put a bullet in me.”
© 2012 Anthony Vicino