With Chapter Nineteen, we begin the second half of The Reckoning: The Watchmaker – Book Three (The Final Chapter)
The room was small, but even at that it was comfortable enough. A two-room holding chamber, but far better than most. A single bed, with box springs and mattress—instead of a lumpy cot. It was well lighted, and warm. A barred window near the ceiling, much too small for even a tiny person to enter or exit. It looked into a brick lined shaft of some sort. A toilet, along with a sink and shower stall—all completely exposed. Shahida had used them a couple of times, always carefully watching the thick Plexiglas window in the door to her cell. She had expected to catch one of the young police officers peeking, but it had not as yet happened. Even when they brought her food and drink, they knocked politely at the door and waited for her permission to enter. A pleasant surprise—and not at all what she had expected.
She had tried engaging them in conversation, but had been met each time with simple stony silence. They had always been respectful, but entirely distant and completely professional.
She could hear the three of them in the next room, softly talking and laughing. Occasionally she could catch enough of the conversation to know that they were playing cards. Sometimes there was the sound of a television in the background, but the volume was always quite low—as if the men did not want the sound to cover the possible approach of someone to the outer door. Or to cover any sounds she might be making either.
It had been well over a day since she was escorted into the room. Lots of time to think, but very little had come to her in the way of making a plan. Rather she was waiting for the other shoe to drop. From the looks of the ambient light filtering through her high window, Shahida could tell that darkness was once again only an hour or two away.
She knew that although she was well trained in martial arts and hand-to-hand combat and would stand a chance with just one of the men—three were entirely out of the question. She also noticed that whoever brought her food was always unarmed. Smart—she would not be able to take one by surprise and attain his weapon.
Basically, she was helpless—and worst of all, she knew it.
Shahida picked up one of the many magazines in the room. People—it was the only cruel and unusual punishment so far.
There was a tapping at the door. Shahida replaced the magazine and addressed the still closed and locked door.
The door opened. This time the young man on the other side was not alone. This time the FBI agent that had been with the President was along. For the space of perhaps ten to fifteen seconds, the door remained open as the two men wordlessly looked at her. Shahida guessed that the older man was simply checking on her condition—and confirming her location. In a moment the door closed and clicked into the locked position once more.
Shahida picked up the magazine and began once again to read.
Surprisingly, the restaurant wasn’t very crowded. Matt, Linh, Maggie, and Howard had the booth nearest to the back, and were able to talk in nearly normal conversational tones. The last of the scrambled eggs, toast and pancakes were gone, and each was nursing their second or third cup of coffee.
Maggie spoke up. “Guess this is how you know you’ve finally made it to the cop big-leagues. When you can sort through body parts for half the night, and still have a big appetite the next morning.”
Howard agreed. “That’s just about right, Maggie. I’ve seen the county morgue guy with a cheeseburger in one hand and a scalpel in the other, many a time. When you get hungry, you have to eat. It doesn’t really seem to matter what’s going on. You get good at it.”
Linh eyed her husband warily. “So, Matt. How do we find Johnny?”
“Darned if I know.”
“Wasn’t meant to be. Howard hit it right on the head when he said the watch doesn’t have a GPS in it, although if I’m close enough I can probably pick up on it.”
Howard spoke up. “We sure Johnny even has the watch?”
“Not entirely,” Matt admitted. “I’m guessing he probably does, knowing Johnny and Brick. For reasons too lengthy to go into here though, it really doesn’t matter that much if he does or not.”
“So then?” Linh said.
“So then we figure out where he went. My best guess would be that he’s still in Detroit. Only probably not present day Detroit.”
“Why?” Howard asked.
“Safest place. Lay low while things cool down a bit. It’s what I’d do.”
“Plus the fact that the guy Johnny is most likely with—Brick Wahl, happens to have family in the city.”
“You’re talking a man pretty damned old,” Howard said.
“Not in 1940. He was in his sixties then. He and Brick get together every once and a while.”
“You know Wahl?”
“It’s the year he died. The Kid’s kind of fixated on it.”
“How’d he die?”
“Not really. A handful of pills. Old Norman always was a piss-ant and a coward.”
“You know him.”
“A little, just like Brick. Roan McCabe and Norman always had, shall we say—a little mutual infatuation society going on with each other.”
“So your dear old dada and Brick Wahl’s great-grandpa were pals.”
“Yeah. Roan liked to bet the fights. Norman made him a bundle. Roan made the Kid the world champ. It was a relationship that kind of worked for both of them.”
“A boxer huh?”
“A cheater. The Kid never did much square in his life.”
“Why are you here, Matt?” Linh asked, changing the subject a little peevishly. “I thought you were supposed to be sorting through your childhood issues with the old parental units. And working out exactly where, and with whom, you wanted to spend the rest of your life.”
“It’s done, Linh. Everything’s ready. Roan, Aedan, and Joshua are sitting up on a mountain in Arizona right now waiting for me come back.”
“I doubt it. Joshua went to a hell of a lot of trouble to get me back there. After all that has happened here since I left, I kind of have to ask myself just why that was.”
“Meaning?” Linh probed.
“Meaning—stop and think about it Linh. Howard gets called to a conference of police chiefs in California to discuss an ‘alleged’ terror plot. A plot which now seems to have quite possibly never existed. Strangely enough, I am taken out of the picture at just about the same time. My partner’s pretty much on his own—sent to kill some guys that are supposed to be masterminding the said alleged plot. Instead, a trap is sprung on him and his new partner. Instead of being the hunter, they end up getting hunted. For what? If you answer anything but the watch, you probably still think the Easter Bunny is real.”
“Makes no sense, Matt,” Howard said. “How would anyone know that you had decided to give it to Johnny?”
“Well, Howard—it would have to be someone that not only knew I had given it away, but someone that knew about its existence in the first place. The two things plainly go together. Not that many people are aware of it, if you stop and think about it.”
“Who knows about it that you don’t trust?” Howard asked.
“Right. Who did you meet at the conference that put you in touch with the President?” Matt asked.
“An old friend.”
“One with a name?”
“Yeah—he’s got a name. But I’m not at liberty to say.”
“That’s pretty cryptic, Howard—considering what’s at stake.”
Howard’s anger flared. “I know what’s at stake, sonny-boy. You sure you do?”
Matt’s eyes flashed. “Been a few decades since I’ve heard you call me that, Howard.”
“Yeah, Matt. It’s been a long time since we were kids together. One thing’s never changed since back then though.”
“What’s that, Howard?”
“You’re an asshole—that’s what. A showboat. The main attraction. All three damned circus rings at the same time. The center of attention. You love the spotlight. I never told you that way back when, because I was in awe of you—like a big brother. Well, princess—I’ve gotten over that in the last fifty years or so. Hot-dogging is what got your ass shot-up and your brains blow out up at the Carson Mine. If you hadn’t turned your father’s cursed freak watch into your own personal pocket-pool mistress, you’d be as dead as hell right now, and nothing more than a faint memory to anybody but me.”
Matt stared back at Howard, unspeaking. All the color had drained from his face however. “Don’t hold back, Howard. Tell me what you really think.”
“Okay. You’re also a womanizing bastard, and a two-timing mongrel dog. You always said you threw over your women, Matt, but the truth of the matter was none of them could stand to be with you for very long. They always felt they were somehow coming between you and some pretty little shiny object you seemed to love a whole hell of a lot more than you did them.”
Matt spit out his reply. “You must know I could take you apart, old man.”
“You could try,” Howard said, never breaking his gaze into Matt’s eyes for a second.
Linh’s voice broke the tension. “Gentlemen—perhaps a brief return to your own corners for a few moments would be in order. Maybe we all need to remember why we’re here.”
Howard led off, unapologetically. “What does Joshua do when he realizes you’re not there?”
“He won’t, Howard. I left him asleep with the others in an outfitter’s tent. Doesn’t much matter if he wakes up in five minutes or ten hours. I’ll be back before he does. One of the little miracles and perks of time travel.”
“Guess Norman isn’t the only cheater around,” Howard said.
Matt began to rise, but Linh quickly blocked him. “Not now. I want you two to knock it off and get over yourselves. If you can’t act like grown-ups, I’ll go after Johnny myself.”
“You aren’t going, Linh,” Matt said. “I won’t have my son’s life risked.”
Linh drew in her breath sharply as her eyes flashed. “Matt—apparently you’ve mistaken me for someone that gives a tinker’s damn about what you think, say, or do.” Matt opened his mouth to speak, but Linh instantly cut him off with a quick wave of her hand. Leaning over close to him, she spoke directly into his ear in a whisper that the others could not hear, and for approximately fifteen or twenty seconds. Matt’s face reddened several shades of scarlet.
He swallowed hard several times. Finally, he spoke. “Guess I was wrong. Guess you’ll be going after all.”
“Damned straight. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, sweetheart—I’ll simply ask when you want to get us out of here.”
“Well, no time like the present. We’ll need to find a little more private spot though. Can’t have a chorus-line of people suddenly disappearing in the middle of the street.”
“You got hardware, Matt?” Howard asked.
“A forty-five, Howard. Just like back in old ’52.”
“Two. Twenty-two rounds altogether.”
“You got my back, Howard?”
“Damned right, Matt—same as you’ve got mine. That doesn’t change—ever.”
“Follow me then deputies,” Matt said, grinning slightly in spite of himself.
The four left the restaurant then—a strained and fragile peace between them.
Shahida awoke suddenly—unmoving—acutely aware that she was no longer alone in the room. Slowly she opened her eyes just enough to be able see clearly. The door to her cell was open and she could see easily into the next room. She could also see a plain and unadorned pine casket sitting atop a gurney. Ready to be filled and rolled away.
She knew her number was up. No reason not to face it squarely. Slowly she sat up on the edge of the bed and turned her head to the right. There, in the half darkness, exactly where she knew they would be, sat two of the three DC cops—Weeks and Wiggins. The other was nowhere to be seen. Weeks had a high-capacity automatic pistol in his hand. Wiggins was holding a rolled-up black body-bag. They were looking directly at her.
“So which one of you brave boys gets the cheap thrill of killing me?”
Weeks spoke up. He was the younger looking of the two. Closed cropped sandy hair. A gentle face, but punctuated with sharp blue eyes and a hard gaze. “Well, the way me and my partner here figure it, Agent Faris, you won’t be that much good to us dead. We think we might be able to put you to much better use alive.”
“So that’s it then? Rape and then murder. You guys must make your parents real proud.”
“My father’s an accountant,” Weeks said. “He wouldn’t know a shooting-iron from a tire-iron.”
“Now my father would know the difference.” Wiggins chimed in. “I come from a long line of cops.” Wiggins was a slightly built man with wavy black hair. Despite his best efforts to look serious, a faint smile played on his lips.
“Dirty like you?”
“Naw. They were all the salt of the earth. The line goes all the way back to the frontier.”
“So how to you intend to do this guys? One at a time, or do you prefer a messy four-some?”
“Do you see three cops here, Agent Faris?”
“Very polite way to address a woman you’re about to gang rape, Wiggins.”
“I’m a polite guy.”
“You’re a little bastard. Where’s Pulini?”
“Tied-up at the moment. You’re kind of plucky—for a girl.”
“I had to be a few times, back where I came from. It’s saved my life a time or two.”
Wiggins threw back his head and laughed. “Well lady, it just might again.”
Weeks smiled broadly. “Sorry, Agent Faris. Sometimes Trey and me get a little too playful for our own good.”
“What are you talking about?”
Weeks turned the pistol he had been holding around and handed it to Faris butt forward. “Here. You may be needing this. Please don’t shoot me, by the way.”
“What’s going on here?” Faris said, taking the offered gun.
“Officer Pulini was part of a shadow detail that operates out of the back of the district police department. It offers, shall we say, “special” services to the White House. Services that can’t be had elsewhere. As in—no questions asked services. Pulini was to be paired with two other cops for this job. Fortunately, the way the detail commander works it, for reasons of plausible deniability they would not be men which he had met before, so we were able to pull off a switch pretty easy. Every organization has an Achilles heel.”
“Where are they?”
“Alive—but detained. That’ll do for now, Agent Faris.”
“Make that Shahida. I think we’re on a first name basis now. By the way—I think I love you two.”
Wiggins laughed again. “Hope you’ll still feel that way by morning. My name is Trey, Shahida. The half-wit sitting next to me is Dallin.
“Nice to meet you both. Who do you work for?”
“Oh, we’re actually DC cops. We just happen to be good ones, and Trey’s granddad is a retired cop that works now as a special liaison between the FBI and CIA.”
“Central? What do they have to do with this?”
“More than you can possibly know, Shahida. We’ll fill you in, just as soon as we get clear of this building.”
“An underground bunker for the White House. It’s surprisingly well guarded. We’re going to need just a little bit of luck to get out of here without shots fired.”
“How dirty is the President?”
“Much more than you could probably imagine.”
“Bet you’re wrong on that one, Trey. I’m Persian you know. What next?”
“Strip naked—while Dallin and I wait outside. Shinny yourself into this body bag and give us a holler when you’re in. We’ll put you in the casket and give you about a quart of fake blood to pour over yourself. We want you to mat up your hair real good. Don’t worry, we’ll have your clothes and we’ll take you to my apartment where you can clean up afterwards. Keep the pistol under your body and pull it only if you need to. You’ll know when if it comes to that. We’re hoping we can pull this off without anyone opening the bag for a look, but there are no guarantees on that one. If they do take a look, it should be pretty convincing if you can hold your breath a little. Sorry to say you were partly right, Shahida—it is going to be a little messy.”
“That kind of mess I don’t mind, guys.”
“Okay. Only one last thing then.”
Weeks smiled again as he quickly drew his pistol and aimed toward the empty shower stall. The small room echoed with the blast as he fired a round directly into the far wall. Broken pieces of tile and grout cascaded to the floor. In a few seconds the sound subsided. Weeks looked at Shahida and grinned. “Bang,” he said, and then added with a wink, “You’re dead.”
“See you in a few minutes, Shahida,” Wiggins said as they exited the door, closing it carefully behind them.
“See you,” Shahida repeated as she began to quickly remove her clothes. Preparing, she ruefully thought to herself, for her own murder, funeral, and hopefully, her resurrection as well.
Rising from the dead was certainly a most reassuring thought right at the moment, Shahida considered. She was mighty glad she had converted to Christianity a few years before.
Mighty glad indeed.
Thanks so much for reading. We’ll be back in a week or so with Chapter Twenty of The Reckoning. Until then . . . Goodnight.
Dumb Jokes of the day: (Everyone hates unemployment)
You know you’ve been unemployed too long when you are having an out of money experience.
You know you’ve been unemployed too long when you get married for the rice.
You know you’ve been unemployed too long when you take your kids to Kentucky Fried Chicken to lick the other kid’s fingers.
You know you’ve been unemployed too long when your Reality Check Bounces.
You know you’ve been unemployed too long when you try to make a comeback but you haven’t been anywhere.