Things started moving pretty fast after we left Virginia Park Street, our rest and relaxation apparently over for good.
Brick really had a pretty damned good idea, sitting us down in the middle of the old abandoned fairgrounds. Trouble was, we all forgot that Detroit was still in no small amount of turmoil after the big terrorist attack that had occurred. As it turned out, the national guard had been called out by the governor to keep order, and yes, just as you have probably guessed by now, they were stationed right in the middle, of that old great big open space known as the Michigan State Fairgrounds.
We appeared right in the center of them.
Hey—nobody can be right all the time.
The first thing I heard after we landed, was the shouted command to “freeze!” It wasn’t said in a very friendly tone of voice—so we did. The sight of about two dozen semi-automatic rifles trained directly at the center of our chests did a lot to help us along in the decision making process.
There was no bull-shitting ourselves out of this one this time, Howard Carter notwithstanding, so we just all kept quiet as we were quickly disarmed, put in handcuffs, with our hands behind our backs, and escorted to a makeshift holding area. We didn’t even get to pass go.
Or collect two hundred dollars either.
The commander’s name was Bullock, as we were informed. Apropos, I thought. I supposed him to be probably about as dumb as a steer. All six of us were unceremoniously herded into one of the old buildings. I was pretty sure it had once been used to house cattle, or perhaps pigs. There was still a faint aroma, even all those years later. It did not smell like French perfume.
We had a while to stew before the big guy arrived.
“So how long we gonna sit around here, Johnny?” Brick innocently asked.
“What else you want to be doing, Brick?”
“Oh, I don’t know, Johnny—maybe trying to find Faris. Just—you know, for laughs or something.”
“Where do you want to start?”
“You tell me. You’re the big-name, hot-shot detective, O’Brien.”
Brick had intentionally used my surname, I realized—just to show his displeasure.
“Well, Wahl—matter of fact, I do have an idea.”
“Want to share?”
Carter answered, his facial expression displaying no small amount of annoyance. “I can tell you what he’s doing, Brick. Exactly what he been trained to do as a police officer. He’s gathering all the information that he can get out of our present situation. We all know we can walk out of here anytime we want to, but if we did, we might be passing up some nugget of info we could really use later on.”
It was Brick’s turn to look annoyed. “Let me explain how this all works, Carter—since you’re just a little bit outside your area of expertise right now.”
Carter has been leaning against an old wooden animal enclosure of some kind. At Brick’s words, the big man uncoiled and straightened out, ready for action. Howard Carter was not the type of guy to take a lot of guff off anyone—not even an old friend. And he sure as hell didn’t like being told he didn’t know what he was talking about. I had known Howard a long time, and even I wouldn’t have tried it.
“You want to illuminate me, Brick?” Carter said.
“Settle down, slugger,” Brick replied. “You just might need to use some of that energy in a few minutes. Besides,” Brick grinned, “you’d have a hell of a time swinging on me with your hands manacled behind your back.”
Carter brought his hands out in front of him, the unlocked handcuffs dangling from just one wrist. His very large hands were balled into fists.”
Brick whistled softly. “Very impressive, Howard.”
“Childs play. Go on, Brick.”
“Ok, I will,” Brick replied as he brought his own hands around to the front, his own cuffs dangling. “How many of the six of us time-travel?”
“Two,” Carter replied, a small smile playing on his lips. He was clearly enjoying the exchange. The game up, Matt, Linh, and I produced our own hands. Maggie was the only one in our group that was still constrained.
“Hey, how’d you guys do that?” she asked.
“Old police trick,” Howard mumbled.
“And how many of the six of us can dodge bullets?” Brick continued, as though nothing odd had happened.
“Three,” Howard replied. “How’s my math so far, Brick?”
“Perfect, Howard. Now let’s see if you can keep it going. How many men are going to come to question us?
“Probably one. Bullock.”
“Great, Howard. You’re still getting an A+,” Brick replied.
“Keep going, Brick.”
“Okay, I will. Now the sixty-four-thousand-dollar-question. Bullock won’t come alone. How many armed men do you think he’s going to bring along with him?”
“I don’t know,” Carter replied.
“Neither do I,” Brick said. “And neither does Johnny or Matt.”
“So what’s the point?” Carter challenged.
Brick looked disappointed. “You just flunked the course, Howard. You want me to explain this to him, Johnny—or do you want to do the honor?”
I grinned. “I’ll do it, Brick. We were going to have to get around about to this pretty soon anyhow.”
“Around to what?” Carter asked.
“More mathematics, Howard. And being on the wrong side of them.”
“I’m all ears,” Howard said.
He was right—he really was. They were big.
“It goes like this, Howard. I can dodge bullets. So can Matt and Brick. We do it by hovering a split-second forward in time. We are thus able to see our opponent lining up his shot, and we simply move out of the way. It’s all way too fast for the eyes of our opponent to see. Or for that matter, anyone else either. That is, unless you happen to be one of the very few people that have this ability. Then, you probably are able to discern what is actually going on.”
“That’s how Brick was able to tell that I was messing with Capone back at the Stone House. Matt would have been able to pick up on it as well, but right at that particular moment, he only had eyes for Linh.”
Matt grinned like a school boy. “Guilty as charged.”
“And this tidbit of information affects us how?”
“Just this Howard. This little bullet dodging dog and pony show only really works very well if it’s just one on one. In other words, one shooter—and one dodger.”
“Well, little grasshopper,” I deadpanned, “that be because if you got more than one person shootin’ at you, you might very well step out of the way of the bullet of opponent number one, and directly into the path of the bullet of shooter number two. The more people shooting, the more the odds in your favor will decrease—and real damned fast.”
The consternation showed plainly on Carter’s face. I guess maybe he thought that beating the bad-guys was going to be a cake-walk. Don’t suppose he remembered he was in the middle of a Johnny O’Brien story. In other words—nothing was ever going to be that easy.
“So what you and Brick are telling me is that if an armed Bullock and three more armed guards show up, all of your much vaulted time-travel skills are going to be worth about as much as a pitcher of warm piss.”
“Poetically, and eloquently stated as always, Howard—and just about one-hundred percent correct.”
“What about Moradi then?”
“If it’s just him and the Ice-Queen, we’ll have them. The odds of it all actually working out that way though, are about the same as me winning the National Miss Congeniality Award this year—in other words, just about absolute zero.”
“Some bunch of super-heroes.”
I shrugged. “You get what you pay for, Howard. I told you back when you gave me this assignment that you’d be a lot better off hiring someone out of the phone-book.”
“Yeah, Johnny—I probably would have. I’ll stick with you though. I hate changing horses mid-stream.”
“Don’t be, glamour-boy. Soon as this is over I’m firing your ass.”
“Can’t. You didn’t hire me, Howard. I’m FBI.”
“Oh the hell you are, Johnny,” Brick chimed in. “I wish I had a dime for every time some poor slob like you got sucked into that old ‘you be working for the bureau now’ bullshit.”
“You bet it is. They suck you in like a teeny-bopper on prom night. They use you, abuse you, and then leave you to twist in the wind the first time the going gets rough. And all without even a box of candy, flowers, a movie, dinner, or for that matter, even a decent amount of personal lubricant.”
“How do you know?”
“Been there, done that, Johnny. Many times. Did they promise you FBI credentials?”
“Ever see ‘em?”
“Bingo, pal. First time they don’t need you, they suddenly don’t know you from Adam. It’s one of the oldest tricks in their book. They do it all the time, and not just to best-selling, time-travelling, handy-dandy private investigators either. They run the same scam on low-level government whistle-blowers, public foundation CEOs and CFOs, and even nameless and faceless accountants and book-keepers in private business.”
“Sorry, Johnny. You’re nothing special. It’s always better to know the truth.”
“I’m sorry too, Johnny,” Howard contributed. “I’m basically just a small-town cop. When the bureau said you were going to be good with them, I took it all in—hook, line, and sinker.”
“It’s okay, Howard. I’m not exactly a schoolboy either. Shoulda known better.”
“We’re on our own here, guys. Get used to it,” Brick said.
Our discussion about blame placing was cut short with the creaking of the door at the far end of the building. In walked three soldiers. Jar-head and barrel-chest were on the wings, with no-neck in the middle. I took him to be Bullock. He wore a holstered .45, while the two at his sides carried short barreled semi-automatic rifles.
We were in luck.
We all quickly placed our hands behind our backs again.
And I decided to have a little fun.
Five of our little group faced them directly. Maggie, bless her heart, kept herself turned slightly to the side, clearly displaying her still cuffed hands. No one had told her to; she did it on purpose, by instinct—knowing that it helped considerably with maintaining the illusion that we were all still safely shackled. Smart girl—with a damned good head on her shoulders. Once again I marveled at my amazing good fortune.
The little military parade finally reached us. Howard and the ladies wisely hung back. Matt and Brick flanked my sides. No-neck addressed me directly. Why they always start with me is a mystery. I guess they just somehow know, gut-level, that I’m going to be the one to mouth off.
And, they’re almost always right.
“Who are you?” Bullock began. His tone of voice did not seem to have been improved much by the hour or so we had been here patiently waiting for him. It was plain that he was a guy that expected to be answered, and obeyed fully—and fast.
So sorry to disappoint.
“Dr. David Bruce Banner,” I deadpanned, giving the formal full name of the human and mortal version of The Incredible Hulk. “Please don’t make me mad either, soldier-boy. You wouldn’t like me very much when I’m mad.”
Bullock’s face instantly seared hot beet-red. I had taken him off guard—and disrespected him. Apparently not one to much like to play verbal patty-cake, he instantly un-snapped his full-flap hip holster and placed his hand on the butt of his .45 automatic.
“Try again, ass-hole,” he spit out. “And do better.” He paused. “Or I’ll put a slug right in the middle of your fore-head,” he added for emphasis. It was plain that Bullock did not like to be trifled with.
So I didn’t. Trifle, that is.
I answered as casually as I knew how. “Right while you have your hand on that pistol,” I began, “why don’t you just pull it the rest of the way out of the holster. Just two fingers, mind you. Then turn it around butt forward and very carefully hand it over to me. We don’t want it going off by accident or anything.”
It had the desired reaction. Bullock pulled the big automatic about two or three inches out of the holster, and not with two fingers either. He was simply wrapping his big right hand more firmly around the handle. His eyes had grown larger at my words. He had almost ceased to breath—a sure sign that he was preparing for lethal action. And soon.
“And just what happens if I don’t?” he softly asked, conserving energy for the gun-play he knew was coming. He was a genuine tough-guy all right, but I detected a split-second of uncertainty in his voice. It was enough.
“Then I take it away from you and shove it up your ass, big-guy. That’s what happens.” I didn’t watch his hand. I kept my eyes bored into his. His eyes would be my tip-off.
Both our lives hung suspended for several seconds.
“Last chance, fat-boy,” I softly said. I threw in a smile and a wink for extra effect. That was all it took. His eyes telegraphed his intentions long before his hand. I had no idea what the other two soldiers were doing. That wasn’t my department. I had all I could handle right in front of me. As I slipped forward in time a split-second, I was surprised that Matt and Brick were apparently even a little faster than me. They both had moved too. I hadn’t actually seen them do it, but I knew they had. It was like a small and brief flash of light at the corners of both my eyes. Similar to the brief blip of light off an automobile’s windshield as it turns a corner fast on a sunny summer day.
Bullock jerked the gun. He was fast all right—but I was a lot faster. I had the thing in my hand before his arm even half straightened out. I could tell he couldn’t believe his own eyes, and had no idea what had just happened. I have to give the poor slob credit though. He recovered quickly and drew back for a punch. He never threw it though, as I smashed his own pistol into his face. It was a good old-fashioned solid steel handgun, weighting probably three pounds fully loaded. It knocked him flat on his behind—and did leave a mark to boot.
Matt was holding the second soldier at gunpoint, with his own rifle. The shocked man’s hands were high in the air. Brick had also disarmed his guy, but true to form had tossed the weapon away. This gave the soldier the mistaken impression that he could duke it out with Brick for the championship. He cascaded to the floor right next to Bullock. The man was lucky. I knew Brick hadn’t even returned a half-power punch.
The fight, such as it was, was over. Matt politely asked his man, the last one standing, as it were, to kindly take the handcuffs off Maggie. He seemed happy to comply.
Bullock was regaining his senses. “How in the bloody hell did you get out of the cuffs?” he asked with amazement.
“Old police trick,” I muttered.
His shirt pocket began to ring.
“Is that your phone?” I asked.
“No—it’s yours,” he answered.
“Then hand it over,” I replied. “Don’t you know it’s not nice to take other people’s stuff?”
He did. I took the call and walked away from the group to talk. After a couple of minutes, I returned.
I addressed Bullock. “Where’s the rest of our belongings?”
“In my office.”
“Well, we’re all going to go get them. Real nice and friendly like. Brick, would you please be so kind as to unload all three weapons and give them back to these gentlemen?”
“What’s your plan, Johnny?”
“Just head over to the COs office, re-arm ourselves and do a short plan re-assessment.”
“You have any bull-pups over at your office, Bullock?” I knew the short-barreled 9mm sub-machine guns would probably be standard issue armament for his unit under the circumstances.
“Sure,” he answered.
“More than that.”
“You’re being mighty co-operative, all of a sudden, Bullock.”
“All of a sudden I’m getting an idea that you all probably aren’t the bad-guys.”
“The fact that the three of us are still alive.”
“Smart-man,” I observed.
“Sometimes,” Bullock agreed. He held out his hand. I thought it over for a second or two, and then helped him to his feet.
What’s going on?” he asked.
“Plenty, Bullock. But it’s not going on in Detroit. What happened here was nothing but an elaborate smokescreen. You’re right, Commander—we aren’t the bad-guys. But we need to stop them. And I don’t have a world of time to do that, so I need an honest, straight-up answer from you. Will you help us?”
It took Bullock a few seconds to think it over too. I had to change my mind about him. He was a hell of a lot smarter than I had first given him credit for. He did his own quick set of mathematics—and came up with the right answer.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“O’Brien,” I answered. “Johnny O’Brien. Just Johnny to my friends.”
“Well, Johnny, sorry I jumped to the wrong conclusions,” he said.
“That’s okay, Bullock. I know you guys have been through hell here.”
“I’m going to trust you, Johnny, and I’m putting the rest of my career in your hands as well. From what I just saw, that might not be such a bad place for it to be.” He hesitated for a couple of more seconds—and then he smiled. “Let’s go get you guys properly outfitted.”
Thanks so much for reading today. See you in a few with another installment of THE RECKONING.