Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Fallout Chapter 6

Connie swept the counter with the rag, using the swift rhythm of years of practice. If anyone's a professional at working here, it's me, she thought. After she'd come from California, it was the first place she felt like she belonged, and whenever things went wrong somewhere else, this place was like a second home. Right now, there was nowhere else she'd rather be than here in Odyssey, at Whit's End, wiping the counter after a long day.

Things were settling down. Most of the kids had gone home for supper; right now, there was only Emily and Matthew upstairs in the Imagination Station, and…there was someone else, wasn't there? Oh, that man in the corner booth, sitting as still as a shadow.

Strange. She had never seen him in here before. She wondered if he was new in town. It had been so busy most of the afternoon, she hadn't even thought to ask his name or where he was from. Come to think of it, she hadn't seen him come in….Had he been here all afternoon? Wasn't he the guy who she'd given the root beer float to when she'd first come in at 1:00?

That was odd. And kind of creepy.

Great. I'm just jumping to conclusions. He probably just likes the place and wants to hang out for a while, that's all.

Well, if he's up to no good, I'll chase him out of here. And if he's a secret agent or something…we've had so many of those around here I've lost count.

Well, not that many. None in the past…year. Except for one. The only one that really matters. Because he's Whit's son of course, not for any other reason. Not that there'd be any other reason…

Oh, cut it out, she told herself. It's been a long day. Time to go home and relax. I'll wait a little while until Emily and Matthew get done with their adventure.

She strode over to the man. "Do you need anything?"

He looked up from beneath his hat. He squinted up at her, gray eyes glinting. He had smile lines around his tanned face, but he wasn't smiling.

"No, I'm fine. I suppose you're closing soon?" His voice was low yet pleasant, but something about it was…fake. As if he was trying too hard to be polite, and would rather not be if he didn't have to.

"We will be in a few minutes. You don't have to hurry, though. Take your time."

"That's fine. I need to get going anyway."

"Can…I ask where you're headed?"

He smiled. "You can ask."

"Just curious, that's all."

"I'll just be going for a walk, then to a hotel."

"Oh? Do you have business in Odyssey?" She noted his pristine gray suit.

"Something like that. Thanks for your excellent service." And he rose, showing he was much taller than he looked when he was sitting down. He tipped his hat, and strode out the door.

Connie grabbed her purse and went upstairs to get Emily and Matthew. It was strange, now that the man had gone, the place made her feel jumpy, its silent, unused rooms shrouded in shadow.

In the Bible Room sat the imagination Station. Emily and Matthew were just stumbling out of it, reeling as if dazed.

"What an adventure!" said Emily. "Let's do it again!"

Matthew clutched his stomach. "I don't know if I could handle another one. I don't think I'll eat for a week."

"It's time to be done anyway," said Connie. "I have to close up shop."

"Oh, okay," said Emily. "I didn't know it was that late."

"You two go downstairs. I'll look around and make sure everything's shut down."

She set down her purse and went across the room to shut down the Noah's Ark display, which was stuck in a sound loop, "And it rained for forty days—" over and over. She made a mental note to tell Whit about it.

She hurried downstairs. Whit was by the doorway, talking to Matthew and Emily, something about Emily's neighbor. Right before Connie got there, the two kids dashed out the door into the waning sunlight.

"Hi, Whit," said Connie. "Here to catch up on a project?"

"Something like that." He smiled, but his eyes were sad. Come to think of it, he was pale, his face drawn, as if he were ten years older.

"Whit—is there something wrong?"

He shook his head. "Nothing you need to worry about. I'm just not feeling myself, that's all."

"Are you sure you should be working late? I mean, if you're not feeling well—"

"I'll be fine. There's nothing wrong with me…physically."


He gave a sad smile. "Maybe."

"But it's not something you can tell me."

"If I could, I would."

"There isn't anything I can do?"

He shook his head. "Not at the moment, no. Except—pray, Connie."

"I will, Whit." She walked out the door, wishing she knew what was going on so she could help.

It's none of my business, she thought, as she walked out to her car. If he wanted me to know, he'd tell me.

She stopped by her car, reached for her keys in her purse—and realized her purse wasn't there.
Great. Where did I leave it last? It was in the kitchen—and then I took it up the Bible Room...

Back inside, all the lights on the main floor were off. Whit was nowhere to be seen.

As she reached the Bible Room, she saw the door to Whit's office was open. He wasn't at his desk though. He was in secret computer room, and had left the bookcase open.

I should really let him know that I'm here, she thought. But what if he doesn't want me to know? Maybe I should just leave my purse and come back tomorrow.

She was about to announce her presence, when she saw what was on the computer screen.
It was a man, horribly beaten—but there was something about his face that was familiar—and the blue of his eyes, so like his father's—

Jason! Her hear tore to see him like that. Why would anyone want to hurt him? she wondered. Could it be some of his old enemies? That's probably why Whit doesn't want me to know. But there has to be something I can do!

Just then, Whit got up from his chair—and froze. "Connie? Is that you?"

"What's going on, Whit?"

"You'd better get inside. If any place is secure, it's this room."

She came in, and he shut the bookshelf behind her. Then she pulled up a second chair and sat down beside him.

On the large screen, everything was magnified. Every bruise, every cut, every drop of blood. She had to turn away after a moment and look at Whit to avoid seeing Jason's terribly injured face.

"Who did this?"

"I have my suspicions, but no proof. All I have is this picture, and the texts I've been getting all day, threatening to do more harm to my son if I don't hand over…a certain computer program."


"No, Zephyr."


"No reason we called it that, except that it was the last letter of the alphabet, and Applesauce was the first."

"You've worked on that many programs?"

"Well, some I've had more of a hand in than others. This one, like Applesauce, was developed with the Department of Defense. It's been in 'cold storage', partly because of a security breach. He never got it, but he government feared his access, and so they locked it up, believing that the risks of using it outweighed its benefits."

"Who was the person who tried to get it?" Memories of Blackgaard flitted across her mind, but she knew it couldn't possibly be him.

"We never found out who he was—just an exceptionally brilliant hacker who called himself Might. We never knew anything beyond the communications he sent us."

"Do you think it's the same guy?"

"I'm not ruling out any possibilities, but if it's someone else—our security breach was bigger than we thought. It makes sense why he'd want it, and he knew of my involvement. What I don't know is why he waited to try to get it after all these years."

"But do you even have the program? I mean, they had it in storage."

"That's the strange part. There was only one other person beside me that knew I had a copy of the program, and the other person died several years ago."

"What if he's been spying on you? Saw you had the program somehow….Whit—I saw someone in here tonight. He was here since before you left. Do you think he could have something to do with this?"

Whit hesitated. "Was it the same man that was here earlier today?"

"Well, he had a hat and a gray business suit."

"Sounds like him. Did you talk to him?"

"He just said he was going to a hotel. He didn't say which one."

"Hm. There's no way to find out anything without more information, unless he comes in here again. Right now, I'm studying this picture to see if it'll give me a clue about where Jason is. I've got some software that'll help me analyze the picture. It's the best lead we've got right now."

"If there's any way I can help, Whit…"

"You're helping already." He smiled at her; the first genuine smile she'd seen from him since he'd come back to the shop.

She sat with him the next few hours. It was true, there wasn't much she could do; computer programming was all Greek to her. But she could talk with him and, most importantly, pray with him.
It was about 10:00. Connie was getting tired; she was long overdue back at her apartment, and Penny was probably wondering where she was. She didn't even have her cell phone; it was still in her purse.

"Whit, I think I'd better—"

"Go ahead, Connie. I'll be fine."

"You sure?"

"I'll just stay a little longer myself."

"Make sure to get some rest. You can't help Jason if you're all worn out."

"That's true. Thank you, Connie, for everything."

"I'll keep praying."

"And make sure you don't tell anyone about this. Jason's life may depend on it."

She gave Whit a hug, looking at Jason's picture and wishing she could hug him too—though it'd probably hurt him too much if she did.

Walking down the dark hallway, she wondered whether it would do any good to go home; she probably wouldn't get any sleep tonight anyway. She'd be up all night, worried about Jason.

Whit sat back at the computer. It had been good to have someone to talk to, to not be alone in dealing with this. He just hoped that Jason's kidnapper hadn't found out Connie knew; no one could be that omniscient. Unless the security breach went further than anyone had suspected…

He leaned his head in his hands, suddenly feeling exhausted. Ever since he'd found out what had happened, he'd been in a state of heightened tension. Now, it was all catching up with him. He didn't want to stop looking for a lead…but maybe Connie was right. Maybe he'd have to get some rest in order to be fresh enough to start again.

He was just about to get up, head home, when his cell phone vibrated.

It wasn't a text this time. It was an unknown number. He picked it up.

"You did something bad, didn't you?" said a gravelly voice. Something about it sounded automated, as if it were computer-fabricated.

"Who is this?"

"You know perfectly well who I am."

"Is it Might?"

"Might? I haven't gone by that name in years. But yes, if you must know, I'm the man behind the might. Or I could be a woman as far as you know." He laughed. "But we're not here to talk about me. You told someone else, didn't you?"

"I didn't—she found out on her own."

"Did she now?" the voice sneered.

"Don't hurt my son!"

"I'm not the one hurting him. But don't worry, I won't kill him. Yet. I can allow it was a mistake—this time. The girl is harmless. But in the future, if either of you so much as slip one word of this to anyone—he dies."

"What leverage will you have then?" he asked, though he knew the answer before he said it.

"I'm sure I can think of someone you care about to choose from."

"I'm not about to tell anyone."

"Good. But you're not going to be let off scot-free. No, I'm going to have to punish you, and according to my rules, that means punishing Jason.

"Stick by Jason's computer; the next file I send will be to his address. Oh, and even if he lives, there's no guarantee that your precious son will come out of this without permanent damage."

The man hung up. Silence fell.

Time is running out, thought Whit. I'm no closer to a solution—if there is one. The only way may be to somehow convince him to exchange myself for my son.


  1. What a wonderful fabrication! This Evelyn Weibel is extremely talented. Six toes and three thumbs, as Twit would say!


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