I’ve collected here the different parts of the story that I’m writing for my wife, Kristen. My plan is to update this each time I write and publish a new section. This way you can read them all at one go.
So without further ado. . . .
January 20th, 1990
Jonathan’s Ford, North Dakota
Samantha Carter picked herself up from the ground, noticing the spots of blood scattered about on the snow. Shivering, she wrapped her arms around herself in a vain attempt to keep some smattering of body heat. What she needed was a nice thick coat—like the one which waved at the top of the she’d just attempted to climb—not the thin sweater she wore which did almost no good.
“Hurry up,” said a hard voice behind her.
Jonathan Carter stood in the knee high snow glaring at his eight year old daughter. Even though the wind cut through the trees with a vengeance, he stood with his woolen coat open, unaffected by the subzero temperatures. Samantha shot a glare at her father, and he moved swift as a cat, the snow no hindrance.
“Don’t give me that, young lady,” he said, grabbing her chin in one cold hand. Fear solidified in her belly, making the weather outside seem warm in comparison. He’d never harmed her, true, but that look. . . . He went on, staring daggers into her eyes. “You do what you’re told.”
He spun her to face the black walnut she’d fallen from moments ago. Samantha wished she had a normal father, like those of her friends at school. Then they could play house and ride bikes and play catch in the backyard. She could have sleepovers. Instead, he’d made her learn things that made no sense to her. Do things she was sure other girls didn’t have to do.
Today, she’d woken up to find her pink winter jacket waving from the highest branch of this old tree. Before breakfast, she’d been shoved out into the cold to recover it without the chance to even throw on a pair of gloves. Now, Samantha’s hands were raw and her back hurt from where she’d struck the ground. And her father wanted her to try again.
Those eyes left no question to his that. It would toughen her up, he said. So would the new things he promised to teach her this summer. That scared her more than a little. Each year, his teachings had grown harder, building upon her knowledge from before. Maybe it was the dance lessons he’d promised. Ballet, if she had her way. None of that icky stuff with boys. Her father had threatened tango lessons, but the rare glint in his eyes told the lie.
Cold burned her lungs as she gripped the tree with both hands, hugging it close. Moving arms and legs like a spider, she worked her way up to the lowest branches. Numb fingers gripped the branch and she hauled herself upward. Bark scraped at her skin and she could feel pieces of it lodge painfully underneath her nails. First one branch, then another rose to meet her, confidence growing until she was moving without thought. It was as if her hands and feet moved of their own accord. And without the worry that slowed her, Samantha moved faster up the ice covered limbs.
Then one foot slid out from under her, off a thin branch. The second one followed almost immediately after. Samantha dangled from an upper branch, not nearly thick enough to support her entire weight. Cracking sounded in her ears as she kicked in desperation. Panic welled and started to overwhelm her. She couldn’t fall from this height. It would . . . be bad. Very, very bad.
Breathe. The first thing is to always breathe. Her father’s words cut through her panic, killing it in its tracks. You don’t and you will be worthless. Breathing strengthens your body and gives you time to think.
The first breath came hard. She fought for every ounce of air. But the second came easier, the third easier still. And while she couldn’t feel her hands grow stronger, she could feel her grip steady. A branch struck her in the knee as she moved her legs deliberately. Lifting her right knee to her chest, Samantha placed her foot on the branch and levered herself up. It wasn’t easy, but moments later she stood hugging a branch to her chest.
From there on, it was a simple matter to reach the top and the jacket. It had been tied by one sleeve to the top most branch, but came free with a tug. Briefly, Samantha considered trying to don the garment as she dangled there, but quickly nixed the idea. Instead, she tied it around her waist with in a loose knot.
The journey down was easier than up. Some parts of her decent was more akin to falling than climbing, but nothing like her near disaster earlier. Dangling from the bottom most branch, she let go and fell the last few feet into the snow. She dusted it from her hands and crawled into the coat as quickly as she could move. It was colder than she was, but soon the heat from her body fixed that.
Jonathan sauntered up to her, no more care for the cold than when she’d started.
“Good,” he said, crouching to look at Samantha in the eyes, “but you could’ve done better.”
Samantha wanted to ask how, to cry out in frustration and point to her throbbing hands. What else could she have done? She’d climbed a tree in the dead of winter without a coat, surviving a near fall that surely would’ve broken several bones, and made it back alive. But instead of howling, she stood mute, looking into her father’s brown eyes.
“Do you think,” he said, “that I could have climbed that tree all by myself?”
She shook her head.
“Do you think those branches near the top could’ve supported my weight?”
“Then how’d I get up there?”
Samantha looked about the yard. Everything was covered in a layer of snow shining bright in the sun. The back of the house, several dozen yards away, looked the same as usual with the addition of several tracks leading to where they now stood. The barn which housed all of her father’s equipment and tools looked untouched.
Except for the set of tracks leading toward it.
With a shake of her head, Samantha followed them, letting her father to follow behind a moment later. Neither one said anything as she followed the trail around the side of the barn. There, leaning up against the side, was her father’s aluminum later, free of snow and shining in the sunlight.
She touched it with numb fingers. “You could have said something,” she muttered over her shoulder.
“You could have looked,” he responded. “Brute strength and directness is all fine and good. Under the right circumstances. But you need to know your surroundings. Sometimes a bit of observation can save you much more. The trick is knowing what’s useful.”
Samantha spun. His cold words stung and her climb was still too fresh to give her father any lee way.
“I could’ve hurt myself.” Samantha held out her hands to show him. A small cut she hadn’t noticed before left a thin line of blood across her palm. “I did.”
Jonathan wrapped his daughter into his arms. Soft words reached her ear and she felt herself relax. She was still angry, furious even, but it seemed a small thing to throw against her father.
“I would never have let you climb up there if I didn’t think you could do it. You’ve done harder in worse conditions. All this is to help you—prepare you—for when I’m not there. In case I can’t be. You will face troubles in your life and I won’t be there. And when that happens, you’ll be able to trust no one but yourself.”
She wiped tears from her eyes. “And Uncle Kevin.”
Jonathan smiled. “And Uncle Kevin. But mostly you. And if I know anything, Samantha Carter, you can handle it.”
December 17, 2017
Five miles west of Copper Harbor, Michigan
Jonathan Carter opened his eyes in the soundless, grey light of morning. Without turning his head, he could see the glowing red numbers of the alarm clock he’d placed on his otherwise empty bedside table. Two more minutes and it would go off. He heaved a sigh and stared up at the cracked ceiling. It needed a new layer of paint, but he’d kept on putting it off for months now. As he watched, a flake of white drifted down to the floor by the window.
There’d been a time when he’d not needed a clock of any sort. Set his internal timer and he’d be up at three in the morning, or five, or whenever he wanted. Now he needed an alarm to make sure that he was even up on time. And he didn’t want to be up at eight. He’d wanted to be out on his morning run, chores done and breakfast eaten, by that alarm. Disgust at what age had wrought rolled through him. No two way about it, he was growing soft.
And there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it.
A sharp buzzing, loud enough to sound throughout the six hundred square foot house, sounded in his ear. Groaning, Carter sat up, twisted, and put naked feet on the cold wooden floor. The chill in the air didn’t register on his naked body. That was just the way he liked it. A nice stiff chill to wake you up and get you motivated. He silenced the alarm with a disdainful slap and stood.
The room, painted a solid navy blue and void of any decoration, lightened as the sunlight crept through half-curtained windows. Dressing took only a moment as he drew on faded jeans, a plaid shirt, and thick, leather work boots. Glancing outside, he saw a thick layer of snow, pristine and unblemished. He’d need such warm clothing for today. His breath condensed in a cold mist as he headed downstairs.
Absently, he noticed the near empty wood bin next to the fireplace in what he considered his living room. That would need to be restocked today if he didn’t want to freeze tonight. Granted, he could have invested in modern conveniences to warm his house. Electric furnaces and the like were all fine and good, but his ancestors had survived using fire, and that was good enough for him.
Like the rest of the house, the living room and kitchen were bare-boned things, devoid of many of the comforts that made life easier. What Carter felt about heating held true in most other aspects of his life as well. A gas stove that looked to have survived the Korean War sat under a small window with a refrigerator that looked to have survived a nuclear blast. Across from the fireplace sat a brown suede couch, worn but in good shape, and a matching easy chair. The last wall contained floor to ceiling book cases, stuffed to the brim with novels of every size and shape. In the center of it all was a handmade pine table with four matching chairs waxed to a dull shine. The walls were painted a dull green and lacked any adornment save for a single framed picture which hung above the couch.
Carter noticed none of this, familiar as he was with the setting, as he pulled out eggs and sausages from the refrigerator. They went into a cast iron pan which was already heating on the stove. Soon the smells of fried eggs and sausage, comingled in the same pan, filled the room. His mind sorted aimless thoughts and registered which chores needed immediate attention as he ate his breakfast standing over the still hot skillet on the stove. The wood would have to come first. Nothing quite ruined a night as much as not having a fire for warmth. He’d had to do that numerous times back in his youth. That was one thing he didn’t miss; the cold, sleepless nights.
When the pan was cool enough to touch, into the sink it went to be cleaned later, along with the fork he’d used. The wood first, then a quick trip to town. Breakfast had used the last of his eggs and there were a few other things he’d need if he was to ever fix that leaky window upstairs in the bathroom. Then the car needed a tune-up, and he thought he’d noticed a family of squirrels taking up residence in the barn. The list went on. He considered each one before putting it on today’s to-do list or discarding it for another day.
The thing was that today, he had to be pickier than usual. Everything needed to be done before Samantha arrived today. What time had she said again? He couldn’t remember offhand. Around noon? She’d said there was some surprise she had for him, but wouldn’t say anything more on the matter. Not that he’d pried, but she knew how much he hated surprises.
The first flashbang crashed through the window above the stove, hitting Carter in the back before clattering to the floor. Old memories told him what it was before he could register it intentionally. Those same reflexes overturned the dining room table to cover the flashbang as he dove onto the floor beside the couch.
A blinding light obscured his vision at the same time as a deafening boom filled the room. Ringing filled his ears as he felt his way forward to the steps that led to his bedroom. IF he could reach there, he could—
Another crash and flash filled his world with pain, destroying what little recovery his body had been able to manage. Carter fell to the floor, hands gripping the sides of his head. He felt his lungs and throat burn with his screams, but he couldn’t hear anything. Another object hit him in the stomach, bouncing up his chest before hitting the floor. Explosions tore at his ears and he could feel blood seep from between his fingers. Wetness rolled down his face as well. Shaking fingers followed it up, and flinched away from his eyes and nose. Blood torn from his body due to the concussions only added their screams to his pain. The only part of his mind not blubbering in pain took over, its small voice whispering, pleading, for him to get upstairs.
Carter reached forward with blood soaked fingers, pulling his body forward by his fingernails. Who could have done this? Mossad? Russian Intelligence? The Chinese? Even the CIA wasn’t too farfetched. The list went on and on, expanding the more his mind worked, trying to distract him from the pain and what he was doing. Why wasn’t much of a question though. He knew too much, did too many things in his life. Another flashbang came in and landed next to him. His only real question was how’d they find him? All these years, he worked to remain anonymous; hiding in small towns and staying away from people. And if they could find him, then Samantha—
A new smell reached his nose and Carter flailed about to try and push it away. He missed several times before connecting with the edge of his hand. But by then it was too late. He could feel his mind slipping, losing all connection with the world.
He was already unconscious by the time his head hit the floor.
That was the first thing to intrude into Carter’s awareness. Well, less of an intrusion and more the persistent howling of sirens clashing with the relentless pounding of jackhammers. A small groan escaped his lips and his head lolled forward. It never got easier. Actually, the opposite was true. The more times he’d experienced unconsciousness, the less fun it was. But then again, no one he’d ever met had enjoyed it either.
Slowly, memories of the attack started to return. Part of him wished that they were dreams, that this was some realistic nightmare. He’d had those before. It all felt so abstract, unreal to such an extent that Carter felt almost positive that he’d wake up in a moment. Maybe Anna’s face would be there; the sun in her smile. But the pain was too real. Too visceral. The more he pushed it away, the more he was forced to accept it as the truth. A painful, all too real truth. Another groan escaped his lips and he tried to lift his head.
That was a mistake.
Stiffness in his neck blossomed to full on agony. Grimacing through the pain, he could feel dried blood sticking to his cheeks and the sides of his face. The ringing in his ears, diminished from what it had been when the flashbang had gone off in his face, still persisted, adding to the pain that filled his world. Carter suspected that he could see if he could open his eyes, but that felt impossible. As it stood now, with his eyes pressed shut, he could still see blinding flashes of light. Until those subsided, he would remain blind to the world.
Despite the pain, his mind continued to function the way he’d trained it. Bits and pieces of information flooded in. Perhaps one of them would make a difference, but regardless, all were important.
He was sitting up tied to a chair, his wrists bound behind him to the latticework. That meant, if they were still in his house, that this was one of the kitchen chairs. Shame that he’d fixed them all last year and they were all now as sturdy as the day they’d been built. Probably, more so now. Nor was there any play in the ropes or knots themselves. A slight flex of his arms and wrists told him that. Whoever’d tied him to the chair had even thought to tie his ankles to the legs. So unless something happened, he wouldn’t be going anywhere fast.
Somehow, however, he didn’t think that would be an issue. If they’d wanted to move him, they’d had plenty of time to do so. Carter doubted that he’d been out long. Just long enough. A few hours. Four at most. That meant they couldn’t have gone far. He’d put money on the fact that they were still at his house. It was the only thing that made sense. But to be sure, he’d have to open his eyes. And he wanted to do that least of all. Shaking his head, he worked up the courage to crack an eyelid.
“No reason to get all worked up, Mister Carter.”
The voice stopped Carter in his tracks. A low murmur of conversation that he’d not noticed before through the tinnitus ceased. Everything seemed to be waiting for that voice to speak up again.
“I tried to make you as comfortable as I could. Unfortunately, your history is—shall we say colorful enough?—that I was unable to do much for you.”
It was melodious in its own way. Male, deep, and confident. The owner spoke English well—better than most people Carter knew—but it was just as obviously not the mother tongue. Still, there was a weight to the words, like the owner knew exactly what he meant with each syllable, intending that precise idea. An air of command underlay it all, and Carter grit his teeth as he opened his eyes through the pain.
He was indeed still in his house. The familiar walls of his bedroom surrounded him, though his captor had done Carter a favor by closing the drapes to the windows that surrounded the room. Only dim light filled the room, with the greatest portion coming from the doorway and the stairwell.
Carter sat in that doorway, his back to the light. A man that Carter guessed to be in his late twenties or early thirties sat on the bed. He wore a charcoal suit, almost black in the dim light, a white shirt, and a thin blood red tie. At the moment, he sat forward with his elbows on his knees and fingers interlaced. Sharp eyes looked out over a hawk’s nose and thin lips. A hint of stubble showed on the edges of an otherwise clean shaven chin.
“You see,” he said, his lips moving in a mesmerizing pattern as he spoke, “I don’t trust you. I suppose that in your line of work, that should be considered a compliment. Or what I should say is what was your line of work. How long has it been since Uncle Same and his Balding Eagle let you out? Ten? Twenty years? There’s something to be said for age and experience in your line of work, but even the greats need to eventually be let out to pasture.”
He stood suddenly, flinging his arms out to his sides and spinning in a circle once. “Oh, and you were great. Frank Andrews. We were raised on stories about you. You would come and steal away naughty children who wouldn’t do what their parents told them, like some sort of reaper in the night. It really is a pleasure, sir, let me tell you.”
Carter coughed. His throat was dry and every swallow of saliva made it burn.
“I don’t know what you mean,” he croaked.
The man crouched down on his heels before Carter. Something, not quite madness, danced in his eyes. “Come, come Mr. Andrews. There’s no need to play that game. We all know who you are. Well, we all do now. I must confess that my compatriots downstairs had no idea who you were before now, but I’m sure they can hear us from downstairs.” He raised his voice. “Can’t you, boys?”
Murmurs of assent drifted up the stairs. Four, maybe five voices. That was quite a number for a job like this. Snatch and grabs usually required less. They must have been expecting more trouble than they got.
Carter shook his head. If only he’d been younger, then they’d have never gotten the drop on him. Hell, his own bunkmates in training would have laughed him out of the building for this. Stop. No. He was better than this, age or not. They shouldn’t have been able to sneak up on a mouse without him knowing, let alone his house. Like it or not, he was going soft. And soft wouldn’t get him out of this.
“Now,” Carter’s captor said, standing and returning to his seat on the bed, “I can’t see what you’re thinking, but I wouldn’t do it. Someone with training like yours probably could see half a dozen ways out of this situation—at least your legend could. Between you and me, I know you aren’t your legend, but those men downstairs know of that legend.
“But because of that legend, I’ve had to put safe guards in place. Just to make them feel more comfortable. ‘I’ll treat him,’ I said, ‘like he’s Frank Andrews himself.’ And so I have. They just didn’t know you were still living and breathing, nor that they were hunting you. Don’t make me use them. We’ll all have a better time of it.”
“What have you done?” Carter asked.
“I’m afraid that I’m not willing to share much of the details. Watched a bit too many James Bond films growing up. I won’t be spilling all the details. But there’s more than one way to make a man bleed, to make him suffer. And I bet that a man like you, Mr. Andrews, can’t be swayed by your own blood or pain. But those of the people you care about, that’s another story.”
“My name isn’t Frank Andrews.”
“Come, come. You can’t persist in this nonsense, Mr. Andrews. Frank. Do you mind if I call you Frank?” He didn’t pause for permission. “What do you expect me to do? Allow you to live in some fantasy world where you’re Jonathan Carter, some unimportant nobody who didn’t single-handedly destroy countless Soviet plans? No, I can’t do that. It’d be a disservice to you, to my men, and, frankly, to myself. No.”
“I’ve never been out of the country,” Carter said.
There had to be a way out of this. What plans had this psycho made? Of course, knowing that would help tremendously. Besides, there couldn’t be that much leverage. People close to him? Not many of those left. He’d cut ties with most of them, and the few that he hadn’t he didn’t care much about anyway. But let them suffer for him, not knowing why? No, that was beyond him.
“Of course, of course,” his captor said. “Mr. Carter has never been out of the country. In fact, he has barely left the Great Lakes region of your fine country. There’s a whole list of things that he hasn’t done. Let’s see. He’s never held a job—officially, he’s never gotten a speeding ticket, had an email address—really who doesn’t have one of those anymore?—, and voted democrat. He only has a high school education, and barely earning even that. Not a smart man—you should have chosen better. Anyway, I digress. Am I missing anything? There’s more as well. Do I need to continue?”
“Who are you?” Carter asked, stunned. He’d been right, though. All those things, Jonathan Carter’d never done. To have such detail notes meant resources and time that he couldn’t even comprehend. Given enough time, a proper surveillance team could uncover all that information. Time was the only thing that hindered intelligence gathering. In this day and age, almost everything was discoverable. But to do it with the detail that his captor insinuated? That was inconceivable.
“Bless me, I’ve forgotten that, haven’t I?” The captor stood and extended his hand. “Ivan Kuznetsov, at your service.” The smile that hadn’t left his face since Carter had woken up now grew into a broad grin. It slipped a little when he noticed what he was doing. Withdrawing his hand, he rubbed it on his pant leg, awkwardly. “Can’t do much with that, can you?”
A chuckle bubbled up, soft and insistent, from Carter’s chest as he shook his head. It hurt his throat more than the swallowing had, and soon it turned into a racking cough. After what had seemed like hours, but were probably closer to a few minutes, he looked up at Ivan through tear filled eyes. A smile, painful through cracked lips, appeared briefly before disappearing.
“You talk to me about names, and then give me that?”
Ivan looked taken aback and even a bit hurt. “What are you talking about?”
“Ivan Kuznetsov. The Russian equivalent of John Smith—one of the most common names in the English language. That’s an alias if I’ve ever heard one.”
“Ah,” Ivan said, standing and leaning over Carter. “But that is my name. What I’m vexed about is how you, Mr. Carter, knew something that you have no right in knowing, but that Mr. Andrews wouldn’t even think about twice.”
With all of the force he could bring to bear, Carter thrust his head forward in a short jab. Fresh, sharp pain pushed its way through to the front of his consciousness, and Carter had to force his way through a wave of dizziness which threatened to halt him in his tracks. Still, he pushed through it, instead trying to get to his feet, the bonds making his progress awkward.
The blow had missed Carter’s intended target, his forehead connected with Ivan’s chin. Stumbling back two steps, the Russian—at least Carter assumed he was Russian—tumbled back onto the bed. Carter didn’t watch long enough to see how long his captor stayed down, turning toward the stairs. Then, with a jerk, he felt one of his feet pulled out from under him.
He collapsed to the floor. The back of the chair hit the back of Carter’s head, sending stars floating across his vision and adding its own pain to the rest of his body’s. Fresh pain, ten times that which he’d felt before, screamed through his body as his left shoulder hit the floor with a pop. A scream bubbled up from his chest, and no matter how much he wanted to hold it in, the dislocation was too much. Wordless howls tore at his throat. Agony multiplied their ferocity. It seemed like the pain would never end.
Then a pair of black dress shoes appeared through his haze of stars and tears. Two unseen hands lifted the chair and set it on its legs again. Ivan stepped around the chair and stood amidst Carter’s hazy vision, sitting once again on the bed.
“Now, now,” he said, touching gingerly at a split lip, “that was uncalled for.” Blood dotted his fingers and a small line of it dripped down to the point of his chin. He wiped it away with a hand. “But perhaps you see now why I had to keep you tied up like this? Had I not, then you’d be well on your way out of here. My associates and I cannot have that.”
As if they were summoned, two men appeared. One approached Ivan while the other one kept a wary eye on their prisoner. Only then did Carter realize how much time had passed. Minutes had only been seconds, and he’d need longer than that to get out of this mess.
“You ok boss?” the first asked, a blond man the size of a dump truck.
The second, a tall beanpole with brown hair flecked with grey, poked Carter in his dislocated shoulder sending renewed waves of pain up his shoulder. “Should we take him out back?”
“No,” Ivan said, covering his face with his hands. “Go back downstairs. I’ll need one of you in a moment, but I’ll let you know when.”
“Then why don’t we just—”
With a growl, Ivan pulled an automatic pistol from an inside pocket, pointing and firing in one swift motion. The beanpole yelled in surprise as the bullet grazed his left cheek and imbedded itself into the wall next to his head.
“You coulda killed me!”
“I wasn’t trying. Now downstairs before I start to care that I missed.”
Both thugs gulped and disappeared behind Carter and out of the room. Two pairs of feet thudded down the stairs, fading as they reached the main room.
“Good help is so hard to find,” Ivan said, replacing the pistol. “Where were we?”
“You’re like some cross between a Bond villain and some comic book super villain. Who shoots their own men?”
“That oaf, my man? No. As I said, he’s just some hired help. Local thugs hired to introduce me the locals and all that nonsense. Odds are,” he paused to glance at his watch, visably count to three, then looked back at Carter, “they should be dead now. Though I will have to talk to someone about letting them up here in the first place.”
As if to punctuate his words, two dull thuds drifted up from the bottom of the steps.
“My men know what I expect without having to ask. Now, where were we? Ah. I remember now. You and this thing you might roughly, possibly consider something akin to an escape attempt.
“That was a foolish move. You know very well that I’m going to have to retaliate for that, yet you tried anyway. Brave of you, but foolish nonetheless. The real question is how. There really are so many delicious choices. Do I punish you just enough to get my point across and make you compliant, or do I force you to understand the extent of my abilities and break your spirit right from the beginning?”
Ivan pulled a decade-old cell phone from his left pants pocket. He flipped it open and pressed a button before lifting it to his ear. A moment he spoke one word in a language that Carter didn’t recognize. Perhaps German. Carter wished that he could confirm that one way or another. Waiting long enough for a response, Ivan nodded absently and closed the phone.
“I will admit that this may not work, but I suspect that for someone like you, Mr. Andrews, who spent your life protecting the innocent and the nation that you hold so dear, that it might. You see, I have people everywhere that I even remotely might need them. Or not. As you know well enough, you don’t always need to be present to sow chaos. A well placed bomb can work too. But don’t you worry, there’s no bomb quite yet. Only a bullet. I’m afraid that your dear old mom won’t wake up from that nap she was having down at Pleasant Oaks. Shame that you had to ruin that beautiful duvet. At least the colors matched with that red and blue floral dress you bought her last year for Christmas. The colors really—”
Ivan paused to reopen his phone and dial a number.
“It occurs to me that you might want more proof than my word,” he said, the tip of his tongue poking out from the corner of his mouth. “I know I would if I was in your situation.” Carter could hear the ring of a phone through the speaker. A second later, a voice answered, feminine with a cheerful lilt to the voice. “Yes. Do you have a Mrs. Henretta Adams there? I was just talking to her and we got disconnected. Now she won’t answer her phone. Would you be a dear and check on her for me?”
The scream that came over the line a moment later chilled the marrow in Carter’s bones. There was nothing but horror in it. Ivan closed the phone with a snap.
“Have you ever noticed how retirement places have all these comforting names. Sunny Oaks. Pleasant Acres. Happy Tree-Filled Valley. It’s like they expect the names to distract us from the fact that people go there to die. People die there every day. Though, I fear that I might have ruined her day. Shame that. She seemed—”
Carter heard nothing more as he raged and pulled at the bonds that held him to his chair. Straining, he tore at the ropes wanting nothing more than to wrap his fingers around Ivan’s throat. Pain was nothing. Not even his dislocated should held him back. All he saw was red as his vision dimmed save for Ivan’s face. His mother was as much in hiding as he was. No one should have known about her, yet he had. Those comments about the dress and duvet, now he knew why they sounded so familiar. He’d made them himself when he’d given her the dress—
Three years ago.
Christ, how long had they had him under surveillance?
The answer baffled his mind. None of this made sense. Why him? Why now? His vision blurred fresh with tears as his head flopped onto his chest. His mother, dead. He’d lost her all over again. That scream replayed itself over and over in his mind. She was gone. He’d never see her smile again. Hear her voice. All of it, gone for good.
Gradually, he realized that the room had fallen silent save for his breathing. Carter looked up and saw Ivan watching him with one eyebrow raised.
“I assume that I now have your attention, Mr. Andrews. This is no game. There is no get out of jail free card. If you don’t do what I want, then more people will pay. Your petty nation of fools and ideologues will burn in its own filth. Their own hate will fuel the fires of their false piety. And together we will watch the flames consume the world.”
There was the madness. It danced behind his eyes with a fire of its own. Each word only feed fuel to that fire, increasing its intensity. There was nothing to do but go along with it and hope that in the end he wouldn’t be consumed as well. The odds of that seemed to be between slim and none, but what other choice did he have? Carter shook his head.
“I know what you’re thinking,” said Ivan. “I’m not mad though. Madmen don’t think like this. True madness is a force of chaos. Chaos is too messy though. Too much random chance, and I don’t like that. If it makes you feel better, call me a sociopath. It’s much more apt. Still wrong, mind, but closer.”
“Now, about what I want. How much do you know about Russian history? Not a lot, I’m assuming. Not many in your country do.”
“I know that you like to talk,” Carter said.
“Indeed,” Ivan laughed. “I can’t stand the silence. Do you know much Russian history, Mr. Andrews? Do you know about the Soviet’s sleep experiments of the late 1940’s?”
Carter shook his head.
“Well then, let me enlighten you. In the late 1940’s, Soviet Russia decided to experiment on several men for a sleep study. All these men were enemies of the state and told that should they stay awake for several days—I can’t remember how many—that they’d be released. Only they weren’t told that the bunker they were being housed in was being filled with an experimental gas. Terrible things happened to those men over the next month. By the third day, they were starting to go mad. Their conversation gained a darker and darker turn to them. They started to whisper the secrets of their compatriots into the microphones in order to garner favor with the researchers. Finally, one man started to run back and forth in the test room, screaming until his vocal cords tore. But no one ever responded. Then the test subjects covered all the windows in the room with pages covered in their own excrement.
“But that is when things got weird. All noises ceased. The microphones failed to pick up any noises. The only response came when they were promised release. They no longer wanted freedom. When the room was opened the next day, horror met the eyes of the researchers. Intestines torn from living bodies. Skin and muscle gone. You could see their hearts and lungs. None of them wanted to leave. Surgeries didn’t help. Several died that way. And the survivors begged to be returned to the room and the gas. Living horrors all. That gas ruined lives in more ways than I can ever imagine. I shiver to think about it.
“Only those Russian dogs, couldn’t leave well enough alone. They weaponized it by the end of the 1970’s. I know I haven’t told you everything that gas did, but trust me that it would cause unimaginable horrors should it ever be released in war or in peace. Luckily, it was destroyed in 1981 under suspicious circumstances. All canisters destroyed.
“Only it wasn’t. Records indicate that one of the canisters went missing at the same time as the rest were destroyed. Nor is there any sign of it ever being destroyed. Of course, the United States, England, and all the other world powers denied any knowledge of it. But I know better. We both do. So, that’s what I want, Mr. Andrews. That gas.”
Ivan leaned back against the pillows that leaned against the headboard, his head touching the wall. Silence filled the room as he crossed his legs at the ankles. Carter shook his head in disbelief. Who would want to release that on the world? He could see the benefits of removing the need for sleep from your own troops, but to do the same for the other side seemed counterintuitive. But if they increased the part of the chemical that sowed madness, then your enemies would sow their own chaos. They would do your job for you. Then all you would have to do is march into the capital unopposed. Any exposed troops would die and along with it any resistance.
“Oh, wait,” said Ivan, sitting up. “I forgot the maniacal laugh.” A sound came from his throat that sounded like the scream of a scared rabbit on speed. He turned to Carter. “You were expecting a maniacal laugh right? Was that good? It wasn’t that good was it? Maybe I should try again.”
Carter shook his head. “No, I’m good.” What was wrong with this guy?
“You sure? I can do it again. Let me do it again.”
But before Ivan could throw back his head, a cough came from behind Carter.
“Sir,” said a deep voice, “she’s here.”
Samantha. In all the chaos, he’d forgotten about her. A ball of ice filled his stomach and he felt like retching. The last thing he wanted was to have these soldiers get their hands on her. Not after what they’d done to his mother. They didn’t need another rope to tie to him, nor another lever to make him do what they wanted. But there hadn’t been a whole lot he could have done to warn her off. Maybe she’d see the broken windows and realize something was wrong. He’d raised her well enough that she should notice something as obvious as that. She didn’t and he’d be after her.
“Ah, the girl,” said Ivan. “Well, not much of a girl anymore is she. Old enough to be in college and make her own mistakes now, am I right? Too bad you don’t know the mistake she’s coming home with right now. I do, and it’s a doozy. I’m sure you’ll love it. Wait, I didn’t give anything away, did I? Shucks, I can see that I did. I won’t say anything more. Promise. My lips are sealed.” With that, he mimed locking his lips and threw the key over his shoulder.
He addressed the man which stood out of sight over Carter’s shoulder.
“Bring her to me. She resists, kill her.”
A grunt and then Carter could hear feet descend the stairs at an even, heavy pace. How could he not have heard him approach? The ball of ice grew larger. There was no way, training or not, that Samantha could avoid whoever owned those feet. Visions of seven foot tall weightlifters with three foot shoulders armed with rockets and machine guns danced through Carter’s head. There was no way.
His daughter wouldn’t survive the afternoon.