Art Adkins
Author & Leadership Instructor
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Mind Walkers

Chapter 16

Waterbury Enterprises had been made safe again.  The investigation by the authorities was complete.  However, all the facts and photographs did not erase the conclusion that the death toll was too high.  Four security members had lost their lives along with the temporary staff assistant for Shirley.  Had a contract with a pest control company not been terminated and had the head of security not taken a motorcycle ride, events could have developed differently and more people would have died.

The van the assassins had used had been torn apart, first by the authorities and then by the security staff of Waterbury Enterprises.  Pictures with names on them had been found.  All the key members of Waterbury Enterprises had been identified, with Shirley the first portrait in the stack.  Bubba, June, Dustin Zane and Slade had also been included.  But other than the pictures there was very little to go on.

Despite the advice of the doctor, Dustin Zane had checked himself out of the hospital.  His left arm was in a sling.  The bullet had passed completed through his shoulder and had done very little damage.  He had required over fifty stitches to close the wound and had been given strict instructions to not be too active for a couple of days.  The doctor might as well have told a tree to uproot itself and move over a few feet.  Like the rest of them, Dustin Zane was determined to find out who had been behind the attempted murders.

Everyone was in the security chief’s office, which was located on the second to lowest floor of Waterbury Enterprises.  Only the vaults holding Billy Waterbury’s vast scientific secrets were sequestered lower in the complex. 

“Is this all of them?” asked Bubba, gesturing at the pictures of the killers with the cane he was still having to use.  He specifically pointed toward the two guards who had infiltrated the security force of Waterbury Enterprises.

“Yup.  Their picture the day they were killed and a mug shot obtained from INTERPOL.  Names are on the bottom.  From what my friends in the intelligence community can tell me, they were all wanted for a variety of crimes by most major police agencies.  They all have extensive criminal pasts.  Of course the names they used here were aliases and they had supporting documentation even I did not uncover.”  Dustin Zane had displayed all the information on several screens in his office and all eyes were riveted on the faces of the dead men. 

“But this still does not help us determine who the suitor was for Akron Pharmaceuticals.  You’re telling me there is no link to the person who put out the contract, so where do we go from here?” asked Harry Sloan, nervously rubbing the palms of his hands together.

“We continue to apply pressure.  Can Shirley buy more stock to further stabilize Akron?  We need to force the suitor’s hand again.  Instead of being defensive, we should take the offensive road.”  Slade’s eyes had turned to stone and when he swiveled his gaze to Shirley, she involuntarily took a step back.  “Do you have a problem with that?”

“No…no, I don’t.  I think it’s prudent.  What does everybody else think?” 

“Then I need to increase security and tighten any loose areas in our perimeter.  Bubba, I’m gonna need your help.  June, can you lend a hand?” asked Dustin Zane.

“I don’t have anything planned.  Just tell me what you need me to do.”  June Stenger smiled reassuringly at Shirley and Katherine.  The women were still scared to death.

“What about you Slade?  What are you going to do?” asked Katherine, reaching out and touching the arm of the man she was in love with.

“I’m gonna backtrack.  A young man calls and asks me for help and when he shows up at a public diner, he’s shot in the head.  Shirley attempts to help a friend fend off a hostile takeover and a death warrant is issued for her and all of us.”  Slade looked around the room.  “Two separate incidents?  The level of violence in both is unusual to say the least.”

“Do you think they’re connected?” asked Bubba.

“I don’t know, but there’re some similarities.  In each instance the final resolution was to issue a contract to silence the ‘perceived leak’ or cause for concern.  There are other methods to mute a person.  Besides, why would we be targeted if you wanted to stop the stock purchase of Akron Pharmaceutical?  Shirley is the CEO, not us.  Why take out all of us unless the events are connected.”  Slade turned back to the photographs.  “Bubba, I need you and Dustin Zane, once you have security squared away here, to dig up as much information on these men as you can find.  Who they’ve worked for in the past, known associates and any other tidbits of data.  There is a nexus to the person pulling the strings behinds the scenes somewhere.  We just have to find it.”

“Other than these dead men, we don’t have anything else,” said Shirley, trying unsuccessfully to keep the fear out of her eyes.

“That’s not true.  I have some information being sent to me about Stanley Watchman, the young man gunned down in St. Augustine.  If I’m right, when we find the person responsible for Stanley’s death, we locate the master mind behind this attempted assassination.”  Slade slipped his arm around Katherine and squeezed.

“And if you’re wrong?” asked Dustin Zane.

“After I find out who killed Stanley Watchman, then I’ll find out who ordered the hit on us.”  Slade turned to the door, but paused.  “We need to have the stuff in those containers analyzed.  Whatever they were going to dispense into the room must be lethal.”

“I already have Professor Johansen on it,” replied Bubba.

“Do they have the facilities to handle something like that?  I mean it could be deadly,” asked June.

“They have the capability.  I made sure Professor Johansen had all the stuff he would ever need to conduct any type of experiment.”  Shirley had answered June’s question.

“Where are you going?” asked Katherine, turning to Slade.

“To call a Professor.  Time I saw what he was going to send me.”  Slade waved over his shoulder as he walked out of the room.

Everyone was buoyed by Slade’s enthusiasm and determination.  Having a plan helped and though far from perfect, it was a start.  A buzz of excitement entered the room and a hum of voices could be heard as they all started to prepare for the unknown. 

Shirley Waterbury?  Lance could not believe it.  Even he had not thought Gunter was brave enough to attempt to kill the richest woman in the world.  This changed things.  Shirley must have been the one stabilizing Akron Pharmaceuticals.  The President of the United States was among the people Shirley called friends.  If he had not done so already, surely the President would send someone to look into the attempted assassination or contact the Florida officials.  Either way, he was going to become involved.

Oracle.  These latest developments could sabotage the effort to continue the clandestine program.  They had come so far and were so close.  To lose ground now could set them back indefinitely or eliminate the plan all together.  Maybe Juan Domingo was correct.  Cody Garrett might be able to assist.  It was a calculated gamble, but he had no other choice.

Picking up the phone on his desk, he called Sheila Graft.  She answered on the first ring.

“Can you contact Cody and tell him I want to meet with him?”

“How much are you going to tell him?”

“The conversation will dictate that.  I want to feel him out and see what he has to say.  Perhaps he is more open minded than I give him credit for.”  Lance had been drawing circles on a notepad in front of him, something he did when he was nervous or unsure of his next step, but now he dropped the pencil onto his desk.  Once this was set in motion there was no turning back.  

“I thought Juan Domingo said he would handle Cody.  Do you want to notify him first?”

“No.  This is an internal matter and I will address it.  Let me know when you have the meeting arranged.  I would prefer to meet today if possible.”  Lance hung up and rose from behind his desk.

The restaurant was small and busy, with service help jostling by to deliver food.  It was an international diner, sporting a Greek, Italian and French menu.  Lance had selected a calzone, which he was toying with as he nibbled at pieces of it.  Cody had chosen a Greek salad with extra feta cheese and was obviously delighted at the dish as he had already consumed half.  A new and pleasing odor drifting from the kitchen caused both men to glance that way.  No wonder the place was so busy, thought Cody, spearing a black olive coated in cheese.

“I understand the President wants you to check on all operations by the various branches.  What is the end game?  Some programs are necessary,” said Lance, watching his younger counterpart from the corner of his eye.  The young man was shrewd and cunning and held the complete trust of the highest office in the land.  Cody was not someone to be taken lightly.

“It’s just good business, Lance.  We’ve had several programs that were not in the best interests of our Country and the President wants to make sure we can defend our position on most of our endeavors.  He understands the need for secretive intelligence operations, but sometimes those lines become blurry by some.  He just wants to make sure we are clear on his position.” Cody fished another piece of the salad from the bowl and directed it to his mouth.  He would have to bring his wife here.  She would love the aura of the quaint little restaurant. 

“I sent a brief to you the other day outlining our projects.” 

“Then why are we here?  If everything had been included you would not have had Sheila arrange lunch.”  Cody slid his empty dish away from him and leaned back in his chair.  Lance was not telling him everything; it was a feeling more than anything.  “If there is something I need to know about now is the time to tell me.”

“We all have our secrets, Cody.  Some stuff we cannot put on paper for fear it may end up in the wrong hands.  The safety of personnel is oftentimes at stake.”  Lance gestured toward the FBI Director, turning his palms up as a sign of helplessness.

“The last time I heard something like that, we had a key intelligence member planning with a major foreign power for world dominance.”  Cody smiled again before continuing.  “No one is asking you to jeopardize the safety of your staff or operatives, but the President does want to know about any speculative operations or long term projects you’re involved in.  Do you have anything like that on the table?”

The question was direct and Lance squirmed somewhat nervously in his chair.  He was not used to being on the other end of a pointed line of questioning and he felt uncomfortable. 

“Come on Cody, give me a break.  You know how these things work.  You start one program under one administration and when the new guy comes on board you have to go back and redefine the parameters under which you operate.  The only problem is you have already committed a lot of money and resources and the operation is well under way, taking on a life of its own.  And, more importantly, you find you made the right decision in the first place once all the second guessing has ceased and the evaluation of the results has been completed.”  Lance drank from his glass of water and motioned for the waitress to refill it.

“How is your calzone? You barely touched it,” said Cody, sliding his glass toward the waitress as well.  Lance was definitely hiding something. 

“It was okay.  I had a large breakfast.”  Lance glanced up at the waitress.  “Could you box that for me?  Thank you.”  When she left the two men resumed their conversation.

“So what are you involved in, Lance?  Anything the President should know about?” asked Cody, deciding to keep the pressure on.

“We’re not directly involved in anything,” responded the National Security Advisor.

“When you say ‘we’ are you talking about the United States?”

“Uh-huh.  Others are doing research in an area that we explored several decades ago, but gave up as inconclusive.”

“Which means it was controversial and we succumbed to public pressure and the media.”  Again Cody clarified the statement made by the intelligence Director.

“Not as controversial as we were led to believe and the media found it more interesting than condemning.”  Lance sipped from the water glass again.

“Time to show your hand, buddy.  You know I’m not leaving until I know what it is.”  Cody did not smile this time.  What was Lance involved in?  What was the National Security Agency poking around with?.  He felt his heart skip a beat.

“The situation has moved beyond our ability to influence it.  Another has taken a prominent role and is using the program for personal gain, both financially and organizationally.  He has also overstepped his bounds.” 

“What do you mean?  Is he on our payroll?” asked Cody, arching his eyebrows in surprise.

“He was initially, but broke free to go rogue.  The dilemma is simple: he has used the technology we initiated and has become wealthy and powerful.  His status is increasing exponentially everyday and he’s not afraid to use the secrets for his own benefit.  He’s even prone to extreme measures of violence.”

“What type of violence?”

“Assassination of anyone who gets in his way or if he perceives them to be in his path.”

“Have his actions been recent?” asked Cody.

“Yes.  Shirley Waterbury.”  Lance had the distinct pleasure of watching the blood drain from Cody’s face and the FBI Director’s sharp intake of breath caused a lady at a neighboring table to look their way. 

“The assassination attempt on her life yesterday is linked to your man?”  Cody’s hands shook.  Shirley was a friend and supporter of the President and he had already contacted her regarding the attempt on her life.  In addition, Cody had sent two agents to her headquarters to assist with the investigation.  And it was linked to the United States, maybe not directly, but the man behind the killings had been given birth by an agency within the government?  The President was not going to be pleased.

“Affirmative.  We know of at least one other death warrant he issued.  The man is out of control.”  Lance nodded his approval to the waitress as she deposited his freshly wrapped calzone onto the table in front of them. 

“What does this entail?  Can we move openly against him?”

“Not in the public sense of the word.  We must move behind the scenes and make sure no link is connected to us.  The information from the research could prove to be….embarrassing to us.”  Lance looked pleadingly at Cody.  He needed help and he knew it.  Gunter would expose the involvement of the United States sooner or later.  Using humans as guinea pigs would not be well received. 

“What is he doing that is such a threat to us?  What has he done?”

“Experiments on the human mind as a weapon of war.” 

Lance watched as Cody placed both hands on the table and stared directly at him.  It was several seconds before the younger man spoke and when he did, each word was carefully selected and pronounced.  There was no misunderstanding the meaning of the message.

“If you’re telling me what I think you’re telling me, I want a full report in my office by noon tomorrow.  I want to know who authorized this, how much money we have invested, where the facility is located and all the other details.  This program was abandoned for humanitarian reasons.  The outcry from this could destroy this administration.”  Cody’s lips were pressed into a tight line as the blood and anger flushed his face.

“I don’t think….”  Lance was cut off.

“I don’t care what you think at this point, Lance.  This was irresponsible.  Get the report and meet me in my office by noon tomorrow.  Bring anyone else on your staff who knows about it,” said Cody.  Without another word, the FBI Director rose from behind the table and left the restaurant without looking back.

Lance paid the bill and left the diner.  Silently, he hoped Juan Domingo was right and Cody would help them.  Regardless, another player was now in the game.  The only question was did they have enough time to stop Gunter.

Read Chapter Seventeen