As the numbers ascended, the two stood patiently, waiting for their floor.
Much of their job, of course, was a waiting game; the day was still fairly fresh, and the elevator was what it was. Dark grey suits, ties, wingtip shoes, aside from gender and hairstyle, the only thing to break the monotony of the uniform was that the man carried an over-stuffed briefcase in one hand. The growing number of pieces they had accumulated to a puzzle whose exact shape they still couldn’t quite determine.
“So, what’s next on the list?” the man asked.
“According to the reports, they’ve finally caught the driver of that black van we’ve heard so much about lately,” the woman replied.
Something about a wreck out in the mountains that they would have to examine later. The whole ride here, they had poured over the papers crammed in that case while he drove.
When the right number lit, the door ground open, and the two of them stepped out in unison.
As they strode down the hall, their echoing footfalls startling staff and visitors alike, they raised voices from the room they sought:
“…To be honest, we don’t know what’s wrong with him,” one voice, presumably the doctor’s, said. “I’ve never seen a case quite like this, and neither has anyone else I’ve consulted.”
“What do you mean, you’ve never seen anything like this?” a second voice, a very irate-sounding man’s, demanded. And apparently not for the first time in this particular conversation.
“I don’t know, Mr Adams. Please keep in mind, head injuries can be somewhat un—”
“Goddammit! What’s wrong with my son?”
“Sir,” the doctor replied, trying to sound as soothing as he could under the circumstances, “your son’s condition isn’t critical, at least, so I think it would be best if we…”
The two nodded to each other, then the man knocked on the door.
“What now?…” Mr Adams’ voice demanded.
A moment later, the doctor opened the door, and both of them walked into the room.
“Dr Mason, I presume,” the man said, reading his staff ID badge. He could see how so much tension had built so quickly; even from across the room he could tell that Mr Adams was a good deal more imposing than the poor doctor.
As his father and the good doctor debated about his condition, Carlos Adams lay strapped down in a hospital bed near the window. In the corner, his mother sat, red-eyed and puffy-faced, hunched over in a chair next to the one from which her husband had exploded only moments before. Ever since they found him, still at the wheel of a certain black van, throughout the course of an investigation into the double break-ins at the MacLeans’ and the Kaskos’, he had remained unconscious. He had only suffered a couple cracked ribs and an inconsequential bump on the head— not bad for a dummy who wasn’t wearing his seatbelt in either crash— and this was why his coma was so unusual.
“Yes,” Dr Mason confirmed, “but what—”
“Agents Morden and Ledger, FBI.” Agent Morden flashed her ID, Agent Ledger following suit, as she breezed past. Seeing the young man on the bed, she turned and asked, “Is this the driver of the black van?”
In her corner, Mrs Adams started crying all over again.
“What is this?” Mr Adams demanded.
“This is a criminal investigation,” Agent Morden said flatly. “Carlos Adams— the driver of the black van— is suspected, not only of breaking and entering the MacLean and Kasko residences in Lakeside, but also all of the crimes associated with this vehicle.”
“There is no proof that my son even did any of those things!” Mr Adams shouted, trying to figure out why he couldn’t be a little calmer about this. Already knowing full well why. Even as he refuted the charges, he tried to figure out how something he had had nightmares about over twenty years ago had crashed into a tree last night. “How do you know this ‘Shades’ person didn’t do it?”
“As I said,” Morden explained, refusing to let him drag her into a shouting match, “this is an investigation, Mr Adams. That is why we need to speak to your son as soon as possible.”
Mr Adams stood there for a moment, his outrage far from spent, but suffering from a momentary shortage of words.
“So far we have accounts from MacLean’s mother, his sensei,” (who, for a local, had proven hard to find) “and several of his classmates, as well as his records.”
“And we also have testimony and records on your son,” Agent Ledger finished, speaking up for the first time since he entered the room. “There are still holes in Carlos’ alibi, including his fight with MacLean at East Mall yesterday.”
Mrs Adams started crying even harder.
Seeing this, Mr Adams found words again, demanding, “Since when is this any of the FBI’s business anyway?”
“Any criminal investigation is the Bureau’s business,” Ledger told him, “if we’re called in. That’s beside the point. Your son is only part of this investigation. Other things have happened that appear to be related to this case. And keep in mind that Mr MacLean, as well as at least three of his classmates, are still missing.”
“Kidnapping is a federal offense,” Agent Morden reminded them.
“Are you accusing my son?” Mr Adams hissed.
“Right now, Carlos is our prime suspect,” Agent Ledger told him bluntly. “If nothing else, he is the only available witness to the events of last night.” Hefting the briefcase into his other hand, he asked, “Dr Mason, is Carlos in any condition to be questioned? If so, we will need his statement.”
“No,” Dr Mason told them. And perhaps for the first time all day, Mr Adams was pleased with something he had said. The doctor took a nervous glance at Mr Adams, then explained, “Carlos has been in a coma since he was first found out in the mountains at…” He sneaked a peek at the clipboard he had left on the table next to his patient. “Ten twenty-three this morning. I can’t in good conscience allow him to be disturbed any further. If you wish to question him, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until he is conscious and his condition stable.”
“Then perhaps we can ask you a few questions,” Agent Morden said, turning to Mr Adams.
“Like hell you will!” Mr Adams snarled. “My son is not a criminal! Why don’t you try and find this ‘Shades’ person before you start pointing fingers? Just the name sounds pretty suspicious.”
“Um, Mr Adams, with all due respect, that ‘Shades’ person is still missing,” Morden informed him. “All we have are his motorcycle and helmet. Which I might add, were found farther back on the same road that police found your son in the black van. We’ll at least need a statement.”
“I’m not saying anything until I see my lawyer,” Mr Adams declared. “Now, do you mind? My boy is in a coma, and I’m trying to find out what the fuck is going on.”
“This really isn’t helping his son’s recovery,” Dr Mason pointed out. “Might I suggest getting back to this at a later time?”
“Sir—” Agent Ledger began.
“I can see we came at a bad time,” Agent Morden cut him off. Something about this was amiss, but she saw nothing more to be gained from disturbing the patient. “You’ve clearly been through a lot today. Sorry to bother you at this time. We’ll call on you to make your statement at a later date.”
She handed Mr Adams a card as the two agents breezed out the door.
“So what’s the plan, Morden?” Ledger asked after he shut the door behind them. He hadn’t wanted to break ranks with her in front of Mr Adams, so he waited until now to say it. “That man is on the defensive about something.”
“I know,” Morden replied as they headed back to the elevator. “Even with his son in a coma, his reaction is a little off. But unless he’s simply in denial about his son’s involvement, I’m not sure what he could be hiding. I think it’s time to go to the scene and see if there’s anything the local police missed.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
Ledger shifted his briefcase to his other hand. According to the information contained therein, the MacLean home, especially that ‘Shades’ character’s room, had been totally ransacked, and the family dogs turned loose in the woods. Three of them found, the rest still unaccounted for. From the crime scene photos they’d been sent, the place was trashed— broken windows, upturned furniture, pictures smashed, it was a mess. The neighbors’ house, on the other hand, had merely been broken into, in what he had to admit was a rather inventive manner, a completely different modus operandi than the MacLean break-in, along with a very bizarre 9-1-1 call.
“After all,” Morden continued, “a lot of things seem to be missing today. I’m beginning to see why they dragged us up from Colorado Springs for this…”
They both froze in mid step as, back in the hospital room, Carlos Adams demonstrated why he had been strapped down after they were finished tending his injuries. The staff had warned them before they went up that, though Carlos had remained unconscious since he was found, at least twice before, he had simply lost it, waving his arms and legs, shouting all manner of incomprehensible threats and profanities, at times, almost seemed to be begging for something.
Now they got to hear it for themselves, even from down the hall.
“Dexter! You son of a bitch!… I’ll get you for this!… They’ll come for me, you Zero-Fucker, and when they do, we’ll get you for this!… We’ll get you for everything! Both of you!!…”
Carlos then let out a long cry of pain that both agents decided to attribute to moving, even while comatose, with two cracked ribs.
At that point, Mrs Adams finally spoke up, but neither of them could make out the words, just the undertone of a mother’s sweet nothings, a voice of reassurance for her baby in pain.
After that, the two investigators seemed to lose any desire to eavesdrop further, and continued on their way.
“Zero-Fucker…” Ledger muttered after a moment, “Nine years on the force, even in the Army, and I’ve never heard that one before…” Kids these days…
“Yeah… Still, I’m not so sure Mr Adams knows much,” Morden said as they stepped into the elevator. “Carlos is the one we need to talk to. He was there. Something happened last night, and we’re going to get to the bottom of this…”
So far, the bottom was looking rather murky from Ledger’s point of view. Bringing to bear his near-photographic memory, he mentally flipped through the briefcase in his mind. A long drive from Colorado, from one missing-person case to a missing-people case. Several strange, conflicting accounts of an equally strange fluke storm. Over two-dozen missing persons reports— some related, others whose connection, if any, was still unknown— in the Somers-Lakeside area. Several near-simultaneous burglaries and an armed robbery involving bizarre look-alikes wearing trenchcoats. Three identical corpses in the morgue, all said to have decomposed at an unprecedented rate. Two break-ins, both next door but as different as day and night, both paralleled by a wreck out in the mountains. An individual left in an unusual condition.
All we need now is partridge in a pear tree…
“…Last I heard,” Morden mused, “the reports were still coming in. Whatever happened last night might still be happening. If this keeps up, it could start a panic.”
“Panic?” It always annoyed Ledger when she started talking like this.
“We need to talk to that boy as soon as he’s awake. I want to know what he saw. Whatever is going on, it’s a lot bigger than some punk with a vendetta. What about MacLean’s family?”
“Only child,” Ledger told her. “We finally contacted his mother when she called from out of town, trying to find out what happened to him while she was on her business trip. His father was in the Special Forces before he died—”
“Disappeared,” Morden amended. As far as she was concerned, no body, no death. “I do remember that part of the report.”
“—Disappeared,” Ledger continued. “Sergeant MacLean, Douglas L.” As he pieced the info together, he was beginning to see what she meant. “…Missing in action after an operation in Brazil… Morden, this man has been missing since October 14, 1988.”
“Of MacLean’s classmates,” Ledger resumed, “we’re missing: John Doe, Amy O’Connor, Tom Robinson, and…”
The elevator door opened, and they were greeted by a man in a severe-looking suit.
“Agents Morden and Ledger?” he intoned.
“That would be us,” Morden replied.
“Regional Director Scallany,” he said. “We need a place to talk in private. But before we do, I need your word that nothing I say leaves that room. Do I make myself understood? If this got out, it could start a general panic…”
Morden simply turned and shrugged at Ledger. Told ya.
Ledger sighed. It looked as if things were shaping up to be one of those investigations.
Chapter notes: Kalispell Medical Center, Kalispell, MT
11:59 AM, Saturday, April 29, 1995