“Really?” Art asked in shock.
“I heard Mr. Blanchet wanted to buy the company out, but I guess it’s good for him that it didn’t work out. But you should know about that because you work for them. Right? Why am I telling you this?”
“No, I haven’t heard any of this news. Please continue and tell me what else you know about this stuff and Mr. Blanchet.”
“Well, I probably shouldn’t say anything. It’s just rumor, and I don’t want to lose my job because I’m spreading gossip about him.”
Art waited anxiously for her to continue.
“They say he’s not from here.”
“You mean Mr. Blanchet?” he asked.
She nodded and continued. “They say he acquired his wealth through the suffering of others and built his empire on the back of pain. Some even say he isn’t human. I even heard recently that he is over five hundred years old.”
Art chuckled. “You gotta love the company water cooler.”
She didn’t laugh but fidgeted nervously. “I should get going. There is still a lot of cleaning I have to do.”
“No, please. Wait. Stay with me a bit longer. I’ll tell Tony that it was my fault because you were keeping me company.”
“Tony isn’t my boss. I work for an outsourced company. He’s my employer’s boss thrice removed.”
“Okay,” Art said. “I don’t want you to get in trouble.”
The phone in Art’s pocket started to vibrate, and he pulled it out. Carla looked at him in shock and anger.
“You don’t have a phone. Huh?” she hissed angrily. “All men are such liars. They sweet talk you while lying to your face.”
Art held out his hands for her not to leave while trying to answer the phone at the same time.
“Hey, Jonny! Good to hear from you. I need to call you back. Give me a minute.”
Art hung up and ran over to where Carla was putting her cleaning supplies back in the cart.
“No, it’s not what you think. Listen to me.” Art pleaded. “There was a woman here yesterday.”
“Yes, I know. Always a woman. You’re just like all the other men I know. If it weren’t for women, you would all be saints.” she droned on.
“She gave me this phone to talk to Johnny because he wanted to warn me about the bomb.”
Carla stopped her rant and put her stuff down. She crossed her arms and tapped her feet while she scowled at Art.
“Why am I trying to explain myself to you. I’m allowed to have a phone if I want, and I can talk to other women if I want. Where did the jealous bug bite you today?”
“You can have all the phones you want, smarty pants. And you can talk to all the pretty girls you want. Just don’t lie to me about having a phone when you do.”
“But I didn’t lie, and it’s not mine. I just forgot I still had it. Look, I’m sorry.” Art said.
“What? That you got caught lying,” she said with a smirk.
Art sighed in frustration.
“It’s okay. Forget it,” she said. “I’m just overly sensitive about it. I caught my boyfriend sending messages to another woman. He claimed they were just friends. I dug a little deeper and discovered the truth. So, I dumped him. You know the saying. How does it go? Once bitten, twice shy.”
“So, what happened to the boyfriend?” Art asked.
“I chopped him up and fed his liver to the alligators.” she giggled.
Art looked at her in shock and horror. She burst out laughing at the look on his face.
“I met that metaphorically. Don’t worry, he’s still alive. He tried to cover it up and proposed the following week in front of all our friends. I didn’t pull any punches with him. I let the cat out of the bag.”
Art gave a low whistle.
“Poor guy. You humiliated him in front of his friends.” Art said.
“They tore him to shreds. Most of them won’t even give him the time of day anymore. He always tried to pretend he was Mr. perfect goody-two-shoes. But I left no doubt as to who he really was. I gave them all solid evidence.”
“You are so evil! You could have just dumped him in private.”
“Oh, trust me, this douchebag would have just gone on and done the same thing to one of my friends. But you’re right. It was a little cruel. I was furious and wanted my revenge. I didn’t really think about it much.”
Art grinned. “Look at you little miss feisty. Thanks for the warning. Now, I know not to mess with you.”
Carla smiled, “It’s not just me. Mess with a woman, and you’re bound to get burned, boy. You’ve heard that old saying about hell and a woman scorned. Right?”
Art shook his head.
“Well, forget it then,” she said and pushed her cart on past him.
She stopped at the door and turned back. “So, are you going to give me your number or not?”
“Uh, sure!” Art stammered. “But I don’t know the number to this phone. And I have to get a new one later.”
“Okay, Art. Forget I asked,” she said with a sigh and pushed the door open.
“Wait, give me yours, and I can call you. Then you can save this number on your phone. Whatever it is.”
She brightened up and smiled. “289-4735,” she said, and Art punched the numbers into the phone.
“I’m dialing now. It’s ringing,” he said.
“Oh right,” she answered.
She reached into her purse and pulled out her phone. It was large and white. Almost too large for his tastes. Art didn’t understand why they made phones so big. He preferred something smaller and more discreet. If you wanted something that big, you may as well just buy a tablet. It was a weird size. Too big for a phone and too small for a tablet.
“Maybe we can go grab a bite to eat after you get off work.” Art said. He didn’t think there would be any problem with him going out at night. There wouldn’t be hardly anyone around to see him.
Carla was staring at her phone in shock.
“Where do you get this number from?” she demanded to know as she pointed to the screen. “How did you get this number.”
There was a name on the screen, but he couldn’t see it. So, he took a step forward.
“I told you that a woman gave it to me in the lobby so Johnny could talk to me.”
He looked that the name on the screen. He saw the name, Paul Ortiz.
“Is that your father calling you,” he asked.
“No, that’s the phone number your calling me with. It’s my brother’s phone number. I wanna know how you got it.” she said taking a step forward.
Art stepped back and shrugged. “Here, you can take it and give it back to him.”
“I can’t, Art, because he’s dead. He used to work here at LocTec. One night, he just didn’t come home. I filed a missing person report, but nobody knew what had happened to him.”
“They were sick. I was desperate. Mark promised miraculous results. So, I put them in the same study as Alpha Four’s brother. At first the results were excellent. They surpassed our expectations. But then they started regressing. Then horrible things started happening to them. You know what happened to Alpha Four’s brother. Others died. I had the means to have my daughter put into cryogenics. I didn’t wait for the tests to fail to have her deep frozen. But the rest all died. So, everyone blamed me for the deaths of the other subjects while sparing my daughter. But I just couldn’t wait until it was too late.”
“That’s why they call you an evil monster.” Art said. “And now you want to try to use my technology to reverse the effects. To do that we’ll have to perform more experiments. More people might die. I’ll take the blame like Mark did.”
“I told you that he took unnecessary risks with the patients. He didn’t follow protocol. He tried to work his own miracles and didn’t follow proper safety procedures. I want you to do things the right way. There is no longer any rush. I just want the hope that someday, I may be able to save her and hold her in my arms again. But I would never ask you to take unnecessary risks or do anything you didn’t feel would work.”
“I get full control over the research procedures and how the technology is used. You won’t try to squeeze it out of me and have one of your henchmen do it behind my back?” Art demanded.
“Of course not, Art. I would never do that. Do you think I would knowingly have let anyone do something that would harm my own daughter.”
Art looked down at the paper and then back up at Tony. He sighed as he weighed the decision. Tony’s eyes pleaded silently.
“We only have a minute left, Art. The ball’s in your court. I’ll make the transfer for the first payment as soon as you sign this. You can still keep it at the end of the two weeks if you don’t think we can do good, save lives, and change the world together.”
Art looked him deep in the eye, trying to gauge how sincere the man really was. He hated to be under pressure like this and have to make such a snap decision. Ultimately, it was a judgment call. Art knew he had to give it a shot, but before he could get the pen to the paper, Tony started talking again.
“Thirty seconds, Art. I’ll even throw in the second payment today if you sign it right now.”
“Half a billion dollars,” Art paused to ask.
“Yes, five hundred and eighty million dollars!” Tony shouted. “Sign the stupid thing already! Will you?”
Art signed his name to the dotted line. All the pressure of having to make a decision flowed out of him. Relief flooded his body, and he relaxed.
“For crying out loud, boy!” Tony half-shouted and half-sobbed. “You know how to keep an old man on the edge of his chair.”
Art smiled as watched Tony sobbing with relief. It seemed too genuine for him to have faked. He felt like he had made the right decision. He would do his best and change the world.
It had been so worth it. Every sleepless night. Every sacrifice made to achieve the results of this project. To know he had the potential to transform people’s lives. To give a father fresh hope for a better future.
Art started to tear up himself. He wiped a tear from each of his eyes and reached out his hand to comfort Tony.
“It’s okay, Tony. We’re gonna do this. We’re gonna save your daughter.” Art said gently.
Tony reached out with both arms and hugged Art tightly. He sobbed a bit longer, then let Art go. He wiped his face and picked up the contract to show to the lawyers.
“Let’s wrap this up y’all. Make sure to let them know in Brazil that their prized project is no longer up for sale.”
Art snickered. This was so worth all the trouble Pedro had put him through. Pedro had taken him to task time after time. Pedro tried to have the board shut Art’s project down. Art would have loved to see the look on his face when he realized how much Art had made off it. Not that Art ever planned on telling him. There was no way he planned on telling anyone. He would just tell them that he had gotten a new job in America and was getting paid in dollars. He would do his best to make sure that his friends and family were taken care of for real.
“Can I go now?” Art asked.
“Where do you wanna go? You can take a shower in there, and we can have some food brought down.”
“I just want to go for a walk,” Art said.
“I think it’s best if you didn’t just yet,” Tony said. “You still have a lot of people who want to suck your brain dry. And now that you’re an instant billionaire, you need proper protection before you go out.”
Art sighed but nodded in agreement.
“I’m gonna go take a shower and take a nap. I didn’t sleep much before your henchmen came to pick me up.” Art said.
“Frank and Joe are good, upright, honest cops. Some of the best you’ll find here in Brimhill. They aren’t my henchmen and never have been. They were just trying to do the right thing for Johnny. He was a well-liked character around here. So, word of warning, just be careful what you say about him to folks around here. They’ll lynch you if you try to bad mouth Johnny without proof.”
“Sure,” Art said. “I wouldn’t do that to anyone.”
“Good,” Tony replied.
That seemed to be the end of their conversation and what Tony needed from him. Art went off to find a similar bathroom to the one he saw earlier complete with the Jacuzzi. He took off his clothes and wrapped a towel around himself. Then he plopped himself down into the Lazy Boy chair while he waited for the hot tub to fill up.
The warm water felt so good as it embraced his weary body. If this was what being rich felt like, he could take it on. This was the most wonderful feeling in the world. He dozed off a bit in the tub, and then woke up to drag himself into the huge, king-sized mattresses in one of the many bedrooms. He didn’t bother to ask Tony which room he could use. He didn’t think it would really matter, and he was too tired to go looking for him. He crashed on the soft, downy pillows and fell into a deep and dreamless sleep as he imagined what he would do with half-a-billion dollars.
Art woke up feeling like a million dollars. Five hundred and eighty million dollars to be exact. It felt great. He stretched lazily in the huge, soft bed and rolled around a few times before finally getting up. He walked out into the kitchen where the clock on the wall said it was already seven p.m.
Tony was nowhere to be seen. Beta Five wasn’t around either. Art walked into the living room and sat down on the couch. He turned on the T.V. and started randomly flipping through channels.
“Oh, hey! You’re awake.” a soft voice said behind him.
Art turned to look. A young woman dressed in spotless uniform smiled at him brightly from across the room.
“Did you sleep well?” she asked with a light Spanish accent.
“Where is everyone?” he asked.
“Oh, I don’t know,” she replied. “I just got here myself. You’re the first person I’m seeing.”
“You work with Tony?” he asked.
She giggled. “No, I’ve never even spoken to Mr. Blanchet in my life. I think I’ve only seen him one time in the past few months that I’ve worked here.”
“What did you say your name was?” Art asked.
“Carla Ortiz,” she replied.
Art’s ears perked up, and he sat up straighter. “Did you know Johnny well?”
She looked at him funny. “Johnny,” she repeated. “The name sounds familiar, but I can’t put a name to the face.”
“Johnny Silva,” he prodded. “One of the directors here at LocTec.”
She shook her head. “Can’t say I do,” she replied. “But I only work the night shift after everyone has left. So, I don’t see many people.”
“Do you know any other Carlas around here,” Art continued.
She shook her head and smiled again. “She must be pretty special. Huh?”
“No, it’s not like that,” Art said. “A friend of mine told me to look her up to ask her something.”
“Well, I can ask around,” she said. “How do I find you if I learn something?”
“I’ll be around. My name is Arthur Melo, but you can call me Art. Just look me up.” he said.
“What? And you don’t have a phone number Mr. Mysterious Melo?” she asked with a pout. “Or is your girlfriend jealous and doesn’t let you give it out to other women.”
“No.” she said.
“No, she doesn’t?” the girl said with a wry smile.
“No, I mean that I don’t have a phone and that’s not why I can’t give it to you. I just flew in from Brazil yesterday and planned to buy a new one here.”
“Brazil. Huh?” she said. “Do you work for that company called A3 Robotic Solutions?”
“Yes,” Art replied. “What do you know about it?”
“Everyone is talking about it. They say that the company declared bankruptcy earlier this afternoon. It sounds like a big deal with all the political scandals and corruption that’s been going on down there.”
“You okay, kid?” Tony asked. “I knew we had a mole in here. I just wasn’t sure who it was. Get him outta here, Beta Five.”
Tony put a comforting arm around Art’s shoulder and pulled him gently away from the door. He handed Art a handkerchief to wipe his face.
“C’mon. It’s not safe out there. We need to make sure nothing happens to you. You are our golden goose, and we have to take care of you.”
They walked down in the other direction to what seemed to be a dead end. But when they arrived, Beta Five pressed a button, and a bookshelf full of cleaning supplies slid up the wall automatically revealing a secret passage.
Beta Five went through first to make sure everything was okay. He gave them the all-clear signal and Tony guided Art on through by the hand as he still seemed to be in shock.
“It’s okay, Art. I know it’s a lot to take in all at once in a single day. But when you have something this amazing with so much potential, this is what happens. Didn’t you ever consider that anyone would try to steal it from you or kidnap someone you love to force you into handing it over.”
Art shook his head numbly as they walked down another flight of stairs and came to a large vault. Tony put his eye up to a retina scanner, and the door hissed open. He led the way inside and motioned for Art to enter.
He took a step forward and looked around. It looked like a normal house. If he didn’t know any better, he never would have guessed that they were underground.
“A bomb shelter?” Art asked.
Tony smiled. “Do you like it?”
Art nodded his head and looked at Tony questioningly.
“Oh, everyone is fine. We got the lawyers out of there. They’ll continue our meeting via conference call from their office just down the street. Our security team disarmed the bomb with the robot. But in the end, it seems that it wouldn’t have really worked. It was just put there to distract us. Which leads me to wonder how you knew about it.”
He gave Art a hard look.
“I noticed that Alpha Four looked suspicious. He kept glancing at the desk, and I saw it under there.”
“C’mon Art. Don’t insult my intelligence. Really. Please don’t. I’ve been open and honest with you the entire time. The least you could do is repay me with the same respect.”
Art hung his head in shame.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “You’re right. The woman, Carla, told me what was going on.”
Tony continued staring at him with a hard look on his face. It made Art nervous. Could he tell that Art still wasn’t telling the truth? Did he know about the phone? Art tried not to fidget or shift his weight under Tony’s gaze. The man finally smiled and slapped him on the back.
“You mean April,” Tony said. “You’re braver than I thought if you went back up to the office after she told you all that.”
Art chuckled nervously. “I thought she was making it up to scare from going back up. I wanted them to know that their threats won’t keep me from letting them steal my project.”
“Good. That’s good.” Tony said with a smile and slap on the back. “You’re a good man. C’mon in and make yourself ‘homely,’ I mean at home.”
He looked at Art expectantly waiting for him to laugh. “Never mind,” Tony said. “American humor. We call them puns. My uncle used to tell that one to me all the time. Just an old habit.”
“They’re ready, sir.” Beta Five’s voice boomed through the room. Art was surprised to hear the man finally speaking. Maybe it was just part of their hierarchy.
“C’mon over, Art,” Tony said. He was already seated in front of the computer. He could see two screens with the lawyers. But he only saw two of them. One of the men and the woman. After an instant though, the other lawyer came on screen beside the woman.
“Sorry for the scare there, but I’m glad everyone’s okay.” Tony started off. “So, do you all have the contract ready?”
“Yes,” they all said in unison.
Art could barely contain his irritation. A bunch of ‘yes men’ telling Tony what he wanted to hear. Art swore to himself that when he was rich, he wouldn’t surround himself with people like that. He would find the best employees who know what they were doing and weren’t afraid to say ‘no’ if they didn’t agree with him.
Tony printed off two copies and gave one to Art. The lawyer who was on the screen by himself ran through each of the main points explaining them briefly and asking Tony and Art if they had questions each time.
It was pretty self-explanatory Art thought. He didn’t pay much attention and skimmed through it. His mind was busy thinking about Johnny, Carla, April, Alpha Four, and this whole crazy mess he was in.
“Look, let’s just cut to the chase guys,” Art said. “I can’t sign this. You guys are lawyers, and if you want to get something over on me, you can just weave sneaky terminology the way Tony wants you to so you can pull a fast one on me. I don’t know Tony because I just met him last night. You seem like a nice guy, Tony, but you could have some evil plan. Besides, I don’t have anyone I trust to sit here me and explain this to me.”
Tony’s eyes flashed with anger. “What are you doing, Art?”
“Tell me about Alpha Four’s brother,” Art demanded.
“Excuse us a minute,” Tony said to the lawyers and muted the connection.
“Art, we are down to the wire. I have given you more than you deserve. I could have offered you only ten percent of the company shares if I was as evil as you seem to think. I’ve negotiated with you on every item that you wanted. Why the cold feet now?”
“Don’t change the topic, Tony. Explain Alpha Four’s brother, the government contracts, and deadly experiments.”
Tony sighed in resignation and raised his hands as if giving in to him. “Okay, okay. Imagine Art, that I hire you to run this project, but you do some experiments that go awry. Who takes the blame? Me. That’s what happened to Alpha Four’s brother. He was dying. He wanted to live longer and submitted himself to an experiment similar to yours that didn’t pan out. He died. We aren’t trying to do anything evil here. But bad things happen. We did realize that the lead scientist didn’t take proper precautions and took some unnecessary risks that were uncalled for. We took measures to discipline him so that it wouldn’t happen again. So, yes! I understand that Alpha Four was upset. He was afraid that your experiments would eventually hurt others. I’m taking a risk on you. Ultimately, I’m responsible for bringing you and your project onto the team. But that is a risk that I’m willing to take for the greater good. But what assurances do I have that you won’t do something bad to other people in the future. I need to trust you just like you need to trust me. We have to work together.”
Art pursed his lips thoughtfully before replying.
“Look, we have to find another way to make this work. But I’m not signing this contract…”
Tony jumped to his feet and slammed his fists on the table.
“You will sign this right now before the noon deadline, or I’ll call Frank and Joe in here to haul you off to jail for the murder of Johnny Silva,” he shouted.
Art shrugged smugly. He knew Johnny was alive so he wasn’t worried about the charges sticking.
“I have my principles,” Art said. “I would love to work with you, but I won’t be rushed into anything that could jeopardize my research and this project.”
“What do you want, Art?” Tony growled.
“I need to know the truth about Johnny and those men in the black SUV. I need to find a woman named Carla. And I want to know what all that confusion was about with that woman in the lobby.”
Tony glared at him.
“Oh, and I want to see the files on Alph Four’s brother. I want to make sure I’m not making a mistake that I’m going to regret for the rest of my life. I want to be able to sleep well at night because I know for sure that I didn’t take blood money.”
“Would you like my medical records and a full bank disclosure as well?” Tony spat bitterly at him.
“C’mon, Tony.” Art said and spread his hands out palms up. “You would never sign close a deal without doing your due diligence. If you are as innocent as you claim to be, I am sure you can prove it to me. We can still move this deal forward. You’re a smart guy, and I’m sure your lawyers can spin something up quick.”
Tony growled and muttered something under his breath as he turned to the computer to explain Art’s position to the lawyers.
After a few minutes, he had printed off another document and handed it to Art.
“This is a binding contract stating that you have two weeks to make a decision. I’m going to give you full access to our files and resources. But you have to prove me guilty. If you can’t find any concrete evidence that I’m anything other than what I’ve told you, then we conclude the deal.” Tony said with a glare.
Art picked up the beautiful, gold-plated pen Tony had placed in front of him. It was exquisite and perfectly balanced his hand. He wiggled it between his fingers as he read through the contract. Short and sweet. Only one page long. He skimmed through it and scratched his head.
“Sign it already,” Tony insisted. “If you don’t sign that in the next two minutes, your company will make their announcement and you’ll lose control of your project.”
Tony looked like he was ready to pull his hair out. He was an anxious, nervous wreck. His hands were shaking.
“Tell me the truth, Tony. This isn’t how most business people react when deals don’t go their way. There’s something you’re not telling me, and I won’t sign it until you do.” Art said. He put down the pen for good measure.
Tony looked at him like a deer caught in the headlights. He took a deep breath and leaned back.
“You just can’t let it go, kid, and do it for the money like everyone else. Fine! I’ll tell you. But this stays between us. The only people you can tell about this are the members of your team who will be working on this. Is that clear?”
Art nodded. “Of course.”
Tony put his head down and wiped away a tear from the corner of his eye. He took another deep breath. It was a deep shuddering sob. He looked like he was going to break down into tears. But he took another deep breath to control his emotions and looked Art straight in the eye.
“It’s for my daughters,” he said.
“Why did you set a bomb here, Johnny?” Art whispered in horror.
“Everything okay?” Tony’s voice boomed from across the room.
Art turned quickly hiding the phone behind his ear as if he was deep in thought. He smiled and nodded at Tony. The man turned back to what he was doing at the desk with the lawyers.
“I didn’t put there. The same guys that tried to kill us last night did. You gotta get out of there now. But don’t tell Tony or anyone. Just leave. Tell the guards you have to go to the bathroom again and run.”
“No,” Art whispered in horror. He watched the Tony standing by the desk with the three lawyers. Two men and a woman. They would all be dead within the hour. Standing there, discussing something that wouldn’t matter any longer if the bomb went off.
“Look. I can’t let them die. Tell me why I shouldn’t sign the contract. Give me one good reason.”
“Fine,” Johnny replied. “Tell them about the bomb and get them out of there. I’ll call you back. But go, or you are all going to die. Don’t raise suspicions because it’s remotely activated as well. So, if they see you all are leaving before the timer goes off, they can still detonate it.”
“Schmack!” Art whispered.
Art turned toward the group and tried to decide the best way to go about this without making a big deal about it. He walked over to Tony’s side of the table and glanced under it.
“Hey, Tony!” Art said. “Can we go take a look from the view of the roof while they finish up the contract.”
“Sure, Art,” Tony replied. “Just as soon we get this printed off, and you sign it.”
Art leaned forward in Tony’s ear, “We have a serious situation here.”
He pulled Art away from the table so they could talk in private without the lawyers overhearing them.
“Don’t make a big deal, but we’re being watched. If we try to run there’s a bomb that’s remotely activated under the desk. It’s set to go off at noon.” Art said quietly but naturally as if they were just shooting the breeze.
Tony pulled away and looked at him in shock with his eyes open wide. He stared at Art hard for a second to see if he was just pulling his leg or making up another excuse to get out of the room.
When he realized that Art was serious, he turned around and sat down in front of the desk so he could get a better look underneath. He saw the bomb pressed against the inside of the desk, and stood back up.
“Sure, Art,” Tony said loudly. “Why don’t you go up and enjoy that view from the roof. One last look at the world before you become a billionaire.”
Tony motioned to the bodyguards and whispered something in their ear. Art followed them out of the building. The spokesman took Art by the elbow and guided him to the stairwell hurriedly. The other bodyguard took off running down the hall as he spoke into the walkie-talkie.
“What’s your name again?” Art asked. “I’m sorry. I guess I didn’t catch it earlier.”
“Just call me Alpha Four,” the spokesman said curtly. “We take our jobs seriously and don’t use our real names around here.”
The man smiled at him, but it was a strange, eerie sort of smile. There was something off about it. It gave Art a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach. It wasn’t reassuring at all. Art pulled back a bit. He didn’t want to go down the dark stairwell with this man. After all he had been through, Art didn’t know who to trust. There were a million things that could go wrong, and for all he knew, this man might be one of his enemies.
Art finally realized what was bugging him about this whole situation. Everyone was his enemy. Everyone wanted something from him. But any one of them would turn against him if made the wrong decision. He knew that moment was coming soon. He would have to make a decision one way or the other.
But how did he know who to trust? Every one of them seemed to have their own second intentions. Pedro spoke bad about capitalism but wanted to sell his project off. Tony said he wanted to help the sick, but Johnny didn’t trust him. Tony said Johnny worked as a double agent. And then there were the men in the black SUV and the woman in the reception today. Art still didn’t know if they worked with Johnny, or someone else.
If Tony was right and Pedro had spilled the beans about his research, there was no telling how many other companies, underground organizations, or even rogue government agencies would try to get their hands on it. And who knew what evil intentions that had for it.
“So, whose side are you on?” Art asked Alpha Four. “Tony or Johnny?”
Alpha Four didn’t look up or acknowledge the question. Art continued to walk behind him in silence. They rounded the final flight of steps and came up to the door. Alpha Four stepped to the side and Art kept walking to the door. As he reached out for the handle, the bodyguard shoved his hand away and slammed him up against the wall. He cocked his gun at Art’s temple and shoved the back of his forearm tighter against Art’s throat.
“I’m not on Tony’s side or Johnny’s side. But do not sign the contract. I will shoot you personally myself. Tony can’t get his hands on this technology. The man is evil. Pure evil.”
“Okay. Fine.” Art said with his hands raised up at his side, palms forward. “I’ve been hearing that a lot lately, I don’t want to sign the company over to him. But if I don’t someone else will get it and do something bad with it.”
“No, one could do anything worse to it than Tony. Sell it to anyone, but him. Use it yourself. I don’t care what you do with it. But I aim to make sure that Tony doesn’t get his hands on it.”
“What does Tony do that’s so bad,” Art asked in exasperation. “I wish someone just tell me what these people do.”
“They have other government contracts in other places. They’ve been working on cloning, body transplants, and all kind of weird things. He promised to help my brother, and he never came back alive. We got him in a body bag. I found out from Carla that…”
Alpha Four’s head exploded right before Art’s eyes. His body slumped to the floor lifelessly. Art looked up in shock to see Tony walking down the stairs with the other bodyguard in front of him. Alpha Four had been shot by his partner. Art realized he was still holding on to Alpha Four’s arms. He let go and let the man drop to the ground.
Art paused to mull that one over. That sounded exactly like what Johnny told him. But how could he know who to believe? He had very little time to make a decision.”
The bodyguards pounded on the door again and pushed it open. Art slipped the phone back in his pocket.
“I’m coming. I’m coming. Sheesh. Let me pull my pants up at least your perverts.” Art shouted and pushed the door closed. The bodyguard put out his hand to stop it from latching.
Art stood up and turned around. He pulled the phone back out and typed, “Meet where? I’m under surveillance.”
He finished buckling his belt and turned around to open the door.
“Don’t forget to flush the toilet,” the bodyguard said with a smirk.
Art turned back to flush it and then followed them back to the office.
“Feeling well enough to get started?” Tony asked Art with a raised eyebrow.
Art nodded and sat down still trying to make up his mind about what to do.
“Okay. So, based on our evaluations and research, your part of the company is worth two point nine billion dollars. We’ll pay you the first ten percent up front. If your research pans out, and you can give us what we need with it, then we’ll pay out the rest. Fifty percent in stock options and the rest paid out in installments based on projections for rolling out our plan.”
Art’s head reeled at the numbers. Never in all his life had ever imagined making that much money. He had been hoping to make a few million off this deal, and here they were talking billions. His mind started to spin again for the second time that day. Imagining what he would do with all this money. The kind of life he could live. What he would do for his family.
This was a no-brainer. He could give them the technology. If they tried to trap him or do something bad, he could just disappear to some little town in Brazil or another country. He could be a philanthropist and help more people with cash than just giving them plant technology.
“Art! Yo, Art. Are you with us?” Tony asked while snapping his fingers in front of Art’s face.
“Yeah!” Art nodded dumbly. “I just got stuck back on the two-point nine billion.”
“It’s twenty percent of the company shares, Art,” Tony said. “The other eighty percent will be split up among shareholders. Thirty percent will stay in-house for the directors. Fifty percent will be sold to investors to raise cash to fund the start-up costs and initial operations.”
Art just nodded his head as if he was still in a daze.
“C’mon Art! I need you to keep your head in the game. We are down to the wire here. The clock is ticking. You just need to tell us what your conditions are and if you want to add anything to the contract. The lawyers are here, and they’ll add it right now. We got three of them at seven hundred dollars an hour just to help you seal the deal. Then you sign it. You have just over an hour to make this thing happen. I hate to put you under pressure like this. But the sharks are coming and it’s time to sink or swim. What’s it gonna be buddy.”
“Uh, yes. I got it. Well, um. First, I get to control the seed technology. All I’m gonna give you is the health and medical technology. Right?”
Tony nodded and looked at the lawyers. He waved his hands for them to hurry up. They started taking notes and conversing among themselves while another typed away on the laptop.
“Secondly, I want to bring any of my team members that want to continue working with me to live here in America.” Art said. “That’s twenty-three people. Along with my family members.”
“I can’t promise you they’ll all get a visa, but LocTech will do it’s best to influence their coming. We’ll do everything in our power to make it possible though by providing letters of invitation, housing, sponsorship, and whatever else is needed.”
“And you have to promise me that we are going to use this technology only to do good. That we won’t use it to knowingly harm anyone or take advantage of them.” Art continued.
“Of course, not Art. That’s like saying I’m gonna sell you this gun for hunting, but promise me you’re not going to shoot little kids with it. We would never consider it. It would go against the core values of our organization.”
“And I don’t want to be tied down forever. Once we get the project up and running, I want to be free to sell my shares to travel and enjoy life. I don’t want to be obligated to work on this project the rest of my life.”
Tony nodded. “Sure. You can share your research with us and leave a team running that can operate it. You can go off to live out your days in peace on the edge of the universe. Don’t worry, the lawyers will add in your exit options.”
Art nodded. He was still in a daze. This was all moving along and happening so fast.
“Anything else you want, Art?” Tony asked. “You want us to throw in a company house or a car for you. Yearly tickets to the Bahamas. Front row seats to the Bulldogs. This is a negotiation and now is the time to play your cards.”
Art shook his head. “I think I have enough money to do pretty much anything I want.”
He broke into a huge smile and put his hands over his face for a moment. Then he sat up and looked at Tony as if he had remembered something.
“What is it?” Tony asked.
“You’re gonna treat my team fairly. Right?” Art said. “They’ll get a fair salary comparable to other people in the same position. What about housing? I want them to have company housing and cars.”
“Sure, Art. We’ll treat them fairly and pay a decent salary. We’re an international company, and we’ve been playing this game for years. We can provide housing and transportation for the first year until they get settled in. We normally provide that for the first month, but for you we’ll extend it to a year.”
Art nodded. He felt pleased with himself.
“Well, that’s a wrap,” Tony said to the lawyers. “Make it snappy. We don’t have much time for Art to sign it.”
Art stood up and walked over to the window. He looked out at the city in fresh amazement. The sun seemed to shine brightly, illuminating everything with a beautiful hue. He took a deep breath to relish the moment.
The phone buzzed in his pocket. His heart froze for a moment. The money thrown around had made him forget all about the strange warnings and messages he had been receiving. But it was too late to back down now. They were already closing the deal.
Art pushed the volume button on the phone to stop the phone from vibrating. He kept staring out the window overlooking the city below. It was a beautiful view, and one he would enjoy seeing on a daily basis. He couldn’t wait to show it to his mother. She would be so proud of him.
He wished he could show it to his father as well, but he had died just over a year ago. Old Emmanuel would have been proud of him and been tickled pink to tell all his friends what his son did. But unfortunately, it was too late for that. All he could do now was move on making the most of his life with those who still surrounded him.
Art promised himself that he would do everything he could to improve the lives of his friends and family. He wanted to live the life of his dreams and surround himself with the people he loved most. He couldn’t wait to get this project off the ground and make a real difference in the world. He would show the world what he was capable of and make his family proud of him.
This was a new day in his life.
The phone buzzed again persistently.
Art put his hand in his pocket and fingered the button to stop the vibrating. It continued to ring silently in his pocket. Ominously. Persistently. Irritating Art to now end. He suddenly felt a wave of fear roll over him.
“You aren’t getting cold feet are you, Art?” Tony asked as if reading his mind from across the room. Art turned and smiled at him. He shook his head vigorously as if trying to prove it to himself as well.
The phone rang again, and Art turned back to the window quickly as if he was afraid that Tony would sense it vibrating in his pocket. Art shoved his hand in his pocket and felt around for the button to silence it. He couldn’t find it, so he pulled it out of his pocket.
“Carla.” The name jumped off the screen at him.
He gasped and looked around the room quickly to see if anyone was looking at him. Tony was hunched over the laptop with the lawyers. The two bodyguards were standing by the door but didn’t seem to be paying much attention to him.
Art pressed the green call button and put the phone to his ear. He listened to hear what they would say.
“Art,” a raspy voice said.
“Johnny? You’re alive,” he whispered into the phone.
“Get out of there,” Johnny ordered him in a hoarse voice. “There is a bomb under the desk. It’s going to go off at noon while you are celebrating your demise. Get out of there and come down to the entrance. A black car will pick you up there.”
“Argh!” he yelled.
Art wanted to yell the names of his bodyguards, but suddenly realized he didn’t even know what their names were. He didn’t think Tony had even told him, but if so, he had long forgotten.
“Hey! Help!” he yelled at the men. Then he yelled at the woman. “Stop it! That hurts. What are you doing?”
“What do you want with Carla,” she hissed.
“Johnny told me to find her,” he replied painfully.
She let up on his arm.
“I’m Carla. Stop these men and let’s get out of here.”
The two bodyguards were almost in front of them. They were reaching for the woman. Art was still kneeling. He stood up in front of them and punched the smaller guy, the one that liked to talk a lot, right in the gut.
The spokesman was a big dude, but he wasn’t in very good shape. Art’s fist connected with soft flesh and knocked his breath out. Art pushed him back into the other bodyguard. Then he turned and grabbed Carla’s hand to run. Art needed to find out what she knew.
“My car is over there,” she said pointing to a white van along the sidewalk. It was still running. She ran to open the door and motioned for him to get in. Art saw several men inside with headphones on.
“Get in,” she insisted.
Art shook his head and backed up a step. She turned to the men and ordered them to grab Art. He tried to back up and run, but tripped over the food truck equipment that was behind him. The men grabbed him on each side of the arm and pulled him to his feet. Just as they did, a shot rang out, and the woman fell against the van screaming.
The men let go of Art and turned to help her. They threw her in the van and turned for Art. More shots rang out, and the men jumped in the van as it squealed out of the parking lot.
Art turned to see his bodyguards coming in his direction. The smaller one he had punched came walking slowly with a limp. The other one was walking slowly too, but he looked out of breath.
They grabbed Art to half-push and half-pull him to the door where a small crowd had gathered.
“What happened? What’s going on?” Art overheard Tony saying as he pushed his way through the crowd.
“What are you two morons doing with him down here?” Tony shouted at the spokesman.
The man tried to explain, but Tony had already turned to Art demanding an explanation.
“That woman had a van full of electronic devices for spying and eavesdropping. I think they were listening in to our conversation.
They walked over to the reception desk. Tony had the security guard pull up the video feed and rewind it. As soon as he saw the woman’s face, he froze.
“No! April?” he said under his breath in such a low voice that Art could barely hear him.
“April?” Art asked. “She told me her name is Carla.”
Tony shook his head in shock and sat down on the security guard’s chair.
“April is my ex-wife. And I thought she was dead.”
Art just shook his head and walked over to a bench on the side of the reception area. This day just kept getting crazier and crazier.
He felt something in his pocket and reached for it. It was a small black cell phone. It lit up with a message on the screen.
“We will contact you.”
“This man lies.” Just then the bodyguards came walking over, so Art slipped the phone back in his pocket. He stood up.
“I’m sorry guys. I thought she was someone else. If I had known…”
The bodyguards grabbed his shoulder and started marching him back up the hall behind Tony.
“Wait. I gotta go to the bathroom.” Art said.
“It’ll have to wait till we get upstairs,” the spokesman said with a growl. “The last thing we’re gonna do is let you go in one of these bathrooms and escape out a window. I’ve seen that too many times in a movie. You think we’re stupid or something.”
Art smirked to himself. They were behind him so they couldn’t see him smile. He picked up his pace to get up to the office quicker. He wanted to see what other messages had arrived and send some back.
When they arrived back in the office, there were several lawyers already in the room waiting for him and Tony.
“Have a seat,” Tony ordered.
“Okay, but I need to use the restroom first.” Art replied.
Tony scowled at him but waved him on.
“Don’t let him out of your sight,” Tony commanded the bodyguards.
Art started to protest, but Tony ignored him, and the larger, silent bodyguard pushed him forward.
When they arrived in the bathroom, both men entered the bathroom with him.
“Seriously, guy. Is this necessary?” Art protested. “You’re gonna stand there while I do my thing. I need a little privacy here. We’re several stories up, it’s not like I’m gonna jump out the window or ninjas are climbing the walls to get up here.”
“Fine,” the spokesman said. “We’ll stand right outside, but leave the door ajar.”
Art didn’t argue with them. He didn’t want to waste the time. He pushed the door most of the way shut and pulled out the cell phone. There were no new messages. He sighed. Art had hoped they would have sent more information clarifying things.
“Who is this?” he texted back.
There was a long pause and then some activity. He could see them writing. He waited for the message to arrive and looked around the room. This was a really nice bathroom. Probably one of the most luxurious he had ever seen in his life. There was a jacuzzi bubbling away in the corner, a forty-two-inch screen on the wall with a large Lazyboy throwback chair in the corner, and a large pile of thick, fluffy white towels to the side of it.
“Someone could live in this room,” Art thought. It was almost as big as his entire apartment back in Brazil. He loved the smell of bathrooms here in the United States. They always smelled so fresh and clean. A complete contrast to the bathrooms he was used to in Brazil. Even the ones at his office were dark and dingy while reeking of mothballs.
A new message popped up on the screen.
“We are friends. We want to help you get out of there. It’s not safe.” the text said.
“How do I know I can trust you?” he typed back.
“We know what Tony is planning. He is evil.”
“Come on, Art.” the spokesman said and knocked on the door. “Tony and the lawyers are waiting for you.”
“What is he planning?” Art texted back.
“Not sure. But it can’t be good. He planned to kill his wife. She had to flee. The man is evil.” they said.
“What do you want from me?” Art messaged back.
“Need to meet. But don’t sign the contract,” they replied.
“But my company is going on sale at noon. And that’s bad.” Art texted.
“Better to let someone else have it than to let Tony and LocTech get their hands on it.” the replied.
“Are you the company that’s going to by us out? You’re messing with my head.” Art shot back.
“No. We are former LocTech employees but discovered terrible things. We left. Some were killed. Attempts on our lives. We flee underground to survive.”
Art was floored. He threw himself back on his seat and let that thought sink in for a minute. He closed his eyes and tried to visualize the ramifications of what all his technology would bring about.
His mind whirled at a million miles an hour. One thought after another flying through his head. He had to focus and concentrate on his breathing. The smell of fresh coffee lingered in the air. He could taste the tartness of the blueberries still on his lips. He opened his eyes and focused on the colors around him. Everything looked so bright and vivid. His life had suddenly taken on new meaning and significance. He slowly reached out his hand and ran it slowly across the armrest of the couch feeling the smoothness of the soft, light fabric beneath him. The buzz in the air around him felt electrifying.
Art wanted to jump and run and shout and scream. But he contained himself. He looked up at Tony with a huge grin on his face.
“Tony! You’re a freaking genius,” he half shrieked as he reached out and grabbed the man’s arm. “How did you come up with this stuff?”
“No, no!” Tony said and shook his finger at Art. “This is all your thing. We’re just coming up with a way to apply your research.”
Art stood up and paced across the room two or three times. He didn’t even realize what he was doing. His mind was a million miles away and several years into the future as he analyzed various scenarios.
The only thing that really bugged him about all this was Johnny’s warning. He had warned Art that they would make him an offer he couldn’t refuse and later trap him. But where was the trap in this? They didn’t even want the part of the technology he had originally worked on, and this was something totally different. And what if Johnny really was the bad guy that had just been trying to trick him out of a good deal.
Carla! Who was she and where could he find her. Maybe he could ask to use Johnny’s office and computer to do some research or send some emails. Or maybe he could go for a walk and talk to some of the other employees to see if they knew a Carla that was close to Johnny.
“Hey, Tony. I need to stretch my legs. You mind if I take a little stroll down the hall?”
“Sure, kid. Take your time. I already got our lawyers drawing up a contract for you. When you get back, we can go over the final details along with anything else you want to add. Then you sign it, and we’ll make your first payment.”
“What about my team? There are a few people I need to continue on the project to make things happen.” Art said.
“Not a problem,” Tony replied. ” We can bring them all onboard over here, or you guys can keep a branch there in Brazil. Whatever works best for you.”
Art smiled and thanked Tony as he walked out the door. The two big brutes that Tony kept around looked more like henchmen than bodyguards. He felt sure they were there more to stop him from doing anything wrong than to actually protect him. But he just smiled at them and continued mosying on down the hall greeting people as he went past them.
He saw a woman sitting at a desk that had a nameplate that started with the letter C. So, Art walked on over like he intended to look out the window. He saw a food truck below and turned to ask her about it.
“Food any good in that truck down there?” he asked.
“Pardon?” the grey-haired lady asked him with a very proper accent.
“I was wondering what they served in the truck down there, uh, Carol,” he said as he looked at her nameplate. He tried not to sound disappointed when he said her name.
“No, sorry,” Carol replied. “I don’t eat junk food. I’m a vegetarian.”
“Oh, okay.” Art muttered. “Good for you. Well, thanks, Carol. That’s a lovely name by the way. I have a friend from Brazil who was here recently. He told me to look up a friend of his named Carla to give her a message. Do you know her?”
The woman looked back up from her paperwork over the edge of her glasses as if she was a little annoyed. “Sorry, I don’t know anyone named Carla here in the building.”
“But you do know someone named Carla?” he asked.
“Yes,” she replied with a scowl. “My daughter’s name is Carla, and I have a friend from Sunday School named Carla. However, I highly doubt they are the person your friend from Brazil was recommending.”
“Yeah. You’re right. Probably not. Well, thanks anyway.” he said as he smiled and moved on. Art rolled his eyes and shook his head to the bodyguards as he walked on past them.
“You boys don’t know any Carlas around here do you? I really need to get her a message from my friend.”
Both men shook their heads and continued walking without saying a word. Not that he believed them. They probably wouldn’t tell him even if they did know something.
Maybe the janitor, he thought. Tony couldn’t have covered all his bases and have everyone lie to him. But she didn’t know anything either. Not that she told him much. She didn’t even speak any English. So, he used his Portuguese to try to make himself understood. Art noticed the two bodyguards looking at each other like they were trying not to laugh at him.
“I’m gonna go down to the food truck, boys.” Art said.
The men crossed their arms and shook their heads. “There’s plenty of food back there in the office.” one of them replied.
“Oh, c’mon guys. I can’t live on that fancy rich people food. I’m just a regular Joe like you guys. I need something with substance. Like a hotdog. Please. Just one hot dog. Real quick. Tony won’t even know we went down there.”
The two men looked at each other and shrugged.
“Alright, but make it snappy. And don’t try anything funny.” the same guy spoke up again.
“Sure,” Art replied and nodded his head.
They caught the elevator down to the ground floor. When the doors opened the two bodyguards stepped out first and looked around. Then they stepped to the side to let him out.
“Food truck is that way,” the spokesman said again.
Art started walking towards the main entrance. He saw a woman standing there that looked familiar. She looked like she was crying.
“Are you okay, ma’am?” Art asked.
The woman turned to him and nodded her head without looking up. But then she started sobbing again.
Art stood there awkwardly without knowing what to do. He didn’t know if it would be very appropriate to put his arm around her to try and comfort her.
“C’mon. Let’s go out and have a hot dog. You can tell me your story and cry on my shoulder.”
The woman looked up at him and tried to smile. She had a blue scarf and dark sunglasses on so he couldn’t really see her eyes. But she seemed to be a very pleasant-looking, young woman.
“Sure. Thank you,” she said. “I appreciate it.”
“Are you Carla?” he asked.
She put her head down and started to walk faster.
“Wait,” he said loudly. He reached out to grab her shoulder, but she jerked his hand off her shoulder and twisted his wrist down bringing him to his knees.
“What!” Art exclaimed. “What a jerk. How could he do that to me? I’m gonna kill him! Is that how you found out? He told you about it?”
“No, we found out first. Remember, Johnny approached you first. You were the one who had to convince Pedro and the rest of the board that they should let you continue developing the project so we could partner up together.” Tony explained.
Art shook his head in disbelief. He stood up and walked to the window. Tony picked up a bottle of water and stood behind him. He waited for Art to turn around again and poured him a glass.
“So, then we got word that Pedro was putting out feelers about this to a few other tech companies.” Tony continued.
“He’s going to sell off my idea and research.” Art fumed. “That turkey didn’t even want me wasting time on it in the beginning. I had to invest my own money and work on it in my spare time. Then when Johnny came down, he realized it was important, so he started telling me that we shouldn’t share this with the greedy gringoes in capitalist countries.”
“Well, your good friend Pedro has his hands deep in the pockets of a lot of politicians with government contracts which I’m sure you already know. They all want a piece of the action. Their plan is to offer it to other socialist countries so they can promote their agenda that socialism works better than capitalism.” Tony finished saying by raising his cup in a toast to Art.
“Viva la worker’s party,” Art said ironically. “I’ve never been so furious in all my life.”
“Well, word on the street is that your company is going up for sale at noon today. They’re going to make it look like a real auction, but the fact is that they already have a buyer in place to front the money for their investors.”
“But all they really want is my research?” Art fumed.
“Another good reason for Johnny to kidnap you. With you out of the picture, the company would be worthless. That would give him more time to get you on his side.”
Art stood speechless. He opened his mouth and then closed it again. He turned and sat down facing the window again.
“Look, Art,” Tony said gently. “I don’t mean to pressure you, but I really would like the chance to work with you and use your research to make a real difference in the world. I’d like you to come work with us. We’ll give you the freedom to work and all the resources you need to make this thing happen. Name your terms and your price. I’ll have my lawyers draft up a contract before the company goes on sale at noon.”
Art sighed and shook his head. “Johnny told me it was a trap. How do I know you’re not lying?”
Johnny shrugged. “You can always wait and call my bluff. But the fact is Johnny’s dead. And your research is about to fall in the hands of greedy government bureaucrats that are going to tie it up in research so that no poor people are ever benefited from it unless they pay through the nose for the technology. It’s gonna be worse than what companies are doing with genetically modified seeds today. You won’t even be allowed to use or promote the very research you developed unless you play by their rules.”
“No!” Art screamed and jumped to his feet. “They can’t do that. That’s not fair.”
Art stormed to the window breathing heavily. Tony gave him a minute to compose himself and waited patiently for him to turn around. He smiled sympathetically at Art who scowled back at him.
“What will you let me do with my ideas and research if I close this deal with you first?” Art blurted out.
“I’ll let you do anything you want, Art. I told you that my company has no interest in the modifying crops and plants. You can turn it into a non-profit organization and give it away to all the needy people and poor countries that you want.”
Art scoffed and wiped a hot tear from his right eye with the back of his hand.
“Yeah, right. So, then what’s the catch?” Art asked. “Do I have to sell my soul to the devil. This deal sounds too good to be true.”
Tony turned and waved his hands for them to leave. He turned back to Art who was really fidgety.
“You tell me the truth, Tony!” Art shouted. “Don’t try to play me here, or else I’m walking.”
“No, you won’t because I’ll have you arrested,” Tony said with a smile. “You realize that I have the upper hand here, Art. I could force you to sign this over right now. But I don’t want that. I really do want to make a fair deal with you. Don’t you see that?”
Tony seemed sincerely hurt. He pouted at Art.
“It’s nothing personal, Tony. I just don’t know what to believe. I’m sorry. Please just tell me why you really want my research if it’s not for the food and crops and money?”
Tony smiled and motioned for him to sit down. He flipped open his laptop and set it on the coffee table between them.
“Please, Art. I’m not trying to be facetious here. I just want you to open your mind and think bigger. Why is being able to splice DNA into living organisms such a unique concept?”
Art thought for a minute. Suddenly it dawned on him. His eyes lit up, and he sat up straighter.
“Because we can splice human DNA with wolf DNA to create a real, live werewolf.”
Tony burst out laughing. He laughed so hard he stomped his feet and held his belly. His whole body heaved with rolls of laughter. He finally gulped a few times to catch his breath and managed to contain himself. He wiped away the tears of laughter from his face.
“That’s a good one, Art. We’ll have to add that to the contract in our sales agreement as a bonus for you. Wow. I hadn’t even thought of that idea myself. Maybe I underestimated you. Genius, but no. That’s not what I had in mind.”
“So, it’s health-related technology that your company is looking to achieve.” Art asked. “And you want to splice healthy DNA into sick individuals.”
Art’s eyes opened wide in amazement. He looked off into the distance and then looked back at Tony in awe.
“That’s right, Art,” Tony said quietly. “Just imagine a world in which we could recreate anyone’s DNA and make them healthy again. Maybe even undo the aging process. We could change the lives of humanity on a massive, global scale that has never been seen before. And you, my friend Art, are the genius who invented this technology. Next year, you’ll be awarded the Nobel prize.”
Now, Art was confused. That put a whole new slant on things. Johnny didn’t seem as devastated as a husband should when he discovered his wife was dead.
“As for who was after him last night, it may have been a ploy to kidnap you. And things got out of hand.”
“Huh?” Art asked with a confused look on his face.
“C’mon, Art. Don’t play coy with me. You know we already know about your project. Why are you surprised that we know you’re leading the team. Everyone wants to discover what you know and how it works.”
“But what would Johnny get from kidnapping me?” he asked.
Tony laughed out loud. It was an ironic laugh that made Art feel miffed. It was as if Tony was expressing disbelief at Art’s naivety.
“To blame it on us, Art. They were gonna torture it out of you. If that didn’t work, Johnny would have swept in to ‘save’ you to earn your trust and turn you against us.”
“Are you kidding me?” Art asked in disbelief.
“I don’t have any proof,” Tony said. “But that’s just what my gut tells me. And my instincts are usually pretty accurate.”
“That’s messed up,” Art said and whistled in shock. “It’s almost harder to believe your version than Johnny’s version.”
“What do you think it is everyone wants Art?” Tony asked. “Why do you think it is that everyone wants what you are creating?”
“Oh, sneaky!” Art said. “You’re trying to play good cop bad cop on me and get me to think you’re on my side so I’ll spill the beans. I see what you’re trying to do. I can read right through you.”
Tony slapped his palm in his face and shook his head. “C’mon, Art. Do you think you would be here if we didn’t already know what you were doing? You’re splicing DNA into living organisms. I want you to understand why this is so important. I’m asking you a rhetorical question because I want you to think for yourself. I want you to see the bigger picture. I’m trying to help you stop thinking so small.”
“So small?” Art asked. “We’ve developed a way to splice DNA from one species to another via nanobots. Specifically between crops like corn and mango trees. That way we can grow crops on a perennial basis. That way farmers don’t have to go out planting crops every year. They just go out when it’s time to harvest the corn. And if they irrigate, they could harvest three times a year from the same tree for a long, long time. We want to end world hunger.”
“And why do you think we want this technology?” Tony prompted.
“Because you want to get the upper hand on the companies that produce the current GMO seed market and make a killing off it.” Art said smugly.
Tony shook his head. Art looked confused.
“Well, then I suppose you want to put the greedy GMO companies out of business like we do. We want to put the power back in the hands of the people. But that doesn’t make sense, because you’re a greedy, money-guzzling organization that’s only out to make a profit for your investors.”
Tony laughed out loud. “Oh, my goodness, Art. You are so cold. You’re right, we do want to make a profit, but we’re not out to put anyone else out of business.”
“So, then you want to patent the technology so no one else can use it and the GMO seed companies continue to make a profit doing things the old way. You know that never works. The market will adapt once they know what we have.” Art was speaking loudly over Tony’s laugh.
Tony kept shaking his head and wiping away tears from his eye. “Oh, that was good Art. It’s been a long time since I’ve had an honest, refreshing talk like this. Most people just tell me what I want to hear.”
Art shrugged. “So, why don’t you fire them all and hire better people.”
“Seriously, Art. You gotta stop smoking the socialist agenda. Not everything is about money. You talk like I’m a greedy, heartless jerk who fires people for the slightest thing. I genuinely care for the people that work for me. They’re like family to me. That’s what’s important to me. It’s one of our core values here. We empower people to pull themselves up by the bootstraps as high as they wanna go.”
“So, why are they afraid to tell you the truth.” Art asked.
“It’s human nature. And seriously, after hearing about your breakthrough, I thought you would be a lot smarter about other things too. I guess being a genius isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Or else you just got lucky.”
“Hey, that sounded like you were trying to butter me while insulting me in the same sentence. Calling me a genius, but stupid.”
“Relax, Art. Not trying to offend.” Tony said. “I just want to break you out of this little box that you frame your reference around. I want you to see the bigger picture here. So, I’m gonna come right out and tell you point blank that we don’t want your technology to grow crops. We can already splice DNA across species and reproduce them through cloning processes. Think a little bit deeper. What makes your project different from everything else out there?”
Art’s eyes lit up. “Oh! Because we can splice the DNA into a living organism. We can release the nanobots and splice the DNA into a full-grown mango tree so that it produces corn the next time around.”
“Bravo! Tapé, tapé!” Tony cheered in his best fake accent as he clapped slowly.
“Wow!” Art gasped. “I didn’t even realize it. Pedro never acted like it was a very big deal.”
“Well, just so you know, Pedro is already shopping your project around in the European market. He’s got a bidding war going on right now. That’s why we brought you here to negotiate directly with you.”
Frank and Joe escorted him into a large room that definitely wasn’t at the police department. Art looked around a bit confused.
“What’s this boys?” Art asked. “I thought I was under arrest for murder.”
Frank and Joe glanced at each other nervously.
“Yeah, um, but you’re not a citizen of the United States of America. And LocTech is responsible for your coming since they signed a letter of invitation for your business visa. They want to handle this discreetly.” Frank answered.
“It’s better for you,” Joe butted in.
“Uh huh. Sure.” Art said. “That’s just an excuse to get me in here. How much is Tony paying you guys?”
“Hey, watch it, bud,” Frank said. “That’s a strong accusation.”
“Look, we know you didn’t kill Berta,” Joe said. “But Johnny is missing, and you’ve been accused of having been the last person seen with Johnny. They showed us video footage of you two leaving the building last night.”
“And you made us think that you were looking for Johnny but hadn’t found him. Which you have to admit does make you look pretty suspicious.” Frank said.
“Look, guys.” Art started to say, but then Tony walked into the room interrupting him.
“Well, well, well. What have we here? The infamous Brazilian genius who came to kill our best employee and was trying to escape.” Tony said.
He motioned to the door for Frank and Joe to leave. There were two large security guards holding the door open for them.
“Thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate your help in locating this man. We’ll take it from here and see what we can get out of him. If you find Johnny, please let us know immediately.”
Frank and Joe still seemed a bit nervous. They glanced at each other as if trying to come to a silent agreement. Joe didn’t look comfortable leaving Art with Tony and his henchmen. But Frank nodded in affirmation and indicated they should leave by jerking his head toward the door for Joe to follow. Joe looked at Art again and then left with his partner.
“Well, Art! Nice to finally meet you. Let’s get down to business. I’m going to make this short and sweet. I’m not going to insult your intelligence by playing games or beating around the bush. I know you didn’t kill Johnny. Personally, I don’t think you look like the kind that could hurt a flea. But I do need to close this deal. So, I’m going to make you a really, really good offer which I highly recommend you take for your own sake. But if you don’t, I will have you charged with Johnny’s murder and thrown in jail for the rest of your life. And I will close the deal directly with Pedro, your boss.”
“Pedro will never make a deal with you. He hates American’s and globalization. He’s one of the most outspoken socialists I know.”
Tony chuckled. “Socialists and their rhetoric make me chuckle,” he said. “Do you know capitalism was a word that socialist dictators invented to take power. They needed a common enemy to unite the people to their side. So, they blamed the natural state of affairs of society for all of people’s problems by giving it a name that made it sound bad. And people bought it hook line and sinker.”
“But it’s greedy capitalists like you that kill people for money.” Art shouted. “It’s evil. You’re evil.”
“No, Art. I didn’t kill anybody. Our enemies did. Somebody that wanted what we have.”
“It’s all the same. It’s about money. You made it available for them.” Art replied sullenly.
Tony sighed and sat back.
“I’m disappointed you think that, Art. The least you could do is ask questions. Do you automatically assume the worst in everybody you meet like this?”
Art didn’t know what to say to that and waited for Tony to continue. Tony snapped his fingers, and the bodyguards opened the door. A young lady entered the room pushing a small table full of food and drinks.
“I thought you might be hungry, Art.”
“A little,” Art said. “I suppose I can eat something.”
The woman smiled warmly and poured him a large mug of coffee. She served him some croissants and a plate of fruit. After she left, Tony continued.
“I’m not in the mood to argue politics this morning, Art. So, let’s forgo all the hullabaloo. Regardless of what Pedro’s political preferences may be, he has shown an interest in selling us your team’s research after hearing Johnny’s proposal.”
“What?” Art exclaimed. “Why did Johnny go to all the trouble of having me convince them to take the deal, and why bother spending all this money bringing me here personally?”
“Because it’s your idea and you came up with the breakthrough. I know you think we’re greedy corporate monsters, but we’re not out to steal everything we want in life. We have money, and we’re willing to share it. Consider it our way of distributing our wealth with society. We reward those who are creative, exercise discipline, and apply it in a way that benefits others.”
Tony’s answer didn’t convince Art that was what they were really after. He could tell there was more to the story. But he knew he couldn’t push Tony into giving him the answer. He would have to discover what it really was by reading between the lines and working his way down through Tony’s mysterious hidden levels of secrecy.
“So, who killed Johnny & Berta,” he asked.
Tony didn’t beat around the bush but pressed directly into the core of Art’s doubts. The slick man smiled wryly.
“I know Johnny was trying to turn you against me. I assume he told you that I did it and that you shouldn’t close this deal with me today. Am I correct?”
Art didn’t answer him but shifted his eyes uncomfortably to the table.
“That’s what I thought,” Tony said. “Berta was a loyal employee. Our guess is that she discovered what Johnny was planning and who he was working for. We think he killed her himself.”