“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.”
When they got to the department, Frank went inside while Joe stayed with Art to keep an eye on him. Art saw a doughnut shop just across the street.
“Is it true that here in America, all cops eat doughnuts when they are on patrol?” Art asked. “If so, that’s a great place to put a doughnut shop right in front of the police department.”
“Of course,” Joe laughed. “Actually, it’s the other way around though. The doughnut shop was here first. The police decided to put the department right in front of it for easy access.”
They both chuckled over the irony of that.
“Why? Don’t Brazilian police eat doughnuts too?” Joe asked.
“No way,” Art replied. “We don’t have many doughnut shops there.”
“So, what do they eat then?” Joe asked.
“They prefer salty food like coxinhas made with chicken and kibes made with beef. They’re deep fried with the meat in them.” Art said.
His mouth watered at the thought of the delicious food.
“What are we talking about?” Frank asked as he came back to the car. He hopped in and started backing out.
“Brazilian food,” Art replied. “On your next vacation, you should come to Brazil. You can stay at my house with my family. My mother will cook a different dish for you each day. You’ll love it and never want to leave Brazil again.”
“Your momma’s a good cook. Huh?” Joe said.
“I tried calling Johnny, but he’s not answering his phone. I made a few phone calls, but nobody seems to know where he is. His secretary said she saw him at work today, so he must be around.”
“Oh, good,” Joe said. “Maybe he’s just sleeping with his phone on silent. You should be able to get ahold of him tomorrow then.”
“Yeah, that would be great,” Art said half-heartedly. He sank back into the seat and rode in silence the rest of the way. Frank and Joe dropped him off at a Denny’s that was in a residential area near the airport.
“If Carla lives near the airport, this is probably the most likely place you’ll find her,” Joe said cheerily.
Art thanked them and waved as they drove off. He stood at the door till they were out of sight. Then he started walking towards the airport.
The trip there was fairly uneventful. Art dragged himself along. He was exhausted from his long trip and the crazy unfolding of events. He still managed to enjoy the cool pre-dawn breeze and the view of the neighborhood. It was nothing like the area he lived in.
He lived with his parents in a small house without much of a yard in a middle-class section of the town. All the yards around his had high walls, and here in America the houses were all out in the open with large yards. Some of them had a small picket or chain-link fence. It was completely different from the life he was used to on the other side of the equator. It would have been nice to have sealed the deal with LocTech and moved here to Brimhill. His mother and girlfriend would have loved living in a place with wide open spaces like this.
Art made it to the airport a little before sunrise. The sky was still dark, but he could see the edge of the horizon turning into a lighter shade of grey with a tinge of pink along the edges of the clouds. He took a deep breath of the fresh cool air, and listened intently to the birds twittering and shaking themselves awake in the trees that bordered the road leading up to the airport.
Art made his way to the ticket counter of the same airline he had flown in on earlier. He asked about flights to Brazil. The red-head behind the counter and helped him book a ticket for a flight that was leaving at 9:15 a.m. with a layover at an airport in the U.S. and another in Brazil. He could have waited to catch a direct flight to a large city near his. But it wouldn’t leave until 7:00 p.m. and he didn’t want to sit around in the airport that long with Tony and the henchmen in the SUV out looking for him.
He paid with his company credit card and thanked the cute woman for her help. She was surprised he didn’t have any baggage to check on but didn’t ask why for which he was grateful.
Art mosied on down to the gate where his plane would leave from in a few hours. He picked up a coffee and blueberry muffin. He savored the sweet, tangy flavor as it wasn’t something that was easy to find around the area where he lived.
The seats in the lounge were comfortable. Art stretched out as best he could and closed his eyes. It was a little noisy with the sounds of people running up and down the aisles talking loudly. It was irritating, but he reasoned to himself that most of them had gotten a decent night’s sleep. They were rested and refreshed. But what bugged him the most was the volume of the announcer’s voice over the loudspeaker each time a gate opened or a flight was preparing to take off.
But in the end, Art managed to drift off for a bit. He woke up a bit later and was startled by the silence around him. He opened his eyes to see that he was surrounded by several serious-looking Brimhill cops. Art blinked several times to get the sleep out of his eyes. Frank stood in front of him with his hand on his gun. Joe was off to the side a bit with half a dozen officers fanned out around him.
“Arthur Costa, you’re under arrest for the murder of Johnny and Berta Silva.
Art jumped to his feet and considered making a run for it until he looked behind him. There were several other policemen at strategic locations. Tony had set him up. He cursed inwardly, but at the same time smiled at the man’s efficiency in getting what he wanted.
“Hey, Frank,” he said. “What’s going on?”
“Put your hands on your head and turn around slowly, son. There’s no need for this to get ugly. We just want to talk to you about what happened last night.”
Art sighed in resignation and complied with Frank’s orders. Several officers grabbed his arms and pushed them roughly behind his back as they snapped the cuffs on him.
“You have the right to remain silent,” Art heard them say. He mouthed the words silently along with them. This was just like some crazy movie he was watching on tv. Or maybe it was just a crazy nightmare that he would soon wake up from. Art wanted to pinch himself, but that was kind of hard to do with his hands cuffed behind his back.
Joe looked at him with a mixture of sadness and remorse. “I’m sorry, Art. I was looking forward to that visit to Brazil. My mouth was already watering over your momma’s cooking.”
“Don’t worry, Joe.” Art replied. “This is all a huge misunderstanding. We’ll get it straightened out here. I can explain everything.”
“For your sake, I sure hope so,” Joe said. “Because this doesn’t look good for you at all.”
“Shut up, Joe,” Frank said. “I keep telling you that you gotta stop getting attached to the people you arrest. You’re a professional, now act like one. Go put him in the cruiser. I’m gonna grab some coffee.”
He looked at Art and shook his head as he walked off muttering something about young people nowadays. Joe took Art’s arm firmly by the elbow on one side and guided him toward the car with another cop on the other side.
Everyone stared at him as whispered as he walked by. “News must travel fast,” he thought. Art felt like a celebrity as they walked down the hall and out the airport. As Joe pushed his head down to put him in the car, Art could almost see everything going on around him taking place in slow motion with loud rap music playing in the background. He grinned to himself as he settled into the back of the car and waited for Frank.
He really wanted to go back to the car and get his suitcase. But that was out of the question. Either the men in the black SUV would still be there looking for him, or Tony’s men would have taken over. And Art didn’t want to be found by either one of them.
He checked the travel pack he had bought for the trip along with a money belt. It was a convenient way to carry his documents. Fortunately, he still had it on him. He started walking down the road. He had no idea where it was headed, but it would take him somewhere he could get directions.
More headlights were coming in his direction. Art decided to take a risk. He continued walking, but turned and stuck out his thumb. The car blew on past him without even slowing down. It didn’t even swerve out into another lane to move away from him.
“Thanks!” Art shouted after the fading taillights.
He kept walking, willing another car to show up. But none came. He must have walked for a good twenty minutes or so when he saw sirens flashing in the distance. He considered jumping behind a tree but decided against it. The worse that could happen is he would have to tell them what really happened in the accident.
The police cruiser slowed down as it got closer. Art ignored it and just kept walking until it pulled up right alongside him. He looked over at the officer who was driving the car. It was an elderly gentleman with gray hair and handlebar mustache.
“Howdy, officer,” Art said with a smile. “Nice night for a stroll, huh?”
“What are you doing out here at this hour, son?” the officer asked. “We got a call from someone saying you were out here trying to hitch a ride, but they were too scared to stop. They felt bad for you though and asked us to make sure everything was okay.”
“Yes, sir! Everything is hunky dory.” Art replied. “I’m on vacation and just drifting along here. I caught a ride up a ways back and got left off a gas station. But then forgot my stuff in the other car. I guess I was frustrated and started walking. I assumed there would be a city closer than this.”
“No city out this way for a hundred miles. You gotta go back that way to get to the city limits.” the policeman said. “I suppose you don’t have any ID on you either. You probably left with your stuff.”
“Oh, I do.” Art replied. He pulled out his passport and handed it over to the elderly gentleman.
“Arthur Costa from Brazil, huh?” the man said with a friendlier tone. “You’re a long way from home, Arthur.”
“Yep, I miss it already.” Art said. “And your name is?”
“I’m officer Frank. This here is Joe. We’re gonna head back into town. We can give you a ride to somewhere safer for you to catch a ride with someone to continue your journey.”
Art thanked them and hopped into the back of the cruiser. Officer Frank turned the car around and drove back the way they had come. It didn’t take them long to get to the placer where the black SUV had rammed them off the road. The black SUV was no longer there. No one was in fact. He couldn’t even see Johnny’s car.
“Pretty calm out here tonight. Huh?” Art asked.
“Yeah. Brimhill is a quiet little city. They seem to have their own way of dealing with things that often don’t even involve us police. It’s strange. Nothing like when I used to work in New York.
“Nice,” Art said. “I always wanted to visit New York.”
“So, what brings you to Brimhill, Art?” the younger officer asked.
“I was supposed to meet an old friend of mine named Johnny.” Art answered. “He’s from Brazil too. But I tried calling him, and he didn’t answer.”
“You mean ol’ Johnny from LocTech?” Joe asked. “He’s a friendly chap. A friend of yours. Huh?”
Art nodded. “Yeah, I met him in Brazil, and he told me to drop by whenever I was in the area. He told me to look up Carla if he was traveling when I came. But I don’t know how to contact her. Do you guys happen to know her.”
Joe turned around to look at him and grinned. “Afraid I don’t. There are probably a thousand Carla’s here in the city. You have a last name on her?”
Art shook his head. “No, he just told me to look her up, but I don’t know where she lives. That’s why I decided just to head on out of town and enjoy the trip. I’m on vacation and time’s a wasting.”
Joe looked a Frank and grinned. “See, that’s what I’m telling you, partner. There are places to go, and things to do, and people to see. We’re getting too old for this stuff. We need to get out and enjoy life while we still have the chance.”
Frank just grunted. “That’s the last thing I want to do. I like my house just fine. I can watch National Geographic channel when I want to see something different.”
Joe burst out laughing. “So, how much longer you got on your vacation?” he asked.
“I just started. So, I have thirty days of vacation.”
“Thirty days!” Joe whistled. “I’m lucky to get a week.”
“Everyone in Brazil gets 30 days of paid vacation each year. It’s the law.” Art said.
“Well, I’ll be jiggered. Sorry, Frank. I’m gonna request a transfer to the Brazil department.”
They were coming up on the edge of the city. Art started to see a few buildings on the skyline that he recognized from earlier.
“There’s a gas station up the road aways that should be fairly easy to catch a trucker to give you a ride. Would you like us to drop you off there?” Frank asked.
“Walmart is right beside it too, so you could pick up a new backpack and some clothes.” Joe chimed in.
“Actually, could you drop me off somewhere near the airport?” Art asked. “Johnny said Carla lived near there. I think I can find her place if I can get there. If not, I’ll just stay at an inn for the night and head out first thing in the morning.”
“It’s on the other side of the city, but we can take you there,” Frank said. “We just need to swing by the police department first.”
Art started to panic. He knew they were still suspicious and were using this as an excuse to check up on him a bit more thoroughly. But if he backed out now, they would become even more suspicious. So, he kept his mouth shut and waited to see how this was going to play out.
“Art, are you there? Can you hear me?” Tony asked.
“You will send someone to kill me too,” Art said.
“Are you crazy?” Tony replied. “Of course not. Why would you say something like that.”
“Because you know where I am. You would only know if the men in the black SUV told you.”
Tony burst into laughter. “No, no. I can see why you would think that. But that’s not true at all. I’m simply tracking Tony’s cell phone. It’s a company phone, and we track all our phones in case of an accident or kidnapping.”
“Look, Tony. It’s nothing personal, but I don’t know you. You might be a good guy and telling the truth. Or you might not be. I don’t know. So, I’m going to go back home and wait for this mess to straighten itself out. We can schedule a meeting another time.”
“Wait, please don’t go, Art,” Tony begged. “I’m desperate. I don’t know what Johnny told you. But I’ve suspected for some time now that he was a double agent working for my competitors. I’m guessing he told you not to trust me and not to make the deal with me. That way he could pull you over to the other side.”
“Why are you so desperate?” Art asked. “What do you want from my company? We’re just a technology company.”
Tony chuckled. “Art, you know that we’re a big company. We didn’t get that way by sitting around waiting for things to happen. We keep a close eye on all of our competitors. Which means that we know about your current research into DNA splicing.”
“What?” Art half-shouted into the phone. “That’s a brand-new project, and it’s top secret. Only three other people know about it.”
“Relax, Art. I know you came up with the concept and designed the project. That’s why I send Johnny down there to meet with you. We don’t really want to buy out your company. The only thing we want is your project. But we’ll buy the whole company if we have to.”
“So, why didn’t Johnny just ask me about it?” Art asked.
“Because he didn’t know about your DNA splicing project. I knew he was persuasive and could convince you to come meet with us. But I never told him what I really wanted. I suspected he might be playing for the other side.”
“So, you killed his wife.” Art spat into the phone. “Will you kill my family too if I don’t give you what you want? Will you send your man in a black SUV to run my mother over in the middle of the street? You’re just like most Brazilians think about you rich gringoes. Capitalists. Do anything for money, and kill anyone who gets in your way.”
“It’s complicated, Art.” Tony replied. “But I wasn’t the one who had her killed. And it wasn’t because he was playing the other side.”
“So, why are you so desperate for my DNA splicing technology?” Art demanded.
“Let’s just say that we’ve been working on something similar for a very long time. We started ten years before you ever even came up with the idea. But we didn’t have much success and put our version on the back burner. And then, voila. You came up with a very elegant solution that we had never even considered.”
“No, I don’t want you to take my project and assimilate it. You’ll chop it up and destroy. Then you’ll probably use it to do something extremely evil and vile. And I’ll go down in history as the guy who was responsible for all the evil you and your greedy corporation does with it.”
“Listen, Art. It’s a free world. A free market. So, you are free to do whatever you want. But I’m only gonna make you this offer once. If you decline, we’ll just buy your company out.”
“I’ll leave the company and start my own. It’s not even part of the company’s common knowledge yet.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Blah, blah, blah.” Tony said. “Your decision, Art. But we’ll still get it from you one way or another. Even if I have to steal it from you myself. We have the manpower, means, and resources to make it a reality, way before you get your first tests completed.”
“See, I told you,” Art said. “Greedy gringoes.”
“But I don’t want that,” Tony sighed. “I’m willing to pay you good money for it. I can help make you famous. I’ll give you and your team all the credit. All I want to do is have the opportunity to make this a reality.”
“Why? What do you care about splicing DNA? It’s not that complicated.”
“See, that’s just it, Art. You don’t even realize just how powerful your results are. You’re thinking too small. You haven’t grasped the bigger picture. You don’t even realize the full potential of what you’re doing.”
“So, run it by me.” Art said.
“Let’s meet in person. I’ll explain everything. I think you’ll like what I have to say, I think you’ll like my ideas, and I think you’ll like my offer. I want you to stop thinking of me as the villain here, Art. I want to help you and be your partner.”
“And so you can force me to sign an NDA.” Art replied. “You’ll have some little clause you can use to sue me later in court by claiming I stole the idea from you. I’m not stupid, Tony. I know how you corporate big shots with your fancy lawyers think. I’ve been working with your type long enough. All you care about is making money while wrapping it up with pretty words like social responsibility to fool everyone else. But it won’t work with me.”
“Fine, Art. I won’t force you to sign an NDA. Just let me explain what I have in mind.”
“Are your men on the way?” Art asked.
“Yes, they should be there any minute. A group was dispatched as soon as Johnny told me there was trouble. They were already in the area when I called you.”
“Who’s Carla?” Art asked.
“I don’t know,” Tony answered. “Where did you hear that name?”
“Johnny’s dying words,” Art replied. “He was muttering something about Carla. I thought it was his wife.”
“It could be one of his secretaries, assistants, or an ex-girlfriend. It’s hard to say.” Johnny replied. “But I can check into it for you. Did he leave her a message.”
“Yes,” Art replied. “But it’s rather personal. I’d like to give it to her myself. Just out of respect to Johnny. You know what I mean?”
“Sure,” Tony said with a light chuckle. “Knowing Johnny I can imagine. He was a real, smooth Don Juan. He had a way with the ladies.”
Art didn’t wait for Tony to finish his sentence. He turned off the phone and threw it into the bushes.
Several more shots rang out. Art jumped from side to side every few steps as he ran to make it more difficult for them to aim at him. He managed to make it into the safety of the trees.
Once he entered the shadow of the trees, he no longer had the light from the moon and stars. He couldn’t see much in the dark shadows of the forest. He didn’t want to turn on the cellphone flashlight because that would make it easy for the men to see where he was and follow him.
Art ducked into the underbrush trying to decide what to do. He couldn’t run in the forest without light to see by, and he couldn’t use the light he had. But if he stayed here, it wouldn’t be hard for the men to find him either.
He saw three flashlights moving in his direction. They spread out to cover a large area, and it wouldn’t take them long to get here. Art tried to turn on the phone to call this Tony guy, but it was locked.
“Great!” he thought. “Johnny could have at least told me what the passcode was to unlock the phone when he told me to contact this Carla woman.”
Art began to move along the edge of the woods to get away from them men. He stayed far enough under the trees to remain in the shadows, but close enough to still see light from the reflection of the moon. He moved along slowly doubled over and half crouched to make himself as small as possible. He also felt along with his hands for sticks that might be hidden in the dark and snap under his feet making noise that would attract the men’s attention.
He looked back a couple of times, but no longer saw the flashlights that the men were carrying. They must have entered the forest looking for him. He hoped that none of them were good trackers because it wouldn’t be hard to follow the sloppy trail he left behind as he shuffled through the forest in the dark. So, he just kept moving to put as much distance between the men and himself as possible.
Art stopped and stood up straight to relieve the ache in his back. He continued walking normally in an upright position. He figured there was enough distance between him and the men that they probably wouldn’t hear a small twig cracking. But he still walked slowly, feeling along for twigs and small branches under his feet. It was slow going.
He finally paused to take a rest and look back. Everything was dark and quiet. He pulled the phone out of his pocket and swiped at the screen. It required touch ID or a passcode. Art tapped at the screen a few times to see if he could get it open. But nothing worked.
Art pressed the Emergency button, and the number touchpad popped up on the phone screen. He dialed 911 and held the phone to his ear. Nothing happened, and he couldn’t hear the phone ringing.
“Hello. Hello. Is anyone there?”
He pulled the phone back from his ear and saw the numbers still glaring back at him from the screen. He realized he hadn’t pushed the call button. He sighed in frustration and half-laughed at himself at the same time. Art reached out a shaky finger to tap the green call button. It made him realize how exhausted he felt, even though he was amazed that he hadn’t suffered any serious injuries from the accident. Art waited for the call to go through and the operator to answer.
“911, what’s your emergency?”
“Yes, hello. I was in an accident, and I think my friend is dead.”
“Where did the accident take place?”
“Uh, I don’t know exactly. We’re on a road here, and there was a bad curve. A black SUV smashed into us, and the car rolled off close to some trees.”
“Are you near the vehicle now?”
“No, some men with guns were shooting at me, so I ran into the woods.”
Art heard something snap and pulled the phone away from his ear. He listened closely, but he didn’t hear anything after that. So, he put the phone back to his ear.
“Sir, are you there. Hello.”
“Yes. Yes, I am here.”
“Can you give me any more details about your location.”
“No, I’m from Brazil. I just flew here tonight, and I was with my friend. We came to the morgue and.”
Something or someone came flying through the underbrush and tackled Art in the dark. They wrapped their arms around him from behind and squeezed tightly lifting him off the ground.
“I got him. He’s over here,” a man yelled.
Art struggled and kicked against the pressure, but the man held firm. The man holding him was solidly built, and Art couldn’t break away from the grip of his thick muscular arms. He wiggled and squirmed, but it was no use. His legs moved freely, so Art pulled his foot forward and then kicked back up towards the man’s groin.
It was a solid blow. The man groaned and immediately relaxed his grip. Art was able to pull his arms out from the bear hug he was in even though the man kept his arms wrapped around his torso. Art continued to squirm and kick, but the man held firm.
Art heard the other men yelling as they came. He desperately tried to twist around and reach out to poke his finger’s in the man’s eyes. But he couldn’t reach them. Art pulled back his arm and smashed his elbow into the man’s face. He felt the man’s nose crunch and crack under his first blow.
The man let go of him and stepped back to grab his face. Art dropped to the ground and picked himself up. He didn’t turn around to look back but took off running again. This time he stepped out of the forest and back into the field. He ran along the edge of the forest using the light from the moon to move as quickly as possible. Art no longer worried about making noise. He was a decent runner. He ran five kilometers at least three times a week. And often longer on the weekends. He had even participated in a half-marathon a few weeks before in his city. So, he simply focused on running and putting as much distance between himself and the men as possible.
Art didn’t know how long he had run for, but eventually, he reached a road. He turned to the left and started walking in the opposite direction from where he thought the car accident had taken place. The last thing he wanted to do was run into those guys again.
A car approached in the distance with the headlights blazing down the road. Art stepped into the trees and waited for it to pass. The last thing he needed was to be picked up by someone these guys were using as backup.
The phone rang, and Art pulled it out of his pocket. The name Tony glowed brightly on the screen. He paused. Johnny had said not to trust him. But on the call, he seemed fairly sympathetic and unaware of the danger they were in. Even Johnny had seemed surprised to discover they weren’t being tailed by Tony’s men.
Art decided to risk it. He didn’t have anywhere else to go or know anyone else to turn to for help. He swiped the screen to the right to answer it.
“Hello, Tony. Jonny is dead.” Art said.
There was a long silent pause on the other end before Tony answered.
“I’m sorry to hear that. This is Art, I presume, or are you one of the men who killed him?”
“No, it’s me. Art,” he replied.
Tony sighed. “Stay right there. I’ll send someone to pick you up.”
Art’s heart froze. How did the man know where he was if he wasn’t in cahoots with the guys in the black SUV.
Johnny had already noticed it and slammed on the brakes. The other car overshot and flew on past them. The tail end of the SUV sideswiped the front of Johnny’s Mercedes Benz tearing off a portion of the bumper on the driver’s side.
“What in the world are they doing?” Art shouted.
Johnny’s phone rang. He silenced it to focus on his driving. The SUV was now on the passenger side near Art. He still couldn’t see anything through the window though. Johnny started to speed up so he could pass them, but the SUV swerved like it was coming at them. Johnny slammed on his brakes, and the SUV did the same. This time it nailed them just behind Art’s door.
The blow pushed them off the side of the road and into the grass that separated the two lanes of the highway. Since Johnny had already braked and slowed down, he wasn’t in danger of losing control. He simply spun the car around and cut through the grass. He doubled back and started driving back the way they had come.
Johnny’s phone rang again. Art looked down and saw the name, Tony. This time Johnny answered it and put it on the loudspeaker.
“What?” he shouted. “What do you want now?”
There was a long pause. Art thought the call had been disconnected but saw the name was still up on the screen.
“Is everything okay?” Tony asked. “I was calling to see how your meeting went with Art.”
Art glanced back. The other vehicle and made the turn and was still following them, but it was still a little ways behind. Johnny was clipping along at over a hundred miles per hour. The other car was pushing it to catch up with them, but Johnny’s car seemed to hold it’s own and staying ahead of them.
“You’re not the one who’s had a black SUV trailing me for the past few days. Are you?” Johnny asked.
“Uh, no! That’s ridiculous. Why would I do a thing like that?” Tony asked. “What’s going on, Johnny?”
“Nothing! I gotta go.” Johnny replied, and with that, he turned off the phone.
Johnny pointed in the direction of the glove compartment. “Reach in there and grab my gun.”
The phone started ringing again, but Johnny just muted it. Art opened the glove compartment and felt around. He didn’t find a gun.
“C’mon!” Johnny yelled at him. “Where is it? Give it to me.”
“There’s nothing here,” Art replied.
He started pulling stuff out. Books, wires, twinkies, and a bunch of other junk. He looked at Johnny when he was finished an indicated with his outstretched hand that he had pulled everything out.
“Argh!” Johnny groaned. “Somebody must have stolen it.”
“You thought those were Tony’s guys keeping tabs on you?” Art asked. “That’s why you weren’t worried about them back there.”
Johnny looked at him and nodded without saying a word.
So, if they aren’t Tony’s men, then who are they?” Art asked.
Johnny just shrugged but didn’t look up. He glanced into the rearview mirror.
“Hang on to your seat,” Johnny finally spoke up. “It looks like they activated a turbo booster. They’re coming in fast.”
Art turned to look back. The SUV was right behind them and closing in fast. He turned away as it smashed into the back of their car. Johnny tried to change lanes but was too late. The other vehicle plowed right into them.
Johnny lost control of the car. Between getting clipped in the back while trying to switch lanes caused them to spin out of control. Art gasped breathlessly as the Mercedes careened off the road and went over the embankment.
There was a short drop, but the car didn’t stop when it hit the bottom. It crashed through a wire fence and still kept bouncing through holes and over rocks. The vehicle hit something that spun it around and flipped it over, and over, and over.
When Art came to, they had stopped short of running into the trees where the woods started. Art shook his head and tried to look around. He felt his body, but everything seemed to be okay. He breathed desperately wondering how he had just survived that accident. Johnny had floored it, and they were flying.
He unbuckled his seatbelt and looked over at Johnny. He was leaning forward with his face on the steering wheel. His arms were thrown forward across the dash. The windshield was completely gone. Art touched his shoulder and shook him lightly.
“Johnny, you okay? Johnny?” he said.
Art looked around to get his bearings. He couldn’t see the road itself because of the darkness. But he could see the headlights of the SUV. The men had probably already jumped out and were headed their way.
He gave Johnny a firm shake. This time, he moved his head and groaned loudly.
“Let’s go!” Art said as he tried to undo Johnny’s seat belt.
“You gotta go. Get out of here.” Johnny moaned. “Those aren’t the same men who killed my wife. You’re not safe here.”
“No! Not without you.” Art said firmly while trying to keep his voice down. “Let’s go. Open your door.”
“I can’t feel my arms and legs, Art. I can’t feel anything. I’m going anywhere, but they’re only after me. You get out of here.”
Art pulled on Johnny’s arm, but it felt limp and loose.
“It’s okay,” Johnny said. “I’ve lived a good life. I’ve enjoyed more than my share of good things. And I’d rather they put me out of my misery then lie around on a life support system for the next twenty years.”
Art saw flashes of light moving back and forth as the men walked in their direction. He didn’t want to leave Johnny here, but there wasn’t he could do for the man. Johnny looked like he weighed twice as much as Art, so he knew he couldn’t carry him. He knew that might make things worse. Better to get help and hope the men didn’t kill him before he got back.
“I’m gonna go find help, Johnny,” he whispered. “I’ll come back. I promise.”
Johnny grinned. “Good, I’ll wait for you. Listen, don’t trust anybody. Turn the deal down and go home. If you want answers, find a woman named Carla. She is the only one who might be able to help you.”
He breathed a raspy breath and closed his eyes. Art shook him gently.
“Johnny! Johnny! C’mon, man.”
He looked back and saw the glow of the flashlights still moving slowly but steadily in his direction. Art unlocked the doors and pushed his open. The sound of grass and brush scraping against the paint grated on his nerves. He couldn’t get it completely open because there was something blocking it. But it was still wide enough for him to squeeze through.
The flashlights were closer and strong enough to light up the area around him a bit. He saw that it was a rock that had kept him from opening the door. He left it open and walked around it so he could move into the trees.
He remembered Johnny’s cell phone was in there, so he reached back in through the broken windshield to grab it. A shot rang out, and a bullet smacked into the car door that was still open in front of him. The flashlights were trained on him and moving quickly in his direction.
Art didn’t think twice. He started running for the trees.