by Helene Baron Murdock
“County Sheriff! Keep your hands where I can see them!” Donovan leveled his weapon at the man with the dog just stepping into the clearing. The mastiff strained at its leash. “Heel your mutt or I’ll shoot!”
The dog lunged forward, growling. “Put your gun down and get on your knees,” the guard commanded. “You are trespassing on US Government protected property in violation of the lawfully posted warnings! I have authority to use lethal force!”
Donovan hesitated. It was either shoot or be shot. The rote response of the guard struck him as oddly dispassionate, mechanical. He wasn’t going to waste any time thinking about it because he knew it was coming and that the decision was going to be made for him. He was just buying time. He didn’t have long to wait. He felt the cold prod at the base of his skull.
“Drop the gun, asshole, on your knees.”
Donovan held his arms out away from his body and let his weapon drop to the ground. The dog was on him immediately as with the force of the blow knocking him down. Then the jolt shooting through him like a fully body funny bone motor lock up shock and the dark pit of forever falling.
Slowly he caught his breath, the pounding of his heart jackhammering in his head. His arms were jerked behind his back and he heard the familiar sound of a zip tie pulled tight, a snarling snout filling his blurred field of vision. His jacket yanked down over his back, he felt a sharp jab in his shoulder as his face was pushed into the dirt until he floated away in a pale inflated softness.
His first thought was of Ionna as he slowly pieced himself back into consciousness followed by the spike of panic not knowing if she had escaped the dog patrol. They had agreed to meet at the Sparta Creek Overlook the day after their conversation at the Sole Sister Diner. She would show him the waterfall access up to the old summer camp but would take her own car. She didn’t want to chance being seen in his sedan by friends or acquaintances. She’d mentioned that she had already had rides in squad cars but mostly in the back and handcuffed, and wasn’t eager to revisit the environment. One thing she wanted to protect was her reputation.
He’d spotted her watching the hang gliders launch off the bluff, drifting like bits of engineered debris down to the pastel beach runway below. A good wind blustered off the expanse of ocean pushed by a formidable line of gray fog on the far the horizon, otherwise the noon sun in complete command. He’d parked as unobtrusively as possible among the SUVs and camper shelled pickups. She’d joined him as he was lacing up his patrol boots and he followed her to a service road leading off the parking lot.
Beyond the large green storage container belonging to the State Park, the road petered out, and they’d followed a foot path down around a large granite outcropping that led along the meager creek. The trail looked well-trodden with debris and signs of encampments along its meandering to where the gravel beach hemming the watercourse expanded to the edge of the narrow brook and then abruptly stopped at the base of a twenty foot megalith and a large swimming hole.
Donovan gave the open space a three-sixty. There didn’t seem to be any way forward. He tilted his head back and took in the sheer granite cliff that loomed above him and assumed that at its top sat the old Mount Oly summer camp and the now off limits compound.
“You come here often?”
Ionna laughed, cocking her head, “I think I’ve heard that line before.”
Donovan raised an eyebrow that said “Ok, you got me.”
“But to answer your question: I used to come out here all the time but not in a long while, not since a group of us snuck into the construction site.. That’s when I realized that you can’t fight them on their own terms, otherwise they’ll always win. They have a bottomless source of money and all we have are donations. So I chose the path of productive nonresistance.” She glanced around, wistful, nostalgic. “The creek’s changed some, lower than I’ve ever seen it. Climate change, you know.” She looked at him, a knowing smile wrinkling her high cheekbones. “Around here Sparta Creek has always been known as ‘Party Creek.’ It might even be in your intelligence dossier on EAF, but some of the earliest discussions we had as fledgling earth activists about saving the planet from this industrial age capitalist runaway train destroying the ecosystem were around campfires down here, setting our world saving agenda, away from the spying eyes of the military industrial complex, the man.” Ionna chuckled. “Or so we assumed.” She turned, looking up at the embankment of wild willow and dune grass edging the gravel creek bed, and pointed at a hillside populated with coyote brush, anemic pines, and stunted oaks. “That way.”
“So are you a surfer as well?” Donovan small talked choosing his footing carefully across the larger unstable rock field beneath the embankment while she scampered up to the barely perceptible opening in the brush like a mountain goat.
“When you are in the arms of mother earth,” she turned to wait for him to catch up, “you realize how precious she is. The waves are her breasts from which we suckle the pure joy of being. The air is her perfumed breath through which we glide.” She saw his bemused look. “Don’t worry, I won’t turn into a wood nymph and fly away!”
“Hang glider, too?” he said under his breath and she continued up the deer track toward the hillside behind the massive boulder overlooking the creek.
She’d heard hm. “Of course. I’ll try anything if it looks fun or thrilling.” She turned to catch his eye. “Or dangerous.”
They’d agreed, she was only supposed to show him the old waterfall access up to the compound.
“You’re a rogue cop, a cowboy. I thought you’d all left and got jobs in television.”
At first his eyes adjusted to a wide band of light, bright but also indistinct. A shadow crossed the luminous field. It moved from side to side, growing larger and then smaller. His eyes followed it the way a frog’s would tracking a fly. Another fly appeared to one side.
“He’s coming back,” a muffled voice spoke and he realized that he was sitting, his shoulders slumped forward. He tasted the bile, raised his head and tried to swallow, and felt nauseous, gagging.
“Give him some water.”
A straw was placed in his mouth and he was given a metal cylinder to hold. His eyes began to focus with the first cool sips of liquid. There were two of them, maybe more he couldn’t see just yet. The light came from a wide observation window set in the thick walls of an ovoid white room. He took another sip from the straw realizing that his hands were no longer locked behind his back. Tension painfully gripped his shoulder muscles and those in his neck, and his head was pounding so hard it could be heard into next week.
He looked up to bring into focus a beautiful face wreathed by a lustrous mane, predatory gaze looking down her aquiline nose at him as if she were deciding what to serve him with. “I’m Doctor Ida Quinn, director of the IDA Project. You no doubt understand that you’ve just stepped into a black hole. This is my chief of security, Dak Tillis. He’ll explain it to you.”
The other shadow came into focus as a square faced tiny eyed crew cut action figure and fit the description the Highway Patrol officer had provided, a universal warrior type. “Welcome to Calcutta, loser, the very fact of your being here constitutes a breach of national security. Pursuant to the provisions of section 20 of the Internal Security Act of 1950 in accordance with the directive issued by the Secretary of Defense on the Tenth of December 2005, I have the authority to hold you indefinitely without habeas corpus. Think Guantanamo, the government’s own Club Med, and you’ll get the idea. You might as well take a pill because you’re not ever going anywhere again.”
Donovan looked back at Doctor Quinn, wet his whistle and rasped, “Does he have an off switch?”
“Spare us your Hollywood dramatics, Detective Donovan, we are not amused.”
“Then spare me the phony legalities. You can do whatever you want with me so why the drama?” Donovan leaned back and found the support of an armchair. His blood was getting to all its proper places and the gears engaged behind his eyes. “I am here as a sworn and duly authorized officer of the law investigating a murder that possibly occurred on these premises.”
“Two things, Detective, a court order, and good luck with that. Federally administered property is outside your jurisdiction.”
“Tell me something I didn’t know. But it is my job to proceed while potential evidence is still actionable to make my case. What the DA does with findings isn’t really my problem.”
“You’re a rogue cop, a cowboy. I thought you’d all left and got jobs in television.”
“Meanwhile you’re still talking.”
Tillis made to strike him but Quinn held him back. “That would be unproductive at this point. I think our unwanted guest may have become a solution to the unfortunate incident with Professor Nimoi’s shift into another time dimension.”
Now would be a good time to wake up, Donovan told himself.
“If someone hadn’t sounded the alarm with your location, you’d have been found floating in Corinth Bay as a result of a party boat accident.” Tillis growled as if it were a personal affront.
“Someone, Detective,” Doctor Quinn continued, “female by the voice, transmitted a Code 30 on the emergency frequency, officer in distress at the top of Mount Oly at the abandoned girls summer camp, an accomplice, perhaps, one of your officers waiting for you to return within an agreed upon amount of time? Someone who remembered that there had once been a summer camp up here years ago. Your device was compromised as soon as you crossed into the advanced electronic faraday shadow around our perimeter so you obviously weren’t able to transmit your location.”
He’d stopped listening. He felt relieved, Ionna had made it back to the sedan and called for help. Now it was up to his boss to let him twist in the wind or call out the cavalry. He was angry with himself for being so foolhardy. He’d put a civilian’s life in danger just to prove he was right, to satisfy his self-righteous ego.
When they’d reached the base of the old waterfalls he couldn’t at first see any way up the wall of rock without climbing gear. Ionna had led him to a narrow fissure off to one side of the rock face. Out of the beating sun it was dark at first, then points of sunlight seeped into the angled shaft onto a field of brush, rubble, and gigantic boulders climbing more gradually toward a ragged glimpse of sky. She’d pointed toward the edge of light. “At the top is a little gulley that takes you up behind the mini tower lookout and toward the highest point on Mount Oly.” He’d been reconsidering his options when she said, “Come on, I’ll show you the way up. Steer clear of the poison oak and watch out for rattlesnakes.”
A few narrow crevasses were a squeak for him to twist through or crawl under. The rubble field was not very stable and had a tendency to slide. But he’d made it, a little out of breath from the unaccustomed exertion. When they’d reached the top of the narrow overgrown gulley following another deer track, she’d insisted that she just had to see for herself what they’d done with the place. By then it was late afternoon and he was too winded to argue. They followed a dirt track that led to a clearing, staying to the shadows of the forested hillside. They were looking down onto a hollow in a crease of the hillside at the center of the camp and its cluster of dark green roofed cabins among a grove of tan oaks and oleander.
“Wow!” she’d exclaimed under her breath “This is crazy! The last time I was here there was not a stick standing, totally leveled , and now it’s like they rebuilt it exactly like it was when I attended camp.” She’d thrown him a look of disbelief. “Except for that!” She’d stepped forward to point at a squat ovoid tank tower outfitted with an array of dishes and antennae. “That’s not the mini tower I remember.”
They had likely set off a motion detector alarm at some point. He could faintly hear a buzzer pulsing and barking dogs in the distance. He didn‘t have many choices. They could retreat together and try to outrun the dogs. Unlikely, as he was still catching his breath from the slog up the old waterfall. Or he could buy Ionna some time. He quickly explained what to say and how to operate the sedan’s radio, handing her his keys. And to repeat the code and location until she received an acknowledgement from dispatch, then to make herself scarce.
He’d unholstered his weapon and run up toward the highest point on Mount Oly. He could hear the dogs behind him, barking, as he took a path that led upward to a cluster of large lichen covered crags. On the other side was nothing but a straight drop off and the long flat expanse of surf battered beach. The wind pushed against him like a sail. He didn’t wonder why the hang gliders coveted this spot, but could Ike Carey have launched from this spot in his home made set of wings? Had he fashioned the wings himself ? Or had someone else helped, someone with a sardonic sense of humor? Too much didn’t add up.
Ida Quinn was talking to him like she could read his mind. She had a classic beauty that could have sold a trillion shares, hypnotic in its allure, and whatever it was he would have been a subscriber, yet behind those eyes was a seductive intelligence that was both remarkable and terrifying. “Your little investigation is meaningless, especially since the prime suspect has already flown the coop. We thought we had recovered him after he had been taken to the hospital after his, shall we say, accident. . . .”
“When your bruiser here pulled a PIT maneuver on the old Merc. I thought I recognized your trademark g-rig on the flatbed. It’s a tricky one, you have to be careful someone doesn’t get hurt, land in a ditch. . . .”
He could feel Dak Tillis’s glare. “You could have killed one of my men with your stunt!”
Quinn glared at him. She didn’t like being interrupted. “. . .but he proved too clever, switching his identity with another patient whom we took into custody before we were aware of the subterfuge.” She seemed almost embarrassed. “Sometimes the contractors are not always the most thorough.”
“Does this he have a name?”
“Not a name that you would recognize, but it belongs to one of the most talented geniuses in the history of science, rivaling Feynman, Einstein, Newton, Archimedes, and Pythagoras. Professor Pavel Anton Nimoi, is one of the greatest men of science in any century. As are many men of extreme intelligence, he is a little eccentric and has a particularly troublesome quirk. He is a murderer.”
“You’ve got my attention.” Donovan shrugged and shifted his shoulders to work the stiffness out and felt the presence of movement behind his field of vision. “You’re saying he killed Ike Carey?”
“There have been others over time.”
“Over time? How old is this guy?”
Doctor Quinn shrugged it off. “His mind is ageless, it transcends time. Physically, he is typical of men in their later years.”
“You must have a photo of him. A physical description?”
“That, Detective, I’m afraid, is above your pay grade. You will never find him because you will never have any idea where to look. Professor Nimoi believes that he is a trans-dimensional being who has developed a method of time travel that insures immortality and that requires the death of someone close at hand, a ritual sacrifice if you will, what he terms ‘a cutout’ to another time dimension, such as the one formerly occupied by the person whose death he’s caused. You see it is his theory that we each inhabit our own time dimension while we are alive. But we can stay forever young by traveling through the time dimensions of others.”
“You know this about him and you go along with it?” Donovan leaned forward to read her, find some hint of sadistic taunting. “This is nuts! Do you actually believe this theory?”
“It’s a matter of national security. Professor Nimoi is ultra-secret. No one can know about him, especially hostile governments or predatory corporations. His inventions, innovations, theoretical breakthroughs are immeasurably useful to certain clients with whom we contract for research and development, some so astounding and spectacular that they must remain under wraps until the groundwork has been prepared for their eventual presentation. Think internet but something exponentially more advanced and life changing.
“High security for the IDA Project was necessary in part to secure the perimeters and keep out interlopers, both innocent and the overly curious, some with malicious intent. But it was also to make sure that Pavel Anton Nimoi did not wander away to satisfy his homicidal urges. Ninety percent of the time he was preoccupied with his work, a perfectly well behaved human, for a raving genius, and we had no reason for concern.”
“But that ten percent was murder. Ever hear of ankle bracelets?”
But she wasn’t listening, looking up as if she were hearing a voice and then with a finger to her ear she said, “Yes, Senator, this is Dr. Quinn,” and began to walk away, “I certainly was not aware. . .yes, we’ll form a search party right away.” She tuned to look back at Donovan.
“What do we do with the cowboy?” Dak wanted to know.
She shrugged. “Like we do with all the others, package him.”
His arms were pulled behind his back, the water bottle tumbling to his feet. Another pair of hands in disposable gloves kneaded his left shoulder muscle and he felt the jab. Tillis, grinning mockingly and holding up a rectangular device no bigger than a paperback saying, “Smile for the birdie,” blinded him with a double strobe.
He didn’t remember much although at times he thought he recalled a detail, but it just wouldn’t reveal itself, peeking from behind a synaptic partition, like a word on the tip of his tongue that could never be brought forward into consciousness no matter how he tried.
He remembered what he’d been told. A search party from the Mount Oly compound had found him unconscious on a rock ledge overlooking Sparta Creek Beach. IDA Project personnel had used their own helicopter to medivac him to the hospital. Half a dozen hours later he regained consciousness, wondering how he’d got there. He’d been given a medical evaluation and they’d found no signs of trauma except for a nasty bruise on his shoulder. When he couldn’t tell them what happened, they said that it was probably temporary amnesia and his memory would return eventually. So far all it did was tantalize. He spent the next twenty four under observation and then was sent home and told to take some sick days to recover his equilibrium. It didn’t include an exemption from an ass chewing.
The Sheriff started off the phone call with “I’m not even going to ask what you were thinking” and it went downhill from there. One morning he woke, got dressed for work, figuring he’d spent enough down time, and got as far as the back door with his keys in his hand before he paused and went back into the kitchen, had another cup of coffee, and did the math.
“The architecture of oppression is the same with all the world builders throughout history erecting their edifices on mountains of skulls.”
And he wanted to thank Ionna even though she wasn’t having any of it. He hadn’t mentioned her and feigned ignorance when they questioned him about who might have known to transmit the Code 30 using his radio call sign. It was part of his voluntary amnesia, that and how he knew to access the compound by the abandoned falls. He would keep that to himself, and he wanted to assure her of that pact. A phone call, an email, a visit to her office would all have been more than just coincidence. There couldn’t be any links between them other than what might have been recorded on the listening device in her office in conjunction to Ike Carey’s death. Something was nagging at him and he couldn’t put his finger on it.
That morning he drove to Old Town Santa Lena and the Sole Sister Diner for breakfast. On his second cup of coffee, she slipped into the booth to face him. “I blame myself,” were the first words she spoke. “If I hadn’t shown you the way up, you’d still be trying to figure out how to get there. I saw it on the news, Sheriff’s Detective Recovered In Daring Cliff Rescue. . . .”
“Just the opposite, it was irresponsible of me to involve and endanger a private citizen.” He was going to offer more excuses but her smile stopped him. It said terms of agreement met and mutual responsibility accepted.
“You’re not the ordinary copper.” She stared across the table at him, hands placed on either side of her cup. “I mean that as a compliment.”
“Most cops are ordinary. I don’t see that I’m any different.”
“You should know I have strong opinions about the organization you work for.”
Here it comes, he thought, the civilian fantasy of how to fix, defund, dismantle the police, and make the world a better place for kitty cats. He rolled his eyes up and watched the ceiling fan turn over the empty late morning tables of the diner, the few stragglers nursing coffees at the counter. She wasn’t angry, just insistent and he didn’t mind the sound of her voice.
“The judicious enforcement of the law is crippled by a disease known as mission creep. Law enforcement is getting funded for work that is outside their purview. Sheriff Departments are the most susceptible as besides being an independent law enforcement agency they are also a political entity by dint of popular election and subject to outside influence and financial considerations. To generate additional funding that the tax payers can’t provide, they are ready to take on additional duties generally outside their initial mission to protect and serve.
“Why should a cop respond to a mental health emergency. That’s a mental health professional’s job. Most of the times it’s the police who escalate the violence. Racism, sexism, ethnic prejudice have no place in the judicious enforcement of the law. And I don’t blame the individual cops although they could probably do with more sensitivity training.”
If she only knew what the rank and file thought about “sissy” training, as it was known, her idealism would be sorely disappointed. He smiled and shook his head.
“And typical of any top heavy government agency, administrators keep adding more busy work that would be better accomplished by NGOs or at least social service agencies, not because they think they can do a better job, but because it feathers their nest, makes them appear to be wheelers and dealers in the competition of more power and politics. Money talks and the more funding for supplementary programs in the form of grants and transfer of military surplus equipment only makes the administrator, the Sheriff, in this case, seem more able and effective. Unfortunately it also relegates the policing force to an occupying body with no relation to the community they ostensibly serve and protect and setting up an us-versus-them mindset among the civilians, as you call them, and the ranks, essentially enforcers of a police state.
“You are an agent of oppression whether you realize it or not. You are just a factotum, a straw man, a straw of the straw man. The real police state is accountants, publicity agents, and AI surveillance networks that keep ordinary folks poor, distracted, and distrustful. Most elected officials, your boss included, are congenital hypocrites, and those that aren’t don’t last long.”
“Wow, just like 1984 except that was almost forty years ago.”
“This country was a police state long before that date, keeping people of color in their place has a long long history, but the realization that we are all under the thumb of big corporations and the corrupt inept governments they own is now catching on! The architecture of oppression is the same with all the world builders throughout history erecting their edifices on mountains of skulls!”
He listened to her ramble and felt sorry for her and her delusion. He’d heard a lot of it before, from an ex-wife, from girlfriends, including Marion, who’d suffered indignities because she was a black woman, constantly being pulled over for imaginary traffic infraction. “You never know if they gonna give you a ticket or ask for a sexual favor,” she’d told him, and it gave him grief to remember her weary voice pronouncing those words.
Ionna reached across the table and touched his arm as if sensing something. “But I want you to know, Donovan, I really appreciate you going the extra mile to get justice for Ikey.”
“Unfortunately I failed, miserably,” Donovan sighed letting his hand fall open next to his coffee cup, “and those responsible will never be held accountable.”
She nodded, her intense eyes focused on his, “Welcome to my world.”
As he got up to leave, she stopped him. “One more thing. Maybe you can tell me the name of the person who is informing on EAF.”
Donovan shook his head. “They’re not identified by their real names in the reports. Most of the time though, it’s someone close to the top. Otherwise, what use would they be?”
The morning of his “performance review,” as Tim Collins called it, he’d driven out to the Sparta Creek Trailer Park and found Heron sitting on the bench outside her weather beaten trailer watching a couple of young surfers in the space next to hers wax their boards. She frowned when she saw his sedan pull up. He smiled and waved at her as he approached, pulling a plastic bag from his coat pocket.
“You can have it back now,” he said, returning the bronze medallion. She lit up with a genuine smile that acknowledged her gratitude. He pointed to the bag. “There’s a business card of an antique dealer in there, too. Give him a call if you ever want to sell it. The amulet has been appraised and old Dad Ailess was right, you could probably buy a proper mobile home overlooking the ocean, a couple of cars to go with it, and still have some mad money left over for what that hunk of metal is worth.”
On the return to Santa Lena, he got a text from Debbie inviting him to a charity auction for the hospital volunteers. Why not, he could use some charity. Logging in at his desk there was an email waiting from the new chief of detectives wanting him to close out the Ike Carey case so he could review his notes pending any disciplinary action. He knew right away he was going to love this guy.
He stared at the spreadsheet on the screen in front of him and retraced the timeline. Someone, presumably one of the guards at the IDA compound, had likely shot at Ike Carey as he launched from a point high enough that he could safely land on Sparta Creek Beach even with the homemade hang glider. Something bothered him about that scenario. It sat cockeyed in his head and he couldn’t understand why. Could it have been Dad, or the name that had been on the warrant, Philip Andrew Nichols? But why? He entered the initials into the cell, color coded red for NFI, Needs Further Investigation. Ike Carey’s initials, of whom he had a fairly complete picture, occupied the green cell adjacent. He accessed the spreadsheet macros menu and clicked on the one labeled Final to run it.
The phone on his desk warbled. He’d been expecting the call. It was Helen from HR.
“Am I speaking to Detective James Donovan?”
“I can send you the material as an attachment over email. There are FAQs that’ll likely answer all your questions. Just follow the guided questionnaire.”
“Filling out a questionnaire is only going to make me more undecided.”
“There are seminars you can attend. Let’s see, you just missed one so the next one won’t be till after the first of the year, that’s only four months away. I’ll send you the registration info, OK?”
Something had caught Donovan’s eye as he glanced at the screen, dissatisfied with the way the conversation was heading. “Uh, yeah, ok, thanks, Helen,” and hung up.
He stared at the bottom of the page and the report, the red and green cells adjacent to each other read PAN IC. The time and date stamp pulsed, 10:04 AM on 10/4, a Monday.