Premiered August 22, 2003
After a long and blissful sleep -- she had been dead to the world for some 12 hours -- Dawn returned to the main room to find Alex preparing breakfast in the kitchen. The table was set for two, with only the best silverware and china; placemats, napkins in silver napkin rings, and the smells of gourmet omelets.
Alex smiled his best smile as she came into the room. Dawn could not help but smile in return. The implications were obvious. No man would ever go to this much trouble, be this nice to a woman unless he was looking for a very big favor. The more trouble he went to, the bigger the favor. It was this kind of action which illustrated the basic difference between men and women. When men did something nice, it was inevitably based on their focusing on solving some sort of problem. Women on the other hand did it purely for the sake of relating. Clearly, the female motive was the "pure" motive, and the man's motive... Well... Let's just say Dawn, in the best traditions of her gender, wisely declined to prematurely interrupt Alex's plans or discourage him from setting Dawn up to be forever in his debt. Instead, she decided to enjoy the attention as long as possible. Afterwards, she could always say, "No." He would be disappointed, but it would be good training for him.
Dawn definitely took advantage of the moment. The omelet, fruit and pastries were delicious. The company and smiles were perfect. The ambiance was everything for which she could have hoped. But then as the moment arrived, Alex began clearing off the dishes by himself, insisting she remain seated. Dawn mentally braced herself. As it turned out, she needn't have.
Before Alex could mention the first item on his personal, previously undiscussed agenda, Old Woman showed up quite unexpectedly. Alex was very surprised. "What are you doing here?"
"I decided you would need me to convince Dawn to do what you wanted her to do," Barb answered matter-of-factly. Dawn smiled, while Alex was clearly dismayed. He might have attempted a defense, but it was abundantly clear the women had already united in a common front. The disadvantage belonged to Alex. Dawn even took Barb's hand to demonstrate solidarity as the older woman sat down.
Acknowledging a measure of defeat, Alex sat down and began explaining the situation. He was still going to try and pull this off. "The letter you brought me from Gil, provided instructions on transferring a very significant amount of money from a bank in Los Angeles for purposes of funding a very important and very secret project. Gil has spent the last six or seven months in acquiring the funds from several wealthy individuals who have a lot of faith in him. Gil accomplished this in secret and right under the Patrons’ noses. If they discovered the plan, they’d be more than a little upset.
"Unfortunately," Alex continued, his tone carrying the subtle message he was now traversing considerably thinner ice. "The money transfer required his signature. Gil had intended to have my name as a backup, but because of the need for extreme security measures, we weren't able to pull it off before now. He did, however, manage to arrange for your signature to be honored."
Dawn was more than a little surprised. "What!?"
In the short silence, Barb felt the need to intervene, to make things clear. "He needs your signature in order to get the money. Otherwise, he's dead in the water. He needs you bad, honey!"
Alex was clearly offended at Barb's insinuation. "Give me a break, Old Woman! I'm not trying to pull some kind of scam here. This is important! A lot is riding on it!"
"Clearly, it's important to you," the old woman said, matter-of-factly.
Alex became more intense. "It's important to the world!"
Barb turned to Dawn, sharing a confidence. "Men really get into this sort of thing. If they're not out saving the world, it's something else. But always, it's terribly important."
"I know," Dawn said, readily agreeing with her new-found mentor. "Men are like that."
Alex mentally threw up his hands. "You make me sound like some kind of ogre!"
Barb replied, as if it were obvious, "You're a man." That seemed to say it all.
Both of the women laughed, while Alex backed off and regrouped. Then he took another tact. "Gil has devoted himself to this project. I would think you would..." Barb's look of abject disapproval immediately deterred him from continuing this line of argument generally catalogued at the Library of Congress under 'sleazy'.
Dawn, however, ignored the attempt. In a professional tone, she asked, "What project?"
Alex dodged the question. "The less you know, the safer you are."
Barb guffawed, while Dawn was direct. "I'm about to be a party to the embezzlement of a great deal of money from the Patrons, who would kill me in a minute just to tie up loose strings, and you tell me I'll be safer if I remain dumb? I repeat, what project? Why should I do this?"
Alex took a deep breath, again trying to defuse things a bit. "We're not embezzling any money. That would violate a basic set of ethics which we are not about to do. The people who provided the money knew exactly what they were doing, what they were funding, and why. They also expected complete confidentiality -- they have their own concerns about others discovering the nature of projects which they’re supporting. Also, anytime a significant amount of money starts to get moved around, the Patrons seem to think they should get a cut. Usually about fifty percent."
"How much money are we talking about?" Dawn's question was direct and to the point.
"About fifty million."
"That's a nice chunk of change," Barb commented, tilting her head to consider it.
Dawn was more skeptical. "You want me to sign over fifty million dollars to you for some unknown project. In the process, I will likely incur the wrath of the Patrons, and if I'm not in enough trouble already, I can expect them to want to cut my throat more than ever. And if I assume the project involves these mono-atomic elements which cure everything, I can then look forward to the AMA and the medical establishment trying to surgically remove my head as well."
Alex replied, sheepishly, "That's about the size of it."
For a brief moment, Dawn recalled a portion of last night's dream. The Moon had been full, the soft moonlight transformed a deep forest into a gentle, inviting place to rest. And yet, Dawn had sensed in the moonlight that much was unrevealed, hidden factors not apparent, and a strong need on her part to exercise caution. Even now, Alex was keeping critical factors to himself. But, perhaps, not for long. Her eyes twinkling, she said, "Tell me about the project." Barb put her elbow on the table and rested her chin in her upraised hand. They both looked at Alex, equally expectantly.
Alex hesitated. He had not wanted to get into this with someone he didn't know. From her relationship with Gil, she might be trustworthy. But what would happen if things became rough and she came under pressure? Like someone suddenly showing up at his doorstep?
Someone like Kurt and two of the world's finest point-blank negotiators -- who were at that very moment driving through Fort Collins, armed with the address supplied by a professor from Golden. The two men sat in the front seat, while Kurt sat in the back alone. A small lap-top computer provided him with a listing of the characteristics of the scientist he was on his way to see. Alex would be an interesting man Kurt had begun to realize. But such interest would probably be fleeting, Kurt suspected.
Alex, blissfully unaware of the man some ten to twelve miles away analyzing his past, smiled at the two women sitting at his breakfast table with him. Deciding he had made the attempt "for-the-record" to keep things simple, he now felt sure things were not going to be simple. Leaning forward in his chair, his arms on the table, he looked directly at Dawn and began, "It's called the ORME Project. ORME stands for Orbitally Rearranged Mono-atomic Elements. We're dealing, not with microclusters -- or with the potentially simpler ORMUS products -- but with their logical extension, mono-atomic elements -- just as you surmised. By converting certain metals into their mono-atomic form, we have achieved in living tissue evidence of superconductivity. The superconductivity effectively converts electrons into photons, i.e. matter into light, and in the process cures cancers, AIDS and other immune deficiency diseases, even corrects DNA at the cellular level. We've also cured several more exotic diseases, and fully expect to be able to cure most anything. Thus far, however, our research has been on a small scale. The elements are being produced in their mono-atomic form on a laboratory scale -- just barely enough for our immediate needs.
"The problem we are facing is two-fold: One, we need to produce the full-fledged ORME, the mono-atomic form of these elements in sufficient quantities to be able to conduct extensive experiments and collect enough data for a track record on the beneficial effects. Two, we must be able to give this stuff away. The latter will allow us to avoid the wrath of the AMA for as long as possible. If we were out selling the stuff, we'd be shot down immediately. But if we're giving it away, not charging anything for the product or service, then it's a great deal more difficult to shut us down. The pipeline, for one thing, does not have to be controlled.
"The fifty million dollars will provide the financing for a production effort capable of turning out 500 to 1000 million milligrams a day. Typical dosages are in the realm of ten to fifty milligrams a day, so that once in production, we can cure a lot of people! But we have to have the money first!"
"And you're going to have to give it away?" Dawn was skeptical.
"Yes," Alex answered. "It's the only ethical way to go about it. How can one have the capability of healing people and then deny them the cure because of a lack of money? In addition, it's the only way the guy that developed this process will allow. It's a philosophical requirement."
"And you need fifty millions dollars to do this?"
"Maybe not the total, but close enough," Alex assured her. "You should realize a portion of the money will go into the cost of taking the project underground, keeping the thing secret and out of the public eye. If the AMA, the Patrons, the drug companies, or any number of other organizations get wind of this; we will run into more trouble than you can shake a stick at. The only thing the public or the Patrons will see is the stuff showing up everywhere."
Dawn smiled. "I forgot about the drug companies. You could put them out of business -- something I'm sure they wouldn't be too happy about."
Barb had her own question. "How can you get the stuff to people if it's all so secret?"
"King David has already pretty much taken care of that," Alex replied.
Dawn asked, amazement in the tone of her voice, "King David?"
"Oh," Alex answered. "The guy's not really a king. But his name really is David Hudson. It's just that most everyone on the project calls him King David. He believes he was descended from the biblical King David, and there are a lot of other connections between him and the name. But we don't call him King David to his face. I don't even think he knows about our little nickname."
Dawn shook her head at the answer. She started to speak and then changed her mind.
Barb was not as hesitant. "And how does 'the King' plan on marketing ye olde ORME?"
"He's set up a network of people and organizations who are into alternative medicines. Some of the people are pretty far out, but there's a strong core of some pretty solid people."
For several minutes, everyone was quiet. Then Barb brought up a touchy subject. "What about that professor at Cornell, who went public with news about the mono-atomic elements?"
Alex frowned. "He apparently died in a private plane crash enroute to some conference. But as far as we know, there was no foul play." When neither woman bought the simple explanation, Alex added, "Admittedly, it's possible the man was simply murdered. But we don't know that."
Barb turned to Dawn. "The reality is you're going to be getting into this a lot deeper. If someone is already out to eliminate you, it might not make that much difference. You'll just have more than one person or organization coming after you." Dawn seemed to accept the logic, and Barb continued. "I'm reminded of that movie with George Hamilton, where he played a gangster named Bugsy. I seem to recall his girlfriend getting away with a lot of the mob's money, but it was Bugsy who got killed."
Alex shook his head and asked, "What's your point?"
Barb spoke directly to Alex. "The lady might need to have someone along for the ride, someone to risk his life with hers, to run with her if necessary, and help her buy the time necessary for the ORME Project to get up and running. A man with a vested interest, who believes in the project, and who would be willing to take the same kind of chances he might ask of someone else."
Alex looked back at Barb. Turning to Dawn, he saw she was also very interested in his response. He continued to watch her for several moments, considering the idea of being on the lam with a woman he hardly knew. The real key, he decided, was whether or not she would be someone he could trust in a pinch, someone on whom he could rely. In the back of his mind, he realized the need for someone to take over Gil's mission in addition to everything else. The mission he hadn't even mentioned in the discussion with Dawn -- and in fact, the subject he was not eager to address. At least not yet. In any case, the "someone to take over Gil's mission" could easily be Dawn and Alex! It made a certain amount of sense.
As Alex considered Barb's pointed suggestion, and slowly came to grips with the implications, Kurt was looking around at the scenery on Redstone Canyon road. But instead of seeing the beauty, he was simply wondering why Alexander Dukas had chosen to live this far from civilization -- in particular, this far from any number of law enforcement agencies which might respond to an emergency call.
Not yet thinking about emergencies, but with deadly seriousness, Alex was considering the challenge he had been offered. After several long moments, he answered, "Okay. I'll go with you."
Dawn had been watching him, probing his intentions, using her intuition to sense the reason or reasons behind his decision. She could feel his sense of commitment, but there was still the feeling he was holding something back. Perhaps, it was quite a lot. Speaking slowly, she said, "I really don't have a major abandonment issue, but how do I know you won't bug out on me at the first sign of trouble?"
"Because," Barb quickly interjected, "he knows if he did, I'd come after him myself." Then, with ever greater intensity, she added, "And I know where he lives!"
Alex turned to look at the old woman and the clear, serious intent on her face. He smiled, deciding Barb may have convinced Dawn of his intentions more than he would have ever been able to. Then he turned back to Dawn. "If there was a way you could simply sign some papers, duck out of sight, and then let me take the heat, I would. But I really don't think the bank is going to transfer fifty million dollars if one of the principals is not there. Plus which I don't think you'd end up being any safer. Once the money is transferred, and the Patrons get wind of it, they are not going to be making any fine distinctions about degrees of guilt or exactly who is responsible and why."
All the signals Dawn was intuiting from Alex and Barb were encouraging her to say yes. Dawn needed allies, and even if the risk was increased, her chances were still improved if she had friends. Something Gil had once said to her, suddenly seemed to ring in her mind: "The only viable Social Security left on the planet is who your friends are." Dawn knew she had to unite with these other people, just in order to survive. It would also allow her to honor Gil's last request of her. That was important.
"Okay," she said, her voice strong and clear. "We go meet your friends, you show me everything there is to know about the ORME Project, and then, if I'm satisfied, we go to the bank in Los Angeles. After that, we drop out of sight together -- perhaps take an extended holiday in a galaxy far, far away."
Alex was a little surprised. Not at her agreeing, but at the conditions she imposed. But before he could voice any objection, Barb concluded the negotiations.
"Excellent plan!" she announced. "Then it's agreed! First to Phoenix, an audience with King David, a tour-de-force of the ORME, and then when you're satisfied, on to LA!"
"Wait a minute," Alex objected. "What are you doing?"
Barb made it simple for him. "We just agreed."
Alex looked at her, turned to Dawn to see her smiling her own agreement, and then countered, "Well, I didn't agree."
"No matter," Dawn replied. "I can go to check out the project by myself, and then if I'm satisfied, meet you in Los Angeles." Turning to Barb, she asked, "You said Phoenix?"
Barb smiled. "Right." Then, with a mischievous wink, she added, "Here's your schedule. I've already made all the arrangements. You fly out of Colorado Springs at two o'clock."
"What?" Alex was dumfounded.
"That's really the reason I came by early and speeded up the discussion," Barb answered. "I knew you had a plane to catch." Then her smile broadened as she said, "And I also knew, that left to your own devices, you'd take forever getting to the point. I had a dream last night that time was of the essence. That it was not time to dilly-dally. As for Colorado Springs, the airline tickets from there were a lot cheaper. Plus which I have an old boy friend there I've been wanting to drop in on."
"Okay by me," Dawn replied. Standing up, she added, "Time for me to go pack." With that, she left the room. Alex was still in a state of shock, while Barb was fully enjoying herself seeing Alex in his stunned condition. It was a rare and amusing moment.
But then, as Dawn closed the door behind her, Barb's smile faded. "You realize, of course, there's the distinct possibility that neither one of you will survive."
Alex looked at the old woman's intense stare. "Very much so," he replied.
Suddenly, the sound of a loud crash was heard from the other room. It was followed by Dawn's cheery voice, claiming, "Don't worry! I'm okay!"
Alex looked at Barb, horror on his face. "I'm going to be trusting my life to her!?"
"Yes," Barb replied. "And don't come home without her!"
"But she's a maladroit! She could drop a bomb on my foot!"
"And you're an arrogant male who has not been entirely honest with her." As Alex retreated from Barb's assault, she continued. "What about the Humanki? Or the Consortium for that matter? You aren't going to be a popular fellow with the Consortium, and quite possibly not with the Humanki -- whoever they are. But I guarantee that if the Consortium gets wind of this, and they very well might with all their connections to The Patrons, they are going to be just as unhappy as the AMA, the pharmaceutical industry, and everyone else! As a matter of fact, if my theory about that Cornell Professor is correct, the Consortium could be even deadlier!"
Alex watched the old woman with whom he had developed a very deep relationship. He had always considered her to be the very wise woman, someone he could totally trust. In addition, he had always admired the manner in which she could penetrate to his depths and never miss a beat. Her track record for accuracy would have been the envy of any prophet. "You're right," he admitted. "I'll tell her about the PM Consortium when we get to Phoenix. She'll have to know."
As he stood up, the old woman stood as well. They hugged each other for a long time. Then as fate would have it, they were interrupted by the signal from the remote control on the gate. Barb immediately stiffened. Alex, feeling her response, stepped back and went to the small panel that controlled the gates. Sliding a small panel to one side, he looked at the TV signal from the concealed camera at the gate. A large beefy man was approaching the gate, with the apparent intent of manhandling it. The car behind him had at least one other person, the driver.
Alex turned to Barb, whose face was deadly serious. "I'll get Dawn," Barb said. "You grab your emergency bag, and head out the back way and take the Rist Canyon road."
"What about you?" Alex's concern was very evident.
"I can take care of myself," she replied. "As far as I know, you're off to Louisiana for three days. By the time they figure out I'm lying, I will be long gone myself." Abruptly her tone changed from reassurance to commanding. "Now go! I'll leave a message for you in Phoenix if it turns out to be a false alarm, and we can all have a laugh. If not, just do what you need to do."
Alex was about to argue with the Barb's plan, when on the video monitor at the gate he saw the man pull out a large pistol and take aim at the gate's lock. Alex had an instantaneous response, even before the man pulled the trigger. "Plan B! We're out of here now!" Barb bolted for the front door, while Alex yelled into the intercom, "Dawn! Emergency! We have to leave now! I'll meet you outside the garage!"
Her response over the intercom was immediate. "On my way!"
"Seconds count!" Alex emphasized. "Run!"
"I am!" Dawn yelled back.
Alex turned and ran for the kitchen door. Grabbing his "emergency bag" (personal effects, one change of clothes, and a bundle of cash), he dashed for the garage. The garage door was already opening, as he started the truck and began to pull out of the garage. Barb's car was already gone, only a cloud of dust evidence of her departure down the back road. Alex stopped the truck in the driveway, and turned to look for Dawn coming out of the front door. In the few brief seconds of waiting, his mind considered the reasons why Dawn might not be there -- from having stopped to go to the bathroom to having gotten lost in the house. When she did bolt out of the front door, running toward him, she was carrying her purse and overnight bag. Alex frowned, thinking that a woman who would stop for luggage was someone who was not fully appreciating the gravity of the situation.
As Dawn leaped into the cab of the truck, Alex stomped on the accelerator and began driving rapidly down the road, following Barb. The driver and gunman in Kurt's car, now coming up the hill saw the flash of the truck as it turned tail and ran, shielded in part by the dust stirred up by the rear wheels. Without orders, the driver accelerated as well, while both his passengers braced themselves for the chase.
At the bottom of the hill and the rear entrance to Alex's property, Barb had already opened the rear gate, gotten back into her Firebird and taken off again. Alex pursued her with a vengeance, the truck now keeping within about thirty yards of the Firebird. Both vehicles were racing along the mountain road as fast as the curves and narrowness of the road would allow. But with no exits or turn outs along the road, they were unlikely to shake Kurt's limousine from their tracks. Unless, of course, "Plan B" worked!
Barb led the two other vehicles around several curves on an increasingly steeply sloping side of the mountain. Then, rounding a corner, where on one side of the road the mountain reared its ugly head, and on the other, the ground fell away to the rocks and trees far below, Barb slowed down. Then pushing the remote control which released the lock on her hatchback, she hit her brakes. The result was the Firebird's hatchback springing up to its fully raised position, and simultaneously, a great deal of dust being raised.
Coming around the same corner, Alex slowed as well, and yelled, "Hang on!"
Dawn grabbed on as best she could just as Alex swerved the truck to one side, causing it to skid sideways along the road. The front of the truck promptly hit the trunk of a pine tree on the mountain side of the road, while the rear of the truck slammed into the pine tree's twin on the cliff side. Alex barked out, "Follow me!", flung open his door -- which was now facing toward Barb's Firebird -- pulled out his emergency bag along with him, and began running down the road. Dawn slid across the truck's front seat, and carrying all of her luggage as well, raced after Alex. At the Firebird, Alex threw his emergency bag into the back seat, turned and grabbed Dawn's overnight bag as she reached the rear of the car, and tossed it into the back seat as well. Then Dawn and he leaped into the back seat and trunk area, throwing themselves head first. Barb floor-boarded it again, causing the hatchback to slam shut (but not lock), and a massive amount of dust and dirt to go flying. With the hatchback flapping in the breeze somewhat, Alex and Dawn hung on to anything available as the Firebird took yet another corner at high speed.
Right behind them, Kurt's limousine came barreling around the corner, and belatedly saw the truck blocking the road. With the mountain to one side and an airy oblivion on the other, the driver had no alternative but to simply hit his brakes and slam into the truck. The sound of a solid collision reverberated in the dry mountain air, allowing even the three fugitives to hear. Meanwhile, in the limousine, everyone was thrown forward.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint, no one was seriously hurt. The driver had just about defecated in his pants, but in the immediate aftermath could only manage to take a deep breath at what might have been a very serious accident. His head enveloped by the now deflating air bag, he decided to concentrate on letting his heart return to its normal functioning. The gunman was less psychologically affected by the crash (it generally took considerable physical trauma to even get his attention), and immediately tried to get out of the car, wrestling slightly with his own now slowly deflating air bag. The passenger side door was jammed and partly buckled, but with a strong and practiced arm, the gunman managed to manhandle the door and get it open. However, by the time he was standing outside the car, there was nothing to see but dust. To that point, none of the occupants of the limousine had even been aware of the second vehicle. Consequently, all were a little surprised.
Kurt's surprise, however, was quickly turning to rage -- a controlled rage, but nonetheless a rage. Coldly, he picked up his mobile telephone in order to try to salvage the situation, and possibly cut Alex and the others off at the pass. But his computerized briefing notebook was giving him no information of Alex having access to any other car than the truck now in front of him. When it became apparent that Kurt had no real leads or options on how to pursue his prey, and that his own vehicle was immobilized (steam from the limo's defunct engine was making it clear that the vehicle wasn't going anywhere anytime soon), Kurt could only resort to plotting his revenge.
In the Firebird, there was a different kind of party -- primarily in the form of jubilation. Alex was practically bubbling over. "Unbelievable. The plan actually worked!"
Barb, glancing in her rearview mirror, asked, "Was there any doubt in your mind?"
"Absolutely amazing," Alex replied, still wide-eyed at their success.
Dawn was joining the other two in their victory celebration, when another thought occurred to her. Gently she voiced what might have been a slight downer. "In case they have a mobile phone, how long do you think it will take them to put out an all-points bulletin on this vehicle?
Alex was blasé about the idea. "It's Barb's Firebird. How would they know about it?"
"If you've ever paid her a salary, and included her wages on Social Security, Workmen's Compensation, or other form, then they might be able to guess her presence and trace us from that."
Alex and Barb both smiled. Then Alex explained. "It's always been cash between Barb and me. We're not into the paradigm of documenting all of our financial arrangements for the IRS."
"Of course," Barb added, "That pretty well eliminates Alex as our next Attorney General."
"That's okay," Alex replied, smiling. "I've never been one for national politics."
Suddenly Dawn grinned. "You guys are really something. I'm impressed."
Barb laughed. "I think you should be. Although I must admit it was Alex's idea."
Alex was all gallantry. "But you must admit, Barb: you pulled it off with exceptional skill."
"Yes," Barb reluctantly admitted, "I handled it really quite well."
All three laughed as Barb came to the cattle guard which served as the dividing line between the landowners' road and the public dirt road leading to Rist Canyon. At that point, all three were feeling pretty good, and totally unaware of the coming storm to be visited on Alex's home.
While Barb and the others were sailing down the mountain curves of Rist Canyon, Kurt, his driver and bodyguard/enforcer were trekking back to Alex's house. The mobile telephone had failed to function in the narrow canyon where the limousine had rammed the truck, and there had been no other alternative than to walk back to the nearest telephone. It was a moderately short walk, but sufficient for Kurt's sense of revenge to dominate his thoughts.
At the house, the gunman quickly arranged for a car to pick them up, while Kurt started the driver on the task of gathering every piece of information available from Alex's computer, files, and papers. Kurt then began the process of arranging for others to arrive and go through the house with a fine toothed comb.
By the time the second limousine had arrived to pick Kurt and the gunman up, Kurt had received word that the computer operators back at Lake Mach had failed to come up with a single lead on whose car the second getaway vehicle had been. It was the final straw in Kurt's being thwarted at every turn.
Just before leaving, he gave specific orders that, once the house had been thoroughly ransacked for any and every piece of information, his men were to then burn the house down. Revenge was very important to Kurt.
Chapter Eight -- Justice Card
Chapter Ten -- The Chariot
2003© Copyright Dan Sewell Ward, All Rights Reserved [Feedback]