Smiling at their good fortune, but knowing that they probably had less than an hour before the van was discovered, Laura quickly drove the three miles back to the hotel, parking the car in an underground lot below a shopping mall two blocks from the hotel. She started to head back to the room when Jonathan stopped, "Why are we going back to the hotel?" he asked. "There's nothing there." Laura thought about it for a moment and realized he was right. They needed clothes and phones to replace the ones they had left at the bank. She realized they were in a mall and could get whatever they needed more quickly than walking back to the hotel. First they went to a men's clothes store and purchased a two changes of clothes for Jonathan along with socks, underwear and shoes. He wore his new jeans and a shirt out of the store, leaving his half of a police uniform on the dressing room floor. They then went next door and did the same for Laura, picking up a dress as well as a couple of pairs of comfortable jeans. Finally they went to a mobile phone store and picked up a collection of phones that mirrored what she had purchased that morning. The saleswoman stood in awe as Laura paid the 4,000 Euro bill with cash. As she was counting the money Laura wished she had remembered to pick up her phones back at the bank because the police could trace her call to Felix earlier that day. She had to reach him now. As soon as she finished paying the bill she dialed Felix's number.
Immediately after he had hung up with Laura that morning, Felix started to get dressed. Tabitha protested. They had been awake only a few minutes when the phone rang. It was enough that she was disconcerted when he decided to answer it in the middle of what for her was such an earthshaking moment. Now she was truly angry that he decided he had to go into work at this hour on a Saturday. "What are you doing?" she asked as he walked away from the bed, letting the sheet slip from his waist. He leaned over and grabbed his pants and pulled them up. He turned to her and said, "I'm sorry Tabitha, something important has come up and I have to go to the office." With something more than a pout on her face as she was sitting up in the bed now with her arms draped over her bent knees which were under the sheet. "Does that mean that I'm not important?" Realizing that if he did not soothe her feathers he might end up having a fight on his hands which he didn't have time for right now. "Listen, Princess" as he sometimes called her, although she never did realize that it was always when he was in some kind of hot water, "You are very important, but I've got to go." He leaned down and sat beside her on the side of the bed. "Do you remember that Mr. Cooke, the man who owns my company and was injured in an accident about a week and a half ago?" She nodded that she did, although it was obvious she was not going to be happy with where this conversation was going. "Well, I have to go in and gather some very important data for his doctors and unfortunately it cannot wait." He rubbed his hand on her leg and kissed her knee. "I promise, I'll be home as soon as I can," as he said the words he knew that he didn't' know if they were true and he didn't really care at that moment, he just knew he needed to get out of there right now. He got up and finished dressing. He walked back over to Tabitha and leaned over and kissed her. Clasping her head in his hands he whispered in her ear, "I'll be back soon, I promise". With that he was out the door and into his Saab 9-5 sedan, one of Saab's top of the line. Rolling down the windows he loved the feeling of the wind as it circulated behind him. The 9-5's rear seat compartment was uniquely shaped so that at 85 miles per hour the wind would rush in and circulate in such as way that those in the front seats would get a gentle breeze rather than a tornado. He loved his car, although it was really much too expensive for him to afford, as was the house in which he had just left Tabitha and the clothes he was wearing. Frankly he was never sure how he managed to actually pay all of his bills each month but somehow he always seemed to get through.
Arriving at his office he quickly picked up his financial statement book for the previous year. Although he had been working at Alexander Resources for over two years, he was still an analyst in the accounting department rather than a manager who actually wrote the financial requests and put his name on the reconcilliated budgets. From what he had seen he was smarter than just about everyone in the department, particularly the people for whom he worked. Nonetheless, he knew that eventually he would get his shot at doing the budget for one facility and by doing so he would finally show them what he was capable of. In preparation for that opportunity Felix had studied the consolidated budgets for the entire company for the past four years. On his computer he had copies of the company's budgets for the last decade.
Just as Laura had thought, there were no records that corresponded to the name Aislado. He searched for the names Jonathan and Monkey Games with similar results. He tried different combinations of the words to no avail. He mixed in the words La Playa Arena and still came up with zero. Frustrated, he decided to look into the budget of La Playa Arena itself to see if it might provide a clue. He figured that if the facility Laura was talking about was a support facility for La Playa Arena then there might be some kind of line items suggesting where he should look. Unfortunately the facility at La Playa Arena had been in existence for over twenty years, which meant that there were a lot of budgets to search through. He decided to start at last year and work backwards. After the third year he found something of some interest. Once he noticed the pattern it was easy to find what he was looking for. The key was the consistency of their budgets.
While the budgets of virtually every facility in the company were highly erratic, jumping or falling depending on the level of success of a new drug or program, each of the budgets for these five anomalous facilities increased at an almost constant rate of 2% a year for at least a decade, some going back almost twenty years. In the ebb and flow world of scientific experiments, that kind of consistency is not only highly unusual, it's virtually non-existent. For someone searching through a haystack of budget numbers, this anomaly was like a giant sized needle. Given the nature of their existence (ostensibly biological diversity studies) the budgets should have fluctuated greatly from one year to the next and should have had distinctly different patterns from one another. While the islands were no doubt very similar given their geographic proximity to one another, the fact is that they would have involved different species, different tests and different lengths of time. Had everything been the same the research could have been done at one facility. The data suggest that the research was almost identical, yet carried out on five different islands. Once he identified the five facilities, which were rather inconspicuously named C1 through C5 finding the rest of the data should have been rather easy. Each line item on the budget, or in this case, each facility was hyperlinked to a database that included all relevant bookkeeping and accounting data for that facility. Oddly, for the islands of interest there was no database to which he could connect. Outside their line items under La Playa Arena, there seemed to be no information available about them. Laura had said the thing she was most interested in was their location. Under the best of circumstances that was a difficult task to accomplish given simple accounting files, although with most facilities the location was simply a phone call or map away. These facilities had been purposely named in such as way as to make it impossible to find them on a simple map.
Felix decided there might be one other way to find out their locations. Alexander Resources pilots were required to log their origin and destinations and any stops in between if they were flying to or from research facilities. This requirement was established in response to an error in the early 1980s in which research samples from one facility were accidentally picked up and labeled as having come from another facility. The mistake cost the company approximately $30 million to fix, but more importantly it resulted in nine months of data being lost and the forced replication of dozens of experiments over the following two years. The company's universal transport database was very thorough and was set up in such a way that a user could search for flights to or from any destination. In addition, it could query via dates of arrival or departure, by the pilot's name or by the name of the research series.
Felix decide that he would start with the most obvious, flight numbers. After that multi-million dollar snafu, every facility in the Alexander Resources empire was given a three character designation. The first three characters of any flight number were the designation for the departing facility. The last three numbers of the flight number indicated the location of the destination facility. By sorting the flight data by number designation Felix was able to isolate all of the flights to and from La Playa Arena, which was designated by the number 241. Once isolated Felix sorted the La Playa Arena flights by destination. It became clear that there were five facilities where the travel patterns were almost identical. The date seemed to suggest flights between La Playa Arena and each of the five islands generally occurred on a bi-monthly basis. Armed with the location codes Felix was able to access the transportation logs and cross-reference the dates. This data mining allowed him to access a complete flight record for each of the five islands. The records were required by the Peruvian government in case of an emergency and were filed with the Lima air traffic control centers electronically. From records of those filings Felix was able to get both the name and coordinates for all five of the islands. He went to a map and quickly had all five islands plotted, as well as La Playa Arena. He thought to himself as he was looking at the map that this was the most convoluted research he had done in years.
He quickly dialed Laura at the number she had called him from while he was at home. Nothing, the phone simply rang and rang and no one picked up. He tried twice more thinking he might have dialed the wrong number. Nothing. Damn. He no way of knowing that the phone was sitting in a drawer in Christine's and he could have let it ring for a day and no one would have heard it. He hit the off button and slammed the phone back into his pocket. Moments later when as he was heading back to the maps his phone rang. "Felix" he heard the voice on the other end say. "Laura?" he replied. "Yes" said Laura as she was walking down the street towards Zurich's business district. "What did you find?" she asked. "Exactly what you thought I would" "Really, how many are there? she said. "There are five islands that are anomalies and located very close to La Playa Arena. One of them happens to be Aislado." "Good. What do you have on them?" she queried. "I have their names, budgets and locations" "Excellent." She said, "Thank you." She hesitated, trying to figure out how to get the information. Although she could write the coordinates for the islands down, she imagined she would have to look at the data in order to figure out the next step. It was not feasible to have Felix e-mail all of it to her and there was no way to have it sent by courier in a timely fashion. She decided she needed to go and pick it up. "Felix" Laura said, "I need you to do something for me." "Anything." Felix chimed in before she could even begin to explain. "I need you to meet me with the information in Lyon. Tonight" "No problem. I'll catch the next TGV and I should be there before eight. Realizing that things might get a bit hotter as soon as the police were discovered in the bank's parking garage, she added "I have to tell you, it might be a little dangerous to be seen with me right now" "I don't care" came Felix's response. "Seriously" she repeated, "It could be very dangerous." "Like I said, I don't care." "Thank you. I'll explain everything to you tonight" "There is a McDonalds in the station in Lyon. Meet me there at 10:30." "I'll see you then." "Thank you" said Laura Felix wondered what he was getting himself into. It didn't matter. Laura had infatuated him since the day they met. He had just started working at Alexander Resources when Laura came storming into the office of his boss Edgard. Felix had been sitting in the chair listening to what was Edgard's "Welcome" speech. Before she opened the door you could hear Edgard's secretary, Madeline, arguing. "Mr. Alsee cannot see you right now. He is with someone." "I don't care, I want to speak with him right now!" said an obviously angry woman. "Well, I'm sorry, you can't." responded Madeline just before the door burst open and Laura came walking into the office. Madeline came scurrying after her "Ma'am! You can't!" then finally, simply looking up at David she said "I'm sorry Mr. Alsee, I tried to stop her." "It's OK Madeline. Thank you." Addressing Laura, Edgard said "Hello Laura, how are you today. I'd like to introduce you to Felix, he has just joined the financial team." Laura quickly looked over at Felix, gave a fake smile and said "Hello" rather curtly. Felix smiled and nodded his head. "What the hell do you think you are doing?" Laura asked Edgard, or more accurately threw at him with the velocity of a fastball to the head. "I've got a dozen people on my staff who are still out of pocket because of that damn bank change." "I'm sorry," said Edgard. "Bullshit! That's exactly what you said last time and you told me then it would be fixed." Glaring at him, she continued: "Not only is it not fixed, but now rather than three people having paychecks that bounced, I have a dozen." "I'm sorry for the mistake. I obviously thought the problem was solved. I'll have the problem solved by tomorrow." "No, you'll have the problem solved today. I want checks from a working account written and delivered to all twelve of my employees before they leave today, with an extra 150 Euros for their inconvenience and whatever fees they might have incurred." "But" Edgard started to protest. "No buts!" Laura said as she walked closer to Edgard's desk. "Do it. Do it today, and do not let this happen again. I don't know what kind of an operation you are running here Edgard, but you had better fix this problem, and fast." Finished, she simply turned and left without saying another word. Felix looked up at Edgard who was trying to smile, and was only half-successful. He had said nothing because there was nothing he could say. In every respect he was no match for Laura and he knew it. He always felt like the next time they had a confrontation that he was going to come out on top, but inevitably their confrontations always seemed to play out as this one just had. While something of a bookish man, he was far from sheepish, but there was something about that woman which he simply could not compete with.
Edgard looked at Felix, and said rather sheepishly "I'm sorry about
that" "Ah… no problem" replied Felix, who was mesmerized by the
woman he had just met, or more accurately had not met. He didn't know who she
was, but he knew he was going to find out. Ever since that day Felix had carried
a candle for Laura, but while they had become great friends, she never gave him
a second look romantically. Although he had made a number of rather thinly
veiled attempts at romance, she never once accepted them. They ended up spending
more time with one another out of work than they did in work yet still nothing
ever developed, regardless of how hard he tried. It was not that there was
someone else, it simply seemed that love was something that she had neither the
time nor the desire for. Perpetually frustrated, Felix remained forever hopeful.
Now, whatever the situation she found herself in was, perhaps it would be the
event that caused her to see him in whatever light was necessary for her heart
to open up to him. He didn't even go home, although it was on the way to the
train station and he had enough time. Knowing she was still there, he called
Tabitha from the car. I'm sorry sweetheart; I can't go with you to have dinner
with your parents. I have to go to Lyon tonight. Right now as a matter of fact.
I'm on my way to the train station." "Maybe we can do it next
weekend." It was not that he was lying to her. He never felt like he was
using her, he knew that she was not Laura. She was nice, very nice actually, and
beautiful and fun and fantastic in bed, but the bottom line was that she was not
Laura. Objectively he knew how difficult it was for a real person in a real
relationship to measure up to the imagined romance of a longed for love, but
that was life and if he was close to finally getting the woman of his dreams he
was not letting anyone get in the way. He would do anything for Laura and today
seemed like it might be that day. As he was saying "I'm sorry" to
Tabitha, Felix's phone rang. He had a call on the other line. "Sweetheart,
I've got to go. Enjoy dinner with your parents" Quickly he clicked over the
line to catch the other call. It was another number he did not recognize, it
must be Laura. It wasn't.
The Lyon train station was a beehive of activity. As the easternmost city of significant size in France, it was the point of departure for most traffic traveling to Italy, Switzerland, and much of south central Europe. Amid the chaos of the hustle and bustle and the chaotic symphony of sounds Felix was easy to spot. As instructed he was waiting at the McDonalds. He had taken a seat on the bench outside of the eatery. He was sharing the bench with a smiling Ronald McDonald statue who was permanently attached to the bench with his arm behind the shoulder of anyone who chose to sit with him. Felix was sitting for about ten minutes before he saw Laura walking towards him. She looked so beautiful it actually hurt. "Felix!" Laura said as she approached him. He leapt to his feet with a smile that seemed to rival that of the Ronald McDonald statue. She walked over to him and they embraced. "Thank you" she said. It was the warmest embrace he could ever remember getting and it was certainly the most enjoyable since he first wrapped his arms around Sonya, the girl that opened his eyes to love when he was 15 and broke his heart when he was 16. Stepping back Laura asked, "Do you have everything." "Yes" Felix said as he pointed to the brown leather briefcase he had set on Ronald McDonald's lap. "Great" she said, "we should get going. The car is just outside" Felix grabbed the briefcase as he said "see you later Ron." The Ronald McDonald statue did not respond. The gray Audi A6 was parked on the side street just to the south of the station. Laura hit the unlock button and opened the drivers side door. Felix started to walk around to the passenger side and Laura gestured to the back, you'll have to sit in the back." Bending over Felix was somewhat startled to notice that there was someone sitting in the passenger seat. He opened the rear door on the passenger side and climbed in. The person sitting in the front seat looked vaguely familiar but Felix was sure they had never met. "Hello", Jonathan said as he reached his right hand into the back to shake hands with Felix. "Hello, I'm Felix" "Jonathan. Nice to meet you." Laura pulled the car out, coming within an inch of the Aston Martin that was parked in front of them with dents and scratches on its bumper, a telltale sign of any car driven in France for more than a week. As she was prone to doing, Laura wasted no time. "Now, tell me what you've got." "Well" said Felix. "We've got five islands, one of which is Aislado." Continuing, "The other four are all within 250 miles of both it and La Playa Arena." "How long have they been active?" Laura asked. "Of the five, two have been active for ten years, one for fourteen years and two for twenty. Aislado is one of the twenty year facilities and El volcán is the other." Jonathan and Laura looked at one another. They both knew it. They had hoped it would not be true, but they both knew it was now. There was undoubtedly another clone of about Jonathan's age who lived on El volcán. The boys on the other islands were ten and fourteen years old, which meant they had literally not grown big enough to be considered candidates for what Alexander had in mind. The clone on El volcán on the other hand was exactly Jonathan's age and therefore a perfect replacement for Jonathan. They both knew what was implicit in his question this morning "What if there are others like me?" If there were, they had to go and try and rescue them. They didn't have much time. They had no doubt that Alexander had made plans to do to this other boy that which he was not able to accomplish with Jonathan….
Looking at Felix in the rear view mirror Laura asked "Were their any names associated with these islands?" "Well, all of them were code named C1 through C5, with Aislado being C1 and El volcán being C2. I don't remember the specific order of the other three." "No, what I'm really interested in is names of people. Did the name Jonathan ever show up with that data on Aislado?" "Oh" said Felix. "Not that I noticed, but I've got a printout of the data I could find for each of them." He opened a manila envelope in which he had five sets of stapled sheets. He found the sheets for Aislado. Each paragraph or block of data was preceded by a heading and a number. The sheets were single spaced with ten point type which made them difficult to read, particularly in the dark back of the Audi. Finally on the third page at line number 48 he found the heading: SUBJECT NAME: JONATHAN on line 49 found the name TUTOR: Sebring. "Here it is. The subject's name is Jonathan," he said looking up at Jonathan. He continued, "and the tutor's name is Sebring." "Yes, that's what I was looking for" Laura said. "What does it say about El volcán? Felix quickly grabbed the sheets for El volcán and flipped to page 3 and scanned down to line 48. "Here, I've got it. Benjamin. The subject's name is Benjamin and the tutor's name is Ho."She looked at her watch, it was almost midnight. They should be at the Lyon-Saint Exupéry Airport by one.
Earlier that afternoon after they left the mall in Zurich they took a taxi back to the airport. Just as Jacob had promised, Hans was there and ready to go. He was laying on the couch in the pilots' lounge in the hanger inside of which Alex's plane was sitting. He quickly stood and said "Hello" shaking Jonathan's hand and then Laura's. He was a tall young man in his early thirties with sandy blonde hair and strong features and a confident smile. "I'm Hans, I think my Uncle Jacob mentioned me to you. He said you had a week or more of flying and he wasn't sure where we'd be going." "Correct" said Laura. "Your uncle said you would have no problems with the Gulfstream IV-SP, is that true?" Smiling, Hans said that it was. And then for emphasis went down his qualifications and the jets he had piloted. He was not trying to be cocky, but it probably sounded a bit like it. Nonetheless, he simply wanted them to be comfortable with the fact that he could handle the plane with his eyes closed. "He said that you had promised to pay 25,000 Euros." Laura looked at him, knowing that she had told Jacob that she was willing to pay 15,000 Euros. He had no doubt assumed that given her situation she would likely pay more without argument. He was right. She had neither the time nor the inclination to bargain right now. "Yes, that is correct" she said. After a few more questions the three boarded the plane and Hans flew them to Lyon. Laura had told him they would probably get back to the airport just after midnight and he should be ready to lift off as soon as they arrived.
"How did you find them?" Laura asked Felix as she once again began of focusing on the road ahead. Felix proceeded to recount the path he had taken that allowed him to find and isolate the five islands. "Amazing" she said, knowing that he had found the proverbial needle in a haystack, "Felix you are just amazing." She continued "So where exactly is El volcán located?" "It is approximately 230 miles north of La Playa Arena and 175 miles southeast of Aislado."
Soon after they pulled back onto the access road to Lyon-Saint Exupéry. She was hoping they would not run into any problems with customs inspectors. With the new designation code they didn't have any problems in Zurich and when they arrived in Lyon the inspectors were out on a symbolic 12-hour strike to protest the government's suggestion that adjustments might need to be made to their retirement plans. That should have meant that they had to wait to disembark, but as there was no one at the hanger to trouble them and they simply got off the plane, walked to the terminal and rented the Audi.
Returning it seemed the strike had gone on longer than had been anticipated and still no one was there to trouble them. They simply drove up to the general aviation terminal and left the car with the valet. Before they let the valet go, Laura asked Felix if he wanted the valet to drop him at the taxi stand. A disconcerted Felix protested that there was no way he was leaving. "But you don't even know what is going on" Laura said to him. "That doesn't matter, if you're in trouble, I'm in trouble. I'm helping." "OK" she said, happy there would be another person to help them face whatever might be ahead. She was fairly sure that was what he had planned the entire time but with something like this she did not want to be presumptuous. As they approached the plane Laura could see Hans sitting at the controls going over the preflight checklist. "Excellent" she said to herself, "we should be off the ground in 5 minutes."
Felix was amazed at the plane. It was easily nicer than most hotels he had ever stayed and frankly bigger than some as well. Laura went up front and sat in the co-pilots seat. Hans taxied them out to the runway and within seven minutes of boarding they were in the air. They would once again head south until they reached the Mediterranean and would fly due West to the Azores. From there it was a straight shot to Martinique and then to El volcán. Total flight would take a total of almost 18 hours, including the two fuel stops.
Once they reached their 35,000-ft. cruising altitude Laura turned to Hans and asked "I'm going to head into the back, are you OK up here?" "Sure, I'm fine. Go ahead. I'll call you if I need something."
As she climbed out of the seat closed the cockpit door before heading into the cabin. She knew there would be a barrage of questions from Felix about what exactly was going on, what had happened, what that information was for as well as a myriad of others. She took a deep breath.
Jonathan had not talked much at all since Felix had arrived. It had been less than a week since his world was turned upside down. He had met more people in seven days than he had met in his entire life, many times over. As such he simply was not comfortable talking with people he did not know. Felix was full of questions but his first attempts at conversation with Jonathan led to quick roadblocks so he simply sat and looked out the window. At three in the morning there was more to see than he would have imagined. With the full moon he could easily see the contours of the clouds below and the outlines of the coast as well. It was not so much that he could see the land itself, but rather its silhouette could be seen as it interrupted the shimmering reflection of the moon dancing on the sea.
My brother's keeper
Sitting down next to him Laura said to Felix, "You must have a million questions." "Well, a couple at least." He responded. "To start with, where are we going?" "El volcán" "Why" "Because we have to rescue the young man named Benjamin." "Rescue him from what?" "Well" she said looking over at Jonathan who was now looking over at her as well. "I'm not really sure where to begin." For the second time in four days she found herself without words. Not exactly sure how to approach this she decided to jump in with both feet. "Felix" she said "I want you to meet Jonathan. I'm certain you've recognized he bears a striking resemblance to Alexander Cooke. "That's it" Felix though to himself, "that's who he looks like. Alex!" "Wow!" he said, you're right he does." That is no coincidence." She proceeded to tell him much of what went on during the last week, culminating with their trip to Zurich, the $30 million and the research he had done in Paris. Felix didn't say a word. He sat listening, his attention rapt. Every so often he would look over at Jonathan, who after a while became slightly agitated and looked away. Realizing he was staring, Felix said, "I'm sorry Jonathan. I wasn't trying to be rude. This is just so staggering it's hard to believe." Jonathan raised his hand slightly and nodded, as if to say "no problem." Although he didn't really feel that way, he would certainly give a friend of Laura's the benefit of the doubt. Turning to Laura Felix asked "Why are you doing this yourself? Have you tried to call some authorities to help? Wouldn't that be the safest thing to do?" Actually, when we get to the Azores I plan on calling someone I used to work for at the US Attorney General's office. I don't know if I ever mentioned Jason. He was my boss when I was at the FBI in New York. I don't know if he can help us, but either way, we have to do it. There are no other authorities to whom we can go. The islands belong to Peru and the police there are no doubt in Alexander's pocket. Don't forget, Alexander is one of the ten richest people in the world with an almost pristine public image and friends around the globe. He buys countries and politicians like women buy shoes; he's always known that he may not need them all, but he always said 'they are good to have; just in case.' How many times have you heard about him giving a $25 million grant to a third world country for some anti-poverty program or a $50 million gift to some European charity? Do you think all of those dollars go directly to the people who they are meant to help?" She was almost staring at him now and he instinctively shook his head no. "Of course they don't" she answered her own question. "Government and influential people skim money from the top for their own Swiss accounts, their sports cars or their island retreats somewhere in the Caribbean. Don't think this is some spur of the moment exercise. On the contrary, he has been working on this and spreading his millions around for twenty years in preparation for this very event. We might be able to eventually gather enough circumstantial evidence to generate some interest from some government, but it would take months and by then Benjamin would be dead and maybe Jonathan too." As she ended her sentence she looked over at Jonathan and for the first time Felix saw something that should have been obvious from the moment he saw the two of them together outside the train station. When she talked about Jonathan being dead she looked at him in such a way that it was impossible to miss. She was in love with him. Felix could not believe it. He had been in love with Laura from almost the day he met her and for two years had made not an inch of progress with her. Here was a guy who had lived on an island for 20 years and she is in love with him after only a week. "How the hell was that be possible?" he asked himself. He felt his grip on the armrest getting very tight. He let loose of it, not wanting his white knuckles to betray his emotions. "You're right" he said, "It would probably take us months just to get anyone to listen to us, nevermind actually believe us."
Soon thereafter they stopped for fuel in the Azores. Felix wanted to stretch his legs a bit. Laura went outside to make a phone call. Felix came back after about ten minutes. Jonathan was sleeping in his seat. Felix sat down and fell sleep in seconds. He was awoken about ten minutes later by Laura's return. She had tears streaming down her face. She slumped in the seat next to Jonathan. The movement of her seat when she fell into it jarred Jonathan awake. "What's wrong?" Felix asked as he stood up and walked over to her. A startled Jonathan looked over and asked "Sweetheart, what has happened?" She waved both men away as they tried to comfort her, holding her hand up weakly and shaking her head. Jonathan looked up at Felix "What happened?" he asked. "I have no idea. She just came back." As the pair looked at her helplessly, Hans came out. Felix held up his hand slightly in anticipation of the question he knew was coming. "We don't have any idea what's wrong. She won't tell us." Suddenly Laura looked up at Felix, "It's Jason. They killed him." "What?" said Felix. She shook her head. "On Friday, he was killed in a hit and run accident in Washington." "Who's Jason?" Jonathan asked, looking at Felix. "He was an old boyfriend of hers. She worked for him before she joined Alexander Resources." Still not sure of the connection, Jonathan asked, "What does he have to do with all of this?" Laura, realizing that Jonathan had no idea what was going on lifted her head. As she wiped away the tears from her face she said "He worked for the US Government. Albert knew that Jason and I have remained close and that I would call him for help." She looked down, shaking her head, "I couldn't get hold of him from Zurich so I left him a message telling him that I needed help." Taking a breath, she continued, "I just spoke with his secretary Ashley. I couldn't get hold of him because he was on a fishing trip. He got my message and cut his trip short. He was heading to the office from home when a truck ran him off of the road on the George Washington Parkway. The driver never stopped and the police found the truck an hour later in Springfield, Virginia." None of the three men had a clue where either the George Washington Parkway or Springfield, Virginia were, but none questioned her, assuming correctly that they were both close to Washington DC. "I should have warned him to be careful. I should have known Albert was capable of something like this, but I wasn't thinking." Unsuccessfully trying to stop the tears from streaming down her cheeks, she looked up at Jonathan and then Felix; "Now he's dead, and it's my fault" Felix put his hand on her shoulder as he bent down on one knee next to her, "Listen Laura, there's nothing you could have done. This has been a crazy couple of days for you. You couldn't have known what they were capable of doing. What they were willing to do. Hell, you only found out what the hell was going on three days ago." "But I knew…" Laura started to protest, thinking that she should have known what they were capable of and if she had just called Jason sooner, maybe things would have been different. "Shh…." Felix tried to quiet her. "Discovering what they are doing on some island in the South Pacific is different than knowing what they will do in Lyon or Zurich, nevermind in Washington DC. There is no way you could have known. Besides, you said he was killed Monday night, right?" She nodded her head, still looking down. "Well, it sounds like Albert set things in motion the second you left La Playa Arena and with him out fishing you wouldn't have had any more luck contacting him even if you had tried." Dropping to his knees in front of her and lifting her chin with his finger, Felix looked at her and said. "Laura, do not do this to yourself. There was nothing you could have done. I know you feel terrible, but Alex and Albert did this, not you. If you let them stop you now, they win." Laura took hold of Felix's hand and closed her eyes as she nodded, knowing that he was right. After a moment she looked up at Hans and said, "Lets get going." She held Felix's hand as he sat in his seat across the isle. "Thank you Felix, you are such a good friend. Thank you very much." He nodded and smiled. She let go of his hand and leaned back into her seat, taking a deep breath. She looked over a Jonathan, who felt helpless in this situation which was just a continuation of the surreal life he had stepped into when he stepped onto that plane four days before. He could see the pain in her eyes, but knew he didn't have a clue as to what he could or should say that might make her feel better. He gently picked up her hand and kissed it. Laura caressed his cheek, knowing that her pain, while difficult, probably paled in comparison to the confusion and chaos that Jonathan must be going through. Once Hans had the engines running Laura decided she needed something to do in order to focus her mind. She stood up and went into the cockpit where she climbed into the co-pilot's chair. As she strapped herself in Hans turned to her and said, "I'm sorry to hear about your friend." "Thank you" she replied.
After they were airborne and had reached 25,000 feet Laura looked over at Hans and asked if he was OK. "Everything's fine. Go get some sleep. We'll be in Martinique in about six hours." She opened the door and walked back into the cabin. Felix looked up at her, hoping that this event might have finally been the spark that opened her eyes to what the possibilities could be between them. Perhaps now, seeking comfort she would sit next to him and lean on him for support. And he wanted to be there for her. He was there for her. His hopes were dashed when instead she crawled back into the chair next to Jonathan. The chairs leaned back to form almost a cradle for the two, where Laura curled up in Jonathan's arms. Jonathan held her and caressed her head like a father might a daughter whose heart was broken for the first time. Soon she had stopped crying and had fallen asleep in his arms. Not long thereafter Jonathan too was sleeping. Felix couldn't keep himself from staring at the two, as if by staring at them he might finally make her understand she should be with him. The more he stared, the more he saw how they touched one another the more he knew there was no chance for him.
On Martinique Laura, Jonathan and Felix had lunch at the terminal with Roland while Hans looked over the plane and had it prepared for the last part of the journey. Although unaware of what exactly they were doing or needed, Roland nonetheless offered his assistance. Laura, remembering the picture of Roland and his three daughters on his desk and knowing what kind of danger they would likely be facing said, "No, we'll be fine. But thank you nonetheless. You've been a great deal of help already." She thought for a moment and there was one favor she needed if he could accomplish it quickly. He could and he did. As she hugged him goodbye she dropped an envelope in the pocket of his jacket that was hanging on the stool he had been sitting on. When he found it later that evening he could do nothing but shake his head as he stared at the 200,000 Euros it contained.
Laura flew the plane off the island so that Hans could get some sleep. They
would arrive on El volcán four days after having escaped from La Playa Arena.
Although according to the Monkey Games file, Alexander's macabre operation was
to take only seven days from start to finish, there were likely issues specific
to Benjamin that needed to be addressed simply because the original operation
was supposed to be done on Jonathan. While on a DNA level Jonathan and Benjamin
were identical, there are undoubtedly differences between the actual size and
shape of their brain as well as the patterns of their nervous systems. It was as
if two cars came off of General Motors assembly line one after the other. While
the parts might have been the same, after 20 years of driving they would likely
be in different condition due to different levels of use, abuse and simple wear
and tear. The odds of Benjamin still being on El volcán were pretty slim, but
they decided they had to try. If he was not, he was no doubt already on La Playa
Arena, 230 miles away. They would arrive on El volcán at about 2 AM local time.
Fortunately there was a full moon, which would allow them to land on the
airstrip, which was certainly not lit. Once they arrived at the coordinates
Felix had found, it took Hans, who had returned to the captain's chair, about a
half-hour to actually locate the island. Upon landing Laura pulled three of the
police weapons from the bag and handed one each to Jonathan and Felix. The three
then climbed out of the plane while Hans stayed onboard, keeping the plane ready
to take off quickly if necessary. From the moment they stepped on the ground
Laura was certain the island was deserted. Nonetheless they had to check. In
walking around Jonathan marveled at how similar the compound was to his on
Aislado. The island itself was also very similar, although it did not have
mountain in the middle of it. As she had suspected, there was not a soul to be
found. Just to be certain the trio screamed Benjamin's name as they made one
last round of the compound. It was Felix who first noticed the shell casings
that were lying on the ground alongside the low wall that surrounded the patio
and small pool. Someone had unloaded what appeared to be a complete 15 round
magazine right where Felix found himself standing. He called to Laura and
Jonathan and they came running. They looked around until Jonathan discovered the
silhouette a body. It was Ho, Benjamin's teacher, mentor and friend. Jonathan
called out quietly "Laura, come over here." Laura and Felix ran over
and the three of them stared down at the little Chinese man who was so riddled
with bullets. From the looks of it, he had been shot about 8 times. Jonathan had
never seen a dead person before and could not help but stare. He used his foot
to nudge Ho's arm, but no response. Laura and Felix looked up at him and Laura
said "Hey, don't kick him." Taken aback, Jonathan said, "I'm
sorry. I didn't mean anything by it. I was just trying to see if he would
move." Laura nodded and leaned down to close Ho's eyes. Unexpectedly it
took her a moment, as rigor mortis had set in. She shook her head, stood up and
said, "We need to get going, now." All three of them knew that
Benjamin was now on La Playa Arena. They would have to leave now. Just as they
were getting on the plane Jonathan thought about Ho and then Sebring.
"We've got to get Sebring before we head for La Playa Arena." Laura
looked up at Jonathan and she could see the combination of anger and fear in his
eyes. She didn't think they had time, and she had an uncertain feeling that they
might find Sebring in the same condition. Nonetheless, she was not willing to
try. When they arrived at La Playa Arena she needed him to be focused and he
probably couldn't do that wondering what was going on with Sebring. As she
pulled up the door she told Hans, "All right Hans, we're heading east. I'll
give you the coordinates in just a moment." She picked up the files that
Felix had brought and walked into the cockpit. After putting on her seatbelt she
found the coordinates for Aislado and gave them to Hans. As they took off from
the dark landing strip she contemplated what they would encounter next.
Depending on what they found, flying to Aislado would put them into La Playa
Arena at least an hour later than they had planned. She looked at her watch and
it took her a moment to realize that in this entire week she had never once
changed the time. Throughout all of this her watch had stayed on Paris time and
she had never noticed. Now, for the first time the disconnect was crystal clear
as the still ascending full moon contradicted the 08:00 indicated by her Casio.
She looked out at the horizon in front of them and hoped that whatever they
found on Aislado they would make it to La Playa Arena before sunrise.
Laura's feeling that they they would not find anything good on Aislado the closer the got. Nonetheless she knew Jonathan needed to try and save the only family he had ever known. She wished that she had not been right, but just like on El volcán, from touchdown she knew things were not going to be good. Jonathan found Sebring lying just beyond the path that lead to the compound. He had come from the house expecting to meet the pilot who was bringing the medical equipment for Jonathan. Instead he found two men who pulled automatic weapons from their bags. He never had a chance. Jonathan crumbled and wept at his side, attempting unsuccessfully to wipe the dried blood from Sebring's mouth. He put his hands over Sebring's eyes and closed them. He looked down at the blood covered body. He couldn't believe what he was seeing. It was inconceivable. He cupped Sebring's face in his hands, shaking his head as the tears rolled down his face.
Laura knew there was nothing she could say. She only knew that they didn't have much time and they needed to get back in the air if they were going to save Benjamin. "Jonathan," she said as she walked over and put her hand on his shoulder. "Sweetheart, we have to go." He looked up at her with a combination of revulsion, fear and anger. She wasn't sure which was directed at her, but she knew they had to go. She put her hand on his cheek, wiping away the tears that would not be stopped, "Sweetheart, there is nothing we can do for him now. We have to go so that we can stop the people who did this from doing it again." Without saying a word Jonathan nodded and picked up Sebring's body and walked towards the compound. He walked into Sebring's room, and laid his body on his bed. Jonathan straightened the body out, put his hands by his side and covered him with a blanket. Standing ramrod straight, Jonathan just stared down at Sebring not saying a word. Jonathan did not want to leave him, but slowly Laura made him understand that they needed to go so that they could make sure the same thing did not happen to Benjamin. The walk back to the plane was a silent one.
As tears ran down his cheeks Jonathan stared out at the clouds as they were illuminated by the moon. His thoughts returned to his conversation with Sebring at the age of 14, the one he had been remembering on his first flight to La Playa Arena less than a week before. Sebring and Albert had met while on a tour of the Church of St. John the Baptist in Beirut, which was built by the Crusaders in the 12th century. Both were traveling alone and struck up a conversation after sounds of one of the all too frequent explosions in the distance caused a plume of smoke to billow from the city below. This was indeed a world of chaos they both agreed as they proceeded to talk for much of the afternoon. Albert worked for a pharmaceutical company and was on vacation in Beirut. Yes, it was a strange place to vacation Albert agreed, but he had had enough of cookie cutter ski resorts and sunbaked beaches. Having always been a student of history he came to Beirut looking for something different. Albert was fascinated by Sebring's journey and his strong interest in the Martial Arts. Most compelling however was his interest in teaching. Sebring explained that he was returning home to the Shaolin Temple where he had spent most of the last thirty years. He had traveled across the continent in search of something and had discovered that that which he was looking for had been with him the entire time. He realized that one day while in Oman and having struck up a conversation with a little boy in the street. A few minutes after meeting the little boy it became clear what he wanted to do. The boy was holding a bottle of Coke in his hand with an exasperated look on his face. He could not get the top off. He put the bottle between his legs and tried to twist, to no avail. He started to put it up to his mouth in order to try and pry the top but stopped the moment the metal touched his tooth. He softly tapped the top of the bottle against a light post in hopes of loosening it but again found no success. Noticing the little boy's difficulties Sebring thought he might help and found himself fascinated as he felt he could almost see the wheels in the young man's head turning as he considered how to extricate the brown nectar from the bottle. "Would you like some help" Sebring asked in perfect, if heavily accented Arabic. (One of three "foreign" languages he studied growing up, the other two being English, and French. Growing up in Macau, Chinese and Portuguese were his native tongues) Startled, the boy looked up at Sebring for a second and said "Yes sir" as he cautiously held the bottle towards the stranger. Sebring quickly popped the top off of the bottle with his hand, despite the fact that it was not a twist off. He was careful not to take the bottle from the boy's hands. As the boy quickly drank the soda he was surprised the drink was not nearly as cold as he imagined it would be. After emptying the bottle quickly, the boy looked up at the stranger rather sheepishly, knowing he should have offered him a sip. "What is your name?" the boy asked. "Sebring" he replied. "Well, thank you Mr. Sebring." The child then began a verbal assault upon Sebring that he was not sure he could keep up with. "You're not from around here are you? Where are you from? Where's your car then? How long are you here for? Do you want to have dinner with our family? What is China like? Do you own a Panda bear? Does everyone look like you there?" The assault was deafening, almost overwhelming but before he had realized it he had been talking with that little boy and answering his barrage of questions for over an hour. Suddenly Sebring realized that he enjoyed that hour with that little boy more than he had enjoyed anything in longer than he could remember. Like a door opening to a road beyond, it became clear to Sebring in that instant that teaching was what he wanted to do. How or where he was not sure, but he knew that he found more joy in that one hour than he had found in decades and he knew he had found the calling he had been looking for. He decided he would return to the Temple and would consider teaching there, but he was not sure that was what he wanted because he knew from experience that the world of Shaolin instruction could be very narrow. Nonetheless, that was where he would start and he began his return journey that very day. He decided that he would return along a slightly different route in order to see other sights along the way. It was on that return trip that he decided to visit Beirut.
As the church was closing for the night Albert invited Sebring to breakfast the next morning so that they might continue their discussion. After a day of talking and taking in the sights of Beirut the two had dinner at one of the dwindling number of French restaurants that remained open in the city. As they dined Albert told Sebring about a baby named Jonathan. The baby was a relative of Albert's employer, but he had a unique problem. He had just been diagnosed with a condition that would not allow him to be around people. As a result he had to be brought up in an environment without almost any human contact. He was, Albert explained, like one of those boys in a plastic bubble. Sebring wasn't exactly sure what a boy in a plastic bubble was, but he nodded his head, assuming he would get a better picture as the conversation went on. "Alex, the man I work for and who is related to Jonathan, has decided that he doesn't like the idea of the boy living in one of those bubbles. He has instead decided that the boy should be raised on an island he owns named Aislado. The island is actually quite nice. It's off the coast of Peru and was built as a vacation estate for Ameil Houte, an early 20th century oil baron." Never having heard the name Ameil Houte before and unsure of exactly where this conversation was going, Sebring simply nodded. "The doctors say that the condition may get better in time but it will take many years. It will be imperative to his survival that Jonathan train and stay in almost perfect health and away from just about everyone." Sebring thought he might be getting an idea of where this was going but was getting a little annoyed at Albert's taking so long to get to his point. "Why did you say earlier this might be something of interest to me?" he asked, referring to a statement Albert had made at the beginning of their conversation. "Because his mother and father are dead and someone has to train him and educate him" Albert said somewhat defensively. "Given what you've told me about your plans to become a teacher, I thought this might be exactly what you have been looking for." Albert was right. As soon as Sebring understood what he was being asked to do, his mind started whirring. There were a million questions that would have to be asked and answered and details of all sorts that would have to be looked at, but the first brick was laid in the road which would lead to Jonathan bounding off of the plane on Aislado almost a year later and into Sebring's world. It was the beginning of what Sebring was certain were to be the most rewarding period of his life.
Twenty years later when the last breath was flowing out of his body, Sebring's heart hurt, knowing that again there was nothing he could do to save someone he loved. But this time he knew things would turn out differently as he had trained Jonathan well and Laura was a match for anyone. As the darkness overcame him he recalled the moment when that little boy came bouncing off that plane with a smile that stretched from ear to ear. He was suddenly overwhelmed by the twenty years of joy that little boy had brought him and he knew that he had indeed fulfilled his destiny.