Loved ones lost
Telling himself that Alex and Albert would pay for this, Jonathan continued to stare out the window as be concentrated on calming his breathing. He closed his eyes so that the anger would not overtake him. Sebring had always taught him that anger can be useful to a point but too much anger can cause one to lose focus. It must therefore be held with a tight rein. As she sat next to him, Laura could not imagine what was going on in Jonathan's head. Sebring was the only family he had ever known. He was a mother, a father, a friend and everything in between. Her mind instinctively went back to when she lost her father. Her mother had died not long before he did, but her father was the light in her life. He was in every respect her Shining Knight, her champion of all that was great. To her he was always bigger than life, fearless in his every day existence. After she first found out about what he did for a living and that policemen sometimes were killed, he would tell her "I'm ready to go whenever the Lord needs me in heaven. Until then, I'm here for you." She thought about the day when she first saw a chink in his armor. She was seventeen and a senior in high school when she came home one day and his Lincoln was parked out in front of their brownstone in Brooklyn. It was strange because he was never home before her. Unlike many cops, shift work was not a part of his life after his first couple of years on the street. His schedule was almost set in stone by virtue of the job he held. Bank robberies almost never occurred between 6 PM and midnight so he was almost always home during those hours, but it was not unusual for him to go off during the middle of the night. When she walked in the house on that day her parents had obviously been crying, but had tried to put on a good face. Her dad walked over to her and said "Sweetheart, I've got great news. We're going on a trip. I've always promised you that one-day we were all going to drive across the country and see everything we'd always read about. Well, now's the time." "What?" she said, not sure what the heck he was talking about. "When?" "We leave the day after tomorrow," he said. "The day after tomorrow? What do you mean? What about school?" "Don't worry about school, I'm going to talk to your teachers tomorrow. We'll take your books with us. You'll be back in a month and a half." Dumbfounded, it was not until the next day that her parents sat her down and told her that her mother had been diagnosed with cancer that had spread throughout her lungs and stomach. Surgery was out of the question and they could not start the chemotherapy for another 45 days for reasons having to do with medicines she had been taking, a situation the 17-year-old Laura never really understood. There was little chance the chemo would be successful, but they were going to try. Her parents had decided that there was no time like the present and that they were not going to put this trip they had talked about for 15 years off another day. They talked to Laura's teachers that day and they were leaving the next day. The trip was at the same time the most wonderful and the most difficult time of her life. Her parents had never been so happy. They had caught a case of "Vacation Love", which is a love that one shares with another when, for whatever reason, the situation can only last a certain length of time. Given that finite duration, you can give everything you have. It is like running a 50-meter race relative to simply running as far as you can. If you know exactly when the race is over you can give 100% for that specific period of time. If you are running as far as you can go, your exertion level will be controlled, limited. In the same way, with "Vacation Love" by knowing the vacation is of limited duration, it is easier to give 100% because you want to get everything out of it as is possible. Laura's parents certainly were experiencing that and Laura was enveloped in it. Her most vivid memory of the trip was of the three of them standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon watching the sun set through the hues of red, orange and purple. It was as if that beautiful sunset, glowing like a supernova bursting with one last brilliant firestorm before it died was symbolic this trip. None of them mentioned it, but they all recognized the same symbol. The trip and that day in particular had the potential to become very somber. Her father would hear nothing of it. He quickly packed them up and drove to Las Vegas. She remembered it was almost impossible to keep a smile off of her father's face that entire trip. And his smile and laugh were contagious. It was the most wonderful month of her entire life.
They returned to Brooklyn a week early and her mother began therapy forty days after the cancer had been found. She lived only another two months and by the end she was a frail shadow of the vibrant 44-year-old woman she had been only six months before. While her father tried to put on a strong face for Laura, there was no hiding his loneliness. He was a man who had lost his best friend, his soulmate and his reason for living. Laura never doubted that her father loved her, but without her mother the spark that had been his eye for as long as she could remember was gone. He became dark and quiet. Six months to the day after they buried her mother her father had a massive stroke. He survived two more days in the hospital and died on a brilliant May evening just as the sun set. The doctor's talked about cholesterol and hypertension and exercise, but Laura knew all along that her father died of a broken heart. While she was unsure of God's existence, she often hoped there was one and that if he did exist, her parents were together somewhere in heaven reveling in the happiness they shared on that wonderful trip together.
She knew how difficult it was for her when she lost both of her parents in six months. She now looked over at Jonathan and her heart hurt for him. After this chaotic, macabre and unbelievable week, now he had lost the only family he had ever known at the hands of the person who gave him life, and who now sought to take it. She was surprised he was able to function at all. She could not even imagine an equivalent set of circumstances for her or for anyone she had ever known. There was so much beautiful and wonderful about the world but in one week he had been taken from the Garden of Eden and shown nothing but the most vile and contemptible of what mankind had to offer. She leaned close to him and clasped his hand in both of hers. She knew there was not a thing she could say that would make him feel any better, so she simply held his hand and kissed it. "I promise sweetheart, this will all be over soon." It wasn't much, but at least it was true. He looked at her for a moment with tears streaming down his face and then turned to the window once again. Suddenly, he recognized he was losing the battle within. He had been angry many times in his life, typically at a rock he had stumbled over, or the fact that he didn't hit an exercise mark he was shooting for or when one of the girls brought to the island had to leave, but he had never experienced what he quickly recognized as a rage, which focused on a desire to exact revenge. Rage was exactly what he was feeling now and he knew it. He didn't know how natural it was and he knew Sebring would not like it, but he felt it pulling his entire body like a strong undertow from a storm driven surf. As he felt himself grow tense his hands begin to form fists, he heard Laura saying "Jonathan, Jonathan, my hands." She had been holing his hands and he had not realized that he was crushing them. "I'm sorry Laura" he said softly, feeling himself grow more calm just by looking at her. He was so glad she was there. Even though all of this chaos started when she came into his life, she seemed to be an angel leading him through the darkness. He held her hands up and kissed them, once again saying "I'm sorry." She put her left hand on the back of his head, brushing his hair from his neck while her right hand cupped his left cheek. "It's OK." She smiled at him. "I promise, this will not last. I know it probably seems impossible to imagine right now, but things will get brighter. Someday you will look back at your time with Sebring and it will bring a smile to your face that you were lucky enough to have him in your life in the first place. I know that does not mean much right now but I wanted to tell you that I know from experience that while the missing him will never go away, the emptiness will. They both turned and looked out the window. It would be a half-hour before they would arrive at La Playa Arena. Jonathan leaned his head back on the headrest keeping his focus on the clouds below. Laura leaned over and put her head on his shoulder seeking a few moments of respite before what she knew lay ahead.
La Playa Arena redux
Felix, sitting across the isle from them couldn't bear to watch them. He forced himself to look out the window the entire time, wondering how things were going to play out over the next couple of hours.
"We'll be there in about 15 minutes" Hans said over the loudspeaker as he had picked up the silhouette of the island against the flickering hue of the horizon as the glow of the sun's penumbra started to inch above the water. He could have just as easily shouted out the door because all three had fallen asleep and none of them had heard him. He then called them by name over the loudspeaker. Laura was the first up, quickly grabbing the bag of clothes she had picked up at the 24-hour store in the terminal on Martinique. They were all dark blue, which might turn out to be a liability on the sandy island if the sun rose too quickly. Throwing the two men their clothes, all three changed immediately. She then gave both of them one of the Browning 22-mm automatics they had taken from the police in Zurich, for which Roland had been able to get silencers just before they left. All were loaded and each of them had five extra 9-round magazines. They carried the magazines as well as one extra box of ammunition in black "fanny packs" she picked up in the mall in Zurich. She had also picked up three diving knives, the salt-water equivalent of a hunting knife. Each came with a sheath that strapped around the leg at the calf. Finally she inspected each of them to make sure they were ready to go. Once they were dressed Jonathan and Felix sat back down and put on their seat belts. Laura went up to the cockpit and took the co-pilot's seat. She and Hans had decided that the only way they could land without being noticed was to glide in. It was a dangerous maneuver, but having armed gunmen meet them at the end of the airstrip was probably even more dangerous. Hans flew over the island one time at 20,000 feet to get a reading on the airstrip. He was careful to not fly between the setting moon and the island as someone might see the planes' silhouette. Once they had the heading for the runway, he turned the plane's engines off three miles from the island so that they would glide down to the airstrip. Laura only approved of the maneuver after Hans demonstrated his ability. They decided to try it over open ocean. After they reached the Pacific from Martinique Hans turned the engines off. With Laura watching closely, Hans perfectly controlled the descent from 20,000 ft. to 8,000 ft. They both knew that aiming at a small island is much different from freefalling over open ocean, but they agreed that it was their only chance. Despite almost clipping a coconut tree, the plane landed perfectly three minutes before the arc of the sun broke above the horizon.
Although they had technically reached La Playa Arena before daybreak, it was only by minutes and they knew they didn't have much of a window of surprise. They would have to get off the plane and away from the airstrip as soon as possible, hoping to find some cover before Alexander's men were able to begin whatever kind of confrontation was coming. She didn't even know if Alexander and Albert were expecting them, but even if they weren't, they would certainly be ready for something, anything. Hopefully they would assume that she would take the money and run. They didn't know about Felix and he wouldn't show up as missing at South Centre until Monday morning. So in theory at least she thought, they might not be expecting them, or at least not yet. Nonetheless, she knew Albert well enough to know that he no doubt had planned for the worst and had probably brought in soldiers or guerrillas from Peru. Either way, Laura knew it wouldn't be a cakewalk getting back into the facility.
As soon as the plane came to a stop the trio leapt from the plane, dressed in black. There were two guards with their guns drawn coming at them. Laura went down on one knee, and aimed at their silhouettes against the dawn sky and fired twice at each man. The first man went down as if he had hit a brick wall. The second stumbled for a moment and his finger pulled the trigger as he started to fall. His two shots rang out loudly through the dark morning sky. Laura fired once more hitting the man just below the throat. Standing, Laura announced that their remote possibility of a surprise entrance was now a distant memory. Luckily, given the haste with which Alexander had been forced to operate, he was unable to assemble a significant force of highly skilled fighters, instead he had to settle on a group of twelve ex-guerrillas from Peru. They were battle tested, but they were far from Seals. Although Laura realized there was no sizable army coming their way, she knew that whatever troops he had assembled could be problematic nonetheless. They would have to be careful. They had two objectives in returning to that island. The first, and most important was to find Benjamin. The second, and only slightly less important was to find Alexander and Albert. While they were still on the plane she had laid out the plan. "Felix, you go with Jonathan to the operating room." She imagined that Benjamin would likely be in the operating room, as no doubt they had already taken all of the scans and went ahead and administered the ACX. She said "If Benjamin is being prepped, that's where he will be." "Jonathan knows the layout," she said as she looked over at the man who had so quickly become such a big part of her life. "I'll find Alexander and Albert" She knew they would likely be in the study keeping an eye on the surveillance video monitors.
The sun was beginning to crest above the trees and they would have to hurry. They could have taken the dead guards' Rovers into the compound, but doing so would have given up whatever little element of surprise they had left. They would have to cover the two miles by foot. There would no doubt be guards along the way. The first two were hiding behind the gates just outside the airstrip. They were waiting for the Rover to pass. Laura crept up beside the one on the left and quickly covered his mouth. He tried to scream but nothing came out because she had simultaneously garroted him. He fell to the ground in a heap. Hearing the rustling, the guard on the right leaned over the wall and whispered "Sergio! Sergio!'. Those were the last words the guard known as Ren would ever speak. Jonathan crept up beside him and snapped his neck like a twig. Felix's eyes were wide as melons. Having spent one year of obligatory service in the German Bundesstadt, he was not unfamiliar with the idea of weapons and mortal combat, but this was the first time he had actually seen their use in real life. They quickly made their way to the compound, staying in the bushes but traveling parallel to the access road. As they approached the compound they could see the outlines of guerrillas-cum-guards. There seemed to be six of them in total, each carrying an M-16. From behind a small clump of bushes the trio observed their movements. Laura knew their only chance to get in undetected was to take out the two on the western side of the compound. That was the only area that was not in plain view of the other posts. The two guards on the western post approached the knee-high stone wall. As they had been doing every twenty minutes for the last three days, the two stepped up on the wall with their weapons drawn. Together they canvassed the thin bushes that covered that side of the compound until it dropped off to the island's only rocky beach, twenty feet below. As they began to step down from the wall Jonathan threw a small rock over the cliff which was about ten yards away. Both men spun about and followed the sound. They looked at one another and then gingerly stepped down from the wall and approached the cliff. As they began to peer over the side Laura and Jonathan darted out from behind the thin brush and silently pushed the pair to their deaths on the rocks below. Both the men tried to scream as they were careening towards the earth but neither had time. Luckily both of their weapons simply crashed on the rocks and didn't discharge. Inside Alex and Albert were furiously scouring the monitors to find the trio. Although the sun was beginning to illuminate the island, the cameras were picking up almost nothing. The lights surrounding the compound began automatically clicking off as the level of sunlight made them redundant. Luckily for the trio the island's haze didn't allow for much visibility at that hour of the morning and so the video cameras were virtually worthless. The three immediately leapt over the wall and ran to the first building in the compound. It was a dorm with windows on three sides. They would have to crawl under the windows in order to approach the main building unseen as they could hear voices inside. Crossing the remaining lawn would be almost impossible if there was someone in the front of the dorm. Felix peered around the corner and into the day room window. Empty. The full panel windows on the western side of the main building gave them a perfect view inside. The lounge was empty which meant they could cross the green undetected. Successfully across the green it was time to split up. Before she left, Laura told the pair "When you find Benjamin, he might look dead, but he's not. I don't care what you have to do, but wake him up. If he won't wake up remove the IV from his arm and carry him out to the patio." Looking at both of them she asked "Got that?" The pair nodded and with that she was off.
Jonathan and Felix headed off to the operating room, where Laura had found Jonathan. Even if they could open the door at the end of the hallway they wouldn't because it was a fire exit and the alarm would no doubt give away their position. They had no choice but to try and go in through the window in the operating room. The only window in the room was one of those European windows with hinges on both the sides and the bottom so that the window could be opened from the side or leaned in from the top to let a breeze in. While it would have been much easier if the window had been opened to the side, the fact that it was tilted open at the top was better than if it were closed. Jonathan remembered being fascinated with a similar window in his room the first night there. He didn't understand how it worked, but he found it fascinating. He had decided that later he would like to try and take it apart to see how it worked. Jonathan crawled over to the window and peered inside to see if there was anyone there. There was not. Good! He called to Felix "Felix, come over here and help me with this window." He knew he didn't want to break the glass, but he was sure they could lift it off of its base. The two climbed on the sill and pushed up on the window to no avail. Finally Jonathan jumped down and said, "Keep pushing." He removed the scuba knife from the sheath on his leg and the one strapped to Felix's. He put both in the void at the bottom of the window and pushed on their handles. Although the manufacturer had not intended to come apart like that, the window came out of its frame. Felix almost fell into the room when the window popped open. He clung to the top of the window as it was still secured to the frame. He found his footing and jumped to the ground. The two climbed into the room, careful not to knock any of the medical supplies lying on the cart they were forced to step on. Once inside they looked into the reception room. It too was empty. They walked over to the door and looked out into the hallway. There was no one there, but Jonathan cautioned Felix as he knew that depending on where the guard was sitting, he could see right down that hallway. Luckily the guard had gone to the front entrance when Albert called and had not returned. Jonathan nodded at Felix and the two crossed the hall with their weapons drawn and stepped into the door below the sign saying Operating Room. It was a mirror image of the reception and operating rooms they had just walked through. As soon as they walked into the reception room, Jonathan knew that Benjamin was not there. Had he been, the operating room would have had more people in it. As it was there was one doctor and one guard. The two were joking about something but neither Felix or Jonathan could make it out. Jonathan wanted to be certain that he was right that Benjamin was not there. Staying low, below the line of sight of the men in the operating room he approached the panel window that looked into the operating. As he rose he could see that the guard was sitting on the otherwise vacant operating table. He sat looking out the window while the doctor stood in front of him trying to remember the punchline of a joke he had just started. The guard was needling him for not remembering the end of the joke. If Albert had been standing there he would have strangled both men as he had called for everyone to help look for the intruders. Neither man had heard the call as both had switched their phones off.
After assuring himself that Benjamin was not there, Jonathan shook his head at Felix. He dropped to his knees and two crawled back over to the door and made their way back to the hallway. Jonathan had to figure out what to do next.
Laura had headed for the patio where she was sure that Alexander and Albert would be. The two were certain their quickly assembled force, which was brought in from Peru the day after Laura and Jonathan escaped, would be sufficient to handle whatever problems the pair might present. They were confident their fighters would quickly find Jonathan and the traitor now that they were back on the island. Laura approached from the north side of the building and she could see two silhouettes against the fiery red morning sky. Albert was, as normal, standing ramrod straight with his hands clasped behind him. Alexander, wearing a thick white hooded robe, was sitting in his wheelchair just behind the filigreed ironwork of the patio wall. Neither man was speaking; they were simply looking out over the ocean watching the sunrise. Despite the fact that they had brought in a small force to capture her and Jonathan, Laura found it slightly un-nerving that they were sufficiently comfortable to be relaxing out by the pool. She couldn't figure out why they seemed to calm.
Before moving she carefully studied the patio and the den. There had been two guards at the corner of the patio when she approached. They were smoking and discussing the plight of the Peruvian national soccer team under the reign of a coach who would have been fired years ago if he did not enjoy the patronage of the President. Both would have to watch their next World Cup from Heaven or more likely Hell, as Laura's twin 9-mms left both crumpled on the grass with the base of their skulls missing. While the silencers damped most of the noise, had she been in a rather quiet room Albert and Alex would have surely heard her. Here however just yards from the ocean the faint sounds of the blasts just blended into the morning cacophony. They were alone on the patio when she approached. Two more guards came around the far corner of the patio just as she began to approach Alexander and Albert from behind. They saw her and reached for their guns. Neither was even able to get their hands around their weapons before Laura's weapon sent both flying backward into the hedges. This time Albert and Alexander could not help from hearing. Albert spun around and looked at Laura with her weapons now pointed at he and Alexander. "Good morning gentlemen" she said as she stopped 10 feet from them. Albert had not an ounce of surprise in his face. "Hello Laura! How wonderful to see you. We have been expecting you," he said as he gestured toward the table with five place settings. "How was your trip?" he asked. "Nevermind that" as she hesitated for a moment as she tried to put her thoughts into words "You two jackals" she said, struggling to find the right words as her anger seethed. "How could you be so… so… so calculating, so brutal… so evil?" Albert started to speak and raise his hands in a rhetorical defense. "Don't" Laura commanded as her hand stiffened on the Browning she was pointing at him. "Move those hands again and you are a dead man" she uttered with a calmness that surprised even her. She knew he was not moving for a weapon, but nonetheless she wanted to make sure he knew she was in charge. "Not that any of your plans matters now because this place will be ashes before noon" she continued.
"Must we be so hasty?" asked Albert. "There is so much we could do together"
"You're crazy… both of you. There is no way in Hell that I'm going to let you get away with this." "Albert, you I understand." "I've known from the first time I met you that you are nothing more than a sycophantic weasel that would do anything for money. I remember that time in New York when we all went out to dinner and the check was $3,500 and you made an excuse to go back in and argue with the waiter over an extra $60 bottle of wine." "You pretend that you are above the fray but in reality you are very much in the gutter." She continued, "You Alexander, I've only recently come to understand. For years I've watched you give billions of dollars away to charities, build schools in underprivileged neighborhoods and fund anti poverty programs." "I'd always thought you were one of the most generous men I'd ever met." "Laura" Alexander interrupted in a gravely voice from under his hooded bathrobe "I hope you've now lost your naïveté," he said as he slowly spun his wheelchair around to face her. "There are two sides to every coin and there are two sides to every man" he continued. "I'm no different than anyone else in the world in that I want to make the world a better place and I think that I can do great things while I'm here. Those donations often benefited millions of people, but they also bought access to government officials. Given the resources and vision I have for the future I think the best way I can go about helping the world is by staying here as long as is possible." The sun shone brightly through the clouds now and their features were slowly coming into focus. Two more guards came around the corner where the two guards lay in the hedges. Immediately Laura moved the weapon that was on Alex towards them. "Ponga hacia abajo sus armas" she told them in perfect Spanish. They looked over at Albert. He nodded and they complied, putting their weapons on the ground. She then told them to come onto the patio and to lay facedown on the deck with their hands on their heads. Alexander continued "I have known for a very long time that I had much to offer this world. It would be selfish of me not do everything I could to allow myself to contribute to the world for as long as possible" "I thought of all people you would understand that given the loss of your parents in the prime of their lives." "Now that I've created the key to immortality, we can all share in it. Imagine living forever Laura. Imagine knowing that you are going to be around for the dawn of the 22nd century. Imagine having no time limits on your life and your life's ambitions. I have the money and the power to make you immortal. Imagine every good thing you've ever wanted to do in your life. Every experience you've ever wanted. Every person you've ever wanted to help but didn't have the time. Think about every charity you wanted to start. Imagine a moment in time when you never had to worry about age or money or time or anything" "That is what I have created and that is what I have to offer the world. I am now offering it to you. I'm offering you everything there is to be had"
"You're crazy" She uttered. Certainly the picture he was trying to paint was a compelling one. She would be lying to herself if she said the idea of immortality was not appealing, although frankly she had never really given it much thought before this macabre episode had begun. She had never been one to waste much time dwelling on fantasy. Nonetheless, she had to admit that the thought of such a thing had floated in and out of her thoughts over the last week. The idea of living forever or as close as is possible certainly could make for an attractive proposition, particularly when there are so many things she would love to do. Of course, like "Vacation Love" when you know that your time on earth is finite, you have no option but to make the choices that define your life, about the things you want to do, the people you want to share your life and the legacy you will leave behind. If your time is limitless the picture becomes far more clouded because you simply do not have to make those decisions or choices because there is always tomorrow. Everything is there for you, simply waiting around to enjoying it. Of course that finite quality is what gives lives meaning. It is the decisions and the choices that one makes that gives shape and substance to our lives.
She did not want to get into this philosophical discussion with him about the merits of immortality, nevermind the necessary sacrifice of an innocent life just prolong your own. "All of that is wonderful in theory Alex, but the bottom line of what you're talking about here is murder. Pure and simple. You're planning on killing that young man so that you can live forever. Just because he has life thanks to you and just because he comes from your DNA does not give you the right to kill him, or any one of them. They are people. They are humans. Just because the world does not know of their existence does not mean that they're not human or their lives are any less valuable than yours. Just because you have been playing God for twenty years does not make you so. I am putting this to a stop right now!"
"How are you going to do that?" Albert asked.
"Jonathan and Felix are waking Benjamin right now and we will be taking him with us." "Don't think for a moment about trying to stop us because I will have zero reservations about killing either of you. In fact, I may do it before I leave on principal alone. "Suddenly Jonathan and Felix appeared through the sliding glass door. The two were alone. "Where is he?" She snapped. "I told you to bring him out, even if you had to carry him out!" "We don't know," said Felix "the room was empty." "Damn!" she said. "Albert, where the hell is he?" she said angrily. He didn't say a word. "He must be here somewhere." "Find him!" she commanded, and shoot anyone who gets in your way. Before the pair could leave Albert said "It's no use, you will not find what you are looking for." Angrily Laura turned to Albert and said, "What the hell is that supposed to mean?" "I simply said that you will not find what you are looking for" Albert repeated. "You are operating with inaccurate data, Laura." "What are you talking about Albert?" She snapped. Albert began "Well, the file you stumbled across was called Monkey Games." "It chronicles the experiments that laid the foundation for this entire endeavor and describes the processes that were necessary for the simian transplant." "Your point" she snapped, her anger increasing. He continued "Well, those experiments on simians, much like others throughout the world of biology and medicine, differ in many respects with those done on humans"
Again she stiffened her grip on the Browning that was pointed at Albert and said "You had better hurry up and make a point!" In his rather incessantly slow pace he continued "One of the key differences between the simians and the humans is the ability of the body to absorb ACX. Humans seem to absorb it far faster than the apes and as a result our bodies reach the optimal body temperature and metabolism rate far more quickly." Laura looked at Albert and then Alex and while he had not said it, she thought she was starting to get an inkling of the what he was trying to say, and she was beginning to feel nauseous. Alexander slowly rolled his wheelchair towards her. Wearing his hooded bathrobe, she had not been able to get a good look at him. "Laura my dear" he started. "What Albert is trying to say is that what you thought would take five days in reality took two" Stopping his wheelchair just five feet from the front of the 9-mm that was now beginning to shake he reached up and removed the hood from his head. "You see my dear, you lost this game long before you ever decided to play"
Staggered for a moment Laura lowered the weapon that had been pointed at Albert and braced herself against a chair. Staring up at her from Alexander's chair was a 20-year-old man with a black and blue face, bandages covering a shaved head and eyes so bloodshot they looked like he spent a month on a binge in Bangkok. Reeling, she sat down in the chair and tried to speak but couldn't. Her mouth had gotten so dry that she could not utter a sound. Albert picked up a glass of orange juice from the table and started over towards her. She again pointed the gun towards him as if to say "slowly". She set one weapon on the table and reached for the glass and quickly gulped it down. She looked back at Alex. "As I was saying," he continued "The procedure took much less time than those you read about in Monkey Games." Laura was disgusted that he referred to murder as a procedure. He continued, "This one was complete not long after you emptied my safety deposit box in Zurich. Frankly I was quite impressed with your work there. I was confident that you would get it. I appreciate you bringing the money back to me given I'm in no condition to get it myself.
Puzzled she said, "I don't understand" "Of course you don't" he continued "I couldn't have you running around the whole world telling anyone who would listen about your fantastic story." Laura's eyes narrowed as she knew what was coming. Alexander continued, "While 99.9% of the people on the planet would think you were nuts, I couldn't really take the risk on someone in that .01% hearing you and understanding that you might be right." "Like Jason" she said, "you son-of-a-bitch." "Yes, like Jason" he replied. "I am truly sorry about that." "Fuck you Alexander" "With Jonathan you had the story and the proof, which could have made for a very unpleasant situation for me." "Now that you are here I have much more control and we can keep this our little secret." Deflated, she had to now face the fact that she had let the situation dictate her actions and that by doing so she had allowed herself to be predictable and open to manipulation. She knew better. She never did that. No doubt the spectrum of emotions she was feeling from horror to surprise to love to anger when combined with the shortness of time and the traveling had made her drop her guard. Nonetheless, that is no excuse and she had to take control of the situation right now. She put down the OJ and picked up the weapon she had laid on the table. Very deliberately she leveled it back at Albert, once again having a weapon pointed at each of them. "Gentlemen, let me say once again, the game is over. While I'm not sure what we will be doing with you, the three of us will be leaving here today and everything about this place will be nothing but ashes when we do" "Laura" Alexander said slowly "You know that I can give you anything and everything in the world you want. You may not want to take me up on my offer of immortality, but there is the entire world out there and it can be yours for the taking" "You could spend the next sixty years teaching Jonathan about all of those things he has only read about. The world is at your feet, with no strings attached except for silence about our secret. And if you defied me and told the story to anyone, it would carry far less weight than it would have before my operation. Now a DNA comparison would simply show that Jonathan and I were identical twins, sons of Alexander Cooke. Without my old body to compare it to, there is no way to prove that we were not natural offspring." You see my dear, other than those guns in your hands you have no leverage over me at all. You have nothing to gain from shooting me or exposing me and everything in the world to gain by simply walking away. Benjamin is already gone and you can change nothing. How much easier can the choice be?"
Although she wasn't sure how long she took to answer, Laura knew that however long she took it would look to Alex and Albert that she was seriously considering what he had said. In the first place, she was sure that given the chance he would not let her walk off of this island. There was nothing to be gained by letting her live and everything in the world to lose if she talked. Murder was certainly not a constraint on them and there would be nothing stopping them from killing her if she agreed. And then they would no doubt send Jonathan off to another island just in case some of his body parts were needed. Besides the pragmatic considerations, these men were guilty of murder, and of the most heinous sort imaginable. No, while she was considering her options, they were not the choices Alexander and Albert thought they were. Her decision was not between escaping or joining them, it was between killing them now or taking them somewhere to face justice. Of course she had not even begun to contemplate the question of where. Washington? Lima? The Hague? That question was far too distant a thought to even consider right now. The immediate question facing her was should she kill them and be done with it or take them with her. Her grip became tighter and her fingers began to grow heavier on the two triggers as she weighed her actions. Finally she decided that killing them in cold blood would make her more like them than she wanted to be so she decided to take them with her. "I'm sorry Alex. As charming as your offer sounds, I decline to accept on the grounds that it would make me a participant in your pernicious scheme. Unfortunately for you I've decided to take you back with us so that you can stand trial for your crimes." She stood holding one weapon on Alex and the other on Albert.
"Please…" Alexander said condescendingly. "We're on an island in the middle of the ocean, a thousand miles from civilization. Who do you think has jurisdiction? No one. What prosecutor in the world is going to try and make a name for himself by playing Don Quixote and going up against one of the richest men in the world to bring a case that will make him a laughingstock within his chosen profession? In addition, without my body you have nothing with which to even think about making a case. What kind of proof do you have? Do you think any of the half a dozen people in the world who know what has been going on is ready to jump off the gravy train, ready to put their lives and those of their families in jeopardy just to tilt at windmills with you? Not a chance." "Face it, you have nothing to prove your story and the only chance you have now is to throw in your lot with me and live happily ever after like the rest of us. I don't expect you to be my best friend or to even talk to you ever again once we are off of this island. You have my $30 million dollars, which should be more than enough to keep the two of you solvent for a year or two" he said with sarcasm. Even with his heavily bruised face, Alex's new bloodshot eyes had all the power his natural ones ever had. He stared at her for another interminably long few seconds and said, "What is it going to be Laura?"
Standing still for a moment, Laura knew that again Alex thought she was contemplating his offer. Again he was wrong. She did find it annoyingly strange however that he was as self-confident as he was. Even though she held all of the cards he spoke with her as if she had no choice but to let him get away with his treachery. She didn't know if it was simply that he was so used to getting his own way that he couldn't contemplate a world where he was not calling the shots. He apparently was having difficulty realizing that now she was in charge or perhaps he simply couldn't conceptualize a situation where by sheer force of personality that he could not take control. Well, now he would have to visualize just such a situation because this was one of them. "Once again Alex I have to decline your invitation. As I said, I'm not exactly sure how this will play out from here, but there is no way I am going to be a participant in your lethal charade. You will be coming with us, period."
He looked up at her and said "I'm sorry you feel that way because I really liked you. I will not however let those feelings get in the way of doing what is necessary."
She was nothing short of bewildered. He still thought he had a choice. He didn't. "Jonathan. Felix. Come over here." They started walking towards her. Jonathan reached her and the two turned expecting to see Felix approach. He didn't. He had stopped about five feet from the two of them and was now facing them with his weapons drawn. She couldn't believe it. She had known Felix since she had first arrived at Alexander Resources. They had been friends for years. Very good friends. Felix was in love with her. She always knew it, but she never had time for love so she never wanted to lead him on. He would do anything for her. This was impossible. It could not be happening. It was pure craziness. "Felix?" Laura said with a sinking voice that clearly conveyed the sadness she felt. "I'm sorry Laura." was all he could muster. He mumbled for a moment and then said " The only thing I really wanted was you, but I can't have you so I'm taking the next best thing. Everything else I ever wanted. He offered me more than I could turn down. I'm sorry." "You see Laura" Alex said "you should have taken my offer." She was dumbfounded. Everything was spinning. How could this be happening? Every step she had taken since she left Zurich he knew about. They never had a chance. She looked at Jonathan. They had only known each other for a week but it was by far the most intense week of her life. There were so many things she wanted to do with him, so many things she wanted to experience with him for the first time. This crazy chaotic situation could not end like this. She had to do something before they were both dead. Drop your weapons, both of you. Now!" yelled Albert. Laura slowly placed her weapons on the table as far away from Alex and Albert as could be done without eliciting a reaction. Jonathan slowly took out his weapons and bent down slowly to put them on the ground. As he did Laura asked, "what are you going to do with us now? Before Alex could answer they heard a splash and two shots rang out. With the attention on Laura, Jonathan took that fraction of a second of opportunity to make something happen. While setting his weapons on the deck, he grabbed the rope at his feet that was tied to a rail on the wall. Albert had put it there when they arrived so that Alexander might use it to pull himself to safety if he was in the pool with no one around. It was tied to the flotation chair that they had brought with them. The chair was not in the water and the rope was simply draped over the side of the pool, hanging in the water. Jonathan had noticed that Felix was standing just to the left of where the rope bent at a 45-degree angle to the wall. If he pulled on it quickly enough Felix would lose his balance and fall. The only way he could accomplish that was by grabbing the rope where it hung in the water. He slowly leaned over and set his guns down and backed away from them in the direction of the pool. He took one last step and seemed to fall into the pool. As he was falling, he grasped the rope just before he hit the water. Felix saw him pick up the rope but realized too late that he was in jeopardy. As the rope was pulled taunt by Jonathan's 200 lbs, it clipped Felix's legs just below the knee and literally took his feet out from under him. It worked exactly as Jonathan had expected it would. As he began to fall he involuntarily fired both guns. One shot struck Jonathan in the thigh while the second barely missed both Laura and Alex. It struck the glass breakfast table, the one upon which Laura had just placed her weapons. Laura looked over. Albert was scrambling to reach his gun. He found it. By that time Laura was diving onto the glass below the table frame to retrieve her weapons. As she rolled onto the ground with her left shoulder her right hand managed to clasp the handle of one of the weapons. In a split second she had Felix in her sights and she pulled the trigger. He had regained his footing and was standing on the side of the pool firing at Jonathan. Luckily Jonathan had swum to the bottom of the deep end of the pool and the bullets were dying long before they reached him. Laura's first shot caught Felix just under the left arm and his heart ceased pumping before he hit the water. A moment later a hail of bullets came in her direction. One tore through her leg. Thankfully Albert had a difficult time getting a clear shot at her because Alexander was in the way and could not move because his flanked by the pool on one side and the table on the other. By moving to the edge of the pool Albert could now take a clean shot at her. He raised his weapon again and aimed at her as their eyes met. She knew she couldn't react in time and she was sure she was history. Just as he was pulling the trigger an arm came out of the water and grabbed him from behind. Losing his balance, his shot careened off of one of the table's metal legs into the side of the building. Suddenly he was in the pool looking up through a pink haze of blood and water. He scrambled to find his footing and catch his breath. He was successful at neither. Jonathan snapped his neck like it was a wooden stick. He sank to the bottom almost immediately. When Jonathan climbed out of the pool he saw Laura standing behind Alexander with her gun to his head. The two guards who had been lying on the deck had scrambled to their feet and had gone after their weapons. Neither one would make it, as Laura shot both while she was still lying on the ground. Her hands were bloodied and her right leg had been shot. She looked at Jonathan with a glance that said a million things, none of which could be put into words.
Moments later the four remaining guerrilla /guards arrived with their weapons. "Put your weapons on the deck, get naked and get into the pool" she commanded in perfect Spanish. Looking at Alex with a gun to his head they obeyed. The four hesitated when they noticed the two dead bodies in the bloodied pool, one floating and the other resting on the bottom. "Get in the pool or your blood will be mixed with theirs. It's your choice." One by one they jumped into the bloody water. By now the six doctors and the four remaining residents of the compound arrived. "Get naked and get into the pool!" she commanded, giving them the same choice. Once everyone was in the water she had them come over to the side of the pool one by one so that she could tie their hands behind them. In all there were fourteen live naked men in the pool, and two dead clothed ones.
Jonathan walked over to Alexander. As Laura slumped into a nearby chair, Jonathan leaned over and looked into Alexander's bloodshot eyes. Although the face was bruised and swollen, he knew he recognized it. Alexander stared back at him. Thinking of Sebring, Jonathan seethed "I should kill you now." He looked over at Laura who was now sitting, exhausted, looking at him. "It is up to you," She said as she waved her hand dismissivly towards Alex. At that point she didn't really care if he lived or died.
""Jonathan" Alexander said, "Join me, the three of us can enjoy everything life has to offer. Forever. I'm sorry about Sebring. That was not my doing. I told them to bring him here, not kill him. I'm sorry. They misunderstood. Laura just shot the two men who were responsible for killing him," he said gesturing to the two guards lying dead on the grass." Seeing that his pleas were making no impression on Jonathan, he turned his attention to Laura. "Laura" he said softly, "Imagine the good we could do with all of my money. I would share all of it with you both. How many poor people can we help feed, how many vaccinations can we develop or deliver to children across the world, how many homes can be buy for the homeless? "Pathetic, you are simply pathetic," Laura said to him. "You would promise anything just to get out of a tough situation. Well, it's not going to do any good. We are not going to make a deal with a monster." Angry that his pleas were going unheeded, Alexander started to feel backed into a proverbial corner, and like many animals in that situation, he lashed out. He began yelling at Jonathan; "You owe me! I gave you life. You are here only because I created you. You are nothing without me." He called Laura a "traitor and a thief." He seemed to be approaching a breakdown when he suggested: "When I get off of this island I am going to have the both of you arrested for theft. Don't think you can spend my $30 million without me knowing exactly where you are. I have people around the world. Again he reversed course and tried to appeal to Jonathan. "Jonathan, please, we are family." Sensing he was succeeding even less, his head dropped as he let out one final plea "We are the same. You and I are the same."
"We may share the same face and the same blood" he continued "but you and I are not the same Alex. A man is more than the building blocks on a DNA strand. I'm nothing like you. "
"In time you will be," Albert shot back knowing he was fighting a losing battle. "You've had the luxury of spending your entire life in Paradise. Wait until you've spent a few years in the real world…." Certain of what he wanted to do yet uncertain of what he should do, Jonathan stood for what seemed to be forever with his weapons trained on Alexander's emotionless eyes.
Finally he stood up and stepped away from Alexander. Although he wanted to shoot him he felt it was somehow not the right thing to do. He lowered his weapons and walked over to the pool. Jonathan pulled David Smith out and cut the tape binding him. With Laura keeping an eye on everyone, Jonathan and David walked to the operating room to gather equipment to patch up the wound on Laura's leg. She would not let him give her a sedative as she could not be sure what he would give her and she could not take the chance on Jonathan being alone if it somehow incapacitated her. Luckily the shot went through cleanly and hadn't hit either a vein or artery. It was a relatively easy patch up job. "Sit down there" Jonathan commanded David after he was done, pointing to a chair. Jonathan looked down at his own leg where Felix's shot had struck him. It was only a scratch and it had already stopped bleeding. He wouldn't need any attention.
Laura had Jonathan watch the men in the pool and David sitting in the chair while she went into the office to get the computers. With a hole in her leg it probably would have been easier to let Jonathan get the machines, but as he was unfamiliar with computers it would have been harder to explain what she needed. There were many machines, but knowing they could not take all of them she decided to get the three that were most likely to have incriminating evidence. She had no desire to carry the PCs themselves so she simply opened the snap-on cases and ripped out the hardrives. She took the hardrive from the machine she accessed the Monkey Games program on as well as the one from the machine in Alexander's study and the one in the reception area. On her way out the door she also picked up two DELL notebooks that belonged to a couple of the scientists who were now cooling their jets in the water. After placing the computers in the back of one of the Rovers, she then went to the garage and picked up two five gallon barrels of gasoline and proceeded to pour them over the entire compound, focusing a particular amount of fuel on the communications room. She set the compound afire and walked back to the deck as the building burned in the late morning sky.
Laura made things very clear to the thirteen men in the pool and as well as David. She knew who each and every one was. She knew where they lived. She knew the names of their children, their wives and their parents. (Although that was true for the doctors and staff, it was not at all true for the four Peruvians, but she did not feel it necessary to split hairs) If she ever heard of one of them again, saw one of them again, even if it was crossing the street to go to church, or any one of them tried to contact one another, anyone at Alexander Resources or anyone else who worked there, she would not only kill them, but she would find the other eight and kill them as well. "If you do not want your families to suffer from your deaths, the exposition of your despicable character and the destruction of their lives, you will simply crawl under a rock somewhere and stay there. If anyone ever asks you questions about Alexander Resources or what has gone on this island you will not give them any information unless that request comes from me personally." She wanted to make sure they knew she was serious. Standing, she announced "Just in case any of you have any doubts as to my sincerity, I want you to know that if you cross me in any way you will wish I had killed you here today." At that she picked up her two Brownings and aimed them at Alex's knees. She fired twice with each weapon. Alexander jerked in pain and was thrown out of the chair by the force of his reaction. He lay there on the deck wreathing in pain. "Just ask Alex," she said as the men in the pool stared at Alex in disbelief. She was sure they got her point. . "He's going to spend the next 80 years of his unnatural life in a prison somewhere, sitting in a wheelchair in his crippled, brand new body. And that assumes he survives." She wheeled around with the weapons in her hand and asked simply, "Any questions?" There were none. "Good, then we understand each other."
Next Laura instructed David to remove the bullets she had just moments ago put into Alex's knees. Having passed out soon after falling from the chair he did not need a sedative. After removing the bullets the doctor patched up the wounds. It was not that she was particularly concerned about Alex's health, because she wasn't, but not knowing how events were going to play out she didn't want him to die before authorities, whoever they might be arrived to pick him up. After David was finished bandaging Alexander's legs, Jonathan bound him and put him back in the pool with the others. Laura took the smelling salts out of her pocket and put them under Alexander's nose. He slowly came to and screamed out in pain as consciousness set in. Laura kneeled down next to him so that she could whisper in his ear. "Alexander," she wheeled the chair into the sun so that both of them could bask in its warmth, "I don't know what is going to happen from this moment forward. Some authorities may arrive in a couple of hours or they arrive in a couple of days or they may not come at all. All I can tell you is that if I ever see you again, or hear of you trying to do anything with Alexander resources I will find you and kill you." "You've got the new body you've always wanted but if you want to keep it you'd better keep a low profile." Alex sat there, wreathing in pain, barely able to focus on anything Laura had said. Wanting to make sure there was on confusion, Laura put her hand on his left knee and gave it a slight squeeze. "Do you understand me?" she asked. With clinched teeth and eyes that could not have focused on Laura more if they were looking through a telescope, Alex nodded his head in the affirmative.
Not long after the fire had started burning people from the village began to arrive. In Spanish Laura had told them that she was burning the lab because the doctors had been working on a poison that they had planned to use in a guerrilla war in Peru after they had tested it on them. While there was not any real danger to them, it would be safer if they went back to the village and didn't return to the compound for a couple of weeks. Leaving the men in the pool bound, Laura and Jonathan took the Rover to the plane. She had to admit that she was a little surprised that Hans had remained. She had told him to expect some gunfire and a lot of smoke, but nonetheless she expected that he might leave. She was very grateful that he did not, particularly as she had just destroyed all of the communication equipment on the island. He met them at the door. "Hans, we are so glad to see you. We weren't sure you'd still be here after all of that." "Laura, you should never have worried. I may be many things, but amongst them all is one constant. I am a man of my word. "And I couldn't appreciate it more," she said as she limped over and kissed him on the cheek and gave him a hug that seemed to tell him that there was much to this story that he didn't know." "It was my pleasure." A moment later she was even more impressed. She saw one of the guns sitting on the co-pilots' seat. She knew that he must have retrieved it from the bag with the money. He couldn't have missed the $30 million, yet he stayed nonetheless. He was indeed a man of his word. Although honor was its own reward, she thought that it didn't hurt to reward it sometimes. He smiled when she leaned into the cockpit and told him that she was increasing his paycheck from 25,000 Euros to $1 million. Once in the air they set out a course to bury a great friend and to pick up three teenage boys who were in for the surprises of their lives. Sitting, knowing how close they had come to never leaving that island, Laura and Jonathan just sat holding hands and staring out the window. Neither said a word. Neither wanted to speak. As the plane took off and the mid morning sun shone brightly through the windows, they both stared silently out, pondering not only what they had just been through, but what lay ahead.
Sitting on the coffee table, beside the fresh fruit and croissants was a copy of Le Monde with the headline reading "International Financier and Philanthropist Alexander Cooke Assumed Dead in Island Fire. Fate of $25 Billion Fortune Uncertain." Hidden on page four was the coroner's final report on the accident that took the life of Spanish driver René "Le Pistol" Pistolero exactly three weeks before. It stated that Pistolero's accident was likely caused by a slight decrease in his depth perception resulting from his having taken the stimulant Rixalt, an over the counter product taken by college students, bar patrons and football fans around the world to give them a boost after a late night of drinking, sport or any other activity. No one at the paper recognized the irony of the fact that Rixalt was manufactured by Acxisis, a small unit of Alexander Resources.
Neither Laura nor Jonathan even bothered to look at the paper. Laura was lying in Jonathan's arms as they watched the sunrise from the balcony of her apartment. The morning shadow of the Eiffel Tower always crossed her building this time of year. On clear mornings there would be a moment where the sun would hit just the right spot and its brilliant rays would shimmer and dance in a kaleidoscope of colors through the Tower's latticework. Sometimes, if the sun was just right and the clouds were thin enough, for the briefest of moments she was sure she was seeing the face of God, her lack of belief notwithstanding. This morning was one of those mornings and today the visage of God brought tears to her eyes. Jonathan leaned over and kissed them away and wrapped her even tighter in his arms. Neither of them had any idea what the future held. How would they tell the world what had happened? What could they really tell? Who could they tell? Who should they tell? Would anyone believe them? What about the boys? There were too many questions and not enough answers. All of that could wait. Mornings are for pondering possibilities and evenings for accessing results. They were going to make this morning last for a long, long time.