Chapter Zero

jaden baker, archcroft

Libby needed drugs. Obvious signs of misery approached, and if she didn’t get her hands on four ibuprofen soon, she would spend the rest of the day in agony, cursing the heavens and all its residents. Restocking her mobile pharmacy (her purse) with a dozen pills for situations like this had never slipped her stupid mind before. Except today. She hated herself.

Her iPhone found the nearest drugstore in Seattle: a pulsing blue button of relief. When she arrived, her first impression of the place caused her to turn up her nose, cluck her tongue, and made her wish she had her gun. With a regretful glance at the woebegone store, she swallowed a healthy dose of who-cares and went inside.

The door toned a sour diiiing-dooong when she entered. Lingering fumes of tobacco and dirty diapers wafted about the place. Slanted mirrors joined the upper walls with the ceiling, reflecting a distorted and unflattering image of herself. She tried not to look, but was morbidly fascinated by her squat appearance. Libby followed a logical path to the drugs in the corner of the store.

She grabbed a box and read the label. How was this pain killer better than the box for half price?

A man came and stopped beside her, presumably browsing the shelves. Without looking directly at him, Libby observed his slightly less than average height, lean stature, and dark hair and long beard. She wanted to get a better look at him, but told herself to concentrate on her imminent anguish. He was probably just a construction worker on a break. Not interesting.

She replaced the box and picked up another, annoyed with her indecisive tendencies. Why did it matter, and what did she know about drug compounds? This box was the same as the last, but half the price. It was a no-brainer.

The man stared at her. She kept her eyes averted, pretending to read the box, but his staring was persistent. Granted this skirt did make her buns look great, and she’d used the shampoo that made her hair bouncy and shiny, and her blouse hugged her in all the right places, but he could look at other things occasionally, and try to pretend he wasn’t staring. Admittedly, though, it was flattering.

Libby turned her eyes to him, her head followed.

A beard and long, black hair framed his angular face. Eyes of soft gray stared back at her, not creepily, but with desperate curiosity. A bruise was forming on his right temple, but that seemed out of place. Though his clothes were old and threadbare, they were clean. He reminded her of a homeless man, but his hair was glossy, his skin free of dirt or grease. He was odorless.

Libby regarded him and raised her eyebrows, curling her lips slightly.

“Hi,” he said in a deep, gravelly voice.

She gave him a demure half smile, and he turned away. “Sorry,” he mumbled. An apology for the staring? He tore his eyes from her, retuning his attention to the shelf.

Her drug of choice decided, Libby made to leave when she noticed blood dripping from the man’s nose.

“You’re bleeding,” she said to him, pointing to her own nose.

He put his fingers to his nostrils, then pulled them away to find blood. At first he appeared unconcerned, bemused even. Then his face contorted in agony. Blood drained freely, and Libby was alarmed to see blood dripping out his ears. The man clutched the sides of his head and roared in pain.

He stumbled backwards, his legs wobbling. Libby grabbed his elbows to keep him from falling too hard, but instead fell with him when he crashed to the ground. Now shrieking, the man shook, as if seizing.

“Someone help!” Libby yelled. She kneeled beside him, watching him shake, not knowing what to do.

“What’s going on?” asked the clerk.

“I don’t know! I think he’s having a seizure, call an ambulance!” she yelled.

The shaking subsided to a low rumble, the color drained from his face. His bloodshot eyes locked onto hers as he breathed laboriously.

“Hang on,” she said, taking his hand. “We’re going to take you to the hospital.”

“No,” he mumbled, lips quivering. “No.” His eyelids drooped, but he fought to keep them open.

“You had a seizure or something.” she said. “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you.”

But he shook his head and tried getting up. “No, I can’t.”

“You’re bleeding from your nose and ears and you fell down shaking. That’s not a symptom of a migraine,” she told him. His hand trembled in hers, but its grip weakened with each passing second. Libby was confused; she’d never seen anything like this.

Phone to his ear, the clerk requested an ambulance and tried describing the symptoms of the fallen man.

With effort, the stranger gasped in a hoarse voice: “Don’t let them take me!”

The desperate declaration made her shiver. Libby stared into his feral eyes, which moments before had been kind. He shook his head violently, not from a seizure, but to reaffirm his unwillingness to be taken anywhere. With one last shallow breath, his eyes closed.

Heart booming in her ears, Libby put her fingers under his beard to his neck. The pulse was steady; he’d only lost consciousness.

She tried rousing the man with a firm shake, but he didn’t wake. The store clerk and a few shoppers hovered over them. The bleeding had stopped and his breathing was steady. In fact, if she hadn’t seen what had just happened, she would have assumed he was sleeping. It was bizarre.

After several minutes, she heard a siren. Libby wiped the blood from the man’s nose and ears with a damp towel the clerk gave her. She brushed away some of the man’s hair to see his face. The bruise on his right temple, was that why he collapsed? Head trauma? It hadn’t bothered him while he was watching her, why did it affect him so suddenly?

The paramedics asked the usual questions, but she could give no answers. No, she didn’t know him. No, she didn’t know if he was allergic to any medications. The man carried no identification, not even a library card. His wallet contained only cash: twenty-two dollars and fourteen cents. He had no phone, business cards, or coupons. There were no house or car keys in any of his pockets.

Libby watched the medics load him into the ambulance. She chewed on a fingernail and thought. She hadn’t told the medics what the man had said.

“What hospital?” she asked.

“Virginia Mason,” a medic replied. They slammed the back doors and were gone.

She plugged the hospital into her phone, getting directions as she walked to her car, intending to drive there. But why? She didn’t know the stranger. Everyone carried something with them, only those needing to remain anonymous left everything at home. Citizens who went incognito were criminals. Reason dictated the man was a fugitive. Did that not fit with his words? Don’t let them take me. Like the police.

Something bothered her. He didn’t carry a phone or keys. Even criminals had keys. It didn’t jive.

Maybe he was a clean homeless man. Not all homeless were dirty, were they? Was she being too judgmental? His healthy hair was long but trimmed; white teeth, straight, and sparkling, old clothes clean, immaculate. Now that she thought of it, when she got close to him to check his pulse, he smelled like a spring day. Either he was the cleanest homeless man ever, or he wasn’t homeless at all.

But no house keys…perhaps he was married or had a roommate and didn’t carry keys because someone could let him in. Yet if he had someone at home, then he would carry ID, should an emergency arise and friends and family need notification.

There was no wedding band on his finger. As a single woman, she checked all left hands of men her age out of habit. He wasn’t married.

Which meant he had to be a criminal, someone on the run, like a mass murderer, serial rapist, arsonist, or thief.

It still didn’t seem right. He wasn’t creepy. Yes, he had stared at her. Honestly, though, she looked fabulous today. Humility aside, she was an attractive woman. Men were bound to notice. He stared neither hungrily or savagely, and when she caught him, he turned away with a faint smile around his eyes, a little embarrassed. Not the MO of a serial rapist.

Oh, what do you know about any of that? True, her experience was limited when it came to hardened criminals. Television shows were fictional. Not all bad guys prowled the streets with tattoos and devious countenances. In fact, the worst bad guys didn’t seem menacing at all: they were charming, affectionate, charismatic and secretive.

Libby parallel parked near the hospital, amazed she found an empty spot.

She watched people filtering in and out of the hospital’s front doors. This wasn’t any of her business. She didn’t know a single thing about this man except what he told her. He was afraid of something or someone. Hospitals were police magnets; he would be spotted here. Clearly, he didn’t want to be found.

She should drive away, take the next ferry across the water and continue her day. There was so much to do: a weekend to plan, clients to answer to. But something anchored her there: a curiosity bordering on responsibility. He was a semi-tall, dark, and mysterious stranger. She wanted—no—she needed to know who he was.

With a sigh, she got out of her car and made her way into the hospital lobby. He should be in the ER. She went there.

Dozens of people sat in the waiting room, some bored, reading out-of-date magazines, others obviously struggling with discomfort. She went to the reception desk to inquire.

“Hi,” she said to the nurse at the desk. “I’m following up on a man who collapsed in a store. I don’t know what’s wrong with him, and the medics didn’t either. He didn’t carry any identification, so I guess that makes him a John Doe? Could you check the system for me?”

Without responding, the nurse entered some keystrokes into her computer.

“Yes, they have him here in a shared room. Only family can see him.”

Libby frowned. “Has he been seen by a doctor?”

The nurse consulted the computer screen. “He was evaluated when he came in, and they’re not sure what’s wrong with him.”

Frowning still, Libby pressed on. “They’re not sure what’s wrong, so he’s just lying somewhere? Why hasn’t he been moved to another wing of the hospital?”

The nurse shook her head. “He just got here, Miss. It’s a hospital, not a five star hotel.”

Libby smirked. “Right.”

She wasn’t family. It would be difficult to see him without having some kind of relationship with him… If only she’d made up something back in the store, giving him a fake name and saying she was his something or other. She’d have to try another tactic.

Libby smiled warmly. “I’m sorry. I know you’re busy and deal with people nagging all day long. I’m not related to this guy, but I was the one who saw him collapse and I just want to pop in and wish him good luck. Can I have five minutes with him?”

The nurse considered her for a moment. Sensing weakness, Libby pressed on.

“He’s a John Doe, he might not have anyone. I only want to encourage him to pull through this,” Libby added, giving a little punch in the air. “I wouldn’t mind if there was another nurse present.”

The nurse deliberated. Libby went in for the attack. “I’ve always said nurses work just as hard or more than doctors. I mean, without nurses, the hospital falls apart. It’s you guys who make this place run as efficiently as it does. And it’s doctors in their white coats who get all the credit. You are the unsung heroes who—”

“Okay,” said the nurse, raising her hand but smiling. “I’ll take you to see him.”

“Thank you,” said Libby, and as she followed the nurse through the maze of hallways, she had a spring of victory in her step. The nurse led her into a shared room, the John Doe lay in the second of three beds.

“This isn’t some ex-boyfriend of yours is it? You’re not going to smother him with a pillow as soon as I leave?” asked the nurse.

“No, I bumped into him today.”

“Okay, honey. You have five minutes.” The nurse left her alone with John Doe.

Libby walked to the head of his bed. His eyes flickered under their lids. REM sleep? She shook his shoulder but there was no change. The hospital staff had removed his coat, but he was not yet in a hospital gown. His long sleeved t-shirt and corduroy pants were out of place in the sterile environment. She supposed he was lucky to have made it past the first level of triage. Obviously he wasn’t in any danger if he was sleeping.

“Well,” Libby said, “here we are. You’re in the hospital, and…everything is going to be okay.” She picked up his hand, held it in hers, then turned it over. Under new bruises were old scars on the back of his hand, straight scars in a crosshatching pattern. They were not surgical. Turning his hand palm up, she found a thick scar running horizontal on his wrist, and several smaller scars under his palm. Scars from restraints.

Perplexed, she moved to his other side and examined his left hand. Same thing. Scars on the back of his hand, scars from restraints below the palm, and a thicker horizontal scar on his wrist.

Fighting restraints…then he was a criminal, probably a dangerous one. If not a criminal, then he was insane and had escaped from an asylum.

A mental patient… She revisited the thick scars on his wrists. He’d slit them. The angle of the scar was consistent with a suicide attempt. The right wasn’t as thick as the left because he was right-handed. It was straight across, long, unwavering. No hesitation. Death had been a sure decision.

She was confused. How insane could he be? He appeared normal, neither awkward or out of place. He knew where he was and where he didn’t want to be. But she wasn’t a doctor. Maybe he was high-functioning.

No medication in his pockets, though. Crazy people were crazier without their meds, weren’t they? If he was so out of control he needed restraints, then he should have been nuttier without his medication.

Libby walked back to his right side and studied him more closely, as if willing his identity from him. No matter how she analyzed him, she didn’t think he was a convict. Perhaps she was being delusional, but the more she considered the evidence, the more she was sure he wasn’t insane. That little voice in her head she often, and regretfully, ignored told her he wasn’t a villain.

A lone-wolf, maybe, staying off the radar to avoid the IRS. An appealing lifestyle: he lived on the edge, made money under the table and didn’t pay taxes, didn’t have a name, couldn’t be tracked. He led a freer life than anyone. But the scars?

“Five minutes are up,” said a different nurse as she came bristling into the room, throwing the curtains to give the man privacy. She moved jerkily, tossing sheets on the chair next to the bed. “Time to go, ma’am,” she said again.

“Yeah,” Libby said, staring at the sleeping man. “Yeah, okay.”

The nurse rolled up the man’s sleeve to insert an IV line. She paused. Libby watched her. She had been rough and fast, why the interruption? Curious, Libby peeked over the nurse’s shoulder.

There was a tattoo on his forearm: an inverted pyramid, split half black, half white, with a gray top. Underneath the triangle was unmistakably a barcode.

Small bursts of memories came to Libby. She’d seen that symbol before, seen it on stationary, business cards, on invitations. She knew exactly what it was. Archcroft.

The nurse peered over her shoulder at Libby and gave her a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “You need to go now, ma’am,” she said icily.

Libby wasn’t the only one who recognized the symbol.

“Do you know what it means?” Libby asked in her best attempt at casual.

“No,” answered the nurse too quickly.

“Oh. Okay. Well, bye,” she said, then hurried out.

She whipped her phone from her purse, and scrolled through her emergency-only contacts. There was her father’s cell number, unless he’d changed it. She promised herself she’d only call him if her life was in imminent danger. She tapped his number and put the phone to her ear.

It rang once.

She hadn’t spoken to him in years, how was she going to handle this? Her stomach churned with nervousness.

The phone rang a second time.

He had to know something, didn’t he? John Doe had the Archcroft logo tattooed on his arm—with a freaking barcode! How weird was that? So science fiction…

Three times.

Don’t let them take me, he had said. There were restraint scars on his wrists, and he’d tried to commit suicide.

Libby pushed “End call” before the phone rang a fourth time.

The mystery man, John Doe, was running from Archcroft. They kept him against his will and he escaped. They tortured him. He was lucky to be free, and would have risked death rather than go to a hospital and be discovered.

Yes. The barcode was a tracking method. He was important. They wanted him back. The little voice in her head cheered, congratulating her.

Libby half ran to the waiting room and called an elevator. She didn’t know what to do, but she knew she had to do something. She was right. He wasn’t a criminal. He wasn’t insane. He was on the run. It wasn’t her fault he was here, per se. Yet she felt responsible. She knew about Archcroft, knew it was more than it pretended to be.

Her father may or may not have answers. The little voice cautioned her. She paced the lobby floor, trying but failing to come up with a plan. The staff wouldn’t let her anywhere near John Doe now they knew who or what he was. She felt helpless, but stayed, hoping an idea would come.

Dr. Clarkson was busy charting when Amanda came to him with an air of urgency. She was an exceptional scrub nurse, but outside the OR, she was as annoying and abrasive as a yapping Chihuahua snapping at heels.

“I have to talk to you,” she said.

Any situation involving Amanda talking one-on-one with him was a situation to be avoided. If he stayed in the hall, jotting notes, people passing by, she might leave him alone to his work and make her point quickly.

“Go ahead,” Clarkson said.

“This is important.”

“What?” he asked, not sure he believed her.

“In private?” she said, nodding to an empty examining room.

“I’m busy,” he said curtly.

Rather than take offense, she grabbed him by the elbow and dragged him into an empty room. When he opened his mouth to protest, she covered it with a hand.

“I’ve found someone,” she said in a hurried but quiet voice. “He’s got an Archcroft tattoo with a barcode. He didn’t come in with any identification. He’s unconscious but I don’t know for how long. I haven’t told anyone else,” she added as she correctly read his face.

He was intrigued. Amanda was right to come to him with the information, but he wasn’t sure what to do. He nodded to her. “Show me.”

Striding along confidently and quietly, Amanda led him upstairs and into John Doe’s semi-private room. Thankfully no one interrupted them or followed.

John Doe was in his mid twenties, had long hair and beard, but nothing about him was remarkable. Then Amanda rolled up the man’s sleeve to reveal the tattoo.

“See?” she simpered.

Yes he did. Dr. Clarkson had not heard of any Archcroft subjects in Seattle, much less in the open. His interest intensified.

“We need to scan it,” he said, pointing to the barcode, “so we can figure out who he is. Do you know how to do that?”

She shrugged.

“Let’s move him somewhere private.”

They wheeled his bed into the hall to the nearest elevator, shielding themselves behind the sliding doors.

“We need to hook a scanner to a computer with internet access,” Amanda said.

“How do you know that?” he asked her.

“I don’t, but it’s the only thing I can think of. Do you have any better ideas?” she snapped, glaring at him.

He rolled his eyes. “No I don’t.”

Dr. Clarkson retrieved his laptop from his office and Amanda confiscated a barcode scanner with a USB connector port from a supply closet. She plugged it into the computer and Clarkson powered on the machine, which searched for WiFi hotspots. There were many.

Amanda strung the scanner over the man’s body. The red beam hovered over the barcode. She pulled the trigger.

The scanner beeped: a valid code. Dr. Clarkson met her eyes, then both turned their attention to the computer screen.

A web browser opened. The website was blank except for a text entry field with a submit button.

Clarkson looked at the barcode tattoo. “Enter the numbers I read off,” he told her, his voice trembling with excitement.

“J B zero zero two three zero zero.”

Amanda entered the numbers and clicked Submit.

LOADING, and an hourglass replaced the cursor.

After a few moments a document appeared. Along the top read: EMERGENCY RPI (BAKER, JADEN) INFORMATION. In one corner was a large headshot of a teenage boy with short black hair and gray eyes. To the right of the photo was a list of information including:

Research Project Individual: Baker, Jaden

Current age: 25

Archcroft Registration Number: JB002300

Handler: Chad Dalton, M.D.

Handler 2: Joseph Madrid, M.D.

Research Purpose: PK

Status: Incomplete. See notes.
Warnings:

DO NOT submit to MRI or CAT examination.
RPI is considered extremely dangerous. DO NOT attempt capture until contacting mainline to receive instructions.
DO NOT USE ANTI-DEPRESSANTS, as they negatively affect RPI health.
KEEP RPI in clean room, away from any loose, sharp or heavy objects, as they can be used as weapons or to harm the RPI.
Notes:

RPI escaped from ARCH Lab 1 prior to project completion. Operations to reclaim the RPI have been unsuccessful.
If UPC BARCODE is scanned into a computer, the IP address from the transmitting computer will be sent to ARCH headquarters. For faster communication, call the Archcroft phone line and enter the RPI number, give the address from where you are calling, and give the current status of the RPI, i.e. detained, unconscious, deceased.
At the bottom of the screen was a short message of TRANSMISSION COMPLETE.

Clarkson and Amanda stared at each other.

“Whoa,” she said to him.

Jaden Baker. Dr. Clarkson looked at the man laying in bed, still and motionless. He didn’t know who or what Jaden Baker was, or why Archcroft was so interested in him, and he wasn’t sure what “PK” meant, but if Chad Dalton and Joseph Madrid were his handlers, then this man was someone valuable. Madrid was the rumored founder of Archcroft, and Dalton his closest apprentice. If Dalton and Madrid handled Baker, then he was something.

“What do we do with him?” Amanda asked.

Clarkson considered that. He suspected once Archcroft officials came to retrieve Baker, they would reveal nothing. Clarkson had never heard of Jaden Baker, not even a rumor. It was unlikely he or Amanda would be told who Jaden Baker was.

The blow to the right side of Jaden Baker’s head probably caused the accident, the reason he was here. Either the initial impact was more powerful than most, or… The warnings to keep Baker from an MRI and CAT scanner piqued his level of interest.

“Let’s X-ray his brain,” Clarkson told her.

Clarkson wheeled Baker’s bed to the elevator. He was astonished at their luck that it was empty. Amanda pushed the floor number for the radiology department. They passed the time in silence. When the door chimed and opened, Clarkson wheeled Baker out the elevator. Both he and Amanda acted nonchalantly. Once at Radiology, they waited a few minutes for a room to clear, and Clarkson charmingly requested privacy when they entered.

“Help me lift him.” Clarkson took Baker’s upper body and Amanda grabbed his ankles, and together they heaved him onto the table. Amanda draped the lead gown over his torso and put an image receptor plate under his head. Clarkson lowered the X-ray over Baker’s head, then both he and Amanda stepped behind the protective barrier.

The X-rayed image came onto a computer monitor. Inside the brain was a complicated array of wires. They crawled through his brain like the web of a black widow spider—messy and seemingly disorganized, but constructed with purpose. The wires varied in length and girth, their paths never crossed, but flowed to major parts of his brain. All the wires merged at the base of Baker’s head.

“What the hell is that?” Clarkson asked.

Amanda traced a wire’s path with her finger. “I have no idea.”

“Why would they put wires in his head? How could they get them in so precisely without killing him?”

Jaden was cold. He opened his eyes. An X-ray machine blocked his vision. Staying calm, he tried recalling how he got here, wherever here was. He remembered Seth telling him to take a hit, so he didn’t seem unbeatable. Seth had never led him wrong before, so he did as he advised. Then a terrible headache set in, becoming more painful throughout the night. Because Jaden didn’t keep medication on hand, he couldn’t stop the pain. By morning, the headache was unbearable, blinding. He’d gone to a local drugstore.

There was a woman there. He remembered smiling at her. Then he was here.

He heard voices. Jaden sat up. There was a funny taste in his mouth, like he’d been napping too long. Otherwise he felt fine—refreshed, even. Jaden studied the dark room. He had been X-rayed, but since he still had his clothes, and a heavy gown covered him, his body could not have been scanned. Over in the corner, in a separate room walled off with thick paned, but not unbreakable glass and concrete, stood two people. One wore blue scrubs, and the other a white coat: a nurse and doctor. Jaden felt neither dizzy nor nauseous. He wasn’t restrained. He had to be in a hospital.

Jaden eased himself off the table. The air was still. Fear took a backseat to curiosity.

He approached the backs of the doctor and nurse. They studied a computer screen. Jaden moved closer. The nurse and doctor stared at an image of a brain. His brain. It had wires in it. His brain had wires in it. Jaden held his breath as he stared.

“Why’d they put that stuff in his head?” asked the nurse.

“I’m not sure. We can ask when they get here.”

Goosebumps popped up all over Jaden’s body and he shivered.

They were coming.

Jaden surveyed the room again, this time more closely. A laptop computer sat on a hospital bed, a barcode scanner attached. A photo of his teenage self gazed at him from the dimmed computer monitor. He read the information beside it. Fear crept in, his curiosity was gone.

Jaden noticed that his sleeve was rolled up, exposing his forearm and the tattoo inked into it. The barcode was real and it tracked him. Joseph’s people would descend on him soon, the only people who knew how to control him.

Time to run.

“How long ago did you scan my arm?” Jaden asked.

The two people in the alcove jumped and spun, showing identical faces of panic.

“When did you scan the barcode?” Jaden asked again, more forcefully.

The doctor spoke first, holding the woman. “Ten minutes ago.”

Ten minutes. Jaden grabbed the computer and threw it to the floor. It smashed on impact.

“Did you read it?” he asked, but he already knew the answer.

She shook her head but the doctor wrapped his arm around her.

“I see,” Jaden said. “You shouldn’t have. This isn’t your business.”

“We won’t tell anyone,” the doctor said.

“I know you’re lying,” Jaden said. He had to incapacitate them to buy time. The doctor was young, Jaden’s height, with dark hair. It wasn’t black, but close enough.

“Right,” Jaden said, as he planned his next move. “Remove your clothes.”

The nurse whimpered.

“Why?” the doctor asked.

“Because,” he said. His mind reached out and wrapped around the woman. Her heart beat fast, Jaden felt it thrumming. She was torn from the doctor’s protective arms, as if yanked around her midriff with bailing hooks, and flew across the room into Jaden’s grasp. “I’ll kill her if you don’t.”

For dramatic effect, Jaden reached his hand toward the glass window of the barrier, and it shattered without his touch. As the pieces fell, one long, sharp shard veered into in his hand. Jaden put it to her throat.

The doctor hastily undressed.

A phone rang in San Francisco. It was answered by a woman in her mid-sixties. She usually let the machine pick it up, but she expected a call from her sister. Her niece was due to have a baby any day now and she couldn’t wait to be a great aunt.

But the call was not for her. It was for her husband who was rarely called upon at home. Sighing, she put the phone on hold and walked through her expansive dining room, clip-clopping across the clay-tiled floor.

Today was a beautiful and rare summer day: light and breezy, sun shining. They were hosting an impromptu brunch for close friends and family, celebrating the unseasonably warm weather. Her husband loved to cook. He found it relaxing.

He was chatting animatedly with his son-in-law about the Giants, preparing to drop an egg into his poacher for eggs Benedict, when she interrupted him.

“Phone call for you,” she said.

“Oh,” he said, smiling at her and putting his hand on her shoulder. “I’m sure it’s something quick. I’ll be right back.” He kissed her on the cheek and set down the egg, leaving the water boiling on the stove.

He walked steadily through his house, shut a pair of French doors behind him, and locked them. The house was quiet. Nevertheless, he paused to listen, ensuring no one had followed him. When he was sure he was alone, he proceeded into his office.

A single green light flashed next to the phone’s hold button. He lifted the receiver to his ear and pushed the button.

“Yes?” he said.

“Mr. Madrid?” asked the man on the other end.

“This is he,” Joseph Madrid replied.

“It’s Jaden Baker, sir. We found him.”

***

Go to Chapter One.

Copyright 2015. Courtney Kirchoff.