Doc Sharp was an inveterate meddler, not a joiner per se, but those groups of which he was a part, he really took part in. The stories of his 'social engineering' are the stuff of legend...
He was a great planner and an excellent expediter and troubleshooter. His genius at Molecular solutions was to wander around, adding value quietly, confronting problems and false starts in an ego-easing, non-threatening way. Paranoid geniuses (and very few smart people were as secure as Tom; "There’s always some young punk of a grad student gunning for your work and position," as I’d once overheard) saw him coming and smiled. People regularly dropped by and talked until, hours later, they left re-energized, problem solved or reduced, or maybe with insight and a totally new direction in which to look for answers. They called it the 'Spark'.
Tom had a plan- The Plan, he called it, and it was very nearly as comprehensive as that makes it sound. It was a tactical and strategic blueprint for the roll-out of the Shipstone, and he got it by jogging an elbow here, dropping a loaded question there, by turns squashing egos, or boosting them. He encouraged my hobby, and got Beatrice looking at spin-offs along with her Nobel dreams. Meiguo he took pains to get to know, before he put him rather agreeably into the harness.
"So what did you guys talk about at lunch?" I asked Meiguo a few days after he'd started. Sparks had kept him an hour longer than he was supposed to. I was annoyed, but I wasn't going to make that big a deal over it. I liked them both, and the kid was the bosses' nephew after all.
He had a funny expression. "Travel, the different places where we'd lived. He's been to my- he'd been to where I grew up."
"What was that like?"
Meiguo shrugged. I sighed.
"Alright, my little minion, back to work."
He didn't turn to his work right away. "Mr. Hobson-"
"I told you, call me Luke."
"What do you think of Doctor Sparks?"
I shrugged. "I like him. Don't you? For that matter, isn't he like Beatrice's mentor or something?"
"Something like that. I don't know about Sparks. Likeable, Bea really likes him, but he's, I don't know..."
"That's one word for it. Maybe... manipulative?"
"He's definitely that. He has a certain charm to him- charisma we called it in my moldy old D&D days. There are definitely leaders of men, like your uncle, who are all about bending other people's wills to his own vision. Making money, ruining competitors, surviving the economic storm. A bit of a pirate." Meiguo was laughing.
"Sparks isn't like that, but he does have the charisma thing. He has things he wants, mind you, but they aren't exclusively for himself. I think he would have made a good priest or reverend, I don't even know his religion-"
"Agnostic," Meiguo put in. "It came up."
"Did it, now? He never asked me..." But thinking back on it, we had talked about God and philosophy from time to time. Somehow that had never seemed strange, thus my impression of him as a good preacher man. Maybe he was a man of God without being in your face about it.
"So what does he want?"
"He wants people to be happy, to succeed. He gets a lot of mileage out of figuring people out, and then he puts things in their path, or asks a question, makes a remark, finds out what they might need, and arranges that they can get it. He doesn't give it away, or steal your accomplishments. He helps you to be more... you."
"God's Tom," Meiguo muttered. "From Stephen King's 'The Stand'. When they hypnotized the retarded man, Tom Cullen- did you ever read it, 'The Stand'?"
"Luddite though he is, I read King. 'The Mist' and 'The Stand' are his best ones."
"When they hypnotize Tom, to send him as a spy into enemy territory, they speak with another personality, who identifies himself as 'God's Tom'." Meiguo put a hand to his forehead. "That stayed with me, here and also here," he moved the hand to over his heart. "I'm a Christian and a Buddhist, I don't see where the two have to be exclusive, and I converted in a little basement church in the village where I grew up. They have to take that one passage to heart over there, about going into a room and shutting the door to pray quietly? My minister and his congregation bear witness with humility and grace."
"I told Sparks about all of that... it's weird, that his name is Tom, isn't it?"
I shrugged. I find that universe is a pretty interesting place to be. We are built to find patterns and make our own meaning. "Yeah, it is strange..."
"So we're all God's Tom, in our own way, trying to be more perfectly ourselves. And this guy, Doctor Sparks is all about that, so I guess I trust him."
"What did he suggest, for you?"
"He didn't really seem to be hinting at anything, but we did talk about how some martial arts focus on being reactive, and redirecting your opponents' energy."
So he had handed the kid a leading question, then. I smiled and said gruffly, "Well, enough with the talking, more with the working, alright?"
(I can't write a love scene, per se, these two aren't my MC, Luke is! Sigh 8-)
The next day I came in to the shop, way too early in the AM, and I found Bea and Meiguo necking. I backed out as quickly and quietly as I could and went to get a fresher cup of coffee. When I came back, I made a little discrete noise. They were both still there, as expected. Meiguo had the good grace to look a little embarrassed, but Beatrice gave me a rather annoyed look.
"Like the show?" Apparently she'd seen me earlier, I guess.
She blinked and left in a huff, the line in her forehead more pronounced. She's a pretty young woman, when she's not angry at the world for it not bowing to her desires. She's more often given to smiles than to frowns, but I don't let her have an inch these days. I do mourn the loss of her sunny smile, though, and the laugh lines at the corners of her mouth.
"Woman wants," I told Meiguo cryptically.
"Wants what?" He said, perplexed.
"Oh brother, are you in trouble!" I laughed at his further clueless-ness, and he joined me a little uncertainly. Then we got to it.
Judy Sharp is the Doc's wife of nearly forty years; they met in college, dated but didn't really fall in love until later, when they were both working for Uncle Dupie. She had majored in Law and minored in Chemistry, and had worked in patent law. She retired when the company grew smaller and elected not to try to get into a partnership or start up her own practice late in life, and she writes freelance instead. They moved a little north of their old home of thirty years and got a place within walking distance of Molecular Solutions when the Doc signed on. No children; they either couldn't, or didn't want them, but I tend to think the former. She's not the busybody her husband can be, but she is like an aunt or a second mother to some us.
Judy wanted to throw welcome party for Meiguo; no doubt she knows the real score, but a simple thing like B&E and corporate espionage wouldn't stop her. I imagine it only added spice to the enterprise, and the lady does know how to throw a party. She's a little bit Martha Stewart, and little bit, hmm, Mel Streep. She likes a little zing in her get-togethers, if you know what I mean...
In the event, the party turned out to be smaller and quieter than I'd expected. Instead of a packed crowd spilling out onto the back deck and the fire pit, a mere two dozen guests were there, and they dwindled into an after party with purpose.
"Lukie-boy, you want to join us in the corner by the piano?" Tom went around to the other guests; Mr. Dolan and his date, a local realtor who had sold me my house, as it happened, Meiguo and Beatrice, Jim Mera, a guy I knew from accounting, and a few others. Some of them were people I'd never seen before at these parties, actually, but I did notice a pattern. They were all well, not to put too fine a point on it, troublesome. Jim, the guy in accounting, had gone to Dolan over an error that might not have been a simple mistake; the offending party had left the company shortly there after.
Dolan was the last to join us, his date leaving because she had "an early day tomorrow." I winced at the tone and the look on her face. Dolan didn't look very happy, either. He took a seat, the last space available, on the couch with his nephew and Beatrice.
"What's this all about, Sparks?"
"I've been concerned, for the last few days, that we aren't doing enough to prepare," Sparks said.
"The new substance? I've got people working on that... people who handle the roll out of new products all the time."
"I understand that, I do. And I know that their are other people looking into, uh, the military applications."
Beatrice looked like she'd bitten into something nasty at this point, and Meiguo leaned over to say something to her.
"This doesn't really concern-"
"With respect, sir, yes it does."
Mr. Dolan stood up, turning to go and reaching for his keys, but Meiguo jumped up and put a hand on his shoulder. "Uncle Mike? Please. Listen to the man. What could it hurt?"
Dolan sat back down. "Tom whatever you have to say, make it good. I don't need this shit!" He rubbed his face in his hands and then added, "Sorry, Judy."
"Don't be. I know all about this, of course, and this is bigger than our stocks, bigger than our individual lives."
Dolan glared at Tom, who simply shrugged. "She drugged it out of me..."
"Dragged?" Meiguo said.
"Drugged; she plied me with alcohol. A few Yuenglings and a 'you look troubled dear,' plus a very fine old Scotch Whiskey. Loosened my tongue right up, you see-"
"About the Shipstone, before my head explodes?"
Tom settled down. "Shipstone changes everything, and we are the ones who understand it best, if we really do. We are morally obligated to choose wisely for the entire species-"
"Don't you think I know that?"
"You do, but you still don't grasp how this will change literally everything."
"Tell me, oh wise grey-beard, who's this close to losing his job..."
"Are you going to fire me again, Mike?"
Mr. Dolan snorted. "Yeah, because that works so very well..."
I think that maybe Judy was the only other person in on their little joke, and we were not laughing. But Dolan visibly relaxed, stole his nephews' beer, and had a slug of it. "Alright. I'm bent. Straighten me."
"This is an emergency, ad hoc planning committee. I've talked to each of you about this, and I want to go around the room, get each of your thoughts. Let's start with..." his eye fell on Jim Mera, "Jim from accounting."
Jim looked around nervously, ending up with Dolan, who gave him a thumbs up. "Well, the big picture is energy. It's a big part of the economy, and cheap energy drives growth... the shipstone will make leveling of wind and solar truly feasible, but the really big thing will be the way it stands to decentralize the power grid. We should look into private power production and distribution, and service contracts for domestic and commercial Shipstones-"
"Residential and commercial? What about liability on that?"
"We've got to satisfy the EPA and OSHA anyway; once we clear those hurdles, and Underwriters Laboraties..." he went on like that for a while.
"Is it going to replace oil?" I asked.
Jim scratched his head. "The question is how fast, and how much? In Europe and Japan, major importers of oil, they'll want to kick the habit as fast as possible. Oil, petroleum is going to be with us as an industrial feedstock for a long time yet, but demand for oil to burn is going to fall off in a big way. You don't want to be in oil for years to come. This'll take a long time to shake out."
I glanced at Meiguo. "What about China?"
Jim looked his way and shrugged. "I'm working on an overview, and I'm not a China expert. They depend on us to buy cheap consumer goods from them, which we won't be doing if the world economy gets disrupted in a big way by Shipstone, and it will. Plus they've outsourced some of the production to other countries in Southeast Asia just like Taiwan and Hong Kong originally outsourced manufacturing to southern China. The Chinese get some things from us, too... cheap oil will be good for them, but they'll transition to Shipstone as soon as they can, and we know, historically, they don't respect copyright protections very well."
"How expensive will that be?"
"The transition process or piracy? I'll been looking into both problems."
"Transition. I've already accepted that, short of selling this to the military in a big way, our copyrights won't be worth very much, even inside the U.S-"
"We can still get some value for them," Judy cut in, "upfront and if we patent spin-off products. But the domestic market would soon be flooded with cheap knock-offs, flooding from overseas. Molecular Solutions could sell the patent to somebody in a better position to produce new products using Shipstone, but they won't pay very much... they would make more money off of volume sales, in the long run, if we can get this in products quickly and get them to market first." She looked around the room. "So, for a lot of reasons, only some them concerning MS seeing a decent return on investment, Shipstone should come to market as soon as possible. It looks like that shouldn't be problem, from what Jim has found out."
Jim nodded. "I was looking at what it has cost us to prototype production for the Shipstone which we need to conduct research, and the numbers are very encouraging. To date, a pound of this stuff is running just under thirty dollars, and that is only going to go down as the chemical reactors make more. The capital investment in materials and skill to increase production goes down a little over time as well, and while it's going to cost more to scale it up, the economies of scale will also knock that initial capital cost per pound, way down. We've produced nearly half a ton of this stuff to date, a little over $28,000 dollars, and for that kind of outlay, we could probably have a small factory rolling out that much every day, for an order of magnitude less per unit cost-"
"Mr. Dolan," I interrupted, "for the pirates, we're talking about garage-scale production, meth-lab production, and while it's probably that dangerous for any half-assed backyard chemist," Beatrice snorted," it can and will be done." I'd cooked up my own first batch on the sly, last night; three kilos.
"What about safety, again?" Dolan asked. "We had that fire in the lab..."
"That was a one-time event," Beatrice answered. "We understand charge and discharge rates better, and have proper safeties. The power surge sent 1700 amps through that wire and it burned up."
I whistled, having done the repair work. It burned up good. That was about fifty times what the wires had been rated for, no wonder the poor damn piece of my equipment had fried.
"Objectively, is Shipstone inherently dangerous?"
Slowly, Meiguo put his hand up. "Yes." Beatrice looked ready to tear into him, but he manned up and went on. "Efficiency varies a lot from production lot to production lot, we're still learning, and we've had a few samples that have, uh, melted. And one discharged so violently that it, well, it exploded, like a defective firecracker... There is plenty of potential as a safe, uncharged substance that becomes a variable explosive based on charge, as well as the power source for weapons and vehicles."
From the looks on several faces, this was not news to everyone. I felt just a little queasy, thinking about nearly seven pounds worth of material sitting in my basement. Somehow I knew my homeowners insurance wouldn't cover the damages, if I had a house fire tonight.
"So production is dangerous, cheap and easy; utility is high, but so are the risks of idiot-error." Dolan looked around at us. "So is gasoline, so is propane, and we use them in our cars and homes. What else do we know, what do we need to find out yet, and is there any coffee?"
There was, and we went on to have an all-night bull session.
Once a year, I take a personal day. I'm overly mysterious about it. Even so, folk tend to get the word and leave it be, but as I prepped Meiguo for a day by himself, after less than week of working with me, he was naturally curious. Of course, the Shipstone must roll, and Dolan came down, himself, to see me a half hour before closing.
"Do you think you could cancel tomorrow?"
"It's the anniversary of-"
"Oh, yeah." He looked away. "Sorry. I knew that, and I'd forgotten."
I stared after him and blurted out, "You knew that? How?"
Dolan shrugged. He didn't turn around. "You are working with my nephew on the most important thing in the world, but you're working with my nephew. Of course I know everything I can about you, and did a little more digging besides." Now he did turn back. "I'm sorry for your loss."
After he'd gone through the door, I saw Meiguo not-looking at me, looking anywhere else. "What?!" I snapped.
"You could tell me why you're dumping all this on me-"
"Its just one day!"
"That's cool," he said quickly and hurried back to work. I slammed a few drawers on my tool-box and began to regret my behavior. I don't want to be that kind of boss, and I don't want to be that kind of human being. I'd spent years being miserable...
"It's about my parents. They died in a three-car pile up when I was seventeen, a bunch of years ago. They were... old, and I was young and stupid, a little bit wild. They died on a Saturday night, out looking for me, and I didn't know about them for nearly a week. I almost missed their service. I have an older brother, much older. He never talks to me."
"I have an uncle who I fight with, but at least we shout at each other."
I smiled bitterly. "Yeah, the dysfunctional family is the best kind, except for all the rest-"
"Better than no family, Mr. Hobson. Even you know that, or why else would you have made your own?"
"What are you talking about, kid?"
"For a man who likes to pretend he wants to get away from everybody, you have found a way to be a part of a whole lot of lives. My Uncle talks about you and Tom a lot; I think most of what he knows of you is through Doctor Sparks. You act a little bit like an uncle with Beatrice, but she doesn't see it; in many ways I'm a lot older than she is, which is strange. From my mom, I always thought that women were smarter, understood more."
"I imagine that she was a special woman."
"She was, and no, I didn't appreciate that nearly as much as I did after she was dead. My Uncle was the same way, only more so. They were very different people, but he thought the world of her. I know there were at least three occasions where he helped out behind the scenes, because she wouldn't take his help; once financially, which she really hated, 'blood money' she called it. And when she was in prison and he got her out of there and out of China, period. And again when she wanted to go back."
"What happened then?"
"Killed, murdered for a little money, or maybe somebody inconvenienced by her arranged it, the death of a meddlesome foreigner." Meiguo shook his head. "I brought her home to her family, and then I stayed. Because my uncle couldn't ask me too, but I could that that was what he wanted."
"You've got good eyes, kid. Eyes that see inside of people." Damn if he didn't turn away. "What's the matter?"
Gruffly, focusing on his work, he said, "That's what my mother said."
I finished putting my tools away and put my coat on. "All yours, Meiguo; do me proud tomorrow."
I was a month shy of my eighteenth birthday when I lost my parents. My older brother had a wife and children and lived in another state, and I was... difficult. A loner I always will be, but I experimented with herd behavior at the end of high school, after I discovered that alcohol made me a different person- funnier, more social, happier. Well, at least at first. Alcohol also made me fight, and lost me what few real friends I had back then. The ones I partied with, they weren't my friends.
That time I disappeared on Thursday morning, and by Saturday night my parents were just about out of their minds, according to my neighbors and my brother. He came up from Virginia to help Mom and Dad, but he got here on Sunday morning, about seven hours after they had died. I- was missing for another four days, and finally showed up on Wednesday morning.
The house was full of people, getting things ready. The arrangements had already been made and things went smoothly, without me. My brother took one look at me and walked away. Alice Hart, our next-door neighbor, broke the news, and told me the viewing and cremation would be that night. I slept, I guess I might have cried, then I got up, put on the suit that had been set out for me, and then we bore up through the service.
The next day my brother told me I would be coming to live with him and his family.
That didn't last very long. I was legally an adult soon, and just left. I just went, passed on from one place to another, one job to another. And I haven't talked with my brother in years. We're both fine with that.
The accident took place at what was then a lonely intersection. There's a traffic light and a strip mall with a gas station off to one side now.
It was a four-way. They had stopped and then went on. But they had pulled out in front of a drunk who roared right past his stop sign, and he pushed them into an oncoming car. Neither the driver nor the passenger had a chance, crushed and spun between two cars, one traveling over fifty miles and hour. They died, each with in seconds of the other.
Like I had for the last seven years, since I finally got my shit together, I lay flowers at the base of the traffic-light pole nearest where the car had come to rest between the other two, pushed over into the northwest corner of the intersection. I had a few words, but I said them quietly, in my heart. Then I went back to my car and sat in it for a little while.
By and by, I came back to myself, and as I did, I had the distinct feeling that I was being watched. I groaned; this would not be the first time I'd been bothered on this little pilgrimage by curious bystanders. But when I looked around, there was no one obviously interested in me. I started my car, backed out of my parking space, and drove out of the parking lot of the strip mall.
That feeling didn't go away. There was a little green sedan, a Hyundai, which I could have sworn that I'd seen it at least twice before, the first time when I'd stopped for coffee at five AM, at the start of my drive. The second time had been when I stopped to get gas.
Paranoia is insidious, but even paranoids have enemies, y'know? I started to get more and more nervous, until I looked up to see the Hyundai turn off. I breathed a sigh of relief, and then I had a thought; what if I was right? Maybe... I slowed down and a car passed me as I dithered, and then I pulled over on the shoulder of the two-lane highway, waited for traffic to pass in both directions, and made an illegal U-turn.
I went back up the road, turned left following my little green sedan, and went down the road a couple hundred yards. Around a bend in the road, in the middle of nowhere with just fields one side of the road and forest on the other, was my friend, pulled over. There was enough room on some grass, where some farmer would have parked his combine, or some hay-wagons, that another sedan, dark blue was parked, driver to driver the same way cops will pull up by each other, windows down. A woman in the green sedan was talking to a man in the dark blue one. They looked up and saw me.
I went on past, glancing at them but not staring. I didn't want to try to ignore them; two cars parked that way is inherently interesting, right? I was sweating, and drove around randomly for twenty minutes. I managed to get myself thoroughly lost. I didn't know the area anymore.
I drove through another little cluster of business by the road, another strip mall and a couple of gas-stations just down the road from a housing development and an RV dealership. There was a burger joint of the franchise I liked best, and I was lost and hungry, so I pulled in. I got my directions, a soda and a sack of burgers, and was headed back to my car when I saw the man in the blue sedan drive by. He was slowing down and turned in at the other end of the strip mall, pulling around to a pump at the gas station down there. The guy seemed to ignore me. He got out his cell phone and walked inside, to pay for his gas, apparently.
I sat in my car, ate a burger, and watched him get his gas, then drive off. I was not fooled. I sat for a while, and sure enough, the green Hyundai drove past the other way, the route I would surely have taken after getting directions. The opposite direction from the blue car, earlier.
I went that way, and there was the blue car, pulled over on the side of the road, hood up, the man fussing with the dipstick. He nodded as I went past, and the last I saw of him, he was pouring a little oil.
I sure hoped he didn't ruin his engine, play-acting. Reflecting on that thought, I hoped that he would.
I was in a spot. I wanted to know what they wanted with me, and I also really didn't want anything to do with them. I didn't have a clue as to how to go about either; they seemed to be doing a good job of keeping me in their sights. What to do? I didn't know, but I wasn't crazy, and these people were just following me, at this point. I decided maliciously, that if they wanted to follow me around, I'd take the long way home...
I drove west, into the mountains and the heart of the state, then turned south again, not at all sure I could find roads that would take me where I wanted to go, and not caring very much. I trended southwest on back roads, getting higher and a little farther from home, over all. I hadn't seen any other traffic for half an hour and was driving with the sun in my face, when a sports car, in canary yellow with black markings, like a hornet, came up behind me, doing eighty or ninety to my forty. I cringed, as the roads were crooked and not very good, and there were places with steep drop-offs into mountain streams. But he slowed down as he came up on me, a white male, middle aged with dirty blond hair, talking on the phone. He pulled off after another quarter mile, in one of those look-out spots for sightseers.
A minute later, as I was passing through a nature reserve, more concerned with finding an easterly road, he was back again. The yellow sports car was doing fifty or sixty, and then he accelerated, until he was gaining on me like I was standing still.
I panicked, I guess. I put the pedal all the way down, and prayed that I was half the driver my uncle had been. He'd been a part-time racer when I was a little boy, until he'd rolled his pride and joy off a dirt-track and burned. I braked into the first turn and then gave it all the gas I could.
He was gaining all the while, but at least for the next three turns, braking was my friend, I don't know why. But we came up to a straight run and my heart sank. By the next turn he was ten feet behind me, and I didn't brake nearly as much as he did. I could see him smiling in my rear view mirror... but I made it, drifting a little, and flew down the road, almost headlong into a green, oncoming car. There was just a moment of recognition, the woman grinning and shouting something, and then I was trying to get out of her way and stay into control of my car.
The driver of the green car twisted her steering wheel hard and drove her car across the road into my lane behind me and halfway onto the shoulder. The yellow sports car had braked enough so that he had stayed completely in control of his car, confident of catching me. But the oncoming green car gave him nowhere to go. He steered wildly around her, but the green car turned back towards her lane just as they came together. The sports car went out of control, flying across the road, up the hill and rolling three or four times. The green car spun around and slammed trunk-first into a tree.
I hit the brakes and pulled over. I must have sat there for a full minute, watching the twisted, upside down sports car, but the man didn't move. I shuddered, but I turned back around, driving past the car slowly. From where I was, it seemed to me like his neck was at an unnatural angle, and I decided that that was the best that I was going to do for him. The driver of the green car, however...
She had stumbled from her car, something in her hand, muttering as I drove back to her. She'd been watching me at the yellow car, and had started to come around the corner of her wreck, but had relaxed as I drove past the sports car. She put the Glock behind her, but I had seen it. I debated driving on, but I stopped and asked, "Need a lift?"
The blue car from before came squealed around the curve just then and the woman said, "No, I'm fine."
Special Agent Jake Green, of the FBI, had been very concerned for his partner. He cuffed me and put me in the back of his blue sedan before calling the local law enforcement or doing first aid of her, though. I could tell because he was short with me, just a 'protective custody' and two sentences for the the county dispatch. "Traffic accident at," he rattled off a location. I hadn't really know which rad I was really on," need an ambulance. Federal Agents requesting assistance."
I should have drove on. 'Coulda, woulda, shoulda.'
"Don't mind Jake; he's a good agent."
"And you are?" I asked the woman. The passenger side door was open and the first aid box was sitting on the seat. She winced as she wiped at a cut.
"Gabrielle Trudeau. Call me Gabby; Jake says I talk too much-"
"Which you do," the big man muttered. "It's unprofessional. He's dead."
Jake took her and turned her around, a little more hands on that I'd have expected, looking at her pupils and then examining her cuts and scrapes. "You'll live."
Gabby must have seen that on my face.
"Priorities. You're somebody we were supposed to keep alive."
"Not that I'm complaining, but why?"
"Come on, Mr. Hobson, that's not at all hard to work out, I would think. A man with access to a big secret wanders off alone, maybe to meet with somebody? We had to watch you."
"Watch me, not be my bodyguard. Why is somebody trying to kill me?"
"Gabby," Agent Green barked, and she gave him a sweet smile.
"Jake thinks you don't need to know." She turned back to me and frowned. "I think that forewarned is forearmed, don't you?"
I nodded, mouth dry.
"Who stands to loose big with this new material? Yeah, all of them. A regular rogues gallery..."
"Spinning conspiracy stories and feeding my paranoia-"
"I thought you might be," Jake interrupted. "Paranoid. If you hadn't been so jumpy, maybe we'd have followed you home by now."
"It has been a long day, and it's not over yet."
The local LEOs arrived about then, and we started in on that. Agent Trudeau at first refused treatment and I caught Jake smiling at that, but she relented and the checked her for a concussion. The county sheriff's deputy called for the coroner, we all gave statements, and then we were free to go, in a manner of speaking. I drove up front in the blue sedan, with Gabby and without the cuffs. Agent Green drove my car, and we all headed back home.
On a personal note, I kind of liked being rescued by Special Agent Gabby. We talked about the Shipstone, spun some real-life conspiracy theories, and talked about people in general. I relaxed and nodded a couple of times, almost falling asleep.
I was not at all prepared for it, when we drove up on my house ablaze. I remember thinking, in shock, how it lit up the night sky quite nicely.
7,508 + 504 = 18,012