ONE WEEK LATER…
“What’s wrong, babe?”
Logan put the shadowbox full of medals back down on the dresser. He’d been staring at it for ten minutes, at least.
“it’s just… can you imagine that guy, living out there off the grid like that, totally alone? No power, no modern conveniences whatsoever. We think he’s just some old kook. But back in the day, he earned all these. I can’t help but think that this man we might look down upon was a much better human being than either one of us. I bet he would’ve stayed and fought. He would’ve helped. We just turned tail and ran. Shit, I run away from everything, seems like. Ran away from being a dad, ran away from being a cop…” He looked up at her. “I really suck.”
Shonda sighed. “Honey I know, but we already knew it was gonna be a slaughter. They had no chance. Besides, from what you tell me you didn’t exactly get a warm reception in Axton.”
“That’s not true,” he said. “I met and questioned a ton of really nice, decent people. Now they’re dead because I went poking around and alerted some shadowy government agency that the shit they used on Groundswell was affecting people in Axton all these years later.”
“They would’ve found out eventually. Lot of people hunt out there. They eat a lot of venison. Those deer drink contaminated water, so there’s your answer to why people on municipal water were sometimes affected. There was definitely going to be more violence, and sooner or later it would’ve attracted their attention. I still can’t believe Skirving would affiliate himself with people like that. There was something off about him, sure. That’s part of why I broke it off with him.”
“Yeah,” said Logan, “I guess.” He picked up the box again, and it rattled.
He froze, and then he shook it again, more gently this time. No doubt about it, something was sliding around inside of the frame, behind the felt display panel.
He took the box apart, taking care not to jostle the medals loose. When he see what was hidden inside, he gasped.
Shonda reached in and picked it up. “Wow. This is really old. Kept it really well-protected in this plastic sleeve. There’s a possibility it might run, if you could find a computer old enough. I know there are guys who can pull data off these things for a small fee, too. I wouldn’t recommend it, though.”
Logan was puzzled. “You wouldn’t? Well what would you recommend?
She placed it back in the box. “I would recommend that you destroy it and forget it ever existed.”
“But if there’s evidence–”
“You don’t understand. These people? They’re untouchable. You saw yourself what they’re capable of, staying glued to the news all day. Watching them cart bodies out and listening to the media parroting their cover story about Prismaro.”
“And there never was a Prismaro. Right? It was a front. Something they could blame if anything went wrong.”
“Which it did.”
“Yes,” said Logan, “which it most certainly did. They set up a functioning oil company and ran it for years as a front. Who knows where all that money went? So if this disk can comfirm all that, why not nail ’em?”
“It came from the Pentagon,” she said. “I know that much. Nobody stored classified info like that on disks, so obviously it was loaded onto the disk by some whistleblower with access to their database.”
“But whose database? That’s the question. And I think the answer will be on this disk.”
“And why do you even want that answer? What good will it do you? Guys like this don’t go to prison.”
She sighed and walked over to the window.
A seagull swooped down and landed on the balcony of their motel room. It stared at her for a moment before soaring off into the cloudless azure expanse that stretched across the peaceful, crystalline waters below it.
“You know,” she said, “you keep talking about Everett. You’ve been a shitty father, and you know it. You own that. Do you want to make it worse by getting him killed? Because if you stir up trouble, guess who they’ll use to lure you out of hiding. If you never come forward with that disk, they’ll likely leave us alone.”
Logan looked the floor. “That serious, huh?”
She whirled on him, eyes blazing, fists clenched. “Yes. Yes of course it’s that serious. Have you not been listening this entire time?”
“Look,” said Logan, pointing at the muted TV. “They’re talking about it again.”
He turned the volume up.
“…and children, an outcome some experts speculate could have been avoided entirely if the proper–“
“Would you please turn that off?”
“…of Prismaro could not be located and several others have been confirmed long since deceased. We reached out to senior intelligence off–”
Shonda stormed over the to TV and yanked the plug out of the wall socket. “Enough! Enough of this shit! Man up, already! We didn’t come all the way here for you to mope around a motel room all day and night. Let’s go out. Sample the local cuisine. Have some…” she paused; winked. “Margaritas.”
Logan sighed and slapped his palms down on his thighs. “I am a little hungry, now that you mention it.”
He stood and wrapped his arms around her waist. She felt good. She felt right. “How about a pre-dinner… margarita?
“Well, I for one am stuffed. I don’t know about you.” Shonda dabbed the corners of her lips with her napkin.
“Tell me about it,” said Logan, leaning back in his chair and letting his stomach relax and expand. “First decent meal I’ve had in weeks. I’ve been eating so much…”
He paused, rethinking the words he’d been about to say.
“So much what?” She pressed.
Shonda wadded the napkin up and threw it at him. “You’re still upset about your stupid little girlfriend? I wonder if I rated all this heartache and introspection while you were out with your wife and fucking me on the side. You’ve never been one for–”
Shonda was livid. “Don’t. You. Fucking. Dare tell me to–”
Logan was thinking, and didn’t want to be distracted. She’d seen him like this a thousand times, and she knew it was impossible to get through. She sat back in her chair, arms folded across her chest, waiting for his inevitable “revelation.”
Logan held a finger up, tracing it through the air with sharp movements, mumbling to himself. Finally, he turned to her, and she could see that the lightbulb was on.
“The money. That’s where that money came from. It’s Prismaro money. Sheckley stole it somehow. I definitely think he’s some kind of former hacker. Possibly worked at the Pentagon at some point. He’s the whistleblower. He didn’t get this disk from someone. It’s his disk.
“I dunno about all that. And maybe he didn’t steal the money. Maybe it was given to him in exchange for something.”
“Like silence, perhaps,” said Logan.
“It’s half a mil in cash, and it’s old. He’s been sitting on all that money, all this time, living like a wild animal. I just don’t get it. Why?”
“All the answers are either on that disk, or they died with the people of Axton.” He paused, then added, “The ones who didn’t move away, anyway.”
“I don’t like the way you said that. Sounds like you’re wanting to go and track them down or some shit.”
“Come on, Shon. You have an insatiable craving for the truth, just like me. It’s why we connect so well–that inner drive, that, that need to see what’s beneath every stone. How is this not eating you alive?”
“It is. Alright? I admit it. I’m curious as a mofo. But that curiosity has been jumped from behind, beaten up, hogtied and stuffed in the trunk of a car by my instinct for self-preservation.”
He nodded. “I get it. I understand. You’re afraid.
“It ain’t about bein’ afraid, it’s about knowing your limitations. This is too much for you or even both of us to unravel. I mean, hello, you heard it yourself–The U.S. Government intended to spike the entire nation’s water supply with mood-altering pharmaceuticals. Hiding something like that takes a lot of people keeping a lot of secrets and doing a lot of coverup work for a lot of years.”
“Well I guess everybody being prescribed antidepressants to hide from reality was just Plan B, then. They win. Everybody’s a zombie. Everybody’s a pussy. Everybody’s doped up on pills and legal weed. Everybody’s glued to a screen.”
“Okay, boomer,” said Shonda rolling her eyes. “Somebody miss their nap today, grandpa?”
Logan smiled, but distantly. “Everett said that to me, last time I saw him. We used to have little jokes like that with each other. I find myself wondering if Carl Stintson and his dad shared things like that.”
She reached across the table and touched his hand as their waiter approached the table.
“Can I get you anyth–”
“No,” said Shonda. “I’m sorry, no thank you, we’re fine.”
The waiter nodded and left.
“Babe,” she whispered, stroking his fingers, “you know that wasn’t your fault.”
Logan retracted his hand. “I owe that kid justice. He mattered. He was important. He had a whole life ahead of him, and it’s gone, and the people responsible are sitting in ivory towers somewhere, smoking cigars and counting their billions. Trafficking kids in from Thailand or wherever. Just fucking living it up.”
He pounded his fists on the table, rattling the dishes and knocking the candle in the center over. Wax spilled everywhere, solidifying faster than they could wipe it up with their cloth napkins. People were staring.
“I’m just saying, we can do this together and it’ll be just like old times, except we’ll really be making a difference in the world. When we’ve accumulated enough damning, irrefutable evidence, we’ll present it along with a copy of the disk to the authorities.”
“Okay,” said Shonda. “Why not? That’s why we do what we do, right? At the core of it, I mean. Truth. Justice. Righting wrongs.”
Logan stopped trying to wipe up the wax, which was just crumbling and falling from his napkin to the floor, anyway. He grabbed Shonda by the wrists and looked in her eyes. “Yes. Exactly. Where else have they tried these experiments? Who else has been affected? How many lives have been ruined? More importantly, how many will be?”
She curled her lip and blew a loose strand of hair out of her eyes. “You’re right. We have to do something. Nobody else will.”
“I knew you’d come around.”
She smiled. “Cocky bastard. C’mon–lets go have some after-dinner margaritas.”
When they arrived back at their room twenty minutes later, the door was ajar. Shonda and Logan looked at each other, and she looked down at his waist. He shook his head–he wasn’t carrying.
Shonda peeked through the door and eased it partially open. “Shit!”
She shoved the door the rest of the way open, and the doorknob dented the drywall.
“Look at this,” she said, as if Logan couldn’t see for himself that the room had been trashed.
“No,” he said, pointing at the floor in front of the bed. “Look at that.”
The shadowbox had been ripped apart, it’s contents scattered on the floor all around it. The disk, of course, was gone.
Shonda groaned. “Son of a bitch, these people are good. Well, so much for your plan, I guess.”
Logan seemed surprised. “You mean you’re going to let a little something like this turn you off? Oh, babe. You’ve gone soft.”
“Soft bitches don’t blow people up with grenades, my dude,” she countered. “This was a warning. Don’t you get that? They could’ve just as easily killed us, but they didn’t, and to me that says ‘back off.’ This will be the only warning we get. Next time, we won’t be so lucky.”
“Lucky? Excuse me, lucky? You call this lucky?”
“You’re breathing, aren’t you? Consider yourself fortunate.”
“They didn’t kill us because they don’t know what else we know and who we’ve told.”
“But we don’t know anything.”
“Yeah, but they don’t know that. And that’s to our advantage. It’s probably essential to our survival.”
Shonda looked down. “You’re right. This changes nothing. Let’s get these bastards.”
“First things first, though.”
“I need a new suit. And hat.”
“Oh, you still on that suit shit?”
“Hell yeah, I’m still on it. What’s wrong with professional? Clients take you more seriously. Besides, it’s comfortable.”
“No it isn’t. And you don’t have any clients. We’re tackling this thing pro bono.”
“That’s one way of looking at it, I suppose. I just like wearing suits and hats. Is that a crime? And if it was, what would that matter at this point?”
“Well how do you see it?”
He thought for a moment. “An investment. In ourselves. Neither of us is worth spot right now. Right?”
“I wish I was worth spit.”
“Well, we blow the lid of this thing, we’re heroes. We’re in demand. And most importantly, we’re too high-profile to kill. I am thinking about Everett, contrary to what you might think. It’s not enough for me to sit back and hope they never come after him. I have to nail them first, before they ever get the chance.”
Her face softened, and she reached out to stroke his cheek. “This is crazy,” she whispered. “You know that right?”
He smiled. “Yeah. I know.”
She leaned in closer, and they kissed. “Just like old times,” she said.