Keenan Archer stared out the windows as they flew over the thick green expanse below. It was a stark contrast to the scorched earth that had greeted them as they’d come in off the Atlantic five minutes prior. Flying as low as they were made it seem as if this new verdant area went on forever. He shifted in his seat and leaned forward to the pilot.
“How much longer ‘til we’re there?” he asked.
The pilot didn’t turn, but grunted his reply, “You’ll know.”
Keenan leaned back in his seat. His hard features tightened as dark blue eyes turned to slits; he didn’t like being in the dark. Running his fingers through the short bristles atop his head, Keenan returned his gaze to the treetops skimming by below him.
It was only a few minutes before a large cut in the trees became visible. A huge mansion rose from the middle of the clearing, which appeared to have no exit routes spoking off from the residence.
The sleek chopper set down easily, and Keenan pulled open the door and stepped out. A tiny lump clenched in his gut. He tried to ignore it as the chopper rose into the air, leaving him in the middle of a wide lawn.
Keenan surveyed his surroundings. There was a lot of money here. The ornate lintel above the front doorway, the delicate woodwork framing the many windows, and the meticulously trimmed hedges illustrated that. But the guards standing behind the tall shrubs at either corner, as well as the four stationed on the roof, told Keenan all he needed to know.
Satisfied, he proceeded up the small incline toward the marble steps.
“You do understand. You will do this.” The old man wheezed as he steadied himself against the banister. The stilted movements of Elijah Kaczmerak were subtle, most people wouldn’t have noticed. The old man was wearing a sophisticated exo-skeleton under his finely pressed suit.
Keenan had been going back and forth with Kaczmerak for twenty minutes now, and they seemed no closer to a resolution than when he’d first entered. The only commodity worth trafficking in was information, but the old man refused to give an inch.
Kaczmerak wanted his daughter found, but had no idea where she would have gone. Keenan had prodded him for anything that could help – hobbies, friends, online avatars, strange behavior, family history – and Kaczmerak clipped off any discussion as if he were hiding some thorny secret. And that knot in the pit of Keenan’s stomach continued to throb lightly as he worked to remain focused on the withered face before him.
“Listen. Mr. Kaczmerak. If you’re unwilling to give me some shred of information, I’m not sure how I can be of service to you. It’s really as simple as that.” Keenan could hear the frustration rising in his voice and silently criticized himself for starting to lose control.
“Young man. I cannot see how trivial incidents in my daughter’s past might assist in discovering her current whereabouts. She has grown past any indiscretions of her tender years and you would do well not to probe any further.
“I do not think you realize with whom you are dealing.” Despite his obvious ill health, Elijah Kaczmerak spit out these final words with such venom that Keenan was momentarily taken aback.
“Now,” continued the old man, “I do have something of which you might be interested, if you can get past your affinity for tangential matters.” The old man’s eyes narrowed as he stared down the investigator.
“When my daughter was eleven she took ill – the details are unimportant – and she was rushed to the nearest hospital. It was necessary for her to undergo surgery, and I arranged for the doctor to implant her with a microchip, the better to keep track of her. I wasn’t sure I would ever need it, but felt it prudent to take such a precaution. I will share the frequency with you.
“But in doing so, you must understand that you will be agreeing to a contract that can only end one of two ways. I would suggest option A, which would be to return my daughter here. To me.” The menace in Kaczmerak’s voice was laced with a derision that Keenan had rarely encountered.
“And just to make sure you do not feel I am treating you wrongly . . .” Elijah Kaczmerak snapped his fingers and Gregory stepped into the atrium. The old man turned to his butler, who nodded subtly and told his employer, “It has been taken care of, sir.”
“Good,” rasped the old man. Turning back to Keenan, as Gregory softly removed himself, Elijah told the investigator to “check your account.”
Keenan reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his PalmCard. Tapping the screen, he accessed his professional account and saw the balance to be a million creds heavier than he remembered.
“Consider that a retainer,” said Kaczmerak. “I will also pay double your daily fee, plus all expenses.
“Just make sure you bring my girl home.”
Keenan’s head raced with questions – why hadn’t the old man offered the microchip information earlier being foremost – but instead he allowed himself a broad smile and told Kaczmerak, “It looks like we have a deal.”
To be continued . . .