>CHARLESTON, WEST VIRGINIA
>LEMONBROOK APARTMENTS, LOBBY
Serena moved to cross the street with the group but she kept some distance between herself and the others, letting them get ahead a bit as she did. She looked over her left shoulder to see if the southern boy was with her and nodded to him. Crossing the street she noticed the man walking his dog. Odd time for an old man to be walking a dog she thought to herself, very odd. Her cop instincts were going haywire, and then the man spoke. He mentioned a son, but Donnelley hadn’t. She passed by a trash can on the corner of the street next to a few benches at a bus stop next to the sidewalk. She bent down and grabbed a spent tallboy wrapped in a brown bag next to the bin and smelled it. Gross- It had a very robust and stale odor, and the stench tickled her nose. Probably only a few hours old and ripe with some homeless man’s DNA. There was only a small amount of liquid in the bottom. She tucked the can in her arms as if it were hers. She cut her eyes to the man with the dog, and then to Laurie.
“Laurie, you seeing this?” she said in a low but audible voice. “Eyes on him.” Serena kept a brisk pace keeping a few paces behind the group, eyes steadily fixated on the man and his dog.
Laurie was honestly very, very skeptical and even somewhat annoyed. “Calm the fuck down, its nothing.” he hissed, shaking his head. “That’s fucking nasty, just drop it and let’s go in nobody will give us any shit if we glance in his direction every so often. Come on, let’s go.” He said, but he’d wait for her to go in before following. “You know you people drove real shitty but now you’re so fast, doesn’t add up.” Laurie stated, hinting he was interested in hearing what the fuck they blabbed on for so long with Donnelly.
She could tell something was bugging him, but she kept on walking. Small talk would have to come later. “Let’s just stay focused on this for right now.” she said, her tone still very low. “There’ll be time for small talk later.”
She pulled the glass door open with her left hand, now holding the can in her right. She slowed her pace and held the door open long enough for Laurie to catch it before continuing on inside. She gave the room a quick glance. A bench to the left, empty of course, right next to a small rack of those business and apartment brochures on the wall with a sign overtop for the apartments proper. A reception desk further back, also empty, but the door behind it was open and the light was also on. She pulled her hat down tighter, and tucked the tall boy back under her left arm and came to a halt just inside, and waited for Laurie.
Laurie snickered as followed, giving yet another shake of the head. "Madamesoille, you are the one rooting around in trash for a beer can, and creeping on an old man with his pupper, you're the one who has to stay focused."
Entering the building he thanked the officer for holding the door as he made his way to the centre of the room, leaning against a wall quite comfortably. "Come on now, we got time. What's going on here, you had a chance to talk to the boss whereas I don't know Jack-shit about who the fuck this Clyde fellow really is, what we really do." The Ranger paused to spit a bit more of his dip, before continuing. "Really I just want to do my job but I got to wonder why some hick park ranger like me got hooked up with some yankee suits, soldier boys, cops and other boot-lickers. Why they got this motley crew full of people not trained for this shit be the ones here nevertheless."
Serena followed and stopped fairly close and facing him, a big gaudy [i}Lemonbrook[/i] sign behind him. She leaned in closer pulling out her phone. She began texting Donnelley for Baughman’s box number. Glancing over her shoulder at the desk to her right to make sure it was still clear. She could hear a game over a TV, coming from the back office. Stay there.
“The beer is for cover. There’s a camera on my right above the desk facing the entrance and one directly over my right shoulder, fixed on the mailboxes. We need to check Baughman’s to see if there is anything in there.” she said.
“Look Laurie, I really don’t know any more than you do at this point. Donnelley still hasn’t came off with very much. Something about some fucked up shit in everyone’s file or something.” she said, sending the message to Donnelley’s phone and looking back at Laurie making an awful face. “Goddamnit this fucking thing stinks..”.
The Ranger sighed, giving an amused look to Serena. "Cops, man, cops. You really think a drunk broad would keep a beer can around in her hands to demonstrate she's drunk so conveniently? That's not how it fucking works. A guy called into the Ranger station said he been attacked by a gator by the vending machine down on the trail. He was still holding a pack of chips, all ready to show what he was doing before a gator attacked. You think he won the lawsuit he scared us with?"
Walking over to the camera to conveniently block it, the Ranger kept his eye near the door to make sure he wouldn't miss any shit coming through. "Your breath doesn't smell a single bit like beer, but if you want to give that can a practiced suck then be my guest." He said, with another ptew of spat dip. "I don't give a shit at this point. None of this is on my résumé, I'm not getting caught breaking the law when I don't even have a promise of a pay-raise." Laurie cursed, wiping down his brow. "What I'm paid for, that's what I'll do my yankee lady."
Serena’s phone vibrated in her hand. A text from Donnelly. “Well lucky for you that’s all we have to do now. Jason is coming down with the key. We just gotta stay alert and cover the camera when he gets here.” she said, clearing the message from her phone. She then held it up and shook it. “Motorola's got wings.”
She took an apartment finder from the rack beside the bench and walked over to the boxes and stood with Laurie, again facing him, but she could still see the elevator and entrance as well. “You got eyes on the desk? I think there’s a receptionist in the back room.” she said, hoping Laurie had a decent line of sight on the counter.
Just a little pissed Serena ignored the comment on her little beer can prop, Laurie nodded. "Yeah I got it covered, but then I can't check for people coming from the door, your choice. Like I said I ain't paid for this shit and if things go sour I'm fucking sprinting."
“I got eyes on the entrance, just keep an eye out for the receptionist.” she said, glancing in its general direction. She was hoping the others would hurry. “What about your ride over here? You guys not come up with anything either? All I know is Donnelley mentioned something about some fucked up shit in everyone’s files. Doc mentioned something about a weird ass stone.” leaning closer to Laurie, almost whispering. “I was at a banger’s house two years ago and they had some red skinned flesh eating Chinese midgets in the basement cutting up girls.. Choo-Choo’s, Tcho-Tcho’s, or something like that..” she said, propping herself on the wall with her right hand. She shuddered at the thought of it all. That fucking smell. She wasn’t sure if it was the stench of the can or if she was reverting to the incident at this point.
“What about you? What kind of fucked up Paul Bunyon type shit you got going on in your files?”. Serena looked him in the eye when she spoke, still managing a whisper. She was genuinely curious, but she didn’t want to make a scene in there if they didn’t have to.
"Nah, we weren't like that. Quiet tough guys, us. Like I said, in and out, that's how I operate, just doing our job." Still leaning with legs crossed, Laurie's nose curled back as Serena described some cannibal yellow people.
"The fuck are you on about?" he demanded, forehead creasing. "No I ain't ever seen something like that, "Doc" sounds like a shrink that needs her own fucking medicine." Laurie had seen stuff out of the ordinary, but the sight of bigfoot didn't come up in his head when he was thinking on the topic of shit Gomez mentioned. "Crazy fucks…." he amended.
>LAURIE, GOMEZ, JASON
The elevator dinged and the doors slid open revealing the stagnant lobby. Jason stepped out, eyed the lobby for cameras, and then spotted Laurie and Serena talking in sotto voce. He approached, the narrow ring holding Baughman’s mail key barely spanning his index finger. The agent looked dour or at the very least unenthused. As he approached the pair he said softly, “Ready to commit your first felony?” and raised the key in front of him.
Serena heard the elevator open and nodded as Jason approached the two of them. She pulled herself from the wall and straightened herself up as he passed by, smirking at his comment she rolled her eyes. “Who said it was my first?”
“Atta pepper,” he replied, and managed a weak smirk.
Laurie on the contrary shook his head, making a false laugh. "Ha-mother-fucking-ha."
Serena took another glance towards the counter, hoping the elevator had not roused the sleeping dragon in the back room, if there was in fact someone in there. Serena grabbed the key from Jason, but kept her eyes trained on the desk but spoke towards Laurie and Jason both. “I don’t think we should stick around here for too long.” Her attention torn between the entrance and the desk. “Maybe we should step outside once he checks the box, maybe have a smoke? Lookin’ a little crowded for three o’clock in the morning.” Serena didn’t have any cigarettes on her. “Hey Jason, you got a smoke?”
Jason grimaced. “Don’t smoke,” he said, and waited for the criticism to be hurled.
“Fuck.” she said. She shook the can in jest. “I only smoke when I drink.” It wasn't a lie though, she really didn’t. She nodded to the both of them and then turned and leaned in close so that her shoulders would block at least one row boxes where she was standing. She found the box with the corresponding number that matched the key, and turned the tumblers opening the small brass door. She grabbed a small stack of papers, mostly coupons from what she could gather, spam mail. She didn’t bother to look at it right then and folded it all up, stowing it in her hoodie pocket. She closed the box and locked it back before turning back to Laurie and Jason.
“You boys wanna get some fresh air? Kind of stifling in here.” nodding towards the main entrance as she spoke.
The Louisiana boy shrugged. "I'll follow your lead." He said, voicing his modus operandi. He didn't feel real good in this building, but the outdoors of this shithole weren't much better, were they.
The elevator dinged again, the doors sliding open like stage curtains to reveal Laine and Donnelley. As the two approached, their footsteps echoed in the empty space of the tile-floor lobby. Donnelley raised his hand, “Care for a smoke?”
Jason smirked at the mention of smokes, replying, “Was going to ask you the same thing.” He turned to Laurie and for the first time since arriving in West Virginia he exuded a welcoming warmth. “Fresh air sounds great,” he said. Jason studied Dr. Laine for a moment after, scanning her outline like she was wearing some part of Baughman’s remnant, like the indeterminant goal of their searching was adorned like a shroud. Whatever it may be wasn’t meant for the lobby, and he strode out the building while chuckling lowly at Gomez’s worn can of Steel Reserve.
Still pinching the clove cigarette between her fingers, she nodded a greeting at the others, her distracted expression could be blamed on trying to wriggle the Zippo lighter from the pocket of her tight jeans. Without a word to Gomez, leaving her to Donnelly she followed Jason out of the lobby.
Finally wrenching the lighter out, she thought, Skinny jeans and hips don't agree.
She flicked the steel and a bright flame leaped at the beckoning, and she put the cigarette between her lips, touching the tip with the flame as she inhaled. The cloves crickled and cracked as she sucked on it, the numbing smoke entering her throat and lungs before she exhaled deeply, the frustrations of the evening billowing out with it.
Serena nodded at Donnelley and started for the entrance. Upon exiting the building she had noticed that the darkness of the twilight hours was dwindling and the sky was getting brighter. Sun would rise soon. She dropped the can back in the trash and stuck both of her hands in her hoodie pocket as if to make certain that nothing was going to fall out, her fingers ruffling through the mail. She went and sat down on the bench at the bus stop and waited for the others.
Seeing the rest of the group going out, Laurie followed suit thinking back to what Serena told him earlier. He wasn't exactly socially tact in these things, so as he stepped outside and faced Laine before he asked quite bluntly: "You really see a fucking big rock?", looking back in to Gomez with some confusion. He wanted to clear confusion, but only got more of it. Jason looked back and forth between the two, looking intrigued but puzzled.
“Yeah, they’re called mountains. They’re everywhere.” Donnelley cocked a brow at Laurie and looked at Serena as he followed the rest outside. Once out, he followed suit and let the flame of his lighter kiss the tip of his cigarette. He puffed on it a couple times before speaking again, “Save it for the drive home, Laurie.”
He looked to Serena once he stood opposite her, “So, you holding out on me?”
Serena looked at Donnelly as she retrieved the stack of mail from her pocket. She held it up so he could see it and then started going through the pile. “Looks like a bunch of coupons and sales papers..”, she replied. “Oh, wait a minute. This could be something.”
She pulled a pastel yellow envelope out from the pile and looked it over. The words Thank you written across the front. She opened it up to reveal a photograph and a thank you card addressing him on the inside with a small note saying - Thanks for the wonderful weekend at the cabin! She handed it to Donnelley and kept sifting through the junk mail. A few bills, credit card offers, the usual shit that fills everyone’s mailbox though they wish it wouldn’t.
“Huh...” Donnelley said, looking at the family in the picture. Sure enough, there was Sam Baughman, a wife, two kids. Behind them was a cabin. “Maybe.”
But why let his family stay somewhere he was stashing Delta Green intel and case files? Unless, “That envelope.” He muttered, “We’re mounting up, get in the cars.”
Laine took a few more drags and glanced at the bus bench where Donnelly and the others were. When they started to move, she flicked the growing stem of ash and reached for the keys of the Chrysler in her jacket pocket.
Donnelley flinched slightly when his phone began vibrating in his pocket, reaching down with a cocked brow and bringing it to his ear. He stood silently while whoever was on the other line spoke. A muttered, “Oh.” was all that came from him. He looked behind him, walking towards Tom…
Serena discarded the rest of the mail in the trash and headed towards the Chrysler, and glad to be out of the apartment building. Three o’clock in the morning made anyone look sketchy. Dew was starting to accumulate on the few small patches of grass next to the highway and glistened like diamonds under the orange light of the streetlamps. She was due for a drink.
>SOME TIME BEFORE...///
Tom walked about 10 meters off to the left and rear of Joe Donnelly, Dr. Laine and Jason Jimenez. He was thinking tactical. It may not have been necessary, but better safe than sorry. No one had weapons drawn, they were just walking across a city street in the middle of the night in America. Tom kept going, stopping at the building wall. He turned to face Donnelly when he spoke to the old man walking the dog. He noticed the man had several people’s attention. He listened to the conversation and wondered how the possible presence of Baughman’s son would effect this operation. I guess it depended on what he did when he arrived and what Joe did when the son arrived.
As the group went inside, Tom moved to the nearest corner of the building so he could see down two walls and anyone approaching the building from three directions. He knew Mr. Clark would move to the opposite corner. It was tactically, the smart thing to do. From this vantage point, two men could see all entrances and approach avenues. Besides, there were plenty of bushes to conceal his location if someone were to walk up on them.
Justin mirrored Tom’s moves, taking the opposing corner as he adjusted his baseball cap. Flipping open his burner, he tapped through the ancient device to bring up the pixelated picture of Baughman’s son. Looking at it to burn the picture into his mind, he placed the phone back in his pocket, glancing around. Quietly, as he leaned against the wall and kept his eyes peeled, he pulled his pack of Pall Mall Reds from his shirt pocket, using some cheap BIC lighter to ignite one. He casually smoked, ready to make for cover if need be, albeit he wasn’t too concerned about anyone except the son.
‘Like I said earlier, I wish I had my M4’ Tom spotted a vehicle less than a hundred yards down on the left side of the road. Tom called Justin’s number on the burner phone he received from Mr. Donnelly, “hey Mr. Clark, there is a nosey individual in a late model Toyota about seventy meters up the street. I can keep my eyes on it, if you would like to go check him out?” Tom could tell there was someone in the car due to the way the suspension rocked ever so slightly when the person moved around. He knew the car was there when the group of seven arrived. No one new approached the area. It was a slight movement from the interior that alerted him to the person’s presence.
After their conversation on the phone, Tom called Mr. Donnelly’s number. “Sir, there is an unknown individual sitting in a Toyota about seventy meters up the street who appears to have taken an interest in our activities. I’ve sent Mr. Clark to go check him out, while I watch from the bushes.”
Footsteps were heard and Tom looked to see Donnelley, the others in the distance. Donnelley didn’t look in the direction of Tom had been, but when he did, he too saw it. It wasn’t exactly where he’d park if he was staking out a place or tailing someone. Did they know they were coming? Were they also after Clyde’s things and watching them when the team got there first? Had the team gotten there first? “I’ve got eyes on him.” Donnelley nodded, “We’re about to head out to somewhere else. When’d you notice that nosey sumbitch?”
“Just a few minutes ago,” Tom replied. “I called Mr. Clark to go check it out. I haven’t heard from him yet.”
“Clark here, I got it, will keep you updated.” Clark flipped his burner closed, slipping it into his pocket once more. Sweeping any furls of his button-up and fleece jacket from his side, he took a stroll down the street, keeping his figure as firmly glued to the shadows as humanly possible. Slowly, surely he unbuttoned his hip sheathe, and pulled out his folded SMF knife, backhand gripping it as he ducked behind a nearby car, careful of the presence of street lights or building entrance lights.
He removed his ball cap, stuffing it in his zip-up fleece’s front right pocket, peeking his eyes up and over the hood of the car he was using as cover. Full view of rear plates, and the silhouette of its occupant. Couldn’t be identified. Damn. At least he could get the license plate number and model. Pulling out his burner, he tapped at the buttons steadily, his breath wavering. He leaned back out, snapped a picture, and hastily retreated, hoping to god he hadn’t been seen. Planting himself on his ass in front of his cover vehicle, he dialed up Tom.
“Yeah, I got it. Driver is unidentifiable likely male, can’t discern any features. Vehicle is a silver Toyota Corolla, 2010s model. Got a picture of its rear plates, number is-” Clark looked down at his phone momentarily, bringing up the photo. “-Seven-Xray-Four-Five-Three-Four. I’ll send the picture your way.”
‘Break off, meet in the cars.’ Donnelley’s message.
Some ways away, the man himself was stuffing his phone in his pocket and turning towards the cars. The sounds of them closing their doors in the vehicles echoed down the road towards him and soon both cars were starting.
Justin made his own hasty retreat, taking up his previous spot in the Ford Explorer, making sure all his shit was in order as he buckled in.
Laine slid into the driver's seat of the Chrysler 300, starting the car as she waited for the others. It idled quietly, the stereo silent. The Explorer was parked behind her and in the rearview mirror she could see the dark shape of one of the men from the team get in the truck.
“You boys don’t mind if I hitch one with you?” Donnelley asked as he planted himself in the front passenger seat of the Explorer. All the while, he kept his eyes on the Corolla, watching and waiting for the bastard to follow them. He never did.
Just let them disappear down the road, past a corner, and onto the next little place with a shroud of mystery. The next quiet place waiting for them to stir up its secrets like silt in the water...