The A to Z Challenge – E is for – “Everyone has a secret”

How many people do you know have their front door smashed in at the crack of dawn, followed by a swat team, armed to the teeth, swarming through the house ready to put down any resistance?

Just the suddenness of the cacophony of noise, the shouting, and the sheer threat of death, left me firstly shattered, and secondly, in fear of being accidentally killed, especially when there were six guns trained on me.

When the all-clear came, when no one else was discovered in the house, one of the suited men came back and motioned the six to take a step back and raise their weapons.

“Get up.” 

If I was expected a ‘please’, or an apology, both would be a long time coming.

“Where is she?”

I barely had time to catch my breath and try to stop shaking.  Six guns were still pointing in my direction, and those holding them no less wanted to shoot me for any reason whatsoever.

“Who?”  There were two girls in this house.

“Don’t be obtuse, Mr. Jacobs.  Obstruction will get you nothing but a stretch in prison with some very unsavoury characters.  Where is she?”

The notion that they could be looking for Liz was as preposterous as the day was long.  I had known her for five years, since we both left the same company, unhappy with the pay and conditions, and moved to a new company, deciding to stay together, first as a team, and then I was hoping would be something more intimate.

It had to be someone else, like the odd woman who had ingratiated herself with the group I was with, and ostensibly left the bar with me, but only as far as the car park.  Perhaps, if we were being observed, it might have been construed as something else.

“Can you give me a name, at least?”

“Elizabeth Morgan.”

Liz?  She designed computer games, and I helped with the programming.  Other than that, she went to church every Sunday and visited her folks in the next county every second Saturday.  I’d met them on numerous occasions, and they were just ordinary people.

“Why on earth would you be looking for her?”

“That’s classified, Mr. Jacobs.  All you need to do is tell me where she is.”

“I don’t know.  The last time we spoke, she was heading off to the market to get groceries.”

“Which was?”

“About an hour ago.”

A woman put her head in the door, and said, “she’s nowhere on the property, sir.”

I recognized her immediately as the woman in the bar, and suddenly realized she had been subtly interrogating me about Liz, trying to find out where she was, and why she wasn’t there with me. 

She glared at me, then disappeared.

“Who are you?” I asked.  “FBI, CIA, NSA?” 

“Why would you assume that I’m from any of those agencies?”

“Your friend who put her head in the door.  I might not have realized who she was last night, but I do now.  You think Liz has committed some sort of cybercrime, don’t you?”

“So, you do know what she’s been up to?”

“No.  But you just told me.  And I suspect a man by the name of Champion has been feeding you scurrilous lies, but you don’t need to say anything more.  You’re right, I do know what this is about, but I know whatever he said to you to get here isn’t true, but, then, he has more money or more low friends in even lower places than we have, so do your worst.”

Liz wasn’t a criminal, nor was she guilty of anything except claiming the rights to her property.  Champion, though, always maintained that anything she created while working for him was his.  True enough, we all signed the contract.  But what she created was after she resigned and we were working on a new project together.  Now, to get around that, he was claiming her work would be a violation of national security.  It would, if it was in his hands, and that was never going to happen.

“It would be good for everyone if she just surrendered and pleaded her case if what you say is true.”

An interesting change in tactics.

I looked him up and down.  Just the sort of man who would sell out to the highest bidder.  Champion was good only at one thing, knowing how much a person would sell out his principles for, even his mother if it came down to it.  Everyone had a price.  Unfortunately for us, it would seem, he didn’t know ours.

He shrugged.  “Perhaps so time in a dark hole might loosen your tongue.”

Dark hold indeed.

To be honest, I thought he was joking, but he was not.

I was put in a small room with no furniture or anything to sit or lie on.  There was just a cold, damp and hard concrete floor, designed to make you so uncomfortable, you’d sell your soul just to get away from it.

There would be some hard choices to be made here.  Would I sell out Liz, would I do everything I could to stop Champion who was intent, now that he had what he wanted, in getting rid of anyone who might have a claim.

She had said this was what would happen, and I didn’t believe her.  No surprise then she was gone and didn’t tell me.

But if they were to ask me, and I was in that frame of mind to tell them everything I knew, there wasn’t much I could tell them.  I think that’s what she had once told me was plausible deniability.

She had been trying to keep me safe, but didn’t realize that my captors didn’t really care whether I knew anything or nothing, they wouldn’t believe me and were going to extract the information they wanted by any and all means available.

Something I definitely wasn’t looking forward to.

It was impossible to stay awake.  I was trying to, just in case they came and took me away while I was unconscious.

Despite the hard, uncomfortable floor, I fell into a fitful sleep, and it was appropriate that I would dream of Elizabeth.

I remembered the first time I met her, being introduced as an assistant programmer, the look of contempt she gave me, and the messenger.  I’d never seen anyone that focussed on their work.

It took a month before she would let me look at the code, and then only small sections at a time.  It was complex, and way beyond anything I had been involved with, which surprised me how it was I got the job.

She said, one morning, and I agreed, that a more experienced programmer was required.

Until I told her five lines of code needed a slight change otherwise there would be a rather interesting result.  I was not only a programmer, I had once worked with a scientist whose field was space and time, not exactly time travel, but he theorized that we could move from one place to another through what were essentially wormholes.

I thought he was working on a script for a television show.

My job was to create a data warehouse, and while doing so, did some reading on the side.

I had also seen the coding behind a prototype machine that was supposed to create the wormhole, but it was too complex for me to understand.

But the code Elizabeth had was almost identical but mixed up.  When I told her, she said I was an idiot who wouldn’t know what day it was, and demanded I leave.

Two days later she came to my apartment, apologized, asked me to return, and on the way asked a thousand questions.

At that time, I learned the scientist I worked for was her mentor, and that he was dead, ostensibly from a heart attack.  She didn’t believe it, and that’s where I got my introduction to the arch-villain Champion.

From there it evolved into something more special, but the constraints of work and her idea of romance seemed to make it more like a rollercoaster ride and I didn’t press.

So, I was, for the time being, content with my dreams, one of which was playing in my head now.

She had appeared, coming through a sort of haze or distortion, and was standing above me, smiling.

It couldn’t be true, and yet it seemed so lifelike.

She knelt down and took my hand in hers, and whispered.  “Wake up, sleepyhead, it’s time to go.”

I could smell the aroma of her perfume enveloping me.

When I went to open my eyes I found they were already open.  I gently squeezed her hand, and it was real.

“Elizabeth?”

“Yes.  Now. We really have to go.”

“Where?”

“Stand up, and I’ll show you.”

I let her pull me to my feet and she gave me a hug, and whispered in my ear, “I love you,”

Now I knew it was a dream.  She had never intimated such feelings before.

I’d play along.  “It’s impossible to escape this cell.”

“Is it?”  She took a step towards the distortion, “Come.”

I followed.  Then, the next moment, I was in the dining room of her apartment”

“What just happened?”

Before she could answer, I lost consciousness.  Last thought, it was too good to be true.

©  Charles Heath 2022

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