The Worth of Words: Chapter 9

by Mark Figueroa | Featured Art by A Forgotten Pen at @theforgottenpen

After what felt like an eternity of Dad making phone calls and sending emails, he’s able to assemble a small team of special government contractors through an old contact. “We’re all set,” he says, hanging up his cell and typing away on his laptop. Dad leans against the cheap wooden table and sighs into his computer screen, then mutters when he checks his vibrating phone. “This is Howard,” he says, responding to an incoming call. I can hear someone yelling on the other end of the phone. It’s an angry, deep voice. I eavesdrop a little more while pretending to handle my own work. “… We don’t know what to do!” the caller shouts, audible through Dad’s headphones. “Excuse me,” Dad responds, cutting off the caller. “I told you, Grayson, I retired. If you or the agency need something from me, you need to go through the appropriate channels and process. I don’t just take cases one because someone calls. — Of course not, Grayson. Don’t be ridiculous.” Dad nods and says, “Well, it isn’t about money or the bill. It’s just not a case that I want to take. Every time I get involved with you guys, the red tape becomes a short red leash and you want to micromanage everything. I set up your department years ago. It was never meant to be so formal and rigid. You probably want to dig deeper into Soviet and Chinese intervention. You know they plant ineffective college professors and try to sneak operatives into our government precisely so nothing ever gets done. — Proof? — The fact that you’re making an unmonitored call to an independent contractor because you’re afraid to bring this any higher. Instead, run an Internal Investigation report and see what happens. That should give you an idea of who’s involved and how deep it goes. — Well, no, Grayson. Nothing’s ever guaranteed, but I didn’t accept the contract, so mind your tone. — Okay, well, I don’t work for you. — Yep. Same to you,” Dad declares, ending the call. He doesn’t say anything, but his bushy eyebrows take the shape of a “v”. He frowns, then glares at his screen.

“Everything okay?” I ask, glancing at Dad, then looking at Cannen. On a single-seat recliner, Detective Cannen looks like he’s texting novels. He looks up at me and I look around the room, abrupt and awkward. Between all of the questions that I have for Mom and the preparation Dad’s doing for our rescue attempt, I feel overwhelmed and sick. Something bad is going to happen. “Dad?” I ask again, cracking my knuckles and fidgeting with my unnerved hands as my emotions continue to unravel. There’s a knock at the door and my heart sinks into my stomach. Dad gets up and let’s several soldiers inside. They place small box on the table and double-tap one of its faces. The box glows like an Alexa or Siri, but a beam of light shoots up and creates a 3D diagram of the abandoned warehouse Mom told us about. One of the commandos explains how the technology works, while giving Dad a box of his own. “A gift from the agency,” she says with a mechanical nod. A sterile smile creeps over her face when Dad finally accepts the box. After an awkward stare down, the soldier turns to the holographic display.

“This is where we enter…” the leader says, zooming in and out of the hologram. He traces a path around the sprawling building and the desert wilderness around it. “…then we… and…” he continues, explaining how they’ll perform their operation. Standing against an adjacent wall, Detective Cannen continues typing away on his phone. Cannen pauses and stares at his cellphone screen. His confusion draws everyone’s attention. The soldier in charge smirks and says, “The light emitted by the projector is only observable by the naked eye. No more photographs, please. Mr. Cannen. If you have a question, direct them to me.” The soldier pauses and points at a symbol on his lapel. “Col. Bluefield,” he says, tapping his stitched-on name tag. Despite the colonel’s hulking stature, he looks more like a teenage mall cop with a 5-o’clock shadow than a soldier. The colonel crosses his arms. “As I was saying…,” he says, continuing to outline his plan of attack. Cannen leans against the wall, a little embarrassed; he puts his phone away and jots notes on his notepad with a frustrated look on his face. “…about it. Any questions? Any questions at all?” Col. Bluefield asks. He stares at Dad, then at me. “Our car will take us all to our aircraft, when you are ready, of course,” the colonel says. Dad and I grab our things. We follow the troops to two large, menacing SUVs in the parking lot. “Coming, Detective?” the colonel asks, staring at Cannen. His bureaucratic indifference and precise, robotic movements suck the oxygen from the air around us. Dad, me and the other mercenaries lean in and await Cannen’s response. “Well?” the colonel asks, asserting his dominance.

Cannen reaches for his notepad. The colonel smiles, then begins laughing. “No, detective. With your voice. Speak, like a man,” Col. Bluefield says, chuckling. The colonel examines Cannen. “Thought so, detective,” he says, sneering. As Col. Bluefield turns, I notice a faint scar on his right cheek that goes up to his dark eyebrow. “Let’s go,” he says overconfident.

Dad groans. “Colonel, is this behavior necessary?” he asks.

Col. Bluefield walks toward the SUV beside us. He looks at Dad, then glances at Detective Cannen who starts approaching the vehicles as well. “Dumb doesn’t mean your deaf. Ain’t that right, detective?” the colonel asks, giving Cannen a dirty look. Col. Bluefield scoffs at Dad, then jumps into the Cadillac. The other operatives follow suit and disappear into the other SUVs. We drive to a secured compound and pass rows of flat, plain buildings. The cars stop on a runway with strange aircrafts. “Alright. Lubbock, gents,” the colonel commands. Men in uniform assist us into a black helicopter without propellers. They seal the doors and wave at the pilot from the outside, preparing us for departure. The colonel sits across from Dad and me, right next to Cannen. I ignore the tension by scrolling through my inbox and answering emails.

“Been a long time, Cannon Ball, hasn’t it?” Col. Bluefield says, lighting a cigarette. Before he can inhale, Dad’s grabs the cigarette from his hand and puts it out.

“My daughter and I don’t smoke. And, I’m sure the pilot doesn’t appreciate you stinking up his aircraft,” he says, staring the colonel down. Col. Bluefield shrugs. The aircraft lifts straight up, slow and silent. Dad reclines in his seat and stares out the window. It hovers, then picks up speed like a train rushing through invisible rails in the sky. The flight from Missoula to Lubbock is filled with overly-masculine heavy breathing, passive aggressive sighs and silent barbaric grunts.

We land at security-heavy airport. Armed guards, massive trucks and people in futuristic army clothes are scattered throughout the compound. Several crew members escort off the craft and we follow them into a huge airplane hangar. I gawk at the metal door, while everyone stands around in silence waiting for something. For what exactly? I’m not sure. Colonel Bluefield radios someone and a voice says, “Roger that. Please stand by.”

Machines whirr and the air gets hot around us. The large metal door opens. Bright lights peek out of it. I glimpse inside.

“Let’s go,” Col. Bluefield says, strutting into the blinding hangar. “Everything we need is inside.”

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