Logan pushed open the door to Fogle Towers and rolled smoothly into the lobby. The afternoon sun streamed briefly across the marble floor. Then, the door closed behind him. He looked down at Eva's face, nestled close to him. She often fell asleep on the way home from school. Now, she barely opened an eye as he carried her in from the car. He remembered when she was an infant, snug in baby carrier he used to keep her from sliding off his lap. Now, her legs stretched down past his knees, one skinned knee sticking out. As the elevator door opened, Eva sat up and stretched lazily. In a moment, she was up on her dad's knees, pressing the button for the penthouse. Nimble as a cat, like her mother, she balanced for a moment on tiptoe, then flopped back onto Logan's lap. Eva considered pressing the penthouse button her "job." It was one of the many small jobs that Logan had given her since she turned five.
It was laughable now that he used to feel self conscious going to Crash or wheeling himself through the market. Five years with Eva had rid him of any remaining feelings of self consciousness in the chair. As far as Eva was concerned, Logan could do anything that dads were supposed to do. And not wanting to disappoint her, Logan had hauled himself onto carousel ponies, crawled across sandboxes, and paddled gamely in the pool with his young daughter. These days, his backpack still held informant files, but they always had rooms for a water bottle, a few snacks for Eva, and a toy or two.
Once in the apartment, Eva skipped off his lap and down the hall. Logan moved to the kitchen to put away the few items they had picked up from the market. He tried not to look at a pair of sandals lying on the floor next to the door. The sandals had lain there since the day Max had gone away four months ago. Logan and Max had always had a contingency plan for quick escapes. A fast getaway - in case there was any word of a blown cover for either of them. That night, the informant had whispered frantically into the phone about transgenics and Manticore. Since the contact had only mentioned Max, not Eyes Only, they had decided that she would run, alone. Like the mother bird, feigning injury, she would lead the predators away from her nest. Max had clung to him for a moment, kissed Eva's smooth cheek, and disappeared into the night.
In the weeks that went by, Logan waited for word from Max. They had arranged to contact each other via the newspaper classifieds or anonymous PO boxes, but both had been eerily silent. Sebastian, the designated go-between, had heard from her once, but not again. Once, he had glimpsed a few words in an ad that he felt sure had to be a message from Max, but he couldn't be sure. He longed for some other confirmation from her, but none came.
At first, the difficulties of life as a single parent had left little time to worry about Max. They had been apart before, but not since Eva was born. Suddenly, all the little things that Max used to do, which Logan had taken for granted, seemed to take up all his time. He had not realized how many times Max chased Eva up a slide, climbed a tree to fetch an errant kite, or reached onto a high shelf at the grocery store to get Eva's favorite food. S lowly, Logan and Eva, began to find their way together. Logan figured out a way to back up the short flight of stairs to Eva's classroom. And Eva learned to climb from Logan's lap to his shoulder to reach the tops of their closets.
And Original Cindy helped too. After Max had been gone for a week, Cindy had appeared at the door. When Logan opened the door, she had walked right in and announced that she was taking Eva to the park. She whisked her off for two hours and returned the tired, but happy, preschooler to Logan. Thereafter, she appeared about two or three times a week for the outings or errands. She stayed for dinners sometimes and Logan welcomed her company.
The weeks had slipped by. Logan spent nights compiling Eyes Only data collected from informants. He had tried his best to find out who had exposed Max's Manticore past and sent her running, but he was reluctant to do too much probing. He and Max had decided that they could not take the chance that the trail would lead back to Logan and Eva. So, he had left the probing to Max.
He bathed Eva and read her a story on her favorite cushion. Now, she gave him a sleepy goodnight kiss and he transferred carefully back to his chair, silently wheeling back out to the kitchen. The steady rain drew his eyes up to the window and he subconsciously shook his head, refusing to think about where Max might be. As he passed his desk, a plain, manila envelope, stuck between some other papers on his desk, caught his eye.
He had forgotten about that envelope. One of his most trusted informants had given it to him, saying that it was the contact information of a potential new contact.
"Look, I'm not really in the market for new informants," he had said. "No offense, but I'm trying to keep the circle pretty tight right now and I trust you already, so…" He didn't know how to finish the sentence. There was no way to explain why he was being so furtive lately. None of his informants knew about Max or Eva and he planned to keep it that way.
"Well, take it or leave it, then. I told him that I couldn't promise him anything anyway. It just seemed like a good opportunity, since he worked as a press secretary in the attorney general's office."
Logan moved into the exercise cum playroom, Eva's toys sharing space with Logan's workout equipment. He lowered himself to the mat, braced himself against the wall for support and began to go through his usual series of stretches. He smiled as he allowed his thoughts to drift to Max. Over the years, Max would sometime take over his stretching. She would gently stretch each foot, ankle, and knee, taking his joints through all the positions they no longer assumed on their own. More often than not, her hands were drift up to the more sensitive parts of his body and they would end up spending a lot longer in the exercise room than they intended. It was a good thing Eva was a sound sleeper.
Eight years in the chair was a long time. He had continued to work on his upper body strength and flexibility daily. Over the years, he had added self-defense and jiu- jitsu to his regimen too. Max had learned long ago that Logan was going to keep doing his own investigating and reconnaissance. So, she only slightly raised an eyebrow when he began the jiu jitsu training. He had come a long way since his early days after the shooting. Five years ago, the fiery crash that had destroyed Bessie, the ancient Aztek, had also irreparably damaged the exoskeleton Since that time, he had started using long leg braces and a walker to ambulate at least once a week. Bling had prescribed it to improve bone density and had added a laundry list of other reasons too. Logan couldn't help grinning as he remembered the times Max would sneak up on him, stand toe to toe with him, peering mischievously into his eyes. More often than not, she would wrap her arms around his neck and kiss him, long and deep. It was at those times that Logan swore that he would have needed the braces to remain standing even if he'd still had an intact spinal cord. The next thing he knew, they would end up on the bed, in a jumble of arms and legs, trying frantically to climb out of their clothes and under the covers.
Logan shook his head in a futile attempt to push his thoughts of Max aside. He thought again about the new informant. It certainly seemed tempting to meet with him. It had been a long time, since he'd found a really productive new informant, one with really worthwhile information. Maybe it was worth a try. At least it would take his mind off those sandals by the front door. Logan opened the envelope, which he had laid on the exercise mat next to him, and began to leaf through the pages. So much for finishing the workout.
Three hours later, he logged off the computer, satisfied that he had verified the informant's vague credentials as much as was possible, given the fact that he didn't even have a real name for him. It would have to do. He pulled himself into bed and fell asleep with the lights still on.
The next morning, he found himself sitting alone in a booth at the Five-O-One Diner. It was one in the regular circuit of places he used for informant meets. The staff had seen him a few times, but could hardly call him a regular. The diner entrances provided him easy accessibility, good visibility of the street and a variety of parking options. "Yes," he thought grudgingly to himself, "I certainly have this down to a science." He had tucked his wheelchair behind the high-backed seat and settled into the booth. No point in a new informant knowing too much about his Eyes Only "contact" at this stage. He ordered a cup of black coffee, flipped open a copy of last week's Newsweek, and settled down to wait for "Mr. Y."
Tim Young, "Mr. Y," dropped his keys twice while locking up his car. He took a few deep breaths and walked the half block to the Five-O-One Diner. His contact had given him only the barest of instructions. He had been working at the attorney general's office for only a few months, but he had already realized that the corruption had seeped into virtually every office in that building. Deep down, he really considered himself to be a timid guy. But something had made him answer Eyes Only's call to arms. Perhaps, he was just drawn to the excitement and danger. "Come alone and look for the man reading last week's Newsweek," the contact had said. He glanced at his pale reflection in the glass door, hesitated for a moment, then pushed his way in.
Logan had glimpsed Tim's face through the glass just a moment before he entered the diner. He breathed in sharply, fingers tightening on the magazine. There was nowhere to hide, even if he could have scrambled away somehow. "Great," he thought, "the last thing I need is to be interrupted by some old college buddy during an informant meet."
Tim rounded the divider that separated the entrance from the rest of the room and scanned the room's occupants. At a glance, he could see no one reading any magazines, only a couple of men reading the newspaper. Well, he was a few minutes early. Maybe his Eyes Only man wanted to make him sweat a little.
"No worries there," he thought, "I'm definitely sweating already." The room held only about a dozen diners, so he scanned them again. Only then, did he see the familiar looking man in the booth at the back. His heart raced. He really did not need someone he knew seeing him meet with an Eyes Only contact. Before he could look away, however, the man looked up, and their eyes met.
"Tim Young, what are you doing here?"
"Logan Cale, is that really you? It's probably been at least 10 or 12 years since I last talked to you."
Tim stood in front of Logan's booth, seemingly undecided about what to do next. Then, he sat down abruptly across from Logan. Inwardly, Logan groaned.
"Oh well, I guess I'll scrap the meet and just reschedule it later. Might as well chat with Tim now that I'm here," Logan thought. He ordered up another coffee and turned his attention to his old college friend. Careful to hide it from the other man, he tucked the Newsweek back into the bag on the seat beside him. The conversation turned to work and Logan began to tell about his freelance writing for various journals. Suddenly, Logan was drawn back to his companion's words.
"I've been at the attorney general's office now for the past couple of years. I don't do too much writing of my own though, you know how it is," Tim was saying.
Suddenly, Logan's heart was pounding. Tim WAS his informant. Somehow, this loud-mouth party-boy-turned-civil servant had been convinced do his part for justice and the American way.
"Okay, now I really have to get out of here before party-boy figures out why I'm here. The last thing I need is an informant who knows Logan Cale personally. Maybe, I can get Bling or someone else to meet with this guy later, but, right now, I have got to get out of here."
Logan paused in his thoughts. If he left now, Tim would know about the chair. Oh well, better that Tim know about the chair than the Eyes only connection. He couldn't chance staying here any longer. Hurriedly, he made his decision.
"Hey Tim, I'm sorry, but I've got to run. Maybe I can give you a call sometime and we can catch up."
Tim seemed relieved. Swallowing his last sip of coffee, Logan casually reached behind the seat and pulled his chair into position next to the seat. He transferred to the chair, settling his feet on the footrest. He looked up into Tim's questioning eyes.
"Car accident. It's been 8 years now…long time. Well, good to see you." Logan offered his hand. Tim shook it. He frowned for a moment at Logan's other hand, resting on the wheel rim.
"Sorry about that," Tim stammered.
"Yeah, well, see ya" Logan said briskly, spinning himself toward the door.
He almost made it out of the diner.
"Hey, buddy! You forgot your magazine. It fell under the table". Breathlessly, the waiter waved the old copy of Newsweek, at Logan's retreating back. He tried to turn away, but it was too late. He looked up at Tim, whose eyes stared back at him in recognition. Tim stared at him incredulously, getting up to follow him out of the diner.
"You're the Eyes Only contact. Why didn't you say so?" Tim whispered after they were out on the street.
"Look, Eyes Only has given us all strict instructions that we are not to meet with any informants that we know personally. He would have reassigned you to meet with someone else."
Tim's steps slowed and he nodded at Logan. "I guess that means this chair is a fake then, part of the undercover disguise…"
"No," Logan grunted, "the chair is real, me sitting in this chair is real, and I am still your contact. Here's the info about how to contact me," he said brusquely, shoving a paper into Tim's hand. "Let me know when you have something."
Disgusted with himself for blowing part of his cover, he left Tim on the street corner to contemplate his new role in "helping the helpless."