by Mandi Sheridan
"But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my
words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way,
and from the evil of their doings." Jeremiah 23:22
Peter Watts awakened to complete darkness. No light filtered in from any direction. He waited for his eyes to adjust; fully expecting his sight to become accustomed to the blackness and to return at any moment, but there was nothing. He was aware of the sensation of a mattress underneath him and knew that he was lying on something. Not a bed, but a cot maybe. The mattress was thin, unyielding, not in the least bit comfortable. Was he in a cell? It seemed as though he was. Not that he'd ever woken up in one, but he imagined this was what it would be like. But a cell had bars. A cell had windows. A cell had some degree of light. Here, there was nothing, only this eternal dammed darkness.
Where the hell was he, he wondered? What was this nightmare he was in? He could hear his own shallow breathing; it seemed to echo around him. He held his breath and listened for another sound, but there was nothing. No traffic, no birds, and none of the everyday sounds of life that one took for granted as it went on around one, oblivious to pain and suffering, happiness and joy. He felt the panic begin to rise. He could hear his heart pounding in his head. He took in a deep breath then let it out slowly, in and out, slowing his pulse, calming his mind and his heart.
His head ached and he raised his hand to his temple, wincing as he touched the bruise there. How had that happened, he wondered, but his memory would not come back to him. Concussion, he figured. That's why I feel so bad. Was he in hospital? Still unconscious and dreaming, perhaps? He touched the bruise again and the pain told him that he was not dreaming.
He tried to sit up, but a wave of dizzying nausea forced him back again. He groaned aloud but it was swallowed up in the vast gulf of darkness and silence that surrounded him. He closed his eyes again and let the blessed relief of unconsciousness take away his fears.
"You can't keep us here! This is insanity! Do you know who my husband is? When he hears about this…" Barbara Watts shouted at the voice on the other end of the phone.
"Mrs. Watts, you have to understand…" the dispassionate male voice reasoned.
"I understand you have kept me and three young girls prisoner for almost three days now," Barbara yelled, her anger and a tiny well of fear getting the better of her. " What I don't understand is why."
"Mom, don't…" Erin tried to calm her mother.
"You have to understand, Mrs. Watts that this is for your own good," he told her, his voice reasonable, as though explaining the obvious. "For your safety and that of your daughters."
Barbara slammed down the phone and looked around her. This prison she found herself in was luxurious, well stocked, well furnished, the kind of place everyone dreamed of owning. A large two-storey house set high up in the mountains beside a lake, with grounds that swept down to the water's edge, and was enclosed on the other three sides by tall cedar trees. The late afternoon sun shone in through the window, casting long shadows on the garden and giving the room a golden hue. It was an idyllic locale, but nevertheless it was a prison, and she was its prisoner.
"Mom, please…don't say anything that might make them…..you know… do something…." Erin shrugged her shoulders, unable to go on, and the rest of the sentence hung in the air around them.
Barbara looked at her eldest child. She was so much like Peter, so calm and sure of herself, like him, and with his eyes. But those eyes now held only fear and concern. Taylor and Chelsea sat close together, not squabbling for a change, but comforting one another.
"Erin, I'm sorry….it's okay," she spoke to all three of them, but looked at Erin as though to reassure herself as much as the girls. "Your dad will find us. It's only a matter of time before he comes, along with the Millennium Group to get us."
Erin's eyes locked with hers, a moment of understanding flickered there and she was tempted to leave it at that, but the words came out of their own accord. "Maybe it's because of daddy that we….." She managed to leave the rest unspoken and watched her mother carefully, already regretting it, wishing she had stayed silent.
"Why do you say that? Do you know something, Erin?" Barbara frowned.
Erin hesitated, remembering the conversation she had overheard between her father and Frank Black. Only a few words here and there, Daddy was always careful about what he said over the telephone, and she hadn't been listening deliberately. She had only wanted to talk to him about a birthday present for Mom, but when she heard the tone of his voice, the fear, the anger, and then the despair she had turned away silently. Then the flu outbreak, or whatever it was, had begun and, although she couldn't understand it, some feeling, some inner voice had told her that her father could be involved in it some way. But what part of this could she tell her mother? None of it, she realised and so she shook her head, her eyes looking away, out of the window, drawn to the pretty lake outside. Right now she would give anything to be out there on that lake, in a boat with no oars or engine, just floating away from the shore, away from everyone. Just for some peace, she thought. But it was impossible. The doors of her prison were locked.
Just a little bit at a time, Peter said to himself. Take it slowly and carefully. Easy, that's it. He took a deep breath, letting it out deliberately and pushing himself upright, leaning on his elbows. Another wave of nausea passed over him, but he forced himself to remain still, allowing it to pass. Cold sweat broke out on his forehead, as though the effort to merely sit up were too much for him. He wanted to curl up, to go to sleep again and not have to worry any more, but he knew he could not do that. He had to try at least, though he had no idea what it was that he was trying for.
"To sit up," he told himself aloud. "If you can achieve that, you can achieve anything."
He laughed aloud at his foolishness, and this frightened him.
Barbara's eyes narrowed as she looked at Erin, standing silently, almost sullenly by the window. The shadows were lengthening now, in an hour or so it would be dark.
She called her daughter's name softly, and Erin turned to look at her, one eyebrow raised in a gesture that reminded her once again of Peter. Erin was just so very much like him, and she stopped what she was about to say and found herself wondering where he was and if he was all right. This virus, this flu epidemic, or whatever it was, that had swept the area a few days ago, had he succumbed to it? Was he ill somewhere, in a hospital or at home? Was this why they were being held captive, or was there another reason?
"Erin, if there's something you know, tell me, please?" she pleaded.
Erin sighed and picked at a thread in the curtain. She pulled it and it broke. "I don't know anything Mom, I'm just as worried as you are, but I don't know anything."
"I want to go home, Mom," Chelsea complained, seeking attention and was rewarded with and elbow in the ribs from Taylor who had noticed the looks that had passed between her sister and her mother and wondered what was going on. She wanted to go home too, but she knew if she or Chelsea complained again, Mom would only get angry again.
"I'll try the phone once more. Maybe it's working properly now," Barbara said, knowing that it would be the same, but wanting to do something, even if it was a worthless gesture. She lifted it and jiggled the button a few times, the phone at her ear, listening, praying for a dial tone, but there was nothing, just the annoying hum she heard every time she lifted it.
"Dial zero for an outside line, Mrs. Watts," they had instructed her, but the only line dialling zero would give her was connected to them, and she had no desire to talk to them again. When she had complained about it, they told her there was a fault.
She slammed the phone down again, taking her anger out on this inanimate object that was no longer a connection to the outside world, and ran her fingers through her hair, not knowing what to do.
The Old Man lifted the telephone on his desk, and listened, his face revealing nothing.
"Watts is awake," the person at the other end told him. "He has been on and off for a few hours now."
The Old Man tried to put a face to the voice but could not. All he could visualise was Peter Watts in the condition he had been in the last night he had seen him. Unconscious, though beginning to come round, groaning in pain and with a red and angry-looking welt on his forehead where they had struck him. On his command they had administered a powerful sedative to him and he had slumped to the ground again, not to waken for a long time. With a nod from him, they had hauled him away then and that was the last he had seen of him, for he had more important business to take care of.
"And his wife," the Old Man queried. "She and his daughters are well?
"Yes," the voice responded.
"No symptoms?" he held his breath, hoping against, but expecting the worst.
He nodded, relieved. If there were none by this stage then the danger was past.
"I'll be back late tomorrow afternoon. Make sure he sleeps well tonight, and then after that no more sedatives."
"This is who we are," the voice told him.
He put the phone down without giving a response. This is who we are, he said to himself, but tonight the phrase brought him no comfort.
He switched on the television set tucked away in a corner of the office. The news was just beginning, and he listened to the latest up-date on the terrible epidemic that had surfaced in Seattle and the surrounding area. The newscaster was trying to play up the tragedy but it was obvious, despite her attempts to instil some more drama into the situation that the worst of it was over. Casualties were going to be less that first expected, but these had been such terrifying days, and more than a few people had been touched by this wind of destruction that had blown in and out again almost as quickly.
"I'm hungry Mom," Taylor's whining was beginning to get on her nerves. Or was it their captivity?
Well, go make something to eat, then." Barbara rubbed at the sides of her temples with her fingers. Small circular motions, to try and ward off the headache before it get a chance to settle where it would remain there for the rest of the night.
"I'll do it, " Erin was thankful for the excuse to get away from her mother's questioning eyes. She rushed to the kitchen and began to take food out of the refrigerator, planning supper for the three of them. Chelsea appeared at her side.
"I'll give you a hand," she said.
Peter gripped the edges of his makeshift bed. He has never felt so weak in his life, as though he was ill, in the grip of some fever or virus. A virus? He suddenly remembered some of it. The Marburg Variant virus had swept through the area, leaving in its wake death and destruction and a potential for disaster. Is that what he had? No, his symptoms did not match the known symptoms of the virus, unless it had mutated into something else. He knew that it mutated into a non-lethal form after three days, but what were the symptoms of the mutated strain? How did they appear? What form did they take? He should know the details, he had read up on it in both it's manifestations before… before….before what? There was something he should remember, something very important, but his head was still so foggy.
Barbara lay in the hot bath, letting the warm water calm her troubled mind. It was late now, Taylor and Chelsea had gone to bed, and downstairs she knew that Erin would be still sitting statue-like by the window as if the answers she sought were outside, just somewhere beyond the light from the window. Most likely they were, but they were out of reach, Barbara sighed and closed her eyes as the warmth enveloped her.
She wished Peter could be here with her, safe and sound. Often at home he would sit on the edge of the bath or on the floor beside her, his back to her and they would discuss their day in that casual manner married couples would use. Or rather she would talk about her day. When she would ask him about his, more often than not, he would merely smile and ask her a question, changing the subject and she would take this as a sign that it had went well, but that he couldn't talk about it. If he were troubled in some way then he would remain silent, content just to be with her. But where was he now? And why were they in this place? That was the most puzzling part of all of this and Peter's whereabouts was the most worrying part. She closed her eyes and wished that he were here with her, safe and sound.
If I swing my legs over the edge and put my feet on the ground, will there be a ground there to put them on? Peter asked himself this question over and over again. Or will there be nothing? Will I just fall and keep on falling into the darkness? Down into the abyss? He didn't want an answer, he just wanted to curl up and hide. He was that much afraid of the answer.
"I am ill," he said to the darkness, but it did not reply. "Either that, or I'm already dead and in purgatory."
That was it, he realised. I died, and for my sins I am here forever, for all eternity in this place with no light. This was his damnation for the things he had done in a lifetime fighting evil, and sometime fighting that evil with an evil of his own making.
"Why?" he asked the darkness, but it did not answer him. "I'm not an evil man, Lord. I did things that I had to do, to try and make the world a better place…no, not just a better place, but a safer place for those I love. Is that so great a sin, Lord? Does that condemn me to this?"
But there was not answer for him. He was dead, so how could there be an answer?
Barbara stepped out of the bath and enclosed herself in the soft, cream coloured bathrobe. She ran her hand across the mirror, making a path of clear glass through the misty condensation, and looked at the woman looking back at her. She wasn't sure if she recognised her tonight. She frowned and the woman in the mirror frowned back. Maybe she doesn't recognise me either, Barbara thought. Yet I don't look that much different from the way I've always looked. Still slim, despite having three children, only a few laughter lines around my eyes, not a grey hair yet, well, just one or two, but nothing to worry about. So why do I seem so different tonight? Maybe because I'm a widow now. The thought came unbidden, startling her. Her heart seemed to stop in mid-beat, and the blood seemed to freeze in her veins as she stood there, suddenly unable to move. She shivered, despite the warmth of the bathroom. No, she told herself. If he were dead then I would know it. I would know. Yet she buried her face in the towel, as if to hide herself from her thoughts.
"You okay, Mom?" a knock at the door.
"Yeah…..just give me a second, sweetheart. I'll be right out." Did her voice sound normal? Or did it betray her? It was so hard to tell.
She combed her hair, damp around the edges from the bath, and tears welled up in her eyes. Where are you, Peter? She asked silently. Are you safe? Are you hurt? Are you alive? That question was too unbearable to demand an answer, so she pulled the robe tighter around her to try and ward of the chill that was in her soul. At home she would wear his when he was away, taking comfort from the familiar scent of him, but this one gave her no comfort at all.
Peter rubbed the stubble on his face, gauging by the growth that he had been in this prison for at least three days. His stomach told him the same, yet he didn't feel starved and he was not dehydrated, although a glass of water would be desirable right at this moment.
"That and a bath," he shouted into the darkness to his invisible captors. "A glass of water, a shave and a long hot bath is what I'd really like, if you can hear me, that is."
But no one answered him and he doubted they would have given him what he requested.
Erin lit the fire and stared at the flames as they caught. It wasn't cold but there was a chill inside her and it seemed to abate slightly as she sat there on the rug. She smiled as her mother came and sat by her.
"You okay Mom?" she asked again and Barbara nodded drawing the robe more tightly around her as though to ward off her own chills.
"They can't keep us here forever, can they?" Erin asked.
"I don't know sweetheart. I just don't know."
"Have you any idea why they have us here? Is it someone who is holding us ransom, or to make daddy do something? Or just some sickos who are demanding money? Have we enough money? Have you and daddy enough money if they are demanding….like a whole lot of money?" A note of fear and panic crept into Erin's voice. "Mom…..have you and daddy enough money? What if they demand a million or more?"
Barbara laughed despite her own similar fears. "Erin, I hardly think anyone is going to kidnap us and demand that sort of money."
"But what if it's some sick nut that daddy has been hunting, and he's trying to stop daddy…or something? Mom, what if it's that?"
"Shhh Erin, don't say that. Anyway, you know that the people your dad works with are good people. They'll be working along with him and are probably real close to finding us now."
Erin took her mothers hand and squeezed it. "Mom, what if…what if it is the people Dad works with. I mean…..maybe they are behind all this."
Barbara frowned. "There is something you're not telling me, isn't there?"
Peter dry heaved a second time, no longer able to fight off the nausea. Whatever it was that was in his system was making him very ill. Yet he felt a gnawing hunger and wondered how long it had been since he had eaten, though he doubted he could eat anything even if a feast were set before him.
Was this the mutated Marburg Variant? Was he merely ill, and not dying, or already dead as in his mental state earlier, he had first thought? Then he remembered the vaccine he had been given along with Frank. The vaccine from the batch the Group held in their possession for such a contingency, which was for Group members only. Not enough for our families, Frank had forced the admission out of him and the words he had said suddenly came back to haunt him.
Not enough vaccine for our families, he whispered to himself, the nightmare suddenly becoming worse than he ever could imagine it would be.
"I think this virus that was going about, I think it has something to do with the Millennium Group," Erin frowned, trying to work it out in her own mind as she spoke.
"That's the silliest notion I've ever heard, Erin," Barbara responded.
"Mom, I heard Daddy talking to Frank about it. He said he had been vaccinated against it, and I heard him asking Frank how he had got access to something called blue level and he was so angry, and he asked Frank a lot of questions about it, but I could tell he was scared too."
"You were eavesdropping?" Barbara glared.
"I knew you'd say that! I just knew it!" Erin was angry now too. "I didn't mean to, honest Mom. I wanted to talk to him, but I heard him on the phone and I stopped. I couldn't help hearing what he was saying."
"This doesn't prove your dad and the Group are involved. It just means they know about it." Yet an uneasy doubt crept into Barbara's soul even as she spoke. "They're probably working to help people affected by it, and maybe we are here to keep us safe and…."
"Mom…that's about the dumbest thing I've ever heard."
"And your dad is busy," Barbara continued, trying to at least convince herself if not Erin. "And that's why he hasn't been in contact."
"Yeah, right!" Erin shook her head in disbelief. "Believe what you want. I'm going to bed and in the morning I'm going to figure out a way to get out of here."
The Old Man listened to the conversation between mother and daughter, wincing at how uncomfortably close the child was to the truth. It made him very concerned. They would have to be silenced, and it would fall on his shoulders to see that they were. He erased the tape. This was for his ears only.
Was Erin correct? Could Peter be involved in something evil? Was the Group that he had devoted so many years of his life to, something more than he believed it to be? We he something more that she had always believed him to be? After Erin stormed off to bed she poured a brandy and now curled up on the sofa in front of the fire she found herself with these thoughts and questions. This was crazy she muttered to herself and swirled the brandy around in the glass. She stared at the amber coloured liquid as though she would find the answers in it.
Peter was a serious man. She had known that a long time ago, back before she married him. He had a faith, a sense of purpose in him that ran so deep and was so sincere. He almost lost that faith way back in the early days of their marriage, just after Chelsea had been born, and it had been a time of trial for both of them. But she had stuck with him because she loved him, and she knew that he loved her, and they had come through it together. But the Millennium Group had been there too, and while it saved him and gave him back the sanity he had almost lost, it had also been an intruder in their marriage. Taking him away from her too many times and too often for long periods. Then even when he was home, more often than not his mind was elsewhere, working on a case, figuring out a clue, or just worrying about victims and their suffering. The Millennium Group was the other woman in Peter's life and there was nothing she could do about that, because it kept him sane, and it kept him with her.
But was it the Millennium Group that was now keeping him apart from her? Was Erin right in her suspicions? No, Barbara told herself. It could not be that! There would be a perfectly logical explanation for this, this enforced captivity, and they would just have to endure it, and even make the most of it, until Peter came for them. In a few days they would all be laughing over Erin's silly notion. Of course they would, wouldn't they? She couldn't afford to let herself think otherwise.
They were dead. Barbara and the girls, Taylor and Erin, and Chelsea were dead. Peter let this thought wash over him like the tide washing over a stone on a beach. His heart felt like a stone right now, dead, cold, an inanimate object devoid of all feeling. They were dead and it was his fault. He remembered it all now. Every detail came to him in a clarity that was almost blinding and made him long for the darkness again.
He lay back again, no longer desiring to fight, to try to escape from this cell or whatever it was. The cot he lay on was still hard, unyielding and he welcomed the hard, uncomfortable surface like a penance he had to do to atone for their deaths. He didn't care any more if he lived or died in this dark hell. He had no reason to live any more. Barbara was gone and so was his life.
Barbara poured a second brandy and stared into the flames. God, Peter, where are you?
She asked herself, but there were no answers so she finished her drink and went to bed.
Hunger, gnawing and persistent, invaded him and thankfully kept his mind from wandering to the one place he couldn't bear to go. Home. To his house. To where the bodies of his wife and daughters would be lying. Innocent victims of the plague that he had by his own hand, by his own actions brought down upon them. Thousands, even tens of thousands would be dead by now, and he could have stopped it. But he hadn't. This was the place to where he could not, dared not go. Up to that point in time it was okay to think about it, but no further. Never any further or he would go insane. And then there was that well used phrase, if only. If only, he had gone to get them first. If only, he had told Frank it was too late to help Lara Means, then all of them would be alive and safe today. Hiding somewhere, weathering out the storm. But he owed Lara. Never as much as he owed his family, but he still owed her. It was he who had brought her to the point of initiation into the Group and then had taken her beyond that point. He should have known it was too early, but she was ready to leave, to give up on the Group and he had done this to bring her back. He should have known that she would end up insane. And he should have known that it was pointless to rush after her. If only, if only, if only….. He quietly cursed himself in the darkness. That was why Barbara and the kids were…. No! He couldn't go to that place. Not ever again. He would stay here in the dark, instead.
Barbara lay awake in this beautiful, yet strange bedroom, alone in a bed that would have comfortably held two. Sleep refused to come, and once again she wondered where Peter was right now. Whatever he is or has been doing, I hope he is getting a good night's sleep, she mused, wishing he were lying beside her, his arm lightly around her waist. If he were here right now, I would hold him so close to me, she thought. I'd never let him go. She turned on her side and hugged the pillow instead.
Was that a noise? He thought he heard something, but couldn't be sure. It may have been his imagination, but no, there it was again. Footsteps. They were getting closer. Then the sound of a bolt sliding back with a crash. A sound so deafening after the complete silence, it was painful to his ears, and a then light so bright it was painful to his eyes. He crouched against the wall, fearful of the light and the noise, wanting the darkness and the silence to come back again.
"Suppertime," a voice gruffly informed him. He could not make out the owner of that voice. He could only see the silhouette, framed in the doorway and barely registered the tray set beside him on the bed. Then darkness again, and silence though his ears still rang and the after image of the light still blinded him.
Peter could only sit there stunned. Then his stomach growled in response to the scent of the food on the tray. Coffee. The delicious aromas of strong hot coffee, and something else. Chicken soup he discovered when he reached for it. Like the blind man he was he carefully searched for the spoon, and took a tentative mouthful. It was like nectar. And the coffee was just what he craved. For a moment or two he enjoyed these simple pleasures, until they were gone and he went back to that place he dreaded.
But only for a short while because a drowsiness fell over him and he felt his eyelids grow heavy. He tried to fight it and his last thought, before falling asleep was the realisation that the food had been drugged.
The Old Man switched on the listening device that monitored the house. All was quiet, Mrs Watts having finally fallen into a fitful sleep and her daughters also resting. Good, he thought and then prayed they would have no bad dreams. They didn't deserve them. He switched off the device and turned to the other one that monitored the building nearby. Watts too, was asleep though his was not so natural, brought on by the powerful sedative in his coffee. Maybe he was having bad dreams, but he was so deeply asleep they were not obvious to any eavesdropping device.
Barbara wakened slowly, disorientated in this unfamiliar bedroom. A chink of grey light filtered through a gap in the curtain, and she reached over and pulled it back to see what the morning would bring. No sunshine anyway, only grey drizzle, and a mist hanging over the trees. The second brandy last night had been a little larger than she normally would have taken, and she could feel the faint telltale signs of a headache. He mouth was dry and she wanted to curl up under the blankets and sleep for another hour. But if she did that her head would be pounding by lunchtime, so she made the effort and throwing back the covers, headed for the shower. It was quiet in the house this morning. The girls were still asleep. Taylor would happily stay in bed for ages and Chelsea, if she was up, would be reading or surfing the TV channels. Where was Erin, she wondered as she began to dress?
Coffee first, she told herself. Then I'll be able to concentrate. She had no sooner made the coffee and was about to pour it when a loud knock sounded at the front door.
Peter! Oh, thank God! She rushed from the kitchen and opened the door to meet him and there stood Erin, bedraggled and wet in the early morning rain. Two men in suits and overcoats held her between them. They looked like cops, but Barbara didn't think for one minute that was what they were.
"She….uh….managed to get a little bit lost, Mrs. Watts," one of the suits told her, pushing Erin forward with a shove. Erin glared at him. "It's dangerous for her to be out wandering around in terrain she isn't familiar with." The implied threat was not so implied.
Barbara put her arm protectively around Erin's shoulder, as he continued in that smooth, reasonable voice that was beginning to anger her.
"There is a fence surrounding this property, Mrs. Watts. You can't see it for the trees but it's there, and it's electrified. If she had gone that far and tried to climb it…..well, we don't want any harm to come to you or your daughters, do we?"
"If you tell us why we're here, then maybe we wouldn't be trying to find a way out," her voice was cold, cutting, but didn't affect him in the slightest.
"Like I said, Mrs. Watts, the fence is dangerous, but what's beyond it is probably more dangerous. Oh, and the lake. It's very deep. I couldn't recommend a swim in it."
Before she could say anything, they turned and left as quickly as they had arrived. Barbara didn't see a car, but she heard one speed away.
Peter wakened slowly, his head groggy and his mouth dry. Sometime in the night he had dreamed of Barbara. She had been standing beside him at a riverbank. She was wearing her wedding dress. People they knew, his family, her family, and the girls surrounded them. People he worked with, including Frank and his family. Everyone was smiling. All in a semi-circle, watching them, waiting for the ceremony that was about to begin. Then someone nearby unsheathed a knife, and someone else held up a vial. "In sickness and in health?" the man with the knife said to him, making it a question. Peter nodded and told him, "Yes, in sickness and in health." As he spoke the other man broke open the vial. Then Lara Means appeared, and her hand was bleeding, and some of the blood spattered all over Barbara's beautiful white wedding gown. Barbara began to cry, and her tears turned into blood and ran down her dress, mingling with Lara's blood. Barbara kept saying over and over again, "You killed us, Peter. You killed me and our daughters. Why did you do it?" Then everyone joined in the chant, everyone kept on asking him why, and when he looked around they were all covered in blood too.
He shivered; the dream was still so vivid in his mind.
Barbara poured coffee and looked at her daughter sitting across the table from her. Erin was wrapped in a bathrobe and was drying the ends of her hair with a towel. She looked only slightly less bedraggled now than she had standing at the front door.
"Did they hurt you?"
"Um….no…..well, only my arm when I tried to get away from them."
"Let me take a look."
"No, Mom. It's okay. I'm fine."
"Erin, what made you pull a stupid stunt like that?"
"I don't know Mom. I lay awake all night thinking we have to do something, and I thought if I could find a way out of here, maybe get to a road, or find another house, a telephone, I could call somebody…..the cops…..or….." she looked at her mother, feeling disgusted with herself for failing.
"I didn't even get more than a few hundred yards before they caught me," she mumbled.
"Is the fence really electrified?"
"Yeah it is! They showed me the remains of some animal that had touched up against it. It was gross, Mom! Really gross! All burnt and..." she grimaced. "They said that would have happened to me if I tried to climb it."
"You were crazy to try this, you know," Barbara's voice was stern. Then she softened. "Crazy, but very brave too."
Erin shook her head. She felt miserable. She wanted her dad, and she wanted to go home. "What are we gonna do, Mom?"
A pause. Barbara closed her eyes for a second. "I don't know. I honestly don't know."
Footsteps again? He was sure he heard something. He listened. His senses on alert now, the last traces of the drugs gone from his system. Yes, definitely footsteps, and they were drawing closer. He braced himself against the wall, closing his eyes against the lights.
"Maybe today, they will tell us something," Barbara said. "Maybe today, we'll hear something about Daddy."
Peter struggled again against the two who now held him tightly by the arms. He did not know their faces; they were strangers to him. Two nameless, faceless drones that did only as they were bid, with no questions asked. Hit men, in other words. And strong hit men at that, he had discovered to his cost when they had dragged him out of his cell. Something, he didn't know what made him fight back. But his heart wasn't in it and they easily got the better of him with an unanticipated punch to the stomach that doubled him over in agony. Then just as that pain began to diminish, a chop to the kidney that sent him reeling and dispersed any last vestiges of fight that had been left in him. He hadn't even managed a swing at them. Under other circumstances he would have been disgusted at his slow reactions, but he just didn't care anymore. He was beaten in spirit as well as in body, and there was no reason he could see to fight back.
"Bastard," he gasped weakly as one of them, he didn't see which one it was, the tall, heavy-set one, or the shorter, wiry one, gave him another kick in the ribs for good measure then pulled him to his feet. They gripped him more tightly and he realised any further struggle would be pathetically weak and so obviously futile. And painful, don't forget painful, he reminded himself.
Yet, still finding within him some perverse notion of resistance, he allowed himself to go limp, forcing them to work as they dragged him along. It made no difference, but he felt just a little bit better for it.
And still, he couldn't help but glance furtively at his surroundings trying to search for a possible escape route, or something….anything. If he were going to make any kind of move, this would be the right time to try when it seemed he was beaten. He was fairly sure he was beaten, yet some crazy, unwanted sense of self-preservation made him tense slightly and look around. As if they could read his mind, they hurried him along with increased pressure on his arms and with a tightening of their faces, like they were daring him to make his move. Go on, their body language told him. Make a run for it. Give us a reason to put a bullet in your back.
Defeated again, and sure in knowledge that there was no escape, he half walked, was half dragged along a corridor, in a building unfamiliar to him. There was a door at the end of this corridor. It was the only door and it was to there that they appeared to be taking him. To what, he wondered? To…his place of execution most probably?
Ahhh, no, he realised as he saw the people seated before him. The courtroom first. With the judge and jury already waiting. But where was his defence? Nowhere it seemed.
He felt like a kid who had done wrong and had been brought to stand guiltily in front of the school principal to await his punishment. This angered him. They were the ones who had done wrong. He was the one who had suffered the consequences of their evil, not just him and his family, but all the others who were now dead and grieving because of these people before him in this room. He wanted to kill them all. He hated them so much, and he hated himself for once believing in them.
He stood upright, refusing to show them his weakness, and he waited for one of them to speak first.
It didn't take very long. He thought it would have been the Old Man, but he remained silent and did not look at him.
"You have betrayed us Watts," the one who spoke was a stranger to him. "Betrayed the Millennium Group and all it stands for. Do you want to tell us why you did that?"
Peter glared at him for a moment. When he spoke his mouth was dry. "I betrayed you! You killed thousands of people when you unleashed the Marburg virus, and for what? To gain control? To affect an outcome of something you are losing control over? You think that by vaccinating me, I should be thankful. You chose who lives and who dies…what the hell are you, anyway?"
They let him continue uninterrupted and Peter had the feeling that, by his words he was digging his own grave, but he couldn't stop. Pent up grief and rage came pouring out of him.
"You bastards spared me, and people like Frank Black. You expect me to come to you on my knees grateful for sparing my life, when you destroyed my family! You have taken everything from me. You have already killed me….so you might as well finish it now….because if you don't...I will spend the rest of my life trying to get even with you for this…"
"Why did you join the Millennium Group, Mr. Watts?" someone asked and Peter frowned, thrown by this unexpected question.
"Because….because of the evil around me. All of my adult life, I have spent in law-enforcement, believing that I could play my part in stopping evil men from taking life, and from destroying life. But I saw it escalating out of control, and I began to despair, and believe that there was no way to stop it, but you, the Millennium Group showed me a way to fight it. You already know that."
"And how do you fight a force of evil, Mr Watts?" another asked him.
"With a force of good equal to that force of evil. With honest men and women who pool their skills and abilities in a joint effort to help…
"Yet you realised that even this was not enough?"
"Yes. The Millennium Group showed me that there is a fundamental force of evil, battling for our souls and that this battle will culminate in an event, a war to be waged that will determine the outcome of mankind for another thousand years. And you led me to believe that we have to be there to guide the world, the innocents through this coming madness, but I….I….cannot….."
"You cannot what?" the old man spoke for the first time.
"I cannot believe it anymore, sir," Peter's voice was barely a whisper. "You took the faith that we were built on and corrupted it to suit some other agenda. To control, not guide. You killed my wife and daughters… " He could go no further, his voice and spirit broken.
"But you always knew that many innocents would be sacrificed."
"Sacrificed?" Peter glared at him. "Sacrificed! Why? In the name of God, why? You did this deliberately! It was not an accident. You did this. You killed so many people. Why? As a trial run?"
"But you always knew that many innocents would be sacrificed."
"Sacrificed?" Peter glared at him. "Sacrificed! Why? In the name of God, why? You did this deliberately. It was not an accident. You did this. You killed so many people. Why? A trial run?"
Somewhere in his mind he heard a voice, and it sounded like Barbara's, warning him, telling him to hush, to stop what he was saying. To let them think they had won. But he couldn't, there was no reason left in him.
"You bastards think you can control everything!" he yelled. "You think you have power, but you are nothing! Nothing! Just an evil Millennial cult, like all the others before you." His anger felt suddenly good now, a catharsis for all the grief and pain that simmered in him. It boiled over and now words became ineffective. He launched himself at the nearest one, grabbing him by the throat, wanting to kill, as they had killed. He squeezed more tightly now, no longer able to control his hands or his anger. He was unable to stop and wanted only to destroy before he was destroyed. Barbara's face was before him. And his daughters. He could see them so clearly now. Taylor the cheeky one. Chelsea, still the baby. And his beautiful Erin, so much like him. Before he died he would kill those who had taken away their precious lives.
But they moved to stop him in an instant, dragging him away out of their courtroom and throwing him back in the dark place again. Leaving him there while his fate was being decided.
"I propose this," the Old Man spoke up after the door was closed behind Peter Watts. He paused, waiting for their attention, and when he had it he continued. "I propose we do not kill him, but initiate him into another level within the Millennium Group."
His proposal was met with angry outbursts, as he expected it would be., and with cries of incredulity that were no more than he anticipated. He allowed it to die down, took a sip of water and looked around him. They waited for his explanation and he gave it to them.
"Peter Watts still, despite his present antagonism, serves a purpose. He is can remain useful to us, and it is better to have him on our side, where we can keep him in check, than working against us on the outside."
"It would be better to kill him now and then we would not have to concern ourselves with him working against us, either inside or out." One voice spoke up and a few, more than a few agreed with him. The Old Man made a mental note of those who spoke. He could see than he was going to have a battle royal on his hands.
"I say we kill him now and end the threat to us!"
"Kill him, and his family," another voice insisted
"Yes, I agree," said a third, and a forth echoing the collective mood.
The Old Man raised his hand, stilling the voices. "No." he told them, his own voice firm. "I am the leader of the Millennium Group and while I will listen to your reasoning, and in some respects I agree with it, I will have the final decision. We keep him alive for the meantime."
"Tell us why, and if you're reasoning is sound, then perhaps we will agree with you."
"Frank Black." The Old Man answered as though it was obvious.
"That is not good enough. I heard yesterday that Frank Black has been confined to the secure wing of a mental hospital. He is of no danger to us. His rambling accusations are taken for what they are - insane words from the mouth of a man who has already had one previous breakdown, was always close to the edge and now because of his wife's death has fallen over that edge. No one believes him. No one will ever believe him."
There was muted laughter.
"And if he recovers?" the Old Man asked, no laughter in his voice.
"So what? He will have little or no credibility, and the more he accuses the less he will be believed."
"A lot of people respect Frank Black, and always will," one of the three female members present spoke for the first time. The Old Man watched her carefully, already knowing what she was going to say.
"Let Watts live," she continued."Convince him to remain within the Group and to accept what we are, and he will control Frank Black."
"I agree," another spoke up, as did a third. The Old Man noted the ones who spoke in Peter's favor. They were the ones he expected would do this, but he hadn't been certain they would. None of them could ever be certain again.
"But how do we convince him?"
"We show him the truth, that only a few died. Most of what he is feeling right now is because he believes his wife and children were casualties of an outbreak that we caused. Convince him otherwise, and he will remain with us."
The Old Man nodded. "It is decided then, Watts remains alive and holds his position within the Millennium Group."
"I think this is a foolish decision."
"But you will go along with it?"
"Yes. For the present, but he must be monitored, and I would hesitate to take him further into the Group."
"He will be monitored, and taking him further will be my consideration alone. The more he knows, the more he will fear, and it is this that will be our means to control him."
Peter was only mildly curious about his destination and he sat quietly in the back seat of the car allowing himself a last look at the countryside as it sped by. It would have been nice to spend my last few hours looking at the sunshine, he thought, but the rain is probably more appropriate.
The driver eased the car to a crawl as they approached a set of gates that opened automatically when they pulled up in front of him. Obviously I'm expected, Peter through. He looked across the fenced-in grounds noticing, through a gap in the trees, a house in the distance, he even took a brief moment to admire it. He could see a stretch of water beyond; a lake most likely, but the low clouds hid whatever was beyond the lake.
They skirted around the house, leaving it behind, and travelled on until they came to another building. It was here they stopped and he was assisted out of the car and led into this building. The other house was nicer, he thought. I would have preferred to die there. This one was made of cold grey stone, forbidding and bleak. Immaculate, but uninspired. He was led to the door and ushered inside where it was just the same; well furnished, but cold, and un-welcoming, as though no one had ever lived there. Or had ever wanted to.
They led him along another corridor to another door and he waited patiently, every second becoming precious now, while one of his guards softly rapped on the door.
The Old Man was speaking quietly on the telephone.
"Try and be patient for just a short while longer. It will not be long, I promise." he said gently, finishing the conversation and replacing the receiver. With a wave of his hand he dismissed the two who had brought him here. He stood up and walked to the window and stared outside. Peter stood there watching him, waiting for him to speak.
"Sit down Peter," the Old Man finally said without looking round, continuing to keep his vigil at the window. "You and I have a lot to discuss."
"What did he say, Mom?" Erin asked impatiently as her mother set the phone down.
"He said that Dad is okay and that we'll see him soon." Barbara breathed a sigh of relief, feeling almost dizzy. Peter is alive, she told herself. Her heart leapt and she offered up a silent prayer. Oh, thank you God. Thank you.
"He really said that? Honestly?" Erin was still doubtful and needed to hear more details, more convincing words from her mother.
"Who is he, Mom? The man you were talking to? What exactly did he say?"
Peter waited. Watching as the old man poured scotch from a decanter, he shook his head as the old man offered him a glass. His eyes narrowed as he waited. For what? He had no idea.
This time it really was Peter who stood there on the doorstep. For a moment Barbara just looked at him. She didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Yell at him, slap him or just hug him. So she just stood there.
Then, a yell from behind her, "Daddy!" and Chelsea rushed into his arms. He looked his wife over the top of his daughter's head. Chelsea began tugging him indoors, and Barbara followed. Something was wrong, his eyes seemed to tell her, and she could see it in the almost furtive way he glanced at her and at the room beyond. She frowned a question at him at him. But a barely imperceptible shake of his head was all the answer he could give her.
Erin and Taylor came flying into the room, both of them vying to be in his arms too.
Taylor got there first. "Did you have to pay a ransom for us, Dad?" she asked. "Do we have any money left now?"
This brought a haunted smile to his lips. Not all ransom demands are paid in dollar bills, Taylor, he thought. But he grinned at her and said, "Nope, I didn't have to pay anything. They paid me to take you back!"
"You okay, Dad?" Erin asked quietly, unable to meet his eyes.
"I'm fine sweetheart," he replied noticing the coolness and he looked to Barbara for an explanation. Just a shrug of the shoulders was all she gave him, and he saw the tears in her eyes.
He pushed the girls away, ignoring their chatter and incessant questions and opened his arms to Barbara.
"Oh, Peter…." She breathed. "I was so worried."
Then his arms were holding her tightly, and he felt her warmth and her love. For just a moment the dream came back to him and for an instant he thought he could see blood mingled with her tears. He stiffened and looked at her again and she was okay. Just ordinary tears falling from her eyes. He buried his face in her hair.
"I thought I'd lost you," he whispered. "Oh God, I thought I'd lost you."
Now the questions, he thought. What do I say?
"What happened? Where were you? I was so worried, Peter. Erin thought maybe, you'd been caught up in the virus or something…" Barbara looked at him, gently demanding an explanation, feeling him change , sensing him closing away from her, a mask slipping into place. She could almost see the difference in his face, and for one terrible second she seemed to believe that it wasn't him. That it was someone else pretending to be him. Oh, God, I'm either going nuts or this is a dream, she thought.
But then his lips brushed her cheek, barely a touch and the lightest whisper in her ear. "Later." He squeezed her hand to emphasise what he had said. A warning, not to talk about anything.
"Taylor! Erin! Get your things together! Go on now. Hurry up! We're going home. Chelsea! Come here and give me another big hug. Ohhh…I've missed you." He was the old Peter again, galvanising them into action as if they were packing for a surprise trip. Then he gave her hand another squeeze of her hand, and this time she nodded. Okay, Peter, she told him with her eyes. Whatever it is, you can tell me later, if you don't want to now.
"Wow….cool car, Daddy! Where's ours?" Chelsea asked as she climbed into the back, beside her sisters.
"At home I guess," he told her smiling at her in the rear view mirror.
There was only one thing that gave him concern on the drive home. A couple of times he thought he was being followed. He couldn't be sure, but then he couldn't rule it out either.
I will always be like this now, he thought. Always watching, waiting for them. He shivered slightly and drove on.