“Kevin, it doesn’t have to be this way. Can we at least be friends? I don’t want to lose you.”
“It’s not about what you want. How the hell can I be friends with a guy when I have to literally watch my fucking back every time I’m around him? How can I ever trust you again?”
“How can you say that?! We’ve been best friends ever since we were kids. We grew up together. We’ve told each other secrets we’ve never told anybody else. That’s why I thought I could…”
“Dammit Luke, this is one secret you should have kept to yourself!”
“But Kevin I had to tell you! It was killing me to keep it from you. I thought you’d understand.”
“Really? Well I’m not a fucking queer and when a guy tells you… your best friend tells you he wants to… well that’s just really fucked up. I’m outta here!”
“Kevin… wait… please!”
“Get off me! Keep your fucking hands off me!”
It was the end of another hellish week for Brian Wheatley. As chief of staff for the ultra conservative Illinois senator Damian Grimaldi his demanding workdays never seemed to end. Currently he was much more than chief of staff; he also oversaw Damian’s re-election campaign. In addition to that Brian had the dubious job as chief handler. That meant it was his responsibility to take care of any unpleasant personal messes that cropped up. And during the course of the senator’s two terms in office there had been plenty. So whenever Brian received a phone call in the middle of the night he knew exactly what to expect.
It was two weeks before the election and the democrats were out for blood. Damian looked like a raving lunatic during his latest campaign rally as he railed against America’s social ills, specifically stating his strong opposition to same sex marriage and LGBT rights and blasting his democratic opponent Sylvia Hernandez, who was openly gay.
None of it had been advised and Brian was livid that Damian had chosen not to listen to him. His poll numbers had dropped significantly and his campaign was scrambling to make things right. For the first time Brian believed they could lose the election. On top of that, the most influential Chicago newspapers endorsed Damian’s opponent and to make matters worse there were rumors circulating that he and his wife Lily were getting divorced.
After working like a dog all week in an attempt to salvage his boss’s career and personal life and after getting in a heated argument with him over the latest speech he’d written, that night Brain was so frustrated he felt like either walking away from everything or punching Damian’s lights out. As usual he did neither. He went home and opened a prize bottle of Pinot Noir and surrendered to its magic. Then after a long hot shower and a couple hours sleep his phone rang.
Groggy and disoriented, he shot up in bed, eyes searching for where the offending noise was coming from. He snatched his phone up from the night stand and saw a name and number he didn’t recognize. Puzzled he answered, “Wheatley.”
A soft trembling voice on the other end said, “Mr. Wheatley I’m sorry to wake you, but I didn’t know who else to call.”
Although he didn’t recognize the voice he knew immediately the reason for the call. There was another mess somewhere he was expected to clean up. He threw off the covers and swung his legs around, searching in the darkness with his feet for his house slippers. Then he spoke as he stumbled to his desk, “That’s alright who am I speaking with?”
“This is Maddie. I’m a friend of Luke’s.”
He got to his desk, switched on the lamp, sat down, and grabbed a pad and pen. A hollow feeling invaded the pit of his stomach. Every instinct told him something tragic had happened to his boss’s son. As calmly as he could he asked, “Alright Maddie, is Luke in some kind of trouble?”
After a pause she replied, “We don’t know. We can’t find him.” Her last statement seemed to choke her and her voice was riddled with pain.
Brian’s heart was in his throat. He knew that Luke had gone on a ski trip with some friends for a few days. Allowing seven teens in a rented cottage with no adult supervision wasn’t his idea of a reasonable act, but he thought the worst that could have happened would have been a ski accident or a serious hangover, but Luke was missing and that could mean a number of things, none of them good. He had to force his mind to stop thinking the worst. With a furrowed brow and his lips in a harsh line he scribbled on the pad snow, lost, rescue. Then he asked, “Maddie have you contacted the authorities? Is somebody out there looking for him?”
“No… not yet. You’re the first person I called. Scott and Mike went to look for him, but they didn’t find… that was about an hour ago. We’re just so scared Mr. Wheatley”
Brian was incensed by their irresponsible behavior, but he held his tongue, “It’s alright Maddie, just make sure everybody stays there. I’ll take care of everything.”
“I’m so sorry Mr. Wheatley. We all are.”
Her statement felt like a kick in the gut. What were they all sorry for? Had they done something to Luke? He attempted to hide his suspicions when he spoke, “I understand. We’ll find him.”
Brian knew he had to act fast or his entire world could come crashing down around him. He felt like a selfish bastard for thinking this could cost him his job, but he had grown quite comfortable with the access and power it afforded him. And he had worked too long and too hard to lose it all now. Damian Grimaldi’s son was missing and he had to find him without anyone, least of all Damian finding out. So contacting any authorities, local or otherwise was out of the question. No way could this be leaked to the media. This was a job that needed to be done promptly and handled with the utmost secrecy and discretion. This was a job for M-2.
Within hours Brian was driving down a quaint, tree lined cobblestone street in the heart of Old Town Alexandria. The sun shone brightly disguising the bitter chill of the blustery autumn day and he regretted not having his prescription sunglasses when he had to squint to make out the addresses on the ancient brick houses and shops.
“Hmm, 1428, 1430, 1432… there it is.”
He drove past the narrow two story building searching for a parking spot and had to settle for one a block and a half away. He quickly exited his car and rushed back toward the building trying to avoid slipping as he trudged through slush covered sidewalks. As he stood directly in front of the building he was taken aback by what he saw. A cheerful welcome mat, decorative wind chimes, and a stained glass window on the door gave him the impression he might be in the wrong place.
He cautiously rang the doorbell and seconds later a tall middle aged man opened it and with a huge grin greeted him, “Hey there. You must be Brian Wheatley,” they shook hands, “Come on in.” As soon as he entered the home he smelled the delicious aroma of eggs, sausage, and potatoes. “Noah and I were just sitting down to breakfast. He always makes enough to feed an army so come join us.”
He took a few more steps toward the dining room and Brian stopped him by inquiring, “Wait a minute. You are Colonel Winton Mayer? The man I just spoke to on the phone? The one who heads the agency-”
“One and the same… but you can call me Winston.”
Brian looked around as he followed Winston into the dining room. He saw a tidy home filled with cozy furnishings. Any moment he was expecting a big friendly dog to pounce on him. This was not at all what he’d expected. As his disappointment set in it became evident on his face. As Winston rattled on and on about breakfast being the most important meal of the day and how great a cook his son was Brian began to quickly lose patience.
“I’m sorry colonel Mayer, but there seems to have been a misunderstanding. I didn’t come here to socialize. We discussed an extremely urgent matter which I presumed you could resolve rapidly and confidentially, but from the looks of things I don’t believe you’re capable of-”
Just then a tall, handsome dark haired man entered the room carrying two platters. One was piled high with link sausage and hash browns and the other with scrambled eggs. “Haven’t you ever heard the saying you can’t judge a book by its cover Mr. Wheatley?” he interrupted.
“Mr. Wheatley this is my son Noah, Lieutenant Noah Mayer, US Marine Corps. Besides being an excellent cook, he can shoot the wings off a humming bird at sixty paces. He’s fluent in five languages and he can gain access into anything, brick and mortar or cyberspace without leaving a trace. I also think he might be a little clairvoyant because he can read anybody at a glance better than any FBI profiler.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Wheatley.” He set the platters of food down on the table and started to fill Brian’s plate. “See dad here loves to brag about his kid, but to tell you the truth he taught me everything I know,” Noah informed him with a confident smirk.
Winston piled his plate high with food and then dug in. With a sheepish expression Brian said, “Well, I’m sorry for my knee jerk reaction, but you must admit this doesn’t exactly resemble an M-2 office.”
Father and son looked at each other with sly grins and Noah said, “I think it’s time for the grand tour dad.”
“I think you’re right Noah. Follow me Mr. Wheatley and bring your plate.”
Noah took a huge bite out of his sausage and chewed it with a grin. They followed Winston through the enormous kitchen and to a narrow door that looked like it could have lead to a small broom closet. He opened the door, switched on a light and they descended a staircase, turned on a landing and descended another – all the while Brian was wondering where the hell these guys were taking him and if he should be afraid for his life. Then they went through a wide, heavy steel door and entered a room teeming with activity.
“This Mr. Wheatley, is M-2!” Noah announced.
This was exactly what Brian expected to see when he first walked in. A group of people cloaked in secrecy in a bunker, hard at work on his case. Astonished, he walked around the room and took it all in. A central wall contained a map and pictures of Luke and all of his friends who accompanied him on the ski trip. The room was filled with computers and electronic devices he had never seen before.
He assumed they were commonplace for any clandestine operation. Two men who wore headphones seemed to be listening to conversations, a woman was entering data, typing so rapidly her fingers were a blur, others were holding conversations and building files on all parties involved. After a few minutes of explaining what was going on a burly young man close to Noah’s age approached Winston and handed him a file. Then nodded and walked away.
Winston set his plate down on a nearby desk and began to thumb through it. Noah soon joined him and together they assessed the information they had been given. Without looking up Noah said, “Hmm, just as I expected.”
“Yeah, me too,” was Winston’s response.
Brian’s stomach was in knots. He wasn’t able to ascertain anything by their expressions or their tone. “What’s going on? Have they found Luke?”
Winston closed the file and looked up at Brian, “Well I’ve got good news for you Mr. Wheatley. Despite the fact that our opinion of Senator Grimaldi is less than favorable; we’ll accept your case.”
Brian breathed a huge sigh of relief, “That’s great, but can you tell me any news about Luke?!”
Winston answered, “Sorry, but we don’t discuss a case with a client until it’s been resolved. But I can tell you this. If we thought finding what happened to Luke was a lost cause we wouldn’t have signed on. Do you understand?”
Brian nodded. “Yes.”
“Good,” Winston replied.
Noah took the folder and addressed Brian, “I’ll be contacting you in forty-eight hours.” Then he shook his hand and went upstairs. Brian didn’t know what to think. He felt like a man on a sinking ship. Had he made the right decision? What if that phone call he received in forty-eight hours informed him that Luke was dead? Would he be partly responsible? It was too late. He had traveled too far down this dangerous path to turn back now. Whatever the outcome he had to trust these two strangers he knew absolutely nothing about.
Winston saw the agonized expression on Brian’s face and sympathetically cupped his shoulder with his hand as he said, “Hey there. You look like you could use a huge slice of homemade apple cinnamon coffee cake. Noah just baked it last night.”
Brian had to laugh at Winston’s calm demeanor and agreed, “I think you’re right.”
By sundown Noah’s plane was touching down on a private landing strip in Thompsonville, Michigan. His good friend Pike Woodhall who he’d saved from a few scrapes along the way was always available at a moment’s notice to fly the team wherever they needed to go. By all accounts this was a simple case. One Noah could handle all by himself.
After all, how difficult would it be to lean on a handful of spoiled rich kids until they spilled their guts about what happened to their friend? During his flight Noah carefully studied the backgrounds of Luke and each of his friends who accompanied him on the ski trip. Candace Lawrence, Mike Goodman, Trina Buckley, Scott Harrison, and the two he was most interested in questioning, Maddie Coleman and Kevin Davis. He believed they could possibly provide the best answers concerning the whereabouts of his subject, Luciano (Luke) Grimaldi.
Coincidentally Noah knew exactly who Luke was. He was the sixteen year old boy whose father’s campaign speech went viral when a clip had been posted on the internet of him spewing vitriol against homosexuals while his son glared at his father as if the man were the devil himself. The official explanation from the campaign spokesperson was that Luke wasn’t feeling well that day, but Noah could tell the minute he laid eyes on him that the horrified young man was obviously gay.
Ever since that day Noah had a soft spot in his heart for him and could not stop thinking about the incident… or Luke. He had also concluded it was likely that Luke’s disappearance had something to do with it. As he arrived at the cottage at Crystal Mountain Ski Resort he was impressed by how inviting the scenery was and thought it would be a nice place for a little R&R when he got some down time.
He parked a distance away from the cottage and exited his jeep. He went to the back and grabbed his satchel from the trunk containing all the necessary tools to begin his investigation. He slung it over his shoulder, closed the trunk, and started walking toward the cottage. As he made his way through the snow he was careful not to disturb his surroundings because the entire area was a potential crime scene. It was cold and dark, but he remained out there as long as necessary, gathering clues that could help him piece together what had happened to Luke. As he neared the cottage he observed three subjects in a heated argument through a large picture window.
He recognized them from their photos as Scott, Kevin and Maddie. Kevin violently pushed Scott and Scott responded by drawing his fist to punch him. Maddie shouted at them and stood between them. Then Scott angrily stalked away. Another subject entered the room carrying three bottles of beer. Noah identified her as Trina. She handed a bottle to Maddie and one to Kevin then all three sat down and started drinking. Noah shook his head.
The last thing they need is alcohol to fuel this already incendiary situation.
He was tempted to burst in there and start raising hell, but his father always told him that a beast of prey never shows his claws until it’s absolutely necessary, so he would save the badass machismo act for later. He crept like a ninja, around to the back of the house covering the ground, using an infrared flashlight so he couldn’t be seen.
There he observed two cars; a gold BMW and a black Lexus. Their hoods were cold to the touch, proof that they had not been recently driven. Checking the plates he discovered that, the Lexus belonged to Scott and the BMW to Kevin. Then he closely examined each car. There was nothing worth noting about Scott’s car, but when he looked through the window of Kevin’s car his heart seized. There were conspicuous blood stains on the front dash and on the front and back seat!
Noah was filled with rage. The possibility that Luke had been murdered by a group of his so called friends suddenly became real. It got worse from there. He discovered a trail of blood that went from the trunk of Kevin’s car and into the woods. He zipped open his satchel and fished out a pair of infrared stealth goggles then ran as fast as he could, following the blood trail in the darkness. He was compelled to continue running until he found something, though terrified about what it might be. The trail ended near a snow bank underneath a massive oak. Could this be where those callous bastards discarded their friend’s lifeless body?!
Noah was so enraged his head was spinning as he frantically dug through the mound of snow searching for Luke. Soon he found something that felt like thick fabric. A down jacket! He grabbed hold of its sleeve and pulled with all his might. He pulled so hard he stumbled backwards when it was free. It too was covered with blood. He continued ferociously digging but found nothing else. He sat on the snow covered ground exhausted yet somewhat relieved. It wasn’t Luke’s body he’d discovered, but things did not bode well for the troubled young man.
Noah had resisted before, but now he knew he had to prepare himself for the worst. The idea of Luke meeting with a violent end was agonizing to him, but he realized he had a job to do and he had to put aside his emotions in order to do it well. So he got up off the ground, quickly composed himself, and grabbed his satchel. He removed a plastic evidence bag, placed Luke’s jacket inside it, and raced back to the cottage.