Four days before he was scheduled to die, Bill Anderson had agreed to be part of the upcoming clinical trials and had signed over the rights of his body to the Schole Corporation. Anderson disappeared the day before his execution. His vanishing encouraged The Schole Corporation to shred and redact the majority of the documents in their biomedical division out of fear of Congressional oversight.
Lincoln “Linc” Schole the grandson of the founder, eighty-three years old, had been bedridden for almost a year with aggressive kidney failure and required dialysis to clean his blood. A live-in staff of six kept the mansion in Cos Cob, Connecticut spotless and spent most of their time playing poker in the servants quarters. Also in Linc’s employ was a four-star Michelin chef and a nurse who remained by his bed twenty hours a day. John K, the current CEO, had only been to the compound once before, on the day he was hired. He’d flown by private helicopter, over a tennis court and manicured hedged lawn, deposited in the backyard near a fleet of cars that contained a Bentley, a 1958 red and white Corvette, and a model he’d never seen before (a prototype that wouldn’t be released to the public for another two years). That day, he and Linc enjoyed a bottle of Chateau Laffite Rothschild 1982 while negotiating the terms of K’s contract. Linc had been vibrant and alive back then, a ruggedly handsome man, a dead ringer for John Huston down to the gravelly voice. It pained K to sit see Linc now, watch the man contort with every movement, his voice barely able to escape his lips. Linc had authorized K to handle the Anderson situation by any means necessary. It was the last executive decision he would make as he died of renal failure the following week. His son, George Schole, would inherit the company but remain a figurehead content to spend six months of the year in Florence, Italy studying sculpture, and the other six on a private island near St. Thomas.
That first night, K assembled his team: all directors of the various arms of the corporation, and had them begin the containment of what was now being referred to as “Andersonville,” alluding to the infamous Confederate prisoner of war camp. The sun was rising the following day when K received a call from Willa Fye, his second in command, who’d been working with prison officials to keep the disappearance under wraps.
“What have you got?” K said.
“The trail is cold. We’re going to need to bring in the locals before it dries out entirely.”
“I’ll take care of it,” K said. He hung up the phone.
They couldn’t afford to bring in the locals without the thing leaking. He was going to have to make the call. K rummaged through the papers in his desk drawer before he found a worn business card for an upholsterer in Detroit. The card had been bestowed on him by Linc the day he’d signed his contract. Use this only when your back is to the wall, Linc had said cryptically. K had only used the card once before and immediately understood the warning. The guy was the best, but the collateral damage warranted discretionary use of his services.
Orlov had been putting the finishing touches on a newly upholstered couch when the phone rang. He picked up on the second ring. When K began to talk, Orlov flipped a switch near the base of the phone to scramble the signal and encode the conversation. K filled him in on the details, highlighting the urgency more than once, then hung up. Orlov attached the bill of lading to the sofa cushion for his apprentice to deliver later and walked out the front door.
K began to feel the anxiety gnaw at the base of his head and filter through his bloodstream until his whole body radiated as if he’d handled a dangerous isotope and became radioactive. He wondered if he’d risked too much contacting Orlov. K poured himself three fingers of scotch. He checked the time. It had been almost twenty-four hours since Anderson’s escape. The phone rang; Fye.
“We found Anderson. He’s dead.”
K shattered the glass in his hand.
“He never even escaped from the prison,” Fye continued. Anderson had been killed during an altercation with a guard. The guard wrapped up the body, dumped it in a trash bin, doctored some paperwork, and took off. They discovered Anderson’s remains in a landfill a few counties over.
“Jesus,” K said.
He suggested Fye return, cleaned the broken glass from his desk, and summoned his detail. All five were ex-military; Ron Hicks, K’s head of security, had been with the Air Force Special Force Division for fifteen years. After his honorable discharge, he found work as a mercenary with a handpicked crew of capable but morally flexible soldiers. K briefed Hicks of the particulars of Orlov, told him speed was of the essence and sent him on his way.
“You can’t unring that bell,” he remembered Linc said after he had given him Orlov’s business card. When they had left him, K picked up a photo from his desk: his wife and their three kids. K hadn’t been home for almost two straight days.
Hicks sat in his car outside of the Chevron station and took another sip from his water. He was directly across the highway from the Western Union. K had made arrangements to wire Orlov some walking around money about a half an hour ago.
“He just went in,” Hicks’s earbud crackled.
Hicks would have preferred a long-range approach; just take Orlov out of the picture entirely, but K wanted him alive. The man had secrets. No matter, Hicks and his team would accomplish the mission. Of course, he’d heard rumors about Orlov, but he’d also heard rumors about Sierra Leone and Nicaragua. He would add Orlov’s name to his resume, and he reminded himself to put in for a bonus when this was all said and done. Hicks finished his water and stuck the car in drive. The tension rose as it always did, a constricted feeling, but also one which heightened his senses. The pine wafted off the car freshener; in the passenger seat, an X26 Taser, Glock nine millimeter, and zip ties. A pregnant woman exited the Western Union. Hicks drummed his fingers on the steering wheel in time with his breathing. A minute later, Orlov walked outside. He had a beard; gray at the chin and suffered from male pattern baldness.
Orlov stopped at a Motel 6 just down the road from the Western Union. He paid cash for a room on the ground floor around the back. The room smelled of mildew and looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since the previous occupant’s stay, but Orlov didn’t care about such things. He’d spent nights in far worse places and circumstances. He placed his piece and suppressor in the top drawer of the end table next to the Bible, sat on the bed, and turned on the television. The piece hadn’t been too hard to acquire; the suppressor, only slightly more so. After watching the predatory habits of the American Alligator, he shut his eyes and meditated for twenty minutes. He unscrewed the cap to the phone’s receiver, placed his scrambler inside, dialed the numbers, and waited. The voicemail recording played for dry cleaners and ended by reiterating the hours of operation. In reality, it was a front for Agency Operations, and though his credentials were no longer good, he still had enough juice to call in a few favors.
K walked the perimeter on the roof of the building. Sometimes, when his office seemed too confined, he’d come up here. He stood near the edge. It was the fifth such revolution he’d done in the last forty minutes. The air woke him up, and the chills from the wind kept him focused. He’d always enjoyed heights, something most people could never understand. The fire department was called once when a neighbor spotted him on the ledge of his apartment while in Grad school after they suspected he was going to jump. He became somewhat of a campus celebrity for a little while. He was relaxed and stared out over the edge. The serenity acted as a counterbalance to the turbulence in his mind. Even if a probe was done into the Schole Corporation, no one would find anything incriminating. Orlov would be handled soon. K turned around from the ledge, walked over to the helicopter, and touched the rotor blade. Maybe once this whole ordeal was finished, he’d take it somewhere; a private suite in Vegas with some of the board members or take the family to a private beach somewhere in the Caribbean. His thoughts were dashed by the ringing of his cell phone; Fye again.
“Hicks and his crew are all dead; it was a massacre. The news is already…”
The sound cut out; it was like K had entered a vacuum.
You can’t unring that bell.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andrew Davie received an MFA in creative writing from Adelphi University. He taught English in Macau on a Fulbright Grant. In June of 2018, he survived a ruptured brain aneurysm and subarachnoid haemorrhage. His crime fiction novella Pavement was released in by All Due Respect Books. The follow-up Ouroboros is scheduled for December 2020 and his novella Dig Two Graves is scheduled to be released by Close to the Bone in September 2020. His other work can be found in links on his website: asdavie.wordpress.com