You Have 48 Hours (Cont.)

This is part two of an invitation for reader participation in one of my stories. You can read part 1 here. I tried to follow one of the ideas given, but as my first grade art teacher no doubt remembers, I was never good at staying inside the lines. 😉

Zane’s hand reached out of it’s own accord and plucked it off the table. The blank card felt expensive as it rested heavily between his fingers. He flipped the card around to see and address printed in pink letters with an all-too familiar dolphin leaping out of imaginary water beneath the text.

A smile split Zane’s lips. As a lover of puzzles he knew immediately that he could not resist investigating. It would not take much effort to reschedule his plans for the day. Doing laundry and taking a nap before the game came on would have to wait until Sunday.

After packing up his computer and getting a refill of brew for the road, Zane slid into his car and typed the address into his GPS. Trying to hold back the rising swell of adventure was nearly impossible. His mind worked feverishly to raise a wall of probability as he drove, but great waves of curiosity crashed over each time, filling him with a child-like excitement.

“This is just like the movies!” he thought as the endless possibilities scrolled through his mind.

The monotone voice of his guide announced his arrival as he pulled in front of a building that towered into the sky like a giant Jenga set. With nowhere to park, Zane drove around the surrounding blocks until he caught a car pulling away from the curb just ahead of him.

“Ok, maybe not just like the movies.” He laughed to himself.

Zane dropped a few quarters into the meter and set off to search deeper into the rabbit hole. Spies, assassins, and aliens lurked behind each business suit, mother, and bum that walked the street. He laughed to himself as he let his imagination play, but reminded himself that in the end he was just entertaining himself.

Something changed in him when he, at last, found himself at the doors of the high-rise. Puzzles satisfied his curiosity and his analytical nature, but for the first time Zane realized something else they provided. A lack of risk. This game that had found him offered no such promise and suddenly the fear that had paralyzed him back in the coffee shop once again gripped his legs.

“You going in man?”

Zane turned to see the impatient expression of courier.

“Oh. Sorry.”

He pulled the glass door open and let the man enter before following him into the lobby. With no idea where to go, he followed the man across the granite floor and to a wide reception desk of dark wood and brushed steel.

As the receptionist searched her computer to verify the delivery, Zane found another piece to the puzzle. Lost among the bright flowers, dragons, and fish scales that covered the messenger’s right arm was a small pink dolphin. The image rested just inside his elbow and Zane knew that if he had not developed the skill of finding one image among thousands from his years of piecing together puzzles, he would have never noticed it.

When the courier left his package at the desk, he retreated back outside, leaving Zane alone with no idea what to do. Looking up from her computer, the receptionist seemed to scan Zane with her brown eyes as she asked in a friendly tone that almost hid the annoyance beneath it, “Can I help you?”

“Uh… I got this card?”

He pulled the card from his pocket and placed it on the counter for her to see. Without so much as a glance at the card she instructed him to take the elevator located behind her to the 17th floor. Zane had barely moved before she spoke again, this time making no effort to conceal the annoyance in her voice.

“You’ll need the card. Take it with you.”

With the meekness of a child who had just been chided by his mom, Zane reached back and took the card. He examined it once more as he rode to the 17th floor to see if he had missed any clues that may have been hidden on it’s surface. A soft “bing” announced his arrival just before the doors slid open.

The words “Dolphin Enterprises” were the first thing to catch Zane’s eye. They were inset across the face of the reception desk directly in front of the elevator in bright pink letters. Behind the desk, the floor was filled with grey cubicles in the center and offices around the perimeter.

Zane walked up to the desk and held the card in both hands. A young Hispanic man looked up as he approached and asked him if he had an appointment.

“I’m not sure. Someone gave me this.”

Zane showed the man the card and he nodded before asking, “May I have your name please?”

“Zane.”

“Thank you. It will just be one moment.”

Zane turned in search of a chair to sit on, but found none. He took a few steps back and flicked the card against his hand as he watched the men and women among the cubicles go about their business. A deep voice from his left called his name.

“Zane?”

He turned to see a man in a business suit standing with a manila folder in his hand. His blue eyes stood out against the charcoal grey fabric of his suit. A friendly smile hung on his lips as he waited for a response.

“Yes?”

“My name is Wesley. Would you follow me please?”

He turned and began walking before Zane could respond. The temptation to stand there and wait for the man to come back caused him to hesitate, but he quickly remembered who he was and shuffled along behind the man who Zane had already nicknamed “Wes” in his head. They walked down a short hallway and around a corner before Wesley stopped in front of a door. His placed his thumb on a silver rectangle above the handle and after a soft click opened the door and entered.

A view of downtown stretched out behind the windows that filled the wall behind a large metal desk. Wesley walked around the room without so much as a glance at the scene, dropped the folder onto the desk, and sank into a black leather chair. He motioned to the chairs in front of desk and Zane sat in the one closest to the door.

“May I see your card please?”

Zane leaned forward and placed the card into the outstretched hand of his host. After taking it, Wesley fed the card into a slot in his desk. Although Zane could only see the back of the flat screen monitor atop the desk, the glow that reflected off the windows told him it had come to life. A second later the familiar hum of a paper shredder tore the card into confetti.

“Zane. You are here because we would like to offer you an opportunity.”

The silence that followed was an invitation to ask questions. Though a thousand filled his mind, Zane decided to wait in silence. Wesley smiled a coy smile and continued after a few moments.

“It looks as if you have…” He glanced at his computer, “46 hours and 23 minutes to decide. The position we would like you to fill is Coffee Drinker #2. It’s a Level One position, but it’s not impossible to work your way up from there.”

“You want to hire me to drink coffee?”

Wesley chuckled for a moment at the joke Zane had apparently just told.

“Oh, I’m sorry. This is not a paid position, though we will cover all the coffee expenses you would incur while in our service.”

Zane could not hold back the questions any longer.

“So… What exactly would I be doing, besides drinking coffee?”

“Watching us kill people. Mostly bad people. Basically you would be there as an observer. We need people, other than our assassins, to watch what happens and report back to us. You see, our assassins are trained in all sorts of tricks and subterfuge, and sometimes they try to use those same tricks on us when they report back. So we always have an observer, who is trained to know what to look for, there to tell us what happened. You will not know who they are and they will not know who you are. If there are discrepancies between the two reports we… investigate thoroughly.”

Two feelings sprang up beside each other inside of Zane as he listened. The first was excitement at being a part of something so incredible and the second was guilt for being excited about participating in someone’s murder.

“Do I have to get the dolphin tattoo?”

“Yes. And you have to hold a big sign that says, ‘I am here to watch an assassination’ just in case our operative misses it.”

All the emotions that wrestled inside Zane had slowed his normally quick intellect. He desperately wished he could convince Wesley that he would not normally ask such a foolish question.

“So free coffee, some specialized training, and a little more excitement in my life? That’s the pretty much the deal right?”

Wesley nodded.

“I’m in.”

With the nonchalance of a smoker retrieving a cigarette, Wesley reached into his jacket and pulled out a gun. He leveled it at Zane and pulled the trigger. The loud bang, blinding flash, and searing pain that he expected never came. In their place were a soft pop and a sharp pinch.

Zane looked down to see a small silver dart sticking out from his chest.

“Whaaaaa…”

Wesley stood and moved around to the front of his desk where he sat casually.

“How could you agree to help people kill other people so easily? What else would you be willing to do just to quell your boredom?”

Zane’s eyelids were growing heavy and he could feel his chest grow increasingly tight.

“Am I dying?”

“Yes. Though less painfully than a man who would so readily help evil should.”

As his strength slipped away it took all his effort just to talk.

“But I was not going to kill any…”

He could not quite finish. Zane’s lips felt like the weighed ten pounds each. He could no longer keep his eyes open either and spent every bit of his fading strength on taking shallow breaths. He felt the warm breath on his right ear of the last words he would ever hear.

“In order for evil to flourish, all that is required is for good men to do nothing.”

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11 comments

    1. Sorry. I tried. The creativity in me had a difficult time letting go of control. I am definitely a fiction writer. If I had to write Neil Armstrong’s biography he might have landed on mars.

  1. Ha, nice. I guess that ties back to the beginning. The second part had kind of a different feel, a touch of Mickey Spillane I didn’t get from the first part. I enjoyed it.

  2. Talk about a cautionary tale – completely unexpected. And it has the ring of truth. There many Zanes nowadays who are not only afraid to act, but afraid to speak.

  3. In the lines or out, nicely done. Part one sent me on my own short story path, I really liked the ideal of important letters that are unexpected and of course cryptic. Thanks for sharing.

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