If you are new to the SDS Challenge, a little background.
Three writers will each write one story a month going down the list of deadly sins. The stories can be anywhere from 666 words to 6,666 words in length, although those numbers are not set in stone. If ambitious, the writers will provide accompanying graphics. These stories will not be anonymous because some writers may want to use the same characters for each story and write a series — or book — encompassing all seven sins. Finally, interpretation of the titular sin is up to the writer. Meaning, each ‘sin’ can take multiple forms.
The third set of stories cover the sin of Greed. This is the offering by Gary Broxson.
Disclaimer: The writing challenge has no restrictions and the stories will likely span a wide gamut of genres. The majority of the stories fall in the PG-rating range with a few perhaps pushing into the soft R-rating. Some readers might find a few of the stories disturbing because of the topics, language, and/or plot points, and if so, stop reading and move on.
The Why Files
Copyright 2021 — R. G. Broxson
(6,140 words – approx. reading time: about 23 minutes based on 265 WPM)
“Here, look at this, Schultzy.” His voice was gravelly and his tone left little wiggle room to refuse.
But sarcasm was always an option. “What now, Wolf, one of your Big Foot-screws-the-Queen of England conspiracy theory videos?”
“See for yourself.” He handed her a military grade tablet.
Agent Alias Schultz rolled her green eyes and then narrowed them onto the screen. “Looks like the wreckage from that Surfside building—Miami—last month. It’s kind of dark though—NVG green. Probably a surveillance video from the construction contractors. Tragic accident, but…so what, I see a pile of rubble.”
“Lower right hand corner, keep watching,” Wolf urged, almost growling.
The Miami Herald had reported that the Champlain Tower South condo in Surfside, Florida had mysteriously collapsed nearly four weeks ago, killing dozens, perhaps hundreds. Crews had worked tirelessly during the rescue phase, with little results. Now, they focused on recovery and perhaps clues to the cause of the catastrophe.
There was movement in the debris. Schultz’s first thought was of a rummaging dog or a curious raccoon. A concrete slab shifted and slid off a mound of ruined rebar; there was a magician’s puff of debris dust and then a girl stood up and looked around.
“What the… am I seeing what I think I’m seeing?”
“If you are seeing a girl walking out from under a collapsed 12 story building, then you are seeing what I saw.”
The girl, perhaps a young teen, was dressed in the remnants of dark jeans and a T-shirt with a shredded “Stranger Things” decal reflecting on the front. She continued to work her way out of the debris blindly wiping bits of plaster and glass from her clothes. Lifting her knees high, she walked toward the camera like a tired swimmer trudging through low tide toward the safety of the beach. Her dark hair draped her bowed head and face, concealing all expression.
Agent Schultz watched as comment bubbles drifted up from the bottom of the video screen. Voyeur69 remarked: WTF? DrunkenSailor messaged: Fake News! CatandTonic simply replied OMG with three open-mouth surprise-face emojies. VigilantMom wrote in all caps: THAT’S MY DAUGHTER, THAT’S MY BABY. MONICA!
The girl walked directly to the surveillance camera and pulled back her hair. Her eyes were wild with fear and confusion, but they remained intent on their target. The perspective drunkenly changed as the girl picked up the camera, held it up high and screamed into the lens eye in a bizarre selfie. There was no audio but the message was clear. Mom…mommy…mom…help! The video ended abruptly.
“Your thoughts?” Wolf said dryly, not wishing to skew her opinion by revealing his own.
“It was very, uh, dramatic, I must say. Perhaps too dramatic, too produced, too Hollywood. Is it a fake, Wolf?”
“Excuse me,” Agent Schultz replied.
“Queen Elizabeth and Bigfoot never actually copulated… that I know of. Lady Dianna and Bigfoot, however, were forced together in order to breed a better soldier for the Crown. They produced that ginger, Prince Harry. Just so happens he was born the same year that Hollywood produced Harry and the Hendersons, a movie about a friendly Bigfoot. Coincidence?” Wolf winked. It was the first time Agent Schultz had ever seen a patched man wink. He quickly added, “And…this is the kicker; Prince Harry was the only soldier in the United Kingdom that was exempt from submitting his DNA.” He let that marinate. “Not enough? Then, get this, some of his mates reported that he had to shave that ginger fur more than three times a day while his brother is going bald. And, get this, they never show any photos of his feet.”
Agent Alias Schultz stared at her partner for a moment. She rolled her eyes again, and this time, lacking words, she simply grunted her disapproval.
“Can we get back to the video you showed me? And away from Prince Bigfoot. What do you think?”
Agent Wolfgang Shepard’s half-braided hair and black eye patch were more biker than investigator. “I was inclined to wave the ghost girl vid off as a hoax,” he said. “But then something interesting happened.”
“What?” She hated the way he made her ask for something that was supposed to be shared with a partner.
“GTS,” Wolf replied.
“Fine. I’ll Google that shit,” Agent Schultz smirked.
Playing his game, she tapped at the tablet, thumbing in Girl at collapsed Surfside building. No results found. She tried variations on the topic and a few more wide-ranging search engines at her disposal. Still no results. “It’s been wiped,” she stated, looking back at Wolf. “Wiped clean from the internet. How? Who can do that?”
Wolf shook his head. “This is probably the only copy in existence.”
“But how did you get it?”
“Remember that Serbian hacker we busted last summer?
“Excuse me?” Wolf replied, perplexed.
“Peaches. That was the Serbian hacker’s handle. Don’t you remember?” Schultz added.
“Anyway, I put in a good word for…Peaches…with the DA. Now he works for our side. He owed me one. Set my system up to recognize and record livestreams containing certain keywords or images. The ‘OMG’ remark in this one triggered the program. Recorded it before it was erased.”
“I’m impressed,” Schultz smiled. “You? A techie now.”
“I’m not a Luddite, Schultz,” Wolf growled.
She laughed. “Aren’t you are the guy that pulled his piece on your laptop last week?”
Monica woke up in a brightly lit hospital room. She thought for a confused moment: Is this heaven? She had already experienced Hell. The Propofol that had been administered to her at the Miami condominium was wearing off. The last concrete thing she remembered was screaming into a surveillance camera somehow thinking her mother was watching. Everything in between then and now was a blank.
“You are one in a billion,” a voice behind the bright light said in a jovial, yet obnoxiously New York tenor.
Monica became immediately aware that she had crimson tubes, like exotic Slurpee straws, looping out of both arms. Not unlike a moonshine still, these tubes cycled and circled through an oscillating machine ultimately distilling into a tiny vile at the end of the Rube Goldbergian device. Drip, drip, drip.
“Where am I? And what’s all this…?” Monica asked the man in the wide tie and long lab coat.
“Don’t worry, I’m a doctor and all this is for your own good,” the man with the nasally voice evaded.
“You didn’t answer my question,” Monica snapped; she twisted against restrains. His voice was annoying but his vulpine face was paradoxically calming and alarming, and very familiar. Neat gray hair, big ears, wide-rim glasses. My what big teeth you have, Monica thought when he smiled. She seemed to recognize the man, but now she was seeing him through a haze of cobwebs.
“We are making remarkable advances in medical research. You, young lady, are the key to the next evolution in medicine.” He looked at Monica almost reverently, then side-glanced to the tiny vile of distilled blood with avarice. “You, this,” he held it up, “is the next phase for humanity.”
Monica tried to ask another question, but drifted off to sleep as the doctor plunged a needle into her I.V. bag.
“It’s official, we’re on the case,” Wolf rubbed his partner’s shoulders as she punctuated a lengthy report. Agent Schultz melted as his thick thumbs crushed away the stress that had crept into her neck. The tattoo lettering on the knuckles of his left hand spelled out W O L F. The letters on his right completed his name and his preferred affiliation G A N G.
“The girl?” Schultz knew he had been obsessed with the case since the night of the ghosted video. He re-watched it often. “Who’s filing?”
“Mom. VigilantMom, to be more precise. She was surveilling the destruction sight the night her daughter miraculously emerged. She filed a missing person 24 hours ago and has since upgraded to kidnapping.”
“Why us?” Monica asked, knowing the answer already.
Wolf laughed. “At least they don’t call us the X-files anymore. Now they call us the Y-files. As in, why not throw the crazy cases to the two wackos working out of the bureau’s basement? Besides, who else would take on a missing ghost girl case?”
“So, what’s mom’s story?” Schultz asked.
“Single mother, working two jobs to support herself and her kid. She was finishing a shift at the Get-‘n-Go Mart when she heard about the Surfside condo. Her 12-year-old daughter, Monica, was home asleep on the 11th floor.”
“Sucks,” was all Agent Schultz could manage, never having been a mother herself.
“Yeah. And she couldn’t accept it. Especially not with the lacking and contradicting information. The dearth of deaths, I read somewhere. Jesus, that condo had 136 rooms and they’ve only identified about 95 mancakes at this point.” Schultz shook her head at this gallows humor. Wolf seemed not to notice. “Mom kept holding out, holding on, thinking, hoping, praying her daughter would be a miracle rescue.”
“If that video is legit,” Schultz raised an eyebrow, “she got her miracle and someone got to the kid.”
“Alright, let’s get to work and see what we can find out,” Agent Wolf gave Schultz a knuckle bump and the search was on.
“Sorry, my dear, I wasn’t here when you awakened,” the creepy doctor whispered to Monica. The accent only seemed to anger her.
Monica pretended not to hear him and weakly gestured for the doctor to come closer. As he bent to place his ear near her cheek, she snatched his wide tie with both hands and pulled with all her might. They had removed her restraints while she slept.
“I will bite your nose off, do you understand me?” she snarled. Monica peeled back her lips and snapped her teeth like a novelty set of wind-up choppers.
“Yes,” was all he could manage.
“Where the fuck am I?”
He flinched a tiny bit, seemingly more shocked by her off-color language than by the content of her question.
“Some call this Epstein Island. Hopefully, you haven’t heard of it.”
“Epstein Island,” Wolf howled across the small office at his partner.
“What? Where? Who?” Schultz asked, not even sure which case he was referring to.
“The ghost girl. Our Serbian hacker…Peaches, came through again. He is probably a GS-50 by now, if there is such a thing, and he has unlimited access. He just sent me an encrypted link. Took me 45 minutes to figure out how to open the damn thing.” Schultz noticed Wolf’s gun on his desk beside the computer.
“Bottom line: I was not the only one that downloaded that crazy video from Surfside. Peaches noticed that someone out there in the verse used the exact algorithm that he had perfected and installed on my system. DocGod owns a copy and Peaches was able to trace the guy’s IP address.
“Bottom, bottom line: I know where they are keeping our ghost girl. Epstein Island. Let’s go.”
“Please let go. You’re choking me. I’ll tell you everything you want to know.”
Monica let the silk tie slip through her hands and the doctor pulled back from her menacing teeth. He stepped a safe distance back from the girl, adjusted his tie knot and smoothed his lab coat. “There are no secrets here,” he explained in grandfatherly fashion.
“Then why did you have me tied up?” she asked.
“Honey, that was for your own safety. We didn’t want you to injure yourself when you arrived in such a state of confusion. As you can see, we’ve taken the restraints away.” He smiled again, sincerely. Oh, what big teeth you have, Monica thought again which reminded her of bed time stories, which reminded her of…
Monica began to cry. “Where’s my mother? I just want my mom,” she managed to say between sobs.
“Oh, honey, you’ve been through a terrible catastrophe. I hate to be the one to tell you that your mother was killed when your building collapsed.” He sat on the bed and put an arm around the distraught child.
Monica began to remember. There was an unearthly roar in the middle of the night. She had the sense of falling, as if in a dream. She felt herself getting pummeled with bricks and glass and unrecognizable heavy things from above. Then there was nothing but darkness and dust and she remembered being dead.
Agents Wolfgang Shepherd and Alias Schultz placed their service weapons in the approved TSA containers as they wound their way through the maze of airport security. They showed their round trip Miami International to St Lucia tickets to the agent at the checkpoint—neither would make the return trip.
“Hold up, buddy,” the TSA agent put his hand on Wolf’s chest. “You pinged when you went through the metal detector.”
Wolf peeled the hand off his leather jacket. “I’ve got a bullet in my head,” Wolf replied.
The TSA agent looked at him, expecting a punchline.
Wolf leaned in close and lifted the eyepatch he wore.
“Awesome,” the agent gaped and grinned. “That’s a great tat.” He waved a metal-detecting wand up and down the side of Wolf’s head. It chirped. “Go right ahead, Sir. Thank you for your service,” he mumbled, unsure of what else to say.
Fifteen minutes into the four-hour flight to St Lucia, Agent Schultz was visibly agitated. Finally, she elbowed Wolf. “I’ve been working with you for what, three years now, and you have never told me why you wear that damn eyepatch, much less shown me the ‘awesome tattoo,’” she mimicked the TSA agent’s admiring voice, “underneath.” But you spilled to Agent Grabby McCrotchy back there. I didn’t want to pry, you know. Thought maybe it was personal? Thought maybe you’d tell me when the time was right,” She left an opening for Wolf to reply or riposte. He pretended to sleep.
“I was dead,” Monica whispered to the doctor.
“Yes, by almost any metric, I would agree.” He took off his glasses and wiped them in a clockwise pattern. He feigned some sort of sympathy by shaking his head. “You were indeed dead,” he replied.
“The vaccine, honey. It saved you. I told you that you were one in a billion. It’s probably closer to one in five billion.” He smiled again with too many perfect teeth.
“You mean the Covid vaccine? The one I got last month?” How could that…”
“Covid shmoved,” the doctor laughed. “Honey,” he whispered conspiratorially, “there’s no such thing.”
Agent Wolf made a big deal of waking from a deep sleep. He stretched and sipped on a hot styro-cup of coffee offered by an even hotter stewardess…no…flight attendant, Wolf reminded himself.
Wolf pretended to yawn, “So, Schultzy, ‘nuff about me. Now that we are bonding; pray tell, what’s a girl like you doing in a job like this anyway?”
“We are not bonding,” she snapped. “Bonding is when both people actually share parts of their lives.” She pretended to be upset for nearly two minutes while he puffed and slurped at his way-too-hot coffee.
“I think I’ve mentioned that my father was a policeman,” Schultz started hesitantly. “I don’t remember much, but my mother tells me that he really loved his job, and was really good at it…at least for the first ten years or so. When I was about three or four, something changed, something happened. I remember him coming home from work; he’d strip off his gear and hang it up in the closet, sometimes slamming the door. Then he would go to his little office upstairs until dinner. At the dinner table Mom would always ask him how his day was. I used to mimic his reply, mouthing ‘fine’ along with him. Then he would mumble something like ‘nine more years’, then eight…”
“Ah, retirement,” Wolf sighed. “Did he make it to twenty?”
“Only nine-teen,” Schultz shook her head. “Then he put his gun in his mouth and clocked out.”
Wolf turned to Schultz and looked at her face. She stared straight through him.
“That’s enough bonding, Partner. I’m sorry to open old wounds,” Wolf consoled.
“So, that’s why I’m here,” she said, without emotion. “I’m here to finish what my father started.”
“But the pandemic, the overrun hospitals, the shots, the masks…those damn masks,” Monica scowled. “We had to wear them at school.”
“Yes, yes, sorry about all that,” the doctor waved his liver-spotted hand absently. “But it was all necessary to get the vaccine into as many arms as possible.”
“I don’t understand. If there’s really no Covid, then why did we all need a vaccine?”
“Ah-ha!” the doctor raised a finger. “That’s the 64 dollar question.”
She looked even more confused with his outdated allusion.
“Please don’t tell anyone,” the doctor chuckled, crossing a vertical finger to his horizontal lips. “You see, my dear, it’s not actually a vaccine at all; just the opposite, really. Vaccines are designed to seek out and destroy anomalies in the bloodstream; this drug seeks out and actually enhances certain anomalies. The problem we had was, we didn’t know exactly who in the world had the particular anomaly we wished to enhance.”
“Me, I had the ab-nobally?” Monica stumbled on the word.
“Yes, my dear,” he smiled with air of awe. “You alone have made this pandemic all worthwhile.”
They fell back into silence for a long while. With his head against the scratched Plexiglas window, Wolf actually slept this time. Agent Schultz tapped away at her Chromebook.
“Wake up, Wolf,” she nudged.
“Is it time to bond again already?” he yawned.
“You are not the only one that has tech friends in high places. While you were sleeping, I tracked down the IP addresses of the individuals that posted remarks on the ghost girl video, hoping I could get some more intel. Then I ran an extensive 10-29 on them through the Bureau. With a little help, I found something very interesting. It seems they all have something unusual in common.” She clamped up and waited, making Wolf ask this time.
Agent Wolfgang Shepherd rolled his one good eye. “And, pray tell, what do all these ghost posters have in common, Agent Schultz?”
She timed a four second dramatic pause in her mind. “Aside from little Monica’s mom, they are all dead.”
“My mother is…was…,” Monica’s face contorted and teared. “She was a first responder.” Monica babbled on as the medication lowered her inhibitions. “She worked as a CNA for Mercy Central and a convenience store clerk after her hospital shift. Momma worked her ass off to keep us in ‘that deelux apartment in the sky’, she called it. She loved the view from the Champlain and she loved the way the doorman always called her Miss Bernice. That was Momma’s real name. She would always remind the doorman that Bernice was Little Red Riding Hood’s mother’s name. She loved that kind of trivia.”
“Yes, yes, yes. I’m sure that’s all fine and dandy, but we are going to need another…uh…sample…of your blood,” the doctor mumbled, as he studied his tablet. “The Times are upon us,” he blurted, smiling. “Several among our members are requesting ‘the fix’, as they now refer to it.” He worked at the distilling device where the tubes from her arms ended.
“What’s so special about my blood? What does it do?” Monica asked.
Their plane landed on time in the Virgin Islands. They gathered their overhead bags and clambered down the creaky gangway. Instead of following the tourists to the terminal, they veered off and headed for a hangar at the end of the taxiway. Just as they arrived, a man emerged, manually towing a Robinson R-66 helicopter from its berth.
“Welcome to the island. You my pax?” he asked, filling his lungs then crushing a thinly twisted cigarette onto the tarmac with his bare heel.
“Yes,” Agent Wolfgang replied, flipping his wallet open to display his badge and credentials. “Can you get us to Epstein Island ASAP, if not sooner?”
“It’s like I told you on the phone, Mon, I can get you over de island, but there is no landing on that rock. They’ve blocked all the helo pads since, you know…. I guess they don’t want any papa-fuck’n-razzi or curious cops pokin’ ’round. The island’s been bought up by some big off-shore, nameless corporation; but that’s all I know, Mon.”
“Got it, Solo. You get the Millennium Falcon over the big house, and we’ll take it from there.” The pilot grinned big, revealing an alternating smile of white and gold teeth, like keys on Liberace’s wet-dream piano. They climbed in and the helicopter whirred to life.
“What doesn’t it do would perhaps be a better question, my dear. Your blood is pure ambrosia,” the doctor grinned, admiring a small vial of red liquid he retrieved from the device.
Monica knitted her brow and looked confused.
“Just look what it did for you, my dear. It brought you back. An entire building fell on you and yet, here you are. You are back!”
“So,” Monica spent a few seconds thinking, hoping, “you are using my blood to help people?” Monica asked. “Like sick people in the hospital?”
The doctor laughed as if she had just cracked the best Jewish doctor joke ever.
Hovering eight-thousand feet above Epstein Island, Agents Wolfgang and Schultz looked down. It was dusk and the setting sun was almost too beautiful to ignore. Their eyes, however, were focused on the huge beach house near the center of the island. It was a sprawling McMansion, the likes of which they had never seen, much less raided.
“That’s it,” the pilot pointed to the clay tile roofing of the huge house bracketed with blue pools and green tennis courts.
“Can’t you just land this thing on a tennis court, brother?” Wolf asked.
“No, Mon, this is a no-fly zone. They are probably pointing very bad tings at us right now.”
“Alright, get us higher then. We’ll have to do this the D-Day way.”
“So what are you doing with my blood?” Monica was no longer acquiescent. The doctor’s braying laughter and confusing remarks had roused her anger. He heard it in her voice and saw it in her eyes. He tried to sooth her.
“Stop calling me that!” she snapped.
His smile faded.
“Suit up!” Wolf shouted over the shrill of the turbine engines. Agent Schultz slipped her pack on over her shoulders and strapped the buckles across her chest and waist. Her hands shook, but calmed when she felt the connecting, comforting click.
Wolf pointed down at the shrinking island; he plugged his headset directly into Agent Schultz’s coms. “I’ll meet you at the southern tip.” He gave her a hard look. “That bit of white sand near the inlet.”
She followed his finger but said nothing.
“Shultzy, look at me,” Wolf took her by the shoulders and put his helmeted forehead to hers. He reached up and peeled the leather eyepatch away from its port. She stared in awe, and then smiled when he did his trick.
“That was awesome!” she smiled quickly and bounced back to soldier mode; the mission was priority. “Geronimooooo!” she shouted, jumping out the helicopter door. Wolf quickly secured his gear and leaped, following close behind.
A cell phone in the doctor’s lab coat buzzed. He nervously fished it out, pressed it to a long-lobed ear, and listened intently, nodding periodically. Each time he attempted to say something, he was interrupted. “Yes, sir,” was all he was able to interject before the connection ended.
“My dea…, Miss Monica, you must be hungry,” the doctor rebounded.
A door opened and three young native ladies balancing multiple trays marched into the room. They carried an alluring smorgasbord of meats, veggies, tween-friendly drinks, and a batch of gooey s’mores.
Monica was hungry; she attended to her grumbling tummy. She was happy to take her mind off the madness she felt building in her troubled heart, if only for a while. She ate a wonderful meal and then fell fast asleep; perhaps something in the apple juice—she dreamed terrible dreams. One, about being alive and dead at the same time, smashed under two slabs of concrete like a s’mores cookie, she being the marshmallow center.
When their parachutes popped, the agents were jolted back up into the Caribbean sunset. It would have been a picture perfect postcard, but they hoped no one below was watching or filming. They performed a text-book running landing on the narrow beach. They quickly gathered their silk and buried it in the soft sand—no tracks. They dug out goggles and gear from their packs, and an unapproved set of LAR V Draeger breathing apparatuses.
Slipping into the inlet, they disappeared under the emerald green water that quickly brewed into dark tea as the sun sank. Schultz glanced at Wolf before they navigated the brackish water. She had never seen a man with an eyepatch wear goggles. She smiled at him; he noticed but did not acknowledge. Snorkeling toward their target, they followed a crude set of blueprints imprinted on their memory. It led them into the heart of the Epstein complex.
“We’ve taken some more blood,” the doctor informed. “You might feel a little woozy. Perhaps a glass of OJ will set you right.”
Monica slapped the half-full glass of orange juice from his hand. It sprayed dark Rorschach blots onto her white cotton sheets and dribbled yellow and sickly streaks down the light blue paint on the walls.
Monica’s mother had long ago told her of some boogeyman called OJ and she had subconsciously recoiled at the offered drink. OJ was a killer was all she could remember.
“It takes a killer to kill killers,” Wolf once told Monica, years ago when they had trained together at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Brunswick, Georgia. She had thought it to be some macho bullshit at the time, but now she realized that she may have to become the thing she hated—a killer. She remembered her mother crying when her father had been involved in a shooting incident. That was when her father had changed from Officer Friendly to Officer Lets-just-get-this-shit-over-with.
It was easy, Schultz thought, almost too easy, to swim stealthily and directly into the great room of the so-called Epstein mansion. There in the center of the enormous pool, Schultz bubbled up. Rising, she heard a sharp yelp and splash, and witnessed Wolf dragging a dark-suited man into the deep end of the pool. By the slight size and sound of the splash, Schultz might have judged this one as a 9.5 if this was an Olympic dive. But it wasn’t. The dark-suited man did not pop back up and look at the score board with a smile. This was not a tactic they had learned at FLETC; it was more fit for crap holes like Fallujah or Ramadi, not for multi-million dollar island mansions and their indoor swimming pools.
Schultz’s cerebrum screamed dozens of questions about this bust. She knew it was a big deal, to both buster and busted, but she also knew that shortcuts and sloppy work crumbled in the courtroom. Despite the ass-wacky case they were handed, Schultz preferred a by-the-book bust. Wolf was different; he wanted to discover the mysteries, the ones that they brazenly touted in the tabloids. And she believed he would go to almost any lengths.
This raid was quickly spinning out of control and Schultz didn’t know how to stop it. Her base brain trusted her partner. The Cop Code demanded that she support Agent Wolfgang, thick and thin like a blue wedding, even if the sombitch might be cheating on her with a bridesmaid.
“What’s that noise?” Monica asked, as the doctor wiped orange juice off his face and rubbed at his glasses. He hooked them back on and blinked with bright blue eyes magnified by the thick lenses, Monica thought, My, what big eyes you have.
Monica’s door was not reinforced; this mansion was not a prison. Most of Epstein Island’s visitors had been paying guests and welcomed friends. No need for lockdown security. Through the thin walls, Monica was heartened to hear sounds of support, perhaps sounds of rescue.
There was a staccato knock at her door, and then a heroic voice bellowed, “FBI!” and the door crashed open. A large man dressed in a sleek wet-suit stepped into the doorway and swung his automatic back and forth like a lawn sprinkler. Agent Schultz stepped up behind Wolf and held her weapon at high-ready, sweeping the opposite direction. No one engaged them. Monica stood up and the doctor shrunk down.
“That’s her!” Schultz shouted, as Wolf drew down on the rising girl. “That’s our ghost girl.” Salt water and sweat dripped from his tattooed forearms. His finger tightened in the trigger guard.
“Please, don’t,” a soft, raspy voice rose from behind a shelf in the corner of the room. The doctor stepped out, palms raised as though he anticipated a congratulatory high-ten. Instinctively, Wolf’s and Schultz’s gun sights both swung and triangulated on the man’s forehead, two red dots making one. He gulped, peering into the eyes of demise. “This is not what you think.” They assessed the threat and lowered their weapons.
“Take the six,” Wolf said to Schultz. She swiveled her weapon to cover the doorway they had entered. “I’ll take lead on the perp.”
Schultz was the junior agent and was used to following such orders, but this seemed too much, too produced, too Hollywood, she thought.
“Talk, old man. You are here on Epstein Island with a 12-year-old girl. This better be good.” Wolf thumbed back the stubby hammer on his Beretta. He looked down the barrel with his good eye. The patch added a new level of anxiety to the doctor, but he was able to gin up a toothy grin.
“There are no secrets here, friend,” he smiled like a used car salesman. His blue eyes almost twinkled behind the glasses. “As a matter of fact, we deal in facts, in answers to all the big questions. If you really want to know the unknowable, the truth behind the truth, the secrets behind the curtain; you need merely ask.” His open palms lowered into a welcoming gesture.
Wolf lowered his pistol. Schultz looked back from the doorway and said, “You can get all the truth you need on Wikipedia, Wolf. Don’t listen to that Illuminati bull crap.” She heard faint noises down the hallway and kept her eyes on the exit.
The doctor, a well-rehearsed showman, sensed his opening; he stepped in front of the girl. “Agent Wolfgang Shepherd,” the doctor said loudly, then paused for effect. Wolf lowered his gun again, just an inch or two.
“Yeah, so what? You know me. I know you, too. Every-fucking-body with Twitter or TV or the Book of Faces knows your doctor ass; you’re a meme, for Chrissake,” Wolf punctuated this with a half-hearted grunt that fell short of humorous.
“You strike me as a man of needs,” the doctor almost purred.
“I don’t need shit from you, doc. What you’re sellin’, I ain’t buyin’. But if you want to make a confession, I’m listening.”
Monica watched this back-and-forth banter from the edge of her bed; it was like one of those cop dramas on Netflix. She couldn’t believe she was really in the middle of it. She didn’t know what to say or do and didn’t know what her lines were anyway.
“It’s simple, really,” the doctor began. “We needed some fresh blood, our provisions were low. But it is not easy to find the type of blood we require, so sometimes we have to ‘manufacture’ a set of circumstances in order to expedite the process.”
“I don’t like this,” Agent Schultz said from the door. “We need to get the girl and beat feet, Wolf. I spotted a boat tied to a dock near the inlet; we can get to open water and call the Coasties to pick us up…”
Wolf waved her off like a pesky child.
“Who’s we?” Wolf asked the doctor.
“We,” the doctor paused again, like a shameless Shakespearean actor, “we are the kingmakers, the rainmakers, the giants of industry, the nation builders, and the wrecking balls of society, when their time comes. We are the Horsemen of the Apocalypse and the Balm of Gilead; we are famine and we are feast. Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. We are the puppet masters; we pull the strings….”
“If you are such hot shit, then why do you need this little girl?” Wolf interrupted his soliloquy, trying to look unimpressed. Monica felt like she should say something, but sat still. She, too, wanted to know.
“She’s the golden goose,” the doctor continued. “She’s one of a kind.” He looked at Monica like a proud grandfather. She will reign as our new queen. Her enhanced blood can keep us going for perhaps another millennium. Join us, Agent Shepherd. Join us and you will learn the secrets of the universe.”
“Shultzy,” Wolf called over his shoulder. “How does it look out there?”
“We’ve got movement on the south end. I think they are working their way around the back. Do me a favor and ask that asshole about something coplike, like what happened to all the people that commented on the ghost girl video.”
The doctor was quick with his answer. “The Bootleg fire in California burned down Voyeur69’s house, he was in his mother’s basement at the time. DrunkenSailor went down on that unfortunate cruise ship disaster in the Bermuda Triangle. CatandTonic simply overdosed on cheap booze while two dozen rescued, unfed cats dined on her corpse. FYI, we had nothing to do with her death. VigilantMom, the doctor held his hand over the side of his mouth and directed a too loud, New York whisper to the agents. “She,” he glanced at the listening girl, “is actually still alive, but will be swept away along with thousands tomorrow when the Haiti 7.2 earthquake causes a tsunami that wipes out half of Miami. So, as you can see, we’ve tied up all our loose ends, except…”
“Shultzy, did I ever tell you how I lost my eye?”
“No. Not a good time, Wolf.”
“Shultzy, I was embedded in a gang for nearly three years—undercover. Two years longer than I should have been. I was so deep in their shit, that I was virtually one of them. Narcotics, trafficking, you name it. We were the Heaven’s Devils,” he half laughed, saying the silly name again after so long. “One night we were working a drug deal, buying from a Mexican cartel. We were surprised by a couple of uniforms, and they had the drop on us.”
“Really, Wolf, this is not a good time. I think they spotted us on the surveillance camera.”
“I got between my boys and the Sergeant. He was so nervous, he was yelling for us to get on the ground and all that crap. I put my hands up and said, ‘Brother, it’s okay. I’ve got it from here.’” I reached out to him, like I was some sort of cop whisperer, thinking he would see that I was on his side. He shot me, Schultz. Right in my fucking eye. But before I went blank, I read his name tag.”
There was a long pause. “Schultz? Was it Schultz?” Agent Schultz asked, storming back into the room.
“No, it was Thompson and my boys dropped him where he stood. Then they dropped me off at the hospital for dead.”
Agent Schultz just looked at Wolf, confused.
“Schultz was the other cop, the one that ran away when his partner needed him the most.”
Wolf raised and fired. He shot Agent Schultz in the forehead. “Sorry, Schultzy. But rest knowing that you stood fast, where your father fled. As a partner, you were always there for me. You were ten times the cop your old man was.”
“Now, doctor, let’s talk about my new position in the Illuminati. He flipped up his eyepatch to reveal a light blue outline of a bricked pyramid, each of the tri-corners extended slightly beyond the blank socket where his eye should have been. There was a disquieting hole in the center of the pyramid, dark, moist and pinkish inside. Then Wolf closed his lid. The all-seeing-eye was tattooed on the lid, completing the Illuminati symbol found on the back of the one-dollar bill.
“Awesome,” was all the doctor said.
Here are the links to the other two stories:
Greed Will Cost You <<link
Writer: E. J. D’Alise
Word count: 666 words – approx. reading time: about 3 minutes based on 265 WPM
Greed Is Good <<link
Writer: Perry Broxson
Word count: 9,170 words – approx. reading time: about 35 minutes based on 265 WPM
If you’ve read all the stories and care to cast a vote, here’s the link to the Poll:
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