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Forty Seven Square © 2010 Howard Freedman Andrea finished strapping on her high heels, an inch and a half of elevation to her already tall, slender and well toned body. Shoulder length black hair, silky smooth and flowing straight to her shoulders adorned a beautifully chiseled face. Although the hair she donned tonight wasn't her own; just one of many coiffures she had in her arsenal of wigs. She was draped in her favorite killer crimson evening dress, near ready to go out for the evening. She swept a pair of gold earrings off the top of the dresser and began putting them on as she walked back into the adjoining bathroom with a smooth fluid motion. She was full of poise and confidence, no stranger to the routine. Now standing before the mirror above the sink, Andrea stole a glance. It was the little nuances in her features that gave her away but only if you knew where to look. There were always signs and the feeling of fatigue that began to surface after so long a time was but one of them. Still, Andrea considered herself attractive tonight, at least by what she understood that to be by contemporary standards. She adapted well. As her mind wandered, a smirk appeared, mostly an unconscious gesture that merely alluded to how she felt about the chore to be conducted this evening. Her hand reached for the glass of wine that was only half consumed, idly waiting on the edge of the vanity. White wine. The allegory of red would just have made the preamble of the evening a bit trite. A few quick sips was all Andrea took sensing time slipping away. Just as abrupt she set the tall stem glass back down at the edge of the sink and turned to leave. Even though the door was less than two paces away, the sound of glass breaking stopped her before crossing the threshold. Fragments of various sizes were on the sink surface, the delicate stem still intact as the remainder of the glass rested on its side. She let out a sigh as she impulsively reached for some of the bigger pieces. “Shit.” Carelessness came out of her haste. A trickle of blood seeped from one of her fingertips, falling to the top edge of the inner sink bowl before turning into a narrow stream flowing toward the drain. Her thumb rubbed the wound on the finger, the blood smearing between the appendages as she studied them. A telling bright orange. Yes, it was definitely time. Detective Jason Brand stood back near the barricades just outside the yellow tape defining the crime scene. 'Police – Do Not Cross' displayed in bold black lettering over and over down its length. Flashing amber lights blinked on and off from atop each of the half dozen structures resembling sawhorses that held up the tape creating a crude, yet effective fence to keep prying eyes at bay. Within the perimeter, an array of policemen milled about, uniformed cops carrying out the will of the detectives in suits. While the uniforms went about the business of attempting to find even a single usable fingerprint, as well as scouring for anything in the way of clues to bag, the detectives, cups of coffee in hand, talked among themselves as casually as discussing last weekend's big game. To the average observer, one would think they were no doubt offering their individual theories on the murder they were called in to investigate. In 1


reality, there was very little talk concerning the lifeless body that lay nearby, not tonight anyway. It had all been said already on countless other nights. Focusing on the clipboard that he held, Detective Brand was getting a jump on the paperwork as his partner finished the more grisly side of the case. Examining the body, getting photos and verifying cause of death. Brand had seen enough. Just another in a string of gruesome murders all perpetrated at the hand of a freak with a skilled hand and a warped mind. And almost like clockwork, first of the month. Every month for the past five years. Each corpse had been found in the same way. A carefully made incision at the throat, the body left lying in a spot that left the head slightly lower than the torso, and usually in a secluded spot which allowed at least temporary cover while the perpetrator siphoned off the majority of the victims approximate five quarts of blood. At least that was the coroner's assessment for each of the bodies found in this manner. Same wound to the throat, and only a smear of red remaining under the body left by an otherwise tidy murderer. Detective Brand had been on the force for ten years and in that time he had seen his fair share of blood and mutilation. Fresh out of the academy, it took a little getting used to, as was normal with any new recruit. But after a few months in homicide, it merely became routine. Trained to be detached from emotions that have a tendency to creep into the gory side of human interaction. A good cop found balance between emotion and discipline. Until six months ago, Detective Brand performed his job as well as any man could be expected to. Five years ago, he met Emily. It was at the morgue one evening when acting as the officer on duty. She came in with a NSA agent to collect the body of what would prove to be the first in a series of brutal murders. Perhaps he should have been more suspicious during the introduction. But he really didn't hear the agent's explanation as to her particular involvement. All Brand most likely heard were the sounds of doves singing, if doves could sing, as he gazed upon proof that love at first sight was a rare but real phenomenon. It would be days later on their first date before he found out any details about who she was. Details was probably the wrong word. More like Cliff Notes with large chunks of the story missing. While he had waited for the rendezvous in the dank and dimly lit hallway, he wondered why the NSA had been involved at all, but mostly why it was deemed so imperative to conduct business in the middle of the night when the body obviously wasn't going anywhere unescorted. Their first date came that Saturday. He found out she worked for a secret organization funded by the government on a national level. The primary role of the organization wasn't one of investigation into the unexplained murders which had been taking place in his jurisdiction, but they were involved only as a matter of their special association with the victims. But in just what capacity? What kind of association? The only answer was 'Classified'. Emily insisted she couldn't tell him anything more in the name of national security. If they stood a chance together, he would have to respect that. When he looked into her eyes, when his hands caressed her long slender neck and her exotic long fingers held him, there really was no other choice. They only knew each other a month before getting married and Brand never regretted the impulsive act for a moment. The only regret he had was that they hadn't had more time together. Six months ago, he lost her. Today, Brand still was all but consumed by the black hole that seemed to pull in everything around him. Emily had been taken from him one night 2


without warning. Everything else in his life seemed to follow into a vortex that robbed him of everything that made life worth living. There were two who came bearing the news. That night had an eerie familiarity to the evening five years ago at the morgue; the night he met Emily. One woman with credentials of questionable affiliation to the same top secret organization that his wife was involved with. The other, a male NSA agent who took the lead. “How?” initially was the only word that Brand's mouth could form as he stared up at the agent. “How did she die?” 'Classified'. “Looks like our Dracula has struck again, Brand.” Detective Jack Stern spoke as he walked to the perimeter where his partner seemed engrossed in the forms on the clipboard held in front of him. Brand didn't acknowledge Stern even as he came to stand just to his side a mere two feet way. “Hey, Brand.” It wasn't until Stern placed a firm hand on top of his partner's shoulder that the spell seemed to break and Brand finally looked at him with a weak attempt at a smile. Stern just looked back and shook his head. He knew where his forlorn partner had been. “You still seeing the department's shrink?” Brand paused before answering. He had enough lectures from his longtime partner. He knew the man meant well, and most likely, he was right. But then his partner had never lost the love of his life. As near as he could tell, he never had loved at all. Nevertheless, he needed to move on but the shroud of mystery in Emily's abrupt demise clouded his vision of a future without her. “Yeah” was his only response. He pull up on the crime scene tape and stooped to cross over. “Let's go then.” 'Let's go'. Brand had been partnered with Stern for so long that many gestures came without further explanation. However there were times when a given look required more of a hint. Such was the case now with the utterance of those few simple words and the way Stern looked as though he was squinting for a better view at some far away place, one which was totally unseen by the naked eye of anyone that dared try to follow his gaze. “What do you have in mind?” “Found these on the victim.” Stern handed him a book of matches. Stern pointed to the establishment down the street. Neon signs covered the windows in front. Bud Light flashed in blue while the next pane glowed from the gold colored tubes that bent into the words Miller Genuine Draft. But those weren't what drew his attention as much as the sign that adorned the archway above the front door. The sign blazed as if beckoning the two detectives, taunting them, daring them. Below flickered an array of gently flowing lines, three on the left slanting upward and three on the right reaching down, joined at the bottom forming a V. Their lengths oscillated in and out like gentle ocean waves, even though the lines weren't blue, green or white, but glowed ominously red. Between the waves stood a form, like a gingerbread man without his candy features, while above flashed the words – The Red Sea. If there were any biblical connotations lurking in the flashing lights, it was lost on the two detectives. But an omen lived up there. It was directly at that sign which Stern pointed with an outstretch arm, taut and sure. “I've got a funny feeling about this.” 3


Brand had heard his partner utter those words on a few occasions before. It always made for an interesting case. “Lord help us.” The neighborhood was far from the sleazier side of town where such a garish display of flashing color begging you in might seem more in character. Yet, it was equally removed from the more trendy areas of town where the young affluent crowd migrated for their nightly trawl while in search of the next conquest with which to wake. This section of town remained devoid of the decadence of decay from neglect, but at the same time lacked the mass influx of humanity that marked the current incarnation of cool. Not too crowded. Also not too sparse so that one might mill about without fear of breaking anonymity. The two detectives walked to the door which bathed in neon glow. Stern reached for the handle and pulled the door open toward him. With a wave of his free hand, he beckoned his partner Brand to enter first. It was somewhere in that magical hour between midnight and closing time. Mostly empty tables took up the majority of the floor on the near side of establishment. The bar stretched across the back with only two of its eight stools presently occupied, a single bartender wiping down glasses stood towards the end. The far side of the room held a glow of its own, lighting provided by aging fluorescent bulbs in fake stained glass fixtures above the two pool tables. A glow with just enough of a yellow tinge to set the mood for those wishing to slum it. Brand and Stern stood a few feet from the door they just came through and surveyed the place. From the expression on their faces, it didn't appear that it held any special surprises. Just like near closing time at all the other watering holes they have had the pleasure of experiencing on the beat. The bartender gave the two new arrivals a glance but just as quickly returned his attention to the work in his hands. Brand and Stern proceeded to walk to the end of the bar. “Evening” Stern said with one hand on the bar and the other reaching into his trench coat. Neither of the detectives had a chance to say another word before the man behind the bar had them sized up. The bartender was leaning on the bar with one elbow as he finished cleaning glasses. His body tilted to one side in a display of posture that would seem fit only for a contortionist. Nonetheless he seemed so relaxed that the position probably had become such that any other would be foreign. “You cops?” he asked shifting his eyes to each of the two detectives. Stern's hand left his coat pocket and he opened the leather wallet containing his badge in answer to the question. Brand had his badge out now as well. Just a matter of protocol even though it hardly proved necessary. “Thought so.” The bartender's words defied a tone of respect. “Is there a problem with that?” Brand gave close observation while studying the man for what may be preying on his guilty conscience.” “Nope. No problem. It's just I can tell a mile away. He gave them the studious glance now. “Trench coat, brown, belt wrapped around the waist, not buckled. Really guys. Its a cliché.” Brand and Stern looked down at themselves. Perhaps it was true. They shrugged as they looked at each other for it was no matter. Just another badge of honor. Stern pulled out the Polaroid print he had taken of the victim and faced it towards their 4


host. “OK, Mr. Psychic. Maybe you could put your super powers to use and tell us if you've seen this guy recently.” He didn't respond at first, letting his mind attempt to process what he was looking at. He had seen a lot of this sick twisted world in his line of work, even a dead body or two, but he wasn't looking at just a dead body now. “Yeah. That's Frank.” He stopped wiping the glass and slowly put it down on the counter with the rest. Then he took his eyes off the photograph and met Stern's gaze. “Frank Hamilton. Or was Frank Hamilton I guess.” “When did you see him last?” “Probably about three hours ago. He had been sitting over there.” The bartender pointed to a table in the far corner. “Actually, he sat here at the bar, like he did pretty much every Saturday night, and sometimes Wednesdays if he had been feeling especially down. An attractive gal came in and sat next to him. I guess they hit it off because they ended up moving to the table for a while.” “Did they leave together?” “Well, I can't swear it. I didn't see either one of them leave. Just noticed they were gone after a while.” 'Had you seen the woman before?” “Yeah. I think so. A few times maybe. She looked sort of familiar, but not exactly like a remembered her. Her hair was different maybe. Not sure.” “Do you remember what she looks like tonight, well enough that you could describe her to a sketch artist?” “Yeah, I guess.” The detectives left the bar around 12:40AM. Their shift ended at one. Stern said he would wait around the precinct for the bartender to show up. He was due in after the bar closed, coincidentally at one o'clock. “Go on home, Brand. Not much else to do tonight. We can canvas tomorrow if we get a good sketch out of our friend.” Brand didn't argue. Stern sensed that his partner was anxious to leave, as if some other privately slated mission had yet to be completed tonight. Brand may have had delusions of keeping such a secret itinerary hidden from Stern, but the two had spent the better part of their waking hours together for the past ten years. After a while the boundary of privacy that separates what transpires when not on the clock tends to fade away. Stern sat at his desk as he looked over at his partner, now standing but his attention focused somewhere inside him. Stern's look was all knowing, yet perplexed at how such an otherwise rational man could be so stubborn. On this subject, Brand definitely had a one track mind, and he was driven to take that track until he found his destination. A destination that he needed to find before driving himself to the nut house. Only problem was that no one else thought their was a destination to reach. “Tell me you're not going out there again?” The words refocused Brand's attention and he just moved toward the door, leaving his friend and confidant with nothing but the view of his back. Apparently Stern just didn't understand and he probably never would. With a wave of one hand high above his head and without turning around, Brand politely ended the conversation. “See you tomorrow.'

5


Secret agencies never seem to sleep. No matter what routine the normal world falls into, the mystery people always seem on alert, especially during times at odds with the rest of society. Even that special part of society known as government, or at least the part made public to the complacent and blissfully ignorant masses. Brand was not one of the blissfully ignorant. At least not blissful. And ever since that day six months ago, certainly not complacent. Until he found the truth of what happened to his wife, he wouldn't sleep either. Brand drove a gray Toyota Corolla, ten years old. Roomy enough for the drive around town, but not the lap of luxury to be camped out in during a stakeout. Not that this was a stakeout, not officially anyway. This was hardly a sanctioned surveillance and definitely off the record. He wasn't hassling anyone. Just looking. No harm in that. Only watching from the privacy of his personal vehicle on a public street, looking for anything unusual at the building in his sights. Anything unusual or just anything that might help him understand. There was also something cryptic about the sign above the doorway which gave the building its name. Even his wife Emily never referred to it as anything other than the office. He wasn't even supposed to know where it was. He had promised her no more questions about her work and as far as she knew, he had come to be content and respected the privacy she asked for. And he had for the most part during their short time together. However one night as he came home late, Emily was just leaving for work. She hadn't always worked nights except on special projects. They came just as abruptly as those calls which kept Brand out at odd hours. Hours not unusual for a homicide detective. Apparently not so odd for the mystery people with which his wife was involved. On that particular night, he followed her to the grittier side of town, an area not especially known as a hub for murder, rape and assorted mayhem, but still not a place where decent people hung out after dark. From down the street, he watched her park the car and enter the building through a door just across the street. The side of the building in his view looked not unlike the others surrounding the neighborhood – painted dull gray and dotted with a few windows adorned only with drawn shades. Sticking above the doors of most of the buildings, aluminum signs jutted out under their doorways, alerting all who wandered to this decadent part of town to the businesses housed within. All except the building that Emily had entered. That isn't to say the building in question did not have a sign under the doorway. It did, but instead of announcing the home of Acme Tool and Die, or Wayne's Welding Works, or even Clandestine Enterprises, it had but one number and its special designation. 47 Square. The street wasn't forty seventh street. There were far from even thirty buildings in the area. So why 47 Square? Brand didn't know. Probably classified. But that didn't stop him from coming out night after sleepless night. This was just another one of those nights. At one thirty in the morning, there wasn't much action. A rare light could be seen creeping around the edges of a shaded window or two, but for the most part, those who toil by day in these warehouses and factories lay in wait at home sleeping in their beds until the alarm clock rang some four or so hours from now. But he knew at least one building remained a bed of activity inside, if not on the outside, even during the witching hours between midnight and dawn. Building 47 Square stood on a corner among the rest of the decaying industrial area out near the airport. Brand had parked on the opposite side of the street in the next block, just far enough off the corner to avoid being lit by the street lights while still maintaining an unobstructed view of the building and the space in front of it. It was a cool night with little breeze and a cloudless sky sparsely dotted with points of 6


light as the only clue that at least something else existed out beyond where man most likely would never venture. Brand ended up staring at that part of the sky light years in the distance as much as his earthly focus only meters away. On most nights there was little hint offered as to any point to his....research. On other nights, he could sometimes hear faint humming noises of some unknown machinery coming from within its darkened walls. Occasionally, someone could be seen on the roof. The periodic sight of a faint amber glow gave the cigarette smoker away. What went on inside was still a mystery. Mostly he waited and watched, and caught a glimpse of faces as they came and went at all hours of the night. Faces that started to look familiar after a few months, although most of them weren't there every night. A few were, like those two faces he wish he had never seen. Serena Gentry, the eerily attractive woman who supposedly had worked with his wife and Hank Jansen, the NSA agent, equally tall and athletically built who apparently either had a limited wardrobe or a complete closet of dark gray suits. Brand figured probably the latter. He had caught himself starting to nod off but the sound of voices brought him back. Brand must have drifted off if only for a few seconds because he never heard the two people exit the building. Where the street was vacant of any sign of activity a moment ago, the pair of familiar faces walked over to a parked car across from the door they just came out of and stood beside it. The car was a black full sized SUV, the kind popular with the Feds. He was certain that Jansen was one of two he now saw standing in the distance. Same suit. Same demeanor and a recognizable gait as he walked. The walk of a Fed, he thought. The tall slender woman most likely was Serena Gentry. Brand instinctively slumped a little behind the wheel as soon as he saw them. They were having what seemed to be a casual conversation. Their body language gave no indication of a dire discussion yet Brand couldn't help but wonder what subject would bring them out at three in the morning. They certainly didn't act like lovers either, no physical contact between them and no posturing by Jansen that suggested he had any designs in that area. Just two who apparently worked close together. What remained unanswered was just what was the nature of that work. If anything the two talking by the car were just as emotionally detached as they were the night Brand first met them six months ago when they came bearing the news of Emily's death. No details. Cause of death: Classified. Brand wouldn't be written off so easily. It didn't look like Brand would make any inroads into his unofficial investigation. The woman who had been leaning against the car pushed off and turned toward its door, keys in hand as she reached for the handle. Jansen backed up slightly as the door opened and she slid into the seat. The sound of the engine turning over was unmistakeably audible from down the street where Brand was trying to hide behind the wheel of his car. Jansen waved and the car pulled away from the curb, went down the street to the next corner and turned out of sight. The preceding events signaled an end to whatever show he may be hoping for. Time to take a nap or call it a night. But not this time as the totally unexpected happened. Jansen turned in Brand's direction. Not just his direction, but precisely where his car was parked. Maybe he just was looking for his own car. Brand didn't remember another vehicle behind him when he choose his vantage point, but he wasn't about to ease up from his slump to check. Perhaps it just appeared like he was looking in Brand's direction, his attention focused on some other nearby object which caught his eye. There wasn't time for any other thoughts to go through Brand's mind before the man left standing alone up the street began walking in Brand's direction at a steady pace, not as though in a hurry, yet a 7


surefooted stride with purpose. Brand didn't move but his pulse quickened with anticipation. The man came closer, his course remained straight for the old Toyota. Any hopes that the destination was somewhere behind him came to an abrupt halt as the towering figure reached the door behind which Brand attempted to hide. Leaning over, the man put one of his hands on the metal just below the window. He rapped upon the glass with the knuckles of the other hand. Brand retained his composure and tried casually to sit up straight as he rolled down the window. “Nice night, isn't it detective?” The agent's voice came off congenial like a stranger attempting friendly conversation with someone he had come in close contact during some social event. But Brand knew this event was far from social and, if not heard, the sarcasm could be felt coming off the man's breath. Brand was at a loss for words, uncomfortable at being found out. With a slight smile the man reached his hand toward the open window causing Brand to jump with alarm. This caused the man's smile to widen somewhat smugly as he offered that hand in what could only be construed as an offer to shake. “Evening Jansen” Brand finally said as he reached out and shook the obtrusive hand. Jansen turned his head to look down the street from where he just came and let out a sigh. Turning back he asked “So, what do you think you plan to accomplish out here, night after night?” Those words startled Brand to an unexpected revelation and the look on his face gave him away. “That's right” Jansen told him. “We've seen you out here. Did you think it would be that easy to stake out another cop?” Brand shrugged trying to stay as cool as he could. “Yeah. I guess that's what I had in mind.” Jansen laughed. “You're alright Brand.” He sounded as though he meant it, but his demeanor turned more professional as his expression relaxed. “However, I can't help you. I know it has become a cliché in our line of work, but 'Move along. There's nothing to see here.'” “Yeah, that's been obvious, so far. But it's what I don't see that bothers me.” Jansen stood up and turned away. With his back to Brand, the detective heard these words as the agent walked back down the street. “In due time, Brand. In due time.” Andrea rubbed the aching palm of one hand with firm massaging strokes of her accentuated fingers. She was sitting at the kitchen table looking up at the calender on the wall. Not that she needed to. She knew what day it was. As a matter of routine, she could feel in her every pore when thirty days had passed. She actually looked forward to the day, or more precisely the night, when she could satisfy her urges, as well as her needs. And she enjoyed doing it. She didn't have to. There were more controlled ways, certainly more civilized ways to address what it took to survive in this world. But she liked her way. The rush she got from the act which enforced the feeling of superiority she knew she possessed but could not exhibit openly. The room stood silent save for the faint sound of the ticking clock on the wall near the calender. Simple, round, an eloquent style of simply black and white. It stood unadorned except for long slender hands, the second hand sweeping methodically around the dial. Tick. 8


Tick. Almost inaudible unless you tuned your hearing to its cadence. Then when it reached the new hour, the delicate tick announced its arrival with the duality of a clunk as the hour and minute hands jumped into place. The sound registered with Andrea and she shifted her gaze to acknowledge the time. Not that she needed to. The sun had already fallen below the horizon and only a subdued glow could be seen out the westerly window. Besides she felt it building long before the clock struck indicating that evening had settled in and soon it would be time to go out. It all had become a matter of routine. Detective Jason Brand put the cell phone back in the case on his belt. It was ten o'clock and his shift just ended with the call to headquarters. It had been a quiet night and he and Stern had been granted an early end to an uneventful night. For the most part, it had been a quiet month. The blood hungry serial killer had not struck again since last month when Jason Brand and his partner Jack Stern were called to investigate. But he wasn't thinking of that tonight. Usually when Brand went off the clock, his thoughts went back to another unsolved case. Like a lemming being driven to his own destruction, the detective toyed with his sanity as he continued to obsess on the mysterious death of his wife Emily. It ate at his partner Stern to know how Brand suffered. It had been seven months now and he felt it was time for Brand to move on. It took some prodding, but every once and a while Stern got his partner to agree to meet for a drink or two. Tonight was one of those nights. Stern just needed to run a few errands and he would meet him at the Ruby's Rendezvous, a neighborhood bar that Brand found at least tolerable on those nights when feeling a little more open to the camaraderie that such a place afforded. Brand left the confines of his old gray Toyota and walked across the street to the bar. Before opening the door, he looked up and down the street. Stern's car was nowhere in sight. Oh well. He was ready for that drink. Once inside, the din of noise waned like any other establishment of its kind – the kind where you came to mingle as much as to wet your whistle. Where alcohol elevated your conversational skills along with its amplitude. A place where everyone was your friend, if not at the beginning of the evening, then at least by its end. Brand looked around. He didn't see any friends yet, but the night was young. He spotted two adjoining empty spots at the bar and decided to wait for his partner there. The bartender came over to the new arrival with a big grin on his face like he was quite excited to met his acquaintance. He was evidently someone who worked out on a regular basis and had no problem advertising the fact. His shirt seemed to have had its sleeves ripped off by his protruding biceps. A bartender that doubled as the bouncer, if need be, but who would offer any grief to such a friendly guy. “What'll it be, buddy?” He was cheerful with a demeanor that was the counterweight to any intimidation his brawn may exude. Brand smiled back. He was making friends already. “Scotch and soda, please.” With a nod of acknowledgment, the bartender grabbed a glass from under the counter and placed it in front of Brand and filled it with ice. Then holding a bottle filled with amber in one hand and another of clear sparkling liquid in the other, he tilted them upside down above the glass until full. “Run a tab?” “Sure. Why not.” The chances were this first would not be the last of the evening. Brand sipped at his drink, looked at the empty stool on the right and then at his watch. 9


10:05. It had only been a few minutes and Stern should be on his way, but something about his fidgety body language said 'anxious'. At least to the woman sitting to his left. “Waiting for someone?” she asked rather directly. Brand looked at her for the first time. He saw an attractive woman who knew how to impress. Short blond hair with a beautiful long neck sticking out of that alluring red dress. With that one look he was glad that she made the first move. He probably wouldn't have. His partner was the smooth one. Brand was more of the wing man. Along for the ride and not interested in meeting anyone new. No one could take the place of Emily. Although he sensed something in this woman that stirred long dormant testosterone. Was it the slender neck? Something about the hands? They reminded him of Emily alright. Perhaps tonight would be different. It had been a while. Seven months. “I'm just waiting on a buddy.” He just looked at her and tried not to sweat. “Oh, good. I was hoping it wasn't another woman.” She was smooth as she turned on the stool and recrossed her legs before him. The move did not go unnoticed as his eyes shifted momentarily to her lovely legs. What he did not notice was his partner walking into the bar. Stern looked through the crowd and within a few seconds spotted Brand at the bar talking with the shapely woman. No doubt, he thought, she was one that any man in the place would be happy to go home with. Himself included. And there she was with his wing man. Even though there was an empty spot next to them, he didn't want to break the mood of the moment and he most definitely wanted to see how this was going to play out. An opportunity to sit at the end of the bar opened up, offering a vantage point to watch his buddy in action while remaining at his back. “So, what's your name, handsome?” He almost giggled. It sounded as if the words had long since been rehearsed and said by this woman a million times. But at the moment he didn't care. “Brand. Jason Brand.” He almost said 'Detective Brand' but caught himself. He certainly didn't want to spoil the mood. What if she had a thing about cops? “Well, it's nice to meet you Brand Jason Brand.” She offered her hand, palm down, in a eloquent sort of way. “I'm Andrea.” She didn't offer a last name, not that he would have heard it. He was mesmerized admiring her long beautiful fingers. Andrea didn't say anything for a moment while she sized him up. Brand didn't speak either. He was out of practice at this sort of thing and the beautiful woman had him entranced. She didn't let his obsession with her hands go unnoticed as well. “You're not like most men I meet” she said breaking his concentration. “Oh? How's that?” “Normally I catch men staring at my cleavage or maybe my legs.” Clearly that was her intent based on the body language she used. It usually was very effective in luring in her prey. “But clearly, you are a man of more refined taste” she said while offering one of her hands for closer inspection.” “Yes, well sorry” Brand returned now looking more closely at her other features. “You are very attractive, but there is something about your hands that remind me of someone I care deeply about.” “Lucky girl.” And she withdrew her hand thinking that perhaps reeling this one in may be a little harder. “Girlfriend?” Brand turned to take another sip of his drink. “Wife.” Andrea's expression changed from one on the make to something more resigned to 10


chalking this one up as a waste of time. She reached back on the bar for her drink and in one gulp downed what remained . Brand might be too much work. Andrea was about to bid him adieu when she stopped cold on the stool with a frozen glance towards the front door. Brand saw what appeared as a far away look in the woman's eyes. “I'm sorry. You don't understand. She died a few months ago.” The woman didn't appear to hear a word and Brand glanced into the crowd to try to see what she was looking at. His eyes followed through the throng of humanity that milled about on the open floor between the bar and the door. Before he noticed who stood just inside the doorway, a glass fell over and broke on the bar just as Andrea reached for her purse. “Shit” Andrea tried to muffle her cry of pain but Brand saw her sucking on her finger. He figured she must have cut herself. The two newcomers at the door were searching through the crowd but Brand still hadn't noticed them. He was looking at the broken stem of the wine glass. Andrea had drank the rest of her white wine but orange colored drops pooled along a jagged edge . There was hardly time to totally comprehend the oddity of it before she spoke one final time. “Some other time pal.” And Andrea walked briskly off down toward the end of the bar. Brand could only watch her leave. Stern looked on somewhat bewildered as the woman abruptly left the stool next to Brand and strutted in a determined cadence in his direction. She wasn't looking at him though, or anyone else, her head cocked at an angle that gave him a clear view but one which attempted to hide her features from the front of the room. As she went past the detective sitting at the end of the bar, something registered with him. It only took a moment to sense the connection but by the time he turned around for another look, the woman disappeared around the corner. Stern reached into his jacket's inside breast pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. As he sat on the stool at the end of the bar unfolding the paper, a couple, apparently in a hurry, brushed against his back as they rushed by him. Stern looked at the sketch in front of him. The hair was different, but he was sure the face was the same. He looked up just in time to see Brand moving quickly toward him, building up to a run. “It's definitely her, Brand.” Stern held out the unfolded sketch as his partner approached but did not stop. Brand didn't register the words and almost knocked Stern off his stool as he rounded the corner and followed in the direction of the woman who seemed to be fleeing from her pursuers. The couple in a hurry - NSA agent Hank Jansen and Serena Gentry. Around the corner from the bar was a short hallway. On the right was an open doorway with swinging cafe style doors offering a view to a back room where kegs of beer were attached to the lines leading to the bar. Brand stole a quick look but if anyone was hiding in there, he or she would be a contortionist to fold behind the three foot metal kegs. On the other side of the hall were two doors leading to the restrooms. Brand hesitated, but only for a second, before opening the door to the one marked 'Women' and yelled “Police” as he held the door open with one arm, the hand displaying his badge. He was reaching for his gun when he saw a lone woman standing before the mirror with a tube of lipstick in her hand. Attractive. Blond. Not Andrea. “Anyone else in here?” he blurted out with more than a hint of urgency in his voice. The woman saw the detective in the mirror as she adjusted her makeup, and gave a look of surprise before turning to face him. She leaned back bracing herself on the sink and 11


with a wicked, naughty grin said “Just you and me copper. Hope you brought your handcuffs.” Brand let the door close behind him as he backed out. He saw Stern following his lead at the other restroom door. Then as if the meeting of their eyes brought about some sort of psychic energy they both turned their heads to the door at the end of the hall. Stern moved first by only a fraction of a second and pushed on the rocker bar that opened the door to the back alley. Brand followed him out. The back door of Ruby's Rendezvous led out near the end of a block long alley. The two detectives stopped in the center with their backs to each other. They each in turn stared down the narrow and rank smelling corridor, guns drawn. No one in sight. Just the usual noises found in back alleys leaking out from open screen doors that led to kitchens and backrooms of neighborhood nightlife. Not the nightlife known to the evening revelers, but the gritty side of those working the kitchens and back rooms. “Check that way” Brand told his partner, pointing to the near exit of the alley. Stern went to check that outlet while Brand held his gun at ready, looking behind dumpsters as he worked down the other way. Reaching the street at the far end, Brand checked both directions looking for any clue that Jansen, Gentry or the new mystery woman may still be near. Exasperated at the lack of any sign, he let his gun down to his side. Just then Stern came running back up the alley and joined him at the sidewalk on the cross street. “Damn, Brand. We were that close to catching our killer.” The word killer, the hard sound of it biting into the otherwise still air caught Brand's attention. He had to find out why Jansen and Gentry were chasing the leggy blond. But killer hadn't registered yet. “Killer?” he asked with a wrinkled forehead, that 'what are you talking about' look. Stern handed him the unfolded sketch he had carried in his jacket. “Different hair. Same nose, same eyes. I'm sure of it” he told him. Then he entered his own puzzled look when he asked “What were you chasing her for. You get that turned on sitting at the bar?” Brand shoved the sketch into his partner's chest. “No, jerk. The two chasing her. It was the NSA agent and the other woman I told you about. The ones who broke the news to me about Emily.” “The ones you've been spying on?” Brand didn't answer the question. He didn't need to; not with words. The lack of them was all the clarification that Stern needed. With Brand in front and Stern following, they walked to the street back toward the front of the bar. Turning around, Brand was about to tell his partner he'd see him tomorrow. Before those words left his mouth, he noticed something beyond where Stern stood. At the stoplight was a full-sized black SUV. There were three people in the vehicle. A man and two women. The woman in the back didn't look to happy. The two in the front seemed quite pleased. Brand, wide-eyed and momentarily speechless, pointed at the car giving Stern a clue that something of interest lay behind him. Just as Stern shifted his feet to point the other way, the light changed. The car started to pull away. “It's them.” Brand forced the words out in a panic. “Son of a -”. “Come on.” Brand's adrenaline had started to pump furiously again. “I think I know where they're going.”

12


When the two detectives reached building labeled 47 Square, the SUV was already parked where Brand had last seen it – on the street just in front of the door. Brand had driven, knowing exactly where to go. Gentry had been driving the other car and unless she knew of some super secret time warp short cut, they couldn't have gotten there more than a minute or so before them. Brand didn't even try to be sly tonight. He parked his Toyota Corolla right behind the SUV. The two of them got out of the car, Brand with the conviction of a man on a mission and Stern more cautiously, his hand on the butt of his revolver which hid beneath his jacket in a shoulder holster. The aging streetlight on the corner struggled to keep the area out of darkness. As the two detectives stood on the sidewalk, their shadows formed from the struggling green glow. No one else could be seen from the street. Brand reached the door first and tried to turn the handle. Locked. Big surprise. He knocked. No, he banged on the door. No answer. Another big surprise as if after all the nights he spent casing the dark ominous place that everything would suddenly open up and welcome him in to answer all his questions. Jansen had made it clear that wouldn't happen anytime soon. What was it he did say? 'All in due time.' Something noncommittal like that. There was no door bell and obviously standing at the door was going to be a waste of time. Brand stepped back off the sidewalk into the street. He looked up to the top of the building. No dim amber glow from a smoker's cigarette. “Wait here” he told his partner. “I'm going to try to get in from up there.” Stern took a quick gaze up the side of the building before offering “ARE YOU NUTS?” “Probably, but I have a feeling in my gut that the roof access is open and the fire escape that leads up there is just around the corner.” It was just a two story building. In a half run, he rounded the corner. The fire escape jutted down towards the loading dock halfway around the side of the building. The short ladder that marked its end was a few feet beyond Brand's reach. He tried jumping but it proved to be a vain attempt. Turning to his left, there was what appeared to be a crate of some sort on the far side of the dock. He scrambled for it, a man determined. It was too large to pick up, its girth greater than what his arms could get around for a sufficient hold. He tried pushing it over across the twenty feet of the dock to where the bottom of the fire escape waited. The crate obviously wasn't empty, but whatever its contents, it was no match for a man with average strength but amplified by an overpowering will to get up that ladder. Once positioned below, Brand moved back a few feet and made a short mad dash jumping up to the top of the crate. With his arm outstretched, his fingers could just barely reach the bottom rung. It took a few tries at a straight vertical hop before grasping his fingers around the bar. When he did, the ladder engaged from the track and was pulled lower to the ground by his weight. The two story climb to the roof left Brand breathing somewhat heavily. Not that he wasn't in decent enough shape for a forty something year old. It was more psychological as the anticipation of the pursuit played on his every emotion. He took the steps quickly, the iron structure clattering with each heavy step. The element of surprise may have been lost. He only hoped that the drone of noise which emanated from within the confines of the building had masked his hasty approach up the side. Just before reaching the roof line, Brand slowed his ascent so he could peer over the top of the railings. The roof appeared to be deserted. He made the final few steps and stood 13


on the top of the building. After a quick survey, he identified the spot where the smoker had been seen on previous nights. Between that spot and where he stood was a small structure in the middle of the roof. A structure just big enough to accommodate the doorway that faced him. The door was shut. Brand could feel his heart beating with fervor now. It was the moment of truth. He drew his gun and, cautiously now, approached the door. Call it luck or fate or instinct based on experience, but the door was unlocked. Open, it revealed the top steps to a staircase which lowered into the mystery that had become building 47 Square. Only the top few steps could clearly be seen as the narrow corridor dove down into darkness. Brand felt the wall for a light switch. If there was one there, it eluded the touch of his hand as he swiped it back and forth across the coarse cool surface. With one hand on the gun and the other placed before him as far as his arm would reach, he descended the stairs in search of the door which would lead inside. He counted as he walked down. At the eleventh step he felt what he hoped was the entrance. Two more steps and he was at a narrow landing. He reached in front and found the knob. It turned. Slowly opening the door allowed light from the top floor to come filtering in. He kept the door at a crack and peeked in, getting a view of one direction down a hallway. Voices could be heard further on down but no one was visible. The door inched open a little further and Brand stuck out his head and looked in the other direction. More voices came from a room just down the hall in the direction he now faced. Two voices Brand thought he recognized. And they were getting louder. Brand moved his head in and closed the door back down to just a crack only seconds before the two walked past. Brand chanced another glance just before Jansen and Gentry entered an apparently large room down the hall. They entered through a set of polished aluminum doors that swung open as they pushed in. Brand was so close to solving a six month long mystery that he thought he could taste the adrenaline as it oozed through his every pore. He left the safety of the stairwell and hugged the wall on the opposite side. His gun was held high but at the ready as he made his way to the room that Jensen and Gentry had just entered. With one last deep breath, he rolled out from the wall and pushed open the right door. His legs carried him a mere few feet before he stopped dead in his tracks. His gun remained pointed at the ceiling as if his arm froze in place along with the rest of him. His eyes weren't prepared for what lay before him. Brand probably wasn't prepared to see whatever may have waited for him on the other side of those doors. He didn't know what to expect and in all actuality, he really didn't know what he was looking at now. It looked like some sort of hospital ward. An outpatient clinic of some kind. Although no one was wearing scrubs, or nurse's uniforms or any such garb that would add clarity to the view. What he saw was a row of twelve reclining chairs, a small machine encased in aluminum mounted to the side of each. Two clear flexible tubes came out from the front of the machines. Only four of the chairs were currently occupied and each of the occupants were attached to a device by both tubes – one connected to each hand between their fingers. He knew what dialysis was but had never seen the process in action. At first glance, the untrained eye may have made the assumption that this place was nothing more than that kind of clinic. But there was something odd about it. Everyone knew blood was red. Oxygen starved blood was bluish. Indeed a deep dark red liquid seemed to flow from the machines down through one of the tubes and into the waiting recipients, but on the tube connected to other side, a river of strikingly bright orange seemed to make its way out of three of them. What drained out of the fourth individual was 14


definitely more a rich yellow. Brand felt as though he had fallen into the far end of some worm hole, lost in time and space as he tried to process just what kind of secret lab this was. He may have been standing there for just a few fleeting seconds but consciously he was totally unaware of just how long he had been frozen in place. Until the familiar voice broke the spell. “Brand!” His focus shifted to the person standing off to the side holding a gun pointed directly at him. “Put the gun down, Brand.” It was Jansen. Brand momentarily forgot he had a gun in his hand, but slowly lowered his arm, bent down and placed the weapon on the floor. Gentry walked over and picked it up and then casually walked back and placed it on a counter near where she now stood next to Jansen. Jansen lowered his weapon and maintained a look of astonishment. “How in the hell did you get in here?” he asked incredulously. Brand was at a loss for words. At the moment, he wasn't even sure. The fire escape was just a hazy memory now. All he could think was there was something strange here. He could feel it, and little else. The room was full of people roaming around as they went about their business. But that wasn't the strange part. It was the four individuals in front of him connected to the machines. Four individuals with something totally foreign coming out of them. Four individuals with hands that seemed more out of place now. Hands like Emily had. When he had first met her, the allure that consumed him blinded Brand from the physical oddity. Her mere presence commanded his attention. Her pheromones built unbreakable shackles on the part of the brain that drove men to a blob of jelly. By the time he had noticed the exceptionally long, slender yet muscular fingers extending from her hand, it was just another beautifully unique quality that had him mesmerized into what man had come to call love. Then tonight, there was Andrea. The woman at the bar who had an uncanny resemblance to the suspect for whom they had been searching. Same hands. It could have been Brand's imagination playing tricks on him as the woman began stirring emotions he hadn't felt in some time. It could have been. However, he was pretty sure that the four sitting in front of him now were not his imagination. The sound of Jansen's voice brought him to the realization that what he saw was all too real. Jansen looked to his partner Gentry. They were confused. It was nothing short of eerie that Brand should show up this way tonight. Tonight of all nights. After months of them dancing around Brand, watching him watching them outside the building night after night, and then to have him show up on the eve of his clearance to be indoctrinated. “Your timing is impeccable, Brand.” “My timing?” Now Brand's confusion grew. “Just what is going on here?” Jansen looked back to Gentry. “Like they say, 'no time like the present'” was her response. Jansen pointed in the direction behind them. A door led out of the clinical room in which they had been standing. Further mysteries of the building lurked beyond. “Follow me.” Brand followed Jansen with Gentry closing the ranks behind them. They entered a short hall that ended at a large office near the other end. Jansen signaled Brand to enter. “Have a seat” Jansen said pointing to a conference table that was off to the right. To the left were two desks. The nameplates positioned in front indicated that this was Jansen and Gentry's office. Brand picked the first chair on the near side of the conference table, leaving two others 15


empty to his right. Gentry walked to the opposite side and sat across from their guest. She clasped her hands in front of her and rested them on the table, sitting rigidly upright. This was the first time since their initial meeting that Brand had been close enough to Serena Gentry allowing him to notice the physical trait which quickly became clear as at the center of everything. After picking up a black folder that had been left waiting on the center of his desk, Jansen joined them at the head of the table near where the other two sat. He opened the folder and pulled out the top sheet of paper and placed it in front of Brand along with a pen. “Ready or not, this is the day you have been waiting for. Due to the circumstances of how our operation has become entwined in your life, first with Emily, and then with your undying reluctance to accept that which had come to transpire, those who direct our project have agreed to take the risk with you. Sign this.� Brand immediately noticed the round emblem that adorned the top of the paper. He wasn't sure if he had actually seen it before, but it did look authentic. The eagle in the middle with a chest of red and white surrounded by the words 'National Security Administration' and 'United States of America'. Below the seal – 'Oath of Confidentiality'. Brand looked up from the sheet and glanced at the other two sitting at the table. They were staring back at him. There were no smiles. This was all business. And then there was Jansen's dark seemingly government issued suit. Gentry's attire was not as staunch yet Brand had no doubt that this was the real deal. He focused back down, picked up the waiting pen and signed the document without reading it. He'd seen the movies. What did he have to loose. Except life as he had known it. At least Brand would have the answers that he had been hell bent on discovering, one way or another. The two began Brand's indoctrination. One night in 1947, the event took place. There were many people who saw it, but luckily for the NSA, most could be convinced that it was easily explained. The story was a weather balloon. Anything else was merely their imaginations running away with them. There were a number who wouldn't be dismissed so easily. Most of them were made out to be crackpots. The remainder of the witnesses who wouldn't fall in with the official line were silenced in ways necessary to maintain national security. It wasn't little green men with large heads and oval eyes lying in the field near Roswell, New Mexico after the crash. The craft lost control outside of town after dark and it was nothing short of miraculous that there were as many survivors as there were. Only three perished in a blaze. The remaining forty seven met with varying degrees of injuries, but were treatable by even the primitive form of medicine known to man at the time. Those forty seven went on to formulate their new lives on the strange planet they were forced to call home, their ship destroyed beyond repair with only Earthly resources at their disposal. Nearly identical to humans in most outwardly physical ways, but requiring special treatment to survive in a new hostile environment. Forty seven alien beings, stranded on Earth in nineteen forty seven. The event that had become known as Forty Seven Square. And the name chosen for their secret treatment facilities so that they may cohabit obscurely with the rest of mankind. It seems that all complex creatures of the universe share the need for a biological component that we call blood. While the aliens are similar in many ways, their bodies evolved to thrive in the atmosphere indigenous to their home planet. There blood is naturally yellow. In order to survive in our atmosphere, they need the elements found in human blood. 16


Unfortunately, our red blood does not self sustain in their foreign bodies. After about thirty days, it has degraded to the point of needing to be replaced. An alien oil change. Forty Seven Square is the top secret facility located in all major cities to perform that function. Brand calmly sat and took in the information. Somehow, it didn't seem like a far-fetched idea. He liked sci-fi movies. He was more than amused to speculate with other conspiracy theories that Roswell was indeed one of the biggest government coverups in the history of man. Perhaps he always wanted to believe it was true. And from the what he could see there wasn't any reason to doubt the seriousness of tone coming from the two before him. Especially the woman on the opposite side of the table. The one with the sensually long muscular fingers – a trait that Brand had once found to be just another unique feature of the one he loved. Now, he knew Emily had been one of them. But then he remembered the brutal murders; victims methodically drained of their blood. The idea brought a wretched sick feeling to his stomach. He only hoped the connection was something other than what he was thinking. “The murders” he said looking into the eyes of Jansen. He abruptly turned his glance to face Serena Gentry. “Your need for blood. Is that your source.” It must have been a shock to have such an accusation thrown to her. It took a few seconds for her serious face to dissolve into one that fought to keep back the bellow of laughter. The first sign of levity that either of them had shown since the meeting began. “I'm sorry Detective Brand. This is rude of me.” She understood that there must still be a multitude of holes in the scenario they had unfolded to him. “We're not cannibalistic, at least not as a species in general. The blood has been produced in the lab by special techniques that is technically possible to meet our needs.” “So, what was your interest with the woman in the bar?” Brand asked trying to stay as open minded as possible. Jansen spoke up. “Apparently, Brand, the existence of sick, barbaric criminals is not unique to the human race. Unfortunately, there are those aliens who get a high from supplying their own source for human blood. We have an even higher stake in apprehending those individuals than the rest of the law enforcement community. You see, we can't risk having their true nature revealed. So they must all be dealt with under the radar by us at this facility. Dead or alive. Dead. Or alive. The words rang in his ears like an incessant echo. His wife's face flashed before him. “Emily?” What had she been caught in? The woman who was as sweet and caring as anyone he had ever known. His face fell to show someone who had just lodged a thought of unfathomable possibilities. “ You don't mean...” His words trailed off, incapable of finishing the thought. “No Brand. Emily is not a murderer” Jansen assured him. “But she is a threat to national security.” “Threat to national security?” Brand couldn't even begin to think of how the woman he had loved would be a threat to anyone or anything, much less national security. But he based his feelings on the woman he knew and not the part of her that she insisted on keeping private. “Just what was her job with you people.” You people. Suddenly it occurred to him that the phrase was somehow ambiguous. “Her job is really not the issue here” said Jansen. “She was a liaison between Forty Seven Square and human society. It was you who complicated matters for us, even if it was 17


unbeknownst to you.” “Me? What do I have to do with any of this? I never knew who she was, what she was a part of. She never wanted to talk about what she did. I just loved her enough, it didn't seem to matter, and it mattered less to me as time went on.” “The only problem Brand is that it all started to matter too much to her.” Jansen sighed. He actually liked Brand and wasn't sure how to break the news. Serena Gentry decided that perhaps it would be better if she interceded. “You see, we never thought it was a good idea for one of us to get involved with one of you, not on an intimate level.” She sounded as if she felt empathy for the man, but it was a truth that needed to be said. “It would only lead to complications. We understand how relationships are hard enough without having to harbor the secrets we each carry with us.” She paused but for a second looking down at the table where her hands remained clasped together before adding “But...” The word hung in the air like a guillotine waiting to fall. Brand looked up waiting for the bomb to drop. “But because of the relationship she formed with you, your family and friends, the secret lost its purpose with her. She thought it was time to expose us for what we are.” Jansen had a hard time reading Brand's reaction so he had to ask. The answer to the question would also be the answer as to whether or not Brand could be trusted to become part of the organization. “Tell me, Brand, do you think mankind is ready for the realization that aliens live among us, even if they aren't little green men with pointy heads and big oval eyes, but beings that are just a little bit different from you and me?” Brand thought about it before answering. He wasn't blind to the injustices of the world as it was. All the prejudices and bigotry. Jews and Muslims. Blacks and Whites. Homosexuals and rednecks. He'd like to think we could all accept one another and live together without fear or resentment. Aliens? Well that could be a whole new fire that he honestly couldn't say how it would burn. “Probably not yet. Not until we can work out the existing problems among us.” Jansen let a smile creep slightly across his lips. Brand was going to be all right. “Then you see our predicament” Jansen said. “You see why she is a threat.” That was reassuring somehow, but yet there was something odd about what he just heard. Just a little nuance that makes all the difference. Little things he listens for when doing interrogations. And it hit him what it was. “Is a threat? Did you say – is?” A mirror hung on the wall behind where Jansen sat. Up until now he had not given it a thought but when Jansen made a jester in that direction, it became obvious. Of course. The room looked like just an ordinary office, not an interrogation room. but the two way mirror on the wall now gave it all away. He was being watched. Footsteps followed the squeak of a door opening to the hall. The door to the office remained open and all eyes moved in that direction in anticipation. Jansen and Gentry knew what was coming. They only hoped that Brand was ready for it. The woman stopped in the middle of the doorway and looked sheepishly at the man she had been taken from seven months ago. Brand stood and froze. Emily, with tears rolling down her cheeks said “I'm sorry.” She shuttered a deeply emotional cry that only made her tremble. “I didn't think that it would ruin everything.” Brand swiftly eliminated the distance that remained were they stood, put his arm 18


around Emily's waist and gazed into the lovely caring eyes he thought he would never see again. He kissed her with passion that emanated so much energy that nothing known to man would have been able to separate them. Alien or not, he loved her. After a moment, he turned to the two still sitting at the table with a sudden realization. “Does this mean we are both prisoners now?” Brand asked. Even assuming that the answer would most likely be yes, he didn't care as long as they were together. Jansen and Gentry consulted one another with a brief consultation that consisted of silently reading each others minds as they glanced to one another. The clearance that came for Brand from NSA headquarters just earlier today came with certain stipulations. “Perhaps we can make a deal.” The box sat nearly full on top of the bench. Brand was nearly finished clearing out his locker. He reached to the far recesses of the top shelf just to make sure he hadn't left anything important behind. All that was left was an old photograph of him and his partner taken when they first paired up. It felt like a lifetime ago now. Immersed in the memories it brought back, he didn't hear someone walk to the doorway directly behind him. Stern leaned against the door jam looking at his partner's back. His ex-partner. That would take some getting used to. He still couldn't believe it. “You sure about this Jason?” Jason Brand put the picture into the box along with the rest of his stuff. He turned to look at his long time friend. “Yeah, Jack.” It was the first time they had called each other by their first names in at least five years together. “Of course I'm sure.” “The NSA? They recruited you just like that?” Jack Stern was baffled by the sudden development. Considering the emotional roller coaster Jason had been on because of those people, he wasn't sure if it made sense. “Apparently they discovered a diamond in the rough that would be beneficial to their organization.” Stern didn't know what to make of that comment. He thought about it. But maybe it was for the best if it brought him closure. Balancing the box in one hand, Brand extended the other to his old partner. “See you Stern.” Stern shook his hand without a word. Brand walked past him into the hallway. “So, you never told me” said Stern. “What are you going to be working on?” “Classified.” He kept walking and disappeared at the next turn.

19

Forty Seven Square  

An original short story by Howard Freedman. A little sci-fi, a little mystery.

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