Updated: February 2, 2023

The Plot

Abi Spencer awakens to an empty house with what feels like a SWAT-Team converging onto her property. Without any knowledge of why and her husband Brad nowhere to be found, she slips out of the house and on the run into a high-tech nightmare she could not have imagined, with an enemy that is seemingly relentless.

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Chapter One

Ominous storm clouds rolled through the skies over Orchard Mills just shortly past midnight.  By twelve-fifteen, the first signs of rain began to softly drum against Abigail Spencer’s bedroom window.  Still half asleep, she mumbled softly to herself and rolled over, fluffing up the feathers inside her pillow and then sinking back down into it, her breath coming and going evenly. 

By the time the digital clock on the bedside table silently changed to 4:49, the storm had reached gale strength.  The soft rumble of distant thunder was replaced with earsplitting thunderbolts that brought Abi quickly up out of bed.  Absently moving across the room, she reached for the white plush robe that Brad had slid from her shoulders just hours ago before discarding it at her feet.  She pulled it up and around her body now, at the same time trying to clear her groggy mind. 

“Brad?” she whispered as she turned to face the other side of the bed.  The covers had been tossed aside, and surveying the room, she found herself alone.  Hmm, she thought, perhaps he decided to polish off that Italian takeout after all? 

Humming an old Coldplay tune to herself, she left the room and made her way down the hall to the top of the stairs and began her descent.  As she rounded the banister on the landing, something outside the window glimmered briefly and caught her eye.  The boat house.  What are the boat house lights doing on at one o’clock in the morning?  Only she wasn’t positive the light was actually coming from the boat house.  She waited patiently until the next bolt of lightning had come and gone.  When the strobe-like brightness had faded, the glow coming from the boat house remained, reflected several times over in a drop of rain rolling slowly down the pane of glass. 

Turning, Abi descended the remaining stairs, and entered the kitchen.  She called out again for Brad just in case he was in the house, with the steady clicking of the living room clock as her only answer.  Returning briefly to the bedroom, she dressed, grabbed her cell, ran back downstairs, slid into an old comfortable pair of Brooks and pulled her windbreaker down from the hook by the entryway.  Just as she was about to go outside, she realized she would need an umbrella, for the kitchen windows were being pelted with a steady stream of rain.  After grabbing the umbrella from the hall closet, she stepped out into the strengthening storm.   

Nearly losing her grip on the umbrella’s handle due to a fierce wind, Abi made quick work of the journey to the boat house, careening to the ground only once while sloshing her way through mud puddles as thick as pancake batter.  Panting as she reached the boathouse door, she took hold of the doorknob and rotated it to the right, while at the same time putting the bulk of her body weight against its wooden frame.  The door did not move.  “Fuck.” she muttered to herself, then proceeded to reach deep into the pocket of the windbreaker to withdraw the keys to unlock the door.  The key slid easily into the lock and Abi twisted it to the left.  The sound of the tumblers releasing signaled that the door was now free to open, so she tried the knob again.  This time, the wooden door creaked open, thudding loudly against the wall inside.   

Initially, the light from inside blinded Abi to what lay beyond the door, but soon her vision cleared and she found herself alone in the empty building.  Water lapped softly against the hull of the Spencer’s Bayliner, and except for that and the sound of thunder outside, the room was silent. 

 To Abi’s right was a worktable covered with a number of boating necessities:  an open container of Pennzoil Marine Oil; a tattered fish locating map purchased eons ago from Big Earl’s Bait & Tackle on the way to a fishing expedition on Saylorwell Lake; an open-faced reel with its guts lying on the table next to it, as if once apart, its owner couldn’t put it back together again.  Well, she smiled to herself, Brad was never much of a do-it-yourselfer. 

Without warning, something slapped gruffly against Abi’s ankle.  The blow however wasn’t hard enough to cause her to lose her balance.  Spinning around, she scanned the floor at her feet.  What she discovered there momentarily left her gulping for air.   

Propelled from the water was an arm that once again took aim at her ankle, and the opportunity to knock Abi off her feet.  The second blow was a bit higher than the first, and packed considerably more power behind it.  For a miniscule moment, she thought she would be able to retain her stability, but seconds later she felt herself falling into the cold shock of the very deep and darkened lake. 

Breaking the surface of the water, she reached for the wooden post that moored the Bayliner inside the boathouse.  Her fingers grazed its edge, but then she was ripped from the shore and forced beneath the lake’s surface.  Kicking at her attacker with her free leg, she desperately tried to tear her foot from the man’s grasp.  She could feel the need for oxygen burning her lungs as the man slowing pulled her deeper into the water and away from the safety of the boathouse. 

I’m going to die.  Could I really die in practically my own backyard?  Her body was steadily being pulled out and along the shore of the lake, perhaps twenty yards down the south shore.  Still beneath the water‘s surface, her body screamed for air.  But then, strangely, the movement stopped.  Abi began fighting with renewed energy, as the man slowly raised his arms to her face and placed huge hands over her mouth.  Damn.  Damn.  Damn.  Her mind said haul off and belt him, but her latest attack had melted away her strength and she now felt utterly helpless.   

Unexpectedly, the water became darker and Abi found herself staring at the worn insides of a rowboat.  Disorienting at first, the boat had been inverted in the water and bound to the shore by a rope connected to the remains of a dock Brad had altered for the purpose of keeping the boat’s metal inside from frying its occupants when they first got in.  The storm’s power had begun to wane, but a steady machine gun sound continued to pelt the underside of the boat.  A small pocket of air above the water line and below the bottom of the boat allowed Abi to inhale her first breath in what seemed an eternity.  In reality, the whole ordeal took place in just under two minutes.     

“Abi,” the man whispered into her ear. 

“Oh my God, but what…?” she spat incredulously.     

Brad attempted to again cover her mouth, but she peeled his hand away, turning to face him.  “What the hell are you doing?” she muttered, with a mixture of shock, anger, and fear. 

“Ssshh,” he whispered.  “Be still, and we’ll find a way out of this.” 

Seconds passed quietly by, accompanied only by the dissipating rain and the soft chirping of crickets coming from the thatch of weeds growing close to the water’s edge.   

Abi’s eyes had at last adjusted to the darkness under the boat, and she looked at Brad with pleading eyes.  “Please…,” she hesitated, lowering her voice.   “Please tell me what’s going on?  What are we hiding from?” she murmured under her breath. 

In the eerie darkness, his reply hung fearfully in the air.  “It’s not what babe…it’s who.” 

 Brad knew that the next moments would be crucial to any hope he had of getting himself and his wife of nearly four years to safety, so he silently hoped that the action he was about to take would somehow be right.  Turning to face Abi and explain, he was stunned to discover that, like a ghost, she had slipped away and vanished into the murky water. 

Clawing her way up a steep and impossibly muddy bank, Abi pulled herself from the frigid water.  Through a small grove of pines near the shore, she could see movement both inside and outside their home.  Although the distance was too far to know with certainty, she could swear that one of the men was holding what appeared to be a gun.  “What is this all about?” she whispered to no one, shivering as she made her way behind a particularly large tree.   

Recalling that she had abandoned Brad behind in the lake, she turned around and began making what she hoped was a silent and uneventful trek back to the rowboat.  As she was approaching the water, from the corner of her eye, she spotted one of the men from the house making his way to the same spot.  Ducking quickly behind a tree, she watched the man with horror as he unloaded a pistol into the bottom of the rowboat she had moments ago deserted. 

For nearly a full minute, the shock froze Abi’s feet in place behind the pine tree she had used as cover.  Coming to the realization of what she had witnessed, she began to slowly back away, slipping further into the safety of the grove’s many trees. 

The gunman eased his way down the bank, entered the water with a flashlight in hand, and made his way out to the rowboat.  With his free hand, he lifted the boat up to get a better look at what lie beneath.  From the pale pink tinge of water that shone underneath, he knew that his bullets had struck their intended target.  A slight smile appeared on his face as his flashlight beam first encountered the face of Brad Spencer, bloodied and lifeless. 

Chapter Two

At first stumbling backwards through the wooded countryside, Abi slowly increased her pace, eventually turning to run the last hundred yards or so through the copse of trees at a dead run.  Reaching the edge of the thicket, she bent over, placing her hands on her knees and inhaling deeply until her breathing slowed again to a more manageable pace. 

Trees began to thin out as Abi reached the edge of the Spencer’s acreage.  Hazarding a quick glance back to the darkened path that she’d just traversed, she saw no immediate signs of those in pursuit.  

Paralleling the property’s edge was a dirt service road that led to an old and somewhat dilapidated garage.  The building was a holdover from the original owners dating back to the early thirties, and Abi thought if a strong wind began to blow, it would be reduced to a ramshackle pile of wood in short order.  Brad had always talked about tearing the thing down, but then Abi’s father began storing an old Ford pickup in the garage soon after they had moved in, and they couldn’t bring themselves to take it down and leave the truck to the mercy of the elements. 

Over the years, a barren, dirt path had been worn around the perimeter of the garage, and like so many times before, Abi silently walked the muddied path to the opposite side of the structure.  A sliver moon cast a ghostly shade of blue against the aged wood as Abi approached the side entry door.  Before pulling it open, she wiped a small swath of window clean with the sleeve of her still damp windbreaker and peered into the darkness beyond.  Sensing no danger from unseen occupants, she gradually pulled open the door and slipped inside. 

Cupping her hands to her eyes and leaning against the passenger-side window of her father’s pickup, she strained in weak, filtered moonlight to see if the keys were in the ignition.  With almost a detached realization, she detected movement at the window on the opposite side of the garage.  Concerned, yet refusing to yield to panic, Abi moved swiftly around the front of the vehicle to the driver’s side door, yanking it open, just as the window over her left shoulder shattered.  Briefly hampered by the explosive blizzard of glass, Abi nonetheless slid in behind the wheel of the Ford, gripping the steering wheel and sliding her right hand down to the ignition, returning with only air as her hand came up empty.   

Cursing under her breath, she franticly began searching the car for keys, slipping her hands beneath the mats with no success.  Where would he put them? she thought to herself, popping open the glove box and throwing its contents to the floor.  An unmistakable jingle signaled that the keys had been stored within the compartment’s contents. Snagging them from under the passenger seat, she pulled herself to a sitting position, and came face to face with the shooter, who was rounding the edge of the vehicle just as Abi was about to crank the key in the ignition to bring the Ford’s engine coughing to life.   

With unnatural swiftness, Abi felt a vise-like grip take hold of her throat as a handgun came to rest at the side of her temple.  Hastily formulating the genesis of a plan of escape, she slid down in the seat, while at the same time thrusting her left arm out, making direct contact with the outside of the gunman’s elbow with enough force to send the gun skating from his hand and into the darkness of the truck’s underbelly. 

Wrenching the driver’s side door fully open, the gunman entered the pickup’s cab, forcing Abi to search blindly for the passenger side handle, pressing her back painfully into the door itself.  Soon she could feel the cold metal as her hand encircled it, jerking up, only to find the door locked. 

“You are one huge pain in the ass, lady,” the gunman barked at Abi as a hairy-knuckled fist came flying forward, connecting solidly with her face, resulting in an explosion of excruciating pain.  Knocking her nearly unconscious, she nevertheless was able to grasp a chamois towel from the floor of the Ford and propel her arm forward with enough power to sink a six-inch shard of broken window glass into the gunman’s exposed collarbone with a gruesome slicing motion.  “I’m sure you meant ‘pain in the neck’,” she softly whispered as the man’s body fell onto her own. 

Extricating herself as best she could from beneath the dead man’s bulk, Abi reached back over her shoulder, unlocking the door and pushing it open.  Crawling back into the cab, she slid her arms under the man’s back and began tugging under his armpits to lug him free from the truck.  Although her frame appeared to be thin and the thought of her hauling the man out quickly may have seemed amusing, numerous years of cross-country running coupled with regular strength training and kickboxing made the task considerably less difficult.  With a disconcerting thud, the body dropped soundly to the garage’s cement floor.   

With a sense of urgency, Abi dragged the gunman back to a darkened corner of the garage.  In an attempt to reduce the chance of the body being found immediately, she pulled an auto tarp down from a shelf above and rashly threw it over the corpse, the thought of the gruesome blood trail on the floor giving her away never entering her mind.  Several lawn chairs stacked nearby were plucked from a pile to serve to anchor the tarp to the floor. 

After unlocking the garage door latch from inside, she returned to the pickup, jumped into the driver’s seat, closing the door behind her with what seemed like enough noise to wake the dead.  Glancing back to the tarp, she was relieved to note however that her attacker had fortunately remained in his recently acquired state of lifelessness.  A brash attack of uncontrolled, terrorized laughter suddenly took over at the thought of the dead man returning to life, and it took fully a minute to regain her composure.    

The timeworn leather of the truck’s seat was now covered with copious amounts of wet, but somewhat tacky blood.  The interior itself stank of a harsh, metallic scent, and after nearly retching, Abi snatched the chamois towel from the floor and wiped as much of the red substance from the seat to the floor. 

Gripping the ignition key in her hand once more, she turned it and felt the vehicle sputter to life, although as always, the engine was a bit rough and had a tendency to cut out until it was fully warmed up.  “Thank you, God,” she whispered aloud to herself as the engine hit its stride and, gripping the knobby and stiff gear shift handle, she engaged the clutch and accelerator, and slipped into first gear. 

Abruptly, the side door again swung open and a second gunman entered the garage, meeting Abi’s wide eyes with his own steely gaze.  Enough already, she thought to herself.  Without hesitation, she tromped on the accelerator, kicking the Ford into action, plowing through the double garage doors like the proverbial runaway locomotive, sending pieces of splintered and rotting wood flying in multiple directions, with the open door flopping in the wind. 

Gathering speed as she navigated the deep, sloppy ruts on the edge of the field that served as a road, she chanced a fleeting look back and was rewarded with several gunshot rounds careening off the truck bed, the last one shattering the back window and lodging itself into the dashboard just above her father’s police scanner (ancient, but hopefully operational, she thought to herself). How she managed to reach over and close the door in the midst of the barrage of gunfire was anyone’s guess. 

Realizing that her escape had only been dumb luck, Abi concentrated on closing the distance to the main road that would bring her to what she hoped was safety, not knowing that the trip would be far rockier than the ruts beneath her tires, and that safety would return, if at all, in the form of a face she would struggle to recognize. 

Chapter Three

Caroline Kramer had had just about as much Law & Order and Maury Povich reruns as she could stand for one day…actually three days if you were counting, which of course, when it came to a throbbing migraine, she most definitely was.  Maury had presented the shocking story of a young man who denied in no certain terms that he had fathered a child with his stepmother, resulting in a profanity-laced fist fight with his father, the audience enraptured by the sheer spectacle, shouting and egging the men on.  The camera panned over to Povich, who was encouraging them to talk it out, while simultaneously filming every second of the confrontation.   

She had left her lab late Monday morning, feeling a most intense episode coming on, and her headache meds had yet to significantly temper the pain.  She found it strange that she wasn’t experiencing the usual bouts of nausea associated with the onset of the migraine, but being a chronic sufferer, she simply began popping the melt away tablets she still had on hand, washing them down out of habit with Classic Coke, and patiently waiting for relief. 

Caroline had worked as Director of Research and Development for MA1 in their complex just outside of Branson, Missouri for nearly six years.  MA1 was an acronym for MedAmerica One, Inc., a Fortune 500 company that partnered with leading pharmaceutical companies to develop sophisticated drugs and improved therapies, selling the successful results to a variety of clients from around the globe.  Caroline never failed to marvel and wonder at what sometimes seemed like a supernatural ability in her staff to discover and render simple scientific compounds into complex medical miracles.  She only wished now that her own miracle would arrive and she could get off the sofa and back to work. 

Although forty-three, Caroline had a healthy youthfulness about her, with a flawless complexion, luminous hair the color of a deep Merlot wine, and an independent spirit that proved quite popular with her male colleagues, both young and old.  She was also both outgoing and approachable, often finding others confiding in her the most intimate details of their lives and feeling their appreciation for the sage advice she was able to provide. 

Closing her eyelids in an attempt to relax, Caroline found her thoughts drifting back to her most recent run-in with Dr. Theodore Thompson at MA1.  Serious doubts had cropped up in her mind over the past few months regarding initial implementation findings and testing relating to their latest project, the “Medical Access Retrieval Quest” program, or “MARQ” as most of the team jokingly referred to it within the walls of the complex. 

In the mid-nineties, the United States Congress passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA as its acronym came to be known.  The bill was signed into law in 1996 by President Clinton and served to ensure that access to health insurance was available to U.S. workers and their families should they change or even lose their jobs.   

Among many other provisions, HIPAA set the groundwork for privacy rules which would become effective in April of 2003.  The 2003 portion of the law impacted both health care providers as well as the patients they served, regulating the use and disclosure of protected health information, or PHI.  Protected Health Information covered a wide myriad of actions and information, including any information on a person’s health status, specific care being provided, payment for said healthcare…virtually anything pertaining to a person’s medical record. From an administrative viewpoint, the privacy rules complicated tenfold the requirements put on healthcare providers.

The Marq project being developed by MA1 tapped into solving the administration issues felt by healthcare providers, as well as making patient appointments more efficient and PHI more convenient and secure, resulting in a decreased cost to providers and patients.  Much of the project utilized radio frequency identification (RFID), a technology pioneered in the 1930’s for espionage by the Soviets and employed later in that decade by the Allies during World War II to differentiate Allied airplanes from those of the enemy. 

The passive tracking device literally exploded with possibilities and applications later in the century.  Among them, lost pets were reunited with their grateful owners, shoplifting attempts at the Wal-Marts and Targets of the world were thwarted, automobile thefts decreased dramatically (embedded devices within the keys would only allow a car to start if the proper RFID code was present) – even library books were no longer illegally and permanently checked out. 

With the passage of HIPAA, coupled with the successful implantation of microchip RFID devices into animals and ongoing testing with humans, MA1 was in the unique position of revolutionizing the healthcare delivery system.   

Caroline’s team used the RFID system as a springboard to develop an implantable, biologically pure device capable of storing an individual’s complete medical history record, with an additional terabyte of space available for non-medical related information the patient may wish to upload.  Uploads to the chip could include anything from a person’s military record, an airline itinerary, even their favorite Spotify playlist.  Using a secure internet site, a participant in the program could transfer to their chip directly from any computer in the world nearly any data they chose to send.   

Security of the system is where Caroline and Dr. Thompson philosophically parted ways.  Thompson was motivated by the idea of mass acceptance of MARQ, transforming the technology into the latest fad or chic accessory for an always hungry commercial audience to devour.  Caroline felt that it should be used only with individuals who fell into the highest medical risk demographic, including those patients afflicted with Alzheimer’s, heart related issues, COVID-19 or other medical conditions that would benefit from healthcare providers having instant access to their medical information.  Harnessing the ability to locate a patient experiencing dementia symptoms or unable to communicate with those providing assistance would save lives as well, Caroline insisted. 

Thompson had iterated repeatedly in staff meetings that economically, the product would be a virtual financial goldmine for MA1, and being expensive initially to produce, mass acceptance would be the most expedient way to recover the company’s initial investment.  Caroline favored a safer, more phased in approach to the masses, knowing that privacy in the world today was of paramount importance to everyone, specifically noting the worldwide backlash that came from draconian methods of handling the Covid-19 vaccination rollouts and the scandals it produced.  

“Doctor, Doctor…can’t you see I’m burning, burning…” fractured the quiet in Caroline’s family room, as the Thompson Twins’ 1984 synth-pop hit bounced jauntily from the tiny speaker within her pink iPhone.  Shifting her position on the couch, she reached behind to snatch the phone from the couch table, touching the screen and mumbling a quick “Kramer” into the receiver.   

“Caroline, this is Theodore.  How are we feeling this afternoon?”  Theodore Thompson was very particular about being called Theodore vs. Ted, and fancied himself somewhat of an up-and-comer. 

“Ted, I obviously couldn’t imagine how you may be feeling, but as for me, I’d say not a hundred percent, but thankfully improving,” she replied with a forced sunniness, as what felt like a lightning bolt shot through her skull.  Subconsciously, she thought to add “you egotistical, condescending bastard” to her reply, but thought better of it.  

“Thrasher called a mandatory security meeting for all execs for tomorrow morning, and made special note of your absence.  He was a bit of an ass, but wanted me to contact you and make sure you attend.  So, you will be there, will you not?” 

Caroline paused a moment to ride out the pulse of the headache before replying.  “Ted, I would be back to work this minute if I could, but my head still feels like someone drove a Range Rover from one ear to the other without benefit of a muffler.  Tell Maxwell that I will do my best to make it in the morning.  What time is the meeting anyway?” 

It was almost as if she could hear his prissy haughtiness broadcast through the phone line.  A brief, self-important sigh followed.  “Precisely nine o’clock in the morning, in the presentation boardroom on eleven.” 

“Any idea what the subject will be?” 

“He was a bit cryptic but mentioned special security procedures…not sure what that means, and as always, he really didn’t elaborate,” Thompson said as if disappointed to be excluded from Thrasher’s inner circle.  “Well, my task is complete.  Do rest up this evening so we can have the pleasure of your company in the morning.”  The call was abruptly disconnected without another word.

Chapter Four

Bits of gravel flew from beneath the Ford’s tires as Abi surged from the mud packed service road onto their driveway at an exorbitant speed, wrestling the wheel and the road to maintain control.  Rounding the east side of the house, she saw with alarm that a black SUV was barreling through a field on a direct collision course for her pickup, its headlights bouncing erratically against the night.  Navigating the incline at the end of the driveway with jarring results, she clipped the mailbox on nearly two wheels, narrowly missing the ditch on the far side, eventually righting herself and plunging down the country road, leaving a curtain of dust in her wake. 

Scarcely trailing by more than a minute at most, the black Chevy Tahoe burst through the remnants of the dissipating dust cloud, setting its sights on the relic pickup quickly becoming a smaller target as it gained speed further down the road.   

“That shit pile of metal had better be getting a whole lot bigger soon, Meredith.” the man riding shotgun shouted at the young woman piloting the Tahoe.  Meredith diverted her gaze from the road momentarily to send a “get the hell off my back” look to her superior, and returned to the chase at hand. 

“Perhaps you’d like to take the wheel?” she replied coyly, mocking him in a cold detached voice.   

“Just step the hell on it and move!” he bellowed.  An invisible wall of ice came up between them as Meredith fumed in silence and pushed the accelerator closer to the floor.  Speeding forward, the Tahoe began closing the existing gap between itself and Abi, nearly to the point of the chase being over. 

Grasping the wheel in her left hand in a white-knuckled grip, Abi bent forward to retrieve the pistol from the floor, sickeningly unnerved by the stickiness of the blood covering both the seat and carpet.  The myriad of junk she had thrown from the glove box earlier only made the task more difficult to perform while still remaining solidly on the road.  Hurriedly her hands and eyes grazed across several maps, a cell phone car charger, and a Phillips screwdriver, eventually coming to rest on the blunt but smooth surface of the gunman’s discarded Glock.  Visibly displaying a sense of relief at having a weapon in which to defend herself, Abi now changed gears mentally to constructing a viable plan of escape from the Tahoe in pursuit. 

The dark expanse of the lake rose from the east as the Ford crested a hill and arced to the left.  Further down the shore, Abi could just make out the outline of Saylorwell Lighthouse, as well as the lake’s outlet to the Atlantic Ocean.  Despite the windows being tightly rolled up, a pungent, briny scent filled the cab’s interior. Eyeing the rearview mirror, she was pleased that her knowledge of the area had blessed her with a slightly growing lead over the SUV, and she pounded the gas to take advantage of it.   

Although her father’s pickup was somewhat senescent, his constant care and almost loving upkeep served to ensure that the race could still be a winnable one.  Virtually flying down the county road, Abi approached the Pennae Prisciae Covered Bridge, soaring across the old trusses as if she had suddenly sprouted wings.  Forcing a hard turn to her right, she guided the truck through several hairpin turns along the lake’s rugged and craggy coastline, watching as the lighthouse began to take on solid shape from within the formerly haunting fog. 

A current of excitement made its way down Abi’s spine as she began to believe the worst was behind her.  A gentle curve guided the Ford down a slope towards town, and there was no sign of the Tahoe in the rear-view mirror.  The feel of the Glock in her hand only deepened her growing sense of safety.   

A small forest lined each side of the road bordering the lake, and upon entering this area, the dark night sky transformed itself into an even darker shade of ebony.  Picking up speed, Abi cruised down the hill and began winding her way nearly to the edge of town, the only noticeable sign of life being the headlights of a lone vehicle coming toward her at a steady clip itself from a mile or more away.  Surely that can’t be them? she thought momentarily before scoffing and dismissing the thought.  The storm clouds had vanished, and the rain had abruptly ceased in the past hour without Abi even taking note of the change.  Odd how staying alive can make you oblivious to the most mundane of everyday occurrences, she contemplated to herself, punching the accelerator to the floor. 

In the interest of caution, Abi decided to temporarily leave the main road, sidling her way across the narrow causeway which led to the Saylorwell Light.  For many years, access to the lighthouse itself had been restricted to the Head Keeper and his family only.  Eventually the children grew up and were college bound, leaving both Bertha and Henry “Wickie” Wellington alone to tend to the duties of running the lighthouse on a daily basis.  As time began to take its toll on the Wellingtons’ health, the lighthouse began to fall into disrepair, ultimately coming under the county’s jurisdiction and management in the late nineties at the death of Bertha Wellington.  After renovations and upgrades to the property, the lighthouse was opened to the public, instantly becoming a popular regional destination for New England tourists.   

Pulling the Ford into a small culvert near the rear of the property that blocked its view from the main road, Abi slipped out of the vehicle and made her way past a rugged sign detailing the history of the site, finding herself moving off the path to seek refuge in what appeared to be a cellar attached to the old lighthouse.  The doors jutted out at a forty-five-degree angle from the building.  Several gardening tools flanked their right side – a rake, a dirt-encrusted spade, as well as a pair of well-worn gardening gloves.  Ignoring these, Abi braced her foot against the left door, opened the right side, and descended the stone steps into the darkness, letting the door close loudly with a clamor. Making her way down decaying cement steps one at a time in near blackness, Abi reached a heavy, arched door.  Finding it slightly ajar, she eased the door back with an eerie creak, finding herself in the basement level of the lighthouse.   Stepping gingerly forward in anticipation of obstacles littering the floor, hands splayed out in front of her for navigation, Abi’s fingers eventually connected with a damp and somewhat slimy-feeling red brick and mortar wall.  Odd as it seemed, her thoughts went immediately to the haunted houses she frequented with her high school girlfriends years before, particularly where grapes where peeled and used to simulate eyeballs.  As close as she could discern, that is what the ragged surface inside the lighthouse felt like – that or some kind of clammy amphibian hidden away in the crannies of the room had found its way up to where she’d placed her hand. 

Shaking off the sensation of slime and freakish creatures on the loose, Abi turned and immediately banged her head into something hard enough for fireworks to explode within her line of vision.  Although under normal circumstances, she was a church-going, well-disciplined individual, before she could stop herself, she’d blurted an expletive several times after crying out.  Once the fireworks, and not to mention, the profanity, abated, Abi realized she’d stumbled into the wrought-iron railing of the spiral staircase that wound its way up to the main level of the lighthouse.   

Carefully touching the expanding lump on her forehead, Abi winced and, like a blind man, swept her hands out in an arc in front of her until it struck the handrail leading up the staircase and out of the damp, musty cellar.  Grasping the handhold, she stumbled slowly up crisscrossed metal stairs, her footfalls echoing loudly in the open space around her.  Ascending the graceful curve of the staircase, Abi grimaced and transferred the excess slime accumulating on her hands to her jeans, convinced that even Spray-n-Wash wouldn’t be enough to save them when she finally was able to throw them in a washer.   Nearly halfway up to the main floor, it was at this point that a light seemingly powered by the sun burst into every corner of the room. 

With unimaginable speed, Abi’s pupils slammed down to tiny pinpoints, a brief lightning bolt of pain shattering her thoughts.  Closing her eyelids momentarily, and squinting against the harsh glare, she tilted her head up, meeting the gaze of the raven-haired woman descending the stairs at an alarming pace.  In the blink of an eye, Abi’s countenance mutated from confusion and disarray to what felt like a laser sharp sense of rage. 

Chapter Five

With photo identification clipped to her blouse, Caroline Kramer strolled purposely through security within the MedAmerica One complex.  A large translucent number 4 cast a nearly unperceivable shadow at her feet as she made her way to the nearby bank of elevators.  MA1 colleagues milled about and conversed on numerous topics ranging from climate change to the upcoming Super Bowl to the latest turn of events on “Yellowstone”.   

Positioning her eyes in line with the ocular reader, a red light on the security station briefly changed to green and two glass panels slid silently open, allowing Caroline access to the elevator car.  Doors opened and closed and the lift quickly ascended, slowing as it approached the twenty-sixth floor. 

Ambling casually down the floor’s main artery, Caroline’s eyes were once more scanned against a security panel before entering the boardroom.  Siri cheerfully announced to the room her arrival.  Simultaneously, a seemingly “floating in air” monitor displayed her name and digital likeness as one of the meeting attendees along with a high-level agenda for discussion. 

The boardroom décor was a mish mash of competing styles and designs, furnished with “Mad Men”/1960s inspired dark woods and neon oranges (minus the cigarette smoke and Don Draper), while also fitted with futuristic technology from the likes of Apple, Microsoft, Google and IBM. 

On the walls hung expensive paintings from the day’s contemporaries, most notably several works by German artist Neo Rauch.  Rauch’s canvases instilled in the observer recollections that evaporated before the mind was able to successfully retrieve their meaning.  Having been raised in communist East Germany by his grandparents following a tragic rail accident that killed his parents while he was yet an infant, Rauch incorporated an eerie sense of foreboding, darkness and object surrealism within the framework of what appears to be a typical, normal situation.  

Finding her seat beneath a chaotic graffiti piece by the late Jean-Michel Basuiat, Caroline took a sip from the latte that had been placed before her and tried unsuccessfully to ease the growing pain in her skull.   

Glancing up, Caroline watched a number of colleagues enter the boardroom and take their places as their digital counterparts flashed on the screen.  Once they were seated, Maxwell Thrasher wheeled himself into place at the head of the table.  Pressing several buttons on his customized wheelchair, wheels were locked into place and the screen changed to display a full agenda.  

“Good morning, everyone,” Thompson crowed in an artificially sing-song voice.  “We have a full agenda and so we’ll need to all quiet down and we’ll be ready to begin momentarily.” 

Wow, it feels as if I’ve suddenly returned to grade school, Caroline thought to herself. 

The first few bulleted agenda lines were merely housekeeping items on current managerial projects that had been recently approved or resolved.  It wasn’t until they approached the discussion of MARQ that the fireworks began. 

“Seriously, think about what you’re saying for a moment Maxwell.  We take a technology that should be locked down within a secure network and virtually turn it loose on the entire globe.  From a compliance, transparency, and legal perspective, there is no way in hell that something of that magnitude would be approved without years of trials.  We are not Facebook!” Caroline opined with a frustration level quickly reaching its limit. 

Thrasher took a deep breath, caressing the polished metal of his chair’s directional control stick.  “Caroline, while I understand your reasons for moving slow and steady with MARQ, you in turn must attempt to understand my reasoning for pursuing the exact opposite course of action.  Technology companies are moving at lightning speed, introducing new products and new versions of old products in an ever rapidly increasing pace.  We must ‘keep up with the Joneses’ so to speak or risk the wrath of our stockholders…or even worse…irrelevance.” 

At that, Caroline cracked an enigmatic Mona Lisa smile.  Thrasher was very fond of speaking in clichéd idioms and sometimes there was nothing for a person to do but smile and regroup for another round of verbal confrontation. 

“Let’s get down to brass tacks.  David, what are your thoughts?”  Thrasher addressed Dr. David Kennedy, whose opinion as the scientific/technical half of the original co-founders (along with Thrasher himself) carried significant weight in the boardroom. 

“I would be inclined to error on the side of caution.  The company is not in dire straits, and to pour a vast sum of capital, while not a financial hardship, could render more stable opportunities inaccessible.  

“That is just bullshit and you know it,” Thrasher countered.  “Funds for those other opportunities are already allocated by finance and MARQ Global would have zero impact on them, other than to further fuel their future success.  What is your real reason for attempting to eighty-six this project?” 

“I don’t intend to “eighty-six” anything Max.  I’m only advocating a more nuanced approach to its implementation.  Perhaps you’ve heard of Target, LastPass, Dropbox, The Fed, Health Net, RSA Security, VeriSign, hell, even Sony PlayStation.  All companies with major data breaches in just the past few years.  Would you like me to go on or perhaps just email you the list?” 

Glaring dismissively in Kennedy’s direction, Thrasher completed an almost unperceivable eye roll before replying.   

“As expected, we find ourselves in the company of David Kennedy, king of pessimism.  So predictable and so backwards focused.  For God’s sake David, the government tracks every phone call, every text, every webpage accessed by every person in the country…do you really believe they are deeply concerned with privacy?  In the grand scheme of things, the penalties and fees for breaches are a mere slap on the wrist when compared with the potential flood of revenue from a product like MARQ.” 

Caroline could no longer be silent and interjected.  “Max, it’s more than just privacy.  What if information stored on the device is wrong or incomplete?  Allergies not listed, history truncated, misspellings alone could result in adverse impact. It’s still data input sourced from a huge number of people and institutions.  Human error is a real concern.  I have to insist on select implementation and further testing.  It’s the responsible thing to do.” 

“That’s not going to happen.” Thrasher calmly stated.  “I’m ready to jump in feet first before the opportunity is lost.  Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.” 

With that, Thrasher pressed a button on the phone and after a moment or two, doors separated to reveal a team of individuals donning white lab coats and pushing a cart containing what appeared to be a number of hypodermic needle-like devices. 

Chapter Six

Meredith’s body lay silent amid a growing splash of red.  Abi breathed deeply and exhaled just as deep, feeling herself quake with a bout of what was either nervous energy or an approaching wave of panic. 

After taking a moment to steel her nerves and scooping up the Beretta from the floor, she exited the lighthouse through her original point of entry, suddenly recalling that the woman had not been alone in the chase.   

Skidding back onto CR-27, Abi picked up speed as she slid her cell from her zipped coat pocket and began to dial 9-1-1. Realizing she’d be unable to block the displayed name and number from the operator, she pulled the truck into a convenience store, careful to park in back where the vehicle was less likely to be seen or remembered.

Reminding herself mentally that she has no reason to appear nervous, Abi casually pulled a burner phone from the kiosk inside the door, paying the associate with cash from the wallet inside her windbreaker, and exited the store. 

“9-1-1.  Where’s your emergency?” 

“I need an ambulance right away at the lighthouse off 27.  There’s been a shooting.” 

“Got your location.  Stay on the line, and we’ll have someone to you ASAP.” 

Abi lowered the cell from her ear, glanced briefly at the screen, and pressed the END button. 

The ATM pulled the plastic into itself, and Abi was greeted by a voice that sounded like an odd cross between the Keira Knightly and the Super Nanny.   

“Welcome to Merchant’s National Bank.  Please enter your secret number…” the lilting voice suggested.  Abi entered her four-digit pin number, and pressed the enter button. After selecting “English”, the screen displayed options for withdrawal, account balance and information lookup, bill payment and deposits. Abi selected “withdrawal” and waited as the machine processed her request. After initially displaying the selected screen, the monitor flashed momentarily before returning with the message “We are unable to access your account at this time. Please try again later.” 

After the obligatory repeated attempts, Abi switched out cards and ATM machines a few miles down the road. After displaying the “try again” message, the ATM followed up with “For the safety of your personal account information, we have locked your accounts. Please visit your nearest branch office for reactivation.”  

Copyright 2023 Moteventure.  All Rights Reserved 

No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. 


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