The box is light for its size, and as I set it down on my table and wander across the kitchen, I can't help but to wonder if I should be afraid. I take a sip of sour lemonade and stare across the white lighted room with my tired night eyes.
I'm staring the box down as if I am closer to acquiring x-ray vision than I am to opening it. But it's hard to have a staring contest with something that's wearing a mask. So I set the glass down and approach the box with careful movements.
When I reach it, I jab a finger under the tape. The red bow falls to the floor like a forgotten rose, and the tabs of the box feel like putty beneath my fumbling hands. It's like Christmas. The grown-up version where the contents of each present could pull you into a fucking conspiracy, and Santa Claus is the type of shady character who hangs out in an abandoned building making ransom calls.
I find myself staring into brightly colored tissue paper. Somehow I am not in the mood for a party. I remove the paper as if I am performing an archaeology dig, but the evidence I find is fresh.
There is a small bundle of photographs and papers. I reach in to remove them, but I pause, my elbows up, my fingers under the bundle, and my eyes wide. Frowning, I lift them from the box, trying my hardest not to make any judgments based upon the top photograph.
It's a photograph of three, long, slender weapons. The missile heads are silver, and the bodies are slick and red. The lighting is harsh. My reaction is stiff.
"I need a fucking good reason not to report this right now." My voice is soft and even, but it could very well have been a scream.
My disturbed mind cannot imagine what sort of good reason could be hiding within the rest of the photographs, but I undo the elastic with tight fingers. Whoever decided to put that photograph as the cover page was trying to make something rather clear.
"Fuck. He says they wouldn't believe me if I reported this. The only unbelievable thing about my story is that the kid jumped a car. If this isn't suspicious then I am getting far too used to the hatred and violence in this world. Fuck no, this is a threat to National Security!"
And then I see the second picture, and I am thoroughly distracted. I know the face well. I once shook hands with this very man. But the connection between him and the warheads on the first photograph is not evident. The man is Dr. White, a successful inventor and business man. I once met him at a city banquet.
And then I flip to the next section and find a small, blurred, and crooked photocopy of an excerpt from a set of detailed plans. I glance across a few deadly looking chemical formulae, but my imagination makes the gap.
"Dr. White?" I spit. "This fucking nut is right! The authorities wouldn't believe this. Shit, I don't even believe this!" With my energy draining, I let out a complaint, "What is this supposed to mean?" But I flip to the next page without any time to think.
I am too tired to be doing this, and I stare into the next page for a whole five seconds before I blink. But it's far too late. The details have seeped through my eyes, my brain has assessed the frighteningly large number, and it's already coming up with a plan.
I drop the whole bundle on the table as if it is tainted--poison to the mind. I take a few steps backward until my back bumps into the counter.
"Oh," I say in a soft voice. "Is that what this means?" I stare reproachfully at the papers, take a step, falter, and then escape into the living room.
I feel like screaming in anger, but somehow this is replaced with a whistle and a soft exclamation. "Ten thousand. Wow."
But I am not won that easy. Now comes the anger. "They've got nerve. I don't know who the fuck they are or what their deal is, but they want me to believe that Dr. White is a war monger plotting a terrorist ransom. It's a joke! It's a bloody joke. It's...ten...thousand?"
Somehow I am staring at that number again. "What gets me," I say. "What gets me is that they think that I am up for hire. They think I would go behind the authority's back to do a side job for a random psycho. I mean, they want me to track a public figurehead. They want me to do more than my current job. I will not just be observing. I will be investigating, spying, creeping into Dr. White's private buildings...
"And what are their motives? If they have information about this, why don't they report it? Let someone else do the investigating!"
I find myself walking in circles around the coffee table. I stop at the window. They must be watching me. The living room window is without curtains. The street is bare. The apartment across the way is dark.
And suddenly I see the situation in black and white. "There are only two options here. I back down or I go forward. Accepting their offer is the only way to get answers. So I have to do it." I pause, and then grin with excitement. "I'll take their fucking bait. But they'll wish they'd stayed on shore."
I feel like I've got it, but when I reach the kitchen, the last page in the bundle is calling to me. It's a blank piece of paper with a sticky note stapled to its center.
The note reads, Any questions?
The cell phone finds my hand.