As soon as the phone is to my ear there is a click. And then I hear a recording. This goes against everything I would expect. It's like a ransom call. You cannot tell the FBI to call back with their decision and then have them leave a message after the beep. Otherwise, you'll be needing a whole string of beeps to cover the profanities.
I am slightly more fortunate. The voice tells me that my call is being forwarded to another location. And shortly after this, there is a click, a French voice asks hello, swears, and then covers this with a high pitched tone. I wince and move the phone an inch from my ear. The line goes static for a second, a dial tone sounds once, is overlapped by another tone, and then there's a solid click.
"You are being forwarded to another location." This time it's a computerized voice.
I stare at my fridge in consternation. Someone is afraid of being tracked. I mean, what the fuck could I do? I'm one man without any equipment. What's happening? It sounds as if my call is playing pinball across the southern hemisphere, getting chopped up into bits and bytes, sent through a proxy server, and then streamed by fucking windows media player.
And then the sound goes clear, and a voice speaks as if it's been there all along. "Sir Elias," says the voice, using my middle name just to be cocky.
"Call me Nathan," I say, holding back a few snide remarks.
"Sir Elias," repeats the voice "is the name we shall use when using this means of communication."
"I am neither noble nor stuck-up enough to be called Sir," I say. "But let us forget that."
The man on the other end forgets it in an instant. "What decision have you made?" he asks.
I pause, at a loss for a second before remembering the sticky note. "I have questions," I say.
"Good. I thought you might. Look out the window."
I take a step, but I stop in anger. "Hold it," I say, as my feet resume their route to the window. "If you think I'm going to do this via express delivery, than you better..."
But by this time I've reached the window. "I apologize," I say. "If," I add "that limo is for me."
"Indeed it is, Sir Elias. Indeed it is." And the phone clicks to silence.
I grab my jacket and leave without pausing, my eyes glancing upon the clock as I drop my keys in my pocket. It's one fifteen in the morning. But that means nothing when the night extends into such a mysterious future.
I walk across the lawn and climb into the back of the limousine. It feels strange, but I pull it off in the most casual manner. You know, I'm all alone on a Tuesday night, decided I felt like a beer at one in the morning, didn't feel like walking--happens all the time.
Really though: don't mind me, I'm just throwing myself into a potentially life threatening situation by confronting a mystery that stalked me home from work. What is this though? A fucking spy thriller film? Where's my fancy tuxedo?
I find myself looking across the leather cushioned cabin at a young man in jeans and a button shirt. It's the same kid from earlier.
"I see you're dressed up for the occasion," I say.
"What occasion might that be?" he asks. "Is it your birthday?"
"Fuck, don't ask me. You're the one with all the answers."
"In that case, happy fucking birthday." He gives me a sly smile, and the limo pulls away from the curb. "Do you know Dr. White?" he asks.
"And do you know where he is tonight?"
I sit back against the cuishoned seat and find myself not at all comfortable. "I could only guess."
"Then do so."
I look carefully at the boy, but the cabin is not lit, and the streetlights only pass in waves.
"I would guess that he is at home and sleeping like any normal person would be doing at this hour."
"Welcome to the abnormal," the boy says.
A screen slips smoothly from the ceiling and rotates to face me. The colors come to life and Dr. White is sitting on the seat of a limo, quite like the one I am now within.
"Now do you know where he is?"
I take a careful look at the screen, notice a familiar emblem in the fabric of the seat, remember the length of the limousine I am now within, and then answer. "He could still be at home sleeping. This is a recording."
It is very dark, for some reason the streetlights are gone, but I can tell that the boy is grinning. "Very impressive," he says.
"Isn't that why you wish to hire me?" I ask.
He laughs, but this fades quickly into silence. In fact, the silence is so great that I feel slightly disorientated. I cannot even hear the engine, but the light, almost imperceptible motions beneath me assure that we are traveling rather fast. Highway speeds, I would guess. I glance out the window, but my seat is very low and the tint so strong that all I can see is a dark blur.
"I am afraid that not all your questions will be answered," the boy says, now in barely a whisper.
I glare through the dark, but all I can see is a faint glint from his eyes.
"The mystery extends far deeper than you could imagine. This is not to say that your role is insignificant. But you are going to have to trust us."
His whisper, the lack of engine noises, and the abnormal darkness is getting to me. So I speak to hear my voice. "Why?" I ask.
"The 'why' will become apparent. The 'how' is what we are concerned with. How you are going to learn to trust us. And that is why we have brought you here."
"Where is here?" I ask.
The side door abruptly opens, and a rush of fresh night air blows across my face. I stare outside, but the scene is somehow still.
There is a field, a tree, and an overcast sky. The young man slips from the seat. "Do not be alarmed. We are not far from the city."
"Well of course not," I murmur. "We were only driving for ten minutes..."
My foot lands upon grass, and I stand to face the night. The boy points across the dark field. There is a large fire dancing wildly in the night.
"The bonfire," the boy says. "There you will find a friend. Walk softly. I will see you again some day."
He nods once and steps back into the limousine. I feel the night air moving behind my back, the fire is a glare in my eyes even from this distance, and the limousine slides soundlessly from my view. By the time my eyes find the limousine with a disturbed gaze, it has all but vanished into the night. The tail lights were not even lit.
I am left standing in a dark field in the middle of a dream. And the light at the end of the tunnel is the only place to go. But there's one requirement beyond that.
For some reason, I have to walk softly.