“Any news?” Rudy asked as he walked into Oscar’s office.
“Not yet,” replied the worryguts nervously pacing the room. “Rudy, it’s been five hours.”
“Perhaps he’s in delicate situation and can’t get to a phone.”
“That’s what worries me.” Oscar sighed glumly. “Whoever’s pulling the strings on this conspiracy must have uncloaked his identity. He’s in trouble, I can feel it.”
“What do you want to do?”
Oscar observed a five-second’s silence to gather his thoughts and choose the more effective plan of action. He glanced Rudy’s way with a resolute bearing, then breezed past him on his way to the coat rack to grab his jacket. “I’m going over there.” He buzzed Callahan’s desk to request to ready his private jet at Andrews within the hour.
“Want me to come along?” Rudy asked somewhat rhetorically as he already suspected the answer.
“I think it’s best, just in case things turn ugly.”
“Give me ten minutes to close up and then wait for me in the parking lot.”
Meanwhile at Grandville Complex nestled in the Farmville valley in Virginia, our man of steel was gradually regaining his senses. He moaned and groaned at his aching muscles hindering his efforts to pry open his leaden eyes and straighten his head.
“Nice of you to join us, Colonel Austin,” the waspish greeting broke through the fog to reach the memory core, instantly sounding its inner alarm. Steve blinked open his eyes and focused on the daunting figure standing before him. “Yes, I know who you are. That fake moustache of yours didn’t fool me.”
“The government’s on to you, Marshall,” Steve mumbled through his parched lips.
“It appears so,” he agreed with sarcasm. “But I won’t give them the opportunity to catch me.”
“Too late for that.”
“No, it’s not.” He motioned to a wall clock indicating 10:52AM. “In exactly 7 minutes thirty six seconds, this complex and all the people in it, including you, will be blown to smithereens,” the man crowed with a leer, already basking in the triumph of his feat. “I will start anew somewhere they can’t find me.”
“You won’t get away with it.”
“Want to bet? With you out of the way, there’s no witness. My partner and I will be free to pursue our experiments.”
Marshall gave a wily grin and checked the clock one last time before making his way to the steel door. “Only six minutes left to live, Austin. I hope you renewed your life insurance policy,” he sneered as he pulled the solid door close behind him.
No sooner was his captor out of the room that Steve severed his bonds with one bionic jerk. He bounced out of his chair and hurried over to the steel door to break the lock, which, to his astonishment, required several attempts before he could succeed. He dashed down the corridor to reach the second level, where he alerted the employees to evacuate the building. A wave of panic swept over the floor, the word ‘bomb’ sending people out in a rush in an erratic fashion.
Barely thirty seconds later booming detonations began spreading like wild fire, with the final explosion yanking the charred frame off its foundations and levelling the building to the ground into a heap of smouldering debris.
Hours later, Oscar and Rudy made it to the complex to witness the hecatomb. Thick smoke still billowed out of the pile of rubbles as firefighters combed for human remains. Already ten body bags lined up the driveway and a eleventh one was being carried out of the debris.
“Oscar Goldman,” he said flashing his ID card at the chief firefighter. “Any idea on the identity of the victims?”
“Not yet. The corpses are completely carbonized. It’ll take forensic to analyse the dental charts.”
Oscar pulled Rudy aside. “Rudy, if Steve’s in one of those bags you can easily identify him, can’t you?”
“That goes without saying.”
“Then you’d better hop to it. We wouldn’t want just any doctor to look at him.” Rudy nodded in acquiescence and made his way over to the bags. Oscar returned to the chief to explain the situation. “He’s a doctor. One of our friends may have died in that blast.”
“How will he know it’s him? Like I said, the bodies are charred beyond recognition.”
“He’ll know,” Oscar replied solemnly, withholding any detail that might set the chief thinking.
Oscar held his breath with each body Rudy examined; scanning his facial features for any indication that he’d identified their friend’s corpse. As Rudy zipped open the last body bag, Oscar’s heart sank at the expression of shock etched on the doctor’s face. He swallowed hard the lump growing in his throat and psyched himself up for the bombshell that was about to hit him.
“Rudy?” Oscar gulped. “Did you find him?”
Oscar’s eyes dropped like lead as a wave of relief washed over him. “So that means he’s still in there.” He lifted his doleful gaze in direction of the smouldering ruins.
“Or maybe he got out before the blast,” the chief opined.
“If that’s the case, then why hasn’t he shown up?” Oscar countered. He turned to Rudy with a quizzical expression. “I saw you wince when you opened that last bag. Why is that?”
“I recognized the victim, barely. It was Sharon Whitfield. Our inside mole.”
He awoke to a world of confusion. Blinking away the fog in his vacuous eyes, he squinted to establish focal point. His hazy mind strove to make sense of what he was seeing; where he was; what had happened. He inhaled a good dose of air to teeter to his wobbly legs. He gave himself a quick once-over, poking and prodding his aching body only to find a few bruises and a golfball-sized bump on the back of his skull.
He staggered down the corridor, hoping to reach the end before exhaustion threatened to send him back into unconsciousness. He leaned briefly against the wall to breathe away the dizzy spell and pressed on.
As he neared the door, his knees buckled and he came crashing down on the floor. He laid senseless, regaining consciousness a good twenty minutes later. He remained sitting, his back pressed against the wall as he struggled to get his bearings back. He ran the same questions over in his mind but still drew a blank.
He hoisted himself up against the wall and steadied himself before moving on. He turned the knob and much to his relief, the door open easily. Once outside, he drew one cleaning breath after the other to clear away the dust in his lungs and began scanning the area for any sign of a good Samaritan willing to come to his aid. When he found none, he started down the path leading to a small rural country road.
He rested his bone-weary body on a flattened boulder to catch his breath; then staggered back to his feet to continue his trek. A house was within sight, so near yet it appeared so far as one wave of dizziness didn’t wait the other. Again, he picked himself up and dragged himself to the backyard where a nine-year-old boy was playing with his dog.
“What’s the matter, Skipper?” the boy, Christian, asked his dog growling at the unfamiliar scent wafting his way. His young master squatted down and rubbed his neck but the German Shepherd wouldn’t be distracted from the threatening figure wobbling towards them.
“Hey Mister, are you okay?” Christian queried with an edge of apprehension. He stood next to his guard dog, holding him by the collar to prevent him from jumping on the dishevelled stranger that at first glance appeared friendly.
“Please, can you help me? I don’t know where I am.”
“This is mom and dad’s home. I am not allowed to talk to strangers and if you hurt me I’m going to send Skipper after you.”
Steve cracked an amused smile at the boy’s threat. “No I’m not going to hurt you. I just want to find my way back home?”
“Do you have a mommy and daddy?”
Steve squinted to search his memory of a family. “I…I don’t know.” He noticed the dog had begun sniffing him in order to determine whether he was good or evil. As Steve gave the German Shepherd his hand to sniff he instantly began licking him, proof that the stranger was not a bad man.
“Come with me.” Christian clasped Steve’s hand and led him to the kitchen door.
“I’m Christian. What’s your name?”
Again Steve racked his brain but drew a complete blank. “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know your own name?” The boy exclaimed.
“I bumped my head and forgot it.”
“Okay. How about I call you Peter. That’s my big brother’s name.”
“Won’t that be confusing?”
“Oh no. He went to heaven.”
Steve closed his eyes in despair at the boy’s lost. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. My mommy says he’s playing with baby Jesus.”
“I bet he is and having a good time too,” Steve emphasized so not to disturb the boy’s firm belief that his brother was in a better place.
“Mommy! Mommy!” Christian shouted as he came through the kitchen.
“Christian, don’t shout! We can hear you down the street…Oh hello!” She stood aback at the sight of the scruffy stranger.
“Mommy, this is Peter. He bumped his head and can’t remember his name.”
“But you just called him Peter?” the bemused mother replied.
“It’s the name he gave me,” Steve explained. “You see I’m lost and can’t remember who I am.”
“Skipper likes him,” Christian piped in to reassure his mother that the man was not hostile.
“Well if Skipper says it’s okay then I guess you can’t be a dangerous man. Our dog has a keen ability to weed out the good seeds from the bad.”
“I assure you it is not my intention to hurt anyone. I just want to find my way back home.”
“We’ll help you. But first I believe you need a good wash. Christian you’d be so kind to show him to the washroom.”
“Yes mom. Come Peter.” Christian happily pulled at Steve’s hand and led him to the bathroom.
Janine remained by the door and watched her son and their guest disappear behind a corner. She looked down at Skipper who glanced up at her with approving eyes. “I seem to recall his face,” she mused. The dog perked up its ears and slanted his head as if in a quizzical expression. “If you approve of him I assume he is friendly.” She patted the dog and ambled her way to the bathroom to join the twosome.
Janine invited Steve to enjoy a long soak in the bathtub before supper. Little Christian couldn’t stop raving about his new friend and although he was aware that the stranger’s stay was transitory, he nevertheless enjoyed the few hours spent with him.
“I wish he would stay longer,” Christian lamented, hoping his little pout would melt his mother’s heart into agreeing to extend Peter’s stay.
“He has to return to his mom and dad. They must be worried about him.” she said as she chopped up vegetables on the kitchen counter.
“I know,” he shrugged apathetically.
“Why did you call him Peter?”
“He looks a lot like Peter before he went to Heaven. I miss him.”
“I know you do, sweetheart.” She wiped her hands dry on the dishtowel to lift her melancholic son in her arms. She rubbed a hand against his back to soothe his tears.
At that moment, Janine’s husband walked through the front door. “Daddy’s home.” She let the boy slide from her grasp as he excitedly ran to the livingroom to jump in his father’s awaiting arms.
“Hey there!” He picked little Christian up in his arms and gave him a loud smacking kiss on the cheek. “You’ve been a good boy today?”
“Yes sir. I cleaned my room and put away all of my toys in the backyard,” Christian announced proudly.
“That’s my boy!”
“I made a friend today.”
“Oh? Who is he?”
Before Christian could explain, Janine interrupted the moment with a loving kiss. “He’s a stranger that came to us. He’s looking to find his way home. He’s suffering from amnesia.”
Wearing a concerned frown, Paul let Christian slip to the floor and stared at his wife warily. “A stranger? You know better than to let anyone in the house,” he chided; his voice carrying an edge of threat.
“Don’t worry Paul. Skipper approved of him.”
“Still, I don’t like it. Where is he?”
“He’s soaking in a hot bath. He was in a bad need of one. Tomorrow I intend to drive him to the police station where hopefully they’ll be able to match his face with a missing person report.”
“There he is!” Christian exclaimed, pointing to Steve dressed in Paul’s bathrobe, looming under the bathroom doorway.
“Hi,” Steve said timidly.
“Come and meet my dad.” Christina pulled at his hand and stood Steve inches from the tall imposing figure that kept a scrutinizing eye on his person.
“Hello, sir.” Steve extended his hand to shake Paul’s. “I am utterly grateful to your wife for the hospitality of your home. But rest assured I will not overstay my welcome.”
“It’s okay. Janine tells me you have no memory of who you are.”
“That’s right. I’ve been trying to jog my memory back but nothing comes to mind. It’s still a big blur. Otherwise I’m fine.”
“Yes, I’ve tried convincing him to see a doctor but he wouldn’t hear of it.”
“Stubborn man,” Paul teased.
“Supper will be ready in about thirty minutes. Paul why don’t you go change will I finish in the kitchen. I’m sure our guest would like to lie down and rest?”
“No, I’d rather stay awake actually.”
“I can show him my new model airplanes,” the boy offered passionately.
In the hush of the night, Steve was sleeping soundly when his door cracked open and revealed an ominous silhouette that padded up to his bed. It gazed at the serene face before it slowly picked up a pillow and held it tightly in its clutches.
“I have no idea how you got out of that building, Austin, but know we won’t give you a second chance,” Paul crowed malevolently as he slowly lowered his weapon to his intended victim’s face. He stopped inches from his nose, as he caressed another option. He put the pillow down and leered at Steve. “What am I doing?” he chastised himself. “The man is worth millions. This is my chance to continue my father’s work.” He retraced his steps to the door and turned to the slumbering man once last time. “Sleep tight my golden goose.”
Paul was up early next morning to intercept the morning paper before his wife got up. Out on the front porch still clad in his bathrobe he quickly thumbed through the pages for any mention of the famous astronaut’s disappearance. A small article on the subject caught his attention. A triumphant grin spread across his face at the 1-800 number to call to report Steve’s whereabouts. “A reward of 100.000$ is offered to anyone with information leading to Colonel Austin’s safe return,” he read aloud with euphoria. “Well, well, well. I will get my father’s grant after all, Mister Oscar Goldman.” He hid the paper in the nearby bushes and walked back into the house.
“Was that the paper, dear?” his wife asked between yawns as she came down the staircase.
“Euh no, not yet.” He stepped up to Janine and enlaced her in his arms. “How did our guest sleep last night?”
“I didn’t hear him saunter down the hallway, so I imagine he slept like a log.”
“I tell you what. I’ll drive him to the police station. No sense you getting your mother to babysit Christian on this beautiful Saturday. You stay here with the boy.”
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely. Besides I might drive by Charlie’s on my way back see if he has any trouble with his gazebo again. You know how he is?”
“Okay,” she chuckled. She stood on her toes to reach her husband’s lips for a tender kiss. “What would you like for breakfast?”
“Nothing fancy. But don’t start it now. I’d like to take a walk outside first.”
“Let’s say in about half an hour?”
“I’ll be back by then.” He leaned in for another kiss and headed out the door. No sooner had he crossed the threshold that his contrived smile turned to a sneer. He reached into the shrubbery to pull out the newspaper and hurried to the nearest phone booth to make his call.
“Yes, I’m calling about the missing astronaut, Steve Austin. I think I know where you might find him.”
“Please hold, sir,” The secretary at the OSI Virginia branch put the call on hold and buzzed Oscar’s temporary office. “Mister Goldman, I have another call in answer to the ad about Colonel Austin.”
“I hope it’s not another one of those fortune hunters,” Oscar sighed in annoyance, glancing at Rudy who flashed him a puzzled look. “I’ll take it.” He flumped down in his chair and lazily extended his arm to reach the phone. “Oscar Goldman here.”
“Mister Goldman. I’m phoning in answer to your ad about Colonel Austin.”
“Have you seen him?”
“Not only have I seen him but he’s living in my house.”
Oscar bolted upright. “What? Is he okay?”
“Well yes and no. He doesn’t seem to be hurting anywhere except that he has no memory of who he is or what happened to him.”
“That’d be my guess.”
“May I have your address? We’ll send someone to pick him up right away.”
“Sure but before I do, there’s the little matter of a reward?” Paul straightforwardly broached the subject confident he held the winning hand.
“Of course you’ll get it, just as soon as we know Colonel Austin is okay.”
“Oh he’s okay. Just a little shaken up. He even got a goodnight sleep in our guest bedroom. My wife has been taking good care of him. He’s even made friends with my son. We were to drive him to the police station today but then I saw the article in the trade and decided to call you directly. My name is Paul Wixted and I live at 224 Pine Avenue in Farmville, Virginia.”
Oscar jogged down the information. “Got it! We’ll be there as soon as possible with the reward. Thank you Mister Wixted.” He hung up and ripped the paper off the pad. “We have a solid lead. Here’s the address where Steve is staying. A family found him. Apparently he has amnesia.” He slipped on his jacket and crossed to the door with Rudy in tow.
“Thank God he’s alive.” Rudy praised.
Oscar and Rudy arrived to the Wixted residence in record time. They were led inside where they found Steve helping Christian build his new model airplane.
“Mister Austin,” Janine called him to attention. “These two gentlemen are here to see you.”
“Steve!” Oscar exclaimed. “It’s good to see you in one piece, pal.”
“Who are you?” Steve asked dubiously.
“Let me, Oscar,” Rudy suggested as he stepped in front of Oscar to sit by a wary Steve. “Steve, I’m aware you don’t recognize us but we’re here to take you back home. I’m your doctor, Rudy Wells? Does that name ring a bell?”
Steve searched his memory but drew a blank. “No. Sorry.” He inhaled a deep breath, holding in briefly before exhaling in a shudder. “Where is home?”
“Washington D.C.,” Oscar answered.
“Then,” Steve stood from the sofa with a pensive look. “what am I doing in Virginia?”
“We’ll explain when we get back.”
“No, I want to know now,” Steve insisted.
“Steve, this isn’t the time nor the place.”
“Then I’m not going back with you.”
While the discussion grew acrimonious, Rudy reached into his medical bag for a syringe full of sedative. Without any warning he injected the drug into Steve’s left arm. Steve reacted by hurling Rudy aside but luckily a soft bear rug softened the good doctor’s fall. Seconds later Oscar grabbed Steve before he slumped to the floor, unconscious.
“Was that really necessary?” Janine deplored, appalled by the harsh treatment.
“You are a bad man!” Christian lashed out, kicking Oscar in the shin.
“Ouch!” Oscar cried out from the pain. He handed his friend’s limp body over to Rudy to reach down and rub the sore spot.
“Christian!” Janine scolded.
“It’s okay ma’am. I deserved it,” hissed Oscar between clenched teeth. “It’s our fault for sedating him in front of the boy. But it was necessary.”
“I’ll help you carry him outside,” Paul offered.
“Don’t take Peter away, please,” Christian beseeched while pulling at Oscar’s pants. “He’s my friend. You’re hurting him.”
“Christian, come here, son,” Janine peeled the tiny fingers clawing at Oscar’s trousers and held the wailing boy tightly in her arms to allay his tears. “They are not hurting him. They simply put him to sleep so he won’t hurt himself while they take him home,” she explained calmly, wiping dry the tears pearling down his rosy cheeks.
“But he doesn’t want to go,” he wailed while rubbing his eyes with his fists.
“He doesn’t remember them. They are his friends. They will help him get better. You wanted him to find his mommy and daddy?” Christian nodded.
“Listen Christian, when our friend is feeling better we’ll have him call you. Would you like that?” Rudy assured the boy who flashed a grateful smile.
Outside, Paul and Oscar settled Steve in the back seat of the car, careful to place a cushion underneath his head.
“He’ll be all right once we get him back to Washington. Again thank you for notifying us.”
“My pleasure,” Paul answered with an eager pair of eyes hinting Oscar about the cash reward.
“Before I forget,” Oscar reached into his pocket to pull out an envelope, “here is your cheque for a hundred thousand dollars.”
“Thank you Mister Goldman. This sure is going to help pay off a load of debts and even buy my boy the bicycle he’s been hankering after.”
“If you don’t mind my asking, why does he call him Peter?”
“Colonel Austin bears similar traits to Christian’s late older brother, Peter, who died in a car crash a few years back.
Christian came running out of the house with a model airplane. He poked his head inside the car where Steve was lying and put the gift on his chest. “It’s a gift. He helped me built it.”
“That’s very nice of you, Christian. Put it there, little man.” Oscar presented his hand for Christian to clasp it in a friendly handshake.
The threesome waved good-bye as they watched the car drive away.
“Well, I think I’m going to visit with Charlie now. I should be back in plenty of time for dinner.” He leaned in to kiss his wife. “Be good to your mommy,” he said as he playfully ruffled Christian’s hair.
“I will daddy.”
Paul walked up the driveway to step into his car. He drove towards North until he came to a junction. He glanced at the rear-view mirror to ensure his wife and kid had gone indoors before turning left. A few minutes later he parked across an abandoned building and after sweeping the area for any unwanted prying eyes, he made his way inside. Two flights of stairs later he reached the basement and treaded circumspectly to a trap door behind which his fugitive friend was immersed in a new experiment.
“Marshall, guess who I had in my house last night?”
“Do I care?” he replied insolently while he continued measuring chemicals in vials.
“I think you do. Steve Austin.”
The scientist jerked his head around, the shocking news sending his vial crashing to the floor. “What the hell are you saying? The man is dead! I blew that damn building myself with him in it.”
“Well let me say you did a lousy job at that. He found his way to my house yesterday. My son became instantly smitten with him and consequently my wife offered him the hospitality of our home.”
“Is he still there?”
“No. Oscar Goldman came to get him a while ago.”
“What? You let him go? You had him right there in your house. Why didn’t you just get rid of him?”
“Easier said then done.”
“He knows I did it.” Marshall’s panic rose. He began pacing the room nervously, pondering his next move. “With Austin dead there’s no way they could pin the crime on me. Now they’ll probably send an army of Feds to comb the area.”
“I don’t think so.”
“He saw my face! They’ll be hunting me down.”
“The man has amnesia. His memory’s a complete blank,” Paul assured.
“You fool! He’ll get it back eventually,” Marshall snarled.
“Don’t worry about Austin. I’ll go to Washington and finish the job for you.”
Days wore on with Steve’s memory still a blur. Bathing in familiar surroundings with family and friends didn’t help matters any, as so pictures of past and present exploits that failed to ring any bell. Rudy and Oscar tried every conceivable method to nudge his memory but all efforts would come to a naught.
Steve had withdrawn within himself, spending the greater part of his days cloistered in his apartment. He would sit and stare at the model airplane given by his young friend that brought a certain lull in the storm brewing in his mind.
Oscar came by for a visit to bring Steve a file on arms dealer Grandville Marshall hoping it would jolt his memory of the incident.
“Is he still at large?” Steve asked.
“Yeah. We think he died in that explosion but until all the bodies are identified we can’t be sure. Anyhow, I thought it might jog a memory or two.”
“I appreciate it Oscar. I sure hope it does.”
“If you need me, you know where to reach me?”
“Yeah, I have the number in my address book. Sorry I don’t recall it by heart yet,” Steve informed with a slight embarrassing twitch.
“Give it time. You will. I’ll be at my office all day. Want to come along to keep me company?”
“Not today. Thanks anyway.”
“Steve, you need to get out of the house.”
“I know,” Steve sighed in resignation. “But I feel it’s still too early. I need more time.”
“Okay. You let me know if you need anything.”
Steve nodded and opened the door and stepped out on the front porch to watch Oscar walk to his car. Unbeknownst to him that Paul was parked across the street the street spying on his intended victim’s every move.
He waited for the car to drive out of sight before making his way up to the front door. He rang the bell and thrust his right hand into his pants pocket to fumble with a syringe that he nervously twirled between his fingers.
“Hello Colonel. Remember me?”
“Of course Mr. Wixted, come on in!” Steve widened the door to let his visitor in.
“I hope you don’t mind? I was in the neighbourhood and I thought I’d drop by to see how you were fairing.”
“I’m getting there, slowly,” Steve informed grimly. “Would you like something to drink?”
“Just water would be fine. Thanks.”
“How did you know where I lived?” Steve asked as he reached into the cupboard for a glass that he filled with cold water.
“Euh, I called the place where you worked and they gave me the address,” Paul fibbed, though not as convincingly as he may have thought.
“Strange. I thought the organization had a policy of not divulging such things. That I remember.”
“I told them who I was and they figured I wasn’t dangerous.”
“Yeah, I guess.” He handed Paul his glass. “Here you go.”
“Thanks. By the way, my son told me to say ‘hi’.”
“How is the little fellow?”
“Just fine.” Paul feigned taking a gulp and glanced over the rim of his glass to give the room a cursory scan.
“I’ve been meaning to call to thank him for his gift.”
“He adores you.”
“As soon as I’m fully back on feet I intent to drop by and see him. That is if you and your wife don’t mind? I will call first.”
“Of course we don’t mind. We’ll be delighted.” He looked down at his glass and winced. “I feel funny being the only one drinking. You sure you won’t join me?”
“I guess I could. You don’t mind if I pour myself something stronger?”
“Go right ahead.” While Steve was busy in the kitchen pouring himself a glass of wine, Paul pulled out a plastic bag inside which was the syringe swathed in a paper towel.
Back at OSI headquarters, Oscar arrived at his office to find Rudy waiting for him.
“Oscar, do you a few minutes?”
“Sure” He frowned at Rudy’s earnest expression. “Something wrong?”
“I don’t know, yet.” He produced a folder from underneath his arm and flipped it open on Oscar’s desk. “Do you recognize this man?”
“Sure. That’s the infamous, though glad to say late, Doctor Bacon”
“Right. Doesn’t he strike you as familiar?”
Oscar shrugged as the meaning behind Rudy’s question eluded him. “Familiar? How do you mean?”
“Paul Wixted. The man that took Steve in his house. It had been gnawing at me ever since I saw him. Something about his face was too familiar. I checked out the past and present employee rosters and found out that Bacon had a son.”
Oscar picked up the picture in his hands to better study the man’s features. “There’s a slight resemblance indeed. What? You don’t think these two are related?” Rudy nodded. “What if they are? What of it?”
“Don’t you think Steve’s life could be in jeopardy? After all he did kill his father.”
Oscar rolled his eyes. “Rudy there are three flaws in your theory: One, Wixted didn’t find Steve; Steve found him. Secondly, he had him in his house. If this kin wanted revenge he would have killed him there and thirdly, and most important of all, there’s no proof that this man is related to Dr. Bacon”
“When Marshall worked down in the lab I recall hearing him speak highly of Stanley Bacon before he was evicted of the OSI for pushing to have his experiment with ultrasounds approved by the government. It’s safe to assume they continued their association way after Marshall himself was thrown out. Oscar I strongly believe there’s a connection between the three men.”
“Then why didn’t Wixted kill Steve when he had him in his house?”
“He may not have had any choice. His wife was a witness. Beside there was the reward. He could use it to pursue his father’s invention,” Rudy inferred.
“The sole survivor of that blast said he saw Marshall roaming the halls hours before the explosion, which is odd since he’d been fired two weeks prior from his job at the plant. Maybe if we showed him this picture he might just be able to place Wixted on the scene of the crime as well. Then we nail him and force him to reveal Marshall’s hideout,” Oscar surmised warily, still sceptical of Wixted’s implication.
“Meanwhile Wixted and Marshall are loose, no doubt gunning for Steve who has absolutely no recollection of the incident,” Rudy concluded.
Overcome with a powerful sense of terror urging him to heed his friend’s advice, Oscar yanked the phone off the hook and dialled Russ’s office. “I still think you’re wrong about Wixted. He’s just an ordinary Joe Schmo but I wouldn’t bet Steve’s life on it.”
Within the hour Paul Wixted was positively identified as Dr. Bacon’s son. The survivor of the blast was questioned and he assured remembering Paul with Marshall on that day. Although there was no evidence of any wrongdoing on his Wixted’s part, the three men nevertheless rushed to Steve’s house when he failed to answer his phone.
A frantic Oscar was quick to bash down the front door at the sound of a loud thud. Sprawled unconscious on the floor was Wixted with Steve standing over him, completely dumbfounded.
Rudy rushed to the listless body while Oscar went to Steve. “Steve, are you alright?”
“Oscar I…I didn’t mean to hurt him,” Steve stuttered apologetically.
“He wanted to inject me with something. When I saw he was bracing himself to stab me with the syringe I grabbed his arm and threw him aside. Only…”
“I don’t know. Somehow I was able to hurl him clear across the room. And I think I heard a crack in his wrist when I gripped it.”
“Indeed. His right wrist is broken,” Rudy concurred. He picked up the syringe lying on the floor next to the body. “I’ll have it analysed to see what’s in there. Probably poison”
“Why would he want to kill me?” Steve asked bemused.
“He’s Doctor Bacon’s son.”
“That’s right, you don’t remember him. Bacon sought revenge against the OSI for shelving his project on ultra-sound. So he took a little community hostage and threatened to eradicate an entire army if his demands weren’t met. He kidnapped you but you managed to escape and killed him when you tried to stop him from murdering more innocent souls,” Oscar explained to a puzzled Steve.
“I killed a man?” Steve exclaimed in shock, appalled by the very notion of harming his fellow man.
“Unwillingly, of course. You had no choice.”
Steve sat prostrate on the sofa with his head in his hands. Oscar and Rudy exchanged concerned stares at their friend’s dejectedness. “How come I’m so strong?” Steve asked, looking down at his right hand with bafflement.
Oscar turned to Rudy to seek permission to reveal the truth. The good doctor sighed heavily and gave a reluctant nod of the head. What ensues was a suffocating outflow of heartrending memories and emotional despair brought forth by the overwhelming revelations about the bionic reconstruction.
Aware of Steve’s history of suicidal depressions, both Rudy and Oscar were reluctant to comply with his request to leave him be. They however conceded after Steve assured he would not be leaving the house without their knowledge. He assisted the two men in carrying the unconscious Paul to Oscar’s car and returned into the house to retreat in his bedroom where he ransacked his closet in search of a photo album that could help him jog his memory.
A frantic Oscar was tossing one phone after the other once word of Steve’s disappearance hit his office barely forty-eight hours later. After hours of questioning Wixted had finally yielded and divulged Marshall’s hideout but his partner had fled before the authorities reached Farmville.
The dread of Marshall succeeding in abducting Steve grew as hours wore on.
“I knew we shouldn’t have left him alone in that house,” Oscar blared to Rudy who had barely stepped inside the office.
“Marshall’s still out there, somewhere. My hunch tells me he has him.”
“No he doesn’t.”
“How would you know?”
“Because he left a message on Linda’s answering machine. She just gave it to me.”
“What does it say?”
“Says not to worry that’s he’s okay. He just went to see a friend.”
“Come on Skipper, bring it back!” Christian coached his dog to fetch the model airplane that had just landed in the sandbox. The dog happily obeyed his master and as he crossed the yard to bring it back to the boy, Skipper dropped the toy at his feet and with tail wagging, he ran toward Steve walking toward to them carrying a gift wrapped box.
Steve laid the gift on the ground and began patting the German Shepherd. “How you doing, Skipper?” The animal showed his affection with a few licks of the tongue. “Yeah, I’m happy to see you too.”
“Steve!” Christian shrieked ecstatically, dashing towards Steve to fall in his welcoming arms. “I missed you, Steve. Are you here to stay?”
“Just for a couple of days.”
“Yeah!!!!!” the boy cheered, his ebullience prompting the dog to bark and jump up and down. “Skipper’s happy too.”
“I have a gift for you.” Steve picked up the box and handed over to Christian who could barely wrap his arms around it.
“It’s huge!” the boy exclaimed with eyes as big as saucers. “What is it?”
“You’ll have to unwrap it and see what it is, but not here. You’ll be more comfortable in your room.”
“Okay.” Christian started for the door with his heavy load.
“Here, let me help you carry it,” Steve offered with a light chuckle. They both made their way to the back door with Skipper in tow.
“Mom! Mom!” Christian shouted. “Mom, where are you?”
“I’m here, Christian. No need to shout like that,” Janine chided as she rounded the corner to the livingroom. “Oh,” she exclaimed upon seeing Steve. “Colonel, nice to see you again.”
“Likewise, I’m sure.”
“Look what he brought me, mom,” the boy excitedly cut in, motioning to the box in his friend’s arms. “Can I go to my room to unwrap it?”
“Sure, go right ahead.”
“Come Skipper.” Steve and Janine watched the keyed up boy bounced up the stairs with his dog following close behind.”
“He must be a handful?” Steve remarked amusedly.
“More than you can possibly know. And now with his father gone it’s harder to say no to him.”
“I can imagine.”
An uncomfortable silence fell between the two before Janine beckoned Steve into the living room. “Words cannot express how sorry I am for what my husband did to you. He hid his secret very well. I never suspected he was leading a double life. I think it would have been easier if he has been cheating on me with another woman, but murder?”
“Attempted murder. Look, I’m still in one piece and I’m gradually regaining my memory.”
“That’s good,” she praised, locking eyes with those fetching baby blues that momentarily hypnotized her. She closed her eyes, shook her head clear of the emotions overpowering her and offered Steve a seat on the sofa.
Upstairs, little Christian observed the two adults interact, giggling inwardly at the scene displaying before him. “Skipper, wouldn’t it be great if Steve became our new daddy.”