Rousing on a Monday morning was never a chore for Steve; however today it proved to be a much arduous task than usual. He blinked open his eyes to focus on his surroundings but no matter how hard he tried his vision remained blurred. His throat was burning and his nose was stuffy. He tried elbowing himself into a sitting position but quickly dropped his head back onto his pillow when a throbbing headache seized him. “What is wrong with me?” he wondered to himself. He slowly rolled onto his side to slide his legs off the bed and taking a deep breath, he pushed himself up to sit on the edge of the bed where he remained motionless, his head in his hands to keep it from falling off his shoulders.
A bout of coughing hit him full force as he tried to stand; each cough sending an excruciating twinge radiating through this entire body and exacerbated the pounding in his head, including the deafening ringing in his ears that increased the torture tenfold.
Barely had he managed to deaden the pain some that the phone rang, sending another pulsating throb through his head. He cringed and grabbed the receiver. “Hello?” he croaked, letting a couch squeezed through his parched lips.
“Steve? You all right?” Oscar asked with great concern.
“I don’t think so. Woke up feeling like hell.”
Steve hawked to clear his throat and mumbled incoherently, “The flu.”
“I didn’t hear you.”
“I have a killer flu.”
“You were fine yesterday when I saw you.”
“I know but I went to bed last night with a slight headache and woke up a few minutes ago feeling like a ton of bricks had fallen on me. “ he drew in a deep breath and pinched the bridge of his nose to quell a second wave of pain washing over him.
“Do you know what time it is?”
“I haven’t checked the clock yet. I don’t want to turn my head afraid it might fall off my shoulders.” Slowly, Steve tilted his head towards the digital clock that shone a bright red 10:36am. “Argh, I missed the meeting.”
“You did but fortunately we did a transcript. I’ll send Cassandra to bring it to you.”
“Don’t let her near me. I’m contagious.”
“I don’t think I could hold her back even if I wanted to,” Oscar snickered. “I’ll get in touch with Rudy and ask him to drop by your house for a check up.”
“All right,” Steve wheezed out.
“Go back to bed, Pal. You sound awful.”
“I will. “Steve lazily plonked the receiver in its cradle and laid back on the bed, falling like a log the second his head hit the pillow.
In late morning Cassie drove to Steve’s house. She had come prepared with a few medical supplies, including her famous homemade orange lemonade proven effective to eradicate the most virulent viruses around.
She unbolted the front door with her key and carefully stepped inside, heedful not to make any noise that might startle Steve awake. She padded up to the kitchen to set her bags down on the counter, taking care of putting the lemonade in the frig to chill before tiptoeing down the hall to her Blue Eyes’s room. A sad smile graced her lips at the sight of her friend sprawled ungainly on the bed. She quietly approached the bed and brushed a hand against his forehead. She winced at the raging fever that singed her own skin. She went to the window to draw the curtains close and returned to the bed to begin her ministrations. She proceeded to deftly but gently remove his pyjama pants that were soaking wet from the profuse sweating. She stopped at the sound of an annoyed moan escaping Steve’s lips.
“Shuuuuu, it’s okay Blue Eyes,” she reassured in a soft whisper. “Go back to sleep. I’m just changing your pants so you’ll be more comfortable.”
“Cassie?” he droned out, his brows furrowing. “S’that you?”
“Of course it’s me. Who else would be removing your pyjama bottoms without your consent?” she joked as she walked to the dresser to take out a fresh pair of pyjama pants.
“True,” she grinned weakly with his eyes closed. “I feel lousy, 35. I just wanna die,” he maundered to gain sympathy.
“Sorry, not today, Blue Eyes. Not while I’m around. We still need your input on that MXL-65 project. Once it’s all set then you can die.”
“Gee, thanks. You’re too kind,” he replied sarcastically.
“Any time.” She took a hold of his left leg and proceeded to slip it in the pants. “It’s going to feel like hell for a while but just bear with me.” Steve gave a weak nod of the head and braced himself for the aching chest muscles that were about to scream in agony. Once the task over, she pulled the bed sheets and quilt over to his shoulders, careful to tuck the edges underneath his body to preserve the warmth. She then reached out to the jug of fresh water she’d brought in with her and poured a glassful. “You’re going to drink some water. We have to keep you hydrated.” She slid a hand behind his neck for support as she put the rim of the glass to his lips. A few sips later, she eased his head back onto the pillow. “How does that feel?”
She then poured water onto a bowl and dunked a hand towel in it. When soaked, she wrung it of its excess water and applied the damp cloth onto Steve’s forehead. “Rudy is coming by later to examine you. He’ll prescribe some antibiotics to fight off this virus. I also brought you my famous orange lemonade that is guaranteed to evict whatever little bugger has established residence in that body of yours.”
“I’m sure it doesn’t stand a chance,” Steve jested in a voice barely above a whisper; his vacuous eyes at half-mast struggling to remain open. “You’re too good for me.”
“Yes, I know,” she boasted modestly.
“No. Now open your mouth.”
“Aspirin. It’ll knock that headache of yours and you’ll sleep better till Rudy gets here.”
“You know one of these days you’re going to have to accept my proposal.”
“We’ll talk about it in a few years.” She popped the pill into Steve’s mouth and assisted him in drinking a few sips of water. “There, now close those pearly blue eyes of yours and get to sleep. I won’t be far.” She pulled a tiny bell from her jacket pocket and placed it within Steve’s reach on the night table. “Ring if you need anything.”
“Thanks,” he coughed, then fashioned a weak smile of gratitude before closing his eyes.
Meanwhile, on the other side of town in a small office building…
“I just heard that you succeeded in your mission, Ed. Austin is sick with the flu.”
“Nothing to it. Last night during the banquet I just trickled a few drops of the viral solution in his drink. The dose I gave him should keep him confined in his bed for a good three days, even if he’s administered antibiotics.”
“I’m glad. That’ll give us a wide enough window of opportunity to steal the files on the MXL-65 project.” he grounded his words with malicious intent.
“Sir, that project is classified top secret. For level seven security clearance’s eyes only.”
“You are level six,” the man pointed out with a sly smile. “You have access to the OSI main frame. I’m sure the project’s outline is stored in there somewhere.”
“Not yet, sir. The notes on the closed meeting were recorded on tape and will later be entered in the classified files. Only Colonel Austin has the proper clearance to perform the operation.”
“But given the fact that he’s sick and will be for a the next few days, won’t they be assigning you with the job?”
“In this case it’s very unlikely.”
“Right now you’re our best bet. Should they persist in wanting Colonel Austin to handle the task, we’ll just have to find another way to prolong his illness, won’t we?” he grinned malevolently, his face lighting up in triumph.
“And then what?”
“Once you’re in, you give us the backdoor password and we’ll do the rest.”
The young OSI employee swayed uncomfortably, shifting his weight from one leg to another. “If they catch me….”
“They won’t. Once we get the data, you will be handsomely rewarded.”
“You’ll have to establish a powerful firewall so they won’t trace the origin of the foreign link.”
“Our experts have already worked out that detail. You just get us that password and we’ll do the rest.” The head honcho laid a reassuring hand on the young man’s shuddering shoulder. “And stop shaking or you’ll draw attention to yourself and we don’t want that, do we?” he cautioned with a wry smile.
“Attaboy!” he clapped the man on the back and led him out of the office. Once his recruit out the door, the man returned to his seat and gloated to his henchman. “This is it, Norm. The MXL-65 project will soon be ours and with it, we’ll control all satellite communications at will.”
“Providing Oscar Goldman does give the notes to Ed to transcribe into the network’s main frame.”
“He will.” The man sneered as he held a flask full of brownish solution in his hand. “This will guarantee Austin’s absence from work for a very long time.”
“Sir, careful not to use too much. If we kill him they may never give those tapes to our man.”
“Right you are, Norm. Hope we won’t need anymore of this.” He opened the top drawer of his desk and placed the vial inside a velvet box. “And once we’re in, we’ll drop another little bugger into their system to keep them from under foot,” he crowed with malicious glee.
“Bless you, Blue Eyes,” Cassie sympathized with a cool cloth on his forehead. “How you doing?”
“Louzy,” he croaked with a hoarse voice. A few coughs later, he turned to his nursemaid and reached for her hand. “I hate to be a bother.”
“Just like I was last Valentine’s Day?” he frowned at her offhanded reply, “Remember? I had the flu and you broke off your date to care for me?”
Steve closed his eyes and let his mind roved back on that day. “You were worth it. I didn’t want to date that girl anyway.”
“Liar! You’d been hounding her for weeks trying to get a date with her. You couldn’t stop gloating when she finally said yes.” Cassie reminded with a friendly wink as she poured the patient a glass of cool water.
“How did I catch that virus? It just doesn’t make sense. One minute I’m fit as a fiddle and the next I’m sick as a dog.”
“Here, drink this.” Cassie assisted the weak kitten in taking a few sips, after which she eased his heavy head down on the pillow. With a loving hand she brushed away the sheen of perspiration on his cheeks, then she applied another cool cloth onto his forehead. She momentarily left his side to go answer the door to Rudy. “Glad you’re here, Rudy. He’s awfully sick.” She led the way to Steve’s bedroom where the bed-ridden patient was hunched over the vomit bowl.
“False alarm,” Steve croaked before painfully resuming a prone position. “Hey Doc. Mighty glad for the house-call.”
“No problem, Steve.” Rudy sat on the edge of the bed and felt Steve’s forehead. “Have you taken his temperature,” he asked of Cassie.
“It’s over a hundred and three.” Rudy flinched at the number. “I gave him aspirin about twenty minutes ago.” She scrutinized Rudy’s facial features as he applied his stethoscope upon Steve’s sweaty chest. “Bad, isn’t it?” she hazarded a diagnosis.
“I’d say it’s a killer flu. His lungs are congested. I’ll write out a prescription for antibiotics. It should put him back on his feet within seventy-two hours.” He took out a pad and pencil and jogged down the prescription.
“That long?” Steve whined, his complaining triggering a powerful bout of coughing.
“If you keep complaining you’ll be confined to that bed for a week,” Rudy chastised good-naturedly. He pulled out a syringe from his medical bag and took a blood sample for analysis.
Meanwhile Cassie grabbed a glass of water that she held to Steve’s lips. Sliding one hand behind his neck she gently titled his head forward to ease his drinking. “Take a few sips.”
“He’s lucky to have a nurse like you,” Rudy remarked as he handed her the prescription. “You take this to the pharmacy down the street to have it fill out. Use as directed and I guarantee he’ll be up and running in no time.”
“I will. Thanks Rudy.”
“In the meantime, plenty of fluids and lots of rest is what you need.” Rudy instructed with a pat on Steve’s shoulder.
“Don’t have much of a choice now, do I?” Steve droned out sarcastically between two snivels.
“Stubborn, isn’t he?” Cassie remarked amusedly before catching Rudy’s toss of the head beckoning her out of the room. “I’ll be back soon with that prescription. Is there anything you need before I leave?” Steve simply shook his head before conceding defeat to his leaden eyelids.
“What is it you’re not telling me, Rudy?” Cassie queried worriedly upon seeing the forlorn look on Rudy’s face.
“You need to monitor his fever very closely. In cases of flu the white cell count increases and with it comes a risk of bionic reject.
“Oh God,” she gasped.
“Let’s not panic,” he allayed with a hand on her shoulder. “You just keep your eyes peeled for any rise in his temperature. I’ll have that blood analysed right now to see what we’re really dealing with. Wait for my call before giving him the antibiotics. I’ll be back tomorrow to check on him.”
She escorted Rudy to the door and reiterated her gratitude for his house call. Once the doctor out the door she returned to Steve’s bedroom to find him sound asleep. She padded up to the bed to gingerly pull the quilt up to his shoulders, after which she made her way to the window to draw the curtains close. She cast one last glance to ensure his comfort before leaving for the pharmacy.
She returned less than thirty minutes to find Steve still enjoying a peaceful slumber. She left the door of the bedroom ajar and made her way to the living room where she contacted Oscar with news on Steve’s condition.
“Yeah I just spoke with Rudy,” Oscar informed. “How is he now?”
“Sleeping. Thank Goodness. I have the medicine but Rudy told me to hold off giving him any until he has that blood analysed.”
“I was hoping I could talk to him for a minute. It’s rather important.”
“It’s always important, Oscar,” Cassie sighed in aggravation. “Right now he needs his sleep. Perhaps I can be of some assistance?”
“Sorry. Steve is the only one who can. It’s regarding the closed meeting we had on Monday on the MXL-65 project. We need those notes encrypted before we add the data into the main frame.”
“What about Ed Wallis? He has authorization to key in.”
“Usually yes but in this case we need to encode the data beforehand and only Steve has the knowledge to perform the task.”
“I see. Well can this wait until he’s better?”
“We don’t have much of a choice under the circumstances,” Oscar conceded in a frustrated sigh. “I’ll explain the situation to the National Defence Secretary and NASA’s Chief Engineer. They are both anxiously waiting to peruse those final notes on the project.”
“Steve should be back on his feet by the end of the week. I’ll drive him myself.”
“All right. You take good care of him now. He’s a valuable asset.”
“I think he knows that, in more ways than one,” she teased.
At the OSI word travelled to Ed Wallis’s ears that Goldman’s request for a delay had been granted. He had no intention of forcing the issue, especially with such a highly confidential matter, to avoid drawing suspicions his way. His boss fumed at the news.
“Dammit!” the man cursed, smashing the receiver down on its cradle. “I was so sure it would work.”
“Now what?” asked his trusted henchman Norman.
“We don’t have a choice. We’ll have to put in the virus.”
“And knock down the entire OSI network?”
“That was our original plan, wasn’t it?” he retorted with a touch of bitterness.
“Only after we gained access to the MXL-65 project. Maybe we should wait until Austin programs it into the network computer. Thereafter Ed will be able to access it and give us the password.”
“Even if we can get in, the project’s notes will be encrypted.”
“Then we kidnap Austin and force him to decipher them for us.” Norm’s suggestion brought a vicious grin to the boss’s lips.
“That is brilliant, Norm. Now I know why I hired you. You not only have muscles but brains as well.” The compliment sent the man blushing with pride. “Let’s you and me devise our new plan over a drink of sherry, shall we?” With an arm around Norm’s shoulders, the top honcho invited his trusted cohort to adjourn to the parlor.
Over the next few days, owing to the medicine and Cassie’s tender ministrations, Steve gained considerable strength and by Friday he was back on his feet. A small wheezing cough lingered but it wasn’t debilitating to the point of confining him to his bed.
Cassie was unwillingly to allow him to return to work without a complete medical assessment and therefore insisted he consult with Rudy prior to meeting with Oscar. Aware that arguing with 35 was futile Steve complied begrudgingly, much to Cassie’s amusement. The good doctor issued a clean bill of health with some warnings that he insisted Steve heed in order to avoid a relapse.
Hours later Steve settled to work at encrypting the data, unaware of the pair of eyes spying on his every move. Once the project programmed into the main frame, Ed contacted his boss and waited for his next set of instructions.
“Good work, Ed,” praised the man. “Now I want you to report Austin’s whereabouts and most importantly when he’ll do without Miller.”
“Right now I know that she’s still a houseguest.”
“Fine. You let me know the minute she moves out of his house. We can’t risk it with her under foot.”
“Right. I’ll keep my eyes peeled.”
“You do that.”
It was Monday morning when Cassie deemed Steve fit enough to fend for himself. Following breakfast she left with suitcase in hand and walked to her car parked in the driveway. A screeching noise coming from the road down below momentarily diverted to attention. She squinted to make out the driver she could barely identify as Ed Wallis as he drove past the driveway. Suspicions grew as to the reason why he would be in the neighbourhood this late in the morning. She finally shrugged off the nagging feeling and stepped into her car.
“Hi Ed!” Cassie greeted as she inadvertently ran into Ed coming out of Oscar’s office.
“Oh Cassandra, hi,” he reciprocated with a nervous twitch that didn’t go unnoticed. “Long time no see.”
“Nearly three weeks. Say wasn’t that you I saw driving down Colonel Austin’s street early this morning?”
Ed stood frozen at Cassie’s question. “Why d’you ask?” he questioned undeterred as to temporize while he wavered between the truth and a fib.
“I was leaving his house when I hear a screeching noise. I looked down the street and saw your car. At least I think it was.”
Ed gulped nervously but maintained his poise. He quickly weighed his options and figured that fibbing would only arouse her suspicions; something he had to avoid at all cost. “Yes, it was me,” he blurted out. “I admit I was curious. I’ve heard say that his house was the biggest on the block. I wanted to see for myself.”
“It is a big house. And quite spacious too.” Cassie agreed.
“With a back porch and everything?”
“Yes.” She bristled up at his last enquiry. “If you’re in the market for a house, know that his is not for sale,” she jested to gauge his reaction.
“I’m not I was just asking.” Sensing the tension mounting and Cassie’s suspicion growing Ed glanced down at his wristwatch to veer off the subject “Well I have to go. Got me a ton of work to plough through. Well, see ya around!”
“Sure.” With a creased brow and eyes narrowed in distrust she followed the young man down his path as though he were portent of a bad omen. She attempted to shake the gnawing feeling within but in vain. She learned over the years never to underestimate her instincts when it came to infiltrators.
She made her way to Oscar’s office and knocked on the door.
“Come in!” came the greeting voice from inside.
“Oscar, do you have a minute? I have something nagging at me.”
“What is it?”
She tossed her head toward the door, alluding to the last visitor to exit his office. “Ed Wallis. If I may ask, what did you two discuss?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“It just that I rarely cross path with him and today for some reason I saw him twice.”
“I don’t find that strange.”
“Maybe for you but…”
“Ah nothing,” she sighed with a wave of the hand. “Forget I said anything. It’s my darn woman’s intuition acting up. Something he said about Steve’s house that pushed my alarm button.”
“What did he say?” Oscar insisted, having learned not to underestimate Cassie’s six sense.
“He asked if the house had a back porch, as though he was appraising the property.”
“Steve did work on encrypting the data for the highly classified MXL-65 Project. He’s the only one who can decipher the coded material aside from NASA’s Chief Engineer and the Secretary of Defence.”
“Therefore he’s a target for anyone eager to steal the project,” Cassie surmised apprehensively.
“Let’s not jump the gun.”
“I say let’s and have security around his house.”
“Easier said than done.”
“Than perhaps I should move back in with him.” Oscar fashioned a teasing grin. “Don’t you give me that smirk,” she slashed with dark seething eyes narrowed in contempt. “I’m doing it to protect your golden boy. Somebody’s got to do it.”
“And who better?” Oscar said, stifling a chuckle. “Cassie you are aware that Steve is a constant moving target on account of his special nature. Besides he wouldn’t want me to put him under 24-hour-a-day surveillance. When I do he threatens to leave the country.”
“I know how to handle him.” On that stern note she swirled on her heels and marched towards the door. “Just have to figure out a good reason for showing up at his door when I moved out this morning,” she wondered out loud, oblivious of the snickering echoing in the background.
On rare occasions would Cassie lose an argument with Steve and this was one of those times. However pleasing the prospect of having his Brown-Eyed Girl around the house, he adamantly refused to have her as a wet-nurse. “I’ve been taking care of myself since long before we met, flu or no flu, and I’ve been doing well so far.”
“Okay, okay, you win,” Cassie shrieked, throwing up her hands in defeat. “I can’t believe I’m forfeiting to you Blue Eyes but I see there’s no reasoning with you.”
“I thank you for the offer, really, but I’ll be fine. I always sleep with one eye open. Besides if anything happens I wouldn’t want you in the way. It’s too risky.”
“I may be a woman but you’re well aware of my skills in the face of adversity.”
Steve winced and rubbed his side at the raw memory. “Yes, I know.”
“Sorry about that little incident but you kind of took me by surprise,” she said apologetically with a slight embarrassment.
“35, I’ll be all right. Don’t get me wrong I truly appreciate your solicitude but I’m a big boy. Beside if you stay here too long people are going to talk,” he teased with an elfish wink.
“Let them believe what they may. What’s important is your safety.”
“Go back to your apartment. I’ll give you a call tonight so you’ll know I’m still alive.”
“I promise, now get out of here,” He gave her a light shove out the door and shook his head in disbelief. “Crazy girl.”
As promised Steve made a quick courtesy call to Cassie before turning in for the night after ensuring that all windows and doors were bolted. He was unwilling to admit that Cassie’s premonition had troubled him and as hard as he tried to dismiss the nagging feeling, he couldn’t shake it loose. He managed to slip into a restful slumber.
In late morning he roused with a throbbing headache and a stomach raring to spurt out its content. Trying to blink away the fog he groaned at the intense laser ray of sunshine filtering through a whole in the drapes. Still in a daze he elbowed himself into a sitting position and began accessing his surroundings. “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.” he joked to himself as he tried to make sense of the vision before him. “Oh boy.” He winced holding his head to prevent it from falling. “If this is the hangover don’t tell me what the party was.”
“Colonel Austin, glad to see you awake.” the boss greeted upon entering the room.
“Do I know you?” Steve asked groggily.
“The name’s Chandler, James Chandler,” he informed triumphantly with a chest bulging out with pride.
“Sorry,” Steve waved the man off as he attempted quietly and carefully to sit on the edge of the bed without exacerbating the throbbing pain.
“My name is of no consequence. You are the important entity Colonel. Not me.”
“Is that so? And what owes me this honor?” Steve quipped while casually rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.
“A little matter called the MXL-65 Project. I’m sure you’re aware of it?”
“I’ve heard rumours.”
“Don’t try your sarcasms with me Mister Austin. I’m privy to your special skills in encrypting data as it were the case for this particular project.”
“Oh boy, 35 is never going to let me live that one down,” he chuckled to himself. “Her wrath will be worse that what I suspect this bozo has planned for me,” he continued mumbling underneath his breath.
“I beg your pardon?”
Chandler stepped up to Steve and spoke straightforwardly. “I’ll come right tom the point Austin. I want you to decipher the notes you’ve encrypted.”
“Or what? You’ll kill me?”
“No, that would be too easy. I have a reliable mole inside the OSI at this very minute. One call from me and he’ll inject the deadliest computer virus known to date. The OSI mainframe and its entire network will come crashing down in a matter of seconds.”
“Is that so?” Steve quipped, struggling to maintain an undeterred expression. “And who is this mole?”
“Confidential information Mister Austin I’m sure you understand,” Chandler taunted.
“Ah but of course,” Steve replied with the same cynicism. “But there’s just one little flaw in your otherwise brilliant plan.”
“And what is that?”
“I can encrypt the data but I can not retrieve the original encoding for once it reaches NASA and the National Defence mainframes it goes through a process that stamps the cryptograms with symbols that only the big heads can decipher.”
“You’re bluffing,” Chandler snapped at this new bit of information.
“Ask your mole. I’m sure he’s knows about it.”
“I will. In the meantime, make yourself comfortable. I shan’t be a minute.”
“Yeah, right, whatever,” Steve mocked as he stretched out his lean frame on the bed. With his fingers laced behind his head he stared at the ceiling, pondering his next move. Chandler had posted a guard inside the room to ensure their guest behaved accordingly. Steve cracked a mischievous dimple at the thought of licking the floor with the burly icebox but his life was not the only chip on the table. He had to consider Chandler’s threat to unleash the virus into the OSI computer network. Preventing Chandler from making that call to his mole was the key element to thwart their plan and defeat the enemy.
Steve sized up his adversary who remained stoic by the door. “Have worked here long?” Steve asked casually to engage in conversation.
“Oh! Mighty testy, aren’t we? I was just making small talk. You see it’s rather uncomfortable having two people staring at one another without speaking.”
“I don’t mind so live with it,” the burly man snapped, letting his rifle slid to the floor where he leaned it against the wall, then took a seat.
“That’s it, take a load off,” Steve teased.
“I said shut up!”
“All right, all right. Don’t need to bite my head off.” Steve slowly rose to a sitting position and stood. “Mind if I walk around a bit to clear my head?” Getting a nod as consent Steve began pacing the length of the room, aware of the steely dark eyes following him every inch of the way.
Out of the blue he stopped and grabbed his head in pain. Moaning and groaning he started to crumble to the floor when the guard laughed amusedly. “Don’t try it. It won’t work with me.”
“Ah well… in that case.” With lightning speed Steve swirled on his heels and swung one leg around to hit the man in the face, knocking him right out of his chair. Barely had the guard regained his senses that Steve grabbed him by the belt and propelled him clear across the room, head first against the opposite wall, rendering him unconscious. Steve took the rifle and after removing the bullets, he bent the end of the barrels with his right hand. “Some people are so stubborn,” he jested as he poised himself to kick the door down.
With a light step he proceeded circumspectly down the hall, trusting his flair to lead him to the main room where he heard muffled voices wafting from the ajar door. He plastered his back against the wall and sidled his way closer to the door to eavesdrop on the conversation.
“He says that NASA and the Department of Defence have their own code. Is that right? (…) I see. Yes. (…) That’s what I thought. Thanks Ed. Do you still have free access to the OSI mainframe? (…) Good. Stand by for my instructions.
Steve frowned at the name. “Ed, Ed,” he mumbled repeatedly to nudge his memory. “Could it be Ed Wallis?” he surmised inwardly.
“Come on, Les, let’s go see to our guest. I’ll give him one last chance to prevent a major computer epidemic.”
Steve drew in a deep breath that he held as he waited for Chandler and his cohort to exit the room. No sooner had they set one foot out the door that Steve delivered the lethal blow that sent Les to the floor and Chandler to double over in pain. “You were talking to Ed Wallis, weren’t you?” Steve snarled as he busied himself securing Chandler’s wrists with the man’s belt.
“How did you get out?” Chandler asked in a complete daze.
“I eat a lot of spinach,” Steve quipped. “Now you be a good boy and sit there.” He pushed the man down on the couch, “while I make a call. You don’t mind if I use your phone?”
“I’ll get you Austin!” Chandler blasted.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah that’s what they all say,” Steve dismissed sarcastically as he picked up the phone to ring Oscar’s private line.
Over at the OSI, two beleaguered friends jumped at the sound of the ring. “My personal line,” he enthused to Cassie whose face lit up with relief. “Steve?”
“You all right?”
“Sure. Nothing broken. Say is Ed Wallis at the office today?”
Oscar’s brow furrowed at the question he turned to Cassie with a puzzled expression. “I can’t say. I’ll have to check. Why do you ask?”
“Is Cassie there with you by any chance?”
“Yeah she is, hold on.” He handed the receiver over to Cassie. “He wants to talk to you.”
“34, you’re in a heap of trouble,” she scolded, alluding to his disappearance. “When you didn’t show up for work I went to your house and it was reeking of gas.”
“Yeah I figure that’s how they were able to abduct me. I woke up in my new palace with one giant hangover. Say Cassie do me a favour and have Oscar call Ed Wallis to his office.”
“Yeah I suspect he’s the mole that my gracious host here,” Steve turned to Chandler with a sneer, “has inside the OSI. He’s waiting for a signal to drop a lethal computer virus into the main frame that will paralyse the entire network. They wanted me to decipher the notes on the MXL-65 Satellite Project.”
“My gut feeling was right; when I saw him drive down your street that morning I knew something was amiss.”
“35 remind me never to deride your premonitions ever again.”
“I’ll make sure of that,” she teased back.
“Do you have a pen and paper handy? I’ll give you an address where Oscar can pick up three scum bags for the trash bin.”
“I love it when you talk dirty, 34. Go ahead.”
Steve took care of putting the three mercenaries on ice while waiting for the cavalry to arrive. Meanwhile he casually ferreted about in Chandler’s personal files to uncover other dark schemes to overtake the government. “Mighty ambitious fellow,” he thought to himself as he perused the dossiers.
Oscar and his men converged on the scene and apprehended Chandler and his henchmen. “You all right, Steve?” Oscar asked with concern.
“Yeah, but I suspect I won’t be for long once my darling 35 gets through with me,” he winced at the thought of going through the meat grinder.
“Don’t worry, Pal. I’m sure she’ll go easy on you,” Oscar bantered with an emboldening clap on Steve’s back.
“I’ll plead temporary insanity, that ought to do it?”
“Wrong!” shot the waspish voice from behind. Both men turned to face a seething Cassie standing defiant with her arms folded across her chest. “34, let’s you and I take a little walk, shall we?”
“Now? But Cassie, Oscar needs me to keep an eye on the cargo,” he protested, hoping Oscar would play along.
“It’s okay Steve. Russ and I can handle it on our own,”
“Thanks a lot, PAL!” Steve spat, shooting a scorching glare at an amused Oscar for not backing him up.
Like a sheepish child, Steve stepped up to the wicked witch waiting to pour out the vials of wrath on him. “Go easy on me, 35. I’m still a bit tender.”
Cassie narrowed her eyes and out of the blue planted a kiss on his cheek. “That’s for being in one piece.” Steve blushed and returned the kiss. “What’s that for?”
“Just because I love you.”