Chapter 7 Retrieval Fee
Marcus appreciated the history lesson that Archivist Peterson was more than happy to give, but he still had questions.
“So, what’s Morgan’s case?” he asked, hoping that the Archivist’s answer would be as to the point as his question. He should have known better.
Archivist Peterson started to flip through the book again and stopped on a photo of President Morgan carrying a briefcase as he was talking to his staff. The Archivist pointed to the briefcase.
“That’s Morgan’s case,” he explained. “About a year before his death, there were rumors that President Morgan was planning something against his opponents. The rumors varied from assassination to mind control. But the only one that has any basis in reality is this…”
The archivist turned a few pages to a page of schematics which didn’t seem clear even after Archivist Peterson explained.
“This is the blueprint for a fully automated nuclear missile silo,” he said. “There was a rumor that President Morgan secretly commissioned the construction of several of these silos. They were to be used as a Scorched Earth policy if his opponents ever tried to attack.”
“But they did,” Marcus interrupted.
“Apparently, he was killed before he could activate it,” Archivist Peterson suggested.
“Would this thing still work?” Dan asked.
“I’m not a technician,” the archivist said. “Besides, I already covered this with Mr. Ross.”
“Ross was here?” Marcus asked.
“He came in a couple of weeks ago asking about Morgan’s case,” the archivist said. “Was there anything else you needed to know?”
“No,” Marcus said, “thank you.”
Archivist Peterson picked up the books and put them back on the shelf in their appropriate places before escorting Marcus and Dan outside of the Archives.
As Marcus and Dan collected their weapons, Dan noticed that Marcus’ focus was elsewhere.
“Find what you were looking for?” he asked.
“No,” Marcus answered but still seemed distant. “Just more questions. We need to make a quick stop at the Guild before we leave.”
“The Guild,” Dan repeated.
“I’ve got more questions,” Marcus said, “and it looks like Mr. Ross has the answers.
Dana was surprised to see Marcus and Dan I her reception area again and it made her nervous. When a contractor came by twice in one day, it usually meant it was about money, and when it was about money, it usually ended badly for the contractor.
“Hi Dana, we don’t have an appointment,” Marcus confessed.
“Mr. Ross is booked for the rest of the day,” Dana said.
Marcus smiled; he expected this.
“This is important,” he explained.
“Of course it is,” she replied.
“What if I took you to dinner?” Marcus asked with as much charm as he could muster.
Dana’s expression did not change when she answered, “And I might be interested if you were the only game in town.”
Marcus cleared his throat; it was a hard comment to swallow and then decided to be more direct.
“Please,” he said; his tone serious, “all I’m asking is that you call Mr. Ross and tell him two words.”
“Two words?” Dana said.
“Morgan’s case,” Marcus said.
Dana sighed, “All right.”
She picked up the phone and dialed.
“I’m sorry to disturb you, sir,” she said into the phone. “Mr. Turner asked to see you.
She stopped to listen and then continued, “He asked me to tell you something, sir.”
Dana paused again for a question.
“It was ‘Morgan’s case,’ sir,” she answered.
She paused yet again but then spoke into the phone, “Sir?”
Dana listened as Mr. Ross responded, gave a quick acknowledgment before looking back to Marcus, “You can go up.”
After checking in their weapons, Marcus and Dan went through the gate. Marcus noticed that Dan was smiling at him.
“What?” he asked.
“What if I took you to dinner?” Dan said in a mocking tone. “Really smooth, chief.”
“And if you wish to live,” Marcus said, “I would suggest that you don’t repeat that to anyone.”
“Yes, sir,” Dan replied unconvincingly.
Mr. Ross poured whiskey into his glass, shaking his head. He shouldn’t had underestimated Marcus Turner, and regretted not telling him about the case sooner. His thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door.
“Come in,” Ross said as he set the whiskey bottle down on the drink cabinet. He offered Marcus and Dan a seat in front of his desk before he sat down. Ross nodded to Marcus, letting him know he was ready for his questions.
“Why didn’t you tell us what was going on?” Marcus asked.
“Right to the point,” Ross muttered before he continued. “It was supposed to be simple: transport the case to the Archives here. There were four
teams and each one would have a case.”
“Decoys?” Marcus asked.
“Yes,” Ross answered, “but we ran into a problem. Three teams were lost as well as all four cases. And now it’s over. What do you care about it?”
“You know what that case was for and you don’t care that it falls into the hands of the True Republic?” Marcus asked.
Ross let out a small laugh before he answered, “The Civil War faction that came out of the woodwork?”
“Which is what worries me the most,” Marcus said.
Ross nodded in agreement, “They found out somehow, and it’s being looked into.”
“Any leads?” Marcus asked.
“So far nothing on this end,” Ross explained. “Besides a nuclear trigger on the loose that I doubt it works, what’s bothering you about this?”
“The reputation of me and my crew,” Marcus answered.
“Of course,” Ross said. “You want to redeem yourself.”
“I intend to do more than that,” Marcus said.
“What do you have in mind?” Ross asked.
“My crew and I retrieve the case,” Marcus explained.
“And if you and your short-handed crew manage to retrieve the case, then what?” Ross asked.
“We give it to you to auction off to the highest bidder,” Marcus proposed. Even Dan was surprised.
“What’s the catch?” Ross asked.
“We get a retrieval fee from what you get for the case,” Marcus said, “Fifty-fifty.”
“Don’t be insulting,” Ross took another sip from his whiskey. “I’ll be lucky to recover from the loss of those three teams. Try two percent.”
“Ten percent,” Marcus countered.
“Five percent,” Ross glared at him. “That is the final offer.”
Marcus and Mr. Ross glared at each other until Dan nudged Marcus. Marcus then remembered how dangerous it was to renegotiate payment with Mr. Ross. The position for this job opened up because the previous contractor attempted to renegotiate payment with Mr. Ross.
“Five percent will be fine,” Marcus said.
“I’ll have Dana write up the papers before you leave,” Mr. Ross smiled. “So how do you intend to find this case?”
“Just leave that to me, sir,” Marcus replied, returning the smile. He and Dan stood up and left the office.
Mr. Ross activated the intercom to Dana.
Her voice replied over the speaker, “Yes, sir.”
“You don’t know, do you?” Dan asked quietly.
“Know what?” Marcus answered after closing the door to Mr. Ross’ office behind him.
“You don’t know how to find the case, do you?” Dan rephrased his question.
“Have some faith, Mr. Hallard,” Marcus said. “Have I ever let you down?”
“Do you really want me to answer that?” Dan replied.
Paul and John were becoming worried; both Marcus and Dan were an hour overdue and had not been responding to their radios. Fortunately, relief came with Marcus’ voice let them know that they were a few minutes away and that they found a buyer for the truck. The latter, John didn’t take so well.
Caution was drilled into their heads even when they were doing something simple as guard duty. They had kept out of sight but kept their eyes out for anything. Then they heard the familiar rumbling of horses galloping. The rumbling grew louder causing Paul and John to stand quickly with their weapons ready.
“That’s a lot of horses,” John said as the rumbling grew louder. Paul ran to the nearest front window and carefully peeked outside, half-expecting the window to be shot out. There was a perplexed look on Paul’s face.
“What is it?” John asked. “What do you see?”
Paul drew back what was left of the molding, decaying curtains to reveal Marcus and Dan approaching followed by at least a dozen people on horseback. The two watched carefully until Marcus flipped the palm of his hand toward them; it was the signal for “all clear.” John and Paul put on the safeties of their weapons before walking outside.
They were surprised to see Taylor with Marcus and Dan until they heard him ask, “Where’s the truck?”
John’s heart sunk as Paul answered, “It’s in the garage.”
Paul and John pulled the garage door open and revealed the truck. He looked over and saw that John was staring sadly at the truck.
“Do you want a moment alone?” he asked.
“No,” John answered, “it would just make things worse.”
Taylor signaled to two of his men and pointed to the truck, “Take it back to Ashland.”
“We’re on it,” one of the two replied as they ran to the truck.
“The keys are in the ignition,” Paul said as the two passed him.
The truck started up and pulled out of the garage and sped away towards Ashland.
Marcus rode down closer to Paul and John as he spoke, “Get your stuff. We’re going back to Sterling.”
“Sterling?” John said with confusion.
“Who are they?” Paul pointed to the other men and women on horseback behind Marcus. “Have we become tour guides now?”
Marcus smiled, “They’re a salvage team.”
John and Paul exchanged a quick, confused look.
“The explanation will have to wait,” Marcus said. “Let’s move! I want to get to Sterling before dark.”
Paul and John moved quickly back inside the house to retrieve their gear and grabbed their horses that were waiting on the side of the house.
Down the street in another abandoned house, two men and one woman have been watching Marcus and his crew since they arrived.
“Would you care to explain why we’re here?” the woman asked.
One of the men smiled and gestured towards the spotting scope perched near the window that he was looking through seconds ago.
“Please, take a look,” he said.
The woman sighed, wishing he would have just told her instead. She walked to the scope and looked through it.
“I see Mr. Turner and his crew,” she said. “This is important because?”
“I’ll give you a moment to spot him,” the man said. The woman shook her head before she looked through the scope again. She looked up at the man again; her expression changed from irritation to shock.
“It’s him,” she said.
“Yes, it is,” the man said proudly.
“This changes nothing,” she said. “The decision has been made.”
The man looked to the other and he nodded, confirming what she said.
“So you choose an outsider over a true heir?” he asked.
“He lost his chance,” she explained. “That’s why we’re out here.”
“He’s survived out here for so long,” the man argued. “That’s got to count for something.”
“Survival is also based on luck,” she countered as-a-matter-of-factually. “The decision is final. Is that understood?”
“Understood,” the man reluctantly replied.
“We need to leave,” the woman said. “Our window is an hour away if we are to make our report.”
The man nodded as he collected the spotting scope and left with the other two.