I prepared for my upcoming meeting as much as possible. I wasn’t really sure what I’d need other than the courage I normally lacked and the common sense that I usually didn’t follow, but I rehearsed a few speeches, I tried to train up a few defense moves—and I don’t have to tell you how humiliating it was that April was able to overcome all of those without any classes—and I used one of my better suits, fresh from a dose of ooze and soak in coffee.
I was… prepared.
Only I really wasn’t, but I figured I’d try a public spot and a relative safe zone, and I had Larabee in my ear again. He’d even put a tracking device in my suit. Everything should have been fine.
Except, of course, that it was me, and fine isn’t a word that usually applies to me.
April adjusted his tie again. It was the fifth time that she had done it since they’d gotten there. Clayton reached up and took her hands. “It’s going to be okay. Really. It’s just a bit of a talk, and I can handle talking. I talk too much, right?”
She looked at him doubtfully. “I don’t know about that. I do know that I don’t like this.”
He gave her a kiss. “I’ll be fine. Larabee’s recording and monitoring, and there’s a tracking device, and I’m going to talk to my boss at his coffee shop. Not a big deal. This should be fine. Really. I’m good. I’ll probably trip over my own feet and turn into a kid again, but I’ll survive that and make it through this conversation. I can do this. I know I can.”
“Just one thing you want me to do now, right?”
She kissed him. “Not going to talk you out of it. Go. We’ll be waiting right here for you when you get back.”
He smiled at her, taking a deep breath before he crossed the street and went into the coffee shop. The suit was in line, about to order his coffee, and Clay figured he’d wait until the man was about to leave before he made contact. They’d just be two colleagues chatting over coffee if anyone noticed them, and that would be good. No signs of a conspiracy here.
He ordered a regular cup for himself, paid for it, and joined his boss at the stand with the cream and napkins. The suit looked at him. “Something I can do for you, Moore?”
“Well, maybe you could tell me why my life is a giant conspiracy and where you fit in all of it. That would be a start,” Clayton began, and the other man just looked at him. “You know what I can do, don’t you? That’s why I got the internship and you kept me working in records and why you moved me to analyze that stuff. What is Fountain? What did Kilbourne do to me?”
“I am not certain what you mean, Moore. You’ve performed adequately since we took you on, and your attempts at keeping the archives organized were quite impressive, but I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about. People see conspiracies everywhere in our line of work, but—”
“But they’re not genetic freaks who can turn themselves into any age, now are they?” Clay demanded. He saw the look on the other man’s face. “You did know. You do know. How long have you known? What is going on here? Are you with them? Who are they? Why did they do this to me?”
“I don’t have answers to all of your questions.”
“Well, the answers to a few of them would still be nice,” Clay insisted. “Come on, you don’t know what this is like and what it has cost me and the hell I have been through trying to keep it a secret and keep some semblance of a normal life. And now I find out that there’s a possibility that I was engineered to do this? Are you kidding me?”
“Keep your voice down, Mr. Moore,” the suit warned, grabbing his arm and squeezing it pointedly. “You do not know what you are dealing with here, and your tendency to overreact like this will only create problems for yourself.”
“This is not the time or place for this discussion.”
“That is what everyone always says, and I get that—Oh, crap,” Clay whispered, finally catching sight of a man who had no business being in any coffee bar. His boss looked behind him, taking in the lunatic that masqueraded as a security guard sometimes before turning back to Clayton. “You’re right. We’ll discuss this later because that man—”
“Now works for them, yes,” the suit said, using his hold on Clay’s arm to usher him toward the front of the coffee shop. “Try and stay calm now, Moore. You will walk out that door and go through your day as if none of this has happened, understood?”
Clayton shook his head as they stepped outside. “Yeah, sure, but you know he’ll follow me. He’s got it out for me, has since I—”
A van screeched to a halt in the middle of the road, blocking the path back to April and Larabee, and the back door opened. Four men jumped out of the van, moving toward his boss. Clayton yanked his arm free of his boss’ hold, but then he was hit in the back by the coffee shop’s door, knocking him into one of the men. He tried to right himself, pushing away from that man. He saw his boss fighting off most of the men, and while Clay figured the heroic thing to do was stay and help him, he knew he had to run.
He didn’t make it very far. The security guard smiled grimly as he grabbed hold of Clay and threw him into the back of the van.
The former guard climbed in behind him. Clay sat up, rubbing his arm as he saw that the door release had been removed from the back door and the front was blocked off. His captor reached over and shut the sliding door. “Don’t worry. I’m sure they won’t break the old man—too much. You, on the other hand, that’s a different story, Freak.”