Author's note: This action-adventure novel was written to explore the far reaches of moral ambiguity and power of corruption.
Shots and NeedlesI went through the next few days in a daze, providing what little answers I could to my superiors’ questions. Everyone wanted to know what happened on our last mission, and I had nothing to tell. I was still trying to understand what the journals meant myself, and I wasn’t about to turn them over to Rovin and who knows who else. I told the interrogators the same thing I had told Morty and Westfield; I made a wrong turn. The story was full of holes, and everyone knew it, but I was questioned no further. Maybe the suits at NOVA knew something or two about privacy.
Just as I was keeping silent about my abduction, neither Morty nor anyone else was willing to spill the beans on the mysterious albino man. It was obvious he was part of Project NOVA, but somehow I’d never seen him around or even heard of him for that matter. I’d never seen anyone scare Morty so much by their mere presence, and his sharp, mechanical voice still rang through my thoughts, as if it had permeated my skull and sank deep into my subconscious. Upon our next visit to the NOVA bar, I attempted to probe Morty again. I waited until we were a few rounds in, and all the other patrons had left the bar. In between shots, I took a shot of my own and began questioning.
“Sam, you’ve got to tell me who that man was,” I announced, interrupting an animal-filled anecdote my partner was telling. Sam fell silent and his expression became very somber.
“I do not want to talk about him, John. All I’m going to say is that he shouldn’t be here,” Morty whispered harshly. He looked at me intensely and waited to see if I was satisfied. I tried to just let that settle the matter, but curiosity got the best of me.
“But who is he, Mort?” My partner sighed and shook his head, looking as if he was finally going to open up.
“Fine, do you want to know the truth? Nolan is…an enigma. I don’t know what happened that day, but I know what I saw, John.” Sam took a deep breath and refused to look me in the eye. “I saw Nolan Thomas die.” Without another word, Mortimer left me at the bar and, presumably, retreated to his quarters.
I downed my second shot glass quizzically. Surely, there was another piece of the puzzle here. Feeling a little influenced by my alcohol, I decided to press my luck with the only person still at the bar – the bartender.
“Hey, barkeep, you got a minute?” I called. The bartender approached, and I got my first good look at him. He wasn’t too old, maybe early sixties at the latest, and he had a somewhat chiseled, almost James Bond-esque to him. His once black hair was now tinged silver, and he was dressed far classier than one would expect a bartender to be. Adorned in a tuxedo, a gold cross around his neck and an expensive watch on his wrist; first class all the way.
“Sure thing, kid, and you can call me Mac.” I raised an eyebrow at the nickname, but let it slide. Mac was being personable enough to let me ask the questions I’m sure he was expecting, because this late in the night Sam and I were the only two at the bar.
“So, you want to know about Nolan Thomas, eh?” I was grateful that the bartender was bringing the subject up first, indicating he would be willing to talk about things. “Kid, your friend told you the truth; Mortimer did see Nolan die.”
“That can’t be all there is to it, Mac. Why would this be a touchy subject for everyone at NOVA? What the hell is going on?”
Mac laughed and took my drink from me, taking a sip himself. “I’m cutting you off for the night, kid; I think you’ve had a little too much to drink, talking to your elder like that. Shame on you, John,” he chuckled, although I wasn’t quite sure he meant everything in jest. “I think it’s best you hear the whole story from Nolan himself, when the time comes.”
I began to protest, doubting I’d ever see the albino again, but Mac interrupted.
“Believe me, you’ll see him again. And you’re right, there certainly is a lot more to the story than you know. And because I enjoy watching this little mystery being unraveled for you, I’ll point you in the right direction. Sam Mortimer didn’t just watch Nolan Thomas die, kid. Mortimer killed him.”
Mac left me with this food for thought and disappeared in the back room. I headed back to my room a little worse for the wear, unsure of everything that I had learned. It seemed like the situation had already been spelled out for me; Sam tried to kill Nolan, and failed, though he didn’t know that until they met again on our mission. But why would both Sam and Mac tell the story with Nolan’s death as a fact? Of course, it wasn’t that Nolan didn’t look dead, with his lean stature and deep, sinking features.
In all of the commotion, I had forgotten the other subject of the journal entries – Fiona. My ex-wife remained in a steady coma, but I made sure I would see her tomorrow before embarking on my next mission with Morty. I collapsed in a heap on my bed, still fully clothed, and passed out. Maybe it was from the long day and the confusion and frustration I was experiencing, or maybe it was from one shot too many. True to form, I slept soundly and didn’t dream. When the morning came, I was more hung-over than I’d ever been, as least as far as I could remember, which given the circumstances wasn’t much.
The Tuesday morning sun trickled in through the glass skylight windows as I examined myself in the mirror. I look disheveled and thoroughly ravaged by the night before. My head was pounding and I found myself struggling to form coherent thoughts. After wasting a few minutes trying to get everything together, it was off to the hospital wing to visit my ex-wife.
“John?” A voice caught me in the hallway. As luck would have it, Doctor Rovin came around the corner, clipboard in hand. “Listen,” he started, “we have to perform an emergency procedure on Miss Callahan, immediately.”
“What’s wrong, Rovin? What did you do to her?” I had to resist the urge to seize the good doctor by his throat. Rovin took a step back and cleared his throat, surprised at my sudden show of loyalty.
“What’s gotten into you, John? You don’t even know her.”
Something inside me cracked. I leapt towards Rovin and within seconds he was pinned against the wall, his clipboard crashing to the floor. Strangely, I saw no fear in his eyes, just an odd sneer. I put more pressure on his throat, and he began choking out a sickening laugh.
“You don’t even know her, John,” he repeated between breaths.
“She was my wife, you son of a bitch!” Without hesitation, I socked the doctor in the face, and my fist connected solidly above his right eye. Rovin slumped to the floor before looking at something over my shoulder and laughing harder. I readied my fist.
“Perhaps you shouldn’t, John Lange,” said a mechanical voice from behind.