Saturday, October 19, 2013

First look at "The Visions of David Palmer: Recoil"

As promised, the Prologue and first chapter of my new novel due out on Nov. 1, 2013.
Get Excited!

The Visions of David Palmer
by Stephen Reid Andrews

Copyright © 2013
All rights reserved,
including the right of reproduction
in whole or in part in any form.
This is a work of fiction. References to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and events are product of the author’s imagination, and any similarity to actual events, persons (living or dead), or places is coincidental.
Copyright on all of the work in this book is held by the author.
      “What is it now?” asked Falin with irritation from his place behind the large desk in the dark office. Behind him, a large bullet-proof window separated Falin’s back from the Chicago skyline far in the distance. The room was permeated with the faint sweet smell of the world’s finest Cuban cigars.
      The top floor of the industrial building only had three offices – one for him, one for Drummond, and one for the third member of the three-headed dragon that ran the North American branch of the organization. Falin thought it quite symbolic that this building was located in Chicago; in the center of the country he planned to take down first.
      Of course, Falin’s office was more extravagant than any other office because, in reality, everything belonged to him. He only gave Drummond an office to keep him close, and he only gave the third member of his presidency an office as an empty representation of the promises of power and money Falin had offered him years ago to lure him to the organization. That man was really only an ignorant pawn and of no concern to Falin. Falin couldn’t trust him anyway. To get where Falin was today, he hadn’t trusted anyone but himself.
      The rest of the building housed a small portion of the technological arm of Falin’s empire – the arm that, through its legal capitalistic enterprises funded approximately a quarter of the organization. The other three quarters were funded mostly by black-market deals, manipulation of the world’s financial and oil markets, and, of course, terrorism.
      Uncharacteristically, Drummond continued nervously. “It’s him again.” Drummond was a trained killer, had served two tours in Iraq, and had arranged for the unexpected deaths of many of Falin’s enemies – and some of his allies too (at least the allies who got too independent).
      Drummond tried his best never to appear independent.
      “Who?” Falin slithered through his teeth. Previously, Falin had been disinterested with Drummond’s visit. Now, Falin’s curiosity was pricked, and, unfortunately, he felt he knew who was getting in his way again before Drummond even said the name.
      “It’s Palmer.”
      “David Palmer?” Falin rhetorically responded with deliberation.
      David Palmer had been a thorn in Falin’s side ever since he had brought down the Triangle. At first, Falin had been pleased that Palmer exposed the Triangle. The Triangle had been a disposable front that had out-lived its use and purpose and that had made too many mistakes along the way. In fact, before its downfall, Falin had struggled with how he could eliminate the Triangle without making it look like he was the one that orchestrated the elimination.
      Palmer’s resourcefulness conveniently took care of that problem. But, Palmer didn’t stop there like Falin supposed he would. Afterwards, Palmer seemed to turn up every time he was unwanted and every time Falin was about to make progress.
      Drummond swallowed. “Yes,” he answered though the response was not necessary.
      “How much has he cost me this time?” Falin clamped his jaw, grinding his teeth and stretching the skin on his face with the tension.
      “He prevented our…attempt to assassinate Mayor Leonetti, and in the process he cost you Perez and Vancott.”
      “Did he kill them?”
      “No; the boy isn’t aggressive and hasn’t killed anyone since his altercation with the Triangle. Like he has done before, he merely exposed our operatives, making it necessary for us to eliminate them ourselves.” Drummond moved closer to Falin. “He shows up as if from nowhere – with no advance notice – but like he knows our every move before we make it.”
      Falin leaned forward, pressing his fingers together contemplatively and drumming them against each other out of habit. “How?”
      “I don’t know.”
      “What do you mean; you don’t know? Who do we have watching him; a team of imbeciles?”
      “I assure you, sir. We have our best men watching him, but he’s too good at what he does and knows too much.” Drummond swallowed dryly. “It could be a mole within our organization.”
      “No, we’ve thought of that. I know everything that goes on here. Nothing escapes me, and, so far, there is no indication that information is being leaked to Palmer and his group. They must be working for someone.”
      “Could be the NSA, CIA or FBI?”
      Falin looked at Drummond like Drummond just failed a remedial math test. “No, I would know if that were the case.”
      “He could be working for the Alliance.”
      “It’s possible,” Falin considered. “You say your men have been watching him?”
      “Yes. We’ve been watching him and his friends – nearly every move.”
      Falin stopped drumming his fingers against each other. “Have Palmer and his friends mentioned the Alliance?”
      Drummond’s face fell with disappointment. “No.”
      “And they’ve never mentioned anyone else who they could be working for?”
      “No,” said Drummond, and then continued after a pause, “Have you ever thought that he might not be working for anyone – that he might be doing this on his own?”
      “That’s impossible.” Falin was now forceful. “They are only kids.”
      “He’s twenty-two and has been married, the girl is twenty, and the computer geek is almost twenty. The brother is the youngest at nineteen,” recited Drummond like he was providing information that Falin didn’t already know.
      Falin already knew their ages. He knew everything about them – except how they were able to disrupt him on so many occasions.
      “Like I said; they are only kids,” re-emphasized Falin.
      Drummond sat looking at the floor for two minutes wondering if they were at an impasse in the conversation. “What would you like me to do?”
      “Nothing. Why should I concern myself with Palmer? So, he cost me a few men, has delayed Leonetti’s extermination, and has made me spend a few million dollars here or there. It’s not like he’s going to single-handedly bring down my operations,” Falin said without emotion.
      Drummond hesitated to make certain his next words were made with complete respect for his superior. “That’s what you might not realize. Since we’ve been watching him, we have realized that Palmer is…well…he’s somewhat of superhero for lack of a better description, and it’s possible that he just might bring us down.”
      “Seriously, Drummond; are you twelve? I should have you killed for the stupidity of that statement.”
      Drummond tried to save himself. “I don’t mean that in a childish sense, sir. There is simply something extraordinary about him. Not only did he prevent the assassination of the mayor last week; he also disrupted one of our largest weapons deals the week before, he interrupted our attempts to steal information from our competitor, and, don’t forget, he brought down the Triangle.”
      “You’re trying my patience Drummond. I am aware of all that Palmer has done, but that hardly makes him a superhero. And besides, we wanted to rid ourselves of the Triangle and were glad to let him do it. We would have had no problem taking care of him and his girlfriend if we had wanted the Triangle to carry on.”
      “This is more than that.” Drummond proceeded cautiously. “He’s done other things that we haven’t reported. They seemed small and irrelevant at the time because they didn’t concern us, but everything is adding up.”
      Falin was visibly upset that any information had been kept from him regardless how insignificant or impertinent some low-level mercenary may have thought the information. “What other things are you talking about?”
      “In the last two months – since he frustrated the kidnapping of the little girl near Orland Square – he, as I mentioned, prevented our attack on the mayor, rescued a boy who was about to get hit by car; stopped a bank robbery; stopped a man from beating his wife; found an escaped convict; helped a man save his job; captured an identity thief; saved a man from choking on a piece of meat; and won ten thousand dollars on a local radio show. Those are only the things that I remember. And, of course, you already know about his extremely coincidental fortune with investing in the stock market. It’s quite incredible if you ask me.”
      Falin snickered slyly with the mention of the radio contest. “I wasn’t asking for you opinion. Is Palmer the only one in the group that seems to know what’s going on?”
      “No. I mean; he’s the leader – everything goes through him, but his girlfriend helps him most of the time as well as the guy with the computer. His brother also rears his head once in a while. It’s like they have some sort of super – ” Drummond stopped himself, not wanting to use another superhero reference as a result of Falin’s previous reprimand. “They operate like an anonymous special-forces unit – saving people and cleaning up Chicago without sticking around for any recognition.”
      “Interesting.” Falin brought his triangulated hands to his face in contemplation.
      “So, what would you have me do then? Would you like my men to take them out?”
      “Not yet,” Falin said turning his chair to look out the window. “We have to find out who he is working for and whether the relationship between him and his superiors could be advantageous for me. And, who knows; with the right leverage, we might be able to persuade Palmer to join us. A boy with such incredible skills might be an asset should I ever need to replace anyone.”
      Drummond looked up at Falin nervously, hoping the comment was not meant for him.
      “Bring him to me,” said Falin deliberately. A crooked grin stretched Falin’s face, lengthening the scar that went prominently from his eyebrow across his face and to the bottom of his ear.
       Taking a sip of her smoothie, Maddy shifts her attention from the Sinclair gas station a hundred feet in front of us and looks at me.
      “So,” she says tapping the steering wheel of her Honda Civic with one hand while putting down her smoothie with the other.
      We are both sitting in the front seats of the car fairly relaxed for our little stakeout.
      “So,” I say back as I squint through the dim winter sunlight reflecting off the car’s shiny red hood. We are in a parking lot across the street from the gas station and have been sitting here for at least an hour. We’ve addressed all the normal topics already: how her father’s alcohol and drug rehab is going; how my family is doing; Ridley’s most recent gadgets; the latest episode of Duck Dynasty; and, pathetically, the weather.
      Maddy gently rolls her eyes. “So…, how long are we going to wait here?”
      Most of her long black hair is tucked nicely between herself and the seat with some of the strands gracefully draped across the front of her shoulders – freshly curled. She smells nice, like she just got out of the shower. She’s wearing jeans and a navy blue shirt that contrasts perfectly with her pink lips and dark eyes. She’s absolutely drop-dead gorgeous.
      “I don’t know,” I respond. “There was nothing in my vision that told me what time of day this was going to happen – only that it would happen during the day.”
      “Great. We’ve been here since nine o’clock and could be here until sundown. And, on top of that, what is supposed to happen could have already happened. Good thing I don’t have a date scheduled for tonight,” she says sarcastically, obviously referring to the fact that I haven’t asked her to go on a date with me since we brought down the Triangle.
      “No,” I say disinterested with her complaint. “If we had missed it already, I think the cops would still be here.”
     I can’t blame Maddy for her frustration. She did say she would be ready for me when the time came, but my failure to jump start our relationship has lingered longer than both of us likely anticipated, which, honestly, has been really unfair to her. It’s been six months already, and I haven’t exactly been giving her any sign that I’m going make a move. Over the last two months, I’ve sensed that she is becoming increasingly bothered with my delay.
      My hesitancy hasn’t been because I’ve fallen out of love with her. I’m more in love with her today, than yesterday, and yesterday more than the day before. My delay isn’t because of Jennifer either. In fact, every time I think of Jennifer, I feel guilty for not moving forward with Maddy because thoughts of Jennifer always come with impressions of my last vision of her. I can practically hear Jennifer inside my head reprimanding me for not allowing myself to move on like she directed me.
      The truth is; I’m scared – scared that taking our relationship to the next level will drive Maddy away from me or that something might happen if I allow myself to love her too much. I mean; I know she wants to take the next step, and I know I will be happy with Maddy. But, the one other time I was truly happy in life was when I was married to Jennifer, and she ended up dead on the floor of the Bellview Square Mall. I don’t want that to happen again – I don’t want someone to take Maddy from me like they took Jennifer. That being said, I know my time is running out.
      Saturday is Ridley’s twentieth birthday, and, if all goes well, I plan to ask Maddy on our first formal date that night – after the surprise party Ridley has been planning for himself. It’s still only midweek, so I have some time to worry about how to formerly ask her to go out with me. She’s planning to go to the party even without my invitation, so maybe I’ll meet her there and ask her to do something fun after.
      Suddenly, I feel a piercing pain in the back side of my head that interrupts my thoughts. For a second, the pain is so intense that it feels like someone is in my head hitting the inside of my skull with a hammer. Though the feeling is intense and disorienting, it’s different than any sensation or feeling that I experience when I’m having a seizure.
      “Ugh!” I abruptly grunt as I put my hands to my head and wait for the pain to subside. This is about the tenth time this has happened to me. The first time was about a month ago, and, then, a week later it happened twice and, since then, every third day or so. I don’t know if these intense headaches and my seizures are related, but it’s obvious that I have my fair share of head problems.
      This headache episode lasts about five seconds longer than the previous episodes, but I finally regain control.
      Maddy puts her hand on my shoulder. “Are you okay?” she asks.
      I nod and then shake my head while blinking my eyes tightly to refocus. “I’m fine; just another one of my headaches.”
      “Maybe we ought to call it a day,” she says with tender concern.
      “No, I’ll be alright,” I say.
      Maddy pauses, apparently contemplating whether she should push me to go home. “Have you told Dr. Shields about them yet?”
      Dr. Shields is my new physician. He practices in my childhood and teenage hometown of Freeport, Illinois. I decided to use someone so far from Chicago because I wanted to do all I could to avoid having a terrorist doctor again.
      I straighten up and smile to let Maddy know I don’t think this is serious, though I am starting to share her concern. “No; I haven’t had an appointment for two months. My next one is tomorrow.”
      “You don’t have to wait for an appointment if something is going on, David. There might be something seriously wrong with you.”
      Chuckling, I respond, “Wouldn’t be the first time.”
      “Come on. I’m serious. Having all those seizures has to be doing something to your brain – if you have one.”
      I laugh. “I thought you were being serious?”
      “I am,” she responds. She does look completely serious.
      “Right,” I say, trying to match her tone. “Even if that were the case, I can’t just stop having seizures. My dreams help people. Think about how many people could end up hurt or dead if I’m selfish enough to do something that would cause me to stop having seizures.”
      Maddy looks out her window in a daze, obviously irritated. “Think about how selfish you are being to those who lo – care about you. If you don’t take care of yourself, think about how that makes them feel. Are all the heroics more important than them? Are they really so unimportant that you don’t care if you hurt them?”
      The fact that Maddy worries about me is refreshing. “Come on, Maddy. You know that’s not what I mean. If something really bad happens, I’ll take care of it.”
      “And you don’t think this is bad? You’re impossible, Palmer.”
      She only calls me Palmer when she’s frustrated with me, and I don’t want her frustrated with me.
      “Okay,” I say, “I’ll tell Dr. Shields about it and have him run some tests if he thinks they are necessary.”
      “You promise?”
      My mouth turns up in a smirk as I roll my eyes. “I promise.”
      Maddy looks temporarily appeased. “Good, because, if you don’t, I’ll break both your legs so that you can’t continue with this superman stuff even if you wanted to.”
      “That’s not fair,” I shoot back playfully.
      “Neither is being your sidekick.”
      Because we were distracted by our conversation, we both had stopped looking out the front of the car at the gas station. As a result, I’m surprised to see a beat up green Subaru Outback parked in front of the service station. The Subaru is identical to the one I saw in a vision two nights ago. The Subaru appeared seemingly from nowhere, and I didn’t notice it as it drove into a parking stall.
      “Hold on,” I say interrupting Maddy before she can begin her next sentence. “I think this is our guy.”
      With irritation, Maddy throws her head back against the headrest and, looking away from me, hands me the binoculars. Though I don’t feel good about having Maddy upset with me, if this is our guy, I don’t have time right now to smooth things over with her completely.
      Peering through the binoculars, it takes some effort, but I can see through the back window of the Subaru to the driver. The driver is a gentleman in his mid to late forties with scraggly brown hair, glasses, and a rough unshaven face. Though my view is somewhat obstructed, I can tell the man is definitely the guy from my vision.
      “Yup; it’s him,” I say handing Maddy back the binoculars. She doesn’t reach out to take them from me, so I place them on the seat between us.
      Maddy closes her eyes as if she wants to take a nap.
      “It’s show time,” I say as I hurriedly exit the car.
      After cautiously crossing the three-lane street, I shuffle over to the Subaru, and, lifting the handle on the passenger side door, I slip into the passenger’s seat and interrupt the man as he is stretching the bottom of a ski mask to fit it over his face. There is a handgun in his lap, and it’s obvious that he was moments away from entering the service station in search of a quick buck using his hastily contrived new talent of armed robbery.
      “Who do you think you are?!” the man jerks back and yells as I sit next to him. He nervously fumbles for the gun in his lap like an uncoordinated child.
      “Settle down,” I say with my hand up in a calming gesture.
       The man finally gets a grip of the gun. At first he’s pointing the gun at himself, but, with the shaking of his hand intensifying, he turns it around so it’s now pointed at me.      “Put that away before you hurt yourself,” I say kindly.
      The man looks surprised with my composure.
      “Not until you tell me who you are!” he demands.
      I can sense that his trembling hand is more a result of what he was planning to do than it is the fact that I’ve surprised him.
      “I’m the guy who is about to save you from two to twenty years in jail,” I say as I take one fluid swipe at the gun, grabbing it out of his hand and quickly concealing it underneath my seat. “If you’re not careful with the way you flaunt that thing around, you’re going to get us both thrown in jail. I’m sure you’re not even supposed to have one of these in this town.”
      The man has changed from nervously afraid to visibly annoyed in a matter of seconds.
      “Give me that back!” he commands.
      “Look, you don’t want me to give you the gun back,” I say conclusively.
      The man stares at me in astonishment, visibly attempting to decide what he should do next.
      “Now, what’s your name?” I say, hoping to ease the tension.
      The man is still utterly confused, but he obliges me. “Uh…, it’s Steve.”
      “Well, Steve; you were about to do something extremely stupid.”
      “I wasn’t doing anything.”
      “You’re about as good of a liar as you are criminal. I know you were about to put that ski mask on, take that gun, and attempt to rob that service station. But, what I know that you don’t know is that within twenty seconds, a Chicago PD squad car is going to pull up alongside us so that two officers can visit the gas station for their usual donuts and coffee. I also know that they would have arrested you without hesitation and sent you to prison for the next several years, if not decades, for armed robbery, giving you plenty of time to think about whatever problem you were trying to solve by being stupid.”
      On cue, a patrol car pulls in and parks right next to us, and two officers briskly get out and enter the service station. Steve’s eyes get huge with amazement, and he starts to shake again with fear at the realization that he was only a moment away from being in prison.
      “How did you know that?” Steve stutters while looking like he’s going to throw up. “Are you a cop?”
      “Do I look like a cop?”
      Steve needs a lesson in reality.
      “It doesn’t matter,” I continue. “All that matters is that you promise me you’ll never try to do something this dumb again. Especially knocking off a gas station – that’s the most juvenile crime in the book.”
      Steve cuts in to defend himself. “I didn’t want to rob the place. I promise. I didn’t have a choice. My wife, …you see, we don’t have health insurance, and the government programs wouldn’t approve her surgery. She…, I was going to do it so we would have enough to…,”
      I hold up my hand to stop him. “I don’t need to hear it. I’m not here to judge you. Just promise me that you’ll get rid of that ski mask and lock your gun away, and don’t ever think that this is the answer to your problems again; okay?”
      Steve nods slightly. “Okay, but where am I going to get the money?”
      It’s almost like he didn’t even hear anything I told him – if I left him right now, I wonder if he would wait until I was out of sight and then simply attempt to rob the gas station again. Some people are too quick to forget and too desperate to think logically when they’ve been backed into a corner.
      “You won’t get it in jail – I can tell you that. Here, take this,” I say pulling out an envelope with ten thousand dollars I won on the radio four days ago. “It should be enough for a down payment. That should persuade them to go ahead with the surgery. For the rest, I suggest you do what sane people do. Get a job or ask family for help.”
      Still trembling, Steve reluctantly grabs the envelope and begins to flip through the wad of one hundred dollar bills. Before he can gather himself and look up, I’ve already exited the car, shut the door, and returned to Maddy’s car.
      As soon as Maddy could see that the events played out like I described them to her earlier, she drove her Honda across the street and made my exit convenient. Even if she doesn’t relish the idea of being a sidekick, Maddy’s getting real good at it.


* * * * *


      As usual, when we arrive at his basement apartment, Ridley is eager to hear our report. This mission was pretty straight forward, so we didn’t keep in touch with Ridley via cell phone while we were saving Steve from prison like we normally would for a more complicated mission.
      Since bringing down the Triangle, my visions haven’t stopped and have seemingly accelerated in their frequency though the seizures seem to be under control for the most part. When I have a vision, instead of images of the Triangle, I see other things now. I see ways we can help people: people getting mugged; people about to get hit by a car; people who have been kidnapped; and other things. We even stopped a huge drug and arms deal a few weeks ago.
      At first, when I realized that I was still having visions, I planned to work alone – doing what my dreams told me to do without imposing any obligation on my friends. But, both Ridley and Maddy are good people with the natural inclination to help others, and I wasn’t able to keep them away. Because both she and Ridley insisted on helping, we’ve all united together to do what we think is the right thing. With all Maddy has been through in her life, I have to admit that her compassion is surprising.
      Ridley, Maddy and I call our little outings where we follow my visions “missions” because we couldn’t think of anything else to call them – assignments, commands, tasks, or jobs didn’t fit right. “Missions” might sound a little too much like we’re in a Hollywood movie, but it’s the title we settled on.
      When we have more complicated missions that involve coordination, careful planning, or constant monitoring (like times when there are several contingent circumstances and moving parts), Ridley is the real hero. His machine, his monitoring equipment, and his skill with technology are vital to those missions.
      My brother, Trevor, has also been helpful on several occasions – when he’s not busy being a sophomore in college or working.
      After six months of stretching my abilities and being more than I am or more than I should be, I still have no idea why this is all happening to me. The dreams must be coming from somewhere, someone, or something (and since I believe in God, I feel like it must be Him). But, regardless, I don’t know why I’ve been chosen. I certainly don’t feel more special than any other person out there, and I certainly didn’t wish for or campaign for this responsibility. I was fine lying in my bed feeling sorry for myself seven months ago. Fortunately, whatever or whoever is responsible for all of these visions sees a potential within me that I don’t see or understand.
      “Well, how’d the mission go?” Ridley asks like we are arriving home from a routine day at the office.
      Maddy responds before I can. “Same as always; Palmer saved the day.” Her tone is a little sarcastic, reminding me that the big mystery right now is why she is still frustrated with me.
      “Who was our guy?” Ridley sits down at his machine ready to log any useful information. Ridley likes to keep a record of our missions and likes us to gather all the information he can on the people we help. I don’t know why he does it. Maybe he thinks we’ll need a favor from one of them someday or maybe he’s planning to right a novel.
      “Steve something,” I answer.
      “You didn’t get a last name again?!” Ridley scolds me.
      I shrug my shoulders.
      Maddy reaches over Ridley’s shoulder and drops a piece of paper on the table. “Here’s the license plate number. I quickly jotted it down when I was waiting for David to finish with the guy.”
      “Thanks, Maddy,” Ridley says. “At least one of you has your head on straight and is paying attention out there.”
      “Tell me about it,” Maddy says taking another verbal jab at me.
      “Hey!” I say. “I told you that I was going to tell Dr. Shields about my headaches.”
      Shaking her head and rolling her eyes, Maddy looks away. “Palmer, you are impossible.” Maddy falls into the cushioned chair in the corner.
      I’m utterly confused.
      Ridley remains unaffected by our exchange. He has been busily entering the sparse information we brought him about Steve into his computer.
      Although we’ve accumulated enough money to upgrade Ridley’s command center as a result of my parents winning the lottery and as a result of the financial investment advice of my visions, Ridley’s basement apartment hasn’t changed in the last six months. Ridley is about performance rather than appearance. On several occasions, I’ve told Ridley we could get anything that he wants or needs, but he would rather spend money on gadgets for us to use on our missions than get the latest flat-screen computer monitor, and he seems quite content with his humble basement bunker. Even with the musty basement smell, I suppose it’s bearable.
      In the last six months, my parents turned their five million dollars in lottery winnings into an even larger fortune by investing half of the funds in GTech only days before the stock increased from fifty-six dollars a share to what would be over five hundred dollars a share if the stock hadn’t split three times. My visions rarely give me any information that would benefit me monetarily, but, like winning the lottery and winning the ten thousand dollars on the radio that I gave Steve this morning, once in a while, I’ll get a premonition that seems unusually self-serving. 
      In the case of the GTech stock, I had a vision about the New York Stock Exchange. Right before the honorary dignitary rang the opening bell, a huge red globe with the name GTech wrapped around its center came crashing down through the ceiling, squashing everything in its path while money rained down around me. It didn’t take much research or analysis for me to discover that the red globe was GTech’s logo, that the smashing of everything in its path symbolized how GTech would crush its competition, and that the money falling from the sky symbolized that I needed to invest in GTech. Five days later my parents’ five million dollars was nearly fifty million.
      After that, I instructed my parents to get out of the stock market for a while. I wanted them to avoid any unnecessary suspicion with the fortune they were accumulating as casual stock traders. It’s not like they had any real investment experience before I started telling them to invest, and multiplying a fortune ten times in three months is not something everyone can do. Someone was bound to start asking questions if they kept going, and the last thing I want to do is spend ten years in jail for an insider-trading scandal.
      Luckily, my parents have been cooperative and are too busy traveling the world with my youngest brother Jacob to be suspicious of how I was so knowledgeable about the stock market.
      Since my parents pulled out of the stock market, I haven’t had any more dreams or visions with investment advice, so I assume the source of my dreams feels like we now have a sufficient coffer of money for the foreseeable future – even if that money is technically in the hands of my parents.   
     Really, I was surprised that I was able to get my parents to invest the four million dollars that they did. Though they have treated me with a lot more respect since I woke up from my coma (which annoys Trevor like crazy), I didn’t think they would be so easily convinced. I’m also surprised that they readily agreed to give me a ten percent commission for my investment advice (also something that annoys Trevor though he does manage to get his own healthy stipend from me to keep his mouth shut about my vigilante law enforcement and people-serving activities).
      My parents’ trust must be a lingering benefit of their relief that I survived the Bellview Square Mall massacre or a result of the pity they have for me because I lost Jennifer. I don’t know how long the treatment will last, but I plan to take advantage of it while I can.
      “Ah, here he is.” Ridley taps a button on his computer pulling up a Facebook page. “Steven Dobbs,” says Ridley as if he has figured out a stressful math problem.
      Glancing briefly at the computer screens, I see a collage of website links, pictures, and search results of which some must be related to Dobbs.
      I’ve long stopped trying to convince Ridley that, even if picking up information left behind on the Internet isn’t illegal because its cyber residue that’s not secure, it’s not really ethical to look at things people have intended to keep private. The last time I tried to debate the matter with him though, Ridley told me that, if I didn’t stop trying to make him feel guilty, he would quit our Justice League.
      The fact that he used a comic book reference to defend his actions didn’t add to his credibility, but, for the greater good (being able to help people), I’ve decided not to press him farther – but, I certainly haven’t settled the matter in my own mind. In the wrong hands, Ridley’s machine or technology similar to it would be extremely dangerous, and sometimes I wonder if we are the wrong hands or if there are any right hands.
      Whether justified or not, I do feel better about what we’re doing when I compare our actions to the recent reports of the federal government collecting information on everyone and spying on those who disagree with them or voice their descent. It’s clear that we live in a time where the technology exists to do anything that anyone with power and money might want to do. The only thing that seems to prevent or curtail the misuse of technology is individual morals, and fortunately, our group has morals…at least, I think we have morals.
      Ridley starts typing while talking to himself out loud. “Forty-four years old, accountant who was dismissed by…let’s see…that page doesn’t say…oh, here it is…Johnson & Mueller, CPA’s. Three children; lives near Lincoln Park; and looks like he has several comments on social sites about his wife’s cancer. Did he say anything about that?”
      “He might have. I wasn’t really paying attention,” I say.
      Ridley shakes his head. “Man, Palmer, what are you doing out there?”
      “Well,” Ridley looks back and forth among three of his computer monitors, “I’m going to assume that his wife’s medical condition was the reason he was going to rob the gas station.”
      “Yeah; I told him that getting thrown in jail would be a little counterproductive.”
      Ridley continues matter-of-factly. “He was probably behind on his medical bills or couldn’t pay for a procedure and was most likely planning to hold up the convenience store for some extra cash.”
      “I thought Obamacare was supposed to fix all of that,” I say mordantly.
      “Right,” Ridley responds with his own perfect sarcasm.
      “I wonder why he didn’t rack up the medical bills and then declare bankruptcy like everyone else,” I say. It annoys me when our missions are simply the result of human stupidity or someone’s failure to think things through to their logical conclusion.
      “The doctors probably didn’t want to go ahead with treatment without some reassurance that they would get payment.”
      “It’s a crazy world we live in where a few pieces of paper that we pretend are valuable currency stand in the way of saving a life.”
      “Let’s see here,” Ridley continues, inattentive to my lecture on life. “It looks like he couldn’t declare bankruptcy even if he was crafty enough to come up with that plan. He declared bankruptcy three years ago when he lost his previous job.” Ridley points to a screen that shows a bankruptcy court docket. “He needs a few more years before he can declare again.”
      “Wow. Rough life. Maybe I need to dream up some financial advice for the guy. It might have been easier if I would have known about him a few weeks ago and could have told him to invest in GTech.”
      “Unfortunately, or fortunately, Palmer, however you want to look at it; your dreams aren’t meant to relieve people of the normal struggles of life. They seem to be meant only for extraordinary circumstances where people deserve a little help – like you’re an angel or something.”
      “That’s a little self-righteous, don’t you think?” Maddy suddenly interjects from behind.
      Both Ridley and I turn to her as if we forgot that she was in the room with us. Maddy is still slouched down in Ridley’s chair, rubbing her hand through her silky black hair and then bringing her hand to her forehead like she has a headache. She is obviously bored.
      “Can I go now?” she asks.
      “Not yet,” I say. “We’ve got to talk about Friday.”
      Maddy opens her eyes and sits up with a hint of shock. She looks genuinely interested now. “Okay,” she says timidly.
      “Yeah. We have to make sure we have everything planned so that the guy in the alley avoids getting killed.”
      Maddy falls back into the chair. “Oh,” she groans, closing her eyes and putting her hand back to her forehead. “Go ahead.”
      Maddy is really acting weird.
      Ridley, however, is how he always is; intently looking at me, ready to plan our next mission.
      I pull a small notepad from my pocket. I use the notepad to jot down things that I remember after I have one of my visions.
      Ignoring Maddy’s disinterest, I repeat the details of a dream I had two days ago about a twenty-something year old guy who gets caught up in a mugging.
      For the next thirty minutes, Ridley and I meticulously discuss the details and plan out how we are going to find the guy and, once we do, how we are going to help him. We decide that we may need Trevor’s help for this mission, so I take the assignment to invite Trevor. We also give Maddy her assignment even though I seriously wonder if she’s paying attention. Ridley takes the assignment to prepare the technology and surveillance equipment we need for the whole thing.
      “Good; can I go now?” Maddy asks impatiently when we are finished.
      “What’s wrong,” I say, completely confused.
      “If you don’t know, then I’m not going to tell you.”
      Maddy is impossible to figure out sometimes, and that statement from her sounds completely juvenile. “That doesn’t make any sense. If I don’t know what’s bothering you, wouldn’t you want to tell me?”
      She stands up. “I’m out of here.”
      Ridley turns around. He had been disinterested in our exchange until now. “Don’t forget. My party is Friday. Are you coming? We’re going to eat pizza, karaoke, and maybe dance – so bring a date.”
      Why would Ridley mention a date? He has to know that Maddy doesn’t need a date. She’s got me.
      “Wouldn’t miss it,” she says as she is already out of the room and half-way up the stairs.
      I turn to Ridley. “What’s wrong with her?”
      Ridley looks at me in shock. “Seriously? Are you kidding me?”
      Ridley shakes his head. “I don’t know how you ever got Jennifer to marry you.”
      The mention of Jennifer irritates me, but Ridley’s ADD tendencies don’t give me the opportunity to press him any further as he returns to a topic that he’s more interested in.
      “Hey, look at this new gadget I got,” he says as if we didn’t just have a conversation about Maddy at all.
      Ridley picks up a black box approximately eight inches in length and three inches in width that was sitting unassumingly on the end of his computer table. The label GTech is printed across the lid and, then, in smaller letters, printed on the side. Next to the label GTech on the lid is the logo for GTech that I saw in the vision that instructed me to purchase and sell shares of GTech stock.
      Considered one of the leaders (if not the leader) in technological advancement, GTech is frequently the lead story on the news as it announces the next smartphone, tablet, or computer-based system. GTech is so infused and dialed in with the technology sector that rumors and speculation have even been swirling around that GTech could be involved with the federal wiretapping and surveillance scandals. Conveniently, one of GTech’s main development centers and the headquarters for its North American division is located right outside of Chicago along with everything else that seems scandalous these days.
      Ridley carefully lifts the lid off the box like a husband revealing a diamond necklace to his wife on their tenth anniversary. Turning the box over, he lets the contents of the box drop out into the palm of his hand.
      “It’s a pair of sunglasses?” I say unimpressed. Though I never know what to expect when Ridley asks me to look at a new gadget, I have to say that a pair of sunglasses was totally unexpected, and, honestly, extremely disappointing. This pair isn’t even a cool looking set of Oakley sunglasses. It’s one of those bulky pair with the thick rims like my mother wears – the kind made in Taiwan that sell for a buck or two at a gas station.
      “You know those were invented a long time ago, right?” I say with soft sarcasm.
      “Not these,” he says, handing them to me. “Here; put them on.” Ridley’s dark eyebrows push up the dark skin on his forehead in excited anticipation. His smile makes me wonder if this is a joke.
      “If I put these on, is my head going to explode?” I timidly examine the glasses and take them from Ridley.
      “Don’t insult me.”
      “Well then, are they like x-ray glasses or something?”
      “I guess you could call them that – if you’re ten years old.”
      Freezing my movement to put on the glasses I glare at Ridley. “I don’t want to see that stuff! If I wanted look through people’s clothes, I would join the TSA.”
      Ridley rolls his eyes. “I think you really might be ten years old,” he says. “Not that kind of x-ray, stupid.”
      It may seem like Ridley and I are being over-abrasive towards each other in our conversation, but this is how we normally get along. In reality, we’ve become extremely good friends over the last six months.
      “These glasses,” he continues, “they don’t let you see through things in a perverted way. They allow you to see through people’s outward facade to learn their identity. So, in a way, they are x-ray glasses because they allow you see who a person is and some of what a person may be hiding. Everyone has something covered up by their physical appearance.”
      After taking down the Triangle and after successfully accomplishing a few missions; Maddy, Ridley, Trevor, and I had a meeting (I guess that’s what it would be called) where we decided on some rules of engagement – a code of ethics of sorts. Some of the things we did without a second thought during our takedown of the Triangle were beginning to bother us. For example: stealing motorcycles; stealing a dead guy’s Jaguar; lying; and indirectly or directly causing the death of a few people (even if they were known terrorists like Wolfe and McKlintock). As a result, we decided on some boundaries – the ethical and moral standards we wanted to operate under and the limits we wanted to set so that none of us would cross a line that shouldn’t be crossed.
      Out of a sense of obligation to continue fulfilling the missions my visions give us, we decided the use of Ridley’s machine was necessary for the greater good. As long as we keep it from falling into the wrong hands or prevent ourselves from becoming the wrong hands, we’ve reasoned that the machine is doing more good than harm.
      Other things, like stealing, committing crimes, or killing someone, have been completely forbidden – at least purposefully engaging in these acts has been forbidden. There are still some exceptions, but not without us doing everything to make things right in the end like returning a borrowed tool or paying for repairs to property that becomes unavoidable collateral damage.
      In fact, despite the awkwardness, I actually went and found the guy who owned the Nighthawk from the drugstore incident six months ago, told him I totaled his bike, and bought him a new one – of course I did all that under an assumed name, but I still made it right. And, since I gave him an additional thousand bucks for his trouble, he forgave me rather readily.
      X-ray glasses would cross the line, so I’m happy with Ridley’s revelation that what I’m holding are not x-ray glasses.
      “What do they do then?” I ask.
      “Have you seen those Google glasses in the news? The ones that allow you to take pictures and surf the Internet and stuff?”
      I look at him with a stone face absent of recognition.
      “You know, the ones they’ve started banning from movies and other places where information is sensitive.”
      He still gets no recognition from me.
      He shakes his head in disapproval of my ignorance. “Just put them on,” he says.
      Moving clumsily, I haphazardly straighten and unfold the frames.
      “Careful,” he warns, “those things aren’t cheap.”
      Now it’s my turn to shake my head, but, obediently, I handle the glasses more gently as I place them over my eyes. As far as U-V protection goes, this pair of sunglasses is like any other cheap pair of sunglasses.
      “Wow, that’s amazing! I put them on and, when I do, the light is dimmed,” I joke.
      Ridley sighs with irritation and, without another word, reaches over to the glasses and pushes an extremely small button on the top of the frames that I hadn’t noticed was there. Immediately, the inside of the lenses appear to transform into miniature computer monitors that are warming up. The lenses are still transparent, but the flickering of the screen from a computer monitor on the inside of each lens is obvious. It’s like I’m watching a faint television, but I can still see through the television to what’s on the other side.
      “Okay, that’s cool. I can surf the Internet while tanning on the beach. Problem is; I can’t fit my fingers into the lens to do anything. I may be wrong, but I think the Smartphone is still a little more user-friendly.”
      “No; elementary surfing of the Internet is not their purpose. Look at me,” he commands.
      “I am.”
      “No, look straight at me.”
      I turn my head so I am staring directly at Ridley’s face. As I do, the computer monitors on the inside of the glasses flicker and then sputter as the word Searching… appears at the bottom of both lenses. Within a few seconds, a faint photo of Ridley in a suit and tie appears a little off center in the right lens. In the other lens, a bunch of words start scrolling on the lens. I close my right eye, so I can focus on the words in the left lens.
      The left lens says, Top Results: Ridley Terrance Novak, Student, Midwestern Community College of Illinois. Adam Carl Samuelson, Employee, Riverwalk Grill. Dieter Krämmer, Studente, Ansbach Universität, Deutschland.
      Opening my right eye again and closing my left eye to focus on the picture in the right lens, I see that the inside of the lens for the right eye is flipping through three images. The first one is Ridley’s student picture, the second is a full-body picture from Facebook of a man Ridley’s age who looks a lot like Ridley, but, for someone familiar with Ridley like me, there are some obvious distinctions. The third picture looks like a European version of Ridley, which matches the German name.
      “So what am I looking at?” I ask.
      “Did anything come up on the lenses?”
      “Yeah, a picture of you and two other guys that sort of look like you.”
      “Here,” Ridley moves towards me and presses another inconspicuous button on the opposite side of the frames from the first button he pushed to power on the glasses. He clicks the button as the picture on the inside of the left lens is focused on Adam Carl Samuelson. The image of Samuelson freezes for a second and then both sides of the glasses start to scroll through information on him. Each nugget of information has a source listed for where it came from (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.) as the information scrolls down in front of my eyes.
      “Any information come up?” Ridley asks like a kid waiting for a surprise birthday present.
      “A ton on some Adam guy,” I say.
      “If you want the scrolling to stop on certain information that interests you, click this button again,” Ridley re-clicks the button he hit a second ago to get to the information on Samuelson.
      Ridley’s undirected click has stopped on Samuelson’s Facebook page – it’s private, so the lens reloads and then says that no more information is available.
      “How do you go back?” I ask.
      Ridley reaches his hand underneath the same lens and clicks a hidden third button. “Like this.”
      I reach up and click the same button taking me back to the three choices of people. I click on Ridley. The information that is displayed on the lenses is sparse to say the least.
      “It has almost nothing on you,” I say wondering if the glasses are not performing as they should.
      “That’s because I’m not stupid enough to put any of my information online. Here,” Ridley says taking the glasses from me and putting them on his own face as he looks at me. He fiddles with the buttons on the glasses for a moment and then hands them back to me. I am utterly shocked at the image that is present on the glasses.
      It’s a picture of me.
      Next to my image, the other lens is flipping through my student information at the University of Chicago (although I haven’t attended that school for nearly two years). I stop on a screen that shows my sister’s Facebook page with several pictures of me. I then click through the images to a picture of me that Trevor posted on his blog. Next to the picture is some basic information you would find on one of those people-finder websites: possible addresses are displayed (my parents’ address and the address where Jennifer and I used to live), possible phone numbers, and possible email addresses. The next list of information is one of possible relations. I get the chills as I see Jennifer’s name next to my parents’ name along with the names of Trevor, Jacob, and Liz.
      “Wow.” I say with a gasp. “How did they do that?”
      “It’s new face recognition technology. There’s a tiny camera in the center bridge of the frame right above the nose. The glasses are connected to the Internet and programmed with the face recognition software. When you look at someone, the glasses search the Internet – social networking sites, Google, blogs, and other information gathering websites – to see if a matching image can be located. Because the glasses are obviously small for computer monitors, they can only give you the top three results, but, if none of those results are promising, you can press the button underneath the left lens to get the next three top results and so on. You were actually a little harder to find – you were about number seven on the list of possible matches because you don’t have a Facebook page and don’t spend much time on other social networking sites. But, if you click the back button…”
      “This one?” I say, bringing my hand to the glasses.
      “No! That one will start the search over. This one,” he says frustrated that I can’t remember exactly everything he’s told me in the last five minutes. He clicks the button for me once. “Go back until you see the top three results.”
      I do. Trevor’s picture next to the description found on his Facebook page is the first result that comes up. “It’s Trevor.”
      “Yeah. Because of the similarities in your facial features, and because his picture is pasted all over the Internet like he’s running for president, he was the first one to come up and the top result.”
      “What information do the glasses search through? Do they have the same access as your machine?”
      Ridley snorts with annoyance. “Hardly. GTech doesn’t have that technology…at least not that they want anyone to know about. These things can only search what’s readily available on the Internet. And, these glasses are really only a prototype, so I haven’t figured out how to link them up to my system without exposing myself on the Internet.”
      “Did you buy these?”
      “No,” he says defensively as if he is offended I would suggest that he would purchase something so arcane. “I got them from a friend – or more like an acquaintance – who works at GTech. GTech is six months to a year away from releasing anything that resembles these sunglasses to the public and this set is really on…uh…loan, so that’s why you need to be careful with them.”
      “You mean; you stole them?” I scowl at Ridley hoping my look reminds him of our unwritten code of ethics.
      “Of course not. The guy I know that works there; his job is to test the new developments – so, this is simply some field testing.”
      “Yeah, secretive field testing that, if discovered, will land your friend who works at GTech – and maybe us – in jail if someone finds out.”
      “Palmer; why do you always have to get caught up in the details?”
      I shake my head, but, then, against better judgment, I get a little selfish. “Hey, can I use these things on Friday? For our mission?”
      “These aren’t toys Palmer,” he says turning back to his computer monitors. “But, I was hoping you would ask that,” he concludes with a smile.
      After discussing some final preparations for Friday’s mission, Ridley reminds me about his party on Saturday for what seems like the one hundredth time of reminding me. After reassuring him of my planned attendance, I gather my things, and head back to Trevor’s apartment, which I suppose is my apartment now too since I moved in with him a few months ago.
      Because Maddy left Ridley’s basement without taking me with her, I have to take the bus to my apartment, but this isn’t the first time I’ve had to take the bus, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
      During the bus ride, I swear I recognized one of the passengers that was on the bus with me – dark hair, forty-five years old, beard, and glasses, but I couldn’t remember where I’d seen him. I see a lot of people in my visions and have, more than once, made the mistake of approaching someone I thought I recognized only to find out we’ve never met. To avoid the risk of meeting up with the wrong person, I’ve decided not to approach anyone I think looks familiar unless I’m certain that the person has something to do with one of my visions – usually only if it’s someone I’ve taken notes on – or that I’m sure I met in real life somewhere.
      At about 5:00 p.m., I exit the bus into the shivering cold and make my way the last block across ice-covered sidewalks until I’m safely inside the apartment. With the days ending early to the winter darkness and the fact that I stayed up until two in the morning last night surfing the net for the guy with the scar from the graveyard dream I had six months ago, I decide tonight would be a good opportunity to turn in early.
      As a result, I eat a lonely dinner, watch an episode of the latest lame sitcom and retire to bed. While lying in my bed waiting for sleep to overcome me, I text Maddy to see how she’s doing, but, after waiting several minutes, I give up on receiving a response from her, place my phone on the nightstand, and roll over on my side. Trevor should be dragging himself back to the apartment any time now from his job, date, or whatever he is off doing. It’s not unusual for Trevor to come home late, so I don’t keep my eyes open long enough to wait for him. I called him while I was on the bus and invited (more like bribed) him to help us on our next mission, so I have no need to torture myself by staying awake.

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