Chapter Forty-Eight.

I’m worried about Dad,” she said. “I’ve never seen

him this way before.”

They were sitting in La Dome, a very trendy Hollywood restaurant. Jack had made the reservation. He couldn’t afford the place. Jack usually tried to avoid restaurants where the price of a dinner for two was higher than his golf score and where the waiters were better looking than he was. La Dome definitely fit that classification, but women liked this place. Stars dined there. What a thrill to look over and see Jim Carrey comically spitting his water out onto the floor while your date is nibbling a seventy-dollar plate of Duck ala Bordelaise. The cheapest thing on the menu was a monkfish cooked whole. Jack ordered that. Susan had the lobster. After the waiter left she said, “I’m worried about what will happen

in court tomorrow. We only have Carolyn Adjemenian to verify that this gene map is legit and proves the existence of the chimeras. Amato will have a parade of lying experts, all guys from government labs, paid through secret government contracts, who will bullshit like car salesmen to prove his point. I can’t let Dad fail. I can’t let them destroy him, steal his soul.”

“Yeah,” Jack said. Strange way to put it, but he knew she was right. As he was looking at her in the dim light of the restaurant he was thinking that she had to be one of the most remarkable women he had ever encountered. It wasn’t just her physical beauty, it was the way she kept standing in there, fighting for her poor, wheezing father right to the end, never once doubting him, even in the face of total defeat. Their trip to the desert had revealed tumbleweeds and dust devils, but not one furry hybrid monster. But she had never lost faith. Even now she was still trying to salvage the mission, still trying to bail Herman out.

“Dad and Sandy saw a chimera,” she said suddenly. “You saw Sandy’s drawing. We need to find out where the government took them… where they are. We need to catch one.”

“Right. Good idea,” Jack replied somewhat less than honestly, as his plate of monkfish arrived. The head was attached and his meal was staring at him, giving him the fish eye.

Susan was saying, “He just never looks crushed like that. Even after the MK Ultra case he got angry and rededicated himself. He’s just sort of sluggish now, going through the motions with Sandy, like his spirit is gone like he doesn’t care anymore.”

All afternoon Jack had been plagued by a thought, but he’d been trying to ignore it. Part of him wanted to just bag this whole case, shake hands with Herman, kiss and make love with Susan, and hope the business with the chimeras would all fade away. But another part of him, the heroic, rarely seen part, wanted to help pull lumbering Herman Strockmire Jr. out of his funk and save the day for the corny but valiant Institute for Planetary Justice. This thought he’d been having this epiphany had been rattling around in his empty head like a marble in a metal bucket for about three hours. He had desperately tried to push it away. It was a question really, and maybe there was no answer. But maybe there was; and if the answer was what he thought it was, it threatened to not only ruin this romantic evening with Susan, but to take them down a road that Jack was pretty sure he didn’t want to travel.

All of this must have been playing across his big movie screen of a face, colorful and obvious as a Steven Seagal flick, because suddenly Susan asked, “What is it? What are you thinking?”

“Huh?”

“You look like you just had an idea.”

“I don’t get many ideas. It musta been gas.”

“What were you thinking, Jack? I want to know,” she demanded.

“Well, if you must know, I was thinking you are one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know, and I think I’m falling in love with you.”

“Jack, that wasn’t it.”

“But it oughta earn me some points, though.” He smiled. “It was sweet and endearing and…”

“Jack!”

“Okay, okay, what I was thinking was…” He took a deep breath. “Everything that happened today makes no sense at all when viewed against what happened yesterday. That’s it. That’s the whole idea. Let’s go to the next subject. Hey, this is a great-looking fish, isn’t it? I love it when you can have eye contact with a meal.”

“Whatta you mean?” she said. “Explain that. And I’m not talking about the food. The thing about what happened yesterday not being in sync with today.”

Jack put down his fork and sighed. “We go out to that reservation and it’s nothing but a used-tire exhibit… some old trailers, a few run-down barns. Nothing.”

“So?”

“So, why is.. he stopped.

“Yes?”

“Why is there a Code Sixty-one on that place?”

“A what?”

“It’s a federal no-fly zone restricting all flights over that reservation from the ground all the way to outer space. They only have Code Sixty-ones over top-secret military installations. If there’s nothing out there to hide, why the FAA restriction, and why did a Blackhawk helicopter chase me off when I tried to fly over it? Why did they arrest and try to kill me if there’s really nothing out there?”

She sat in silence pondering it. “You’re right. It makes no sense.”

“Right, none at all. So that means something is out there something they don’t want anybody to see.”

“But there was nothing there. You saw. The place was deserted. There was no lab. They couldn’t move a whole science facility in a day.”

“It’s not the missing lab. It’s the other thing that’s missing that’s got me puzzled.”

“What other thing?”

“The toxic waste pit. Where the hell was that?”

“Huh?”

“Izzy told us they were digging it even before the tribe left, that it was a huge hole in the ground. But we didn’t see a toxic waste site… no dumping platforms or flow tanks, no sealed concrete hatches, nothing. So where the hell is the toxic waste station?”

“My God, you’re right.”

“Yeah. That happens with me about once every ten years or so.”

“What’re you thinking?”

“I’m thinking maybe that hole they were digging wasn’t for a waste pit,” Herman said. “These DARPA spooks love their underground facilities. The Dulce Lab at Area Fifty-one was underground. What if this chimera testing lab was built underground and the no-fly zone is because they don’t want pictures from the air of the chimeras playing war games and doing training exercises out in the desert? What if the research lab is in that hole? After Herman filed his discovery motion this morning they just went underground, pulled the dirt up over their heads and disappeared.”

There it was his big ugly idea. Now it was out in the open, sitting between them, ruining his Monkfish with Champagne Sauce and her Lobster Florentine. The idea leaked intellectual pollution onto their expensive feast… because, if they accepted this as truth there was really no turning back for either of them.

“You’re right. You’re right, Jack. Izzy said they were digging it even before the tribe left; so, at the very least even if they changed their minds about dumping there would still be a huge hole in the ground and there isn’t.”

“Right. I think Amato knew what was out there and when Krookshank allowed Herm’s motion he called ’em. By the time we got there everything was safely underground. That means somewhere in this big complicated mess we’ve got lawyers lying. Unique concept, huh?”

“What do we do?”

“I think we need to go back and see Izzy. Get him to draw us a map of exactly where that pit was.”

All of a sudden they weren’t hungry, so they had the waiter bag up their food.

“Was everything to your liking?” the handsome maitre d’ asked skeptically as he handed them two tinfoil containers twisted into the shape of ducks.

Hard question, Jack thought. Everything most certainly wasn’t to his liking. In fact, he was scared to death. The last thing he wanted was to sneak back out to Indio and crawl under a barbed-wire fence with a knife between his teeth. But the guy looked so sad that they hadn’t eaten that Jack assured him. “Everything was tremendous.” He held up the two containers of artistically packaged food. “Just ducky,” he added softly.

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