Chapter Two

Wednesday, 13 November, 5:43 AM

The falling sensation that had shocked Karl to shrieking wakefulness sat him up in his bed. Staring into the darkness of his room, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he should be somewhere else, dangerous, and not safely in bed.

He reached over to switch on his bedside lamp, and winced from a pain in the fingers and wrist of his right hand. After he switched to his left hand to click it on, he examined the painful fingers to discover dark, purple bruises. True to his typical reaction when facing a challenge, he cursed, then muttered, “Now how am I gonna fill out forms an’ shit?”

He stared at the bruises, trying to remember how or where he got them, and the anxiety of having forgotten something vitally important kept pestering him. But nothing came to mind.

A glance at his alarm clock told him there was no need trying to sleep any longer, so he shut it off, and thought of another stimulating day awaiting him at the “sanitary” land fill. How, after three years working there, did he manage to have any sense of smell?

As he struggled to stand at the side of his convertible Davenport-bed, his usual morning backache briefly distracted him from his other pains. For years he had hoped to replace his old “torture rack” with a real bed, but somehow he never quite got to it. He stretched his pain-wracked body as usual, but felt an unprecedented and most satisfying popping in his back, and for the first time in years it was without pain. For a moment he enjoyed the sensation, until he realized his fingers and wrist still hurt.

“What luck!” he muttered with more cursing. The only part of his body he used on that loader more than his back was his right hand.

Karl’s lavatory was nothing more than a curtained-off cubicle in the corner of his single-room flat. The visage reflected in the round mirror hanging on the wall over his chipped, enamelled sink told him it was a few days since he had last shaved. Though he was tempted to blow it off again because his blond beard showed very little, he snickered wryly, saying to himself, “Spock, you look very un-Vulcan this morning. Time to shape up if you’re going to be a success.”

Without a second thought, he rummaged through the clutter on a corner shelf over his water closet until he found the aerosol shaving cream. He shook it vigorously, squirted a generous ball of foam into his right hand and smeared it over his cheeks and neck.

Suddenly he realized that his wrist and fingers didn’t pain him as they had just moments before, so he rinsed them off and discovered the bruises had nearly faded. Puzzled, he stared at them for a minute, and again wished he could regain the troublesome, evasive memory. Finally he shook his head, opened a new disposable safety razor and began scraping his face clean.

For the first time since moving into his hovel, Karl regretted not having a shower available, so he did the next-best thing, a thorough sponge-bathing. It was then he found the abrasions on his left elbow and knee. Looking at them, he scratched his head in confusion, unable to recall how he had hurt himself.

Then he changed his skivvies and socks, pulled on a relatively clean, dark-blue work shirt and matching pair of trousers from his makeshift wardrobe, and with great satisfaction, left for the land fill with an unprecedented, lively step.

He arrived at the bus stop earlier than usual, despite having put extraordinary care into his preparations. Rather than grousing as he usually did to those waiting with him about the lousy bus service, he studied them furtively, guessing things about their lives and occupations. He automatically reached to his breast pocket for the pen and tablet he never carried, and made a mental note to acquire them. If he was going to be a success, he’d have to become a student of life.

The long commute finally delivered him to a bus stop about three-quarters of a mile beyond the land fill entrance. As usual the driver had refused Karl’s request to stop early and make his walk a bit shorter, so he stepped off the bus and was engulfed in gray diesel smoke as it accelerated away. Rather than cursing the driver under his breath as he had done each work day for the previous three years, he turned towards the land fill without recrimination and calmly walked, lost in thought, to the Administration building.

As he passed Painter’s office he noted for the first time how harried the old guy looked. He had always believed Dan’s duties were more recreation than work, and wanted nothing more than to have a similarly cushy position. Is that the picture of success? I think not! Another mental note made, he got quickly to work rather than hiding in the locker room as he normally would have done, fantasizing about his Trekkie ambitions until someone came looking for him.

Karl’s day flew past for a change. For years, his most important piece of equipment had been his wrist watch, but that day he was surprised when his cabin wireless crackled to life with Dan’s irritated voice. “Adams! You plannin’ on workin’ all night? The rest of us wanna get outa here.”

Though he hadn’t enjoyed that day’s work more than any other, he had attacked it like an enemy, hardly noticing the perpetual ugliness and stench of the solid waste land fill, rather like a soldier forgets about the noise and pain of battle when he is in the thick of it. Scraping the city’s refuse into the pit unconsciously symbolized to him the change taking place in his life. Without realizing it, he had replaced the passionate self-pity that had consumed him over the years with a cold, dispassionate quest for success.

Karl walked back to the bus stop and spent the long ride home lost in thought. He realized his employment at the land fill was a complete waste of valuable time, and tried to imagine what it would take to get free of it.

After stepping off the bus he didn’t walk to the video store as he normally would have, but stopped only at the local news stand where he purchased a copy of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL.

When he finally arrived at the dump he grudgingly called home, he drew his chair up to the small table that had never before served as a study desk, and began pouring over the financial news with a unique intensity. In fact, he read every word in the paper, including the ads.

Karl sensed no time elapsing until he had finished reading and formed his strategy. He was startled on glancing at his clock to see midnight had come and gone. Before him, written in pencil on a paper towel, were the names of six public stocks that had attracted his attention. Though he felt no fatigue, he forced himself to rest on his bed, plotting how to find enough money to buy in.

***

Thursday, 14 November, 6:00 AM

He must have slept, because his alarm clock startled him out of a dream involving a long, dim flight of stairs. But Karl didn’t have time for analyzing dreams. He shaved again—two days in a row was unprecedented—cleaned up, pulled on his best clothes, clutched his notes and his copy of the JOURNAL, and hurried to the telephone to call the land fill.

“Dan, I’m not coming in today. Just don’t feel like myself!” In that, he told the truth, but his feeling wasn’t physical, and certainly not bad.

“I guess not! You were a one-man show yesterday. I got complaints from the other guys sayin’ you were makin’ ‘em look bad. What got into you?”

“Just doing my job, Dan. I can’t help it if I outclass the other guys.”

“Okay Adams, rest up. But when you come back I want to see you keep makin’ ‘em look bad. Makes me look good.” He laughed as if he had said something clever. Karl didn’t utter the expletive that came to his mind.

After hanging up, he studied one of the ads he’d circled, pushed more coins into the telephone and dialled the listed number. “Yes, I want to talk to a broker.” He drummed his fingers on the telephone table, waiting to be taken off hold. “Yes, set up an account under the name Pavel Chekov.

“Yes I’m serious.

“No … No, I don’t need counselling.

“That’ll be a credit card.” He recited his credit card number and expiration date from memory.

“Yes, I understand that! Just set me up to buy ten shares each of White Properties, Tech-Mentor, Advanced Resolution Control, Secured Documentation, Network Management Associates, and IT Publishing.”

Again he drummed his fingers while waiting. “That’s right, credit card.

“I KNOW it’s going to be expensive, but not as expensive to you as losing your job! Just do it!”

With that he slammed the handset into its cradle, turned to head down the stairs, hitting about every third step, crashed through the front door and headed down the street as if the devil himself were after him.

His first stop was a five-and-ten store where he purchased an inexpensive vinyl portfolio and packages of legal pads and stick pens. At the checkout counter he also found the pocket-size spiral pad he had wanted the day before. He had a life’s work ahead of him, and he was going to be prepared.

***

The Public Library reference section held more books than Karl had ever seen in one place. He fingered through the collection for half an hour, occasionally pulling a volume on investing or real estate from a shelf and laying it on his growing stack. Finally, he carried them to an available table to begin pouring over the information, paper and pen at the ready.

Before he knew it, the room lights blinked and the librarians glared at him expectantly. It was five minutes until ten in the evening, and the library was closing. He had studied for nearly twelve hours without as much as looking up, except perhaps for meeting the occasional biological need, and his brain was fried—a most satisfying, if novel, sensation.

That evening his torture rack Davenport-bed was a welcome sight.

***

Friday, 15 November, 6:00 AM

The dark corridor seemed to go on indefinitely, the distant light never getting nearer. Suddenly a brash clanging invaded the quietness, and the corridor slowly dissolved into Karl’s dreary room. He reached over to quiet the alarm and wiped his hand over his face as if trying to clear away the cobwebs of fatigue. His brain ached from the information he had tried to assimilate the day before.

He glanced at his table to see the new portfolio lying at its edge, filled with his many pages of notes. Never having worked so hard, he couldn’t imagine what had motivated it. But from somewhere deeper than his fatigue, that spark of motivation caused his left arm to throw aside his covers, his legs to swing over the side of the bed, and his body to stand erect. Again he stretched, and again his back popped, relieving his pain and stiffness. He stepped straight over to his mirror and began shaving, his thoughts occupied with his new passion.

After washing and dressing, Karl started for the corridor telephone to again call in sick, but realised his job held so little mental challenge that he could study his notes whilst working. He did, however, stop at the news agent near the bus stop to purchase the latest edition of the JOURNAL.

His study during the long ride to work revealed that all but two of his stocks had increased in value by anywhere from a half to three points. He realized with a little mental calculation that even after possible credit card charges, he had made more from his investments in one day’s time than he had during a month’s bashing his body at the land fill. He also considered the two stocks that hadn’t appreciated in value, resolved to learn why, and to not repeat that mistake. Of course, he never considered how stupid charging his stock purchases could have been in view of the market’s volatility.

As he passed Dan’s office, he fought the urge to resign that day. He did, however, stop at the telephone in the lunch room to call his broker with a sell order for all his stocks, putting into practice a bit of advice he had read in his studies: “Don’t be greedy! Take the profit and recycle it.” He knew he would have another buy list of stocks by day’s end.

***

Friday, 9 May, 7:55 AM

“Karl, my man, have a seat.” Without waiting for a response from his visitor, Dan looked back down to pretend he was busy with the clutter on his desk. Karl marched to within inches of the desk, trying to conceal the disdain he felt while looking down at his seated boss.

After a long moment of silence, Dan looked up to meet his cold gaze. “Okay Karl, what can we do for you.” Dan’s use of the imperious, “we,” irritated Karl no less than usual.

“You need to have me train somebody to take over my job.”

Dan did a comedic double-take and arched one eyebrow. “What? You plannin’ on movin’ into my office?”

“No.” Karl chuckled at the absurd thought. “I’m leaving in two weeks.”

Dan’s jaw fell open and Karl envisioned a fly trap ready to spring closed upon it’s quarry. Karl only smiled at his blustering—nearly ex—boss. “You can’t do that! After all the time I invested in you … I mean, you’ve done the work of three men during the last six months. I was just gonna offer you a huge raise, and the lead-man job out there!”

Karl could no longer withhold his contempt for the man sitting behind the boss’s desk. Though Dan was at least six inches taller, Karl seemed to tower as he looked down at him. Slow, deliberate words rolled from his lips, “Dan, you are an incompetent liar and a thief. You used your father’s connections at City Hall to land this job, and you’ve been mishandling it ever since. Why should I stay here and dig you out of the hole you’ve made for yourself when I could buy you AND this infernal place?” He turned away and walked to the door, but looked back to say, “You don’t deserve two weeks notice.”

Finally he turned his back, not only on his former boss, but on his past life as well. The New Karl Adams faced a world full of promise.

***

August, Three Years Later

Anyone who had known Karl in the Old Days would not have recognized him, or his lifestyle. His exhaustive personal transformation produced someone the business world couldn’t ignore. While educating himself in business, finance and the humanities, he continued amassing his fortune through shrewd stock market and real estate investments. With the ample capital he had available, he acquired much of the old industrial sector and renovated it to become The Division Street District, the Bay Area’s new prestige business and residential location.

His crowning achievement was his personal residential masterpiece. Located at Number Two-One-Six Division Street, the converted garment factory included both the hub of his business activities, and a lavish residence. Since he had become one of California’s, and arguably the nation’s, most influential figures, his headquarters had to suit both his position and the image he tirelessly cultivated.

***

Monday, 21 August, 7:45 AM

Despite having surrounded himself with the trappings of “the good life,” Karl Adams finally had to admit that he was miserable. After pondering the issue for some time, he fixed the blame for his disquiet on his feeling of physical vulnerability. Whilst he wasn’t aware of anyone stabbing him in the back, he was acutely aware that the most mortal of betrayals aren’t, at first, painful. In view of the “deals” he had perpetrated against some very dangerous people, he knew that he was susceptible to even worse in return.

To appease his insecurity, he called the one person in his sphere of influence that he could even remotely trust. After satisfying the social amenities, Karl said, “I know you’ve occasionally enlisted the services of, shall we say, confidential resources? I need to find someone I can trust, who has certain … skills … you know ….”

Marty’s nasal-sounding, Eastern Seaboard accent said, “Uh-huh …” His pause was great with pregnancy. “You know … There’s one guy … He’s pretty good, but I’m not sure how available he is … that’s if I can reach him.”

“Just do your best, Marty. And thanks.” He broke off the call without further enlightening his friend.

Karl stood beside the Italian marble fountain at the centre of his floor space, deep in thought, as he slowly returned his secure mobile phone to the inner breast pocket of his tailored smoking jacket. He stared at, but didn’t see, the statue of the beautiful young maiden pouring water from her pitcher. He heard, but didn’t listen, to the sounds of burbling water and soft, New Age music that filled his space as he turned to amble towards his loft.

***

Thursday, 24 August, 4:42 AM

Apparently Marty had found his, “secret agent,” because early the following morning Karl’s residence telephone awakened him from his recurring dream—the one involving the light at the end of the corridor. He lifted the receiver to hear a rugged-sounding voice with a southern drawl, “Mister Adams, a mutual friend requested that I call. How are you, sir?”

Karl was short on both sleep and temper. “Yes! What do you want?”

“No sir,” the drawl said, “what do you want?”

Karl was more irritated by the cryptic nature of the call than the intrusion into his private time. “Look, I don’t have time for riddles.”

The southern gentleman sounded genuinely apologetic. “I’m sorry for the timing, sir, but considering the, ‘sensitive,’ nature of your business, I thought it would be prudent to call at this hour.”

“Yes, so get on with this, ‘sensitive,’ business.”

“As I was saying, our mutual friend felt y’all might need some kinda specialized services. So, as I said sir, what do you want?”

“This, ‘mutual friend.’ What might his name be?”

“Mister Adams, I am assuming this is not a secure line, and in consideration of the gentleman’s privacy, I am not at liberty to mention his name. Perhaps if you were to mention, in general terms, what y’all need, sir, I’ll be able to help you.”

Karl raised his voice. “Now look, ‘sir,’ we seem to be at an impasse, and if, ‘you all,’ don’t want this call to end right now, you had better be more specific!”

The caller was unflappable. “Am I to assume, Mister Adams, that you wish to engage the services of a confidential security agent?”

“Now, that didn’t hurt so bad, did it?” Karl’s sarcasm was palpable. “So you’re Marty’s friend. Do you do this dance with all your clients? Yes! I need security services.”

“I apologize, sir.” The Drawl sounded as if he were reading from a script. “I am fully booked for some time into the future, but I have an idea of who might be available to help y’all. The person I have in mind is exceptional in the necessary skills required for confidential security support. Do I have your permission to request that contact?”

“Mister, whatever your name is, are you telling me that you don’t have time to consider working for me?”

“Sir, I am telling you that I am booked for the foreseeable future,” the caller repeated calmly—a fact that irritated Karl all the more, “and out of regard for my current commitments, I must respectfully decline your offer.”

Karl was about to reply with even deeper sarcasm, but the caller continued, “To facilitate my colleague’s contacting you, sir, may I please have your secure cell phone number. I assure you, my colleague is even more security conscious than I am.”

“How do you know I have a secure cell phone?”

“Mister Adams, our mutual friend knows your circumstances pretty well, so if you don’t mind, the number please?”

After Karl grudgingly recited his secure mobile number, the caller said, “My colleague will be in touch, sir.” And the line went dead.

The uneasy feeling that he was getting in over his head began bothering him. The rest of the day that feeling grew into minor paranoia, with his jumping whenever the telephone rang, and then being short with the callers. The running water and New Age music failed to calm him, and the one business meeting he had scheduled for the day didn’t go at all well, leaving Karl even more upset.

***

Friday, 25 August, 3:15 AM

That evening Karl retired early, but as usual sleep eluded him. When his secure cell phone warbled shortly after three the next morning, he was awake to answer it.

“Adams!” he barked into the phone, but he wasn’t prepared for the voice that replied.

“Mister Adams,” said the soft, British-sounding female voice, “a colleague asked that I call you at this secure number regarding security services …”

“You get your boss on the line! I’m not talking to any secretary!”

“Mister Adams.” She spoke with just the slightest suggestion of pique. “I was warned to expect a rotten attitude from you, and be advised that I will not accept that from you or anyone else! Do you or do you not require the services of a security specialist?”

Such a direct response to his bullying surprised him. “Yes I do! But you’re not qualified, so …”

She had the nerve to interrupt him. “Mister Adams, if you want security services at the level I am prepared to provide, you must be willing to compromise your prejudices. Think it over, and call me at …” And she slowly gave him her business telephone number before ending the conversation.

This unknown woman, whom Karl couldn’t intimidate, intrigued him. He fought with himself, suffering from an indecision that he hadn’t experienced since before—well—before what? His past life was like a dream, though less persistent than his light-at-the-end-of-the-corridor dream. It seemed he had always been the wealthy, ruthless, self-assured king of the city center, and it irritated him to be challenged by a woman. But the ball was, so to say, in his court.

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