Hey guys!! Happy Super Bowl Sunday!! Go Ravens! That's a lot of exclaimation points, but oh well. I didn't forget to post this, I promise. Here ya go. ♥
HEART FOR TRADE: WEEK 18
Ryan heard a door creak open, the storeroom door, and scrambled to gather up the SD cards. His heart pounding, he scooped them up, stuffing what he could into his pockets, and closed the lid to the black case. He slid it back onto the bottom shelf and pulled out a random box of documents from the first cabinet. Jarum’s sleepy mumble echoed through the storeroom, followed by a deeper, gruffer voice. Squeaky footsteps proceeded to the back of the room, coming for him. Ryan pulled the lid off the document box, scattering some papers on the ground to keep up appearances.
The footsteps stopped right behind him. He straightened, turning his head slowly. A man in a dusty blue jumper stared at him with dark eyes. He scratched his thick red beard, sizing Ryan up. “You need any help, kid?”
“No. Thanks, I think I got the hang of it.” Ryan gulped under the man’s scrutiny. And then the bearded gentlemen shrugged, opening the second cabinet.
“No one’s been in here for a while. Sorry if it’s a bit dusty. I don’t generally have the time to do more than a little sweeping back here.” He pulled a few rags from the cabinet, handling a spray bottle in the other. “Name’s Lon if you need something.”
“Nice to meet you, Lon.” Ryan relaxed. “I’m Ryan.”
“Yeah, you’re friend told me as much. He’s got a sharp tongue on him. Guess I can’t fault a man for being a little gruff when he wakes. I’m not a ray of sunshine when I roll out of bed, if you know what I mean.” Lon smiled.
Ryan smirked. “Yeah, I do.” He looked at the documents, shifting around on his knees. The discs rubbed against him in his pockets. “Hey, Lon?”
“Yeah?” Lon pushed his hip against the cabinet door, shutting it.
Ryan glanced to the chair hiding in the dark, eyes drifting to the can on the ground. “I was wondering about…”
“Oh.” Lon smiled, leaning to the side. He nodded at the chair. “That? I don’t like to move the stuff, in his memory, you know?”
“In whose memory?” Ryan looked up at Lon.
“Sam Sr., kid. He was the only Commander to ever step foot in this place. Mostly just techs brought the boxes in themselves, occasionally a guard, but that was about it. The former Commander liked to wind down, and most nights he would hole up in his room, or sit in here and smoke a few. I’d always see him around midnight sitting in that chair.” Lon pointed. “We shared a few words, or if he felt like talking…a few more words. But for the most part, he was a really private guy. I still don’t feel right about moving his stuff. Ain’t bothering nobody, either.”
Intrigued by the revelation, Ryan stood and dusted off his knees. “Does the current Commander know about this?”
Lon shrugged. “Maybe, but I doubt it.”
“Oh. I know this is going to sound crazy, but did Sam Sr. ever watch movies in here?”
“You mean that?” Lon nudged his chin at the projector. “Yeah, I caught him once or twice watching some home movies against the wall. I never bothered him. He lost his woman, you know? Those tapes were all he had left of her. I suspect he didn’t want his boy growing soft over seeing his mom on screen after she passed. He was kind of a hard ass to his kid, uh, the Commander. Don’t tell him I said that.” Lon cringed.
Ryan smiled. “I won’t… on one condition.”
Lon laughed. “Jesus, blackmailing me? You topsiders. What do you want, kid?”
“I need to know everything you had on Sam Sr.”
Lon stopped laughing. “Excuse me? What do you mean had?”
Fuck it. If he was going to get what he needed, might as well get it all out in the open…as long as Sam didn’t find out he was snooping. That would be bad. “I know I haven’t been here very long, and no one trusts me yet, but I’m trying to do something important now. As the janitor, you probably caught a lot of conversations, daily activity everyone doesn’t generally get to see, and knowledge about certain people…under the table, so to speak.” Ryan held his breath, hoping he hadn’t crossed a line.
“What’s in it for me?” Lon crossed his arms. “If I do happen to have the information you’re looking for.” The amusement in his eyes made Ryan angry.
“I’m not messing around, Lon. I’m not some joke, either.” Ryan peered down the aisle before getting in Lon’s face. “I’m trying to help Sam, my Sam, by doing the undercover work no one else seemed to bother with. I think I’m onto something, a certain bit of information to do with the password.”
Lon leaned forward, shocked. “Are you shitting me right now?”
Ryan shook his head. “I have this feeling I’m very close, Lon. I think the more I know about Sam’s dad, the more I can put together the pieces. Everyone seemed to know a bit about him, but no one really knew him completely, not even Sam. If I want to get my hands on that password, and put an end to it, I need to follow the trail, a trail that starts with you.”
“That’s an intense thought process for someone with no formal education.”
“I read a lot.” Ryan smirked.
“It shows.” Lon sighed. “I don’t know what to tell you, kid. I don’t want to get your hopes up, even if your cause if noble.”
“Anything you can remember would be helpful.”
“Okay, but I’m not promising anything spectacular.” Lon leaned against the closed cabinet. “I’ve started my routine exactly the same for almost twenty years, and in that time, Sam Sr. was also a creature of habit. He’d always take a smoke at the door to the tunnel first thing when the sun rose. He’d usually eat his breakfast in private, in the kitchen with Yvonne. He wasn’t one for all the noise in the Mess Hall. He made sure they knew he wasn’t their friend, but their Commander.” Lon rolled his eyes. “By that time I was usually done with the Control Room and headed this way to grab more supplies. At ten on the dot, he’d cross my path on his way to his rooms, and damn if he knew exactly where he was going, even with his eyes on that little black book of his.”
“What book?” Ryan shook with excitement. A clue!
Lon waved his hand. “Don’t start to float away just yet. The book was for his schedule, he told me once. I think it’s how he kept tabs on everyone’s routine, so he didn’t run into them when he went about his business.”
“He was really weird about privacy, huh?” Ryan wished he had something to write on. But as he didn’t, he tried to remember everything Lon was saying.
“You have no idea. He doubled the speakers and cameras throughout the base, just so he didn’t have to go into the Control Room to give orders to Avery or the others. Sometimes I wonder if there aren’t any hidden ones in here, too.”
Suddenly uneasy, Ryan’s eyes flicked around the ceiling. “What was he hiding? I mean, he had to be hiding something.” Ryan racked his brain, trying to put two with the other two just out of reach.
“He was hiding his grief, kid. He was never the same after his wife, Mona, died.” Lon hung his head a little. “Did you know she was a topsider, too? Kind of like you.” Lon smiled softly. “She was a real looker, a little rough around the edges, but very smart.”
“What?” Ryan’s confounded gasp caught Lon’s attention.
“Mona was a nomadic trader, couldn’t stay still for long until she met Sam Sr. At the time, she was visiting her sister in a village not too far from here when she stopped by Surik to trade some goods, or so the story goes. But once she met Sam Sr., I guess she hit the pause button on her little adventure. She was in a girl in love.” Lon grinned. “The Commander used to call her his little gypsy.”
Ryan rubbed a hand over his face, confused beyond belief. “Why did he bring her here? Wasn’t that a security risk?”
Lon sputtered a laugh. “Same reason his son brought you here. He fell in love, kid. He could’ve had his pick of any woman on base, but as soon as he laid eyes on Mona, with all that dark hair and bright green eyes, he knew she was the one, security risk or not. And after she passed with his second baby, he pushed his remaining son away, probably because he looked just like her. He’s got her eyes, you know. There ain’t no denying that fact. Had to be hard losing them is all I’m saying.”
“Yeah. Losing someone you love is…it’s just really hard.” Ryan averted his eyes, reminded once again of his mother.
Lon nodded quietly. He cleared his throat, trying to brush off the uncomfortable emotion creeping into his eyes. “So you know how he felt, but double up on that kind of heartache, and you get a clear picture of how things went for him. He tried his best to be there for Sam, he really did. But he was tired, kid. He was losing his edge and threw everything he had left into his boy, trying to ready him to take his place. He didn’t want to lead anymore. He just wanted to be left alone, and truthfully, I think he just wanted to fade away.”
Ryan’s heart hurt for both father and son. Sam Sr. was in so much pain, trying to run this base, and care for the only family he left, while his son had to question whether his father loved him or not. “Sam turned out pretty good then, huh?”
“Better than good, kid. Our Commander is more of a man than he realizes. Sure, he’s softer than his father, but even when he’s hurting, he gives us his all. He’d work himself into an early grave just to find that password and save the world while most of us gave up. But I’ll tell you one thing. Ever since you came around, the determination is back in his eyes. It ain’t about duty so much anymore. It’s about saving those people because you were one of them. He found the connection he needed to make the reality of it all sink deep with all of us. And I suspect that’s why you’re here right now. You want to give back to him by finding that password.”
Ryan bit his lip. “Maybe.”
Lon exhaled a soft laugh. “I’ll help you out of the goodness of my heart, kid, because you’re what this base is all about, returning humanity to the world. I may just be a janitor, ain’t nothing fancy, but I’d like to do my part, too.”
“I appreciate that, Lon, I really do.” Ryan stuck out his hand, a smile on his lips.
Lon gave his hand a good shake. “All right, kid.” They stepped back from each other. “If you’re looking for the good stuff on the old Commander, I think you should start with Rick. He runs the Commissary in the D wing. Every afternoon, Sam Sr. went to visit old Rick like clockwork, needed a pack of them smokes. Rick was his best friend, and if anyone knows what you need, it’s him.”
Ryan’s eyes lit up. “Shit. Thanks so much, Lon. I’m…thanks.” He vibrated with the thrill of another possible clue. “And could you not tell—”
“My lips are sealed, kid. If Sam knew you were digging around, he’d probably get a little emotional, to say the least. His father is kind of a touchy subject.”
“I know.” The guilt tried to slither into his chest, but he took a deep breath and willed it away. This was for a good cause. He was going to fix Sam because he loved him. He was going to solve this damn mystery. He was only ten digits away from starting the rest of his life with Sam.
Lon checked his watch. “You better get going, kid. It’s late and I’m sure someone will be looking for you. And take that sack of sleep up there with you.”
Ryan chuckled. “Will do. Thanks again, Lon.” He squeezed Lon’s shoulder.
“No problem. Get on out of here. I’ll take care of this.” He motioned to the box of files.
“Cool. See ya around, Lon.”
Lon gave him a wink before bending over the box. Not looking to make any awkward small talk, Ryan rushed down the aisle and shook Jarum awake. “Dude, come on. We should get you to bed. Benny will freak out if you don’t come home.”
“I am home,” Jarum mumbled dreamily.
Ryan rolled his eyes and coaxed Jarum to his feet. As he led his best friend down the hall, Ryan thought about all he’d learned from his time in the storeroom. He had videos of Sam and his mom, a few of Benny, but mostly the ones of Sam and Mona seemed to be very important to Sam Sr. He’d have to watch those later when Sam wasn’t around. He also needed to search for the black book. If it was something Sam Sr. carried with him everywhere, it would have held notes, and possibly another clue. And then…there were the cigarettes, an obvious habit the former Commander’s son had picked up from him, cigarettes that led to another lead…the best friend Rick. He had the tools. Now it was time to put them to use.
After dropping Jarum off with Benny, Ryan stood in the hallway. He looked around at the cameras, feeling a strange connection to Sam Sr. in that moment. He knew on the other side of those lenses, Avery watched over him, Avery…who could alert Sam to his comings and goings at any moment. Bravely walking up to a blank corner of the hall, Ryan pushed onto his tip toes. The camera panned down to him. He put a finger to his lips and nodded his head.
“Whatever you’re going to do,” Avery’s voice softly returned his quiet plea out of the speaker, “you’d better do it quick. Be careful.”
The ‘be careful’ wasn’t about his safety. They both knew it had to do with Sam’s welfare. One wrong move and the Commander could disown him. Digging into someone’s past, a tragic past at that, could uncover a lot of misdirected grief and anger. Her parting words also confirmed there were cameras in the storeroom. Now…Avery knew everything, and she was quietly giving him permission to proceed.
TO BE CONTINUED…