I didn't return to the motel until almost five o'clock that afternoon and, not entirely unsurprisingly, Ken and Kathy were still working. I wondered if they'd even stopped for lunch or bathroom breaks. Probably no to the former but yes to the later. When you've got to go, you've got to go, right?
I was tired, my feet were sore from walking so far, but I was happy. Unlike with New York I'd gotten to see something of Philadelphia. I'd been to Independence Hall, the Independence national historical park, and the National Museum of American Jewish history, and I'd even brought a souvenir; a shot glass for my collection. I just hoped I lived long enough to go home and put it up on the long shelf housing my not insignificant collection which were really more dust catchers than anything else.
Ken and Kathy both looked up as I walked in the door. I dropped my bag onto my bed and took my shoes off to massage my aching feet.
"Good day?" Ken asked.
"Good." I answered.
"Did you see the Liberty Bell?" Kathy asked.
"What is it with the Liberty Bell? Everyone's asking about it." I said.
"I thought you...never mind." Kathy said, rubbing her eyes, which I noticed were decidedly pink looking. Too long spent staring at a computer screen. My IT teacher at high school had had a rule about taking a break every half hour and closing your eyes for five seconds, then opening them and looking up to the ceiling for five, down to the floor for five, to the left for five, then the right for five. Then you had to get out of your computer chair and do one lap around the classroom. It was a strict rule with no exceptions. Even Paul in a wheelchair had to do an electronic lap. The IT teacher would occasionally fill in for sports (I know right- a very unlikely combination) and he was seriously hardcore. Even the boys would try and claim it was the wrong time of month for them to participate when he took the reins.
"Are you two almost done for the day? I'm starving. Being a tourist while trying to look like a local really takes it out of you." I said.
"Being a tourist while trying to look like a local?" Ken repeated, confused.
"It's this new thing I'm trying. I'm all about the fad." I said. "In fact next week I intend to look after my mind, body and spirit."
"Good to know." Ken said dubiously.
"Anyway, so my shout for dinner. Anywhere cheap that is. But on our way out of town I'm hitting the bank. I've got an account where I can withdraw up to $10,000 a day and I'm going to take advantage of that. Not being able to use my credit card is killing me. And cash always comes in handy. Particularly if you intend to buy black market weapons which, I'm telling you, are not cheap." I said breezily. Make a small joke to cover how concerned you are about things.
I expected Ken to tell me that taking that much cash out was stupid, that it might fly under the banks radar but might alert some people, like "them" if they were looking for bank accounts under the three of us being used. I wondered too whether I could get Brodie to lend us some money, or would that be pushing the budding friendship (relationship?) too far.
"Good idea. But you don't need to worry about cash for guns. I've got something sorted." He said.
"Like?" I asked.
"Let's just say it's sorted and we get the guns tonight. Just two since Kathy isn't comfortable with using one." Ken said evasively.
I opened my mouth to push it but then shut it. I remembered something Mom always said: everyone deserves to have their secrets. I'd been twelve at the time and she'd bought me a diary with a little lock and key to illustrate that point. "Except if you're married, right?" I'd asked. Mom had looked sad. "No. Especially if you're married." She'd said. I'd not questioned her further. So rather than arguing I said, "Suggestions on dinner people? This is a democracy- though it might surprise certain, um...dictators amongst us."
Kathy laughed and Ken allowed himself a small smile. "Am I Sadam or Gadalfi?" He asked.
"I was thinking more like Mugabe." I replied.
"Since we're in Philadelphia shouldn't we eat like Philadelphians?" Kathy asked.
"What is that, Philly Cream Cheese?" I asked.
Kathy shrugged. "I don't know. It just sounded right." She confessed.
Ken removed the USB from the laptop and put it back around his neck on a chain where it lived all the time except when he was showering or swimming. That thought, of course, prompted another thought: of the night in Louisiana where the two of us had sat and talked by the pool. Which, naturally, made me think of The Kiss. Sure my face was red, that my lusty thoughts were a dead giveaway on my ] face I quickly changed the subject to something safer: food. "Ken- do you know what Philadelphians eat?" I asked lightly.
"Not a clue." Ken said. "But I'm feeling like good old fashioned American food. A greasy burger and chips."
"With a side order of clogged arteries and a heart attack waiting to happen." I added. But I couldn't deny the idea sounded tasty and my traitorous stomach gave a little growl at the thought. "I like it."
Twenty minutes later we were sitting in a booth at "Captain America's Old Style Diner" perusing the menu. The place was decked out in 1950's style: pink leather booths, jukebox, waitresses wearing those flouncy skirts you see in "Grease" and the waiters looking like Jimmy Dean with slicked back hair, tight trousers, and letterman's jackets. As a concept I rather liked it. We ordered burgers, chips and Kathy and I both had a milkshake with it. The waitress may have looked the part but her heart wasn't really that in it. She took our order with a smile pasted on her face, but no warmth, as though she'd rather be anywhere but there. Well I could relate to that.
"Are you worried about the new man we're going to have with us?" I asked while we waited.
Ken shrugged. "From a research point yes. I'm pretty set in my ways and Kathy and I work well together. Another pair of hands might well throw us off." He said.
"Are you not worried about the possibility that this man might be...you know..." I trailed off.
"I don't know. I rarely do know with you." Ken sounded tired.
"A spy." I said in a low voice.
"It had crossed my mind. Hence deleting some of our research. And Kathy and I will be very careful about what we say and do around him until we decide if we can trust him. You should be too." Ken said as the bored waitress returned with our meals.
We were silent while the waitress handed each of us our meals and then came back with Kathy and my milkshakes.
"Could you just refuse to work with him? Or we just don't turn up when we're supposed to meet him?" I asked once we were alone again.
"We could. But do we really want to get Jim off side?" Ken asked.
I shrugged, careful to keep my expression neutral- though I didn't know whether I succeeded in that since Mom always told me I had a very expressive face and she'd proceed to demonstrate that by being able to pick my mood on even the slightest nuances in my demeanour or countenance. Mind you I did win some money on poker nights at university a couple times. I didn't know whether Ken and Kathy just genuinely believed that Jim was one hundred percent trustworthy or wanted to believe it and until I knew that I had to keep my fears, my concerns, about Jim to myself. (So not to go onto "Facebook" and publish Alison Young does not trust Jim basically. Which, FYI, was killing me not to do because no doubt all the animals on my "Farmville" farm had carked it and the crops had gone beyond withering and dying and going to crop heaven. Plus I usually relied on "Facebook" to keep in contact with a lot of friends and even family when I was working so much that the art of real conversations, of picking up my phone and dialling them for a real chat was hard to find time for.)
For a little while we were too busy eating- and drinking- to talk much and I was glad I had skipped lunch.
"When do you think your boyfriend will get back to us with the information?" Kathy asked as we were almost finished with our big burgers and chips.
I quickly swallowed. "Friend, not boyfriend." I corrected.
"Methinks the lady doth protest too much." Ken muttered.
"Methinks the man is a pain in the ass." I retorted, not very originally no doubt.
"Methinks it's time to call for the check. I didn't sleep last night and I am exhausted." Kathy said.
"Oh." I found myself saying before I thought about it.
Kathy raised an eyebrow in question.
"I thought we could maybe get a beer or, you know, whatever you might want to drink." I explained.
Ken shrugged. "I'm in."
Kathy tilted her head to the side which I had come to recognise as her hard thinking face. "Tempting...but my bed might win out this time round. Call me a party pooper." She decided.
"Party pooper!" Both Ken and I promptly replied simultaneously, then we smiled at one another.
The bored waitress brought our check and I had a small argument with Ken about whether I was indeed paying for this meal or not (I won for once!) and then an agreement that the tip for the bored waitress wasn't truly earned but etiquette dictated we leave one.
We saw Kathy safely to her room and then we stood there awkwardly.
"And then there were two." Ken said.
I smiled in recognition.
"So, my lady, where to now?" Ken asked.
"A bar? Or club?" I suggested.
Ken frowned slightly. "Maybe somewhere low-key where they might not have supersonic CCTV cameras covering every inch of the place." He suggested.
"Where bar fights are the entertainment and girls wear even less than they might at other clubs or bars. Classy." I said.
"It's a safety thing Alison." Ken said.
"I know, I wasn't arguing...I was just saying." I replied.
Ken looked like he wanted to argue but, perhaps reluctantly, he nodded and we began to walk west. We didn't talk but, surprisingly, it wasn't awkward like it usually was for us. Perhaps we were all getting used to one another's quirks and foibles. After walking for about fifteen minutes we came to the perfect bar- a bit of a dive but busy, where we could easily be lost in the crowd. I snagged the one spare table while Ken went up to the bar and got us a bottle of beer each. It took him a little while and while he was gone to college-aged jocks came up to my table.
"On your own?" Jock number one asked.
"No." I replied.
"Because now we're here and there are three of us so you can't be lonely." Jock number two said, nodding like he thought that might make me believe it was real.
"Uh...no. Anyway don't they say three's a crowd?" I pointed out.
"Not in the bedroom!" Jock number one said.
Jock number two guffawed and high-fived him. "That's so true bro! But only when it's two girls and one guy." He pointed out.
"True, true." Jock number one replied.
I rolled my eyes.
"So...how's about it? If three's a crowd one of us can leave. Take your pick who." Jock number two said.
"A competition? Nice!" Jock number one said approvingly.
"Which one of you likes long walks on the beach, good food, good wine, good conversation and adventure?" I asked.
Both jocks looked at one another. Jock number two shrugged.
I took pity on them. This was just too easy really; I felt a little bad for them. "Guys as much as your attention flatters me I am actually here with someone." I told them.
Jock number two pantomimed a look around the table. "What is your date a ghost or invisible or something?" He asked.
"He's at the bar and- actually, here he comes now." I said, as Ken made his way back to me with two bottles of Heineken.
Ken reached the table. "Can I help you two?" He asked.
"This is your date huh? Sure you don't want to trade up?" Jock number one asked.
Jock number two laughed. "Too right dude, too right."
"I think I'll be right. You two enjoy your night." I said.
The jocks left the table, Ken watching them a little puzzled.
"Friends of yours?" He asked.
"They were just propositioning me." I answered, taking the beer off him.
"Fair enough. Should I be jealous?" Ken asked.
I couldn't read his tone or his neutral face: was he being serious or joking? If I assumed he was joking and he wasn't he'd be offended. If I assumed he was serious and he was just teasing that would be awkward. So I just shrugged noncommittally.
We drank in silence for a few minutes.
"This new guy we've got to pick up. Any chance we could just...not?" I asked.
"Tempting. Very tempting. But we could piss Jim off if we don't and we don't want to burn our bridges with the only ally we've got." Ken answered.
'Possibly got.' I corrected mentally. But I had learned my lesson for the time being- Ken and Kathy didn't want to even discuss the possibility of Jim not being a good guy. Until I had proof either way I'd keep my fears under wraps.
For the next hour Ken and I had a few beers and played a couple of games of pools and I even got him to dance with me to one song before he begged off. He wouldn't even join me in dancing "Gangnam Style."
"How do you even do that?" He asked me, as I performed the moves.
"A man in Thailand taught me. It's like riding a horse he said. Apparently it's something they do a lot over in Korea." I answered.
After we left the bar I turned my cell back on for a moment to see if there were messages and there was one from Brodie. "Info. Remember the goodwill work party? Call me there."
I turned my cell back off.
"Goodwill work party?" Ken asked, confused.
"It's just something the DA did last Christmas. He was running for re-election and as a gesture of goodwill held a Christmas party where he invited some of the local defence lawyers. It was this uber formal event in a ballroom but afterwards a few of the other attorneys at work and some of the defence lawyers hit McDonalds and then went bowling. Disco bowling actually but that's unimportant." I explained as we walked.
"So he wants you to ring him at the bowling place?" Ken interpreted the message.
I nodded. "That's my guess. I doubt he'll be in the ballroom. Let's find a pay phone."
"Hold on- shouldn't we discuss this?" Ken stopped me.
"What's to discuss? Brodie has info. Aren't academics and scientists all about the whole knowledge is power thing?" I asked.
Ken ran a hand through his hair. (Man he has thick hair. Which is, of course, totally beside the point. I'm just pointing it out.) "Yes in some instances but I'm not so sure about this one."
"You're worried you might hear something that will affect your perceptions of your project, of them, of Jim." I stated.
"No! Maybe. I don't know." Ken looked frustrated. Which was precisely how I felt.
"I'm sorry Ken but I'm ringing Brodie. With or without your support." I said, putting my metaphorical foot down.
"Fine." Ken begrudged. "Let's find a pay phone then."
We found one a block up in a quieter strip of shops and I dialled directory assistance to get the number for "Barney's Bowl-a-rama." I was put through and after five rings the phone was picked up. "Barney's Bowl-a-rama. Your one stop shop for bowling, disco bowling, functions and we now do kids parties, complete with clown and magician. Book over summer and mention the codeword "awesome-a-rama and you get a fifteen percent discount. Offer not valid for parties less than twenty children. How may I help you?" A bored teenage boy asked.
"Uh...can I speak to Brodie?" I asked, a little taken aback by the spiel.
"Sorry, did you say Barney? There's no Barney. At least not anymore. There was like ten years ago but then he died. Bowling machinery accident. Oh- though it wasn't here so don't worry. We've got strict codes for occupational health and safety here." The teenager told me.
I blinked at the phone. Had I dialled the twilight zone by mistake or something?
"No, not Barney. Brodie." I said, speaking slowly.
"No Brodie works here...oh, hang on a minute..." The phone was put down on the counter a little too enthusiastically and I winced at the bang magnified through the phone's speaker. Muffled voices and then the phone was picked back up.
"Ali?" Brodie's voice.
"Yeah it's me." I confirmed.
"So my code wasn't undecipherable. I was sort of hoping it might take you a little longer to work it out. You didn't by chance ring the ballroom or the hotel or Maccers?" Brodie asked.
"'Fraid not." I said.
"Oh. Shame." Brodie said.
"Why? Some hot college ladies bowling and I've interrupted your gawking time?" I teased.
"Oh come on now Ali, I'm a one woman guy. Admittedly without a woman right now but that's semantics. No, it was an ego thing." Brodie explained.
"Sorry to deflate your ego a little." I said.
"I'll live." Brodie replied.
Beside me Ken shifted from one foot to the other, impatient as usual.
"So you said you've got some info for me." I said, coming back on topic.
"Right. Though I don't think you're going to like it much. And, before you ask, I was super discreet. I'm half expecting a phone call from the CIA in the next few days asking me to be a super spy for them." Brodie said.
"Give it to me straight." I said, with a sigh.
"You heard of a little man named Kony?" Brodie asked.
"Seriously? You think I live under a rock or something? Of course I've heard of his infamous child army." I said, mentally rolling my eyes.
"Your friend's project isn't just about super soldiers but the idea of breeding a super soldier- from egg meets sperm stage, through the womb, and out. Imagine grooming a soldier from the very beginning. They'd be groomed throughout life to exceed the idea of a super soldier because they'd be created for that exact thing." Brodie told me.
And my blood ran cold.