Steve sat on his deck contemplating the tree line that separated his property from his neighbor's. A beer sat idle in his hands, getting progressively warmer the longer he sat there. A part of his mind reminded him that it would be no good to drink, but he had yet to stir.
There was always cooking with it if it went too long.
He was trying to convince himself he was tired. He'd worked thirteen hours straight, unnervingly energetic and trying to burn it by constant roving. His body was weary, but his mind refused to yield the floor to the need to rest.
Siblings were supposed to fight. He continued to make an effort to convince himself of that. In his years growing up, he didn't know of a single multi-child family where the brothers and sisters got along all the time. Some never did. His and Tom's fights tended to be spectacular, especially after mom died and Steve was charged with trying to keep their shrinking family together.
Yesterday's fight was mild compared to some still sticking to the dark corners of his memory. So it didn't make sense why this one was bothering him so much. Perhaps it was the subject matter, and his guilt adding severity to his reaction. Maybe it was that despite what Tom had said about not being a stranger, the younger sibling had made no effort at further contact?
It felt as if Tom was still holding on to his grudge about Mira.
"Christ, it was two years ago," he muttered, feeling the condensation soaked label roll under one restless thumb.
He peered up to see Maribel standing next to him. She was dressed for school. A light, long-sleeved overshirt caught and danced with the slight ocean breeze. It might be hot outside, but her classrooms were air-conditioned and she got cold quickly. She probably would have been more comfortable holding classes outside.
He smiled for her sake, sighing a moment later. "Yeah, I know I should be in bed."
She ran a hand across his temple and over his crown. "Wasn't what I was going to say, but now that you mention it…"
A wry grin crawled across his lips and fled as quickly as he contemplated the planks under his feet once more.
"Don't forget about the caterers."
"I won't." He barely made the words heard.
"Where've I heard that before?"
"I won't!" He glared up at her.
She matched him.
She sighed and then said, "I guess I'll go now. Have a nice day."
The statement was so pointed that it would have taken an idiot to miss the sarcasm. She didn't even look back as she walked toward the road, one of her classmates already waiting for her there. He knew he should call her back and apologize. His pride held him back. Even if he did, he would probably make it worse instead of better.
"Fuck," he growled to the again stifling air, finally taking a drink of the lukewarm beer. He leaned forward, elbows on his knees and head hanging below his shoulders. That little slight added to the craptacular mood.
He couldn't have said how long he sat like that. The sun was well into the sky – that much he knew. Sound atypical of the norm around his cottage was what got his attention finally and made him focus on something besides his chasing thoughts. He sat up straighter as a silver SUV pulled into the driveway behind his beat up Ford.
Steve felt his muscles bundle up defensively, expecting a fight as the tall, slight form exited the vehicle. He rose from his seat as Tom approached him, trying to read anything from the expression on his younger sibling's face. There was nothing he could readily interpret.
Tom stopped at the edge of the deck merely staring at Steve for long moments.
"Tom." Steve broke the silence.
"Steve." Tom looked reluctant to even be here.
That was confirmed by the awkward silence that followed.
Once more Steve was forced to jump start the conversation. "You wanna come in?"
Tom set into motion once more, closing the distance and then following Steve into the house.
"I've got something I need you to help me with."
Steve stopped and turned toward Tom. "I hope that's not the only reason for you to stop by."
Tom looked as if it was the only reason he'd stopped by.
Sighing, Steve said, "Whatcha got?"
He flopped down on the couch as he did this, watching his brother closely. The look on his face said he didn't want to get Steve involved at all. It also said what Steve could provide Tom didn't know how to get elsewhere.
"Your account still active through the Sheriff's department?"
Steve felt his head tilt. "I think so, why?"
"Mira was able to provide more information about her assailant, and about the location of the facility she was detained at."
Steve's brow quirked. "Funny you should mention that."
He rose from his seat, headed back to a small nook near the kitchen where he had set up a net system.
"I've been working on that on my own."
"Curiosity… boredom… anger." He shrugged. "Pick one."
"And what have you found out?" Tension eased from Tom's face as he found something else to focus on.
"Well don't get me wrong, I save my access to the Sherrif's network for specific information, so most of what I have is from going through public records."
"Cross-referencing his appearance with what he said about being on Turner's staff, I found out his identity."
Tom looked both interested and impressed.
Steve brought up the files he'd favorited on his search engine. He saw Tom tense again as a picture of the mousey little man materialized on the vidscreen.
"His name is Porter, Wilson Porter, he was just a lab rat back when we were processed. After Turner was moved to Admin, Porter was fired, along with a lot of the other staff members responsible for forwarding the cybernetic experiments. Two months later he was hired by a biomechanics lab in Lodesco. He worked there for six years but recently quit."
"Where'd he go?"
"That is the part I don't have."
"Mira says that she was taken to a place in the mountains. She said she saw pine trees."
Steve whistled. "That narrows it down considerably. Anything else of use?"
"She said the place she was taken to wasn't a hospital, and that it was older, but not run down."
"Anything more specific?"
"It had a parking garage."
"So a larger building. Something like a community, business, or convention center."
"That would stand to reason."
"But it would have to be something that there wouldn't be a lot of public around." Steve rubbed his head thoughtfully.
"There are several older all inclusive resorts in the mountains, maybe one of those. Many have gone under in the past decade."
"Hmm, that is a good thought, lil' bro'. That is something I can use my connection for."
Tom's smile wanted to be more heartfelt, but it was reserved instead.
Steve sat down and in three keystrokes he was into the Sheriff's database, using that access to first check to see if Mr. Porter had a criminal record. Unfortunately, he didn't. That was going to make it quite a bit harder in this process. At least former convicts were tracked as far as where they moved to.
Instead he fell to using the Sheriff's access to other sites, cross-referencing the information they currently had with any purchases in recent months. If Wilson was using a facility up there in the mountains he would have purchased it either just prior to his quitting his previous job, or just after, and that limited their search to sales within the past six months at most.
Ten listings matched Steve's search criteria and were now listed on his screen.
"Now it gets trickier. He may have used an alias."
"For what reason?"
"If you're dealing in illegal experimentation, do you want your actual name on the loan title? I mean, he can't have paid straight credits for it… not as a grunt in a biomechanics firm."
It was obvious that Tom hadn't considered that. Then again he was never a cop.
Steve scrutinized each listing, looking at the lien holder, and what area the loan was held in. Four more were screened out of the process, being bought by obvious foreign companies with overseas accounts as far away as Norway.
He left anything that was financed through banks as far south as San Angeles, and as far north as Lodesco. That process left them six more to look through, and though it didn't seem like a lot number wise, there was still a lot of research ahead to determine just which one was the magic number.
While he mulled just what criteria he was going to use next, Steve scrolled the screen up and down in incessant motion.
"Wait!" Tom reached across the keyboard, halting his brother's habitual motion. "Scroll back down."
Steve frowned but didn't look at Tom as he more slowly scrolled toward the bottom of the page.
"There, G'damn. That's it!" Tom uttered, pointing out a listing that Steve had screened three times now.
"How do you know?"
"Look at the LLC."
"Gollum Enterprises? What the hell does that tell us?"
"Mira said they called the experiments 'Project Gollum'. Steve, that's got to be it!"
He looked up at his little brother in astonishment. "You could have told me that when we started this!"
"I didn't think of it at the time, so sue me!" Tom quipped in return. "We have to go there."
"What?" Steve leaned away from his brother. "And do what?"
"He almost killed Mira, Steve. Someone has to stop him."
"And whatever happened to sending the authorities his way?"
"Since when did you believe in the law enforcement around here?"
"I don't. But it's not our job to play vigilante on this one."
"Steve, I have to do this."
Steve rose from his seat, keeping Tom's eyes as he did. His brother leaned back and retreated a step, the intensity in his expression saying a lot about how he felt about this.
"You're going to get us thrown into jail, Tom."
His expression soured. "It wouldn't be the first time."
"Well, shit." Steve sighed. "I got nothing better to do."
Tom was back to his nervous nail biting as they neared their destination. Steve glanced over, tempted to yell at him about it. He sighed instead, reminding himself that he wasn't head of the family anymore. Tom was his own man now, and if he wanted to yank his fingernails clean out, it was none of his concern.
The habit bothered him all to hell though.
He miscalculated a turn, yanking the wheel hard and both hit the brake and let off the gas. The tires squealed as they tried to retain traction on the narrow hairpin. He tensed as the truck leaned further, praying it wouldn't tip over. Grabbing finally, the nose flattened out and Steve resumed his course. Another part of him was thankful that he didn't have oncoming traffic in that momentary loss of control.
"Could you please watch the road?" Tom growled.
"Only if you stop trying to eat your fingers." He returned, seeing from the corner of his eye that Tom had sat on his hand once again.
"How much further?"
Steve focused on his net set a moment seeing the information on it as well as what was happening on the road ahead. "ETA is about ten minutes."
"Is that at the speed limit or this flying low you're trying to do?"
Steve shot him daggers before returning his attention to his driving. He didn't even bother to grace that question with an answer.
They arrived in seven minutes, and Tom seemed to be eager to get out of the truck. The place used to be a resort named Ponoma, and much of the decoration and façade remained at the front gates. As expected, they were closed, but a small personnel gate stood open just to the left, nearly hidden by dark ivy vines clinging to the walls.
"You don't think we're just going to walk in there do you?" Tom asked.
"I would be stupid to think that." Steve argued. "But I have a feeling that the man isn't staffed for a whole lot of security."
"What makes you say that?"
Steve shrugged. "Let's just say it's an old policeman's hunch."
Tom tried to match Steve's innate caution for the situation, and surprised him when he proved stealthier than Steve thought. Once more he reminded himself that Tom at one point had been a trained assassin. Those don't go far without some ability at craftiness.
There were no camera nodes that he could see, but that meant nothing. He was pretty sure they were relying on the idea that this place was "deserted" and "off the beaten path" to protect them from intruders, teens, and other malingerers. The unkempt lawn and overgrown bushes reinforced the idea that no one was in residence. Weeds grew from between the paving stones on the large walk. They edged the large yard, heading for a main house that they could see just to one side of the condos.
They paused there, still not seeing anyone on the grounds.
"This is too easy." Tom said.
Steve's gut was trying to agree, screaming at him that they were walking into a trap.
And yet they remained unchallenged even as they skirted toward the main building. The outbuilding had turned out to be empty but for some crates and other unpacked paraphernalia.
"Maybe they already packed up and moved on." Steve voiced his newest thought.
"They better not have." Heat was in Tom's voice as if the closer they got the less control he had on his anger. "You bring your piece?"
"Pray we don't have to use it."
"Or other talents, eh?"
Tom stopped dead, glaring daggers at him. "Let's definitely not go there."
"Go where?" Steve added. "Let's keep moving."
They slipped into a side door on one wing of the old hotel and made their way toward the lobby area, looking for clues along the way that would tell them where the patients would be held.
Steve was getting really nervous. Someone should have challenged them by now.
"Ah!" A new voice greeted them. "The Brothers Martin! Welcome!"
A/N: Sorry for the delay ladies and gents! I was away last weekend and didn't get a chance to get this one knocked out and out to you!
The bad news is, this is the last full chapter I have of the story at the moment (as this is where I felt I'd painted myself into a corner). The good news?
I think I finally found a way to get myself out of the corner. So Chapter 11 is in process... hopefully I can follow through on it and have it ready for posting in the next several weeks! :)