August 22, 2006 –
The sound of Mozart filled the air. The clock on the end table brilliantly displayed 5:00 AM. This perfect blend always got me out of bed in a good mood. Over at the window, I admired the freshly squeezed orange juice glow; the vibrant hints of red and yellow fighting to overpower each other for my attention. Together they produced a stunning sunrise. Row upon row the reds pushed forth against the darkness overpowering it; making way for the oranges and yellows to reinforce their positions. I watched the same battle every morning but I never bored of the battle. I watched until all the darkness disappeared replaced by the lightest blue sky. It was only then the rich smell of freshly brewed Kenyan coffee got my attention. A small sip of coffee felt good, the steam floating up to my eyes and nose, soothing their morning redness just enough to notice something white hanging out of the mail slot. It was the early edition of the Daily Mirror. Mark was always leaving a copy for me, sort of his way to rub my nose in the fact that he got to do real stories that got printed in the 3am edition while I only got to report on PR drivel that was not printed until noon.
Mark would even go so far as to fold down pages and highlight stories that they printed first. Sometimes he would stick interesting flyers that he came across inside to spark some interest. This time it was for one of those many end of the world religious cults cropping up all over. He wrote, “Investigate if you want to live” in large bold letters on a yellow sticky note on the cover.
The flyer was so intricate to the point of simplicity. I am very interested in numbers, being a Math Major from the University of Waterloo, before becoming a journalism student at the University of Toronto. The flyer had all the elements you would expect in a cult; the cross above the earth and the 13 and 666 below. Heaven and hell separated.
Mark is quite a card, last week he sent some flyer for a kennel called “Bark-a-way”. We have sound proof rooms so your pet is not awaken by other dogs. Their slogan was “Your dog deserves a nice quiet nap”. I placed the flyer aside and read the paper. There was nothing really new today in this paper. Some celebrity adopted another baby. They increased the number of troops in Afghanistan. Iran, India and Korea want to do nuclear testing; they were still doing more test launches into space. “You did it already why keep wasting all that fuel”, I thought as I finished my last drop of coffee, placed his National Post mug on the counter and headed out the door and onto the street. A constant flow of commuters passed him by like a school of salmon swimming upstream to mate. But one commuter stood out, he wore a yellow shirt and it said, “Where will you be April13, 2036”. The shirt had the same logo on the back as was on the cover of the flyer. He turned for a second look but the guy was gone, drowning in the sea of fish.
I continued my way into the office for the morning pep rally. The whole group chanted about being a small paper with a big heart for the truth and recording it. Not like that other paper that will print first and ask forgiveness later. We investigate to Live. This is where Mark’s joke on the flyer comes from. Mark used to work at the Daily Post too, but was frustrated with our lack of access to the real stories. I would have to find some way of getting him back at lunch. For now I will have to go out and do those boring stories. This morning it was new toothpaste. There are only so many ways you can spin that it fights cavities.
Another 2 hour seminar on a boring product featuring dentist surveys, lab tests and sales people pushing the product. At least the seats were comfortable; they reclined back and allowed me to have a short nap during the middle of the presentation. A short nudge from Charlie woke me just in time. A multimedia presentation featuring a computer generated graphics of a tooth showed the paste being applied to the teeth and a few seconds later there was an explosion as plaque was thrown off the teeth reminiscent of strip mining blowing the cover off a mineral deposit, in this case Calcium. The result was shiny white teeth under the layer of plaque. I could not wait to get out of there for lunch. Today would be even more fun as I could tease Mark over the latest flyer.
The deli at 4th and Main sat before me. It was not a lot to look at from outside but the sandwiches were amazing. Snug little tables filled the place and there were 4 booths at the back, Mark was sitting at one of them waiting. “You look exhausted”, Mark said, “It must be a lot of work investigating those new products” I laughed, “Very funny, actually it was boring so I took your advice and looked at your cult and it appears to go quite deep, members from all over the community”. Mark put on a shocked look, “You can't talk about it in public. They may kill us”. I laughed, “It's okay nobody can hear”. We finished our sandwiches and left. Mark's last words were “Not a word about this to anyone. We will meet tomorrow; same bat time, same bat channel”. “Yes”, I replied laughing as we both left..
Lunch with Mark was interesting but now it was time for an afternoon filled with the standard PR interviews: a new album, a new dress, a new scandal about being in prison, all featuring the same spoiled brat heir. It all ended with the same close of day wind down meeting. Congrats on that story, that lead, that publicity grab bag, oh and did you get to meet that celebrity. This time there was a twist; a new junior reporter was hired; right out of school and raring to go. He showed much enthusiasm in congratulating everyone on their stories and was interested in knowing who’s who and what stories they were working on. I ducked out before this newbie could approach me.
The street was again filled with rushing commuters, trying to get home to make dinner. The Astro Café sat on the corner right across from the Starbucks. It was a cute little shop with red trim and an old fashioned red awning over the front. The little tables lining the entrance were filled with people sipping their latte and avoiding the crowds. I decided to stop for my coffee as I was sure someone was following me. I just had that feeling. 20 years as a reporter will do that. I slowly ordered a double, double, paid and then left. It must have been my mind playing tricks because I made it home without incident. I watched a little TV with dinner and went to bed.
August 23, 2006 - “Oral delivery aims at persuasion and making the listener believe they are converted. Few persons are capable of being convinced; the majority allow themselves to be persuaded” Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
Morning arrived but there was no sound of Mozart, just an eerie silence. The clock on the end table flashed 11:11 at me mockingly in its bright red brilliance. Not even the sun was ready for the day, replaced by the vast sheet of drab gray clouds that screamed out loud and wept. I missed the vibrant colors of the morning battle that today was lost before it even started. It threw my whole day off. Instead of feeling warm inside I felt cold, tired and worn down. It made me crave my morning coffee more. I could always count on my morning coffee it was consistently bitter and good. I walked over and noticed the auto-brewer had not started. I pushed the button to manually start it but no luck. I eyed the mail slot in the door, hoping for a small glimpse of white hanging through but not today. For the first time in ten years Mark had missed a delivery. Well there was that one time he met a girl at a club and to impress her he started doing shooters. He didn't get back home until noon and he never did that again. Ah well on with my day, hope he had fun. No sunrise to brighten my day, no newspaper to make me laugh and no coffee to wake me up. It was shaping up to be quite a day. I felt like really just going back to bed but I managed to get myself motivated enough to get out into the open air.
The cool breeze on the street seemed to wake me up as did the beauty that caught my eye immediately. Smooth long legs that led up to a really short pair of red shorts, emphasizing her shapely bottom. My eyes continued up as I ran to catch up to her. It was Pascha, my neighbor, out for a jog; I would have to go jogging at this time more often. “You look good”, I said, “have you lost weight?” “I have lost a little. You look tired”, she said. “Yes no sun and no coffee will do that”, I said. “If I had known I would have brought you some coffee. I am sure the day will get better”, Pascha said. I laughed and thought to myself, “why don’t you just move in then all my days will be better”. We continued to make idle chat until I made it to the newspaper. “Have a good jog”, I said. “I will. Maybe I will drop by later”, Pascha said. “I would love that. Today you are my morning sunrise and when you come over tonight, my beautiful sunset”, I said as I reached out and gave her a big hug and a small kiss on the cheek and went inside.
The morning pep rally was interesting to watch as Redd, the new guy got the crowd going in a cheer: Fun, Accuracy, Integrity, and Loyalty. The same cheer over and over, but nobody realized it spelled fail. I thought it was so funny until the assignments were handed out and I had the treat of babysitting the new guy. “My name is Redd”, the new guys said, introducing himself. “Of course it is”, I thought, “Sounds like you will fit in well around here”. We followed our list as planned with Redd watching and learning. He showed much interest in new fragrances and gels with cheesy names. Redd was so excited he was spraying the new fragrance everywhere, I was not too impressed as it made me sneeze violently. I could not wait to get out of there, Mark was smart, and he left when he had the chance. “Mark”, I yelled looking at my watch. The meeting had went over and Mark was probably already there waiting for us. I grabbed on to Redd’s arm and pulled him. “We must really move, Mark is waiting for us at the deli”, I said. Redd could hardly keep up. The light was turning yellow as we approached but I crossed anyways, cars were honking as we tried to clear the intersection turning left. Other cars were trying to go straight and were blocked. It was chaos, but I had to get there before Mark. “So who is Mark that we should be in such a rush?” Redd asked. “It’s a long story; we started together here when this paper only had 3 reporters and no competition. It was all PR crap like we do now but Mark wanted more. He and a buddy started up the Daily Mirror. We have met for lunch every day like this for the past 20 years.” I said reaching the diner 10 minutes late. Mark would be teasing me for months as it was always Mark that was 10 to 15 minutes late all the time. I pulled Redd inside and we sat at the usual booth. My eyes wandered over to the bar, Pascha was sitting there alone having a non-dairy smoothie. “Redd, you stay here and save the seats. I have to go talk to a friend”, I said as I strolled over slowly to the bar, chin up, shoulders level, arms moving in time. I wanted to look cool for her. I stood steadily beside her and ordered the same drink she had. “John”, Pascha said, “Fancy seeing you here.” “I meet Mark here every day at the same time”, I said. “I see, so where is that joker anyways”, Pascha said. “He did not show up. He was supposed to meet us over 25 minutes ago. I am starting to get worried. Have you seen him?” I asked. “No, not since yesterday morning”, Pascha said, “I have to be getting back to work now but I will drop by and see you tonight, I promise” I wandered back over to Redd, “Where is that Mark he is never late? No paper this morning either.” An hour passed and still no Mark. I was getting worried. Mark had been late before but not more than 20 minutes and definitely not without a call.
Our list was quickly forgotten and we headed for the Daily Mirror to check on Mark. On the way I pulled out my cell phone and tried Mark at home, the phone rang and rang then voice mail. I left a message for Mark asking him where he was. It’s already almost 2 hours since we were supposed to meet. No paper and now no lunch. I demanded he call me. Next I tried the newspaper but still no answer. Upon reaching the paper I could see the large trail of police cars headed into the parking lot sirens blasting. We showed our press id’s and were quickly escorted in. It seems Mark was investigating a story that someone was not impressed with and everyone wanted to know what. A black package addressed to Mark was labeled “Stop investigating if you want to live, Love April”.
The police scanned the box and inside it was empty. No finger prints either. Everybody wondered who April was. It seemed the last time he was seen was at lunch with me, and then he just disappeared without a trace.
It was not long before Redd and I found ourselves being dragged into one of the side interrogation rooms. “Where are you taking us?” I protested. “Right now we are just going to ask you a few questions”, the officer stated as he opened the door and pushed us in. John took one of the chairs and I sat beside him. One of the officers stood by the drab cream colored wall next to the two way mirror. The other officer sat with us ready to pounce at any wrong answers. “Let's start off with the formalities”, the officer stated, “would you like a glass of water before we start.” “I would love one”, Redd said. I just kept my mouth shut. The officer by the windows left and came back with a plastic cup filled with cloudy tap water. “Now that we have the formalities taken care of, let's get started. We are not here to waste anyone's time. The sooner you tell us the truth, the sooner we can all get out of here”, the officer said leaning back in his chair. “You mean as soon as you hear what you want to hear”, I said snappily, “I will tell you the truth but you are not necessarily going to like it.” The officers looked at me puzzled. The officer by the window approached the table. “We need to know everywhere you went after you left the Deli. Don’t leave anything out. We need to find him before something bad happens”, the officer said. “The last time I saw him was at the deli yesterday. We were supposed to meet him today but he did not show up,” I responded. “Come on you have to give us more than that. He is your best friend. If he was in trouble you would be his first contact”, the officer said, “So again tell me what happened.” “As I said, the last time I saw him was at the deli yesterday. We were supposed to meet him today but he did not show up,” I responded. “You said that already. I know you are hiding something. You and Mark are close; he must have told you something”, the officer demanded as he slammed his fist on the table, “Tell me”. “I don’t know anything”, I screamed back. I did not trust the officer so I could not tell him about the club. They repeated this a few more times then the officer moved to the wall out of frustration and let the other officer have a chance with us. “So what did you do after you left Mark?” the second officer asked. “There were some PR appointments, and then afterwards I went straight home.” I said. “Did anyone see you at home?” the second officer demanded. “No, I live alone”, I said. After a pause the first officer moved away from the wall and stared at me trying to get me to give him something so I did. “Wait. You can interview Rex”, I joked, “After work I just went home, had a TV Dinner, which consisted of some form of mashed potatoes, steak (well steakettes), corn and peas.” “Rex, Who is Rex?” the first officer demanded. “My dog and it was a joke. I kept telling you the truth and you kept pounding me. I thought if I gave you something a little different it would break the monotony”, I insisted. Both officer were not amused and did not find it remotely funny but my mind was elsewhere. I wanted out of there as this was a waste of time and I needed to find Mark and tell him he was taking this joke way too far. It was a long process, they interviewed me alone, Redd alone then both of us together, all in the hopes one of us would slip up. After 3 hours of interrogation they let Redd and I go but told us to stay in town.
The street was filled with its normal hustle and bustle, but I kept thinking I was being followed. I would turn around but nothing seemed out of place. I guess the 3 hour “interview” was getting to me. “So is working with you always this exciting?” Redd said, “If so then I always want to work with you.” “It has its ups and downs. It usually gets more exciting when Mark stimulates it”, I said. “Well then we always need to work with Mark”, Redd said. I merely laughed and kept looking out of the corner of his eye for someone following them until they reached the newspaper safely.
Tom, the chief editor was waiting for us on the front steps. I could tell he was quite freaked out. “What mess are you in now?” he yelled as we approached. “What are you talking about?” I asked. “You know damn well what I am talking about. Do I have to spell it out for your?” Tom asked. “Yes actually you do”, I stated. “Well we cannot talk a lot about it here”, Tom whispered while looking around, “The FBI was here asking questions. Let’s go inside.” I turned to Redd and whispered,“It seems the FBI has visited and scared Tom, threatened him with an investigation into all those unclaimed goody bags or maybe Tom has another secret.” Tom turned around and stared at me with those no nonsense eyes, “It’s not me they were investigating.” We entered Tom’s office, which was really just a glorified closet. The only window he had was the one in the door. Actually, I have closets in my house bigger than his office. Tom sat at his Ikea desk and we sat in the uncomfortable chairs. “So, first let me point out that the FBI were investigating both of you. You have to stop sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong. Mark can take care of himself so stay out of it and especially keep away from April”, Tom demanded. “Well how are we supposed to do that it comes around every year we cannot avoid it”, Redd said. Tom’s face went red and I thought he was going to explode. I tried not to laugh and tried to save Redd. I leaned forward and asked, “April? Who is April?” “These people”, he said throwing the flyer at me. “You two think this is all a joke but it is not. This is serious. This is an FBI case”, Tom said. Redd and I left the office full of curiosity. Redd looked at me and asked if I recognized the flyer. “Yes, Mark is such a practical joker. He was always dropping off flyers like that so when he did yesterday morning. I didn’t think anything of it. It was just another joke or so I thought. At lunch, I thought I would tease him back and comment on it. Mark was scared when I said something in public then he disappeared. Now it looks like it was no joke as the FBI are involved and are wanting us to stay away from them. I guess some girl named April does too”, I clarified. Redd seemed very intrigued by this, “We must try and find Mark then. He may be in danger”. “Exactly, we need to keep this search quiet though or it may mean even more danger for Mark. We will go back to my apartment and think out a strategy. I have access to all the databases from my computer via the Internet”, I said as we left for my place.
The street was filled with commuters in their blue, gray or black suits like running bulls aimlessly following the crowd wherever it led them. I guess that is what made a yellow shirted girl really stand out. The back of her shirt featured the date April 13, 2036. Curious about another occurrence of the word April, Redd and I decided to follow her down an alley. We ran as fast as we could but she lost us around one of the bends. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted another yellow shirt. “Over there Redd”, I yelled. I turned but the girl ran into the night club at the end of the alley. I yelled at Redd, grabbed his arm and headed after her. Redd turned to look at me as if I were crazy as the girl ran into the night club at the end of the alley. It was heavily guarded by two gorilla-like bouncers. Redd and I approached with caution. The sign said Club 2036 and there was a symbol over the words, it was an orange and glowing circle with a flaming tail. The bouncers were poised to attack at any trouble so Redd and I decided it was best not to try and follow her in.
As we walked away, a young lady probably in her early 20’s roller bladed towards us. She was around 5 ft 6, with shoulder length red hair that flew out from under her protective helmet. Redd was lost in her green eyes as she approached him. It was like she had taken control. She reached down and pushed a piece of paper into Redd’s hand as she passed. Redd called to her but she could not hear with the music blasting from her headphones. I looked over at her as she passed, “nice legs leading up to a nice behind.” “Yes, I hope that paper is her phone number I would definitely call her back,” Redd agreed. Her shoulder length red hair floated on the air being pushed as she sped away. I grabbed the note from Redd and told him that if he didn't I would. I opened the note and read it. The note introduced the lady on roller blades as Christine and she wanted to meet Redd tomorrow at 11:00 am at the Astro Cafe. She wanted Redd to come alone and she would tell him more. I was kind of jealous. Christine was hot and by the way she looked at him, I knew she was interested in a little something with Redd. I looked over at the club again and noticed the bouncers were really getting restless. I grabbed Redd's arm and pulled him. “We have to go”, I said. He was still in awe of Christine. “You will see her tomorrow”, I reminded him as we continued back to my place for a drink and to do more research into Club 2036 and April 13, 2036. I whispered to Redd, “My reporter instinct is telling me that we are being followed. They are subtle and staying a long way back but I know”. We changed direction and walked back towards them. Redd was confused and asked me if I had forgotten the way to my own place. “Shut up”, I told Redd, “we are being tailed and we must lose them.” Luckily I confused our stalkers and we continued on taking a different path to my place to avoid them.
I was surprised at how good Redd was at finding things on the Internet. I figured him for the type that is always out of it but with a few keywords entered and he realized that April 13, 2036 was Easter Sunday. We kept seeing references to Apophis the Destroyer and End times Prophesies as well. Eventually he came across Club 2036. It opened its doors just before the millennium and its members held their first meeting December 31, 1999 with a huge gala featuring everyone who was anyone. It seems that the club believes the end is near, specifically April 13, 2036. Redd was about to enter another search term when the computer died. “Let me in to take a look”, I told Redd as small amounts of smoke exited the computer. I unplugged it and opened it up. “It was an Electrical Surge”, I told Redd, “the computer is fried. I guess I should have bought a surge protector power bar.”
At that moment there was a knock at the door. Redd looked over at me, fearful of whom it could be. “Could they have tracked our searching?” Redd asked me as I walked over to the door slowly and looked through the peephole. “It is only Pascha”, I assured him about to open the door. “She said she would drop by. She is my neighbor from next door, she is hot; much hotter than Christine, but she is my girl, so keep your eyes off, and keep your hands to yourself”, I forcefully informed him. As I opened the door I saw Redd glimpse at her long legs that seem to go on forever, but he quickly corrected and looked up at her face where his eyes locked onto her long locks of red hair and gorgeous green eyes. I could tell Redd was in awe but he remembered what I said, looked over at me. I gave him a look to remind him that I noticed what he was doing and appreciated that he stopped. Pascha turned to me and asked in her soft whispery voice, “I was going to make a pot of coffee when I saw you were home. I remembered how your coffee machine was on the fritz so I came by to share some with you.” I invited her in. “I was so hoping you would drop by my beautiful sunset,” I said. Redd looked at me oddly. “It's okay Redd, Pascha and I flirt like this all the time. We have been going out now for about 8 months”, I said. Pascha smiled, “Actually it is going to be 9 weeks, next Tuesday.” “It feels longer as we have so much in common and she was over here a lot”, I replied. ”I saw the news about Mark’s disappearance. Have you not heard from him yet?” Pascha asked. “No, he didn’t show up at lunch,” I responded, “Redd and I are trying to find out where he is and who kidnapped him.” Pascha looked scared a little. “You don't know who you are dealing with”, she whispered. “What does that mean?” I said. I was now starting to get concerned about what we had gotten ourselves into. “I care about you; I don't want you to get hurt. Let’s go to the kitchen, I need a drink of cold water. I am very thirsty”, pleaded Pascha. I thought I knew her well. I have the reporters gift. But now I started to question who she was and what she was involved in herself. Right now all I could do was follow her into the kitchen. I turned on the tap and started to ask her what was going on. “Keep it running I like the water cold”, Pascha said, “This conspiracy goes all the way up to the president himself. You must treat this with caution.” I figured it went pretty high considering there were FBI men at the newspaper. “Drop this story and I will see what I can do to protect you”, Pascha said softly. “That is all fine and well for me but what about Mark. He is my best friend. I cannot leave him trapped with them”, I stated. “Don’t worry John. Mark will be okay. I guarantee it. He is one of us”, Pascha said. “One of us?” John asked. “I can’t say more right now but yes”, Pascha said. As she reached for a glass she rubbed up close against me. I smiled large and looked down at her. I reached out my hand to rub her hip and pull her closer. If I was going to die because of what I was investigating, I was going to enjoy it. “I see you are excited. Is it me or is it the intrigue of a conspiracy?” Pascha asked. I felt a little embarrassed. “I love you Pascha”, I said. “Tomorrow I will introduce you to Professor Pynn and the leader. Since we are a couple you will be safe,” Pascha said changing the subject, “Don't worry Redd; Christine likes you that is why she is willing to meet you tomorrow. Now please leave and give John and I some privacy.” I closed the door and Pascha briefed me more on the situation. When we were done Pascha grabbed a cup of coffee and went back out into the living room. She gave me one last kiss then walked over to Redd. She put her arm around him. I saw her rub her chest up against the side of his face as she did. “Don’t worry”, she said, “Everything will be alright.” She nibbled on his ear and whispered something. I was getting a little concerned. Pascha turned to me and looked into my eyes. “I will see you tomorrow morning my love”, she said as she headed out the door.
After Pascha left, Redd gave me an odd look and said, “What was that all about?” “I have known Pascha for quite a while. She is my neighbor and girlfriend. She comes over for coffee and sometimes more. I trust her”, I said with a sly smile. “I have seen how much you have got to know her. How you love to share some sugar, but how much do you really know her as it has only been a month. Do you know her well?” Redd asked as he was very shaken and scared. I was concerned too, especially since she was flirting it up with Redd too but I could not feed into Redd's fears. I just responded as best I could. “We talk lots and I have the reporter’s gift. I trust her wholeheartedly. She is loyal”, I assured him. “Sorry for doubting you, it is just that the FBI is involved and possibly the CIA too. I am not sure who to trust”, Redd said. “I trust her but I still wonder where Mark is”, I said. Redd had his laptop with him and he plugged it into the Internet to do some searches. He came across a website that had the date April 13, 2036 in the bottom right corner. Redd clicked on it and a login screen came up. The message said “Welcome to Wormwood”, below was a login and password prompt. “Do you know any hackers?” asked Redd. “I am sure my friend Norm could crack it. I will call him in the morning. He is usually at some computer club; I think the latest one is called C# Guild.”
It was a strange day, we sat on the couch and put on the football game to try and forget some of what happened. After the game and more than a few beers, Redd was in no shape to go home so I suggested that he crash on the couch.