So, have I painted my characters into a corner? Is Ben Simpson trustworthy? How is my character, yet unnamed, going to get out of this mess? Actually, I have no clue. I will let the characters walk me down the next blind hallway of this story. Please enjoy this super-sized installment of Road Kill.
Road Kill – Part 7
Now I was really confused. Ben Simpson blew up his own house. He did it to stop the authorities from finding me, but also to protect himself. If he knew he would come under suspicion, why didn’t he kick me out into the night? I planned on asking him this question, but at the moment I was glued to watching the action on the computer screens. The agents had dropped back behind their armored vehicles. They appeared to be standing down for the moment, but I knew they were just calling for the next wave in the assault on the property.
I turned to Ben and pointed at one of the computer workstations.
“I need to get online and see if I can track down the images of my laptop.”
“You’ve been doing automated cloud backups. I’m amazed. You actually broke the rules to protect your own ass?”
“That I did. It’s a little something I may have learned from you.”
“Well, obviously you didn’t do enough to protect yourself. Go ahead. I have an untraceable IP and a dedicated ultra-high-speed connection.”
I sat down at the workstation and entered commands that would get me to the Dark Web. Luckily, and as I expected, Ben had the software needed to access this hidden area of the Internet. There was a surprising amount of integrity among those that hung out on the Dark Web. Yes, most of them were hackers and people running black markets. Reputation was everything. If you messed with someone sophisticated enough to access this last bastion of privacy, you would have the ire of thousands of hackers hunting you down to irreparably hurt you financially, professionally, and personally.
I made it to the IP address of where my laptop images were stored and I immediately panicked at what I saw. Every image prior to today was gone. There were two images from today that had a time stamp after I was registered as a ‘guest’ in the Mother Ship.
“What the hell? Where did they go?”
“I’m not surprised. Do you think Donavan’s geek squad didn’t look for a routine that backed up your drive? I’m sure most of them run them on their own laptops. There is one thing that we know now.”
“What’s that, Ben?”
“Someone is definitely out to get you. If they found the images, why not wipe them out? Why put fresh ones out there that likely implicate you further?”
I hadn’t thought of that obvious conclusion due to my anger. Now I had even more things stacked against me. But, there was still some hope. Ben realized it the same time that I did.
“All you need to do is access the backup files that are kept of everything on the Dark Web,” he said as if reading my mind.
“That’s all. Except, you have to be a hacker with exceptional skills to access them. Their location changes constantly and only the founding fathers of the Dark Web and their trusted descendants have that kind of access and they rarely use it.”
“Do you know anyone like that?”
“Not really…except, maybe one person, but he’s going to be hard to get to.”
“Why is that?”
“He is about 700 miles away and we are stuck underground.”
“My phone line is secure. Just call him.”
“You don’t understand. What I’m asking him to do puts him in danger. If I call or email him, he won’t be able to verify it’s me. I need to talk to him in person. It’s the only way.”
“Well, that changes our plan a little bit, but either way it was going to involve running, so now we have a destination,” Simpson said as he started to unlock some cabinets.
“What are you doing?”
“If we’re going to travel, we’re going to need documents for assumed identities in case we get stopped by any authorities. We also need to change our appearances somewhat, hair color, eye color, things like that.”
“And you have the ability to create all of that stuff?”
“I always plan for a rainy day, you know that.”
There was planning for a rainy day and then planning for a biblical flood. This was the latter.
“What about our friends on the surface?” I asked.
“The door to this place is similar to the type used on bank vaults. Even if they find it in the shed, it’s going to take them hours to break through it. We have a good 4-6 hours before they get to us. Let’s get our IDs settled and then we need to get some sleep. You must be beat.”
I hadn’t thought about the last time I slept. I was on an early flight, and with the distance to the airport, I was up at 4:40 AM. I had been on an adrenaline high since the discovery of a dead Mr. Man Bun in my assigned seat on the plane. I was now running on fumes. Ben seemed to be on track with what I was thinking.
“It’s been a busy day. Let’s change your hair color and the style and put in some color contacts and take your photo for the ID. Then you and I can get some rest for a few hours.”
I was stunned. The fatigue which had now been identified as something I should be feeling, was setting in with a vengeance. I leaned over a stationary sink and massaged dark brown hair color through my blonde-going-gray hair. I then took an electric razor and, with the number 3 guard covering the blade, buzzed my newly darkened hair the best that I could. As I looked at the man in the mirror, I could still see myself, but I would look different to someone who saw me from a distance. I then put in the brown contact lenses that Ben had given me to cover my pale blue eyes.
Once my new appearance was finalized, Ben had me stand in front of a pale blue backdrop and he took my picture.
“You are now a resident of Oregon. Your name is Zachary Egan and I’ve added five years to your actual age. You look like you’ve aged at least that much.”
“Gee thanks. Is there a real Zachary Egan in Oregon?”
“There is now. I’ve added an entry to their DMV database in case someone looks it up. You’ve had a couple of speeding tickets, but nothing major.”
“Well that’s good, I guess.”
“I’m going to finish up my identity. Why don’t you go and get some rest? I’ll wake you up in a few hours and we will be on our way.”
“Won’t it be daytime? Wouldn’t it be smarter to move out while it’s dark?”
“Not really. We’ll be able to surface far enough away and get a vehicle quickly enough that they won’t be on our trail right away. In the meantime, we’re safe here.”
I was too tired to argue. Ben seemed to have an answer for every scenario. It was almost as if he had prepared for this exact situation. He was always paranoid about working in intelligence, but I had no idea how far that paranoia had progressed. I was, however, welcoming this affliction with open arms given my current predicament.
I laid down on a cot that was set up in a dark corner of Ben’s bat cave. I didn’t think I could possibly sleep, but my next memory was of being nudged awake. As I opened my eyes, I hoped that I would see my own bedroom in my own condo, and that this was all just a nightmare brought on by working too hard. No luck. I was still in Ben’s bunker.
“We need to get going. I’ve loaded some duffels for us with everything we’ll need to get us 700 miles. I put out some clothes that I think will fit you.”
Sure enough, the jeans and shirt he gave me fit well with the exception of being just a bit long. There was also a pair of hiking shoes that were a ½ size too big, but they would work in a pinch, and I was certainly in a pinch.
“How are we going to get out of here?” I asked.
I could see by the monitors, that is was full daylight on the surface.
“Not a problem. We’re going to travel horizontally for a bit before we surface. I packed some MREs so we can eat on the run.”
MREs. That took me back to survival training. On the ship, we ate quite well by military standards. I had only had the so-called ‘meals ready to eat’ in fictional situations. They actually weren’t bad.
Before I could ask how we were going to accomplish this, Ben led me to a door at the far end of the bunker away from the hatch from which we had entered. He opened the door and flipped a switch to activate emergency lighting. Beyond the door I could see a tunnel that stretched on for a very long distance.
“Seriously, Ben. Why did you feel the need to do something like this?”
“Well, you never know when some naïve former shipmate, falsely accused of treason, is going to show up with half the government chasing him. I was a Boy Scout. Always prepared.”
The answer definitely didn’t satisfy me but it would have to do for now.
I followed Ben into the tunnel. As he shut the door, he accessed a hidden keypad.
“What’s that for?”
“Covering our tracks. The entire bunker and the tunnel behind us will collapse once we’ve passed sensors that are laid out along the path. We don’t want anyone following us or even knowing we’ve been here.”
“That’s a lot of equipment and supplies you’re sacrificing in the bunker.”
“Oh well. Most of it is government surplus anyway,” he said with a wry smile.
We traveled along the tunnel for at least a half-mile. Every so often, a low rumble came from behind us as the bunker and tunnel presumably collapsed. Eventually we came to a ladder that went about fifteen feet up to a hatch. I followed Ben up the ladder and he opened the hatch. As we emerged, we appeared to be in a large barn-like structure.
Ben closed the hatch and then walked over to a vehicle that was covered with a large tarp. He pulled back the tarp revealing a large Ford Crown Victoria with Oregon license plates that appeared to be at least ten years old. He then opened the door to the building revealing a long dirt road that cut across a field. We got into the Crown Vic and when Ben turned the key, the huge Ford roared to life.
“Well, which way?” Ben asked.
I pondered one more time how willing my contact would be to help me out. It was a role of the dice, but the odds were much better than putting myself in the hands of Donovan and his minions.
“South. We’re heading south.”
“South it is,” Ben said as he put the Crown Vic into gear and pulled out onto the dirt road.
There appeared to be no living creatures in site, at least not the human kind. I hoped it would stay that way until we got where we were going.