Tainted cure (the rememdium series book 1) (page 4)

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Rather than bursting into tears from the amazing turn of events, Regina followed Reed inside and shut the door. Just as she’d done her entire life, she resorted to humor in an emotional situation.

“Glad you’re here, bro. However, if you start snorin’, you’re sleepin’ on the porch.”

Reed set the bags in the middle of the floor and grinned wide. “Fair enough. Same goes for you. Now, enough chattin’. Time to eat. I’ve been on the road a long time and I’m starved.”

Shaking her head at the crazy turn of events, Regina went into the kitchen to fix their plates.

Maybe Christmas won’t be so bad after all. Thank you, Fred, for convincing the powers above to give me some support.

Jason fumbled with the zipper on the sports bag. He didn’t have the time or patience to dick around with a temperamental piece of cheap metal. Though never a patient person by design, his allotted quota seemed to diminish at the same rate his hair started to disappear. At the current rate of hair loss, by the time he turned sixty-eight the well of patience would be empty.

Grinding his teeth to keep from screaming, Jason tried one last time, finding success. Nerves on edge from the last fifteen hours, he yanked the bag from the bed. The day had passed by in a blur of activity and he was ready for the quiet drive to the facility. The phone call from Roberta—the one he’d waited on for almost fifteen years—sent his mind and body into high gear.

“You about ready, Dr. Thomas?”

Jason shook his head at the familiar voice from the doorway. “Almost, Dirk. Just finished packing. Need to shut down my laptop and then I’ll be on my way.”

Dirk Kincanon stepped inside, reaching down to pick up Jason’s bags. “Which vehicle are you taking?”

The tone in Dirk’s voice would have irked Jason any other time. Considering what was at stake, and how excited he was about Dr. Berning’s discovery, Jason opted to let the infraction slide. The heated discussion between the two of them several hours ago about Jason’s decision to drive—alone with no security detail through the Ozark Mountains—ended on a sour note. His trusted confidant and right-hand man still seemed miffed about the exchange.

“Black Ram. Rednecks won’t bat an eye at yet another Bubba truck tooling around in the hills.”

Dirk gave a faint nod of approval. “First good choice you’ve made today, sir.”

“Dirk—enough. I appreciate your concern for my well-being. Really. I mean, protecting me is one of the reasons I hired you. However, you know why I need to go alone, and why I won’t budge on my stance. Now, quit worrying. Today is a day for celebrating. I won’t tolerate another dig. Do I make myself clear?”

“Crystal, sir.”

Jason watched the hulk of a man heft the bags and exit the bedroom. Dirk’s body language conveyed his irritation and concern just as well as his words from earlier. Rather than dwelling on Dirk’s annoyance, Jason walked over to his desk and shut down the laptop. Securing it inside the titanium case, he glanced at his watch. It was almost ten p.m., which would put him at the facility in less than two hours, barring any traffic. The decision to wait to leave, timing his arrival just right, was done to keep up the appearance he’d traveled much further than the actual distance. Though the truth about the entire operation would eventually be revealed, he knew the time wasn’t right just yet.

Briefcase in hand, Jason made his way across the expanse of the large bedroom. He stopped and picked up one last item to accompany him on the journey.

The eight-by-ten color photo sat inside a gold-rimmed frame. The smiling faces of his young wife, Laresa, and their twin girls, Tasha and Tanya, stared back in silence. A moment frozen on film from the flash of a camera, taken on the front lawn of the grand estate the Thomas family called home. The picture had taken over fifteen shots to perfect because their St. Bernard, Benny, wouldn’t hold still. Tasha and Tanya kept erupting into a pile of giggles as Benny bounded in between them.

Picking it up to look closer, Jason swallowed the lump of tears in his throat. Tasha and Tanya were almost ten and mirror images of their beautiful mother. Each sported thick, honey-blonde hair and eyes so blue, strangers actually asked if they were wearing contacts. The girls were already tall and lanky for their ages, both possessed their mother’s grace and agility. Jason often joked his children were clones of their mother and his only contribution to their genetic makeup was their proclivity for the sciences.

Unwilling to continue down memory lane, Jason opened the briefcase and slid the photo inside. He rarely left his estate but when he did venture out, he never left without the picture of his reasons for living. Laresa, Tanya, and Tasha were the guiding forces behind his quest to end addiction. Every penny, every single moment, all done in memoriam of the three most important people in Jason’s life.

With one final glance around the room, Jason was satisfied he’d packed all items necessary for the trip. He shut the door and punched in the security code, thus sealing the area off from others while he was away.

Dirk was waiting for him at the bottom of the staircase, his normally pale face dotted with splotches of red.

“The truck is running and I topped off the tanks. Already punched in the coordinates to the lab. There’s a full first aid kit and plenty of supplies.”

Jason held up his hand. “I’m quite confident you’ve prepared the vehicle way beyond the point of necessity, Dirk. Should I encounter engine trouble, or worse, I’m sure there’s enough stored inside to keep me alive for days. I’ll contact you via text upon my arrival. Remember—not a word to the others I’ve departed. Maintain status quo. Until I am one-hundred percent satisfied this is truly the moment we’ve been working toward, I don’t want any false hope to pervade the others.”

Dirk sighed as he followed behind Jason out to the garage. “As you wish, Dr. Thomas.”

Once inside the garage, Jason opened the truck door and secured the briefcase in the passenger seat. After climbing behind the wheel, he looked at the concerned face of Dirk. He could tell the man was fighting the urge to say something else.

“Something else on your mind, Dirk?”

“Actually, yes. Have you considered how those at the lab will react when you show up alone? And in civilian clothes? None of them have ever seen you without an entourage. Don’t you think they’ll be suspicious?”

Jason laughed. “How little faith you have in me, Dirk. I have a freshly pressed uniform in my bag, and will change into it prior to my arrival. With all the excitement going on at the lab, I doubt anyone will notice I’m alone. If they do and ask me about it, I’ll simply tell them my escorts are above-ground, guarding the location from any would-be intruders. You know, because we don’t want word to get out about the discovery. That will satisfy their curiosity. After all, they are just as worried about security as we are. Mind the estate for me, Dirk. I’ll let you know if we have truly been successful or not.”

Dirk’s gaze was harsh and full of doubt. “You really think they have, Dr. Thomas? I mean, they’ve been close before, only to realize they were wrong.”

Jason patted his belly, grimacing at the slight paunch he’d recently developed. “My gut tells me this isn’t a drill. It’s the real deal. Better be, because my old ticker might not be able to handle another bout of disappointment. Please open the door. It’s time for me to hit the road.”

Without another word, Dirk moved away from the cab and over to the side of the garage. The metal door groaned as it opened, revealing the pitch black forest surrounding the mansion. Jason rolled the window up, turned on the air conditioner, and smiled as he made his way down the long drive.

 

PREPPING - Wednesday - December 22nd– 9:00 p.m.

Walter “Walt” Addison stopped and motioned behind him for Turner to do the same. The crunch of their footfalls on the bed of dry leaves was barely audible, drowned out by the nocturnal rumblings of insects in the forest.

“What’s wrong, Dad? Why are we stoppin’?” Turner whispered.

“Gettin’ my bearin’s straight, that’s all. Now be quiet before you give our position away.”

“Ain’t nothin’ out here but us…”

“Hush, Turner!”

Walt’s gaze scanned the tree line while Turner fell silent. Once dark, he and Turner left deer camp and headed deep into the woods. They’d been trekking through the Ozark forest, their path illuminated by the full moon and aided by the warm weather, for nearly an hour. When they made the same journey last hunting season, the temperature wasn’t even in the double digits. The weird, warm weather wasn’t any good for hunting, yet it made the trip easier.

An uneasy feeling settled over him while peering into the woods. He knew the area better than his own backyard. Walt remembered exactly where every tree, boulder, path, and cliff was located leading up to the cave.

After a stint in the Army, Walt came to the realization the world was too screwed up to continue on. Seeing up close and personal what Uncle Sam was capable of, along with the corrupt governments of other countries, left Walt a bitter and paranoid man. When Curt Campbell, a coworker and also an ex-Army man, invited Walt to a meeting one night after work, he jumped at the chance. Curt mentioned the small group was full of other men who were dedicated to keeping their families safe during troubling times.

The initial meeting had been over twenty years ago and it solidified Walt’s decision to prepare himself and his family for the end of civilized society. Though most of his stockpiles of supplies were at home, Walt figured a back-up plan was needed as well. While hunting alone twelve years back, he’d stumbled upon the cave quite by accident. Even though it was located on government land, he didn’t care. The place wasn’t listed or notated on any map he’d surveyed over the years.

“Dad, are we close? My arms are gettin’ tired.”

Walt turned and stared at his only child. Though Turner was twenty and just as tall and lithe as Walt, sometimes Turner acted like a bratty teenager. “What part about hush don’t you get, Turner?”

“Won’t do any good to keep luggin’ these supplies if they’re all busted. These cannin’ jars are heavy!”

“Fine,” Walt huffed. “Set it down. You need to step up your trainin’. More cardio and weights are what you need. When things get to crunch time—”

“I need to be ready. Yes, Dad. I know,” Turner replied, easing the heavy pack onto the ground. “Cut me some slack, will you? It takes a while to fully recover from the flu.”

“It’s been three days, Turner. You’re fine,” Walt mumbled. He continued to scan the perimeter. Seeing nothing, but unable to shake the strange sensation something was wrong, he walked over to join his son.

“Want to tell me what’s really goin’ on? We’ve been makin’ this hike ever since I was little. Bearings my ass.”

Squatting down, Walt peered at the trail. The hair on his neck and arms stood erect when he noticed footprints. With a nod of his head, he pointed them out to Turner. “See those? They’re fresh, maybe a day or so old. Note the tread. Those are government issued boots. I knew it! Someone’s been out trompin’ around here. You best start learnin’ to rely on your instincts, son, or you ain’t never gonna survive when the world turns to shit.”

Turner swallowed and leaned forward, squinting in the dark. “How in the world did you notice those, Dad?”

Motioning for his son to get up and follow, Walt whispered, “Because I pay attention to my gut. Knew the minute we came over the ridge somethin’ weren’t right. Come on, we need to follow these prints and see if they lead to the cave or not. Not another word until we know for sure. I mean it. Zip your hole.”

Turner groaned and picked up the pack and followed his father down the path.

Minutes later, Walt stopped and let out a heavy sigh. “Whoever was out here didn’t find the cave. See? The prints lead the other direction. They veered off and headed west. Just to be safe, give me the pack. Stand guard while I go add to our supplies and check things out. Do not move from this spot until I call for you. Got it?”

“Dad, you sure? What if someone is inside?”

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