My prayers were answered, as Salty waved to me from the front of the restaurant.
"You made it," I said by way of greeting.
"It wasn't easy," he admitted, then told me about the previous night. He had been struggling through Perry's offer, and it didn't help things any when two of his drinking buddies tried tempting him with booze.
"Good. I'm glad. Have you eaten?"
He shook his head. We went into the restaurant, and Salvatore got us a spot. As we ate, I told him about making contact with the director of Serenity Center. Salty's face lighted up with recognition. "Yeah. I heard'a them. Good bunch."
"We'll head over there after we eat, and I'll get you in."
Salty and I talked as we ate. Salvatore was a gracious host, and I saw him every now and then listening in from the sidelines. I explained about our house in Portland, and how we all get along together under the one roof. I mentioned a couple of brothers by name who I knew might be able to get him work on the docks. I disclaimed my statements by making no guarantees to results, but stated that we'd do everything we could to get him active again. Salty was touched by the effort, and he brought the conversation around to God and Christians. In the end, before we left, we had a word of prayer.
When I went to pay the bill, Salvatore stopped me. "Bill is paid for my friend Salty. You good man, you take care of him." He clapped me on the shoulder, and smiled."I will, God willing," I replied sincerely, smiling. Salvatore said some words of farewell to Salty, giving him a bear hug. I made a mental note to ask them how long they had been friends. Then we left the restaurant.
Salty towed along a large duffle bag containing his possessions. I approved; it showed me that he was ready for a serious change. I decided to forego the bus and subway, and we took a taxi to Serenity Center. We walked in and soon met with Carrie Brooks. I saw Clark respectfully positioned just behind her, and we exchanged smiles. We waited in silence while Carrie and Salty spoke privately in her office. When she emerged, she gave some instructions to her secretary, a pretty young black girl. Salty came over to me and reached out a hand.
"Well, I'm in." He frowned. "I'm headed for the showers. I hate showers."
"You'll feel a lot better afterward," I assured him.
He leaned in close. I ignored the smell. "I just wanna thank ya for helpin' me, man. Not many people would."
"Glad to help. When you're ready, we'll get to you to Portland where you can get a new start. Ms. Brooks has all the information."
"Can I take the train? I'm not too thrilled about heights." he asked, a little reluctantly.
"Sure," I assured him. "Just don't let me down, okay."
He smiled. "I won't."
A young Asian man in white, an orderly, came in to escort Salty. Before he followed, he shook my hand once more and told me goodbye. After he was gone, Carrie came over to me. "He was very impressed by you, Perry. I think we got a winner," she informed me.
"Praise God," I shrugged, and looked at Clark. "One at a time, right?"
He smiled in return. "Absolutely."
It was Thursday, the 26th. Showtime.
All of our bags were neatly grouped in the living room. We'd spent last night and some of this morning packing, having everything ready in case we needed to bug out. Our disguises had been applied and, for what it was worth, I was feeling calm and cool. While Clark stood by the window and walked about the room, I sat and read my Bible. I was drawn to the Psalms. It encouraged me.
Finally it was time to go. We made a final walk-through check of the room. Then we locked up, dropped off the keys at the front desk, and went out to our waiting taxi.
The taxi stopped in front of the hotel. The two riders, looking as opposite as day and night, climbed in the back. The woman they passed in the lobby lowered her newspaper, then folded it up and placed it on the couch beside her. She watched the taxi depart, gave it a couple of minutes, then stood and took the elevator to the room the two riders had occupied. She looked around for a couple of minutes, waiting. She answered her cell phone on the first ring, listened attentively, then acknowledged the information and hung up. Then she called down to the lobby on the room phone, and instructed them to take the luggage from the room to her car.
The taxi took us to the World Trade Center Plaza. We paid the driver and walked across the plaza to the south tower. "Here's where the fun begins," I commented under my breath as we passed through the doors.
"Good. Proceed with 'Rock-A-Bye-Baby'."
I don't know about Clark, but the elevator ride seemed to take forever. The smell of lilacs faintly bathed us through the final five floors. Then the doors opened into "Beautyland." A wide hallway stretched before us, a display gallery of products and supermodels and fame. On my right I saw an autographed picture of Penelope and Cindy Crawford. Below it, a similar one of Penelope and their latest cover girl Brenda Troy; it was a toss-up as to who was the more beautiful of the pair. On the left, a gallery of autographed photos of Penelope with movie stars, politicians, and even a religious leader whose sincerity I had questioned until now. Here and there were displays for Patricia Inc's PENNY lines of special cosmetics: Copper, Silver, Bronze, and Gold. Faint classical music played overhead, and a set of fancy etched glass double doors swung open as we approached.
Clark beamed a smile at the brunette receptionist, touching his tie to adjust it. "Afternoon, ma'am," he crooned. "We've got a two o'clock with Ms. Savage."
The receptionist's mouth had lowered a bit. She looked down at her desk calendar. "Morris and Iverson?"
Clark came back with a smile that could melt ice. Did I just see a glint in his eye? I wondered. "At your service," he acknowledged.
She blinked twice and looked down to check the calendar. "Conference Room Four. Down the hall, on the right." She stood and gestured the directions.
"Thank y' very much, ma'am," Clark replied.
With Clark leading the way with a confident stride, we walked down the hall to the conference room. It was a small windowless rectangular room with a second door on the opposite wall. There was a square table, surrounded by average leather chairs on three of four sides, and an executive chair at the head. A cabinet resembling a tall wooden pillar stood between the head of the table and the second door. Simple, but effective.
"We're not under surveillance," commented Clark. "Interesting."
I looked around lazily, my eyes scanning for possible locations for video cameras. I couldn't see anything obvious, and said so. It was surprising.
After about a minute Clark took the chair opposite the head of the table, while I sat to his right against the wall farthest from the doors. Four minutes later the other door opened, and Penelope Savage entered. Respectfully, we stood.
"Good afternoon, gentlemen," came a throaty feminine voice.
I had to admit, she sure knew how to make an entrance.
Her beauty surpassed her photos, and even my imagination. As Clark and I had suspected, her outfit emphasized her sexuality. She wore white slacks and a black blouse shirt unbuttoned to expose just enough casual cleavage to distract most men. Her skin was a deep bronze like Clark's, and her expert application of makeup highlighted her many features. Her bronze hair flowed around her face in a mane of golden curls. She did not smile when she entered, but appeared to be all business.
Clark and I had been prepared for this tactic, and so were only momentarily distracted, not completely knocked off our feet. Penelope knew the strength her beauty held, this was clear, and she also knew how to use it to her advantage as a psychological tactic in business dealings. But we had prepared, and her ploy only motivated both of us to prayer.
She looked us over briefly, lingering on Clark's handsome form. She was sizing him up like a piece of USDA Prime.
"I apologize for my lateness. I was involved with other business." She took the seat at the head of the table. Clark and I also sat. "You have thirty minutes. What is this breakthrough you've developed?"
Clark stood. "Directness. I like that, ma'am. My name is James Morris, and my partner here is Don Iverson. I assume you're acquainted with the nature of our product?"
"Yes," she said. "But I want to hear it from you."
"Very well, ma'am." Clark started with a brief profile of the education and expertise of Morris and Iverson. Then he spent the next twenty minutes talking about the Hundred Hour Lipstick: the benefits to Patricia Inc., potential future developments and sales. My expression was boredom, but inside I was far from it. Clark's style was dynamic, and even Penelope seemed to be attracted to it -- or him. As she watched him, I observed her, looking for something Clark had mentioned. Suddenly my breathing quickened. There it is! I thought, praying with intensity.
"And that's it, Ms. Savage." Clark concluded with a confidant grin. "What do you think?"
She was thoughtfully silent. "I am interested. What can you show me of the formula itself?"
"I thought you'd ask that, ma'am." He reached into a pocket and withdrew a diskette in a protective plastic case. "I'm sorry we can't show you all of the formula until we've got a deal in writing. But I think this much of it will convince you of our sincerity." He placed the case into her open hand.
She opened it up, and looked at the diskette. Her face suddenly froze, and her eyes went wide with surprise.
"Is there a problem, ma'am?" asked Clark innocently.
Her eyes darted from Clark to myself, and back to Clark. "Is this a joke?"
Clark and I both feigned shock. "Why, no, Ms. Savage. Why?"
"This word written on the label -- 'silphium' -- have you any idea what it means?"
"Why, yes, I do," replied Clark. Then his voice returned to normal, and he removed the sunglasses. "Do you?"
She looked into Clark's face, and I thought I saw her bronze skin turn suddenly pale. She pushed herself up from the chair, repeating a profanity under her breath.
"Hello, Pat," Clark said.
The beautiful Ms. Savage opened her mouth and released an ear-piercing shriek.
Within moments, two security guards burst into the room, guns drawn and pointed ceilingward.
Penelope/Pat looked at them, considering, then ordered them out of the room. As the door closed, she walked over to the wooden pillar and swung open a panel, revealing several bottles of what I assumed was liquor. She pulled out a decanter of brown liquid, filled a small glass half full, and downed it in one gulp. She briefly considered a second dose, but chose against it, returning the items to the cabinet and closing it.
We remained silent. I didn't have to look over to know that Clark and I were praying in one accord. We had expected something like this, and we hoped we were ready.
Pat approached Clark, moving smoothly. He still stood. We both saw it coming before it happened, but neither of us made a move to stop her. As she got within reach, she delivered a powerful roundhouse punch to Clark's head. He let it connect, rolling with it just enough to take some of the force away from the impact. He bounced off of the wall and fell to the floor, then slowly stood. He made no move to defend himself, but waited for the next attack. It came verbally.
"I don't know what to ask first: how you survived, or how you knew it was me?" she growled, moving around the small room.
Clark answered her softly. "Your vanity gave you away, Pat. You and I both knew about the existence of silphium. When we were trying to figure out what to do with it, you wanted to use it for yourself. I see you have used it to make yourself young and vibrant, but needed a way of justifying the young you. Therefore, you created a daughter, an heir. Patricia Savage became a recluse, and Penelope Savage lived." He paused, and concluded. "There is no Penelope Savage. It's been you all along, Pat."
She smiled, and I shivered within. The beauty we saw earlier was just external; on the inside it was full of darkness. She moved about the room with arrogant boldness, then spun on us. "Yes! Just me! And now I have everything I have always wanted! Everything! Love, money, fame, and the freedom to anything I please." Then she verbally tore into Clark, blaming him for all the bad that had happened to her. "You weren't there. You didn't tell us where you were going! You didn't have to face the brunt of the world's hatred when the College was exposed!" She paced back and forth and fired volley upon volley at Clark, who continued to stand. "And you didn't tell me that prolonged use of silphium produced sterility! I am not able to bear children -- ever!" I prayed hard that God would give Clark His love through all her venom, and I could see that He was doing exactly that. But, I wondered, for how long?
I was amazed, and deeply saddened. This woman -- beautiful, powerful, intelligent, admired by millions -- had turned her soul over to darkness. Her words were full of hatred and profanity and murder. Clark and I kept silent -- it wouldn't have done any good to speak.
She unleashed all of her rage on Clark. I wondered if the room had been soundproofed. Then she realized it wasn't having any effect on us. Her eyes narrowed, and smiled a tight smile. She turned and walked out of the room. Clark and I looked at one another, not knowing what she was doing, but reassuring each other with our faces. For the first time since this began, I stood, and moved closer to Clark. My heart raced.
"Situation is red. And the baby is asleep."
Pat/Penelope returned. But she wasn't alone. Four armed security men accompanied her into the small room. She moved over to the pillar next to the other door, while the guards spread out near the other door. They made no move to draw their weapons, but I could see they were ready; their expressions were cold and professional. I held back the urge to panic at the show of deadly force, turning it instead toward prayer and intercession. Clark coughed a couple times.
"You're going on a little trip, my dear cousin," Pat announced, her voice like liquid nitrogen dripping with sarcasm. She paused for effect. "You will be taken to my island. I am the law there. And there you will stay." She spoke the last five words with finality and evil determination.
Clark coughed again.
Now I was scared. I prayed, dear God, what have we done? We're going to be killed. (From somewhere, words of comfort came to my mind: "Yea, thought I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.")
Clark coughed again, and I thought I recognized something. Even though he stood quietly, I got the impression he was planning something.
Pat motioned to the guards. They broke up into two groups. One of each group drew plastic restraining cuffs, while the other drew his weapon. Clark coughed again, and this time I did recognize something. Trying not to show it, I had recognized Clark's signal. He was telling me to run, but saying it in Mayan. Run where? I thought. I considered the doors, then decided on the one that Pat was closer to. But how could I -- we -- get past these guards?
Just then, Clark coughed "Now!" and made his move.
With a speed developed by years of training, Clark suddenly bowed low. As the eyes of the guards followed the movement, he seized the pants cuffs of the two closest guards to us and pulled sharply. Caught off-balance, they fell backwards into other guards. I chose to make my move around the table, and past Pat. As I moved, one of the guards suddenly gripped my forearm. I swung my arm back, at the same time putting all of my effort into a shove with my other hand into his chest; he stepped back in anticipation, catching only a part of it, and began to fall backwards.
I was an amateur and knew it, but made every effort to move around the table. My only obstacle was Pat, and I dreaded the thought of using violence on a woman. But I pushed it all out of my mind as I concentrated on escape. I heard the sounds of fighting nearby, and knew Clark was winning. Just then, I saw a movement ahead of me and heard two rapid whooshing sounds. I took a quick look back at Clark and saw the hypodermic darts sticking out of his side. His expensive suit had been ripped and torn. He staggered a moment, stunned, dropped to his knees, then to his face. I backtracked along the line of flight, and saw Pat ahead of me, holding a tranquilizer gun in a two-handed grip. The open panel beside her showed me where she got the weapon.
There was silence, save for the labored breathing from the guards, and my own rapid breathing. And I noticed that they were all looking at me now. I was cornered, guards on one side, Pat and her little toy on the other side, and no way out. I felt like Daniel facing the lions. No way out. I knew what I had to do. My arms went down to my side, palms open and facing her. I met Pat Savage's eyes. A smile crossed my lips. She also smiled, but it was a wicked smile. She raised the tranquilizer gun and slowly leveled it at me. "Jesus loves you; let Him," I told her calmly, as she pulled the trigger. I saw the missile fly out as if in slow motion, and strike me square in the chest. Darkness overtook me almost immediately, and I felt my legs go rubbery. The last thing I heard was Pat Savage laughing.
She replaced the tranquilizer gun in the cabinet. The guards were already moving in to remove the empty darts and put restraints on the bodies' arms. Pat looked down at them. "My Osprey is on the roof. Put them aboard and instruct the crew to take them to Caroline Island and return for me. I will contact the island to 'receive' them." She looked at her watch and smoothed down her hair. "Now, I have business to attend to."
The bodies were straightened out and carried through a side door to a private elevator leading to the roof. On the helipad was a special Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft. The pilot and copilot, both wearing full-face helmets and jumpsuits, were given the instructions, and acknowledged them. The two unconscious forms were carried into the craft and strapped into seats under the watchful eye of the copilot, while the pilot initiated takeoff procedures. The guards left the jet, and the copilot closed the door behind them.
The guards, many of them ex-military, watched in fascination as the modified Osprey went straight up in one smooth movement. It hovered about thirty feet above the building, then the blades rotated and the craft started moving forward. It banked to the left as it climbed, and headed out in the direction of the open sea.