« Peacemaker », Chapter Twelve   

Chapter Twelve

After his near-fatal automobile accident, Ray regularly attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for almost four years. We know his attendance began to gradually fall off. We don’t know why.

---- The Real Story of Raymond Brown, Paul K. Monprode, 2029


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Paul was glassy-eyed from the long trip by the time he pulled into Ray’s driveway. The early morning sky was pitch black, and a harsh wind was blowing in from the ocean. The pathway lights came on when he opened his car door, revealing a desolate, windblown landscape. The crashing of the waves in the distance seemed different – remote, threatening. He stepped out and looked around, but he didn’t think anyone was following him. Paul zipped his jacket and jammed his hands in his pockets, but the raw wind scratched his face as he hurried along the path toward the dark house.

Paul stood in the doorway staring into the microcamera, hunched over to lessen the wind, hoping Ray would greet him. The seconds dragged by, heightening his anxiety. The home security system should have recognized him by now and announced his presence to Ray.

I can’t just stand here all night. Paul said, “Beam me up, Scotty,” and the door unlocked. When he hesitantly pushed the door open, the lights on the first floor came on. He stepped inside the door and called, “Ray, are you home?” but the house remained quiet. Paul walked cautiously down the entrance hall into the living room, but he didn’t find anyone.

A stale odor drifted through the air, coming from the direction of the study. The door was ajar. A brief, rustling sound came through the door opening, and he felt fear rise from his stomach. Someone is in that room. His senses were at full alert, and he could almost feel danger closing in. Paul glanced around to see if there was anything he might use for defense. The only possible weapon was a small vase, which he could throw at an enemy.

Holding the vase in his right hand, Paul crept to the door and peeked into the study. His stomach felt like a rock when he saw Ray face down on the couch. At first he thought that Ray had been killed or injured, but then Paul noticed a bottle of Scotch standing upright on the coffee table, with only two fingers of liquid remaining. He was relieved, then disappointed, then furious.

“You fucking son of a bitch,” he shouted, dropping the vase as he stumbled into the study. Anger fueled a sinking terror. He grabbed the bottle and threw it against the brick fireplace, shards of glass flying in all directions. He felt like doing the same thing to Ray.

You pulled me into this … I depend on you … we are going to get killed.

Paul struggled to get past the anger and think clearly. He glared at the unconscious man in front of him, who was breathing peacefully. I’d like to grab the sun of a bitch by the neck and shake him, he thought, but what good would that do? He had to get Ray sober; their lives were at stake.

Paul went into the kitchen and started a pot of coffee. He sat alone at the table and listened to the coffee perk. Such a familiar, ordinary sound. Ray had asked for his help, and Paul had given it. He knew Ray would have done the same if the situation had been reversed. Maybe getting involved had been a mistake, but he couldn’t turn back the clock. His life was in the hands of the drunk out there on the couch. He had to sober Ray up and bring him to the FBI. Only Ray could demonstrate the virus, but that required a sober, clear-thinking Ray.

By the time the coffee was ready, he had regained his composure. At least some of it, but the anger simmered just below the surface. His nerves jangled, but he had to get Ray sober. He poured a cup and returned to the study.

Ray looked like hell and stank of Scotch and vomit. Paul grabbed his shoulders and rudely shook him until he began to wake up.

Ray was groggy and struggled to focus his eyes. He saw Paul and smiled. “Paul? How they hanging, buddy? What are you doing here?”

Paul couldn’t stand the sight of him. Controlling his anger, Paul pointed at the steaming coffee and said, “Drink this.”

Ray blinked at him through fuzzy eyes. “Are you nuts?” He smiled again and looked around. “I broke out the good stuff tonight.” He sat up and looked in both directions. “Where the hell did I put that bottle?”

Ray stood up unsteadily and looked around. He spotted the shards of glass in the fireplace and cried out, “It’s broken!” He staggered to the fireplace, kneeled down and picked up a jagged sliver. He stared at it, looking confused, and turned to Paul. “It was my only bottle.” Without warning, Ray’s face lit up, as if a wonderful idea had entered his mind. He searched his pockets and pulled out several twenty dollar bills. “Paul, go get some stuff.” He smiled. “Whatever you want.”

Paul was on him and jerked him to his feet, ripping his shirt. He dragged Ray back to the coffee table and slapped him hard. Ray lost his balance and fell heavily onto the couch.

“Drink the fucking coffee,” Paul screamed.

Ray looked into his friend’s face and hurriedly slurped the coffee, spilling some of it on the couch. Slowly swinging his legs around, he sat up and took another sip. Then another. Ray took a deep breath and began to cough violently. Paul stood over him and glared, fighting back the urge to slap him again. Ray stared at the cup in his hand and took a final gulp of the steaming liquid. He put the coffee down and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

With eyes staring downward, Ray said, “I’m sorry.”

Paul sat down in the chair next to the couch. “Fuck you. Just start from the beginning.”

Ray pushed his hair back and said, “It’s bad. Worse than I thought.” Slowly regaining alertness, Ray described the session with PeaceMaker and said, “When I regained consciousness, the computer was burned to a crisp. I realized there was no way to gain the authorization sequence. The virus contains very powerful defenses and will destroy itself rather than give up vital information.”

Paul continued to glare, and Ray was silent for a couple of seconds. Ray’s gaze dropped, and he stared at the floor. “I’ve got no excuse for it.”

“I’m not interested in your fucking excuses or apologies,” Paul said. “The question is whether you are going to get sober or stay a drunk.”

“Actually, it doesn’t much matter,” said a third voice.

Startled, Paul spun around to see three big men, all with drawn handguns. Shocked into silence, Paul stared in disbelief at the leader, a husky man with deep-set eyes. The other two thugs quickly positioned themselves behind Ray and Paul. The leader’s face radiated a smug, satisfied look.

“De Luca, it figures you’re involved in this,” Ray said.

De Luca … Paul’s mind began to unlock. That was the name Ted Mizinsky had mentioned.

“Hello, Ray,” De Luca said. “Don’t do anything stupid, and nobody will get hurt. Please stand up, and place your hands behind your back.” Glancing at Paul, De Luca said, “You, too, Mr. Martino.”

Paul complied mechanically with De Luca’s command and felt the cold embrace of handcuffs behind his back. Ray staggered as he got to his feet, forcing one of the thugs to grab and support him. As he was being cuffed, Ray said, “Paul, this is Michael De Luca. He was a security consultant for VPS, but I haven’t seen much of him for years. I had the pleasure of firing him when we discovered one of his microcameras hidden in the woman’s locker room.” Ray groaned, then bent over and vomited, soiling his pants. Still bent over, Ray looked up at De Luca and said, “He’s always been a perverted son of a bitch.”

De Luca smiled. “Did you miss me, Ray?”

Paul’s voice cracked, “What … what are you going to do with us?”

De Luca chuckled and pulled a syringe out of his bag, “This will put you to sleep for a few hours. We’ll talk more when you wake up.”