PBB: The Instruments of Darkness

The Instruments of Darkness

“The instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles, to betray’s in deepest consequence.” – MacBeth

“Stop right there, flyboy.”

Quinn stopped walking and talking – an automatic response brought about by years of military training.

Hynek, who had been walking and listening, stopped, too – an automatic response brought about by the fact that the person he was having a conversation with wasn’t with him anymore.

It took another moment for Quinn’s brain to catch up to the body and that was when the voice sank in. Female. Familiar, but not one he’d heard recently.

Hynek had already turned to see what was up, so Quinn turned, too and saw trouble on two-legs.

“Evil-lyn.”

“Evelyn,” she corrected for Hynek’s benefit. “Winters. And you must be the famed professor I’ve heard so much about.” She strode past Quinn, high-heels click clacking on damp cement as she offered her hand to the older man.

“Watch it,” Quinn warned. “Her daddy’s a Colonel.”

“I’m Allen Hynek but I don’t know if I’m the ‘famed’ professor you’ve heard about.”

“Oh, you are.” She shook his hand then turned her attention to Quinn. “Michael. What’s it been? 3 years?” She took both of his hands in hers then leaned in to put a peck of a kiss on his cheek. “You look tired. I hear they’ve been running you all over the country to track down these crazy science fiction stories.”

“I don’t –” Was as far as Hynek got before Quinn silenced him with a ‘don’t get started’ look.

“Michael was daddy’s aide until I came home from boarding school.”

“Was kicked out of boarding school,” Quinn corrected. “Something about corrupting the morals of the other girls.”

“I was simply teaching them the facts of life. Something they never would have learned from those stuffy, old nuns. Times have changed. It’s not the turn of the century where all a girl could do in life was marry and bear babies.  And when you think about our contribution to the war effort; women are the reason we won, you know.”

“What do I know? I was up in a plane getting shot at. I really wasn’t paying attention to what was going on down here.”

Evelyn linked her arm through Quinn’s then started both men walking down the path in their original direction.

“Anyway, I came home from boarding school and Michael, much to his dismay was tasked with keeping me out of trouble while my father searched for an appropriate companion and. . “

“It didn’t go well,” Hynek guessed.

“She got me reassigned. Nearly got me thrown in the stockade.”

“Thus Evil-lyn” Hynek said, referring back to the original introduction.

“You are sharp,” Evelyn gave the professor a light tap on the arm. “Anyway. I’m in town for a couple of days and I thought you’d like to take me to dinner.”

“He’s married,” said Quinn.

“Michael.” A tone that said she wasn’t having it and he wasn’t getting out of it. Not that he really wanted to. She wasn’t the annoying teenager who had made his life so miserable all those years ago. And it wasn’t like they hadn’t gone out since. They’d met up 3 or 4 times since those days, usually when her father was making the rounds of the airbases. Speaking of which. . .

“I didn’t hear anything about your father coming to visit.”

“He’s not here. I don’t travel with him anymore. I started my own business.” She glanced at Hynek, obviously expecting a reaction. She didn’t get one so she continued. “I’m in fashion. Rich women hire me to completely make them over. That was the one upside to ye olde boarding school. I started with the mothers of the girls I went to school with and word of my genius quickly spread across the nation.”

That got a smile out of the professor which was points in her favor. There weren’t many people who could make Hynek smile.

“Mrs. Pennywinkle – I’m not kidding, that’s her actual name. Hired me to make over herself, her twin twelve-year old daughters and her poodle.”

“Poodle?” Quinn repeated.

“As in fuzzy dog, yes. She’s even more attached to that dog than she is to her daughters.”

“Understandable,” said Hynek leaving Quinn to wonder if his colleague had actually cracked a rare joke.

“The poodle is named Shirley, after Shirley Temple. The woman’s a wacko but she pays out like a broken slot machine.”

Quinn stopped walking, forcing her to stop, too. “I’d forgotten how exhausting you are.”

She unhooked her arm, feigning hurt feelings, then latched on to Hynek who was clearly uncomfortable with the close encounter of the Evil-lyn kind.

“I’m dying to see your secret lair where you’ve been plotting Earth’s revenge against the alien marauders.”

“You sound like my son. Are you a Flash Gordon fan?”

“No, but I loved The Thing from Another World. Did you see it? Keep watching the skies!” She laughed. “You didn’t have to see it. You’re living it. I’m fascinated. Can I see or is it top secret? And remember, before you say no, my daddy out ranks you by a mile.”

“He doesn’t outrank me,” said Hynek.

“It’s so funny that you believe that.” She looked pointedly around at the military buildings, vehicles and men in uniform. “Just a peek and then I’ll be on my way. I’m supposed to be shopping for fabric for Shirley’s upcoming birthday soiree, so I can’t stay.” Still hanging on to Hynek’s arm, she kept moving as if she knew where she was going. Oddly, they were headed in the right direction.

Evelyn chattered all the way to the office and Quinn got a kick out of Faye’s reaction when the three of them waltzed through the door. Must have looked like a scene out of Singing in the Rain. Good morning!

“Do you want your messages?” their secretary asked, following them all into the inner office.

“Why not,” said Quinn.

Evelyn went straight to the wall of weird and began quizzing Hynek about each case oblivious to the fact that Faye was speaking.

“Harry Rosen called to say that he was able to salvage the film but not the camera. He suggested carrying an umbrella the next time you go on a . . . “ She paused a moment to ponder her own shorthand. “Photo safari.”

“That’s good that he was able to save the film” Hynek contributed then went back to explaining how the Flatwoods monster was really just an owl in a tree.

“Sergeant McGillis said you didn’t fill out your form 683-B properly and until you do, he can’t reimburse you for the equipment you bought.” Again, she paused and squinted at her own writing. “Something about it being an asset and not an expense. Oh, and he said that since your car is the property of the United States Air Force, you should have had an Air Force mechanic fix the radiator leak and not . . his words. . . some backwoods mechanic.”

“Tell McGillis that I said, the next time I’m three states away with car trouble, I’ll definitely wait for the Air Force to swoop in and fix it.”

“One more,” said Faye, clearly picking up on his growing impatience. “A Colonel Winter said to tell you that his devil of a daughter found out where you’re stationed and she’s on her way, so you should save yourself a lot of grief and catch a ride on the first plane leaving the state.” Faye looked up from her steno pad, momentarily proud of herself for getting all three messages out and attributed to the right people.

Quinn nodded his head slightly to the right. “Faye, may I introduce Colonel Winter’s daughter, Evelyn.”

“Hello. Oh. I didn’t. . . I was only. . . “ She waved her steno pad around like the prop on a plane. “Just delivering the messages. I’ll be at my desk if you need. . . anything.” She skedaddled, pulling the door shut a bit too quickly behind her.

“I can’t believe my father said that!”

“It was a little mean,” Hynek agreed.

“I know! I specifically told him I wanted my visit to be a surprise and then he goes and tries to spoil it.” Evelyn turned back to the map on the wall. “So you boys found a rational explanation for every one of these events?”

They answered simultaneously with Quinn’s “absolutely” neatly canceling out Hynek’s “not exactly”.

“Oh, it’s like that is it? Well how about this? Why is it that we always assume aliens are coming here to hurt us? Isn’t it possible that they want to be friends? That they want to teach us all the secrets of the universe? Unless of course, they’ve been monitoring our movies and they’ve seen us boil, bake or blowup every alien who ever landed here. In which case, it’s no wonder they’re in attack mode. What we need to do is make a movie where we welcome the aliens and we all become amazing friends. I mean, it would a horribly, boring movie but then maybe they’d stop trying to conquer us with their death rays and killer robots.”

“There are no death rays or killer robots.” Hynek randomly pointed to three photos tacked to the wall as if they illustrated his point. They didn’t. “They’re just UFOs.”

“Unidentified flying objects,” Quinn explained. “He’s making up his own language, something about breaking new ground. But so far, they’ve all just been FOs – no U because we identified them, remember? Weather balloon, swamp gas, psychological warfare tests –” He pointed sharply at Evelyn. “You didn’t hear that last one. Understood?”

“Weather balloons, swamp gas, blah blah blah after that.”

Quinn winked at her. She might be a little flighty, but she was also a military brat. She understood the ramifications of loose lips.

The phone rang and Hynek picked it up at Quinn’s desk. “Uh huh. Yes. Tell him we’ll be there in a few minutes.”

“Sounds like my cue to go,” said Evelyn.

Hynek hung up. “General Harding wants to see us. Now, of course.”

“Of course.” Quinn took hold of Evelyn by the shoulders and set a kiss on her cheek this time. “If that’s not my ticket out of town, we’ll have dinner. Where are you staying?”

“At the Radcliff. You can pick me up at six, I won’t be back there until then. So, if it turns out more aliens have landed, leave a message with the desk and I’ll understand. I’ll be crushed but when duty calls, duty calls. It was nice meeting you, Doctor Hynek. Maybe we can all get together and swap stories over lunch before I leave town. I have some doozies about Michael that you can hold over his head if he ever gets any dirt on you.”

“I’ll look forward to it.”

Quinn walked Evelyn to the door then came back and took a seat behind his desk.

“What are you doing? Harding’s waiting.”

Quinn popped up like he’d been hit with a surprise bed check. “You mean that was for real? I thought you made it up to get rid of her.”

“How did I make the phone ring, with my mind?”

“Good point.” Quinn huffed as he tugged on the hem of his jacket. “Damn. That means I might actually have to pass on dinner tonight.”

“You sound disappointed.” Hynek headed for the door and this time his partner followed.

“I am, a little. We joke with the whole Evil-lyn thing but that’s just old times. It was nice to see her again. And as I haven’t had dinner with anyone but you since this whole thing started, it would have been a nice change of pace.”

“I’ll admit, she is prettier than I am but can she engage you in thought-provoking, intelligent conversation?”

“Doc, with those lips and those hips, who cares.”

* * * *

As it turned out, aliens hadn’t landed or even buzzed over any mid-Western American towns so Quinn arrived at the Radcliff precisely at 6. Evelyn was waiting in the lobby. She was dressed in a curve hugging, jewel blue dress with a neckline that dipped just low enough for the promise without actually giving anything away.

“I didn’t know where we were going, so hopefully I’m not overdressed.”

“You’re perfectly dressed. I thought we’d go to the Bird of Paradise. It’s one of those Polynesian tiki places with dancers that twirl fire and wild drinks with umbrellas in them.”

“Sounds fun.” She took his offered arm and together they headed out into the fading light.

The restaurant was crowded which left them waiting at the bar for more than a half hour before being escorted to a table. They spent that time catching up on Evelyn’s adventures so by the time they had ordered and there was a deep-fried appetizer on the table, they had moved on to his.

“Are you happy?” She asked, catching Quinn off guard.

He slowed his response by taking a sip from his fruity but potent cocktail. The waiter called it a Scorpion and it was living up to its name. “Am I happy? I guess so. I certainly didn’t think I’d be debunking space stories in Ohio at this point in my career but it’s getting me noticed and I need to be noticed if I want to end up in Washington.”

“Washington, huh? Office of the Secretary of the Air Force. . . “

“Why not?”

“Just seems rather sedate for you. Policy and paperwork.”

He started to respond but stopped as the waiter appeared with their food. Tournedos of Beef for him and something called Celestial Chicken for her.

Keep watching the skies. . . for chickens, apparently.

“Doesn’t it scare you?” Another question out of left field.

“Washington? Absolutely.”

“Seriously,” she laid her hand over his for a moment preventing him from picking up the knife he needed to cut the beef on his plate. “These sightings. These incidents. There hasn’t been one that kept you up at night?”

He gently shook her hand loose so he could eat. “The only thing that keeps me up at night is the professor and his wild plover chases. It’s always late, freezing and in the middle of nowhere. I don’t know why just one of these things can’t show up on a sunny beach in Miami.”

“Maybe they all come from a hot, dry planet so cold and rainy is like a vacation for them.”

“Maybe. It’s a good a story as any we’ve come up with.” As soon as Quinn said it, he realized his mistake.

“That’s why they gave you the job, isn’t it? Because they know you can flash those big brown eyes of yours at the camera and swear with one hand on the bible that every lie you’re about to tell is the absolute truth”

“That’s a little harsh.” Quinn pulled a cigarette pack out of his pocket, tipped one out then set it in the ashtray unlit.

“I’m sorry, you’re right. You have an obligation to protect the public and I know, having grown up surrounded by military men, that sometimes that means bending the truth.”

Quinn took a bite of his food and chewed it thoroughly while formulating his next sentence. “If you knew that a squadron of fighter planes was going to fly over Russia for a look around and a reporter asked you about it. Would you tell him what you knew?”

“Of course not, but that’s not the same.”

“Why not?” Quinn took out his lighter, lit his cigarette then snapped the lid shut with a quick flick of his wrist. Even in the noisy restaurant, the sharp sound made her jump.

“Because giving away a pilot’s position could endanger his life.”

“And if I tell the Lubbock Register that alien spaceships caused a massive, city wide blackout, what do you think would happen next? Panic? People packing up and rushing to get out of town. Blocked roads. Accidents caused by nervous drivers. A man shoots his neighbor in the dark because he thinks it’s an alien on his lawn. An innocent man dies on the street because the police and ambulance drivers are stuck in traffic and the phone lines are too jammed to call for help.” He took a long drag on the cigarette. “Tell me how the truth is better. If there was a truth to be told because I’m not saying there was.”

Evelyn set her fork down then leaned back in her chair while a hula dancer wiggled nearby.

“This is not the way I hoped the evening would go.”

“Roger that.” Quinn took another puff then crushed out the barely smoked cigarette. “So, let’s start over. We won’t talk about work, politics, family or religion. Open topics include movies, music, books and why everything they serve in this place has some kind of fruit on it or in it.”

“It’s exotic.”

“It’s weird.” But he finished his fruity drink anyway and ordered another, and one more. The conversation between them remained light and when they were finished eating they danced a little. Close. Slow. For the first time in a long time, Quinn felt more like a man than a soldier.

The liquor was generating a sweet, warm buzz while the feel of her body next to his generated an altogether different kind of warmth. He could feel himself drifting and wondering and then the music ended and the band leader signed off for the night.

It was almost eleven and the restaurant staff was ready to go home.

“I guess that’s the end of the evening.” Quinn brushed his fingers over her cheek and into her hair. He considered kissing her right there on the dance floor but there were too many people watching, willing them to leave.

He gave Evelyn a few dollars to tip the hatcheck girl who had their coats then went to settle the bill. The restaurant lights were going off behind them as they stepped out into the night. It was cool but not cold with just a sliver of moon hanging in the sky.

Somewhere there’s music, how faint the tune. Somewhere there’s heaven, how high the moon. . .

Quinn shook the song out of his head. The valet already had his car out front, probably the last one left in the lot. The boy held the passenger door for Evelyn while Quinn went around to the driver side.

They were mostly quiet on the way back to the hotel both tired from the late hour combined with so much rich food and good booze. When they arrived, he planned to pull into a parking space so he could walk her to her room, but Evelyn told him to stop in front.

“You can let me off here,” she said, making it clear that this was indeed the end of the evening.

Quinn left the motor running as he got out and went around to open the passenger door. She slipped out and into his arms and this time he didn’t hesitate to kiss her. Not a quick peck on the cheek like before, but a deep, long, double your pulse rate kind of kiss. The kind that was going to end in a cold shower if he didn’t get back in the car in the next two seconds.

Evelyn leaned back first, her hands caressing his shoulders and then moving down his arms. “Can we do this again, tomorrow?”

“I’d like that. Same time?”

“Six and I’ll pray for quiet skies.”

“You do that.” He kissed her again, quick this time then watched until she was inside the hotel.

Quiet skies.

It had been too quiet for too long. He had a terrible feeling that was going to change and soon.

* * * *

Evelyn spent the next day shopping with the Pennywinkle twins. It was almost 5:30 by the time she arrived back at the hotel. She checked the desk for messages – none, then dashed to her room to freshen up and change.

She was back in the lobby at 6:15 but Michael wasn’t sitting in one of the oversized, overstuffed chairs as expected. Again, she checked for messages. Again, there were none.

Evelyn took a seat in the chair closest to the door. At 6:30 she began absently thumbing through a magazine someone had left on a nearby table.

At 7 she went back to her room. There was a bit of worry in the pit of her stomach, but mostly it was disappointment mixed with hunger. Her father had missed his share of planned family dinners thanks to a last-minute assignment. And the nature of Quinn’s business was such that “unplanned” was pretty much a given.

But why hadn’t he called? Could be that he was in a rush to catch a plane and would call after he touched down where ever he was going.

Evelyn picked up the phone and brought it with her to the bed. She dialed the operator then asked to be connected with the Wright Paterson switchboard.

“I’m trying to reach Captain Michael Quinn.”

“I’m sorry but that office is closed. If you’d like to call back in the morning.”

She wanted to ask if Michael was still in town but the airman manning the phone wasn’t about to give a stranger that kind of information. She hung up and briefly considered calling the Hynek home. He was a civilian. His number would likely be in the phone book. But if Quinn was gone on assignment then Hynek was gone, too and his wife would be having dinner home alone. Not a situation she wanted to get into.

Evelyn picked up the receiver again and dialed the desk. “Is it too late for room service?”

“I believe the kitchen has shut down for the night, but we can probably find something for you if you don’t mind a cold dinner.”

“That would be fine. A salad, sandwich, anything edible.”

“I think we can do better than just edible. I’ll send something up right away.”

Again, she hung up the phone. This time she evaluated the ache in her stomach and decided that it was most definitely just a lack of food. She’d had lunch on the run with the twins over 7 hours ago. And not a very good lunch at that.

It wasn’t like Quinn owed her anything. Not even the common courtesy of letting her know he had to break their date. They were just friends. She’d be heading home in a few days and it would be another year or more before they saw each other again. If they ever saw each other again.

But when she closed her eyes, she could feel him pressed against her as they danced. Feel his lips on hers when he kissed her goodnight.

“Damn it, Michael. It was just getting good.”

* * * *

Quinn could see the moon, full and bright in the sky. Only it shouldn’t be there. He was no expert – that was Hynek’s roll, but he distinctly remembered the slight sliver that had been in the sky the night before. A waning or a waxing crescent. So weird that he knew that. But he also knew that if it was one, the next phase was a quarter moon. Or a new moon which was equal to no moon at all.

So why was there a big, beautiful, harvest moon hanging right above him?

The darkest night would shine
If you would come to me soon
Until you will, how still my heart
How high the moon

* * * *

Mimi Hynek switched off the soap opera when she heard the car pull into the drive. Perfect timing. She had just put the finishing touches on the congratulatory cupcakes and the cherry Kool-Aid was properly chilled in the fridge. Everything was all set for the party.

It was more than likely that Joel had lost the pinewood derby race because his mother had helped him build the car only the night before. But there was still a big reason to celebrate. For the first time since taking the job at Blue Book, Allen had made good on his promise to spend time alone with their son.

And not just any time – but at the Boy Scout Pinewood Derby in full view of all of his friends. Mimi hated missing it but it was worth it if it meant pure bonding time with father and son.

Bracing herself for a potentially sullen twosome (neither took losing very well), she flung open the front door and cheered “and the winner is. . . . !”

Not her family members.

It was a young woman. A pretty young blonde with a figure and expensive clothes.

“I’m sorry. I was expecting my husband and son.”

“Oh, Doctor Hynek isn’t at home? I really needed to talk to him.”

No, no. Not again. Not another Fuller. “He’s not here.” She tried to close the door but the girl pushed back and in over the threshold. Mimi could have resisted but as scared as she was, it wasn’t in her nature to fight. “Please leave. I don’t know anything. I can’t help you.” Mimi backed away, her eyes darting here and there for something she could use as a weapon. But even as she thought it, she knew she didn’t have it in her to hit this young woman with a lamp or an iron. “Why can’t you people leave us alone?”

“I don’t know who you think I am, but I’m really worried about Michael and if your husband knows anything. . . if he can just tell me that he’s somewhere safe. That’s all I want to hear. That he’s safe. Because I have this awful feeling and the way you’re looking at me right now, that’s not making me feel any better.”

“Mom! I won!” Joel came dashing through the open door, past the pretty blonde and into his mother’s arms, totally oblivious to the tension in the room. “Look at my trophy! Isn’t it neat?” He waved the two-foot monolith of wood and metal as close to her face as he could reach, then turned sharply to show his prize off to the total stranger in the room.

The only thing stopping Mimi from scooping the boy up and depositing him safely behind the solid door to his bedroom was the knowledge that Allen couldn’t be far behind.

The menacing stranger stooped down to Joel’s level then offered up a string of complimentary remarks about the trophy and his obvious prowess for winning such a fine thing.

“Honey, whose car is in the drive?”

Though the sound of his voice should have triggered a wave of relief, the opposite was true. Mimi’s pulse rate quickened and she could hardly catch a breath at the thought of her husband walking into some kind of trap.

“Allen!”

The girl stood and turned toward the door and Mimi imagined her pulling out a pistol and bang they’d all be dead.

“Miss Winters. What are you doing here? Were we supposed to meet for lunch today?”

Miss Winters? Lunch? Oh god. Mimi felt like a total fool.

“No, we weren’t. Have you seen or talked to Michael today or yesterday?”

“Michael?” Mimi said, finding her voice.

“Captain Quinn,” Allen explained. He closed the front door and set the bag of Joel’s racing toys on the floor by the hat rack. “This is Evelyn Winters. She’s an old friend of the Captain’s. I thought you were having dinner together last night.”

“Dinner was two nights ago. Thursday. The day I came to the base. We were supposed to meet again last night but he didn’t show. He didn’t call or leave a message, so I assumed that he’d been sent out on another assignment. But when I still didn’t hear anything from him this morning, I called the base and Faye said she hadn’t heard from him since he left to meet me two nights ago.”

“Joel,” Mimi half whispered to her son. “Go wash up. I have cupcakes and Kool-Aid waiting.”

Incentivized, the boy ran off to his room.

“Doc, I understand the nature of the business. I grew up with top secret so if you can’t tell me where he is, I get it. But can you just tell me that you know where he is and that he’s alright.”

“I can’t. I don’t know. I haven’t seen him since he left to pick you up. Was that really two nights ago?’

“Allen,” Mimi stepped closer to her husband, joining the inner circle.

“The days all run together sometimes. I have a lot going on and you know how I am when I’m focused. Time just gets away from me.” He looked down at his watch and a deep frown crossed his face. “He probably told me he was leaving and I forgot or. . . sometimes he goes without me. That’s why I didn’t think anything of it.”

Talking more to himself than the women, Allen went into the living room and picked up the phone. He held the receiver in the same hand that he used to dial a number from memory. They all waited in silence while he listened to it ring on the other end. After a minute, he hung up and dialed another number. “He’s not at home,” he said to the women and then into the phone he said, “This is Doctor Hynek, can you put me through to the guard gate please?”

Back to the women. “Quinn lives on the base so he’d have to–.” Back to the phone. “Hello, yes, this is Doctor Hynek. I’m trying to locate Captain Quinn. Can you tell me the last time he came in or out? What about yesterday?”

Back to Evelyn. “The night you had dinner together, what time did he drop you off at your hotel?”

“A little after 11 I think,” Evelyn replied.

Back to the phone. “Look at the record for two nights ago. You should have him leaving around 5 and back in just after 11.” Another pause.

Mimi could imagine the man in the guard house shuffling through reams of paper looking for the correct day and time. “I’m sorry I reacted the way I did,” she said softly to Evelyn. “We had a bit of a scare not long ago and I’m still a little nervous about strangers.”

“The scare, was it because of your husband’s involvement in Blue Book?”

Mimi hesitated, not sure if she should confirm or deny. She didn’t do either because Allen started speaking again.

“Do you have the license number of his car?” He carried the phone to the kitchen counter to get a pad and a pencil. He scribbled a few notes then said. “No. Don’t mention it to anyone yet. I’ll speak to General Harding personally. Thank you.” He hung up and his body language told Mimi that what he’d learned wasn’t good.

“They have a record of Quinn driving off the base at 5:10 Thursday night. They have no record of him driving back on. He checked well into the next morning. He didn’t check the whole day but Quinn lives on the base. He would have had to go through the gate to go home, to go to sleep after he left you.”

“So he’s actually been missing for a day and half? Like missing missing?!” Evelyn closed the space between herself and Allen in three long strides. “He’s your partner! How did you not know? He could be hurt out there or in a hospital or. . . “

“Mom?”

Joel.

“It’s alright, honey. There’s been a misunderstanding and Miss Winters is upset. It’s nothing for you to worry about. Please go watch TV in your room.”

“But cupcakes!” The boy whined.

“Do as your mother says,” Allen snapped.

Mimi’s maternal instinct overrode her love of her husband for a beat. “Why don’t you two finish this discussion in your office.” Project Blue Book bull heading its way through their happy homelife once again.

Allen ripped the top page off the notepad then headed for his office with the woman close behind. He stopped suddenly, just a few feet from the door, bid Evelyn to go ahead, then walked back to his son. He forced a smile and ran his hand through the boy’s hair.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have been cross with you. We had a good time together at the race, didn’t we?”

“It was fun. And I got a trophy. I didn’t win first, but I still got a trophy.”

“Yes, you did.” Allen stooped down to the boy’s level. “Go have cupcakes with your mom. Just save me one, okay? I have to take care of some business before I can eat mine.”

“I’ll save you one and some Kool-Aid.” The boy gave his dad a fast hug. “Thanks for coming today.”

“Of course.” Allen rose to his full height then shot his wife a look that was somewhere between proud and sad. “I’m sure Quinn’s fine but I need. . . “

“I understand.” And for the first time in a long time, she actually meant it. 

* * * *

Evelyn waited for Hynek to close the door before she pounced on him again. “You told the airman on the phone not to tell anyone. Why? Why would you do that? There are men on that base who are experienced in this kind of thing.”


“What kind of thing?” Allen shot back. “We don’t know what kind of ‘thing’ this is. And until I know more, I don’t. . . . “ He went to his desk. Sat down. Stood up. “I can’t explain, I just need you to trust me. I’m as worried about him as you are.”

“I doubt that,” She said as she dumped a pile of files off a chair and on to the floor so she could sit.

He let it go. He understood how it must look but tasking the military with finding Quinn when they might be the ones who made him disappear – he couldn’t do it. Wasn’t ready to take that leap just yet.

Again, he picked up the phone receiver and this time he dialed the operator. “Get me the police, please.” He dropped into his desk chair and his eyes took in the organized clutter than covered every surface. When did that happen? He had never been particularly neat, but this was beyond the jumbled world of a man with too many thoughts and too little time.

He was pulled back to the phone by a deep, gruff voice on the line. “Police. Sergeant Pritchard speaking. How can I help you?”

“Hello, yes. I’m Doctor Allen Hynek. I’m a professor at the university and my colleague – my friend has gone missing. He hasn’t been heard from since late Thursday night and he was supposed to attend an important meeting today and it’s not like him to no show. I’m very concerned that something’s happened to him. A car accident, perhaps?”

Allen glanced up and saw Evelyn looking at him with the most curious stare.

“Yes, his name is Michael Quinn. He’s mid-thirties, 5’8 or 5’9, black hair cut short. Well-built, athletic he was wearing. . . “ Allen snapped his fingers at Evelyn as if he needed to catch her attention.

“A dark gray suit, white shirt, dark tie.”

Not his uniform. Good. Allen repeated the description then gave them the make and model of Quinn’s car along with the license plate.

“Sort of a purply, red color car? I think I saw an abandoned car report that fit that description. I remember cause the color was unusual. Hang on a moment. Let me check.”

“Yes, I’ll hold. Thank you.” Allen moved the phone away from his mouth. “Please stop looking at me like I’m a monster.”

“You’re twisting the facts and I don’t understand why—”

He silenced her with a wave of his hand as the police officer came back on the line.

“I was remembering right. One of my men reported the car abandoned on Bayou Road. Wrote the report yesterday at 3:15. Was going to have the car towed but there was a big pile up on the highway outside of town and the wreckers were all tied up for the night. Car’s probably still out there.”

“Bayou Road,” Allen repeated, all too aware of the knot forming in his stomach. Bayou Road was the main road leading to the base. If Quinn’s car had broken down, he could have easily walked the few miles to the gate. So why didn’t he? “Can I meet you there? It’s a starting point. To look for him.”

“I’ll have the officers who patrol that area to meet us at the car.”

“Thank you.” Allen hung up and stood in one motion. Evelyn was already on her feet having heard all that was important from his end of the conversation.

Moving quicker now, Allen filled Mimi in on the details, promised Joel he’d be back for cupcakes soon then followed Evelyn out the door.

They took his car and were on the scene in 15 minutes. Allen spotted Quinn’s car as he came up over the last rise on a desolate portion of road. There was nothing but woods on either side. If you went north, you’d hit the river. A frightening thought. If you went South, the woods backed up to the fence surrounding Wright Patterson Air Force base. Not a coincidence.

There were two police cars parked on the shoulder in front of Quinn’s vehicle. There were two officers standing by the car and a third walking along the road, eyes to the ground.

Allen parked, skipped the formalities of going around to open Evelyn’s door and made straight for the police cars.

The older, larger of the two men was the Sergeant he’d spoken to on the phone. Introductions were exchanged but the man’s tone wasn’t as friendly and helpful as it had been previously.

“You didn’t tell me your friend was an Air Force pilot. Fred here,” he thumbed toward the younger patrolman. “he found the registration and base pass in the glovebox.”

“Why is that relevant? He’s still a missing person.”

“Yeah, but the military doesn’t like it when we get mixed up their business.”

“This is ridiculous.” Allen whirled away, went to Quinn’s car and climbed behind the wheel. The keys were in the ignition. He started the car, expecting to hear nothing but the dull thud of a dead battery or the whine of a starter that wouldn’t catch. Instead what he heard was the soft rumble of a well-maintained engine.

“There’s nothing wrong with the car,” Evelyn said, giving voice to his thoughts. “So why did he abandon it?”

“There’s only two reasons a fella abandons a perfectly fine automobile,” said Sgt Pritchard. “Either he’s chasing someone or he’s being chased. He’s your friend. Which is it?”

“I don’t know!” Allen slapped his hands down hard on the steering wheel and inadvertently hit the horn. The sudden bleat got a rise out of the young officer who was standing only a few feet in front of the vehicle. Hynek got out of the car and scanned the horizon as if he might find Quinn standing there waiting for them all to spot him. “Your officers, they didn’t report anything unusual Thursday night?”

“Unusual how?” Pritchard took off his hat with the question and it felt to Hynek like some kind of prearranged signal. If I take off my hat while questioning a man on the side of the road, call the funny farm and have them send a truck.

“Sergeant! I got something!” The officer who had been walking along the road waved for them to join him about 10 yards away. “Footprints,” he said when they were close enough that he didn’t have to yell. “A man, good shoes, not boots. He stepped in the mud here and there,” he pointed at a patch of crushed grass. “Not real fresh, but not real old either. Good chance this is your guy.”

Only one problem. The footprints weren’t heading up the road toward the base. They were heading into the woods.

Pritchard stooped down for a better look, hitching up his pants in the back to cover anything that might show. “You said he went missing around 11 Thursday night.” A statement, not a question.

“It was pretty dark that night,” the young officer looked up the road then back at the woods. “Could have got off the road by accident. Maybe stepped aside to let a car pass and then didn’t realize he was heading deeper into the trees instead of along the road.”

“If there was an accident, he could have hit his head, been confused,” Evelyn offered.

“No sign of accident,” said Pritchard as he hitched his pants again. “If he’s in the woods, we need a grid search and it’s a lot of ground to cover. Thick brush, you gotta go slow or you could walk right by a person. Specially if he’s hurt, laying down, asleep. I don’t have the manpower for that.”

The knot in Allen’s stomach gave another twist. He knew exactly what the Sergeant was implying and as much as he didn’t want to agree, he knew it was the best. . . hell. . . only option.

“These military boys do stuff like this all the time. They’ve got the equipment and plenty of men. I don’t like asking ‘em for help, believe me but I’m convinced that your friend is out there and needs to be found and fast. Gonna be a lot colder tonight with a big storm due to roll in after dark. Gotta do this now.”

Evelyn inserted herself into the conversation with a stern, “if you don’t call the base, I will.”

What choice did he have? “Can I use your radio?”

“Sure.” Pritchard led the way back to his car. He used the police band radio to contact dispatch then asked them to patch him through to the base switchboard. Awkwardly, Allen took the mic from him waiting for what seemed like ten minutes before an airman was on the line.

“This is Doctor Hynek. I need to speak to General Harding right away. It’s an emergency.”

While they waited yet again, the police officer who had found Quinn’s car in the first place leaned in and softly asked, “this Captain who’s missing, does he know things? The kind of things our enemies might want to know?”

Interesting question. The patrolman was thinking Russians but that didn’t make his point any less valid, or frightening.

“Professor!” The mic came to life in Hynek’s hand. “What the hell’s this emergency crap. Where are you?”

“I’m standing next to a police car on Bayou Road and I’m speaking to you on an open mic.” A pointed enough warning he hoped to keep the General from saying something he shouldn’t. “Captain Quinn has been out of communication for nearly 40 hours. The police found his car abandoned along side the road about four miles from the base gates. As near as we can tell, he went into the woods here late Thursday night and hasn’t made it back out. We need a search team.”

There was a moment of silence. Harding thinking through and then discarding all of the questions he wanted to ask. “Stay put. I’ll a have a squad to your location in ten minutes.” He hung up. Hynek gave the Sargant the mic then stepped away from the car as the man relayed the situation to his dispatcher.

He felt an arm link through his and then a head on his shoulder. “What if he’s not in the woods? It’s been a day and a half,” Evelyn said softly with a catch in her throat. “What are the chances he’s still right here, close by. Do you know how much ground he could cover in a day and half? He could be miles from here. He could have come out of the woods five miles back the way we came and then someone picked him up and took him into town.”

“That’s not possible,” Allen said absently, eyes scanning the tree line.

“Of course it’s possible.”

“It’s not.” He shook her off his shoulder and off his arm. “Because if he’d made it out of the woods, he would have been able to get to a phone. At some point, in the past 40 hours, he would have made it to a phone. He’s still in there.”

There was another alternative. Another place he could be where there were no phones, no way to call home. Hynek couldn’t let himself go there.

No. Michael was in the woods. Hurt. Cold. Hungry and waiting to be found.

40 hours. Once again, he’d let his partner down.

* * * *

Two trucks full of armed soldiers appeared in 9 minutes flat. They piled out of the vehicles like ants abandoning a flooded anthill. With the precision that came with millions of dollars of training, they set up a base camp and started handing out assignments based on a large map of the area.

General Harding arrived at the ten-minute mark. He gave his men only a cursory glance as he marched over to Hynek and the police officers.

“Sergeant, the Air Force appreciates your assistance in this matter, but we have it covered. You and your men can return to your duties.”

Pritchard hitched up his pants and took a step closer to the white-haired General. “This is my road you’re standing on and until your men reach the fence, they’re in my woods. I’ll stay until we find your man.”

The police Sergeant waved for the patrolman to come along and they returned as a group to wait by their own cars.

Hynek was next on the hit list. Harding turned sharply to face him square on.

“I have three questions for you, professor. How the hell did you misplace your partner? Why the hell did it take almost two whole days for you to notice that he was gone? And most importantly, why did you involve the local law instead of coming straight to me?”

“I thought he might have been in a car accident,” Allen said, choosing to answer only question number three. “I called the police to find out if they had a record of an accident and as it turned out one of their patrol cars reported finding Quinn’s car here, abandoned on the road. That’s when I came out here and they came out here and realizing that Quinn wasn’t here or in a hospital, we figured he had to be lost in the woods, so I called you.”

Harding started to reply, paused then almost imperceptibly shook his head.  “We are going to have a very long and very private chat about this once we’re back at the base.” Then he whirled like a clown popping out of a jack-in-the-box startling Evelyn who had crept up behind.

“Miss Winters. The last time I saw you, you had just been expelled from boarding school.”

She squared her shoulders and straightened to her full 5’3 height. “The last time I saw you, General, you were being chewed out by my father. Something about overstepping your authority.”

“That was then, this is now.” Harding tapped the bars and stars on his uniform that said he outranked almost everyone in the country.

“Sir!” An airman scurried up, saluted then handed over a field radio. “Alpha team and Bravo team are on the move.”

Harding took the radio then saluted back to dismiss the man.

 “This could take a while,” he said, still bearing down on Evelyn. “Why don’t I get a car to take you home?”

“I know you don’t really think I’d leave before I knew Michael was safe.”

“Michael, is it? What was your part in this little escapade? Distract him from his duties? Get him drunk? Get him into bed—”

She slapped him. “You’re a pig.”

Harding waved off the airman who was coming to his defense. His eyes locked on hers as if he was looking for some sign that she wasn’t what she presented.

Hynek butted in before the two of them came to further blows. “I don’t understand how you can be so cavalier about all of this,” he said in a harsh whisper meant only for the General’s ear. “With everything Captain Quinn knows. The things our enemies could learn from him. . . “

“They’d learn nothing, doctor. Because Captain Michael Quinn would die before giving up his country.”

“From what I’ve seen,” Hynek shot back, “a man doesn’t always get that choice.”

“Oh my god,” Evelyn cried. “You’re both scaring the bejesus out of me.” She wrapped her arms around herself and suddenly Hynek noticed that it was getting cold. He took off his coat and set it on her shoulders. “I’m sure there’s a simple explanation for all of this. Car trouble. Moonless night. Lost in the woods. That’s all.”

He said it as much for his own benefit as hers. He had to believe that this was all just bad luck and not a carefully crafted plan to break one of the Air Forces’ best and brightest. But there were so many people who wanted to see them fail. Fuller. The men in hats. The missing lab. Deep down he knew that whatever had happened to Quinn, it had happened because of Project Blue Book.

The radio in Harding’s hand crackled to life. “Alpha Team to Base. Nothing to report. Over.” A moment later. “Bravo Team to Base. Nothing to report. Over.”

And it went on that way for the better part of an hour as the skies grew darker and the air grew colder.

Every time the radio crackled, Allen got his hopes up and every time he was disappointed, until. . .

“Bravo Team to Base. We found him. Over.”

Harding had set the radio down on roof of his car so Hynek grabbed it and triggered what he hoped was the mic button. “Is he alright? Is he hurt?”

“Bravo Team to Base. He seems to —”

A gunshot echoed through the air and through the radio. They all looked toward the woods as if they might see what was happening.

Harding ripped the radio from Hynek’s hands. “Base to Bravo Team. REPORT! OVER!”

The silence went on forever and then the voice was back on the radio. “Captain Quinn is armed, sir. He took a shot at us. We were forced to fall back. Over.”

“He shot at them?” Hynek mused out loud. “He must be confused. Maybe he has a concussion and he doesn’t realize what’s going on.”

Harding triggered the radio mic. “This is General Harding. I want him back here. Now!” So much for military radio protocol.

“Bravo Team to Base, we copy but he’s found himself a nice spot against a rocky area. No way to get around him or near him without him seeing us. We could charge him from three sides and probably take him down but chances are good he’ll get at least one of my men before we can disarm him. Respectfully, sir, we need time to assess the situation. Over.”

Hynek paced in a small circle, eyes on the ground, brain fighting to think past the tightness in his chest and the ache in his stomach. “I need to get in there,” he said suddenly to no one in particular. “He’ll listen to me. I can talk him into putting down the gun. Clearly, he’s confused – could be a concussion or even dehydration. He’s been out there with no water or food. He just needs to see a face he recognizes. Someone he trusts. How do I get to him?”

Harding sighed then triggered the mic. “Base to Bravo Team. Send a man out to escort Doctor Hynek to your location. He thinks he can talk Quinn off the ledge. Over.”

“Roger that.”

That was Quinn’s expression and it hit Allen hard. They hadn’t been working together long but there were moments, like these, where he felt this odd, inexplicable attachment to the younger man. The Captain exuded this combination of strength and charm that was so far out of Hynek’s reach. In the past, knowing he wasn’t that kind of man wouldn’t have bothered him, but when he saw the way his own son responded to Quinn, it was hard not to compare. Joel had instantly idolized this walking talking version of a cartoon superhero, seeing him in a way that he never did and never would see his own father. It hurt a little, but he couldn’t hold it against Quinn. How could you fault anyone for being who they are?

“Sir, if you’ll come with me?”

It took a beat before Allen realized the soldier was speaking to him. “Come with you?”

“I’m going to drive you around to Patrol Road. It’s a closer access point. Someone will take you from there.” The soldier opened the door on a jeep that had just pulled up, ushered Hynek to get in, then he switched places with the driver.

They followed Bayou Road as it curved to the left, then transitioned to a smaller road that took them closer to the base with the woods on either side getting thicker and thicker. They came to a stop a few minutes later, pulling up behind another transport vehicle.

A different soldier opened Hynek’s door then beckoned him to follow. “The terrain is kind of rough so watch your step, sir and don’t let me out of your sight.”

“Believe me, I won’t.”

Then they were in the woods, following what appeared to be a trail blazed by the airman on his way out to the road.

“You saw Captain Quinn?” Hynek said, barely able to get the words out through the exertion of the walk.

“Yes, sir.”

“Did he look alright? He wasn’t hurt?”

“Hard to say, sir,” the solider replied with no sign of exertion in his voice. “We couldn’t get that close. When we tried, he started shooting. I guess that means he isn’t alright, not in the head anyway. He could see our uniforms. Had to know we were friendlies. Watch your head here.” The young solider held a branch up and out of the way for Hynek to duck under, then he took the lead again. “Almost there.”

Thank god. And not just because of the ache in his legs or the lack of breath left in his lungs. Thank god because he couldn’t bear to go another ten minutes without seeing Quinn in the flesh.

“Hold up.” The solider used a hand signal out of habit that meant little to Hynek. Then he made a sound like a bird. Another bird call came back in response. “Just letting the squad know it’s us. Never want to sneak up on a loaded weapon.”

“I’ll remember that.” They moved on and stopped again as they joined a group of three.

The guiding airman saluted his superior, who saluted back. Then they all fell into a more relaxed but sharply vigilant pose.

“Where is he?” Hynek urged, tired of the levels of military protocol.

The soldier in charge pointed, slightly to the left and slightly up. The ground had a bit of a slope to it, heading up to a collection of boulders. “He’s behind that big rock on the right. More rock behind him so we can’t come up from behind. Straight in is the only way.”

Confident that he wouldn’t be shot at, Hynek moved forward only to be grabbed by the jacket and hauled back by not one but two soldiers.

“You want to be a target? You step into the clearing and he’ll pick you off like a bird on roadkill.”

“Not if I talk to him!”

“Then talk to him from here. Talk loud. He’ll hear you.”

Hynek sighed, sure that their precautions were foolishness, but he’d have to prove it to them.

“Captain!” His voice hit the rock wall and echoed back at him. “It’s me,” then, just in case that wasn’t clear enough he added “Allen Hynek.”

A radio crackled to life. Harding asking for an update. The solider who had led the way in took the radio and went back the way they had come in order to respond without interrupting Hynek.

“Captain Quinn.” He tried again. “Michael.” That sounded weirdly desperate. “I’ve been worried about you. Are you hurt? Can I come closer?”

“Doc?” A slow, deep drawl.

“Yes. It’s me. You’re safe but it’s getting dark and there’s a storm coming. We need to get back to the base.”

There was movement in the rocks. The soldiers snapped to full alert, rifles up.

“No!” Hynek scolded. “What are you doing? He’s one of you!”

“Sir, as long as he’s got that pistol in his hand, he’s one of them.”

Damn ridged, military thinking. Only one way to stop this nonsense.

Hynek faked a step backwards, then charged forward bursting into the clearing. None of the soldiers dared follow, so as long as he was out of their arm’s reach, he was free from their intervention.

“Quinn. What’s going on?”

“You tell me.” Soft, throaty.

“You’ve been out here a long time. You must be starving and thirsty and probably dying for a cigarette.”

Hynek thought he heard a small laugh.

“Please come out where I can see you.”

More movement behind the rocks and a quick glimpse of one eye and dark hair. “Tell them to back off.”

Hynek turned to the soldiers he could barely see hidden in the trees. “It’s alright. Lower your weapons and move back.”

The squad leader ordered them all to move back but left out the part about lower your weapons. Hynek hoped it would be good enough.

“They came to find you, Captain, not hurt you. You’re confused which is understandable given what you’ve been through.”

Quinn stepped into full view. “What have I been through?” The pistol was still in his hand, but his arm was relaxed at his side. His jacket was missing as was his tie. His white shirt was dirty and pulled loose from one side of his pants. It was the most disheveled Hynek had ever seen him. Quinn was always spit and polish, whether he was in uniform or civilian clothes but a night in the forest had a way of messing with sharp creases and starched cuffs. At least he was mobile and there was no sign of blood.

The only thing odd was the way he kept moving his head. It was as if he was trying to hear some important but far off message.

“Captain.” The solider in charge. “Put down your weapon. That’s an order.”

Quinn always followed orders. But not this time. He moved down the slope, feet slipping a little on loose dirt but never losing his footing. “Why am I out here, Doc?” So softly, only Hynek could hear.

“I don’t know. But we’ll figure it out together. Let’s get you back to the base.” Hynek stepped closer and put his hand out as both a gesture and an offer of aide as Quinn’s steps became unsteady.

“Knock knock.”

“Whose there,” Hynek answered, just as he’d responded to his son’s silly jokes a dozen times before.

Quinn’s knee gave out on the next step. Hynek jumped forward to catch him as he crumbled and then it all went sideways. He was whipped around and yanked back against Quinn’s chest. A strong arm wrapped around his throat and the gun was at his head.

Ten soldiers appeared out of the darkness. Every one with his gun up and at the ready. But they didn’t dare shoot. In the fading light, there was no way they could take out Quinn without a good chance of hitting his hostage.

His hostage? What the hell? Hynek flinched as cold metal caressed his temple.

“I heard it.” Quinn’s voice was thick and deep and pouring right into Hynek’s ear from lips that were only millimeters a way. “I heard the song, Doc.” He sang the first verse; low, slow, faltering and then more wistfully. Quinn’s body swayed from side to side taking Hynek with him as if they were dancing.

Allen could hear Quinn’s every breath and he swore he could feel the Captain’s heart pounding against his back. Or maybe that was his own heart pounding. His own gasping breaths.

“Please put the gun down so we can talk?”

“This gun is the only thing keeping me alive right now.”

“That’s not true. They’re under orders not to shoot unless you leave them no choice.”

“A man doesn’t always have a choice.” Echoes of Hynek’s own words from earlier.

Quinn sagged backwards a hair, pulling Hynek with him. It was awkward and it was all Allen could do to stay on his feet. He tried to counter by shifting his weight but that only made Quinn tighten his grip and there was the gun again – cold steel against the side of his face.

Flashes of his wife and child lit up in Hynek’s brain. ‘We’re sorry to inform you. . . killed by his partner. . . the only person he trusted. . . ‘

“Michael—”

“Michael!” Quinn shifted his grip momentarily cutting off Hynek’s air. “You say that like we’re friends. You lied to me!”

The airman moved in.

“Captain Quinn. You are ordered to drop your weapon and get on the ground. NOW!”

A whisper. “I trusted you.”

The arm slipped and Hynek felt Quinn falling away behind him. Hynek whirled to grab him or maybe to shield him from a squad of armed soldiers waiting for their chance.

And another bullet left the gun.

* * * *

The moments after the gun went off were a blur. Hynek remembered a stinging feeling in his face and then the soldiers were all over Quinn. One grabbed the gun. Another grabbed him in case he still had some fight in him. He didn’t. He was out cold. At first Hynek thought the Captain might have stumbled and knocked himself out after hitting a rock on the way down. But there was no sign of blood on him. The only blood was coming from the wound on his own forehead.

Bullet ricocheted off the rocks, the Corpsman assured him. Broke off a chip and the chip hit him in the head. Result? A bloody, but not serious gash that wasn’t even deep enough to require stitches.

Running the events back in his mind, Hynek realized that what he had felt – the lean back and the arm drop, were Quinn blacking out before collapsing. Scary but a much better outcome than the one he’d imagined just before that.

The burliest of the soldiers hefted Quinn up and over his shoulder for the trek back to the road.

By the time they reached the truck, Hynek was exhausted. That was the adrenaline returning to normal levels leaving him with the shakes, nausea and a desperate need to sit down.

Quinn was transferred to a litter made to fit across the bench seats on either side of the truck. Hynek was helped inside and they were on their way back to base.

The efficiency continued when they arrived at the infirmary. A nurse tended to the ‘not serious’ wound on Allen’s forehead, while the Corpsman and his helper stripped Quinn down to his boxers and t-shirt. He was then tucked into a clean hospital bed for another exam – this time by the actual doctor.

Pupils, slightly dilated.

Pulse is good. Respiration good. Blood pressure a little low.

“He’s been out in the woods for a full day and half,” Hynek offered though he wasn’t asked. “He hasn’t had any food or water. Probably why he passed out.”

“Our Captain here has had top notch survival training. I’m sure he found enough to keep himself together for that period of time. Right now, I’d say rest is the best thing for him. We’ll get some food and juice into him when he wakes up.”

The doctor made some notes on a chart. Then reached under the bed for a long strap. He wrapped it around Quinn’s wrist and buckled it in place.

“I assure you, that’s not necessary,” said Hynek.

“I was told he was dangerous. Paranoid. Delusional.” Another strap on the other wrist. “We’ll reevaluate when he wakes up. You should get some rest, too. You look awful.”

“Thank you for your concern. I’m fine.”

“Suit yourself. I’ll be back in a few hours to check on him.” He left with the nurse walking out right behind him.

Just as well. Hynek needed to think and for that he needed quiet. He also needed to write down everything that had transpired in the woods. He found a tablet of paper and pen in a drawer, moved the only chair in the room closer to Quinn’s beside, then sat down to write. He had an excellent memory and was used to recapping the days events in his journal but the moment he started to write, his hand began to shake.

‘I heard the song’.

How High the Moon. The song Fuller claimed was trying to communicate with him.

Allen squeezed the pen tightly, writing with slow and deliberate strokes to counter the effects of the shake.

What else? What else? It was hard to remember everything Quinn had said. He had no trouble remembering the feel of the gun against his skin. He touched the bandage on his forehead. Just a scratch. Nothing more.

‘I trusted you’.

Hynek ran a hand over his beard as he let out a long, slow breath. The gun was frightening, but that phrase was the knife that had cut him deep. With everything they’d been through. With all the lies they’d been told. They had to trust each other and yet he’d gone behind Quinn’s back on several occasions; kept things from him that he needed to know. Why? Could it be that he didn’t trust Quinn any more than he trusted the Generals?

Quinn was always so anxious to run with the first reasonable story they could come up with. Our job is to calm the public. Our job is to make them believe the scientific explanation even if it is no more plausible than space ships flying over farms.  What had he said to Evelyn? They’re all FO’s – no U because we identified them all.

48 hours later, he’s in the middle of the forest ready to shoot anyone who comes near him.

‘A man doesn’t always have a choice’.

Loud voices in the outer office pulled him from his thoughts.

He set his notes aside and went to investigate. It was Evelyn trying to demand her way past the MP on the door.

“I want to see him!” She said, aiming her anger at Hynek this time.

“He’s sleeping. It’s been a long day. You should go back to your hotel and get some rest, too.”

“What happened? Why was he out there?”

“I don’t know. When he wakes up, we’ll find out. But for right now, he needs to sleep.” Hynek nodded toward the MP.

“Ma’am, I’ll walk you to your car.” He towered over her and his body language said he wasn’t going to take no for an answer.

“I’ll tell him you were here,” said Hynek then he went back inside. He was about to return to his journaling when Quinn shifted sharply in the bed. The straps kept him from going far but his body writhed under the sheets. His eyes remained closed, but his lips were moving. The words were indistinguishable, but the tone was clear. Fear. Panic.

“NO!” Quinn whipped his head to the side pressing his cheek into the pillow. Just as suddenly, his body went slack, and his lips stopped moving.

“No.” Hynek this time. He pressed two fingers to the Captain’s throat feeling for a pulse. He found it, breathed a sigh of relief then found something else, a red and swollen area behind Quinn’s ear. Gingerly he touched the spot. When Quinn didn’t react, he pressed down and moved his fingers in a circular motion. There was something there, under the skin. Small but hard.

Quinn shifted and moaned so Hynek took his hand away. What the hell? He searched the cabinets in the room until he found what he needed; gauze, alcohol swab and a scalpel. He set everything on a rolling tray and positioned a bright light to better illuminate the spot. Gently, he tipped Quinn’s head to the side and hoped it would stay. Wouldn’t do for him to suddenly turn or jerk. Which he would likely do, asleep or not when the blade contacted skin.

If he could just be quick about it. Like plucking a splinter out of a finger, in and out fast. But his hands were still shaking and the idea of an impromptu operation on his partner only made it worse.

Hynek swabbed the area with alcohol, wiped down the blade and –

“Doctor Hynek.” The voice came from behind him, so it was easy to drop the blade into his pocket to cover his actions before turning to see who it was.

It was the nurse.

“I’m sorry to disturb you but your wife is on the phone and she was very insistent.”

Mimi! “Yes, of course. Thank you. I forgot to call home.”

He glanced back at Quinn and that made the woman say, “I’ll stay with him. You can take the call out here at the desk.”

With his mind split in two, he went into the front office, sat down and picked up the phone receiver that was laying on the desk. “Mimi?”

“Oh, thank god, Allen. I’ve been calling and calling. They finally said you were back. What happened? Did you find Captain Quinn?”

“Yes. We found him and he’s fine. He’s sleeping now so I haven’t heard the whole story, but it was probably just car trouble and it was so dark he lost his way in the woods trying to get back to the base.”

“So it wasn’t. . . “ She could barely get the words out. “It didn’t have anything to do with your work?”

“No.” The lie came so easily. “It was just bad luck. He’d had a few drinks so that didn’t help. The doctor says he needs to rest and get some food and he’ll be as good as new.”

“That’s such a relief. I really thought. . . “ She swallowed back her fears. “So, you’re coming home soon. Joel’s been waiting to share a cupcake with you. He’s so excited about that trophy and he keeps telling me about how you fixed up the car so it would go faster. I didn’t understand all of it, but he was quite impressed.”

That should have made him feel good but instead it felt like another stab in the chest. A boy needs his father and Allen had missed so much. It wasn’t just Blue Book. He’d been a distracted dad long before Captain Michael Quinn had shown up and turned his life upside down.

“I’ll be home as soon as I can.”

Mimi didn’t say anything and still he felt her disappointment and a touch of anger through the phone lines.

“I’m sorry but I can’t leave just yet.”

This time, she didn’t even bother to say ‘I understand’. “Is that girl still there?”

“Girl?” Hynek stood and walked as far as the coiled cord would let him. “You mean Evelyn. No, I sent her back to her hotel. It’s been a long, tiring day. We all need to rest.”

“Best place to do that is your own bed here at home.” Now she wasn’t even being subtle.

Hynek walked back to the desk and back out again. His eyes, his body; they were drawn to the door and the unfinished business on the other side. “I have work to do. I shouldn’t be too late but don’t wait up.”

Mimi said goodbye and possibly something after that, but he missed it because the receiver was already heading for the hook. Back to business. He opened the door between the two rooms.

The nurse was standing on the far side of Quinn’s bed. Her hands were gloved, and she was affixing a piece of gauze to Quinn’s neck with a long piece of adhesive tape. The tray to her left held a bloody piece of gauze, a bloody scalpel and a small jar.

“What are you doing?”

“Looks like you weren’t the only one to catch a piece of shrapnel.” She scooped up the jar and dropped it into her pocket before Hynek could get close enough to see what was inside. “Don’t know how I missed it but there was a piece embedded behind his ear. Nothing serious. It’s out now. Not even deep enough to need stitches.”

Allen’s hand rose to his own head, gingerly patting the bandage that was taped there. He’d forgotten. Another good reason not to go home yet.

The nurse cleaned up the instrument tray then stripped off her gloves. “You really should get some rest yourself, Professor. You look awful.”

It was like being caught in some cartoon time loop. “I think I will lay down here for a while. Could you see to it that we’re not disturbed?”

“Of course. I’ll be out front if you need anything.”

She left with whatever she had fished out of Quinn’s neck in a jar in her pocket.

As soon as she was gone, Hynek let out a long breath as he scrubbed his hands over his face. Despite what he had told his wife, there was no doubt in his mind that what ever this was, it was because of Project Blue Book.

Anxious to write his thoughts down, he reached for his notepad, but it wasn’t on the chair where he’d left it. It was on the empty bed. Or had he left it there when he got up to check on Quinn? He couldn’t be sure, but he had to assume that the nurse had read all he’d written. It was always better to assume the worst, then you were prepared when it all hit the fan.

* * * *

“Doc?” The soft, gravelly voice niggled at Hynek’s unconscious brain until the rest of his body put the pieces together.

Quinn.

Hynek came slowly out of sleep. He shifted in an attempt to thwart the pain in his back (never fall asleep in a metal chair). The note pad fell from his lap to the floor, along with his pen and his glasses. He only bothered to retrieve the glasses, the rest could wait. Quinn was coughing.

“I’m right here.” Hynek filled a glass with water from a pitcher then slipped his other hand under Quinn’s head, lifting enough so he could take a drink.

Quinn drained the cup, coughed, then cleared his throat. His eyes were open, but they weren’t as sharp as they usually were.  

“Where are we?”

“Base infirmary.” Hynek filled the glass again but Quinn shook his head to signal he didn’t want it.

“Wright Patterson?”

They’d visited quite a number of different bases in the past few months so Hynek couldn’t blame him for being confused. “Yes. What do you remember?”

“My name and that’s about it.” Quinn semi laughed. He tried to sit up but was yanked back by the straps around his wrists. “What the hell? What’s this for?” His words were slightly slurred and completely missing the usual assurance and snap.

“You were confused when we found you. You – “ Should he say it? Not all of it. Not yet. “You took a shot at the soldiers when they moved in.”

“Christ. Was anybody hit?”

“No. Everyone’s fine. We were just surprised that you were armed. You didn’t have your gun on you at the restaurant, did you?”

“No. I don’t think so.”

 “Do even remember taking Evelyn to dinner?”

Quinn closed his eyes as if willing his mind to go back there. “I remember a blue dress. Food with a lot of fruit. I had a couple of drinks. Not enough to get this loopy but maybe. . . they were pretty strong. We danced. It was warm, in a good way. And then it wasn’t. It was so cold.” Quinn shifted trying to sit up but the restraints held him back. He opened his eyes and they were clearer than before.  He lifted his wrist as far as it would go. “Help me out here, doc.”

Hynek reached for the buckle but had a sudden flashback to the woods. They way Quinn had reeled him in with his soft, deep drawl. The way he got the drop on him. So fast. So strong. He hesitated a bit too long and Quinn picked up on it.

“Doc. You’re afraid of me.”

“Of course not.” But it didn’t come out very convincing. Only one way to prove his loyalty and trust. Undo the buckles. First one wrist, then the other.

“There’s more you’re not telling me. I see it in your face. What did I do? That?” He nodded toward the bandage on Hynek’s head.

“That’s nothing. Walked into a tree on the way out of the woods.” Hynek busied himself cranking up the bed so Quinn could sit upright. That caused the pillow to slip, so he leaned in to adjust it. They were so close together, Hynek swore he could feel the cold rolling off of Quinn like fog off the lake. And his eyes – there was a dark emptiness that made Hynek ache inside. Even in his foulest of moods, Quinn was always animated and alive. He was a human tuning fork, sending out vibrations that charmed woman and scared the hell out of a lot of men. But whatever had happened – whatever had been done to him – had drained the lifeforce that was distinctly Captain Michael Quinn.

Hynek broke eye contact feigning interest in finding his notebook and pen. Ah yes. On the floor. He leaned down to pick them up and when he righted, Quinn was sitting with his legs over the side of the bed. It startled him to the point where he almost dropped everything again. Like one of those freaky effects scenes in a horror movie where the monster goes from far to near in the blink of an eye.

“Where are my clothes?”

“They were dirty. The corpsman undressed you so you’d be more comfortable.”

“I’m cold,” said Quinn as he began to sway from side to side.

“Then, let’s get you back under the covers.” It took every ounce of willpower he possessed to step within arm’s reach. The events in the woods flashed through Hynek’s mind again. But there was no strong arm. No gun. No bravado or paranoia. With a little push, he got Quinn to lie back down then he tucked him in tight the way he’d seen his wife tuck their son in a hundred times before.

 “I can’t make it stop,” Quinn said softly, nearly choking on the words.

“Make what stop?”

Quinn pulled his hand out from under the blanket and held it in front of his face. It was shaking like a Southern Belle fanning herself in the midday sun.

Hynek took hold of Quinn’s hand and held it tight against his own chest. “Relax. Slow your breathing. What you’re experiencing is a normal, parasympathetic reaction that takes over after sympathetic surge.”

Quinn half laughed. “Science speak for do what the hell you were taught to do in flight school.” He coughed, swallowed hard and fought for a big breath. “Why can’t I? I made it through combat but I can’t handle a night out with a beautiful girl?”

“You remembered that she was beautiful. That’s a good sign.”

Quinn’s muscles stopped resisting, so Hynek tucked his arm back under the covers.

“Do you remember dropping Evelyn off at the hotel?” Back to the facts. That was the safest place to be.

“No, but I figure I did or this would be a different conversation.”

Good answer.

“You did and then you made it to within a few miles of the base and stopped your car on the side of the road. Why?”

“Car trouble?” he guessed and then sucked in another long breath. Better this time. Less ragged.

“The car was running fine when I found it. I think you saw something.” What had the sheriff said? There were only two reasons for abandoning a perfectly good car; because you were chasing something, or something was chasing you. Which one was it? “Whatever you saw, it represented danger because you went after it with a gun.”

“I don’t remember.” Quinn was fading again. He rolled to his side facing away and as much as Hynek wanted answers, he was prepared to step away and let his friend sleep.

“I saw the moon,” Quinn said barely above a whisper. “Full moon. Big and so bright in my face, it hurt my eyes. I wanted to turn away, but I couldn’t.” He returned to his back. Eyes staring up at the ceiling.

“Michael. There was no moon that night.”

“I saw it!”  A touch of anger but mostly frustration.

Hynek reached over and adjusted the work lamp so the bulb was aimed at Quinn. He turned it on forcing the Captain to shield his eyes and turn away. “Could that be what you saw?”

“Interrogation,” Quinn whispered. Operation was what Hynek was thinking, but that worked, too. Point made. He switched the light off.

 “Doc,” Quinn turned back to meet his gaze. “If someone did this to me, to get information out of me that sends us right back to the same two answers.”

“The Russians,” said Hynek.

“Or aliens,” said Quinn. “And I don’t know which is worse; thinking that I may have betrayed my country, or that I may have betrayed my planet.”

“Sense of humor is the first thing to go.”

“I only wish I were joking.”

The door swung open and the nurse returned but she wasn’t alone. Harding was at her side.

“Captain, you’ve rejoined us, I see.  How are do you feel?”

“Like shit, sir.” Quinn offered his commander a weak salute that was returned with more vigor.

“Which is why Lt. Baxter is going to give you a sedative.”

“What?” Hynek objected. “That’s a very bad idea. We don’t know what caused Quinn’s blackout. He might have been drugged and now you’re going to add more drugs to the mix?”

The nurse went to the supply cabinet and took out a syringe but instead of taking a bottle from the shelf, she pulled one from her pocket.

“General,” Quinn awkwardly pushed back up to sitting. “Respectfully, I’d rather not. I was just starting to remember bits and pieces.”

“I’m not worried about intel, Captain. I’m worried about your health. You’re one of my best officers and I don’t want to risk any permanent damage that might come from pushing you too hard. And, considering your actions earlier today, it’s not really up to you. You’re lucky you’re not in the stockade. Or dead.”

“I shot at the squad. The doc told me and I’m so sorry. I must have been so confused.”

“Shooting at the squad is one thing, but when you threaten to kill a civilian you don’t leave our men much choice.”

“A civilian?” Quinn struggled to stay upright, his eyes narrowing as he tried to process what was being said.

“Ironically, the doc saved your life. Holding him hostage with a gun to his head – even our best snipers couldn’t risk taking you out with him pressed against you like that.”

“I what!?” True panic in his voice now as Quinn’s dark eyes pleaded with Hynek to make this all better. “I had a gun to your head?”

“You were confused. I told you. You shot at the soldiers and when I tried to get close and talk with you, you thought I was the enemy. I’m sure you wouldn’t have shot me.” Not sure at all. “Maybe it would be best if—”

Quinn gasped as the needle slid into his vein. He looked at the intruding object for a second then back at Hynek, eyes wide – frantic. Silently begging for help. And Hynek desperately wanted to help but what could he do? Rip the needle from his arm? Order Harding and the nurse out of the room? Overwhelm them with force and ferret Quinn off to a secret hideout?

He did the only thing he could do to help his friend – he lied. “I think they’re right, Michael. I’ve been pushing you too hard for answers. You know how it hammers at me when I can’t solve a puzzle right away. I should have put your wellbeing first and I’m sorry.”

Quinn wanted to answer but whatever the nurse had shot into his veins was already taking effect.

Harding cranked the handle to drop the bed into a full recline while the nurse retucked the blankets in tight around Quinn. She started to fasten the restraints, but Harding stopped her. “Let’s leave those. He’ll sleep more comfortably without them.”

A noble but empty gesture. With a powerful sedative coursing through his veins, Quinn wasn’t going to lift a finger for the rest of the night.

“Now then, Professor,” said Harding. “Your presence is required in a debrief. Lt. Baxter will stay and keep an eye on the good captain. She’ll certainly let us know if his condition changes.”

“Whatever you say, General.” He waited for Harding to pass on his way to the door, then made a quick dash to Quinn’s bedside. He took hold of his friend’s hand and caught the last glimmer in his eyes before his lids blocked the light. “I’ll be back, soon. I promise.”

“Very touching, Professor but my staff is waiting. Let’s go.”

* * * *

Allen snapped on a rubber glove, picked up a scalpel and starting dissecting. It wasn’t his favorite part of the job, but it was important. If they were going to win the war, they had to understand the weapons being used against them.

But this wasn’t a bird on a tray.

This was Quinn, strapped to the table, eyes wide and terrified.

Had to be done. Sorry, buddy.

Allen touched the blade to Quinn’s bare chest just to the left of the breast bone. Nothing personal. This was for science. He pressed down and the skin split. Blood welled up and Quinn convulsed on the table. His mouth opened but instead of a scream music poured out.

There is no moon above
When love is far away too
Till it comes true
That you love me as I love you

How high the moon. . . .

Hynek woke with such a violent jerk, he nearly threw himself off the bed. It was small. Smaller than his bed at home. He wasn’t home. He rolled and got caught up in a twist of sheets, shirts and pants.

“Bad dream?”

“Where? What?” He struggled to defeat the tangle of bedding and when he finally found his center, he saw Quinn watching him with a smug smile on his face.

The Captain was sitting up in bed, eating breakfast from a tray full of food. There was hot coffee. Hynek could smell it and something mapley and sweet.

“This is the best French Toast I’ve ever had.” Quinn forked a fat stack and stuck it in his mouth. “We’re in the infirmary at Wright Patterson,” he said around the chew. “I had to ask. I was so confused when I work up in this white room. I thought I died and this was heaven, which is kind of sad. Except for the French Toast.” He took another bite.

“You’re. . . “ Hynek searched his still weary brain for the correct word. “Coherent. . . kind of.” He stood then twisted to break up the kinks in his body.

“You look awful.”

“Yes, I’ve been told that a number of times in the past 24 hours. You really are feeling better.”

“Mmm hmm.” More food in the mouth. Swallow. “I have to say, I was a little worried about what that nurse was shooting into me last night—”

“Me, too.” Hynek said absently.

“You , too? You were worried about her poisoning me, but you let her do it?”

“I didn’t think she was trying to kill you and besides, there was nothing I could do.”

Quinn shrugged and pulled that ‘whatever’ face that frustrated Hynek so. “Moot point, I guess, and I got the best night’s sleep I’ve had since taking over Blue Book, so there’s that.”

“We still need to talk but first, I need—” Hynek nodded toward the bathroom door.

“Yeah, little boys’ room. Have at it. I’ll be here.”

Hynek stepped into the tiny bathroom, used the facilities then threw cold water on his face. Toothpaste would be amazing, but he was stuck simply rinsing his mouth with more water. And that was as good as it was going to get.

When he returned, the food tray was on the side table and Quinn was looking pensive. So much for the happy mood.

“I was only gone a few minutes. What happened?” Hynek sat down on the rumpled bed he had slept in.

“I heard the water running and I got this chill. I don’t know why.” Quinn sighed and shifted. “Doc. Did I really hold a gun to your head or was Harding exaggerating?”

“I wish I could say he was. But I don’t blame you. You were in survival mode.”

“No. It doesn’t work like that, Doc. One of the first things they teach you in boot camp is to respect your weapon. We all grow up with toy cap pistols and BB guns so it doesn’t feel real. The instructors, they make sure you understand what it means to point a weapon at another human being and pull that trigger. I’ve done it. I’ve had to do it more times than I want to think about, but it was never easy.”

Quinn pulled his knees up creating a tent effect with the bed sheet.

“There was this guy in my squad – Harold Dombrowski. He was from Brooklyn and he was always playing around with his side arm like it was a toy. He’d wave it in the air and point it at animals and road signs. He’d pretend to pull the trigger. Make the click and the bang sound with his mouth. Then he’d blow on the end like a cowboy in an old movie. I knew it was a bad habit, but he was just a kid, really and it all felt so unreal.” He dropped his knees and rearranged his legs in a different formation under the sheets. “First time we’re in a dog fight the kid loses it. I’m barking orders at him trying to snap him out of it and all of sudden he’s on point. He’s doing what he was trained to do and he’s good. He watches the skies, takes out an enemy plane, keeps the communication going with his team so they are on it and we all come out of it alive.

Soon as we’re on the ground I go right to him and tell him what a great job he did. How he pulled himself together and protected the lives of his squad like an experienced soldier. I say, I’m proud to have you serving beside me. You know what he does? He salutes.” Quinn touched two fingers to his brow. “Only instead of doing it with his hand, he does it with his side arm. I’m about to say that’s not funny when he pulls the trigger. Bang!”

Hynek startled reflexively.  

“Just like that. He blows his own head off. Standing closer to me than you are now. He blows his brains out. And I’m thinking was it an accident or was he thinking, hell, I can’t go through that again? And then I’m thinking it’s my fault because I should have reprimanded him for not respecting his weapon. I should have realized that he was unstable.”

“No,” Allen said softly. “They pluck boys out of school, off the farm and the football field and throw them into situations that no human being should ever be in. And you – you couldn’t have been much more than a boy yourself and now you’re not only responsible for fighting for your country, but you’re tasked with protecting the lives of young men whose biggest problem in life was figuring out who to take the homecoming dance. You can’t think about the one who died. You have to think about the ones who lived. The soldiers and the civilians who have families and jobs and homes because you had their backs.”

Quinn dropped his chin to his chest and raked his hand through his hair. “I don’t even know why I’m telling you this.”

“I’m glad you did.” Hynek got up and moved to stand beside the bed. He laid a hand on Quinn’s shoulder and kept it there until his friend looked up again. “I’ve always been more comfortable with facts and figures. When you talk to me, it helps me understand.” His hand slid down Quinn’s arm and settled into a squeeze of his wrist. “I need to show you something.”

“What kind of something?” Quinn asked suspiciously.

“A drawing. A drawing that is – by an odd coincidence – my version of that story you just told me.”

“I don’t understand.”

Hynek paced away from the bed. He picked up his notebook from the bedside table and flipped pages until he found the symbol he’d drawn there the night before. He’d drawn it because he’d spent most of a sleepless night putting together the bits of Quinn’s story and it always led back to this.

“You don’t want to show me? Why? Is it dirty?”

“No. it’s not dirty.” Hynek turned back but kept the notebook pressed to his chest as if even a peek might be Quinn’s undoing. “The last person I showed this to killed himself right in front of me.”

“Fuller,” Quinn said, without hesitation. So only his short-term memory was on the fritz. “Doc. First of all, I don’t believe you did or said anything that led to Fuller’s death. He was disturbed and just like Harold Dombrowski, he had reached his limit. It’s just unfortunate that you were there when he decided he couldn’t take anymore.”

“And second of all?”

“Second of all, I’m not ready to give up the fight. Hell, I want to live long enough to find the bastard that stole two days from me. Whoever or whatever almost got you killed. If I hadn’t dropped Evelyn off first, she might have been killed. Believe me when I tell you, I’m not going to commit suicide.”

“What if you can’t stop yourself?”

“Then I trust you’ll stop me. Now show me the damn picture.”

Allen turned the notebook around and thrust it at Quinn. He watched closely as the younger man examined the image.

“Triangles, circles, lines. Not exactly the Mona Lisa.”

He could almost breath a sign of relief but not just yet. “You don’t feel anything? Any compulsions?”

“I FEEL like I need a shower and I’m desperate for a cigarette. Now will you stop testing me and go tell the Generals I’m fit for duty. Please?”

“I can do that.” Hynek closed the notebook and dropped it on the other bed. “I’m not going to be totally satisfied until we figure out what happened to you but I feel a lot better now. Let’s get you home.”

He dashed out the door to find the doctor in charge.

As soon as Hynek was gone, Quinn leaned his head back against the pillow and let out the long breath he’d been holding. His pulse was racing. His throat had gone dry. Fists clenched. A cleansing breath, then he pried his fingers open. Both palms were etched with half moon indents from the force of his nails digging into the soft skin.

Slow your breathing. In on four. Hold. Out on four.

Do it again.

Anyone would feel off balance after losing two days and a night of sedation.

I’m not afraid, I’m cautious.

Breath in 2, 3, 4

Hold 2, 3, 4

Breath out 2, 3, 4

By the time the doctor arrived, Quinn’s heart beat was back to normal.

Clean bill of health. Missing memories not withstanding.

It’ll all come back in time.

Quinn wasn’t sure if he felt good or bad about that. But there was a pack of cigarettes in the immediate future and that gave him all the focus he needed to get dressed, collect his belongings, and walk out of the infirmary with the confidence and swagger that was expected.

Quick ride in a jeep back to his base housing and then he’d be behind closed doors. Alone. Able to feel what he was feeling with out fear of consequences.

One thing. . . .

“Private,” he called to the driver just before the boy drove away.

“Sir?”

Quinn beckoned him over with a flick of his finger.

“I need you to do something for me. And you’re not to mention it to anyone. Do you understand me?” A bit of commander tone coming out on those last words.

The boy snapped to attention and saluted. “Yes, sir. Total discretion.”

Quinn pulled his keys out of his pocket. “I need you to retrieve something from my bedside table and keep it for me.”

“Yes, sir,” but this response wasn’t as confident as the one before. Quinn almost laughed as he realized how this sounded. Poor kid probably thought he was being asked to cleanup his Captain’s pornography stash.

Almost reluctantly, the young soldier took the offered keys. “What is it you need to me to hold for you, Captain?”

“A gun. It’s in the drawer of the nightstand. It’s loaded, so be careful.”

“Yes, sir.” It was clear that he wanted to ask why but the Air Force had trained him well. Orders, no matter how odd, were not to be questioned. “I’ll just be a moment.”

Quinn waited on the walkway, rocking slightly from side to side. There were still knives in the house. Cleaners that could be used as poison. Hell, he could drop his lighter on the bed and it would be Fuller all over again.

Which reminds me. . .

Quinn fished a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket. He shook one loose, lit it, then snapped the lighter shut with a sharp flick of his wrist. The first drag was like sinking into a soft bed after a long day. The nicotine coursed through his body and when he blew out the first line of smoke, all the bad thoughts went with it.

He pictured them – the sketch, the bright light, the song, the scalpel – all floating up and away on a Chesterfield cloud.

Thank you combat instructors.

That’s how you get through it; not one day but one minute at a time.

* * * *

“You’re back,” Hynek said, genuinely surprised to see Quinn behind his desk in the Project Blue Book office. “I thought you’d take at least one more day off.”

“Right back at you, doc.”

Hynek set his briefcase on his own desk then took off his hat and coat. “I guess that’s one thing we have in common. We both prefer to keep busy.”

“Busy it is. Even though I can’t remember anything but what I was told, Harding still wants me to turn in a report. Going to be the shortest one I’ve ever written but orders are orders.”

“I got the same order and I’m afraid mine won’t be any more informative than yours.”

Quinn’s phone buzzed. The sound went straight to his brain. Even though it was just inches from his hand, it buzzed again before he picked it up. “Yes, Faye?”

“Miss Winters is here to see you.”

Expected but still. . . . “Have her wait one moment.”

“Her? Evelyn?”

“Yes.” Quinn stood up and yanked at the hem of his uniform jacket. “This is not going to be pleasant.”

“Did you know that Evelyn and Harding have a history?”

“History? They know each other. Same reason I know them both. Harding worked under Evelyn’s father when I was his aide.”

“Before we found you, Harding pretty much accused her of engineering your disappearance.”

“Seriously?” Quinn slipped a cigarette out of the pack on his desk. Lit it. Snap. “How?”

“Drugged your drink at the restaurant most likely. It is a big coincidence.” Hynek took off his glasses and wiped them down with a handkerchief from his pocket. “The day she shows up out of the blue is the same day you go missing.”

“Doc. It’s not possible. She’s a sweet kid.”

“What happened to Evil-lyn?”

“That’s just an old joke. I’m telling you, Evelyn didn’t have anything to do with this.” He took a long drag on the cigarette. “Would you mind giving us the room?”

The look on Hynek’s face said he minded but not because it was inconvenient. “Of course.” He gave Quinn one long, last look then went to the door. He stepped out and gave Evelyn the okay to go in.

Quinn ran through two more rounds of tactical breathing then went back to his cigarette for the last puff of reassurance.

The instant Evelyn stepped into the room his mind was flooded with images; blue dress, tiki décor, holding her close, the kiss. She ran into his arms. He accepted the hug but turned his head at the last second so her attempt at a kiss landed on his cheek and not his lips.

“Are you alright? I was scared to death, they wouldn’t let me see you and I’ve been calling and calling and finally today Faye said you were back in the office. What happened?”

He stepped out of her embrace with the excuse of lighting another cigarette even though the first was barely finished in the ashtray.

“I know what it seemed like, but it was nothing. After I dropped you off, my car broke down. It was dark. I was in the middle of nowhere and I guess I let all this,” he motioned to the wall of weird. “Get to me.”

“Really? That’s the story you’re going with? You’re a highly trained, decorated Air Force pilot and you panicked?”

He shrugged and puffed.

“And instead of following the road which would have led you to the base, you went into the woods.”

“Short cut.”

“Liar!” She shoved him with both hands to his chest and it caught him off guard and off balance. Quinn stumbled back, hit the desk chair and almost landed on his ass. “What did they do to you?”

“Nothing,” he shot back a little too loud and a little too sharp. She flinched and it reminded him of the way Hynek had reacted to his sudden moves. Great. Now everybody was afraid of him. Maybe that was a good thing.

Quinn squared his shoulders and tugged on his uniform. “Go home.”

“Home? I thought –”

“Go home and forget everything you heard here. Don’t even tell your father that we spoke, that we went out.” She wasn’t getting it. He could see that in the mix of anger and tears welling up in her eyes. He risked moving closer, taking her hands in his. “Listen to what I’m saying to you. This didn’t happen. You were never here and you don’t know anything about Project Blue Book. Do you understand me?”

She swallowed hard, pulled him close and kissed him quick before he could turn away.

He almost responded, but thought better of it. Instead, he picked up the phone and buzzed Faye. “Can you have an MP come by and escort Miss Winters off the base.”

“I hate you,” she said softly.

“But you’ll live.”

She didn’t wait for the MP.

Hynek was pretending to be interested in a pile of mail on Faye’s desk when Evelyn reappeared.

“The MP won’t be necessary. I can find my own way. Professor, I’m sorry we never had that lunch. Give your wife and son my best.” She made it all the way to the door before turning back. “You’ll look after him, the both of you?”

“We will,” Hynek replied. “That’s my number one priority.” Truth. “I’m sure he’ll be fine.” Lie.

He watched her go then returned to the office.

Quinn was back at his desk scribbling away on a gridded form.

“These expense reports are the worst. But if I want to get paid, guess I have to get them right.”

Hynek debated asking why Quinn had sent Evelyn away but he was happy about it, so best not to poke that bear.

If Quinn wanted to play ‘normal day’, he could, too. He sat down at his desk and dug around for typing paper and carbons for his own report.

Quinn was humming as he worked.

Hynek slowed his moves so he could listen more intently. It sounded so familiar. . .

Quinn starting singing under his breath.

Somewhere there’s music, how faint the tune.. . .

Somewhere there’s heaven, how high the moon. . .

* * * *

“All things considered, I’d say that went well.”

“The instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles, to betray’s in deepest consequence.”

“What the hell is that?”

“Shakespeare. MacBeth. You win them over with the small truths, my friend. And then they easily believe when you tell them the big lie.”

The End