* * * * *
* * * * *
Dr. Lucius Cain had been dead ten years, and his legacy had all but been forgotten, but Erik Strand still felt uneasy looking through the old files. He had been new to the Bureau at the time of the incident, having spent eight years in the military before turning Intelligence. Strand was not an easy man to rattle, but looking through old file photos sent shivers down his spine. The body count alone was enough to make anyone uneasy, but the fire, the horrific way the victims had died, the clear evidence of torture… Strand still had dreams of walking the site after the fire, finding the first of the many, many bodies, excavating and examining the ruins of what would be known only as the Engine.
Intelligence agencies are not known for being forthcoming with information, but as one of the primary agents in the investigation, one of the first agents to the site, Strand still had many, many unanswered questions.
Strand had learned quickly, though: sometimes it’s better to leave well enough alone. Sometime it’s better not to ask questions. When the doors close on a case, when everyone else shuts up and walks away, sometimes it’s best to follow suit.
But the dreams still came, still crept up on his subconscious mind, still nagged at his memory like a half-forgotten thought or an image through foggy glass.
He closed the file folder abruptly. Strand wasn’t even sure what he was doing digging through old records in the first place. What had inspired him to rifle through the Cain files again?
He looked up at the clock and was surprised to find that read 6:30. The floor was quiet, and had been for a while. He walked back to his desk, closed his briefcase, slid his laptop computer into his shoulder bag, and half-walked, half-jogged to the stairs.
He signed out with security, passed through the metal detectors, and loosened his tie on the way through the double doors. It was a Friday night, after all. He could afford to relax a little.
The cold air nipped at his face and hands as he stepped into the low light of the near empty parking lot, and he pulled up the collar on his pea coat. New Jersey winters, he thought. I’ll never be used to them.
Lights from the south end of the complex indicated that a skeleton crew was pulling the graveyard shift, but his end of the building was nearly deserted.
Strand chuckled quietly to himself at the thought of a skeleton crew working a graveyard shift, and blipped the remote attached to his keychain; across the parking lot his green MiniCooper flashed its lights as the doors unlocked. He loved his little car, though a few of the other Agents in his office teased him about it; most members of the intelligence community drove big luxury sedans with ominously tinted windows and government plates.
It was a short drive through the city to the downtown apartment where Strand lived alone. He hung his pea coat on the rack and discarded his tie, put some hot water on and fixed himself a cup of tea. A Friday night, and Strand had an evening of paperwork and late night television to look forward to. It wasn’t that he was antisocial, or at least he didn’t think of himself that way, he just didn’t understand people and people didn’t understand him, so he focused solely on his career. The other Agents has long since given up asking Strand to join them in their evening excursions (they called him ‘Books’ behind his back, and sometimes to his face); he would hear every Monday about the Football game over the weekend, or the girls that someone had met, and would likely never call again. None of that interested him.
He was an athletic man in his mid thirties, well dressed and well groomed, polite and intelligent, with sandy blonde hair and eyes that vaguely resembled seawater. His had broken up with Sharon, his last serious girlfriend, six years ago, a mutually agreed sense of incompatibility between them, and had since lost interest in dating. He hadn’t lost interest in women entirely, just in the game that was courtship. Relationships were clumsy and unpredictable, and so after a few years of awkward first dates, Strand has somehow unconsciously decided that his career was more important than his sex life, and had all but given up on the concept of romance.
He was a good agent; he took pride in the quality and consistency of his work. He was satisfied with that. But something bothered him this evening; something nudged and scratched at the back of his mind. Something about the old case had touched a nerve, a soft spot in his well-ordered world, and had thrown him off-balance.He had watered the plants that lined his window sill – the only living things he allowed himself to be responsible for – and was about to open his laptop and spread his briefcase full of reports-to-file across the kitchen table when, for reasons he could not begin to explain, he grabbed his coat and gloves, locked the door behind him, and walked out into the cold.