Justin closed and locked the door behind him. Javier reclined in his chair with his arms crossed. “What the fuck do you want?” sneered Javier.
Justin didn’t answer. He just pulled the axe handle from his belt.
Two minutes later Javier was on the floor covering his head with his hands, swearing and coughing and wheezing.
“What the fuck do you want,” whined Javier.
Justin didn’t answer. He dropped the axe handle and walked out.
He pulled out his phone and dialed. “It’s Galvonsen. Tell Mr. Savod I am on my way,” he said. “No, I don’t have an appointment.”
Two and a half thousand years ago, fifty miles south of Athens, twenty thousand men labored in stone. They haunted narrow shafts to extract silver from the earth. They did not labor for wealth, but for their lives. They died of accidents and violence, sometimes as examples or warnings to their fellows. Whatever their lives had been before capture was gone forever. They were owned, body and soul, and their value was less than that of the pick they swung.
The Mines of Laurion were not the first site of brutal slavery, and they would be far from the last.
“Just tell me why,” bawled Sammy.
“Just tell me who,” retorted Harrison Phillips.
Between the two the tall, broad shouldered Mediterranean woman in the dark pantsuit stood. She was adjusting the wrappings around her fists. They were white cloth splotched with deep red. She looked to Phillips. Phillips nodded.
Sammy tried to protest but her fist caught his jaw and he just whimpered.
“Who?” repeated Phillips.
“Why?” repeated Sammy.
The woman hit Sammy again. Then again.
“Stop!” bawled Sammy through bleeding lips and a throbbing jaw. To his surprise, she did.
Phillips stepped forward and knelt close. “Who?”
“No fucking way,” Nichelle whispered into the night.
Marco looked like she felt: pale, on the verge of panic, desperately in need of a drink. “Yeah,” he squeaked. Then he said, “I gotta go,” and disappeared from her screen.
She was left to stare at Marco’s email: charts and graphs and illustrations meant for laymen like herself. The sight of it caused her guts to writhe and she reached for her wastebasket.
When she had finished vomiting she took a deep, steadying breath. She turned her attention back to Marco’s work.
She hissed, “Harrison Phillips, you bastard,” and started typing.
“Hey,” said Justin.
“Hey,” said Stacey.
She lay in the hospital bed, her back supported by a massive plastic brace. Tubes and wires connected her to multiple machines.
Justin started to speak but she shook her head. No other part of her body moved. “Get him,” she said.
Justin swallowed hard and blinked and then nodded and left before he started crying.
In his truck he listened to the phone ring. “Hey, Dad!” said Honor.
“Heya, Ho-Ho,” he said, trying to keep the tears out of his voice.
“Nothing,” he lied. “I just wanted to hear your voice.”
“You’re smart,” said Harrison Phillips.
Sammy was in a chair with his hands tied behind his back. He still wore the silk bag over his head. It was soaked with his sweat and tears.
“But not too smart,” continued Phillips. “That’s why I hired you. But you decided to be exceptional.”
“I didn’t mean to–” croaked Sammy.
Phillips hushed him and said, “I know. It’s my fault. I underestimated you..”
“I won’t say anything,” said Sammy.
Phillips’ voice became hard. “Don’t lie, Samson. I know you already did.”
“I’m sorry,” he bawled.
“Don’t cry. Just tell me who you told.”
“What the hell is it?” asked Nichelle.
“Data. Lots of it,” said Marco. He was her go-to whenever she had a technical question on a story. His expression read ‘stumped’.
When she had checked the post office box she had found a lot of junk mail and a USB drive. “What kind of data? Financials? Kiddie porn?”
Marco rolled his eyes. “Neither. It looks like timestamps and positioning data.”
“What? His GPS?”
“Maybe. I’m not sure.”
“Well, find out.” She pulled a tight roll of cash out of her purse and handed it to him. “And don’t tell anyone anything.”
Justin raced to the future lobby. It was wide with three levels of galleries. He pushed his way through a cluster of laborers and found Stacey akimbo on the floor. Blood trickled out of her nose. Her eyes were vacant.
He swore and knelt beside her. “Hey,” he said but she did not respond.
Paramedics arrived a few minutes later and took Stacey away on a stretcher. When Justin turned to leave he found Javier standing in front of him.
“Shame,” said the super. “Dangerous job, construction. You have to keep focused. Not worry about things that aren’t your business.”
Sammy did not know where he was, or even when it was. He had drifted in and out of consciousness for who knew how long. A silk bag that smelled faintly of hospital covered his head.
He had thought he was in the back of a vehicle before, but now there was no sense of motion. He lay on cold concrete and silence surrounded him.
That silence was suddenly broken by the sound of a door unlatching and opening. He heard footsteps and his adrenaline overcame his lethargy. He screamed.
“It’s okay, Sammy,” said the familiar voice of Harrison Phillips.
Nichelle stared at the post office box key. Uncertainty and anxiety wrestled in her gut. On the phone the young man had sounded scared and overwhelmed. She had arranged to meet him discreetly, but he never showed. Two days later the envelope arrived.
Maybe he just got cold feet, but Nichelle did not think so. Fear for the kid hung in her throat but she told herself: if this was something big enough to put this kid in danger, it was big enough for people to know about.
She slipped the key into her pocket and headed out the door.