Driving at night was never my forte, especially since the weather conditions were terrible. Blowing wind and heavy rain required me to be extra focused on the road. While entering the forest, I slowed down, turned on the high beam headlights, and let out a long yawn. I could feel the overwhelming sleepiness in every part of my body. After a while, the weariness started to bother me to such an extent that I started wondering if I should stop the car on the side of the road and run around the vehicle a few times. I have heard it helps. Then the unexpected muffled sound of a distant explosion in a split second snapped me out of my thoughts. I released the gas pedal and turned down the radio. Apart from the soft hum of the car engine running and the rubbing of windshield wipers, nothing special caught my attention. The thought that I probably misheard something crossed my mind. I glanced at the dashboard unconsciously. The clock showed exactly eleven minutes past one. I sank into the back of the car seat, and yawning again, I rubbed my tired eyes with my hand.
–There is only one hour of driving left and I will be able to stretch comfortably in my bed – I dreamed up. I guess I am old-fashioned, but the song Sway Dancing by Rita Hayworth coming from the car’s loudspeakers delighted my ears. I turned up the radio, glanced at the road, and in the same second I instinctively leaned against the steering wheel while pressing the brake pedal all the way down. Despite the wet road surface, the car suddenly slowed down and stopped just in front of a man running towards the hood of my car. He ran to the passenger side, yanked the door handle, and without saying a word, he jumped into the front seat, slamming the door. Although I have experienced a lot in my life, at that moment I was genuinely terrified, and my heart was pounding. Meanwhile, the intruder looked at me, as I could see fear in his eyes, and shouted: – Just go! – his voice did not sound firm.
I would take this more like begging than a command. I started the car with my heart in my mouth. I turned down the radio because the music additionally started to rattle my cage. I did not know what to say or what to ask. My journalistic stubbornness failed me all the way. I tried to focus my mind, but I could not shake the confusion in my head. Meanwhile, the man took off his glasses, rubbed his wet face with his hand, put them on again, and panting with exhaustion, rubbed his forehead. Time seemed to pass slower than usual, but I could see its positive effect on my unexpected stress. I slowly began to recover from everything that happened just a few minutes ago. The rain had stopped so I did not need the windshield wipers anymore. I turned them down and looked at the man sitting next to me. He was undoubtedly Asian, with a rather frail body type. He looked to be in his late twenties. At least I would not give him more than thirty years. I could read the fear from his eyes. He looked at me.
– Thank you – he said.
– You are welcome – I muttered in a rather not very friendly tone. Meanwhile, the radio started broadcasting news.
– …and now it’s time for the latest news. It’s the ninth of January, two thousand and twenty-one. – I turned the radio down.
– What? What did he say? – asked my companion.
He sounded very surprised. I looked at him and noticed a very shocked expression on his face. The Asian man pointed his finger at the radio.
– What year is it? – he asked.
I ignored his question. He squeezed into the back of the car seat, for the umpteenth time rubbed his forehead in his hand, and sighed deeply. I do not know why he asked about the year. He could clearly hear the words coming from the speaker.
– I do not understand – I could not hide my thoughts anymore. He did not react at all. I looked at him again. He was touching his forehead and breathing heavily. At the same time, in front of us, in the very dark sky, appeared spotlights. With every second, they were getting bigger and bigger. A moment later, I also could hear the roar of the engines of low-flying helicopters. The strong spotlights lightened up the treetops and both road lanes. Suddenly, one of the helicopters slowed down and swept my car with its strong light. My passenger was jammed in his seat, staring just ahead. As the helicopter took off, he looked at me and pointed at my smartphone attached to the car’s dashboard.
– Do you mind if I use your phone? – he asked.
– Go ahead. – I replied.
His hands were visibly shaking. He took the phone from the holder and stared at it for a moment. I could see interest on his face, combined with surprise. Then he dialed a number. Just after the first ring, the answering machine was turned on.
– Mark, please, pick up the phone –
I could hear the half- hushed voice of my passenger. After the answering machine stopped the call, the man tried again, as if it would make a difference. The answering machine picked up again.
– Please, Mark… call me back as soon as you can, it’s me, Peter. – the man waited for a moment and hung up. He thanked me for using the phone and placed it back in the holder.
– It’s very late. Your friend is probably asleep. – I think I just wanted to cheer him up.
I caught myself talking to him as if he was a good friend of mine, not a person who just a few minutes ago scared me right out of my wits. A column of cars with flashing lights approached my car from the front and forced me to focus on driving. After a short while, four black vans passed us at an insane speed. My hands tightened on the steering wheel. The accumulation of events from the last few minutes completely drove me from tiredness and sleepiness. For a moment, I even wanted to pinch myself and check whether it could be just a dream. Unexpectedly, we heard an engine in the rear, then a strong light above us brushed the sunroof window and hung over the windshield. The light blinded me to the point that I was forced to pull over to the side of the road and stop the car. The helicopter’s reflector illuminated the car’s interior, which became as bright as a sunny day.
After a while, a loud voice from a megaphone resounded across the area.
– Please, leave the car!– The man looked at me scared, touched my hand, and almost cried out.
– Help me… please. – I looked into his fearful eyes and had no idea how I could help him.
Again – Please, leave the car! – sounded over our heads.
I turned off the engine and, without taking the key out, grabbed the handle. The man and I got out of the car almost simultaneously.
– Please, put your hands on the car roof and stand with your feet apart. – the megaphone’s command seemed to be rather indisputable.
I obeyed. The man, on the opposite side of my car, did the same. He stood still, but his face showed growing anxiety. I could notice him secretly looking to the sides. Meanwhile, the helicopter, trying not to miss us with its lights, began to slowly settle on the road. Unexpectedly, the headlights of a fast-moving truck appeared along the side. The pilot had the choice of either moving up again or waiting for the truck to break, which was too risky. He chose the first option. The helicopter took off. Meanwhile, the man on the other side of my car, completely incomprehensibly to me, took his hands off the roof, bent over, and started running towards the forest.
The airflow caused by the passing truck almost threw the helicopter against the nearby trees. Its lights lashed the area with a blinding glare. The helicopter managed to stabilize and flatten out. Its reflector focused on my car again. The pilot probably noticed the disappearance of the Asian man, as he rapidly moved up above the treetops, turned around, and vanished over the forest. My surroundings got quiet and dark at the same time. It seemed like I could hear my own heartbeat. Suddenly, I heard something close to machine gunfire coming from the side of the forest. I looked around, very scared. I decided to immediately get the hell out of there. I grabbed the car handle and opened the door. Then, I spotted the helicopter flying again in my direction, shining its light on me.
– No, not again! – crossed my mind. Without waiting for commands from the megaphone, which I would probably hear in the next few seconds, I slammed the car door and put my hands on the roof. The helicopter, lashing a strong wind on my back and hair, landed right behind me. I looked on the left side, where the black Van had sharply braked. Without a warning, someone twisted my arms backwards and handcuffed me. What surprised and at the same time scared me the most was that a person also put a rag sack over my head. I was so frightened, I almost passed out.
– What the hell is going on? – I whispered.
After a while, I ended up sitting on a sofa hard as a rock. I was probably in the helicopter. I could assume that the doors were left open because I felt the freezing breeze all over my body. We started to move up. I could not stop thinking about what I should expect next. I started to analyze the situation I was in. I was familiar with the law a little bit, so I knew that I did not do anything that would qualify me for an arrest longer than the time it took to clear up the matter. I was absolutely sure about that. After all, we live in a state of law. There was nothing left for me to do other than patiently wait for what was going to happen next.
The flight took several minutes. I did not hear anything other than complete silence. Eventually, I could feel the helicopter smoothly landing on the ground. I got taken to some room, where someone took the handcuffs off my wrists and removed the rag sack from my head. I felt a little bit of freedom; of course as much as I could feel after having been taken somewhere without my permission. Now I could see the man in soldier uniform, who uncuffed me. Without even looking at me, he left the room, closing the door behind him.
I had to adjust my eyesight to the dim light pouring from the ceiling. I examined the room, in the middle of which I could see a rectangular table with two chairs on opposite sides. On the wall in front of me, next to the door, hung a large, slightly dusty mirror. I could bet that this was a two-way mirror. I thought that I was in an interrogation room, but with rather dingy walls that had long been asking for renewal. Whoever worked there probably rarely used the room. I sat on one of the chairs, stretched my legs, crossed my arms, and waited for someone to show up. A real thrill combined with curiosity brought back my confidence.
My journalistic gut told me that I was taking part in something extraordinary, perhaps very dangerous, and only the Asian man could answer all of my questions. At least I believed so. Suddenly, the door opened and a strapping man with a short haircut entered the room. He could be in his fifties. His black suit, with a well-contrasted blue shirt and red tie, did not impress me as much as the pleasant scent of his perfume. I am sure that it was my favorite cologne by Lacoste. The fragrance spread across the room. Instinctively, I got up from the chair. The man got closer to the table just in front of me, placed a rather old, thin folder with soft covers on it, pushed back on the chair next to him, and reached out his hand in greeting before sitting down.
I pretended not to not see his hand. I looked back at the chair and sat down. He sat down and cleared his throat, visibly dissatisfied with my cold attitude.
– Special agent Robert Kaman – introduced himself while moving his chair closer to the table. I straightened back up, crossed my arms and waited curiously for what he was going to say. The man cleared his throat again and opened his folder. Then he started to read:
– Suzanne Dolan, journalist, freelancer. Born in New York in nineteen seventy-nine…
– I’m sorry… – I interrupted the man. He glanced at me. – Let’s skip those details. I know my biography. Please, be more specific about why I’m here. It’s late, and I’m very tired of this whole situation. The agent put the folder down, leaned his elbows on the tabletop, and looked me straight in the eye.
– Okay. So is the man from the car your friend? – he asked.
– No, I don’t know him. He almost ran into my car. – I replied with confidence in my voice.
– He just forced me to stop and, uninvitedly, barged in… I’d never seen him before. The phone on the table rang unexpectedly. The agent looked at me and said:
– Sorry, I have to answer it. He picked up and while listening, he continuously stared at me. His stone face seemed to soften a little bit.
– Thank you! – he ended the conversation. The man sighed deeply, put the phone down, and while closing the folder, asked:
– Where were we? Oh, yes… Could you tell me… – he folded his hands and simultaneously squeezed into the back of the chair – did this stranger tell you something about himself? Who is he? Where is he from? What is he going to do? Did he explain his strange behavior? After all, it was a very unusual situation on the road, don’t you think?
– Yes, I believe so. He didn’t explain anything. It happened very fast. I didn’t even think about asking questions.
– I get it. Thank you for your time. – he got up from his chair, so I got up too.
– I should tell you that you were very lucky.
– Why so? – I asked intrigued.
– Deceptively, the man in your car was very dangerous.
– I assumed so.
– Did you? – the agent was very surprised. Even more than I could expect. That seemed strange to me.
– Otherwise, you wouldn’t shoot at him, would you? – he probably did not expect such an answer, as he choked up. The agent sighed deeply and rubbed his hand against his forehead.
– Well – he added after a moment – sometimes we are forced to take radical steps to prevent harmful events in the future.
For me, there was something wrong with these radical steps, but I did not want to get into it. I had only one thing in my mind: getting home as quickly as possible to go straight to bed. The agent walked to the door and knocked two times. A few seconds later, the soldier who had brought me there earlier entered the room. I noticed handcuffs and a rag sack in his hand. I did not have any energy left to protest.
The helicopter softly settled on the ground just next to my car. The sack was removed from my head while we were still flying, so I could notice the black Van leaving the place where somebody probably had been keeping an eye on my vehicle. We got out of the helicopter. Agent Kaman escorted me to my car.
– Can I ask you a favor? – the man asked while I was opening the door. I looked at him questioningly.
– It’s hard for me to put it into words… – he stopped for a moment
– I have a small request. I was silently waiting for what the agent wanted to say.
– Could you just forget about the whole situation? To be honest, I expected such a request from him.
– It will be difficult, at least for now, but I can try. – I replied while getting into my car. I slammed the door wanting to get out of there as quickly as possible. Agent Kaman tapped the roof of the car with his hand. I started the engine and looked at him through the window.
– Have a nice day – the man said and saluted me. I just reversed the car, without looking at him nor saying “Thank you”. I glanced at my rearview mirror and saw the agent who was following me with his eyes and shaking his head. Finally, I was able to breathe calmly and go home.
I got up around noon and I was surprisingly well-rested. I poured hot coffee into my cup and turned on the TV. I was zapping channels when I found the news. Perfect, it just started. I noticed a highlighted information on the bar at the bottom of the screen. It said something about the crash of the F35 that had occurred the previous night in a forest about eighty kilometers northeast of Miami. Usually, I would not pay much attention to this accident, after all, planes crash sometimes, with or without TV footage.
A helicopter broadcasting live news was just flying directly over the state road that I had been driving the previous night. I am not going to lie, it scared and intrigued me at the same time. I sat in an armchair with a cup of coffee in my hand, staring at the TV screen. The reporter of the IBS News, visibly worried, was shouting over the buzz of the helicopter engine, explaining what had happened that night.
– … The F-35 is the most expensive ultra-modern fighter in the world, the pride of the US Army. The plane flew over one thousand hours without any major malfunctions. – the reporter paused, and her attitude seemed to be even more serious than before – until now… Unfortunately… The helicopter was hanging in the air. The camera zoomed on a dozen military aircraft forming an impressive circle. The scene seemed strange, as the reporter brought up that the army would protect the crash area from outsiders, even from the air. I took a sip of my coffee and turned on my smartphone. I got a new message. I glanced at the screen and noticed that I had a missed call from an unknown number. Then, the number called again. I picked up and said:
– Hello. It’s Suzanne Dolan. – I’m sorry for bothering you – I heard from the other side – but you called me last night. – the voice was for sure male, completely unfamiliar to me, and certainly a little bit nervous. I needed a moment to realize what he was talking about. Me, calling him, last night…
– Oh God, yes! – I finally remembered – It wasn’t me calling you. I met some guy yesterday and borrowed my phone.
– Where is he now? – the man asked concerned.
– I don’t know, sorry. We went our separate ways a few minutes later. – I did not know how else I should explain the situation.
– What did he look like? Could you describe him to me, please? I realized that I did not even know with who I was talking to, so asked:
– Sorry, who am I speaking with?
– I’m Mark Probosz. Could you describe the man to me, please? – I heard from the other side.
– Describe…? Well, in my opinion, he could be in his thirties, rather skinny, definitely Asian. That’s it, I suppose – I tried to give the man as many details as I remember. There was a deathly silence at the other end.
– Are you there? – I asked, actually worried.
– Yes, I know him. It was Peter. We were friends, I guess…
– Were you? So you aren’t friends anymore? – I asked, not because I wanted to interfere. To me, you do not give up a friendship so easily.
–Let’s say that we’re still friends, but we lost touch a few years ago… and now this phone call.
– I understand – not really, but I had to say something.
– Thank you – the man’s voice sounded troubled. He hung up, so I put the mobile phone on the coffee table and glanced at the TV. I was not interested in commercials, so I changed the channel quickly. I stopped at the news on NTV station. The reporter, Margaret Koren, a colleague from university, was standing next to a white plastered building surrounded by old, huge spruces.
Next to her was standing a man in a medical uniform. – … the lights you asked about – the man raised his hand and drew an arc in the air – appeared there, and the plane crashed over there – he moved his arm on the opposite side.
– So, as you said, that couldn’t be the plane lights, could they?
– No, I’m sure about it. The plane showed up a few minutes later.
– And what happened next? – the reporter was very inquisitive.
– In the beginning, I didn’t believe my patients reporting to me about those strange lights landing through the woods next to our hospital. I told them to go to bed. You know, it’s a mental institution, my patients say lots of things… Then I spotted the plane, and it crashed literally in front of my eyes, maybe a hundred meters away from me. My phone was ringing again. I answered, muting the TV at the same time.
– Suzy? – I heard the excited voice of Tim Allen, the editor-in-chief of my newspaper.
– Hi! What’s the matter? – I tried to sound excited, but, deep down, what I wanted was to hang up as quickly as possible. I like my boss but he irritates me a lot.
– Have you seen the latest news?
– I’ve just started – I did not know if I should be ashamed that I do not know everything about the accident by now.
– Dig into it. I can see a potential for a big story.
– Sure. I’m going to start my research now.
– I’m counting on you, as always! – he finished the call. I got distracted by my thoughts. What the hell is going on with me? Where is my journalistic instinct? Last night I could be in the center of a huge story and I just ignored that. I have to find out what really happened there. I heard the explosion, I am sure about that. So what should I do now? Some idea just crossed my mind and I decided to go with it. I took my mobile phone and searched for the number of the man who I talked to earlier. Then I called:
by Bob Kinpets