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Returning Excerpt No. 5

Camp Antelope, Wyoming

Art Ellsworth sat on the edge of the bed, looking out the second story window at the floodlit lawn below. He found himself wanting to call it a parade ground. That was what it reminded him of. These apartment buildings, as they were officially called, looked like barracks, so what was in front of them would be a parade ground.

They’d been there a week now. Things people said suggested it wouldn’t be a short stay. “No one ever leaves,” someone had told him.

He looked over his shoulder at Joanne, sleeping soundly, turned towards the wall. He felt sure she blamed him for their predicament. They hadn’t had sex since they arrived. He wondered if that was because she was still mad at him, or because the FBI had found her birth control pills and confiscated them.

She wouldn’t be able to get more in this place. Contraception was illegal unless a woman could get two doctors to agree that getting pregnant would kill her. Birth control pills were mostly smuggled in from Canada. They weren’t that hard to come by on the outside. Inside the camp it was a different story. The place was full of young kids, most of them born here.

There were also a lot of teenagers, almost none of whom were born in the camp. They came in like the adults, after being caught doing something that, presumably, merited being removed from society.

What you didn’t see were mid-range children. There were kids younger than two, and teenagers. Once a child reached the age of two he disappeared from the camp. Adopted out, was the story. Art figured it was true. Let the mothers raise them until they could walk and talk, and were mostly out of diapers. At two, they were still too young to form lasting memories. They wouldn’t remember the camp after a few years on the outside. Or, if they did, the memories would be vague, for little children tended to be very self-centred, fixated on their parents more than their surroundings.

Art still wasn’t quite sure why they were there. He’d told Sara to stay home. If she’d gone anyway, that was her decision. We’re victims here, me and Joanne, he thought, not criminals.

Had anyone told him President Gordon agreed with him, Art wouldn’t have believed it.

But no one was going to tell him that. Nor would anyone tell him that SSA Bennett, Supervisory Special Agent in Charge of the Denver FBI office, was now ordinary Special Agent Bennett, rather unexpectedly reassigned to the Nome, Alaska field office as junior agent in charge of old paperwork.

Art might have been happy to hear both of these things, but it wouldn’t help his present situation. They weren’t going anywhere. They knew too much now. It was the rumour of such places that made them effective, gave people something to be afraid of, even while the government vehemently denied any such camps existed. It wouldn’t do to let people out. Sometimes illusion was more important than reality. Fear of something you weren’t sure of kept you in line. If you knew—really knew—it could backfire, with the fear replaced by defiance.

*     *     *

Jerry kowalski sipped his tea and watched Nick and Maureen Harris as they sat together on the couch, in front of the big picture window in the living room of their Denver split-level. I should have grabbed the couch for myself, he thought. The house faced west, so the low early-evening sun put the couple in shadow. A power position, Kowalski decided.

Kowalski looked at Special Agent Topper, who was sitting uncomfortably in the other armchair. We’re both just a little out of place, he decided. With Bennett reassigned, Kowalski had been promoted to Supervisory Special Agent and placed in charge of the Denver office. Just luck, really. Kowalski and Topper had both advised against taking the Ellsworths into custody, much less sending them to Camp Antelope. So only Bennett had suffered the fallout. Considering he’d managed to piss off the President, Bennett was lucky he’d just been demoted and shipped off the to the wilderness. Gordon could just as easily have made him join the Ellsworths in that miserable earthly limbo.

“We’ll be doing whatever we can to find your daughter,” Kowalski said.

“I don’t understand why no one has tried to contact us,” Maureen said. “Don’t they usually do that?”

“Sometimes they wait a while,” Kowalski replied.

“We’re not even sure it’s a kidnapping at this point,” Topper added. “We’re making that assumption just to be on the safe side, but we’re not sure.”

Nick Harris shook his head. He stood up and started pacing in front of the couch. “What else could it be?” he demanded.

“She’s fifteen,” Kowalski said. “Sometimes girls that age just run away.”

“No,” Maureen declared. “Not our Ellen. Somebody took her.”

The doorbell rang. Topper went to answer it. He returned with Special Agent Alex Gorell. He was a big, impressive looking guy, with dark, deep-set brown eyes and dark brown hair cut very short.

“Special Agent Gorell will stay with you for the next eight hours,” Kowalski said. “Another agent will take over at that point, if we haven’t learned anything else by then.”

“Ma’am,” Gorell said. “Sir.”

“Special Agent Topper and I will be going now. There are investigative avenues we can best follow at the office. Electronic forensics, that sort of thing.”

“We’ve got some really impressive computers,” Topper offered.

“Just find Ellen,” Nick pleaded. “She’s the only kid we’ve got.”

Kowalski and Topper walked out to their car in silence. Kowalski got into the driver’s seat. Topper got in on the other side a moment later. The senior agent started the car. “Go to office,” he said.

“Going to office,” the car’s computer responded. It seemed to think about this for a minute, then said,”Estimated time of arrival is fourteen minutes.”

The car pulled away from the kerb and headed into the city.

“I feel sorry for those two,” Topper said.

Kowalski nodded. “So do I. We’ll let them stew until around noon tomorrow, then give them the report.”

Topper grimaced. “What’s the story this time?”

“She used her ID to board a plane to New York. Security cameras show she was alone, so we have to presume she just ran away. So far as we know, she arrived there okay. After that, nothing. I guess we can say we figure she bought a fake ID in New York.” He shook his head. One of these days, he thought, he was going to try driving for himself. It had been too long.

“Damn shame when teenage girls run away, Jerry,” Topper said. “Damn shame.”

“Yeah. Well, she shouldn’t have texted the Ellsworth kid. Not with what she told her.”

“When are they shipping her out?”

“Later tonight. She’ll be in Wyoming sometime tomorrow afternoon.”

Excerpt No. 6

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