Conner Eaton didn’t like Pepsi.
Whenever he drank soda, he also wished to drink something with a sting or bite. It was why he preferred Coke or Sprite. However, for some reason, the Coca-Cola vending machine in the campus break room was turned off. That left his choices with Pepsi, Sierra Mist and Mountain Dew. The latter was all right but the caffeine content was so high it would tear up his stomach. That left Pepsi. Conner burped after taking another sip and resumed his English study.
The topic was the Odyssey. It was definitely one of Conner’s favorite books. The goal was to find the structure of the story and why Odysseus was thwarted by the Gods at every turn. Conner wrote down hubris and other qualities he noticed. As he leaned up to take another sip of his drink, he saw two of his fellow students approaching him. It was Joe Lane and his girlfriend Shimmy Heard. The muscular brunette and his blonde haired girlfriend sat down at the table where Conner was working. “What’s up, Conner?” Joe laughed.
“Trying to get some homework done before the weekend.” He sipped his soda, “You?”
“We got our classes cleared so I’m taking my lady to the movies for an early showing of The Watchers.”
“Joe only likes scary movies cause he knows I hug him too much during it.” Shimmy pushed him.
“Sounds like a blast, have fun.” The young man resumed his studies.
“That’s only for the afternoon, brah,” Joes tapped his stack of books, “What you got planned for the evening?”
Conner kept his head lowered but raised his eyes to look at the muscular young man. “Why are you so interested?” he inquired.
“There is a party at Franklin’s place up in the Hills,” Shimmy practically gyrated in her seat, “We’ve love for you to come!”
“He’s got a pool, brah!” the brunette kid said with excitement, “There is gonna be drinking, beer pong, waterslides, music, trees to dangle-“
“Trees to Dangle?” Conner blinked; amused he was even hearing this.
“Yeah, brah! You got to come; it’s going to be off the chain!”
“As much as I like dangling from trees as the next caveman, “the student sighed, “I’m not sure I’m in the mood for a riot party at some guy’s pool.”
“Oh, PLEASEEEEEEEEEE, Conner!” the blonde clapped her hands, “I’d love for you to meet Stephanie.”
The student glared at the ditzy blonde. He slowly smiled as he was starting to realize the ulterior motive for them inviting him. “Stephanie who?” he asked.
“Stephanie Brown, Shimmy’s friend.” Joe pointed at him, “You know her, right?”
“Oh, right, yeah, Stephanie . . . .yeah, she’s in my Chem class.”
“She’s been a little down these last few days and I would love a handsome guy like you to cheer her up.”
“Why has she been down?” Conner asked.
“She broke up with her boyfriend.”
“Four days ago?”
“WHOA!” the student laughed, “You want me to hook up with Stephanie four days after she broke up? Isn’t that a little too short of a time to be the rebound man?”
“Brah, you’re perfect and she’s gonna love you!” Joe begged.
“Guys, I don’t think-“
Conner then stopped talking when he heard a buzzing sound in his backpack. He quickly unzipped the pouch and pulled out his smart phone. He had received a text. Gently, he pulled down the logo to see what it said.
CODE BLUE; OUTSIDE NOW
“Aw, crap.” He grunted, “Sorry, guys. Looks like my Aunt Lola needs me. Tell Stephanie I’ll go out with her in another three months.”
“Wait, what?” Shimmy blinked; unable to comprehend his sarcasm.
“Dude! Don’t be a buzz-kill!” Joe begged.
“Sorry!” Conner said, as he began to jog toward the nearest exit.
The young man sped up his steps toward the sidewalk and began to jog toward the main parking lot of the campus. What most didn’t know about Conner Eaton was he was a serving officer in the local SCAT field office. They recruited him during his senior year at high school. He was called out on many missions due to his aptitude for understanding electronics. While most kids were enjoying their Senior Homecoming dance, Conner was defusing a bomb at the state capital. He had been working for the SCAT division for just shy of three years. He was exceptionally good at it.
Conner then found the woman he dubbed “Aunt Lola”. Lola Benedict was his handler at SCAT. It was also her job to provide cover for him in regards to his friends, co-workers and sometimes even family. The older brunette was leaning on a silver Sedan waiting for him. She was dressed in a navy blue business suit; making her look like a high priced lawyer. The wind blew her jet black hair slightly into her sunglass covered eyes. She smirked as Conner jogged toward her. She leaned up and held out her arms. To maintain his cover, she had to give the appearance she was indeed his family. The young man hugged her while she hugged him back and kissed him on the cheek. “Admit it,” he whispered in her ear, “You live for these moments.”
“Shut up and get in the car, pervert.” She giggled as she parted from him.
Lola walked up the driver’s side and slid within. Conner got into the passenger side; taking a moment to glance into the back seat. His SCAT gear was there waiting for him. After she drove them off the lot, he reached back and picked up his combat vest. He gently shifted it around his arms then locked it into place. Lola picked up a nearby handheld radio; formerly resting on the dashboard. “I have Eaton.” She told the radio, “We’re in route to the staging area.”
“Copy that.” Command squawked back, “We’ll let Simms know.”
“Benedict out,” she said as she placed the radio back on the dashboard.
“Simms?” Conner then asked.
“Lt. Ethan Simms.” She glanced at him, “He’ll be your commander this mission.”
“What is the mission?” he immediately replied.
“Possible lead on several homicides. All local girls, all from the very same college you’re attending.”
“Well . . . .that’s disturbing.” The young student said sarcastically.
“I don’t know the specifics but what I do is that an entire family may be involved. Once you get to the staging area, review the files and found out what they know about.” Lola told him.
“Why do they need me?”
“Why DON’T they need you?” she smirked.
Conner nodded his head. He was already figuring it out. “Electronics.” He whispered with a grin.
“There some sort of weird closed circuit camera system inside the house of the suspects.” She turned the car off to the main road, “They wouldn’t be needing you unless they wanted those cameras to be THEIR eyes instead of the family.”
“Shouldn’t be that big a deal then.” He replied.
Lola glanced around at the varied restaurants. “This could be an all-nighter.” She commented, “What kind of food do you want?”
“Wait, I thought this was a Code Blue?” he joked, “We’re going to have time to eat?”
“No, you’re going to eat it on the road.” She then lightly punched his arm, “The Code Blue is real. We only have a three and a half hour window.”
“Hell, that’s not bad.” Conner raised his eyebrow, “Last Code Blue I had, we only had 25 minute window.”
“And look how that turned out.” She then pointed into the distance, “White Castle?”
“Yes, Aunt Lola.” He said, flickering his eye-lashes.
The brunette woman did a massive inhale through her nose. “God, I wish I was back in Baghdad.” She groaned.
One hour later the Sedan was finally reaching the staging area. Conner and Lola had driven for near an hour. That meant he had only two and a half hours till the mission start point. The duo had driven far out of the city toward the outskirts of town. Most of the people that lived in the area were the rich individuals. The young woman wondered how a family living with this much wealth could have the mentality of serial killers. He was reminded of the family he and his SCAT group took out four months into the job. However, those were rednecks within a trailer park. This group of murderers were on the other end of the spectrum.
Lola had been driving them on a vast winding road. The trees and tall grass covered most of the area. Conner shot a glance to his right, noticing a massive lake. Before he could ask his handler if the lake had been dredged for the missing girls, they finally arrived at the staging area. On the side of the road next to a telephone pole was a large utility van for the Merry Go Round Cable company. Conner already knew that “carnival rides” were their codes for front companies. The young man got ready to depart before Lola grabbed his arm. “Come back alive.” She told him.
“So you really do care about me.” He grinned.
“You’re good for my stats back at HQ,” the brunette said with a smirk, “I like my stats.”
“Yes, Aunt Lola.” Conner said as he exited the vehicle and closed the door.
After he turned and walked around the car, the Sedan sped away. However far the suspect’s building was, they still couldn’t risk being spotted than anything other than a cable company. The young man leisurely approached the van where a black man was sitting in the passenger’s seat. As he leaned out, he smiled because he knew Conner. He coughed for a second. “You hear to buy me a drink?” he asked.
“No, because my sister ain’t old enough.” The young man laughed.
The two SCAT members started to laugh over the code they were forced to use to identify each other. It wasn’t needed because they had already worked on several missions together. “Conner Eaton.” The African American shook his hand.
“Big Jim Clement.” He smiled.
“Considering the wacky cameras inside that mansion, I should have known they’d call you in.” he told him.
“So it’s true?” Conner started to walk back toward the back of the van, “We got a family of serial killers?”
“We’ll soon see, kid.” He motioned, “Get your ass in there. The commander is waiting.”
The student opened the door to the fake cable company van. Inside was a row of panels that access camera feeds from the above sensors. Conner saw six SCAT soldiers within. A taller man near the front of the van was reviewing something on a screen pad. He noticed the young man stepping in. “Eaton?” he asked.
“Yes, sir.” He walked to him.
“Lt. Ethan Simms.” He shook his hand, “Form up on me.”
The young man followed him to the front of the van. As he followed him to the front of the van, he looked at the rest of the operatives inside. He didn’t know most of them but thankfully he spotted one more familiar face. Mike Rivers was double-checking a grid map of the area. When he spotted Conner, he quickly high-fived him. When they reached the front table, Simms handed him a screen-pad. The first thing he saw was pictures of five young women. “Those are the pictures of the missing women.” The curly haired man said, “Most were between the ages of 19 and 22.”
“How did we trace them back to this family?” the student immediately asked.
“Go to the next screen.” His commander told him.
Conner rubbed the screen to show the next image. It showed a picture of a severed hand; clutching a plastic wrapper. The young engineer moved the image on the PAD to show the next image. It was the wrapper sprawled out to be readable. “Draconos . . . .Winery?” he asked.
“That is the name of the Winery House owned by Mr. and Mrs. Victor Martin,” the leader leaned on a table, “The hand was spotted to belong to one Melissa Kipling. She’s the only link to why these girls were missing.”
“Where the Martins ever approached?”
“No, because of lack of evidence. More of their winery bottles were found in various small parts surrounding the lake. Local law enforcement believes the hand just washed up with one of the wrappers.”
“But we don’t believe that?” Conner asked.
“No, we don’t.” Simms motioned for him to turn the imagine viewer.
The young man then turned the images of the screen-pad. It showcased several cameras all hooked up into a central control area. “Last night one of our agents got into the house and found some kind of weird security system.” Simms pointed toward the images, “Hidden cameras in almost every room and a series of traps.”
“Traps?” the young man leaned up his head, “What . . .like trap doors and stuff?”
“To say the least. We found everything from sliding panels in the stairs to false doors that supposedly lead to the basement but leaned into these massive tubes.”
“Massive tubes? And . . . .where do they lead?”
“That’s going to be your job to find out, Eaton,” Simms crossed his arms, “We’re going to need you to splice an over-ride into their security system to allow us to view what is happening. Your mission is to stay in the mansion, use the trap system, found out what happened to the last set of girls and protect the next set.”
Conner felt a rush of cold hit his shoulder blades. “The next set?” he gasped.
“Yes,” the commander then picked up a picture, “This is Kelli Medd, one of our best uncover agents. She’s been tracking the youngest female Martin, a girl named Sarah. She was the one that invited the last five girls out to this place. Thankfully Kelli was able to work her way into the group so you and her will be finding out what the Martins are hiding.”
Conner studied the security photo of the young girl. She was practically his age. She had brown hair with soft green eyes. By the look on her face, she seemed capable and alert. If she was young in the SCAT teams like he was and already good at undercover, then more than likely she’ll rise far in the ranks. Conner then placed the photo on the table. “When do they arrive?” he asked.
“They’ll be arriving around 5:40 pm.” One of the SCAT members said, “And the Martins will arrive at five pm.”
“Eaton, this is Swanson.” Simms introduced her, “She’ll be your quarter master this trip.”
The slightly older blonde woman pulled up a small black pouch. Conner already knew what it was; it was his tools he’ll need to take control of the computer system. He picked up the black nylon bag and slung it over his left shoulder. Swanson then pulled out a Glock 9MM pistol. The young man took it and then slid it into his holster pouch sewn into his vest. “Hopefully you won’t need it.” she commented.
“Amen to that.” He shrugged as he also picked up two extra clips.
Swanson then pulled out a small cylinder device. “Be careful with this.” She handed it to him, “This is a Chameleon Stick.”
“Whoa!” Conner held it gently, “I’ve heard of these! These produce holograms, right?”
“Yes,” Simms stepped closer to them, “When you are in that basement, we need you to stay there until the mission is completed. Odds are the Martins will get wind that we have taken control of their system and they’ll pay repeated visits to the basement. So find a deep corner and activate the Chameleon Stick.”
“The hologram will adapt to whatever surroundings you are and unless they walk up to touch you or their depth perception is off . . . . .you’ll be invisible to them.” Swanson finished.
“Understood. That’ll be really useful.” Conner slid it inside a pocket on his vest.
“All right, Eaton,” the commander patted him on the back, “It is now 3:47 pm. You have one hour and thirteen minutes to get burrowed into the basement. Once the mission begins at five pm, you go silent on the radio. We won’t establish contact unless we have to. And Kelli will keep in constant communication via the cameras.”
The commander then picked up the screen pad and maneuvered it to another picture. It showcased a path following up the main driveway of the mansion covered by bushes. Simms pushed the photo aside to show a staircase leading down to the side of the house where a white door lead into the house. “That is your entry point.” He told him, “Once you are inside, you lock the door behind you. That way the Martins won’t suspect you are down there. Remember . . .stay hidden and do not break radio silence until we tell you. Mike, give him his radio.”
The stout man smiled at his younger friend. Conner smirked because he enjoyed working with him and Jim on his last two missions. Mike calmly placed a radio in the awaiting slot on his vest. He then placed in an ear bud then tucked it around his collar; placing it into the young student’s right ear. Mike then turned around and clicked on for the relay. “Give me a radio check.” He told him.
“Mike check, mike check.” Conner chuckled as he spoke into the radio.
“Kid, that joke was old a year ago.” His friend commented.
“Speaking of Jokes, you got that twenty you owe me from the North Carolina game last year?” the young man grinned.
“Tell you what . . . .complete this mission and I’ll pay you back.”
“Liar.” Conner joked.
“Enough grab assing.” Simms told the two men, “Eaton, you set to go?”
“Copy that, sir.” The specialist smiled.
“Then move on. We only got so long before we can speak on the radio.”
Eaton nodded his head. He then proceeded to maneuver past the other soldiers toward the back. “Eaton.” The commander called.
The young man turned to face him.
“Good luck.” He told him.
Conner saluted the older man then opened the door to jump outside. He quickly jogged up front. Jim smiled as he high fived him as he started to run past him. The young man quickly scurried across the road then back up the hill. He huffed as he started to follow the grassy path that led up to the Martin mansion. Even though he had an hour and fifteen minutes to get there, he wanted to make it with time to spare. He immediately pushed his legs to allow him to jog further. A soft wind blew in from the East; swaying the trees to his right. The sun was setting behind him over the horizon.
And twilight engulfed the land.