“The timer is at Grand and 22nd.”
Grand and 22nd! So the recipient of the first cookie would not have had the timer with him. What were these people trying to blow up, then? I had assumed it had something to do with the museum, but this changed everything. Now it had something to do with whatever was at Grand and 22nd!
I checked my watch. It was 9:40, and if I started walking now, I could reach Grand and 22nd in 20 minutes--10 o’clock exactly. Suddenly it hit me: 10 o’clock in Army time is 2200 hours! The time on the first fortune! These guys had timed it down to the minute, that their man at the gala would get all his instructions just in time to set the bomb at the prearranged time, yet if any of the cookies had been found out of order, there was not enough information in any individual cookie for anyone to find out what the plot was about.
I chose to take the stairs instead of the elevator again. I ran all the way down and straight out the front door. Right as I got to the corner, a patrol car with lights flashing pulled up.
“Excuse me, sir,” the cop called, “Are you Josh*?”
“Yes!” I cried. I had never been so elated to see those flashing blue and red lights in my life.
“I’m going to have to ask you to come down to the station with me, sir,” the cop informed me.
“Okay!” I agreed. I didn’t even mind hopping in the back seat.
The cop turned around to face me, “Are you some sort of criminal, son?” he asked.
“Then I don’t want you where you don’t belong. Get up in the passenger’s seat.”
I switched seats and we drove down to the station.
Mina was pacing the floor of the station when we arrived. She fairly jumped on me and threw her arms around me, “Oh, Josh! What happened? I was so worried about you! Where did you go? Can you tell me everything?”
“Excuse me, Mr. *Josh*?” A Hispanic man in a suit tapped me on the shoulder. He extended his hand, “Head Detective Martinez. I understand you came to us with some trouble?”
“Yes sir!” I answered immediately, “I think I’ve gotten mixed up in something, and I’m not sure what it is.” I showed him the three fortunes and explained the whole situation. Mina just sat next to me and stared wide-eyed.
“I’m really glad you came when you did, sir,” I told him when I finished, “because it’s almost ten o’clock, and I didn’t want to have to set any bomb at all!”
Detective Martinez just stared at me. He shook his head. “I don’t think you realize your situation, man,” he scoffed, “You think just because a timer isn’t going to be set right at ten o’clock, these terrorists are gonna miss taking out their target? No way!” He wagged his finger, “If they went so far as to plant predetermined messages in fortune cookies, it means this thing was a long time in coming. I’m going to have my people on the alert for a contingency plan. Meanwhile, we can get you to Grand & 22nd by exactly ten o’clock, so if you are being monitored at each location, no one will know you’ve got help from us.”
“Oh please!” Mina begged, putting her arms around me again, “Does he have to go? Can’t you send someone else?”
Martinez motioned for me to stand and follow him. I tried to do so as he explained to my girlfriend, “Ma’am, we will make sure your boyfriend is well-protected. Here, Josh, put this on under your clothes,” he handed me a thin Kevlar vest, “just in case there’s anyone in place to take you out once you’ve set the timer. I’ll have a few plainclothes follow you at a distance, too.” He clapped me on the back, “We’ll see to it that you get back to your girl safely.”
I gulped. “Mina,” I turned to her, “I know it’s late, so why don’t you get a taxi and go on home. I’ll just drive straight back to my house as soon as this is all over.”
“Promise you’ll make it through the night?” She begged, looking just as scared as I felt. Yet, having come this far, I felt a strange sense of warm adrenaline boosting my confidence. “I’ll call you first thing in the morning, no matter what, okay?”
She sighed, “All right, Josh.” She gave me a kiss and left the station.
I rode with the cops down to Grand and 22nd--the train station. A few lights were still on, as the last few red-eye trains were coming and leaving.
Detective Martinez looked me in the eye before I got out. “Remember, we’ll always have eyes on ya,” he said, “just proceed as you normally would. We’ll find the dirt-bags who are behind this, no doubt!”
I nodded, even as my heart was pounding in my chest. The adrenaline rush had long since gone; my skin felt clammy.
I tried to keep a casual pace and at least bear the appearance that I knew what I was doing as I strode into the station. Once in there, I stopped; I had no idea what to do next. The message had said that the timer would be here, but it didn’t say where. Obviously, the guy who should have gotten the message had a usual spot he would go to at the station, and perhaps the timer would be there. I, however, had no such clue. I scanned the area. My first thought was, “Gee, are the plainclothes guys supposed to be that obvious?” I could clearly count ten people scattered all around the room who were definitely not there waiting for a train. I shook my head and started milling around all the areas where one might hide a timer.
Over by the ticket kiosk, I was checking the shadows when I felt a tap on my shoulder. A small, grey-haired lady with deep green eyes smiled behind me.
“Is this yours?” she asked me. In her hand was a fourth fortune cookie.
“Yes,” I said, taking the cookie and--lest hanging around her would get me into trouble--moved away from her, toward the train platforms. I broke open the cookie. Maybe it would give me the location of the timer.
All it said was, “Train 23.”
I scanned the trains that were loading up. None of them had the number 23 on it. Just then, I heard a horn and train #23 pulled into the station. I waited till the onboard passengers got off, fully expecting one of them to be my contact. When all of them had left, I assumed that maybe I was supposed to get on it. I fell in line with the boarding passengers for Train 23 (out of the corner of my eye I saw my “bodyguards” moseying toward me), and climbed onto the train as if it was what I intended to do. What bothered me was trying to figure out what I would do when the conductor asked for my ticket.
I shouldn’t have worried; just as the train started moving, and I saw the first plainclothes cop preparing to board the train, a hand grabbed my arm and yanked me out the door on the other side of the train. I stumbled out with the force, but before my eyes could get used to the darkness the hand hauled me into a stationary car. I briefly heard the squeak of the engine as Train 23 pulled out, and I imagined the plainclothes cops searching fruitlessly for me in the train while Detective Martinez and the others would furiously try to follow Train 23 to it’s destination, expecting me to be there, never knowing that I wouldn’t be.
Meanwhile, the person holding on to me stood behind me and a blindfold slipped over my eyes and pressed tightly against the back of my head. Whoever had me wasn’t happy about it.
“All right, tell us what we want to know, and we won’t have to hurt you,” he said.
“Who are you?” I asked, “What do you want? I don’t know anything!”
“Oh yes you do!” my captor cuffed me over the side of the head. “We know you receive your instructions through fortune cookies, and we know about the one at the Asian gala. We followed you to the building on Main Street. There isn’t much we don’t know, so you might as well tell us everything!” He grabbed my wrist and bent my arm behind my back and up toward my shoulders. “Tell me or I’ll break your arm! Tell me now!”