Chapter 2 – Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (Part II)

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“You’ll be able to stand in a minute or so,” Elaine said without lifting her eyes from the Enoch’s screen. “There will be no permanent damage. The nerves and muscles in your legs have been overloaded with an electroshock pulse.”

“So clinical,” Susan said. “Larry, I didn’t know you were on one of the other teams.” She aided him while he shakily tried to stand and took his mask. “But what were you thinking running around wearing a ski mask? What if their neighbors saw you and called the police? I could smack you.”

“I’m of a mind to call the cops myself.” The student Frog had unmasked grit his teeth. Turtled on his back, he stretched his legs, trying them out.  He refused Frog’s hand and stood by rolling onto his shoulders and flipping onto his feet. With a little bit of wobble in his step, he turned to face Frog, almost nose-to-nose. She didn’t flinch. Instead, she stared him down until the remaining masked figure at their feet stirred and whimpered.

“Nice to see you too, Brad,” Frog said and bent down to help his companion stand up.

She slept with this one, Elaine thought as she watched them posture. Years ago, she had stopped attempting to track the number of men that Frog trysted with. Not just because she quickly felt like it was none of her business, but also that it took some extremely intricate polynomial computations to even model the complexities of Frog’s sex life. All she cared about currently, though, was the fact that nobody on the DarkNet team previously had less than two degrees of separation from her green haired friend.

Brad’s companion accepted Frog’s assist without complaint and even thanked her. The vocalization revealed the remaining “masked man” to be a girl—waves of dark hair spilled out from beneath her mask as she pulled it off and stuffed it into the back of her jeans pocket. She had Latino features beneath the ski mask and wore a slightly baggy black T-shirt with a Spanish slogan in red that tucked neatly into her tight black jeans. A Leatherman tool hung from her belt alongside her cellphone.

Zane waved to the rest of the crew. “We should check the rest of the house. There were at least two more in front.” He broke off with Adam Roach, Benjamin Miller, and Russell Murphy and led them through the house. Anyone else within sixty-feet of the house would have suffered a similar sudden loss of motor-nerve function in their legs. Elaine had based her distance estimate on how far she could safely extend the field without intersecting the sidewalk or adjoining houses.

Brad continued to glare at Frog, shutting out the rest of the world for his focus on her. “I suppose I have you to thank for the hit just delivered to my team,” he said. Adjusting his gloves, he moved to circle her, but she didn’t follow. Frog ignored him while she assisted his friend onto her feet. “Physical altercations are prohibited by the DarkNet charter. I could get you kicked out of the game for this.”

“I’m fine,” the girl muttered, removed herself from Frog, and leaned against the wall.

“We’re not on the team,” Frog said, finally turning to follow Brad, keeping her feet and hips pointed at him while interposing herself between him and Elaine. “Maybe next time you’ll think about that when you try… What the hell did you just try anyway?”

“It was just a friendly meet and greet,” Brad said.

“Great, it won’t turn on,” Larry said. “My laser pen is fried. This cost me twenty bucks, you know.”

“Say cheese!” Elaine shrugged at him and took a photograph with her handset. “Yeah. Sorry about that. Your cell phone could be bricked too. Sucks to be you.”

Larry cursed as he fished his phone out of his pocket and tried to get it to turn on. Elaine used the distraction to snap a picture of the Latino girl, whom she guessed must be Casey, and then got an up close snapshot of Brad, his nostrils flared and teeth clenched. From his attitude, she guessed he must be the leader of that DarkNet team. It wouldn’t be difficult to cross-reference their names with the records from the game’s website. Everyone playing the ARG in Tempe had codenames online, but most people didn’t think far enough ahead not to use names that connected back to them.

Frog and Brad continued to snipe at each other like they had something to prove. Brad alternately threatened police involvement and contacting the administrators of the DarkNet ARG. Frog batted his threats aside by mentioning that his team violated game rules by coming to Zane’s house in the first place. Elaine recorded a sample of his voice while agitated and then decided she should get photos of the rest of the team.

Circling the house to the left, she followed a cobbled path of grey stones that led out of the back yard, through a rickety wooden fence, and onto a winding paved path that stretched through the front yard to the driveway and front door. Zane and a few other members of his team stood over the remaining members of the DarkNet crew, who hadn’t gotten to their feet yet. Two boys and two more girls. A very different gender demographic than Zane’s team, Elaine noted as she strode towards them.

They noticed her, she waved. Dalton called out to her that he was headed inside to get people drinks, and she politely declined the invitation. Elaine would simply raid Zane’s supply of Coke in a few minutes after she completed her current mission. It would probably take her a few minutes to photograph, tag, store, and categorize all the images for later retrieval.

When she arrived with the group and prepared to take pictures of the rest of the downed team she noticed something interesting.

The Volkswagon parked across the street was gone and the voicemail indicator on her phone had started signaling.

Elaine doubted these two events correlated to one another; but the disappearance of the EuroVan piqued her curiosity.

 

Some minutes before:

Outside, across the street from Zane’s house where he lived with his two friends-slash-roommates, a nondescript man wearing ordinary clothes walked past minding his own business. In fact, any observer who might have been taken to task describing the man would have conceded only that the man appeared to be average height, average build, sported an average haircut, and looked about average in appearance. Really, a five on a scale of one-to-ten.

He carried a newspaper under one arm, which might have seemed strange to an astute observer as it wasfive o’clockin the afternoon.

He rounded the front Volkswagen EuroVan, drew a key from beneath his newspaper, unlocked the driver’s side door, and climbed inside.

The van’s engine started and it drove away, obeyed the speed limit, used its blinker as it turned left at the corner, drove to University Dr., where it vanished into rush hour traffic and nobody thought about it again.

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