Anchors No More #18: A Long Blank LookMay 19, 2014
Lawrence Queen wished he had not been a part of that particular conversation. He did his best to appear innocuous and unaffected by the dialog he had just found himself involved in, but he knew by the long steely glare he received from Vanderhoff that he was failing in his attempt.
Even after walking away, he could feel the Lieutenant’s eyes on him, watching as he took the five photographs back to his team, feigning excitement as he showed them the figures and formulas digitized upon the photos. To be honest, Queen’s zeal was not purely manufactured, after all, they had been waiting on this moment for years now and though it was only a small portion of Doctor Neff’s and Doctor Marshal’s complete notebooks, it was exhilarating. Still, the apprehension in his heart would not be denied.
It was obvious that Vanderhoff had taken Restrepo’s betrayal personally, it was the Lieutenant himself who had entrusted the guard with their precious cargo and his faith had been broken. Worse than that, Restrepo had disobeyed a direct order and stabbed the proverbial dagger deep into his superior officer’s back. Vanderhoff would not be satisfied now until someone was hung or shot and he was looking for anyone or anything that would appease his desire for revenge.
Queen understood the depth of Vanderhoff’s convictions when the usually composed Lieutenant entered the engineering department ten minutes before with fire in his eyes and razors in his voice, “Queen, now,” he commanded upon stepping through the threshold and Queen, engrossed in a conversation with two of his technicians, jumped at the gruff shout, almost spilling his coffee.
Queen didn’t hesitate though every impulse in his body screamed for him to run in the other direction. He just gave his colleagues a small nod, told them to continue working and walked obediently over to Vanderhoff and the three MP’s who accompanied him. “Yes, Sir,” Queen said, his eyes nervously darting around.
“What do you have for me?” Vanderhoff asked, and Queen felt his stomach tighten with the thought of the coming reaction. He had nothing new to report, the sacs had proven useful, but more in the theoretical department than in the practical, and it had only been seven hours since the last time Vanderhoff had asked him that same question, not nearly long enough to break any new ground. Queen’s mouth opened but no words came out. His eyes were unable to move from the riot-geared MP’s staring at him, the rifles in their hands, the sheen of their helmets in the fluorescent light.
Vanderhoff was in no mood, “Doctor Queen, would you like to tell me what you’ve found or would you rather tell the walls of your cell?” The Lieutenant took a step forward, “Or perhaps the back of my hand?”
With no option sounding enticing, he chose the most benign of the three. “We don’t have much to report, Sir,” he said, trying to sound confident, “The time frame you’ve given us is simply not enough. I understand your orders but I have to remind you that we are all aware of the complicated nature of our task. If we are going to make progress, we need to be given the time to do our work. The last thing we need is to hurry through this and make an error. You’ve read the data on what could potentially go wrong if we used the machine without having everything perfect and I know you don’t want to…”
“You,” said Vanderhoff, getting deep down into Queen’s face, “do not know what I want. You,” he said, pushing his finger into Queen’s chest, “do not presume to tell me what I want.” He held his other hand out expectantly and one of the MP’s placed a folder in it. His eyes continued boring into Queen’s as he handed the folder to him, “Tell me what you can do with these.”
Queen opened the folder, daring to look away from Vanderhoff. Inside were several eight-by-eleven photographs of what appeared to be notebook pages, each page filled with formulas and notes and detailed sketches of familiar-looking machine parts. He flipped through the photographs several times before glancing up at Vanderhoff, “These are their notebooks?” he asked, already knowing the answer.
Vanderhoff remained virulent, “I trust you won’t lose them this time?”
Queen almost protested, insulted by the false accusation, but he wisely kept his thoughts to himself, simply saying, “Yes, Sir,” and turning back to the photos.
Vanderhoff grunted at the scientist’s meek submission. He turned to the MP’s, “You have the list, I want them pulled out one at a time and brought to my office.” He looked at Queen, then back to the MP’s, “Bring him last, I want him to get some work done.”
Queen realized what he just heard and looked up from the photographs, “What? What are you talking about?”
Vanderhoff seemed dangerously amused at his confusion, “It has come to my attention that several members of your team have off-duty relationships with one Sargent Sebastian Restrepo and I want to find out who they are and what exactly they might know of his recent actions.”
At that time, Queen felt he held his poker face, showing absolutely no emotion when Vanderhoff announced his intentions, but now, a few moments later, standing in a huddle with his colleagues and showing them the folder and the photos, he was suddenly overcome with a sensation of dread, doubting the neutrality of his recent reaction. He’s going to find out, he thought, picturing the countless nights of beer drinking and pizza eating and poker chip exchanging that had gone on over the past two years.
Restrepo was one of the regulars at their bi-weekly card sessions and had even hosted the poker night at his house a few times. Worse, it wasn’t just Queen who participated in the games, there were four of them from his department involved. What would Vanderhoff do when he found out the truth of whom he sought? When he assumed the worst and heads rolled? Shit, he thought, feeling the Lieutenant’s eyes on him from across the room, he knows already. He’s just fucking with me, trying to get as much work out of me before…
“Doctor Queen,” Vanderhoff’s voice boomed through the room.
Queen turned towards the voice, his eyes wide with fear. “Yes, Lieutenant?” he said timidly.
“Quit standing around giggling like a bunch of school girls, get yourself to work. All our asses are on the line until we can give the brass some results and if my boss is pissed, imagine how yours feels?” Queen didn’t have to imagine, he knew: he could see it right in front of him.
Without another word, Queen turned to his colleagues and said, “Okay, let’s go,” and led them towards a work station, pretending not to care when Vanderhoff left the room, when the MP’s escorted the first scientist out of the door for questioning, when he noticed his own hand shaking as it held the photo. When it wouldn’t stop, he set the picture down and took a long blank look at the table, wondering what he could do.
© David Edward Wagner 2014. All Rights Reserved.