Anchors No More #23: Of Loose Lips And Sinking ShipsJun 23, 2014
Why did you do it, Lawrence Queen thought, wishing he had not looked at the clock on his phone, not right then. Shit.
He looked around Vanderhoff’s office, waiting for the Lieutenant to get off of his own phone and return to interrogating him about his connections to Sebastian Restrepo and any foul play their friendship might entail.
Until this week, Queen could have honestly stated that there was none, his personal relationship with Restrepo truly went no further than bi-weekly poker games and occasional weekend barbeques, and it certainly brought with it no knowledge or foresight of the security guard’s subsequent traitorous actions. However things had changed.
“Just do it,” Vanderhoff suddenly yelled to whomever was on the other end of his phone, “I want five teams on it, I want that whole area picked clean and burned to the ground if need be. Do you understand?”
In the few beats of silence while Vanderhoff waited for his desired response, Queen slid his phone back into his pocket. In less than three hours Restrepo and his fugitive band would be arriving and he knew without a doubt he needed to begin his preparations now. There was no time to be sitting here answering questions, dodging accusations, telling lies.
Queen looked at the man standing beside Vanderhoff, a man he had never met personally but had certainly heard about: Samuel Rutherford. Rutherford was ARLIS’s executive director, not Vanderhoff’s boss, but his boss’s boss. Tall, slender and bureaucratically handsome, rumors of Rutherford circulated around the labs as such rumors do, the ones Queen was aware of included liquid nitrogen for blood and some form of acidic venom for spittle, a man whose corporate-minded rationalizations made Vanderhoff appear as nonjudgmental and caring as a village nun.
Rutherford was staring at Queen, watching him fidget in his seat and fumble with his phone. Queen tried to smile but he couldn’t, he just looked away.
Vanderhoff hung up his phone with a scowl on his face. For a moment, he locked eyes with Rutherford, leaving Queen staring silently at the two men as they finished their voiceless conversation.
Vanderhoff turned his attention to Queen, “Now,” he said tersely, “where were we?”
Unsure if this was rhetorical, Queen didn’t answer, trying to remain calm. Vanderhoff began tapping his pen on the table, looking Queen up and down. Finally he leaned forward and said, “When is the last time you spoke with the former Sargent?”
Queen hesitated, taking his time, “As I told you, Sir, we had lunch together last Friday, other than that it was two weeks ago at our poker game.”
Vanderhoff casually glanced at Rutherford before standing up and facing Queen, “And since this little incident began, you have not had any contact with him?”
“No, Sir,” Queen answered, hoping that his expression held steadier than his nerves, “I did not.”
This peaked Vanderhoff’s eyebrows, “You did not or you have not?”
Queen did not have an answer for that, he stuttered, trying to understand what the Lieutenant was getting at. “Neither,” he finally managed to say, looking back and forth at both men.
Vanderhoff was thoughtful, “I am just wondering why you said ‘did’ when I said ‘have.’ Maybe it’s just me, but I think the concept of parapraxis was a crucial discovery in the evolution of interpersonal psychology, don’t you?” Vanderhoff strode forward and stood near Queen, “Your subconscious mind wrestling the reigns away from your conscious mind, harnessing the tongue for a brief second of unintended truth, revealing the backroom dealings of the man behind the curtain.”
Queen felt he should defend himself, but wasn’t sure how. How do you argue against such meta-accusations without appearing desperate? His brain began to shut off, his panic growing, “Sir, I…” he began, stopping, starting again, “I’m sorry, Sir, but I’m not sure what you’re talking about, I haven’t seen or talked to Sargent Restrepo since he left and I don’t know what my answer means other than I am extremely nervous and feel that I have to get back to my lab. I have a lot of work to do if we’re going to meet the deadlines you gave us.”
Vanderhoff quietly appraised the reply as he paced to his desk, turned around, returned to Queen’s side and stared down at him. Under the pressure of that stare, Queen felt crushed, embedded, buried. Unable to even attempt eye contact, he looked at the floor. The sudden beep of a text message being received caused him to startle. He chanced a sideways glance at Rutherford as the executive pulled out his cellphone.
Rutherford’s face did not change but something in his sharp green eyes did. He slid his phone in his pocket and cleared his throat. “Lieutenant,” he said, his voice deep and dry, “dismiss the good doctor to his work, we need to speak.”
It was so small, it could have been inconsequential under any other circumstances, but at that moment the sliver of a smile that cut into Vanderhoff’s lips seemed like a guillotine. He turned to Queen and said, “You’re dismissed, Doctor, you can return to your lab for now.” Queen stood up without reply and began walking to the door, pausing in his steps a moment when Vanderhoff concluded, “But don’t get too comfortable.”
He had not been considering comfort, but he gave the courtesy of saying, “Okay,” as he accepted the dismissal. He exited the office, turning left, sweating under his cotton dress shirt. He felt flush and fiddled with his shirt collar as he took a right, moving not towards his lab but away.
Queen tried not to look around but he did once or twice. He had to be sure he was alone, that no one had been commanded to follow him. It was all too close, not even one moment to spare. He continued towards the laundry room, doing his best to appear that he was right where he wanted to be.
© David Edward Wagner 2014. All Rights Reserved.