After stumbling onto a covert message, a woman is mistaken for a domestic terrorist and becomes hunted by both the FBI and the Homegrown Violent Extremist (HVE) group, Wakey, Wakey. Read on for the short story, or check out YouTube for the multimedia experience.
Careful not to rustle the bushes, he whipped out his cell and texted:
PKG TAKEN. ORDERS?
An eternity of thirty seconds later, his phone buzzed a response:
He cursed under his breath and fingered the lump at the small of his back. A cold sweat soaked his shirt. The last group member to fail a mission had washed up near Tampa Bay. Disappointing Bellmeade was not an option.
Kari Hamlin ran. She ran a little so she could keep eating burgers and pizza and drinking margaritas, but mostly to clear her head. Today's obsession was her perfect brother, Eric, who won trophies in wrestling, medallions for the National Honor Society, and merit badges in Boy Scouts. Even now, nearly twenty years later, Eric had the career and the family, while she survived mostly on temp jobs and temporarily good relationships.
Her phone rang, interrupting Soft Cell's relationship rant and jarring her back to the present. Without thinking, she smacked her bicep, where a sports band plastered her smartphone securely in place.
"Hey, Sis," said Eric.
Kari's face pinched as she slowed to answer. "Hey," she said between huffs.
"Is this a bad time?"
"Hold on a sec," said Kari, surveying the area for a place to rest. Luckily, she was near a tiny park complete with picnic tables, grill-out stations, and palm fronds swaying in the breeze.
She jogged toward the back row of tables, slunk onto a woven metal bench and wrestled her phone from the armband. But while raising the phone to her ear, Kari's elbow bumped the adjoining picnic table, knocking the phone from her grasp.
"Shit!" she said.
Muted sounds of her brother's voice echoed. "Kari?"
Praying a colony of spiders wasn't partying beneath the bench, she dropped to all fours and reached for her phone. That’s when she noticed it--a folded sticky note affixed to the inner side of the bench's front lip.
She grabbed the note and her phone then plopped onto the bench. "Sorry about that, Eric. You still there?"
"Yeah. Is everything okay?"
"I'm fine," said Kari. "I'm out for a run and my headphones are shit, so I couldn’t hear at first. Then, of course, I dropped my phone."
Eric chuckled. "Sounds like you. Anyway, I was calling because Jane and
Images of Eric's perfect wife, Jane, filled Kari's head. She could almost hear the cheesy-toothpaste-commercial ding coming off Jane's gleaming smile. Plus, anytime Eric started with "Jane and
FBI Agent Warren Lane cracked his knuckles with near rhythmic precision. He and Agent Emilio Sanchez had been cooped up in their car for nearly three hours.
Pointing to Lane's hands, Sanchez said, "One more fuckin' time. Do it one more fuckin' time and I'm putting in for a new partner."
Lane dumped both hands onto his lap. "You sure this intel is good?"
"I'm gonna pretend you didn't say that," said Sanchez, glaring at his partner. "You know these Wakey, Wakey extremist bastards are on my list."
"Yeah," said Lane, "but everything makes it onto that list."
"Don't hate. I take my job seriously. Maybe if you kept track of career-making cases, you'd have as many commendations as me."
"Yes, Mommy. But your ass is still sitting right here, isn't it."
Sanchez grumbled beneath his breath, but both men went silent as they watched a woman approach the picnic table.
Kari sat barside at her local watering hole. She studied the sticky note as she waited for her best friend, Taylor. Two beers later, she still couldn't make sense of it.
"What's got you so interested?" asked Taylor.
Kari jumped, nearly toppling over beer number three.
"Sorry, Kar," said Taylor, taking the stool to Kari's left. "Didn't mean to startle you."
"No worries," said Kari. She slid the note to Taylor. "I need techie advice. What do you make of this?"
Sanchez eyed the two girls. He and Lane sat at a booth toward the back of the bar.
"I don't like it," said Sanchez.
Lane shifted in his seat, vinyl farting in protest. "You don't like anything."
Sanchez raised an eyebrow.
"Besides," said Lane. "These two look about as likely to violently 'Wake America from Corporate Corruption' as my Aunt Fanny."
A tall, burly man sat at a high top directly blocking the girls from their view.
"Son of a bitch!" Sanchez turned to Lane. "I'll bet the next batch of your lovely aunt's taffy you're wrong."
"You're on." Lane slid out from the booth.
"What are you doing?" asked Sanchez. "We have orders not to engage the target."
Lane's mouth upturned into a wicked little grin. "Proving I'm right."
But the message she held was the key to Wakey, Wakey's next target. And if she cracked the code, Wakey, Wakey could go down in flames. So, he'd do what he had to do.
Taylor snatched the sticky from the table. "At first glance, I'd say it's code for a phone number."
"Really?" asked Kari.
"Yep," said Taylor, fishing through her purse. She pulled out a pen, scribbled on the note and pushed it back to Kari. "But, if you really wanna be sure, check out this Website. Enter the code and it'll spit out a number."
Kari looked at the sticky then pulled out her phone. No signal.
"Remind me why we come here again?"
"To unplug," Taylor said with a smile. "Plus, the guys are cute and the beer is cheap. Just check it out when you get home."
Lane leaned over the bar to Kari's right. Taylor raised an eyebrow and tapped Kari's leg with her foot. Once she had Kari's attention, Taylor motioned to the right with a single nod.
Kari turned to see what the fuss was about. "Okay," she said. "This can wait." She shoved the
Lane opened Kari's door, offering her a balancing hand.
"Thanks again for driving me home, Warren," said Kari. "Would you like to come in?"
"If you don't mind, I need to hit the head."
She looked at him as if he had sprouted a third arm.
Lane looked sheepish. "Sorry. Navy lingo. I need to use your bathroom, and then call a cab. My cell's dead."
Kari felt foolish for thinking she and Lane had actually connected at the bar. Disappointment wilted her around the
"Plus, I think you've had a little too much to drink. I am a gentleman, after all."
A goofy grin splashed across Kari's face.
Once inside, Kari plunked her purse onto the kitchen counter then made a beeline for her bedroom--her stomach had started doing flip-flops.
"The guest bath is through the hallway and to the right," she called.
Lane wasted no time. He rifled through her purse until he found the sticky note. He snapped a picture with his cell and texted it to Sanchez. Afterward, he went to the guest bath and flushed the toilet and washed his hands for good measure. When he emerged, Kari was still out of sight. He was halfway to her bedroom when she appeared.
"You okay?" asked Lane.
She shook her
"I should get out of your hair," he said. "But first, I want your number."
Hunched over her laptop, Kari stared blankly at the Website from Taylor's tip. Poised to enter the code, her fingers hovered above the keyboard. Suddenly, a crash of breaking glass jolted her upright. Her heart was in her throat and she nearly wet her pants. Eyes darted around looking for a weapon. As her fingers wrapped around the nearest object, a tall granite cat sculpture, something bit into her leg. She went down. Blood oozed from her right calf.
A man, gun in hand, loomed over her. But she noticed his grip wasn't steady and one of his eyes was twitching.
"You don't really want to do this, do you?" she asked.
"Shut up!" shouted
"Why don't you just take what you want. I won't even call the police."
He started rocking
She closed her eyes and swung with all her strength. The granite cat swept
Kari's door cracked open with a splintering thud. Sanchez and Lane rushed in, guns
"FBI!" they shouted in unison.
Lame leg and all, Kari was on top of
Kari pressed harder.
"Can't breathe," said
"Good," said Kari. "You freakin' shot me!"
"Sorry, Kari," said Lane, cuffing her wrists. "It's standard procedure."
Kari gave Lane the evil eye, before turning and hollering at
Sanchez asked, "Who the hell is this guy?"
"I have a feeling," Lane said, smiling, "he's the guy who's gonna deny your taffy prize."
Three months later, Kari was running again,
A phone call interrupted her thoughts. She glanced at her armband. It was her brother. Déjà vu caused butterflies to swirl. She slowed her pace and managed to free the phone from her arm. "Hey, Eric."
She looked to her left, where Warren Lane had slowed, matching her pace. He smiled, which calmed her butterflies and stole her already ragged breath away.