Daniel Navarro sat alone at a secluded table in a coffee house in Portland. Rather than the usual attire he wore while acting as an agent for the Foundation, here he sat in a set of street clothes. Spread out on the table before him was a series of eleven notes.
The clock has struck one, Daniel.
The clock is at two.
Tick tock, we’re now at three.
The bells toll four.
Time is running out, Daniel. The clock strikes five.
Half way there. The clock strikes six.
The hour is seven, Daniel.
The pendulum swings, and now it is eight.
Time grows short. The ninth hour is at hand.
Are you frightened, Daniel. The clock strikes ten.
Hour Eleven. See you soon.
Each one had been found at the last eleven anart sites Navarro had been assigned to. While he was not one to scare easily, Navarro would be lying if he said he wasn't feeling slightly uneasy. Whoever JTH was, it now appeared they were making good on their promise from Belarus. They were coming to see him soon.
Navarro quietly folded up the notes and placed them in his jacket pocket. He then took a sip of coffee as he rubbed his temple and waited for his guest to arrive.
A short while later she did.
Navarro waved to her as she found her way to the back of the coffee house. She was a tall, pale woman in her mid-thirties with short black hair, dressed in a black rain jacket. Without a word she approached, choosing to stand by the table rather than take a seat. For a moment the two stared at each other, waiting for the other to speak.
“You know,” Navarro broke the silence, “I was half expecting you to not show up. Please, take a seat. Do you want anything to drink?”
The woman shook her head as she sat down.
“I figured that if I didn’t make an appearance here, you’d take it upon yourself to visit me at home or work,” she replied.
“You got me there,” Navarro said with a shrug. “How are you, Jill? Still teaching at that high school?”
“The school was closed down in 2008,” Jill said, “I’ve been working at a graphic design firm since.”
The table then fell silent. Jill simply starred at Navarro, her eyes a mixture of anger and sadness.
“I suppose I should get to onto business then,” Navarro sighed.
“That would be appreciated,” returned Jill.
Navarro then pulled a file out of his pack and slid it across the table, allowing Jill to open it before he spoke.
“My sources tell me you’re still involved in the Portland anart scene from time to time, I was hoping you could point me in the right direction of a particular artist. They’ve been making animated lawn gnomes. Normally they are harmless enough, stealing bits and bobs from sheds, moving things around at night, so on and so forth. However, recently a group of ten of them pummeled a local teenager unconscious and stole, among other things, his shoes,” Navarro chuckled slightly before taking another sip of his coffee. “Naturally, my employers sent me in to see who is making them and get things to cool down a bit.”
Jill closed the file and slid it across the table, folding her arms as she shook her head.
“Sorry, can’t help you out.”
“I see,” Navarro replied, setting his now empty mug down on the table. “Well, then, would you know someone who would know?”
“No.” Jill countered.
“Of course not,” Navarro sighed. “I’m sorry for bothering you then.”
He then placed the file back in his bag, a small smile on his face as he stood up.
“If you’re still married to Tom, please tell him I said hi,” said Navarro, “I saw that sculpture of his at the Portland Art Museum. It looks nice.”
Jill shook her head in response.
“How do you sleep at night?”
“Preferably on a bed,” Navarro replied, “But, I’m sure that’s not the answer you wanted.”
“When we heard you were nabbed by the Suits, we thought you were dead!” Jill hissed. “I don’t know about your friends in other cities, but we held a fucking funeral here! Myself, Tom, Eric, Jackson, Alexis, hell even Jericho was there!”
Navarro opened his mouth to respond, but couldn’t get the words out before Jill unleashed another wave.
“Now imagine how we felt two years later when we heard, not only that you were alive, but were working for the Suits, and leading a raid on the Baker’s Seattle studio! How could you? Of all people, how could you work for them?”
Jill’s hands were now closed into tight fists, the intensity of her glare enough to burn a hole through steel.
“And to top it off, you think you can just roll in here after all this time, as if nothing has happened, and ask me to help you?”
Navarro sighed and returned to his seat. For several moments he remained silent.
“Jill, humor me for a second,” he began. “How many anartists do you personally know? No names, just give me a number.”
“What does that have to do with…” she began, her expression now one of confusion.
“Just a number Jill,” Navarro interrupted.
“Right, and I bet for the most part they are harmless, relatively normal people who picked up anart the same way someone picks up other hobbies, like you and your sketches,” said Navarro. “For the most part they don’t want to prove some point about society or harm people. But there are anartists out there who are like that. And the ‘Suits’ as you call them; they aren’t in the habit of taking too much time to do the delicate task of determining the difference.”
Navarro then reached back into his pack and pulled out the file and sliding it back across the table.
“That’s where I come in,” Navarro continued. “That’s why I go to people like you to find out who artists like whoever made these gnomes are, because if I don’t find them first another agent will and I can almost guarantee they probably will not do as good a job as I do of keeping things civil. Unlike me, they haven’t been on both sides of this. Yeah, maybe how I handled the uniform change wasn’t the best way to go about things, but I do what I do to keep people like you out of the crossfire.”
Jill fell silent as Navarro placed the file back into his pack. He then pulled out a box and placed it on the table.
“By the way, I almost forgot to give you this.”
Jill opened it to find a small metal picture frame. Inside was a colored pencil sketch of a blue sailing ship at sea, the image moving over the waves on the paper. On occasion a bank of fog would appear, and then vanish, taking the ship along with it. The ship would reappear at the center of the image a few moments later. In the bottom corner she could see her initials.
“I stumbled across that in a raid on the east coast,” Navarro said as he placed his pack back on his shoulders. “Since my employers were just going to place it in low priority storage until the end of time, I felt maybe it would be best if it just vanished one day and was returned to you.”
Jill covered her hand over her mouth as she looked down at the picture and slowly nodded a ‘thank you’.
“If I give you a name, will you promise they won’t be hurt?” She then asked.
“I promise,” Navarro replied.
“And you’ll leave? Tom, Jackson, Alexis, and me; we’ll never see you again?”
“If that’s what you want.”
Jill then quietly grabbed a napkin and quickly wrote down a name and address. She then folded the napkin up and handed it to Navarro.
“Thank you very much,” said Navarro as he pocketed the information.
Jill nodded and quietly placed the lid back on the box.
“You have a nice life, Jill.”
Without another word, Navarro stepped out of the coffee house and into the rainy Portland night.
Navarro traveled on foot for quite some time, gathering his thoughts as he made his way across the damp city-scape. As he stepped across an alley, he felt a sharp pain at the back of his neck, as if he was bitten by a bug. Quickly, he slapped at his assailant, only to find a piece of paper. Navarro silently read it to himself.
The clock strikes twelve.
Navarro then glanced down the alley. There he saw a tall figure in a dark coat, a hat pulled low over their face, obscuring all view. Navarro watched as his vision then blurred, and his legs gave out from underneath him. He could see the figure begin to make its way down the alley toward him.
“Well shit,” Navarro mumbled as he finally blacked out.