Translation - Chapter 13

Tuesday, September 4, 2012 4:33 PM By crosswaysnet , In




Chapter 13 (Sunday, 3:30PM - Canyon West, TX)


Mitch finds himself back at The Colpoys home. He writes down what he knows up to this point and the spirtual counsel he gains in La Grange. C.R. & Sylvia arrive home after an emergency cell group leaders meeting. They are disturbed about what they hear. There has been a tragedy in the Pastor's household. Together they start investigating Mitch's suspicions. Mitch takes a walk to decompress a bit. He meets people that induce flashbacks from his subconscious. A geocacher leaves Mitch with a thought that continues to nag him - 'when you find something in the box you take it and replace it with something else.'

The carpet wasn't as hard as Mitch expected. In fact, much more plush. The room had suddenly grown quiet, hushed. Mitch raised his head from between his hands to see what the quiet was all about. He saw a bedspread. It was the guest bedroom of the Colpoys house and he was lying on the floor. His fists dug into the thick pile of the carpet as he slowly pulled in a deep breath. He closed his eyes again. He focused on the soft hum of the old, 80's bed-side digital clock above his head to the left; the even softer scent of some non-descript Glade plugin. Mitch finally rose to his feet deliberately, the cheap faux leather of his new belt squeaking as he straightened himself out. He looked down at the outfit. The cheap tie was beginning to choke. He sat on the edge of the bed and stared at his new shoes, trying to make sense of the past 10 minutes. Then he thought about the past 18 hours.

The clocked ticked and gently kachunked. He looked to see the numbers flip over. It was now 2:05 pm. He slipped off the stiff shoes, loosened the tie then rubbed his face vigorously. He found a few spots that still made him wince when he touched them. A stretch of each arm sent alarms up his back. Somewhere behind him, something was healing over and the scab stretched less than the skin around it. He started to remove his shirt to check it when he heard some murmurings beyond the door. He heard the refrigerator opening and closing. Mitch opened the door to his room and looked down the hall toward the kitchen. A moving shadow interrupted the afternoon sun spilling onto the hardwood floors. Mitch stepped quietly in that direction. As he neared the larger opening where the kitchen began he could hear Sylvia crying softly. He caught an oblique view of C.R. rubbing her shoulders as she sat in a kitchen chair, her head in her elbow. Mitch didn't know whether to interrupt or retreat, so he just froze.
"Why C.R.? They didn't deserve it. He was their only son."
"I know, honey. But it wasn't completely a surprise. He was on active duty, after all."
"I know that!" Sylvia said, almost fiercely. "But we all prayed for him for so long. He had less than a month to go." She put her head back down on the table. "I baby sat him for years... years, C.R."
Mitch heard nothing more than Sylvia's soft crying. After the previous night's foot/mouth connection, C.R. was wise enough to shut up and let her purge. He was even smart enough to maintain physical contact with her shoulders while she unloaded her grief into her elbow. She sniffed that heavy wet kind that says "I need a kleenex." Mitch saw a small square box of them on the hallway table next to him. He quietly brought them into the kitchen and reached out intending to hand them over.
C.R. noticed him with a start, gripping his wife's shoulders sharply as a result. Mitch jumped back as Sylvia yelled “Ouch!”
This didn't go as planned, thought Mitch with disappointment.
"Where did you...?" C.R.'s question trailed off as he regained his composure.
"Don't do that!" Sylvia practically screamed at Mitch, more out of raw emotion than anger. She snatched the box of kleenex and pulled one out with force, slamming the box down on the kitchen table. She blew hard. Even her nose gets angry, thought Mitch. He was seriously disappointed in himself for stumbling so badly into such a private mourning, and making it completely awkward. He turned to retreat the way he'd come.
"Oh, no you don't, mister." Sylvia scolded. "You seem to make it a habit to interrupt in spectacular ways, so just sit down." She blew the rest of the kleenex into submission and put the rest of her tears back in their bottle.
"I'm sorry" said Mitch, meekly, sitting down opposite her. C.R. returned to rubbing her shoulders. She reached up with her left hand and patted her husband with it precisely twice. Enough was enough. She sat up straight and her husband took the place to her right at the head of the table.
I've never known a woman who could turn it off so quick, thought Mitch. He couldn't decide if it was a good thing. It unnerved him a little. It also reminded him that it was a very good thing to be on her good side if he could keep himself there. But he didn't know where to start.
C.R. cleared his throat. "We got some bad news at church today, Mitch."
"I gathered something came up," Mitch replied.
"You remember Sean, Pastor Nelson's son?
"Vaguely," answered Mitch just as vaguely. "Wasn't he in the military, or something?"
"Yes," came C.R.'s flat reply.
"Not anymore, I thought, " said Mitch remembering a few details.
"Well, after two tours in Iraq he joined the CIA and went back to Afghanistan as "intel specialist." It means he interrogated people. He was really good at it apparently."
"I take it he's not coming home?" asked Mitch.
"Not the way we wanted him to, no."
Sylvia choked back a new tear, her reddened eyes getting firey.
"He had 3 1/2 weeks to go and he would've been home," she said, spitting the words out.
"IED, or something?" Mitch asked.
"No," C.R. said. "Taliban raid wiped out his station and he turned up in a video being interrogated harshly. One demand was made for a prisoner release."
"The government didn't budge," Sylvia said, with a tone that sounded to Mitch like a strange mix of pride, defiance and exasperation. "And then this morning..." Sylvia couldn't finish the sentence.
"Another video was posted this morning, Mitch." C.R. didn't bother to explain.
They all stared at the table for a minute.
I assume you’ve seen this video?” Mitch asked.
Both of the Sylvia and C.R. pursed their lips and nodded grimly.
C.R. cleared his voice. “The homechurch leaders gathered after church with the elders. We’d been praying all along for his release without telling the rest of the church. Sean’s disappearance was classified so we couldn’t say anything. Pastor Nelson came in to join us and he sounded hopeful. He’d just received an email that said “your son has been released.” While we sat there together he opened the attached video.”
There was only one thing on that video,” Sylvia said pushing herself up from the table and taking her glass to the sink. She turned the water on and didn’t turn back around.
C.R. said quietly “It was quite clear that he didn’t live through what they did to him.”
I wanted to vomit,” Sylvia said into the stream of water. There was a crack in her voice.
The three of them remained in awkward silence, Mitch’s imagination rising up, repulsed and horrified. “Who was the email to?” Mitch finally asked.
What?” Sylvia said, turning around. She stepped back to the kitchen table still holding the drying towel.
You said you opened the message together. Was it your pastor’s email?”
I suppose it was. Why?”
C.R., you said Sean’s capture was classified. Was the email from the government? That sounds really cruel.”
No, the header looked anonymous - just IP routing and a yahoo address. I saw that much,” C.R. said.
Why was the Taliban contacting the Pastor directly? How did they get his email address?”
I have no idea,” C.R. said. Mitch could see the wheels begin to churn behind their eyes. The police detective instinct was kicking in.
Did the pastor say anything?”
We were all in shock, Mitch. I don’t know we were doing anything more than yelling at the screen.” Sylvia cocked her head trying to listen to her memories.
C.R. said “Wait. I do remember something. Bill said something like “He wouldn’t be taken.” I don’t know. I wasn’t that close and he was whispering. He looked just as shocked as we were. Then he asked us to leave. We all just tried to get our composure back.”
That’s not what he said C.R.” said Sylvia. “His words were “He said it was taken care of.””
The pastor said that? Who was he talking about?”
I don’t know,” C.R. replied. His expression said but I’m going to find out. C.R. glanced at Sylvia. Mitch caught the alarmed look she gave her husband in reply.
Mitch, we need to make some calls. Do you mind giving us a little time?”
No, of course not. And... I’m really sorry to hear about Sean.” Mitch stood and padded his way back to the bedroom. As he sat on the bed he could hear the other two start up a hushed and urgent conversation. It was time to get out of their way – at least for a while. He put back on his new shoes, removed his tie all the way and stepped out the front door. The alarm chirped, announcing his departure.
What now, Mitch?”
The ‘voice’ didn’t have to say it. Mitch began to walk.
He reached the corner where the loop met the larger street. He wasn’t all that familiar with the Colpoys’ neighborhood. It was opposite the large county greenbelt from his own, newer neighborhood; mostly larger lots of scattered to thick pin oak with solid, older ranchers tucked into shade. He headed left. He didn’t come to another loop for another five minutes. What traffic there was meandered in Sunday fashion. A couple of sedans and a black and red striped service van passed him heading the same direction.


All the lots along the road faced the other way. He found himself counting weathered fence boards, noticing every nail and screw that needed tightening. He listened to the creaking of his cheap, stiff shoes. It’ll take a while to soften up these babies, he thought. Probably never. He didn’t know how long he’d keep this up, but was in no hurry to return to the Colpoys house.
He turned left down the next street and headed slightly downhill. There was a sign pointing the same direction indicating the county park. An open jeep with a young driver and his date passed him heading that way. Under their visor and baseball cap, they were both wearing khaki shorts, hiking boots and Texas A&M t-shirts. An excited black lab panted at Mitch from the back seat. Some kind of modern southern-fried rock thumped out of the speakers.
Mitch passed a number of folks out doing yard work. Driveways were long and there weren’t any cars parked along the street. Two kids were tossing lawn darts over one driveway. One of the darts landed short, smack in the middle of the roof of an SUV. Their father came storming out the garage yelling at them to move it to the back yard.
The day was heating up and the Mitch’s underarms were beginning to show it. A few minutes later he found the Jeep parked next to a half dozen others at a trailhead. “El Arroyo County Park. Open dawn to dusk. Alcoholic beverages prohibited. No services beyond this point.” A fairly un-detailed map was routered into a panel below the sign indicating an upper and lower loop along a creek bed. He could see portions of each trail descending steeply into the ravine. A power walker in wick-away clothing reached the top of the hill in front of Mitch and headed back down the other. Mitch looked at his shoes again. He stood at the Y, trying to decide which of the trails were more suited to his shoes, watching the power walker pull quickly away.
Which direction, Mitch?”
Where the trail leads.
Great, the voice was back. And it wasn't helpful advice. There were two trails, after all, and neither looked 'the less traveled.' Would it make a difference?... Would Robert Frost know? Mitch smiled at the irony.
Depends on what you're looking for.
I'm not looking for anything!” Mitch said out loud.
The voice didn't answer that statement. He finally decided to set out the way opposite the power walker. His feet veered to the left and down the embankment. Near the bottom of the ravine, the trail leveled out and found shade under small ash and oaks. The sound of a steady but slow stream accompanied the smell of green and water. He left the scent of dry grass behind.
Mitch sensed the voice was just waiting. It annoyed him. He walked to the halfway point of the loop where it crossed the creek. It seemed familiar. He climbed a flat-topped ledge of limestone over one of the deeper pools, the slick bottom of his new shoes sliding more than once as he scrambled up. He landed awkwardly, looked up and saw the young A&M couple staring at him from across the creek. They looked a little suspiciously at him. Their labrador bounded into the creek, scrambled up the muddy bank below Mitch's perch and sniffed at his feet. Then it shook itself off... all over Mitch.
Brady! Knock it off! Come'ere!”
The young couple hustled across the creek at the trail crossing and approached from behind. They were both carrying some kind of electronic gadget. Brady started up his shaking again, with a generous addition of tail wagging. Mitch rolled off the rock to get out of his way.
Brady!!... Sorry mister, he's young - haven't gotten him trained proper, yet.”
Mitch stood up to face the man.
Whoah... are you OK?” The hiker sized up Mitch from head to toe. The sun brought out the bright red patches. Some of the smaller blisters had already popped and hardened. The coed noticed Mitch's hands. They looked as red as his face and slightly swollen. A couple of the blisters on his neck had oozed stains onto his collar.
Oh, yeah, thanks. I’ve been recovering from a... fire.”
The coed stared back, still cautious.
Mitch held the dog down by its own collar as it took another swipe at his face with a panting tongue. That jumpstarted its owner back into action.
Uh, sorry about that - he’s still mostly puppy. Here, let me take him.”
Mitch handed over the dog and took a step back. The young man’s girlfriend had arrived to help. The sight of her knocked Mitch back another step. The fit frame and toned legs. Thick brunette hair gathered back in a straight ponytail. The faint milk chocolate color of her skin and hint of spanish features in her face. She could be Sonja’s double. It was the first time in a week since Mitch had really considered her in the light of day. Throughout this ongoing nightmare, she had remained a creature of the night - haunting his dreams; shaming his doubts; almost forgiving; almost begging for forgiveness. And here stood a vibrant, energetic young lady full of life - the kind Mitch understood.
And then she smiled. It was too much. Mitch turned to leave.
I should be going.”
No, sir!” said the young woman. “You were here first. Please stay. We were just looking for something.”
What’s that?” Mitch asked, not looking up.
Oh, we’re geocaching,” she said, holding out a large calculator-shaped device.
What’s that?” Mitch asked, trying to be polite. He still avoided eye-contact with the woman. Her boyfriend answered.
Kind of like a treasure hunt. We use these GPS units to hunt down hidden objects - anything from film cases to lockboxes. There’s one somewhere around this rock.”
Mitch stood aside while they continued their hunt.
How big is it?” Mitch asked.
From the online description, it’s ‘regular’-sized - probably about the size of an ammo box, or something similar.”
Is it buried?”
No, it’s usually tucked into a crevice or a tree root, out of the rain.”
The young woman punched a button on her device. Mitch wandered around the boulder away from the other two glancing down the slope to the water. He could see two strong high water marks on the limestone. Wouldn’t be down this low, he thought. From below the boulder he crouched down to look up into the washout below, then under a few of the higher shelfs. Most of it looked like rattle snake habitat. He wasn’t about to stick his arm down deep in there. His right hand reached up on its own and found a deeper depression it could not be seen without taking a rockclimbing step up. It’s in there. He wondered why he knew that. Mitch walked back around, climbed to the top of the boulder and approached the hidden hole from the top side. He looked in upside down and caught a glimpse of something army green about eighteen inches in.
Hey, does this look like it?”
The Aggie climbed up alongside him to take a look.
Yeah, mister, that’s probably it. Thanks!”
Mitch held the young man's belt loop while he worked out the box and swung it up next to his waist.
The girlfriend arrived for the unveiling. The young man popped the tension latch and lifted the lid. There wasn’t much inside - just a log book, a Louisiana state spoon and a small nerf football with the University of Texas longhorn logo stamped on the side. The Aggies ignored it.
Well that’s interesting,” said the girl. “It’s the second Louisiana spoon we’ve found this week.”
Is it yours to keep? What do you do with the stuff?” Mitch asked.
The young man inspected the contents. “Well, yes and no. It’s an ongoing hunt - you take something out if you want to and replace it with something else.”
The girl took up the logbook and started filling in her info.
Not much in the log,” she said.
How many entries?” her boyfriend asked.
Maybe a half dozen. The earliest is ‘Mitch Blackman, Canyon West.’ So a local started it.”
“What??” asked Mitch. He reached for the logbook. “Can I see that?”
Sure,” she said. “You know the guy?” She handed over the log.
I’m not sure anymore...”
Mitch studied the pen scratch. He read it a number of times. No doubt about it. It was his handwriting. He scratched his head vigorously before looking up again. “Is there anything else in the box?”
The geocacher ran his hands around the inside wall of the box. “Nope, nothing else.”
Well, I guess we’ll start a spoon collection” the girl said. She rummaged around in her little backpack for a moment and pulled something out. She grabbed up the spoon and placed a magic 8 ball inside the box.
You giving away the old ‘decision maker’?” The boyfriend teased.
You’re suppose to replace a treasure with something bigger or better, right?”
“Well, it’s bigger, alright... the thing lied all the time anyway! Good riddance.”
The young man reached to close the lid and indicated to Mitch that he should return the log.
Uh, go ahead and leave it. I’d like to read through this,” Mitch said. “I can get the box back in by myself.”
“OK!”
A couple of hops and Aggies 1 & 2 were on their way, joking about their future geocaching prospects. “Oh, Magic 8 ball, will we find another Louisiana spoon?”
Without a doubt,” droned the boyfriend in a voice more like Dracula than anything else.
Mitch stared at the logbook as the coeds’ conversation faded away. A breeze started to kick up, riffling the pages in his hand. He knew there had to be something else in that box - or was - that would explain this. He studied the first page - the only one to have writing.

Cache Name: “Past Life”
FTF: Mitch Blackman/Canyon West 11/6/02
2: Cindy Montgomery/Pasadena 5/5/05 (thanks for the badge - cool!)
3: Jim Hemmings/New York 7/7/09
4: Sam & Shelly/Cincinatti 8/13/09
5: Jack and Cat/Austin 11/24/10 (Go Horns!)
6: Bo and Denise Gauthier/Baton Rouge 5/19/11
7: Mick and Sandra/College Station 4/7/13


The last entry vaguely haunted him, but he was too distracted to give it much thought. He went back to the top. “Past Life? What does that mean? Wouldn’t you name a cache after the place?”
Maybe not.
Great - the voice. “I’ve read it. What does it mean? It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Read it again...
Something big and black in the center of Mitch didn’t want to read it again - didn’t want to figure it out. He stared through the paper into nowhere. He wasn’t getting anywhere with the problem.
And you won’t until you read it again.
Alright, already.” He did. “Still not getting it.”
Do you ever ask yourself questions?
Oh, so you’re mocking me, now?”
The voice stayed silent. Mitch sat there getting more frustrated. He read through each entry again and again, not perceiving. On purpose, though he didn't want to admit it. He went back to the title.
Finally he burst out loud. “Who NAMES these things?”
Now you’re getting somewhere...
What?” And then he asked it again. And the answer came fairly quickly. “The one who places the box first. That’s you, Mitch. You named it that for a reason.”
He quickly re-read the entire log and the side notes.
So, when you left this box you hid something. Something you wanted someone else to find...”
He thought on that for a while. Yes, but that didn’t seem to be all of it.
You put something in the box you wanted to get rid of.”
(thanks for the badge...)”
The beginnings of something was forming in the back of his mind but wouldn’t come together all the way.
There’s got to be more.” Why, he didn't know, but he knew.
Close your eyes.
Mitch complied without argument this time. He felt the wind beginning to whip at his eyelashes as he took a slow breath. He felt for the box and put it in his lap.
What do you see?
Mitch felt around the outside of the box and knocked on the metal with his knuckles. He did the same from the inside. He knocked the bottom of the box the same way. It made a softer sound.
Because it’s in your lap, Mitch.”
He picked up the box with his left hand and knocked the bottom again. It still sounded different than the sides. He quickly set down the box and opened his eyes. Mitch rapidly ran his fingers around the perimeter of the box where the floor met the sides looking for something. Nothing. He flipped the box over and did the same thing. It was snug, but not welded like it appeared from the top side. He used both hands to pry the bottom lip sideways a fraction and saw a tension dimple pop loose. He worked his way around the box till it popped loose all the way. Two objects were taped to the false bottom. Mitch tore them loose immediately and stared, not comprehending. The first was a keyfob without the ring. It was white plastic with a large stylized “NA” stamped in gold. on the reverse side it read “5 years.” The second was a thinner piece of plastic with “travelpath” printed on one side and an eight character code on the other. A web address was printed below. Mitch pocketed them, reassembled the cache and placed it back in its hiding place.
Without wasting more time, Mitch worked his way back to the trailhead and up the neighborhood to the main boulevard. He slackened his pace a bit as he hit the unshaded section of road. It had to be 98 or higher this late in the afternoon. Traffic had picked up a bit and the passing cars pushed the hot exhaust over his glistening skin. The blisters began to burn again.
As he approached the Colpoys’ street, a white service truck passed him going slower than the rest of traffic. Mitch caught a glimpse of two men in the front seats wearing sunglasses. Something about the view brought up the hackles on Mitch’s neck. The van continued on its way past the Colpoys’ corner and around the bend. Before it was completely out of sight Mitch saw its brake lights as it started a u-turn. Mitch was a hundred feet from the corner, and didn’t wait another second. He vaulted over the backyard fence of the corner house, landing in a row of bell pepper plants. Two ripe fruits popped under his squeaking shoes. He regretted the destruction of perfectly good food.
Thankfully, no one was in the yard to see him and he quickly worked his way to the far side, hiding in oak shade as much as possible. The neighbor fences were shorter and he leapfrogged his way four houses down. He waited in the shadow of the first open space and watched the road. Sure enough, the van worked its way slowly down the street. The first set of Raybans in the passenger seat was studying each property carefully. Red and black stripes on the side ended in an H&R Services logo near the back doors. Mitch stayed frozen till the van had finished its circuit of the street and headed back out to the main road. By the time he reached C.R. and Sylvia’s back door, he’d added grass and grease stains to his collection of grime.
Mitch tried the slider and found it locked. He worked his way around the bushes looking for an open window. He didn’t want to be seen from the street. At the corner of the house a small patio connected the master suite sitting room. Mitch tried the handle and peered through the slats behind the glass. He was staring straight into the muzzle of a service revolver. Sylvia’s wild mane of hair framed the pale hand holding the trigger.
Whoah!!” Mitch shouted, throwing himself down to the bricks.
The door flew open. “Good God, Mitch! What’re you tryin’ to do?? Get in here!”
He gathered himself and stepped inside. Sylvia remained next to the door studying the treeline, weapon still drawn. Slowly she closed the door, drew the shade and followed Mitch back to the kitchen.
Clear!” Sylvia called across the house. C.R. came back down the hall, holstering his gun.
What’s going on?” Mitch asked.
The bad guys are on the hunt, bud. I don’t know how much longer we can keep on the downlow here. We need to be working on a safehouse. Especially if they’ve spotted you. Where have you been?” C.R. poured himself some iced tea and sat down at the kitchen table without formality. He stared at the screen of his laptop.
Just... taking a walk. Went down to the county park for a while.”
That’s a good mile or more. Hope it wasn’t as interesting as we’ve had it. Those bug-eyed goons have been trolling down the street twice this afternoon.”
“Yeah, I saw them. That’s why I took the backyard tour,” Mitch replied.
Probably a smart move but you lit us up when you rattled that back door, mister.”
Sorry, C.R. Thought it might be open.”
“We’re locking everything now, Mitch.”
I understand. I’ll try not to surprise you again.”
“Yeah, good luck with that,” Sylvia shot back. “You just seem to drop in an out of reality these days.”
Mitch had nothing to say to that.
I, uh, found something interesting while I was out. Maybe you can help me sort it out.”
C.R. and Sylvia gathered around as Mitch emptied his pockets.

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