ANNO DOMINI ~Allium~ [Beta version]
***THANKS FOR READING!***
Hey there, Honeyfeeders! It's a peaceful evening here, good for making time to do my bookish deeds, like finishing up another chapter.
BOOK 2, CHAPTER 27: CONNECT THE DOTS HOWEVER WE WANT
The most disquieting, vexing dream Desmond Landers had ever dreamt suddenly vanished as he was jarred awake.
Not knowing where he was at first, he panicked, then recognized the rooftop terrace of his company. He was sitting at the outdoor meeting table.
“Ohhh, damn…not again,” he muttered, rubbing his head. “Mmm?” Before standing, he realized his chair was not one of the outdoor ones. “Why is…my indoor office chair here?”
Stiff-jointed and sore from being in the chair for who-knows-how-long, Desmond dragged his feet to the edge of the terrace and peered out at the newborn, partly cloudy daylight greeting Chicago’s skyline.
He rubbed his dry eyes. “Morning, eh? This sleepwalking is getting out of control.” His phone showed it was almost 9:00 AM on Sunday. “What? It’s Sunday! Th-that can’t be right! How long have I been…?”
There was a missed call from the alarm company Leroy’s Alarms, and a voicemail asking for Desmond to call back. In a half-daze, he ambled to the elevator room, holding his rumbling, aching stomach. Oddly, the light wasn’t on, and he pushed the elevator call button. No response.
He cursed under his breath. “What happened to the damn power? This is why the alarm company contacted me. The system is down without electricity.”
Over the phone with Leroy’s Alarms, Desmond learned the alarm had not been tripped, but was offline. He explained that the power was out, and that he’d look around before calling the electric company.
Making his way down the stairs was no easy feat at his age and in his current condition. Stopping several times along the way due to hip pain, he only had the flashlight on his smartphone to show him the way, as there were no windows to allow sunlight in.
After what seemed like ages, Desmond reached the ground floor, rubbing his throbbing hip. He came to the lobby and, even in the darkness, noticed some of the furniture and decorations were toppled and damaged. Nervously, he shone his phone’s light around, wary of a culprit, but saw nothing.
“What on Earth happened here?”
Now with newfound energy from nervousness, he hurried out of the main entrance. The transition to daylight hurt his eyes while his thoughts stumbled around. Some faint memories presented themselves, but made no sense.
Yes, something hasn’t been right. Something still is wrong. Desmond gripped his head, trying not to lose his composure. What is going on? Did I suffer a brain injury? Alzheimer’s…?
A police officer shouldn’t have been dispatched to investigate, because the alarm hadn’t been tripped. Right away, Desmond called the police to report the suspicious damage, and called the electric company. His stomach rumbled throughout the conversations.
“Urrghh…how long has it been since I’ve eaten?”
He attempted to contact Gretchen Dandefelts, Chief Operations Officer of Agrarian-Schism, Inc. When the call went to voicemail, he left an urgent message to speak with her, then contacted his next C-suite member. However, nobody answered.
“I’ve never had so many problems getting through to them, and now of all times.”
Checking his phone’s previous call history, Desmond noticed several calls with a “Detective Townshend.”
A detective? I don’t know any detectives I’d spoken with.
Desmond called the detective’s number. As the phone rang, he anticipated a very challenging conversation.
The small 24/7 café was clearing out as many of the bleary-eyed early regulars finished their coffees and scones. Detective Ulysses Townshend was pouring himself another cup of the house special blend coffee, and was firmly planted in his booth seat in the corner with a myriad of notes and reports spread out over the table, when his phone rang.
There was no name on the caller ID, but he recognized the phone number. Townshend never saved names in his phone’s contact list, for security reasons, and could easily recall strings of numbers as if they were everyday words.
Ah, Mr. Landers is calling me at this hour? Good, I was getting bored.
He answered the call with a perky voice. “This is Detective Ulysses Townshend.”
Sounds of breathing came through the phone, followed by Desmond Landers’ voice.
“Detective Townshend…this is Desmond Landers.”
“Yes, of course,” Townshend replied, adding a splash of peppermint creamer to his coffee. “The CEO of Agrarian-Schism. I’m actually going over my investigation notes regarding your company’s scandal right now. I don’t take weekends off, you see, because my inner drive has no parking gear.”
A brief pause.
“…A scandal…” Desmond replied. It wasn’t a question, yet lacked the follow-through of a statement. “I need to talk with you, Detective. It’s urgent, and I’d like to do it in person.”
“That won’t be a problem. Where would you like to meet? I can head there right away.”
“Come to the Agrarian-Schism headquarters. Do you know the location?”
“I do. I’ll wrap up my work here and be on my way. I should be there, oh…in thirty-five or forty minutes.”
“Very good,” Desmond said. “I’ll see you soon.”
“Excellent, Mr. Landers. Goodbye.” When Townshend hung up, he chuckled. “This is a wonderful excuse to avoid going home to my wife.”
He asked the server for another plain bagel (his third since arriving) and a to-go cup for his coffee, then packed up his papers, strolled out of the café, and drove to meet Desmond. While in his car, he quickly ate the bagel, grumbling, “I’ll eat in my car just this once, only because I’m so unusually hungry.”
Two police cars were parked in front of the Agrarian-Schism headquarters when Townshend arrived. He passed by, trying to get a visual of the scene and seeing Desmond speaking to two officers at the bottom of the entrance stairs. After parking on the side of the street, the detective already had his notepad and pen ready before approaching them.
“Good morning, Mr. Landers,” Townshend said.
“Hello,” Desmond greeted, the lines on his face accented by tiredness and distress.
Townshend nodded at the tall male officer with pasty skin and the stocky female African American officer, showing them his badge.
“Ulysses Townshend, private investigator. I received a call from Mr. Landers here, for whom I am working on a case.” He turned to Desmond. “Has something happened here?”
Maintaining a formal posture, Desmond said, “I believe so. I don’t know what to make of it, though.”
“There appears to be some damage in the lobby,” the female officer explained to Townshend. “We’re not sure what the cause was. Also, the power in the entire building is out. The alarm system is offline because of it, along with the locks at the front exit. Anybody could’ve gotten in and out no problem.”
“Are the generators running?” Townshend asked.
“No,” Desmond said. “It’s a standby generator, so it should’ve turned on automatically, but it didn’t. I checked it and tried turning it on manually, but it won’t work. When the electric company gets here, I’ll ask if they know anything about it.”
Townshend scribbled in his notes. “Has anyone checked any security camera footage?”
“Not yet,” the taller officer said, “but we will, and hope the power outage didn’t prevent useful footage from being recorded.”
“The cameras don’t have an auxiliary power supply,” Desmond said, “and won’t work even with the generator. Anything important would need to be captured before the outage.”
“Mr. Landers,” Townshend didn’t look up from his notes while he wrote, “do you suspect this is related to the scandal I’ve been investigating?”
“The…scandal?” The CEO briefly averted his gaze downward.
Townshend looked at him.
“I’m not sure,” Desmond replied resolutely. “When these officers are finished, I’d like to speak with you in private about that. Until then, I ask that you take a look around, as well.”
“As you wish.”
The taller officer received a message over his walkie-talkie from another officer inside the building.
“I’ll be right there.” He looked at Townshend. “Care to come with, Detective?”
Townshend, Desmond, and the two officers headed into the dark lobby; the officers used heavy-duty flashlights while Townshend and Desmond used the flashlights on their smartphones. Two other officers were in the farthest area of the lobby, none other than Duke Harrison and Lars Briggs, who raised their eyebrows at the sight of the notorious detective.
“Fate has brought us together again,” Townshend said to Harrison and Briggs with a grin.
“Seems so,” Harrison replied dryly. He shone his flashlight around. “As you can see, there is damage done to the furniture and other things.”
“Anything missing?” Townshend asked.
“Not that I’ve noticed,” Desmond answered. “I haven’t had much time to do a thorough walkthrough.” He clenched his fists. “I pray it won’t be more work than I’m already dreading it to be.”
“Also,” Briggs shone his flashlight on a spot on the floor, “there’s blood.”
“DNA!” Townshend’s reaction was almost cheering. “I imagine there’ll be some fingerprint harvesting, as well. Very good, I’d like to keep looking around.” He looked at Desmond, adding, “With your permission, Mr. Landers, I’d like to expand my current investigation to include whatever transpired here. There may be a relation.”
“Absolutely,” Desmond replied quickly. “Whatever you feel is necessary.”
“I’ll give these officers a hand first,” Townshend told Desmond. He took a gaudy magnifying glass out of his trench coat and shone his phone’s flashlight through the lens, refracting it across the dark lobby, smiling. “After this, you and I will have that private discussion.”
Desmond nodded. “Very good.”
Desmond Landers invited Ulysses Townshend to his home outside Chicago, past sprawling fields being harvested for beans and parsnips and corn and collards, in a quieter area where neighbors were separated by sizable plots of land. Following Desmond’s car down the driveway, Townshend was surprised by the quaint, humble abode where the CEO lived.
Inside, Townshend settled into the living room, a room filled with leather and paper smells, taking a seat on the couch.
“Make yourself comfortable,” Desmond told Townshend. “Excuse me, but I must eat something before we begin. I’m famished, and I never use that word.”
“Not a problem,” the detective replied with a nod. “I’ve been a bit peckish today, myself.”
“Might I offer you something?”
“No, I’ll wait until after.”
Desmond helped himself to a liberal piece of homemade zucchini bread sliced directly from the loaf, eating it rather quickly, then retrieved his briefcase from his study and sat in the pleather chair facing Townshend, a glass coffee table between them.
“I pictured your home to be more extravagant,” the detective said, looking around, “although it’s quite nice.”
Desmond gave a small smile. “No need for a lot of space, given it’s just me living here.”
“You aren’t married?” Townshend asked.
“My wife passed away, oh…seven years ago.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“She had complicated digestive issues,” Desmond said, “leading to what the doctors called malabsorption syndrome. Her small intestine wouldn’t absorb nutrients for her body, leading her to eventually starve no matter what she would eat. In the end, the constant treatments kept her going for a while…but the emotional toll was what ultimately took her…”
“Loss is never easy,” Townshend said. “How did Regal take losing his mother?”
After a moment, Desmond replied, “Somewhat well, to be honest. I think it had a positive impact on how he viewed his own health. He became fascinated by the idea of nutrition and diet. I thought he’d become a doctor, but instead decided to work for me. He saw the land and nature as the true provider of life, something to be shared with everyone. It was as if he had subconsciously replaced his own mother with Mother Nature, as he put it. It was strange to me when he told me that…but I was touched by his notion that nature made everyone his siblings, nurtured by a unifying parent.”
“I can understand that,” Townshend told him, “but that’s an intriguing way to think of it.”
“All that aside,” Desmond said, opening his briefcase on his lap, “I wanted to speak with you today…for uncomfortable reasons.”
“Go on,” the detective urged.
“To be frank, I don’t remember anything about this ‘scandal’ I hired you for. Also, I don’t remember you at all.”
Townshend tilted his head and looked at Desmond.
“That is rather peculiar,” he replied, all ears now.
“Most peculiar.” Desmond thumbed through the folders in his briefcase. “I believe to be suffering from sleepwalking. This seems to be a recent issue, but the severity of it seems high.” He placed a stack of folders on the glass coffee table, then closed his briefcase and put it aside. “Just this morning, I woke up on the rooftop terrace of the Agrarian-Schism headquarters; my last memory was being asleep here at home. The company’s power was out and there was damage in the lobby, so I called the police. Also, I saw my phone’s call history showed a ‘Detective Townshend,’ but I had no memory of such a person.”
“So you called me.” Townshend touched his pen to his chin, going deep into thought, then opened his own briefcase to retrieve the notes of the investigation. “Do you remember anything at all pertaining to what you suspect to be a scandal in your company?”
Desmond shook his head. “Not specifically, but there are vague thoughts of being under pressure because of company-related, uh, things.” He held his head, staring at his stack of folders on the table. “It makes no sense. I’m hoping I can find something in my own documents to serve as a hint, but I need to go over everything again with you.”
“Yes, this is very baffling…” Townshend opened his notepad. “I have notes from the meeting you arranged with me and your C-suite members at Agrarian-Schism. We discussed the scandal I was hired to investigate. Would you like to view them?”
“A meeting?” Desmond gave Townshend a wrinkly grimace before taking the notepad. “I don’t remember such a meeting…but it doesn’t feel like a lie…”
As Desmond read the detective’s notes, Townshend watched the growing concern embed itself on the man’s face.
I’ve only dealt with one dementia patient in my career, Townshend thought, absentmindedly twirling his pen. She was much further along in her ailment, so it’s difficult to determine if Mr. Landers is in the earliest stages of something similar. Sleepwalking, though…? That may be a part of this man’s predicament, but… Townshend stared at Desmond, is it really possible he’d been sleepwalking during that meeting? If so, that has to be one of the most advanced cases of parasomnia in history.
While Townshend jotted down “Research sleepwalking and parasomnia” on a loose sheet of paper, Desmond sighed and looked at the floor.
“I-I can’t believe this.” Desmond looked back at the notepad, then at the detective across the coffee table. “This is what we really discussed?”
“Yes, at that very date and time written there. Ask any one of the executives mentioned in those notes.”
“I tried contacting them first thing this morning,” Desmond said, “and they never responded, which is unusual. They’re never this difficult to contact. How is this all happening now? This morning’s situation at the company was enough, then my top executives aren’t responsive, and now you’re telling me about a meeting I don’t remember.”
“You commanded the meeting as articulately as you are talking with me now.”
“This is impossible!” Desmond scanned over the notes again, his eyes darting nervously as his body trembled. “This…this couldn’t happen. ‘All official approval or disapproval seems nonexistent’? For all of this? How?”
“That was a pivotal part of my investigation,” Townshend explained calmly. “Bypassing all legal and official procedures was what made those actions possible. Yet, there is an uncanny absence of evidence as to how they were bypassed.” Leaning forward, Townshend muttered, “I don’t want to admit it, because it’s shameful to my dignity as a detective, but my current conclusion is that certain important individuals have simply disappeared, a conclusion I’m staking countless hours on disproving, because it’s utterly ludicrous.”
“It’s very ludicrous,” Desmond murmured, handing the notepad back to Townshend. “Disappeared…as in how?”
The detective glanced at his notepad and shrugged.
“Gone into hiding, perhaps. Life on the lam, all that jazz. I’ve tried contacting several people who should’ve been involved with Agrarian-Schism’s acquisition of the rival business, but failed to reach them. The only tidbit I’ve uncovered was from a secretary of the acquired company itself, now unemployed, who said her CEO had stopped answering calls and coming to work. Everyone else important in that company either remains elusive, or their whereabouts are unknown to former employees. I have a long, long list of people to contact, and it defies all odds how many misses it’s already accrued.”
Desmond clenched his fists, breathing heavily.
“This is terrible news.” He opened the top folder of his stack from his briefcase and skimmed through its contents. “Depending on the outcome, I could face serious charges. Even if I’m acquitted, the court processes will be atrocious.” He bit his lip as he continued looking through documents. “This will be a stain on my company’s public image.”
“That’s a very likely assumption,” Townshend said flatly.
Desmond muttered, flipping pages, “I’ll try to find some sort of documentation on what happened. If I was drugged and made into a puppet, there may not be any reports in my possession, but I have to try. I could’ve been the one who damaged the lobby…”
“You suspect being roofied and made to do scandalous actions?” Townshend smirked. “You think that explains the sleepwalking? I’m sorry, Mr. Landers, but I find that hard to believe.”
“Hard to believe!” Desmond glared at the detective before again scanning through his stack of folders. “That notepad of yours is brimming with things that are hard to believe. At this point, I’ll stake—what’s this?”
Desmond removed a few papers from one of the folders, holding the pages in both unsteady hands, his mouth agape. For a moment, Townshend watched the CEO silently take in the contents of the document.
“Mr. Landers,” Townshend finally said quietly, “what did you find there?”
Taking a deep breath, Desmond lowered the papers to his lap.
“This is a typed predictive business report,” he responded, almost whispering. “It gives a proposed plan, and it matches what you showed me in your notes.”
“Ah, you found what you were looking for,” Townshend said. “Do you know who wrote it?”
“No, but it’s in my briefcase for some reason…”
“Care if I see?”
The detective read the report, comparing it to his own notes, a meticulous, lengthy process.
“It matches, all right,” Townshend finally said. He handed it back to Desmond, who was reluctant to take it. “If the date is accurate, then it was likely written before the scandalous actions were carried out, meaning it may be strong evidence against the person who formulated the scandal.”
“I think I really did write it,” Desmond said gravely, staring at the top page. “This formatting…this writing style…it’s similar to mine.”
Townshend kept his eyes on Desmond. “Is that a confession, Mr. Landers?”
Hesitant, Desmond shook his head.
“Not quite. I can’t be positive, because I have no memory whatsoever of doing anything like this. I have no reason to! These actions are clearly problematic to my company and to my life, and most importantly, to my honor.” He shut his eyes tightly, holding the papers to his face for a few seconds. “But there’s a lot I can’t remember these days, not with the sleepwalking.”
“You believe to have been carrying out this scandal involuntarily in your sleep?” Townshend asked, adding to the notes in his notepad. “And do you believe this to be related to the damaged lobby at your company this morning?”
“Perhaps under the influence of someone else?”
“The more you put it into words, the dumber it sounds.”
“I agree.” Townshend looked at his new notes. “More boggling than dumb, I’d say, but still full of mystery.”
“What are the charges for criminal activities performed while sleepwalking?” Desmond asked.
After some thought, Townshend replied, “The term ‘sleepwalking defense’ is a laughable, but very real and applicable term in court. If the defendant carries out crimes in a sleeplike or unconscious state, they are not charged, even for murder.”
“However,” Townshend continued, leaning forward with a serious tone, “the jury has to be convinced that it was, in fact, carried out unknowingly and unwillingly. Typically, the defendant found innocent has a known history of sleepwalking and parasomnia, or their account is supported by witness testimonies. From what you’ve said, your sleepwalking likely began recently. I would have to consult other people who are close to you, such as your company executives or son, to see what the outside view of this is. With that in mind, my personal experience with you during one of your ‘sleepwalking moments’ gave me no impression that you weren’t fully awake and aware of your actions throughout the course of that meeting.”
“Meaning my outlook isn’t favorable,” Desmond replied, not looking at Townshend.
“Not at this point.” The detective jotted down another note, then leaned back on the couch, interlocking his fingers. “You may do well to hire an attorney for this affair.”
“I plan to do that.”
“I would still like to look into things some more,” Townshend said, “specifically how this scandal was performed, whether or not it was your doing, or what your role was. For the record, you are now my primary suspect.”
“That would help uncover the truth,” Desmond said, placing the incriminating business report back into its folder. “Even if the result lands me in prison, I swear to uphold my dignity and honesty.”
Townshend gave a humble smile. “You’re very noble, Mr. Landers. I like that about you.”
“Thank you, Detective. Although, I’d like to end our discussion today so I can start cleaning this mess up.”
“You have my word that I’ll do my best with my investigation. You see, this is very interesting.” Townshend could hardly conceal his excitement. “I’ve been interested in missing people lately, although it’s not really my area of expertise. Think of it as a hobby.”
Confused, Desmond looked at Townshend.
“Missing people?” he asked. “The news of the missing lab technicians at that medical facility is still all over the headlines.”
“Sure is!” Townshend began packing his papers and notes. “I have a curse: I’m obsessed with making unlikely connections.”
“Do you think this has something to do with that laboratory incident?” Desmond asked, not bothering to put away his own notes.
“No, because it’s very unlikely.” The detective stood up, stretching and smiling. “I’m not the only one who makes connections like that. In fact, our brains are wired for association. The modern usage of the term ‘apophenia’ refers to how people mistakenly find connections and meanings between unrelated things, and I’m an exceptionally sorry sucker for it.”
“If so,” Desmond said, still sitting in his chair, “then you should find all the information you can.”
Townshend picked up his briefcase and sighed. He directed a distant smile toward the ceiling.
“That’s where my real motivation resides,” he told Desmond. “The information is fun to chase, and the connections are addicting to make, but it still doesn’t matter. People will always connect the dots to make the picture only they wish to see, even though everyone is presented with the exact same dots.” When Desmond looked loss for words, Townshend quickly rekindled his smile and added, “I have the curse to make better pictures with those dots than everyone else.”
“Hmm.” Desmond had nothing to say.
Grinning, Townshend added, “Now, before I go, let me have Regal’s contact information. At some point, I’ll need to speak with him about your sleepwalking.”
When Detective Townshend entered the breakroom at the police department, Harrison and Briggs were sitting at the table, munching on doughnuts from a painstakingly stacked pyramid of pastries in front of them. The coffee pot contained enough for one more cup as it seemed to call out to the detective.
“Another fateful encounter, huh Townshend?” Briggs snickered.
“Yes,” Townshend greeted with a grin, “bless the Fates and their sense of humor.” He poured the room temperature coffee into an old mug. “It’s strange to see you eating doughnuts, Briggs. I thought you held them in contempt.”
“I do,” Briggs told him, giving a disapproving look at the half-eaten doughnut with blackberry frosting in his hand. “That should tell you how hungry I am.”
“How suspicious,” Townshend said jokingly. “Everyone is hungry today, so the stars must be in some crackpot alignment.” He sniffed his stale coffee. “Anything interesting caught on camera at Agrarian-Schism?”
Harrison finished his chocolate doughnut. “Unfortunately not,” he said. “The loss of power shut down the security cameras, so there isn’t a recording of what caused the damage and where the blood came from. There’s no footage of the CEO or anybody entering the building, so he must’ve come in after the outage.”
“But no proof,” Townshend muttered. “Any clue as to what caused the power outage?”
“The circuit breakers,” Briggs said, “each one was switched off.”
“Not the individual circuits,” Harrison added, “but the main breaker on each panel. The electric company restored the power just by switching them back on.”
“Did they mention the generator failure?” Townshend asked.
“It’s toast,” Briggs replied. “A new one will need to be installed.”
“I look forward to a report from the electric company,” Townshend said. “Their report may rule out human cause.”
“You think it was a power surge?” Harrison asked.
“It’s possible, but it sounds like it was done manually,” Townshend replied, taking a seat at the table with the officers, “because you say each main breaker was switched and the power has been restored, although I can’t be sure yet. And the generator issue is throwing me off, too. Is the building’s switchgear located inside or outside? If it was easily accessible, it’d make more sense to shut off the power from the switchgear rather than each breaker.”
“What’s a ‘switchgear’?” Briggs asked.
“Nah, never mind.” Townshend waved his hand. “At any rate, I’ll need to wait for the forensic knights to tell me about the blood sample and fingerprints.” He took a dismayed swig of cold coffee, making his mouth tighten into a thin line. “Oh, the joys of trying to compare DNA and fingerprints…”
“Makes me wonder,” Harrison said, “what the intent was.”
“Now, this brings up an interesting point,” the detective said contemplatively, leaning back in the chair. “If the power was manually shut off from the inside, then the alarm should’ve still been active upon entering the building. More than likely, the suspect was an employee with the alarm password…but if the humorous Fates would be sooo kind to give me some fun, then somebody else could’ve stolen the password to disarm the alarm. I’ll need to contact the alarm company to see if they keep records of arming and disarming times, and if the employees have unique codes, which code was used to disarm it overnight.”
Harrison chuckled. “Always looking for the fun in crimes, aren’t you?”
“Well,” Townshend said with a nod, “I’m also happy to say that this case gave me more reasons to obsess over the medical lab incident.”
“You’re kidding,” Briggs muttered, raising an eyebrow.
“I kid you not!” the detective replied with pep. “I have reason to suspect more people are missing, and some important bigwigs at that.”
“Um, that’s not good,” Harrison said. “Do you think there’s a connection between today’s scene at Agrarian-Schism with…whatever you’re getting at?”
“I always think there are connections,” Townshend told Harrison smugly.
“Hmm…” Harrison stood up, bored of Townshend’s unclear answers. “What about the company’s CEO? Learn anything from him afterward?”
Swirling the coffee in the old mug, Townshend said, “I did. My conversation with Mr. Landers was not what I had expected, but it showed me my reasons for connecting this with the medical lab.”
“…And?” Briggs asked.“And,” the detective said flatly, standing up and dumping the coffee into the sink, “he’s in a lot of trouble.”