Zera and the Green Man: Chapter 22
Saturday, June 7
Theodore came to on tangerine shag carpet in the back of a 1970s-era Volkswagen van. He lay on his side, his wrists bound together tightly with multiple plastic zip ties. Daybreak shone through the dirt-streaked windows, illuminating everything in a grimy pink glow. The scent of a biofuel, one he wasn’t familiar with, hung in the air. Tilting his head all the way back, he could see the front of the van. Coop, recognizable by his blond crew cut, drove.
The other man, the dark-skinned giant with dreadlocks trailing halfway down his chest, sat cross-legged on the opposite side of the floor. Absorbed in smoking a cigarette and blowing the smoke out of a partially-opened window, he didn’t notice Theodore had awakened.
Peering down the other way, toward the back, Theodore saw a few cardboard boxes scattered near the door. The shag carpet underneath him smelled like a mixture of dirt, peat, and manure. After Theodore nervously calculated the number of germs that thrived there, he more nervously calculated that the man sitting near him looked to be about six-foot-six and more than two-hundred-fifty pounds. The big guy was not wearing a business suit like the night before. He had on jeans and a black T-shirt with an outer space shot of planet Earth. Theodore couldn’t hear any traffic and guessed they were outside the city.
He felt a sharp digging in his back accompanied by a muffled grunting. Slowly, as not to attract attention from his closest captor, Theodore maneuvered his body to see behind him. It was Tiffany, wild-eyed and wilder-haired. She looked terrified, but also angry, and a large piece of silver tape covered her mouth. Noticing Theodore’s untaped mouth, her expression changed to fury. “Mmmph! Mummmph!”
Theodore’s initial feeling of sympathy for Tiffany vanished. She’s angry? At me? He turned back over on his side.
“Hey, look who’s up,” came a deep, mellow voice from the dreadlocked man. “It’s the royal couple! How’s it going, Theo?” The man laughed, a heavy, menacing laugh that turned Theodore’s skin to goose flesh.
“Who are you?” Theodore demanded feebly. “You’re not with Void, are you?”
“Man, you brainy types, so many of you so lacking in common sense. Look at this shirt, Theo,” he said, tossing back his dreadlocks, and stretching out his thick-as-tree-trunks arms. “Does it look like I’m with Void?”
Theodore squinted at the words above the blue and white globe. Without his glasses, he could barely make them out. Save Mother Earth.
From the front of the van, Coop chuckled. “Bear, Void has an Earth logo too.”
Theodore stammered, “I just thought, seeing Coop . . . no . . . I guess not.”
“Don’t worry, Theodore,” Coop said. He flashed Theodore a look of contempt from his deep-set icy blue eyes. “You’ll find out soon enough what it’s all about. We’re almost there.”
Bear shook his head, and then blew a thick cloud of smoke in Theodore’s direction. When Theodore predictably coughed, Bear’s massive body shook with laughter. Theodore watched as Bear retrieved a coffee cup from the front seat and put out his cigarette.
Coop swerved to make a right turn onto a bumpy dirt road. Theodore and Tiffany rolled into each other and Bear laughed again.
“You two can sit up,” he said, and Theodore and Tiffany struggled to pull themselves up.
They traveled for what seemed like forever. Theodore’s body hurt. His wrists were sore. He had to pee. Tiffany glared at all of them. She wore pink silk pajamas and white bunny slippers. A gold sleeping mask dangled around her neck. Theodore thought for a few seconds about asking to stop to go to the bathroom but decided against it, especially when Bear continued to stare at him, chuckling richly each time Theodore winced.
They turned onto a second dirt road. Theodore glimpsed flashes of green fields through the windows. Where can we be? Nowhere near the beach or the desert. Somewhere in farm country. Maybe we’re not even in California.
At the next turn, they pulled into the driveway of a ramshackle two-story farmhouse. Only ghosts of white paint remained on the house’s silver-gray wood exterior. Boards covered all the windows and the porch leaned inward. A tire hung by a thread of frayed rope from a giant oak tree, a sad relic of carefree summer days. The tree had a big hollow space on one side and only a few leaves on its mostly-dead branches. A chill ran through Theodore. The tree reminded him of his nightmare, the one he’d been having when his mother called. A tree even bigger than this one, and voices — voices of anger and accusation. The thought of that tree brought regret. He wished he could have told his mother more. What if he never saw her again? These people are kidnappers; they might be murderers too.
Coop drove the van around to the back. There was an outbuilding of the same silver-gray, a few gnarled fruit trees, two old, rusty posts with an old clothesline drooping nearly to the ground between them, and a bent and rusted iron fence standing sentry around a weed patch that looked as if it might have once been a vegetable garden.
Bear opened the van door and grabbed Theodore by the shirt, hauling him out. Theodore trembled.
“Please don’t kill us,” he begged.
Bear’s face contorted. “We’re not killers. You guys are the killers. You’re killing everything that’s good, man.”
Coop came around from the other side of the van. “Now it’s time for you to meet the brains of our operation.”
“What about Tiffany?” Theodore asked nervously.
“She can stay here for a few,” he said, slamming the van’s door shut. “She’ll be fine.”
A muffled yell came from Tiffany’s taped mouth.
Theodore’s heart pounded but he had to say it. “Why don’t you at least take the tape off her mouth? No one can hear her out here.”
Bear and Coop looked at each other and laughed. “No way,” said Coop. “We’d be able to hear her. She’d be yelling her head off, like she did before we put the tape on.”
They shoved Theodore through the back door, back porch, then kitchen, and into a dirty, cobwebby living room. The only furnishings were a ratty, burgundy velvet sofa, two beaten-up wooden chairs, and two crates, used as tables, which held ashtrays and reading materials.
A woman with short, honey-colored hair stood at the window looking out. Her frame was small, but far from boyish. When she turned around Theodore’s heart leapt. He instantly recognized the pixie-ish face, the broad forehead, large, lovely dark brown eyes, and small, nicely curved mouth. She wore old jeans tucked into a pair of black cowboy boots, and a close-fitting yellow shirt. He was face-to-face with Lily Gibbons, his high-school sweetheart.
Panic over his situation was replaced by an avalanche of thoughts. Her hair isn’t long any more was the first muddled one. Followed by, twelve years, and she’s even more beautiful. How can she be involved in this? The Green Guerrillas?
Lily eyed Theodore with scorn. “So, President Theodore has arrived. Bear, sit the scumbag over there!”
Bear didn’t mind obliging, shoving Theodore into one of the wobbly chairs. Theodore felt his bladder jar painfully.
Lily moved closer to him. He had not been able to take his eyes off her. She bent down to stare at him up close. She smelled of strawberries.
The word “Lily” involuntarily escaped from his dry lips, but she acted as if she didn’t hear it.
“Why did you have to go bad, Ted?” She grimaced. “Oh, you don’t mind if I still call you Ted, do you, for old time’s sake?” She looked down and noticed his hands. “Still got the warts? You know it’s stress that causes them, don’t you? You’ve had them forever.” Theodore self-consciously moved his bound hands to between his legs.
“Well, it hardly matters now. You cause more stress than you get. I’m sure your mother can attest to that. Poor woman.” Lily gestured to the two men. “Ted, meet Cornelius Washington Carver Curtis, we call him Bear, and my husband, Drew Bly, also known as Cooper Davies. Two geniuses, Bear in the field of biology, Drew in the engineering sciences. And you do remember me, don’t you?”
She’s married? He had never forgotten her. He’d searched her name on the Internet many times. That’s how he learned about a group called the Green Guerrillas, a peaceful (he had thought) environmental group that staged protests and tried to make positive changes in the world, the group he’d seen at Burger Depot. He’d heard Lily was the founder, but that’s all he knew about her life after high school. In his frequent daydreams he imagined she’d be living where she said she would, on an organic farm, married, with a few kids. They’d be adopted, of course, since Lily was very concerned about over-population, and the little tykes would represent a rainbow of nationalities. This scowling, wedded-to-“Drew” woman could not be further from that fantasy. Throat tightening, he wondered if he could even answer. He forgot about his full bladder. He forgot about everything. His heart raced wildly, and fear made up only a tiny part of the agitation.
“Yes, I remember,” he said in a whisper.
“To think, we were once . . .” Lily grimaced, then smirked. “Well, Ted, you’re now the proud abductee of the Green Guerrillas. We’ve been watching you for a long time, your moves at BioTech over the years. Beefy Fries. Gee, what a clever idea.” She shook slightly with a hollow, bitter laugh. “Pretty gross if you ask me. ‘What will that guy come up with next?’ I thought at the time. Now I see those were the days of innocence. Now you’re with the greediest, most unconscionable evil-doers in the biotech industry, Void Chemical Corporation. We know what they’ve been doing in Research and Development. What you are doing is insane!”
Theodore found his voice. “Lily, I don’t know what’s going on, why you are doing this, why you have kidnapped me and Tiffany. But I’m a scientist, not an evil-doer. Most of us want to help the world. I know we’ve made some mistakes, it’s inevitable . . .” His thoughts were jarred back to yesterday, the human/plant monstrosities. If he knew anything, he knew that what was happening in that laboratory was wrong. He took a deep breath, tried to calm himself. “I didn’t know what they were doing until yesterday. I swear. They were my ideas, but I never expected, never wanted those things to be created. Lily, I was going to get out.”
Lily’s lips twisted in amusement, as if she were witnessing a kindergartner tell a big fib. “Sure you were, Ted, just when those doors opened to everything you dreamed of, which was being a big shot. I would expect a coward like you to say that.” She pulled out a v-phone from a backpack on the floor and pressed two buttons. “Hello? Yeah, we’ve got him. See you tonight.”
Her finger rested on the disconnect button. “Now Ted,” she said, bending over to peer straight into his eyes, “you are going to call Langston Void and give an Academy Award-winning performance. You’re going to tell him that you won’t be in today, that you and Tiffany had to fly to Colorado last night and you’re not sure when you’ll be back. That your niece is in the hospital and had to have an emergency appendectomy. That you got the message yesterday morning but couldn’t miss the contract signing, etc., etc. That’s why you were kind of out-of-it. From worry.”
Theodore’s mouth hung open stupidly as he tried to register everything she’d just said. Appendectomy? Fly out to Colorado? How did she know he’d been “out of it”?
“Wait,” he stammered, “ — is Zera all right?”
“Ted, Ted, Ted. You just don’t get it, do you?” Lily put her hands on her hips and leaned forward again until her pixie face, distorted by sarcasm, nearly touched his. “Let me explain this very slowly: We . . . are . . . the . . . good . . . guys. No, of course we didn’t hurt Zera. But, we have a few tricks, so that if Void tries to inquire at the hospital, or at your mother’s home, the calls will be routed to us.”
“We’ve been studying this situation for a long time. We know about everything. We’ve been keeping tabs on a lot of people, watching their every move. It’s all in place. You just have to follow through. And you will.”
“We need to talk about this,” said Theodore. No matter how tough Lily acted he could not believe she had lost all reason. “I haven’t seen you in a long time. Is this worth risking imprisonment? You need to let us go, now.”
Lily stopped, pulled up the other chair, and placed it backwards right in front of him. She straddled it, her arms resting on the chair back. “This may surprise you, but I’ve changed. A lot. No more silly idealism. Imagine, I used to actually believe that people would do the right thing, given the chance. That conscience and goodness would prevail over greed.” She threw her head back and laughed. “I spent years building an organic farm, building a life, following my dream. Only, in the bitter end, did I finally learn how impossible it was to get big business to put decency over a bottom line. Or to even play fair.”
She got up and walked over to Bear and Drew who stood glowering at Theodore. “You should have seen our farm, the one I started with these brave, gifted scientists after college. We just wanted to improve our little planet instead of exploit it, and we were beginning to make a difference.
“Bear, here,” Lily continued, “worked wonders in soil and plant productivity through organic methods. He can communicate with plants, just like his namesake, George Washington Carver. You would not believe the discoveries he made! Drew developed some phenomenal solar greenhouse prototypes, pollution control designs, solar farm machinery, new fuels. We were working so hard together to start a new revolution. A green revolution.”
Her eyes glazed with tears. She turned away and wiped them. When she turned back they were dry and hard. She scowled. “We were simpletons. You see, when we started to get big, VCC was there to knock us down. There started to be little ‘accidents,’ overspray of herbicide onto our fields, so our crops were tainted with chemicals, and could no longer be certified organic. Greenhouses vandalized, computers broken into and files stolen and hacked. Then, a couple of years ago, a fire in Bear’s laboratory. Bear’s wife, Olivia, died in that fire.” At these words, Lily’s eyes were wild with fury and remembered grief. “We were done,” she snapped her fingers. “It was over. Just like that.
“They paid off just enough powers-that-be so that when I tried to do something about it, I ran into brick walls of corruption. What a ninny I was, Ted. But no more. Remember how I used to be a pacifist? Well, that’s changed, thanks to people like you.” She practically spat at him, her face a mask of rage. “If you don’t do exactly as I say, I’m going to let Drew and Bear take you apart, piece by piece. And I’m going to allow myself to enjoy it.”
Bear moved in on Theodore. He bent down over him, dreadlocks brushing against Theodore’s face. Theodore looked down and saw a tattoo on one powerful fist — a planet Earth with the word “Mom” printed over it.
“I’d love to take you down, Theo,” whispered Bear.
“Please, no violence,” Theodore said, his heart pounding. “I’ll cooperate.”
Lily looked at her v-phone. “It’s almost eight-thirty. Void will be getting to the office soon. We’ll wait for the call letting us know he’s there.” She walked to a crate-table and picked up a piece of paper. “I have a script here that you’re going to follow word-for-word. You’re going to memorize it, and you have ten minutes to do so.” She motioned to Bear. “Better cut his hands loose.”
Theodore weighed his options — he was isolated and outnumbered by angry, grief-stricken captors. He didn’t see that he had any options but to cooperate. “What about Tiffany?”
“Hmmm, what about Tiffany,” Lily murmured. “Let’s see,” her voice rose almost to a yell, “You tell Void she’s with you, you idiot!”
“No,” Theodore said, “I mean, what are you going to do with her? She’s been in that van all night. She needs food, water, to go to the bathroom.”
“Oh, does wittle Theodore have a heart after all?” Lily mocked. “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of your girlfriend. Drew’ll bring her in. After you make your phone call.”
From outside came a blood-curdling scream. Tiffany.
To purchase your own copy of Zera and the Green Man, visit the official website now. Paperback and Kindle versions are now available.
Zera and the Green Man is a novel by Sandra Knauf, a local author and sustainability advocate living in Colorado Springs.
Published via US Represented by consent of the publisher:
Published by Greenwoman Publishing, LLC
P. O. Box 6587, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 80934-6587, U.S.A.
First published in the United States of America
Copyright © Sandra Knauf, 2013
All rights reserved
ISBN: 978-0-9897056-0-8 (paperback)
ISBN: 978-0-9897056-1-5 (ebook)
Cover drawing by Paul Spielman.
Cover photography by CanStockPhoto 11569383
Cover and interior design by Zora Knauf.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or living-dead, is entirely coincidental.