Discover more from Gary Paul Varner
THE TEMPLE OF MAGGIE STONE
Chapter 20: Goodbye
Maggie walked down the makeshift hospital in a clean, white sundress, but she wasn’t a pretty sight. Scabs covered her arms, legs, and face, and she limped, clutching her stomach. While roaming the hospital, trying to find her son, she spoke to a pair of paramedics who were really a part of Pinkerton’s team and learned that the twelve staff members she’d helped escape had already been sent home. There was a sense of panic throughout the abandoned building. Pinkerton’s team seemed eager to get everyone out before the feds arrived. The government would figure things out eventually, but the longer it took, the more time everyone would have to disappear. Pinkerton’s team had been posing as government agents, which had given her and Pinkerton enough time to recover, but apparently, the jig was up, so it was time to leave.
Maggie was sure Dr. Lane’s staff would be questioned, but while at the lab, she’d sensed they knew very little about what was going on. They knew about the bodies, and they assumed she was the first successful experiment, but they didn’t know about Silas, nor did they have any idea how the bodies were made or how the operation was done. They were no danger to Uncle Sam, so the most he could do was give them a stern warning to keep quiet.
Maggie also wondered if the young man who’d asked her about his mother taking a body had made it out. She never saw him while in the labs, but she wasn’t looking closely at the doctors and the lights were very dim. She hoped he’d survived but doubted it.
The three security guards were already being interviewed by somebody who’d just entered the building. Nobody knew who the agent was working for. They just knew some kind of swat team wasn’t far behind. This was a problem. The guards knew about Dr. Lane’s failed bodies, and they also knew the perfected bodies had been possessed. More importantly, they knew about Pinkerton. His name would be mentioned, which meant the government would be looking for him. They had to leave, and the sooner the better, but Maggie was determined to find her son before she left.
She limped down the mostly bare building, scanning the vacant hospital beds. Doctors and men in body armor wheeled various equipment past her. Everyone shouted in harsh tones and rushed voices, as they ordered one another to carry equipment or to go find someone. Maggie paid little attention.
At last, she saw a single hospital bed pushed up against a bare cement wall. The machine that checked her son’s vitals beeped steadily as Robert lay with his eyes closed. The bed had been propped up. His head was pushed forward by three pillows. He wore a hospital gown, and as Maggie approached her son’s side, she saw that the hospital gown was open, revealing several bandages over his bare back. She grimaced and felt sick when she saw the round red spot in the center of the bandages.
She forced herself to step forward, and she shook her son’s shoulder as gently as she could. Robert’s eyes opened. He looked up and smiled.
“Hey, Rob,” she said.
“Hi,” he said weakly, too weakly for Maggie’s liking. “I’m glad you made it. I’ve been in and out, but from what I hear it . . . it got bad down there.”
“It did,” Maggie admitted. “It was really bad.”
“Who escaped?” Robert asked.
Maggie frowned. “Three guards, twelve of the staff, and the detective.”
“Why did Delphin stab me?” Robert asked, sounding almost childish. “He seemed like such a nice guy.”
Maggie wanted to say something profound, but nothing came. At last, she said, “I’m just glad you’re okay.”
“Do you know what happened?” Robert asked. “Do you know why that girl woke up? Did they all wake up? Is that why they demolished the building? I saw the explosion.”
Maggie knew she couldn’t give her son any answers, but she wanted to. She wanted to talk to somebody, to confide in someone, and Robert looked so much like Ray. She opened her mouth to spill everything, but she caught herself. She closed her mouth and took a deep breath. “Robert, it doesn’t matter right now. You’ll be leaving soon, so I . . . I have to tell you something, something hard. I’m leaving . . . and . . .” Tears flooded her eyes. It took everything she had to keep from breaking down into wild sobs. She swallowed hard and went on. “I’m not coming back. You won’t be hearing from me for a long time, maybe never again.”
Robert sat straight up and grimaced before asking, “Why?”
Maggie huffed out a frustrated laugh. “I can’t tell you that either. It’s for your protection. There are going to be people asking questions about what happened. They’re probably going to be asking you more questions than anybody else. If I tell you or Ashley anything, it might put you in danger.”
Robert nodded, trying to look business-like and failing. “Have you called Ash?”
“Not yet. I don’t know if I’ll get the chance,” Maggie covered her mouth with her hand. Her chest heaved, and it took her a minute to collect herself. “You have to tell her . . . tell her I’m so sorry and that I love her. I love you both so very much, and I’m so sorry.” This time she broke down, unable to stop herself from sobbing. Robert reached up and grabbed her, he held her for a long time. At last, Maggie straightened and collected herself. “I’m so proud of the both of you. You’ve become such wonderful adults. You’ll need each other, so stick together.” She sighed. “Your father was right. This,” she pointed to her chest, “This was going to cost. He knew that, and he didn’t want me to pay the price, but your mother is an old fool.”
“No,” Robert said quietly. “I would’ve done the same thing.” He paused. Tears were now falling down his cheeks as well. “I’m sorry for the way I treated you. I’d accepted that you were going to die. I couldn’t believe it was really you. I couldn’t believe a lot of things. I’m so sorry, Mom.”
Maggie took his hand. “You don’t need to apologize. You had every right to be skeptical.” She saw Ryna marching toward them, coming to take her away from her boy. Maggie tried to think of something else, some final thought to leave her son with. It didn’t come either. Goodbyes were hard, and in the end, there really was no way to sum them up in a few words. “Tell Ashley I love her and that I’ll miss her. I love you too, son. I know the two of you are going to be just fine. You’ll both have wonderful lives. Know that your father and I . . . don’t regret anything. Not when it comes to the two of you.”
She hugged her son, and two held each other until Ryna gently told Maggie it was time to leave. Maggie let go of her son. She looked and saw a coffee table. A Bible had been placed on top of it. She grabbed it and looked at it for a moment.
“I thought you didn’t believe in that stuff,” Robert said.
Maggie opened it and flipped through the pages, then closed the book and stared at the cover. “I’ve got time,” she whispered. She met Robert’s eyes. “Goodbye, son.”
“Goodbye, Mom,” he said.
Maggie left with Ryna. She looked back several times.
Ryna led her through the building to a set of glass doors. Once Ryna opened them, Maggie stepped outside and saw a large black limousine parked by the sidewalk below a flight of stairs. Cars passed by, and people walked down the sidewalk. It was amazing. On the other side of the building behind her, people had lost their lives, and an old theater had been demolished, yet the world moved like nothing happened. Several people noticed her sticky cheeks and the way she clutched the Bible tightly to her chest. Most of the people who noticed regarded her with mild indifference, except for one.
“Did somebody die?” the man asked, smiling.
Maggie looked away from the man, breathing deeply to prevent another flood of tears.
Ryna glanced at her, then glowered at the man. She placed her hand on her gun. With a wry smile, she said, “Someone might.” The man scrambled away, terrified.
Ryna turned back to Maggie and reached into her pocket. She tossed Maggie a cell phone. She caught with one hand, regarded the phone, then stared at Ryna, bewildered.
“It’s a satellite phone. You should call your other kid,” Ryna said. “The NSA can’t track it, but don’t say too much because they can still record her conversations. Just wait until were on the boat. I don’t want you crying in the car.”
Maggie smiled. “Thank you.”
Ryna smiled. She still looked like a demon.
The two walked down the stairs, and Ryna opened the car door for her. Maggie got inside. She saw Pinkerton and Abubakar sitting upfront. They both turned and smiled. She nodded, giving them a weak smile of her own. On the other side of the seat sat Albertson. Bloody gauze covered his eyes. He jumped when she sat down. Then Ryna came from the other side and pushed Albertson to the middle as Maggie closed her door. Ryna sat down and closed her door as well. Abubakar started the car.
“Please,” Albertson said. “I hired you. Why are you doing this? I don’t know anything.”
Ryna leaned forward and kissed the man on his bloody cheek. “Oh, they’ll be time for that later, Dear.” He shivered.
“Ryna,” Abubakar warned.
Ryna flipped him off and leaned back in the seat, closing her eyes. She fell asleep instantly. Pinkerton turned to Maggie and tried to give her a comforting grin. Maggie could only nod. She was scared, but she was determined to make a new life if she could. The car turned onto the street. Maggie took a final look at the abandoned building. She could see a faint cloud of dust rising above it. Then she turned her head and stared at the endless street. The car drove down the road, and Maggie began her long wait for the other side of the void.