“The what-now?” Walter asked, confused. A shape sent me a message?
“The Pentagon, sir. It’s the new Department of Defense building in Washington. It’s new.” The young man said, trying not to infer ignorance onto his employer.
“You said new twice. Why didn’t you just say D.O.D.? Give it here then—” Walter asked as he reached out to snatch the document from the lad.
Printed ostentatiously across the cover in bold red text were stamped the words Classified: Eyes Only. Walter fumbled with the envelope and removed the communique. He dropped the envelope and left it there.
Squinting, he began reading the message out-loud, albeit mumbling the whole time.
“Attention Walter Domini, yadda yadda yadda, TOP Secret, yadda,” his eyes scanned the page as his mouth silently worked the words while he read.
“Says here my trip to the Factory will have to wait. I’m headed to California.”
“California, sir?” the secretarial clerk asked.
“What’s it to you, then?” Walter snapped back at the lad.
“I only—I thought you were speaking to me, Sir.” He said submissively.
“Well you thought wrong, boy. Sometimes I can’t help but think out loud. It’s rather irritating.” Walter sneered at the secretary. The poor chap wanted nothing more than to dismiss himself.
Walter gave the secretary his leave and found himself wondering where he was headed before the interruption.
Distractions of late had been getting the best of him. He had been having a hard time keeping his thoughts in order. Looking down to the letter in his hand, his memory was jogged.
“That’s right—I’m needed in California.” He said aloud as he made his way to the front lawn where his driver was waiting. Walter continued his trek across campus, the whole time his thinking gravitated around his increasingly unreliable memory. Approaching the old manor, Walter noticed Phineas at the front door speaking with his driver.
“Phineas! Just the weasel I wanted to see. What in the hell is going on here? Why isn’t the laboratory finished yet?!”
“Come inside, Walter and we’ll discuss some pressing business, I won’t keep you, I know the Samutpada is waiting for you.” Phineas said to the old mogul, leading him indoors.
The manor was an old relic of 18th century architecture. The Gregorian style had left the manor with symmetric geometry that appealed to both mystics and mathematicians alike. A stone hearth burned in every brick room of the house to keep the February air at bay.
Phineas lead Walter into a conference room on the first floor and closed the door behind him.
“You’re not going to want to hear this Walter, but I think you should reconsider the Governor’s race this year.”
“Of course I don’t want to hear that Phineas. I also don’t want to do that. It’s your job to ensure I get what I want, isn’t it?”
“My job was never to be your campaign manager. Look- I never complained. When you told me you wanted to create an international aviation company, I had in mind this was going to be purely professional, not political.”
“Everything changed after the Blavatsky meeting, Phineas. Everything.” Walter tried to remind his assistant.
“I know, Walter. But—”
“Go to hell.” Walter said sounding slightly wounded.
“You go to hell, Walter. You’re an asshole.”
“An asshole that made you rich you son of a bitch— don’t you forget it.”
“Like you could let anyone forget their indebtedness to you. I’m just sick and tired of having to clean up after your goddamn mess. Figure out this political maneuver, or tap out. I’m done lobbying for you. It was never my job.”
“Right—you’re supposed to run the books—which is why I’m here, by the way. Why is construction taking so long, and why isn’t the lab being built to spec? Who’s the G.C. and why isn’t he here?”
“You didn’t tell anyone about your walk-through, and it’s February Walter. The ground is frozen, they can only do so much in these conditions.”
“Excuses.” Walter was sick of hearing excuses. Everyone had an excuse. Accountability was absent. Fucking bastards.
So much was riding on the success of AFAR, and Phineas was right—he needed to win in November and the polls had him in a dead heat with the incumbent. He had invested so much into his Empire State.
No one could have seen the fortuitous path laid ahead of Walter. None other but he, had the audacity to pursue such a grandiose endeavor. No other could have done so much in so short of time. Phineas too had become a true believer in Walter’s cause, but even he had his limits.
Taking over the world wasn’t easy, and keeping it to yourself was even harder. Phineas knew well enough Walter’s ambitions, but he had never seen them as much more than that; dreams. Financially lubricated dreams to be sure, and that could make all the difference.
Phineas had leveraged company holdings as collateral for the loans to build the Academy. He had so far also managed to keep the staff in Pasadena well-funded and operating since inception. Phineas alone had orchestrated the vast majority of Walter’s business decisions driving growth and expansion.
“I’ll call Sam, the General Contractor for development and check on their progress in the morning. You should know the Colonel called. They want more airships and you and Arwyn were invited to visit Los Alamos after the OCTAGON debriefing.” Phineas said while he scribbled down something in his notepad.
“I thought Maitreya had eased tensions? Why do the Big Three need more airships?” Walter asked, shocked by the news.
“You’ll have to ask them. I only received the invoice. Bureaucrats are at the front of the information pipeline. You knew that though—it’s why you hired me.”
“And you’re good with my money. Thanks for the update. I need you to take care of this,” Walter said, standing up, making a motion with his hand to indicate everything. “AFAR needs to be successful. I’m counting on you.” Walter said before walking out of the conference room. Phineas walked him to his car and saw him off to the skyport.
After Walter had left, Phineas still had several tasks left to complete before he could leave the campus. He had to wrap up things quickly in order to meet his employer at the Los Alamos facility on schedule. Before Walter had left, he had asked Phineas to ensure there would be no issues with the brattea ratio in his absence.
Phineas secured the study by nailing the door into its frame. He understood the nature of the room and the effort Arwyn had employed to create it. For now, at least, the room was secured. There was but one chore left for Phineas to complete before his time at AFAR was through.
Phineas returned to the lobby to use the phone. Reaching into the breast pocket of his plaid jacket, he retrieved a small red notebook. The cover was faded. Spots had worn white where his thumb had opened countless times before. The edges of the cover were torn and frayed from frequent use.
Scanning his finger down the page, he zeroed in on the number he sought and dialed it into the receiver. The phone rang several times before a young woman answered cheerfully,
“Hello, and Blessed Day! We are the Watchtower, guiding the lost to the chosen path. My name is Melinda, how may I direct your call?”
“Hello Melinda—good day to you as well. My name is Phineas Meeks and I’m with Commercial Aviation Alternatives and represent Mr. Domini’s personal holdings. I was hoping to speak with Elder Johnson. If you inform him I’m on the line, I’m sure he’ll understand the nature of my call.”
“Well, I do apologize Mr. Meeks, but Elder Johnson is not in the office today. I’m really not supposed to say, but he is on vacation until March 17th,” The woman kindly informed him.
Vacation? That seemed too convenient to Phineas. The voluntary information was suspicious. If he knew anything about the JWs, they kept their secrets.
“Alright, well, thank you for your time Melinda. You’ve been a great help. Have a good day.” Phineas said and hung up the phone.
He stood in the lobby parlor for a moment thinking deeply about the mire he found himself in. He suspected the witnesses had an ulterior motive, but he had not yet discovered what it was.