Jo rushed to follow Browning down the hall, but lost him around a sharp turn. When she finally caught up with him, he was holding a large glass door open, through which he ushered her into a cavernous room covered in small screens that flashed pictures every few seconds.
Browning cut a path across the room to a door at the other side and Jo followed, dodging the frenzied paths of workers running back and forth with piles of paper. He opened another glass door and silence suddenly enveloped them. He walked to the far wall and unlocked a small file cabinet with a key he took from his pocket. It was different from the access key, smaller and silver instead of gold. From the cabinet he removed a large envelope and presented it to her.
“Your file,” he said. “I thought you might want to see it.”
She took it and walked to a table. It was heavy, she thought. She opened it and removed a pile of folders marked with various colored labels.
He sat next to her. “The location of the Lawyers’ headquarters is their most closely guarded secret. The security association doesn’t know it and neither do we.”
“Then why would I?” she asked as she flipped through pages in the folders. Most of the documents were copies of her personnel file from the security association, nothing she hadn’t seen before.
“Well, we have one clue that might help us find it. We recovered a lost communication between the Lawyers and the Chief of Police last month when their server crashed. It appeared to be the date and time of their next meeting, but no location was listed. That’s what we thought at the time, anyway. It said, ‘12-5, 12:01, Old Dominion.’ 12-5 is the day, 12:01 the time, and Old Dominion, we thought, was the codename of the sender.”
“Yeah, I remember hearing that name. Isn’t he one of the bosses?”
“We thought the same thing,” he replied. “But a few days ago, I was looking through some old map and grid files that I had forgotten I saved on my hard drive. They’re dated a few years ago, but they’re really much older. It was only a small detail, but there was a neighborhood in the Southtown area called Old Dominion, right next to the bridge out of the city.”
“That area was destroyed in the flooding,” she said. Browning reached over and pulled a small folder out of the pile in front of her.
“Right,” he replied as he opened the folder and pulled out a map. It was old and the corners were torn, but the ink had resisted fading. He pointed to a small grid in the corner. “Here’s the bridge, and here was where we thought the area was. But you’re correct, the river flooded and the entire district disappeared. That was over twenty years ago. No one heard anything about it after that, and none of the agencies went in to try to help.”
He opened the folder again and produced a second piece of paper, equally as tattered as the first. On the paper was printed a series of pictures of her from various periods during her life, starting from when she was about ten. Under the pictures, her name and age were printed, but only a general location was included: “Josephine Watson, age 14, Old Dominion.” “You used to live there, Jo. Do you remember? Before you moved, before your father died?”
The room disappeared before her eyes and she felt her mind go blank, a sensation of emptiness and fear filled her head. An unending spiral. Browning moved closer, his blue eyes focused on hers. “We need you to remember, Jo. That house is their headquarters. When your father died, they took it. We need you to go back there and find it.”
A van pulled up outside of Jo’s apartment and she was in it before she knew how she got there. Browning had interrogated her all afternoon for any recollection of her childhood, her time with her father in Old Dominion, any traces that would help him to uncover the house’s location. His fixed gaze conveyed the seriousness of the situation. The memory modification she had undergone upon entering the security association had erased any recollection of her previous life, but by depositing her in the neighborhood, the Keys hoped that she would be able to revive her suppressed memories. As they passed out of the known city and into the slums that surrounded it, she began to feel a sense of creeping familiarity.
The van slowed to a stop on a side street and Browning peered warily out the window. He handed her a small black object. “Datacamera. Use it to photograph the site. They’ve hidden it well but when you find it, snap a few pictures and we’ll get the entire image of the house.”
Nothing in the neighborhood seemed familiar to her. It was completely deserted and showed no signs of any inhabitants. After what seemed like hours of waiting, Jo noticed a stirring in one of the houses across the street. As she watched, a man dressed in a tattered suit opened the door and stepped out onto the front porch. When he turned to lock the door behind him, Jo raised her camera and shot. He suddenly froze and frantically shoved the door back open, slamming it behind him. Her heartbeat quickened. Not knowing why she was doing it, Jo stood and walked toward the house. Holding the datacamera in front of her, she took a series of pictures as she approached the door before knocking twice. The door was made of oak, dark and scratched with years of use. There was no answer and no sign of the man who had just disappeared inside. She tried the handle and the door slid open soundlessly. She walked into a dark house.
No light was visible save that which filtered through the closed blinds. There was no sign of any person, and yet Jo felt as if she was being watched. She walked through a series of empty rooms covered in faded wallpaper with dirty carpets on the floor. The house looked as if it had been preserved for many years in its original form, every object untouched. As she walked toward the back of the house, the door slid open behind her again. Browning entered the house silently and followed the sounds of her footsteps. Jo continued walking toward the kitchen, her heart pounding louder and louder. She reached the back of the house and peered out a window to the backyard. It was simple and small with a swing set and a tiny shed in the corner. Her fascination with her surroundings grew as she searched for a door leading to the yard. Suddenly, a hand grabbed her shoulder and spun her around. Browning stood with a finger to his lips. She pulled away and stepped back. “How did you find me here?” she demanded.
“Please…be quiet,” he whispered. “No questions.” He took a step toward her and then froze. She followed his gaze. He was staring at a picture on the wall, framed and yellowed with age. She examined it more closely and gasped. Under a coat of dust, she could make out her own face, young and innocent, smiling back at her. There was a blurred figure standing beside her. She moved closer to take it off the wall when Browning grabbed her by the arm, harder than the first time, and whispered frantically, “We have to get out of here. Now.”
“But that’s me!” she cried. “This is my house, I’ve found it! I saw a man on the porch so I came in and took the pictures and…” “Yes,” he whispered again, “but they know we are here. You made a big mistake coming in here. We have to leave. Now.”
“But I got the pictures! Can’t I stay for a minute?” Memories were flooding over Jo, her head felt hazy. She looked at the table and remembered eating dinner with her father, laughing as he juggled vegetables before cutting them up. She remembered watching old movies together before he would put her to bed. She suddenly remembered him, her father, in full detail, his blue eyes and how they used to sparkle when he told her stories and when he—
“Now, Jo. We have to go now. This is too dangerous.”
“Why?” She was elated over her new discoveries. “Why now?” Her mind raced with things she had long forgotten. Years of memories poured over her. “I found what you were looking for, so— ” Her voice trailed off as she noticed a shadow passing along the wall.
She didn’t hear anything except her heartbeat and the sound of Browning’s quick breathing, but she felt the unmistakable presence of another person suddenly nearby. Browning motioned toward the door and she followed him. Creeping silently, they made their way through the dimly lit rooms. She had to fight the urge to pick up objects that now held memories for her, relics of her childhood. The light was so dim that she nearly lost sight of Browning but she followed his footsteps. The presence she had felt grew stronger and she thought she could hear breathing behind them, but before she could turn to see they reached the front door and Browning pulled it open. A round of gunshots tore through the wood over their heads. Browning looked back and screamed, “Now, Jo! Come on!” as he pulled her through the door, but they did not make it far.
A group of young men, all dressed in black suits, surrounded them on the porch with handguns raised. Another man appeared behind them from inside the house holding a rifle. The stairs to the street were completely cut off. Browning slowly raised his arms over his head and Jo followed. “Who is in charge here?” he demanded. The men stared blankly back at him, sunglasses shielding their eyes. “We know who you are. You won’t last long now.”
An old man, the one she had seen on the porch, stepped out from behind one of the men and stood before them, smiling. “Ah, but I beg to differ, William. We’ve been here for years, you know. Hello, Jo. It’s wonderful to finally meet you.”
“I should’ve know it would be you, McCabe,” barked Browning.
“Who are you? Why are you in my house?” Jo demanded, her voice stern.
“Well, we figured since your father left you and sent you away to that compound, it was open for the taking. So we took it, naturally. And we’ve been here ever since.”
“How dare you talk about my father,” she spat. Her eyes were venomous as she glared at the old man.
“My dear, my dear,” he spoke quietly. “You did not know who he was until this very day. You do remember him now, do you not? And it only took a little visit to your house to find him. How clever of you to finally realize. After all this, he’s been with you all along.”
“That’s a lie. He’s been dead for years,” she cried back at the man. Her hatred burned within her like a fire.
Browning lowered his hands and turned her. His eyes had dimmed and lost the flash she had seen before but she felt herself soften under his gaze. “Jo,” he said quietly.
“No. No. It can’t be.”
McCabe laughed. “How lovely! A reunion, right here at my house. Too bad this is the end of the Keys. Now that father and daughter have been reunited, you might have been able to finally accomplish something. But alas, no longer.”
As McCabe spoke, a series of gunshots rang out. Three vans screeched up onto the lawn and men with body armor and rifles piled out, firing shots into the group of agents around Jo and Browning. One by one, the agents fell to the ground as the Keys stormed up the stairs and onto the porch. Jo grabbed Browning by his arm and pulled him down the stairs, under the gunfire and to the other side of one of the vans. They sat silently for a long time until the sound of gunshots died down.
A man walked around the side of the van and helped Browning stand up. “All clear, chief. Once she got inside the house we were able to pull up the image on the screens and it took a few minutes for us to get here.”
“Is that all of them?” Browning asked.
“Yes, we got McCabe as he tried to run away.”
“Good. Go in and start combing the place. Find everything and copy it. We can alert the Police that we know about their deals. Call the newspapers. Call everyone. The Lawyers are finished.” He smiled at her and helped her to stand.
“Is it true, then?” she asked.
He smiled weakly as he rested against the side of the van. “Yes. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner. It was too dangerous, and you wouldn’t have believed me anyways.”
“Well, I guess I believe you now,” she said with a smile. “But I missed out on a few things. You have a lot of explaining to do.”