It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Deep River (February 1, 2011)
***Special thanks to Arielle Roper of Bring it On! Communications for sending me a review copy.***
Sam Batterman is a self-avowed ‘geek,’ he pursued a Computer Science degree and works as a software engineer in Southeastern Pennsylvania. In 2007 he started writing his first novel, Wayback and had it published in 2009 where it went on to be the best-selling fiction novel for his publisher.
Visit the author’s website.
Petroleum exploration engineer Phil Channing uncovers the single largest oil reserve in history–and he’s only been employed for a week! The find is so large that it dwarfs all Middle East reserves combined, and lies so deep within the bowels of the earth that it can’t be reached by any conventional method. He discovers how to tap into this Maximal Reserve through research left behind by a college friend who was brutally murdered just before Phil took the job. The secret lies in the cryptic revelation of a complex of lava tubes on the southeast side of the Dead Sea known as Etsba Elohim–the Finger of God.
This knowledge provides the ability to reach this incredibly strategic resource and threatens to change the world’s balance of power and wealth in favor of the small nation of Israel.
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 300 pages
Publisher: Deep River (February 1, 2011)
AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Heavy metal music blasted across the small apartment as rain droplets gyrated on the smudged window glass. The small spheres of water multiplied a hundredfold the bright hues of neon light coming from across the street.
Jackson Sanders popped the tabbed lid of a high-energy drink and gulped down a third of the can without taking his eyes off the thirty-inch computer monitor dwarfing his desk. A strange image was spread across the display, a branching, root-like shape with tapered cylinders that sprouted from a single point. The shape’s surface was wire-framed and broken into thousands of triangles. Depths measured in kilometers ran along a vertical axis.
Jack moved the mouse while holding down the right button, and the entire scene shifted slowly in three dimensions as if his head were at the center of the display. The lights on the front of his computer flickered at high speed, trying to keep up with the eyes and actions of its user.
The powerful computer was losing the battle.
Clicking on a few of the colorful triangles, Jack measured the distance between two points on the display. He knew this strange digital domain better than his messy apartment.
“There it is,” he mumbled, pulling out a notepad with a University of Waterloo at Toronto crest on the cover. He wrote quickly, the scrawl indecipherable to all but himself. Years of e-mail exchanges and multiple instant-messenger sessions open at any given time had long ago ruined any appreciation he’d had for good penmanship.
A new track began to play, but its volume and vigor were the same. Jack’s head bobbed with the syncopated rhythm. He continued writing in the tattered notepad at a mad pace when a small icon began flashing on his virtual desktop.
Jack frowned and clicked on the icon. A window sprang up, showing a grid of video feeds covering the hallway outside his apartment, the stairwell leading to the second floor, and the back alley below his rain-covered window.
Jack had written the program for surveillance purposes. The small fortune tied up in his workstations, servers, and networking could fetch quite a reward at a local pawn shop or fund a junkie’s habit for the next few months, so this gave him a way to keep an eye on the area. The program was simple: it allowed him to view the grainy black-and-white images coming from the cameras and look for big changes between frames—arriving or departing parties in the apartment complex.
Jack squinted at the low-quality images. Three men in black coats and jeans, with crew cuts and the physique of soldiers, were coming up the stairwell.
Jack didn’t recognize them. He glanced at his watch: 10:30 p.m.
The bars don’t close for another three hours; they’re not students, Jack thought.
One of the video feeds went to static. The stairwell feed was out. Jack’s already caffeinated body amped up with adrenaline.
He’d known this day was coming.
Jack watched the men approach the surveillance cameras. It seemed they knew where the cameras were. The remaining feeds blurred rapidly and then succumbed to static.
Jack pulled the hard drive connected to his nine-thousand-dollar workstation, and the monitor went blank. He ran to the kitchenette and opened the microwave door, shoving the hard drive into the small oven and cramming in a dozen CDs and DVDs from a shoebox on a bookshelf. He slammed the microwave door shut and pushed the “Popcorn” button. The appliance hummed as it destroyed the magnetic characteristics of the storage media.
Jack bounded from the kitchenette across his rumpled bed, the mattress groaning from a dozen broken springs. He grabbed his backpack and shoved the university notepads containing his indecipherable scrawl into it.
A polite knock came at the door as Jack opened the raindrop-covered window as quietly as possible. He took one last look around his apartment and glanced at the lightning forking behind the tinted glass of the microwave door as the hard drive was destroyed.
Jack stepped out onto the small balcony and fire escape. Inside the apartment, polite knocking had turned into pounding. The balcony was crowded: a mountain bike, a hibachi for warmer weather, and a dead plant left little room for anything or anyone else.
Jack picked up the light, titanium-framed mountain bike and threw it over the ledge of the balcony. It bounced off a pile of trash bags and landed on the street ten feet below. There was no time to carry it down to the street carefully like he normally did.
As he stepped to the rusting ladder of the fire escape, he heard the apartment door splinter and crack as the men broke through. Jack flicked the latch for the ladder, and the rusty steel rungs flew down to the street.
Jack bailed over the side of the balcony and made his way down the slippery ladder to the alley below. As his sneakers hit the asphalt, he heard the men rummaging through all the things in his apartment.
Jack smiled. They wouldn’t find what they were looking for.
He mounted his bike and pedaled with all his might down the alley, avoiding a homeless man and a dumpster on the way to Front Street. As he left the alley he heard a gruff voice yell, “There he is!” The squelch of a two-way radio followed before the sounds of the city at night extinguished the shouting from the apartment raid.
Jack pedaled quickly, weaving between parking meters and parked cars as he headed toward Roger’s Center and the downtown area. The rain stung his eyes, and he felt numb with the wind sweeping the street. As he reached the corner, he saw the CN Tower looming above him with spotlights shining on its three soaring concrete sides. Behind him the squealing tires of a speeding car announced a vehicle entering the street a hundred yards back.
A black Escalade SUV roared toward him. Jack could see neon lights reflecting in its polished grill. He stood up on the bike and pumped the pedals while careening down the smooth concrete, ducking the grid-like arrangement of trees growing out of sidewalk-level planters. He passed over the boulevard and into Roundhouse Park. A bus horn sounded, startling him, and a late-shift city bus roared past, nearly turning him into a splattered bug on its windshield.
Exhausted, his lungs burning, Jack looked behind him. No one was following. There were no main roads into the park.
He was safe, and he flashed a smile of relief.
Jack’s smile disappeared as the high beams of the SUV glinted through the dark. The vehicle smashed over the median and into the courtyard of the park. Orange sparks flew from the car’s transmission and undercarriage as automotive steel and concrete paving met.
Jack increased his speed, pedaling like a man possessed—too fast, much too fast.
Another car screeched into the far end of the park, cutting off the Lake Shore Drive ramp. Instinctively, Jack hit the brakes, and the mountain bike lost its traction on the park’s wet cobblestones and crashed onto its side. The bike and its passenger slid for a dozen feet before running into a park bench. Spokes bent under the impact, and the chain broke and slithered across the sidewalk into the grass like a wounded snake.
Dazed, Jack pulled his bleeding leg from under the wrecked bike, grabbed his backpack from the pavement, and hobbled toward a crescent-shaped grove of pine trees.
A bleep sounded in the night air, and a tuft of grass flew up just to his left. Jack ambled to the right, and another pistol flashed, the bullet clipping his foot. He fell to the wet grass. Three long shadows stretched across the park lawn, blotting out the city lights behind them. They clustered together, and two of them looked over their shoulders in opposite directions, checking for unwanted observers.
“No!” said Jack, trembling and raising his right hand toward the man in the center of the group. “Please,” he pleaded. “I won’t tell anyone, I promise.”
“You’re right about that, Jack,” said the man in the middle, twisting a silencer on the front of his pistol and pointing it at Jack’s forehead.
The orange glow from the muzzle blast lit up Jack’s terrified eyes for the last time.
“Get the backpack!” said the assassin.
“Got it!” said one of his accomplices, rummaging through the contents of the blood-spattered backpack. He held out a notebook with the university logo. The embossed crest gleamed in the town car’s headlights. The other man knelt down and collected the empty shells from the wet lawn.
“Make sure you grab his wallet and phone, and let’s get out of here,” said the leader, flipping open his cell phone and snapping a photo of Jack’s shattered body. He stored the picture and dialed a number. The three men walked back toward the still-idling Escalade, leaving Jack’s lifeless form behind on the wet lawn.
“Yes, we took care of it; nothing’s left. The secret’s still safe. We’ll be there in the morning. We’re heading to the airport now.”
Philip Channing sat in the ripped-vinyl driver’s seat of his car and examined his face and hair in the rearview mirror, adjusting his necktie one more time and giving an awkward smile. He closed his eyes and rehearsed his answers to the questions that would come at him in the next two hours. He gulped and cheered himself on as if he were in some sort of otherworldly race with himself as both player and spectator. Okay, this is it. This is for all the marbles. Come on, Phil!
He lifted the door latch and stepped out into the bright Texas sunlight and humid air. As he closed the car door, something beneath the rusty hulk creaked. The college beater had served him well for six years, but now, parked next to Lexuses, BMWs, and SUVs, it seemed out of its element. Kinda like me. He scanned the parking lot, pictured the drivers of the cars, and grinned.
I’m not worthy!
Phil opened his leather-bound notepad and double-checked his arsenal of résumés and recommendation letters. He glanced at his watch and began the long walk to the security building over two hundred yards away. He had searched for a visitor parking spot upon arrival, but all the slots were filled. Instead of risking a parking ticket he couldn’t afford—or worse, the towing of his decrepit but critically needed conveyance—he’d decided to join the rank and file in parking in the distant employee parking lot.
If all went well, his car would soon belong there.
As Phil walked behind the shiny cars, he wondered how he had ended up here at the Axcess Energy Company. Axcess was the enemy when he was in school. It was the eight-hundred-pound gorilla of the energy market that was poisoning the earth by belching its fossil fuels into the planet’s precious and fragile atmosphere, practically stomping on the polar ice caps with its enormous carbon footprint.
He thought through a hundred lectures from guest speakers and liberal professors who had lambasted and accused Axcess of raping the natural resources of the planet for the purposes of greed and short-term stock value. As a freshman he had even participated in an on-campus protest against the corporate leviathan.
But that was a long time ago.
Phil looked up into the cloudless sky as he did a quick calculation of how much his education had cost him and his parents. Eighty thousand dollars in tuition funds, lab fees, and overall living debt was enough to bring sobriety to any environmental zealot drunk with dogma. Things were different now: more pragmatic, less idealistic. In short, he needed a job.
His parents, a proud blue-collar worker and a schoolteacher, had done what they could to help him—sacrificing their early retirements and driving used cars instead of new ones to help fund his education, first in an expensive prep school and then during his undergraduate years. Phil sometimes felt guilty about his parents’ sacrifices, but now, alone in the world after their deaths—his mom in a tragic auto accident and his dad from a fast-moving cancer in Phil’s sophomore year of college—he knew this interview was the door to making their investments in his life pay off.
Only a few weeks before, he had packed all his earthly belongings into his deathtrap and driven to Austin. It was a far warmer climate than Toronto’s, where the typically Canadian winter was made even colder by freezing wind from Lake Ontario, plunging the temperature to zero and below in the winter months. The routine of graduate school was wearing off. He was responsible for himself now, and maybe soon—he hoped—for Lisa. His parents were gone, Lisa’s parents still looked at him like he was a bum off the streets, he was in a boatload of debt, and he needed something to do. Something worthwhile and challenging, something that wasn’t just school.
Yes, he needed this job—badly.
Three weeks earlier he had endured a technical interview with three of Axcess’s most brilliant petroleum engineers: Scott Ward, Gorin Vladofsky, and Caleb Mosha. Phil had met Caleb in Toronto; his niece was dating Phil’s best friend, Jack Sanders. It was Caleb who had made the interview with the energy company possible.
All three men worked for Dr. John Chambers—the legend, the iconoclast, the maverick. Chambers was the man to work for in the energy sector, more dynamic even than Glenn Martin, Axcess’s CEO. Chambers was so important to the future of the energy company that the board gave him absolute flexibility in his research programs. Chambers’s attitude was well-known: first, break all the rules; second, slay sacred cows. Chambers was highly regarded in academic communities and feared in the halls of business and government. His ideas and theories were always radical and challenged the status quo at every turn. Just like Phil.
The guardhouse was still a hundred yards away when Phil’s cell phone rang. He fumbled with his notepad and dug through every pocket of his suit searching for the phone. He looked at the display: Lisa Baton. Phil smiled at the name and the photo that accompanied the call. He pressed “Take Call” with his nail-bitten thumb and heard the most beautiful voice in the world.
“Hi, Phil, I know you’re getting ready to get all nervous and everything, but remember: regardless of what happens, I still love you and I still think you are the best geophysicist/computer science guy on the planet.”
“Lisa, I think I’m the only geophysicist/computer science guy on the plan-et—at least the only one out of work,” Phil replied.
Her response came quickly, as if Lisa had known he would say that. “True, but even if there were hordes of your kind, you’d still be the most handsome.”
Even though the two had been dating for four years, she could still make him blush. “Thanks . . . I think,” said Phil, stepping through the guardhouse door and getting in line with a dozen other people jockeying for position to register their visits.
Lisa’s tone changed as she sensed Phil’s attention being pulled away from the conversation. “Seriously, just do your best and let things happen. I’ll be praying for you. I love you!”
“I love you too,” said Phil a little too loudly as a lady in front of him turned around, smiled, and winked at him. Red-faced, Phil shoved his phone back into his suit pocket and wished there was another line he could get into.
A few uncomfortable minutes later, the security officer waved and said, “Next please,” breaking the unspoken tension with the woman whose body language still showed she thought Phil was flirting with her.
After the woman went through the security turnstile, Phil stepped to the counter and smiled. The bored security guard stared at him with the biggest bags under his eyes that Phil had ever seen.
“I’m here for an interview with Dr. John Chambers,” said Phil cheerfully.
“Good for you,” said the security officer. “Do you have ID?”
Phil worked his way through all the pockets in his suit, producing his cell phone, car keys, a pen, and finally his wallet. The droopy-eyed security guard watched the stack of personal items grow on the counter in front of him.
“Here you go,” Phil said, handing his driver’s license over the counter. “Sorry, I rarely wear a suit.”
“I wouldn’t have guessed,” said the security guard. A few moments later a black-and-white label rolled out of a printer. The guard peeled the wax-paper backing off the label and stuck it onto a temporary badge that said ESCORT REQUIRED in big red letters.
“Walk up the sidewalk to the main lobby and wait for your escort.”
“Thanks,” said Phil, smiling at the guard as he stepped through the turnstile. The security guard was already processing the next visitor.
The walk was quick. A small cement sidewalk skirted a perfectly manicured lawn and freshly mulched flowerbeds. The glass-and-steel office complex soared a dozen stories above the lawn and gleamed in the morning sun. Phil could see people in their offices, gathering in conference rooms, and walking across glass-enclosed sky bridges between the buildings, all preparing for a busy and productive day.
The beauty of the place seemed lost on the employees who were scurrying past, drinking coffee, checking voice mail, and typing on their BlackBerrys while juggling briefcases and messenger bags. Phil decided to pop open his cell phone and join the fun.
The welcome screen appeared on his phone and displayed his communication status:
New Text Messages: 0
New E-mail Messages: 0
Well, so much for that.
Phil flipped the phone closed as he reached the glass doors of the visitor center lobby. The lobby was a huge atrium, and sunlight radiated through the skylights, illuminating the beautiful marble floor of the visitor center. Phil looked along the wood-paneled walls where supposedly artistic and valuable sculptures were positioned in regular intervals. The rare oil paintings on the walls and benches made of beautiful wood were carefully interspersed, reminding Phil of an art gallery, not of the lair of a corporate beast that wanted to melt the Arctic.
A pleasant voice pulled Phil from his admiration of the lobby and back into reality. “Mr. Channing?”
Phil spun around and found an attractive, thirty-something woman dressed in a conservative navy business suit. She extended her hand.
“Mr. Channing, I’m Sarah Rogers, Dr. Chambers’s administrative assistant. I’ll be taking you to the conference room where the interview will be occurring today.”
“Hello,” said Phil, trying not to look like a goon. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Phil walked alongside Sarah toward an elevator at the end of the hall, passing through a gauntlet of security guards who were eyeballing badges and checking for escorts. As they walked, Phil tried to break the awkward silence.
“It sure is pretty outside. What a wonderful facility you have here.” He cleared his throat. Exactly how stupid and obvious could he sound, anyway?
They both stepped into the elevator, and Sarah pressed the button for the fourth floor. “Axcess is a wonderful place to work, Philip; they have a heart for the environment and a mind for American prosperity.” Her tone was even with no inflection, giving no indication that she knew her response was weird and sounded way too recorded.
Phil pretended to glance at the back of the elevator, but he was really looking at the back of Sarah Rogers for a pull string showing that she was, in fact, a robot.
The elevator dinged, and the door slid open, revealing a wide-open reception area surrounded by spacious conference rooms. The sprawling campus of the corporation could be seen beyond windows that wrapped around the entire floor.
“How many people work at this facility?” asked Phil, admiring the rectangles of perfectly mowed lawns and glass-and-concrete structures outside the window.
“Around five thousand. Austin is the headquarters and the largest of all Axcess’s sites. Now then, Dr. Chambers will be here in a minute. May I get you some water or anything?” Sarah said.
“No, thank you. I’m fine.”
Sarah smiled and left the conference room. Phil put his leather notepad on the enormous oval table and walked around it to gaze out over the campus. He smiled as he looked through the glass and indulged in a quick fantasy that he had worked here for ten years and this was his corner office.
“Nice view, isn’t it?” came a booming voice. Phil jumped, bumping into the windowpane. He was thankful for the safety glass; otherwise, he would have been plummeting some four stories to his doom.
“Dr. Chambers!” Phil responded as he tried to cross the space between them with some class and dignity to shake the famous scientist’s hand. The older man smiled kindly at the young, eager recruit. Chambers was tall and thin in an athletic way and slightly balding with a close-shorn salt-and-pepper beard. He was dressed all in black, with the enigmatic noir look popularized by Steve Jobs. The Apple CEO had given his most successful product launches dressed in all black, and now technologists the world over emulated his “Geek Chic” look.
“I’ve been following your academic career for a very long time, Phil. Your professors give you the highest praise,” said Chambers, inviting Phil to sit in the plush chair and taking a seat across from him. “They say you are one of the brightest minds to come through the university in quite a while. In fact, they call you the hottest data visualization specialist on the planet.”
Phil paused. He wasn’t sure how to respond to this praise. Should he look confident, or would that come across as arrogant? He managed to flash a subtle smile. Chambers’s magnetism was legendary, and here in the presence of the icon, Phil felt the man’s charisma envelop him like an energy field. Chambers instantly made you want to work for him.
The man leaned forward and focused all his attention on Phil. “So why are you bailing out now?”
Phil wasn’t exactly sure what he meant. “Excuse me?”
Chambers clarified his question without so much as a blink of an eyelash. “Why aren’t you staying to get your doctorate? With the kind of work you did in graduate school, you could be done pretty quickly.”
Time seemed to stop. Phil felt a bead of sweat roll down his face. The energy emanating from the man tangled around him. He knew the right answers, of course. Everything he should say to make him sound like a good candidate for the job. But under such pressure, he felt the strange urge to speak his mind—as if that’s what Chambers wanted.
Phil took a deep breath. “I’ve been in college and grad school for six years. I have double majors in geology and computer science and a master’s in petroleum exploration. And you’re right, I could keep going, but I want to use my education now. I want to work on great projects with people who will challenge me and make me better. I already have a master’s degree—some would say that means I’ve mastered the subject, but how can that be? I’ve never made a commercial contribution to a company, and I’ve only seen the data and situations that an academic institution can provide. Frankly, Dr. Chambers, I want more.”
Chambers beamed. It was the right answer.
“I do plan on going back to get my doctorate, but only after I have the experience that would make it valuable.” There. He had hedged his bet properly.
“One of the researchers on my team, Caleb Mosha, brought you to my attention four years ago. You went to school with his niece, didn’t you?”
“Yes, Aliya is dating one of my best friends. We double-dated a lot in school,” answered Phil. “Actually, we all did everything together.”
“All?” asked Chambers, raising his eyebrow.
“Aliya and her boyfriend and Lisa—she’s my girlfriend. She lives here in town and works for the state.”
Chambers looked at his cell phone and set it to vibrate before staring directly at Phil, taking in his every facial expression. “If it’s not completely obvious by this point, Phil, I want you to work for me, on a project that I’m certain will define both of our careers. Since you went through the technical wringer a few weeks ago with the staff, I just want to answer any questions you might have and try to help you with your decision.”
Chambers paused for a full minute, his eyes drilling into Phil’s, who responded in kind, like a corporate version of a first-one-who-blinks-is-a-rottenegg contest. Silence boomed in Phil’s ears. Suddenly his mouth was dry, and he wished he had taken the robot up on her water offer.
Here goes. Phil licked his lips. He only had one question. “Well, to be honest, Dr. Chambers, I want to know more about the project. I need to know more about the actual work I’d be doing here at Axcess.”
Chambers seemed a bit surprised. “You mean they didn’t tell you anything about our project during the technical interview?”
“No, sir, most of their questions revolved around the project I worked on a few years ago. That project involved using commodity-based computer grids to solve uncertainty around seismic data, but nothing about the actual job at Axcess was discussed.”
“Leave it to the nerds and the lawyers to goof up a good thing,” Chambers muttered.
“Nothing.” Chambers glanced beyond Phil for a moment, his attention lost in the sprawling campus of Axcess Energy. A smile crept across his face, and he snapped his fingers. “Do you have a passport?”
“Um, yes,” said Phil. Where is he going with this?
“I want to show you what you’ll be working on. Are you available for, say, thirty hours?” asked Chambers as he stood up and dialed his assistant. He looked back at the young recruit. “Or are you doing something more important?”
How can I argue with that? Phil asked himself.
“Sarah, please have a limousine come around front for me.” Chambers snapped the phone shut.
“Thirty hours? You mean right now?” asked Phil, glancing at his business suit and wing-tip shoes. “What do I need to bring?”
“No time like the present,” said Chambers. “We’ll stop by your apartment before the airport so you can get your stuff. We’re heading for a research rig, so dress like you’re going camping. Oh, and one more thing. It’s going to be windy.”
Stop by my apartment? How does he know—wait a minute—did he just say airport?
Chambers strode quickly from the conference room with Phil running close behind to keep up. When the elevator reached the lobby, a black limousine pulled around to the front of the complex, and Phil and Chambers jumped in.
■ ■ ■ ■
Phil opened the door of his apartment and ducked inside. The place was a mess, and he was glad Chambers hadn’t asked to come in. That would’ve been a job killer for sure.
He pulled back a curtain and looked at the limo idling in the parking lot. Chambers was on his cell phone, and he spotted Phil looking out the window. He smiled and tapped his watch.
Phil ran to the bedroom and grabbed a duffel bag from the closet. He grabbed a shaving bag from the bathroom, a toothbrush, and all the typical things for an overnight hotel stay. He threw a pair of jeans, a few T-shirts, and a sweatshirt into the duffel, cramming them down with his hands and forcing the zipper shut. He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket. It was dead.
There was no time to charge the battery.
He grabbed the power cord for charging his laptop and stuffed it and the computer into his backpack. Running to the kitchen, he picked up the landline and dialed Lisa’s number. Phil glanced at the refrigerator and wondered how many science experiments were growing in there. Cleaning had not been his top priority over the past few weeks. Phil’s OCD took over, and he moved the trash can in front of the refrigerator with his legs. While the phone connection was being made, he started throwing things away—eggs, milk, and a head of lettuce that was already turning brown. The trash can was filling up fast.
Phil cocked his neck to hold the phone against his shoulder and continued purging the refrigerator of its perishables.
“Lisa! You won’t believe the day I’m having.”
“You’re already back at home? Why didn’t you call me after you got out? How’d the interview go? Tell me everything!” The questions whizzed across Phil’s mind like arrows.
“Listen, hon, I’m not done with the interview. I’m at the apartment packing for an, um, a business trip.”
“A business trip? Phil, what are you talking about?” Phil could tell from Lisa’s tone that she was confused and quickly heading toward annoyed.
“Well, let’s just say they want to show me something to help me make up my mind. I think they really want me on board. It’s weird and mysterious, but I can’t say no.”
There was silence on the other end of the line before Lisa spoke up. “Okay, well, where are you going? Will you be back for dinner? We were going to celebrate your interview tonight.”
He slammed the fridge door shut. Dinner? Blast! I forgot!
“I think we’re going to have to postpone dinner, sweetheart. They told me thirty hours, and to pack jeans like I was going camping. No suits or ties.”
There was a pause on the other end.
Lisa’s disappointment was obvious, but she came through as she always did. “Okay, Phil, we’ll celebrate when you get back. I don’t like this mysterious trip—it’s not very corporate—but I trust you . . .”
“Thanks, honey. I love you!”
“I love you too. Be safe and call me when you can. Bye.”
Phil hung up the phone, grateful for an understanding girlfriend. They had dated all through college, and she really was his best friend. She trusted him and he trusted her.
Phil tied a knot at the top of the heavy trash bag and swung it over his shoulder like a homeless man’s version of Santa Claus. He grabbed the duffel and his backpack with his other hand and scanned the room quickly for anything that needed to be unplugged, turned off, or worried about while he was away. Nothing.
He ran out the front door and lobbed the overstuffed trash bag into the dumpster as he ran to the waiting limousine and a business trip that he was sure would be unusual.