An autistic man living in a group home, a slacker, and two hunk-brothers with an ocean under the bridge between them are an unexpected foursome to recover bail jumpers and fugitives. More unexpected, their success. And luck staying alive. It helps that one of them has a little unnatural help. And can hack any computer network.
SEEkerChapter 1~The stabbing pins of the shiver crawled over Jon’s shoulders as he pulled into the driveway, like every other visit the past several weeks. The sensation was getting stronger every visit. Often felt as though it seeped into his bones. Its occurrence seemed important but the why eluded him. The shiver always made him have to pee, too. As soon as he opened the front door of the Palm Street home, the whiff of urine and antiseptic struck him. Nine years, Jon had been volunteering his time with those with special needs, since his senior project. Still, the smell of the home was something he couldn’t get used to. A hellish scream jerked through the air. Terry was unhappy about something. The man’s wheelchair careened around the corner from the kitchen, his helmeted head wobbling as though it might fall off without much coercion. A sneeze could do it. Terry screamed again. His chair plunged into the ragged back of a couch. It had obviously absorbed hundreds of strikes from more than one wheelchair. “Get back here, Terry,” billowed from the kitchen.The home’s daytime caregiver peeked around the doorway with a quirky grin on his face. “I’m gonna get you,” he called. From his expression he could have been shouting “redrum” and just hacked through a bathroom door with an axe.I watch too many old movies at night.Terry screeched again as he struggled to withdraw the chair’s footrest, embedded in the back of the couch.“Hey, Jon.” Louis greeted him with hardly a glance. The man’s focus remained glued on his wheelchair-bound charge. “I’m commmmingggg, Terry,” he called, before lowering his voice again. “Augie’s in the backyard.”Louis dashed forward and grabbed the top of Terry’s helmet, reached around to wipe the jelly-smeared face. Terry screamed a, “No!” that sounded as though it originated from a harpy trying to escape hell. “Are you sure this is a good idea?” Jon asked Louis when the man finished wiping Terry’s face, the challenged man’s complaints done, the assault already forgotten.Louis turned his attention back to Jon. “He deals well with surprise. Don’t worry about it. He loves every second you spend with him.”Not all of the men Jon worked with in the past took the unexpected well. He’d been shocked when the caregiver suggested making the outing a surprise when Jon called the day before. Jon grimaced. Louis’ smile broadened. He turned toward the kitchen and waved Jon to follow. The worn linoleum crackled under Jon’s steps. The antiseptic smell wore stronger in the kitchen. Two men Jon knew well sat at the long dining table. Jon paused and watched them play high card as though it was a riveting high-stakes poker game. Neither of the residents ever looked up from their cards.“Stop your lolly-lagging. Augie’ll be fine.”Jon tried a casual smile, but by Louis’ wink, he knew he didn’t succeed. He walked toward the back door, nape tingling more with each step. Through the screen, he saw Augie turn his head to face the house. He closed his three-inch-thick book, rose out of the chair swing methodically, and plodded across the tall grass, lifting his feet high as though walking in snow. Augie is twenty-four, looks forty-four. A hint of a paunch pressed the waist of his jeans, but he’s deep-chested, muscled like a body builder, though Jon doubted he had ever seen the inside of a weight-room. He rarely got his nose out of one of the hefty books he always carried. Like every Thursday, he wore his favorite shirt, a gift from Jon, a purplish Floridian-print of palm trees. It had faded. Jon needed to take him shopping again. Something special to do for their next Thursday outing.Augie didn’t smile as he approached the back steps. His eyes never connected with anyone’s. They always moved back and forth scanning ten feet in front of him, like a BattlestarCylon’s. Though his expression never changed, Augie’s body language effectively communicated his emotions. It made up for his indifference to speech. Or at least, Jon always knew what the young man felt, somehow. It was a little weird, as though tuned into Augie’s private radio signal. The connection had been growing stronger for months. The reason Jon never missed his weekly get together was the intensity of appreciation that psychically emitted from Augie. Not that Jon believed in such things, but it best described what the two men shared. Whatever it was, guilt, self-conscious compulsion, Jon could never withhold that kind of joy from anyone.“Thirty-seven,” Augie said softly, as he lifted a muscled leg to climb the back stairs. “Four hours, thirteen-minutes.”Jon thought quickly to figure out the riddle. The first was easy. The number of weeks they had “been together.” Jon looked at his watch. He normally picked Augie up after work. Jon was four hours earlier than usual. The day was special. “Hi, Augie. How ya doing today?”Augie didn’t answer, of course, but Jon felt the man’s excitement, even if none crossed his face. “Before the park today, if it’s okay with you, I have—”“We are going to your office,” Augie said, passing him.Jon looked over at Louis. The caregiver took Augie’s book from him. “I’ll put that in your room for you.” Louis turned back to Jon. “I didn’t tell him. Really. I didn’t.”Augie had already disappeared around the corner. From the other room, Terry grunted, unhappy about anyone passing too near. Jon waved a goodbye to Louis, hurrying to catch up with his friend. “I’ll have ’im back after dinner.”Augie stood rocking next to the old Mustang. Jon groaned. He hoped the change in schedule might prompt him to overlook the ragtop wasn’t down. But oh no. Despite the mid-day sun, Augie wasn’t going to get in until the top was down. He liked the openness of the convertible.“The air conditioner will feel awfully nice,” Jon tried.Augie looked down at the pavers of the driveway, continuing to rock.“We’ll stop in just a few minutes or so anyway.”He rocked.“Okay, okay.” Augie opened the door and folded into the passenger seat, after, the ragtop was lowered. “My boss invited—”Augie knew. Jon shuddered. There was no explaining how he knew that Augie knew. The man just did. And Jon picked it up somehow. Had to be body language.Jon backed down the drive onto Palm. “Who told you I was taking you to my office?”Augie tilted his head back and closed his eyes, enjoying the sun on his face, the wind billowing his long, dirty-mustard-hued locks. Beads of sweat glimmered on his forehead, but he was happy. He liked driving in the naked car—his expression for the top down. Jon reminded himself he needed to get sunscreen on his friend’s freckles. “At my office, you’ll need to keep your hands to yourself. You may see lots of interesting things on the desks, but it’s important you leave them alone.”How insulting.“Just so we understand. Otherwise we won’t be welcomed back.”No one likes me around anyway.Jon’s nape tingled something awful. It was nuts to transfer his own thoughts as an answer from his friend, but he couldn’t stop himself. Each time he visited Augie, the compulsion grew stronger. They were quiet the last two blocks to his parking lot and the walk to the municipal building where Jon clerked. His gut tightened as they passed through the glass doors into the lobby. Would something unusual cause an outburst? They were rare from Augie. He’s a high-functioning autistic. Jon signed Augie in and affixed the sticky visitor badge to Augie’s shirt. As they strode across the lobby, Jon considered taking the stairs. He had mentored others who couldn’t take the claustrophobia or the movement of a lift. Augie strode past the stairs and to the elevators though, pressing the call button.“Are you sure you’re okay with the elevator?” Augie answered by looking up and watching the location of the pair of lifts on the upper panels, his eyes performing their Cylon programming.“Okay.”The door opened. Augie stepped in quickly and pressed the button for the fourth floor. Jon couldn’t remember ever telling him where he worked, much less what floor. The shiver worked at his neck again. Augie’s hand, pressed against the leg of his shorts, fluttered to the tempo of the elevator’s vibrations. The door clacked open. This time Augie waited for Jon to exit first. He rocked just a little at the shoulders, his sign of mild anxiety.Could it be my concern he picks up?Jon led him down the hall to the employee entrance. There was a short line at the service window twenty feet away. Augie paused before following him in. He faced the people waiting to be helped. He didn’t rock. He leaned forward, head tilted down more than usual. His hands moved at his sides. The muscles in his forearms flexed. He would be a natural weight lifter. Gotta take him to the Y and see if he’d like working out. Bet he could bench press a bunch. “This way,” he finally encouraged Augie. His friend nodded and rocked a moment before turning to follow Jon through the entrance.“This is where I—”Augie took a left.“This way, Augie.”But he continued down the long aisle lined with file cabinets, took a right between desks of co-workers oblivious to them, and headed straight for the window office in front of him. “Augie,” Jon hissed for the fifth time. “Let’s go this way.”But his friend was focused. Jon stopped and grimaced, watched Augie stride into his boss’s office.Jon heard, “Gotta go. Got a visitor,” and the clack of a phone shoved in its cradle. “You must be Augie. We were expecting you.”Jon rushed into the office. “Hey, boss. Sorry for the interruption.”Erik Turney stood and extended his hand. Augie took it. Took it! There was no anxious rocking. He didn’t like to be touched. At all. He stood facing Erik, though his eyes peered at the man’s chest. Jon felt his mouth hung open, and shut it quickly. “You’re welcome to visit any time you want, Augie,” Erik said. “Be sure to have Jon take you up to the mayor’s office to look at the view over the bay. It’s pretty from up there.”Erik turned to Jon. “Speaking of the mayor, she’s looking for a report. You see Silas on your way up here?”Augie spun and rushed past Jon.“Augie. Augie. Where ya going?”“Whoa,” Erik said. “Something caught his fancy.”Jon nodded a thanks to Erik and followed Augie through the outer office, out into the hall, down to the end of the corridor where he pushed open the door to the stairs. He turned back, his nose scrunched up like he’d just smelled a week-old carcass.“What’s up, Augie?”Without stepping through the doorway, Jon knewhe’d find the missing Silas. Jon leaned into the stairwell and met the man’s guilty expression. A swirl of smoke escaped from behind him where he hid his cigarette.“Erik is looking for you. You owe him something for the mayor?”“Ah, crap.” Silas crushed his cigarette into the top of a soda can before dropping the butt in it. He set the can in the corner. “What’s it take to get a smoke break around here?”Jon grinned. “That’s a two hundred dollar fine, smoking in here, you know? I might turn you in for the reward.”“Yeah, sure. I know where you work, remember.”Silas brushed past and hurried back to the office. Augie followed him without a word until he reached the glass bulletin case Jon was responsible for keeping up-to-date. Augie stood and began his thoughtful, not his anxious rocking, his hips driving the motion, not his shoulders. He lifted his fist up, thumb extended a little like a fat pointer, dragging slowly over the pictures of the mug shots of the local miscreants. “See anyone you know?”Augie rocked harder for a second, before turning and striding purposefully down the hall. He passed the door to Jon’s office without a flinch.“Guess we’re done in the office, huh?”Augie of course didn’t answer, not until he reached the elevators. “Pretty view,” he said, punching the up, call button.“Didn’t forget, eh? Okay. But you have to be quiet up there. Promise?”Of course. Jon’s nape burned for the six seconds they waited for the lift door to open and they stepped inside. Jon selected the top floor on the panel. Augie studied the floor tiles, stood motionless, except for his thumb which caressed the top of his forefinger. The man’s hands weren’t delicate as Jon would expect for someone who’d never done any kind of labor before. They weren’t callused or rough, but they were a man’s hand, even though the nails remained meticulously groomed, as though he visited one of those women’s places to have them done. But Augie managed them himself. He wasn’t obsessive about his grooming that Jon had ever noticed. Just considerate.When the elevator door opened, two police officers stationed behind a panel of thick glass turned to study them. Jon reached in his breast pocket, withdrew his city ID and clipped it onto the collar of his polo.“Your business?” one of the officers asked.“I’m— I’m escorting a visitor,” Jon said. “May I just take him to the waiting room to look at the view?”The officer moved around the glass and nudged a sign-in book, which lay on a small table, forward an inch.Jon’s cheeks prickled. He had signed Augie in downstairs, but this log required everyone’s signature. Did Augie even know how to write? Jon wasn’t sure. Sure he could read, or pretend well enough, but write wasn’t a given.Jon leaned over the table. Augie faced the officer, doing his calm rock. He murmured something. Numbers. When Jon finished, Augie took the pen from him. Jon watched in surprise as he wrote in beautiful script, Augustus T. Nellis. Under purpose of visit, he wrote, pretty view.The officer turned the book around and read what they had written, compared Jon’s name to his badge. He finally looked up. “Just to the waiting room and back.”“Yes, sir.”“One eight zero zero eight seven three—” Augie mumbled as he strode through the lobby. Augie took a brief, disinterested look out the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Hillsborough Bay and the islands, and turned to go. Jon followed, a little disappointed in Augie’s reaction. It wasn’t that his friend didn’t appreciate the view. There was something else on his mind. That itch nicked Jon’s nape.~Jon pulled into the Riverfront Park lot. He hadn’t expected to spend any time outside that day. Figured he and Augie could blow several hours downtown, inside, with air conditioning. It was just too dang hot and muggy for an April afternoon. But Augie had no interest in doing anymore exploring at the City Center or downtown, and it was too early to go to Rick’s for Augie’s fish sandwich. Augie climbed out of the car and studied