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“Things aren’t what they seem.”
I’ve had a few days to let these words sink in, and things feel extremely different now. The events at the church all happened so quickly. I didn’t have a chance to really hash things out in my mind at the moment, but so many things seemed wrong with how all of that played out. I feel numb. My thoughts have been preoccupied by the agony that Malcolm went through as I cut into his chest, but even more so, the fact that I didn’t even hesitate, despite the pleading he did for me to stop, and I never even considered stopping. I feel like I’ve crossed a threshold somehow. Not necessarily that “innocence is lost” type of feeling, but something similar. Something without emotion regarding myself, or the ability to empathize with others.
I should be feeling something right now, but instead, I’m just numb, and it’s taken a few days for me to recognize the sensation. I looked at myself in the mirror last night and saw a giant void. There’s a particular appearance to people who’ve experienced some sort of trauma or witnessed something that will most likely be resolved only after years of therapy. I’ve seen it before in my father’s face, a Vietnam veteran. I’ve seen it in friends’ faces that I went to high school with after they’ve returned home from the middle east. I saw it in my mother’s face after my father passed. And I saw it in my own face in the mirror last night, but at the same time, it took me gazing into the mirror for some time to realize…I also saw it in Ron’s face when I climbed the bell tower, watching Benjamin Scanlon dangling by the rope around his neck.
My dreams are no longer permeated by amalgamation of shadowy silhouettes and grinning creatures. Instead, the phrase, “things aren’t what they seem” is repeated over and over in the Grinner’s gravelly voice as I dream, and they’re accompanied by Ron’s face, with that dull expression of nothingness when there should be emotion. Something just doesn’t feel right. I tend to be pretty intuitive about people and their motives, but with Ron, I truly believe he’s pleased with how I’ve been able to help him with the podcast and the organization of documents, not to mention being bait for his plan. But I’ve always felt like he was holding something back. If anything, he should at least trust me by now.
I’d been debating whether or not to say anything about this gut-feeling I’ve had, but to who? I’m not sure if anyone in the group would have more allegiance to me, a guy that most of them just met, over Ron, who they’ve already got an established relationship with. Unless they also felt the same way I did.
For that reason, and the fact that only one of them has taken a professional oath to do the right thing or risk serious consequences, I decided to reach out to Detective Anderson. I contacted him a couple of days ago and asked if he wouldn’t mind meeting me somewhere public.
We met in a park close to my house where I beat around the bush a little while, trying to probe to see what his thoughts were about the events that unfolded, and to try to gauge his reactions to my interaction with Ron at the bell tower. Anderson had a stone cold poker face. He peered at me through squinted eyes and puckered his lips as if he was sucking on a sour candy. He obviously was not volunteering any information, and neither was he providing much feedback in his body language or his speech, so when I caught him glancing at his watch, I just came out and asked, “Do you think Ron is telling us the whole story?”
His squint turned into a scowl, and he replied, “now what the hell does that mean?”
I reiterated my thoughts about Ron’s reaction to the scenario as we stood at the top of the bell tower watching Ben Scanlon swing back and forth below our feet. Then I brought up how I recalled observing them in what looked like a heated discussion prior to the main events, and I said, “I can tell when I’m being lied to most of the time, and I can usually determine when I’m not being told the whole truth. Compliments of having children I suppose. I would guess that you have developed a similar skill set in your line of work.”
He looked frustrated, and perhaps just a little offended as he stood up and turned his back to me, glancing at his watch again. He turned back around to face me without the scowl on his face any longer, and said, “look, I understand what you’re saying, but I really need to get back to work.”
For the first time in several days, I felt a surge of emotion. It was rage…this guy was about to blow me off after all the shit I went through to help him and his buddy, Ron…after risking my life! I can’t recall everything I said, but it was along the lines of “what the fuck, man!”
I don’t recall doing it, but in that moment of anger I must have closed the gap between myself and him, and got a little too close for his liking. I only realized this when he put his hand on my chest, and sternly said, “You need to sit down right now.”
In my mind, I was calculating the probability of whether I could take him in a fight or not…but before I could come to a conclusion, he convinced me to sit.
Once I took a deep breath, his demeanor shifted once again to something resembling an apologetic approach, and said, “I just can’t come out and tell you everything, but I can attest to Ron’s character, and he wanted nothing but the best outcome going into that night. There are some things that are just not my place to tell you.”
I thought about this for a moment, attempting to lower my heart rate and resume rational thought. He seemed sincere, so I apologized for snapping at him, and asked, “So you think I should come straight out and ask Ron?”
He quickly said, “that’s not what I’d recommend.”
Enter my frustration again. I told him that I just didn’t know what to believe, but I was questioning some motives, and things weren’t adding up. He apologized for not being able to help me by providing direct answers, and then made some crack about how I should fill out an application at his work, which I barely recognized as a joke as he began walking away. I was still 100% convinced that there was something wrong with the way Ron was acting and what he was saying that night.
I went home, made some lunch, and then my intuition was confirmed when I received another brief message from my Twitter contact, 4thTrumpet. The timing and nature of his message were somewhat ironic. The exact words in the text he sent were, “Things aren’t what they seem.”
That, in itself, was somewhat remarkable since there’s no way he could have known about my experience with the Grinner uttering these words upon his departure. Even Brianne, who was right next to me when I heard these words, was unaware of them, and I hadn’t told anyone about it.
Shortly after 4thTrumpet sent that one line of text, he sent an image. On my phone screen, the image was initially so small that I couldn’t make out what it was. So I downloaded it to my phone, then opened it and expanded it. The single-page document was heavily redacted, with only a few words actually visible. As my eyes scrolled to the top, I could make out the words, “The employee acknowledges,” then a few lines further, “legally binding,” and even further down, toward the bottom of the page, I could see the phrases, “subject to fines and criminal charges,” followed by another redacted portion, and then the words, “up to 10 years in prison per account.”
My best guess is that this is some sort of non disclosure agreement. The document portrayed great care to redact information, and it looked like there were three signatures covered up, with only one exposed. What caught my eye here was that next to each of the three redacted signatures, just to the left, there was an additional space blotted out that I wasn’t quite sure about the purpose for. I’ve seen plenty of legal documents, and typically, there’s a printed name with a signature line, but this was very specifically disguising something else.
I zoomed in further on the third signature and the space blotted next to it. A portion of that section was actually visible, most likely unintentionally. I zoomed in as far as I could until the picture became pixelated. It was a symbol, and I’d seen it before in the papers. With phone in hand, I pulled a stack of documents I’d been recently reviewing, and pulled a few that I saw symbols on. It was easy to match the small portion of it that was visible on the image to one of the documents. It was a symbol of a pentagram with some other smaller depictions within the spaces. It was one of the 7 symbols I’d commonly seen on documents pertaining to Project Hydra.
And then…I scrolled down more, and there, adjacent to the notary seal, was the fourth signature that was not redacted. Why it didn’t jump out to me immediately, I just don’t know, but it was a signature I had seen many times. It was Ron Hammond’s.