Nothing could have prepared Franklin for what happened.
It was surreal. The man seemed to have no trouble visually identifying Franklin’s location. The average human would have had trouble differentiating between the camouflage and the surrounding rocks. However, Franklin had heard there were just a few people who were born with some strange ability to see it, as if the cover was painted bright yellow. But that was the least of his talents.
The man seemed apologetic about bothering Franklin in his very important mission of protecting everyone. He offered profuse and eloquent thanks for Franklin enduring such privation to keep everyone safe. It was disarming, almost hypnotic. Was this man really so dangerous to everyone? Only when Franklin reached back from his mind into his heart did he find a flaming confirmation to watch out for this scheming liar.
“Please don’t let me distract you. My boss — such a fine man to work for — wanted me to ask you a few questions, if you don’t mind. It won’t bother me at all if you keep your eyes out for trouble.” It was all so soothing.
Franklin wasn’t having it, but he mustered a nonchalant warmth. “There is more security around you folks today than normally covers this whole valley. I’ve been told to relax until your party leaves the area.”
“I see. That’s good, I suppose.” The man sat on a convenient rock across from Franklin. “We’ve heard a lot about you. Your team held off a truly monumental attack, thanks in no small part to your sharp tactical readiness.”
Franklin noticed how the man never quite pushed beyond the limits. He as careful not to let it sound excessive. He seemed to know just how much Franklin would be inclined to believe. Franklin did his best to respond in kind, indicating that Joe was smart enough to have the crawlers ready to do most of the work.
“Yes, of course. It’s good to work with competent men, isn’t it?”
Franklin nodded with a smile. He was trying to avoid saying too much.
“Sometimes I see that kind of camaraderie in the face of challenges and wished that I had had the nerve to spend some time the military. Yet your actual mission is still rather solitary, no?”
“We used to work with a spotter, but the modern technology has made that unnecessary. In the end, it’s the guy with his finger on the trigger that has to make the shot.” It was boilerplate sniper school platitudes.
“And you seem to be the best there is out here on this project. What will you do when this is over?” The man knew how to steer a conversation.
Franklin, tilted his head to one side and his eyes pointed upward a bit. “Not too sure. To be honest, I feel like this is what I was born to do.” That much was the truth.
“So if someone offered you a similar job, you’d take it?” The man seemed faintly eager for an answer.
Franklin shrugged. “I might. Depends on who or what the targets were.” It was Franklin’s turn to dangle bait.
The man smiled as if at some joke. “I’m told you don’t struggle with the ugly necessities of the targets that present themselves here.” That was putting it delicately. This must have been a major point on the man’s intention here.
“It’s a matter of loyalty. Mine is not for sale, but it can be earned.” Would that deter the man?
He nodded sagely. “That’s what makes you the man. I’d really like for you to meet my boss. He has worked very hard to earn my trust and loyalty. He’s really a genuine man, someone that inspires everyone near him to work hard, and he rewards us all in ways that really matter. I know you can’t meet him today, but I want to leave you his personal phone number. I am firmly convinced that a couple of conversations with him and you’ll see what I mean. It’s not just the money, generous as it is, but all of us working for him feel like it’s everything we’ve ever dreamed. He seems to know exactly what makes life worth living.”
The man pulled out a business card. It was plain and dignified and it featured the assumed name of the fraudulent actor and his personal phone number, and nothing else.
“Thank you, sir.” Franklin took the card and put it into the vest pocket inside his coat.
As the man rose, he turned and said, “Oh, and I am quite certain he can insure you get to keep using that same weapon. He can pull strings like no one else I’ve known.” Then he ducked out from under the camouflage and picked his way down the hill.