The Secret Diary of Cameron Baum
We're seated inside Agent Grant's Escalade staking out the supermarket where we suspect the T-800 purchased the knives used to kill the soldier. It's early afternoon of what has been a most interesting day.
"Kinda tough to picture a terminator doing something as mundane as a supermarket shop," John muses.
"I do a supermarket shop," I point out. "And I clip coupons. Am I mundane?"
"No! You're ...different."
Am I really though? Bar a few altered lines of computer code I would be twisting this man's head off and gleefully mounting it on the end of a pikestaff.
We examine the contents of the Escalade's trunk.
"Hey, jackpot! Finally some good luck."
The trunk contains two baseball caps and two bulletproof jackets, each with the HOMELAND SECURITY logo prominently displayed.
"This'll make the con a much easier sell. Try the jacket on."
I do so. Of course, my donning a bulletproof jacket is a bit like requiring a penguin to wear a rain slicker.
And there's another bonus: an extra geiger counter like the one Agent Grant used to detect radiation spillage. John points the playfully playfully at my abdomen. "Not a peep. Nice job."
"Because I'm not leaking."
"The shielding must be top notch."
"Naturally. Otherwise we would glow in the dark. At night the Resistance would literally see us coming."
"Okay, remember you're Agent Furlong and I'm Agent Edwards. This is all about attitude. Do we know how federal agents act?"
"According to your mother they are arrogant dicks."
"Exactly. Are you ready?"
"Yes, I am ready," I state in my new voice."
"Is that Meghan Markle's voice?"
"It most certainly is."
"Oh well," John sighs. "At least you're not Minnie Mouse."
Minnie Mouse? She'd make a terrible federal agent. Bugs Bunny on the other hand...
The supermarket's automatic doors swish open at our approach. Inside a gangly teenager is busy stacking shelves.
"Hey, you. Who's the manager of this dump?"
"That'd be Mister S-S-Saperstein."
"Go tell him Homeland Security would like a word. Do it now. Chop chop."
"Dickish enough?" John whispers.
"Very dickish," I concur.
The youth returns with an older man who's dressed in dark slacks and a white short sleeved shirt.
"You the manager?" John sneers disdainfully.
"yes, sir. Greg Saperstein at your service. What can I do for Homeland Security this fine afternoon?"
"You can start by telling me if you have an employee named Louisa."
"Louisa? Why, yes. That's her over there. Checkout three."
He points at a plumpish woman seated at a cash register and looking bored while a customer slowly unloads a shopping cart.
"We'd like a word with her. Is there somewhere private we can use?"
"You can use my office. That's private."
"Good. Let's do it."
The office is small and windowless and smells of cheap cologne. John makes himself comfortable in the chair behind the desk. I stand beside him trying to look as dickish as possible. On the desk is an iMac and one of those magic keyboards that isn't really magic at all.
Greg Saperstain returns with Louisa, a latina woman in her thirties. She looks bewildered and anxious. I don't suppose it's ever a good thing to be summoned to the manager's office.
"Do you want me to leave?" Greg Saperstein asks.
"No, you can stay. Close the door."
John softens his tone. This woman has done nothing wrong and works a tedious job for minimum wage.
"Louisa, I'm Agent Edwards. This is my partner Agent Furlong. We're Homeland Security, California division."
"Have I done anything wrong?"
"No, we'd just like to ask you a few questions. Three days ago you had a customer. A tall man. Muscular. Likely wearing a long coat. He purchased a set of ceramic knives."
For a moment Louisa simply looks confused, then she brightens and says, " Yes, I remember him. He paid with a hundred dollar bill and almost left without collecting his change. I had to call him back. The knives are only thirty dollars."
"Okay, good. Now, was there any physical contact between you?"
"Did you touch him?"
"My staff aren't permitted to fraternise with the customers," Greg Saperstain insists primly.
"I never touched him, I swear."
"Or he you?"
"And you're feeling okay? No headaches or nausea?"
"I'm good. Oh - I stubbed my toe on the shower sill this morning. I had to take an advil."
John says, "Does this store have security cameras?"
"Absolutely. They record in full HD. We had them installed only last month. I had to nag head office, but you know what yhey say the squeaky wheel gets the grease."
"Do you have the recordings from three days ago?"
Greg Saperstein deflates like a burst balloon. "I'm afraid not. The internal cameras write over themselves every forty-eight hours."
"Damn. I was hoping we might see the vehicle this guy was driving."
"Oh, you mean the external cameras that film the parking lot? Yes, those recordings we still have."
"Greg," John smiles, " you might just have cracked this case wide open. Expect a call from the president thanking you for your service."
"Really? Oh my!"
Louisa is dismissed and John vacates the chair so Greg Saperstein can access the video files on his computer.
"Normally we'd erase these files too," he admits. "Only we've been having some problems with skateboarders."
"These punk kids like to use our parking lot as their own private skateboard park. Something to do with the gradient being perfect for trick moves. I tell them to leave but just get abuse hurled at me. The police aren't interested. Too much paperwork when it involves minors."
"So you video them?"
"If these kids cause an accident I want documented proof it wasn't the store's fault."
"Very noble of you."
"Oh I don't give a shit about those little punks. I plan on managing a flagship store one day. A dead kid wouldn't look good on my resume."
"The president is going to love you."
"Here we are. Three days ago. What time was it?"
Greg Saperstein cues up the video. On the screen the T-800 can be seen exiting the building.
"Don't worry. He has to drive towards the camera to exit the lot."
Sure enough the black panel van fills the screen, the T-800 clearly behind the wheel.
John presses pause. The video freezes. "Got the plate number?" he asks me.
"Thank you, Greg. You've been a great help. Hasn't he, Agent Furlong?"
"Yes, you've been a great help, Greg," I assure him.
"Thanks. You know, Agent Furlong, you seem familiar. Have we met?"
"I was married recently. Perhaps you saw the wedding photos in the paper."
"Oh, congratulations. Who's the lucky man?"
"You'd like him," John grins. "He's an absolute prince."
As we cross the parking lot one of the teen skateboarders who are giving Greg Saperstein so much grief rolls towards us. He wearing a loose plaid shirt and denim jeans so torn and frayed it looks like he's been mauled by a lion.
John puts out a hand. "Whoa, son. This is a parking lot not a skateboard park."
"It's a free country, you fascist!"
John picks up the skateboard and hands it to me.
"Hey, that's mine!"
"This is a shoddy piece of workmanship. It's a potential death trap, son."
"What you talking about? It's brand new."
"Shoddy workmanship. Don't you agree, Agent Furlong?"
"Very shoddy," I concur, snapping the skateboard in half.
I hand the pieces to the teenager who just stares at me without so much as a thank you.
Tut. Kids today. No manners.
By the time we get home Daniel and Sarah Connor have had a full hour to trace the owner of the black panel van using the plate number we provided.
"Belongs to a guy called Maxwell Everett. Age forty-one. Runs his own one man air conditioning repair business out of his house in Sherman Oaks."
"We called his work cell and his home number. Both went to voice mail," Sarah Connor adds.
"Is he married?"
"Divorced. No kids. His ex-wife lives in Pasadena. They share custody of their labradoodle, Baby Doll."
John frowns. "Who names their pet dog Baby Doll?"
"People who don't have children," Sarah Connor smirks.
"We called the ex-wife," Daniel continues. "She hasn't heard from him in a week. And he owes her five hundred bucks for half the vet's bill. Apparently Baby Doll had a touch of colic."
"Okay, this is what we'll do," John declares. "Cameron and I will head over to Sherman Oaks, see if we can find any leads there. Mom, why don't you and Daniel check as many motels as you can and see if that panel van turns up."
"You think he'll try another motel?"
"According to Cameron he needs somewhere quiet with a nearby electrical source."
"He'll need to plug into a wall outlet when he removes the damaged powercell," I explain. "Otherwise his CPU will expire without a reliable supply electricity."
"Do you have any idea how many motels there are in the Los Angeles county alone? Hundreds."
"Then I guess we'd all better get started."
Maxwell Everett lives and runs his business out of a single storey house with an adjacent driveway and garage. The street is wide and lined with mature trees that cast deep shadows in the bright sunshine. The local vibe is one of genteel prosperity.
"Sweet crib," John whistles his appreciation. "I guess the air conditioning repair business is pretty lucrative."
"According to Forbes magazine, skilled blue collar workers can now command salaries commensurate with those who have college degrees."
"Well thank you, Milton Friedman."
We exit the Suburban and cross the street. The Everett house looks empty. And there's no sign of the panel van.
"If we meet any nosy neighbors, we're here to get our air conditioner repaired."
"What's wrong with it?"
"I don't know. It won't cool us down."
"Have we tried turning it off and on again?"
"That only works with computers."
"Perhaps we're out of coolant."
"Look, it's just a cover story if we're caught snooping around. Don't go overthinking it."
We walk up to the door. John gives it a firm rap then steps aside so no one will spot him through the peephole.
Nobody answers the door.
John takes out the geiger counter. "I'm getting nothing."
"Try it lower to the ground."
The gadget makes a noise like gravel on a tin roof.
"It's louder towards the garage."
The garage is locked. John glances around then says, "Open it."
I give the handle a twist, feel the lock break and the door rolls up no problem at all.
There's no van inside the garage. There's no room for one thing. Old air conditioning units are piled high one atop another. It appears Maxwell Everett believes in bringing his work home with him.
"Reading's pretty high in here."
By the back wall of the garage is a white chest freezer. We have one like it at the safe house. Snowy will sit staring at it for ages. His tiny doggie brain tells him tasty meat is inside though not how to lift the lid.
John has no such problem. He flips it up, gasps and takes a step back.
"Take a look for yourself."
Inside the chest freezer, nestled amongst the frozen ready meals, is Maxwell Everett. His lifeless eyes stare up at us. He's fixed his last air conditioner.
Outside John makes a phone call to his mother, offering a brief precis of what's occured. We arrange to meet in a West Hollywood diner not far from here to discuss what we're going to do next
No sooner are we seated in a booth than a waitress arrives to take our orders. Daniel chooses black coffee and a plate of chocolate chip cookies. Sarah Connor opts for green tea and carrot sticks. John simply asks for a plain tumbler of mineral water. He's seen two dead bodies in the space of a few hours which has doubtless blunted his appetite.
"Any luck with the motels?"
"Nope. No panel vans anywhere. We must have checked thirty or more. And some of them were pretty skeezy. A gangsta tried to mug us with a knife."
"I think your mom broke his arm."
"He had it coming," Sarah Connor responds while nibbling a carrot stick.
John says, "Let's go over the timeline again and see if we've missed anything."
"Like what?" I ask.
"If I knew I wouldn't be asking."
Oops, logic 101. My bad.
"Okay, Bob has a damaged powercell. He meets the aircon guy, kills him for his van. He kidnaps a soldier in a bar and drives to a motel where he tortures the exact location of a portable nuclear weapon. He breaks into the army base, steals the nuke and then...what?"
"According to Cameron, he holes up somewhere quiet and repairs himself, like a cyborg Doogie Howser."
"How long will the repair take?"
"It depends on the severity of the powercell damage," I reply.
"Give us a ballpark figure."
"One to three days. It's an incredibly difficult procedure. It's rarely even attempted in the future."
"How come? They must get damaged all the time."
"Damaged terminators are broken up and the parts reused in newer models."
"Hear that?" Daniel grins. "Skynet recycles. Maybe they're not so evil. I'm kidding! They're monsters."
John says, "You mentioned something about specialist tools?"
"Yes. The ceramic knives won't be sufficient. The armor shielding needs to be removed very delicately using precision instruments."
"So -what? We stake out every hardware store in the city? Hardly practical."
Daniel says, "These cookies are delicious. Try one."
"They're made from processed sugar and refined carbohydrates," Sarah Connor chides him.
"You say it like it's a bad thing."
"It's not funny. And you're giving Mia your bad eating habits."
"Hey, she's the one decided to put ketchup and mayonnaise on a saltine. That's gross even for me."
"Diabetes isn't a laughing matter; it's a killer."
"Cameron, please tell Sarah how I die."
"You perish during a HunterKiller raid on a Resistance convoy. I'm sorry for your loss," I add. Empathy. Nailed it.
"The future isn't set," Sarah Connor insists. "You needn't accept that is your fate."
"Oh I'm not, believe me. Anyone asks me to go on a convoy I'm gonna be washing my hair that day." He snacks on another cookie. " Hmm, delish."
"Have you heard anything I've said?"
"And while we're on the subject, how exactly are chips not a vegetable? They're made from potatoes."
"Most are less than five percent potato. The rest is artificial corn starch and additives," Sarah Connor counters. This argument is familiar. And one neither will ever conclusively win or gain the upper hand. I get the impression both understand this but relish the opportunity to throw shade on the other's POV.
Humans. Whatcha gonna do?
John has been unnaturally silent, staring moodily out the diner window. "Is anything wrong? I enquire. More empathy. I am on a roll!
"It's just...I think I've missed something. The last piece of the jigsaw."
He continues to gaze out the Diner window. Across the street is a garage. A mechanic is busy mending an automobile, carefully selecting a tool from a tray then disappearing under the engine's hood.
John's eyes widen in sudden revelation. "Shit, I think I know where Bob is!"
"You know who has specialist tools? An air conditioner repair guy. Bob's in the house in Sherman Oaks."
"I thought you checked the place out?"
"No, only the garage. We assumed...No, I assumed the poor guy was killed for his van. What if it was for the whole enchilada?"
"What is enchilada?" I ask.
"All of it. The tools. A house in a quiet street. Divorced. No kids. Self-employed so no colleagues to wonder where he is. It's the perfect setup."
"I'm sure the man had some friends," Sarah Connor says.
"Sure. Maybe they play golf at the weekend. Or go fishing together. But right now no one misses the guy."
"It certainly sounds plausible."
"Then what are we sitting around here for?"
The garage is a tight squeeze for four people plus all the air conditioning units stacked up against the walls.
"He's in the chest freezer if anyone wants to take a look," John whispers.
"I've just eaten so I'll pass, thanks," Daniel replies.
A rear door leads to the back yard. A flagged terrace surrounds a small kidney-shaped pool. One of those automatic water filters swims sluggishly back and forth keeping the water clear. Snowy watches ours for hours, always hopeful it might climb out of the pool and play with him. Good luck with that.
The back door is locked. "Look for a spare key," Daniel suggests. "My mom used to keep ours under a flowerpot."
"No time for that. Open it,"Sarah Connor orders. Happy to oblige.
The house is single story yet spacious. There are three bedrooms one of which has been converted to a home office. Pictures of the latest air conditioners are stuck to the walls like pin ups. Whatever floats your boat.
Room by room we search. There's no sign of the T-800.
"Dammit, I was so sure!"
John looks so forlorn I want to go and hug him.
"Have you tried the basement?" Sarah Connor asks.
"There's a basement?"
"That door there."
"I thought it was a store cupboard."
"Only one way to find out.
The basement is a work in progress for the owner, who seems to be trying to turn it into a recreation room not unlike our own. There's a large flatscreen TV on the wall. A messy jumble of video games next to a games console and one of the vibrating rocker chairs that terrify Snowy. All that's missing is a fussball table. Although this basement does have one item ours doesn't.
A T-800 model terminator slumped against the wall.
We draw our weapons, spreading out in a semi-circle around the stricken cyborg. His abdomen is sliced open and the armor shielding removed exposing the powercell. Beside him and partially dismantled is the stolen nuke.
"Holy crap, look at the state of him."
At the sound of Daniel's voice the T-800 raises his head and regards us dolefully. "John Connor. Sarah Connor. I don't know you."
"Daniel Lieberman. Pleased to meet you. Or not, rather."
"The inventor of the Lieberman mine. Three of Skynet's primary targets together in one room, yet I am helpless."
"What the hell happened to you?"
"The time nexus delivered me to a busy highway. Something fast and heavy struck me before I was cogniscent of my surroundings and severely damaged my powercell."
"And you couldn't fix it."
"No, John Connor, I could not. The damage is too great. The tools at my disposal too primitive."
"Yet you murdered five people in trying."
With some last reserve of strength the T-800 reaches out a hand to the nuclear bomb. Whether he could have triggered it or not we will never know.
Three shots ring out simultaneously. The cyborg's skull disintegrates with the impact of the armor-piercing shells.
John takes out the geiger counter. The sound of gravel on a tin roof is louder than I have ever heard it.
"Shit, the readings off the scale. We need to leave or we're gonna cook. Cameron, stay here and replace that armor if you can. We'll haul his sorry ass back to the safe house."
"And the nuclear bomb?"
"Leave it. I'll call Agent Grant once we're home. It's her problem not ours."
John and Daniel are in the kitchen, each with a beer in hand. And there are three empities in the trash. Neither is a big drinker except on celebratoryl occasions like this.
Mia is home from school and busy outside in the yard. She has taken it upon herself to repaint Snowy's doghouse a particularly vivid shade of pink. John has speculated it can now be seen from the International Space Station. I suspect this is an exaggeration.
Sarah Connor enters the room, hair still wet from her third long shower. She is clearly determined to rid herself of every last speck of radioactivity. And with her destiny who can blame her? All our clothing was contaminated and has been bundled up in a garbage sack for later burial in the desert.
"Have you contacted Agent Grant yet?"
"No, I was waiting for you."
"Do you think we'll get a reward?" Daniel suggests hopefully. "We saved the world. Okay, not the whole world but we saved a piece of Los Angeles from glowing in the dark. Hey, maybe we'll get a full pardon. We won't have to skulk around in the shadows."
"Since when do we skulk?"
"Come on, we deserve something. Maybe the Congressional Medal of Honor. That'd be cool. I could wear it round my neck like Mr T. I pity the fool who doesn't have one of these."
John makes the call. Agent Grant answers on the second ring.
"Agent Grant, how are you?"
"Mister Connor, I was wondering when I'd hear from you."
"Uh - it's not my birthday."
"Well, we got you a present anyway. Spoiler alert - it's a nuclear bomb."
"You found it? Where?"
John recites the address in Sherman Oaks.
"What about - uh - Bob?"
"He's been dealt with."
"I see. Are you in Sherman Oaks now?"
"Nope, we're home enjoying a well-earned brewski."
"You left the bomb unattended? That is extremely reckless of you."
"Hey, you're harshing my buzz."
"I'm sending a retrieval team now."
"So where do we stand now on the whole amnesty thing?"
"I'm afraid the amnesty ends the moment we have the bomb in our possession. My department simply cannot be seen to make deals with dangerous fugitives who are the prime suspects in multiple homicides." Agent Grant's voice softens. "If it's any consolation, I believe you."
"That the thing - Bob - was from the future. The evidence is overwhelming."
"Then why the hell are we on opposite sides?"
"My superiors, the political appointees, they simply won't countenance something so...outrageous. I'm sorry. I'm truly sorry."
"Yeah? Well, you can take your sorries and stuff them in a sack!"
John ends the call by hurling the phone at the wall.
"Not even a gift voucher. And from tomorrow it's right back to being open season on the Connor family."
Snowy suddenly bounds into the kitchen and leaps onto John's lap. He's in a cheerful mood because he's had double portions of doggie chow to compensate for his missed walk. There's nothing that dog likes more than a full stomach.
"Look at you all happy with your tail wagging. Must be nice being a dog," John muses. "No federal agents to screw you over."
"Or household bills to pay," Sarah Connor adds.
"And no testicles," adds Daniel.
For a moment all is quiet. Then John starts to chuckle. Soon we are all laughing.
Begin with a ball joke and end with a ball joke, that's my motto.
Agent Grant will be back, to coin a phrase.
Next: Something completely different...