Saturday morning felt normal for a suburb of Tucson, flat, bright, not blazing hot yet but certainly no clouds anywhere to prevent that eventuality. The line of unmarked black SUVs with government plates made its way down Mary Ann Cleveland Way, passed the Walgreens and continued up Colossal Cave Road before turning into the Vail Ranch subdivision.
The houses here, cookie cutters with alliterative floorplan names like "Daniel" and Delaney" to distinguish themselves, were inured to passing sport utility vehicles. The cavalcade of Homeland Security agents did not elicit a second glance out shuttered windows. A helicopter circled overhead.
"Mr. Hill? Solomon Hill?"
Saul squinted against the morning sun. Why was a man in full hazmat suit standing on his doorstep, asking for him by his full name?
"Call me Saul, please. Can I... what can I help you with?"
Saul was nonplussed as Mr. Hazmat Suit pushed past him into the living room, only managing to sputter "What? What?" as four more similarly burly, similarly attired men entered. The last shut the door behind him. Saul could see more men outside unspooling yellow caution tape across his driveway.
"Okay what are you doing! Who are you people? You can't just..."
"Our apologies Mr. Hill, but this is a matter of national security," said Hazmat Suit #1, without even the hint of apology in his tone. He held up a badge and motioned for Saul to sit. "I am agent Smith and these are my colleagues."
"Is this a robbery? What is going on!"
"Mr. Hill, please have a seat."
Saul remained standing, his mind racing.
"Mr. Hill, there isn't any easy way to say this. I have some bad news. Your wife is dead."
Saul felt a heavy pit of numbness in his stomach. Shouldn't he feel sad? But this didn't feel real - Mary wasn't dead. And hadn't he wished she was dead only last night? Why were the men wearing hazmat suits? He felt... only numb. Why wasn't he more upset?
"Mr. Hill, were you surprised when your wife didn't come home from the hospital last night?"
"No. Why? How did she... why are you wearing hazmat suits?"
"Mr. Hill, why weren't you surprised?"
Two of the men had left the living room. What were they doing?
"Did your wife tell you something unusual about her practice this week?"
The numbness was slowly churning up into anger. Seriously! What are these men doing? Was Mary really dead?
"What are you doing here? How... if my wife is dead, how in the world is that a matter of national security!"
"Mr. Hill, you will have to forgive me as I can't divulge classified information. You said you weren't surprised when your wife didn't come home last night."
"No, I wasn't surprised. Mary has been having an affair with a nurse at the hospital. She rubs it in my nose! Is... is she really dead? What is going on!"
"I know this is a shock. And I really can't tell you anything. But it is important that you answer my questions now. I need you to tell me everything your wife told you about her job this past week. Any little detail may help us. What did she tell you about her patients?"
Saul realized he was clutching his coffee cup with both hands. He put the cup down on the windowsill and sat heavily on the piano bench. Mary hadn't talked to him about her patients in years.
"I seriously don't understand what government agents in hazmat suits are looking for in my house."
"Mr. Hill, you and your daughter are in danger. Your lives are at risk. I need you to answer my questions."
Daughter? An involuntary glance out the window up into the dry gully across the road.
"What does Olivia have to do with this? Our lives are at risk?"
"We believe you may have been exposed to something through your wife. Please. What did she tell you about her work?"
"No, nothing. She doesn't talk to me about work. She... didn't talk to me. Exposed? She died from a disease?"
The other two men re-entered the living room. One shook his head.
"Mr. Hill, where is your daughter?"
Olivia scraped dirt out from under her fingernails with her teeth as she pondered the line of black cars parked in front of her house. The dry creek bed beckoned with adventure but she thought maybe she should go back and see what those men wanted from daddy.
Osandra spoke up loudly to say we need to go far away from those bad men. Osandra, we don't know those are bad men. Oh yes they are. Osandra is sure. Well, Osandra you don't exist. You are just one of the inside voices.
Hmm, a helicopter. It is circling over our house. We need to hide! Osandra, hush now. Daddy says there aren't any bad men and you should quit telling me to run away.
Let's watch a little while. We can lay down here behind this rock. No, we need to go now! Okay, Osandra, we can go to the cave that Mr. Spelunker showed us. I have the flashlight in the hello kitty backpack.
Mr. Spelunker is real, he exists. Daddy didn't believe us but we saw him. He was a small little man with a totally bald head. He said his name was Mr. Spelunker when we followed him to that cave. Daddy laughed and asked us where we heard the word spelunker.
Mr. Spelunker didn't laugh at us. He told us that the cave was breathing. Feel that breath? He asked. Yes, we could feel the cold air rushing out of the small hole in the ground. That didn't look like a cave, but Mr. Spelunker made us promise not to go inside. Too dangerous, he said. That cave is breathing through miles of passages, he said. We could get lost. That little hole? Mr. Spelunker called it a skinny squeeze and said it widens out after a bit.
Okay Osandra, yes I see those bad men coming. They won't be able to follow us past the skinny squeeze. Let's run!
All words and art by moi. This is part 6 of an ongoing series.
Part 1: A crumbling machine found in the desert
Part 2: Surface Expedition Report
Part 3: Disorientation
Part 4: Her eye glowed red
Part 5: Patient Number REDACTED