Jonathan Foster did not normally answer calls when in a meeting with his campaign team. The team which planned out the strategies for him, the same strategies which would help him realise his childhood dream: Being the President of the United States.
But this was no normal call. It was his personal phone which was ringing now, a secure line so that it couldn’t be tapped. He excused himself and walked out of the room. Foster didn't have to look at who was calling as he answered the phone.
“I’m sorry to disturb you sir but I thought you should know. United are out of solitary and will soon be in contact with each other.”
“Should I be worried?’
“I’m afraid they might draw up an escape plan sir. And now that you’ve gone public with your plan, their first target will be you.”
Foster let out a harsh laugh. They had already discussed this multiple times. Joseph worried too much. Arkon was a solid wall of security. Given its location, it was almost impossible to escape. Except if the guards committed mutiny, he thought with a smirk. He knew Joseph's real concern about himself. The public didn’t know he had been involved but if United escaped, there was no guaranteeing his own.
“Tell Alex to contact our mole.”
His mind was still trying to wrap around what Alvin had said when a sharp, short bell rang, indicating the start of the leisure time.There was a television at the head of the cafetaria where his own face and the faces of the others had been staring back at him. He had earned some looks from the other inmates, some threatening,and some respectful. He had ignored it all, silently eating his lunch when he couldn’t find the others. Atlas assumed they were in the other building.
As he slowly walked towards the exit which would lead him to the field outside, he thought about how it all made sense. This was the ideal plan. Foster knew if he captured United, the people would love him. But he also knew that no attempt to directly capture them had ever worked. And so he had baited them out. But did that rule out the possibility of a traitor in their group? Not entirely. Foster had never been warned. He had always known they were in Lincoln Gardens. But there was no way he could have guessed their escape route.
Now, as Atlas walked outside to the ground, a huge smile broke on his face and for a moment, he forgot everything he was thinking about. There they were, at the other end of the field. He could make out one of them waving at him. He waved back and started towards them. He looked around himself as he walked ahead. There were guards at random intervals walking around the perimeter of the field. He walked past a group of prisoners who were cheering on two other inmates wrestling on the ground. Another group ahead of him were playing football with a punctured ball.
There were no cameras here but Atlas knew that none were required. There was a tower at the end of the field overlooking everything. He could see a guard through the glass at the top of the tower. The front and the back of the field had solid walls with electric fencing on top of them. The only escape from this field was back into the buildings.
“Hey man, how are you?”, said Stephen as he approached the group. They were all either sitting or laying down on the grass, taking in the sun. Arnold patted the space on the grass next to him, indicating Atlas to sit down.
“Been better”, said Atlas with a smile.
“We all have”, said James, his eyes closed.
“So are all of you in the other building?”
“Yes of course. I was surprised you weren’t”, said Arnold.
“Our friend here has been extra naughty”, said Nathaniel laughing.
Atlas joined in on the laughter. It felt good to be back with the others. He felt himself slowly loosening up. The past few weeks had been terrible but now they were together again, he somehow felt stronger, both,mentally and physically.They were like family to him. Excitement tingled through him at the prospect of escaping this hellhole with them.This was just like any other assignment which needed intricate planning. The only difference was that this time, it wasn’t for money. It was for their freedom.
“You hear the news?”, asked Spencer.
“Uh huh. Beats me how he did it though”, said James.
Atlas looked at Arnold who gave an almost imperceptible nod. He knew the possibility of a traitor as well. But it would be foolish to bring it up now. Right now, they needed to be a cohesive unit. They could address it later on.
“So how are we going about this?”, asked Atlas.
“Well, I know the entrance to the building is on the other side of Atlas’s building.There’s a parking lot right there for visitors”.
“And the back behind yours?”, asked Atlas.
“Yes”, replied James.
“The walls are pretty high as well. Even if he somehow got to the top, we’d have to disable the circuit.”
“And i wouldn’t want to get close to any of those nuts, especially with the equipment they have”, said Nathaniel, eyeing the guards.
“I think we’ll need help from the outside. Only six of us can’t really do anything”, said Spencer, looking at Arnold.
The others looked at Arnold as well. He had always been the one who had planned their operations. Stephen even had a name for Arnold. ‘Our Messiah’, he would say. Arnold smiled and nodded in response to Spencer.
“Spencer’s right. I think it’s time our friends gave us a visit”
“The warden wants to see you 18. Stand up against the wall and put your hands behind your back.”
A guard was standing at the entrance of his cell, waiting for him to get up. He silently obeyed, knowing that disobedience would cost him a shock from the taser. He felt the cold metal of the handcuffs on his wrist as the guard pushed him outside and led him towards the stairs. He kept thinking of what possible reason there was for the warden to see him. Was it him alone? Or were the others being called as well?
They were in the cafeteria now and the guard led him to the other side of the hall where some of the inmates would spend their recreational time. There was a carrom board with chairs around it. It looked as if the game had been interrupted by the bell with the pieces still spread upon the board. Next to it, was a deserted chess board with no chairs around it.
No surprises there,he thought.
Behind it was a steel door with ‘WARDEN’ written over it in white. The guard opened the door and pushed him inside. It was a small office with a cupboard full of files in one corner of the room. There was a desk in the centre of the room which had a plaque that read ‘Alex’. Sitting behind the desk was the man himself.
He had seen Alex only once; when they had been brought to Arkon. And he hadn’t liked the looks of him. Alex was a tall, well built man with a well kept moustache. He had jet black eyes and light brown hair. Not the kind of person you would find smiling.
“Kindly excuse us, Jordan”, he said to the guard.
Jordan nodded and left the office. Alex leaned back in his chair and put his hands behind his head.
“My apologies for troubling you 18, but I have some important information which I was requested to convey to you immediately”
He kept silent. What was going on?
“It is from Jonathan Foster”, said Alex with a wry smile.
He stiffened. So Alex knew. Or had been told. It didn’t matter either way.
“He wants to let you know that you are to immediately inform me if United come up with an escape plan. I personally think his worries are unnecessary since no one has ever escaped Arkon, but I am not one to contradict such a powerful man. You can relate”, said Alex laughing.
He remained silent.
“He tells me you wanted to be in Arkon with United so that if they ever escape, and your cover is blown, you’re ‘dead-meat’. A very surprising wish but I thank you for visiting my humble prison”
Alex was trying to make him angry. He would not give in. But he was speaking the truth. It seemed like decades ago when Foster had approached him. Even then, he had been clear of how he would stay in United’s good books. He would have Foster’s money and their trust. When their sentence was finished, he would retire and live a quiet life, enjoying the money he would be receiving. Openly betraying United would mean that someday or the other, they would come for payback. He couldn’t risk that. He had never been brave as a child, always hiding in the shadows of his friends. Even with United, Arnold had been a guardian angel for him.
“I hope you clearly understand your responsibility towards me and Jonathan Foster”, said Alex, bringing him out of his thoughts.
“Yes”, he said stiffly,
“Then we are done here. I wish you a pleasurable stay at Arkon.”
Pine Ridge, one of the most expensive housing co-operative societies in Los Angeles. You only lived here if you were extremely rich or extremely powerful, either of which, automatically made you the other as well. It was located on a hill overlooking the entire city and was big enough to be a small city. It had villas lined on either side with a golf course and a clubhouse in the end. The facilities were top notch with every villa having a private swimming pool, a personal butler and an entire cooking and cleaning staff. Basically, if you lived here, you were respected by anyone who knew you.
Now, while the other residents were enjoying the alluring sunset, Richard Brown sat in his living room, reading the letter which had just arrived.
Dear Uncle Brown,
It has been such a long time since we last saw each other. Our last meeting is still fresh in my mind, almost as if it was yesterday. We had so much fun.
As you may know, I was recently arrested and sent to Arkon prison. Pretty unfortunate if you ask me. This is a dreadful place and I would love to see you. Please come visit me sometime soon. Can’t wait to meet you!
Your dearest NEPHEW,
Brown smiled, noting the emphasis on nephew. It was a running joke between him and Atlas due to their ten year age gap. And he certainly recalled their last meeting. United had helped him out of a tight spot during a gang war. Blood had been spilled. But Brown had won. And a huge chunk of that victory was due to United’s involvement. Arnold had planned an ambush for them and together, they had succeeded.
Arthur silently entered the room and gave a half bow.
“Yes Mr. Brown?”
“Please check the visiting hours of Arkon prison on Saturdays and let me know”
Arthur gave another half bow and exited the room.
Brown knew what United needed him for. He owed them. And he was ready.