A Dubious Mission

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A Dubious Mission

Chapter One
Present Day
Colton Banyon rubbed the day-old growth on his rugged but still handsome face as he peered out the master bedroom window from the second story of his home in the far suburbs of Chicago. He now lived in a small two-story townhouse condo in the equally small village of Streamwood, Illinois. He had lived in better places. It was just before dusk on a sweltering day in early August 2009. He reflected on his past precarious life. Life was a cycle, and his had been on a downslide for a few years now.

He noticed a large white van that entered his street and parked at the end of the small cul-de-sac.

It was too hot to go out, and he didn’t want to sit at his desk anymore, having already spent the entire day calling people—“networking,” as it was called in business. He had checked all his Web sites, executive recruiters, and friends. There had not been even one job for which to apply. Money was now in short supply, and like most fifty-something-year-olds, recreation was sometimes just thinking.

How had he gotten into this mess?

He was contemplating whether to sell the house to pay some bills or possibly going the all-American route and declaring bankruptcy. He’d received several ads from bankruptcy lawyers on the Internet. It depressed him that even they knew he was having financial difficulty.

If he had to, could he start all over again? These are just material things. He had lost possessions before. After all, two divorces can wipe a man clean.

As he continued to ponder his future, he examined the van and noticed that there were not any trade advertisements on it. It had no specific markings of any kind on it

The sound of the van’s doors opening brought Banyon out of his reverie. Four men, with shaved heads and dressed in black outfits, exited the van. They appeared to be carrying small black boxes. The men headed across the street and toward his condo, which was about fifty yards away.

Since it was just before dusk, Banyon strained to see out the window. His senses told him that something was not right.
Banyon trusted his senses, and they were screaming now. These men were not repairmen. He wondered if they were about to rob him. There had been several robberies in the area. Banyon watched as the men seemed to huddle and then turn toward his condo. Their movements were swift, showed planning, and almost gave the impression of a military strike. As he stayed in the shadows, he observed silent hand signals. Two of the men broke away to circle around the house. Quickly Banyon ran to the back of the second floor in time to see one of the men pulling the grate off the basement window well.

Basement windows were the easiest way to enter his house, as neighbors would hear nothing and see nothing. The window was hidden from view in the window well. What Banyon was able to make out was terrifying. A man with a large swastika tattooed on his thick neck was pulling a ski mask over his head.

Banyon bolted from the window. With two men in the front and two in the back, there was no way out. The open plan of his house allowed anyone to see the second floor as soon as they entered the door. They would find him in a matter of seconds. He had to get away now. He didn’t even have time to grab his cell phone, which was on a charger in his downstairs office. The lone way out was through the attic. He hoped that it might take them some time to find the door leading to the second-floor laundry room.

As he closed the door leading to the laundry, he heard the basement door open and footsteps roamed to the front of the house. They would be checking all the closets, bathrooms, and under the bed in his downstairs suite before they went looking upstairs, he hoped.

Stealthily Banyon climbed the stairs to the attic and emerged into a large open area. As he pushed open the attic window, it occurred to him that the window was at least fifteen feet above the short, steeply pitched lower roof. He would have to drop down right in front of the large picture window that he had been looking out of only moments ago. Dropping down was not an option for him. Ever since he had fallen off a roof as a child and hurt his knee, Banyon had nursed a fear of heights.

His very survival depended on pushing back his fear. If he could stand on the window ledge, he might be able to climb to the top of the roof. Sweat stung his eyes. The prospect of climbing onto the roof deepened his terror. At fifty-four, he was not used to much physical exertion. Yet he had no other choice. He had to go, now.

Teetering precariously on the edge of the window, he groped for something to grasp. Even though he was six feet tall, he could barely reach over the roof’s edge. Finding nothing to use as an anchor, he realized that he would have to hang from the roof edge and slide, hand over hand, down the roof angle. After about three feet, his hands were bloody. He pushed back the pain. Finally reaching the end of the ledge, he encountered a gutter and a two-foot drop to the lower roof. Letting go of the ledge, he hoped to land on his feet. He hit the roof on all fours. To his surprise, he stuck.

He bolted for the cinderblock wall that divided his house from the neighboring house, vaulting over it easily. He followed the roofline to the end of the townhouse. The unit at the end was but one story high. Sliding over the edge, he grabbed the satellite dish antenna that was attached to the wall and dropped to the soft garden. He ran for his life.

When he was a child, his family had lived in the woods. Banyon didn’t own a bike back then, so whenever he wanted to get anywhere fast, he ran. Running had become second nature to him.

That was then, however. Now thirty years of smoking had taken its toll. Banyon knew he could not run for long, so he raced for the small stand of trees a block away. Once inside the woods, he stopped to catch his breath. Crouching behind a thick bush allowed him to observe the back of his townhouse without being seen. It was still light enough to see from his position, and the streetlights had come on as he was running across the road. Temporarily secure, he tried to compose himself. He had to critically analyze his suddenly dangerous situation.

Who were these guys, and why were they robbing him? Was this really a robbery, or was it something else? Suddenly he noticed movement in the late dusk light.

A lone figure was standing on the roof of the townhouse, scanning the area. The figure left abruptly. Banyon was frozen in position. If they are robbing my house, why is one of them on my roof? Colton Banyon had been accused of being paranoid more than once in his life. He was paranoid now. He could think of no one who could be considered an enemy. True, he owed some money, but not to loan sharks. His sardonic New York wit had, on occasion, pissed off a few people—but not on a criminal level. He was virtually an unknown in the small village of Streamwood. What to do?

He could run to a neighbor, but this could put the neighbor at risk. He considered trying to get to a business or a public phone to call the local police, but it was about half a mile to the nearest business, a gas station. Too easy to stake out. Sometimes the best strategy was to do nothing. The complex where Banyon lived was built around a circle with only one entrance/exit point. Banyon lived near the back of the complex, off of one of the many culs-de-sac that branched off the main road. After a ten-minute wait, headlights appeared up the street. The van rounded the corner and drove right by the bushes where Banyon was hiding. The van was a Ford Aerostar. He could see Illinois license plates, starting with the letters GPG, but the numbers were too hard to see. This should give the police something to go on in tracking the men.

He wondered if any of the men had been left behind in the house while the others went to stake out the gas station. No, that would leave the lone man vulnerable to getting caught. Banyon decided that the most logical thing to do was to return home and call the police. While the men had seemed professional, they had left some loose ends. Banyon figured that they were after his valuables after all and no one would be in his house. He wondered what they had taken.

Cautiously Banyon crossed the road. He was careful to stay within the shadows. In a few minutes, he reached the basement window well and noticed that the window and grate had been replaced. He ran around to the front door and found it locked. Why would burglars lock the door after leaving? And why would they take the time to replace the window well and grate? What is going on here? Turning his attention to the garage, Banyon punched in the code on the keypad, and the door obediently went up.

His Lincoln town car loomed large in the space. Nothing seemed to have been touched. If anyone were in the house, they would now know that Banyon was in the garage. Banyon knew that the garage door leading into his house was locked, but he also knew that he always left his keys in the ignition of his car when it was in the garage. He went to the driver side and reached in the open window to grab his keys. As he pulled them out of the window, he dropped them.

When he crouched down to retrieve the keys, he noticed a small wire that was attached to the underside of his car. Although he’d never before seen a real tracking device, he’d read about them many times. The small black box with a wire antenna was secured to the rear of the undercarriage of his car. He suddenly recalled that the men had carried small black boxes as they left the van. Many stores offered products for protection, recording, and detection of movement. You could even buy some of those items at the local Radio Shack. But tracking devices? Banyon wasn’t quite sure where they were sold. Certainly ordinary thugs had no need to put tracking devices on the cars of their victims.

He now knew that he could enter his house and there would be no one there. Although he was suspicious by nature, his paranoid meter was hitting maximum. Banyon the businessman dealt in high-level strategies, and this was clearly one. The hair on his neck bristled as he silently opened the door. Were there listening devices in the house? What else could be in the small boxes that the men had carried? If they had bugged his house, the men would know when he was home and could pick him up, kill him, or do to him whatever they had in mind. He had to hurry since the opening of the garage door might have set off some of the bugs.
Nothing was out of place. He needed his wallet, watch, and cell phone. The face that stared back at him from the bathroom mirror needed a washing. His green eyes had turned brown. It was a sure sign that his emotions were raging out of control. He was frightened.

He ran to the office in quest of his cell phone. It seemed untouched. Hurriedly he programmed the house phone to forward all calls to his cell. He wondered if he should attempt to find the bugs but decided to leave that to the police. He had to get out of the house immediately.

Back in the garage Banyon looked under his car for more bugs. He failed to locate any more. His organized mind was now in overdrive. Next on his agenda would be to find a place to stay. But first he needed to report the break-in to the police. He didn’t want to hang around his house, as the men might come back. The police station was only a mile away. But it was a place that he didn’t want to go. He had a history with the Streamwood police department. Once a criminal, always a criminal.

But if he took his car, the men would know that he was on the move. He wondered if he could detach the tracking device and leave it in the garage. But if the men came back while he was at the police station, they would find it and the evidence would be gone. Suddenly the solution seemed very simple—take the bug off his car and place it on the car of a neighbor. It was night. No one would be going out, and the police could retrieve the device quickly. His neighbor’s car was just outside his garage. Carefully he removed the magnetized bug from his car and carried it to his neighbor’s. Surely the people who monitored the bug would not notice a ten-foot change in location. He attached it to the bottom of the neighbor’s car. Satisfied with his handiwork, he fired up the Lincoln and headed for the station. He took a back road to avoid the gas station – just incase.

He tried to focus. Okay, what did he know for sure? The men were after something. If this was an ordinary robbery, why attach a tracker to his car? Why him—was it something he knew or owned or something he had access to? It made no sense. His life was just business and his extended family. Almost everything he owned was new. The last divorce four years ago left him with his clothes and a few artifacts from his departed parents. Everything else in his house had been bought within the last two years. He did have his father’s war medals and coin collection. Were they after his mother’s spoon collection? Maybe his old books were the draw. He did have his Russian grandmother’s atlas from the 1900s written in Cyrillic. He should have checked to see if anything was missing, but he was scared and in a hurry. He could check later.

Suddenly a speed bump alerted Banyon that he was in the parking lot of the Streamwood Police Station.