While rummaging through the attic, high school senior, Jack Davies, is surprised to find his never-before-seen birth certificate, revealing a startling bit of information that changes his life. The story his mother told about his birth, he discovers, is revealed to be a lie, shattering long-held beliefs and the trust he had for her. Jack becomes obsessed with discovering the truth, leading him down a dangerous path. Faced with unanswered questions and confounding obstacles at every turn, Jack finds himself deeply enmeshed in an intricate world of national security and international intrigue. Relationships are tested as his every move is tracked by a group of mysterious people. Who are they? Whose side are they on? Who can he trust? And, most importantly, who will he ultimately become?
Jack walked toward the student parking lot. It was late in the day for a final exam, and he didn’t encounter any acquaintances on the five-minute walk to the parking lot. The driver of the Taurus spotted Jack entering the parking lot and turned on the ignition. Jack got into his car and backed out of the spot. His mother was expecting him home before dinner. He became preoccupied with thoughts of the important phone call he was scheduled to get the following morning.
The Taurus followed the Accord, the driver carefully staying sufficiently back to avoid arousing suspicion. After exiting the college, the Accord turned right onto Rockaway Avenue, a main thoroughfare that cut through several suburban towns. Rockaway Avenue had an eclectic mix of old shops and newer, trendy stores. A health foods store sat adjacent to a shop that sold antique toys. When Jack was a boy, he had loved to watch the Lionel train set displayed in the window. The sturdiness of the train cars and the authenticity of their appearance mesmerized him, as did the fantasy of hopping on board and being whisked beyond the confines of his community.
Jack turned onto Valley Mill Turnpike, a single-lane road that ran through a stretch of woodland. Jack was about seven miles from his home. About two miles onto Valley Mill Turnpike, Jack noticed that the Taurus behind him was getting much closer. That guy is in a big-time rush, Jack thought. The Taurus, gaining ground, was now about a car length behind. Jack gently tapped the brake to slow the car, hoping the Taurus would pass.
After a few seconds, the Taurus began to pass. Jack glanced into the Taurus as it pulled alongside. He noticed three people in the car, all of whom were staring directly back at him. It struck Jack as a look of scrutiny, as though to confirm their find. The female passenger, sitting in the front passenger seat, had a piercing, frightening gaze. She waved to Jack to stop.
Jack’s mind was racing. His fear that this group would seek him out had materialized. But he knew he must try to avoid them, lest he expose Cathy to danger. He believed he had no choice but to dodge them and call her. He also knew he should not use his cell phone.
Jack hit the accelerator and his car lurched forward, pulling in front of the Taurus. The Taurus regained speed and, again, came up just behind the Accord. The driver was clearly skilled at this activity and, at once, was able to maneuver his car beside Jack’s. Another wave by the woman to slow down. Jack needed to get away. As he fixed his gaze on the road in front, the driver of the Taurus, in anticipation of Jack’s plan to try to race ahead, pulled his car in front.
Jack was now behind the Taurus. Both cars were moving at sixty miles per hour. Jack knew that a string of about ten stores, including a gas station, was just two miles up the road. Just then, the Taurus started to slow down. Suddenly, the deceleration became abrupt, and Jack couldn’t help but get too close for comfort. He slammed on his brakes. Panic!
Jack tried to steer around the Taurus, but it shifted to the left, a deliberate attempt to prevent Jack from passing. The Taurus was slowing to a complete halt, and Jack was unable to steer past it. His only choice was to put the car in reverse and try to back out of the area. Jack took a deep breath and threw the car into reverse. The Taurus, now also in reverse, followed closely. Jack desperately wanted to turn the car around, and thought he had an opening. He spun the wheel and the car veered toward the shoulder. But Jack was no match for the driver of the
Taurus. Before Jack could put the car in drive, the Taurus lunged back, tires screeching, until it was positioned directly in front of Jack.
Jack slammed the gear shift into park and bolted from the car, leaving it running, and darted directly into the wooded area behind him. The lanky man from the back seat and the woman scrambled from the car in pursuit. In the meantime, the driver of the Taurus repositioned both cars to the shoulder of the road.
Jack had no choice but to use his phone now. His hands trembled as he fidgeted for it, and the uneven terrain made it impossible to maneuver through his pockets. Then he realized his phone was on the passenger seat of his car.
The man shouted to Jack to stop. The woman, not far behind, screamed, “We’re not going to hurt you.” In the face of this madness, Jack found her tone oddly believable. Fearing no possibility for escape, Jack was left with no choice but to confront them.
He wheeled around, screaming, “What do you want from me? Who are you?”
They stood about twenty feet from Jack, separated by a small clearing in the thicket of trees.
“We are not here to hurt you. We need you to come with us,” the woman repeated.
Jack succumbed to a strange, paradoxical mix of panic and curiosity. He didn’t know these people, though he had been aware they might seek him out. But he could not reveal this awareness to them. And he didn’t know if he was in danger. “What if I don’t? You can’t do this to me.” His wobbly voice managed a trace of defiance.
“Actually, we can,” the man declared. His tone was powerful and convincing. That was it. With those three words, the man’s authority — an unequivocal dominance over Jack — became deadly certain.
Jack stood there, frozen, while the pair walked toward him. He suspected he wouldn’t be hurt, but he couldn’t be positive. He was at once consumed with energy and sapped of it.
“Where are we going?” Jack asked, relinquishing himself to a fate over which he knew he had no control.
“Back to the car,” the woman replied. “You need to come with us.”
The woman led the way back to the highway. Jack followed, not wanting to provoke the man, whose presence loomed directly behind. Along the path lay rocks and tree branches. One of these might be used as a weapon, he thought. His mind raced; is there time to grab something? But other than a small tussle with a class bully in the third grade, Jack had not been especially schooled in the ways of physical confrontation. In fact, among the best of his social talents was conflict avoidance. No, he’d surely lose out in a physical struggle.
Jack pressed the pair for information. “Who are you? What do you want from me? Take my car. Take my money. Just please let me go.” As Jack’s pleas faded, so did any semblance of his resistance, and the pair offered nothing. No hint of purpose. No gesture of reassurance. The remainder of the short walk to the car occurred in silence.
As the group neared the car, the man told Jack to get into the back seat with him. The driver and the woman assumed their original positions in the front. She turned to Jack and instructed him, “You need to call your mother. Where’s your phone?”
“It’s in my car,” he responded.
The woman retrieved Jack’s phone from his car and handed it to him. Then she advised him on what to say: “Tell her that you were asked by Mr. Dwyer to help with a project at the department tonight.” Holy shit, she knew his computer instructor’s name. “If she asks what the project is, tell her the department is planning the installation of new hard drives on the school’s computer system during the summer, and you’ve been asked to help with preparation.” Jack felt a sense of terror — she knew about that too! “Tell her you’ll be home close to midnight, but she shouldn’t worry if you’re running late.”
“Is all that clear?” the man in the back asked with stinging bluntness.
The man’s stare was laser-like. “Be convincing,” he said, which sounded to Jack like a warning.
Jack hit the call button and stared at the woman as the phone rang.
The driver, who had not turned around during the entire time Jack had been in the car, kept his sights on the road ahead.
“I got her voicemail,” Jack informed the group.
“Perfect,” said the woman. “Just leave the message and tell her you’ll be home late tonight.”
Jack delivered the message as directed. The slight hesitancy in his voice was not enough to create concern for the group.
“Unfortunately, we’re unable to answer any questions right now,” she confirmed. “But I assure you our aim is not to hurt you.” Then she exited the car, walked to Jack’s car, and got into the driver’s seat. Jack watched as his car made a U-turn. The Accord drove alongside the Taurus and stopped. The window rolled down, and the woman instructed the driver of the Taurus to follow her back to the college.
The trip back to the college was made in silence. Despite her cool assertiveness, the woman’s presence eased Jack’s fear. There was a cold, menacing steeliness without her, and Jack believed there could be harsh consequences if he showed any sign of resistance.
As they arrived at the college, Jack realized he had yet to hear the driver utter a single word. Jack watched as his Accord passed by the student parking lot and headed for the visitor lot. The majority of students at New Jersey Central College commuted to school, but about a fifth of the student body was from out of town. Parents and friends who visited were directed to park in the visitor lot. Jack knew that cars could be parked there for days without being ticketed by college security. Apparently, Jack’s abductors knew this as well.
The woman parked the Accord and returned to the Taurus. Jack observed her placing his car keys into her purse, which had been on the front floor of the Taurus. The Taurus pulled out of the visitor lot, through one of the smaller gates of the college and then back onto Rockaway Avenue.
As the Taurus left the immediate area, Jack, impelled by trepidation, dared to question his captors again. His tone was pleading. “Who are you? Why are you doing this?”
“Everything will be made clear in due time,” the woman replied, icily. “Now, please, no more questions for now.”
Jack knew the car had been heading north, but he was unfamiliar with the route the driver was taking. After what felt to Jack like a distance of about seven or eight miles, the car pulled onto a small side road. It was desolate, eerily so under the circumstances. The lanes were narrow, not much wider than the car itself, and the quick succession of twists and bends in the road made it impossible to see beyond a few yards.
The car drove about five hundred feet up the road, then pulled off onto a dirt shoulder. The woman turned around and faced Jack. Jack’s fear — this terror produced by a sense of imminent doom — caused his mind to scramble, scanning everything, anything for any possibility of escape. But there was no way out, and the fear manifested in jolts to his system. He could feel his heart beating in his chest. A strange numbness gripped his hands and descended toward his wrists. The tips of his fingers tingled and were overwhelmed by a paralyzing weightiness. A stinging electricity coursed through him.
“I can’t tell you where we are going or why. And I’m not free to answer any questions right now. I need you to wear these for the remainder of the trip, though,” the woman said, handing Jack what appeared to be a pair of sunglasses with shields that wrapped around the sides.
Jack slowly extended his hand to take the glasses from the woman and asked why he should wear them. “Just put them on, please. It’s for your own protection.” Jack sensed impatience in her voice, but with a hint of sensitivity. She was a model of efficiency. There was nothing wasted about her. Her words were delivered methodically without a syllable to spare. Her hair, shoulder-length with just a hint of a wave, had fallen back neatly into place despite a run in the woods. Jack felt his heart pulsing.
Jack discovered these were not ordinary sunglasses. They blackened out all traces of light. He had no idea where they were going.
Travel resumed. Jack felt the car make several turns in quick succession. He believed this was a deliberate strategy to confuse him. Until they had stopped, he knew they were headed north,
but this jarring sequence of turns was disorienting. He knew only that there was no stretch of extended highway driving.
About twenty minutes later, the car slowed, pulling onto gravel. The front passenger door opened and the woman stepped out. The two men remained in the car. The woman opened the rear passenger door where Jack was seated. He made no move. The woman reached in and placed her hand under Jack’s elbow. “Please come with me,” she demanded, her tone firm but noticeably polite.
Jack slowly extended one foot out the door and felt a gravel incline beneath his feet. With the glasses still on, Jack was escorted by the woman for about twenty yards. He heard a door in front of him open and was told to go up one step and enter a house. The wooden floor felt like the floor in his kitchen at home. Its hard texture was offset by a suppleness that muffled the sound of shoes making contact with it.
Jack was advised by the woman that he was heading to a room in the back of the house. She led him straight for a few feet and then made a turn to the left. He surmised that a kitchen was to his right from the faint hum of what sounded like a refrigerator motor. He was also aware of the presence of other people in the house, not from voices, but from the dampened creaking of the floor. Another turn, this one to the right, then up five steps. The steps were carpeted, as was the hallway they entered on this elevated floor.
A door opened in front of Jack and he was asked to enter. The woman escorted Jack about five steps into the room, then guided him toward a folding wooden chair. Once seated, Jack heard the door to the room close.
“You can remove the glasses now,” she said.
Jack squinted as his eyes adjusted to the light. The room was almost bare and small, about ten by twelve feet. In front of Jack was a small wooden table made from lacquered pine, flimsy in its construction. A plastic pitcher of water and two plain drinking glasses sat on the table. A small puddle of condensate had accumulated at the base of the pitcher. Jack was in one of four wooden-slatted folding chairs. The room had no windows and nothing on its bleak, beige walls. The light was dim, emanating from four recessed low-wattage lights in the ceiling.
“Would you like to use the restroom?” the woman asked, her tone softer than at any time earlier.
“Please help yourself to some water if you like,” she offered.
“I’m not thirsty.” Then, after a beat, “What am I doing here?”
The woman glanced quickly at the door. Her eyes were in a constant state of alert, radiating a confident vigilance. This woman has never known panic, Jack thought. She checked her watch, then fixed her gaze onto Jack. “We brought you here to meet your father.”
Reprinted from Primal Calling with the permission of Pegasus Elliott MacKenzie Publishers. Copyright © 2020 by Barry Eisenberg.
Thank you, Barry Eisenberg and FSB Associates
About the author
Barry Eisenberg is the author of Primal Calling, his debut novel. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, among others. An associate professor of health care management in the School for Graduate Studies at the State University of New York Empire State College, he is also a health care management consultant and a former hospital administrator. An avid bicycle rider, Eisenberg lives in New Jersey with his wife, Amy.