• Sam Mitani

Red Mist, Chapter 4

The response from Paul Verdy was unexpected. There was no smile or a welcome-to-the-team handshake, just a curt, direct order. “You’re late. Park the Lexus and get in. Read this on the way,” he said, handing Max Koga a thin file.

“Yes sir,” Koga replied, parking the RC F and jumping into the passenger seat of Verdy’s Infiniti QX60.

As the SUV steered north on Highway One, Koga opened the manilla folder and saw his medical evaluation inside, the one prepared by Dr. Damien Harris, the doctor who provided the unfortunate second opinion. “So you knew. Does this mean the job offer is no longer on the table?” asked Max.

“If that were the case, you wouldn’t be in this vehicle with me now, would you,” Verdy replied.

Koga never bothered to ask Dr. Harris for the details of his psychiatric evaluation, and he hesitated to even look at the report. But it was a reality he needed to face sooner or later, so he began reading.

Maximilian Koga suffers from Complex Trauma, resulting from the shock of his father’s death at an early age and the loss of his colleagues in the Mexico incident. The latter seemed to have triggered a form of synesthesia that accounts for his peculiar vision tinting. With most synesthesists, colors are associated with taste or smell or letters of the alphabet, but in his case, it seems to be set off by emotions. This is highly unusual, I recommend monitoring.

“The thing is that I’ve never felt better in my life,” Koga commented. “Apart from being a bit out of shape.”

“Keep reading,” Verdy instructed.

Koga took up where he left off.

What is concerning is that Mr. Koga’s original DEA report stated that he claimed he was held by the terrorists for a few hours, while in reality, it was three days. This leads me to believe that he may have underwent some form of mental conditioning, or brainwashing, thus I cannot sign off on his reinstatement at this time. I recommend Xanax to help control his tinting symptoms, and perform a follow up exam in two weeks.

Koga scoffed. “Does this doctor know what it’s like to be held inside a windowless room while being tortured? It’s easy to lose track of days or even hours.”

Verdy kept his eyes forward as he spoke. “Max, I don’t believe in brainwashing, and I told Dr. Harris the same. But if it were real, it would have required your captors to break you and make you question your identity, which obviously didn’t happen. And, as far as the Complex Trauma is concerned, I’ve seen my fair share of it, and it affects different people in different ways.”

“When my vision does tint, which has happened only twice so far after coming back from Mexico, I think it provides me with energy. I wonder if it’s anything like the ‘red mist’ race drivers supposedly get.”

“What’s that?” Verdy asked.

“There’s an old myth that when race drivers see an imaginary red mist, they lose all sense of self-preservation and perform risky passing moves with no regard for their own safety.”

“Well, let's hope it's not that,” Verdy commented. “There’s a packet of Xanax in there. The doctor said to take it when your vision tints to keep you level, but be careful, they can be addictive. Okay, we’re here.”

The QX60 turned into the parking lot of a rundown building with the sign “Automobile Digest” in front.

Automobile Digest? That’s my favorite automotive publication,” Koga said. “This is your cover?”

Verdy said nothing as he parked the vehicle and led Koga through the front doors of the two-story structure.

In stark contrast to the exterior of the building, the lobby was a car lover’s dream; the walls were decorated with posters of racecars from various eras, including legendary Alfa Romeos, classic Auto Unions and modern-day McLarens. A row of framed photos of Jim Clark, Ayrton Senna and Mario Andretti hung on the far wall. On a stand to the side of the lobby was a Kamita GT1, a supercar of which only ten examples were produced. It was the final model produced under legendary industrialist Testuro Kanda.

“When you’re done ogling, Max,” Verdy said, holding the elevator door open.

“Sorry, sir.” Koga said stepping into the carriage.

“This building served as the photo studio for Automobile Digest until about three months ago,” Verdy explained. “But ever since they moved it to a new location, it’s been our base of operations. For now, we are the only ones allowed to set foot here. Press the second-floor button and ‘G’ at the same time to access the basement. That’s where your new office is, at least for now.”

“If we’re here, who’s at Argon’s main office in Marina Del Rey?” Koga asked.

“Most of our staffers who manage our lower profile clients, such as private firms and individuals. We have forty total employees at Argon, and another twenty or so freelancers, most of whose identities are kept secret, but only four, including you, are tasked to this special operations unit.”

“When you said you were fronting as an automotive magazine, I never expected it to be Automobile Digest,” Koga said.

“The owner, who you’ll meet later, worked with the CIA several years back, and he’s agreed to help us out.”

The owner of Automobile Digest is a CIA agent?

Before Koga could delve further, the elevator doors slid open, revealing a hallway that ended with a metal door. Verdy placed his right thumb on the fingerprint scanner on the wall, and with a “click,” the door opened, revealing a large state-of-the-art conference room with several flat-screen monitors on the walls and workstations in the back. Sitting in one of the chairs at the rectangular center table was his best friend, Donald Rawlings.

“Donny?” Koga exclaimed.

“You never called me back, bro,” Rawlings said with a wink.

Lean yet muscular, Rawlings had the look of an NFL defensive end, standing two inches north of six feet, which was four inches taller than Koga. Rawlings likened his face to that of Denzel Washington, but Koga always told him that he exuded more of a Kanye West vibe, which Rawlings didn’t much appreciate.

“Is this what you wanted to talk to me about earlier?” Koga asked.

“Yup. Joined Argon three months ago as Tactical Director, but I wasn’t allowed to mention this to anyone, not even my mom, but Paul gave me the okay to talk you into getting your butt in here.”

Koga looked over at Verdy who shrugged his shoulders.

“What can I say. I don’t like taking no for an answer,” he said. “Let me introduce you to the rest of your team. The young lady over there is Denise Johnson, our lead analyst, and the guy behind the three computer monitors in the far cubicle is Raja Singh, our main hacker, I mean, information specialist.”

Koga walked to Denise, who sat at the side of the table with an open MacBook. “I’m Max,” he said, shaking her hand.

“Please to meet you. I’ve heard a lot about you,” she said with a slight southern twang and a smile that could melt ice. Everything about her seemed fiery, from her firm grip to her bright red hair that dropped over her shoulders.

Singh stood from behind his nesting place and walked over to Koga. “Hey. Call me Raj,” he said in a light Indian accent.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Raj,” Koga said, taking Singh’s outstretched hand.

He later learned that Denise was a ten-year veteran as an analyst with the CIA, while Singh worked as a computer scientist for the Pentagon.

Verdy cleared his throat as he took a seat at the head of the table. “Now that we have our Director of Counter Intelligence on board, let’s get him up to speed. Can someone call Stockton Clay and have him join our meeting now?”

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