Shuffled Off – Prologue

Tamara Watson was nervous. “What if they don’t believe us?” she asked Jin Shi.

“If they don’t believe us, we’ve been duped; I mean they are both all over that thing,” Jin answered, indicating the large stack of paper Tamara held in her lap.

She thought it a bit silly, but Jin had insisted. They carried the words on paper, because Jin would not risk losing control of it by transferring it electronically. The source copy was on an isolated network, the backups heavily encrypted, the reading copies on paper.

Jin was driving them down Interstate 10, the road laid out in front of them like a pair of black ribbons running through the scrub desert. They were leaving the outskirts of Tucson heading northwest towards Phoenix.

“I know, I know. It’s just…” Tamara said, clutching the paper in her lap.

“What? You know we have to do this, otherwise no one will believe a word in that.” Jin gripped the steering wheel, his knuckles turning white.

“This is it,” Tamara said pointing across the median at the two lanes going the other way.


“Right here is where it happened. Where they…” She trailed off not finishing her thought.

“Look, we did our homework; we have validated as many facts in there as we can. That wreck, Ms. Smithson’s fall, the incident over by Picacho Peak. We have to take the next step and interview the witnesses.”

“I know,” Tamara said quietly, staring straight ahead.

“Besides, he told us to do this. There’s no way I’m going against him.”


“You read that! You know what he can do.”

“Jin! JJ is not like that. He wasn’t trying to hurt anyone.”

“Yeah, well he did,” Jin said, looking around as he added, “he could be here, right now.” They were alone in the car.

Tamara sighed refusing to engage again in Jin’s paranoia. If she were being truthful, she would have to admit to some of it herself—there was no place to hide from him. They drove on for a few minutes in silence.

“Isn’t this what you wanted all along?” Jin finally asked.

“Well… Yes. I just didn’t expect the first transmissions to come from someone we knew. I… I wasn’t expecting to lose a friend.”

“Before you came along,” Jin said, “my project was straight forward; you are the one that wanted to add all these metaphysical components.”

“It’s not like you objected—all those dollars dancing in your eyes.”

“Tam, what’s wrong with that? We’ll probably make millions off the book alone, not to mention movie rights.”

“It was never about that,” Tamara insisted.

“For you, that is.”

“Damn it Jin, you know why I did this.” She was tired of this conversation; they had had it before, and would undoubtedly have it again. She didn’t want to talk about her fiancé and what happened after he died. She didn’t want to go poking around in the grief that still felt surprisingly raw two years later.

“I know Tam,” Jin said. “Look, I’m sorry. I really liked JJ too. I am sorry he’s gone. I’m sorry it took him dying for us to get that.” Again he glanced at the stack of paper in her lap.

“It’s OK Jin, we’re just both nervous.” Consulting the GPS she added, “This is our exit coming up.”

They got off the highway and drove along the frontage road past some rusted water tanks until they came to a dirt road.

“Here,” Tamara said, “turn here. There is the rusted wagon wheel he mentioned.”

Jin turned the car down the dirt road and they slowly drove out into the desert until they came to a lone trailer sitting on a slight rise. In front of it was a large red tow truck with “Sal’s Towing” painted in white letters on the side. Next to it were two cars, one covered with a tarp, the other a badly damaged wreck. Behind the vehicles stood a small shed.

“Well, here we are, let’s get this done,” Jin said as he shut the car off and got out.

Nate Luca emerged from the trailer. He was a large man, about thirty years old, with a barrel chest, thick arms, and short cropped black hair. He was dressed in jeans and a white t-shirt. He reminded Tamara of a bear. He always seemed to be so sweet, but she imagined that if you crossed him that, like a bear, he would be fearsome.

“Jin. Tamara. Did you have any trouble finding me?” Nate asked.

“Nope,” Jin said shaking the big man’s hand. “Good to see you again Nate, thanks for agreeing to this.”

“You’re welcome, but I have no idea what I have agreed to.”

“Sorry about the secrecy, but we have to follow certain protocols.”

Nate shrugged as if lifting the weight of his questions up and letting them roll off his broad shoulders.

“Is Mrs. Lynch here?” Jin asked.

Nate said that she was and showed them in. When they entered, Janet Lynch, a short middle-aged woman with graying hair was in the tiny kitchen vigorously scrubbing down the counters. She looked up, startled when the door opened, in mid-swipe with a rag in her hand. She said with a smile, “Sorry, nervous habit. Hope you don’t mind.”

“Mi casa, su casa,” Nate said with a grin.

She wiped her hands off and came around into the small living room embracing Tamara, her lips brushing her check. “You look good dear. I like the new haircut, it suits you.”

Tamara smiled, her hands touching her shoulder length hair. “Thank you.” She was impressed that Mrs. Lynch noticed; she had only met her a few times.

“And you Jin, thank you for coming,” Janet said as she embraced him.

“Thank you Mrs. Lynch,” Jin said, “we really appreciate you doing this.”

“Janet, it’s Janet.”

“OK. Janet.”

“Better. So what exactly are we doing?”

“Sorry, but I can’t tell you yet,” Jin said. “I know it is strange, but first I need you to sign these non-disclosure agreements and affidavits, and I need to set up our video equipment.”

Tamara talked them through the agreements while Jin busied himself setting up two cameras, one pointed at Nate and the other one at Janet. “OK Tam, you take it from here,” Jin said, moving behind the cameras and starting the recordings.

Tamara stood, wiping her hands on her black skirt. “What I have here,” she said holding the large stack of paper in her hands, “is what we believe are…” She paused, clearing her throat. “Excuse me, I’m really nervous.”

“Don’t be dear,” Janet said, “just spit it out.”

“Do either of you know what Jin and I are doing at the university?” Tamara asked.

“No,” Janet said.

“JJ mentioned something about some fancy electronic shielding,” Nate added.

“OK,” Tamara said, “the shielding is part of it. We have created a way that…” She stopped speaking again, her hands gripping the paper harder. Taking a deep breath she continued looking at Janet. “Forget the technology part, what I have here is a document written by… written by your son.”

“OK. So why all the secrecy?” Janet asked.

“Because of when he wrote it,” Tamara said.

“When he wrote it?” Janet asked

“Yes,” Tamara said licking her lips, “he wrote this starting last October.”

Janet’s face fell, her sagging skin adding years to her apparent age. Nate’s eyes widened, his head slowly nodding up and down.

“But he died in—” Janet began.

“In August,” Tamara continued. “Yes. That is why we are being so secretive about this.”

“What?” Janet asked. She was swaying slightly as if dizzy. “What are you saying?”

Tamara took a moment to answer, speaking slowly, “I am saying that your son wrote this after he died.”

“What are you trying to do to me? I will not listen to this!” Janet surged to her feet, her face flush, her eyes tearing up.

Nate reached up and took her hand and said, “I think we should listen to them.”

“What?” Janet said, looking down at the big man.

“I have reason to believe them,” Nate said softly.

“What!?” Janet asked, shaking her head.

“Please, just listen,” Nate said, his voice still, soft, and even.

Janet sat down, but kept a hold of Nate’s hand. “Excuse me dear,” she said to Tamara, “please continue.”

“I am going to read this to you. At certain points I will stop and ask you to comment on the accuracy of the events described, and to add any remarks you might have. Any questions?”

Both mutely shook their heads “no.”

Tamara, still nervous, took a deep breath trying to clear her head and began reading.

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