As Americans we place a great deal of trust in our right to vote as we please and the promise that our vote will be meaningful.
Freeze Frame 2016 is the story of terrorist groups from outside the United States attempting to take those precious rights away.
It’s a tale of murder, drugs and intrigue that leads up to a presidential election. It deals with subliminal persuasion, something I called “far-fetched hocus-pocus”, until I discovered the U.S. government had dabbled in it as early as the nineteen-fifties.
My name is Darcy James, and I’m the creative supervisor of a billion dollar automotive advertising account in Detroit, Michigan.
This is my story, as I lived it, told in my own words.
So read on. But fasten your seat belt, because it begins with a two-car race down a crowded suburban street that threatened to end this story before it started.
No time to think, just react.
Mashing the accelerator to the floor, the force of the engine thrusts me back into the seat as the powerful Avatar AVX springs forward, reeling in taillights from the darkness of the road straight ahead. In seconds a vehicle a hundred yards away is suddenly just a car length in front, its red taillights slipping to the right and disappearing as I whip the Avatar around and past.
“Darcy!” In the passenger seat beside me, Sean Higgins stomps the floor in a vain attempt to slam on an imaginary brake. I wonder whether his anxiety springs from the blinding speed of the seven hundred horsepower sports car or the fact that a female is behind the wheel.
A bright yellow Ford pulls onto the road just ahead, oblivious to my Avatar eating up the street behind it. I slam the brake pedal, jam the clutch to the floor, downshift and swerve left, flying past a shell-shocked driver.
Numbers on the digital speedometer blur: sixty-four…eighty-five…fifty-three…forty–seven…fifty-eight.
My heart beats wildly; my mouth feels dry as dust.
In the mirror I see the SRT Viper chasing us reflecting our moves; a pair of headlights dodging left to right, right to left across all three lanes.
From the moment I sat at the wheel of the Avatar AVX, this car felt special — the way the interior wrapped around me in the driver’s seat and its acceleration pressed my body back into leather. I wish I could enjoy the experience now, but this ride could turn deadly any second.
In spite of the Avatar’s overwhelming power, the Viper gains rapidly. In heavy traffic I can’t maintain a speed above sixty miles per hour for long. Slashing through slower vehicles, I alarm drivers as I scream past, causing them to pull aside, making it easy for the two men in the Viper to follow.
A giant semi dead ahead. I spin the wheel, nearly side-swiping a Jeep on the left, then pull a hard right avoiding a pickup truck. I race past and brake hard, downshifting, and barely miss becoming part of the backseat of a red Camaro. Swerving left, I find myself behind a Chrysler 200. I felt sure I had put pavement between the Viper and me, but no such luck. With the advantage of following in my tracks it now looms just a car length behind.
Suddenly the Chrysler ahead turns right and I see clear road.
Downshifting, I pound the accelerator, our bodies slamming leather as the V-12 roars and speedometer digits blur. Nothing can match the acceleration we feel. Looking back, I see the Viper trapped behind a gaggle of cars. The yellow eyes in the rearview mirror grow small.
An exhilarating three minutes pass before Metropolitan Parkway appears dead ahead, the intersection empty but traffic signals burning bright red. With the Viper now gone from the rear view mirror, I kill the Avatar’s lights and put it into a four-wheel drift, screaming into an illegal left turn. Tires shriek against pavement and the car suddenly heads west leaving Gratiot Avenue behind.
Thirty seconds pass before I switch the lights back on and slow to avoid attracting attention.
As the Avatar resumes normal speed, I glance sideways at Higgins. The agency vice president who had pissed me off a few hours earlier by referring to the Avatar AVX as “a real man’s car,” now appears shell-shocked. His eyes are deer-in-the-headlights wide and as we pass under a streetlight I see that all color has drained from his face. His lips are moving, trying to form words, but without sound.
I speak first.
“You’re right. This is a real man’s car.”
How many were there? And how long before they came after us again, now that we held the mysterious DVD they’d proved so willing to kill for?
My body was coming down from a serious adrenalin high. I hadn’t driven that fast in months, never on city streets. My heart still pounded, albeit slower, and I became aware of my palms — wet and slippery against the leather steering wheel.
A digital gauge on the instrument panel began blinking the news — the Avatar’s fuel tank needed nourishment. Higgins slowly regained his composure as we turned into a Shell station off Metropolitan Parkway. He used a credit card at the pump farthest from the cashier’s booth, filling the Avatar with high octane.
I thanked God I had kept up the training the Adams & Benson advertising agency provided its creative people five years ago. Back then it was common practice to send writers and art directors assigned to its American Vehicle Corporation account to the famous Skip Barber Racing School. They wanted us to have an intimate feel for the subjects of the ads we were assigned to create.
I took the training more seriously than my contemporaries. When I left Detroit after my divorce five years ago, I became a regular at the two-mile, fourteen-turn Grattan Track near Grand Rapids. There I practiced skills like heel-and-toe downshifting, trail breaking and finding the fastest racing lanes.
When AVC made plans to introduce this souped-up AVX version of their hot Avatar sports car last summer, company officials asked me to drive one of the first prototypes. They wanted, get this: “a woman’s opinion.”
My opinion? The same as a man’s — with a top speed well over two hundred miles an hour and a zero-to-sixty time under three seconds, this car was one fast mother.
I stayed in the driver’s seat as we pulled back onto the road, checking the rearview mirror for signs of the Viper or the police. We drove aimlessly, both of us near shock from the events that had just taken place: the shooting of a policeman and the high-speed escape from two armed men. The image of the officer crumbling to the pavement kept tumbling through my mind. Had he died? Did he have a wife? Children? A feeling of sadness stuck to the mental picture.
To my right Higgins fumbled with the stereo; “I could use some ‘Music to Relieve Stress By.’”
He found a newscast instead. We listened in horror as the breaking story unfolded; a police officer killed near Roseville, a community north of Detroit. Two males were being held for questioning; two other persons, a man and woman, had fled in a black Avatar. It would be a matter of hours at most, before those “two other persons” were identified as Darcy James and Sean Higgins, executives employed by the Adams & Benson advertising agency.
Higgins hit the “off” switch. “They’re saying we killed that cop.”
“Maybe we should get to the police and tell them what really happened.”
“No. You can bet the two guys chasing us have already spilled their version. What chance do we have when the cops, including your former husband, already have me in their sights for another murder?”
I hated to admit Higgins was right. “It’s our word against Bacalla and Roland’s,” I said. I glanced over at the small metallic disc in his hands. “We’ve got to find out why they’re so desperate to get their hands on that DVD.”
Higgins thought for a moment. “It keeps coming back to this disc and Vince Caponi.”
I felt the impact of the situation wash over me. There seemed to be no one to turn to, and my fate was partially dependent on a man I couldn’t stand to be in the same room with just days before.
With the police looking for us, driving the black Avatar was like riding around under a spotlight. I left the main road and meandered through side streets.
We rode in silence. At one point, as Higgins pulled out his cell phone and started punching numbers, I stopped him.
“What happens tomorrow will affect hundreds of lives,” he said. “I’ve got to tell Cunningham we won’t be there.”
“Not on your cell. I read that police can triangulate their location. By now they know are identities and cell phone numbers. We need to find a pay phone.”
“Good luck finding one in the Cell Phone Age,” Higgins said. For the next few hours we simply drove, as if moving made us less vulnerable. Staying clear of major highways we wandered from side street to side street, from suburb to suburb, from late night to early morning.
Somehow we had to uncover what Vince Caponi found on that disc, but without suffering the same fate.
Ten Days Earlier
Friday, Oct 07 — 6:13 p.m.
A devout Roman Catholic, Vince Caponi would spend the last few moments of his life viewing a pornographic movie.
He would have had a logical explanation if Father Brezinski of St. Germaine’s Parish had walked through the door instead of the killer.
The evening had begun with the prospect of another late session at United Color Studios. For the tenth day in a row Caponi found himself alone at the studio, camped in a dark, windowless editing suite surrounded by three naked white walls and a fourth covered by a dozen TV monitors. A control panel housing rows of dials and switches that operated those monitors ran the length of the wall.
To relieve the boredom, Caponi decided to download a movie from videogiant.com, an on-line video store he had subscribed to a month ago. He’d run the movie on one monitor, while editing the commercial for American Vehicle Corporation on two of the other screens. The agency needed the finished spot the next morning, but after eight years in the business Caponi could turn out a thirty-second spot in his sleep.
Unfortunately, the selection of videos on videogiant.com fell far short of its name. He had already seen most of the current titles, and found nothing of interest there or on the list of older, classic videos. About to give up, he noticed a section of XXX titles. Curious, he clicked on the section and found a page touting the very latest releases. Each selection included the film’s title and a photograph of the actresses who cavorted in it. One in particular caught his eye: Titillating Ta-tas. The attractive blonde in the photo looked oddly familiar. In fact, she could have been the identical twin of an actress in a certain AVC commercial he had edited a few months back. It couldn’t possibly be the same woman…could it? He decided to check it out.
Downloading the video took seconds, and Monitor A soon came alive directly in front of Caponi. He fast-forwarded through the credits of Titillating Ta-tas and froze the action as the blonde in question appeared wearing a seductive smile and little else. Next, he retrieved the single copy of the AVC commercial in question from the storage room. He inserted the disc labeled Avion on the Beach into the computer and hit the switch for Monitor B.
The commercial began with the Avion, AVC’s top selling vehicle, parked on a beach and surrounded by a host of bikini-clad women. As the camera zoomed in for a close up, Caponi leaned forward in his chair. The blonde next to the car appeared to be a dead ringer for the woman smiling down at him from Monitor A. But whether she was more than just a look-alike he couldn’t be certain. Turning a dial in front of him, he slowed the action on Monitor B until the commercial ran virtually frame-by-frame.
That’s when he noticed something funny. Strange funny.
He felt unsure of what he saw, but it concerned him enough to call Darren Cato, the TV producer at Adams & Benson, the advertising agency that filmed the spot. Finding Cato long gone on a Friday evening, he left a voicemail message. Then he burned two copies of the commercial, put the discs into clear plastic protective covers and inserted each in a cardboard envelope. He enclosed a short note in Cato’s package, called to arrange a special pickup, and carried both outside to the FedEx box at the front door.
A ringing nightline greeted him back in the editing suite. The caller turned out to be someone at the agency who had heard his message for Cato; a name he didn’t recognize. The man told him not to worry about his discovery; the disc must have been sent to United Color by mistake. Said he’d send someone to pick it up. Caponi hung up and unlocked the studio’s back door.
Returning to the editing suite, he began thinking about what he had seen. He hit the button on the Sony machine and replayed the commercial. When he got to the blonde, he slowed the action once again. That’s when the significance of the aberration dawned on him. He sat stunned; realizing the brief note he had enclosed in the package to Cato wasn’t enough. No, my god, not nearly enough.
He ran out to the FedEx box, finding the two copies gone. Damn. FedEx must have had a truck in the neighborhood when he called.
Caponi dashed back in, careful to lock the front door. As he returned to the suite he heard a noise from the rear of the building — the messenger coming for the disc. He couldn’t let him have it, not now.
He had to tell someone what he had found. Caponi reached for the telephone and dialed Cato’s home number. He got the usual “your call is important” message after the fourth ring and began to speak into the receiver, leaving a detailed message.
He felt rather than saw the figure in the open doorway and began to turn when the nine millimeter hollow point ripped through his cheek, shattering teeth and taking out part of the roof of his mouth before tearing through the other side.
That bullet would have made certain he never talked again, but it wasn’t enough for the man now four feet from the back of Caponi’s head. A second hollow point ripped through his brain, blowing his forehead open and painting the control board with blood, cerebrospinal fluid and bits of bone and brain tissue.
What remained of Caponi’s head crashed against the control board amidst a spreading pool of red just below the blonde on Monitor B, still smiling, oblivious to the blob of crimson matter now oozing down the screen.