VII. A Drama Unfolds
“People of the world, I come before you today to bear witness to the beginning of the end! Who better than the First Horseman to deliver this message to you? For some, your long suffering is almost at an end. For many, your transgressions will soon be reflected upon you ten-fold by Holy Light! Prepare! For the promised doom is at hand!”
Dennis Mulgrew held his hands wide as he spoke. His broad, sweeping gestures–mimicked by the swaying barrel of his out-held gun–and doomsayer prophecy were captured by six trembling phones in unsteady hands. Rick Benes had received another crack to the side of his skull for insisting that he neither owned a smartphone, knew how to use such nonsense-sounding applications as Periscope or Snapchat, nor had any interest in doing so. He’d been caught lying, and worse, stalling. He now held his phone out in front of him, training its camera on the clearly delusional and no doubt dangerous man, just as his five fellow co-workers and hostages were doing.
“We will start right here in this tower of hubris and blasphemy. We will start by watching the heathens’ skin blister and blood boil as Judgment is thrust upon them. We will delight as the Word spreads from this center of idolatry to touch every man, woman, and child in this city like the plagues of old. We will unite with the righteous who avoid its deadly touch for they are Chosen, they are with us! We will…”
Gunshots rang from out in the hallway. They were muted thanks to the insulation in the office walls, but the camera phones picked them up just the same. Mulgrew turned to face Malanan and Strong. His eyes were wide, lidless, and staring with a laser focus. His sweaty forehead was that of a man with a deadly fever on the edge of succumbing to his sickness.
“Amateurs!” he shouted, not at the cameras still trained on him or the sinful audiences around the world who would soon receive his message–at the moment only a few were watching, but soon it would be thousands, hundreds of thousands … millions–but at Malanan and Strong themselves. “Whatever it is, take care of it! The both of you!”
Strong looked to Malanan for reassurance. Malanan held Mulgrew’s glare and did his best to refrain from committing mutiny. He weighed the options: If he tested Mulgrew’s authority here, on camera, the ruse would fail and so would their greater plan. If he left the madman alone with the hostages, he’d almost certainly kill them or they’d subdue him. Neither option was great, but the latter was preferable. It was also preferable to have Strong by his side rather than here babysitting a lunatic and six people who’d just as soon kill him as Mulgrew. Malanan reached a decision in a blink.
He gestured to Strong and the two of them left the office while Mulgrew returned to his live-streamed rant.
In the office lobby, Malanan tried to raise West on the radio multiple times, each time getting only silence in return. “What were all those shots?” “What happened?” “Did you see him?” “Is he neutralized?” Finally, West responded simply, “I’ll handle it,” and that was the last they’d heard.
Malanan and Strong cared little for West’s well-being and only slightly less for the hero wandering the halls. They were a secondary concern; their first priority was to check in with Stan and get their bearings as to how the real plan was coming along.
“Stand by. Our guests are just arriving,” Stan said into his radio. Malanan answered in the affirmative. Stan knew that, unlike Mulgrew and his blockheaded disciple, Malanan and his lieutenant would maintain their position until Stan said otherwise, even if the building were to burn down around them. You could count on men like that, and you could damn well appreciate how much easier that made it to pull off a production like this, one with so many moving parts.
Stan chuckled at that thought; it reminded him of his days in the high school drama club for some reason. He had done a fair bit of stage acting, nothing major, certainly nothing in the lead. He’d considered himself one of those guys you could count on to know their lines and hit their marks without a hitch, just as he knew guys like Mulgrew and West who were so wrapped up in their own importance as to take the shine from everyone else and put the play at risk. Well, if Stan had his say about it–and he would, this was his production after all–those two would get the hook soon enough.
A monitor displaying the feed for a camera pointed at the outer gate of Black C.A.S.T.L.E. showed a big red firetruck at the restraining bollards, all flashing lights and blaring sirens and apprehensive firemen in their protective and reflective gear. The sunlight was just beginning to fade to that magically brief window that filmmakers called the “golden hour.” Nothing had ever looked so beautiful to Stan.
“On with the show,” Stan said with a smile. Right on cue, the control panel lit up with a notification that a vehicle was waiting at the outer gate. Stan let it blink for a minute or so. When the driver decided he had waited long enough for a response, he hopped down out of the rig and looked for the phone that, when picked up off its cradle, would automatically ring Stan’s twin phone in the security office. Sure enough, it rang. Stan let this go on for a minute, too, before picking up. He not only wanted the fireman on edge, he wanted to let his own nerves appear to be fraying as well.
Stan picked up the receiver.
“About damn time! What’s up with…”
“Listen closely,” Stan interrupted, trying to keep the smile out of his voice even though he could barely keep it from his face. “My name is Stan Kijek. I’m the night guard. This facility has been taken over by terrorists.”
The fireman on the other end of the line actually had the nerve to laugh. It wasn’t a belly laugh or anything suggesting that he and Stan went way back and that he knew the big Polish guy had a weird sense of humor. It was a nervous laugh, an uncertain laugh, a “This is above my pay grade” kind of laugh.
“You shittin’ me, pal?”
Stan appreciated his skepticism; it opened up an opportunity to stress just how serious this situation was supposed to be.
“I’ve got one dead guard, a gun barrel pressed to my temple, and who knows how many terrorists loose in a facility that houses the most lethal viruses on the face of the planet. Does it sound like I’m shitting you, pal?”
Stan heard the fireman curse under his breath; he fought back a laugh.
“Go ahead. I’m listening.”
“They want me to pass on a message; that’s the only reason I’m not dead already. Here it is in their words:
“We want the authorities here, not just the local police, but the Feds–FBI, CIA, NSA, Homeland Security, everybody–the CDC, and even the Heathen President. (Again, their words.) We want you to know that we have hostages and that we’re in control of the building.
“We’re broadcasting a message for all to hear. Follow @TheFirstHorseman, #BlackCASTLE, and #Pestilence on social media.”
Stan was met with silence on the other end. Then…
“Jesus. Okay. Is that everything? Do they have demands, or … How many of them are there?”
Stan slammed the butt of his gun against the control panel and gave a pretty convincing cry of pain, if he said so himself. When he spoke again, it was if he was wincing and having difficulty drawing breath.
“No more questions. Do what they want or I’m dead, and so is everyone left alive in here. They said they’ll be in contact if you follow their instructions, but only then. I have to go. Please…”
Stan severed the connection by simply hanging up. He watched with a broad smile as the fireman, clearly shaken, looked at the phone in his hand once before hanging it back up. The man ran his hands through his thinning hair as he relayed the message back to his crew in the hopes that he hadn’t left anything out. First, Stan knew, they’d contact their chief, and from there it was only a matter of time before the rest of the authorities showed up, all while the Internet was doing its thing and spreading Mulgrew’s word and the chaos and fear that came with it.
Meanwhile, Stan took the opportunity to shore up the facility’s defenses. They really were state-of-the-art. He was in control of everything from this lone perch. Even the federal authorities, once they inevitably arrived, couldn’t do a damned thing if he didn’t want them to, unless they wanted to nuke the place and write off the facility and the 300,000 tax-payers in the blast radius. So it was with an assured air that Stan checked off every possible entry and exit into the building as if he was crossing items off a grocery list.
Now that the show’s First Act was well on its way to being concluded, Stan returned his focus to that little problem of the hero who was intent upon ruining things for him. He scanned the camera feeds until he found a flicker of movement. Stan radioed Malanan and Strong, who were, as requested, still holding position in the office lobby.
“Hero’s in the autoclave room, northwest corner. If one of you takes the west hall and the other takes the north, you’ve got him no problem.”
Stan leaned back and watched Act II unfold.