No one wanted the responsibility of dealing with this terrorist threat / biological disaster in the making.The local fire department had been more than happy to turn ownership over to the city police, who had been eager to put it in the hands of county officials, who had called up the state’s Capitol shot-callers and emergency response team. Not since Three Mile Island had the state of Pennsylvania seen such an impressive display of kicking the can down the road.
The state legislature was thrilled when the Feds finally showed up. The FBI, and their Hazardous Material Response Unit, and Homeland Security agents played hot potato with the threat of biological warfare, while the CDC representatives and the EPA’s Environmental Response Team each held the door open for the other, hoping they’d step through first.
So when DEA Agent Vince Cohen arrived on the scene in a kevlar vest over his shirt and tie, with a Glock 37 on his hip and a backup .38 special across his chest, no one asked any serious questions. They’d all been looking for a volunteer to take the weight of this shitshow and, lo and behold, a fall guy had been delivered. So it was with commendable levels of cooperation that the joint task force of disparate agencies cobbled together to sort out the mess that was Black C.A.S.T.L.E. gave Agent Cohen all the information he requested and eagerly handed him the reins. And that’s how Gemma–armed with her insider knowledge and access to the Hero of Black C.A.S.T.L.E., as the press had named Kacie–had come to make his acquaintance.
Even as the plan was going by the book outside of Black C.A.S.T.L.E., inside the facility, things had not transpired quite the way Stan Kijek would have preferred. He had underestimated the threat of the lone hero who was doing her very best to ruin their plans; he would admit that much. First, their inside man in the labs who had prepped the delivery and helped setup the decoy had disappeared off the map. Add to it the fact that the ruthless Strong and the cunning Malanan had been bested by some fresh-out-of-college brat … that was unacceptable. Once again it fell to Old Stan to clean up everybody else’s mess.
As he generated a new keycard and added the chem lab’s permissions to it in the computer, he realized what he should have done from the beginning: he should have done it all himself. It would have been cleaner that way, and he’d be richer for it. Now, the odds were thinning on him getting out of this intact at all, let alone getting his cut.
But there was still work to do. The Feds had been handled and whatever they did from this point on was out of Stan’s control. What he could control, however, was when and where he’d allow access to the building. He brought up his touchscreen and opened all of the doors along his chosen path. He kept the main entry points locked down as well as the main bank of elevators on the ground floor. He shut down the camera feeds for the entire facility. Stan had hoped to plant both his own gun and the gun he’d used to kill Ben Bostick on one of those eco-terrorist nutjobs, but with both of them still breathing that would have been a tall order. Instead, he wiped them both down and stashed them in a hiding place. He’d have to come back later to dispose of them, no matter how much that irked him.
With the touch of a button, Stan brought the freight elevator back into action. However, he’d only be able to access it from within the chem lab. Stan wasn’t looking forward to the 16 flights of stairs he’d have to climb momentarily. His mood improved when he reminded himself that it would be a worthwhile sacrifice for what would soon be a life of leisure.
Some 20 minutes later, with keycard in hand, Stan emerged from the northeast stairwell of the 16th floor in Black C.A.S.T.L.E.’s executive suite and stared down the barrel of a gun. For a pants-shitting second, he though Strong had found him out and had come to finish the job. But it was only Rick Benes. And, thankfully, the PhD showed a moment of hesitation before punching a hole clean through Ol’ Stan’s noggin, which was a weakness and a mercy not known to the likes of Strong.
“Jesus, Rick! Nearly gave me a heart attack!” Stan said, still panting from the 16 flights of stairs and now using the jolt of adrenaline to better play the part of a man who has come out on the other end of a great ordeal physically unscathed but an emotional wreck. It was an award-winning performance.
Rick tilted the gun barrel up and out of harm’s way. “You almost got worse than a heart attack, Stan. Are you alright? What the hell is going on?”
Stan slumped against the wall and caught his breath. He waved Rick off for a moment and then said, “Some nutjob terrorists busted in and took over the control room. They killed Ben…” he let the silence hang for a few moments to allow the impact of this news to do its damage. He counted to three in his head and then continued. “I managed to give ‘em the slip but only barely. And they’ve got our guns…”
“Well, we’ve got some of theirs,” Rick said, holding up his spoil of war before flipping it around and handing it, grip first, to Stan. “Sounds like you need this more than I do.”
Stan didn’t take it, not right away. He was in little danger–except maybe from Strong–but Rick didn’t know that, so Stan decided to play the noble hero card. “You keep it. You might need it. Besides, you’ve got to get the others out of here.” Stan gestured to the line of co-workers crouched behind Rick. They were silent, wary. He noticed the young man at the end of the line also had his gun drawn with a dead-eye aim still locked on target with Ol’ Stan’s forehead lined up in his sights. Stan had missed that little detail until just then; he needed to sharpen up if he was going to get out of this alive.
“We’re covered,” Rick assured him. “Besides, Kacie Lin is still in here somewhere harassing the plans of these murdering bastards. She might need your help.” He nudged the gun right into Stan’s hand. The guard took it and, fighting off the sour expression that threatened to crease his forehead at the mention of Kacie Lin, nodded his thanks.
“Elevators are still down so far as I can tell,” Stan said, checking the chambers in the six-gun. “But this stairwell was clear on the way up. Hopefully the Feds can find a way to get you all out on the ground floor, so just be as careful as you can.”
“You, too. Good luck.” With an exchange of nods, Stan headed off through the office suite toward the central elevator lobby while Rick led his co-workers down the stairs to safety. Matt, still bringing up the rear, shot one last look at the night guard’s back before he went against his instincts and followed the others into the stairwell.