“Black C.A.S.T.L.E.” Chapter XXIV – Emergence

The explosion had been bigger than Kacie intended. Much bigger. Everything else up until that point had gone according to her plan.

When Kacie had happened upon the lab hazard placards, her mind had instantly put itself in a funhouse of sorts, conjuring up devious ways to use them. She wondered if she’d been mulling over these Rube Goldberg machines subconsciously since the first time she’d ever set foot in a lab back in high school. Whatever the source of her deadly creativity, it had worked like a charm.

She’d heard one of the men grumbling about the liquid nitrogen hoses she’d draped on the door handle and the icy puddle of the stuff she’d left on the floor for them. She’d watched the scarred man, the one fighting off the ketamine hallucinations, get a nasty jolt courtesy of the incubator’s power cable she’d spliced and attached to the lab door’s handle. The fireworks room had taken the majority of her time: Kacie had set the room’s fuse panel to “Off” so that she could rig an electric bunsen burner that would light a strip of magnesium when she flipped the switch back on. This makeshift fuse ran into bottles of thermite that she’d mixed together on the fly. Some metal powder, some iron oxide, and a little bit of strontium, copper, and aluminum compounds thrown in, just to make the fireworks show all the more spectacular.

And it had been a spectacle, for sure. After flipping the fuse and watching from the safety of her hiding place, Kacie had waited until the three of them were enthralled by the fireworks display. Then she rushed into the hall’s big, explosion-proof flammable cabinet to hide. That had been the trickiest part of her plan–rigging a bunsen burner in front of a gas jet and dumping some skunky-smelling methyl mercaptan in a bucket with some dry ice were simple by comparison–and the most harrowing, at least until the explosion.

She hadn’t meant that to be as big or as destructive as it was. Kacie had left the gas nozzles turned on in the far lab. She’d wedged a striker between the door handle and the benchtop so that when the handle turned, the striker would spark, and a fireball would ensue. However, as Kacie could surmise from the force of the blast that threatened to knock over the very cabinet she was hiding in, the gas must have built up to dangerous levels, perhaps blending with the propane in the other rooms and the slightly flammable mercaptan fog, to augment the explosion’s range and power. The fact that it could have backfired and ruptured the very gas lines themselves hadn’t crossed Kacie’s mind until this very moment.

So as she stepped out of the big metal cabinet to find a section of the 16th floor utterly destroyed, she counted herself blessed for having survived but cursed for being alive to face what were certain to be extreme consequences.

All the windows both inside and out had been shattered, scorch marks painted every inch of wall, floor, and ceiling, and the only thing that had kept the flames at bay were the sprinklers raining down as the fire alarms flared to life once more. In that cacophony and destruction, Kacie was too distracted to see the gun until its barrel was pressed against her temple.

“It was a good game, but it’s over now.” The gunman’s voice was smooth and steady, as if he was completely unfazed by the chaos around him. She turned to face him and he made no move to stop her. Kacie saw that it was the vile yet almost handsome man she’d seen through the security glass what seemed like hours ago but was probably mere minutes. Water from the sprinklers plastered his hair down to his head. Behind the man, Stan Kijek stumbled through the scorched doorway that led from the chemistry department’s offices into the lab. For a moment, she thought she’d been rescued. Then the realization that he must have been involved with this heist from the beginning brought that hope crashing back down to Earth.

“You son of a bitch!” Kacie shouted.

“You little bitch!” Stan shouted at the same time. If there was any doubt in Kacie’s mind, it was erased by the hatred she saw in Stan’s eyes then. She hoped it was matched in her own. “Let me finish her off. It would be a real pleasure.”

The other man, still undisturbed by the discordant song of the fire alarm or the astringent smell of burning chemicals in the hall, kept his gun leveled. “Go check on our mutual friend.”

Stan stomped past the two of them, his heavy footfalls sending up splashes of puddled water. He pulled back a heavy lab door that had been blown clear out of its frame and was lying haphazardly on the floor. Underneath it was the body of a badly burned man whose bullet-proof vest and tactical pants had become inseparable from his flesh. Stan actually placed the door back over the man without ever checking his vitals.

“He’s cooked,” he said, shaking his head. “Nothing we can do. So can we kill her now?”

“She hasn’t told us where the drugs are yet,” the cool customer said. He clicked his gun’s safety for added effect. “But she’s about to, isn’t she?”

Before Kacie could answer, the fire alarm suddenly went silent. The sprinklers dried up. The strobe lights went dark. And the freight elevator doors opened with a ding. Kacie’s eyes flicked to it. She tried not to give anything away but the ruse was over. The gunman knew.

“Clever,” he said. “But not clever enough. Stan, if you would be so kind as to call the elevator up. I believe we have a delivery waiting.”

Stan pulled out a key on a chain and used it to override the controls for the freight elevator. He called it up to the 16th floor as the gunman herded Kacie towards it.

“Would have worked, too,” she said, boldly. “I wasn’t counting on Stan here being a traitor.” If she was trying to bait Stan, which she was, she was too late. Almost $50 million in street-value meth was just about within his grasp and he wouldn’t be doing anything to screw that up now, not after all of this.

When the six boxes of illegally synthesized meth came to rest on the 16th floor, Kacie wondered if this was the end for her. No DEA enforcers had ridden to her rescue, and all her delaying had led to this inevitable end. All that was left to decide was just how she was going to die and by whose hand.

“You ready?” the gunman asked. So it would be him, then. At least it’s not Stan. I’d prefer a handsome stranger to a fat traitor if I had to make such a choice.

But he wasn’t talking to Kacie; he was talking to Stan. The guard stepped away from the elevator and put himself between the gunman and the hall leading back to the lab. He nodded.

“Just make it quick,” he said. The gunman fired. Stan dropped to the ground like a sack of rocks. He clutched at his shoulder where a blossom of dark red blood colored his shirt. He tried to work his fingers open and closed but only managed to make them twitch back and forth a bit. He laid down on the floor and did his best to make himself comfortable. He’d be there a little while yet. Stan Kijek had one more big performance to pull off.

The gunman ushered Kacie onto the elevator alongside the pull-cart loaded down with drugs. He kept the gun trained on Kacie at all times, even as he pushed the button for the sub-basement. The doors closed, and they descended.

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Image of PPG Place via Derek Jensen(Tysto), Wikimedia Commons
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