The closest Kacie had ever come to doing hard drugs was watching Breaking Bad. She’d gotten in her share of good-natured arguments over the close-but-questionable science of the show: the saving graces of explosive chemistry, the evidence-erasing power of hydrofluoric acid, the not-so-pure quality of Walter White’s blue meth. She had no idea what the street value of crystal meth was, but if the show was even close in that regard, she knew that whoever made the quantity of the crystal-clear drug in the boxes in front of her would need more than a car wash to launder the ill-gotten gains. Six boxes weighing roughly 250 pounds each was a hell of a lot of meth no matter what the price was … enough to kill for.
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.
For the first time since this whole thing started what seemed like hours ago, Kacie felt like she had the upper hand. The gunmen were clearly after something in the chem lab. But what was it? This was an FDA-approved lab, but busting into one of the most secure facilities on the planet just to swipe a few prescription pain pills or laughably small quantities of Schedule 1 drugs was insanity. Either these guys weren’t as smart as they thought they were, or they were after something else entirely.
Spray-painting all the cameras in his little section of Black C.A.S.T.L.E. had given Rick a much-needed purpose in an otherwise helpless situation. Unfortunately, it had taken him all of about 10 minutes to finish the job. With the doors still locked down and armed gunmen roaming the facility, all Rick and the others wanted to do was get the hell out of there. Instead, they were stuck. That didn’t sit well with Rick Benes.
“I’m going to check the doors again,” he said to the others. They were all holed up in the same conference room they’d been confined to before; at least this time it was by their own decision.
Rick had been walking the very short perimeter of their office suite every 15 minute or so, testing the doors that exited to the stairwells on either end and checking the double doors that opened onto the floor’s main lobby. Each time he was met with the same result: A door handle that would turn and a lock that wouldn’t budge no matter how much he jiggled the handle, kicked at the door’s plate, or threw his shoulder into it until he was sore. He expected nothing different this time; it simply gave him something to do to quell his restlessness. So with gun in hand and a casual lack of caution earned by repeated failed attempts to open the doors, Rick resumed his rounds. The exits to the stairwells were, as expected, locked. The double doors to the lobby, however, swung open with ease.
No matter how tightly he curled in on himself on the freezer floor, Michael Martin could not stop his body from shivering. He was as if a man possessed. He imagined he could feel every skin cell, hair follicle, and nerve bundle shaking as his muscles performed their irresistible dance. His body was still pressed into the gap between the staging room and the refrigerated room that lay just beyond his reach. The force of his body’s shivering occasionally spiked, driving his back, his elbows, shoulders, and hips against the cold unyielding wall that propped him up. Michael knew he should stand, that he should keep moving, but his body refused to listen.
To Kacie, the sound of the killshot sounded an awful lot like a burst of radio static. In fact, it sounded like two bursts going off at the same time, one from the gunman’s walkie talkie and one from hers. The gunman hesitated as the voice of his partner hailed him.
“Any luck finding the heroes?”
The gunman grabbed his walkie and responded, his other hand still leveling the gun at Kacie’s head. “Affirmative. I’ve got the girl. She’s no longer a concern.” The tendons on his gun hand tightened.
Kacie and Rick split up after spray-painting the cameras in the halls and labs of the 16th floor of Black C.A.S.T.L.E. They each had their own jobs to do: Rick had to find a way out of this place and get the others to safety while Kacie had to find out what the remaining terrorists were up to and hopefully stall their plans long enough for the cavalry to arrive. Tall orders for each of them.
Kacie circled back to the animal surgery lab where the stringy-haired madman was seated in the corner on the floor trying to calm his breathing. He paid Kacie no mind and she returned the favor. Luckily, what she was after wasn’t in the lab but in a small preparatory room just outside of it.
Surgical tools and drug solutions could be passed to the operating lab through a sort of sterile airlock after going through a decontamination procedure. Samples and specimens taken during operations could pass back through a similar door. Kacie had a momentary thought that the madman might try to worm his way through this escape hatch, so she eased her mind by ensuring that it was locked from her side. Then she set to work.
Stan watched over his many monitors as the cameras on the BSL-4 level were blacked out with spray paint one by one. He could see the culprits; they weren’t exactly being sneaky about it. One was the hero bitch, one of the thousand Chinese or whatever grad students that came through this place. The other was Rick Benes, whom Stan Kijek had no problems with, it’s just that he’d mouthed off to Malanan and gotten a pretty good crack for it. Two, in fact. Stan didn’t think either man would let those slights stand. There would be trouble as long as both of them were around.
As his Eye in the Sky was in the process of being poked out, the first creeping sensation of doubt visited Stan in his guts. It was a sort of deep rumbling like undercooked chicken or bad Chinese–haha, bad Chinese, how ironic, Stan thought–that reminded him that, in spite of all their preparation, this was a contingency they hadn’t prepared for. And now at least two rogue agents were loose in the facility while Stan was rapidly losing control of the situation, and his bowels.
He radioed his team. “Malanan, what’s the status of Phase II?”
“In progress. No eyes on the package yet. Our inside man seems to have up and disappeared on us.” Malanan paused as if sensing that there was more to the hail than simple curiosity. “What’s the problem?”
“Those heroes, they’ve started blacking out cameras in the hallway with spray paint. They’re up to something. And with all the Feds swarming around outside, I can’t help but think that’s not good for us.”
If Malanan was frustrated, he hid it well. His voice was cool, even, almost as if this had been expected in conceiving one of his many possible plans.
“We can’t move our timetable up that far; we’ve been pushing it as it is. Do what you can to stall the Feds.” There was a moment of hushed conversation. Stan felt a shift in gravity over the otherwise empty airwaves. Something very heavy had just passed between the two men on the other end of the walkies. “As for our heroes,” Malanan continued, “Strong will take care of them. Over and out.”
That crawling feeling in Stan’s guts didn’t exactly subside, it just switched places with a different fear. Malanan was smart, calculating, ruthless when he needed to be, like in letting Mulgrew and West play the patsies so that his more ambitious plan could be pulled off without anyone knowing the wiser. Stan knew it was in Malanan’s best interests to keep the old Polish guard alive at least until they’d split the take and gone their separate ways. Strong, however … there was a man who was good at killing and also happened to enjoy it. Maybe he was so good at it because he enjoyed it. Whatever the reason, setting that dog loose in the facility had been a last resort as far as Stan was concerned. And now that he’d been blinded, he’d never see Strong coming.
So when Stan Kijek hailed the FBI’s Agent Johnson with another fabricated message from the terrorists, it was with an earnest edge of terror in his voice that he spoke.
“Agent Johnson, please listen closely. I’m going to read another statement from the terrorists in their words:
“We are willing to give you the names of seven hostages so that you might inform
their families that any failure on your part to comply with our orders will result in their loved ones’ deaths.” He rattled off a list of first names only.
Let them have fun wasting time on corroborating names and tracking down relatives, Stan thought. He continued.
“If you attempt to cut the power, we’ll kill a hostage. It would be futile anyway since this facility has a redundant connection to the electrical grid and enough fuel to run the backup generators for 72 hours.
“If you attempt to breach this facility from any door, window, wall, floor, or ceiling, we’ll kill a hostage. And your men would also be risking a full-on pandemic.
“If you do not free our brothers and sisters held unjustly and without cause by the corrupt state, we’ll kill the hostages. Here is a list of those to be freed into our custody.”
Stan read from a list of names he’d never heard of in his life. The list had been given to him by Mulgrew, so Stan had incorporated it as another puzzle piece connecting this Four Horsemen nonsense to Mulgrew and his disciples. Plus, it would chew up significant time and resources on the outside, which is what Stan needed at the moment.
“And when we kill these hostages, we’ll kill them in pieces and broadcast the process for the world to see, all because you failed to follow our simple instructions. It doesn’t have to be that way, unless you force our hand.
“That’s it, Agent Johnson,” Stan said, breathlessly. He was done acting for the moment, but the final curtain call had not yet arrived. He had one performance left to turn in and, if it wasn’t the best damned performance of his life, it would surely be the last.
Kacie made her way back to the office suite after double-checking that the madman and Michael were still contained in their respective prisons. She thought maybe she could find something in the office that would help her get out of this mess. As she was about to enter the offices, her phone rang. It was Gemma.
“Gemma, please tell me you and the others got out safely.”
“Miss Lin, this is Agent Johnson with the FBI.”
Someone had dropped $20 worth of Katy Perry in the jukebox, so it was going to be that kind of night. That didn’t bother the members of the Ritter Lab who’d managed to escape Black C.A.S.T.L.E. and were none the wiser to its current predicament; they were one Happy Hour and a few drinks deep already. Gemma and Lynnie were chatting over the tops of their frozen “Big Azz” margaritas, Other Rick was nursing a muddy brown beer of some kind–the kind that came in a too-small glass with a too-big price tag–and Salim was on his way back to their corner table in the back room with a platter full of shots. But rather than pass them around in celebration, he set the platter down on the table and fixed them each with a serious stare.
“You guys have got to come see this,” he said, and then turned to head back towards the bar. They followed, drinks in hand, a little curious, a lot buzzed.