Driving through San Francisco at the best of times feels like barely controlled chaos. Many of the streets are so steep that you feel you might fall off and go tumbling into oblivion. A good set of brakes are a driver’s best friend. When DeMarcus Dodson first moved here he never thought he’d get used to it.
Time changes things. This morning he’s barreling down a hill at fifty miles an hour in the worst of morning traffic. Swerving around other vehicles, hearing people honk at him, giving them a thumbs up in response just to mess with them. He fits right in. He’s running late for work. Again. He can’t be late for the third time in a week. He doesn’t know how his boss will react if he doesn’t clock in by nine. Yesterday he got a dirty look but today would be worse. The sun in his eyes isn’t helping. The glare makes it nearly impossible to see but doesn’t slow him down. This time of year he should just be happy the sun’s out.
He’s usually not the kind of person who has to worry about being on time. He gives himself extra time in the morning and leaves early. He’s the guy who shows up early even if there’s an accident on the way in. The last few weeks have been different. A guy in a mask attacked him and his boyfriend Jesse while they were out by the pier a few weeks ago. He put a gun in their faces and threatened to kill them. That’s not something you get over in a few days. He’s been having trouble sleeping which is leading to him having a hard time getting up in the morning. It’s been worse for Jesse. He’s barely sleeping at all, he’s not eating, he isn’t talking to DeMarcus or anyone else about what he’s feeling. They’ve had several fights over it but nothing changes.
Jesse doesn’t even know the whole story. DeMarcus has kept the truth to himself because it’s so much worse than a random mugging. They both offered their wallets and phones without a fight. Nothing worth getting shot for. The thief wasn’t interested. The only thing he wanted was Demarcus’ badge from work. That would have gotten them past security checkpoints and given them full access to all the projects they work on at Secure Solutions Chemical. Jesse hasn’t thought about why he was targeted but DeMarcus figures if they came after him once they’ll probably come again. That’s why he can’t sleep. What already happened is bad enough but he’s more worried about what’s yet to come.
Their plan was never going to work. They came after him on his day off. Maybe they got their info crossed. He didn’t even have his badge with him. He couldn’t give them what they wanted if he wanted to. A part of him wonders whether he would have handed it over if he had the choice. Probably. He’d have called work the first chance he got but he wouldn’t have risked Jesse’s life to protect a badge.
He’s afraid he and Jesse would have ended up dead if that girl hadn’t shown up. A short Asian girl named Jia jumped in to help. Initially he wondered if he was having a weird dream. She was tougher than she looked though and between them they managed to take out the attacker and get out of there in one piece. She was actually pretty awesome. He traded info with her and they’ve stayed in touch. Apparently she’s signing up to be a vigilante under the new Vigilantes Making Us Safe Act. Maybe he should hire her for extra protection.
DeMarcus works at a chemical testing facility. He’s been a guard there for four years and he loves his job. The bosses are great and the pay is nice enough that he can afford to live in the city. The hours are even nice since he got off the night shift. They’re always on high alert due to how important their work is and how dangerous it could potentially be in the wrong hands, but security issues are rare. Most days he hangs out playing on his phone while taking a lap through the facility every few hours. Most days it’s boring but when the alternative could be a national security risk boring sounds good.
Pulling into the parking lot, a glance at his dash shows he has about five minutes until he needs to clock in. He’ll have to run but he’s going make it. Past experience tells him he can do this run in three minutes if necessary. As he finds an empty parking spot he sees the president of the company Mr. Sarraf pulled in just ahead of him. Walking toward the first security checkpoint, he waves to DeMarcus who gives him a wave back. When he tells people he works for a middle eastern family who do chemical research people sometimes give him funny looks but he dismisses them. Everything’s completely above board here. The government’s their top client.
DeMarcus has to jog to clock in on time but he makes it with a minute to spare. Wiping the sweat from his brow, he’s glad for the chilly winter weather, at least by west coast standards. His next stop’s security checkpoint three, the last opportunity to stop someone from entering the labs. He works the final security checkpoint because he’s been here a long time and that role requires the most responsibility. He’s the final line of defense if someone tries to break in. If things go bad he’d be the person to leave his post and lock down the labs. That would only happen if things get really bad though. He hasn’t ever been ordered to do a full lock down. They drill a few times a year which is the only reason he even knows how to start that process. Since he’s been here they’ve only had a few actual break in attempts and no one has made it past checkpoint two.
Beth, one of the third shift guards, is reading a book when DeMarcus reaches his station. She looks up long enough to give him a tired smile. Entering the checkpoint, the first thing he does is adjust his monitors to his preferred height. They swivel up and down easily and Beth always moves them down since she’s a lot shorter. “Long night?” DeMarcus asks.
With a groan Beth rubs her eyes. “Aren’t they all? I’m so ready to get off night shift. Nothing ever happens. I sit here for eight hours and the only thing that breaks it up is a quick walk where nothing ever happens. I’m so freaking bored.”
DeMarcus shrugs. “It’s pretty much the same during day shift. We’re pretty slow most days. I dunno, I kind of like the peace and quiet.”
Looking at a clock, Beth grabs a bookmark and stuffs it into her book. “At least you have a partner to talk with on day shift. At night I’m the only one at my station. I’d kill to get on day shift.”
“Your time will come. I was here two and a half years before I got off nights. Just hang in there. Speaking of my partner, any sign of Anton? He’s late less than I am.”
“No sign of him yet. Maybe he ran to the bathroom or something.”
DeMarcus walks over to the intercom built into the guard station. “Anyone at any station seen Anton? Any idea if he called in or something?”
The voice that comes back’s hard to make out over the static. Most things in this place are state of the art but these intercoms haven’t been upgraded in years. They still work for the most part so nobody’s wanted to spend the money. “He hasn’t called in. He’ll probably be along soon. You know him.” He does, they’ve been partners since DeMarcus switched to days. That’s why he’s worried.
Beth presses the talk button. “Do I need to stay and wait for him? I’m exhausted but I can if I need to.”
The voice over the intercom says, “No, it’s all good. I’m sure he’ll be along soon. Just let me know when he shows up DeMarcus. If he’s not there in fifteen minutes I’ll reassign someone else to back you up today. I’d rather be short staffed at station two than station three.”
Beth wishes DeMarcus a good day and gets out before someone asks her to cover Anton’s shift. Doing a double’s a terrible experience. If it comes down to it they’ll try to call someone who has today off to cover instead but a few times they’ve drafted someone.
It’s weird that Anton isn’t here. In all the time they’ve worked together this is the first time he remembers the man being late. His last partner mentioned how he was always on time too. Even if he has to use the restroom he stops by to let DeMarcus know. He thinks the man missed work once when he was sick but he called in.
Trying to put it out of his mind, DeMarcus settles in and starts to get comfortable. He kicks back in his well worn chair and sets up his phone stand so he can return to the ebook he’s been working his way through. In fifteen minutes when Anton still hasn’t shown up DeMarcus gets back on the intercom. “Still no sign of Anton. Has anyone given him a call?”
“Not yet. We’ll try him now and see if he’s coming. For now I’m going to send Kelleigh to back you up. She’ll be there in a few minutes. Hold off on your first inspection for the day until she gets there.” They’re supposed to take turns running inspections so there’s always one person at the station. He can’t leave a checkpoint unattended.
The day continues without incident. Nobody hears from Anton and he isn’t answering his phone but everyone figures he’s sick or sleeping. Kelleigh’s decent company though she’s not used to the inspection schedule or route for station three so DeMarcus has to make all of them. It throws off his rhythm but it’s not enough to ruin the day. After spending at least four days a week packed into a small area with the same person a change of company’s not a bad thing.
He can’t shake how out of character this is for Anton. Could something have happened to him? After his recent attack, he knows someone wants to sneak in. He brought the attack to his boss’ attention but they didn’t seem to take it seriously. Nobody wants to start a panic and it certainly isn’t the first time they’ve shut down a break in attempt before it got started.
DeMarcus suggested raising their security level to a code blue which locks down major sections of the facility. It can only be unlocked by two security guards entering their key codes at the same time. They shot him down, not wanting to inconvenience everyone without solid proof. Code blue is a pain but it’s not that big a deal. It only locks the entrances down, you can still move freely throughout the facility. When weighed against the complaints the scientists would surely make about lost time on their breaks they didn’t find it worth it.
It’s not until a code red when all of the facility’s inner doors and rooms lock down. That takes four agents to activate and to disarm. If you have less than four the only way to go into code red’s to process things manually in each room and that can take forever. Each lab and room in the building has it’s own security panel. It’s a lot of work but considering the potential issues code red can cause it’s necessary. In the wrong hands a code red could aid a robbery more than prevent it. Combining the attempted robbery with Anton not showing up or calling in has DeMarcus on edge but he keeps trying to distract himself. It’s probably nothing. Unless it isn’t.
A little after lunch DeMarcus is enjoying his book while Kelleigh watches some TV show on her phone. They don’t have to make their rounds again for a half hour so they have a chance to relax.
A voice crackles over the intercom. “Everyone be advised, there’s a semi truck pulling up near the main entrance. I’m going outside to see what they’re up to. Probably just a new driver for our delivery.”
Another voice comes over the speaker, though it’s hard to tell who anyone is over the static. “I don’t think we have a delivery scheduled today. Usually they’re on Thursdays. Anyone know if we rescheduled this week?”
The first person says, “No idea. I’ll find out though. Everyone just be advised and keep an eye on the cameras. It’s probably nothing.”
Every security booth in this place is outfitted with a set of screens so they can all view the security feeds from throughout the facility. Except for the truck nothing seems out of the ordinary. They park about thirty feet from the entrance but the vehicle stays on. Not a huge deal but it’s one more thing and DeMarcus is starting to really sweat. They get a weird car or truck every few weeks but it’s still out of the ordinary. He says, “Folks, I really think we should lock the facility down, at least to code blue. Better safe than sorry.”
The voice that comes back doesn’t sound concerned. “Not if it’s just a truck that pulled into the wrong side of the lot or was supposed to be down the street. If you want to get scheduling on the line and see if a truck was rescheduled though, that wouldn’t be the worst idea.”
DeMarcus reaches for his phone to call the receiving department but doesn’t get a chance. He can clearly see Bobby, one of the station one guards, walking up to the truck on camera one. As he reaches the doors and calls out to the driver he gets no response. He calls out a few more times but there’s no change. “Be advised, no sign of the driver. I’m going to further investigate.” Bobby climbs on the truck’s step to see into the side window. “No sign of the driver. I don’t have visual but nobody got out of this thing as far as I could tell. Curtains to the back of the cab are shut. I’m going around back.”
Bobby jumps down and starts to circle the truck. His hand’s on his gun now but he doesn’t draw it. As he reaches the back of the trailer both doors pop open. From where the cameras are nobody has a view into the back. With the doors blocking his position nobody can see Bobby either. There’s nothing over their intercoms.
From out of nowhere man after man stream around the side of the truck. Every one of them seems to be dressed in full tactical gear and every one’s carrying an automatic rifle. Finally the order comes loud and clear over the intercoms. “Code blue. I repeat, code blue now. We need lock down now.”