The Law Vol. 1 Serve or Protect Part 1

When a call comes in, you don’t have time to think. Any issue can escalate into a life or death situation so you hit the gas and worry about the details later. A two minute delay could be the difference between someone going home to their family or a family picking out coffins. Nobody else is coming to save them.

That used to be the case at least. Lately the world’s changing faster than people can adapt to. The streets are no longer the domain of the police. They’re outranked by a bunch of amateurs enforcing the rules however they see fit from one moment to the next. Chaos masquerading as justice.

A voice comes over their radio. “We have a call about a possible disturbance at Lovely Lovely Flowers over on Cicero. Someone said they heard gunshots inside. Probably nothing, but they have a big warehouse out back and it can’t hurt to make sure. Who has it?”

Martina Alvarez reaches for the radio to accept the call but her partner’s faster. “We’ll take it, we’re only a few minutes away. We’ll let you know if there’s anything going on.”

Turning their sirens on, her partner hits the gas and speeds toward Cicero. It’s a late night at the end of March and there’s black ice on the streets. They have to take things a little slower than they normally would. It’s been a mild winter and there’s no snow left on the ground but it’s still cold enough that both partners are wearing coats. They can still probably arrive within ten minutes.

Brandon Tate runs his hand through his hair. He’s self conscious about his new haircut, especially after Martina’s been making fun of it all night. He’s behind the wheel because the weather reports said it was supposed to rain. So far the reports seem wrong but Martina doesn’t like to wear her glasses on patrol and she’s nearly blind at night when it rains. “Hey Grandma, do you really think they cut this too short? It seems really short to me.”

She sighs, the jokes about his hair were fun for a few hours but she’s tired of them now, especially now that he’s actually starting to worry about it. “It’s fine. I was messing with you. But don’t call me that. I’m not that old. Time to put our game faces on.”

“Would mom be better?”

“No, not really.”

They drive onward, getting close to Cicero. Turning down the street, they find the whole neighborhood nearly abandoned. It’s after nine and as cold as it is, most people are staying inside where it’s warm. Only a few shops down here are still open. The heat inside their patrol car is cranked to high despite their coats. That’s another reason Brandon teases his partner with the nickname Grandma. “At least if you’re going to be a grandma, you could bake me some cookies or something.”

Pulling up to the building, there’s no sign of a commotion. It’s a large brick building with only a small storefront jutting out of the front. Behind it seems to be a massive warehouse. It’s far bigger than you’d expect a small flower shop to need. Before they can get out of the car, a gunshot echoes in the distance. It sounds like it came from inside. The hair stands up on the back of her neck and she exchanges a quick look with Brandon. No more jokes. Tate grabs his hat off the dash and throws it on his head. It’s way too big but hides his hair.

Parking the car and quickly getting out, both partners draw their guns. They close their doors quietly, not wanting to give themselves away. They move with a level of precision and coordination only years of familiarity can provide. Alvarez slips into the lead, easing up to the front door. The first thing she notices is that the hours posted on the door show the place should still be open. Despite this, the open sign is turned off and the door’s locked. A small business closing a little early isn’t that strange but in combination with the reports of shooting it’s worth a closer look. The lights inside are off except for a few small ones pointing at specific plants and through the smudged glass she can only make out a counter and rows of shelving.

About to pound on the front door to see if anyone responds, she pauses as a door inside the shop opens. There’s just enough light to reveal a tall, thin woman with straight black hair coming their way. Seeing the lights from their car, she comes toward the door. Tate raises his gun and points it straight at the woman. “Ma’am, are you armed?”

The woman freezes as she sees the gun pointed her way. Her hands go up high in the air. “No, I’m not armed. Relax officers, I’ll gladly let you in. Is it okay for me to do so?” The pair give the okay and she makes her way to the door. Flipping a light on, she turns a deadbolt and cracks it. She’s careful not to open it all the way though. With more light they can see enough of the woman to believe she’s unarmed. Her hands are empty and there’s no sign of a bulge anywhere on her person.

Pushing past the woman, the pair sweep the room for any signs of danger before lowering their weapons. They don’t holster them. Content that there’s no immediate danger Tate approaches the woman. “Good evening ma’am. I’m Officer Tate and this is Officer Alvarez. Sorry to worry you so late but we got a call about a possible disturbance. Someone reported hearing a gunshot. We heard one ourselves when we were pulling up. Do you know anything about that? Is this your shop?”

Nodding, the woman’s eyes go wide. “Yes, this is my shop. My name’s Carol Grant. I heard the gunshots too. After the first one I shut the lights off and locked up. I don’t know where they came from though. I was in my office getting some paperwork done before getting out of here.”

Standing across the room and leaning against a wall, Martina runs the words through her head and decides she doesn’t trust this woman. She can’t place why. She seems nice enough but something seems off. “I see you’re normally open until nine. Do you normally close this early?”

“It was a long day and we don’t get a lot of last minute traffic. I figured I’d get an early start on my paperwork. The gunshots worried me and I didn’t want someone to see I was open and come in.”

“Awfully big warehouse you have going back there. Do you mind if we take a look? Maybe something happened you didn’t notice.”

Mrs. Grant keeps smiling but Martina thinks she sees it crack, if only for a second. Just long enough for her to be even more confident something’s wrong. “If you’d like to of course but I don’t know that it’s necessary. All that’s going on back there are a few of my employees getting their evening work done. Nothing that should sound like a gunshot.” When it becomes clear the officers are going to investigate the warehouse she stops them for another moment. “Actually, there is one other thing I should tell you. We had a break in tonight. Nothing major, nobody hurt. We captured the thief but he was young and seemed apologetic so we were going to let him go. No real harm done. My men may still be talking to him though.”

The partners exchange a look. Something’s definitely wrong. A break in and she didn’t want to call the police? Why would she want to let someone trying to rob her go? Even if she did, what is there to question them about if they were a kid who wouldn’t be a problem again? None of it adds up. This woman doesn’t have a plan. She’s running along in front of the train and hoping to dance aside at the last moment.

Leading the way to the back, Mrs. Grant opens the door and steps into a much darker room. Martina takes lead position after Mrs. Grant and surveys her new surroundings. The first thing she notices about this room is how large it is and how little light she finds. There’s only a few lights in the entire warehouse, small bulbs attached to long cords descending from the ceiling. They light only a small area around them and she can’t see anyone back here. Tate follows, adjusting his hat as it almost slips from his head. They’re surrounded by large shelving units which seem to be filled with crates of flowers. Labels such as daisy, violet, orchid, are printed in black paint on the wooden boxes. An absurd amount of crates for a shop this size. How many flowers could they possibly sell before these go bad?

One of the only things she can make out in the dim light are a pair of crates sitting broken on the far end of the warehouse. They look like they fell off the shelves and broke on the ground. There’s wood and flowers spread everywhere. Definitely more of a disturbance than their host let on. Blinking repeatedly, hoping her eyes will adjust, her finger twitches on the barrel of her gun, staying ready to raise her weapon and fire at a moment’s notice if things get bad.

Clearly the officers aren’t the only ones confused. Mrs. Grant has a look of genuine surprise on her face. “Men, get up here now. Any sign of our guest?”

Any sign? She thought they were just talking at this point. “I thought you said you’d caught the guy and there weren’t any issues?” Men start emerging from the darkness, five of them in total. Mostly large men showing signs of exertion. They’re all coming from the same direction.

With the tone of someone not used to being challenged, Mrs. Grant says, “That was the situation when I came to greet you Officer Alvarez.” Turning to one of her men, she asks, “What the hell happened?”

None of them make a move to answer. No one wants to be the person to earn their boss’ ire. As they get closer, she can make out that their shirts are dripping with sweat. Their eyes all stay on the floor. One in particular is moving quite strangely and trying to stay behind the others. There’s something very strange about the way he’s moving.

A tall, thin man with a scar below his left ear is practically shoved forward from the group. His left hand grabs at his opposite arm. “He got loose and we started chasing him around. He got away. Not sure if he’s still here in the warehouse somewhere or if he got out.”

Why were they having to chase this guy if they were going to let him go? Martina slowly starts circling the group. Tate notices but she uses her free hand to signal for him to stay put, at least for now. Step by step she can better see the man working to stay in the back. Looking him up and down, she notices what looks like blood leaking out of his grey shoe. There’s a hole going through the top and it’s also stained red. “What the hell happened to your foot? Are you bleeding?”

The man glances at Mrs. Grant and then back to Martina. He won’t meet her gaze and turns his attention briefly to the door as if he’s considering escape. That seems impractical so he says, “Ya, he uh, he stabbed me. He has knives. Dangerous guy. Not sure what he was thinking. Must have been trying to steal some flowers or something. We had him captured and were just about to call the cops when you showed up. Lucky for us I guess.”

Something’s definitely going on here. Mrs. Grant already made it perfectly clear that this guy wasn’t a big deal and they had no intention of getting the cops involved. “You should get that looked at, I’ll call an ambulance.”

He lifts his arms before him, putting his hands out in front. “No need officer, I’m alright. I’ll have one of the boys drive me to the ER after we’re done here but it really isn’t that bad.”

She tries not to let on she’s suspicious. At this point though it’s hard not to bust out laughing. These guys really aren’t good at lying. “Any idea what direction he went in? If he’s still here in the warehouse, I want us to capture him fast before someone else gets hurt. Did he have any weapons other than his knife?”

She directs her questions directly at the injured man. He’s hurt and frazzled and might give her what she needs. Before he can answer though, the tall, thin man steps between them. Tate’s hand goes to his gun, ready for a confrontation but Martina stays calm. Seeing no sudden movement, Tate rests his hand on the grip but doesn’t draw. The tall, thin man says, “He had a bunch of knives actually, and a long stick of some kind. I think he’s long gone though. Pretty sure he snuck out the back door. If you don’t mind, we have a lot of work to do. Why don’t we take our friend to the hospital and you folks can get on your way. We’ll give you a call if we see any sign of him again.”

That’s not going to happen. They need to search this place and figure out what’s going on. Just as she’s about to respond though, a loud squeak echoes through the warehouse. Everyone starts looking around and soon all eyes rest on the source. Someone opened the back door and even at night, the light shining in is bright enough to act as a spotlight. Standing in the doorway’s a man in a green shirt and khaki pants. He looks to be dark skinned but the lighting makes it hard to tell with any degree of certainty. He’s wearing some sort of green mask as well but from this far away that’s the best she can say.

Seeing her best potential witness walk out the door, she turns to Tate. “Come on, we can’t let this guy get away.” They both draw their guns and rush toward the door. That seems to be all the encouragement the man in green needs and he rushes into the night.

By the time they exit the warehouse, the man isn’t in sight. They have to be cautious to avoid an ambush while this guy can focus on running. Every corner’s a new danger. Tate sees him first. At the far end of the alley’s a wire fence and he’s already on top of the thing, about to jump down. He throws his bag down. “Stop, this is the police. Surrender now.” He pays them no mind and leaps over.

Tate rushes toward the fence and steadies himself to fire but Martina stops him. “I’m not climbing a fence. I don’t know that I can climb a fence like this for that matter. Get the car, we know what way he’s going, we’ll cut him off.” Clearly annoyed as the suspect gets away, Tate turns and runs back toward the front of the store.

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Red Line: The Future Part 1

Life’s full of choices. Every day we make decisions which could change the course of our lives. From the moment we wake up we choose whether to get out of bed, whether to eat breakfast, what we want for breakfast, if we want to go to our jobs. We even make a choice to come home when our job grants us a temporary reprieve. Those choices combine into millions of possible endings.

For Melissa Chance though there hasn’t been much in the way of choice for a long time. She wakes up every day whether she likes it or not. Someone makes sure of it. She takes her pills whether she likes it or not. They’re too important to allow any other choice. The only real choice left is whether to live or die and even that isn’t really up to her. If she chose to die it’s unlikely her captors would allow it. She’d give almost anything to make a choice that genuinely matters. She’s only in here because she chose to be.

 


 

The year was 1998 and Melissa and her older sister Tara had just graduated high school. Technically Tara graduated a year earlier but she failed out of college in near record time. Her parents gave her disapproving looks when she arrived back in Many, Louisiana but she insisted college just wasn’t for her. Their parents always wanted their daughters to get a good education but after Tara’s issues Melissa had no interest in pursuing further education.

Raised in a small town, there weren’t a lot of paths out and from a young age both girls knew they needed to get out. They both wanted more from life than their corner of the world could provide. With college out that left only one choice that made sense to them. They decided to enlist in the military. With no sort of major military action in years, they saw it as a great way to get started in life, save some money and figure out the next steps.

On the day they walk into the recruiter’s office the lone soldier with a square jaw and buzzed head takes a long time to notice them. When he does he stares at them with stars in his eyes. “Good afternoon ladies, welcome to our office. How can the United States armed forces help you beautiful creatures today? Did you stumble in the wrong door? I’ll be glad to help with directions.”

Tara gives him a look that could turn a man to stone. From a young age she was the most intimidating person in any room. She doesn’t have a lot of friends outside of her sister and the biggest reason is how hard it is to approach her and break through her icy exterior. She clenches her fists a few times, her palms turning white.“We’re here to register for the United States Army. Where do we sign up?”

Things somehow get worse from there. After the man decides this must be a joke, the girls spend twenty minutes convincing him to register them instead of hit on them. He eventually runs out of excuses and passes them each a packet full of paperwork. He also seems to give up on getting the date he feels entitled to. As they fill out their paperwork he pulls out an extra packet and glances at the girls. “Just out of curiosity, how much do you really want to serve your country?”

Tara’s eyes rest on him and start to narrow. “We’re here aren’t we?”

Glancing down and then turning around he shrugs. “Ya, I suppose so. How would you ladies be interested in a special branch of the service? I’ve got a special project I’m supposed to find ladies to recruit for but we don’t get a lot of women registering out here. You don’t have to do anything special today. Just fill out an extra form and someone will be in touch.”

The sisters look at each other and Tara raises an eyebrow. What have they got to lose? Melissa offers a smile which seems to relax the soldier. “Sure, we can give it a try. Have them give us a call.” After turning down his phone number one last time, they manage to escape.

Toxic Vol. 1 Susceptible States Part 12

The person holding a gun to DeMarcus’ back could open fire but so far they hasn’t. They must want something. Keeping himself under control DeMarcus knows if he’s going to get out of this he needs to find out if he’s right about what that chemical did to him. Ever since he got sealed in a lab with a massive dose of a new mood controlling drug everyone seems to do exactly what he says. Weird stuff that he can’t think of another explanation for. Jerry said it was possible he was made a conduit for the chemicals.

“Don’t shoot. Can you take the gun off my back?”

They don’t shoot, but the gun doesn’t go anywhere. “You’re not in control of this situation. Keep your hand away from your gun.”

DeMarcus doesn’t know why but he’s surprised to hear a woman’s voice. She speaks with confidence. Something didn’t work but he tries again. “Take the gun off of my back.”

This time she complies. He’s terrified but also excited. Turning, he finds a pretty blonde who can’t be older than twenty five. Her hair’s done up and she has pink nails that match a pair of pink combat boots she’s wearing.

The woman looks confused and starts to open her mouth. Before she can speak he says, “Don’t say anything.” Her mouth hangs open and after a moment she closes it. Now she really looks confused. Her hand shakes and she keeps pointing her gun at him. She still doesn’t fire. “Why don’t you give me the gun?” She makes no move to do so. He decides to rephrase. “Give me the gun.” Now she holds the gun out and offers it to him.

He’s starting to get the hang of this. They don’t do things he asks. Only things he tells them to do. “Walk to the far end of this warehouse, lay on your face, put your hands behind your head and stay there with your mouth shut until someone comes and get you.” Her eyes go wide and she looks angry but she does as she’s told.

Turning back down the aisle, DeMarcus sees the situation hasn’t gotten better. The accountant’s been forced to his knees and is openly weeping. His tie’s been removed and is tied around his eyes. The lawyer and Mr. Sarraf can’t look. The bull of a man is standing over him with his gun pointed and a grin spread across his face. “I’m giving you a last chance. Where are the chemicals I need? Tell me or you’re dead.”

Between sobs the man manages to say, “Do you really think I’d die to protect this place if I knew? I just do the books. It doesn’t matter anyway. Even if I knew, you’d still kill me.”

The big man’s jaw drops. “No, I actually won’t. You don’t have to believe me but I’m a man of my word. I don’t have time to check every box in this place before the cops get in here. I might luck into the stuff I need but there’s a good chance all of this was for nothing if you don’t help. I need you. I’ll reward your help if you help me.” He takes a moment to turn to Mr. Sarraf. “For the record though, no, I don’t think you have a clue where the stuff is. I think the big guy here does though. I’m hoping he’ll feel bad enough watching you all die that he tells me. I might be wrong though. Maybe he doesn’t know. Or maybe he’s just that cold.”

Knowing he can’t wait anymore, DeMarcus steps into the aisle. Both guns immediately swing toward him. “Drop your guns.” Both men’s eyes go wide as they release their weapons and they fall to the floor. They lean down to grab them. “Don’t pick them back up. Leave your guns where you dropped them. Stay where you are.” They do so, though both stand back up and look at each other with fear in their eyes.

Mr. Sarraf comes running his way with tears streaming down his face. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been happier to see anyone DeMarcus.” He wraps him in a giant hug.

The accountant’s jerking his head back and forth. “What the hell’s going on?” DeMarcus walks up to him and pulls the tie from around his eyes. Looking up, he sees who came to help and seems speechless. He puts his hands over his mouth and falls backward.

The two attackers look back and forth at each other. The big one has a sneer on his face. “Who the hell do you think you are?”

“Nobody you need to know. What are you doing here? What’s this about?” The two men look at each other for a moment but neither says a word. “We’re going to play it that way?” He looks straight at the bald man. “Tell me, what’s your plan?”

“Not that complex. We broke in hoping to steal a bunch of chemicals. A lot of the ones upstairs and some we were told would be in storage. Got most of what we need ready to go upstairs but these idiots weren’t any help finding what we needed down here.” Once he finishes the man’s eyes go wide and he throws his hands over his mouth.

Turning to Mr. Sarraf, DeMarcus gets a strange look on his face. “Did you really not know where this stuff was?”

The older man looks ill. “Not most of it. I might have led them to a few pieces if I really wanted to but they’d have likely killed us anyway when they realized I couldn’t lead them to the rest. Besides, you know the stuff we keep here is too dangerous to let them have.”

DeMarcus’ head slams forward into a metal bar. The world spins around him and he can’t clear his head. A fist punches him in the face. He raises his arms to try and block the next punch but it’s even harder and it feels like his left wrist shatters. He falls to his knees where he’s kicked in the gut. All the air’s forced from his lungs. He tries to tell the man to stop but he can’t manage a word. Everything spins as the lawyer screams. She tries to run and the accountant’s right behind her. Mr. Sarraf after a long look at DeMarcus follows.

The big guy jumps onto his chest and punches him again and again. “What the hell did you do to me? Why can’t I pick up my gun? If you don’t say something soon I’m going to bust your head open.”

Blows keep raining down so there’s no chance for DeMarcus to answer. He starts to feel light headed and fights to stay awake. The man relents for just a moment. “Tell me what I want to know.”

“Stop.”

That’s all it takes. The man freezes. His eyes go wide and he seems to realize something’s wrong. There’s a slight twitch in his arm as if he’s still trying to punch but his body won’t allow it. They stay like this for over a minute. DeMarcus doesn’t have the strength to get out from under the man and he’s got no interest in moving. Finally DeMarcus catches his breath. “Get off of me.” The giant man complies but when he’s on his feet he tries to get away. “Stay put.” The man stops walking away.

With his right arm DeMarcus wipes his head. When he pulls his hand back he finds it smeared with blood. Looking at his left wrist, it’s limp and he can’t move it. Anger rises in him. He almost messed this up. He has no idea where the last three survivors and the other attacker went. He needs to find them. He turns to the big guy. He wants to do sadistic things to the man, or even better make the man do sadistic things to himself. Now isn’t the time though. “Follow me. Don’t do anything to hurt me or anyone else.”

They take off down the aisles, searching for any sign of people. He finds the remaining three near the entrance to the storage area. The attacker’s chasing after them but without his gun he’s not that dangerous. It looks like someone got ahold of the lawyer’s red hair because it’s been pulled from the ponytail she had it in.

DeMarcus runs right at the attacker and tackles him to the ground. His wrist hits wrong and he lets out a scream. The man skids away. DeMarcus scrambles up first and looks right at the attacker. “Stay down.” The man looks at him but doesn’t do anything else. He looks over at the lawyer and Mr. Sarraf. “You two alright?” They each give a weak nod.

His attention returns to the attackers. “Tell me who you are.” They both start to speak at once. “Stop. Point at whichever one of you is in charge.” They both point at the larger man. DeMarcus turns to the smaller one. “Sit facing a wall. Don’t move, don’t speak.” He then turns to the larger man. “What’s your name?” It takes him a moment to realize why it isn’t working. “Tell me your name.”

“My name’s Rupert Corey, but everyone calls me Big Man.”

“Okay Big Man. Answer my questions from here on in. How were you planning to get out of here?”

“There’s a way to override the lockdown in some of the offices, for the real big shots. I just figured I’d force that idiot over there to let me out.” He points at Mr. Sarraf as he says it.

DeMarcus closes his eyes and curses under his breath. That was a better plan than he had and it won’t work. “Why are you doing this?”

“Because with what we get here we can start the process of taking back America. I’m also getting paid a lot of money. That doesn’t hurt.”

Realizing he doesn’t have any other questions DeMarcus decides to have a little fun with the man for all he’s done. “Bang your head against that metal shelving behind you until you pass out.”

Watching Big Man bang his head against the shelving repeatedly is cathartic. He looks at the lawyer, the accountant and Mr. Sarraf to see if any of them has a problem with it. The lawyer’s eyes are wide with excitement. The accountant looks a little queasy but doesn’t say anything. Mr. Sarraf doesn’t have much of a look on his face at all. Blood’s pouring out of the man’s head by the time he hits the ground and stays there.

Getting back to business, DeMarcus goes up to Mr. Sarraf. “Time to go. I have a question though. Do you happen to have keys for any of the offices except your own?”

“No, why?”

Looking down at his feet DeMarcus swears under his breath. “I may have locked a group of them down in your office. So if you were counting on using that to get out of here, we’re going to need a new plan.” Mr. Sarraf’s face droops. “Don’t worry, I have another idea. First, we need to get the three of you to safety.”

Taking the lead, DeMarcus exits the storage area, moving toward the offices. As they walk he informs them of Grady’s plan to blow open the vice president’s office. Mr. Sarraf doesn’t like it. “I know the explosives he’s speaking of, they’re very unstable. One wrong move and you’re dead. We’ve taken care of all of them. Why don’t you just lock down with us in one of these offices until help comes?”

He points at his left wrist. “Mainly because this hurts like hell and it could be hours. I also have a girl upstairs in one of the labs locked up with one of these maniacs. I can’t leave her longer than I have to.”

They nervously look at each other before the accountant stops for a moment. “Not that I don’t appreciate your help, but why are all these guys listening to you?”

“We can worry about that later Jack.” Mr. Sarraf looks nervous. DeMarcus wonders if he’s already figured it out.

“I don’t mind answering Mr. Sarraf. I got locked in one of the labs with a bunch of chemicals meant to alter moods. Now I seem to be able to alter moods or make people do what I want. Kind of weird.”

The accountant’s eyes go wide. “So wait, if you tell us to do something we’ll have to do it?”

Shrugging, DeMarcus doesn’t stop. “Seems like it. I haven’t gotten to test it out in that much detail so I don’t know how it works but it seems like people do anything I tell them to.” He raises his left eyebrow. “I guess I could test it out on you if you like.”

“I’m good.”

Reaching the offices, he picks one that has three chairs and a desk and leads them inside. Mr. Sarraf doesn’t like it. “Why don’t I come with you and try to help with the explosives? With your wrist it’s going to be very difficult to manage.”

“Appreciate the offer but my job is to keep you all safe. I’ll be able to focus better if I know you’re all locked in here.” He considers telling them to stay put so there’s no issue but he decides against it. They’re not fighting him, there’s no reason to force it.

Steel shutters close between them and once again he’s alone.

Part 11

Part 13

Dynamo Vol. 1 Greater Heights Part 24

Everything feels wrong. Kalenia Wallace can’t believe she shot an unarmed woman who had surrendered. She had to do it though, didn’t she? She couldn’t make a deal with a woman like Lily. How could she ever trust her? She couldn’t let her keep pumping drugs onto the street, even if they weren’t the streets here in town. She threatened to burn her life to the ground. To have her family hurt or even killed. It was self defense. The VMUS Act gives her the power to protect the public and stopping someone from murdering everyone she loves has to qualify. It doesn’t feel that way though. It feels wrong.

Wiping the blood that splattered on her face away, she knows she needs to get out. She’s still shaking but she can’t stay here any longer. There’s still people who might need help in the warehouse and she needs to call for help. At first she planned to stick around to help the police but she doesn’t want credit for this. Instead she can drive until she’s clear of the building and then call it in. They’ll probably match the bullets here to the ones from the warehouse but she doesn’t have to make it easy on them.

Tearing herself from the sight of Lily slumped dead on the floor, Kalenia heads back down the hallway. Finding her way to the stairs she heads up until she’s back in the employee only area of the casino. There’s no sign of anybody around. It’s getting late and the casino’s likely to be nearly empty at this point. She tries to remember the path she took through these halls to get here but nothing’s clear.

Winding through hallway after hallway, it isn’t long before she’s completely lost. Several times she opens a door expecting to see the kitchen or something near it which would tell her she’s nearing a way out. Instead she finds herself staring into an office or a conference room. The kitchen’s one of the only locations that stood out on her way in. She sniffs the air once to try and search for any sign of food but the only smell in her nostrils is the metallic scent of blood. She won’t make the mistake of focusing on it again.

After more than ten minutes of trying to find her way out she starts to worry. She’s covered in blood and even this late the casino’s still open. Eventually she’s going to stumble upon somebody and when she does they’re going to be very surprised. She pulls her trench coat tighter. At least all of her clothes are black which hides how much blood she’s covered in.

Opening another door, Kalenia’s shocked to find herself staring onto the casino floor. She snuck into the employee area through a back door and if she’s right about where she is, then the back entrances are a long way off. She’s had no luck finding her way to them through the back hallways and she needs to escape. Looking out, she only sees a couple gamblers left and the type of gambler to still be playing slots after midnight on a weeknight isn’t likely to pay much attention to her.

Without knowing how long it will take to find her way out the back, Kalenia decides to chance sneaking past the gamblers. Seeing a bathroom ahead of her to the right she sees an opportunity to clean herself up to the point where she won’t look like she stepped out of a horror movie. Darting to the bathroom, she doesn’t think anyone noticed her. She breathes a sigh of relief when there’s nobody else in the bathroom.

There’s no lock on the door so she can’t keep others from making their way in but it’s late and she doesn’t need long. The sink runs red with blood as she works to scrub as much as she can off of her body. She focuses on her hands, her hair and her face. She wipes the most obvious parts off her coat but there’s too much to get it clean. She just has to hope it’s good enough to get her out of here without drawing attention.

The lack of paper towels is an issue. She would have known this place was evil just from checking the bathroom and finding nothing but hand dryers. Without other options, she rushes into a stall and pulls a roll of toilet paper loose. She starts wiping herself down the best she can. The red toilet paper piles up in the next sink over as she goes through it. She uses two rolls before she looks close to presentable. At a glance someone might not realize she just shot a person at close range. Anybody who takes a close look at her isn’t going to be fooled.

Flushing the toilet paper takes three tries and after each one she fears the toilet will clog but she’s finally able to get rid of it. Making her way out of the bathroom, Kalenia starts walking towards the entrance of the casino. Her coat’s pulled tight and as she walks past a few gamblers nobody seems to pay attention to her. She considers taking her mask off to seem less conspicuous but for now she keeps it on. She can’t risk being recognized, especially now.

Rounding the corner by the casino’s buffet, the front doors come into focus. She passes a couple of men coming out of the restaurant which closed a half hour ago, making sure to keep her eyes on the ground to try and stay inconspicuous. They don’t take any notice of her. A few seconds after she passes them one of the men lets out a scream. Turning around, she sees James stumbling after her with a gun pointed her way. He starts firing.

The two men try to get out of the way but one of them’s hit by a bullet and goes flying to the ground. The other ducks behind a corner only a few feet away. He’s crying and reaching for his friend who took the bullet in the gut. The injured man tries to crawl to his friend but he’s clearly in enormous pain. He lets out a loud moan.

Kalenia tries to throw herself behind a corner but she doesn’t make it. A bullet goes right through her stomach. She screams and drops her gun which goes skidding across the floor. The pain’s overwhelming. She presses one hand to the wound, trying to slow the bleeding. Blood’s still flowing out fast. With her other hand she reaches for her second gun but it’s inside the coat and she can’t get at it. James is getting closer.

When he’s about to fire again two security guards round the corner. They both reach for tasers and aim them forward. A woman and a man, they’re both young and the wide eyed look on their faces shows their terror. They do their job though and fire. They miss but James turns and runs back the way he came. He’s slow but the male guard chasing him doesn’t have much enthusiasm and quickly loses him.

The female guard rushes between Kalenia and the other man who was shot. “It’s going to be okay. Just hang on.” She grabs for her radio. “I need someone to call an ambulance now. There’s two people down. A guy shot them.”

She holds Kalenia’s hand as the man who was shot’s friend stays with him. The other guard comes back after a minute. “I lost him, went into the employee area and I wasn’t chasing him through those halls. Did you recognize that guy? He’s been around here a lot.”

Shooting her partner a look that could kill, the woman shakes her head. The pain’s enormous but Kalenia knows she has to keep her eyes open and try to stay awake. She tries to focus on breathing. She keeps thinking about her boyfriend Marco. After only a couple of minutes she can hear sirens in the background.

A crowd has gathered by the time the paramedics rush inside. The first paramedics move toward her but Kalenia waves them toward the injured man. “Help him. They were after me, he just got caught in the crossfire. Help him first.”

They do as they’re told but another paramedic crew is right behind and this time Kalenia doesn’t refuse their help. She tries to look brave but can’t avoid a cry as she’s lifted off the ground onto a gurney. She thanks the security guard who stayed with her as she’s wheeled out of the casino. The woman tries to smile but she can only manage with her lips. Her eyes tell another story.

The paramedics work to get her hooked to blood and to take her vitals. One of them squeezes her hand. “Don’t worry, we’re gonna make sure you’re alright. I know you’re scared but we’ve got you. We’ll be to the hospital soon.”

Kalenia’s starting to fade at this point. She’s fighting with everything she has to stay awake but the battle seems to be going south. She can feel that she’s lost a lot of blood. and everything’s spinning. Her hands and arms are drenched in blood. Nobody asks about the blood all over her clothes from before. They must assume it’s all from the gunshot.

By the time they’re speeding down the highway toward the nearest hospital, Kalenia starts to feel numb. “Something’s wrong.” Even saying so is a struggle.

Grabbing her hand, the paramedic in the back of the ambulance with her tries to look confident. “Don’t worry, that’s just from the medicine we gave you. You’re going to be alright. The doctors will get you right into surgery as soon as we get to the hospital. Is there anything I can do for you? Anyone you want me to call?”

She points to her coat wadded up on the floor. “My left inside pocket, in the coat.”

The paramedic reaches inside and pulls her cell phone out. “How do I unlock this?”

Her hand goes out. “Hand me the phone.”

He hesitates, seeing the blood coating her hands. “Why don’t you just give me your password and I’ll get in for you.”

More words. Every one a struggle but she has to explain. “I can’t. That’d be a big problem with my job. I can do it.” He hands her the phone and she tries to punch her pin in. She fails the first time but on a second attempt she manages to enter it correctly. She opens her contacts and pulls Marco’s name up. “Please take his number down so I can lock my phone. That’s my boyfriend. I need you to call him and tell him to meet me at the hospital. Don’t let them tell him everything, I’ll handle that. Just tell him I’m hurt and he needs to get there.”

Nodding, the paramedic jots the number down on a pad of paper he produces from somewhere and Kalenia closes her phone. She can’t focus at this point and drops the device. It bounces off the floor just as they go flying around a corner. Gravity takes over and the phone goes flying across the back of the ambulance. The paramedic tries to recover it before it breaks something and finally manages to get ahold of it. As he shoves it back into her coat, Kalenia can see the screen cracked.

They start to slow down and she hopes desperately that means they’re almost to the hospital. She can’t feel anything in her stomach anymore. She really hopes that’s from the medicine they’ve given her but she has a bad feeling it’s not. She can hear the driver up front shouting into a radio. “We’re coming in fast, I need a crash cart there right away. She’s bleeding bad.”

Abruptly the ambulance comes to a stop and she can hear the driver jumping out. The doors are thrown open and the lights from the hospital loading bay shine in. They’re blinding. She knows it’s silly but everything seems white for a minute and she has a terrible thought that she shouldn’t go into the light. She pushes it aside.

A few people climb into the ambulance and quickly pull her out. As she’s lowered to the ground, a kind looking dark skinned female doctor comes up to her and smiles. “I’m Dr. Batra. Don’t worry, we’re going to take great care of you. I’ll be with you the whole way and I’m going to make sure you’re alright.”

Part 23

Toxic Vol. 1 Susceptible States Part 11

Moving around the last corner before the entrance, DeMarcus isn’t sure whether to be relieved or not that it isn’t locked down. If the executives had sealed themselves inside he wouldn’t have to worry about them getting hurt but he’d also have no way to get the explosives he needs. The doors are closed but there’s no shutters covering them. He considers locking it down now. If the last of the attackers are inside they won’t have a way out. Neither will anyone else in there with them though.

Turning the handle, he pushes the door open inch by inch. He can hear people inside but he’s not sure how many. They’re far enough away that whatever they’re saying is muffled. He’s only been in the storage area a couple times for lockdown drills. He vaguely knows his way around but he’s never had to find anything.

Sliding through the door, the smell he found in C wing upstairs fills his nostrils. It’s the iron smell found in blood. He tries to prepare himself for the worst. He can’t see anything to worry about at first. All he finds are row after row of shelving units. They’re lined with boxes, tanks, crates, and every other storage item he can imagine. There’s less obvious stuff stacked up as well. He sees a lawn mower, a snow mobile, what he hopes is a fake skeleton, and all manner of other gear. This is supposed to be a storage unit for all of their experiments but over the years it’s served as a place to dump anything they had laying around.

Every time he walks around a corner DeMarcus expects to be confronted by a group of armed men. Each time he turns the corner he’s again met with an empty hall. This place is so huge someone could get lost and he starts to fear he will. He continues hearing voices but with the high ceilings and metal walls of the storage area everything echoes. The smell in his nostrils never lets him forget the other thing he might find.

A body. He turns down a narrow path near the right wall and there’s a man laying on the ground. He can see a pool of red beneath him. He moves to the man’s side to check for any sign of life but he knows what he’ll find before he feels the lack of a pulse. He’s dead. There’s barely any warmth left to his skin. A closer examination finds the man’s chest filled with bullets. He tries to place the man but can’t come up with a name. He’s definitely seen him walking the halls on more than a few occasions but he doesn’t think they’ve ever spoken. Does he work in legal?

This hall’s a dead end so he turns around to go back the way he came. When he returns to an intersection where he can choose which way to go, he turns right hoping it isn’t the way he came. He’s past the point of knowing.

Turning to his left he’s met by a woman he recognizes immediately. Daisy’s the secretary for Mr. Sarraf, the president of the company. She’s a sweet, slightly older woman who always takes the time to say hello to the security guards when she comes in. She brings cookies in every few weeks and drops a few off for security every time. Her peanut butter cookies are the best he’s ever eaten. He realizes quickly that he’ll never have them again. Her body isn’t as cold as the last one but she’s not breathing. Someone shot her, likely with the same gun they used on the last man. Her eyes are still wide open, her face twisted with terror. DeMarcus takes a moment to close her eyes before moving on.

He wants to charge into the open and get revenge but he also wants to see Jesse again. That desire keeps him from giving away his position. He can explode later. For now he has to be smart. At the end of the hall he thinks he hears voices. He can’t be sure with the echoing going on but he decides to check it out. He has to find these guys before they kill anyone else. There should be at least a half dozen staff down here. He’s only found two bodies so it may not be too late to save some.

Approaching the end of the aisle, he hears an automatic weapon firing and a scream in the distance. That’s clear enough that he can place it. It came from his right. Running in that direction, he hopes the sound of gunfire will cover the pounding of his boots. When he thinks he’s found the right aisle, DeMarcus turns and glances down it.

Standing in the aisle are two men with guns. One’s a fairly unassuming man with short hair and a cut across his left cheek which is still dripping blood. The other’s one of the biggest men DeMarcus has ever seen. He has to be nearly seven feet tall and built like a bull. His face is smashed and more resembles a bulldog. The top of his head’s completely bald though he has a massive beard that hangs down to the middle of his chest.

They’re surrounded by three employees who are still alive, including Mr. Sarraf. The other two are one of the company’s lawyers and the accountant. Neither is close with DeMarcus but he’s still glad to see them alive. Another woman’s lying on the ground bleeding. He can’t place her but he knows she works down here doing something. She’s still twitching and fighting. The accountant seems to be trying to fight back a gag and Mr. Sarraf has his hand over his eyes. The attackers stand there watching her die.

DeMarcus wants to help her but from the amount of times she was shot, it’s too late. Maybe if an ambulance could be in here now but he still has no clue where the explosives are to get into the vice president’s office. Even without these guys in the way he’d be lucky to get out in a half hour. She doesn’t have that long. He has to worry about the three people who still have a chance.

After she takes her last breath the large man returns his attention to the rest of the group. “I don’t know about you folks, but that didn’t look like a lot of fun to me. Anyone want to volunteer to be next?” Nobody steps forward. “Didn’t think so. Can’t say I blame you. I wouldn’t either. If you don’t want to join the rest of your group though, I’d start cooperating. You know what I need. I’ve told you again and again. Lead me to it and I’ll head out of here and leave you breathing.”

Mr. Sarraf finally removes his hand from over his eyes and takes a moment to glance down at his dead employee. He quickly averts his gaze. “Everyone here is trying to cooperate with you. Do you have any idea how much stuff we have stored down here? Look around you. I don’t know where anything is stored, let alone those chemicals. I want to tell you. I can’t. I’ve tried to lead you to the right general area but that’s the very best I can do. If you wanted someone to be more specific you should have brought one of the scientists down. Go get one.”

“A little late for that Mr. Big Wig. They’re all either dead or locked down. I was planning to take a few hostages but didn’t count on your security locking most of the upstairs down before I could get to them. That leaves me with you folks. Nobody’s coming to help. It’s just you and me. Figure this out and you can survive. Otherwise we’ll play this game again and another one of you can join your friends.”

Something cold pushes into DeMarcus’ back. He freezes. From the shape it has to be the barrel of a gun. He wants to scream. The sight of that aisle distracted him even though he knew there were three of them left. What the hell is he supposed to do?

Part 10

Part 12

Dynamo Vol. 1 Greater Heights Part 23

For as long as she can remember Kalenia Wallace has always had a plan. She still remembers staying up late, crouched under the covers reading her mom’s legal thrillers when she was a kid and dreaming of the day she would become a lawyer and make people’s lives better. There was never any question she’d succeed. She’d be a lawyer and fight to protect people who couldn’t protect themselves. Everything has gone according to plan. When she saw an opportunity to strengthen her current case by signing up for the Vigilantes Making Us Safe Act she didn’t hesitate. It was another opportunity to help.

Sneaking into the tunnels beneath the Power Drive Casino tonight was part of a plan too. She had evidence linking this place to a local gang and she needed to follow through and take them out. It all made sense in her head. Dangerous but danger’s never really registered with a woman who jumps off buildings for fun.

Being trapped in that basement with more guns than she can count pointed her way was never part of the plan. Trapped behind a crate with seemingly no way out, she looks around the cavernous room for any escape. Already the armed men she was spying on are starting to flank her. In a few more seconds they’ll have a direct shot and they’ll probably take it. She’s been offered the chance to surrender but that’s no guarantee they’ll let her go. As soon as she’s no longer an immediate threat they’ll probably make sure she’s never a threat again.

The shooters aren’t her main concern. She snuck down here to investigate the people running this gang and only two of them are still hanging around. Lily, a tall black haired woman in an expensive suit who carries herself like she has money is casually leaning against a box, content to let her men handle Kalenia. A large bald man with a noticeable limp named James is running things for the moment. She shot him last night while stopping a drug shipment and he’s clearly not over it.

Moving toward her slowly, James has his gun drawn but hasn’t bothered to point it. “Last chance girl, come out now or we’re going to kill you. Throw the guns down and we can have a talk and see if we can find an alternative.”

Half the room is blocked by the shelving unit she’s standing on so she can’t see a lot of what’s coming her way. She knows there’s at least a half dozen armed guards in the room and there might be more. She can see a few but many are out of sight. If she can’t see them there’s a good chance they don’t have a shot at her but there’s no guarantee. The crate she’s huddled behind is made of wood. There’s actually a lot of these wooden crates stacked down here, all labeled with the name of some flower shop in Chicago. Seems odd to keep a bunch of flowers underground but maybe they need them for the casino?

With her focus on the people trying to kill her, it takes far longer than Kalenia would like to admit to realize what these boxes actually are. They’re just like the flower crates on the trucks she took out last night. Which means packed among the flowers are likely a whole lot of drugs. She managed to destroy that shipment with some well timed fire and a grenade. If she plays this right she might be able to take out another. They certainly aren’t the only thing stored down here but as she looks around she realizes there are probably more boxes of drugs here than there were in those trucks.

“I’d stop your men right now if you don’t want me to do what I did last night. If they come close enough that they can shoot me I’ll take them out and then I’ll burn this whole shelving unit. Can you afford to lose even more of your product?”

Lily rushes forward, pushing past James. Her eyes are open and she’s got her arms out, trying to get everyone’s attention. “Everyone freeze where you are. Do not engage.”

As serious as she looks, James looks unconcerned. He uses his free hand to cover a yawn. “You think you have some power girl? Not at all. You can destroy a few more boxes if you really want to. But then you’ll be dead and we won’t have to worry about you taking out our product. Hell, I’m tempted to light the match for you so we can get this over with. I’m going to give you one last chance to turn this around though. Your call.”

Lily may be willing to play ball but James seems to be running things at the moment. None of the other men have lowered their weapons. Reaching into her trench coat’s pocket, Kalenia runs her hand over one of the two grenades she brought with her. She really didn’t want to use them in a casino but there aren’t any innocent gamblers to get in the way down here. “Last chance to put your guns down before I blow this place.”

“James, think carefully about this,” Lily says. She’s in his ear and trying to keep her voice down but noise carries in this cavernous room and she’s easy to hear. “How are we going to explain another shipment going up? We have to let her walk out of here. We’ll take her out later but for now let this go.”

With a pistol in one hand and a bottle of vodka in the other he shakes his head before taking a swig. “Not after last night. A lot of good people are dead and Grant’s going to be too thanks to her. We’re taking her out now. She wants to lay down her gun maybe we can cut a deal but I’m not losing anyone else.”

Out of options and definitely not willing to put her gun down, Kalenia has to create a new plan fast. She tries to process what she knows about the room and what’s going on down here. There’s a bunch of drugs which will definitely burn but she’s standing behind them so she’ll burn with them. On the other side of the warehouse are a bunch of casino supplies. One of the boxes at least is filled with liquor but she has no idea what’s in the rest.

Spinning the grenade between her fingers, she slowly slips it from her pocket. She can’t start with the drugs without dying. She remembers which box James’ vodka bottle came from though and that’s going to burn beautifully. Negotiations are over so she pulls the pin and throws the grenade as hard as she can right toward the boxes. She’s rather impressed when it bounces and rolls right against the box of alcohol.

There’s only a few seconds for anyone to process what’s happening. James and Lily are still only around ten feet from the alcohol and it only takes a second for the danger of their situation to dawn on them. Lily reacts first and takes off at a sprint before the grenade’s even finished rolling. James is right behind her. “Everyone get down, she has grenades. Take her ass out.”

When the blast goes up, the alcohol only adds to it. Everything around it’s suddenly in flames. Lily and James are thrown from the blast. Lily gets far enough away that she isn’t hit that hard. After a few seconds she’s pulling herself to her feet. James isn’t as lucky with his limp slowing him down. He’s thrown hard into another shelving unit. The force of his body knocking into it starts it wobbling. Everyone in the room turns and watches it tip.

Falling away from James, the first shelving unit hits another shelf and starts a domino effect. Three units go down and are stopped only by a wall. Crates fall off and everything is pandemonium. Several boxes fall toward the flames and the fire starts to spread.

One of the guards comes around the corner with his gun raised. He’s facing the wrong way, not sure where she is. Kalenia doesn’t hesitate. She fires three shots into him and he falls. He grabs at one of the wounds but stops moving before hitting the ground. Even after last night shooting people still feels wrong, like she’s not the one pulling the trigger. She gave them a chance to surrender though and better them than her. When the man doesn’t move for a minute she takes off in his direction, hoping with him down she can find a path out of here.

Almost immediately she sees another man coming and again she fires into him. He turns but not fast enough. Before he can get a shot off he’s falling. The fire’s jumping from box to box. The flames are quickly overwhelming the warehouse and cutting off options. She tries to orient herself and look for the exit but between the smoke, the heat and the smell it’s hard to think. A gunshot flies by her ear and she turns, ready to fire back. She doesn’t see anyone though. Where’s the shooter?

She turns and runs, hoping somewhere she goes will present a path that leads to the exit. The smoke reaches the high ceiling and triggers a series of sprinkler systems. There’s a low hum in the walls and then water’s pouring down, drenching the room. Her suit goes from comfortable to water logged in seconds. She sticks her guns under her coat, desperate to keep them dry. She needs to make sure they keep working.

Kalenia recognizes the shelving units from right after she entered the room. As she heads toward them another guard pops into view. He’s facing away and doesn’t see her. His gun’s still in his hand but it isn’t raised. He looks desperately around the room. He turns, still not seeing her but revealing the profile of his face. It makes Kalenia pause for a moment. There’s no way he’s over twenty five. His eyes are wide and he looks terrified.

The terror on his face strings. What did this kid know when he signed up to come down here? A part of her wonders if she can sneak past him and let him be. She’d love to let him walk out of here. She’d probably even give him a chance to surrender if they were alone. There could still be a half dozen or more of these guys left though. Some may have run and others may have been caught under the shelving units but they could be right around the corner instead. With no idea how many others are still running around in here even a single word could be the word that gives her away. Instead, she raises her gun and fires two shots into him. He never sees them coming before they send him sprawling to the ground.

Rushing to his side, Kalenia kicks his gun under a box before checking him. He’s still breathing. One of her shots hit him in the arm while the other went in his side. He’s unconscious. There’s nothing she can do for him now. If she gets out of here she’ll send help. Turning him on his side to help him avoid drowning, she again tries to move toward the door.

Passing the knocked over shelving units, she notices James still sprawled on the ground near them. He’s either unconscious or dead. She’d love to check and be sure but she doesn’t dare take the time. There’s no sign of Lily. She must’ve gotten out. Knowing nobody left in here is worth her time, she keeps moving until she’s back in the tunnels leading upstairs. She pulls the heavy metal door shut behind her. There’s a loud scraping sound but that’s perfect. It’s loud enough that if anyone opens this door to follow her she’ll hear them coming.

The lights in the tunnels are still on but water from the sprinklers is starting to flood into the hallway. Closing the door to the warehouse should slow it but she didn’t get it all the way closed and it’s going to keep coming. Her only thoughts are of getting back upstairs and calling the cops. The flames didn’t reach all the drugs and if these ones are in plastic bags like the ones from last night the water might not destroy them. There’s going to be plenty of evidence to shut this place down.

There’s an intersection before the ladder upstairs that goes in four directions. One of those paths leads back to the warehouse while another leads to a dead end. The fourth leads to a locked door which Kalenia tried on her way down here. She goes past it so fast she almost doesn’t notice the woman standing at the end of that hall. She’s already started down the path to the stairs before she can stop herself. As she comes to a halt, she pulls a pistol from under her coat. She tosses her wet hair back, trying to keep it out of her face. Water rolls off her coat as she moves. This was a nice, expensive leather coat. She doubts it can come back from this soaking.

Leading with her gun she goes back around the corner to find Lily standing in front of the door. As Kalenia rounds the corner Lily sticks her hands in the air. “Alright, don’t shoot. I’m not armed. I’ll gladly surrender.”

Lowering her gun slightly, Kalenia advances on the woman. When she gets close enough she grabs the woman’s shoulder and slams her into the door with a loud thud. Forcing her to turn around, she starts to pat her down. There’s no sign of any sort of weapon or anything else that could be dangerous. “Do you have anything I should be worried about? I don’t want to have to shoot you but I will if I have to.”

The woman rolls her eyes. “No, I don’t have anything dangerous on me. I don’t have to carry a weapon. I hire people to do that for me.”

“That didn’t work out so well for you here.”

“I noticed that too. I think I need to hire better help. Then again, we don’t train them to deal with grenades. Doesn’t come up very often.”

Satisfied the woman doesn’t have any weapons, she spins her around. She’s completely dry so she must have gotten out before the sprinklers started. Her right cheek has a cut on it and blood’s dripping down her face. Her hair’s a mess with strands all over the place. Despite it all she doesn’t seem concerned about her situation. Her eyes are calm and the rest of her face betrays no emotion.

Kalenia shoves her back against the door. “What’s behind the door? Everything goes crazy and you rush here? Why?”

Lily’s wrists flex, trying to grab for something. She’s shoved hard into the door again in response. “That hurts. Why should I tell you anything? I don’t see what’s in it for me.”

“Maybe because I won’t shoot you if you tell me.”

The edges of Lily’s mouth twist upward slightly at that. “Please, I think we both know you’re not going to shoot an unarmed woman who already surrendered. If you must know it’s my office. There’s no huge secret to it or anything. It locks from the inside and I figured I’d be safe there. I hoped you were already dead but didn’t want to bet on it.”

Leaning in until her mouth’s only inches from the woman’s ear, Kalenia says, “Why are you just standing outside then?”

“The door’s locked. When your explosion threw me, I must have lost my keys. When I realized I couldn’t get in I was going to get out of here but then I turned around and you were standing there.”

“So you can’t open it?”

“Correct. You’re welcome to try if you like but I don’t think you’ll have any more luck than I did. If you want we can go back in the warehouse and try to find my keys but I have no idea where they are and I’m guessing you didn’t kill all my men so that may not be a great idea.”

Doubting the woman’s telling the truth, Kalenia wants to push the topic. She knows the door’s locked though and she’s not going back. The cops can search for the key when they get here. She’s done enough. “I don’t think so. We’re getting out of here now. I’ll let the cops handle your office.”

“I’d really rather we not go to the cops. Why don’t we make a deal to leave them out of this?”

Kalenia closes her eyes, trying to center herself. This woman knows how to push her buttons. “Why would I make a deal with you? You’re already caught and you don’t seem to have any help coming. You wouldn’t be offering me a deal if you thought you had backup on the way.”

Grinning from ear to ear, Lily licks at a bit of the blood from her cut that’s run down to her lips. “You’re right about that, but I do have a little surprise still. I think you’ll be interested to hear it Kalenia.”

The woman’s downright smirking at this point. It takes Kalenia a moment to realize what just happened. Lily called her Kalenia. That means Lily knows who she is. She freezes, not sure what to do. Denying it won’t do any good. The woman knows what she’s talking about and if she wasn’t sure before, Kalenia’s lack of response should give her all the confirmation she needs.

Smacking the woman across the face with her gun makes her feel better. She grabs her by the hair and tosses her to the ground. Lily stays down at first but slowly gets back to her feet. Kalenia drives a boot into her side and knocks her over. When Lily starts to get up again Kalenia expects to see fear staring back at her but as the woman stands up she’s laughing. Kalenia pushes her hard up against the door. “How the hell do you know who I am.”

Reaching toward Kalenia’s chest, Lily’s grabbed by the wrist, her arm forced back down. “I’m trying to show you if you’ll let me. It’s not a secret.” This time she doesn’t reach forward, she just points at the tear in the shoulder of Kalenia’s suit. “One of my men last night noticed your suit was damaged. They assumed it was from an injury so I went looking for recent hospital reports of vigilantes getting hurt. They keep track of all the injuries that come in. Turns out, shoulder injuries aren’t that common. It didn’t take long at all to track you down.”

Something doesn’t add up. She tries to wrap her mind around what Lily’s saying but it doesn’t fit. “That doesn’t even make sense. I didn’t tell the hospital who I was and they don’t track that information for vigilantes. Want to try again?”

“Well you’re right of course, they don’t keep track of that. They do take down details though like your costume, your height, your weight, that sort of thing. The same sort of things you had to give the vigilante office when you registered. Comparing them didn’t take long. There’s only about two hundred registered vigilantes in town so far and at least half signed up just to do it before the tests started. I hoped to find something good but I didn’t expect I was going to find the woman leading the prosecution against the vigilante act. For what it’s worth I hope you win your case. You’re proving right now that vigilantes are bad for business. Back to our business though. As I was saying, I think a deal works here.”

Kalenia’s eyes narrow. “I still see no reason to make a deal with you.”

“That’s because you haven’t heard what I’m willing to offer. I can’t go to jail. I’ll be dead in about five minutes. You heard what we’re planning for Grant after you caught him. They’ll do the same to me. Especially after I pushed to do the same to Grant. I don’t want to die and I don’t think you want your job and everyone else in your life to know you’re running around in a funny costume. So let’s deal.”

Clearing her head’s impossible. She doesn’t want anyone to know about this though, at least not anyone who doesn’t already know. “What did you have in mind?”

Lily’s smile spreads to her eyes. She thinks she’s won. “I’ll let you walk out of here without an issue. You go about your life as if nothing happened. We won’t come after you or anyone you care about. In exchange, you stay out of our business. It really won’t be that hard. We do some transfers in town but we don’t handle the streets here so we wouldn’t run into each other often anyway. To make it really worth your while, I can even throw in a few tips about the groups who sell on the streets here. It’s a win for everyone.”

It makes sense but dealing with these people feels lousy. She’s confident it won’t work anyway. “No deal, I can’t imagine all your partners are going to agree to that. Someone will shoot me in the back in a week or two if you know who I am.”

“My partners don’t need to know who you are.”

Blinking a few times, Kalenia starts to process what that means. “Just to be clear, are you saying you haven’t told anyone who I am? None of your partners, or bosses, or anyone else knows?”

“Correct. I had different people handle each step of looking up your information. None of them are going to connect the dots. I haven’t told anyone else yet. I just found out myself a couple hours ago and I wasn’t sure I could trust the rest of my group until they agreed to take out Grant. I have a lot to offer. If you want more, name it and I’ll try to make it happen. Like I said, I can not go to jail.”

“What happens if I refuse your deal?”

“Then my partners will find out who you are. I won’t really have a choice but to use that information. That’s the only bargaining chip I’ll have to try and keep myself alive. It won’t work mind you but I can’t not try. They’ll destroy you publicly first. You may well lose your job and even if you keep it there’s no way anyone will trust you to run your biggest case. Then they’ll come after you and your family. I didn’t have time to look into much about you but I understand you have a boyfriend. You probably have friends. I’m sure at least one of you has some family. Take the deal.”

Wheels start spinning in Kalenia’s head. She’s supposed to be in control here but the situation seems to be falling apart. Neither of those options works for her. “You’re giving me two choices. Either let you go and you let me go essentially or I take you in and it destroys your life but you’ll make sure I go down with you. Do I have that right?”

“More or less. I definitely prefer the first option where we both get to walk out of here happy.”

At this point Kalenia’s shaking. This isn’t how things were supposed to go but she sees another option. She closes her eyes for a moment. She can feel Lily’s breath on her face. That doesn’t make this easier. She takes a few steps back. Raising her gun and pointing it right at Lily’s chest, she fires three shots into the woman. Lily has just enough time to raise her arms in front of her. and start to scream but that’s quickly cut off as multiple bullets are pumped into her. She falls against the metal door to her office and slumps, leaving a trail of blood all the way to the floor. At this close range blood splatters everywhere and gets all over Kalenia’s suit.

Looking down at Lily, she doesn’t see any breathing. She leans down and checks for a pulse and finds none. Her aim was good. She says under her breath, “There was a third choice.” She’s not sure if she’s saying it to herself or the corpse. It doesn’t really matter.

Part 22

Part 24

Toxic Vol. 1 Susceptible States Part 10

“Still with me DeMarcus? Grady wants to speak with you.” There’s no answer. “Not again. Can you hear me?” It sounds like the phone’s moved away from the speaker. “I think I lost the call again.”

“I’m here Jerry. Don’t have much to say, but I’m still here.”

With a sigh of relief Jerry says, “I’m passing the phone to Grady. Just give me a second.”

DeMarcus Dodson’s slumped against a wall, his head in his hands. He wants desperately to call his boyfriend Jesse but his phone’s long since dead. He found another on one of the people who broke into his job but when he went to call he realized he doesn’t have a clue what Jesse’s number is. He always just clicks his name in his contacts. He can hear several men pounding on the metal shutters blocking the door behind him. “Stop banging on the shutters in there.” They do so immediately. That doesn’t make him feel better.

A new voice is on the phone. “I’ve got an idea to get us in there Dodson. You up for helping out?”

Sighing, DeMarcus considers hanging up. “Not really Grady. Did Jerry tell you?”

“Tell me what?” There’s no sign in his voice that he knows what DeMarcus is talking about.

“Don’t worry about it. What do you need?”

“We still can’t get ahold of enough of your night security guys to override your crazy security procedures. We can cut through the doors eventually but this stuff is high end. It’ll take us hours, at least, with traditional materials. We got ahold of a couple guys on the board of the company who can override but they’re hours away. The vice president submitted a list of your projects in development though and there’s a set of high end explosives in one of the storage containers in the main storage area.”

“You’re saying it’s strong enough to blow through the shutters?”

“Not even close. We’ve got another plan. Apparently in his office, you can use his computer and your badge to override this alone. His office likely hasn’t been locked down but his door will definitely be locked and it’s a heavy duty door. Nothing you’ll be able to knock down. The explosives should get you in.”

DeMarcus takes a deep breath, trying to take this in. “Unless the door goes flying and breaks the computer. Or unless I mess up with the explosives and get myself killed.”

“It’s a risk. The alternative is sitting in there alone for at least another five hours. You said there’s still at least three of them left. Want to sit around hoping you keep getting lucky?”

“Where do I find these explosives?”

Grady spends the next few minutes telling DeMarcus exactly where to find the explosives. They’re complicated. He’s going to have to wire them perfectly or he’ll blow himself up instead of the door. Once he puts the last wire in place he’ll only have ten seconds before it blows. “Don’t try to remember all of that. Call us when you’re in place and we’ll walk you through it. Does the phone you’re on now have enough charge?”

He has over 50% battery remaining so he figures it’ll last. “I’m letting you go now Grady. I’ll call once I’m outside his office. Before I do though, can I ask you to do me a favor?”

“Depends what. I don’t have a lot of time.”

Sighing, DeMarcus wants to scream at the man. “Try to have someone call my boyfriend and let him know I’m alright. Or if they can’t now, do it afterwards if I don’t make it out. I want him to know I’m thinking about him. I’d call myself but his number’s in my phone and it’s dead.”

There’s a long silence on the other end. “I can do that Dodson. Keep yourself alive so I don’t have to give that second message though.”

Hanging up the phone, DeMarcus slips it into his pocket. The storage area’s straight ahead and there’s a good chance the last of the attackers who invaded Secure Solutions Chemical are inside. The smart move would be to go anywhere else. There are offices down here he could lock himself inside. All of the company’s office workers and executives are probably in there with the attackers though. If he doesn’t help them they may not last until the police get inside.

Part 9

Part 11

Dynamo Vol. 1 Greater Heights Part 22

Practically throwing her keys at the valet, Kalenia struts toward the front entrance of the Power Drive Casino. The cops may want to keep her away but it takes a lot more than that to put her off a case once she’s invested. She waited until the next night at least to give them time to get in and out before she showed up. If Valenzuela’s here she’d be afraid of him recognizing her.

Heads turn and eyes follow her as she walks through the automatic doors into the large, ornately decorated lobby. She went all out tonight. After spending most of the day in court, she found time to get her hair done so it makes a statement. She squeezed into her sexiest yellow dress. Her heels make her a good four inches taller than she actually is. Tonight she needs everyone to stare. She’s not in costume so she can be larger than life. Tonight’s her chance to hide in plain sight. If they spend enough time paying attention to her legs, they won’t pay attention to what she’s doing.

The lobby’s almost blindingly bright. Jewels, or at least something pretending to be jewels, adorn every surface in sight. Making the place stranger is that the casino’s theme is clearly the auto industry. All of the walls have paintings of classic cars, but they’re cars with jewels adorning their hubcaps, their headlights, and everywhere else they can go. That’s the kind of car she wants to drive, though it’d end up stolen in no time.

Not knowing where to start searching Kalenia heads to the counter and asks for a couple hundred dollars worth of chips. The girl behind the counter’s a chipper redhead who doesn’t look old enough to be here. With a big grin she asks, “What games will you be playing with us tonight?”

Kalenia leans forward, ready to show she’s a high roller and not likely to take any crap. “Why does that matter?”

The girl seems surprised to receive pushback and glances behind her. Probably looking to see if she has reinforcements if she needs them. “We actually only use chips for our table games. If you’re going to stick to the slot machines, we have a swipe card we can set up for you. We don’t want you to get to the machines and not be able to play.”

She almost feels bad for the girl, she’s trying to be pleasant. With a sigh she decides to let her off the hook. “I’ll be playing table games thank you. Set me up with chips.”

A stack of green and red chips are pushed toward her, along with a nice bag she can carry them around in. Wrapping the cord holding the bag shut around her wrist, she twirls it until it’s tight against her. Kalenia gives the girl a smile and heads onto the floor.

They’re way busier than she expected on a weeknight. People are everywhere, bumping into each other and causing the slots to make fake spinning noises. She doesn’t have a clue what she’s searching for. Anyone who looks familiar, anything that reminds her of last night, anything that looks like it could be tied to Mr. Vincent.

Choosing a game’s easy, poker doesn’t give her much control over how long her money will last. They only have one other choice. Setting herself up at a blackjack table, she tries to play things safe. Her goal isn’t to win a bunch of money. She’s here to watch the players. Her boyfriend Marco’s going to investigate if she loses too much so this stack needs to last. She wins a few games but her unwillingness to take big risks means the wins aren’t offsetting her losses. The man sitting next to her does a lot better. He quickly doubles his money. The casino throws free drinks at him and pretty soon that turns around. She accepts a martini for appearances but only sips it.

After nearly an hour of trying not to lose everything tonight’s starting to look like a bust. Her stack of chips looks sad and and nobody has stood out among the crowd. Plenty of interesting people are running around, but none that seem relevant. She’s seen two former clients and a federal judge with a woman who is definitely not his wife. None of them are tied to last night. Maybe the man in white really did just come here to gamble. Plenty of other people do so. The detective had to think it was more than that though. He wouldn’t have mentioned it without a reason.

When she’s nearly ready to give up a man leaving a nearby poker table catches her eye. Something about him seems familiar and he’s heavily favoring his left leg. Limping across the casino floor, he draws her eye. Kalenia moves to the nearest cashier to cash out. Taking the few dollars she has left, she hurries to catch the man.

He isn’t making his way out of the casino or to another area where he can gamble. Instead he meets up with one of the janitors and after whispering something to each other, they head through a set of employee only doors where she can’t follow.

Trying to figure out where she knows the man from isn’t getting her far. Could he have been a witness in an old case? Why does he stand out? Was he there last night? She can’t remember seeing him there. Unless he’s… no, the hair’s wrong. That can change though. Could he be the guy she shot last night? If she’s right, he was one of Mr. Vincent’s bodyguards. The one she shot in the leg before knocking out. That would explain why he’s limping today. He had long flowing hair last night and today has a buzz cut but that’s not a hard change to make.

If he was shot in the leg last night he certainly shouldn’t be walking on it today. Maybe she’s just connecting dots because he’s limping and she wants it to be him. Any lawyer knows the danger of confirmation bias. The more she tries to picture both faces though, the more she’s convinced they’re one and the same.

Desperate to investigate further, she starts looking for any excuse to sneak into the back of the building. A poorly labeled door, someone walking into the back that looks like they don’t work here, anything that would give her cover if discovered. She doesn’t find anything. Every door into the back’s clearly labeled, “Employees only.” Without other options, it’s time for somebody who can handle themselves if caught to investigate.

Walking up to the valet station, she asks the teenager parking cars for the location of her vehicle. He can’t stop staring at her legs and before she can stop him he’s already grabbing her keys and offering to get the car for her. “No thank you, I’m not leaving. I just need to get something out of my trunk.” He tells her where to find her car and tosses her the keys.

Walking to the far side of the parking lot takes a few minutes but she’s glad to find its fairly dark and nobody seems to be around. Popping the trunk, she finds her gear stashed underneath the built in drone. Her suit, trench coat, mask, boots and gloves are all tightly packed in a duffel bag. A variety of guns and a few grenades are rolling around unsecured. She’ll have to do something about that. Unsecured grenades can’t be safe.

What’s the best way to get into the back of this place? As a vigilante, technically nobody here can stop her. If they’re being run by the group responsible for last night though walking in the front door’s a bad idea. They’ll have a process in place to trash any evidence and she may well face resistance.

Changing in the back seat of a convertible isn’t easy. Especially when you’re trying not to show off to the world. She hasn’t seen a soul since she reached this part of the parking lot though and luckily she put the top up today. Slipping her suit under her dress means anyone watching in a security office won’t see too much. The rest of the outfit goes on over it and her coat wraps tightly around her.

As she starts to climb out of the car she catches a glimpse of herself in the rear view mirror and freezes. Her hair’s hard to miss and will connect the dots for anyone who saw her on the floor. She can’t believe she didn’t notice. After the time she spent sitting in a chair to get it done it hurts to ruin her new look but it’s for the best. Taking the pins out one by one, her hair falls around her shoulders. Now she’s ready to go.

A final stop at the trunk of the car has her considering her weapons. There’s a lot of innocent people inside and she doesn’t want anyone getting hurt. Shotguns that hit everyone in their path or grenades that blow giant holes in walls just aren’t safe to use here. She grabs a couple of pistols and slips them into the inner pockets of her coat. They’ll have to do. She has the trunk halfway closed before she hesitates. Without grenades she’d have never stopped the drug shipments last night. At the last second she throws a pair into her coat’s pocket. They may not be safe but they’ll be good to have if things get out of hand.

Cutting through the field on the side of the casino, Kalenia heads behind the building. She sticks to the shadows in case they have security cameras back here. She doesn’t want to find herself surrounded.

There are a number of doors along the back of the building but each one she checks is locked. She darts up to each of them and when the handles don’t turn she slips back into the darkness. At the third door she tries she notices a camera. It’s hiding above the small light illuminating the entrance which makes it hard to spot but a small blinking red light gives it away. The longer she spends back here, the more she risks some guard seeing her and heading out to investigate. They won’t treat her as a vigilante at that point. They’ll treat her as a criminal.

Nearing the end of the building she’s starting to run out of ideas. She may have to march through the lobby into the employee area of the casino after all. They’ll be on her in seconds. They can’t have her arrested but they certainly can throw her off private property. If they’re not feeling generous they could kill her and say they thought she was an intruder.

Creeping through the dark she sees a figure ahead bathed in light. As she gets closer, she finds it’s a young woman in a chef jacket. Puffing away at a cigarette the woman’s leaning against the wall with her eyes closed. The door next to her’s propped open by a large cement block. Jumping her would provide a way inside. That’s not right though, she just works in the kitchen. Even if this place is involved with gangs that likely doesn’t extend to the cooks. Maybe she’ll leave the door open. All Kalenia can do is wait.

Putting the cigarette out with her shoe, the woman turns to go inside. Since she’s looking away Kalenia sneaks closer. Her hope that the door will be left open quickly fades. The cook starts inching the block holding the door aside. It falls to the side with a crash and the cook leaves it. She moves inside and leaves the door. It starts to slowly swing shut and Kalenia searches for any solution. A long stick on the ground catches her eye so she grabs for it. As the door picks up speed, she rushes forward. At the last moment she’s able to insert just enough of the stick into the door to keep it from latching.

Nerves take over. The cook could still be right there. She might see the stick. She might be tipped off by not hearing the door latch. A million possibilities rush through her mind. Half convinced she’s already been discovered all she can do is wait. After a minute or two of nothing happening, she wraps her fingers around the door and starts to pull it open. It makes a loud creaking noise but opens without issue. Glancing down the hall, there’s nobody around.

This time she allows the door to close. The latch quietly clicks behind her. Loud sounds of metal on metal drift toward her from a hall to her left. The smells coming from that direction suggest that’s the way to the kitchen. Not where she’s likely to find answers. To the right she sees a long hallway leading to more hallways and closed rooms.

Each office offers an opportunity but she starts to realize how big the back half of the casino is. It might be nearly as big as the public area. The halls branch in all directions and every way she looks there are more closed doors. She’s nervous she’s going to run into an employee but so far the place seems pretty dead. It’s late at night on a weekday and they were pretty swamped. Hopefully employees don’t have time to hang out in back.

An open door ahead catches her eye but inside she only finds a break room with a beat up table and a loud fridge. No employees. Hearing noises around a corner, Kalenia ducks inside and closes the door behind her, leaving a small crack of light so she can hear what’s coming. With her back pressed against a wall she clenches her fists, hoping whoever it was keeps walking. Footsteps get louder and louder but soon they start to fade again. She glances through the crack long enough to see someone in a casino uniform. Not who she’s looking for.

Exploring hallway after hallway reveals nothing. Every so often she has to duck into an office to avoid an employee but most of these rooms seem empty and most are unlocked. She can’t help but feel any important rooms would be locked. None of the employees she glimpses through cracked doors look familiar. There’s absolutely no sign of the limping man.

Nearing the point of giving up, Kalenia’s surprised to stumble upon a staircase leading downstairs. A building this size wouldn’t always have a basement. It’s probably for storage or supplies but without any other idea where to look, she decides to check it out. She’s having no luck on this floor.

The staircase keeps going longer than she expected and the deeper she goes the dimmer the light gets. Kalenia finds herself in a cement tunnel with only a few stray light bulbs dotting the way. She must be at least a couple stories below ground. In the distance she sees a hallway like a cross splitting off in multiple directions. She sets off toward it.

With three directions to choose from Kalenia has to make a decision. She cups her ear in each direction but the only noise she can make out sounds like a dripping pipe. Down the path to the right there’s complete darkness so for now she rules it out. Straight ahead the hall goes another fifty feet or so before hooking to the right. To her left the path’s a similar length but instead of hooking it ends in a large metal door.

The door seems like the easiest path but when she pulls on the handle it won’t budge. There’s a strong looking lock and without a key she doesn’t see another way forward. This door’s so thick that her grenades probably wouldn’t make a dent. That only leaves one path to explore.

Unsure what she’ll find around the hook she chances a glance and almost swears at what she sees. A steel door exactly like the last one. After a moment she notices one difference though. This door’s slightly ajar. Pulling it open slowly, as quietly as possible, she finds a massive storage room, which explains why they needed to be so far underground.

Boxes overflowing with supplies are everywhere. There’s food, serving treys, uniforms, everything a casino could need that doesn’t need to be kept cold. It’s all stacked from floor to ceiling in clearly marked cardboard boxes resting on wooden pallets. There must be hundreds of them. On it’s own this isn’t surprising, a place this large needs supplies and supplies have to go somewhere. Closer examination reveals the room’s full of people though. A lot of them and they certainly aren’t servers getting supplies.

She’s too far away to hear what’s going on but the limping man’s here along with a couple of women who were definitely in the warehouse last night. They stood there screaming while the men they were with died. Cowards. They’re standing next to a third woman Kalenia doesn’t recognize. They’re all gathered together but there’s at least a half dozen bodyguards wandering around as well. Big, muscular men and one woman. They’re all dressed in similar suits and all are armed.

Kalenia searches for somewhere she can hide which is close enough to listen in. Scanning the area, she sees a shelving unit not far away where the ledges don’t seem far apart. She can climb that and get a great view. As long as she stays behind the boxes she’ll have cover. It’s a long way to get there but none of the guards seem to be paying attention. They’re focused on the area where the group’s gathered.

Without a better idea Kalenia races for the shelves. They loom over the crowd, at least twenty feet tall. She paces herself to keep her feet from pounding too loud. The entire way she keeps her eyes on the group. None of the guards look her way and she thinks she’s escaped notice. After catching her breath, she starts climbing. The shelves prove sturdy and don’t budge when she pulls herself up. Tired from the run, she decides to wait on the second level. That’s already seven feet up and she has a fine view. Trying to stay behind a box she finds she can hear if she focuses.

One of the women from last night seems to be in the unknown woman’s face. “It happened too fast, I didn’t get a good luck at them. What was I supposed to do, dive in front of the crazy woman?”

The woman she doesn’t recognize shoves the first one back and stares her down. “No, you were supposed to protect our product. We have a problem now. The whole scene’s locked down and we can’t even try to recover anything that wasn’t destroyed. You’re lucky the other truck got out of there or you’d already be dead.”

“Even that truck was on fire. We’re not going to salvage crap from it. Face it, she got us good. We weren’t going to recover much from the factory even if we could get in there.”

The limping man’s leaning against a box, not putting any weight on his injured leg. “Do you think Grant gave us up? I’ve watched his back for years and I can’t imagine he would but the cops showed up awfully fast.”

The unknown woman paces back and forth wearing a white pant suit. “Probably not, the woman probably tipped them off before her attack. I want to know if she’s a free agent or she works for another gang. We need to retaliate now but we don’t have a clue who to go after. Every day we sit around doing nothing makes us look weak.”

The woman paces right out of sight. The box in front of her provides cover but it also blocks too much of her view. She needs to move but she’s not sure where to. Climbing on top of the boxes could give her a nice view but someone would only have to look up to see her. She could move to another location but that means leaving cover and she’s lucky she made it here without being spotted. Wherever she looks she finds only bad options.

Settling for leaning around the side of the box, she can make out most of the group now. The unknown woman has finally stopped moving and her hands are on her head. “I don’t like it but I think we need to take Grant out.”

The limping man, who Kalenia now knows is Grant Vincent’s bodyguard, leaps to his feet. He winces when he puts weight on his leg but he manages to get in her face. “Look, I’ve known that man for fifteen years. You just said yourself he probably didn’t talk. He knows better. He’s not going to say a word. Why would we kill someone who’s loyal to us? It doesn’t make any sense.”

She puts a hand up to put space between them. “I know Grant’s close to you James and I know you want to protect him. I do too, you know how I feel about him. We’re out of options at this point though. It’s gone above our level. When they show up to investigate this and he’s alive he’ll die anyway and if that happens the rest of us are going to be dead too, and a lot more painfully.”

One of the women still hasn’t said anything. She’s sitting on top of one of the boxes with her face in her hands. What Kalenia can make out of her is as pale as her white blouse. Every so often she puts a hand over her mouth but for the most part she just watches. The excitable woman from last night steps forward. “I need to know what you decide to do. I can have him taken out tonight. If we’re going to do this, the sooner the better. We don’t want to give him time to spook and decide to talk.”

James limps over and leans against a shelf. “Damn this leg. Hurts like hell. We keep any booze down here? I could use a drink.”

The unknown woman walks down a row of boxes and pops the lid off one. She pulls out a massive bottle of whiskey and hands it over. “Maybe next time try not getting shot. I hear it hurts less.”

“Shut the hell up Lily. You weren’t there. She came in hard on one side of the building and drew most of us away, then snuck in another way. She had to have help. We should be focusing more on her and less on taking out one of our own.”

Turning away, Lily shakes her head as she turns from James. “We’ll have to put it to a vote. There’s four of us so if there’s a tie I break it. I think we both know how the two of us will vote.” She turns to the two women from the night before. “What do you two think? You’re not putting this entirely on us.”

The woman who spoke up before quickly chimes in. She’s chewing gum and bouncing up and down. “Take him out. Sucks, but we need to watch out for the operation. Plus, I don’t want to bring the bosses down on us. He knew what might happen if he got caught. Especially right now.”

Turning to the woman who still hasn’t said a word, Lily asks, “What about you? Care to put an end to this.?”

At this point the woman’s practically translucent. “I don’t want to make that decision. It’s too much.”

After another long swig of his whiskey, James sets the bottle down on the closest box to him. “You know there’s no way he’d vote to off any of us. We set out to do this together. We should finish together.”

“That’s a very nice sentiment.” Lily crosses her arms and walks right up to him before continuing. “It doesn’t help us get out of this though. Let me repeat, the — boss — will — kill — us if we don’t take him out. He has to know about the shipment by now. We still haven’t heard from him. What does that tell you? He doesn’t trust us anymore. If we’re going to win him back we need to take bold action. I need an answer Lacey. If it’s no, it better come with a plan on what we’re going to do instead or I break the tie for my side.”

Lacey jumps off the box and takes a few steps toward the door. She puts her head in her hands and looks like she could start crying at any moment. She finally stops herself. “Fine, do what you have to do.”

The first woman from the warehouse steps forward. “I’ll take care of it then. I want you all to go quiet for awhile.” She turns to Lily. “You need to get ahold of the boss, let him know we’re taking care of this. We need to prove we’re still loyal. I don’t want to wake up to my replacement standing over me one of these mornings.” She spits her gum on the floor.

At this point the quiet woman has tears in her eyes. Without a word she rushes out of the room. The one with the gum looks at the two remaining members of their group. “You didn’t have to get her involved. You know she can’t handle this kind of shit and it didn’t even matter. You were always going to break the tie Lily. I’m going after her to calm her down. If we’re not careful we’ll have to put her down as well. We’re already going to be down two of us, I don’t want to make that three.” She stomps out of the room.

Lily leans against a large crate and takes a deep breath. She closes her eyes and her hands grip the box. James takes another swig of the whiskey and offers the bottle to her. She opens her eyes long enough to notice and waves it away. “Get that away from me, you know I don’t drink.”

“Just figured if there was ever a time, it was now.”

“There’s never a time. What the hell are we going to do? I can call the boss and probably talk him out of killing us but if things go bad again we’re going to have an awfully hard time convincing him to forget about it. Plus, you of all people go against me and make me the bad guy. You know what we have to do.”

After another long swig of his vodka James slumps in on himself, the bottle hanging low to the floor. “I know it, but I don’t like it. I couldn’t bring myself to sign his death warrant. Sorry.”

“For what it’s worth, you know I am too. How do we take this girl out? We can find her easily enough but we need her in the ground and you say she seemed capable last night.”

“She was, but I’m not too worried about it. I think we can get it under control tonight.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because she’s hiding behind those shelves over there.” He points right at Kalenia. She freezes, unsure what to do. How did he see her? After a moment she jerks back around the box but it’s too late. “Impressive job sneaking down here. It’s time to come out and say hello though. Or you know, we could just fill you with holes right where you stand. Your call.”

Part 21

Part 23

Big City Beat #2

Rolling over in bed, Drew Stacy flails his arm around, trying to wrap himself around the beautiful blonde who should be sleeping next to him. The sun’s still rising and while he’s got a plane to catch, there’s still time for an early morning cuddle and maybe a little more if Gillian’s in the mood. Half asleep, he takes longer than he’s proud of to realize all he’s managed to wrap himself around is a pillow. He has the bed to himself.

Sitting up and scanning the room, a hint of light peeks through the window of his studio apartment. It’s enough to show that there’s nobody in the room with him and his bathroom’s empty. He’s alone.

His legs tingle as he forces himself to his feet. It’s only been five hours since he insisted he had to go to sleep and Gillian stuck her tongue out at him before climbing into bed to burrow into his arms. He knew she didn’t really want to go to bed yet but he still expected to see her this morning. Soon though he finds a note on the small table in front of his TV.

Sorry, got bored and thought I heard something down the street. Have to get to work early anyway but give me a call before you get on your flight if you can. See you when you get back. XOXO

So much for getting in some morning fun. Instead he drags himself into the kitchen to start a pot of coffee. When he opens the fridge though he realizes the only cream he has is a week past the expiration date and has a funky smell that isn’t appetizing. His stomach threatens to betray him in protest but he tosses the jug into the trash and tells his stomach to toughen up. The scent of coffee brewing washes his nausea away but it’s no good. He can’t drink black coffee. Another stop to make. A quick shower reminds him to water his plants before he leaves. A final rundown of the checklist he made a few nights ago confirms he has everything he needs. Time to go.

Grabbing his suitcase Drew hurries out of his apartment and rushes down the street to a coffee shop he knows will be open early. The sun’s still rising but there’s already a line out the door.

Drew sends a text to Gillian to confirm she didn’t have any issues last night. He’s getting used to waking up alone though he still gets nervous every time. If only she’d remember to send the morning text messages he’s requested. Some sign that she’s okay.

When he’s only a few people from the front of the line his phone starts buzzing. He half expects a message from Gillian apologizing for forgetting to text again but the buzzing goes on too long. Someone’s actually calling him. He doesn’t know the number. A lot of people wouldn’t answer an unknown call but most people don’t count on tips to do their job so he presses the phone to his ear. “Hello?”

The voice of Angela Peters, sounding far more upbeat than anyone has a right to sound this early, does more to wake him than coffee ever could. “You sound half asleep still. You are getting on a plane in two hours, aren’t you? If we have to reschedule the president will not be happy.”

“On my way to the airport, just stopping off for a cup of coffee. Not used to being up this early. Not sure why you needed me there tonight.”

“Because you insisted on being there for the photo shoot that’s running with the interview. I’m not sure why. You aren’t a photographer last I checked. Listen, there’s a reason I called. The president was wondering if you’d bring him a few of his favorite cannoli from a place over on Ninth Street. I can text you the address if that’s alright.”

Looking at his watch, Drew’s sure he has time to stop by a shop and pick something up. He’s just not sure why he’d want to. He’s never bought anything for someone he’s interviewing except maybe a coffee. This really isn’t that different, though he’d have to get them on an airplane and that gets more complicated. “Not to make this weird, but doesn’t he know anyone else in the city who could bring him some snacks?”

Angela’s voice lowers. “He knows plenty of people. None of them are coming to Washington today. He wants a dozen of them for his daughter’s birthday tomorrow. If a simple request is that much trouble though you can forget I asked.”

Reaching the front of the line, Drew manages to pantomime that he wants a caramel macchiatto with extra espresso. The girl behind the counter laughs at his arm working back and forth while pointing at the espresso but she gets his order right and he nods when she reads it back to him. “No, I guess it’s no big deal. I can pick up a dozen. I’m pushing things a little to get to the airport but I’ll manage. Text me the address. Can you at least call ahead though so they’re ready?”

“Already done. They’re waiting for you. Make sure you don’t miss the plane.”

With his coffee in hand Drew juggles his suitcase, his phone, and the drink while pushing through the front door. The first thing he notices as he steps out is an alarm going off in the distance, not close but probably only a few streets over. As he steps onto the sidewalk something metallic flashes inches in front of his face. He jumps back, spilling his coffee all over himself and his phone. The heat of the coffee hitting his hand causes him to drop the phone which slides across the pavement, dropping over the curb and ending up under a parked car. The metallic flash passes his eyes again, now returning to where it came.

Turning to his left, Drew has to blink a few times to be sure of what he’s seeing. A thick man who has to be nearly seven feet tall is pushing forward down the sidewalk causing crowds to separate and scream as he comes closer. He has a huge bushy beard that reaches the middle of his chest. Not that Drew can see his chest. The only parts of the man he can see are his face and his hands. The rest of him’s covered by a giant brown bear costume which seems to match the color of his beard. The costume even has a head, though his face pokes out the mouth. Drew finds himself unsure which set of eyes to look at.

The man’s only a few arm lengths from him and he figures out quickly what the flashes of metal were. The man’s exposed hands each have a yo yo attached to them but these aren’t normal yo yos. Each has three claw shaped spikes pointing out of them. The man whips them around indiscriminately, working to keep anyone from getting close enough to grab the many sparkling diamond necklaces which he’s slipped around each of his arms. There have to be dozens of them, each catching the light from the still rising sun and making the man a sort of kaleidoscope.

Dropping what remains of his coffee, Drew feels the warmth surround his feet as he tries to dive out of the way toward his phone. The man in the bear suit’s too fast though. Moving quicker than expected from someone his size the man closes the distance to Drew and hip checks him aside. He loses his suitcase and goes spilling into the street.

Shaking his head and trying to get his bearings Drew realizes his head’s only a few inches from where cars are still speeding past. He jerks himself back and pulls himself between a pair of parked vehicles. Reaching underneath them, he retrieves his phone and is glad to see that despite some superficial scratches it’s still working. Apparently this model’s not just waterproof but coffee-proof as well. As he tests the device one thought keeps returning to his mind. God, let Gillian have already gone home for the night.

“Bearing, stop now and we can make this easy.” Drew turns his head, looking for the source of the voice. His eyes stop on a man standing on the sidewalk at the next cross street. An older looking black man with graying hair and a pair of glasses stands there. Wearing a pair of khaki pants and a dress shirt, he looks like someone the giant man will run over. The only thing which stands out about him is that he’s got a bright yellow bowling ball in his arms.

Bearing stops and spreads his arms wide, screaming into the air. “Get out of my way Spare Warfare. Otherwise I’ll seven ten you.” As he issues his threat he flicks one of the yo-yos at the man who dives to his left, landing on the roof of a car. Spare Warfare starts rotating his arm with the bowling ball, whipping it faster than the weight would seem to allow. The man chucks the ball strait at Bearing. The ball hits him in the gut and causes him to drop to one knee. After his breath returns he growls. “That was a mistake.”

Bearing charges the car but Spare Warfare leaps away as the huge man crashes through the passenger door. Rolling across the ground, he runs for the bowling ball and grabs it before Bearing can turn. He starts swinging his arm again and again lets loose, hitting the man right in the knee. Another howl ensues.

A crowd starts to gather, though most keep their distance, not wanting to get caught in the fight. Drew starts recording on his scratched up phone, his journalistic instincts overruling his fear. Can he play this for the president? What would he have have to say about a fight like this happening on the streets of a major American city? It’s not like this sort of vigilante action didn’t happen before but now it’s everywhere.

Rolling forward to retrieve his ball, Spare Warfare tries to stand. Bearing whips his yo yos forward and catches him on the hand, causing the ball to drop on his foot and roll away. Blood spurts and Spare Warfare has to press the wound to his shirt, biting his lip to suppress a scream.

“Not so tough now amateur. You’re going to stop following me around now. Why do you care if I rob some stores? They have insurance, ain’t gonna hurt them none. You talk about keeping people safe. This fight makes people less safe. Now I have to rumble with you with people all around. Lay off.”

Puffing his chest out, Spare Warfare stands strong. “You don’t get it, do you? Having maniacs in the streets robbing us left and right destroys people’s trust in our society. There has to be order or everything breaks down and then safety is gone. Standing against someone like you is everything and I will fight you no matter what it takes.”

Spare Warfare eyes his ball which has stopped at Bearing’s feet. Bearing notices and shakes his head. “Don’t even think about it. This is over. Go home old man.”

Spare Warfare doesn’t listen. Rushing toward the ball for a moment Drew thinks he’s going to dive at the ball. Bearing extends his arms and starts whipping the yo-yos around. “You asked for this.” He gets the yo-yos going and swings. The spinning blades look like they’re headed for Spare Warfare’s shoulder but at the last moment he ducks into a somersault and the cable catches around his neck. The blades spin around a few times, the cable tightening around the neck until the spiked yo-yo itself sticks right into the middle of his throat. Drew drops his phone, the screen cracking as it hits the ground.

Collapsing to the pavement, Spare Warfare starts clutching at his throat. Bearing’s eyes go wide and he starts trying to pull the yo-yo free. Because of how tightly the cable wrapped around Spare Warfare’s neck though he can’t get it loose. “I didn’t mean to do that. I swear to god old man, I was going for your shoulder. Why’d you roll like that? That was so freaking stupid. What’s wrong with you?” The yo-yo finally comes loose from the neck and blood starts spraying out. Bearing still can’t get the string free. “Seriously, do you have a fucking death wish? I was just trying to get your shoulder. What’s wrong with you?”

Fighting with the yo-yo isn’t working so Bearing pulls the string from his hand and throws it to the ground. “I’m sorry.” He looks around, whipping his head all over the place, his eyes going wider as he realizes how big the crowd’s gotten. “You all saw him roll. I wasn’t trying to do that.” When the crowd doesn’t respond he roars again. “I still have one of these things if you want to get in my way.” He rushes forward, thrashing his arms out. The crowd splits to let him pass. The last Drew sees of him he’s rushing around a corner, using his giant furry arm to cover his face.

Sirens grow loud and ambulances are close. Everybody works to stay clear of Spare Warfare, still kicking and clutching at his throat on the sidewalk. With nobody else stepping forward Drew rushes toward him and picks his suitcase off the sidewalk as he moves. When he gets there he grabs a shirt out, pressing a white tank top against Spare Warfare’s throat. He uses his free hand to grab the man’s hand. “Look at me man.” They lock eyes and Spare Warfare’s fear is palpable. “I’m here. Do you understand? You’re going to be alright.” Spare Warfare nods and while he might be imagining it, Drew thinks the sees a little of the fear slip away. “Just hold on for me.”

 

Three hours later Drew sits in an airport terminal, having changed his clothes as his old set were covered in blood. His rescheduled flight leaves in half an hour. Angela started to object when he said he’d be late but when he pointed out how the Vigilantes Making Us Safe Act is what’s making him late the objections weakened. They were gone when he agreed to still pick up the cannoli. He’ll miss the photo shoot tonight but the interview won’t have to be rescheduled.

Looking down at his cracked phone he knows he needs to hear her voice. He dials Gillian’s number, not caring that she’s probably sleeping. She answers the phone on the fifth ring sounding groggy. “Hey. Glad you called before leaving.” There’s a long pause as she tries to wake up. “Aren’t you supposed to already be in the air?”

Holding his phone to his ear has his hand close enough to his nose that he can still smell Spare Warfare’s blood. He scrubbed and scrubbed but that smell won’t go away. “Something came up on the way to the airport. Vigilante fight. Had to get a rescheduled flight. Any issues last night?”

“Not really. Stopped a mugging. Chased a guy following some girl off. Slow.”

“You didn’t text this morning. I was worried.”

She yawns. “Sorry, was exhausted when I got back here. Still exhausted honestly. I’m glad you’re okay though.”

Drew takes a deep breath, not sure what else needs to be said. He needed to hear her voice. “Don’t go out anymore.” He’s surprised by his own words as he says them. Being a vigilante matters a lot to her and until now he never even considered asking her to stop but what happened to Spare Warfare could have just as easily happened to her. “Seriously, let the police handle this stuff.”

“It’s not that simple. People count on me. I want to know all about what happened but I’m too tired right now. Why don’t you call me tonight and we’ll talk more?”

“This is really simple. Just don’t go out anymore. Nobody’s making you.”

“We’ll talk later Drew.”

“I want to hear you say it.”

Gillian goes quiet. After listening to each other breathe for a minute Drew realizes that might have gone too far. Before he can apologize she says, “That’s up to me. We’ll talk about this later. Goodbye Drew.” She hands up the phone before he can respond. He quickly calls her back but his call goes straight to voicemail without a ring. He tries her two more times with the same results. A flight attendant calls for first class passengers to board and he knows he has to go. Walking up to board the plane, he tries to sort out what in the hell he’s going to say to Richard Hughes.

Part 1

Toxic Vol. 1 Susceptible States Part 9

It doesn’t take long to return to the atrium where DeMarcus can take the elevator or the stairs to the basement. Neither option appeals but he quickly decides the elevator’s out. If the door opens and there’s a group of attackers on the other side he won’t have anywhere to go.

Pushing open the door to the stairwell, the lighting’s dim and he can barely make out the first landing down. To get where he’s going he’ll need to climb down four of those. Approaching the first, DeMarcus realizes someone shot the lights out. Looking further down, there’s no more light below. They must have destroyed all the lights, leaving only the light on the top landing. Anyone following them will have a hard time.

Without another viable option DeMarcus pulls out the attacker’s cell phone and finds the flashlight app on it. This gives him enough light to make his way down. Each time he turns a corner he worries a shadow will jump out with a machine gun but so far he’s alone in the dark.

Reaching the bottom of the stairwell, DeMarcus moves to the door. He places his ear against it, hoping to hear something on the other side. There’s only silence. Slowly pushing the door open, he glances around the corner and is relieved to see no sign of the attackers. The lights in the hall are still on. For now, he’s alone.

It’s rare for him to spend time in the basement level where only their storage facilities and the executive offices are found. He tries to remember the floor plan and the fastest way to the storage facilities. He starts moving forward and soon wishes there were a few less lights. With every step he’s afraid he’ll stumble upon an enemy.

Turning the corner to the main downstairs lobby, his fears are realized. Before him are three attackers, all of whom are armed with machine guns. They’re staring right in his direction and any pretense of surprise goes out the window. He doesn’t even bother to raise his weapon. He throws himself back around the same corner.

Within seconds bullets start flying past him, bouncing off the walls. Several lights in the hallway are hit, darkening the hall and causing glass to plunge to the floor. After a moment the bullets stop as his attackers realize their bullets can’t turn corners. With his back against a wall and his pistol clutched in his hand, he wonders what made him come down here. He could be sitting safely in the lab upstairs. His fellow guards sacrificed themselves to give him a chance to help though. People have stepped in to give him a chance his whole life. He has to pay that back.

Listening for any sign of movement he suddenly hears a crunch as someone steps on glass. He points his gun around the corner and fires off a few shots. He can’t see where they’re going but maybe he’ll get lucky. “Get back or I keep shooting.” He hears all three of them retreating. “Look, we don’t have to die down here. I don’t know how you think you’re getting out but the cops can’t be far from getting inside. I can’t imagine your plan was to be here this long. Why don’t we work out a deal?” They stay silent.

Glancing around the corner, he sees the men approaching again. Once again he fires off a few shots. “Get back. Don’t make me say it again.” They do what he says, running backwards and exposing their backs. That’s weird. He almost fires a shot in each of them but they have enough body armor that he’s not sure he can make the shot. He can’t imagine they’ll negotiate if he kills one of them.

Once they’re back a distance they see him poking his head around the corner. They raise their guns and start firing again. DeMarcus ducks back. “Stop firing. Let’s talk.”

There’s no more gunfire and a confused sounding voice says, “What do you want to talk about?”

He doesn’t have an answer. They’ve killed enough people already that one more really shouldn’t matter. Yet every time he comes across one of these guys, they seem hesitant to kill. “None of us need to die here. Why don’t you turn yourselves in?”

The answer’s more gunfire. So much for talking. Soon he hears footsteps on the glass again. They keep repeating the same pattern. He considers running but doesn’t know where he’d go. To even get back to the stairwell he’d have to cross the hallway. He’d be dead before he got close.

Raising his gun in front of him, DeMarcus says a short prayer and hopes this is quick. Trying to gain the element of surprise, he rushes around the corner and starts firing. As he does so, he says, “Put your guns down or die.”

The strangest thing happens. With a man rushing them with a gun, all three men put their weapons down. DeMarcus stops firing, not wanting to kill unarmed people. They look confused and rush him. “Stop where you are or I will shoot.” All three stop. Why are they listening to him? At this point his jaw’s pretty much on the ground. “Lay flat on your stomachs and put your hands behind your heads.” They do what they’re told. “Put your left hand on your butts.” Three left hands go to three butts.

With adrenaline pumping through him DeMarcus isn’t sure how to respond. They’re all on the ground at this point but he doesn’t have a way to restrain them. There’s a part of him which would love to put a bullet in the back of each of their skulls but they’re surrendering. “Do any of you have any sort of handcuffs or tape or anything like that?” There’s no response. “Come on, tell me.”

Simultaneously all three of them say, “No.”

At least he knows. Looking around for anything that can help, DeMarcus realizes he’s just outside Mr. Sarraf’s office. The president of the company, maybe he’ll have something useful in his office. “Stay put.” He finds the door unlocked though it looks like someone left in a hurry. After a rushed search he doesn’t find anything useful. He realizes the offices lock down as well though. “All three of you, slowly get up and march into this office. Keep your hands behind your heads. If you give me a reason to do so, I will shoot you.”

They do as they’re told and are soon inside. “Stand against the far wall.” Once they’re there, he locks the office down. The steel shutters slide over the door as the three men stay where he told them to.

If the first first guy he took out was telling the truth there should only be two more attackers down here though one was unaccounted for upstairs. At this point he’s incredibly confused. Thinking back on his earlier encounters with the attackers he realizes that each time he was faced with one of them they did exactly what he told them to.

His breathing’s ragged and he feels like he needs to sit but his mind’s elsewhere. He keeps flashing back to those encounters and trying to think of different reasons they would have listened but he can only think of one.

With his mind racing this fast he can’t focus. Under his breath he says, “Just calm down DeMarcus.” In seconds he feels his mind start to clear. The worry and panic subside. He suddenly feels okay. He knows things are bad. He knows his situation hasn’t changed at all. He’s completely calm though. It takes him a moment to realize that he may have just forced himself to be calm by saying it. That should freak him out even more, but it doesn’t. He stays calm.

Pulling out the phone, he calls 911 again and asks to be connected back to Officer Grady. “What?” He’s not surprised at Grady’s response.

“I need to talk to Jerry. Now.”

“Not until I get some answers. Did you go into that basement? We’re not far from breaching but we can’t find enough of your night security guys to override the lockdown. The bomb squad’s confident it’s safe though and we took out the turrets.”

“Ya, I’m in the basement. Took down most of their guys. I think there’s just a few more left. They’re probably in the storage area and I’m headed there next. I haven’t found any of the executives down here yet. Need to talk to Jerry first though.”

There’s a pause before Grady says, “How do you keep taking down armed guards? Do you have military training or something?”

“No, that’s actually what I need to talk to Jerry about. I have a theory.”

There’s some jostling on the line and then Jerry’s back on the phone. “Really glad you’re okay DeMarcus but you should not be down there. The stuff in storage is really dangerous and can cause a lot of problems.”

“I know. I think I might already have a problem. What more can you tell me about the KJC2800?”

“Not a lot, I told you pretty much everything I know before. It’s an experimental mood controlling drug. Early stages, only basic animal testing done so far. Theoretically though it can be used to make people highly suggestive, which can be used to alter their moods.”

“So wait, basically people will just do what you say?”

“It’s not quite that simple. It won’t force anyone to do anything. If it ends up working though, theoretically it should just make them highly suggestible. They should have an overwhelming urge to do whatever they’re told or feel how they’re told to feel, even if it doesn’t make sense or seems like a bad idea.”

“Well that’s screwed up. I think it works though Jerry.”

“Why?”

“Because since I was stuck in that stuff, everyone is doing exactly what I say. I tell them to drop their guns and they do. I tell them to lay down and they do. Whatever I tell anyone to do, they do.”

There’s only silence on the other end of the phone. After a minute he can hear Jerry whispering to someone in the background but he can’t make out what he’s saying. “Are you there Jerry?”

“I’m here. How sure are you about this?”

“Pretty sure. I didn’t notice at first, just thought these guys were having a hard time shooting me. That doesn’t make any sense though. They slaughtered everyone in C wing. Why would they hesitate to shoot me?”

A long silence follows but finally Jerry returns. “Fuck.”

Part 8

Part 10