Romantic Retreat, Interrupted
We went on a little retreat, just the critical people you might say... I don't know if I was really that crucial, but I'm sure that I was there because Meiguo was going, and I'm his boss. Dolan had some plans for us, but they were preempted, first by No Such Agency, or something even more black and secretive, perfect for getting my inner conspiracy theorist going, and there was also a third party with extreme views on the shipstone.
The retreat was up in the mountains, on the state line between PA and NY state. Just a few cabins and a lodge by a lake still open even this late in the off-season, or else Dolan got it re-opened for us. The lake was a heat-sink, still pretty warm even in late fall and given to fog in the morning, the waters just nearly warm enough for a polar bear. A few romantic fools braved it in little row boats- Meiguo and Beatrice, of course, and couple from Materials Testing. They were out early Saturday morning, and I waved to them while I was taking a walk around the lake after breakfast. That seemed like about the limits of off-season activities up here, but it was good enough for me. I was going to break out my laptop when I got back to my cabin and work up the next step in my project, unless Dolan decided to fill us in on why he wanted us up here before then. He said he wanted us together for lunch, so I thought I had the rest of the morning for myself.
I saw the two black SUVs drive up to the lodge, one stopping long enough for two men to hop out. Dressed in black and carrying weapons, but no identifying markings like 'FBI', so I got off the path, behind a tree and on my cell phone as fast as I could. No signal.
We had service up here; the cell phones and laptops had worked fine last night, so somebody didn't want is us communicating with each other or the outside world. The possibilities were, if not infinite, then at least a very large number. More than I cared to dwell on, out here in the cold, wanting to run, and yet wanting to help my friends. But the main thing which sent me creeping around, trying to sneak back to the lodge, was curiosity, damnable curiosity, which killed the cat.
I got to a good vantage point, of where the deck at the back of the lodge, freshly swept clear of snow, was full of my friends and coworkers. I saw Dolan arguing with one man in black who seemed to be in charge. They went on for three minutes by the clock on my cell, which was still without signal, and then everyone was sat down and the man in black and my boss talked at the people. I was far enough away that I couldn't hear what was said, but there was annoyance, but little real anger, so I started to relax. That was when I became aware of another one of the unknowns, coming up the path from the Lodge.
I felt like an idiot at I suddenly worked out what he was doing; my vantage point was important for securing the place. I couldn't see how I was going to get away without being spotted, and the man was coming right towards me. I backed up behind a fallen log, cursing silently. What to do?
I looked back and saw the man in the body armor had stopped, gun up but not quite pointed at Dr. Sparks. where had Tom come from, Damn it!
"Sir, hold it right there," the intruder told him and reached for his comm, on his shoulder. Sparks stepped toward him and the man stopped trying to talk to his people, the gun coming down and covering the organic chemist now. I don't know my guns, but it was a futuristic-looking piece of hardware, like something out of a dystopian SF flick. I could easily imagine it spitting out a lot of hurt.
"I'm afraid I got myself lost out here in the woods," the Doc said rather feebly, or rather, he seemed to me to be obviously acting. The man snarled and advanced in a threatening manner, reversing the long arm as if to hit the old man with the rifle butt.
"Don't pull any crap with me, you old fart," the soldier said, lowering the butt and looking just a little uncomfortable. Maybe ashamed of himself. I jumped up to make what surely would have been a futile attempt at subduing him. At the very least I got his attention just as Meiguo came up silently behind him and put him in a head-lock, applying steady pressure to his carotid arteries.
"Of course he knew how to do that," I groaned to myself. The advanced rifle fell but Sparks caught it. The light went out of the mans' eyes and Meiguo eased him to the ground.
"Is he dead?"
"Unconscious. We need to tying him up and-" Beatrice threw some rope at him, and he looked lost. There may be a few things he's not good at... which is okay with me, because I really suck at sneaking around in the woods, don't I?
"What's going on?" I demanded of the three of them. I grabbed the rope and tied the guy up, then shook him. He didn't stir, either faking it or completely out of it.
The Doc looked uncomfortable, but Bea was never one to mince words. "It's possible his Uncle brought us u here to hand us over-"
"No!" Meiguo shouted, very angry for once. I whistled. Sometimes that kid acted a little like the reincarnation of the Buddha. Bea and Sparks shushed him.
"Do you want them up here?" Beatrice said sharply, and Doc Sparks looked like he wanted to commit mitosis, split right down the middle and try to work on calming them both down. I chuckled and interrupted thoughtfully.
"The way Dolan was arguing with the man down there just now, I doubt that. But it wouldn't surprise me a bit if somebody suggested this to him, with this in mind, or maybe something else-"
Something wet sprayed on my face, and I turned to Sparks as I wiped it off. There was blood on my hand and the Doc looked very surprised. He stumbled, half pushing and half falling, saying, "I think I've been shot..."
I tackled all three of them and we went down in in a tangle. Beatrice cried out and I felt something tear across the back of my shoulder painfully, and a buzz like a wasp. Something wet immediately started trickling down my back and I felt a draft where two big holes had been torn through my clothing.
"Bea, you hit?" I said, grunting as the crease in my shoulder started to hurt, a lot. I've had a few close calls with power tools, but this was the worse pain I'd ever felt, a line of fire from right behind and under my right armpit and on up the middle of my back. I suppose I was lucky; just then I was thinking about how close all this had passed to my spine, my neck, the back of my skull... Doc Sparks wasn't moving.
"I'm okay," Beatrice said, which was a lie; I could see where she was holding her shoulder, another near miss. But she was concentrating on Sparks, applying pressure with her other hand to a hole in his side which was leaking an alarming amount of blood. Meiguo was gone.
The soldier I'd tied up coughed and turned over towards us. He was awake and glaring at me. "Untie me!"
I ignored him and he added, "That other guy with the moves ran off towards the sniper. Let me help or we're all dead, starting with him!"
I dug my leatherman out, painfully, and cut the rope. Then I handed him his shiny rifle. He turned over on his belly with a little cover and started firing, muttering, "Damn civilians, gonna get myself killed over a bunch of damn amateurs-"
A bullet struck the log he was using for cover and he rolled away and behind some roots.
"Get the hell down!" He fired wildly without exposing himself, in the general direction of the bullets.
"I'm way high, and he needs the distraction, if he's gonna pull this off." But he stopped and peeked, getting back down quickly. "I don't see him, which is good, maybe the sniper doesn't either-"
A few shots rang out.
"Well, he's shooting at something, I guess I'd better do what I can to help..." he carefully sighted fired three three quick shots and took cover again. A few close misses struck near him and where Beatrice was working to save the Doc, then a couple more at something else.
"How's the Doc?"
"He needs a real paramedic, and somebody who knows what they're doing," Beatrice said angrily. There were tears streaming down her face, and streaks of blood. "I'm barely getting a pulse on him, he's unconscious but in a lot of pain, and the blood is so damn dark..."
"Kidney or liver, probably the liver," the soldier commented. "Too bad, that old man probably saved my life, even if you all fucked things sideways..." He fired again, and then he fell back, sprawling, the rifle falling from lifeless fingers. There was a hole under his left eye and gore leaking out under the back of his helmet.
I stared at the dead man, and we heard two more quick shots, right on top of each other, and then nothing. "Meiguo," Beatrice sobbed, and then she looked down at Tom Sparks, eyes wide. "No!"
I crabbed around low, shoulder hurting but I had to know... I took Tom's left hand, but there was no pulse. I held it hard for nearly a minute; nothing. And no more shots, either. Because we weren't showing ourselves? I bobbed my head up into view and back down as fast as I could, then again, feeling stupid. Then, increasingly brave, I stood up next to a tree.
I saw Meiguo making his way back to us. He was staggering, bloody, and a lot of the blood had to be his, leaking out of a hole in his shoulder. He reached us and went to his knees.
"Just a little bit too slow..." and he leaned over, hands on the ground, and threw up. His hands were gory and torn.
"You got him?" I asked after a little bit.
Meiguo leaned back against the base of the tree, looking at the dead soldier by his side. "She's very... dead. I left her rifle; I broke it."
I blinked and thought that one over, looked at his torn hands, and nodded. We all started as sounds of screams and gun-fire came up the hill from the lodge.
"My Uncle," Meiguo said, getting wearily to his feet.
"You sit your ass back down!" He'd lost a lot of blood already; all that adrenaline must have had his heart pumping like crazy. But he wasn't listening to me, and with a cry Bea tore herself away from Sparks. She hit him hard enough that they almost went down, but they kept their feet, just barely.
Meiguo was smiling at her, and leaning hard on her. "You remember when you said you hated John Wayne and I said that I did too? I lied."
I looked down at Tom and the guy whose name we still didn't know, who had died for all of us anyway, and prayed that this wasn't a big fucking mistake. "I guess we'd better see what we can do to help..."
7016 + 1987 = 9003
Not a Mistake
I looked down at Tom and the guy who's name we still didn't know, who had died for all of us anyway, and prayed that this wasn't a big fucking mistake. "I guess we'd better see what we can do to help..."
We went down the hill to the lodge at a very slow pace, Beatrice helping Meiguo. I got under his other arm when he stumbled again, and we parked him on some firewood stacked behind the little outbuilding where the lodge kept the grounds keeping equipment.
"You stay with him," I told Beatrice.
"Why, because I'm a girl?"
"No, because you'd just be worrying about him, instead," I told her. And because you're a girl, I thought. I wouldn't be able to concentrate, worrying about her and Meiguo both. She relented; not that she would ever have admitted it, but I suspect that she was glad of a reason to stay with her boyfriend.
Does it need to be any more complicated than that?
I shouldn't have left them. I'll regret that till the day I die.
My right shoulder was numb from the cold, the two big holes in my clothes were good for that much. I went around to the back of the lodge, under the patio, to the back doors of the place, the kitchen and the storerooms. The delivery trucks backed down a ramp on the west side of the lodge, and one of the black SUVs I'd seen earlier was there, dead men-in-black body armor fallen by the vehicle, drivers' side, shoot-gun and at the back door. One of the lodge staff was face-down in front of the delivery door, shot in the back running away from whatever or whoever had taken the MIB down, I thought. All four were cooling corpses.
Six dead people, two of them people I had known and one of whom I'd loved like an uncle, was about my limit. I leaned against the building and would probably have been sick, if I hadn't heard a female voice, calling for help. I sighed, a shuddering of my whole being and sucked in a deep breath of that cold clean air, and went around the open door, low like I'd seen on TV. Nobody shot at me, and I kept moving, trying to not be a sitting duck.
I tripped over the woman; some hero I was. I caught myself on a prep table; I was at the back of the kitchen, right by the walk-in freezer. Most of the lights were out and it looked like there had been a lot of shooting in here. I kneeled by the woman.
"Hey," I said, and she focused on me. A local woman, maybe a cook, she had a cut on her head which looked a lot worse than it probably was. It looked like she'd been shot n her upper left leg, through the outer thigh. That I could maybe do something about, taking a hopefully clean rag from the prep table and wrapping it around her leg over the wound. I tied it loose and put her left hand over it.
"Press down on this. Who are you, and what did you see?" Part of that was curiosity and part of it was what I'd heard and seen about- keep the victim talking, find out what you can about the situation. Keep them calm and, yeah, try to keep calm yourself.
"Ann, Annie Pitt. I run the kitchen and-" her eyes filled up with tears as she rememered. "The first set of them were scary and mean, but they didn't kill people! The others came in, shooting everybody, shot my boy Freddie in the back!" she sobbed, quietly, already spent. I thought about Tom, and then Meiguo, Bea and the rest of them. I shook her lightly.
"What else? I need to know more, I need to-"
There was more gun-fire, a battle on the floor above us. I left Annie and ran for the stairs.
9,003 + 626 = 9,629 words
End of the Line
The ground floor was even with the parking lot. I came up the stairs by the main entrance and lobby. Behind the check-in desk facing the doors was the dining room and the patio at the back of the place, the North facing part. The stairs were to the West, the parking lot to the South, and conference rooms lay to the East. The gun-fire had died down, but I heard a few more shots, and shouting.
"You're at the end of the line in here. We came to kill some of these people, but we don't have to kill you-"
"Whoever you are, you've killed half of my agents. I'd start running if I were you, and not stop."
"Brave talk, for a dead man. I want Dolan, Sparks, and Leguin, and that's the end of it. I only get paid for the brains behind this..."
I was just a little insulted, but what does a working man expect? I got across the lobby and I was ten feet from the mercenary, maybe thirty feet up the way from the leader of these men in black. I still didn't know who they were for sure, but they didn't want us dead, a vast improvement over the other guy. The killers must have them pinned down there.
"Who wants me dead?" It was Mr. Dolan.
"Somehow I don't think the folks paying to kill you would appreciate me telling you. Would you?"
Dolan laughed. "I can't say that I would, no. Nor would I trust a man who doesn't stay bought-"
"Dolan, shut the hell up!"
"But I have a counter-offer. Your lives."
"Mr. Bester, you had your chance, now let me try to salvage this."
"You are threatening me and mine, as a counter-offer?" The mercenary sounded more amused than offended.
Things were very quiet.
"Say your piece, ass-hole."
"Walk away from this if you want to live. I promise you, you don't have to worry about Bester or the government; you need to worry about me."
"We're out of time," someone else said quietly, in the little knot of killers. I glanced around, saw four of them. One reached for something on his harness. I didn't know what it was until he reached for a tab on it.
"Here's what I have to say to that, Mr. Dolan!" He held the grenade up for his men to see and said, quietly, "We make sure, and then we get the hell out of here."
I was moving before I even thought about it. One of the men shouted something, but I grabbed their leaders' hand after he pulled the pin, before he could throw it, and he dropped it as we struggled for the grenade. I kicked it into the corner, their corner, and turned and ran back around the wall. One of the killers grabbed me, and pulled me back, and he was between me and the grenade when it went off. Mostly.
Something rang my bell pretty damn good.
9,629 + 505 = 10,134
The Next Bit
I didn't exactly lose consciousness, but I was looking at a blurry world. The mercenary who had grabbed me had saved my life, taking the brunt of the blast. He was in ribbons, like bloody, undercooked hamburger, and the top of his head was gone. Somebody over on the other side of the wall to the lobby, which now had several substantial holes in it, was keening like a horse with a broken leg. It was a truly pitiable sound, of mindless pain. Distantly I heard more gunfire, but this was closer than it seemed, in my ringing ears. The men in black were leapfrogging this way. One of them looked in at what was left of the man, and then shot him.
I was suddenly in the crossfire as two mercenaries fired on the men in black from the dining room, and three more joined them from the front door. This provided enough cover for those two to make it to the stairs and down, while the three out front faded back into the bright sunshine outside.
They were going to get away and I leaned against the wall, not really caring at this point, just glad to be alive after the grenade business. And then I heard four more shots, two and then two more, from outside, off towards that maintenance shed.
I went back out the same way in which I had come in, a dead Annie barely registering. Someone shot at me in a half-hearted fashion as I got out the delivery door, and then the mercenaries roared off in one of the black SUVs. A half dozen got away, out of how many? I panted, running for the shed as men in black shouted behind me. I didn’t stop.
Beatrice and Meiguo were laying tangled where they fallen, a double-tap to each head. At least they had died together, I remember thinking. Tom was up the hill with a dead stranger, and I turned to go. The rest of it is a jumble of images, as the world turned on its side. I suppose I fell down and blacked out.
I woke up in a hospital bed. Dolan was sleeping beside me, the next bed over. Great, now I was recovery buddies with my boss... I took inventory of my aches and pains and was happy, on the balance, with the result. The shoulder hurt a little, and there were a few stitches under some bandages on my forehead.
I was alive, and the only thing bad about that was that so many of my friends were not.
"You're awake," a man said. I saw him standing at the door. "May I come in?"
I shrugged and winced. "Ow! Uhm, who are you?"
He held out a hand for me to shake. "Agent Bester; make that Chief Bester, and never mind which agency. You don't need or want to know!"
"I really don't," I agreed. I frowned, for Bester was still holding my hand.
"We had a bad day the other day- when my team has a bad day, people die. Half of my team, and many of your friends. But thanks to you, not all of them." He suddenly grinned. "That was crazy-brave, my friend. Thank you!"
Bester took a seat by my hospital bed. "But mostly it was crazy. Why? Why did you do it?"
"I'm not brave, or suicidal. They probably would have killed me on the way out the door. So it seemed like a good idea, at the time..."
Bester stared at me, then he sat back I his chair and laughed. "'...seemed like a good idea-'"
"-at the time, yes."
"I wish I had a dozen of you, Mr. Hobson!"
"Any one of my friends would have done the same. Any one of them..."
"That's my opinion of Meiguo, and Beatrice, and Thomas, as well," Dolan said, sitting up painfully, or trying to. "My legs-"
"What's wrong with him?" I demanded of Bester.
"Maybe I should get the doctor-" he said, getting up.
"Or you could just tell me what you know, what he's-"
"She. Doctor Rebecca Varley."
"What she would tell me anyway. I'd say you know a little bit, and it's bad."
"Yeah... you really do need to talk with her, but you got hit low in your back by some flying shrapnel." He looked uncomfortable.
"When was this?" I asked.
"Mr. Dolan caught a bullet, or part of one, when those thugs were getting away, trying to keep us from following so closely." Bester turned to Dolan. "I'm sorry, but you should have stayed down, stayed back."
"I needed to find my nephew." Bester looked away, and I closed my eyes. Beatrice, Meiguo, Thomas and how many others?
"He's dead?" Neither of us answered, and he said again, louder, angry, "Is. He. Dead!?"
"Yes," I said.
Dolan turned away from us. "Go away, please."
"I'm sorry for your loss." The man in black stood up and made his way out of the room.
The silence stretched out for minutes and I wanted to fill it up, but there was nothing to say. I don't have any family left, living, and I haven't for a long time now. Certainly no sister, or nephew to take the place of children of his own.
Dolan turned back to me, saw me looking at him, sighed.
"My sister was older than me. I was ten when she went away to college, dropped out, had adventures, finished school and set off to save the world. She started with China... was pre-occupied with it." He turned back to me. "I rebelled against her, you see. I was mad at her for going away, a lot of things."
"I don't understand, what about your parents?"
Dolan shook his head. "She was always more of a mother, a parent..."
"Why are you telling me all of this?"
He bit his lip. "I tried to make up for what I threw away with my sister, with my nephew, and I'd be telling him all this, but I can't, now, can I?"
He turned his face back to the wall, and that was that.