This is part of a work in progress, to read previous and future chapters and chaptorettes see other postings of ‘The White Lady’ in this category
~ 4.3 ~
I hate that term. I am no one’s buddy. Not a sidekick. But I felt like one as I came up behind Briscoe, who was hulking behind a column, surveying the interior of the lobby fronting the chemical factory.
Black clouds had obscured the moon; the landing in front of the glass doors was immersed in shadow, contrasted by the stark cold blue fluorescence bathing the reception area.
“Something’s wrong,” Briscoe whispered. “Check out the guard.”
Peering around the opposite side of the column from Briscoe, I studied the uniformed man sitting behind the desk. He appeared to be watching the monitors arrayed in front of him, but after a second or two I realized that his eyes were not moving and appeared larger than normal..
“Dead?” Briscoe raised an eyebrow.
“Dead. Looks like whoever took out Paperclip is working on the support structure.” I raised my pistol and made a move towards the door. Briscoe slapped a hand on my shoulder.
“Wait, “ he said. “It’s a chemical factory, right?”
I got it. The guard certainly had not been blown up by gunfire, although it was hard to tell when half of him was covered by desk. Someone could have posed him post-mortem; with the lack of blood splatter, it was more likely he had died where he sat doing his duty.
“I’ve only got one gas-mask in the duffle,” I hissed. “Stay here. Cover me”
I didn’t wait for Briscoe’s answer. Obviously a trained agent; he knew the drill.
My head on a swivel, I ran—crouched over—back to the SUV, opened the hatch and grabbed the duffel bag full of Guns, Guns, Guns. Rummaged around inside until I found what I wanted. A gas mask specially designed by GEM itself, built to keep an agent alive in a multitude of attack environments: chemical, gas, and some—not all—biological. A digital contaminant testing metre. One could only hope whatever it was that killed the guard—and who knows how many others inside—was not the one of the few biological kinds the mask was useless against.
I slipped the mask over my head, trying to ignore the burning itch in my palms, added a semi-automatic machine pistol to my arsenal and booted it back to the entrance way.
I nodded at Briscoe—still lurking behind the column—who acknowledged me by hefting his rifle up and aiming towards the front doors. Took a deep breath, checked to make sure no one was visibly guarding the lobby. Pulled the door handle.
It gave easily.
I slipped into the lobby, covering the corners first. The only place a threat could come from was behind the reception command post or the adjacent hall where the banks of elevators stood. Keeping my eyes and weapon trained on the reception desk with peripheral awareness on the gaping hall space—as best I could in a gas mask—while motioning to Briscoe to stay at his post, I ran to the desk and checked behind it.
First things first. I tested the air with the metre—another GEM product being used on GEM itself. Air conditioned-fresh, on this floor at least. I gave the all-clear signal to Briscoe. He entered and stood covering me from the doors as I examined the guard.
No wounds or blood anywhere, but a blue-green tinge that looked like a day-old bruise tinged his neck and lips. His eyes were open and bulging, with yellow sclera. He was young—about twenty-two I judged—and seemed very surprised that those years were all the life he would have.
It’s never enough, is it?
I had seen the expression many times.
“Psst!” Briscoe was trying to get my attention as he now inched towards the elevator hall with his back pressed up to the concrete wall. “Let’s go!”
It was my turn to cover him as he took the lead.
I had no choice at this point; although Briscoe had insinuated himself into my operation and was in danger of taking it over, he was my only asset at this moment. But I wasn’t about to trust him. It was not going to be the Smith and Briscoe show. Too many unanswered questions that I didn’t have the luxury to stop and ask. That would come later … maybe.
I signaled compliance and fell in behind Briscoe, sidling against the wall, protecting our asses. He reached the corner. Crouched down and risked a quick peek around it from knee height. Lucky for him, as a piece of concrete blew out of the wall where his head should have been, followed by a reverberating gunshot. Sounded like a Glock 9, my weapon of choice. Not military, then … possibly a security guard or …
Briscoe dove out and rolled to the opposite corner, firing blindly as he somersaulted. Maybe not so blindly, as I heard a scream and a thud coming from somewhere down the hall.
“One down.” Briscoe yelled.
Signal your location, why don’t you?
Personally I didn’t care if he got taken out; it would be a whole lot quieter, but even I had to admit this part of my mission had a better chance to succeed with two operatives.
It was ten floors up to Dr. Mireille’s lair where—hopefully—he had assembled my order before he had evacuated or died. Elevators are death traps. In this case the stairs were too, especially since we had only one gas mask.
“Briscoe,” I said in a stage whisper, hoping there was no one else on this floor. “Cover me.” I rounded the edge of the wall and sprinted—bent over low—for the central bank of elevators, where the victim of Briscoe’s wild kill-shot lay, thankfully for me, alone. The elevator doors bumped and jerked him repeatedly as they closed and opened, opened and closed on his body.
No time to search him thoroughly, but sure enough, the guy—another young kid—had a gas mask attached to his duty belt. I threw it in down the hall in Briscoe’s general direction and ran to the entrance to the stairwell, not waiting to see if he retrieved it.
I had donned my own mask by the time I opened the stairwell doors. Briscoe, wearing the dead guy’s gear, caught up fast and followed me in .
Stairs are the worst. The most nerve-wracking clear-and-cover operations you can undertake. The high ground advantage is never yours. The element of surprise is non-existent; every boot step echoes endlessly. So many vantage points from which to shoot you. All the way up. Someone can follow you or spring out of the entrance doors at any floor level. You can be locked in. Bombed out. Gassed. The list goes on. With only two operatives, it is difficult; with two operatives who don’t know each other, never trained together, with zero time to form a tactical plan and going in blind, it’s hair-raising. We had no choice.
Clench your jaw, one quick, firm step at a time up the centre of the stairs, weapon on point. Scan up the stairwell, cover the landings, corners and doors ahead. Without looking, I pictured Briscoe behind me ascending the stairs backwards, covering our rear in the same way.
I hope to Christ he’s doing it right.
So far, Briscoe hadn’t struck me as a by-the-book kinda guy, but when it came to personal safety, I figured he would follow the drill. He liked himself too much. As if to reassure me, I heard the spit-spit-spit of suppressed automatic fire, glanced briefly back to see a bloody limp body, covered head-to-toe in a military grade bio-weapons suit, crumpling against the stairwell entrance door. Briscoe flashed a thumbs-up. I knew he was grinning behind his gas mask.
It was going to be a long ten floors.