Category Archives: Works in Progress

Projects novels short stories I am working on

In a White Room

[I know this title has the word ‘White’ in it, but it is not a continuation of my novel in progress The White Lady. This is something else that burbled up from somewhere a while ago and I thought I would work on it a bit and blog it]

white room

One minute you’re There.

The next minute you’re Here.

There for Jennifer Bailey—Jen to her family and close friends, J-Bay to her scenester buddies—was in her little blue Honda Civic hatchback, humming along to random tunes from the thousands of stored songs on her Ipod while driving through the quiet dark streets of Clearbrook at 10PM on Saturday, the 10th of October.

Here was a place she did not recognize. At all. Not one bit. There was nothing to recognize.

Here was all white.

Jen wasn’t sure if her eyes were open and she was in a room entirely painted in white, or if the white was the glare of a harsh, impossibly  bright light beaming through shut eyelids. She saw no lines, shapes, or boundaries, so settled for the latter explanation. At first.

She tested her muscles and other senses … one by one.

She could not hear anything. She could not physically feel anything. She could not move anything. She could not smell anything.

She felt rising panic, so maybe she still had a stomach to contain butterflies of fear.

No, that’s just a saying; it’s all a mind-thing.

She was stuck in glue or mired in some horrible white molasses—nothing responded. She cried, she screamed—only in her mind. She could not hear herself, could not tell if there was any corresponding action from her physical self.

Physical self? I … have no … physical self?

Her ascending terror screeched to a halt.

Am I dead?

It fit.

One minute, you’re There—Earth, home, car, street. The next minute, you’re Here—mind, thoughts, nothing, nothingness!  In a white room.

Oh God!

Panic fluttered around her minda bat unexpectedly caught in sunlight.

Is this Heaven?

Hell?

Something else?

What was she any more? Spirit? Energy? Mind? Angel? Soul? Stardust? Plain dust?

Jen believed she was thinking, so … she must be thinking.

I guess!?!

Jen knew she was a … a … she. She knew her name.

Jen!! She screamed it in her mind, as if to be sure, to hogtie it to her … soul.

Soul?

She had a memory—memories. So, she must at least be.

“Cogito Ergo Sum” and all that.

Jennifer put some of those thoughts away … away somewhere else. She tried to rationalize her circumstance: what had she been doing just before she was … Here?

Driving her car.

She remembered that much very well. Radiohead—on the Ipod—mournful yet hopeful in their melancholy-poet-angst kind of way. She—humming along to Thom and thinking about the Big Step coming up tomorrow. Getting on a plane and going to Europe for a year … two, maybe. That was a distracting thought, for sure. Europe for the first time ever. Away for a long time.

The streets were not busy. Sidewalks rolled up like a good Bible-belt town—four-way stops optional.

Okay, so it is possible that I had an accident. That’s actually pretty logical. I’ve heard of that before. Yeah, in movies and magazines, the actual accident is often not remembered. So this is what it would be like—I guess—first I would be driving, then next thing I would know, I would be in a hospital or …

One minute I’m There. The next minute I’m Here.

So which is it, this … Here? Hospital or Heaven?

Jennifer-Jen-J-Bay felt a slight stutter in her identity—a cog slipping in the machinery of her mind. If I am in a hospital, she thought, why can’t I hear hospital noises and see hospital things? Nurses talking, doctors scolding, machines whirring and pinging, phones and call-bells ringing, even patients screaming—all would be welcomed at this juncture.

And if I am dead—I don’t feel dead—then the question is not just where I am, but who and what am I? Back to this again.

Spirit?

Energy?

Mind?

Angel?

Soul?

Stardust?

Plain dust?

Energy? Uh-oh, I already did that sequence.

Another slippage. Typical … I haven’t been Here two minutes—or was it two centuries—and I am already repeating myself. If this is for eternity, then I am definitely in BIG TROUBLE!

Jennifer began to repeat in her mind the three names with which she had identified for most of her twenty-two years:

Jennifer Bailey.

Jen.

J-Bay

She heard echoes in which her name was prominent. She clung to them fiercely with all her concentrated energy and repeated them in her mind over … and over … and over … afraid somehow she might just not BE if she lost the memory or the resonance it held for her.

“Hi! I’m Jennifer Bailey—you can call me Jen. What’s your name?”

“Yo, I’m J-Bay—baby! Ha-ha, no, no … not J-Lo, you jerk. Do I look like a wide-butted Latina Diva to you?”

“Jennifer Bailey—that’s Bailey with one ‘L”, please.”

“Hey girlfriend, it’s Jen. Wanna party tonight? Mojitos are on me-jito, on J-Bay!”

“J-Bay, you are hot, if I do say so myself!”

“Now you get back here right now, Jennifer Bailey, and pick up that mess!”

“Jennifer, Jennifer, Jennifer, how many times have I told you—you are switching the tenses in your story … and you want to go into journalism?”

“Jen, you know your father and I will always love you no matter what you do, but sometimes you’ve got to take responsibility for your own actions. We can’t always bail out Miss Bailey, can we? We won’t always be here, you know, Jen.”

With that particular echo, Jennifer’s mind snapped onto another track like some mad captive mouse leaping between wheel and tunnel, food and water, wall and ceiling.

Oh my God, Mom and Dad!!

What would they think? Where are they? Do they know where I am?

If they do, then they are one step ahead of me, Jen thought and would have smiled if she thought she could smile—and after all maybe she was smiling—how was she to know? How could she tell?

Back to Mom and Dad …

If I am dead, then—Jen was trying to be calm—then what day or time is it … to them?

Was it the day after the accident? A month? A year? Had they already had the funeral? Geez, thought Jen, in all the movies the dead ones get to look down at their funeral. Me—Jen Jennifer J-Bay—I get a white room.

What a gyp! What a joke.

If I am in a hospital, maybe they’re coming to visit me, Jen’s mind pitter-pattered. Maybe they’re here right now? If I’m in a hospital, and I can’t see or hear anything, maybe I am in a …in a … Jennifer ‘s thought process stalled … a bed?

No, no, I didn’t mean to say that, she thought. Not a bed.

Ha! Now that is funny. I still think in terms of the spoken word! Of course I didn’t say it. But what was that word? Not bed … why can’t I think of it? Try again: Maybe I’m in a … in a … a … room. Maybe I am in a … in a … a …

Jesus Christ! What is wrong with me?

Well that brings us back to the very first question again, doesn’t it, J-Bay old girl? Jen’s felt increasingly morose. Not only could she not connect to her body, her mind was slipping away. Was she dying now? Is this what dying was: a brief period of white—well they always talked about a white light, not a room—then … snick … you’re out?

No!

No!

Jennifer fiercely rejected the idea. If I am dying, where-oh-where were the celestial beings come to guide me through the veil to the other side? They’re listed in just about every recounting of trips to the afterlife and were all the rage in Kübler-Ross studies—no matter what your religious background, Jen thought.

It would be just typical to be expected to make the trip on my own. But I’ve got great-grandparents at least who should be …

Here.

Mind you, Jen mused—all awash in symbolism now—I don’t expect to see the River Styx or a ferryman, but someone, anyone would do: Gabriel, Peter—even Peter Gabriel—Father Christmas, St Christopher, Jupiter, the old guys from the movie Cocoon—who cares!!

I just don’t want to do this alone, Jennifer whimpered.

Again her mind jumped tracks. If I can think, Jen posited, then surely I am alive. Didn’t someone say: “I think therefore I am?” J-Bay had always parodied: “I stink therefore I am”. It wasn’t funny, J-Bay, Jen scolded her cool self. In fact, it had never been funny.

Wait, I already did the think/am—cogito/sum thingHey—track-jump—what if I am supposed to do my repenting right now? Is the time I have in this white, windowless, featureless, distraction-void space meant for reflecting on all my sins and peccadilloes?

Sure, sure I can repent, but what is the point, if the people I sinned against don’t know I am repenting?

I guess the Man knows—The Big Guy—the Head Honcho—the Big Kahuna—the … Shit!

Jen was surprised she could swear in this state, whatever state it was. Thoughts are thoughts, I guess, she metaphorically murmured …

Jump again … Okay if I can swear, this probably isn’t heaven. It may be only purgatory.

Only purgatory!

No, no, NO!

Jen tried to focus—back to the I-think-therefore-I-am thing. I must have a brain in order to think. Jennifer wasn’t quite so sure of this idea, since computers were getting very close to thinking, but …

 … If I have a brain, I must still be alive. Maybe I am alive, but in a … in a … a—almost got it—cubicle.

God damn it! Shit! … Motherfucker!!!

Jen shouted at the top of her imagined voice, hoping to shock The Powers That Be, whoever and wherever they were, into showing themselves and at the very least, admonishing her for such rudeness.

No such luck.

Why—why—why couldn’t she complete that thought?

I’m in a … in a … a …

Her mind suddenly spun back through all the thoughts ideas and phrases she had thought about since she became aware that she was Here and no longer There.

… could not hear … not feel …not move … panic … cry … scream … There Here … Heaven? … Hell? … Something … ?? … Spirit? … Mind? … Angel? … Stardust? … Driving … Radiohead … Ipod … humming … Thom … Europe … streets … 4-way stops optional … accident … movies … hospital or … dead … There … Here … Hospital or Heaven … Jennifer-Jen-J-Bay … identity … not where I am … … Jennifer Bailey … Jen … J-Bay … echoes … past … name … repeated …afraid … not BE … lost … memory … I’m Jennifer Bailey, call me Jen … J-Bay—baby! Ha-ha … Jennifer Bailey … it’s Jen … party … J-Bay … hot … get back here …Jennifer Bailey … mess! … father … love you … responsibility … always bail out Miss Bailey … Mom and Dad!! What … where … one step ahead … if dead, then … Jen … what day … after accident … month … Year … funeral … the dead … look down … a white room … gyp!

Jen felt the curious sensation of floating up and falling down in a spiral all at the same time, as her mind carried on gibbering, apparently of its own volition.

… can’t see, hear … in a … in a … bed? what … word? think … in a … a … room? … Maybe … in a … in a … a … Jesus Christ! No! … where … guide? … Kubler-Ross … No … grandparents … here … River Styx … Peter Gabriel … Christmas … Jupiter … Cocoon … I … alone … am alive … I am … J-Bay … I stink … I am … Jen … repenting … now … in … white … void space … sins … the Man knows … Big Guy … Head Honcho … Big Kahuna … Shit! … if … isn’t heaven … purgatory … No, no, NO!

Jen wasn’t even paying attention to her own thoughts, now. She was a computer algorhythm, burbling along to logical conclusions.

… focus … a brain … to think … close … have a brain … alive … Maybe … alive, but in a … in a … a … cubicle … God damn it! Shit! Motherfucker!!!

…Why—why—why… in a … in a … a …

SNAP!!!!!!!

To Jen, it was unimaginably loud. An audible crack jolting her back to the … Here.

Fuck.

And she knew.

… I’m in a coma.

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The White Lady – 4.4

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

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~ 4.4 ~

The hardest thing for an operative in the field to learn is to control his hyper-vigilance, his adrenaline surges and fight-or-fight reflexes. Sometimes there are occasions when one or all three are vital to survival, but each comes with its own drawbacks. Hyper-vigilance wears you down, frazzles your nerves, and causes tunnel vision. Adrenaline surges drain away fast, taking your strength and power with it. Fight-or-flight disables your fine motor skills and prevents logical thought.

You experience all three when clearing stairs.

We had put the first floor behind us with one enemy down; I was still in the hyper-vigilant stage—Briscoe had gotten to the adrenaline stage with his kill behind us. We were both breathing in a controlled and measured fashion, as our training dictated. At first, I was surprised there hadn’t been a rush of defenders, but as I began stepping gingerly up the second flight of stairs, I remembered that CCS was decimated. If I were Mireille, I would have pulled 90% of my personnel in to defend the most important thing in the building—Mireille.

Everyone would be waiting for us on the 10th floor—killers and defenders.

Now, that’ll be fight-or-flight time.

“Briscoe,” I said, breaking the no-noise protocol. Startled, Briscoe stopped moving, but didn’t take his eyes away from our rear.

Good man.

“What?” he said.

“We need to double time it up these puppies and get to the party fast.”

“Yeah, I figured. Got a strategy?”

I did. I told him. He nodded as if he had a choice.

“On three.” I said, and counted down.

When I reached the magic number, we bolted up the flights of stairs together, only slowing at the landings to sweep both forward and rear directions, before hightailing it up the next flight. Our boot steps crashed, our gear clanked and rattled, our gas masks Darth-Vadered; every sound echoing like thunder in my ears.

My mask fogged up, my shoulder blades dripped sweat and my leg muscles screamed. In addition, I was still fighting the pain in my ribs from my earlier skirmish. By the time we reached the ninth floor, I was panting heavily and could barely see out of the goggles.

I’ve been out of the field wa-a-y too long.

With a parting shot of “Pussy!” Briscoe—hardly winded—headed through the exit doors to find the elevator, while I carried on alone up the last flight. I wasn’t looking forward to facing the fatal funnel by myself, but that was my only strategy.

Imagine you are a killer inside a room, waiting for your target to arrive. Guess where you are going to be focusing your attention … and weapons. Of course, you know this—the doorway.

The fatal funnel.

That door for me led into the 10th floor offices. I reached it. Paused … timing out the probable movements and arrival of Briscoe. I imagined him getting to the elevators. Calling the car. Popping the roof panel. Climbing up to the top of the car while the elevator ascended. And when the doors opened into the 10th floor office, lobbing a …

“Ka-boom!”

My signal to enter: a flash-bang, distracting Mireille’s guards.

I burst through the doors and hit the floor, rolling away from the fatal funnel at a forty-five degree angle. The shots came so furiously it sounded like one long drawn out burst of gunfire. I didn’t know which gunshots were Briscoe’s, the guards or mine. I remembered these offices all had concrete support pillars twenty feet away from the exits on either side and rolled for the one in my line of sight. Fired around it at whatever man-shaped shadows I could see through my mask, aiming away from Briscoe’s entry point as best I could.

I was yelling, I could hear Briscoe shouting and other men screaming. Shadow bodies fell and fell and fell. In seconds, the gunfire lessened and finally fizzled out into the occasional budda-budda of semi-automatic bursts.

Briscoe.

Men still screamed long after the shots stopped.

I made my way through the smoke, bodies and debris to where Briscoe was standing at the door of an inner office, his gas mask askew off his face and dangling around his neck. He pointed his rifle deliberately at a familiar white-smocked figure sitting in a black fabric office chair. Bullets had mangled one of the chair’s metal legs and it was tilting dangerously on the remaining three, threatening to buck Dr. Mireille off his perch.

“Why do you k-kill your own people?” Mireille stuttered. Gone was the sardonic French sneer. He wore no gas mask. I took mine off and clipped it to my duty belt.

“What the fuck do you mean …our own people?” Briscoe snarled.

Mireille waved his hand at the bodies. “These are all CCS—the White Lady’s people. I had been told that someone was destroying CCS man by man, but until now I did not think it would be you!” He looked to Briscoe and then to me, helpless terror squeezing tears from his eyes. “Traitors. You will kill me now?”

Briscoe took a step towards Mireille and stuck the rifle barrel into his cheek. “It’s not a bad idea, weasel,” he said. “’Cuz I don’t see how this place could have been breached—or GEM or any of the facilities—without it being an inside job. Meaning you!” Mireille trembled like a goat tied to a stake.

“Briscoe.” I said as calmly as I could while trying to regain my breath. He glanced sideways at me and raised an eyebrow. I could almost hear his thought.

Pussy!

“It’s not Mireille,” I continued. “I’m reasonably sure our traitor is Bruno De Zwart.” Bruno was the sole missing person from GEM, and someone who might have a grudge against the White Lady … and me for that matter.

Briscoe didn’t remove his gun from where it was burning a round mark into Mireille’s face. “I don’t know who that is,” he said. “All I know is, things started going to shit just after we left this guy’s …” he emphasized the words by poking the barrel deeper into poor Mireille’s pasty skin. “ … office. I know <poke> this guy <poke>, Smith. I know what a pervert he is, don’t forget.”

At that, Mireille managed to look indignant for a flash—in between pokes. I smiled at him.

“I haven’t forgotten, Briscoe. However, I also haven’t forgotten that if all these men we just killed are—were—the good guys, then that means … ”. I let the sentence drift off, waiting until comprehension dawned on Briscoe’s face. He yanked his rifle back, shouldered it and grabbed Mireille by the lapels of his white lab coat, his nose only millimeters from Mireille’s.

“ Quickest way out, Doc.” He shook Mireille slightly when he didn’t answer immediately. “C’mon … CCS usually has some secret escape route for you soft types.”

“I’ll show you, but I must be going with you also.” Mireille’s English worsened the more scared he became. I would have thought the rifle barrel at his nose would inflict more fear than Briscoe’s facial proximity, but apparently not.

“I hate to interrupt your reunion sex, but where’s my stuff, Mireille?” I had not forgotten why I was there in the first place. My palms immediately started itching again at the thought of carrying around the bioweapons.

Mireille’s eyes pleaded. Briscoe released him. Mireille let out a hard breath and turned to me. “It is all ready for you, as you desired. La.” He pointed behind him into the inner office. I walked around him and into the room. There was an oaken desk bearing a large nameplate that read: ‘Herve Mireille, MD, PhD, MMSc, Virologist’. On the desk sat a Kevlar-coated black plastic suitcase.

“That’s it? It looks too small to carry everything I asked for!”

Mireille shrugged. “Germs are small, vials are small, needles are small—I deal in small things. Everything is there, Mr. Smith.”

No time to check. I grabbed the suitcase and nodded at Briscoe, who seized Mireille’s shoulder and propelled him forward.

“Lead on Doc,” Briscoe commanded.

I admit I smirked a bit, as Briscoe looked anything but commanding, with his gas mask still hanging around his neck, its bulging goggles peering up like a second head on his shoulder.

“I am having no choice, “ the virologist muttered, as he quick-stepped to a central cement block wall that could have been an elevator shaft but showed no sign of doors or other egress. Mireille removed a key fob from his lab coat and pressed a green button.

A portion of the concrete wall slid to one side to reveal … an elevator shaft.

2046.elevatordoors7b9ds6

“Imagine that.” I snorted.

“It goes straight to the lowest parking lot, “ the doctor explained. “We have a vehicle there.”

All three of us piled in to the elevator car. The door slid shut, but just before it closed, I saw a tiny movement at the doorway I had come through mere minutes before.

“Go, go, go!” I yelled at Mireille, who frantically slammed his hand on a large red button. As the elevator shot down, a concussion rocked the car, knocking Mireille off his feet. Briscoe and I assumed the same wide-stance crouch; as if the position would alleviate any damage from an elevator car slamming into the bottom of a shaft.

Fully expecting my knees to impale my head at any moment, I waited in silence while the car plummeted. Then relaxed slightly once I realized the drop was controlled. The blast hadn’t damaged the cables or brakes. CCS had built this elevator to go down at breakneck speed for a reason.

We’re going to get out of this!

The elevator eased—surprisingly—to a stop. We were at the lowest parkade. I reached out to punch the open-door button.

Mireille said casually, “Smith, your watch is flashing red. A timer, maybe?”

I stopped reaching. Briscoe and I stared at the blinking object on my wrist.

It was the digital contaminant testing metre. Flashing red meant: watch the fuck out, there’s kill shit in the air!

And Briscoe and I had the only gas masks.

The White Lady – 4.3

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

PO0203worst-2-2

~ 4.3 ~

Buddy.

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.

Nothing moved.

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.

Maybe not.

“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.

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.

The White Lady – 4.2

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

car-chase-3

~4.2~

Briscoe had been a methodical if idiotic limo operator; now it appeared he was a professional getaway vehicle driver, the getaway vehicle being a new black Tahoe, liberated from the Hub’s parking lot. Hurtling at top speed through the now-moonlit city back towards the lab, he displayed obvious top-level emergency driving skills mixed with a dash of pure adrenaline junkie crazy-fuck get-out-of-my-way manouvering.

Several emergency vehicles passed us heading towards the bombed skyscraper.

“Ours?” I asked Briscoe, not recognizing the markings. He nodded, his crazy grin still pasted on his face.

“CCS is in full damage control mode now,” he said. “Emergency dispatchers orders will be overridden so that the ‘regular’ authorities will think all is under control by each others agencies. FBI will beleive its Anti-terrorism Unit is already on the job.”

“Slick, especially since the Hub was the source of that type of operation … before.” I, like every other agent, had been on a need-to-know basis when it came to the inner workings of CCS. I had never had to deal with an internal attack.

“Back-up contingency plans and communications systems are all duplicated … elsewhere. Most of CCS’s remaining resources in this city will be focused on the Hub and the coverup, which gives us a slim chance to get into Gem Bio-Dynamics and get you what you need.”

“You honestly think Dr. Mireille will just hand over my order now? He must know what’s happened—no doubt heard the first alert on me.”

“Dr. Mireille and I have a little … understanding.” Briscoe’s barked a cruel laugh. “Sort of a mutual arrangement. He gets me what I want—when I want it. I get him girls.”

Nice.

“Little girls.” Briscoe glanced at me sideways. I kept my face carefully blank.

Really nice.

“How’re you holding up, there?” Briscoe jerked a thumb towards my ribs, at the same time dodging a garbage truck backing out of an alley.

“I’ll be fine. Nothing broken except ego.” I still couldn’t take a full breath, but I was working on it.

“Good. We’ll probably need you whole if we’re going to accomplish the mission.”

I grabbed the dashboard with both hands to brace for the right angle turn I could see coming up knowing Briscoe would corner at top speed. Gritting my teeth against the G-force as he went into the turn, I managed to swivel my head to glare at him.

“What do you mean … we?” I grunted.

An evil chuckle was all I got as he concentrated on finding the ultimate path through the cluttered streets ahead. Once chosen, he relaxed slightly.

“Smith, you were never going to do this alone. Reshenyova was supposed to meet you again once you got your assets together and would have told you then, I guess. I was always going to be assisting on this caper.”

“To keep an eye on me?”

Another inane grin. “Of course. That … and to finish it if you went down or had … some other complications.”

“What the fuck does that mean? And what happened to the White Lady, anyway?”

“Later, buddy, we’re here.” Briscoe had turned into the Gem parking lot and screeched to a halt in front of the building’s glass doors.

All business, he jumped out of the Tahoe and headed for the door, pistol in hand and without a second glance back to see if I was following him.

Cursing, I followed.

The White Lady – 4.1

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

gblast

~4.1~

Black boots. Concrete chunks. A smashed computer monitor.

My eyes were burning when I opened them but once I was able to focus, that’s what I saw.

Quick inventory: fingers and toes wiggling—check, although restricted and wrists hurting; ears functional—marginally—overriding ringing a distraction; eyes—already ticked off, in working order; voice—“What the fuck’s going on?”—check.

“What do you think?” asked a disembodied voice I quickly recognized as Geier’s. “You barge in here with a gun, threaten me and make demands …I don’t care how good an agent you are—or were as ze case may be—and how much Ms. Reshenyova …”

“Yeah, what about the White Lady, Hendrik? What does she say about you guys trying to blow me up and handcuffing me in the middle of her sanctioned operation?”

The black boots weren’t Geier’s, as one of them reared back and kicked me in the ribs. I saw pointed brown shoes come into my frame of reference, heard Geier say, “Now, now, Krebs, Mr. Smith is in no position to fight, leave him be.” Kreb’s boots reluctantly retreated. Then to me Geier said, “Ze White Lady, as you call her, has said nothing. She is unreachable.”

“Unreachable?” I gasped out.

“Dark.”

“So she’s a Black Lady now?” I wasn’t sure I had articulated the comment properly through the pain and lack of air, but I must have, because this time Geier himself kicked me. Hard, too. Fickle or what?

“Disrespect to Ms. Reshenyova will not be tolerated, Smith!” He fairly hissed as I rolled over and back a couple of times, gulping to catch my breath. The concrete dust and debris on the floor wasn’t helping; neither were the handcuffs that bit into my hand and wrist when I rolled onto them. I had seen something I wanted though and had to make a big show of distracting my captors.

It was a paperclip, tucked under a shard of computer, almost hidden, but visible from my prone point of view. The irony didn’t escape me as I grabbed it during one of my exaggerated rolls. I would laugh later … maybe.

“Just call your girlfriend, Geier,” I said, the sound of my own voice muffled by the roar in my ears, “and we’ll straighten this out. I’m under her orders.”

She told you to point a Glock at my head?” He said. From his tone I could imagine his expression—feigned disgust and incredulity—eyebrows creeping up, mouth and eyes round.

“Well no, not exactly … but she didn’t tell me not to, either.”

“Enough, pick him up Krebs, we go to ze basement.”

Ze basement.

I didn’t know what that meant but it sounded bad. Krebs yanked on one elbow, picking me up in the most painful way possible for a restrained person. I could feel the skin break and metal slice into the flesh of my wrists. I breathed through the pain and obstructed our progress by dragging my feet, trying to distract Krebs from what I was doing with my hands: working frantically on the paperclip, straightening one arm of it , trying to insert it into the keyhole of the left cuff.

“C’mon, dickface, you’re just making it worse for yoursel–”

Got it!

I dropped down, unhinged the one cuff, which was now a curved weapon, slung my arm around and up towards Krebs face. Caught him in the cheek like a fish with a hook, and wrenched hard on it so his cheek split from cheekbone to his mouth,exposing his teeth. Blood gouted. Krebs screamed. I   swiveled on my ass and clenched my legs tightly together like a steel bar, which effectively cut Krebs off at the ankles and felled him like a tree. His weapon landed near my hand, so naturally I picked it up and leveled it at Geier, who had been backing away towards the shattered door, with his hand to his mouth. Two other minions were bringing their arms to bear on me.

“Hold on boys, unless you want your boss to be Swiss cheese. Never a good thing for a German!” I snarled. They all stopped and looked at Geier.

“Do as ze bastard says. Put your guns down.” Geier’s hands were up without being told. His pals followed suit.

“Now,” I said, “I’m going to tell you that everything I have done here today was authorized by the White … Ms. Reshenyova. You don’t have to believe me, but there it is. So I am leaving now, and if you value your lives do not follow me. And you … ” I pointed at Geier “ … will issue a stand-down signal on the alert you have undoubtedly already broadcast. Now!”

Geier nodded, turned and scurried back into the control room. I motioned for the security personnel to pick up Krebs, who was moaning and clasping his shredded cheek flap to his face, and then we all followed Geier.

The regular staffers were huddled in a corner of the Hub to my right when we arrived. Geier, somewhat more composed, sat at his desk with his hands folded in front of him.

“I have rescinded ze alert, Smith. But nothing prevents me from re-issuing it ze minute you walk out ze door.”

I was about to reason with him as best I could when a new voice came from the entrance way.

This prevents it.”

As I turned to see who the intruder was, a burst of gunfire spat bullets through the plate glass windows, destroying communications equipment, computers, desks and ripping through Geier’s body, knocking him backwards onto the floor and spraying an arc of blood along the wrecked wall of terminals and telecom systems panels. The shots continued to my right and took out the frightened worker bees one by one, dropping them like rag dolls in a puppet horror show. Krebs and his fellow security guards were scrambling out into the hall heading back towards the dark room where I had first met them. In slow motion I saw a grenade sailing through the air in their general direction as they passed the outside windows. The blast blew all three of them out the windows into open sky and down twenty stories.

“C’mon Smith. We gotta go.”

I stared at Briscoe, the idiot limo driver. He laughed at my expression. “Hah! You didn’t really think the White Lady would hire a raw recruit courier as her personal driver, did you?”

I swore under my breath. I had indeed underestimated him—and the White Lady—in just that way.

Mistake.

I could not make one again if I was to survive and accomplish my mission. Other questions raced through my   brain, but they would have to wait.

“OK, let’s go.” I said.

On the elevator ride down, I could have sworn Briscoe’s chest was puffed out twice its normal size. He wore an inane grin; one I had seen on the faces of many other ruthless killers, some of whom had later gone amok and needed to be put down.

Underestimated, indeed.

The White Lady – 3.4

~3.4~

network

Coded messages. Encrypted emails. Scrambled signals.

Stock in trade for CCS and especially the Paper Clip Division. The Hub of Chimera made our network possible. Made our organization efficient.

Made the White Lady vulnerable.

I had been wondering about this flashkill—how had it been possible? For the killer or killers to hit all of our operatives—almost all of our operatives—they had to have known where the agents were at various times.

WL insisted on control—a remnant from the KGB no doubt. Each operative checked in at a preordained date and time using prearranged codes and a designated medium. If they didn’t, the controller on shift at Chimera activated a locator chip using an encrypted satellite burst which reached everywhere on the globe. The operatives supposedly didn’t know where on their body the chip had been implanted. Theoretically, no one working for the White Lady could hide.

Unless you have someone who is willing to help you find the chip and remove it.

I had been AWOL for a while before the White Lady had paper-clipped me. I didn’t know how she had found me. Hadn’t asked her, either. And if I did ask she wouldn’t tell me, anyway. In reality, none of us could hide … not forever, at least.

But, in reality, her organization’s strength was also her weakness. Whoever had done this must have had access to our codes. Access to the transmission control room in the Hub.

Access to everyone.

That’s why I was standing in the very same transmission control room in the Hub, on the twentieth floor of the Chimera building, with my imitation Glock pointed at the face of the Communications Head, Hendrik Geier.

“Three things, Geier,” I said, “One: the name of the controller who activated the last implant burst. Two: the encryption and meeting code for Lilith de Zwart. Three: five minutes in a secure room with a dark sat line—encrypted and text-capable.”

Hendrik Geier did not like me. That was okay; I didn’t like him either. I was not alone in this; his disdain for anything not German oozed from every pore, every glance and every inflection. Except for the White Lady … he adored her. They went way back together, so because of that he was currently not a suspect, just a means to an end. He also wasn’t French, so he got bonus points for that.

“Is ze gun necessary, Jeremiah?”

That he knew my name-of-the-day didn’t surprise me. Assigning day-names was the purview of two people only: the White Lady and Goran Nemec, the Vice-President of Communications for Critically Clear Solutions. It was the title on his business card, but he was simply another confidante—meaning thug—from her days in the Legion. To be efficient—and the White Lady was nothing if not charmingly efficient—Nemec’s job was to inform those who needed to know the day-name of any operative within seconds of its assignment. Assuming Nemec was still alive, the Communication Head, Hendrik Geier certainly qualified in the category of need-to-know.

“You know, Hendrik, the gun gives me the illusion of power. The chimera of control, if you will … and it gives me confidence you’ll divulge the real traitor’s name to me.”

Geier shrugged. “If you must …” He pulled a pen from his shirt pocket and wrote on a piece of paper. Took a set of keys and a swipe card from a lock-box behind the desk where he was sitting. Threw all three items over the desk onto the rubber mat in front of me. Placed his hands on the desk and stared at me with cold blue eyes. “Zis man is not here, Jeremiah. He has not reported back since ze day he sent ze burst … for obvious reasons, as we now know. We thought at first he had been one of ze targets … ”

Other Chimera staffers had noticed my incursion and were milling about in the outer office with concerned looks. Perhaps they thought I was firing Geier … literally.

Interrupting Geier, I waved my free hand in their direction. “Intercom them and let everyone know you’ll handle this—not to worry.”

Stone-faced, Geier did as instructed while I warily retrieved the paper, keys and card without lowering my weapon. The workers didn’t disperse but they didn’t storm the room, either. I saw one pick up a desk phone.

“Good boy, Hendrik, now point me in the direction of the room that fits this key.”

“Down ze hall to your left … third door.” He waved vaguely with his right hand, his voice monotone as if directing me to the toilet.

I knew he would alert the White Lady the second I left the room. He would press the lock-down switch and every available security person left in the building would respond with whatever force necessary—at least until she told them to stand down. If my timing was right, by then I would have sent the messages I needed and could surrender peacefully, then carry on with my preparations once Claire gave the hands-off order.

At least I now had my first clue to the culprits.

It’s a start.

Lowering my weapon, I saluted Geier, sprinted out of his office past the alarmed but docile staffers and down the hall to the secure room. Fumbled briefly with the swipe card and keys. Entered the room and locked the door behind me. Grabbed the sat phone from the charger on the wall and punched in Lili’s encryption and meeting code. My jaw clenched hard as I waited.

A stream of numbers ran across the display screen and coalesced into GPS coordinates: N 50 50′ 20.534″ E 4 22′ 23.977″, and then the words ‘Meeting set 1400 July 16 – Europe’.

I stared at the screen display. Tiny winged insects danced the Meringue in my stomach. Of course, Lili could not know who had sent the request, only that it was from a Paper-Clip operative via the Hub, but … she was alive! Had to be, in order to receive the code and accept the meeting.

Or …

Someone who was alive had answered on the other end.

Two PM, three days away. I punched the coordinates into one of the computers on a bank of terminals along the wall. Got back maps and websites for Espace Léopold, Brussels, Belgium.

Okay, I had to hop a continent. Do-able if everything went according to plan. Made sense, too: centre of the city, train station, mall, and large open spaces, mid-day when the area should be full of people. I was fairly certain ‘Europe’ referred not to the continent but to the statue of the same name outside the Paul-Henri Spaak building, where the European parliament held their sessions.

It’s where I had first kissed Lili.

It has to be her!

Then I looked at the name Geier had written down for me. The traitor’s name. The guy who’d sent all those agents—my colleagues, my friends—to their deaths.

Bruno De Zwart.

Lili’s husband.

I had maybe two minutes left to use the dark sat line. Dark in Paper-Clip lingo meant inaccessible to everyone and everything, including the Hub; it was akin to yelling while inside a black box in a rubber room encased in concrete.

How could I know if Geier truly would give me a dark line? I couldn’t, but it was the best I could manage given my situation. The White Lady had given me an assignment with no background or direction—no intelligence. I had to figure things out for myself as I went along. That part didn’t bother me much; I liked working alone. I would need help eventually and teams were at times necessary in my line of work, but complications often occurred with other people on board.

Lili

And now, Bruno.

I grimaced and punched in Geier’s desk number.

The cold clipped voice answered without inflection or salutation—“Ze line is WLPC-66X2.”—then disconnected.

I punched in the access numbers and then dialed the telephone number of a workroom in a tiny yellow cottage on East 63rd Avenue in Vancouver, British Columbia. I knew my father never answered the phone in that room, or anywhere else for that matter. He preferred to listen to messages and decide whose call he would deign to return. His quirk was fine by me in this instance. I didn’t need to talk to him directly. Didn’t want to, either. Not now.

The voice message came on. A creaky rasp: “You have reached the home of Josef and Joshanka. Leave a message, if you please.” Hearing his harsh voice with its Old World inflections, I smelled ancient paper and pipe tobacco mixed with a hint of coffee and schnapps.

I took a calming breath and spoke. “Kanal sólyom. Remember 1956. Pass to the Jack of Scissors. Wait for 1976 or next transmission. Skrptkey.”

If anyone is listening, I doubt they’d figure that out anytime soon.

I knew my father would. He had once been a professor of mathematics in Vienna and now taught Cryptography and Mathematical Theory at the University of BC.

Plus, he lived the references.

My five minutes were up. I could hear scurrying feet, bangs and thumps and shouted orders outside the door. Then the lights went out and a percussive ‘WHUMP! shuddered the room. The desk hit my forehead and then the floor came up to greet me.

My last thought, before the rest of the world tunneled into blackness, was of Lili.

The White Lady – 3.3 (revised)

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

756989_orig

~3.3~

Briscoe had suddenly turned into a chatty New York cab driver.

“So, Mr. Smith, a little bird told me you went AWOL for quite a while.” This was after I told him where I wanted to go next: the communication centre of CCS, which the world knew as Chimera TeleSystems.

A little white ladybird, no doubt.

“You should know; you picked me up with the … with Reshenyova.”

“Yeah, but I do that a lot—or at least I did before … well, you know, when there were people left to pick up. None of them was deserters—pickups were just for personal debriefings. So … what’s your story?”

“Briscoe, how long have you been with CCS?”

He laughed as if he had expected the evasion. “I was hired as a courier—covert and overt—three years ago. Ms. Reshenyova noticed me and here I am. Your turn. What’s your plan, at least?”

“If she picked you as you say, then you must be well versed in confidentiality, especially when it comes to the Paper Clip division.” The operatives own term for their unit, which officially didn’t exist. The paper clip motif kept popping up with the White Lady so often that we had adapted it, I think to her displeasure, but there it was. Some things you can’t control. The title sounded nice and innocuous. Tiny and harmless.

Jab … Jab.

“Sure, sure … but, Smith you know I’m gonna be on the fast track to … to that division … now, right? Ms. Reshenyova’s gotta promote from within to get the ball rolling … if she’s got good material to work with, that is and …” Briscoe flashed a smile in the rearview mirror. “… I’m very good material.”

He had a point. The White Lady probably would power boost Briscoe up the ladder now, whereas before she might have given him another few years seasoning. He looked strong enough; personally, I would be concerned about his maturity, mental and emotional strength.

But hey! You fucked up. And not only with Lili …

My turn to try some of that mental strength. Had to concentrate on the job at hand. Step-by-step was my way to get things done. Stop thinking about things I couldn’t control.

It would take up much of the two hours I had given Dr. Mireille just for us to get to the communication centre and back; it was completely across the city and over two bridges. Here was my chance to make a friend … find and keep an ally. Never know when you’ll need people, after all.

“Briscoe, just shut the fuck up and drive.”

His bright grin turned to a sneer, but Briscoe did as ordered.

In my mind, I did answer him. My story was simple—one we’ve all heard before. Boy born of refugee parents. Boy fights with family. Boy chooses to leave home to see the world. Boy becomes a beggar, not a chooser. Boy recruited by shadowy organization led by enigmatic pale person. Boy meets beautiful girl recruit. Boy loves girl. Girl loves boy. Boy and girl go on missions together. Girl in danger. Boy saves girl, compromises operation. Girl reassigned by pale leader. Boy never sees girl again. Boy chooses to run away from organization. Boy finds paper clip in empty apartment. Boy returns to organization to find everyone boy knew dead except pale leader who orders boy to kill unknown rival killer group and revenge girl’s death. They all died happily ever after.

The end.

I settled back into the leather seat. Nodded off.

Woke up when the car jolted to a stop.

“We’re here. Here’s my fucking card, Smith. Let yourself in.” Briscoe threw the swipe card in my general direction.

Immature. Mentally, emotionally weak. Been there.

I retrieved the card from the floor. Hopped out of the car. Swiped myself into the glass and steel Chimera building. Headed for the main hub, 20 stories up.