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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.
“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.”
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–”
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.
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.