Ben Van Dongen
The elevator doors opened onto a dim city street. Streetlights were on to compensate for the deep shadows and setting sun, which was almost gone over the horizon. Groups and couples walked down the sidewalks or hailed cabs. Thomas took a moment to look for a cab without a group of people standing around it, trying to make their claim, but they were all taken, leaving dozens of people waiting. He turn and ran, dodging pedestrians and excusing himself.
At the first intersection, he went right then darted across the street through a gap in the traffic. Horns honked at him, but he ducked left into an alley, leaving them behind.
Coming out at another street, he followed it to the next intersection, ran left through traffic again
Thomas ran along the street, next to parked cars, but he was tiring and slowed. Plodding down the sidewalk as quickly as he could, he ran into a woman who walked out of a store without looking.
He fell over her and the contents of her shopping bag spilled onto the ground. People closest stopped, some of them gathering the fleeing items. Thomas rolled off the woman, got to his feet, and pushed through them.
“Sorry!” He yelled the word over his shoulder though a shuddering breaths cradling his arm where it hit the cement.
“What a jerk.”
He heard the comment, but had no idea who said it. Someone at the edge of the crowd shoved him as he broke though.
Out in the open, Thomas ran, leaving them behind. The incident left some space on the sidewalk, and he took advantage. At the next turn, he saw the top of Diaz’s building in the distance, between the streets. It was a few long blocks away, and the Simonson girl was likely already there. Thomas sprinted through an intersection as the amber hand blinked at him to stop. He ran through the projected image and made it to the curb before traffic started.
The push to make the signal wore him out, and Thomas had to slow to a trot. “Too much running in one day.” He groaned and held a stitch at his side. At the next intersection, he stopped and waited with the trendy people, heaving through clenched teeth. When the light changed, and the bright projection of a stick figure walked across the street, they had moved away, giving him an open path. He took it, running again, but slower.
The plaza surrounding the huge building was ahead and Thomas stopped at its edge. He caught his breath and assessed the situation. It was a weeknight, and if it was anything like his old company, there should be plenty of people still working, but the front of the building looked empty. People passed on the sidewalk, but no one went in or out of the wide bank of doors. The large street level sign lit the plaza in a harsh white and red glare in the darkening evening. Thomas considered calling the police, but the sound of distant sirens suggested they already knew.
“I’m going in on my own. It’s my job, and people need help.” His pep talk focused his decision, but didn’t stop his knees from shaking. Thomas walked across the open space to the doors, eyes darting around for clues and signs of danger.
Inside the massive lobby, half a dozen security guards were in a panic. One was behind a long curved desk yelling over the phone, two ran from place to place, clearly not recalling any training. Two more tended to an unconscious third and their own injuries. A pulsing light feebly flashed in a back corner, reflecting off the open marble floor. The wall behind reception was peppered with bullet holes and was missing a large chunk.
One of the frantically running men stopped when he noticed Thomas. “Hey! Hey you! Stop there!” He pointed the end of a baton at him and at the press of a button, it sparked with electricity.
Thomas put up his hands and took a step back. “Hold on. I’m a detective working for Mr. Diaz. I assume a woman came through here,” he looked at the damaged wall, “recently.”
“Yeah. You with her or something?”
The other runner joined the first, but stood more casually.
“I’ve been looking for her for your boss-”
“Well I found her!” He waved the baton to the stairs behind him.
“Yeah. I can see that. She’s likely headed for the labs in the basement. I have to go and stop her. I assume the police are already on their way.”
“You’re not going anywhere buddy!”
Thomas figured after their embarrassing defeat, the man needed to prove his masculinity. “I can help, but I need you guys to coordinate with the police.”
The other guard put a hand on the first’s shoulder. “You can stop her?”
“I’m going to try.”
He nodded and Thomas walked around them to the stairs, giving them a wide berth. Passing the desk, he heard the other man’s conversation over the phone. He was talking to a corporate security team, Thomas could hear the orders barked through the receiver – contain, witness, and eliminate were clearly stated.
Thomas continued to the elevators without making eye contact. The building security was a joke, even less intimidating than at the school, but a professional squad, like the team that was sent to contain the school, were bad news.
At the elevators, he read the directory and spotted the location of the type of labs that would accommodate Simonson’s research. The labs were down three floors in a sub basement, secure, private, and easily hidden. Thomas jabbed at the button, but the elevators had been shut down. He ran to the stairwell, shouldered the door open and took the stairs two at a time.
Through a pair of double doors at the bottom was a security station. The desk was to the side and a blocked metal detector barred the rest of the hall. The seat behind the desk was empty. Thomas peeked over the edge, but there was no one around. The hallway, all the way to the end, was empty. He hopped the desk and took a peek at the tablet sitting on it. There was a record of the people who had visited that day, including Mr. Diaz. The record showed he went to lab four, so Thomas took off down the hallway.
He passed the first door. It was wide and made of bare metal with a round window set into it. A sign next to it read Lab 1. The next door was a long way down the hall. Thomas figured the rooms were huge. His old company had similar labs. He continued, noting the numbers as he went. Lab four was around a dark corner where a single light flickered, casting periodic shadows. The door was cracked open and the window was shattered.
Thomas pushed the door open. It was heavy and creaked as it moved. He reached in to find a switch, but only felt a smashed sensor. He looked into the darkness, trying to make out whatever he could in the light spilling in behind him. Hundreds of tiny LEDs blinked in individual patterns, indicating the multitude of tasks the equipment was performing.
“Hello?” The word came back to him from the depth of the huge, dark room. “I know you’re here somewhere.”
He heard stifled mumbling from further in. There was a chair within the rectangle of light coming from the doorway. Thomas used it to prop the door open and went into the room.
“I just want to talk.” Thomas stopped just inside. “I know what your father did to you.”
“What do you know?” The voice shot back at him.
“I know what I saw on the data coil.”
“Alright. Why don’t you tell me what happened?” Thomas saw her outline moving. His eyes adjusted to the darkness.
“They forced him to make me. He hid me from them and they killed him for it.”
“If that’s the case, why not go to the police?”
“I’m not supposed to exist. Besides, who would they believe?”
“I don’t know. I’m not sure who to believe.” Thomas scratched his chin. “Do you have Diaz with you?”
“Not bad detective. They expected me to come here to find my father’s work- get the drop on me. But I came for him. My father destroyed everything.”
“Everything but you.” Thomas moved, trying to make out her position. She didn’t answer. He took a step outside the light.
Thomas froze. “They’re on their way. Security for sure, police not far behind. You scared a lot of people in the lobby, hurt some of them.” He took another step. “What do you want to do?”
“What do you hope to get out of this? If you leave now, you have a slim chance of getting away. Go back into hiding. You kill him, security will kill you. You have to decide.”
“I don’t want to die.”
Thomas could sense her fatigue. He was exhausted from the run to the building, from the whole case. He could only imagine what life was like being hunted.
He head footsteps coming down the hallway, dozens of them. “I think you’re out of time.”
“I want to hire you!” She came into the light. She was haggard. The strong professional, Thomas chased at the school, was ragged and tired.
His mouth hung open.
“I let him go, you prove what they did; that they coerced my father to do this to me. It’s my only chance.”
“Done.” Thomas walked over to her. “Drop the gun and get behind me.”
“I don’t have one.”
Thomas heard a muffled protest from the darkness.
Shadows leaned into the room. “Turn around!”
They did and saw two armoured security officers crammed in the door and many more behind them. Their guns were pointed into the room. Thomas assumed they had night vision, among other technologies, stuffed into their helmets. He made sure the girl was behind him and stepped forward with his hands up.
“My name is Thomas Holliday and I’m representing this woman. She is unarmed and willing to come peacefully. Please move back and let us come out.”
One guard conferred with another and in an official, amplified voice, said they would.
Thomas walked into the light and out the doorway with the woman close behind. As soon as they were in the hall she was grabbed and cuffed. Thomas was shoved against the wall and held there, struggling. The remaining guards went into the room and returned with a furious Diaz.
He stood in front of the woman. She was being held by two men. “I’m going to deal with you in a moment.” He went to Thomas, still fighting the guard who pinned him. “And you. I want you to know that you’re a joke before I kill her, then you. Shoot them.”
One of the officers who retrieved Diaz raised his gun. He stopped at the sound of more trampling boots in the hallway.
Police started to stream around the corner, more than twice as many as the in-house security.
“Hold it right there. Drop your guns and put your hands up!” A woman in captain’s stripes pointed at the guards and they complied. Diaz was taken and cuffed, swearing and threatening as it happened. The guards had their weapons taken and they were all lead off, along with the woman.
The captain told Thomas to expect to be called in and let him go. His heart was racing from fear and excitement. He hurried out of the building and back to the office
Rachel was waiting at the door, tapping her foot. “ Are you alright?” Her accent was missing again.
“A little shook up. I had a gun pointed at me!” He took off his coat and draped it over her extended arm. “Are you up for another late night?”
“Depends.” She went into the outer office and hung up his coat.
“On?” He followed her in and continued into his office. He tossed his hat at the rack, missing.
“What happened?” She put his hat on the rack.
“Let me put a pot of coffee on and I’ll tell you.”
“Already done.” She sat in the chair in front of his desk.
Thomas told her about the events at Diaz’s building.
“So we’ve got a new case?”
Thomas nodded. He couldn’t stop smiling.
“You’d better go over that information again. I’ll call the police station and requisition their arrest report. I’ll have to commend them on their timing and send them a bottle of something nice. You’ll have to go see her tomorrow.” Rachel’s accent was back. “Your last case hardly covered what you owe me. You still have to pay for this place.” She gestured at the rundown office, authentic down to the broken blinds and the hand-stencilled name on the door, perpetually in need of painting.