The Insider – Part 2

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a serial by Joseph Benedict

Evening traffic clogged the streets. At every busy intersection, Fang ducked onto side streets, always running parallel to wider main roads so she could duck back on when they were clear. In minutes she saw the green edge of the city park ahead.

Fang slowed as she drove alongside the park’s grassy edge. Couples and small families lined the sidewalk, frowning up at the sky and waiting for their chance to cross traffic. Fang ignored them. She scanned the crowds for a single face.

a serial by Joseph Benedict

Part 1

 


 

Evening traffic clogged the streets. At every busy intersection, Fang ducked onto side streets, always running parallel to wider main roads so she could duck back on when they were clear. In minutes she saw the green edge of the city park ahead.

Fang slowed as she drove alongside the park’s grassy edge. Couples and small families lined the sidewalk, frowning up at the sky and waiting for their chance to cross traffic. Fang ignored them. She scanned the crowds for a single face.

He was waiting by an abstract sculpture shaped like a frayed double helix, or slender tentacles petrified as they reached up from the ground. Gray dots covered his pressed white shirt where the rain had wet it. Fang lowered her passenger-side window and stopped next to him as he ran a hand down his smooth white face and across the dark trimmed beard at the tip of his chin.

“You found her,” he said, pulling the door open. He moved the bag and gun to the back seat.

Fang waited for him to buckle up, then shot back into traffic.

“Barely,” she said. “I was almost convinced she was out of range.  I took a chance and ran Diego down Grand. The bus was late again.” Neither of them laughed at the joke.

“Hawkins is on thirty-third and Tiesto,” said the man, pointing to a right turn ahead. After a moment he added, “Dave isn’t going to like this.”

“I know,” Fang said. “But we can’t leave Melbourne with them can we?” She waited in silence for some reply, glancing at the man’s frowning mouth several times before adding, “You think I want to do this to her?”

“No.”

“We’ll do whatever we can to keep them safe after this,” said Fang. “After we rescue Melbourne, we’ll activate new agents in the building and cover our tracks.”

 

 

Couples and small families lined the sidewalk, frowning up at the sky and waiting for their chance to cross traffic. Fang ignored them. She scanned the crowds for a single face.

 

 

“Unless they fix the new projectors before we’re done.” The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a holster and gun. He opened the glove compartment and tossed them in.

“We’ll be fast, okay?”

“It’s not okay!” Snapping the compartment shut, the man turned to face her. “He was on duty! I had to buy these clothes and there’s going to be no way for him to explain any of this. Maybe if we could erase his—”

“Well we can’t!” yelled Fang. She took a deep breath. “I don’t want to screw up their lives either, but I’m not going to let Hart lock Melbourne up in some lab for the rest of his life. And if the new projectors were working, we wouldn’t be able to get away with this in the first place. That’s why we broke them. Ling?”

The man in the passenger seat sat brooding for several moments before answering.

“It’s Dave right now. Just drive.” He pulled a badge out of his shirt pocket and tossed it in back with the bag.

They raced downtown, found thirty-third and followed it away from the tall office towers, toward the busy smaller buildings where people lived and ate. Dave pointed to a deli under a green awning.

“Hawkins,” he said, indicating the slender black man waiting motionlessly outside the shop. “You know, they’re going to have some kind of episode when we withdraw. It might even be worse than what Hart will do to them if we get caught.”

“I know.”

Dave shook his head and stepped out of the car, beckoning to Hawkins and waiting while the guy crawled into the back seat.

“Deli?” Dave asked as he climbed back in.

“Yeah, he was just eating,” said Hawkins. “It’s weird. I thought security would be tighter there.”

“Maybe we have the wrong building,” said Fang.

“No.” Hawkins shoved the bag and shield to the far side of the seat. “I remember seeing security guards in heavy armor. They’re in the basement, and on the seventh floor.  Nobody’s allowed up there.” He offered the pistol to Dave, who accepted with a nod.

“And you’re sure you can get us inside?” Fang guided the car back toward the section of downtown dominated by tall buildings. She angled toward the harbor, where the lights of the boardwalk and luxury apartments brightened the darkening horizon.

“The side he has access to is commercial,” said Hawkins. “People bring clients and guests in sometimes. There’s a sign-in procedure that will be trouble for our agents—”

“We’ve already been over this,” Fang interrupted. “On our way in, we’ll lace a few of the personnel—one at the security check point or sign-in station for sure. When we’re out, we’ll switch to them and clean up after ourselves.”

“Touching that many of the guards is an unnecessary risk,” Hawkins replied coolly. “You could jeopardize this mission trying to save them from any and all repercussions. Do you care for them so much that you’re willing to risk Melbourne’s life for theirs?”

 

“How long, do you think, before they realize what we’re doing?” Dave asked. He tucked the gun behind his belt.

 

 

Fang and Dave met eyes quickly.

“They’re people, Chang!” Fang said.  “Hawkins! And there are no programs to save them from what this could do. We’re playing with their lives, marching their bodies into danger. We forced them to do this. We’re going to do whatever we can to make up for it.”

“And this time is different from all the others for what reason?” Hawkins stared evenly at Fang in the rear-view mirror. When she didn’t answer, he said, “I understand.  We’ll get in through my half of the building and transfer over to the secure side on the basement level, under the garage. There are cameras. They’re badly placed, but much of the staff is ex-military.

“The best strategy will be to use stealth as far as it will take us, hitting as fast and thoroughly as possible any obstacles we can’t avoid. Starting with the first checkpoint we cannot bypass, we will nullify or terminate enemy personnel and relevant equipment while working our way down to the lowest level. Getting out will be much harder than getting in. We’ll have to rely on what skills we’ve amassed so far.”

“Right.” Dave rolled his eyes and sank down in his seat, but the sarcasm was forced.

Fang and Hawkins sat straight. Fang imagined the face of their friend bruised and bloody in Hart’s hidden cell. The street signs on either side of her blurred as she forced the car to move faster.

“Equipment?” Fang swerved onto a side street as she spotted pedestrians in a crosswalk ahead.

The sky above was blackening rapidly. Behind the ominously low ceiling of clouds, the sun was setting, or already gone behind the ocean. Hawkins shook his head.

“The pistol that you left back here. Whatever books or gadgets your girl would likely have on her. The gun, only because Dave is a cop. They won’t like that, and they’ll watch us extra carefully, but they’ll let him bring it in. It could make a big difference in the first encounter, before we’re all armed.”

“How long, do you think, before they realize what we’re doing?” Dave asked. He tucked the gun behind his belt.

“You mean on our end?” Fang brushed strands of black hair from her face. “Dr. Beck? Days. Unless they fix the new equipment while we’re inside. Then minutes. Hopefully, not in time to stop us. But they’ve got all our techs on it. I peeked earlier.” She slowed the car, turning away from the crowded horizon and slipping into the heavier traffic crawling toward the ocean.

Neon glow from signs hung on noisy bar windows flickered across the Mustang’s hood as they drove onto the shore-side strip. Fang scanned the thinning crowds on either side. The people were melding, flowing into a single shape; older folks and their kids were packing up and leaving the waterfront, while young adults flooded in, dressed in the same caps, collared shirts, boots and blouses until it became difficult to keep track of any one of them for too long.

Foreign memories of blood and a dark Mexican street forced their way into her consciousness, buzzing in her head until she shook it clear. Dave still sat low in the seat, watching the bars and restaurants with one hand on the pistol tucked behind him. A pair of young women saw him staring out the window and stopped. They waved, calling out to him as the car passed. He ignored them.

Fang turned her face toward the water. She looked past the faces. Each wide eye or open mouth she registered brought with it the phantom stench of horse shit and dusty hay, the click-click of a killer reloading his assault rifle.

The white-capped waves in the distance roared, crashing toward the shore. Furious gusts of wind chopped the water farther out and sent sprays of salt water and sand into the faces of the couples looking out. The darkness beyond was nearly absolute, with the exception of a single pair of blinking red lights. Fang estimated the space between them and watched the blinking pattern.

Single ship, she thought. Cargo class. She had a sudden, stabbing headache.

“You okay?” Dave let go of the gun and pulled himself up straight in the seat.

“Fine.” She fixed her eyes on the road ahead. “She’s just tired. Must have been a long day.”

“Hey, are you sure you want to bring her into this?”

“No!” Fang flicked her gaze off the road long enough to look at Dave as if he were a man-sized pile of crap sitting in the passenger seat of the Mustang. “I don’t want to.” She let her breath out slowly and filled her lungs again. “But she’s the best I have right now. And we can’t leave Melbourne with Hart. No matter what.”

She heard herself, as if the words had come from just another of the phantom voices in her head. No matter what.

“Okay.” Dave went back to watching the crowds in front of the bars. After a few moments he said, “We’ll get them out and go back to clean up the traces.  You don’t have to worry about it. I promise.”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Hawkins. “Getting the doctor out is our top priority. We’ll do what we have to.”

Fang kept her eyes on the road.

 

To be continued.

 


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