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Chapter 4. But I lost the pre-edit version

There’s a long way to go with this chapter. This is the chapter in which exposition ends and story really begins. From this point on, the first act is a shroud of mystery (or, it will be when I’m done editing). The second act becomes a vulgar display of conflict and the third act is a surprise for all of you! 

I don’t know what happened to the file for the pre-edit. I wanted to offer a before-and-after comparison, but I did something weird and now every file contains this version of Chapter 4. Whatever. Enjoy!


 

Chapter 4

            The work started winding down the day around 3:00.  By that time, Hendricks had received each team’s plan of attack and was in the process of reviewing them. The room was abuzz with chatter. Some were discussing the case, their thoughts on sneaking around other agencies, the general tension and risk.  Most of the time, we are straightforward agents of the federal government. It’s a rare thing when DSI agents have to act as covert operatives; we are much more traditional in our methodology.

Most were talking about the banquet.  The Year-End Banquet is a pretty big deal. Every agency has something similar but the DSI doesn’t pull any punches.  Our Year-End Banquets are multi-million dollar affairs (thanks in part to Alltech generously sponsoring the events).  This year, it was in the banquet hall of the Royal Hotel.  As I let my mind drift to the best food I would eat this year, the ambience of the giant room, I envisioned the grandiose hall where the most influential men and women in America would be socializing with all of us. It seemed so real for a moment, until I felt that dizzying rush from the rum again.  I’ve never had any other alcohol do something like that to me from one drink. My hands went straight for my head, a nervous gesture I’ve developed. I took my time running them through my hair, leaning my head back and embracing the moment. I took deep diaphragm breaths in an attempt to fight the spins.

Doug came up and gave me a rough slap on the back. I was less than appreciative but, it did balance me out. “What’s going on? Thinking about the delicious meal ahead?”  I flashed him a small grin and thumbs up, then went to go get my tux from the car.  There was so much going through my head that I was actually looking forward to the long elevator ride down, the chance to sort through things.

 

The elevator’s droning whir and the buzz of the fluorescent light above me offered me the comfort of solitude. I took the moment as an opportunity to explore my knowledge about the case. So far, our investigation into a bunch of redacted documents had proved futile but, with Eddie De Santo’s information we could start to make real progress.  One of the frustrating things about working for the DSI is that most cases have a million unanswered questions.  It’s like solving a single puzzle but you have random pieces from ten other puzzles mixed in.  It’s hard to figure out which questions need to be answered and which ones are just distractions. And this Hyperlite issue was a matter in which I didn’t even know which pieces belonged to the puzzle yet.

What’s more, with Eddie’s impeccable timing, I had a new slew of questions tangential to my primary case. Who was he going to see on the 44th floor?  Why would the government be stealing from Alltech?  Why would Bernier be asking us to look into the Alltech side of the investigation?  There were a ton more. I could barely begin sorting it all out in my head. More pressing was the serendipitous nature of De Santo’s appearance.  One thing I’ve learned in the field is that when something feels too easy, it’s usually a set up.  But then there was the question of why they would do that and for that matter, who ‘they’ were. It could be Bernier but, if this was indeed a government op as I suspected, it could be any number of federal agents.  Eddie could be a plant giving us a false lead.  Really, the whole situation could be a distraction from a grander scheme.  I had no idea what to make of it but, I had a direction and a plan.  I just needed to take it one step at a time. Solve the puzzle piece by piece.

           

            Around 4:00, the pit started clearing out. Most people were going home to grab a shower before the banquet, some were already dressed and preparing to head over. I was in the latter group, as was Heather. We were standing near my desk, talking with some members of our and Doug’s teams, coordinating amongst them.  Everyone knows about double agents, at least the Cold War kind.  There’s the American spy who sells himself as a traitor to the cause, and then the Russian operative who gets a job at the embassy and bugs a diplomat.

However, there is another kind of double agent.  This double agent works for one department of the government and infiltrates another. This can occur through various nefarious means: bribery, off-the-books payroll, a shell company.  The bottom line is, there are agents who spy on other agencies within the government, monitoring them for various reasons. The CIA, for example, cannot operate on Domestic soil. But, that only matters if they get caught doing so. They may have a plant in the FBI who gains access to a case about a drug cartel the company actually tracks in Morocco. In our case, every member of every team was going to report on their assigned tasks to the three of us.  Effectively, we would be creating a database of active operations within the government. This information set would be worth more lives than a non-official cover list.

            “I think it goes without saying,” Heather noted, “but, I’m going to say it anyway.  We are going to be compiling a lot of sensitive information on a lot of departments built upon secrets.”

            I stepped in, “If you think the fact that we are part of the same government offers you protection from the operatives we are snooping on, you’re wrong.  Everyone acts with the utmost discretion.  Tomorrow, we’ll start tackling our direct lines of communication. Until Hendricks green lights our strategies, I don’t want anyone looking into anything they aren’t willingly handed.  Be subtle about Alltech but be open about the fact that you’re investigating government operations.”

“The things our contacts keep hidden are being hidden for a reason. What we don’t know will tell us more than anything we learn.”

We wrapped up with a few notes on the banquet, and left everyone to their own devices.  Heather looked at me, concern in her eyes. “Do you really think it’s that dangerous, Jim?”

“I don’t want to find out.  If this is a government op and we get in the way, all bets will be off. Or, we will come out looking like a department of complete morons.”

“Well-”

Hendricks cut her off by summoning us into his office.  His eyes were glossed over and his breath still smelled of the rum. I wondered if I was exhibiting any similar signs. There was no good way to bring it up, so I just let it slide..

“What’s up, boss?” Heather asked.

“I want you to cover Jimmy tonight.  This may very well be our only chance to get to Monsieur Bernier.  If anyone starts to separate them, you run interference.  Jimmy, you know what you’re job is.”

We both affirmed and started walking out the door. I let Heather lead and turned back to Hendricks, “Ryan, you feeling okay? That rum…”

He smiled at me and nodded.  “Let’s get going.”

 

The banquet hall was absolutely immaculate.  The ceiling stood about 30 feet high at its lowest point.  White silken drapes ran up and into the center of the expansive rectangular venue.  They each connected to one of ten large chandeliers – each gold with large chains of true crystals connecting each arm to the column and a few more hanging off of each.  The floors were covered with red velvet carpeting, trimmed near the edges to reveal a heavily marbled floor.  The walls were stark white like a museum’s and they were lined with the kind of artwork you would see in one.  In the center of the room was a large granite fountain with four levels and large red candles placed in a square pattern on each level.  Around the room were some Ancient Greek statues made of bronze, some of marble, all clearly out of my budget. The one nearest our table was Lysippos’ Farnese Heracles.

The tables were rather noble.  Thick trunks of mahogany supported intricate stained glass. The stains were various shades of red, lined with gold, all depicting sigils of ancient fire-breathers, dragons of old. They were all hand-carved, hand-paint and very majestic. To complement the regal elegance of the tables, the chairs were all elaborate ebony thrones topped with highly detailed lion heads, mistakable for real lions on first glance. They bore soft velvet cushions matching the carpet. The place settings were a likewise shade of soft red and the “silverware” matched the gold etchings found across the tables. I suspected that it may well be 22 karat dinnerware. Above the stairway to the balcony level (whose banisters were of that same white marble, wrapped in ivory) hung a large tapestry with an intricate fractal pattern sewn into it. This place was far too extravagant and costly for government affair but, I wasn’t about to complain. Who would?

The hall was full of tuxedos and tail coats, beautiful gals in beautiful gowns. The air of elegance became enhanced when the string ensembles played, three of them coordinating and playing in unison.  I suppose this hall wouldn’t be sullied with speakers. So they had conductors coordinating with each other.  It made for a moment of silence between pieces but, I’m sure no one else noticed.  This felt way more like a debutante ball than a banquet celebrating a successful year of protecting and serving our country. Nonetheless, the blended aroma of wines, perfumes, elaborate meals, and high-class cigars flooded the room, permeating my nostrils more and more heavily with every breath; it dizzied me.  Or was it that damn rum again?

An usher led me to my table. There was a portly man with a top hat and monocle already seated before a name card identifying him as Thomas Mack, an entrepreneur who owns several broadcasting corporations and at least one retail electronics chain. My name card was a few seats away from his, and Jean Bernier’s sat completely opposite mine. I casually picked up one of the cards next to his and walked it over to my seat, swapping it for mine and walking back around the table.  Thomas Mack flashed me a smile; I winked in reply.

“No one will know.”

His grin was jovial, genial. His reply: “Taking the initiative and networking are the two most important ways to move up in the world. I approve of your methods, Mister…”  He spoke with a brilliant southern twang, a classic gentleman.

“Special Agent James Del,” I extended my hand and he shook it with a firm grasp that matched his personality quite well.

“Well, Special Agent James Del, it’s about time I had some company. I’ve been here thirty minutes awaiting the other members of our party.”

“I’ve only got my eye on one member tonight.”

“Monsieur Bernier. Of course. Tell me, are you looking to get out of the Department? Move into the private sector?”

“Something like that, yeah.” He was direct, an admirable quality to me.  His hand somehow found its way on top of mine. He gave me that firm handshake grasp, albeit around the top side of my hand. “Alltech ain’t the only company that pays well for the work you do. I hope you have the good sense to keep your eyes open for other opportunities.” This time, he winked at me, an odd-looking gesture with the monocle.

“Mr. Mack, I must ask you, what’s with the piece?” I pointed a finger at my eye, mirroring his.

            He laughed at the question before replying. “Agent Del, I’m what they refer to as a ‘big-wig.’ In truth, I’m just a man who had a dream and put every ounce of strength I had into accomplishing it. My life has been spent workin’ harder than a one-legged man wantin’ to win a butt-kickin’ contest. Nonetheless, the media like to attack those of us with power. By giving them something silly to focus on, I can prevent them from pokin’ too deep into my private life –  keep ‘em from seein’ the way my cat jumps.”

            “I follow.” I answered, “Still, it seems odd you would have that concern, considering how much of the media you control.”

            “I don’t control people, I own them. In this field, that means I enable my employees to chirp out the songs they feel need singin’. How wrong of me it would be to give a bluebird a melody, only to tape its beak. That cruel as all git out.”

            “I couldn’t agree more.”  We had a couple of drinks brought to us and continued some fun and friendly chatter as more members of our party arrived. He was dressed to kill. A double breasted burgundy swallow-tail held a slightly cinched back, giving it a small flare. This may be the most elegant coat I’ve ever seen. The collar was a soft shade of grey, as was the pattern around the alabaster buttons. His pants, classic grey trousers, fit him so precisely, I thought it must have been an engineer who fitted them and not a tailor. Beyond that, he wore a matching grey vest and a crisp white shirt, pristine in press and sharp in style. He completed the outfit with a black cravat, tied with an intricate knot.  His accessory: a black cane with a 24-carat gold bauble held in by a matching frame that appeared to resemble the talons of a predatory bird.

            Though he stood firm at six feet tall, his posture and poise made him seem taller than Hendricks, whom I noticed across the aisle surveying Bernier and myself. Bernier’s pale complexion and blonde hair led me to the illusion that his eyes, a royal shade of blue, may be purple. His hair, longer in front than in back (I think they call it a “half-shave” held a delicate, creamy thickness with the slightest waving pattern. He wore it combed over with a little draping down the side of his head.  Aside from being a little cartoon-y, this guy was classic, a modern-day Rockefeller.

            Dear God. I look like a joke compared to him.  Thomas Mack glanced over. “You thought the monocle was silly.”  I had to snicker. I took a glance around the banquet hall and noticed all eyes on the Alltech CEO and modern revolutionary. I’ll say this; the man definitely knew how to get attention.

            Bernier sat at his place beside me and everyone at the table made their hellos.  Apparently, I was the only stranger in the group.

            “Bravo, Jean, Bravo! You’re outfit is spectacular!” A fashion mogul at the table said. A lady several seats down commented on the “fluff” in his hair.  The gushing went on for a little while until Thomas Mack broke it with, “Now, I must ask you, Mister Bernier – Where is your charming companion, Evelyn? I thought she would be attending.”

            This was the first time Bernier had spoken and his voice captivated me. A tone richer than red velvet cake (something about this room had me thinking of that) inspired the dizziness of the rum – or possible the slew of other drinks – again.  His accent was heavy but his English was clear and I had no trouble understanding him. “She is a bit under the weather, I am afraid. She could not make the flight from Paris.”

            “What a shame,” another technologies CEO mentioned, “it is always a blessing to be graced by her beauty.”

            “Indeed.” Bernier replied.  He turned to me. I don’t know if I looked dizzy or slack-jawed, or generally uncomfortable and out of place. I meant to introduce myself but I found it difficult to speak, he read my name card and extended his right hand.

            “Special Agent Del! Ca va, ca va! I am glad to see my request was granted. Please, no need to be nervous. Relax, mon frère, you are here with honors. Do not feel as an impediment to the table. You are among friends.”

            After he spoke, the dizziness subsided.  I felt a little less tongue tied and spoke, “I’m honored that you asked me to your table, Monsieur Bernier. I have been looking forward to meeting you since your interactions with my office began.”

            He gave me a smile but, his eyes locked sharply into mine, I worried I may have said too much, considering the nature of the DSI’s work. I shied my eyes away but continued speaking. “Besides, as the largest contributor to this event, you couldn’t possibly be denied. And I must say, it has certainly exceeded anything I would have expected.”

            His eyes lightened as he responded, “I spare no expense, Agent Del, it is the least I can do for such a hard-working agency as yours.  I am glad to know your very analytical mind hasn’t spotted any problems with the ambience.”

            “Not a prop out of place, Monsieur Bernier.” The answer very clearly delighted him. It already went without saying that Bernier was the kind of man who took pride in presentation but seeing it was completely different.

            The meal was a fantastic steak dinner served with an assortment of vegetables, rolls, and baked potatoes. I have no need to explain the flavors in detail, suffice it to say I have never eaten steak this tender and juicy. The vegetables must have been grown is the Gardens of Babylon.  I later found out that none of the food was cooked but, it was all created using Alltech equipment. The entire meal was created without any natural ingredients, except for the chemical elements that go into them. Apparently, there is always a place for marketing. Bernier went into some detail about the synthesizing process, how the engineers simulated cooking by creating the meal on grills and in ovens. Each portion of the plate took around three hours to make.  That meant at least 12 hours went into every single plate here. I shuddered at the thought. He concluded by saying, “An inefficient failure of an experiment to say the least but, a fun way to legally avoid taxes. I am happy to cater any of your events, as well, messieurs et mesdames.”

            Thomas Mack laughed and raised his wine glass, “To write-offs!” To which the table replied with a resounding, cheerful, “To write-offs!” This time, I didn’t feel as out of place as out of reality. I shuddered to think that some of the most important human creations may have just been tax dodges.  Imagine, Flu shots are only around so that the medical companies can keep their money in their pockets, instead of handing their fair share to the government. It made me want to do a forensic analysis of these companies’ books, just out of a morbid curiosity.      Bernier stood up, cued the conductors at the end of a song and walked up the stairway, to the balcony, he tapped his glass and the whole room fell silent.  Now that’s power. Close to two thousand people silenced by his sheer presence – and possibly his suit. Heather questioned me with a gaze.

            “Mesdames et Messieurs: Thank you all very much for attending this banquet. It is an honor to have such good standing with the most powerful corporations in one of the greatest countries. And of course I must thank the Department of Special Investigations for your continued dedication to protecting your country from the most devious of enemies, so that your people may continue to live the greatest lives they choose, and so that we of course, may profit from them.” That part was painfully sincere. “Sil-vous-plâit, I would like to invite you all to enjoy the second half of the evening where we will be serving a fantastic variety of desserts and crème drinks, and further invite you to dance on the floor of this banquet hall.” As he made that announcement, a loud mechanical grinding rattled the floor beneath us. The fountain in the center lowered into the ground, leaving the entire central square of the room clear for dancing.

Presentation? The man had it down. I mean, God damn. A fountain like this doesn’t come standard with anything. I caught Hendricks—who seemed oddly unimpressed by the spectacle—out of the corner of my eye, walking towards me. I met him halfway.

            “I told you not to leave his side, Jimmy.” His breath smelled of Chateau Beaumont and a slew of other liquors.

            “What do you want? I wasn’t going to follow him up there like a lonely puppy.”

“Well, the speech is over, get up there.”

            “Relax, I’m on it.”

We both looked up to see Bernier staring right at us. I could see the blue in his eyes from here and it sent a little chill down my spine. There aren’t many bluer blues in the world. I climbed the elaborate staircase and joined Bernier, who had taken his seat at a table near the ledge from which his toast was delivered.  Once drinks had been brought around to us, I spoke.

            “You certainly have a flair for the dramatic, Monsieur Bernier.”

            He looked at me and I thought for a second that I could actually see his charisma.  “Drama, Agent Del, is what defines the human race. It is a product of emotion.”

            “Absolutely. It’s a shame we can’t see past it and be a more productive species. It’s to the point that friends can be destroyed by the most innocent, naïve comments, just because of that need for drama and attention.”

            “Mais non. It gives us the opportunity to create truly grandiose realities such as the one before you.  This event is memorable because your daily life is not.”

            “That’s not exactly the point I’m making.”

            “But it is. You posit that insignificant equates to unnecessary, do you not?”

            “I suppose I do.” I was actually a bit startled by the elegance of his conversation. Interrogating this guy was not going to be as routine as I counted on.

            “Without the mundane, people would have no appreciation for the truly great moments in their lives. Imagine a terrorist attack on your country. Think about how that would feel, what it would mean.”

            “Not too hard.”

            “If people did not even care about the little things, why then would they care about those which truly matter?”

            “Because they truly matter, Monsieur.” I felt valid but, he dismissed me.

            “Because they have scale, Agent. Let me ask another way. Would an immortal care for the dramatic moments among family or friends? Would he even care for an attack on his country? When a man lives for thousands of years, would not a conflict of ten years seem to him as such a small amount of time?”

            “I’m not an immortal, Monsieur. I have no clue how one would feel.”

            “The answer is obvious to me. But as you said, there is no way for a mortal to know. So, let us drop the existential façade. Ask your questions, Agent.”

            I jumped back a bit. His tone changed so drastically, supported by palpable pressure.  I guess you don’t become the most powerful man in the country without knowing things.

            “Who says I have questions?”

            “It’s written all over your face.” A different smile than I’d seen on him overtook his face.  This one was determined, focused, and made it clear that he was too smart to try and lead through a series of questions.

            So, I decided to be direct.

            “One of your employees visited me. He filled me in on the MO of the theft of your documents. Monsieur, you led us to believe that the theft had been one of pure information, something you didn’t actually lose. If you want to continue with the Hyperlite project, you will be starting from scratch.”

            “Ouay. Continue.”

          “What I want to know is why. It seems like this is a much more significant problem than you want us to believe.”

            “Subtlety is everything, Agent Del. Had I revealed the true nature of my problem, the unknown thief would know the power he has over me. And would you like to know something else?”

            “I would like to know a lot else. Please.”

            “I don’t want your department to solve this case, nor my whole company. I want a very few people to know. The people I trust and the people you trust. Those are the people who should be working on it.”

            “Surely, you know the scale of the task before us, since scale is everything.”

            “The criminals are but a trinity. The scale is small. Nothing you say will sway that opinion, please move on to the next question.”

            Already shutting down my arguments about the scale of the database we needed to search. Bernier showed that he most valued power and control. Instead of wasting time, I decided to go against my better judgment and play his way.

            “Then, if you want me to solve this, I need to get more information on Alltech, Hyperlite, and the thieves.  You need to let me in, Monsieur Bernier. You need to show me the things you’re hiding.”

            Bernier raised his hand for a moment until a host came around with two glasses. Bernier took one and gestured for me to take the other. A quick sniff told me it was a more refined version of the rum. Bernier took a drink and I followed suit. We sat in silence for just a moment. Bernier spoke first.

“These things are hidden because they are dangerous, Agent. Would you really risk jeopardizing yourself for my company?”

            “If Hyperlite can be turned into a weapon against the civilian population, yes.”

            “Hyperlite’s primary purpose outside of my hands would be as a weapon of chaos and destruction.” I heard the gravity in his voice.  “The compound would cut the weight of any gun or bullet by no less than forty per cent while keeping the density nearly identical.  With refinement in the process, the cost would become marginally higher than the cost of standard weapons. A small price for a large upgrade.”

            It made sense enough. There are militaries, terrorist groups, private security forces; all of whom would love to have weapons that didn’t burden their men. I imagined the feeling of an m16 that weighed less than three pounds. All else being equal, that is a humongous advantage. Damn it. My head hurts.

            “There is no doubt in my mind that the thieves were your agents and the researcher who took the original documents was turned by them.” He accused with such resolution that I couldn’t help but agree.

I began to feel a little dizzy and hoped it wasn’t showing. Before opening my mouth to speak again, I swallowed, lest I throw up on the host of a multi-million dollar event. “We are investigating every agency thoroughly.”

            He gave me a long, penetrating stare. After about ten seconds, I began to feel uncomfortable. I had nothing to say but I felt compelled to break the silence. Nonetheless, I held my tongue and waited for Bernier to speak.

“Are you investigating your agency, mon frère?” He finally asked.

            “The DSI? Of course not. We don’t train for covert operations like that.” The rum hit me like a ton of bricks. I had to clench my stomach to keep from reeling.

            “Absurdité. There is a reason I have been hiding so much from the eyes of your department.  That reason is not paranoia. Believe me.”

            “How can you be so sure?”

            “I know my enemies, Agent Del. I have been dealing with politics and scandals long before you began your career as an agent.”

            “You think a political enemy is behind this?”

            “I think a dangerous enemy is behind this. Hyperlite is classé secréte. Whoever organized this theft had plans for the material. They are powerful and dangerous. I fear they may be targeting me personally.”

Goddamn it! Fuck! Shit! The more I talked to this guy, the more lost I was. I believed him thoroughly but damn it all if this wasn’t turning into the most disconnected series of problems I’d ever needed to connect.  The pain in my head became impossible to masque. Things were starting to get a little fuzzy too.

            Bernier gave me a grave look, the blue in his eyes seemed to grow silver streaks in them but, that was probably another symptom of what might be alcohol poisoning.  I lurched forward, then leaned over the edge of the table and hurled like a wildebeest. Everything faded into black.

 

 I have no idea how long had passed by the time I came to. I heard a crackling noise, something like bubble wrap being popped but with more of a crack. I opened my eyes to a completely blurred view of the world. I saw some kind of movement and heard a muffled voice over a dull static roar. I picked myself up and shook my head to try and clear my thoughts.

 As things became clearer, the bubble wrap sound became more like fireworks. I was still on the velvet carpet. My heart leaped to my throat. The fuzz cleared and the movements became feet running around my head. The dull roaring static erupted into sharp shrieks of terror and confusion. I instantly realized that things had gone particularly wrong; I wasn’t ready for this.

Bernier was ducked down behind our table; there were a couple of bodies on the dance floor and a small squadron of men with automatic weapons.  I reached for my shoulder holster and couldn’t find it. I was still in a bit of a drunken haze, everything was still fuzzy. I wasn’t sure if I’d even worn my gun to the event.

 “Shit!” I peered over the balcony and saw their weapons were a slightly lighter shade of gunmetal. Their vests seemed different from normal Kevlar as well. All the gear was definitely made of a material I had never experienced before. As several DSI agents and security guards returned fire, I realized that they were indeed much different. My first instinct watching the bullets ricochet off the squadron was that the material was a completed prototype of Hyperlite.

“Nom de Dieu! Do you see now, Agent? My enemy has already turned Hyperlite into a weapon and an armor. This is a massacre and I’m sure to be the prime target!”

I felt way in over my head. There was no way this could happen and yet, here it was. Ten men were blasting away everyone at the banquet. I guess having all of Bernier’s allies in one place is a great opportunity to shoot fish in a barrel.  The men were trained and dressed for combat, probably ex-military. I turned to Bernier. It made sense that he would be specifically targeted in a mass shooting like this. I wanted to get him out alive. I shouted amidst the chaos. “Come on, I’ll get you out of here!”

“No, Agent! I can take care of myself; your friends are down there!”

He pointed to the elegant stairway. Heather was running down the flight of stairs with Hendricks. I peered across the aisle and learned that they were running towards a fallen Doug. An exit wound the size of my fist replaced his right temple.  I tried to scream but I threw up over the balcony’s ledge; I didn’t see where it landed. By the time I looked up again, Heather was freefalling down the stairs. I feared the worst and I simply couldn’t watch anymore. I turned to face Bernier. Before I could find him, gasping and choking consumed me.  It felt like all the fluids in my body were rushing into my lungs. My eyes watered. Tear gas.  The burning pain crippled me and my hands couldn’t decide whether to cover my eyes or clutch my throat. Fuck, these guys were serious!  I crawled around on the floor, seeking a place to breathe, only to realize that this balcony had been commandeered by a score of soldiers. Only higher-ups in the DSI would have known the exact floor plan of the hall. It made me sick to think that Bernier may well have been right about that. But it still didn’t explain why this was happening.

“Jimmy! Fuck, Jimmy, come on!” I heard Hendricks yell behind me. I turned to face him. By the time I could focus enough to deal with the gas in my eyes, I could see Hendricks. His eyes had widened; his head fell forward and he fell to his knees. A stream of crimson ran down the corner mouth. He made a terrified gurgling sound and shock paralyzed me. I had seen the source of the sound. One of the soldiers had run a combat knife through the throat and was pushing his unconscious body forward as a shield—the sick bastard. I was going to kill him in my escape. I tried to scream out for Hendricks but I couldn’t catch my breath.

A surge of hard electrical pain exploded throughout my body. Things changed and I became disoriented. Silence pervaded. Only my heart beat registered and it quivered in my chest. I crawled towards the nearest exit. Colors faded.  My breathing didn’t improve though I was sure the gas had dissipated. Instead, it became laboring, heavy on my chest. A foot came down on my leg; it shattered my knee. If I screamed, I couldn’t hear it. I tried my hardest to make any sound at all. Turning around only horrified me. A bayonet in my back had torn through my heart. I was dead. It would only be seconds before my brain realized it. The soldier slammed his boot into my spine. Several vertebrae snapped under the pressure. The next time I felt the foot, it was on my neck, pressing my face into the ground. He began to line up his shot and I felt an overwhelming sense of defeat.

Then things went black again.


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-‘Trick

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