This may or may not be the last chapter I post in its entirety before the book’s release. This is the official end of exposition and the beginning of chaos to come. I’m not including what it was before because after all of this work, I’m starting to think the other version simply sucked. In this chapter, I added the same number of words as the previous three combined. Enjoy! LIKE and COMMENT please!
If anybody is interested in reading the completed novel and publishing a book review, I am happy to perform the same or an otherwise equitable service.
The work day wound down the day around 3:00. By that time, Hendricks had received each team’s plan of attack and had been in the process of reviewing them for some time. 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. It means when you put DSI agents in this scenario, we get incredibly uncomfortable.
Most, though, were talking about the banquet. The Year-End Celebratory Banquet is a 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 the dizzying rush of the wine snapped me out of it. I’ve never had alcohol do something like that to me, let alone from a single 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 work to balance me out. “What’s going on? Thinking about the delicious meal ahead?” I grinned and flashed him a 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 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 with random pieces from ten other puzzles in the jumble. It’s hard to figure out which questions need to be answered and which ones are just distractions.
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? I could barely begin sorting it all out in my head.
That bothered me, like it would in any case. But, something else gnawed at my frontal lobe. The serendipitous nature of De Santo’s appearance had disappeared under the information he presented. One thing I’ve learned in the field is that when something feels too easy, it’s usually a setup. 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 just have been created as a distraction from a grander scheme. I had no idea what to make of it but, I had a path to follow and a plan of attack. 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 stood in the latter group, as did 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 – or otherwise observes – another. This type of operation often occurs 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 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 at least as many 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 secrecy.”
I stepped in, “If you think the fact that we are part of the same government offers you protection from the operatives we are spying 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 open about Alltech but be subtle 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 this is that dangerous, Jim?”
“I don’t know. And I’m not too eager to find out. If this is backed by the government and we get in the way, all bets will be off. At best, we will come out looking like a department of complete morons.”
Hendricks cut her off by summoning us into his office. His eyes were glossed over and his breath still smelled of the wine. 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 you job.”
We both affirmed and started walking out the door. I let Heather lead and turned back to Hendricks, “Ryan, you feeling okay? That wine…”
His lips slowly spread into a tight but wide smile. “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 from the second-floor balconies and into the center of the expansive rectangular venue. They each connected to one of ten large chandeliers – gold with large chains of true crystals connecting each arm to the column and a few strands of the same crystal 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 resembling a museum, 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 four massive red flambeaus in a diamond pattern on each level’s basin. 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’ Apoxyomenos.
The tables were distinguished and noble. Thick trunks of mahogany supported intricate stained glass. The stains were various shades of red, lined with gilded frames, all depicting sigils of ancient fire-breathers, the dragons of old. They were all hand-carved, hand-paint and majestic. To complement the regal elegance of the tables, the chairs were elaborate, hand-carved ebony thrones topped with highly detailed lion heads, mistakable for real lions on first glance. They bore soft velvet cushions that matched 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 uniform mass-center fractal 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, well-formed women with tantalizing wardrobes. The classical black-tie aura was enhanced when three string ensembles played in unison. I suppose this hall wouldn’t be sullied with such monstrosities as speakers. So, they had three conductors coordinating with each other. It made for a moment of silence between pieces, but I’m sure no one else noticed. This soiree seemed more akin to 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 Royal Danish cigars flooded the room, permeating my nostrils more and more heavily with every breath; it dizzied me. Then again, it could have been that wine again…
An usher led me to my table. There sat a portly man with a top hat and monocle behind a name plate identifying him as Thomas Mack. Thomas Mack is an entrepreneur who owns several broadcasting corporations and at least one retail electronics chain. My name plate was a few seats down from his, and Jean Bernier’s lie completely opposite mine. I casually picked up one of the engraved marble identifiers next to his and walked it over to my seat, swapping it for mine. When I came back around the table to take the seat I’d annexed, Thomas Mack flashed me a smile; I winked.
“No one needs to know.”
His genial grin could have reflected off the crystal that hung above us. He spoke with a brilliant southern twang, a classic gentleman.
“Taking the initiative may very well be the most important ways to move up in the world. I approve of your tactic, Mister…”
“Special Agent James Del,” I extended my hand and he shook it with a firm grasp that mirrored his persona. – One of the more memorable handshakes.
“Well, Special Agent James Del, I reckon 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 partygoer tonight.”
“Our host, Monsieur Bernier. Of course. Tell me, are you looking to get out of the Department? Move into the private sector?” He was direct, an admirable quality to me. His hand somehow found its way on top of mine.
“I wouldn’t necessarily call that inaccurate.” I love my country but… I’d work for a better paycheck.
He clasped my hand in his corporate iron grip. “Alltech ain’t the only company payin’ good for the work you do, hear? I hope you have the good sense to keep your eyes open for… other opportunities.” This time, he winked at me. It’s an exceedingly odd-looking gesture with the monocle, by the way.
“Mr. Mack, I must ask you, what’s with the piece?” I wrapped my thumb and index finger around my eye.
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 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 real power. By giving them something silly to focus on, like a monocle, I can prevent them from pokin’ too deep into my private life – keep ‘em from seein’ the way my cat really jumps, y’know.”
“I follow.” I lied, “Still, it seems odd you would have that concern, considering how much of the media you actually control.”
“I don’t control people, I own them. I take that to mean I’m right to 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. Monsieur Bernier, of course, came in last.
He was dressed to kill. A double breasted burgundy swallow-tail overcoat 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. Beyond that, he wore a matching grey suede vest and a crisp black shirt, pristine in press and sharp in style. He completed the outfit with a white cravat, tied with an intricate Celtic 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. He clearly qualified as a fashion eccentric. But, he pulled it off.
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 actually be purple. His wore his hair half-shaved and worn over his left eye. It held a delicate, creamy kind of thickness and the slightest waving pattern. The tip of his hair came down just past his chin and all converged to a single point. Aside from emitting a cartoony vibe, this guy was classic—a modern-day Rockefeller.
To be honest, the man got my blood racing. Dear God. This guy would look ridiculous standing next to Prince, or KISS. Thomas Mack glanced over. “And you thought the monocle was silly.” I had to snicker. I took a cursory glance around the banquet hall and noted that all eyes were on the Alltech CEO and modern revolutionary. I’ll say this; the man definitely knew how to get attention.
Bernier took his place beside me and everyone at the table made their greetings. Apparently, I was the only stranger among the group of elites.
“Bravo, Jean, Bravo! You’re outfit is spectacular!” A fashion mogul at the table cheered. 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.”
The first time Bernier spoke his voice captivated me. A tone richer than red velvet cake (something about this room made me want to eat and drink red) inspired the dizziness of the wine – or possible the slew of other drinks. 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 when we are graced with her beauty.”
“Indeed.” Bernier replied. He turned to me. I don’t know if I looked dizzy. slack-jawed, or generally uncomfortable. I meant to introduce myself but I felt like I had swallowed a handful of hot coals. He read my name plate 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 consider yourself an impediment to the table. You are among friends.”
As he spoke, the dizziness subsided. I felt a little less tongue tied and answered, “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 pierced 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. This is the grandest event I’ve ever attended.”
His eyes shimmered, “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 hear that your—how do you say… your analytical mind hasn’t spotted any problems with the ambience.”
“Not a prop out of place.” I lifted my wine glass, a casual toast. The gesture clearly delighted the odd gentleman. On first glance, I assumed Bernier to be the kind of man who took pride in presentation. I had clearly judged him with pinpoint accuracy. But still, seeing the lengths he would go to for something like an obligatory celebration of federal laborers… it completely blew my mind.
The meal was a fantastic steak dinner served with a medley of sweet fruits and vegetables, four kinds of rolls, and baked potatoes with all the accoutrements. I have no need (and truly can’t begin) to explain the flavors in detail, suffice it to say I have never eaten anything this tender, juicy, or downright satisfying. I thought the meat rose in Elysium field; the vegetables must have been grown is the Gardens of Babylon.
I later found in conversation that none of the food had been cooked, but it was all created from DNA and RNA by Alltech genetic engineers. The entire meal was created without any natural ingredients, ‘except for the chemical elements’ that go into them. Bernier went into some detail about the synthesizing process, how the engineers simulated cooking by creating the meal on grills and in ovens. Apparently, there is always room to boast. Each portion of each plate took around three hours to make. That meant at least 12 hours went into every single attendee here. I shuddered at the thought. He concluded with the summary, “An inefficient failure of an experiment to say the least but, an entertaining way to avoid taxes under the guise of ‘humanitarian effort.’ I am happy to cater any of your events, as well, messieurs et mesdames.”
Thomas Mack laughed heartily and raised his coupe, “To write-offs!” To which the table resoundingly cheered, “To write-offs!” This time, I didn’t feel as out of place as out of reality. I found it hard to imagine that some of the most important human creations may have just been tax dodges. Imagine: flu shots and the polio vaccine are only around so that 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, out of pure morbid curiosity.
Bernier stood up, cued the conductors at the end of Vivaldi’s “Winter” and walked up the stairway to the primary balcony. He delicately 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 outfit.
Heather questioned me with a gaze. I don’t know if she meant to ask me about his eclectic style or hinted that I should take this opportunity to do something. Regardless, I had no desire to disrupt his speech.
“Mesdames et Messieurs: As I look out over the sea of thousands, I would like to take this most humbling moment to thank each and every one of you for attending this banquet.” Humble… right…
“It is an honor,” he continued, “to be held in such high esteem by the most powerful corporations in one of the greatest countries in the world. 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. Applause rolled like thunder from the hands of the corporate fellows for a moment. Bernier took a beat and spoke again when when the noise died down.
“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 offer you the opportunity to dance on the floor of this stunning banquet hall.” A low murmur rose; there certainly wasn’t space for two hundred to dance, let alone two thousand. Bernier’s lips pursed into a tight, elongated smile and he nodded his head. A deafening mechanical grinding rattled the floor beneath us. The massive granite fountains 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 exist in the most elaborate palaces on Earth. I caught Hendricks—who seemed oddly unimpressed by the spectacle—out of the corner of my eye. He approached me with serious purpose. I met him halfway.
“I told you not to leave his side, Jimmy.” His breath smelled of Chateau Lazare and a slew of other liquors.
“What do you want? I wasn’t going to follow him up there like a lonely puppy. He was giving a speech, man. How do you want me to deal with that?”
“Well, the speech is over, genius. Get up there.”
“Relax, I’m on it.”
A chill shot down my spine and, I think Hendricks felt it too. We simultaneously looked up to see Bernier staring directly at us. I could see the blue in his eyes from here and it made me shiver again. There aren’t many bluer blues in the world.
I climbed the elaborate winding staircase and joined Bernier, who had taken his seat at a table near the ledge from which his toast was delivered. We sat in silence for a moment and I could tell he took the opportunity to size me up better. Staring contests with a stranger – even a famous one – are uncomfortable to say the least. Once drinks had been brought around to us, I broke the silence.
“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 how the human race has come to define itself. It is a product of the species’ defining characteristic – emotion.”
“Absolutely. It’s a shame we can’t see past the social aspect of humanity and be a more productive race. 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. Your view is tainted by your limited experience. It gives us the opportunity to create such truly grandiose realities 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 his eloquence. Interrogating this guy was not going to be as routine as I counted on. I definitely wouldn’t be making major progress tonight.
“Without the mundane, people would have no appreciation for the righteous and great moments in their lives. Imagine a terrorist attack on your country. Think about how that would feel, what it would mean for your future.”
“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 thought it 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 then, let us drop the existential façade.” His eyes narrowed, “Ask your questions, Agent Del.”
I jumped back, a bit startled. 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.
“It is 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 or lies. I had a hunch he could not be fooled.
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 purely of information, something that was copied. Something you didn’t actually lose. If you want to continue with the Hyperlite project, you will be starting from scratch.”
“What I want to know is why. It seems like this is a much more significant problem than you want us to believe. Why then are you keeping information from the DSI? You’re forcing us to work handcuffed”
“Subtlety is everything, Agent Del. Had I revealed the true nature of my problem, the unknown thief would know that I have no way to stop him from selling our secrets.”
“Contractually, they belong to the government on completion. They are our secrets as well, Monsieur. Still, it seems like you would want us to have as much information as possible. The Department specializes in piecing together information. I think the DSI can solve this. We just need to have all the pieces. If you give us the authority to investigate your facility…”
I cringed at the realization that I needed his permission to perform the most preliminary steps in solving a crime which stole these secrets. I had the unique opportunity to as a total stranger if I could do my job. Bernier noticed it, too. He couldn’t hide his delight. He reveled in the power he had over the government’s key players.
“I don’t want your department to solve this case any more than I want my security staff to solve it. I want as few people to know as possible. The people I trust and the people you trust. Those are the people who should be working on this case.”
“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. Move on to the next question.”
Shutting down my arguments with such dismissive impassion. Bernier showed that he most valued power and control. Silly me… I thought he cared about his world-changing technology. 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 to silence the conversation 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 wine he’d given Hendricks. We sat in silence, sipping on the wine for more than a minute. This time, the most powerful man in the room spoke first.
“Secrets are only important when they are dangerous, Agent. Would you really risk jeopardizing your life for my company?”
“If Hyperlite can be turned into a weapon against the civilian population, then I have no choice. Call me a martyr if you like. I cannot allow a potential wave of new-age weapons fall into anyone else’s hands.”
“Hyperlite’s primary purpose in the hands of a terrorist organization would be as the shell for a weapon of mass destruction and chaos.” I heard the gravity in his voice. “The compound would cut the weight of any missile, 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 major enhancement.”
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. What a sick use for a space-age alloy.
“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 it became impossible to speak in protest.
I began to feel a little dizzy and hoped Bernier didn’t notice. I swallowed before opening my mouth to speak again, lest I throw up on the host of a multi-million dollar event. “We are investigating every agency thoroughly,” except the DSI… but that seemed like something he didn’t need to know.
Another long, penetrating stare. After about ten seconds, I grew radically uncomfortable. I had nothing to say but, I felt ravenous, compelled to break the silence. Nonetheless, I had to win this one. I held my tongue and waited for Bernier to speak.
“Are you investigating your agency, mon frère?” He finally asked.
“The DSI?” the man hammered me relentlessly. I started thinking I couldn’t best him in the game of wits, so I spoke frankly. “Of course not. We don’t train for covert operations like that.” The wine suddenly hit me like a brick to the face. I had to clench my stomach in my arms to keep from keeling over.
“Absurdité. There is a reason I have been hiding so much from the eyes of your department. That reason is not paranoia, Agent Del, believe you me.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“I know my enemies. I have been dealing with politics and scandals since 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 knew what they were taking. They had plans for the material. They are powerful and dangerous. And I fear before long, they may be targeting me personally.”
Goddamn it! Shit! The more I talked to this guy, the more I saw the labyrinth growing around me. 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.
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 puked 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 bursts of static or bubble wrap being popped but with more sharpness in its 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 and the ringing in my ears.
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 unknown movements became feet running around my head. That static erupted into ear-shattering shrieks of terror and confusion. I instantly realized that things had gone particularly wrong; no one was ready for this.
Bernier called out to me from his position 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.
“Fuck!” I peered over the balcony and saw their weapons were a lighter shade of gunmetal. Their vests seemed different from normal Kevlar as well. They were almost chain mail, if the chain links were smaller than bullets. 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. Their individual patterns of fire were fast and controlled. They had practically no recoil and less gun smoke. Each burst from any of these men definitely meant someone’s death. My first instinct watching the bullets ricochet off the squadron’s absorptive armor 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 am sure to be the prime target!”
I believed for a while that it might be a dream. There was no way this could be happening and yet, it was. Ten or more men were blasting away everyone at the banquet. I guess having all of Bernier’s allies in one place is a great opportunity for shooting enemy fish in a fancy barrel. The men were trained and dressed for combat, possibly 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! Regarde!”
He pointed to the corpse-laden stairway. Heather reloaded ran down the flight of stairs with Hendricks laying cover fire behind her. 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 ragdolled down the stairs. I feared the worst and simply couldn’t watch anymore. I turned to face Bernier. Before I could find him, a sudden attack of gasping and choking consumed me. At first, I thought I may have suffered internal damage and blood was filling my lungs. My eyes watered. I realized it must be tear gas.
The burning pain in my nostrils 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 this is bad… 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 mere feet away. His eyes had widened; his head fell forward and he dropped to his knees. A stream of crimson ran down the corner mouth. He made a terrified gurgling 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 pushed Hendricks’ unconscious body forward as a shield—the sick bastard. I was going to kill him in my escape. I wanted to scream out for Hendricks but I couldn’t catch my breath.
A surge of electrical pain exploded throughout my body. Things changed and I lost all sense of orientation. I couldn’t even tell if I was standing yet. Silence pervaded. Only my heart beat registered and it quivered between hard pulses in my chest. I realized I’d fallen on my chest and crawled towards the nearest exit. Colors faded. My breathing didn’t improve, though I was sure the gas had dissipated. Instead, it became a laboring task, 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. Rolling over only horrified me. A bayonet in my back had torn through my heart. I was dead. It would only be seconds before my brain stopped functioning. A mercenary-soldier kicked me over and slammed his boot into my spine. Several vertebrae snapped under the pressure and my legs lost all sensation. The next time I felt the foot, it was on my neck, pressing my face into the ground. He lined up his shot with a pistol and I felt a mortifying array of emotions ranging from indignation and radical anger, to humiliation and absolute fear.
Then things went black again.
Hope y’all are enjoying this little journey as much as I am! Stay tuned for more zany antics!