In Which the Hunters Have Eyes
“Tell me we are not actually doing this.”
“Yeah, Jason, we’re doing this.”
We were standing on the sidewalk outside the center, watching a line of cars pull out of the garage. Even the Paranormal Defenders of America worked nine to five hours. “What do civilians think this place is?” I wondered aloud. “I mean, it’s not like they’re trying to hide. The location’s out-of-the-way, but the building itself looks like, well, any other huge business building in Nashville.”
“I think that’s exactly why it works,” Vic answered. “It’s subtle.”
“You should see the one in Arkansas. That thing’s the opposite of subtle. Middle-of-nowhere spot on the Missouri border, and it looks like bloody Area 51, big metal fence and everything. Why isn’t there a fence here, do you think?”
“There is,” Vic explained. “You remember, we passed through it a while ago.”
“That’s the fence? But it’s just out in the open.”
“Again, subtlety. There’s an electric current that runs through the ground, into the gates, and they’re designed to be locked down remotely in case of an ‘incident.’”
“I mean, technically we’re still trespassing,” she added. “So stay out of sight, for goodness’ sake.”
We did, skirting around the building and ducking away from security cameras. That was definitely in our best interest -- we were dressed all in black, with hoods or bandanas obscuring much of our faces. Classic burglars. As the flow of vehicles lessened into a trickle, we crept down into the open garage, hiding behind a row of concrete columns. The whole place was in dusky shadow, making us virtually impossible to notice at a passing glance, but I still held my breath each time a late worker’s car passed by. Finally, after several moments passed without the glow of headlights appearing, I beckoned with one hand for the others to follow me.
Vic led us to a small maintenance door, in a completely dark corner of the parking lot, except for the sliver of light from the cracks. She effortlessly, and near soundlessly, jimmied the lock, pushing the door open. We hesitated, watching for any flicker of movement from within. There was none, and so we stepped into the dim light. “I’m beginning to think,” I grumbled in a whisper, “that bringing all seven of us was a bad idea.” (Strictly speaking, all seven of us weren’t there. Levi was our getaway driver, and Thalia was outside attempting to mess with the electrical connection. Holly was still crouched behind a column, getting play-by-plays from her, and from me at times, on the phone. Only four of us were actually going in, but it still seemed excessive.)
“Safety in numbers,” Fred whispered back.
“You know,” I remarked, “almost exactly a month ago, I broke out of a place just like this. I never imagined I’d ever want to break into one.”
“What goes around,” he said, and then Vic told both of us to shut up.
We followed her through the hallways, getting an insider’s perspective into the connections between labs and cells. Several doors were unknowns, marked only with a nebulous “employees only.”
What I saw made me sick to my stomach. This was high-security containment, the same place where I’d been held, and it killed me to see other lycans -- many of whom were, surely, complete innocents -- chained and held behind bars.
The low lights flickered, like something from a horror movie. Then, they blinked completely out. “Good job, Thalia,” I said under my breath. The place lit up again in glaring, sporadic florescent bursts, screechy alarms bursting from the walls. Man, it didn’t take much at all to send this place into lockdown.
“Go,” Fred hissed, pushing me down the hallway.
“Where are we going?” I hissed back.
“Office. Vic, show us to the office.”
“You got it.” We took off into a run, cutting through the shadows with hearts in our throats. The shouts from behind us were too far away to make out any words, but the sound of them set me on edge nevertheless. I was literally pushing Jason forward, urging him to run faster and faster.
“I’m running,” he gasped. “I’m running!”
“Run harder!” It sounded like they were coming this way....
“In here, in here!” Vic said, pulling us into a broom closet.
The room was cramped, hot, smelly, and we could hear each other’s breathing. Footsteps crept closer and closer, creak creak creak. My heart kicked the inside of my ribs -- they were right outside the door now, and the creaking slowed and stopped.
I felt my hand being grabbed, held tightly, and I didn’t even have to look over to know it belonged to Fred. I squeezed his hand, soothed by his touch and hoping he felt the same. It seemed like too long the steps had remained just outside. Come on, come on. Move along. Nothing to see here, just keep walking.
The creaking started up again, and I couldn’t contain a rush of relieved breath. We didn’t move for several more seconds, at least a minute, before finally, silently, pushing open the door and exiting the closet one by one. I was still holding Fred’s hand, and in fact I had no intention of letting go. He was the one to do so, slipping down the scarf over his mouth to give me a smile.
Finally, we reached the office in question, where reports would be kept. “The lock?” I said, tensely.
Vic shook her head. “No good. This is a much stronger lock than a simple maintenance door. We’re going to have to break it, if anything.”
“Break it, huh? Leave it to me.” I grabbed the knob, twisted it with all my strength. It snapped, and I slammed into the door, leaving it swinging open.
“Well, you’re not getting any subtlety points,” Vic said.
“Not looking for them.”
Inside, the office was impeccable. Any hope that we might find the information we sought just sitting in a file on the desk was immediately dashed. “Where do we even start?” Jason asked on all of our behalf.
“What are we looking for?”
“We get on the computers,” Fred instructed. “We look through the cabinets, we listen to phone messages, anything that could give us an idea of what they’re here for. Anything at all.”
“Everything’s going to be high-security,” I objected. “Why couldn’t we get Thalia to do this?”
“Power’s off, remember? Security’s down, everything’s down. Go, go, go!”
“Go, go, go,” we did, pulling open drawers and switching on the computer -- hopefully some of it still worked. It did, blinking to life as nothing but the desktop. I tried opening the email, wondering if this would be detectable later. No matter, we’d be out by then, or at least one could hope we would. Emails had nothing, surprisingly, to explain the sudden influx. In fact, the only thing I found interesting enough to click was subjectlined “Shortlist.”
Shortlist of what?
Jason pushed a filing cabinet in front of the door, with a loud, grating noise that made me cringe. “Hurry,” he urged us. “They’ve got to be coming before too long!”
Cities. The shortlist was a list of seven cities, all in the southeast area.
Below it, the phrase, “This is what I’ve narrowed it down to -- they’ll be in one of these cities. I’ll be making a visit to all these, make sure I have eyes everywhere. Any information, contact me. I find anything, I come straight to you, and I bring reinforcements.”
A postscript, PS, I’m fine, thank you for inquiring. It’ll take a while to adapt, and my aim will never be the same again, unfortunately, but I live.
Signed, Dir. D.M. Tyrone.
I swore, smacking my hand lightly on the table. “I was right!”
Fred turned to me. “Right about what?”
“Guys,” Jason said nervously, “someone’s coming.”
Then, as if this couldn’t go any more wrong, the lights came back on. “Dammit!” I went into red alert mode, barking out orders in the voice of a shrill, whisper-yelling drill sargent. “Move, move! Everyone out, now!” I grabbed a pen from the desk, scribbling a chickenscratch version of the list on my arm. I’d decipher it eventually.
What did he mean by “eyes everywhere”?
Someone was yelling outside, and I realized in a panic that there was no way out except the door we came in through. “Move the cabinet, Jason! Move the bloody cabinet!”
“Working on it!” He shoved the cabinet aside, pressing his weight against the door to keep it shut. “Okay, what do we do now? There’s nowhere to run except out there with them!”
The room suddenly went dark again. Thank God for Thalia! “Now! Go now!”
Jason threw the door open, slamming it into the bodies of three agents outside. We bolted like mad horses toward the nearest exit at the end of the hallway, not caring anymore what traces we left. Cracks came from behind us, the air beside my ears moving with zip, zip sounds -- shots.
Fred cried out suddenly, pitching forward with one hand clutching his shoulder. I quickly wrapped a hand around his waist, feeling frantically for a wound. Instead, my hand found a tiny cylinder of cold metal. “Trank,” I muttered, pulling the dart from his shoulder. It was too late to prevent the effects, however. The anesthetics would already be rolling through his bloodstream. “Hold on to me,” I murmured in his ear. “Don’t let go.”
“Don’...don’ lemme hold you back,” he muttered back, voice slurred. Fred pushed lightly at me, urging me forward.
“Oh, don’t give me that. You’re crazy if you think I’m leaving you behind.”
A sound, like the beginning of a word, came from his mouth, before he slumped silently against my body, out cold. I winced slightly, catching his entire weight. I was practically carrying him as we flew through the exit door and into the grass beyond, toward the gate. Thalia joined us just yards away. “Holly!” I screamed at her. “Where’s Holly?”
“Coming,” Thalia assured me. To my relief, I saw Holly standing at the fence a second later.
“Car in the lot,” she explained breathlessly. “Headlights caught me, had to run.” Then, without waiting for my command, she turned and began to climb the fence. Thalia, Jason, Vic, followed her over. I held tightly onto Fred, pulling our combined weight up the fence as far as I could.
“Vic,” I gasped, “get him.”
She did, quickly and carefully helping him over the fence, letting me jump over. I slung one of Fred’s limp arms over my shoulder, moving with Vic as fast as we could with him on our arms. The building lit up, echoing with alarms and engines. Levi, parked just ahead on the sidewalk, started the truck. Holly was the first to jump into the backseat, and the others after her. We wouldn’t all fit, I knew, and there was no time to work out seating arrangements. I jumped into the truck bed, carrying Fred with me, and ordered Levi to drive.
I lay beside my unconscious friend as the truck took off, praying we’d get back safely. The cold wind whistled above us, the road hummed beneath the truck’s wheels, the center got smaller and smaller in the distance. Gradually, a normal, calm heartbeat returned. I kept one arm around Fred’s shoulder, gazing up at the cloudless sky full of stars, with the moon creeping very close to its full position -- it would only be two nights now, maybe three if my counting was off. “Gosh, it’s beautiful,” I said to no one in particular.
As the lights of downtown reappeared in my periphery, I pressed myself as low as I could go into the truck bed, worried that we would be stopped by the police. Back in the boondocks, it was no big deal if a truck rode around with people piled in its cargo bed, but I got the feeling it was different in the city.
I didn’t look around until we pulled to a full stop, and I spied the windows of the tall brownstone. I sat up, jumping out of the truck as everyone else worked their way out of the cramped backseat. “Whew,” Holly said, fanning herself with one hand. “It’s like a clown car in there. I should’ve ridden with you, Hailee.”
I explained to Levi what had happened, and he helped me carry Fred inside. Logan’s apartment was on the second floor, three doors from the elevator, on the left. Holly knocked loudly, yelling through the keyhole for us to be let in.
It wasn’t our contact who answered the door, though. It was a man of about his age, with shocking ginger hair cut into asymmetrical bangs that fell almost to his eye, and a smattering of permanent freckles across his cheeks. He blanched when he saw us, turning and shouting Logan’s name.
Logan ran up to the door. He looked even more unkempt then he had the day before, with his curly hair falling freely around his face, and was clearly in his pajamas. “I told you I should’ve answered the door,” he muttered.
“I’m going,” the other man said, sounding disgruntled.
“We won’t be long,” I assured him. “Our friend just needs to lie down, that’s all.”
“What happened to him?” he asked, and I couldn’t tell if he was horrified or fascinated. Maybe some of both.
“He’s out cold,” I said, dodging the question.
“Well, that much was obvious. I mean what happened to him?”
The redheaded man turned even paler, eyes opening widely with shock. “A what?”
“Now, now, Tracy,” Logan said. “It’s fine. They’ll be leaving soon.” He turned back to me. “This lovely mundane is Tracy Lawrence, my fiance.”
“Don’t call me a mundane,” Tracy muttered.