THE EXPLOSIONS HAD BARELY begun, but the building was already burning fiercely. Men were running back and forth in frantic frenzies, shouting commands, pulling gushing hoses and emptying extinguishers on the flames, but it was to no avail. Shortly they were pulling back, dragging anything they could with them out of the way of the flames, away from the tanks of fuel that lined one outside wall.
No one saw a back door slam open; no one saw a figure wrapped head to foot in a blanket dash out and dive into the nearby snow drifts, then wallow frantically through them into the woods. Not a single one of those fleeing the building and area saw the person pause and look back at the engulfed building now exploding with extreme violence. No one saw the person turn and go into the woods and down the slope.
In the midst of all this carnage, a limo pulled up and the Chauffeur let out a man. He just stood there passively, smoking a cigarillo, looking at the destruction for several minutes. No one approached him except his driver who came only when the man waved for him to approach.
“Have them take inventory of all personnel.” The slender man ordered. “I want to know who’s still with us and who’s not, and I want it in ten minutes.” He watched the driver as he approached another man and relayed the message. Several men peeled out of a group and began the ordered chore immediately. Then the driver returned and opened the front door of the car. Bringing out a fine long wool overcoat and scarf, he helped the man into them to keep him from getting chilled despite the heat the flames were exuding.
Just as the time was up, a man hurried over, panting, and waited with lowered head to be allowed to speak. He waited more than a minute, eyes pointing at the ground, watching with his peripheral vision, but did not presume to look at the man and just begin. When he got the nod, he reported.
“Almost everyone was killed, sir, only six lab workers survived, 2 of the maintenance crew made it out too. All the scientists in the main room died, and the survivors who were in the outer ring who made it out didn’t follow required procedures to download all current data before they exited the rooms. Until the fire dies down, we won’t know for sure, of course, but it looks like Professor Ratcliff died too. If the computers in the lab were working properly, we should have most of the data on backup in the London office despite the lack of procedure when the fire broke out.”
The slender man nodded and blew out a thin stream of smoke.
“Those lab workers… they are no longer working for us after you find out everything they know. See to it.”
“Yes sir. Right away, sir.” The man stammered. He knew what his boss meant, and he would obey. Then his lord and master gestured at the door handle of the limo. After the man had carefully opened, then closed the vehicle door and the limo pulled away, he walked to another man standing nearby and repeated what he had been told. The second man moved away and several minutes later, as the fire engines from the city were heard in the distance, the eight survivors were flung screaming into the flames.
You didn’t thwart his will.