The taxi driver pulled to a stop a half block before the next intersection. Larry jerked forward, catching a sandwich he had been nursing in his lap before it decorated the inside with salads and meat. The male driver spoke a colorful language, first to the driver stopping in front of him, then to the person he spoke to on his hands-free.
Seemingly on a quest to run a maze through Manhattan, the driver had said he needed to take some quieter streets if they were ever going to get past traffic and to the Bronx.
The driver headed toward the Brooklyn Bridge on-ramp, then veered off to head underneath and skirted the outside of the city following the waters edge around the bay and up north.
“Any other way, except maybe Barclay, and we get stuck,” the taxi driver said, his accent tickling his vowels.
Larry shrugged and texted his son to ask what they were getting up to today and if they had already seen his uncle this morning. A few minutes passed when he received a message to say they were going to, somewhere called Central Park, then would see Uncle Paul later. Larry laughed, put his phone away and watched out his window as the landscape changed from city to trees.
A croaky yet hearty belly laugh rumbled from Simon as he joined in with the clapping and cheering alongside his grandfather and the few hundred crowd as they watched clowns prance about on stage. As he had expected from such a show, they comically hit one another with pies and oversized rubber mallets, tripping and falling. His grandfather slapped his grandson’s shoulder. A clown fell over his large feet into a pool of confetti. Colors puffed into the air.
His grandfather had not aged since before his death. Simon peered down to his own overgrown belly and wrinkled hands, he was not a young boy anymore, instead he appeared as old as his grandfather had been at 55.
He had been seven the last time his grandfather had taken him to see a show. He remembered these times as the few childhood moments he had enjoyed.
His grandfather turned to him and Vlad stared back, his name before changing it to Simon. The scene on the stage changed and the theatre turned silent like a switch had been flicked. No one laughed. The clowns stopped their skipping and prancing and stared at the two men in the front audience seats. Their multicolored smiles still frozen on their collective faces as if waiting for these two men to say something even more hilarious than themselves. The clowns relaxed. Their arms falling to their sides. The audience vanished. Only empty seats remained. Not a food stuff or drink cup could be seen.
“My grandson.” Vera said, “Your cousin was not the one I should have put my efforts into for continuing my work, it should have been you. But, you see, your cousin was much older. He was the obvious choice. I see now it was the wrong. You will bring our great country back to its former glory. You will be the one who will change the world. The west tried to cripple us, now you will take every last dollar from them, and we will look down on them with contempt, but not pity.”
A clown walked to the front of the stage and stopped in front of the two men. From behind him he showed them a set of bells, which he then shook and rattled. Both Simon and his grandfather stared up at the clown, annoyed at the intrusion. Simon went to stand and teach the clown some manners when his grandfather placed his hand on his grandson’s shoulder and said, “You have to go now, remember what I said.”
Simon came alert from his dream and lifted his head from a wet pillow. The phone tune pierced his ears, aggravating him even more after being disturbed while he spent time with his loving grandfather. His head hurt from the extra vodkas he shouldn’t have drank before bed. He picked up the phone and considered whether to smash it against the wall. He clicked the answer button instead.
“What!” he croaked. Phlegm gurgled in his mouth.
“Sir, I wouldn’t disturb you if this wasn’t important, but our New York office has been compromised,” Harry Childs said, with only the mildest of a waver in his voice.
“Kto eto sdelal? Imyeem li my ih?,”* Simon said speaking in Russian, his anger punching out each word out.
“No, and it seems we lost all stores when the air conditioners and fridges shutdown.” Harry Childs had learned basic Russian, and still continued to improve, as had been his bosses first requisite. “We won’t be able to distribute until we have production running again. Maybe we should postpone?”
“No. I have some here and will send by courier.” Simon drummed his fingers on the bedside table. “I better deliver it myself. Expect me at noon. In the meantime, let me know when we have found the people responsible, I want to speak to them first.”
Simon pushed on the disconnect button, then dialled a number he had dialled many times before.
’Andre, Andre, my friend, I need some of your security men again.” Simon allowed his full Russian accent to come through while talking to his country man.
“Good morning, Vlad, my other men you had with you in Australia have gone missing. I am hearing that they are involved in some police investigation, what happened?’”Andre asked.
“I won’t bother reminding you that you should be calling me Simon, and that it has been my name from before we had ever spoken or met, but that is because you never listen and you are a stubborn duak.”*
’Vlad, I get bored of hearing you talk about your stale American name. What about my men? It costs money to get soldiers to America and train them to get the accent correct.”
“They were not within my employ when they met with trouble, I left them very much alive. They are not my responsibility after I dismiss them. However, I am now also worried that they spoke to people about my work; we were broken into last night,” Simon said.
For a moment Simon wondered if Andre might have had something to do with the break-in.
“They are loyal, Vlad, I stake my name on it, I know nothing of your break-in. We have worked together a long time, it would be unhealthy for either of us to doubt each other now.”
Simon conceded this to be true. Right, of course, I should not doubt you. Let our loyalty continue,” Simon sighed, his comrade for a little longer, then.
‘So, you want me to give you more men just so that you can make them disappear too?’
“It is for my home and local travel only, I want the men here for security. If you can get them to me this morning I will add a bonus to the normal rate, as compensation for the two lost men in Australia. Does this please you, Andre?”
“A pleasure to do business with you as always, my friend, I will have them over to you in an hour. They are of course wearing my ring, and will be called Gary, and Samuel.”
“Ah, very American names, good. I will send you money now.”
Both men hung up. Simon Green also called his regular security company and demanded an additional security person to his home. They sent a car immediately.
A jet-lagged Constable Jones steered the cruiser along the now familiar clay dirt road, taking corners without braking. Bradbury flipped through a large file that had been compiled to give them all the information available on Tech Dynamics. The pages he stopped at and read were the recently surrendered Australian government files on what they had discovered. It took all of two minutes for Bradbury to sift through the double-talk before he realized they were not going to be forthcoming with anything new. They wanted this partnership and would sell their souls to get it.
They reached the construction site at the end of the clay dirt road in short time. Tech Dynamics had finally being opened to them via a warrant that allowed them to search for unauthorized use of explosives on surrounding land. A technicality that Bradbury was willing to exploit as far as he was able.
The Emerson family, at least, was out of harms way and in the care of the NYPD. The government had finally insured the safety of Paul Emerson. Larry Emerson was another matter. The sooner he was in Australian police custody, the sooner he could get some answers from the man.
Jones eyed Bradbury. The only survivor from his extensive team. They had known when to strike. The shift change had meant everyone would be inside. They would be more careful next time.
As they reached the front gates of the complex, Jones’ expression changed. An expression that the usually affable constable never showed. They both studied the recent changes made to the complex, and Bradbury realized maybe his reaction had probably mirrored Jones’.
Gone was the lone security guard. Also the portable office where Bob and his workers had discussed where to begin the day’s activities and sort through contracts. Large heavy gates had been placed at the entrance and were currently locked and barbed. Two shooter’s nests sat tall, draped in sharp metal spikes, a soldier in each.
A second large heavy gate had been set twenty feet behind the first, creating a kill zone in the middle surrounded by barbed fences and automatic guns. Further inside, soldiers patrolled both sides of the extra high, razor wire fences, all carrying their rifles as if they expected trouble.
“Security’s been busy fortifying,” Jones said, his voice off-hand.
On the outside of the fence a new sign had been mounted with bolts.
NO VISITORS BEYOND THIS POINT.
And below, another.
TECH DYNAMICS PTY LTD,
LIVE TESTING OF MILITARY EQUIPMENT BY PERSONNEL.
HAZARDOUS MATERIALS WITHIN.
And further on, another sign with a US emblem then Australian underneath with additional warnings.
THIS IS UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
AND AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT PROPERTY.
AND AUTHORISED PERSONNEL ONLY.
Bradbury and Jones climbed from the safety of their car and approached the fence. Instantly two guards came to life and ran to the gates, their rifles out and aimed at the two intruders.
The first went to one knee, his rifle to his cheek and his finger on the trigger. The other came much closer, raised his rifle and aimed it directly at the detective, his finger also hard against the trigger.
“This is your first and final warning, stand back from the fence,” the large soldier said.
Beyond the second fence, two additional occupied towers mounted with very long and large barrelled guns, turned to point directly at each of the officers. Two more soldiers back on a building rooftop held rifles with scopes, kneeling on one knee looking as if they were expecting an immediate order to open fire.
Both officers stepped back from the fence like they had been stung.
A moment passed before the soldiers thankfully relaxed their stance.
Bradbury looked to Jones and shook his head. His brow furrowed further at the show of force before them. Jones’ face had turned from carefully concealed alarm, to spooked.
Bradbury reached into the envelope in his hand and drew out the court paperwork.
“We have a warrant to search the entire premises for illegal activity,” Bradbury said not wavering as he spoke. “I can read it out to you, or I can pass it to you through the fence.”
They did not move or speak.
After ten seconds, just as Bradbury was going to say more, the lead’s soldier’s dark eyes darted from left to right, as if only now he was contemplating what Bradbury had said. He then looked the detective up and down, “I do not recognise your rank.”
Bradbury and Jones turned to each other. Jones took another step back and whispered to the detective that he should do the same.
Bradbury grunted in reply. Then said, “I’m Detective Bradbury and this is Constable Jones,” Bradbury held up the warrant.
The soldier appeared to read it for a moment, although surely could not have been able to from the distance he stood. He then turned his head to his supporting officer. His feet barely stayed still as he did this as if he urgently needed to pee. He looked back to the detective.
“I do not recognise your rank.”
Bradbury’s skin crawled. This did not feel right.
“The guy sounds like a broken record,” Jones whispered to Bradbury.
Both soldiers stiffened. Their hands tightened on their guns. Surely they could not have heard. Jones took another step back and reached the squad car behind him. Bradbury became even more annoyed. His cool anger drove him on. He stepped forward.
“I think we should speak to your commanding—.”
An almighty blasting boom deafened both men. They put their hands to their ears and shielded their heads as the ground in front of them exploded upwards. Jones grabbed the detective from behind and pulled his superior back to the car.
“Get back! Get in the car.
Millions of tiny bells replaced Bradbury’s ears, while he was pulled back toward the open door of the squad car.
Both climbed into the vehicle and Jones put the car in reverse and skidded away down the road.
A stinging like ant bites shot up Bradbury’s legs. He pulled up his pants and saw little bleeding cuts up and down his shin dribbling down to his socks.
Blood also covered Jones’ legs like he had been attacked with a razor blade. Bradbury picked at pieces of rock in the bloody mess that were his legs. His face a mask, although whiter than Jones’.
“Sergeant, the soldiers flaming-hell shot at us! Jones’ voice crackled, interrupting Bradbury’s replay of events. He then ashamedly cleared his throat. Err, with some kind of cannon.”
The sergeant looked back at Bradbury for him to continue his tale.
Bradbury said, “Not much more to tell from then on, we got the hell out of there and headed back to the station.’
Sergeant Boyle (Bradbury and Sunny’s superior) said, “I got hold of some information, the agreement between the US and Australian military to test their new technology on that site will stand. I spoke to the minister for Defence Materiel and he’s confirmed that this is a government and civilian run enterprise. Any and all further matters will go through him, hence forth.”
“And shooting at us, that’s the way things are now?’ Bradbury scratched through the bandages on his legs.
Boyle shook his head. “The incident’s been reported, that’s all we can do.” Bradbury stared at his sergeant for a moment before sighing. “I’ll get a hold of, Mr Emerson. “We’ll need him here if we want to work against this. I also need to know what they’re doing so we can prove it’s not in the government’s best interest to support it.”
Larry pushed open the door of the taxi and stepped out onto West 249th Street, glad to be outside again and in the sun. The mild heat made its way through the tree canopy and stirred the frosty morning mist. Thin light hairs on his sleeveless arms stood up in goose-bumps. He paid the driver and began the walk up the hill to Simon Green’s home.
The narrow road wound up and around through the expensive properties as if taking its time to get to the destination. Larry took his time as well, ambling past each home of the heavily tree lined streets, observing the well groomed gardens and random gnomes by the front patio. He stopped at a tall thick hedge that walled the front of a huge property. Their fortress to keep out the outside world.
The road took him further up cutting through the country-like surroundings reminiscent, he realized, of where he lived in Colorado Springs, just not so opulent. Each house sported more than one garage with at least two expensive and well cared for cars, many of them currently being washed and waxed delicately and lovingly by their owners out front.
Simon’s street loomed closer and he still had not worked out what he would do once he arrived. Any sort of commotion he began would alert police and bring them to the aid of the residents in minutes. He would be the criminal, not Mr Green. What he would need to do is catch Mr Green by surprise.
He stared up past a yellow DEAD END sign to the long driveway leading to Simon’s home and took a breath then let it out. As he walked he felt his heart quicken, beating harder and faster than when he had been at Mr Green’s mercy in the cave. He felt the scar where the bullet had almost killed him only days before. He would make Mr Green talk no matter what, yet no plan came to him even now.
He stopped out front of Mr Green’s home. It’s curved walls stretched around the side of the building, constructed in light grey stone which may have once bordered the shores of a rocky river, polished smooth by the rush of water and ages of time. Atop every wing stood a tower, and on top of that, a darkened coned slate roof.
The aged brown front door was a heavy and sturdy structure like you would find on the front of a castle, and would need to use both hands to open or close it, or have it balanced perfectly, accompanied by well oiled hinges. Manicured gardens lined the driveway and the front yard. A row of hedges created a low lying wall leading to the front entrance.
Larger trees climbed up from the rear of the home where they provided shade for the back yard, and also appeared immaculately kept and startlingly green.
“Hey, hey wait, bro.”
Larry turned, his eyes not yet focusing, still in a daze from studying Simon’s home.
A young man jumped out from his car and hurried to meet Larry. His blue eyes sparkling. Freckles spread from his nose over his cheeks.
“Hey, no more visitors today, man” he called out as he ended his jog to stand in front of Larry.
“No more visitors?” Larry repeated back.
“Yeah, just those two other big security guys and that’s it. Sorry, you’ll have to come back another day. What are you after, anyway?”
The young man put on dark sunglasses and a security guard cap, then pulled out a note pad and began writing details.
Larry said the first thing that popped into his mind, “I’m here for security.”
The young security guard looked up from his pad and adjusted his cap. “Really? No one forwarded me information on that.”
’Mr Green called me personally and said he didn’t want some young idiot out the front of his home not knowing what he’s doing. He wanted a professional.”
“Oh,” the young guard said, and saw Larry’s security jacket over his arm, “I’ll have to call it through. Come with me, I’ll see what head office knows about you.”
Larry followed him back to his security car and watched as the guard sat and grabbed for the microphone. Larry punched the guard, hitting him smartly across the back of his head. The guard’s body slumped forward and his head fell to the steering wheel. Larry grabbed the young man’s collar just before his forehead connected with the horn. He pulled the guard’s cap down and settled him back into his seat, hoping it looked like he had fallen asleep. Larry closed the car door as silently as he could and walked to the mansion’s front entrance.
He knocked and instantly heard someone walk from another room, his feet stopped on the solid tile work at the entrance. The door opened without a squeak from the hinges. The security guard looked Larry up and down; four inches shorter, carrying a security jacket over his arm, but otherwise casually dressed; jeans, jumper and sneakers.
“Yes?” the guard said in perfect English.
“I’m here for security,” Larry said hoping to extend the ruse.
When the man stood as still as the door beside him—and as solid, saying nothing, Larry decided he would need to do better than with the other guard.
“Mr Green called personally. He said he didn’t want money grabbing American companies sending inexperienced fools to look after him. I saw your other security guard asleep,” Larry said and pointed his thumb back over his shoulder.
The guard stepped out and peered past Larry to the security vehicle. The guard’s eyes rolled up and he sighed.
The guard said, “Are you armed?”
“Mr Green wants me inconspicuous for his neighbors sake. A gun won’t be necessary.”
“Samuel, where’s Mr Green?” The guard said through his shirt cuff.
“I’m with him out back. He’s watching television placing bets on horses,” came through his ear piece, which Larry overheard.
“When there’s a moment he’s free I need you to ask him about a new security detail for outside. His name is...,” the guard said, pausing for a moment.
“Larry Emerson.” Larry said, and silently cursed himself for saying his real name.
“Larry Emerson,’ the guard repeated into his shirt cuff microphone.
“Mr Emerson, I need to confirm your role. Please wait outside.” The guard pointed to where he should stand.
Larry nodded his okay and walked back out to the front of the mansion while the door closed and locked behind him. When the guard left and walked far enough away, Larry ran to the side hedges and along the large stone wall.
He leapt up the eight foot wall and pulled himself to the top where he crouched on the wall’s flat peak. In the distance, out across the large expanse of lush grassy backyard near a great green leafed elm under the patio, Simon and another guard sat under the shade of a veranda.
Larry dropped to the other side on the grass and ran to the edge of the house staying low to the ground, and close by the lining trees. He closed on the two men watching an overly expensive and large screen, still with their backs to his approach.
The race ended and Mr Green jumped into the air and whooped and clapped at his win. Once settled again, the guard got up from his chair and spoke into Mr Green’s ear.
Larry heard what they said, although it was in Russian, and so understood none of it. He did, however, hear his name mentioned.
Mr Green jumped from his seat. His bulky body moving faster than Larry thought possible. He rushed to the door back into his home, his guard following closely behind. Much to Larry’s annoyance. Mere seconds later, Larry passed by the chairs where the two men had recently lounged. He pulled on the rear door destroying the simple lock.
Larry passed the front entrance and followed the heavy footfalls of the overweight Russian through the house. He passed by the lounge room and a view of Mr Green’s front yard where the two guards searched the grounds, guns drawn.
A dull beep came from the hallway ahead. Larry stole a glance around the corner and saw Simon typing a code into a panel on a stainless steel metal wall. Part of the wall dropped back and slid across to sit within the wall cavity. Simon walked through the dark opening and down barely visible stairs, after which the door slid immediately back.
Larry took three large steps toward the closing door and thrust his hand inside before it could close. The door stopped. Bones cracked and splintered. Larry grunted at the pain. He slid his other hand in over the first and pushed against the sliding door with everything he had. The door groaned whirred and clanked. But did not budge, instead continuing to flatten Larry’s hands together.
Larry pushed his shoe into the crack, then his knee as well, giving him enough room to get a better grip and push out with his hands. His muscles stretched and bunched until they felt like they would snap. Sweat poured from his body. The door gave a little, then some more. Larry slid his body in between the door and wall. He pushed out as hard as he could then stumbled through and let go.
His strength gone, he collapsed on the other side, remembering all too late the steps awaiting him. In a tangle of arms and legs he fell the full flight, bruising more than just his ego. He ended the less than delicate tumble, falling to the concrete floor at the base of the staircase, and felt his shoulder pull out of place.
The door whumped behind him and sealed, locking with a click and beep.
Mr Green stared at Larry, while standing in the front of a computer, his hands on the keyboard. His fingers then became a blur as he tapped at the keys. The screen changed.
Larry leapt from the dusty concrete and grabbed hold of Simon and threw him clear of the computers. Simon whimpered, but then his face became a mask of control again. Anger the only emotion he was willing to show.
Larry grabbed hold of the man’s shirt front and slammed him against the wall with a crack. The overweight Russian grunted as he held his rib cage and winced. Larry smiled. He also heard a pop in his own shoulder and realized that the joint had just gone back into place.
He reached the computer Simon had been using and saw a format command actively in progress. Every single monitor had the same message. Larry hit the cancel button, but instead of it stopping the deletion, a window popped up with an area for a password to be typed. Underneath, it stated that formatting would continue if the correct password was not entered within 10 seconds, 9 - 8 - 7...
Larry went to Mr Green, grasped his head and pushed his finger into the corner of the Russian’s eye and kept pushing until the man screamed.
“Tell me what the password is, quickly or I’ll flick your eyeball out and then the other,” Larry said.
Dishing out torture may have been Mr Green’s specialty, but taking it was something else. He yelled a word in Russian, “Da sveedaneeya.”
“Spell it, now!” Larry pushed harder on the side of the man’s eyeball.
Mr Green yelled something else out in Russian, then said the letters quickly and Larry typed them in. The countdown had already reached three seconds when he began typing. He looked up from the keyboard as it changed from one to zero—just as he hit the enter key.
The computer beeped and pronounced that format had been interrupted, 70% of deletion completed.
Larry turned to Mr Green. “What does da sveedaneeya mean.”
“Good-bye, you idiot.” Mr Green straightened himself and dusted off his jacket.
Larry guessed, you idiot, was not part of the included Russian password.
Larry’s ears pricked up as he heard the sound of a code being typed in on the keypad upstairs. A second later the metal door slid open with the sounds of the guards yelling Russian words down the stairwell. The first guard descended, his feet clunking on the wooden steps as he took two at a time, gun in hand and calling out Simon’s name. Larry ran, but not up the stairs, instead toward the creaking wooden steps and threw his full and considerable weight against it, smashing the dry timber as he hit.
Caught off guard by a man crashing into the steps the Russian had no time to stop. His foot tripped on Larry’s head, while his other foot went straight down through a broken step and crunched into the tangled mess of timber below.
The guard screamed for a moment before his head cracked down into a vertical beam, cracking his head and killing him instantly.
Two gunshots exploded, ricocheting off the stone wall supporting the now fragile staircase, just near Larry’s head. Larry ducked away and hid against the wall.
Larry looked up. Far above was the second guard’s feet on a still in tact wooden step.
Larry leapt into the air and grabbed hold of that step. The shooting stopped. Larry pulled down.
The wood splintered, cracked, then broke in the centre sending both men crashing down to the concrete floor. Larry landed on his feet and turned immediately to see the guard had also managed to land on his feet without injury.
Before the guard could turn, Larry lashed out with a punch to the middle of the man’s back. Bones snapped like a rice-cracker breaking. The man swayed, teetered and toppled backwards, his spine crushed just above his hips.
The guard lay there still alive, but in a mess. He gasped but could not breath. Shock set in and his eyes dilated. Larry watched as the guard took his final breath. Life left him. His face relaxed and the anguish and fear disappeared.
He had killed four men in as many days. The ease of doing so had helped to mask his feelings of guilt, or worry that he was changing. Killing people had become too easy. He had to remember to think first, then act.
His anger was no excuse. Yes, they had all wanted him dead. Simon had even tortured him. However, this was not him, nor the way he would have handled things just a week ago. Maybe the viruses had more side-effects than he was aware of. Or a more disturbing thought, maybe it was not the viruses that were the problem.
He turned to Simon. Only computers stared back at him. Larry turned full about. He could not have escaped; the stairs were mostly destroyed.
Larry walked to the back of the room and pushed open an old rotted wooden sliding door. It revealed a small storage area about the size of a large pantry, clogged with assorted tools and computer parts, but not Simon. Larry felt around all the walls for a possible secret door, but found nothing.
He continued his search, hitting walls and ripping shelves from their affixed supports. Sweat poured from his face and stung his eyes, irritating him further as he increased his efforts, while he broke everything in sight.
In the end his efforts still revealed nothing. And surely Simon would now be long gone from the property.
Larry went back and initiated searches on the partially deleted hard drives. At least he might find the servers if they were here.
On close inspection he found these were just archive computers. None of them had access to outside communications. No internet connection of any sort.
For the next twenty minutes Larry searched through data to try and work out what Simon had been doing, where the research and servers were kept and if any further viruses had been stored elsewhere. He finally came upon information regarding the Tech Dynamics Testing Facility, and what they had planned for the surrounding towns.
Then a noise. His improved hearing adopted its new role. He waited a moment and listened carefully. A second later it came again. He felt his pocket and rolled his eyes feeling like a absolute idiot. He answered his phone, which he had placed on silent before arriving at Simon’s home.
“Little jumpy aren’t we,” he said to the silent room.
He clicked answer on the phone.
“Detective Bradbury, you’ve called at exactly the right time, I’ve got some information for you.”
“Mr Emerson, where are you?”
Larry wondered why Detective Bradbury would ask. It was supposed to have been him who sent him to Mr Green’s home.
“Do you want the information or not?”
Bradbury spoke over the top of Larry. “The Tech Dynamics facility has soldiers keeping everyone clear. I don’t suppose you or Sincorp had this planned all along?”
“It’s imperative you close them down immediately! I’ve told you what these people are capable of. The testing facility is only the half of it—they want the town. And I think what they’re going to do will happen in the next twenty four hours. Kinglake and Healesville are not safe while Tech Dynamics continues. In fact, while these viruses are continuing to be manufactured.
“Tom will find you someone to listen to if you need the military to do something. However, somehow the government is onside with Tech Dynamics. I’ll keep searching here to see if I can get you some more useful intel. Good luck, Detective.”
Larry hung up and looked over the shattered remains of the staircase. “Now how the hell do I get up and out of here?”