Feb 04 2015

Henchman Worries

Mike embezzled some money from the bank he once managed and served two years in minimum security prison. After that, he took the only opportunities he could get, determined to live down the mistake.

There was a break-in at the warehouse where he found work, and the bosses blamed a foreman named Otto, who had a tattoo of his ex-wife’s name on his back. “I could never get her off my back when we were married,” he liked to joke, “so why should things change now that we’re divorced?” The higher-ups must have really been harsh when they fired him, because he didn’t even come back to say goodbye.

“This organization does not tolerate failure” is a frightening memo to circulate, but everyone else made sure their jobs were done right after that.

Mike applied to fill the vacancy. It was a good day when he turned in his hard hat, climbing the ladder of success again at last.

The company sent over the number seven in the whole organization, Portia Tussel, to inspect security. She showed up in a suit with distinctive zebra stripes down the side, said there had been several people in positions above Mike disappearing or presumed dead, which didn’t make it sound like a good path for promotion after all. Rumors in the break room said they were all killed by one guy, but that was ridiculous. Why would anyone have a vendetta like that against SCEPTRE?

The weapons their warehouse held were part of some kind of deterrence project by the higher-ups. Mike didn’t know all the details, just that the organization gave him full benefits. He was glad his new office on the second floor kept him away from the weapons, even by a little bit, but tensions were high.

Mike couldn’t let another break-in happen on his watch. If he was fired, nobody would look favorably at so short a managerial position on his resume, but if he established himself as a success, maybe he could find work somewhere with no weapons at all.

The break-in had ruined some new and highly technical ordinance which he was now supposed to keep especially safe, and Miss Tussel increased patrols of the security guards who walked the catwalks with rifles.

Because Mike was newly promoted, not everyone respected him. Several times, a guard named Dylan knocked on the office window with his rifle and then laughed at Mike’s suprise, so Mike stood at the window and watched the guards watching the floor.

He hoped the guns wouldn’t be necessary. Everyone in the company had to go through a gun safety and training weekend every six months, which he hated, because the weekends were the only time he got off the remote island installation and saw his girlfriend.

The alarm went off a week after the first break-in, and Mike watched the guards scramble, listening to the security radio channel, knowing he would take the blame later for whatever went wrong. It would probably be worse if he did nothing but stay in the office. He had to be out there, doing something about it.

He grabbed the radio handset and ran down the steps to the main floor. He knew that floor better than the office he shared with the other foremen anyway.

“I think I found him,” came over the radio, and Mike recognized Phil’s voice. He liked Phil, who’d also come from working in a bank. Phil was a career security guard. Phil’s voice continued, “He’s coming in by the loading d–AAAAAAAAHH!”

Mike froze at the scream from the radio, and had that been a gunshot before it? The guards were supposed to use their rifles only under orders. It must have been whoever was breaking in. They killed Phil, who had a family and career prospects. Could it be that the rumors of a man killing their people was true? Was that killer now breaking into the warehouse?

The workers Mike had known as equals until recently streamed toward the emergency exit farthest from the loading dock. Going with them would make Mike safer from the gun play, but not from his bosses. No, he couldn’t end up like Otto.

He fought the flow of foot traffic and focused on the chatter from the radio. There was a lot of confusion. Between the interference that happened when two guards tried to use the radio at once, Mike picked out that they were converging on the threat.

He was halfway to the loading dock when Ian, the head of security, gave the order to fire. The deafening gunfire echoed from every direction off the metal shipping containers, but Mike forced himself to keep walking.

When he came in view of the dock, he saw a dozen guards with automatic rifles, holding the high ground and firing all together, but the single intruder, taking cover behind the thick concrete of the loading dock’s outer frame, killed them one after another with a pistol.

When Mike saw Dylan’s corpse hit the ground, he froze in his tracks. He was almost relieved he wouldn’t have to put up with Dylan’s teasing anymore, and he felt bad that he didn’t feel worse. The guy was a jerk, but that didn’t mean he deserved to die.

He heard the screams of more guards as each died in senseless waste. Some didn’t even have life insurance. The isolation of their lives hadn’t left them with a single beneficiary. Why didn’t they hide? Why stand huddled together and wait for death?

Mike took cover behind a shipping container as the last guard fell, and the building fell silent.

He peeked around the corner at the pile of bodies. His ears rang, but the warehouse was silent, with nobody else to defend it — or so he thought.

His fear of guns was overwhelmed by the terror that this was all happening on his watch, even while he hated himself for letting worry about his job drown out his compassion for the dead. Still, if he did nothing, the guard’s deaths would mean nothing.

The intruder stepped into the light. He was a stocky man with dark stylish hair, dressed in a tuxedo. He looked at the mass of corpses on the ground in front of him, slipped the pistol inside his jacket and said in a strange accent, “No, don’t bother to get up.”

Then another figure dropped into view, rappelling from the rafters. They were in shadow, but Mike recognized the zebra stripes on her suit. It was the SCEPTRE higher-up, Portia Tussel. Why bother hiding in the rafters if she could have come in through the door? At least she was on his side.

Mike watched from behind the shipping container as the dark haired man climbed the handful of steps up the loading dock to the warehouse floor and the woman slinked through the shadows in her distinctively striped suit. She closed the distance to the intruder, who made his way to the same equipment which had been sabotaged the week before. In the light, Mike saw a long pistol in her hand, which she aimed at the intruder.

Then she called out, “You shouldn’t have come back here.”

The man turned to face her and raised his hands. All the sneaking seemed useless if she chose to give away her position so casually. The man said, “I wouldn’t have had to come back, if we’d finished this the lasht time.” An odd speech impediment emerged at the end.

She lowered her gun slightly, her voice softening. “You never finish anything right.”

The intruder stepped towards her. “I’ll have more than it takesh to finish you.” With a wide arcing kick, he knocked her gun away, and the two of them battled hand to hand.

Mike used it as his chance to sneak over and trade the security radio for one of the fallen guard’s rifles.

The intruder got Mike’s boss in a head lock, saying, “Good to shee you’ve lived up to your name, Mish Tusshel — twishe.”

Mike moved quickly to where he would have a clear shot, but the intruder noticed the movement. He flipped Tussel onto the floor, reached inside his jacket and pulled the pistol back out.

Mike felt the terror of his own death. He’d never aimed a gun at a real person before, let alone with one pointed back at him, but his bi-annual training kicked in, enough to pull the trigger. Mike’s spray of bullets went high and wide, which the intruder ducked to avoid.

Tussel got back up and grabbed for the man’s pistol. As they wrestled, Mike took a deep breath and leveled the rifle carefully this time, but it was no good. The two combatants were intertwined. He didn’t want to risk shooting his superior.

Tussel shouted, “Kill him, you fool.”

Adrenaline surged, and Mike’s finger squeezed again.

Two cries, as intertwined as their bodies, echoed off the metal walls. Tussel and the man collapsed together, and Mike stood still in shock.

Then Tussel’s body started to move. There was hope again, but the motion turned out to be the intruder moving her corpse off himself. He had the most unbelievable luck.

Mike moved forward. He couldn’t see where the man’s gun had gone, but he saw the dead woman, knew he was responsible for that death, which felt so much more serious than his responsibility over the warehouse. He didn’t want to fight anymore. What was the point? Killing the intruder wouldn’t bring back his friends and coworkers.

Still, he was afraid what looking weak in that moment would do. He stared into the killer’s dark eyes and tried to be threatening. He said, “Before I kill you, mister whatever your name is, I have to ask, what are you doing here? What would make you kill all these people?”

“Looking for shome pointersh to help you pull that trigger?” The intruder’s voice was labored. He must have been injured. “Lishen to me, there’sh a weapon here that hash the power to shtop SChEPTRE.”

Mike hesitated. “Why would I want to do that? They pay my salary.”

“They’re a vasht evil conshpiracy with tiesh all over the world.”

“What company isn’t these days?”

The man whispered, “Come work for ush. We’ll make you one of the good guysh.”

“I’m not a bad guy,” said Mike, but he remembered all the mistrust he faced after his release from prison, the wondering if that would always be how people saw him.

“Thish ish a chance for you to change shidesh. SChEPTRE musht be shtopped.” The man’s speech impediment really was getting out of control.

Still, the man was offering him a job. Mike’s left hand let go of the forward grip on the rifle. “Why do you talk like that?”

“I’m British. I’m a hero to crown and country, unlike you.” The intruder’s hand whipped out from under Tussel’s corpse, and Mike’s whole body tensed when he saw that it held the pistol. That tension tightened his hand, and the rifle went off, splattering the man’s body with bullets.

The pistol dropped to the ground. The warehouse was eerily silent again, and Mike stared at the gore all around him until the off duty security arrived.

The bosses promoted him again. They tried to give him an armed position, but he wouldn’t take it. He wrangled an office job in Milan, doing banking transfers he recognized as criminal. He didn’t say anything about it, even after learning the local language. His girlfriend stayed behind, saying she had a life where she was, and Mike was truly alone.

He tried to make the new start which working at SCEPTRE had always promised, but the feelings that haunted him came back every time he took the semi-annual weapon safety class, where he wondered again if maybe the intruder was right, that he would always be nothing but a bad guy.