Act One, Scene 3

by Pierre Anton Taylor

headlines s3The late afternoon sky, losing some of its color, was hastening toward dark. A barricade of clouds hemmed in a sinking autumn sun, scattering its light as feeble rays. The hazmat team from the BATS Lab had packed up after a forensic sampling of the soils at various depths of the contaminated area and a thorough scanning of the site with sniffers. He could expect results overnight. He folded and stowed his protective gear in the utility box in back of his ’79 Land Rover. It was a souvenir of his time in Mali. The thing he liked about the old rugged square cab Rovers, although they weren’t built for speed, was that they came in any color you wanted as long as it was green. As well, the bed was long enough to hold his matte black BMW R12 motorcycle in its canvas sheath. If he wanted to go fast. The beeping pager brought him out of his reverie.

land rover78Wayne Bruce retrieved the device from the pocket of his leather jacket and scrolled through the display. Uncle Harold had called multiple times. Everything was Urgent and ASAP with him. And a number he remembered as belonging to Detective Gordon James with Metro Homicide. There was a third number that he didn’t recognize. Very few people had his pager number and he was certain he knew all of them.

He could assume the reason for the panicky calls from his uncle. With Wallace Bruce’s death, the Defense Department’s Office of Acquisition and Development had called for a pause in the contract negotiations until the board of directors of Bruce Enterprises decided on the succession. No one doubted that it would be Wallace’s brother, Harold. Trish held the deciding vote and there was little chance she would vote otherwise. But that’s government for you, Old Dad had said more than once, cautious, inept, and wasteful, but what would you do without it. And then he’d go on about pirates, bandits, and spies. Harold was a worry wart. The negotiations would resume. That’s what they had lawyers for.

He had expected to hear from Detective James again. At their first meeting the day after the funeral, the homicide detective had explained that the medical examiner had turned over the body of the deceased to the family lawyer, Linus Pall, who, puzzling to him, was also the decedent’s personal physician. There was no medical report except for Pall’s signature on the death certificate. His own examination of the crime scene had been perfunctory, he’d made clear, as the assumption of his superiors was that it was a heart attack and that he was there merely as window dressing, which he was not terribly happy about. His case load had doubled with a recent spate of killings in an uptick of turf wars among dealers and gangs. He’d also noted that there was no video from the security camera on the penthouse elevator, a fact that Wayne had confirmed with the Legacy Arms management. All the elevators have cameras but it was a specific request from the penthouse lease, Bruce Enterprises, that the feed be disconnected. For privacy reasons. One other thing. There’d been a little vomit on the carpet exiting the elevator next to where Bruce’s head had hit. James had taken a sampling in case the death was deemed suspicious because he was a good detective and he was going to do his job even if he was just there as an official mannequin. But since the case was closed and out of his hands he was going to destroy the evidence. Unless, that is, young Bruce wanted to do it for him. It was pretty much a dead end Wayne realized, and he had thanked the detective for his time. And yes, he would take the carpet sampling off his hands.

Over the course of the week since the interment he’d turned his attention Old Dad’s last days, reaching out to the old man’s executive secretary, Rhona Samules, and obtained his father’s appointments and meetings calendar. The previous weeks had been a scattering of routine meetings with upper level staff, and with his brother, the Vice President of Operations. They were breaking ground on a new factory upstate. Almost in equal amounts of time were golf outings, one even to a country club out of state for which the company jet had been reserved. At a glance, the schedule might have given the impression that the old boy’s business was golfing.

Old Bruce had been staying at their country house in Bon Aire, chauffeured in regularly to the office on the top floor of Bruce Tower. For Trish, the country house, large and almost always empty was dull unless she was hosting a large charity event. She kept a town house in the city where she entertained. The week of his death, his father’s personal secretary of twenty years had been instructed to clear his calendar and informed that he would not be conducting any meetings at the Tower. Rhona had remarked that she thought it unusual because he had been intently focused on the merger project, and finalization of the new government contract. If need be, her boss had told her, he could be found either at the Country Club or at the company penthouse at the Legacy Arms. Wayne would have to give the schedule of appointments of the preceding weeks a more thorough going over when he returned to the penthouse where he was now staying.

The other number on the readout was unfamiliar yet something about the combination of numerals, maybe a locker combo when he had been in school, made him save it rather than delete. Other concerns nagged him as he scanned the deserted factory yard and tried to visualize how a classic car museum and community center could rise out of the crumbling brick structures. It would take a lot of money. But he had a lot of money. First step was converting the old brick office building into a temporary HQ for Bruce Advanced Tech.

Maybe it was just the late afternoon sun emerging from a break in the clouds, but he thought he caught a flash of movement in the shadow of a window looking out onto the parking lot. Curious, he stepped up the brick and cement steps bordered by wrought iron hand rails. The lock was broken and the door had been forced open. No surprise. How long had the company stepped away from the old Battery Works? Fac Ops had obviously placed the property low on its list of priorities.

BurgessBattery
He pushed the door open. The only resistance it met was layers of dust and loose floor tiles. Inside was deserted. The office furniture had either been hauled away or scavenged. Something else besides dust and mildew contributed to the closeness of the air. He noticed the fast food containers abandoned in a corner of the wide reception room. The gray dust of the floor showed obvious shoe and boot tracks, some appearing more recent than others. Someone had been living in the building or was still living there. Animal paw prints patterned the dust as well. He guessed cats. And rats. Most of the windows had been boarded up and his gaze led him down past the reception counter to the long hallway that connected to the offices and the staff kitchen at the rear. His father had had his offices at the far back with a sitting room where he often spent the night on the couch.

Everything in his head said it should have been so much more familiar yet now it was also strange and disorienting. He retrieved the mini flashlight in the utility pocket of his dark work pants and shined it ahead of him moving slowly down the corridor. Now the stench was overpowering the odor of dust and mildew. It was coming from ahead of him. He heard mewling and opened the door to what he remembered was the accounting office. He stepped back, startled at the scattering scramble of tiny paws. The reek of cat urine drove him back into the hallway as the flashlight played across the frantic melee of felines seeking shelter, their eyes glowing, startled, in the directed beam. A hole in the board over one window was allowing a line of raised agitated tails to flee the intrusion.

He heard the noise of the side door off the kitchen area slam shut. He reached the outside yard he remembered once being referred to as the “smoke pit” in time to see a lithe figure in black lift itself over the back wall of the compound. That someone had used stacked boxes and old lumber as a ladder to reach the top. He scaled the wall using the same path taken by the intruder, the similarity of the exertion reminiscent of the times he had competed in parkour tournaments. By the time he’d reached the top, whoever it was had disappeared. He dropped to the alleyway below and followed it around to where it exited on Battery Street and adjacent the candy store.

The old neighborhood might have been rundown and trash strewn, garbage piled at the curbs, but the front of the candy store was immaculate and swept debris free daily by the proprietor. Old Rick saw him advancing and waved with the broom in his hand. When Wayne inquired if he’d seen anyone run past, Rick couldn’t say that he had. And at the mention of the intruder and the office full of cats, he nodded sagely.

candystore2“I might have figured as much. Do you remember Laverne Early or was that after you were sent away to school?” At Wayne’s shrug, he continued. “When the battery business started booming and your old man began diversifying, they expanded the accounts department. That’s where Laverne worked for a couple of years. There was a rumor that she might have been seeing the boss’s brother, your uncle Harold. He was in charge of sales back then. He was quite the ladies’ man in his younger days I heard tell.

“Laverne had grown up in the neighborhood, tough family, no daddy, and too many new uncles. She did well in school apparently, and one of her teachers recommended her for an office job at the battery factory. And old Bruce, he liked to hire from the local community I’ll say that for him. Then she just up and left town, quit her job. Folks talking thought she might have met someone. I know she’d sometime come into the shop to buy a pack of chewing gum or some such. She was a skinny high strung young thing to begin with, all in a tizzy, scattered, excited, but in a happy way, you know. So I figured it was love or something close to it. About five years passed and she came back, kid in tow, girl, cute little thing.”

Rick shaded his eyes and gazed searchingly down the length of Battery with its weathered brick apartment blocks and empty lots where once had stood businesses that were only vague names barely remembered, now nothing but a dumping grounds for transient trash and broken appliances. “She tried to get her old job back but by then they were up to closing the old yard down and moving the manufacturing over there to Asia.” He shook his gray head at the folly. “The whole administration was moved to the new office building uptown. And Laverne, the new accounting office being staffed with uptown business school professionals, was always a downtown girl and wasn’t going to fit in. She worked odd jobs after that around here, waitressing when the Jewel Diner was still operating. And she did maid work at the Royal Hotel, cleaning up after hookers and junkies. Always pleasant when you run into her, but kept to herself. She had bad luck keeping a roof over her head, kept getting evicted from her apartments or rooming houses. It was tough on the kid too, and eventually she went into foster care I heard.

“And all because of her cats! She had to have her cats, and it just got harder and harder to find a place to rent with a dozen cats.” Rock gestured to the surrounding neighborhood. “She’s homeless now. You’re bound to see her if you’re going to set up shop in the old yard. I don’t know where she sleeps, maybe the shelter at St. Ursaline’s, but I’ll bet her cats ain’t welcome. Could be she’s bedding down in the old office building. But I can guarantee that wasn’t her leaping over the wall like you said.”

Locking up the gates to the Battery Works, Wayne reminded himself that he would have order a more effective means of securing the property in light of the contaminated soil. He decided to cruise the neighborhood on the off chance that he might encounter the cat loving trespasser. He had just turned off Battery onto Jefferson when he heard the scream, the call for help. He put the Land Rover in reverse, scanning doorways beyond the cyclone fenced enclosures of a couple of derelict warehouses. In the gap between the two large flat roofed  structures, he caught movement, signs of s struggle. Two figures each had an arm and a third was wrestling with the flailing legs and feet of a fourth and trying to avoid getting kicked in the face. Now the screaming had become an incomprehensible howl.

Braking to a stop, he jumped from the cab shouting out his own warning while rummaging through the toolbox in the pickup bed. The crowbar would do. Without a pause he ran toward the figures, three men he could now tell from their broad shouldered postures. They were dragging the fourth toward the open rear cargo doors of a black van, hurriedly, looking over their shoulders at the man racing toward them.

As he cleared the pedestrian access to the abandoned loading bay, the van gave a rough start and jerked forward before accelerating in the opposite direction, the unsecured rear doors flying open to reveal two men holding down a third. The yelps and shouts convinced him it was a female or a very young boy. They glared at him as one of them pulled the doors closed with a sadistic grin.

He raced back to the Rover, grabbing his helmet from the cab, and yanked the covering off the BMW, stowing the crowbar in the saddlebag. Dropping the tailgate he powered the R12 off the bed with a squeal of tires, skidding the rear wheel once he landed and veering back through the narrow gap to the loading bay of the old warehouse. At the far side of the lot, the gate access to the back street sagged on it hinges. The van no longer in sight, he had to considered going left or right, gunning the engine impatiently. There, close to the pavement off to the right, faintly visible, a narrow band of haze slowly drifted back to the dried mud of the asphalt from which it had been raised. To the left nothing stirred except for a grey rag caught on the cyclone fencing flapping in the late afternoon wind. Right also led to Grant which led to an onramp for the Arnold Expressway.

r121Once on Grant, the traffic was considerably heavier than in the old neighborhood it bordered. He weaved through traffic, stopping at the light before the freeway entrance. No sign of them. His choice was to continue down Grant or get on the freeway. But would they stick to surface streets considering that the raised four lane could take them further and faster? That was the question. He raced up the onramp at the change of the light and encountered the going home gridlock. No one was going to go anywhere fast. It was like a slow moving parking lot. There likely was an accident further down, but as far as he could see, it was a horizon of rooftops inching up the overpass incline. And there in the middle of it, in the number two lane, was the black box he was looking for.

He gunned the BMW and rode the line between the cars, cautiously making his way forward, ignoring the hostile stares of the exasperated drivers behind the steering wheels of their turtle paced rides. He had flipped down the dark visor of his helmet so that only his mouth and jaw were visible. In almost no time he had come in range of the black van, keeping his distance in the number three lane, using the groaningly slow traffic between them as a cover.

There were two of them in the front cab, the one in the passenger seat straining to say something to someone in the cargo hold, his broad back and shoulders to the window. The battered van was an older model with side cargo doors as well. It was missing a sideview mirror if the stub near the wing was any indication. The traffic continued to move slowly forward accompanied by the honking horns of frustrated drivers in a stagnant river of sheet metal  and glass on wheels. A police department helicopter flew overhead toward the head of the flow. Then the forward movement stopped altogether.

What were the risks going up against three men, possibly armed? They had abducted a girl, presumably against her will by the way she had fought them. He felt was compelled to act. And again a lethal calmness overtook him. So far his only advantage was surprise. He would need to change the odds. He had the crowbar in the saddlebag. That was one. In the saddlebag was also a tire repair kit that was original to the model. It came with a utility knife to cut and score the patches. That was two. And there was a packet of road flares that he had added to the emergency kit. That was three.

The traffic began rolling again, still at a snail’s pace, and he steered his way along the line adjacent the dark van. As it crept forward, he located the valve stem on the rear wheel. Bringing himself even with the slowly rotating tire, he severed the valve head releasing a gush of foul heated air. Maneuvering the motorcycle up to the passenger door he beat on the window with the side of his gloved fist. A scowling face turned to glare at him.

Wayne mouthed the words “tire” and pointed to the rear of the van. The rear wheel had deflated to the point that the driver was having difficulty controlling the van. He heard the driver curse angrily. The man in the passenger seat opened the door and poked his head out to put eyes on the problem. As he did, Wayne kicked the door, bouncing the man’s head against the door frame. Pulling the man out of the cab, he scraped the end of the flare on the pavement and tossed the orange red sparkler into the front seats.

Wayne pushed the door closed as the passenger fell to his knees on the pavement. He was reaching for something under his shirt. Using the crowbar he hooked the man’s wrist and sent the gun he was trying to grab from his waistband skittering into the number three lane. Just then the cargo doors exploded open with smoke as the third man threw himself out. The crook of the crowbar caught him behind the heel and with one swift uplifting motion flipped him onto his back.

Wayne dived into the van and found the young woman, mouth taped shut, hands bound. Her expression, if her eyes  were any indication, was of pure terror. The flare was burning between the front seats and had already caught some oily rags and fast food debris on fire. He dragged her out of the van and over to his BMW, placing her on the seat and slicing through her bindings with the utility knife. He yanked off the tape covering her mouth.

He didn’t see it coming and caught the blow from her fist on the side of his jaw. She kicked out with her feet, spitting and clawing, but he dodged them in time to catch the movement behind him. The driver had appeared around the front of the van with a lug wrench. Wayne felt the pain as it slammed into the arm he had put up to deflect the blow aimed at his head, the follow through glancing off the side of his dark visored helmet. He raised his booted foot and aimed a crushing blow at the driver’s right knee. The man sagged to one side dropping the wench as the display of pain contorted his face.

Wayne hopped on his motorcycle just as the traffic surged forward like an unclogged drain. The girl was gone. He caught a glimpse of her heading for the side of the freeway, hopping hoods and dodging screeching brakes. He gunned his bike to follow her but now the traffic was relentless and unpredictable and he lost sight of her as she leapt over the guard rail. He managed to gain the narrow shoulder off the number four lane and looked down on a maze of backstreets, back yards, and back alleys. He spied her at an intersection racing towards the shadows along the fence of a wrecking yard and the long succession of apartment blocks beyond. The drop from the overpass was considerable, but as he surveyed the ledges and angles he knew someone agile enough could make the descent without too much trouble. Like a cat, she had landed on her feet.


Next Time: Act One, Scene 4; The Stakes Are Raised

1 thought on “Act One, Scene 3

Comments are closed.