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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 32: Brown 111
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Previous chapter: Chapter 31: Slade 102
On the stairs, Derek took the lead; he had Jim Calloway take the rear, to provide the best protection possible for Pete. Up the stairs they plodded, Derek wondering where he should lead them.
On the twenty-third floor he stopped. There was some contraption on the door, relatively simple in design. He was pretty sure he knew what it was, but decided to ask.
"What do you make of this?"
Pete stepped up to it. "Rather crude, but effective. The contact switch closes if someone opens the door, and the charge from the strobe capacitor sets off the plastique. Of course, from this side, it's quite simple to pull the leads and even take the charge with us; from the other side, though, you wouldn't even know it was here. I don't know if it would be enough to kill you, given that it would drive the door first, but if they've got these on interior doors we're going to have to be careful."
"You can disarm it?" Derek said.
"You can disarm it, I'm sure. It's as straightforward as it looks." He pulled a few wires and was soon holding a lump of plastic explosive. "I'm not sure how we might use this, but it's probably worth taking."
"Then if you think it's safe, I'd say this is the place to start looking. That particular bomb is here to keep someone from opening the door from the inside. We're not looking to release the hostages, but they're our best clue right now on how to find the terrorists, and a bomb here suggests they want to keep the hostages from escaping this direction. How sure are we that there's not one on the other side, too?"
Pete seemed to think about that for a moment. "Well, we can't be positive," he said; "but it would be awkward to do. This is so primitive a system, it has to be set with the door closed, and then you can't open it. So if you set a bomb on one side, you couldn't pass through that door to the other side to set another--you'd have to find another way around. Also, probably someone who didn't know what they were looking at wouldn't try to open a door with one of these on their side, so if they're booby-trapping doors on both sides, they're expecting someone like us. Not impossible, but unlikely."
"So we can take the chance," Derek said, "or we can go to another floor, cut through, and come back on a different stairway."
"Which would mean," Jim Calloway said, "we'd have to open three more stairwell doors, any one of which might be rigged on the other side."
"Good point," Derek said. "All right, why don't you two stand back while I take the risk here."
"Sir," Jim Calloway said, "my instructions include that I'm to take those risks, to keep you alive."
That was the most surprising thing Derek had heard all day.
"Well, Jim, that sounds silly to me, for reasons you couldn't possibly understand; and my friend Joe would say that it's completely wrong of me to let you risk your life when I could be risking mine instead, but since we don't have the time to debate it and Pete doesn't think this is likely to be a danger, we'll let you open the door. We'll go up to the next landing and around the bend, so the stairs are between us and you, and if we don't hear a blast in a moment we'll come back."
Derek and Pete climbed the stairs a bit further. He chose up so that he could come down again, rather than going down only to have to come up. It occurred to him now that it also gave him high ground if there were someone on the other side of the door. He checked his laser, which still showed ready.
As he sat on the step, Jim's voice came over the earpiece. "I'm opening the door now." There was a pause during which he could hear a slight change in the sound of the stairwell--the door had opened. "It seems safe," Jim said, and Derek stood and came back down to the door with Pete.
Once everyone was through, Derek took hold of the handle of the door and closed it gently, trying to keep it from echoing either in the stairs or on the floor here. Someone had stuck a small yellow smile sticker on the door; he smiled first because it was cheerful, and then realized the sick irony that up to a few minutes before had someone opened this door that smiling face might have been the last thing they saw in life.
The others were waiting for him to choose a direction. Left or right? It was silly, really; he had no more information than they, but it was up to him to decide. In one sense it made no difference what he decided; he might as well flip a coin as anything else. Yet it made all the difference. Whatever followed would follow from this choice.
He went left.
This floor appeared to be small offices--here a doctor, there an accountant, then a lawyer, each its own section of several rooms with a waiting area. In this area they were all dark. He moved cautiously through the halls, a right here, a left there, looking for some hint of where to go next.
Then he heard voices. Someone was ahead.
He raised his hand for the others to stop, and again intensified his hearing.
"Three of them," he said into his headset, "at least. They're ahead in a vending area, chatting over lousy coffee. Thus far all three terrorists I encountered were wearing vests, so I'd expect these to be the same. If there's any chance, I'd like to take one alive. I don't know if he'll tell us anything, but we won't learn much if they're all dead. But don't take chances."
He listened hard, trying to determine which way would be best. "It sounds like this corridor to the left can get to them from the other side; one of us should take it and the other head straight in, so we've got them between us and they're less likely to have a way of escape."
"I'll take the left," Calloway said. "Start with the closest target. Pete, be ready to shoot if necessary, but stay back."
"Sounds good," Derek said. "Call when you're in position; I'll move forward."
He waited, breathing very quietly, back to the wall next to the door. In a moment Jim's voice came back, barely breathed into the comm link. "Ready."
"Three and then go," Derek whispered. "One, two, three," and then he called, "Go!" as he sprang through the doorway.
Three terrorists reached for their weapons; Calloway's bullets found one, and Derek fired his laser at another. At this range, they were hard to miss; but that meant they would have little trouble shooting at them, too. Two men went down, and Derek shouted at the third, "Drop it!" It was clear, though, that the man had no intention of surrendering. Derek fired; Jim also fired. The man dropped to the floor.
Jim walked over and checked each of them; they weren't moving. "I think we're clear here," he said.
"Come on in, Pete," Derek said. "We're good here."
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with twenty other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #226: Versers Adapt. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: