Megan The Mourner
Ninety-seven minutes. I know it’s been that long because I’ve counted every one of them. I didn’t want to, I told myself at the beginning to wait five minutes before checking the time. When I was sure it had been at least that long, I looked.
Sixty-seven seconds, just over a minute. Okay, I told myself, I’ll wait three minutes. I can wait for three lousy minutes.
I gave up, it’s obvious to me that if anyone wants to live forever, they only need to lock themselves in a concrete box with a clock. Time just grinds on you.
At ninety-seven minutes and twenty-seven seconds, I pick up faint sounds in the crushing silence of my tomb. Drilling and then small, controlled detonations.
“Why has it taken so long?”
“I don't know, M.”
“Why are they going so slow?”
“I don't know that either.”
“I'm terrified at what I might find out there.”
“Look on the bright side, M.”
“There's a bright side?”
“Okay. If it's the bad guys, they wouldn’t be so careful, right? They'd just blast away.”
“Meh, it’s a theory.”
“That's your idea of looking on the bright side?”
“I've changed my mind. I don't think there really is a bright side.”
“Is this a joke?”
“Kinda. I’m trying to lighten the mood. Did it work?”
“Too bad. I fear that might be as close to a laugh as you’re going to get for a while.”
“Yeah, I know.”
I check that my weapon is off safe, the hammer half-cocked. If it’s the bad guys, I’m going to prove that I have been trained by the best, that all the time and effort my team has put into training me, into toughening me up, has not been wasted.
My aim will be better if I force myself to relax my grip on the pistol…again, and I make a conscious effort to control my breathing…again.
After two hours of the sounds getting closer, the tapping begins. I focus on the taps and measure the pauses. The first one is my father’s sequence.
My gut tightens, and I check that my weapon’s off safe. No, wait. I did that already.
I resist the urge to pull the hammer all the way back. The tapping has changed.
“That’s Torch’s code! At least she’s okay.” I safe my weapon.
“I don’t know, M. Something’s not quite right.”
“Okay, err on the side of caution.” I ease the safety off again. So this is real tension, the kind where you are wound up so tight you can feel every sinew, every muscle, every bone.
Pieces of concrete begin to fall from the wall and a hole appears with my father’s face framed within it.
“We’ll have you out in a few minutes.”
He pulls back, the hammering resumes and, a short time later, he steps through and stands before me.
“No wonder it took so long, M. He couldn’t lower himself to crawl through a tunnel, they had to dig a thruway for his ego.”
“I know what my father is.” I don’t move, just state, and he gets the hint.
“Is your pistol on safe?
“Don’t you trust me?”
Not moving, I continue to stare straight into his eyes. He smiles before looking over his shoulder.
In walks the mountain that is Andy Lock, Dancer, the guy Torch calls the crazy Aussie whose beer isn’t half bad. Makes sense. He was Torch's backup and drilled with us.
My body remains coiled, eyes still on my father, Dancer’s watching me. He’s seen combat. I’m sure he knows what's going what’s inside me. He looks at Father then back at me and clears his throat once, a second time but louder.
I remember when nine years ago I gazed into the power that is my Father and worshiped him. It's different now, I've seen enough of what he is to know better than admire him. I feel the weight of the gun. I've got more power over him now than I've ever had, maybe ever will.
Dancer makes a slight move in my direction, nothing quick, and uses a voice meant to let me know who's in charge. “Give me your weapon, Knowles.” I automatically respond to someone I regard as a deserving superior. I slide the safety on, lower the hammer all the way and hold out the pistol butt first.
“Aye, Baton.” My eyes never leave my father’s.
Dancer takes it, pops the mag and puts it in a vest pocket then clears the round from the chamber. I still stare at my father and Dancer again tries to ease the tension.
“Torch made me repeat her code three times, like I didn't have it down pat after all those practice sessions.” The smile has none of the positive, happy Aussie in it. “Only then would she let them take her into surgery. She says she’ll be fine.” There’s a tremor in his voice that makes me break eye contact with my father to look at the baton. He pauses, swallows. There's more, but he’s going to wait.
Father showing his impatience, checking his watch with an exaggerated snap of his wrist. He's probably formulating a plan to take advantage of what happened here today, something that will need coordination between PR an Marketing. Finance won't like it. Yada, yada.
“They should surgically implant a watch in his brain, Harm.”
“I think he already has one. He’s only checking his watch to see if it he needs to get a better watch.”
The thought uncoils a spring in me half a notch and I decide to move things along. I smile and glance at my father hoping my face isn’t betraying my ‘I’m so on to you’ feelings. Still saying nothing I look back at Dancer, trying to get answers to questions that will have to wait.
With a last look at his watch, he turns,” You take care of her, Dancer.” At the entrance to the escape tunnel he turns to look at me, “When you have quite recovered your wits, come see me in my office.”
“Yes sir,” I answer, my eyes still on Dancer. The pain I see on his face, in his posture, is terrifying. He glances down the opening in the wall and, seeing no one, sits beside me. Swift had been requesting an increase in the size of my protective team and Dancer had been on her short list to join us so I trust him. He hands the pistol, magazine and loose round back to me.
“Take care of your weapon, Knowles.”
“Aye, Baton.” Hearing a command from someone I respect, who has it together, helps a lot. I slap the magazine in and rack a round into the chamber, safe the weapon and lower the hammer then I drop the mag, top it with the loose round, slam it in back in the butt of the pistol and put it in the box on the wall, making sure the door is locked. Then I turn with my hands behind my back. This stuff I know. In knowledge is safety.
“Prepare yourself, Megan, it got ugly.” He’s trying, but it’s never easy, to find the voice of command, for the sake of discipline, and compassion, for the sake of humanity. “Swift is critical, and Torch probably is but she wouldn’t let me stay long enough to find out. Five of your team didn’t make it and Elin’s not going to last much longer. Her sister is waiting for me to bring you to the surgical center downstairs. Swift and Torch have been taken to the estate hospital.”
Colin, who loved old TV shows and changed his call sign to Barney after I started calling him that.
Carl, call sign Joker, Colin’s best friend and perpetual prankster.
Susan, call sign Pinks, the short one of astounding physical strength with the dazzling smile who could out shoot everyone on the team but Torch and who blushed so easily whenever her husband turned his adoring eyes to her and affected a French accent to say 'très magnifique'.
John, call sign Ax, with the narrow face and intense eyes who terrified everyone who didn’t know how funny he was or about his volunteer time at animal shelters and who had finally convinced his Pinks to marry him a year ago.
And Darlene, call sign Shyness, who preferred to stay in the background but, with her degree in French Literature, found Ax's lame attempts to sound French grating on her ears. 'Votre supposé dire c'est magnifique, vous brute!' she would say to which everyone else at a team meeting would say 'yeah, it's c'est not très, you brute!' and laugh uproariously while Pinks' blush got brighter still.
And Elin. Always there, never doubting me but always watching just in case. She had been my mother’s best friend. It had been Elin who found the body and broke the news to me because Father was closing a deal. And it had been she who recruited Angela from the UK branch of Protective Force, with its roots in the Special Air Service, and Cynthia from Germany with a heritage from the KSK. Together, the three of them had to agree before anyone else was allowed to join the team. My team.
I’m frozen, every part of me has stopped functioning. I try to discern a heartbeat but can't pick it up through the crushing paralysis. Dancer studies me and keeps his voice steady even though his guts have got to be in a knot.
“Torch said to repeat these words exactly, ‘Spargletarzan, Elin will need to know you are okay. Do your duty dünner Hintern, we need you.’ She said you would know what that means.”
“Translation...Asparagus Tarzan, get your skinny butt in gear. Your team needs you so take the initiative for once and get moving. C'mon, M, let's go!”
I heave myself into the tunnel but don't get far. At the other end I stop and stare at the floor.
Dancer catches up and places a huge hand on my shoulder. “Shield's instincts were correct, you were the primary target. The bulk of the assault team, something over 250 men, attacked the main part of the mansion but a small team of about 50 lagged behind and veered off to your wing.
"It’s a good thing you were in The Sanctuary or you probably wouldn't be with us anymore. Once your team knew you were safe, they unleashed all kinds of hell on those guys. Got all of them. Nobody in the world could have done better, Megan. They loved you." He sighed. "And one another.”
My eyes alternate between the two bodies I don’t recognize, one with his neck at an odd angle, and the pool of blood between them. “Shield was waiting back here by the tunnel," Dancer continues. "The first one she dropped with that big 45 of hers but the second guy shot her in the shoulder and she lost her weapon. His next shot caught her full in the chest, but she was already to him and broke his neck with her good arm before she collapsed. There’s more.” He leads me into the bedroom and another body, a very large one.
“We’re pretty sure they were all Russian Spetsnaz. They were really, really good, the dead guys in the bathroom did their job well and there was no one left between this guy and you. The Explosive Ordinance Disposal people removed from him a miniature nuclear device like the Davy Crockett the United States developed during the Cold War for their nuclear recoil-less rifle, the kind you put on a tripod that looks like a little cannon. It was a shaped charge of about 75 pounds that would have destroyed the mansion but, to make sure, would’ve shot a stream of plasma through the concrete walls of The Sanctuary and turned the inside of it into a white-hot furnace, incinerating you. Your father must be putting serious pressure on the guys in the Kremlin. for them to mount something like this."
“Who stopped this guy, Dancer?” He turns his head at the sound of command in my voice. He outranks me big time but he only studies me for a moment before answering. I'll have to be mindful about moving too far too fast.
“Carl and Colin were a bloody mess so the bad guys figured they had it made. First mistake, never assume a Protective Force Baton of any rank is dead until the cremation. They came charging in here to finish the job. Impatience, second mistake and they ran into Shield. In the meantime, Colin came to, crawled through your sitting room to the door and dropped this guy. It’s the last thing he ever did Megan, think of you and Shield, protect you. We moved his body out into the hall. Sorry for all the blood but there hasn’t been time to even start cleaning up. When you get out in the hall, do not lift either of the sheets, understood? I still out rank you and I want no misunderstandings here.”
Yup, message received. Nodding my head, I whisper, “Aye, Baton.”
Stepping from my suite, it’s easy for me to pick out which heap of sheet and blood is Colin, his hand is exposed and the ring I gave him with the single golden bullet surrounded by black onyx jumps out. His Barney ring. I never saw him without it from the day I gave it to him.
There is a war going on within me between the command of self and others I will need if I’m ever going to move up in The Company and the feelings that could get in the way of those ambitions. I kneel and reach out for the ring but stop. Is it sacrilege, a desecration?
Dancer gets it and kneels beside me, removes the ring, takes my hand in his and puts the ring in my palm before closing my fingers over it. “He wore it proudly and called you his little sister. He’d want you to keep it and remember the brothers and sisters who proved today how much they loved you.”
“I’ve got to get past this, Harmony but how?"
"Right," I say aloud. I slide the ring onto my thumb, stand and stride to the elevator without looking back.
In the elevator, I push the button for the sub-basement and place my hand on the palm reader while holding the door for Dancer. He's watching me with a question on his face but I don’t have time to search for answers to questions that are probably better off unasked.
I don't notice the beeps the elevator makes as we pass each floor and, mysteriously, the doors open an instant after they closed. Anne is waiting and she tries to smile but I’m not buying it. She hugs me anyway because she always hugs, it’s in her fiber to give long warm hugs meant to reach in and encircle you, body and soul. I try to return her affection, Elin's her sister after all, but it’s meaning is lost to me, it’s somewhere out there in the expanse that is other people’s emotions, not mine.
“You’ll be okay now,” Dancer says, “I’ve got to get to the main hospital to check on Cynthia.” He pushes one of the elevator buttons and the door starts to close.
I reach out a hand and stop the elevator doors. “Dancer, both, not just Torch. Swift had a list in the top left drawer of her desk. Your name is on it. It’s a list of people she would recruit if Father ever gave permission to increase the size of the team. Pick as many as you think necessary to make sure someone is with both Cynthia and Swift around the clock. I want updates of any changes.”
He almost laughs through the pain. “Already taken care of,” he says and I let the doors close.