“Well, I guess that makes it my turn,” said George, and this was the story he told:
Vince walked into the lab and patted the machine he had been working on with his professor. It had passed all the tests and would change communication, space travel, and history. He grabbed his duffel bag off the table and headed toward the door. He heard the click of the door at the opposite end of the room opening and paused to congratulate his mentor again.
The door opened in, and a man dressed in a sharp, black suit stepped into the lab.
“Um, you’re not supposed to be here,” Vince said, “Can I help you find the right room?”
The man raised his arm. His hand exploded with fire, smoke, and a small bang. Vince heard a ricochet and realized the man had just shot at him. He jumped back to the prototype and ducked below the table. Glass beakers behind him exploded in a shower of glass. Vince reached up and grabbed the machine. He stuffed it into the duffel bag as he crouched toward the door. Another bullet ricocheted near him. He dove out the door and into the hallway.
Vince got up and ran down the hall to the professor’s office. He didn’t bother looking back; he just assumed the intruder was behind him. He ducked into the professor’s office. The copper smell and red liquid took him aback, and he rushed back into the hallway. Two shots ricocheted above him. Vince jumped back into the professor’s office. He closed and locked the door behind him.
Vince grabbed the visitor’s chair closest to the door and set it against the door’s handle. He looked around the room, avoiding looking at the body of his mentor, and found the phone on the floor. It had been ripped out of the wall. The phone reminded Vince that he had a flip phone somewhere. He patted himself down. It wasn’t with him, wherever it was.
The door handled rattled. There was only one way out of the room. He was going to have to go out the window. The door rattled as the intruder slammed against it. Vince moved around the desk and opened the window. It was only two stories down, he would survive. He just had to hope he wouldn’t sprain something or break the prototype.
The door rattled again. Vince got on the ledge of the window, slung his feet and around and slid off it. He fell into the bushes and lost hold of the duffel bag. The bushes were crushed under him. He got up and could feel the sting of scratches from the bushes. He stood up and grabbed the bag. A crash came from the room above him. Vince ran across the quad trying to put the trees between him and the man chasing him.
Vince made it to the corner of the building at the opposite end of the quad and ducked behind it. He peaked around the building and saw the intruder landing in the bushes. He turned and ran into the chest of a man dressed the same as the intruder. Vince fell backward and smacked his head on the sidewalk. He blacked out.
A sharp pain rose in his cheek. Another sharp pain followed quickly. Vince groaned and slowly opened his eyes.
“Ah, good, Mr. Jentry, you’re awake. I was afraid you may have suffered more brain damage than would be expected from such a short fall.”
Vince tried to move his arms and feet, but he couldn’t.
“Sorry, about the restraints. I’m going to try to make this as easy as possible for you. We could go the whole torture route, but my experience is that civilians not trained in the art of resisting torture won’t just tell you the truth, they will tell you everything. You can’t ever know what is true and what isn’t, so you have to check out all the leads. It’s exhausting, time-consuming, and dirty. I don’t like dirty.”
Vince looked up as he found his eyes could focus. The man smiled at him.
“Yes, there you are. Have you understood me so far?”
Vince nodded and groaned.
“Good. I knew you were smart. Now, I could tell you that everything is going to be alright if you tell me what I want to know,” he scoffed. “But we both know that’s a lie. You’ve seen the body of your professor. You were shot at, and you’ve seen our faces. No matter what promises you make, even if you intend on keeping them, at some point, you’re going to reveal what you know.
“Even sadder, we aren’t the only ones looking for this prototype, and the others would be happy to kidnap you, take you to parts unknown, and force you to recreate what we have here. There’s only one way we can prevent that.”
Vince was beginning to understand what the man in front of him was getting at. “You’re going to kill me.”
“Exactly,” the man said and turned to someone in the dark, “See! I told you he was smart.”
“But you haven’t, yet. Which means, I still have something you want,” said Vince.
The man smiled again. “Right again. So, tell me where you stored the information and notes on the prototype, and I’ll make your death simple.”
“That doesn’t seem like much of a deal,” said Vince.
“Well, of course not. You’ve probably seen too many movies. So, let’s outline how this would go in the movie if you were the hero. I would pull out my gun.” The man did. “I would pull back the slide, which may or may not eject a cartridge.” The man did. There was no cartridge ejected. “I would point the gun at your head and depending on the rating and how manly I thought you were I would point it at your groin or move directly to the knee.” The man pointed the gun directly at Vince’s knee. “I would then make some threat to you and your knee, and I might include you family in that threat. Let’s consider that done, okay?” The man paused for Vince to react; Vince shrugged.
“Okay, fine. We assume that the information is stored on your laptop. Since we didn’t find your laptop on you, in your room, or in your car, we also assume that you leant it to someone. If you tell us where it is, it will be a simple matter for us to steal it without harming that individual. If you don’t, we’ll just go through your contact list, one by one, starting with your mom and sister, until we find the person that has the laptop. You would stoically refuse to divulge the information. I would cock the gun.” He did. “And I would start to squeeze. The camera would focus on my tightening tendons and the trigger would move slowly back, and crash! One of your associates would break through the door or wall, and a firefight would ensue where you and your friend would remarkable remain unharmed, and you would escape into the world.”
He pointed the gun at Vince’s foot. “You see the problem with your scenario? You have now friends that are coming to rescue you, and this is not a movie.” The man squeezed the trigger. His tendons tightened as the trigger moved back.
A bright, yellow backhoe crashed through the wall and swept the man away from Vince. A construction worker leaned out of the tractor’s cab. “Get in!” He shouted.
Vince was still tied to the chair.
“Oh, crap. I hadn’t counted on that.” The man got back into the tractor’s cab and scooped Vince into the backhoe’s shovel. The tractor jerked to a start, and Vince found himself outside. Gulls squawked, and there was the smell of salt in the air. How far away from the school was he?
The tractor came to a stop, and the backhoe’s bucket lowered to the floor. The construction worker came to Vince’s side and cut the zip-ties holding him to the chair. “I called the cops when I saw them dragging you into that warehouse,” said the construction worker, “but I knew they wouldn’t be there in time. We’ve got to get out of here. Can you run?”
“Wouldn’t it be easier to use the tractor?”
“Are you kidding me? This tractor is far too slow. Let’s get to the office. Maybe we can hide until the cops arrive.” The construction worker took off, and Vince followed. They went into a warehouse and up the stairs into an office. Vince grabbed the phone and dialed 9-1-1.
“9-1-1, please state the nature of your emergency,” the nasally voice on the phone said.
“My name is Vince. I’ve been kidnapped. Men with guns are after me.”
“Okay, Vince, are you in a safe place now?”
“No! What part of ‘men with guns are after me’ do you not understand?”
“Look, sir, there’s no reason to get snarky. Let’s just remain calm.”
The construction worker tapped Vince on the shoulder and pointed to the light coming from the door.
Vince cupped his hand over the speaker and whispered. “They’ve found us. They’re coming into the warehouse.” He hung up the phone. “What do we do?’
The construction worker pointed to a ladder. Vince ran to it and climbed. He pushed open the panel and got on the roof. He heard a shot below him and saw the construction fall on the floor. Red sprouted from his chest.
Vince closed the panel. He saw a metal rod on the roof, grabbed it and slid it into the locking mechanism. The panel rattled. Vince ran around the sides of the roof looking for a way down. There was a fire escape on the backside of the building. He could see police lights and hear sirens I the distance. He descended down the fire escape.
His feet hit the pavement. The sirens were getting closer. He ran toward the sound.
“Vince!” Someone shouted. A bullet ricocheted at his feet. “You can’t get out of this alive.” He heard the sound of footsteps behind him and ran faster. Up ahead he saw a space between containers and ducked into the created-alley. A bullet ricocheted above him. He ran, turned a corner, turned another corner, and came out on the docks in front of a police car.
The tires squealed as the officer slammed on the brakes running into Vince and bouncing him three feet in front of the car. The man came around the far side of the containers as the officers got out of the car. Sirens were blaring from other police cars in the area.
Vince stood up. The officers drew their weapons. Vince put his hands up and turned around. The man stood with his weapon pointed at Vince.
“No one’s going to get the information you have,” shouted the man. He fired three times.
Vince heard the police shooting behind him. He went down to the ground.
An unmarked car with lights on the inside pulled up to the officers. They still had their guns drawn. Two men got out and flashed their badges. “Homeland Security, officers. You’ve done your country proud. We’ll take it from here.” A black van pulled up beside Vince. “Be sure to talk to your psychologist about firing your guns and the death of a civilian.”
The police officers got back in their vehicle and drove away. Several men got out of the van and combed the scene. “Sir, they’re both dead. We’ve been able to track their movement. There’s a third body in a warehouse over there.” He pointed in the direction of where the construction worker had died. “And one in an empty warehouse, where it looks like this man,” he pointed at Vince, “was tied up.”
“We also found this,” a third man dropped the duffel bag on the ground at the feet of the first agent.
The first agent opened the bag. “That’s what we were looking for. Clean this up, make the appropriate calls, and send the appropriate medals. I’ll write up the final report, and get this into evidence.” He got back into his vehicle and drove away.
George sat back after finishing his story.
“So, what was it?” asked Gerald.
“What was what?” asked George.
“What had he invented?” asked Gerald.
“It was a MacGuffin. It was what allowed the action to commence and proceed. Ultimately, it’s irrelevant.” said George. “Whatever it was, was it worth so many deaths?”
“I mean, it could be if those deaths prevented the deaths of thousands,” said Gerald.
“And what if it just protected the secrets of a government from 30 or 40 years ago?” asked George. “What exactly is the measure of one person’s life versus the greater good?”
“That’s heavy,” said John.
“Yeah,” said Lee. “Still, it would be nice to know what they had given their lives for.”
“And yet, there are plenty of times in life when people die and there doesn’t seem to be a good reason for it…” said George. (“Tales at an Alaskan Cabin” is available for preorder at Amazon.com.)