�I can't make much of it, Mat.� Elsa shook her head. Wind and cold had colored a blush on her cheeks and despite her baffled expression, the young nurse looked rather fetching. �But I do know that some of this is very expensive material.� A slender finger pointed at the equipment list. �Dr Sherof lobbyed for these, but to no avail. Far beyond budget, they said.�
�And look here!� She exclaimed when Mat leafed through the pages. The passage that had caught Elsa�s attention was relatively short, tucked in between lengthy formula�s.
WE�VE DONE IT! Alfred, you�ve been proud of us! If only you and Kev could�ve been there, but I�ll mention you both in my Nobel Prize speech. October 12, 1946: this is the day we have changed the scientific future of the world. Kevin, not even you could have found a counter to ZCC12! General Davids returned with the results: Patient43 has recovered after three days of living death!
The project concluded with success after three years. I will perform one final test before the promised champagne tomorrow!
There was only one entry more. In big, uneven letters it read: DAVIDS LIED. The remaining pages were virgin white and Elsa withdrew a shaking hand from the book. �Mat, is this real?�
As Mat checked the roof for an opportunity to escape, he could notice renewed activity in the alleys surrounding the building. Under cover from armed soldiers groups of men in safety suits were attaching small greyish lumps of clay-looking texture to the walls, thin wires connecting each lil package to the next.
One man raised his hand, a few seconds later a shrill siren wailed its urgent warning into the cold New Year�s Day. There was no blind spot yet, but soon there would be no living man near the hospital building.
Mat closed the book in her hands, holding hers for a moment, a little to warm his and hers, and a little because she was looking so pretty. �You need to keep this book safe, no matter what happens. The key to fixing what ever is happening down there is in this book.�
He went to the fire escape, the people were busy laying down the explosives, he could only assume. �If we are getting out of here, now is the time to do it.� He said as the siren whined. �Let�s go, and keep your heads down and watch out for anyone noticing you.� He figured the siren meant that it was time to clear out from around the building, and with a lot of people rushing out in the darkness perhaps they would not be seen going down the back alley fire escape. They had not been seen on the roof yet.
One level beneath theirs, the fire exit opened and a man burst through, whirled and fired several shots back into the hallway before slamming the door shut. Even with the scarce light Mat had no trouble recognizing Richard. The agent sprinted down the iron stairs, soon fading into the darkness of a small alley.
Beside Mat, Elsa gasped.
Diary clutched to her chest with one hand, she pointed frantically. �They�re at the stairs!� Her voice was barely a whisper. Martin wrapped an arm around Elisabeth, both looked towards the door. In the silence of the four on the roof, the sounds of rattling and pounding were all the more ominous.
Matt rushed down the stairs and slammed his shoulder to the door to keep it closed. �Get going, hurry, and get down.� He called to them. The gun in his hand was cold and heavy, and the snow drifting down was starting to soak his white shirt. They just needed to get to the car.
He needed to hold the door shut though. He thought quickly as he started to feel the door being opened. He pulled off his belt and slipped it through the railing, then the door handle, pulling it tight. �That should hold them for a while.� He said as he grabbed the older woman walking down the stairs. They would need to run, and while her husband was doing fine, she was not. �We need to get to the car. I have one parked not far from the front.�
Forceful pounding sent the door rattling in its hinges. Mat�s belt pulled tight, but fortunately his belt was well made and held firm against the strain. The monstrous creatures on the other side doubled their efforts, its forceful blows testing the leather strap to its limits.
Elsa was already at the stairs, urging the elder couple on. �You young people go first.� Martin argued until Mat took charge and helped Elizabeth down the iron staircase. Elsa breathed a sigh of relief as she hurried down the treacherous staircase. The iron stairs were slippery from the wet snow flakes, the iron railing was freezing cold. And if one had a vivid imagination, they might hear the ceaseless pounding of the creatures against the door. It was only a matter of time.
As the foursome sprinted towards the alley, the sirens stopped. In the following silence, a triumphant howl drifted upon the wind. Their pursuers had broken loose and picked up the scent.
Elsa stopped and turned in spite of her better judgement. Martin was the first to realize what the sudden silence meant and pushed his wife against the wall, shielding her body with his own. Seconds later, the world exploded around them. The hollow sounds of the explosion and the slow, low rumble of the hospital collapsing almost covered the shots the army was firing at those that attempted to crawl from the ruins. Martin held his arm around Elizabeth, burying his face against her shoulder.
Elsa turned her face away from the two, grief and pity etched on her pretty features as she recalled the elderly couple had family in the hospital. �We have to leave�, she whispers, her voice hardly audible over the rumble all around. Martin released one hand long enough to wave them away, wanting to be alone with his wife and their loss.
�Mat?� She asked quietly. �Bring me home?�
Mat nodded to Elsa, still feeling a little numb inside, the cold was starting to bite at him through the linen shirt he wore. �Sure, Elsa, we can get you home.� He offered his arm. �I guess we can get the coffee later.� He offered a weak smile.
He led her to the car and got her door. His mind poured over how many had died there, and for what? He still was as clueless about all of this as he was when they pulled him in the room. He sat down in the car, wondering if he would get in trouble the dust that was on it now. �Elsa,� He began, �I go that book from a man who was shot. I stumbled on him the other night when I was playing a gig. I do not know who wrote it, but I know that the people looking for it will try and get it again.� He looked at her. �I should keep it, that way they are not bothering you.�
He started the car and started driving, watching out the window for any police or men who looked like the ones who stopped him in the hospital. �Can I call you later, Elsa?� He asked looking at her as they made off down the road.
Every newspaper covered the story. From Evening Standard to Washington Post, reporters fought over every tidbit of information in their race to bring the readers the latest shocking news. �789 Dead in Gas Explosion�, screamed the headlines of one newspaper, �President Visits Disaster Area� said another. But although every newspaper had brought additional information every day, none mentioned the strange disease that had spread amongst the victims.
Lindel had followed the story with obsessive interest, fussing over Mat in her own motherly way ever since his return. Not an hour would pass that she would not remark upon it, how odd it was that Dr Sweringer had died, how she had felt the ground tremble and had thought it to be an earthquake. She had even embraced Mat upon his return.
�Mat, you should read this! It�s about the explosion!� Lindel had spread the Washington Post on the kitchen table and was browsing the articles while gently patting Angela�s back, holding the child for a little �after breakfast burp�.
�It says there were thirty survivors only after the explosion. Only thirty!� Her eyes brimmed. If she had not been holding Angela, she�d have hugged him again. Instead she folded the paper, revealing an envelope underneath. Mat�s name was written on the front. �Oh, I almost forgot. This was delivered for you.� Lindel pushed the envelope across the table. �I didn�t know you had a friend named Richard?�
He tried to down play his role in the event. Telling her the truth was not the best of routs to go, and now that school was starting, he could get into a routine and stop thinking about it. The place was blown up, and it was gone, the virus was gone. There it was again though, in the paper.
Mat paused, hoping that he did not hear what he thought he heard. Thirty people made it out. Who were they? �Does it say who made it out, does it have a list?� He asks. If the virus got out, then it could do more damage then just the people in a hospital,
Then the envelope slid across to him. �He is more of an acquaintance then a friend.� He picked up the envelope. He opened it slowly, carefully. �When was this delivered?� He asks as he pulled out whatever is in the sealed envelope.
�The paper didn�t mention any names. You�d think they�d give us more information, but maybe this is it and they wanted to inform you personally as you are one of the survivors.� Linden suggested. �It came with the paper this morning�, she added.
But when Mat opened the envelope, he found nothing resembling a list.
Instead there was the brochure of a fancy nightclub downtown named Vita Vivace, hot spot for business men and nouveau riche. One of those places where the music was first class, the drinks overpriced and all waitresses had legs like Betty Grable.
Folded into the brochure were several photographs. There was one of Lindel with Angela in her arms standing in front of John�s Groceries, another that showed Linden in profile. The last picture showed Angela in close up, a happy smiling child. It was this last photograph where a brief message had been scrabbled on the back.
15.00. Urgent. R.
Lindel tossed her hair back, saving her curls from Angela�s eager little fingers with practised ease. She smiled at Mat. �Good news?�
Matt stuffed the pictures away. He had a cold rock in the pit of his gut. Was this come kind of threat they were giving him. It was low if it was, threatening a mother and her baby. Who did these think they were, anyway?
He looked up at Lindel. �Oh, it is nothing`, I�s got an audition for a gig at some swanky joint. I should get dressed and on my bike if I want to make the audition.� He got up from the table and headed to his room. He picked up the book and looked it over. He had enough time, leather bound diary.
�Dis is what you boys are after, eh?� He grabbed his book bag and slipped the gun and book in it, then closed it up. He headed down the stairs and out the back, picking up his instrument along the way. �Lindel, do me a favor, don�t be goin� no place with no one you don�t know, Ok?� He cautioned her.
He slipped out to his bike putting the instrument on the back and tightening it down with ropes. He headed down the alley way, watching his back for any black cars. He took a few back ways as well to get out of the neighborhood without being followed, he hoped. He swung by the hardware store, picking up a razor blade and some glue.
Then to the book shop. He went along the shelves looking for a book to match the black one, then for a novel about the same size as well. He picked out the books and slipped into their bathroom while there.
He would cut the spine off the black book and glue the cover of the novel on, then slip that in the bottom of his bag. He would then ruffle the pages of the new journal some, get it a little wet and worn. He had thought of buying a big book to hide the gun in, but that may tip them off, he had to have them thinking he was simple.
Once he had the book he was out and on his bike again. He peddled hard and turned down a few more back alleys just in case they were on to him again. His heart pounded in his chest, from the workout on the bike and from fear. He was not monkeying around with police or local coppers, this was the FBI. He knew the law and he was sure they broke several of them, and he knew he did not have time to look them all up.
He slowed his bike as he approached the stage entrance of the club. Parking it behind the stairs to keep it out of sight he picked up his instrument and strolled up to the door to go in. If stopped, he would just tell them he was with the band, replacement for the guy missing tonight.
�Happy New Year!� The shopkeeper called after Mat when his only customer left the shop with his altered books. A smile beamed on his round face as he adjusted a fresh stack of newspapers in the shop window. �789 Dead in Gas Explosion� The bold, lack letters seemed to be everywhere.
As Mat left the shop a closed, dark brown Studebaker rolled past, followed by a black Ford. Perhaps it was the winter atmosphere, or perhaps just Mat�s paranoia but the world had never seemed this full of black cars� For ever blue, red or beige model, a black sedan would whirr past the furiously pedalling biker. The exhaust fumes of passing cars blew in his face, taking the bite of the chill wind. It was colder in the alleys, but at least there were no cars there, apart from the single dismantled Chevvy dragged from a garage by two men in overalls.
That was at least two blocks from the club however.
The back entrance of the club was deserted, the door unlocked. Sure, it had a sign �staff only� but who cared about that? The corridors were empty, not a soul in sight. Only, from deeper into the club -about where the stage would be- came the jazzy tunes of �Straighten Up and Fly Right�, an oldie from a few years past.
Mat made his way to the stage, stopping to slip his coat on the coat rack. He kept the backpack with him and got out his instrument. Wetting his lips he headed out to the wing of the stage to see who was on and to see who was out in the audience. If it was a band, he would slip out and find a place in the back of the band and play.
"Swanky" was an understatement. This club was exclusive and drenched in money. The stage Mat stepped onto was painted white and the echo of a big band horn section pounded outward from behind decorative white stands. It was clear this was old money, because the only black people were in the band.
It was a 10-person band. Three trumpets, two tenor saxes, one alto sax, two trombones, a percussionist, and a stand-up bassist. The singer was none other than Elsa. Her nurse uniform a distant memory. She wore a silver glittering dress cut all the way down to the small of her back. Those blue eyes were glowing beneath the light and her vocals had the right combination of sass and beauty.
The band was entirely dressed in white tuxedos and although Mat was not dressed to fit in, the nearby trumpet player gestured with his head that he come and join them.
The number broke down and the trumpeter whispered, "I've got it bad and that ain't good..."
The famous jazz song began its slow rythm and after Elsa winked at him, she started the melancholy vocals.
--Laveaux 01:17, 11 December 2005 (CST)
He hoped he would blend in, but it seemed he was going to stick out even more being the only white guy in a black band. He nodded to the other musician and started in on the song. Just adding to the melody at first and watching Elsa. That was a sight he had not expected, her on stage. He had expected big men with guns, dragging him off someplace no one would ever hear about.
He kept up with the music, the only clarinet in the band; altogether the sound was pretty good. He almost forgot why he was here. He looked out over the crown, looking for the agent, or anyone who looked like them. He hoped they would not be running up on the stage to try and get him. Perhaps he could get a word into Elsa to, a warning.
Investigating the crowd was somewhat chilling. The detective was, in fact, there was were some other familiar faces from the hospital. The entire audience was nervous, disjointed and suspicious. They looked uneasily from their cocktail tables and very few even listened to the band. In fact, the only two that seemed to be enjoying themselves was Mat and Elsa.
At the close of the song, the band was ushered off stage as a few feeble claps resounded from the club. The remianed on the stage while Mat and Elsa were escorted to a table of their own.
"I didn't know you played," she said with a smile, "you are quite the Rennaissance man."
Small talk aside she said, "What do you think is going on? I haven't slept a wink. All I can think is . . . . well, you know."
A very offiical looking man took the stage. He wore a simple black suit and necktie and sported thick glasses and graying temples.
"Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming. I know you've had quite the scare and on the behalf of President Truman, I applaud you for your bravery. After the party, we will take you to Capital Hill, where the president will give a speech and award you as exemplary citizens of this fair country. Please enjoy your dinner and drinks, it is on Uncle Sam."
Settling doubt a little, the crowd offered an obligatory applause and the band began again.
--Laveaux 01:17, 11 December 2005 (CST)
He sat down and was happy to see her. �Well, I try to keep myself busy, you know, idle hands are the devil�s playground and all. I did not know you could sing, cute, caring, and talented, a mix to impress any man.�
He looked around the room. �You want my opinion of what is going on, I think this is a pay off. Getting a metal for surviving what the papers reported on is not normal, I mean, who gets a metal for surviving that?� He shakes his head. �I also did not like the way I was invited to this.� He hands her the invitation with the photos. �That is family, I think they were suggesting something to me, and it was not that they have good photographing skills.�
He leaned close and placed a hand on hers. �Keep sober, and lets just watch for a while, see what happens. Don�t touch anything offered though, my gut says not to trust this. It is like Hansel and Gretel. We are at the gingerbread house, lets not fatten up for the cooking pot.�
She wrinkled her nose at his compliment and brushed it aside with her hand. Looking at the photos she nodded and said beneath her breath, "They did the same for me. Mine was of my mother in Hartford. They actually went all the way over there to take a picture of her. I think the war has turned our government into monsters."
When Mat took her hand she gave a crooked smile and then sat back, keeping her eye on things.
Music continued through the night. They were served wine, prime rib and cheesecake and for a little while, it seemed the two were on a high-class date, courting each other.
After dessert, the same government man came to the stage.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you are enjoying yourself. We ask that you gather your things and join us at the front. There are buses that will take you to the capital. Again, thank you for your discretion and bravery."
--Laveaux 01:17, 11 December 2005 (CST)
Mat looked at her with surprise. �You are from Hartford?� He asked. �Wow, I would not have guessed.� He slipped the pictures away. He tried not to eat much, he really was not in the mood anyway. He was nervous, you could not relax too much when your invited to a party at gun point, no matter how good the party is.
When they were told to all move to the front and prepare for a bus ride he looked at Elsa. �Want to make a break for it, or should we ride this out?� He picked up his bag, looking for any side exit that was not being watched. The gun in the bag felt heavy and he could not remember how many rounds the heater had. It could be empty for all he knew.
He figured if they did not do as they were told, �accidents� would happen to the people they photographed. But then a terrible thing could happen to a bus load of folks on their way to the capitol. Could get hit, everyone killed, nice and easy.
Mat was getting paranoid, but it may be for good reason. His palms were getting sweaty and his heart was pumping. What was this thing that was so terrible they had to cover it up?
She glanced up and as if unable to maintain eye contact she muttered, "I don't like this at all. But where would we run? This is the government."
She took Mat's hand, "I don't think we could get away."
The reluctant crowd, apparently experiencing the same thoughts shuffled toward the door. The detective with whom Mat knew all too well, side stepped over to them.
"It's a cattle call folks," he lit a cigarette, "Welcome to the beginning of the end."
--Laveaux 01:17, 11 December 2005 (CST)