Hey look, a #FridayFlash! I woke up Tuesday morning with the phrase “stealth and high explosives” in my head, so here’s how two opposites work together…
The side entrance slammed open, and a torrent of bureaucrats and office drones poured out, babbling to be heard over the alarm buzzers. Some were poking at their phones, half an eye on the foot traffic crowded around them. Some might be texting I’m OK to family members, others sharing the excitement on Twitter, it didn’t matter either way. After the initial crush, the traffic tapered off and I slipped inside.
Swimming against the current, I did get the occasional “what the hell?” I didn’t blame them; they were low-level government workers, and running into a bombed building wasn’t in their job descriptions. I was ready for them, though, with a fake badge they wouldn’t take the time to scan. “Security. Please remain calm and evacuate the building,” I said, and they would comply.
Even if I hadn’t memorized the layout of the building, I could have found the stairwell by following the people leaving it. It smelled in there, too many worried bodies in too small a space. Flashing my badge again, I got the crowd of evacuees to make a lane for me along the wall. I took the steps two at a time, in both show and need of haste. I had to get them to clear a lane at each landing, so it was slower going than I liked. But I’d crunched the numbers. If I didn’t get completely blocked, I’d have just enough time.
“Excuse me!” a young woman called. “Are we in any danger?”
“Not at the moment,” I assured her. “The incident occurred at the lobby. But you need to exit quickly, and move away from the building, in case they have more surprises. Tell anyone you see standing near the exits.” I passed her as I said the last. Attractive, especially for a government drone. She must be new; the work had not yet begun to wear on her. Give it a couple years.
Third floor. I had to wave my badge and repeat the magic words several times before I could get enough space to squeeze through the door and into the hallway. There were still a few people lined up, looking anxious. “Plenty of time,” I told those, waving my badge one last time. “Just keep moving away from the building when you exit.”
Past the stairwell door, the third floor was nearly deserted. One or two guys were still at their desks, looking like they were trying to squeeze in one last thing before bolting. Probably looking to prove they were Promotion Material. I was so glad I wasn’t part of that rat-race anymore. But it did remind me of the other potential snag in my plan: someone might still be in Dr. Wackjob’s office suite. He wasn’t the kind to order office assistants to stay at their desks in a crisis, so said his profile. Actually, he was a decent type to work for—which said nothing of how he treated those he worked on.
Dr. Wackjob’s other quirk was that he was ultra-paranoid. None of his work ever touched a computer. That’s why I was here. And—better than I’d dared to hope—the suite was empty, and the doctor’s office door was open. His bodyguards didn’t let him lock up behind. I added a minute to the time I had to work.
His desk had someone’s file on it. Nobody I knew or needed to know, so I went to the file cabinets lining one wall—fireproof, and built like tanks. If we had dropped the whole building, the files would have survived. Dial M for Mayhem, I thought, and opened that drawer. Zachary Malovio’s file was near the front, and I pulled the folder. It was thick with paper, and I knew I had no time to go through the whole thing, but what I needed most was on the front page: facility name, room, attendants, the works. I stuck the whole thing in my briefcase and left.
There were still a few stragglers in the stairwell, and I joined them. We all made haste, although I knew there would be another bottleneck at the exit. I was about the last one out, and joined the throng heading for the transit station.
I hoped for an open table at one of the cafes and bistros lining the street, but all the other evacuees had filled them. Not everything went perfectly, after all, and I was three-fourths done. I stopped and scanned the street, looking for possible tails, but saw neither potential sanctuary nor potential enemies. Three fire trucks blasted by, making a godawful racket, and I ducked onto a quieter side street. There was a coffee shop, a little downscale for how I was dressed, but there were plenty of open tables. I took off my jacket, loosened my tie, and took a chair.
“Everybody okay up there?” the barista asked, checking his phone.
“I think it was mostly the lobby. Can I get a medium with cream, no sugar, to go? And your wifi password?”
“Oh, yeah, no prob.” He rattled off the wifi password as he poured up my order, and I punched it into my phone. “You know they can sniff the traffic, right?”
“I have VPN,” I assured him, and set up a connection. “Just needed to send one item I couldn’t before they chased us out.” I worked from memory, then cleared and shut down the phone. I’d leave it on the train later. Zach would be discharged tomorrow and spirited away, and all would be well. I left a five on the table for the barista and hit the streets.
Stealth and high explosives might not sound like they go together, but sometimes that’s what you need to get the job done.