Anchors No More #26: Stumbling Towards the Bump in the RoadJul 15, 2014
Holly wasn’t sure how much more she could take. The pressure was building, welling in her chest, constricting the muscles of her shoulders and neck as she walked with Gary beside her, both of them close behind Restrepo and Kate moving down the long, busy corridor as casually as possible.
Ahead, she could see Daniel, Elizabeth and Brandon dressed in their lab coats, clutching binders and folders, talking nonchalantly about who knows what. Holly thought they looked so calm, like they really belonged there, and she hoped she was blending into the crowd half as well as they did.
For his own part, Gary walked stride for stride with Restrepo, trying to project an air of distracted thoughtfulness. A guard passing in the opposite direction softly bumped against Gary’s shoulder as they passed each other. The guard shot Gary a quick look and apologized. “No problem,” Gary said, avoiding eye contact, “I’m sorry.” He kept walking, not turning to see if the guard reacted. Restrepo noticed the exchange between Gary and the guard and his grip tightened on his rifle, his ear tuned for any further commotion. There was none.
So far everything was working out smoothly, none of them had received a second glance and they were making easy time. That would most likely change in the near future, once they split the group in two and grew nearer their respective goals. The crowds would thin, security would tighten, options would narrow. Another few minutes before then, Restrepo thought, trying not to think at all but failing miserably, just keep going, keep walking…
The Ankura group followed the ARLIS herd as they moved down the corridors, passing Hall G and finally Hall F where Lawrence Queen turned to the left and walked away without ceremony or hesitation: he knew he was on his own just as they knew they were on their own. They all had their jobs to do.
Ahead was Hall E, ten meters beyond it the large pair of double doors separating the East Wing of ARCC from the West Wing. Deeper into the heart of the beast they went, Pierre walking through the door first then the group of Daniel, Brandon, and Elizabeth. A few moments later Restrepo, Kate, Gary, and Holly passed through the door followed by James and Mike then Carla and Steven dressed in their flack jackets and helmets, clutching rifles tightly.
As she passed through the door, Holly nervously looked around, feeling eyes upon her. She saw nothing unusual but when she glanced up her heart froze. She looked right into the lens of a security camera pointing at the door. Holly diverted her eyes quickly, stumbled a little over her feet but continued walking, playing it off.
On the other side of the door there were considerably less people, most of crowd turning off before the door. The hall stretched forward for another hundred meters before dead-ending in a large room of elevators. Between the elevators and the fugitive group was a series of hallways leading here and there. They would split off from each other in three more halls, two more halls, one more hall…
Pierre turned to the left, a few seconds later Brandon casually said “See you guys” to Daniel and Elizabeth as they turned left while he continued forward towards the elevators. Holly’s heart pounded, her fingertips anxiously clicked on the clipboard. All she could think was: they saw me in the camera, they know we’re here. When Gary, Restrepo and Kate turned left, Holly was so lost in her thoughts that she began to follow them. She suddenly remembered and stopped herself, turned around, bumped into a pair of men in lab coats who were right behind her. “Oh my god,” she said, “I’m so sorry.”
“No problem,” one of the men answered. He adjusted his glasses, giving Holly a closer look, her ID badge and face. He smiled, “I haven’t seen you before,” he said, “You’re in Unit Forty Eight? I’ve never seen you around.”
Holly didn’t know what he was talking about. Oh yes, she thought, my ID, “Yeah, Forty Eight, I’m new I guess, I was at Jacksonville for a while.”
“Hmm,” he said, looking at her strangely, “Jacksonville’s nice.”
“Yeah,” she stuttered, starting to walk again, “Have a good day you guys.”
The second man touched her arm, “Were you ever in the Prague labs?”
Holly feigned a thought, “No, not Prague. Why?”
The man looked at her badge, then smiled as he looked into her eyes, “Sorry, nothing, I was just trying to think of where we may have met before.”
Holly laughed, “Maybe at the cafeteria, I’m a big fan of processed foods.”
The men chuckled and the second one said, “Yeah, maybe so, either way, yes, have a good day.”
“You too,” Holly said as she walked, turning the corner quickly and almost running into Steven and Carla who barely broke stride, Steven looking at her with a hint of concern in his eyes. “Sorry,” Holly said.
“Excuse me, Ma’am,” Steven said, “It’s my fault.”
She made it to the elevators without further incident.
When the doors opened, she entered the elevator car along with Steven, Carla and a pair of strangers wearing lab coats. The two strangers pressed floor B3, Steven pressed B5 and the doors closed. Down they went, Holly pretending to read her clipboard, Steven and Cassie looking silently ahead. First Floor, then the Basement, B0, then B1, B2… ding.
The elevator stopped and the two men stepped off. The doors slid slowly shut and just before they could close, a hand reached through, stopping them. They opened again and a broad mountain of a man wearing a crisp military uniform stepped in, joined by an equally tall yet more slightly built man in an expensive suit. The businessman she did not recognize but who ever he was he must have been important, she thought, because she certainly recognized the other man, the military man with the square jaw and faint hint of Old Spice hovering around him. She put her head down and tried to remain calm.
If Vanderhoff noticed her it was all over.
Vanderhoff looked at the button: B5. He turned to Steven and said, “Research labs, eh? What’s your business there?”
Steven just said, “Yes, Sir,” and kept his eyes forward, ignoring the sinking pit in his stomach.
© David Edward Wagner 2014. All Rights Reserved.