Chapter 6 — The King’s Pyre
Dark, the seabird calls
Red, the hot flames sing
Cold, that pyre falls
Fare thee well, my king
— The Death of Sigurd, Unknown Author - Tr. Terrence Milton
Sometime the following day, I had a change of heart. As much as Telmar got on my nerves, I felt that I needed to keep an eye on him, maybe I should watch his back. If he was going to blow up El Rey Industries, he might run into a security guard, or possibly that same batch of operatives who had been targeting us for the last few days. I was also worried that whatever he did could get a lot of other people killed; people who were not Black Hand operatives. After all, he was not in the most stable frame of mind after his rental car was destroyed.
Because of this, I was camped out on top of the office building adjoining El Rey Industries. I had night vision goggles, and an arsenal which would make a US Delta team green with envy. Well perhaps that last statement is an exaggeration. On the off chance that anyone who saw Telmar was not an assassin, I had packed some LtL (Less-than-Lethal) weaponry; specifically, a dart rifle capable of dropping an elephant, a tranq pistol for close quarters, and the standard collection of hand guns.
The place seemed quiet as Telmar stopped his new rental car in the parking lot. I wondered if I should just put a dart in his back and drag him off to a psychiatric ward. It might be the best thing for all involved. I was not completely convinced that El Rey was the embodiment of evil he made it out to be, and if Telmar torched the headquarters of every company he found suspicious, the American GDP would take a serious hit.
It was about at this point that I remembered my conversation with Telmar on the topic of arson. I wished that I had not spoken so eloquently on how to carry out the perfect crime. I watched as Telmar followed my advice and placed a thermite charge on the main sprinkler line. He then opened the door which I had left unlocked on my first visit. As he crept inside, I saw three shadows detach themselves from the wall of the factory and follow him.
Their black turtlenecks and ski masks were not security guard standard issue. These men meant Telmar no good. From my vantage point I had a bead on them for a few seconds. But I was not a Special Forces sniper. I seriously doubted that I could get the drop on all three, at this range, before they turned around and lit up my vantage point like the Fourth of July.
I ran to the side of the building where an access ladder hung surrounded by a steel safety cage. I slung the dart rifle across my back and started down. I remembered that the ladder ended ten feet off the ground and readied for the drop. I grabbed the bottom rung and swung myself down. My left knee buckled as I hit the concrete, and I gasped in pain.
I limped across the parking lot, drawing the dart pistol, but keeping the .45 in its shoulder holster. If a security guard jumped out at me, I really didn’t want to have to explain to a jury why I shot him in the heat of the moment. Things like that always end badly for people from out of state, who are trespassing at the time of the incident.
I tried to keep to the shadows, remaining bent over as I crossed the street. The door Telmar had entered was still ajar. For a second, I stood there, not daring to enter. There were at least three very unfriendly people somewhere in that building. For all I knew, they could be covering the door waiting for me to show up. It was at this point that I decided to compromise my principles. Glad that I had brought something other than LtL weaponry, I swapped the dart pistol to my left hand and drew the .45 with my right.
I tensed and stepped inside, covering the blackness with the guns. My night vision goggles lit up the interior of the building in a spectral green and white glow. There was no one in sight. My heart was pounding like a drum at a heavy metal concert. I took several deep breaths, forcing myself to calm down. I quickly went over the layout of the building in my head. The manufacturing plant was huge a maze of aisles and walkways, this made finding the assassins before they found Telmar unlikely.
I needed a bird’s eye view. Then I remembered; there was a conference room on the second floor of the engineering building. It had a massive wall of windows which overlooked the entire plant floor. I visualized the floor plan. The nearest stairs were to the left just down a short hall. The hallway door had an emergency exit only placard taped in place. I didn’t see an alarm bar, so I pushed the door open with my left hand. Clear. I ducked right and ran up the stairs, my leg throbbing with pain at each step. Just as I burst through the door I wondered if the assassins had also known about the vantage point. I didn’t need to wonder for long. As the door flew open, I could see the three men; one had jimmied a window open and was sighting in a sniper rifle. The other two had submachine guns pointed at the door; and, I realized with a little thrill of terror, that meant they were pointed at me.
Dr. Telmar had none of Nick’s qualms about destroying El Rey Industries’ Terrapin Creek factory. As convoluted as his mind was, some things were very simple. El Rey was Black Hand; therefore, El Rey was Evil; therefore, El Rey must be destroyed. He wrapped a thermite charge around the sprinkler main and proceeded inside. His targets were the five thousand gallon oxy-acetylene welding tanks on the west side of the plant.
He crept through the darkened building, past rows of equipment and racks of parts. Compared to the pictures on the corporate website, the place seemed very sinister. In the pale beam cast by his flashlight, the shadows shifted as if the machines were alive, and ready to pounce. He glanced down at the map in his hand. He thought he may have made a wrong turn at the last aisle. Unfortunately, there was no way to be sure. There were no clear lines of sight across the plant. The only guides were painted yellow lines on the floor, which marked forklift paths around elephantine pieces of equipment.
He passed a stack of flattened cardboard boxes, which could easily have filled a semi-truck. He continued to shine the beam around, looking for something familiar; a doorway, or a piece of equipment that he could also find on the map. He turned and headed for the outside wall of the building. If he could get there, he could avoid this maze. It would take longer, but he could creep around the perimeter of the building.
He paused as he heard a rustle behind him. He spun quickly, but nothing appeared in the beam of the flashlight. He continued towards the wall, his heart pounding. He wished that he had brought a gun with him.
It is never a pleasant thing to see the barrels of two silenced MP5s pointed at your chest. It is even less so when you know that those guns are being held by the same guys who’ve been trying to kill you all weekend. I responded fast, borrowing a trick from my days of paintball. I kicked my feet out from under myself and fell backward; bringing my gun up as I did so. I knew that if I survived this night, my back was going to horribly bruised.
There was a series of pops, and everything turned white as the muzzle flashes of the MP5s blanked my night vision goggles. The bullets spattered out through the open doorway over my head. My first shot had gone wide, and my hand slammed into the doorframe as I fell, sending the .45 spinning out of my grip. I squeezed the trigger on the dart pistol in my left hand, peppering the area where I had seen the men before my vision failed. I started rolling to the side, glad that I hadn’t entered the room before I saw the danger. I now had an inch of drywall between me and the three angry people who were trying to kill me.
My eyesight was still blurry, but I could see the form of one body lying sprawled in the doorway. I scooted back to my feet and waited for the guys to come barging out of the room. Nothing happened, and for a moment I hoped that I had dropped all three with the salvo of darts.
My heart was racing, and I could feel adrenaline coursing through my blood stream. I strained my ears waiting for any sound that could indicate the fate of the assailants in the conference room. Suddenly, the crack of a rifle, only slightly suppressed by the drywall barrier, echoed through the silent building.
Telmar was now sure that someone was following him. He thought it was probably one of the same men who had tried to kill him the night before. Somewhere off in the distance a piece of equipment boomed and rattled. He dashed down a corridor; lined with two story hydraulic presses on one side, and an industrial laser on the other. Light from somewhere above him reflected off the glass walls of the laser cell. He turned, trying to identify the source, but the light was gone, a trick of the eye. Ahead of him, past the presses, he could see one of the massive storage tanks. He sprinted toward it, a growing feeling of paranoia clouding his senses.
Too late, he saw a figure hurtle toward him out of the darkness. He gasped as the air was driven out of his lungs and he was knocked to the floor. The muffled report of a gunshot echoed through the building, and Telmar could hear the ping of a bullet ricocheting off of the oxygen tank overhead.
Telmar rolled over and jammed a knee into his attacker’s stomach. There was a grunt as the man had the wind knocked out of him. Telmar continued to roll away from the man and started to get to his feet. “Stay down.” The man gasped. “There’s a sniper up there.”
“What?” Telmar continued to scoot away from the stranger, but he did not try to stand up. “Who are you?”
“Mathis, Mathis Iverson.”
“Why are you helping me?”
“Not helping.” Mathis said. “Recruiting.”
“I’ll never join the Black Hand!” Telmar said, sounding unnecessarily like Luke Skywalker in, The Empire Strikes Back.
“Not the Black Hand.” Mathis replied, pulling a business card out from the inside pocket of his jacket. Telmar glanced at the holographic image on the card as Mathis continued speaking. “I represent HASMAT.” Telmar looked at him blankly.
“Humanity’s Agency Stopping the Misuse of Alien Technology.” Mathis explained. Not all of the Roswell scientists were bent on world domination.”
“Humanity’s? Isn’t that a little ostentatious?”
“Apparently, they already had the other five letters figured out, and they needed something that would sound halfway decent.” Mathis said defensively. He picked up a piece of bar stock off of the floor, put his hat on it, and poked it up over the edge the laser cutting station. There were no more shots.
“I think the private investigator took care of the guys upstairs.” Mathis said.
“What? Chase said he wasn’t coming.”
“Well he did, and you should be glad for that. Now set your bomb and let’s get out of here.”
The crack of the rifle galvanized me. I dropped the empty dart pistol and swung the rifle back around as I charged through the door. My feet crunched on chips of drywall and ceiling tiles. Both of the men with submachine guns were out cold on the floor; their combat gear punctured with multiple darts. The man with the sniper rifle was still sighting through his scope at a spot on the opposite end of the plant. He spun around as I entered, and I fired; emptying the magazine. At this point, I was not nearly as worried about an overdose, as I was about not getting a combination of brain hemorrhages and lead poisoning. He dropped like a rock, with at least five darts in his head and neck. I ran over and quickly pulled the darts out, hoping that the dose hadn’t stopped his heart.
I checked his pulse, which was faint but steady. I scooped up my .45 checked the action and tucked it back into its holster. I was a little glad that none of the hit team was dead. I am not a callous individual, and unconscious intruders merit considerably less police paperwork than dead ones.
I picked up the sniper rifle and sighted down to the plant floor. I couldn’t see anything. I dropped the rifle and used zip cuffs to restrain the three thugs. I did not want them coming to and continuing their personal vendetta against the good doctor and myself.
I wanted to get back outside. I wanted to leave Telmar to himself and his schemes. But I could not, in good conscience, leave the three guys in the building to be toasted by whatever incendiary insanity Telmar was planning; the whole paperwork scenario roiling up in my mind again. What I really needed was a holding cell for the thugs and a stiff drink for me.
Then I remembered; there was a shipping container in the back parking lot. Some sort of overflow storage or something. I had originally thought about using it for my surveillance blind but decided that height was preferable to proximity. It was only a half dozen yards from where we had entered the building. I disarmed each of the men, leaving their weapons piled in a heap in the conference room. I dragged them, one at a time, to the container and stuffed them inside, clearly violating the safety instructions printed in six languages on the door. I then closed and latched the door. I didn’t have a lock, but the ingenious design of the container meant that it could only be opened from the outside. I was confident that the hit squad would not be going anywhere for a while.
I figured that my work was done. I was now ready to head back to the hotel and await tomorrow’s developments with interest. It was at this point, I remembered that my dart pistol, complete with traceable serial number, was sitting on the floor outside the conference room. It was the kind of evidence I couldn’t afford to leave behind.
I reached the upper floor in a matter of seconds. I picked up the pistol and glanced through the door into the conference room. A small dot of motion, like a firefly in a sea of molasses, caught my eye and I stopped; staring down at the plant floor. Dr. Telmar was there. Suddenly, the fire alarm began to wail. I knew then that he had severed the sprinkler main. He started running towards a bright red sign which said, “EXIT”. I saw a figure following him. I brought my rifle up, but before I could pull the trigger, my field of vision was obscured by a wall of fire.
The sad thing about thermite charges is that they lack the awesome explosive bang of Semtex or C4. On the other hand, any type of explosive charge connected to an oxygen tank provides spectacular results. A jet of flame shot across the plant, and I knew that it was time to get out. Wherever Telmar was now, he would have to take care of himself.
As I snuck out of the industrial park, I could hear the sound of sirens approaching. This was not surprising; the conflagration, which until ten minutes ago had been El Rey Industries, was probably visible from space. I stuck to the darkest streets and was back at the hotel in less than half an hour.
I was exhausted. Even though I was worried about Telmar, I dropped off to sleep after counting about half a sheep. The sun had been streaming through my windows for several hours when I finally woke up. There weren’t any police knocking on the door. This was good; I assumed, at least for the moment, I was not a suspect in the demise of El Rey Industries.
There were no messages on my room phone, and no missed calls. Telmar had not tried to get a hold of me. I dug a remote out of the bedside table and turned on the TV. The news anchor was attempting to look serious and profound, but a certain amount of schoolgirl glee broke through her staid demeanor. Apparently, the destruction of El Rey Industries had made her news broadcast a lot more exciting than it would have been otherwise.
“At two AM this morning, emergency personnel were called to El Rey Industries. The entire building was already in flames, and the firemen concentrated on keeping the blaze from spreading. While there has been no official comment, sources indicate that this was an act of arson; and at least one person, believed to be the arsonist, was killed in the blaze.”
I dropped the remote and pulled out my cellphone. I called an acquaintance in the Chicago PD. To refer to him as a friend would be taking too much artistic license. Our relationship was more like that of a blackmailer and his victim. “I need some information on a fire in a place called Terrapin Creek.” I said.
“You know I can’t do that, Nick.” He said, with a plaintive note in his voice. This was the way all our conversations started.
“If you do this for me, we’re even.” I told him.
“Even?” The word had registered with his ears, but not his brain.
“Yeah, even; I won’t ask you for any more favors.”
There was a pause, and I guessed that he was looking around the office “Alright, what do you want to know?”
“Who was killed in the fire at Terrapin Creek?”
“Terrapin Creek, it’s a little town in central Wisconsin about an hour northwest of Milwaukee. They had an industrial accident last night, but the word on the street is that it was arson and somebody died. I need to know who that was.”
“I’ll have to call you back.”
I waited impatiently, drumming my fingers on the end table. There was a knock at the door, and I started. I pulled on a pair of slacks and walked over; opening the door, but leaving the chain attached. It was not a squad of SWAT officers as I had feared. Instead it was a Fed-Ex delivery man. I removed the chain and opened the door.
“Here sign this.” He said, pushing a data pad and a stylus at me. I looked at the package which he held in his other hand. It was addressed to Tracer Bullet. I scrawled T Bullet on the data pad. “Thank you.” he said handing me the box. I had a pretty good idea of who sent the package and was not flattered by my comparison to a Calvin and Hobbes alter ego.
I walked back into the room and closed the door. I carefully opened the box. Inside was Telmar’s battered steel briefcase. I was about to open it when the phone rang.
“Chase, here” I said.
“Nick.” it was my friend from Chicago. “The body they found, it belonged to a Dr. Adrian Telmar.”
“Thanks.” I said a lump forming in my throat.
“Well, we’re even now.” He said. “So, don’t call back with any more requests.”
I hung up without answering. Telmar was dead. He must have shipped the case before he left for El Rey Industries last night. In his paranoia, he probably didn’t expect to come back. This time he was right. I opened the case. Inside was the quarter of a million in gold, which I had first seen when Telmar walked into my office less than a week before.
But I wasn’t paying attention to the gold. There was also a slip of paper. Its message was short. “Praemonitus Praemunitus. The Black Hand doesn’t forget. Take a vacation for your health.”
The message was short and cryptic. But I knew what it meant. I should probably move, and fast. I turned the piece of paper over and realized that it had been written on the back of a newspaper clipping. I looked at the headline. The King of all Fires: El Rey Industries Burns to the Ground! It was from this morning’s paper.
I knew then, that somewhere, Adrian Telmar was still alive; and that for better, or worse, we would meet again.
The End of: The Telmar Conspiracy, Part 1 — The Iron Hand