Part 47 of an original tale that delves into the unexplored realms of the human mind. Hired by her lover to find a raven haired beauty, Benjamin Bering must avoid the local police as well as the agents of a nonexistent government agency who are after him and the woman. There are just two problems. The woman is in a coma and her body has been stolen. (Part 1 can be found HERE.)
The mind links severed, I felt a sudden and momentary loneliness even though I was standing next to Dave the intern. The feeling was not unlike leaving a crowded room and stepping into an empty dark hallway.
I smiled, for I realized that Susan and I had touched more than each other's minds. We had caressed each other's souls.
Dave slammed his fist on the desk and cried out, "No. No! That son of bitch wouldn't dare!"
I moved to his side and looked at the computer screen, "What? What is it, Dave?"
"That double cross I told you about? That's not a knock-out gas in those cylinders in the ceiling." His face wide-eyed with terror he exclaimed, "There is cyanide gas in them!"
"Poison! Can you shut them off?" I roared.
"I'm trying. I'm trying to ...," he cried, desperately typing upon the keyboard. "Shit! Shit! My access codes to the security system ... they've been deleted!" He began to pace, "Think. Think. There must be something I can do."
I grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him. "How much time do we have, Dave? How long before the power shuts down ... and the gas is released?"
His chin was on his chest and he was trembling, "I ... I don't know. It's part of the security system. I can't get in." I shook him again, I couldn't let him just give up.
"Look Dave, Gates said the shut down would happen with the screening processes. Surely you can access the screening files. It would record the times our screenings took place, wouldn't it?"
He looked up at me. "Yes. Of course. The screening process takes thirty minutes. I can find out much time is left and how much has transpired." He turned away and went to work on the keyboard.
I scanned the room but I couldn't find it. I called to Dave, "Telephone? Isn't there a phone in here? The least I can do is warn Susan and the girls at the reception desk about the gas."
"There are no phones in the screening rooms. Here, use this," he said tossing his cell phone to me. "Press pound 1. It's a direct connect to Vickie's phone."
There were three rings before a female voice answered, "Hello?"
"Vickie! Listen ..." I yelled into the phone.
Behind me Dave shouted, "Two minutes! We've got two minutes."
"I'm not Vickie. She must have left her phone in here by mistake. This is Susan in the screening room. Who's this?"
"Susan? It's me ... Ben! Don't talk! Listen. Poison gas is going to be released - not a knockout gas! We only have a little less than two minutes. Can you warn the girls at the reception desk? ... And Stu ... he's probably in the lobby now. They have to get into one of the rooms!"
"Hello? Hello?" There was no answer. She must have rushed right away out to the lobby to warn the girls I thought. I set his phone down next to the keyboard.
"Holy shit!" Dave cried out.
"Now what?" I moaned.
"The gas isn't going off out there! It's been set to release instead in the all the sealed rooms!" he shouted.
"Jesus H!" I swore. "That crazy bastard wants to kill us!" I tore for the door and shouted back over my shoulder, "There's only about a minute left. Get out of here before the power shuts down! You'll be locked in. I'll go warn the girls!"
I was trying to count off the seconds in my head as I made my way to the lobby. I had to keep them out there, away from the rooms. From the other side of the corridor door there was a loud resounding crack. It sounded like a gunshot.
I entered the lobby and slowed my pace short of the reception desk. Vickie was standing there with her hands raised. Behind the desk, Mary Samples was pointing a pistol at her. "Stop! Don't come any closer!" she shouted.
"What are you doing?" I queried in shock. "Susan? Where is she?"
Vickie made a nervous nod of her head, her eyes indicating the floor to my left. My heart in my throat, I turned to see Susan slumped against the wall. A growing crimson stain was visible on her shirt. She had been shot in the abdomen. "Susan!" I yelled. I glared at the woman, "You shot her. Why?"
I moved closer to where Susan was lying. "Stay where you are!" Mary growled. I heard the distinct sound of the gun being cocked. "Don't think I won't shoot you too."
"She needs help. Let me go to her," I begged.
"Stay put," the woman said. "She's beyond help now."
I implored, "At least let me try to make her comfortable."
"No!" she snapped. She motioned with the barrel of the gun for me to move to the front of the desk. "Mr. Gates warned me about the two of you. He said you were trouble makers, that you were going to try to close us down." She glanced at Vickie and continued, "I'm a loyal employee ... unlike Vickie here and Dave."
There was a beeping sound emanating from Mary's computer. She glanced at the screen and said, "Speak of the devil. If it isn't Dave sending me an instant message." Keeping an eye trained on me she tapped on the keyboard. "Let's see what that traitor has to say." She scanned the screen for a moment and looked up at us. "You want a laugh? He's trying to tell me that explosives have been rigged to the propane tanks below us ... and they are set to go off in an hour and a half."
Though Dave's discovery was unsettling, it wasn't surprising. Once his master plan had been achieved, Michael was going to level the place to destroy all evidence of what had been going on there. Sincerity in my voice I said, "If he says so, then you'd better believe it."
Distracted by me and the computer screen, she hadn't noticed that Vickie had been inching closer to the far end of the counter. I wasn't sure what I could do, but I was determined to keep Mary's attention focused on me. "Please," I said to her, "let me see to Susan. What harm will it do?"
"What if I put a bullet in her head? What harm will that do?" she snarled.
I couldn't believe how ruthless the woman had become. It then dawned on me that she was still wearing the phone gear. He was in her head, and it was his words controlling her actions. I exclaimed, "Mary, if you have any will power left, remove your headpiece. Michael has taken over your mind."
"Michael Black? He's nothing but a mindless vegetable. Tubes and wires are the only thing keeping him alive. Taken over my mind? He can't even take a crap without assistance from those machines! What kind of fool do you think I am, anyway?" She raised the gun and continued, "You're stalling, aren't you? What are you up to? You know, I'm tired of listening to your shit. Goodbye, Mr. Bering."
"What's going on here?" shouted a voice from across the room.
Stu had just walked into the lobby from outside. Startled, she turned the gun in his direction. Her co-worker all but forgotten, she didn't see the wireless keyboard that Vickie slammed into the back of her head.
It was at that moment that the lobby was plunged into total darkness. Gates had activated his software and would soon be taking over the computer network. I thought of Dave and wondered if he'd gotten out of that screening room before the gas had been released.
"Send an ambulance. Hurry. A woman has been shot!" I could hear Vickie's voice as she was giving the address to the 9-1-1 dispatcher.
I got onto my knees and began crawling to where Susan was lying. Groping in the dark I finally reached her. I thanked God that although labored, she was still breathing. "Susan," I whispered, "can you hear me? It's me ... Ben. Talk to me, please."
"Ben? Ben, it hurts so bad ... and I'm cold," she struggled to speak.
"Shhh ... Try not to spend too much energy," I said placing my hand on her cheek. "You are going to be okay. Help is on the way. Hang in there, darling." I picked her up slightly and positioned her head onto my lap.
"Ben .. Can we go on that picnic ... I want to make love ... to you ... on that blanket," she said in slow deliberate words.
"You can count on it, my love. I can think of no one I would want to picnic with ... and to make love to," I said trying to fight back the inevitable tears.
It had seemed like an eternity when the lights finally came back on and power had been restored. I was temporarily blinded by the glare of the overhead lights, but I could just make out the silhouette of Stu rushing over to us.
He knelt beside us and was shaking his head and I could see a single tear trickling down his cheek. "Ben ... I'm so sorry. What went wrong?" By the look in my eyes, he understood that I would fill him in later. Looking down to Susan he struggled to keep a smile on his lips, "Hey, Susan. You hang in there, kid. You hear?"
Despite her failing strength she managed to nod and replied, "I will. You don't think I'm gonna let ... you and Ben ... have all the fun?"
I heard some confusion at the main entrance on the other side of the lobby. "Stu, what's going on over there?"
He stood up and said to me, "The gang's all here. It's Brock O'Day, Michelle ... and Rosie."
Susan stirred and opened her eyes, "My mother's here? Look at me! I'm such a mess."
My heart was breaking as I gazed upon her. Susan was finally going to meet her mother ... Rosie was going to be reunited with her daughter ... Once again I found myself trying hold back the tears. It was cruel irony that would bring them together at that time.
(To be continued in part 48 on Friday, 5/11, with Michael, Unplugged.)