Thursday 14 February 2013
The safe house was secure and secret and Nicholas Kent, employee of Blackwood Research and Development, and his wife, Sheri were planning their next move. Several maps were spread out on the dining room table, alternative routes had been marked in different colours, and the passports containing their new identities were stacked on top of a small bundle of cash. Sheri hovered as Nicholas examined the maps for what she thought might have been the fiftieth time. She found this strange for a man who had every technological gadget known to man, and all of the various upgraded models of those devices.
‘Why aren’t you using your GPS?’ she asked him. He gave her his full attention which, given their current predicament, was a lot to give.
‘You know, honey, sometimes it’s better, safer, to go low tech when the shit hits the fan, and believe me, it’s hit the fan in a very public way. So, the smaller the digital footprint we leave, the better it is for us. We can survive without a GPS and all its communication with the satellite network, if you will.’
‘And exactly why are we hiding, Nick? You’ve done nothing wrong. It’s not your fault that the lab was destroyed.’
Sheri was right. The destruction of Blackwood Research Facility Five had nothing what so ever to do with Nicholas Kent, but it was Terence Blackwood’s policy to sanitise unsavoury situations regarding his corporation and currently, the disaster at Facility Five was an oozing wound that needed to be cauterised. Nick nervously fiddled with his cell phone.
‘That’s not entirely true. I mean, I had nothing to do with the lab going up in flames, but I’m not completely innocent in all of this,’ he replied. ‘After all, I do work for Blackwood Research and Development.’
She pulled a chair away from the dining table and sat down opposite Nick. Since the explosions at the facility, Nick had told her very little about the incident and why they needed to run. In fact, he’d never made it clear at all about why they needed a contingency plan, or why they might need to flee into Canada at short notice.
‘What are you talking about?’ asked Sheri. He continued to fiddle with his phone, but he was hesitant about saying anything further. The little Sheri knew, the safer she was if Blackwood or any of his upper management teams got their hands on her.
She waited for a response but wasn’t rewarded with anything other than the continued handling of his cell phone. She reached out and put her hand over Nick’s, preventing him from rotating the phone again.
‘Unless you tell me everything, Nick, everything, I’m not going anywhere with you. I’ll stay right here, and you’ll be off to Canada by yourself. Or better yet, I’ll go back home, to our house. I don’t see why I should suffer the indignity of running away because something bad happened at your workplace.’
It was enough to spur him into a rapid explanation of what was going on.
‘I didn’t have anything to do with the explosions but I can’t deny that I was elated that they happened.’
‘Why?’ she whispered. ‘You loved working there.’
‘I used to love working there, but the last two and half years it’s been different. Something was going on there, Sheri. Not the normal sort of stuff that we’d do. It was more secretive stuff. And then all of those articles started coming out in the papers about corruption and . . . you read them. That woman from the New York Times was the worst, always pushing Blackwood to get information, and claiming that it wasn’t just a tech R and D company.’
He carefully watched her changing facial expressions: first concern, then relief, and then concern. What would she think of what he had done?
‘The thing is, Sheri, that journalist was right. Blackwood’s been doing more than developing new technology. Facility Five was the base of operations of research and development of chemical and biological warfare, of weapons with military uses. Blackwood is making money creating things that will ultimately kill people on a large, a very large scale. Anthrax, Ebola, saran gas, none of those have anything on the destructive capabilities of what he’s had us working on.’
Sheri’s expression quickly moved from concern to sheer terror with the realisation that her husband had been working in a facility that handled deadly viruses, bacteria, and God knows what else, and he potentially been bringing them home in contaminated clothing and on his person. He lowered his eyes, unable to stand the disappointment in her face.
‘She contacted me,’ he said.
‘Who?’ Sheri replied.
‘The New York Times journalist, Eden Gross. She wanted me to help expose Blackwood and the company. I said no. I didn’t want any part of that sort of witch hunt . . . but that was before I found out what was going on. After that, every now and then when she needed facts verified, I’d do that for her. Some of the stuff was just ridiculous, no truth in it at all. But other stuff . . . it was all true.’
‘I overheard you on the phone earlier. Were you talking to her?’ Sheri asked. Nick nodded in reply.
‘About the explosions?’
‘Yeah. She doesn’t know who I am exactly. I never told her my name or what position I held at the facility. I’m not that stupid. But I did something else, Sheri . . . I compiled a whole load of files of data and reports and whatever else I could get my hands on without being found out, and I put it all on a flash drive. Then yesterday, I delivered it to her hotel.’
Sheri was shocked. ‘What do you mean her hotel? Is she here?’
‘Yes. She was working on something to do with Facility Five, and by coincidence the place went up in flames.’
‘So how is that bad for us, Nick?’
‘An upper management team is dispatched in the event of an emergency. They inventory everything that they can find, and they clean up after the event. If they are able to access any of the computer systems, they’ll be able to track back and find that I’ve accessed certain information that is about to hit the papers in a big way. That in itself is akin to theft or some kind of corporate espionage. Blackwood will have me in jail for it . . . assuming I last that long.’
‘Nick,’ Sheri said, ‘why do you always have to talk in riddles? Just tell me the bottom line. Please.’
‘In the event of a catastrophe like this, Blackwood has his own contingency plans that are put in to action. When I said that upper management clean up after something like this, it means that if there are any survivors of the event, there won’t be after upper management finishes with them.’
Again, terror crossed her face with the understanding of Nick’s words.
‘You mean they’ve been sent out to kill us? Don’t be ridiculous, Nick. You’ve been listening too much to that journalist and her conspiracy theories. No company in America would do that. They couldn’t get away with anything like that at all.’ She tried desperately to convince herself that it was all in her husband’s imagination.
‘It’s called contingency plan A seven, Sheri, and I know for a fact that the upper management team has been called in to execute, literally, that plan. We need to get the hell out of here as fast as we can.’
Sheri had never seen her husband of twenty years as agitated and worried as he was at this moment. Maybe he was overreacting, but maybe, as implausible as it seemed, he was right and if that was the case, she certainly did not want to hang around waiting for an execution squad to find them.
‘Then what are we waiting for, Nick? Let’s go. Now,’ she said.
The three loud knocks on the front door frightened them both.
‘Who the hell is that?’ Sheri whispered. ‘You told me that nobody knows we’re here.’ In a split second, terror began to override her common sense and she fought the urge to find a hiding place and curl up in the foetal position.
‘I don’t know. Did anyone follow you here?’ he replied.
‘No. I was careful, just like you taught me.’
Three louder knocks were delivered to the door once again.
‘Go in the bedroom. Take the bags and hide somewhere. Hurry up,’ Nick demanded. He waited until Sheri did what he had told her to do. Then he hurried quietly into the kitchen and opened up the pantry cupboard. From under several packets of rice and dehydrated pasta meals, he took hold of a Glock nine-millimetre pistol. Releasing the magazine, he checked to make sure the weapon was fully loaded and then chambered the first round. His stomach churning, Nick made his way to the front door being sure to stay out of the line of sight of the frosted decorative glass side panel. He put his left hand on the doorknob, and only then did he realise how terrified he was, hands shaking and sweating. It was difficult enough for him to fire a weapon at the best of times, but with sweaty palms and shaking hands he was more worried that he’d shoot himself than the person on the other side of the door.
Three more knocks were accompanied by a voice.
‘Nicholas Kent? Are you in there?’ A pause as the visitor awaited a reply. Nick readied the pistol.
‘I know you’re in there . . .we just need to talk.’
. . . To be continued . . .