Wednesday 27 February 2013
The highway patrol officer tapped on the window of the SUV. The occupants of the vehicle had not noticed his arrival and when he glanced through the driver’s window, he saw the reason why.
‘Sir. Ma’am,’ he called through the window. The driver shifted in the seat, startled by the sudden intrusion. The window slowly rolled down.
‘You do realise, sir, that it is illegal to sleep in your vehicle on the side of a major highway, let alone park in an emergency lane? I’ll need to see your licence and registration.’
Gus Portland ferreted about in the glove compartment and produced the required documents, handing them over to the officer.
‘And your companion, Mr. Portland,’ the patrolman asked as he examined the papers, ‘you care to wake her?’
Gus nodded and shook Hilary Thoms awake. Her condition had deteriorated overnight and Gus, worried for her, had pulled over to tend to his sick partner.
‘She wasn’t well last night, officer. I pulled over thinking that I could get her through whatever was making her ill. I guess we both must have fallen asleep. She seems to have become worse overnight.’
The patrolman peered around Gus to Hilary; her pale complexion and pained expression caused him concern.
‘Stay in the vehicle, Mr. Portland, and I’ll go radio for a paramedic.’
Gus watched in the side mirror as the officer strode to his vehicle and placed his request over the radio.
‘Don’t worry, Hilary, you’ll be okay. He’s calling for a –’
Hilary’s convulsions stopped Gus midsentence, and her foaming at the mouth was the cause of him throwing open the driver’s side door and hurling himself from the vehicle to the roadside. The officer, seeing only Gus Portland hurtling to the ground, exited his own car, pistol drawn and levelled at Gus.
‘Face down on the ground, Mr. Portland. I told you to remain in your vehicle.’
‘She’s dying,’ Gus called back, but with Gus’ face to the ground, the patrolman didn’t hear him clearly. Gus raised his head to speak again.
‘DON’T MOVE,’ cried the patrolman, ‘OR I’LL SHOOT.’
It was unavoidable though, Gus was about to move albeit in involuntarily. He too was in the midst of a seizure; arms and legs began flailing wildly. The patrolman, utterly unaware of the situation, fired the contents of his magazine into the convulsing Gus Portland. Standing firmly in position between his car and Gus, the patrolman radioed in to base.
‘Shots fired, repeat, shots fired.’
In the SUV, Hilary Thoms had expirated close to a pint of blood before exhaling her final breath.
* * * * *
Terence Blackwood sat, head in hands, at his desk as Dale Austin hovered around him arranging papers on his boss’ desk in order of their importance.
‘The media are already on Facility Five. The corporation isn’t fairing well, Mr. Blackwood.’
Blackwood did not respond.
‘Sheri Kent,’ Austin continued, ‘was found deceased at a motel four towns over. She’d checked in as Adele Fitzpatrick. We’ve sent a team over there to retrieve the body. Bert Fallon is scouring all accommodation from here to the Canadian and Mexican borders looking for Nicholas Kent, with a focus on anyone with the surname Fitzpatrick. He’s convinced that Kent won’t be too far away from his wife.’ Again, Austin paused for Blackwood to respond, and sensing there was nothing forthcoming, continued to brief his boss.
‘Gus Portland and your niece were discovered by a highway patrolman. Unfortunately though, Portland’s been shot dead. Hilary died in the vehicle of unknown causes. Again, we’ve got a team en route to retrieve both bodies. They’ll be brought back to Facility Seven for autopsy. And General Darnell is on line two for you. He says it’s urgent.’ Austin’s last two sentences caught Blackwood’s attention and he sprung to life.
‘Line two?’ he asked of Austin.
‘Yes, two,’ Austin replied.
Blackwood picked up the receiver and pushed line two.
‘What is it that you want, Darnell?’
‘Terry, you didn’t tell me that you had a few strays. What’s this that I hear about bodies affiliated with Facility Five turning up on highways and in motels?’ General Clayton Darnell would ordinarily terrify any man, but today, Terence Blackwood was unmoved by his attempt to assert some authority.
‘Clayton?’ Blackwood asked.
‘Go fuck yourself,’ replied the businessman and hung up the phone receiver. He directed his attention back to his personal assistant.
‘Any further calls from General Clayton Darnell, or anyone even remotely associated with his team, are to be dropped immediately. He is now persona non grata in the Blackwood Corporation. Is that clear, Austin?’
‘Yes, sir,’ the assistant replied with the hint of a wry smile on his lips.
‘And I want the heads of all remaining nine facilities here by nine o’clock tomorrow morning. Tell them to bring all data collected this far, all employee files, and be prepared to discuss safety protocols. Get Bert Fallon on the phone. I want immediate updates on everything his team is looking at, and I want to know what’s going on with the media. Do we know anyone in the media who is on our side and can paint a pretty portrait of this mess?’
‘Yes, sir,’ replied Austin again, ‘I’m sure I can wrangle someone in the media to go in to bat for us. Leave it with me, Mr. Blackwood, and I’ll arrange something.’
‘And get my sister on the phone. I should be the one to explain to her about Hilary,’ he paused for just a moment. ‘Now, Austin, unless it’s any of the people I’ve requested to speak to, I’m not to be interrupted.’
For Terence Blackwood, the loss of Research Facility Five was of little consequence in the grand scheme of things. Buildings were replaceable, most of the data had been salvaged, and people were resources that could also be replaced, usually faster than buildings.
‘Business as usual,’ he said to Austin and gestured for his assistant to leave, ‘business as usual. No big deal at all.’
. . . The end . . .