I give the driver a twenty and slide out of a taxi in an alley behind the Masonic Temple. The cab rolls away while I crouch in the deep shadows between two dumpsters, letting my eyes adjust to the dark. After a few minutes I look around. No cops. I flip to infrared on my goggles for another look. Nothing.
I look up at the Masonic Temple, a dark art deco tower of dirty brick crowned with chimneys and gargoyles and huge lightning rods. The building is dark, except for a few windows halfway up on the ninth or tenth floor, glowing like jack o’ lanterns. Somewhere up there is Panda 4, a team of heavily armed cops from the ECPD Paracrime Unit lurking in the dark, waiting for me like hunters in a deer blind.
Or so they think.
Feeling smug, I hop up to a second story window. With one last look around, I smash the glass with my elbow and enter the Masonic Temple.
I’m in a dark billiard room. The pool tables are laid out like graves before me. Okay, enough of the spooky metaphors. It’s dark; there are pool tables. There.
I switch on the scanner to the channel Paracrime is using.
“Panda 4, this is Panda 6. A silent alarm has gone off at your site. 2nd floor. Do you have anybody down there?”
“Panda 6, that’s a negative. We’ll check it out.”
Time to move.
I dash through the billiard room, check the door, and then slip out into a hallway. My rubber grip soles make no sound on the marble floors as I sneak to the elevators. I hit the “up” button. In the elevator shaft ancient mechanisms groan to life. I can hear the elevator car rattling down toward my floor.
I know what you’re thinking: why not take the stairs? Because that’s the linear thing to do. I’m being all unconventional and shit, thinking outside the box, shifting my paradigm, et cetera. These SWAT guys are tactically-minded, precise, and logical. I am none of those things – and that is my greatest strength!
What a load of crap, I sound like Tony Robbins. I’m insane; I’m going to get myself shot.
Since I have a moment, I look around. I’ve never been inside the Temple before, and it’s really nice. I’m standing in the lobby, a large domed chamber with a huge chandelier hanging from a gilded bas-relief ceiling depicting… what is that, dragons? It’s hard to tell in the dark. The floors are a marble mosaic, and on the walls intricate bronze panels gleam in the dark woodwork. The lobby is majestic and sepulchral in the dim light.
The mahogany doors slowly rumble open and I enter a small, elegant elevator car. Damn, they made them small back in the day. I hit floor 27 and wait for the doors to shut.
From somewhere up above me in the elevator shaft I hear machine noises: whining and clanking. The other elevator is coming down.
The door still isn’t closing.
“Come on,” I say, stabbing the button again. Isn’t there a fucking “close door” button in this thing, like a normal elevator?
I can hear the other elevator sinking closer. I’m sure there’s at least one guy with a machine gun in it.
“Jesus, come on,” I mutter, hopping up and down like I have to pee.
Then, slowly, as if it is a great effort… the elevator door slides shut. Then the lift lurches to life, pulling me up towards the 27th floor. I hear a Ding! noise as the other car reaches the 2nd floor. I don't know what I was freaking about - of course they're going to the 2nd floor. Dumbass. Safe, for a moment.
I have a plan. As usual, I have no idea if it’s a good plan or if it’s utter shit, but it’s the plan I’m rolling with. I guess the results will determine the plan’s merits or lack thereof. I’m a little hesitant about the beating-up-cops part of the plan, but it’s too late to turn back now. I believe I believe I believe I’m falling in love.
The elevator ride takes like, forever. I’m starting to get psyched up, ready to bust a proverbial move. I shadow box a little bit, take some deep breaths, visualize success, shit like that. Then –
The elevator door opens on the tenth floor.
A cop in tactical armor stands in front of me with a shotgun. He looks up at me. He’s chewing gum.
There’s a second where we both just look at each other, before our brain processes this new information and translates it into action. That second stretches forever and we just look at each other.
I look at him.
He’s a young guy, early twenties, Hispanic, with a crooked nose. He’s wearing black body armor over a black jumpsuit capped off with a black hockey-style helmet. He’s miked, and a wire runs from a small two-way radio on his chest plate up to an earpiece. He’s got a pump action shotgun and a 9mm strapped to his thigh. A patch on his chest plate says: POLICE.
He looks at me.
I’m a big dude in a weird costume who is not supposed to be standing in the elevator. I’m wearing form-fitting black Nightsalker armor with heavy boots and armored gauntlets, a utility belt bristling with gadgets and weaponry, a tight black skull cap and shiny goggles, all topped off by a fireproof coachman’s topcoat. A shiny hubcap-style emblem on my chest says: VM
I clear my throat. “Going up?”
The cop’s eyes go wide and he moves. He starts sliding to his left, bringing his shotgun barrel up. Gloved hands go for the trigger.
Too slow. I jump out of the elevator and stuff my fist into his face. The guy drops, stunned, clutching his nose.
In my ear I hear a male voice quietly say, “Panda 4 point 2, come back.”
The cop groans and fumbles for the radio on his chest. Damn, I think I broke his nose.
I bat his hand out of the way and lift the cop by his vest’s collar up to a standing position. The guy’s nose is bubbling blood and his eyes are glazed with pain, but he’s clearly not afraid of me. I pull the radio off of his vest and throw it down the hall.
“Listen –“ I say, and then he punches me in the ear.
It doesn’t really hurt, but it startles me, and I drop him. Reflexively my hand goes to my ear. “Oww! Damn.”
The cop drops down low and drives his boot right into the side of my knee. That hurts. My leg almost crumples and I hop back, smarting. If I were a regular guy, my leg would be broken now.
The cop goes for his sidearm, and that’s when this game has to end. I don’t mind taking a punch or the occasional kick, but I don’t like getting shot. I whup him upside the head with a roundhouse kick that smashes him into a wall. The cop collapses, out cold. It’s a good thing he’s got that helmet on.
I rub my knee a little.
“Panda 4 Point 2, come back.”
They’re going to come looking for this guy in a minute. I’d better do my thing. I squat over the unconscious cop and open a pouch on my utility belt. I take out a KOMA probe, a tiny listening device the size of a sewing needle, (see post The KOMA Probe, 10/1/04) and I slide it into the back of the cop’s body armor, parallel with a seam in the Nomex outerlayer. It’s barely visible, flush against the back plate.
“Panda 4 Point 2, come back.”
Using the audio system in my belt, I activate the KOMA probe. No, I have no idea why it’s called that. Anyway, now the bug will transmit with stereophonic sound quality any and all conversations within say, 50 feet, and my audio system will record it in handy MP3 format for my listening pleasure. Capt. Solomon Sledge’s Paracrime Unit will reveal its secrets to me – they’ll no longer be the unknown quantity, Michael Myers in the closet.
“Panda 4 Point 1, this is Panda 6, report.”
A man’s deep voice: “This is Point 1. We have a forced entry down here on two. Broken window.”
“Roger that, Point 1. All units switch on. Repeat switch on. Converge on location Echo.”
I run down the hallway a little and grab the trooper’s radio. I slip the earpiece on my ear and put the mike in place.
A SWAT trooper in a black facemask steps out of the elevator about twenty feet behind me. This guy’s got a shotgun, too, and most importantly, his barrel is pointing in the right direction. He steps over his fallen teammate and fires his shotgun right at the floor in front of me.
There’s a huge thunderclap and a shockwave blasts up into me, knocking me back. I stumble and sink down to one knee, ears ringing. What kind of ammo was that?
The faceless cop works the pump on his shotgun, chambering another round. Fuck that, I don’t let anybody shoot me twice. I spring like a leopard on him.
Beneath his helmet and behind his face mask I see the cop’s eyes go wide as I slam into him. I catch him square in the chest with my shoulder. The shotgun goes off --another thunderclap-- as he bounces off the elevator doors.
“Freeze!” Two more cops pile into the hallway from a stairway door, each carrying MP5s with tiny mounted flashlights. “FREEEZE!”
I crouch down, digging in my utility belt. Flashlight? Cobra antivenin? GPS? Where the fuck are these things?
“Put your fucking hands where I can see them!”
Ah, here we are.
“Put those fucking hands –“
I throw a sepia bomb down in the hallway between us. Instantaneously the two fallen cops are engulfed in an inky blackness, a boiling cloud of darkness that expands and expands…
Time to split.
One of the cops opens up with his machine gun as I sprint down the hallway towards a window.
I hear a woman’s voice screaming, “Check your fire! You’ll hit Lucas! Check your fire!”
And then I hit the window headfirst and I’m out of the Masonic Lodge and into the fresh night air, soaring out and down. I twist around in mid-air until I’m falling feet first towards the roof of an adjacent building. Skylights and power lines and vents zoom up towards me and then I hit the roof and roll roll roll. I skid to a halt on crunchy tar paper then spin around and look back up at the top of the Masonic Lodge.
Backlit by the city, I can see the silhouettes of two armored cops up on the roof of the Lodge, each holding weapons. The shadowy cops look down on me from the edge of the roof, flanked by gargoyles. It looks like one of the cops raises binoculars to his eyes.
I switch the goggles to infrared and zoom in.
In vivid greens and blues I see Capt. Solomon Sledge himself looking down at me through a nightscope. A trooper with a shotgun stands at his side, vigilant. Sledge and I study each other through our respective visual enhancement devices for a second, two male lions sizing each other up from the opposite sides of a river.
Then I flip him off.
Sledge puts down the nightvision scope and I swear, he almost smiles.
I don’t want to push my luck, so I trot down the roof of the building I’m on, leap across Sixth, and lose myself in the canyons of Old Town. I’m feeling pretty chuffed.
And hey, not even ten o’clock yet. Maybe I’ll be on the news!