Based on true events.*
A long, high whistling. A flash. A boom. The scent of burning skin. The buffeting scorch of searing flames, rolling toward eternity…
I had to do it.
There was no way around it anymore. I had tried to reason it away. To make it all okay. It wasn’t. Then I tried to say it was someone else’s fault. Their responsibility.
I couldn’t say that any longer, either.
The apartment building bustled with noise, the folks downstairs arguing over the sound of their television, pipes clanking from showers or dinner clean up. The woman upstairs tapped back and forth, back and forth, getting ready for a Friday night date.
The refrigerator ticked over and hummed from the kitchen, keeping the ghost of tonight’s spaghetti dinner company.
There was no going out for me. I was a mother with a child to take care of. My husband, Paul, worked swing shift and wouldn’t be home for a few more hours.
We’d argued about this for months now. He was afraid. Afraid to lose me. Afraid to raise Lily alone.
I paced between the overstuffed bookshelves and the battered red sofa, and brown corduroy easy chairs. Our tiny television lived in the closet until it was time for Sesame Street. I didn’t believe in television in general, but figured for Lily, Sesame Street was okay.
Tonight though? I could have used the passive entertainment of some dumb sitcom. I was too restless to settle in with a book. Too nervous.
Too angry. Couldn’t eat. Had barely touched my dinner, though I enjoyed the smear of sauce across Lily’s chubby white cheeks. Couldn’t really sleep. All I could do was think.
Every night for the past month, I had paced the living room floor and prayed as Lily slept sweetly in the next room.
Lily was only five years old. She needed a chance to live. She wasn’t going to get a chance if these bastards had their way.
There was a lot at stake. So much riding on this. But for me? There was only her.
What I was planning – or pondering planning – was risky. It might take me away from Lily for a long time. That would make me a bad mother, wouldn’t it?
My parents might say so, and I wondered if they would even forgive me, if it came down to that. But they would help Paul with Lily all the same.
Besides, it was either risk arrest, or risk my daughter’s death.
There had to be a reckoning, large or small.
Clarity. I walked over to the beige, touch tone wall phone, picked up the receiver, and punched in the number I had memorized one month ago.
The phone rang and rang in my ear. Finally, a voice answered. A voice I recognized. Mark’s. The one who had sent out the original call.
Bruce walked the long, cold stretches of cement along the building perimeter. His padded work jacket was warm, and he’d made sure to put on wool support socks, so his legs and feet weren’t aching too badly tonight. It had been a mild winter, but February in Pennsylvania was still cold no matter what.
The long beam of his heavy Maglight swept toward the parking lot. Not many cars left at nine o’clock on a Friday night. Couple of serviceable Buicks, and a fancy Porsche one of the head engineers drove. Bruce bet next time he made rounds, they’d all be gone.
Gray slush hugged the edges of the lot. He’d be glad to see that gone.
Security guard at the electric company research plant? Not the most exciting job Bruce had ever worked, but it was easy enough for a retirement gig. He didn’t know what all went on with half of the research they did in this place, but some of it seemed pretty tricky. They weren’t making better lightbulbs here, that was for sure.
He especially wondered about what they did in that big bay of a warehouse room in the center of the complex.
He’d asked his boss about it his first week on the job, and was told to just pay attention to keeping the plant secure.
“Heck, even if I understood what the scientists and engineers are doing here, I couldn’t explain it to you. Just make your rounds, watch the camera feeds, read a magazine. Okay?”
And that’s what Bruce had done, five nights a week for the last six months. Oh, his supervisor was lying –Bruce knew a brush off when he saw one – but the man was also right, worrying about what exactly they were manufacturing at MidAtlantic Electric was so far above his pay grade, it wasn’t worth it.
He checked the heavy glass double doors. Locked. That was good. He’d already checked the front and side.
Jangling the ring of keys out from his pocket, he unlocked the back doors and stepped inside.
Then he carefully locked them again, before starting his circuit of the long, linoleum hallways.
The only thing he didn’t like about this job?
It was always too quiet.
Bruce never cared much for quiet. [Read more…] about Flesh of My Flesh