His beat down pickup left for dead in front of the pristine mirrored windows of the giant biotech firm ArcTech, Hugh slithered in through the lobby doors. The security guard at the reception desk rose to put a hand up, but rescinded the idea after noticing the aging white man wielding a bolt action rifle like a scorpion’s stinger. The guard wasn’t being paid nearly enough for this shit and decided not to say anything while activating a silent alarm. Hugh stepped sideways, one foot over the other, while he drew a bead on the polyestered guardian.

“You stay right there, lizard man.” Hugh croaked the line like it was one of his tangled peppered clumps of hair, dampened to his head by rivulets of sweat. “I ain’t got no beef with you. Not today.”

Hugh, in his hunter’s plaid jacket, wound his way towards the central staircase, a piece of twisting metal artistry that mimicked the double helix of DNA. A ‘coat’ – a non-descript male in a white smock – saw Hugh from the third floor, dropped his clipboard and swiped his way through the nearest door to momentary safety. The gunman reached the second floor and strode with a lightness that belied his crooked joints until he reached the nearest electronically sealed door.

“Ain’t no magic gonna keep me outta this room,” Hugh muttered as he thrust the heel of his Timberland work boot hard against the lock.

The frame cracked just a touch on the first kick, a bit more on the second, then smoked open after Hugh’s frustration saw a bullet to it. The door swung open and up against the furthest wall were two more ‘coats,’ both 30-something, one man and one woman. Sizing up the couple and moving to the middle of the room, Hugh looked down on a smattering of lab equipment – neon-colored goo in a series of test tubes, some flasks, pipets – though he knew not the names of any of it. But he knew what he didn’t like.

“Admit it!” he barked at the two scientists. The pair looked at each other, shook their heads and shrugged their shoulders. “Goddammit,” Hugh grumbled as he pointed the rifle with one hand and glanced at his watch on the other, “I only got two and a half minutes left. Now I need you to admit it!” Hugh thrust the rifle forward.

The woman, with her blond hair pulled back into a pony tail, jumped so suddenly her safety glasses went crooked, replied hurriedly, “What? We don’t know what you want us to admit.”

Hugh’s features scrunched up to a point and he jabbed the rifle closer. “Dammit, girl, I want you to admit ArcTech created The Cough. I know it. I connected all the dots.” His watch hand reached into his left pocket and he pulled out a smartphone, touched the screen with the pinkie of his rifle-toting hand and held up the phone’s face to the ‘coats.’ “There has to be justice. Someone has to be held accountable. And they will once everyone knows. Now get on with it! Admit it!”

If it meant saving their lives, she was going to give the man anything he wanted. She let out a syllable but was interrupted by her colleague.

“No, no, no. You got it all wrong. ArcTech’s actually working on a cure,” the man slipped out over his V-shaped goatee.

This was news to the woman but she figured she’d best play along. “He’s telling you the truth! Did you just have The Cough? We’ve got an experimental serum right down the hall but we’ve got to go right now.”

The man in the virgin snow white lab coat didn’t skip a beat as he admired the woman’s quick thinking. He simply nodded in agreement. He never thought they’d ever be in this situation with the guy who always sat in his truck outside the building. Jesus, how long had this guy been waiting to have The Cough just so he try and force the company’s hand?

Hugh froze for a moment. Was there enough time to save his own life or would he have to settle for being the man who exposed the biggest conspiracy in human history? Life always wins out. He opened up his mouth.

“Alright! Move! Give it to me now!” Hugh demanded through his pale yellow teeth.

Hugh moved towards them with the urgency that imminently dead men usually move and shoved them towards the open door with the butt of his firearm. They stumbled forward and almost fell over but regained their footing and a perhaps another minute. Hugh followed right behind, occasionally thrusting the barrel into the man’s back. The male scientist swiped his keycard across the lock of the second to last door on the floor and the three piled into a lab similar to the one they’d just left.

“Where is it?” Hugh shouted as he caught sight of the hands of his watch dancing. “You got three seconds, boy!”

The man’s hands jazzed, not sure exactly where to go. Then he lunged for a drawer and pulled it too hard, spilling syringes across the floor. He grabbed one, tore the cap away and stuck the needle in a beaker full of radioactively red liquid. He pulled the plunger back and turned, his eyes wild with urgency, toward Hugh.

“Wait,” Hugh snapped, “How do I know that ain’t poison?”

The scientist shot a look at the woman and turned back to Hugh with his palms turned out in a question. “Why would I poison a man who’s about to die?” he asked through squinted eyes.

Hugh shrugged, giving him the go ahead. The man pushed Hugh to the side and jabbed the needle through his jacket and into his arm. His thumb thrust the fluid into Hugh’s veins. Hugh winced.

“Ow, that hurt, goddammit,” the truther said.

The woman figured the injection would probably make Hugh slightly less sick than what was about to kill him seeing how her colleague had just given Hugh a dose of ArcTech’s new fertilizing agent. Their captor would never realize it, though.

“You’ll feel a little queasy at first,” the man told Hugh. “But it’s okay; that means it’s working.”

Everyone’s breathing slowed though a glint of sweat tainted the air. Hugh lowered his rifle. The man turned around casually and slipped the used syringe into an orange biohazard bin. The woman approached Hugh carefully with motherly, open arms. Her hands motioned the dying man into her fold. Hugh hiccupped a cry of relief as he fell onto her breast. With her arms embracing Hugh, she glared at her coworker over the old-timer’s shoulder. She refused to watch as Hugh’s skin turned ghastly pale and his eyes went cataract white. The conspiracy theorist grew heavier and heavier until at last she was forced to let him go into another world. Gravity pulled the skin around her eyes down onto Hugh lying in a crumpled mess on the floor.

“I know we were just trying to save ourselves but should we have lied about there being a cure?” she asked rhetorically, bringing her stare up to a tabletop. “At least we didn’t create The Cough either.”

Her collaborator turned around nonchalantly and placed both hands behind himself on the counter. He laughed a little. “No, of course we didn’t.” He lowered his head, scratched the back of his neck, and looked up with a smile. “Why would we do that?” he said, sarcasm where sympathy should have been.

The woman had gone to pull the tie out of her hair but was left with her mouth gaping open. She watched dumbfounded as the man stepped towards the door. “Seth,” she rasped, “Is there a cure?”

“No, Maatie” the other scientist laughed again, a little more energeticly this time. “Let’s have this mess,” he circled his hand at Hugh’s body, “cleaned up.” Seth slipped around the doorframe just out of the woman’s sight and where he let out a sudden soft and arid cough.

The woman drooped her chin and nodded in the affirmative. Maatie had never know the universe to be without a sense of retribution. The scales of justice always balance out.

 

All Rights Reserved © March 2017 John J Vinacci

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