Waiting for the end to come
Wishing I had strength to stand
This is not what I had planned
It’s out of my control
Linkin’ Park – Waiting for the End to Come
“Shit, I’ll take redundant questions for 500 thanks, Alex.” Sweat is pouring off me in buckets and the towel I was given an hour ago is soaked through. I signal for another one. Just wish I could see the face of the person bringing it out to me.
“Hang in there, buddy. You’re doing really well.” He keeps saying that and funnily enough it seems to have lost some of its meaning.
The noise coming from the back of the trailer is a constant buzz punctuated by the gas from the cylinder. It’s grating on my last nerve and the cramp is coming back into my thigh. I know that in about ten minutes they will stop and the voices will start as everyone checks on everyone else, to which the answer will be, yep, we’re still fucking here. Not going anywhere. How about you?
“Aaah, Jesus Christ!” A pair of hands massage up the back of my legs from another faceless Samaritan, slowly rolling the knot of pain down my leg and into my boot. “Just tell me where the fuck we’re at.”
“Another half an hour.”
“That’s what you said half an hour ago.” I want to hear a chuckle from under the mask. Anything that will make me feel more human but his face is impassive and his whole demeanor is about placating not entertaining. This must be the fourth hour psyche protocol. “Shit, who is that?”
A cavalcade arrives at the base of the drive and from this vantage point I can see them being stopped at the gate. The cars are being given the once over by the security detail before they are allowed to proceed up the winding drive. In a moment they will disappear behind the tree-lined bend and then reappear at the edge of the safety zone. Of course, how one determines a safety zone in this situation is a fucking mystery to me.
If I had known how this day was going to end up I would have stayed in bed this morning. I could have been screwing my hot girlfriend all day, instead I’ve been suspended in time and motion for the past four hours while the experts work out what the hell can be done. It has been four hours, hasn’t it? I check my watch again. Fucking Tag Heuer. What I wouldn’t trade for a Swatch and a bourbon but I don’t think they will give me any alcohol in this sitch.
The mask regards me again. “Do the exercises, dude. You need to keep moving and drink some more water.”
“Mate, if I have to get my old fella out in front of this crowd one more time I’m gonna start charging. Enough with the water.”
In one fluid motion my brother-in-law removes the mask and levels me with a fuck-you glare. Getting up close and personal with Ethan over the past few hours has allowed me to see a side I never really appreciated. One is that the guy is built. He’s misleading that way, looking fit but wiry. About an hour or so ago, he lost the suit because I was about to pass out and he needed his arms clear to support me. The guy is actually a massive unit and a fucking hard arse under pressure. I couldn’t be more grateful to have someone on my side.
“You wanna stay on top of those cramps? Then drink the fucking water and move your arse.”
The disconnected bullhorn voice comes from behind the safety cordon. “Agent Kavanagh, keep your helmet on.”
Ethan turns and flips the bird down the hill before placing the helmet back on. “Fucking moron, like the helmet would make one iota of difference if you collapsed right now.” The unspoken hangs between us like a bad smell. Since he lost the suit the helmet is five eighths of useless anyway.
“Jeez, thanks for the vote of confidence and that stunning reassurance.” The cars have arrived at the top of the drive now, or as close to the top as they are going to get. Mia and some unidentifiable dude leaps out of one car. The first face to emerge from the second is Jason followed by Luke who goes to the back and opens up the passenger door. When my brother’s face emerges from one door I feel a sense of relief. A friendly face under fire. Then Luke gets the other door open and my worst nightmare unfolds. Kate is here and she is going to see me like this and I know that there is going to be a shit fight to stop her from racing up here.
Sure enough she goes to move past the barrier and is immediately grabbed by Jason who is now having his hands smacked. I know there are tears even though I can’t see her properly and her struggle is punctuated by a few get-your-fucking-hands-off-me screams before Christian weighs into it and holds her, stroking her hair and talking softly in her ear. I can’t blame her for being irrational. I would be too. What I can do is kill the fucker who decided it was a good idea that she come and see what might be the last few hours of my sorry existence on this earth.
When I arrived out here earlier this morning the ISO container was already in place. What was odd was where it was positioned. I parked my truck and grabbed my hardhat as I swung my legs out and before I had even hit the ground, TJ came storming across the compound like a man possessed with his cell glued to his ear as he shouted obscenities at some poor unsuspecting moron on the other end. I figured I knew what was wrong from the way the crew was standing around looking at the container. Who the fuck would park the damn thing so close to house?
“TJ?” I call out to him as he crosses in front of me without so much as a fuck-of-the-morning to ya. He gives me the talk-to-the-hand signal as he stops in front of me.
“Not now, Ells. I’m on it.” Well, at least I’m Ells and not shithead. Of course, that would necessitate a new project manager which would be damned inconvenient for both of us. He turns around and heads back to the site office working himself up to a healthy roar on the way. I wander over to Will.
“So. How did this happen?” Will lifts his hard hat and scratches his head with a shrug. It isn’t the proximity to the house that’s the issue. It’s the fact that we now have to lug materials 100yards out of our way as we navigate the massive metal box that is sitting in the main access way.
“Fucked if I know. We arrived out here first thing this morning and it was already here. TJ has been trying to get someone from the trucking company ever since but…” Like yesterday, it seems as if we are going to get the run around by both the trucking company and the suppliers.
“Screw this.” At least the monstrosity is still on the trailer so as long as we can locate a truck they can come and move the bastard to a more convenient location. “TJ will get hold of someone soon and we can get it moved. What can you carry on with so that the damn thing won’t get in the fucking way?”
“We’ve got enough stuff around the other side to finish the framing on the West wall. The steel beams arrived in late yesterday and are already around the back so we can get those installed. That should take us the better part of the day.”
“Right. Well, let’s leave this to TJ to sort out and you get everyone around the other side of the house to start work. I can at least do the inventory on this container until someone comes to shift it.”
Will gives me a small salute and then herds the two rostered crews to the Western side of the mansion. Meanwhile I have an appointment with an inventory sheet which means I need my rose colored glasses out of the truck. Ten minutes later TJ secures an assurance that someone will get back to the site within the next three or four hours to shift the monstrosity so we get some scaffolding out to rig up a temporary platform outside the door to the container. If we have to drag anything out to gain access to all of the goodies that Ana and Christian have ordered for their bathrooms and kitchen then the platform will make our lives a hell of a lot easier.
The scaffold platform gives me a clear view to the bottom of the drive where a major flurry of dust and activity is occurring. A slew of black armored cars come flying up the winding drive toward the house looking like they are on their way from an illegal drag race. TJ has gone back to the site office to get the inventory list and I figure whoever the cavalry is will be checking in with him first so I head back to the door of the container and get ready to open it.
The cars don’t stop at the office. Instead they come to a screaming halt in front of the container, immediately followed by a major disembarking of the largest number of ill-fitting black suits and Blue Brothers sunglasses that you would ever hope not to see in one place. It’s when the guns come out that I get a case of the dts and testy balls. WTF?
“Mr Grey, stop right there, Sir.” My hands go up in surrender for fuck-knows-what and my right foot steps back of its own volition. In that next moment I expect to hear fifty clicks of weapons being engaged but instead I hear one very loud and clear click and it comes from under my foot. I freeze looking down at my boot with a frown. Under my heel is a small square metal plate with a small slightly raised box-shape attached to it. A wire runs from the box across the back of the container, snaking up through the door bolts and then back underneath the trailer.
“ELLIOT! DON’T MOVE!” I look up to see Ethan has his gun still trained on me. How the fuck did he get here? And what is he doing with a gun? I almost rock my weight forward to challenge him when he raises his gun and starts again, this time with a little more desperation. “I mean it, bro, not a fucking muscle. You keep perfectly still. Feel me?”
My hands are still trying to surrender as I mutely nod. My feet are now planted firmly in my size 14 steel caps and I redistribute my weight between the box and the platform. A few of the MIB’s have slunk behind the doors of their vehicles but Ethan does the opposite, moving forward still with his gun drawn.
“Man, I promise you don’t need to shoot. I don’t know what this is about but I promise you I’m unarmed except for this tool belt which I will happily remove for you.”
“No need, bro. Gun’s not for your lily white ass.” But still with the pointing of lead my way so I’m just not feeling the love. “Who delivered the container?”
“That would be Masons.” TJ’s voice rings out as he crosses the compound. The guns all swing as one and train on TJ. Which is good for me, but sucks for him. He stops where he is with a few pieces of paper attached to the clipboard in his hand. The guns haven’t moved back to me and I wonder how many he can take out with a carefully aimed and swiftly frisbee’d clipboard.
“Sir, stop where you are.” Some tall supermodel type removes his glasses which unlike the other MIB’s are Rayban wraparounds, and takes his id badge out of his pocket. CI-fucking A. Well, at least we know which agency is about to make us some junkie’s prison-bitch. I’m kind of honored that it’s the CIA but I’m not sure that our little misdemeanor with Linc a hundred years ago could be classified as a threat to national security. In that split second it occurs to me that I am standing on something that has a wire. At that point I am not sure if a little bit of wee didn’t just make its way southward down my leg. Fuck me hard and call me Shirley. Prison bitch would look so much better on my CV than shrapnel.
Supermodel stalks over to TJ and begins talking in a hushed tone. There is some movement around one of the last vehicles where flak jackets are being handed out. Meanwhile Ethan gets my attention back.
“Elliot. Bro, I need you to be real still, feel me?” I nod my head, kind of impotently. This really can’t be fucking happening. He walks towards me all slow and controlled which only serves to unnerve me even further. I’m not above blubbering like a fucking baby, here.
“Is it…?” I can’t get the words louder than a freakin’ whisper.
Ethan nods. “Yeah, I think so but I’m gonna need you to keep real still while we check. Looks like you might be standing on a detonator of some sort. Until I can take a look you are not to move a muscle, you hear me? You so much as fart and I swear my last move will be to shoot your balls off. We clear?” Mute nodding is about all I am good for right now. “Good.”
Once he is sure that I’m not going anywhere he moves in fairly quickly, holstering his gun while his feet do the talking. Instead of approaching me directly he moves to the side of the trailer and takes out a pen flashlight. He looks over at some of the other MIBs seemingly to get their attention before he flicks on a lazer light and traces the path of the wire from where it originates at my foot through its winding pattern up the door to a block of gunk that looks like heavy duty plasticine and then back down beneath the trailer. All the while that crazy red dot is showing those who are safely behind bulletproof vests and steel doors exactly what he is seeing. For a moment he disappears underneath the trailer and we all wait for him to emerge. As he does the supermodel walks over to join us making sure that he maintains eye-contact with me the whole way. No sudden moves being made in this neck of the woods, Batman.
“From what I can see there are 6 x 1/2 pound Semtex blocks located under the trailer and on the door. It’s a rush job, the wiring is barely hidden. Whoever did this either wanted to get in and out fast or was disturbed before they finished.”
“They certainly wanted to hit whatever is in that trailer. That’s a serious amount of explosive.”
While my choked up brain processes the words Semtex and explosive, my crews arrive from the other side of the house following TJ closely as he picks his way past the building debris, supplies and eventually the MIB vehicles on to our evac assembly area. Fuck, this is bad. Supermodel goes over to join them and then starts to address the crowd. A bus is on the way to the compound. When it arrives the crews will be loaded on to it and transported to a safehouse for debriefing. When the area is secured and examined by the CIA forensics team, they will be allowed back on the site to collect their vehicles.
Ethan approaches the scaffold. “I’m gonna climb up there, man, so no dancing.”
“Dance card’s all full, sunshine. You sure you want to come closer. I’m not confident about my anti-persperant.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not getting up there to sniff your armpits, so we’re good.” He stands in front of me and gently touches my shoulder before giving the rest of me a visual once over, paying particular attention to the position of my foot. As scared shitless as I am right now, the thought of my brother-in-law feeling his way up and down my legs like this is taking me to the hard edge of surreal.
“So CIA, huh? Never would have guessed that one. Explains why you’re such a sneaky bastard.” I notice that the MIBs are all retreating behind the larger vehicles and emerging as yellow spacemen. Fucking creepy. Before he can answer my non-question, Ethan gets tapped out by a short faceless space person who takes his place in my WWF superheavyweight screwed-for- the-rest-of-your-miserable-life-which-happens-to-b e-minutes-away fighting ring. The space person has a slew of medical equipment that they are setting up and a nice ass. God, I’m defaulting to my pre-engagement sleaze. Must be the fucking nerves.
The female notices me noticing her and shakes her head. “Typical.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean anything by it.” I close my eyes and lean back against the door of the container.
“Once a man-slut, always a man slut.”
In my preoccupation I almost miss that voice. My eyes flick to the visor of the space helmet immediately and what I see there chills me to the bone. Mia. My baby sister is standing up here on the scaffold of death when she should be safely at home with my Mom.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” Her hands go to my chest stopping me from moving off the detonator. I have got to get my shit together if I have any hope of getting off this thing.
“My job,” she says as she continues to unpack a small fold out medi-kit. Doesn’t help me much. I’m still fucking confused.
“Jesus, do Mom and Dad know?”
“No, and I’m happy to keep it that way.”
“Um, baby girl, I don’t know if you are aware of what is happening here but I’m gonna venture to suggest that if you don’t get your ass back behind that cordon then they are going to read about it in your obit.”
“Shut the fuck up, Elliot. You’re a sexist pig when you want to be.”
“Well, if that means that you will get your ass the fuck away from the blast zone then I can live with it.”
“Arrogant male. Lift your arm.” She places the cuff on me and takes my blood pressure. “When Ethan gets back here he’ll take your obs every 30 minutes.”
“What? You’re not gonna stay?”
“Make up your mind, Lelliot. Some of us have a job to do here.”
“I had a fucking job and all, before this started, too. And no, I want you as far away from this as possible.”
I focus on the medical gear. Nothing fancy, a heart monitor, blood pressure cuff, electrolytes, liniment rubs and food. Looks like it’s gonna be a long day. Once everything is laid out in easy reach a thermometer appears out of thin air and is thrust into my mouth. What earthly fucking use my temp could be eludes me but it’s a reassuring care routine that I am happy to latch on to right now. A couple of electrodes get strapped to my chest and the heart monitor fires up a moment later; all run off a nifty little generator that has been placed on the ground below the scaffolding.
Ethan clambers back on top of the scaffold platform a moment later, all decked out in a spacesuit of his own, effectively displacing Mia. I witness a heartfelt moment where they squeeze each other’s hand but then the song changes fairly rapidly when a small group of spacemen approach her. I’m gathering that something new is going down but I’m not close enough to hear the gist. Ethan hands me some gear to put on. I look at the flak jacket.
“What, no space suit for me?”
“Nah, if the bomb goes off, a suit won’t do much for you. Besides we’re cutting costs.” I want to laugh. Under normal circumstances that would be the funniest fucking thing I’ve ever heard but since I’m the one in the kiss-your-ass-goodbye position, none of it seems particularly humorous.
“How come you get one?”
“Orders. Look, you need to stay cool, keep your body loose. You could be standing here for a while. You can’t do that in one of these portable rubber saunas. If it will keep you calm I’ll dress you in a fucking tutu with a feather boa so if you want a suit, I’ll get one.”
“Nah, all good. Maybe we can get into that kinky shit later. Promise to buy me dinner first.”
He laughs, “You’ve got it, bro.”
After that we go into a holding pattern. Ethan has given me a flak jacket to wear and I’m told to leave my hard hat on. He’s getting ready to shovel fluids into me regularly and has set up shop on the platform so that he can keep me calm as my self-appointed nurse-maid. My sister disappears into a van and that suits me just fine. If I could get her to another state right now I would take that option. Of course, when I glance at the wire I wonder if that isn’t a distinct possibility if things go wrong. A couple of spacesuits set about scouring the underside of the trailer to look at the goodies. I guess they will have the dubious pleasure of trying to diffuse the bomb. I’m wondering what exam you have to sit to get that job and what the attrition rate is.
Half an hour later two buses and three trucks arrive. The crews are hustled off the property except for TJ and Will who both seem to be refusing to leave and who I am going to skewer with a cement rod later. The new vehicles bring some more souped up safety suits and helmets for all the MIBs and the vehicles are moved behind the arbitrary safety point that supermodel creates.
Equipment gets wheeled in as the experts all decide on the best way to get me out of this situation. I’m pretty sure by this stage that I’m well on the way to completely fucked and we’re all just setting about exhausting the possibilities but I enthusiastically latch on to any bastard who seems to feel otherwise just so I can calm the doomsday voices in my head. Thank fuck for Ethan.
Mia emerges from the van, eventually, and walks around the back of the trailer with a couple of her roadies lugging more equipment. I hear some banging on the outside of the trailer. Yep, it’s steel. They pretty much all are. Then there is a silence before we hear a faint tapping from inside the container.
“Fuck.” Ethan’s one little curse speaks freaking volumes. There is someone inside the trailer. Shit, if this day couldn’t get any worse. Mia reappears and walks over to the equipment store to meet up with TJ and Will and after a brief discussion with the supermodel they all disappear around the back of the site office. The silence is broken with the engine-roar of a forklift. Said vehicle crosses through the gates of the temporary fencing with Will, suited up, driving. Strapped to the pallet on the front is a spacesuit that looks distinctly like my little sister.
“Jesus Christ, Ethan. What the fuck is she doing?”
“Her job.” His voice is all smooth, creamy get-the-hell-over-it but his eyes are shooting daggers at the supermodel who still seems to be calling the shots. The forklift disappears around the back of the trailer and then the beeping starts as I imagine Will is raising the platform. Soon we hear the thud of feet landing on the roof. Each of these trailers has a couple of in-built design features. One is a series of plug holes that can be opened to drain the containers from the bottom. The other is a couple o inch sight hatches on the top that allow for a visual of the contents in transit. I’m guessing she is going for a visual of whoever is inside.
When the hatch is opened a murmur of voices is heard, female and foreign. Then I hear my sister’s voice but not in any language I have ever known her speak before. I look at Ethan not quite sure what I am hearing.
“She’s the best we’ve got. Speaks Farsi better than anyone else here and those women will probably only talk to her anyway.”
“Women? There’s more than one?”
“Yeah, that’s why we came in all guns blazing. We suspect they were being shipped into the country to be sold on the sex slave market.”
“Holy shit! But why were they delivered here? In this? And why would anyone want to blow them up?”
“That, my friend, is the million dollar question.” The beeping starts again and within a few minutes Mia has crossed back to supermodel for a confab.
“What do you think is going on?” I lean my head back on the container and suck in some fresh air, just wishing like fuck that this was over, one way or another but knowing that now we have confirmed inmates the likelihood of me moving any time soon just went down exponentially.
“My guess is that they will start cutting through the back of container since we can’t move you away from this door. Until they are out we won’t risk disarming the bomb.”
I get that they want to minimize the casualties, I really do, but musical statues was never my gig and about this point the cramps are starting to settle in with more regularity.
The organizing committee cross over to us after a fairly heated discussion. Supermodel gives a tight-lipped confirmation of Ethan’s informed guess and we prepare to settle in for a couple more hours while the acetylene gang is brought in. Mia goes back up top with Will’s help to announce to our guests what the plan is and get them to move as far away from the back wall as possible. There are sounds of movement from inside including the sound of what could be a body being dragged across the floor. While all this is happening a new guy taps in for Ethan and a new interpreter arrives for Mia.
I watch from my tower as they engage in a heated discussion and the very fact that they can have a heated discussion has me grinding my teeth in frustration. What if I never get to have another knock down fight with Kate? What if last night’s drunken sex is the last memory she ever has of me? My head is pounding and I don’t think it’s just the hangover. New guy hands me some pills for the headache and signals for sunglasses. The last thing they need is for me to pass out with a migraine. I close my eyes for a moment and when I open them again Mia is climbing into a vehicle and Ethan is coming back up the platform.
“What’s going on?” Ethan’s face is a picture of grim but quite frankly I don’t give a flying fuck. If Mia is leaving it would have been good to get to say goodbye.
“She’s going to get Christian.” What? A phone call wouldn’t do? I should be disgusted about my own selfishness right now but when the shit hits the fan she always turns to me. Why bring Christian in now?
The new interpreter is on the roof and we settle into our pattern. Ethan taking obs and feeding me all manner of shit. The sound of the torches burning through metal punctuated by foreign language conversations.
“Anyone got some reruns of Friends they could play. This shit is fucking dire, man.” Ethan chuckles but he reaches out and grips my hand and I try not to cry like a fucking girl. “You know you don’t have to stay here.”
“Yeah. And you know you talk a lot of shit? I’m not going anywhere.”
“No listen, man. You’ve got a wife and I need to know that you’re watching out for Kate…I mean, if anything happens…” Choking up and talking about the end is not a good thing.
“We’re gonna get you out of this. End of story. My sister is planning a Carribean wedding and I am going to be there for it. It’ll be you, me, your boys and Christian. We are going together man. Either way.” He slips the pressure cuff off my arm once more and checks the heart monitor. “You’re a prick, you know. The only time your heart rate elevates is when I mention Kate. You are so fucking pussy whipped.”
“Yeah, well I bet it would look the same for you if I mentioned Mia. I can’t believe any of this shit, dude.”
He looks at me sideways. “The bomb?”
“No, I mean you and Mia and the whole spy thing. I mean, how did we not know any of this? Did you guys meet in the agency?”
“Fuck. It’s a long story.”
“I’ve apparently got a few hours.”
“I would tell you but then you would want to kill me and since you’re standing on a ten tonne weapon I’m not sure I want to risk it.”
“You won’t tell me but you’ve told Christian.”
“Jesus, even when you’re facing down death you’re still in competition with your little brother. Look, I needed Christian’s expertise. He needed some reassurances and telling about Mia and me was the only way to give those. As to the agency, he knew about me. To my knowledge he still doesn’t know about Mia. That is going to be a big fat freaking surprise when she gets to Escala, which I would say will be in about fifteen minutes.”
The next couple of hours go in a blur of tedium with people coming and going from the site. The only constant is Ethan who has stayed with me through most of the past few hours apart from slipping away first to don some safety gear and then later to remove it. Now Kate arrives looking for all the world like she is about to do a Joan of Arc and ride in to save me. I can see the looks of grim determination on my brother and his security team as they watch her give supermodel a dressing down. She looks amazing, her arms flying out from her body and her pointy fingers poking him in the chest. Just when I think she is getting nowhere fast I see him capitulate and Mia drags her back to one of the armored buses. When I look at Ethan he looks grim but totally unsurprised that Kate is here.
“You called her, didn’t you?” A quick look into my face is all I need as confirmation that he is a good guy but an interfering dickhead. “Damn!”
“I’ll make sure she doesn’t stay long but she needed to know.” What he doesn’t say is that she is here to say goodbye. I blink away sweat from my eyes, trying not get all emotional.
“Fuck you very much.”A few minutes later they emerge with Kate dressed in the latest designer bomb squad couture. Fucking cute, but now I’m going to walk that fine line between wanting to fuck her or smack her.