Read 03. The Maze in the Mirror Online

Authors: Jack L. Chalker

03. The Maze in the Mirror (9 page)

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It was about two-thirty in the morning and in spite of it being in North Carolina it was cold; damned cold. The top of the motel unit was heavy with smoke from the condensation from the master units inside, and you could see the breath coming from everyone who now surrounded the place.

Sam was both worried and impressed. He'd been rushed to a field about three miles from the place by helicopter from State College in just a little more than two hours, and from there by car to the parking lot.

"You think you got enough men here?" he asked sarcastically. It looked like a small army. "They must be idiots not to have spotted somebody by now."

"We've kept well back," Markham told him. Sam was both impressed and touched that the chief of security for many worlds had taken the time and trouble to be here. "The main idea was to keep the place locked up. No sirens, no local cops, and people in general have been allowed to come and go without even taking a second glance. We're pros, Sam."

"How'd you do this without the local cops wanting to muscle in?"

"The usual. They got a call from DEA in Washington validating our credentials. They think these boys are the center of a big Colombian coke ring that we're nabbing during a meet and that might not be too far from the truth. We've gotten some prints now from the restaurant where they ate over there and some of these are very bad boys. This is a contract job, Sam. I'm pretty sure this is all local talent."

By "local" Sam knew that Bill didn't mean North Carolinian or even American; he meant they were natives of this Earth.

"No Ginzu or whispery voiced fellow with a Midwestern accent, huh?"

Markham shook his head. "No, we figure they split early, maybe before they even left central
Pennsylvania. There's even a possibility that there was a full crew switch someplace and that none of these were anywhere near your house. We'll find out some of that from Dash when we get him."

Sam looked again at the two vans and the motel block. "Yeah, well, I appreciate your waiting for me. If all goes well I want to be here for Dash, and if not, well, I couldn't live with myself if I sat it out."

"Nothing will go wrong, not with these babies," Markham assured him. "We have several advantages in the setup. There's nobody else in the block-the whole motel occupancy is only six, which is above average for this time of year in this location, so I'm told. I'm going to use pulsers on the two vans, simultaneously. They should be out cold with a nasty shock. The pulsers are useless against the motel rooms, though, so we're going to run a sleep gas unit through the vents on that built-in air conditioner on each unit. The gas is fast and harmless."

"A little risky, though," Sam worried. "You still have to put a fairly fast little hole through the air conditioner flanges and then pump it in, which is never totally silent. They catch on and Dash has had it."

"Could be. If these are the nasties we think they are I don't think they're as suicidal as our other friends seem to be, but it would be ugly. There's no other way, though. There's no technique that's not without risk. We have audio monitors on top there so we'll know immediately if they suspect and can move with stun and percussion weapons if we absolutely have to. You have any better ideas?"

Sam studied the situation and marveled at their
thoroughness. They even somehow had gotten blueprints of the place, updated with the latest renovations. Still, he was uneasy. "Maybe wait 'em out and take 'em as they leave," he suggested.

"Far riskier. We couldn't be certain that we'd get everybody and we'd only need one back in the room to spray everybody with bullets, Dash included. Besides, we'd have to do a wide stun at pretty good strength here to have any crack at them and there's always a chance of heart stoppage with that. I don't give a damn if all these bastards have heart attacks but I don't want to risk it with a boy as young as yours.''

Sam looked again at the doors and stiffened. "Somebody's coming out of the room on the left," he said softly.

"They check on each other regularly, and rotate a couple of inside and outside men now and again. They have a regular schedule, since at least once a, couple of the van boys weren't relieved when they were supposed to be and they went up to the motel room and raised holy hell in Spanish. See-there's another one coming out now, lighting a cigarette there. One will go to each van, then one from each van will come out and go in. It's not regular but it's never been less than an hour between changes and they've all eaten. Every once in a while one of the van boys gets out and checks the area, sometimes taking a smoke or a leak against the building. I wouldn't think a smoker would be very popular with that crowd in either van. No problem if we nail both vans right off and silently, and they only come out of the rooms for the change. Okay. ... I think we give them fifteen minutes after that pair goes inside and then we hit 'em. What do you say?"

Sam nodded. "Let's do it. Beats waiting and eating my guts out."

"You want to go in with one of the teams?"

"No. If anything goes wrong I'd be in the way. Let the experts do it."

Markham nodded. "All right, then. Let me give the word."

The security chief left and talked to his team leaders and there was suddenly a fair amount of action. The pulsers were what Sam called the industrial strength models, used in the world where they were invented as anti-tank and perimeter security. Anything designed to knock out an armored tank crew sealed inside should be more than a match for an Econoline van.

Far trickier would be getting the hole into the rooms for the gas line. If these guys were rotating almost hourly, then somebody, maybe most of them, were up in there. The audio monitors indicated that somebody in the room next to the one in which they thought Dash was in bed was watching an old movie on the TV. Sam hoped it was something loud and not inappropriate. He much preferred
The Final Option
to, say,
Assault on Precinct Thirteen.

It seemed like an eternity before they were properly set up, and just at the time when they were going to turn on the pulsers some bastard got out of the far van to smoke and check out the area. It was a nerve-wracking extra ten minutes before the man, who appeared to have a nice little Uzi submachine gun under one arm, lazily decided to get back in, and when he did another decided to come out. Time was running out; if this went on, they'd have to wait until the next guard change.

When the second man got back in his van, though, all seemed quiet, and Markham, figuring they still had time and not wanting to stall any longer, gave the signal. Anybody who might emerge from this point would be taken out by marksmen using super-silent stun rifles.

The gas team was ready, dressed all in black and with rubber-soled tennis shoes for extra quiet, but they remained well back until the vans were secured. At Markham's whispered signal through the communicators, both pulsers emitted a single, and to Sam, inordinately loud
whump! whump!
burst. For the briefest of moments the whole lot was lit, as if by lightning, and the two vans shuddered slightly. They waited another minute to be sure, but all that could be heard from the vans was a very low crackling sound, then nothing. Both engines had died, apparently shut down by the pulses, producing an extra measure of quiet.

Now the gas team moved, in cat-like silence and with true military precision. They reached the end of the block, then a pair scrunched down and made their way to the first air conditioner opening, while the others had weapons and grenades at the ready for an instant assault on the rooms if needed. All wore communications helmets, but the only sound coming from them was low breathing. The helmets were strictly to receive orders.

There was a low-intensity red beam from something in the hand of one gas team member, and then it was aimed at a spot where the air conditioner emerged from the wall and it was virtually invisible to the watchers. A very tiny laser melted its little hole in the wall. It was quick; the first man put his drill away and actually peered down and
looked in the hole. Satisfied, he moved silently to the second room while the other man laid down a cotton wad on the concrete and then placed a small canister on it so quietly that no one could hear a thing. The small tubing was then affixed to the tube, then inserted just barely into the hole, and the canister was activated.

By this time, the first man had his hole burned in the second room and now another team member came in with another canister and repeated the actions of the first. The audio monitor continued to broadcast the low level TV show in one room and there were snores from the other. The TV would remain on, but when the snores ceased they would know that the level of gas was sufficient to have put them under.

At that moment the monitors relayed the sound of a toilet flushing in the TV room and then a man's low voice said something in Spanish that Sam couldn't catch, not knowing much of the language anyway. Somebody mumbled a reply, even harder to hear over the TV, and then, to everyone's shock, the door to the room on the left opened and a man stepped out and closed it behind him. Suddenly he saw the black clad gas team and froze for a precious second.

One of the marksmen got him with a fast and dirty pulse shot that was nearly dead silent, and two gas team members caught him as he fell and hauled his limp body to one side almost in a continuous motion. Still, everybody froze for a moment, waiting to see if anything had been heard, but they relaxed when nothing happened.

The snoring died away in the room on the left and was replaced mostly with dead silence, while
in the other room there was still the sound of somebody moving and the TV going on. There was the sudden sound of something dropping and something hard hitting the carpet and bouncing, and that was that.

The assault team of the gas squad switched on their respirators, then moved to both doors. There was a quick series of loud breaths from the team leaders that clearly was meant as a synchronization signal, and when both were satisfied it all went down
real
fast.

Rifles fired, burning the locks in an instant, then the assault men went in like lightning. Sam and the others were up and moving in almost immediately, with a squad of heavily armed plainclothes men going to each van, opening it, and starting to haul limp forms out.

"All secure," came the report from the gas team leader. "We got him! One of 'em wasn't quite under but he was too woozy to do anything except get bloody when I kicked his face in. Guess the opening of the door diluted the gas."

Sam was ready to run into the room but one of the agents stopped him. "There's still enough gas in there to knock you for a loop!" he warned. "Stay here and they'll bring him out!"

A tall assault team member seemed to hear, and emerged from the snoring room with Dash's small, limp form. Sam rushed up to him and looked down at the unconscious form of his son.

"He'll be fine," the assault team man assured him. "Strong, normal pulse. Let's get him over to the ambulance and we'll bring him out of it in a jiffy."

Sam nodded numbly and let the man carry Dash
away. The ambulance was already driving in and it was only a few feet to it, but Sam found himself instead leaning against the side of the motel building, using it for support. He gave a heavy sigh and then couldn't help crying. The pressure was suddenly relieved, the emotions could no longer be so professionally repressed.

Bill Markham came up to him but said nothing, letting the detective get hold of himself. Finally Sam managed, with a sob, "You got a handkerchief, Bill? Wouldn't you know I left without one. . . ."

"Daddy!"
Dash clung to Sam and started crying himself, almost starting Sam again, but Sam held it and just hugged Dash and held him very close. Finally the boy looked up, tears streaming down his face, and said, "I knew you'd come. I knew you wouldn't let 'em take me away."

"Not if I could help it, son," Sam responded with gentle firmness.

The boy looked around, suddenly panicked. "Where's Mommie?"

"She's okay. The bad men hurt her when they took you and she has to stay in bed for a little while but she's going to be fine. She's home waiting for you. We'll call her later on and you'll see her tomorrow. Okay?"

"Is she hurt real bad?"

Sam thought about it. How do you explain a Ginzu paralysis hold to a six-year-old? "She was, but the doctor says she's going to be fine. She's been worried sick over you, though, just like I have. Did they hurt you?"

The boy shook his head no. "Not really. They
pushed me around some but that was mostly at the start. After that they was pretty nice mostly. They gave me Twinkles and hamburgers." The boy yawned, not from the gas but because he was very tired, but some things couldn't wait.

"Well, all right, then. Listen, Dash, this is important. Were these people here the same ones who took you from the house?"

"Our house?"

"Yes."

"Some. A couple, I think. Mostly I dunno."

"Look, they're all still knocked out now, but you think you could point to the ones who were at the house?"

"I dunno. I'll try. I was kind'a sleepy, like now."

He named several of them but wasn't really sure how long they'd been with him, but two, a big, tough-looking man and a short, wiry, effeminate-looking man he was certain were there all the way. The big man was Fred and he was mean and didn't talk much to Dash, but the small man was Alberto and he was very nice and kind to the boy and had stood up for him when some of the others got a little rough.

That was enough for now. They brought in a prison wagon and chained the men to the inside before any of them might wake up, and Dash and Sam got into a big, black Lincoln and they were off, even as the Company cleanup crew was coming in.

The cleanup crew was now the most vital concern of Markham and the Company as a whole. They would remove any evidence of a higher technology, replace the motel locks and even the doors and frames if need be, haul away the vans to a Company shop that would restore them before turning them back in to the rental agency, and go over both vans and rooms with a fine-tooth comb for anything evidentiary either telling something about the men they captured or which had to be removed. By late the next day, there would be no physical evidence at all that anything had happened there except perhaps that the rooms would be even cleaner than normal and there might be some fresh paint and plaster.

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