Discover more from Gary Paul Varner
THE TEMPLE OF MAGGIE STONE
Chapter 19: Daylight
The strange-looking woman helped Pinkerton and Maggie out of the elevator shaft. Maggie went to her knees and crawled to the wall in the hallway, crying and screaming like a child. Pinkerton grabbed her and hugged her. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders automatically. She was embarrassed for losing it right at the end, but all the emotions she supposed she should have been feeling hit her at once. The strange girl didn’t say anything. She let Pinkerton and Maggie have their moment, redrawing her guns and peering into the elevator shaft.
“Pinkerton, I can hear shit moving down there,” the girl said.
“Don’t,” Pinkerton said, looking over his shoulder at her. “There’s no point. No one’s left. We’re it.”
Maggie shook her head violently. “No. No. Ray. Ray. We have to get Ray!”
“He had no intention of staying in that body,” Pinkerton said. “He was there for you. I’m sure, he’s gone now.”
Maggie forced herself to nod. She knew Pinkerton was right. She’d understood what was happening the moment she’d heard Ray’s voice. Still, she wanted to go back down there. She wanted to hope.
The girl stared at Pinkerton. “No one?” she asked. “Sal? Father Jacob?” Pinkerton shook his head. There were tears in the girl’s eye, then her expression turned to one of pure animal rage. Her knuckles turned white against the handles of her guns. Maggie noticed two chains made of bullets extended from where the magazines should have been and disappeared behind her leather duster. She gave Pinkerton a cold look. “Excuse me.”
She ran toward the elevator shaft and leapt onto the ladder.
“Ryna!” Pinkerton shouted.
Maggie watched the outline of the girl slide down the ladder with confident grace. She heard her heavy boots fall on top of the elevator. There was a moment of silence. “Everything in the hall is dead!” Ryna shouted.
Maggie started to cry again. Sal, Father Jacob, Randolf, Dr. Blake . . . and Ray had done what they’d set out to do and were gone. Maggie would have to wait for death before she could see her husband again, and she had no idea how long that would be, or if death would take her at all. It was too much. Pinkerton squeezed her again, and even through her sobbing she could feel him trembling.
A moment later, Maggie heard a loud thud. The elevator hatch had been opened. Ryna laughed. “Looks like you bastards will have to do.”
There was the sound of automatic gunfire. Creatures screamed and wailed inside the elevator. It was a horrible sound yet satisfying at the same time. After another minute, men in body armor and drawn guns spilled into the hallway. They ran past the two trembling forms on the floor and aimed their weapons into the darkness of the elevator shaft.
“Don’t!” Pinkerton shouted. “It’s Ryna.” Maggie was amazed to see all the men lower their weapons. Some even rolled their eyes as if this was something typical. The gunfire ceased, and soon, Ryna climbed back up the shaft and leapt from the ladder into the hallway with surprising ease. She stood over the two survivors, staring down at them. Maggie knew that Ryna had just lost two close friends, and on some level, she blamed Pinkerton for it. Her glaring eyes made Maggie angry, but she was simply too tired to say anything and did her best to remove the scowl she was sure was on her face. Pinkerton seemed to accept Ryna’s rebuke, giving her a small nod before lowering his eyes to the floor. Everyone was silent until the paramedics arrived.
Maggie and Pinkerton were carried into the lobby and placed on gurneys. Maggie looked down at herself to take stock of her wounds. The bandages over her stomach were soaked with blood. She was covered with scratches and bites, little of her own pink flesh remained. It was a wonder she hadn’t passed out from blood loss.
Pinkerton had faired a little better. He was also covered in scratches and bites but nothing as severe as what she’d endured. She’d protected him from the worst of it.
Their clothes were cut away, and their wounds were washed. Then plastic blankets were thrown over them, and they were taken outside. Maggie looked to her left and right and saw police barricades on both sides. Squad cars lined the streets, holding back the crowd. On her left, two heavy-set cops screamed at a pair of men in suits. The suits took the verbal abuse with mild indifference.
Maggie felt a strange sense of normalcy. Sure, it was an emergency; sure, there was a crowd, but the whole thing was being dealt with in a normal way. As bizarre as it was, it made her feel safe. The last of her adrenaline washed out of her. She closed her eyes, and all was darkness.
The first thing she heard was the steady beeping of the machine tracking her vitals. When she opened her eyes, she saw she was wearing a hospital gown. For a moment, she thought the last seven months had been a dream, and she was still dying of cancer after all. Maggie lifted her hand and rubbed the top of her head. When she felt her hair against her palm, she sighed, relieved. Then she took stock of her surroundings. The walls were made of small grey bricks with cracked mortar. The ceiling was lined with rows of rusted steel railing. I-beams acted like pillars across the large vacant room in front of her. Maggie craned her head and saw a window behind her. She noticed a roof outside, and thought she recognized it. She was in the building across the street from the old theater. Apparently, it was serving as a makeshift hospital.
Maggie smelled smoke. Tiny, faint clouds danced across her vision. She turned and saw Pinkerton sitting in a metal folding chair in a white dress shirt and black slacks. He was wearing another black fedora, he’d lost his first one somewhere along the way, and he was smoking his green pipe, looking at her with a warm grin.
“I don’t think you’re allowed to do that,” Maggie said, smiling.
“I’ll be okay,” Pinkerton said. “And so will you. There are some advantages to having that body of yours. The doctors say you won’t have any scars, a wonder.”
Pinkerton was sporting a rather prominent shiner on his right eye, and there were several deep cuts across his cheeks, forehead, and chin. Maggie wondered if he would be so lucky.
Pinkerton smiled. He looked like the overconfident young man she’d first met in the cafeteria. “My body’s mangled anyway,” he said, seeming to read her thoughts. “Don’t worry. Now, I have a war story like so many of my peers.”
“Our scars weren’t earned by stupidity,” Ryna said.
Maggie turned to her right and saw Ryna marching toward them carrying a metal folding chair. She still wore the leather duster and the hat with the oversized brim. Under the duster, Maggie could see a bullet proof vest hanging over her black khakis, which were tucked into leather, black boots. Behind her, was possibly the largest man Maggie had ever seen. He even dwarfed Dr. Lane’s perverted idea of the male form. Giant muscles stretched every square inch of his black skin, making it look like he was an over packed bag about to bust. He wore a green vest with no shirt under it and brown khakis of his own. He smiled. It was the kind of smile she would’ve expected Jesus to have. He was also carrying a chair. He and Ryna placed their folding chairs on the either side of Maggie’s bed and sat down.
“Maggie, I’d like you meet Ryna and Abubakar,” Pinkerton said. “They are my two best agents. I say that grudgingly.”
“Half-agents,” Ryna said. “We float around.”
Maggie looked at Pinkerton, confused. “Contract labor for contract labor?”
“Our organization is made of whores,” Ryna said. She looked at Pinkerton. “The charges are rigged. The building should be going down any time.”
“So, you’re demolishing the theater,” Maggie said.
Pinkerton nodded. He sighed and leaned back in the metal chair, puffing on his green pipe. “I think we got them all, but we don’t want anyone snooping around, trying to find the doctor’s work, not that destroying the evidence will do us any good.”
“Why not?” Maggie asked.
Pinkerton looked first at Maggie then at Ryna and Abubakar. “Because I think Dr. Lane’s plans for constructing those bodies are still out there.” He shook his head. “Someone wanted them.”
“Do you know who?” Abubakar asked.
“I have a few suspects, and I know who could tell us more. Albertson survived. He’s around here somewhere.”
“The guy with no eyes?” Ryna asked. “Looks like a politician?”
Pinkerton nodded. “He was using the bodies for his own purposes, so it’s a good bet he had other plans for them. Perhaps, he either wanted to sell the bodies, or he discovered how Dr. Lane made them and wants to sell the blueprints. It’s possible he’s sold them already. We don’t know. So, we’ll have to ask.”
“But that’s not the only reason,” Maggie said. “We never found out who told Delphin to put the staff to sleep.”
“The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced it wasn’t the demons. He was a witch doctor. He would’ve been used to their tricks. I think someone else was twisting his arm.”
Ryna smiled. It was not like Jesus at all. “Of course, Albertson won’t tell us anything without a little prodding. I might enjoy that. I just love working with perverts.”
Pinkerton ignored her. “Has Logan found anything else?”
Abubakar shook his head. “No, he’s been studying the coffins, and we have a problem. They’re not complicated. If Silas ever figures out how to make them, he could keep switching bodies even if we find all of Dr. Lane’s devices. We’re on a timer.”
Pinkerton puffed on his pipe for a minute then said, “We know the circles Silas was running in. We know he’s been meeting with old acquaintances and will probably meet them again.”
“Yeah,” Ryna said. “We’ve been keeping an eye on everyone.”
“Back off,” Pinkerton said. “For a while anyway.”
“Why?” Ryna asked.
Pinkerton puffed on his pipe and let the question hang in the air. Ryna kept her eyes level with his, unperturbed by the boy’s theatrics. Finally, Pinkerton tapped the ash of his pipe on the cement ground and pulled out his leather pouch of tobacco and a match. He reloaded the pipe, then struck the match. When smoke was dancing around his face once more, he said, “It would be tragic if someone told Silas one of Dr. Lane’s peers escaped.”
Abubakar nodded. “Use Albertson as bait.”
“Do you really think he’d care?” Ryna asked. “Silas is a serial killer. He’s not working some grand scheme.”
“I think so,” Pinkerton said. “If we put enough pressure on him before he figures out how to make the devices.”
“Which means we still have to find the devices and the bodies,” Abubakar said.
“Some of them. Just enough to make him nervous,” Pinkerton said. “But I’m also killing two birds with one rumor. If someone does have plans for Dr. Lane’s work, then we need to flush them out. And if such a group exists, they’ll be watching Silas. Whatever he hears, they’ll hear.”
“Well, we better hurry. The feds are going to be here any minute. They’ll cart Albertson away first,” Abubakar said.
“I agree,” Pinkerton said. “Ryna, hold off on tormenting him until we’re clear.”
Ryna smiled. Maggie stared at the woman, horrified. Her grin was almost as demonic as the grin worn by Dr. Lane’s bodies. Something about her expression told Maggie the woman had a thought, and she meant to say it regardless of its relevance to the conversation. “I don’t think those demons had any interest in Dr. Lane’s puppets. They were gunning for you. You’ve done more damage than you think, but you’re so narcissistic that you can’t look away from yourself long enough to see the carnage you’ve left behind. They wanted you, no one else, just you. Everybody else, Sal, the priest, they were collateral damage. That’s why you’re not supposed to get involved. We need your brain. Beyond that, you’re just a useless cripple.”
“Young lady! He saved my life,” Maggie snapped.
“No, you saved his. And that’s just my point,” Ryna said. She glared at Pinkerton; her smile gone. “We already knew what was happening the moment we got the call, but somebody just had to be sure, somebody wanted the details when they didn’t matter, and they used your curiosity to lead you into a trap which nearly worked! You just wanted to get involved, to hell with everybody else!” She shook her head, her face contorted into a snarl of pure disgust.
Everyone was silent. Abubakar stared at the woman, horrified. Pinkerton stared at the floor. “You’re right, Ryna. You’re right.”
“Stop it!” she hissed. “Don’t give me that! People are dead because of you! I don’t have many friends, Pinkerton, and you just killed half of them!”
“Ryna, that’s enough,” Abubakar shouted. His voice shook the walls.
Ryna leaned in her chair and crossed her legs and arms, staring out the window. Finally, she looked back at Pinkerton, and Maggie saw a hint of guilt in her eyes, but the woman was going to be damned before she showed it. After another minute, she said, “Don’t scare me like that again, asshole.”
Pinkerton looked up at her and nodded. More silence hung in the air. It was Abubakar who resurrected the conversation. “I’m sending Joe back to his wife. We’ve got a house for them in Germany, and Logan has already done their paperwork.”
“He won’t like that,” Pinkerton said, staring back at the floor.
“I know,” Abubakar said. “But I’m sure you’ve seen him. He’s done. We can still use their home for a safehouse when we return to Europe.”
“Why would we go back to Europe?” Ryna asked.
“If I’m right about who was controlling Delphin, then you’ll be going back sooner than you think,” Pinkertons said, meeting Ryna’s eyes.
Ryna blinked. “You mean?”
Ryna laughed and slapped her knee. “Well, perhaps today wasn’t a total waste after all.”
“First things first,” Abubakar said. “We need to catch Silas, and I also think we should discuss Maggie’s situation.”
“Right,” Pinkerton said. “That’s why we’re here.”
“Maggie, you understand that you can’t go home, right?” Abubakar said.
Maggie didn’t want to admit it, but it was time to face the truth. She nodded.
“There are a couple things we can do,” Pinkerton said. “We can change your identity and put you into . . . our version of witness protection. You’ll have to learn to watch your back, but you could have a normal life.”
“Logan will handle your papers,” Abubakar added. “He can get you everything you’ll need.”
Maggie sighed and shook her head. “Why bother? The only reason I agreed to the operation was to spend more time with my husband and children. Ray is dead and Robert . . .” The words froze in her throat as a wave of terror and guilt seized her. “Robert!” she screamed. How is he? Did he—is he?”
“He’s fine,” Pinkerton said, gently. “Like I said before, the knife didn’t do too much damage. He’s awake. You can speak with him when we’re done.”
“What’s going to happen to him?” Maggie asked. “Is he going to have to . . . leave.”
Pinkerton shook his head. “The government will interview him, probably several times, but he wasn’t in the thick of things, and he doesn’t know anything that the government won’t already know by the end of the afternoon. As long as you don’t tell him where you’re going, he won’t know anything that could put him in danger. He’ll be safe.”
“What if they take him to try to get to me?” Maggie asked.
“That’ll only happen if you contact him,” Pinkerton said. “They’ll watch his phones, of course, but judging by the way the two of you behaved back at the facility, it seems like he hasn’t accepted that you were . . . really his mother. If you don’t contact him, they’ll assume the two of you had a falling out. All of this applies to your daughter, Ashley, as well.”
Maggie said nothing for a long time. It was too cruel. The only life she wanted was the life she had. Now Ray was gone, and she wouldn’t be allowed to speak with her own children. It was a horrible irony. In a sense, she’d died after all.
Ryna stared at her. It seemed like she knew exactly what Maggie was thinking. “Those who would keep their life shall lose it. Those who would lose their life shall save it.” she said. “That’s not exactly how it goes, or how it’s supposed to be applied, but it’s close enough.”
Maggie nodded. The statement wasn’t much comfort, but at least, the irritable woman was trying.
“There’s another option,” Pinkerton said. “You could come with us.”
“Pinkerton needs . . . help,” Abubakar said.
“Babysitter,” Ryna added bitterly. “And we just had a couple jobs open up; that’s for damn sure.”
Abubakar shot her a hot look, and Ryna lifted her hands in submission. Pinkerton kept going. “It’s dangerous work, but you’ve proven you can think under pressure, and I think it’s the surest way we can protect you.”
“The other thing he’s not mentioning is that the government might not be the only ones after you,” Ryna said. “Silas might try to find you if he gets backed into a corner and decides Albertson isn’t worth it.” She paused and looked at Pinkerton. “By the way, Silas might break out the inmates who were part of the unsuccessful experiments if he thinks they have some answers for him.” She looked back at Maggie. “In that case, you’ll be chased by bunch of convicts. Fun, huh?”
Maggie didn’t answer the woman. She tried to weigh her options, but quickly realized there wasn’t much to think about. A normal life meant returning to her family at some point. Anything else would be a lie. The only way to live at all was to accept what she was and enter a world she didn’t understand. Maggie nodded. Tears filled her eyes, but she was smiling. “Okay. I’ll go.”
“Great,” Ryna said, slapping the foot of the bed. She stood. “We leave in two hours. Go say goodbye to your son.” She left.
Abubakar gave Maggie a warm smile. “Welcome aboard,” he said. “Good luck,” He followed Ryna.
Maggie waited until the two of them were gone before asking, “I won’t be spending much time with her, will I?”
Pinkerton laughed, smoke dancing out his nose. “No. She, Abubakar and Logan have their own thing going. I only call them when I really need them.”
Maggie sighed, relieved. She looked at Pinkerton. “I don’t care what that girl says. You saved my life, and you saved the others. None of us would have made it if weren’t for you.”
And I wouldn’t have made it if it weren’t for you,” Pinkerton said, smiling.
Maggie smiled back at him, then looked down at her hands. A tear fell on the tape holding the IV attached to her arm. “And Ray.”
“And Ray,” Pinkerton said.
There was a loud roar behind them. Maggie turned to the window as the top floor of the theater sank below the frame, and a final plume of grey smoke rose toward the blue sky.