Terribleminds made me do it.
The news was the same as they walked into the restaurant as it had been all day: rumors of some sort of natural disaster followed by talking heads alternately saying everything was under control and everybody was doomed. Linus shook his head as he removed his wife’s fur coat.
“I wish they would make up their minds. Either it’s under control or it isn’t.”
“Well, if it were under control, someone in charge would say so, if anybody in charge was worth a damn.”
Linus pursed his lips, saying nothing. He didn’t want to get dragged into another political argument with her. They’d been looking forward to this for too long. She looked damn good in her slinky black dress, her hair done up in a coy pile of ringlets on top of her head.
Linus pulled out a chair for her as he looked around the room. The wait staff looked as good as ever, the men in tuxedos and the ladies closely resembling cigarette girls, despite the fact smoking was prohibited. The band was playing something smooth and atmospheric, as if time had left the club untouched since the 20s. He sat across from her, straightening his cufflinks and adjusting his jacket. The club insisted on the black-tie dress code, which was probably part of the appeal for her. He never thought he’d miss humping fifty or more pounds of gear through harsh conditions.
“You’re not here.”
His wife’s words forced a smile as he waved for a waiter.
“Sorry. Guess I’m still not sure about these cufflinks.”
“Please. They look fine. Try to relax, would you? I’d rather not have you wound up for our evening out.”
She loved this look, this period, the way women dressed and acted in books and films. It was an escape for her. She got away from her tiresome reports and the condescension of her superiors and the wandering eyes of coworkers. Linus understood that.
What he never understood and never asked about was how she treated him at times like this. It was like she didn’t stop being a boss. He knew she meant well, telling him to relax and all, but her tone just put him more on edge. He was already edgy after a day of taking engines apart. She picked up on this, smiled, and touched his hand as the waiter approached. She was ordering their appetizers – the most expensive one, of course – when the TV volume picked up.
“This just in, government officials now saying that rumors of quake damage to Progenitus Labs facilities are overstated. Nevertheless, citizens are advised to stay in their homes…”
Linus didn’t hear the rest. He was already on alert. There was commotion at the front; someone was banging on the door. The staff was locking it. The last time Linus felt this way, he’d stopped a Hummer five feet short of an IED.
“Wait here. I need to use the men’s room.”
“At a time like this? The crab bruchetta…”
“It’ll keep.” He stood. “Stay here.”
She furrowed her brows at him. “Where do you think I mean to go?”
“Just do it.”
She crossed her arms and frowned. He headed for the restrooms but walked past them to the back door near the kitchens. It was unlocked and not alarmed. He made his way through the rows of cars to the sedan. He was rummaging through the trunk to find his stowaway case when he saw them.
They shambled rather than walked. Men and women in lab coats, hazmat suits, uniforms and street clothes. They seemed to be skirting around the lights, keeping mostly to the darkness. Their eyes stared, bleeding from the corners. Arms twitched and legs spasmed. They drooled pinkish bubbles and moaned one to another.
They were the ones banging on the front door.
A few peeled off to head towards the parking lot. One of them reached the junction box on the outside. Fingers curved like claws reached for the metal and began to yank. It only took a few tugs to pull the box free of its moorings and wires. That’s when the screaming began inside.
Linus stuffed his pocket with double-ought shells. The Colt went under his belt at the small of his back, and he ditched the suit coat and cuff links. Rolling up his sleeves, he grabbed the boomstick and a couple of road flares. He wished he had sturdier shoes on as he broke into a run towards the darkened back door of the club.
One of them lunged for him. He whirled and let it have a barrel of buckshot. The fire put it on the ground ten feet away with a gaping hole in its chest. They smelled awful. He got inside, slammed the door and popped a flare. The kitchen staff gaped at him.
“Barricade this door. Nobody gets in.”
They scurried to obey. He walked back through the kitchen to the dining hall, getting up on stage near the stunned band. He turned to the crowd. Every face looked up at him, illuminated by the glimmering torch in his hand. His eyes moved from person to person, and then he found her. She was, like every other person there, terrified. All of the bluster and haughtiness that kept corporate dogs at bay fell away by the light of the torch, and in that moment, they were the only two people in the room.
The woman he loved had been strong for him when he’d been at war, and had clung to that strength. Now it was his turn. What he’d done for his country, he’d now do for the woman he loved.
“All right, people, listen up.” Linus made his voice heard over the banging at the front door. “You’re going to pay attention and follow my lead, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll get out of this mess alive.”