Chapter Two (of Ten)
Turning around, he walked swiftly to the door and went through it, nearly forgetting where he had been headed. The ball remained in place, back over the table again. His eyes went to the roofline of the city to search for the glowing fire reflections. It was easy to find, he could even see a few flames licking the underside of the low hanging clouds. At least it looked that way with all the reflections from below.
More sirens sounded as he walked faster and faster, sure that he was going to miss the whole thing. But it didn’t seem like it as the brightness increased faster than he was approaching. His legs began aching long before he rounded the last corner and was confronted with a line of red trucks with their blinking red lights lost in the brighter intensity of the flames.
Jumping out of the way of yet another arriving truck, he used the sidewalk on the far side of the street, seeing the other side of the street covered by hoses stretched and sprawling all across the yards and sidewalks. As he arrived he recognized the building that was totally ablaze. It was the older building with several apartments over a bar. It was the bar that his engineer frequented. He had received several reports of his visits before he dropped the investigation, letting his employee live his life as long as it didn’t affect the project. When Brad’s head was clear, there wasn’t anyone better. He just couldn’t expect his head to be clear every day.
Aside from two hoses playing their streams back and forth across the top of the building, many black coated men were throwing ladders on the building next to it. It was also burning, but not nearly as intensely as the bar and the hotel above it. It seemed that they were allowing one building to burn while hoping to save the second one. The lower level where the bar was had no windows, and it was dark and unmoving within.
Fearful of his engineer, he stepped carefully around the tangle of hoses, sidestepping around the firemen who were mostly ignoring him. They did seem a little worried when he approached the broken out window, but they relaxed when he stopped and bent over to look over the edge but didn’t walk any closer. He could hear them snickering as he began getting wet from the spray of their hoses.
Nothing could be seen in the darkness. A few small flames burned in upper corners of the room, but nothing large enough to make the interior brighter. He stood back and hoped nothing from above would fall down on him. He was already wet from the spray of the hose lines, his suit coat hung limply from his shoulders. He backed off before his pants also began suffering the addition of water to their fabric.
“Tim!” Turning quickly he saw a garbage dumpster that seemed to be calling him. Moving to the side, he looked to see who it was that was calling him. He squatted to look under it, but no one was there either. He approached it cautiously.
“Tim.” The voice sounded again, but very weakly this time. If he hadn’t walked over to it he never would have heard the second call. He looked up from his crouch and saw Brad hanging over the edge of the open garbage bin. Tim rushed over and grabbed the shoulder of his worker. He pulled on it, trying to get him over the edge. A shriek of pain sounded from the engineer.
“What is it?” he asked while holding him from slipping back into the bin. Looking over the top of Brad’s body, he could see that it was nearly full of water, and letting him go now might result in his drowning. He clutched the shoulder again, witnessing a wince in Brad’s face. As his legs floated up he grabbed one and pulled it up and over the bin’s edge. He set the feet on the ground while keeping him from falling out. But as he let go of the feet Brad collapsed anyway, falling over Tim’s shoulder and then back against the metal bin. He sat back against it while Tim straightened his legs out in front of him.
Trying to judge his injuries while the water bounced off of them, he noticed that Brad’s hand was horribly crushed and twisted. It looked black from the blood that had congealed over it and could see that it was badly misshapen. Instead of being flat and wide it seemed to be more of a roll of fingers extended from his wrist, which was also bending oddly.
“Tim, Tim,” he started. “We have to get The Planet working tonight.” startling his boss.
“Don’t worry about it Brad, you don’t look to be able to work on anything for a while.” Brad looked at the hand and left it hang limply at its odd angle and shape. He hesitated, taking a breath or two of submission to his pain. Tim could see that the wrinkles around his eyes were full of pain.
“I think they broke my ankle too.” He told Tim between wincing heavily from the pain with each shift he made in his body or legs. Tim looked at the ankle and was quickly in agreement with him. It was bent way too high above the foot where it didn’t normally bend and his white sock was also dark red, even after having soaked in the bin full of water. He hopefully thought that it might just be a large swelling that was causing it to appear crooked.
“Who are THEY Brad?” he asked while doing some wincing of his own at the horribly battered friend. He looked at his face while it was periodically illuminated by the flashing red lights of the fire truck. It was bruised and cut as well. If something wasn’t broken beneath the beaten skin he would be surprised.
“It was a mob. They kept beating me while I was at the bar, then brought me outside when the bartender objected. “ a crooked smile appeared briefly then disappeared. “They took after him as well when he threatened to throw them all out. I saw him being dragged out while they were throwing me in this container.”
After a little while of trying to get some of the water to splash into his mouth, he requested Tim to help in getting him out of the street. Thinking that it was also a good idea, he struggled with Brad to get him to his feet. It was a long way to his house, and crossing over multiple hoses wasn’t an easy task while he limped on one ankle.
While they struggled away from the burning buildings Brad told him the story of the bar. They conversation was calm and civilized right up until a younger man came in. He started talking about the missing planet of Mercury. Brad chuckled through gritted teeth.
“We all thought he was crazy for the longest time. He was getting harassed and people were buying him drinks just to keep him talking.” After a hesitation he continued, “Then he started talking about the strange effect in the atmosphere, how it was such an odd green that no one had ever seen before. Then people started agreeing with him. Some people had seen it themselves and said that it was spectacular, but eerie.”
“Of course we’d all had plenty to drink by then, including myself. It was then that I made the biggest mistake. I started telling them about your space machine. I got rather wordy when they started putting together the two events and before I knew it I was having to defend myself for causing the effect in the sky. They turned on me just like they had the stranger, only this time it wasn’t in fun, they were getting angrier and blamed me for causing it. But I kept defending us. The more I talked, the angrier they became, the more scared they appeared of me.” He stiffened a little against Tim. “I couldn’t resist bragging a little while I had them scared.” He stopped suddenly, nearly falling out of Tim’s reach.
“We have to get to the laboratory and get your machine running Tim. There can be no waiting.”
Taken aback, Tim continued to carry his friend towards the house. “The garage Tim. We have to leave right away.” He didn’t know what else to do, Brad’s words were so intense, so direct that he felt no choice other than to do what he demanded. Tim brought him to the garage and they shuffled through the side door, causing the injured man to moan when his bad leg was dragged over the threshold.
Once they had gotten into the vehicle and Tim had driven through the open door he stopped to leave the car, to return to close the door behind them.
“Never mind that!” Brad yelled suddenly through broken lips. It came out as sort of a slur, but Tim understood well enough when he looked out the windshield and down the road. Through the first light of dawn he could see several people with flashlights heading straight down the road towards them. They were coming from the street towards the burning buildings. He could see by the way the flashlights were searching the ground that they were trailing the pair from the bar. As they sat in the car, hesitatingly, the flashlight began shining across the car, first one, then more joined until Tim was being blinded by the lights.
“GO!” Brad shouted, but it was already too late, Tim had stepped on the gas pedal and the car lurched, then stopped while still in the driveway. He reached for the ignition switch and began turning it furiously to restart the car. The crowd began running towards them as the whining starter sounded like it was going to blow up any second. It caught finally as the crowd surrounded the car and began beating it with flashlights and heavy boards that they had carried with them.
Two bodies were thrown into the grass as they were butted by the fenders while crossing in front to beat on the other side of the car. Like some kind of action figures they rolled and came right back to their feet, turned, and attacked once again, but by then they car had hit the road and was quickly escaping.
Tim watched in the mirrors as the mob threw their sticks and flashlights at the car. Only a single flashlight bounced off of the trunk. It was a long one that must’ve held several batteries inside of it. He was sure that they had dented his car with the heavy thump it had made in his ears. As the distance increased between them he could see the crowd turn and head for his house.
The tall, Victorian-styled house seemed to swallow the mob as it disappeared into the dark garage. A single light appeared within it as the car dropped below the level of a hill as it sped out of town and towards the laboratory. He was sure it was the last he would see of the house. He had loved the beauty of it, inside as well as its exterior. He had hand painted several areas of gingerbread decorating it, setting up the scaffolding himself. It was his way of relaxing when he wasn’t trying to build ‘The Planet’.