“Rise and shine.”
Juan stirred to consciousness. His head ached on account of someone clubbing him from behind and his wrists hurt from the rope tying them down.
“What? Where am I?” he asked. He looked around. He appeared to be inside a darkened warehouse or perhaps an underground bunker, it was hard to tell. It was dark but the sound traveled in here. Echoey. A woman was sitting next to him, chair reversed, arms crossed, casually leaning on the back support.
“Well, you and your boys wanted to see what was in here so badly, so here you are,” she said. She was dressed in tactical gear. A lot of straps and pouches. And guns. So many guns.
“What do you want? What do you want from me?” Juan asked.
“We told you to stay away from Brighton. You didn’t listen. Well look around. Was it worth it?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going on. Why am I here?” Juan asked, testing his restraints. The rope cut into his skin. There was no slipping out of it.
“I wanted to ask you a few things, Mr. Gutierrez. First of all, are you a lieutenant in the gang known as Rico’s boys?” she asked.
“What are you a cop? You a… a Fed or something? Isn’t this illegal?” Juan asked, his voice cracking from fear and dusty air.
“Would you be more cooperative if I said no?” she asked.
“I ain’t telling you shit, girl. I ain’t a talker.”
“You’ve never had to test that assertion, have you? We’ll find out if you’re a talker or not. Surprisingly, it doesn’t take long. Even if you’ve been trained to resist torture.”
Juan realized there were others here. Three others, from what he could see. They stood just beyond the border of the single light bulb that lit him from above. The panic building in his chest welled up and he let out a whimper.
“Hey hey come on. What the fuck is all this? Who are you people?”
“Who’s asking? You never did answer my question. Are you one of Rico’s boys?” she asked.
“I… I’ve got the lavender tux and luchador mask. What do you think?” he asked. She nodded, satisfied by his answer. “Why do you care about this place so much?”
“I asked first,” she said.
“We care because you care. It’s obvious this place means something to you. What more do you want to know?” Juan asked. The woman leaned closer.
“We want to know what you’ve heard. Rumors. Speculation. Wild guesses. Anything. Does anybody in the criminal underworld really know what this place is? Or what’s underneath it?”
“I don’t know. I just know that this place is way more important than we thought so we came to check it out. My boys… what did you do with my men?” Juan asked.
“Don’t worry. You’ll see them soon.” She got up from her chair and walked a circle around him. “This was the proving grounds for Brighton National Labs before they moved to their new location up north. Everything they ever made got tested here. They’ve got furnaces for heat testing, pressure rooms for stress tests, variable weight presses for structural integrity and strength tests and many other things. This particular device you’re strapped to, for example, is meant to test all kinds of impact armor, kinetic dampeners, and full body shells.”
That’s when Juan noticed that his chair was sitting on a track that led straight to a concrete wall. He’d seen enough crash test videos to know what that meant.
“Oh god, let me go! Please!”
“Normally they would have taken everything out of here and disposed of it properly, but they’ve fallen on hard times. Not enough money to do anything but abandon the place. They even left the generators. All I have to do is flip a switch,” she said, flipping a switch on a nearby control panel, “and everything comes alive.”
The lights turned on row by row with a click. Panels on the wall lit up. The chair Juan was sitting in started humming. He might have peed himself just a little because of it.
“Okay, listen, everybody has a theory about what’s in here. Everything from totally normal shit like boxes and cleaning supplies to the wildest shit you ever heard.”
“I’m listening,” she said.
“We only just figured out that Brighton Labs used to own this joint. The oldest guys in the gang even remember when the place was open, but nobody really knows what’s here I swear.”
She turned a knob on the control panel and the chair’s humming grew louder.
“You’re a real chatterbox, you know that? You’ve got a way with words and a cadence I’d like to hear in an audiobook or something. Too bad you chose this life instead.”
“Whoa hey what are you doing? What’s happening?” Juan asked.
“What do you think? It’s a crash test, dummy.”
The magnets on the track reversed and shot the chair forward, pushing Juan’s organs toward his back. 2.3 seconds later, Juan was abstract art painting the concrete wall at the track’s end.
“Test Failed!” Theo said in his best computer voice impression. He chuckled to himself, snorted, then coughed when he saw no one else was laughing.
“We didn’t get much out of him, Lydia” said Rio, sounding disappointed as always. Lydia turned the rail chair off and blew a stray hair out of her face.
“He confirmed what we already suspected,” she replied. “The mobs and gangs don’t have a clue what we got here. Otherwise they would have stormed this place and taken it.”
“As long as we keep this looking like a meaningless turf war, they won’t,” said Rio.
“I’m hungry. Anyone up for spaghetti?” Cynthia said, pointing at the Juan exhibit.
“Dude, that’s… I’m gonna hurl,” said Theo. Cynthia cackled.
“What’s our next move?” asked Rio.
“Well, we can keep screwing around here,” said Lydia. “Or we can go out and bust some more heads to make sure the message gets through that no one comes here.”
“It’s a fine line we’re walking. We have to tread carefully or we risk bringing the heat down on us,” said Rio. Lydia nodded in agreement but she didn’t like it. She wanted heads to bust.
“Isn’t pledge week still happening in Tanglewood? We could head over there and check it out,” said Cynthia.
“About that,” Theo interrupted. He spun his laptop around to show the others. “There are cops everywhere.”
“Holy shit. Who fucked up and brought the sea of blue down on their dumbasses?” Rio asked.
“That’s just it. It wasn’t one of our guys,” said Theo, almost excitedly. “Team Terrence had an unwanted guest. You have to see this.”
The others gathered around and watched the drone’s infrared footage as one heat signature took down a half dozen other heat signatures in mere seconds.
“That what I think it is?” Rio asked.
“If you’re thinking Mask, then yes. Caught him doing a quick change before speeding away on a bike,” said Theo.
“You got eyes on him now?” Rio asked.
“You bet I do,” Theo replied.
“Sounds worth checking out,” Rio said. He grabbed a 12 gauge shotgun and an ammo box. “Load up. We got a Mask to put down.”