in this short story called Terror on the Job, a new job turns deadly.

Terror on the Job

by

Brian Covault

Copyright (C) 2019 by Brian Covault.  All rights reserved.

A dark and ominous sky hangs over an office park in Baltimore, Maryland as a heavy rain falls.   Most of the buildings in the park are the typical three or four stories with all glass windows from top to bottom on all four sides.

One building is different.  It has four stories like many of the other buildings in the park but except for front facing windows on the ground floor, the exterior is all white, concrete walls.  The words “Condor Inc.” appear in black letters above the main entrance at the center of the ground floor.

A metallic, sliver Toyota Prius with an Uber sign in the lower right, front window pulls up to the main entrance of Condor Inc.  A man wearing slacks, a dress shirt and sport coat gets out of the car, opens an umbrella and enters the building as the Toyota moves away.

Inside the front entrance, Brad Palmer takes in the expansive lobby with a look of content.  Brad has neatly cut black hair and brown eyes with a thin mustache that is neatly trimmed.  At 25, he has the body of a man with a gym membership who watches what he eats.  The tanned, white face and hands complete the athletic look.

Brad walks toward the reception desk at the center of the lobby. A large man in a security uniform sits behind the desk.  Another man leaning against the front of the desk talking to the guard has a look very similar to Brad both in body build and attire.  Seeing Brad approaching, he stands up straight, smiles warmly and extends a hand to Brad.  They shake hands as if they’ve known each other for some time.

“It’s so good to see you again, Brad!” the man says as he shakes Brad’s hand.

“It’s good to see you too, Mark!” Brad says.

“Let’s take care of that umbrella.” Mark offers.

Brad hands the collapsed umbrella to Mark who in turn gives it to the security guard behind the desk.

Taking the umbrella, the security guard looks at Brad and says “This will be right here when you are ready to leave.  I’m glad to see you back, Mr. Palmer.”

“And now your phone.” Mark says.

“I remember the drill.” Brad says as he hands his phone to the guard.

“This will be waiting for you right by your umbrella.” the guard says.

Brad nods at the guard.

Putting an arm around Brad’s shoulder, Mark steers him toward one of several rooms at the back of the lobby as he says “Let’s work on getting you all settled in again, Brad.”

They enter a small room with a short conference table in the middle. There are three chairs on each side of the table.  A speaker phone sits in the middle of the table.  A fake potted plant sits in one corner of the room.  A large TV is mounted on the wall at the long end of the table opposite the door Brad and Mark just came through.  There is a second door to the right of the TV.

Mark gestures toward the center seat on one side of the table while he takes the center seat on the other side where a manila folder sits on the table in front of him.

Mark opens the manila folder as he says “Sorry to go through this paper work again but it’s required with each new job assignment.  We’ve already gone through these documents on the phone.  I just need your signature.”

“I understand.” Brad says.

“Good.” Mark says.  He takes a document from the folder and hands it to Brad.  “This is your new temporary employment contract.  As we discussed on the phone, it includes significantly more pay this time around.”

Brad smiles as he takes the document, flips through it, removes a pen from his shirt pocket and applies his signature at the bottom of the last page.  He hands the signed document back to Mark.

“Excellent!” Mark says.  He hands a second document to Brad.  “This is our no disclosure agreement.  As I said on the phone, it’s the same text you signed the first time around.  New job, new signature.”

“Got it.” Brad says, taking the document.  He flips through the NDA and signs the last page before handing it back to Mark.

“Very good.” Mark says.  “Now…”

Brad holds up his hand saying “Before we go any further, I really want to thank you for giving me this job.  It means a lot to me after the attack.”

Mark leans back in his chair as he says “Oh, we wanted you back the moment your first contract ended.”  Mark gestures towards the smart watch on Brad’s left wrist saying “We don’t give out that parting gift to just anyone.  Those only go to people who really impress us.  And, your work, Brad is really impressive. Then after the break in…well…we wanted to help.”

Brad blushes slightly saying “Thanks, Mark. That really means a lot to me.  The therapy sessions have really helped too.  Thank you for that.”  Brad raises his left wrist and points to the smart watch with his other hand. “And, this is just awesome!”

Mark says, “Like I said, your work is very impressive and we really wanted you back, my friend.  How is the therapy going, if you’re OK with talking about what happened?”

“Oh, I don’t mind at all.”  Brad says.  “Re-telling the story again and again is part of the immersion therapy.  The idea is that the event loses its impact as it becomes that story you’ve told a hundred times.”

“Is it working?” Mark asks.

“Yes.  I couldn’t even get through the whole story in the beginning.  No problem now,” Brad says.

“I’m so glad it’s getting better, Brad,” Mark says.

“It is,” Brad re-assures Mark. “Ok, I’m home alone sitting in my living room watching TV when the doorbell rings.  I open the door and this guy dressed all in black wearing some crazy clown mask forces his way in and starts beating the crap out of me.  I tried to fight back, but this guy was just too strong and fast.”

He could have been on something.” Mark suggests. “I know you keep in shape but you’re not an ex- marine or former pro boxer.”

“I get that.” Brad says and smiles.  “The shrink likes to say stuff like that too at this point.”

“OK.  OK.” Mark chuckles.  “Go on.”

“Anyway,” Brad continues, “this goes on and on.  He pummels me all the way through the hall back through the living room and up against the back wall in that room knocking over everything he can reach along the way.”

“Wow!” Mark says.

“No kidding.” Brad agrees.  “Then, it gets much worse.  He puts a gun to my head and just stands there, nose to nose, breathing heavily with the barrel of the gun pressed into my temple. I thought I was going to die right then and there!”

“Holy crap!” Mark exclaims.

“You said it, bro!” Brad agrees.  “Here’s where it gets weird.  I’m standing there, hands covering my face, eyes closed tight, tears running down my face as I’m begging for my life and then I notice I don’t hear his heavy breathing anymore.  I open my eyes and he’s gone without a trace.”

Mark says “I’ve been following the news reports ever since I found out you were the victim.  The police have never caught the guy or even had a sighting.”

“Yeah, that’s part of the anxiety. He may come back.  Police stepped up patrols in my neighborhood in the weeks following the attack.  It’s been months now.  They don’t do that anymore.”

“I don’t think you have anything to worry about.  He was probably stoned out of his mind and doesn’t even remember anything.” Mark suggests.

“The shrink likes to say that too.  It’s been long enough now that I’ve gotten over that fear.  I’m good.” Brad says.

Mark says “That’s great to hear, my friend.  Now, let’s stop dredging up the past and put you to work!”

“Good to go here!” Brad agrees.

“Excellent! Now, there is just one more item to take care of before we get you started and I’m sorry to say you’re going to have to wait here a bit. I’ve been having trouble arranging for someone in Personnel to take care of your new security badge.  I can’t get you into the secure area until that is done.  Gotta follow security protocol.” Mark says pointing toward the security camera hanging from the ceiling in one corner of the room.

Brad nods toward the camera saying “I know. I’ve been through the security training.”

“And, you won’t have to go through that again.” Mark announces.  “It hasn’t been long enough to need a refresher.”

“Good deal. I’m ready to work.” Brad says.

“Alright, then.” Mark says.  “Give me 15 minutes to get up to Personnel and drag someone down here to take care of that security badge and we are done with the preliminaries.”

Mark stands and heads for the door.  Halfway there, he spins and gives Brad a thumbs up.

Brad returns the thumbs up and then Mark leaves the room.

Brad leans back in his chair, smiling.  The immersion therapy has definitely been helping but he feels the best medicine for him is to get back into the routine of a job.  He really meant it when he told Mark this job means a lot to him.  It took a lot of time, effort and mental anguish to get to the point where he was ready to work again.

He begins daydreaming about the work he will be doing, talking with people he’d worked with before and the satisfaction of getting important work done.  A very faint, distant “pop, pop, pop” sound invades his reverie.  This is followed by the faint sound of people screaming.  Is he imagining that?  Is this some PTSD symptom he is dealing with?

Then, he is jolted from his daydream by the sound of an alarm and an announcement over the PA system.

“This is an active shooter alert.  All personnel follow security protocol.  Repeating. This is an active shooter alert.  This is NOT a drill.”

“Holy crap!” Brad thinks to himself.  “This can’t be happening!  OK. OK.  Take a deep breath.  You’ve had active shooter training here.  The protocol is to flee first, hide and barricade in place second and confront the shooter only as a last resort.”

Brad had always felt he didn’t need formal training on fleeing as the first option.  That was pretty much natural instinct.  Brad rises and strides to the door he came through a few minutes earlier only to find it will not budge.

“What the hell!” Brad nearly shouts.

Brad reaches into his pocket for his phone and then remembers it is at the reception desk he can’t get to.

“Damn!” Brad mutters to himself.

He rushes to the phone on the conference table and tries to dial security.  But, the phone is completely dead.

“Again, what the hell!” Brad growls.

He rushes to the door at the other end of the room. The door knob turns!  Brad cracks the door and peers into what hallway he can see. Nothing.  He opens the door wider and looks both ways down the hall.  All clear.  He walks into the hall and silently closes the door behind him.

At one end of the hall is a wall.  Dead end.  At the other end, there is a turn into another hallway.  There are several doors on both sides of the hallway Brad is now standing in.  But, Brad is not looking for another room.  He is looking for a way out of the building.

Brad begins slowly creeping down the hall toward the direction of the turn. Then, he hears four very loud bangs in quick succession followed by several screams that sound very near.  Brad flattens his back against the wall, holding his breath, waiting, listening.

He hears crying and moaning as well as the sound of footsteps growing fainter and fainter as if someone is walking father away from his location.  Could that be the shooter?  Brad continues to wait and listen.  But, all he hears is crying and moaning.

Taking a deep breath, Brad moves down the wall toward the turn into the other hall.  When he reaches the end of the wall, he peers around the corner.

30 feet down the other corridor, Brad can see several men and women lying on the floor.  There is no sign of the shooter or any weapon.  Brad makes his way toward them.  As he gets near them, he can see there is blood everywhere, on the floor, the walls, on their clothes.  Some are clutching wounds, moaning and crying.  Others are motionless and silent.  This is not good.

Brad approaches the man who appears to be in the best shape.  He is sitting up, his back to the wall on one side of the corridor.  He is not wearing a shirt.  That appears to be wrapped around a leg wound.

“You OK?” Brad asks the man.

“I’ve been better.”  The man says in a shaky voice.  “But, I’ll live.  I don’t think the leg wound is serious and it looks like the shirt is managing the bleeding for now.  But, the others…”

“Yeah, I can see.  Look, if I can get out of here, I’ll get help as fast as I can.” Brad assures the man.  “Where is the nearest exit?

“Go down this hall and take the left at the end, then a right at the end of that hall.  There will be a set of double doors at the end of the next hall. The exit is on the other side of those double doors.  The double doors are secured.”

“Got it.  Do you have a security badge?”

The man reaches into a pants pocket and pulls out a badge.  He offers it to Brad.

“Here, take it.” The man says.  “I can’t make it to the exit with this leg anyway.”

Brad takes the badge. “Thanks!” he says. “I will get help as fast as I can.”

“Good luck.” The man says.

Brad nods before moving away.  He makes his way down to the other end of the hall and peers around the corner holding his breath.  All clear.  He lets out his breath as he makes the left turn.  Half way down to the next corner, he comes across a pool of blood on the floor and more blood spattering the walls but no one in sight.

“What the hell happened here?” Brad asks himself, breathing rapidly.

Brad’s hands begin to shake as he makes his way to the end of the corridor and looks around the corner to his right.  All clear down this hallway too.  At the end of the corridor is a T intersection and a set of double doors on the other side of that intersection.

“Almost there!  Keep it together, Brad!” he says to himself as he moves down the wall of the last corridor between him and escape.

Brad is nearing the end of the last stretch of corridor when he jumps at the loud sound of something crashing to the floor somewhere behind him.  It does not sound very far away.  Is that the shooter or people trying to barricade in place?

Brad does not want to stick around to find out.  At the T intersection, he carefully checks both ways but sees nothing.  Brad looks back behind him.  Is that the faint sound of footsteps he hears?

Brad turns and begins backpedaling toward the double doors.  He swipes the borrowed security badge across the scanner to the side of the door.  He hears the sound of the door unlocking.

Brad continues to backpedal using his back to push one of the doors open.  It is only when he is on the other side of those double doors and hears the click of the door lock re-engaging that Brad lets out a huge sigh of relief.

Brad turns to find himself face to face with a figure dressed in black from head to toe, a grotesque clown mask where a face should be just like the person who attached him at his house!

Brad barely catches the barrel of a handgun out of the corner of his eye a split second before it crashes into the left side of his face. The blow knocks him back against the locked double doors. 

Brad closes his eyes in reaction to the searing pain from the left side of his head.  When he opens them again, seconds later, he is looking into the business end of a handgun not two inches from his forehead.

“NO!” Brad screams as he closes his eyes tight again, this time in sheer terror.

There is the deafening sound of a gun blast and then….

Nothing.

No sound.

No new pain.

Heart still beating.

Still breathing.

Brad slowly opens his eyes and looks around.

Clown mask is now lying on the floor.  He is not moving.  Behind him, two men in security uniforms approach, guns drawn.

Brad raises his hands and stammers, “It’s OK.  I’m a good guy.”

The two men approach cautiously.  When they reach Brad, one reaches down and checks clown mask for a pulse. After a few seconds, he speaks into a microphone strapped over his shoulder.

“The shooter has been neutralized.  Repeat. The shooter has been neutralized.”

“Copy that.” says a voice over the radio.  “What is your location?’

“Sector 4G.” the security guard says.

“Copy that.” comes back over the radio. “Any survivors?”

The security guard looks at Brad questioningly.

Brad points back over his shoulder to the double doors.  “Through those doors then straight ahead.  Take the first left and then the next right after that.  You will find five people there. Some are alive. Some…” Brad trails off.

The second security guard puts a comforting hand on Brad’s shoulder while the first speaks into the radio.

“One here in 4G, alive.  Five in 6H.  Some alive. Some deceased.”

“Copy that.” comes over the radio. “Recovery teams are on the way to both locations.  The building is secure.  Stand down.”

There is a sigh of relief from all three.

The second guard addresses Brad.  “It’s OK.  It’s over.  Help will be here soon.  They’ll get you to a hospital for treatment.  Try to relax.”

Brad breathes deeply so thankful that it is over.

The second guard puts an arm around Brad’s shoulder and steers him down the hall through a door into a small reception area.  It is a small waiting area with a small table with two chairs on each side.  There are a couple of newspapers and several magazines siting on the table.  There is a building entrance at the other end of the room.  Above the table and chairs is a large mirror.

“You can relax now.”  The guard tells Brad.  “You’re safe.  The building has been searched. There was just the one shooter.”

“One was enough.”  Brad said. “I was attacked by someone dressed in black with a clown mask at my home four months ago.”

Recognizing Brad now the guard says, “Oh, you’re that Palmer guy!  I’m so sorry you’ve been through something like this twice!”

“Thanks.” Brad says.  “It’s funny though.  I seem to be handling it better the second time around for some reason.”

“How do you mean?” the guard asks.

“The first time, they found me curled up in a ball, shaking and unresponsive.  Now, I’m an emotional mess, yes, but I’m not curled up in a fetal position shaking uncontrollably.”

The guard considers this for a moment and then says “Maybe it’s like the old saying.  Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

“Yeah, maybe.” Brad says.

The guard says “in any case, the ambulance will be here shortly and then this will all be behind you.  They’ll get you all checked out at the hospital.  That’s quite a shiner you have there.”

“Really?” Brad asks.

“See for yourself.”  The guard says gesturing toward the mirror.

Brad looks in the mirror and checks the damage.  A large bruise over his left cheekbone is already turning black and blue.

There is only one thought on Brad’s mind.  “What the hell just happened?”

 


On the other side of the mirror, a man in a military uniform looks at the bruise over Brad’s cheekbone.

“Quite a shiner indeed.” The man says. “Any higher and it could have been a head injury.”

A man in slacks and a dress shirt standing beside him responds.  “Our man is very good.  He’s a former marine who excelled in hand to hand combat.  I can assure you he put that blow right where he wanted to.  It was the perfect close combat simulation without risk of serious injury.”

Both men turn at the sound of a door opening behind them to see clown mask approaching them.

“Here he is now.” the man in business attire says.

Clown mask walks right up to the two men, raises his hands to his neck and pulls a stocking mask, clown face included, up over his head.  It’s Mark, the co-worker and friend Brad was talking to earlier.

“We’re very good at what we do here, General McAllen.” Mark says. “And, it shows in the results.  Let me show you.”

Mark leads both men to a bank of monitors on the far wall of the room opposite the one way mirror.

“On the far left monitors, you can see our cleanup crews are removing the fake blood from the floors and walls here in this building while our makeup artists are removing makeup from our actors.”

The others watch the wounded and dead Brad saw earlier now chatting with those getting them cleaned up.  Floors and walls are being cleared of any trace of what appeared to be blood.

“To the right of those monitors,” Mark continues, “you can see the replay of today’s test.”

The others watch video of Brad making his way through the corridors finding seemingly dead and wounded along the way.

“Next over is the display of Brad’s biometric data as he progresses through the simulation.”

“Impressive.” McAllen says.

Mark nods at McAllen then continues. “Now, the group of monitors on the right side of the wall is a mirror image of the left bank, only this side tracks the first test at Brad’s home four months ago.  The replay is on the right with biometric data left of that side by side with the biometric data from today’s event.”

“I like an operation that is organized.” McAllen comments.

 Mark nods at McAllen again.

“We try our best, Sir.” Mark says.

A man working the controls of a console in front of the wall of monitors looks toward Mark and announces “Maximum stress point coming up!”

“This is what I wanted you to see, General.” Mark says.

All three man step forward to get a closer look at the monitors.

Suddenly, all video freezes.  On the left, Brad is facing a handgun at Condor Inc.  On the right, Brad is facing a handgun in his living room.   Both biometric data displays are frozen at this single point in time.

“This is the point in both exercises where the subject is under the most stress.  Look at the heart rhythm, blood pressure and pulse from the home invasion.”

McAllen nods.  “He could have had a heart attack.”

“Not likely.” Mark explains.  “The pre-employment physical before his first assignment checked out.  He is in excellent physical condition and good health with a strong heart.  We screen our subjects carefully, Sir.  We want to minimize risk as much as possible.  We take our subjects to a level of stress similar to close combat, yes, but only briefly and it is all very well planned and choreographed.”

“I see.” McAllen says.

“Now, Sir,” Mark continues, “take a look at the biometric data from the high point of today’s exercise.  All of his vitals are elevated to be sure but at only half the level of the home invasion!  And, unlike the break in, in today’s event, he was functional when the simulation was over.  He was even able to give accurate directions back to the dead and wounded in reverse order.”

“And, these results are consistent?” McAllen asks.

“There are slight variations among the test subjects we attribute to differences in psychological makeup.  But, all results are well within required parameters, Sir.”

McAllen says, “Alright.  I’m convinced.  The drug works.  How is it administered?”

“Through the smart watch we give to every test subject.  It also transmits biometric data over a wireless connection.  It took some doing getting the wireless and surveillance gear into his home before the invasion and then removing it while he was in the hospital.  But, the effort was worthwhile.  The results bear that out.”

“Doesn’t the smart watch pose a risk of discovery?” McAllen asks.

“We’ve got that covered.” Mark explains. “We have already sent a kill command to the watch that shuts it down. It will be explained away as being broken during his ordeal here.  We will replace it, of course.  Don’t want any hard feelings.  And, that replacement will be just like the original, minus the drug delivery and biometric data transmission functions.”

“You certainly have all the bases covered.  Good work.” McAllen says.  “If the remaining tests confirm all other results, we can move on to the second phase with enlisted men in combat simulations.”

“I want to be clear, General.” Mark says.  “They will still have bad memories, nightmares, emotional scars and PTSD.  The drug will not affect that.”

“I understand.” McAllen says.  “And, we will deal with that as best we can.  But, if this drug can maintain high performance functioning in traumatic combat situations that gets the job done, that’s what it’s all about.”

“I understand, Sir.” Mark says. “We will continue to send progress reports and a final report when the project is complete.”

“Very good.” McAllen says.  “Keep up the good work.”

McAllen and Mark shake hands.  Then, McAllen leaves the room, walks down a short corridor and through an exit at the side of the building near the front.  Outside, he walks to a sedan waiting at the curb.  A driver opens the rear door of the sedan for him.

McAllen stops at the car and looks up at the sky where the overcast is much lighter with filtered sunshine peeking through the clouds.  Then he looks toward the drive at the front of the building right around the corner from where his is standing.  Brad is being loaded into an ambulance there.

McAllen looks at the driver.

“The weather is much nicer.” McAllen says.

“Yes, it is, Sir.” the driver agrees.

“Might even get in a round of golf before the day is done.”

“That would be nice, Sir.” the driver says.

McAllen removes a pair of sunglasses and puts them on.

“Indeed it would.” McAllen says.  “Let’s go!”

McAllen gets into the back seat of the sedan.  The driver closes the door, walks around the front of the car to the driver’s side, gets in, starts the sedan and drives away turning the corner at the end of the property and following the ambulance down the street and away from Condor Inc.

THE END

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