the situation?" Garber asked while suiting up. The new Kevlar
was lighter than last year's model; other than that his outfit hadn't
changed much over the last decade. He still wore the same gloves
from his first SWAT assignment. The horse-faced officer who seemed
to be in charge of the scene rattled off the main points.
hostiles with seven hostages. They escaped from a bank hold-up on
First Avenue in an SUV. Officers gave chase until the perps crashed"
He pointed to a bullet-riddled Toyota that sat smashed into a metal
rail next to the dock-side warehouse. "and they managed
to get into the warehouse." He unrolled a large blueprint on
the hood of his patrol car and pointed. "They entered here,
in the loading area. We think you can enter undetected over here."
scanned the layout quickly.
employees in there?"
sir. The place has been condemned. We talked to the manager on the
phone. They're gonna tear it down next week."
did a quick sound check on his lapel mic as he continued to ignore
the vague banalities that the hostage negotiator spewed out of his
megaphone. He noticed fog seeping out of the nearest door.
it's being torn down, why is it still cold?" The place's nameOlympic
Cold Storagestood in faded blue letters twenty feet high on
one side of the colossal square building.
only turned off the freezers yesterday."
did they wait until the last minute to turn off the freezers? Do
they still have merchandise in there?"
I only know what the building manager told me. He said
lost his patience. "What!?"
said that the place is so old, that it's only the ice that keeps
it from falling apart."
know it sounds"
the place has been thawing out for the past twenty-four hours?"
And there's one more thing."
checked his weapons. Two pistols, fully loaded, cleaned and oiled.
Two spare clips.
of the hostiles may have a bomb."
bomb?" Garber asked.
teller at the bank said that he showed her something attached to
his chest. It was blinking."
we think it was real?"
let me see if I've got this. Three men, armed with
weapons, have seven hostages in a condemned building that could
collapse at any moment and one of them may have an explosive. Do
I have that right?"
officer paused, then nodded. He decided not to bother Garber with
the building manager's more
exotic concerns about the warehouse.
The manager was probably just hung-over, anyway.
moved around to the west side of the building. The warehouse had
no windows in the back, so there was no need to use caution; he
ran. The fire exit was, according to the building manager, not wired
for alarm anymore. Garber drew one of his 9mm weapons, said a quick
prayer, and eased the door open. Luckily, it didn't squeal in metallic
protest; he entered the building silently.
place was dark. Garber crouched near the door, pausing to allow
his eyes to adjust. After twenty seconds, he could make out shadows
of shadows. He could just barely hear the echoes of speech to the
east: no specific words, just phantom vowel sounds. He knew there
were windows on that side of the building, above the loading dock.
The morning sun would be slanting in right about now, ready to blind
him if he had worn low-light goggles. This could be tactically difficult.
along the wall, Garber's shoulder bumped into some metal racking.
He slid along the cold frame, brushing his elbow against a rail
as he went. He believed he was headed in the right direction.
the distant shouting of the bank robber, he heard the dripping of
a thousand runnels of water flowing down from every level of the
steadily melting warehouse. The sound effectively hid the squelch
of his boots in pools of water on the floor. The whole place stank
of fish: a deep, rank smell that spoke of a century of maritime
business and little or no serious cleaning.
earpiece crackled to life.
leader is threatening to kill a hostage in fifteen minutes."
glimpsed a glint of a reflection dead ahead. A row of ten six-inch-wide
strips of heavy, transparent plastic blocked the doorway to the
next room of the freezer. Garber carefully slipped through the partition.
On the other side, the sound of the hostile's voice was clearer.
a bunch of dead hostages, you won't!"
man's voice was tinged with terror, and he was yelling himself hoarse.
Garber assigned him the handle Yeller.
inside the warehouse, the air was much colder. Garber saw more racking
to the left and right. Two pale white stripes on the concrete floor
marked the lane where a forklift would have run. About ten feet
ahead, a wall blocked his view of the east section of the warehouse
where the hostiles were. He sidestepped one aisle to the left, finding
the exit out of this room. This doorway practically shone compared
to the dimness of the areas he'd already moved through. Garber could
have eased through the opening and taken control of the entire building
except there was a hostile standing there, haloed by the light,
blocking the door, his back to Garber.
the side Garber saw a rickety-looking set of stairs that led to
the second level. From the blueprints, he knew the warehouse had
three levels. Without power, the elevators were useless. Yeller
was still shouting out the front of the building toward the hostage
negotiator and the sea of black-and-whites in the parking lot.
God the media hadn't arrived yet.
was planted in that doorway, not moving. Garber didn't know the
location of the third hostileor the hostages. He edged as
close to the sunlit doorway as possible, listening for the sounds
of fearful mutterings
but Yeller and the melting warehouse
were making too much racket. He couldn't hear a thing.
subliminal signal told Garber to look up. He hopped out of the way
as a pie-sized chunk of pock-marked concrete fell to the floor with
an echoing crack. Garber fast-marched two aisles down and crouched
behind a rack. Halo pushed through the plastic curtain at the doorway
and scanned the room. The dramatic sun-outline Garber had seen through
the doorway belied this guy's physique: he was a scrawny-looking
wimp. Halo noticed the slab of concrete and looked up. A fine spray
of gray dust fell into his face. He sneezed, wiped his nose, then
returned to his post. Garber noted Halo wasn't wearing a bomb.
was now only a few feet from the north stairs. If the plans were
accurate, he could climb the stairs and work his way along the outer
wall, avoiding a maze of chill rooms on the second level. In the
far corner of the warehouse, a ladder ran floor to ceiling, from
the loading bays up to the roof. Garber could peer through the opening
in the floor and look down at the hostiles with little chance of
being seen in the building's chancy illumination.
moved to the stairway and carefully climbed up to the second level.
The light here was scant as well, coming through ineffectively painted
windows on the east and north sides of the building. Garber hugged
the wall, heading for the ladder.
flash of movement in his peripheral vision stopped him. He swung
his pistol around and came fearfully close to pulling the trigger
nothing. He squinted into the near-total darkness.
He had seen someone. His heart beat audibly in his ears and sweat
streamed down his back despite the cold. He had caught only the
briefest of glimpses, but it looked like a man with a weapon. Garber
had been trained to trust that kind of feeling.
moved to the left and right, trying to see if he could get a bead
on whoever he had seen. He moved forward ten paces to the place
he had seen the man. No one was there. Of course there was no one
here. The hostiles wouldn't have climbed to the second floor. That
would be farther from escape. They would all be in the loading bay,
near the entrance, anxious to see what the cops would do.
Garber had seen was just his nerves.
backed up slowly. When he bumped into the north wall, he stifled
a childish yelp of panic. He thought, not for the first time, he
should limit himself to one cup of coffee each morning.
came up to the ladder and dropped to his belly, craning his head
down through the opening in the floor to look at the large loading
dock on the east side of the warehouse. Sunlight slipped through
broken windows and between the cracks of loading bay doors, illuminating
the dust in the air more efficiently than the room. The fire exit
door was chocked open, and Yeller stood to one side, peering out.
He had a blond crew cut and the body of a football player gone to
seed. Garber could see his chest. He wasn't wearing any bomb, authentic
or so feet into the empty room, Halo stood guard over the hostages.
To his credit, he wasn't panicked like Yeller. The seven hostages
laid on the floor, flat on their stomachs with their hands behind
their heads. Four were women, dressed like loan officers, or possibly
tellers. One was a doughy man in a suitprobably the bank manager.
Another was a lanky black man in a uniformthe security guard.
The last was an elderly Asian man, probably the only customer in
the place when it was attacked.
third hostile was nowhere to be seen. Garber had to assume the third
man was the one with the bombif there really was a bomb. Garber's
new priority was to locate Boomer.
heard a footstep: the sound of a boot scraping against rough concrete
flooring. Garber jumped back to his feet as quickly and quietly
as possible, unholstering his gun again. Boomer must have been on
the second level after all, Garber realized. He was making sure
the rest of the warehouse was empty. Maybe this guy was smarter
than Garber had anticipated.
the second level of the warehouse was chopped up into a dozen different
rooms, the sound might have echoed to Garber from anywhere. His
memory of the blueprints gave him a feel for the layout. If he moved
through the interlocking areas in a snaking S-shape, he could sweep
through them all in only a couple of minutes. Garber barely began
his sweep before Boomer found him.
the voice from behind ordered. Garber could hear dark humor in the
guy's tone. "Drop the gun and turn around."
began to turn.
said drop the gun
then turn around."
cursed silently and set his pistol on the floor. He hoped it was
too dark for Boomer to see he had a spare gun holstered under his
jacket. He turned around slowly, his hands extended, palms up.
was a tallish man with dark hair and a goatee, hiding behind a doorsill,
pointing an automatic pistol at him. Garber couldn't see much else
about him in the dim light, but it was clear he didn't have a bomb
underneath his leather jacket.
the bomb?" Garber asked. Boomer gave him a small smile.
far away, a crash sounded, more concrete falling out of the ceiling,
probably on the third level. Boomer turned his head. Garber rushed
him, grabbing for the gun. They tumbled to the floor, sloshing through
puddles of gritty water. Boomer rolled over on top of Garber, smiling
with bared teeth, as he slowly brought the gun closer to Garber's
head. Garber groaned with the effort of trying to push the pistol
away, but Boomer had the advantage of his body weight pressing down.
sliver of white appeared behind Boomer's shoulder. A pale man, wearing
bright, white overalls, came into view. Garber spent half a second
sorting through who this could be. An eighth hostage who got free?
A fourth hostile? A warehouse worker they didn't know was in the
building? Whitey slowly raised one arm, revealing a long cleaning
knife, the kind they use to disembowel fish. Though he moved very
slowly, his intent was clear. Whitey wasn't planning on disarming
this guy. He was going to kill him. Garber struggled to hold on
until Whitey could strike.
slowly and deliberately brought down the knife, cutting deep into
Boomer's left shoulder. The knife nicked a major artery; a fountain
of blood spurted. Boomer screamed and let go of the gun. He rolled
onto his back. He kicked at Whitey's legs. Boomer's boots didn't
seem to connect with Whitey's body. The knife came down again, still
slowly, like a dream. It sliced through Boomer's calf near the knee,
almost taking his leg off. Boomer cried out and tried to backpedal
away through a widening puddle of his own blood.
turned the pistol on Whitey.
under control. Drop the knife!" Garber commanded.
ignored Garber and reared back to stab again. Garber put a round
into Whitey's leg. Whitey continued in his attack, slowly dropping
to his knees. Garber put another round into Whitey's shoulder. He
was firing at point blank range. He couldn't have missed. Whitey
didn't respond, didn't bleed. Nothing. Garber put two rounds into
plunged the knife directly into Boomer's heart, ending his struggle.
and cries of alarm came up from the first level. Boomer's partners
called for him. The hostages screamed. The police negotiator turned
up his megaphone volume and demanded to know what was happening.
climbed to his feet, shaking like he hadn't since his days as a
raw recruit. Whitey stood as well. He locked his eyes on Garber
and started to move. The man's white coveralls seemed to make him
glow in the dark room. Even his face seemed to glow. Perhaps too
much. Perhaps his skin had been leached to a deathly white of its
own, bearing only the memory of pinkness and health. Perhaps his
eyes weren't merely brown, but were oily black pits filled with
pain and loathing and horrors given and received over lifetimes.
was only three feet away, nearly within the knife's range, when
Garber turned his pistol's aim slightly and fired again. The bullet
hit the knife with a clang, and knocked it out of Whitey's hand.
Silence. Frozen silence for a moment. Then Whitey made a face of
intense, unheard anger, and he faded from view.
blinked. He moved forward one step. Then two. He checked Boomer;
the man was clearly dead. Garber stashed Boomer's gun in his belt.
He checked around the corner, down the hall, behind him. Whitey
must have been a trick of the light, Garber thought. He hadn't just
encountered a ghost. Impossible. Whitey must have been an employee
of Olympic Cold Storage.
glowed with unearthly light and was impervious to bullets.
hell was breaking loose downstairs. Gunfire, shouting, and now the
barest whiff of tear gas. The officers out front must have gone
crazy when the shooting started in the warehouse. Garber ran over
to the ladder where curls of gas drifted lazily up. He took a deep
breath of fresh air, then poked his head through the floor to get
a look at the scene below.
SWAT team members were moving through the loading bay downstairs,
checking corners, yelling "Clear!" like idiots on some
TV show. Garber called to them, identifying himself. He climbed
down the ladder, eyes tearing up quickly from the gas. The room
was too big for any real concentration, though. He could still breathe.
dead hostile up there," he told one of the SWAT guys.
you hit? We heard several shots."
I'm fine. But there's someone else up there, too. White male, dressed
in white coveralls. He had a knife. He killed the perp, then I disarmed
flushed. "No. He got away."
SWAT member didn't say anything, but just from his body language,
Garber knew the guy wasn't thrilled. Garber looked over and saw
two officers leading Yeller away in cuffs. The officers led the
Halo?" he asked.
said he was upstairs."
there were three bank robbers. That one" He pointed at
Yeller. "the dead guy upstairs, and one other, a thin
guy in black, with an automatic rifle. The guy in white was already
the man guarding the
" He counted the hostages. "Shit!"
pulled his pistol and ran through the plastic sheeting into the
dark interior of the warehouse. Halo was gone, and he'd made off
with one of the hostages, one of the women. Apparently, these SWAT
idiots couldn't count.
the SWAT member called.
pulled a flashlight from his belt. Stealth was no longer critical.
Finding Halo and his hostagethat was critical. Garber moved
with a purpose through the next room, sidestepping from aisle to
aisle, trying to hit every corner of the place with his light. Up
ahead, Garber heard a woman's voice: "No!"
hurried forward, through another plastic divider into the back room
of the level. He found Halo crouched on the floor underneath a row
of racking, looking for something. The woman, a young black lady
in a red suit, knelt nearby. She looked to Garber for help. He could
see the reflections of tears on her cheeks.
Garber yelled loud enough to wake the
He yelled loud. Halo
jumped, clanging his head against the metal grate above him. He
yowled in pain and clambered out into the aisle, stumbling a bit
from the knock he'd given himself. Then, without much warning, he
spun around, lifting his rifle to waist level, preparing to spray
Garber with bullets.
calmly put three rounds into Halo's torso, punching him backwards.
Halo dropped his gun and fell to the concrete, dead.
continued to train his pistol on Halo, wary of another trick. He
needn't have bothered. Halo wasn't getting up ever again. Garber
swept the rest of the room quickly with his flashlight before dropping
to one knee to help the teller up.
going to be okay," he said to her. She nodded. Then, Garber
saw something. He quickly pulled her to her feet and stood in front
of her, gun at the ready. At the end of the aisle, around the corner,
walked Whitey, black eyes still angry, pale skin still burning with
cold, ethereal light. Whitey did not have a knife in his hand now.
He had a gun. The gun that Boomer had forced Garber to drop to the
ground not five minutes ago. Garber's gun.
swore silently. He had no other option but to accept that Whitey
was a spirit bent on revenge against the living. It didn't matter
who. Good guy or bad. Whitey had it in for everyone. Was he a former
employee of Olympic Cold Storage who died in an industrial accident?
Did he commit some atrocity here and his damned spirit remained
in this place to harass the living? Garber didn't care about any
of that. He cared that at this distance, he wouldn't be able to
shoot the pistol out of Whitey's hand.
began moving forward, gun pointed vaguely at Garber and his charge.
He seemed unable to hold a steady aim, the weapon weaving sloppily
around, as if he was fighting against a hurricane-force headwind.
The woman began to whimper. Garber shushed her. Whitey still walked
slowly toward them. He seemed to be in a kind of slow motion, as
if in the afterlife, time ticked by at a different rate.
the afterlife? Garber didn't have patience for this.
mouth opened and his lips and tongueboth shaded from black
to a dark purple by the bright shine of his white skincontorted
in a parody of speech. A low rumbling sound echoed from some faraway
place. Garber couldn't understand a word of it.
fired the pistol inexpertly, causing a ricochet behind Garber and
the woman. She yelped. Garber merely gripped his gun tighter. The
stray bullet dislodged a chunk of wall behind them. Garber heard
a minor avalanche of concrete as the failing wall collapsed. Garber
got an idea. He pointed his gun over Whitey's head, emptying his
clip. A rain of concrete and dust and a few bits of broken rebar
from the weakened ceiling rained down around Whitey. All of the
debris passed effortlessly through Whitey's ghostly form. Garber
watched carefully to see if any of the chunks hit the gun. They
didn't. Whitey continued to amble slowly forward as Garber watched,
motionless. He should have backed away. He should have grabbed the
girl and ran. He couldn't. The eyes. Whitey's eyes held him, locked
him down, prevented flight.
sound from behind startled Garber from his near-trance. He turned
his head to see another figure at the other end of the aisle. Standing
between the rows of empty racks amidst the rubble of the shattered
wall was a tallish man, wearing a leather jacket. His eyes had that
same angry, black emptiness. His movements had that same slow, underwater
feel to them. His skin carried just a bit of a glow, as if it accumulated
for the deceased only gradually, over long periods of time. His
face was partially obscured by his goatee.
the hostile Whitey had killed upstairs, just minutes ago, stood
there in newly-minted, ghostly glory. He attempted to speak, creating
the same sort of deep, distant, phantom sounds. Boomer held something
in his hands, something that didn't glow, except in reflection from
the meager glint of his skin. Something boxy, with one blinking
light on the top.
turned back to Whitey, who had closed the distance somewhat, still
straining to point his gun straight. Garber assumed that the living
sped past these ghosts like cheetahs. He looked back at Boomer.
Boomer still spoke, over-pronouncing his words to allow Garber to
read his lips.
grabbed the woman by the collar and pulled her away from Whitey,
toward Boomer. The look on Whitey's face, still in slow motion,
showed he understood what was happening.
fired again, aiming at Boomer this time. Garber ducked the bullet
as he ran past Boomer, wishing he had time say thanks. The bullets
passed through Boomer just as they had passed through Whitey.
didn't wait to watch Whitey's slow approach. That bomb would end
Whitey's tenure at Olympic Cold Storage once and for all. Garber
headed for the plastic divider with the teller in tow. One of Whitey's
bullets broke a chunk out of the wall over the doorway, exacerbating
the collapse of the wall. Garber and the woman had to evade a cascade
of dripping, glistening debris as they ran through.
got turned around in the middle area of the warehouse. He followed
the continuing sounds of the SWAT teams who still were in the loading
dock. Behind, Whitey's gunfire continued, adding to the structural
collapse of the warehouse.
found the doorway where Halo had stood
and now stood again,
his pasty skin starting to glow just as Boomer's did, his mouth
twisted in a sarcastic grin as Garber and the girl rushed straight
through his insubstantial form.
Garber imagined Boomer mouthing Two, the bomb went off. Maybe Whitey
had gotten off a luckyor unluckyshot and hit the bomb,
detonating it early. Maybe Boomer had detonated the bomb himself.
Maybe Garber had just mistimed his mental countdown.
felt a heavy push at his back as the shockwave from the explosion
rushed through the warehouse. The huge sound of the blast was followed
closely by the crunching collapse of all the walls throughout the
building, softened by years of moisture, weakened by hours of thaw.
Shards of rusted metal from pallet racks near the explosion shot
through concrete ceilings and walls; they tore out the painted-over
windows above the loading bays. Garber spared a quick look over
his shoulder to see the second and third levels of the warehouse
lifting and distorting, letting in bright, tantalizing slivers of
the blue sky above. As he and the woman ran to the exit the roof
directly above them twisted like taffy, water and concrete dust
raining down. He could see the east wall starting to lean inward,
threatening to crush them. The quick glimpse of light from behind
disappeared as the upper floors slumped back to earth.
angled to the left, where the contortions of the wall warped one
of the loading bay doors, leaving a sunny opening for him to push
the woman through. He jumped out himself as a cloud of sooty, chalky
vapor filled the dock, only to be shoved outside in a great, gray
cloud as the east wall finally succumbed and fell, completing the
destruction of the entire warehouse.
led the woman at a crouch through the cloud. They made it back into
the sun fifty feet or so away from the remains of the building,
among a throng of confused police officers. Medics rushed to tend
to the woman. They tried to treat Garber as well, but he waved them
looked through the crowd for the horse-faced officer who had explained
the situation to him earlier. The cop stood, open-mouthed, next
to the SWAT van, watching the aftermath of the building's spectacular
collapse. Garber approached him and said:
think the bomb was real."