Olympic Cold Storage
by Russell Lutz
forum: Olympic Cold Storage
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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Olympic Cold Storage


       "What's 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.

       "Three 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."

       Garber scanned the layout quickly.

       "Any employees in there?"

       "No, sir. The place has been condemned. We talked to the manager on the phone. They're gonna tear it down next week."

       Garber 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.

       "If it's being torn down, why is it still cold?" The place's name—Olympic Cold Storage—stood in faded blue letters twenty feet high on one side of the colossal square building.

       "They only turned off the freezers yesterday."



       "Why did they wait until the last minute to turn off the freezers? Do they still have merchandise in there?"

       "No. It's… I only know what the building manager told me. He said…"

       Garber lost his patience. "What!?"

       "He said that the place is so old, that it's only the ice that keeps it from falling apart."

       "You're kidding me."

       "I know it sounds—"

       "And the place has been thawing out for the past twenty-four hours?"

       "Right. And there's one more thing."

       Garber checked his weapons. Two pistols, fully loaded, cleaned and oiled. Two spare clips.

       "One of the hostiles may have a bomb."

       "A bomb?" Garber asked.

       "The teller at the bank said that he showed her something attached to his chest. It was blinking."

       "Do we think it was real?"

       The officer shrugged.

       "So, let me see if I've got this. Three men, armed with…"

       "Automatic weapons."

       "…automatic 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?"

       The 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.

       Garber 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.

       The 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.

       Edging 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.

       Above 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.

       Garber's earpiece crackled to life.

       "Their leader is threatening to kill a hostage in fifteen minutes."

       Garber 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.

       "—want a bunch of dead hostages, you won't!"

       The man's voice was tinged with terror, and he was yelling himself hoarse. Garber assigned him the handle Yeller.

       Deeper 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.

       To 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.

       Thank God the media hadn't arrived yet.

       Halo was planted in that doorway, not moving. Garber didn't know the location of the third hostile—or 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.

       Some 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.

       Garber 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.

       He 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.

       A flash of movement in his peripheral vision stopped him. He swung his pistol around and came fearfully close to pulling the trigger and hitting… 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.

       He 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.

       Whatever Garber had seen was just his nerves.

       Garber 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.

       He 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 otherwise.

       Thirty 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 suit—probably the bank manager. Another was a lanky black man in a uniform—the security guard. The last was an elderly Asian man, probably the only customer in the place when it was attacked.

       The third hostile was nowhere to be seen. Garber had to assume the third man was the one with the bomb—if there really was a bomb. Garber's new priority was to locate Boomer.

       He 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.

       Since 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.

       "Stop," the voice from behind ordered. Garber could hear dark humor in the guy's tone. "Drop the gun and turn around."

       Garber began to turn.

       "I said drop the gun… then turn around."

       Garber 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.

       Boomer 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.

       "Where's the bomb?" Garber asked. Boomer gave him a small smile.

       From 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.

       A 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.

       Whitey 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.

       Garber turned the pistol on Whitey.

       "He's under control. Drop the knife!" Garber commanded.

       Whitey 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 Whitey's chest.

       Whitey plunged the knife directly into Boomer's heart, ending his struggle.

       Shouts 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.

       Garber 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.

       Whitey 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.

       Garber 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 was gone.

       It 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.

       Who glowed with unearthly light and was impervious to bullets.


       All 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.

       Five 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.

       "One dead hostile up there," he told one of the SWAT guys.

       "Are you hit? We heard several shots."

       "No. 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 him."

       "He's cuffed?"

       Garber flushed. "No. He got away."

       The 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 hostages out.

       "Where's Halo?" he asked.


       "The third hostile!"

       "You said he was upstairs."

       "No, 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 here… I think."

       "You think?"

       "Look, the man guarding the…" He counted the hostages. "Shit!"

       Garber 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.

       "Garber!" the SWAT member called.

       Garber pulled a flashlight from his belt. Stealth was no longer critical. Finding Halo and his hostage—that 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!"

       Garber 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.

       "Freeze!" 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.

       Garber calmly put three rounds into Halo's torso, punching him backwards. Halo dropped his gun and fell to the concrete, dead.

       Garber 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.

       "It's 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.

       Garber 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.

       Whitey 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.

       In the afterlife? Garber didn't have patience for this.

       "Drop the gun!"

       Whitey's mouth opened and his lips and tongue—both shaded from black to a dark purple by the bright shine of his white skin—contorted in a parody of speech. A low rumbling sound echoed from some faraway place. Garber couldn't understand a word of it.

       Whitey 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.

       A 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.

       Boomer, 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.

       The bomb.

       Garber 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.




       Garber 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.


       Whitey 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.



       Garber 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.


       Garber 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.


       He 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.

       As Garber imagined Boomer mouthing Two, the bomb went off. Maybe Whitey had gotten off a lucky—or unlucky—shot and hit the bomb, detonating it early. Maybe Boomer had detonated the bomb himself. Maybe Garber had just mistimed his mental countdown.

       He 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.

       Garber 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.

       Garber 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 off.

       He 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:

       "I think the bomb was real."



copyright 2006 Russell Lutz.

Russell Lutz:
Russell Lutz is a writer of short and novel length fiction in a variety of genres.  He has been published in "The SiNK", and online at scifantastic.co.uk.  He will be featured in June on anotherealm.com.  He lives, works, and writes in Seattle.