Chapter 18: Sic Transit Gloria

The locomotives had slowed, but not enough. They crashed into the end of the loading dock, breaking up the concrete and exposing rails which had not been used since Henry Ford was loading Model Ts from this same spur track. "Call it in to the office and prepare to face the music," Mike told his conductor. Then he turned to Jake. "Where is he?"

"From what Santos said before the call cut off, he was on the third floor of building 20. Wherever that is."

"Third floor of building 20?" An old memory came to the fore of his mind. "I think…."

"We know exactly where that is!" finished Dawn. "Let's move!"

K. P. & G. equips all of its locomotives with a very comprehensive industrial first-aid kit. Before clambering down out of the cab, Dawn grabbed it.

Back on my own side of the Border, our forces by now had been fully alerted as well. We truly had had no idea of all that had been going on in that little corner of Hell...but now that events in your world had breached the enemy defenses, that was changing. As police cars and ambulances flooded in through the opening Mike and Dawn had created in the plant perimeter, so too angels were pouring in through the corresponding gaps in our realm.

It's not as though we stumbled upon Fantar's innermost sanctum, however. That was too well protected and hidden by layer upon layer of decoys. Instead, we had the net effect of wedging in between Fantar's empire and your world, rendering him...irrelevant. And that was the most crushing blow of all. Straightforward defeat in battle he could have endured, biding his time and plotting eventual revenge for the insult. But irrelevancy was more than he could bear.

More than his superiors could bear, either, as it turned out.

Mike and Dawn raced each other to the stairwell in the south corner of Building 12, with Jake Higgins a step behind them. The two police officers had their weapons out, while Dawn was still carrying the large first-aid kit. Dawn allowed Mike to take the lead after they reached the second floor; he remembered where to go. For the most part; he was briefly confused by a second, closer door leading to the old quality control lab which looked much like the door he remembered.

"Other door," Dawn prompted. He broke to his left, in the far back corner about thirty feet away was the proper door. They went through it and climbed the same six steps Rick had taken not twenty minutes past and the turn to the right past the men's room. "Left," Dawn prompted again. Mike remembered and found the stairwell, taking the steps two at a time.

The heavy steel door was now locked; the fleeing felons had secured it after the expendable pawns had fled their erstwhile workplace. "Locked," Mike said with frustration.

Hollywood would have you believe that, in such a situation, two or three rounds fired into the lockset from a pistol acts as a universal key. The two experienced peace officers knew better; such is more likely to jam the lock and render it inoperable save by the use of dynamite. "Is there another way in?" Jake asked.

"Here, let me try," Dawn said from behind him. She set down her first aid kit, wiggled the knob back and forth for a couple of seconds...and it opened. I was beyond sighing. "Maybe it was stu-uck?" she said with a Texas twang while giving her most oh-so-innocent dewy-eyed little girl facial expression.

Jake yanked the door open; he could see bodies on the floor beyond. He raced through the doorway, pulling out his cell phone to call this in to dispatch. Mike paused long enough to look Dawn in the eye and give her a muted, "Showoff!"

She grinned. But the grin did not last. From her position on the far side of the Border, she began to become aware of the full extent of the forces arrayed against them. It was enough to give even the experienced Warrior pause. But she paused for only a moment; there were injured men in the room beyond and she was trained and equipped.

"Triage" is derived from the French for "sorting things out." In a medical context it is used to refer to the sorting of patients by urgency. There are some patients whose affliction is minor; they are in no immediate danger and can be dealt with at leisure. Santos fell into this category; aside from a few minor bumps and scrapes he had no real injuries at all. There are some patients who are so far gone that expending resources upon them is just a waste of time and effort; this described Carlos's situation perfectly. But then there are some patients whose life is in grave danger, but who can be saved by quick and drastic action. For Rick, quick and drastic action was called for. Dawn broke open the first aid kit, grabbing blood packs to sop up the mess and scissors to cut his suit off him. The head was a mess, but that sucking chest wound took priority.

Mike and Jake both carried handcuff keys on their key rings; fortunately Smith & Wesson Model 100 cuffs are fairly generic. Santos was freed and sat up; after assuring Jake that he was all right he told them that the bad guys went that-a-way...indicating the door leading outside into the third floor extraction area. But before they could follow Dawn called out, "Mike?"

He turned towards her. As it turns out, Philip had gotten close enough to feed her some inside information. In a soft voice intended for Michael alone she said, "Locker room. Building 19, second floor. Hurry!"

Jake and Santos were struggling with the locked door. No good. But Mike remembered another way. He stood up and said, "Follow me. Let's go!" leading the two detectives down the ramp and through the curtain into building 15.

Fantar was in full-blown panic mode, looking around for someone to blame. Dravang was convenient. But the latter had a hole card of his own, and now was the time to play it. Alert for the entry of the presence, Dravang was first to drop to his knees. Dragora was just a heartbeat behind him, and the other spirits in the room quickly followed suit. Fantar was the last to realize what was going on. Belatedly he prostrated himself and said, "Your Majesty!"

I want to say that it was Mister Big himself. I know better than that. I can't begin to tell you how many times we have thought that we had the Evil One over a barrel at long last, only to find that we had actually latched on to an underling and that the real power behind the throne had escaped to wreak havoc on yet another day. Such was the case now. But there was a link to Old Scratch here, that I'm sure of, and it was a close link. Closer than anyone in the room had ever experienced before. They did not find it comforting. Even less so when aides loyal to the potentate followed, quickly outnumbering and outgunning the forces of the one-time demonic prince.

"What is going on here, Fantar?" the newcomer asked. The omission of any of his titles did not bode well for the demon prince. Not at all.

"A temporary setback, my lord. Just a tem…."

"Temporary?" the other interrupted. "The humans have smashed a promising operation. Our Colombian and Mexican activities may be threatened. And you try to brush this under the rug as a 'temporary setback?'"

"We can rebuild, my lord. We can rebuild. I know these people; I know this territory. They will be back in my power as soon as…."

"Silence!" the overlord thundered. Then, in a more measured tone, he continued. "We have been contemplating a change of strategy in this area for quite some time now. It would appear that this is the opportune time to implement it. Your services are no longer required."

Not what any demonic prince wants to hear. Fantar was whimpering. "No, my lord! I can still be of service! Let me prove…."

"Remove him," his master commanded.

His powerful aides promptly obeyed. "NO! NO! NOOOoooo…!" screamed Fantar as he tried to claw and scrape away, to no avail. Then came a sound, and a scene, like the very final slamming of a door. Fantar's former minions grew deathly silent.

"Dravang," spoke the overlord.

Dravang does have other talents...more on that later...but one of them is groveling. He prostrated himself yet again. "Yes, my lord?"

"Arise. You are now our prince in this sector. We have seen your proposals. We encourage you to implement them."

Dravang rose, and then bowed. "By your command, my lord!"

"We also thank you for your reports of your former commander's performance. They were most helpful. Take care that no one under your command has cause to send us similar reports about you."

"But of course, my lord."

And just like that, the overlord and his entourage were gone. Dravang surveyed the scene with some satisfaction. "At last! Command! Now I am the power in this principality! Arise, my subjects. Let us give our masters a triumphant first impression. I want to be able to report some kind of a victory by midnight. Spread out and survey the area. Find some way for us to strike back. Go!"

There's always someone ready to toady up to a new boss. In this case, it was Helspeth. He had managed to reach out and re-establish a link with the former stronghold after Nathan's forces had successfully neutralized it. "My prince?" Helspeth asked.

"Yes?" Dravang replied. Helspeth directed his attention through the viewing warp back to the third floor of building 20, where Rick lay on the floor bleeding as Dawn fought to keep him from slipping away. "Yes. That will do nicely," Dravang said. "Get him!"

Mike led Jake and Santos through building 15 into building 16, and then through a doorway into building 17. This one was supposed to have been locked as well, but most of the illicit "employees" had their belongings in an old locker room on the second floor of that building and, well, underlings can be less than diligent, especially when they are fleeing for their lives. All of these buildings were connected on this, the third floor, and a passage led to the right through building 18 into building 19.

Essentially, Mike had led the detectives around three sides of a square which the fugitives had cut straight across. The stairwell door here was locked as well...major fire code violation; have to write them a ticket...but Mike kept going into building 22. This "building" was actually more of an open tower extending upwards some fifteen stories; the coffee beans had been hoisted to the top of it for storage and then weighed and processed on the way down. Here there was an open stairwell leading down; the three officers descended it.

Only to be met by a trio of SWAT officers in full ballistic gear, one clutching a shotgun. "Police! Freeze!" SWAT officer Nelson ordered.

Mike froze; it doesn't look good to be in shorts and sandals carrying a weapon at a known crime scene. Fortunately the SWAT officers were not trigger-happy; their dispatcher had alerted them to the presence of plainclothes officers on site. "Houston Police! Purple!" shouted Jake, 'purple' being the code word for the day which had been received at morning roll call. "Jake Higgins, narcotics."

"Santos Martinez, narcotics. This is Mike Wilson, K. P. & G. special agent. We're following him; he knows his way around here."

"I got a tip," Mike said without giving details. "This way!"

Dawn was torn. The link Helspeth had reconnected ran both ways...he had a clearer view than she had, but she was aware of the forces arrayed against her. Still, although she had sealed the chest wound, Mike's best friend was on the verge of slipping into tension pneumothorax...collapsed lungs; life-threatening...and not something that her first aid kit was equipped to deal with. Yes, if she used her full 'toolkit' she could handle the problem...and also the head wound, which was even nastier than she had thought upon first glance...but it would put her into imminent danger of recognition and capture.

I had my hands full extending my being to keep an eye on both Mike and Dawn at the same time. I do believe that she was on the verge of throwing caution to the winds and doing it anyway...but she was saved, for the moment, by the bell. Jake Higgins had been able to give the dispatcher enough information to allow the paramedics to find the scene; well, after a few false starts...and a little 'help' from our side. Two of them, accompanied by two officers with weapons drawn, burst from the southeast stairwell behind Dawn.

She let them take over and gave them a quick briefing. "He needs a needle decompression, and he needs it now!" she told them.

"We'll take good care of him, ma'am," one assured her. "Does this freight elevator work, and where does it go?" he asked.

"Yes, it works. Have your ambulance come around to the front loading dock."

On the second floor of building 19 was the old locker room. On its door was a sign, "DANGER—KEEP OUT—ASBESTOS." "Look in there," Mike ordered.

The door was locked, of course. But the shotgun which Officer Weiss was carrying was actually a 'breaching gun.' Developed by the military, it uses special hardened ammunition intended to wreck and open locks, hinges, and door frames. Of course, it's Just Too Bad for anyone who may be on the far side of the door, which limits its use in normal law enforcement scenarios. But very little about this day was 'normal.'

Weiss fired. The SWAT officers burst in to the door, with the three plainclothes men backing them up.

Enrique was, quite literally, caught with his pants down.