Burying the Past
Copyright© 2019 by Lumpy
Taylor turned and sprinted as fast as his legs would carry him through the gate of the water treatment plant shouting, “Gas.”
While the sheriff and deputy both just stared at him confused, Whitaker turned and also ran towards the trunk of their SUV, wrenching the rear door. By the time Taylor got to them she’d already opened their NBC kit and started pulling out provisions.
“Sheriff, do you have gas masks in your car?”
“What the hell...” The deputy started to say before Taylor interrupted him.
“Chlorine Gas. Do you have gas masks?”
“Yeah, for fires and whatnot.”
“Put them on now,” Taylor said, looking back at the putrid vapor beginning to pour out of the concrete building and spill out in all directions.
Both men followed his gaze and dropped all protests, moving towards the trunks of their patrol cars. Seeing they were listening to him, Taylor continued on to Whitaker, who was fastening her mask already. Taylor saw she’d set out a second one for him already. He pulled the black mask over his head and began following suit.
“Sheriff,” Taylor said, coming around the SUV, “We need to evacuate the town and surrounding areas immediately. They put something in the water that’s creating a type of chlorine gas. It’ll be pouring out of every sink and faucet as soon as the chemical spreads through the system.”
“We’ll call in help, but you need to get everyone to the nearest town that’s on a different water system,” Whitaker said.
“Do you have any idea how spread out people here are?” the sheriff said in protest.
“Yes, but what other choice do we have? We’ve got to get people out, now. We don’t have time to talk about it. Since we know where it is, we’ll go through Main Street and any houses we see along the way. You two head out in either direction. Get as many people away from the water system as possible.”
“I’ll call ahead to the school. It’s over in Woodvale and they’re on a separate water system. I’ll have them hold the kids there.”
The gas cloud was almost to them now, and no one wanted to take extra time arguing when so many lives were on the line. All three cars tore down the dirt road, with Whitaker and Taylor turning right back towards the town while the Sheriff and his deputy both headed left.
“When we hit downtown, I’m going to let you out and you start telling everyone in these stores to get going. I’ll drive to the other end and get out and work back towards you on the other side of the street. When you’re done, don’t wait for me, just get in the car and head into that street with all the houses we saw next to the Bennett’s. I’ll stay on foot and hit those houses at the end of Main Street,” Taylor said.
“Good plan,” Whitaker said with her phone against one ear.
“Crawford, we have an emergency. You need to get anyone you can think of down to Amberville as soon as possible. We encountered two shooters at the water treatment plant here. Both were put down, but not before they got that chemical in the system. We’ve already seen it start to pump out gas.”
There was a pause on her end while she listened to something Crawford was saying, then replied, “The sheriff was with us at the treatment plant. We’ve already got him and his deputies out evacuating people, and Taylor and I are headed to the stores along Main Street to do the same. But Dean ... We’re not going to get them all out. Not by a long shot. This is going to be bad.”
“We’re coming up on it,” Taylor said.
“I gotta go,” Whitaker said and punched the disconnect button.
“Be careful,” she said, putting a hand on Taylor’s shoulder.
“You too. I love you.”
The last was said as the black SUV was screeching to a halt at the end of the row of buildings that made up the town’s main street, Whitaker already throwing the door open. She was out of the vehicle as soon as they came to a halt.
Taylor allowed himself one more moment of worry for Whitaker and then shot away from the curb towards the other end of Main Street. He’d learned a long time ago that distractions got people killed. One of the things they trained into soldiers was a way to compartmentalize his personal feelings and stay with the mission, even if his buddy was on the ground bleeding out.
It took less than a minute to get to the other end of main street, tires screaming as he slammed on the breaks, one wheel going up on a curb. Taylor jumped out and ran into the first store he saw, a barbershop. Inside was a man getting his hair cut and two barbers. All looked over when Taylor slammed the door open.
“Everyone out. We’ve got a Chlorine gas leak. Anyone in town in the next ten minutes will probably be dead.”
Taylor was holding up the small badge they’d handed him when they’d deputized him for his brief stint in the Bureau. He knew he must look startling, a man in jeans, a t-shirt and worn jacket, black gas mask covering his face and a gun holstered on his hip.
“We don’t have time, look!” Taylor said, pointing at the faucets.
The yellowish-green vapor had just started coming out of the taps of the sink at the end of the room they used for washing their equipment. The man closest started coughing as the first whiffs of fumes started to hit him.
“Move your asses. Get to the next town over.”
The sight of the sickly gas got them to move finally, each dropping what they were holding and running for the front door.
“Get in your car and drive to the next town at least. Don’t stop anywhere in Amberville,” Taylor said and ran to the next store.
The next two stores required more shouting as they didn’t have gas pouring right out next to them, and Taylor wasn’t sure they wouldn’t just head home since the few people in them didn’t seem to take it seriously.
The hardware store three doors down was when Taylor’s luck ran out. There had been a man in the restroom who’d been overcome by the gas. Taylor dragged the retching man out and convinced the clerk to drive him to the hospital, which the maps had shown was just far enough out of town to be on a different water system.
By that point people had begun running out of the stores and offices along Main Street themselves. Taylor ran down the street, arms waving and the temporary badge held up, telling them to not go home and to go as far as the next town over.
While people did begin to disperse, he was certain some of them would just try and go home. He stuck his head into each storefront to make sure they were empty, quickly finishing his check of the rest of the street. Near the end he glanced back to see Whitaker jumping into the SUV he’d left of the curb and taking off to try and get some of the nearby houses cleared.
By the time Taylor got to the last store on Main Street, he could see the pale vapor beginning to pour out of the doorways. Taylor had been through enough chemical warfare training to know that a given device only gave off a limited area of gas before it dissipated into the atmosphere and became harmless. From what he was able to put together based on what Crawford had told them and his own experience, this gas was much more insidious. As long as it had water to serve as a fuel source to convert into the toxic gas, it would just keep coming.
Even if the techs had a way of making the contaminated water inert, this area’s whole water supply would be contaminated and unusable for who knows how long.
Taylor continued on out of the strip of main street businesses to a street of houses that ran parallel with it. The first thing he noticed as he got to them is the few with sprinkler systems had the yellowish-green gas seeping out of them, coving their owner’s yards in a pale haze.
By this point, anyone who hadn’t gotten out wasn’t going to. Thankfully it was midday; so many people were wherever their jobs were. Unfortunately, Taylor still began to come across the bodies of people who were still at home. Stay at home mothers, retired people on a day off and, sadly, small children.
He was running out of houses to check in this section when his phone rang.
“Taylor,” He said loudly so the speaker could pick him up.
“Crawford said the first choppers with emergency crews should be landing in a few minutes. I told him to have them set down in that clear area at the south of Main Street. I’m headed that way now. I need you to head over there and wave them in so they know it’s the right spot.”
“On my way,” Taylor said and disconnected.
By the time he got back around to Main Street, he could hear the whump-whump of rotor blades and saw the two older Huey style helicopters. The Bureau usually used newer Blackhawk choppers like the military, so they must have just grabbed whatever was closest to get teams on the move.
Taylor got to the end of town and started waving his hands over his head to get the pilot’s attention. The lead chopper circled once and started to land, with Taylor scrambling out of the clearing. As soon as it landed eight men in full-body hazmat suits and a few crates of equipment were off the chopper.
One of the people broke from the group sorting their supplies and jogged over to Taylor.
“Are you Agent Whitaker,” a male voice said through the covering.
“No, she should be here in a minute. She was evacuating people down the road.”
As if on cue, Whitaker’s SUV came around the corner and drove up to where they were standing.
“Agent Whitaker,” the man asked again.
“Your boss said to get on this chopper. It’ll take you two to Fort Detrick to get checked out.”
“What about the rest of the town?”
“We have a bunch more people on the road now, headed this way. They’ll all be here in the hour. Until we know what we’re dealing with, it isn’t safe to be out here. Your boss said he’d meet you there.”
“You should check at the water treatment plant, too. It’s where the chemical was introduced into the system. It’s about five minutes that way; you’ll see a dirt road that turns off with a sign.”
“I’ll have someone check it out. Give me your keys.”
Whitaker handed them over and she and Taylor were hustled into the waiting helicopter for the ride into Maryland. Taylor noticed the pilots were wearing military-style hazmat suits, and neither spoke to Taylor or Whitaker during the flight.
They eventually arrived at Fort Detrick, which from the air looked more like a college campus than a military base housing multiple army and interagency biological defense commands. The helicopter touched down on a pad next to one of the smaller buildings and more people in hazmat suits rushed out pushing gurneys covered in a firm plastic shell.
Taylor wasn’t normally one to panic, believing that staying calm in serious situations was one of the keys to staying alive, but this gave him pause. No matter how cool someone may be under fire, once they put you under that clear plastic tent and wheel you into an isolation room, it’s hard not to feel uneasy.
On top of that, Whitaker was wheeled in a different direction, presumably to a different isolation room where she’d undergo the same tests. While he was worried for his own safety, since they still didn’t know enough about this chemical, he was more worried about Whitaker.
They didn’t wheel him into an isolated hospital room right away, but instead to a set of decontamination showers. There he was stripped down and every piece of clothing and equipment was pulled off of him and he was put through the most thorough and painful scrubbing, he’d ever encountered. He protested multiple times he could do it himself, but it quickly became clear they didn’t trust him to scrub as hard as they thought he should. Which was apparently, just shy of the level that would end with him being flayed alive.
Eventually they decided they’d done enough, and gave him one of those unfortunate open-backed hospital gowns to put on. Properly dressed like a patient, they wheeled him into a quarantine room with one bed in it, and left him to sit.
Taylor used the time to work out what their next move would be, but he wasn’t able to get far on it. The missing kids from the group was their only real lead. The fact that there was an attack on this town, and the girl who connected it to the college cell was missing, all but confirmed this was the thread they needed to follow. With the girl in the wind, and the two gunmen at the treatment plant dead, they didn’t have a lot of options.
Sure, Whitaker and her Bureau pals would say this gave them a lot more to work on, since they could continue to work back the girls’ history and the history of the two gunmen, Taylor put more faith in the groundwork than desk work. Not that he would ever tell Whitaker, but that was probably the best thing to do in this case. There just weren’t any threads to chase until they figured out either where Mary Bennett had gone or how she was connected to Qasim. Taylor just didn’t like twisting in the wind, waiting for others to get the answers.
His train of thought was interrupted when a doctor in yet another hazmat suit, this one with at least a large plastic covered opening on the face instead of just eye holes, so he could see who he was talking to.
“How are you feeling, Mr. Taylor?”
“Fine, except for my ass being cold.”
The doctor gave him a pity chuckle and said, “We’ve gotten some reports from the field and from the doctors at Woodvale community hospital where a few patients from Amberville who inhaled some of the fumes went during the evacuation. From everything I’m seeing, it seems unlikely that there is any secondary agent or effect from the chlorine compound released in Amberville.”
“Which means what?”
“That you and your partner will be fine. We haven’t gotten our samples to test yet, but initial indicators suggest that beyond some irritation from direct skin contact, the only danger from this gas is through inhalation.”
“So when can we get out of here?”
“It’ll probably be a few hours.”
“Can I at least be moved into a room with my partner so we can keep working while we wait?”
“First let’s make sure on those secondary side effects, then we’ll see what we can do.”
“So you’re saying you’re going to keep me in here until you feel like you want to release me.”
“Pretty much. Don’t worry Sergeant, there are people working on the case in your absence.”
For a minute Taylor was a bit taken aback by the doctor’s identifying him by his old rank until he remembered this was an army base. They would have been able to get ahold of his medical files at the very least.
For several hours the only people Taylor saw were nurses who would come in and take various fluids from him and then leave again. The monotony was finally broken when the phone on the table next to the bed rang. Taylor had noticed it didn’t have a keypad, so was only for calling into the room, a point he’d been mulling over for the hours of solitude to pass the time.
“Tell me I can get out of here,” Taylor said when he picked up the phone.