John J Heartfield Novel
Controlling Time

Chapter Three


New York’s Financial District

Time clamped his jaw shut.

“You can be angry later,” said Treeves. “Anger has no place here.”

Of course, Treeves was right. However, the comment only made Time angrier. He hated it when it seemed as if Treeves was reading his thoughts.

Time said, “You didn’t think it was worth mentioning during the pre-mission briefings that we’d be coming in close contact with a compound resembling VX? What about dirty bombs? Are there any of them lying around posing as paperweights?”

It was impossible to determine with any degree of certainty what Treeves enjoyed, but Time believed he took no small satisfaction in always being one step ahead. Treeves had many ways to remind Time that he was nothing more than his Weapon.

“The RVX was not originally an element in your part of this operation,” Treeves said as patiently as if he were explaining a plot twist in an overly complicated storybook to a child. “These operations often take turns off their predetermined paths. Unexpected complications are an inherent part of our work.”

Time knew he had to control his anger. Still, he had an advantage in such a situation. He was one of the few people on earth who knew Edgar Treeves well enough to rattle his extremely well-constructed cage.

“Well, if, as you say, our target is suicidal, why don’t we just wait here in Lang’s office?” he said. “Perhaps the annoying little son of a bitch will decide to kill himself without inconveniencing us any further.”

Of course, Treeves recognized the tactic and suppressed a reaction. Instead, he played out scenarios in his mind like a chess grandmaster imagines pieces advancing on the board, studying positions that don’t yet exist. Treeves had told Time in the past that he could be thrown off his game by distractions in the same way that Bobby Fischer claimed that noise and lights affected his game during the world championship match that he won against Boris Spassky.

Treeves said, “Stifle your desire to bait me by wandering off-topic with your attempts at infantile humor. Instead, please provide me with a summary of what you know about VX. You must be clear about the threat level we currently face.”

“If you insist,” said Time. “Let me begin by saying VX is such horrible stuff you should have warned me if we could be anywhere within a mile of it. It was developed in England in the early nineteen-fifties and is one of the most potent nerve agents. It’s an odorless, tasteless amber liquid with a consistency similar to motor oil. Because of its slow evaporation rate, it continues to poison the atmosphere around it for extended periods.”

“Go on,” said Treeves.

“VX prevents the proper operation of chemicals in the body that act as off switches for glands and muscles. It isn’t wise to have its vapors anywhere near your skin, eyes, or lungs. Within seconds of exposure, a victim will experience painful, watery eyes, blurred vision, runny nose, drooling, excessive sweating, chest tightness, drowsiness, headache, rapid breathing, confusion, weakness, and that’s not all. The unfortunate subject who gets a more concentrated dose experiences convulsions, paralysis, and respiratory failure. Any direct exposure to VX without immediate and comprehensive countermeasures is invariably fatal.”

Treeves slowly nodded. It was the only indication that he was listening.

“Officially, civilized nations have banned it. Only the United States and Russia still maintain stockpiles. Only the Russians seem willing to sell it. Fortunately, targets dislike the stuff as much as we do. It’s way too volatile, and it has the hydrogen bomb factor. MAD. Mutually Assured Destruction. Targets don’t use it for fear that we’ll turn around and let it loose on them.”

“An adequate summary,” said Treeves. “You’re correct about their reluctance to employ VX. However, what if an ambitious and egomaniacal prince agreed to take part in a complex plot that concluded with him appearing to save lower Manhattan from a dose of deadly nerve agent, thereby giving him a halo of heroism bright enough to gain absolute control of his country?”

Treeves was speaking as if he were carrying on an interesting conversation with himself about a personnel problem.

“However, as you stated, there remains the issue of volatility,” he said. “Unfortunately, science always moves forward, especially the field of more effective ways to exterminate humans. Fourteen months ago, a private government-funded defense facility in Texas developed Reagent-VX or RVX. Until a short time ago, Charles Lang represented that firm.”

Treeves glanced over at Lang’s body before continuing.

“RVX evaporates at a much slower rate and is almost seven times more potent than VX. It comes in two parts. One part is a completely harmless liquid unless it mixes with a reagent, converting it into active RVX. You could carry the liquid in one hand and the reagent in the other and drop both of them on the floor. As long as they don’t mix, they’re harmless. However, if they come in contact with each other and, for example, flow down the side of a building.”

That was too much.

“Dammit, why wasn’t I briefed about this?” Time said. “I’m not some infallible machine. What if Elio had just enough time to retrieve that pistol and shoot you? Then what? I’d be stumbling around in the dark.”

“Has it escaped your notice that I am briefing you?” said Treeves. “And why do you insist on harping on the possibility of my death? I don’t expect to die. Even without you, I’m confident I can extract myself gracefully from any reasonable situation. With you, getting killed would be a bad stroke of fortune indeed. I need your complete concentration on your mission priorities. I’ll transmit additional information to you if and when you need it. You’re intelligent enough. However, thinking your way out of the situation we’re facing at the moment is not in your purview. As for briefing you regarding the RVX, the general and I decided against it unless it became unavoidable. Your concealment quota is adequate, but we both know you don’t perform at my level. You can slip. I will not.”

“I can’t read you,” said Time. “We both know that. But I know how the general thinks, how you help him think. Elio planned to buy the RVX from Lang, smuggle it out, and somehow have the prince save the day. They were never planning to pour it down the side of this building. We came for the prince. Probably for Lang as well. The general wanted to be sure they were on the wrong side. If so, he wanted them dead. Those people outside were the audience for our staging of their deaths.”

“Yes, that’s correct,” said Treeves.

He was becoming impatient with the discussion. His thoughts had already moved on. Treeves had worked with Time long enough to know he would continue to perform as ordered regardless of how he felt about it. Time was more than a highly effective killing apparatus controlled by Treeves’ intellect. They were not friends. However, Time could have never developed into what he was without a connection to Treeves that went beyond trust.

Treeves said, “We don’t provoke opponents unless it’s necessary. We react. This operation could have gone well. First, Elio would have killed Lang. The prince would die in Lang’s office due to stress. Then Elio would have ordered the hidden target to leave the building using secret exits installed by Lang. By seducing a high-level member of this firm, we learned of those escape routes and secured them.

“Beth Ellsworth.”

“Precisely. She wanted complete control of this firm. Have you ever met anyone with money who felt they were rich enough? The general and I attempted to locate the missing RVX, but Lang was clever. He used a layer through a layer. Even Lang didn’t know where the RVX was stored. He only knew how to get to it. Despite what you’ve imagined in the past, I can’t read minds. The general had a high-level threat team ready to pick off the target with the RVX as soon as he appeared. However, minutes before you came into Lang’s office, I was convinced that Elio had changed his mind. If you like, I’ll explain the details later, but I saw the profile change. He had decided to make history. So, while Lang was still alive, he spoke to the target holding the RVX and told him to remain where he was. It was then that I decided the most prudent reaction was to eliminate all the targets in this office.”

“Question my decisions if you like,” Treeves continued. “However, remember that, not ten minutes ago, you would have chosen a different killing sequence, and the seated man would have put a bullet in your chest. His overall reaction quotas and his peripheral vision were vastly superior to hers. Judging by the way he held his weapon, there was a ninety-five percent certainty that he was an excellent shot.”

Time let it go because he knew from experience Treeves was right.

“Well, there’s no chance I’ll give anything away now,” Time said.

He glanced at Lang’s broken corpse.

“He was something of a genius too, wasn’t he? I guess sometimes even geniuses are fools.”

Treeves made a slight noise in the back of this throat.

“In any case,” he said, “it’s a moot point. From the beginning, they planned to kill him. Then, at the proper time, the targets would have released the prince after he convinced the authorities they would surrender peacefully on the guaranteed condition they’d be remanded to the prince’s country. After a year or two in a comfortable prison, they’d enjoy a lifetime of privilege on the public dime. The prince would also have Lang’s RVX to use or sell as a nice little bonus.”

“Not a bad plan,” said Time. “I suppose I don’t need to ask how you know so much about it.”

“I can be very persuasive,” Treeves said, without a hint of modesty. “Plus, the title of Diplomatic Corporate Liaison carries with it an unbreakable aura of confidentiality. I’ve spent the past ten days convincing the prince that his interests were much closer to mine than he might have suspected. Naturally, I couldn’t push, so I wasn’t privy to the persons, time, and place, but he was very proud of this venture. It wasn’t all that difficult to allow him to convince me how clever he was and how powerful he would shortly become. Imagine how credible his story would have been if he’d left the building with a Diplomatic Corporate Liaison supporting the tale of his heroic stance in the face of mad terrorists?”

“What about the sleeper outside? And this woman here? For that matter, what about me?”

“I would imagine this is how the story would unfold,” Treeves said. “You managed to grab a pistol and shot the guard. The woman fatally shot you, but you did manage to get off a shot to finish her. You were quite foolish to attempt such heroics.”

“Naturally. Bad judgment on my part. May I ask why you’ve finally decided to tell me all of this now?”

“You had to know some of it. Telling you the rest helped to focus my thoughts. It was a good use of my time as I reviewed the situation and decided our next move.”

Treeves looked at the door. He reverted to signals.

The younger target. Restraint only.

Time placed his back against the wall with the door to his left. Treeves moved to the other side. He signaled, and Time opened the door about five inches.

Treeves called out, perfectly mimicking Elio’s voice and using his native language.

“I have orders for Freddie. Send him in.”

The target guarding the hostages assumed it was time for Freddie to make his final exit and motioned for him to go into Lang’s office. The young target entered as if he were strolling into a dorm room. He seemed pleased that he’d received a promotion from hostage control.

Treeves quickly closed the door. The target’s Glock was held loosely in his hand, his finger not even close to the trigger. Time formed a flat plane with his right hand. With his index finger pressed against his thumb, he smashed the side of his hand into the bridge of the target’s nose, breaking it. The kid’s eyes watered. Pain rendered him mute. Time took away the Glock and used it to hit the target almost gently behind his right ear. He placed his right hand over the kid’s mouth and used his left foot to help the target to the ground by bending his knee from the back. Then Time moved behind him, put down the gun, and placed his left forearm against the target’s throat.

With his lips close to the guard’s right ear, Time whispered, “I can break your neck faster than you can fill your lungs with enough air to shout. Now grunt very softly if you understand.”

The kid grunted.

“Put your hands in front of you,” said Time.

Treeves secured them with a piece of electrical cord.

“Where is the other man?” Treeves said.

In a panicky whisper, the kid said, “Who are you?”

His eyes widened as he took in the carnage in the room.

“Don’t hurt him,” said Treeves.

Time understood and did the opposite. The kid grunted and began to sweat.

“I don’t know what you want me to say,” he said, pain straining his voice.

Time gave him a limited amount of air.

“Are you talking about the guy outside?” the kid said. “He’s the only one I know about.”

Treeves signaled, “Lying.”

Time used two fingers of his right hand to apply pressure to a nerve bundle underneath the target’s left ear. A lightning bolt of pain shot from his toes up to his jaw. The target was trembling. Time tightened his grip.

“Listen, I’m just a guard,” said the target. “I just do what they say. When I got this job, they warned me there’d be exercises like this.”

Treeves whispered, “Look around you. Do they look as if they’re part of an exercise?”

Treeves kneeled in front of the target and considered him for a moment.

He whispered, “Listen, I believe you. We’re Americans. We don’t want to harm you, but you must tell us what you know. I’ll tell my superiors you cooperated. We’ll all get out of here alive. Where is the other man?”

Treeves knew every trick. No one projected sincerity better. But Time had been with him too long and saw through the smoke and mirrors.

“He’s in the last office to the left. He’s in 101, the last office on the left,” the kid said. “If something goes down, I’m supposed to go knock four times.”

“Show me how. Knock on your leg,” said Treeves.

The target knocked with the knuckles of this right hand. Twice quickly, a pause, and then twice quickly again.

“Is that all you know?” said Treeves, tilting his head slightly.

“Yeah, that’s everything. Please, you gotta believe me.”

The kid looked at the prince.

“He’s with us,” he said desperately. “Jesus, he talks to the president. Just ask. I’m one of the good guys, like you.”

“Eliminate,” Treeves signaled.

Time snapped the target’s neck. He did his best to make sure there was no pain or awareness.

Treeves said something with Elio’s voice. He answered himself in the voice of the target who had just died. He saw the expression on Time’s face.

“It was necessary,” Treeves said.

“Was he telling the truth about thinking that he worked for our side because he worked for the prince?” Time said.

“Not entirely. It was a rationale. However, it’s irrelevant.”

Treeves gestured at the bodies in the room.

“He saw our faces and what we’d done,” Treeves said. “He’d been bought. There was no other option.”

“We have a limited window,” Treeves continued. “The target holding the RVX must be a serious man, not easily rattled, but by now, he’ll be agitated. I doubt they set up codes or strict check-in times they could miss by accident. The prince was more valuable to them than the dispersal of the RVX.”

“Perhaps you shouldn’t have been so quick to neutralize everyone,” Time said.

“This is a complex scenario,” said Treeves. “One can’t take back moves. It’s pointless to think like that. Instead, take five seconds to consider the hostages outside this room and everyone within twenty blocks of this building, then clear your mind”

Treeves nodded at the guard’s body.

“That was a target,” he said. “A clear and present threat to what we’re here to do.”

Time’s lips tightened. No matter what his partner said, it seemed as if Treeves could read minds. Time didn’t want him inside his thoughts.

Treeves retrieved the site-to-site communicator. He turned up the volume and spoke into the microphone using Elio’s voice.

“Where have you been? What are you doing?” the target holding the RVX responded.

Treeves answered using Elio’s voice.

“Lang was stronger than I anticipated,” he said. “I wanted more information about his source. I was wise to keep him alive. You don’t have the true reagent. If you mix and release the liquids now, they’ll flow harmlessly down this building, and we’ll appear to be incompetent fools. Fortunately, Mr. Lang had the true reagent hidden here in his office.”

Treeves stopped speaking. Asking questions at such a moment would raise the target’s suspicion level. Treeves knew that most people wanted to talk, to convey information, especially in high-stress situations. He waited.

“Don’t worry,” he heard the target say. “After you told me our plan had changed, I armed the dead man switch. I have a strong right hand. I can hold it until you bring me the true reagent.”

“You’re a good man. I’ll be there soon, and I’ll bring Lang with me. The prince will be released. After that, I’ll begin killing hostages. When the FBI hears the shots, they’ll have to come after us. They’ll be responsible for what comes next. We’ll release the true death on them. You and I shall die a glorious death together.”

Treeves closed the connection. He repeated the conversation word for word to Time.

“So, it’s simple,” said Time. “We have a man determined to die with his thumb on a dead man’s switch. If he releases it, the real reagent and the RVX will cover the side of this building.”

“If you can’t be discouraged from providing me with your strategic overview, at least be more precise with your words. The target said the switch was in his right hand. He didn’t tell me his thumb was holding the trigger.

Time decided this was not the time to tell Treeves what he thought of his strategic overview.

He said, “What’s important is how can we keep his thumb or whatever appendage he’s using, holding down the trigger after he’s dead.”

“Correct,” said Treeves. “We’ll have to go in together.”

“Of course. You told him you were bringing Lang. Are we supposed to go in like friendly door-to-door weapons sales associates?”

“You could say that,” said Treeves.

He glanced at the body of Lang.

“You must be joking. That won’t work.”

Treeves eyebrows came together slightly.

“Have you ever known me to joke during an operation? This man is no fool, but he’ll hang on to his belief that he’s in control as long as we give him the opportunity. It’s a reasonable risk.”

“I’ll have to be Lang,” Time said. “You’ll need to interact with the target.”

He nodded at Elio.

“You’re much taller than him,” Time said.

“I can keep up the illusion for a short time. We’ll use the fast drill as we’re in position. Focus on the target. I’m counting on the fact that he hasn’t spent time close to Lang. Most likely, they’ve kept him out of sight. Your hair color is similar. We’ll make adjustments to your clothing.”

They changed clothes as quickly as possible.Even though he’d watched similar transformations in the past, Time still marveled at Treeves’ ability to arrange his body so that he almost fit into Elio’s clothes. He made a few expert cuts in the less visible areas of the garments. Treeves adjusted his height by bending his knees and dropping his shoulders. He practiced striding across the room and slipped into Elio’s manner of walking.

Treeves broke open a black pen and distributed the ink through his hair. Then he slicked it back to resemble Elio’s style. Finally, he rubbed cologne off the dead man’s throat and onto himself.

Although he was approximately Lang’s height, it was more difficult for Time to transform himself. Perhaps the target had seen a picture of Lang. There was also the fact that the target believed Lang had recently undergone severe physical punishment.

Treeves studied Time’s face.

He said, “You understand what’s needed?”

He lifted a heavy paperweight from Lang’s desk.

Treeves said, “Ready?”

Time nodded.

Treeves hit him on the right cheek, aiming for a spot between Time’s eye socket and jaw. It was a solid blow, enough to cause immediate swelling and bruising but not enough to cause confusion or permanent damage.

“Once more,” he said.

He struck Time with a glancing blow on the other cheek, using a rougher edge. A gash opened, and blood streamed out.

“Good,” said Treeves. “That should do. How do you feel?”

“Like perhaps you enjoyed that too much.”

“Are you clear-headed?”

“Enough to know I don’t want another.”

Treeves studied him closely.

“Fortunately, you don’t require another. You’re already swelling nicely. Remember to keep your head low. Be defeated, frightened.”

“As opposed to my confident this-is-definitely-going-to-work self?” Time said.

He went to his medical bag. Inside, his fingers found a combination of pressure points on the cloth. A compartment snapped open, and two objects fell into his hand. One was slim, about six inches long. The other was similar but shorter. He also removed a bag of plasma.

“Be quick,” Treeves said. “I’m not sure how long I can hold down the switch.”

“Nothing is sure in a maneuver like this,” Time said. “Could you tell anything from his voice? Will his reaction quota allow him to put up a defense?”

Treeves shook his head. “Too little time. We don’t have anything. This man was always apart from us. You’ll have to use your discretion, moving as quickly as possible, of course.”

“It’s weak. I expect better from you.”

“Save your comments for the debriefing. I’ll ignore them then.”

“Go in before me,” Treeves continued. “Let him have a quick look at the damage on your face, then lower your head. I’ll follow you. Don’t move close to him right away. Go to the window. I imagine there’s some kind of explosive charge on it. If this goes badly, at least we won’t know about it. Pretend to change the reagent.”

“Why don’t I swap out the real reagent and then take him?”

“You’ll never have that much time. This illusion will only last for seconds.”

Treeves whispered something in the language of the targets.

“That means, ‘Hold on tightly to the trigger.’ We’ll be on a two-count after that.”

Time nodded.

“Repeat the phrase,” Treeves said.

Time repeated it until Treeves was satisfied.

“Let’s go,” said Treeves.

Treeves opened the door and, with Elio’s voice, ordered the hostages to turn their eyes to the floor. He growled he would execute anyone who looked anywhere else.

“Come here,” Treeves said to the last visible target, standing on the far side of the room. “I have new instructions.”

When the target was a few feet from Treeves, his eyes widened. Time rushed out and shoved the six-inch blade under his chin. He didn’t allow him to fall to the floor. Wrapping one arm under his shoulder, Time dragged him out of view of the hostages.

Treeves reminded them the floor was wired with explosives. Any attempt by them to move would mean certain death for all of them. However, if they cooperated, they would soon be free to go.

Treeves knocked the code on the door of office number 101. He cracked open the door and said he was coming in with Lang. The target responded.

Time opened the door and walked into the room. The target was in a standard office chair on wheels between the door and the window. He was sitting straight up with his forearms on the chair’s arms. His right thumb was gripping the trigger of a device that he held in his palm.

When Time entered the room, he partially obscured Treeves, who spoke to the target, and then casually stepped behind him, a natural move to keep an eye on Time, who was posing as Lang. He told the target holding the switch that Lang had the real reagent. It was fitting that the traitor should be the one to add it to the RVX. His ultimate betrayal would be to destroy his city. It was one thing to sell something so deadly. It was entirely different to be the one who deployed it.

Time moved to the window. He feigned pain in his body as if he’d been beaten in his torso and face. He kept his distance as he passed by the target. Time had excellent visual memory. He took a snapshot of how the man sat and held the device.

When he reached the window, he stopped and turned to face the target. Treeves and Time had him between them. There was no point in waiting any longer. Treeves said the phrase, jumped forward, clamped his right hand over the target’s thumb, and made his entire world the pressure he exerted to keep the target’s thumb on the trigger.

They had the kind of luck that comes with preparation and experience. Treeves forward motion had pushed the chair closer to Time. It gave Time a split-second extra to reach the target, place his left hand on his wrist, and slide down towards where Treeves prevented him from releasing the trigger. Time’s fingers touched the top of Treeves’ hand. He pressed down hard enough to maintain pressure as Treeves slid his hand away. Time now controlled the dead man’s switch. They had practiced this type of exchange countless times.

Time placed his right hand on the target’s left forearm, pinning him. Once he had control, he twisted the target’s arm to the left, exposing the wrist. He counted on his speed to protect him from a defensive maneuver. Time brought his head down and used the small blade that he had placed in his mouth to slice deeply into the nerves that controlled the muscles of the target’s hand.

He bent the wrist backward. The target screamed as blood gushed from his artery and splattered Time’s face and neck. To be sure he had control, Time released his right hand from his opponent’s forearm, grabbed the target’s hair, and pulled his face down onto his rising right knee. He connected well and knew the target would not be conscious as he bled out.

He said to Treeves, “Get them in here now. This is slippery as hell.”

Treeves returned to where the hostages waited. Still disguised as Elio, he chose one of the more powerful cell phones from their possessions. He dialed a number that would automatically lock in a secure line.

He said, “We’re ready, general. We need Mr. Reilly in 2001, stat.”

Within minutes, the air filled with tear gas. A team of commandos rushed in, killing the dead targets and rescuing the hostages. A secondary team, led by Explosives Specialist Reilly, went to disarm the RVX.

Specialists brought in two bodies. They were anonymous corpses collected precisely for this purpose. The United States would announce that four hostages, including the well-known attorney Charles Lang and a Diplomatic Corporate Liaison, were victims of a senseless terrorist act. Tragically, a heroic young Navy doctor, James Warren, was killed to protect the prince. However, the most significant loss was the prince, who had worked so tirelessly for peace. He suffered a fatal heart attack during the crisis.

Treeves and Time came out long after the hostages. By that time, the news stations had left. There was no mention of them in any news reports because no one recalled anything particularly interesting about them.

Reviews of John J Heartfield Novel - Controlling Time