by Brian K. Asbury
The two guards on the main door had not long come on duty, and had a long, cold vigil ahead of them, but they always took their duties very seriously. They had to, because there was a lot of competition for this post. It might seem a dull and thoroughly unpleasant task to stand there all night standing sentinel over a building whose contents they could only speculate about, but Grunewald considered this building very important — important enough to pay its guards three times the normal rate for the job.
So when there was a suspicious noise off to the right, in the direction of the security fence, it had to be investigated immediately.
There was a brief exchange between the two men, and one of them set off in the direction of the noise, waving his flashlight ahead of him and drawing his gun. His colleague drew his own gun and watched his progress, while not budging from his appointed spot. He knew the security camera over the door would be tracking his companion’s progress, and he heard it whirr as it started to move.
What he didn’t know was that, perched on a narrow ledge above the camera, a dark-clad figure was watching its progress and waiting for just the right moment to act. As the camera panned around, he picked up a snowball, packed to rock-hardness by hands that had felled some of the greats of the boxing world in their time, and he dropped the ball into the camera’s track. It stopped abruptly, and he dropped a second ball of ice behind it, effectively wedging it into place.
The guard still at the door heard the camera stop and make grinding noises. He glanced up to see what was wrong, just in time to see what seemed like an enormous black cat dropping down onto him. That was the last thing he saw, as Wildcat landed on top of him, knocking him flat onto his back and putting him out for the count with a right cross before he could even cry out in alarm.
Wildcat glanced up at the camera, noting to his satisfaction that it was still stuck fast in its track. He dragged the unconscious guard under the shadow of the wall, picking up his cap and jamming it on his own head. He then began to strip the man’s uniform jacket off him, when the radio crackled. An indistinct voice gabbled something in German too fast for Ted’s rusty command of the language to comprehend; all he managed to pick out was the name Willy.
He picked up the walkie-talkie and switched it to send. Muffling it with his hand, he mumbled, “Willy hier. Alles in Ordnung.”
“Was? Willy, das Kamera ist…” The rest was again barked out too fast for Wildcat to understand.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” he muttered to himself under his breath. He dashed the radio against the wall in frustration, smashing it to pieces.
“Temper, temper, cherie,” said a feminine voice from behind him. As he turned to face the speaker, she added, “Ze ‘at does suit you, though, despite ze pussycat ears sticking out. I do like a man in uniform.” She dropped the second guard, whom she had been carrying over her shoulder with seemingly little effort, next to his colleague.
“No problem there, then?” said Wildcat, slipping the first guard’s coat over his costume.
“Non. Anozzer inevitable victim of my feminine charms, n’est-ce pas?” She studied Wildcat with head cocked to one side. “Do you seriously expect zis to work, mon cher? Ze ‘at and ze tunic are fine, but ze mask sort of gives you away.”
“It ain’t meant to fool people, babe. Just confuse ’em long enough to give us an edge.” He glanced at the door. “Now, c’mon. Let’s see what they’re hidin’ in there.”
A quick search in the guard’s pockets turned up a swipe card, which Wildcat swished into a reader on the door. He opened the door a crack, poked his head through, and then snatched it back. “Problem,” he said. “There’s another camera in the lobby inside.”
“Did it see you, cherie?”
“I don’t think so. An’ if it did, it would have just caught a head in a guard’s hat. It’s sweepin’ back and forth, so if we’re quick, we oughtta be able to duck under it. If it’s got motion tracking, though, it could be trouble.”
“Zat’s a risk we must take, if we are to find Janine and your friends.”
“Yeah, I guess so, but–”
Before Wildcat could answer the question, the lithe, white-clad girl had pushed the door open and had sprung inside, gambolling to the opposite wall where the camera was. Wide-eyed with horror, Wildcat saw that the camera had not seemingly reacted to her. She straightened up and gave a thumbs-up signal. Snorting angrily, he took note of where the camera was pointing and sprinted in the opposite direction, doubling back to join Whitefox under the camera.
“That was stupid,” he said. “You could’a set alarms off all over the–”
“Shhh,” the French girl said, putting a finger to her lips. “Zere could be audio, mon cher.”
Wildcat looked up at the camera. He couldn’t see a microphone pick-up, but he reluctantly admitted to himself that she was right. No sense in taking chances in that area.
Silently, they waited until the camera had swept back to the opposite side, then he signed to Whitefox that they should make for a stairwell in one corner. She nodded, and they ran for it and up the stairs, away from the camera.
“I still say it was a stupid risk,” he said. “You didn’t know where the camera was when you bounced in like that.”
“Ah, but what is life without risks, mon ami?” she said, grinning. “But anyway, ze fox, she is too quick for ze cameras, yes? All zey would have seen was a blur.” She continued up the stairs.
Wildcat sighed and made after her. Am I getting too old for this? he wondered to himself. He had to admit, though — if he had to follow anybody up a flight of stairs, Whitefox was a good choice. She had one hell of a body, and though her costume covered everything except the lower half of her face, it hugged her contours like a second skin. And the way she moved — wow!
Hold it right there! he checked himself. Besides the fact that you’re happily married, this girl is young enough to be your granddaughter! OK, so physically I’m much younger than my true age, and I’m a red-blooded, all-American guy with normal urges, but this is no time to be lustin’ after some young chick’s shapely butt! Something’s goin’ on here. There’s more to this gal than meets the eye!
They reached the top of the stairs and another lobby, again unmanned, but this time, thankfully, there were no cameras. Another stairwell was visible on the far side, leading up to the next floor, but there was also a single door with another swipe card point. Wildcard tried the guard’s card in it. Nothing happened.
“So what do we do now?” he muttered. “Any suggestions?”
“Knock three times, ask for Charlie, and say zat Kurt Waldheim sent us?”
He glowered at her. “Very helpful, doll, but–”
And then the door started to open from the other side.
Wildcat instinctively sprang back to flatten against the wall behind the door, but there was no chance for Whitefox to do the same; she would have needed the speed of the Flash to get out of the way before whoever was coming through the door saw her.
And indeed, a middle-aged, bespectacled man stepped into the lobby and stopped dead, astonished to find himself face to face with this strikingly curvy young woman in a skintight white bodysuit and foxy hood. “Was… was ist dies…?”
Wildcat expected the French adventuress to hit the newcomer, but instead she reached out her gloved hand to gently caress his face. Wildcat himself felt a sudden flush of ardour stir his loins. He had to shake his head violently to clear his head. Jeez, he thought. She’s got some kinda whammy-power here that makes guys putty in her hands!
This was borne out by the behavior of the lab-coated man, who was allowing himself to be led into the lobby by a softly whispering Whitefox. She led him to the one piece of furniture in the room — a desk with an integral chair — and he sat down in it like an adoring puppy. Wildcat reached out fast to grab the door as he realized it was closing.
“Zat won’t be necessary, cherie,” she said to him. “Manfred, ‘ere, ‘as kindly given me ‘is pass card.” She held up the plastic wafer for him to see.
Wildcat let the door shut and moved toward her, only to halt as he felt himself being overcome by her strange ambiance again.
“It’s all right, Cher Chat,” she said. “One becomes used to it wiz prolonged exposure. Concentrate, and you can overcome it.”
Wildcat took a deep breath and started forward again. “And what is ‘it’?”
“Merely a unique leetle talent of mine,” she said, smiling sweetly. “It is most effective with ze element of surprise, as you can see.” She stroked Manfred’s face gently.
“OK, OK, I’ll buy it, doll,” said Wildcat, still struggling to shuck off the effects of her ‘leetle’ talent. “So ask him what’s going on here.”
The young Frenchwoman spoke softly to her charge in German. He replied in a dreamy voice, all the time staring lovingly into her eyes. However, it seemed to Wildcat that there was an internal struggle going on in there. Manfred seemed to be blinking just a little too often and too strongly, as if trying to fight what was happening to him.
Then, suddenly and completely without warning, Whitefox struck out with her fist, knocking Manfred out of the chair and onto the floor, unconscious.
Wildcat stepped back, momentarily surprised by the sudden change from gentleness to violence. “Nice punch, babe,” he said, recovering his cool. “But why?”
If Whitefox was frowning beneath her hood, it was hard to tell, but her voice suggested the possibility. “I told you, one becomes acclimatized after a while. It was wearing off, so I ‘ad to make sure ‘e was rendered ‘armless.” She stared directly at Wildcat as if challenging him to dispute what she had done. “It was either zat or drag ‘im around wiz us, and zat would not ‘ave been a good idea.”
Wildcat held up his hands. “OK, OK, no argument here, hon. But what did he tell you? Are the students here? Just what’s goin’ on?”
“Bad things. Terrible things,” she replied slowly. “Come, mon ami, and I will show you.” And she made for the stairs to the next floor, beckoning with Manfred’s swipe card.
“Hold it! Hold it!” cried Wildcat, sprinting after her up the stairs. “Take it easy, lady. We don’t know what we’re gettin’ into here!”
She stopped and turned to confront him. “Zere isn’t time to waste, considering our options, cherie. For all we know, Security could already ‘ave sent someone over ‘ere to investigate why zose two guards at ze front door are not responding.”
“Yeah, I know. But I’ve been doing this a long time, babe, an’ I’ve stayed alive by rememberin’ that there’s such a thing as ‘fools rush in,’ y’know? If what these people have is so hot, there could be all sorts o’ traps waitin’ up there.”
Whitefox considered this for a moment. “You are right, of course. Per’aps I ‘ave let my ‘ot blood rule my ‘ead. But still zere is little time to waste. We must take a chance, yes?”
“I suppose so. Just don’t go rushin’ in blindly, is all.”
She nodded, and they continued up the stairs to the next landing, where she swiped Manfred’s card through a reader. There was a satisfying click, and the door opened a crack. Wildcat jammed the security guard’s hat on his head and opened it farther, peering round. “Nobody’s home. It’s dark.”
“Can you see ze switch?”
“Nope, but I can feel for it. Ah, here it is. He flicked it on and pushed the door open all the way. What he saw within stopped him dead in his tracks. “Oh… my… God!”
“Did I not say zere were terrible things afoot?” said Whitefox, peering over his shoulder. They stepped inside in silence, taking in the rows of glass tanks and jars, some containing human organs, some whole bodies. Some of the bottled hearts were actually beating, stimulated artificially by nutrients and electrical current. At least a couple of the bodies looked as if they might still be alive.
Wildcat’s voice was barely a whisper. “Are these… are these the missing students?”
“Our man downstairs said zey were,” said Whitefox. “And look at zem. None of zem look older zan twenty. Children — zey are still children.” Wildcat saw a tear slide down her exposed cheek. “Who are zese people? Who would do such things?”
Wildcat made no reply, but continued to wander among the macabre exhibits filling the room. There was no sign of anyone resembling Gar Coles — or, indeed, Janine Fauchard, the girl Whitefox was looking for (he had seen photographs of all the missing students, so knew what she looked like). However, there was no way that all fifty-two of the missing youngsters could be here; there were less than a dozen intact bodies, and the rest would account for perhaps a dozen more, maybe fifteen at the outside. But then he remembered the disturbed ground between this building and the perimeter fence. Were the rest of the students buried there?
He was about to voice this thought to Whitefox when he noticed some papers on a worktable. He moved to them and picked them up; they were in German, naturally, and his command of the language was inadequate to enable him to understand more than a few words in each sentence. However, his attention was drawn to the device that headed one particular sheaf of papers that seemed to be full of technical notations.
“It never ends, does it?” he breathed. “It never goddamn ends!”
“What was zat?” asked Whitefox, approaching him.
He turned to face her. “It figures, doll,” he said. “They always were big on human experimentation. God, every time you think you’ve seen the back of horrors like this, they jump up again and hit ya in the face an’ say ‘you might’ve thought we was on the ropes, but we ain’t been counted out yet.”
“What? I don’t understand what you are talking about, mon ami.”
“This!” said Wildcat angrily, thrusting the papers at her. “Look at the emblem on these letterheads — an eagle on a swastika. Grunewald and his goddamn butchers are Nazis!”