“Dead Last” by Jay Barnson – A junior-level agent for a modern-day magical cabal on embarks on his first field assignment. When a necromancer turns his contacts into gun-toting zombies, he must use every bit of his wits, talents, and sometimes inappropriate sense of humor to survive.
tags: Jay Barnson, action/adventure, fantasy, horror
|Publication Date||May 04, 2017|
|BCRS ratings?Learn more|
by Jay Barnson
The gym stank of generic cleansers and stale sweat. A handful of unevenly spaced fluorescent tubes created patchy pools of light. I imagined that they made the facility seem larger and in better condition than it probably looked under the full glare of the halogens during working hours. I glanced at my partner and said, “You take me to the nicest places, Crenshaw. I really don’t know what to say.”
Crenshaw’s face was mostly mouth and teeth under a nose that looked like a shark’s dorsal fin. He growled. “Show some professionalism, Flint. Unless you really want to be stuck as an L2 forever.”
Our charge, a confident, comfortably overweight thirty-something named Mike Rosefield, halfturned to face us. “Okay, from here out, you two keep quiet. These Tycho folks are small-time players, usually trustworthy, but definitely not on friendly terms with us. Just let me do the talking, okay?”
Crenshaw glared sideways at me, and nodded. We followed Rosefield past the treadmills and exercise bikes towards the weights. From the rear of the facility, a voice called out, “Okay, that’s far enough.”
We stopped. Four men in business suits approached, their features unclear in the shadows. At a word from the leader, they all held short of the center of the room, standing perfectly still in the shadows as Rosefield’s counterpart stepped forward to join us.
The leader was tall and thin, in his mid forties. He was not as well groomed as Rosefield, but he moved with at least equal confidence. His antique-styled spectacles with gold frames made him appear scholarly. “Glad you folks could make it tonight.” His voice held a trace of a New York accent.
Rosefield spoke with more reserve than he’d shown all night. “Likewise. I confess, was expecting
Devon here tonight.”
The older man shook his head. “No, he couldn’t make it. I’m Travis Combs, Devon’s assistant. It was our understanding this was a simple hand-off. If you came to try and renegotiate, I’m not authorized to do any of that.”
Rosefield held up a hand. “No, no renegotiation. I just need to authenticate the piece. Can we turn on the rest of the lights in here?”
Combs shook his head. “I’d rather not let anyone know we’re here after hours. We don’t want any interruptions.” He placed his briefcase on a bench, and popped it open. Inside was a primitive mask made of ancient leather, set with topaz stones. “The Mask of Jupiter. One of the five Planetary Masks.
Go ahead and have a look, but no touching.”
I keyed my mic. “One of five?” I murmured so that only the mic could pick it up. “Do we get a prize for collecting the whole set?”
Crenshaw scowled at me. Rosefield’s eyes bugged out as he held in either a laugh or an angry shout. Megan Villanova, our backup and mission leader parked in a van a block away, answered, “Yes, the prize may include the destruction of all human life on the planet if brought together, so try and show some respect. Now cut the chatter and pay attention, Alpha Two.”
Rosefield produced a jeweler’s loupe and used it to inspect the mask. Crenshaw kept his eye on Combs. As curious as I was about the trade we were about to make, I kept my eye on the other three men just outside of the light, and my hand well away from my concealed holster in my belt. Things were going smoothly, and I didn’t want to make my counterparts twitchy. They were doing a better job than I was, standing rock still. Professionals every one, they didn’t fidget or even let on that they were observing us. I couldn’t even tell that they were breathing in the shadows. Their complete lack of motion bugged me.
Part of my special little talent that attracted the Order of Ascarion’s attention to me was that I’ve got an eye for illusion and misdirection. I was one of those annoying kids at magic shows who figured out half of the magician’s tricks as he performed them. When I did, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut explaining to anyone around me how he was pulling it off. I wasn’t trying to ruin the performance. I was just excited about spotting the deception, and couldn’t wait to share it with people.
What attracted my interest in the Order of Ascarion was meeting a man who could do the same thing with no deception at all. That, and receiving a promise I could learn to do the same. That, and getting to act like James Bond or Indiana Jones. Eventually, that is. The intense training I received as an L1 recruit was purely non-magical. As an L2, I served as a glorified security guard for two years. This mission was my first field assignment, a “milk run” to prove my readiness for promotion. I just had to avoid screwing up for an hour.
Each of the three bodyguards wore a dark suit—all the better to hide the print of a gun. Darker shadows on two of the coats didn’t match the incoming light. I pretended to fidget and take an interest in a suspicious barbell, and inched my way towards Crenshaw.
Meanwhile, Rosefield nodded and put away the jeweler’s loupe. “That does look like the real deal.”
Combs closed the briefcase, but didn’t lock it. He grinned at Rosefield. “Of course it’s authentic.
Now, not to get crude or anything, but now that I’ve shown you mine, its your turn to show me yours.”
Rosefield chuckled, and placed his own briefcase on the bench next to Combs’. He smoothly unlocked and opened the case, revealing the oldest book I’d ever seen. The Order of Ascarion maintains a lot of very old books, so that’s not an insignificant statement.
I pretended to stare at the book while Combs examined it, and I whispered to Crenshaw, “We may have a problem.”
Crenshaw’s words were barely audible even inches away. “So help me, Flint, if you screw this up…”
“His bodyguards have bloodstained jackets.”
“What? Bullsh…” But Crenshaw looked. To his credit, he did so while appearing to scan the room in a glance.
Combs glanced briefly at us as he bent over the book. His casual smile never wavering, but his forehead creased. He’d noticed.
Crenshaw cleared his throat. “Hey, Mike, I hate to interrupt, but can I talk to you when you have a moment?” Rosefield looked up, his own casual smile in place, but his eyes glared daggers at Crenshaw.
Combs licked his lips. A little too eagerly, he said, “Actually, gentlemen, I’m satisfied here. Shall we conclude our business, then?” He motioned hopefully towards Rosefield’s briefcase.
Rosefield touched the lid of the briefcase with one hand. “Not just yet. I’m sure this won’t take but a second.”
Combs smiled and shrugged, but a moment later he called out, “Minions, kill the agents!” He dove forward, tackling Rosefield and knocking him and both briefcases over the workout bench.
I drew my gun much faster than our three opponents, and Crenshaw drew even faster than me. There was little cover to speak of in the gym, so we ducked and moved to make ourselves more difficult targets, all while lighting up the gym with gunfire. Our opponents, on the other hand, stood rock-still as they took aim. Even in the bad lighting, I knew I’d hit my target at least twice. He never even flinched.
They opened fire.
“Zombies!” I called out.
“No shit!” Crenshaw called from behind a rack of dumbbells. “Aim for the brain.”
I wasn’t aiming for much of anything as I had took cover behind a leg press machine which seemed to be made of cardboard and aluminum foil for all of the protection it provided. Two of the gunmen (gun-corpses?) shot at me. Even when fired by slow and inaccurate walking dead, a bullet was a bullet. I thought thin thoughts as I tried to put as much of myself as possible behind the stack of weights in the machine. The assembly rang and vibrated behind my head with each shot like a cheap carnival game.
Agents in the Order of Ascarion were taught to use magic, although not the same kind as what the top level administrators and merlins practiced. Agents mastered quick-and-dirty magical spells to enhance their physical abilities. Top-level operatives could pull stunts that would put action-movie heroes to shame. Add to that top-of-the-line technological gadgets and the occasional use of magical talismans with amazing powers, and the “eyes and hands” of the organization was the sort of thing Ian Fleming never dreamed of.
That was all academic for a junior-level agent like me. At my level, we trained the old fashioned way, so that we had a foundation to build on. Magical enhancements should augment our skills, they taught us, not be used as a crutch. While I was no slouch on the range or on the obstacle course, I would have appreciated the crutch right now.
There was only one bit of magic I knew, and it was nothing the Order had taught me. It was another aspect of my “gift.” I could create illusionary sounds, a bit of misdirection of my own. On a good day, I could even convince people they heard a familiar voice. When I was a child, I thought that was how performers “threw their voice” with ventriloquism. I had no idea that my own ability was unique. It was a great skill for pulling practical jokes around the barracks. Unfortunately, it was useless in a firefight. I’d much rather have the spell that turned me into the hero from a John Woo movie.
I dared a peek around the weights, and took the chance to shoot at one of the zombies in its head. It didn’t go down immediately, leaving me to assume I’d missed. Behind it, Rosefield and Combs ducked low, moving towards the exit. Rosefield carried both briefcases. Combs carried just a gun, which he pointed at Rosefield.
Crouching as they were, he was actually pointing the gun at Rosefield’s butt, which would have been comical if it wasn’t so deadly serious. Actually, yes, it was funny. My “inappropriate sense of humor” has been noted from time to time on our semi-annual performance reviews. My superiors need something to complain about, so I provide them with something they feel needs improvement. It makes them feel useful.
One of the zombies spilled onto the floor exactly like a lifeless corpse. I experienced a moment of victorious thrill until Combs called out, “Devon, shoot them!”
The door to the men’s room opened fifteen feet from me. An ash-skinned middle-aged man wearing a blood-soaked shirt and tie stepped through, carrying an MP5 submachine gun. There was no cover between the two of us.
“New hostile!” I called out to my partner as I leaped forward. Slack-jawed and dead-eyed like a shark, the animated corpse of our Tycho contact was no faster than his companions. I closed and pushed the barrel handguard to the side just as he opened fire. The weapon sprayed flame and lead for one of the longest seconds of my life, and then went silent. The zombie repeatedly squeezed the trigger, heedless that nothing more fired. It made no move to reload.
I hadn’t been shot in the back yet by the dead guys who had perforated the weight machine. Assuming Devon was done shooting, I whirled around. One of the zombie agents aimed at me, the slide locked back on his handgun. The other two had collapsed.
Crenshaw sprinted out the exit door, where Combs and Rosefield had presumably fled. “Finish them off, I’ll get Combs!” he called over the radio.
Villanova’s voice came over my earpiece seconds later. “Alpha, what’s going on? I heard gunshots.”
Zombie Devon raised the muzzle of the MP5 to my head and pulled the trigger. Even knowing it was empty, I flinched. I took a step back, raised my Glock, and shot it in the head. It dropped. I repeated the procedure on the remaining zombie, and shuddered involuntarily. Fortunately, no one was around to see my reaction. For a highly-trained agent of a magical cabal, I was having trouble acting like a badass. These things were still fresh enough that they looked like people.
Crenshaw hadn’t answered Villanova yet. I was angry he took off without me, and the ringing in my ears from all the gunshots didn’t help my attitude. I keyed the mic. “A necromancer going by the name of Travis Combs ambushed us with zombies. The Tycho team is dead. Combs has our liaison hostage. Alpha one is after him.”
“What about the cargo?”
“Combs has both.”
“Acknowledged. Alpha one, report if able.”
There was no response. I slipped a new magazine into the Glock, then keyed my mic again as I pushed through the exit door. “Alpha two is following,” I said. This was code for, “Please don’t be surprised by my appearance and shoot me.”
“Bravo One is also in pursuit,” Villanova responded. She was leaving the van to join the fight.
Outside, the street was deserted. Ridgeview isn’t exactly a bustling metropolis. Our van was parked around the corner a block away to the east, where Villanova would have a good view of the rear exit. If she wasn’t in a flat-out run or wearing magic shoes—something not outside of the realm of possibility in our line of work—she would take a minute getting here. I went west.
Blood ran down the sidewalk and into the gutter under the streetlight on the western corner. The figure laying against brick wall was alone, which meant it was one of ours. I scanned the street for a sign of an assailant, but there could have been dozens lurking in every shadowed corner, alley, or rooftop.
I drew closer. It was Crenshaw. Blood soaked the front of his shirt and coat, and gelled under his nose and the corners of mouth.
I keyed my mic again. “Crenshaw’s hurt bad,” I said before correcting myself. “Alpha one is down. We need immediate medical.” But even as I said it, I knew it was too late. Crenshaw stared vacantly down at his own right hand, glassy-eyed and unbreathing. His shirt was sliced open like in a cross of long strokes that had gone deep into his belly with an extremely sharp blade, likely slicing the aorta. He’d bled out in seconds.
An unfamiliar radio lay beside him. Had he taken it from the necromancer? Beside the radio, he’d scrawled the capital letter “B” on the pavement in his own blood. A tail from the lower left corner of the letter trailed down diagonally to where his hand now rested on his handgun. The mark looked like a bizarrely elongated serif.
“I think he’s already dead,” I continued into the radio.
I caught the flash of taillights down the road as an SUV came to life. Comb’s voice crackled in the radio by Crenshaw’s body: “Minion, kill the man in front of you.” The SUV peeled out, and Crenshaw stirred. He twitched and raised his handgun.
I reeled back as he fired, and I felt the bullet hiss past my ear. If it really had been Crenshaw trying to kill me instead of an awkward robot wearing his skin, I’d have been dead. I staggered back, firing several rounds into the head of my former partner. His arm slumped back to the ground and he was still.
Megan Villanova raced up to me with her gun drawn, looking between Crenshaw’s corpse and me as if unsure which of us she should shoot. I had a brief mental image of her putting a bullet through my head as I said, “Wait, let me explain…!” That’d be a terrible way to go, but funny. My inappropriate sense of humor knows no bounds.
“Zombied,” I said instead. “I think Combs just took off in that SUV. He had Rosefield with him last
“Damn it! Let’s get back to the car.”
“What about Crenshaw?”
“We can’t wait. Someone will have heard the gunshots, and the cops will be here in moments. I’ll radio this in, and our people will handle the mess. We’ve got to stop that necromancer!”
We raced back to the van. “Take the wheel, Flint,” Villanova said as she threw me the keys. She jumped into the back of the van and closed the door.
I started the engine and asked, “Where do I go?”
“Follow in the direction they left. I’m casting a locator spell.”
“The briefcases protect the relics from being located.” That was me being helpful. Contradicting a superior officer was a sure path to career success!
“I’m not locating the relics, I’m locating Mike. I hope our necromancer still wants to keep a hostage for a while longer.”
I turned on the overhead GPS and drove. I couldn’t figure out how Travis Combs could manage a frontal assault with a knife against Crenshaw. Crenshaw wasn’t perfect, but he was skilled. He wasn’t the kind of guy to let something like a hostage get in his way, either. He’d probably feel bad about getting his partners killed, but still sleep well at night knowing he’d completed the mission. There’d been no time for a struggle, or any sign that Crenshaw had put up a fight. The best he could do, when it was all over and he had seconds of consciousness remaining, was to draw the letter B on the sidewalk. Or a sloppy number 13.
A zombie required a corpse, a dead body with the previous occupant good and gone. Call it a spirit or just the firing of neurons that makes someone someone, it has to cease for the necromantic energies to take over. Crenshaw had gone from chasing down Combs to a lifeless corpse ripe for zombification in less than three minutes. If Combs could do it to Crenshaw, he could probably do the same to Megan or me. I guessed Crenshaw’s drawing was some kind of warning, but I had no idea what it meant.
“I’ve got him,” Villanova said. “About two miles ahead of us, still moving.”
I looked back at her through the rear-view mirror. “Do we have any other resources nearby to assist?”
“It’s just you and me. We chose this town because it’s far from anyone else’s influence.”
“If Rosefield’s still alive, how do we get him back? Do you have some mean Jedi skills I don’t know about?”
She sighed. “I hate to say it, but Rosefield is tertiary. Our first priority is getting that book back, and the mask is our secondary objective.”
“If the book is so important, why were we going to give it to Tycho?”
“Because we knew they were not going to use it. It’s a book of ancient necromancy. Knowing them, they’d have destroyed it.”
“Did we make photocopies of it before handing it over?”
She held up a crystal and looked through it at the GPS. “I think they have turned East now. Look for an eastbound road in about two miles.” She lowered the crystal. “Back to the question: The real power is bound up in the book itself. What’s written inside is secondary. But yes, I’m sure we did make a copy.”
“But we wouldn’t want the necromancy book in the hands of a necromancer.”
“No. We acquired it sixty years ago from a necromancer who used it to slaughter a dozen agents and at least two of our researchers. This Combs guy has already managed to kill one of our agents, and an entire team from Tycho. I don’t want to imagine how dangerous he’d be with the book as well.”
“Speaking of dangerous, how did he turn Crenshaw or those Tycho agents into zombies so quickly? How long does that process take?”
Villanova shook her head. “I don’t know. A lot longer than that. I suspect he has some kind of relic.
That would allow him to do it instantly, but it wouldn’t bind them to him very well.”
“What does that mean?”
“That he can’t give them complicated instructions. He probably has to give them constant verbal instructions to do anything.”
“That would explain why the dead guys in the gym didn’t know enough to reload. And why he left a radio by Crenshaw.”
She nodded, and double-checked the GPS image through her crystal. “If he takes control of
Rosefield or anyone else, our best bet is to silence him so he can’t give any more orders.”
“Killing him would silence him pretty well.”
“I’m sure the Order would prefer that we take him alive for interrogation.”
I sighed and shook my head. “I’m confused. In the whole book-mask-Mike-Combs priority scheme, where does the priority for keeping Combs alive for questioning land?”
I watched her knife-sharp eyebrows came together over her scowl in the rear-view mirror. “Last,” she answered. “Dead last.”
I turned onto a two-lane highway that seemed to meander off into nowhere. “So if this book is so dangerous, you’d think they’d have briefed us on that,” I said to myself, loudly enough that I was sure she heard.
She lowered the crystal into her lap. “Neither of you were supposed to know. You weren’t supposed to know that book even existed. Be glad. You are the one person on this team who isn’t going to be subject to a massive investigation to figure out who leaked the information.”
“Well, me and Crenshaw.”
She didn’t answer. We drove in silence for several minutes, and then she said, “They’ve turned north again.”
In the darkness, it looked like we were riding through rural nowhere. The roads intersecting the highway were few and far between. As we reached the turn, Villanova announced they’d stopped moving. We turned off the lights and drove the last mile by moonlight, parking short of the location and hopefully out of Combs’ sight.
Villanova took one last look through her crystal. “They are still here. Or at least Mike is.”
“Do you know if he’s still alive? Or if he’s been zombied?”
She shook her head.
We followed a dirt road to a farmhouse. No lights were on, but the SUV I’d seen back in town was parked near the barn. The barn door was open, and a Cessna 172 sat ready for flight in the darkness. Villanova motioned for me to go to the car, while she made her way towards the aircraft.
Rosefield sat in the passenger seat with his hands cuffed behind him, and a wad of rags held in his mouth by a generous strip of duct tape. He was locked in and bound, but at least he was alive. His radio earpiece was missing. He looked neither relieved nor surprised as I drew close. I spoke quietly to him through the window. “Does Combs know we’re here?” He nodded fervently.
“Crap.” I glanced over at where Megan was hiding by the barn door. I didn’t dare key the mic, but I had other resources available to me to get a message to her. I willed the sound of my own whispered voice next to her ear. “Combs has the radio. He knows we’re here.”
I knew she was aware of my ability, but it still surprised her. She pointed her gun in the direction of the sound, then saw me and nodded. Then she slipped through the barn door.
I turned back to Rosefield. He looked out over my shoulder, and his eyes grew wide just before he ducked down in the seat. This confused me for a moment, then I threw stealth to the wind and launched myself over the hood of the SUV. I hadn’t quite put the car between myself and whatever was behind me when a shotgun blast took out passenger side window.
I dropped to a crouch behind the front wheel on the driver’s side as more shots rang out. Shattering glass rained beside me. I guessed three shooters, but I didn’t dare stick my head out to count.
“Minions, cease fire,” Combs’ voice called out. “You behind the car, please toss your gun over here, or I will shoot your lady friend in the head.”
I couldn’t see Villanova from my vantage point, but I heard a pair of footsteps coming closer. One stumbled. I ducked lower and tried to look under the car, but it was too dark to see anything on the other side.
“I mean it,” Combs continued. “I don’t have to leave any of you alive. In six seconds, I promise that all three of you will be dead. You know by now I am not bluffing.” Defeated, I threw my handgun over the hood of the car.
“Now step out with your hands behind your head. I wish to… negotiate.”
I did as he ordered. Combs stood in front of three zombies—an older couple and a younger man. I guessed they were the family that had lived in the farmhouse. They’d been dead at least a day, stinky and bloated. They all had firearms.
At first glance, I feared Megan had been changed as well. She stood limp and unsteady in Comb’s firm grasp, head hung low as he held a gun to her temple. He grinned, his eyes twinkling behind those golden spectacles. What had he done to her?
Crenshaw’s bloody, scrawled message came to my mind. The letter “B” with the weird tail could have been his dying effort to draw a pair of glasses. Was it a warning? I averted my eyes, staring at the top of Villanova’s head instead.
“Look at me,” Combs demanded.
“No thanks,” I answered. “Not that you are ugly or anything.”
Combs chortled. “Figured that out, did you. You’re clever. It’s too bad I can’t trust you, I could use someone like you in my organization. Minions, aim at the man in front of me, but do not shoot.”
I stared down the barrels of the three guns. At this range and without cover, they didn’t have to be very good shots. Still, I forced myself to look anywhere but at Combs’ spectacled eyes. How long could I stall him? How long would Villanova be under his power? I kept talking. “What organization is that?”
“That’s not information I’d want to get back to Ascarion. By not telling you, you know that I intend to keep one of you alive, don’t you? I need a hostage for a while. Since you seem to be the last agent standing, I’ll offer you the choice of who dies, and who gets to be the hostage.”
“What kind of offer is that?”
“A very logical one. You are what? An L3?”
I couldn’t tell if Villanova had recovered. Knowing her, she’d fake her condition until she seized an opportunity, and she couldn’t clue me in without alerting Combs.
“I’m just an L2,” I said.
“Oh, perfect. You’re too junior to have drunk their Kool-Aid. I trust a clever kid like you will make the smart decision. Of course, that’ll put you at odds with Ascarion, which means you won’t ever be able to go back.”
As he spoke, I used my power to create another whisper in Villanova’s ear, so tiny that Combs wouldn’t hear. “Keep your head low.”
She raised her head just enough to look at me with an intense, brief stare. I interpreted it as, “You’d better know what you are doing.” Unfortunately, I didn’t. I figured there was a better than fifty-fifty chance I’d be dead in the next sixty seconds. She let her head drop again.
I shook my head at Combs’ ravings. “More likely, you’ll kill me as soon as you are safe.”
“No need. If you go back, Ascarion will do that for me. They’ll make an example out of you. They aren’t very forgiving of even forced betrayal.”
I was about to say, “No, you’ve got them all wrong.” But really, why convince him of the error in his calculations. Instead, I asked, “What makes you think that?”
“I have a history with Ascarion. I suspect I know far more about them than you do. And since I also suspect your friend here is beginning to regain her wits, this conversation is at an end. Make your choice.”
“Why don’t you kill me, and let these other two go.”
“That’s not an option. I’m only taking one hostage.”
“That’s my only answer. I’m not choosing.”
“Too bad. If we had more time and you weren’t so misguided, maybe we could have been friends.” He glanced back at the zombies.
“Wait a second!” I hoped the desperation in my voice sounded authentic, because it really was. He hesitated, and looked back at me.
I’d heard enough of his own speech that I could mimic it with my power. I positioned an auditory illusion as if it came from his own mouth, and imitated his voice to command, “Minions, shoot me in the head.”
Combs said, “What was…?” Then the guns went off.
Bloody, shattered spectacles with gold frames fell to the ground.
An hour and a half later, we were driving home. Villanova sat in the passenger seat, and Mike Rosefield snored in the back. Next to him, both magical relics rested in their protective briefcases. A cheap cardboard box held the human finger bone that served as Travis Combs’ relic to help him create and control zombies. Beside it, the remains of gold-framed glasses lay wrapped in tissue. Personally, I couldn’t wait to have all of them taken off my hands by our merlins and researchers back at HQ.
Rosefield’s snores grew in volume. I turned up the volume on the radio to compensate, and glanced over at Megan. “I have to admit, I really miss Crenshaw.” “I didn’t really know him well,” she said.
“Me neither, but on the way down he’d elbow Mike whenever he’d start snoring. I miss that.”
She snorted. “Do you ever stop with the jokes?”
I shrugged. “Rarely. It’s a coping mechanism, I guess. That, and life’s too crazy to take it too seriously.”
After a few moments, she asked, “So why didn’t you take Combs’ offer, Donovan?” It was the first time I think I’d ever heard her use my first name.
“Did you hear everything he said?”
“Yes. I was out of it most of the time, but I heard. If your plan failed, you’d be dead.”
“I’d be dead either way. It was a ridiculous offer.”
“I think he was sincere. A lot of agents would have accepted, between that and certain death.” “Would you?”
She was silent for a few seconds, and then said, “I’d like to believe that I would not. Anyway, you impressed me. For all that’s worth. It might not make much difference in the next few days.”
“Why? It wasn’t our fault the milk run went pear-shaped. And all this talk of food is getting me hungry.”
She didn’t even crack a grin. “Maybe it wasn’t our fault, but there were plenty of mistakes all around. I should have been more careful before sending you into the gym. Crenshaw shouldn’t have chased after Combs alone without backup. The inquiry will take weeks to resolve. And in the meantime, there will be a hunt to find a potential leak on our end.”
I drummed the steering wheel with my fingers in a vain attempt to match what was playing on the radio. “So what you are saying is that I should wait a few days before soliciting your recommendation for my promotion?”
That got a smile from her. “A few days, maybe.”
“Dead Last” is copyright © Jay Barnson.
Jay Barnson is a writer, software engineer, and an award-winning video game developer. He has written for The Escapist and Cirsova magazines, and has been published in several anthologies. He is the first place winner in the 2016 DragonComet writing award. As a programmer, he likes making jokes about how issue zero of a magazine is a proper enumeration, much to the editor’s dismay.