Detective Baines rang the call button on the apartment door within the decrepit outskirts of Layer Six. Baines’s hard work led him to this location. The twenty-three year-old rookie was on the verge of busting a man on twenty counts of smuggled substances and twenty-seven counts of human trafficking.
“This place is absolutely disgusting and deserted,” Baines said to his superior, Agent Lewis. A small earpiece allowed the detective and the Agent to clearly communicate.
“Check your MediPalm. I have installed Saber, the new app approved by the National Police Force,” informed Lewis. “We have this guy marked. Listen to my instructions. Detective Knowles is missing.”
“Got it,” responded Baines. “This one is mine.”
Baines punched a few illuminated sections on his handheld MediPalm device and pulled up Saber, the security app specially designed to apprehend drug related criminals.
The MediPalm blinked blue as a tall, skinny man dressed in a black suit and a lab coat opened the door.
“Hello, Detective Baines,” the man stated politely. “I’m always fond of your visits. I enjoy various types of guests – elitists, average workers, and thugs like you.”
“Cut the crap, Jenkins! You know why I am here!” growled Baines.
“Oh my, Detective, actually, I do not know the logic behind this surprise visit. Let’s discuss it over a drink.” Damien Jenkins motioned toward the apartment’s somewhat luxurious dining area. Baines thought the decor odd in such a desolate, filthy Layer of City-State.
Baines held his MediPalm in his right hand, discreetly adjusted his earpiece, and slowly placed his left hand on his weapons belt. His gun sat on his hip.
Jenkins walked to the meticulously decorated dining area adorned with clear glass vases and abstract art pieces including sculptures and bright colored paintings. He chose Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from a small wine cooler. Jenkins took pride in his vast knowledge of wine. “The white and the red are well over two hundred years old, and both originate from a place called California. Fermentation is rather fascinating. Did you know that grapevines predate the demise of the United States?”
“I don’t drink on the clock, and I don’t need a history lesson, Damien!” Baines snarled.
“Oh, you can have one drink. It’s only mid-morning. Choose your poison – red or white,” Jenkins smirked humorously.
The earpiece lightly buzzed. “Follow his lead,” instructed Lewis. Baines nodded his head to Jenkins. Lewis studied Jenkins for years; the young detective trusted his superior.
Jenkins showed Baines his place at the table. It was adorned with a sea of different shades of reds and whites to match Jenkins’s wine selections. Large, clear vases held miniature tea cakes, and royal blue cloth napkins finished the look. Two place settings written in perfect cursive held each man’s name.
Uncomfortable and leery of his host, Baines sat at his assigned seat, removed his hand from his gun, and placed his MediPalm on the table. “Okay, I’ll have the Chardonnay… the white,” Baines indicated as he concentrated on the room, his weapon, and his host.
As Jenkins poured the aged wine, Baines noticed his MediPalm as it displayed a silent alert. At the same moment, his earpiece buzzed. The app (and his partner) did not sense anything suspicious before Jenkins served the drink. “The wine… choose your poison.” Baines pondered Jenkins’s request.
Baines snatched his MediPalm from the table’s surface, and he placed it in his lap. Looking down below the table as Jenkins poured himself a glass of Pinot Noir, Saber displayed drug related data. The white wine contained Sominum, a lethal drug for the euthanasia of “undesirable” citizens of City-State. Jenkins wanted Baines dead.
Baines quickly seized his pistol from his weapons belt and pointed it in the center of Jenkins’s face.
Jenkins laughed demonically. The earpiece rang; he heard every word between the two men.
“Kill him! Shoot him, and get the hell out of there!” Lewis abruptly demanded. “That is a direct order!”
Baines hesitated. He sensed something extremely peculiar about this situation. Jenkins, unalarmed, expected Baines at his home today. The Chardonnay started to bubble violently; the MediPalm intensely vibrated. Baines raised his voice, “I don’t know, Agent. I don’t know if I should…”
“Do it! Do it now!” reiterated Lewis.
“No! No! Something is not right!” Baines argued.
“Kill him, Baines, or I will have your badge!”
“Choose your poison.” Jenkins displayed an evil grin.
Baines pulled the trigger. Smoke floated from the gun. Jenkins slumped to the dining room floor.
“Good work, Detective. Get to the adjacent parking lot…”
Lewis’s voice was interrupted by a loud, intrusive alarm. Baines turned to each section of the dining room and readied his gun.
The alarm ceased. A recorded voice flooded the apartment. It was Jenkins. “In the event of my death, I have secured the house for your demise. I hope you enjoyed my hospitality.” Jenkins chuckled, and his voice faded away.
Baines’s young eyes widened. For the first time in his career, he knew the feeling of absolute terror. In this state of fear, the detective ran to the entrance of Jenkins’s apartment. He quickly adjusted his earpiece and turned it off. All the noise clouded his mind; he needed to think without Agent Lewis screaming in his head.
Gas began to fill the front of apartment; Baines quickly sniffed the fumes. The air smelled like fire; the chemicals burned the tip of his nose. The poisonous gas commenced to occupy the space swiftly. The main entrance was locked; Baines ran to the back of the apartment.
There were two bedrooms in the rear of Jenkins’s home. The first was his bedroom. It was painted a deep red. A large painting on the wall above the bed displayed a landscape of a California vineyard before the United States fell. The landscape showcased long, luscious rows of grapevines. Baines quickly spied this bedroom and moved the other one.
The guest bedroom sparkled in white drapes, white bed linens, and white furniture. The cream-colored walls off set the pure white décor. Over a hundred clear wine glasses graced a variety of shelves. To the left side of the room, an elevator shaft stood in place of a closet. The gas followed Baines to the back of the apartment, and it quickly enveloped his body and burned his eyes; he covered his mouth and nose with the top of his light blue dress shirt. He darted into the white room, opened the shaft, and scaled down the elevator’s massive, bulky wires. Jenkins’s recorded voice laughed sadistically.
The wicked voice diminished as Baines descended down the elevator shaft. However, as Jenkins’s voice died, the poison gas continued to creep after the rookie. It crawled down the narrow space; it chased the detective. “Damn!” Baines thought to himself. He continued to cascade the thick wires as he breathed down the front of his uniform. He glanced down past his feet – then he saw it.
The elevator stood ten feet below him. The gas maintained its firm position. It persevered; it was as if Jenkins himself chased Baines.
The Detective loosened his grip from the wires, and he fell. A loud “thud” on the top of the elevator confirmed his location. The gas surrounded him; he began to violently cough. The trap door on top of the elevator was firmly shut. Baines discovered the manual release beneath his left foot. He quickly thought, “Jenkins wants me to open the door. Dammit.”
Baines gripped the lever, turned it to the right, and the door popped open. The toxic gas coiled his frame. In a matter of seconds, he slid the lower part of his body into the elevator, hung from the manual release lever to close the door with his body weight, twisted the handle, and locked it. Baines dropped to the elevator’s floor and inhaled the clean air.
Sweat dripped from his brow as he surveyed the menu options on the elevator. There was only one button: it was lighted, and it read “push”. Baines sighed heavily.
“Well, there’s no choice here.” He pressed the lighted button. The elevator’s doors slid open. His current police training did not prepare him for Jenkins’s cruel scheme.
Baines stared at an elaborate, dimly lit wine cellar. The symbol of City-State, the Seven Point Star, was the centerpiece of the cellar’s floor while wine barrels cushioned the side walls. Then Baines gasped: seven decaying corpses accurately lay at each point on the Star.
Baines reached for his MediPalm to survey the area and collect data, but his back pocket was empty. He left the device in Jenkins’s dining room. Baines winced in utter frustration. “I hate you! I’m glad you’re dead, you bastard!” Baines wailed.
The earpiece! He moved his right hand to his ear. He remembered that he simply turned it off. Baines slid the main switch to the “on” position. “Agent Lewis? Can you read me?” Static flooded his right ear. He waited.
Baines stared at the seven dead bodies situated on each point. He placed his hands on his forehead, rubbed his eyes, and breathed deeply.
“Detective, are you there? Do you copy?” snapped Agent Lewis. His voice crackled in and out of Baines’s ear.
Baines sighed in relief. “Yes, I am here, sir. I’m alive. I don’t know where I am. It looks like a wine cellar deep underground. City-State’s Seven Point Star is embedded within the floor, and there are seven dead bodies, one body at each point.” The connection broke momentarily.
“We will get you out, Baines. Look around the room. Do you see any noticeable booby traps?”
“No… just wine barrels, the Star, and the bodies.”
“Can you identify any of the bodies?”
Baines approached the corpses. His jaw dropped in complete astonishment. “Lewis, I located Detective Knowles. He’s on one of the points.” The earpiece crackled. There was silence.
He turned his head and discovered a piece of paper taped to a large wine barrel. He read it aloud: “Welcome to City-State’s Seven Point Star. To successfully exit the building, you must place the correct label on each body. And since you are a detective, I am sure you know these people.”
Baines realized that these people were all Jenkins’s victims over the past seven years. “Agent, I’m gonna need your help.”
Baines explained the evil game to Lewis and discovered each label pinned to an individual wine barrel: The Crony, The Problem, The Enabler, The Choice, The Thug, The Looter, and The Savior. Each name was handwritten in perfect cursive. Baines recognized the writing from the place cards in the dining room.
Suddenly, as Baines unpinned the first label, “The Crony,” Jenkins’s recorded voice boomed throughout the cellar. “The game has started, Detective. You have seven minutes to identify each of my friends. The labels are printed on special paper. If you place a name on the incorrect body, well, you know… choose wisely.” Baines heard a loud ticking sound permeate throughout the shadowy space.
Baines studied the first label in frustration. “Lewis, I’ve got seven minutes to correctly mark these bodies. You’ve been on the Force longer. Help me.”
Baines’s voice was temporarily lost in static. “I seem to understand, but I can barely hear you. What is the name of the first label?” asked Lewis.
“Describe the bodies, Detective… quickly.”
Baines hardly heard his superior’s directions. “There’s a skeleton in a business suit, a corpse in a glittery, gold blazer, a dead woman who looks pregnant, a dead man outfitted in a official Agent uniform, a corpse that looks like an average, normal man, Detective Knowles, and wait… Senator Hughes?”
“Hughes? The high-powered politician who has been missing for five years?” Lewis questioned.
“Yes, sir.” Baines remembered this case vividly. Hughes’s disappearance inspired him to enter law enforcement.
“Damn!” shouted Lewis.
The clock ticked louder and louder.
“Okay… okay… help me!” exclaimed Baines.
“The Crony…” thought Lewis. “Jenkins maintained many relationships within City-State’s elite business sector. He spent millions attempting to buy friendships. Try the suit.”
Baines walked to the bottom right-hand point of the Star. He placed the paper label on top of the skeleton. A bell chimed; there were no signs of trouble. The answer was correct.
“We got it!” shrieked Baines. “Next…”
The clock’s ticking countdown resonated. “Hurry, Detective! What’s next?” The connection with Lewis briefly faded.
Baines pulled a second piece of paper from a separate barrel: “The Thug.” He had an idea about this one. “Knowles,” he quickly pondered. “The detective… the thug.”
Remembering his conversation with Jenkins this morning, he placed the label of “The Thug” on Detective Knowles’s dead body located at the bottom left-hand point of the Star.
The bell rang cheerfully.
The earsplitting countdown continued. He glanced at his watch. Four minutes remained. Baines grabbed “The Choice” from a new barrel.
“What’s next?” asked Lewis through the earpiece’s static.
“The Choice,” answered Baines.
“Sounds easy enough. Look at the woman.”
“She’s pregnant, right?”
“In City-State, a woman has the choice to become pregnant, and the government has the choice to keep or abort the baby,” lectured Lewis.
“You’re right!” Baines glared at the middle left point. He placed the paper label of “The Choice” on the dead woman’s body.
Ding! He was correct.
“Yes!” Lewis’s crackled voice roared in Baines’s ear.
“Next – ‘The Savior’,” directed Baines.
“Who’s left?” inquired Lewis.
“A guy in a glittery blazer, an average looking citizen, Senator Hughes, and the Agent in uniform. Hurry up!” advised the Detective.
“Well, Hughes was not a savior, and the guy in the glitter blazer sounds like Carter Monazano, the television game show host who went missing three years ago.” Lewis continued, “Average men cannot be saviors in City-State; they are trouble makers. Let’s take this as a compliment. Put it on the Agent,” instructed Lewis.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, time is running out!”
Baines placed the label of “The Savior” on the chest of the dead Agent located at the middle right point of the Star.
The bell sounded. Baines let out a heavy sigh.
“All right!” Lewis boasted. The earpiece still crackled with static. “Go back to the guy with the golden blazer – Carter Monazano.”
“What? You’re breaking up,” Baines stated.
“The glittery-gold blazer… what names are left?” Three minutes remained. Lewis did not want Baines to experience Jenkins’s final surprise.
“Uh… ‘The Enabler’, ‘The Looter’, and ‘The Problem’,” explained Baines.
“Monazano was a fraud. He enticed his game show contestants to perform lewd, sexual acts in exchange for cash and prizes. He gave them whatever they wanted in exchange for whatever he wanted. He’s ‘The Enabler’.”
Baines had to trust his superior. Lewis was a twenty year veteran of the National Police Force. He did not earn his title of Agent strictly based on longevity.
“Okay…” yelled Baines. Sweat trickled from his brow as he placed the title of “The Enabler” on Monazano’s decaying corpse positioned at the upper left point of the Star.
The bell chimed, signaling a correct answer.
Baines quickly examined his watch; two minutes remained. Intensifying by the second, the clock ticked feverishly.
Baines pushed his earpiece deeper into his head to hear Lewis. “There’s two left, sir. ‘The Problem’ and ‘The Looter.’ Choose your poison – Hughes or the average man. Hurry!”
“Hughes was a snake; he stole from the government. I almost caught him four years ago. I’m kind of glad Jenkins disposed of him. He was dirty. He’s ‘The Looter’. I’m sure of it. Choose my poison? Hughes was pure poison,” Lewis sneered.
“Got it!” shouted Baines. He placed the title of “The Looter” on Hughes’s dead body situated at the upper right-hand side of City-State’s Star.
One minute remained. Baines marked the average citizen as “The Problem.” Jenkins was right. The average resident in City-State was the problem. The government and the nation are full of looters, enablers, and snobby elitists because the average people allow it. Therefore, the problem lies within the oppressed. No one stands up for equality, fairness, and justice. But Jenkins did; he wanted control. He gained control through homicide and drug trafficking.
Baines placed the last label on the top middle point of the Star. He covered the average man’s face with the label.
The bell sounded. A door opened behind him.
“Baines, are you there? Talk to me! Now!”
Baines stood silent on the outskirts of the Star.
The opening displayed a fancy dinner table with two glasses of wine – one white and one red. At the same time, the middle section of the Star flashed yellow; a narrow podium rose from this small section. A button popped up on the podium. Baines heard Jenkins’s voice.
“You have one more choice: the wine or the Star. Select white or red or push the button. You have fifteen seconds. Choose your poison.” Jenkins’s voice faded.
“Baines! Baines! Listen to me…” Lewis screamed.
The young detective removed his earpiece; it fell from his ear and softly landed on his shoulder. His head ached. “I will not be number eight! Jenkins, you bastard! What does all of this mean?”
Seconds passed. Baines felt the earpiece vibrate on his shoulder. He faintly heard Lewis’s voice screaming through the earpiece.
“It’s a trap! Wait! Listen to me! I know Jenkins!” Lewis belted out these instructions as loud as he could through the unstable connection.
Baines ignored the Agent. He knew what he was doing. He wanted to end Jenkins’s horrible schemes.
Five… four… three…
“Wait! No! Don’t choose anything!” Lewis made one last effort to assist his young partner.
Baines turned and pushed the Star’s center button as the clock reached the end of its countdown.
The clock ceased, and there was silence. Jenkins claimed his eighth victim as Baines lay dead in the middle of the Star. The sharp arrow positioned the last label perfectly on Baines’s chest. It was entitled, “The Novice.”
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