The door to the security room flung open with a bang. “Boss man, we found somethin’!” Kenny Dogget shouted. It was more than likely that after a life of watching suspense thrillers and cop dramas on TV, Kenny was finally living out his fantasy of barging in a room with “big news.”
“Good God, what is it, man?” Gus was the kind of startled that makes a person angry. Like being a teenager who just had one of their siblings walk in on them watching porn.
Kenny Dogget’s face sunk with obvious embarrassment. The moment didn’t play out anywhere close to how it does on TV. “It’s uh,” he was so amped about his big entrance that he forgot the message, “something in the uh, in the—”
“Would you spit it out already!” Gus didn’t mean to shout, but he was on edge before Kenny scared the morning’s breakfast out of him.
“The vents,” Kenny blurted, surprising himself. “Charlie and Butch found somethin’ on one of the heating vents.”
For a moment Gus forgot all about the security footage. “They found what, exactly?”
“Some kind of blue goop.”
“Blue goop?” Gus searched through the product catalog in his brain but came up empty. He couldn’t think of a single thing in the building that could be considered “blue goop”.
“Yeah, none of the guys know what it is.”
Gus switched back to supervisor mode. “Nobody touched it, right?”
“Huh? Oh, no.” Kenny fidgeted in place. “I mean, Butch poked it with a piece of wood from a broken pallet. But they told me to get you before we messed around with it.”
Gus was relieved. “Good. Tell those meatheads to stay away from it until I get down there.”
“Will do, boss man.” Kenny started jogging down the hall but immediately broke down into a brisk walk after his knees popped in protest.
Gus had a bad feeling about all of this. What if Gord had gotten into some kind of chemicals and had run off because he was scared of getting in trouble? Then again, that scenario was quite unlikely. For as simple-minded as Gord is, he never failed to own up to a mistake. It was one of his few endearing qualities.
Setting his attention back to the security footage, Gus was surprised to see that Gord was no longer on camera; on any of the cameras. He’d disappeared. Or more likely, he was in one of the many hidden spots out of camera range. As Gus went to rewind the footage a knock came at the door.
Oh, what the hell is it, now? Gus thought as he turned to see Charlie Zgorsk standing in the doorway.
“Sorry to bother you, Gus. That blue stuff we found, it’s…” He stopped talking and stared at nothing in particular. Then once he found the right words, he continued, “It’s alive.”
Gus didn’t say anything for several moments. He tried working out what was just said to him, but he wasn’t able to comprehend the meaning of the word “alive” in this context. How could an inanimate object be alive?
“What do you mean, alive?” Gus felt stupid for asking, but only in the way a person feels stupid when they’re confronted with something they think they should know, but don’t.
“Well, I don’t know if ‘alive’ is the right word for it.” Charlie flashed a nervous smile. “But the stuff definitely moved.”
“Moved how?” As soon as the words came out of his mouth something dawned on Gus: he forgot about the shipment of government paint they’d received by mistake the other day. Someone was supposed to be by this afternoon to switch it out with their normal order.
“Like, we found it hanging from the vent covering the main heat duct. You know the one. The big metal sonofabitch by the tool room.”
“Yeah, well, the blue shit was hangin’ from the vent, like I said. Butch poked it with a hunk of wood. It looked kinda solid. But, like, it had some give to it.” Charlie wondered if he was making sense, but then figured it was up to Gus to decide that. He was only here to relay what he had seen. “Anyway, we were tryin’ to figure out if it’s, like, hardened paint or what have you, when the damn thing started moving.” His voice grew excited as he reached the last part.
“So, you think maybe an animal got into some paint or somethin’?” Gus tried playing it cool and hoped logic would sort this mess out.
“That’s what I thought. But then Butchy went and done hammered it with that big piece of wood and the fucker just exploded!” He threw his arms up like he was describing a grenade going off. “I mean, the stuff went everywhere. But there was no guts or nothin’ like that. It definitely was no varmint.”
The relief Gus had felt earlier was gone. Gone and replaced with images of hoses, men in hazmat suits, and an endless stream of news reporters.
“It didn’t get on anyone, did it?” His mouth had gone dry and he struggled to ask the question.
“Well, mostly no one.” Charlie clicked the heels of his boots off the ground like he was knocking off dry mud. “We were all back away from it, but ol’ Butchy got some of it on him. Should be okay, though. He went right to the locker room to wash the stuff off.” He gave Gus a reassuring smile. Moreso to convince himself everything was okay. Then he said he’d let him know if anything else came up and headed back to the factory.
As Charlie’s footsteps echoed down the hall, Gus thought carefully about what he should do. He didn’t want to cause panic, but he had no idea what that government stuff was. He thought it was some kind of paint for the military—for planes and tanks or something—but when he called about the mistaken order, he was transferred to a government office and the lady he spoke to was extremely concerned about the storage of the stuff. They told Gus to lock it up and make sure it was far away from people. Since it was the end of the day when he had spoken to the woman, he figured it would be fine to store it out of the way on the factory floor. There was no way he was going to have the guys stay late to move the stuff to some closet. Especially when they would just have to move it back a day later when the delivery truck came for the switch.
After thinking it over, Gus thought of Gord. And all the puzzle pieces fell into place.
“Dammit to hell!”
He turned back to the security footage and his heart nearly stopped. There on the screen was Gord, hunched over on the ground in some sort of choking fit. He remained there for several minutes, coughing and spitting and retching. Then the camera flickered to black.
Gus smacked the monitor but all that did was bring about a flash of static across the screen. Of course, Gord had to have a violent choking fit under the only malfunctioning camera in the building. Even when the guy appeared to be dying he was still a pain in the ass.
Five nervous minutes went by then the camera flashed back to life. But by then there was no more Gord. The only thing on the screen was a broom and what looked to be spilled paint. The footage was too dark to make out the details.
Gus searched through the other security zones on the monitor but he couldn’t find Gord. “Oh, hell,” he said, pounding his fist onto the table. The old keyboard rattled so hard the space bar threatened to break loose and go airborne.
He continued watching the monitor so closely that his eyes began to water from the strain. The grainy footage gave way to random bouts of static and wavy lines, but there was no Gord. Only empty rooms in black and white that buzzed with a low hum on screen.
There was a light tap on the door. Gus turned to see Kenny Dogget standing there, excitement practically shooting from his eyes. But this time Kenny remained calm on the outside so as not to make a fool of himself twice within a ten-minute span.
“Hey, Gus,” his voice was low and solemn, “we found somethin’ else.”
Gus looked at him but remained silent. All he could think about was the footage of Gord choking.