“Meryl! Meryl, say something!”
Meryl tried to open her eyes, but the light was harsh as she tried to reach out to the person calling her name. They sounded worried, too worried in her opinion.
“Meryl, are you okay?” she voice called again, and this time she recognized the person.
Millie was calling out to her, and her voice was strained with fear. The tone was unusual, and she didn’t like it coming from her friend.
“I’m fine, Millie” Meryl tried to speak, but her voice sounded garbled and cracked.
“Meryl!” was her friend’s ejaculated reply as she felt strong arms wrap around her.
Now she felt awful.
“Millie, please” she managed to cough out as she felt like the air was being pushed from her body by her friend’s strong grasp. She cracked open an eye and surveyed her partner’s tear-streaked face and debris-littered hair. “Not so tight.”
“Oh, sorry Meryl” Millie apologized as she loosened her grip, but she still didn’t let go. “But Meryl, I was so worried when I found you here. Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Yes, I’m sure” Meryl replied as she tried to sit up. However, she noticed her friend wasn’t letting her go. “Millie, I can get up on my own” she comforted.
“It’s not that, Meryl...” her companion trailed off as she looked to Meryl’s left.
“What is it?” the short girl asked as she sensed the worried tone in Millie’s voice. She turned her head and noticed the group of guards which stood to one side. “Oh” she replied as she scowled at the soldiers. “I see.”
“They finally gave you to me after I beat some of them up” Millie informed as she turned back to her friend with an uneasy smile. “And they were nice enough to bring you, but you wouldn’t wake up.”
“How long have I been out?” Meryl asked as she inspected the area.
Debris covered everything she could see and smoke blanketed the sky as the sound of fire engines and police cars were heard close by. Because of the dense smoke surrounding them, they couldn’t see more than a few yards beyond where the soldiers stood. The guards were tense as they stood at attention with their guns at the ready, but they seemed less interested in the girls and more aware of the local response crews.
“I don’t know, Meryl...” Millie admitted as she bit her lip. “But it took me a while to wake you up.”
“So I was unconscious when they brought me?” she asked shook her head to clear her muddled thoughts.
“Yeah” her friend answered as she looked at the guards. She leaned her head close to Meryl’s. “Do you think we can sneak away from ‘em?” she whispered as she looked to her superior.
“Maybe” Meryl replied as she managed to sit up, but she winced as she felt the cuts and bruises rub on her body. “Can you see the police cars from here?”
“No, but I don’t think they’re very far” she guessed as loud voices were suddenly heard.
The guards looked to one another and Meryl realized there wasn’t a commanding officer with them. With the soldiers lacking a leader, they had a chance to get away.
“Millie, do you think you can carry me?” she asked as tried to move her battered legs and found them too injured to carry her weight. “I think if we can get into that smoke cloud near us the guards won’t know what to do when we run.”
“I can do it” Millie affirmed as she cautiously moved her arms to get a better grip on Meryl’s small body.
“On my count” Meryl commanded under her breath. “One, two, three, go.”
Millie suddenly jumped up with her friend tightly tucked in her arms and made a dash for the nearest smoke bank. The men shouted for them to stop but none of them chose to use their weapons as the girls disappeared into the thick cover.
Millie paused for a moment in the darkness of the black fog, disoriented by the lack of visibility. Soon, however, they heard the voices of people calling out for one another in a disorganized fashion and the big girl headed in that direction.
Meryl held on tightly to her friend’s large overcoat as they raced blindly through the smoke. Millie couldn’t help but stumble more than once over the large debris which littered the ground, and at some moments the short insurance girl thought they were going into a tumble but her companion righted them with skill.
Unfortunately the calls seemed to fade as new voices replaced them, ones with more authority as they called for the others to leave the area. Millie stopped short of what appeared to be a break, uncertain where to go, until Meryl looked to their right.
A little girl stood in the midst of the fog.
Her dress waved in the soft breeze which wafted through the dense smoke as she smiled at Meryl with a soft laugh, innocent ringing in its sound.
“Millie, there’s a girl over there!” Meryl suddenly shouted as looked up at her friend’s face. When she looked back, however, the girl had vanished. “There’s a little girl in here! We have to help her!”
“But Meryl, I don’t see anyone” Millie replied as she looked into the dense smoke.
The unfriendly voices in the distance were getting closer and the fog was starting to disappear as they stood there looking for the girl. Meryl could have slapped herself for losing the little girl in the fog, but perhaps they would find her before they reached safety.
“Come on, Millie” she encouraged as she listened to the voices. “I think we need to go.”
“But what about the girl?” her friend asked in a worried tone as she continued to look around.
“I think she’ll be all right” Meryl assured as she searched for friendlier sounds. To her surprise she heard soft voices coming from the direction where the girl had stood. “For now we need to go that way” she directed with a nod of her head.
“If you say so, Meryl” Millie gave in as she started off through the fog.
They were both relieved to hear the harsh voices fade and the smoke lift the further they went. Soon they could see a break and then they were out of the chaos and into the bright sunlight. The insurance girls blinked at the glare as they were suddenly overwhelmed by rescue crews. A pair of policemen led them further from the scene and soon a paramedic team arrived to inspect their injuries.
Thankfully no bones were broken, but they wrapped Meryl’s wounds tightly and cautioned her about putting too much strain on her legs.
“Thanks” Meryl called out as they team left to look for other wounded.
They had hardly gone when a police officer and his sergeant arrived. The commander looked irritated as he held a black book in one hand and a pen in the other. He tapped the writing utensil impatiently as he looked down at the two women on the ground.
“I’m here to ask you some questions” he bluntly announced as he looked them over. “What are your names?”
“Meryl Strype and Millie Thompson” Meryl replied for both of them. “We’re representatives of the Bernardelli Insurance Company.”
“And what were you doing around the Plant when the accident happened?” he questioned as he jotted down the information.
“We were inspecting the Plant for problems” she explained. “This Plant had reported a number of accidents lately.”
“And did you find anything wrong prior to the explosion?” he asked as his interest was peaked.
“We didn’t find anything until an alarm sounded and we were escorted from the control room” she confessed.
“You say an alarm went off?” he interrupted in a surprised tone as he looked to his subordinate, who also appeared confused.
“Yes” Meryl affirmed with a nod of her head. “An alarm sounded and armed guards took us out of the room.”
“Then what happened?” he inquired as his pen scribbled away.
“Then we got separated, and the hall they took me down had an explosion” she explained, but she felt it prudent to leave out the strange girl she had possibly seen.
She doubted he would believe such a fantastic tale.
“And you?’ he asked as he turned to Millie.
“The men took me outside and then brought Meryl” she added.
“I see...” he mumbled as he finished his writing with a flourish of his pen. Then he looked up from his paper with a concerned expression. “I think you ladies need to get back to your office” he recommended as his lieutenant stepped forward with a smile. “My partner will take you to the Bernardelli building.”
“That’s very kind of you” Meryl thanked as Millie and she stood to their feet.
“Not a problem” the commander replied in distraction as he walked off reviewing his notes.
“This way” the lieutenant instructed as he led them to a nearby waiting car.
The automobile was a typical type used by higher-ranked officers, as it lacked the cage in the back seat and the station markings were apparent on the side of the doors. The lieutenant kindly opened the door and shut it behind them as they scooted into the back.
Meryl prepared for an uneventful ride back to their office, but she noticed her partner seemed uneasy.
“Is something wrong, Millie?” she asked in a low voice.
For a moment her friend bit her lip in indecision as she looked to the officer and then her companion, but finally her worry beat out her caution.
“You’re not telling them everything, are you Meryl?” Millie whispered in a worried tone.
“Always perceptive, eh Millie?” Meryl replied with a sigh as she held her forehead with one hand as she leant back against the seat.
“Yep” her partner replied with a proud smile, but then her expression turned serious again. “Did you see something you don’t want to remember?”
“I don’t know, I’m not sure of anything” she admitted with a sigh. “It’s all so blurry I can’t get things straight. I don’t even know where to start.”
“Why, at the beginning of course” Millie encouraged with a wide grin.
“You’re right as always, Millie” Meryl spoke with a laugh as she shook her head. “But at the office” she promised as they drove through the streets.
The scene in the head office of the Bernardelli Insurance Agency could be heard through the entire level.
“What do you mean our stories don’t match?!” Meryl shouted angrily as she slammed her hand down on the desk. She placed her palms on the surface and scowled at her boss. “Why shouldn’t they match?!”
The insurance girls had arrived safely at their office and Meryl had taken the time to explain to Millie her strange encounter with the girl in the hallway. Neither of them could deduce anything from the incident, and Meryl still doubted whether she had not been hit on the head too hard by debris.
They had also promptly given their formal account of the accident to their boss and had awaited his reading of their accounts. Through his connections he had also gotten a hold of the official police report prior to its release to the public, and that’s when he had called them into his office for an explanation.
Because the two reports differed on several important details.
“Because by your own accounts you two were separated” her boss explained as he held up his hands in defense. “The Plant company claims they broke you two apart to keep you safe, but after that your guys’ stories don’t add up.”
“Of course they don’t add up. It’s because we were separated” she argued. “But what about the alarm?” she asked as she taped the short packet which held the police report. “We both heard it go off.”
“The report says nothing happened prior to the explosion” he explained. “It’s a heavy liability for them not to have alarms properly go off before something goes wrong, but the police can’t find anything out of the ordinary with the explosion.”
“So what is their explanation for the disaster?” Meryl questioned in a furious tone.
“A breach in their coolant system” he informed as he shrugged his shoulders.
“But we inspected those before we headed to the control room!” she exclaimed in anger. “They were just fine!”
“We’ll have our own investigation team look into this” he consoled as he stood to his feet. “For now both you and Millie are on paid leave until this mess gets taken care of.”
“If you don’t mind, sir” Meryl spoke as she lowered her voice to a calmer decimal. “But I would like to take charge of the investigation.”
“You know the rules, Miss Stryfe” he argued as he led her to the door. “Any employee personally involved in an incident cannot be a-”
“Part of the investigation. I know, sir” Meryl finished as she walked out of the office.
“A moment, Meryl” her boss added as he pushed something light into her hands. “I expect some progress from your temporary vacation” he added as he gave her a wink and stepped back into his office.
The door closed and Meryl looked down into her hands to see the police report for the accident. She grinned and nodded her head.
“Yes, sir” she quietly whispered.
“Well?” Millie asked as she walked up to her superior. “How did it go?”
“Not so good” her partner replied as she shook her head, but a glint lay in her eyes. “We’re out of this investigation unless something comes up.”
“So what do we do until then?” her big companion asked in a disappointed tone.
Meryl smiled as she held up the packet.
“We take a vacation.”