Old Ventures 2, Ch. 24

“What’s going on?” Rose asked as she held the door so it stopped swinging, and wouldn’t give them away in the store room.

“I’m not sure,” Laney said, her brow furrowed. “It was tense out there, but it’s always tense. The people we help, they’re all caught between a rock and a hard place. They’ve fled violence and hardship to get here, and for most of them, there’s no guarantee they’ll be allowed to stay. But most are good people, stressed, sometimes testy, but good.

“And then suddenly they weren’t. I, I noticed something in the air, almost palpable, even from my office. So I went out to the lobby to check what was going on. Something about me even walking into the room, it was like waving a cape in front of a bull. A Syrian man I’ve been helping with an asylum claim threw a chair. It missed me, but hit the glass wall between the lobby and my desk.

“That seemed to set everybody off. People started screaming, shoving; what had been orderly lines a second before were writhing chaos. Fights broke out, often between people from the same family. Everyone was attacking whoever was closest.”

“Everyone?” India asked.

“Hmm,” Laney thought a moment. “No. Not the staff, none of the volunteers. They were frightened- reacted just like I did.”

Laney’s phone rang, and she answered it. “Hello? Ellen, oh, thank God. Hold on.” The phone beeped as she put it on speaker.

“-managed to get clear. We made it into the conference room, and managed to barricade the door with the conference table. A few of the refugees tried to get in, but when they couldn’t they must have given up.”

“And everyone is there?” Laney asked.

“Everyone but you. That’s why I called. The rest of the staff remembered our evacuation plans…”

“I’m just glad you’re all safe. And no one is exhibiting any strange behavior. Aggression, confusion?”

“Scared, mostly. None of us have ever seen anything like this.” Then her voice became more muffled and quiet. “I’ve talked anyone out of posting any videos for right now… but that can’t hold. I think the longer people are trapped here, the more pissed off they get- and the more likely to do something foolish.”

“Keep an eye out. Whatever got into those people… I don’t think we can rule out it being communicable. So be ready if anyone starts acting strangely.”

“And do what?”

“Hit them over the head with something heavy, would be where I’d start. Unless one of you had the foresight to grab a sedative out of the nursing station.”

“I barely had the foresight to get myself to the evacuation staging area.”

Laney sighed. “That was more than I did,” she said. “Just stay calm. And keep each other calm. We’re going to see what we can do to calm things down out there.”

“Should we be calling the cops?”

“Not if we can help it,” Laney replied. “Cops aren’t known for their prowess at deescalating, and if they show up to a refugee riot the absolute best we can hope for is mass arrests leading to mass deportations.”

“Okay,.. just hurry. I don’t know how long I can keep our people in line.”

“Thanks, Ellen. I appreciate it,” Laney said, and hung up the phone.

“So is there anything back here that we can actually use to stop a riot?” India asked.

“You could try flashing them,” Laney said with a shrug. “This isn’t a military base. We mostly have donated supplies to keep people from dying during the early parts of the asylum process. We don’t even have much in the way of personal protection, maybe some face masks and rubber gloves.”

“So it’s good I brought my gun,” India said.

“No, it’s not. You can’t shoot these people.”

“Not even to wound?” India asked.

“We need to calm people down. Shooting them isn’t going to do that.”

“Do you have a plan?” Rose asked.

“Not a great one.”

“My plan was to punch my way through. Hers was the same, but with bullets. I’m willing to try plan C.”

“Okay,” Laney said. “Then follow my lead.” Laney pushed her way into the lobby. As soon as she was through the door, she hopped up on the counter. “I need everyone to calm down,” she yelled to be heard over a room full of snarling and angered growling. “We’re here to help you,” she said, “but to do that I need all of you to sit down where you are now.”

For a moment there was quiet, as the crowd glanced around the lobby. Then the throng returned to their screaming, bodies crashing together likes waves in a small cove. “Damnit,” Laney said, hopping down from the counter. 

A Syrian man shrieked in Rose’s face, his fingers clawing at the air between them. India hit him in the nose with the butt of her revolver. The skin on the bridge of his nose burst, and blood flowed from the wound, as well as from each nostril. “They aren’t going to be talked down,” India said.

“Can we contain the situation?” Laney yelled to be heard over the din. “It’s spiraling.”

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