“Stop there! Who are you?” One of the armed men demanded, the others halting to aim their guns also, stopping Rowan and Cameron in their tracks.
The fear Rowan managed to shake off at the appearance of Phelps’ car came roaring back as the small army of assault rifles pointed at them. Somewhere within her reasoning she’d forgotten for a moment that while Phelps knew them, these men didn’t, and whatever they were doing, it was clear they wanted no one else involved.
Rowan never expected to be at the barrel-end of a gun, and it was more immobilizing than she could have imagined. She wanted to explain, to de-escalate, but her words caught in her throat as she tried to speak, stumbling on the panic knotted in her throat. All she could do was raise her hands along with Cameron, hoping the gunmen weren’t trigger happy.
Cameron took a step forward to answer in her place. “We work here. I’m security, and she’s a doctor. Who the hell are you?” He held a strong stance but his voice was still unsteady.
The man that addressed them previously lowered his gun, but the others kept their aim. “Civilians,” he announced. “Leave the premises immediately or I’ll be forced to remove you.”
Rowan burned with a moment of offense, sparking her voice back to life. “We’re not civil—“
Cameron shushed sharply through his teeth, having the better judgement to just shut up and listen. Rowan had never been good at biting her tongue, but managed to silence herself, and when the man motioned with his weapon, they followed begrudgingly towards the exit.
While passing closer to the other men, Rowan peeked around Cameron’s shoulder, seeking a hint to satiate her curiosity. Whatever came out of the back of that gigantic vehicle, they weren’t meant to see it, only making Rowan’s interest grow. For a brief second she managed to catch a glimpse of the gurney through the wall of thickly armored shoulders, confirming exactly what was under the sheet.
The man that addressed them stepped into her line of sight, and Rowan felt the barrel of the gun nudge her ribs, her back instantly straightening. She was already staring ahead when he ordered her, “Eyes forward.”
The glimpse was too short. Unfortunately, all it left Rowan with was more questions. The only other hint to go off of was a sharp scent in the air, distinct from the gunmetal of the weapons, wafted away once the entrance doors were opened to usher them outside the facility.
Phelps approached as they exited, and Rowan felt a wave of relief again despite having a gun to her back. Phelps would sort out this misunderstanding. He’d explain everything, and maybe they’d all have a laugh about it in a few moments. She even smiled warmly as she called out to him, a habit after growing so fond of the man while working under him for so long. “ Dr. Phelps, sir!”
He did not return his usual warmth. Whatever was going on, it had Phelps tense even before seeing the two of them led out by gunmen; she saw it in his hurried steps and straight shoulders. When he neared, the apprehension already on the doctor’s deep wrinkled face shifted to shock and concern.
“Rowan, what on earth are you doing here so late?” He quickly waved away the gunman’s excessive force. “There’s no need for that, good lord.”
The tension on her spine released ever so slightly as the weapon lowered from their backs, but Phelps fidgety behavior had her on edge.
“I’m so glad to see you. I was just trying to finish those reports and—”
“You two should leave immediately.” Phelps cut her off with an urgent, definitive tone.
She stumbled on her words a second time. This response was not what she’d grown to expect from Phelps. Warm, open, honest Dr. Phelps, who more often than not said too much rather than too little, and who she could always worm more words out of with a bit of not-so-subtle prodding. It was strange to see him push up his thick glasses with an unsteady hand and put the other on Cameron’s shoulder to push them a few steps further away from the building.
Rowan insisted, once she got over her bewilderment. “But, sir, what— what’s going on?”
“Nothing for you to concern yourself over. Go home now, both of you. Get some sleep. Regular work hours tomorrow.” Phelps’ words were not as casual as the expression he was attempting. In fact, they dissolved as he continued, into something that resembled more of a beg, only baffling her more. Even Cameron was left slack jawed next to her, too surprised by the doctor’s brush off to speak.
“Sir, please, you can’t just send us off like nothing has happened.” Rowan pleaded, but Phelps was already being ushered inside by the same man who forced them out.
He looked back at her, torn for a moment between his instinct to share and his obvious obligation to keep quiet. Before being led the rest of the way inside, he dismissed himself with a forced, “We’ll see you tomorrow, Miss Platts.”
The doors closed behind them, and the lock latched, leaving Rowan and Cameron alone in the dark parking lot.
After a moment of standing there together in their joint dejection, Cameron gave a heavy sigh and turned for his truck.
Rowan frowned hard. “Hey. Where are you going?”
He slouched his shoulders in defeat. “Come on, Row. We’re not getting any answers tonight, we might as well go home and get some sleep. I’ll drive you.”
Like she could sleep, after what just happened. Rowan scoffed, the sound of it going frustrated with her caving will. As much as she wanted to stand there and pound on the facility door until she got her explanation, she knew that the spoiled brat way of handling this wouldn’t get her anywhere. He was right. If her mind wasn’t going to settle, they were at least better off speculating at home, where she could at least lay down and give her aching back a break.
Reluctantly, she turned and followed Cameron to his truck, hopping in the passenger side. She kept her eye on the facility as he pulled them out of the parking lot, weak hope that she’d get one last clue before leaving, but the building remained as dark and deserted as she’d expect it to be that late at night.