Malik had a pretty good idea of what he was going to find before they even busted the door down. They'd been running surveillance on Kevin Cooper for about two months now, trying to find out who supplied him with this new X shit that was giving every forensic chemist in the goddamn state fits trying to analyze, and they already knew that Sarah Fuller had entered the building five days ago and had never come out. The missing persons report gave them an excuse to search the premises, and Malik was pretty sure he'd find Sarah in with all the other addicts, stoned out of her gourd on some shit that none of her family knew she was taking. The only real surprise was that she didn't get her fix from a more reputable dealer. Didn't investment bankers get their coke delivered these days?
When he came through just behind the guys with the battering ram, Malik wasted no time in directing the team to the inner door at the back of the dingy living room that 'Kev' used to conduct his business. "Take it down," he called out, his voice calm and confident as he stepped aside to let the SWAT team do their work. He already knew from some of their informants that Kev let some of his trusted customers get high in the spare bedroom, what he called his 'office', and that the upper floor was mostly living space. Kev was probably either going to be there, or down in the basement where he cooked his drugs trying to destroy any evidence.
Or trying to make a break for it, but Malik didn't think he was that stupid. They had the place surrounded, and Kev didn't seem like the type to rush out guns blazing and commit suicide by cop. He was a small-time dealer until X came along, mostly handled weed and ecstasy and some pills he bought from teenagers who robbed their grandma's medicine cabinet. He didn't do any of the hard stuff himself, he probably had some people he could roll over on if he wanted to get a reduced sentence, and Malik felt pretty sure that he wasn't going to do anything crazy.
That expectation got revised a little when the SWAT team flooded the top floor and didn't find anyone. It got revised a lot when they smashed open the door to the staircase going down into the basement and found Kev's private lab unattended and unsecured. And it got blown right the fuck to hell when they busted down the reinforced cellar door and found an empty, dank room that stank of X with a concrete floor and a crumbling hole in the far wall leading down into total darkness.
"Let's get some lights in here," Malik said, directing two men to go back up for the heavy-duty floods they used for night operations. Inside his head, though, he was already frantically reworking his theories about what must have happened since the last time Undercover sent a man in. He'd need to figure it out fast, before his captain started asking awkward questions about why Malik ordered a full raid on an empty building with no Sarah Fuller, no Kevin Cooper, and no drugs on the premises outside of a hydroponic grow lab and three vape cartridges of X.
He reached down and brushed his light brown fingers against the floor, coming away with a trace of concrete dust. A few loose chunks of aggregate were scattered here and there; even though they'd already been kicked around by a number of police officers who had other things on their mind besides forensic contamination, it was pretty easy to tell that they spread out from the hole in the wall, not in. This wasn't Kev's private exit in the event of Shit Going Down, this was an entrance to... Malik took a whiff of the air flowing in from the hole, his nose wrinkling as the stench of human waste hit his nostrils. The sewer. And someone knocked it in. Great.
Whoever it was, they must have used sledgehammers instead of explosives. There were no burn marks, and none of the teams on stakeout had reported any suspicious rumbles or loud noises coming from the house. Meaning that whoever did it probably didn't want to draw attention to themselves. They must have known that the cellar had a sewer grate. Maybe a regular customer of Kev's, or a business associate? One or the other, anyway. No pothead was going to spend hours poring over municipal sewage plans on the off chance that their dealer's house could be accessed from below. This had to be an inside job.
So one of Kev's customers, probably more than one, broke into his house from the cellar looking for X. Must have been X. Nobody went to this kind of trouble over grass or E. And they came up, they found Kev in the basement, and... what, fought him? There was no sign of a struggle. No blood, no bodies. Surveillance said there should be eleven people in this house, and they hadn't found a single one. They didn't just all wander down into the sewer together, did they? Nah. Something must have happened.
Maybe it was Kev's suppliers. They never did find out how he was moving the X into the house, and he sure as hell wasn't making it himself--the shit was so complex it was breaking the fucking gas chromatographs down at the lab, there was no way some stoner hippie who forgot the Sixties ever ended knew how to brew it up. So maybe they had someone climb into a manhole somewhere downtown, wherever they cooked the shit, and handed it off to their dealers through the sewer grates. And maybe, just maybe, Kev got behind in his payments and they decided to bust in and have a little talk with him.
Only when they busted in, they found him with Sarah Fuller, suddenly famous missing person and the darling of the local news. That made sense, didn't it? Even if this hypothetical drug distributor didn't mind offing a dealer in front of his customers, as a message to whoever they went to next for their fix, they wouldn't want to leave someone who knew what they looked like and might talk to the press. They, they must have rounded up everyone in the house and marched them down into the cellar, and from there....
The SWAT team came back with the lights. Malik was already jumping down into the hole as they were setting them up. "Get as many men as you can down here, tell them to hold their noses if the smell bothers them. We're either going to find some bodies, or we're going to find our X supplier down here." He looked around the shadowed, cramped passageway, already certain of what he was going to see.
Because the thing about sewers was, they weren't exactly easy to find your way around in. Even if you had a map and a light to read it by, there were always passageways that looked shorter on paper and diversions from the blueprints and junctions that were easy to miss in the dark. If these guys were sending runners through the sewers, they probably put marks on the walls or something to make it easier to navigate. Unless they were paranoid beyond belief or had a lot more faith in a GPS signal's ability to make it through ten feet of lead pipe than he did. And most criminals weren't nearly paranoid enough, in Malik's experience.
He helped the second man down, then began to shine a flashlight around while the second helped the third and so on. "Don't get too spread out," he said. "Try to keep eyes on the man in front of you, don't wander off by yourself, and keep as close to a straight line path as possible. We're either looking for the missing perps, or for some kind of trail that tells us which way they went." He set off through the knee-deep water, wishing to hell he had a pair of waders in the van.
They walked for several minutes, long enough for the last man in the squad to lose direct visual with the cellar entrance. Malik wasn't worried--they were playing out a line of rope behind them to keep from getting lost, and he could already tell he was on the right track. The stink of waste water was being slowly subsumed in an entirely different odor, the smell of freshly-cut grass that Malik and his task force had come to recognize all too well. There was X down here. Lots of it. And close.
His mind was already racing, connecting the facts together into a theory that told him exactly what he would find. There were always pumping rooms down here, places with equipment and machinery that kept the water flowing where it was supposed to go after it went down the pipes. Someone must have found one, maybe one of those ambitious sewer-studying drug addicts that Malik didn't think was supposed to exist, and they set up a little lab down here to brew up and distribute their designer drugs. Some mad chemist type, maybe someone Kev knew from his hippie days? Malik made a mental note to look up Kev's past associates when they got back to the surface.
Whoever it was, they must have decided to scoop up Kev and a whole bunch of his customers. Maybe they were planning to test some new shit, needed people who were disposable. Maybe they didn't know about Sarah at all, maybe they just grabbed everyone Kev had on hand at the time and him along with them. Maybe they were trying out some new X formula, something that fucked people up even worse than usual... Jeez. That was a fucking terrifying thought. Henson had gone out on five days' medical just from trying that shit. Malik didn't want to imagine a more potent version.
Even just being down here was starting to make his head swim a little. The X fumes filled the air, slowing Malik's reflexes and causing his thoughts to echo inside his head like someone had turned up the reverb on his internal speakers. "Guys, watch out," he shouted back, the lack of urgency in his voice suddenly concerning him. "I think we're getting close to something. There's, there's a lot of junk in the air. If you have masks, put them on." Malik didn't have a mask. He didn't think he would need one. He didn't expect to walk through a goddamn cloud of hard drugs today, any more than he expected to go wading in the local sewers. He thought he knew how the raid was going to go, but life had a way of dumping shit on you figuratively and literally.
The thick, soporific haze grew even stronger, and Malik found himself having to revise his preconceptions yet again as he put his elbow up to his mouth to try to block some of the fumes from entering his lungs. There was no way this could be a lab, not with this much X floating around in the air. They'd never be able to work like this. Not when the stuff left Henson a fucking drooling zombie for the better part of a week after about three hits. Maybe they built up a tolerance after a while, but shit, it was fucking everywhere now. Only grim, bloody-minded determination kept him putting one foot in front of the other.
But sometimes bloody-minded determination paid off. Rounding a corner, Malik saw a pale Caucasian man with greasy greyish brown dreadlocks wearing nothing but a pair of boxer shorts, standing in front of a sewer pipe with a slack, lifeless stance. Even without seeing his face, Malik knew from the surveillance photos that he was looking at Kev. He looked to be alone, so he must have come voluntarily, and Malik was already running a thousand possibilities through his head as he raised his gun and shouted, "Police! Turn around and put your hands in the air!"
And then Kev turned around. And Malik realized that all of his guesses had been wrong. Every last goddamned one of them.
Kev's eyes were solid green in the flashlight's beam, a deep forest green that seemed almost to swirl as though the fluid inside had been mixed with glitter. The vivid emerald color spread out from his eye sockets and down his cheeks, making him look like an extra in a bad science fiction movie, and viridian drool spilled from his slack jaw and dripped onto his chest. He didn't raise his hands. He didn't do anything. He stood there, perfectly still, not even seeming to notice the cops in front of him at all. Not shooting him was the hardest thing Malik had ever done as an officer.
Instead, he shouted, "Down on your knees! Get down on your fucking knees and put your hands on top of your head!" Nothing happened. Kev didn't move at all. He looked like he didn't understand anything Malik was saying. His face was slack, pallid, expressionless. Like Henson, only a thousand times worse. The task force hadn't found any victims of an X overdose, but Malik knew instinctively that he was looking at one now. Had Kev just gotten blasted out of his mind on his own supply and wandered off down here? If he had, where were his customers?
There was movement in the shadows, and suddenly Malik wished he hadn't asked that question. He spun to the side, noticing out of the corner of his eye as his men did the same, and the beam of the flashlight picked up... people. Maybe. He wasn't sure anymore. They were human-shaped, at least roughly, but they were--the X had--no. It wasn't possible. It was absolutely fucking impossible.
Their flesh was a translucent green--the same shade as Kev's eyes, only spread out to cover their entire body. Malik's flashlight shone partway through it, dimly illuminating organs and bones underneath the skin, and it stretched and compressed when they walked in an unnatural, squidlike manner. Malik could imagine it squeezing between the bars of a sewer grate, splashing into the warm water below, battering at concrete with wet, hammering splats until it shattered its way through... it wasn't a pretty picture. He tried to push it out of his head and fall back on his training.
"Police! Nobody move! Stay exactly where you are!" These were the customers, they had to be, but... there were more than eleven of them. There were more than twenty. They were rising up from the water now, pouring out of every junction and side tunnel, surrounding the squad and staring at them with dead, green eyes. Their breath fogged out in a thick emerald mist that made Malik's head swim with dizziness, a mist of pure X that made the stuff Henson took seem like NyQuil in comparison. Malik's nerveless fingers lost their grip on the gun, and only desperate terror kept him from dropping the flashlight as well.
Not that it would have helped. He could hear gunshots up and down the passageway, one crack after another that simply passed through the gelatinous flesh without injury. Then the gunfire stopped. Malik didn't want to think about that. He didn't want to think about all his theories, and how they led a whole squad of men into a nightmare they could never have anticipated. Then the X swirled into his lungs and he didn't want to think at all anymore.
One of the creatures approached him, and somehow, impossibly, he recognized it. It was Sarah Fuller, or what was left of her. The blonde hair clung limply to her sticky flesh, and her features only resembled the woman who had vanished when she got right up close to him and exhaled the potent fumes into his face. Malik had just enough time to realize that meant that she was right up close to him, exhaling pure uncut X directly into his face, before her gelatinous lips pressed against his mouth and her arms wrapped around him in an inescapable grip. That was when he screamed. But by then, it was far too late.