Monday, April 13, 2009

Chapter Fourteen

The Thunderbird's speedometer read 95, but Eric knew the needle was bent. He was doing at least 110. He was tearing west on Center street -- not that he had any idea where he was going, but Dr. Kepler had mentioned once that she lived "out west."

With one hand on the steering wheel to keep him from swerving off the road in a spectacular display of fiery doom, Eric speed-dialed Dean's mobile number and put the phone up to his ear. The stereo was silent, but the T-bird's redlining engine was loud enough.

"What's up, Eric?" Dean answered. From the noise in the background, it was obvious the Marshal was out at a bar. Eric might have guessed as much -- it was, after all, a Friday night, and Dean was pretty normal.

"My therapist's home address. I need it now."

"Oh, Eric. Don't be that guy," Dean chided.

"Russel is in town, Dean. He's threatened her life."

Eric could hear the phone pulled away from Dean's ear, and buttons being pressed. A few seconds later, Dean came back on the line.

"1306 181st Plaza. It's near 180th and Pacific. I'm only a few miles from there -- I'll meet you."

Dean hung up, and Eric hammered down on the accelerator. He flicked on the stereo with one finger -- Minor Threat's "In My Eyes" didn't drown out the roar of the T-bird's V8, but it certainly made a valiant effort.

* * *

Eric didn't slow down until he saw the flashing lights in the back window of Dean's Crown Victoria. He jammed on the brakes, and the Thunderbird decided to stall. Eric parked it behind the Crown Vic, and noticed the driver's door was open, though no one was inside.

Eric suddenly felt very stupid, indeed, for not putting his paws on a gun. He'd had several chances, but he'd always left them where they were. He cursed the stupid, deluded part of his brain that kept talking him out of going back to carrying a weapon as he tried to move stealthily towards the front door of Kepler's house.

Eric heard a wet cough to his left and spun on it, hands relaxed and ready to spring out and break faces. Lying half-over a decorative flowerbed was Federal Marshal Ryan Dean. He was coughing blood onto the nice, clean concrete of the upscale house's walkway.

"Fuck. Dean, how bad are you hurt?" Eric asked, gently rolling the agent off of the flowerbed and onto the ground. He could see that the agent had been stabbed several times in the chest -- he was gushing blood from his heart. Eric tore off his own shirt and used it to put as much pressure on Dean's chest as he could.

"He's done, Eric," Yang Shao shrugged from beside him.

"Shut the fuck up and help me," Eric growled.

"Nah. He's gone. I'm gonna check inside. You see Russel, you yell for me."

Yang Shao tried the door handle, but it was locked. It took him less than thirty seconds to pick both the lock and the deadbolt, and the thin Chinese vanished inside the dark house.

Eric took one hand off of Dean's sucking chest wound and dialed Johnny's number on his cell phone. He quickly explained the situation with the phone jammed between his shoulder and his ear. He could feel the agent bleeding out under his hands, but there was nothing he could do to stop it -- Dean had already lost consciousness and was probably only a minute or two from dead.

"She's asleep upstairs. She's fine. Looks like Supercop here spooked him. You know, before Russel diced him up," Yang Shao reported. Eric hadn't heard him walk up, but he hadn't expected to.

Eric didn't say anything. He checked Dean's pulse -- nothing. The huge Marshal wasn't breathing, wasn't moving. The medic in Eric told him that Dean was a black-tag for sure, but Eric still kept pressure on the wound far longer than he needed to.

When he finally stood up, he could hear sirens coming -- Johnny and Nathaniel, he hoped. Yang Shao was just getting ready to disappear, but Eric placed a hand on his arm.

"Let me borrow your T-shirt," Eric nodded. Yang Shao was wearing a black @nineinchnails T-shirt over a long-sleeved dark grey shirt.

"Aw, come on, man. This is from the Fragility 2.0 tour."

"I'll give it back."

"You'd better," Yang Shao grumbled as he pulled off the T-shirt and handed it to Eric, "I've killed for less."

By the time Eric had shrugged into the shirt, Yang Shao had vanished.

Not thirty seconds after, Eric saw the flashing lights of an unmarked white Impala. He really hoped it was Johnny or Nathaniel, or he'd have some very uncomfortable explaining to do -- why a Witness Security protectee was standing over the body of his handler in front of his court-ordered therapist's home, for starters.

Fortunately, when the driver's door opened, Johnny's sizable bulk popped out.

"Oh, shit, Eric. You told me on the phone it was bad, but. . . shit," Johnny shook his head.

"I need you to forget I was here, Johnny. You got a tip from a CI that the body was here, and you acted on it. If the Marshal's Service finds out I was involved in any way, they're going to make me disappear. And we're so close on your case."

Johnny nodded.

"You're just listed as an anonymous CI in our files. Boss was very clear on that. I'll just put this call down as that number. It'll square. You know who did this to him? That Chinese nutbag we had down at the station?"

"Wasn't him. He shoots people. He doesn't cut them up."

"Who, then?"

Eric held up his arms, the long scars from his wrists to his elbows facing the young Deputy.

"Same guy who did this to me."

* * *

Eric's Thunderbird stalled out again about six blocks away from where Marshal Ryan Dean had met his end, and this time it wouldn't start up again. He hated to have to call Johnny for a ride, especially since he'd just dumped a huge headache of a homicide in the poor guy's lap, but he really didn't know anyone else in this town apart from Nathaniel, and he really didn't feel like going through the story yet again that night. Still, he sat in the car for a good twenty minutes deciding if he should leg it home or not, taxis being what they were in this town.

He stepped out of the car into the muggy night. The emergency pack of Camel Lights had relocated from the kitchen drawer to the aging T-bird's glove box, and Eric was resisting the temptation to light one up before he called Johnny and asked for a ride like a kid whose parents had forgot to pick him up at soccer practice. Just as he was about to pull out his cell phone, a black BMW 5-series with blackout-tinted windows purred to a stop next to him. The passenger window rolled down, and Yang Shao's excessively pale face floated into view.

"You call for a taxi?" the Chinese assassin grinned.

Eric shrugged and locked up his own vehicle, then climbed into the passenger seat of the BMW.

"So Supercop is all sorts of dead. They put the sheet over his head and everything," Yang Shao commented, as if he were discussing nothing more interesting than the day's hockey scores.

"You catch Russel's trail at all?" Eric said, biting off the urge to yell at Yang Shao for being an insensitive bastard. It was only then that Eric realized he had really liked the now-deceased Federal Marshal.

"Nope. Didn't expect to, though. I don't leave a trail, and while Russel's not as hardcore as yours truly, he's not going to leave one either."

"You ever think of taking the hunt for Russel proactive? Like, trying to find him rather than just haunting me, waiting for him to kill me?"

"I could do that, but then I'd be leaving the one place I know he'll eventually show up."

"What if you could do both?" Eric asked.

It took Yang Shao a second to react to that.

"Interesting. And here I figured that going on the straight and narrow had made you all soft and weak-willed. You want to hunt with me, then, killer?"

"Beats waiting around for him to hunt me."

"And what would your cop friends think about this?"

"A third of them are dead anyway," Eric shrugged, "And there's not much to be gained by dancing around the subject. Better to proceed straight ahead, dash in headlong, as it were."

"That sounds familiar. Are you paraphrasing from something?"

"No," Eric lied.

The exact words he was thinking, however, flashed around and around in his head like the lights on the dead Marshal's empty Crown Vic as he looked out the window at the passing streetlights: When one has made a decision to kill a person, even if it will be very difficult to succeed by advancing straight ahead, it will not do to think about going at it in a long roundabout way. One's heart may slacken, he may miss his chance, and by and large there will be no success.

* * *

Yang Shao suggested a couple of places they might begin their hunt -- run-down motels that didn't ask for ID, houses recently vacated thanks to the crappy national economy, junkyards that stored condemned mobile homes. They were all rational and logical suggestions, as Russel would need somewhere to base himself out of -- so Yang Shao was understandably surprised when Eric insisted that they go to a bowling alley.

"Russel doesn't seem like the bowling type," Yang Shao shook his head as he typed "Maplewood Lanes" into the BMW's GPS.

"No, he doesn't," Eric answered simply. "You don't need the GPS. I can tell you how to get there."

"Look, Chief. This car cost more than $70,000. You know how many skulls I had to crack for that kind of cash? I'm using every feature on this damn thing," Yang Shao told him.

"Turn left," the GPS replied.

"Goddamn right I will."

By the time the BMW's GPS got them to the corner of 101st and Maple, it was going on 11 pm. Eric had never been to the bowling alley before 9:30, and had only done so on Friday and Saturday nights. As he and Yang Shao walked in, they found that the entire place was lit by strobes, blacklights, and lasers.

"Fuckin' cosmic bowling? Why the fuck would Russel be hanging out with a bunch of drunken frat boys listening to. . . what is that horrible noise, anyway?"

Eric didn't know the name of the song that was playing, but he had to agree that it sucked. He motioned for Yang Shao to follow him to the far side of the alley, which was a little better lit and contained several pod-like bowling lockers. Eric dug his keys out of his front pocket and unlocked locker #231. Inside were two bowling bags, one of which he took out and handed to Yang Shao.

"Hold that for a second."

Yang Shao unzipped the bag. Inside was a pair of @redscorpionsix Raven WSK knives -- big, scary-looking blades with razor-sharp edges.

"Ah. I get it now. You come in here when the light's all fucked up -- no one can positively ID you, and no one can see all the naughty shit you're storing in your locker. Smart, really."

"Close that thing, will you?" Eric shot, annoyed. He pulled a pair of black military-spec combat boots from the other bag, quickly changed into them, and put his Chuck Taylors in the locker. He snatched the bag from Yang Shao, and they headed for the door.

"So you were ready for Russel to come all along."

"Sic vis paca para bellum," Eric replied.

"What the fuck does that mean?"

"Not important. Come on. We're burning dark here."

"One second," Yang Shao said, stopping at the pro-shop counter. "You have those T-shirts in. . . what are you, Eric, a medium?"

Eric nodded. The guy behind the counter produced a shrink-wrapped, dark blue "I Scored At Maplewood Lanes" T-shirt. Yang Shao traded him a $20 bill for it, then tossed the package to Eric.

"Now give me my shirt back, motherfucker."

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