Thursday, May 14, 2009

Chapter Twenty-Three

Eric was feeling woozy from blood loss as he started up the Thunderbird. He wished he'd thought to toss a medical kit into the car before he'd headed out to the Stockyards, but he honestly hadn't planned on needing it. Eric fully expected to go into the battle, but not to come back out again. For now, the sliced-up remains of a polo shirt he'd happened to have in the trunk would have to hold in enough blood to keep him alive until he could get back to his wrecked apartment.

His vision was already starting to go black around the edges, and Eric knew that was a pretty bad sign. In an attempt to keep himself awake and alert, Eric cranked the volume on the T-bird's stereo as loud as it would go -- The Misfits' "Death Comes Ripping" blasted out of the speakers at an uncomfortable level, threatening to overload the cheap amp Eric had put in under the driver's seat.

Eric took L Street up to 42nd without seeing another car, then headed north on 42nd. He was only about five minutes from home now, but he seriously wondered if he was going to make it -- he was beginning to taste metal in the back of his throat, and in addition to the black spots, his vision was blurry now.

Eric stopped at the light at 42nd and Center Streets, then put the car in park to tighten the makeshift bandage around his shoulder, by far the worst of the cuts. He looked up into the rearview mirror and saw a pair of headlights come up behind him.

Yang Shao, he thought. Didn't take him long to lose Johnny.

The headlights, however, weren't slowing down. By the time Eric's blood-drained brain realized that fact and slammed his foot down on the accelerator, though, it was too late. The other vehicle slammed into the back of the Thunderbird, pushing the car out into the intersection. A black Hummer H2 immediately squealed to a stop inches from the T-bird's front bumper -- between the two vehicles, Eric was locked in.

He grabbed the still-bloody Raven off the passenger seat and reached for his door handle, but someone else yanked the door open before he could. Two pairs of strong, black-gloved hands yanked him out of the car and threw him onto the street. Eric heard the Raven clatter to the ground somewhere away from him, and he tried to lift his head to see if he could locate it, but he just didn't have anything left in him.

A pair of black combat boots walked up to Eric, and someone leaned down to look into his face. Even with his vision going on him, Eric could recognize the smirking face of Major Frank Ericcson, formerly of the U.S. Army Special Forces.

"We still have a little conversation to finish, now, don't we, Eric?" Major Ericcson asked.

Eric hadn't understood why Russel was laughing earlier as he bled out on the dirt, but now, he got it. Eric started laughing himself as he raised his right arm and gave the Major a weak salute.

Ericsson gestured slightly with his right hand, and a younger, Asian man dressed in matching battle fatigues appeared next to him. The Asian man leaned down and looked over Eric's makeshift bandages.

"What's his condition?" Ericsson asked.

"Frankly, I'm shocked he's still conscious. And he should be in so much pain his screams could wake the dead."

"I want him stable for transport. Sixty seconds. Read me?"

"Roger that, sir," the Asian man nodded as Ericsson floated out of Eric's field of vision.

"You just hang right there, buddy," the Asian smiled at Eric, "We'll have you fixed up in a second."

Eric felt the needle go into his arm, and soon his body was flooded with warmth. He found it tough to stop giggling as the Asian quickly field-dressed his wounds. Morphine, he thought.

Eric saw Captain Graham out of the corner of his eye. Graham had his hand to the radio in his left ear -- he turned to Ericsson after a moment.

"Brandt's dead, sir. Confirmed."

"Looks like we'll need a new consultant, then. Kim? We about ready to move?"

The Asian man finished dressing the cut on Eric's arm and nodded.

"We'll need to get blood in him sooner rather than later, but he's go for transport."

"Graham, Kim, load him up. Rodriguez, I want that car burnt to the frame before we leave."

"Sir!" Eric heard from somewhere behind him as Kim and Graham lifted him up gently by the arms and walked him carefully to the waiting Hummer.

"Shit," Eric heard Graham mutter as the Captain dropped Eric's arm. Eric could see lights and hear sirens -- at least four police cars were just seconds away. Kim lowered Eric quickly but gently to the pavement, and he and Graham both raised their weapons.

"Sheriff's Department! Put your weapons down and put your hands on your heads right now!" Eric heard Nathaniel yell. From his position with his back against the rear tire of the Hummer, Eric could see Johnny and Nathaniel, weapons drawn, flanked by several more cops from the other cars.

He could also see the five ex-military men, their automatic weapons trained on the cops. Were he a betting man, he wouldn't be betting on the task force -- from the files he'd seen, the men in this squad had seen much worse odds in Iraq. Eric wanted to yell to his police friends to stand down, but he found he was unable to do much more than giggle.

"I have no desire to fire on law enforcement officers, gentlemen, but I warn you that I will if I have to," Ericsson called back. His voice was flat and even.

"This is your final warning!" Nathaniel yelled.

"No, sir. It's yours. Have your men stand down, Sheriff."

Eric just chuckled, though he really didn't find the situation funny at all. He saw Graham's finger twitch toward the trigger, but he wasn't the only one who saw it. Graham's head exploded to the side, raining blood and brain all over the Hummer and Eric below it.

That was when the shouting started. Even with his brain swimming in morphine and goofy from blood loss, Eric knew what was coming next. Still unable to stop giggling, he rolled himself off the tire and dragged himself under the Humvee just as the air ripped in half with gunfire.

When Eric was first introduced to gunfights years ago, he was surprised by the amount of smoke they generated. It was old hat to him now, and he couldn't see it from his position under the Hummer -- in fact, his view was limited to the rear axle of the stupidly large vehicle. Still, though, the smell permeated the windless Omaha summer night, filling his nostrils completely -- it was more intense on smell alone than any other gunfight he'd ever witnessed. Eric knew that meant there was an awful lot of shooting going on.

Of course, the thunderous sound alerted him to this fact, too. Enough bullets were flying around that Eric couldn't pick out, on sound alone, who was doing most of the firing -- all of the gunshots were stacked on top of each other, creating a sustained, deafening roar like that of a shitty death-metal band. One sound, though, quickly eclipsed the rest.

The sound came with its own light show, free of charge. A brilliant fireball lit up even the area under the Hummer, accompanied by a quick, loud explosion that took all the oxygen out of the air for a split second. A flaming hubcap with the Ford Thunderbird logo on it rolled by Eric's limited field of vision.

"Heh. Nice job, Rodriguez," Eric chuckled weakly.

A half-second later, Rodriguez's corpse hit the ground next to the Hummer, his still-open eyes staring at Eric.

"Oh, there you are. Like I said, nice job," Eric giggled.

Above the gunfire, Eric thought he heard shouting. Someone was calling a cease-fire. Just as quickly as the night had gone insane with gunfire, it was quiet again -- though the air still smelled overwhelmingly of smoke.

"Put your weapons on the ground, now!"

Eric saw a pair M4A1 rifles and two Baretta M9's clatter to the pavement in front of the Hummer.

"We could have avoided all of this if your sniper hadn't jumped the gun and opened fire first," Ericssson spat. He sounded angry. Eric wanted to crawl out from under the truck to see what was going on, but he found he didn't even have the energy to roll himself over.

"We don't have a sniper on our squad," Eric heard Nathaniel shoot back.

Suddenly, a pair of hands grabbed Eric's shirt and dragged him out from the Humvee, propping him up against the vehicle's rear tailgate. Eric was staring into the face of Yang Shao, who had a QBU-88 sniper rifle slung across his back. Neither the cops nor the ex-military men, who Eric could now hear were being handcuffed, could see Yang Shao or Eric for the moment.

"It's true, you know. They don't," Yang Shao whispered to Eric, grinning widely.

Eric heard squad-car doors opening and closing, ambulances being called on police radios. He knew it was only a matter of seconds before Johnny or Nathaniel came looking for him -- they knew he was there, obviously, but they had a lot to deal with. Eric blinked and expected Yang Shao to be gone when his eyes opened again.

Surprisingly, the thin Chinese assassin was still right there in front of him. Yang Shao reached into his front pocket and pulled out a set of keys attached to a keyless-entry fob. He pressed the keys into Eric's left hand.

"BMW's in your name. It's parked in the garage across the street, top floor. Go ahead and ignore the shell casings around it, yeah?" Yang Shao smiled.

Reaching down, Yang Shao popped both holsters on his legs open and started drawing his Desert Eagles.

"What the fuck are you doing?" Eric coughed.

"Going out the only way a guy like me can expect to. The best way a guy in my situation can hope to, really," Yang Shao shrugged.

"Don't --"

"Don't worry. I'll miss your cop pals. Hell, I did it once before. You take care of yourself, Eric."

"Yang Shao --"

"Look. Russel's dead. Saw the body myself. I have nothing left to do, and I'm damn sure not dying of cancer," Yang Shao looked up. "Oops. Out of time to discuss. Have a good life, pal."

Yang Shao stood up and walked out of Eric's field of vision.

"Hey, Hillbilly! Round three, motherfucker!" Eric heard Yang Shao yell.

"Put the weapons down!" Johnny yelled.

Eric heard the twin sonic booms of the Desert Eagles exploding, firing round after round. Seconds later, he heard the comparatively quiet crack-crack-crack of the police officers' .40-caliber sidearms.

Yang Shao reentered Eric's field of vision, this time falling hard to the ground, bleeding from the head and chest. His Desert Eagles clattered to the street next to him, and Eric could have sworn he saw the thin Chinese wink before he died.

For the first time in as long as he could remember, Eric felt sadness rising up in his chest. Instead of choking out a sob, as he fully expected to do, only a thin, weak chuckle came out as he opened his mouth.

Fucking morphine.

Eric managed to roll his back off of the tailgate of the Hummer, flopping in the street like a sack of rotten potatoes. He saw booted feet running over to him, and Johnny quickly rolled him onto his back.

"Shit, Eric. Hang on, buddy. Ambulance is on the way."

"Oh. Well, that's nice," Eric said, shakily drawing in a breath. His vision, which had been blurry and spotty for the past several minutes, started to swim in front of him.

"Hey! Eric! Stay with me! Stay with --"

The words didn't fade out, nor did Eric's vision. Both just stopped, as if someone had taken the remote control and simply turned everything off.

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