Friday, July 1, 2011

Chapter Eleven

The Town Car was moving at a pretty decent clip, so I knew we didn't have long to make our move before they made it to the office complex. I'd have to do something soon, and I was pretty sure I knew what would work.

If you've ever caught *COPS*, you're probably familiar with the Pursuit Immobilization Technique, or PIT maneuver. Basically, the car in pursuit -- my borrowed BMW, in this case -- accelerates, aligning its front wheels with the other car's rear wheels. Then there's a nice, hard swerve into the other car, causing it to spin out and stop. It has the dual purpose of working really well and looking pretty fucking cool. The latter reason is why I learned it in stunt driving school.

Of course, a pro driver who knows the PIT is coming can steer out of it, J-Turn around and get the hell out of there. I didn't know what kind of driving they taught in the KGB, but I had another trick up my sleeve in case Meskhiyev knew how to recover. I turned to Quentin and told him to hold on.

We were on a nice, straight stretch of road with only a couple of other cars around when I jammed on the gas and brought the front passenger tire of the BMW in contact with the Town Car's rear driver tire. I jerked the wheel the right, and suddenly, the Town Car was skidding sideways in front of me. The Town Car immediately skidded out and slammed into a bus shelter, and Quentin and I were out of the BMW seconds later.

He had the shotgun up and ready, and I had my Sig drawn and aimed at the Town Car's driver door. It was right when the passenger door opened that I realized I hadn't told Quentin we weren't planning on shooting anyone -- I hoped he could figure that out for himself, but let's be honest. Guy was walking around with an illegal sawed-off in his jacket. Probably not the best argument for prudence right there.

I wasn't two steps out of the car before the driver's window of the Town Car shattered. I heard a gunshot, and Quentin went down immediately.

You know, I've been in probably 20 real gunfights, and about a hundred times that many in the movies (thanks to multiple takes), and what Meskhiyev had just done never occurred to me. He'd fired through the closed window, not even bothering to waste the second it would have taken to open the door. It was a desperation move, a survival move, and it had worked -- it thinned out his hunters and gave him and his boy the advantage.

I had my own survival reflex, and it was to get to ground fast. I dove back behind the BMW and scrambled as quickly as I could to the rear tire. I heard another shot -- this one from a much bigger gun, or much closer, before Meskhiyev started screaming in Russian.

"What?" the other guy yelled, his voice way too loud. I realized he'd proably been deafened when Meskhiyev fired from inside the closed car.

"The package! That's my car, shithead!"


I didn't know what they were talking about, and right then, it didn't matter. It gave me a couple of seconds, and I used them. I flattened myself onto the pavement, took a quick glance, and fired my Sig as fast as I could. Meskhiyev's partner yelped and hit the ground -- I couldn't tell for sure where I'd hit him, but I was aiming for his shins, shooting under the car's undercarriage.

"Mister Harris!" Meskhiyev yelled. I could hear him scramble for cover behind his own vehicle.

"Alexsandr Meskhiyev!" I yelled back. I wanted him to know that I knew who he was.

"It seems the odds are now even, Mister Harris! Perhaps we can discuss this matter like civilized adults!"

The air was still and quiet around us. I'd like to say I was thinking over what he'd just said, but truth to be told, I was just trying to get my brain to form a thought. A word. Anything. I might be a better driver than this guy, but he had me outclassed as a shooter any day, and I was fucking terrified.

"So what's your answer, Mister Harris?" Meskhiyev finally yelled, breaking the silence.

"Here's my answer," I heard someone say. The next thing I heard was a loud, sickening crack.

After a few seconds of complete silence, I poked my head over the BMW's trunk. I could see Quentin standing there, leaning against the hood of the town car, his shotgun in one hand.

"Come on out," he said quietly, coughing.

"Did you kill him?" I asked.

"Nah. Just cracked him in the skull with Mr. Sawed-Off, here," Quentin said, grinning weakly.

"You all right?"

Quentin held open his jacket with one hand, revealing his torso. His shirt was torn aside, and underneath, I could see he was wearing a Kevlar vest. Two bullets were embedded, one right next to the other, just to the left of his sternum.

"Hey, I know I don't know shit about gunfights. Figured wearing protection was job one," he said.

"Probably busted up your sternum and ribs pretty good," I told him, walking slowly over to the motionless town car.

Neither Meskhiyev or his partner were moving. The other guy -- the one I'd shot in the legs -- was unconscious, probably passed out from the pain. Meshkiyev was crumpled in a heap near the Town Car's front passenger tire.

"Laura? You in there?" I asked through the Town Car's open driver door.

"Yeah. You guys gonna shoot at me?" she asked.

"No. Promise. Come on out."

The back door opened, and Laura slowly stepped out. She looked a bit tired, but that's not much of a stretch when a person had been on the run for a couple of days. She still looked miles better than anyone I'd brought in before.

"Who are you guys?"

"I'm Jake. That's Quentin," I said, nodding over to Quentin, who grunted and pushed himself off the hood of the car. "We're... well, I guess here to take you to jail."

"You're cops?"

"No, not by a long shot. Bounty hunter."

"Great. Wait a second -- is that Meskhiyev's car you're driving?"

"Yeah. I'm just going to ditch it when we get back into a safe neighborhood... which we should really think about doing before these assholes wake up," I said, motioning to the BMW.

"No can do. You have to hang onto this car, and the two of you have to get me as far away from a major city as you can."

I wasn't accustomed to a target telling me what to do, and I guess it showed on my face. Laura Mills glared at me, staring me down like I was a dog who refused to sit.

"Look, Laura. I'm taking you to jail. I don't want to have to put cuffs on you and drag you there, but after what I've been through in the last couple of days, you can damn well believe I will."

"You can't. Look, we can talk about this in the car. Can we just get the hell out of here already?"

I had to admit, that was the best plan at the moment. I helped Quentin into the passenger seat as Laura got in the BMW's back seat. A few seconds later, we were rolling.

As I started to pull away from the wrecked Town Car, Quentin put his hand on my shoulder.

"Stop the car a second," he said, wheezing.

I pressed the brake pedal and looked over at him.

"You don't sound good, Q."

He waved his hand dismissively and rolled down the passenger window.

"Town Car's still driveable," he explained, pushing his shotgun out the window and firing twice. I saw slugs tear into the Town Car's hood, and heard the engine immediately sputter and die.

"All right. Let's roll. I need to lay down," Quentin said, leaning his head back against the headrest and closing his eyes.

"I have a room back at Ceasar's," Laura piped up.

"Had," I corrected her. "Meskhiyev knows where it is. Probably cleaned it out and has five guys on it."

"How the hell would he know about it?"

"Probably the same way I did. Tracked your credit card."

"Monte Carlo," Quentin said with a cough. "They don't know who I am, and I checked in under an alias anyway."

"Right," I said, nodding and heading back towards the bright lights of the Strip, visible from even out here in the ghetto.

A few minutes passed in silence. When we hit a stop light on Las Vegas Boulevard between Old Town and the Stratosphere, I turned around to look at Laura.

"So, you've got something to say? Something about why I shouldn't just haul you back to Los Angeles County Lockup and get my well-deserved paycheck?"

"You ever wonder why my bail was so high?"

"Excuse my bluntness, lady, but I didn't really give a shit."

"Come on, Jake. You don't strike me as an idiot, and you're obviously good at your job. Half a million for failure to appear? And you didn't even wonder?"

I didn't want to admit it, but she had a point. I had wondered.


"So, the charges were inserted into the system. I went to ground, and they needed to find me. Their corporate security wasn't having much luck, so they enlisted the help of the LAPD and Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. Without their knowledge, of couse."

"Come on. Umbra doesn't have that kind of pull," I said, shaking my head.

"Yeah. Yeah, they do," Quentin muttered from the passenger seat.

"Why did they need you? You work for them," I asked as we got moving again.

"Worked. I quit when I found out what they were doing."

"They're a defense contractor, right?" I asked. "You have a problem with working for the military, or what?"

"No. That's not it. Their defense work is only part of what they do. And on the books, it's a big part, but really, it's not even the tip of the iceberg."

Traffic on the Strip was lighter now, and we made it to the Monte Carlo in just a couple of minutes. I helped Quentin out of the car, keeping an eye on Laura in case she felt like bolting. She didn't, though. She just got out of the back seat and leaned against the car, looking at me.

"Yeah?" I said.

"Keys," she demanded.

"Right. I'm just going to let you take the car and vanish again."

"I'm not running," she said.

"Uh huh."

"Do me a favor. Open the trunk."

I looked at Quentin, who just shrugged. So I opened the BMW's trunk, and Quentin hobbled over to see what was inside. Laura moved a black blanket aside and revealed a spiderwebbed mess of wires and metal. I looked at the... whatever it was... for a few seconds, trying to figure out what it was. Nothing looked familiar -- it just looked like some cheap electronics thrown onto a metal frame.

"So... what am I looking at, exactly?"

"That would be a nearly complete, homemade nuclear bomb," Laura said, closing the trunk.

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