Saturday, July 30, 2011

Chapter Fourteen

I wasn't sure at first how long I slept -- only that it was still daylight out when I opened my eyes. I'd pretty much passed out where I'd fallen, stretched out on the couch in the living-room area of Quentin's suite. Though they were trying to be quiet -- nice of them, really -- I could hear Quentin and Laura arguing in the next room.

"He can handle it," Quentin was saying.

"Look, he's a big guy. But so far, you and he have just kind of been stumbling through this. I mean, he had to call somebody to ask how to get into the complex."

"You've never seen dude in a fight. He's got this."

"He's got what?" I asked, walking into the bedroom and stretching out my arms.

"Quentin seems to think you can punch your way out of the building," Laura said, sneering. It wasn't a good look on her.

"Q? What've you got?"

Quentin shuffled off the bed and walked over to the desk on the other side of the room, motioning for me to follow him. He was up and moving now -- not quickly, but moving -- so I figured that was a good sign. As I walked up to the desk, he gestured down at a piece of paper. There was a sketch of the building floorplan on it, with several spots marked with X's.

"Here's what we have so far. We've gotten seventeen separate signals, seventeen different guys watching the exits and common areas," Quentin told me.

"Jesus. This is pretty detailed. How long have I been out?"

"Couple of hours. Now, here... it's not exactly a hole, but it's the weakest point in their network. One guy, guarding the back entrance for the valets. You get past him, you get outside."

"One guy. I can do that."

"See?" Quentin said, winking at Laura. "Told you."

"Yeah. Now tell him the rest."

Quentin sighed and ran his hands through his hair. He shot Laura a glare, then turned back to me.

"Laura here thinks it isn't a weak spot at all. Says she knows the guy they put there."

"His name is Eric Roth, and he's former Israeli Special Forces," Laura said, returning Quentin's glare. "There's no way you'll be able to beat him in a fight. He's the one who teaches all of the combat classes for Umbra Security."

"He's still just one guy," I told her, emptying out one of Quentin's duffel bags and putting the shotgun and pistols inside. "And it's not like I've never been in a fight before."

"Look, you seem OK. Both of you do. But you do not want to underestimate this guy. I've seen him take a loaded gun out of someone's hand and knock them out before they even knew what was happening," Laura told us.

"I can handle it. Besides, have you got another way out of here?"

After a long moment, she shook her head.

"That's what I thought."

"Stairway down to the valet entrance shows clear," Quentin said, tracing the route from our room down to the back stairway on the diagram with his finger. "Once you get there and take out this Roth guy, you'll have to cut back around the building to catch a cab or a shuttle."

"Right. We should probably walk down a couple of blocks off-Strip, minimize any chance of being seen by the guys up front," I said, zipping up the duffel and hoisting it on my shoulder. "Laura, you ready?"

"I guess," she said with a sigh.

"Enthusiasm. I like it."

The back stairway was, indeed, clear, and we made it down to ground level without incident. As I cleared the door out into the valet area, I could see Roth -- a guy about my size, dressed in the same black suit as all of his other Umbra Security pals. I crept up behind him and wrapped my left arm quickly around his throat, pulling it tight with my right. A couple of seconds later, Roth slumped to the floor.

"See? Told you I had this," I said, turning to Laura.

And that's when I lost two teeth.

The move I used on Roth was called a rear naked choke, and it usually put most motherfuckers to sleep in a matter of seconds. Not Roth, though, if the massive overhand right that crashed into my jaw and popped out two molars was any indication. Either he'd only gone out for a second or two, or he'd figured out what I was doing and gone limp, pretended to pass out before he actually did. Either way, I was dealing with a pissed-off ex-Israeli commando, and I was in way over my head.

I don't know how I managed to stay standing after that mule-kick right hand hit me, but I did. My vision was interlaced with angry red and yellow spots, but I saw Roth go for his coat, no doubt for a gun inside, and I managed to lurch my big stupid frame in his direction, plowing into him with all the skill and dignity of a stroke victim. Dumb luck was on my side tonight, though -- my shoulder slammed into his elbow, pinning his right arm against his torso and his back against the wall. He had his hand on his gun, but he couldn't pull it out. I could see that from my vantage point, what with my head nearly inside his jacket and all.

From there, though, I was stuck. As long as I kept pressure on him, he couldn't pull his gun, but he could throw any manner of knees and elbows into plenty of hurty spots on my body. I could do essentially nothing from where I was, with my right elbow smashed into his midsection and my left arm too low to even grab at anything except...

There are things you tell yourself you're never going to do in a fight, things that are just off-limits even when you're fighting for your life. But then, one day you've got an Israeli commando pinned up against a wall in a back corridor of a Vegas hotel, and he's raining down hell on the back of your head with his left elbow, and all of your notions of fighting fair go out the window.

And you grab a handful of that guy's junk and you pull and twist and crush with every ounce of strength you have in the left side of your body.

Roth must've been trained to handle pain, because he kept fighting a lot longer than I would have. For a couple of seconds, he seemed almost unaffected by the damage I was doing, still throwing elbows into the back of my skull. But I noticed his strikes weakening, and I pressed further, bending my legs and picking him up over my shoulders, my left hand still firmly crushing his boys. I ratcheted my back and threw him forward, bouncing him off the wall. As he hit the floor, his gun fell out of his hand, and I kicked him as hard as I could in the face.

He was out this time, I was sure of it. I waited several seconds, panting and trying to blink the spots and black edges out of my vision. He didn't get up, but I could see he was still breathing. Good. I didn't want to kill him, or anyone if I could avoid it.

"That was... well, that was about the most awful thing I've seen in my life," Laura said flatly from behind me.

"Let's go," I panted, grabbing Roth's gun and shoving it into my jacket.

As soon as we were out on the street, the heat hit me. It wasn't even that bad yet, in the mid-90s, but with the beating I'd just taken... well, it wasn't pretty. I vomited almost instantly, the two molars Roth had knocked out spilling out with a fair amount of puke onto the pavement. As I coughed out the last bit of blood and bile, my head started to spin.

"Man. It just keeps getting better with you, doesn't it?" Laura said, shaking her head. "You all right?"

"I'll live."

"Well, you don't look like it. We should probably get you cleaned up. No self-respecting shuttle driver will let you on looking like that."

"This is Vegas. Self-respect is pretty much only theory here," I said, digging through my pockets for something to wipe my face with. Finding nothing, I used the back of my left hand to wipe my face. It came away slick with blood. I checked -- my nose was bleeding pretty badly. Possibly broken.

"You're kind of pale. Can you walk?"

My legs didn't feel too solid underneath me, and I suddenly became aware that my back was killing me. Tossing Roth hadn't done my spine any favors. Still, I was putting one foot in front of the other without falling down, so that was something.

"Looks like it. Let's move. We'll get a few blocks down and try to flag down a ride."

"If you make it that far," Laura grumbled, hooking her arm under mine and marching me down the alleyway.

After a few blocks, Laura told me to stay put for a second and vanished off to the Strip. She came back a few moments later with a garish yellow plastic bag that read "Las Vegas' *Only* Souvenir Shop" across the front. I knew the bag was lying to me, and I realized I was a little punch-drunk when I started giggling at the bag.

Laura shook her head and pulled out a white "I Love Las Vegas" T-shirt, which she handed to me.

"It's a medium," I said. "No way that's gonna fit me."

"It's not to wear. It's to mop up some the Niagra Blood Falls you're working with there."

Of course it was. I felt a little stupid, but I used the T-shirt to towel away as much of the blood and leftover vomit as I could. The shirt came away red, and I realized that wasn't a great sign.

"Is my nose broken?" I asked Laura.

"I don't know. Maybe. It's pretty swollen. And your eyes are turning black like you got punched in both of them."

I nodded, which caused more dizziness than nodding ever should.

"Yeah, that's broken. Eh. I wasn't pretty anyway."

She dug into the bag and brought out another shirt, this one light brown. It had a skull in a top hat on the front, with the words "Las Vegas" in Gothic script across the bottom.

"I guessed on the size. XL?"

"It'll be a little tight, but..."

I took off the leather jacket and discarded my plain black T-shirt. I put on the new shirt, which actually fit OK, then put the jacket back on.

"OK. You still look awful, but at least you're not covered in blood anymore. There's a shuttle stop just up the street. Let's get moving."

The hot air wasn't doing me any favors, but I kept up with Laura as she bounded up the street. A shuttle bus with "MacCarran Airport" on the front was just pulling up to the stop, and Laura flagged it down. The door opened, and she got on. I followed.

"$20," the bus driver said, smiling and showing nicotine-stained teeth.

I pulled one of the many twenties Quentin had given me out of my jacket pocket and handed it to him.

"You don't look so good, brother. You all right?" the bus driver said, one eyebrow arched almost into his baseball cap.

"Yeah. King of the Cage," I said, surprised by how quickly the lie popped into my head.

"Yeah, I heard of that. New kinda streetfighting thing in the octagon, right? You a fighter?"

"Working on it," I said, forcing a smile and eyeing an empty seat. Sitting down was pretty much all I wanted to do, as I was starting to get dizzy again.

"I got a cousin who does that. Y'all are some crazy motherfuckers, man."

"Heh. Yeah."

"All right. Find a seat and we'll get you headed for the airport."

I collapsed into a chair in the second row, closed my eyes, and took a deep breath through my mouth.

The next thing I knew, Laura was shaking me awake.

"We're here," she said. "Get up."

It's amazing how much good a fifteen-minute cat nap can do for you. I was much more solid on my feet as Laura and I got off the bus, and didn't feel near as dizzy as we walked through the parking garage looking for Quentin's SUV. Of course, getting into his car wasn't my original plan in going to the airport.

See, as soon as Quentin had mentioned his vehicle was at MacCarran, a new plan formed in my head, one that had nothing to do with assaulting the Umbra facility in an insane attempt to snatch a nuclear bomb. I knew I'd have to do something about that, maybe tell the FBI or something, but I wasn't going to do anything about it. My new plan was to get Laura to the airport, slap the cuffs on her, and get her on a plane to Los Angeles. Then I'd collect my money, tell someone about the nuke, and go back to living my normal life.

Quentin would be OK on his own. All he'd have to do is wait a day or two for the heat to die down, then go get his car and come on back home. He'd seemed to be rapidly getting better, and the fact that he hadn't died already meant he probably wasn't bleeding internally. I'd give him a call when I had Laura safely turned over to the LAPD and break him off some of the bounty as a thank you for all his help.

But somewhere along the way -- and maybe this was the concussion (or the multiple concussions) talking, I realized I had to do something about the bomb. I hadn't really believed Laura until after the fight with Roth. If that guy was fighting as hard as he was to keep me from getting out, then it must have been a real threat. And if there really was a functional nuclear bomb in North Las Vegas, I couldn't afford to waste any time.

So instead of slapping the handcuffs on Laura and hauling her into the terminal, we found Quentin's car and started it up.

"OK," she asked, unaware that I'd been ready to turn her in until just a few minutes ago. "What's the first stop?"

"The liquor store, of course," I told her, winking.

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