Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Chapter Fifteen

Finding a liquor store in Las Vegas isn't much of a challenge. Basically, you can just head in any direction and you'll be at one in a couple of minutes. And the stuff I was looking for wasn't rare or expensive, so I wasn't exactly picky. Still, though I didn't so much care where I ended up, I know I could have done better than Fredo's Discount Liquors.

The bars on the windows weren't a great sign, nor was the armed, overweight security guard padding around out front. In my experience, fat security guards are way more dangerous than the overmuscled, jock types. The fat ones are less likely to chase you and more likely just to open fire. This guy definitely had that look about him, that hard, unfocused glare that he cast over Laura and I as we got out of the car.

"Nice place," Laura muttered.

"Yeah, it was highly recommended by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor's Bureau."

My head was still killing me, but by now, it wasn't anything a couple hundred Advil wouldn't cure. I was pretty sure I had a concussion -- I've had them before -- but it wasn't severe. I was banged up, sure, but I'd still be able to carry the plan through.

We left Fredo's Discount Liquors a few minutes later with five bottles of Bacardi 151, all they currently had on the shevles. Apparently, according to the talkative guy at the register, they'd just opened the last case before we'd come in. An on-duty cop had bought the first bottle. That was comforting.

Laura was a little suspicious of me buying what was essentially a metric fuckton of booze, and it probably didn't help her confidence any that the next place I stopped the car was a dumpster. I rooted around until I found a half-dozen empty glass bottles, then found what looked like a very stained hotel pillowcase. I put the bottles in the pillowcase and came back to the car.

"So now we're rooting for junk?"

"Jesus, Laura. Did you grow up in a complete cultural void, or what?"

"I don't follow."

"You never watched any action movies when you were a kid?"

"I was studying when I was a kid."

"Ah. You were a nerd. Then riddle me this -- what happens when you fill a bottle half-full of something flammable, then stuff a rag down the mouth and light it?"

"Molotov cocktails?"

"Exactly. And Bacardi 151 is more flammable than gasoline. Even comes with a little flame supressor on the bottle to keep it from spontaneously combusting when you pour it. What, did you think the plan involved getting blackout drunk or something?"

She didn't say anything, but I could tell from her expression that was exactly what she'd been thinking. She really didn't give me much credit, and my performance thus far probably hadn't merited a whole lot of respect. That was fine, though. When this was over, she'd probably still underestimate me, and I'd use that to my advantage to get her back to Los Angeles and turn her in.

"You sure you can handle those? I've heard those things can go bad in a hurry," Laura said as I climbed back into the truck.

"Yeah. I'm fire certified," I told her.

"That a big thing in the bounty-hunter world?"

"I used to be in entertainment. Stunt performer. I've been lit on fire by one of these before."

"Under controlled conditions, of course."

"Well, yeah. But I don't plan on getting lit on fire this time."

"And just what is the plan? I'm a little vague on that."

That was intentional, of course. I'd only shared the broad strokes of the plan back in the hotel room, mainly because I wasn't sure I could trust her. I wasn't sure I could trust her because I didn't believe her 100 percent, but that had changed after Roth kicked the fuck out of me. So I knew I had to trust her now, even if she had been acting cynical and, let's be honest, like a bit of a bitch.

"The plan is... well, we roll up hard on the complex. Go right through the front gate. When the security car comes after us, that's where the first couple of Molotovs come in," I started.

"Oh. I really don't like this plan," she grumbled.

"Wait. It gets better. You're going to be driving -- unless, of course, you want to be throwing Molotovs -- so you're going to take us right up to where they're keeping the bomb."

"It could only be in two places, and one's much more likely than the other," she said.

"Good. Now, how heavy is it, would you say?"

"About 70, 75 pounds."

"I can do that. We grab it, put it in the truck, and get the fuck out of there. Then you disassemble it and we scatter the parts to the four winds."

"And when they start shooting?"

I nodded towards the duffel in the back seat, the one that held all of our guns.

"We shoot back."

I sounded confident, but that was, of course, a lie. I would really rather have just forgotten I knew anything and gone back to Los Angeles, stick my head under a pillow and pretend I dreamt the whole thing. But I knew I couldn't do that -- I knew I had to do this thing. There was no way I could live with myself if I saw a mushroom cloud on the news one day and knew that I could have stopped it.

Laura helped me make the Molotovs. It wasn't exactly rocket science, but it went faster with both of us working on it. A few minutes later, we were ready to roll. Laura assured me she knew how to handle a gun, so I gave her Meskiyev's pistol. She started up the engine, and we were on our way.

It's hard to really put into words the feeling I had as we cruised into North Las Vegas. I mean, sure. There was fear, obviously. But more than that, there was a sense of... well, just of not wanting to do any of this. We were rolling into a heavily armed compound with guns and homemade explosives, which isn't something I'd want to do on any day, ever. And we stood a very good chance of getting killed, also something I didn't want to do. But worse yet, I would probably have to kill someone, and I really didn't want to do that.

I'd never killed anyone before. Oh, sure, I'd shot people, but they'd never died from it. And I'd messed some dudes up pretty badly. Once, I was serving a warrant in Silver Lake, and the dude charged out of his house like a coked-up rhino with a shotgun. He was ready as hell to kill me, and I would have been well within my rights to kill him at that point, but I didn't. It was the closest I've ever come to killing someone, but I emptied a clip into his legs and put one in his shoulder, one in the side of his neck. The guy survived.

Now... well, someone was going to die, and I had to make sure it wasn't going to be me.

It seemed to take less time to reach Umbra's compound this time around, but that was probably just my perception, not reality. Traffic thinned out right on schedule, and before I knew it, we were deep in the ghetto again. I could see the fence coming up, and I opened the Pathfinder's sunroof.

"Gun it right through the gate," I said as I grabbed two of the Molotovs in one hand and my lighter in the other.

I heard the engine rev as I took off my seat belt and stood. Laura missed a gear, and when it caught, I almost dropped one of the Molotovs all over the front of the car, but I managed to save it. The jolt from the missed gear was worse than the one when Laura crashed through the fence, and that one, I was ready for. Laura sped us toward the buildings, and my head was on a swivel for the security car.

It came, all right, fishtailing around the corner and rocketing through the hole we'd made in the gate. I waited until it got within about fifty feet, then lit both Molotovs and rocketed them, one after the other, right at the security car's windshield. The first one went high, tumbling end-over-end just over the roof and smashing on the concrete behind the car. The second one, though, slammed right into the spot where the hood met the windshield, exploding in a perfect fireball that washed over the entire windshield.

Crazily, the security car's windshield wipers came on. It was as if the driver was trying to wipe the fire off the glass like rain. I chuckled in spite of myself, but it didn't last long. As the wipers melted to the burning glass, the security car slammed on its brakes, and both doors opened. Out came two security guards.

They were fat, both of them, which in my experience meant they were about to start shooting. I already had another lit Molotov in my hand, and I chucked it in their general direction before reaching into my coat and pulling out my Sig. The two guards broke to either side of the car to avoid the new firebomb, but quickly had their guns in their hands. They fired on us, but I fired back. I caught one of them in the hip, the other in the arm. They kept firing, but their shots weren't coming anywhere near us now.

Laura slammed on the brakes, spinning the Pathfinder so that the driver's door was next to the building. I dropped back down through the sunroof and followed her out the driver's side, grabbing the bag with the guns and Molotovs inside as I went. She entered a security code on the keypad by the door, but the lights above the pad stayed red.

"They changed the codes," she said. There was a hint of panic in her voice.

"Don't worry. Those guys will run out of ammo soon," I told her.

I pulled Quentin's pump-action out of the bag and motioned for Laura to get clear of the door. With two slugs, I obliterated the hinges -- not a great design, that -- and the door fell open. Laura dashed inside the darkened building, and I followed.

"Where are we headed?" I asked.

"There's a lab on the second floor. Be ready to shoot -- there's going to be security between us and the lab."

There wasn't, though. We made it up the stairs and down a long hallway without seeing a soul. I used the shotgun as a masterkey again, opening the lab door with a combination of slugs and kicks from my right boot. Laura flipped on the lights inside, and the only thing I saw was a long, empty metal table.

"Um..." I said.

"Must be in the other lab, in the other building."

We encountered no resistance on the way to the second lab, either. In fact, apart from the now-quiet security guards, we'd seen no one since we got into the complex.

"Something doesn't seem right here," I told Laura as she led me to the second lab, this one on the third floor of the next building over.

"I expected this to be tougher, too."

The second lab was also empty. Laura tore around the inside of the lab, opening cabinets and drawers, as if someone had stashed a 75-pound nuclear device in their desk.

"It's gone," she said.

"Yeah, I can see that."

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