Monday, September 19, 2011

Chapter Eighteen

I wasn't dead. As much as I'd like to say I realized that instantly, I didn't. It took Airman Mendez slamming into me -- for a little guy, he made a hell of a defensive tackle -- for me to realize I was still alive.

Good thing he did, too. Otherwise, the bullet that just nicked my left shoulder would have gone straight into my chest. I hit the ground hard, jamming the other shoulder into the pavement, which slowed me down enough that when the side of my head hit the concrete, it didn't knock me out. It just hurt like a motherfucker.

"Get away from the door!" Rodriguez yelled. I could see Laura, her back against the brick wall to the left of the door, and I managed to pull myself most of the way over to her. Mendez was right in front of me, dragging me the rest of the way.

"What the fuck happened?" I groaned, blinking several times. There were spots in front of my eyes so big I could see more white than anything else.

"Flashbang grenade," Mendez told me, reaching into my coat and pulling out one of the pistols. "Someone really doesn't want us to go in there."

"Miguel! You ready?" Rodriguez yelled from the right side of the door.

"On three!" he yelled back.

Though he'd said they'd go on three, I didn't hear either of them counting. Instead, they both were on the move a couple of seconds later, clearing the doors with their guns at the ready. I struggled into a sitting position and reached in my coat for the other pistol, which turned out to be my Sig.

"You really shouldn't go in there," Laura said, shaking her head.

"Yeah, I know," I said, getting to my feet. I could hear gunshots inside.

I blinked a few more times -- my vision was almost clear now, and my feet felt as steady under me as I suspected they were going to get. I crouched low and crept towards the open door, my gun held up and at the ready. As I spun inside, I caught a glimpse of Miguel. He was taking cover behind a decorative planter made of brick. I jumped toward him just as a bullet smashed into the door behind me.

"You good, big man?" Miguel asked. He sounded calm.


"Good. Shooter on the balcony across the way. One guy, bolt-action rifle. Remington 700's my guess. He's only got two more rounds before he has to reload."

"Brendan White," I said. "He's a former Marine sniper."

"Crap. That means he's not going to shoot again until we give him something to shoot at," Miguel said, sighing.

"I'm wearing Kevlar," Rodriguez told us. I looked past Miguel -- she was taking cover behind a column about five feet from us.

"No good," Miguel said. "My guess is on armor-piercing, the way it didn't even slow down when it went through my man's shoulder here."

I looked at my left shoulder. I thought the bullet had just grazed me, but it had gone clean through my deltoid, making a neat little hole. I expected it to hurt more, but it just felt kind of numb.

"So what do we do? Hang out here until he gets bored?" I asked.

"He won't. Not if he's a Marine sniper like you say," Mendez said, shaking his head. "We're pinned down until one of us moves."

"Or all three of us," Rodriguez said.

"Now, that's something. All three of us take off for cover in different directions. He can only shoot at one of us at a time -- the other two can open up on him," Mendez replied. "But I think you're the one he really wants, big guy. You good with that?"

"We got any other choice?"

"Not that I can think of," Mendez admitted.

"Looks like that's what we're doing, then," I said with a sigh, thumbing the safety off the Sig and getting ready to sprint.

"You set the tone. You move, we move," Rodriguez told me.

I didn't need to be told twice. In fact, I was glad they didn't. No countdown, no "go," just a simple sprint before I could talk myself out of it. It's easier to do something stupid like put your huge gorilla body out there as a target for a fully-trained Marine sniper if you don't take the time to think about it first, and I certainly didn't think this plan through. All thinking was going to do was get me killed, and I was pretty sure that was going to happen anyway, so why waste the energy?

My destination was a matching planter on the other side of the doorway, the one some uninspired architect had put there to balance out this one. I ran for three steps and then dove, and it turned out that was the right thing to do. Just as I jumped, I heard the crack of the rifle, felt the wind of the round as it passed just over my back and took out what was left of the door behind me. I hit the tile floor hard, chest-first, as I hadn't even had time to put my hands up in front of me. I felt the air rush out of my lungs, and I rolled over on my back. I had the wind knocked out of me and I was seeing starts, but I wasn't dead. So that was a plus.

As I moved, I was vaguely aware that Mendez and Rodriguez were running and shooting. Unless they were amazing shots, there's no way they could have hit White. The distance from us at the door to the balcony across the wide, open plaza was a good 300 yards, I estimated. If one of them managed to put a bullet within ten feet of him, it would be a miracle.

White had only fired once, just the one that narrowly missed turning my spine into goo. That meant he had at least one round left, I thought. And that was when I realized -- he could have reloaded at any point. He didn't necessarily have to wait until he was out of ammo to reload -- he could have popped a fresh magazine in any time while Rodriguez, Mendez, and I thought we were being clever and coming up with a strategy. He could keep us pinned down here as long as he wanted.

And he was just keeping us pinned down. The guy was a former Marine Scout Sniper -- they don't miss unless they want to, yet this guy had missed me once and grazed me once. It was impossible. Unless he was drunk or injured, there was no way he wouldn't have killed all three of us already. He meant to miss, and I was beginning to figure out why.

You know how in movies, the hero sets off an explosion, and every dumbass thug runs right toward it? I never got that, and I often played the dumbass thug doing the running. It never made sense to me -- why would you run directly *toward* something that was trying to kill you? Yet the three of us -- a cop, a Special Forces guy, and a bounty hunter -- had just done exactly that, running right into gunfire. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

We'd left Laura on her own. And that's just what they'd wanted us to do.

The door was out -- White had already shown he could hit that anytime he wanted to. I briefly considered trying to run for more cover, find another exit where he couldn't easily shoot me, then circling back around outside, but giving up any bit of cover I had was probably a bad idea. I mean, I'd already figured out I wasn't his primary target, but I don't doubt he'd be only too happy to explode my skull if I made it easy for him to do.

Mendez and Rodriguez were conversing quietly, but I was too far away to hear what they were plotting. I saw Rodriguez reach for the radio extender on her shoulder, and guessed that she was finally calling in backup. It didn't surprise me too much that she'd been hesitant to do so up until now -- none of us were supposed to be here, anyway. There would be a lot of explaining when the cops showed up, and I didn't doubt I'd be seeing the inside of a holding cell if I was still around when they did.

So, you ever done this? Sometimes, you've just spent a couple of minutes convincing yourself that something's a bad idea, but then you inexplicably go ahead and do it anyway? What's that about? It's like our brains have a tiny suicide switch, and when (like me) you've been awake for far too long and are probably walking around with some minor brain injury, that switch goes firmly into the "on" position.

And then you go ahead and take a deep breath, stand up, and fire directly at where you guess the sniper is camped out, even though you know you have no chance in hell of hitting him.

And even though you know a .308 round is probably on the way to your chest even as you pull the trigger.

I emptied my clip, but White didn't fire. I have no idea why, but I wasn't going to waste my time trying to figure it out. I dove back out into the street through what was left of the door, again landing hard on my tortured right shoulder again. If I kept this up, the damned thing would need to be held together by pins and plastic cartiledge. Even then, I was aware it had slipped out of joint at least a little bit.

But I had to put that pain on hold for a second. There would be time to bitch about that later, and if you've followed me this far, you'll recognize that I will, indeed, bitch about it later, in great detail. Now I needed to find Laura, needed to make sure that White taking potshots at us wasn't just a distraction while Meskhiyev or someone grabbed her. I checked where I'd last seen her, but she wasn't there. That didn't necessarily mean anything -- she could have moved to what she felt was a more secure hiding spot. I know I would have.

I checked behind and around the police car, and the Air Force car Mendez had used to ferry us there. Nope. I quickly jogged up and down the street about fifty feet in each direction, dropping low to check under cars and sticking my head into alleys. Still nothing.

It wasn't long before I had no choice but to start yelling.

"Laura!" I shouted, aware as I did so that I sounded like I was calling for a runaway puppy. "Laura!"

No answer. But I soon saw why.

I didn't find Laura, but I found her shoes, both of them, one neatly next to the other in the middle of the street. I don't know how I'd missed them as I was running around -- possibly because I was almost completely ignoring the street in favor of possible hiding places. As I looked up from the shoes, I saw a black Cadillac tearing off down the street. And that was when I knew they had her.

Someone had left the shoes deliberately, both to ensure it was harder for Laura to run if she got free and to serve as a nice "fuck you" to me. That latter part made me suspect it was Meskhiyev. Guy was really becoming a pain in my ass, especially because he kept winning -- as of right then, I had no idea where he was taking Laura, but I was pretty sure the bomb wasn't in Texas. No, Texas had been a ruse for them to separate us from Jason Black (don't know how they knew he was involved) and get Laura.

Back when she'd first showed Quentin and I the bomb in the back of the BMW, she'd said it was "nearly complete." And when I thought about that versus her abduction right of the street, it all came together. They weren't chasing Laura because she was going to expose them. They were chasing her because she was the one who could complete the device.

And now they had her, and I had no idea where they were taking her.

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