Monday, October 10, 2011

Chapter Nineteen

[Chapter Nineteen]

I had an idea. It was a long shot, and it meant I'd have to move fast, so I was already running as I started to figure out the small details.

White hadn't fired when I'd jumped up and emptied my clip, which could have meant he was ready to extract. To get the hell out of there. Assuming he hadn't left immediately after the last shot he'd fired, he would need time to break down his rifle, get to the street level, and get to his vehicle. With the black Caddy just tearing around the corner as I watched, I figured he hadn't started packing it in until Meskhiyev contacted him to let him know they had Laura.

White would have had stairs or an elevator to deal with, whereas I had distance. The building across the courtyard from the City Center was a block away, and I could cover a city block pretty fast. As I made it to the end of the block, I flattened myself against the wall and peeked out quickly. Nothing moving on the street yet, but there was another big black Cadillac parked just across the street from the entrance to White's building.

I paused to check my weapon -- empty, and I didn't have another clip on me. I would just have to hope that White wasn't rocking a secondary weapon. That was, of course, past the hope that he hadn't already vanished. Really, there was very little plan at this point, but plenty of blind, stupid hope.

It only took a few seconds of waiting before White came barelling out of the building, a long duffel bag slung over his shoulder. For an ex-Marine, his situational awareness was crap -- he didn't bother looking left or right as he left the building, just headed straight on towards his Cadillac. I only had about ten steps between me and him, and I covered them as quickly and quietly as possible.

Though not quietly enough, as it turned out. When I was still three steps away, White turned and reached inside his coat, but he wasn't fast enough. I was already on him, and I tackled him to the ground like he had just caught a nice 30-yard pass near my end zone. Whatever he was reaching for in his jacket stayed in his jacket, and the back of his head bounced off the street next to his car. I didn't have to make sure he was out cold -- I'd heard a loud crack when his skull hit the pavement. I had to check to make sure he was still alive.

He was, thankfully. He was breathing, and there wasn't any blood coming from his head. Would have been kind of counterproductive to kill him -- no way to beat any information out of him then. I knew I'd have to move fast, though. Unless I'd done some severe damage, he wouldn't be out more than a couple of minutes.

First order of business -- neutralize any threat he might pose when he woke up. I checked his jacket -- he had been reaching for a handgun, a 1911 model .45, which I took and shoved into my own jacket. Further searching turned up two knives and an extra clip for the handgun, so I took all of those, as well as his car keys.

I used the knife to slice up his jacket into strips, then wrestled the large ex-Marine into the Caddy's passenger seat. I used what was left of his jacket -- high-tensile stuff, like a black BDU coat -- to tie him securely to the seat.

There wasn't time to go back and get Mendez and Rodriguez, as Laura was just getting further away with each passing second. Besides, I'm pretty sure neither one of them would approve of what I was about to do. Hell, I didn't even like the idea, but it was the only one open to me.

I got into the Caddy, started the engine, and tore off in the direction I'd seen the other Cadillac heading. White woke up after maybe a minute.

"They're going to kill you, you know," I heard him say from the passenger seat. His words were slurred a bit -- concussion, probably.

"Yeah, probably," I said. "So, let's make it easy on them. Where are we headed?"

White said nothing. Not taking my eyes off the road, I pulled one of his knives from my jacket. It was a smaller blade, maybe three inches long, but double-edged and pretty damn sharp, if the way it had gone through his coat was any indication. I held it up in the area between us.

"Might want to tell me," I told him.

"Fuck off," he grumbled.

So I jammed the knife into his thigh just above the kneecap.

To his credit, White didn't scream, though anyone with eyes could tell he wanted to. His eyes went wide and his face turned red, and he bit into his bottom lip hard enough to draw blood. I knew I'd gotten him pretty good -- I'm pretty sure I felt the blade hit bone. Not that I'm an expert at torturing people for information, or anything, but I think I was off to a pretty good start. Or a bad one, I guess. Depends on your point of view.

"Now, if you don't want me to start twisting the blade around, or see what else I can stab while keeping my eyes on the road, you probably want to tell me where we're going."

"Fuck, man. I didn't think you'd actually do it," White panted.

"Yeah, well. I did. So, where are they taking Laura?"

"Couldn't make the bomb work without her," White grumbled. "Needed her to execute the plan."

I chanced a look over in the passenger seat -- White was, no pun intended, turning white. He was going into shock, I guessed. Looks like I wasn't so good at this torturing thing after all.

"I already figured that much out, jackass," I told him. I could feel sweat forming between my nose and mouth.

"He's taking her to the bomb," White said. His voice was getting weak.

"Again, figured that bit out," I said with a sigh, reaching for the knife handle, exaggerating my shoulder movement so he could see I was going to twist the knife in his thigh.

I really didn't want to do that, though. I was already feeling a little sick about the damage I'd done -- what if I'd hit the femoral artery? I hadn't even thought of that before now. What if he bled out?

"Los Angeles," White said. "Aon Center. Sixth floor."

"See? That's all you had to say. Hey, you know where there's an emergency room around here?"

* * *

I had a choice to make, and I had to make it fast. Did I get on the phone to Jason Black, let him know what was up? Or did I ditch White's car and weapons and catch the next commercial flight to Los Angeles?

The logical thing to do would have been call Jason Black, of course. The guy obviously had the power to get me from Dallas to Los Angeles with no problem, but there was this itching in the back of my brain, like a single fire ant had crawled up in my skull where I couldn't kill him. Jason Black had sent us to Dallas. Dallas was a trap. Dallas was exactly where Umbra Dynamics had wanted us to go, exactly where they sent their two best shooters (at least) to snag Laura and bring her to the actual bomb site. Now, there was no way for me to *prove* Jason Black did or didn't know about the trap, but how had the Umbra folks -- the majority of them from the Las Vegas facility, I'm sure -- left for Los Angeles without him knowing it?

The only thing that made me kind of trust him was that he was chasing down a bum lead, as well. But as I thought about that, I couldn't even be sure that was true. He *said* he was on a flight to Russia, but it's not like he called me when he got there. It's not like I even saw him get on the plane. Could the guy be on Umbra's payroll? I didn't think so, but they did work contracts for the government, and Jason Black was part of the government. Did Umbra's plan have some Shadow-Agency stamp of approval? Did it go deeper than one corporation's greed?

In the end, I decided to go to the airport on my own and call Black when I was in Los Angeles. With luck, I'd be able to head Laura and Meskhiyev off at the airport, but that would take a lot more luck than I seemed to be having lately -- Dallas had three airports that I knew of (DFW, Love Field, and Addison), and probably five more that I didn't.

I decided to head for DFW -- it was the biggest, and therefore probably had the best chance of having a flight to LAX sometime soon. The airport itself was bigger than the city I grew up in, so I didn't even know where to start. Eventually, I just decided to dump White's car in long-term parking (along with anything incriminating I might have on me, wiped down and cleaned of fingerprints) and take the shuttle to one of the terminals.

I walked up to the American ticketing counter and found that there was a flight leaving for LAX via Phoenix in twenty minutes. I bought a coach ticket in cash, and ran to make my gate.

It wasn't a crowded flight, and I ended up having a row to myself. Once the flight attendants were through their safety lecture and we were airborne, I went ahead and threw up the armrests and laid down. I've never been able to sleep on planes -- something about being in motion while trying to rest -- but that wasn't an issue this time. I'd been running full-bore for days, and apart from a quick nap at the start of this whole debacle and a little bit of sleep in Quentin's hotel room, I'd been awake and moving (and by moving, I mostly mean getting my ass kicked) the whole time. I was out before the seat-belt light turned off.

In Phoenix, I finally got a chance to grab something to eat, something else I realized I hadn't done in a while. I realized then that I had no idea what was keeping me moving -- adrenaline had to have run out about a day and a half ago. I didn't have too much time to think about it, though -- I had a flight back home to catch.

The flight to Los Angeles was strangely packed, and though I'm quite obviously the size of a small tree, they went ahead and seated me right in between two rather hefty gentlemen in full suits. It was a Friday night, well past midnight, so I couldn't figure out the reason for the formal wear. As I looked around (if I really concentrated, I could turn my head almost halfway to the left), I saw a bunch of other rather large guys in suits as well.

"What is there, a convention?" I muttered.

Must have been the large collection of concussions I was putting together, but it never really occurred to me that both of the portly dudes on either side of me could hear that. They sure could, though.

"Yeah. Pharmaceutical sales convention in Phoenix this whole week," the guy on my left said. If he caught the condesending tone in my voice, he was polite enough not to mention it. Or, possibly, I looked too damn scary for him to want to make an issue of it.

"Oh, yeah?"

"Yeah. This company called Umbra Dynamics introduced some new anti-cancer research. It was pretty exciting," the guy on my right said. It was obvoious this dude hadn't heard anything amiss in my tone -- he was too damn excited.

I nodded, but something about what he said struck me as odd. I thought Umbra was in the defense business. What the hell were they doing in the pharmaceutical field, too? And cancer research? That didn't sound like something a company dead-set on detonating a nuclear bomb in a major American city would waste money on.

I had planned to catch another nap on the short flight from Sky Harbor to LAX, but that wasn't going to happen. You try catching a few winks when you're jammed between two sweaty human sausages wrapped in ill-fitting suits. It didn't help that both of them had the air conditioning fucking blasting, which shouldn't have surprised me. Big, out-of-shape dudes are always sweating, seems like. So in addition to being crushed on both sides, I was freezing -- my jacket was more for looks (and to cover guns) than it was for warmth. I was suddenly reminded of the scene in Empire Strikes Back where Han Solo cuts open that weird camel-thing and sticks Luke Skywalker inside to keep him warm. Using these guys for insulation would have been an improvement -- at least they wouldn't have been chattering back and forth across me the entire flight.

A thought did occur to me while I was trying to tune out the whales on either side of me -- there could be Umbra employees on the plane with me. I mean, they had just been at the same conference as my morbidly obese seatmates. I doubted any Umbra pharmaceutical reps would know their company was looking for (or trying to kill) me, but I couldn't be sure of that. They'd surprised me with how far they could reach already -- I figured I'd better make it off the plane as soon as it hit the ground.

That is, if I could extricate myself from the cellulite sandwich before the plane headed back to Phoenix for the night.

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