Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Chapter Twenty

I managed to make it off the plane relatively quickly, but I was definitely looking over my shoulder as I jogged through LAX to catch a cab. I'd never taken a cab in Los Angeles, but I figured the not-insignificant wad of cash in my front pocket would cover the ride to...

Well, that was the question, wasn't it? Where do I head? I mean, I knew I had to get to the Aon Center. That much was a given. But I wouldn't be rolling in there unarmed, I can tell you that for sure. My apartment would be the logical place, but all I have there is a .38 Revolver that's probably older than I am. No ammo for it anyway. I knew Quentin kept a stockpile of all sorts of guns around his place in Silver Lake, but he kept that house locked up like a fortress. If he wasn't back from Las Vegas yet, I'd just be wasting my time going all the way out there and having to try and get a cab to come pick me up in a sketchy neighborhood in the middle of the night.

My cell battery had died hours ago, and I was having trouble remembering things like telephone numbers. That started to worry me -- the concussion (or, more likely, multiple concussions) had to be worse than I thought.

Still, I could think clearly enough to remember that Mike kept several guns around the office, so that's the address I gave the taxi driver.

We pulled up outside the office in 20 minutes. And, of course, it was open, even closing in on 11 at night. Thing is, bail bond offices don't often close -- there's always someone there. It's usually Mike, because I'm pretty sure he doesn't sleep, but every once in a while, it's his younger brother Jerry. Jerry's an idiot, so I was hoping for Mike.

I was in luck. When I walked in, Mike was just lighting up a fresh Marlboro Light. No one else was in the building, which was also lucky, as Mike would soon tell me.

"Jesus Harold Christ, Jake. You look awful," Mike said, blowing out smoke and frowning.

"Good to see you too, man."

"Did you get Laura Mills?"

"Had her. Lost her. But she's here in town, and I know where she's going to be."

"Just tell me, man. Shit, I'll go pick her up. You look like you need a fucking hospital. Or maybe an undertaker."

Now that was tempting. Bow out now, get some medical attention. Let Mike go in -- he was fresh, uninjured, and I knew for a fact the guy could take care of himself. I almost told him about the Aon Center, but I didn't. Not right away.

I can't tell you why I needed to finish this myself, but I did. Even with my frontal lobe shaking around inside my head like a tennis ball in a cement mixer, I couldn't think of anything else but finishing the job. When I closed my eyes, all I saw was Laura Mills' face. I shook my head, and even that hurt.

"No, man. What I need from you is a gun."

"What happened to your Sig?" Mike asked. He knew I was attached to the weapon.

"Sitting in the back of a Cadillac in DFW's long-term parking."

"I don't even wanna know, man," Mike said, shaking his head. "Cops were here earlier looking for you anyway. More I know, more I gotta tell them when they come back. Come on. Follow me."

Mike led me back through the office, past his private office and to a door between the two public bathrooms. The door was heavy, steel, and marked "Electrical." Every time I'd popped into the office, I'd pretty much ignored the door -- what the fuck did I need with the building's electrical room? I'd accidentally tried the knob once, but it was of course locked.

Mike selected a key from his massive, crammed key ring (I always joked that he had janitor keys) and unlocked the door.

It wasn't the electrical room.

The room was much larger than I would have thought -- probably bigger than my apartment. The walls to the left and right of the door were half-covered with shelves, all of them packed with boxes, cans, and plastic bottles. The rest of the room was crowded with weapons -- assault rifles, pistols, sniper rifles, machine guns, shotguns, and even a minigun. I wasn't sure what to say for a minute. I just stood there blinking.

"Fuck, man."

"Cool, isn't it?" Mike said, grinning.

"Why the fuck..."

"Y2K, man. Whole world's going down in 18 months. And I'm going to be ready when it turns Mad Max out there."

Part of me wanted to find that reasoning a little crazy, but I really couldn't. Who knew what was going to happen in the next couple of years? For all I knew, he might be right. And for all I knew, it might happen a lot sooner than that -- if Umbra managed to set off their nuke before I could stop them.

Calling the cops was out. They'd arrest me on sight, and not entirely without reason. So it was just me and however much of Mike's hardware I could carry.

I was facing a bit of optional paralysis. I mean, the minigun was the biggest, so that had to be the best, right? But even a guy my size probably wouldn't be able to control that monster. It was meant to be mounted inside of helicopters, for Christ's sake. I can't even imagine how Mike got his hands on one.

"Having trouble choosing?" Mike said after a minute.


"Here," he said, pulling an assualt rifle off the wall. "M-16A3. Full auto, laser sights, extended magazine. Basic all-around, can't-miss workhorse."

I took the M-16 -- it was lighter than I would have thought. As I slung it over my back, Mike opened a large case and pulled out two pistols. They were ginormous.

"Desert Eagle .44's," he said, grinning proudly. "They'll kill a freaking rhino. I can't use 'em -- firing one would probably break my wrist -- but you shouldn't have a problem."

Mike dug around and found a double shoulder holster for the giant-sized pistols, then found a couple of extra clips for each.

"Careful with the ammo on those, now. Only have seven rounds each. Plus side, hit anywhere near what you're aiming at, and you'll probably kill it. Now, for behind the back, the classic 1911 .45. Most dependable pistol ever made," he said, holding up one of the pistols.

"Yeah, I've used one before."

"Better take two."

I was loaded up now -- five guns, close to 75 rounds before I'd have to reload. I hoped I wouldn't *need* 75 rounds, but I couldn't be sure. My impression was that everything up to this would have felt like a cake walk -- they had to know I was coming as soon as White never reported in. They'd be ready.

"I appreciate this, Mike."

"You appreciate what, man? You were never here. And I," Mike said, grabbing an AK-47 off the wall and slinging it over his shoulder, "Well, if anyone asks, I was at a family barbecue in Inglewood."

"You don't have any family in Inglewood, Mike. And you're not coming with me."

"Fuck that, man. You're damn near dead on your feet. You need backup, and I'm right behind you. Remember, I'm your boss. I tell you what to do, get it?"

Mike lit a fresh cigarette and smiled before grabbing a pair of Glock .23s from a shelf and shoving them into his belt.

* * *

Traffic was light, and we weren't that far from the Aon Center anyway. We took Mike's ridiculous 1997 Eddie Bauer Ford Excursion, a crazy-large SUV that was totally inappropriate for driving around the city, but it was the company car. Mike's reasoning was that it doubled as advertising, and it was good for taking bail jumpers to jail in. Whatever.

Mike rolled up slowly on the building, and I scanned the front as we rolled by. I counted several black sedans out in front, parked in employee spaces. There were lights on on the sixth floor, where White had said they'd be putting the bomb. We didn't have much time.

"I think they're here, and they're setting up," I told Mike.

He nodded and kept the Excursion rolling slowly, driving a block away and parking on the street. We'd have to jog it a twelfth of a mile with automatic weapons strapped to our back, but Mike and I had done that before, sadly. And we had a way around it. Bail bondsmen are issued badges in California, which we wear around our necks when we need to look official. They really looked nothing like LAPD or LA Sheriff's badges, but most people couldn't tell the difference. They could have been Fire Marshal badges and folks still wouldn't usually question why the two of us were running around with assault rifles. Mike took two badges out of the pile in the glove compartment and handed me one.

"Glass doors," he said as I put the badge around my neck. "Even if they're locked, we're in. Elevators are only secured after the tenth floor. Let's do this fast. Overwhelm with extreme violence, yeah?"

Something about what he said there sounded familiar, but I wasn't sure what it was. I chalked it up to the head wounds -- I mean, it was a miracle I was still understanding the spoken word at that point. I wouldn't have put it past my bruised, swollen brain to ring familiarity bells at something I'd never heard in my life. I thought about shaking my head to clear the sensation, but the last time I did that, all I got was a bunch of black spots in my vision. Instead, I hopped out of the truck, grabbed the M-16 from the footwell, and slung it over my back. Mike was already out and jogging, but he's a littler guy, so I caught up with him pretty quickly.

He stopped just short of the glass front entrance to the Aon Center and posted up behind a stone column. Seriously, whoever designed most buildings must have had situations like this in mind -- it's rare that even a guy my size can't find anything to hide behind for a couple of seconds while assessing the situation. Mike was frozen for, well, a couple of seconds.

"No security guards moving in the lobby," he whispered.

"Umbra probably took them out or bribed them," I said.

"I bet you're right. Come on."

Mike moved low and fast, and silently. That was one of the advantages of his size over mine, I guess. I move pretty quiet for a big dude, but Mike's like a fucking ninja. A two-pack-a-day ninja, sure. But he's quiet. I tried to keep the M-16 from clanking around as I followed, but he made it to the door first and put a hand on it. It opened with no problems.

I followed Mike into the lobby, where he still moved low and silent, but it looked kind of silly in a brightly lit, high-ceilinged room. I, on the other hand, just walked normally over to the elevator and hit the call button. The door opened immediately.

"Too easy," I grumbled as the doors closed and the car started to ascend.

"I was just thinking the same thing," he said quietly. "Finger on the trigger, yeah?"

As the door opened, I did have my finger on the trigger of the M-16, and had it pointed down in front of me so I could whip it up quickly if there was anyone on the other side of the door. It was a tactic some military advisor had taught us on a terrible film I did back in '92, but it worked. As the doors opened, I saw Meskhiyev and several of his pals in black suits, all armed, all waiting and ready to fire.

I brought up the M-16 and pulled the trigger, but nothing happened. Fuck. Jammed, I thought, dropping the assault rifle and going for the Desert Eagles.

I never put my hands on them, though. I felt the barrel of a gun jammed into the back of my head.

"Sorry about this, man," I heard Mike say from behind me.

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