Up a hill onto the sidewalk surrounding a huge angular glass and sandstone building, past the doors and into the courtyard. A glassed-in dining room jutted into the concrete patio under a myriad of foreign flags. Jared wasn’t in any mood to stay and ponder cultural differences though, he kept running, hurtling tables and benches – again like a Kenyan athlete – ducking under the limbs of the scrawny trees planted haphazardly around the campus.
To the left was a massive brownstone building that looked like a prison, and Jared’s gate varied enough left that I thought he was going to break for it. Instead, he ran far right, through a little meeting area between massive planters, and headed for the church I could see up ahead.
I tried taking a shot, but aiming was all but impossible at this speed and this range. One of us would have to slow down sometime soon, pounding through the warm air, taking humidity into heaving and overtaxed lungs was not at all conducive to stamina.
Jared ducked into an alley along the side of the church, sprinting through the brick corridor with an ease that said he did this every day. I wondered if he did.
Out of the alley he cut across a parking lot and then a wide lawn filled with trees. A few students moved between the buildings, shadow shapes in the dim haze of night. Few lights shone down upon the lawn, and I mused on how many of those students had their whistles with them. STOP, or I’ll say STOP again!
I followed him between dormitories, massive hulking castles built of heavy block. The windows glowed an inviting yellow, and I could hear happy voices and loud music from within. Would my college experience look like this?
Jared crossed another lawn, and then our feet hit pavement. A cul-de-sac at the end of a street. He continued across the pavement, vaulted a low stone fence, and kept going.
Son of a bitch.
This was like chasing Jason Bourne.
I glanced left and right as we sprinted along a cement walkway between buildings. Funky looking house to the left, like multiple houses joined together at their corners in a zigzag pattern. Normal looking house to the right, the path we were on led between the lawns. Any zigzag house up ahead, and Jared sprinted right up the steps and inside the open door.
I hesitated. Trespassing? Breaking and entering? Hell, how many laws had I broken already in the past twelve hours? Another half dozen wouldn’t matter. My feet pounded the wooden steps up the porch and then I was inside.
Hallway, students already pressed to the walls in the wake of the mad sprinter who’d torn through. “Sorry,” I said in passing. I was moving so fast I didn’t think anyone heard me. The hallway zigged just like the house did, and I slowed imperceptibly to aim around every corner. I could track his progress through the house by the shouts and exclamations, but I wanted to be sure nonetheless.
Door on the right, a mousy girl with a laundry basket looked shaken. “He go through there?” I asked breathlessly.
She nodded, obviously confused.
“Thanks.” Gun up and held so tightly it was shaking, I moved through the door. Washer and dryer tucked into a stairwell. I could hear footsteps hammering the steps above. I heaved another breath in. “Always gotta be the frickin’ hard way…”
The house was only two stories tall, and I rotated out into the upper hallway with professional smoothness. Forget a career in the design industry, with these mad skillz I should work for the Secret Service or Blackwater.
To the left, there were people milling about in the hall. None of them looked perturbed. Ok, he’d gone right. Around another corner and the hallway ended at an open wood door and a slamming shut screen door. I banged through the screen again – to a shout of “Hey man, take it easy!” from a nearby room – and skidded to a stop just before crashing over a second story deck railing. Below, Jared picked himself up from a stumbled landing and started moving again.
I took two shots – neither of which connected – pumped, and heaved myself over the railing, absorbing the landing with bent knees and a shoulder roll, the bag banging around me. I hoped I hadn’t damaged anything, I kept all sorts of useful odds and ends in there.
Jared was my equal or better, I had to admit. Pretty close to peak physical condition. I couldn’t imagine how far we’d covered, and at such a high speed.
We were off the campus now, and the terrain had changed to backyards. We were running through gardens and flowerbeds, dodging swingsets and birdbaths. The river – wide and sparkling in the moonlight – lapped at the shore just a few meters to the left. This was rich-folk territory, these properties had to command a couple of hundred grand apiece.
The end of the chase came quickly and unexpectedly. We both knew that one mistake would be the game-changer.
He tried to angle off to the right, and I put a burst of speed and fired, angling the Triple Shot to get better range. I held down the trigger, sweeping it left, and he skidded, kind of jumped left, and angled that way while I followed.
My sweep of water dissuaded him from forward motion, and with me quickly pulling up in pursuit, he took the only avenue left open for him – a dock along the waterfront.
It was about twenty feet long. He didn’t have anywhere to go. For just a moment it looked like he was going to take a running dive into the drink, but then he skidded to a stop at the end and turned to face me, hands up in surrender. “No need to shoot, ok?” He said between panted breaths. “I’d kinda like to spend the rest of the night out, and I don’t have another shirt.”
I shot him in the face for my trouble. He blinked the water away and ran the rest back through his bristly hair with both hands.
“Damn, you’re good,” he commented as he walked past me, punching buttons on his phone.
“You’re crazy,” I told him. “Running through that house? Jumping off the roof.”
He turned and corrected me with a waggled finger. It was a second story balcony, not a roof. There’s a difference.”
“Fine. You still shouldn’t have run through those peoples’ house.”
“Gotta record that you killed me.”
“Oh yeah. Samantha Calloway. Two ‘ells,’ ‘oh’ not ‘aye.’”
He punched buttons on his phone as we walked. “That house is owned and rented out by a woman I dated before Kyra and I got back together,” he said. “I got permission.”
I snorted. “That had to be an odd conversation.”
His phone beeped one last time and he folded the ancient device and put it back in his pocket.
“Speaking of odd, what do you know about Keith?”
“The question, answer it.” His voice had grown cold, no longer nice.
“He’s following me around, photographing me for some yousoak newsletter or something.”
Jared snorted. “Yeah, I bet.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, the guy’s dead.”
I felt a tingle at the back of my greasily sweating neck. “Huh?”
“Long story short, I’m friends with one of his old friends from back in Miami. Keith Slate is a reported missing person. Walked into the Everglades with no supplies a couple of days before Hurricane Corrie blew the Hell out of Miami.”
I remembered the news coverage of that hurricane. I’d been concerned that it’d sweep north and pound Mercy, where my brother David lived. It hadn’t, fortunately.
“Anyway,” Jared continued, “My friend Brian relayed to me some of the strange crap Keith said to him in the years before he went on his final vision quest…safe to say the cheese slid off his cracker. If he’s still alive – and it looks to me like he is – I doubt he’s any saner.
“Brian also said he’d had a couple of even weirder near-death experiences involving Keith Slate after getting shot after the hurricane, but…well, Brian’s always been a little fringe. Not exactly the most normal person I know.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Compared to you, who asks old girlfriends if you can run through her house for a waterfight?”
He laughed. “Yeah, compared to me.”
“If he is who you say he is – and I kinda doubt it – I’ve got experience with fringe and not-the-most-normal people. Am one myself. Not too concerned for my safety.”
He turned to look at me while we walked. After a moment he said “You don’t care if you live or die, do you?”
The whole mood of the conversation changed, suddenly. He’d gotten less serious the longer he talked about Keith, but now he chose to put me on the defensive.
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m pretty good at reading people. I managed to slap Brian in the face with the fact that he was in love within two hours of meeting him. You…you’re dead from the heart on down.”
Annoyance blossomed within me like an expanding fireball of ignited gasoline. “What the hell gives you the right…?”
He cut me off. “I’ll never meet you again, I don’t care what you think.”
Wow. “Ok, what about you, Mister Perfect? You wanna lecture me about dead, your photograph for this thing – “
He cut me off again. “Old photograph. And yes, that picture was taken during a part of my life that I literally had to drag myself out of. But I did, and here I am.”
“How…how’d you do it?”
“No idea. It’s sort of like finding God, nobody can tell you how.”
We walked for a while in silence. I didn’t see any reason to walk apart, seeing as we were going to the same place.
“What did you do?” I asked finally.
Jared thought for a moment. “Got used, when I shoulda seen it coming. Nearly killed somebody ‘cause of it. You?”
Shit. There it was. I thought of all the incidental ways it had been slapped in my face today, the thing I’d managed to avoid thinking about except in an oblique way. “I…I went a little further than you did.”
He nodded to himself. “Alright then.”
We crossed the street back to The Abbey. I could see Keith leaning against the passenger door of my Mazda. So could Jared. “Be careful around him,” he said.
I shook his hand.
“It’s almost ten. Good fighting with you, Miss Calloway. If you will excuse me, I think my fiancée is waiting for me.”
“Have a good night,” I told him.
I walked back to the car, and paused, turned back to look at the building. Keith stared at me in my peripheral vision until I turned to look at him. We raised our eyebrows at each other, and then he got in.
I took one last look. I wanted to be that guy.
“No, I really don’t care,” I whispered to the night air.