The following takes place between 2am and 3am
I thought long and hard about whether to include a description of this hour. Not only do I admit to something very close to cheating, but it’s…intense…I guess? If you’re just here to read about the waterfight, and have no interest in Keith’s insanity, skip on down to the next hour. The next few pages do tie up a lot of things I’ve talked about so far though. If, for example, you skip to 3am-to-4am, and you wonder why Keith’s no longer in the car, well, the explanation’s in here. – Samantha Calloway 8/31/11
I didn’t answer. She didn’t shoot. I had a feeling she regarded me as dangerous enough to be faking injury. After a long minute I heard a rustle. Cracking one eyelid, I saw she was standing over me, very close. She removed a cellphone from her pocket. Probably to call emergency services.
Now or never.
I kicked out, snagging the backs of her calves with the toes of my boots, tipping her over. Absolute pain spiked through my right leg, intense and unyielding. I could feel myself going out again. I raised the Triple Shot and held down the trigger, drawing a stripe up Allison’s shirt from belt to collar as she fell.
The world got kind of hazy again after that. Maybe I blacked out, maybe I didn’t. The next thing I remember was Keith kneeling beside me. Allison was gone. “You ok?”
I hacked out a laugh. “No you dumbass, I just jumped out a window and fell three stories.”
“Should I call someone?”
“Nah. I could use a hand up though.”
“I should warn you, you have a piece of the window stuck in your right thigh.”
So that’s what had caused that electrical surge of pain. “Lovely.”
I lifted my head and looked down. About the size of my fist, a shard of glass stood out from my leg at a weird angle. These sort of things never happen in the movies, when the hero dives through a window.
I steeled myself then reached down, and staying away from the edges, got a grip on the glass. And pulled. It jerked free with a spray of blood. Not a jet, thank…nope. Not thanking him. I could feel my leg leaking though.
“Help me up.”
I caught the shoulder strap of my satchel as Keith yanked me to my feet, and I leaned against him as I dug the Sandshark out. I handed him the automatic knife. “Please cut my sleeves off.”
He cut one, then the other, and handed me both pieces and the knife. The knife went back in the bag, and I folded one sleeve up carefully, pressed it against the hole in my jeans. “Can you hold that there?”
“Sure.” Keith leaned down to keep the improvised bandage pressed against the wound, and I wrapped the other sleeve around my leg, tied it tightly over. It didn’t feel good, but pressure made it feel better.
I took an experimental step away from Keith. Experimental hobble was more like it. I managed to stay upright, and took another step. This mobility thing was highly underrated. I found the Vanquisher – grass and mud stained but otherwise undamaged – a few feet from where I’d landed. “Let’s get back to the car.”
“I got the number for the next assignment from Allison while you were out, but really, you can’t finish this game out,” Keith told me as we walked back. “As injuries go, that’s about as serious as you can get without needing professional help.”
“I’ll gonna win this thing, you’ll see.”
“No Sam, you can’t.”
I pulled the phone out of my pocket and started punching buttons. “There’s nothing I can’t do.”
For some reason, Keith found that funny.
I called the uSoak number he gave me. “Survive for the next hour. Redial this number at three. Or give this number to whomever “kills” you.”
“What does ‘survive’ mean?” I asked Keith as we walked back through the parking lot.
“It means you’re a target. There are a lot of players gunning for you this hour.”
I grimaced. “Wonderful. Wait, how do they know where I am?”
“My contact in uSoak says they send your phone’s GPS coordinates to the players tasked with shooting you.”
“Do they get a picture of me?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Huh.” I folded myself into the Mazda and started it. I had a good idea of what I was gonna do this hour.
Left on Larsen, right on Packerland, and the lights were with me as I took a right on Mason Street and cruised most of its length. Keith sat silently in the passenger seat, possibly asleep. Possibly meditating. Possibly comatose. He was an odd duck.
I didn’t look at anything beyond the road. The dark houses and cityscape on either side of the car held no interest for me. I had a feeling that if I looked out at anything beyond the cone of headlights, my mind would drift, my eyes would close, and I’d be involved in yet another crash, this time of a vehicular sort.
I checked myself out in the visor mirror at the one stoplight that didn’t go my way. Joints all flexed. Teeth were all firmly ensconced in their sockets. Motor skills and thinking were about ninety five percent, but that was just ‘cause I felt like hell.
Besides the gouge in my leg, there was a slash across the lower half of my t-shirt, from the short ribs on the left side to my belt on the right, an angry red but bloodless cut across my abdomen. My arms were scratched up and my vest was pretty much stained and ripped beyond salvage, but overall, I’d survived pretty much intact.
I turned left on Monroe, and we were back downtown, cruising between the old-looking government buildings again, the darkness held at by acidic orange street lights.
Left on Main, and it was just a few yards until the Hotel Sierra parking lot. I combat-parked and nudged Keith. “C’mon, we’re here.”
He exited the car without a sound, and I pitched my cell on the seat. I’d be back in an hour. Right now I was going to take a shower, patch myself up, get something to eat, and take advantage of the fact that the people hunting me would find an empty car and have nothing else to go on.
“Got something to show you,” Keith said as we crossed the parking lot.
He pointed past the hotel towards the river. “Just over there.”
I groaned inwardly. “It can wait until after I get myself patched up.”
He smiled, and the effect was kind of creepy. “No it can’t. Trust me.”
“Keith, I’m tired, cut, beat up, hungry, and I’m in no mood for games. What is it?”
“I’ll show you.”
This time I groaned outwardly. “Fine.”
“I promise,” he said solemnly, “you’ll be back in time for a shower and food.”
The streets were mostly empty. One guy jogged by over by the parking garage. A few people standing under the awning at a bar behind the convention center. Behind that was another, cheaper hotel, and a bridge over the river. Keith led the way past the hotel.
We passed a mother pushing a stroller as we walked along the bridge. Below, the water was black as an oil slick, orange in patches where a streetlight looked down on us passing pedestrians. Ahead, a little girl – maybe three or four – looked back at her mother like she was like she was looking for approval, and then ran ahead, hard to see in the night.
“Bad mother,” I said to no one in particular.
“You’re one to talk,” Keith said mildly.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked, feeling cut. “I don’t have a kid.”
“No, you don’t.”
I rolled my eyes. “What is it you wanted to show me?”
“It’s up here.”
The little girl had hiked herself up to lean way over the railing at the crest of the bridge, looking down at the midnight depths. She looked back and said “Hi!” as we passed. “Hi,” I said.
Keith stopped, and walked over by the railing to stand next to her.
Most people, when they decide to do something, it takes them a moment to go from decision to action. And depending on the action, you’ll get some clue what they’re planning on doing. They’ll tense up, look away, you’ll see some sort of tell. Other times, all you’ll get is the “Oh shit, this is about to go bad” feeling in the pit of your stomach.
None of that happened with Keith.
As calmly as if he was pressing a button in an elevator, he palmed the back of her head and pushed her over the railing. There was a moment of silence, then a splash, and choked shouts and the sounds of flailing in water. He stared straight at me. “Her name is Rose.” Then he took off running.
My mind was in shock. Blank. But my hands were moving. I had taken a few steps back, and I came back to earth as I was shrugging off my vest and satchel, grabbing the Surefire as I dropped everything in the street. My boots slapped the pavement as I sprinted, and I pushed up into a jump as I neared the railing. My foot hit the top of the railing and I pushed up again.
“Motherf- “ The impact of the water took the rest away. I’d leaped out over the water far enough to clear the kid and any pylon moorings that might be along the edge of the bridge. I hit the water at an angle so as not to break ribs in a bellyflop, or legs or head if it was shallow, but the impact still hurt. The height wasn’t too great, I’ve gotten better air on jumbo trampolines. But the water was hard, and cold.
I sank and I couldn’t find the bottom with my feet as I sank. Good and bad. I swam back to the top to tread water at the surface for a second, and clicked the Surefire on, shone it back towards the bridge. A disturbance in the water a few feet away turned out to be weeds caught on a branch as it floated lazily by.
Where are you, kid? I caught myself before asking God for help. I’m not a hypocrite. C’mon kid. Please. Rose, please. I hurt inside, anguish and panic combined.
The serene surface broke in a flurry of spray and a choked scream. Thank you – no, not saying it.
I stroked like mad over to her just as she went down again, and then dove under the water. The beam of the flashlight didn’t illuminate much in the disturbed, silty river, but it did show me a shadowy, sinking form. I reached out and grabbed the back of her shirt, hauled her to the surface. She started thrashing again, and I had to let her go briefly to get an arm around her from behind. My lifeguard training came back hazily – don’t get punched in the face by a struggling swimmer.
Fortunately the Surefire was in my other hand, and I was able to kick while I put it in my pocket, then I one-armed my way through the water over to a brick stanchion. I dug my fingers in between the blocks and held us there, the river swishing softly around us. Rose – why did I take that homicidal bastard’s word for it that was her name – was shivering and crying against me. I ignored her for the moment, concentrated on the burn in my arm as it supported us, concentrated on getting my breathing under control.
The side we’d come from was lined with slick sided docks where people parked their boats. Not a ladder in sight, thought sight was obscured by the darkness. The far side was lined with boulders butting up against shore. No contest. “Honey,” I said. “What’s your name?
She kept shaking and crying. “I need you to tell me your name, ok?”
Nothing. Dammit. She wasn’t going to be helpful. Could I blame her?
I couldn’t do a normal stroke through the water with her held to my chest. A one-armed backstroke is difficult enough across when you’re crossing a river. With a struggling child held against you, it’s a real bitch.
I was already tired, and by the time I could pull us up on the rocks, I was exhausted. I checked to see she was breathing, and then rolled over to stare up at the stars. What the hell. Seriously. What. The. Hell.
I rose and picked her up, putting her over my shoulder like a baby. Small enough to do that, and she felt smaller. Much smaller. Something hurt inside and I ground my teeth together. I wanted to die it hurt so bad.