Surfacing - Part Twelve
By Paul Seely and Jennifer Garza
"There it is again."
"Don't tell me you don't hear that."
"That thumping sound. Like thump, thump, thump..."
"I know what thumping sounds like, dickhead. I just don't hear any."
"Then listen harder, shitface!"
This new round of eloquent debate between the two guards was cut off by the loud 'SMACK!' of Maribel's hand slamming against the sink. Everybody jumped, including Charlotte, who was studiously ignoring the thumping sounds while helping wash dishes.
"Enough! Both of you shut up," Mrs. Falcon ordered, "If you think you hear a noise, go find out what it is, don't stand around my kitchen calling each other nasty names. That's not going to accomplish anything, except getting you both on my McDonald's list - permanently."
Horrible visions of greasy fast-food meals flashed before their eyes as they realized that she meant she would no longer feed them for the duration of their employment with Marco, so they apologized hastily and decided that one of them should investigate. A coin toss determined that 'dickhead' would be the one to leave the kitchen, so he checked his shoulder rig and adjusted his large frame Sig-Sauer automatic, then sped off to play detective while 'shitface' sat at the table and sulked.
"Do all of Marco's guys have guns on tonight?" Charlotte asked Maribel as they resumed scrubbing plates.
"Yes, I'm afraid so. Everybody except Marco and Virgilio - but then Virgilio wouldn't know what to do with a pistol if one fell in his lap. He's all talk."
"Are the rest of them all talk, too?" she asked hopefully.
Maribel gave her a curious look, then shook her head. "No. Some of these chollos are bad boys, especially that one who looks like an oak tree wearing a suit - Paz is one I would not want to see angry. Why do you ask?"
Charlotte hesitated, apparently lost in thought, then shrugged it off. "No reason, I guess. Guns just naturally make me worry. So easy for people to get hurt with those things around."
The old woman noticed the tense set of her young friend's shoulders, saw the little jumping muscle on the side of her neck that reacted to every muted thump wafting down the hall, but made no mention of these observations. Maribel herself heard the noises quite clearly, knew that they meant trouble, and was determined to stay out of it.
Maribel Falcon grew up in a family of bandoleros, and she tried to keep her only child out of their sphere of influence. To her everlasting shame, she failed, and macho, competitve Marco became even worse than her father and grandfather had been during their years of mayhem in Tijuana. Love for her son kept her by his side, hoping in vain that he might change his ways, but she lost nearly all of that hope the previous year when she accidentally witnessed Marco execute a young runner named Pablo by placing a gun against his head, making him beg for his life, and then killing him anyway. Ever since then, she both dreaded and longed for the day when her son would answer for his crimes, and she had the strangest feeling that day was at hand when she first saw Charlotte's friend standing in her kitchen.
Many years in the company of predators had honed her instincts about certain types of people to a keen edge. She could cleave away a sheepskin from a masquerading wolf at a glance, and she realized when she first set eyes on Diana Starrett that the woman was a falcon dressed as a swan. She knew that the woman had come into this house hunting for something, and she presumed that something was her son. What she didn't fully understand was why the bird of prey had chosen to nest with a dove like Charlotte Browning.
"Some things are of the soul, and cannot be explained," she unconsciously said aloud.
Charlotte stopped scrubbing the plate in her hands and nudged her friend with an elbow. "Were you talking to me?"
"No, mija. Just thinking out loud. You sure your friend is okay alone out there? You want to go get her, bring her in here for some more tea?"
"Naahh, Diana just wanted to be alone for a little while. She'll be fine." Still covertly listening to the continuous, insistent thumping, the attorney hoped with all her might that she was right.
"By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes."
Falcon stopped pacing and glared at Riggins. "If you're gonna keep spouting that bullshit, I'd just as soon you shoot me now."
"Oh, don't be petulant. Step over to the hall door and listen, Marco. Tell me what you think is happening out there," the older man dared him, grinning like a jack-o-lantern. He waved the Glock at his unofficial hostage, just for encouragement, and Falcon started walking. Large bodies still pounded the wood, as they had for the previous two minutes, and the door showed no sign of weakening - but Marco was an optomist.
"I think my man Paz is about to break this door open and pop a cap in your thievin' ass, that's what I think."
Riggins seemed highly amused by that prospect. "Really? Keep listening,
Hugging the wall, the warrior felt cold plaster against her skin as she peered around the corner into the main hall. She could see Paz and two other guards, all with their backs turned to her, all throwing the weight of their bodies against the unyielding wood of the conference room door.
"Take care of the ones in the hall first, in any order you choose, my dear. Just remember - slash and burn means no survivors, leave no one behind. Let's not have a repeat of our little Japan fiasco..."
She touched her left ear, still vibrating with her master's voice. Reaching under her skirt, she removed two blades, each strapped to a thigh. The zipper on her back was lowered and the stiff facing around the seams turned out, then two more lines of trim, lethal ceramic were in her hands. She balled her right hand into a loose fist and slipped the rubbered handles between her fingers, blades jutting up like three-inch claws... or talons, if you will.
From deep in the safe waters of her own gray matter, the soul trapped within the warrior's flesh heard her own voice responding to Joshua Riggins' deadly directive, and was enraged.
*No hell I'm not coming! Stop. Stop! STOP, DAMMIT!*
Squirming and struggling against the nothingness which held her suspended in dim warmth, Diana Starrett slowly began to recognize just how much trouble she was in. Her body was no longer under her control, it was receiving instructions from an outside source and processing them with some dark fragment of her consciousness. And here she was, flailing away like someone going mad in a sensory deprivation tank, wanting out but not knowing where out is, let alone how to get there from here. She tried to calm herself and go over what she knew, take stock of the situation.
*He's using me like some sort of meat puppet, jerking on strings Mangano sunk in my head over ten years time. Son of a bitch formatted me like a hard drive, erased my memories and laid rotten egg programs in the sub-routine. I can't believe I never discovered this was going on... then again, maybe I did and just don't remember it.... AAARRGGHH!!!*
Another fit of anger ensued as she struck out blindly in her limbo prison, thinking of Riggins laughing as he used her body for God knows what, thinking of her rediscovered brother crying out her name, fighting to help her, dying at her hand. Her mind began to focus, grasping at something she was not supposed to know.
*What did Harry say about surfacing? That it was like every bad memory crashing down on you, one after another. And what did you do when you remembered the warehouse? You ran away from it, ran to Charlie and got the hell out of there. I wonder what would have happened if you had pressed it, tried to push it further. Whatever came next couldn't possibly be any worse. I need to know what happened after I left that place.*
Haunting laughter warbled through the void, taunting Diana in a mockery of her own voice.
"You're not strong enough!"
*I have to be. I have too much to lose now.*
"You can't handle the truth!"
*I saw the worst of it and lived to tell the tale. I can handle it.*
*Oh, I will. I will.*
And so she pushed with all her weightless might against a formless wall, urging herself to feel something besides anger and helplessness, eager now to confront the long-buried pain of the assault, the distant agony of her brother's death. She already had a starting point, a blurry recollection of the boy retained from her hypnotic state. Her mind strained to filter away the static from his picture, to tune the hum from his voice. By making him as real as he was three hours ago, by finding him again, Diana thought she might find herself as well. Resurrecting the dead, one by one.
*Ethan. That was his name. Ethan. My brother's name was Ethan. He was sixteen when he died. In a warehouse. I shot him, and he died right in front of me.*
She felt something solid connect with her fist, something just outside the tender trap of safety which ensnared her. Something dangerous and painful. Something cold, hard and confining, like stone - like the truth. She got excited and kept going, pounding away at the barrier with her hands, with her feet, with her pirated memories.
*I went to that place to find him, to bring him home. I was attacked by a dozen men, beaten, raped and left for dead. Ethan was stabbed by one of those men when he tried to stop them. When it was over, I killed all of them, and then I killed everyone who tried to help me. Including Ethan.*
The barrier shifted against her assault, buckling in and groaning from the strain. She felt the shift, and kept going, using the pain as motivation to push harder.
*He had long, wavy hair. Dark brown. And blue eyes, bluer than mine. He was so beautiful...*
The wall began to crumble, weakening to the consistency of rotten sheet rock, and she tore chunks of it away with abandon
*Like a cloudless day, his eyes were. Ethan. Skinny kid, big feet. Wore sneakers, even to church... wait a minute. I didn't see that in the warehouse.*
The knowledge threatened to slip from her grasp, elusive as mercury. Diana clenched her fists and railed at the wall, grinding her teeth and huffing like a steam engine as she exerted all her energy to reclaim it. Almost there, almost, almost...
*Ethan wore his white Nikes with the black swoosh to communion because I dared him to! Father Pete was furious! YES! YES! YES! That's mine! That's MY memory! MINE!*
She felt it first, then saw it - a pinprick hole opened up on the other side of the barrier, leaking energizing white hope into the black solitude. The first breach had been made and Diana Starrett picked at it frantically, scraping at the wall like an Alcatraz inmate with a sharpened spoon. Escape was supposed to be impossible, but she was absolutely certain that no one had ever wanted it as much as she did.
Such was the state of affairs in the now turbulent sea of her mind; meanwhile, the renegade river known as her body was nearing flood stage. The villagers had not been warned.
Right hand behind her back, the warrior limped into the hall barefoot, clutching her stomach and groaning. She headed for the bathroom, knowing that she would be intercepted and turned back halfway there. As expected, Paz sent one of the smaller guards back first to run her off. She feigned nausea, convulsing in a dry heave as he reached her. He leaned over and she moved in fast, her fist a blur of razor-sharp matte gray, now pressed right against his balls. She casually draped her left arm over his shoulder and moved her face close enough to whisper.
"Walk backward to the bathroom. You're just helping me get to the john to throw up, got it?"
He gasped. He shook. But he nodded.
Paz called down after him. "I told you to get her the fuck out of here!"
A sheen of sweat broke out across the young man's forehead as he stared into soulless blue eyes. Blades twitched against his crotch. He lied for all he was worth.
"She's just gotta puke, then she'll be outta here, man. Chill out."
"Jesus Christ! Useless fucking women are more trouble than they're worth!" Paz lost interest in cursing the weaker sex and turned back to the door, now employing a new, more imaginative tactic - kicking it really hard.
The warrior let her guard lead her into the bathroom slowly, very mindful of his delicate predicament. Her attitude changed once they cleared the doorway. Blades jumped from crotch to neck and her left hand clutched a fistfull of hair as she spun him around by the head. She ordered him to step into the bathtub and kneel with his back to her, four knives to the throat inspiring cooperation. Once he knelt, the knives were drawn away and he breathed a sigh of relief. Then his hair was snatched back and a sharp, pinpoint knee-strike to the back of the head broke his neck cleanly, without so much as a whimper. She slid the shower doors closed and turned away from him, having less interest in the corpse than a motorist has in a cleared speed bump.
Through the closed door leading to the library, she heard three other men
cursing and contemplating shooting the locks. They could wait - she had her
orders. A quick adjustment to the blades, and she headed back to the hall for
her next two targets.
"Maybe you should ask your bodybuilder friend if there's a problem. He doesn't seem to be making any headway," Riggins suggested helpfully.
Marco stood by the hall door, off to the side. He expected it to fly off the hinges any second now. Then Riggins wouldn't think this was so funny.
"PAZ? You out there, man?"
Kick. Thump. "Yeah."
"What the hell is taking so long?"
"These doors, they ain't meant to give none, you know?"
"Can't you just shoot the locks?"
"No way. They're reinforced, and there's plates in the door. Ricochets, man."
Not surprisingly, Marco Falcon cursed a blue streak over this disappointment.
"Security is a double-edged sword, my boy," Riggins quipped, still the picture of repose as he reclined in a brocade wingback chair.
Muffled voices from the hall recaptured Marco's attention, and he stepped closer to hear what Paz was saying. He caught a random "...didn't I tell you...", a stray "... where's Victor...", then a louder "...out of here, bitch!"
The first sound he intercepted cleanly was Paz screaming as his body crashed through the door, landing in a still, twisted heap inches from his boss's Italian loafers. His thick neck twisted impossibly toward his back, and there was an angry, deadbolt-shaped indention on his forehead, finally proving that the man could use his head to solve a problem, albeit against his will. A patch of red spread across his massive chest, ruining his custom-tailored silk suit. Four thin slits in the fabric were visible, all located right over his heart. A glance past the shattered door frame revealed a second guard dead from similar wounds.
"Holy Mary, Mother of God," whispered Falcon, shocked by the sight of his dead bodyguards, but moreso by the revelation of who put them in that condition.
Charlotte's horny friend stepped into the conference room, four small wet blades protruding from her clenched fist. Marco was too stunned to move, trapped like a deer in headlights as she drew back her right hand and prepared to tenderize his face.
The real Diana Starrett was missing the floor show. She tunneled relentlessly through the wall until the opening was large enough to crawl through. A wide bolt of sunlight shone in from the other side, and she dove through the hole head first.
And found herself standing in an urban canyon - a curving street shadowed by dilapidated apartment buildings. ... home. Another barrier breached, a bridge rebuilt. The memories kept coming.
*I grew up here. This is New York. The Bronx. Holy shit.*
She spun in a circle, looking at all the cars lining the street, looking at the street itself, the shape as it stretched off into the distance.
*We lived on Kelly! Called it 'Banana Kelly' because of the curve! HA! YES! YES! YES!*
Diana jumped up and down, dancing a little jig on the warm asphalt.
*That's my building! The one with the old lady coming through the door... man, she looks upset.*
Her curiosity remained idle until the woman began screaming. She lurched from the cluttered stoop, dropping a dish towel onto the sidewalk as she stumbled into the road. Diana peered at her closely, recognizing the frumpy matron, but not clear on her identity - until she saw what made the woman scream.
A battered teenage girl dressed in jeans and a red sweater came into view, staggering between the parked cars across the way. She carried the limp body of a thin, dirty boy with red-stained clothing and a gaping black hole near one eye.
*Ethan... I brought him home... to mama. That's my mother.*
"NO! Don't kill him!" Riggins yelled, leaping from his chair like a frog from a hot plate. "At least, not yet. Calm yourself, Marco. She won't hurt you unless I tell her to."
Falcon tried to catch his breath and slow his racing heart as he adjusted to this warped, parallel universe where he was no longer in charge of anything, and some crazy puta was sticking holes in a three-hundred pound man and using his body as a battering ram.
The warrior lowered her bladed fist and looked to the gray-haired man. "There are still four guards left. Should I go get them?"
Riggins waved off her concern. "They'll be here directly."
Right on cue, Virgilio and his posse of two rode to the rescue. Just as they cleared the door, before they even had time to assess how deep the shit was that they had stepped in, Joshua Riggins smiled at his lovely assistant.
She dropped to one knee and he raised the Glock, tracking three targets with a dark, adept eye.
A sharp clatter and splash as Charlotte Browning lost her grip on a plate, and it broke in the sink. She closed her eyes and tried to quell a rising fear, regretting her promise to stay out of the way before the triple report of gunfire even died down.
*Oh God, no. Please, not her. Please.*
Maribel Falcon watched Charlie turn a ghostly shade of pale, and her suspicions of Diana's involvement were confirmed. The old woman crossed herself and muttered, "Madre de Dios." Even though she knew Marco was in trouble, she had hoped it wouldn't come to this, that she would not have to make her choice here tonight.
The one remaining guard bolted from his chair and began struggling to free his firearm from its holster. "I'm gonna check it out. You two stay in here 'til we know what's going on. I'll come for you when it's safe."
He pushed through the swinging door, and both women got a strong feeling that he wouldn't be back. A moment of confused silence followed, then the attorney yanked her hands from the warm, soapy water and dried them on her dress as she headed for the exit. She would have made it if Maribel's hand hadn't lit hard on her shoulder and pinned her in place.
"Charlie, you can't go out there."
"I can't not go out there!"
"The safest thing for us to do is leave this house. Do you have a car?"
"Yes! But I am not leaving without her, so you can just forget that option."
"Then there's nothing to do but wait. We'll stay in this room, be quiet and wait it out. Let whatever's gonna happen happen. You have no reason to get in the middle of trouble."
"Diana is not in this room, and I just heard gunshots! That's reason enough for me. She might need help." Charlotte shrugged off the restraining hand and tried again to make her getaway.
"Wait! Wait, mija." Mrs. Falcon had reached a decision.
Charlotte pressed one hand against the pine door, turning only her head to see what she wanted now. She was surprised to see Maribel headed for the freezer, even more so when the woman reached in an retrieved a carton of ice cream.
"Maribel, now is not a good time for Fudge Mint."
The older woman cracked open the box and pulled out a plastic baggie - which contained a nickel-plated .38 Special and six hollow-point rounds. She loaded the gun with steady, swift hands, spun the cylinder and snapped it home.
"I'm coming with you."
"That's three," Riggins noted with satisfaction as he lowered the Glock. Virgilio and two more of Marco's guards lay dead in the hallway, ten-millimeter slugs in their heads. "You said there were four?"
The tall woman rose from her crouched stance and nodded. "The last one was in the kitchen with the women. He should be on his way."
"You go out and intercept him. Marco and I have something to discuss."
She nodded again and left the room without a word, striding into the hall with deadly purpose.
Marco Falcon still had not found his tongue, and was gaping openly at Riggins as he settled into Falcon's chair at the head of the table. The older man suppressed a chuckle and waggled his finger, summoning Marco to take a seat as well.
"I need for you to do me one last favor, my boy. If you comply, our business will be at an end, and I promise to let you and your mommy live out the natural course of your days."
"Calm down, son. Breathe in, breathe out - and ask yourself if you want to continue doing so."
Falcon finally started walking, his unsteady legs carrying him as far as the middle of the table before they gave out, dumping him into a stiff-backed chair. "What do you want from me?"
"Here's the deal. You've not been convicted on major drug charges, so if I just kill you, all your assets go to your heirs and I gain nothing further from you. However, if I hand you over to Treasury along with a gift box of prima facia evidence, your sizeable assets are forfeit to that agency. I owe them a big favor, due to a little currency exchange mishap last year which they were kind enough to overlook. One hand washes the other, you see."
Squinting through his confusion, anger and disbelief, Marco tried to boil it down. "You want to give Bartok and Jamal to your people, and give me to Treasury, all to score some kiss-ass points?"
"Not hardly. This game is not about currying favor, it's about amassing power."
"This ain't no game, man! We're human beings! You're trying to play us all like pieces on some fuckin' Monopoly board!"
Riggins scratched his temple with the gun barrel and propped his feet on the conference table. "I prefer Risk or Stratego, actually. And as for you three being humans? That's debatable. You detestable mongrels are being utilized to serve a higher purpose."
"Higher purpose? What the fuck is that supposed to mean?"
"The security of the free world is at risk, Pip. The Mossad blowing assasinations and cutting deals with Hamas, Nelson Mandela patting Gadhafi on the back and urging us to drop sanctions against Libya... it's all over the news. The inmates are taking over the asylum, and it's time for the silent watchmen to stand and be counted, or live with the consequences of our apathy."
"You are out of your fuckin' mind, man."
"Marco, just for me, try to complete a sentence without using the F-word."
"Fuck you. And fuck your deal, too. I am not going to jail."
The older man sighed from the pits of his chest, and the pale skin around his
jaw stretched as he clenched it tight. "I'm very sorry to hear that. I
suppose we should find your mother now, since you'll be dying together. I think
I'll let Diana work on her with the blades first. You can watch."
Diana Starrett watched from a distance as her younger self trudged numbly across the street, ignoring the hysterical woman clawing at the dead weight in her arms. The old woman screamed the boy's name over and over, a banshee's wail echoing along the curved road. She seemed oblivious to the wounds of her living daughter, absorbed completely by the loss of her son.
*She didn't even look at me. I didn't look at her either. I blamed her for driving him out and sending me to that place after him, and she blamed me for... everything.*
They walked on, two shell-shocked women and one dead boy trailed by one castaway observer. The youngest woman mounted the first step leading up to her home - and stopped. She turned back to look at Diana through eyes swollen and riddled with red, and spoke to her.
"You have to carry him from here. He's not heavy. Take him. Please."
The battered girl held out her tired arms, offering the burden. Diana stepped forward and took her brother into her arms, swaddling the thin coat around the boy's body, as if he could be bothered by the cold now. She looked into his open, glassy eyes and felt hot tears flowing down her cheeks, felt the lump grow in her throat until she could barely breathe. The pain was her own now, burning through her chest like a brush fire as the wind kicked up and consumed every emotion but the agony of guilt and shame.
She started up the stairs and saw that her younger self had vanished, and she now stood alone with her mother. The doughy, wrinkled woman blocked the entrance to the building. She pulled at the fabric of her floral-print dress, making fists in the fabric as she addressed her daughter.
"You did this! You killed my son! I don't want you here! You can burn in hell!"
The pain of hearing those words on top of everything else she felt was almost too much. *Mama?*
"It's your fault, Diana! You made him think that it was okay for him to shoot those drugs!"
*I did not. I told him he needed treatment, but that I'd love him no matter what...*
"He got that disease from those needles! That AIDS that kills all them queers and junkies!"
*He contracted HIV from sharing needles. He did that because he had to hide from you, and was too afraid to ask for help, too afraid of you.*
"I told you to bring my boy home to me, and you bring me a dead child! Who shot my boy?!?"
*I did. It was an accident, mama. Those men at that warehouse attacked me, they -*
"YOU KILLED MY SON!! YOU KILLED MY SON!!"
The woman flew at Diana in a hail of fists and feet, driving her down the steps as she scrambled backward to avoid the blows. She felt warm water lapping at her ankles and spun around to find that the tide had come in on Kelly - the street was flooded with pitch black water. She had no time to adjust to the unreal image before her mother landed on her back, beating bony knuckles into her ribs. Gasping in pain, Diana shifted her brother's body around and slung him over one shoulder. With her free hand she tried to block her mother's assault - then a familiar voice called to her.
"COME ON IN, DIANA! THE WATER'S FINE! IT'S WHERE YOU BELONG, IT'S THE ONLY PLACE YOU CAN BE SAFE FROM THE PAIN!"
Standing on a stoop across the way was Joshua Riggins. He waved his arms to get her attention.
"HEY! PUT THE BOY DOWN AND SWIM FOR IT! YOU CAN GET AWAY!"
Diana knew that she could not do that, that Ethan was now her burden for the duration. A sharp rap against her head diverted her back to her mother, and she folded her arm over her face to fend off the rain of stabbing fingers and nails. The water started to rise around her feet, and she danced back up the steps to avoid the warm pull of its safe oblivion.
*I will not put him down. He's mine to carry now, and I will not put him down.*
"THEN BRING HIM WITH YOU! COME ON, NOW! HURRY! I CAN FIX THIS FOR YOU, JUST LIKE BEFORE!"
*I don't need you to fix anything. I will not put him down, and I am not going back under.*
"YOU CAN'T BE SERIOUS! YOU CAN'T HANDLE IT ALONE!"
*I am not alone anymore! I can handle it! And I will get out of here!"
"OH, REALLY? AND JUST HOW DO YOU PLAN TO DO THAT?"
*I'll find a way. And when I do, you're a dead man.*
With that, Diana Starrett turned to her mother, shoved her aside and stormed into the building. She ran down the dark wooded hall and out the back door into the rear foyer. She slammed the door behind her and took off again, strong momentum carrying her into a hard collision with an invisible wall covering the deceptively open back exit.
She rubbed her forehead, perversely grateful that most of the impact had been absorbed by Ethan's dangling feet. Stepping back, she took a look through the transparent blockade at the alley beyond - only it was no alley she saw. It was a staircase of red marble built on an impossibly steep incline... and it was wet. A steady trickle of blood flowed down from the top of the steps, which was far out of sight.
*Surprise, surprise. I knew it couldn't be that easy. I hate climbing bloody stone stairs while carrying 130 pound metaphors. I wonder if everybody's subconscious is as fucked up as mine... probably not.*
She shifted Ethan's body and gently laid him on the floor. Diana then set to
work demolishing the clear barrier, taking the new set of memories given to her
by her mother and wielding them like a ten-pound sledgehammer. For motivation,
she imagined that the wall was Joshua Riggins' head.
The warrior watched with hooded eyes as Falcon's last bodyguard crept down the main hall toward her. Hiding in the darkened bathroom doorway, she smiled as she noted his finger braced on the trigger guard. That would give her at least half a second while he shifted the finger and raised the gun. That would be enough. She waited in silence, bidding him to take just five more steps, then he would be in range.
A sudden flash of dizzyness swept over her, and her knees weakened. A pounding began in her head, distracting more than painful, and she righted herself and shook it off. The target was within range now, and she slipped one of the blades out of her fist and cocked her arm, preparing to hurl it through his throat.
The pounding intensified to a fever pitch and the dizzyness returned with a vengeance, but her only concession to the distress was the emission of a quick, soft exhale.
In the comfort of the kitchen, the guard had been unable to hear the thumping assault on the hall door, but with the enhanced hearing that accompanies high paranoia, he heard that small breath as if it were right in his ear. His gun came up in a blur and he fired three rapid shots into the darkness of the bathroom.
"Come on! Move it!" Charlotte was agitated beyond belief, frightened out of her mind, and running down the back hall toward the dining room as fast as her rubbery legs would carry her. Maribel lagged only a few steps behind, but it seemed like miles to the attorney as she raced ahead, certain that Diana was in deep trouble.
*That makes six bullets! She didn't have a gun, so chances are she wasn't firing them. And what are the chances that none of them was aimed at her? ZERO! Dammit!*
They crossed the dining room and Charlotte started to open the double doors when Maribel's hand fell on her shoulder, and she had to stifle a scream.
"Wait here while I check the hall, Charlie. Don't move."
"No way. I'm coming, too."
With a shake of her graying head, Mrs. Falcon dismissed that out of hand. "Wait for me."
"Why do you get to go?"
"Because I have the gun. Now stay put, or I'll nail your feet down."
Not liking the sound of that at all, the blonde glared at her friend and gave her a curt nod. Maribel eased open the doors and slipped out into the hall, leaving a crack for Charlotte to observe through.
*This is my fault. If it wasn't for me, Diana would have gone back home with
her spy people and none of this would be happening. She'd be all safe tonight in
her little spy apartment with nobody shooting at her, and I would have gotten
drunk and caught a ride home with Quentin. Shitshitshit! Whoever said that the
course of true love never runs smooth didn't know the half of it, brother.*
She watched as Maribel walked soundlessly along the hardwood floor, raising the revolver as she peered around the corner into the main hall. The old woman jerked her head back instantly, alarming Charlotte enough to make her tiptoe out of the dining room in stocking feet. As she neared Maribel, she could hear the sound of footsteps from around the corner, someone walking very slowly in hard-soled shoes. As soon as she caught sight of her, Maribel shot her an awful look and raised a finger to her lips in a 'shhh' gesture. Charlotte nodded and stood quietly beside her, waiting for something to happen.
The guard took small, careful steps as he approached the bathroom, keeping his gun leveled at the entrance. He didn't hear anything else, no breathing, no one falling to the floor wounded, and he started to think that he had imagined that breath. No one was there at all.
He was turning to continue down the hall when something flew out of that darkened room and struck his shoulder and sharp pain blazed down his arm. A knife blade was embedded deeply in the muscle - had he turned half a second later, it would have pierced his heart. He swung back toward the doorway, preparing to fire again, and was met by the speeding heel of a hand, driving into his nose and shattering it in a spray of blood. His gun hand was seized and the wrist turned and snapped across a forearm. He heard the gun clatter to the floor and saw a flurry of black, blue and red as his attacker moved behind him and wrapped one long arm tight around his neck, dragging him nearly off his feet as he was spun around. The last thing he saw before losing consciousness was Mrs. Falcon charging toward him with a pistol, followed closely by a screaming blonde attorney.
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