Thursday, December 28, 2006

Childhood's End - Chapter 13

Moody watched her as Rowena took her order at the door and sat down to eat, following her every move with the crosshairs of his scope. This wasn't the first time he'd watched her; he watched and he listened and he waited for that call, and that had been part of his routine for almost as long as Rowena had lived in that building. Enough time to adjust his appearance, prepare his hobby talks, his taste in music. All to get closer to her, all to be near her at all times. He was a perfectionist by trade; it hadn't been hard to get close to her friend, insecure as she was. Patricia Walker. Too easy. As was his old habit, he adjusted his aim for her head when he had a clear line of sight, whispering "Hold. Hold. Hold." to himself. Line up the perfect shot. Wait for the signal.

His phone rang, setting off the bluetoothed headset in his left ear. Without disturbing the rifle, he tapped the "talk" button with his free hand.

"Do you have a shot on Gabriel?" the other voice asked.

Matthew Moody fired.

There's no such thing as bulletproof; somebody always has a bigger bullet. In this case, Moody had taken no chances; his rifle was chambered in .338 Lapua, which was ridiculous overkill for close-range shooting, but it did go through the reinforced window. On the other hand, the adhesive reinforcement sheets were designed to offer as much protection as practical. They couldn't stop the bullet, but they deflected it. Before Rowena heard the BANG!, she saw the hole in the wall behind her. Without conscious thought, she let her legs give out, dropped to the ground and rolled towards the next wall. She didn't know that this was unnecessary; Moody was already packing up. Then, she did something stupid - she looked up. She saw Moody on his way down. Then she did something terminally stupid and unnecessary and right: she grabbed her holster and leather coat, then went after him.

By the time she cleared the building, people were already standing around dialing 911. Rowena ignored them; instead, she looked up, and made out Moody as he ran over the rooftops, doing his darndest to get away. She kept running, following him on the streets and alleys while surfing the crowds. He was fast, yes, but he had to take jumps and scale obstacles ever so often; she was gaining, and eventually he'd have to pick a building to come down and stick to it. A sidelong glance revealed another runner on the rooftop; a girl, about her age or so, following on the other side of the road. Moody took a corner, changing direction, and Rowena continued her chase, her breath settling into a comfortable running rhythm. The guy wasn't bad, but she was great, and she knew it...she spared a glance at the other girl, who would have to give up the chase; she'd have to jump two streets to take the turn, or...

Holy shit, Rowena thought. Nobody can jump that far.

It had taken all of a second, but the girl hadn't just jumped the street - she'd gone straight over the intersection, as if gravity was less law and more kind suggestion. Rowena's eyes darted back to Moody, who disappeared into a roof access door. She rushed after him, slammed the apartment complex door open and took the staircase upward. She saw Moody dash down the same stairs, and for a second their looks met.

Catch me, if you can.

He jumped the last bit of rail onto the fourth floor, getting a solid five second lead on Rowena. His escape route was preplanned to perfection; the elevator would go down to the basement parking garage without a hitch, but the access door from the staircase was conveniently locked. It was so simple for him: he just had to get into the elevator car, press "G" and grin. He rounded the last corner only to hear a gunshot; when he looked, he saw that girl, with a smoking gun in her hand and a grin - his grin, the one he'd earned! - on her face. He went for his 1911, but she didn't attack him; instead, she darted out of a window that she'd apparently broken on the way in, and he had little time to assess this little tidbit before he saw that she'd shot the elevator's control panel to hell. Time for Plan B - Moody turned around and fired his gun at Rowena, who deftly dodged the shot and took cover behind the next wall. The next shot smashed through just above her - drywall, Rowena recognised slightly late before she rolled back into the open, her Five-seveN spitting fire at Moody, who'd gone for the desperation move of getting into the elevator. After all, there was still a good chance that he could make it through the escape hatch, but at the moment, Rowena's fire prevented him from moving toward it. He took a few blind shots at her, but Rowena was pissed off enough to ignore his imprecise fire, silently rushing towards the elevator door. Moody fired his last bullet, with the slide locking back; Rowena whirled into the elevator door, only to see him stab out against her with a knife in his other hand.

She fired, center mass, two shots. The knife missed. She didn't.

The gunfight had taken all of fifteen seconds, and now Rowena was there all alone, looking at the first boy in this town that she'd thought was kinda okay and her first kill - both the same guy. She heard noise behind her; without turning around, she aimed her gun backwards, causing screams and the sound of people getting the hell away. There was neither panic nor elation, just cold routine as she grabbed her cellphone and hammered the "Oh shit!" speeddial.

"I just killed a guy..."
"Lose the body, get out, call me again."

Sound advice.

With police sirens in the background, she kicked open the elevator's bottom escape hatch and dumped Moody's body into it, watching his lifeless form fall into darkness for a moment. She holstered the gun, then went off towards the broken window - maybe a fire escape? She looked out and only saw sheer facade below; worse, two cop cars were closing in, lights flashing. She heard a knock and turned to look upwards, spotting the girl from before hanging from the next floor's window upside down and holding out her arms towards Rowena.

"Trust me," she said, a sparkle in her green eyes.

Rowena grabbed her hands; the girl hauled her upwards, almost catapulting her upwards onto the roof. Rowena held on to the edge as it passed, let gravity take its toll by banging her against the facade one last time, then pulled herself up. With a brief glance downward, she saw that the girl was gone; undaunted, she started to sprint towards the next rooftop, skipping over chasms and clotheslines and small antennas as if she was filming an application video for the Olympic hurdling team. After three blocks, she took a vacant-looking fire escape, skipped the stairs down - careful not to touch anything with her hands - and finally landed on solid ground. Now desperate to look less suspicious, she took off her coat and wrapped the gun in it, then walked over to a small backyard shed; with a few deft moves and a set of mini-picks in her small emergency kit strapped to the inside of her left thigh, she picked the padlock and hid the small bundle of coat and weapon behind a stash of gardening tools.

By the time she hit the main road, Rowena had straightened both hair and dress, looking for all the world like an innocent (if well-built) girl rather than a junior war machine. True to Mark's advice, she raised the cellphone - the only thing she'd grabbed from the coat - and dialed his number again.

"What now?" she asked as she heard him pick up.
"Where are you?"
Rowena checked the street signs, feeling a bit lost. "Washington and Bethune."
"...alright. Any dirty gear on you?"
"No, stashed it."
"Remember where, we'll pick it up later. For now, I want you to go South on Washington until you hit Perry. Go West, you should be right at Pier 48. What are you wearing?"
"The dress."
"Okay. Just go there, they'll take care of you. And lose the phone, now."

He hung up on her again; per procedure, she activated the virus program on the phone, then dumped it into the next trash bin. The phone's internal memory was already wiped by the time it hit the stale cheeseburger inside; a minute after Rowena had dumped it, it started to smolder as its internal components fused together into a single piece of slag. She wandered down the streets trying very hard not to be cold and miserable - pure assassin's survival instinct: don't be memorable. She held it together well enough that nobody paid any serious attention to her, but at the Pier the wind was too strong for her summer dress; it bit in her eyes, and this was as good a moment as any to shed a tear, but she left it at that. She realized that Mark hadn't told her who to talk to, so she looked at the security checkpoint and tried to work up the moxie to talk to someone.

Somebody draped a wool coat over her shoulders; she flung her head to the side, fully expecting to see Mark, but instead there was a woman, perhaps just 30 or so, with warm dark eyes and firebrand hair. Before Rowena could protest, she was being dragged off towards an idling car parked nearby.

"Sensible clothing, dear," the woman said, her voice sacharine. "It's windy and blood's hard to wash out of silk. I'm Molly. We have a mutual friend."
"Did he..."
"Yep. Now don't worry about it, you did everything right. Would you like some hot chocolate?"

Rowena answered in the affirmative.

1 comment:

Valentina said...

Bam, training.
Grats on doing it right, Row.