Sunday, December 10, 2006

Childhood's End - Chapter 9

Outside the bar, Rowena came to a stop and surveyed the scene. No Mark to be seen; this time she really did curse out loud - “Motherfucking little bastard assh...” - well, she cursed out loud, and a lot. Her ears guided her eyes towards the roar of a V8 tearing down the street, and what came to a halt a few meters away from her did indeed bear some passing resemblance to an inconspicious car. It was a goddamn Audi RS 4 in drab grey, she realized, and then the driver’s window lowered and Mark poked his head out.

“Get in!”

Rowena hauled herself into the car and onto the back seat; her eyes met with those of a young man of Asian heritage. A short look at the shotgun position up front revealed a second person of roughly equivalent physical configuration.

“Introductions, then,” Mark began. “Adam, Bob, this is Carla. Carla, these are Adam and Bob.”
Codenames, Rowena thought; she suppressed a groan. “Who’s who?”

All three guys laughed; Rowena decided that the guy up front should be Adam, if only for easy reference.

“Why’d we pick up a newbie?” Bob asked, loading a magazine into his handgun.
“Trainee,” Mark replied. “She needs experience, we need a getaway driver.”
“Can you drive, girl?” Adam spat out, not looking at her.
“...yeah,” Rowena semi-flubbed.
“Congratulations, Carla,” Mark said. “You’re the backup.”
“Back then, we had experienced drivers for this,” Adam said.
“Everybody has to start somewhere,” Mark retorted. “Besides, we’ve got your guys as backup. We go in there, do our job right, we’ll head home at the speed limit and stop at all the red lights.”
“Oh, you’re lucky, Carla,” Bob finally threw in as he racked the slide. “Your boss is putting on the soft rock, he’ll fuck you gently. You sure you don’t wanna blood her?”
“Positive,” Mark replied.

Rowena leaned back and evaluated her options. Bailing out of the car was steadily rising in her favor...

A few minutes later, Mark stopped the car in a small, dank alley smack in the middle of a Bronx industrial compound; a large, illuminated warehouse stood about fifty meters away from them, and the three professionals all grabbed their gear and got out of the car. Rowena followed suit, watched Adam and Bob walk into the light carrying a metal suitcase each, then turned to Mark.

“You son of a bitch!”
“I’ll thank you not to insult my mother,” the Enforcer said, drawing a Bizon-3 SMG from under his coat. “You take the driver’s seat, wait for us. If we’re not back in five, get the fuck out and lose the car.”

In Mark’s world, that passed for a detailed explanation. For Rowena, it just meant doing what he said and watching him walk off loaded with guns. He and the Asians were now closing in on the location. Out of the darkness, a guard emerged, telling them off, but then Adam’s suitcase spat fire - it took Rowena a moment to realise that she’d just seen her first actual murder, and the experience was strangely unaffecting. The gunshots rang through her head, but it felt hollow.

Then, suddenly, there was a ton of hollowness.

The guys were now spitting automatic fire, Mark from his SMG and the Asians from their respective suitcases - Rowena recognised the weapon from something John Done had showed her: these were camouflaged MP5Ks. They entered the warehouse, and there was more gunfire, more screams, and the flashes of light that played off the windows set into the wall above mixing in with the oppressive fluorescent lighting. It was loud, even from a distance and behind the car windows, but then it was over in a flash, and there was blessed silence for a bit.

Two more gunshots, loud and clear. After handling one for a few hours, Rowena recognised the sound of a .45 when she heard it.

Finally, one figure jogged back out, carrying a large duffel bag. She recognised Mark from his coat and the reflection of the light’s glare on his ballistic sunglasses. She yanked the ignition just as she heard police klaxons coming to life nearby; meanwhile, Mark closed the distance, briefly opened the rear door to dump the duffel, then darted towards the passenger’s side and took the shotgun position.

“Drive,” he said.
“...okay.” Rowena reached for the shift and reflexively wanted to push it forward to D, then realized that there was no D on it. “Fuck.”
“I can’t drive stick. I mean, I know, I tried, I just can't do it.”
“Then you’ll learn. Found the gas and brakes?”

The klaxons closed in.

“Yes, yes, I have them!”
“Good, press the other pedal.”
“Got it!”

Mark grabbed the stick and put it into first gear.

“Do it."

A police car pulled to a stop a few meters in front of them; Rowena worked the pedals, but all she got was a good old-fashioned stall.

"Shit!" she shouted, but Mark grabbed her hand and forced it onto the keys.
"You try again," he said, then got out of the car and jumped the hood toward the cop car, tackling the first officer just as he was trying to get out of the car. The second cop knew the value of the weapon he was driving and put the car into reverse, dragging Mark with him until the Enforcer pulled the passenger door open and jumped in.

Rowena kept trying to start the car, but it just wouldn't budge. This was just like Milano all over again, but that day Done had just switched her to an automatic and called it a day. It wasn't so hard, she kept telling herself, she just had to ease off on the clutch and slowly put weight onto the throttle until it started moving; heck, once it was moving, Done had said, things became much easier.

"Come on!" she pleaded with the car, stalling again.

In the meantime, Mark and the cop had entered into the very definition of close-quarters combat; the cop had a gun out, which complicated things for the Enforcer - he could've won this with his USP, but he wasn't in the business of killing cops. The car finally bumped into a metal post, smacking the cop's arm into the dashboard; Mark capitalized on the opening and gave him a good whack against the side of his head. The cop slumped over almost without delay, hanging from his seatbelt with his head on the wheel and the horn blaring. Mark got out just in time to watch more cop cars pulling closer; he raised the Bizon and started laying down suppressive fire while he headed back towards the Audi.

Rowena took a deep breath, turned the ignition, then just sat there for a second and felt the car, heard the engine purr. She zoned out and steadied her trembling hands.

"Please," she said, her voice low and even. She eased off the clutch and lightfooted the throttle.

The car lurched forward and kept rolling.

Woah!” Rowena shouted as she grabbed the steering wheel and bashed it to the side, pulling the car into a slow turn. It came up beside Mark, who was busy keeping the cops down. She pulled up to him, careful not to stop again, and picked up more speed; Mark had to jog to get up to the car, yanked the passenger door open and took his place with a smile on his face.

“Nice work. Now, next lesson. Use the clutch again and go to second gear...” Mark lowered the window on his side, then opened up fire with his Bizon on another closing cop car; it didn’t get hit, but it swerved off the road and allowed Rowena to head for the compound’s exit. She fumbled around a bit, but eventually she did the switch and stepped on the gas again, picking up speed.

“Now, the engine RPM is critical,” Mark added, his next burst heading backward to discourage pursuit. “You’ve got the red back here, where you don’t wanna go. Hear how the engine growls? You're past 3000, you should shift up again.”

Rowena went to third, slowly but without slipping.

“Good girl!” Mark said, pulling his body back in. “Keep picking up speed.”
“There’s a gate ahead,” Rowena said, slightly panicked as her attention returned to the road.
“You’re driving the master key, kid. Brace yourself...”

The A-Team couldn’t have done it better; Rowena smashed the car through the gate, saw the curve just ahead and stepped on the brakes, powersliding the car into the curve with some help from the heavy rear end. However, her perfect maneuver was somewhat marred when she worked the clutch too quickly, stalling the engine.

“We’ll just start over, we’ve got time,” Mark said, leaned back out of the window and fired again. “Restart, first gear, shift up.”

Rowena did just that, and within a few seconds the car was moving again. This time, the road was clear and straight, so Rowena slowly shifted up to fourth gear and settled the Audi into a comfortable cruising speed. The cops were sticking to the compound, but a few unmarked SUVs followed at a distance.

“Explanation, now!” Rowena demanded.
“Adam and Bob won’t be joining us,” Mark said, nonchalently pressing a button marked “1” on a small remote. In the distance behind them, the warehouse went up in a small fireball. “Tsk, tsk. I think those kerosene tanks weren’t up to code.”
“What did we just do?”
“The cartels are trying to get more of their junk into town. Well, there’s not gonna be any oxidado dealing on my watch.”
“You know, crack? But worse.”
“And the Asians?”
“Japanese. Yakuza don’t like competition when they push,” Mark explained while reloading the Bizon-3 on his lap.
“Yes, but why did you kill them?”
“They would have taken the drugs and sold them. Besides, the Triads love fucking with the Yakuza, and they pay well...”
“What about the mafia?”
“Down here? What kinda shithole city do you take this for?”

Rowena’s retort was cut off by a burst of firepower ripping the rear window to shreds.

“Oh, there’s the backup,” Mark said, climbing onto the back seats.
“If we crash, the drugs burn. They can’t be that stupid.”
“They know we know they want the drugs.”
“So it’s like a peace offer? We toss the drugs, they leave us alone?”
“You’re catching on, kid. Keep weaving as long as you can. Oh, and take a left there.”
“Where are we going?”
“Manhatten Bridge, lower level. Just follow the signs, can’t miss it.”

The Audi hammered past a sign while Mark set to work on the duffel.

“That sign there said the bridge was out.”
“Yeah, they’re renovating the lower level. Another walkway or some shit like that, don’t ask me why they had to close the road.”
“Uh, there’s a roadblock ahead...”
“Master key,” Mark replied cooly while another burst of firepower splashed down the side of the car, putting a very concerning hole through the dashboard. “That’s okay, it’s a tough car,” Mark said, sounding like he almost believed that.

Rowena didn’t even bother replying; instead, she devoted her focus to ramming the car through another obstacle. By now, her ears were totally focussed on listening to the engine, and with a deft move she downshifted for a sharp curve without thinking about it. The car screamed around the curve and took some guiderail with it - Rowena gritted her teeth and yanked the wheel once more, cursing that the AWD wasn't really as helpful as she'd thought. Finally, the car jumped a small bump and dropped onto the lower level of the Manhatten Bridge, blissfully empty of its usual traffic. Behind them, another SUV came rushing, with a Yakuza hanging out of the passenger window with an MP5K.

“Comfortable with the controls now?” Mark asked and threw the duffel aside.
“I think I got it now, yeah.”
“Good.” Mark ripped away a blanket, and the next thing Rowena heard was the sound of an M249's bolt being closed. "Just keep her steady.”

Mark bashed away the last remnants of the rear window, then propped the bipod on the windowframe, giving himself a clear field of fire. Even with a bipod, there wasn’t much accuracy to be had in a driving car, but he just started firing and poured fire into the car behind them. The whole massacre showed up in the rear view mirror, and it was so painful to watch that Rowena wished the car would just explode; instead, it careened out of control and crashed through the guiderails, ending up as a total wreck - but it didn’t blow up, and there wasn’t even any fire.

This was not especially merciful (except to the CSI guys), because she was pretty sure that Mark had totally wasted everyone in the passenger cabin.

“Stop here,” Mark said as he secured the weapon; the car pulled to a stop just past the bridge and Rowena spotted another SUV following them over the bridge. Mark dumped the duffel out of the car, stowed the machinegun and climbed back to the passenger's seat. “Okay, drive.”

Sure enough, the SUV stopped to pick up the duffel instead of following them further.

“Did we just give these guys what they wanted?”
“I don’t think they’ll enjoy it for long.”
“There’s no cops to arrest them.”
“Who’s talking about cops, kid?”

Mark held up the remote detonator with a grin.

“You’ll note it has two buttons,” he said, then pressed “2”. Another, smaller explosion went off behind them, incinerating the Yakuza SUV and everyone in it.

Shortly thereafter, the Audi disappeared into the East River while Mark led Rowena into an alley; sure enough, one of Fade’s psi-punks was waiting for them with a motorcycle and disappeared into the night before Mark had properly seated himself and started the engine.

“You look like you need a ride, kid.”

Rowena nodded silently, then climbed onto the back and held on to Mark as he pulled out onto the street. With his coat flapping in the wind, Rowena’s hands found purchase on his body armor. It was slick with blood, but from the lack of holes, Rowena inferred that it was not Mark’s. Things were snapping into focus for her at a rapid clip now; how she’d just helped this man kill more than a dozen people, and how she didn’t feel anything right now.

John Done had told her that humans were predators. Now she believed it, too.

1 comment:

Valentina said...

Awesome pacing from fight to fight. Good skipping-along event pacing, good not getting bogged down.

Gotta say though, not testing your getaway driver on the vehicle before hand is dangerously overconfident there buddy-boy. =]