Sunday, May 27, 2007

Just 'cause - Chapter 19 - Speed Kills

Ariana shuffled into the valet cabin and sat down on the spartan stool provided for her "comfort": another night shift for her. The polyester blouse of her uniform was sweaty and sticky from standing in the sun all day. In her favor, night shift usually came with far less work. All it took to survive one was to stay awake and be there in the unlikely event that someone would want their car in the middle of the night; the management had thoughtfully provided an old radio for said purpose. Its antenna was a mangled piece of wire, attuned to 94 FM - and only 94 FM - through strange, unknown sacrifices to dark gods. The construction itself seemed to be shaped like a scream from beyond, a terrifying pact to archieve crystal-clear reception of one radio station despite vastly unfavorable geography.

Just as she had settled down, she watched two figures stumble into the parking lot: two large men. One clutched his hastily-bandaged shoulder, while the other carried a body in his arms. Her attempt to reach for the phone was cut off when the first man raised his good arm, leveling a gun at her. From this point on, Ariana's rather weak impulse to protect the cars of strangers shot straight to zero; she raised her hands, stepped outside the booth and said nothing when Mark Simmons raided the key storage, grabbing a cluster of Remote Keyless Entry gadgets. Mark stepped outside, briefly rifled through the fobs and picked out one. He pressed the "open" button and noticed nearby headlights coming on; John ran off toward the car - a Mercedes S 65 AMG - to transfer Rowena to the back seat, while Mark stepped up to Ariana. He briefly sought eye contact, but looked away when she tried to reply in kind.

"Sorry," he said; Ariana gave him a forced little smile. Consequently, he briefly switched his USP to the injured left arm, then knocked the valet into next sunrise with a hammer punch. That done, he jogged off towards the car, popped the driver's door open and sat down.

"North!" Done said, one eye on Rowena and one ear to the cellphone in his hands; Mark nodded, slammed the door closed, fired up the ignition and drove the car off the lot.

And Ariana? Well, her shift was over.


Every "secret agent" fiber of John Done wanted to object to Mark's driving style; the Enforcer regarded the sidewalk as another lane for the purpose of taking those complicated corners. The light traffic was helping them, of course, but Mark had a distinct "drive it like you stole it" flavor to his stunts that made them stick out a bit more than Done was comfortable with.

Then again, Done's goddaughter was currently bleeding all over the backseat. This wasn't the right time for obeying the speed limit.

"Keep going for another mile, then..."
"Do you have a street address?" Mark shouted, downshifting to third gear to evade a column of cars stopped at a red light ahead.
"What?" Done said.
"Street address!" Mark replied. "This thing's got a navi."
"You ever use a navi?"
"...good point."

Red & blue lights behind them; Done had to admit that he was feeling a bit agitated. Mark was arguably taking it worse; between the blood loss, the adrenaline and his generally fiery temper, he was as close to losing his shit as he was likely to get.

"Scare 'em!" he shouted.
"Need both my hands here!" Done replied.

Mark growled, a small patch of graying hair in the back officially elevating his look to "wolf". With wanton disregard for the car, Mark yanked the parking brake and angled the wheel, sliding the car to a stop with a 90 degree turn into the middle of an intersection. Fired up as he could be, Mark slammed the USP against the car window, splintering it out of his way; that done, he stuck the gun out and opened fire on the cop car. Given the bullet in Mark's shoulder, this wasn't a very pleasant experience. The cop car slid to a stop. Mark dropped the mag from his gun and cried out "Killer!" to Done; the mercenary grabbed an unmarked hunk of metal from his coat and handed it to Mark, who slammed it into his USP's magazine well and then threw the gun at the cop car. Without missing a beat, Mark tortured the throttle again and sped off.

It took the police officers a few seconds to gather the courage to get out of the car; none of Mark's shots had found their target, but it had gotten them to stop, and they weren't about to chase down armed suspects when they had a gun to secure and heavy backup to call in. Cautiously, they approached the dropped USP. Owing to the toughness of the weapon's construction, the drop had only inflicted cosmetic damage - but in the stark night, there was a quite obvious light coming from within the pistol. The officers suspected an explosive and kept their distance; however, all that did was ensure that the thermite charge introduced to the USP's internals would finish the job.

In a minute, there'd be no more evidence. Just slag.


"That was obvious..." Done remarked; Mark now replied only in shouting, partly to reflect his mood, partly to shout ever the increased noise from the broken window.
"Had to lose them!"
"What about their backup?"
"We're almost there. I'll drop you off and lead them away."
"You're bleeding."
"That's my problem."

Mark yanked the brakes again, coming to a screeching stop. No more words were exchanged; he watched Done carry Rowena in the direction of the safe house for a brief moment, then peeled off again.

Behind him, more red and blue. Mark stepped on it; with a terrible screech, he sent the Mercedes into a powerslide onto Rua das Laranjas and thundered westward. A scant few seconds later, Mark took another corner and headed North, still pursued by two cop cars. On the open road, the more powerful BMW had a slight edge, and Mark gained some distance from his pursuers. The car screamed into the Santa Barbara Tunnel - not the wisest move, Mark had to admit, but without knowing the streets here, navigation was a crap shoot anyway. He desperately hoped that there were no more cops at the other end of the tunnel. The bleeding from his shoulder was getting worse.

One of those days.


The engine's purr turned into a roar; the Mercedes was in fifth gear and still accelerating, screaming down the highway as the neon non-darkness inside the tunnel was swapped for a clear dark sky outside. Mark had found the time to fiddle with some of the controls and somehow activated the car's night vision system; considering that and the street lamps, he killed his own lights, hoping to draw less attention.

To be fair, it wasn't a bad plan. It might have worked better if he hadn't been doing 150 miles per hour in a stolen luxury sports car.

Mark had to slow his roll (literally) to dodge through some traffic ahead; the semi-automatic transmission did its best to follow his maneuvers, and Mark knew better than to mess with it. He knew that staying on the highway was only going to draw attention to him, but speed was all he had - if he got lost in the side alleys, that'd be it, no escape. He was cutting it way too close - the car tugged his safety belt tighter, its electronics preparing for an imminent crash. He dodged past a swerving truck and accelerated again, speeding past an off-ramp and over a rail line. The flashing lights had long disappeared from behind him, unable to keep up, and Mark took that as his cue to slow down slightly. He switched the car to cruise control and fought the multi-function display for a few seconds before bringing up the navigational system.

You are here, Mark thought as the car hooked into the ether, creeping into the very frontier of microwaves to fish out an L2C GPS signal at a rough 1.2 Gigahertz. Soon thereafter, he had a name - Viaduto Sao Pedro - and a traffic congestion warning ahead. He snuck into the roundabout ahead, circled a tiny bit and took the very next exit, heading East once more. The car slowed to a crawl beside a small pharmacy; Mark parked it, opened the door and stumbled out. The blood loss and the sudden activity made his eyes water. Still, he managed to half-walk, half-drag himself up to the pharmacy's door. Once there, he ripped off some cloth from his t-shirt and wrapped it around his right fist like a crude bandage, then clenched his teeth and punched through the glass.

His fist was bloodied. He was reasonably sure that he'd cracked a knuckle. But the door was open.


Mark grabbed a shopping basket from the corner and set to looting the place for what it was worth. He swiped bandages and wound dressings, a complete first aid kit and several bottles of painkillers, plus some other potentially helpful drugs. He felt a brief attack of conscience at the blatant robbery, but his bleeding shoulder dispelled all attempts at ethical behaviour.

Some days, God's justice is swift. The next thing Mark knew, he was staring down the dual barrels of a break-action shotgun.

"Parada!", it came from the 30-year old face behind the shotgun - a scrawny young man of both questionable grooming and questionable firearms technique. Mark thought that he fully deserved this - after all, what kind of business did he have in the one Latin American country where they don't speak Spanish?
"I don't speak Portuguese," he finally said.
"Do not move!" the shopkeeper replied, still not quite in control of the longarm. "I have trapped you. There is no escape!"

One of the great many somethings in Mark snapped in half; still bleeding and distinctly light-headed, the Enforcer got up and walked up to the man.

"One," Mark said, "you don't wait for a man to walk up to you like that. If you wanted to shoot me, I'd be dead. Two, I'm pretty sure that gun is illegal..."

The moment of shock and confusion was enough for Mark to work with; lashing out with more speed than a man with his injuries should have, he smacked the gun aside, snatched it with his bloodied right hand and twisted it right out of the shopkeeper's hand. A quick showy spin later, the situation was reversed, leaving Mark to aim the gun at the shopkeeper.

", fuck it. Not clever enough now. Fix my shoulder."

It's amazing how quickly one can suture and dress a wound when threatened with a shotgun; five minutes later, the wound was taken care of, although Mark still felt dizzy - the painkillers didn't help.

"I'm keeping this," he said, then left the pharmacy with a basket full of medical supplies and a loaded shotgun.

Rio held its collective breath.

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