Sunday, April 27, 2008

Two Guns 25 - Knockin' on Heaven's Door

Mark started breathing again. The blinding pain was slowly fading, shrinking to a background noise quiet enough to unclench his teeth, open his eyes, allow his finger to step off the trigger and let it reset. With a grunt of effort, he rose from the ground, unsteady on his feet. Every breath brought new stabs of pain; he felt the surface of his light Kevlar vest until he found a hole in it. There's something to be said even for a Type IIA vest, in a pinch - but bulletproof this wasn't, and Mark had to fight back the urge to throw up. Deep breaths, focus on the pain, let it keep you awake...fight against the blackness on the edges. The pain was extreme, even by Mark's standards, but the adrenaline rush kept him on his feet, helped him stagger to the door even as the now unbuckled vest slid to the floor.

In a way, Sharon was marginally luckier. Dead before she hit the ground, she was already getting her wings.

After the apartment door, it was the hallway that tortured Mark, made him fight for every inch. Doors were opened just a crack, fearful eyes on the staggering killer. There was a handrail, and Mark used the hell out of it; he relied on his left arm, using muscles away from where his flesh had been graced by a visit from Mr. Hydra-Shok. By contrast, his right arm was rapidly going numb, white knuckles arranged around the cooling Colt. Doors in front of him closed, doors behind him opened. He didn't hear the footsteps, but when he climbed into the elevator and turned around, he saw the faces.


Mark slipped on the sidewalk.

In any other context, it might have been funny, a momentary annoyance at best, but this was then and Mark could feel his blood dripping onto the ice as he struggled to keep going. Some traction, that wasn't so much to ask for, but he failed to gain a foothold for what seemed like forever, flopping about like a fish out of water. He wanted to lie down, to accept the calming cool for the fever in his heart. He wanted it like he wanted the last five minutes to be part of that fever, like he wanted to go to sleep and wake up. He'd even talk to her about it, let her mock him...anything but this.

Get up.

To sleep, knowing he'd wake up in her arms. Somewhere.

Get up.

His right arm started shivering, dropping the Colt onto the ground. He brought the arm in, pressing it against his side.

Get up.

Mark gnashed his teeth, and then he did what he always did, he tapped that hideous strength and he got back on his feet. Adrenaline ebbing and determination soaring, he walked with as much dignity as he could muster, still in mortal danger but back in control. He walked to his car and unlocked the driver's door. The seat welcomed him; it was easier to breathe sitting down, driving back the black from this vision once more. He started the car. He drove away.

Three blocks away, a flurry of police cars sped past him on the road, heading for her apartment. Fatal curiosity acted out again, Mark reflexively turned on the police scanner in his glove box.

"Officer down at 163rd and Riverside, I repeat, officer down..."



A red light, that's what he would remember, a red light. Brake the car, take into account the slippery road. Come to a perfect stop. Play by the rules.

Don't kill cops.

This light wasn't red, it was rather blue, and that's when Mark realized that he was in a hospital. A real hospital, not a back alley meat shop like Dollar's joint. His right side was still protesting with every breath, even though heavy bandages provided support. Probably broke a rib, Mark thought. It was like somebody had turned a page in his book; removed from the injury in time and space, he made a dispassionate, reasonable guess. There were details, like how he'd gotten to the hospital, but that was to be filed away for later consideration. Mostly, he tried to get worked up again, tried to unravel the tapestry enough to pick out a good suspect and extract payment. Hate had taught him what he knew, kept him safe and sane all those years; love had only tortured him this last week. So much for that.

"You're under arrest," she said. At this stage, Mark was happy to hear even that. Then he realized that it wasn't Sharon saying this. He raised his head off the pillow and tilted his chin forward.

Ayers. Karen fuckin' Ayers.

Hello, hate. Good to have you back.

"Do I look like I give a fuck?" he said hoarsely, his head falling back onto the pillow. Okay, so maybe getting even could wait for a few more minutes.
"No. You don't 'give a fuck' that you almost killed yourself. You don't 'give a fuck' that there's good people out there who dial 911 when they see somebody slump over at the wheel. You don't 'give a fuck' that you're now two cops in the hole," Ayers said, pausing for effect. "I'd say you're pretty good at this, at not giving a fuck. That must be a truly awesome gift from the heavens themselves and I hope you enjoy that little feeling of bravado. I'm blessed in different ways, I'm almost kind of a psychic. From that springs my sincere invitation to revel in your stupidity, because I've read your cards and your life is going to be the definition of pain from here on."

Mark's repertoire of snappy comebacks seemed exhausted for the moment, so he stayed quiet.

"Just so we're clear," she continued, "I wasn't screwing with you yesterday. I've been working all week, phone calls and favors, anything I could get my hands on to trade favors with you. Because I thought that this wasn't the time to go for 100%, just take out the acute crisis and leave the rest for people with more endurance than I have. And hey, it's not like this was personal. I wanted to believe that she was getting to you, that you'd be out of my hair soon enough without anybody getting hurt. I thought, let's be reasonable. I talked to Collins, I talked to you..."
"Collins," Mark said forcefully as his mind latched onto that. " is she?"

For a second, he could feel Karen's look trying to bore holes into his face.

"She's dead," she said, matter-of-factly. "Are you playing with me?"
"Then quit acting stupid. You shoot people, they die. Maybe my standards are unreasonable, but I learned that before I went to law school."
"I just had to be sure."
"She's dead, Simmons. EMTs got there about ten minutes after you shot her, but they couldn't do anything. If this means anything to you...I'm not going to go after her. She'll get her funeral and a nice eulogy. The sacrifice of deep-cover work for the OCB. And all the dirt is going to disappear. I still don't have anything on Whitton, by the way. All the little secrets I know are about to get buried."

She stifled a hollow laugh.

"It's too bad we only know who the heroes are after they die."
"And if this means anything to you," Mark began, "I wish I hadn't been forced to do this."
"Forced to?" she spat back, anger driving blood into her cheeks. "Forced to?! Who had his hand on the trigger, Simmons? Don't you even start talking about being forced to do anything. You had every opportunity to back down, to save her and yourself. But your much vaunted loyalty took care of all that awful thinking for you. So don't play the victim. All you are is a coward. A running dog."

Mark kept silent, but that didn't slow her down.

"Fuck your omerta. Fuck your friends, fuck your bullets and fuck you. You don't fool me for a second. It's all good, as long as you don't think about it too much, right? Well, here's something to think about," she said, recomposing herself.

She bowed down to open her briefcase; Mark's arm snaked out involuntarily, like he could fix this with more violence - but the cling! of metal on metal was the only sound he heard, as if the handcuffs that chained him to the bed had only just appeared. No matter; she had retrieved a case file and opened it, now she was flipping through the pages upon pages.

"On the 5th of October," she read aloud, "Sr. Rodriguez asked me to drive him to the Our Lady Maria hospital. I waited outside, and like on Wednesday, I expected him to come back out after ten minutes. I remember that it was very hot that day; I rolled down the window and saw Sr. Rodriguez step outside, twenty minutes after he had entered the hospital. Behind him, I saw a young girl, walking about with ungainly crutches. Sr. Rodriguez helped her down the stairs, and then into the car. He told me to drive them to Sr. Rodriguez's mansion. The girl seemed very serious and reserved; I do not recall them speaking one word on the entire drive...later, in the evening, he had me drive her back to the hospital. She said 'Thank you' when I helped her back up the stairs. That's the only time I saw her..."

Karen dumped the file onto Mark's bed.

"The DEA nailed Silvestro Rodriguez's driver in Panama. We got a ten-page confession this morning - that was part of it. I'm going to give you another hint - there was only one patient in the hospital who fit that description. I think we both know who that was. I know you know who Silvestro Rodriguez is. So, what I'm asking myself here is...and maybe you'll indulge me and answer me this question: Did you know? Did you know that your boss was crooked and supported her anyway?"

It's not possible for a man of Mark's build to snap the chain on police-issue handcuffs without tools. Mark's attempt was still quite credible, though. At least strong enough to tear out some stitches.

"I'm wasting my time," Karen said, almost resigned. "I've got better things to do, Simmons. Better than trying to reason with you. Better than sitting here, making you listen when I can't make you understand." She got up, straightened her blouse, then turned back to him, as if she had to fit one more thought into this. "I have work to do," she said, and then she walked out.

Mark just laid there, a bubbling cauldron of feelings in his head ready to boil over at the slightest provocation. Crimson poured into his bandages.

He didn't acknowledge the winter any more. The blood and the hate were there to keep him warm.

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