Despite the sound of automatic weapons fire, the hallway lay empty. Voices raised in alarm came from the right. I ran left, using directions Wayne supplied. Fifteen minutes from now the first bomb would detonate and I still had to meet up with Kira. The same man who pressed the gun into my spine at the convention entered the hallway in front of me from a side room. He held an Ingram machine gun in both hands with a long, curved ammunition clip protruding below. Its black muzzle centred on my running figure. I lunged forward, arm outstretched, body turned sideways to minimize my profile. His weapon discharged. Bullets slammed into my side. Kissaki, the sword tip, entered his center body mass and kept going until it exited his back a few inches above a kidney.
Grunting out pain, I tumbled to the floor, maintaining a death-grip on the leather-wrapped hilt. As I tumbled groundward, the razor-edged blade dragged through his midriff. It opened his abdominal wall continuing right to left through his torso until his curved pelvic bone arrested further movement. Crumpling legs sat him down heavily. Grey, sliced intestines spilled out on his lap and to the floor in slippery piles of blue-veined twisted coils. Wearing a confused expression, he tried to stuff them back inside, but they kept slipping out of his hands. Body gasses and gunpowder co-mingled as blood gushed out in one long red wave.
I looked at my side expecting to find blood.
Double weave Spectra had stopped the slugs from penetrating but not from knocking the wind out of me. When I struggled to one knee, spears of bright pain lanced my side. The slugs had snapped or cracked one or more ribs. Broken bone grated like bricks without mortar when I moved. Using hate and determination, I regained my feet drawing in deep breaths that sent white-hot torment through my side, which forced me to pant shallow breaths waiting for the pain to subside a level or two. Cold sweats coated my forehead and adrenaline dumped into my system. Kira’s empty mind training helped to shove the pain down to a more manageable level, but it still hurt like hell.
The phone in my pocket vibrated. A text message from Kira. What next? I was pretty sure that I knew the answer.
Shouting sounded from the other end of the hallway, from around the first corner behind me. The chatter grew louder. Almost immediately, a second voice answered the first. Running footsteps came from the same direction. A quick pat-down revealed the man did not carry a spare magazine. Unprepared dumbass, I cursed inwardly and picked up the Ingram machine gun. Voices shouted Spanish words. The sound of running feet halted. By their tenor, additional voices shouted commands. Automatic gunfire zippered the wall beside my head. Cement ships stung my neck and face. More bullets whizzed past my side and shoulder as I turned the corner and sighted the storage room sign. After dropping to one knee, I released a controlled burst midriff level at a running figure. The man dropped to the floor, hit and screaming for help, crawling toward an open door.
The doorknob to the room refused to turn when I tried it so I pounded the door with my gloved fist and kicked the bottom of it.
“Odera! Are you inside there?”
“Bruce? Is that you? Bruce! Get me out of here!”
Footsteps running down the hallway sent me back to the corner. A quick look revealed two armed men closing on my position. Red streaky stains showed on the floor. I dropped to one knee, shouldered the Ingram machinegun, and tapped the trigger three times. One of the running figures collapsed with chest wounds and lay still. Three seconds later I squeezed the trigger again when a second man poked his head out. I missed. Another slipped through the office door the first man I shot had taken shelter. I put two rounds into the doorjamb beside his eye. The weapon clicked empty. No movement in the hallway. That ought to discourage them from charging again into automatic weapons fire for the next thirty seconds or so, I hoped. Few people willingly entered a proven kill zone.
I discarded the useless weapon, pressed my back tightly against the wall opposite the storage room door and prepared myself. Using one foot and both hands, I launched myself off the wall. Lowering my shoulder like a rhino battering ram, I ploughed into the storage room’s metal door with all the force that I could muster. It rattled but held firm. The buckle on my backpack’s shoulder strap may have scratched paint; otherwise, I had not even gouged the surface.
“Ow. Ow. Mother of God that hurt,” complained my ribs. “Odera. Duck your head. Low as you can. Ready?”
I fired the .357 Magnum once, twice, and then a third time. The powerful weapon kicked high with each trigger pull. Loud reports filled my ears. Acrid gunpowder stung my nose and eyes. Blue-grey smoke clouded the hallway. The .357 calibre slugs mangled the doorjamb where the deadbolt passed through, blowing out metal chunks. Two stiff kicks opened the door. The broken mechanism clinked and clanked on tile. Odera huddled on the floor at the back of the storage room with her head buried in her arms, handcuffed and shackled.
“Bruce?” I threw the balaclava to the floor. “I knew you’d come,” she said laughing and crying while trying not to do either.
“Are you hurt?”
“Just my finger.”
“Can you walk?
“No, I’m shackled.”
I reached for a handcuff key.
“Here, take this,” I said around clenched teeth and pressed the Mac Eleven into her hands. “If you see anyone, push that red-striped lever down, squeeze the trigger and let go. Quarter-second squeeze only. Very brief.”
“You’re hurt,” she said and accepted the gun as though it would bite her.
She pointed it over my shoulder. I pushed the stubby barrel away from my ear.
“It’s nothing that six weeks of sun, physiotherapy, and you and Kira bringing me Margueritas in bikinis can’t cure.”
“Nothing. I’m fine. Grip it firmly so it doesn’t kick loose,” I told her removing the handcuffs while noting her bandaged finger. The shackles came off next. “That belly chain is going to have to stay. Gomez and his crew know we’re here. We’ve outstayed our welcome.”
Now that her hands were free, she hugged me tightly, crying, beginning to fall apart, squeezing the life from me.
“I thought I’d never see you again. I told them where to find you. They hurt me. I thought that I was going to die.”
“Odera,” I said taking her hands in mine. She looked at me blankly. “You can yell, scream and cry all you want later, but for now, bury everything. Shove it all down. Got it?” She wiped her eyes and nose. “Good girl.” I pulled her to her feet and shed my coat. “Put this on and do it up. Do exactly what I say, when I say. If you see someone, pull the trigger. Everyone upstairs is an enemy. Everyone will try to kill us. Short bursts. Okay? Can you do that?”
“Gomez used tin snips to make me―”
“Later. There’s only now; this moment and no other. Okay? Short bursts only. Keep your finger alongside the trigger guard until you sight a target. Don’t think, just point and shoot. ’Kay?”
“I won’t let you down again.”
“Good girl. Now, what did I say?”
“Short bursts. Stay in the moment. Finger off the trigger until I see a target.”
Strength flowed into view in front of my eyes. Euphoria was fading; the task I put before her was settling in. She stood straighter. The Mac’s stubby muzzle lifted.
“Whatever you’re thinking, you never let me down. Not once,” I said and kissed her quickly. “Let’s go. Try not to point that at me. Point it at the ceiling until you find a target. Ready?”