Never Look Back

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Chapter 90

I moved through the door pulling her by the arm, steering her along the cinderblock wall until we came to the corner. The hallway waited empty and quiet when it should have been full of activity. What happened to the earlier footsteps? Reinforcements? Office windows across the corridor let us see the plant area, but not down the hallway. The hallway dead-ended to our right with no available exit. The door to the stairs was down the hallway to our left. Entering the hallway and trying for the stairs was suicidal. I wanted to meet up with Kira and get Odera out of the building. I would not have to look for Gomez; he would find us on his own.

“Bruce.” When I looked back, she claimed, “I love you. I want you to know…in case we don’t…If we die.”

Tears pooled as she fought to maintain control. Intense insanity of the moment threatened to overwhelm her. I took her by the shoulders.

“Mansbridge, look at me.” When she complied, I said, “Process what I’m telling you. Wipe everything else out. We are not dying. We can do this, but I need you with me; in this moment. Okay? This moment and no other. You and me. Monogamy on steroids.”

Nodding once, Odera let go of my hand and wiped at her eyes as I chanced a look around the corner. Three people crouched at the hallway’s T-section corners. The corridor erupted in gunfire. I jerked my head behind brick. Bullets slammed into the cement wall, throwing up stone and paint chips, but not before I sighted two men and a woman crouched at the T-section, and two more armed men running toward their position, and at least one other man occupied the same office the man I had shot entered. That made six. I recognized the woman from the convention. The men were unknown to me, and then I remembered my phone had vibrated earlier.

“Here,” I said passing Odera my telephone. “Read the last text.”

“Six armed men closing on your position. Who sent this to you? Never mind. I think I know who.”

“Send this reply, ‘Find us on production floor moving toward primary exit.’”

“Julia’s dead. They shot her. Am I sending this to Kira?”

I shook my head, and said, “She’s fine. She’s recovering nicely from a gunshot wound to the shoulder with no complications. And yes, Kira misses you.”

“She’s alive?”

“Enough to send that message.”

“No. I meant Julia.”

“Yup, though I’ve been too busy this last week to visit her again.”

“Busy with Kira? I heard about that.”

“No. Finding you.”

“Took you long enough. Oh, my, God. How hard was it to realize the wallboards sucked? Seriously, Bruce. The fucking deficiency clues were obvious,” Odera quipped, composed as euphoric torrent dissipated. “Did you have to wait so long to send me that message? Have you any idea how hard I tried not to tell them anything? Come on! The computer at home, at work, the optical drive! Oh yeah, did you blow up my condo?”

“Yes.”

“Why would you blow my condo up?”

“Not that. The message. Yes, we had to wait until we were certain, until the last possible moment.”

“So it was Kira who made you wait. I always suspected there was something dark about her. We need a girl’s night out when this is over.”

I grinned at the absurdity of her remarks. We were trapped, pinned down under weapons’ fire, the building was about to explode around us, and Odera blurted random emotions ranging from hysterics and curious quandaries to sarcastic complaints. Some things never changed.

Through the office window across from us, I sighted the dangling chain attached to the overhead hoist. We had to evacuate this floor, but we were cornered at the end of a hallway without an exit. In addition to the coming explosion, we did not know how many soldiers Gomez had called into play that hadn’t passed in front of Kira’s cameras. If I had my preference, I’d rather be in motion than let Gomez marshal his forces.

“That’s why you’ve got home insurance;” I told her, “for those unexpected nights a paramilitary crack cocaine Machine drops in for coffee. But I doubt your neighbours will welcome you back. Your cartel friends aren’t property value friendly. I’d look for another house. One with a tall electrified fence and a pack of pit bulls.”

Odera shook her head.

“Nuh uh. Now that the cat’s out of the bag about us, and my home is gone, I’m moving in with you. Ha! Didn’t see that coming, did you? No more smoking indoors. Since my clothes are all burned up, I don’t need a lot of closet space, either.”

“By the way, if you see what might look like a ninja carrying a sword, please don’t shoot her, or you won’t have a drinking companion.”

“Kira’s a ninja?” asked Odera closing the leather coat’s chrome snaps. The telephone vibrated. Odera sent a reply. “Kira says to hurry. Time is running down.”

“Not a ninja, but I suspect Miyamoto is Samurai. Point of order, so listen up, my building’s way boring. And I don’t think you’d fit in,” I told her and dipped into my knapsack for karabiners and harnesses. “I think Kira is Samurai as well. You can ask her yourself when we meet up.”

“Given that my condo and my stuff is all gone, I’m fully packed. All I need is that pin-striped shirt and I’m good to go.”

“Just the shirt? Why didn’t you say so in the first place? I’d love to have you stay awhile.”

“You’re such a charitable soul. That’s probably why I love you.”

“It’s a lifestyle choice.”

“Are we going to die, Bruce?”

“We focus on escaping. One room, one hallway, one floor at a time. Nothing else. Do you see that big office window? Shoot it out. Short burst. We’re taking the Tarzan vine.”

Loud automatic gunfire made her flinch. The window exploded, spraying glass everywhere. The gun kicked high until slugs perforated the ceiling. She let go of the trigger. Bullets passed through the first window to plough through the second full-length window looking out upon the production floor, shattering it.

“Once more, please. Clear that glass out. Shorter burst. And try to keep your eyes open this time.”

The next burst was briefer and her aim better.

“Those freckles are lame,” she declared wearing a sassy grin while blowing at the smoke curling out of the muzzle. “Monogamy on steroids, eh. I can do us. I’m texting Kira we’re on our way. I’d like to watch her chastise a drunken pub cat-caller. Do you think she’d teach me?”

An image of Bonnie Parker slipped unbidden to mind. I tried to forget how Bonnie and Clyde ended. A slow, ridiculous grin revealed my teeth, met by one from Odera.

Gomez’s voice saved me from replying, “Give it up, Garland. You’ll never leave here in one piece. I have men everywhere, at every exit. Let’s trade. Your life for the list and your silence.”

Odera whispered helpfully, “Don’t believe him. Kira says to hurry. Two men are crossing the loading bay with shotguns.”

“I’m listening.” To Odera, I said, “Get ready to cross the hall and jump through the window.” I pulled up the gun’s safety lever. “See? Now it won’t fire. Push it down and you’re back in business. Put it in the large pocket.”

“I just want the list. Your family’s lives guarantee your silence.”

“I didn’t hear you say anything about the woman?”

No mention about Kira, either. I hoped that meant she remained undiscovered. An ace in the hole. Surprises made life interesting.

“Be reasonable. She’ll talk. Is she worth your life? Worth the lives of Valerie and her children? What about your parents? I’m offering more than you could ever have hoped. I’ve got eight men with me, six on the way, and you’re cornered. Your family’s lives for your silence. Do we have a deal?”

My watch showed two minutes until the first explosion. Gomez’s claims about manpower were horseshit.

“Give me a minute to think about your proposal”

“You have thirty seconds. And I promise she’ll die quickly.”

“Text Kira this: Detonating pipe bomb. Clear bathroom hallway.”

“What!?” exclaimed Odera after hitting the send key.

“On three.”

I removed a percussion pipe bomb from my pack and slid the sword into the scabbard. The IED used a simple detonating device. Twist the top and throw. Contact between the top and anything solid triggered the percussion detonator. I twisted the top.

I told Odera, “Don’t be a wuss and panic now. You’re tougher than those pansies down the hall. Take my hand and stay on my right. Jump when I jump.”

“Time’s up! What’s it going to be?”

“I’ll need money and transportation. You get the woman when I get half a million dollars.” For Odera’s ears only, I said, “Here we go. On three. One. Two.”

“Now you’re being reasonable.”

Without looking around the corner, I tossed the pipe bomb down the corridor.

“Wait for it!”

Gomez, Sylvia, and two other men I had seen earlier opened fire. The pipe bomb hit the tiled floor and detonated. I let half of one Mississippi pass.

“Three!”

Hand in hand, we sprinted toward the broken window. At least one person screamed while another cursed and shouted. Bullets fired blindly scattered cement chips and ricocheted all around us as we sailed over the low window sill. We slipped on the glass-layered office floor, fought a battle to keep our balance and went down. The leather coat saved Odera’s arms from the glass shards and kernels. My bare forearms were not as fortunate. We scrambled to our feet.

“We traded a dead-end for a room with only one door and not much of a view. Your plan just bombed, sweetheart,” noted Odera grinning like a Cheshire cat. “It needs a woman’s touch, like an exit strategy.”

“Think outside the box. See that hoist and the straps connected to the chains? Those chains will pass right by us. Commercial gondola at our disposal. When I haul in some slack, snap this karabiner onto those loopy high tensile straps. We’re going to swing across the floor to the top of the production line roof.”

“You’re asking too much of me. I can’t do this.”

With quick and sure hands, I fastened a nylon diaper to Odera’s belly chain, snapped a karabiner through the loop, and handed it to her.

“Nothing to it. Unless you want to say hello to Sylvia. She’s down the hall with Gomez.”

“Don’t tempt me. That skanky moose knuckle flashing bitch doesn’t ever want to see me again.”

“Wait until I gather up slack and clip-on. Let the harness take your weight. Clip-on and hang on, no different from one of your wall climbing lessons.” Some of her doubt faded. “Don’t worry Sunset, I’ll be right beside you all the way.”

I searched for the button console bolted to the wall. The same set of buttons I had watched a worker operate to fill a hopper with dry chemicals. Grey black smoke curled in from the hallway. Fluorescent lights in the administration offices winked out, popped back on, and then flickered once before dying for good. Battery backup emergency lights fired up. They cast just enough light to see the doors and not a lot else. Through the winking and blinking, I sighted my target across the production floor. It still had electrical power. I aimed for the big green mushroom button and released. The first shuriken missed.

Steadying my arm, I tried again and missed again. Shit.

“Not very accurate, are you? Tell me that you read the manual?”

“Button it. I’m a little busy.”

Two shots remained in my right launcher. I switched arms. Bracing my arm on the desk to steady it, I steadied my breathing, stilled my trembling muscles and fired between heartbeats. The shuriken spun across the distance, homing in on the button. It struck a little left but remained impaled. The hoist moved toward us, riding overhead rails.

“Lucky shot. Can I try later?”

“One more word out of you and you can take your purse and go wait in the car. And no playing with the radio.” Odera tried to summon a repentant expression. “Get ready. We’ll only have seconds.” I used a length of webbing with a weighted end from my backpack to snag the chain as it came within reach. Gathering up a bunch of slack, I instructed, “Clip-on.”

Odera fumbled with the karabiner. If the hoist travelled too much farther, it would pull me out of the room without her. As I began to reach for her clip, she depressed the spring-loaded arm and snapped on. I guided her hands to the chain.

“Let it take us at its own speed. Wait for it. Here it comes.”

“Fuck you, Garland!” Gomez said from the hallway, his gun pointed at us through the broken window. “End of the line. You should have taken the money, pendejo. Adiós.”

Sylvia coughed hoarsely as she emerged from the smoke-filled hallway and came to stand beside him. Soot and ash smeared their faces. Sylvia’s hair was matted and singed. Gomez bled from several cuts. They trained weapons on us. Oily dark smoke rolled across the doorway. Sounds associated with heavy stomping boots became audible further back down the hallway. It was about to get crowded. The chain pulled tautly. Odera and I stepped out of the window as Sylvia and Gomez discharged their weapons. The last thing we saw before we dropped out of sight were two jaws dropping open; utter and total disbelief froze their expressions as though they had witnessed Odera and I commit suicide.

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