Never Look Back

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Chapter 91

We swung down and out across the production floor.

At least one bullet struck Odera. Its impact elicited a painful screech, followed by a heavy groan. Two or three other slugs ricocheted off the thick hoist chain, throwing up harmless orange sparks. When the bullet struck Odera, its force put us into a slow and lazy spin. Startled and frightened, Odera released her hold on the chain. When she tipped backward against the nylon waist strap, arms flailing for balance, I grabbed one of her wrists and pulled her hand back to the chain. Meanwhile, Lucien and Sylvia had taken up positions in the broken window we had dropped out of.

We spun away from them, not quite parallel to the production line, losing them from sight in our lazy elliptical orbit, but we were doomed to their next barrage, hanging out in the open with no ability to alter our swinging trajectory. Once our pendulum swing reached apogee, we would retrace our exodus and find ourselves back on the wrong side of the floor where Gomez and Sylvia waited. The overhead hoist had carried us away from Gomez and Sylvia at a good clip, but we would not have travelled nearly fast enough for them to miss when we swung back.

Plant workers beneath us looked up at the sound of weapon’s fire. They witnessed two people swinging on the hoist chain in a soft ellipse over the production line slowly traversing the plant. A few of them stopped to watch, mouths hanging open with curiosity.

Men carrying automatic rifles entered from a side door.

They hadn’t yet spotted us swinging above and behind them.

The curing compartment’s stainless-steel rectangular roof looked to be about ten feet wide by forty feet long. It was almost directly in line with us. It would be closer on our return. That stainless-steel roof waiting eight feet below us was the only landing strip other than the cement floor another six or seven feet beneath the roof. We needed the compartment’s roof to break our fall. The high temperature inside the curing oven would have heated the roof. Our clothes should provide adequate protection to land and then jump to the ground. The heat was not our only concern. If we misjudged our fall and landed on the entrance side of the compartment, we risked being pulled into the high-temperature curing oven. If we waited too long to cut our straps we might tumble off the roof into those trimming knives, which would chop us up easier than a food processor sliced scalloped potatoes.

“Transfer your hands to the strap. Get ready to drop,” I shouted into Odera’s ear and drew the katana from saya.

She wore a vacant expression as though she just awoke in a strange place. One of the mercenaries carrying an automatic rifle went to one knee and shouldered his weapon. The other stood freestyle, waiting for a shot, the stock pressed into his shoulder to steady the front sight. They were scanning the production floor for an opponent, clearing their zone. For the moment, we remained unseen. All too soon they would sight one of the employees who stood statue-still looking up at us.

“Did you hear me?”

“Yes.”

We reached apogee and began to swing back the way we had come, circling in a soft elliptical pattern toward the assembly line and the curing compartment roof, back toward Gomez and Sylvia. Any second now, we would come under Lucien and Sylvia gun sights. Already I sighted them leaning out the broken window we had originally exited. Already they were making fine adjustments to their shooting stances. One of the two men below us raised his arm and pointed. They shouldered their weapons, zeroing us in their gun-sights.

The first pipe bomb detonated.

The explosion blasted apart the dry hopper containing powders.

The mercenaries below us looked up from their sights, startled, reprocessing new tactical information, gauging danger and deciding how to react to the explosion. Those few precious seconds allowed us to make our final approach free of automatic weapons fire. The percussion shockwave nudged us off course, ever-so-slightly pushed us dangerously near to those pneumonic-powered trimming knives. Odera flinched and tried to pull away from the sound of the explosion, instinctively burying her head in her arms. When the edge of the curing compartment roof came beneath us, I severed our nylon lines above where Odera clenched them tight in a dead man’s grip.

We entered a short freefall.

I tossed the katana to the floor, plenty far away to avoid falling on it.

Cocaine powder and its chemical binder billowed out of the ruptured hopper. Puffy white clouds engulfed Lucien and Sylvia, obscuring them from view, mushrooming ceiling-high where the corrugated metal ceiling pan forced it to spread outward. Loud reports of automatic weapons fire added to the bedlam. Bullets tinged and bounced off stainless-steel beneath us and around us. Workers yelled and screamed and shouted to each other. They ran helter-skelter fleeing the explosion, gunfire, and now a billowing white cloud.

Chaos erupted.

We hit the metal roof and slid across its slippery top scrabbling for purchase. I snatched at the compartment’s edge, snagged a tenuous grip, and grabbed Odera’s belly chain with my other hand. Our momentum tried to tear my arms off.

I lost hold of the compartment.

We slid diagonally off the side of the roof, missing the long knives not by skill, but through cosmic good fortune, and dropped an additional six feet to the cement floor below. I collected my wits sufficiently to perform a quick physical assessment of my body and limbs. No searing pain. No sprains. Limbs felt healthy and strong. Odera lay sprawled on her side, breathing and moaning, now pushing herself up into a sitting position. Her arms and shoulders must be intact to have pushed herself up. I performed the same quick physical assessment on her legs, gently but firmly squeezing her thighs, knees and calves and ankles. No broken bones. No cries of pain as I worked my hands lower.

Short-lived relief poured through me as another barrage of weapons fire peppered the area around us. Stainless-steel housing protected us for the moment. Sylvia and Gomez were spraying bullets blindly, hoping for a lucky hit. The other two men on the floor were now withholding their fire, for the moment. I pictured their field of fire and imagined they were on the move to acquire line of sight. Not more than forty feet distant in the same direction as I had noted the additional men, someone shrieked and screamed.

The katana rested on the floor eight feet distant. I retrieved it and looked around the corner.

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