The clearing turned silent as a crypt.
“There she goes, West. Out, out where you will never find her again.”
In Ethan’s head, a clock began ticking. The longer he had to wait, the more difficult it would be to find Beth’s trail. “Two years here have driven you insane, Churchill.”
“Two years here have been more fun than I’ve ever had. I’ve killed seven men already. It’s the best sport I can think of.”
“Well, make it eight. Finish the job.”
Churchill hovered over Ethan. “You’d like that wouldn’t you? Go chasing after that little bitch?” A malicious grin spread across Churchill’s face. “Nah. Just to be sure she’s long gone, I’m going to hold off killing you. Just in case.”
Ethan focused all his energy, all his will, thinking of Beth. He felt her flying away from him like a comet.
“Oh, no you don’t.” Churchill slapped the revolver barrel across Ethan’s face. He rapped the barrel back and forth until he drew blood.
Ethan’s head became a ringing cauldron of pain. He struggled to maintain his mental connection with Beth. He felt her slipping away.
The bunny face loomed close. The hammer of Churchill’s revolver pulled back and Churchill fired next to Ethan’s right ear. Ethan’s mind went blank and he lost the connection to Beth.
Ethan’s eyes opened in rage.
“Yes, get angry. That will make you lose focus and when you least expect it, wham, I pull this trigger and you’re gone. And you’ll scatter too. If you’re not centered when it happens, poof. You know that don’t you, West?”
Churchill grinned. “But not just yet. I’m enjoying this too much.” He pressed the barrel of his Colt into the wound in Ethridge’s chest, drove it in and wiggled it around. Ethan gritted his teeth and held his breath. “Broke some ribs, that bullet. The old geezer was a good shot.”
“I’ll find you too, Churchill.”
“No you won’t. Once your energy scatters there will be no more you to come after me.”
Ethan started to laugh. The bunny eyes squinted and drew close. “You’re a fool Churchill. You think you know the rules of the game.” As if a switch had been thrown, Ethan’s smile disappeared.
The bunny eyes looked perplexed.
“I’m going to teach you the rules, Churchill. The hard way.”
Churchill let out the breath he had been holding. “Pretty feeble threat, West. I thought you really had something.”
Ethan calmed his thoughts, focused, played his bluff. “I do. You’ll find out in a few seconds.”
Churchill held his revolver against Ethan’s forehead. “You don’t have a few seconds.” He pulled back the hammer.
Yes, Ethan thought. Do it. I’m ready.
The pink eyes examined Ethan’s face closely. “What’s going on in that brain of yours?” Churchill pulled the revolver back from Ethan’s head. “Almost, Ethan. You almost got me to cut you loose. You’re all ready, aren’t you? All focused and prepared to jump.”
He placed the gun muzzle against Ethan’s thigh and pulled the trigger. Ethan’s body twitched. “Did you feel that? No? Let’s try higher.” Churchill pressed the gun barrel against Ethan’s right hip and pulled the trigger.
Ethan’s face turned almost purple as he writhed from the pain. But he kept his mouth clamped shut, not willing to give Churchill the satisfaction of hearing him scream.
“Oh, hip fractures are nasty, I hear. My grandmother fell down, broke her hip, and bitched about it day and night. How’s that feel, Ethan?”
Ethan pulled back from his anger. He had to stay focused. This was Churchill’s way of scattering Ethan’s thoughts before he fired the fatal shot.
“I wanted to end you here, but I just decided to do something I think I’ll like a lot more.” Churchill leaned close, so his eyes stared into Ethan’s face from inches away. “How about I snuff out your future? Destroy your timeline?” Churchill fired into Ethan’s other thigh. “You stay here and suffer while I use my back door.”
Between gritted teeth, Ethan said, “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Remember Dolci? He’s laying in a lab closet, heart stopped, just waiting for me to inhabit his body.”
Ethan raised his head. “What?”
“That chemical I injected into Dolci paralyzed his heart. He died. But the chemical breaks down quickly and there’s no real damage to his body. Dolci’s body’s ripe for reanimation. That machine you hooked to his chest is a portable defibrillator. It restarted his heart for a second. That’s the second I go back to. Remember the hypo against your neck? It’s charged with morphine. All I need to do is kill Hulse’s body here, enter Dolci, shoot the syringe into your neck and you won’t be able to put two thoughts together. A minute later, you’ll be dead of the overdose. Then all of this doesn’t happen. This timeline gets sheared off and the other one goes on without you in it. Except that in Dolci’s body I will know what I know now. Because for me, there is no interruption in my timeline. It’s like I looped back from here to there. After that, without you to bother me, there will be no stopping me from doing any damn thing I please. You’ve caused a little detour, West. Nothing more.”
“If Dolci wakes up, don’t you think your past self will try to stop him? You’ll probably get shot,” Ethan said.
“If Dolci suddenly comes to life, my past self knows why. It’s the reason I killed Dolci to begin with. He’s my safety net.”
“Then two of you existing at the same time. How’s that going to work out?”
“That will be an interesting experiment on whether cause and effect rule the universe or whether it’s all disconnected. Newtonian physics versus quantum mechanics.”
Regardless of the physics involved, Ethan knew Churchill had a real potential to cut off Ethan’s timeline. He had to cut off Churchill’s before the madman’s greed and lust wreaked havoc, not only on Bethany and Ethan, but on other innocent lives.
But Churchill held all the cards in this game. Ethan watched the revolver barrel arc toward his face, felt the ringing impact in his skull, tasted the salt of blood in his mouth. Then the barrel came back from the other direction. Ethan began to lose consciousness.
His mind coughed up the bitter thought that Churchill had won and that he and Beth faced destruction.