The Thousand Words

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Chapter 43

I slowly made my way in the dark looking out for any trap waiting for me. All was quiet and in order. Nothing was out of place. As I made my way to the bottom of the stairs, a number of things happened at virtually the same time.

First, the lights from upstairs came on, along with the ones on the stairwell. I was far enough away for it not to be a problem, my eyes adjusted quickly to the brighter light. Next, from the open door behind me, I heard gunfire from where I assumed was my house. There was nothing I could do for Bruno right at this moment. Besides, I had other pressing matters to attend to. Finally, the sound of liquid being poured all over upstairs could be heard, followed a moment later by a strong smell of gasoline. None of the events were good news, but I had to play the hand I was dealt.

Tony knew I was here in the office, so any element of surprise was completely gone. He had instructed me to come upstairs, so there was no reason to be too quiet about it. He wanted a confrontation and I was going to give him one. I slowly made my way to the top of the stairs and took a quick peek in the room before pulling my head back in case I was wrong about him wanting to make me suffer.

Kelsey was on the other side of the room, duct-taped to one of the office chairs. There was another piece of tape across her mouth. Her eyes were wide with fear. She looked dry but the rest of the office appeared wet. There were two large plastic gas cans strewn to the side, their contents poured over everything in the room.

Tony was standing behind her, dressed in black jeans and a long sleeve black shirt. A very different look from the first and only time I had seen him when her originally hired me to find Sarah Jacobs. He was looking straight ahead at the doorway with one hand on Kelsey’s shoulder and the other down by his side. His hand was hidden behind Kelsey and the chair. I couldn’t tell if he was holding a weapon, but I assumed that he definitely was.

“Don’t be shy, Alex,” Tony said. “Come on in. We need to talk.”

I hesitated for a few seconds before entering the room. Tony was standing right behind Kelsey with most of his body blocked by her. I didn’t have a clean shot. There was a small chance I could enter the room and shoot him while missing Kelsey, but I couldn’t take the risk. Instead, I entered the room carefully with the gun out in front, ready for a quick shot while still being able to react to whatever happened.

As soon as Tony saw the gun, he quickly raised a gun of his own and placed it against Kelsey’s temple. It was a smaller gun. Not a lot of power, but with the gun directly on her head, it really didn’t matter. Kelsey’s eyes went even wider when she felt the gun pressed against her head. She tried screaming but the tape across her mouth prevented the cry from being more than just a low grumble.

“Drop the gun,” he said angrily. “It’s the only way she is getting out of this alive. I mean it. Drop it. Now!”

I had no choice. None at all, so I threw it in the middle of the multiple tables which dominated this floor. The gun made a large clunk when it landed. The loss of my only sense of power in this situation lessened the odds of a successful outcome considerably. My best option was to get him away from Kelsey as quick as possible. Maybe she could escape. Her safety is all that truly mattered.

I slowly started working my way to the right along the side wall, between the equipment cabinets and the tables, away from the stairs.

“Damn,” he said with laughter in his voice. “What the hell happened to your face?”

“I got this while kicking the crap out of one of your goons when we rescued Jane from your house on the west side,” I said with as much vibrato and confidence as possible in this situation. For a moment he looked surprised before regaining his composure, so I decided to push it. “You didn’t know the police took down everyone there? They killed most of them but a few survived. Your men ran instead of fighting. Chased down one myself. He made a lucky shot before a gang of officers kicked the living shit out of him. Your goons are all talking now, so you are done. Nowhere to go and no one to help you. You might as well surrender now and attempt to stave off the death penalty.”

“That explains why those two idiots didn’t bring Jane here like I asked,” he responded. “It is so hard to find reliable people in this line of work. I wanted you to have to watch both of them suffer. No big deal. Kelsey here will do just fine.”

I continued to walk slowly to the side of the room while he talked, trying to get Tony to move away from Kelsey, but he stayed there with the gun pointed directly at her head.

“Do you think I care what happens to me after this? My life was over when your father killed my brother. Don’t you see?”

“Completely. My life felt over when you killed my dad and my fiancée.”

“Liar,” he spat back at me. “Look at your life. You have a successful career and a girlfriend. I have nothing. I was never supposed to be a part of this criminal life. My brother was seeing to it. I was in college ready to make something of myself, but your father had to kill my brother. I lost everything then and got pulled into this life with these good for nothing people.”

“Listen to what you are saying. Your brother was the one who was sent to assassinate my dad. He killed my dad and fiancée and you’re pissed at me?

“Fuck off, Alex. I don’t care if you understand. My only goal is to make you suffer.”

I was worried I had aggravated him to the point of harming Kelsey or me. Not wanting to get any closer to Tony Kirchoff for fear of him harming Kelsey, I stopped walking when I got to the edge of the table. Kelsey was directly in front of me. I looked at her giving her as much reassurance as possible before returning my gaze back to Tony. We stared at each other, neither moving or saying anything.

Blue and red flashing lights appeared through the windows on the side facing the street. A few moments later the sounds from multiple sirens filled the once quiet night. Based on the sound and light display from outside, there were quite a large number of police vehicles arriving. Tony slowly started walking away from Kelsey. While keeping the gun pointed directly at her head, he reached in his pants pocket and pulled out an old-fashioned lighter. He flipped the lighter open and lit it, holding it out over the gasoline that had drenched the floor.

“Don’t even think about trying something. You will never be able to escape the flames.” He continued to walk cautiously to the windows overlooking the street to investigate what was happening. From my vantage point, I couldn’t see or hear anything from outside that would give me an idea of what the police were doing. The office was two stories but had no side roof the police could use to get in. The only possible way to get up to us was to take the stairs. I had no idea what my next action was going to be, but I was ready for whatever possibility presented itself.

Tony moved over to the window and glanced outside. I could tell by the look on his face he wasn’t happy. He must have expected me to come alone and to have all the time he needed. Resolve replaced the worried look on his face. He turned and faced me but continued to point the gun at Kelsey.

“It is time for Kelsey to die,” Tony said. He had made a decision. Over his left shoulder, I saw the lights at my house start flashing. The way the property was, the top floor of the office was the same height as the first floor of the house. The lights continued to flash haphazardly. The only way the flashing lights were possible was if someone was doing it on purpose. Instantly, I knew what I had to do.

Lunging to my left, I dove at the chair Kelsey was sitting in, tackling her to the ground beneath the level of the tables. Right when I got to her, I heard the loud crack of his gun and my left shoulder exploded in pain. When I hit the ground, I covered Kelsey as best I could, looking through the legs of the table and chairs trying to find where Tony was. I saw his lifeless body fall to the floor. A portion of his forehead was missing, blown away by a sniper shot from somewhere near my house. My guess at what was about to happen was proven correct.

The elation I felt for seeing him dead lasted only for an instant. The lighter in his left hand had fallen to the ground and had ignited the gasoline he previously poured over the room. We only had a few seconds to escape. I reached my right hand into my pocket grabbing my ever trusty knife. Thankfully, it could be opened with one hand as my left was throbbing in pain and seemed almost useless.

I quickly cut through all of the tape binding Kelsey to the chair. She quickly stood up and ran towards the door with me right on her heels. We jumped through the flames in the doorway leading downstairs. With only moments before the room was engulfed in flames, we had made it out into the stairwell.

We scampered down the stairs taking two at a time. At the bottom making the sharp turn to the right, Kelsey literally ran into two officers who were coming up to help. Their guns were not drawn. They must have known the suspect was down and this was now a simple rescue. They grabbed her and pulled her out of the stairwell, towards the door outside and away from the growing fire.

I tried making the same turn but slammed into the wall at the bottom of the stairs instead. My left shoulder once again exploded in pain. I stood upright for a moment watching the officers rush Kelsey out of the office door, outside to safety. She looked back at me with the smile I had fallen in love with. An outpouring of relief washed over me. She was safe, nothing else mattered. My one and only objective was complete.

I tried to take a step towards my own safety, but my legs would not move. My head was spinning and I was starting to feel cold. The bullet from Tony’s gun had found its mark. I had been shot saving Kelsey, another first. An easy sacrifice I would undoubtedly make again without hesitation. I only wished I had been able to tell her I loved her one last time.

My vision tunneled to black and I lost consciousness.

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