Pink Walls

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Day Four [Part III]

6:47 a.m.

One breath.

Depth was a funny thing... when it came to thoughts and memories.

A familiar shade of blue could drag you into a ballroom with glittering cyan walls and floors of polished oak hundred of years old—the home of your grandfather’s, father’s and your sullied childhood.

The scent of cinnamon could conjure up the image of a small army of gingerbread men cooling on a tall stack of metal trays; the sound of vinyl spinning high on a tabletop, away from curious hands sticky with melted sugar.

The cold should have reminded me of Christmas.

It didn’t.

My senses were overwhelmed by the stench of death and sweat and fear. I couldn’t focus on the crispness of the air, just the sound of my raging heart and the blood rushing to my head.

Two breaths.

One click.

I spun around and grabbed the gun out of Daniel’s hand before he could pull the trigger. He blinked at me, surprised.

I blinked back the memory, the bitter aftertaste of cinnamon remained at the back of my tongue.

“You really don’t like guns, do you?” he asked, taking half a step away from me, like I was the dangerous one between the two of us.

I bit the inside of my cheek to stifle the urge to push him behind me before the impulsive part of me acted on it. Stop being paranoid, Kay, Ron’s voice whispered in my ears, there’s no one here.

Daniel raised an eyebrow when the gun’s magazine fell to the ground, the sound loud and booming compared to our intermingled exhales and the silence surrounding us.

Three breaths.

I racked the slide to check that the chamber was empty—it wasn’t. The cartridge bounced to the ground and rolled beneath the car beside us. I handed the weapon back to him.

“Aren’t you going to empty the magazine too?” he asked, cheeky as always.

When I didn’t laugh, he just shook his head and picked it off the floor. Ignoring the missing round, he shoved it into his pocket. “What now?”

I looked back at the car, peering through its window to stare at the peaceful expression of the man lying on the backseat.

Not breathing.

A part of me regretted throwing the cigarettes away. Lighting one would have been a welcomed distraction from whatever shit was about to go down. At least then I’d have an excuse for not being ready.

A spot of white flashed through the edge of my vision.

I turned to it—nothing.

I might have imagined it.

I probably didn’t.

Four breaths.

“He’s not waking up anytime soon,” I told Danny, letting my gaze flit across the rest of the parking garage.

It was calm.

Too calm.

My fingers itched for something but I couldn’t afford to lose any more knives, not when the day was still young and Daniel’s father was running late.

“I guess that means no more driving for us,” Danny said, still oblivious to the situation we had landed ourselves in.

I reached to my side and pulled Frank’s knife out of its new holster.

The plan had never been to steal a car and make a clean getaway. It was just a decision I made to keep the hitmen off our tail for a little while, while I tried to contact Ron for what had to have been the hundredth time today.

I let my shoulders fall, tilted my head back and stared at the fluorescent lights above us, wishing that it was an open sky above us.

The bulb above me flickered as though it had sensed my thoughts.

I smiled.

How many of them were there? That was what Daniel had asked, wasn’t it?

I guess we were about to find out.

Five breaths.

Still no stitch in my side.

Another fight wouldn’t kill me.

“Were you seriously going to shoot him, Danny?”

“I just think it’s funny that he decided to take a nap while his buddies were up there trying to kill—”

“He’s not sleeping,” I said, quietly because now I was sure that we weren’t alone.

“What?”

“Someone got to him first.”

“What does that—”

“It means that we’re walking.”

I managed to pull him down to crouch behind the car just before a gunshot echoed through the garage. I didn’t have time to figure out where it had come from and I didn’t need to.

I let out a breath and listened for footsteps, my hand on Daniel’s chest to keep him in place.

One. Two. Three. Four.

Three. Two.

One.

I frowned at the sounds of struggle, half-distracted by the steady thump of Daniel’s heart against my palm. That can’t be right.

Another gunshot.

A bloodcurdling scream.

The killer, whoever it was, made no sound apart from the soft shuffle of their soles on the smooth concrete.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Every careful step echoed in the midst of the deadly quiet, neither hurried nor impatient.

They were hunting.

I shut my eyes, pressed the hilt of Frank’s blade to my forehead and swallowed back my apprehension. Of course, my luck chose to run out now.

I turned to Daniel and he stared back at me with wide, anxious, eyes.

“Stay here.” I reached beneath the car and scooped up the cartridge, placing it in his palm and folding his fingers over it. “Shoot anything that comes at you.”

“Where are you going?” he whispered back, not letting go of my hand. “That’s not a regular hitman, is it?”

“No. It’s not.” I pulled away from him. “Stay quiet. If there’s an opening, make a run for it but don’t leave the building.”

The hitmen wouldn’t kill Daniel the moment they see him, the Carmosinos would.

“Wait,” he grabbed me by my sleeve before I could get to my feet, “don’t do this. I could—”

“They will kill you, Danny. Do you want to die?”

“No, but—”

“Danny,” I grabbed him by the arm, desperate to shake some sense into him before it was too late, “let me do my job.”

“No. You’re the one taking a knife to a gunfight. We’re leaving here together. Listen to me.”

I couldn’t take a look without ending up with a bullet lodged in the back of my skull, but I was sure that they were close.

Danny and I were at the very end of the garage and they had come through the exit that led out to the street.

Other than the hitmen’s car, our safest bet was getting back up into the main building. The only problem was the possibility of one of ud getting shot in the back before we could reach the door.

One of us needed to be a decoy, and it was obvious who that should be.

“Danny—” I turned back to find him missing. He had slipped away and left a familiar canister in his place

Just as I stuffed Frank’s knife in my boot and reached for it, a pair of combat boots appeared by the car’s front tire.

“Well, well.”

Raising my gaze, I found myself staring down the barrel of a handgun.

Six breaths.

“I watched your fight with XII,” the voice continued, a melodic warble to its emotionless tone. “A pity. Really. She was... the best of us.”

The numerals tattooed on the back of their right hand told me all I needed to know. They were a part of the Prime and—

I don’t have time for this.

I lunged forward and grabbed the gun by the slide, twisting it away from me while my other hand reached for the knife on my belt.

I watched a slender finger pull on the trigger; the gunshot made my ears ring but that didn’t stop the blade’s serrated edges from digging into their side again and again and again.

A pained groan slipped past their lips; the gun fell out of their hand; a knee to my jaw knocked me back. I didn’t expect to beat the reaction time of a hunting dog, just surviving was enough.

My vision shook; the taste of metal spread through my mouth.

I hit the ground with a bang, catching a glimpse of a smile—a glitch in an otherwise expressionless mask. It was a mask I recognized, alabaster white with crescents for eyes and an open-mouthed grin carved from ear to ear—the last thing a hunting dog’s prey ever got to see.

I raised my arms just in time to block the next kick, stabbing the knife through their boot before they could pull away.

Slender fingers wrapped around the ones I had on the knife and pulled until I let go. I shoved the boot off my chest and reached behind me for Daniel’s canister.

With a subtle click, poisonous gas exploded out of the heating metal, stinging the lining of my eyes and nose stung.

I spat out the blood that had pooled in my mouth and held my breath. With one arm over my mouth and nose and the gun clutched tightly in my hand, I rolled beneath the Jeep that was parked beside the hitmen’s car taking advantage of the fact that hunting dog VI was lost in the fog of poison and couldn’t see me.

Maybe I would get away long before the poison worked its way to my lungs.

Maybe not.

I blinked and the chassis winked at me, swirled maybe. Whether the bullet had hit me or not, I couldn’t feel it but I knew that Ron’s painkillers would have no effect on poison.

I rolled away, my sight more than compromised.

I thought back to men stuffed into the storage closet. At this rate I was going to end up just like them.

I bit into my arm to silence the cough that threatened to give me away. Ignoring the burn creeping down my throat, I crawled forward, not able to blink back my tears quick enough to keep the blur out of my eyes.

Moments later, a gunshot rang out from the spot where VI had been. They either had a second gun on their person or someone else had shot at them.

When I was four cars away from my starting point, I got off my knees, my back against a tire and my palm pressed to my stifled chest.

I couldn’t breathe.

A hand landed on my shoulder and I turned. Relieved to see that it belonged to Daniel, I lowered the gun till it pointed at the ground.

He held up a capsule and asked me to open my mouth.

I did and swallowed, still listening hard for the other footsteps I had heard.

Hunting dogs didn’t work together so it was unlikely that there was more than one but there had been four different footsteps and only two gunshots.

There had to have been one person remaining.

“I can smell blood on you,” Daniel whispered.

I turned back to him with a frown and lied, “It’s not mine.”

If he could smell it, they could smell it too.

“Leave Danny.” We didn’t have much time left. ”Now.”

“No, I—”

"Found you.”

❄❄❄

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