CHAPTER 20 – Scramble for Life
The man in the chair released his hold on Matti’s wrist when Mickey reached down for her. With Mickey’s hand clamped where the other had been, he raised her back to her feet and moved his grip higher to just above her elbow. Grinning, he glared into her eyes and said, “Now, I think I just asked if you’d rather live or get skinned, but I don’t think you ever answered.”
If she was an evil minion of Satan like the preacher had claimed, what Mickey proposed would probably be appealing. And that solidified in her mind that the holy man was wrong about her. What else was he wrong about?
Her arm was beginning to go numb below where Mickey’s grip squeezed off the blood. But when she flexed her hand into a fist to stimulate what little bit of circulation she still had, Mickey saw it and laughed.
“What’re you gonna do with that, slug me? You think you can hurt me?”
“No,” Matti replied, trying not to whimper. “You’re cutting off the circulation. I’m just ….” He doesn’t think I can hurt him.
“Yeah, Mickey, better watch out. She might kick your ass.”
Mickey bristled at the chiding now aimed at him.
“That’s right, man,” another voice chimed in. “She looks like she’d like to kick your ass.”
They’re gonna get him so mad he’ll cut my throat before they even get a chance to do anything else.
Mickey said nothing, but his grip on her arm cinched down until she moaned.
“Ooh. Hear that? Mickey’s got her grindin’ in her skivies.”
“Yeah, man. She’s getting eager for what’s coming. And the line forms here,” another said, pointing behind him with his thumb.
“Eager, my ass. She’s playing him for a sucker, trying to get him to let go of her arm so she can kick his ass.”
Mickey suddenly did let go of her arm, flinging her half way across the central open space where she rebounded off the end of the couch in front of the window.
“Is that what you want to do, bitch? You want to kick my ass?” Mickey sneered as he glared at her. Then he turned sideways, leaned over and stuck his rear out toward her. “Here,” he said, snickering as he looked around and winked at his audience.
She hunched over in a cowering pose while massaging the hurt out of her pinched arm. He turned to face the room with his back to her, apparently satisfied that he had established his dominance. “Is this better?” He was still bending over with his ass sticking out towards her.
“See, guys?” He said from his bent-over position. “She knows when –”
Matti aimed her kick well: beneath the offered target, between his spread legs and upward. The hard toe of Amanda’s hiking shoe rammed into Mickey’s testicles with all the force she could muster.
By the time Mickey flopped onto the floor screaming in stomach-emptying agony, Matti had spun around and through the archway to the hallway behind her. It was all so fast no one else in the room had the presence of mind to react fast enough to block her.
Behind her, the mob finally responded as they tripped over each other.
“Goddamit! I told you she was gonna ….”
“What the ….”
“Dju see that?”
Before any of them could get to the hallway, Matti jerked the front door open – and froze.
Angie stood framed in the open doorway with a coil of rope. Behind Matti, the others had all jammed to a halt at the sight of their quarry stopped and framed in the open doorway. She spun quicker than Angie could react and ducked into the dining room. The recovered mob howled after her.
She toppled three of the dining chairs as she rounded the table then hurdled the previous occupant’s corpse and into the kitchen. She swept past Chris going through the drawers, and straight into the family room. She almost opted for the sliding door and outside, but she remembered it was locked, and no telling how long it would take to figure out how to unlock it. She also chose against the garage door. It would be easy to trip over something or, again, be delayed unlocking the exterior door she already knew was locked. She turned left and raced back into the hallway. In front of her was the hallway jog to the back of the house. Back up the hallway, past the living room and to the front door was out of the question since some of the mob was still bunched up at the choke point of the dining room and the toppled chairs. The hallway to the bedrooms was her only option.
During the second or two that she had paused in her indecision, the three fastest pursuers came rushing around the corner of the breakfast bar, shouting angrily for her to stop. The less speedy ones near the front door responded to the commotion and came pounding down the hallway, getting to the bend in the hallway just as their speedier cohorts burst from the family room. The collision halted the chase for several seconds while they untangled limbs and regained their feet. By the time they got around the hallway bend and to the door of the master bedroom at the end, Matti was unlocking the sliding glass door on the far side of the bed.
Before she slipped out onto the redwood deck, she yanked down on the drapes with her full weight, pulling the rod structure loose. A second jerk brought one end of it down across the open doorway. Outside, rounding the corner of the family room, she could hear curses and yells as her pursuers tripped over the draperies and fought each other to get past them.
Racing for the break in the waist-high railing at the end near the rear of the garage where three steps would take her to the ground, she ran past the family room sliding door just as it opened. Two of the gang lurched out at her, but she twisted away and slammed into the railing still several feet from her goal. She let her momentum carry her over the rail, leaning forward as she braced her hands on it, and then flipping over it, somersaulting through the air to land running on the parched lawn.
A quick sprint down past the side of the garage and she approached the gate with its promised access to the street. Then she remembered being unable to open it from the outside, and realized why as she approached it; a large barbecue, partially covered with a tarp, and a stack of milk crates sat firm against it. Rather than taking the time to untangle the barrier, she scrambled over them, using them as a boost to scale the fence.
She pulled herself to the top just as a hand grabbed her ankle. When she looked over her shoulder, Mickey glared back at her with such hatred his eyes bulged. The side door from the garage gaped open behind him. The mob careened around the back corner from the deck while others erupted through the doorway.
She cocked her other leg and slammed the bottom of her heel into Mickey’s face, square onto the point of his nose. He released her ankle and fell backwards against those coming out of the garage.
Matti used the impetus of her kick to propel her over backwards, doing a flip in the air and landing on her feet. With the hedge along the west side of the driveway, she ran straight out to the street. But she hadn’t even made it to the curb before three of Mickey’s men came pouring out the front door to her right. Just then, the blocked gate jerked open behind her, and out spewed the rest of the mob. Reluctant to make it a race out in the open, she ran for a gateless fence between two of the houses across the street. With muscles gorging on adrenalin, she went for a proven maneuver that had saved her hide several times in recent weeks; she leapt and caught the top of the six-foot high fence with both hands, let her momentum carry her up and over like on the vaulting horse in gymnastics, tucked and flipped over the fence beyond the reach of the panting and puffing men at her heels.
As she came back down, though, she saw in horror that she was landing right at the feet of a man standing there. But, by the time she touched the ground, she realized he was not one of Mickey’s. He was a little old man no bigger than her, with a face of brown, wrinkled leather beneath a San Francisco Forty-Niners baseball cap, and wearing an emerald green scarf around his neck like a WWI air ace in a Sopwith Camel. When she landed, she couldn’t keep from bounding forward and slamming into him.
With surprising strength for a person of his stature and age, he caught her with both arms while absorbing her inertia by spinning half way around before setting her back on her feet.
Before he could say anything, Matti harshly whispered, “Quick! Run! Hide! Don’t let ’em catch you!” and started to head back toward the bush and tree shrouded back fence, but the man grabbed her by the arm.
“Not that way,” he said, still holding her arm. When Matti looked back at him, he continued, “Bunch of stuff on top. You’d never get over it in time. Same as that side fence,” he pointed at the fence from the front gate on the other side of the house to the back fence. “Cactuses on the other side.” The other side of the yard had a tangle of rose bushes on their side of the fence.
One of the men chasing Matti poked his head above the top of the fence behind her and shouted, “Hey, there’s a guy with her!”
Matti’s head swiveled back and forth between the face gawking at her from the top of the fence, to the backyard that had become a trap, and finally back at her benefactor. She could try to go through the house, but that would take her right back out into their grasping hands. “Oh, God! I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
From the other side of the fence behind Matti came the sounds of the onrushing storm, “Come on, asshole. Either climb over or move over.”
“Hey, don’t push. You want to climb over, shithead? Have at it. I’ll use the gate.”
“What gate? You see a gate? You gonna dream us up a gate just so you don’t have to haul your fat ass over six feet of lumber?”
“You watch who you call fat-ass, shithead.”
“I don’t have to watch, fat-ass. Your ass is so fat, I can’t miss it.”
The voices quickly degraded to grunts, groans, and gasps amid sounds of hitting, kicking, and falling. Other sounds of running feet and a jumble of other voices made it clear that their comrades were neither going to break up the fight, nor stick around to watch it.
“On over this way. Should be a gate on the other side of the house.”
“Those idiots ….”
“You think we oughta –”
“Naw, let ’em fight.”
“Yeah, they will, anyway, sooner or later.”
“Man, Mickey is gonna be pissed if she gets away because those two –”
“Who cares? There! C’mon, there’s the gate!”
With panic numbing her mind, Matti mumbled through her fingers clasped over her mouth, “Omagod! Omagod! What’re we gonna do? Omagod!”
The old man glanced around the back yard. It was a mess, but it had been one before the town burned. The lawn was dead, of course, but it was hardly a lawn before with its bare spots and variety of established weeds, Numerous items of aborted home-improvement projects had accumulated over years, it appeared. Weather worn boards lay in a near-stack beside a ready-to-hang interior door leaning against the back wall of the house. Garden hoses lay in a twisted heap. With his first running steps, he said, “Come on – the tool shed.”
Because it was easier than thinking of anything else, she ran after him. But she thought, Tool shed? Does he really think we’ll be safe inside a tool shed?
When they got to it, the old man threw the door open and started grabbing garden tools. He tossed out a bamboo rake with a broken handle, a well-rusted steel-tined garden rake with a handle that was dried out but still whole, and a couple of rusty shovels. He started to toss a hoe onto the pile. It was one of the different designs with twin, circular blades at a shallow angle. He held onto it, hefted it to get the feel of its balance and weight and kept it. It was old, but the handle wasn’t as splintery as the shovels, and the shiny cutting edges looked like they had been recently honed.
“Grab something,” he said as he turned to face the direction of the gate. “They’ll be here any second.”
Matti picked up a shovel, decided it was too heavy and dropped it, then picked up the smaller one that was even rustier. “This okay?”
“It’d be awkward. Try that rake with the teeth. It’ll give you a longer reach, and it looks mean as hell.”
By the time Matti exchanged the shovel for the rake, the mob had begun to stream through the gate.