Upon exiting the cab, a block from the Fremont troll and the spot where he met Winona, Cliff spotted Elmer sitting on a bench drinking from a bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag. He waved and called out the old man’s name.
“You shoulda seen the thrashin I put on your cop friend,” he said, proudly holding the bottle in the air like a trophy. “One two. Pow pow. Kicked that old fat bastard’s ass. Just like them brawlers down Portland way. I got them lightning fast hands. Still got it. Old Elmer. Ain’t no fat dirty cops gonna mess with our girl...”
Cliff shook his head and turned to walk away, but stopped in his tracks as Elmer finished his sentence.
“…your wife; my little Winona.”
Cliff turned to ask Elmer what he meant. But that’s when Danny’s SUV pulled right behind him and Kumi jumped out of nowhere into his peripheral view.
“Lucky,” she shouted. “You have to come with us.”
Cliff stepped away as if he could evade them. Kumi reached his side in seconds and clutched him by the arm. Danny rounded up Elmer and escorted him to the SUV.
Elmer whined and moaned as Danny moved him across the street, his mouth motoring and spewing strings of barely sensical obscenities.
Cliff went with Kumi more peacefully and slid into the back seat next to Elmer. Danny locked the door once Kumi returned to the passenger seat. The truck idled down the hill from the Aurora underpass, not too far south of the spot where Cliff landed atop the old car by the side of the road.
“Let me out,” Elmer grumbled. “I’ll kick your ass, you big ass gorilla ape. I ain’t afraid a no cops. I’ll pop you. One punch. I fought them ranked fighters down Vegas. They wasn’t no cream puffs like you and that fat friends a yours. Them bombs go off, they ring your ears. The gunners got them big earphones. But, we ain’t got nothin. Just a little leather head gear. Ain’t even got no mouthguard like them baby fighters today. But I mess you up, you cops. Come on now.”
“Elmer,” Danny raised his voice like deep thunder. “Shut up.”
The strength and volume of his voice caught Elmer off guard and he stopped speaking.
“What’s going on?” Cliff asked.
“We’re still trying to figure that out,” he replied.
“Still nothing on the Naito family,” Kumi said. “I’m texting Toya. She doesn’t know any more than us.”
“Naito?” Cliff asked. “Amaya? Did something happen to her?”
Neither Danny, nor Kumi spoke. They looked at each other exchanging wordless communication. Cliff had seen them signal each other in this way and instantly read the implication.
“Oh no, something happened to her,” he surmised. “Something bad?”
Kumi ignored Cliff’s question and exited the vehicle. She opened the trunk and pulled out a large duffel bag.
“9:40,” she said to Danny through the opening. “I’ll set up. If they’re coming, they’ll be here soon.”
“They hit the other two. They hit the Naitos, there’s no way they aren’t coming for him.”
Kumi walked several blocks up the hill to the angled underpass area. She dumped the duffel bag to the ground. She pulled out a sleeping bag and placed it in the shadowy spot where Winona usually sleeps behind the shade of the troll. She stuffed a pillow into the sleeping bag and topped it with one of the mannequin heads that Alex colored to look like Winona. She affixed a brown, curly wig from Kipp’s bedroom to the mannequin head and tucked it partially under the ridge of the sleeping bag.
In the dark of the night, from Cliff’s vantage point, the bit of the mannequin head, poking out of the sleeping bag with the wild curly hair looked exactly as he had first seen her after falling from the bridge barely a week and a half earlier.
Kumi went on to set up a similar ruse with a mannequin head that resembled Elmer. Finally, she donned a big blond wig and climbed further up the incline to the mattress where the drugged out teenage girls had slept prior to their abduction only a few days earlier. She set up her phone to record any events that occur under the bridge and pressed her Smith and Wesson firearm close to her chest under a blanket to conceal her tiny frame.
Danny backed the SUV behind a wild bush and checked the time on his cell phone – 9:50pm.
“What other two were you referring to when you said someone else was hit?” Cliff asked.
Danny turned the key in the ignition to cut the engine, but a flash of white and yellow caught his eye up by the Fremont troll. A police cruiser rolled slowly along the cross street with its flashlight roving the area where Kumi and her two decoy mannequins lay.
Danny tossed the keys in the cup holder, drew his weapon and bolted out of the vehicle. Elmer mumbled some gibberish, which Cliff ignored. Incredibly fast for a man his size, Cliff watched him sprint up the hill toward the embankment.
Two loud thundercracks, punctuated by a quick flash of light jolted both Cliff and Elmer. Danny flinched, but kept running.
Hutch stood over the Winona mannequin and kicked the head, realizing the fake. As he did, Kumi leapt from her hiding spot with her brown wig flopping in the wind. Cliff could see her mouth move, but couldn’t hear her words. She held Hutch at gunpoint, forcing him to slowly place his weapon on the ground.
She kicked it away, while also shouting for Peters to exit the car with his hands where she could see them. Danny continued to sprint up the hill.
Peters exited the cruiser, but instead of complying with Kumi’s demand, he took a poorly aimed shot at her, causing Hutch to dive for his gun and for her to scramble for cover behind a cement column holding up the bridge.
Danny fired at Peters from 200 feet away. The bullets ricocheted off the side of the car. Hutch and Peters took cover, crouched in front of their car, only about 50 feet from Kumi. Kumi made herself as thin as she could behind the cement column while Danny took an angled approach, being sure to cut off their adversaries from advancing their position or spreading out to gain leverage.
Nobody fired. Danny moved slowly up the hill along a row of cars. He had to position himself to cover Kumi, who would be trapped if Hutch and Peters could separate and take two different angles on her.
Hutch moved across the street and decided to make one last maneuver from the cover of one car to another just a bit closer. But Peters and Hutch timed their attack perfectly, with Hutch spraying Kumi with cover fire, while Peters popped out and pumped a nine-millimeter bullet right into Danny’s chest.
The sound of the gunfire snapped Winona out of her nap. She threw the quilt off her chest and jumped from Kipp’s couch. She heard the spine-tingling friction of one of Kipp’s carving knives sliding out of its slot in Kipp’s butcher block knife holder. Alex and Summer ran into the living room. Alex held the six-inch blade by his side. Kipp followed them into the room. Without communicating, Alex and Summer ran out the front door. Kipp called for them to come back. But they ran across the lawn down his quiet side street toward Aurora Boulevard and the sound of the melee.
Winona followed her son. Kipp tried to stop her, but she shoved by him. Without closing the door behind himself, Kipp joined them in rushing toward the sounds of death and danger under the Aurora.
Cliff watched Danny go down. Kumi crouched helplessly behind her cement pole. Hutch and Peters disappeared behind their cruiser and laid low for a few minutes. Danny writhed in the street, managing to roll between the two nearest parked cars. Peters checked Kumi’s position. Hutch continued to pepper her with cover fire, which freed Peters to go after Danny. Cliff watched in horror as Peters’ head rose from behind his cruiser and walked unexposed into the street with his weapon drawn.
In the distance, the sound of screeching tires quickly intensified. It echoed in a crescendo of ear-splitting noise. Like a rabbit sensing danger, Peters froze in the street as a black BMW with dark, tinted windows flew into the intersection. A heavyset man, dressed in ripped jeans and a white, cotton t-shirt rose through the sunroof and aimed a thick semi-automatic weapon at Peters.
The rapid clacking of the bullets sounded like firecrackers. They pelted the cars behind Peters and dropped him with several direct hits to his arms and chest.
Cliff scrambled in the SUV. Even Elmer seemed to grasp the gravity of the situation.
The shooter turned his aim at Kumi, whose pole could not simultaneously protect her from Hutch and the drive by shooter. She dove away from her cover and scrambled on her chest into a thicket of brush beside the bridge.
Cliff clamored over the back seat into the driver’s seat. He hadn’t piloted a car in a dozen years. But sitting in the driver’s seat brought the memories right back to him. He inserted the key into the ignition and jacked the vehicle into gear. He could barely reach the pedal, leaning far down and sacrificing visibility out the front window.
The BMW stopped in the middle of the street and the shooter in the sunroof alternated between firing at Kumi’s hidden position in the bushes and Hutch’s spot behind the cruiser.
Cliff floored the gas and caught the BMW by surprise. The shooter turned to try and reel off a shot at the SUV. The words “bullet-proof” echoed through Cliff’s head and he continued to press the accelerator as hard as he could. Bullets hit the hood and cracked the windshield as Cliff rammed the BMW at full speed.
The smaller car spun wildly. The shooter flailed out of the roof and disappeared under the grill of Danny’s SUV. Unprotected by a seatbelt, Cliff hit the steering wheel and lost his breath. The SUV tilted to its side and fell over, crushing the driver’s side of the BMW. Elmer lay slumped over the divider between the front and back, also panting for air like Cliff.
The night air seemed to explode with the sound of distant sirens. Cliff’s eyesight blurred. He could make out Kumi’s hazy figure as she crawled out of the brush and ran toward Danny. With her gun raised, she engaged with the shooter from the BMW who must have been laying on the ground just beyond Cliff’s sight. A poorly aimed bullet careened off the cement column behind her and several others sparked the pavement. Kumi charged forward, seemingly unconcerned about the oncoming gunfire. She moved like a gazelle, firing multiple rounds as she ran.
The return fire ceased. Kumi slowed. She stood with her arm raised, her gun trained on her adversary. She slid her gun back into its holster and ran to Danny’s side. Cliff attempted to exit the vehicle. Every muscle in his body ached. In the distance, he caught sight of Hutch limping badly, with his hand pressed against his thigh. Even from several hundred feet, Cliff could see the blood gush from his wound as he slowly dragged himself up the stairs.
Kumi looked around wildly. She kneeled by Danny’s side and rested her gun on the pavement next to him. He gasped for air as Kumi removed his shirt to reveal his damaged bullet-proof vest. Cliff hoisted his undernourished, bony frame out of the driver’s seat and slid across the crumpled hood to the mashed roof of the BMW.
As Kumi tended to Danny, he heard a whimper from the driver’s seat of the BMW. The sound caught Danny’s attention as well. Kumi tried to support her much larger partner’s weight. He tried to stand, but felt unsteady and remained on his hands and knees.
“Help me,” the voice came from the crushed cabin of the BMW, nearly buried under the girth of the SUV.
“Jesus, Barnes?” Danny said. “Is that you?”
Cliff could barely make out Tom Barnes’ words. He could tell he was offering an apology for his role in serving as Garlag’s driver.
“What the hell’re you doing?” Danny forced the words between heaving for breath. “What about all that regret for not stopping Garlag earlier? You’re his driver now?”
“I tried to get out,” Barnes struggled to speak. “In too deep. No way out.”
“Damnit, there’s always a way out,” Danny seemed to gain strength as he spoke.
Barnes didn’t respond.
“Barnes,” Danny snapped. “Damnit Barnes.”
He and Kumi tried to pull him from the twisted metal, but he was thoroughly wedged in and every movement sent searing pain through his body, causing him to scream in agony.
“Barnes,” Danny continued. “This is important. Stay with us. Does Hutch know where we’re keeping our witnesses.”
“Kipp,” he wheezed. “Collina.”
The name sent chills down his spine.
“Called in the 911… last week,” he gasped.
Barnes panted for air. His breathing grew thin. Cliff kneeled across from Kumi. Elmer stirred in the vehicle. Cliff could see him babbling to himself in the upturned front seat.
“Barnes,” Danny continued as he tried to push the dented body of the SUV out of the way. “Stay with us. We need to know.”
The breathing trickled to a stop.