Tuesday, 9 March 2010
THE LAST RUN By Paul Grzegorzek
Easing myself back against the wall I put my hand against my ribs and grimaced as the fingers came away sticky with blood. Each breath was coming harder now as my lung pushed against the jagged edge of the broken rib that sawed into the flesh with ever increasing waves of agony.
A wave of nausea swept over me and it took every scrap of self control I had not to vomit all over myself, instead leaning my head against the cold wall and sucking in as much air as I could without rupturing my damaged lung.
I’d been too cocky, I realised as I huddled there in the dark, hoping that the searchers wouldn’t discover this basement office, tucked away as it was right at the rear of the old factory. I’d been far too cocky, and too greedy as well. I’d known from the start that this was a two man job, but the trouble with being as good as I am is that you start believing your own reputation.
Hurst can get anything done, I’ve heard people say, anything for the right price, and he always gets the target.
So I’d taken the job, taken the money and now I’d taken a wound that felt like it was killing me.
I’d been tasked with taking out a gang of thugs who’d taken up residence in a disused factory on the edge of LA, the City of Angels.
Angels I’d be joining soon if I didn’t get medical attention.
There were about a dozen of them, Los Chupacabras they called themselves, and they’d made such a nuisance of themselves that someone had called in the cleaner to tidy up the mess they were making.
That cleaner was me and so far I was doing a pretty bad job.
I’d come in just after dusk, slipping in through the decaying hulk of the factory with hardly a sound, a legacy of almost twelve years as an army ranger. Their lookout was a joke and I’d put him down with hardly a sound, grabbing him from behind and snapping his neck like it was a twig. Hiding his body in the detritus outside, I’d carried on into the heart of their lair, a real night-time monster there to kill the Chupacabra before it could claim anymore victims.
The gang had split off from one of the other street gangs in the neighbourhood about six months before and had immediately embarked on a reign of terror. They thought nothing of rape, murder and torture, turning the neighbourhood into a living nightmare for the residents and anyone who got in their way, and I was determined that tonight would be the last night that any of them hurt anyone again.
Once inside I’d located two more members, one with a Mohawk and the worst dress sense I think I’ve ever seen and the other with long greasy hair and a face so full of metal it would have deflected bullets.
Smiling to myself at how easy it was going to be, I stepped out of the shadows with knife in hand, not wanting to waste bullets on such easy targets.
As I ghosted towards them my foot hit something, a piece of scrap metal I think, making them both turn, one whipping out a bike chain and the other pulling out a wicked looking knife.
“Who the fuck do you think you are, old man? You got any kind of idea what sort of shit you’re in?”
I didn’t waste breath on speech, there’s no point talking to dead men, but instead began to circle to my left, forcing them to turn and follow.
Metal-face glanced at his friend in confusion. “You know this prick?”
The knifeman shook his head. “No clue blud. Think he’s some crazy?”
“Nah, look at him, he’s here for us, no doubt”. He dropped into a crouch, bike chain wrapped around his fist with the loose end scraping on the floor.
“Hey, raincoat man, who paid you? You know we’ll find out and burn the whole family, right?”
I drew closer, knife held low and tight with the blade resting against the inside of my forearm.
Metal-face dragged the chain a little, drawing my attention to the razorblades welded onto the business end.
“I bet it was that fucking little school chick I banged last week. Dirty bitch promised she wouldn’t tell. Left her a few scars to remind her. You ever fucked something that sweet Raincoat Man? She screamed the whole way through til I stuffed something in her mouth”. He laughed dirtily as he saw my eyes flare in the dim light of the lamp that lit the room.
It had indeed been her family who had finally organised the neighbourhood to do something about the gang. They’d gone to the cops time and time again but nothing was being done and they were desperate. I’d seen the girl, spoken to her, seen the marks he’d left.
No twelve year old should ever have to go through that.
Breaking my rhythm I sprinted forwards then spun off to my left, making Metal-face swing his chain through empty air, the end whistling as it just missed my ear.
Turning back, I ducked under his arm and slashed the knife across the inside of his thigh, feeling hot blood spurt as the razor sharp blade sliced through cloth, skin, muscle then artery.
He screamed and dropped his chain, clapping both hands over the wound to stop the blood from spraying everywhere.
Moving away I turned and brought my arm up in a guard just in time to see the knifeman coming at me, his eyes full of rage.
With a yell of fear and anger he struck at me, a high overhand blow that I turned easily, my forearm coming under his knife hand and pushing the blade off line. My own knife flashed up and caught him across the throat, opening a line that quickly turned into a gaping hole as he slid to the floor with a look of surprise on his face.
Turning back to Metal-face, I saw that he was almost gone, with blood soaking the floor and walls nearby. From the smell I could tell that he’d voided his bowels and the look in his eye told me he was close to death.
Leaning in, I put my nose against his, so close that I could smell the fear that emanated from every pore as he saw death approaching.
“Please”, he whispered, his hands reaching out towards me, “please help me”.
“You should have thought of that before”, I said, forcing away any pity I might have felt for this monster.
“You’d better pray that god forgives you, because no one on this earth will”.
I stood and watched as he died, the light fading from his eyes as he lay back with a final sigh.
Straightening, I turned to get my bearings when something hit me in the chest, just below the left arm.
Staggering backwards, I looked down to see a long, thin shaft of metal sticking out of my ribcage, and suddenly I was sitting on the floor, my trousers greedily soaking up Metal-face’s blood.
Looking up, I saw a kid, no more than fifteen, frantically reloading one of those sport crossbows that you get in most camping stores.
I’ve only got two rules in life, and one of them is never to kill a kid. No matter how bad they are, you have to believe in redemption or what’s the point? Turn eighteen though, and if you’re in my sights you’re fair game.
Scrambling to my feet, I staggered off into the darkness, using the concrete pillars as cover until I got far enough away to stop and acknowledge the pain in my chest.
Gripping the bolt tightly, I gritted my teeth and pulled, drawing out the metal with a yell that turned into a scream as my flesh reluctantly let go of the head with a noisy sucking sound.
White light blotted out my vision and I must have fallen, as when I opened my eyes I was lying on the floor and I could hear shouts from back the way I’d come.
Leaving the bloodied bolt where it lay I managed to get to my knees, then to my feet as I used the wall for support. Keeping one hand against the concrete, I followed the corridor in complete darkness, stumbling and banging around as the sounds of pursuit drew closer.
From the voices I could make out there were between five and ten of them, all angry and all heading my way.
I almost fell down the stairs to the basement, saving myself at the last minute and teetering at the edge of the drop with the feeling of a vast empty space in front of me and my heart in my mouth.
Catching at the wall with my hand, I found the banister and worked my way down, stumbling blindly along the corridor until I found a door that opened into another empty space.
Crawling into the corner, I pulled out my keyring and used the torch to look at my surroundings. It was an old office, desks and chairs still scattered around in various states of decay, and I eased myself back against the wall, putting my hand against my ribs and grimacing as the fingers came away sticky with blood.
Flicking the torch off, I sat huddled in the darkness and waited for my searchers to give up. Gang members were usually lazy, and I hoped that these would be no exception, giving up when the going got too much like hard work.
Holding my hand over the wound to slow the bleeding, I gradually became aware of a faint light coming under the door to the office, outlining the ghostly silhouettes of the office furniture that surrounded me.
“We know you’re in there man, you better come out before we come in or it’s gonna get real messy!”
The voice made me jump, coming from just the other side of the door. I hadn’t heard them approach, which was unlike me, but then so was being wounded.
Rocking forward onto my knees, I reached out and found a desk to grip while I forced my unwilling body to stand.
“Come on man, we know you’re in there, you’ve left enough blood on the floor that my Gran could follow you”.
Sighing, I shook my head as I realised just how badly I’d screwed myself. Not only had I run down instead of out the building, but I’d not even thought about the trail I was leaving. One wound and all those years of training go out the window.
Mentally kicking myself, I moved towards the door, fingers fumbling for my ace in the hole. I’d used it before, but one day someone was gonna call my bluff and then, well, I’d be meeting all the people I’d put in the ground.
Pulling the frag grenade from its pouch, I pulled the pin and clamped my fingers hard on the handle. One slip and in three seconds we’d all be toast.
Putting on my best psychopathic grin, I reached out and opened the door, blinking in the sudden torchlight and holding up the grenade for all to see.
“Hello lads”, I said as their collective intake of breath told me they’d seen the grenade, “who’s good at playing catch?”