Friday, March 12, 2010

Last Call, Last Stand - Part 9

With my back pressed against the wall, I was cursing the stereotypes that I usually make fun of. In this case, the thought grinding like a cheese grater across my stoned brain was that for a professional criminal, I was dreadfully inexperienced in violence. I'd never fired a gun in anger, though once I had to cut someone a bit before they consented to pay for their xannies. He had gone for his knife, one of those uber slick tactical folders, and I had gone for mine, a nine inch bowie. It was a remarkably unfair fight, which to be honest, I kind of preferred. Once I'd drawn blood from cuts on the poor bastard's arms, hands and face, he was quick to give in and let me drive him to the hospital. I'd told him that next time, there would be no hospital, and he hadn't missed a payment until he ODed a couple of months later.

But for the most part, I wasn't directly familiar with violence-excluding veterans from those two dandy little wars, most of my generation is not. I'd taken a little martial arts in college-mostly Kali, as I had a crush on the instructor. I'd watched a shitload of violence on TV. But as for directly causing harm? Shit,, I remember feeling queasy while I drove that poor prick to the hospital, because I could smell the blood in the close environment of my car's cabin. It was a hot coppery smell, and cloying like incense or a clove cigarette-it blocked out all other smells. But other than that one, panicked night, I had never shed another person's blood-not even when smacking up the girlfriend.

As I heard feet pounding on the door I felt an absurd, alien surge of guilt over that. Deathbed remorse, my blitzed brain told me, and I couldn't really deny it-now that I was facing real violence, I could practically smell the brimstone being stoked for me in the afterlife. Metaphorically of course-in reality, all I could smell was rain, now soaking through Phebe's curtains. The deadbolt held, even when the strikes grew more frequent and more gunshots sounded outside, along with that unbelievable tempo of screams. I stood there, fumbling with the heavy brick of GI colored steel in my hand, my mouth suddenly dry, with nicotine shakes already spoiling my aim.

For what it's worth, wherever you are, you dumb, tempermental bitch, I'm sorry. This might be John Mackey's last transmission to the sky gods off in the ether, and I guess they need to hear this.

"Quiet!" hissed Phebe, before I even knew I had spoken aloud. She stood beside me, her hand on my arm. She had her glock out, held in both hands, muzzle down, while she stared at the door that was shuddering with each new impact. The chain rattled against the wall. She raised her voice, and startled me with her only-slightly-hysterical shout of "Get back, all of you!"

If anything that intensified the pounding, but the deadbolts seemed to hold. I wouldn't be living in this complex if the doors weren't top quality, as I kept a sizable amount of cash and drugs in my apartment. But it wasn't long before some enterprising prick had thrown a rock through the window, the musical tinkle of shattering glass completing it's destruction and sending the curtains whipping out madly like the lacy arms of a soggy poltergeist. Then there was someone scrambling through into the light, no, two someones...they were running across her living room floor while she screamed impotently at them. One of them tumbled into the pile of rubbermaid tubs, sending them and their contents spraying all over the floor, cans rolling in every direction while both of us raised our pistols and pointed it at the two sopping men in the living room. One was black, the other white; other than that, they were practically mirrored images of one another in my vision, as all I could see was a baseball bat in the white guy's hands and some sort of menacing rifle in the other guy's.

"DOWNONTHEGROUNDGETDOWNONTHEGROUNDCOCKSUCKER" Phebe was screaming; I wasn't too far gone not to notice the tearstreaks on her face, but she held her gun steadily and covered the one on the left. Much less steadily, I covered the one on the right, my forearm already straining from clutching the gun so hard. I didn't speak; my throat was a barren desert, and I felt like I was about to puke anyway.

Both of them turned towards us, their eyes wide and terrified. The one with the rifle moved first, starting to lift it towards us. We both fired; the gun bucked in my hand and I put two holes in the drywall to the side of him. The acrid smell of gunpowder flooded my nostrils and I flinched against the flash; by the time I opened my eyes again he was sagging to the ground clutching his throat. It looked like Phebe had plugged him solid-there was a bright flower of blood spreading on his wet t shirt and a veritable fountain of the shit gushing from his voicebox. She was openly sobbing now, but even with tears and snot on her face she covered the other one closely. I pointed my gun at him as well, for all the good it would do.

Slowly, very slowly, he looked down to his buddy on the ground, gasping for air atop a pile of ramen packages, and then backed away, hands up. Phebe didn't seem to be able to speak, so I said simply "Get out, cocksucker. Nice and slow." I was amazed at how clear my voice sounded, though the 'nice and slow' bit was kind of rushed so I could clamp down on my vomit again.

He complied with my request, gingerly stepping over his buddy's corpse and clambering around the glass to get out the window again. The lace whipped frantically around his face, and he dropped his bat to get through it.

I thought things were going to quiet down again, and turned to put a hand on Phebe's shoulder, when suddenly I heard a frantic scream from outside, one that signaled my doom as much as anything I'd heard on the news. "HEY," it came, "THEY HAVE FOOD IN THERE!"

The pounding at the door stopped for a moment, and I heard a collective murmur go up in the mob through the rain; a moment after that came more gunshots, these specifically directed at us. I could hear the rounds vrrrrp through the window, putting more holes in the drywall, and oddly a few pings that I found later were rounds going through the thin section of wall and hitting her pots where they hung over the sink in the kitchen. I crouched instinctively, behind the couch, and was rewarded for my alacrity by a bolt of burning agony as another shot blasted through it in a puff of upholstery and caught me in the right thigh. The pain was unbelievable, and I could feel warm blood starting to fill my shoes as I continued to huddle behind the furniture, while Phebe emptied her glock out the window. That slowed down the shooting a lot, but not entirely-occasional rounds still zipped overhead while I laid on the floor pressing both hands to my now slippery leg. Someone was screaming like a terrified child; later I would be told that it was me.

She was beside me in an instant. "Can you walk?" she hissed, jamming a fresh clip into the butt of the gun that snicked softly. I shook my head no, though I wasn't sure. She wiped her nose on the sleeve of her hoodie, took a deep breath, and then grabbed my collar. "Shoot anyone that comes through the door," she said, her voice distant and cold, her eyes shining at me. I really, really, really, REALLY wanted a valium now.

She dragged me across the floor (and across the spreading pool of blood from the dead looter) through the narrow hallway and back into her kitchen. I saw hands at the window again, and fired another shot, but my gun hand was slick with blood-my own blood-and I have no idea if I hit anyone. I left a crimson smear across the tile when she deposited me in front of a cabinet. "Let me look," she said, and quite easily pried my trembling hand off my bloody leg. Taking a kitchen knife from the block on the counter, she cut off my jeans just below my crotch, and took a good hard look at where I was bleeding.

I turned my head to the side and puked once, orange-grey vomit splattering onto her linoleum. God knows another bad smell is what we both needed; I turned to her, all dead sexy with vomit on my chin, and gulped "Sorry."

She had her tongue between her teeth while she focused; she took a look at the wound and pressed the square of my cut off jeans against it. "Should have gotten a fucking battle dressing," she said, not remarking on my puke. "Looks like it just missed the artery. Hold this here." She guided my hand; even in the bizarre sort of stoned delerium I was in, I was glad I wouldn't die without touching her. I pressed down hard over the pink furrow in my pale flesh, gulped down more vomit, and nodded.

"I'm going to get my first aid kit; it's upstairs." She stood up, shaking blood off her fingers. She grimaced. "Should have worn gloves. You don't have AIDS do you?" I shook my head; to the best of my knowledge, true. "Stay here and don't make a sound."

"Don't go out there," I blurted, and stopped to puke again, my ears ringing with the force of it. By the time I could lift my head again she was gone. I heard another gunshot, one that turned my stomach to ice. I waited, and there was only silence and pouring rain, even most of the gunfire having quieted down. She came back down quickly, a large shoulderbag in desert camo strapped across her shoulders. She had rubber gloves on and started applying a field dressing to my injury almost before I could wipe my face again.

"Thanks," I said, and stood up experimentally. It hurt, but I could do it-in truth I probably could have done it before, had I not been panicking so bad. I fumbled the clip out of my pistol and jacked another one in there, letting the clip lay where it fell in a pool of blood and vomit. ", are we going back out there?"

"Unless you want us to starve in the next week," she said, not too far gone to smirk. I think I loved her in that moment; it wasn't even spoiled when she stumbled to the sink for her turn to vomit. She sobbed as well, a few times, before she straightened, wiped her mouth, and turned to me. "Come on."

We both stepped out into the hallway; there was only one person in the room, and he was handing one of her tubs out the window to some waiting hands outside. This time she didn't bother with the warning; she ventilated his dome in one shot, brains splattering across her sodden white curtains. He slumped against the outside wall, legs jerking as he hung halfway out the window.

I screamed "GET BACK, FUCKERS!" in near hysteria, and fired a few more rounds out the window. Rounds answered back in number, and I started to duck behind the couch again before Phebe grabbed my arm and pulled me behind the heavy oak coffee table. I helped her upend it and we both crouched there. Most of the rounds were going way over our heads, as we were below the level of the window. A shotgun barrel pried the curtains aside, and we both fired at it immediately and were gratified to see it fall to the floor just inside. I emptied one clip, then another and another, the gun growing hot in my hands. After a little while all the shooting stopped, though the shouts outside continued.

In all my life I had never been glad to see cherries and berries, but when I saw them this time I almost pissed myself in relief. I dared a peek outside through the window, saw the stream of looters scurrying across the lawn to the thin line of scrub trees where the cop cars couldn't go, and saw a Hendricks co sheriff's deputy dragging two women into the back of the cruiser. They didn't stick around; with the mob dispersed they were gone in a second.

Phebe had regained her composure, some, and stood there reloading rounds into her clips, big shiny brass rounds of .45 that she was pressing down with her gloved thumb. "Are the cops still there?" she said, her voice strangely numb.

"Um, no, they picked up two chicks and left," I said, and peeked outside again. There was no sign of the mob returning, and perhaps worst of all there was a body in the rosebushes outside her window, his jaw missing while he stared up to the stormy sky. I bit back more vomit and turned to her. "Hey, is that .45?"

"Yeah. You need some?" She jammed another fresh mag into her pistol and replaced it in her shoulder holster.

"Yeah, is it cool if I refill my clips?" I was already looking to the pile where I had left them, and I knelt down beside her to start doing so, though it was tough with my slippery hands.

"Let me," she said, and started doing so with impressive professionalism. "And it's magazines, by the way." She giggled. It was the first time I had heard her laugh. On anyone else it would have been a sort of undignified snort, but I found it endearing anyway. She pressed her thumb down over the slim cli...uh, magazine, of my .45 while she chattered nervously. "Christ, all that training my dad made me do, and yet I'm still not ready...I'm not ready. I should have had bars on the windows, and fuck the fucking lease..."

I chimed in, feeling useless as I sat there watching her handle my reloads. I said "I've got bars on mine."

"Really?" she said, and cocked her head to the side. She jammed the last round into my magazine and handed it to me.

"Yeah, I had 'em installed awhile ago. I, uh, am kind of home security minded." I didn't mention the drug stash. My stomach was churning, but between the addies and the adrenaline at least I was good and awake.

"Well...fuck, I hate to ask you this Jon, but...could we use your place instead? There's no way we can hold this place with this stupid fucking picture window." And then she did something which surprised me; she touched me, placing her rubber gloved hand on my shoulder. It was warm, and the touch grounded me, put a stopper in my brewing internal monologue.

"Sure," I said; I didn't even have to think about it. "Should we, uh, go now?"

"Yeah, let's take these tubs. I still have a few weeks worth of food left, though..." She looked at the bullet riddled tubs behind us, stacked nearly the ceiling, and sighed. "I don't know how much of it will be good. But let's go now. You cover me, I'll move the tubs."

"Um, you're a way better shot than me; why don't you cover me while I move the tubs?"

"You're wounded, Jon; I'll do the heavy lifting."

"Seriously, it's nothing-and it's all I'm good for."

Progress, besides that one brief argument that I won shortly, was quick. Neither of us wanted to take the bloody ramen, so we left that behind, but in the next half hour we quickly moved down three doors into my apartment and got everything set up there. She looked approvingly to the bars on my windows and said "Jon, I'm glad you broke your key off in my door."

I managed to grin at her, though I was still queasy and really wanted a smoke. "Me too."

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