Saturday, March 9, 2013

10/4/12 - 10/10/12 - The Lights Growing Gradually pt. 3


"Just leave me," the Black Card says, groaning in the passenger seat of the van as he tries to keep his insides from plopping out into his lap: "That's an order, kid... leave me..."

"Like !@#$ i will," Whisper says, gritting her teeth and swerving the vehicle any which way it will go to keep just ahead of the bullets. The good news is that, at this time of day, 25 going into Manhattan isn't chock-full of commuters. The bad news is that it's far from deserted, and there's going to be a rolling tailback any second now, coming back from the bridge.

And even if it doesn't materialize, there's still the !@#$ bridge, itself.

She isn't even bothering to look in the rear view mirror, anymore. She knows what she'll see there: every black car in Queens -- all full of angry goombas, all armed to the !@#$ teeth and beyond, and all wanting a piece of them for what they just did.

"Stupid," she mutters for the tenth time since the op they went on this morning ended in a monumental !@#$-up. Stupid for not planning this better. Stupid for not having a real exit strategy. Stupid for not doing a million different things, or making a million different decisions.

Stupid for getting sloppy and soft, and trusting too much in chance and luck, and believing that they couldn't even be scratched by their enemies.

Stupid, pure and simple. And now she was going to die, and take the whole !@#$ world with her.

* * *

All she had to do was fail to kill someone. How hard could that be?

The five Families were having a meeting, that morning. They were going to be deciding what to do about this Imago situation. They tried to hand out an olive branch, back in May, after the President was executed, but were told that they were an "unfortunate anachronism, and one that would shortly be rectified."

At least, that's what the sole surviving member of their delegation said that they said. There may have been more things said, but after what they did to the four other people who accompanied him, this rather hard fellow -- well-known for his barely-checked brutality -- would rather sit in his room and drink himself into oblivion than elaborate.

And that said all that needed to be said about their attitude towards the Families.

So, after a few months of having only a black market to work with, and finding it hard to compete with various other organizations, they were hurting. The money was drying up, and -- between those other organizations fighting for turf, and the efforts of "that crazy !@#$ing vigilante" --  the body count was getting high. The soldiers were scared, the lieutenants were grumbling, and decisive action was needed to maintain order and discipline.

Hence the meeting, which was held in a back room of the best-protected home of the oldest and most powerful member of the most influential Family, who was also the least rational of the bunch. There, behind strong walls and sound-baffling devices, the five men of influence would have a good meal, and debate whether to throw in with their rivals, serve them up to the Imago, or pursue other avenues of revenue.

(They were also going to talk about the crazy vigilante, though that might wait until dessert turned to drinks. No one wanted to talk about him sober.)

Such a meeting was supposed to be hit-proof. The special room was in the best reinforced house that millions of dollars in blood money could buy, complete with total surveillance packages. They had all their muscle -- some enhanced, some just !@#$ good, some both -- inside and outside the house, watching for anything out of the ordinary. They had a secure perimeter, with armed men walking around the trees and bushes in an endless circuit. They even had a psychic or two, lounging outside the secure room and waiting to feel the build-up of negative vibes that would indicate a bullet about to be fired their way.

But nothing ever truly is hit-proof. Not in this day and age, anyway.

Not when you have a very special sniper rifle that fires straight and sure up to a mile away. Not when you have bullets that can go through mega-armored alien spaceships, to say nothing of wood, brick, and steel. Not when you have a sight that can see though such things as though they weren't there.

And certainly not when you have, as a last ditch effort, a remote-controlled car bomb that can turn an entire city block into dust and toothpicks, to say nothing of someone's fancy estate house.

So that was the plan, at least as far as Black Card understood it. Sit a little under mile away, shoot the five heads of the lesser families, one by one, and then drive by to shoot out their cars -- just to say "!@#$ you," and leave no doubt in anyone's mind who was responsible.

That was the plan, at least as far as Black Card understood it. But Whisper had a different understanding.

And now he's dying because of it.

* * *

A hail of bullets fly through the back of the van, shattering the windshield. Thankfully, the walls behind their seats are armored against such things, but having flying glass rake across her face, followed by rushing wind, makes driving just that much more interesting.

Black Card's gone unconscious again, so she punches him in the shoulder, right at a nerve cluster. He shouts at the pain and starts forward, and then goes back to holding his insides in.

"No sleeping, soldier!" she commands, hanging a quick left and trying to get over to the inside lane: "You're staying with me, got it?"

"Let me just take them out with me..." he begs: "I'm not gonna !@#$ing make it..."

"You will."

"I won't."

"!@#$ that !@#$. You are living though this."

"Honey, I-"

"It's Whisper, you son of a !@#$," she hisses, trying not to cry: "It's Whisper when I'm working."

"You call this working?" he says. It's a moment or two before she realizes it was as close as he comes to a joke, but by then he's started laughing. It's dark and unsettling, and there's blood coming from his nose as he does.

And that's when she realizes that this old, barely-sane soldier she made the mistake of falling in love with is going to die, after all. 

* * *

"How are we on time?" he'd asked as they lay atop the van, just over a mile east from the house they were aiming at. There's a special tarp draped over them: one that keeps them cool and masked from electronic surveillance. 

And, given the power of the weapon they're about to use, they don't even have to have the barrel of the gun poking out from under it.

"Just fine," she'd said, delicately adjusting the sight, and smiling to see how clear the targets were: "This is a really nice !@#$ing piece. Where did you get it?"

"Friend of an enemy of an ally," he says, putting a small pair of binoculars up to his eyes: "These came with it. I can see what you see."

"Now there's a scary thought," she says, chuckling to avoid cursing. This changes things, and not for the better.

"I like to see things through your eyes," he replies. And she knows what he means.

She smiles and snuggles a little closer to him, in spite of it all. He doesn't move closer, but he doesn't move away, either. He just stays there, solid and warm. 

Comforting in his trust. 

And she realizes that, in less than ten minutes, she's going to break that trust open like a stepped-on egg. That makes her wince, just a little, but she does her best to mask it.

"All five of them in three seconds," he says: "Can you do it?"

"Oh yeah," she says, watching them all come into the room and get ready to sit down: "Just waiting for the first course to be served. I always wanted to blow someone's brains into their caprese..."

* * *

The muscle is ramming the back of their van, now. Another car is trying to move alongside, either to get ahead of them or slam them into the side of the road, which is the risk she took getting over to the left. But at least now she doesn't have to worry about two vulnerable sides.

The car to her immediate right is a massive, green SUV with a clearly panicked family inside. They can't get out of the lane they're in to save their lives, and every time they speed up or slow down Whisper matches their speed, just to keep them from giving the car behind them the opening they need to get alongside.  

She feels bad for the family (mother, father, two children in the back) but cannot help them; they have to stay where they are or else the bastards will have an open field of fire on the right side of the van. And if they do, they'll hit Black Card.

The old man wakes up with each jolt, cursing and growling at the pain. She'd hand him a gun to fire back but he'd need both hands, and then he'd unwind all over himself and bleed out faster. 

And she needs both hands on the wheel.

"!@#$ it !@#$ it !@#$ it !@#$" she curses, wishing she could toss a grenade out the back, or shoot back, or anything.

The bridge looms ahead. There may be a tailback coming their way. If they stop, they are both dead. 

But even if they make it over the bridge, there's no guarantee they won't be dead, there, too. She has no idea if the people she's really been working for, all this time, are going to uphold their end of the deal.

All that she knows is that she's got a mission, and there's more than just her life at stake, here.

* * *

"It's really simple, Whisper," the masked and hooded man had told her, not long after she woke up from that coma and escaped from that hospital: "We need you to do something for us."

"What's in it for me?" she'd asked, doing her best to not act scared by the man or his weird friend. She didn't feel like she was succeeding, though. The fact that they'd just teleported into the hotel room she'd gotten was one thing, but the fact that they'd apparently traced the virgin fake ID she'd rescued from her New Jersey drop box made her distinctly unnerved. 

(She'd only been using it for 24 hours, and already they'd found her? What was up with that !@#$?)

"For you, not a whole lot," the man had said, gesturing that she should sit down in the chair by the bed, which she did. (She'd hidden a gun nearby, after all.)

"My life, then?" she'd asked, smiling at him.

"No," the weird fellow had said, his voice sounding like it came from deep underwater: "That is not ours to give or to take."

"Well, that's a !@#$ comfort-" she'd started to say, but then the masked fellow had handed her an old photograph, and her face fell to see it. 

In the photo was an older man. He was square-jawed and grizzled, and had a look in his eyes like the best parts of his humanity had been torn out of him with pliers. He looked as though he was going to murder the camera for the sin of merely existing.

And she knew that man all too well.

"You worked with the Black Card once," the masked man had said: "Italy. Ten years ago. He was taking out certain illegal business interests, right at the root. You were part of the team he put together to do it. And you two were the only survivors."

"Yes," she'd said, handing the photo back: "We worked very well together. And if you want me to kill him, then you just !@#$ off-"

"That's not what we want," the man had replied, sitting down on the bed and looking her in the eyes: "We want you to go to where he's holed up, in Neo York City, and join him in his crusade. He's taking full advantage of the bad spot the Imago have put organized crime into, and it's only a matter of time before he overextends himself and they get him. We want you to keep him safe, and keep him grounded."

"Why?" she'd asked, looking between the man and the other one: "Do you approve of his war?"

"We need him to keep being successful," the man had replied.

"And when the right moment comes, we need it to fail," the strange one had commented: "We need you to make it fail."

"Why the !@#$ would I do that?"

"To save the world," the masked man had told her. 

And then he'd explained how.

* * *

A tailback. !@#$. She has no choice, now. 

She moves the van over exactly half a lane, pushing the SUV out of the way as she does. There's a crash and a smash as it hits another car in another lane, followed by the accusing sound of someone's horn blaring. It fades away as she leaves the scene of the crime, reminding her of a little brother threatening to tattle as he runs home.

And as she gets past the smash-up, she accelerates the van as fast as it will go, honking her horn and hoping that the big cars and trucks get the !@#$ out of her way, because she's coming right up the middle. 

The first hits are the worst, and actually slow her down. For a terrifying second, she thinks she's going to stop, anyway. In spite of all the weight and reinforced metal this van is packing, it might actually stop. 

But then the muscle behind her slams into her back bumper, forcing her forward into the mashed up crunches of metal, plastic, and glass that used to be a Civic and a Firebird. And then her forward momentum is carrying her on to the next two cars. 

And the next.

And the next.

And the next...

Before long, the people up ahead see what's coming their way and do their best to squeeze out of hers. This makes things go a lot better, as well as faster. And now the muscle has to follow her in a single-file line, down the highway, and they can't shoot over or through each other.

She realizes she's on the bridge, now. She's almost to the island. Almost home. 

She might just make it. This just might work. 

* * *

"What the !@#$ do you mean the gun jammed?" Black Card had shouted as they leaped from the top of the van and ran into it.

"I don't !@#$ing understand it, either," she'd lied, knowing full well that she'd tampered with the fifth bullet so that it wouldn't fire. She'd waited until the five targets were lined up in such a way that she could go from left to right, killing each one in turn until she got to the last one, and then leaving him alive.

That was the real plan, after all. 

"Well, get the !@#$ car bomb moving," he'd said, strapping himself into the passenger seat and getting his gun ready to go: "Have it follow us about a block back. I'll fire at the guards and toss the cards. And then the bomb'll take care of the survivor."

"That it will," she'd lied, knowing full well that the bomb was a, like the last bullet, a total dud. 

The real plan was that she'd leave the least sane and rational Family head alive. They would drive by, shoot them up, and speed away. And rather than be sensible and stay back, the head would most likely order all his muscle to chase after them -- right into the !@#$ing city if necessary -- because he was that sort of guy.

And that is exactly what she was counting on, as that was what the plan called for. 

What she didn't expect, however, was that when they rushed past the mansion, and Black Card put his mask on, opened his sliding door, and started firing at the muscle as they scrambled this way and that to look for the snipers, that someone would be ready and waiting to shoot back.

But there he was, right at the front door: Giuseppe "Madman" Mandino, head of the Mandino crime family, and total sociopath, covered in his fellow heads' brains and blood and holding the sort of gun you don't see every day.

And aiming it right at her partner. 

Before she knew what was happening, the old, !@#$-eyed mobster was firing back at her partner. And then she could see daylight through the back of Black Card's abdomen.

The only reason the bullets didn't kill her is because they went right through her window, trailing bits of his intestines and kidneys with them. And when he collapsed into his seat, holding what was left of his variety meats with his hands, she realized how badly she'd !@#$ed up.

And how badly they needed a miracle.

* * *

"!@#$ yeah!" she shouts, riding a spike of pure adrenalin as they get halfway across the water: "Almost there, hon! Almost there!"

"What's waiting...?" he asks: "Get the doc, yet?"

"Not yet," she says, wondering why she didn't think to call their favorite blackmailed sawbones, yet. Was she just that busy dodging black cars and brutal thugs, or did she realize there was no point?

(He looks terrible. He's not going to make it. She knows this, and it's breaking her heart.)

From somewhere in the distance, she can hear a police siren. Is it for them? Is it up ahead or following behind?

A couple more shots are fired into the back of their van. The metal behind them takes it. The windshield's already gone. The bullets will reach Manhattan before they do.

"Just a little more," she begs the van: "Please just-"

More shooting. A bang. The sick lurching as the wheel decides to do something that she doesn't want it to, and they almost ram right into one of the cars that's gotten out of their way before she gets it under control.

The tires. They've finally done the smart thing and started aiming for the tires.

"!@#$!" she screams, wishing she could toss that grenade out the back, but knowing if she does then the plan fails and this is all for nothing.

She has to get to the island. Manhattan. All she has to do is get there and-

Another shot. Another bang. The other tire.

The wheel lurches the other way. Now she doesn't have to fight to keep it in a straight line, anymore. But they're shredding rubber and running on the rims, and their momentum is slowed down to half of what it was.

If they hit another car they're going to stop. If they stop they're dead.

If they stop, they've failed.

* * *

Italy, ten years ago. It was her and Black Card in the burning warehouse, backs to a wooden crate and down to half a clip apiece. 

The other three mercs were dead. The people who killed them were out there, in the fire, and not afraid of it. In fact, they were !@#$ing laughing. 

It took the two of them a second, but they realized their breathing was synchronized. They also realized that they were holding hands.

He looked at her. She  looked at him. 

"Thank you," he said.

"What for?"

"For this."

"You're paying me for this."

"Not for all of it."

"No,"  she said, smiling: "Not all of it."

They leaned in and kissed, then -- full and deep. A warrior's kiss. The last mark of love and respect two such persons can give one another before the end. 

"I'll go left," he told her, between kisses.

"I'll go right," she told him, biting his lip as he pulled away.

"If you're not at the boat in ten minutes..."

"I'll leave without you."

They looked at each other, and smiled. And then they got up and did what they said they would. Perfectly.

All the way to the mainland, on the boat, she wondered if he'd died, back there, or if he'd just drawn their fire so she could get away. 

She watched the island burn until the dawn.

* * *

"Come on..." she growls, stomping down on the gas as hard as it will go and laying on the horn. Some !@#$head in a jeep isn't getting the message. He's on his cell phone and not paying !@#$ing attention.

"!@#$ you," she mutters, knowing that the burning rubber smell isn't just coming from the back wheels, but from the vents, too. The engine is overheating. When's the last time they changed the oil? Will it hold together?

The jeep isn't getting out of the way. They're so close, yet so far.

"!@#$ you!" she screams: "!@#$ you!"

"Love you, too..." Black Card whispers, eyes closed and drooling blood. He has no idea where they are or what's going on.

She reaches out to take his hand. He squeezes it, and maybe his eyes flicker open for just a second.

"It was worth it..." he whispers as something snaps under the hood and the engine starts juddering: "All of it."

"All of it," she replies just before they hit the jeep.

And then-

(SPYGOD is listening to Juanita/Kiteless/To Dream of Love (Underworld) and having a Moretti)

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