Only Seconds Left 

A short story by L.R. Forgues

 

They creak. That’s what I hear, even through the mask. Cold leather. Over my swollen knuckles as I clench my fist. Blood. A smear of the stuff across the knuckles. Damn. I glance down, getting my first good look at the goon sprawled at my feet. My jaw sings, a song of blood and loose teeth. It’ll mend…they always do. The guy clocked me good. A quick left…and hard. There won’t be a repeat of that garbage. The crescent wrench was a lucky find. Just sitting there near the rail. Waiting patiently. The goon’s nose sounded…wet, on impact. The fight was over then. Damn, he was a big one. Lurching outta the shadow like that as I busted through the door. Got the wrench, came up swingin…just like DiMagio. Too bad about his gun though. A Colt. Matte black. I always liked those. Didn’t hear it land after it sailed over the rail during the scuffle. But then again, it’s hittin snow…50 feet down. Woulda been useful later though. I know his buddies are still out there. Lurking in the snow-swept shadows; armed and paid off. Grabbing the shoulders of his leather flying jacket, I haul the big lug off to the side, off the main gangway and onto the wider steel-grate landing behind. Deep shadows. I search by feel. 2 spare magazines. .45’s. Useless now. A couple grenades; like compact soup tins. Can’t tell what kind. A blade now. In a boot. Good edge. The dagger and the bombs come with me. The rest goes over the edge, with him. A couple yanks and a push and over he goes. His 220 or so lbs tumble away without a sound. I hear him land though. Sounds like rocks. Sorry, pal. It was you or me. Pick the winning team next time. Glaring against the crisp wind and streaking flakes of snow, I see my route ahead. And for that split second, my public persona pops in and marvels at my surroundings. On a cold metal walkway. Snaking along into the shadowed distance. Bookended width to width, and covered by heavy concrete towers spaced at 75 foot intervals. Out over this hilly, scrub-infested landscape. Night time. Snowstorm. 2 nights ago, I was at my other place…the penthouse in the city. The call came. I went. And here I am. Gotta stop that son-of-a-bitch before he shuts down the entire Western Seaboard. I hope he’s wearing that stupid cape this time. Gonna strangle him with it. Over there! What’s that?! A pinprick of orange, off through the snow and shadow. Two towers away. My next feat of daring do. The distant ember pulses bright…and vanishes. That cigarette better be good…cause it gonna be his last! Hunkering down, I pull my trench in around me…then dashing forward; out along the gangway. The goon’s blade is clenched in my fist, the grenades tucked away. Still can’t believe that that first jerk, the one guarding the junction station hit my piece. Second time ever, I take the Magnum out…and it gets shot. As in, takes a bullet…probably saving my skin. Damn, that thing bucked when the cylinder blew. Actually heard a piece scream past my head. Close call. It hadn’t even taken any scum out yet. Better luck next time. My boots pound on the grated walkway below, despite my best efforts. The snow helps…but I still notice. I’m closing on the first tower. No shots fired yet. This might work. I leap down the short steps at the end of the path, onto the maintenance landing that spans between these two towers, dashing toward the dark alcove set into the wet concrete. The shadows swallow me. I freeze in place. The wind seems to yowl up, gusting crystalline flakes all around. As my breathing softens, I prepare to glance at my quarry again, make sure he’s still cooling his heels up there; one tower away now. Something then catches my eye before I can zero in. I’m not alone at this tower. On the opposite leg, 30 ft up, movement catches my attention on the railed service platform. A shape. A shadow. A man. A rifle. Damn! He see’s me as I see him. In a hot flash of adrenalin, instinct kicks in. My hand whips out and the knife is away. Flashing as it streaks up. Thud. A good hit. The shadow jerks away with a guttural yell, a blade stuck somewhere. The rifle fires with a crash…far off ricochet. I only have seconds now. Bursting from the shadows, I aim squarely at the rusty ladder; leaping for the lower rungs. My hands and feet do their thing, quickly. The concrete lip of his hideout approaches. Then…he’s there! Seeming to loom over me. For a quick moment, I wonder what my tombstone will say. I’m nearly at the top rung and he’s raising the rifle. Some foreign bolt-action number. He’s aiming it straight down…at me; 3 ft away. And he’s using the scope! This is almost too easy. Quickly reaching up, I grab the rifles barrel and shove…hard. The scope slams into his eye socket with a moist crunch. Almost without noticing, I also hear the ‘tink’ of something broken abruptly rattling in the scope’s body. The jerk falls back; clutching at his now broken eye. That’ll teach him for being stupid! He collapses out of sight. He’s down…but not out. I can hear him moaning as he fumbles around for something. Probably another piece. Hanging one-handed, I grab one of his buddies grenades from my coat. Without looking, I yank the pin out with my teeth, straight through my mask…and toss it up. The ladder and I suddenly become good friends as I hug it tightly, waiting for the deafening blast. A second passes. Then two. What the hell? A damn dud? Then…a hollow POP! A strange hissing sizzles up, competing with the wind. That smell. Of course. It’s a smoke grenade! That’ll teach me for not reading the label. Glancing up, I see that the thick cloud is dancing with the gusts as it blossoms. I have only seconds. Gotta move! Its then that he starts shrieking. Goddamn…what now?! Preparing for the unexpected, I peep over the lip of the platform. Even with the swirls of noxious cloud whipping around I can easily see what’s happened. The goon is on fire. One whole leg blazes against the surrounding darkness as he tries to bat it out with a hand. His other hand is groping in the depths of his dark coat. It seems that the grenade ignited with the spoon still connected, which happened to catch on his pants. And up they went. I’ll congratulate myself on the nifty throw…if I survive. Hey! There’s the knife! Nicely wedged under his collar bone. Wow. I’ve done a number on this jerk. Blood streams from the busted eye socket. Then…he freezes. His good eye is angrily fixed on me. And he’s found what he was looking for. Out it comes. The pistol is small but I’ll bet that its bite isn’t. The black muzzle looks huge at this range. Damn…I was so close. CLICK. I flinch. He blinks…then realizes. Throwing myself onto the platform, my hand falls onto his discarded rifle. Perfect. ClickClack. He’s cocked the gun, like he should have before I got here. As I leap up, so does the rifle in my hand. Grasping the barrel, I give it my best ever golf swing. The heavy wooden butt arcs swiftly up at the smoke-shrouded head shape. They meet with an ugly crack. He doesn’t make another sound as he keels off the platforms edge, trailing smoke and sparks down like a meteor. He hits the walkway below with a sickening crash…and lies still; smouldering. That’s 3 down. The smoke is torn from around me by the wind. As it goes, I hear a familiar noise in the distance. ClickSnap. Shit! I hit the deck as the first burst of rounds explode against the spot where I just was. The cold metal of the grate shocks my knees, even through the pads, as I commando-crawl my way around the towers edge. A bullet snaps loudly off the rail behind me. The machine gun chatters from the next tower. Sounds like a Thompson. Terrific. More .45’s. Splinters of concrete and metal explode from around the tower. Taking a quick glance at the rifle clenched in my mitt, it testifies to the fact that it probably killed the Human Torch down there. The butt is badly cracked near the grip and his face left juice sprayed across the wood. Oh, and the scopes busted. No help there. Over it goes. Then it hits me. My friend over there must’ve finished his smoke and now wants to play too. Gotta take a look. Quickly. The dark and snow help…but he still sees me. The Tommy crackles again, its muzzle flash winking at me from the shadows. The rounds shriek as they ricochet off the railing nearby. Ducking away, I catch sight of Burn Victim’s pistol lying just around the corner, waiting. Guess he didn’t want to take it with him. I snake my hand around the tower’s edge, groping for the piece and expecting hot lead to punch into my arm at any second. Any…second. Any… he must be reloading. My gloved fingers stumble over the pistol and I quickly haul it back. Another half-dozen rounds slap off the tower again…right where my hand had been. Damn. He’s a good shot…just a little slow. This pistol feels like a toy. Its something a dame would carry. Looks German. 7 round mag. Gotta make em count. Another burst smacks around me. He must be getting frustrated now. The bullets just hit everywhere and no where. Hefting the gun in my fist, I figure its time to give ole Tommy over there something to ponder. A quick 3 count and I move. Throwing my gun hand around the edge, I glare down the small barrel at his shadowy platform. He’s dark…but I see him as he moves. BLAM! BLAM! The gun barely jumps in my hand. And the damn wind doesn’t make the thing sound any more manly either! One of my rounds sparks off the rail next to him and he scurries back. BLAM! I send another one over for good measure. Oh, I miss my Colt. As if to indulge me, a stream of .45’s snap back. Concrete dust bursts off the corner, stinging my eyes despite the mask. BLAM! BLAM! I blindly cap off a couple more as I jerk away. I’ve gotta get off this platform! Covered by the body of the tower, I sidle along; searching. Maybe there’s a …yes! Another service ladder, around back…leading up. I’ll be protected all the way. Well…from Tommy anyway. Here, gravity’s the problem. One slip partway and I’m a goner. It’s a long way down to God-knows-what. Rocks. Trees. Darkness. All masked by gusts of blowing snow. Time to move. If I’m quick, maybe I can get a drop on the bastard. The piece slips easily into a pocket and, with a good grip on the nearest rung, I swing up; over the abyss. Hand over hand. Up I go. The tower I’m ascending boasts an evil-looking collection of spire-like conducting coils at the top, all anchored in the concrete like the others. Heavy cables creak in the wind, one for each spire. They all lead off through the storm to The Facility; my destination. The higher I climb the more I become aware of the tower’s crackling hum. Of the dry ozone smell. Of my own unease with huge doses of man-made lightning. No time to ponder…there’s the top rung. Subtlety steps back from centre stage and I vault off the ladder; drawing the pistol as I charge. Through the snow and darkness I can make out my ladder’s relative, just across the ice-encrusted railway that this part of the span caters to. Up here, I can’t shake the feeling of standing on a very unsafe bridge that seems to have no end, just keeps on going off through the cold winter night. On a good day this position would offer up a spectacular view of the surrounding landscape. This is not a good day. Oh, damn! There’s Tommy! Guess he had the same idea. We both freeze in place. I get my first good look at the jerk as he pauses at the corner of his tower. He’s got a black wide-brimmed fedora on low over his eyes. The Thompson is slung around his back, over the long dark trench-coat he wears. Something gives. I whip up my gun hand. BLAM! BLAM! And click. In my haste, both shots go wide, maybe killing some snow as he hunches over; running. He’s having trouble swinging the Tommy around as he reaches the end of his gantry. It doesn’t slow him down. The pistol, locked open and smoking uselessly, might still come in handy. I wind up and hurl the pistol at him with all my might. This time, my aim is better. With both of his hands fumbling to get the sub-machine gun up, he has nothing to protect his head. THOK! The gun slams into his hat with an impact that makes me cringe inside. He reels back, abruptly dazed. Blinking frantically and in obvious pain, his hands find the Thompson. NO! I throw myself at him as he brings the barrel up. With a desperate swing, my arm connects with the gun as he fires. The thunderous staccato of the burst is loud at this range and for a split second, I have to blink away the spots created by the bright muzzle flash. He misses me…barely. Warm shell casings tink down around us as pure instinct forces my hand. My other fist lashes out for the shadows under the hat brim. I think it’s his chin my knuckles solidly connect with. Despite the heavy pockets of lead dust in my gloves, Tommy doesn’t drop like a good boy. Stumbles sure, but that’s hardly conclusive. At this range I can now see his pale face. A thin stream of crimson snakes out from under his hat and down his hawkish nose. His beady eyes are glassy and unfocused and he has one of those sleazy little pencil mustaches that seem to be all the rage these days. I should knock him well into next Tuesday for that alone! I get a strong whiff of cheap cigar and cheaper pastrami. Where do these clowns come from?! As we struggle for possession of the gun, he makes a mistake. He telegraphs his next move. A cock of the head. A roll of the shoulder. There’s a punch coming next. Had I not been ready, he may have floored me. But, as it is, I see it coming. His fist passes through the thin air where my masked head just was. Off balance, he stumbles forward. My grip on the Thompson’s barrel never falters and I jam the muzzle skyward as we dance. My next move hits like a good punch-line. Yanking the gun up, I force his finger to depress the trigger. Hot shells spray directly into his unprotected face and he turns away with a curse as we’re lit in the stuttering flash. This is it! The sub-machine gun falls silent as I wrench it from his hands with a quick side-step. The sling catches him around the throat and I twist. His wheezy yelp cuts off in a blink and his hands fly to his neck. With an iron grip on the gun, I drop to my knees in the snow behind him. There’s a quick crunch and he drops like a sack of potatoes, limp as a doll. Crack! The back of his head comes down hard on the rail between us…then its over. He’s still now. Thank Christ! My hurried breath steams through my mask, where a mouth should be had I designed it that way. I’m almost afraid to find out what’s next. The answer comes immediately in the form of a pair of headlights blazing to life; far down the track that runs into the mammoth Tinker Toy-looking monstrosity that is my target. The Facilities multitude of small lights are dim through the storm, giving the plant no discernible sense of shape or design. The head lights, on the other hand, seem to be brightening…rapidly. It doesn’t take a high IQ to figure out why. They’re coming. More of them. Racing along the narrow track toward me. Terrific. To think that I almost got to catch my breath. A heroes work is never done…clearly. From under the high dirge of the wind, the throaty roar of the car rises. Sounds like a Packard. Pop! What the?!…that was a bullet! Passing nearby at head level. Damn! They’re not even waiting till they get here. A second one glances off the track behind me with a whine. There’s still the Thompson in my hand…and around the goon’s throat. I’m humbled as a quick calculation tells me that my brilliant finishing move for Tommy here has now handicapped my options for dealing with the rapidly oncoming car. With the sling dug in to his throat, I can’t get the gun out from under his dead weight with anything resembling ease. And I do mean dead. The dark puddle forming from under his cracked melon confirms it. PLANG! Another bullet strikes nearby. It looks like it’s my Night at the Improv! With a good shove, I roll Tommy onto his side, trying to ignore the rotten fruit sound that comes from inside his fedora. Using his burly corpse as a makeshift shield, I brace the Thompson across his slumping shoulder. With the sling cinched tight, it won’t move any further. The Packard roars on. As I slide my finger into the trigger guard, another bullet thuds into Tommy’s torso. Yet another snaps past my ear as I glare into the approaching lights. And…for a split second…I’m back in the Pacific, fighting off the hordes from the Imperial Army of Japan. Wind gusts snow flakes into my face, snapping me back into The Now. I hit the trigger. The sub-machine gun smashes to life in my hand. Through the darkness, I can’t make out anything beyond the shocking muzzle flash. I can, however, hear that at least some of my shots are finding their target. Metal screams and glass shatters. Then…click. The hammer falls on an empty chamber. A look past the guns smoking barrel and my heart sinks. The Packard still comes. Through the one remaining headlight I can see steam angrily spewing through the grill. A lucky round into the radiator, I guess. And the passenger door looks ajar. Gotta get off this damn track before this maniac can run me down! As I leap up from behind Tommy, a weight shifts in my pocket. Of course! The other grenade! Probably another smoker, but I could use the cloud as cover so I can get back down below. Pulling it out, I yank the pin. The spoon flips away and the fuse sputters to life with a hiss. A strong over-handed pitch and I hurl the small bomb high and far. I almost instantly lose sight of it as it arcs away through the blowing snow. The car is nearly here, speeding at me like a chariot from Hell; its tortured engine screaming. Aw, hell…BAAANG! The Packard’s rear end leaps up as though kicked; all the remaining windows shattering into a glistening cloud. It wasn’t a smoker. The car slams back down onto a cracked axle, slewing to the side. Catching on something unyielding it crashes over into a vicious barrel roll. Over, and over, and over it comes! Shredded chunks spray off into the night as the smoking body slams down the track at me. Holy shit! I hadn’t counted on this! Fear and confusion strike like lightning, rooting me in place. I can only watch as the end of my crime-fighting days approaches. Ka-BOOM!!! Half the car abruptly vanishes into a shattering burst of debris as something in the trunk detonates with a flash. Kicked in the chest by the shock, I stumble over Tommy’s cooling body to land in a heap in the bloody snow. The remains, engulfed in red fire, seem to fill my vision. Then…it’s gone; over the side. Halfway down, I hear it slam into the tower I’d been climbing only minutes before. Something else blows up with a loud WHOOMPH and I’m dazzled by a bright fireball that suddenly rolls up past the tower; toward the snow choked sky. The wind swallows the echo, replacing the sounds of carnage with its song. The cables above dance in their moorings, singing along in strange tones. They quickly calm down too. The adrenalin zaps through me and for some strange reason…in that moment…I realize just how cold this friggin place is. I shake it off and, with something resembling difficulty, rise to my feet. There’s still work to be done and asses to kick. The snow crunches beneath my boots as I step forward, the bright lights of the looming power facility twinkling back at me through the wind-blown streaks of snow. Mocking me…daring me…drawing me into the gaping maw. I clench my swollen fists again, taking comfort again in the creak of the bloodied leather. That son-of-a-bitch is in there…somewhere. Lurking with his goons. Goons that I intend to dispatch straight to hell. Then…he and I are gonna chat…and only one of us is walking away, I swear. I step forward.

To be continued…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s