I step over the bodies of The Chairman and the last leaders of the now shattered Agency. If we had just killed one Board Member things would recover quickly, someone would step into the role. What we did was kill almost all the leading assassins at the disposal of the Agency, along with leaving a bad taste in the mouth of any guns-for-hire that would work security.
And we left a power vacuum that will have to be dealt with.
We made a fucking mess.
I’m so proud of us.
I lift the Chairman’s limp arm and move it to the side, trying to find the PA system microphone. There’s a film of blood covering his desk that makes the task both gross and difficult. I find the button under an almost seamless panel on his side of the desk, pushing his body over to the floor.
It’s more respect than he deserves.
I push a finger down on the button and begin.
“To all remaining Agency assets and the SWAT officers currently making their way through the building. This is the man who set off the explosion on the upper floors. I am also the man with access to demolition charges through to the foundations themselves. In two minutes, thirty seconds the charges will be detonated.”
I pause for effect.
“You may doubt my sincerity. Do you wish to be in this building when you find out if I am a liar or not? I suggest a perimeter, well back, surely you have enough manpower to keep us from slipping out. You have two minutes and thirty seconds. Then we all burn together.”
I let my finger off and hope that it worked. There’s a lot of hope in this plan, perhaps too much. I’m hoping they buy the threat, I’m hoping they move out of the building en masse, I’m hoping that they allowed any Agency assets to come with them.
If any of these things fail us, then we are going to die.
“Avery?” Nova asks. I look at her. She doesn’t look twelve anymore. She’s a far more capable killer than I’ll ever be. She’s also keeping me from bleeding out and it’s showing. She’s exhausted from the effort. It’s written in her eyes, on her face, in the slouch of her shoulders.
“You ready to do this, kid?”
“Only way we get out, old man.” She says, taking my forearm. She’s not wrong. I take a deep breath and do my best to push down the pain, taking off at a jog across the upper floor. Past our still burning helicopter and the damage it wrought, towards a charred and ruined railings that guard the openness of the atrium. The destroyed walls and blast marks from the duffel bags. The blood-soaked floors covered in empty casings and bodies.
We hear the bootsteps and shouts of the SWAT officers as they withdraw, calling for their comrades and taking counts as they exit at the main floor. Somewhere among them will be Chase and Ana on the east side. The Karelian and Chester on the west. They will find their way to Ronnie, where we shall all meet up.
If we’re lucky.
That just leaves the two of us to get the hell out of here. We have twenty floors and maybe two minutes and fifteen seconds to cover that. She helps me to the nearest stairwell door.
Then we start the downward trek, barely hitting two steps between landings, thundering down at a pace reserved for drunk frat boys that tripped. My hands leave blood smears as I hit walls, guiding ever downward on our little trip.
We still have ninety seconds until our threat either comes to fruition or ends our lives. My breaths come harder and my chest gets tight, I can feel the duct tape loosening from my skin as blood soaks the adhesive. That can’t be good.
We’re almost there and still have time to spare, that’s a good thing. Nova pauses for me on each landing, waiting for me to catch up. She’s so much faster than I am. I’d envy her, but I don’t have magic powers, it hardly seems fair.
We hit the ground floor with forty-five seconds on the clock. It was hardly as close a call as I would have thought. The main floor is empty of any life. Plenty of death. There’s bodies that will need mop buckets and not body bags laying about, having fallen from our battle above. Declan is somewhere among the corpses. Poor bastard.
Not too poor though, he was trying to kill me.
We pause. Nova breathes smoothly. I envy that, she is flushed but not gasping like I am. I feel older than I am, kneeling beside her. I check my watch and count down the seconds, her waiting on the detonator.
“We’ll have to move fast.” I say.
“No shit.” She says back. Smartass.
“Hey, kid.” She looks at me, eyebrow raised. “You did good. Sorry I lost you at the airstrip. You should get a refund.”
She laughs, she laughs so hard I can’t help but start to chuckle. She wipes her eyes and pokes me in the shoulder.
“You were a better foster dad than the rest.”
There is suddenly a lump in my throat and I have nothing to say. I blink at her a few times and smile, then I watch her hold up the detonator and hit the switch.
“He was lying!” I shout, punching the nearest wall and then nursing my hand with its freshly broken bones. I assume. “That piece of shi-”
The building explodes.
It starts from the fifteenth floor as concrete and steel is blown to pieces by the embedded charges and works down from there. It takes no more than a second between each floor which means we have fifteen to get the hell out. I grab her by the collar and drag her towards the glass doors that lead to safety. I don’t even realize I have my handgun out before the bucking recoil shudders through my arm, bullets shattering the glass and creating a route to freedom. Pieces of the building begin to come crashing down behind us. We clear the distance and leap through the door as more charges explode to bring down the building.
I see SWAT and police officers taking cover behind their cruisers, so I keep dragging her. The dust cloud that blasts out of the building behind us is plenty of cover for us to leap the hood of a cruiser and disappear beyond the perimeter while the tower crumbles.
While the Agency crumbles.
And we make it out.
The bus driver didn’t look pleased to have me coming onto his vehicle, not even a little bit. His eyes went big at the tactical vest I hadn’t yet managed to strip off, the handgun grips protruding from their holsters. Drenched in blood, sweat and grime. Bleeding from a half a dozen wounds and looking a violent sort.
Not exactly the prime Chicago bus rider, but still not quite the worst he’s ever seen I bet.
“Does this bus go by the hospital?” Nova asks while I take one of the preferred seats, pushing my hand over the wound from Crow to try and slow the blood flow. It seeps through my fingers with each pulse of my heart and I feel the warmth of it dribbling down my stomach. I think the driver nods, because I don’t hear him say anything, but she says “good.”
I bet it doesn’t even go there. I bet he’s just saying yes because of all the guns.
Then the twelve-year old girl sits beside me, leaning her head on my shoulder while the bus engine revs up. The driver finds his courage and returns to his route. In Chicago I would have figured he’d have seen worse than this. We sway with the motion of the bus and I moan at the various pains that sweep through my body.
I open my eyes to see an elderly lady staring at me, eyes wide with shock. I wish I had the energy to smile but I don’t. I just don’t. I lean my head back on the glass instead of smiling and watch the roof of the bus move as we turn corners. I wonder how far the hospital is from where we are. I pull my hand away from my wound and look at the blood. So much blood.
I hope it’s close.
I’m kind of afraid it’s not close enough.
“Thanks, Avery.” Nova says, looking up at me. “Helping me out. Blowing up a building. You know, usual stuff for a kid my age.”
I laugh, feeling something warm and wet in the back of my throat as I do.
“Some families go to carnivals or the beach.” I say.
“Fuck that.” She says. I laugh harder. My hand comes away bloody when I catch my breath after. She looks concerned. She should be. Blood is not supposed to come out of your mouth when you cough. That’s medical school 101.
I shake my head to tell her it’s OK. Even if it’s not. She can’t stop the bleeding this time, I’m not sure anyone can.
I fish something out of my vest pocket that I’ve been meaning to get for most of the night now and tuck it into my hand.
“Language.” I say, letting my hand rest on hers while we wait for the bus to carry on. I lean my head back again and close my eyes to rest. It’s warm enough, comfortable enough.
I have earned a rest, I think. Just for a minute.
Just a minute.
Then I’ll be good as new.
Just. Just a minute.
The city had come to standstill as every news network picked up a massive terrorist incident, where an entire building had been brought down by explosives. Citizens were reporting gunshots and the SWAT officers reported seeing more than a few bodies when they had been clearing floors.
When a bus driver made the call about an armed man and girl on his route, that was worthy of a SWAT team level response. They piled into their vehicles and swarmed towards the hospital stop, sirens wailing and lights flashing for the big show.
On the bus, a young girl tugged at the sleeve of the man beside her. He didn’t move.
“Avery,” she said, her voice catching. She pulled at him and his head rolled on the window. He didn’t open his eyes. He didn’t move. His hand fell away from the bullet wound he’d been covering. “Avery! Wake up. We’re almost there. Come on, Avery. Wake up.”
He didn’t. She squeezed the hand he’d put in hers, as hard as she could. She was choking back tears.
“Avery. Please, wake up. Wake up!”
He didn’t. When she pulled her hand away from his there was a crumpled, blood-soaked dollar bill in her palm. On it, in black marker, was written just five words in his blocky handwriting.
‘Do something good. Love, A.’
“Avery, Nova!” The bus stopped, opened its doors and a man in a torn suit with a British accent stepped on. He held out a hand and the driver waited. His patience was encouraged by the heavily armed trio that was now standing around the bus door.
“We have to leave!”
She couldn’t speak, just hit Oliver Chase around the chest and wrapped her arms around him. A lithe woman stepped on the bus, past Chase. She held up a hand and the driver sank as far from them as he could. He didn’t want anything more to do with tonight. Ana knelt beside Avery, two fingers pressed against his neck. There was nothing. She waited, hoping. Waited. Watched his chest for any rise or fall. Feeling for anything. It just wasn’t there. She shook her head.
“No!” The girl screamed, thrashing as Chase picked her up off her feet into his arms, pulling her against him. She sobbed and screamed and kicked and swore enough to make any seasoned assassin blush.
“We have to go.” Chase said, pulling her to his chest. “Now. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
He had to drag her off the bus as she screamed and cried and tried to beat Chase with clenched fists. She suddenly went limp and sobbed into Chase’s arms, turned around and clinging to him with both arms. She sobbed into his suit jacket and he let her.
“We need to bring him.” She said, almost impossible to hear. Her voice trembling, soft, barely there through the tears.
“We can’t. We have to go. Ana, hurry.”
Ana gave Avery a soft kiss on the cheek and removed two handguns from his chest rig. Then she turned and left him on the bus, disappearing into the night with the other two.
“We can’t.” Chase whispered as they ran, holding her tight and doing everything he could to hide the lump in his throat and the tears in his eyes. She sobbed into his shoulder while they ran into the night.
When the SWAT team boarded the bus, they found him still sitting there, eyes closed, resting.
Just for a minute.
They never did find the girl.