He walked around the body, but stopped abruptly. What would he say? It wouldn’t be terribly difficult to imitate Rudenko’s voice, with a linguistics background. But he had zero knowledge of what a spy, or mercenary, or corporate thug, or whatever the hell Rudenko was, would say.
He stooped down and reached in the dead man’s jacket pocket. Just as his fingers wrapped around the phone, Rudenko’s leg twitched.
Jesus! Gray fell backwards onto the ground, ripping the cell phone from the pocket.
Post-mortem movement from muscle contractions. Gray had heard about this and seen it in bad action movies. Knowing about it and experiencing it first-hand are vastly different. Gray could feel his heartbeat surging.
“What happened?!” gasped the female officer. “What’s wrong?!”
“Nothing,” Gray responded with a deep sigh. “His leg moved. It’s nothing.” Heart still racing, he looked down at his hand holding the ringing cell phone. The phone screen read Blocked. He went to push the little green button to answer when the ringing suddenly stopped and the screen displayed 1 Missed Call. He felt relieved and concerned at the same time. He was terrified at the thought of answering the phone, but then, what would the caller, whoever it was, do when Rudenko didn’t answer?
Ring ring. His question was answered. The phone again showed a blocked number calling.
He hit the green button and put the phone up to his face. Mimicking Rudenko’s voice the best he could, he voiced a clear “Yes?”
Grays ears rang in the silence of the city street. He could see people peering through their windows to get a look at the scene below them. Each face quickly disappeared as Gray spotted them. He had just killed a man, so this came as no surprise.
He walked over to the wounded officer, quickly dropping the gun and making his hands visible for inspection. “I’m not going to hurt you. Thank you for saving me.”
“What is this all about?” The officer said in response. She wouldn’t lower her gun until she got some answers.
Gray immediately began explaining the past few hours. He talked about the note, Rachel’s abduction, his ties to the FBI and Rudenko. He apologized profusely for his gambit in passing her the note, knowing it was a hollow and vain attempt to salvage some level of self respect. Slowly, the officer lowered her weapon.
She sighed, feeling the spots were bullets had impacted her vest. The bullets didn’t penetrate but she was certain at least one rib was broken. She said a silent thank you to the manufacturers. “Okay, let me get this straight. You work with the FBI as a code geek and some super powerful organization kidnapped your girlfriend to force you to help them commit an act of terrorism?”
Before Gray could respond he was stopped by the familiar chirp of Rudenko’s cell phone. He looked over at his body.
“Well, he isn’t going to answer it,” said the female officer.
As he held the gun, he felt the weight of it pressing on the webbed skin between his thumb and forefinger. He had always heard you were supposed to squeeze a trigger, not pull it. He never fully grasped what that meant until this moment. Pulling the trigger only involved one finger, but squeezing it required the whole hand, like squeezing the juice out of an orange. It wasn’t necessarily instinctive, but Gray was extremely logical. He now realized that pulling the trigger would pull the gun’s aim off.
He opened his eyes, refocused his aim, and squeezed his entire fist around the gun. The adrenaline in his body made him numb to any sensation except the recoil. He didn’t hear the gunpowder explosion or see the muzzle flash, although this latter fact was because he had closed his eyes in anticipation of the shot. Rookie mistake.
Despite closing his eyes, he hit Rudenko in the lower back. The force of the bullet spun Rudenko around to his left, away from the officer on the ground. He immediately turned towards Gray. He was raising his arm to fire at Gray, but it was too late. Gray squeezed the trigger a second and third time, hitting the chest and neck. The shot to the chest knocked Rudenko backward, but it was the one to the neck that finished him off. He grabbed his neck in disbelief and fell backwards to the ground. He bled out in seconds.
Gray crouched motionless for a heartbeat. His mind, used to processing endless fonts of data simultaneously examined the situation. Rachel, his work, his clients, his life, two cops, Rudenko, murder and death. His mind made a conclusion, his body moved in response. Echos of fear, doubt, love and loyalty resonated silent protests as he took position behind Rudenko. He saw, in slow motion, Rudenko walk a confident arc around the squad car to acquire line of sight on the wounded female officer.
Motion. Movement. Blurs of survival actions happened simultaneously. The cop, struggling to survive, kicked herself over the curb as though it would protect her from gunfire. Rudenko, pressing forward as though no man made weapon could cause him harm. Gray’s own hands snapped into his field of vision grasping a pistol. The weapon felt foreign and foolish in his hands. He took aim at the back of Rudenko’s head but his hands trembled nervously, betraying his fear.
Pull the trigger and Rachel dies, he thought. Sit idle and another cop dies. This is my fault! A man died because of my miscalculations. Gray’s hands moved the pistol towards Rudenko’s back. Gray closed his eyes.
Gray had gotten out on the driver’s side after the driver was shot. He was going to run, until he saw the body, that is. Standing motionless, he stared down at the bleeding man, but suddenly turned at the sound of the Rudenko walking around the back of the vehicle.
“Oh, shit,” he exhaled. Rudenko was going to finish the female cop off. Gray looked back down at the driver and saw a black pistol grip protruding from inside the man’s jacket. He had never fired a gun before and was hesitant to start now.
But he’s going to kill her. The thought triggered the image of Rachel. A cold chill rushed through his body. Almost instinctively, Gray stooped down, grabbed the butt of the pistol, and pulled. It wouldn’t come out. Shit, he thought silently. It was snapped into the man’s shoulder holster. He grabbed the holster with his other hand and yanked the gun violently out. The snap popped and the gun slid out. In the corner of his eye, he saw a shadow moving behind the vehicle.
Gray could see the cop had dragged herself halfway back to her patrol car. In a low crouch, he hugged the vehicle and took a couple steps towards the back. He peered around the taillight and saw Rudenko walking toward the female officer. He was moving slowly, like a predator stalking his prey.
Seriously? Gray thought. Who the fuck does that in real life?
He took a deep breath.
Her sidearm was out in a flash as she hunkered low against the armored car. She faced Rolls. Blood gushed from his head sending red rivers across the indifferent pavement. A veteran cop and a good man laid dead and prostrate in front of her.
The assailant hugged the passenger side of the SUV, standing tall and waiting for her to take a bad step. Street thugs and gang members never sat still. They sprayed an area in panic fire and beat hasty retreats. This man made no move. There weren’t any sounds of nervous shuffling, no threats or loud labored breathing. She kept here eyes centered on the direction of her assailant and her ears tuned to any sound that could signal danger.
Over her left shoulder she heard the gentle click of a door handle. Adrenaline and years of training took over. The gun moved, she held her breath, took aim and sent four snap-fired bullets through the center mass of the driver. His fate was sealed though it took three more rounds to make the message clear. Not stopping, she turned back in time to see the other man taking aim. She stood and felt the explosions of pain in her chest. The force of the bullets sent her toppling backwards. She was disoriented and struggling for breath. As she recovered, she marveled that she was still alive. She turned to see the man from the backseat standing over the motionless body of the first assailant.
At the back of the vehicle, the female officer handed the bloody card over to her partner. In a hushed voice she said, “Think we might have a kidnapping situation, Rolls.”
Officer Lawrence Perolli, known affectionately as “Rolls” by his fellow officers, was a six-year veteran on the job. After failing the detective’s exam four times, he resigned to the idea of being a police officer.
His new partner, Officer Isabelle Parker, was two years out of the academy and was something of a whiz. If street smarts make the cop, Parker was a borderline genius. Standing on a street corner a year earlier, she noticed a group of six joggers on the sidewalk across from her favorite coffee spot. Thirteen minutes later, the men were arrested for attempting to rob the jewelry exchange they were standing outside of. When the investigating detective asked Parker how she knew, she said, “It was 97 degrees outside, those guys were wearing hoodies. So I asked one of them if they were running in the Beltway 5K this weekend and he said he was. The Beltway 5K was three weeks ago.”
Rolls looked up at Parker with stone cold eyes. He put the bloody ID in his pocket and unsnapped his gun holster.
Parker heard the shot at the same time she felt the blood spray her face. Rolls’ body slumped to the ground.
Parker’s instinct kicked in. She let her knees buckle as the bullet whizzed past her ear.
Rudenko allowed silence between them for only a second. “No officer, our friend Danny lives there. We offered to pick him up. You see, Danny had a bit of an accident. Fell and hit his head.”
The blood! Gray thought.
The female officer swiveled to look at Gray. “Sir, please roll down your window. I need to see your ID.” The officer moved towards Gray as Rudenko covertly lowered the window.
“Of course officer,” Gray said. With one hand he pretended to reach for the wallet that was already in his hand while the other appeared to scratch the back of his head…where his blood was still fresh. He pressed his fingers deep into the open wound and suppressed a yelp of pain. As his two hands met he pulled out ID and Jon’s card. He haphazardly scrawled three simple letters, pressed ID and card together and handed them to the female officer.
She accepted both, and as expected moved immediately to the card. She kept a stoic expression as she read Gray’s desperate message, “SOS”.
“Bill,” she said, referring to the other officer. She made a slight nod to meet her at the back of the SUV.
As the police synced up behind the SUV Rudenko casually turned to Gray. “What foolish thing have you done?” A pistol materialized in his hand.
Gray was watching the blue and black uniform of the grizzly male officer walk up slowly to the driver’s window. The driver rolled the window down and asked, “Evening, Officer. What seems to be the problem?”
“We got a disturbance call from the apartment complex where you just pulled away from. My partner and I noticed you gentlemen walking out of the building as we arrived and you match the description we received from the 911 caller. May I see some identification and registration for the vehicle, please?”
Gray saw a light flicker out of the corner of his eye and turned his head. He was startled by the presence of the second police officer, a female, who was standing just outside his window, hand resting on the hilt of her taser. Despite being only inches away, he knew she could press her face against the glass and still not see inside. The middle seat was positioned far enough back that the first police officer couldn’t see Gray without peering his head into the window or walking around the front of the vehicle.
Gray didn’t make a sound. Even if he didn’t care about these officers’ lives, he knew the men would hurt Rachel to teach him a lesson.
The driver was passing the officer the requested documents when the female officer began talking to Rudenko. “Are either of you residents at the apartment complex?”
Rudenko turned slowly towards her, as if he was just noticing her existence.
He heard the sirens before he saw their source. It took a few seconds for the police car to come into view behind them. The beastial look of the SUV was unmistakeable and appeared to be their target. They rushed to the SUV and matched speed.
Rudenko hissed a command to the driver who promptly slowed and moved the SUV to the shoulder. The police matched the movement and took position behind. The sirens were cut short leaving red and blue flashes to fill the void.
“Mr. Gray, this could play out in several ways,” said Rudenko, turning to give Gray a side view of his cold features. “You could give these good officers a signal. Or you could outright declare your situation and fly to their mercy. These actions will result in the deaths of two fine officers and a penalty extracted from your lovely Rachel. Understood?”
Gray stiffly nodded. He believed Rudenko had no compunction in killing cops and he had tortured Rachel just to prove a point. Outright conflict was not an option. He needed a subtle approach. Gray’s mind jumped to his wallet. Jon Ballard, his FBI counterpart had given him a stack of “get out of jail free” cards when Chaos took its first government contract. It was a joke but Gray carried a few at all times. The only time he had used one was to impress Rachel on their first date. His mind lingered painfully on Rachel as he reached for his wallet.