NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR
Music plays an important part in the main character’s life, therefore chapter headings list songs and artists. This was the author’s clever way of giving the story a soundtrack. Readers are encouraged to listen to music while reading, and the listed songs are merely a suggestion as to what songs are appropriate for each chapter. Readers may also designate their own personal choices for songs for each chapter of Blake Twenty-Three and come up with their own soundtrack.
Don’t over-think it. Just have fun.
“Mr. Jones” by Counting Crows
NINE MONTHS AGO:
The elevator doors open. My uniformed escort motions for me to move forward into the hallway. We’re on the tenth floor of the organization’s H.Q., the top floor where the unstable agents reside.
It’s a war zone. Bullet holes crisscross the walls. The remnants of shattered lights flicker along the corridor, buzzing and sending out lightning flashes. Pieces of ballast and plaster hang from the ceiling, and glass shards crunch under our feet. My escort and I navigate the hallway as if we’re exploring the Amazon, avoiding dangling vines as we go. The buzzing of the lights could substitute for the sounds of a swarm of insects.
What am I saying? This isn’t a jungle adventure; it’s the set of a horror movie. The image is brought home when we start stepping over bodies. I see security guards with bullet holes in their chests and faces. Must be a dozen of them, their skin turning a pallor of gray typical of a corpse. One poor sap appears to have had his throat cut. My foot squishes in a puddle of blood by his head as I pass by.
I look back to check the facial expression of the guard with me. I don’t know what I expect. Casual indifference? Stoic professionalism? Instead, I see the pale face of a man who lost some of his coworkers today, and possibly a few friends. It puts things into perspective.
We turn a corner and come upon a makeshift command center in the middle of the corridor. A group of armed men lined up with riot shields, helmets with face shields, and bulletproof vests form a human barricade in front of the command center. A barricade against what, I have no idea. I’m guessing the person or persons responsible for the carnage behind me.
I see O’Neil hunkered down by a monitor, pointing out something to one of the guards. Wires run from the back of the set-up to a junction box hanging from the ceiling.
“What’s going on, Denny?”
O’Neil’s wearing his standard off-the rack Rayon and polyester ensemble, but over top he’s sporting a bulletproof vest and one of the helmets, sans face shields. He’s also got two walkie-talkies clipped to his belt and one wedged into his left hand. He gives me an exasperated I’m-up-to-my-armpits-so-don’t-fuck-with-me look.
“We have a situation, Blake.”
“One of our agents got out of his room.” He wipes his face, and I see dark patches of sweat soaking his armpits.
“One guy did all that?” I hook a thumb over my shoulder.
“Agent Pasko,” he says, and my blood goes cold.
Martin Pasko is a legend at Argus. He’s also the boogeyman. He’s the resident electronics genius and, up until two years ago, was the finest field agent the organization had. A one-man special ops team, colder than ice and more efficient than a Japanese accounting team. He was a legend among legends.
Then, two years ago, Pasko went nuts. Most likely, there were symptoms before that point but no one wanted to admit it. He finally had a psychotic break during an assignment, and Argus had to send a team to drag him back home. Rumor had it some of the team, and a few civilians, didn’t survive the experience.
For the past two years, he’s been a resident up on the top floor with the rest of the crazies, periodically being dragged out of mothballs for consultant work. I heard they keep him so drugged up, he spends most of his time sleeping. Well, he’s obviously awake now…
“What do you want me to do?” I ask. Man, I don’t want to be up here. I want to be back in my room watching “The Simpsons.”
“Agent Pasko circumvented our video surveillance. He ran a tape loop so as to appear he was asleep in bed. In reality, he left his room, killed the security detail on duty, then used the elevator shaft to access….”
“What?” I catch a glimpse of O’Neil’s face in the light from the monitor. He’s not sweating because of the close quarters or from an adrenaline rush. He’s sweating because he’s scared out of his mind.
“He got into the armory,” O’Neil says. “He’s extremely well-armed.”
“How’d he kill the guys up here before he got any weapons?” I’m sure I don’t really want to know the answer, but I ask the question before good sense kicks in.
“He used his bare hands.” He says it like I’m the biggest idiot in the world, which maybe I am for coming up here. “Agent Pasko is our finest hand-to-hand combat expert. He trained a good number of our agents and most of the security staff.”
“Not well enough, by the looks of things,” I say, looking back at the bodies littering the floor.
“You son-of-a bitch!” O’Neil grabs me by my shirt. “Those were good men!”
“Whoa, easy, Denny.” I try to pry his hands off me, but they’re like vises. His face is really close to mine. He smells of fear and desperation.
“Hey, c’mon,” I say. “You’re gonna wrinkle my shirt.”
The radio on his belt suddenly crackles, and he releases his hold on me. I was right. My shirt is now wrinkled.
The voice on the radio says, “Is he here?”
It’s Pasko; I can tell. The voice is overly calm, so much so, there’s no mistaking it belongs to an insane person. O’Neil fumbles with the radio to answer.
“He’s here, Martin.”
“Send him back.”
I don’t like where this is going. O’Neil fumbles again with the radio, trying to hook it back on his belt. His hands have the junkie shakes.
“Okay,” he says, quicker than before, “this is what we need you to do. Agent Pasko is in his room, down the end of the hall and to the right.” He points to the monitor. The screen is split into four pictures. “As near as we can tell, the hallway isn’t booby-trapped. He has the vents wired. I have men working on that.”
“He set up bombs in the vents?”
O’Neil nods. “And the ceiling. And a crawlspace underneath the floor we didn’t think he knew about. Explosives are a specialty of his.”
“Where’d he get-”
“The armory,” O’Neil sighs.
“Jesus Christ, how long was he out of his room?”
“I don’t know, Blake. Hours maybe. I told you, he circumvented his video surveillance. If he was careful about the guards on the floor, there’s no telling how long he was roaming around the building. Never mind that. This is what we need you to do.”
He snaps his fingers and the guy behind me hands him a small syringe filled with an amber fluid. O’Neil takes it and holds it so the sparse light catches it. It’s completely filled, meaning there’s no air inside to allow it to slosh around. There’ll be no air bubble once it’s injected into something. Or someone.
“A fast-acting poison,” he says. “Inject it into his neck. He’ll be dead within three seconds.”
O’Neil tries to hand me the syringe. I put my hands up and back away.
“Hold on. Wait, wait, wait. You want me to kill him? I’m not an assassin, Denny. You know that.”
“It’s the only way,” he hisses. “We can’t get near him. You’re the only one who can get close enough to use this. He specifically asked to see you.”
“Asked to see me? I met him once four years ago for, like, two seconds. What is it he wants with me?”
“Blake, the man’s insane. We’re trying to humor him until he can be neutralized.”
Neutralized. O’Neil has a way with words.
“Give me something to sedate him with. Why poison? It’s not his fault he’s crazy.”
He’s already shaking his head. “A sedative is too unpredictable. Pasko has built up a tolerance to those drugs. If it doesn’t work immediately, he could set off the…explosives.”
“Where is he?” Pasko’s voice crackles through again, sounding tighter this time.
O’Neil holds up the radio and pushes the send button.
“He’s coming right now.”
He puts the syringe in my hand. It has a rubber cap on the end, which is probably a good idea. With my luck, I’d stick myself.
O’Neil leads me a few steps down the hallway - not gently, I might add. I guess his patience has worn thin.
“Go down there and do what needs to be done,” he whispers. “If you don’t care about your own safety or the safety of the people in this building, think about your precious comic book collection that’ll be lost if he turns this building into a pile of rubble.”
And then I’m standing alone in the hallway with a bunch of worried security guys behind me, a psychotic super-agent in front of me, and a syringe of liquid death in my hand. Terrific. Maybe I should just use it on myself. Drop face down on the carpet and leave O’Neil holding the bag. What would he do then?
Boy, it would almost be worth it just to leave that little shit in the lurch. I could picture the expression on his rat-like face. Of course, I’d be dead and therefore unable to witness the comical spectacle firsthand. Still…
Nah, it’s not my style. I’m not a quitter. That’s why I’ve lasted with Argus this long. The job. Doing the job. Successfully completing my assignment, whatever it may be. It’s the only thing keeping me sane in the face of all this craziness.
Tentatively, I inch down the corridor. I realize the syringe is still clutched in my hand. I put it in my shirt pocket, careful that it goes in diagonally so it doesn’t stick out. I make sure, too, that the cap is on snug. How I’m supposed to get close enough to use this is anyone’s guess. I pretty much make up my game plan as I go along, in case you haven’t noticed.
Flickers of light at the end of the hall. An open doorway to my right.
“Marty?” I call out, a bit too loudly. “Marty Pasko? It’s me. Blake.” I want to
yell out, “Who else would it be, you crazy motherfucker?”
Man, what am I doing here?
I reach the doorway and peer inside. Candles are set in a semi-circle around the floor of the room, each giving off points of twinkling light. Pasko’s seated in a lotus position in the middle of the half circle. Instinctively, I conjure up images of some demented guru dispensing fortune cookie-type bon mots.
“Come in, Blake,” he says in a serene voice.
Pasko is rail thin. His jet black hair is combed straight back, highlighting a sharply pronounced widow’s peak. It also makes his forehead appear billboard-sized.
He’s dressed all in black: black safari shirt, black cotton pants with lots of zippered pockets, black martial arts/karate style footwear. Guess he’s going for the urban ninja look.
“Have a seat,” he says.
I sit down on the floor across from him and mimic his lotus posture. Not in a “making fun” kind of way, mind you. It’s just the most convenient position to get into, especially since I don’t see a chair or a cushion I can utilize.
He stares at me. A soft smile plays at his lips. His face is drenched. He’s sweating profusely, and not just his head. His body’s soaked, but he’s not breathing heavy, so it’s not perspiration from exercise. It’s madness sweat.
I’ve noticed there are two different kinds of crazy people in the world: the sweaty kind and the non-sweaty kind. The sweaty loons drip bodily fluids—saliva, tears, sweat, etc., as if their bodies can no longer retain liquid. Then there are the non-sweaty nut jobs, the ones who appear cool, calm, and dry as a bone no matter how tense the situation. Pasko, unfortunately, is exhibiting an amalgamation of both characteristics. I say unfortunately because it means I can’t get a read on his personality, and therefore, I have no idea what he’s planning.
“How have you been, Blake?”
Like we’re two college buddies catching up over a cappuccino.
“Not bad, Marty,” I say. “You know how it is. Work, work, work. How’ve you been?”
“Well,” he takes a deep, hearty breath, “I guess you know I had a,” he makes the quotes sign with his fingers, “breakdown about four years ago.”
“Two years ago,” I say.
“Was it two years?” His laser stare moves off me and up towards the ceiling while he contemplates that. “Time seems to move differently up here.”
Up where? Up on the top floor? Or up on whatever planet he lives on? I should ask, but I’m afraid of setting him off. Right now he’s rational. What if there’s a sequence of words or a phrase that’ll set off his psychosis? I hate dealing with crazy people.
“What did you want to see me for, Marty?”
I hope he didn’t call me up here just to kill me. Not that I can think of a reason why he’d want to, but you never know.
“Blake, how much do you know about Argus?”
Great. He called me up here for exposition.
“The basics.” I shrug. “It was formed after World War II along with the CIA as sort of a global watchdog, but with more autonomy.”
He nods. A rivulet of sweat creeps down his forehead, stops at his left eyebrow, and becomes a droplet. It hangs precariously, but refuses to fall.
“That’s right. But did you know Argus was formed to safeguard Nazi scientists captured by the American forces?”
No, I didn’t know that. “Yeah, sure,” I say. “So?”
“So?” Pasko laughs and cocks his head. “So.” The drop of sweat moves along his eyebrow, down to the bridge of his nose. “It doesn’t bother you to work for an organization that collaborated with Nazi war criminals?”
“I never really thought about it.” Because I never knew, but I’ll keep that fact to myself. “You know,” I say, “I’ve heard similar conspiracy theories about the CIA.”
The sweat droplet glides down the right slope of his nose, down to the crevice where it disappears momentarily behind his nostril. It reappears at the edge of the nostril and seems to freeze. It doesn’t literally freeze (wouldn’t that be weird?). It stops abruptly, peeping out from the bottom edge of his nostril like a gnome watching me from underneath a mushroom.
God, I need a vacation.
He says, “All of the conspiracy theories about the CIA, or any of the other government agencies for that matter, are actually Argus. Did you know that? The black, unmarked helicopters. The LSD tests on civilians. Men in black delivering enigmatic messages. Even the cattle mutilations were part of some Argus medical experiment. But we divert attention from ourselves by spreading the blame to other agencies. Usually the CIA. You know why?”
I open my mouth to say something inane, but Pasko doesn’t give me a chance.
“Because the CIA was formed to watchdog us,” he says.
The sweat droplet finally comes loose. It disappears down into the many folds of his black attire. I feel strangely disappointed.
“The CIA,” he goes on, “was supposed to keep us in line. Can you imagine?”
Pasko lets out a sharp bark of a laugh. I have to be honest, it startles me a bit. I thought for a moment he might lunge for my throat.
“If the CIA is supposed to keep us in line,” I say, “they’re not doing a very good job.”
“Of course not! How can they when we work so hard to counteract them? Many times we work in direct opposition to them. The government has their hands full policing the rest of the world. They don’t have the time to police themselves. Especially when we’re so busy spreading false information about their own agencies, and shifting blame on them for our own actions.”
He cocks his head and gives me a self-satisfied smile, like, “What do you think of my revelation?”
“Oh, Marty, I don’t know how to tell you this,” or even if I should, seeing as how you’re a homicidal maniac, “but if you’re trying to tell me we work for the bad guys, well…I already know. I figured it out a while back.”
“You…,” he says, “you…how did…how could you know?”
“Simple. I’m not stupid. I see the assignments they send me on, and I don’t swallow every line of bullshit they try to feed me. I mean, it’s not too hard to figure out. We always seem to be working against the CIA. I figure one of us has to be the bad guys, and from what I’ve seen, the evidence points to us.”
Pasko shakes his head and quietly regards me. I get the distinct impression I’ve let him down.
“You know the organization’s evil, yet you continue to do their bidding. I thought you were better than that.”
“Where else would I go?” I say, “Nobody retires from this place. Anyone who tries to quit either disappears, or they wind up juiced on tranquilizers and living up here in the crazy ward.” Whoops. “Uh, sorry about that last part. I wasn’t implying that you’re crazy.”
He waves the comment off. “It’s okay, Blake. I am crazy. I’m aware of it.” He says, chuckling, “Did you think I was so delusional to believe there was nothing wrong with me? Oh, please. I can pinpoint the exact moment my hold on sanity slipped. It was seven years ago.”
“Two years ago,” I say.
“Right, right. Two years ago. I have trouble keeping track of time. Two years ago.”
His face goes slack and his eyes drift off again into the distance. He’s suddenly…gone, I guess. I don’t know how else to describe it. His body’s still here, but I get no sense of his consciousness being present. Maybe I should make my move. Or this could be a fake-out.
I check out the room, my gaze taking in the exposed wiring, the carpet torn into strips, the holes knocked in the walls. There’s a big gaping hole in the floor, which I guess leads to the crawlspace O’Neil mentioned. No windows, I notice, and the walls have soundproof paneling.
There’s a pile of guns by the wall: handguns and assault rifles, but none within easy reach. Why doesn’t O’Neil and his goon squad rush in here and subdue this sweaty nut?
“Hey! Marty!” I snap my fingers in front of his face. “Hey, come on back from your trip.”
He blinks and returns from his mind jaunt. Guess it wasn’t a fake-out.
“What was I saying?” He rubs his eyes and squints at me.
“You were telling me about when you went insane,” I say. “But forget that for now. Why did you ask to see me?”
I think my question throws him off. He blinks his eyes and his lips twitch, caught, I think, in wanting to share more revelatory thoughts. But the truth is, I don’t really care why he’s crazy. It’s his problem, not mine.
I’ve got my own problems. Hell, we’ve all got problems. What makes him special? If he really wants to bare his soul, he should write his own book.
“I asked to see you,” he says, “because I owe you a debt of gratitude. You saved my life, and although there’ve been many sleepless nights when I regretted your act of heroism, nevertheless, you brought me back from Hell on Earth. I wish to repay the favor.”
I have no idea what he’s talking about. Got to play this cool, though. Can’t let on I’m clueless, or it might trigger him. I think carefully about what to say next.
“Marty, I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Tact was never a virtue of mine.
“Don’t be coy, Blake.” He smiles good naturedly. “You know perfectly well what you did for me. If it wasn’t for you, I would have died in that Cuban prison.”
Terrific. He’s got me mixed up with the Jasper Blake before me, or maybe the one before him. Hard to say.
“Uh…you do know that I’m not the first Jasper Blake, don’t you? I mean, I’ve only been here less than five years. There’s been, I forget how many Jasper Blakes before me. When did this Cuban thing happen?”
Pasko says, “Fourteen…no…seven...six years ago.”
“There you go. It was the Jasper Blake before me. You remember what he looked like? Did he look like me?”
Wouldn’t it be freaky if he did? That would be kooky.
“But…no, that couldn’t be,” he says. “I recognize you.”
“You and I met shortly after I joined the organization,” I say. “You were supposed to train me in hand-to-hand combat, except…well…” I rub the back of my neck and glance at the floor, feeling sheepish. “I was kind of sarcastic to you and you got mad and refused to train me. I was reassigned to Agent Matrix for training.”
Pasko barks out another laugh. Again, the suddenness of it startles me.
“I do remember you,” he says. “You were very obnoxious. Why didn’t I remember that?” His eyes go off again, then back to me. “I guess the Jasper Blake who led the rescue mission for me is probably deceased.”
“More than likely.”
God, I’m stupid. What am I doing? The guy thought I was the one who saved his nutty life, and I just sat there and convinced him it wasn’t me; it was my predecessor. He’s probably going to want to kill me now.
“So that was you? Huh,” he says. “Well, how’ve you been?”
“Can’t complain.” My hands are balled into fists. My arms are loose. If he moves, I’m ready. The only thing is, my left leg has fallen asleep. This stupid sitting on the floor lotus position…
“How was Agent Matrix’s training? Comprehensive?”
“She was a good teacher,” I say. “It was probably more along the lines of what I needed at the time.” A quick pause while I lubricate the inside of my mouth with saliva. “Sorry I was an asshole to you back then.”
“Blake, forget it!” He waves it off. “I’m feeling magnanimous today. I’m still going to make you an offer despite the fact you’re not the person I thought you were.” Pause. “Do you want to hear my offer?”
“Shoot.” Probably a bad choice of words, considering the situation.
A sweat droplet makes its trek along his hairline, down across his temple, past his left eye, down, down past the ear, down to his jaw line where it melds with another droplet. I notice his left ear is misshapen.
“What happened to…?” I point to it.
“Oh, this?” Pasko turns his head and gives me a better view. The top part of the ear appears fine. The bottom half, however, has the shape of a half-eaten biscuit. “I had to cut out the communications link. I reached the point where I couldn’t stand that incessant chattering in my ear. So I sterilized my pocketknife and…” He shrugs and gives me his best boyish grin.
“Surprisingly, no,” he says.
My leg is really asleep. It’s giving me that godawful pins and needles feeling. I lean back and put the weight on my arms, letting my leg muscles flex a bit.
“Anyway,” I say, “you were telling me about an offer.”
Pasko says, “I intend to kill everyone in this building. Then you and I shall make our escape. Of course, we’ll have to scavenge money from the bodies.” He pulls a device from behind his back.
For an instant, I think he’s pulling a gun. I see that it’s a keypad with a wire running to a small black box attached to his belt. He holds it aloft like a trophy.
“Aren’t you curious about why they’re keeping their distance?”
“As a matter of fact…”
“This, Blake. This is why.”
I have to admit, I’m lost. He’s got everyone scared of what looks like a satellite phone? He must be reading my mind because he says:
“This is a remote control, of sorts. A decade ago, perhaps longer, perhaps not…I developed a fail-safe system for this building in case of an emergency. Every floor has a series of pipes in the ceiling. Said pipes are attached to tanks of highly lethal nerve gas. The tanks are kept in check by a computer system down in the armory. A computer system I designed.”
I think I’m starting to follow this.
He says, “The system is activated by a number code, which can be keyed in at the source, or by remote control using one of these units.” He jiggles the keypad and box. “They had me construct three of these for the top ranking officials. Unbeknownst to my superiors, I made a fourth remote and stashed it way. Unfortunately, it took me a while to construct a means of retrieving it.”
“Let me get this straight. With that little box, you can flood this building with nerve gas?” Summed that up pretty fast, didn’t I?
“Exactly. I’ve already keyed in the code. All I have to do is push the pound key and,” he purses his lips, “psssstt.”
“Yeah, that’s a great plan, Marty, but what about us?”
He tosses me a portable respirator he had stashed behind his back. I see he has one for himself, too.
“We put these on. I release the gas. We take what we can carry. And go.”
I say, “Then what?”
“The world is our oyster, Blake. We can go anywhere. But I was thinking Thailand first. What would you prefer?” He looks at me expectantly.
What should I say? He’s talking about mass murder, and he wants me to sign off on it. If I say no, he could simply kill me along with the rest of them.
“You have to decide now,” he says. “I don’t mean to be a Pushy Pete, but I have explosives wired around the computer bank to keep them from shutting it down. I also destroyed all the spare respirators, too. I’m sure they have people working on disarming my devices, and most likely have respirators being sent here from an outside source. For this to work, we must act within the next few minutes.”
Do I owe these people anything? I haven’t really gotten along with any of them, except Doc Rozakis, and he’s not here today. So who am I protecting? A bunch of fascist pricks who hate me almost as much as I hate them.
“Thailand sounds good for a start,” I say. “Once we’re tired of the whores there, we can head some place more intellectual. Maybe Prague.”
Pasko smiles. He jumps to his feet quicker than I would’ve expected. I follow suit, dragging my slumbering leg along with the rest of me. It’s slowly waking up.
“You know how to work your respirator?” he asks.
“Yeah. I think. Let me fiddle with it a minute.” It seems relatively simple to uses.
“Mr. Blake?” Anna says in my ear, “Aren’t you forgetting something?”
“Hang on a sec, Marty.” The guy’s already got his finger on the button. Talk about anxious. I turn away and say quietly, “What is it, Anna?”
“Mr. Blake, I’m in the building.”
“Well…can’t you get out?”
“No. The building’s on lockdown due to the disturbance. No one can get out,” she says. “If he releases the gas-”
“No,” I say. “Don’t worry. I didn’t realize you were…I thought…never mind. Just don’t worry. I’ll work it out.”
Pasko says, “What’s the delay?”
“No delay.” I motion toward the door. “After you.”
He hesitates, staring at me an extra beat. I shrug and try to smile. It comes out as more of a grimace.
Pasko turns away and brings the respirator to his face. I move towards him, knowing exactly what I have to do. The syringe is out of my pocket and in my hand. The cap pops off with a flick of my thumb. I’m inches from his back.
He whirls so fast I don’t have time to register what’s happening until his forearm blocks my wrist. He follows with a roundhouse kick that catches me flush in the side and sends me sprawling. I lose the syringe, but my fingers snag the wire to the keypad. It whips out of his hand and flies with me.
I get to my feet, feeling my left side ache and swell. The keypad dangles in my hand. I see Marty checking the box on his belt, examining the port where the wire plugs in. He looks at me.
“I need that keypad.”
“Sorry, buddy,” I say. “In a way, I like you. I really don’t care about most of the people in this building, except for one. She doesn’t deserve to die like this.”
“Give me that keypad.” His voice is no longer soothing; it’s hard, cold, and on the verge of rage. His face is an impassive mask.
I toss the keypad behind me and go into a defensive stance. Pasko nods and assumes his own stance.
“I suppose we’ll see how well Matrix trained you,” he says. “Be aware, however, that I’m the person who trained her.”
This is going to go badly.
It’s a pathetic fight. He sees all my moves coming and blocks them with ease. His arms, twin steel pistons, crack against my fists before they connect. Sweat continues to roll off him, but he’s still not breathing hard or even appearing to exert himself. He’s got me seriously outclassed.
He’s fast, too. Jesus, he’s fast.
His leg sweeps out and knocks mine out from under me. I fall hard and struggle to get up. He kicks me, and kicks again. I keep rolling away, trying to catch my breath, but he’s there, landing kicks to my ribs, my stomach, my chest…
I reach the wall. His foot comes at my head. I manage to throw myself up and out of the way. His foot misses and chips the wall. I use the opportunity to get to my feet. My eyes aren’t focused yet. His foot comes up and clocks me on the side of the head.
Ever been kicked in the head? Punched? It’s not pleasant, let me tell you. The whole bit about seeing stars and darkness creeping into your vision? All true.
I manage to stay on my feet through sheer Herculean willpower. I block the next kick with my forearm. It sends shockwaves all the way down to my feet, but I’m still standing. I block the next kick, and the next.
“Yeah, motherfucker,” I say with a stupid grin. Maybe the tide of battle is turning.
He feigns a punch with his right hand. I go to block it and leave myself open for his left. It rocks my world. For a skinny guy, he hits like a heavyweight.
I don’t see the punch to my midsection that doubles me over. He follows with a judo chop to the back of my neck. There’s a cluster of nerves there that, if hit with enough force, can end your life. As it is, I feel the world blink out on me for a second. It fades back and forth as if my body’s electrical circuits are fighting a short in the system.
I keel over and hit the floor with a thud. I land on the syringe. It sticks in my hand, but I don’t feel it. I’m alternating between all over numbness and excruciating pain. My vision’s gone into tunnel mode. I see the plunger on the syringe hasn’t been depressed; I haven’t poisoned myself.
Somehow, I get the needle out of my hand. Pasko’s picking up the keypad. He fiddles with the wire and tries to plug it back into the box on his belt. He turns to get a better angle on it. His back is to me.
I’m crawling. My brain isn’t ordering me to move; I’m just doing it. My body is on autopilot, which is for the best because my brain, if it was still functional, would tell me to lie still and let the darkness win.
The syringe is ready in my hand. I crawl on survival instinct.
The keypad is plugged in. He picks up a respirator from the floor and brings it to his face. He lifts the keypad. His finger centers on the pound key.
I stab the syringe into his calf and push the plunger. Pasko lets out a high-pitched shout and drops the keypad. He collapses and convulses for several seconds, then lies still.
“Were you worried, Anna?”
“No, Mr. Blake,” she says, relief in her voice. “I knew you wouldn’t let me down.”
I roll over, close my eyes, and let the darkness take me for a while.
I really, really, really need a vacation.
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