I turn slowly toward the man with the gun.
"Give. Me. The. Skull." His finger tightens almost imperceptibly around the trigger.
I don't move. Time slows. My heart rate decreases. Statues are less still. The only sound is my own breathing, calm and steady.
He says something else but I don't hear it. A bead of sweat drips from his hairline.
The gun in his hand is a semi-automatic Smith & Wesson .45 Chief's Special, commonly used by law enforcement. Apparently, also favored by crazed psychiatrists.
Semi-automatic handguns have the delightful capability of using the energy from the first bullet fired to load the second bullet (you guessed it, automatically). This means that the weapon can be fired continuously until the damn thing is empty, no reloading or cocking necessary.
I just want to give you some perspective before I tell you how I totally own this guy.
The first round goes wide, hitting the wall a few feet away. I figure with those squinty little eyes he probably isn't the best shot.
I'm on him before he can fire again.
Ok, maybe not exactly before, but I'm still pretty damn fast. I have a close-up view of his eyes widening, and my arm does this ninja jiu-jitsu Batman type maneuver I didn't even know I was capable of that pushes the gun away. Right as it goes off next to my ear.
The sound is incredible.
I karate chop the gun out of his hand (ow!!) and punch him hard in the throat in the same heartbeat. He goes down like a sack of potatoes, ker-thump!
Then I kick him in the ribs, 'cuz well...it feels good.
"You bastard," he wheezes when he gets his throat functioning properly. "Son of a b***h."
He continues on in that vein, writhing on the floor, for another few minutes. I swiftly get bored.
I press the barrel of the handgun against his grubby forehead. He shuts up.
"Right," I say. "So, who are you, again?"
He glares at me. I mean, really glares. Like he majored in glaring at St. Glare's Academy for Glarers and has waited his entire life for something like this to happen so he could prove himself.
"The owner of that skull," he says.
Liar!! the skull shrieks.
"Not buying it," I say cheerfully. "You should stop lying now before it becomes a habit."
The glare intensifies. This alone amazes me so much (who knew the human face could hold that position for so long?!) that his next words don't faze me.
"That skull is mine, it rightfully belongs to me! You think you can just waltz right in and steal it!" Contemptuously, now. "You don't even know what it is you stole, do you?"
"Why don't you tell me?"
"It's worth more than your life, I can tell you that."
"Yeah, that's become abundantly clear to me." I shift into a more comfortable position while keeping the gun trained on psycho's forehead.
"Why don't we talk about me for a second?" I say. "Why am I here?"
"You're here because someone paid you to steal the skull," he says in the same voice someone would use to explain something to a toddler.
"I don't remember that."
"You wouldn't. You're not paid to remember."
"What the hell does that mean?!" I snarl. There's nothing I hate more than my mind being screwed with. I press his forehead with the gun for emphasis.
"That's part of the deal, isn't it? You give up your memories in exchange for your cut."
"But I don't remember anything! My name, nothing!"
"Exactly!! It's insurance! This assures that if you get caught in the act you can't give away who you work for! In the process you're just a drone; you don't have a home or a family or a name. You live to steal the object you're after."
I take a deep breath. It makes sense. In the museum, I thought of nothing but the skull and escape. And the skull is sitting behind me quietly, where I left it. It isn't accusing the fat guy of being a liar.
"What happens after?" I ask in a moment.
"After you steal the thing? The person who hired you gives you your money and your memories. All part of the deal."
What if he doesn't? What's to keep the guy from getting the loot and keeping all the money? What protects the thief in this scenario? A shiver is born in my spine and spreads to my ribcage.
"You didn't hire me."
"Then how did you find me?"
"I was there when he hired you. I knew where you'd be." He seems to be talking a lot more now. Maybe he likes to hear himself. Or maybe he's enjoying this.
"One last question," I tell him. "Where is the person who hired me?" The person with my memories. The person who can give me back my life.
"Something bad happened to him."
In my mind, so fast I can't even gasp: A dark-haired man tilts his head to the side. Hands me something, metal and shiny. It's thrilling isn't it? The room is dark and bright at the same time. Lights make my head hurt. There are feathers on the floor. What you can do. Rooms spinning. He's only a little older than me. What does he have so much money for? Do you enjoy it? Hands over my eyes. Wings. He has----
The alley is back. I shudder. It starts in my bones and works it's way out. The gun shakes in my hand.
The skull grins. Memories, it says.