While the world wakes, curtain drawn windows glinting like starry eyes, a basin of shadows engulfs the bus lot. Black waves lick, cling, to silhouette shapes and the searchlight aureole throbs in its heart like a haloed tumor. Silence-toting thugs spider out of the light, sending sharp beams across the bus underbellies before snapping up and chattering quick flick foreign words to their sleeve cuffs.
The monstrous vehicles hulk in rows like metal-plaited roll bugs as the sodium spotlights glare off their thick, cool hides. Hearts brand their flat noses.
I gnaw my inner lip as I edge around the lot. One of the thugs comes around a bus and I skitter to the fence, duck low at the base bar. Flicking the edge of a bottle opener around one of the corners, tugging the link free, a low grumble echoes around the bus and I freeze.
"And you are sure this is the place?"
"Yes, yes," another voice hisses, a quick bite of words that sounds disgusted with the other thug's lack of confidence. "Pictures - we have pictures of the rat posing here with his leetle spray cans. You think Grozny would have us stumble in here without information? Shut up and move along. They see me talkink to you and you know what weell happen."
I remember Daddy once killed a guy with a tennis racket. He didn't mean to - he's not really one for a temper, but there are some things you have to do to keep up a reputation. I remember when he wandered home the night after, thin lipped and purpley eyed. He ruffled my hair and told me I should go to the club tomorrow, that nobody'd hastle me about wearing a t-shirt in the pool anymore.
His eyes always look bruised, now. I wonder if anyone asks him if he hurts anymore.
I realize I've been swaying, hugging my elbows for a while and I twitch back into now when I hear sobbing. It's hard, aching sobs like someone choking on their heart.
Someone, a lady, is crouched fetal on the outer tarmac, head ducked between her knees. She is all in black except for the dull flame of her hair curtained around her skull, waving languidly as she inhales ragged breaths. She jolts when I brush her arm and blinks up at me with eyes like glowing amber, the pupils caught like ancient beads.
I think see a flash of recognition in those eyes, but she just gulps and rubs the tears out with a fist. I shake her shoulder again and motion to the lot but she burbles about guns.
"We should get away."
I can't let her do this. I tug her hand, pull her up, realizing as I do that she's actually quite a bit taller than me but her tucked in elbows and hunched back, the shoulder blades clenched up, make her look small and scared. She is in way over her head. I hope she knows that.
Daddy taught me a lot about diversions. A lot about other things, too, but mostly "tehkniques" to get me out of just about any trouble he could think up, which he would then hammer in on weekends, having me crouch in the gardens and kick at poor Dietrich the chauffeur as I made my way to the back kitchen.
As such, popping the spring lock and hotwiring the jaguar around the corner went impressively smooth. I pocketed the license left on the armrest - people really shouldn't leave those things around, you don't know who's out there - and grinned up at the lady before she could see.
I'm afraid she asked me a question, so I just shrug nonchalantly and gesture to the open door. Holding up three fingers and pressing them to my lips so she gets the message, I bounce back down the alley.
I grip the electrical tape-wrapped handle of the bottle opener and drive it hilt deep in the mechanism's heart. It yelps and gathers in its crumpled wing as I skip around the opening and hide behind the stark lit security trailer.
I dig in yet another pocket and rip open a box of Pop-Its!, shaking a clump of the cracklers and woodshavings in my hand. The rev choke of an engine roars past the gates and I swing up my arm to release a shower of faux machine gun fire and sawdust muzzle flash.
The thugs twist and dive, screaming orders in thick Russian. They dazzle their own eyes in the searchlights, the headlights, swinging their handguns every way at the invisible infantry. The jaguar spins around again, tires chirping and frame tipping. The lady behind the wheel is panicky, hands sliding over the leather grip as I huck fist after fist of artillery.
I realize she didn't know this part of the plan. I thought I told her that bit. I bite my lip and keep throwing. I hate it when I forget these things!
Now she's aimed the jaguar's nose at the clump of men blocking the exit. One of the thugs gets off a lucky shot, fracturing the windshield as she skitters sideways out of the gate.
A battery of men quickly sweeps the area, gathering those injured by friendly fire and trip pitifully out of the lot.
I smile a bit.
Listening, checking around for anyone left, I move slowly out of the trailer's shadows. If that wasn't enough of a diversion for, um, that guy to get away I don't know what is.
I am waddling cheerily away when the rattle of the guard trailer door echoes around the lot. A jittery, red eyed man stumbles from the structure, pensively easing the door shut again.
He turns, seeing me.
I grin and flick the license out, waving the bit of plastic like a victory banner.
"You are Joel?"