No-Neck leads us up the carpeted stairs in silence; I want to turn around and thank Emma B for risking her life to save me, to apologize for almost getting her killed, to say… anything. But all the words in the world feel inadequate and so I remain silent.
“This is yours,” the behemoth tells me as he opens a door on his right. I enter the room and the door is slammed shut before I can even think about turning around. The walls are white and bare, only a small window peering out over the city to break the monotony. An armchair resides in the far left corner, a table beside it holding a lit, shaded lamp and nothing more. The rest of the small room is empty.
“No sleeping,” I mutter to myself as I step toward the chair. “Try and stop me you stupid p… oh, what’s this?”
Hidden in shadow along the right side of the room is an open door which, oh so happily, leads to a bathroom. I flick on the light with my eyes closed and my head turned away and take a tentative look inside.
“Now this is luxury.”
There are four objects in the room, but only two hold my attention for more than half a second: the shower stall and the cut throat razor resting on the washbasin; the washbasin itself is unimportant and the towel hanging next to it will have my gratitude later.
I peel off my clothes without a second thought, grab the blade and step into the shower. I set the tap to Burn The Dirt From My Bones and stand under the spray, swaying slightly and groaning appreciatively.
After what feels like an hour I begin to shave the stubble from my face, using the bar of mint scented soap for lather. I think I hear a noise in the room but I can’t be bothered to investigate it; whatever else I may be, I feel secure here. Wherever here is.
I return to the room, scrubbing my head vigorously and dripping water everywhere. I stop mid-step as my eyes fall on the armchair’s new accessories.
Sitting on the cushion is an open briefcase, proudly displaying its wares: three tidy rows of small spray cans on the bottom, a single row of larger cans clinging to the top. Draped on the right arm is a black, knee-length wool coat, underneath which I find a navy business suit, white dress shirt and red tie. Something tells me it will fit me like a glove. A very, very expensive glove.
On the left arm are a pair of black cargo pants with matching cotton sweater and black leather gloves. On the floor are two pairs of shoes: on the right, black dress shoes; on the left, black cross-trainers. I let loose a low whistle and try to keep my thoughts from dashing off to dark places.
“Who are these bloody people?”
With only silence for an answer, I swear softly and put on the outfit on my left. The sweater is comfortably snug, the pants a good length, the shoes a perfect fit. I do my best not to think too much about any of this.
I flop down into the armchair and set the alarm on my watch for one hour - there’s no way they’ll find Puppy faster than that. If they find her at all. God, I hope it’s not a mistake to get her involved in this.
I rest my head on the back of the chair and close my eyes.
* * *
Shots ring out in the darkness, too loud; it is like being inside a bell tower at noon. I clamp my hands over my ears and collapse into the fetal position on the dirty floor.
“Why did you kill me Red? What did I ever do to deserve this?”
Paulie’s voice, a wet whisper in my ear. I try to press my palms harder against my head but a cold hand grips my wrist and pulls me to my feet.
“You should be a corpse, rotting in the ground, not me!”
I squeeze my eyes shut only to have my face pressed against a monitor, the images searing through my eyelids. The gunman has Emma B at gun point, but this time he pulls the trigger and I am deafened by the report.
* * *
I watch Emma B running down the sidewalk, safe in my rooftop vantage. I look back to where she is running from to see Wilkerson and Joel chasing after her, closing the distance too quickly.
I want to shout out to her, to provide a distraction to ensure her escape, but my lips have been sewn shut.
She is only half a block from the safety of her building. I relax, she is going to make it…
Before she can reach for the door handle, the glass door swings open and Grozny steps out onto the sidewalk, dragging a bleeding and unconscious Puppy by the hair. He aims a handgun at Emma B and pulls the trigger…
* * *
My eyes snap open and my groggy mind is slow to process the scene before me. The rising sun is splashing onto the floor in front of me and I blink rapidly to clear my vision and my head. I guess Joel is willing to wait until Puppy is found before we begin. Interesting.
I stand and stretch my arms behind me, then above my head, feeling more rested than I would have expected. I need to get those dreams out of my head, I need to tuck this reality safely away somewhere for a while. I glance at the wall beside me, then down to the briefcase on the floor. A smile sneaks onto my lips as I realize I could use some practice before show time.
Within minutes a yellow and purple clown car full of dark-suited men with caricatured heads has taken shape in the middle of the wall. After a moment’s consideration I add three balloons and tie them to the back bumper. I place a red numeral five in one, a darker red E in the second, and a question mark in the third.
My admiration of my own work is interrupted by a heavy knock on the door behind me. I stroll over and open it slowly to find Joel’s flat stare waiting for me.
“The girl has been found,” he tells me with barely moving lips. “She better be worth the trouble I went through to locate her.”
“Me too,” I reply with my very best smile. His stare somehow manages to grow even more flat.
“Put on the suit, the order of the plan has been changed,” he says before yanking the door shut. I have to snap my head back to avoid having my nose shatterd by the movement.
My clothes drop to the floor again, the suit goes on piece by piece. As I’m knotting my tie I realize the whole thing fits me as though it had been tailor made for my physique. I shut my mind down again; there’s no time or energy to be wasted on thoughts like that. I stuff the change of clothes into the briefcase and snap it shut.
As I shrug on the coat a sturdy weight bangs against my ribcage. I slip a hand into the right inside pocket and withdraw it quickly, as though I’d been snake bitten.
I steady my suddenly racing breathing, gently bring my hand back to the pocket, pull out the object and place it on the table beside the lamp. I study the handgun for a full ten seconds without a single thought passing through my stunned mind.
“We’re so bloody dead,” I whisper hoarsely, my tongue heavy and dry in my mouth.
Another knock snaps me out of my stupor and I shake my head rapidly from side to side. Not letting myself think, I grab the gun, place it gingerly back in my pocket, collect the briefcase and head downstairs.