Curveball Issue Four: Uninvited Guests

Part Three: Assault

CB sits in Martin’s easy chair, smoking and waiting. All the lights in the house are off. All the curtains are drawn, the blinds are closed, and the house, for the moment, is silent.

He clenches and unclenches his right fist, forcing his arm to limber up. It wants to hurt. Now is not the time.

He sits up slightly as he hears the sound of a vehicle slowing, then coming to a stop a few houses down. Then he hears it again, and then a third time. CB gets up, walks to the front door, then peers through the peephole. He doesn’t see much, but he hears the sliding door of a van.

Three vans in front. Assume three vans in back. How many per van? They need room for gear. Four? Assume six. Assume thirty-six in all…

Will Richter be part of this? He shudders at the thought and pushes it out of his mind. Six vans full of bad guys in a residential area is messy. Richter doesn’t like to work messy.

But he’s been known to make exceptions in the past.

CB backs away from the front door, into a hallway that separates the living room from the dining room, with stairs leading up to the second floor and down to the basement. He hears the steady, rhythmic pulse of blades slicing through the air.


CB takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. He feels the world whirling around him, fragments sliding over each other, around each other, like misshapen puzzle pieces that almost, but don’t quite, fit. All of reality pulses, rises up, crests, and comes crashing down around him, washing over him. Then—all at once—the whirling stops, the pieces come together, and the world snaps into focus.

He’s ready, and he’s angry. He’s angrier than he’s been in a long time.

He reaches into his trenchcoat pocket and pulls out a pair of welding goggles. He puts them on, making sure there’s a proper seal around each eye, then lights another cigarette. He stands in the hall and smokes, feeling the tension around him tighten until it reaches a breaking point, and everything unravels into chaos.

The gas comes first. He hears the living room windows shatter as tear gas hits the back wall with a thud, and hears the hiss as the canisters discharge. His lungs are stinging, but he’s been around tear gas enough to handle that. It was the involuntary tearing he needed to deal with. He hears glass shattering in the kitchen—the window in the back door, and the window over the kitchen sink—and imagines the scene is repeating in there.

Flashbang grenades follow almost immediately. He hears the bang and sees an echo of the light through the living room entrance. After that, the front door crashes in, and heavy boots run through the room. The boots stop before anyone comes through. He can imagine what’s next—a man on each side of the door, someone silently counting down to three…

CB steps directly into the doorway and kicks.

His boot connects with a gas mask to his left—a black-clad soldier (no, he corrects himself, this is definitely an operative) falls back, his rifle discharging into the air. He hears a truncated cry as another operative, crouched on the other side of the entrance, is hit by friendly fire. He’s not five feet away from a man dressed in a black commando uniform and body armor, head covered with a gas mask, carrying an assault rifle. The man doesn’t hesitate—he opens fire. A three-shot burst, aimed directly at CB’s center of mass.

He misses.

CB leaps at him. The operative is still shooting—three bursts, three bursts, three bursts—but each shot goes wild. The television explodes, a picture frame shatters, furniture splinters, but CB is untouched. He tackles the operative and they both fall, hard. The operative lets go of his rifle and reaches for a knife. CB hits him in the neck, and all the man can do from that point forward is choke for air.

More people are coming through the door. CB examines the fallen operative quickly. He has a pistol.

You know how I always tell you to tone things down? How you need to show restraint?

Not this time. Give ’em hell. It’s no less than they deserve.


The pistol slides smoothly out of its holster into his hand. He stands, facing the shattered doorway, as more men storm the house. He can see figures on the sidewalk, in the street, can see a searchlight from the helicopter playing over the road, trying to shine into the house. He hears footsteps behind him, and knows more are coming through the hallway. He releases the safety, closes his eyes, focuses his will, and pushes out.

Every gun in the room jams at the same time. Every gun but his.

CB starts shooting. He doesn’t bother to aim; he points the gun in whatever direction feels right. He points the gun at the front door, pulls the trigger three times. He turns, fires at the wall, from left to right, five times. He turns, fires out the front window, four times. He turns, fires at the back wall two times, then the gun clicks as he empties the magazine. He drops the gun, runs to the hall entrance, and nearly trips over bodies as he turns the corner.

Seven bodies. Three have holstered pistols; CB retrieves two, then rushes down the hall.

An operative steps through the dining room entrance. CB fires once, and the man collapses; a second steps over the body and turns, bringing a rifle to bear. CB fires again, and the operative falls, sideways into the wall.

The grenades come next. He hears something roll into the hallway through the living room entrance and sees two tumble through the dining room entrance. He pushes, the world shifts, and the grenades sit on the floor, doing absolutely nothing at all.

CB runs into the dining room. It’s a long room; the table still stands upright but it’s been pushed out of the way, leaving scratches across the floor. Water seeps in from under the swinging doors separating the dining room from the kitchen, and five men crouch on either side of the door, three on the left, two on the right. All five are distracted: they’re waiting for something that’s not happening.

CB happens instead.

He charges forward, opening up with both pistols. Immediately two twitch and fall; the remaining three scatter, raising their rifles. CB pushes, and one rifle slips free of an operative’s grasp at the same moment the firing mechanism malfunctions, causing it to discharge uncontrollably until the magazine is empty. The rifle twists in its sling, spraying the entire room as it discharges. CB is untouched, and the other two operatives fall. He shoots the third. Just as CB passes through the swinging doors into the kitchen, the grenades in the hallway remember what they’re supposed to do. The thin walls are torn apart from the force of the blasts. The wall between the kitchen and dining room shakes as shrapnel tears into it, but it stands.

There are four operatives in the kitchen, with one more coming through what remains of the back door. The tile floor is covered in an inch of water—a pipe burst under the sink. CB slides across the wet floor, firing into the room. Three operatives fall, two in the room and the one in the doorway. The two left in the kitchen train their rifles on him. He tucks into a sideways roll, pushes off the butcher block table, and slides into the legs of one, who tumbles on top of him. CB strikes the operative on the head with the butt of his pistol, hard, and as he feels the man slump he fires both pistols into the second.

Nothing happens. Both guns jam simultaneously.

Time to improvise: CB throws the pistols at the second operative. One strikes the barrel of the rifle just as he pulls the trigger, and the rifle discharges into the ceiling. A chunk of plaster falls to the ground as CB picks himself up off the floor and charges the operative, throwing his shoulder into the operative’s armored gut and shoving him backward until the small of his back hits the corner of the kitchen sink. The man cries out and they both sink to the ground, the operative from pain and CB from exhaustion. CB slams the operative’s head through the cabinet doors under the sink—one door already askew from all the water pouring through—and the operative stops moving.

CB is breathing hard. The fight with Richter is catching up to him; the tear gas is finally starting to slow him down. He hears heavy boots coming through the dining room.

The remnants of the cabinet doors under the sink hang uselessly on broken hinges. Through the scraps of wood, just over the operative’s head, CB sees a fire extinguisher, apparently intact. He grabs it just as the swinging doors burst open and the first of maybe four operatives burst into the kitchen.

CB pulls the safety pin out of the extinguisher and throws. It flies through the air, hitting the first operative squarely in the face, spraying foam across the room. The operative staggers back and falls into the man behind him—as he does, the fire extinguisher rolls over the first and sprays the second man directly in the face, covering his gas mask with a thick layer of fire-retardant foam. He curses and shoves the first operative to one side, then staggers forward, trying to wipe the foam off his mask.

CB gets to his feet, takes a deep breath—coughs—then leaps onto the electric stove, leaps from the stove to the butcher block table, then runs the length of the table, leaping across the room to land, feet first, on the second operative’s face. He staggers back into the third, and the third into the fourth. They collapse like dominoes; CB drops to the floor in front of them, cushions his fall with his arms, and gets to his feet just in time to kick an operative as he tries to get back on his feet. Then CB leans against the doorframe, panting heavily.

CB hears the sound of boots splashing in water; out of the corner of his eye he sees one more operative, standing in the frame of the back door, rifle trained on him. CB tries to push, but he’s tired. He can’t concentrate. He laughs weakly as he turns, too exhausted to do anything but watch the operative pull the trigger.

He hears a thoom in the distance, and by the time he figures out it’s something moving faster than the speed of sound he’s covered in glass and bits of brick as an adult-sized blur of motion races through the already-shattered kitchen window and stops between CB and the operative. As soon as it stops moving, CB recognizes it immediately.

It’s Roger.

The bullets ricochet off Roger as if he were made out of stone—they even spark when they hit his body. A moment later he blurs again, and in the blink of an eye he’s right in front of the operative, where he gives him the slightest tap on the chest, and sends him flying backward into the night.

Roger blurs again, disappears, and reappears moments later in the center of the kitchen, just to the left of the table. He wears faded jeans, tennis shoes, and a t-shirt now riddled with holes.

“All clear,” Roger says.

“Good timing.” CB grins wearily. “Faster than a speeding bullet.”

The corner of Roger’s mouth curls up ever so slightly. “Tryin’ to get me sued?”

CB coughs once and makes his way over the refrigerator. He has to kick the body of an operative out of the way to open it, but he’s pleasantly surprised to discover the light still comes on. “Want a beer?”

“It’s a little late for me.”

CB shrugs and grabs two, slipping one into his pocket. “Guess we better wait for the police.”

The walls separating the dining room from the hall and the hall from the living room are completely gone. The dining room table is now in pieces, the living room furniture is barely recognizable, and the front door is now just a gaping hole in the brick. As CB steps out onto the front porch he sees every light in every house in the neighborhood is on. Neighbors are standing on their doorsteps, some gawking, some on their cell phones calling friends or relatives, some taking pictures—and probably putting them on Facebook, or whatever it is people are using for that these days.

For all the attention, no one is willing to approach the house. Not yet.

CB settles down on the front step and opens his beer. Roger sits down next to him.

“There are a hell of a lot of dead bodies in this house,” Roger says quietly.

CB sighs. “Yeah.”

“It’s gonna be real awkward when the police get here.”

“Couldn’t help it,” CB says. “I had to push.”

Roger doesn’t say anything.

“Also, those are the bastards who got Alex.”

Roger looks at him sharply. “Yeah?”

CB shrugs. “I don’t know how they tie in, exactly, but yeah. How did you know to come?”

“Marty called. Where are they?”

“Oh. Shit.” CB hauls himself to his feet. “They’re in the panic room. I guess we should let ’em out.”

“You sure you want to do that?” Roger asks. “Juliet is going to be pissed.”

CB hesitates. “I’ll finish my beer first.” He sits back down.

Roger laughs.

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