Part Four: Conflict Resolution
The elevator door dings a second time. CB and Jenny hear the doors slide open as heavy-booted feet stomp out into the cube farm.
CB lights his cigarette.
“You’re going to smoke now?” Jenny stares at him incredulously.
“Yep,” CB says. “It’s kind of a thing.” He closes his eyes and concentrates. He feels the world spinning around him.
“What are you—”
“Shh.” CB’s cigarette leaves a trail of smoke behind it as he cuts off Jenny’s question with a wave of his hand. “I need a second.”
“We know you’re in there.” The voice is warm, polite, and fatherly. CB recognizes that voice. It’s Ray. “We don’t want to hurt you, but if you don’t come out with your hands up right now… well, we’ve been told not to take chances.”
The world falls into place. CB opens his eyes. “Jenny, get behind the desk and stay there. This is probably going to get messy.”
“Like mom and dad’s house?” Jenny asks.
“Could be,” CB says.
Jenny gets behind the desk.
“You’re running out of time,” Ray says.
“OK,” CB raises his voice to shout through the door. “I’m coming out. Don’t do anything crazy, I’m opening the door.”
He opens the door wide and stands just inside the doorway. He doesn’t step out yet. He puffs on his cigarette, looking out with an apparent lack of concern. “Hi Ray. Curtis with you?”
“No,” Ray says. The “no” is a little louder than CB expects. It doesn’t fit with the question. “Curtis is off tonight. He leads a charmed life.” Ray plays it off well, but CB suspects the “no” was an order given to some of his men.
They’re probably on both sides of the door, waiting for me to come out.
“Luck of the Irish,” CB says.
“Oh, no, he’s going to be disappointed he missed out on this,” Ray says. “He said there was no way in hell you were a tweaker, and now I owe him twenty dollars.”
CB can see him now. He’s taken a position behind one of the cubes closest to the elevator. It doesn’t provide a lot of actual cover, but it does allow him to steady his rifle. The rest of his team is doing the same. He can see four: if there are at least two on each side of the door, that means he’s dealing with a minimum of eight armed guards.
“Yeah, bad call on your part, Ray. Never bet against the Irish unless you’re a bottle of whiskey.”
“Are you going to come along quietly?” Ray asks.
“You know I’m not,” CB says.
“Right.” Ray sounds a little disappointed. “Well, you were warned.”
“You weren’t,” CB says. “Sorry about that.”
He dives forward into the room.
The guards standing at either side of the door are not expecting him to dive. They see a flash of motion and surge forward to intercept, only to crash into each other as CB tucks into a roll and comes up in a low crouch just past them. He lashes back with his foot, kicking one man in his ankle—it twists sharply, the man cries out in pain, and both topple to the ground. The others against the wall—one more on each side, CB notes, making a total of eight—charge forward, and CB breaks into a sprint that takes him up to the center of the first row of cubes. He jumps up and vaults over into the second row just as Ray gives the order to open fire.
The first volley of shots miss completely, and the two guards behind him scatter quickly to get out of the line of fire. He’s alone in this section of the cube farm, but that won’t last. He runs left, crouching low, heading to one of the aisles that cuts across the communities. As he runs past a desk, a glint of metal catches his eye: a stapler. He grabs it as he passes, switches the stapler to his left hand, and as he reaches the aisle he grabs the corner of the last cube, leaning back into a slide.
The cube wall jerks about a foot and a half out from the desk as CB swivels around it into the aisle, then automatic rifles tear it to shreds. He sees a guard in the end cube, two rows down, hastily adjusting his rifle to target him instead of a cheap plastic wall. CB throws the stapler, and it flies through the air, hitting the guard right at the bridge of his nose. Something cracks—either the nose or the stapler, he can’t tell—and the guard’s rifle discharges into the air as the guard staggers back.
The wild shot provokes more blind shooting. CB can hear Ray shouting for the guards to rein it in and pay attention.
CB stays low, keeping out of view. He ducks into the next row down, across the aisle, and scurries across the next aisle and switches rows again. A soldier stands a few cubes away, both to his left and across the aisle to his right.
He didn’t mean to say that out loud: both guards immediately train their weapons on him. He jumps toward the guard on his side of the aisle, getting his foot up on a desk and launching himself off the top of the cube partition wall as both soldiers open fire. The guns crack as fire spits out of their muzzles, and he hears a ztszt ztszt ztszt as bullets streak past his ear. He feels the world shift subtly, and they all miss. A few punch holes in his trenchcoat. He kicks the guard in the face—the steel toe of his left boot hits the guard square in the jaw. There’s a loud crack followed by a sickening splintering sound as the jaw shatters; the guard spins around and collapses into one of the desks. CB’s right foot comes down on the next partition wall and he pushes off, leaping into the next empty row as the air fills with gunfire. He hears another crack, another ztszt, and he feels heat streak across his face.
One of the guards actually grazed him. He bets it was Ray.
The second guard runs toward the one CB kicked, sticking his gun over the lip of the partition wall into CB’s row. He knows which row CB is in, but he doesn’t know specifically where. CB pushes himself under one of the desks to keep out of sight.
“He’s in the next row,” the guard calls out. “I don’t know where.”
“Shoot it up!” Ray says.
Suddenly his spot under the desk seems like a colossally bad idea.
Gunfire tears through the cubes as CB pushes himself out into the row. The world churns around him as bullets slice through the flimsy partitions and destroy the expensive computers sitting on each desk. CB stands, and finds himself face to face with the guard. The guard’s eyes widen in surprise as CB grabs the flat screen monitor sitting on the desk in front of him and smashes it over his head. He falls back, and CB vaults over the cube wall to land on a second guard’s shoulders. His legs tighten around the guard’s neck as he falls forward, then he twists and jerks. The guard lets out a strangled cry of surprise as they flip over and he smashes into a desk, then goes limp.
It’s a lot more difficult to break a man’s neck than you’d think from watching movies, and CB didn’t pull it off that time. He suspects the guard will be wearing a neck brace for a while.
Three guards appear at the end of the row. CB winks, and to his satisfaction he hears the sound of three rifles jamming simultaneously. He charges. One of the guards throws down his rifle and pulls out a knife, the other two adjust their grips on their rifles to use them as clubs.
The guard with the knife drops into a fighting crouch. CB sees a hot plate sitting on a desk; he grabs it and gives it a sharp tug as the plug yanks out of the power strip sitting behind the monitor. He grabs the plug, wraps the cord around his hand once, and swings the hot plate at the guard’s knife arm.
The guard curses as the hot plate loops around his arm and then reels as it smacks him in the face with a wet thud. The knife drops to the ground. CB leans into a slide as he pulls sharply on the power cord—the guard yelps in surprise as he stumbles forward, and CB slides past him, grabbing the knife as he passes by. He jabs the knife into the leg of one of the other guards, who screams, drops his rifle, and sinks to the floor in agony.
CB turns to face the third guard. It’s Ray. CB doesn’t have time to get to his feet; Ray kicks him in the face.
CB’s head snaps back; his cigarette flies into the air and lands a few feet away, smoldering on cheap carpet. His face is wet with blood, his vision is a crazy mess of light and color, and he gasps for breath as Ray kicks him again, this time in his gut. CB grunts in pain, then hears Ray draw back for a third kick. He forces himself to act—he manages to grab Ray’s ankle, wrap his legs around Ray’s trapped leg, and flip him on top of the guard he stabbed. Ray’s forehead hits the ground hard. The guard he falls on top of stops screaming. Both lie still.
CB finds himself hoping Ray’s OK. In a strange way he sort of likes him.
His vision clears slightly, just in time to see a shadow fall across him. He rolls and twists, just barely missing a boot that otherwise would have hit solidly in the small of his back. He kicks and misses. He rolls again, feeling the floor shake as someone tries to kick him again. Finally CB’s vision steadies enough for him to see his attacker clearly—a woman this time.
“I’d rather not fight a woman,” CB says.
“Fine by me,” she says. She pulls out a truncheon.
CB punches her in the solar plexus. She doubles over, a quick jab to the neck drops her.
“I mean, I will,” CB says. “I just don’t want to.”
The room falls silent. CB does a mental count and comes up with seven guards down. How many came up? If it was an eight-man team then that leaves…
Jenny stands in the doorway of the executive office. The last guard stands behind her, his left arm wrapped around her neck, his right hand holding an automatic pistol against her temple.
CB slowly raises his hands. “OK. OK, we’re good, right? You got me. Just let her go.”
“Shut up,” the guard says. “I do all the talking.”
CB shuts up. He looks at Jenny.
Jenny meets his gaze. “Did you get the others?” Her voice is hoarse.
“I said shut up,” the guard says. He tightens his grip around Jenny’s neck.
Jenny relaxes, then she moves: her left hand reaches up to grab the guard’s fingers on his left hand, pulls, and twists sharply. Something snaps, he screams: at the same time she grabs his gun with her other hand, ducks her head out from under the convulsing arm, twists the gun free from the soldier’s right hand…
…and shoots him in the face twice. The guard falls in a heap.
CB blinks. His hands are still over his head as he looks down at the guard’s body, then back up at Jenny.
“What. The. Fuck.”
Jenny’s gun arm is still extended. The gun trembles slightly. “My great-grandfather was one of the best hand-to-hand combatants in the world. He’d been giving me lessons since I was thirteen.”
CB lets his arms fall to his side. “Alex was teaching you to fight since you were thirteen years old?”
“He said it would help me with boys.”
She stares down at the body, face blank. She doesn’t drop her arm. The gun still points at the spot where the guard stood moments before.
Jenny glances at CB. CB nods to the gun. She looks at the gun and frowns. Then she removes the magazine, clears the chamber, and drops it to the ground with a clatter. She turns to face him again. “How exactly do we get out of here?”
“Not the way we came,” CB says. “There are probably more guards on their way. Those were the guys they had in the building, but I’m pretty sure a call went out, and I’ll bet good money their people have excellent response times.”
“So the elevator and the stairs are out?” Jenny asks.
“Looks like,” CB says. He kicks the body out of the way and closes the door.
“That’s not going to slow them down,” Jenny says.
“True,” CB agrees. He goes over to the window and looks down. “You know, that looks like a nasty fall.”
“I guess,” Jenny says. Then she frowns. “Please tell me we’re not.”
“OK,” CB says. “We’re not.”
He grabs the overstuffed office chair sitting behind the oak desk and throws it at the window with all his might. The window cracks into a spiderweb of broken glass, but it doesn’t shatter.
“God damn safety glass,” CB mutters. He picks up the chair and throws it a second time. This time an entire sheet of glass is knocked out the window and falls to the ground seven stories below.
“CB, what are we doing?” There’s more than a hint of panic in Jenny’s voice.
“Oh, right,” CB says. “You don’t like heights. Well, that makes this awkward.”
He pulls a loop of high-tension wire out of his pocket, hooks one end to his belt, and loops the other end around a leg of the massive oak desk.
The elevator dings. CB leaps up onto the window and tests his weight against the line. The oak desk doesn’t budge.
“Come on, Jenny. We don’t have a lot of time. Just hold on tight and close your eyes and we’ll get down OK.”
“I hate you,” Jenny says.
The elevator dings again. Jenny swears, runs up to the window, and throws her arms tightly around CB’s neck.
“Close your eyes,” CB says.
Jenny shuts her eyes tight.
CB leans back, wrapping the wire around his right arm, using his trenchcoat as padding. He quickly, if awkwardly, rappels down the side of the building. They run out of wire about seven feet off the ground, so CB unhooks it from his belt and they fall the rest of the way. Jenny shrieks a little as they land, but they’re unharmed.
“I hate you, CB!” Jenny snarls as she dusts herself off. “I hate you so very, very much.”
“Later,” CB says. “This is the part where we run a little.”
Sirens wail in the distance. Overhead they hear the sound of someone smashing in the door to the executive office. Without saying another word, CB and Jenny run off into the night.