Curveball Issue 34: Shades of Red

Part Four: New York City, Downtown

There was a time when this part of New York City would have been described as “lurid” by night. It’s not true any more—it hasn’t been true for a while—but CB remembers. He’s mostly convinced that it’s better the way it is now. He’s not particularly opposed to strip clubs and peep shows, but in those days loitering on the sidewalk meant something very specific that frequently drew unwanted attention from undercover cops. Tonight he’s sitting at a small table set up outside an all-night coffee shop, sipping relatively decent coffee and being ignored by pretty much everyone. He prefers this version of the city, especially tonight.

The smartphone, sitting face down on the table, buzzes once. He stares at it, takes a gulp of coffee, then taps at the earpiece clipped onto his right ear. “Yeah.”

No one around him so much as bats an eye. Back when this part of town was lurid, people talking to themselves on a city street were also considered crazy. These days, it’s just Bluetooth.

“They’re on the move.” Street Ronin’s voice comes in clearly, if a little on the thin side.

“Good to know. Where am I going?”

CB’s smartphone buzzes again. He glances at the screen—someone texted him a file. He opens it and stares at a map of his part of downtown, with the projected route overlaid in red.

“Good,” CB says. “We got numbers?”

“Three cars. I think we want the middle.”

“The middle I can handle.” CB starts walking down the street at a brisk, even pace. “I’m gonna need help with the bookends.”

“Nah.” Scrapper Jack’s voice is a little distorted, but still recognizable. “I got the bookends.”

CB breaks into a jog. The little red dot on the little digital map isn’t far, and all the crosswalks line up in his favor. He slows to a walk as he reaches a tiny cement triangle at an intersection of two busy streets—just large enough for a bus stop, a bike rack, and three benches in a low-hanging enclosure. Stupid place to put something like that.

Convenient, though.

He waits just outside the enclosure, fumbling through his trenchcoat pockets until he withdraws a folded-up pack of cigarettes. Only two left. He fishes one out and lights it, mildly amused by the disapproving glares of the people sitting on the benches, waiting for the bus.

He feels the phone vibrate again, and taps at his earpiece.

“I’m here.”

“They’re almost in position,” Street Ronin says.

CB looks up to see a Greyhound bus swerve into the reserved spot in front of the enclosure, the side doors swinging open. For a moment he’s back on Thorpe’s island, trying to cram as many people onto the bus as fast as possible, as a horde of creeping death swarmed out of the ocean.

He pushes the thought away, and turns around. There: he sees three sedans, each with glass tinted so dark it’s nearly black, driving up the street, single file. He keeps his earpiece on, then shoves the phone deep into his left pocket.

“I see them.”

The cars are about two blocks away. He’s not sure how fast they’re traveling, but they’re pushing it for city traffic. He takes a drag from his cigarette, feeling the world spin around him.

One of the voices in his earpiece says “Going in,” and seconds later a lone figure drops out of the sky.

Jack Barrow hits the street with a thunderous boom as the asphalt beneath his feet shatters, chunks flying in all directions. He immediately sinks to his knees, makes a fist, and thrusts his right arm through the street, up past his elbow. The first sedan slams on the brakes and tries to swerve, but Jack has timed his descent too well—the right headlight shatters on his shoulder, and the rest of the car barrels into him.

More fractures appear in the asphalt around Jack’s sunken arm, but otherwise he doesn’t move. The car groans as polymer and steel peel away from the chassis. Metal shrieks, the car crumples up to the axle, which starts to bend. All at once what remains of the nose dips, the back of the car flips up, then comes crashing down again. The windshield cracks.

CB runs forward, eyes on the second car. It swerves, trying to get around the front car, currently sitting nose-first, tail in the air, on top of Jack. For a moment his eyes are drawn to the third car as it slows and turns down a side street.

He swears.

“It’s not the middle car,” CB says. “I’m switching targets.”

“Roger that,” Jack says, then stands. The first car rises into the air, balancing the smashed-in front on his shoulder, right hand gripping the axle, left bracing against what remains of the hood. He turns as he rises, unhindered by the weight, and brings the trunk down on the hood of the second car as it tries to swerve around them. The hood caves in, the windshields shatter, and its car alarm goes off.

CB hears Jack sigh through the earpiece. “I guess I better make sure they’re OK.” He suppresses the urge to grin. Jack isn’t a gentle giant, but he doesn’t like having blood on his hands.

“I’ll handle number three. Street Ronin, do you have eyes on the target?”

He’s moving before Street Ronin has a chance to respond. He doesn’t try to follow the car—he dashes across the street, and sprints down a sidewalk running roughly parallel to the street he’d seen it turn down. By the time Street Ronin confirms his suspicion—the car drove three blocks and turned left, resuming its original direction—CB is almost at the street it’s on. He’s half a block away when he sees it drive through the intersection.

CB winks. He hears a faint popping sound. Seconds later, the car’s two right tires blow out simultaneously.

Either the car was designed to be driven with blown tires, or the driver has been trained to drive a car with blown tires—maybe both. The car does not spin out and come to a stop, but it’s close. It screeches, careening wildly into the oncoming lane as the driver fights to regain control. The driver is forced to brake hard, slowing dramatically, as it narrowly misses an oncoming SUV before swerving back into the correct lane. Just as it starts to speed up again, shuddering from the unevenness of the tires on the right side, CB leaps up on to the trunk.

Wrapped around each hand are loops of high-tech metal that look like a cross between brass knuckles and staplers. He places the metal devices in each end of the back windshield, tightens his grip, and with a brief hum the ends of the devices start flashing red. The knuckle-side ends of the device instantly bond to the glass, and when the car inevitably swerves to throw him off, the devices don’t move. CB is knocked from his perch, legs flailing wildly behind him as he flops hard on the trunk, but he stays attached to the car.

The driver swerves sharply left. CB is thrown right; his right hand slips free of its grip, his entire body twists, and pain lances up his left arm as his elbow smashes into the rear windshield. He grits his teeth, scrabbles for the other handhold, and catches it just before the driver swerves sharply right. His body slides left, but this time he manages to keep hold of both grips. He keeps control of his slide, and manages to swing his feet around to strike the car door, push off with his toes, and swing back up into crouch on the trunk.

He looks up, taking stock of his surroundings. They’re on a two-lane street, with a steady line of cars headlights coming down the other lane. He has some time before the driver can try to throw him again.

Just enough time to get this done.

He adjusts his grip on the metal devices bonded to the glass, moving his thumbs so they rest over the red blinking lights on each end. He presses down, the lights shine steadily, and a high-pitched whine slices through the air. The back windshield shatters into thousands of spidery fragments. He pulls sharply, and the entire back windshield comes out, revealing two very surprised men.

CB dumps the shattered windshield over the side, then lunges at the man who isn’t a United States Senator.

The dark-suited agent—Secret Service, maybe, though CB isn’t entirely clear on how that works—is shouting something. CB can’t hear what, exactly, but he does see the man reaching into his jacket, and he’s pretty sure he knows what that means. CB wraps his right arm around the man’s neck and with his left he grabs the hand just as it closes around the grip of his gun.

They struggle for a moment. He’s too close to pull off a proper headbutt, so he pulls at the agent’s head, tilting it to one side, and bites his neck. The agent screams in surprise, and his hand relaxes just long enough for CB to wrench it up, away from the gun, and twist sharply at the wrist. He can feel the bones crack, and the hoarse scream becomes shrill. CB drops the arm, reaches inside the man’s jacket, and pulls out the gun.

The agent’s eyes widen in alarm.

CB releases the magazine, which promptly falls into the footwell. He presses the top of the barrel against the back seat, then pushes the gun down. The chamber slides back, ejecting a cartridge. He does it a second time, just to be certain. Then he strikes the agent in the face with the gun.

The man goes limp—not unconscious, but dazed.

CB tosses the gun out the back window, then turns to the Junior Senator from New York.

“Hi Toby. Take off your seatbelt.”

Senator Tobias Morgan stares at him, eyes wide in shock and amazement, his normally implacable demeanor shattered. He looks from CB to the Agent, struggling to find words.

CB sighs, reaches over, and undoes the Senator’s seatbelt. He grabs the senator by the jacket, dragging him to the center of the back seat. Morgan tries to resist, but there’s not much effort—he’s nearly as stunned as his bodyguard.

CB turns to the agent and regards him a moment. “Sorry about that. Especially the biting thing. You really didn’t deserve it, but I’m pressed for time…”

He adjusts his grip on the senator, wrapping his arms around the man’s torso. “This is going to hurt. For the record, I’m only sorry about the part that hurts me.”

He lifts, brings his knees up under him, and pulls. The senator squawks in surprise as he’s jerked out of his seat, his head and shoulders emerging through the window as his suit tears on the bits of broken glass still left in the frame. CB adjusts again, putting a boot against the frame, and pushes.

Senator Morgan screams as they both slide off the back of the trunk and tumble onto the street.

CB twists as they fall, making sure he strikes first. The wind leaves his body as he hits, then leaves again as the senator lands on top of him, and then they’re rolling—not away from the car, but in the same direction it was going. CB hears car horns honking desperately, brakes squealing as whoever was driving behind them has to swerve to avoid running them over. Then something strikes his shoulder, hard—they hit the curb, bouncing up, and over, and rolling briefly across a sidewalk until he hits something metal.

Bike rack. Empty.


CB forces himself to sit up. He and the senator are draped over a bike rack that has knocked over onto its side. Cars are slowing down to rubberneck as best they can, given the late hour, but they’re not stopping—which is a momentary advantage, since it’ll make it difficult for the Senator’s car to make its way back. He staggers to his feet, ignoring a shooting pain in his left shin as he stands. His right shoulder hurts when he tries to move his arm, so he reaches down with his left and hauls the senator to his feet.

Morgan stands and does little else. He’s trying to make sense of what just happened, and not doing a very good job. His eyes won’t focus. CB pushes him forward, and he complies, staggering blindly.

CB fishes the phone out of his left pocket. The screen is cracked, but it still turns on. He checks the GPS—still running.

An engine revs, tires squeal, and suddenly a blue minivan shudders to stop in front of them. The side door slides open, revealing two rows of bucket seats. CB doesn’t hesitate: he hauls the senator forward, shoving him up into the back, then climbs up after. As soon as he’s in, he has just enough time to toss the phone out—it shatters when it hits the curb—before the side door slides shut and the van peels off, executing a creditable 180 into the next lane. The senator is thrown into a seat where he collapses, finally passing out. CB slams into the far wall, thankfully hitting his left side instead his right.

Street Ronin, looking ridiculous as he drives minivan in his full Crossfire uniform, tsks softly to himself. “Sorry. Everything’s going a little nuts right now. Metahumans have already been called to the scene, and they’ll probably be here in another minute. Not to mention all the government agencies that freak out when somebody kidnaps a United States Senator.”

“Not to mention,” CB says. He half-turns and slides down into one of the bucket seats, sighing in a semblance of relief as he stops trying to function.

“They really had me going with that middle car,” Street Ronin says. “I could have sworn I saw them put him in it.”

“Probably used a double,” CB says. “Where’s Jack?”

“After he verified the agents were still breathing he jumped out. He’ll join us at the safehouse after he shakes everyone off his trail.”

“Great,” CB says. “How are we going to shake everyone off our trail?”

“What do you mean?” Street Ronin says, feigning innocence.

“I mean everyone saw us climb into a blue minivan. Someone’s probably going to mention it.”

“I hope they do,” Street Ronin says, and this time he can’t suppress his laughter. “This one isn’t blue. It’s gold.”

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