I ran out of the warehouse, out the metal door that was now open. It didn’t take me long to get back on the street, where Eduardo dropped me off.
Where is he, where did he go? Fuck!
This could not have gone down south any faster. Eduardo was taken against his own will, driving to Maria, and I had to prevent that somehow, on foot. How was I supposed to do that? Nothing could be worse than this.
I kept running. My mind was racing just as fast, doing everything I could all at the same time.
I pulled out the phone I took from Roland. A standard smartphone. I didn’t know the password to his phone, but I didn’t have to. I could still use it to make an emergency call.
I dialed 9-1-1.
It didn’t take long for the call to get through. “9-1-1, what is your emergency?”
“Agh!” I yelled as I ran.
The operator spoke softly, despite my panic. “Please calm yourself, and speak slowly. What is your emergency?”
I couldn’t get my words out. I was freaking out, and running faster than I ever had before. Running so intensely didn’t make for an easy conversation. But, it was either that, or take it slow and have Eduardo slip further away.
I made it to an intersection and turned left, and almost came into a collision with an incoming car. I jumped, letting the car pass under me. It honked, and I heard tires screech behind me as I kept on.
People were around, I knew that. There were some passersby, walking on the sidewalk. People in their own vehicles, waiting at the intersection. They saw me running faster than any normal human. They saw me vaulting over the car. For my part, I was outed. I was displaying my powers in public. At the very least, I had a mask on. But it only alleviated some of the vulnerability I was feeling. It took everything I had to push through it, and run.
I tried again, practically barking into the phone.
“East Stephenville the warehouse on Irving Street a lot of weapons someone has to go get them warehouse on Irving Street help!”
That was the opposite of calm and slow.
I didn’t wait to hear the operator’s response. I hung up, and threw the phone away. It slid across the street, falling into a storm drain nearby.
The next order of business was to locate Eduardo. The only idea I had of where to start was to go to where he was hiding. I knew the location, it was something we previously discussed.
A few blocks away from the warehouse. Five minutes by walking. By the time I was finished with my call, I was already there.
The parking lot of a church. There were some other vehicles here, too. A van, more than one motorcycle, but not Eduardo’s car. It wasn’t here. He wasn’t here.
My heart dropped.
Which way did he go? How far away was he? Who was the woman on the other end? Was that actually Benny? Was Benny with Eduardo?
So many questions, and I was running out of time.
Could I use the walkie-talkie again? Was it even turned on at their end? Maybe, but I could potentially provoke whoever had Eduardo hostage, and things could get even worse, even faster. I didn’t want to chance it.
For the moment, I put the walkie-talkie away.
The longer I was taking to find him, the more Eduardo was getting away. But I was hesitating, even though I knew that would waste even more time. I didn’t want to pick any random direction and blindly run off, inadvertently increasing the distance between me and Eduardo. It wouldn’t be wise, it wouldn’t be smart.
How can I find him? Use your brain Alexis, outside the box.
I couldn’t find him like this, not at street level. I needed a higher position, a higher point of view.
In East Stephenville, the buildings weren’t the skyscrapers that made up downtown, but they were tall, and I could get a better view from up there.
I looked back at the church. It was no cathedral, and the steeple that spiked up wasn’t any higher than the buildings that were around. No good.
I hurried, dipping into an alley between the church and another building. I stepped over a homeless man, sitting next to a dumpster, drinking a beer, undoubtedly watching as I found the fire escape, jumped to reach the lowest level, and rushed up the stairs. Don’t dwell on it.
When I got as high as the fire escape would let me, I had to jump again to reach the roof. I grabbed the edge, and pulled myself up, my arms aching.
I crossed the roof, perching on the other side, looking down at the street below. This was much better, I could see several streets down, a wider perspective. People walked about, cars cruising. Up here, I went unnoticed. I felt like an eagle, searching for prey.
Even as a kid, I was never really afraid of heights. To clarify, it was just that the idea of being afraid of heights had never occurred to me. Even then, being so close to the edge of a long fall should be cause for some caution, daredevil or not. But here? I didn’t feel much of anything in that regard. I wondered why. Adrenaline?
I tugged at the straps of the backpack that I just remembered I had on. That would explain some of the tenseness I was feeling. A literal weight on my shoulders. I wanted it off already.
Being here, crouched, it gave me an opportunity for a brief breather. My body was sore, a consequence of all the strenuous activity I wasn’t entirely used to. My throat was dry, almost scratchy. I licked my lips. The knot in my stomach was getting tighter, twisting to the point that I could throw up from the stress. The craving, the want for blood, was getting stronger. It was something of a catch-22. I had to rely on my above-average strength and speed, but the more I did, the more my craving grew.
But it was something I’d have to sacrifice, if I wanted to find them. If I wanted to save them.
For Maria, for Eduardo, and now for myself, I had to find that car, fast.
Something in the corner of my eye. I turned.
Tiny, far. Black, a gold stripe blazoned across the top of the body. Eduardo’s car?
Before I could get a better look at it, the distant shape had taken a right, going behind a building, and I lost sight of it. It was a hunch, but no other car around here matched that particular description, and I had to take a concrete action, soon.
It was a risk, but I took it.
I could catch up to the car if I ran, and I could cut the distance and time between us by half if I went across the rooftops. I tried to steel myself as quickly as possible. No time to be scared.
All I had to do was go.
I burst into a run as soon as I got up. The first step was to get to that street. The street that car just got on. I was sure that I could catch up, no car would ever dare drive in a way that would attract attention. Especially Eduardo, at the moment. He had to be inconspicuous.
It was sick, disgusting, that someone would force Eduardo to do this, but I could take advantage of that. Rather, it was because of that, that I had a chance.
A chance to save Maria.
The distance between buildings wasn’t that great. Comparatively speaking. I had never tried jumping far before, I’ve only tried going high instead of going long. But I was sure it was something I could handle.
I was sure of it.
My pace increased to a sprint, and my foot reached the edge of the rooftop. With a hard push, I was flying away from the building.
Not flying, exactly. What went up had to come down.
I was in the air long enough to want to scream, but I returned to solid footing soon enough. But my landing was hard, rough. I fell over, tumbling.
As I spun, I used my momentum to spring back up on my feet. I lost my bearings, and I had to reorient myself. I had landed farther than I had anticipated, in the middle of the roof of the next building over. My own strength kept throwing me for a loop. I had to keep that in mind.
But, it was definitely a step above tripping over fences.
Losing precious time, Alexis, I reminded myself. I brushed my shoulders, and pressed on.
My next attempt went a lot more smoothly. I didn’t use as much force in my legs this time, and I crossed the gap to the next building with no problem, landing properly and maintaining momentum. Running along rooftops like this, I felt like some kind of ninja. The fact that it had gotten darker since my wild chase added to that sense of immersion.
Wind was passing through my ears as I soared through the air, getting louder when my hood was flapping around. It did help in soothing my nerves, though. Also, the mask served to protect my face, letting a rush of air flow through my hair. It felt good, and if I wasn’t running to prevent my friend’s murder, it would’ve been relaxing.
Some buildings were taller than others, forcing me to draw more of my strength to reach that height, which led to a larger drop to get to the next building. Sweat was already sticking my hood to the back of my neck, and my mask was making my face feel stuffy and hot.
I should’ve brought some water.
By the time I got into a stride, I was standing over the street I needed to get to. Where I last saw what I thought was Eduardo’s car. My eyes darted around, searching everywhere. A corner grocery store, a liquor store, a couple walking, a blue truck, a manhole.
No no no no and no. Where is it?
That was definitely it.
I saw the car, on the same street, but farther along. Eduardo was in there, and at least one unwanted passenger. I looked ahead, past some buildings, and saw a ramp that led to a highway. Were they headed there? If they got on that highway, it’d be impossible for me to catch up. I had to get to that car before then. But they were too far ahead, and even if I booked it as hard as my legs would allow, they’d get there before I could get to them.
I ran anyways.
As I went, I took out the walkie-talkie from my fanny pack. I leapt across the rooftops, parallel to the street below, homing in on the car. I was getting closer, catching up, but it wouldn’t be long before the car merged onto the highway, and everything would go to shit.
I yelled into the walkie-talkie.
“Eduardo! I can see you! Just hit the brakes, stop right where you are!”
Nothing. The car was going as fast as ever. My stomach sank, and it wasn’t from soaring through the air, atop rooftops. Did I have the wrong car?
No, it can’t be.
“Eddie!” I shrieked.
As if in response to me specifically, and not the walkie-talkie, the car halted, stopping in its tracks. Another car slammed into the rear, and they both skidded in different directions. As soon as it happened, both were no longer moving.
I wanted to punch a wall and shatter all of the bones in my hand. Couldn’t give a fuck if I didn’t heal from that. I didn’t intend for that to happen.
But, I had to put that in the back of my mind. There were other priorities at hand.
I moved to the edge of the building I was on, the alley waiting below. I dropped down onto the fire escape. The stairs rattled as I hurried.
I was back on the street in a flash. Cars and pedestrians had either slowed down or stopped entirely, looking at the scene of the accident I caused. I was hating myself more and more every second, seeing what happened, and while I added that as another priority to deal with, it would have to be at the bottom of the list, for now.
A larger crowd was starting to gather around the wrecked vehicles. I was going to try and push my way through, but that would only slow me down. I had no other choice, and the damage was already done, on that front.
I jumped over the crowd.
I heard cries of surprise when I touched down. Walking to the cars, I pretended they weren’t there.
Eduardo’s car was still, lifeless in the middle of the road. The back bumper took most of the impact, but the damage wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. There was a dent there, but nothing alarming. Was Eduardo okay? Were the people in the other car okay?
I approached the black car at brisk pace, but some reservation made my feet a little heavy. Once I got to that car, what would happen next?
Moving in, I swapped out the walkie-talkie for the knife. I had to be ready.
One of the back doors of the car swung open, and someone plopped out. A man. No one I knew.
He twitched. Still alive. That was a good sign.
The passenger door was the next door to open. The person who exited wasn’t as out of it as the first man.
A woman, this time. She was tugging at something, trying to take it out of the car with her. She managed to drag it out of the car before I got there, and I saw what it was.
Who it was.
“Eduardo,” I said, but I was sure no one heard that.
Eduardo collapsed onto the road, the woman putting a foot on his back. To make matters worse, she pointed a gun at him.
Like things weren’t already bad.
“You must be the thorn in my side,” the woman said, “I’m happy that I’ll be pulling you out soon.”
“Benny,” I said, assuming that was who she was. If it wasn’t her, then I was an idiot, trying to be dramatic with one-word statements.
The woman grinned. “Nice to meet you.”
It was Benny. The leader of El Carruaje. From what Eduardo had told me, I had made a mental image of what she might look like, and it was remarkably close to what I had in my head.
Latina, wearing a red blazer over a solid gold, form-fitting dress. Her eyes were sharp, like a hawk. Albeit a little younger than I had anticipated, but I was still pretty spot-on. She looked like someone that was used to having power, used to being at the top and controlling the movements of those below her. Had she not gotten rattled by a fender bender, her appearance alone would’ve been enough for me to not say another word.
“It’s over,” I said, loudly, “Look where you are right now. You’re surrounded. You’re pointing a gun at someone, in public. There’s nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. You’re done.”
The crowd that surrounded us began quickly dissipating, thinning out, at the mention of a gun. Others were shouting that fact into the air, to get those who weren’t as close to move out of the way. The noise of panic was getting louder.
“Does it look like I’m done?” Benny taunted, her gun still to Eduardo.
“Police will be here soon, they’re going to take you away. Please, drop the gun. We can do this without anybody getting hurt.”
“Who even are you? Who are you working for? Why? What’s with the mask?”
She’s engaging with me. Good. Let’s keep it that way.
“I’m nobody, just a blank face. No group ties. Why? It’s complicated, but I’m sick and tired of people getting hurt in this city. As for the mask? Well, I’m not as pretty as someone like you.”
She scowled. “I’m flattered.”
“You should be, you wouldn’t want what’s under this thing. Believe me.”
While speaking, I was inching myself closer to her and Eduardo, taking baby steps.
“Not another foot closer,” she suddenly ordered me.
“I see you. Trying to stall me? I can play that game, too. I have a lot more time than you think to shoot this boy, and getting his girl is simply a button away. You get any closer, both of them die.”
Sweat was rolling. Everywhere. She was five feet away, but it might as well have been a mile. How do I stop her?
Keep talking, then.
“When I said I was sick and tired of people getting hurt, I meant you, too. It doesn’t have to be like this, it shouldn’t. Back away, and drop the gun, please.”
With my arm moving excruciatingly slow, I showed her my knife, blade out.
“And I won’t have to use this.”
Benny jeered, “Are you fucking with me! How is that even a legitimate threat, you’re standing all the way over there!”
“If you haven’t figured out by now, I’m pretty fast. See? No car, no police help.”
“Fair,” I said, shrugging.
Eduardo stirred, beneath Benny’s foot, but he wasn’t getting up. Benny moved her arm, readjusted her aim to his head.
“I hate cheaters. They make me so sad.”
Was she talking to herself?
Benny continued, “You know what? I am done. And I will be taking all of you with me. Starting with this young man.”
I saw her finger move to the trigger.
“Benny, Benny!” I cut into her monologue. She looked back at me, her expression different.
I couldn’t make it out, exactly.
My mind was racing for any ideas, desperate for anything that could get us out of this in one piece. This was a standoff of the worst kind, and tensions were about to bubble up and explode. Sirens were sounding off in the background. They were getting closer. This was almost over.
My mouth was dry. There was one thing that might work. I had to improvise to get there.
“You said you hate cheaters! I’m the biggest cheater there is! You don’t have to hurt them, but, you can, can…”
I was struggling to get my words out.
“Shoot me instead.”
She cocked her head to the side. “What?”
“Shoot me instead. Leave them alone.”
“How do you know I won’t just shoot you first, then kill him and his girl?”
“Then fine, you can do that. As long as you shoot me first, then we have a deal.”
“Sounds like a trap.”
“Not a trap,” I reassured her, “Like you said, I don’t have a legitimate threat against you, not with me standing here, with only a knife. And it wouldn’t be fair if I went unpunished. I was a part Eduardo’s scheme, I deserve a bullet.”
Benny eyed me, genuinely confused. “What are you?”
For once, I had no answer.
She didn’t say anything for a while, keeping me in her sight. With every passing second of that oppressive quiet, I thought I was getting closer to death from just standing there, waiting.
“Only because I want you to shut up,” Benny finally said, “You have your wish. I’ll kill you first.” She lifted her gun, moving it away from Eduardo.
Benny didn’t get to pull the trigger.
I rushed forward, faster than ever. So fast that it officially scared me. I crashed into her side, and she crumpled from the impact. Everything blurred for a second, I was almost blind, unable to register everything that was happening. I had tackled her, and we slid a foot before stopping. Only a weak whimpering to confirm that Benny was still alive.
I was laying on my side, fighting my own body to get up. It didn’t want to. I had sacrificed the last of my energy to stop Benny. I was spent, exhausted.
But, staying down wasn’t an option. I had to try and try again, to stand.
It was a compromise, but I was able to get on all fours. It’d have to do.
I crawled over to Eduardo. No scratches, no injuries. But he wasn’t getting up.
My voice croaked. “Hey, hey,” I nudged his body, “Wake up, I got Benny, I got her.”
He shifted some. Not enough.
“We have to go, people are around. I’ll help you up, take you elsewhere. Sorry about the car.”
No real response from him. I sighed. I breathed in, with my nose.
I smelled it.
I looked down at my hands. I hadn’t noticed it before, everything was still slightly hazy. There was blood. And my knife blade was soaked in red.
When was this?
I wheeled around to Benny. She was bleeding, clutching her shoulder, her red blazer becoming a deeper crimson. My knife went into her? I didn’t remember, I couldn’t recall the sensation of pressing a blade into another person’s body.
I turned back around, not listening to the order. Several people in blue, surrounding us.
“Freeze! Hands behind your head! Now!”
It finally hit me, just how bad this was. There were still people around, not just bystanders, but police. People had phones, police officers had bodycams. I was surrounded, I was being filmed.
I was thirsty.