Every sign was pointing to me to call it a night. The sun had about five more hours before it was up, so I was working against the clock. I had the cops biting at my heels with every step, and having to take on an Italian mob without so much as a draft of a plan…
To change gears and go home, regroup, start over, it started to seem like the better of every option.
Except, in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t.
I only had information on where D’Angelo would be tonight, and, did I really want to try my hand at this when the body count might have potentially doubled?
I think not.
The truck continued rolling, taking another street. Sounds of sirens filled the air, alongside incoming, consecutive slices of wind.
A tarp, here. I lifted it, and slipped under, using it for cover.
The wind-sound got louder, peaking as it passed overhead. Then, it grew distant.
As if things weren’t hard enough.
Shit, Solace managed to get everyone in a frenzy.
And that was what I hated about this from the beginning. Who was at the bottom of this Solace thing?
Solace was hardly a concrete thing, an enemy made of air, I would reach out and just get nothing. I couldn’t even attribute a gender. And yet, Solace was capable of so much that it baffled me. How could I ever stack up against… it? Was there even a way to get ahead?
I sat in thought – and in wait – scratching my arm, and thumbing out shards of glass that littered my arms, shoulders, and neck. Some even got stuck in my hair. The wounds closed as soon as they were completely free of foreign objects, as though my body knew when to do so. It’d never stop freaking me out, watching the cuts treat themselves, the skin moving, the flesh touching back together, mending with a strange warmth, the red line thinning, then disappearing.
Quite the trip, it was.
But, holes in fabric didn’t heal. My shirt was left in tatters, ripped and torn on the sleeves and back. And blood already out of my body didn’t go back in. Small, messy stripes of red streaked across the skin on my forearms, smearing also onto my sleeves.
Might as well have painted a target on my back.
I took my mask off, again. I did appreciate Thomas’s gesture in giving me this gas mask, but it was proving to be a bit of a hassle, having to work the straps and making sure everything fit before I could make a move. I wouldn’t deny it being an improvement from my old mask in entire measures, but this night had proved that there were some flaws in its function as part of my superhero identity.
Mainly, it was hard to drink blood with this thing on.
And fuck, did I need it.
My body was already going through some of the symptoms, and I shook just thinking about them. The aches, the fever, the paranoia. I wasn’t me when it started to get bad, and it was like there was something else, trying to get out. It had to be caged by blood.
I wouldn’t last if I didn’t address this tonight. I had to find a way to squeeze it in my schedule, among everything else that needed to be done.
The mask fell into my lap as I got it off. I did my hair one more time, and pulled at my temples, where the mask had kept rubbing until I was nearing a headache.
The loud sounds didn’t help, either.
The activity outside the tarp hadn’t lessened since I hid inside. Blaring sirens, people shouting, cars speeding and horns honking. It went without saying, I was hesitant to stick my head out.
I got this far without another incident, was I in the clear? Wished I knew for sure.
I opened my backpack.
I had packed for this night as if I was going on a field trip. Water bottles, cash, an extra shirt, a hat. I was originally planning on changing after I was through with tonight, but everything ended up out of my control.
Under the tarp, I changed into the extra shirt, while forgoing the hat. Some time passed since I landed in here, I should be well out of the area the cops originally blocked off. Now, it’d be a crapshoot as to my current whereabouts.
Use that to my benefit.
Brakes squeaking, I heard the truck come to a stop. And so did my heart. A light? No other sound clued me into a police car that might have stopped us. But it wouldn’t take much longer to be found, here. Police would extend their search once they’ve exhausted all their options on the block they… blocked off, and they were on high alert.
Had to move, evade. Yet, had to exercise caution, too.
Gradually, I lifted the tarp, pulling it over my head, wary of another helicopter, or even a wandering eye. Neither, but I was still on edge. I shot a glance upward, and the buildings loomed. The truck had taken me deeper into the city.
I was in the Eye, now. Uncharted territory.
I had never spent a substantial amount of time in the area. There was never a reason to, anything my mom and I needed was a drive elsewhere, like a nearby supermarket, or an outlet mall. We had no business spending time in the inner city.
But, it couldn’t that bad, right?
It has a nickname, I told myself, Of course it’s gonna be that bad.
I peeked ahead. Some amount of cars were ahead of me, but the truck was stopped at a light. Red and blue lights hadn’t tinged the scenery here, so I was free of any pursuers. For now.
I crawled out of the tarp, slowly, carefully. My mask had gone back into my backpack, my parka still stuffed in there. Cash and phone in my pockets. I stayed low, crouching, waiting to see if an opportune time would come, so I could make a move.
The truck started, and I had to place my hands down to keep my balance. I shuffled back, stepping over the tarp, and I lifted my head to steal another peek to the sidewalk.
Buildings gave way to a metal fence, with paths and greenery behind it. Tall trees. The fence then turned into a gate, wide open. It was a park. But not just any park, I actually knew of this place.
The Peace Phoenix Plaza.
That might work.
I moved fast. I hopped over the wall of the trailer and touched ground, onto the street. A brisk walk took me through the gates, entering the park.
Head down, don’t look at anybody.
Orange lights illuminated the cement walkway. Civilians were here, too, of course. Some out for a late night jog, others here for a leisurely stroll. How many were on the run?
Not me, I’m just a regular girl.
I passed a fountain, the design traditional, yet impressive. I passed a statue and a number of modern art installments I didn’t quite get. It would’ve been a nice walk, barring circumstances.
I picked up the pace.
A police car zoomed down the next street I arrived at, after I crossed the park. A motorcycle followed. I never wanted to see either kind of vehicle again, for the rest of my life.
Here, though, was a line of taxis, waiting for anyone who’d take them. Being such a popular park, plenty of buses and taxis would stop by. I approached the first one I saw.
Casting my head down, I opened the door, and slid into the back row.
“Where to?” the driver asked. A woman.
I didn’t answer her right away. I propped my back against the door on the other side, leaning down, my legs resting across the seat. Hiding my face.
“Panorama,” I said, “The club downtown.”
“I know where it is.”
The taxi moved, getting back onto the street.
“Actually, I don’t plan on being there for too long. Would you mind waiting for me, somewhere? I can pay extra.”
“Sure, no problem,” she said back, casually. But she had no idea this was biggest problem anybody would ever have.
The taxi had stopped four minutes ago. The radio blared a pop tune, but it was already noise to me, now.
I hadn’t moved.
“We’re here,” the lady said, a touch annoyed, but keeping her patience. “A street over from the club, like you asked.”
I still hadn’t moved, but I was clutching my backpack tighter.
“Do you want me to stay right here?” she asked, “I can keep the blinkers on.”
“No,” I said, “No. Do you mind… waiting somewhere else? Out of sight?”
She gave me a look. “You want me to hide? I won’t front, but this is starting to sound like some shady shit.”
I clenched my jaw. Could I just tell her never mind?
“If this is too weird or too uncomfortable for you, I…”
“Honey, I’ve been at this for eight years now, my job is to take who sits in the back anywhere they need to go. Ask ten drivers, eight of them will tell you they’ve taken someone… somewhere, to do something. The other two are still new.”
I was at a loss on how to respond. I wasn’t like those guys she was probably talking about. Not exactly. But I couldn’t articulate that without sounding like I was in denial. I had my reasons, my justifications.
Or, was this city just that fucked up?
She then waved me off, like she was shooing me away. “Go, do your thing, I’ll be over in the space between the liquor store and the health clinic, about another block down.”
I looked down the direction she was talking about. That couldn’t be too hard to find.
“Okay,” was all I had to say.
Not another word was said. I got out of the taxi, and we went off in different directions. The taxi went down the street, I crossed it, finding my way to the club, the thumping music swelling in volume as I closed in.
The club wasn’t what I expected it to look like in my head. Sleek and black, unlike the brick that constituted the buildings beside it. Multiple stories, the tallest structure here. Pointed at the top, resembling something like an obelisk. Neon spotlights danced across the surface of the glass, lighting up the logo and name of the club. I felt the music pulse through me with every beat, even from across the street.
A line of people stretched from the door to the end of the street, turning the corner. Bouncers at the door, their arms crossed. The line wasn’t moving, and I saw people still walking to get in line.
How am I supposed to get in?
I wasn’t twenty-one, I didn’t even look eighteen. No one in their right mind would let me walk through the front door as I was. Backpack on, sweaty, and I wasn’t quite dressed for clubbing. Getting in line wasn’t a viable option, especially since I was pressed for time.
I had the whole taxi ride to think of a way to get in, but I wasn’t able to come up with anything. And after taking a look at the actual building, my options seemed to be even more limited.
Had to think on my feet. I walked while continuing to think of something.
Could I sneak in? Unlikely. I probably wouldn’t be able to get far before I was seen, and I didn’t know the layout inside enough to successfully find D’Angelo without getting caught. I still didn’t know his face, so waiting for him outside for an ambush wasn’t the smartest idea, too.
Dammit, nothing I do will be a good idea.
A direct approach? A way to smoke him out?
Possibly, but with the police still on the lookout for me, it would be like I was asking to be caught up with them again, and there was no guarantee that I’d make a ‘successful’ escape, this time. High risk, for a potentially little reward.
I found myself heading towards the line, anyways. So many people, clumped into their own groups, chatting among one another. Some were smoking, several already had drinks in their hands.
I ended up wandering towards the back of the line. I couldn’t help it, but I was having trouble coming up with a plan ahead of time. Usually, I could play it by ear pretty well, but in this case, I was also playing with fire. Take too many risks, and I was bound to mess up somewhere.
Perhaps it was just a matter of making the mess ups manageable. Like a controlled flame.
Nothing came to me. No spark of inspiration.
A group of girls beat me to where the line stopped, though I didn’t really have any intention of getting in line. Skimpily-clad, heavy makeup, smelling of perfume and other substances. I was envious.
They were talking about something, one of them pulling out a pack of cigarettes, a lighter following as a single stick was put to rest in between her lips.
Something flashed before my eyes. Something burned within me. Something terrible.
That anger, again. That frustration.
I held my breath.
I turned as I walked passed her, like I was reacting to my name being called from behind. My backpack hit her elbow.
Everything fell, the contents of her box spilling out onto the sidewalk, including her lighter.
“I am so sorry,” I said, in an attempt to mean it.
She shot me a glance before she smacked her lips. “Watch where you’re going, okay?”
She crouched to pick her stuff up. I crouched, too, though faster. I closed my eyes, briefly, bracing myself.
My head knocked into hers.
She gasped, confused, but distracted. I quickly opened my eyes, my hand moving faster.
“Oh my gosh,” I said, getting up, “I didn’t mean that, I’m so sorry.”
Her friends went to consult the girl I knocked into. She was slower to get back on her feet, massaging her forehead as she was helped up.
“I said ‘watch it,’ bitch,” she said, obviously irritated.
I raised my hands, palms open, facing them. “And I said I’m sorry. I thought I heard my name, and… I’ll just be on my way.”
“Yeah, go,” one of her friends said.
I nodded, and did as I told. I left, having to walk by more people, as the line had already gotten longer since that minor altercation.
My hands were in my pocket. It was hard to keep a neutral expression, but I had to keep my smug satisfaction to myself. There were other things to deal with, and I needed to be focused.
I reached what was now the end of the line, but I wasn’t planning on loitering around, anymore. I dipped into yet another alley.
A look back to make sure no one was watching, then I ducked behind a dumpster, changing once again into my costume.
One of the benefits of having a costume that went over my clothes as supposed to under. It was easy to get in and out of them.
There. I was all set. I walked under where metal stairs spiraled up the side of the building, and I hopped up. I checked over everything on my person again as I went up, and up.
I guess we’re doing it like this, then.
I broke into a run as soon as I reached the roof, but it wasn’t as smooth as I would’ve liked. The rooftops downtown were more cluttered than ones I had begun to be used to, with more stuff in my way. Vents, air conditioning units, metal railings. It made for a stilted path, having to go up and down more frequently, climbing over things more than I was jumping over them. Awkward and slow. I would have taken to the edge, but I’d chance a plunge back to the street below, and being seen more easily. Better to be hidden for the moment.
The music got louder again as I was approaching the club. I climbed over the last ventilation shaft before making it to the end of my run. The club was the next building over.
Panorama had a glass ceiling, and it wasn’t tinted. Dimly lit, but lights flashed enough for me to get a decent look. One big room, with two other floors or levels that overlooked the dance floor. People were partying at the very bottom, drinking and having a good time. Neon strobe lights. Multiple girls, multiple guys, grinding on one another. That was barely dancing.
I was suddenly aware of how below me those people were.
And I could see where the club got its name.
Along the farthest wall from the front door was a large, curved screen, made of many small light bulbs. Graphics of silhouetted girls dancing, the images tall enough to reach the second level. The wall was large, panoramic. A DJ was performing right in front of it. If this place had a main stage, that was it.
There wasn’t as many people as I anticipated, at least, it wasn’t as packed. I had heard of a tactic like that being used in trendy clubs, controlling the flow of people coming inside so it would appear more busy to those outside. But, the amount of people inside was still significant, still a considerable challenge.
No obvious signs of any Italian mobsters. Though, it wasn’t like I knew what to look for.
I decided to trace the side of the building, walking along the edge. The club was big enough to warrant having to take a look around, first.
The back half of the building was a more private, loft-like area. Open air, no windows. I had mistaken it for its own establishment at first, but upon a second look, I could tell they were connected. A set of double doors in the wall between the two area linked them together. A pool, a bar, people lounging about rather than raving. More girls than guys, there, and a big difference in dress, too. The girls were wearing bathing suits, most of the men standing around were in suits. That looked more promising.
I took another look, and noticed a particular table by the pool. Two men sat across each other, a brief case between them. It was hard to discern due to the distance, but I was positive one of them was Asian. The other… had to be white. They looked important enough that I could make an educated enough guess as to who one of them were.
It would have been nice to have binoculars, but that’d be another thing to store in my backpack. All I could do at this distance was guess.
A movement. A man leaned over to the Asian man sitting at the table, then movements.
The Asian man bursted out of his chair, pointing at the other male. His mouth went wide as he spoke. Yelling? The other men on his side of the table assumed positions as well. Firm, on guard. Some had their hands around their hips.
That doesn’t look good.
If a shootout happened here, it would ruin everything. My chances of getting more information, my chances of finding Thomas. I needed to diffuse the situation, somehow.
How, though? Could I just drop into the loft? Then the man I had guessed as D’Angelo would be surrounded by guards. Even the Asian man’s entourage would be included in that, by proxy of wanting to protect themselves and their boss. And they’d all be targeting me. I couldn’t run fast enough to swoop past all of them and take D’Angelo someplace else. I wasn’t faster than their collective trigger fingers.
Some of the girls in the pool had noticed what was about to go down, too, and tore out of the pool, running through the double doors, despite their being out of dress code. Only one way out of the loft?
Something roundabout, then.
I ran back toward my earlier position, where I was overlooking the main dance floor. Appalling, awful, downright stupid.
But what else could I come up with in little to no time?
Had to play it by ear.
I took a moment to steel myself. It was a necessity.
I closed my eyes, breathing in, then out.
I took to the air. High as my legs would allow.
Up, then down.
Please break easily please break easily please break easily–
The soles of my feet collided with the glass. It wasn’t easy, but it did break.
I fell through the glass panel, shards scattering around me. The sound of shattering glass and bass-heavy music filled my ears.
The fall wasn’t too bad, I only aimed for the third level, where there was the least amount of people. Not too bad, but the landing was nothing graceful.
My legs took the brunt of the impact, and I folded like a chair when I crashed. More fractures peppered my feet, legs, and hip.
Again, no time to wallow in the pain. I fought through it like an insane person.
The bones mended as I found my way onto my feet. My costume was heavy-duty enough to prevent glass from getting into my skin this time.
People around, but no one else was hurt. They were just staring, some already running. Good. Keep… moving.
My first steps were of me waddling to the edge of the floor, overlooking the dance floor. The music kept playing, people kept dancing. I clutched the railing, and had to take another deep breath.
I dropped down the next two levels.
I hit the dance floor. I wasn’t feeling my most festive.
Bones healed again as I pushed my way through the crowd, most getting out of the way on their own once they realized who I was. I pushed until I reached the bar, and I hopped over.
More partygoers here than security, I noticed. Or were they all on that loft.
Time to bring them all down here.
I grabbed bottles in both hands, and tossed them toward the stage, hitting the huge screen. The DJ ran away, abandoning his equipment. The music still continued.
The bottles broke, emptying its contents onto the screen’s bulbs and stage. The display went black where the bulbs had been broken.
The bartender tried to stop me. I brought him down with a gentle push of my foot. To his chest.
More bottles, more broken bulbs. I threw hard and fast.
Another bottle down, and I figured that was enough. My hand went into my pocket. I held the lighter that I stole from that girl.
I tossed it onto the stage.
Sparks flew. A fire rose. The blaze grew.
That got people moving.
I’m most definitely going to Hell for this.
I didn’t want to think too much about it, or psychoanalyze what fucked up part of my brain though this was the best idea. I probably wouldn’t like the answer.
The flames bounced across the stage, the screen catchingfire where the liquor had soaked it, growing from there. It was spreading faster than I would have liked, tongues of heat were already licking the second level.
Not exactly a controlled fire.
I stepped back onto the dance floor, nearly slipping. The sprinklers had turned on, but they weren’t strong enough. The fire was likely to continue unless firefighters came onto the scene.
Firefighters, and cops.
People were evacuating, taking stairs alongside the walls, connecting the different levels. Also good. The fire was relatively fast, but they would have to be faster. I couldn’t help them, there. Hopefully, there were fire exits here that I didn’t know about, and they were being used.
But there was only one way down, from the loft.
I jumped back up to the third level.
I mounted myself over the railing, and I saw that the flames were starting to reach here, too. Women were shrill as they ran past me. Men in suits followed, and I blocked their path.
I saw the Asian man, and his other partner at the table. I had smoked them out.
They all charged. And so did I.
If they had guns, they wouldn’t be firing them, not here, not now, not anymore. Dark plumes of smoke started to pollute the upper levels, too, limiting visibility. All this, I could use to my advantage.
The first guy was easy to fight off. I flipped him over my head, tossing him away, towards the stairs. I wasn’t here to incapacitate. I had my knife with me, but I couldn’t use something that would impede anyone’s progress out of here.
The next guy went just as easily. I ducked, getting under his swing, then performed the same move.
I hoped they had the presence of mind to run away instead of coming back to fight me. Flight, instead of fight.
A force on my backpack, and I was sent down. A kick from behind.
I threw my hands out in front of me, stopping myself from a bad fall. I caught myself, then used that momentum to propel myself forward, creating distance. I turned to face my new attacker.
A woman, this time, also in a suit. Like the ones with the Asian man. Her features were similar.
She had a bottle in her hand. There were standing tables scattered throughout the club. People had abandoned their beer and wine bottles.
She ran, ready to strike. I was ready to defend myself, and protect her.
The smoke was getting worse, it was like stepping into a fog when I moved to dodge. I was standing beside her. A chop to her back, and that was it for her.
There were still some left, but most finally wised up. They were running.
Including the man I was sure was D’Angelo.
I moved to his shape, taking him by the collar. I twisted my hand around, and he was complied, the fight leaving his body.
The heat was more than overwhelming, the smoke dizzying. I had a gas mask on, but it mostly served a visual purpose. I wondered if my healing applied to my lungs.
I took the both of us over to a table first, and I grabbed a bottle, turning real quick to throw it down onto the pit, to the dance floor. The music had cut out, and the sounds of deafening, crackling destruction took over instead, as the fire continued to eat the Panorama.
I coughed, heavy.
Everyone would be abandoning the building by now. I had to let the Asian man go, he wasn’t who I needed.
I maneuvered us back the way they came, through the double doors, opening automatically. We were on the loft. The air got a little clearer as we got outside, but smoke was following us out the door.
I fumbled with him until he was in front of me. I shoved him into the ground, but I dropped with him. I had him pinned, straddled.
Had to shout, if I wanted to be heard over the flames, the crumbling building. “D’Angelo!”
With one word, I knew I was right. “You,” he said back. “The deal was going well, before the Japanese caught wind of your attack on my men. Suddenly got scared that they were next. Guess they were right.”
“Benny asked your cop, Jeffery Robinson, to do a job for Solace. Where did he take Thomas Thompson?”
D’Angelo somehow found it within himself to grin. “Oh, that? I have to say, you are a lot warmer than I expected you to be.”
I took a hand off him, just one, and patted my leg for a pocket. I flipped out a knife out of my thigh, and it went right into his.
This time, I meant it. This was no accident.
I made him scream.
Bloodcurdling, yet I felt nothing. Shouldn’t I? Like, remorse?
No, another thing. Fuel.
“God damn you,” I yelled, “Give me an answer!” I pulled the knife out of him. Blood trailed between the knife and his leg.
He continued his screaming, “Aaagh can damn me all you want! I’m not saying a fucking thing!”
“Where next, huh?” I roared, “You’re not going anywhere until you give me something!”
“The…” he breathed, “Same spot. Still itches, there.”
I growled, again. I angled the knife differently, but I hit the same general area. It formed a ‘V.’
“Where did he take Thomas? Who is Solace?”
A long pause, D’Angelo tearing up from his wounds. “As if I know, and as if I’d tell you if I did know. Benny wanted to borrow him for however long she wanted, as long as he’s back in one piece. For… now, he’s leased out, out of my hands.”
“What does Benny have to do with this? Who is Solace?”
He heaved in between some words. “Does it truly matter to you? It… sounds like you don’t want justice, you want revenge, just like her… probably. You’re not stopping petty crimes anymore, getting into our business. You’ve made it personal, you’re… hunting us, trying to get payback. That’s straight out of our playbook, Blank Face, you’re a natural at this.”
I took the knife out again, and he winced. “No!”
Over the noise, the fire and collapse, sirens blared, and wind chopped. A helicopter soared into view, putting us both in a harsh light.
“Blank Face, step away from the man! I repeat, step away from the man!”
“Looks like your time is up,” D’Angelo said, shaking his head, almost laughing. “You may have extraordinary powers, but that’s not real power. And you want to know who Solace is? I’ll… give you that. It’s Edgar Brown, Linda… Day. Thomas… Thompson.”
The fire swelled behind me, and within me, and I felt the heat. I had to stand, and put a foot on his leg. He screamed, again.
“Tell Mister I’ll be coming for him, too.”
D’Angelo breathed, exasperated. “That’ll… be fun.”
I put more weight onto his leg. His pain amplified.
Everyone needs to stop fucking with me.
I then faced the helicopter. I saw more of the light than the chopper itself. It was so bright.
“Blank Face, step away from the man!”
I backed up a step. I noticed that they didn’t threaten to fire.
How was I supposed to get out of this one? I had a few thoughts, but they weren’t exactly clean getaways. That was impossible, by this point.
I was surrounded, forces had time to gather and mobilize, from police, SWAT, even firefighters. No getting lucky this go-around.
I thought some more.
Run to the helicopter, take it over? Crash it somewhere and escape in the confusion?
What was I thinking?
How many more people needed to be hurt before this was over?
Was this what superheroes do? Abducting and assaulting police officers, committing arson, among God knows what else? They called me a terrorist, but I had another word for myself…
Say it, become it.
Is this what Alexis would do?
The man in the helicopter ordered me again.
“Blank Face! This is a message from Chief of Police James Gomez!”
I straightened my neck. What?
“You are to go to the warehouse on Irving Street! I repeat, the warehouse on Irving Street!”
The warehouse on Irving Street. That was where I first took on El Carruaje. Where it all began.
And where it all would end.
“Do you understand?”
I put my knife away, then I raised my hands above my head, as if I was to surrender. But not now.
I turned, and ran back into the fire.
Hot hot hot.
My costume was flame retardant, but not fireproof. I’d go up in smoke if I was in here for too long.
Everything was falling apart. The fire had consumed the entire building. Only blotches of flooring were untouched by now. I played the most messed up game of hopscotch, ever.
Every breath, I inhaled smoke, black scorched lungs. I felt like I was melting. Meeeeelting.
Something caught my attention.
Someone was still in here, downed.
The woman from before, in the suit. She was face down, a bottle near her outstretched hand. If it ignited now…
Leaving her behind was out of the question.
I ran to her, smacking my arms were the fire brushed against them.
Holy shit, holy shit.
I grabbed her, carrying her. One arm under her legs, the other supporting her back. I kept a move on.
Didn’t bother with the stairs. I went over the railing, descending into the flames.
Back on the bottom floor. Firefighters hadn’t gotten in here, yet, but the floor wasn’t entirely taken over by fire.
I took the worst of it, and she just rolled out of my arms. Might as well have fallen on a bed.
Bones felt like they were taking longer to come together.
Don’t think… Don’t think about that now.
I worked without thinking. She might already have burns I wasn’t seeing, or was aware of. She probably had trouble breathing, too.
I took this costume off for the last time. Mask, parka, backpack. The mask and parka was for her. The backpack met its fate in the fire. Knife and cash and phone stayed in my pockets. Gloves were stuffed in there, too.
My eyes immediately started to water. It really was hot in here. Was the woman even alive, still?
She was limp, I had to move her myself in order to get her in the gear. I slipped her arms into the sleeves, zipped up the front. Fitting and tightening the mask turned into a pretty sloppy job, but it just had to do. The sprinklers were still on, water splashing into the inside of the jacket, flushing the mask.
My breathing got worse the longer I stayed in here, the fumes getting… to my head. No mask, no filter, every little bit had helped. Now, no more.
I heard more noise just as I was finishing up. She was the spitting image of me…
Well, Blank Face.
The woman wasn’t that much taller than me, her build was similar. This might have worked out, after all.
I was certain they didn’t get a good look at me during the apartment escape, but if this would help in throwing them off, I’d be willing to give it a shot. Some time, bought back.
I stood and fled for the front doors right as the firefighters came in. Mist flew into my face. I fell into one of their arms. I wanted to scream, but nothing came out. The sound of powerful hoses hummed in turn as I was being carried out.
The last of my reserves. The last of everything I was.
I was brought out onto the street. Some people put their hands on me as I was set down. Paramedics. I was put among a group of those who were inside, now being tended to.
“Is that the last of them? Are you injured?”
What question was I supposed to answer?
“Everyone’s accounted for,” someone answered. “Only one left in there is… her.”
“No way. Miss, are you injured?”
A call for me, I had to get that. I shook my head.
“Thirsty,” I said, faint.
Plastic was put into my hands. A water bottle. Something heavy was put on top of my shoulders. A blanket.
“Take this, and take a seat on the sidewalk across the street. Someone else will be with you and make sure you’re all good and all clear. If not, we can take you to a hospital.”
Slow, not really understanding, I nodded. Dizzy.
One step at a time, I walked. I was rendered unable to do two things at once. When I went where I was told, I took a sip of my water.
A little bit of strength returned, but not a lot. My head was still clouded.
Had to get out of here.
Like my body moved on its own.
I lumbered through a crowd of people. Women huddled together, shaking. Men sitting, heads in their hands.
The crowd was big, I noticed, as I walked. Divided by survivors, and the onlookers. Divided by a line of yellow tape.
I crouched under the yellow tape, dropping the blanket. I pushed past legs and knees to get out of mass of bodies.
Soon, I was free. I continued, drinking water. All of the effort and energy I had left went to walking straight, not drawing attention as I navigated my way back to a space between a liquor store and a health clinic.
People didn’t give a crap about those they passed on a sidewalk, I supposed.
I collapsed into the back row of a taxi.
“Whoa, welcome back,” a lady said. “Where to, now?”
My mouth was so, so dry. I forced out a single word.