I woke up the same way I normally do – the burner rang. “This is Mitch…” I started. “Mitch, my MAN!” crowed John Ponzero’s voice from the phone. Dammit, I told them not to give him to me again! I thought vainly. The only way John had this number is if Umbra gave it to him, because he doesn’t know anyone else who has it. That makes this a real work call – I can’t just blow it off. Damnit
John went on to detail his cunning plans to make a mint in real-estate in Atlanta. Yeah, that’s gonna work in this economy. “You know this zip code?” he asked, and proceeded to give me a string of digits.
“Sure.” I non-commented, thinking that once again, Google was about to be my best friend. My only friend, actually. I don’t get much of a social life at the moment. We set up a time and place to meet the next day.
Forewarned is forearmed. This time, I came with a bottle of Extra-strength Tylenol for the ride. I popped half-a-dozen before I left the apartment.
“Picking up” turned out to mean I got to drive his ridiculous, impractical new sports car into one of the worst neighborhoods in Atlanta. And somehow keep him safe while doing it.
Did I mention I provide security and bodyguard services? In John’s case, with a side-helping of painkillers.
He dragged us from crack-house to meth-lab to biohazard zone, enthousing at how “we” (meaning HE) would be rich buying these dilapidated structures, somehow rehabilitating them, and turning them over in a process he called “geriactrification”. My hands itched the whole time, and I swear I grew extra eyes keeping a watch out in all directions as he obliviously walked through filth and squalor, squealing all the while about his third-favorite subject: money.
It came to an abrupt halt when I drew my gun on an unexpected inhabitant descending the stairwell at one structure.
After a brief exchange of pleasantries, he managed to convince John – who was supposed to have researched the ownership of these buildings – that he somehow owned it,and was willing to sell. I’m paid to be John’s bodyguard, not his IQ support system. Unless he plans to change his Umbra contract, I’m not going to stop him throwing his money down some flea-infested vagrant’s pockets. Provided I’ve verified the vagrant doesn’t appear dangerous.
I got a great chance to do that when the three of us were squashed into that damned sports-car’s two-seater arrangement. The most dangerous thing the bum appeared to be carrying was plague, courtesy of the fleas on his person.
I took another Tylenol. This morning was getting LONG.
Back at the Mariott, John proceeded to demonstrate again why he isn’t actually rich yet by pulling out a wad of cash from the room safe and counting out bills for the degenerate he was “buying” his property from. When the filty man said he smelled smoke, I thought he was going to try a move for the dough but I was wrong – there was smoke.
And where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
Flames ran down the corridor, looking for all the world like one of those fake Hollywood blue pools of fire. It crept under a door, and emerged a few minutes later, following some people who were engulfed in flames.
It crept under a door.
It crept under a door?!?
I saw it change direction to herd someone, and made a quick decision.
I closed the door. HARD.
I crossed the room quickly to where John, alarmed at the thought of fire, was just closing the safe door. Presumably he had stuffed what cash the vagrant hadn’t stuffed down his trousers into it. “Mr. Ponzero, we are leaving.” Taking hold of his arm, I put a hand between his shoulder blades and propelled him to the door, through it, and off away from the fire toward a fire-stair.
That turned out to be less profitable than one would imagine.
Smoke filtered up the stairwell, though fire wasn’t evident. We descended to about the tenth floor, where I saw flame crawling up the stairwell like some climbing slime or ooze. Reversing course, we climbed to the next doorway, and went through it. Hustling, we made our way to the fire door at the next fire stair, and went through.
It was here I noticed we had lost our vagrant. Huh. I wonder where he is? Options ran through my head, but I realized quickly it was practically impossible to find him again while keeping my charge safe. I opted to complete the job, and John and I started descending the stair.
Smoke quickly thickened and the heat grew. It wasn’t long before John was wheezing, and seconds later I was carrying his unconscious body down the stair, into thicker and thicker smoke and oppressive heat. This situation was getting worse by the moment. I was glad for the painkillers I’d been taking, but didn’t really think they’d keep me going once I caught fire. I needed a new plan and quick.
Recalling my SEAL training was…remarkably unenlightening. I was in a burning building, no support, no equipment, no exits. I didn’t know where we were, but it was time to make our own way out. Drawing one of the Glocks, I blew out a window and made as good a jump through it as I could blind – the opening drew smoke like a chimney up the stair, and it was impossible to see how far we had to fall.
“How far” turned out to be “too far by far”. I actually had time to think about what a stupid idea this had been before I hit the ground. We were high enough up I hit terminal velocity, and that is as bad an idea as it sounds. I tucked and rolled, but took a serious pounding on the turf anyway. Physics wasn’t done making me its bitch for the afternoon though – somehow John had contrived to fall more slowly than I. Just as I thought I might live, Ponzero landed squarely atop me. I saw stars, then black.
I came to, briefly, in the back of an ambulance. John Glass was leaning over me, putting an oxygen mask on and shining about a million candle-watts of light into my right eye. Summoning up all my remaining reserves of calm and my boundless communications skills, I asked him what was going on. “Gak. Abzh. Urk.”
He nodded knowingly, and I was…suddenly and without transition in a hospital room. Fuzzed. High as a fucking kite. Faces, indistinct, out of focus, unfamiliar around me were nodding and I realized my mouth was in gear. I stopped talking. Fuck. I’ve been drugged! What have I said? Where’s my squad? My hands, cuffed to bedrails, flopped about uselessly. One of the blurs moved toward the IV bag on a nearby stand and
suddenly I was in the hospital again. John Glass sat nearby, and a few other people. They looked familiar. I’m sure it would come to me shortly. John was talking, “…get them back when you’re released, which probably won’t be for a few weeks.” I had no idea what he was talking about, (fucking drugs!) but nodded knowingly. I needed to figure out what was going on. “Don’t worry, we’ll keep you in the loop,” he said as he stood and the small group left. “To the Mystery Machine!” someone said. I must still be high. It sounded like that WereFox that unstuck me from that damned book a few weeks ago. I still needed to find out who he was and thank him – a foot stuck to a book is a real job hinderance, as you might imagine.
The phone woke me later, jangling with a racket that shouldn’t be possible from such a small device. “Uh,” I managed when I answered. That’s me – Mister Articulate. Someone’s voice asked me a question I don’t recall. I wasn’t fully awake.
Damn. I thought after I hung up. I never did ask John if he’d found out what the problem with the ambulances was. Fuck, he doesn’t know who I am.
I wanted a whiskey, neat. I wanted a cigar, mild. Fuck, as long as I’m dreaming, I’ll take that red-headed nurse who was in here a few minutes ago along with her implausably-athletic imaginary boyfriend for some serious three-way action.
Yeah, right. Apparently I’m not getting that either.
Today just isn’t starting out to be my day I mused. This afternoon had BETTER be an improvement!