“Shit, go back, go back.” Danni had her gun up, pointing down the corridor. “They’ll be here in seconds.”
Sure enough, two men came around the corner at a sprint. This, they were ready for. The reason there were so many large, threatening guys in this place? To protect the girls. Having one scream blue-murder was what they’d been waiting for since the last time some creep tried to do something sick, or at least something he hadn’t paid for…
They were expecting a chance to beat up a frisky idiot who’d gone too far. They weren’t expecting a volley of pistol fire. I saw one fall before I started to run back towards the stairs.
“Up, up!” Danni said as I got into the stairwell. “The roof is back on the table.”
We were agonisingly close to getting out, but I caught a glance of another man over my shoulder. As I passed through the doorway there was a thud and a cloud of powdered plaster dust filled my mouth and eyes. They were returning fire. The stairwell felt much safer than it had a moment ago. I took the steps two at a time, as much of a sprint as I could manage. This time my thighs burned.
Jack overtook me, abandoning his hostage. Mike fell back, crouching by the doorway to the stairwell. He leaned out, firing regular shots. Danni threw him a strip of dull black metal.
The trip up was a marathon of screaming muscles. All the time I was expecting to feel the sting of a bullet. I reached the top and the space opened out into a room. My legs gave way. My knees collapsing under me, refusing to hold mine and Tom’s combined weight.
Mike wasn’t far behind. He’d given up his position at the door, and he was moving fast, stopping only to fire blindly over the edge of the stairs. Jack skidded to a halt and came running back to me. His hands clawed at my arm, pulling me up. With his help I got to my feet.
He tried to lift Tom but I knew it was too much for him. Even if he could pick his friend up he’d be too slow. My lungs felt like they were filled with razor blades, stabbing into my chest with each coughing breath.
“Take that arm,” I panted, gesturing.
He seemed to get the idea and grabbed the arm. We lifted Tom between us. Together, our pace was half decent and I could get my breath back.
We caught up with Danni as she typed the code into one of the doors, her second, third attempt? Gunfights don’t make for steady hands. She mumbled a frustrated “finally” as the door opened.
It sparked an idea, as me and Jack turned sideways to get through with Tom between us I grabbed the plastic keypad with my free hand and tore it off the wall, hoping to god that it wouldn’t cut the power to the lock.
Which it shouldn’t.
That would be the stupidest design ever.
Danni held it for Mike to rush through then threw it closed. There was a haze of tiny wooden splinters but luckily not the lead that caused them. It might be locked, but it wouldn’t take long to get through.
“I’m out,” Mike said, holding up the gun.
“I gave you my last mag,” Danni replied, “Never had reason to carry more than two.”
Mike looked at the now useless object in his hands for a moment, then casually tossed it to one side like a kid bored with a toy.
I could hear distorted shouting, and feel thud of someone trying to break through a door mixed in with a cacophony of vibrations as people moved through the building. All traces of calm was gone. You could feel the panic and confusion as people tried to work out what was going on, where the shooting was coming from, who was in charge.
“Not much further,” Danni said. “We just need to-”
She froze, then spun towards a door as it opened. Responding to footsteps my damaged hearing couldn’t pick up.
He must have known her, “Hey, what the hell is-” His eyes drifted over to us, and his hand darted towards his hip.
Danni punched him in the face with her gun, but he was ready for her and got his free arm up, taking the blow against his forearm. I saw his other hand pulling out his own pistol, no doubt fully loaded. He got lucky and pushed Danni as she was moving. Off balance, she fell backwards.
I wasn’t going to let this woman die, not after all she’d done for us. I left Tom to Jack and launched myself at him. My elbow hit his cheekbone. I hope it hurt him as much as it hurt me. I concentrated all my effort on his gun, grabbing it and twisting it away from myself. Broken fingers caught in trigger guards were a bonus. He punched at me with his other hand, but I kept my head down, tucked into our bodies. The blows did little to stop me. My feet bare, all I could do was bring my knees up repeatedly into his gut and hope his heavy boots didn’t break my toes.
After precious seconds I’d got his wrist twisted 90 degrees. I wrapped an arm around to hug it, pulling it far beyond its natural range of movement, crushing his palm into his forearm with a crunch of shattered joints. The gun fell.
I cut his pained shout off with the blade of my hand into his now unguarded throat. I jumped back, still holding on to his wrist. He followed, tumbling to the ground in an effort to keep as little pressure on the joint. Face down, it was a simple twist and push to dislocate the shoulder from its socket.
It had taken only a handful of seconds. Danni pulled herself from the floor from where she’d fallen. I picked up the gun and tossed it to her. I could feel the movement of the floor as people were running. The rhythmic thudding had stopped. There was no door holding them back.
“Through there.” She pointed to a hulking rectangle of dull grey steel a distance down the hallway. “I’ll keep them back.”
Mike had relieved me of my role carrying Tom. I sprinted to our point of escape, slamming against it to stop my momentum. I could feel the sweet icy cold of freedom under my palms. My hot, fast breath condensed in a mist on its surface.
I pulled at the handle, heart soaring in my chest.
It pulled back. Didn’t budge.
What was the code?
My mind provided me with nothing. At the time I most needed it I was abandoned with emptiness. A vacuum of thoughts but for the ones cursing myself.
Four numbers are going to get me killed.
I tried to visualise the shape as she typed it in. I’d watched her. They were along the diagonal. Three five seven five?
It beeped it’s disapproval.
Three, five, seven, three. It must be.
Denied. Damn this stupid keypad.
Three, seven, five, three.
No beep. Click. Success! Keypad, I love you. I lied before.
I yanked it open to a gust of cold air. It revealed a tunnel upwards ending in a small rectangle of orange haze. The wonderful haze of the streetlights that bathed the sky in their glow.
I held it open as Mike, Jack and Tom passed through. With the shriek of Velcro I pulled my single remaining baton off and brought the high arc down on the wonderfully forgiving keypad with a crunch.
Danni rounded the corner, dropping her gun as she sprinted. She passed me with a blur and I yanked the door closed with a slam.
For a moment we just stood, collecting wits and catching breath. Inches away the door rang like a drum with kicks against the metal. It didn’t even dent. Inches were enough. For now.
I started on the stairs, my feet feeling ever grain of grit on the cold concrete. They ended in a cage of bars. We knew that. We’d been stuck on the other side mere hours ago. At least the padlock was on this side.
I gave it an experimental tap with my baton. It replied with a dull clunk. I’d never tried to break a padlock.
“Just give it a whack,” Mike said, approaching. “Downwards. You don’t need to break it, just force it open. Shouldn’t need too much force.”
I took a step back, and turned sideways so I wouldn’t break my kneecap if I missed altogether. After a moment to aim, brought the tube of metal down as hard as I could. The baton buzzed at the impact, stinging my fingers. The padlock sprung open, just like Mike said.
With a squeal of rusted hinges, I swung open the gate and stepped out. Shouting gave way to the noises of the city rooftops. Wind, the rumbling sounds of distant industry. The air tasted sharp compared to muggy over-heated whorehouse.
My toes crunched into the wet, icy numbness of snow, falling fresh from the orange sky.