Heavy drops burst on my face, forming pools against my closed eyelids. I could hear the hollow patter of them hitting the armour on chest. I feared someone might hear, but soon the roar of raindrops smashing into every surface around me drowned out any sound beyond a few feet.
It must have been warm to rain and not snow. Didn’t feel warm. Not when it soaked though my jacket, pulling my clothes into a sticky embrace with my skin. Snow was gentle. Snow lay on top of you politely. Rain wormed its way into your clothes to chill you.
The cold hurt, but it was bearable. It enveloped me in a cocoon of numbness. A universal, whole body ache, masking whatever bruises I’d managed to gather over the night.
I lay for a while longer, telling myself I had to give it time before moving. Time for them to start searching further afield, hoping that they wouldn’t look a couple of feet away, but who in their right mind would lie down for a rest in the rain so close to those that want them dead?
In this weather, they wouldn’t have to do much to achieve their goal. I couldn’t just lay here. I didn’t think Beth would forgive me, putting so much effort into not getting murdered then falling asleep in the rain and getting pneumonia, or hypothermia.
This was no time for a nap. However tempting it was just to keep my eyes closed and forget where I was, forget the aches, forget the pain.
No. I wasn’t one for giving up.
I lifted an arm and brushed the water from my face. Heavy, took more effort than pulling my whole weight up onto this little roof.
I got a glimpse of the night sky. Night. Was it so dark a minute ago? I could see the glittering rain-drops, streaks starring out in every direction as I stared directly up into the belly of the black cloud before everything blurred, water filling my eyes.
I blinked them closed in time for a jagged flash of red to fill my vision, followed by a low rippling rumble of thunder.
Hadn’t had a good storm for a long time.
Good timing too. However unpleasant the rain and the cold, there was little better to mask an escape. Fog, perhaps. At least the rain was as unpleasant for those trying to find you. It would be difficult to persuade a lot of men to scour the streets in this weather, especially with their back’s itching, expecting a knife any minute.
Resigning myself to my choice of not dying on a roof, I took the path of least resistance and rolled off my back down the gentle slope until I had a hand against the mossy felt. The water that had pooled between my body and it’s natural path to the gutter rushed over my palms and slapped against the floor below.
I was near enough to the edge to slide on my belly until I could see the courtyard alley.
Nothing. Thank god, if there was anyone there I swear they would be able to hear my teeth chattering. I forced each muscle to relax to subdue the shivering before I broke a tooth.
It didn’t want to go down. I wanted to get some height, to orient myself, to get clear of anyone looking for me. That meant a climb. But the wall the roof I’d found joined onto was three straight stories of flat brickwork. There was nothing to work with, no cables, no drain pipes, no fire-escapes, not even windows.
I’d found the only roof in a quarter mile radius without any route but back down the direction I’d come. That was probably one reason why no one had thought to check it. It would be a stupid place to hide-out.
The grimy, wet-slick surface of the roof was conducive to letting my legs slip over the lip. Armour doesn’t bend well in the middle. The plates dug into my gut as I let my weight leave the roof and onto my arms, gripping the guttering. Kicking at the wall for a bit of traction, I pushed over the edge.
The edge moved. Down. The screws, abuse from my hasty climb up forgotten, gave way with a merciless crack of old mortar giving way.
I had a stomach-jerking moment, just enough to think ‘oh shit’ and nowhere near enough to attempt any kind of damage limitation, before I hit the floor.
Landing on your back isn’t elegant. You can’t roll, you can’t break the fall with anything but your ass, your spine or your head.
Luckily, there was a heap of garbage that stopped me breaking said spine, even if it left me winded and gasping at the air. The impact was enough for electric stars to burst into my vision despite the helmet.
I rolled over, pushing the junk away from me so I could climb to my hands and knees, then kneel, and finally stand, be it with the wall for support.
Maybe I shouldn’t start climbing up after all. if I couldn’t drop from a first-story roof without hurting myself it might be best for me to make my way on foot, wherever I was going.
Going. Involves moving.
I placed one foot in front of the other and managed to start a staggering walk. For those first few steps I kept moving my feet simply so I didn’t fall flat on my face, but I was moving and it wasn’t long before the activity cleared my head a little.
Blinking away the fog of fatigue, I pushed myself flat against the alley wall, or as flat as I could get without noisily scraping my armour along the brickwork. I shimmied to the entrance, away from the building I’d come from. I didn’t want to go back. Had they cleaned up? Either way… I didn’t want to see.
Someone leaned against the alley entrance, facing outwards, a damp cigarette hanging limply from his mouth. I would have thought they were a passer-by, except they’d forsaken a perfect alcove mere meters away for that exact spot that gave them such a good view of anyone wanting to get into this particular alley, despite the downpour.
That and the long dark shape clutched in his hand, idly resting against the same wall he was.
Lucky he wasn’t paying much attention to anyone coming out of the alley. The rain-storm gave cover for my footsteps as I came up behind him. The rattle of thunder might cover the sound of a gun, but I didn’t want to risk it.
It was only when I’d got within striking distance I realised I had nothing to strike with. No knife. I need more knives. Can never have enough knives.
Some sound must have carried over the rain. He begun a laborious turn. I got enough time to catch the hint of a frown on his face before I leaped forwards and grabbed the gun in his hand.
It was longer than any pistol, but didn’t have a stock like a rifle, making it easy enough to grab the barrel and twist it around to point at him.
I was in no position to pull the trigger, but I didn’t want to, I just wanted to make sure he really didn’t want to. No noise.
His fingers locked in the trigger guard, the muzzle pressing against his naval.
Flaw: His free hand. Luck: He didn’t have a knife, or didn’t think to reach for one. A closed fist caught me in the chest, with little effect, but the next hit me in the throat.
The burst of pain made me falter. It short-circuited my brain for a split-second. Shock. I didn’t think, or move until his next punch hit me. By chance, in the struggle we’d twisted. He harmlessly struck the shoulder of my vest.
I had to end things fast. I jumped upwards into him. The hard outer layer of my helmet crunched into his nose. One advantage to being short.
My knee struck him between his legs. Easy target. Again. Again. Again. Same spot, as fast as I could. I didn’t count how many times.
I was impressed he didn’t scream. Twisted fingers, broken nose and god knows what kind of damage in places I didn’t want to think about in all that much detail. All he managed was a strangled moan before I managed to fully twist the gun from his grip and strike him across the temple as hard as I could, that in turn slamming the side of his head into the corner of the wall.
I was off again before he crumpled to the ground. I tucked the gun into my chest, massaged my abused windpipe, and settled into a fast jog. The kind of jog I’d gotten used to doing every morning. I soon found a pace, not caring what direction – my eyes weren’t scanning the skyline for landmarks, they were probing the shadows for targets.