Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

The van teetered precariously as it rounded the corner, lifting a wheel ever so slightly before settling back down heavily, just before slamming into a deep pothole. The driver nearly lost his grip on the wheel, and the top heavy vehicle oscillated wildly as it rocketed down the road, finally settling into a straight line, at least horizontally. Eventually the road turned to loose gravel and, finally, to rutted dirt. The driver caught a glint just ahead and a few yards to the right, jamming the brakes on and yanking the wheel to take the van off the road into a trail on the side. Coming to a stop, he glanced over his shoulder. The Lady was lolling sideways in the bench seat along the side in the back, still unconscious, a dark hood in place over her head. Thank God for that, he thought to himself. The back doors opened as two men in black clothes climbed in to retrieve the woman.

The doorman, who had been in the back with the Lady, squatted behind him. “No, don’t turn around again. You haven’t seen my face yet. You don’t want to.”

A thick manila envelope thrust out of the darkness. “Take it. Now count it.”
The driver complied, counting thirty hundred-dollar bills, wrinkled and stained.

“You did well. Now keep it up. No one knows what you did tonight. Ever.”

The doorman clapped him on the shoulder, hard, and quickly left through the back doors, closing them firmly but quietly. The driver heard tires slipping on the dry dirt and gravel, and then the sound of an engine becoming fainter and fainter.

His heart pounding, he couldn’t believe what had just happened. He had done what he did for The Resistance, but now that it was complete, he wondered whether he would ever be safe again. Maybe it’s time to pull up roots, he thought.  Maybe I can start a coffee shop somewhere.


* * * * *


Dick Slashballs strained against the massive hand pressing his head down, holding it underwater. He thrashed from side to side, but the fingers still did not release his neck. An equally massive knee shoved into his lower back, excruciatingly grinding bone against bone with only a thin veneer of flesh between. Heh. Veneer. He wondered blankly whether he’d ever finish the bookcase project, sitting in his little shop at home. As he fought the incredible need to inhale, he realized he only had a few seconds left. Random thoughts and images were popping into his mind, but there was only one he needed. He focused on it, drawing it up out of near oblivion, and centered his mind around it. Pressing his tongue against the roof of his mouth, just behind the teeth, he concentrated everything he had into one last course of action


* * * * *


An hour and a half earlier, Slashballs had been sipping his second Macallan, chatting up Kristy, the callipygian bartender. Seemed she had been on duty when the shit went down, and saw most of what happened, excepting the bullet strike between the shoulder blades of the doorman, thankfully. “Yeah, Chuck, you know, the doorman, he’s out tonight,” she had said. “His wife isn’t doing so well; he spends a lot of days taking her in for treatment, but sometimes it goes over, and he calls off in the evening. That guy who was here tonight was a temp. I’ve seen him before, but only once or twice.”

“That’s some pretty wild stuff,” Slashballs had said. “Seems kind of dangerous around here.”

“Ha! You kidding? After the protests a few years ago, a little curbside kidnapping is pretty calm shit! But seriously, we really don’t have to deal with this kind of stuff, ever. It’s a little scary.”

“Ah, don’t worry, it’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” consoled Dick.

“Probably. Oh, hey, I have to make my rounds again. I’ll be back.”

Slashballs nodded, looking down the bar, half-pretending to follow her ass with his eyes. An olive-faced man was beckoning to the bartender, raising his empty glass. The guy had been spending a lot of time looking in this direction, and Dick suspected it wasn’t just to signal for a new beer. He watched casually in the mirror as the guy ordered. Balding, dark hair slicked back, white button-down shirt under a dark jacket. Wire-rimmed glasses. Heavy watch on the wrist holding the glass. Face too clean-shaven for the time of day. The bartender was making a pour now, and looked his way again. She smiled, then turned. Olive-Face glanced away from Dick quickly as she approached with his beer.

As she worked her way down the bar toward him, Dick kept a discreet eye on Olive-Face. The whole time, the man could have been looking at him or at Kristy. “Another Macallan?” she asked.

“Nah, thanks, I gotta get up early tomorrow and check on my bags—airline lost ‘em, and I gotta make sure they get here before the conference. Thanks, though!” Olive-Face had gotten up and was headed toward the restrooms, near the exit.

“Well, OK, but maybe we’ll see you tomorrow evening, Mr. Orbis? You know where the best pours are in the area, now, and your prospects’ll like that.”

“Hey, it’s Wally, remember?  I can’t make any promises, but I’ll try, Kristy. Thanks for chatting, this road life’s for the dogs but sometimes it’s not so bad.” She smiled at that, and he stood, turning for the door as he left a gracious tip.

As Dick walked along the bar, he looked toward the restroom entrance. No one there. He walked out of the din, glancing back toward the bar, seeing Kristy look away quickly, smiling, as he caught her eye. Yeah, sometimes this was for the dogs.  He probably wouldn’t see her again.

Dick took the elevator to the eighth floor, and looked for where he knew the stairs would be. Entering the stairwell quietly, he stopped and listened. Nothing. Heading down to the seventh floor, he looked through the reinforced glass window. Walking down the hallway, he stopped at the room next to the number written in the keycard folio and knocked, loudly. Again. Nothing. He went to the room on the opposite side of his and hammered on the door. Nothing. Good.

Entering Room 717, he hit the light and walked to the bed, setting the backpack down. Opening the pack, he grabbed the toiletries bag and, checking the other side of the bed quickly, headed back to bathroom, starting the shower. Later, as he brushed his teeth, he turned over and over in his mind what he had learned this evening. No one knew of the assassination attempt. He needed to find out about what temp agency this place used. The doorman’s wife, sick. Leverage. The weird non-lethal assault on the limo driver.  Well, better get some sleep, we can pick this up tomorrow; it’s way after midnight, Dick thought.

Rinsing his mouth, he heard a clicking sound behind him and to his right. As he turned, he saw the adjoining room door slam open and stepped back as a tall, heavy man barreled through the door at him. As he retreated, he stepped on the bath mat on the floor, losing his footing, giving the larger man the advantage as he hit his head a glancing blow on the countertop on the way down.


* * * * *


As he thrashed his head from side to side in the toilet bowl, futilely trying for a gasp of air, he reached up for the flush lever. A giant hand slapped his away from it violently. Slashballs knew the huge man was balanced on his knee, pressed into his own lower back, and tensed every muscle in his back and legs, feeling the knee shift ever so slightly to compensate. He flailed his left hand back, hitting at the man’s left calf in an apparently futile attempt to drive him off. Then he went rag-doll, rolling his hips to the right in a desperate bid for his life. His ribs slammed into the toilet seat as the heavy weight bore down on him, exhausting all the used-up air from his lungs and making him want to vomit, but the knee rolled to the left as his assailant, distracted by the flailing hand, lost his balance, crashing into the tub.

Slashballs clutched at the countertop, dragging himself to his feet. The large man was on his back in the tub, trying to get up. Dick grabbed the toilet tank lid and slammed it hard into the man’s groin, coming down on top of it with all his weight. The man let out a deep groan but reached out for the lid. Dick grabbed it back and slammed it down once again, this time into the man’s throat, holding it there with everything he had, pinning the man’s lower legs against the edge of the tub with his own legs.

The man, desperate now, grabbed once again at the lid, lifting it slightly. Grappling for the lid, Dick knew he couldn’t keep this up too long. He was still weak and stunned from the oxygen deprivation and the hit on the head. With his opponent on his back, but still stronger and larger, Dick snatched the toilet lid back, surprising the man. He reached back for the toothbrush he knew was still next to the sink and came down harder than before with the lid. The man made to block the lid, but Slashballs drove hard with the toothbrush, gouging through the right eye, rotating and grinding hard against the sphenoid bone behind it. The man shrieked as Dick pulled back and descended on the other eye, now pressing the toilet lid harder and harder against the larynx, stifling the cries as the man, in desperate pain, flailed with his hands, missing Dick and slapping the faucet valve around. Dick shoved the man sideways and continued to bear down, cold water now pouring into the ruined sockets, washing blood and vitreous humor down the drain, along with the attacker’s last remaining strength, as he went limp under Slashballs. Dick continued to press the lid downward with all his strength for as long as he could, until his own exhaustion caught up with him and he sat back, hard, on the bathroom floor.

Looking around, Dick saw the blood was confined to the tub. Quickly searching the man’s pockets after checking for a pulse, he found a fold of cash and a knife, just an emergency backup, really. An ankle holster held a small .22 pistol and a tiny silencer. Nothing else, no wallet. Jeezus, I got lucky. He wouldn’t have made any noise with the gun, but he thought he had me, as small as I am compared to him. No cuffs, wire ties, rope. Not a capture mission.  He could have just peeled my cap from behind.  Why not?  Fuck.

Sitting heavily on the bed, rivulets of water still running down his neck from the soaked mop on his head, he grabbed the burner phone and texted the emergency number. Cleaner. Rm 717. DS.