This posting features Chapter 39 of my ongoing action novel, The Day of the Gun.
McEnroe — no relation to the famous tennis player — never made it. A hail of bullets tore into the young man at least a dozen times. He wore a bulletproof Kevlar vest, but multiple rounds struck him in the face and head. There was no question that he was dead before he hit the ground. He flew off his feet and slammed to the floor as though someone had pounded him in the chest. In a manner of speaking, someone had done exactly that.
The nurse at the end of the hall disappeared from view as soon as the shooting started. A gunman sporting a ski mask and dressed in black from head to toe ran down the hall in her direction while the other man trained his Uzi on the remaining Marshal.
Williams was an experienced law enforcement officer. He positioned his body between Steve and the gunman, as he had been trained to do. If he felt fear, he did not show it, nor did he duck for cover. He lifted his Glock and aimed it at the assailant.
It was hardly a fair fight. The ski-masked assassin sported far more firepower than the U.S. Marshal, and he had the element of surprise on his side. But one well-placed bullet is all it takes. Both men squeezed off rounds simultaneously — Williams fired a single shot while the would-be assassin unleashed a hail of bullets — and both men went down, hard.
Williams clearly was dead. Three rounds decimated his face, and one took out his left eye. The back of his head exploded from his skull and adorned the wall next to the fire alarm like a weird abstract painting from some struggling artist’s red period. The only sound he made as he collapsed to the floor was a dull thud followed by the metallic clang of his revolver slamming against the floor.
Still slouched in his wheelchair, covering his head, Steve was heartened to see the gunman collapse. He could not tell precisely where the man had been hit but, judging by the blood spurting from what little remained of his face, it seemed to be a head shot.
The entire exchange had lasted no more than a few seconds, but in that small interval three men were dead and the nurse probably was — or would be soon. It was only remarkably good fortune and the selfless sacrifice of McEnroe and Williams that had saved Steve Harris so far.
He had only seconds before the other man returned, and so he had to act fast. Lifting himself from the wheelchair, he dropped to the floor. A sharp pain shot through his shoulder and traveled along his arm. Steve had never suffered a heart attack, but this was what he imagined it felt like. He gritted his teeth, winced, and struggled not to black out.
For close to a minute, he cradled his injured appendage and waited for the pain to subside. It was as though someone had struck him in the solar plexus and knocked the breath from his body. His lungs fought for air with tortured gasps.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, he was able to move. No sooner had he twisted his body toward the elevators than the metal poll holding his IV bag crashed beside him with a resounding clang. Startled, he jumped, which again sent a bolt of pain through his wounded shoulder.
“Oh, crap,” Steve muttered. Reaching for IV extending into his hand, he tore the medical tape from the wound and extracted the needle. It stung, but he was too frightened to react much. Grabbing a handful of wires and tubes, he yanked them, hard, thus freeing himself from the confines of the hospital apparatus.
Somewhere down the hall, he heard the unmistakable rat-a-tat-tat of a submachine being discharged. Screams of human agony echoed down the hallway before more gunfire cut off the voices of the wounded and the damned.
He was conscious of his heart slamming against his ribs, his dry mouth, and the icy hand of fear snaking its way through his body. I’m in shock, he thought. God help me. I’m in shock.
Carefully skirting the IV bag and tubes still attached to the metal pole, Steve slid on his butt along the smoothly polished surface of the floor until he reached Williams’s Glock. It felt heavy and reassuring, almost like holding an old friend in his hand. His shoulder sent a dull series of aching pains through his body; they kept time with his heartbeat.
Fortunately, his long-ago training had not deserted him. He released the clip and saw that it was almost full. Thank God for small favors. In one swift motion, Steve tucked his friend into the pocket of his oversized bathrobe. He would have preferred to grab the assassin’s machine gun, but it was too far away. He did not think he could cover the distance, secure the gun, and still engineer an escape. Also, firing an automatic rifle would be difficult in his condition. The recoil from an Uzi could tear up his shoulder worse than it already was.
With genuine regret, he pushed himself on his behind to the stairwell. He dared not take the elevator; it was too slow and too easy to track. Somehow, he had to tap his reservoir of hidden strength and find the will to make his way onto another hospital floor.
Grunting and gasping for breath as beads of sweat popped out on his forehead, he grasped the door jam and used his good arm to pull himself up to his feet. He felt lightheaded. His first inclination was to collapse back into the chair, but he knew that he was doomed if he did not keep moving.
“Uhh,” he gasped as he threw his hipbone against the metal door leading to the stairs. The door swung open and he almost tumbled down a flight of stairs. His shoulder again screamed out in pain, causing him to weave back and forth on his already leaden feet. Luckily, he found the banister before he lost his balance.
The second gunman saw the door to the stairwell slam shut as he rounded the corner from the nurse’s station. He had killed three on-duty nurses and a hospital security guard, but his target was about to escape. Cursing under his breath, he sprinted for the door.
At the end of the hall, he stopped to survey the damage. The Marshals were dead but so, too, was his partner. God damn, what a mess, he thought.
Pushing himself through the door leading to the stairs, he found a labyrinth of steel banisters and stairs leading up and down. Pausing, he heard the telltale sounds of someone negotiating the steps. The echo made it impossible to know if the sound was coming from above or below him, but he gambled. If the target was hurt and weak from the medication, he probably chose to go down rather than up.
With no more hesitation, the fellow threw himself onto the stairs and took them two at a time. He pointed the Uzi up toward the sky, but he held it in two hands for easy access.
Within seconds, he knew he had made the right decision. A single brown bedroom slipper lay abandoned on the landing. The target could not be far ahead.
Rounding the next stairwell, he saw the back of a terrycloth robe disappear into a doorway three floors below. Raising his machine gun, he almost squeezed off a round before the target moved out of sight. Damn, he thought. Almost had him. Well, at least this whole unpleasant business would be over soon.
He bounded down several more sets of stairs and reached for the door. His whole body jerked as he heard the shrill sound of the hospital fire alarm. Whoa, he thought. Smart move. The target was not panicked; he was thinking ahead.
On one hand, this frenzied flight was prolonging the inevitable and interfering with the assassin’s plans. On the other hand, wasn’t it the unplanned adventures that kept his job fresh and made life interesting?