This posting features Chapter 40 of my ongoing action novel, The Day of the Gun.
Steve limped down the hallway, desperately searching each doorway for sanctuary. His shoulder screamed at him in mute but unrelenting agony. He longed to collapse in a corner and let sleep wash over him like the waves from a cool mountain stream, but he fought the lethargy with every ounce of his willpower.
Alarmed faces greeted him as he stuck his head into each room. Some patients asked what was going on with the alarm, but he ignored their entreaties. Half a dozen nurse call buttons erupted as the infirm and the ill waited for help to arrive.
His legs were weak, rubbery, unresponsive. He steadied himself on a doorway, panting, and looked inside a room halfway down the hall.
A woman was lying in the darkness. He could see the outline of her face in the glare of the light from the TV. The scene kept changing, alternating the light throughout the darkened room and creating an eerie effect. The woman turned toward him and their eyes met. “Why’s the alarm ringing?” she asked before she saw his face.
Steve and the woman recognized each other and gasped at the same instant. “Mary Ellen?” He was incredulous at this fortuitous turn of events.
“What do you want?” she asked in a hoarse whisper.
He opened his mouth to respond, but there was so much to say and so little time. He was flummoxed. Turning, he grasped the doorway, prepared to leave.
“Why can’t you leave me alone?” She practically screamed her question.
“Shh,” he said. “Quiet!”
She spotted the Glock as he slid it from the pocket of his robe. “Oh, dear God,” she whispered. “Are you gonna kill me?”
“If I wanted to kill you, I woulda already done it in the cemetery,” he said as he glanced across the hall. He had perhaps ten seconds before his assailant appeared, so he had to get out now if he wanted to distance himself from his former captive.
“Please,” she said. “Please.”
He fled the room, bolting across the hall, which seemed to take forever. It reminded him of the dream where the person runs down a hallway that seems to grow longer with every step. He finally slid into the room and tumbled onto the floor. An elderly woman lying in the bed opened her eyes, but she did not seem to be able to focus on the world around her. It was a blessing in disguise.
At the end of the hall, taking a deep breath and cradling his assault rifle, the would-be assassin threw open the door leading to the fourth floor. The alarm was especially loud here. He saw nurses and orderlies emerging from rooms and alcoves to investigate the noise. The target was nowhere to be seen.
So much for an “in and out operation,” he thought as he sprayed the room with automatic weapons fire.
Some people went down, hard, their faces registering their shock. Others, realizing what was happening, jumped for cover. Their surprised, frightened reactions struck the gunman as especially funny. People could be so comical sometimes. He grinned as he watched their bodies fall like bags of sand dropped onto a levee.
The shooting was over in mere seconds. When it ended, he surveyed the hallway. Everywhere, people were crawling, screaming, hunkering down. The alarm continued its high-pitched squeal. Still, his prey was hidden from sight.
He couldn’t have gotten far, the man thought as he poked his head into a room. An elderly man lay on his bed with an oxygen tube stuffed into his nose. Wires and medicine lines extended from his arms. His eyes were wide with fear as he gazed up, feeling vulnerable, at the man hovering over him with a machine gun.
“No worries, pop,” the assassin said with a chuckle, leaving the room. Holding the power of life and death in his hands was exhilarating.
Exhilarating or not, he had to hurry along. The fire alarm would bring firemen and policemen within the next few minutes. If this business was going to be ended, he needed to finish it up and retreat before it was too late.
He continued his brief foray into half a dozen rooms along the hall before crossing to the other side and starting back toward the bank of elevators.
Some rooms were empty, which required him to step inside, throw open the bathroom door and the shower curtain just in case the target was lurking about. All the while, he gripped the gun with both hands, his finger poised on the trigger.
He had almost given up when he looked into a room about halfway down the hall. There he saw an old woman lying in bed. She looked dazed and confused, as though she were heavily drugged. Maybe she was. He opened his mouth to assure her that he meant her no harm when he saw her cut her eyes behind him.
The killer turned to look over his shoulder a half a second too late. Before he could react further, the barrel of a pistol poked through the space between the door and the door jam and slipped into his ear. No words were uttered, and the report could barely be heard above the din of the fire alarm.
Most of the man’s brains flew out the right side of his head and splattered onto the wall, decorating a faded Currier and Ives print of an eighteenth century clipper ship. The body crumpled to the floor and lay at the foot of the terrified woman’s bed. The Uzi skipped under the bed.
Still gripping the Glock, Steve Harris stepped from behind the door and fell into an easy chair in the corner of the room. He didn’t say “hasta la vista, baby,” or any of the other memorable witticisms that good-guy killers uttered in the movies. He simply wiped sweat from his brow onto the sleeve of his bathrobe.
Steve couldn’t be sure that no other assassins were on the loose, but he was too tired to care. He looked at the old woman and, over the noise of the alarm, he said, “it’s all right now. Everything’s all right now.” His voice was so low and raspy, he wasn’t sure she even heard what he said. No matter. He lay back and waited for the authorities — or death — to come to his rescue.
Thirty seconds past and nothing changed. The shrill alarm sounded repeatedly, but no one came to silence it.
After he caught his breath, Steve kept seeing pictures of his friend Jim Gilleland lying dead on the lawn and the assassin creeping into the underbrush. It wasn’t right — what had happened to Steve, his family, his best friend — it wasn’t right. This whole crazy mess had to be ended and justice done.
Steve pulled himself to his feet and reached for his assailant’s gun. Even as he moved, wincing, a plan began to take shape in his mind.