Chuck’s challenge this week: Nothing but Action.
Action is a thing I struggle with, so this was an exercise I desperately needed. I really like the beginning of this one… I have to confess I couldn’t think of an action-y way to end it. The ending suffers a bit for that, I’m afraid. And to my wife, when she reads it… I just couldn’t work the duck into it. I’ll break that thing out later.
Checking the figures on his monitor one last time, Taurie breathes deep and jabs the needle into his thigh. The clear solution oozes in and he feels a slimy cold spread through his leg. He hears a distant crunch as they kick in the downstairs door. He mashes the red button to arm the failsafe, throws his chair through the window, and dives out. He drops two stories, tucks, rolls, and cracks his skull on the side of a dumpster.
The agents kick his door in and flood his room like cockroaches, sweeping through his apartment in a frenzied buzz of intercom chatter. It’s only seconds before an agent spies the window, shards of glass still clinging to the frame, drapes floating lazily in the breeze.
Taurie blinks the stars away and lurches to his feet. Twenty feet above him, he sees a suit and sunglasses speak into its wrist and disappear back into his apartment. He jogs to the street, then lapses in judgment for a fraction of a second and looks back toward his building.
The smear of blood on his forehead gives him away. Taurie sees the guy in the camouflage shorts and handlebar mustache, and Handlebars sees Taurie see him. As if a starter pistol had gone off, they both break into a dead run. Nondescript faces and bodies fly at Taurie as he hurtles down the sidewalk, brushing them aside or ducking around them as best as he can, knowing that he’s only creating an empty wake for Handlebars to follow him in. He doesn’t even have to look behind him to know that the guy is closing. Taurie’s short, and Handlebars has the benefit of not having to pick an escape route. So Taurie hurls himself into the street.
A cab lurches to a heavy halt but can’t stop in time; Taurie tumbles across its hood, pirouettes and dashes in a jagged arc across four lanes to a chorus of honks and shouts. A passing bus clips his heel but doesn’t slow down. He hazards a glance over his shoulder as he makes the far sidewalk. Handlebars, initially slowed by the detour into the street, is now closing the gap between them, aided by his long strides and the fact that all of the traffic is now stopped. In the open, he’ll be caught in seconds, not minutes. Taurie spots a bellhop pushing a luggage rack out through the doors of the Grand. He aims a shoulder at the guy’s midsection, sending him sprawling. He grabs the trundle, yanks it sideways behind him and wedges it in the door.
Handlebars grabs his hand through the stack of suitcases and flowered dresses just as Taurie turns to bolt through the lobby. He twists Taurie’s wrist backwards; Taurie yelps in pain and collapses backward into a foul-smelling duffel bag, kept upright and pinned in an iron grip.
“It’s over, Conway,” Handlebars says, his ludicrous facial hair twisting into some sort of fuzzy alien punctuation mark.
Taurie aims a mule-kick at the stack of luggage; it topples over and crashes down on Handlebars. His hand comes free, and Taurie bolts through the lobby —
And then the building is shaking like the inside of a bass drum with the percussive force of a massive explosion. Through one of the floor-length glass panes, Taurie sees the roof of his building belching fire and smoke into the sky. He has only a moment of panic to realize that the inhibitor signal is probably about to cease, and then Taurie is gone and the Tank takes over.
Handlebars has extricated himself from the tangle of mothballed dresses and hardshelled suitcases and he sees Taurie stop short across the lobby. The kid doubles over and begins pounding on the floor, his shirt stretching and snapping, his neck and shoulders and arms bulging like he’s been suddenly pumped full of hot air. Handlebars’s mouth goes dry and his stomach turns. He unholsters his pistol and fires off a tranq dart — then a second, for good measure. The thing that used to be Taurie peers ponderously at the feathers sprouting from its butt and rounds on him.
The scrawny kid is gone; in his place is a golden-eyed monster the size of three linebackers, snorting and snarling with great bull nostrils and great bull horns sprouting from his sweat-matted hair.
Now it’s Handlebars’s turn to run. He stumbles into the street but the Tank is on him in the blink of an eye. He feels his ankle caught as if in cement, and then the world turns a half flip and he’s dangling upside-down, staring into the inverted face of Taurie-Tank. Its bulging eyes bore into his, protruding snout exploring his face, horns jabbing into his collarbones. Its breath smells of rancid meat and ashes; he gets lightheaded breathing it in. This is the end, Handlebars thinks, and then he hears the pock-pock of gunfire, feels warm spray spatter his cheek, tastes iron on his tongue. The monster drops him on his face and he feels consciousness slip away as the Tank leaps toward the dark-suited agents across the street, stomping a crater in a sedan along the way.
Taurie wakes up in a stainless steel room, cuffed to a bed. There’s pain in his shoulder, but it’s faint and distant. In the corner stands Handlebars, his ankle in a cast and a bandage over one eye.
Taurie asks the only question that matters. “Did I kill anybody?”
“Is that what you’re worried about?”
“What should I be worried about?”
Handlebars shrugs. “Whether or not you ever see daylight again.”
Taurie folds his arms, or tries to. The handcuff clatters at his wrist. “You want my research. I’m not giving it to you. Why do you think I blew up my apartment?”
Handlebars smiles. “We already have your research.” He hobbles into the light, his unbandaged eye turning gold.