Ch. 5 – A Veiled Promise
King of the horseflies / dark prince of death / his tragic forces / are heaven sent / in sweet things / in a lover's breath / in knowing this was meant to be the last… / …a veiled promise / to never die / to tread lightning / to ink the lavender skies…
He woke almost a full minute later. His nose was bleeding heavily, turning the water around his face a murky red, but that was the least of his worries. The car had landed almost perfectly upside down, creating an air trap. The seat was deep and the impact from hitting the water had wedged him in further, so that he remained suspended, almost doubled over rather than slipping out and sinking to the bottom, as he should have. He considered staying right where he was. The pain wasn't so bad and his head was only half-submerged. He wondered how long it would take to use up this little pocked of air, but realized that he'd never have the chance to find out as he spied a stream of large bubbles climbing their way to the surface. This air trap wasn't level and water was finding its way in.
Okay, time to move then.
He sucked in as much air as he could manage and then grabbed both sides of the car, straining to push himself back and down. The car groaned terribly and water began to rush under, stinging his face. The whole thing was becoming very unstable and he kept slipping. He could barely see; that was the problem. He let go with one hand to rip off his cracked helmet and let it go, into the depths of the water. He didn't waste any time watching it disappear, instead giving himself one last push. He slipped out easily then, kicking a little to further himself from the car, and made his way to the surface.
People stared as he made his way out of the water, holding onto the rotting wood of the dock as he went. Every bone ached and his lungs burned. He paused in the sand, leaning against one of the columns to wipe hair and water out of his face. Out of habit he went for his pockets and swore softly as he realized his cigarettes were gone. This was followed by a slightly louder curse as he remembered the lock of hair he'd carelessly thrown into the car, instead of pocketing it, as he should have done. That too was gone. He ignored the looks and began walking again.
He didn't bother going to find Corwin to explain what had happened. He knew the man's temper, and besides, what could he say? He dare not go to the Speedway anyway – they'd most likely still be there. Those girls. He closed his eyes, thinking of them, wiping at his nose again. It was still bleeding slightly. He opened his eyes and stared at the blood on his hand. No… he didn't want to run into them again right now.
So he kept to the back streets, making his way home so he could call McCadden and give him a heads up on his now most likely terminated employment with Red Star. They'd have to hurry up and move along with things and he was glad. He was starting to feel that this job just needed to be over and done with.
Unfortunately, before he could get home and make said call, Corwin found him. He hadn't been paying close attention to which streets he was taking, just going in the general direction of home, when he looked up just in time to see Corwin leaving the police station across the street. He put his head down quickly, but Corwin had already seen him. The man ran across the street with a bevy of his acolytes still following him.
"There you are! What the HELL happened? Where's my race car?!" Corwin yelled, his face getting redder and redder with every word.
He sighed and faced the hysterical man. "It's gone," he replied stonily.
"What the BLOODY HELL do you mean, GONE?! WHERE IS IT?!"
Explaining would do no good, he knew, and so he offered nothing else. Not like he'd have gotten a word in edgewise, had he tried, though. Corwin screamed, ranted and raged, and then loudly fired him in front of all of the on-lookers who'd gathered. Corwin finally left with a, "You'll be hearing from my lawyer!" He just nodded and went on his way. What were they going to take from him? He really didn't have anything to take. He rented this tiny hole-in-the-wall pool house from a sweet old lady up in the hills, south of Ventura Blvd. She sort of reminded him of the nuns from the orphanage. The situation worked well, she gave him his space and he always made sure to slip the rent under the back door, 1st of every month. He didn't even have a bank account. Most of the money he made on the job he sent to the orphanage, and what little was left over for living expenses was hidden away. Corwin was an asshole, but he'd already known that. That was why his next assignment bothered him, not at all.
He didn't talk to McCadden until the next day. He really hadn't wanted to deal with another rich SOB bawling him out and so he'd waited. McCadden had called the next afternoon. Surprisingly he wasn't even angry when he heard what had happened. He found it extremely funny, which was irritating, but then he pointed out that Corwin had played his part and was no longer needed. He was to be taken out of the picture the next evening.
He made his way to Corwin's penthouse the next day, after darkness had fallen. The assassination was to take place between eight and nine 'o clock. That was fine. Breaking in was easy. He kept to the shadows, remembering every detail of the building photographically. He'd only been here once, for the pre-race party, but once had been all that was needed. The staff of the apartment never even saw him.
He waited, watching as a maid, dressed in a black and green kimono, carried a tray to an outside terrace. A second later she returned, passing by his corner, not knowing he stood a mere fraction of an inch away. There were a few wisps of steam that clung to her petite form as well as to the doorway she'd just come through and he could detect a faint trace of chlorine on her as she passed. Perfect.
Gradually her footsteps faded down the long hallway and then there was only silence and darkness. Quietly he slipped from the darkest shadow, rather resembling an extension of that shadow, and opened the door, stepping onto the rock pathway. The air was humid and the sickly smell of chlorine was much stronger here. He made his way over to the large lagoon-style Jacuzzi he knew he'd find. Corwin was sitting beyond it, on a rise of large cement steps. He was clad in a pair of swimming trunks and had a towel around his neck.
The abundant amount of steam in the air provided him with enough cover to make his way over to his former "boss" undetected. Corwin sipped his brandy, then set it down, putting his arms up behind him on the concrete, in oblivious relaxation. Only when he was within a few feet of his target was he spotted. Corwin looked up blearily and recognizing him, sat up straight.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, his voice dripping with disdain.
He wasn't in the shadows now. There was something so right about walking straight up to this man he was about to kill. Taking him out from behind, from some hidden spot would never do it justice. A man like this deserved to know he was going to die and by whose hand it would happen. Especially for humiliating him in front of all of those people. He didn't even need to do it very quickly – there was no charging the victim. He simply walked up to the man, put one foot on the lower step and, leaning forward, he held up his cane, almost like he was showing it to him. His eyes never left those of his target, even as he whipped out the sword inside and with one swift motion, slit the artery in Corwin's neck. The man flopped to the ground like a sack of potatoes. He stared in a detached manner as he wiped the blood off his blade with one end of Corwin's towel. Then he left, as easily as he'd come.
He was to report back to McCadden's place as soon as the job was done. He left his motorcycle at the bottom of the long driveway, like he'd been instructed to do, and walked up to the door. The security camera identified him and McCadden met him at the door, opening it with one finger in front of his mouth, before he had a chance to knock. He just glanced at his boss, who was dressed in a robe and looked particularly gleeful, like a kid who'd just done something bad, and followed him into the house. He'd only been here once, and briefly marveled again how strange and modern the place was. The whole house was round, all of the outer walls being made of glass. From the outside, the house kind of resembled a flying saucer right out of the old movies.
McCadden motioned to the kitchen area, which was to the left of the central living room, behind a long curving wall. He went, passing by Ms. Wood, Vivian, whatever her name was, who sat in a swivel chair in front of the fireplace. They ignored each other.
The spacious room was dark, and while he waited, he lit a cigarette. He wasn't sure what was going on, what they were waiting for, or why everyone was being so quiet. After a minute or so he heard a door open and a voice call out. A very familiar voice. His eyes widened with recognition, and he stood upright, creeping up to the edge of the wall, as near to the next room as he dared, listening.
"Hey, don't stand next to the window, 'cause it's not safe."
It was her, the Redhead, but what was she doing here? He ignored McCadden's murmured words, only concentrating on hers.
"Listen, I just found out that –," her words were cut off by a ring. "Who's that?"
Vivian answered and he heard her climb out of the chair and cross the room.
"…I can see by your 'gown' that you're unarmed…"
McCadden replied with one of his usual quips and then she told them both to have a seat. He could hear her crossing the room, coming closer to where he stood. She finished her call in low tones on the other side of the wall they shared. Beyond her the other two were whispering, but what they were saying he couldn't make out. He thought he heard McCadden say something like 'I know'. That's what it sounded like, and immediately following that were the sounds of him standing up and walking away. Something about the silence in the room, the tension that hung after this exchange of words seemed to mean that some truth was about to be revealed. So, it was time then.
He stood up straight and walked out into the main room, just in time to see Vivian whip out a gun and point it directly at Red-head, who was wearing nothing but a sheet. So that's what McCadden had been grinning about.
"Sad news… your girlfriends are dead," Vivian sneered. "Corwin?"
It took him a second to register that the question had been directed at him. Though he'd managed to keep walking and not miss a step when he saw what she was wearing, he was having a hard time tearing his gaze away from this lone girl, standing there, bravely facing them all. She met his gaze with a distrustful glare, putting one arm across her chest protectively. He carefully kept his face blank and continued past them, nodding decisively at Vivian, while exhaling a cloud of smoke. Past them now, he sneaked another glance at her, taking a drag from his cigarette as he did so.
Music spilled into the room and McCadden's off-key voice joined in over his shoulder. She stared right back at him, hatred pouring out of her eyes…no, at McCadden, who'd shed his robe to reveal clothes very different from the ones he'd previously worn around her. It seemed to illustrate, all the more, his betrayal. He stood near the windows, gazing outside, listening to the conversation while he finished his cigarette.
"…tomcat in the sack!" he heard McCadden say, picking a strawberry from the goblet that sat on the coffee table. He tried not to let his mind wander down that particular road, instead concentrating on the name McCadden had just called her by. Dylan.
There was a brief flash of movement as Dylan slapped McCadden's hand away from her face. McCadden had gotten too close, but there was not much she could do, in her state. He watched out of the corner of his eye in a sort of detached curiosity.
"…you had no idea that this was going to happen?" McCadden asked around a mouthful of strawberry.
Vivian put her hand up. "I knew," she said with a haughty smile.
"Uh-huh. She knew," McCadden agreed, moving to stand next to her.
"And I know what's going to happen next," she said, as he began kissing her neck.
"Tell 'er baby," McCadden said as she moaned in a low voice.
It was beyond disgusting. He could see that Dylan agreed.
"All the Angels are going to heaven."
'Angels?' he thought. Interesting.
She stood there, asking questions, which they answered easily. McCadden kept spitting bits of strawberry at her, which she ignored. "The kidnapping was a set up."
"And Red Star was a set up." This one she directed at him. Their eyes met but he didn't answer. McCadden did.
"Uh huh. You got it all figured out. Any other questions?"
"Why?" she asked with quiet earnestness.
"Ask your boss," was the cryptic reply. So that's who they were after.
"Charlie? You're after Charlie?"
Something in the mere mention of his name seemed to anger McCadden – he immediately tensed up. "Charlie… Charlie, Charlie, Charlie," he murmured, flicking the butt of a lit cigarette at Dylan, who backed up quickly. He took the gun from Vivian and held it to his own head while he spoke, then pointed it at Dylan, who slowly backed up even further, until the glass wall was at her back.
He tensed, watching. Everything seemed to stop and wait, the whole world stopped mid-breath to await this girl's fate.
McCadden pulled the trigger and with a scream she was gone. She flew out through the shattered glass, the only thing left as a testament to her very existence being a little bit of sheet, caught on a glass shard jutting up from the sill. The earth began to breathe again, and time began once again to move, leaving her behind. He stood, rooted to the spot, impassively smoking as he watched McCadden saunter over and pick a double-framed photograph off of the desk. He looked at it briefly before snapping it shut.
"Come on," McCadden said shortly, and he followed.
He walked after the other two, ignoring them as they argued over where to eat. He couldn't resist one more look at the large gaping hole where she'd stood just a minute before. He looked at the forlorn bit of sheet that clung to the glass and wondered what might be at the other end of it. He told himself it didn't matter and to prove that he looked away and walked out the front door, following the other two.
They noticed nothing and so he climbed into McCadden's car with a funny taste in his mouth and a name on his mind.
***Lyrics taken from Where Boys Fear To Tread by the Smashing Pumpkins***