Famous Last Words
Kill your senses, you might be right
Hold your fire, I'll take you higher
Never drop, we'll never stop
Tar for feathers
Blood for honey
Milk for money
Isn't it funny how it hurts…
How it hurts…
You'll never see me make the same mistake twice
You'll never see a tear coming out of these eyes
You'll never see me beg for another shot
And you'll never see me change into something I'm not
Famous last words
Zeromancer, "Famous Last Words"
The world was still plunged in darkness, but a high-pitched whine filled Lisa's ears, driving into her head like a barrage of needles to further agitate the headache that seemed to split her skull along the seems. Groaning, Lisa pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes, but when she was at last was able to pry them open, she was blinded by the bleach-white florescent bulb glaring down at her from an unknown source. The world gradually came back into focus, and Lisa realized that the light was coming from a lamp attached to a corrugated metal roof, a small army of moths drawn to the harsh, unfeeling light. The electric hum of the lights intermingled with a chorus of natural voices – crickets and frogs and the midnight lullaby of a mockingbird – and all sharply contrasted by the bitter scent of gasoline.
Her head gave another heavy throb as Lisa pushed herself into a sitting position, and she realized that she was inside a van, her head formally supported by a rolled-up sweater, and she had been looking out of the open side door. For a split second, panic seized her when, for the life of her, she could not recall where she was or how she got there before all the events leading up to this moment came back to her all at once. She remembered her escape from the warehouse that Lenore's goons had held hostage in, rescued by of all people…
Lisa's blood ran cold.
Jackson Rippner. The man who had once tried to take her life had been the one to save it. The only thing she could not figure out was why.
"Aspirin?" A soft voice asked to Lisa's right. Unfamiliar, but gentle and friendly. She looked up to see the blonde man who had been driving the van offering a couple of white pills and a bottle of water. "You look like you need it."
Lisa only hesitated for a heartbeat, but another throb from the ache behind her eyes made her decision for her. She took the aspirin from him with a muttered word of thanks before downing them both in a single swallow. Her thirst got the better of her and she downed most of the water of in the bottle gratefully, taking a moment to observe their surroundings. They had stopped at a gas station, as Lisa had properly guessed, but it looked so old and run-down that she was surprised it was still operational at all. There were only two pumps that offered only one kind of gas, the total price ticked off by old-fashioned flipping digits rather than a digital face used elsewhere anymore. The neon lights that marked the station guttered sickly and half of the letters that simply spelt out "gas" were burnt out. The station itself was little more than a shack, looked over by a sour-faced old man with what looked chillingly like a shotgun lying across his lap as he watched them suspiciously. There was little beyond the gas station except the darkness of the night. The two-lane highway that was visible from the van was empty, devoid of any other light source or moving vehicle, and beyond that was only a wall of solid vegetation, thick and wild and overgrown. "Where are we?"
"About sixty miles east of the Louisiana state line. We didn't want to stop, but some things can't be helped." Lisa nodded absently as she finished the last of the water. That would explain why the air felt so heavy, so close. There was no humidity quite like Louisiana humidity. "Do you think those goons are following us?"
"I'm sure they'll sure as hell try, but they're long behind us. While Jackson went in for you, Roxi took the liberty of pulling the sparkplugs out of their vehicles. Nothing that can't be repaired quickly, but we were kind of on a tight schedule to do anything really creative. Still, it'll slow them down enough that we can get far enough ahead before they can ever hope to catch us." The blonde man explained, sitting next to Lisa in the open door of the van. If the man was somehow affiliated with Jackson – which she was sure he was, granted that Jackson probably wasn't one to deal with anyone outside of his work – he certainly didn't seem like it. Ever since Jackson revealed he worked for a company that dealt with "flashy, high-profile assassinations" she had imagined it as an association of people wearing black suits and sunglasses who all drove blacked-out SUVs, but the man sitting next to her fell far from her expectations. He had a round, boyish type face under a mop of messy blonde hair, and looked like he would be far more comfortable sitting behind a computer screen than being involved in Jackson's line of work. "My name's Rodney, by the way." He said suddenly, as if able to read Lisa's mind, extending his hand politely towards her. "Sorry it took so long to introduce myself."
Lisa took his hand in one short, vigorous shake. "Lisa. Lisa Reisert."
"Nice to finally be able to meet you, Miss Reisert. We've heard a lot about you in the past year. It's nice to be able to finally put a face with the name."
Lisa laughed shortly, but it sounded horribly awkward. "I don't know if I should consider that a good thing or a bad thing."
Rodney shrugged, a good humored grin on his face. "In all honesty, I was getting tired of hearing the same stories over and over. Jackson tends to have a bad habit of dwelling on things, no matter how much he'll deny it."
This time Lisa's smile did flicker at the mention of Jackson's name, suspicion stirring subconsciously in the back of her mind. "So…you and Jackson work together then?"
The man sitting next to her nodded absently, not noticing her sudden discomfort as he took a drink from his own water bottle before continuing. "Yeah, as well as the two others that you saw with us. My wife Roxanne – don't call her that, by the way, she always goes by 'Roxi' instead – Byron and Lionel. Byron was the one with us, Lionel's still back at base. With the exception of Lionel, we all met back in college, and when Jackson got in with the cooperation, we went with him. Sure, we're not hotshot managers like he is and only a lowly intelligence team, but that doesn't mean we still didn't keep in touch. After the Keefe assassination last year – or, should I say, the attempted Keefe assassination – Jackson got dumped back on us and has been at our base ever since. Hence, knowing about you before tonight."
Lisa nodded, forcing back the lump that was rising in her throat, feeling suddenly more than a little intimidated by the man sitting next to her. Although Rodney's voice held no hint of spite or outward dislike of her, knowing that she was talking to not only one of Jackson's coworkers, but his friend, suddenly made her feel very uncomfortable. She felt her palms become slick with sweat, but she fought to not let her apprehension show through. "Where's Jackson?" The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them, like an itch on the inside of her chest that was begging to the scratched. Rodney looked surprised at her words, as though it was something he hadn't expected her to want to know.
"Brooding, most likely." Rodney answered. Then he leaned closer, speaking to her in a tone of voice that she was only supposed to here. "Look, whatever happened between you and Jackson last year isn't any of our business. It's done and over with and yeah, I wouldn't have been too happy if he died from those wounds you gave him, but the point is that he's still alive
. The rest of us don't have anything against you, but I would advise it would be best to try to stay off his bad side. Or, at least, to not get any deeper into it than you already are. Even if he were to try something to hurt you, we wouldn't let him, but mostly because we've spent the last year trying to keep him out of trouble, and the last thing any of us needs to get involved in is another messy encounter between the two of you. So if you mean to confront him about what happened last year…don't. It will only make things that much more difficult. Truth be told, I don't know what we're up against right now, and we don't need to add any personal vendettas to the mix."
Lisa met Rodney's gaze, unblinking, considering his words. He was right, of course. Painfully right. From just hearing the diamond-hard tone of her voice, the ice in her eyes, Lisa could count on that Lenore would not be one who would let her escape go unpunished, especially if she got away with the person that she was trying to lure to the warehouse to begin with. Her thugs would be looking for her…looking for both of them. They would have enough problems to deal with in the near future as it was, and the last thing that either she or Jackson needed was even more excuses to hate each other than they already did.
But was it really hate? You don't go out of your way to save someone you hate beyond reason, nor do you hug them when they come to your rescue, regardless if you asked them to or not.
"So…what happened, exactly? How did you guys find me? And, most importantly, how did I get involved with this to begin with?"
To her dismay, Rodney shook his head, blonde hair falling over his eyes. "I personally couldn't tell you. We were able to find you by tapping a phone line, which was a one in a million chance. The rest, though? Couldn't tell you if my life depended on it. Jackson seemed to know a little more, but he wouldn't tell us a thing before he insisted on going after you."
Jackson insisted on coming after her? It was a novel concept to Lisa, for reasons she couldn't even begin to explain. If she were a simpler, more irrational woman, she would have assumed that it would have been for no other reason to make sure that no one took his chance for revenge away from him, but now she knew better. There some something deeper afoot here, something that she did not understand. Jackson would have his reasons, and they would benefit no one but himself.
"I have to talk to him." Lisa said simply, swinging her feet through the open door of the van and standing. Her legs shook under her, her knees still weak from the combined effects of the chloroform and the overall exhaustion of the past two days, but she was able to remain standing. Rodney was looking at her skeptically, so Lisa added for assurance, "I'm not going to start anything. I just have to ask him some questions."
Lisa headed off in the direction Rodney had pointed her in, walking away from the van and the gas station and into the closing darkness of the night. On her way she spotted the woman who had been in the van – Rodney's wife, Roxanne (Roxi, Lisa reminded herself) – and for a brief moment she thought it would have been polite to introduce herself, but the warning glance the dark-haired woman shot in her direction made her think twice. It came to Lisa's attention that just because Rodney did not hold a grudge against her did not mean that Jackson's other companions would not feel the same way. Best to keep walking and avoid any potential confrontations while she could. Dealing with Jackson was going to be hellish enough. The last thing she needed was any problem from any of his coworkers.
She found him on the edge of the oasis on the deserted rural highway, right where the pool of light from the station was swallowed by the shadows of the night. He stood there, silent, a specter poised on the edge of light and dark. Lisa paused mid-step upon seeing him, her heart leaping into her throat, her courage wavering dangerously. It was suddenly as if she was seeing him again for the first time since the red eye flight, completely omitting the rescue from the warehouse. Although his back was towards her, his presence was overwhelming, almost suffocating her. It was as if she was back in the airplane cabin again and not in the Mississippi wilds; confined, trapped by the aura of a man who had to be in control of all situations at all times, damn the consequences. But how in control he was now, when Rodney had openly admitted that they did not know who they were up against and even less about their motives? If there was one things Lisa knew all too well about Jackson, it was how dangerous he could be when he lost that hold of that tightly-reigned control.
Taking a deep breath, she steeled herself for any and all inevitable conflicts, and was even ready to say something – she wasn't sure what, anything was better than this damnable silence – but Jackson beat her to it.
"Are you planning on just standing there and gawking all night or were you planning on saying something?"
The unexpected sound of his voice caused Lisa to choke on the breath she had been holding, her lungs burning from the effort of trying not to cough. Jackson turned to face her, slowly, almost in a surreal manner, the light of the gas station illuminating just the highlights of his face and leaving the rest in shadow. His eyes… Lisa shivered as the forced herself to look into his eyes. They were just as she remembered, those deep pools of frozen crystal that plagued her every dream and haunted her every nightmare. And they were cold…so cold. Cold and lifeless and devoid of all emotion, making him impossible to read. It was suddenly difficult to believe that this was the same man who had willingly saved her life only a few hours ago. Memories bombarded Lisa's mind at frightening speeds, overwhelming her with flashbacks from the red eye flight with such ferocity that it made the knees weak and unable to find her voice. But she refused to let it show as she held his gaze, her jaw set stubbornly. Jackson titled his head, a smirk tugging at the corner of his mouth.
"What's wrong, Leese? No word of thanks? Not very good manners towards someone who just saved your life."
Lisa swallowed thickly, fighting to keep her voice steady as she spoke, no allowing herself to be provoked. It was surprisingly difficult to do. "You did save my life, I'll give you that much. But I think I deserve an explanation to what the hell's going on."
Jackson continued to stare at her for one long, hard moment, his eyes boring into hers, then he abruptly turned away. "Sorry, Lisa, I couldn't tell you anything more than what you already know."
Lisa narrowed her eyes at him, refusing to let him treat her as though she were stupid and incompetent. "Enlighten me," she challenged. "It's the least I deserve for having to deal with you again."
The air between them was thick with tension and tainted with venom, leaving a bitter taste on Lisa's tongue. She was struggling for control, holding the reigns of her temper to keep herself from lashing out at him. Never mind the fact that he had saved her from those goons back at the warehouse. This was the second time that he had barged into her life, usurping everything that she had so carefully rebuilt over the years. And even though he might have been the one who personally kidnapped her the second time around, he sure as hell had a part to play in it. When he didn't answer, she ground her teeth in frustration. "Well? I'm waiting."
She heard Jackson sigh in the darkness, the breath of air tainted with a faint, rasping hiss that wasn't there before. His voice might have sounded healed, but the mark of what she had done to him still lingered, a scar that was as evident in his voice as the scar on her chest was. "You're getting all worked up over nothing, again. There's no reason to try to stir up animosity over something that has nothing to do with you."
"The hell it does!" Lisa snapped back, completely forgetting her promise to Rodney about not starting anything. "Some psycho woman barges into my hotel, her thugs kidnap me, and then I'm used as bait to lure you out, and all you can say is that it doesn't have anything to do with me?"
Suddenly Jackson was there, standing over her before she had the chance to blink, capturing her wrist in a grip like iron, his eyes blazing. Pain lanced up Lisa's arm as Jackson's vice-like grip on her wrist tightened, forcing her into subdued silence. "You just answered your own question, Leese." He hissed at her, like a cobra ready to strike. "Yes, someone is after my blood, and yes, they thought they were clever in using you to get my attention. But now, if you haven't noticed, that have lost that leverage, so there's no reason why I shouldn't just dump you right here in the middle of nowhere. But the point of the matter is that I can't have you running to the police and dragging them into this and messing everything up again. The lives of my companions aren't worth that, especially when they have no place in this fight. So the least you can do is act a little grateful that I saved your ass when I owe you absolutely nothing after what you've done to me."
Lisa held his gaze, hoping that he could not see the small glimmer of fear that she was sure was there. She was not afraid of him, per sae; her victory over him has destroyed all traces of primal fear of this man, but she could not deny that he was still incredibly intimidating, and she had not forgotten what he was capable of. In the dime light, Lisa could see the small, circular scar at the base of his throat, driving the reality of what she had done to him – what they had done to each other. She watched as a muscle in his tensed as he clenched it. He was waiting for her to say something, daring her; something irrational so he could throw it back in her face. Or snap her wrist in anger. The grip he maintained on her hand promised at least that much. A thousand questions raged in her mind, but when she finally filtered them out only one remained above all the others, begging to be asked.
"Why did you save me, then?"
Although his icy façade did not falter, something flashed through Jackson's eyes, but it was so quick and fleeting that if Lisa had blinked, she would have missed it entirely. Before she had the chance to decipher what it was, Jackson released his hold on her wrist and turned away from her, retreating back into the shadows as though he couldn't look at her anymore. "I don't enjoy the fact that people think they can control me. Is someone has a score to settle against me, then they're going to have to come to me, and not the other way around. You might not have had anything to with this up until now, but now we're both up to our necks in it, whether you choose to accept it or not. So if you want to chance staying here and wait for them to catch up to you, then be my guest. If not, then I suggest we make the best of the situation and attempt to at least act civilized to one another until this whole thing is over."
Lisa blinked slowly, regarding the man who stood before her. Never before had she met anyone so enigmatic, so utterly baffling in almost every aspect about him. One moment he was sarcastic, mocking, provoking her anger, only to turn his own temper on her when she retaliated against him. But now, his voice was soft, almost remorseful, and he didn't meet her eyes when he spoke. The last action was mildly unnerving, like a prickle between her shoulder blades. There was only one other time when he didn't look at her when he had something to say; when he explained to her in his calm, cold manner, that he had no business who was killed in what way in his line of work. All he did was set all the pawns where they needed to be. There had been a note of compunction in his voice then, his earlier arrogance gone. It was not an aspect of the flight that Lisa had dwelled on before, but now she wondered what inspired such a change.
Both Lisa and Jackson turned towards the voice. Rodney was walking towards them, his silhouette backlit against the lights of the gas station. Lisa hesitated, wondering how much the blonde man had heard, but he showed no sign that he had observed the conflict between the two that had taken place only moments before. "The van's all fueled up and ready to go. I don't know about you two, but I don't exactly want to give those guys any chance to catch up to us any time soon. What say you we get a move on?" When neither Lisa nor Jackson answered right away, Rodney looked back and forth between the two of them, and Lisa could almost see the skeptical look on his face through the shadows. "Or is there some sort of problem?"
"No, Rodney." Jackson said, his voice stronger than it had been before, betraying any sort of emotion Lisa had once thought was there. "There's no problem at all." Without so much as a glance at her, Jackson brushed past Lisa, heading back towards the van as though she was not there at all. For one scant moment, Lisa felt rather put off by his indifference towards her, but quickly decided that this was neither the time nor the place to dwell on such thoughts. She followed the two other men without question.
When Lisa returned to the van, she noted that Roxi was already inside, crouched just inside the door, watching Lisa in a way that reminded her of a large predatory cat. It was clear to Lisa that the darker women either did not trust her or did not like her, or a nasty combination of both. Whatever the cause of her open animosity was, Lisa decided not to make it worse, and did her best to keep her distance as she climbed into the back of the van, retreating to the furthest corner and huddling against the back door. Jackson climbed into the front seat without so much as a backwards glance, sitting down in the worn seat with a huff as though Lisa was not there at all. Just before Rodney made his way to the driver's seat, he paused, looking back towards the gas station. "Anyone seen Byron?"
As though on cue, the taller, lankier man stumbled out of the run-down shack of the station, his arms full of what looked like groceries. He clambered into the van without a word to anyone, oblivious to Jackson's cynical glance out the passenger side window. "Have fun?" Roxi asked, speaking for the first time since Lisa first saw her.
"We were low on milk." Byron stated matter-of-factly. "I figured I might as well have picked some up while we stopped, seeing as I'm the only one who seems to think of these things."
"Explosives tech and homemaker. It makes me wonder why you're still single." Rodney said with a smile as he climbed into the driver's seat, the engine rumbling as he turned the key in the ignition. "Shall we?"
Without another word, they drove off into the darkness of the Mississippi back roads. And against all logical reason, Lisa went with them, without question, without a word of complaint. Away from her home, away from any form of real safety, away from her father, who was no doubt by now well aware of her disappearance, and probably raising a good bit of hell looking for her.
Her options were so limited it was nearly suffocating. Dealing with Jackson Rippner again, or being left behind to the mercy of the Mississippi wilds and to whoever was after them, but the lesser of two evils was evident.
After all, what other choice did she have?
Note: I love Zeromancer. Their music fits with the best and worse of situations.
I was going to hint at Jackson's past at the end of this chapter, but I figured it would give me better leverage to begin the next chapter with.
If I thought writing Jackson alone was going to be difficult, writing the first real interaction between Lisa and Jackson seemed to make my previous challenge pale by comparison. Writing this chapter was like untying a very intricate knot; you pick and pull and experiment with different intertwining loops until you find that one combination that allows you to make the string straight again. I have a feeling the next few chapters will be like this, seeing how they're the one part of this story that I don't know what will happen scene-to-scene. So bear with me if updates are lacking. I'm also back and school, and therefore can only sit down to write when I can spare the time to (multiple art projects due all at once doesn't help my situation). I'm also still getting a feel for the characters of his friends and pinning down their personalities. If you need help visualizing who is who, here's a list of ideal actors I have compiled for each of Jackson's allies.
Rondey: Steve Zahn
Roxanne (Roxi): Michelle Rodriguez
Byron: Hank Azaria (Keep in mind that I have his character Agador from The Birdcage in mind as I write this, and I did that on purpose)
Lionel: A young Willem Dafoe (?)
Until next time, lovelies!