Disclaimer: Wish I could offer an excuse. Afraid I can't. Here's an update. I've been psyching myself up to finish this. Watching "Knight and Day" got me appreciating Tom Cruise again. But in the meanwhile…
Chapter Twenty: I've Got All This Ringing In My Ears…
Rochester looked down at Vincent, a knowing gleam in his eye. "You know, I never thought I'd say it, but you are one sad man."
Vincent twitched – his chin moved to the right a bit, his lips pursed just slightly, and he straightened the lapels of his jacket, then stood with his legs spread apart a little. He was irritated. To be talked down to by someone like Rochester was definitely annoying.
"I mean, you were a legend," Rochester said, with just a touch of awe in his voice. "You could move faster than…well, anything I'd ever seen. You were the Flash. The evil Flash, anyway."
Vincent did a mental inventory. He always kept a switchblade in his pocket. Rochester wasn't foolish enough to come closer – he had kicked the gun away, smart enough. And he probably was packing his own piece, just out of sight.
"I mean, what the fuck!" Rochester gestured with both hands, down, towards Callie's naked back. She looked like she was attempting to recover a shred of her modesty. But Vincent saw her hand slip between the mattress and the box-spring. If Rochester looked over, he'd see what she was doing.
"Yes," Vincent said. "I'm sorry, your point?"
"So you fuck a girl, and now you actually care what happens to her," Rochester said, frustrated. "You know, the worst part of all of this is that you're actually stupid enough to think that Peter is backing you up on your lamebrain moves."
Vincent raised an eyebrow. "What makes you think he isn't?"
"How the hell do you think I even found you here? How do you think I knew exactly where you would be? How I even got into your hotel room? He set you up, Vincent! He had fucking Jackson Rippner drive your girl here to the airport! You knew perfectly well Jackson was working with me…are you really that thick?"
"I'm not," Vincent said, "but I was betting that you would be."
Rochester laughed. "Oh, yeah, the talk about me saying I wanted to work on my own. Please, Vincent. Nobody works on their own. He told you that to bait you."
Coolly, Vincent raised an eyebrow. "And you care because…why? Why tell me all of this? Unless you're trying to throw me off. That's the only reason you'd have to talk so much. We're at a stalemate, Chess, and you're stalling for time."
Rochester's brow darkened, and he suddenly reached out and snatched Callie by the top of her hair, closest to the scalp, where it hurt the most. The knife, still wet with her blood, went to rest on the soft tissue of her left breast, just below the nipple.
"You want to see me stall?" he said, his voice unnaturally calm. "Let's see if she's as pretty with her tits cut off."
Callie had the gun. She swung her arm around to press the barrel right against his ribcage. But she didn't move fast enough. Rochester looked down, saw what she was about to do, and then shoved her – more like hurled her with all his might. She went flying, the gun going off, shattering the table lamp. She collided into Vincent, who caught her in one arm and cradled her fall against his chest, but his other arm slid down hers, going to the gun and very smoothly removing it from her grip. Then, in the same fluid motion, he rolled her away from him, thrusting her almost behind him, toward the bathroom door.
Rochester was already pulling out his hold-out gun, and he made a great leap so that he was on top of the mattress, going to the other side. He shoved back on the mattress as he landed on the floor, bringing it up, creating a flimsy distraction so that Vincent couldn't get a clear aim.
Vincent, however, knowing Rochester was armed and not loaded with a potential casualty, grabbed Callie and headed the other direction, for the bathroom. He wanted to fire – just a few shots, one of them had a good chance of hitting – but knew that any blasts of the gun would bring security running. It was bad enough as it was – someone was going to come by and find the door removed from its hinges. So he kept going, into the bathroom. He slammed the door shut and locked it. Then he rounded on Callie and shoved her into the oversized bathtub.
"Get down," he said, throwing the extra towels at her. "Get down and stay down and don't come up unless I tell you, understand?"
Callie nodded, grateful for the covering, but shaking. She should have been quicker with the gun. Hadn't Ray gone through trouble to teach her about firing in close range? Apparently it had either been too long since her last lesson, or all this trauma had knocked all her sense out of her head. She lay against the cool, dry porcelain of the tub, on her left side, not her right, and realized she was just under the faucet.
She was suddenly terribly, horribly thirsty.
Vincent turned back toward the door. He stood between her in the tub and the locked entrance, so tense he seemed to be humming. Callie had seen this before. It felt like it had in the alley – she didn't know what was going to happen, what he was going to do, but she knew that whatever happened, he would meet each action with an equal and opposite reaction.
But truth be told, she realized as the pain and numbness – amazing how those two walked hand in hand – started to glaze over her right side, it was not the same. So far, Vincent hadn't really done anything. He hadn't even gotten her away from Rochester – she had done that. And rather stupidly – she could have gotten both her and Vincent killed.
Then again, it was Vincent's smarts that had planted that gun. He had planted the gun and…and left the room. He had said that he shouldn't leave her! Then why the hell had he done it? Anger swelled, and she lifted up her head.
"I was bait!" she cried. "You set me up!"
The gun blast came through the top part of the door first, where Vincent's head might have been if he'd gotten closer. He backed up, stepping into the tub as the trail of bullet holes got closer and closer. Then more bullets, spaced more sporadically. Obviously Rochester knew he wasn't hitting anything meaningful. Vincent pressed himself against the tile wall and seemed to be counting.
Finally, it stopped. Vincent waited a few moments more, and then slowly, creeping like a cat, he went to the door and pulled it open.
Very wisely, he was not in front of it, but behind it.
Then, he charged around the door and disappeared into the room. There were no shots. No sound of footsteps, not even Vincent's. Then, she heard him call, softly, "He's gone."
Callie lay on the floor of the tub. She could no longer stand it. She reached up and turned on the cold, letting a thin stream trickle down. She lay her lips against it and sucked it into her mouth. She couldn't stand this, this waiting! And her arm and chest were hurting so damn much! It was like burning, that's what it was. A bright, red, searing pain. As if the flesh were remembering, over and over, how it had been severed from itself.
Cupping her hand under the water, she carefully ladled it over her wounds. There was one really bad one, that didn't seem to want to stop bleeding. She pressed one of the towels against it, but it seemed that only made it worse.
Suddenly Vincent was squatting over her, reaching into the tub. He took her towel and started to pat her dry, efficiently and quickly. "We have to move," he said, his voice clipped and authoritative. "We don't want to be here when local law enforcement shows up. This isn't America, they don't do due process like we do."
Callie opened her mouth, but seemed to be cut off by the fact that Vincent was not listening to her at all now. He had grabbed up what was left of the first aid kit and had unrolled the bandage. Deftly, he slapped a thick pad of gauze against her arm, over the deepest cut, and then wound the bandage around it, tying it very tightly. It seemed to help the pain just a little bit. "Come on," he said, slapping her back lightly. "I'll get you clothes, you get your ass out of that tub. We gotta go quickly."
"Go where?" she managed, hauling herself up, but Vincent was in the other room now, in the closet, and he yanked out a pair of very expensive jeans – courtesy of the overpriced boutique downstairs – and a loose, flowery top.
"Come on," he urged, and it seemed as if he were going to dress her himself if she couldn't move faster. He had the top over her head and pulled her arms through it – not so roughly that it hurt but more quickly than she could have managed on her own in this state. He lowered the jeans so that she could step into them, and she looked at the back of his head as if he'd lost his mind and she were searching for his missing brain.
"What are you doing?" she finally managed.
"Shitting where I eat," he said, and there was real disgust in his previously emotionless tone. "Come on." He tapped her legs and she stepped into the jeans. He yanked them up hard, almost lifting her off the ground, but got them up around her waist and zipped shut even as she objected.
"You're not my mother and I'm not five!" she barked, slapping his hands away and adjusting the zipper and snap. Then she flinched at the use of her arm. "And I could have used some fucking underwear!"
"No time, come on," he said, reaching next into the closet and producing a black satchel, very similar to the one he'd had in L.A. that night so long ago – and not really even a full month ago by the calendar – then extending his hand to her. "Come on!" he urged, more snappish, and snagged her fingers in his to drag her out the door.
In a short while, Callie found herself stuffed down on the floor between the passenger seat and the dashboard of a very large and expensive SUV. Where Vincent had gotten it, she didn't know, nor at this point did she care. She simply accepted that he had probably stolen in – boosting cars seemed to be a major skill required on a hitman's résumé.
She felt dirty. Not just from the dried blood – although that was incredibly annoying – but from the whole experience. Exasperation had turned her mute as her brain churned over the recent events, trying to make some kind of sense out of them. Or at least get them straight in her mind.
Something Vincent had said stung her. She glanced up at him periodically, trying not to stare but pretty much failing. He had insisted she sit on the floor, down and out of sight. At first she thought that it was because she was a bloody mess – the wound on her arm had soaked the flimsy bandage Vincent had earlier attempted to apply, and the other various slashes Rochester had made on her skin had crusted for the most part, but still throbbed dully. Then she figured it was because of some plan Vincent had worked out in his head, three steps ahead of anyone else and ten ahead of her, for all she knew.
It came to her, quickly, materializing in her head as if placed there by some transporter beam. "Which one am I, Vincent?" she asked him.
It took him a second to hear her. He was in his "mode," his head slightly bent, his nostrils occasionally flaring. He blinked and looked down at her, not so much that his eyes weren't still on the road – if that's what this thing they were on that was causing all this horrid bumping and shuffling could be called – but enough for her to see that he had no idea what she was talking about.
"Which one am I?" she asked again, daring him to remember.
"Which what?" he asked, clipped, annoyed.
"The shitting or the eating. Which one am I?"
He blinked again, two or three times, and she finally lost her patience. "You said you were shitting where you ate before, when I asked you what you were doing. So which one am I? The shitting or the eating?"
He frowned, ever so slightly. "I hardly think this is the time to have this discussion," he said in a tone that was actually polite.
She snorted. "Well, maybe not for you, but considering I'm the one stuffed down here with nothing else to do but bleed into the seats, I thought we'd just get a few things out in the open."
For some insane reason, that made him crack his infamous half-smile. "Oh, well, if we're being open, you were probably the eating." And he gave her a look that made her flush. It didn't help with the pain.
After she didn't pursue it for a moment, Vincent went on, this time without the innuendo. "You were the one who decided it was all a mistake. You're allowed to do that and I'm not? Sounds like a double standard to me."
"It was a mistake because it was morally wrong, not because – " She stopped herself, choking on the next words because she could not, would not admit at this moment how emotionally attached she had become to him. It was not a sane person's thing to say.
"So you say." So damn calm now, as if they were just having a casual chit chat during a Sunday afternoon drive. "So your grounds are moral. Mine are professional. Professionally, what happened was a mistake. I think I took your evaluation rather well—"
"Oh, sure, if by well, you mean leaving me in a hotel room as bait—"
"—and handled the situation as best I could under the circumstances." But suddenly he didn't look so confident. His eyes narrowed and his jaw twitched, and by now Callie could read him well enough to know that he was unsure.
Another pause, this one longer and much more awkward. Finally, unable to stand it, Callie said, "Where are we going?"
"A safe house," was the brief reply.