Chapter 12: Face to Face
The parking lot of the apartment complex was a nightmare spectacle of panicked confusion. Sirens roared in the distance, and patrol cars flashed red and blue in the dark. Paramedics were already on the scene. From what Freddy could see, at least three men had been shot.
A grizzled police officer was hastily organizing teams to pursue Vega, but Freddy steered clear of him. Instead, he scanned the crowd by the road and quickly spotted Jeffrey Andrews sitting on the kerb. The rookie was staring at the ground in shock, his uniform bloody where he had cradled the head of one of the wounded. The injured cop was being loaded into a nearby ambulance, and for the moment the kid was being ignored.
Freddy crouched down by the young officer. "Hey, it's me, Freddy," he said quietly. "Where'd he go?"
The rookie stared up at him almost without recognition, and mutely pointed at a dim alleyway.
Freddy walked rapidly to the corner, glanced over his shoulder, and broke into a run. His shoes pounded on the cracked asphalt, and the cold air whistled through his nostrils. The alleyway was too narrow for vehicles, so the cops must have sent their patrol cars to cover the surrounding roads, setting up a perimeter in an attempt to cut off the fugitive.
The alley ended in a tall chain link fence. Lights were flicking on in the apartment buildings on either side of him, and he could hear muffled voices as police knocked on doors and searched the rooms. Freddy's mind flashed back to the morning of the robbery. In the diner, perusing the menus. They had been talking about fleeing the cops.
"I don't like to hide," Blonde remarked serenely, glancing over the menu.
"Even if everything's been fucked up?" asked Pink. His fingers were tapping the rim of his coffee cup. Annoying as hell. "Sometimes that's all you can do, man."
Blonde nodded. "Yeah, even then. I like to walk out of a place on my own terms… I think I'll have the waffles."
Vega wasn't hiding. The cops were wasting their fucking time hunting through those fucking apartments. Freddy scrambled up the chain link fence and dropped heavily to the other side. Gravel scraped under his feet; he was in a parking lot. His eyes scanned the walls covered in graffiti, the isolated pools of light around the lampposts, the rusting body of an old Cadillac. Beyond the parking lot, cars were speeding up and down a busy road.
He sprinted across the empty lot, darting by the lampposts, and skidded to a stop when he reached the sidewalk. His head swung from side to side as he searched frantically for Vega. He could still hear the sirens, and all around him people were muttering to each other, pausing to look around, wondering what the fuck was going on with the cops this time. He heard whispers about gunshots. Expressions of curiosity and apprehension were on every face. But there, way down near the very end of the block, walked a lone figure in a long coat. Casual, unhurried. Like a shark peacefully cruising through a sea of unease.
Freddy ran to catch up, zigzagging in and out of the late-night pedestrians, ignoring the gasps and curses as he dashed by, running flat out. His lungs were burning by the time he drew near enough to gasp: "Hey! Hey you! Hey – Vega!"
The man halted in his tracks and turned around. It was Vic Vega. In the yellow glow of a streetlamp his face was unnervingly calm. Still the same old psychopath. But he had changed, too. Gone was his cocky stride; he was hunched over slightly, and there was a slight wheezing in his breath. Freddy vividly remembered firing, hitting the guy twice in the chest.
"Hey Orange," the man said casually. "Nice scar." The corners of his eyes crinkled as he smiled. Charming bastard.
Freddy consciously stopped himself from raising his hand to his cheek, and assessed the situation, taking the moment to catch his breath. They were standing on the sidewalk of a busy road. There were people all around them. He could hear sirens wailing in the distance, but it would take some time for the patrol cars to arrive. It was up to him.
"It's been a while," Freddy remarked as soon as he stopped panting, keeping his voice as light as possible. He couldn't take out his gun and open fire on this guy like he really, really wanted to – not in such a public place with so many innocent bystanders. But Vega was wearing a firearm under his coat, and Freddy wouldn't hesitate to make a move if he tried anything.
Vega rubbed his temple lightly with his thumb. "Y'know, I've been meaning to thank you."
"For what?" asked Freddy, instantly on his guard.
"For stopping me from burning the cop. That woulda been bad, right? I mighta regretted it after the fact."
"No problem," Freddy replied sarcastically. He was just itching to smash in Vega's smirking face. The guy was playing with him. "Glad I spared you the guilt."
Vega smiled in that friendly, disarming, utterly chilling way of his. "Yeah, you took it all for yourself."
"You're trying to unsettle me. It won't work."
"I ain't gonna unsettle you, Orange." Vega peered up at the streetlamp as if contemplating its light. "Just putting the responsibility where it belongs."
Freddy clenched his teeth. That was the thought that had driven him to slash his wrists in the hospital, the thought that he was somehow responsible. He knew better now. "Okay, Vega," he said quietly. "I admit it. I was the rat. I was the fuckin' bad guy. But what happened wasn't my fault." He took an unconscious step closer to the other man, determinedly holding his gaze. "If everything had gone as planned, Joe woulda been arrested, and the rest of you woulda gotten good deals to testify against him. Nobody was gonna get hurt. But things didn't go as planned, and you know why? Because you started to fuckin' shoot everybody! So if that fuckin' bloodbath is anyone's responsibility, it's yours."
Vega blinked, then laughed softly. "That was very dramatic." Freddy glared. "I almost broke a sweat, that was so convincing."
"Yeah, very funny, motherfucker."
The sirens were louder now, and Vega's eyes flickered. He was going to do something, Freddy just knew it. He was going to try to get away. He couldn't get away. Oh god, he couldn't get away. "Vega," said Freddy, real quiet. "Don't do anything stupid." He unhooked the cuffs from his belt.
The other man grinned. "What, you're gonna arrest me?"
Freddy transferred the cuffs to his left hand and took a small step closer. Vega's grin vanished, and that was all the warning he gave.
There was a sudden gunshot. People screamed. The cuffs clattered onto the sidewalk and Freddy dropped to the ground, curling around his wounded foot. He drew his gun, but a black cowboy boot came stomping down on his wrist, pinning it to the pavement. Shit.
"That hurt a little bit?"
The adrenaline was driving away the pain, and Freddy started to notice things with an intense clarity. The yellow-orange glow of the streetlamp. The lights of a helicopter as it passed overhead. The shiny black barrel of a 9mm as it was aimed directly between his eyes. Freddy licked his dry lips. He wouldn't survive this one.
As he lay on the ground waiting for death, he felt an odd sense of calm. Vega was smiling at him, tranquil as ever. The people around them seemed to blur into a great wash of colour and an unintelligible babble. And Vega pulled the trigger.
The hammer fell back on an empty chamber.
"Fuck…" Vega rummaged in his pockets for spare ammunition. Freddy blinked, and it was as if the world started to move again. The sirens were growing louder. Vega glanced up, squinting, calculating, and in an instant a decision was made. He turned and disappeared into the night.
It could have been seconds or hours before the police cars came screeching down the road. People who hadn't screamed and run for cover were crowding around him, asking if he was okay. A young cop helped him sit up – Andrews.
"Freddy! Jesus, what the fuck happened to your foot?"
"Yeah, some cops are going after him right now." The rookie peered off to the side, squinting through his glasses.
"They won't catch him."
Andrews looked down at him sympathetically. The kid obviously thought he was raving. "It's okay, Freddy," he soothed. "Just relax, man."
Freddy lay back, content to let himself be taken care of for the time being. He would put up with their treatment, their medication, their therapy, whatever the fuck they wanted. He would do it all. He would recover. And when he did, he would go look for Vega, and wouldn't stop looking until that fucking madman was either dead or behind bars.
"The ambulance will be here soon, Freddy. You're gonna be okay."
Freddy gave a grim, hard smile. "I know I am."
A/N: Thanks for reading. Yeah, I know. I just manipulated events so all my favourite characters (Orange, Blonde, Pink) would get out of this alive. But as you may have suspected, a sequel is in the works. If you'd be interested in reading it, please tell me so and I'll post it.