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Autumn, Part Five
A Solstice story
Start at the beginning of the Solstice series
It was no mere shout, but a roar, a command from the clouds above. Mayor Long, dressed immaculately for the Mixer, had seized the microphone from the deejay moments into the crowd's stunned silence. Here and there men and women dropped to the wooden floor, arms covering their heads as though cowering before some angry storm.
Corbin caught the Mayor's eye, turned, and bolted from the room. Cary, his nose twitching, followed close behind. Seeing two men run was all it took, and the screams began as everyone in the room raced toward an exit, away from the shattered glass of the Town Hall's main doors.
Mayor Long closed his eyes, took a deep breath. The two tricksters had set off the riot, and those on the floor struggled to rise over the herd instinct of the attendees. He glanced about, threw the microphone to the floor, and strode forward to grab Kim Soon by the hand.
"Let go! Let..."
"You'll be safe. Come on," he pulled at her wrist, powerful for all his slight build. Craning his neck to the front, he called out, "Jorge! Jorge, come on!"
The little restaurateur stood to one side of the doors through which the shot had come, folding chair in both his hands. He shook his grey head, never turning, with all his bright attention on the ruined doors.
"Idiot," Long muttered. He tugged at Soon's wrist once more, then pulled her from her feet as the second gunshot erupted.
The right door flew open, kicked in from the outside by a sturdy boot. The crash of metal on concrete broke some spell, and Soon turned to run after the Mayor in his flight down the hall.
At the entrance, Jorge remained silent, waiting for the gunman to enter. The rifle barrel came first, then turned to the left. Jorge brought the chair down on the barrel. With a shout, another bullet fired into the ground.
Jorge was bringing the chair back up when the rifle butt was jerked backward to connect with his grizzled chin, a sharp retort of metal on bone echoing through the hall—covering the crunching sound of bones snapping against unexpected force.
His rotund form crumpled to the floor as the masked gunman stepped into the room.
"Long!" He shouted over the panicked screams, in a voice to carry across the fields of war. "Where's Long! I'm not after any of you!"
There was no answer as the crowd boiled and pressed about every entrance. The gunman shook his head before firing a shot through the back of a man's leg, bringing him to the floor and pressing the remainder of the crowd forward.
The gunman strode to the wounded man, pressed the rifle barrel to his neck.
"Long," he shouted, "Where's Mayor Long? You or him! You! Or him! Understand?"
"Oh God," begged the man, voice choked with pain and tears, "Oh, sweet Jesus, don't kill me, God, don't kill me, please, God, don't ..."
"YOU! Or him! WHERE IS LONG?"
"Had the mike," the words rushed out, "he had the mike and then he ran with some woman, that way, I...that way." He pointed to the doors through which the men had run. "He went that way, don't kill me, please, God, don't..."
"O, thou good and faithful servant," muttered the gunman, racing forward through the fluorescent lights of the hall.
Corbin and Cary stood panting behind the door of the Mayor's office. Corbin held the door open with one hand, watching the corridor carefully for pursuit.
"Is this part of your plan?" Cary gasped.
"No. I told you, this is my town. Why would I bring in...hold up," he cautioned, raising a palm. He heard footsteps running quickly down the hall, prepared himself to slam the door.
Long and Soon came racing around the corner, and Corbin held the door open a fragment wider. "Are they behind you?"
"NO!" called Long, "Hold it, Corbin, hold it..."
He beat Soon to the door and pushed past Corbin, racing toward the antique desk. Soon ignored the helping hand Corbin put forth, running into the room to throw herself against the opposite wall, just as Cary had done. Corbin closed the door quickly, but with a minimum of noise, then flipped the lock and crouched behind the other wall.
"What's going on?" Soon panted, tears evident behind her panic.
"Gunmen, or gunman," said Cary. Where Soon choked back tears, there was laughter at the base of his panic, the knife-edge joy of the hunted who lives a moment longer. "Corbin says he didn't bring them. Where's your Sheriff?"
"Ought to be..."
"On her way," said Soon, stepping on Corbin's words, then staring at him. "You..."
"Sheriff. Listen." Long spoke urgently into the speakerphone on his desk. "One or more gunmen. Town hall. I'm safe. Byrne, Soon, and one more here in the nest. Be quick."
He jabbed a finger at the phone, then turned quickly to a cabinet standing at the back of his office. "You three get to the sides and stay there. Go." He unlocked the drawer, reached in, and came out with a shotgun.
Cary shook his head. "Give me a gun."
Corbin laughed. "Even if I thought you could use one..."
"I only keep one," said Long, "and I'm the only one who knows where it is. You get to the sides. I don't know you."
"This is Schilling," said Corbin with a smile.
"He's the one Stephanie..." Soon began speaking, then ground to a quick halt.
"Oh, well then," Long sighed, bringing the shotgun to bear on him. "You can definitely get to the wall. Alongside Corbin, please. And do it now, before I decide the Sheriff is right. I don't have time right now for subtle."
Cary shut his mouth and plastered himself alongside the wall. Corbin stepped alongside him, folding his arms across his chest. "So what now?"
"Well, if Stephanie arrives, I'm leaving it between the two of them." Long sunk below the desk, leaving only the shotgun and his head visible, aiming at the door. "So I'm inclined to hope in that direction."
"But she can't!" Soon said. "You didn't tell her anything! She's got no warning!"
Corbin's head came up. "She knows there's trouble. What more does Stephanie need?"
"She doesn't know how many—we don't know how many!"
"What if it's a trap?" Cary looked to Soon. "There might be a whole gang in the parking lot, all in their plain black cars..."
"Shut it," said Corbin, jabbing an elbow into the scrawny man's side. "Don't even try. You're right, we don't know how many, so we can't tell her. Stephanie's a veteran of more actions than you can count, Ms. Soon. She doesn't go in anywhere without thinking it through."
"How do you know we're safe here?" Cary continued.
"Because," Corbin said slowly, "we always figured a night like this might come, and we've made preparations against it. The glass is bulletproof, the door's reinforced, so are all the walls. Besides, your gut told you to follow me here, didn't it? You said it yourself, Schilling. You get out. It's what you do."
There was silence for a few moments before Cary began snickering. "Touché."
Corbin's shoulders shook for a moment with suppressed laughter, before he placed a finger to his lips. "Shhh," he warned, "stay down. Stay quiet. She's not here yet."
Mars knew a bit about urban combat, and knew, too, that the police would be right behind him. He'd spent time studying the floor plans of the building, enough to know by heart where the Mayor's offices technically lay, as well as how many turns it would take to get there.
He raced down the straightaway corridors as quickly as possible, keeping his eyes from any security cameras that might pick up the color or definition of his irises. When an intersection arose, he listened for only a second, then spun with his rifle at the ready.
The Mayor would be in his bolt hole, with the inner circle. There would be some way out, unseen and unknown. He knew it in his gut, knew that Long would never allow himself to be simply trapped in a den. He knew it, too, from studying the plans. There was too much space in some walls, too many "storage lockers" along others, to be realistic architecture in the modern day.
It was a gamble, and a risk. It was a calculated risk, though; against the possibility of being caught. It was worth it, to see an end to the sleek and sliding rule of the man who thought he ruled Solstice, who played its people like pieces on a chessboard. Besides...
He'd have some means of escape. It was impossible to think that he wouldn't.
The front hall was in chaos as Sheriff MacIntyre strode in and grabbed an officer by the arm.
"We've got the front locked down." He nodded to the grey-headed figure of Jorge. "One man dead, snapped neck, two women trampled in the riot, one shot in the leg, two idiots faking it for later lawsuits. That's here."
"Back's covered." The officer was familiar with his Sheriff's laconic style. "Completely."
"Come on, then," she said, drawing her pistol. "It's the dragon's den for us."
Story and image by Ivan Ewert, Copyright 2010