Chapter Thirteen: The Sixth Nychthemeron.
Jaylynn and I ventured forward to the for us right side of the balcony. We had been a lot closer to it than I initially thought and it didn’t take us long to find it. We looked for a suitable tree and I suggested the large oak with bare branches that I had seen during my escape attempt, partially shadowed by the two large pine trees on the balcony’s side. Jaylynn thought it would be a suitable tree too, so we snuck over.
“Help me up,” she said, still looking at the branches. I put the handguns, extra ammunition and the knife on the ground next to the tree, put my back against the bark and cupped my hands on my knee for her to stand on. She threw her rifle with my guns, put her hands on the tree and stepped on my hands. I straightened up, lifting her a little more so she could pull herself onto the lowest branches.
“Oh, this is nice,” she said after pulling herself up. “Very nice. Hand me the guns and stuff.”
Jaylynn laid down on the branch to reach for the equipment. After finding a spot to put it she wrapped her legs around the branch and lowered her torso, reaching down to help me up. Her shirt slid down, exposing her belly. Jaylynn shivered slightly as the cold wind blew past.
“Hurry up,” she hissed impatiently as she held out her hand. I grabbed it and she lifted me as high as she could. I put one foot high on the tree’s trunk and the other on Jaylynn’s other hand. Balancing between the trunk and that hand, I let go of Jaylynn’s other hand which she moved to support my leg too as I grabbed her waist. She gasped.
“Bloody hell, Ash. Your hands are freezing!”
I half-heartedly apologized, grinning at the goose bumps on her otherwise flawless skin. She lifted me higher and I slid my hands up past her legs to keep my balance until I could reach the branch. I awkwardly pulled myself onto it using the trunk. Still panting, I helped Jaylynn back up too. She climbed to the other side of the trunk and used the scope on her rifle to take a look at the balcony.
I didn’t need the scope to overview the situation. At least, not to see the part that was of use to me. The balcony and mansion were still well lit, which provided us with the advantage we expected. We sat in the total darkness and could barely be seen. I couldn’t see Keith or Sue at all even though I knew exactly where they were, which meant the pajamas wouldn’t be able to see them either.
There was a total of five Pajamas on the balcony. One on each outer corner, two walking hither and thither in the middle patrolling slowly, and one man stood with his back against the door to the house. The stairs were unsupervised. Jaylynn used the scope to scan the mansion’s windows, counting the number of Pajamas she could see. She didn’t get a very high number, which gave me hope.
Suddenly the man on the corner nearest to us readied his gun. He took aim in our general direction and yelled something in a foreign language. Jaylynn and I held our breaths as the patrols ran over. I hid behind the trunk and Jaylynn made herself as small and flat as she could on the branch she was on. The remaining guards looked our way too, ready to act. Keith seized their moment of distraction and fired. The gun flashed, the gunshot cracked through the air and the man at the door dropped to his knees and fell over. Blood spread quickly from his neck as the guard on the other corner panicked and screamed loudly.
“Sharp shot,” I said quasi-amazed. “But that flash is going to betray our position.” Jaylynn nodded.
“I was hoping it would be fast enough for them not to notice, but I’m less sure now,” she said. “We’ll have to act fast.”
The remaining men on the balcony were surprised, shocked and visibly panicked. One of the patrols ran over to the body to check it while the other patrol yelled something as he hurried over to the other corner. The look-outs on the corners turned on flashlights on their guns and started scanning the woods. Jaylynn had steadied her gun on the branch she was still laying on, having backed up a little holding the trunk between her legs for balance. She aimed, fired, and - graciously shattered a second-floor window.
“Bloody recoil,” Jaylynn hissed. I sensed it best to keep my mouth shut. The sound of the gunshot and the shattering window caused the patrols to panic more. They shouted at each other and one of them headed for the building, probably to request support.
“You’ve got to shoot him,” I said. “Otherwise we’ll be outnumbered.” But Jaylynn was still trying to reload her gun, it wouldn’t budge. Perhaps the helicopter crash had damaged it.
“Five bloody bullets per magazine and I get the gun with just one left in.” She dropped the empty magazine to the ground. Keith shot at the pajama that now put his hand on the doorknob, hitting him on that hand. The guy yelled and withdrew his bleeding hand. Jaylynn managed to load the magazine properly and shot at the same guy the moment he opened the door with his other hand. He twisted the knob in his dying breath and fell into the building with his feet still outside, disabling the door from falling shut.
“That’s better,” Jaylynn said. “Ish.”
There were three men left now: the two look-outs, frantically scanning the woods with their flashlights, and the remaining patrol who was scared shitless and literally peeing his pants. Suddenly a face appeared in the broken window, looking rather surprised. Jaylynn fired at it, hitting a pajama in his shoulder. The man screamed loudly, fell to the ground and alarmed the rest. Seconds later several more Pajamas came running onto the balcony.
“Oh, now you’ve done it,” I judged.
“Shut up,” she hissed. Keith was doing his part, firing bullet after bullet while remaining carefully hidden and apparently changing positions between every shot so that he would not get caught. Jaylynn had some difficulty reloading but managed to hit a few men nevertheless. There was too many Pajamas outside now to keep alternating shots but the two-front assault was not something the Pajamas seemed to have been prepared for. Despite Jaylynn’s surprisingly rocky aim, which I ended up accrediting to her unstable mindset and the annoyances piled up on extreme emotions, the two sniper rifles fired in quick succession and dropped a lot of bodies.
At that moment Sue took a big risk and abandoned cover. She climbed out of the tree Keith was firing from and under the cover of the shadows and the distracting gunfire she managed to reach our oak unseen. I climbed down to the lower branches of the tree we sat in so that I could converse with her.
“Ashley,” Sue said as she reached the backside of the oak. She made no effort to lower her voice. Nevertheless, I could barely hear her over the sound of the rifles. “You wanna see if we can get into the building and hunt down Greenberg himself? It’s not like we can be of much help here and I think Jaylynn lured most of them outside.” She didn’t say it judgingly, but it felt off anyway.
“Let me check with Jay,” I said and I climbed back up. Jaylynn was now visibly pissed off by the malfunctioning of her rifle.
“Sue and I are gonna infiltrate, we’ll be back later,” I briefly explained. Jaylynn mumbled something of which I wasn’t sure what it was, but I took it as an acknowledgement, grabbed the handguns and pocketed my knife. Carefully and awkwardly I dropped myself from the lowest branch onto the ground. Sue sniggered.
“It’s not like I did much climbing, you know,” I told her. She raised her hands apologetically but the smile wasn’t wiped off her face entirely.
We quietly made our way to the right side of the building, again using the trees as cover and the gunfire as distraction. When we got to the side of the building we kept low to the ground, staying below the windows and as close to the wall as we could. Sue walked in front of me, stopping at every window to check if I was still there. We couldn’t possibly be spotted unless there were still guards patrolling outside that were not part of the battle on the balcony, or if we got seen through one of the windows. When we reached the middle of the building, Sue fully turned around.
“We probably have to break a window,” she whispered. Now that we were on the side of the building the fight on the balcony was somewhat muffled and it seemed wiser to stay quiet. I slid up against the wall next to the window and carefully peeked inside. It was one of the few windows without drawn curtains and alike everything around the mansion, the room I saw was well lit. I saw bunk beds on both sides with untidy sheets, a sink on the right side of the door with water dripping from the faucet and two cabinets with the doors wide open revealing more Pajama uniforms inside and in front of it. I noticed two different kinds: apparently the Pajamas wore different pajamas in bed. Most important of all, I noticed the door was closed and that there was nobody inside. I looked at Sue.
“What’s your plan?” I whispered.
“Getting in,” she replied. She got up too, grabbed her handgun by the barrel and smashed the window with the back of it. The glass cracked but she only made a tiny hole. Nevertheless, it made a lot of noise.
“Give them a minute,” I said as Sue prepared to open the window further. “If they don’t show up fast they didn’t hear it and won’t show up at all.”
We flanked the window with our guns ready and waited. A while later I nodded and carefully put my hand through the newly created hole, reaching around for the handle. Seconds later the window flew open wide. With some minor effort we managed to climb inside.
Sue made her way to the sink at once when she got in and drank water until she ran out of breath. While I followed her example, she panted slightly and examined the room.
“Do you think we should disguise?” She asked.
“No,” I answered, wiping my mouth with my sleeve. The fresh, clean water made me feel revitalized. “We’re too small anyway, we’re not gonna fit in that stuff.”
“It’s fascinatingly remarkable how people so very disciplined can be such scruffy pigs, really,” judged Sue. I sniggered.
“Fascinatingly remarkable?” I quoted. Sue blushed and look down a little.
“I guess I copy my parents sometimes,” she defended. “They always talk like that.” I shook my head.
“You probably shouldn’t,” I said. “I don’t think it would make you very popular.”
“I was never part of the cool kids, but I don’t think I would fit in anyway.”
“Not if you talk like that.” She rolled her eyes.
“Well, thank you for the life advice,” she said, “but you’re a little late. I don’t think we’ll be going back to school.”
After our break Sue and I flanked the door. We realized it would swing open towards the hallway, so we put our backs against the wall and Sue turned the knob, pushing the door open quietly. I aimed my gun through the crack at the hallway as it slowly came into view. It was empty. I nodded at Sue and she moved up against the door, peeking around it to check the other end of the hallway.
“Clear,” she whispered, moving from the door to the other wall of the hallway. I slid out of the room too and kept my back against the wall opposite hers. We quietly closed the door we came through and headed away from the balcony. The further we would put ourselves from the fight, the smaller the chance would be that we ran into stray Pajamas. After a while the corridor made a turn to the left, towards a closed double-door and at a window. When I peeked through it I saw the driveway. It wasn’t guarded.
“We could just run,” I said, longingly glancing at the lanterns lighting up the gravel and the grass. In the distance I could see the gate with the bars far enough apart to squeeze through.
“No, we can’t,” replied Sue.
“We could run and come back with help.”
“What help?” she snapped but reconsidered and stepped closer, putting one hand on my shoulder. “Look, I know it seems tempting to run but I can’t leave Keith, and you can’t abandon Jay.”
“Jay betrayed me. She was only in it for Sarah anyway, and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t plan on getting out alive.” We could still hear the gunfire in the background. At least one of them was still alive.
“I don’t plan on getting out either,” Sue admitted, “but I cannot take any chances, Ash. I gotta try and give it all I got. I gotta try, for Keith.” I gazed at the driveway for a while before I answered. Sue didn’t rush me despite the time pressure we have. She gave me all the time I needed, which I respected.
“Alright,” I said. “You’re right. We gotta do what we can.”
We headed for the double doors, quietly opening them slightly.
“It’s the entrance hall,” Sue whispered. “Wait here.” She slid through the small opening and disappeared for a moment which made me nervous. Luckily, she returned fast.
“We got people in the corridors left and right,” she whispered. “They’re not paying attention to this side, though. I think they’re scared. If anything, they’re not expecting us. Anyway, if we hurry we can slip past their view and up the stairs.”
“Alright,” I whispered back with a nod. We crouched and slid through the door together. I closed it behind me, keeping a fixed eye on the Pajamas in the hallways. They had their backs turned to us, so we quietly hurried to and up the stairs while staying as low as we could. There was a hallway on top of the stairs, going in both directions.
“Greenberg’s office is on this floor,” I said as I looked around. I remembered it from my encounter with the Mayor on the final morning. “I’m not sure where, though...”
“We’ll have to split up then,” Sue opted reluctantly.
“Or, we could stay together and search the place, they don’t know we’re inside,” I countered.
“True. They do know they’re being attacked, however. Greenberg might try to run for it, if he hasn’t yet,” she replied. I nodded.
“I guess splitting up is the best option, then,” I agreed uncomfortably. “Shoot him in the head for me.”
“Be careful,” Sue said warningly. “The balcony is on this floor as well. Good luck, Ash.” We hugged shortly and then parted ways.
On my own, the building suddenly seemed a lot larger and threatening. I tried to keep my footsteps as quiet as possible but they seemed to echo off the wooden floorboards like cannonballs. The corridor I followed lead towards the front side of the building for a while but took a hard left and stretched to the far end instead, with doors on either side. I read the signs next to the doors as I passed them. They weren’t very interesting but it kept me organized and self-aware. Meeting room 209. Conference room 212. It worked well up until I heard voices coming from behind the door with the sign “Office 215” with another sign below it reading “Delano Jones (Head of Security.)”
“It’s getting out of hand, Mister Jones, sir,” said a dark, male voice. I could tell he tried to sound calm and confident but failed to hide his panic completely.
“We are following orders, Lange. It is our duty to bear the responsibilities of the deaths of these brats. That’s what we’re getting paid for, after all.” Delano Jones sounded determined. He had no traces of panic but did sound mildly annoyed. Nevertheless, he didn’t seem fully convinced of their cause.
“It’s no longer just dead brats though, sir. Our own men are dying on the balcony, we’re under attack.” There was a short silence before Delano answered.
“Under attack?” he finally said, audibly surprised as if he hadn’t heard the gunfire. “By who?” I was shocked that the head of security wasn’t aware of what was going on outside. I could hear the gunshots – muffled and far away – and in a night that was supposed to be quiet, surely Delano would know something was going on.
“We don’t know who, sir. We got everybody available on the balcony to locate them but they’re remarkably well organized. They know what they’re doing. We only had a few men here, however, but I called a code red and there’s more on the way.”
“You called a code red on a bunch of teens? We had more people on the balcony than they had in all!”
“They’re not just ‘a bunch of teens’ anymore, sir. We’ve made killers out of them. Skilled ones, they’re monsters!”
“Teens, Lange! Bratty teens! Just shoot them, we’ve been cleared to kill them if they attack us!”
“We’re trying, sir, but they’re well prepared.” I rolled my eyes. We would have been well prepared, if Sarah’s untimely death hadn’t made us irrationally rush an attack. If this was already throwing them off this badly, how would a coordinated attack have paid off? Delano let a moment slip by before answering. When he finally spoke again, he sounded distrusting and agitated.
“Why are you here, rather than leading your squad into battle against these ‘monsters’?”
“My squad is dead, sir.” I smiled. Keith and Jaylynn were doing good work.
“So why aren’t you?” Now it was Lange who waited a moment before answering. I heard shuffling of feet.
“Sir?” he finally replied, unsure and scared. A book slammed onto the table.
“The rules clearly state that the leader goes down with his squad alike a captain goes down with his ship. If your squad is dead, why aren’t you?”
“I... I fled, sir.”
“Coward!” Delano yelled. I heard a drawer open and close. Lange gasped, a gun clicked.
“Sir, what are you doing?”
“Coward!” Jones yelled again, beside himself. I heard the revolver fire four, five times. Lange screamed like a young girl and something heavy hit the door. I heard a chair squeak as Delano dropped into it. These guys were mercenaries. Convicted criminals broken out of jail and paid for what they were doing. They were trained to kill, not to handle situations like this. They were stressing out and almost as irrational as we were with our attack. First the interrogator’s suicide, now the head of security was killing his own people? Perhaps this experiment Greenberg was doing wasn’t just about us teens and watching what would happen if we were told to kill each other. Maybe it was about watching what happens to hitmen in this position of power. The more I thought about that, the more that made sense to me. There had been cameras throughout the mansion, not in the yard. Greenberg would have been able to watch his Pajamas more closely than any of us. I would have to ask Greenberg about that if I found him before Sue did. First, however, I had to take care of Delano. I was determined to make him pay too. He’d said it himself; he, too, was responsible for the deaths of my friends. I gathered all my courage and knocked on the door, making Delano sigh. I wasn’t sure if what I was about to do would turn out well but I had to try.
“What?” he snapped. I had my gun loaded and ready. I knocked again.
“Oh, Christ. You people don’t even dare to open a fucking door anymore? You’re cowards, the lot of you!” I heard Delano get back up out of his chair, approach the door and drag Lange’s body out of the way. I held one of my guns with both hands and aimed it at where I suspected his head would be. I was shaking badly, but at point blank range that wouldn’t matter much. Suddenly the door opened wide. Delano Jones appeared: a handsome Spanish guy not far in his thirties. He was wearing a suit and not the Pajama uniform and I was slightly taken aback by his appearance. I hadn’t expected someone that attractive.
“You’re the coward, Delano,” I said, far more courageous than I felt. “All barricaded in your office while your men are getting owned by ‘a bunch of brats’.” I pulled the trigger without giving him a chance to defend himself. I figured with an appearance that attractive he could throw me off too easily. The gunshot would alert the few Pajamas that were still guarding the hallways, I was sure, but everyone else would be consumed by the ongoing fight on the balcony. I observed as if in slow-motion how the bullet escaped the barrel of my gun and pierced itself into Delano’s throat. Against all odds, Delano smiled as he slowly slid down against the doorpost. Shit, even his smile was handsome.
“Thank you,” he quietly whispered, with effort, choking on his own blood.
I wasn’t sure whether Delano had been at fault or just at blame. It didn’t feel fully right to take his life like that, despite Delano himself thanking me for it, because the suit made him look deceivingly handsome and trustworthy. Nevertheless, the deed was done and thanks to the conversation I overheard between him and Lange I felt a little better. As far as Lange had told Delano, Jaylynn and Keith were holding out pretty well and neither of them had died yet. I dragged Delano back into his own office and was just about to leave when I spotted a keychain on his belt. Realizing that could be useful, I used my knife to cut the elastic cord and pocketed the keys.
I looked around the office once more and my eyes slid across a phone on the desk, next to the intercom. My heart jumped. I had agreed with Sue that we couldn’t leave the others behind to save ourselves but no one ever said we weren’t allowed to call for back up. I picked the phone up from its charging pad, praising the fact that it was cordless, and crawled under the desk to hide. I imagined Delano pacing around his office angrily while being on the phone as I dialed my parents’ landline and waited for a response. It ended up being my own voice talking to me, a recording made half a decade ago where I sounded excited and happy.
“You’ve reached the answering machine of the Conroy Family. Please leave your name, phone number and reason of contact and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can!” I waited for the beep before I started talking.
“Mom, dad, it’s me, pick up the phone,” I whispered, knowing my voice was echoing through the living room at home. It wasn’t uncommon for my parents to leave the phone ringing until the machine picked it up. That way, if it was someone they didn’t want to talk to, they could just pretend not to be home. I waited a moment before trying again.
“Come on, pick up the phone!” I said, more to myself than to them at that point. I broke the connection, analyzing my options. My parents clearly weren’t picking up the phone right now and I was hiding in an office with two dead bodies. If there were more squad leaders like Lange, it wouldn’t take long before I would be found, so I had to act quick but thorough. I decided to re-dial my parents’ landline and leave as much information as I necessary.
“You’ve reached the answering machine of the Conroy Family. Please leave your name, phone number and reason of contact and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can!”
“You’re so going to hate yourselves when you check your messages and hear this,” I told the empty living room. “Even more so if I wind up having died between now and then. Listen, I can’t risk trying again, I don’t have time. Greenberg’s got us in his fancy summer-estate mansion and yes, I know you’ve recently checked that after Sarah managed to call her parents and you wound up finding nothing but we’re really there. We were in the yard but we’re back at it, now. Shit’s going down right now and you better fucking hurry with the rescue party because we’re going to fucking die out here.” I broke the connection as my voice started to quiver and tears started streaming down my face. I started shaking badly as the sudden realization hit me that it was starting to be likely I would never see my parents again. I heard the stuff on the desk shake with me as I tried to regain control of myself and re-dialed one more time. It was typically me to be passive aggressive about things but if this really was the last time I could talk to my parents, that was no way to end things. Sure, after my brother’s death things hadn’t exactly been easy between me and them but despite of what I told Sarah, I knew they cared. Perhaps I hadn’t been the best daughter.
“You’ve reached the answering machine of the Conroy Family. Please leave your name, phone number and reason of contact and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can!”
“Look,” I continued as soon as the beep hit. “Whether I make it out or not– you should know that I really loved you.” I couldn’t keep a grip on my own voice, but I didn’t want a guilt trip to be my potential final words to my parents. “And I’m sorry…” I waited a while before breaking the connection again, hoping they would pick up the phone after all. After a while I realized my parents really weren’t going to pick up and that I was wasting valuable time. Greenberg could be making his escape right now, or worse.
I crawled out from under the desk and had the phone hovering above the charge pad when I suddenly had an idea so wild I froze for a moment, wondering whether or not it was worth the risk. Then I realized that I had literally nothing to lose, especially if this was my last night alive. I climbed back under the desk and dialed another number. My heart jumped again when at last, it got picked up by a person rather than a machine.
“I’m in a raid,” Arthur snapped. “This better be important.” I heard his mouse and keyboard rattle in the background.
“Arthur, I need you to do something for me,” I said. The rattling stopped and I heard people yell at him through his headset.
“Ace- I mean, Ash! Jesus, I thought you were dead,” he said, unable to keep a steady voice.
“I’m not dead but I might be, soon. It’s getting pretty fucking close. I need you to drive to my parents’ house and…” He interrupted me.
“Nope can’t do, not allowed to drive.”
“Are you serious? I don’t care if you’re allowed to drive, get to my parents’ house and wake them, break a window if you have to, tell them to check their answering machine.”
“What, now? Where are you, anyway? And can’t it wait? I mean we’re almost-”
“No, it can’t wait, I could be dead in an hour!” I yelled as quietly as I could, hoping the gunfire outside would give me enough cover. I knew he spent all his time on his computer but I hadn’t thought he wouldn’t know at all about what was going on with me and the others.
“Will you give me a kiss?” he asked. I heard him put down his headset.
“Just get to my parents,” I said, annoyed, after which I broke the connection. Perhaps calling my ex-boyfriend was a mistake.
I put the phone back on the pad and left the office, quietly closing the door behind me. I fiddled around with the keys until I found the right to lock the door and conceal the bodies, at least for a while. I continued with somewhat elevated spirits and courage, feeling the adrenaline rush through my veins. I pocketed the keys again and continued further down the corridor in search of Greenberg’s office. The corridor had reached the side of the building, taking another hard left to head towards the balcony side. I saw there were no doors until the corridor would make another left, further up ahead. There were only scenic paintings on the left wall and windows in the right. I peeked through the windows but saw nothing interesting, so I hurried over to the next corner and peeked into it from the side first to see if anyone was in it. There were closed doors on the left side and more windows on the right that overlooked the balcony but the corridor itself was deserted. I quietly made my way further down, sticking close to the wall. I noticed broken glass on the floor after a while and looked up to see a shattered window and some blood stains. This was the window Jaylynn had shattered. I moved over to the window and looked through the hole.
There was a lot of yelling on the balcony, mostly in foreign languages. I could only see four men alive from where I was but I could tell they still hadn’t killed either Keith or Jaylynn as they were still shooting in both directions and getting shot at from both sides as well. Two men still frantically tried to find their attackers with their flashlights and even though I wasn’t sure where Keith was, I could tell they were far off with where they tried to find Jaylynn. I felt like luck was on our side tonight as I moved back towards the wall and continued moving through the corridor. Greenberg’s office was not much further down the hall.
The double doors were ajar and I pushed them open to find Mayor Greenberg sitting in his chair, looking to his right. He was holding a gun with both hands, resting his elbows on his knees, aiming it at-
“Sue!” I gasped. Sue was on her knees at the end of Greenberg’s barrel, with her hands and feet tied together and to each other and her mouth taped shut. She looked at me apologetically with her eyes full of fear, tears, and above all agony. Sue had given up on struggling; the rope used to tie her down had cut her wrists and ankles severely and the rope was slowly turning red, her blood dripping onto the carpet. She seemed to have slipped into a state of semi- or even quasi-consciousness and numbness. her eyes failed to acknowledge the recognition of a friend and ally but merely begged for sympathy, compassion and freedom. My sympathy and compassion wouldn’t do her any good – she already had those – and freedom wasn’t something I was able to give her right now.
Greenberg looked up when I came in. In reflex I raised both my guns and aimed them both at him. He had already been already smiling when I entered the room but at the sight of my horror and shock concerning little Sue his smile broadened even more. I wanted to shoot him right then and there, but I knew I wasn’t the master marksman that I needed to be to kill him right away, which meant he would have time to shoot Sue. I wasn’t about to let that happen. For now, I would have to use the guns as intimidation only, no matter how big the urge to shoot him got.
“I bet you weren’t expecting that,” Greenberg needlessly pointed out.
“She’s bleeding,” I stated. “You monster, let her go.” Without taking my eyes off him I tried to appear as calm as I possibly could, both in an attempt to intimidate Greenberg as well as to comfort Sue. The Mayor pressed the ‘talk’-button on the intercom that stood atop his desk.
“Delano, could you come over for a second, please?”
I took my eyes off Sue and looked at Greenberg instead. He kept the gun on Sue with one hand reaching into his desk with the other without fading his smile, patiently waiting for a response. The corners of my mouth curled up slightly.
“Delano, come over, please. It’s urgent.”
He drew a second gun from the desk and I realized Sue was held at gunpoint with her own gun. He put the other gun on the desk to use the intercom again.
“Jones, my office, now.”
He picked the gun back up and aimed it at me.
“Not so comforting, is it, when you can no longer depend on your friends,” I said, daringly, still holding both guns aimed at him.
“He’s not a friend, he’s an employee,” he replied, still smiling. “He’ll be here any second now.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Delano is dead,” I bluntly stated, waving one of the guns. “I killed him.” Greenberg’s smile froze and the shock visibly hit him. When he spoke, his lips barely moved.
“You can’t have killed Delano,” he slowly said. “I would have known, David Lange was here earlier.” He gestured at Sue without looking at her. “Had to drop that thing off. He said he was going to see Delano right after. If you killed Delano, David would have come back to tell me, perhaps with you wrapped up like a little present, too.”
“David is dead too, Delano did that.”
“What? That makes no sense, David got us one of you.”
“I guess Delano didn’t know about that. Or maybe he was more concerned with the fact that he abandoned his squad.”
“He did, did he?” Greenberg thought for a moment. “I guess he had it coming, then.”
The gun aimed at Sue was no longer as tightly aimed. The news about Delano’s death seemed to have shocked him enough to get distracted. There had been more to the relationship between Delano and the Mayor than he was letting on. Perhaps he was distracted enough for me to shoot him without harming Sue now.
“Now that you’ve found me, what are you going to do?”
“Same thing I did to Delano.” He seemed unimpressed, which was disappointing.
I pulled the trigger on both guns. One didn’t fire, the other missed and shattered a book in the cabinet behind him. Greenberg grinned.
“Outstanding,” he said sarcastically. “For a moment there I, truly, almost thought you were going to kill me.”
I dropped the empty gun on the ground and grabbed the other one with both hands, steadying my aim and firing again. The bullet grazed the top of his head. Greenberg was shocked but other than a small scratch still unharmed. I lowered my aim slightly, going for the chest this time instead of the head and pulled the trigger again. Nothing happened. The gun was empty, the spare magazines were still up in the tree with Jaylynn. Greenberg got over his initial shock and started laughing. I drew my knife instead, having that in one hand and the empty gun in the other.
“My turn!” Greenberg said, still laughing. He fired both guns simultaneously, hitting Sue in her shoulder but missing me entirely. Sue groaned weakly and toppled over but I couldn’t tell whether she was dead or alive.
A pajama came running towards the office, we could hear his footsteps.
“Mayor Greenberg, sir! Mayor Greenberg!”
The scene froze as he burst through the door. I tightly held onto the empty gun and the knife and Greenberg still had both guns aimed but made no attempt to fire again. The pajama stood frozen on the threshold.
“Henley, snap out of it,” barked Greenberg. “What is it you need?”
“Oh, yes. We’ve got them, sir.”
“Are they dead?”
“No sir, but they ran out of ammo. They’re being taken to the basement.”
“Alright, take this one too and put her with the others.” He gestured at Sue again, then put both guns back in the drawer. “Come back up after that, I need a word with you.”
“Yes sir.” Henley picked up Sue, more careful and gentle than I expected, and left the room.
“I’m getting sick of this shit, miss Conroy.” He poured himself a scotch and sat back down into his chair. I dropped the empty gun I was still holding and held the knife in front of me.
“You played a good game,” he said. I didn’t respond. I was surprised at his sudden change of mood and inched closer with the knife. He seemed to pay no attention to me but gazed out of the skylight to reminisce.
“Jaylynn and you teamed up well. Together with Sarah you were already nearly invincible and then Thalia-”
“I really have no need for a sum-up of the past week, thanks,” I snapped. Him mentioning Sarah pissed me off even further. “It’s still quite fresh in the memory.”
“True, true.” There was a long, awkward silence. I considered asking about whether the experiment was about the Pajamas instead of us but I didn’t want to draw too much attention to myself. I inched closer some more, hoping to sneak up on him before he noticed.
“Would you fancy a drink?” he asked, suddenly turning around and making me freeze. Was he insane?
“No,” I replied, wondering what on earth he was thinking.
“Very well.” Somebody knocked on the door and I sighed, annoyed; I had been almost close enough to make a move. It was Henley.
“Henley, be a dear and kill this girl,” Greenberg said.
“What?” Henley and I choired.
“I really thought I made myself clear.” He turned his chair back around and seemed oddly interested in his bookcase as Henley shakily brought his gun at the ready. I looked deep into his cobalt-blue eyes for a sign of empathy but spotted none. Neither did I spot any determination to shoot me, however. He lowered his gun again.
“Sir,” Henley said. “I think-” Greenberg interrupted him.
“You are not paid to think, Henley!” he yelled. “Shoot her!” Henley put the gun to my head but didn’t fire. Greenberg let out a disgruntled cry as he swung around, grabbed one of the guns from his drawer and fired at Henley before he could protest. I screamed and jumped back, watching Henley drop to the ground. Greenberg had hit him right between the eyes. Two more Pajamas ran in. This was madness.
“Take her away,” Greenberg said like nothing had happened. Without hesitation the two Pajamas approached me and had me disarmed in a matter of seconds. One of them twisted my right arm, forced it behind my back and dragged me out of the room while the other opened and closed the doors. They forced me down several sets of stairs into the dimly lit, damp basement, to a part I hadn’t been in before. I saw Keith, Jaylynn and Sue all with their hands above their heads, chained to the wall and their mouths taped shut. Sue and Keith were both unconscious - or dead - but Jaylynn’s eyes looked at me with a mixture of guilt, anxiety and agitation as I got chained to the wall alike the others. While one of the two finished closing the locks on the chains, the other pulled his hand through my hair and put the tape on my mouth, then kissed it.
“Sweet dreams princess,” he said darkly before hitting me in the face with the stock of his gun, knocking me out.
I woke up with a pounding headache and a stiff body that hurt on all ends. Jaylynn sat directly opposite of me. Her eyes were looking directly at me but she was only half conscious. I saw a strip of blood run down from her wrists and noticed her hands were moving. The cuffs used to restrain us seemed to be remains from the time of slave trade and the bolts were rusted. Jaylynn was attempting to unscrew them with her bare hands which was making her bleed a lot. Sue was still unconscious, making it seemingly less likely that she was still alive, but Keith was actively struggling and wasting his energy. I tried to change to a less painful position but moving hurt so bad that I gasped and gave up on it as soon as I began. I could tell from Jaylynn’s lack of surprise that she had undergone the same process hours ago.
I suddenly noticed an agony in Jaylynn’s eyes that wasn’t physical. It had nothing to do with the way she was restrained on the fact that she was more or less cutting her wrists, it was guilt. She felt responsible for our situation. After all, she had decided not to plan a proper attack but getting into the fight head first. Sure, our actions had been irrational moves. We had pursued revenge over Sarah’s death rather than thinking about things rationally but no one of us had gone into the attack against their will. We had all applauded Jaylynn’s rage. We had been hurt, gotten angry and demanded our revenge as well. In hindsight, given that we were now stuck on a wall, it may not have been the best plan but we had taken a lot of Pajamas with us, so I didn’t regret our decisions. I considered Jaylynn’s conviction of guilt ill-fitting but I couldn’t tell her that. I was so exhausted and hurt I could barely keep my eyes open at all, so I looked at Sue instead to avoid Jaylynn’s tear-filled gaze. Sue moved slightly, causing Keith to struggle harder trying to catch her attention. Sue tried to move her arms and looked up, tears streaming down her face. I noticed the gunshot wound Greenberg had given her. It looked like it shattered her collarbone, making the current position of her arms all the worse for her. It was still bleeding, too. She dropped her head against the wall trying not to move too much and closed her eyes. Keith finally gave up on struggling but kept staring at his sister as if hoping to communicate with her telepathically. I looked back at Jaylynn, who seemed to have given up. Given the amount of blood I assumed she had succumbed to the pain and reluctantly accepted that there was nothing any of us could do at this point. I followed Sue’s example and put my head against the wall too, closing my eyes and hoping Arthur wouldn’t let me down again. I didn’t dare to hope too much, he had never been very reliable.
Sometime later we were granted the company of no other than Greenberg himself. He entered the room with a suspicious grin on his face, locking the door behind him and drawing an old-fashioned revolver from his belt. He released the cylinder, emptied the chambers into his hand and chuckled as he spun it around.
“We’ve got ourselves a teeny-tiny bit of a problem,” Greenberg said. He pocketed the bullets and put the cylinder back in place. He then aimed at the wall and pulled the trigger. The gun clicked and Keith tried to back further into the wall, wailing slightly.
“See, I find myself here with more of you alive than I wanted to.” He released the cylinder again and filled two of the revolver’s chambers opposing each other.
“Luckily,” he continued while pushing the cylinder back in place and gave it another spin, “a good Russian friend of mine had a solution for me.”
Jaylynn and I watched him indifferently, knowing there was nothing we could do. Sue lost all care and didn’t even look at him. I wondered if she thought back to our escape opportunity at all, and if so, with what feelings. Keith had lost all control of himself. He was struggling a lot, tears of agony and terror streaming down his face as he tried to disappear in the wall.
“Who wants to go first?” Greenberg asked, spinning the cylinder again and aiming at every one of us, resting the gun for a second as he tilted his head left and right considering to pull the trigger.
“No one?” He chuckled again. “I guess I’ll be a good host and go first, myself.” He put the barrel up against his temple and without hesitation pulled the trigger.
The gun clicked and the cylinder rotated to a new chamber. Much to my disappointment, Greenberg didn’t drop dead. He smiled.
“I’ll even the odds,” he said, releasing the cylinder yet again and spinning it more before putting it back in place. He stepped further into the room until he was level with Keith and Sue, doing another step in Keith’s direction before he squatted, holding the gun in both hands as he placed the barrel between Keith’s eyes. Keith tried to keep his eyes on the gun, sweating like a pig and shivering hard.
“After all this time, still scared to die?” Greenberg spoke in barely more than a whisper but in the dead silence of that basement that was still loud enough for us all to hear. He got back up and gave the cylinder another spin while he walked over to Jaylynn, squatting in front of her and pushing her head against the wall with the barrel. Jaylynn kept calm and looked into Greenberg’s eyes without blinking.
“Now that’s a gutty gal,” he said cheerfully. “I’d almost be sad if you’d get a bullet. Almost.”
I closed my eyes and waited for the gunshot, but again the gun only clicked and Greenberg got back up.
“I guess you’re stuck with me a while longer, kid.” I watched Jaylynn breathe slowly. She seemed disappointed. Greenberg rotated the cylinder again and looked at me, tilting his head judgingly.
“I bet you’d behave just like Jaylynn,” he said. “You two are more alike than I gave you credit for. That’s no fun for me.” He moved back over to the siblings, looking at Keith who continued to wail and shiver, sweating badly. Greenberg grinned and moved to Sue. All Keith’s sweat had made the tape on his mouth come loose. He managed to blow it off, squirming wildly in his newfound courage to protect his sister.
“No!” Keith protested. “Not her, please! Do me instead!” Greenberg got up and turned around, keeping the barrel aimed at Sue but looking at Keith instead.
“It’s a two-in-six chance, Keith. It’s not like it makes any difference if I do you or her first.”
“Yes, it does! For fucks sake, do me first!”
“Fine!” Greenberg aimed at Keith, visibly annoyed, and pulled the trigger. The gun clicked but did not fire. Greenberg then held the gun behind his back, aiming it back at Sue without looking and pulled the trigger again. Jaylynn closed her eyes and Sue barely managed to gasp as the gun fired. The gunshot echoed loudly in the room and the bullet forced its way into Sue’s throat. She bucked and struggled for a moment, choking on her own blood as she threw one last look at her brother before dropping her head. Keith cried out loudly, well aware of his role in her death. He cut his wrists on the restraints as he cried and screamed.
“Happy now?!” Greenberg yelled at him, almost beside himself. Keith’s face turned red as he continued to struggle and wailed loudly.
“Are you fucking happy now?!” he repeated. “You fucking morons should learn to treat your authority with some respect. Shit like this happens when you don’t.”
Greenberg turned the gun back towards Keith and pulled the trigger three times until the second bullet spat out of the barrel and hit Keith in his stomach. Keith cried in pain and struggled wilder, coughing up his own blood as he looked up at Greenberg.
“This is what you get for not listening, Keith!”
“You fucking bastard!” Keith cried, spitting out more blood. Greenberg raised his foot and put it on the shot wound, pushing Keith against the wall. He mostly stopped struggling but kept tugging his arms. His wrists bled a lot but he didn’t seem to care.
“You should have listened, Keith! You should have done as you were told and behaved!” Greenberg ground his heel on the wound. Keith clenched his teeth and screamed through them in agony.
“I could leave you like this, you know,” Greenberg said, taking his foot off Keith’s stomach and putting it back on the ground. “You would bleed to death in a matter of hours if I did and you’d spent them looking at the body of your dead sister. Dead, because of you, Keith.”
Greenberg retrieved the rest of the bullets from his pocket and slowly loaded all the chambers. He then locked the cylinder back in place and prodded Keith’s wound with it. Keith had lost the ability to speak coherently and resorted to looking at Greenberg both in agony and fury, given up struggling completely as he groaned defenselessly. Greenberg moved the barrel from Keith’s stomach to his knee and fired, making Keith scream again loudly.
“I’d say you deserve this for getting your sister killed when you didn’t have to. Wouldn’t you?” Keith didn’t reply other than to pant and wail in pain. Greenberg wasn’t satisfied.
“I said, wouldn’t you?” He switched the barrel to Keith’s other knee and fired again, causing another wave of wails.
“Yes!” cried Keith. Greenberg hit him in the head with the gun.
“Yes, what?” he asked.
“Yes, I deserve it!” Keith screamed. “Please!” Greenberg moved the barrel again and placed it between Keith’s legs. Keith shivered in agony and fear.
“No, please don’t,” he stammered.
“But you just said you deserve it,” Greenberg reasoned, prodding the gun a little.
“Please… Kill me, don’t kill me. I don’t care. But not the b-”
Greenberg smiled as he pulled the trigger, making Keith convulse and shake wildly while screaming in pain.
Then I panicked. I had been in a state of hell for the past months - the last week had even been a state beyond hell - but this was the first time that I had a panic attack. I gasped for breath and started to hyperventilate but my mouth was still taped shut. Breathing through my nose didn’t suffice and I choked on the nothingness, the lack of breath and oxygen in my brain. I lost control of my body, convulsing myself and I felt the chains cutting through my wrists. I got dizzy, and nauseous. I looked at Jaylynn, struggling to stay conscious as my sight got blurry at the lack of air. Jaylynn looked at me worried, and angry.
“Don’t you dare to leave me here, Ash,” her eyes read. “Not now, not after all we did, not so close to the end.” I looked at Greenberg. He didn’t look like more than a blur to me but I could see the white line of his teeth; he was smiling. The bastard was amused by my struggling.
Suddenly the door burst open. A shade entered the basement, either that or I was hallucinating now, and hurried over to me at once. He yelled something towards the door as he ripped the tape off my mouth. He yelled very loud. It hurt my head and made no sense to me. I didn’t recognize speech, I no longer understood my own thoughts either. The blur conquered my entire vision as I vaguely noticed several more shades entering the basement, screaming loudly as well. I noticed now Greenberg put his hands on his head and dropped to his knees, still smiling. Then everything went black.