The pistol jumped in my hands, nearly jerking out of my grip. Tobias flinched and grunted, red staining his chest. I brought the barrel back down, not bothering to aim except for the center mass, like Harris had told me.
Another red circle beside the first. Tobias was groaning, cursing, gasping, crying.
This time, I aimed. I centered the front sight over his crotch, squeezed the trigger…and then changed my mind. Adjusted aim upward, hesitated, held my breath, and squeezed. His head exploded, and my stomach heaved, rebelled, lurched. I let the pistol hang in one hand as I leaned to one side, dry-heaving, nothing in my stomach to bring up except bile.
I set the gun on the ground and quickly stripped Tobias of his pants and tugged them on. They were way too big, but I used the belt to cinch them around my waist, tying the end of the belt around itself near my hip and rolled the cuffs up around my ankles. Gagging at the sight of the gory mess that was his head, I rolled his body to one side, struggling with his bulk, and worked his blazer off one arm, then let him flop back down and worked it off the other side, then donned the coat myself, buttoning it to cover my torso. It was wet with blood at the shoulders, lapel, and collar, but at least I was covered.
Next, I loosened and untied his necktie, gagging at the stench and the sight of brain matter. I dry-heaved again, fought it, shoved it down. I wrapped the tie around my knee and knotted it as tight as I could stand it, choking back the sobs of agony. But once it was tied, the throbbing in my knee lessened slightly, enough that I could hobble to the door. Remembering the way Henri had stood behind the door of his bar, I positioned myself to the left of the opening, so the door would hide me when it opened. I waited, standing on my good leg to spare my wounded knee. Something hard and heavy weighted down the pocket of my appropriated coat; I dug it out and found an extra clip for the pistol. Not knowing what awaited me, I exchanged it for the partially depleted one.
The door flew open and hit me, knocking me into the wall.
“TOBIAS! What the fuck are you doing?” Gina was shouting even as the door was still swinging open. “They’re here! We don’t have time for—” She stopped when she saw Tobias’s body. “Shit. Shit. SHIT!”
I was hidden behind the door, waiting, the heavy silver pistol held in both hands. I settled my weight on both feet, teeth clenched against the pain, involuntary tears of physical anguish streaming down my face. Blue-lacquered nails clicked against the edge of the door, pulling it away from me.
As the door swung away and revealed me, I brought the pistol up, blinking away the tears of pain, and fired as soon as the barrel was aimed at center mass.
Gina jerked as the bullet hammered into her, and then twisted in place, clutching her side where the round had hit her. Expensive blue silk went dark with blood.
“You?” she mumbled, her voice faint with shock and pain.
“Me, bitch.” I fired again at her torso.
She stumbled backward, bumped up against the wall. Rage swept through me, blinding me, taking over. The gun was exploding, jumping in my hands as I shot her, once, twice, a third time, a fourth. Gina’s entire body was a mess of red now. She slid to the ground, eyes glazed.
“That was for Valentine,” I said.
I blinked, felt the gun heavy in my hands. Saw in my mind what Tobias had done to Lisa. What he’d tried to do to me. What Gina had done to Valentine.
I ran one palm over my scalp, feeling blood and scabs and stubble. “This is for me.”
The wall was covered in crimson, my final shot going through her skull and pitting the wall behind.
She was dead, finally dead. And yet…it seemed almost anticlimactic; a single squeeze of a trigger, and she was dead.
My knee gave out, my strength ebbing, and I slumped to the floor on my hands and knees, coughing, sobbing.
They’re here, she’d said.
I couldn’t give up now.
Get up, I told myself. Get UP!
I forced myself to my feet, hopped and hobbled to the door, swung it open and limped through it. I lost my footing, and had to lean against the wall for support. I groaned through clenched teeth at each step away from the doorway, stumbling along a dark, low, ancient corridor lit by dull yellow bulbs in wall sconces every few feet. I saw a stairway ahead of me, a bright rectangle, indicating daylight.
I heard gunfire chattering. Automatics rattling, pistols barking. In the distance, a slow and rhythmic BOOM…BOOM…BOOM…BOOM, a heavy rifle.
The stairs would be my downfall. There was no way I could make it up that many steps. My knee was bleeding through the pant leg, aching and burning and weak. I was dizzy, thirsty, starving, my entire body throbbing with a million points of pain. Blood was salty on my lips, sticky at my nose and mouth, drying and tacky on my neck and head.
I heard a step above me, a voice shouting in…Greek, maybe? Or Russian? I wasn’t sure. Prone on my stomach on the stairs, I craned my neck and peered up, saw sunlight on a gun barrel, a silhouette of man standing at the top of the stairs. I’d made it too far to give up now. I still had the pistol in my hand, I realized, so I rolled to the side, brought my gun up and struggled to aim. The barrel wavered, and I squeezed the trigger. The explosion was deafening.
He ducked backward out of sight as my gun went off, and this time the recoil jerked it out of my hand. It arced over me and landed on my back with a sharp impact to my spine, and then tumbled between my body and the stairs. I scrambled and twisted to reach it, but my strength was waning, fading. I felt it, scrabbled for it, felt the cool wood of the butt against my palm.
But he was there already, right above me, two steps up. He had a machine gun pointed toward the floor. I rolled to my back and lifted the pistol one more time, sobbing with desperation as he lifted his machine gun. But instead of shooting me, he swiveled his weapon around behind his back and bent toward me. The sun was a blinding orange ball framed by the stairway entrance, making it impossible to see anything but shadows and silhouettes.
I was going to die, now.
“Good thing you missed,” a deep, sweetly familiar voice said.
I blinked, dizzy and confused, and tried to focus on the figure above me.
It was my Valentine.
I sobbed and collapsed to the steps, relief sapping me of any remaining strength.
I felt myself lifted into Valentine’s arms, and this was familiar now, his brawny arms cradling me against his chest, his gorgeous pale blue eyes worried and fearful and reddened and leaking tears as he gazed down at me.