Also posted to my account on The Prose. I don’t have a title for it yet.
The cold barrel of the gun tapped against Clint’s cheek and slid slowly, gently along his cheekbone. Jack was leaning in closer with a jeering smile on his flushed face, and Clint could smell the 80 proof on his stinking breath. It did nothing to improve the quality of the air that hung thickly in the little alley, especially thick around the dumpster immediately to the left of where Clint stood.
“What was that?” Jack asked again, softer this time. “I don’t think I heard you. Properly. So say it again, loose lips. Because if it’s what I think I heard, well.” The smile faded. He pressed the gun a little harder, a cold circle just left of his captive audience’s nose. “I guess that depends on what you said, right?”
Clint’s eyes narrowed, partly to keep from watering. Nothing but the gun was holding him in place, although Jack did have the height and weight advantage. The private detective hadn’t had time to draw his own weapons — not that knives would help him out much in this position. He found himself inching back and pressing hard against the rough brick at his back, trying to make up some wiggle room and determine whether or not he could simultaneously knock the they man’s arm up and duck down quickly enough to avoid a fatal shot. “I said that I wasn’t trying to piss you off.”
“No, no. I got that part. The, um.” Lifting the gun ever so slightly, he twirled the barrel in circles, as if trying to jog both their memories by winding them back manually. “The last part, you said. What was it?”
Clive gritted his teeth. Which was wiser, to not respond or keep him talking? “I said… that you’re just looking for an excuse to be pissed.”
It had been a dumb thing to say, in retrospect. That conclusion was reinforced by the return of Jack’s drunken sneer.
“Yeah, that was it. I’m pretty sure you heard me saying, yelling that at some business associates of mine. And that’s a shame, because…” Jack forced a tense laugh, his eyes fixed in Clint’s. “Because you weren’t supposed to hear that! Or hear what I did to them afterwards. But you… You go right out and say it. When I’m pissed off drunk.”
Shaking his head in mock disappointment, Jack took a step or two back and aimed the barrel of the gun straight between Clint’s eyes.
“Now that was stupid of you, Hastings.” The hammer clicked back.
Clint took a slow, careful breath as the next few hundredths of a second flickered by. He still had the empty beer bottle in one hand, which Jack seemed to have forgotten or at least discounted as irrelevant. Here goes nothing.
He tossed the bottle up, caught it by the neck, and rammed the end of it up against Jack’s gun arm as the rest of his body went into a drop. The already partly cracked butt of the glass hit right in Jack’s elbow and splintered into jagged shards. Clint twisted it as best he could without losing momentum.
A gunshot erupted in the still, fetid air. Jack stumbled back with a curse, shaking his head to clear it after the booming crack. The arm of his coat torn and spotted with blood.
Clint crumpled to the asphalt onto his side. He had been quick, but not as quick as the bullet. A line of fire burned on his scalp just to the left of center. Just a graze… As glad as he was not to be dead, he was more glad to have fallen away from the dumpster than toward it — cracking his skull on that would really wouldn’t have improved the situation. It was difficult enough not to gag at the smell of the standing water puddled on the uneven asphalt without adding a concussion to the mix, and he needed to stay sharp. Jack’s polished shoes were just out the corner of one eye as Clint recovered his wits, not close enough to kick. Yet.
“Hey.” Jack coughed, spat, and shuffled closer. He reached out and jabbed his fingers into Clint’s shoulder, grabbing onto his jacket and pulling until he managed to roll him over for a better look. Beyond the alley the city was deeply embedded in a bank of fog and that would have gone some way towards deadening the shot, but chances were someone must have heard. It was probably only a matter of time before they’d be hearing sirens. “Hey, did I hit you, loose lips?”
Now. As soon as Clint got a good look at where Jack was and how he was standing, he kicked with all his strength at the man’s nearest ankle, the one his weight rested on, then did his best to scrabble out of the way. Above him, Jack’s face hit the dingy bricks and he fell shoulder-first against the dumpster clutching his nose, sliding down against the metal and whatever noxious substance coated it. The gun fell, momentarily lost, and Clint looked around urgently for it.
There it was, in the shadow of the dumpster that he had just moved further away from, and partly under it. Maybe Jack wouldn’t find it in time. Blood from his scalp wound was beginning to drip down Clint’s face and he wiped at it with a sleeve of his coat, grown grimy from contact with the alley floor, while his other hand reached for the knife sheathed in his boot. As ready as he would ever be, he swayed to his knees, the highest he was prepared to rise until his vertigo subsided or he was forced to move.
“Fuck,” Jack spat out. His nose was scraped and bloody, but didn’t look broken. Still, looking significantly sobered up now, he shifted to sitting with his back to the dumpster and met Clint’s stare with a glower. “Son of a bitch… You’ll pay for that.”
Clint saw the tremor in Jack’s eyes when he saw the exposed blade, and gripped the handle tighter. He had to end this, quickly.
Go. He lunged forward, but this time Jack was quicker and was out of reach before he got there. The thud-scrape of blade on weak, rusted metal reverberated up Clint’s arm and he gritted his teeth, wrenching the knife free. Wiping blood out of his eyes again Clint knew the bastard must have slipped around the corner and run for the mouth of the alley, hiding outside where the fog was all but opaque. The other direction was a dead end.
There were two choices. Clint could wait him out. The police would no doubt arrive soon. Or he could try to leave the alley, and take his chances going blind.
He stepped carefully towards the alley mouth, palming a couple throwing knives from one of the inside pockets of his coat. Stepping silently. Getting control of his breathing. His warm, ragged breath billowed out in front of him in the chilly air, joining the oppressive mist. Some of the smeared blood on his forehead was beginning to dry at the edges but it was a distant prickle, easy to ignore under the circumstances. He was far more conscious of warm blood still running from his scalp.
Before reaching the alley entrance, Clint slowed. He listened and heard no footsteps, no movement… There. He heard fast breathing besides his own, ahead to his right. Jack couldn’t just let Clint, a more or less respectable witness to attempted murder, escape now. He was most likely waiting just outside the alley to tackle or cut him down from the side as he darted out. But the blinding thickness of the fog worked both ways; Jack couldn’t see him either.
He darted forward, stopping just short of the mouth of the alley but flinging the throwing knives around the corner at what he judged would be chest height. There were no hoped-for sounds of blades sinking home — just the clatter of one falling to the sidewalk and another winging into the nearby bricks. But a hiss from Jack let him know that he’d at least made a partial hit.
“That all you got, Hastings?” Jack growled, looming closer through the fog. Having lost his gun, he’d apparently decided to sacrifice the element of surprise for better visibility. As he approached, he flicked open a long, wicked jackknife.
Sirens were wailing in the distance, moving in fast. Both of them heard it. Any moment now Jack might run for it, escaping justice yet again. Clint couldn’t let that happen.
He swallowed, flexed his grip on the knife still in his hand, and broke his silence with one cold, hard word.
He loosened his grip, tossed the knife up just enough to catch the blade with his fingertips, and threw. It wasn’t weighted for throwing but he had been practicing, hell, for thirty years. The inside of his office door was a testament to that.
It struck home deep in the other man’s neck. At first, Jack merely seemed surprised. He dropped his own knife and reached up to touch the handle jutting out just above his collar bone. Then a bubble of blood broke over his lips and he fell heavily to his knees, trying to grip the knife to pull it out.
“I wouldn’t,” Clint said quietly.
Jack’s eyes met his, bulging from the primal fear of death that even the most hardened thugs kept buried somewhere inside. The dying man snarled in a spray of blood and pulled anyway. With the blade came a gout of dark arterial blood that hit the damp sidewalk with a steaming splat.
It was over. Clint had no interest in watching the body to hit the ground. Instead, he slumped against the nearest wall and held his head woozily. There was still wet blood trickling down the side of his face and the steady loss was finally taking its toll. A wan smile tugged at his paled features, turning into a ghost of a laugh — because the thing was, he’d had no idea what Jack had meant about his business associates. It must have just been a phrase he’d stumbled upon by blind coincidence.
As the flashing lights approached, Clint stepped unsteadily away from the brick wall and slowly raised his hands.