Cameron Bane

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gut-wrenching suspense


With a shriek of tortured metal another bullet slashed by my face, tumbling end for end by the sound. Ricochet.

Tucking myself further back into the three-by-three steel cubbyhole at the end of the hall, not for the first time in the last ten minutes I questioned my inability to say no to pie. No doubt about it, if I got out of this alive I was going to buy a Stairmaster. Maybe two, one for each leg. In circumstances like these, inches could mean death.

Resisting an urge to panic, I quickly pushed it away as I glanced down and checked my weapons again. One was still hopelessly jammed, the other one empty. So much for that. I know it’s weird, but rounds just don’t seem to last as long as they used to; I lay the blame for that squarely at the feet of Rosie O’Donnell. It would have been sweet for a bullet fairy, Disney-like and with a soft blue neon glow, to come flitting in right about then to bring me some fresh ammunition, but truth to tell what I really needed was something with a little more authority. Like maybe a rocket launcher.

“Mister Bane?”

Boneless again, with that grating, reedy voice of his. Although I doubted he much cared what I thought of it. About that or anything else.

He liked his voice, I knew. He liked it a whole lot, as a matter of fact. In his heart of hearts I think he believed he sounded like a white Johnny Mathis. He didn’t. The labored wheezing of his speech beat coarsely against my ears, putting me in mind of a man with a twig lodged in his larynx.

“Hello. Earth to Mr. Bane.”

Boneless sounded awfully confident, reedy voice or not. He and his men were nicely ensconced at the other end of the hall, safe from anything short of a tactical nuke. Safe enough from no-bullets me, at any rate.

“Come now, speak up. That last one was a bit close, I’ll admit, but you’re still alive and with us. For the moment. So here’s some food for thought, if you’re able to digest it. I believe you’re completely out of ammunition, and have been for the last few minutes. Am I right?” He waited for an answer he wouldn’t get. “No matter. The only reason I haven’t rushed you, or had one of my men roll a hand grenade your way is because you have something of mine. I wish it back unharmed.”

He meant the data disk I’d stolen; he didn’t know I’d already hidden it.

“So let’s take a moment to pause in this fracas for some itemization. First, you’re bleeding. I should know; I inflicted your wounds. Plus you’re afraid. Who wouldn’t be, in your position? Finally, you and I both know there’s no rescue coming. Not in this lifetime. There’s only one way out of this hallway, and that’s past me.” He brayed a guttural laugh. “And that’ll make a feller pucker, as your kinfolk like to put it.”

Still I kept silent, trying to breathe as quietly as I could. The hallway reeked of the sharp smells of burnt cordite and sour sweat.

“But you already know that. Now allow me to brighten your day and tell you something I’ll bet you aren’t aware of. Listen closely. A sad and muffled sort of crying?” He whispered the name. “Sarah.”

The word hit me like a ray. He was lying. She was safe. But on the off chance it was true, how in the—?

“Yes, I have her. Life is plain old chock full of surprises, isn’t it? She was apprehended before she even made it to the fifth level. The girl’s standing next to me right now, shaking like she has the plague. But we’ve had a good talk, she and I. Sarah told me she’s really hoping you’ll make the right choice here and not only save her life, but yours too.” His voice brightened. “I imagine she has a few choice words for you, if you’d care to chance coming out and talking with her.”

Yeah, right.

“But something tells me you don’t really believe I have her, Mr. Bane. Or may I call you Cameron?” Nope. “Anyway, Cameron, although over these past few hours I truly feel we’ve become fast friends, I don’t think your psyche could take the strain of knowing you’ve failed again. Much in the same way you failed your wife and children, and after that nearly a dozen of your men in the Gulf, what was it, over five years ago now.”

I refused the bait, biting back a reply. Recurring nightmares still plague me about those times. A heart surgeon couldn’t have slipped in the knife more effortlessly.

“I know you must have doubts. I would, so let me prove it. I’ve heard your young friend is a marvelous singer. Really something special.” Boneless’s voice dimmed slightly, and there was a rustling, shuffling sound. “Sarah, could I impose on you? Might I ask you to sing something for Cameron?”

If she answered, I couldn’t hear.

“You will? Wonderful. Make it something pretty.”

Seconds crawled by, and then whatever Boneless did caused me to know for a surety he had the girl, because she erupted with a shriek that nearly stopped my heart.

The note climbed in a crescendo straight up into the stratosphere and then some. It was a horrendous sound, reverberating off the metal walls, in an echo that was terrified, pain-filled, abandoned, and alone. Assaulting my ears came the agonized entreaty of someone completely bereft of hope, the heart-rending wail of a lost little child floating in the dark in a flooded basement as the black waters rise and mottled green pit vipers drop in through the broken windows and mommy and daddy’s not coming back, ever.

I’ve heard a lot of gut-tightening things in my nearly four decades on the planet, combat included, but nothing quite like that. I wouldn’t have thought it possible a human throat could make such a sound. And with that I vowed Mrs. Bane’s wayward son was not going to end his life in this lousy corridor. Not today. Not until my adversary and I had an accounting. Because everyone knows about payback, and its grim dictates would make sure before Boneless killed me, that smirking fool would die by my own hand.

The echo of Sarah’s screams faded, and I heard her tormentor chuckle, clapping his hands appreciatively as she wept. “That was lovely, Sarah, very sweet. But what do you say? Let’s try it once more, this time with feeling.”

The girl moaned her terror and denial, “Oh my God, somebody help me, oh no no no please God …” and I heard her simultaneously sob and gag, like something was being forced down her throat. My fingers twitched like fleshy spiders, impotent with fury.

Another time I’d felt this helpless; Boneless had alluded to it, the night back in 2006 when I’d overridden my gut feeling and unwittingly led my men into an insurgent trap near the Kuwaiti border, while following orders based on faulty intel.

I felt now like I had then. All I could do in that desert was lie there semi-conscious, fighting to get up and help them as the jagged shrapnel from the roadside bomb burned like liquid fire inside my body. All the while I had to listen to the screams of those under my command as they died. One by one.

But that was another time, and an equally dark place. Surely I had some options now … if I could just think of one. With my head concussed and broken ribs stabbing, intense sweat rolled down my beard-stubbled face, and my mind churned like a cigarette boat with a sheared-off prop as I searched for a workable solution. There didn’t seem to be one. Drawing a short ragged breath, I raked my eyes over the corridor one last time.

And that’s when I noticed something I’d missed before.

The twin industrial lights running along the hall were extremely long, spanning nearly twenty feet, but had been spaced only three inches apart. Just three inches. And the empty guns and clips in my hands weighed in at a shade over seven pounds … I almost shook my head at the insanity of the idea. But I didn’t, because that’s all there was.

Hefting the guns, I closed my eyes and muttered a prayer. Then with my heart pounding like a Detroit punch press and threatening to rip right through my ribcage, I shifted my weight and hurled the things as hard as I could straight up into those overhead lights.

And ducked.

A crash, a flash, and the hallway was instantly plunged into darkness. Howling a feral war cry as the glass rained down, I used that sudden gloom to barrel straight at Boneless and his troops.
My plan’s simplicity was trumped only by its daring. I couldn’t see a thing, but neither could they. My idea was that the very audaciousness of my attack would take his men by surprise, sending them scattering like so many field mice before a goshawk. Then I would scoop Sarah up and somehow we’d beat feet to safety. As I said, not a world-class plan, but it was all I had. The devil was calling this dance.

And no surprise. It didn’t work.

As I charged the line I felt the air around me tear apart in thunderous explosions of gunfire, the Stygian blackness detonating into a brilliant, deafening cacophony of light and sound. Boneless’s men not only hadn’t trampled each other in fear, they’d opened up on me in a deadly fusillade.

The plan had been worth a shot, even though I’d been told earlier this evening the security forces here consisted of former SEALs, ex-Delta Team guys, a couple of Marine Force Recon experts, and a few hardened Russian Spetznatz troops who’d whiled away their misspent youth terrorizing Afghan villagers. In other words, mercs all.

But I was committed now, like I should have been when I’d first agreed to this job, so I guess it really is true: you can’t change your destiny. Or can you?

I didn’t know. I just kept on barreling flat-out toward the guards like a broken field runner, juking and jiving this way and that, bellowing a rebel yell like one of Bobby Lee’s finest boys in butternut brown as I skittered down the pipe. And as I went I couldn’t help wondering how I ever got into this mess.

But I knew full well.

This is how.

One girl. One chance. All in.
One girl. One chance. All in.