Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Chapter 10

August 30, 2028
2:03 p.m.

The darkness underneath the warehouse floor was stifling, rank with the smells of motor oil, sweat and dust. Bridge tried to get his eyes adjusted to the blackness but before he could, Stonewall turned on emergency lights with the flick of a switch. The enforcer must have been well-practiced at using this escape route, because Bridge would have stumbled in the dark for many minutes before locating that switch. The bay was bathed in a dull red light that turned it into a red-tinged nightmare of shadows. Stonewall moved with a practiced grace, his jaw set in determined, barely controlled anger.

“That way,” he said curtly, pointing a finger behind Bridge. Bridge followed the finger, trying to discern where Stoney intended him to go. The room was a dead end, a blank series of four walls. It took a second to realize that what looked at first like an impenetrable wall was in fact a tiny alcove, the recessed exit built so as to be invisible except from close-up. Bridge started towards the alcove, tripping over the hydraulic apparatus lining the floor. “And take this.”

Stoney tossed Bridge the pistol he'd grabbed from the hiding place underneath the bay. Bridge caught it awkwardly, barely grabbing the clip that followed. He spoke hesitantly. “I'm not really comfortable... I mean, I've shot one, but I've never actually shot anyone.”

“And I don't suggest you shoot anyone now. Killing cops is a sure way to get the needle, even in this state. But you know, they got 'em, so you better have one just in case. Just don't shoot my ass and remember to take the safety off.” The ex-footballer slipped through the crevice quickly despite his size, while Bridge had to wiggle a little to manage his way through. Behind the alcove was a long hallway with telecom pipes running both ways down the length of the dark corridor. Either end of the hallway was engulfed in shadow, the same red emergency lights providing the barest of illumination. Stonewall took an immediate left, flicking another switch as he passed. A small panel beside the alcove began to beep annoyingly. “We better vamoose.”

“Where the hell are we?”

“Old 20th fiber trunks, built to wire this area up back in the '90's. Once Twiggs found out this place was right on top of them, he had this emergency exit built. Don't nobody use these tunnels much anymore less a cable breaks.” The beeping sound started to fade away as the two adopted a brisk pace.

“What’s that beeping?”

“You'll find out soon enough.”

All Bridge could think of was explosives, and he quickened his step unconsciously. “Shit, you're gonna blow it up, aren't you?”

Stoney just flashed a mischievous grin. “Only a little piece.”

Bridge could feel the tunnel veer a bit left, though he had long since lost any sense of direction. The tunnel filled with noise then, a cacophonous FOOOMPH followed by a shrill ringing in his ears. A thin coating of dust shook down from the ceiling, followed by a gigantic choking cloud that engulfed the entire tunnel. Bridge cursed loudly, though he couldn't hear his own voice over the ringing. His eyes watered from the dust and he coughed violently. Stonewall was talking to him, but he couldn't hear. He tried to focus on the man's mouth, tried to read his lips but to no avail. The Mexican had a hand on Bridge's arm and was trying to pull him down the corridor. Bridge started to follow when the ex-footballer raised the shotgun one-handed and pulled the trigger.

Bridge felt the shotgun blasts more than heard it, two quick vibrations shivering past his right arm. He looked back in the direction the shots had been fired, seeing a dark uniformed officer thrown to his back. The explosion had opened the alcove further, and Bridge thought he saw a few limbs buried under the rubble. Another shadowed figure sprang from the hole in the wall, firing short, quick bursts from a submachine gun as he tried to make it across the tunnel, begging for cover that did not exist in the tight space. Bullets whizzed past Bridge and Stoney, one coming close enough for Bridge to feel the wind displaced on his cheek. The brief flashes from the man’s gun revealed a uniform with the letters SWAT emblazoned in white across the chest. Bridge threw himself backwards by reflex, raising the gun and firing wildly. He had squeezed off six shots by the time his back hit the ground, rolling over to face the attacker. None of the shots hit, but they were enough to send the target skittering down the hallway in search of cover.

Stonewall fired two more shots down the hall before yanking Bridge up violently by the arm. A little of Bridge’s hearing had returned, allowing him to catch the gist of what the Mexican was telling him. It amounted to moving his ass and Bridge obeyed with the blood rushing in his head. Dizziness followed by nausea passed over him, but he maintained his balance and kept going. Stonewall pushed him around a soft bend to the left, which switched back to the right in a serpentine pattern.

Suddenly the tunnel exploded in light, brighter than the sun. Only the fact that Bridge faced away from the source saved his eyesight, but spots still danced in front of his eyes. The concussive force of the flashbang replaced what little hearing he’d gained back with a new piercing ringing. He cursed out loud, but kept moving. Stonewall’s reassuring hand still pressed on his back, pushing him forward, around corners, and through a bewildering maze of tunnels that so thoroughly disoriented Bridge that he could have emerged from the tunnels into the kingdom of the Mole People and not been the least bit surprised.

Finally, Stonewall yanked his shirt, stopping him cold. The Mexican said something to Bridge, but Bridge still couldn’t quite hear it. The enforcer aimed his shotgun at one of the red lights illuminating the tunnel and blasted it, then took similar aim at lights to either side of the now darkened air and repeated his pinpoint shooting. Bridge was now thoroughly blind again, but Stonewall’s hand on his arm pulled him towards where he knew the wall to be. Bridge reached out his hands blindly, his fingers touching cold metal instead of the expected stone. It was a door of some kind, and he fumbled around until he found a handle. The door opened inward, a sliver of yellow light briefly dispelling the darkness. Stoney pushed him through quickly, shutting the door behind him with silent care. He emptied the shotgun of shells and jammed it into the silver bar that opened the door on this side. It would take some major effort to open the door from the other side.

“Give… pistol…” Stonewall said, barely breaking through the ringing filling Bridge’s head. He handed over the pistol and clips eagerly. Stonewall checked the magazine, slamming it back into place forcefully before hiding the gun in the small of his back.

“Where the fuck are we?” Bridge asked.

Stonewall pointed at the ground where a pair of rails ran into the darkness in both directions. “Subway,” he said gruffly. “They won’t want to follow us down here.”

“How do you know they won't?” Bridge asked, his vision starting to clear with only the occasional floater throwing off his balance. He felt the distant rumble of a train somewhere.

“Cops aren't coming into the subways anymore. They've given it to us.”

“Us who?”

“The gangsters, the gangs. The criminals, the hobos, the naco. They've been giving this place up more and more since the corps took over.” Stonewall pointed down the tunnel behind Bridge and started walking towards the barely perceptible speck of light. “Nobody takes the subway anymore. The rich got that new dirigible, the middle class got the taxis and the buses. The poor, they take the subway or they beat feet. Ain't no cops on the trains, hell, most stations don't even charge anymore. Haven't you noticed?”

Bridge shrugged, trudging along beside Stonewall. “I don't take the subway. My clients expect a certain style. I show up on the subway, they’ll think I’m some kind of lowlife. Ok, some OTHER kind of lowlife. But why aren't the cops down here?”

“Have you just really not been paying attention to what these pendejos have been doing to this town?” Bridge shrugged again, and Stonewall scoffed. “I suppose you haven't noticed what they're turning the Warehouse District into either.”

“I don't do business in the Warehouse District.”

“That's right; you don't deal with the poor people, do you?” Stonewall said with an irritable disdain creeping into his voice. “You just get the bourgeois their dirty pleasures from the lower classes.”

“You sound like some kind of communist.”

“Just know how the world is, brother.”

“Don't forget you're one of those bourgeois, brother.”

“Yeah, I am.” Stonewall's voice took on a wistful edge. “CLED’s been busy since the LGL got passed. They call it pacification, settling down all the neighborhoods that are still resisting the whole LGL thing. That's bullshit, of course. Those riots ran out of steam once the food came back. But the CLED's got to show some progress, bring the crime rate down to prove the grand LGL experiment is a success. How do you think they pull that off? By moving the crime around like the queen in three-card Monty. They've been busy evicting folks from houses, pushing the drug trade and hookers and dice games and whatever else they can into the areas with the lowest crime rates. The crime rate in the hot spots goes down. Even if it goes up in other places, it averages out, see? And if you look hard enough, you can see where they are moving the worst of the worst. It's a series of lines that run the length of the subways. And all of 'em lead down here. They're creating their own little version of ethnic cleansing, their little invisible class war.”

“How the hell did you get so political?” Bridge asked. He had a newfound respect for the footballer. He'd always thought of Stonewall as a typical superstar jock, a hardguy with little need for education. He'd probably underestimated the man by a mile.

“You think I'm just some dumb footballer, brother?” He shook his head. “You white guys, still think us Latinos are just lazy ass gangsters throwing down for our colors. My set went to college, motherfucker. Pumas didn't recruit me out of some Mexico City shithole, I got my degree in political science. I was gonna help the poor kids when I got done with soccer. I guess you never listened to Aristotle and me talking shit, did you?” Bridge shook his head. He noticed the ambient illumination growing with each step. The speck of light in the distance had grown taller and wider. They were nearing a station. “Course you didn't. That's a smart motherfucker. You should listen to him. Or at least, don't get him killed. We could use a smart brother like that. We're here.”

Stonewall reached a hand up to the platform about chest high. Bridge was surprised to find a hand reaching down to help the footballer up onto the platform. He looked up to see three gang members with automatic weapons and tattoos up and down their arms offering to lift Bridge up along with Stonewall. The Mexican began speaking in hurried Spanish to the three. One began talking to himself, and Bridge figured he was speaking to someone on a cell connection. After a few minutes, Stonewall turned his attention back to Bridge.

“We got you a ride coming,” he said flatly. “Take you into Downtown. Cops won't bother you there. You can also use the phones on the car, call anyone you want. It won't get traced. We've zeroed that bitch out. That line doesn't even exist in the records anymore.” Bridge was impressed.

“You're not coming with me?”

Stonewall shook his head. “No, brother, Twiggs' boys are going to have some serious heat on them once that slaughterhouse gets searched. I expect the Arsenal is going to get hot pretty soon. I'm headed back to Mexico for a little while, lay low. Whoever you got me involved with, they got the power to fuck with us something fierce.”

“Yeah, the mayor can do that,” Bridge said. Stonewall didn't bat an eyelash.

“Figures. That fucker’s in Chronosoft’s pocket so deep, he’s eating lint. I don't wanna know any more. Watch your ass, amigo.”

“You too. I owe you, Stoney,” Bridge said, trying to sound sincerely grateful.

“Save it. That thing you hooked me up with? Saved my life, whether you know it or not. We ain't square by a long shot.” The platform filled with a rumbling sound, the train pulling into the station behind Bridge. “Castro here gon' see you safe,” he said, indicating one of the three guards should accompany Bridge. “Nobody will fuck with you.”

Bridge shook his hand wordlessly then hopped on the train. Among the trash and gang tags littering the train, Bridge found a barely clean seat, trying hard to disguise his disgust at the accommodations. Castro didn't seem to notice or care. He leaned over a seat near the window, automatic weapon at the ready, one leg hiked up on the seat. Bridge noticed the tattoos on his left arm weren't tattoos, but decals covering the cybernetics like a sleeve. As the train got underway, he located the phone and began to make calls, a dangerous yet unavoidable plan forming in his mind. A ball of nervous resignation plummeted into his stomach as he settled on his next move.

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