“Up on that ladder they say
Does a brother have to climb
To touch the light…”
-Afghan Whigs, “Honkey’s Ladder”
Light and heat.
Light and heat and…time?
Time. All the time in the world. He had all the time in the world, compressed into a fraction of a second. Time to see it all again.
Let’s go to the replay on that…
Panicelli raised his hands. Andy dropped his foot but kept the night stick tip against the mobster as he unslung his cuffs. “You have the right to remain silent. Everything you say—”
The scene slowed. Time crawled like a sloth after fifteen Guinness and triple-shot of Jameson’s 75 year reserve as a chaser. He watched the bullet part the glass beside him. Spiderweb cracks rippled from the impact point. The glass tumbled away in slow motion. Sharp, jagged snowflakes in a strong downdraft.
The bullet continued onwards. It left a blurry contrail as it tore through the air and spun towards its target. Panicelli’s head…and the tank behind it.
Ok, let’s freeze that here. The bullet stopped as struck Panicelli’s skull. Right, class, what have we learned here? Anyone? You in the back…
The shot was fired from an elevated position? Probably from a vantage point on a nearby warehouse rooftop?
Very good. What else?
The shooter was more than an expert marksman? He was able to zero a target from a distant rooftop through milked glass and rupture gas canisters behind him on one blow…
But what if Panicelli wasn’t the target?
Silence. Everything rewound. The chase through the warehouse spooled out again.
Windows. Clear windows the whole way until the last, back storage room, where he took down Panicelli. They spun around a few times during the fight. A shell game.
What if you were the target? What if the sniper, as good as he was, couldn’t tell between one shadow and another?
A clear shot was gone. But one of the shadows was your target. And they were in a room filled with something your employer didn’t want the police seizing intact. So, what do you do?
You take the shot.
So, to sum up: Panicelli was not the primary target. You were. Congratulations. Someone thinks you are a threat. The tableau screeched into fast forward. Panicelli’s head was gone and a lone bullet tore its way into the canisters behind the dead mobster. Bullet didn’t deform that much when it killed him. Probably a ‘cop-killer’ variant. Definitely set up to get through a vest if he couldn’t find a head shot.
He watched the canisters fold inwards as the bullet ripped open the smallest of holes. A loud roar from the canister did the rest as the pressurized contents blew the walls outwards. Jagged chunks of stressed metal flew from the rupture into him.
But the blood red gas didn’t explode. He felt heat, the thick wash of a raging fire, yet the gas just hung in the air. Where was the fire?
The fire’s in the center section of the warehouse. Remember the other canisters you passed? The ones used for everyday production? That’s what’s burning. Someone didn’t want you seizing what this place was producing, so they decided to torch everything.
Wait a sec. Who are you?
You already know me. Just not yet. Understand?
He did. He understood. He didn’t know how, but he understood. They’ll blame this on my people. They’ll blame it on us and I won’t be able to touch them. He saw the fight ahead, felt the frustration building. A syrupy heaviness ran over his limbs. He was tired.
You can stop it. Or you can just stop.
How? How can I stop it?
I’ll help. But there’s a price.
There always was. What do I have to do?
“Wake up! Come on, don’t make me slap you or do something just as stupid.”
Andy woke up. Smoke bit into his eyes as it billowed from the burning warehouse beside him. He blinked and his vision cleared. The Fox smirked down at him as she pressed a small respirator to his mouth.
“Welcome back, hero.”