Peter Bolton was a spy, but he was up for a career change. Especially right now.
At this moment, a man with an obvious steroid addiction problem was punching Peter in the head. He had been doing it for a while, and he didn’t seem to be getting tired. He wasn’t even breathing hard. Peter wasn’t breathing hard, either. In fact, he was barely breathing. He was pretty sure one of his lungs had collapsed when the man’s buddy had kicked him in the chest, and now he was having a hard time getting any oxygen into his body.
“Can’t we just be friends?” Peter asked the six-foot-five, muscle bound Chechen just before he punched Peter in the head, again.
Peter spit out a mouthful of blood. The good thing about getting hit in the head was that it distracted him from the pain in his broken hand. That had been his fault. He shouldn’t have tried to punch a steroid-addicted Chechen. Now, his broken hand was tied behind his back to his other hand with duct tape. They had also duct taped his legs to the chair he was sitting on at the ankles.
The Chechen’s friend was working on Peter’s buddy, Bram Jones. Another spy and Peter’s long time partner in the espionage business.
“You said the weapons would be waiting for us in the potted plant, but noooo,” Peter moaned in Bram’s direction before the Chechen hit him again. Bram’s left eye was swollen shut, and his nose was hanging off his face at a precarious angle.
“Goddamned bureaucrats. I must not have filled out the right forms,” Bram croaked.
The Chechen’s friend punched Bram in the nose, again. Another one like that and Bram would be Peter’s ex-buddy. And Peter hated funerals. The food was always bad, and the grass messed up his perfectly polished shoes. Not that there would be a funeral. Peter wouldn’t be able to get Bram’s body out of Russia. So, there would just be a memorial, and Peter would have to explain to Bram’s mother why her son’s body was left behind. Ugh. Peter hated talking to mothers. That reminded him that he owed his mother a phone call. If he didn’t call her every Sunday, she would hound him like a ruthless stalker.
That wasn’t acceptable. He didn’t need two mothers angry at him.
So, Peter needed to turn this whole debacle around before Bram’s nose was punched into his brain. He looked down at his shoes. They were splattered with his blood. “You messed up my shoes. Now, why’d you go and do that?” Peter asked the Chechen. “Just when we were becoming friends. I was going to invite you to a barbecue next week.”
“Hey, you didn’t invite me to a barbecue,” Bram said to Peter. “You like him more than me?”
The Chechen and his buddy stopped punching for a second, and they looked from Peter to Bram and back again, as if they were trying to follow the conversation. At that moment, Peter threw his body up and back and landed hard on the wood chair, breaking it into pieces. His legs were still attached to the chair legs, but he could stand. He lifted his arms up behind him and dropped them down hard, ripping the duct tape.
The Chechen’s eyes grew wide in surprise.
“Oh, yeah,” Peter told him, kindly. “Duct tape is crap. Always use zip ties.”
“Zip ties are much better,” Bram agreed, breaking his binds. “I’ve never been able to break a zip tie.”
“Yep. Impossible,” Peter said and landed a right hook that sent the Chechen flying to the other side of the room. The Chechen tried to maintain his balance, waving his arms wildly, but it was no use. He hit the ground with a crash and Peter was on him as soon as he made contact with the wood floor.
“Ground and pound, baby,” Peter announced with glee. He punched him three or four times in the face with his good hand. As soon as the Chechen was out cold, Peter went back to help Bram.
But he didn’t need any help. Bram had choked out the other guy and was sitting on his chair with his legs still attached to the legs.
“What took you so long?” Bram asked Peter.
Peter put his hands up, as if he was looking at Bram like a movie director framing a shot. “You’ve never looked better than you do right now,” he told him.
“If my nose falls off, do you promise to catch it?” Bram asked, breathing through his mouth.
“No way, man. That’s gross. You catch your own nose.”
“Let’s steal their weapons and kill everyone,” Bram suggested.
“I’m all for killing the bad guys,” Peter started, but he was interrupted by a loud noise. The door burst open, knocking into the wall. A parade of bad guys stormed in, and they all seemed to suffer from the same steroid addiction as the Chechen.
“Do you think I can call a time out?” Bram asked Peter, as he furiously tore at the bindings on his legs.
“You can try, but I’m not sure they play by NFL rules,” Peter said. He dove for the Chechen’s buddy’s feet and got hold of his gun just as one of the other men reached him.
Peter let out two shots, and the man fell on top of him, knocking the air out of his good lung.
I so need a vacation, Peter thought as he struggled to stand in order to take on the steady stream of murderous thugs. Bora Bora’s nice this time of year. Or any time of the year. I could get one of those bungalows on the water. And room service. Lots of room service. Drinks with little umbrellas. That sounds good. But I really should visit my mother in San Diego. They have drinks with little umbrellas in San Diego, too.
As Peter weighed the benefits of vacation destinations, he shot two more behemoths before a third cold-cocked him, sending the stolen pistol into the air and Peter down to the floor, stunned and in pain.
So, this is how I die, Peter thought. Pulverized by a horde of guns for hire with steroid necks. Too bad about the little umbrellas.
But he didn’t die. At least he didn’t die at that moment. Bram tugged him up by the collar just in time. “Run away with me,” Bram urged.
“Where’s the ring? I’m not running away with you without a ring,” Peter joked. But he was running. Unarmed and injured, he knew when to run away from a group of men bent on his murder.
Bram and Peter sidestepped a couple of their attackers and made it out the door. But there were four more guys waiting for them in the hallway. “I’ve never felt so popular,” Peter said, as he and Bram found a side door and locked themselves in.
They looked at the flimsy lock on the door. “We’re so going to die,” Bram said. “Quick, do your MacGyver act.”
Peter looked around him. They were in a utility closet with precious little utility. Peter shrugged. “I guess I can made a bomb or a little gun.”
“I’ll make the bomb. You make the gun. I can’t make a gun. They didn’t teach gun-making at my high school,” Bram said.
“Damned public education,” Peter said, shaking his head.
It didn’t take them long. Any decent bomb maker could make explosives out of a few chemicals, and to make a gun, you only needed a projectile and a nail. It took them one minute, which was more or less the same time it took their attackers to break through the door.
Peter shot two of them, which allowed he and Bram to flee again and run down the hallway. When they got to the end of the hallway, Bram lit his Molotov Cocktail and tossed it at the bad guys. Peter and Bram didn’t wait for the explosion. They ran for it, down a couple floors and out of the building.
They were in a rundown neighborhood just outside of Moscow, and there wasn’t a friendly face anywhere. The steroid junkies were still after them, and they had more broken bones than not.
“In here!” Peter yelled. They ran into a squat building and barricaded themselves into a back room. It was a dump, full of trash and dirt. And it was hotter than hell.
“It’s hotter than hell,” Bram complained, tugging at his collar. They were still in their shirts and ties, but their suit jackets had been removed when they had been caught only a few hours before. Their backup should have saved them by now, but the home office was awfully quiet. “Since when does Moscow get this hot?”
“Plastic straws. Don’t use plastic straws,” Peter said.
“Plastic straws made it this hot? I’m never using one again.” Bram searched through the filthy room. “Eureka!” he announced and lifted up a box with a picture of a fan on it. “It’s a sign. It’s saying that we’re the good guys, and we deserve some relief from our plastic straw heat.”
“I would prefer a different sign, one that includes a rescue team, medical care, a suite in a five-star hotel, and a glass of bourbon, straight up.”
“That’s a big sign, pal,” Bram said and opened the box. He pulled out the fan, which was in pieces. “I guess we have to put it together.”
“I don’t know how to put a fan together.”
“How hard can it be?” He tossed Peter the directions.
“They’re in Russian. You read Russian?”
“I barely read English,” Bram said. Peter dropped the directions on the floor. “It comes with a little screwdriver and some screws. Easy peasy.”
Five minutes later, they were still struggling with the fan. “Center it so I can screw it in,” Peter yelled at Bram. He was dripping sweat and really needed some air.
“That’s what he said,” Bram said. “Look, it’s centered. It’s centered. Start screwing.”
“I’m screwing! Center it!”
Another five minutes later, they got most of the fan together, and Bram plugged it in. The fan started to spin, its blades grinding against metal as they moved. Bram and Peter put their faces in front of it, thrilled to get a little relief.
“Thank God,” Peter said. “I thought we were going to suffocate.”
Bram picked up a screw. “We forgot this one. What should we do with this?”
“I have no idea,” Peter said.
“It’s got to be important.”
“Maybe they put an extra screw in the box,” Peter said.
“Why would they put an extra screw in the box? I feel like I should do something with this screw,” Bram said, holding up the screw, like it was the secret to happiness.
The door burst open and the Chechen and his buddy stormed in. “They have a lot of staying power. Have you noticed that?” Bram said.
“Maybe we should have spent more time on making a weapon instead of setting up the fan,” Peter suggested.
Bram shook his head. “Nah. I’m proud of my fan. I might take it home with me after this is over.”
The Chechen and his buddy marched slowly toward them. They both held knives with jagged edges, and the Chechen was wearing brass knuckles. “It might be over real soon,” Peter said.
The Chechen and his buddy attacked quickly.
The Chechen went after Bram with his knife. Just as Bram was surely going to be stabbed, he hit the Chechen as hard as he could with the screw in his hand. The screw went through the Chechen’s forehead like it was toothpick into a club sandwich. The Chechen blinked once and then never again. He fell backward, stiff as a board and fell onto the floor. Dead than a doornail.
Or a screw.
“See?” Bram said. “I told you the screw was important!”
The Chechen’s buddy kept coming right for Peter. Peter was a big man, but his attacker was bigger. And angrier. He lunged with his knife. Peter grabbed the fan and shoved it in the man’s face. He screamed an ear-splitting, high-pitched scream as the blades of the fan sawed his face off. Blood and flesh went everywhere, splattering all over Peter and Bram. The man clutched at the remains of his face and crumbled to the ground.
He was dead, too.
“Gross,” Peter said, dusting pieces of face off his tie. “This is much worse than your nose.”
“You ruined my fan,” Bram complained. “It was a perfectly good fan, and now it looks like a scene out of Saw IV. I can’t take you anywhere.”
“How about Bora Bora? Would you take me there?”
Bram’s face brightened, and his mouth turned up into a smile. “I would love to. I mean, just as soon as they reattach my nose to my face.”
She ran through a dark tunnel. At least she thought she was running, and she thought it was a tunnel. She wasn’t totally sure about anything. Her mind was fuzzy, thick with the remnants of some kind of drug.
Only a few minutes ago, her brain had cleared enough to realize that she had been drugged. Before that, she couldn’t remember a thing. Her identity and her past were a complete mystery to her. Her first conscious thought came when she was already fleeing, already escaping. So, she didn’t know who or where she was fleeing from.
Now, she was only sure of three things: she was cold, thirsty, and completely stoned.
The cold problem was obvious. She was stark naked. She wasn’t wearing a thing, not even shoes.
Naked, alone, and stoned. I’m probably a party girl. And I don’t have a lick of sense in my head because why am I running for my life, naked and stoned in a dark tunnel in the middle of nowhere?
She didn’t know the reason. And she didn’t know if she really was a party girl. But something did tell her that she really was running for her life. The fight or flight response was exploding in her, and she figured that a naked young woman better choose flight over fight if she had any chance of survival.
“Oh!” she gasped.
Her bare foot had caught on something sharp, and she stumbled. Catching herself, she clutched her foot and removed something sharp from it. Then, she continued running. She was in good shape. She felt like she could run forever, and she noticed that she had little body fat. Either she was health conscious, or it was more proof that she was a vain party girl.
As she continued to run, she finally caught the faint whiff of fresh air.
Thank God. I’m almost safe.
Cold, with a fuzzy brain, the only other thing she knew was that her ear hurt. It wasn’t an ear infection kind of hurt. Instead, the outside of her ear hurt, as if she had been fighting Mike Tyson and he bit her. Then again, even though she didn’t know who she was or where she was, she was pretty sure that she had never fought Mike Tyson.
The scent of the fresh air grew stronger, and her fight or flight response waned, as the promise of freedom grew more real. She slowed down a little, trying to avoid stepping on anything else that would tear at her feet.
It was a mistake. As she slowed, she heard heavy footsteps behind her. They were running faster than she was, and by the sound of the footsteps, it was a man, and he was wearing shoes, unlike her.
Something inside her told her that the man following her was her attacker. Somehow, she knew that he was the person responsible for the state she was in, for the pain in her ear, for her drugged head, and for her amnesia.
That’s what she had. Amnesia.
It wasn’t just that she had blacked out and didn’t know where she was. But as she sped up and ran full out toward safety, she understood that she didn’t know who she was at all. She grasped at memories, trying to rummage through her brain for some hint of her past.
There was nothing.
Nothing at all. Not a memory of her parents, of her childhood, or of growing up. Nothing about her first job, school, or a pet dog. Nothing about her favorite foods or even what her face looked like.
Her mind was a complete void, and nothing was more terrifying than that, not even the attacker who ran after her.
She sped up even more, throwing away any fear of stumbling or stepping on something sharp. She ran for everything she was worth, and with her amnesia, she had no idea how much that was.
The funny thing about amnesia was that it didn’t erase ego. She had plenty of ego, and her ego was screaming at her to stay alive. No matter what, stay alive. So, it was evolution that was going to save her, the biological need to live, not any memories of who she was and where she came from.
She could have been a cave woman or an Amazonian warrior princess. It didn’t matter. Her ego was telling her to run for her life. Do everything you can to survive. Nothing else matters. It flooded her body with adrenaline and epinephrine. Her blood was racing with it, pushing back any fatigue that she might have or residual drug in her veins, hardening her will to make it to safety.
Without her identity, she was merely a biological being, programmed to survive in order to make babies and propagate the species. Whoa. How do I know that?
She wondered if she was an evolutionary biologist. Perhaps she a professor at a university. She didn’t feel like a professor. First of all, professors wore clothes, and she was stark naked. Were professors party animals who got stoned and lost their memories in the middle of nowhere?
She doubted it. If professors went to a party, she was pretty sure that they went with a friend and didn’t wind up in this mess.
If this was who she really was– a stupid woman who wound up murdered because she was a party animal and got drunk and didn’t have us an ounce of sense– she didn’t want to be that person. She was disappointed that this was who she was. She wanted to be someone more serious, someone who traveled a lot and had reasonable adventures, like three-hour snorkeling trips or horseback riding in a National Park somewhere.
Those kind of adventures. Not this kind of adventure.
Not this stupid horror movie kind of adventure where she played the dumb chick who got killed, solely because she was a moron.
Oh, I hope I’m not a moron.
The footsteps behind her grew quieter, and she realized that it was because she was running faster than he was and was finally making distance between them. Finally. She sped up even more. She was fast, the adrenaline pushing her to sprint-level speeds.
When she finally broke free of the dark tunnel, she sucked in the fresh air, greedily. It was as if she hadn’t breathed fresh air for a long time. As if she had been starved of fresh air. As if she had been locked away for a very long time.
She shivered, and it wasn’t just because of the cold. She couldn’t remember anything, but she had the terrible certainty that she had been held captive, and it was only now that she could escape.
Not that she was sure she was escaping successfully. She was naked and in pain, and when the adrenaline wore off, she would probably collapse. She knew she was thirsty, probably dehydrated. It was cold, and she was naked, and she didn’t know who she was or where she was. She said a prayer that she was near a road, near a town, but when she finally broke free of the tunnel, she understood that she wasn’t any closer to safety.
There were trees everywhere. The moon and the stars peppered the forest floor with pinpricks of light, but it was still dark. It was nighttime. If she hazarded a guess, it was about two in the morning. She didn’t know how she knew that, but she did.
Oh, phew. I might be some kind of astronomer. They would know things like that. Not like stupid party girls. I would rather be anything than a party girl. A hog farmer would be better than this. Or I could dig septic tanks for a living. Much better than running for my life from a psychopath.
She ran into the forest in hopes that the trees would camouflage her from her abductor. Roots and leaves tore at her feet, but she refused to slow her pace. Her attacker was still after her, but she was determined not to be caught. Something in her told her that if she was captured, there would be no escaping this time. This was her only chance. If she was going to survive, she had to escape. And she had to do it now.
She ran, narrowly missing trees as she passed. Giant trees. So big that she wondered if she was still under the influence of a drug and was hallucinating.
She ran for a long time, and even the adrenaline surging through her couldn’t save her from her own fatigue. It washed over her, and her body started to slow.
No, dammit. Don’t slow down. Don’t weaken, now. I refuse to be caught. I refuse to be killed.
She urged her body to keep moving, but her pace definitely slowed. She screamed in frustration and fear.
Then she screamed again, because somehow the man was in front of her, and as she tried to run past him, he thrust his arms out and caught her.