Chapter XIV:

Cat’s Paw

The portable drive felt heavy in my palm as I traveled the corridors and walkways to my office. It was a small thing, only about three times the size of a standard credit chip, but it held the closest thing to evidence I had. Spranger; a single name to fit a face, and a video of him ordering a hit. It was like trying to sell a fully loaded car when all you had to show was the body work. So far, all I could say for certain was that a conspiracy to commit murder had been sloppily enacted, and I had put a stop to part of it. Delia was safe in her hotel-cum-fortress, Simon was unaccounted for, and I hated this Spranger guy.

It seemed like I hadn’t been back to my office in months. It’s amazing what a few crappy days could do for your perspective.

I pulled out my keys as I walked down the hall, but stopped when I got there. I know my door. It’s heavy wood, cracking varnish, and a slightly warped frame. Because of that, if an effort isn’t made to shut it fully the spring piston would only swing enough to close the door snuggly without engaging the latch. I always make sure my door is closed when I leave, grumbling when others don’t. Someone had come through, but the only others who had keys were Sifu and the super; they both knew the routine. There was no light coming from under the door.

Enough had happened lately for this to make me suspicious. Still, I was in no mood to be fucked with. I pocketed the drive, drew my impotent gun, and really wished I hadn’t lost my brass knuckles years ago.

Pushing open the door, the wedge of light from the hall didn’t reveal any boogeymen. There was however a faint scent on the air of stale blood and…vodka? I stepped into the office with the light on my back, hoping anyone who had been hiding in there would have had their vision ruined by the sudden inrush of light.

Senses straining, muscles tensing, I tried to pick up any sign of another presence in the room. When I heard an intake of breath to my right, I swung my gun in that direction on the off chance that the intruder would be frightened enough of the gun that they would surrender. Instead, I felt a quick breeze and the door slammed shut.

I dove to the desk for cover. Whoever was in there with me didn’t matter, we were both blind now. I held my breath, listening to the subtle hum of the air conditioner and the barely concealed puffing of another human body under stress. I fought back the adrenalin as best I could, and breathed long and slow through my mouth to better conceal my position. We stayed in the dark for a couple minutes, each of us trying to suss out the other’s strategy.

Finally, I heard what sounded like a twinge of pain followed by silence. They were hurt, but they were canny.

This had taken too long already; I had to make a move.

I adjusted the grip on my gun so that I could use it to pistol whip, then reached my hand up onto my desk and waved it around searching for something with the right weight. I found a small plastic bottle and lobbed it across the room.

As my opponent chased after the sound, I ran for the light switch and flipped it on. Spinning around, gun raised to attack, I found Sifu with the tip of his sword a half-inch from my chest.

I would have breathed a sigh of relief if it hadn’t been for the state Sifu was in. His left eye was swollen black but still slightly open. There was deep bruising around his neck. His clothes had a few small rips, and there was dried blood from where it had dripped down from his deformed nose. I couldn’t tell if it was truly broken, but he seemed to be able to breath fine. He was holding the sword in his left hand since his right was wrapped in a thick bundle of bandaging which showed signs of blood seeping through the gauze.

”The fuck happened to you‽”

Sifu slouched a look at me then sat down in a chair turned to face the door.

Now that the lights were on, I could clearly see what I had walked in on. Sifu had gotten out the first aid kit, then proceeded to follow some very old advice; physician, heal thyself. There were blood drops freckling my desktop. Bloodied scissors and scraps of gauze lay discarded next to tweezers and broken-up tongue depressors. The bottle I’d thrown turned out to be disinfectant which explained the alcohol smell. For some reason there was a pair of pliers as well…Oh…some of those wood splinters were actually bone fragments.

I knelt down in front of Sifu. His skin was lighter than usual, and his hair was matted down with sweat. Tentatively, he allowed me to examine his hand. He’d made a layered mit with the wood as a support structure. I didn’t need an x-ray to understand what had happened; I’d seen injuries like that before. Hell, I’d threatened Larry with it not more than an hour ago.

That pot of tar and bile in my gut started to boil over again. “Who did this to you, kid?”

Sifu just sat there with his thousand-yard stare.

”Damn it, this isn’t the time for the silent treatment. What happened‽”

No response.

”Fuck it, I’m taking you to a hospital.”

Sifu shook his head slowly.

”No. I am taking you to see a doctor right now!”

When I tried to pull him up out of the chair, he jammed his sword into the hard wood floor, grabbed my collar with his good hand, and shifted his eyes from me, to the door, then back to me. I looked to the door as well. After a moment, it all came together; the door being unlocked, the lights off, the ambush.

”How many are there?”

Sifu’s eyes widened slightly and he breathed out hard.

”Enough, huh? Shit.”

I stood up, rubbing the balls of my wrists into eyes. I had seriously had enough of this crap. It had all been just one big roller coaster of douche baggery up until now, but this hit too close to home. Right then, I knew I was going to find Spranger, and when I did I‘d…suffice it to say, none of the thoughts I had could have been described as justice, but they all seemed fair at the time.

”Okay. We’re leaving.” I said, pulling my gun kit out from the closet. “There is no way we are going to sit in here and wait for some assholes to come in and try to pick us off.”

I handed Sifu a clean shirt. “You good?”

Sifu’s expression hardened as he changed. I thought something like this might happen, but that did nothing to diminish my anger at the affront. It was too early to see how what Sifu had gone through would affect him. Fortunately, he seemed to have reached that point where pain and anger transformed into the sharp focus of defiance. That attitude could help him in the long run, but it was also something I could use. As much as I wanted him out of this, I needed him engaged. I knew he was strong, pulling yourself together after being crippled was no easy task, but he was going to need an outlet soon in order to pull through. I’d have to contact Holding later; right now it was back to Sammy’s.

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