Firing a warning shot is probably the worst way to convince someone not to run away from you, but the Squad man does it anyway. Cee-bop told me you can’t die here but I’m not stupid. I keep running. I’m sure I can take any shot but I’m even more sure I don’t wanna feel it. Momma raised me to endure a lot of shit but never got my nerves to settle. Adrenaline dulls nerves only in small bursts and my body practically sustained me on adrenaline alone, so I always felt everything. I’m not looking for my first strong sensation here to be pain.
What I am looking for’s a better spot to hide. Just two smallish office buildings here and they both locked. Never learned how to pick locks. Electrical substation across the street wouldn’t provide much shelter but I could probably get Mr. Warning Shot to trip over something there. But he’s between me and that side of the road. Hell—for all I know, he came from that side.
Stalking along the back of the first building, there’s nothing else for me to run to. Empty grass and empty road for way farther than I can outrun anything. Come to the gap between the office buildings, stop, peek around the corner. The hallway running away from me is long, dark, cavernous, empty. Footsteps come up the building side I just left and I bolt down the thin expanse between the two buildings. Echoes of my feet slap wall to wall like a ball between two racquets.
There’s no way the Squad man doesn’t hear me but no other way makes sense to run. I don’t breathe out till I reach the street side of the first office building. It’s closer to the road than the second but still farther away than I thought. No cover to run. My feet won’t keep me upright if I zig-zag. Squad man’s footsteps run fainter and fainter. I guess sticking with the same building wasn’t too obvious. Maybe wasn’t obvious enough.
I could bolt across the street but guaran-damn-teed Warning Shot—probably still along the front of the other building—would hear my feet slocking that grass, that concrete, be on my ass like makeup on news anchors. Probably I could catch him off guard waiting here—crouch down a bit, hope I can line my hand up with his throat. I press flat against the wall. Practically flatten my nose against the stucco. Burnt smell fills my nostrils like the building’s baking.
First strong scent I’ve noticed in three weeks. Guess if I work hard enough I can smell things. Maybe if I work hard enough I can also get to sleep. But forcing down my anxiety’s a waste. Never worked when I was dying—why would it work now I’m dead? Breath comes rough and loud and goes rough and loud.
A groan of a yell shoots along stucco, around corners, latches onto my ears. “I work for a hell of an agency!” Squad man’s words sound like they coming from anywhere behind me. “We always get our mark!” Dumbshit thinks I’m gonna answer him. “Especially when they run after killing six men, Beatrice Richard!” Fuck is he talking about? He trips somewhere I can’t place and I have to hold back a laugh.
Question isn’t should I run. Re-evaluating the distance between me and that substation, I still don’t think I’d make it in time unless that shitbird keeps tripping. Question is which way he’ll come. My answer: His running footsteps echo ahead of themselves, slapping all around down what’s gotta be my hallway.
I edge to the corner. Crouch slightly. Slow my breathing—one thing I can control well and quick. Saved me from getting fired probably two or three times. When you work for a pasty paperskin snowflake you quickly learn what sets ’em off (most things) and avoid much as you can. Never thought it’d help me fend off—
shoe scuffs sidewalk behind the corner and I hold my breath. Shitbird peeps round the corner and I lodge my palm in his throat. He tries to catch his breath. His grip goes slack. I wrest the gun from his hand. Fire a shot into his thigh and bolt for the street and the substation behind it. Warning Shot goes down in a groaning heap.
Concrete shocks my ankles and knees when I reach the road and I never wished more that adrenaline numbed me to pain. Each step a chore worth doing, brings me closer to obstacle shelter. Warning Shot behind me forces himself to his feet and yelps. Starts after me but limps slow and heavy, drags one leg almost entirely behind him.
My ankles and knees already adjusted to the concrete so I’m running faster, hand gripping the pistol, other side of the road always in my—shit. There’s a fence? Of course there’s a fence. Major utility installation, why wouldn’t there be a fence? Can’t see if it’s locked up. No gate on the side facing me and the road.
Fence too tall to climb. No gate anywhere near me even on other legs of the fence either. No cars driving nearby. Not one person to run to for help. I swear everyone here can sleep except me. Not sure I ever felt this exhausted in my dying life. Not sure I’m not just seeing things in the fevered sleep of a migraine topside. But then I barely knew Cee-bop when I was dying.
I spot a car way down the leg of the fence to my left. I round the corner and it’s the longest straight shot I ever seen, direct line to hopefully a full tank and a ready engine. The car sits yellow. Breathes no smoke out its exhaust. Gives up no growl or gurgle.
Squad man behind me’s way closer than I’d like. Than I’d expected. I run my feet faster. The car sits like it’s waiting just for me and I break into my fastest run when Shitbird’s bloodstained shout crashes through my ears. He is not happy he’s running on a shot leg. Is there a person moving in the car?
I get my answer when someone swings out the front window and fires two shots at me. One punctures my thigh and the other sinks into my gut and I collapse. Course I run from getting shot only to get shot. Can’t tell if the heat and sear boiling up my center is the bullets—or my determination not to feel them.
Whoever’s in the car stays in there. Shitbird finds me after either a minute or an hour. “Beatrice—Richard,” he pants, pulls out a pair of handcuffs, “I’m—Gavin—from the Auto Squad—and I’m—placing you—under—arrest.”
God damn it. He did come from this direction.
13 Tales from the Auto Squad is an anthology series about a government agency in the afterlife that handles the other side of suicide cases. Each story will be told over the course of four installments, approximately 1000 words each, posted every Monday.