The dart hits me just at the base of the neck. Whatever they were using, there had been enough in that one dart for a dozen people. My body went numb almost immediately. I couldn't have pulled the trigger if I had wanted to do so. Not that I wanted to; blowing out my own brains had been an idle threat to buy me time to think. It obviously hadn't worked. Damn you, Cougardan, I thought as I started to fall. I was out before I hit the ground.
* * * * *
* * * * *
I woke up to an explosion of pain that seemed to eminate from my entire body, and possibly my surroundings as well. I remembered entirely too soon that this wasn't a hangover. Gritting my teeth against the pain, I squintted against the glare of the bare bulb that swung to and fro above my head. I looked around to see how bad it was.
I never would have guessed. All those old detective B-movies had it right. The bad guys really do take you to a damp, poorly-lit warehouse to beat information out of you. There were a few crates just at the edge of the shifting circle of light at whose center I sat. The crates had started to rot and were spotted here and there with an ugly gray-green mold. I found myself wishing that they'd tied my up with some old rope they'd found around here, but Cougardan was too careful for that.
Suddenly, he stepped into my field of vision. I started to uttersome smart-ass remark, but he cut me off with a left hook. My head snapped back against the wooden headrest with a crack that may not have come from the chair.
"Allright, Saintjohn," he snarled, "have you had enough of this stupid game yet?"
"No," I replied, "so if you'll just untie me, I believe it's my turn." He backhanded me and I tasted blood.
"Just give me what I want, and you can walk away."
"Let's see ... what was it now? A cigarette? I've got some in my coat that your goon is manhandling," I said, tilting me aching head to indicate the red-haired thug who'd walked into the light behind Cougardan a moment before. "Hey, Red," I spoke up, "give the man a cigarette." I suspected that I was about to get slugged again. I was right.
"Damnit, Saintjohn, we don't have to be on opposite sides of this thing. I've got a place for you in my organization. Give me the information and you'll get whatever you want: money, power, dames. How about Australia? You can have Australia. We could make a great team, you and I."
"You and me on the same team? Hah," I laughed, "I'm nothing like you, Cougardan."
"Oh, yes, we are quite alike. Two views of the same scene. We're destined for Power." I could hear the capital P in his voice. He stopped for a moment and I had the feeling that he was looking through me at something that wasn't there. Something that I likely didn't want to see. "I will win," he came back, "and I'd much rather have you on the winning side with me."
Red spoke up, surprising me. I'd never realized that he could speak. "If this information is so powerful, why haven't you already used it?"
I answered Red's question, but I was looking at Cougardan, "Power corrupts. Your boss here is a prime example of that old cliche, and I'd rather die than be like him. I would have pulled the trigger back there, but I wasn't ready to die. I want to take this piece of garbage down with me."
"Then why don't you," Cougardan said with a smile that was anything but friendly. "Use the power and I'm a dead man. That is, if it's half as good as I suspect."
"Oh, no," I replied, "I'm going to have to take you down the hard way. Demonstrating the power would only make the next madman more determined to get it."
His smile disappeared as he took another swing at me. "If you're so sure that someone's going to get it, it might as well be me. Besides," he said regaining him calm, "I think I'm more that determined enough." He snapped his fingers. Red walked away. He returned a moment later manhandling Kelly instead of my coat. He had a .45 to her head. I wasn't sure if the power was fast enough. I really love you Kelly, I though as our eyes met. I hope you'll understand what I have to do.
It was going to be a long, hard, night.
© 1989, 2007, 2009 Michael J. Ahlers. All rights reserved.
and © Copyright 1980-2009 Michael J. Ahlers. All Rights Reserved.