The pair, who were once the stars of the Cit Soldiers, seemed to be malfunctioning. Whisky himself was struggling to maintain his ever fluctuating emotions, while Chips, on the other hand, had developed an anger, a rage that culminated in him shooting a civilian.
The silence, which was not uncommon between them, now seemed to hang in the air like clothes taken out of the wash before the spin dry. Whisky had dreaded the feeble defence he had for letting down his partner at Newport Haven Terminal, but for reasons unknown Chips had never demanded an explanation. Was it because Chips knew where Whisky had gone? Did he doubt Whisky could deliver an excuse reasonable enough to maintain the partnership? Was he still debugging his own demons?
Likewise Whisky had not sought to hear Chips’ account of the confrontation with the boy, Phil. Boss and Sam Tank had spoken with him, but what had they said? They also neglected to seek an explanation off Whisky. For all the pretend dialogue that he had racing through his head, trying to satisfy all the loose ends with luck and chance, none of it mattered because nobody demanded it of him. Instead the thoughts spun in his mind like a whirlwind as he speculated on the possible motives and hidden agendas of his superiors and his partner. Were they all against him? Did they have a plan? Paranoia was the newest sensation to engulf Whisky’s mind.
“You’re breathing heavily.” Chips stated. “Are you ready?”
Whisky gave faint nod, not wanting to acknowledge or ignore the remark. He listened to himself breathe for a few moments. It reminded him of the camp. The hours spent meditating with the goal of erasing the noise. He had maintained his practise but it appeared to be diluting, like a virus resisting the antibody. Chips got out of the car.
“I’ll go front,” he said, taking charge in Whisky’s silence.
The partnership had trended this way recently, accelerating in its evolution since the train incident. Was that Chips’ motive? To take charge? Be number one, all the while using Whisky’s guilt as leverage? Shut up!
Whisky found himself back in the moment. He was a half step behind Chips before he flanked, jogging around the block to come full circle and cover the rear entrance of the house.
“Two minutes.” Chips called out. Whisky heard a tone of authority in his voice, as though Chips were giving an order. Whisky cringed in disgust. Even when it was a clear understanding between the two that he was the unspoken leader he had never spoken to Chips as anything but an equal. An urge to curse his partner swelled within him, but he had almost lost the use of the language’s fouler words, a programmed reaction to avoid losing control in any situation. ‘Fuck’ and ‘Cunt’ held no meaning to him. He spat as he rounded the corner, counted 65 in his head.
His transmitter clicked, “40 seconds.”
Again Whisky cringed. Was he doing this on purpose? Trying to throw Whisky off, make him late to the scene again. Probably already had his gun drawn. Whisky cut through a backyard, jumped a few fences. He felt the adrenaline rising in him. He wasn’t physically tested but instead felt a challenge from Chips, an attempt to assert himself as top dog. He stopped at the property adjacent to the house they were to raid.
“Time. I’m going in. Go silent.” Chips clicked through.
“What the fuck.” Whisky said, like a traveller learning the native lingo. As he scaled the fence he saw Stevie through a window in the side of the house. Stevie was standing at the front door alert, baseball bat cocked. He knew they were coming. “Target is armed and ready”
Whisky jumped the fence and raced to the back door. He barged through just in time to have a silenced bullet whiz by his ear. He launched himself to the left, breaking into what was the kitchen - the windowed room in which he had first seen Stevie. It had a double entrance – one at his end and one at Stevie’s. He unholstered his pistol and took two knives out of the rack.
For the first time in what felt like years Whisky’s mind cleared. Stevie was a police officer, naturally inclined to execute caution; he knew the house after a week’s stay and would feel the advantage. Given time to settle; this would play in his favour.
Whisky tossed one of the knives over his shoulder, to the other side of the kitchen and darted back out of the kitchen the way he came. He timed his exit to coincide with the clanging utensil, causing Stevie to second guess. He fired twice at Stevie who cowered backward into the opposing entrance of the kitchen.
Whisky strode down the hallway. This would be simple if he could keep his opponent tied up in the one room that he himself was now familiar with. The door through which Stevie had fallen was an old two-way swing door, still carrying the momentum on its hinges. Whisky caught it softly with foot, let it rest still. He kicked it open. Three bullet holes landed chest high on the cheap wood. On its backswing Whisky dove in low, firing shots at his estimation of Stevie’s position, but Stevie had called his bluff and already raced out of the kitchen.
Whisky popped his clip, loaded the spare. He glanced back out the swinging door. Stevie was out of sight. He glanced down at Chips’ unconscious body. He noticed a heavy fracture to his cheek. Stevie had apparently had time to deliver a second and possible fatal blow before turning his attention to the backdoor. No emotion of pity or concern arose. A shade of pride, a told-you-so moment, even though he had never told his partner so.
He walked cautiously back down the hallway. He tried to match the internal space to his external memory of the house. Basically a no nonsense square shaped single floor suburban house. The kitchen and adjacent bathroom/laundry, as well as a small bedroom accounted for the half that Stevie wasn’t in. Both exits covered, a window exit would create a noise, plus Stevie wouldn’t run, the home advantage would be lost, traded for a major disadvantage considering Whisky’s physical attributes.
Whisky came to the entrance of what appeared to be the living space. The lights were out and curtains drawn giving an eerie shade to the afternoon sunlight. Whisky stepped into the room, his designer boots tapping softly on the wooden floor. Stevie wouldn’t reveal himself yet, he would want to be sure he had his man. The room was scattered with furniture, a dining table near the entrance, two sofas, one recently misplaced as a possible hiding position. A chair sat oddly alone in the centre of the room below a trapdoor staircase to the attic. The rope that pulled the stairs to attention was swinging. At the far end was a door left slightly ajar. Main bedroom. Stevie had expected them , left the house set up for an ambush. Chips should have known.
Stevie had three possible hiding places. The attic was too impractical, he didn’t have the time. The bedroom was just another escape. This room was set up for the showdown, he wouldn’t want to leave it. He would wait for Whisky to check the door, attack him then. The couch was moot. Too centred, not designed for a waiting game. From where would he attack? Whisky had paused too long. He took another step. A gust of wind blew in through the window, sending the curtains flailing. Whisky reacted instinctively, diving right and firing three shots just above the couch. But Stevie had not been behind the couch; he had not been in the room.
“Don’t even think about it,” he barked, standing to Whisky’s left in the frame of the living room entry, gun poised.
Whisky thought about it. He spun to the left and received two bullets in his bicep and shoulder. His gun fell to the ground. Stevie remained still, daring Whisky to try again. Whisky gritted his teeth, he refused to believe he was defeated. Stevie should have killed him by now, should have finished off Chips as well. An idea came to him as Stevie began to talk.
“What is the point of this? How much am I supposed to know? Or assume?”
So this was what was keeping Whisky alive. Fair enough, too. Failure to report his death would lead to more searches, more hiding from more soldiers. It bode well with Whisky whose idea was more compatible with more time. He remained silent.
“What is your company planning for Walter Wallace? It must be more than the TV exploitation or you wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be here.”
This caught Whisky’s interest. He hadn’t actually been briefed on Stevie’s conflict of interest. He had assumed the altercation at the hospital was means enough but then, was it? He had merely heard of an attempted murder and went to protect the victim. How did he know about Walter Wallace? What was he supposed to know? It turned out to be a valid question.
“Answer me, you fuck, you’re going out anyway, might as well do a little good in this world for once, instead of serve the will of your bosses.”
“What do you know?” Whisky asked, breaking his silence in response to the threat and his own curiosity.
Stevie sighed. “Nothing. I know Mark Tanenworth mentioned Walter Wallace in a conversation with me. Sammy Tank heard him do so and now he wants me dead.”
Whisky let it sink in. It really wasn’t much, but if Sam Tank wanted him dead then there was something of substance in it. What did Walter Wallace have to do with something so confidential as to demand a hit on a police officer?
Whisky had lingered long enough and Stevie was growing restless. He looked into Stevie’s eyes and then widened his own eyes in anticipation, looking to the left of the officer’s head. Stevie bought it. A split second he checked his flank, assuming Whisky had seen Chips. Whisky charged him. A bullet hit him in the right pectoral. The air exited his body like a vacuum but he maintain enough momentum to traverse the distance between them and he suck his knife between Stevie’s collar bone. He held him up close until he heard the gun drop and then kicked him in the sternum, sent him sprawling into the familiar kitchen setting.
Whisky winced as he reached down for the gun. He heard Stevie groan in pain and looked up to feel the knife glance of his cheek bone. He put his hand to the point of impact, blood streamed down his forearm, pooling at the elbow of his sleeve.
“FUCK YOU!” Stevie yelled as he tried to stand. Whisky kicked him back down.
He pointed the gun at his head, hesitated. He thought of Walter Wallace for a brief moment and a wave of inaction swelled within. “What do you know!” he growled, the gravel burning his throat. He was buying time, didn’t want to kill the man, didn’t know why and hated himself for it. “Tell me!”
Stevie spat a shot of blood to the floor, sneered, “I told you already. Why don’t you ask your fucking masters.”
Whisky thought of the encounter with Sam at the hospital. The doubts that ran through him, that paralysed him. He saw Chips’ limp body lying at the door, his bloodied face and laboured breath, the petty mind games that caused this mess. He thought of Stevie’s taunts – do something good – and he thought again of Walter Wallace. His teeth were grinding severely, his breath loaded with frustration.
He fired the weapon, emptying the clip on the glass and pots and pans that lined the kitchen. Everywhere but in Stevie’s head, which was steady, calm with eyes closed. Stevie took a few more slow breaths before he opened them, looking at Whisky.
Whisky held the gaze and slowed his own breath, which wheezed like a asthma sufferer as it pleaded for more oxygen. “You need to get out of here. Stay in hiding. You’ll be pronounced dead within the month. After a long pause Stevie struggled to his feet. Whisky offered his hand but Stevie swatted it away.
“It’s a clean wound. It will heal. Don’t go to the hospital.”
“Your friend?” Stevie said, motioning towards Chips motionless body. “I’ve never killed a man.”
“He’s not dead. He won’t know the truth.”
Stevie nodded. He straightened himself up with a grimace and walked out the back door, ripping his shirt off and tying it awkwardly around the wound. The fading sunlight would help him remain anonymous. Whisky bandaged his own wounds and sat down on the kitchen floor. He began to meditate.
Chips awoke 3 hours later. He did not apologise. He did not have to. Whisky was the lead agent and Chips would speak when spoken to.