The Imperfect Mirrors – Chapter 4

    Fighting an unseen enemy can make for an interesting mental puzzle. You look for the tell-tale clues, small sounds, or ripples in the environment that give them away and when you find them, you pounce. That tends to work better when you can actually fight back though. When one side has a high powered sniper rifle and the other is unarmed, it makes for a less than enjoyable contest. At least for the unarmed people.

    Way was having the same thoughts I was and solved the “unarmed” problem by liberating Officer Smith’s gun from his belt. Stealing from a cop is not generally the brightest of ideas, but under the circumstances we were short on better options.  She checked the gun and then nodded to the door. I crawled over to it with her and, just before she got up to leave the office, I turned off the light. She moved the instant darkness returned and there were no further shots to greet her departure. Either the killer was patient, or they were already on the move. Neither of those prospects filled me with joy.

    Guys who work as guns for hire tend to be meaty and prone to thoughtless violence. Those qualities are great for someone who needs to be intimidating but they’re not optimal for an assassin. Whoever the killer was, they weren’t making the kind of mistakes I’d expect from a typical leg breaker. They’d only shot once for example, and only when they had a clear view of their target.

    That made me think of the room I was in. It was a wreck, but someone as careful as the shooter could have searched it without leaving any trace that they’d been there. So either someone else vandalized Shurman’s office or the killer wanted someone to know they’d been there.

    Frowning at yet another puzzle piece that didn’t seem to fit, I applied pressure to the gash that the bullet had cut in the side of Officer Smith’s head. I’d made sure he hadn’t received a lethal wound but any kind of head injury was dangerous. He’d need medical attention and probably a dozen stitches at least. The problem was he was a beat cop working alone. No one would think to look for him until the shift change and my guess was that wouldn’t be until morning.

    That presented some problems. I couldn’t leave him alone and uncared for, but I had other responsibilities to attend to as well. Add to that the fact that being around me hadn’t been all that safe recently and I was forced to conclude that I needed some help. Looking around for inspiration, I noticed the phone sitting on Shurman’s desk. I almost hadn’t recognized it and had to remind myself to expect technology to look like something from the age of the dinosaurs as long as I was on Earth-Glass.

    Whatever model phone Shurman had invested in didn’t look like any of the “Olde Tyme” telephones I’d ever seen pictures of. Fortunately, it didn’t look terribly complicated either. I fished it off the desktop, being careful not to expose myself to a clear line of fire from the window. In the dark it was harder for anyone to see me moving but not impossible, the street lights were still illuminating the room pretty well. On my world I would have been a sitting duck but Earth-Glass’s ancient technology worked in my favor there. I didn’t have  to worry about the shooter having night vision goggles or computer-aided targeting optics or “Jin seeking missiles” (the way some Mad Science types on my homeworld would).

    “How may I direct your call.” a woman said a few moments after I lifted the phone’s components off their stand.

    I tensed my throat muscles in an odd and slightly painful way.

    “Connect me to the precinct. This is Officer Frank Smith. I’ve been…” I paused. One of the ‘tricks’ I knew as a stage magician was mimicry. I hadn’t heard much of Officer Smith’s voice but I was banking on the same being true for the operator. I let the pause stretch on for an uncomfortable moment and then spoke again. “I’m at 6 Lamont avenue. I’ve been shot. Feeling a little…light headed. Maybe you should put me through to the hospital. Which one’s close to Lamont? I’m going to sit down for a second here. Maybe you should call me an ambulance. I’m just going to sit down here.”

    My acting was a bit over the top, but the operator wasn’t familiar with the idea prank calls and the situation I was describing was sufficiently serious to push her past questioning me too deeply. She called out to “Officer Smith” a few times before I heard her turn to one of her coworkers for help. I mumbled something unintelligible back to her, as though Officer Smith was just barely conscious still. It didn’t take them long to decide that calling both the police station and the hospital was the correct procedure.

    “I’ll buy you a new shirt after this over.” I whispered to the unconscious Officer Smith as I tore off his sleeve. It made a longer bandage than the swatch of dress that I’d been using. I tried to be careful as I wrapped it around his head, but not so much that it looked like someone else had arranged it for him.

    As I fastened the makeshift bandage around his head, I heard a trio of shots ring out. The acoustics of the building prevented me from making out which direction they came from. Another pair of shots came a few moments later and then silence reigned. I held my breath waiting for some sign of how the battle had gone. Instead of that though I heard the operator talking to her coworker about hearing something. She hadn’t been able to make out the gunfire exactly, but she knew something was happening on the other end.

    Officer Smith chose that moment let out a pained groan. In one sense it was perfect. The operator heard it clearly and I could hear her telling her coworker to have the ambulance hurry. On the other hand, I also heard footsteps in hallway drawing closer to the door and the chatter from the phone was sure to draw attention. Leaving my injured patient propped up against the wall with the phone in his hands, I crawled over to the door and peeked out.

    I breathed a sigh of relief to see Way advancing carefully down the hall. She didn’t speak until she was close enough to whisper to me.

    “I winged him and I think he’s fled for now.” she said.

    “Where was he?”

    “By the time I got out there he was on the street and heading towards the door we went in.”

    “You’re sure it was him?”

    “Positive. He still had his rifle.”

    “Did he see you?”

    “Not clearly. That door is pretty well shadowed. He was ready for trouble though. He snapped a shot off at me as soon as I looked out the door.”

    “He missed?” I asked, looking her over in the dim light to see if I could spot any wounds.

    “Just barely. For a snapshot he had good aim.”

    “And the other shots I heard?”

    “I fired back but he had too much cover from the garbage bin at the end of the alley. He tried to fake me out by opening and closing a door on one of the parked cars. That’s what brought about the second exchange of fire you heard. He tried for an ambush shot but I clipped him in the arm and ruined his aim. I guess that’s all he had the stomach because he took off on foot after that. I was going to chase him, but it would have been too easy for him to double back and get here before I could.” Way explained. She’d prioritized me over stopping the killer, which I couldn’t necessarily disagree with. I wanted to express my thanks for it and assure her that I was ok and that she could let me take some risks too but words failed me.

    As dream lords we have methods of silent communication that can impart a whole lot more information than simple words. Unfortunately, Earth-Glass was fragile enough that it was risky to use that kind of communication. I frowned. Nothing important would be gained by risking dream speech here, Way already knew I was grateful for what she did and that she could trust me to hold my own. I didn’t need to tell her but I wanted to anyway and I hated that we were being kept apart like that.

    “How’s Officer Smith doing?” Way asked.

    “Still out of it. The bullet rung his bell pretty good. He’s bleeding too. Nothing life threatening yet, but I called for an ambulance to come for him.

    “You’re thinking we’ll wait with him till they arrive and then slip out in the hustle and bustle that follows?” Way said.

    “Yeah, it sounds like the shooter won’t be back, at least not right away, but I don’t want to take chances. And if he is waiting for us, it’ll be easier to pass unnoticed with a crowd of people to hide in.

    “What about this?” Way asked, gesturing with the gun that she’d taken from the policeman.

    “Wipe your prints off of it and give it back to him. I’ll shatter the window out a bit more, make it look like he fired back at the guy who shot him. The neighbors will remember the gunfire from the fight you just had so they’ll report multiple shots fired. If he was shooting out the window though it’d be really hard to find where the bullets would have landed.”

    “How long till the ambulance gets here?” Way asked as she unloaded the remaining rounds out of the pistol. Handing an unconscious man a loaded pistol was a recipe for disaster but an empty pistol would be both harmless and believable for the scene that the paramedics and police would find.

    “Five to ten minutes I would guess. Might see a police car show up first though.” I said as I poked out more pieces of the shattered window so they’d fall to the street below.

    “Let’s assume the shooter isn’t going to come back. He’s a pro. He won’t want to risk a fight against an armed and alert foe when he’s wounded.” Way said.

    “That makes sense. He’ll probably try to figure out who we are first and then hit us when we’re not expecting it.”

    “I don’t think he got a good look at me, but if he was watching the room he probably saw you pretty clearly.”

    “Yeah. That’s not so good. I’m a bit distinctive. It won’t take him long to figure out who the Chinese girl in the stage magicians outfit is.”

    “Maybe. You had your coat closed until you started making bandages. He probably knows what you look like, but he may not have a sense of what you do.”

    “Except, he was at the Chimera Club tonight. He didn’t know I was the one who hired Shurman then or he would have shot me there. Seeing me here too though? He has to have connected those dots.” I said.

    “Think its safe to go back to our rooms then? It wouldn’t take him long to find out where we live. Plenty of people in the stage crew at the club know.”

    “They know we live in Fairbanks, but they don’t know our exact address.” I said.

    “That wouldn’t be that hard to get either.” Way said, her smile suggesting an idea had occurred to her.

    “So we set a trap?” I said. I can’t read her mind, but when you know someone as well as Way and I know each other it’s not always that hard to guess what the other is thinking.

    “If we can catch him, he might be able to tell us what happened to Mcintyre.”

    “It’ll be trickier without our magic.”

    “But not impossible.”

    “Shame it’s not, then it’d be right up our alley.” I said with a small smile. Way smiled back in agreement. More than a few people, often enemies we were fighting but occasionally friends as well, had observed that we were impossible girls. We took some pride in that, even (or especially) when it was driving other people crazy.

    “Can you open the door across the hall?” Way asked.

    “Yeah, let’s head over there. The ambulance should be here any minute.” I replied.

    The Art of Disappearing, as well as much of the rest of stage magic,  revolves around understanding and guiding the flow of attention. In other words, the easiest way to “disappear” is to not be where people are looking. That sounds simple, and it’s made easier by the fact that people are much less attentive than than they’re aware of, but it can still be nerve wracking.

    Picking the lock on the door to the office across the hall was trivial. Waiting for the ambulance crew on the other hand was semi-agonizing. Intellectually I knew they wouldn’t look in the dark room we were in when there was a nice brightly lit room with a gunshot victim in it to draw their attention (we’d turned the lights on before we left the room). Until I heard them go into Shurman’s office though I kept imagining them throwing open the door to the room Way and I were crouched in and calling a gang of police down on us.

    In the end though they rushed in to Shurman’s office and were none the wiser as we slipped out of our hiding spot and then out of the building.

    We caught a bus about a half hour later and roughly a mile away. The meant a lot of extra stops before we reached our apartment but that was ok by me.

    “Quite a day.” I said, slumping against Way’s shoulder.

    “Why don’t you catch a quick nap while we head back.” she suggested. “We’ll need to be alert later for the trap if we’re going to set it up.”

    “That’s not a bad idea. Wake me up when we get close to the apartment ok?” I said.

    Way nodded in agreement and I slipped down into the welcoming embrace of darkness. A moment later I opened my eyes and stretched feeling somehow both groggy and refreshed. I gazed around and found everything in my room just as I’d left it. Everything except for my wardrobe which had a door cracked slightly open and my little sister peering out from the darkness within.

 

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