DREME BOAT

COMING SEPTEMBER 2017

BEAT TO QUARTERS

 

8.20.

 

Jun Du-Rhi had better eat his bagel fast, because I was going to kill him in 10 minutes.

 

I was standing next to Cipriani on the west balcony overlooking the main concourse of Grand Central Station. Thursday morning. Too early for a couple of cocktails at Cip, the place was closed. Besides, the drinks were $20 a piece, so my gift card wasn't going to go very far.  

 

At least the smell of urine wafting through the concourse from the homeless guys hanging out in the Grand Central men's rooms was a little better here.  I'm glad I took my antioxidant pills this morning.

 

I watched Jun buy his buttered bagel and a cup of coffee at Zaro's just off the concourse. 

 

Half of the commuters passing through the station each morning stopped at Zaro's on their way to their desks, the other half went to Starbucks.  

 

Jun wasn't a typical commuter, though.  Not too many of the surly throng trudging to their jobs were nuclear scientists responsible for cracking atoms and designing warheads for North Korea's head maniac.  That was Jun's job.  And based upon recent missile tests, apparently he was pretty good it.  Good enough for Langley to want me to remove him from the chessboard.

 

The only question was whether I would let him enjoy the bagel first.

 

Munching, Jun paused in front of the steps leading up to Apple at the opposite end of the concourse across from me.  Hundreds of customers and tourists coming off their trains brushed by him.  Lots of them were walking up the stairs into the store.  Jun looked like he was tempted to stop in and see the latest iPhone, or maybe check out the MacBooks.  He probably had both anyway; contrary to popular belief and sanctions, North Korea could easily import the latest technology, usually through the Chinese.  

 

The North Korean people may be starving, but the elites like Jun lived very well.

 

There was a just a small problem in my Jun errand-- his bodyguard, Ha Joon. 

 

The errand briefing file had good pictures of Jun.  Only a couple of fuzzy ones of Ha. 

 

I didn't know much about Ha, but I could guess that even though he had Ha as a first name, he didn't laugh a lot.  

 

Maybe it was the way he shadowed Jun; never more than five feet away.  Never taking his eyes off Jun's back.  Scanning the crowd around him in a surveillance cone-- his head moving from right to left with Jun in the center of his vision.  Once in a while he'd take a quick look behind him.  The Secret Service presidential detail couldn't have done it better.  

 

The only things preventing Ha from working for the U. S. Treasury department were a low paycheck, an earpiece, poor morale and a White House lapel pin.  

 

Ask anyone in the Secret Service about the low paycheck.  And the morale thing. 

 

Ha was in a black suit.  Athletic cut.  Lots of upper body mass and chest tapering to a small waist.  He was a walking triangle. Ha was also six and half feet tall and looked like he last smiled around three years ago at the Pyongyang May Day parade in Kim Sung II square.  All business. 

 

Gigantor moved slowly, frowning and scanning in Jun's wake. Let's just say he stuck out in the morning crowd.

 

The file said Ha was a major in the Korean People's Army.  The file also said he was skilled in martial arts. I had no doubt that Ha knew all sorts of Mystery of the Orient, kung-fu moves. Wax on, wax off Karate Kid shit.  Hapkido. 

 

Ha was also known to carry a stiletto strapped to his lower thigh and a Heckler & Koch VP9 in a shoulder holster under his Hong Kong custom-tailored suit.  Nice weapon.  The pistol, not the blade.  Not much more intel in the file on him.

 

Jun walked away from the Apple store and turned toward the famous four-sided brass clock in the center of Grand Central's concourse.  Ha was on him like glue.  

 

Anyone with an ounce of training, a low-function IQ or Mr. Magoo glasses could look at the two of them and know something was up with the couple, even with thousands of people walking by them.  Jun kept looking around nervously.  

 

Ha shadowed with wary glances.  

 

They stuck out in a crowd like Where's Waldo? A five-year-girl would have focused on them in two seconds.

 

But the NYPD officers talking to each other at the guard station in the middle of the hall didn't notice them.  Cloth ropes and stanchions, like at a nightclub, cordoned off their desk. I've walked by that desk multiple times and I've never once seen even one cop looking at the crowd.  Three or four of them, with a sergeant in the middle, were always shooting the shit-- probably bragging to each other about how much overtime they put in for last week.  Cops love overtime.  It's how their pensions are calculated.  The NYPD is good at preventing terrorism-- just don't judge 'em by the Grand Central contingent.

 

If you are a Harlem Hudson or Connecticut Metro North commuter counting on the Grand Central thin blue line to stop the next ISIS field trip, you better run like hell.

 

8.22.

 

The New York state National Guard army troops on duty in the station are another matter.  Part of Joint Task Force Empire Shield, they generally patrol in groups of two, wearing Kevlar vests and carrying the standard issue M4 carbines with collapsible stocks and all the trimmings.  Those suckers can fire 950 rounds per minute and the Guardies looked like they wouldn't hesitate to do some off-range testing on you.  They were always watching the crowd, but with so many people walking by, it's hard to keep alert.  And awake. I didn't look forward to rousing them from a stupor.

 

So the bottom line was that this wasn't going to be a feel-good, I just got an IRS-refund-check-in-the-mail kind of day.  I took another hit of my inhaler and wondered how the hell I was going to fulfill my errand.  My chances of surviving with my organs intact were only slightly greater than surviving a visit to Costco on a Saturday morning. 

 

The briefing file said that in eight minutes, Jun was meeting someone in the middle of one of the busiest places on the planet, at one of the busiest times.  By the Grand Central clock. At 8.30. 

 

The guy he was meeting with was a traitor.  An American.  

 

I had to kill him too.

 

His name was Kenny Rogers.  No kidding.  Only this Kenny was the chief engineer at Orbital ATK, the motor manufacturer.  These motors weren't made for your hairdryer or the latest Keurig.  Nope, these were motors for missiles with names like Minuteman and Sidewinder.  

 

Kenny-boy was one of the head engineers at Orbital.  Not only did he have a Top Secret clearance I.D. in his wallet, he had the latest engineering schematics for the Tomahawk propulsion system in a Duane Read shopping bag on his arm.  

 

A bag he was going to be handing to Jun.

 

8.23. 

 

I smelled.  

 

I hadn't taken a shower or shaved in four days.  And I don't want you to lose your lunch so I'll give you a warning-- gross spoiler ahead: I peed in my pants earlier that morning.  And yesterday afternoon too.

 

All part of the plan.  And my survival.

 

I scratched my chest under my thick, stained raincoat and rolled my two-wheeled cart down a couple of steps.  I used one hand to balance the torn plastic garbage bag holding some multi-colored papers and God Knows What Else on top of the cart.  The rest of my belongings were in two other garbage bags in the cart.  One of the bags contained soda cans and water bottles. The other bag appeared to have some remnants of previous fast food meals. I hadn’t inspected the contents of the bags too closely. Too gross. At least I could get five cents apiece for the cans at the redemption center. 

 

I had a wool watch cap pulled over my head even though it was the beginning of May, a pair of dirty grey sweat pants and a pair of flip flops.  My feet and toenails were dirty. 

 

Not exactly an ensemble I picked up off the Zegna racks at Barney's.

 

Homeless are everywhere in New York City.  Under the current mayor's administration, the problem has gotten completely out of hand.  Regardless of the borough, the city is overrun with people begging on street corners, sitting cross-legged on sidewalks with a hand-lettered sign propped up on their knees, or stretched out on cardboard pieces under filthy blankets over subway grates.  

 

My sign said:  "Need a break. $1 for food."  I also had a folded piece of cardboard crammed into the basket I used as a mattress.

 

The homeless problem was particularly noticeable at the city's major transit centers: Penn Station, Port Authority bus terminal, Grand Central, and at the entrance to pretty much every subway stop.  

 

Some of these folks were colorful and could be creative when panhandling. Most, such as the infamous spitting homeless woman of 77nd street, were demonstrably mentally deranged.  The charming lady in question would spit on upscale passersby in her neighborhood, including babies and small children, while popping out from entrances or stairwells.  The good denizens of the Upper East side endured this for five years before the administration finally stepped in recently and took her off the street.  

 

By the way, she was arrested with $19,000 in cash in one of her garbage bags.  

 

8.24.

 

"Where you goin, man?"  

 

Jeffrey scratched his hands. Years of grime ground into the skin had turned his body into a coffee color, even though he'd washed his hands and feet in the men's room sink next to me this morning.

 

"Thought I'd go get air," I said.

 

"Go behind you."

 

"No. Going down."

 

"Ok."

 

I moved down a couple of steps with Jeffrey close behind me.  I'd met him last night on 41st street and Fifth near the New York Public Library’s main branch.  Between Park avenue and Fifth avenue on 41st, the City and the Library embedded a series of plaques in the sidewalks a few years ago with quotes and sayings from famous authors.  

 

As you walk toward Fifth reading the sidewalk, you walk directly toward the entrance of the New York Public Library main branch. The sidewalk is sort of a yellow brick road, only not to Oz, but to the main library looming up like the Emerald City across the street.

 

A sort of Hollywood Walk of Fame, only for English Lit majors.

 

The street is a big hangout for the homeless and tourists.  Each day, along with the pithy quotes from Robert Frost and Thoreau, the tourists step over the homeless spread out on the sidewalk and in the doorways as they make their way to the library.

 

"Madge, I've got Emerson here."

 

"Did you see Hemingway?"

 

"Who's James Thurber?  

 

Most of their kids have never heard of the people on the plaques.  Our education system hard at work. The last thing kids want to do is read crappy plaques on the sidewalk.  Instead, they can't wait to see the Lego store at Rockefeller Center.

 

I'd slept on Hemingway last night.  He wasn't comfortable.  

 

I'd thrown my piece of cardboard over his plaque and pulled an old sleeping bag out of one of my garbage bags and layered it on top. Before saying nighty night, I'd hung out on 42nd outside the station with five or six other guys for the afternoon.  

 

That's where I'd met Jeffrey.  I was sitting on the sidewalk with my back to the wall next to Vineyard Vines when he pulled up next to me pushing a battered Kmart shopping cart.

 

I won't bore you with Jeffrey's backstory.  Suffice it to say that my new friend, and the rest of the homeless you see, weren't caught up in the subprime mortgage crisis or lost their 401k's when Lehman went bust.  

 

Mostly, they're hooked on drugs or booze.  Or both.

 

There are three types of crazies.  

 

The first are the quiet ones that sit with their heads down on the sidewalks or against walls with a small, worn cardboard sign at their feet, "Pregnant Need food" or "U.S. Vet Need job" and a used paper cup for donations. This variety sometimes has a mangy dog or cat on their lap.  They usually clear 10 or 20 bucks on a good day.  

 

The second breed are aggressive.  They wander the subway cars and wait for the train to begin moving, then stand in the middle of the car and tell people in a loud voice they're in a bad way and any donation, even pocket change, would be appreciated.  This second type also will ask you for money as you pass by on the street or through a door held open by them.  They are usually not as successful as the quiet ones.  

 

The third type are the full-on nutters.  This variety rails against the gods and speaks gibberish-- singing or talking in a language only they understand or swearing non-stop.  Passerby are advised not to make eye-contact and steer well clear of this breed. They may be prone to violent outbursts. 

 

All three types are in desperate need of either detox or a psycho ward.  

 

Their numbers grow every day. 

 

The world looks the other way.  Perfect cover for me.

 

My pal Jeffrey was the first type.  He'd spend his days shuffling around Ground Central or walking a few blocks in a circle around it, and his nights on the streets.  Once in a while, he told me, he'd end up in a shelter if a church van or the police picked him up.  But Jeffrey didn't like the shelter. "Bad things go on there, man."  He much preferred to wander the first and second level of Grand Central everyday, alone.  

 

He was adept at pulling his shopping cart up and down the marble steps.  It only had three wheels.  The fourth was lost a long time ago.

 

"I'm moving down, man,” I said. “To the clock."  I kept my eyes on it.  And on Jun and Ha.  I started to ease my cart down the white steps.

 

Jeffrey didn't object.  

 

I led the way and he kept pace behind me-- our carts making a loud noise on each step as we progressed to the main floor.

 

I was glad Jeffrey was with me.  Excellent for my cover.  Yesterday morning I'd bought my clothes from a guy taking a sponge bath in the station’s lower level east men's room shortly after it opened at 7am.  The homeless lined up every morning to do a quick armpit wash or use the toilet and there was usually a rush when they raised the doorway gate at seven sharp.  I bought my rig for three hundred dollars in 20's from a guy who looked like my size and height.  I just went up to him at the sink.

 

"Dude, I want to buy your clothes."

 

No response. He had his face down under the faucet. First one side of his face, then the other.

 

"Man, I want to buy your clothes."

 

He looked up at me and blinked.  Water dripped from his face.

 

"What?'

 

I showed him the wad of bills.

 

"Look, I don't have time.  I want to buy your clothes. Everything."

 

I looked around for the cops or army guys on patrol.  Just a few other bums and a couple of business suits carrying trendy backpacks standing at the urinals.

 

"I've got three hundred dollars here.  You're my size.   Use the stall and swap clothes."

 

 The guy just kept looking at me.

 

"Jesus, man.  I want to give this money for your clothes," I said more slowly.  "Follow me in there." I jerked my thumb at an open stall. "Take off your clothes and hand them to me in that stall-- then I'll give you the money and my clothes.  Do you get it?"

 

"You want my clothes?"

 

Finally, a glimmer of progress.

 

"Yeah.  Listen, I don't have much time."  I stepped into one of the wretched stalls.  Somehow, the toilet had already been used.  It wasn't flushed.  "Quick-- give me your coat."  I unzipped my Polo jacket and shrugged it off.  Then I unbuttoned my shirt.  I held them both in my hands, waiting.

 

"For money, right man?"

 

I showed him the money again.  "All of this, man.  Now, give your coat and your shirt."

 

He handed me the coat, which I laid on the floor while he slowly pulled his t-shirt over his head.  

 

"Quick, I don't want anyone to see us."

 

"What the hell's happening?"

 

"Just give me the pants, now."

 

He dropped his sweat pants and stepped out of them.  Then he bent down, swayed a little, and handed them to me.  I dropped those on the floor as well and handed him my shirt, jacket and then my pants.

 

So, both of us were standing there in our underwear as people passed around us.  In Grand Rapids, two men in their civvies in the middle of a public place may give people pause, but it's not an uncommon sight in the Grand Central men's room.  Or pretty much anywhere in New York City anytime day or night.

 

I could smell his clothes at my feet.  I wanted to retch.  

 

"I want your sandals too."

 

He kicked off the sandals and stood in his bare feet on the dirty tile floor.  I gave him my tennis shoes and socks.  

 

"Here's your money."  I gave him the bills and he slipped them into his stained briefs.  Or what was left of them.

 

Before he could say anything else, I grabbed the sweatpants and the shirt and put them on, holding my breath.  I slipped my feet into the sandals and pulled on his green overcoat.

 

"I want your cart, too. Another hundred."  I pulled five twenties out of a small Nike duffel I was carrying.  I had another thousand in the bag. And some other goodies, like my Sig Sauer P320 with a silencer.

 

He grabbed the money and stuffed it into his underwear with the other stash.  He looked stunned.

 

I wanted to get the hell out of there.  

 

"Thanks."  I grabbed his cart and made for the door, almost knocking over a cop coming in.  

 

The cop was talking on the radio but stopped to say, "Watch it."

 

I didn't say anything.  I walked quickly past the Shake Shack outside the men's room and up the ramp into the main hall.  The whole episode took 15 minutes. I pushed my cart through Vanderbilt Hall and out onto 42nd street.  I shambled over to Fifth avenue and sat down on the steps of the library. 

 

I had the whole day to kill.  Before I killed.

 

8.25.

 

I couldn't believe how badly I smelled.  I expected to be grossed out, but this was prize-winning.

 

I hate germs.  I mean, I really hate germs.  So much, that I live my life avoiding germs that will infect me or kill me.  Pretty much everything falls into that category.  As a result, I am constantly taking antibiotics, herbs, aspirin, supplements, sprays, z-packs, vitamins beginning with every letter of the alphabet, enemas (I have a regular colonic every 30 days. OK, TMI) and resistance-building minerals.  I’m on WebMD so often I've got it memorized. 

 

The itchy and smelly clothes I was now wearing made me want to pass out from dread.  I expected this little adventure into method acting to be gross-- that's why I went to a doctor I know uptown two days ago who gave me two shots of penicillin.   You heard me right- two.  It cost me almost $1000 cash, but I like this guy because he doesn't ask questions, he just takes the bills and slips them into his pocket.  I don't see any diplomas on his wall, and I don't want to ask.  

 

I figured that if one shot was enough to kill the brain-eating germs I was bound to get, two must be better.

 

I'd know in a couple of days, especially if my brain and other vital organs dissolved into writhing masses.  In the meantime, I thought my immersion into Street Culture 101: Substance and Effects of Trickle-Down Economics, was the only way I was going to get within two feet of Jun past Ha. Say

that after a couple of drinks.

 

I waited for Jeffrey at the bottom of the stairs until he wrestled his shopping cart down, then I hitched up my pants and started to shuffle toward the clock. I was scanning the 42nd entrance for Kenny.  

 

8.25.30

 

I didn't see Kenny.  My experience with this type of thing was that the drop would happen on time or not at all.  If Kenny was late, Jun and Ha weren't hanging around to join the tour and see the “whisper arches” on the lower level outside of the Oyster Bar.  Jun was on his way to a symposium and then aboard a private jet home.

 

Jeffrey finally got to the bottom step. A bag fell off the top of his cart and a couple of dirty shirts fell out.  He bent to pick them up. Taking his time. I wondered what else he had in his cart?  It was piled high with black bags.  For that matter, I didn't know what I had in my other bag underneath the soda cans either.  I was too skeeved to inventory the contents last night.  

 

For I knew, maybe I had $19,000 in it like the spitting lady.  Maybe Jeffrey did too.  Maybe that was standard walking- around money for the homeless in New York City.

 

Jeffrey crammed the shirts into his bag. 

 

Moving slower than a tax cut.

 

Come on.  Come on.  For Christ's sake, Jeffrey, let's get going.  

 

Jeffrey and I slowly began the push toward the clock.  Our overloaded carts strained under the load.

 

Jun was standing in front of the clock.  He turned and looked at the time.  Ha was scanning the people walking by him.  There were a lot people to scan.  I'd read somewhere about 700,000 people-a-day pass through Grand Central- about the same population of Alaska.  And most of them at right about this time.

 

Shit.  No Kenny.  

 

I'm halfway to the clock.

 

"I'm thirsty, man," Jeffrey said.

 

"I need a coke, too, man."  We shuffled on.

 

No Kenny.  

 

Keep walking.  If Kenny didn't show, I was supposed to shoot Jun anyway.

 

8.27.

 

I woman with a red Birkin bag wearing an expensive black pant suit stopped right in front of us and adjusted her shoe.  

 

We stopped.  I couldn't hurry this, it would draw attention. Ha was too good. 

 

I looked at hands of the big clock in front of me than back to her. Great. She’s bending now. Tell me she's not examining her shoe before she slips her damn foot back into it.  Sure enough, she slips it off and looks at the bottom.  Chanel flats.  

 

Come on.  Come on.

 

"Wait up."  Jeffrey stopped and scratched his arms.  His plastic bag keeps slipping off the pile.  He moves it back on top.

 

I noticed a pair of National Guardies off to my left looking at us.  A man and woman.  The woman looked mean.  But she really filled out those camo BDU pants.

 

Mind on the task, Dreme.

 

8.27.30.

 

I keep looking toward the Vanderbilt entrance to my right and straight ahead at the other two entrance arches toward Lexington and the subways straight in front of me.  

 

No Kenny. 

 

Then he walked by me on my right.  From behind.  

 

Hadn't thought about that.

 

It was him alright.  Kenny thought he was keeping a low profile by wearing a zippered fleece Patagonia vest, jeans and a Mets baseball cap pulled low over his face.  But I got a good look at his profile as he went by.  The photos in the errand file were current. 

 

Sure enough, he had the bag. And he was heading straight for the Korean Batman and Robin. 

 

8.28.

 

Kenny slowed up for a minute and then stopped.  He was looking for Jun. He noticed Ha. He seemed to hesitate.  Then he noticed Jun.  

 

"Let's go," I said to Jeffrey.  I started pushing again.

 

The wheels on the carts squeaked.  

 

8.28.20.

 

Jeffrey starts singing.  Not humming.  Singing.  Loud. 

 

"Oops, I did it again.  You messed with my heart.  And now we're apart..."  

 

What the hell?

 

"You broke up my heart, oh baby, baby..."

 

The Army's looking at us. 

 

Jesus.  

 

Jeffrey doing a cover of Britney Spears.  Badly.

 

"Oh baby, baby.  I'm lost in the game.  Oops, I did it again... Oh baby, baby…"

 

Over and over.

 

Ha glances toward us.  Kenny moving close to Jun.  Ha eyes Kenny.

 

8.29.

 

Ha sees Kenny before Jun does.  Jun has his back to the clock, looking back at the Apple store and the two entrances into the hall to his right.

 

Ha says something to Jun.  Jun looks left and sees Kenny.  Kenny stops and looks around. Ten feet from Jun.  Kenny looking at Jun.  Jun smiles.  Kenny moves up.  He looks like he's going to shake Jun's hand.

 

Ha looks at me.  The twin carts on approach.  Two bums, shuffling. 

 

Ha starts his scan and pans right. Kenny and Jun in the middle of his gaze.

 

"I did it again.  Oops.  I did it again. Oops.  Lost in the stars."

 

"Oh, baby, baby..."

 

8.30.  

 

I'm two feet from Jun and Kenny.  Ha to the right.  Jeffrey to the left. 

 

A guy in a suit passes in front of me.  

 

Two Japanese tourists stop by Jun and look up at the painted ceiling.  The girl points at the famous astrological pictograms.

 

"Oops, I did it again..."

 

Kenny hands the bag to Jun. Starts to say something. Jun is taking the bag with his hand...

 

"Oh, baby, baby.."

 

I pull my .38 from the Nike bag and shoot Jun twice in the head.  The Japanese tourists look over.

 

Jun’s head dissolves.  

 

Korean brains spatter the ticket window behind him. 

 

The monitor showing 8.40 Stamford Track 105 BOARDING drips red and gray gunk.

 

It doesn't register with Kenny what he sees.  He starts to look at me.  I shoot him twice in the face.  

 

Ha has his weapon out.  I shoot twice.

 

8.30.17.

 

Here's the thing about silencers.  First, they ain't that silent.  Depending upon the length, the caliber and the baffling, the bloody things make noise.  Sometimes they sound a bit metallic.  Sometimes they sound like a "Phut."  Sometimes it's a low bang.  But all make a noise.  Sometimes a big noise.  That's why the accurate name is suppressor, not silencer.  

 

Mine made a big noise.  Even with the din of hundreds of people walking in every direction around me.  To me, it sounded like it made a helluva big noise.

 

I missed Ha.  A ticket window with a shade drawn that said CLOSED behind the clock across the lobby under the Big Board exploded. 

 

He cracked off two shots. A guy next to me dropped his briefcase and fell to ground screaming, clutching his side. I saw someone else go down around the entrance to Track 26.

 

I reached down and grabbed Kenny's bag, running toward the Lexington exit with my automatic in hand.

 

Everyone in the terminal froze in place.  The Japanese woman started screaming.  Then, everyone else did.

 

Imagine about two thousand people running in every direction, howling at the top of their lungs. Then, layer in the acoustics of a huge, 125 foot-high dome and hundreds more people pouring into the terminal from 67 tracks on two levels.   

 

It was scene that defied description.

 

People were falling, crawling and bouncing off each other.  They ran for every exit.  They ran back onto the train platforms and took cover in the trains.  People ran blindly.  They heard shots, heard screaming, and that was enough.  ISIS was here. 

 

Greenwich and Chappaqua blue bloods clawed at each other to get the hell out of there.

 

The Army was running through the pandemonium toward what was left of Jun and Kenny.  Machine guns in hand. This was a terrorist event.  Their walky-talkies crackled to life.  But they couldn't swim against the rip-tide of running people.  They couldn't make their way through the screaming crowd.

 

Even the NYPD looked up.

 

Jeffrey stopped singing.  

 

Three days ago, as I hatched my terrific escape plan in my pea brain, I figured I could shoot Ha, Kenny and Jun and hoof it out before people realized what had happened.  Dreme luck.  I actually believed that I'd shoot three guys and then casually walk away, not exactly strolling, but say, at a brisk walk.  Of course, a stampede didn't factor into my feeble equation.

 

I'm a moron.  I hadn't figured that I'd trigger Armageddon.

 

Or miss Ha.

 

I have no idea how I missed him.  Maybe because of my adrenaline pumping like the Deepwater Horizon.  Maybe because I was already beginning to run.  Either way, I missed Ha twice from less than 5 feet away.  

 

The Boy Scouts will revoke my marksmanship merit badge.

 

Just as soon as I started to run, I was joined by another three thousand people.   It was almost impossible to move, let alone run.  People were slipping, falling, crawling, crying, screaming and otherwise, totally freaked out. Ha also couldn't move without running a human obstacle course.

 

I stuffed Kenny's bag into one of my coat pockets and made my way through the melee as best I could; trying to run when I could.  Impossible. I could barely move. I brush-blocked a few people and knocked them down. I didn’t care.  Keep going.

 

Ha was close behind me.  I quickly put my gun in my coat pocket because I needed both arms and hands to push people away.  I was carried by the throng heading toward the Lexington avenue exit.  Kind of like a leaf in a stream heading toward the gutter.  I made by way to the edge of the crowd and was swept by a homeless guy sitting on one of the portable radiation detectors at the entrance of Track 21.  His head was on his chest. Probably sleeping off a heroin fix from earlier in the morning.  He didn't even look up at the human river passing by.  

 

I had to find some space to run. I fought my way to the corridor just inside the track entrances on the main level.  The traffic was better here.  I was able to run at a pretty good clip east toward Lexington.  Heading out the doors with the rest of the people was out of the question.  I was running parallel to the crowd straight toward a concrete wall at Track 15.  Dead-end unless I wanted to rejoin the throng to my right.

 

Ha took a shot.  The bullet bit into the wall in front of me-- a couple of concrete chips flew out so close one hit me in the face.  Damn thing drew blood on my cheek.

 

No choice.  Left it is.  I turned down the track and ran along 15's platform.  I couldn't take the time to see how close Ha was-- I had to make some space between us because it was clear I was going to have to fight this out. I wasn’t optimistic.  In a match between the Ha the Giant and Dreme, the nervous guy with asthma loses.

 

Track 15 is a utility and maintenance track.  No trains.  Just spare parts and the left-overs from the past 100 years repairing dozens of tracks and switches.  I ran by a dozen cherry-picker lifts lined up in a neat row at the beginning of the track.  I ducked into the middle of the pack and looked back.  Ha was running full tilt toward me.  I put a fresh clip in my piece and shot twice.  He pitched head first behind the first lift.

 

I didn't wait, I ran down the platform using the old columns and the construction stuff as cover.  I weaved in and out of tons of garbage bags, junk and tools.  A bullet winged over my shoulder and bored itself into a huge wooden spool in front of me.  I looked for a damn way out.  No joy.  I kept running.

 

They were more spools, iron rail anchors, heavy stacks of rails, bunches of tools and big red and yellow boxes in front of me. I used them as cover.  I tried a door to the right of me that said REPAIR ROOMS/BENCHES.  Locked.

 

The track was lighted by a few ancient fluorescent bulbs last changed in 1965.  But that was good.  The yellow light meant I could hide in the shadows.  But so could Ha.  I saw his head and shoulders looming above the piles of parts and took another shot in his direction.  He ducked down behind a tall pile of rusty rails and let go another shot. This one whistled over my head as I ducked behind a garbage dumpster filled with metal pieces.  

 

The platform was blocked in front of me by more huge garbage dumpsters filled with refuse.  I don't know which smelled the worst, the platform and garbage-strewn wet track or me.  

 

The only way I could go was down.  I jumped off the platform onto the tracks, trying to miss the third rail. More Dreme luck, I missed the electric rail but fell in the space between two wooden ties, splitting my knee open when I hit the wood.  Dirty, ankle deep water too. Shit, I could see blood through the tear in my sweat pants. A lot of blood. I hurt like a bitch.  I think I broke something.  I couldn't run, my ankle was twisted or broken.  The pain was white hot.

 

Many tracks over, I could see a couple of stopped trains on the tracks to my left as I limped along. Crumbling concrete walls about five feet high separated me from being able to jump onto any adjacent tracks. The trains had their lights on. Metro North Control must have stopped all of the outbound and inbound trains as soon as the panic started.  

 

I heard Ha knocking over something in the semi-darkness behind me.

 

I came upon a flatbed railcar laden with stacked iron rails.  The rusting rails had to be 20 or 30 feet long. There was no room to pass along either side of the car without squeezing myself into a pretzel.  I hugged the concrete platform and snaked between the railcar and the platform with about six inches to spare.  I couldn't move my arm to shoot.  Both arms were pinned to my side in order to scrunch through the space.  My back was to the platform and my stomach was scraping along the car.  

 

Ha fired another shot from down the platform.  I couldn't see him in the poor light. And vice versa. Thank God.

 

I passed the end of the car and limped down the tracks.  I looked back and fired a shot over my shoulder toward the car.  Ha would have to edge his way along the side of the car like me.  I kept looking for an exit.  I passed a couple but they were off the platform above me and I couldn't pull myself up from the tracks.  The platform was too high.  Unless I wanted to stand on the third rail.

 

Another shot from Ha.  Shit.  He was clear of the car.  Damn, how did Godzilla make it past? 

 

I had to end this.  Now.

 

There was no place to hide on the tracks.  I was a nothing but target. But now so was he.  

 

I pitched on my belly and laid down in the well underneath the lip of the platform next to the third rail and watched him come down the track toward me.  I was laying in a pool of oily water but I was beyond caring. Ha was gingerly walking on top of the ties to avoid falling into the spaces between them. He saw me at the last minute. His gun swiveled toward me. A bullet winged off into the darkness next to my head. I swear it grazed my ear.

 

I cracked off three shots and Ha went down.  

 

One one thousand.  Two one thousand.  Three one thousand. No movement. I had to make sure this guy was dead.

 

I put another clip into the gun and got to my feet. 

 

I gingerly limped back to where he was, hugging the platform above me, pistol in my right hand.  Ha was collapsed in kind of a lotus position in the dirty space between two ties.  I Could barely see in the lousy light.

 

Maybe he was faking. I waited. No movement.  I saw his head above the ties.  He didn't look so good. His face was mashed against the wood. I took careful aim and removed the top three inches of his skull with my next round.  He wasn't faking.

 

I thought I heard some voices in the tunnel coming toward me. Time to leave.

 

About four more blocks down the tracks I found a small set of stairs.  I hauled myself up to the platform and limped another two blocks past more old equipment and garbage until I found a set of stairs heading up to a doorway labeled 59th street.

 

I was a mess.  I'd lost my flip-flops.  I had splinters in the bottoms of both feet. My right leg was a bloody mess and my ankle looked like it was stuffed with two balloons. I reached up and touched my bleeding face.  Great.  I just infected the cut with more germs. I needed to get patched up. Fast.

 

I thought about the germs I'd absorbed over the past 24 hours as I climbed up to 59th and wanted to pass out.  

 

For some reason I thought of that pharma ad on TV where the people sing "The sun will come out tomorrow."  I started to hum.

 

If I survived the next couple of days without dying from pretty much every germ imaginable maybe I should audition.  I'd shave my head and learn to sing.

 

Daddy Warbucks Dreme.

 

I coughed and cracked open the door to the street. 

 

My immediate concern was my leg.  

 

And to find as much Purell as possible.

 

9:23.

Even the NYPD looked up.

 

Jeffrey stopped singing.  

 

 As I hatched my terrific escape plan in my pea brain, I figured I could shoot Ha, Kenny and Jun and hoof it out before people realized what had happened.  Dreme luck.  I actually believed that I’d shoot three guys and then casually walk away, not exactly strolling, but say, at a brisk walk.  Of course, a stampede didn’t factor into my feeble equation.

 

I’m a moron.  I hadn’t figured that I’d trigger Armageddon.

 

Or miss Ha.

 

I have no idea how I missed him.  Maybe because of my adrenaline pumping like the Deepwater Horizon.  Maybe because I was already beginning to run.  Either way, I missed Ha twice from less than 5 feet away.  

 

The Boy Scouts will revoke my marksmanship merit badge.

 

 Just as soon as I started to run, I was joined by another three thousand people.   It was almost impossible to move, let alone run.  People were slipping, falling, crawling, crying, screaming and otherwise, totally freaked out. Ha also couldn’t move without running a human obstacle course.

 

I stuffed Kenny’s bag into one of my coat pockets and made my way through melee as best I could; trying to run when I could.  Impossible. I could barely move. I brush blocked  a few people and knocked them down,  Keep going.

 

Ha was close behind me.  I quickly put my gun in my coat pocket because I needed both arms and hands to push people away.  I was carried by the throng heading toward the Lexington avenue exit.  Kind of like a leaf in a stream heading toward the gutter.  I made by way to the edge of the crowd and was swept by a homeless guy sitting on one of the portable radiation detectors at entrance of Track 21.  His head was on his chest. Probably  sleeping off a heroin fix from early in the morning.  He didn’t even look up at the human river passing by.  

 

I had to find some space to run. I fought my way to the corridor just inside the track entrances on the main level.  The traffic was better here.  I was able to run at a pretty good clip east toward Lexington.  Heading out the doors with the rest of the people was out of the question.  I was running parallel to the crowd straight toward a concrete wall at Track 15.  Dead-end unless I wanted to rejoin the throng to my right.

 

Ha took a shot.  The bullet bit into the wall in front of me— a couple of concrete chips flew out so close one hit me in the face.  Damn thing drew blood on my cheek.

 

No choice.  Left it is.  I turned down the track and ran along 15’s platform.  I couldn’t take the time to see how close Ha was— I had to make some space between us because it was clear I was going to have to fight this out.  In a match between the Ha the Giant and Dreme, the nervous guy with asthma loses.

 

Track 15 is a utility and maintenance track.  No trains.  Just spare parts and the left-overs from over 100 years repairing dozens of tracks and switches.  I ran past about a dozen cherry-picker lifts lined up in a neat row at the beginning of the track.  I ducked into the middle of the pack and looked back.  Ha was running full tilt toward me.  I put a fresh clip in my piece and shot twice.  He pitched head first behind the first lift.

 

I didn’t wait, I ran down the platform using the old columns and the construction stuff as cover.  I weaved in and out of tons of garbage bags, junk and tools.  A bullet winged over my shoulder and bored itself into a huge wooden spool in front of me.  I looked for a damn way out.  No joy.  I kept running.

 

They were more spools, iron rail anchors, heavy stacks of rails, bunches of tools and big red and yellow boxes in front of me.  I tried the door to the right of me that said REPAIR ROOMS/BENCHES.  Locked.

 

The track was lighted by a few ancient fluorescent bulbs last changed in 1965.  But that was good.  The yellow light mean’t I could hide in the shadows.  But so could Ha.  I saw his head and shoulders looming above the piles of parts and took another shot in his direction.  He ducked down behind a tall pile of rusty rails and let go another shot. This one whistled over my head as I ducked behind a garbage dumpster filled with metal pieces.  

 

The platform was blocked in front of me by more huge garbage dumpsters filled with refuse.  I don’t know which smelled the worst, the platform and the dirty, garbage-strewn wet track or me.  

 

The only way I could go was down.  I jumped off the platform onto the tracks,  trying to miss the third rail. More Dreme luck, I missed the electric rail but fell in the space between two wooden ties, splitting my knee open when I hit the wood.  Ankle deep water too. Shit, I could see blood through the tear in my sweat pants. A lot of blood. I hurt like a bitch.  I think I broke something.  I couldn’t run,  My ankle was twisted or broken.  The pain was white hot.

 

Many tracks over, I could see a couple of stopped trains on the tracks to my left as I limped along. Crumbling concrete walls about five feet high separated me from being able to jump onto any adjacent tracks. The trains had their lights on. Metro North Control must have stopped all of the outbound and inbound trains as soon as the panic started.  

 

I heard Ha knocking over something in the semi-darkness behind me.

 

I came upon a flatbed railcar laden with stacked iron rails.  The rusting rails had to be 20 or 30 feet long. There was no room to pass along either side of the car without squeezing myself into a pretzel.  I hugged the concrete platform and snaked between the railcar and the platform with about six inches to spare.  I couldn’t move my arm to shoot.  Both arms were pinned to my side in order to scrunch through the space.  My back was to the platform and my stomach was scraping along the car.  

 

Ha fired another shot from down the platform.  I couldn’t see him in the poor light. And vice versa. Thank God.

 

I passed the end of the car and limped down the tracks.  I looked back and fired a shot over my shoulder toward the car.  Ha would have to edge his way along the side of the car like me.  I kept looking for an exit.  I passed a couple but they were off the platform above me and I couldn’t pull myself up from the tracks.  The platform was too high.  Unless I wanted to stand on the third rail.

 

Another shot from Ha.  Shit.  He was clear of the car.  Damn, how did Gigantor make it past? 

 

I had to end this.  Now.

 

There was no place to hide on the tracks.  I was a nothing but target. But now so was he.   I pitched on to my belly and laid down in the well underneath the lip of the platform next to the third rail and watched him come down the track toward me.  I was laying in a pool of oily water but I was beyond caring. He was gingerly walking on top of the ties to avoid falling into the spaces between them. He saw me at the last minute. His gun swiveled toward me. I cracked off three shots and he went down.  

 

No movement. I had to make sure this guy was dead.

 

I put another clip into the gun and got to my feet. 

 

 I gingerly limped back to where he was, hugging the platform above me.  Gun outstretched in my right hand.  Ha was collapsed in kind of a lotus position in the dirty space between two ties.  Could barely see in the lousy light.

 

Maybe he was faking. No movement.  I saw his head above the ties.  He didn’t look so good. His face was mashed against the wood. I took careful aim and removed the top three inches of his skull with my next round.  He wasn’t faking.

 

About four more blocks down the tracks I found a small set of stairs.  I hauled myself up to the platform and limped another two blocks past more old equipment and garbage until I found a set of stairs heading up to a doorway labeled 59th street.

 

I was a mess.  I’d lost my flip-flops.  I had splinters in the bottoms of both feet. My right leg as a bloody mess and my ankle looked like it was stuffed with two balloons. I reached up and touched my bleeding face.  Great.  I just infected the cut with more germs. I needed to get patched up. Fast.

 

I thought about the germs I’d absorbed over the past 24 hours as I climbed up to 59th.  

 

For some reason I thought of that pharma ad on TV where the people sing “The sun will come out tomorrow.”  I started to hum.

 

If I survived the next couple of days without dying from pretty much every germ imaginable maybe I should audition.  I’d shave my head and learn to sing.

 

Daddy Warbucks Dreme.

 

I coughed and cracked open the door to the street. 

 

I’d run 17 blocks underground. 

 

My immediate concern was my leg.  

 

And to find as much Purell as possible.

 

9:23.

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© 2019 by Jay R. Stuck.  

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