I looked around the area, noticing for the first time that Dog had stayed with me. He sat next to my right leg, alert and patient, waiting to see what we were going to do next. We had to find Roach, but it was a big building and he could be almost anywhere in it by now. Well, that wasn’t exactly true. He hadn’t run past me into the kitchen areas. There was also access to the administrative offices just past the kitchen and I was confident he hadn’t gone there either.
Where would I run if I were him? I looked around the large open space then remembered the sketch I’d been carrying with me. Pulling it out I stared at it for close to a minute. If I eliminated the service areas that I was currently standing next to as well as the VIP area where my group had gone…
Letting the paper fall to the floor I started running. The VIP area. That had to be how Roach had gotten in and it made sense he would head there in his attempt to escape. He had a head start and could be hiding in either the lounge or up on the roof. Zemeck’s arms were full, carrying Katie, and Rachel was using both hands to keep pressure on her wound. That meant only Martinez had the freedom to fight and defend them from a surprise attack and she was rushing to get to the Pave Hawk’s med-kit and might get caught unprepared.
Fear for my wife and friends leant wings to my feet as I charged across the length of the casino, Dog running beside me. I had covered perhaps fifty yards when I remembered the radio and began shouting into it as I ran, but Zemeck wasn’t answering. I ran harder, rage supplanting the fear and coursing through my limbs. There would be no hesitation, no holding back. Roach would die the instant I had an opportunity.
It seemed to take forever but I’m pretty sure I broke my own speed records as I ran. Finally I could see the velvet ropes guarding the leather upholstered entrance to the VIP lounge. The door was closed, which didn’t mean anything. There was most likely a pneumatic closer on it to ensure the privacy and comfort of the people who were granted access.
The ropes were hooked to portable stanchions and created a large buffer zone between the door and the main floor of the casino. Without slowing I vaulted over the barrier, Dog running underneath it, then pulled to a stop at the entrance to the lounge. I reached out to yank the door open but paused and forced myself to take two deep breaths to get my respiration and heart rate under control.
Rifle gripped in my right hand I raised it to the ready position as I turned the oversized knob with my left and slowly pushed the door open. I could immediately hear voices and Dog slipped through as soon as the opening was wide enough for him. I followed a second later, softly closing the door behind me.
There was a small vestibule, no more than a dozen feet across, then an archway on the right that opened into the lounge. Dog had moved to the corner and stopped, waiting for me. I joined him and listened a moment before peeking around the edge after recognizing Roach’s voice.
He was ranting, the madness clear in his tone. Rachel was trying to talk him down. She was pleading with him to let them get to the roof but he was growing more agitated by the moment. Rifle ready I leaned my head out enough to see farther into the room. The first thing I saw was Martinez on the floor, blood soaking into the carpet underneath her. She had been shot and I couldn’t tell if she was still alive or not.
Zemeck was standing, still cradling Katie in his arms, body turned to shield her from Roach. Rachel was facing him, both hands pressing on Katie’s chest, her head turned to look at Roach as she begged for him to let them by. The other women we’d rescued were huddled together at the far edge of the room and Roach stood with his back to the door that led to the roof, facing my side of the room. He held a small Uzi at arm’s length, aimed directly at Zemeck, Rachel and Katie. His finger was on the trigger.
The only way to take him was to step fully into the room so I could acquire my target and fire. Several problems with that. Friendlies were standing directly in my line of fire, which also meant they were in Roach’s line of fire if he got a shot off when he saw me. He also already had his weapon up and aimed, his finger on the trigger. Something like five pounds of pressure was all that was needed for him to start firing. Could I do it?
Could I step out, target his head and put him down before he could fire? I didn’t like the odds. I needed him to go down like someone had turned off a switch. That meant a shot to the brain stem at the back of the skull. That would be instant death with no possibility of a dying nerve impulse causing his finger to contract and fire the Uzi. I was confident I could take him out, but I wasn’t comfortable enough that I could do it without getting my friends shot that I was willing to take the risk. That left one option.
“You want me. Not them.” I said, stepping into the open with my hands at my side. I had already told Dog to stay back and he remained hidden around the corner.
“You!” Roach’s eyes widened and he screamed, spittle flying from his lips. “You’re the cause of all of this! Everything was fine until you showed up.”
“That’s right,” I said, slowly moving forward. “It is my fault, and here I am. Let them go and we can settle this.”
I had moved fully into the lounge and was now standing next to Zemeck. Roach glared at me, eyes wild as he swiveled the Uzi to point at my face. Slowly reaching out I put my hand on Matt’s shoulder and pushed. He took a step to the side, opening a little space between us.
“You and me, Roach.” I said, locking eyes with the madman. “They don’t matter. Put the gun down and let’s all walk away.”
From the corner of my eye I could see Zemeck still edging away. I needed to keep Roach’s attention on me so I slowly raised my hands and worked my rifle’s sling over my head, gently placing the weapon on the floor opposite of where Matt stood. Roach’s eyes followed my movements, which was exactly what I wanted.
Next I removed my vest, careful to lay it on the floor beside the rifle without blocking my access in case an opportunity arose for me to grab it. Finally, I carefully drew my pistol from its thigh holster, bending slightly to place it on top of the vest. Completely disarmed except for a couple of blades, I straightened, glad to note that Zemeck had opened up a few more feet while I was distracting Roach.
“Now I’m unarmed. I can’t hurt you. Just walk away. No one will come after you. No one will be hunting you. I don’t care. I just want to get my wife to a doctor.”
I took a slow half step so that I was standing directly over the pistol. It was slightly above floor level, resting on my vest, and I knew I could get to it fast. When I’d pulled it out of the holster I’d clicked the safety off. There was already a round in the chamber and the hammer was cocked. All I had to do was drop, grab it, aim and pull the trigger. Sounds easy, and it is if there’s not a psycho staring at you over the sights of a machine pistol.
Roach’s eyes flicked down to my weapons, then back up to my face. He was sweating but seemed to be bringing himself under control. For a brief moment I actually thought he might turn and run, but he smiled a frightening smile.
“I’ve wanted to do this since the first time we met.” He said and pulled the trigger.
I’ve always heard the expression ‘my life flashed before my eyes’, but had never experienced it until that moment. My mind sped up and a whole series of memories played out in a fraction of a second. Going quail hunting with my dad. My first beer. My first car accident. The death of every teammate I’d ever lost. The first time I ever saw Katie. Katie lying in our bed, smiling up at me.
Then the Uzi’s hammer clicked, loud in the quiet room. I stood there waiting for the bullet that would be racing down the weapon’s barrel, starting its spin as the rifling caused it to twist as it approached the muzzle. Then the flame from the burning gun powder that escaped just ahead of the projectile that would cross the thirty feet of open space in far less time than it would take me to blink. The impact of the round wouldn’t hurt at first, pain coming later, or maybe not at all if it struck my head and tore through my brain.
But none of that happened. There was just the click when Roach pulled the trigger, then nothing. I stood there for a heartbeat, my mind at first not understanding why I was still alive. He was out of ammo, or the round in the chamber had failed to fire, or the weapon had malfunctioned. I processed all of these thoughts in an instant, then my body kicked in and I dove for the pistol.
Roach’s reaction was faster than I expected as he dropped the Uzi, turned to slam through the door and run up the stairs to the roof. The door was already closing by the time I had the pistol up and even though I didn’t have a clear target I put several rounds into the stairwell hoping for a lucky shot.
Running forward I blasted through the door in time to see Roach disappear through the opening onto the roof. Charging up after him I couldn’t tell if there was any blood on the red carpet so I had no idea if he was wounded or not. Not slowing at the top, I stumbled onto the roof and barely had time to register the attack coming from my right side before a vent pipe smashed into my right arm, knocking the pistol out of my grip to skid several feet away.
Roach lunged for the weapon, falling on it. I was on his back before he could pick it up, pinning his arms and rolling us away. He flailed and kicked as we rolled, his strength fueled by madness and panic and I was surprised when he was able to tear an arm free and reach for the pistol.
I still had one of his arms locked back and when he tried for the weapon I brought the heel of my free hand forward and snapped his elbow. The joint gave with a wet snap, Roach howling in pain a moment later. Not releasing the arm I dragged him twenty feet across the roof and rolled him over, intending to wrap him up and break his neck, but he slithered out of my arms and scrambled away from me.
Getting my feet under me I twisted and launched, driving my shoulder into his chest and up into his chin. He flopped back from the impact, but I had a grip on him now that he couldn’t break, pinning his throat with my left hand. Swiveling, I went to a knee with my left shoulder in the middle of his back and my hand still locked around the front of his neck. He struggled, trying to break free, but I wasn’t letting go.
Reaching up with my right hand I interlaced the fingers of both hands and jerked down with all the power in my arms and shoulders as I lifted up with my legs. I both felt and heard Roach’s spine snap where it contacted my left shoulder, all movement from him immediately ceasing. Releasing him I pushed his body off of me where it flopped to the roof with a dull thud. Standing, I looked down and met his eyes.
They were no longer filled with madness, only fear and pain. Without a word I bent over and grabbed the front of his shirt, lifting his upper body off the roof as I dragged him to the edge. Looking over I could see the large group of infected Zemeck told me had arrived. Dozens of females looked up, several of them screaming when they saw me.
Wrapping my hands in the front of Roach’s shirt I lifted him onto his useless legs, supporting his weight with his face inches from mine.
“God, please. No.” He said, unable to turn his head to see the infected, but able to clearly hear them.
“God’s not here. Only me.” I said, shoving him out over the edge and releasing his shirt.
Roach started to cartwheel as he fell, screaming all the way down where he landed on the infected waiting with raised arms. His screams seemed to go on a long time as they tore into him with tooth and nail.