By .Longshot. 14 Comments
THREE YEARS, FOUR MONTHS AGO
Once again, Olivia entered what was slowly becoming her home and, as if the action was engraved in her mind, dropped her backpack at the door, slumping her shoulders and sighing to signify another day done. The monotony of this life was maddening. All that she wanted was to return to her old life, to fight like she used to, but she knew that she couldn't. So, she carried on through the pain of normality. She glanced up and saw Paxton sitting in a chair, looking at her with a quaint smile. On the coffee table in front of him, there were two forks, two plates, and a cake.
"What--?" she began, but was too flustered to continue.
"You turned twelve today." Longshot pointed out.
"But... how did you know?"
"I just did a little research." Longshot explained, "Besides, it's my job to know. Now, sit down! It took me three tries to make a cake that didn't catch on fire, so I'm very proud of this." Olivia sat down and Paxton served her a piece. She ate in silence, keeping her eyes down. "Hey," Paxton said, kissing her on the forehead, "Happy birthday, Olivia."
He got up and walked over to the kitchen. Olivia looked down at his mask resting idly on the table in front of her. She held it in her hand, wiping the glass of the red eyepiece. She buried her face in the mask and used it to wipe her tears.
The slow rattling of chains played in the man's ears as he slowly drifted back into consciousness. His arms were chained together and hoisted above his head. His feet dangled just above the ground. The world around him was dark, too dark to make anything out, but he could tell by the heavy echo that he was surrounded on all sides by thick concrete. "W-where... where..." he stammered, blowing a strand of hair from in front of his eyes.
"You're in hell." called a voice from the darkness, "And there's only one way out."
"Who's there?" the man called out, voice quivering as he hung helpless in the cold. He heard no answer. With a fretful whimper, he finally shouted, "WHO ARE YOU?!"
Suddenly, a sound cracked the silence and the rapid hiss of a propane torch followed. The flame spewed out and in the small light of it was the face of Longshot. The man's heart began beating faster at the sight of the flame. "What... whattayou want from me?"
"The truth." Longshot replied, drawing an arrow from his back. He began slowly moving the flame of the torch up and down the length of the arrowhead. "Rodney Drake. You're the bookie who took bets on the tournament held last week in the old meat packing plant. You held bets on the opening bracket the night before at Sal's. I paid the good folks there a visit the other day, and they pointed me to you." As Longshot was speaking, the Rodney's eyes traced the path of the flame along the arrowhead, sweat running down his face despite the cold atmosphere of the room. "But for the second round of the tournament, and every match after that, you had to be there. So... you're the one I want to talk to." he paused for a moment before saying her name, "Olivia Markopolos."
"Wh-who?" the bookie stammered.
The archer set aside the torch and walked up to his captive, talking a clump of greasy hair in his hand. "Olivia. Markopolos." he snarled, "Fifteen years old. Black hair. Brown eyes. I want to know who she went up against when she died. I want you to tell me who killed her." he let go of Rodney's hair and the bookie's head dropped as he struggled to breathe normally and repress the urge to scream.
"She... she signed up." he said, "She knew what she was getting into. If she died, it's not my fault... not anybody's fault... but her's."
"Wrong answer." Longshot replied.
He screamed as a red hot arrowhead was placed flat against his underarm. Hair coiled up and burned, sweat boiled, and flesh was left charred in the triangular shape that had branded him. He writhed like a dish on the deck of a boat, crying out in pain. "Now, then..." said Longshot, "If you don't give me the information I'm looking for..." he held the glowing red arrowhead up to Rodney's face, "Then this arrow goes into your right leg. Oh, don't worry, it'll cauterize the wound. The problem comes when blood stops flowing through you're femoral artery. That's the main route for blood into your leg, by the way. So, I'll just leave you here to watch your leg whither and die. Don't worry, though. The paramedics will find you. Eventually."
"AAAAH! OKAY!" Rodney howled, "I'll tell you! I'll tell you whatever you want! Just, please! Please, don't! PLEASE!"
Longshot lowered the arrow and peered straight into the man's glassy, panicked eyes. Once again, he asked, "Who?"
"I don't know!" Rodney shrieked, "Some guy, wore a mask! A black mask! With a skull on it!"
Longshot's expression eased. "That's all I needed to hear." He reached up with the arrow and pressed the tip to Drake's chest. The man screamed in uncontrollable agony, uselessly flailing his legs and begging for help even though he knew no one could hear him. Longshot stepped back and observed what he had made, a large dollar sign engraved into the man's chest, burned forever in his flesh. "There." he said, "Now everyone will know the reason why you lead a little girl to her death." With that, he turned and walked of, away from his victim. "I'll call the cops and tell them you're here in a few hours." He opened the door and without turning to face the man, he said, "Sit tight, Rodney."
TWO YEARS, SIX MONTHS AGO
Olivia sat slumped over the kitchen counter, doing her homework. She still had a stack of textbooks waiting to be reviewed. She glanced over at the clock. It was past midnight. She wiped her eyes and kept working. Some time later, Longshot walked in. "Late night, huh?" he asked. There was a slight limp in his stride. Somebody had managed to hit him.
"Yeah." Olivia groaned.
"Hey..." he said, leaning over the counter across from her and peeling off his mask to look upon her with sincerity, "You've come a long way this last year. I know it was hard for you. When I tried to change, it was like cutting off my own arm, so to see you take it in stride, well... I just wanted to say that I'm proud of you."
"Thanks, Paxton." she replied softly.
"I'm gonna get my two hours before I hit the streets again." Longshot yawned, wandering into the small room set aside for him on the rare occasion when he slept.
"Paxton..." Olivia called out at a whisper, knowing that he could hear her no matter how softly she spoke.
"Yeah?" he asked, turning to face her again as he stood in the doorway.
"Can you... can you teach me to fight?"
"What?" Longshot snapped, "Why would you want me to teach you how to fight?"
"No reason..." she answered sheepishly, "Just in case I needed it. Will you?"
"No!" Paxton replied forcefully, walking across the room towards her.
"Because, Olivia, every move I know is designed to kill. It took months of training and focus to change them, and it takes extreme restraint and discipline to use them without killing somebody, restraint and discipline you don't have!"
"So I'm not good enough? Is that it?! I'm not good enough to learn from the all-knowing Longshot?!"
"I've tried to teach you why you don't need to fight! I don't want you to learn that, because I know how you'll end up!"
"And how will I end up if you teach me to fight?"
"Dead, Olivia!" Longshot's words were followed by Olivia's silence. He continued, "If you live a life of violence, you will die! And I'm not gonna have any part of that."
"Fine." Olivia sighed. It was at that moment that Paxton realized she had her hands tucked neatly into the pockets of her sweatshirt the entire time they were arguing. "Let me see your hands." he said.
"Olivia, let me see your hands." he repeated, voice booming with authority.
Reluctantly, the girl pulled her hands from her pockets and lay them out on the white tile counter for him to see. The knuckles had been scraped raw. The skin surrounding them was red and puffy. There was a cut on one of her fingers, the width of a human tooth. "You've been fighting again!" he growled.
"It wasn't my fault!" Olivia pleaded, "This eighth grader was picking on Ryan in my class! I ambushed him in the alley on his way home! You should be proud of me!"
"No, Olivia! When you see something like that, you tell a teacher!"
"Why? Is that what you do? When you see somebody hurting people, you fight him!"
"It doesn't matter what I do, Olivia!" the archer bellowed, "You can't just fight people! Don't undermine me, just listen and do as I say!"
Olivia stalled. She bit her lip and held her head in her hands. Finally, she looked up at him, eyes glassy and red as she said, "I can't do this, Paxton!" She wiped her eyes on her sleeve, "I can't... I can't be ordinary." She sobbed quietly, and the anger slowly dissolved from Longshot's face, giving way to sympathy.
"It's okay..." he cooed, placing his hand on hers. "Tell ya what, if, when you turn eighteen, you still can't deal with normal life, I'll train you and you can fight the bad guys with me."
"You mean it?"
"Yeah. I mean it. It sure beats being ordinary. But no fighting until then, promise?" Olivia nodded. "Good." He turned and walked back into his room. "Good night, Olivia." he said. She said nothing, simply sitting in the light of the kitchen and staring off into nothingness.
The next morning, Paxton returned through the window of Olivia's bedroom to wake her up for school. He looked down at her bed and all he saw was a chaotic bundle of sheets. She must have already gotten up. He stepped silently down on the hardwood floor and walked into the living room. She wasn't anywhere to be seen. He walked over to the kitchen counter and saw a piece of paper folded up there. He opened it and mouthed the words as he read,
Thanks for trying to save me.
He threw down the letter and ran for the window. She was out there, alone, and he had to find her before anyone else did.
Olivia walked the streets of Manhattan, looking every which way, especially up, to make sure that Paxton wasn't following her. She entered an alleyway and found as she heard footsteps behind her that someone had taken the bait. She kept walking for a few extra feet, then turned. Before her eyes were three men, each bigger then the last, and everything about them made it apparent that they weren't good samaritans.
"You lost, sweetheart?" one of them said in a mocking tone.
"Come on, Leo..." said another, "We shouldn't be messin' with no kids, man!"
"Shut the f**k up, man!" Leo snapped, smacking the man in the chest, "Pretty white girl like this, think 'a the ransom we'll get!"
"Both 'a you shut up and quit usin' ya damn names." said the largest of the three, "Let's just do this."
"Come and get me." Olivia called out, taking a fighting stance. They laughed, but showed no hesitation in running straight for her. They were brought to a halt as a streak of red and black fell from above, landing right between them and Olivia. Longshot stood tall with a gaze that could bring down a charging bull. The three regained their composure and ran at him, dealt with in short order and left writhing on the ground in their own shame. Longshot tightened his fists, knuckles cracking as he turned to Olivia, his expression no less harsh. He picked her up off the ground and fired his cable into the air, swinging to rooftop. He acted angry to her, and he was, but he was much more relieved that he had found her in time.
The window creaked as it was opened from the outside. Longshot crawled inside, looking around in the darkness. The sound of busy Boston streets was behind him as he took another step inside. The place reeked of liquor, smoke and gunpowder, everything to be expected from the man he was after. "Cain." he called out, "No use hiding, Cain. The bookie told me everything. I know that you were there. I know that you entered the tournament. I know that you killed Olivia."
There was no answer. He let the room go dead and listened closely. He heard a number of heartbeats within range that were inside this building, but none of them were in the room, and none of them matched Cain's. The archer jumped as he heard the phone ring. He reached out and picked it up out of the charging station.
"Hello, Longshot." rang a painfully familiar Irish brogue.
"Cain..." the archer snarled.
"Spare me. I've been waitin' for you to turn up. You're nowhere near the detective yer cracked up to be, ya know that?"
"We're not playing a game, Cain." Longshot snarled, his grip tightening on the phone.
"No, we're not." the Irishman replied, "But that doesn't mean I can't have a little fun."
"Fun? You're having fun?!" the archer kicked over the table near him, sending countless files and components of a dismantled handgun to the floor. "I shouldn't be surprised. You always did love watching me suffer. You're nothing but a warmonger and a psychopath."
"Really, now? Cain said in a condescending tone, "I'M the one who likes to watch YOU suffer? You don't think yer in any way responsible for anythin' that's gone wrong between us?"
"What are you talking about?" Longshot inquire angrily.
Cain took a long, deep breath that could be heard over the line and answered, “How many times have we traded shots now, archer? Five? There was that whole mess in Guatemala, that one was my favorite. But in all that time, I’ve never been the aggressor. All the death, all the collateral damage that’s piled up, came about because you couldn’t keep your big heroic nose outta my business. I’m not your enemy, Longshot, yer mine." he stopped to take a long swig of whatever he was drinking. He wiped his lip, then continued, "And along the way, I’ve realized somethin’… you’re not an ordinary man. You can bleed like one, but you don’t fight like one. You don’t think like one. You don’t even BREATHE like one. I respect that. But right there, I learned my lesson. I couldn’t shoot you. I couldn’t burn you, I couldn’t kill you. I would have to HURT you. And that’s exactly what I did.”
“Why her, Cain? Why did it have to be her?”
“You didn’t give me much choice." he answered, "You’re such a bloody loner, it took me months just to come up with her. I’d heard about this little set up, this underground tournament, some months prior. Bought my way in and that was that. I planned on just lettin’ my opponents walk away with broken bones an’ a bruised ego, but when I found her, when I found out just how much she meant to you, I invited her, and I gave her an offer she couldn’t refuse. She was good, I’ll give her that, and I could see it in her eyes, she loved you to the end, and she knew how much she was lettin’ you down. Like I said, she was tough, but when she stepped into the ring with me… well, you saw the body.”
“She was a kid, Cain!”
“I know, and I took no joy in what I did, but I do take great joy in this. Remember the look frozen on her face, archer. Remember every last poor soul who had ta die ‘cause you just had to play hero. Maybe next time, ye’ll stay outta my way.”
“It’s too late for that, Cain. I’m coming for you. Do you hear me?!”
“Oh, yes, and let me tell you, I’ve been waitin’ ta here that for a long time. Doesn’t feel too good to bleed, does it? To have a wound ya know ya can’t close. All the money, all the time, the blood ‘a the little bitch, it was all worth it… for this.” Just as he finished, the line went dead and Longshot cried out, flinging the phone against the wall and shattering it entirely. He stood there, fists trembling, nostrils flaring, until he heard something behind him, a little high pitched sound tolling every two seconds. It was too quiet for an ordinary ear to pick up. He listened again for it and pinpointed the source to the charging station of the telephone. He picked it up and turned it over. His eyes went wide as he saw what had been placed on the underside of the phone charger. It was a tiny brick of semtex explosive, wired into the charger. The trigger was pressure sensitive. When he picked up the phone, he set off the countdown. The beeping was getting faster. He didn't have much time.
Without thinking, Longshot picked up the charger and jumped onto the fire escape. He leapt down onto the next rooftop and ran to the edge, overlooking the Boston River. The beeping was almost a single steady tone. With no time left to spare, he hurled it over the busy streets and into the depths of the river. Seconds later, the water burst up and rained back down.
The archer looked out across the Boston skyline. Somewhere out there, Cain O'Panell was laughing at him.