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Tenth Man

by Tamara Sheehan

Table of Contents
Chapter 16
Chapter 18
appear in this issue.
Chapter 17

The urge to vomit woke Bridget. Each breath she drew in through her nose recalled the cloying sweet scent that had put her to sleep. She swallowed again and again and finally, she rolled over and retched.

When she opened her eyes all the fear came back. How long she had been lying on her side, as if she had been dumped there by a wave, Bridget couldn’t tell. Her arm was numb from having lain on it, her skin was clammy.

Disorientation gave way to wrenching grief. Residual revulsion made her hands go to her face. She could still see Saiid, impossible, inside out... How could one body hold so much blood? She heard her breath in little gasps. What happened? What’s happening to me?

Time dragged on. She began to think of other things, to examine her surroundings. She was in a little, windowless room. A vent on the door let in a series of horizontal bands of light. The floor was cold concrete, the walls were wood and plaster. The door was metal and just beyond it she could see a pair of heavy, black boots and a set of chair legs.

Making a mental inventory required that she take stock of her body. She moved her limbs experimentally. With a slightly sickening anxiety, she ran her hands across her breasts and touched between her thighs. Her body felt strange and sore, but no signs of rape, of blood or other fluid. She let out a whisper of air, managed a tiny smile.

All of her body was cold, her skin was clammy where it had pressed against the concrete. The blood coming back into her arm was not enough to warm her. The stench of vomit was nauseating her.

Kneeling so she could look through the vent, Bridget squinted. The boots beyond the door moved a little. There was a sound of papers rustling. A newspaper perhaps, or a magazine. She crouched low, trying to see, but only the cuffs of blue jeans, a pair of green socks, and the concrete floor stretching away into the darkness, could be seen.

She looked around the room. Her eyes were adjusting and the light from the vent was enough to make out shapes, textures, varying shades of grey and black in a monochromatic world.

There was a small stack of boxes in a corner of the room, the empty remains of a metal shelving unit. A slip of paper on the floor that was a packing list for a golem. Above her a fluorescent light was cold and dark, a fan was silent. A voice whispered into the room.

“...address book.”

“That should do.”

She scrambled back to the vent, couching on the concrete. Another pair of shoes had joined the first. She could make out the corner of her attaché case on the polished floor, the dull sheen of the rubbed leather reflecting a lamp somewhere. Someone had opened her bag; papers, pens, manila files were spilling out. Case notes drifted around the floor like dust.

Do you know how much work I put into those? She wanted to shout.

They were flipping through her address book, reading out familiar names. “Froland, Gorey, Grant, H. Hornsby. Saul Hornsby. Here it is. Eight Oh Nine, Park and Twentieth.”

A grunt. “Who is this?”

“Howard, Chris.”

Bridget clenched her teeth around a shriek. She bit hard into her nails and began to tear at them. “Fourteen Forty, Ninth Avenue. Dunno. Where’s Ninth?”

“That’s that half-street with all those little places on it in China Town. By Dong May’s Dim Sum. Remember? We had Rob’s retirement party there.”

“Oh yeah.”

“Chris Howard. You think that’s...?”

“The elusive ‘Howie’? Yeah, in fact I do.”

Papers, the thump of a book on a table. “How’s the lady?”

“Akip like a tot. Probably another hour or so.”

“Got room for one more in there?”

“That one’s going to need more than a storage room to hold him, Ian. He owns that, what is it, that Urban Explorers place what’s always in the paper. You know, they’re always having the permit problems.”

“He’s a rat then, is he?”

“A bit of one.”

“Then I’ll put him in a cage.”

One of the men chuckled trollishly. Footsteps echoed over the concrete. A door opened and closed somewhere so far away it was the echo that reached her. She’d torn all her nails off, set to chewing the sides of her fingers. She tasted blood in her mouth and couldn’t bring herself to care.

I have to get out of here. I have to be silent.

A little part of her brain was screaming at her. She slipped her shoes off and padded across the floor, looked up at the fan and the light. The shelving was weak and wobbly, but the boxes were packed solidly with something and taped shut. She dragged them under the fan and made a ladder of them.

The dust billowed up, choking clouds of it. Clambering up until she could reach the fan on the ceiling. He found the screws with her fingers. They were tight in the metal. This isn’t a movie, I’m not going through the vents. Frustration made her want to swear and scream. The dust was making her wheeze. She coughed.

Something moved outside the door. She froze, crouched on top of the boxes like a superhero clinging to a skyscraper. Her heart pounded in her ears. She could hear her breath ragged and echoing in the little space.

Groaning, the door swung open. Light spilled into the room, silhouetting a big man in jeans and a work-issue shirt. He craned his head around, looking for her on the floor.

“Mornin’, love.” He sniffed the rank air and laughed sympathetically. “Chloroform a bit much for your delicate stomach? It’s all right girl, it happens to all of them.” He came into the room, swinging his head from side to side. Bridget felt a thrill, a mad urge to laugh. She bit her hand hard.

“Don’t hide darlin’, I got a daughter and I know how I’d want her treated. I wouldn’t do nothing to you. I’m just going to check and see you’re all right, hey, no broken bones, no sprains.”

He saw her shoes poking around the stack of boxes and rather than look up, went toward them. Muscles tense, Bridget looked down at him, the round head wobbling on an insubstantial neck, the thinning patch of hair at the top of his head like a target. She leapt.

She was a blur of panic and power, her hundred-pound weight, never enough before, came crashing into his chest. She knocked him backward. He fell, shouting with shock, into the wall and tumbled to the ground. His round head bounced on the floor.

A dark pool like tar was leaking from a hidden wound. Bridget fled into the warehouse beyond.

Proceed to chapter 18...

Copyright © 2006 by Tamara Sheehan

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