Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Fight Song Chapter 20

Hello, everyone! Happy Independence Day to all my fellow American readers! Last time on Fight Song, Callie put the final pieces of her plan in place and gained an unxpected ally. This time, well, let's just say that the exciting part has officially begun! Enjoy! As always, any comments, critiques, questions, or suggestions are welcome.

Chapter 20: Confrontation

            With my confrontation with Welsh less than two days away, I found it increasingly difficult to focus on anything else. My fellow worship band members commented the next morning on how distracted I seemed, and at work on Monday, I ended up stocking a whole display with the wrong yarn because I was so busy planning for that night. Welsh hadn’t responded to the email, but surely he would show up, wouldn’t he? Surely he couldn’t risk ignoring it altogether, not when I’d shown him that I had evidence against him. And he couldn’t afford to go to the authorities himself either, not when that might mean they’d decide to look into the activities I claimed to know about. He had to come meet me, if only— in his mind— so he could silence me for good.

            But what if he didn’t?

            The thought nagged at me no matter how much I tried to convince myself that it would never happen. I could take what Jonathan and I had found to the police, yes. Maybe it, along with my and Uhjin and Ana’s testimonies, would be enough after all. But I still feared it wouldn’t be, not without something to arouse their suspicion in the first place.

            Monday afternoon arrived at last. Uhjin was the first to move into position, leaving just after dinner. She gave me an annoyed look as she slung her overnight bag over her shoulder. “Are you sure I have to leave this early? I’ll be waiting for hours; it’ll be so boring.”

            “The hotel has WiFi. And you’re the one who wanted to help. If you get in any later, Welsh might notice and get suspicious. And yes, it does have to be you in the motel room; you’re the only one with a car that has out-of-state plates.” I opened the door for her. “Remember, your job is to take video and call the police, and that’s it.”

            “I know. I’m not stupid.” Uhjin sighed. “Be careful, ok? Don’t die; I don’t have time to break in a new roommate.”

            “I’ll do my best.” I managed to grin. “See you later.”

            “See you.” She headed out and down the stairs to the parking lot. I breathed a sigh of relief. Masquerading as a student on a summer road trip, she should be safe from Welsh’s notice. And during the fight, she’d be in a motel room with a window overlooking our meeting place, at least if all went to plan. There’d be next to no chance that she’d be connected with us. She’d run next to no risk, and, from a more pragmatic view, if anything went wrong, she’d have it on film so perhaps my death would still result in Welsh’s conviction.

            With Uhjin gone, I was left alone to wait for the right time to leave the apartment. I practiced my songs and tried to catch an hour or two of sleep before the long night that was coming. At nine o’clock, Jonathan texted to let me know that he and his cameras were in position. I didn’t envy him; his was arguably the riskiest and least comfortable part of the plan. He’d be waiting for another two hours in whatever hiding spot he’d chosen, and if Welsh showed up early and discovered him before I arrived, well, he’d have no way to defend himself. I prayed he wouldn’t be discovered.

            I gave up on trying to sleep and turned solely to practice. I ran through all the songs I thought I’d need— concrete, air, light, fire, steel, my best approximation of the Anti–Death Song, then checked and double-checked that my violin was tuned and that all the strings were in good condition. They were and I returned to practicing, making sure I could either play or sing every song on my list for the night.

            At ten o’clock, I grabbed my stuff and headed out the door. I stopped on the way to change clothes in a bus station restroom and made it to the alley with twenty minutes to spare. I didn’t see Jonathan when I arrived, but I also didn’t see signs of some kind of struggle. And surely Uhjin would’ve let me know if anything had happened?

            I found a spot of my own in the shadows to sit and wait and drink the coffee I’d brought— instant, almost black with just a hint of cinnamon, as strong as I can make it. I’d told Welsh eleven, but who knew if he’d show up then? Maybe he’d come early or late, just to try to throw me off guard.

            Sure enough, at six past eleven, a grey Jaguar rolled into the motel lot and parked at the near edge. Welsh climbed out of the passenger seat, crossed the strip of grass separating the lot and the alley, and glanced around, his gaze lingering a moment longer on the spot where I sat.

            I stood, leaving my thermos behind, and stepped out into the light of a streetlamp. I had to resist the urge to adjust my mask, even though I’d just checked it. I needed to appear in control. “Thank you for meeting me, Mr. Welsh.” I’d aimed for cool, calm formality, something that would let him know he wasn’t in charge of this meeting, but make him think he could be.

            Welsh looked me up and down, his eyebrow raised slightly. “I wasn’t aware that supers blackmailed people.”

            “This isn’t a blackmail attempt. This is an offer of mercy.” I looked him dead in the eye. “I know what you’ve done. You know I know it. And so I’m making an offer: confess your crimes. Turn yourself in. Maybe you’ll get a lighter sentence. Otherwise, I’ll drag you to the police myself and make sure you get the punishment you deserve.”

            “Will you?” Welsh laughed. “I don’t think so. If you had enough evidence to take me to court, we wouldn’t be standing here now. And, in the case that you do and you’re simply an idiot . . .” He gestured. Three men climbed out of the Jaguar; another three appeared from the shadows at the far end of the alley. “I came prepared.”

            I unhooked my bow from my violin strap and raised my instrument to my chin. “So you intend to fight.”

            “No, I intend to make sure you and your friend don’t leave this place alive. And if I can use your power to strengthen myself, even better.” Welsh pointed to the side, around the back of the stores next to the motel. “There’s someone in there. Get him.”

            Two men started towards the spot. No! How does he . . . No time to wonder. I set my bow to the strings, and the air song spilled from my violin to draw the air from the men’s lungs. But before I’d finished three notes, the other four men drew pistols; took aim. I changed the intent of my song just in time, and the bullets smacked into a wall of brick-solid air.

            Shouts drew my attention back to the first two men— and Jonathan. I glanced back; the two men dragged him, struggling, from the shadows. He got in a lucky kick and one man doubled over, but the other took the opportunity to knock his head into the wall. I winced, but there wasn’t much I could do— not until I dealt with those pistols.

            As one man pulled Jonathan over to Welsh, I began humming the air song I was using for the barrier. At the same time, I slowly transitioned the melody on my violin to a different tune— sharper, more solid. I’d tried this once before, but then I hadn’t had the right instrument. Now, with my violin, I had a chance.

            Welsh glanced down scornfully at Jonathan. “Poor backup you’ve brought, super. He can’t even— wait.” He scowled. “I know you. You’re that reporter that kept nosing around my offices.”

            Jonathan smiled crookedly. “Guilty as charged. Er, I’d rather you not kill me, though. My family’s expecting me to call tomorrow. My mother’s birthday and all.”

            That’s right. Keep him busy. I continued to play and hum, focusing on the pistols Welsh’s men carried. Keep them all occupied a little longer. 

            “I’m afraid it’s a bit late for that. You made your choice already. But, I wonder . . .” He looked to the man whom Jonathan had hit. “There will be a camera somewhere near where you found him. Find it.”

            Done. I abruptly stopped both my playing and humming and lunged towards the man. “Stop! You can’t—”

            All four of the men with pistols shot at once. I dropped to the ground. And four pistol barrels, sealed shut by my song, blew apart.

            Shards of metal and pieces of pistol exploded into the air. One man fell back clutching his eye; another stumbled forward, a half-dozen pieces of metal in his leg. A third dropped his gun, at least one wrist clearly broken from the force of the explosion. Not one of them, apparently, had noticed what I’d done to their weapons.

            The man sent for the camera had escaped damage; he ducked out of Jonathan’s hiding spot with the fancy DSLR in his hands. “Found it.”

            “Get the card, leave the camera,” Welsh ordered, apparently unfazed by the fact that I’d just taken half his men out of commission. “Then get the girl.”

            “Yes, sir.” The man popped the memory card out expertly, then, with a regretful look, set the camera down. “Don’t suppose I could keep the camera? I could use a backup.”

            “Do what you want.” Welsh turned to the man holding Jonathan. “Kill him.”

            The man nodded. He pulled out a pistol and checked it, only to find that it, too, had been sealed shut by my song. With a frustrated growl, he shoved it back into its holster and drew a switchblade instead. Jonathan struggled in the man’s grasp. “C— Songbird?”

            Darn it darn it darn it please God no. I pushed myself up and started singing air, all too aware that it probably wouldn’t take effect in time. Then, three things happened at the same time. The man slashed his blade at Jonathan’s throat. Jonathan managed to jerk slightly to the right. And, at the last possible second, the knife turned to liquid and dripped to the street.

            Starlight had officially arrived.

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