I stepped up to the plate and moved to king-hit the bastard from behind.
Sure it was cowardly, but also a pretty nifty manoeuvre, done without a moment to second-guess myself or opportunity to nut out a different course of action. His head was unprotected, an obvious target dressed up in messy, straw-coloured hair. A neck thicker than my waist propped up that noggin—quite some feat, given the extra girth I’d put on in recent months of alcoholic mayhem and loafing about on the couch.
At least this wasn’t going to kill him. No need to get blood on my hands, since the mitts were clean and I preferred them to stay that way.
Trouble was that the man apparently sensed me behind him, and second-guessed my intentions to boot. He ducked as I swung the gun, and I ended up glancing the handle off his scalp instead of getting in a heavy enough whack to knock him senseless.
Then, while I was off balance, he turned and grabbed me by the throat, huge fingers digging deep into my larynx, and a second later I’d been deprived of both the capacity to squeal and the ability to breathe. He lifted me up one handed, so my shoes no longer touched the ground, and I was ogling a human gorilla inches from my face, a dribble of saliva in the corner of his snarled mouth.
With his free hand he slapped me once, twice, a third time.
I was seeing stars, and other delusionary paraphernalia. It felt like this time, finally, the gig might truly be up. Thoughts shunted in between the sparkling stars, images of Laurel, and Veronica, and what would likely happen to both if I gave up the ghost, pulling up the personal tent-pegs here and now.
I still had the gun in my right fist. I could pop him in the jaw, put a slug in his eye, get it over with, but something held me back. I wouldn’t call this a conscience—it was more like stubborn, idiotic madness.
Another slap knocked me silly. I could see specks of blood on the man’s chunky, enraged face. Not his blood. Mine.
So I swung at my own blood, right at a big splash of it on his forehead, lined up like a bull’s-eye. The gun barrel bounced off, but the man shook his head, like it hurt, so I tried again, and again. The fourth time rocked it—I fell flat on my bum, oxygen started pumping, and the gorilla stormed around me, like he was doing some kind of blind Indian rain dance, clutching his skull, screaming.
Then he barnstormed the wall, head first, and knocked himself out. He lay at my feet, unmoving. At least he’d stopped the over-dramatics.
My head was swimming enough as it was. I had to road test my voice, to see if it still worked. “Sleep tight,” I muttered. Nothing more sparkling came to me. The weak quip would have to do—even if I did have an audience.
Laurel was bound and gagged over in a corner, next to a widescreen TV, like she’d been placed there as a second-thought Christmas decoration. I went straight over, leaned down, and touched her cheek. Her eyes were wide, even the one on the left that was swollen and ringed with blue-black.
Without waiting for applause, I undid her wrists and pulled off the material jammed into her mouth. Laurel could deal with the feet herself.
After breathing deeply a few times, apparently relishing the opportunity, the woman looked straight at me without the gratitude I expected.
“You look awful,” she complained. “Do you always make it so hard for yourself, babe? You could’ve just shot him. You had ample opportunity. Jeez.”
I swear I must’ve glowered. “D’you want me to put the gag back on?”