The big sign on the wall which read: “Ten Minutes to Midnight” was more symbolic than real. Across the dance floor, on the opposite wall, hung a giant digital clock. As Adam watched, the clock ticked down in seconds and minutes, right now showing 22 minutes left until it reached zero.
Four flat-screened television sets hugged the wall above the bar, and each was turned to a different news channel, the news anchors sitting with somber faces staring at the television viewers, their lips moving noiselessly. A bottle flew through the air and smashed one of the TV screens, followed quickly by a harsh epithet, and the white-haired bartender moved to shut the other three off.
Adam raised an eyebrow and the bartender shrugged. “Nothing good on anyways,” he said. He looked tired, Adam thought.
“So can I ask why you would spend the last few minutes tending bar? Don’t you have a family?” He looked at the bartender’s nametag, and added his name as an afterthought. “Stan.”
The bartender shrugged again. “Kids are grown. When all this came down, wife ran off with her gynecologist.” A small smile came on his lips. “Perks, I guess.
“Besides, this is where I belong. I consider myself a spectator for the greatest show of all time.”
Adam nodded, his mind on other things. Other people. He flipped his wallet open subconsciously and looked for the umpteenth time at the photo of Lara. If it were up to him, this photo would be the very last thing he saw….
He looked across the dance floor, and smirked. Dance floor. That was a loose definition. Few people were dancing. Some were drunk out of their minds, others had found dark corners in which to copulate, while still others didn’t even bother covering up their indiscretions. The room smelled of alcohol and vomit, and in some cases, blood. Adam imagined that the room had been a pretty hot club once upon a time. Now he saw it as a crypt for the walking dead.
He took one more look at the big man who sat at the table on the far side of the room. Adam had watched him for the past hour, drinking hard liquor and pawing girl after working girl. Now he saw the man’s head nod forward as if it were too heavy for his neck. Properly soused for the apocalypse. About time.
Adam looked at the clock and sighed, then turned back to Stan, pushing his ginger ale away. “What do I owe you?”
Stan grinned. “What? Are you kidding me? Get out of here. Have a great 20 minutes.”
Adam nodded. “You too, Stan.”
Adam pulled his five and half feet up from the barstool and slowly strode across the room toward the man. A couple kissed as they slow danced in front of him, and Adam pushed through them to the other side. He subconsciously reached behind him into his waistline under the coat and felt the pistol there. He had checked it and rechecked it. Two years of preparation for one second of use. But after following this man for two years, he couldn’t afford any mistakes. And there wouldn’t be any. There couldn’t be.
Expect the unexpected, his trainer had drilled into him. And if in response, the man—his prey—stood up and shrugged off the girls that were draped over him. Man, he’s big, Adam thought, then shook himself. In two years of seeking this man, this was the closest he had ever been to him. Just remember that one ounce of lead, properly placed, can bring the biggest man down.
He stopped in the middle of the dance floor, waiting to see what the big man would do. A woman was crying, kneeling not too far away, praying aloud in what sounded like Spanish or Portuguese, while a man pulled on her in an attempt to get her into a dark corner. Opposite her, two men sat facing each other with a large sharp knife taking turns stabbing their splayed hands on the surface of the table.
Adam noticed none of this. Instead, he focused on the man who pushed himself groggily away from the table and stumbled toward the door marked Restrooms. Adam patiently waited as the man staggered through the dark entrance and disappeared. He waited as his heart beat five times, then followed.
The dark hallway on the other side of the door wasn’t much better than the dance floor, but it wasn’t any worse either. Adam paused to watch the man he followed enter the men’s restroom, a one-holer, shoving a smaller man out of the way as he entered. Adam heard the door close, and then the bolt click shut.
Should I enter, or wait for him? Adam asked himself, then reasoned that there was always the chance that he couldn’t get the door opened. Instead, he parked himself opposite the door and pulled out the large silver automatic pistol he carried with him and raised it in front of him.
A couple started to enter the hallway, but hesitated when he saw the light from the dance room gleam off the silver barrel of his gun. He jerked his chin, and they retreated back to the bigger room.
Adam checked his watch. Less than ten minutes left. At last the sign was correct. Ten minutes to midnight.
He stood, surprised that he wasn’t afraid, or even nervous. He held out his left hand and it held steady. Time to die. Time to make this man pay.
He heard the toilet flush, and a moment later, the door opened. The big man who had entered came out not looking ahead of him, but pulled up short when he saw Adam pointing a 9 mm Glock in his face.
“What? What is this?”
“You know exactly what this is, Mr. Burrows,” Adam said, his voice coming out smooth and deep. He had worried that when the moment came, his voice would break. But his worries were unfounded. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his wallet.
“Remember her?” He thrust the wallet with the photo of his teenaged daughter into the face of the man.
Burrows stared at the photo in the darkened hallway. Adam watched his eyes to see if there was any recognition. Either the man was a good actor, or he didn’t remember. That infuriated Adam even more.
“Do you remember her?” he repeated.
“Should I?’ Burrows finally said. “It’s a teenaged girl. Pretty.”
“She was, until you raped her and mutilated her with your knife. I saw what you did to my daughter. No one should have to endure what she did. No one should have to endure what I have gone through. Two years! I have been looking for you for two years.”
“So now you’ve found me,” Burrows said defiantly, but with a hint of fear in his voice. “What are you going to do?”
In response, Adam struck Burrows across the side of his face with the gun. Burrows’ head jerked back, then he turned to look at Adam, the fear more evident in his eyes this time. He raised his hands in surrender.
Adam’s hands began to shake slightly as he realized that he had a decision to make.
“I haven’t decided what I am going to do,” Adam said, his voice wavering. “Turn you over to the police? That’s not going to happen? Shoot you? Hmm.”
Burrows licked his lips and looked at Adam’s face and then at his gun.
“Why shoot me?” he asked. “We’ll all be gone in what, five minutes? What’s the point of shooting me?”
“I owe it to her, Mr. Burrows. I owe it to my daughter who lost the last two years of her life. I know it will all be over in less than five minutes. But she would want you to pay for what you did.”
Burrows blinked, his face registering confusion and his attempt to make up his mind about something. Then his face took on the look of someone on the edge of begging.
“Look, I know we have only a few minutes left,” he said. “But I want those few minutes. You’ve always heard that the only thing a billionaire wants on his death bed is another breath of life, another beat of his heart. That’s me. I’m the billionaire.”
Adam smirked at that. “Billionaire,” he repeated under his breath. “Well, Mr. Billionaire. What’s another—” He turned his left hand and looked at his wrist watch. “Two minutes–.”
He never finished the sentence. As soon as he took his eyes off Burrows, the big man threw himself across the space at Adam. Adam felt Burrows’ left hand shove the pistol up and away from his face, and his right hand clutched at Adam’s throat, lifting off the ground and pinning him against the far wall. Adam had the presence of mind to drop his chin, and the right hand scraped across his lower face, his nails carving deep scratches on his chin.
Expect the unexpected, Adam remembered, and then remembered a few tricks he had practiced in anticipation of such an occasion. First, he kicked out with his foot, nailing Burrows in the crotch. Burrows grunted, but didn’t loosen his grip on Adam or his gun. Then Adam reached down for the knife he kept strapped along his left calf.
Halfway down his leg, Adam’s arm stopped as he was thrown down the hall, landing hard on his right side. Adam felt and then heard the gun clatter on the floor behind him. He turned and reached for the gun, but Burrows was fast for a large man. Burrows’ foot came down on the gun and Adam grabbed it. In the meantime, Adams had found his knife and pulled it from its holster. He looked up at Burrows, and swung the knife to slice at Burrows’ hamstring, but Burrows saw it coming and kicked the left arm and the knife clattered away.
Adam lay on the floor, unarmed, his right hand crushed beneath the foot of the man who had raped and murdered his daughter. He had spent the last two years searching for this man, preparing for the day when they would meet. And now he could do nothing. He had failed.
“Forgive me, Lara,” he whispered, knowing that Burrows would crush him in an instant.
He lay there, surrendered to the inevitable, looking up at his captor, waiting. Burrows looked down at Adam, his face furrowed. Then just as suddenly as he had attacked, he lifted his foot and released Adam. He stepped back and recovered the knife and gun while Adam sat up.
“I’m sorry about your daughter,” Burrows said, reaching down and helping Adam to his feet. “If I could, I would take it back. I would take back most of my life, in fact. But that doesn’t matter now.”
“Why…why didn’t you kill me?” Adam asked.
Burrows smirked. “Does it matter? Does anything matter? Let’s just say that none of us know for sure where we will be a minute from now. Do you want the last thing you do on earth to be the murder of another person? Regardless of whether they deserve it or not?”
“Yes,” Adam said, then thought. “No.”
Burrows looked at the small man for a long moment, the shrugged.
“In any case, it’s out of our hands,” he said. “It’s all out of our hands.”
Burrows reached out with a massive hand and took Adam’s hand in a shake, something Adam felt strange about.
“See you on the other side,” Burrows said.
Those were the last words Adam ever heard. Until….