Chapter 27: The Bird in a Hand [Unedited]


[Keys] "I just got done throwing your boss through a wall," Fate reminds, but that isn't a boast. There's no need. As such, she simply questions Sweet Charles' tactic, "Do you really believe your host's body can withstand more of the same," and stands to meet it. #Constructs3

[Keys] "His boss?" I don't follow. Then again, I'm also having quite the time trying to lift this floor cover. "Goliath currently has three Reapers, and you've only met," she adds emphasis while attempting to do some damage with the kick of her right heel, "one!" #Constructs3

[Keys] Sweet Charles turns into Fate effectively side-stepping the attack before snapping off a right punch from a prime position for striking. When did he learn how to do that? "Get out of here, Keys!" She leans back just enough for the punch to become errant. #Constructs3


[Keys] I don't mistake Fate's heartfelt words for anything other than what they are: Concern over an investment. I'm nothing to her but a means to an end - an easily replaceable means to that end. It doesn't bother me as long as I can get back use of my fingers. #Constructs3

[Keys] What does it say about my attitude toward Sweet Charles? I don't even care that he's crazed or possessed or whatever the fu-- his deal is right now. There's probably nothing I can do for him. Rationalization and denial are two great aspects of selfishness. #Constructs3

[Keys] Friendship and love shouldn't be such a profit/loss scenario with me. All that unconditional shi- goes out the window when I see things like my best friend collapse and another nonmaterial being emerge from his body before becoming corporeal to begin chase. #Constructs3


[Keys] It does remind me of grade school when you'd get in trouble for trying to evade a bully. I actually had a teacher tell me once, 'You didn't have to run,' as if anybody is capable of appreciating the profundity of a statement like that in a moment like this. #Constructs3

[Keys] I can't make out anything on this fu--er. Aside from battle garb and the fact he's not nearly as large as those other two mercenaries, distinguishable features are concealed. Moments too late, he swipes rabidly as I slip feet-first through this drop shaft. #Constructs3

[Keys] All the way down to an underground cavern. To think, I thought this was just a library - kinda creepy how these people educating our children are probably also in league with Fate. First Helen Keller, and now this. Here's your daily reminder: #VoteJustVote #Constructs3


[Keys] Of the mercenaries I've had the displeasure to face, this latest is the only one capable of fitting through the same passageway. He barrels through the opening and hits the ground running (after me). I fumble with my smartphone's flashlight app in stride. #Constructs3

[Keys] His intro was supposed to occur during Sweet Charles' story Fate abruptly cut off. A gunfight was planned, but these status updates often line up with real life. Even creatively, we have social responsibility and show deference in word choice. #VoteJustVote #Constructs3

[Keys] And that's coming from a self-professed albeit (for legal purposes) alleged carjacker who normally takes responsibility lightly, so you know it's important. Besides angles have more impact when given time to marinate. I, for one, am panting and panicking. #Constructs3


[Keys] Part of me wishes Fate would come to my aid yet again, but she's currently preoccupied trying to rouse the limp body of Sweet Charles. Huh? How the? I'm seeing through her eyes and listening with her ears! Together we really are stronger. #VoteJustVote #Constructs3

[Keys] "What happened? Where am I?" Sweet Charles' speech slurs as an understandable result from reawakening to the control of his own body. "I'm going to need you to focus on what's about to happen and where we need to go in order to stave it off," Fate says. #Constructs3

[Keys] She somewhat effortlessly drapes his arm around her shoulders while leading him back into the main area on path to the entrance. Yet there's no exit as the third Reaper and fourth overall mercenary's most massive sumo wrestler physique all but blocks it off. #Constructs3


[Keys] Not being in any shape to be able to make such claims causes Sweet Charles' utterance to sound that much more foolhardy, "Seriously? We can outrun that dude." But Fate knows better and enough to take a detour for the giant staircase stating, "No we can't." #Constructs3

[Keys] "Where are we going?" Sweet Charles argues, "Every horror movie since ever has shown we're not supposed to go upstairs. This guy's weight is something we can exploit." Fate disagrees, "Says and immediately regretted by the last ten or so people he killed." #Constructs3

[Keys] There's still some concern for (relative) innocents because why would the mercenary chasing me let Sweet Charles go? What's their play? No that's the wrong question. Why is Fate helping him through this? Or how does he fit in her plans and thwart theirs? #Constructs3


[Keys] Fate can't help but catch an admiring glimpse of the fourth mercenary's prowess in powerful agility as he races after them before veering off to his right where the checkout locations are and using one of those desks as a springboard to an intercepting leap. #Constructs3

[Keys] It's quite the feat and borderline gratuitous, but intimidation is all about making a statement to keep your target(s) off guard. I should know. The concept has worked wonders for me over the years. He could've chased them down but instead chose to pounce. #Constructs3

[Keys] I find it hard to believe one of Goliath's lackeys could have any impact on Fate when he himself got thrown through a wall and hasn't been seen or heard from since. She sidesteps the mercenary and maneuvers Sweet Charles aside like leading a dance partner. #Constructs3


[Keys] Then it hits me: This isn't the first time Goliath and his Reapers have seen Fate's gambit. They must know I'm even more inextricably linked to her after using my first key and can see some of the things she sees. That's a perfect distraction for herding. #Constructs3

[Keys] And my concentration is fractured. I'm trying to focus on the frantic path forward while maintaining a top speed and keeping tabs on Sweet Charles. Although I may be in pretty good shape, the mercenary on my as- is in better shape but isn't gaining on me. #Constructs3

[Keys] There's a light at the end of the tunnel - or rather a door at the end of this cavern. My flashlight glints off what appears to be (thankfully) a handle and not a knob. Dexterity isn't what it once was, and I'm in a hurry, so I'll have to time this right. #Constructs3


[Keys] I hit the door and duck the fu-- down as Goliath's scythe obliterates it at a height that would have sheered me in half had I not slid through the opening making use of dampness from the first snow. It's incomprehensible how much pain that would've caused. #Constructs3

[Keys] The mercenary behind me catches up to Goliath, and (although I can't see his face) he looks in his leader's direction like 'whoa' at the carnage that sent a metal door splintering off into oblivion and viciously razed a chunk out the scraped wall of bricks. #Constructs3

[Keys] This lot is anything if not hands-on. They could've dispatched me by any number of different methods at various and subsequent times of their choosing. I bet Fate continues to add interesting wrinkles of complication to an incontrovertible inconvenience. #Constructs3


[Keys] I'm in the middle of a basin that appears to be a drainage point of some sort for a retention pond. They've become quite common with the increase in storm intensity and flood plains not being able to keep up with inhabitant growth over the last forty years. #Constructs3

[Keys] Pretty observant, isn't it? I continue to inch away from my pursuers by pushing my legs outward, but it's really just an attempt to ascertain traction because surveying the periphery located a stoplight less than twenty yards away. Welcome to my universe. #Constructs3

[Keys] Three chapters into this shi-, and I haven't jacked one da-n car yet. Fate's ride doesn't count. She's still salty about that. Goliath senses my malicious intent and twirls his scythe around for an impaling spike kicking up a gust of wind in the process. #Constructs3


[Keys] It has the unintended consequence of giving me just enough boost to be able to push to my feet and slide to traction among the slushy mixture. Unintended consequences often do create the potential for blowback by their very nature, but Fate is at work here. #Constructs3

[Keys] This gives insight into her power's scope - limitless as that now may seem, although quite limited it seems. If my journey starts with letter 'A' and destination ends at letter 'Z', she has free rein over 'B' through 'Y' but limited endpoints nonetheless. #Constructs3

[Keys] I'm now starting to understand why Goliath and the Reapers keep opting for melee tactics. A minuscule margin for error exists between each letter where Fate can make a mistake if they don't leave the outcome up to contrived chance. That divot though. Fu--! #Constructs3


[Keys] Stealing cars when the driver's still inside is an art. It begins with convincing that person to get out. Fear can play a role, but I don't have a weapon or a mask, and these newer vehicles lock doors when you drive off. That leaves the fu--ery of deceit. #Constructs3

[Keys] At full speed, I sprint past the sidewalk cordoning off the tub-shaped field and into the intersection before throwing myself upon the mercy of the blind spot - more like launching myself at the right side fender of the vehicle as it comes to a complete stop. #Constructs3

[Keys] It's the awful thud that gives the driver pause. Then seeing me fling myself over the hood plays to the driver's emotion. Will there be concern or even guilt for the body lying on the ground or just disbelief over the dent? Either way, the car door unlocks. #Constructs3


[Keys] There isn't a police officer in Buffalo Grove who'd fault a driver for disregarding a red light in a bad neighborhood. Seeing as though this is a relatively decent area of the city, fault needs to be placed at the feet of stupidity for being out this late. #Constructs3

[Keys] No good ever comes of anything this late. Look at my situation: Fate cursed me, powerful mercenaries want to gut me, and I'm about to commit a felony where the driver can easily identify me. After the streetlights come on, it's just not worth it to be out. #Constructs3

[Keys] "Ah what the fu--?" The driver says. I still can't determine whether that's general concern for me or consternation over potentially rising insurance rates. It's not like remorse enters in when I jab my pretend, metallic finger gun in the person's sternum. #Constructs3


[Keys] The irony - these metallic fingers come in handy. Against a bundled-up chest, they feel as real to the driver's perception as anything. The person flinches with fearful yet visible breath like that of the spewing exhaust. Keys are still in the ignition. #Constructs3

[Keys] And the car is mine. Although Goliath begs to differ with an overhead spike of the scythe meant to catch the trunk! No time to check the mirrors, adjust the seat, or even close the door - I screech off through the red light as his weapon rips at the back. #Constructs3

[Keys] I can feel a draft from the damage allowing below-freezing air inside the car. The dummy indicator comes on, but it's way too cold to be riding on empty. That couldn't be it - could it? The smell is unmistakable. Shi- he punctured the fu--ing gas tank. #Constructs3


[Keys] Goliath may be a man of few words, but he's a shrewd operator in the face of Fate regardless. His play is in the margin of error like I mentioned earlier. My march toward 'Z' couldn't be stopped, but give him credit for being content to slow that progress. #Constructs3

[Keys] The police will be involved from here on out. Sloppy - DNA is all over the place, but it was a one-way trip from the get-go. In short, this car has outlived its usefulness. I pull into the parking lot of a fast food restaurant to search out my next mark. #Constructs3

[Keys] Again munchies are best served for the cupboard or the cookie jar with people like me preying all around out here at night. That 24-7 meal doesn't become much of a value after I'm driving off with your car. But first, I take a moment to survey the damage. #Constructs3


[Keys] Yeah that taillight is gone along with a chunk of the right quarter panel. Goliath could have held me in place inside a veritable mobile coffin if not for me speeding away right when I did. But Fate is precise, so my march toward destiny seems unwavering. #Constructs3

[Keys] I start to believe in her because my assailants are skilled, competent individuals who should've had this assignment wrapped up last chapter. She can't be all-powerful though. Me being an agent of this madness that replaced my fingers with keys proves it. #Constructs3

[Keys] This may be one of those things where I need to realize the error of my ways and become a better person in time to reclaim my soul but wind up going down in flames to a noble demise. That's why Fate won't lose. I rarely admit fault, so remorse can't exist. #Constructs3


[Keys] During the lull, I peek back in on Fate and Sweet Charles. I wonder if she minds my continued voyeurism, but there's no denying the functionality of the plot device. They've made their way to the top of the steps due in no small part to her uncanny prowess. #Constructs3

[Keys] "It's a shame Goliath sent you here to die," Fate says while ushering Sweet Charles backward as he continues to trip over himself during his protracted stupor. "Real killers don't talk," the sumo-shaped mercenary points out before snapping off a palm strike! #Constructs3

[Keys] She sidesteps the attack on the treacherous stairs, catches the pudgy wrist, twirls into an unwrapping disarm maneuver that's normally used to point a gun's aim away but winds up putting her into an interesting position for a potential hip toss. I'm in lust. #Constructs3


[Keys] A throw never comes. Instead Fate opts for a backward thrust of her high-heeled foot aimed squarely at the mercenary's breadbasket and absorbed by his belly. The fact he isn't sent flying makes the blow seem so much worse from a Newton's Law perspective. #Constructs3

[Keys] Seeing the mercenary grimace and collapse to one knee upon the steps - apparently the wind knocked out of him, she remarks, "Actions do speak more loudly." before moving in to finish off her opponent but hesitates due to a sight from the corner of her eye. #Constructs3

[Keys] Fate catches a glimpse through the library's glass front of the mercenary from earlier in the story by the glimmer of his shotgun amid the twilight as he leans against the back of her car. She's actually weighing the kill versus the cost. It's a sore issue. #Constructs3


[Keys] These mercenaries are nothing if not connected. They stick together and watch out for one another. It kinda reminds me of my crew. Before the fall. When I cared. Now I've given in to Fate. Weird. She seems to be caring on my behalf since I'm incapable. #Constructs3

[Keys] I don't have to wonder too much why that is. It finally dawns on me what's happening. I'll need their help to remove one or more of these keys. When I crossed the point of no return with the first one, we all went from innocents to guilty coconspirators. #Constructs3

[Keys] To thwart Fate, Goliath and his Reapers now have license to kill us all which sucks for the crew, but what are friends for? Fate has incentive to keep them safe. For now. The thought of this momentary truce (on each side) is so untenable because it'll end. #Constructs3


[Keys] "I'm glad you enjoyed your little peep show," Fate says while leading Sweet Charles gingerly down the stairs, "but this momentary pause in the hostilities doesn't apply to your crew." They walk right on past the mercenary with the shotgun and out the doors. #Constructs3

[Keys] "If it turns out that car is your Achilles' heel," I tell her, "I will laugh my fu--ing as- off. Wait did you know Achilles too?" She seems unusually connected and tenured but sidesteps the question, "Thanks for calling me old, but it's not about weakness." #Constructs3

[Keys] "It's about principle," Fate says. It's a fu--ing car! "And you'd better find one of your own," I can't stand when she intrudes on my thoughts, "and get to The Spot. Goliath is set to make quick, unemotional yet gruesomely satisfying work of your friends." #Constructs3


[Keys] "I'm on it," I confirm. This is what I do. Unlike those unwilling to own their nature, this is who I am. I'm the Slugger O'Grady of this shi-. A perennial favorite for MVP. "Can you just go steal the car?" Fate knows I'm savage: "Yes you're something." #Constructs3

[Keys] More snark. :( Anyway drive-throughs present a different set of challenges than intersections - the biggest being the limited number of 'outs'. Like this place, there's one-ways and a tight parking lot. The escape route runs the risk of being gummed up. #Constructs3

[Keys] The best place to strike is where the money is paid and food is received: The window at the end. "Double burger with cheese? Sounds cliché," so Fate says. "No it's too cold for that. You'll see," I state. "I'll impress you yet." She smiles, "We'll see." #Constructs3


[Keys] I won't insult anybody's intelligence by waiting for a pull-up where the car drives forward, parks, and waits for a freshly-prepared meal because that's just too easy. What I have in mind involves a much more sporting chance because I'm nothing if not fair. #Constructs3

[Keys] And by sport, I mean football. I cross the drive-through lane in front of the car like I'm on defense and in motion or, to the driver, heading into the warm restaurant. The snap is where the money is paid. I rush to breakup the ensuing handoff (of food)! #Constructs3

[Keys] It forces a fumble! The person working is probably like, 'What the fu--,' as my impact nearly breaks the driver's arm but certainly sprains it. So what am I most thankful for, you ask? Right now, it's the wincing driver not rolling up their window in time. #Constructs3


[Keys] "That's certainly more violent than I expected," Fate admits. Coldcocking somebody by using keys for fingers is awkward because a true fist cannot be formed, but it's arguably just as effective since the impact of metal on face immediately slumps the driver. #Constructs3

[Keys] By the time the police are called to yet another incident involving me, I've already climbed through the car window, unhooked the person's seat belt, ushered the limp body out the door and onto the ground, and commandeered my second vehicle in as many hours. #Constructs3

[Keys] Fries smell good too. Normally this'd be an extraordinarily lucrative night. I doubt I'm getting paid. At least I don't have to worry about being identified. "Yes you do," Fate warns. "How? Goliath wouldn't snitch," I hope. "Yes he would," she dashes. #Constructs3


[Keys] "Where's the honor in that?" I wonder. "Well the mercenary trade is much more honorable than being a carjacker," Fate tells me while helping Sweet Charles into the passenger side of her car. She adds, "Besides they want you dead, and the police can help." #Constructs3

[Keys] Sweet Charles lays his head back against the rest and closes his eyes. "What else can you tell me about these guys?" I inquire. "Goliath, Impetus, El Muerto, and Sumo Jo are the names," Fate replies, "so familiarize yourself with them and their abilities." #Constructs3

[Keys] It's a good time for me to give an alert, "I'm about 15 minutes out from The Spot." As Fate backs out of her parking space, she announces, "We're just leaving Indian Trails." That means I'll be first on-site. I'd better be prepared: "El Muerto has powers?" Constructs3


[Keys] "Of possession," Fate explains, "but he normally doesn't give up the body until its life force is used up which gives him license to be reckless with the host. Sweet Charles was really very lucky." True. I'd call it her, but she's only controlling mine. #Constructs3

[Keys] I'll save the talk of how he got his powers for an origin story so I'm able to stay on topic, "Are we able to venture a guess as to why El Muerto didn't hang onto Sweet Charles until the bitter end?" Fate makes it sound as simple as it is, "To split us up." #Constructs3

[Keys] My pursuers are more than capable of weighing life and death decisions and have been doing so since the beginning. "Fu--!" I exclaim. "What's wrong with you?" Fate asks hinting at concern. My grimace should say it all, but, "It's these da-n potholes." #Constructs3


[Keys] "You're silly," if rolling eyes had a sound associated with it, I can hear Fate all the way on my side of town. "I got you to smile though," I claim. "I thought the bar was to impress me?" She calls me out. Low bars only work if there's no accountability. #Constructs3

[Keys] When there's no accounting for decency, it's quite easy to step over (or on) that bar. This is how I get away with so much shi-, but apparently not with her. Fate knows my moves - intimately, and it's kinda hot being connected to whatever the fu-- she is. #Constructs3

[Keys] As always the sobering influence, Fate describes, "It's natural for our esoteric bond to cause you to flirt, but don't. Our story is not a part of the True Love Trilogy, there is no and will never be an 'us', plus you have a lady friend at home." Shot down. #Constructs3


[Keys] As always the sobering influence, Fate describes, "It's natural for our esoteric bond to cause you to flirt, but don't. Our story is not a part of the True Love Trilogy, there is no and will never be an 'us', plus you have a lady friend at home." Shot down. #Constructs3

[Keys] Can't have that, so what do I want out of life? Criminals and civilians alike share a quest for the elusive answer. We can have its grind be spurred along with quiet confidence or its progress be slowed to depression by the pitfalls of perceived realities. #Constructs3

[Keys] People write books about this shi- and make a lot of money detailing proper mentalities and/or successive steps, but if they were on the right path, everybody'd be doing it. Accounting for those who just can't, things are quite stacked against all the rest. #Constructs3


[Keys] There's a fair amount of 'make it up the ladder and kick it over' going on. I can't battle back against that kind of greed because it's too organized - too entrenched. The law's their own personal farming tool when the law should be a level playing field. #Constructs3

[Keys] That taints the law - corrupts it, so I thrive outside its parameters which makes my plight just. At least this is how I justify things. There's enough for everybody, so it's fu--ed up when I have to wait for somebody to determine my share of table scraps. #Constructs3

[Keys] Why bring all this up? Because the best time to become introspective is right before you're about to go through one of those 'how did I get myself into this' situations which is where I'm finding myself currently. Although I refuse to walk directly into it. #Constructs3


[Keys] I park about a block away, get out, and haul as- through the snow. For one thing, I'm not about to bring a stolen car to the chop shop we aren't set to - well, chop. Also with Impetus and Sumo Jo back at the library, it seems unlikely there'll be scouts. #Constructs3

[Keys] Not that Goliath requires advance notice or El Muerto can't just do the deed by taking over the body of some random person I come across at a store for instance, I'm cautious nonetheless and head to a back door I've never used before in The Spot's rear alley. #Constructs3

[Keys] It's used for putting the recyclables in the recycling bin and the trash in the garbage bin. Locked. Shi-. You mean to tell me I have to waltz in the front door to my demise? No wait. It looks like my right middle finger may fit. Fate. Fu-- you, lock. #Constructs3


[Keys] It's as good as I remember - better in fact. Forget passing out afterward; I'm out for the count now as I slide facedown the door and face-first into the cold slush. Was this Goliath's ploy all along? To wait for me to interact with another of these locks? #Constructs3

[Keys] At my most vulnerable, the right hand that's still draped around the doorknob falls forward in visible admission of my unconsciousness as the door swings open from the other side. "Man, who left this door unlocked?" I hear Batxt ask before I'm stepped on. #Constructs3

[Keys] It should be noted Slorgs have big basketball player feet, and my being concealed by the accumulating snow didn't help either. I awake to the smell of artificially brewed coffee and the sound of, "Yeah his name is Keyshion Davis," on The Spot's flat-screen. #Constructs3

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