Kevin and Esther strolled quietly down the sidewalk, hands in their pockets, glancing furtively at each other every now and then and pretending to be embarrassed when they caught one another looking. The warm bellyful of steak and the bright sky full of stars had Kevin feeling happier than he could remember being in a long time. Happy enough even to try something a little bit brave…
He withdrew his hand from his pocket and casually swung it back and forth a few times, then, as if by accident, let it brush against Esther’s hand, which was still inside her pocket. In half a second flat he felt her fingers twine into his and give a firm squeeze. He looked up in surprise, and she flashed him a modest smile. His cheeks turned red and he grinned like a little schoolboy.
The rest of the world melted away. The street noises faded into the background. They were walking, and they were holding hands, and life was good.
Suddenly Kevin was jolted out of his happy place by a shoulder to the chest. He toppled over backwards, and the person who had run into him bowled over him and tumbled onto the sidewalk. Esther quickly bent down and helped Kevin to his feet.
“Hey,” said Kevin, to the person who had knocked him down. “What are you—wait, SMS?”
“You know him?” said Esther.
“I work with him,” said Kevin. “Shawn, you’re bleeding. What’s—?”
But SMS was already back on his feet and sprinting away.
Kevin scratched the back of his neck. “I wonder what’s gotten into him.” Then someone else collided with him from behind and went running past. Esther caught him and kept him from falling.
“Kevin, that woman has a gun!” said Esther.
“What!?” Looking up, Kevin saw the woman tearing after SMS, cradling a shotgun. “She’s after SMS!” Without any hesitation, he gave chase.
Esther ran after him. “Kevin, wait! What are you going to do?”
“I have to help!”
Ahead, the woman was gaining on SMS. People were leaping out of her way as they saw the gun, clearing the path ahead of her. Kevin saw her raise the shotgun and take aim.
Acting on instinct, Kevin summoned a wad of bacon into each hand and flung the meat at the woman as hard as he could. His first throw missed short, but the second wad struck her in the back of the head just as she fired, startling her and throwing off her aim. A street sign went flying, filled with holes.
The woman whirled around, enraged, and saw Kevin staring determinedly at her, another wad of bacon in his hand. She trained her shotgun on him.
“No!” cried Esther. She wrapped her arms around Kevin’s shoulders and pulled him behind her as the shotgun fired. They both crumpled onto the sidewalk.
SMS heard the shot and looked back. He saw the street sign fall, saw Bailey whirling on Kevin Cox, saw the girl try to shield the Baconmancer with her body.
He turned on his heel, summoned every ounce of energy left in his legs, called on the memories of all the football tackles he’d ever seen on TV, and hurled himself bodily at Bailey in his best impression of a linebacker. He caught her around the waist and she stumbled, but didn’t fall. The woman was built like a brick house! He slid down around her ankles and she laughed viciously.
“Big mistake,” she chuckled, pressing the barrel of the shotgun against his temple.
SMS let out all the breath in his body and awaited the pull of the trigger. He felt in his pocket for Innis’s notebook, which he would now never get a chance to read.
And then a ball of wrath erupted above him. The shotgun flew away from his face and clattered onto the pavement a short distance away. SMS rolled over and bounded up onto his feet. The girl he’d seen with Kevin Cox was attacking Bailey like a wildcat, pummelling her with punches and driving Bailey back, despite the fact that Bailey had at least ten inches and probably 80 pounds on her. The girl was screaming like a banshee.
Bailey quickly regained her balance, though, and caught the girl’s wrists in her hands. She shoved the girl to the ground and spun to retrieve the shotgun, but SMS had beaten her to it.
“Hands where I can see them, Brenda,” said SMS.
Bailey took a step back, lifting her hands to her head. “What are you going to do?” she sneered. “Think you can shoot me when you couldn’t shoot the kid back at the warehouse?”
“Yeah, I think maybe I can.” SMS tightened his finger on the trigger. He glanced down at the girl, who had crawled over to where Kevin had fallen. He saw that there was a scatter of holes along one side of her jacket, but there was no blood, and she didn’t seem to be showing any signs of pain. Maybe the buckshot had barely missed, or just grazed her.
“I’m not going to shoot you,” SMS announced. He added, in a low voice, “But I can’t promise that no one else will.” He cast around the frightened pedestrians watching from a perimeter around them. Several were on their phones, presumably with 911. He spotted a young man in his early twenties with a buzz cut and a square jaw. “You,” he said, “take this.”
The young man came forward, and SMS handed him the gun.
“Can you watch her for me until the cops arrive? I have to check on my friend.”
The young man nodded and trained the gun on Bailey. As SMS had hoped, he looked like he knew what was doing with a firearm.
SMS leaned towards Bailey and said, “I bet you aren’t too excited about those pheromones you’re putting off right now, are you? Might want to try to suppress that. I wouldn’t make any sudden moves, either.”
Bailey snarled at him, but kept her hands on her head.
SMS knelt beside the girl to check on Kevin. The Baconmancer’s eyes were open, and he seemed alert. “Is he okay?” asked SMS.
“He… seems to be,” said the girl. “Kevin, can you sit up?” She put her hand under Kevin’s head and helped him raise himself upright.
Kevin moaned and reeled dizzily. “My back…”
SMS took a look at Kevin’s back and saw that most of his jacket and the shirt underneath had been torn away. His bare skin was flushed red and was speckled with jagged marks which were just starting to ooze blood. It was like he’d been shot, but the buckshot had just barely pierced his skin. What in the world…?
The girl followed SMS’s eyes and saw the same thing. She gasped, and SMS saw her cheeks flush bright red.
SMS cocked his head to one side. “I don’t know what’s going on with him,” he said, “but what about you?”
“Oh, uh… Don’t worry about me,” said the girl, quickly.
SMS gave her a scrutinizing glance, but decided to keep any further questions to himself. “Sure,” he said. “Whatever. Look, thanks for your help. And say thank you to Kevin for me, too. I have to get out of here.”
“Aren’t you going to wait for the police to arrive?”
SMS shook his head. “Innis has people inside Vic PD. He probably has people inside the RCMP, too, if today’s events are anything to judge by.”
“He’s—” SMS was interrupted by the sound of the shotgun firing, and a shell ricocheting off the pavement. The young man he’d given the gun to shouted angrily, and SMS saw a look of contorted fury and unbridled aggression on his face. He heard honking and the screeching of brakes and saw Bailey dashing across the street, darting through traffic.
From the far sidewalk Brenda shouted, “This isn’t over, SMS! Innis wants that notebook back, and he’s going to get it. We’re coming after all of you!” Then she fled into the shadows and was gone.
The young man with the buzz cut sank to the sidewalk and laid the shotgun down beside him. “I’m so sorry,” he mumbled. “I shouldn’t have shot at her. I… I don’t know what came over me.”
“I do,” said SMS, “and it wasn’t your fault, so don’t worry about it. Too bad you missed, though.” He turned back to Kevin and the girl and put his hand on the girl’s shoulder. “You know,” he told them, “I think we should probably stick together from here… Do either of you have a car?”