Rhys should have immediately recognized the man who had his hands wrapped tight around Joey's neck, but as he came around the corner at a dead run, he was still so damn far away. He knew Joey had come this way; he was trailing behind him just to make sure he was safe. But he'd allowed for too much distance between them.
Because he just heard him scream.
Joey's limp body dropped to the ground as the man looked up at Rhys with evil eyes and an even more sinister smile. But there was insanity in those eyes as well. The fucker had said something to Joey, too, he heard it. Something like 'Where is it, you son of a bitch?'
The man stepped back and kicked the sickeningly still form on the sidewalk and dashed away, his fat ass swinging back and forth.
Rhys pulled his weapon from its holster under his arm. It was a rapid fire Cyro-silgil, and simply an extension of his hand, another perfectly functioning body part. When he pulled it out of the holster in that very fluid motion that was as much a part of him as breathing, he knew he didn't even have to look at his quarry as he squeezed the trigger, choosing instead to start his descent to Joey, finally arriving by his side.
Yet another mistake.
Because as luck would have it, and luck was not kind that day, as the slug left Rhys's weapon, the running bastard slipped. The shot only grazed his right arm. Even though it had to have been a very ugly, deep graze, it was not the direct hit to the heart Rhys had planned—and all because he'd taken his eyes off his target at the last split second. Rhys dropped his weapon arm anyway, choosing not to take the second shot, as the need to kill the bastard was replaced by the horror that lay before him on the sidewalk.
Joey was dead.
Oh fuck. No breath, no pulse, fixed pupils, eyes open but clearly unseeing. Rhys's stomach turned as he realized the fucker hadn't just strangled Joey, but crushed his throat.
"Joey!" He screamed at the unmoving body. "Joey! Damn you! Don't you die! Don't be dead! Please…." He tried to breathe life back into him, opened Joey's mouth and blew. He then tried to pound on his chest to get his heart going again but it was no use. Joey was dead. Rhys buried his face in the rumpled shirt as his tears fell. Why the fuck had he sent him off alone? It was those innocent eyes of his! Why had he looked into those eyes that pleaded and begged to do something important, something that would make him feel like he was a true member of the gang? Rhys could've picked something else, like going on one of their many security rounds. At least then he would have been with one of the other boys. No, he had been too stupid and arrogant in thinking he could send Joey off on a scouting mission and he would just follow.
My fault! My fucking fault I sent him to his death. I sent him out and away from safety and I fucking knew better. Why…?
And now Joey was dead.
Poor, poor Joey.
He holstered his gun, took out his cell, and pressed the number two for Teneff. He had to tell someone where Joey was so he could chase that fat bastard Joey called a father. "Teneff! Where the fuck are you now? Answer your cell!" But he didn't. All Rhys could do was leave a fast message leading him back here to where Joey lay, and report that he would go after the murdering fucker.
Where Joey lay…
Rhys jumped up and backed away much like that bastard, Balmor, had. He wiped his tears away, still not quite understanding he was crying, and as much as he hated to leave Joey all alone, he had to get the fucker who did this. If he didn't leave now, even with how slowly Balmor waddled off, he could still lose him. At least there was a blood trail. There should have been a fucking dead man and if Rhys had his way, there would be soon. "Sorry, Joey…" he whispered then turned and ran in the direction Balmor had gone. As he ran, he turned his phone off. No distractions while he was tracking. He wouldn't answer it anyway. Not until he had the guy.
But unfortunately he had to slow down. The tunnel became darker now, away from the lights on the platforms. There was an occasional weak yellow lamp blinking on the ceiling but little else to light the way. Even though Rhys was used to the dark, could see like a cat actually, running was no longer an option. Of course his quarry would no longer be running either.
In the half-light, he was still able to follow the blood trail and that was important. Though this tunnel did not have any offshoots yet, it would. More important, in the darkness, against the tunnel walls, he could miss a shadow. The traces of blood, faint and getting fainter, still proved to Rhys the man moved forward. But the fact it was becoming fainter meant he could lose the trail altogether once Balmor hit a split in the tunnel. Had he wrapped the wound? Rhys quickened his pace. He was running out of time.
The drops of blood were fewer and fewer, so Balmor was somehow stopping the bleeding, either by covering the wound or the wound itself was not as bad as Rhys had first thought. But luckily there were other things to consider when following a trail. In this case, there actually was a trail. That meant Balmor didn't have a cutterboard, a thick piece of polyite, which ran off the same naturally occurring energy called hydron that the old trains used to use. Of course, that energy was no longer stable, which was the main reason these tunnels eventually were abandoned. But the fat man didn't have one. He was on foot.
You then considered your quarry. In this case, being it was human, Rhys did have to believe his prey could think intelligently. But usually instinct took over in times of dire need, especially when there was a severe enough, painful enough, wound that needed attending. It wouldn't necessarily mean he would run blindly; he just wouldn't be thinking about hiding. And Balmor wasn't going to get help either because no one in this dark place wanted to become caught up in anyone else's war, even small ones. So Balmor would undoubtedly be thinking speed and escape were his only options and, due to the pain he had to be in, the path of least resistance would be his course.
As Rhys followed, he was rewarded with being right, at least about that. What he had not been right about, of course, was that Balmor would have come back after Joey in the first place. Sure they had talked about it. Joey had said the man he called 'father' wanted something from him.
"Where is it, you son of a bitch?" Rhys's memory of Balmor's last words to Joey rang in his brain.
But none of them really paid much attention to it. Why would they? Joey was safe now, underground, with them. Joey had friends now, protectors.
Yeah right. Protectors my ass.
Joey needed protecting, too. They all knew it. He was a little shy of a full deck but as sweet as fresh air. Everyone loved him right from the start. It had been Rhys who saved him that first time, from the very same man he was chasing now. It had been Rhys who had tended to Joey's wounds, held him close when he cried, convinced him to come back with him to his place, to stay underground. But it had been Rhys's gang Fury that had opened their arms in a hearty welcome, sucking him into the obvious void that none of them even knew existed until Joey was there, filling it masterfully. His bright and innocent fascination, simple ways, and amazing smile charmed them all.
Joey had been born up there, in upper Winderport, and some of his stories were incredible: tall buildings, fast vehicles, moving closets called elevators. He'd followed his father once to the ladder, which was how he was able to come down into the underground in the first place, but he couldn't remember where it was. Or at least that was what he had said. There really was no reason to not believe him. Rhys did think, however, Joey liked it underground. His only relatives on the surface were that drunken, abusive father and his 'Granny' who he loved but rarely saw. His mother had died when he was young.
Rhys smiled when he remembered Joey sitting at his feet looking at him with those wide eyes, talking about seeing his mother's soul. For some reason Joey believed the soul was a tiny, pulsing, bright light that left the body when you died. The soul rises up bound for heaven, he'd said. That was what the bright light he saw leave his mother's body was going to do too. When Rhys asked what heaven was, Joey said it was a place high above the clouds. Ahhh, clouds, Rhys had thought. Another thing of mystery. Joey said it was the land of souls, this 'heaven'. A place for the souls to commune and be with all the other souls who had gone before.
Joey said you could actually see heaven from up there.
Rhys wasn't sure he believed in such things. Joey said he was very young when his mother died, perhaps too young to actually remember anything for sure. Rhys could come up with no explanation what the little green light, as Joey described it, really was, but Joey had no doubts.
"No, Rhys. I know it was her. It was my mama. You should have seen her! She flashed and moved and flashed and moved and I chased her. I remember chasing the light." His voice broke and his eyes got far away and misty. "I… I didn't want her to leave me behind. I even begged her to stay…" He looked at Rhys then, a dark seriousness taking over his cherubic face, even as his eyes were bright with tears. "But humans have no say in such matters."
Rhys remembered thinking it was quite the concept for such an uncomplicated mind. But Rhys suspected, if there was a God, people like Joey were closer to him anyway.
The blood trail had all but disappeared now. He followed by instinct. The idiot ran but Rhys figured out he had no real idea he was being trailed because never once did he switch his path, like anyone would have done to try to lose whoever it was behind him. It was odd too, because he still ran like a bat out of hell. If he truly didn't know Rhys was on his fat ass, he would soon have him. Then he would make him suffer. He would be sure to see his fucking little green light and he would snuff that out as well!
Wait! There he is! Rhys saw Balmor had stopped right in front of a curving tunnel wall. What the hell is he doing? Rhys ducked back into the deep shadows just in time as Balmor turned and looked behind him. No question the asshole was looking around to make sure he was not being watched—but why? The man was obviously clueless that he had been followed from the murder scene. So what was the reason he was concerned about being seen now? Was he going to meet someone? If that was the case, it would have to be out on the track because there was nothing at all around the tunnel he was standing in—no offshoot, no door, nothing. But still the idiot darted his head back and forth as if he was going to do something he wanted no one to witness. Rhys watched dumbfounded as Balmor then turned his attention to the wall, felt around a little, and, as if by magic, slipped right through it.
What the fuck…?
He was gone. He'd disappeared. Rhys ran up to where he was sure the fat man was just a moment ago, but all that he could see was wall. What did he do? Was there a lever to pull, a button to press? Rhys felt around too, just as Balmor had done, patting and pushing. The idiot simply couldn't have walked through solid concrete. There had to be something here that would open up or appear or…
His fingers slipped into what seemed an opening, fell into a hole of sorts—like a handle. Rhys stood there for just a second then pulled. He felt the wall give. He pulled a little harder and a portion, approximately a six foot square section, simply moved straight out. Solid concrete did not move like this. Rhys didn't pretend he knew construction or even the history of how these tunnels came to be, but having a portion of it separate from the rest was downright eerie. He pulled a little harder still and it moved enough for him to fit his thin frame around the opening. He marveled that due to its mottled, craggy surface, even this close up it was hard to tell a part of the wall was displaced. He slipped into the void behind it, pulling it back with him as he did.
It was darker yet behind the relocated piece of concrete, even though small amounts of light from the tunnel still filtered in through the crack it left. It would be a lot harder now to track Balmor, due to the too little light so Rhys allowed his senses to completely take over.
There was no way he was going to lose that man.
He pushed forward, one arm out in front of him, his other lightly touching his gun. He had no idea where this winding, dark corridor was going as he moved forward.
Rhys's eyes had adjusted to the even lower light now, his vision was improving slowly. He was close; he could hear Balmor muttering loudly to himself, seemingly a little way out in front of him, as he rounded yet another dark corner. Rhys was slightly torn between actually hoping the man would have a massive coronary and be dropped by the hand of God, and hoping he didn't, so he could make the bastard suffer. The man seemed to be right around the corner now, obviously doing something physical because he heard grunts and odd thumps. Rhys realized as he stopped right at the corner, wanting to make sure his entrance was as much of a shock as he could make it, that those sounds were off somehow. He stood contemplating that, catching his breath. This man was going to die now and Rhys wanted to make sure death was never something he doled out lightly, even to scum like this man. He waited for that moment, offering up a prayer for Joey, and came around the corner.
He'd planned on yelling out some sort of battle cry. He'd planned on running full on right into the fat belly, visions of Balmor bouncing back, maybe slamming into a wall, walked through his mind. But what he ended up doing was simply coming to a complete halt as he stared at what appeared to be a ladder positioned in the middle of the room reaching up into complete and utter darkness. Rhys followed the rungs up with his eyes into the darkness, which wasn't far, and stood with his mouth hanging wide open.