"Death is the solution to all problems. No man - no problem."
"Death is the solution to all problems. No man - no problem."
“Ivan?” Marty squeaked, kicking his knapsack back into his room with his left heel. “Ivan’s in Russia.”
“He’s not in Russia,” Jimmy said blankly, earning an angry glare from Marty.
“Shut up Jimmy, you don’t even know him!” he snapped. “He’ll come back. He always comes. I don’t know why he left,” he then told the two trespassers. “Honest! That’s all I know!”
The dark-haired man with the gun shook his head. “Take us to him now.”
Jimmy stood up quickly, the blank look still on his face. Richard cringed as the taller of the two men backed up into the space with the staircase and the front door. Richard knew that Jimmy knew where to find Ivan and was going to lead them there. Two pops from the gun would surely follow.
“Come on!” barked the armed man, raising his pistol. “You will come with us now, both of you.”
“No,” said Marty, lowering both of his arms at once and shoving his hands into his pockets.
The big man shook his head and cocked the gun.
“Marty!” Richard snapped.
“I won’t go,” the younger man said. “You’ll have to shoot me. You’ll shoot me anyway.”
“Where. Is. Ivan?” he asked again, pausing between each of the words. “This is the last time I’ll ask, buddy. You better tell me.”
“Answer him!” yelled 'Putin' from behind him. Jimmy by now had made his way around the table, quickly scurrying behind the big one.
“This is it. We’re both dead,” Richard thought. “They know. We’re dead.”
He had been near death before in the Falklands:
A boom woke everybody up. Seconds later multiple explosions of light erupted inside the bunker. Mere seconds seemed like miniature eternities, the blink of an eye became a pause between explosions. When it was over Richard thought that he had died, been blown apart already. All around him there was nothing but lingering smoke and streaks of blood on the walls. Nigel was dead. Richard found him, one half of him hanging over his bunk, the other on the floor.
Now hearing the sounds of men’s screams around him, the panicked voices of old comrades he had not seen in years, he reached into his duffel bag. It was still on him, a single strap over his shoulder and chest holding it up. The man still had his gun trained on Marty. Jimmy had gone down the stairs, Putin turning to follow him.
“Come now,” said the dark-haired man, his upper lip curling slightly.
Richard felt the tip of something sharp and heavy inside the bag; the rhino’s horn. Marty had robbed it from that rich guy in the penthouse. He had left it in Richard’s room though. The image of a dead bloodied rhinoceros with a hornless nose flashed in Richard’s head, causing something inside him to stir.
The echoing of shrieking soldiers stopped. As he lifted the great horn out of the bag the thunderous crashing of a herd of massive charging beasts enveloped the room.
“Nigel!” he screamed to the room, hurling the horn at the gunman's head.
He saw it coming too late. The end of the horn shot into his face, instantly tearing up his cheek and nose, missing his right eye by centimeters. His hands shot up to his face as he fell backward.
Richard saw the gun fly out of his hand, bouncing off the refrigerator and then flinging into the washroom. The big man's head smacked hard against the wall, causing a new crack to spring up and spread out into different smaller cracks like a tree forming and sprouting branches in seconds.
Putin’s eyes darted from his friend and then to Richard. He lunged forward at them.
“Run!” yelled Richard as he bolted over to his companion across the kitchen. Putin ran forward, stopping himself at the last second from smashing into the oven. Marty spun about, grabbing his knapsack before he kicked open the door to his room. Richard came up on his heels, pushing him inside with both hands.
“Window! Window!” he shouted after him.
Marty pried it open and in one swift movement shot himself through like a torpedo. Richard looked behind him, seeing Putin running back to the other. “Shit!” he yelled, jumping out of the window and landing on top of the wooden roof of the window well. The wood made a sharp creaking noise as he landed. For a second he thought it would give out from under him, sending him crashing down on top of Ivan's carcass, but it managed to hold.
Marty turned back, reaching out both hands as Richard scrambled back to his feet. A train rumbled by on the other side of the metal wall. “The bikes,” he said to Marty, tapping him on his shoulder. “Come on!”
He led him to the end of their yard and over the fence. Normally Richard would have trouble scaling it, but in the heat of fleeing from death, it felt easy. His arms managed to lift him upward until they reached the top and jumped the rest of the way down into the next backyard. Richard darted ahead to the side of the house. The bicycles were both there, neither tied up as usual.
He grabbed the first one off of the wall and swung his legs over. “Sorry kids,” he muttered hastily.
Marty grabbed the other one. They pedalled frantically, down the side of the house and into the next cul-de-sac. “Where are they?” Marty asked as he came along to his side.
Richard shrugged back. “They’re either in the other yard or coming out on our street in the car. Shit, turn right!”
Both of them veered sharply onto Maria, Marty veering sideways so sharp that he was looking for a split second like his horizontal body was parallel to the street. The road was slushy; their front wheels sending up storms of ice and water, the two of them creating a new set of twin trails behind them.
“Where do we go now?” Marty shrieked.
“Dundas. Left now!” Richard shot back, turning down a small north-south street.
Marty glanced over his shoulder as they took the last turn. “Ah shit! They’re after us!”
Richard looked back to see the black car coming down Maria, already almost at the corner. “Damn it!” he spat, swinging about to cross Dundas Street.
A car barely missed them both, shooting its high beams on them, honking loudly. There were people out on the sidewalk, but none of them seemed to take note of them. It was dark now, looking like night already. They were going south now, away from Dundas and down a long empty street. To the left and right were shadow-shrouded old houses, each three or four stories with old brick foundations, some with castle-like turrets sprouting up from their slanting roofs. Richard stole another glimpse behind him. At Dundas the sides of numerous cars were in view, the two pursuers likely blocked.
Marty was ahead of him now, riding directly under a weeping willow’s looming branches. Richard sped up his peddling, convinced that they only had a few seconds' reprieve at best.
“Where are we gonna go?” Marty called as Richard caught up to him.
“Just keep going!” Richard shouted back, storming on ahead, sending now hundreds of shards of slush ahead of his front wheel with every full spin. He reached a hand free for a second to make sure his bag was fastened to him. Marty, he had seen, had his knapsack slung against his own back. They had their fortune. They just needed to get away.
Marty nearly lost balance, yelling from behind, something about “black guys” from what he could tell. Richard turned back as they sped through a green light, catching sight of the car an intersection away behind them, it’s headlights beaming forth at them like target crosshairs.
“Go! Go! Go!” Richard shouted, his heart pounding, eyelids strung open as an aggressive adrenaline took over, sending his feet into a spinning frenzy.
“Help! Help us!” the younger cyclist started shouted as they zipped past a crowd of people huddled in a bus shelter to their right. “They’re trying to kill us!”
Another street going east to west was coming up ahead. “Turn!” Richard called to him, swinging left. Marty went right. “Ah shit.” He sped down to the next street, passing by some old churches. Keele Street was only a few yards before him. A bus passed by heading south toward the edge of High Park. Without any hesitation he turned right, remembering that it was a steady downhill slope south to Bloor Street. Here the snow and ice was largely cleared, the constant exhaust from the heavy traffic likely having melted away everything.
Once he was gaining on Bloor he stole a peek back quickly. There three were cars driving towards him, but not one of them a black one. He skidded his bike through an amber light just in time, coming up on the northeast corner of High Park’s sprawling canopy. Another cyclist suddenly appeared to his right, swerving onto the grassy space before the trees.
“Richard!” came Marty’s yells when his wheels hit grass instead of sidewalk.
Richard's fingers squeezed the brakes. Marty jumped off the sliding bike, letting it fall onto its side in front of Richard. “Ditch the bikes! They’re behind us!” he cried, waving his hands frantically in the air. Two lights beamed forth from behind him, highlighting his thrashing silhouette against the darkness under the trees. The next three sounds were the horn honking, the brakes slamming and then a single gunshot.
Marty moved first, dashing into the trees, leaving the blinding beams in Richard’s face.
“Stop running! Let me kill you now!” a deep voice barked.
“Marty!” Richard yelled, spinning around. The adrenaline kicked in a second time, his feet burning with each frantic step. There was a path straight into the woods. At first it was even, but once he got under the trees it shot steeply downward. He remembered this place, it was the great ravine that was almost the whole eastern half of the park. Richard’s vision could only make out basic shapes now. He knew that off the path the trees were thick, nearly impassable, the ground there full of vines and bushes jutting out between ledges and slopes.
“Richard! Can you see me?” Marty’s voice rang out from what sounded like a few dozen feet ahead and below him. From behind he heard one man shout in another language.
“They’re just behind,” Richard whispered harshly, catching up to Marty, grabbing his shoulders and bringing him close.
Marty nodded. “Should we hide?”
A loud pop rang out, making them both hunch over and tear down the path. They came to a stone bridge over a river. Past that it suddenly forked; one way going down along the river's edge as it curved, the other turning uphill into deeper forest. Without thought they chose the upper trail.
Soon after they were running up and down what felt like great mounds. Neither of them turned their heads, but the loud curses could still be heard what sounded like little more than twenty feet behind them.
“We can’t lose them,” Richard thought, his knees feeling weak, each footfall now sending sharp pain up his ankle and into his calves. “It’s over.”
Marty ran up ahead, tearing up a steep slope first and then disappearing downward to his left. Richard stopped himself from falling over, just managing to stagger up the hill after him. The ground started falling quickly, his feet kicking out, trying to find a place to land, his whole body more falling now than running. Something here seemed familiar, even more so than before. His eyes were starting to see the surroundings better.
At the sound of the yell from behind him Richard tripped on something, a jutting root or loose rock, something, and fell over, just managing to cushion his face with his forearms at the last second as he landed at the bottom of the hill. “Run Marty!” he managed to yell after him. Marty stopped instead and came back for him. “No! Go!”
Marty slipped and fell backwards, landing on his back on the semi-frozen ground.
“Shit,” Richard groaned, flinging himself quickly onto his back, looking up. The man who looked like Putin stood over him.
“Here!” Putin shouted, turning back. “We got them!”
The footfalls of the larger man were heard coming downhill to them. Richard looked about hastily, remembering the area. Looking back the way they came he could see the sloping ground now and the large figure making its way down to them. To the left was a wall of earth that went up a few dozen feet, the top of it covered in vines and branches, above that only darkness. To the right the ground ended, a cliff. Richard remembered it now. He had looked down there during the evening one time he had visited before. It was a direct drop of forty feet or so. At the base were a mass of logs, tree trunks and rocks. Huge trees jutted out from the side of the bluff, growing sideways, some twisting upwards, others pointed downward to the deep ravine below.
“I was here. I remember this place exactly,” Richard thought, barely able to hear his inner voice between his baritone heart pumps.
The big man came to Putin’s side. His face, now visible in the little moonlight that managed to peer in through the treetops, was bloodied and bruised from the rhino horn, his skin pierced from the edge, a bloody tear running down his cheek from his eye nearly to his chin. He still had his gun.
“Marty!” Richard cried out as he moved his face up. His friend was still sprawled out on the ground.
“Yeah Richard?” he called out weakly.
“I’m glad we became friends.”
The gun hovered above his face, the man scowling down on him. He said something in his language, curses probably. Richard shut his eyes. He expected the gunfire to come any second, the last thing he would ever hear.
“Laura,” he whispered under his breath. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Then he heard a loud growl. Something lunged out of the darkness to their left. The gun went off. Richard opened his eyes.
The big man was at the side of the cliff, a large black dog had his forearm in its jaws. “What the fuck?” Richard spat, jumping to his feet. “The dog! The dog! Yes!”
Putin stood there, looking in shock. The big man had lost the gun, flung it out into the shadows somewhere. He screamed, his voice high pitched now, flinging his arm wildly, the beast refusing to let go, fresh blood shooting out as the dog’s jaws stayed clamped down like a merciless vice.
Marty came to Richard’s side, hands up as if they still had a gun on them. Putin shook himself from shock and ran forward just as the two locked opponents fell over the side of the cliff-face, the dog crouching on top of the man as they went.
“Atlas!” came a voice from behind them. A figure dashed out into the light, the homeless man Richard had seen before. Putin ran to meet him, tried to grab hold of him, but the other man charged him, head-butting him squarely in the chest, causing him to fall back.
"Yeah!" Marty shouted, springing up from the ground. Putin tried to get back up, but the homeless man started kicking him in the ribs.
Richard thought of Nigel again and the whole world started spinning. He frantically glanced around, setting his sights on a large rock down the path. He ran over, picked it up and shoved it at the attacking man. Putin tried to get up again. The homeless man glanced at Richard and took the rock.
“Whoa!” yelled Marty, taking notice of it. "Again?"
The rock flung down onto Putin’s face, emitting a loud crunch. He shrieked in pain, still trying to get up. The raggedy man yelled and swore at him, still kicking wildly at his chest, gut and neck, one after the other. Putin rolled over sideways, moving inch by inch at each strike.
Soon he too fell over the side of the ledge. They heard him scream, ten seconds later hearing him land somewhere below.
“Motherfuckers!” the man who lived in the woods howled after him.
Richard smiled as the black dog, Atlas came to the man's side. He had seemingly managed to land on a log or a ledge below and get back up. Marty grabbed Richard’s shoulder, bringing him over to the edge. They both peered down. Neither of the two men were visible, only shadows below, like they had been consumed by a black sea.
Without a second thought Marty and Richard reached into their bags. The man had slumped down on the cliff-face, letting his legs dangle, grabbing hold of Atlas’ face and kissing the dog's forehead. The two room-mates came to his side and shoved bills at him, twenties and fifties. They reached into their bags again and gave him more after that, nearly a quarter of their total fortune.
“Wherever you go make sure you have a decent landlord,” Marty told him.