I began a conversation with Zodar to keep him distracted while I quietly started moving forward again in the darkness. Jimmy followed dutifully.
“Zodar,” I said, “I know what you’re going through.”
“Do you now?”
“Absolutely. The nation that created you – and that you loyally served – has crumbled and turned its back on you. You’ve been maligned in world public opinion because of what Rok and Stinky Pete did. There was probably something pretty bad that happened in your childhood. And the woman you loved has tossed you aside like an old shoe.”
“Um . . . Portia?”
“No idea who you’re talking about.”
“Fair enough. Scratch the broken heart. But if that’s truly the case, then let me go back and elaborate a little more on the childhood trauma thing, okay?”
Damn. I had to keep him talking. We were getting close. I could feel it. I had to keep him talking & distracted so I could sneak up and put a bullet in him.
“Okay then,” I said. “But I don’t understand something.”
“And what is that?”
“What? Well, nothing that you can help me with really. In fact, it doesn’t have anything to do with you at all, just something to do with mimes that’s had me puzzled for a long – oh, wait. Yeah, you know, there is something you might be able to answer for me. Just thought of it. Why, Zodar? Why?”
“I thought a man of your caliber would have figured that out already, Lassiter.”
“Hey dude,” Jimmy said to me, “he just called you by your last name. That’s cool.”
“Really?” I replied back. “Is ignoring people cool too?”
“Oh yeah. Very.”
“Then watch this.” I turned my attention back to the moose.
“You’ve been wronged Zodar. No debate there. But did you really think that world domination would somehow make it all better? You’re smarter than that. A moose like you, with your talents, you could have done anything you wanted. You could have had it all.”
“That was my general intention.”
“Oh yeah. Good point. I guess that was a pretty stupid line of argument I was using just now, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah, well. But is that what all of this was for? Revenge?”
“You really don’t understand, do you Lassiter? No, you couldn’t.”
“So why don’t you try explaining it to me.”
“Why should I? So you can keep me talking & distracted while you sneak up and put a bullet in me?”
Damn, this guy was good. But if I was going to take him down, I was going to have to be better. Up ahead I could see what appeared to be the actual, final, no shit end of the tunnel. All I needed was a few more seconds. I called his bluff.
“You know I’m going to do that anyway, Zodar.”
“I know that you’re going to try.”
“Alright, Zodar. Enough. No more word games. Talk or don’t talk. Doesn’t matter much to me. But just on the off chance that I’m the one who winds up walking out of here, wouldn’t you like at least one person to understand?”
There was a few moments of tense silence as my words struck home.
“You’re right,” Zodar said finally. “Regardless of how this turns out, you at least should know.”
I was only 20 feet from where the tunnel ended. Beyond that was a warm glow of light coming from what appeared to be a large room that the tunnel fed into. I couldn’t tell any more than that, but I knew Zodar was in there. I moved silently, slowly, tight against the wall.
“All of my life,” Zodar said, “I am raised Soviet. All of my memories, everything I did, everything I was taught, was for the sake of the State. Loyalty. Honor. Duty. Sacrifice. Always for the betterment of the State. I never knew my mother and my father, if I even had a mother and father.”
“Boy,” I whispered to Jimmy, “did I have that childhood thing pegged or what?”
“Nailed it, dude,” he whispered back.
“But I didn’t mind,” Zodar continued. “I had a purpose. I could make a difference, and help the people of my country. So I trained, I studied, and I never lost faith in what I was doing or who I was doing it for. It wasn’t about me, after all. It was about the Motherland.”
“This is getting kind of political, don’t you think?” Jimmy whispered.
“Yeah. I know it’s boring, but just hang in there, I think he’s almost done,” I answered quietly, still moving towards the corner.
“And then, suddenly, the Cold War was over,” Zodar said. “I confess, I never saw it coming. And I never thought my mighty Soviet Union would collapse. And I never thought that, just as quickly, my country wouldn’t need me anymore.”
“Yeah,” I called out. “I can see why you might be pissed at them. But we knew that part. We’re just trying to figure out why you’re over here screwing around with us.”
“Them?” Zodar said sharply, “I’m not angry at them, I’m angry at you.”
“Um, say what?”
“If it wasn’t for you, the Cold War wouldn’t have ended, the Soviet Union would still exist, and I would be a hero in my homeland!”
“Well, technically I didn’t have anything to do with that.”
“But your country did!”
“Oh yeah,” I said, “Now that you mention it, I remember reading that part in your note. But hey, in that note you also said you were angry at your own country too. In fact, that was the first thing you mentioned, the whole ‘mad at those who created you’ thing.”
“I lied. I am a spy, after all. It’s what I do.”
We had reached the end of the tunnel. I raised my gun chest high and nodded at Jimmy. Time to play. I jumped out of the tunnel into the dimly lit room. Jimmy landed next to me an instant later.
Time slowed down.
In the first half-second, my brain had time to register that the room was huge, and filled with a literal maze of those metal people railing thingies. The walls and ceilings were decorated with planets & stars, and large television monitors hung at intervals along the walls. On the far end was an open area where I could see a futuristic roller coaster sitting lifeless on the tracks. And just in front of the coaster was Zodar, wounded & weary, looking back at me.
In the second half-second, my brain had time to register numerous blinding flashes of light and a corresponding number of very loud ‘Blams’.
Full second #2 of our arrival into the room entered with both Jimmy and I eating carpet as the bullets that were fired at us back in the second half-second of the first second whizzed over our heads.
Time sped back up to normal. Thank God.
As the shooting stopped we lay cringed on the floor, while bits & pieces of broken plastic and drywall bounced on the floor around us.
Suddenly, Jimmy jumped to his feet.
“That’s six shots Zodar!” he yelled. “You’re out of bullets!”
Blam! Blam! Blam! Blam! Blam! Blam! Blam!
Jimmy decided to rejoin me on the floor. A good career move all around.
“Dude,” he said, eyes like saucers, “I think he’s got an automatic.”
“No shit?” I said.
“Either that or he can reload really, really, fast.”
“Thanks for that valuable input, Jimmy. I appreciate it.”
It’s always a little embarrassing to find yourself cowering on the floor under a hail of gunfire, especially after you’ve spent so much time and effort sneaking up on someone with the intent of blowing them full of holes. Sure, in hindsight, maybe I had lost a little too much of the element of surprise by holding a conversation during the whole “sneaking up” process, but I had consciously given that up, believing that my “jumping into the middle of a big open space in front of a dangerous, armed villain with an entrenched defensive position” strategy would give me the edge I needed to take him down.
Once again, I had underestimated my foe, and for the first time, slivers of self-doubt started to wiggle into my mind. Could I actually defeat this menace, or was Zodar simply too tough? Could it be that he was just better than me? Smarter than me? Had I finally met my match?
Then a new thought hit me: Hey, I had a gun too.
Next Week: Chapter 33