Here's the shtick: I write a story, a scene at a time. Then I write a pair of second scenes, taking the story in two different directions--a story fork. The reward total after three days determines which fork survives.
Fork 4A got tagged by a passing whale (thanks, @blocktrades), and crushed 4Z, so we will never get to see what was in the strongbox behind the bar. Breaks my heart, but that's how the game is played.
Before you read this episode, you really should get up to speed on the whole thing.
Pain slashed across Abbett’s bicep like a blade, burning like fire. Chunks of door stung his cheek, dug from the frame and flung backward by the bullet. Vernon screamed and the gun clattered to the floor.
Abbett clutched at his arm and hissed. His fingers came away smeared in crimson.
Vernon writhed on the ground at the mouth of the hallway, screaming Abbett’s name and pawing at the knife handle sticking from his thigh.
The door sagged open.
The bullet had gone through the latch on the door and the whole panel creaked away from the frame a half inch. The smell, never absent, increased dramatically. Now it was joined by a hum, as of a piece of heavy machinery. Abbett reached out his good arm and pulled the door open a foot and a half.
“Abbett, you bastard!” Vernon shrieked. “I’ll kill you!”
He probably would, too, if Abbett gave him a chance. The gun lay on the floor, but in a minute Vernon would stop whinging about the knife and remember that he had seven more rounds in the magazine. Abbett got to his feet, sliding his back up the wall, and stepped into the room.
He shoved the door closed, but it wouldn’t stay. To his right sat a large metal barrel, rusting down the side. Abbett got a grip on the top and tugged. Liquid sloshed in the bottom, but it was nearly empty, light, and Abbett got it in front of the door without too much trouble. It wouldn’t hold Vernon long, unless his leg was stuck worse than it looked.
Abbett turned to the room. Deep shadow lay over everything, lit only by the slanting of the afternoon sun through windows grimed nearly black. Motes of dust floated by like flotsam. In the center of the floor sat a huge machine, humming as if waiting for someone to wake it up. Around it lay stacks of paper on pallets. Against the far wall another machine was draped in sheets of the same paper; this batch was printed on. A lever stuck out from the side, the metal gleaming from wear. Underneath that machine another pallet was stacked with cut paper, also printed, and in this form unmistakable.
Vernon crashed against the door and the barrel wobbled. The top fell off, and Abbett knew the smell now—barrels of printers ink. The kind you would use to print money.
From the look of it, the barrel had been well used. They’d been at this for a while. Abbett swore. No telling how long they’d been pumping phony twenties into the city’s rickety system. Nor how much of Harold Crane’s rocketship rise to political power had been fueled by it.
Crash. Abbett leaned on the barrel, bracing the door. It held, barely, but showed signs of wanting to slump down like a drunk after closing time.
Abbett knew the game, now, but to expose it, he’d have to get back to the precinct, to Subramanian, who might even believe him. He looked frantically about the room for another way out, but it was cinderblock and cobwebs on all four sides. The windows were high and very small. Abbett thought he could possibly get through one of them, given time. And a ladder. Neither of which were in evidence. The room was a dead end.
He’d had quite enough of those to last him forever.
Crash. On the other side of the door, Vernon cried out in pain. That knife must be really stuck in deep. “Abbett!” he shouted through the door, “When I kill you this time, I’m gonna make sure.”
“That’s not much incentive for me to let you in, is it?” Abbett called back.
He heard a faint click and ducked behind the barrel. Just in time, as three holes appeared in the door and bullets whinged off the machine behind him. An eye appeared in one of the holes.
Abbett poked a finger through it and was rewarded with a new kind of shriek, and a torrent of swearing.
That was fun and all, but it wasn’t really getting him anywhere. Any minute now, Vernon was going to realize that he could just sit there until reinforcements arrived.
Unless Abbett did something to keep him coming.
He picked up the barrel top and threw it at the printing press. It made a horrific racket, though it did no damage that Abbett could see. That didn’t matter, though. “I’m smashing up your press,” Abbett called out. “No more funny money for you. Crane will probably be unhappy about that, don’t you think?”
Renewed swearing and a kind of guttural yell floated through the door. He thought he heard running footsteps.
Abbett pulled the barrel out of the way, and stood to the side.
Voting commences now. You can vote for this story and for Fork 5A, if you like them both, but only one will survive. Move that slider to weight the story you can't live without. Deadline is Monday, midnight GMT, when the larger payout lives on and the smaller withers and dies.
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