Dave opened the stairwell door to find Joey Giordano, Madame Morphine, and another goon coming up the steps. The four of them stared at each other for a fraction of a second before all hell broke loose. The goon started shooting, and Dave yelled at the others to run.
Chung and Attwater pulled Puebla back down the hallway as a bullet stung Dave’s side. Giordano charged up the last few steps, and Dave braced himself. The sleeve of the other man’s suit jacket had a bloody tear (Moreen? Was she okay?), which would make him stronger than normal. Dave sidestepped when Giordano swung at him, trying to use the man’s own momentum to throw him. But Giordano was too good a fighter; he didn’t overextend the punch. When he missed, he pivoted and threw another.
Dave raised his arm to block, then used the fist of the same arm to pop Giordano in the jaw. Giordano lurched back and hit the doorframe, knocking the door off its hinges. Judging by that reaction, he wasn’t as strong as Dave yet. But this was no time to play nice. Dave aimed another punch at this head, but Giordano jerked out of the way at the last second. Dave’s fist hit the wall—and went straight through it.
Dave wrenched his hand out of the hole, but it cost him a precious second. Giordano brought down both fists onto the back of Dave’s head. Dave’s vision went white, and he staggered. Pain spiked through his skull, and he tried to shake it off, but Giordano didn’t give him a single instant. He socked Dave in the stomach.
Dave bent over, feeling as if someone had sucked the air out of his lungs with a vacuum. Giordano rained down blows mercilessly. If Dave didn’t do something soon, he was finished. He nearly tripped over the broken door, stumbled, then barreled forward. He slammed into Giordano with all the finesse of a semi-truck, sending them crashing into the opposite side of the hallway.
They burst through a door, taking a chunk of wall with them. Giordano’s back hit a washing machine, and he managed to throw Dave off. They wrestled in the narrow laundry room. Out of the corner of his eye, Dave caught movement behind him. Madame Morphine and the other goon had been trapped in the stairwell as Dave and Giordano traded super-strong punches. Now they took off down the hallway after Puebla.
Dave had to stop them. He drove his foot into Giordano’s inner calf, making him flounder. Then he followed up with an elbow strike to Giordano’s head. As Giordano reeled, Dave ran for the door—and slipped. Sudsy water covered the floor, and the smell of detergent was everywhere. How had he not noticed it before? Dave’s hand shot out and grabbed a dryer before he fell. The washing machine opposite him had been demolished at some point in the fight. Water and soggy clothes poured out from a jagged hole in its smooth white surface.
Shots rang out. Either Agent Attwater or Agent Chung must have hung back to cover Puebla’s escape. Good. That meant—
Giordano jumped Dave from behind. Dave hit the floor, and Giordano landed right on top of him. He grabbed Dave’s head and bashed him face-first into the tile. Dave swore a camera flash went off in front of his eyes, and the pain made him curl up protectively in instinct. Gioardano slammed Dave’s head down a second time. It felt like a bomb hit. Dave jerked and kicked, but he couldn’t get free. Each punch he’d landed on Giordano had made the man stronger, and now Dave was reaping the consequences. He could barely think. His hands flailed and groped blindly, and he felt the door to the dryer on his right.
He ripped the door off its hinges, twisted, and clubbed Giordano with it. The hit wasn’t solid. It glanced off Giordano’s shoulder, but it knocked him back enough for Dave to slide out from under him. He struggled to get to his feet. Dizziness hit him as soon as he rose, and the wet floor wasn’t helping. At least Giordano was having the same trouble. His designer shoes slipped this way and that, and he had to grab a washing machine for balance. It would have been funny if not for the throbbing in Dave’s skull.
Pissed and in pain, Dave swung the dryer door. It slammed into Giordano’s head with satisfying force. Giordano staggered but didn’t fall. He backed up, but there was nowhere to go. The end of the room was only a couple feet behind him, a wall with a square widow letting in sunlight. Taking careful steps forward, Dave swung again.
Giordano grabbed his wrist before impact and twisted. Dave pulled against him, but the dryer door dropped from his hand with a clang. Giordano moved to punch him with his free hand, but Dave blocked it with his left arm and grabbed the man’s sleeve. They grappled, awkward and off-balance on the slick floor. Then one of Giordano’s feet slid out from under him, and Dave took full advantage of it. He pushed Giordano back, gaining momentum with each step, and shoved him straight out the window.
The glass shattered, and Giordano almost kicked Dave in the face as he tipped over the window frame and fell from view. A thump reached Dave’s ears a split-second later, and he took a moment to catch his breath before moving forward to look.
They were only on the second story, so it wasn’t a long drop. Giordano lay crumpled atop the fallen leaves on the grass, but almost immediately he stirred and looked around.
About a dozen yards behind him, Chung and Puebla were running for the car.
Giordano was dazed but standing up. Dave couldn’t let him reach Puebla. One punch at his current strength would kill the man.
Dave jumped out the window. His feet hit the ground, sending a jolt up his legs and making the pounding in his head ten times worse. But Giordano was already running. Dave dashed after him, his vision blurring. He blinked and tried to run faster. Chung and Puebla were inside the car now, but at this point, Giordano was probably strong enough to flip the vehicle if he reached it. Dave focused on the man’s back, his suit jacket flaring out in the wind. Just a little closer…
Dave pushed off the ground with his feet as hard as he could and lunged. He hit Giordano in the back and took him down. They tumbled across the asphalt, hitting and kicking at each other with no real technique. Tires screeched as Chung reversed out of his parking spot. The sound lit a fire under Giordano. He jumped up and sprinted, but Dave grabbed his foot before he took more than a step and pulled him back down.
The car took off. Giordano reached into his suit jacket, and Dave pounced on him, grabbing for the gun. Then the car turned and zoomed out of sight.
They’d made it. Puebla was safe—or on his way to somewhere safe, at least. Dave’s momentary relief cost him. Giordano’s elbow struck his jaw and sent him dizzily sideways. Dave rolled across the asphalt, first unintentionally but then on purpose to put more distance between him and Giordano. He pushed himself to his feet, swaying, and saw that Giordano had already risen. But the man made no move to attack.
Then again, he had no reason to attack, did he? Puebla had gotten away. The only thing Giordano could do now was beat it before he got arrested. The two men surveyed each other. Giordano had a busted, bloody lip, and while Dave’s injuries weren’t as visible, he felt as if someone was trying to break into his skull with a battering ram. If Giordano ran, Dave was sorely tempted to just let him go, but he couldn’t. The man might know how Puebla’s location had been discovered, and if they DSA could learn that…
Dave’s eyes lost focus, and he struggled to see straight without giving Giordano a sign something was wrong. Not good. Dave probably had a head injury. He was going to have to…
He tottered and nearly collapsed. His strength drained away, and his legs felt like noodles. He could barely keep his eyes open. What was happening? This wasn’t a head injury. This was…
Madame Morphine. Dave turned, listing, to see her standing behind him with a smile that didn’t show her teeth. He careened towards her, reaching out to stop her somehow, but she took a small step back.
Dave’s hand grabbed empty air, and the world went black as he fell.
“You couldn’t have done that thirty seconds earlier?” Joey Giordano looked down at White Knight impassively. “It’s too late. The witness got away.”
Madame Morphine spat a curse at odds with the prim, old-fashioned image she affected. “It’s not my fault. I couldn’t get close to him.”
“Save it. I’m not the one you have to convince.”
A flash of panic crossed her face as she thought of her boss’s reaction to their failure. Then two more of Blueblood’s men ran up to them from the hotel. Giordano scowled at them. Too little too late. If Giordano had been allowed to bring a half dozen of his men, they’d be having very different results right now.
“Grab him and bring him to the car.” Madame Morphine pointed at White Knight’s prone form. “Hurry. We need to get out of here.”
“We weren’t sent here for him,” Giordano reminded her, though why he even had to was beyond him.
Madame Morphine spun to face him, her skirts flaring out. “I’m not going back to Blueblood empty-handed.”
He didn’t reply, and she took his silence for submission and rushed to the car. Giordano followed at a more sedate pace. It had been made quite clear beforehand that she was in charge, not him. So whatever happened next, it was on her head.
They made it out before the cops arrived, the unconscious superhero tucked away in the back of the car.
So things aren’t looking good for Dave this week. But I finally delivered that punching I promised you. 😉 This cliffhanger is actually the end of this episode, so I’m taking a break next week and will come back with the next episode on Monday, 4/17.
Btw, The Best Man is out now. Consider buying it and leaving a review if you do. (It’s only 99 cents!) If you’ve ever wanted to see how Dave and Val tied the knot or read something from Harris’s point of view, you can’t miss it. Plus, there’s plenty of punching.