Safe Zone: Episode 2

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     Jessie didn’t move and neither did Winter.  Instead they both looked at the man outside the vehicle and assessed the situation. The man either didn’t know that the vehicle had bulletproof windows or he didn’t think they knew. Maybe he just figured the sight of his absurdly giant gun would intimidate them. If that was the case he had another thing coming, and fast. The problem, though, was that the tires were not bulletproof.  Their dad had said that most people couldn’t hit a tire with a shot at a moving vehicle,  and that if anyone was going to be shooting at the car it was gonna be moving. Wrong again, Tom, Jessie thought. 

“Don’t get any cute ideas,” the try-hard moron said to them. 

“Geez, this fucking guy,” whispered Winter. Jessie had to fight not to smile at that. Then she had an idea.

Jessie did smile, big, and widened her eyes in what she hoped appeared to be shock. She put a lilt  in her voice and raised it about two octaves, trying for it to sound frightened instead of calculating. “H-hey man, we don’t want any trouble okay? W-we will do exactly what you say. Just p-put the g-g-gun down, please? What do you say?” Jessie’s  stomach turned a little at having to ask the man to stop pointing a gun at her as if she was going to give him an option. It felt a little too close to begging, and that was something Jessie did not do.  She hated playing the damsel in distress  because she was anything but. 

“What the hell are you doing?” Winter said it quietly and between clenched teeth but Jessie couldn’t answer at that moment. She had the full attention of the overgrown, overdressed reject from a bad spy flick, and she had chosen the course of action. Winter was quick, she would catch on.  Jessie had her hands on the steering wheel and she said to the man, “I am just going to reach down and open the door, ok?” She moved her hands down slowly but the man shook his head. “No dice, unlock it and I will open it,” he demanded. Oh goody, this would be even better. Jessie put a compliant look on her face and nodded. She moved one hand slowly down to the lock button and heard Winter mumble, “If you get killed, I am kicking your ass.” Jessie muttered back, “I got this, sis.” She thumbed the unlock button and after that it was like everything moved both lighting quick and yet somehow in slow motion. 

Jessie watched the man raise the gun slightly with his movement to reach for the handle and it was the best opportunity she was going to get. She shoved the door against him as it swung open, knocking the man back and almost sending him to his ass. Almost, but damn it, not quite. He was a big motherfucker and not quite as top heavy as she had hoped. She darted around the open door, running full speed at the man and getting as low as she could. If he regained his balance before she hit him, they were toast. Thankfully, she was faster than his reflexes, and she slammed her body into him full speed, leading with her shoulder and rode him to the ground. He let out a whoop of air as he landed on his back, wind gone out of him. His stupid sunglasses fell off in the scuffle and his eyes were wide and angry. He tried to raise the gun but before he could, Jessie punched him right in the throat. The man started coughing and choking and she moved herself onto his chest, placing her knees on the inner crook of each of his obnoxiously big arms. She pulled the .45 from its holster then, thumbed the safety and cocked it, pointing it at that wheezing goon’s face. 

Winter came around the back of the SUV, pistol in hand, but as she saw that situation, she holstered her own gun. “Nice job, sister. Bet that rocked your socks off, you dopey fuck,” she said to the man. Jessie didn’t risk turning to her sister, even though the man was still fighting to catch his breath, but instead said, “my sister is going to restrain your legs while I kneel right on your elbows, you fucking ogre, and if you so much as flinch, I will decorate the parking lot with your brains.” She let the truth of her words fill her face, let the man see his own death in her eyes. She had never killed anyone before, but Tom had trained both of them to do it, and although Jessie would normally look for any other possible solution, she was not going to gamble with Winter’s life. She would not hesitate to scatter this man’s brain matter like confetti if he even thought too hard about trying to gain the upper hand. No, Mr. Dressed To Kill But Got My Ass Beat Instead was going to be compliant or he was going to be dead. Winter said, “Grabbing the zip ties, sis. Anyone who was out here ‘shopping’ seems to have taken off. Guess they were minding their own business.” Jessie heard Winter’s steps receding, then heard some rustling in the back of the vehicle. The man was catching his breath now, looking at her intently and with real hatred. Jessie didnt give a fuck because she saw sometghing else in his eyes as well, something they could use to their advantage. Behind all that anger and hatred, behind that arrogance he was attempting to mask his face with, she saw fear.

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Winter came back and made quick work of restraining the man at the ankles, crossed and tight. “We have the heavy duty ties, and I tripled you up, so to use your words, ‘Don’t get any cute ideas.’” Winter laughed at this and Jessie was, as per usual, blown away by her sister’s resilience and ability to find humor in literally any situation. Winter came around the side of them, within sight of Jessie, and then said to the man, “Turn your head this way and look at me, Agent Dipshit.” His eyes flinched at the name calling and his nostrils flared, but other than that, he did not move. Up until now, he had been quite cooperative. He apparently needed reminding of who was in control here. Or maybe, Jessie thought, he knows once we get his arms restrained, it’s over for him, mission failed so to speak. Either way, she couldn’t have him thinking there was any way out of this, so she did the only reasonable thing to do in that moment. She squared all of her weight on her knees, putting maximum pressure on his elbows and grinding them into the ground, then, when he closed his eyes grimacing from that pain, she drew the gun back and pistol whipped him as hard as she could, right in the temple. His face went slack immediately and all the tension she had felt in his body melted away. For a moment, she thought she had hit him harder than she meant to and killed him, but then he took a shuddering breath. 

“Out like a light,” Winter said.

“Looks like it,” Jessie responded, getting up quickly from the man. They didn’t have any way of knowing how long he’d be out. The sisters rolled him onto his stomach, pulling his hands behind his back and then arranging him into a hog tied position, attaching his wrists to his ankles. He gave no indication that he was anywhere near the conscious world, so they went about the business of searching his pockets. They found nothing. No badge, no wallet, no money, no extra ammo. There was one other car in the parking lot, so they figured that would be the place to look. Winter picked up the gun, “Whoa, talk about overkill. It’s a 500 Magnum. Geez.” She uncocked the gun, checked the cylinder and told Jessie it was fully loaded. She tucked it in her waistband and laughed, “You know, just in case we run into anyone bigger than this guy,” then mimicked shooting with her fingers. They walked to the car, which was just a few spaces away. He had left it unlocked and the key in the ignition. This man’s arrogance really knew no bounds. Inside the car was just as empty as the man’s pockets. Eerily so. There were no personal effects, no cell phone, not that it would be functional but at least it might give them a clue. No, the car was downright sterile. Winter popped the trunk, and there were a few items inside, none of them helpful in identifying the guy, nor where he came from or who sent him. It was apparent though, from the lack of anything to identify him as well as the items in the trunk, that he had been sent. As if they had any doubts. There were extra rounds for his giant gun, which they took, restraints of his own, which they also took, tarps and twine. There was also some paint thinner and a lighter. They took the lighter as well. Supplies were always nice to have in surplus. 

“The motherfucker was going to kill us, Win. Murder us. And there’s something else,” Jessie said. Winter just looked at her, waiting.

“There are three tarps. He was expecting to murder a trio.”

After some brief discussion, the sisters decided to leave the man. They did discuss taking him with them to the house, where they could interrogate him at length and try for some answers, but decided he was too dangerous to keep around. They had done well, and he had underestimated them, maybe because he saw their dad was not with them. But both Winter and Jessie agreed that he would be unlikely to do that again, and neither of them wanted to test their luck twice against him. He may have been stupid and arrogant, but he was bigger than both of them combined, and what was more, he was trained. They ended up dragging him  to the car, then hoisting him into the trunk he had meant for them. He was still out, snoring actually, like a chainsaw. He had a big knot on the side of his head and the skin around that eye, cheek and brow was starting to mottle, turning shades of brown and blue. 

“That’s gonna sting in the morning,” Winter said, then slammed the trunk. She looked at Jessie. “Do you think his, I don’t know, his people will come looking for him?” She pushed the lock button on the car key fob then walked to the gutter and dropped it down the drain. Jessie shrugged. “No way to know, really, kiddo. But I imagine they will eventually. I’m sure when old tall, dumb and ugly doesnt show up to cinfirm a mission complete, they will want to check the status.”

“Well, I hope they don’t. He was really going to kill us.” Winter lifted her middle finger and flipped off the car as they walked away. “Fuck you, dickhead,” she said.

“I couldn’t have said it better myself, kid.” Jessie said and put her arm around her sister for a quick hug and then said, “You know we have to find Dad.”

 Winter looked at her, aghast. “Dude, fuck that guy. He literally left us to die and didn’t think twice. We’re better off without him.”

 “Winter, I get that. He’s a dick and he deserted us. But we are not like him and that’s exactly why we have to go find him. It’s not like there’s anywhere safe to go anyways. And we’ve been okay so far, we just need to go back to the house and check! We have to try.” 

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After a bit of back and forth where Winter pointed out that barely escaping the secret agent douche was not her definition of okay, they got in the SUV and headed for home. Winter was stubborn, but when Jessie was set on something, she was immovable and Winter knew it. Besides, Jessie thought that in her heart of hearts, Winter would never have been able to just let their dad go like that. Not without a fight. He might be a narcissistic asshole, but all they had left in this world was one another. It was all so surreal. Had they really just been nearly kidnapped and murdered by some movie extra looking motherfucker, fought him, restrained him  and left him in his trunk to roast or suffocate or neither, depending on how much his organization cared about him or his mission? She had hit him hard enough that he may just have a brain aneurysm and save anyone the trouble of dealing with him ever again, but either way. This could not have happened even just yesterday. There would have been not just witnesses, but people who intervened. People wouldn’t just stand by and watch that sort of thing. Would they? Well, to that end, maybe they would have. But at bare minimum someone would have called the police. Instead, the parking lot had cleared of any and all bystanders. Jessie had been so focused on the task at hand that she couldn’t be sure, but she thought she remembered at least a couple of vehicles driving past. Maybe even speeding up as they passed. She took a breath to ask Winter about it as they drove back to their house, but the question stuck in her throat as they drove up their private entrance road. Winter, never at a loss for words, said “Are you fucking kiddxing me? Please tell me you are not seeing what I’m seeing.” Jessie didn’t respond, just pulled the vehicle into a spot on the side of the road under as much tree cover as she could manage. “Get the binocs,” she said after a beat. “We’re going up.”

Up, in this case, was referring to the tree they were parked under. Winter found the binoculars quickly and they both got out and climbed. Thankfully, the tree was thick and sturdy and they were able to climb high enough to see over the hill they had been approaching. It was exactly what they had hoped they wouldn’t see. Before they had pulled over, Jessie and Winter had noticed a large, black plume of smoke on the horizon, directly above where their house was. They didn’t need the binoculars to see what was happening. Their home was in a full fledged inferno, flames hot and glowing, licking at the sky. They watched in silence for a few moments as the structure that had been their shelter started to crumble beneath the weight of itself, sending sparks flying through the air. It was far too late to salvage anything from the blaze, and far too hot to get close. The real concern was that there was only one access road, in and out. Winter scoured the surrounding area with the binoculars then, looking to see if there were any vehicles. She saw none around the house, and none in front of them on the pathway to the house either. A horrible thought occurred to Jessie. 

What if they had driven past a vehicle on the way? Or, worse, vehicles, plural. They would be outflanked and helpless. Winter must have had the same thought because she turned around and searched the pathway behind them as well. “Shit. Shiiiit,” she said with real feeling. Jessie held her hand out for the binoculars and Winter handed them over and pointed. Way down at the entrance to the access road was a billowing cloud of dust. Kicking up that dust was a vehicle roaring towards them. It was too far to see how many were in the vehicle, but Jessie thought she saw at least someone in the passenger’s seat. 

“Fuck! Alright Win, there’s at least two heads. I don’t see another vehicle coming so hopefully that’s all there is. Get down there, and start driving. Don’t get too close to the house, but just enough they think we are running. I’m taking their driver out and we will go from there.” Winter, bless her, did not argue. She just climbed quickly down the tree and started driving. The vehicle was getting close. Her .45 was not ideal for a long distance shot at a moving target, but she would make it work. Besides, with the hollow point rounds she had in the cartridge, she didn’t need to be surgical. Just close. She had to get them out of the car. If the glass was  bullet proof, she’d go for tires. If that didn’t work, gas tank. That would be a last resort because the explosion might injure or even kill her and Winter too. Jessie cleared her mind and took a deep breath as the car approached. She could see it was a black sedan, four doors. She could make out two silhouettes in the front seat. It was now or never. Jessie stilled her whole body and sighted down the barrel. She breathed out and as she did, squeezed her trigger finger. The boom from her hand cannon was deafening, like a firework gone off in her hands. She held firm against the kick of it and fired again. Two shots, one right after the other. She watched in morbid satisfaction as the glass went cloudy with countless, weblike fissures surrounding a sizable hole made by the explosive rounds. The car didn’t even brake, but instead lurched to one side and slammed into a tree just a few yards away. There was blood spatter on the windshield. 

Jessie held her breath and waited, watching for any movement. If anyone was alive in there, they were probably waiting too. It was silent, so if someone was hurt, they were keeping their trap shut about it. Jessie heard the SUV approaching and was satisfied to see Winter stopped a safe distance away, but close enough to gauge the situation. Jessie started to climb down and that was when she heard the squeal of a car door opening, mangled in the collision but still functioning. Her gun was in her hand, but the angle was all wrong. She was out of cover. Damn it, how could she have been so stupid? She climbed faster, trying to get down and get her feet before whoever it was shot her. Come to think of it, why hadn’t they shot her already? She pushed herself to move faster, looked down and saw she was almost close enough to jump the rest of the way. She had to keep Winter safe, if nothing else. Her sister would not die on this damn access road because Jessie had been too quick to move from cover. 

“Jessie?” A woman’s voice said it from below. Close. Too damn close. “Jessie, my baby girl.” Jessie’s heart stopped for a moment. All the wind went out of her. It couldn’t be. No way in hell. “Jessie, it’s me, don’t you remember me?” Jessie heard this last and knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that the woman speaking was Leslie. Their mother. The one they thought dead and gone from the world. Jessie got to the ground and turned to face her, gun in hand, but pointed skyward. Leslie had not changed, not really. She was still slim, but strong. Her face had aged some, but not as much as Jessie would have thought, and there was gray clearly visible throughout her hair. Other than that, it was like looking at some of the old pictures Jessie had saved, like looking at a memory made real. 

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“You’re alive,” Jessie asked in wonder. Then realization followed. Alive? She had been alive this whole time and just left them. And what was she doing here? Their house was on fire and a vehicle damn near identical to the one that Secret Agent Dipshit had been driving had descended upon them after allowing them to drive into a trap. That’s what this was, no two ways about it. A trap. “You’re alive.” This time it was an accusation, not a question. Jessie went to lower her gun towards her mother, but her mother was faster. She drew from her hip and leveled a revolver at Jessie’s chest. “Drop it, Jess. I don’t want to hurt you, but you need to hear me out. I came here for you and Winter, but not in the way you think.” Jessie considered holding on to her gun, but figured a woman that could leave them without so much as a goodbye hug and forget they ever existed wouldn’t be too opposed to shooting her own daughter dead in the road. She placed the gun on the floor in front of her, saying, “I’d hate for it to discharge accidently if I dropped it, you know, shooting you in between the eyes or something. If I do that, I want it to be on purpose.”

Leslie laughed, actually laughed. “I bet. Listen, Jess, I know you probably hate me, but I had to go. The Organization demanded my full attention, and if I hadn’t given it they’d have killed you girls. And your father, for that matter, which wouldn’t have bothered me to be honest. But you? You and your sister? No, I couldn’t allow that.”

Jessie scoffed, “Rather have it done when we are nice and grown, is that it?”

“No Jessie, we were not here to kill you. We were here to take you in. Your father did a proper job teaching you, I see. Hell of a shot, girl and with a handgun at that. You blew Anthony’s head clean off,” Leslie gestured towards the driver’s side of the vehicle. “He wasn’t a bad guy, but I will confess he wasn’t my favorite.”

“Why burn the house down? What if we were inside?” Jessie was stalling, she wasn’t close enough to get hold of her mother’s gun and she wasn’t sure where this was going. Best to keep her talking. At least if she was talking she wasn’t shooting.

“Oh sweetie,” Leslie tsked, “We didn’t set the house on fire. That was your idiot father. Came here to try to make it seem as though there was no trace of you three. We got here too late to stop him doing that, but don’t worry. He will get what he deserves. Him and all the other smug, greedy, selfish mongrels that call themselves ‘elite.’” Jessie had no idea what her mother was on about, but her silence seemed to encourage Leslie. Maybe she thought she was getting through. “Jessie, The Organization is the only way forward. This world has been too long plagued by self absorbed power mongers, lording their wealth and influence over the majority of the population. They gorge themselves on indulgence and frivolities and toy with people’s lives. Well, they did. You see, we took them out at the knees. We removed the power structure. We let the rumours spread about Australia and then we terminated communication. This has been lifetimes in the making, and we are lucky enough to be the generation in which the changes happen. Me, you, Winter, we are going to make New History.”

“Sounds more like New World Order if you ask me. What kind of entitled bullshit is this? Your Organization has killed who knows how many?! And you’re  proud! Disgusting!” Jessie was genuinely enraged. It wasn’t enough that their mother had abandoned them to a father who never knew how to love them. She had to be some entitled extremist who thought the answer to the world’s problems was mass murder? No doubt, there was some truth behind what she was saying. But Jessie didn’t think that killing half the population of the world was exactly the right course. And besides, having edges of truth woven into radicalism is what made it so dangerous. 

“Don’t say that Jessie. We aren’t Nazis. We don’t choose one race or another as the chosen survivors. We do not discriminate based on ethinic background, sexuality, age or gender identity or anything like that. We don’t care about religion, spiritual beliefs or any of that either.”

“Yeah, mighty progressive of you,” Jessie said sarcastically.

“Don’t be such a child, you are acting like your father’s daughter. High and mighty. Yes, many have died, but it is for the good of all. We will collect the rest of the pompous, heartless people who have towered at the top of the sociopolitical structure for so long they have no concept of what reality is like for most people. We will let them all into Australia, let them luxuriate in a false sense of safety and security. We will serve them tea and make their beds and make them feel right at home, as though they have once again beaten all the odds.It will take some time for the facade to be complete, for them to feel like things are back to normal for them. Maybe a month, maybe six. Maybe longer. But The Organization has infiltrated the whole continent. We are the very backbone there. We will know when the time has come. And then, sweet vengeance. They will wake one day and find all the staff gone. Everyone from the servers to the clerks to the cashiers. Every person they paid money to do this or that. It will only be them, the so-called elite. They will be eliminated in one final, glorious explosion, killed with the very weapons many of them helped to finance. Boom!” Leslie said this with a fervent rhythm, practiced yet passionate, like some sort of doomsday preacher.

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“You can’t just kill everyone! Jesus, mom, what happened to you?” Jessie asked this and stepped closer as she did.

“Aht, aht! Stay right where you are, little girl. I can see that you are indeed too much your father’s daughter. He is en route to Australia as we speak, but I won’t leave you to that fate. I love you, whether you believe it or not. But you’re too far gone. Winter will understand, she will see.” Leslie said this almost pleadingly and cocked her gun. Jessie thought about all that had happened. How much things had changed. She thought about her dad, and felt sorry for him. Even though he was who he was, no one deserved to die like that. Lulled into a false sense of security and then incinerated. But most of all, she thought about Winter. She hoped she had run, maybe out the back window and into the woods. She silently prayed Winter would get away and find safety somewhere, anywhere. Except Australia. Jessie closed her eyes and heard the shot, bang! She felt nothing. She opened her eyes looking down at herself, knowing she would see her life’s blood leaking from her chest. Nothing. There was nothing. She touched her face and chest in shock, as if to confirm she was still whole. She looked up then and saw Leslie laying on the ground. She was utterly still. There was a hole in the side of her head the size of a grapefruit. Leslie really was dead, no coming back this time. She looked at Winter standing with a gun in her hand, pointed at the ground now. She had climbed out the back window of the SUV as Jessie had hoped, but instead of running, she had snuck around the side of it to get a shot. “No, Leslie,” Winter said. “I don’t understand.” Winter holstered her gun as Jessie walked up to her. Jessie hugged her tight and that tiny physical contact was all it took. The floodgates opened for both of them and they began sobbing, wracking their bodies with heaving breaths between wails. They cried until both of them were exhausted and had no more tears to give. Silently, they got into the SUV and drove off. After a few minutes Winter looked at Jessie. “We gotta go get dad,” she said. “He can’t be far, and I bet they took him to that private air strip off the highway. No way they’d chance taking him to the airport. He’d figure out how to get away in a crowd.”

Jessie agreed. She turned the SUV in that direction and floored it.

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