The More Dangerous Game

Part Three of Three

Scott Rainsford watched the morning of the third day dawn cold and gray through a pane of broken glass. Anything goes, he thought to himself, and the phrase echoed in his brain.

He’d slept only three hours or so out of the last sixty. Except for a twenty-minute stretch on the subway, most of that had been in fits and starts of five or ten minutes a time. The line between wakefulness and sleep had begun to blur and shift. But then, the game had seemed like a bad dream from the start.

Scott looked long and hard at the teddy bear in his hand. The empty black button eyes stared back. With a sigh he set it down on the ground beside him and turned to the makeshift bandage on his leg.

He was lying on the floor, his back propped up against the wall, with a line of sight for the door and a line of retreat out the window and down the fire escape to his left. A few hours earlier, when he had broken in, he had taken it for some sort of abandoned manufacturing space. Now that the light was better he realized it was the ruin of a printing office—he recognized an ancient linotype machine against one wall.

But his left leg was his focus now. The day before Melissa had, true to her word, put a crossbow bolt through it. He had been leaving a transient hotel, which he had not paid for by credit card, which he had not told anyone he was going to, which was not in a part of town he ever visited, which—

Scott gritted his teeth to stop the chatter in his mind. He’d been desperately trying to figure out how she had found him. How she kept finding him. Did she always have him somehow in view, and only showed herself when and where she chose?

At the hotel he had just made it to his room after a touchy conversation with the building’s owner/manager, a wizened, chain-smoking woman who probably wouldn’t have looked twice at a heroin addict, but gave Scott and his bandaged hand a long suspicious stare.

There were cigarette burns in the carpet and a constant drip from the sink. The bed sheets were so filthy they were practically gray. The bed was still the sweetest thing he’d seen since the game started. If he could just rest, he thought, just be safe for a little while, then he could plan his next move. Maybe find someone to go to for help.

Then the phone rang. And he knew. From the first ring he knew it was her. And still he picked it up.

“George Kaplan?” she had said, her voice rising musically in disbelief. “The fake spy from Hitchcock’s North by Northwest? You checked in as George Kaplan? Oh, that is almost too cute for words.”

Scott had been halfway out the door before the receiver hit the bed. Keep talking, he thought. Be the Villain Who Will Not Shut Up from all the bad movies. With any luck you’ll still be listening to the sound of your own voice by the time I’m cutting through the park across the street.

He was downstairs and out the door and had just made it to the far curb when the bolt struck him in the meat of his thigh. As he went down he stretched out his injured hand by reflex to break his fall, and at the last second managed to pull it back. He landed mostly on his shoulder and his face, losing some skin in the process.

But he didn’t stay there. Thinking at first that he’d been shot with a bullet, Scott tried to roll towards the cover of the trees. The fletching on the bolt scraped the sidewalk sending new spikes of pain roaring up his leg. Scott made a sound that was half groan, half gasp for breath.

As he craned his neck back to look at his wound another bolt missed his head by less than a hand span. It made a loud “tink” on the concrete and went flying off behind a parked car. The roof, he thought. She was shooting at him from the roof. It would be the only way she could cover the front and the back of the hotel at the same time.

A couple on the far side of the street was staring. A passing car had slowed down and the man inside was staring. Scott scrambled up onto one foot and limp-hopped into the park, just as another bolt struck a nearby tree trunk with a thunk.

How he had made it to the far corner of the park like that he couldn’t guess. He had fallen twice, and the second time had gritted his teeth so hard to keep from screaming he was pretty sure he’d broken a tooth. Then he had leaned against a parking meter—under a streetlight, for all the eyes and crossbow sights in the world to see—and had somehow managed to hail a cab. The cabbie never even noticed the fiberglass shaft sticking out of his leg.

He spent the next 20 minutes trying not to pass out while the cabdriver complained about the hockey strike. Scott later got the bolt out in an alley behind a Chinese restaurant. The process had involved the multitool he carried in his coat pocket, a heavy metal door, and the upper threshold of his pain tolerance.

Running, he thought as he sat there in the printing office, the light growing stronger with each passing minute. She keeps making me run, just like back in the emergency room.

That had been the first place he went after she left. It had taken several hours between being admitted and having his fingertip sewn back on. And in that time he had just managed to dismiss all the family history, all the baroque game-playing as psychotic bullshit. He would go to the cops. He would file a report, and this entire mess a few months from now would just be a very bad day, a strange story to tell a friend over a few drinks.

And then Melissa had walked up to his gurney carrying a teddy bear. With the bear in her hand she looked like a visitor hoping to cheer a sick child.

Scott stared at her in disbelief, and had just opened his mouth to call for a nurse—an orderly—security!—when she tossed the bear to him. It landed on his chest. “I think you know Mr. Tummykins,” Melissa said.

And he did. It was his sister’s favorite stuffed animal, always in its place of honor between the pillows on her bed. Always, except for the one time he had been angry enough with her to steal and hide it. Scott couldn’t even remember his reason for doing that now. He’d returned it after their mom made them make up. He hadn’t seen it since he’d gone away to college.

“I don’t think you’re taking this seriously,” Melissa had said, a note of real anger in her voice for the first time. “Dawn is a scant 2 hours, 12 minutes away, and what are you doing with your grace time? Just lying there. Worrying about the least part of yourself, when you should be worried about your life.”

“If you’ve hurt her...” he began.

“Now your grandfather. From what I’ve read he’d have gnawed his entire hand off just for the chance at getting a gun. Just for the chance at getting a good, sharp bit of metal. And you just lie there. I don’t think you appreciate that we’ve entered into a relationship here.”

“Is she safe?” Scott asked.

“Play by the rules,” Melissa said as she turned away, “and she will be.”

Since then he had been running. He hadn’t even bothered to go back to his apartment. It was just him, the bear, his multitool, a bottle of antibiotics from the hospital pharmacy, all the money he could get out of the ATM in a single withdrawal, and nothing else.

Scott looked at what was left of the torn, filthy bandage around his left hand. He had pulled most of the dressing apart to use his injured hand as best he could.

In the subway, when she had come at him with an ice pick—fast, so very fast—and he had thrown a fistful of discarded newspapers to block her aim. Climbing a chain-link fence later that day. In the alley, as he struggled to pull the crossbow bolt free. Using a piece of rebar to break into this place. Now he didn’t even know if the reattachment would take. How far could he have gone in those hours he’d spent at the hospital? How much better might he have prepared?

Running was really all he had left. If he was still able to. Scott took a deep breath, and using the wall behind him and the piece of rebar as a crutch managed to get to his feet. He grimaced as he put his foot down. The leg would take his weight, but only just.

Something—not a sound, but something—drew his eyes to the door.

Melissa Zaroff pouted. The GPS receiver she had sewn into the teddy bear could show her where Scott was on the surface of the earth to within a few feet, but it couldn’t tell her which floor of the building he was hiding on.

The basement had been a terrible mess; stacks of molding packing crates, piles of trash, water-damaged bundles of paper, and a giant rusting hulk of a machine she couldn’t guess the purpose of. And she had to search every square inch of it.

The second floor had been all empty rooms, rolls of electrical wire, and heaps of shattered plaster—but several of those rooms had been locked. Melissa could have probably shouldered them open—the frames were for shit—but she was trying to make as little noise as possible.

Instead she used the police lockbreaker from her tool kit, and discovered that she didn’t have quite enough strength with her left hand to break the lock. It forced her to switch her SIG-Sauer 229 9mm pistol from her right hand to her left.

Such a little thing, having to cover a room off-handed, but it gave her a thrill each time one of the doors swung open. Rainsfords were so good at taking advantage of little things.

Scott had gotten in a good hit on the subway, though Melissa hadn’t let it show. There was a lovely blue-black, crescent-shaped bruise just under her ribcage on her left side. Time after time since then she had run her fingers over the spot, sometimes pressing it in an attempt to remember what that first contact had felt like. Then there had been the barbed wire bouquet he had left her on the far side of a chain link fence just a little later on. She had been lucky it had only snagged her clothing and not torn off half her face.

And then he had gotten away from her at the hotel! How had he made it through the park like that? How had he managed to flag a cab like that? Then to top if off the GPS signal cut out. Melissa went into a panic, thinking for a moment he had tossed the bear—or worse still had found the receiver. Later on, she reasoned that the cab had probably taken a street that traveled along under the elevated train tracks, blocking the satellite.

Melissa felt a bit self-conscious about the GPS. It made things less like a hunt and more like a science experiment. Still, she consoled herself, it wasn’t as if she had a private island to contain her prey like her great-grandfather had. After all, the game was about reaching a point of crisis, and what you discovered when you reached that point.

The door off the third floor landing had a broken lock. The deep scores in the metal were bright, untarnished. So he was there—according to the GPS near the building’s far wall—and had some sort of tool or weapon. So much the better.

Melissa turned the handle, stepped in, and swept the room with her gun. It was open space, except for the support beams, and a large machine covered in dust and cobwebs, twin brother to the one in the basement. Sitting up against the far wall was Mr. Tummykins, his tiny teddy bear eyes staring coldly at her. A few feet in front of him was a small pool of blood.

She checked behind the machine—the only cover in the room. Nothing. Stomach sinking, she turned back to the wall and the bear. Just to her right was an open window with a broken pane. Outside, in the morning light, the season’s first few tiny flakes of snow were falling.

She dashed to it, through it, and onto the fire escape, peering over the railing and down between the metal slats. There wasn’t enough snow on the ground yet for tracks. And without the GPS Scott could be—

Right above her, as it turned out. Standing with one foot on the edge of the roof, Scott whipped the section of rebar at her head with an overhand motion. He missed his target, but the bar struck Melissa’s gun arm, and the SIG-Sauer went clattering down the rungs of the fire escape.

Melissa could choose to go after the gun, or go after Scott. Dropping to one knee, she tugged up her pant leg and drew the ice pick from her boot. She liked the pick for the terrible injury it could inflict without causing a very large wound, or even a noticeable amount of blood. Looking up, she saw Scott had disappeared back onto the roof. She climbed up the rungs one-handed, gathered herself just before the top, and sprang.

Scott wasn’t by the edge. He was standing just behind a ventilation fan that looked to be the only structure up on the roof, a thin confetti of snowflakes swirling around him.

Melissa thought he looked terrible, his face badly bruised, pants stiff with blood, bandaged hand filthy and unwound, and sunken, red-rimmed eyes. Scott was favoring his hurt leg only standing on the ball of one foot—and it made him appear oddly poised, as if about to begin a dance move.

“Ice pick again?” Scott asked in a voice every bit as tired as it sounded. “I thought today was ‘anything can happen’ day. I figured a girl like you could have scrounged up a flamethrower or a neutron bomb or something.”

“Every step we take in life,” said Melissa, “is either in the hope of something new, or”—she gave a little wave with the ice pick—“in the comfort of something familiar.” She half-crouched, and began to walk forward. Her elbow was already starting to swell where the rebar had struck her.

Scott began to move backwards. “You know,” he said, “that’s one of those ideas that sounds perfectly rational, but makes a great excuse for some awful fucked-up shit. Like, say, hunting people.”

Melissa nodded as she carefully moved one foot in front of the other. “Family history has it that my great-grandfather began the game because he loved hunting, but was so good at it he grew bored with conventional prey.”

Just at the edge of the roof Scott stopped, and his face broke out in a broad smile. “Say,” he said, “I just realized something. Your great-grandfather, the General, the patriarch, the reason we’re both here on this roof this morning all these years later … my great-granddad kicked his ass, didn’t he?”

Melissa feinted high, then lunged for his abdomen. Scott, unable to retreat further, blocked with his bandaged hand. The point of the ice pick buried in his wrist, and in a flash she had struck twice more in his shoulder. She was trying to get him to raise his arm so she could stab under it.

Instead Scott stepped in and grabbed her around her waist, trying to pin her arms to her sides, hoping his strength—what he had left of it—could counter her speed.

As he lifted her, she pulled her arm free and switched her grip. As he turned at the waist she stabbed once down at his head, missing and drawing a bloody gash down the side of his face. As he took a step she struck twice more into the meat of his back—each one a shallow, off-balance strike no more than an inch or two deep.

And as he threw her off the edge of the building she made one last thrust for his neck, which missed him entirely.

Melissa fell without a cry. She hit the frozen ground below with a sound like a load of laundry being dumped from a hamper.

Scott sat down right where he was and stayed there for he didn’t know how long. Finally, when he decided he might not die any time soon, he dragged himself to his feet and slowly, painfully, made his way down the fire escape and back to the third floor. He recovered his sister’s bear and, leaning heavily on the rail, took the stairs down to the back exit where he had broken in the night before.

Melissa was spread on the ground in front of him, staring at the sky. Except for the way her left leg was bent behind her she might have been making angels in the snow. Her eyes were still blinking, and a thin wisp of breath was misting from her nostrils in the cold. Scott limped in close…but not too close.

Melissa’s eyes struggled to focus on him. Finally, in a voice that had an ugly rattle when she paused for breath, she said, “Thought… thought I had you there for a second.”

“Me too,” said Scott.

“Did you know,” said Melissa presently, “we never win. My family. Right now…the Rainsford record … is 4 and 0.”

“My father died in a car crash. I thought that he…”

Melissa smiled. “That’s how he got my father. Ran him over. Only…only outlived him a few minutes. But hey. A win is a win.”

Scott nodded.

Melissa’s eyes and voice began to drift. “Can’t understand it,” she said. “Looks like our side has all the advantages … all the initiative. I guess… I guess maybe we like playing more than we like winning.”

“Yeah,” said Scott. “That sounds like you.”

A small tremor shook the whole of Melissa’s body, and as her eyes glazed, in a tiny voice, she said, “Oh well. Maybe my son will have a better time of it.”

And then Scott was alone in the falling snow, her body cooling beside him.

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