What is your definition of trustworthy?
I’m in serious trouble.
I hold my breath as a military patrol marches past the alley I ducked into. I do it less for fear of drawing their attention and more to halt the throbbing pain in my abdomen. If I don’t breathe, it doesn’t sting as much. Of course, if I don’t breathe for long enough, the pain will go away forever. That’s always an option.
I shake my head as I exhale slowly. I didn’t come this far to just bleed out in a musty alley behind a knock-off Panda Express. I still have to save my friends and clear our names. I can still beat Ella.
Gritting my teeth against the pain, I steady myself against the grimy brick building and make my way around to the back. If memory serves, and it always does, there should still be a hidden entrance to the underground tunnels the Black Cats use to avoid the military police. The overflowing dumpster is right where I expect it to be.
The stench of it gags me. The alley is too narrow for the garbage trucks to access it now, though there was once another way in. Once a month, they send in prisoners to collect the bags as part of their community outreach, but it would seem they missed last month’s pickup. Maybe the month before, too. Time to hold my breath again.
I have to toss some of the bags to the side to access the hidden panel at the back. There are so many, I do not worry that they will appear to have been moved. I do worry how moving them aggravates the wound in my side. Man, do I hate being shot.
The panel opens and I grasp the lever within. A whisper sounds beneath the dumpster; the hidden door to the sewers sliding open. There is not a lot of clearance from the ground to the dumpster. A larger man would not fit. Thankfully, I don’t have to get completely under it to get to the opening. I drop to the ground and slide myself into the hole feet-first.
As I let go of the bottom of the dumpster to drop into the tunnel, I realize my folly. It’d forgotten it was a ten-foot drop. The impact as I landed jarred my hastily bandaged wound and I felt it begin bleeding freely again. The door slides shut, sealing me in darkness.
I sit down on the concrete and fumble in my pocket for my flashlight. I need to see how bad it is. It feels bad, but maybe that’s just the adrenaline wearing off. My nice white button-down is growing dark where the hole in my side is. Shit.
I have to keep moving. There’s always a supply cache in these tunnels. When you’re an underground organization who frequently fights the military, you make sure to have necessary supplies handy in case you need to make a quick getaway. From here, it should be at the next junction to the east.
My mind is racing. I’m just trying to survive the night. I was stupid, and I underestimated Ella’s cunning, but I am not a fool. I know I won’t make it without help. She knows it too. That’s why she’s taken all of my cards.
I need to find help. But who can I trust? The military is out in full force looking for me. Our agency’s allies will be under surveillance if they haven’t already been arrested for conspiracy to aid alleged terrorists. And if they haven’t, there’s no way to know if they believe the lies she’s spread. The Black Cats might be willing to help, but the price they’d exact on me is not one I am willing to pay. The only person not currently out to get me is…
I struggle not to laugh aloud. The loss of blood has made me delirious if I believe he’s my last resort. And yet…despite all the times we’ve tried to kill each other over the last decade, there were a handful of times we worked together. I wonder if anyone even remembers that we were partners, before. How many times did we trust our lives to one another?
My vision is getting blurry. If I don’t call him now, I’ll likely die in these tunnels. I dig my phone out of my pocket and flip it open. As I scroll through my contacts, I wonder why I never deleted his number.
The line rings twice before I hear the click on the other end. His voice is sharp, annoyed. “So, you’re still breathing, you bean-pole bastard?”
“Hey kitten,” I taunt out of habit.
“Don’t give me that crap. Are you out of your mind? Bombing a city center? I thought you and your new friends were on the side of justice?”
I try to chuckle at his inane lecture, but it comes out a wheeze. “Do you really believe that was me?”
“It’s all over the news, idiot!” He pauses. “Why are you calling me?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” I slide down the wall. It’s getting harder to breathe. “I can’t trust anyone else.”
There is a moment of silence from the other end. “You’re playing a dangerous game against someone smarter than you, aren’t you?”
“That hurts, Chuck,” I sigh. “I don’t lose to anyone.”
“That’s a lie,” he scoffed. Another pause. “Why should I help you, anyway? I’d love nothing more than to have you out of my hair forever. I told you I’d kill you if we ever met again.”
“That’s why you’re going to help me,” I said. “You won’t let anyone else kill me until we’ve settled our score. And by my count, you owe me.” My mind is too bleary to remember the actual score, but I’m pretty sure I’m right. And what’s important is that he believes I’m right.
He’s grinding his teeth. “You’re insane.”
“Charlie,” I whisper, “please.” It’s the last thing I can think of to make him take me seriously. I can almost see his back straighten, the concern in his amber eyes. Those eyes had only looked at me with hatred for the last eight years, but I remember when they had once shown me something brighter. I cling to that pale light of memory now.
“You must really be dying,” he said. “I don’t remember the last time I heard that name escape your lips.”
I can’t even muster the strength to reply sarcastically. My shirt is soaking through to my jacket. “Yeah.”
He must sense the urgency in my tone now. “Where are you?”
“The old rendezvous in Chinatown.”
He made a vexed sound. “You’re in the Cats Cradle?” I can barely keep my eyes open. “Fine. Hang on, Zane. I’ll be right there. Don’t die before I can kill you!”
The line went dead and I let the phone fall to my side. He was on the other side of the city, but I knew he would make it. He’d never failed me before. Even after we became enemies. That’s why I trust him. If we survive what Ella has planned, I’ll make amends with him. I owe him that much.
Notes: Wowee, that was fun. I dunno who these characters are or what is going on with this world but I’m getting a very mystery-thriller-detective vibe from it. Secret organizations! Military police! Underground escape network! Partners turned rivals? So much excitement! I had this idea of “How can you trust them, they’re our enemy?”/”They’re more like a rival and besides it’s more fun to work together” thing, and then this happened. Also had the Captain Jack Sparrow quote “Always trust a dishonest man to be dishonest. Honestly, it’s the honest ones you’ve got to watch out for” floating through my head.
This was a really fun prompt. It’d be interesting to see how my regular characters define trustworthiness. How about you and your characters? Do they trust easily? Do they have a rigorous test to determine who’s trustworthy or not?
It’s another late night for a post, but this time it’s not because I started too late, I just got on a roll and couldn’t stop. Considering the funk I’ve been in, I’ll gladly take it. So what if I need a nap after work tomorrow? I just might need an extra coffee to get me through the day to get to that nap, ha!
Alright, that’s more than enough words for one night. Have a great Thursday! See you soon!
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