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Patrick Quinlan

The Hit

3 November: On the Water

Earlier that night a man’s brains had been blown out.

The bullet passed through his forehead and blasted apart the back of his skull in a spray of blood and bone.

Now, clumps of hair and scalp were drying to the wall. His corpse sloshed in ten inches of water at the base of that wall. The corpse, the wall and the water were inside the main cabin of the Sea Dog, a derelict houseboat fighting a hurricane more than a mile out from land.

Above the boat, torrential rain and wind tore open the sky. Below, angry swells threatened to capsize her. She was forty feet long, fourteen feet wide and shaped like a floating shoebox. Smashed windows ran along her length like haunted eyes. A six-foot deck protruded like a fat lip at her stern. She was driven before the squalls of the hurricane like a refugee before the gun butts of the storm troopers.

Back inside, the low ceiling gave her main cabin the feel of a cave. The cabin was smashed, blown apart, with chunks of furniture, shards of glass and the remnants of a marine radio floating in the water. Worse, the dead man was not alone.

Other corpses floated in the room. Here was a naked man, face down with his head smashed in. Here was a large woman in a nightgown, on her back with a pair of scissors plunged into her chest. Both people were dead, yes, but both were moving and sliding like seaweed with the surges of the ocean. Worse even than the bodies, were the pieces of other bodies torn apart in the explosions.

Only one person remained alive on the boat.

He stood knee deep in seawater. He clung to the metal support near the center of the cabin. Sometime in the past, the pole had been welded there to make up for the Sea Dog’s compromised integrity. But the man who gripped it knew nothing of this. He stood, his left arm thrust through a bright yellow life vest. His shirt was red with blood, so wet that it stuck to his torso.

I’m the survivor, he thought.

He stared down at himself, soaking in the blood’s pattern. It reminded him of the Rorschach blots shown to mental patients. Like those blots, this blood took shape and told a story, a story the survivor knew. He had seen the man die. In his mind, he watched him die again and again. The memory elicited a sound from him now, a grunt of horror, of which he was not even aware.

He snapped alert. He could save the luxury of remorse for another time and place. He was on a boat, it was going down, and if he didn’t do something soon, he was going down with it.

As if to amplify this, another boomer hit the side of the boat. The survivor felt the wave coming and braced for it. It sucked the craft back into its maw. Right before it came there was silence, no movement, no wind, no rain, just a shadow looming on the wall before him and a feeling of emptiness and terrible anticipation in his soul.

When it hit, he lost his grip on the pole and pitched forward. He went down, dunking himself, head banging against the floor. Everything slowed and went dark, and he thought the boat had rolled over. Then he came up gasping.

The Sea Dog remained aright. She was two feet deep in water now. The bodies floated about the cabin like big rubber dolls.

He clutched the life vest to his chest.

He picked himself up and lurched out through the galley. He stumbled out through the gaping hole in the wall to the deck. The Yorkshire terrier was out here, eyes bright and alive. It had belonged to someone who lived on the boat. Now it belonged to no one. The dog yapped at him from its perch on the bench bolted to the deck. Its tan coat was soaked and matted and its festive red bow was pulled askew. Its body shivered with the fear that comes easily to small dogs, and its teeth were bared as if to attack. But its tail wagged in greeting.

‘Hey Versace,’ the man said. ‘Hey buddy.’

Maybe they were a team, he and that dog.

He stopped to consider this idea. Meanwhile the boat surged forward and the rain beat down. Far away, he caught a glimpse of the lights from land. It seemed as if he could almost touch them.

That’s where he was headed. Land. He imagined the streets of the town there, shops boarded up, the few remaining people hiding in their guesthouses. Maybe one bar was still open, the local crazies in there drinking and laughing and playing darts while the stoplight outside swung in the wind and the storm bore in.

He turned to Versace again, just as another roller smashed the side of the boat. The man went down, almost over the side and into the sea. He clung to the deck like a rat as the water washed back over the side. Versace was above him now. The Yorkie barked madly, yap yap yap. The man could barely hear it. He was cheek to cheek with the deck, his hands pressed flat as though the pressure itself would hold him there.

There was nothing to consider. The dog was on its own.

The man pulled himself up onto the bench. Versace tried to climb in his lap, but he pushed the dog away. He peeled off his shirt and pitched it into the water. He yanked on the life vest and cinched it tight. It took him precious seconds figuring out how to tighten the vest.

Another wave hit the boat. The old beast took it hard and again nearly rolled, tossing the man like a rag. He couldn’t stay a moment longer. He feared the water, but the boat was going to break up, sooner rather than later. Maybe a wave would cut it in half. Maybe it would dash itself on a reef, or on some rocky headland. Either way, it was going to the bottom of the sea and taking its unholy cargo with it. He wanted to be gone before that happened.

The time had come.

He stood and tottered to the edge of the platform. The sea roiled and raged just below him, water slopping over the deck. He checked the life vest one last time. He pulled all the straps as tight as he could, taking a deep breath at the same time.

Behind him Versace yapped once more, as if to say goodbye.

The man closed his eyes and let the ocean take him.

CHAPTER 1

Jonah Maxwell felt like shit.

‘What’s this bastard’s name again?’ he said.

It was an overcast day in the Bronx, and he sat in the passenger seat of a parked car, once again about to tangle with a dangerous fugitive. He was sweating even with the window down, and just the slightest nip of cool air reminded him it was already late October.

It was supposed to be an election year and this would normally be the climax of it, but they’d canceled the election a month ago after the Vice President got blown up in his car. The President himself had gone underground, mouthing TV platitudes to the rudderless nation from a bunker under a mountain somewhere out west. The talking heads chattered about the government rescheduling the election for a date in the spring, or maybe next fall. Or maybe never, Jonah figured.

Didn’t matter, anyway – we might not make it to next spring. The doomsday chorus, growing louder every day, was calling for the end of the world just before Christmas, which was the abrupt stopping point of the ancient Mayan calendar. About six weeks from now. The Mayans had watched the stars move for thousands of years, and had projected those movements well into the future. For some reason, they decided that the stars would stop moving on the twenty-first day of this coming December.

Jonah sighed. The end of the entire world. He could almost believe it was true, and it did nothing to calm his

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