Ethan had caused plenty of suffering and death, but the raw intimacy of violence was diluted from the cockpit of a Black Hawk. Sending laser-guided Hellfires into a target two miles away wasn’t in the same wheelhouse as killing a civilian with a machete in close quarters like this.
One was a few steps above a video game. The other—
The man spun around in the doorway and faced Ethan.
Both men started breathing faster.
“Why are you doing this?” Ethan asked.
He couldn’t see anything of the man’s face now.
Just his profile, the shadow of the knife in his right hand, and a splash of illumination on his boots, the flashlight aimed at the floor.
Ethan had opened his mouth to repeat the question when the light swung up, blazing straight at his face, into his eyes.
Something clattered to the floor.
Ethan couldn’t see anything against the retinal overload, standing blind in a gray darkness without form or detail.
Footsteps were coming, the hardwood floor under the carpet straining with each stride, the man’s jeans swishing as he charged.
Ethan staggered back, his vision recovering.
Captured a snapshot of Yellow Poncho three feet away, the butcher knife cocked back and poised for a downward strike.
Ethan swung—a hard, lightning slash.
The blade met no resistance, and the force of the swipe spun him around and off balance, Ethan thinking, I missed. I’m dead.
The man moved past him, stumbling awkwardly across the room until he finally caught himself on the bar side of the kitchen island.
Ethan regained his balance, and as he improved his grip on the machete, making certain it was sound, he noticed blood dripping off the end of the blade.
Ethan looked back toward the kitchen.
The man had dropped his knife and was facing Ethan, leaning back against the island, both hands clutching the left side of his neck, which made a hissing sound like compressed air escaping from a tire.
Ethan backpedaled to the bedroom doorway, squatted down, lifted the flashlight off the carpet.
He put the beam on the man in the yellow poncho.
The amount of blood was staggering.
It resembled a red spiderweb on the yellow plastic of the jacket, expanding like a time-lapse of a replicating virus, running off in a dozen separate trickles and pooling on the floor. The blood issued from a six-inch gash across the intersection of the man’s shoulder and neck, blood spraying from one end in a fine mist and jetting out from the other in pulses of bright arterial red, the arc of each spurt diminishing as the man’s heart rate crashed.
His face was sheet-white, and he stared at Ethan with no expression at all, just blinking slowly, as if lost in some mesmerizing daydream.
He finally slid off the island and crashed through a bar stool and onto the floor.
* * *
In the bedroom closet, Ethan requisitioned a pair of jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt, and a black hoodie. The shirt and jeans were a few sizes small, but nothing Ethan couldn’t manage. The tennis shoes he found were another matter. He could squeeze his feet into them, lace them up, but walking around was agony and guaranteed to produce blisters in no time.
The dead man’s boots, while much larger, looked promising.
Ethan tugged them off and kept adding layers of socks until his feet fit snugly inside.
It felt good to be clothed again, even better to be out of the rain in this warm apartment. There was a strong temptation to spend another half hour here, patching up what injuries he could, but he needed to keep moving. If a large group happened to search this floor, there’d be nowhere for him to run.
Ethan grabbed the flashlight, the machete, and went to the sink.
Spent a full minute with his mouth under the faucet, half-crazy with thirst and yet trying not to overload on water.
He opened the fridge.
There were glass bottles of milk. Fresh veggies. A carton of eggs. Meat wrapped in butcher paper.
But nothing prepackaged.
He reached in, grabbed a bag of carrots and a small loaf of bread, crammed them down into the side pockets of his jeans.
Noise stopped Ethan as he headed for the door—voices and shouts welling up from Main Street.
He rushed back through the apartment to one of the large windows and moved just enough of the curtain for him to peek outside.
Twenty feet below: bedlam.
The buildings and storefronts glowed and darkened under the ceaseless exchange of firelight and shadow, the source of it all a giant bonfire raging in the middle of the street in spite of the rain, fueled with pine saplings and long strips of siding ripped from houses. Two men carried a wooden bench toward the blaze, Ethan watching as they heaved it onto the pyre to the great delight of the rain-drenched masses who packed the block, the concentration of bodies increasing with proximity to the flames.
The people below looked nothing like the residents he’d encountered prior to this moment.
Most had outfitted themselves in extravagant costumes.
Fake, gaudy jewelry dripped from the wrists and necks of women. Beaded necklaces and pearls and tiaras. Their faces were a-sparkle with glitter and heavily made-up, eyes popping with eyeliner, and all scantily clad despite the cold and the rain, like a throng of reveling prostitutes.
The men looked equally absurd.
One wore a sports coat and no pants.
Another, dark slacks and red suspenders and no shirt with a Santa Claus hat perched atop his head. He pointed a baseball bat to the sky, the weapon stark white and covered with grotesque drawings of monsters that Ethan could barely see from his vantage point.
Standing on a brick planter, head and shoulders above the crowd, an immense figure caught his notice. The monstrous man was dressed in the fur of a brown bear—still pinned with his brass star—and he wore some sort of metal headpiece mounted with antlers, his face streaked with lurid war paint, a shotgun slung over one shoulder, a sheathed sword hanging off the other.
The man surveyed the crowd like it was something he owned, the liquid pools of his eyes reflecting the bonfire like a pair of stars.
All he had to do was look up across the street, and in the wealth of firelight, he couldn’t fail to miss Ethan peeking down from the third-floor apartment.
He knew he should leave, but Ethan couldn’t turn away.
A segment of the crowd beyond Ethan’s line of sight erupted in shouts that caught Pope’s attention, a big smile expanding across the lawman’s face.