Death and Prison (The Florida Challenge Part 14)
(If you’re OK with making everything else you’ve ever read look terrible by comparison, go ahead and read the rest of this series here.)
I lay there, blood pouring out of my neck, a simple metal door the only thing separating me from an armed militia responsible for countless human rights violations. In my professional opinion, I’d be dead in a matter of minutes.
Maria dropped her crowbar and knelt beside me. She held my head in her lap and pressed her hands against the wound to try to stem the blood flow. What little vision I had left swirled around me like I was looking through a drunken toddler’s kaleidoscope.
Oh God, this was it. I was gonna die. Here, in a damp, dark room smack dab in the middle of Florida, of all places. It just wasn’t fair. I had always pictured myself dying in a damp, dark room in California.
Yeah, kinda like this. Definitely a tourist attraction of some kind.
Worst of all, I had failed. I’d come to this god-forsaken flaccid penis of a state to win a challenge. I’d put my trust in people who used me. People who’d invented the contest specifically to fuck me over. I was worse than a loser. I was a loser of a challenge that didn’t even exist, betrayed by friends I’d never really had.
“Maria…” I called out for her, in the darkness, even though she was right there. She was holding me against her and I could barely feel it.
She said, “Chris…”
I put a finger against her lips to shush her. Those warm lips…
“My biggest regret,” I said, gasping for breath, “is that you and I never got to bang. I’m sorry.”
She let my head fall out of her lap and it cracked against the ground.
“Oh fuck you, you’re not gonna die.”
My eyes snapped open and I glared at her. “Oh yeah? How do you know that, huh? You some kinda bullet doctor?”
She stood and checked herself over for bloodstains. “If you really got shot through the throat you wouldn’t be able to talk right now. Nice as that might be, I’m afraid it just grazed you.”
“No way! This hurts like hell! There’s a chunk of flesh missing!”
“Well yeah. What do you think grazing is? The bullet still hit you, you know.”
I climbed to my feet, touching the wound. It had already started to scab over. “Whatever. You’re just jealous cuz I’ve got street cred now. Ow, God this hurts like balls. How do dudes in movies just walk shit like this off?”
Muscles and gubernatorial sensibilities can only get you so far.
“Chris, focus. See if you can find a light or something.”
“No seriously, I’m calling bullshit. There’s no way Keanu Reeves or Schwartzenegger or whoever the fuck just gets shot and then acts like he doesn’t even notice it!”
She sighed. “That’s the whole point of those characters. They’re supposed to be so uncommonly badass they’re are able to shrug off pain. Now, can you-”
“Yo, OK, but then if they’re so ‘uncommon’ then why are there hundreds of movies with dudes like that? A guy could grow up seeing all these VanDammes and thinking that’s, like, the standard for manliness and that he’s gonna be just like that. But then, when he actually finds himself getting shot or suffering some kind of pain, he’ll think he’s a total pussy for not being able to live up to the ideal!”
She stared at me.
“Hypothetically, I mean,” I said, pulling my hand away from my wound.
“Chris, I know you’re dangerously close to having some kind of cultural and sociological epiphany right now, but we need to get away from these violent human traffickers before they murder us. Now please, help me find a way out of here.”
“There is no way out.”
We both froze. The voice had come from the back of the room, out of the darkness. We were not alone in here.
Thinking quickly, and also out of complete panic, I grabbed the crowbar and threw it across the room in the voice’s general direction. It hit something in the darkness with a metallic clang and fell to the floor.
I said, “Oh shit, did you hear that? It’s got a metal exoskeleton! We gotta fight a robot, Maria! Try to find a service panel in the back! Rip out its circuits!”
First they take our jobs, then they take our lives!
Maria said, “Chris, would you shut up?”
“When you are done throwing, there is light by the door,” came the voice. “A switch.”
Maria slapped around on the wall until she found it. A series of blueish fluorescent bulbs flickered on.
The place was even smaller than we thought. The voice was right, there was no other way out. The room was bare aside from Maria and I and the cage in the back. It took up the length of the wall, long metal bars criss-crossing from floor to ceiling. Huddled behind the cage, in various states of disarray, stood a group of women. They stared at us intently.
Maria gasped and rushed over to the cage. “Oh my God! You’re their victims, aren’t you? They’ve kidnapped you?”
The tallest of them, her dirty blonde hair pulled back into a braid, said, “Yes. They bring us from all over. Sell us to sex bastards.”
She had some vaguely Eastern European accent that I couldn’t quite place because I grew up American.
There were four of the women in total. Three of them standing against the bars and one sitting on the ground, arms folded. They looked scared, depressed, disheveled – all the adjectives you would expect to be characteristic of prisoners. But what struck me the most was the fire in their eyes. The burning, red-hot intensity of defiance. They were pissed and ready to be let out of their cage. One thing was certain above all others: I would not want to be on this group of women’s bad side.
The tall one pointed at the large padlock holding the cell door shut. “You have key?”
Maria’s face fell. “I… no, we don’t”
Something, likely some trafficker’s meaty body, slammed against the outside door. All of us in the room jumped. It was only a matter of time before they burst in. Honestly, I was surprised they hadn’t already found a way to kill us. If we were going to get these people out of here we had to do it quick.
I decided to make my move.
“Yo, ladies, I’m all the key you need!” Crowbar in hand, I flung myself at the lock. Maria jumped to the side as metal met metal in a spray of sparks far smaller than I was hoping for. The crowbar glanced off the lock at an angle and snapped out of my grip. It clattered to the floor.
The ladies stared at me.
“Don’t worry, I got this!” I retrieved the crowbar. “That was just a warm up. To make sure you all were ready!”
As I threw myself back into my work, Maria made introductions with our new lady friends. I was kinda listening but also mostly flexing my muscles in what I hoped was an alluring manner.
Dominka, the tall one, and Sophie, the woman who remained sitting, were both from the Ukraine, though different regions. Neither of them had known the other until they’d been locked up together.
The third was Aleja, a short, big-eyed Cuban. She and Maria conversed in Spanish for a bit, though when I asked what her story was Maria just shook her head and stayed silent.
The last woman was a tiny Asian, her hair streaked with burgundy highlights. I had no idea where she might hail from, or even if she understood any of our languages.
“I’m from Denver,” she said, speaking for the first time. “My name’s Lindsey.”
With a final dozen or so smacks from the crowbar, the lock finally exploded and fell to the floor. I set the crowbar down and helped Maria pull open the door. The imprisoned women burst from their cage like tigers. Maria embraced each of them in a hug, while I kind of stood off to the side and waited my turn.
Dominika, after her hug, bent down to pick the crowbar up off the ground. She stood, gripping it confidently in her hand. She gave me a look and I shrugged. Well, I guess it was her crowbar now. I certainly wasn’t about to pick a fight with her over it.
Sophie came to me and kissed me, once on each cheek. I tried to act like it was no big deal. She did the same to Maria.
“Thank you,” said Sophie. “No matter what happens from here, thank you for this… this rescue.”
I said, “Yo, no problem little lady! I rescue women all the time. It’s just what I do. I’m Chris Derricks!”
Maria didn’t even try to hold her obvious eye roll.
Lindsey looked around. “So now what do we do?”
Maria sighed. “That, uh, that is a good question.”
We all just about simultaneously turned to the door. It was the only way out, after all. It had gone quiet outside, which couldn’t have been a good sign. It wasn’t like they’d just given up on us.
As if on cue, there came a voice from outside: “Chris? Chris, can you hear me?”
It was Sid. The bastard.
I said, “Yo, fuck you right in the shit-mouth, traitor. Where’s Husk?”
“Don’t worry about him. He’s a little preoccupied at the moment.”
Maria blanched, her face white. I imagined Husk’s flabby form stripping and slipping into that tank with little Joe.
Fight back, little guy! Bite him! Slap him in the dick with your flipper!
I said, “Yo, c’mon, man. You’re gonna let that fat sack of shit have sex with the manatee?! That doesn’t fuck you up just a little bit?”
“I’m running a business, Chris. I have no interest in what people do with my wares after they’ve purchased them.”
Maria took a step toward the door. “Your wares? These aren’t pallets of lumber, you asshole, these are people! And an animal! Living creatures, god damn you!”
“Oh, get off your high horse. This is commerce. Supply and demand. Don’t think you’re any better. You’re an instrument of capitalism too, you consumer. Your lifestyle has destroyed just as many lives as mine. You just don’t like to think about it.”
Maria looked at me. “So he’s insane, right? That’s his thing?”
I nodded. “Yeah, I think so. Used to be an all right guy back in the day, but you know how all this human trafficking goes to your head.”
We both jumped as something smacked against the other side of the door.
“Now listen!” said Sid. “You’ve got me in a bit of a delicate situation, I must admit. I’d love to just unlock this door and let my guys storm in there and gun you down. Unfortunately, if I do this I run the risk of damaging my merchandise.”
I glanced at the former prisoners. Their eyes narrowed.
Sid continued. “Listen, we all want something here. I want my ladies back. You want to not die. I think we can come to an agreement that satisfies both criteria, don’t you?”
Little Lindsey from Denver stomped over to the door and punched it hard. “Fuck you asshole! We’re not your goddamn merchandise! And we’re never going back with you!”
Sid’s soft chuckle drifted through the door. “Well, Missy, let’s hope you don’t speak for the whole group. Chris, women: you have thirty seconds! Come out on your own you get to live. Stay in there and we unlock the door from our side and lob in a couple grenades. Splatter your guts all over the walls. Your choice.”
In lieu of a more relevant picture, have this appetizing one instead.
I said, “Whoa, hey, let’s be diplomatic here! Ladies, maybe we can talk it through with them?”
Maria said, “Chris, you know that would be a one-sided conversation.”
“We would rather die,” said Dominika, “than go back in cage.”
I said, “Well, it seems like we might all get your wish. They’re gonna blow us up!”
She shook her head. “He won’t throw grenade.”
“Yeah, how do you know that?”
“Money. He wants sell us. Cannot sell us dead. They will shoot, perhaps. Hold us gunpoint. But no grenade.”
“OK, so what then? They just burst in and start shooting? Not exactly ideal either.”
“No,” said Lindsey. “They might beat us, but they won’t shoot. We’re worth too much on the market. Well, except for you that is. They might shoot you, I suppose.”
All eyes were on me now. Wait a second, what the hell did that-
I gasped, “Holy shit, I’m the only expendable one here, aren’t I?”
No one said anything. I took a step back.
I’d never been in this position before. I mean, I’m Chris Derricks. Man of the hour. Life of the party. People want to hang around me – shit, they want to BE me. I’m unstoppable! I’m a legend! And now to be confronted with the idea that other people’s survival might be higher on someone’s priority list than my own, well, honestly it fucked me up a little.
Dominika put a hand on my shoulder. “Not worry.” She brandished the crowbar. “We defend. All together. Not go down so easy. All live or none.”
I looked around. Only one weapon between the six of us. As much as I liked the idea of going down fighting, I knew we wouldn’t last a second. This would be one of the most one-sided last stands in history.
Although in our situation the main guy was actually way sexier.
“Fifteen seconds!” shouted Sid.
I shouted back, “Hey, give us a damn minute, would you? We’re trying to arrange a vote here!”
I stroked my chin like I imagined smart people do when they’re thinking. If only there was some way to stack the deck here. Not to give us an advantage, exactly, but to bring them down to our level. To get them to fuck up.
I stared at the door. My eyes went wide.
I turned back to the group. “Listen up! I think I have a plan.”
The former prisoners leaned in, their faces lighting up with interest. Maria, on the other hand, looked dejected by the news.
Her shoulders slumped. “You. A plan. Let me guess: it’s stupid, isn’t it?”
I puffed out my chest, indignant. “Yo, I’m Chris Derricks! You think this magnificent brain is even capable of coming up with a sub-par idea? My plan is bulletproof! Hopefully literally.”
Maria looked at the other women around her and said, “Well, that’s it. We’re all gonna die.”
Continue to Part 15: A Ridiculous Last Stand
Image credits: Cover jail cell, Jack London House, AHNOLD, Robot overlord, Roller Derby, Muscles, Lips, Manatee in a tank, Chili, Leonidas from 300
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