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King, Stephen - Battleground

Stephen King


  'Mr Renshaw?'

  The desk clerk's voice caught him halfway to the elevator, and Renshaw turned

  back impatiently, shifting his flight bag from one hand to the other. The

  envelope in his coat pocket, stuffed with twenties and fifties, crackled

  heavily. The job had gone well and the pay had been excellent - even - after the

  Organization's 15 per cent finder's fee had been skimmed off the top. Now all he

  wanted was a hot shower and a gin and tonic and sleep.

  'What is it?'

  'Package, sir. Would you sign the slip?'

  Renshaw signed and looked thoughtfully at the rectangular package. His name and

  the building's address were written on the gummed label in a spiky backhand

  script that seemed familiar. He rocked the package on the imitation-marble

  surface of the desk, and something clanked faintly inside.

  'Should I have that sent up, Mr Renshaw?'

  'No, I've got it.' It was about eighteen inches on a side and fitted clumsily

  under his arm. He put it on the plush carpet that covered the elevator floor and

  twisted his key in the penthouse slot above the regular rack of buttons. The car

  rose smoothly and silently. He closed his eyes and let the job replay itself on

  the dark screen of his mind.

  First, as always, a call from Cal Bates: 'You available, Johnny?'

  He was available twice a year, minimum fee $10,000. He was very good, very

  reliable, but what his customers really paid for was the infallible predator's

  talent. John Renshaw was a human hawk, constructed by both genetics and

  environment to do two things superbly: kill and survive.

  After Bates's call, a buff-coloured envelope appeared in Renshaw's box. A name,

  an address, a photograph. All committed to memory; then down the garbage

  disposal with the ashes of envelope and contents.

  This time the face had been that of a sallow Miami businessman named Hans

  Morris, founder and owner of the Morris Toy Company. Someone had wanted Morris

  out of the way and had gone to the Organization. The Organization, in the person

  of Calvin Bates, had talked to John Renshaw. Pow. Mourners please omit flowers.

  The doors slid open, he picked up his package and stepped out. He unlocked the

  suite and stepped in. At this time of day, just after 3p.m., the spacious living

  room was splashed with April sunshine. He paused for a moment, enjoying it, then

  put the package on the end table by the door and loosened his tie. He dropped

  the envelope on top of it and walked over to the terrace.

  He pushed open the sliding glass door and stepped out. It was cold, and the wind

  knifed through his thin topcoat. Yet he paused a moment, looking over the city

  the way a general might survey a captured country. Traffic crawled beetlelike in

  the streets. Far away, almost buried in the golden afternoon haze, the Bay

  Bridge glittered like a madman's mirage. To the east, all but lost behind the

  downtown high rises, the crammed and dirty tenements with their stainless-steel

  forests of TV aerials. It was better up here. Better than in the gutters.

  He went back inside, slid the door closed, and went into the bathroom for a

  long, hot shower.

  When he sat down forty minutes later to regard his package, drink in hand, the

  shadows had marched halfway across the wine-coloured carpet and the best of the

  afternoon was past.

  It was a bomb.

  Of course it wasn't, but one proceeded as if it were. That was why one had

  remained upright and taking nourishment while so many others had gone to that

  great unemployment office in the sky.

  If it was a bomb, it was clockless. It sat utterly silent; bland and enigmatic.

  Plastique was more likely these days, anyway. Less temperamental than the

  clocksprings manufactured by Westclox and Big Ben.

  Renshaw looked at the postmark. Miami, 15 April. Five days ago. So the bomb was

  not time-set. It would have gone off in the hotel safe in that case.

  Miami. Yes. And that spiky backhand writing. There had been a framed photograph

  on the sallow businessman's desk. The photo had been of an even sallower old

  crone wearing a babushka. The script slanted across the bottom had read: 'Best

  from your number-one idea girl - Mom.'

  What kind of a number-one idea is this, Mom? A do-it-yourself extermination kit?

  He regarded the package with complete concentration, not moving, his hands

  folded. Extraneous questions, such as how Morris's number-one idea girl might -

  have discovered his address, did not occur to him. They were for later, for Cal

  Bates. Unimportant now.

  With a sudden, almost absent move, he took a small celluloid calendar out of his

  wallet and inserted it deftly under the twine that crisscrossed the brown paper.

  He slid it under the Scotch tape that held one end flap. The flap came loose,

  relaxing against the twine.

  He paused for a time, observing, then leaned close and sniffed. Cardboard,

  paper, string. Nothing more. He walked around the box, squatted easily on his

  haunches, and repeated the process. Twilight was invading his apartment with

  grey, shadowy fingers.

  One of the flaps popped free of the restraining twine, showing a dull green box

  beneath. Metal. Hinged. He produced a pocket knife and cut the twine. It fell

  away, and a few helping prods with the tip of the knife revealed the box.

  It was green with black markings, and stenciled on the front in white letters

  were the words: G.I. JOE VIETNAM FOOTLOCKER. Below that: 20 Infantrymen, 10

  Helicopters, 2 BAR Men, 2 Bazooka Men, 2 Medics, 4 Jeeps. Below that:

  a flag decal. Below that, in the corner: Morris Toy Company, Miami, Fla.

  He reached out to touch it, then withdrew his hand. Something inside the

  footlocker had moved.

  Renshaw stood up, not hurrying, and backed across the room towards the kitchen

  and the hall. He snapped on the lights.

  The Vietnam Footlocker was rocking, making the brown paper beneath it rattle. It

  suddenly overbalanced and fell to the carpet with a soft thud, landing on one

  end. The hinged top opened a crack of perhaps two inches.

  Tiny foot soldiers, about an inch and a half tall, began to -crawl out. Renshaw

  watched them, unblinking. His mind made no effort to cope with the real or

  unreal aspect of what he was seeing - only with the possible consequences for

  his survival.

  The soldiers were wearing minuscule army fatigues, helmets, and field packs.

  Tiny carbines were slung across their shoulders. Two of them looked briefly

  across the room at Renshaw. Their eyes, no bigger than pencil points, glittered.

  Five, ten, twelve, then all twenty. One of them was gesturing, ordering the

  others. They lined themselves up -along the crack that the fall had produced and

  began to push. The crack began to widen.

  Renshaw picked one of the large pillows off the couch and began to walk towards

  them. The commanding officer turned and gestured. The others whirled and

  their carbines. There were tiny, almost delicate popping sounds, and Renshaw

  felt suddenly as if he had been stung by bees.

  He threw the pillow. It struck them, knocking them sprawling, then hit the box

  and knocked it wide open. Insectlike, with a faint, high whirring noise like

  chiggers, a cloud of miniature helicopters, painted jungle green, rose out of

  the box.

  Tiny phut! phut! sounds reached Renshaw's ears and he saw pinprick-sized muzzle

  flashes coming from the open copter doors. Needles pricked his belly, his right

  arm, the side of his neck. He clawed out and got one - sudden pain in his

  fingers; blood welling. The whirling blades had chopped them to the bone in

  diagonal scarlet hash marks. The others whirled out of range, circling him like

  horseflies. The stricken copter thumped to the rug and lay still.

  Sudden excruciating pain in his foot made him cry out. One of the foot soldiers

  was standing on his shoe and bayoneting his ankle. The tiny face looked up,

  panting and grinning.

  Renshaw kicked at it and the tiny body flew across the room to splatter on the

  wall. It did not leave blood but a viscid purple smear.

  There was a tiny, coughing explosion and blinding agony ripped his thigh. One of

  the bazooka men had come out of the footlocker. A small curl of smoke rose

  lazily from his weapon. Renshaw looked down at his leg and saw a blackened,

  smoking hole in his pants the size of a quarter. The flesh beneath was charred.

  The little bastard shot me!

  He turned and ran into the hall, then into his bedroom. One of the helicopters

  buzzed past his cheek, blades whirring busily. The small stutter of a BAR. Then

  it darted away.

  The gun beneath his pillow was a .44 Magnum, big enough to put a hole the size

  of two fists through anything it hit. Renshaw turned, holding the pistol in both

  hands. He realized coolly that he would be shooting at a moving target not much

  bigger than a flying light bulb.

  Two of the copters whirred in. Sitting on the bed, Renshaw fired once. One of

  the helicopters exploded into nothingness. That's two, he thought. He drew a

  bead on the second. . . squeezed the trigger .

  It jigged! Goddamnit, it jigged!

  The helicopter swooped at him in a sudden deadly arc, fore and aft overhead

  props whirring with blinding speed. Renshaw caught a glimpse of one of the BAR

  men crouched at the open bay door, firing his weapon in short, deadly bursts,

  and then he threw himself to the floor and rolled.

  My eyes, the bastard was going for my eyes!

  He came up on his back at the far wall, the gun held at chest level. But the

  copter was retreating. It seemed to pause for a moment, and dip in recognition

  of Renshaw's superior firepower. Then it was gone, back towards the living room.

  Renshaw got up, wincing as his weight came down on the wounded leg. It was

  bleeding freely. And why not? he thought grimly. It's not everybody who gets hit

  point-blank with a bazooka shell and lives to tell about it.

  So Mom was his number-one idea girl, was she? She was all that and a bit more.

  He shook a pillowcase free of the tick and ripped it into a bandage for his leg,

  then took his shaving mirror from the bureau and went to the hallway door.

  Kneeling, he shoved it out on to the carpet at an angle and peered in.

  They were bivouacking by the footlocker, damned if they weren't. Miniature

  soldiers ran hither and thither, setting up tents. Jeeps two inches high raced

  about importantly. A medic was working over the soldier Renshaw had kicked. The

  remaining eight copters flew in a protective swarm overhead, at coffee-table


  Suddenly they became aware of the mirror, and three of the foot soldiers dropped

  to one knee and began firing. Seconds later the mirror was shattered in four

  places. Okay, okay, then.

  Renshaw went back to the bureau and got the heavy mahogany odds-and-ends box

  Linda had given him for Christmas. He hefted it once, nodded, and went to the

  doorway and lunged through. He wound up and fired like a pitcher throwing a fast

  ball. The box described a swift, true vector and smashed little men like

  ninepins. One of the jeeps rolled over twice. Renshaw advanced to the doorway of

  the living room, sighted on one of the sprawling soldiers, and gave it to him.

  Several of the others had recovered. Some were kneeling and firing formally.

  Others had taken cover. Still others had retreated back into the footlocker.

  The bee stings began to pepper his legs and torso, but none reached higher than

  his rib cage. Perhaps the range was too great. It didn't matter; he had no

  intention of being turned away. This was it.

  He missed with his next shot - they were so goddamn small - but the following

  one sent another soldier into a broken sprawl.

  The copters were buzzing towards him ferociously. Now the tiny bullets began to

  splat into his face, above and below his eyes. He potted the lead copter, then

  the second. Jagged streaks of pain silvered his vision.

  The remaining six split into two retreating wings. His face was wet with blood

  and he swiped at it with his forearm. He was ready to start firing again when he

  paused. The soldiers who had retreated inside the footlocker were trundling

  something out. Something that looked like .

  There was a blinding sizzle of yellow fire, and a sudden gout of wood and

  plaster exploded from the wall to his left.

  a rocket launcher!

  He squeezed off one shot at it, missed, wheeled and ran for the bathroom at the

  far end of the corridor. He slammed the door and locked it. In the bathroom

  mirror an Indian was staring back at him with dazed and haunted eyes, a

  battle-crazed Indian with thin streamers of red paint drawn from holes no bigger

  than grains of pepper. A ragged flap of skin dangled from one cheek. There was a

  gouged furrow in his neck.

  I'm losing!

  He ran a shaking hand through his hair. The front door was cut off. So was the

  phone and the kitchen extension. They had a god-damn rocket launcher and a

  direct hit would tear his head off.

  Damn it, that wasn't even listed on the box!

  He started to draw in a long breath and let it out in a sudden grunt as a

  fist-sized section of the door blew in with a charred burst of wood. Tiny flames

  glowed briefly around the ragged edges of the hole, and he saw the brilliant

  flash as they launched another round. More wood blew inward, scattering burning

  slivers on the bathroom rug. He stamped them out and two of the copters buzzed

  angrily through the hole. Minuscule BAR slugs stitched his chest.

  With a whining groan of rage he smashed one out of the air barehanded,

  sustaining a picket fence of deep slashes across his palm. In sudden invention,

  he slung a heavy bath towel over the other. It fell, writhing to the floor, and

  he stamped the life out of it. He breath was coming in hoarse whoops. Blood ran

  into one eye, hot and stinging, and he wiped it away.

  There, goddamnit. There. That'll make them think.

  Indeed, it did seem to be making them think. There was no movement for fifteen

  minutes. Renshaw sat on the edge of the tub, thinking feverishly. There
had to

  be a way out of this blind alley. There had to be. If there was only a way to

  flank them...

  He suddenly turned and looked at the small window over the tub. There was a way.

  Of course there was.

  His eyes dropped to the can of lighter fluid on top of the medicine cabinet. He

  was reaching for it when the rustling noise came.

  He whirled, bringing the Magnum up. . . but it was only a tiny scrap of paper

  shoved under the crack of the door. The crack, Renshaw noted grimly, was too

  narrow for even one of them to get through.

  There was one tiny word written on the paper:


  Renshaw smiled grimly and put the lighter fluid in his breast pocket. There was

  a chewed stub of pencil beside it. He scrawled one word on the paper and shoved

  it back under the door. The word was:


  There was a sudden blinding barrage of rocket shells, and Renshaw backed away.

  They arched through the hole in the door and detonated against the pale blue

  tiles above the towel rack, turning the elegant wall into a pocket lunar

  landscape. Renshaw threw a hand over his eyes as plaster flew in a hot rain of

  shrapnel. Burning holes ripped through his shirt and his back was peppered.

  When the barrage stopped, Renshaw moved. He climbed on top of the tub and slid

  the window open. Cold stars looked in at him. It was a narrow window, and a

  narrow ledge beyond it. But there was no time to think of that.

  He boosted himself through, and the cold air slapped his lacerated face and neck

  like an open hand. He was leaning over the balance points of his hands, staring

  straight down. Forty storeys down. From this height the street looked no wider

  than a child's train track. The bright, winking lights of the city glittered

  madly below him like thrown jewels.

  With the deceptive ease of a trained gymnast, Renshaw brought his knees up to

  rest on the lower edge of the window. If one of those wasp-sized copters flew

  through that hole in the door now, one shot in the ass would send him straight

  down, screaming all the way.

  None did.

  He twisted, thrust one leg out, and one reaching hand grabbed the overhead

  cornice and held. A moment later he was standing on the ledge outside the


  Deliberately not thinking of the horrifying drop below his heels, not thinking

  of what would happen if one of the helicopters buzzed out after him, Renshaw