When Hunter came to the first thing he felt was a cold steel blade pressed hard against his windpipe.
“Don’t move,” commanded an unfamiliar voice, and as he’d always had a soft spot for oxygen, he decided to obey. Keeping all discernible movement to a minimum, he opened his eyes to find an angry Native American bent over him holding a hunting knife to his throat. The first word that flashed into his head was Geronimo – Cassius had said that the Imperial Knights were under attack from some Indian, and it was too much of a coincidence for this not to be the man in question. The stranger’s dark brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail, his face was as weathered as a piece of old cowhide, and his eyes bristled with an ancient intelligence.
“You are the one who will lead me to Dreadnought,” he said in a matter of fact tone. It was the sort of voice you couldn’t help but respond to – it had a hypnotic quality to it that most people would find hard to resist, especially when aided and abetted by the threat of a severed windpipe, but fortunately for Hunter, he wasn’t most people.
“I’m not leading you anywhere while I’m in this position,” he responded, flexing his thigh muscles to encourage the circulation in his legs. Making a move at this point would be suicide, but somewhere along the line his attacker would give him an opening, and that was when he had to be ready to strike.
“You find this funny? I find no humour in anything that you do. You drug dealers are all the same. You bring despair to neighbourhoods that languish in poverty. You turn friend against friend, family against family. You kill children, and you turn children into killers, then you walk away with your pockets lined. You are the white oppressor. It’s the same as it ever was.”
“Drug dealer? Now wait just a minute, buddy, I’m no drug dealer…
“I have no time for your lies,” cut in the Indian, pushing down on the blade to elicit a trickle of blood. “Take me to Dreadnought. Now!”
With that, he grabbed a chunk of Hunter’s hair and began to haul him to his feet. The pain was excruciating. He blanked it out and looked for an opening, but the knife never left his throat.
“I’m no dealer…” he began, only to get cut off once again.
“Silence. I’ve seen you with the gangs. I’ve seen you hand over drugs. No more talking. Another word and I’ll cut out your tongue. You’ve got one last chance to redeem yourself. Take me to Dreadnought, and I might let you live.”
And there was that name again: Dreadnought. He’d never even heard of the guy, but now didn’t seem like the opportune moment for that revelation. As his captor began to back away down the drive, he had no choice but to keep pace, but he kept his attention focused on the Indian’s every move, waiting for that one slight slip or stumble that would signal he’d lost his centre of balance. By the time they’d reached the street, Hunter knew that a mistake of this nature wasn’t going to come – the Indian was as sure-footed as a cat. They backed up a few more yards until they were alongside the large motorbike that he’d noted when he got out of the cab. It was a Triumph, a real behemoth, taking up as much curb space as the average four-door compact, the early morning sun glistening off its tailpipes, the black fuel tank buffed to within an inch of its life.
“We’re going for a ride. You drive, I’ll be right behind you. First, put these in the ignition,” said the Indian, dangling a set of keys over his left shoulder.
“There’s not much room on there for two – how about I follow on later?” Hunter cracked, hoping to provoke a response.
“Start the bike.”
He took the proffered set of keys and thrust them into the ignition. When he turned them clockwise, the bike came to life with a throaty roar that prompted the tomcat that had been nosing around earlier to come flying out of the bushes with a yowl. The knife moved an inch from Hunter’s throat for a fraction of a second. This was his chance. He twisted his head, lunged towards the Indian’s forearm, and sunk his teeth deep into the flesh just above the wrist. The Indian yelled out in pain as his fingers sprung open in a reflex movement, prompting the knife to slip from his grasp and fall harmlessly to the tarmac. Hunter unlocked his jaw and threw his head backwards into the bridge of the Indian’s nose to elicit another pained cry, and then he was free. He pivoted on the balls of his feet, ready for action, and he didn’t have to wait long.
The Indian came in hard and fast with a swinging right that he just managed to block with his arm, and then he was counterpunching, throwing a vicious right of his own straight into his opponent’s solar plexus, twisting his knuckles at the moment of impact to maximise the power of the punch. When his hand crashed into the bank of knotted muscle and sinew that was the Indian’s gut, it felt like he’d hit a brick wall. Before he had time to marvel at the sharp pain that was shooting up his arm, the Indian was attacking again, firing a short left straight into the side of his chin that rattled his teeth and lifted him off his feet to send him flying through the air back towards Angel’s drive.
He stayed down where he’d landed, groaning on the tarmac in the foetal position, waiting for the Indian to come in and finish him off. As soon as his opponent was in range he kicked out with both legs to land a double blow on the Indian’s right calf, the movement timed perfectly to catch his foe off balance and send him crashing to the ground. Both men then rolled away from each other and leapt to their feet, their fists raised in readiness for further hostilities.
“Hunter! Get down!” yelled a female voice from over his left shoulder. He reacted instinctively, diving face first into the dirt just in time to avoid a short burst from a handgun. The lethal lead projectiles zipped through the air mere inches above him as they sped on their way to their target, but the Indian was no slouch in the reaction stakes either, diving headlong towards his motorbike to leave Hunter’s Barracuda between himself and danger.
Hunter rolled onto his back and leapt to his feet as the shooter went to run past him.
“Angel! No!” he shouted, catching her in his arms and holding her back. Out on the street, the motorbike let loose a guttural roar as the Indian opened the throttle and accelerated away.
“What the hell are you doing?” Angel gasped, still fighting to get out of his grip and fire another burst at the rapidly retreating biker.
“Let him go.”
She squirmed for another few seconds then her shoulders sagged as the sound of the bike’s engine faded into the distance. He unlocked his arms and stepped away from her. She was barefoot, wearing an oversized white t-shirt and holding a Baby Glock.
“But he was trying to kill you!”
“If he’d wanted me dead I’d be lying in a pool of my own blood on your veranda right now. And if I’d have wanted him dead I’d have used my gun instead of engaging in a spot of hand-to-hand combat.”
“So what the hell was he after?”
“Beats me. But there’s one thing I know for sure – my enemy’s enemy is always my friend.”