He ran, stumbling and puffing, jacket tails billowing in the breeze behind him. He could feel the black vest constricting his stomach, making layers of fat jiggle and bounce. In the distance the sirens blared, a steady wee-oo wee-oo that renewed his purpose and redoubled his hurried pace. If they caught him, dragged him into a cramped car or a busy station or a holding cell, there would be too many innocent bystanders. Overworked officers with families, victims seeking recompense, recovering addicts hoping for third chances. He couldn’t let that happen—the news would call him a murderer and a terrorist, what would Joanna think?—and so he pressed onward, every step sending lances of pain through his side. He silently cursed his lack of exercise.
A boy on a bike careened towards him, dark-skinned and dark-haired. He seized the opportunity, leaping forwards and wrenching the worn handlebars away. The tire cut into his foot and the boy was sent flying, but there wasn’t time to negotiate. He had to get to the water. He swung the bike around, clambered aboard the seat, and took off, ignoring the boy’s indecipherably frantic cries. Unbidden he saw Joanna cross-legged before him, wide-eyed and wondering as he read her nursery rhymes. The bike was blue with orange stripes—funny what people noticed when their lives flashed before their eyes.
It occurred to him that he had no idea where the water was.
He heard a dull beeping noise, and instinctively checked the watch strapped to his wrist. Seven minutes, twenty-three seconds, and dropping fast, intoned the cheap digital display. He knew then that he wouldn’t make it in time. All around him the streets were packed with people, teeming and swarming over one another, overflowing to the brim. None of them had any idea; none of them cared; he was striving to save a city of machines and retards. New plan: find the closest, tallest building, and find it fast. Passersby were starting to notice the two-hundred-and-thirty pound man riding a child’s bicycle.
There, ahead, the Hotel Lincoln. Twelve stories, reasonably luxurious, bellhops flanking the entrance. It would do, given the circumstances. Given the circumstances, how delightfully clinical. As if he could pretend his nerves weren’t fraying at the seams, rivulets of sweat running down his balding brow and into his thick fingers. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men, couldn’t put Humpty together again. He stumbled off the bike and through the Lincoln’s clear revolving doors.
The elevator stopped so many times on the way to the top that he had to struggle not to scream. It was almost a relief when he found himself on the desolate rooftop, heartbeat slowed to a ponderously thudding crawl. Twenty-two seconds on the timer, and undoubtedly police on their way. I’m sorry, Joanna. He ran towards the edge, lurching footsteps pounding the pavement, explosives tight around his chest, and leaped.
His last thoughts were of flight