At times like this, the mind’s supposed to focus. I should be searching for weaknesses, analyzing escape routes, figuring out how to survive. My mind did not get this memo. Peterson’s leaping toward me, arm cocked back to throw another punch, and the thought going through my head is, “If you’re a superhero armed with a pan, you could go by Pan Demic.” Useful, right?
I drop to my knees and Peterson’s punch swings overhead. He stumbles as he hits nothing but air, and I take the opportunity to scurry past him on all fours. As I go by, I lash out with a kick at the back of his knee, and it connects as he’s turning to follow me. He drops, and judging by the noise he bangs his head sharply into the metal stovetop as he falls. I still don’t have time to look back, though. I scramble to my feet and try to put some distance and heavy kitchen equipment between us.
Peterson roars in outrage, and through the wire mesh of a kitchen rack I see him regaining his feet. He hauls himself up by an oven handle, blood sheeting down his forehead. He swipes it away with one hand and, with a shriek of tearing metal, rips the oven door free and hurls it sideways at me. I don’t know if Peterson was big into discus in college or what, but he sure loves throwing things disc-style.
The oven door embeds itself in the rack separating us, smashing through jars and knocking rice, flour and spices into the air. Peterson’s already following in the door’s path, and where I ran around the racks and counters, it seems clear that he plans to go over and, where necessary, through. It’s a time-saving technique if you’ve got the strength to back it up, and he absolutely does. I, on the other hand, do not, so I sprint away again, my eyes on the door at the far end of the kitchen.
Two deafening crashes sound behind me in rapid succession, and I risk a look over my shoulder. From what I can tell, Peterson leaped onto the damaged rack, bearing it to the ground, and used it as a springboard to launch himself after me. That was the first crash.
The second happened when he landed from that leap, because when the rack toppled it scattered the contents that hadn’t already spilled, including what was left of a fifty-pound bag of rice. Peterson landed with both feet right in the middle of the rolling carpet of uncooked rice grains, with much the same effect as a cartoon character trying to run on marbles. I look back to see him on his back, caught up in another rack with pots and pans raining down around him; that was the second crash. His legs appear pretty well entangled in the lower shelves, but this is probably going to buy me a few seconds at most.
Fortunately, a couple of seconds is all I need. I’m nearly at the door exiting the kitchen, so I dig into my dwindling reserves of energy and slam into it at full speed. Doing so nearly dislocates my other shoulder, because the other chefs have been piling a barricade of tables up against the door. I’m lucky that it wasn’t particularly effective, since it allowed me to get out, but it also means that it won’t even really slow Peterson down.
There’s a crowd of diners gathered in addition to the cooks, but they all scatter like frightened birds as I burst into the room. A babbled mass of questions assaults me, but I ignore them all.
“Push the tables back!” I yell at the gaggle of people. A number of them start doing so as I frantically scan the area for my next move. My options appear to be up a flight of stairs or out the front door back into the streets. I’m likely to get cornered upstairs, but outside is just back on the long, straight streets, which is exactly the problem I had which ended me up in here.
A hand grabs my shoulder. “Where’s Emmanuel?”
“Who?” I almost strike out with my pan before I realize that it’s one of the cooks yelling at me, his hands shaking.
“Emmanuel! He was in there with you! Where is he?”
“Still in there! It’s fine, he’s after me!”
“You just left him?” His eyes widen at the idea that I would do such a thing, but before I can bring up the fact that he and his friends left us both in there, there’s a cacophonous smash as Peterson hits the doors. The table barricade is shoved several feet backward, causing the crowd to scream and scatter again, but it still manages to trap Peterson for a crucial second.
“Everton!” he howls, glimpsing me through the doors, and I turn to run again. I’m not sure if I consciously choose outside over upstairs or if the front doors are just what I see first, but that’s where my feet take me.
Amidst all of the screaming and incoherent yelling, I hear one of the cooks shout, “That’s our pan!” Apparently I’m not the only one whose brain focuses in on the wrong sorts of details in moments of crisis. Maybe it’s just something about this pan. Either way, it’s the only thing I’ve got going for me right now, and I’m not about to let it go.
I crash into one of the front doors, sending it flying open hard enough to crack the glass. I hurtle down the two cement steps to the sidewalk and take a hard right just as I’m about to smack into a parked car. I’m not more than five steps down the street before I hear the door slam open again, this time with a shattering noise suggesting that the glass has given out entirely. It’s immediately followed by a resounding metal thump, which is punctuated by a whooping car alarm. Peterson is hot on my tail, it seems, and a bit less graceful dismounting the steps.
Up ahead, I can see the alley I just escaped from coming up on my right, and I’m hit with an idea. I’m clearly doing better than Peterson on taking corners; the howl of the car alarm is evidence of that. And since he so conveniently tore the alley door off of the restaurant, I’ve now got a square spanning less than half a block that I can run in. If I duck down the alley again and take another lap through the restaurant, I might be able to gain enough distance to — I don’t know. I’ll cover that part of the plan when I get there. At least I’ll be staying out of his hands, which buys me more time to figure something out.
This plan rapidly downgrades from “acceptable” to “utter idiocy” when I round the corner into the alley and realize it’s littered with trash cans. Which I threw there, in an attempt to impede Peterson. Less than two minutes ago. They’ve been very active and terrifying minutes, but still. I could have remembered that I left the alley in a rather different state than I found it. Come to think of it, sprinting through the kitchen with all of that rice on the floor probably isn’t the best idea, either. Plus the cooks are probably all back in the kitchen helping Emmanuel up, and therefore adding even more obstacles. Basically, this was a terrible idea from start to finish.
I twist away from the alley and attempt to continue up the street, but my stutter-step has given Peterson the time he needs to finally get within arm’s reach of me. I feel his fingers closing on my left arm, and when I try to pull away, my damaged shoulder explodes in pain.
Caught, I wheel around, striking out with the pan in a wild swing. It connects solidly, caroming off of Peterson’s shoulder and cracking him in the jaw. He snarls, spits blood and lands a hit in the center of my chest that’s so powerful that I swear it actually lifts me off of the ground before slamming me back into the car parked several feet away.
Glass crunches and a new alarm wails on impact, and now I’m the one spitting blood from where I bit my tongue. Before I can move away, Peterson’s on me, pummeling me back against the car with hit after punishing hit. I can’t fight back; I’ve dropped my pan somewhere and it’s all I can do to curl up and try to protect my more vulnerable areas. With all the injuries I’ve been accumulating, though, there are a lot of vulnerable areas, and Peterson’s creating more with every hit.
Abruptly, Peterson lets out a startled yelp, and the hits stop. I slump to the ground, throbbing with pain. I’m not sure what’s stopped him, but whatever it is, I’m glad for it.
Peterson takes a step away from me, and almost buried under the sound of the rain and the car alarms I hear a whispered whuf!, matched by a curse from Peterson.
“You…don’t…” he says thickly, his words slurred. Another barely-heard whuf! interrupts his sentence, and he staggers. He takes an uncertain step toward the road, then one back toward me. He teeters, sits down heavily on the sidewalk, and then slumps over uncomfortably on one side. Rain runs down his face and begins to collect in his half-open mouth.
Painfully, I lever myself off of the ground, leaning heavily on the car as I go. Everything hurts. It hurts even to breathe. I make it to a standing position and turn around to see a car idling in the road, its passenger window open. Strapped into the seat is an oxygen cylinder with a metal tube attached to the top, pointing out the window at me. Leaning over the cylinder and looking skeptically at me from the driver’s seat is Doc Simmons.
I gape at her open-mouthed. I can’t imagine how she got here, how she knew to be here, or really anything about this. I try to formulate the questions out loud, but it just comes out as, “Guh?”
“Get in the car, Dan,” says Doc Simmons. I don’t have a better idea, so with a cautious look back to make sure that Peterson is still down for the count, I slowly shamble to the car and open the door.