Malachan Dunch was in trouble.
It was trouble he had invited, to be sure, but one he rarely ever wanted to see actually happen. He had been waiting for it to happen, had even planned it into his scheme.
But it was still a shock when the Police appeared.
As he strode out of the jewellers, the patrol cars all whined to a halt, skipping the formality of the parking cradles and clamps and hovering over the gangway.
At first, they weren’t sure who he was, but as he marched purposefully away from the shop front, one of the shop assistants came running out and shouted that he was the thief. Dunch cursed and ran, knowing that they would give chase.
He mag-clamped the secure container to his back, feeling the reassuring weight of the jewels he had just stolen from under the noses of the shop’s staff. He hadn’t counted on the young shop assistant being so damned nosy.
So he had shot the unfortunate lad in the leg, and grabbed the box of jewels he had been eyeing up. He was thankful that the shop had ‘temporarily’ lost power to its internal security forcefields.
He grinned maliciously at the thought of using the field damper again for another robbery he had planned.
This little side trip would be the end of him if he wasn’t careful.
The Terra Police Department officers shouted for him to stop.
Many of them ran after him, demanding he stop or be face prosecution.
Too late for that, he thought.
Malachan Dunch, approaching his late-50s, was tall, handsome, and well groomed. He prided himself on his good looks, and it had been useful for con jobs. His square face was bisected across his top lip with a rather attractive thick black moustache. He had an easy smile and swept-back black hair on his head with racing green eyes as intriguing as the rest of him.
He was a career criminal, a recidivist if one believed the media.
He had only gone into that shop to keep his skills honed.
It had been a few weeks since his last job, and he had started getting itchy and restless waiting for a big job to come along.
Now, he was regretting it.
He pushed through onto a bridge that spanned between two buildings that stretched way above.
There were several cries from the crowd of shoppers and commuters.
Although the bridge was uncovered and horribly exposed to the TPD’s air units, it was instant access to the central transport hubs for Star City.
The bridge itself stretched across the Potomac River, giving him a glorious glimpse of the city, the mass of truly huge skyscrapers forming a canyon along the artificial banks of the water channel. Water vehicles passed far underneath the bridge, mostly floating hotels and pleasure yachts.
Behind him, the TPD officers were still giving chase, their boots thumping on the ground, one or two of them shouting for him to stop.
“That’s likely,” he snorted to himself.
There were only a few complaints from those around him –a career criminal he may have been, but he was still polite and semi-courteous, trying to avoid knocking anyone over, and apologising if he did.
Off to his left, he could see the patrol cars hovering towards the bridge, lights flashing and sirens blaring.
If he wasn’t careful, this chase would end extremely quickly.
He wasn’t armed, besides his charm and razor wit. If he was cornered, he would have to give himself up.
“Make sure that doesn’t happen, Malachan,” he muttered under his breath.
He could hear the wheezing of the unfit officers behind him as he ran at a near sprint. The bridge was quickly coming to an end, and the patrol cars were flashing overhead. By now, any vehicles in the area would be grounded, or kept away in a cordon, preventing Dunch from using anything to escape unnoticed. Standard procedure, as everybody knew.
He only had a few options.
One of which was turning himself in.
Which wasn’t an option, in actual fact.
If he was caught now, he’d spend a VERY long time in prison.
He reached ten metres from the end of the bridge where it connected with the central hub and the walkways of Ohio Drive. There was a gathering of police officers and vehicles at the end. He had been identified; why else would they send so many to get a mere jewel thief?
The time for worrying how they had identified him so easily was not now. It was a time for escaping.
He darted behind a group of large cephalopods on their holidays, taking snaps of the city around them. The crowds were giving their mass of tentacles a wide berth.
Perfect, he gleamed in his brain.
* * *
The cephalopods were stopped and searched by the police officers at the end of the bridge, their tentacles lifted up by several officers at a time. They had all seen the criminal Dunch disappear into the family group, but he wasn’t there.
Many of the officers were reluctant to touch or lift the tentacles, leaving them alone where they could.
Some of them were slimy, and didn’t smell exactly fabulous.
Malachan’s position was tenuous at best, clinging on for dear life, hiding from the police officers. The big gathering of TPD was worrying, if all of these responded to the robbery. Had they been specifically after him, or was something else going on?
It didn’t matter.
He needed to keep his cool, and not expose himself.
But then the cephalopod he had managed to latch onto underneath realised something wasn’t right. Something wrapped around Dunch’s ankle; something slimy and strong. The tentacle tightened, and he was thrust back into the open air, just as the TPD were about to let the cephalopods go about their business.
There was a cry as daylight briefly speared his eyes.
The creature dropped him. He tried to right himself before he hit the bridge’s floor, but mistimed it, catching his shoulder and elbow instead of his hands. Pain spread through his right limb; he jumped to his feet.
Alarm was coming to life on the faces of the officers and sentients around him.
He only had one shot now.
It would be painful, but it was feasible.
He sprinted towards one unlucky officer, a rookie judging by the nervousness, and slammed into him, tumbling them both over onto the floor. Dunch grunted as his injury made itself known in an instant.
The officer cried out in fear, but Dunch was already moving, lifting the officer’s sidearm from the holster in one smooth motion. As he swung around, the weapon up, he found a dozen of the same weapons aimed at his face.
But he backed away.
“Sorry my friends,” he smiled as he kept walking backwards.
Although he had noticed nobody behind before, he was risking it by not looking, keeping his eyes trained on the TPD officers all around him. He kept switching his aim, more so he could see all the officers around him, as opposed to being terrified and nervous.
He stopped his backwards motion, only when he bumped into the chest-high wall.
You’re insane, a part of his mind wailed at him.
Well of course, he thought, otherwise this wouldn’t work.
He let the pistol loose a little, leaving his finger off the trigger, and letting it hang from the trigger guard.
“Drop the weapon, turn around, and put your hands on your head,” one of the officers growled.
“What, like this?”
He gently threw the pistol to the approaching officer, span, and scrambled up the wall.
The officers watched incredulously as he then proceeded to throw himself off the bridge.
* * *
Coughing and spluttering, Dunch pulled himself up and over the edge of the boat and into the hull. He took a long time catching his breath, lying on his back. It had hurt, a lot, smacking into the surface of the water from such a great height.
He was going to feel it in the morning.
The boat was small and powerful, with no wheelhouse, just a central control console and a big wheel. It had once been cream with a red stripe down either side, small and stout but with enough space for four or five grown adults to sit or stand comfortably. The bow curved up to protect the passengers from spray or worse.
Boats weren’t exactly popular these days, although he was grateful that it and several others had been moored near the bridge’s leg and abandoned for years. He couldn’t see a petroleum tank, and hoped it was fully electric-driven.
He hoped it wouldn’t take long to hotwire it, and the engine would whine to standby like a feline in heat. Boats weren’t something he ever had experience with, good or bad, despite living on the coastal Star City for most of his life.
He snapped open the panels under the steering wheel, and found a mass of wires. Panic filled his guts as the patrol cars rushed down from the level of the pedestrian bridge.
“C’mon, you fragger,” he shouted. “Terra’s rump, but this is an old piece of junk.”
He accidentally snapped two wire ends together and the engine spluttered to life. Smoke wafted out of the small jets on the aft, and then roared to life, whining like a starship. Satisfied, he turned back to the controls, and realised he had never driven a boat before.
“Can’t be that fragging hard, can it?”
There was a wheel, two levers and several buttons, but the writing had all been worn off, the boat left to rot moored to the bridge’s support. He had to risk it.
He disconnected the rusting mooring line, and the Potomac’s current moved him out and away from the bridge’s vertigo-inducing support legs. He pushed what he hoped was the throttle. The boat leapt forward, scraping past another craft, this one completely rusted through. He carried on, easing the boat further away from the bridge.
The hover patrol cars were still coming, giving chase.
Dunch wondered what had taken them so long.
He pushed the boat to full, bouncing over the waves as the nose of the small motorboat lifted up. The patrol cars screamed and whined, gaining every second. They had the advantage of speed and the open air.
He had squat.
He wasn’t sure what the hell he was doing. He hadn’t expected the boat to work. In fact, he hadn’t expected to be chased so quickly and so relentlessly. The river came to a long flat bend far ahead, but he knew he didn’t have time for that.
Off to the side of the man-made banks of the river were the drainage outflows from the great city. The massive concrete sides hid humanity’s waste and run-off under the ground. This was one of those tunnels.
One of the hover cars came down low, almost beside his stolen boat.
He could see the officers inside, ordering him to stop and turn off his engine.
The car matched him for speed and movement, rolling with the waves, trying to keep apace, its blue lights flashing. The car kicked up a spray of water, plastering Dunch. They tried waving the car around, distracting him. They couldn’t hit him for fear of mangling their precious hover technology.
He hit a small wave in the water, and the boat suddenly leapt into the air, jets screaming. It clipped the meandering police vehicle, and started tipping to one side. The engine squealed with pain, unable to get a grip on anything other than air.
He closed his eyes, expecting the boat to go underwater, and for him to finally see his own end, by his own hand.
By some luck, or the vagaries of modern technology, the boat hit another wave at an angle, and ripped itself to normal, throwing its pilot onto the floor. He held onto the steering wheel, but lost grip of the throttle. The boat carried on regardless, bouncing along the water at a horrendous pace.
“For frag’s sake,” he shouted, pulling himself to his feet.
This time, he wedged himself between the console and the small stool behind.
The white Police vehicle had pulled away briefly, concerned for their own safety whilst they watched as the criminal almost crashed. But it came back as soon as
Dunch pushed the boat closer and closer to the patrol car, trying to distract them, using their own tactics against them. The officers weren’t stupid, or just weren’t willing to risk the damage, pushing the car up and over his boat to come down on the other side.
But it did distract them.
“Just as long as you don’t splatter yourself all over the Potomac, Malachan,” he grunted to himself.
At only a few metres from the tunnel, the car peeled back and around, not wanting to slam bodily into the concrete riverbank. It recovered just in time to see Dunch clamber from the boat to the tunnel –a tunnel too small for one of the Police’s cars to get into.
It hovered there a while, the officers calling in more manpower to search the tunnels.
By the time they arrived, Malachan Dunch was gone, disappearing into the ether.
Author’s Note: Malachan Dunch was a main character in the original novel version, and was based on this great thespian: