My first article will be up soon. I will be talking about horror, crime and the paranormal and I hope you will pay the site a visit. They’re a great and passionate crew of people, and I’m looking forward to posting there often.
His hair was thin, laying odd where he had taken his hat off upon coming into the bank. He had dyed it at some point, trading the recognisable golden-blonde halo for a dull, tobacco brown. It was more honest, like the man had been a useful shell, something to discard when the need arose. What lived inside that man was one person in front of her.
There was a livid white headed pimple visible above the collar of his shirt with a circle of inflamed skin around it. He carried the packed sour musk of poor hygiene. He had tried to make an effort with his clothes but he looked fragile. He had walked around as a god in a crisp white polo shirt and shorts, the silver whistle dangling between the cleft of his pectorals as he shouted out plays from the dugout.
He used to smell of nautical aftershave, a clean bold smell to him that reminded her of limes and now made her mouth fill up with vomit if she ever caught a whiff of it. She could not see his hands. She remembered how they would rest on the line of her neck.
He looked shorter than she remembered. The years had whittled him down whilst hers had been building a body that she considered hers again.
She leaned out and saw the harassed teller struggle to remain polite with the elderly gentleman, his balding head shining and fragile in the afternoon light as he tried to remember his account number.
This was the second day of following him, but the first that she did not have to rely on guessing where he might have been. She had watched him stop at the store and pick up a copy of a magazine he kept rolled up and inside a plastic bag that he brought with him. His chest would rise from excitement and look both ways as he left the store to return home.
She had walked in and shoplifted three magazines, took them back under her coat to her hotel room and took them apart. She removed the staples with needle nose pliers and replaced them with wire transmitters that fed to an app on her phone. All ordered over the internet which he probably was banned from going on. Hence the need for analogue release, which was a slick, distasteful thing to consider and she spat it away.
Returning the magazines was more difficult than stealing them had been. She did it in five trips, losing her nerve on the third and fourth. She watched him go back to the store.
She watched him go to the store, return home with milk, bread and another magazine. Her phone beeped with a connection. He did not have a cellphone which was almost an atavism these days, but she could follow him.
She looked different too. She had become a woman which would not interest him anymore.
She had never picked up a baseball bat again and had switched to judo. After getting her black belt in that and competing at a state level, she had begun to study Brazilian ju-jitsu and even got into muay thai kickboxing. Her hair was still long, tucked up beneath a ball cap. Her complexion was soft, hints of peach and milky coffee. She wore a long green sweater with sleeves that hung over her hands and black leggings with unlaced boots. The clothes softened her, hid the cast of her shoulders and the raw, callused strength in her hands from all the years gripping the thick white material of the ghi. She had no intention of fighting him because it would be too quick, too awkward.
In the queue he turned and glanced at her, gave a distant but sickly smile then turned away.
It stung that he did not recognise her.
She kept her eyes on him, feeding her hate for him to keep her alert.
It became his turn to conduct business with the teller.
He was closing his account, which warranted one of the bank’s officers coming over to speak with him. She stood there, looking straight ahead as close as she had been since the trail. Her heart pounded in her chest and her limbs shook with the need to strike out at him.
Every heavy bag bore his face that she threw knees and elbows into.
She turned around and walked away. She was desperate for some fresh air.
She stood three people behind him in the post office as he filled out some forms to have his mail forwarded to him.
She stood outside the travel agents as he spoke to the travel agent, shook hands with her but failed to see the speed with which she reached for the hand sanitizer when he had left.
She did not follow him into the coffee shop. She had followed him for long enough, now it was time to hunt him.
He let himself into his apartment and shut the door behind him. He stood against it and exhaled deeply as he stretched out his lower back. He switched the light on and stood the bag of groceries on the table. He reached into his coat and pulled out a pouch of rolling tobacco, made himself a cigarette and sat underneath the blinking fluorescent light, smoked it and stared out at nothing.
He shut his eyes and felt a vein in his temple throb with the beginnings of a headache.
He finished the cigarette and stubbed it out before putting the groceries away. He was too exhausted to eat; he had planned to jerk off and go to sleep. Tomorrow would be a new day for him, he told himself, one more day and he could go somewhere else, start again.
He unbuttoned his shirt in the doorway of his bedroom when he heard the creak of a floorboard behind him and started to turn.
The knee in the small of his back pushed the air from his lungs and he went to fall forward until he felt a pair of hands clamp onto his shoulders and pulled him back into the hallway. He tried to turn around, but the hands pulled him up.
He tried to speak, but he would be punished with another punch or a knee. He kept trying to move into the bedroom, but she used his shirt as a rein. He probably still thought it was a man beating him up.
He threw his arm up to shove her away, which she took in the shoulder and returned with a crisp jab to his nose that spread it across his face in a wet crack. Agony bolted through his head, splitting his brain in two with its bright fury.
He covered his face in his hands and she watched blood trickling between his fingers.
‘Get up, Coach.’ she said.
He pulled his hands away, the lower half of his face dark and shining with blood. His teeth were small and dull in his mouth, and his eyes welled up with tears.
‘No, please. I’ve been on a program. I can’t even talk to children anymore.’ he said.
She shook her head and took her cap off, stepped forward into the light.
‘You’re talking to one right now. ‘
Her eyes were dry and cold.
‘I was just going to scare you at first. I wanted you to know what that felt like.’
He put his hands up in front of him and shook his head.
‘Please, I’m a good person, I wasn’t but I’m trying to be.’
She stepped forwards and stared into his eyes.
‘I’ve followed you, Coach, what you were doing weren’t the actions of a good man.’
She ran her tongue across her lips.
‘None of them were, not ever.’
Her voice regressed and she was ten years old again, looking into his eyes and knowing what the sun would like if it had a face.
Before it scorched something inside her, made it charred and dead.
It was the little girl who made her run forward.
The choke went in quick and deep. Between her crossed thighs, his face turned purple and swollen, his eyes turning red from where blood vessels haemorrhaged as she constricted his blood supply to his brain.
She kept his arm straight and held between her hands until it went slack, then stayed on until her abdomen and thighs started to cramp. She crawled off him, fighting the burn of lactic acid from the effort of keeping the choke held in.
The air had begun to smell damp around him and she got away.
She slipped out of the room, then the building and pulled her hood up then jammed her hands in her pockets.
The queue for the Greyhound wasn’t long, but she kept looking ahead, waiting for the wail of sirens and it was when she got on and looked out of the window that she started to cry again. She curled her knees up to her chest and hugged herself.
She thought of home, and for the first time, did not feel sick.
“Men ought either to be well treated or crushed, because they can avenge themselves of lighter injuries, of more serious ones they cannot; therefore, the injury that is to be done to a man ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge.”
Nicollo Machiavelli, The Prince.
Ibrahim walked down the street, cursing Ellen for making him clean out the frier again before he left to attend mosque with his uncle. He hated the job, but Mohammed insisted he finish out the summer before he got him an internship at the firm.
He didn’t want to be late. Mohammed was fastidious without being vain and he had known nothing but his faith but he did business without it being a problem.
Ibrahim drew comments and stares. No one wanted to feel alien in their own skin and he would slip out of the way, finding something to do in the back until their attention went elsewhere or he pretended not to have heard anything. He simpered and it hurt to do it but once he was working with his uncle, he would earn respect without being made to suffer for it.
He was running late.
It was the only thing which saved him.
He saw the mosque and quickened his pace before a massive hand slapped him backwards. He smelled his hair burning and his eardrops popped like balloons as he fell backwards, breaking his coccyx against the sidewalk.
Ibrahim lay there, mute with pain as his hair burned and his body turned inside out with pain. He had bitten his tongue and each swallow tasted of burnt copper as he struggled to breathe.
Jessica drew on the cigarette, trying not to stare at the small throng of protesters who came every day. Wizened and pale, tan and hardy, they would take turns, behaving like fundamentalist ants, blazing with a narcissistic zeal which irritated her. David’s work took him all over the world, and since she had emigrated and married Blake, she kept up the correspondence, never getting a reply from him despite the anguish it created for her. She still loved David, but life demanded a compromise. Letting go had taken the desperation of an animal chewing off a limb to escape a trap but the pain stayed with her.
The women who came fueled her passion when she debated Blake about her work. He presented her with rational arguments, numbers on paper to show they didn’t need her to work, she could stay home with Brian, but Jessica saw it as a comfortable path to death. She loved her husband, but she couldn’t live as an appendage to him. Marriage was difficult enough, let alone one which served as a gilded cage for her.
The cigarette burned the back of her throat and she tossed it to the ground before she went back inside.
The door slammed into her, fractured her skull and the door handle punched through her left hip, propelled by the force of the explosion. She died before she hit the ground, the door stuck to her as a final, cruel insult from the universe.
Terry took off the balaclava and wiped his face. He had put on a show for the video, speaking in a bombastic tone which he had borrowed from professional wrestling promotions and Alex Jones and it had tested his reserves of stamina to keep up the indignant righteousness necessary to put his point across.
The motel room smelled of powdered soup and stale cum, but he could use it for meetings and videos so he never gave Pete too much shit about it. He wanted to protect his family, and if it meant going out of his way a little, it was a small price to pay. Their enemies were everywhere, and he loved his family too much to put them in harm’s way.
He waited for the video to upload, sent messages to the others through an app which sent photo messages and deleted them after being watched. Terry knew the risks, but the technology was there to protect them, despite what people believed.
Terry looked at himself in the smeared full length mirror, the stubble on his cheeks and his lean, intense build gave him a renewed pride in his work. He ran on righteousness, and all the energy made him restless, had him capable of working eight hours on his construction job and then organising the rest of the guys until he collapsed into bed next to his sleeping wife. He got up, tucked the balaclava under the pillow, and left the room.
He watched the news when he got home, drank a beer as he watched the footage of the emergency services and struggled to hide his delight at the success of their first major operation. Once the video went live, people would know their group’s name but not his.
Terry had tried to make people see what was happening. The capitulation to progressive forces had castrated his country and it made him fear for his children’s future enough to act as he did. Other people had come into his world, convinced of his fears enough to help and once he had found his tribe, it became a thing of logistics over rhetoric.
Jenny called him upstairs and he drained the last swallow of beer before he switched the tv off and went to bed.
It had been a good day.
David slipped out of the hotel room. He had broken up and flushed the syringe down the toilet, wiped everything down to remove any trace of his presence with a practiced care as the body cooled on the unmade bed.
He got into the waiting car and sat back, closing his eyes as it drove away. The arrogance of his targets never surprised him, and this one had been boasting about his company’s work for the intelligence community. David did not inform him such behaviour had signed his death warrant
Bastard of the British Empire he told himself. He loathed the arrogance of San Francisco and was eager to get back to London. David denied his feelings unless it was three a.m and he thought of her.
Doing the right thing hurt him but it kept her safe and him a secret.
The safe house was across town, and he took a long hot shower, ordered take out and sat down to relax with a few hours of inane American television. He made the mistake of watching the news, and when he saw the photo of her, he convulsed with feelings he thought buried in the graveyard of his soul.
Three years ago, David had bare flames held to his feet, threatening to perform the same function on his genitals before the SAS team burst in. He had not wept then, but as he looked at Jessica’s face, he put his face in his hands and wept for what might have been.
His grief galvanised into something familiar to him.
When it abated, he took out his phone and made a phone call.
Two hours later, David was on a plane to Illinois.
Mike struggled to contain his excitement as Terry passed him a beer.
‘What’s next?’ he said.
Terry scratched his chin and smiled.
‘We can expect a push back from the authorities, so the answer is nothing for now.’ he said.
Mike grimaced as he shook his head.
‘It’s not enough, Terry. We need to get our message out.’ he said.
Terry grimaced at Mike’s immature enthusiasm. He could never take the long view of things. It was a warm evening and they sat on the porch, keeping the conversation neutral until Jenny put Rachel to bed and they were free to discuss things.
‘Do you remember Waco, Mike?’ he said.
Mike swallowed and nodded. He had been in awe of Terry’s pilgrimage and his righteous anger at government intrusion into people’s lives. They condoned the tide of Muslim immigration and paid lip service to the sanctity of the unborn to such a degree it had prompted a response from the men of the White Rabbit Militia to stop talking and act. Mike resented the slow pace of their work, but Terry was so certain it killed his doubts.
‘We’ve shown our hand. It’s now up to others whether they heed the call to action.’
Mike had built the bombs for both targets, being a savant with things which made him useful, if not indispensable to the others. Pete had been in the Marines until he got kicked out, Chris ran the website and social media feeds, but it was Terry who was the cool, calm centre of the group. Mike wondered if Terry’s aloofness was a test of his character, but washed his anxious, frightened thoughts down with a deep pull on the bottle of beer before he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
‘OK, I get it.’ he said.
Terry smiled and clapped Michael on the shoulder.
‘We can’t go into this thinking we’ll get away with it, Mike. We’ve got to accept the price of liberty and the consequences.’ Terry said.
Mike felt blessed by Terry’s touch but kept his face still. Instead he gave a terse nod and made a face he hoped looked like the right mix of determination and gravity.
‘Right on, Terry. Right on.’
Terry lit a cigarette and sat back in his chair.
‘We’ve just got started, Mike.’ he said.
If Terry had asked him to cut one of his testicles off, Mike would have asked him which one before doubting him. He wondered who would play him in the movie, he hoped for the guy from Stranger Things, the sheriff with the guy from CSI New York as Terry.
Mike had big dreams, but he was glad Terry was there to keep things calm and even. The work was getting started, but he wanted it to start there and then.
David watched the video on repeat. He looked past the man on the screen, focused on the details behind him.
He made a note of the furniture, and the colour of the paint on the walls. David wrote the details in the blank pages of the ledger he carried everywhere. He contacted his handler, Larry, through a My Little Pony message board, where he left a message and waited for his phone to ring.
David answered on the first ring.
‘Why aren’t you on a plane, right now?’
‘Personal matter. There’s nothing in the pipeline so I’m taking time off.’ he said.
Larry grunted with disbelief.
‘You pulled one of my analysts to look up everything on a pair of bombings in Illinois, David.’
David said nothing.
‘There was a woman killed. British, according to the news. Look, the FBI are all over this. Just come home and I’ll light a fire under their arses to get it dealt with.’ Larry said.
David swallowed, his throat tight with regret and a cold, hard anger. Watching the videos fed something terrible in him, kept the wound open and bleeding without the mercy of unconsciousness to ease it.
‘I know, Larry. I’m taking leave. I’ll behave myself.’ he said.
Larry sighed with a longstanding weariness.
‘If this turns out to be another Rotherham situation, we’re both fucked.’ he said.
The police still found bodies, members of a child grooming gang. David accepted the damage within himself, but he used it, like a wolf uses its howl to communicate.
‘No, it won’t be like Rotherham.’ he said.
David saw an email had come through and opened it. Forensics reports, eyewitness testimony, drafts of warrants to investigate militia activity all scanned and converted to digital files. David told Larry he would be in touch and switched off the phone.
A viscous tension pooled in his eye sockets but he read through everything. He made notes of the names before he opened his briefcase and found the FBI badge, slipped it into the pocket of his suit jacket and stood up.
He called a cab to the hospital.
Ibrahim drifted in and out of a cotton soft haze of narcotics. He would emerge to see daylight then drift off, returning to find it was dark as time passed on, indifferent to his grief and trauma.
He awoke to see the man sat at the end of his bed.
‘Hello, Ibrahim.’ he said.
Through his one good eye, Ibrahim saw him stand up and walk over to the side of the bed. He spoke to Ibrahim in perfect Arabic, introduced himself as Special Agent Garrett and wondered if he could ask him a few questions.
Ibrahim’s one good eye sparkled with tears as he nodded.
‘I understand there will be complications from your injuries and your recollections might be unclear but anything you can give me will help me catch these people.’
Ibrahim noted the use of the singular and tried to focus on the man. His use of Arabic was comforting but also unnerving to him.
He nodded and answered the man’s questions. They confused him, details about the routines of the mosque and its proximity to other places in town, before he asked after Ibrahim’s uncle.
Ibrahim cleared his throat.
‘You’re not from the FBI, are you?’ he said.
The man put his hand over Ibrahim’s and put his mouth to his ear to whisper.
‘The Prophet never avenged for his own self, Ibrahim. Neither will you.’ he said.
Ibrahim wept as much as the drugs allowed him, and the man left without speaking further. Ibrahim prayed for him.
Rick gave the man a pamphlet as he walked past the clinic. He stopped and looked at it like someone had spat into his hand, but he folded it before tucking it into the pocket of his suit.
‘I understand you were at the clinic.’ the man said.
Rick had been on a coffee run, but the second hand glory was too powerful to resist and his assumption of divine providence made him something of a martyr to the rest of the congregation. There was no one alive from the small group to contradict him, aside from Betty and she was in an unresponsive coma from where a brick had glanced off her temple, propelled by the force of the explosion.
Rick could not meet the implacable gaze and he gulped, struggling to contain himself.
‘Yes, sir, God’s wrath is a terrible and beautiful thing to see.’
The man’s face tightened and his lips drew back over his teeth. His brown eyes burned with something cold and vicious which made Rick step backwards.
‘What did you see?’ the man said.
He had heard the explosion, and as he drew closer, smelled the smoke and blood. He had stumbled over someone’s dismembered arm and saw how the clinic door had impaled the British nurse.
The man grimaced and stepped towards Rick.
‘Did she say anything?’
Rick tried to back away but the man’s fingers clamped around his elbow, pinching into the soft meat of his triceps and found a set of nerves which shot agony through his arm, pinned him to the spot as he looked around for someone to help.
Rick told him. The man walked away.
There were fifty pamphlets left but Rick went home, locked the door and drew the curtains, watched the 700 Club and struggled not to cry with humiliation. If God were watching, he would understand, he told himself.
Mike soldered the wires with care, humming to himself as he worked on the last electronic components of the device, the guts of an old cell phone re-purposed to allow them to activate the explosion via bluetooth. The rest of the device was plastic and ceramic around a core of C4 explosive, studded with nails and razor blades. It fit inside a Blue’s Clues lunchbox, and there were six boxes of similar dimensions in the packing crate below his feet.
His workshop was in the garage. It had been a labour of love, built to indulge his hobby of amateur electronics before he met Terry and figured out a new use for the space and equipment. For a bomb maker, Mike was proud he had all his fingers and limbs, but the information was available, even from the jihadists who posted details and schematics amongst upper case rants on the depravity of the American people. There was an irony to it which escaped Mike, but ideology left so little room for nuance.
The tube light flickered overhead and went out. Mike swore under his breath and set the iron down on the bench, switched it off with a brush of his thumb. He pushed his stool back, thinking about where the spares were.
He did not have time to scream before the cloth clamped around his nose and mouth, the high chemical stink insinuating into his head as he passed out from the force. Someone caught him as he fell into a deep, implacable blackness.
Mike awoke with the worst headache and strapped to the recliner in the living room with bungee cords. Someone had turned his Xbox and tv on, so the introduction music on Battlefield One shook the air. Mrs Foster was his only neighbour and she had gone to her grandson in Columbus for a long weekend.
‘Good evening Mike.’
He could not place the accent through the impenetrable barrier of the headache. He narrowed his eyes and looked around his living room.
‘What is this?’ he said.
A low chuckle caressed the back of his neck and he shuddered.
‘You will tell me the names of the other militia members and where they meet.’ he said.
Mike grunted and struggled against the cords.
The man walked around to face him. He was tan, with short dark hair and spectacles, wearing a black t-shirt and jeans. He held a stained white towel in one hand and a litre bottle of water in the other.
‘Fuck you.’ Mike said.
His anger was genuine, but the fear grew more intense with each second.
The man laughed and Mike recognised the accent. British.
‘Now, Mike, I admire your bravado but I had a look in your garage and you’re better off telling me what I want to know.’ he said.
Mike’s laughter died in his throat as the man walked towards him.
‘I won’t tell you anything.’ Mike said.
It was the most courageous he had been, and no one was around to witness it. The thought weakened him but not as much as what the towel and bottle were for. The man lifted the towel up and raised his eyebrows.
‘This isn’t for refreshment, Mike. No, this is your sad little group’s biggest fear come to life.’ he said.
Mike squeezed out tears and grimaced as he shook his head over and over. The swelling strings of the soundtrack sounded mocking and grated his ears.
The man sat on the couch and put the towel and bottle on the coffee table where Mike could see it.
‘I only make the stuff. We’re fighting a war, man. We’re dying out.’ Mike said.
They were Terry’s words, not his and the man smiled as he sat back on the couch.
‘Who’s dying out? White men? Now there, you and I have common ground. I’m doing the work you and your friends dream of, but it’s more complicated than that.’ he said.
His tone was generous, without the coiled sense of threat Mike had absorbed from movies and television. He looked around him.
‘Do you read comics, Mike?’ he said.
Mike nodded in furious agreement. The man smirked and looked at Mike.
‘I’ve always been a nerd for them. Not so much the superheroes, but I grew up with 2000 A.D. We never went into superheroes so much, but comics, shit I’ve got tons of them in storage. Have you ever read Preacher?’ he said.
Mike hadn’t. He wished he had. He lowered his chin and shook his head.
‘There’s one of my favourite lines where Jesse, he’s got the Word of God, and he ends up a sheriff of this place called Salvation after getting chucked out a plane, and there are these Klan types and he walks up to one and tears his hood off.’
The man was smiling as he mimicked the action. Mike’s stomach clenched with fear and confusion.
‘He says something which struck me as profound for a comic book. Why are the biggest champions of the race the worst examples of it?’ he said.
Mike recoiled at the insult and struggled against the bonds without hope.
The man chuckled and sat back against the couch.
‘You’re buying into a narrative. The same one used to keep everyone down. Being a victim means you avoid having to take responsibility. If you’re black or disabled, gay or white, then it’s not your fault if you fail at anything, is it?’
Mike had no answer for him. The righteousness of his cause was real to him, and the man’s mockery stung more than the chemicals used to knock him out.
‘You’re weak, all of you. Bombing mosques and a women’s health clinic, that’s weak shit.’ he said.
Mike wept, but it garnered no reaction from the man at all. He sighed and waited for him to stop crying.
‘You’re a talented boy, Mike. You should be proud of your craft, despite being a massive cunt.’ he said.
‘It didn’t throw me. I’ve got a nose for these things, and when I found the groups you were into on Facebook, one phone call to Cambridge Analytica and I had your name and address.’ he said.
Mike shuddered and wept again. He did not see the blow coming until it turned his face, a stinging rebuke which blasted his self pity away.
‘Please, don’t kill me.’ he said.
The man stood up and ran his tongue over his lips.
‘The nurse at the clinic, the one who got impaled on the door. I knew her.’ he said.
‘I met the boy who will never walk again.’ he said.
His voice had roughened and Mike wondered if it was a trick of the light at the dampness in the man’s eyes before he picked up the towel and bottle.
‘But the nurse, Mike, I fucking loved her to the bone and I let her go because I thought this was more important.’ he said.
He unscrewed the lid on the bottle and tossed it to the carpet as he walked behind the recliner.
‘A man, Mike, has to have a purpose, even if it costs him to follow it.’ he said.
His voice cracked with emotion, which frightened Mike more than when he was glib and relaxed.
Mike twisted as the man put the towel over his face and held it in place with his left hand.
‘You’ll understand it when I’m done.’ he said.
Mike’s lungs heaved as he struggled for air beneath the careful deluge of water through the towel. His panicked breaths drew on every fibre of his being but he broke without too much effort.
It did not take much of the bottle before Mike was shrieking out names and addresses. The man made Mike repeat them without attempting to write them down.
‘I’m sorry I had to do it, Mike. I’ll make this quick.’ he said.
Mike wondered what he meant before the palm came up and hit him square in the centre of his face, driving the nasal bone into his brain.
David took a few things with him after he had wiped down where he had sat and left evidence which would throw things off enough to finish the rest of it.
Chris rang Terry whilst he was on his lunch. Terry said nothing until his babbling had smoothed out into a choked sob.
‘Mike didn’t touch drugs, this has to be something else.’ he said
Terry told him to get the others and meet at the motel tonight. He ended the call and went back to the site, looking at the house he was building and wondering if he would see it completed. A cold sense of resolve washed over him as he slipped his phone back into his pocket.
‘It’s good work.’
Terry turned and looked at the man who stood next to him. He wore a dark pinstripe suit and smiled at Terry with a familiarity which tested his taciturn expression.
‘Thanks, I should get back to it. Can’t get the help these days.’ he said.
‘Beaners or niggers?’ the man said.
Terry scowled as he walked away.
‘I find having the courage of your convictions shows the measure of a man, Terry.’ he said.
Terry froze as his heart thumped. He swallowed and tasted copper as he stood up straight and turned around with care.
‘Do I know you, mister?’ he said.
The man shook his head.
‘No, you don’t. I bumped into Jenny when she dropped Rachel at daycare, beautiful family you’ve got there, Terry.’ he said.
Terry snorted through his nose and stood there, calculating the distance it would take to get close to the man and whether he could take him down. He had left the gun in the car, unloaded as the law demanded, but he itched to have it with him.
‘Mister, you seem like a smart man, if you’ve got something to say, say it.’ he said.
The man shook his head.
‘No, this is me fucking with you for sport. I don’t say things, I act.’ he said.
He turned and walked away without looking back. Terry’s hands shook as he reached for his phone and called Pete.
Pete had set his rifle up from the back of the flatbed truck, hidden underneath a tarp with the scope trained on the window of the room they used. It was a.22 long rifle with a weaver scope and he had parked 150 yards away, just at the point where the round went from supersonic to subsonic. He adjusted for the drop at the distance but after popping sand niggers in the desert, Pete liked to think he was defending his homeland enough to factor in the physics.
Whoever the limey fuck was, he would not fuck with The White Rabbit and live. Pete knew the feds were circling, but they had time to get clear. Running was an option but Terry wanted this guy taken down. A last scalp before they all packed up and went out to Montana where there were people who could hide them until things blew over.
Plus, Pete thought, being white helped.
He chewed on the piece of jerky until it softened to the consistency of gum and sipped the bottle of water as he watched Chris and Terry enter the room.
Nice and smooth, he thought. They would lure the guy in, get him by the window and Pete would shoot him. The suppressor would reduce the sound to little more than a cough and it would be over.
The White Rabbit understood the first rule of guerilla warfare:
Make your weaknesses your strengths. They were a small, tight cell and able to react with speed but Pete had liked Mike, and so laid there, he vowed to avenge his brother. Running sucked, but it meant they could come back, harder and stronger when this fucker was in the ground.
He looked through the sight and waited to make his shot.
Terry and Chris went through the motions of setting up a video, both touching the holstered pistols on their hips for unconscious reassurance as they waited for something to fall upon them.
‘He’s a limey?’ Chris said.
Terry grunted and nodded as he reached for the balaclava from underneath the pillow.
‘Shut up and film me. We need to make this look real.’ he said.
Chris nodded as Terry rolled the balaclava down over his head. He caught a whiff of something acrid and sharp before he tried to pull it off as he bellowed with horror. Chris dropped the camera with shock at the sight of Terry’s face.
Red and pink sizzling blisters covered his face. He held his hands to his face and bolted past Chris to the door as he scratched for the door handle. Chris ran to him, turned him around and caught the stink of corroding flesh before he vomited down himself with shock at his friend’s ruined face.
Pete frowned as he reached for his phone but he stopped when he felt the weight shift in the back of the truck before a hammer blow landed on the base of his skull. He tried to roll onto his side but a foot stamped between his shoulder blades and forced the breath from his lungs, cracking ribs and tearing the tip of his scapulae off as he struggled to improve his position.
The man loomed above him.
‘I’m a man who likes to work with his hands.’ he said.
Pete felt his life slip away in a series of judicious blows as the man beat him to death with his own rifle.
Chris dragged Terry outside, looking around as he watched Pete’s pick up rocking on its wheels as two men struggled in the back. He drew his gun and fired blind as Terry mewled with agony, limp with the insult as the skin melted off his face. Chris felt something wet and gelid fall onto his shoulder and when he turned, Terry’s cheek had fallen off. He screamed and pushed him away as he cried out in horror.
The figure stepped down from the truck and disappeared from view.
Chris looked at the gun and met Terry’s eyes as they melted down his face like defrosted ice cream. Terry clutched at his shoulder and rasped out a single word.
‘Please.’ he said
Chris looked at his friend and raised the gun as he heard the faint cry of sirens in the distance. He squeezed the trigger as he gave his friend the gift of mercy.
Blake stood by the grave, numb and struggling to keep upright as he looked at the headstone. Life had paused at the worst moment, and he veered between bleak disconnection and anger at how the world had gone on without him.
The news featured the arrest of the militia member who had turned on the others and been shot by police at a local motel used as a base of operations. Blake had watched the tearful wife of the leader and felt nothing but a grinding contempt as she denied all knowledge of the enterprise. He came to see Jessica’s grave every day even as the sympathy of others around him depleted by the raw gravitational pull of his pain.
It was a warm afternoon when he saw the man walk over to him.
‘I’m sorry for your loss.’ he said.
A British accent drew Blake from his inward focus as he looked up. The man was unshaven, his eyes hidden behind sunglasses as he looked at the headstone.
‘Did you know her?’ Blake said.
The man nodded without taking his attention from the headstone.
‘Yes, she was a good girl.’ he said.
His voice was slow and rough with fatigue as he took off the sunglasses and offered his hand to him. Blake was taken aback by the pain in the man’s eyes but he took his hand with whatever grace was available to him.
David looked at Blake, forced down the tumultuous blend of emotions, envy and kinship for the mutual loss alongside the need to control his emotions. It was a beautiful day but David felt like he was underneath a long, cold shadow wherever he went. The fact he wasn’t alone offered no comfort and an explanation of his association with Jessica would make things worse. He looked into Blake’s eyes with a cold frankness.
‘I killed them and I made it hurt, Blake. It doesn’t bring her back but you’ve got to start somewhere, haven’t you?’ he said.
Blake furrowed his forehead as David let go of his hand and put his sunglasses on. He smiled at Blake and walked away.
David’s phone rang and he answered it. Larry had a car waiting for him and asked if he was coming back to work. David remembered the late nights with Jessica, back when this life was an idea and he had a choice to make about his future and the warmth of her skin, the overbite when she smiled and the way she rolled her cigarettes.
David sighed and looked at the Lincoln which idled at the kerb. He didn’t have to tell Larry he was back at work.
He had never left.
No One Can Know
She is stood in line, her right hand reaching inside her purse as she looks around. Her tongue darts from the right side of her mouth, like a snake tasting the air. It was nervous excitement, fueled by flashes of malevolent, chemical lights in her eyes like an aurora borealis.
The behaviour doesn’t sit with her appearance. She’s classic soccer mom. The ass of a woman who spent hard hours on equipment she would have ordered from a shopping channel. The clothes are copies of major labels, chosen with care to match her skin tone.
Sallow, right now and dark circles under the manic eyes and excitement. None of it fits, which attracted my interest.
People are my business. You can tell a lot by what stands out about them, but it is the ordinary details which have saved my ass more than once. It provides you with useful information. Whether someone is in a manic state.
Or if they’re carrying a gun on them.
It is in her purse. Judging by the material and how it sags, it is too much gun for her frame. She’s fit but kinetic energy will throw back whatever she aims and fires. A perfect shit storm of too much firepower and need, too little training.
The pair of guys with her draw my attention. An amateur would have focused on them first, but there is professionalism I can account for without too much effort. A shotgun sweeps across the store, and the Glock in the other guy’s hand shakes when he holds it up too long. They both shine with flop sweat, which is another problem. No masks mean people will remember their faces. They don’t realise it but once the initial burst of adrenaline ebbs, they will.
Ducking down behind the coffee aisle gives me a good view of her. The other two men fan out, securing the store.
The steak is still in the plastic. It should be on a grill, sizzling in salted garlic butter then chased down with a blunt before a good, easy sleep and then a meeting with the new boss in the morning. No, instead it is in the packaging as the woman’s eyes meet mine.
The smartest thing is to get the woman’s attention in a way which doesn’t frighten her. The fact she’s high out of her mind is a complication but not an imposition.
She sees me, but the hand doesn’t come out of the purse.
‘Miss. You look a little unnerved.’
Formality of speech shows authority. With the guys, it would get me shot but something younger in her reacts like a puppy paid attention.
‘Those men are friends of yours?’
Her eyes welled up with tears as she nodded. To my left, a young Asian man hissed at me to shut the fuck up. One hard look from me and he was scurrying away down the aisles.
‘I partied with them. I left my husband with the kids. I don’t know what happened then.’
Up close, she carried the sour whiff of meth coming through her pores.
‘Do you want to be here right now?’
My directness did not faze her. Shouting or struggling with her would have meant attention and she was high, frightened and responded well to authority. Perfect way to avoid having to shoot her in front of these people.
She shook her head.
I told her which car was mine and gave her the keys. She turned to leave, but I put my hand on her shoulder and looked at the handbag. She reached into her bag. It was a good piece. L Framed Magnum, hand-tooled. She ducked down and slid out through the open doors.
The cylinder was full as one guy came back. Mr Shotgun.
I had to dip the end of the barrel to cock the hammer. On one knee, I looked down the front sight and let it dip onto the hollow of his throat. Black, tattooed flames licked at his chest as my finger squeezed on the trigger.
He folded in half, the impact taking out his throat as blood and cartilage splattered on the tower of kitchen rolls behind him. The shotgun fell from his hands as the air rang with the shot. I was moving towards him, dipping the barrel to cock the hammer again.
Someone was screaming and firing. Just another day at the office as I turned around and waited.
There was an amber puddle of cooking oil in the aisle. An amusing idea came as I held the gun up to bear.
He ran, firing wild, eyes bulging in their sockets as the bullets pinged around me. When the heel of his left foot hit the puddle, I fired and took him in the pelvis. The wet crack when it broke was almost music, but when he hit the tiled floor and wept like a baby, that was my cue to get out of there.
Took the steak too. Least they could do for my efforts as a concerned citizen.
She was in the passenger seat. I pointed the gun at her and said we were making other arrangements.
We got past the cops and were out on the road without so much as a nod from anyone.
It would make the next part easier.
I pop the trunk open and look down at her. She’s passed out and the bruise at her temple isn’t anything she can’t cover up with a little concealer. The gun didn’t have a serial number, tricked out with band aids and now in my collection. Tonight proved you couldn’t have too much gun.
She woke up by degrees.
‘No one can know.’ she said.
Three weeks since she had been home. Lost to a febrile expression of repressed id. It had lost its appeal and now she was getting to go back and make amends.
Or try to.
‘Amnesia. Nothing complicated, which means it will be easier to stick to.’ I said.
She nods and swallows. Then smooths down the front of her dress. She smells sour up close, which is the meth coming out of her pores and the regret, perhaps. I offer my hand and she takes it, holds onto my fingers until the trembling travels down my forearm.
‘Thanks for not -’ she said.
I raised my hand to silence her.
‘I did what needed doing.’
She looked at her small, neat house. I realized it was a fine place to live and raise a family. It wasn’t something which crossed my mind too often, but it wasn’t alien. A place to put your flint to the tinder and make a spark.
Madeline had damn near burned her house down.
I stood there until she walked inside the house. The drive was soothing and gave me time to think. City limits were ahead, and there was time for an hour’s sleep before my meeting with the Dixie Mafia in the morning. Killing ambitious Serbians in return for large amounts of cash.
I had taken my exercise and it was like she said.
No one can know.
He ran in his dreams.
There was the recollection of his uncoiled youth. Slim and taut with muscle, even at twelve. It taints his memories of his youth with crude washes of horror and regret.
These dreams woke him, trembling and confused. It was a long time ago, and yet these dreams returned like a recurring complaint. He was a man who could have someone killed with a phone call, but in his dreams, he ran from the train with the snap of bullets passing by him.
He got up, poured himself a good measure of single malt, lit a cigarette and walked to the living room.
Benny stood up when he walked in, his mouth twisted into a knot of concern but Ernest waved him off. Despite wearing nothing but a robe, Benny responded to him like he were in an expensive suit, but Ernest sat down and looked at his employee with something close to need.
‘Do you ever have bad dreams, Benny?’ he said.
His voice was a thin, reedy whisper but Benny furrowed his brow and considered the question with great importance. He shook his head and emitted a small squeak of a no.
Ernest chuckled and took a sip of the whisky. He sat back and drew on the cigarette.
‘Is everything ok, Mr Wolfowitz?’
Ernest let his head tilt backwards as he blew out a plume of smoke.
‘I guess. You can sit down, Benny. I’m worried you can see my cock from there.’
Benny sat down fast enough to make the cushions jump and Ernest sat up to look across at him. He ran his tongue across his lips, left to right, before he let it settle in the right corner of his mouth. His eyelids were low as he took another pull on the cigarette before settling into the couch.
‘Thanks for not saying either way. I make you nervous, huh?’ he said.
Benny nodded and flicked a nervous smile. His moustache was sweating as he looked at his boss.
‘Just this is the first time I’ve sat across from you. You said, if I see you, it means something’s gone wrong.’ he said.
Ernest recalled saying it, and a small burst of regret singed his insides.
‘I meant, I need no interruptions, Benny. I’m not an asshole to you guys.’ he said.
Ernest set the tumbler down on the floor by his feet as he adjusted his robe.
“Relax. We’re just talking,” he said.
Benny had never served, but he nodded in agreement again and say thank you. His reaction pleased Ernest, who picked up the tumbler again and took another appreciative sip. Its warm burn relaxed him as he blinked and chased it down with a puff on the cigarette.
‘I have this dream, Benny. The same dream, over and over.’
You know the worst thing?
How ordinary those men were. You think of them as monsters but it is too easy, gives you an out if you ever wonder about your own capacity for evil, Benny, I tell you. A unit of volunteers, police in their own country, but they volunteered to come and do their duty.
They came to the village at night. Pulled from our houses like vermin, gathered together in the square as they watched us, made sure we didn’t run away. My father had died last year, so I was the only man left in my family.
There was nothing I could do. Nothing at all. Twelve years old, and looking at those men, barbers and engineers at home but here. Gathering us up to take a train.
. They kept the men together, and packed us in so tight, Such a thing, I couldn’t breathe, but I was thin and so I moved to the sides, pressed to find any cool, clean air to breathe in. Each breath stunk of other people, all of us, soiled and doomed.
Such a thing to smell, Benny, I tell you.
Escape? No, such a thing was a dream and I was very much awake.
But I didn’t stop looking. They were not smart men, who put us in these carriages. Some of them smelled of too much beer and looked at us like they expected us to tell them what to do. One of them was slack on securing the door. I watched him do it.
But I remembered, Benny, and when we got to the train yards, it would pass the woods outside my village.
The woods were my favourite place to play, I knew them well.
My hands shook as the train slowed down, ready to take on more passengers. My heart was in my throat but I made myself push the door open. The night air fell on me like a cool wave, and I cried out with a savage joy. There was a rough hand at my back then I was tumbling forwards, landing in the dirt hard enough to knock the air from my lungs.
I got to my feet, heard the shouts go up and then the guns firing at me.
Have you ever ran like your life depended on it?
It is not an easy thing to do. Part of you wants the defeat, like a wound which can never heal and it gives you a reason to be clumsy, Benny, but fight it when it comes.
They were not good shots. It was not a matter of pride for them, to be competent soldiers. It was to my fortune they missed me.
Others behind me, were not so lucky, but they died free.
Still, they died.
The worst thing is, I don’t dream about my mother or my sisters. My father had been dead for three years by then. None of those things bother me, Benny, but do you know what does?
In my dreams, Benny, I dream about them shooting me. Or worse, catching me and putting me onto the train again. What sort of man thinks about those things?
What sort of man dreams about the bullet which never found you?
Benny fought back tears as he coughed into his hand before he looked up at his boss.
‘We all have times when we think about how things could have gone down, Mr Wolfowitz.’ he said.
Ernest tilted his head to one side, curious despite his exhaustion.
‘But I didn’t get shot, Benny. I made it, and then from there to all of this.’ he said.
There was no need for a gesture, Benny knew. If you worked for Mr Wolf, you knew what he did to keep what was his and added to it with the same fervour. If James Brown was the hardest working man in show business, then Ernest Wolfowitz was the hardest working man in crime. One of the wealthiest too, and he had moved a lot of dirty cash in clean, legitimate vehicles but if you bought a dime bag, Mr Wolf made money from it.
‘I know, but we still think about it. If it makes you feel fortunate, then it’s God talking to you.’
Ernest frowned and picked up his glass.
‘He does not talk Benny. Not since he packed my family into the trains.’
Benny sat back, remembering how his girlfriend had told him to stay off religion or politics in polite conversation with anyone you didn’t want to piss off. He folded his hands and put them into his lap.
‘Sometimes he doesn’t say nice things, but he tells you the truth.’ he said.
Ernest watched him before he drained the rest of the glass and stubbed out the cigarette in the ashtray. He got up, adjusted himself inside his robe and walked away without speaking. Benny stood up as he left, but Ernest did not acknowledge the gesture. Benny waited until he heard the click of the bedroom door before he sat down.
He wondered how much trouble he was in until dawn when the next guy came in to take over and he drove back to his apartment. When the phone rang, he heard Yanni, one of Mr Wolf’s lieutenants, tell him a car was outside.
Benny ran to the bathroom and vomited before rinsing his mouth out with water and throwing on a jacket as he ran downstairs.
Someone set a chess board up in the study. Mr Wolf sat with a crystal decanter of scotch and a welcoming smile which unnerved Benny as he looked at the empty chair opposite him.
‘Sit down, Benny.’ he said.
Benny sat down and looked at Mr Wolf.
‘Am I in trouble, sir?’ he said.
Ernest shook his head.
‘If you were, you’d know.’ he said.
This, Benny knew, was Mr Wolf. The old man last night, he wasn’t someone to mess with, but this man before him, although he wore the same face, held himself apart from everyone and everything.
Mr Wolf poured Benny a drink and handed it to him.
‘No, Benny, I thought it useful to talk about God with someone I trust not to tell anyone.’ he said.
Benny went to say like a confession but remembered his girlfriend’s advice and bit down on his tongue. The scotch stung him, but he kept his impulse under control.
‘Mr Wolf.’ he said.
Ernest shook his head.
‘No, Benny, call me Ernest.’ he said.
It was the start of a great friendship. They held one another’s confidence for five years before a stroke took out Mr Wolf and left him bedridden. Benny took half a million from the Garcia Cartel to hold a pillow to his friend’s face, but as he felt him relax. Benny was glad at the end, it was down to him. Tears ran down his face as he leaned over and whispered into Ernest’s ear.
‘The bullet found you.’ he said.
Benny recognised himself in the ordinary men who shoved Ernest’s family into the streets, and it had killed his own faith. As Ernest died, part of Benny died with him. The rest of it followed a week later when the Garcia Cartel decided Benny was too expensive to keep around.
It was on a train out of the city, Benny had sat in first class, which made him easy to find. When the three men, not much more than boys, closed the doors behind them, Benny smiled. They were competent, and they promised to be quick.
His bullet had found him, too.
He looked forward to telling Ernest about it.
Sarah looked out the window, her thin, pale hands wrapped around a large mug of hot chocolate. The marshmallows had melted, but she kept sipping it, even with the frosting of melted goo on her upper lip. Martin didn’t mention it to her, deriving a quiet stab of childish pleasure watching it settle on her upper lip before she swiped it away with her tongue.
She looked at him, thanked him for the hot chocolate and turned to look back outside. All he saw was their reflection, distorted and robbed of detail by the overhead lights and the night outside. He turned away with a sigh and went over to the couch, picked up the book and tried to read.
He scowled, knowing she couldn’t see it but felt another burst of malign delight at, to borrow the Italian phrase, biting his thumb at her.
Sarah had it coming.
Responsibility without authority was slavery, Martin believed and the years he had worked, maintained and pursued for a life of stability was such an example. A wealthy businessman, with an attractive wife and she had betrayed him.
With someone penniless in comparison.
Sarah looked out the window.
The chocolate had lumps in the bottom, so it was too weak and she had clumps of damp powder on her teeth. He had sulked over to the couch, and it was a relief. She was accustomed to his sullen silences, a small but anxious cloud of self-reproach and covert contracts never fulfilled. His squat, little body had softened out around the middle and wisps of hair clung to the side of his head. A perfect catalogue of his flaws was hers with a single thought.
She hears the splash before the quinine comes to her across the room. He’s having a drink, she thinks. It is his excuse for his inability to get an erection, or why he slept in the spare room most evenings. Sarah ached for comfort but he denied it to her, long before she ever sought anyone else.
At least, she tells herself that.
The first time she saw herself through John’s eyes had been in a bookshop. She ordered from the internet, but when she had met her mother for lunch, she had an hour spare before Martin came home and walked into the Book Hive.
The newer titles reminded her of how sparse her inner life had become. She was about to leave, unable to bear the sharp edge of her insight.
Which was when she saw him.
Warm, brown eyes. An awareness equidistant between the faint glimmering of need and a wry, playful hunger. Some white in the beard, but clear skin and he had good posture. Her eyes fell to his hands and her stomach flipped with a slow curious interest at his long fingers and the soft, brown curls of hair on the backs of his hands as he held the book.
They said nothing. A small, slow smile from him. A little overbite, but his teeth were white and his lips were full and the colour of fresh salmon.
Shaved head, which lent him an arrogance she found compelling. He followed her eyes.
Their words were ineffective jockeys riding vast primal beasts of want, stirred into being and her interest became an amusement.
She was open about being married as much to test his reaction. He smiled and asked none further.
They exchanged numbers. It all felt inevitable in hindsight. The free market of ideas, and this one, breaking a cardinal, ancient tenet.
They went to his, coupled with a ferocious energy which she hadn’t enjoyed since her twenties and he reintroduced her to her body and its capacity for joy with amused mastery and invention.
John never specified what he did for a living. She saw him writing a lot, and he travelled. A consultant, he said. He listened more than spoke, his implacable strong fingers running along the soles of her feet.
The curve of her buttocks.
She had a drawer of toys at his, plus some underwear she never wore for her husband.
They wrote to one another, bought the letters with them and left them in a lacquered box he made for her. A present she could not display, but it spoke to her heart in a way nothing her husband gave her ever could.
Not even the fucking car, she thought.
She was lost in a fog of hormones. Sarah missed the battered Ford Escort which followed her drive from home into the city.
Deaf to the small click when she called him.
Blind to the short, dark man who left the restaurant just after them and tucked a small leather notebook into his coat pocket.
Mute when she came home and found Martin sat there, flushed with indignation and gin as he slapped the manila folder on the coffee table.
She wouldn’t get a thing in the divorce.
He would get custody of the children.
Martin was an awful husband but an excellent businessman.
A sense memory came to her, cruel in its beautiful clarity. John on top of her, looking into her eyes with a hunger which made them dark whilst his fingers curled around her throat. She blinked it away as tears came.
After that, it was a negotiation.
She finished it by email. He made her delete and block his number from her phone. Martin walked her between the computer and the phone like a recalcitrant child.
Martin said he would have John hurt if she saw him again.
Or worse. He did business with some Polish construction companies. Men who were directors on paper but thugs in person. They would understand his anger, and act to help him. It was the closest he had come to potency for years.
Her worst fear was John coming to the house. Yet each day he didn’t, hurt even more. She held her children more, but it didn’t take from the anguish.
The cottage was his idea. Her sister had the children and been the one person she told about John. Lucy had never liked Martin, but loved her sister enough to listen saying nothing.
They didn’t have sex. He was enjoying his anger too much to allow himself the pleasure and the thought of having him inside appalled her. Talking things through, they agreed.
It had been silence for most of the evening. He communicated his disdain through his glances and the theatrical sighs which he did in between drinks.
He decided he would go through with it.
Lucy could have the children. He’d claim insanity and there was enough stashed offshore to keep the children until he got out. Wiping her from the face of the earth was a simple business decision. He had negotiated a deal which no longer benefited him.
She was so fucking beautiful and he disgusted her. His weakness burned like acid in his chest. He got up from the sofa and went to the bedroom. Sarah sighed with relief and kept looking out of the window.
There was a flash of a headlamp and then more of the damp dark kissing the windows.
It was small in his hand. Heavy and cold but it sat in his palm and when he curled his fingers around it, his cock stiffened with an electric urge as he opened the cylinder and checked the load. Six rounds.
He had perfume to confuse the gunshot residue. A revolver meant he could pick up the casings, dispose of them without incriminating himself.
A drive to the shops to get milk. She would have been alone in the cottage.
There had been burglaries along the coast. Bored teenagers, they said.
But, Martin had decided, what if they weren’t?
Even if he did time, it wouldn’t be long and he had resources. Friends in high places.
Low ones, too. His heart thumped against his ribs. Martin brightened and swelled as he left the bedroom.
She screamed when she saw the gun in his hand. His grin was a death rictus and his chin shone with a glaze of gin-scented saliva.
If only she had been looking at him.
Martin had time to turn before he stared into John’s eyes, no longer warm as something caught him in the windpipe. John’s leg swept his feet from under him.
The floor smacked him between the shoulderblades as his finger squeezed the trigger.
John let go, clutching his left ear from where the gun had gone off. Sarah saw he was wearing black leather gloves which shone from the rain outside.
A pane of glass shattered and Sarah felt something splatter her cheek.
She fell forwards, crying out but moving towards John.
He staggered for a moment before he looked at her. He nodded before he turned around and drove the heel of his right boot into Martin’s sternum then onto his left wrist. Martin wheezed his protest before the slick crack of his bones breaking made him scream as much as his empty lungs allowed. The gun hung from his useless fingers but John stamped on his hand twice more just to make sure.
John knelt over and drew out a pen from inside his jacket and hooked it through the trigger guard before he retrieved a clear plastic bag and slipped the gun inside. Martin gurgled as he aspirated bloodied scraps of cartilage. John stood up and sealed the bag shut.
He turned and looked at Sarah.
‘You ok?’ he said.
She touched her cheek. Her fingertips came away wet with her blood and her knees were hollow as he put the bag on the floor and unzipped his jacket. She collapsed into his embrace, warm fur and muscle against her. It was like cool water on a hot day and she looked past him as her husband twitched out his last breath on the wooden floor.
‘What did you do?’ she said.
He took off his jacket and put it around her.
‘Go wait in the hallway. Touch nothing and wait for me.’
She said his name. He moved with an experienced economy as he lent over Martin before glancing over his shoulder.
It took only twenty minutes. He came to her and found another coat for her to wear.
‘Your sister will vouch you were there after the kids were asleep. You left him here because he was drunk. You called an Uber and he will testify you were upset and had a mark on your cheek from where he struck you.’
She shuddered and wrapped her arms around herself. He put his hand out to her and she took it.
‘He bought the gun a few days ago. Saw him leaving and did the percentages.’
‘What percentages? I don’t get it, John, you don’t know things like this.’ she said.
His eyes shone with a quiet, cold light.
‘With you, I got to come away from all that.’ he said.
She took a deep breath and fought tears.
‘I can’t believe he bought me here to fucking kill me. The cunt.’ she said.
He put his arms around her.
‘We need to go.’ he said.
The bike was outside. He passed her a helmet and she slipped it on.
The cottage compressed as they rode away. His jacket was warm from his skin and he smelled of the dark tobacco he smoked. She wrapped her arms around his waist and pressed herself against him as he opened the throttle up on the bike.
She had it coming, she told herself and ached to see her children again. Meanwhile with her arms slipped around his taut waist, she leaned into John’s back as the cottage grew smaller and flickered with activity.
They knocked out the lights in the hallway. The glass from the lightbulb crunched under her boot and she heard someone moving towards her and the palm strike to her nose, feeling it crunch and then the knife punching through her vest. She falls back, bangs the back of her head. She didn’t get to draw her gun.
She came in low, drove the tomahawk into the meat of his thigh and dragged it down. There is an artery there, and he was dead before she went up the stairs.
The shotgun came as a surprise and the force of the round slammed her back down the hallway.
Next time, she had the revolver up, squeezed off a clean shot which clipped him in the temple before he brought the shotgun up. His blood and brains made a comma shaped mark on the wall behind him. She looked back at the bodies and crept up the stairs.
She died twice before she shot through the floorboards with the shotgun, took out two people before she walked up, cruising on adrenaline like a migrating bird on the thermals. Every swallow tasted of copper as she cut down a young man who pointed a cheap revolver from a doorway at her.
He fell onto his side, stared out at nothing. Imogen had been at the last Thanksgiving turkey hand out, he couldn’t have been over ten sporting a swollen lip from another of his mother’s endless loop of men and she’d gone into the apartment, shot out a hard right which took him by surprise, gave the kid a twenty and warned his mother if she saw the boy with so much a frown, she’d come back and fuck her up.
That had been before she’d volunteered for the enhancement programme, laid in a hospital looking at three dimensional images of her brain and body as the doctors explained where they were cutting and why.
The implants in her brain. Carbons in her bones. Artificial muscle grafts and fullerenes to strengthen her and heighten her reflexes.
She was recovering from a knife in her gut when the man from the government visited her. He smelled of the curry he’d eaten for lunch and he had a spot on his cheek where he had missed it when shaving. He discussed her record, her former military service.
Policing was becoming militarised and once the military had installed the enhancive program, deploying them in Venezuela, it became a matter of time and public acceptance.
Politics was downriver from culture and culture was downriver from biology. A woman officer was good optics and the man explained it all in a warm, soft voice which cut through the fog of painkillers and antibiotics. She was thinking about the box cutter digging through the skin of her stomach, how her last thought had been if she lived, she’d never be able to wear a bikini again.
Two years later, she walked into the squad room, claps on the back and hard hugs, the wary light in the eyes of her crew as she sat with them.
Imogen closed her eyes, visualised the teeming mist of the valley and the warm, damp earth beneath her feet. An image of tropical perfection, part of her meditative practice as she ignored the rumble of the road beneath her feet. The darkness was a blanket draped around her shoulders, and she sank into it as they drove to the warehouse.
Her crew were quiet, saving their nerves for the job.
The car stopped and she felt a hand at her shoulder. Imogen opened her eyes and smacked her lips.
She knew her enhancements frightened them and she compensated by going on point. It kept them alive, and grateful for having her there. Detective Imogen Capaldi was better than any vest, any gun but they didn’t know the cost she paid to be a better breed of cop.
Imogen got out the car, breathed in the warm, dank air of a summer midnight in New York and looked at the scarred front door of the drop house. Precognition ran its nails down her spine as she checked her revolver and looked at the rest of her crew.
They asked her if she saw their deaths but she shook her head.
It was what she told them if they pressed her.
She knew it would be another eight years, defusing a dirty bomb planted in Grand Central Station, without a child or a family to mourn her passing. The job would bury her with reverence, but it was no comfort against feeling her flesh melt on her bones from the brutal waves of radiation.
She smiled and nodded towards the building, watched the future roll towards her as she smiled and went to face it.