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The Heart of a Coyote

 
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Billy Yahzzie
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 02, 2017 1:55 pm    Post subject: The Heart of a Coyote Reply with quote

(Thank you to Glenn Douglas)

Billy came from New Mexico with the heat on her heels and the backs of her thighs, baked into her skin and browning her hands. It was hard for her to turn her back on a sun like that. Even in the height of Winter, it made demands, thinning her wardrobe out until it consisted of shorts, tank tops, and old, butter-soft jeans that didn’t soak up the heat the way new denim did.

But as she sat down on the crumbling concrete stoop of the waystation -- with old Em inside chewing on the ends of a straw like he’d done for the past decade, flicking his gas pumps on and off for traffic that consisted only of phantom memories -- it wasn’t New Mexico she missed, but Montana. The entire summer had been spent there with another hunter she knew only as Dan, sniffing out then snuffing out an upstart clan of rattlesnakes. The sky was as big as she’d always heard it was. The clan less organized than they’d been told it was.

Billy and Dan spent three weeks tracking them south through the Flathead National Forest until starvation and disorientation drove them outside Blackleaf where Billy and Dan corralled and dispatched them. They hadn’t even had to use bone dust; silver with a white ash chaser had been good enough, and looking at the ragtag lot of them afterward, Billy thought they would have been fine with just the silver. She and Dan split the bounty, hitched back roads to Billings, and there they parted. The last two weeks she’d allotted before her next job were spent off the grid following a whim that kept her eyes turned up to the electric sky and her back to the wind. She thought about what she’d left behind, and whether she’d eventually miss it.

There on the curb of the waystation, Billy unzipped her duffel and pulled out an old barn coat, then walked inside the convenience store while she shrugged it on. The shelves were about as barren as ever. Em continued to flip his switches.

“Back again,” he said, the straw transitioning from one corner of his mouth to the other. “It’s been awhile.”

“I like it that way.” Billy picked up a sleeve of crackers, probably years past their expiration date, and set them on the counter before digging into the pocket of her jeans for the right currency.

“That all?” Em asked, a gnarled finger hovering over the keys of the ancient register. “You staying long or you want to get your fare back now?”

“A Coke too and nah, I don’t plan on being here more than a few days, but I’ll wait. Charlie’s still around?”

“It was down, then back up, then down and back up again. Cursed, probably. There’s better places now, anyway.”

Billy pulled a soda from the cooler, cracked it and took a sip. Didn’t taste the same in cold weather. “I’ll keep that in mind,” she said, waving over her shoulder as she picked up her duffel and headed outside.

She well knew the path from Em’s to Charlie’s, but she didn’t want to be retracing her own old footsteps back there, or to the Dragon, or to anywhere else in the city, really. Crunching through shattered glass and dirty snow, Billy ignored the wind’s cries and reconsidered the job no less than ten times until the rubber soles of her boots scuffed and slid over the floorboards that would lead her into Charlie’s.

By then all her excuses had run away, and she pushed through the door with a stubborn frown that felt like it’d take hours to thaw. She took in the patrons casually while unwinding her scarf and then headed towards the jukebox. Standing in front of it, her fingers rested lightly on the buttons while she listened to what the walls told her. Not everyone who'd passed through here lately was a stranger to her. But she wasn't here to for a reunion, either. After a few minutes spent watching the blur of movement behind her in the machine’s dingy glass, she turned for the bar, meeting every eye head on that attempted to meet hers.

Billy’s hair was coal black and loose, shapeless and wild from the wind. She gathered it up in a black mamba coil that she draped over the back of her neck as she pulled out a stool with the toe of her boot and sat. A line of pictographs burned into her skin traipsed up and down one wrist, exposed by the missing button on the cuff of her sleeve. On her left hand, she wore an assortment of silver rings inlaid with turquoise and mother of pearl. Her right hand was empty save for the pitted and scratched wedding band around her middle finger.

Once she sat, out came a folded section of newspaper that she lay atop the bar and flattened out with the side of her hand.

A faded blue shirt that was turning grey stretched over Glenn’s chest. His arms and the skin under the shirt were a Pollock painting of scars and wounds fresh and old, some that had never quite healed right and others that had only just stopped bleeding. He moved with a stiffness that suggested sore muscles and bones, but his boots were still heavy and loud on the floor behind the bar as though daring anyone to accuse him of being infirm. A hand that was made of gnarled knuckles and cracking, dry skin passed over the bar and dragged a dirty cloth in its wake to smear away drops of beer and condensation left over from a recent patron who'd taken his leave of the place. His hair was the kind of wild that came from going just a little too long without a cut and not bothering to brush for a few days and his jaw was covered in a coarse coating from a beard he'd stopped shaving a week or so back. His eyes were hooded with half-fallen lids as she approached the jukebox and his jaw tightened in a way that strained his neck.

A familiar tune came on and he scowled at it.

"You drinkin?"

His back was to her, to the smell she brought and the feeling of a hot sun and endless sky. His back hunched a little like he was bracing against the force of some phantom come to take him back to the plains with roving bands of coyotes, where blood and gunpowder tainted the air with their metallic acrid odors and drove men to do terrible, wicked things to survive.

“Sure,” she said, working her sleeve back into place and tucking it tight on the ends around her wrist. Glenn passed for a bartender just fine for the most part, according to Billy’s eyes. It was the scent of him, and the way he moved that wouldn’t sit still in her mind. Ideas danced on the edge of her vision and the tip of her tongue, waiting to resolve into something solid she could pinpoint to her own satisfaction. In the meantime she played tourist, scoping the black and white print of headlines to see what kind of trouble was stirred up in the city these days. It was when he turned his back to her that she drifted again, studying how his shoulders hunched and the slope of his spine like there was a message in the way it curled. Her eyes gained a flinty edge and she tipped them down at the paper again. “Coffee black, and a shot of Jameson, thanks.”

By the time Billy looked up again, she’d rinsed the vinegar from her expression and replaced it with a subtle curiosity that had her sweeping another look over the bar to the tables behind her, and then back again.

Glenn turned to examine the coffee maker for a moment and flicked a switch. It started to rumble and bubble a little, and he poured fresh water into it using the decanter and replaced a filter and scooped in a handful of coffee grounds. He stepped aside to slap a palm onto the bar and drag away a fistful of dollars left behind by a man who was just standing to leave.

"So long," the man said.

"Hm," Glenn grunted back. He punched the till open and dropped the cash inside, not bothering to take the tip. Then he leaned against the back bar and set the room with a steely gaze that wandered from person-to-person and sought out potential troublemakers or anyone trying to step out on their tab. It was an easy job with the place so empty.

Billy craned her neck to watch what looked to be her sole companion at the counter as he zipped up his coat and left, the cold rushing in to bite at her cheeks when he opened the door. Her boot knocked against the underside of the bar once, then two more times, and she licked her thumb before leafing to the next section of the newspaper. As she folded another page back, she lifted a sudden, keen-eyed look to Glenn. Her eyes were a warm, liquid brown, a height-of-summer-sunshine captured in the lambent gold striations.

“How long have you been working back there?” Billy asked, part genuine curiosity and part upholding the conversational traveler bit. She followed the commotion of his hands, the violence in them, as if it was a spectator sport. She thought the way he looked out over the bar could scour the gunk from the bottom of a frying pan.

"Bar opened at eleven," he glanced at her briefly, refusing to meet her keen-eyed gaze as his own continued past her and lead his head and eventually his body in a turn that put him in front of the coffee maker again. He grabbed a mug and gave it a brief inspection for dirt or dust, then filled it with black coffee and poured a shot of Jameson. They were set down in front of her.

Despite laws to the contrary, despite warnings and the insistence of Madison, Glenn still wore a gun at his side when he worked the bar. It was an old thing, the sandalwood grip polished and worn and polished again. The dark gunmetal gleamed dangerously, the cylinder seemed a heavy thing and dangerous enough on its own without the six .45LC bullets chambered inside. The hammer was cocked back in the holster like he expected trouble and needed to be ready to shoot almost before the gun left that oiled leather housing.

"That long, huh?" The quickness with which his glance landed on her and took off again shook loose the first real smile in days. Not that it was a particularly friendly smile, and it seemed mostly directed at her own internal thoughts rather than aimed specifically at Glenn, but it melted the rest of her frown away. Billy picked up the mug he sat down before her, took a sip that scorched the roof of her mouth and set it back down. She wasn't any kind of connoisseur, so strong worked just fine. The shot was left alone for now, though she pulled it closer.

She'd seen the gun, of course. Might've seen it before she saw--really saw--the man himself, but it wasn't something her gaze tripped over or returned to frequently. "You don't seem much like the bartending type." Another sip. "More of a dock worker type, slinging boxes. Starting trouble rather than listening to it from the mouths of others." She hummed thoughtfully, leaving only space enough for another breath before asking, "What's around here besides the Dragon in terms of places to stay that aren't expensive hotels?"

"Don't much care for the ocean. Prefer to keep my distance," he grabbed a bottle of beer that had been sitting on the back bar for some time, its perspiration long since dried. He drank the room temperature drink without expression, his eyes returning to Billy at the question. "I part time as the bouncer, too," as though that would put her curiosity at rest.

"Cheapest is the Penny Moon down the road a ways. If you take the street and head west you'll get there eventually. It's the building that towers up on dead limbs and looks ready to keel over."

Page B4 had been trapped between her thumb and forefinger for awhile. Billy looked down, flipped the page, then wiped the ink on the thigh of her jeans.

"Good to know. You ever stayed there yourself?"

"Yup."

"Alright," she said, and let that be the endcap on the subject of the Penny Moon, Glenn’s work history, and the conversation in general, maybe, because after that she picked up her mug again and curled over the newspaper.

Glenn frowned at his hands and rubbed fingers over worn knuckles. Then he stepped out from behind the bar, walking over to the jukebox that was still warbling out the latest tune. Kneeling down, he unplugged the machine and went over to a table with a pair of men turning gray in the head who were stooping over a bottle of rye.

"Bar's closing," he told them. They began to argue but Glenn took the bottle and went over to the door. He said the same to another man he passed along the way, and soon the paltry crowd was herded up and out the door.

Billy pulled out her phone as Glenn left the bar behind, checking the clock, and kept it on the surface of the bar while he went about his business. Her fingers moved rapidly over the screen before she darkened it and turned it upside down on the old wood countertop.

As he bent down and unplugged the juke, Billy turned a look over her shoulder. "You're shorting me the opportunity to pick a song." After rooting around in her pocket and coming up with some coins, she set them on the counter. "What do I owe?" The shot was still a bystander, but her fingers were sliding closer to a full commitment.

The door locked as the last patron left and his gun came from the holster. He pointed it right at her stomach, his arm bent to hold the gun roughly level with his midsection.

"You smell like trouble," he said, "So you give me some answers and then you go."
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 03, 2017 1:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Billy’s chin pointed down toward the barrel of the gun. "I'll give you one answer up front: you put a single bullet in me and you won't live to see the other side of these four walls." Her features hardened, all traces of sunlight and open country left behind.

"And I may or may not be trouble, but I know for sure you are, Glenn Douglas. So why don't we make a deal. You give me the answers I want, and I'll probably give you some in return. We can part ways and go back to being virtual strangers."

"I already walked on the other side," he said. "I ain't afraid of doing it again. Start with your name. What is it?"

"Nice to know. No one'll feel bad about sending you over again, then." Her chin tipped up just as the corners of her mouth did. "Billy Yahzzie. I was hoping to keep it to myself for a little while longer. But here we are."

"My turn. How long have you been back in the city?"

"What's that matter to you?"

"If you just hopped off the turnip truck the other day, then I suspect you're not going to be much use in regards to any further questions I have, in which case we can just skip ahead to Part B, which is probably going to be less than pleasant for one or both of us. It's hard to say, though. So answer the question or don't,” Billy said, “In the end, it might not matter either way."

"Been back after a fashion for the better part of a year I suppose."

"What's your interest in me?"

"Alright, good, we're still on track then. It happens that my interest isn't really in you—though you're an interesting side dish in your own right, considering the bounty on your head. But I don't plan on spending that long here and I'd guess you to be more trouble than you're worth. I'm looking for a woman named Bethany. Skinwalker." Billy’s eyes fixed on Glenn for any sign of recognition, any flinch, any twitch.

"Bethany what?" his face was stone, all hard lines and dark shadows.

"Bethany Martinez. Only Bethany associated with the Sarcina that I've ever heard of." She looked directly back at him as if she might see between the lines and behind the shadows. "I'm going to shoot this Jameson now," she warned him as her fingers slid forward and around the base of the glass.

That broke his stoic visage. Glenn frowned deeply at the word Sarcina, something he'd not heard on many lips even when the group still went by that name. He didn't lower the gun though, ignoring her warning as he moved on. "Why you lookin for Bethany?"

She followed through with the Jameson, knocking it back efficiently, exposed arch of her throat tan, a simple leather cord visible that disappeared behind the second button of her shirt. When she was done, she held the empty glass close at eye level, looking at the bottom like doing so would summon up another round. After a few beats, she lowered it and replaced the empty foreground of the bar's surface with the rugged terrain of Glenn's face. "I thought we might catch up on our girl talk," she shrugged."What's your interest in it?

"Well..." Glenn leaned his shoulder against the door, still keeping the gun trained on Billy. "Ain't many who know that name or connection," he said. "And I've had more than a few run ins with her ilk and the people who might come looking for her. So tell me the *** truth."

Billy watched Glenn’s lean take shape against the doorframe, squinting at the mass of shadow that didn’t fall quite right behind him. On the edges of the room, the windowpanes rattled a warning that earned a glance before she settled on Glenn again. She wasn’t much for winter, but the wind listened all the same, whipping itself into a howl that charged around the corners of the building. Her thumb ran back and forth along her jaw. “I’m after her head. Actually, I don’t intend for there to be much of anything left of her when I’m done. She’s marked and she’s left a hell of a mess in her wake. You can go ahead and tell her that if the two of you are friendly. I can manage her head start. You want to point me in her direction, that’s great, too. Either way, it’s about time for me to be going, so figure out if the next shot’s going to come from your gun or a bottle and let’s get to it.”

That thin line that was his mouth parted and showed a sharp smile. "You want her head, huh?" he pushed from the door and holstered the gun. Glenn crossed the room with a few long strides and went back behind the bar to punch at the register, tallying up the cost for the coffee and shot of Jameson. He set a bill down in front of her, leaning with his palms flat against the bar and his arms spread wide to hold the burden of his weight.

"You're a *** hunter then, ain't you? Bethany's been dead a while now."

Billy didn't budge, either in body or expression. Maybe there was a barely perceptible movement at the corners of her eyes. Wasn't quite a flinch, but it added a certain stoniness to them. She flicked a look down at the tab and added a coin to the stack she already had on the counter. "Says who, you? You see her yourself?"

The coins were scooped into a waiting hand and dropped into the till. His smile grew sharper, wider, and more violent. "I saw her die, yeah."

"You have any proof of that?"

"Not really," he shrugged. "The Sarcina's dead and gone, girl. Hexx's all that remains and they're just a shadow of what they used to be, too. Don't know where you came from but you wasted your trip. Bethany's been dead and gone a while now, I ate her myself."

Billy didn't want to be there any longer. It wasn't even the plethora of things that seemed off about him, she didn't think, and not something she could categorize or calculate in her current state, but she suspected she'd pinpoint it later. "I guess I did," she said, in a low and slow sunset drawl while she slid from the stool and turned for the door. She hadn't even gotten around to taking her coat off.

It took her one step and half of a second for impulse to kick in and uproot her cool, and then she was turning with the thud of her heart, back to the counter and the sullen cloud of a man behind it. She moved faster than she should have, faster than she needed to, probably, one palm splaying wide on the bar for leverage while the other made a vicious fist that she aimed in an arrow-straight shot for the bastard's face. She didn't care if she landed halfway across the bar or behind it. Her thought processes led her only as far as putting an end to his smile.
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Billy Yahzzie
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 06, 2017 1:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The gleam in his eye suggested he saw it coming. She was fast and so was he, not fast enough to move out of the way of the punch, though. So he took it on the chin with a crack that made his teeth gnash together and the echo in his head hurt, and then just as fast he grabbed her arm and pulled using the forward momentum that had already half-pitched her across the bar to drag her the rest of the way across and into the rows of bottles and shelves behind it. And he laughed.

Billy wished she had taken off her coat. It dragged in the air around her, the weight of it over her shoulders small but perceptible as Glenn wrenched her to the other side of the counter. The edges of the shelves hit her shoulder blades and low back, and she bowed outward as if caught in a spasm while bottles and glasses crashed around them. She grabbed wildly for what she could, knowing damn well none of it would be what she really wanted to send hurtling in his direction. Whatever it was that ended up in her free hand was decently heavy, smooth in her hand, and glanced light off its side. That was enough for her, and she followed the arc of it with her own rebound, throwing her weight toward him. His laughter hit her ears like shards of glass.

His body angled so that it was a smaller target and he bent one knee, his foot slipping out behind him to bring his shoulder level with her chest. As she came crashing into him with an upraised bottle of something stiff he held an arm up in front of his face to protect it from broken glass and whatever else might come his way, and he hurtled against her with all the force he could muster. The sounds that escaped him were grunts of effort, of amusement, and something a little more guttural and feral. Glenn wasn't afraid to hit a woman, and he proved it when, following up the shoulder-rush, his fist came up in a curving jab aimed at her gut.

Billy had been hit by more than a few men in her day, had a knack for getting pissed off or pissing off, maybe. Some hit harder and some with less force than the sharp side of Glenn's shoulder greeting her sternum and then the knuckles that settled high in her ribs. Broken: one at least, likely two. She could tell by the way that side wanted to collapse and curl in upon itself. A grab for the collar of his shirt was meant to both keep herself upright, in spite of the way her feet scrabbled on the glass, and also to pull him closer while she freed her other arm and dropped it low around his waist. With the last of the breath that Glenn's fist hadn't knocked loose from her lungs, Billy reached for his gun.

"Woah there, girl," he grabbed a fistful of hair and tried to disentangle himself from her while swatting at her freed arm whenever it came near his gun.

She didn't hit like a girl, but she didn't exactly fight like a guy, either. It was some mixture of feminine wiles and resourcefulness, the grit of the inexhaustible and the stubborn influence of a couple of older brothers. But long hair would always be a vulnerable point, and the knot his fist made of it pulled at Billy’s scalp fiercely. The tendons running the column of her neck rose in sharp relief, the flash of her eyes was like twin lightning strikes as she grimaced. Glenn pulled her out of reach of his holster, but she was able to keep the grip on his shirt.

Abruptly, the tension streamlining the rest of her body dropped into the base of her spine. She went a little lax in his grip, all but the hand attached to his shirt. Billy reached again, not with her hand this time, but with the spirits she kept closest: the nameless guide and those she called by instinct. She was a virtual magnet that way and now, now she reached for what she'd felt in Glenn—the animalistic and the primal darkness alike—she wasn't picky at this point. Whatever she got ahold of, she meant to tear just beyond the borders of his body before slamming it back inside of him.

He was just about to let go and push her away from him when he felt something stirring in the air, a sensation he didn't know the meaning or origins of. Glenn never really managed to wrap his head around that spooky hoodoo ***. Like Father Winter's cold hands he felt a lance of ice that started at his heart and spread to the bones in a flash of pain so intense and so fast that he didn't have time to register it before some unseen force slammed him back. He lost his footing on the ground slick with spilled drink and uneven with broken glass and fell back as she got a hold of that something inside of him.

What Billy grabbed was a wrongness so foul and alien that it shouldn't be. It shouldn't have existed, shouldn't have been attached to anything of this world or any of the countless others just like it floating on in the black of the universe. It was old, dying, dead and it twisted everything that it came into contact with. It was an evil Glenn knew well. It was the evil of the west, of the Sarcina, the Hexx, Bethany and Leo and Jimmy the Shadow; a remnant of a bygone era, a dark passenger he thought he'd finally been able to put down.

"***," his breathing was haggard, like she didn't knock the wind out of him but had reached right through his flesh and bone to squeeze his lungs shut. The darkness came and went and he was left lying on the floor with shards of glass sticking into his hands and arms and a coldness in the pit of his gut that was entirely unrelated to the wallowing self-pity he'd been shamelessly indulging in since the turn of the new year.

Glenn Douglas was always a simple man, though. A man of habit, a man of action. And a man of violent leanings. So he did what he did best when thrust into a situation outside of his understanding and control. He drew his gun.

Time slipped by Billy, melted and stuck to her shoulders like hot glue. Suffocated her when she inhaled. And then she lost it all together. For how long she wouldn’t know, until the lip of the bar above her and the shards of glass on the floor crackling beneath her palm swam back into focus. A handful of seconds, maybe. What filled the moments in between was a dark vacuum of frigid cold and scorching fire, the sensations braided around each other in a nameless torment that seized her limbs. She’d never known anything like it, but she despised it—feared it even—immediately.

Her coat hung half off her shoulder and she must have bitten into her own lower lip because the dampness she felt there was warm and metallic when she sucked at the skin. The scent of singed hair wafted up to her, and Billy realized with a jolt that it was coming from her. Pain flowed into the cracks of understanding, peeling her lips back from her teeth in a red grimace. The toe of Glenn’s boot was in her periphery as Billy wrenched the sleeves of her jacket free, breath coming first in a gasp so loud it could have sucked the rest of the air from the room, and then in shuddering heaves as fire crawled from her hand to her wrist. She swore would not add her voice to the ragged heave of her chest.

Once the coat was off, Billy ripped at her left sleeve until the skin lay exposed. There was no fire there, no apparent origin for the burn, but the first three rows of pictographs were singed black. The fourth looked soon to follow. Billy’s eyes were wide and wild, fingers scrabbling for the knife she had in her belt. Its handle was plain, the blade gleaming and finely etched with symbols interwoven within a larger pattern.

The edge of the blade landed neatly against the blunt ends of the markings that made up the fifth row. Her skin was thin there, marked with the tributaries of two larger veins that throbbed ominously. The silver sank until a thin streamer of red filled in to create a boundary line. Or so she hoped. What came after that, she didn’t know. She hadn’t encountered indecision like this in months. The blackness that came out of Glenn felt like an oily residue on her skin, the inky fingerprints of something damned and lost, and she knew only that she wanted it gone.

Billy didn’t see the gun in Glenn’s hands until it was a thin slice of dull metal in the corner of her eye. By then she could only stare at the width of the barrel, unwilling as she was to let go of the knife she held to her arm. If he got her in the head, it wouldn’t hurt. She knew that. It was anticipation that always proved to be the real bastard.

The air around them sizzled and snapped as if negatively charged. “The *** are you?” she snarled.

"You mean aside from bein' royally pissed off?" he spat at the ground and slowly and cautiously climbed to his feet. He watched her move, watched the knife with wary curiosity and didn't move to intervene when she took it to her own flesh. Staring at her a moment longer, Glenn holstered the gun again and reached for a rag lying on the bar, the same he'd used to wipe glasses down with, and tossed it at her. "The *** did you just to do me?"

Some part of Billy was waiting for the fraction of movement that would signal a trigger pull. She could tell by the sag of her shoulders that came when Glenn holstered the gun again. Blood flooded back into the stark white field of her knuckles where they gripped the knife’s handle, and her focus returned there, to that narrow strip of skin paled by pressure and welling up with blood until a hiss filled the air like a campfire doused in water. Whether by dint of the blade or the ribbon of blood, the sensation of fire licking along her arm stopped, a thin tendril of smoke rising from the welt on her skin. The black char remained even when she rubbed a finger over it.

Easing up on the pressure of the blade cautiously, Billy waited another few seconds to make sure whatever had happened wasn’t going to flare up again like a trick candle. Then she swiped the blade across the sleeve of her shirt before returning it to the sheath hanging off her belt.

She picked up the rag that had hit her in the chest and dropped to her lap when Glenn threw it and pressed it to the gash in her forearm for a few seconds before wrapping it there and tucking the ends under.

“I can tell you what I meant to do.” Billy reached for the edge of the bar to stand, grabbing on with the other hand when her boot skidded across a rectangle of glass. “I was leashing that animal I caught wind of when I walked through the door. And then I was snapping that leash for a little emphasis, thinking maybe it’d improve your attitude.”

“But I latched onto something else, didn’t I? And that’s where you chime in and tell me what the hell it was.”

Glenn glowered at her. He knew exactly what it was, he'd felt it time and time again in his run-ins with Leo and his ilk in days lost to the past. Instead of answering he jerked his head toward the door. "Get out."

Glenn's glower was met with a mild expression that didn't change when he barked the order. Whatever sting he'd been capable of before was diminished by the one he couldn't control. It was a good thing, made him easier to dismiss, allowed Billy to entertain thoughts of the waystation, of the dry landscape she'd left behind for dirty slush and a bar filled with ghosts that didn't belong.

Billy bent down to sweep her coat from the ground, the searing pain along the base of her spine a promise of the bruising she'd see there by nightfall. She shook the coat free, tossed it over her shoulder, and spun on her heel. Once she got to the door, she turned the lock and stood in the blast of frigid air that greeted her. A curse welled up in her throat—a warning, too—as she twisted to look over her shoulder. But she saw what she needed to and it was enough to keep her from bothering. The warning was already moot.

She stepped outside and closed the door behind her.
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 31, 2017 10:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Billy woke up as a beam of sunlight crept through a split in the curtains and landed across her forehead. She wished for traveler’s disorientation, for that cotton-soft moment of confusion where she wasn’t sure which (or whose) bed she was in. But she knew exactly where she was. And why.

Billy got up and got dressed, avoiding the mirror above the basin with its fault-line crack running between two fogged halves. She knew what colors painted her jaw and cheek, didn’t need the reflection to know that the bruises had spread like an infection over her back and ribs. A single touch of her hand delivered an assessment of days for her face, weeks for the ribs. That the nailbeds of her left hand were misted at the edges with a dead, gangrenous black was the only thing that worried her. She rubbed the tip of her thumb briskly along the line of them, trying to stimulate blood flow. Nothing.

Not for the first time, Billy cursed Glenn Douglas—and that was the only thing she’d allowed to become attached to his name over the course of two days. The second curiosity started in, she had only to look at the length of her left forearm, where the white scar tissue of ancient symbols had blackened. Billy eyed at the clock on the nightstand. In 10 hours time, she planned to be nothing more than an unpleasant memory. To Douglas and any others she’d encounter along the way.

Having learned well enough from her encounter with Glenn, Billy didn’t plan on leaving the room without a gun that morning. The pistol she snugged up against her hip was a modern, sleek contrast to the antique Glenn leveled on her the day before. The magazine was loaded with bullets tipped in white ash. Billy left her duffel bag on the end of the bed, packed up her few belongings, and locked the door behind her. Stuffing the room key in her front pocket, she ignored the polite “Ma’am,” and hat tip from the pair of gentlemen who stepped aside with her as she exited the Penny Moon and met the daylight.

****

The junkyard had gained some sprawl in the years since she’d last been here—that was the only thing she noticed was different. And the Trash N’ Treasure’s proprietor, when he came shuffling out as she rattled the gate, had a new glass eye, its red crosshairs landing dead center on her forehead as Job smiled.

“I’m not here for a social visit,” Billy said before he could get his jaw cranking. Her fingers curled over the top of the sign warning trespassers against the dogs.

“You never even let me get out a proper hello.” Job’s smile widened to become a humored grin. When he winked, she looked away.

“Because they’re unnecessary with you and me.”

“Alright, so what do you want?”

“That’s more like it.”

“Always was.”

“Mm-hmm. I’ll keep it quick because Dixie’s going to pick up on my presence soon enough and I don’t feel like talking down the end of her shotgun.” Billy gestured that he should open the gate and let her inside, and after eyeing her for a long half minute, his mouth working over silent questions like a wad of tobacco, Job pulled the key from his pocket.

“Her jealous streak has settled down some,” he said as he fit the small key in the lock.

Billy smiled, the first genuine thing she’d done that day. Her fingers dropped from the gate as Job opened it and she walked inside. “That’s what they’ll all say, but it’s not true.”

Job pulled her into a hug that Billy weathered with a stiff spine, teeth gritted against the streak of pain that raced over her ribcage, then they stood and looked out over the yard.

“The Reaper?” Billy figured that was an easy starting place.

“He’s got it.”

“*** glutton, as usual. I just need something to get me out of town a ways and then back today. That’s it.” She set the bar low, but guarded against any hope in the look she sent aside to Job.

Job scratched his forehead and pretended to consider before pointing a thick finger in the direction of an old Datsun pickup resting in the shade. “She’s not pretty,” he said of the old black paint and dayglo orange and yellow stripes that ran along the sides.

Billy shrugged and strolled towards the little truck, glancing over the tires and poking her head in the cabin. “I never really was one for pretty,” she said, her declaration that it passed inspection. She trusted Job on the engine only because time was short.

“That was lucky for me,” Job grinned, large forearm dangling over the hood of the car.

“Don’t start. Dixie hears more than you think she does.” Billy’s chin ticked down at the old machine. “What do you want for it?”

“An explanation.”

“Nope, next?”

Job’s eyes narrowed in thought, and Billy met the little circular red target mildly with a patience she didn’t really possess.

“You’re going out to that place, yeah? Bring me a few buttons back. Haven’t ever seen that level of trippy ***.” Job dug around in his pocket, pulling out a large leather strip from which a dozen keys hung by small clips.

“You’re too old for that ‘trippy ***.’”

“Too old to be worrying about it one way or another, you mean.” Job grinned and handed Billy a key.

“I didn’t say where I was going.” Billy flipped the key end over end in her palm and took a couple of backward steps in the direction of the driver's side door.

“I’ll be telling him I saw you,” Job said, grinning again so guilelessly that Billy retraced her steps, kissed a few fingers and rose up on her toes to smack her hand lightly across his cheek. Job's grin brightened and held.

“Go ahead. I’ll be gone by then.” Billy tucked herself into the cab and listened to the sound of the engine turning. Cranking the window down, she leaned out as the truck crept over gravel to the exit, coal black banner of her hair whipping over cool metal siding. “You can give him another message, though. Tell him I know what he’s up to and that it’s his own funeral.”


Fifty miles of road and a couple of hills later, RhyDin’s skyline had collapsed behind her. What few rooflines rose from the beige monotony of the land vied with unkempt scrub grasses and scraggly trees on one side and lush fields of wind-bent wheat on the other. Billy counted the turnoffs and gravel shoulders. The orange caution tape wasn’t wrapped around the fence post where it was supposed to be, but she spotted it fluttering from the dead limbs of a squat mesquite, orange dye sunbleached to near whiteness. She frowned, counting backward on her fingers, but the tally of days elapsed came up right every time.

After parking the car, Billy walked up to the old archway where a sign used to hang. One of the chain links was missing, the other still hung empty and rusted, no wind from any direction to move it. She dropped to her knees in the dust, leaned over and spat on the ground. Her index finger pulled shapes from the wet dirt, then Billy settled back on her haunches and rubbed her palms together briskly the way her grandfather had taught her to do with kindling. Cupping the pale grey ball of smoke, she leaned forward and blew it over the pictures in the dirt.

Then she waited.

Time passed, the sun moved across the sky, and no one came. After another half hour, Billy stood up and crossed through the archway.

The Datsun, the faded orange ribbon, the symbols in the dirt all vanished, and the desert landscape she expected to stretch in front of her as it had a hundred times before was changed. The air smelled of rot and fire. What little vegetation that had existed before was gone. The desert had the look of a nuclear testing site, all scorch and the scent of flesh burning. Billy’s boots sank a quarter inch into the dirt, each step leaving behind a footprint in black ooze that spread over the ground like cracks on the surface of a mirror.

Billy walked for miles, finally arriving at the settlement only to discover it abandoned. Not that she should have been surprised given the state of everything else. A sourceless flutter of tattered curtains filtered through the empty window of one of the squat adobe houses. A pot hung over a dead fire pit, the contents indeterminate. In the middle of one of the worn dirt paths was a single, hand-tooled leather sandal. Billy dropped to a knee beside it, running her hands over the braided leather, but it had no stories to tell her. The ghosts seemed to have fled along with everything living.

Dena, the old medicine woman’s, house was also vacant, a Navajo blanket tucked neatly into the end of her bed, a book with a broken spine lying open her kitchen table. Billy flipped it over to stare at the cover of a dimestore paperback romance. Then she backed out of the door, refusing to turn until her boots hit the black sand once more.

On the fringes of the settlement, Billy circled the ceremonial grounds where the fires were usually kept perpetually stoked. They were all dead now, hardly even a pile of ash left behind. Near the border of the Western-most pit was a darkened swathe of earth. Billy leaned, touched it, and snatched her hand abruptly back. Then she sat down cross-legged next to it and put her chin in her hand.

A single black feather swayed in a spectral breeze from where it was stuck in a roasting spit. Billy plucked it free, turning it between her fingertips before stuffing it in her back pocket. She sat for another half hour, unsure of what to do next. Nothing would speak to her. Nothing even seemed to be listening. The entire place was no more than bones of a former civilization decaying.

She might have fallen asleep, she’d never be certain. She knew only that she blinked and a rangy shadow peeled from the side of a building in the distance. Billy watched the blurry approach grow clearer until she could make out the stark white fur tufting the coyote’s muzzle. His body was too lean, his ribs visible as he panted. His steps came in a slow stalk. Eyes narrowing, Billy reached for her pistol and aimed it between the animal’s eyes. “Don’t come any goddamn closer unless you’ve got something to say.”

The coyote paused, snout dropping low to scent the dirt in front of him before his head rose and he licked his chops. He took the long way around the ceremonial grounds, staying just on the edge, his eyes locked with Billy’s as he approached. Billy lay the gun down next to her and reached out her hand as the coyote sat. His feet kneaded the ground below, and then he put his nose to her knuckles and chuffed. “Tell me,” she said, and he whined, lying down next to her as her hand fell across the back of his coat. Billy’s eyes closed as he began to speak.

****

The coyote walked with her all the way back to the outpost, then stood staring at the archway as if considering passing through it until Billy gave him a rough shake of her head to dissuade him. “Don’t come this way,” she warned, then stepped from the tar black night through the archway back into blazing mid-afternoon.

Once she was inside the Datsun with the engine cranked, she stared at the faded orange ribbon spread over the dash, then balled it up in her fist and stuffed it in the truck’s ashtray.

After that, she drove back into the city and the Penny Moon.
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Glenn Douglas
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 04, 2017 9:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

[ Thanks to Billy Yahzzi! ]

The wind howled through the Penny Moon; the building wasn't as strong as it had once been. There were holes, cracks, *** weather sealing on the windows that had the floor just beneath them get a little damp in every room as the storm raged on throughout the night. Glenn had lost track of how long he'd spent in that room with Henry and the body of a man named Bill. There was vomit in the air, blood, the smell of death and gunpowder.

Henry was gone. He was alive, and he was gone. Even now Glenn regretted the decision to let the young man live, but he hoped he would heed his words.

You're young enough, Henry. Get you out of this life and you might just live to retire. You understand?

He doubted it, though. They never understood, they all wanted to be rich and famous outlaws. They all wanted to be something dangerous, the boogeyman. Glenn had met the boogeyman, though, and could tell them all firsthand that they were barking up the wrong tree.

"*** amateurs," he said, grunting under the burden of weight that was Bill's bloodied, faceless corpse. He didn't mind the burden, though. He didn't mind the effort, the work that kept his mind off his pain. That's how one gets through the kind of life Glenn Douglas has led. Distractions. To face that pain, to face what has come and what has been taken is to face a monster unlike Leo, unlike the Hexx or the Sarcina. It was the only thing Glenn was afraid of.

So, he hoisted Bill's body down the stairs, he didn't care that his arms and hands were turning red from the man's blood. He didn't care if anyone saw him carry the man out the front door, and he didn't care that dumping his body in the muddy street would raise questions. It was the Penny Moon, and it was his house to clean.

Bill sank into the mud like a boulder. Thunder roared and Glenn stayed out there for a time and looked at the dead man who had killed Madison Rye. This creature, he thought, should have been incapable.

"Here lies Madison Rye's killer," he said, spitting. The water lashed at his body, it soaked him. The storm cleaned Bill's body from his hands and he stayed out there a time longer, watching the dead man as though hoping he might rise up so Glenn could put him down again.

Billy didn’t intend to walk the whole way in the rain, it was just one of those things that happened. It was cold and unpleasant and even with the hood of her coat pulled up, she was still soaked to the bone within minutes.

She’d meant to catch a cab after dropping the Datsun back at the junkyard, but every time she lifted her hand and a cab slowed, she ended up waving it off once it got to the curb. If she thought hard about it, she supposed it was penitence of a kind, and though she’d not consider herself much of a masochist, there were a few times that the drive of the rain stinging her cheeks felt good.

Mostly it gave her time to think, each step fueled by the combustion of anger and hope. By the time the Penny Moon was in sight, she’d formed a loose plan. That it still involved leaving RhyDin behind was one of its few pleasant traits.

In the midst of the storm, the Penny Moon looked like a disaster waiting to happen, an impending wreckage one strong push from collapsing into unsalvageable rubble. It was fitting of the weather, fitting of Billy’s mood, and fitting of the internal lens through which she viewed the man standing out in the mud in front of it.

Coming to a stop seven feet from Glenn and the ruin of a man sinking into the mud, Billy pushed back the hood of her jacket with an impatient hand, swiping at the rain beading over her forehead and blinking through the drops collected on her lashes. Through the dark ooze, she recognized the shirtsleeve of one of the strangers who’d greeted her that morning.

From Glenn to Bill and back again, a stony edge in her gaze when it found a place to settle near the tip of Glenn’s nose. “You’re predictable in your MO, at least,” she said. And with one last glance down at the body, Billy pulled her hood back up and stepped around them both to continue on into the Penny Moon to retrieve the bag she’d left at the foot of her bed.

"Thought you left town," he said, though his words were swallowed up by the rain and wind and thunder. Glenn turned to watch her, met that stone gaze without shame. He knew who he was, had come to terms with that at an age younger than most. Something in her eyes made that sense of self curl inward, recoil.

"He killed Madison Rye," he said, and wasn't sure if that name meant anything to Billy. He didn't turn to follow as she went into the Penny Moon, choosing to instead stay out there with the dead and the mud. Samuel, he thought. That's the second Sam he's let down, dead and stuffed into a dumpster. "Killed my friend," he stepped back under the protection of the Penny Moon's awning, the water pouring off the roof creating a wall between him and the street.

He wondered what would happen to Charlie's and wondered if maybe he should just burn it down like he'd done to Redemption. Did she have a will? Was it something she would leave to someone? Tag, maybe. Her kids. Probably get sold.

For all Billy knew, Glenn was spitting curses at her when she passed him by. She wouldn't blame him, and it was probably evident in her eyes that she was doing mostly the same. The first thing that actually managed to cut through the weather and register to her was Madison's name. Billy went still on the lawn, mud oozing around the soles of her boots, the chatter of the wind vying with the call of thunder. Her frown drove her forward again, wordlessly inside the rickety walls of the Penny Moon where she scraped the mud from her boots against the doorjamb and then disappeared up the stairs.

Returning to the porch, Billy dropped her duffel to the floorboards. She'd changed into dry jeans and a thin, waffle-weave Henley and stood near Glenn, watching the waterfall cascading from the awning. She had no intention of walking back to the way station. This time, she really would take a cab.

"Madison Rye, you said?" she asked, interrupting the noisy whoosh of water. "He get anyone else?"

"Sam," Glenn said. "Penny Moon's owner and proprietor. Found him stuffed in the dumpster 'round back," Glenn was still clutching his gun and staring at the dead man, wondering if he should put another bullet in because he'd let Henry go. Maybe he should go after the boy and kill him anyways.

He reached under his coat for the slips of bullets lining his belt and fed three into modified Dragoon so that it had six again, then he holstered the pistol and ran a hand through his wet hair to wipe it from his forehead.

"Looks like I'm out of a job."

Billy looked over her shoulder as if she could see through the old walls of the Penny Moon to the dumpster in back. Then she looked back at Glenn and his grip on the Dragoon, the tension in his hand, the firm set of his mouth. "Why'd he do it, you know?" she asked, waiting just long enough for Glenn to supply an answer before she trotted down the porch steps and went to crouch beside the body. She rolled what remained of Bill to one side and was immediately sorry. He didn’t have enough face to identify, and what remained was disfigured by mud. Averting her eyes to the soaked sleeve of his shirt and his mud-covered wrist, Billy wrapped a hand around the side of his neck, squeezing cold skin. There wasn't anything left worth listening to in him. Rising again, she walked back to the porch, wringing out the bottom of her shirt and then setting a hand to each hip, mouth twisted pensively.

"They was just robbing the damn place and she happened to be there," he fished a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and a match, but saw that it was all soaked wet and so he tossed them out by the body. "That's all according to some young blood named Henry, anyhow. I believed him."

"There were two of them, then?” Billy asked. “Where's the other one now?"

"He's headed home, if he's smart."

"Did this other guy leave anything behind here?" Vaguely, Billy could recall the face of the man who'd been standing next to Bill that morning when they greeted her. Younger, fresher, features slightly less eroded by the lifestyle.

"Just the money they stole, maybe some other things. I ain't ransacked the room."

"I didn't give him a whole lot of time to pack."

"I'd like to see it for myself. What's the room number?"

"Why?"

Billy didn't want to tell Glenn why. She didn't want to tell him anything at all, so she stood there for a minute, weight shifting from foot to foot on the porch while she tried to tally up the pros and cons of giving him an answer. "I'm curious what direction he's going next, and if he really intends to clean up or if maybe there's something else going on. Your friend Madison's been roaming around with my cousin."

"Your cousin?" he arched a brow. "Who's your cousin?"

Billy pulled the sleeve of her shirt over her palm and continued sopping rain from her face and neck in quick passes. "Guy named Ketch," she said.

"Ketch," he almost laughed. Without missing a beat, Glenn turned and stepped into the Penny Moon, making for the stairs.

Billy yanked her sleeve back into place and started up the stairs after Glenn.

Their room was on the same floor as his. Same as the room he'd shared with Madison off and on as they came and went through town, the same room he'd lived out of for the better part of the last three years. Glenn stood at the top of the stairs and gestured down the hall at the door to Bill and Henry's room, the door thrown wide and the floor outside smeared with red from where he'd dropped Billy's body.

The room smelled like blood, gunpowder, vomit, and soap and water.

"Where they was stayin'," he said, and then he turned down the hall and went to his own room, leaving her to do as she pleased.

Billy slid past Glenn, skin still carrying the strange taint of the desert she'd returned from-- scorched sand and brimstone. The nod she gave him was more curt acknowledgement than gratitude. She examined the blood just outside the door for only seconds before disappearing into the room.

She remained in there just shy of ten minutes, rummaging through bags, blankets, and personal items until she found what she wanted. A comb wrapped in tissue was tucked into her back pocket along with a few other small items.

The sound of running water came from the room, and then the squeak of old pipes as the taps were turned off. Billy stepped around puddles of blood and vomit and back into the hallway, wiping her wet hands along the sides of her jeans. The toe of one of her boots had a few drops of blood on it that she scuffed at with the rubber sole of the other while she stood in the hallway listening, wondering how many other souls were in the place, if any.

Billy stopped in front of Glenn’s room, fingers catching on the door frame, anchor points while she tried to decide if she had anything more to say to him.

Glenn's room was small. The bed not quite large enough for two bodies, the table heavily laden with books and empty bottles of whiskey. He had a chair and a stool to replace the second chair that he'd broken one night some days’ past. The walls were decorated by photographs and newspaper clippings, with hand-written notes scrawled together with an uneven script. Leo Ortiz was the centerpiece of his shrine of dead men, all connections led back to him. He had been, to the common eye, a kindly looking old man. A kindly menace, Glenn had called him. He drew a red X across the man's face after he was put down for good, but he hadn't yet been able to bring the shrine down.

In the distant corner of this wall dedicated to the demise of Leo was an old black and white photograph of a woman with skin too dark to be white but too fair to be anything else, caught in between worlds. She wore a dark dress and was covered from head to toe and had a severe look. Her beauty was the austere kind attributed to the aristocracy, to a great sculpture, something carved of fine materials to resemble a human, but lacking that fundamental aspect that made it whole. This was Bethany, and she too had a red X over her face.

Glenn was flipping through a book. It was half-burned, the cover was leather once upon a time but fires had turned most of it to a black, brittle material. He was surprised it had survived at all. He gingerly flipped a brittle page and tried to read the words written in dark ink, but the smoke infused paper had turned black and he could only just make out the shapes of his great-grandfather's handwriting. He sat on a stool by the window which was opened just enough to let in a cool wind brought in by the storm.

Words never came. Billy was too busy absorbing the somber scene before her as if it were a diorama, the pieces set up to unveil a greater mystery if they were shifted around properly. Glenn on his stool received only a cursory look. It was the montage taking up the wall that captured most of her attention. She moved towards it as if inexorably pulled, her steps slowed by the intensity of her examination as she was scanned each bit of scrawl, every photo. The tip of her index finger settled in the cradle of her cupid's bow and ran back and forth over that small curve while she looked. In spite of the draw, she bypassed Leo after a few seconds and stood before the picture of Bethany. She could guess well enough what the red X's meant.

"Leo too, then?" she asked without turning. From the window, a tendril of breeze separated from the common current and rifled the papers and pictures on the wall where Billy stood.

"December twenty-seventh," Glenn answered, the book in his hand shutting slowly. The paper crackled, the binding split and struggled to stay in place. He knew the old thing was done for, and he knew it was his own damned fault. He set it in his lap and plucked up a half-smoked cigarette from an ashtray on the window sill, miraculously dry despite the raging storm and open window. He had a box of matches set nearby and stole one away to strike up a tiny flame.

"Bethany was some years back, I can't say exactly. Reckon four or five maybe, if that. Died the same way she killed, eaten by coyotes."

Billy touched the edge of Bethany's picture, slid it from one side to the other to see if there was anything of import tucked beneath it. An upward draft of that wayward breeze threatened to rip it from the pin that fastened it until Billy set her palm firmly over the image with a deepening frown.

She moved back to Leo next, swinging a look back over her shoulder at Glenn and the flame that bloomed in his cupped hand. Her eyes caught the light of that small, yellow flame, luminescing briefly as if the coloring in them flared at the same moment the head of the match did. Her gaze dropped to the book in his lap, curious, but not enough to ask about it.

"What will you do next?"


He flicked the match out the window, the fire died before the water ever touched it. Breathing in and then exhaling, a cloud of smoke caught in the wind, he shrugged.

"Find a new job."

Billy turned, putting her back to Glenn's shrine, the double red X's still burning behind her eyelids. She looked at the little leather-bound book, then at Glenn--how he smoked his cigarette, his posture on the stool. Those small tells of a body.

Back to shifting her weight side to side again, Billy’s spine stiffened to curtail the movement once she realized she was doing it. She didn't know why; Glenn didn't make her nervous, only unsettled in a way she couldn't quite categorize. She wanted to linger and root out the source as much as she wanted to go, but she didn't have a decent excuse to stick around any longer.

"What's inside you, that darkness, dark thing, whatever you've taken to calling it? You should see someone about it. There are things worse than death. But you already know that, don't you?" Her feet settled in their decision, and she started for the door. "Sorry for your loss," she said on the way, and though the sentiment wasn't overburdened with sympathy, it sounded genuine enough.

Glenn stood as she turned to face them. He held himself in a manner that was unassuming, when he wasn't putting a hand on the gun at his hip. His shoulders slumped slightly, the arch of his back making his torso appear to collapse in on itself, a concave curve created by an abundance of pressure on those depressed shoulders. He didn't look her in the eye, just scanned the rows of empties on the table as he placed the burnt book down. No luck.

She started speaking and he tensed like he was expecting a fight, the fingers of his left hand twitched in anticipation. He didn't reach for his gun.

"Yeah, well..." he shrugged off the suggestion. "Darkness like that's older than man. It got its hold in me long, long ago. No getting rid of it now," he didn't watch her as she headed for the door. He grabbed a bottle and went over to the window to thrust it open. HIs arm extended, the mouth facing up. The quiet pitter patter of raindrops slapping against it and its wrist followed.

"If your cousin had anything to do with this, he's as good as dead."

The darkness inside Glenn wasn't her fight. Billy reminded herself of that, jaw clenching as if to cement the idea in place when he spoke. Somehow it helped, made her footfalls come easier the closer she got to the door.

Billy paused in the doorway, a quarter turn back to catch him, hand and bottle stuck out the window, his attention there and not on her. She squinted like she was trying to narrow her field of vision, then rolled her eyes. "He's got some of his own comeuppance on the way, I'd think, but as far as Madison goes, that's unlikely. He's crazy about that woman. He'll be back this way soon. Sooner if I talk to him first. I'm debating that part."

Billy made her exit, loping down the stairs and back toward the porch where her duffel bag waited, sagging and weather-damp, on the old metal chair.

"Crazy," he said as she left. "She does -- did -- that to people," he brought the bottle in and had a mouthful of rainwater, then dropped it out and wondered if, when it hit the soft mud, it would break. It did. So he shuttered his window tight and grabbed up an old knapsack. He filled it with clothes and some personal effects, all wrapped up in a blanket to try and keep them dry. He didn't change out of his own soaked clothes, just his shirt, and grabbed his old worn leather coat and shrugged into it. Keys spun around a finger, he checked his guns -- two on the hips, two more in the bag -- and tossed the rucksack of his shoulder.

The rain hadn't let up, not really. But by the time he'd made it downstairs it had gone from a Biblical flood to only a minor natural disaster, so he stepped out onto the porch, tossed his bag down, and pulled the collar of his jacket up as he rounded the building. A few moments later an engine rumbled to life, its growl quiet next to the thunder. He half-walked the motorcycle around to park near the porch, hoisted up a saddlebag, and went to stuff his pack into it. He didn't say a word to Billy in this time.

Billy watched him from the porch in the pervasive silence, finding no reason or desire to interrupt it. The man looked to her like a grave waiting to be filled. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Glenn's laden shoulders disappeared in the growl of bike and thunder, and soon a cab pulled to a stop on the street. Billy walked down the porch steps and got inside, slinging the duffel bag across the seat as she gave the cabbie the address of the way station. She didn't look back at the Penny Moon.
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I go on journeys out of my body and look at my red hands and my mean face and I wonder about that man who's gone so wrong.
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