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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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Glenn Douglas
Adult Wyrm
Adult Wyrm


Joined: 12 Apr 2010
Posts: 206
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Jobs: Gumshoe, Undertaker

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PostPosted: Sun May 07, 2017 1:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Glenn's eyes stung from the water that lashed at them like heavy whips of cold as he drove through the rain, following the cab at a distance. Had he any understanding of common traffic laws he might have thought twice about not using the headlight on the bike, but he was counting on the darkness of the storm clouds and heavily set night to hide him from the cab driver and passenger, and a headlight would give him away for sure in all this darkness. So, he drove after the red taillights with only a vague understanding of the danger he was placing himself in.
It went on until his new jeans were soaked through, but his upper body was kept blissfully dry and warm thanks to the thick leather jacket that stretched across his shoulders. His hair was matted to his face, even as the wind tried to blast it back out of his eyes, and he had to squint past rivulets of water that ran over his eyes. But he didn't crash.

Billy had no intention of looking behind her, not literally and not metaphorically, either. Her attention held tight on the windshield of the cab where streamers of rain poured around wiper blades too small or old to effectively clear the glass of the deluge. The city passed in amorphous blurs and indistinct blobs of colored lights. The cabbie was quiet, as well, his shoulders hunched over the steering wheel as he concentrated on the five feet of road ahead that he could see.

They moved through West End slowly.

In the downpour, the way station appeared as little more than a couple of rectangles of weak fluorescent light. The station's sign had been reduced by burned out bulbs to a single red 'X' that flickered on and off in no particular pattern. The cabbie pulled beneath the rusted metal roof that made a poor umbrella for the four gas pumps it was supposed to protect. Only two of them worked. Or used to. Rain slid from the car, the silence within different now without the insistent drumming of rain. Billy pulled a handful of coins and some bills from her back pocket and dropped them into the cabbie's open hand before grabbing her bag and sliding out of the backseat. She stood there next to the car for a second, looking at old Em inside, then she started in that direction as the cab pulled slowly away.

It was only after the cab driver pulled away and left the way station behind that Glenn walked his motorcycle over to the gas pumps and let it lean on its stand. He ran fingers through wet hair and watched as Billy slipped inside. He went to go lean on the wall beside the door and pulled a cigarette from his jacket pocket and a match, these were blissfully dry. He lit up and waited.

With her bag slung over her shoulder, Billy leaned against the counter, speaking with Em as she handed her fare over to him. For the handful of bills, she gave him, he returned a single bronze coin the size of a silver dollar. His eyes kept flickering from Billy's hand to a spot over her shoulder.

"What?" she said finally, craning her head to look over her shoulder.

"Fella' out there smoking," Em shrugged and dropped the coins in the till.

Billy could only make out a shadowy figure and the orange ember of a cigarette as it rose and fell. Her eyes narrowed as she straightened and headed out, another wave for Em sent over her shoulder. "Don't expect me back anytime soon," she said.

"I never do." She could hear the grin in Em's voice.

The bells on the door chimed as she exited, steps taking her from the light splashed across the building's stoop to the shadows where Glenn lurked. The orange glow of the cigarette deepened the lines on his face. Billy's hand made a fist around the coin within it as she stopped in front of the gunslinger.

"We not done yet? You want to pull your gun on me one last time for posterity?" Her tone lacked the edge to make the words bite like they were supposed to.

"Not quite," he spoke around a cloud of smoke. Glenn took his time in meeting her gaze, his eyes taking a ponderous journey over the lot of the waystation, over the darkened lines of her face all cast in shadow by the storm.

Then he stared at her for a while, unabashed unblinking. Then he looked away and inhaled another drag.

"Bus coming out this way?"

Stubbornness kept Billy stock still under Glenn’s scrutiny. Not even the wind tempted her when it sent black whips of hair across her cheek, nor did she speak until he looked away. Glenn was a man who existed as bullet points on a sheet of paper for her, as both fact and speculation, the latter being the more prevalent. She supposed she was much less to him-- some unknown variable he kept encountering. Whether it was curiosity or boredom or desperation motivating him she couldn't be sure.

The straps of her duffel slipped from shoulder to elbow and were at last caught by her hand just before dropping to the wet cement. Billy found a dry patch of wall alongside him and leaned, looking out over the dark gas pumps.

"It could," she said, "You pay Em enough and he'll find whatever it is you want to pick you up and take you wherever you want to go. That's not my favorite method of travel these days, but to each his own. You have a destination in mind?"

Glenn pushed from his lean and went over to the motorcycle. He dug through the bags, his cigarette stuck to his lower lip, and came out with a pillow case full of cash. This, he dropped at her feet before resuming his lean against the wall. He didn't answer her question. A finger-flick sent ash scattering away, he breathed deep, inhaling the wet air like he might be able to drown himself in it if he tried hard enough. It felt heavy in his lungs.

"I don't pay for things," Glenn said after a time. "My hands ain't meant to hold nothing of value at any rate, nothing to pay with excepting maybe these guns," he tapped a finger against the worn sandalwood grip of one of his old Colts. "But thems all I got left of a lifetime that seems more like dreams than memories. I can't let them go. Tried once, didn't keep."

Billy looked down at the pillowcase darkening as wet ground soaked through cotton. Her brows pinched as she leaned over to retrieve it, a quick, inscrutable glance over at Glenn retaking his lean before she pulled the ends apart to peer at the bills inside. One finger vanished within to stir the bills around, a quick estimate made of what was within, then she withdrew her hand and cinched the fabric closed again.

Billy dismissed everything else he said, all the parts that invited more speculation or might make him more than the piece of paper with bullet points and a bounty tacked on at the end, and stuck to the first part, "Are you asking me to go get you fare somewhere?"

"How much is my head worth these days?"

"A *** ton more than what's in here," she said, hefting the pillowcase.

"Hmm..." he nodded and flicked the cigarette to the wet pavement. "Probably is. You gonna collect?"

"I thought about it," Billy said, degree of her lean diminishing as she stretched a toe out and brought the rubber sole down on the last orange spark of his cigarette.

"I wouldn't blame if you if you did," he said with a half-hearted shrug. "I probably would."

She matched his shrug, though hers had a little more emphasis in it. The motion pulled at the skin stretched over her ribs, an aching reminder of his knuckles. "Yeah, well the weather's not optimal for a showdown, I don't think. And maybe neither am I." Billy blew at a strand of hair caught on one side of her mouth, finally plucking it free with a quick swipe of her hand. She was still holding onto the pillowcase.

"You'd die," he said it so calmly, so simply. Like it was a matter of fact. Not a boast. "I'd hate to have to do that."

"Maybe," Billy said, unwilling to fully concede to him. She did a decent enough job calling him to heel their last encounter, even if she was the one still paying for it. "You wouldn't hate to do it, though. That's a lie."

"I would," he said, his head went back and rested against the wall. He looked at the ceiling of the waystation's overhang, wondering what lives had passed beneath it.

"I'd still do it."

"Maybe," Billy countered again. "But no need to mess it all up with false pretenses that'd you'd hate it."

"You think I like killing folk?"

"I don't think you hate it."

You know I ain't much of a liar, slick."

"What I know--" she said, the rest of the sentence dwindling to nothing, the frayed thread of thought that created it elusive. A curt shake of her head seemed to clear the rest of it away--or maybe she was just shaking off more rain. Billy hoisted up the pillowcase again. It twisted slowly around in the wind. "So what am I doing with this?" she asked.

"I don't really care," he answered, staring out at the dark road leading to and from the waystation. He could only just see its edges under the heavy veil of rain. "Take it, leave it. Take it and shoot me and collect your bounty or take it and leave me here. Take it and take me wherever you're going, I don't really care."

Billy dropped the pillowcase at Glenn's boots, the first step in a series of actions she'd laid out for herself while he was talking. The next step was meant to be around him, leaving him there on the stoop like the carved sentinels posted up at gas stations along route 66. A slender beam of light falling across her hand kept her still, though, gaze dropping to her nails where the blackness had spread, occluding the natural pink undertone. The way she clenched her jaw spread shadows over her lower face. She bent, picked up the pillowcase, and turned to go back inside the station without a word.

She returned, the pillowcase lighter by a couple of ounces, and held up a bronze token. "Give me your guns," she said.

Glenn didn’t look at her. He drew the Dragoons without any measure of grandeur, without flourish. One by one he ejected the bullets from the guns' cylinders. They sounded like metal rain on the wet concrete. Then he offered the pistols over to her, grip first.

By her pause, it was clear Billy hadn't expected an easy acquiescence; even her mouth had parted, readying itself for an argument. The bullets dimpled the sheen of rain collected over the concrete as they fell. She counted them, then dropped her bag, unzipping it and laying the pistols inside. A shirt got tucked around them before she zipped the bag up again and put it on her shoulder. Flipping the coin in Glenn’s direction, Billy stepped off the curb, heading for the side of the building. "Come on."

Snatching the coin out of the air, Glenn pushed from h is lean and followed her. He studied the coin as it rolled across his knuckles, feeling keenly the weightlessness of the empty leather holsters bumping against his hips as he walked. He diverted from her path briefly to return to his motorcycle, removing his rucksack from one of the larger saddle bags, and then went to follow at a calm, measured pace.
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Glenn Douglas
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PostPosted: Tue May 09, 2017 11:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

At this point, Billy had no plan--which wasn't how she preferred to operate; she kept banking on Glenn backing down at some point, which she realized was a mistake in and of itself. Not the first one she'd made with the gunslinger, but another one she could tack onto the growing list. She stood on the curb watching him as he walked over to his bike and pulled out his rucksack, tip of her tongue running the roof of her mouth just behind her teeth, some attempt to dislodge a word that might keep him where he was. Nothing came.

When Billy turned the corner of the building, she felt every step Glenn took behind her as if it was a weight attached to her heels, or a shadow stretching beyond where it was supposed to. She stopped in front of a plain metal door with a metal placard that read "Employees Only." Next to the door handle was a metal box with a slot at the top.

"Have you ever traveled by a portal before?" she asked without looking at him.

"*** portals," he muttered in answer to her question. This, in addition to the screwed-up twist of his expression was as good an answer as she could hope to get. He took a breath like he was bracing himself and rolled the coin over his knuckles again, then twisted his wrist so it landed in the palm of his hand. He reached for the coin slot and pushed it through with a slap of his thumb.

Answer enough. Billy’s coin followed Glenn’s into the dark mouth of the metal box. There was no clink of metal to suggest the coin landed at the bottom of the box as it was supposed to, but a few seconds later came the sound of tumblers reordering themselves and clicking into place. Billy pulled the door open and gestured Glenn inside what amounted to a small room tiled entirely in pale blue squares. There was nothing else inside.

Glenn gave her a wary glance and then stepped through the door. He adjusted the weight of the rucksack on his shoulders and glanced around the room, turning in a slow circle so that he was walking backwards into the center of the space.

Billy didn't give Glenn any more warning than the last half of a hard-edged stare as she shut the door behind them and the overhead lighting flickered and went out. There was a second's worth of what felt like angry wings thrumming against her body and then the lights blinked on again. Unlocking the metal door, Billy pushed it wide open, shading her eyes against a scorching mid-day sun.

He tensed uncomfortably at the sensation of energy, the feeling of change. When the door opened and the light struck his eyes, he didn't squint. He forced them to remain open as he stepped through the doorway. "Where are we?"

"Outside of Yuma, Arizona," Billy said, bending over for her duffel bag. That last vowel got short-changed by the report of a gun and the tile that shattered behind her in a fine spray the color of icebergs. The next round clipped the top of her shoulder and sent up another cloud of dust and sharp ceramic chips. "Shut the door," she gasped, leaping to one side of the room, one hand instinctively flying up to close over her shoulder.

Were Glenn to have gotten a good look around outside, he'd see an empty, overgrown parking lot, weeds pushing up through broken concrete, a line of rusted-out, broken-down cars across the way and, off to the left, the spidery metal skeleton of a tall sign post, absent of any sign other than a few broken pie wedges of yellowed plastic and some tattered plastic flags choking the pole. There was no sign of the shooter.

Glenn didn't flinch at the sound of gunfire. Nor did the close the door as directed. Instead he calmly side-stepped and reached for her duffel bag. "Give me a gun," he said, slinging his pack around to drop it beside the wall. He was listening carefully for the sound of further gunshots, attempt to gauge the distance, caliber, etc. He seemed completely at ease.

Billy kicked her duffel bag in Glenn's direction without question. Since she'd moved from the doorway, there was no more gunfire. Sunlight spilled across the threshold with a brightness and warmth at odds with the gouges in the tile wall and the throb of Billy's shoulder. In the meantime, she'd pulled her own weapon and rose from her crouch to stand, listening: there was the rush of wind over stiff scrub grass, litter skittering over shattered concrete and, faintly, what sounded like a shuffle of feet.

"Billy Yahzzie, why don't you go ahead and come out easy and we might even leave your fella' there alive." The voice came from directly across the concrete where the metal hulks of cars were roasting in the sun.

She was probably unaware of the way her lip curled just then. Picking a bit of grit from the corner of her mouth, Billy looked over at Glenn. He'd come willingly but her trust in him was only a hair's breadth more than what she had in the men outside.

"I'm coming out," she said after a moment, easing her hip from the wall. At best, the distraction would be enough for one or both of them to root out the shooters. At worst, Glenn would shoot the lot of them indiscriminately, and since her back would be turned, she'd be none the wiser until too late anyhow. It wasn't quite net neutral, but it worked.

"In a second, Billy," came the voice again. "Go ahead and send your fella out first so we can make sure he doesn't get any ideas."

Glenn watched Billy thoughtfully, his mouth turning upward in a smirk at the way her lip curled. He holstered one of the Dragoons after loading it. Then, after palming six rounds and grabbing the second, he stepped away from the duffel bag and started loading each individual bullet as he stepped toward the door without hesitation. He stared unblinkingly through the bright light, watching the rusted cars emanating visible waves of heat for any sign of life.

"Ain't her fella," he said, though he wasn't sure he'd spoken loud enough for anyone to hear him. He finished loading the second gun and holstered it, too, as he crossed the threshold.

"Just paid her to get me from one place is all," his hands came up from the guns, nice and slow. "Got no care for whatever business you have with her. That's between you and her."

Billy's eyes were trained on Glenn's back as light swallowed up all the shadows splashed over his shirt, then on the steadiness of his hands as they rose from the holster. She stepped halfway into the doorframe, squinting into the light. Thirty seconds passed in silence, then the guy who'd drawn the short straw came around the side of an old Chevy truck, his gun aimed at Glenn. His hair was slicked back with grease, his jawline pocked with sparse stubble and scars. He indicated the gleaming barrel of his gun with a kick of his chin. "There are two more trained on you, just in case you were getting some ideas, hitchhiker." From the sound of his voice, this man wasn’t the same one who'd spoken before. "Also going to have to ask you to put the guns down and kick them in this direction."

Billy stepped farther into the doorway and a voice piped up from off to Glenn's left. "You just stay right there for now, Billy." But she took another step, gun hand still in the shadows of the room--though surely, they knew she was armed. Her head tipped to one side; there was something about that particular voice.

"Sure thing, slick," Glenn said, hands lowering slowly to the sandalwood grips of his old guns. He took a step forward, his eyes snapping aside for the other voice. He closed them, breathed deep, smelling the sweat of the men around him. He listened to their breathing, counted them out one at a time. Then he smiled. The man in front of him was the target of a gunshot, he'd drawn the pistol at his right hip before ever opening his eyes again, the hammer cocked and a large slug flying through the air. He could hear the whistle of the wind tearing around the bullet even as he drew the second pistol and fired a bullet right after the first. It was an alternating shot, and he was confident that one or both would strike true.

So Glenn turned, thumbs working the hammers of the guns as he started around the car to his left and let another pair of bullets fly. He didn't run or duck or dive or shout. Just another three shots. He was keeping a tally in his mind, seven bullets remaining.

The first man twitched as the other’s voice sounded from nearby, and maybe that was why he missed the tell of the fine tendons in Glenn's hand as he unholstered his gun and pulled the trigger. The first shot hit him in the chest, the second burrowed into his arm as he fell to the ground. His gun clattered on the concrete and he fired no more shots.

Billy took another step free of the doorway and raised her gun.

The second man rose from his half-crouched position behind the car door, squeezing off a couple of shots in Glenn’s direction even as a slug hit him in the gut and knocked him back against the car’s rear door. His breath left him and he curled over briefly, then the barrel of his gun rose once more, a little wobbly, as he took a few more stubborn shots at Glenn.
Billy abandoned any notion of trying to put any bullets between Glenn and the second man. It was the third man she focused on, pulling his scent from the wind that carried it to her and swiveling in his direction. She could feel his eyes on her and wondered what it was that kept him from firing at her. A starburst flare of sunlight off a mirror alerted her to his location as he swung his rifle in Glenn’s direction and aimed. Before he could fire, dust, litter and small chunks of concrete rose around him, red dirt swept in from the edge of the parking lot and created a thick, swirling wall between the third man and Glenn. Only then did Billy start in that direction, her gun raised.

Glenn glanced up at the wind and dust kicked up around the third gunman. Briefly, he looked in Billy's direction before turning to stalk over to the man he'd shot in the gut. The bullets fired in his direction were as much of a concern to Glenn as a cloud of buzzing insects. Annoying, but nothing he'd lose any sleep over. He holstered the gun in his left hand as he took the long way around the rusted car, putting a healthy few layers of metal between him and any further bullets that might come that way. Then he holstered the second gun and, dropping to a crouch, grabbed the underside of the car's frame. Metal that was rusted to concrete screamed as it tore free.

With a set jaw, he rose, slowly uplifting the vehicle from one side. He couldn't lift the thing overhead, but he possessed enough strength to tip it over onto the other man if he wasn't quick enough to scramble away.

With the third man choking in the thick of the sudden dust storm, Billy turned her attention to Glenn and the second man, squinting as Glenn walked around the car while the other guy managed to tame the shake of his hand long enough for another couple of rounds. They were desperate, hopeful shots taken without much consideration for the target.

As the car started tipping, the second man scrabbled backwards across the concrete, the heel of his boot catching in a pothole so that part of the car landed on his ankle. He opened his mouth in an unholy shriek while he tried to lift his gun in Glenn's direction again, but his arm lacked the strength. Billy took another couple of steps, aimed at the guy's head and shot him. Maybe not as clean as it could have been, but she wasn't particular at the moment. He slumped over into the mess on the pavement.

The third man now fired without direction through the dust cloud, so Billy ended up crouching behind one of the cars nearby Glenn as a few bullets shots whizzed by. "Don't kill him," she said, an aside for Glenn as the dust storm evaporated and left the third man standing alone just beyond the concealing protection of the cars. "I think I recognize him."

Glenn's answer was a curt nod. He unholstered one of the Dragoons and, keeping low, started to move from car to car, attempting to close the distance between him and the third man. Occasionally, he popped up behind one of the rusted hulks of metal to fire a shot in the man's direction, but these were meant solely to keep him on his toes, though he wouldn't be upset if he happened to strike the man in the leg or shoulder.

Once the third man realized where he'd wandered to, he clambered behind a truck before anything could hit him and mimicked Glenn's tactic of firing off a shot. He'd abandoned or lost his rifle somewhere and was now using a revolver. Metal dinged near Billy as she scooted around the edge of a fender, a narrow-eyed scrutiny afforded the third man's face before it disappeared behind the peeling paint of a car door. The glimpse was enough to give her a name. She scowled and moved low in the opposite direction from Glenn, aiming to pin the third guy between them eventually.

The third man had his own ideas, however. A clank of metal nearby was meant to distract while he came around the back of a car, trying to flush Glenn or Billy out.

Glenn slid over the trunk of an empty husk of a car and fired off another shot toward the clang of sound. His nose, however, warned him of the bluff and he stepped up onto the hood of one of the car's so he could look down and see where the man was trying to come around toward Billy. He shot at the metal in front of the man's face and took a few steps up over an old, cracked windshield to stand on the car's roof.

"He's coming round there on your right," Glenn said, heedless of the fact that he'd made himself a nice and easy target.

The man reeled back, but not fast enough to avoid a few splinters of metal to the face when Glenn fired. Still, he figured he'd hit pay dirt with Glenn up on the car roof like a lightning rod. Abandoning his efforts at hiding, he rose up, aimed, and fired square at Glenn without hesitation. At about the same time, Billy stood up as well, calling out the guy's name as the gun went off. This caused his attention to waver, but only briefly. "Trip Jones, I asked you what the hell you're doing here," she repeated, impervious to the dark look that settled over his features. He was in his late twenties, maybe, the angle of his nose suggesting his involvement in more than a few brawls.

Glenn side-stepped. Not fast enough to avoid being hit, but fast enough to turn his body in a way that made the bullet rip clean through his left shoulder. It came out the other side, leaving a neat hole of red and a few drops of splatter on the car and pavement behind him. He stepped off the roof, teeth clenching as he landed and the impact jostled his body. He gave no other indication of being in pain, just raised his right arm and pointed the gun at the man.
While Trip was distracted, Glenn breathed out a slow, steadying breath, and fired. He aimed for the man's gun hand.

Billy's angle prevented her from seeing the left half of Trip's body, but she heard the shot and the howl that followed. Abandoning her last bit of cover, she came around the side of the car to find Trip clutching one hand with his other. The arc of her gaze swiveled up, a flicker of a look over Glenn as some kind of acknowledgement in passing.

Blood dripped steadily onto the concrete, and by the time Trip leaned down to try and pick up the gun with his other hand, the toe of Billy's boot was there to kick it away. As he started to straighten again, Billy swung her left fist at him. The smack of sound and the jolt of his head that followed was worth the starburst of pain that immediately enfolded her knuckles; it felt good. Good the way she'd wanted it to when she'd punched Glenn at Charlie's. Trip lunged at her, but she danced nimbly off to the side. Side of her foot to Trip's gun sent it off in Glenn's direction as she leveled her own at Trip's head.

"You're a *** shot," he said with a smirk.

"I've put in a lot more practice since the last time we saw each other," Billy said. "Now you get to answer some questions."

"*** you," he said, and spat in her direction. Most of it landed in a spray across her boots.

Glenn stopped the gun with his boot and then, calm as could be, started to reload his pistols. Once finished, both Dragoons were holstered and he bent down to scoop up the man's revolver. He held it between both hands, turning it over as the metal caught and reflected sunlight. Then he walked over to the pair and fell into a crouch in front of Trip, just inches from the same gun pointed at the man's head. He stared unblinkingly, watching the tremors of Trip's face as he breathed or winced through flares of pain from his hand. He watched the tiny lines of red where shrapnel from the metal door had dug in, searched the water in his bloodshot eyes for weakness. He did all this without saying a word, ignoring the warmth of his blood staining his shirt from the gunshot wound in his shoulder.

"You shot me," he said at last, his voice quiet and even in the face of the vehemence with which Trip responded to Billy. Glenn pressed the revolver in his hand to the man's foot and pulled the trigger. After the bang had finished echoing off the cars around them, he said, "That hurt."

It was there, the weakness Glenn was searching for, fine threads of fear as evident as the veins in the pair of eyes Glenn searched. It was in the way the man's lower lip struggled to keep its tension, and in the widening of his eyes as Glenn lowered his own gun to his foot at shot. The second before the crack of sound resounded through the parking lot, he tensed and made a small sound that turned into another cry of pain as he went down, landing on his hip and just managing to stay upright.

Billy's eyes were on the pair of Dragoons riding Glenn's hips, the worn sandalwood handles that held more than a few stories of the man who'd so often gripped them. And then the tautness of his forearm as gun met foot and Glenn pulled the trigger.

"You feeling more talkative now?" she asked, once Trip's yelling had wound itself down into dry sobs. He gave her a spite-filled look in return and didn't say anything. "Are you being vetted?" she asked first, and got a nod from him in return.

"By who?"

When his mouth sealed shut obstinately, she kicked his foot to jar it open again.

Trip gasped, and then said, "Guy who goes by Ez."

"Ez, as in Warren Ezell?" Billy's eyes narrowed.

"That's him."

Billy frowned. "Alright. We have more talking to do, then. Does Glenn need to shoot your other foot or are you going to cooperate?"

Trip gritted his teeth, appeared to think the better of saying anything, and slowly started to rise on his one good foot.

"Truck's over there," Billy said to Glenn, pointing to the opposite side of the station from them, where a dented fender fronting a gray hood could be seen.

"Also, he's not my fella', in case you didn't hear that the first time," she said over her shoulder and stalked off ahead of the both of them to start up the truck.

Glenn tucked the revolver into the waist of his pants and stood, grabbing the man roughly by the shoulder with his right hand. Half-supporting Trip on his good foot, Glenn started to half-drag and half-carry him over to the truck as he scanned the ground.

"Collect them guns," he said to Billy. Then, to Trip, he said, "Owe me a shirt, slick.”

Billy detoured to collect the guns left abandoned on the pavement, stepping around the pools of blood, but pausing for a minute in front of each fallen man to see if they were familiar. Neither were and she continued on, stopping to pick up her duffel and Glenn's rucksack before swinging the door closed to the portal.

Glenn and Trip were only halfway across the parking lot, Trip's foot dragging behind him. Billy caught him looking down at Glenn's holsters as she came up behind him. He cut a look back at her and then turned to stare straight ahead. "I don't have any shirts on me," he said.

Billy slipped around the pair to unlock the truck, a mid-nineties Ford F-150 with a gray paint job and interior that showed plenty of signs of wear. There was a small amount of space behind the seats, and that's where she stored the bags in spite of having the empty flatbed. "Put him on the far side. You sit next to me," she told Glenn, swinging up to lean across the seats and unlock the passenger door.

The cab was cluttered with old maps and empty coffee cups, a Navajo blanket, and a few books with covers that'd been ripped off. It smelled of warm plastic and, faintly, cigarettes.
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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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Glenn Douglas
Adult Wyrm
Adult Wyrm


Joined: 12 Apr 2010
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Jobs: Gumshoe, Undertaker

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PostPosted: Mon May 22, 2017 10:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Glenn moved Trip bodily to press against the side of the truck as he opened the door. He climbed in, half-dragging the man up behind him. Once he'd settled in, Glenn drew the Dragoon at his right hip -- the one nearest Trip, and cocked the hammer. "Close the door," he told the man, the gun resting comfortably in his lap. His finger was on the trigger and the barrel was level with Trip's belly, should he try anything stupid.

Trip closed the door and angled himself in the corner between it and the seat so he could see the entirety of Glenn and the Dragoon he had pointing at him. When Billy tossed him an old towel, he wrapped his hand in it. There wasn't much he could do about his foot, though. Blood welled through the hole in his boot and puddled in the floor of the truck. He stared at Glenn, premature lines etched deeper along his cheeks and forehead with the strength of his anger.
Billy climbed into the truck next to Glenn, produced the keys from her pocket and cranked the engine. Twilight was starting to leach some of the heat from the day, but she still sat there for a minute with her hands on the wheel and an air vent angled at her face blowing stale, lukewarm air. "Alright," she said after a bit, some decision made. Throwing the truck into gear, she backed up, then pulled out of the parking lot onto the long, lonely ribbon of asphalt that led back to Yuma.

Glenn studied Trip with unabashed amusement, the dark and almost playful glint in his eye almost daring the man to try something worthy of a bullet again. He never took those eyes off their newfound companion, never moved his finger from the trigger. "So, what's this pool of piss' story?" he asked Billy, keeping his attention on the subject of his question.

"He try and come on to you and got mad when you poured beer down his pants?" Glenn asked.

Trip maintained his gaze on Glenn in return, dark eyes cruel and cold behind their sheen of ire. He blinked slowly at Glenn's insult, mouth wadding up like he was desperate to open it and just managed to hold the impulse at bay in the last minute.

Billy spared a look over at Trip. He'd been better looking once, maybe even charming. She was more certain about the former than the latter. But he'd been neither for a long time now. "He used to be less of a piece of ***," she started, but was interrupted by Trip.

"Other way around, slick," he sneered. "It was her hand down the front of my pants."

"I remember those pants better than I remember what was in them," Billy said. "Wasn't much, I suppose. Glenn, go ahead and shoot his other hand. He doesn't need either of them to take a piss."

She didn't look away from the wheel, but Trip shook his head, good hand waving like a flag of surrender in the air as he tried to back step, suddenly contrite. "It's just *** around Billy, Christ. Don't shoot, boss." That last part directed at Glenn.


Glenn reached out, and with inhuman strength, slammed Trip's hand against the back window of the truck. Then he pressed the barrel of the gun right up against the man's palm.

"You shot me," he reminded the man. "To kill. Ain't many men who get away with that. You're lucky I ain't torn out your *** throat at this point. Walk soft."

There wasn't enough room in the cab for the size of Trip's scream as Glenn seized his hand. The back window was left with a spider web of cracks that Billy eyed through the rearview but didn't comment on for the time. Trip's hand flopped uselessly on his wrist, a number of fine bones broken. He threw his head back against the window, squeezed his eyes shut and panicked. But he was done speaking.

A half mile later, Billy pulled into the parking lot of a motel, the facade crouched low to the ground, L-shape crowded around an empty oval pool with a peeling liner. The vacancy sign blinked on and off. There were two other cars in the lot. Billy parked at the far end and turned the car off, sticking the keys in her pocket as she opened the door. "Wait here."

Glenn released trip when he quit speaking and screaming. He lowered the pistol to his lap again, barrel pointed at the man's stomach once more. When Billy parked, he didn't acknowledge her command, but just sat and watched the wretch beside him. Once they were alone, he de-cocked the gun and holstered it.

"Tell me about your boss and I won't eat you."

Trip opened his eyes as Billy exited the truck, head swiveling to follow her as she walked across the parking lot and opened the door to the lobby. Only once he couldn't see her did he turn back to Glenn.

"*** you," he said, snorting derisively and wincing in pain at once. "You won't eat me because she wants me alive. And who the *** are you anyway?"

Glenn closed his fingers around Trip's throat and slowly began to squeeze.

"I don't give two *** about what she wants, slick. She's just my ride out of town," he paused at the question, wondering if his name meant anything out here. He wasn't entirely sure where he was. "Glenn Douglas," he said, because he'd never been terribly worried about lying low anyhow.

Blood mottled Trip's face in deep purple patches as Glenn's fingers tightened around his throat. He gasped and sputtered, eyes lolling in their sockets. He might have flailed his hands at the man, but neither was working all that well. However, there was a distant flicker of recognition when Glenn spoke his name--one that soon ebbed as Trip purposefully averted his eyes, watching the window again as Billy crossed the lot back in their direction. *** you. His mouth shaped the words, but his voice didn't supply any sound.

Glenn gave the man a coyote smile, pushed his head back, and let go. "Go ahead," he said. "Enjoy it while you can. I'll have an arm first. I ain't had fresh meat in a long time."

Trip gasped for air once Glenn released him, his head slumping back against the window, mouth gaping open as he sucked wind. He still didn't have voice enough to reply to Glenn but gave him a hateful look all the same.

Billy wrenched the door to the truck open, a flicker of a look assessing the two men, the atmosphere, before dismissing it. Trip was still alive, after all. That Glenn still had part of that feral hook to the corners of his mouth shouldn't matter. Still, she gave it longer consideration before abruptly nodding her head at the pale blue paint of the door in front of them. Number 15, read the sticker on the door. She left them behind to go unlock and push it open. "Bring him in," she said, grabbing their bags from behind the seat.

The air in the room was stale and musty, the carpet a dark brown. The king-sized bed sloped to the left side and was covered in a spread featuring stripes in the mustards and oranges popular in the seventies. The was a low, polished wood dresser topped by a boxy television set with two knobs. Beyond the bed was a doorway leading to a green-tiled bathroom from which Billy could hear the toilet running. None of it mattered to her in the least. She unlocked the door that connected this room to the one next door, which was configured mostly the same.
Both bags were set on the floor next to the bed.

Glenn reached past Trip to open the door. Then, with a hand on Trip's chest, shoved to send him tumbling out -- he was careful not to break the man's ribs. Glenn followed him out of the truck, closing the door behind him. He reached down, grabbing the man beneath the arm, and dragged him to his feet.

"Come on, Trip," he said, his voice suddenly jovial and friendly. "Let's get you inside. Had one hell of a day. Bet you'd like to take a load off."

Trip landed flat on his ass only to be hauled up by Glenn. By then he'd gotten the use of his vocal chords back. "You might as well go ahead and *** shoot me. I'm not telling either of you a goddamn thing," his voice was raw, but managed to be scalding in its righteous finality. He stumbled once and then let Glenn drag him the rest of the way inside.

Billy closed the door behind them both and bolted it, pulled out a chair from beneath a small writing desk, and indicated that Glenn should put Trip in the chair. Then she reached into her bag for a roll of duct tape. Looking up at Glenn, she said, "He's still human. That's what I'm getting. You should be able to tell too, yeah?"

"Yeah," Glenn said, pushing Trip down into the chair. "He smells like cats," he took a step back and let Billy bind the man to her heart's content. He reached around his back to draw the pistol he'd taken from Trip and examined it with a cursory glance, then he ejected each of the bullets into his palm.

Billy was probably more thorough than necessary, given Trip's state. She bound him from ankles to kneecaps, then taped his ankles around the bottom rungs of the chair. While she was at it, she went ahead and wrapped the toe of his shoe. It wasn't bleeding much anymore, but she wouldn't have to worry about the carpet if it did. Trip started cussing at her around that time. Billy ignored it, focused on her work. She did the same with the towel he'd wrapped around his hand, encasing it in an extra, silver layer of duct tape before it and his other hand were tugged behind his back and taped wrist to elbow, which then received an additional bit of security by weaving the tape through the back spindles of the chair and looping around his wrists. At the least, he wasn't going anywhere without the chair.

Billy took a step back, considering Trip with a critical eye before deciding to throw a few turns around his torso for good measure. Last was his mouth. She gave him a smile as she leaned in a stuck a rectangle of tape over it mid curse. She added two more strips and then dropped the tape back into her bag. "We're going to talk, but I need a little peace and quiet first." After picking up her bag, she carried it into the adjoining room and dropped it, then came back to the door frame, standing there until she could see whether Glenn was going to join her or stay with Trip.

Glenn pocketed the bullets in his hand, save one, which he dropped in Trip's lap. Then, giving the man a final smirk, Glenn turned to follow Billy into the adjoining room, unbuttoning his shirt as he approached her. "Got anything to clean this with?" he gestured at his shoulder with a jerk of his chin in that direction.

"You enjoying yourself?" she asked, backing through the doorway to let Glenn pass through. He smelled of blood and sweat, cigarettes, booze, matches--a laundry list of bad news and bad habits. Billy crouched next to her bag, rummaging through it, and then sent an upward glance in his direction for the question. "Not a whole lot," she said, rising slowly to approach him. She ignored the view of skin that appeared and focused on the mess of his shoulder. "There's soap and water in the bathroom." A glance up at him to find his eyes, a request in them underlined with a "Can I?" and a tick of her chin to his shoulder.

"There's a store down the way. I was going to go in a few minutes, get something to eat and drink. A six pack. Maybe a whole case. I can get everything else, then."

Glenn set his shirt aside. The hole in his shoulder was surrounded by dried blood. The wound itself was angry and red, but smaller than it should have been given the caliber of the bullet that had torn through his muscle. It pained him, as made evident by a faint grimace, but the change in his expression was a flicker before being washed away.

"Why do you ask?" he countered for her question. The request for permission gave him pause, but his nod granted it. "You been eying me like you're expecting a bullet," though a statement, the way he looked at her made it seem like a question.

"I've noticed you have a habit of not answering the questions I'm actually interested in," Billy said, dark lashes dropping low, narrowing her field of vision to the hole in Glenn's shoulder. That didn't mean she didn't catch a glimpse of the rest. He had enough impressions and scars and history carved or shot into his body that she imagined that if she put her hand upon it and closed her eyes, it'd be a palpable account of violence. Now he'd added to it, so she kept her eyes locked on the red-tinged, swollen flesh, stubbornly defying her own curiosity over the large bite mark on his collarbone. The pad of her thumb pressed hard against the edge of the wound and then retreated before she ever considered answering him. "I don't know why I asked, actually. It's not like we've got some established foundation of manners and being polite between us, is it? Maybe I wanted to make sure some of that darkness that's so fond of you wasn't going to try to jump ship into me again." She knew that not to be the case, but she said it anyway, and then in a petulant moment of tit for tat, didn't say anything for his last bit.


"What haven't I answered that you are interested in?" he felt the flare up of pain on the edge of the wound, where she pressed down. Felt it burn. But he didn't hiss or gasp or make any sound or sign of discomfort, just leveled a flat stare on her. "I'm an open book."

"I asked you if you were enjoying yourself for one. But really you started doing it back in Charlie's." She felt his stare like a wave of heat or a flush rising in her cheeks, but didn't grant it so much as a look until she'd put a couple of feet between them. "Uh-huh," she said mildly to his comment about being an open book. "A little alcohol or peroxide should do you just fine. I can get some while I'm out. Hole's already closing up."

"I always enjoy a fight," he unbuckled the belt at his hips and swung it around, his guns coming with it. This he laid out at the foot of the bed, and then he took a seat on the edge of the mattress. "I don't remember what you asked me at Charlie's, just a lot of punching."

"Unsurprising, “she said. "Plenty of evidence of that all over your chest." Billy peeled off her Henley, the tank top underneath a dingy blue. Scooping up a wrinkled button-down from her bag, she slid it over her shoulders, studying the belt and holsters he laid across the foot of the bed. "I don't remember now either, too busy trying to defend myself against your cheap-ass gut shot. Do you want anything from the store or not?" Part of her wondered if he'd even still be around when she got back, could imagine him just wandering off into the desert. He seemed more like a passing breeze than a man rooted to anything.

"Cigarettes," he said, looking up at her from where he sat. He smirked. "Cheap ass? What about that *** sucker punch across the counter?" he snorted. "Lucky I didn't shoot you that day. But I ain't never been a fan of killing women. I'm old fashioned that way."

"Smells like we're going hunting," he said, though by then he'd turned away.

"Not old-fashioned enough to show a woman some manners; you deserved that punch and you know it," she said briskly, pulling a bank envelope from her bag and counting out a few bills that she then tucked into the back pocket of her jeans. She didn't appear to care that Glenn might be watching.

"What brand?" Billy asked of the cigarettes, stepping in front of the dresser next and bending slightly so that the full of her face was reflected in the mirror as she combed fingers through the wealth of black hair and began plaiting it into a single, thick braid. The lines on his face were easy traps for her gaze, but better those as focal points than what lay below his chin. "You know, for a guy that claims he isn't afraid of death, you sure put a hell of a lot of effort into staying alive," she said, tying off the end of her braid with a rubber band and flicking the long length of it over her shoulder as she started for the door. "We'll talk about the hunting part and the 'we' part when I get back, if you're still here."

"Just 'cause I ain't afraid of it don't mean I want to die," Glenn said. "I ain't afraid of snakes but I'm not about to let one bite me, am I?" he watched her braid her hair and started to rise by the time she was turning for the door. He took the two dragoons from the holsters at the foot of the bed and went to a small table tucked into the corner of the room to set them down, then went to pick up his bag from by the bed. "I'll be here."

"Looks like plenty of other things have gotten ahold of you already, anyway." His assurance that he'd still be there when Billy returned met the back of her head as she shut the door behind her.
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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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Glenn Douglas
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PostPosted: Sun May 28, 2017 4:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Billy returned a half hour later, headlamps of the truck pouring their light through the bottom of the room's blackout curtains. The engine went quiet but it was still another five minutes before the car door opened and she returned to the room with three plastic sacks twisted around her wrist. Elbowing the door closed, she put the sacks on the dresser and began picking through them. First thing out was a half case of beer that she set aside. A pack of Camels got tossed in Glenn's direction, along with a bottle of rubbing alcohol. "I had to guess on the brand," she said, her attention still on the bags.

In the time since she left, Glenn did very little. He checked to make sure Trip was secure and not going anywhere, giving the man a sharp sneer in the process. Then he took over the corner of the room with the table and set about the task of dismantling and cleaning his guns. They were sitting on an old scrap of torn shirt when she returned, the metal glistening from the recent application of gun oil. He was letting them air out a bit and reclining in the chair, one foot tossed up on the bed. His dirty and worn boots had been placed nearby.

He caught the pack of camels and started unwrapping them with a grunt of thanks.

By the time Billy balled up the plastic sacks in her hand and sent them in an arc toward a dented waste bin, what little space remained on the dresser top next to the TV was largely taken up by an island of beer, a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, and another small brown paper bag. She ignored all but the beer and the brown paper bag, taking both with her and nestling them between her thighs as she sat at the foot of the bed and bent over to unzip her boots and slide them off. Afterwards, she cracked the seal on a beer can, took a long swallow and then pulled the pint of whiskey free from the brown bag. She held it up over her shoulder, angled it in Glenn's direction, chin following a few seconds later to see whether he wanted it or not.

Glenn rose from the chair and crossed the room, pausing to toss the crumpled-up wrapper of the cigarette pack into the trash bin as he passed. He was fishing out a cigarette as she offered the bottle of whiskey, and he reached out to take it on his way to the door leading out of the room.

"Let's talk," he said, tucking the bottle into the crook of his arm as he wrenched the door open and stepped out of the room.

Billy anticipated some kind of conversation, but she'd promised herself she'd have a least a half a beer in her before she dealt with it, so she remained where she was at the end of the bed, swallowing from her open can and watching Glenn pass her by and pull open the door, presumably to smoke. Billy didn't qualify as a heavy drinker, and she didn't even particularly like the brand of beer she'd selected, but it went down easy and spread a faint warmth through her limbs, and that had been the point in the first place.

Once the can was considerably lighter in her hands, she stood from the end of the bed and reset herself in a chair closer to the door where she could kick her feet up on the oblong air conditioning unit as it ran.

"Smoke doesn't bother me," she said, "I was married to a smoker for a while. Also smoked through my twenties. As long as there was a window open, I was good." She figured that was a decent enough start.

Glenn leaned against the wall right outside the open door as he fished out a lighter from his pocket and lit a cigarette. "Hate the smell of it, myself," he said. "Don't like being trapped in a room with it." He stuffed the pack into his back pocket and opened the bottle of whiskey in his hands.

He was a slice of profile and winding smoke from where Billy sat. She'd never been to his hometown but imagined it had marked him some in the grit of his skin, sun and wind weathered lines. What had he been like before the first scar was ever put on his body?

Smoke drafted inside with the breeze, and Billy inhaled it with her eyes closed, tipping back on two legs of the chair, tail of her braid twitching as she finished off her beer. When the chair's legs met the ground again, she was done with small talk. "Ez has been on my list for a while, but he's bigger game and I've been on a kick where I kind of like working alone. I don't know what it is he wants from me right now." One shoulder hitched and rolled slowly under white cotton. "But I have another errand that has to come first. It'll take a day or two. You must be some kind of hard up though if you're wanting to tag along with the same woman you'd just as soon spit at."

"Hmm..." Glenn held a cigarette in one hand and drank with the other. "Man like me ain't got a lot of options. I go where the wind takes me, that's all," he rolled his shoulder along the wall so he could peek through the door at her. "You seem to think I got an awful low opinion of you just 'cause you gave me a sucker punch across the jaw."

"I've had too many wrongs done to me -- and done too many wrongs to others -- to hold a grudge over a little fist fight. Besides," he paused, taking another drink, then a hit off the cigarette. "You got something in you now that don't belong, and until I figure out how to get it back, I can't let you wander out of my sight long."

"Maybe I just prefer thinking that you do," Billy said on the matter of Glenn's opinion of her. One hand reached to fish the braid from behind her shoulder, fingers sliding through its tail end, sectioning the glossy strands idly into ribbons of black that she wound around her thumb. That last part about the darkness that had seeped into her made more sense, and she nodded, reflexively shaking the cuff of her sleeve a couple of times so it kept the darkening band of charcoal grey skin concealed.

"I know what happened to your girl.” The non-sequitur was accompanied by an upward cut of Billy’s eyes from the wall where Glenn leaned his shoulder to the hot glow of cigarette ember, and finally, his eyes.

"Which?" he asked, seemingly nonplussed.

"Which what?"

"Which girl?"

"Salome," she said. The legs of the chair thumped down again and Billy stood, returning to the dresser to snag another beer from its cardboard housing.

"What do you know about it?"

"That she's dead." No more offered in her eyes, which stuck resolutely to the tab on the fresh can, than what she said with her mouth.

"Ain't quite how it is, but close enough," Glenn rolled back against the wall and looked out at the old truck they'd ridden in earlier.

"Not dead, then?" she asked, hooking the tab with the edge of her nail and catching the fizz with a quick swipe of her mouth over the rim. Billy walked back over to her chair, paused next to it for a second, then continued outside, leaning against the wall on the other side of the door from Glenn.

"Lost," he said. "Good as dead, by this point. Ain't no one been where she is now that came back, not as long as she's been there," he flicked ash to the ground.

"Alright," she said with a slow nod, driven to say more, but curbing the desire with another sip from her can. "Lost." The word was as good as a period on the subject.

"I haven't figured out yet what I want to do with him," head tipping to the side to indicate the room next door and the partially broken man within.

"I can make him talk."

"Yeah. I meant after that."

Glenn dropped the cigarette and ground it under his boot. "You let him walk away he's gonna hold a grudge."

"I know.” Billy looked at the grey stain of ash left behind on the ground. "I know his family, though. Spent time around him--them--for a while."

“That worth the possibility of getting a bullet to the back of the head?”

"No." There was an unspoken 'but' in there that she pushed aside while tipping the beer can up, head arcing back against the wall of the motel. Just beyond the foot-wide lip of roofline, stars blanketed an indigo sky. Billy picked out the constellations she could remember.

"I get not wanting to bury him," Glenn said, reaching for the whiskey. "Maybe you'll find a way around that. Maybe not."

"What about just handing him back over to Ez. Make him do the dirty work?" Gaze narrowed at the mouth of her can, then Billy set it on the ledge of the window and reached a hand out for the whiskey.

He had another mouthful before handing it over. "If you hand him over, Ez will know what's up. Thought you wanted him taken out of the picture."

"He'll know either way, don't you think?"

"Maybe. Don't know how bright this fella is."

"Bright enough, as far as I know." Billy didn't think she'd come to any kind of conclusion that night, and the solution certainly wasn't in the lengthy swallow she took from the whiskey bottle, but she felt better afterward. "I'll have it figured out before leaving tomorrow."

"How big an operation this guy got?"

"Wasn't much, last I heard, but going by today, I'd say he's been busy. The last time I saw him was maybe three years ago. He wasn't anything then, really. I did a job with him once. We split the money. He was decently acquainted with my ex, which is how I came into the picture."

"So, why's he got beef with you now?" he asked, reaching out for the bottle.

She shrugged and passed the bottle back over. "No clue."

"You sure about that?" he asked, pushing from his lean as he took the bottle. He tipped it back, had a drink, and offered it over. "You had to have done something to piss him off."

"No," a defensive edge crept into Billy’s voice despite her best attempts at nonchalance. She took the bottle when he offered it, took another swig and promptly handed it back, fanning her hand to let Glenn know she was done before pressing the backs of her fingers to her mouth.

"But I can't think of anything I've done to him offhand."

He laughed and capped the bottle after another drink. "Make sure you tell him that before you put him in the dirt. Really piss him off."

His laughter caught her off-guard, gaze swerving from the bent handle of the big dipper over to his mouth, like she was verifying that the sound actually came from him. There was a crook at the corner of her own lips, just for a second, before she smothered it with the beer can she rescued from the window sill. "Lucky for me, he's a hothead. It's not hard to piss him off in the first place."

"Good," he turned to step back inside, pausing on his way over to the chair and table to set the whiskey down on the dresser.

Billy remained outside a half minute longer finishing the second beer and then followed suit.

Glenn sat in the chair and gathered the pieces of his guns to start reassembling them bit-by-bit. "Should get to sleep."

"When's the last time you did?" she asked, bending over to start on her boots again.

He didn't answer. Instead, he finished putting the relatively simple firearms together, then stood and grabbed the belt and holsters. These he slung around his hips before tugging his boots on. He took the chair next, lifting it up as he started for the door. "I'll be outside if you need anything."

Billy exhaled a breath she didn't know she'd been holding. Tension left her shoulders in a flood as she tugged at the zippers on her boots. "Alright," she said without looking up, and left it at that.

Glenn went out through the door and set his chair down beside it. Then he settled in, leaning back and watching the darkening sky.
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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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Glenn Douglas
Adult Wyrm
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PostPosted: Wed May 31, 2017 12:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sleep evaded Billy that night. Despite the beer and the whiskey and exhaustion that extended beyond just her body. All those bullet points kept coming to mind with a thin wash of the artist’s sketch of Glenn’s face in the background for company--all stark lines and precarious angles. It was easier to despise a man rendered in black and white than one in the flesh, who had a voice. And story that didn’t always add up right. The air conditioner worked in fits and starts and at 4 am, when it shuddered ominously, Billy finally got up and turned it off, fingers flicking the curtain aside a half inch until she could see the back of the chair Glenn dragged out there and a triangle of fabric that meant his shoulder. Another check into the adjoining room showed Trip, shoulders slouched, chin resting close to his chest. After that, she kept count of the hours by the number of times she heard Glenn light up a cigarette.

Billy got up when the rectangle of sunlight she’d been watching finally made it from patchy revelation of dirt on the carpet to stirring dust motes on the bedside table next to her. She showered and dressed then opened the door, wet hair hanging in coils that loosed little runnels of water to run down her bare arms.

"Couldn't sleep?" he asked, squinting through rays of sunlight that filtered down through a cloudy sky. He had around his feet a ring of half-finished cigarettes. The pack was crumpled up on the window sill. He didn't move when the door opened.

"I slept fine," Billy lied, looking down at the half moon of cigarette butts like the ashes and scald marks on the pavement contained some kind of prophecy. She collected her hair in the sweep of a hand and wrung it out before tousling her fingers through it. "Do you drink coffee?"

"Sometimes," he said. "If it's extra greasy," he stood then, moving as though he'd been sitting there for years, not hours, with stiff bones and jerky motions.

Billy squinted at his back. "Extra greasy," She had no idea what that meant. "Alright. Looks like you could use it. You're moving like an old man."

She left the door open, turning away to flip the switch on the small coffee maker. Billy had no intention of trying to interpret what extra greasy meant, she just planned on handing Glenn the cup when it was ready.

He snorted -- a sound that was probably meant to be a laugh -- and turned to follow her inside. While she was making coffee, he grabbed his bag and carried it with him into the bathroom. The door shut behind him, she'd soon hear the sound of running water.

Billy didn't spend much time trying to decipher what the sound was. She hovered at the coffee pot, watching steam rise as the styrofoam cup filled, a look flicked over her shoulder as the door closed behind Glenn. Once the first cup was finished, she stuck a second one under the drip, refilled the filter and took her cup over to the door that separated them from Trip. Nudging it a little wider, she leaned in the doorway, slowly sipping her coffee and looking over the slumped figure.

Glenn's shower was short. He came out soon after in fresh jeans and a gray t-shirt, heading over for the little coffee maker to pick up the recently filled styrofoam cup. He took a testing sip and cast a glance toward the dividing door and Billy. "He awake yet?"

The hemline of Billy’s dress hit at a mostly respectable level a couple of inches above her knees, her legs coltish and lean, but not without definition. The fabric was a patchwork of patterns, scoop necked and sleeveless, and meant to go with something more along the lines of an open-toed sandal than the motorcycle boots that hit mid-calf. Billy's arms were folded across her chest, her coffee cup resting near the bend of her elbow. She shook her head, damp hair swinging. "I think he's half-dead, actually."

"Lost some blood," Glenn said, taking another taste of coffee as he crossed the room. "Gonna get an infection if them wounds aren't seen to. Best get what you want out of him before the fever sets in."

Billy nodded absently, the thought having crossed her mind a couple of times already. Glenn voicing it seemed to spur her into action, though. The small of her back bowed outward and carried the rest of her forward, deeper into the room where the air was stale and blood-tainted and heavy with the forewarning of death. Billy pulled out a chair and sat down in it across from Trip. Her coffee cup was a warm impression upon her bare knee as she looked hard at the man across from her, resolve building. Then she put the cup on the floor next to her and leaned forward, laying her hand almost tenderly across Trip's cheek until he jolted upright with a sputter.

Glenn stepped into the vacated doorway and leaned sideling into it, looking just around the corner to where Billy now sat in front of Trip. He drank his coffee, his left hand dragged across his abdomen to rest at the gun at his right hip in as comfortable a pose as he'd ever be able to strike.

Billy didn't waste any more time. Once Trip's eyes rose and focused on her, she retreated just far enough to rest her elbows on her knees.

"What does Ez want with me?" she began.

Trip shook his head, mumbling something she couldn’t decipher. This time Billy's hand found his knee. His body shuddered and went rigid in the chair and when he opened his mouth next, the answer came out in a pained pant. "I don't know, Billy. He didn't say. We just got orders to follow, so we did."

Billy's knuckles whitened over his kneecap and Trip jolted again, teeth gritting before he grated out, "***, woman, that's all I know."

Her gaze flicked up to Glenn framed by the doorway, lower lip bisected by a neat line of teeth as she considered, then looked back to Trip.

"You're being vetted, yeah? How many's he got so far?"

"15 turned, maybe, 10 on the line." Trip slurred the words, chin slumping back to his chest as his breath rattled within.

"Where?" When Trip didn't respond, Billy caught him by the jaw and asked again.

He mumbled a pair of words that Billy's closest interpretation translated as "Dry bed." Then Trip lost consciousness again.

Billy stood up. "He's done. Ez isn't a quiet type anyway. There'll be someone talking somewhere. It's just a matter of finding the right one."

Glenn finished his coffee during the brief interrogation. He tossed a crumpled paper cup into the trash bin as Trip slumped back into unconsciousness and stepped further into the room. He nodded, hooking his thumbs into his belt as he looked at the mess of a man.

"You decide what you're gonna do with him yet?" he asked.

"Mm-hmm," she said, stepping around Glenn in the doorway. Just beyond, she stopped to tip up her cup and downed the rest of her coffee, then tossed it in garbage before bending to pack up her bag. "I'll need to stop and get a couple of shovels somewhere."

He back-stepped after her, turning on his heel to watch as she picked up her bag. "Sure there's a hardware store close by," Glenn said. He tossed a look in Trip's direction, a hand coming back to rest on his gun. "Want me to put him down?"

"How do you know that?" she asked when he mentioned the hardware store, a keen-eyed glance tossed over her shoulder as the hiss of the duffel bag's zipper broke the into the cocoon of morning quiet.

"Maybe. Not here, though." She couldn't tell if Glenn was offering out of some kind of generosity or of his own desire. It shouldn't have mattered, but Billy still found herself wondering over it.

"Educated guess," Glenn said, hand slipping from the gun. "Where?"

Billy turned the resulting frown away from Glenn, and then breezed past him again, pocket knife in hand to go work on Trip's bindings.

"By my rough estimate, 85 percent of the time your answers are either unsatisfying, evasive, or lead to more questions. At this point, I should probably assume that's on purpose. Is this a skill you've fine-tuned for your own entertainment or something that rose out of necessity considering how the bounty on your head has grown over the years?"

She bent to Trip's wrists and sliced through the tape.

"My answer's honest," he said. "Ain't my fault you're looking to take issue with every word that comes out of my mouth," he said, the hint of a sneer curling his lips.

"You're just making that assumption," she said, curtailing a huff of sound as the knife melted through the adhesive over Trip's knees next. "That's alright, though, because I think you're going to be the one that gets fed up and wanders off first."

Glenn's smile was full of sharp teeth. "Betting on the wrong horse, kiddo."

The knife cut through the air too fast to even glint in the morning light filtering into the room. She'd sent it flying intending for the tip to embed itself close enough to Glenn that it could've snagged a stitch on his shirt en route. If he got nicked, well Billy wouldn't be all that disappointed either.

Glenn's hand shot up to snatch it out of the air. The timing was wrong, and instead of closing his fingers around the handle, the tip of the blade bit straight through his palm. The sound he made was more surprise than pain. He looked at the wound, briefly, and then wrenched the knife free. The blood leaking from his palm was added to by fresh cuts on his fingers when he put his hand around the blade, his other around the handle, and with a snap and a twist, broke the blade free of the knife's tang. He tossed either piece aside and, back to smirking, went to gather up some of the left-over gauze and first aid supplies she'd bought the night before.

"Showoff," Billy muttered, peeling back the rest of the tape so that Trip was essentially free, aside from a few strips she'd left around his wrists. They seemed almost unnecessary now. His pulse was weak when she laid a couple of fingers across it, so she left him where he was, catching up with Glenn as he dug through the impromptu first aid kit. "I'll get everything loaded. Bring him out when you're done." She started to the door, then stopped and retraced her steps to pick up the broken knife. It got tucked into her duffel bag, which she picked up along with Glenn's to take to the truck.

He snorted a response as he wrapped his hand in white bandages until the outermost layer was only a pale pink instead of the violent red that the inner layers showed. Once secure, he turned to step back into the room where Trip sat half-falling out of his chair. Glenn bent down to hoist him up, tossing the man over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes before going to join Billy at the truck.

Billy leaned to push the car door open as the pair emerged from the motel room, and took ahold of Trip's elbow to ease him in. "No nicknames. No kiddo, no slick. I'd rather you just not call me anything."

She adjusted the vents of the struggling AC, aiming one directly at her face, where a sheen was already dappling the crest of high cheekbones.

"Sure, boss," Glenn said, climbing in after loading up the unconscious man. He closed the door. "Just as soon as you start paying me enough money to give a ***."

Billy twisted fully in her seat, a hard-eyed squint dropped dead center between Glenn's brows. "Not 24 hours ago you handed me a sack full of money and said you didn't give a *** where it or you ended up. You want me to hand it back to you now? Have you lost your *** mind? You wanted to come, and you're not doing me any favors by still being here." She closed her mouth with effort. It promptly flew open again a second later. "You're right. I bet on the wrong goddamn horse. Hopefully I'll be quicker on the uptake next time. Get out."

"Face facts, Billy," he said, turning to meet her hard-eyed squint. "You heard the numbers. Ez's got fifteen turned, ten coming. Maybe those numbers have gone up in the last few hours. Tough as you may be, you ain't tough enough to take on more than twenty men all by your lonesome. And pretty as you are, I doubt that personality of yours is endearing enough to enough folk who'd be willing to put their necks out to give you a hand with this *** storm you've walked into."

"I ain't going nowhere. 'Cause if I do, you'll end up dead."

Billy had her eyes on the door handle, waiting to see Glenn's hand wrap around it and yank. She thought if she saw it, then the knot in her chest would loosen and the air cranking from the vents might somehow feel cooler.

"Doesn't sound like to me it's any of your concern whether or not I'll end up dead. Especially when I'm telling you outright there's no money in it either way for you."

"The money's purely for the luxury of getting to tell me how to conduct myself in your presence," Glenn said, reaching for the door. "You send me away and I'll just track you down. I can feel that darkness in you as easily as I can smell you sweating in that seat there. So, I'm involved one way or the other. It's up to you if we're on the same page, is all."

"You know what I think?" Billy’s gaze fixed on the back of Glenn’s hand as he reached for the door, and then made a steady arc up to his eyes. "I think just about anything right now seems better to you than being alone with yourself. Maybe you're not scared of death, but maybe the prospect of sitting by yourself, with that darkness in you and the things that meant something to you dead in the ground, maybe sitting there with all the echoes of that bouncing around you is worse than anything else. So no, I don't think we're on the same page. I don't even think we're reading the same book, Glenn Douglas."

Glenn studied her for a long moment of silence following that outburst. During this time, his expression did not change. It remained calm, collected, implacable. He opened the door. "Yeah," he said, climbing out. He reached over the edge of the truck bed for his bag, one hand still on the door. He stood there for a moment, looking like he had something else to say. Then he closed the door and tugged the rucksack up onto his shoulders and started walking toward the road.

There was no sweetness in the victory of his departure, it was as bitter as the aftertaste of coffee lingering in the back of her throat. The air from the vents didn't get any cooler. Then knot in her chest didn't loosen.

Billy put the truck in gear and drove past him without slowing, refusing to look in the rearview mirror until she was out of the motel parking lot, and then she watched until the heat rising from the pavement bent his figure and finally erased it from view.
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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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Glenn Douglas
Adult Wyrm
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 06, 2017 5:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thirty miles later, with the sun crisping the horizon in burnt oranges, Billy turned the truck around on an empty road. Backtracking of the worst kind because it was driven only by the fear of regret or that maybe she was missing something, that Glenn Douglas was, if nothing else, a potent element to an unknown chemistry.

She rubbed absently at the black stain on her wrists, and once she spotted what she assumed to be Glenn, she turned around again, pulling over to wait on the shoulder a quarter mile ahead, figuring she'd need that amount of distance before she could find it in herself to unlock the door for him.

Glenn had walked along at a steady pace since she left him behind. The dirt and dust of the road settled on his limbs as comfortably as the blanket of any warm bed, more familiar than any home he'd ever known. He heard the truck rumbling down the road before he saw it. The askance look he gave it accompanied by a vaguely amused split to his lips. The expression didn't last. He thought about what she'd said to him as he walked down the road. He thought about an awful lot. Like his hat, which had surely been blown away by the winds in York where he'd left it over Salome's grave. It was a tattered brown thing, stained with rings of sweat, drops of blood, tears on the brim and a hole in the crown where he'd put a bullet through. It was the same bullet that had killed Brandon.

"I need a new hat," he decided, rubbing the back of his neck where it was turning red and slick from the sweat and sun beating down from on high. He was close enough to hear the quietly idling engine and smell the gasoline and exhaust fumes, then. He looked at the truck and tossed his bag over into the bed. He walked around to the passenger side, paused, and then put a foot up on the rear tire and hoisted himself up and over to lie down beside his bag. Reaching up overhead, Glenn's knuckles rasped against the glass of the rear window. Get a move on.

Billy leaned across Trip, one hand braced on his hip while the fingers of the other hand took their time mustering up the tension required to push the lock up and let Glenn in. During that time, she kept her gaze on his jaw and the place where his neck shallowed out a little behind his ear. A drop of sweat ran down the shadowed gulley and was followed by another that disappeared behind the collar of his shirt. She was equally afraid that if she looked him in the eyes, there'd be something within them that made her want to shoot him or want to apologize.

Relief was Glenn's hand leaving the knob, the way the truck rocked slightly under his weight as he climbed in the back. Billy needed another minute and a half more after the sound of his knuckles against the glass, and then she pulled out onto the road again.

Thirty-five miles later she pulled into the parking lot of a hardware store.

**********************************************

Arizona was peppered with dirt roads like the one Billy turned off on. Some of them led to an actual destination, many were just ideas that seemed to ramble on out into the desert before the motivation was lost.

Billy picked the road she did because there were faint tracks on it, evidence that it'd been used sometime in the last few weeks, but not frequently. The truck bumped over clumps of bushes and old ruts for another fifteen miles before Billy cut the wheel right and left the road behind for open desert. Then she drove until an arroyo kept them from going any farther.

She hopped out of the truck, shading her eyes as she looked into the back.

Glenn sat there with a pair of shovels laying across his lap. He was smoking a cigarette that was nearing the end of its days and watching the world behind the truck stretch out into nothingness.

"Out here, huh?" he stood slowly, turning to clamber over the wall of the truck bed. "Not even coyotes come out these ways."

"Where would you put him?" Billy asked, genuine interest in her voice despite the fact that her gaze still staunchly avoided lining up with his. She reached for the shovels and brought them out to balance against the side of the truck.

"Depends on why I'm killing him," he flicked his cigarette into the dirt. "I suppose. I'd like to be buried next to a river or a lake, when I go. But when you're on a tight clock," he tapped his wrist with two fingers and circled around to grab one of the shovels.

Billy thought about that for a moment. "I don't want to be buried," she said at last, locking up the truck and starting off in the direction of the arroyo. Ten feet before the edge, she thrust the tip of her shovel into the ground to mark where they would dig. "I'd rather be burned. Cremated. Whichever. And then scattered somewhere, not kept in an urn."

"Why?" he said, stabbing the shovel into the ground beside the mark she made. His boot came to stamp down on it. A twist and pull had him heaving up dry earth. He tossed it aside.

"The idea of being confined in a box or underground--" Billy trailed off with a shake of her head. "Even if I won't know any different. Better to be scattered ashes." She moved with a deftness that suggested this wasn't her first time to go digging in the desert.

For Glenn, it was a little too soon to be digging another grave in sun packed dirt. The heat, the dryness of the world around him, that pale cracked ground reminded him too much of York at that time. He blinked past the remembrance as he dug, distracting himself the only way he could at the moment. "Scattered, huh? Where'd you like to be scattered to?"

"Not sure,” she said, another scoopful of sand added to the growing pile behind her. "But not somewhere cold." It was only after Billy answered the question that she squinted over at Glenn, something dubious in her expression. Her lips pursed and then relaxed as she abandoned the thought and continued. "I think I would've been more romantic about it once, thinking about my ashes on the wind, eventually meeting the ocean or something." One shoulder hitched up, dismissive of the notion.

"Oh, what? You're a cold, calculating bad ass now, huh?" he smirked. More dirt was ripped up, tossed aside, again and again. "You'll be a romantic again, when you're lying wherever it is you're taking those last breaths."

Billy shot a look aside at Glenn, dark brows slashing down. "No," she said simply, which was the least offensive remainder of the barrage of words she wanted to aim at him. "I just don't think I'm as idealistic as I once was. But I don't see how you could have any clue what I'd be like when I'm down to my last breath."

"I can predict that you won't have to worry about that, though,” she added. “Someone's going to shoot you in the head before you can even consider a breath."

"Everyone's a romantic when they're dying," he explained. "Everyone gets existential, gets afraid and starts to wonder about things. That's where romance comes from, you know. Comes from a fear of death. It's a spark of life, you know? The kinda thing that makes you forget about that impending end to it all. It's where religion comes from, where people got the idea to start swapping stories about this god or that so they ain't so scared of the dark," he glanced up at the second comment, a wry smile splitting his dry lips. "That's the plan, isn't it? Quick and easy, no time to be scared."

"Maybe," she hedged, words filtering through and arranging themselves secondary to the sound of Glenn’s voice, which she'd grown used to hearing in rasps and grates and stingy pinches of sound strung together rather than the humble drawl that came now. It was lulling the way a far-off rumble was, before you had to worry about whether the sky was going to open up and how much. "Probably you and I have a slightly different perspective on things than the average Joe, given some of the things we see. Have seen," she corrected herself.

"That's not the worst way to go," Billy said for his latter comment. "Especially if someone gets you from behind. Though I still entertain the idea that I'd want some warning. That's just a control issue, though, I guess."

"Control," he said, the subsequent hum sounding like quieted laughter. "You enjoy your control. The anxiety of knowing, instead of the peace of not knowing that you don't know."

"I didn't realize when I pulled over that I was picking up Buddha. Any other wisdom you want to toss at the feet of the unworthy from your Enlightened position?" Billy heaved another shovelful of soil over her shoulder and then stepped back to look at their progress.

Glenn's laugh was louder this time. He paused in his work, the tip of the shovel dug straight into the ground as he leaned onto the shaft. "Darling, if I'm the Buddha then this whole *** world is ***. Stick around a while," he added, "and yeah. You might just hear a little more wisdom from me, if that's what you want to call it."

"Wisdom or hot air," Billy said, looking over her shoulder where the sun beat down on the truck. She'd left both windows rolled down, but there hadn't been any noise from within. "I can't say I've seen a lot in your actions that strike me as Zen, either, unless I make a liberal interpretation." Tossing her shovel to the ground nearby, Billy walked back to the trunk and pulled the door open, grabbing Trip under his arms to drag him from the truck's cab.

"Zen," he said the word like he'd never heard it before, then pushed off his lean and turned to toss his shovel into the dirt as she went for the truck. "I think I classify."

The huff of air that followed might have been her response, or it could have just been the result of bearing Trip's weight as he slid from the truck. Billy allowed his shoulders meet the dust gently at the edge of the grave, then stood over his sprawled form while considering her ethical quandary. Leaning over, she put her hand in front of his mouth and then stood back up. "I can't bury him alive." A quiet comment directed mostly at herself.

"Be a *** way to go," Glenn said. "And he's had a rough go of it as is," the gunslinger drew one of his pistols and pulled the hammer back.

"Wait," she said, taking a couple of steps back from Trip. She didn't have an immediate follow up for that, though, wasn't planning on making a case for not shooting Trip, anyway. Instead, her quandary now shifted over to Glenn and whether she would somehow feel indebted to him if he shot the guy for her. Worrying the inside of her lower lip, Billy hesitated only briefly before her hand went to her own gun. "I'll do it."

Glenn studied her for a moment, then, after a nod, de-cocked and holstered the pistol. He took a step back.

Gun in hand, Billy turned her back to Glenn and aimed down at Trip. It still took her another thirty seconds to quiet the rush of thoughts and then, with a steadying breath and after a backward step, she pulled the trigger.

After forcing herself to look down at the mess left behind for at least a handful of seconds, she spun on a heel and tucked her gun away before swiping the back of her hand over the perspiration condensing on her brow.

Glenn didn't blink as the gunshot went off. He looked up at Billy from the mess of a man that had once been named Trip, then gestured to the truck as he picked up a shovel. "Why don't you go sit in the AC a bit, I'll finish up here."

"You should already know I won't do that." For any number of reasons, though she did take a minute to stand in the thin shadow cast by the roof of the truck looking at Glenn rather than Trip. It was probably the first time the gunslinger had been the preferred vista since Billy had walked into Charlie's and realized who he was. Not because he was hard to look at, because he wasn't, but because of what she knew of him.

"Just so long as you know the offer's there," Glenn said, not looking back at her. He went to step around the pile of upturned earth and shoved the shovel into it.

A couple of inches from the toe of her boot was a Rorschach of blood already drying. Billy stared at it, then went to pick up her shovel. "I won't faint or anything," she promised, leaning against the handle. "Besides, we need to be in Yuma before three o'clock visitation."

"Who are we visiting?" Glenn asked as he started shoveling dirt over the fresh grave.

"My aunt," she said. "That's the whole reason they were out in--" she waved a hand, dismissive of the details since she didn't figure it mattered now. "Madison and Ketch were picking up something for her, and seeing as how one's dead now and the other is MIA, it falls on me to get it to her."

"And she's in prison," he said. Glenn paused after spilling more earth into the grave, looking up at Billy. "What'd she do?"

"Mm," she nodded, fingers raking through damp hair. She wished she'd thought of a hat. "Killed her piece of *** husband. It's been years."

"That'll do it," he grunted, returning to the task. "How long she got left?"

"Probably forever. The parole board hasn't been kind to her, but she's stubborn, too, thinks she deserves being where she is. At least that's the last I heard."

Glenn's laugh was a single syllable of sound. It was too close to a bark. "People."

"Is that some precursor to more of your 'wisdom'?" Billy asked, fixing him with a stare. "Someone could say the same of you."

"Say what? I'm stubborn?"

"Sure."

Glenn gave her a flat look. "Go on. Look like you want to say more."

Inexplicably, Billy smiled, though it seemed the kind of smile born of some internal satisfaction. "Nah. I'm good. Really."

"Whatever you say, kid."
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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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Glenn Douglas
Adult Wyrm
Adult Wyrm


Joined: 12 Apr 2010
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Jobs: Gumshoe, Undertaker

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 09, 2017 12:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Billy's shovel came to a halt, gaze roving over Glenn while her eyes narrowed, trying to figure out whether the moniker was just a reflex or if it was intentional. "How old do you think I am?"

"Young enough to still act like you own the ground you walk on."

"Old enough to get punched when that attitude pisses someone off."

She wanted to say something as clever as he had, but being taken aback didn't mix well with parrying insults. A handful of seconds passed, then some more, long enough that Billy knew the window of retaliation had passed.

"After we get done with my aunt, we can work on getting your dark stowaway back in its proper place," she said with a reflexive glance down to her wrist.

"Hmm..." he paused to lean on the shovel. "Got ideas?"

"A couple, but my aunt will have more. It's not anything I can take care of myself. Believe me, I tried."

"Then we best hurry," he said, resuming. "It's evil. Poison, it'll kill you."

"You're not dead yet."

"I don't take to dying the same way most do."

"And how's that?" She asked. Their dirt pile was growing sparse.

Glenn smirked, tossing a few more shovels' worth of dirt before turning to walk back toward the truck. He tossed the shovel over into the truck bed and then turned to lean against the side of the vehicle.

"You're doing that thing again," Billy pointed out. She tamped down some dirt unnecessarily, scraped a few droplets of blood into oblivion and then trailed Glenn to the back of the truck, tossing her shovel in behind his.

"Three years ago now, Madison and I were cornered by the Hexx, what the Sarcina devolved into," he said. "At a bell tower near a town called Decrepit. Brought the whole thing tumbling down on myself and the coyotes to get her out. I died, I guess. Spent a time in-between it all, and then one day I woke up all twisted and hurting, but alive."

"Where were you when you woke up?" She asked and then, when she realized she'd leaned up against the truck next to him, Billy’s spine stiffened and she pushed away to head to the passenger side. "I need you to drive for a while," she said, digging out the keys and tossing them in his direction.

Glenn caught the keys and pushed from his lean to circle around to the driver's side. "The bell tower, what was left of it. Crawled out, found my way back to the city and started putting it all back together. I couldn't make sense of nothing. Couldn't tell what was memory, dream, death. Wasn't sure I was alive for a while. Tried to kill myself, didn't work."

"How long were you there, in-between?" Even with the windows opened, the air in the cab of the truck still felt stale and still. Billy rested an elbow against the sill and made a thick coil of her hair until it was wound around her wrist and off the back of her neck. "Gunshot?" she asked when he mentioned trying to kill himself. "Does that mean no one else can or just you?"

"I been shot, stabbed, beat to a pulp, nothing stuck," he started the engine and rolled his window down. Putting the truck into gear, he backed up and turned around before heading back the way they'd come from. "It was all Leo's *** though. He's the reason everything that happened went down the way it did, and I figure he's the reason I couldn't die. Now that he's gone, I don't know what that means for me. But I got bored of trying to eat my own bullets, so I'll just wait until someone gets the drop on me to find out."

"Those are all physical solutions, though, and I think maybe you've got too much other *** in you for something typical to work." An offhand comment as Billy watched him from where she'd wedged herself into the corner, one leg tucked underneath her, and her right hand with its coil of hair, still stuck on the sill venting the nape of her neck as the truck picked up speed. "If you call me 'kid' one more time, maybe you'll find out what kind of effect Leo's death has had."

Glenn, Billy might notice, sat rather stiff-backed as he drove the truck over the rough and uneven patches of dirt road crossing over the desert, looking awfully uncomfortable. He glanced at her, briefly, from the corner of his eye. "Leo could hurt me," he said. "Stabbed me once, with a knife made of wood. Everything else would heal up in a few hours. That took days."

Billy noted Glenn's stiff posture but chalked it up to being unfamiliar with the area. Her gaze settled on the clench of his hands where they curled around the wheel. "So, if he's the one that infected you, and now some of that's jumped to me, seems possible that maybe I could hurt you. Unless you're saying it was all dependent on that particular knife he had."

"But I already suspect there're other avenues I didn't tap into. I'm better with those than bullets, anyway."

It wasn't a threat, but more along the lines of rumination.

"Maybe you can. Time will tell," his smirk, which seemed at odds with his discomfort, said he wasn't terribly worried. "Knife was nothing. Just fancy, old. I tried it later, nothing."

Billy started to retort. After all, she had a smirk she thought was as good as his, but she felt the tell-tale tingle at the ends of her fingers as a field of tiny lightning bolts that ran up the length of her forearms and settled in her chest. Loosing her hand from her hair, she shifted in the seat abruptly to face forward and plant both feet flat on the floor.

Her back bowed abruptly outward as if she'd been shoved from behind, her next breath was a ragged, pained, open-mouthed gasp that sounded too coherent for the way her eyes rolled up in their sockets. In her lap, her hands formed tight fists, knuckles bled white, veins standing in relief. The whole episode lasted maybe a half a minute and then her spine snapped backward and Billy curled against the side of the truck as the road before them swam back into focus.

"The ***? You having a seizure?" he asked during the onset of the episode. He kept stealing looks at her from the corner of his eye as guided the truck to a jolting stop so he could turn to look at her in full.

She didn't answer him for a while, waiting until her muscles unknotted and the breaths she took didn't feel like they were scalding her lungs. A tremor had settled in her hands, so she laced her fingers together and buried them in the bunched-up fabric of her skirt. "It's a thing that happens sometimes," she said, refusing to commit to calling it a seizure. "It's like a umm..." she dropped off, thinking of how to explain it, "psychic aftershock."

"Aftershock means an explosion. I didn't hear no boom," he watched her a moment longer, his suspicion palpable. Then he put the truck back into gear and they were bumping along soon after.

"Aftershocks happen after earthquakes, too," she argued, a deeper exhale sending up a puff of black strands which she caught and wrapped around the end of her index finger. "Besides, there wouldn't be any reason for you to hear anything. It's fine. I'm good now. It's not anything new."

"Earthquakes got a boom, too," he muttered. "You gonna direct me or what?"

"Yeah, we go another 20 miles on this highway and then it'll be on our right. All the fences and barb wire are hard to miss." Billy smoothed the hem of her dress out with the side of her hand and looked out the window. "I guess you can just wait in the truck."

Glenn nodded and focused his attention on the road ahead. Sometime later, he took the turn and started following signs and fences. He pulled into a space and killed the engine, removing the keys from the ignition to drop them in her lap as he opened the truck door and stepped out.

"I'll be an hour, maybe less," Billy said, scooping up the keys automatically as she got out of the truck, then leaned back in to dig around in the duffel bag for a leather pouch. She emptied the contents into her hand, which turned out to be a simple leather cord with three beads strung on it. After looping it around her wrist to make an impromptu bracelet, she closed the bag back up and shut the door, turning to head toward the visitor's entrance.

Glenn's answer was noncommittal. He watched her walk away for a few steps, then pushed from the lean he'd taken up against the side of the truck and followed her, hands shoved into his pockets with a slouch in his spine and a slump in his shoulders that made it look like he'd just crawled out of bed for the first time that day. He eyed the prison warily, he'd seen the inside of one a few times. They always made him itchy.

"What're you doing?" Billy asked, cutting a look aside at Glenn as he fell in step beside her. His posture caused her attention to linger.

"Coming inside."

"Like hell you are." Billy stopped, catching him by the elbow, using him as leverage when she spun to face him. "For starters, you've got no proper ID, which'll cast suspicion on me. Second, you already look like a goddamned convict the way you're walking right now. Third, this meeting is important and it can't get *** up. I told you I wouldn't be long. Go smoke a pack of cigarettes or something."

"I'm out," he said, pausing. "You gonna keep me out? How are you gonna do that without causing a scene out here in the lot?"

"Well, I'll give you the keys back and you can go hunt some down." Billy opened her fist, offering the keyring over to him. "You don't have any business in there, Glenn, and besides, like I said, they won't let you in anyway."

Glenn pulled himself free of the grip on his elbow and shot a sly wink her way before turning to continue toward the prison, ignoring the keys. "They'll let me in."

Billy's teeth clenched until the muscles of her jaw popped into stark relief, and she shook her head as Glenn pulled out of her grip. "When they turn you away, you just go back to the truck and don't make a scene. If you do, I swear to *** I will make it my life's work to kill you for good."

"Relax," Glenn said. "You think I been through all this *** and come out ahead 'cause I don't know what I'm doing?"

Billy shrugged but couldn't help an ornery, "Who's acting like they own the ground they're walking on now?" as she pulled open the metal-framed door that led into the visitor's lobby.

The rectangular room was composed of non-descript grays, hard plastic chairs, and a thick glass window, behind which sat a bored female attendant. To the left of the window was the first entrance with a metal detector and a guard posted next to it.

Glenn's laugh followed her into the lobby. He stepped through the door and went immediately toward the metal detector, staring curiously at the machine and the guard posted beside it like he'd never seen anything so strange or otherworldly.

Glenn's laugh earned a glare, but soon enough Billy turned away to approach the attendant behind the glass and the sign in sheet that lay on the counter in front. She gestured between herself and Glenn and she pushed the button on the intercom and leaned in to speak. "He and I are here for visiting hours. Dezba Creeley."

The attendant nodded, looked up and then leaned forward herself, looking to either side of Billy. "You're waiting for someone else, then?" she asked, though she was looking right at Glenn.

"No, he's--" Billy stalled out, and then struggled to figure out how to fill the silence in her confusion until she decided not to fill it at all. She picked up the pen to sign herself in, dropped it, and bent to retrieve it. The attendant had fixed a stare upon her that flustered Billy unreasonably. She took a breath and set the ballpoint atop a line on the sign-in sheet scrawling out her name, brows frozen in a deep frown.

Glenn, who in all his life had never actually seen a metal detector, found the large metallic frame interesting but pointless. He glanced at the guard, who seemed not to acknowledge him, and then walked right on through. The subsequent series of beeps, the small yellow lights that flashed on top of the metal detector, did nothing to stop him from continuing through and shoving through the door on the other side.

Beside the detector, the guard jumped, bewildered, and was staring with palpable puzzlement at the malfunctioning machine.

Billy's head whipped to one side, too late to call out anything to Glenn and besides, she didn't know what she might have said. All she could do was watch as the alarms went off and the birth of the guard's confused expression as he rose and looked over at her. Behind the glass, the attendant stood as well, boredom shed from her pinched features and replaced with suspicion.

Billy shook her head, "I've been standing here the whole time."

The guard tipped her head, indicating Billy should come closer, which she did warily.

"Nothing on you?" The guard asked.

"Nope," Billy said, lifting each arm to the side before spinning slowly.

"Come on through, then. I'll have to search you, too."

Billy stepped through the machine.
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 09, 2017 12:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Glenn didn't watch the exchange between Billy and the guard. He stood there with his hands on his guns, waiting on the other side of that door and wondering at the point of all that noise if it didn't do anything.

Billy, carefully blanking her expression, endured a pat down before the guard nodded at her and waved her on, then turned back to the machine, reaching to toggle and test a few knobs. She ignored Glenn and started down the wide hallway that would lead to another guarded doorway.

He stepped off when Billy passed, taking a couple of long strides to walk beside her. "The hell was that all about?"

"How about you tell me," she said, chopping the side of her hand against his bicep, half expecting to meet nothing but air.

Glenn shrugged when she struck him. "Hell if I know."

"You've known you could do that the whole time?"

"Do what?"

"Go invisible or whatever the hell just happened back there."

Glenn's expression slipped only briefly. He frowned, turning away and nodding ahead. "I've never been on this side of a prison before."

Billy's stare was unrelenting all the way down the hall and to the next doorway. This time there was no metal detector, just an armed guard who looked her over, studied the badge she'd stuck to her chest and then nodded her through.

The hallway continued to a final doorway. This one led outside.

"Can't say I'm surprised," she said at last.

"Also first time I've been to one of these without an armed escort," he smirked. "Nicer when you ain't being thrown around."

"Well, I feel kind of like I'm letting you down, then. No armed escort or anything. Bet there are plenty here who'd throw you around, though. If they could see you. You going to tell me how you do that?"

"I'll tell you soon as I get it figured out, kid."

"I'd appreciate it, geezer." It wasn't much, but it was all she had at the moment. The amount of satisfaction it gave her was minimal, so the rest of her irritation ended up in the thrust of her palm against the door that led outside. It swung wide, revealing a small, manicured yard, a cement pad with some picnic tables, and a tall fence. A handful of women sat at the picnic tables with their visitors, while several others milled around or gathered in small groups. They all wore pale blue jumpsuits. Near the fence, set apart from the other women was Billy's aunt, a thick black braid hanging straight down her long spine. She was tall, but thin to the point of malnourishment, the dark skin of her forearms baggy over her bones. She turned in their direction, brown eyes passing over Billy to settle on Glenn.

His smirk returned as he shot a look at her from the corner of his eye. "How old do you think I am?" he asked, stepping through the door out into the yard. Once outside, Glenn turned to take stock of the bodies present, guards, inmates, and prisoners. He ticked them off in his head, counting each face as he made the rounds with a sweeping examination until meeting Dezba Creeley's eyes. The shared look made him falter a step, if only because she seemed to be the first, aside from Billy, in the prison who seemed to see him. Without waiting for Billy's direction, Glenn started off toward her aunt.

"Old enough for me to entertain the idea of dementia as an excuse for your attitude and the fact that you seem to keep forgetting my name." She wasn't in any position to wipe the smirk from his face, but she wished she could. Billy suspected he knew that and it amused him all the more.

Once Glenn stalked off in the direction of Dezi, Billy was quick to catch up.

Dezi remained rooted where she was, a hawkish aspect to her eyes as she watched their approach. Mostly, she watched Glenn, head eventually cocking to one side as if she were listening to something.

Glenn stared at the woman with hard eyes. He sucked on his teeth, looking like he wanted to say something to her, but wasn't sure what. So, he glanced at Billy and waited for her to start talking while he figured out the entire reason he came here in the first place. Hopefully, she'd be chatty enough to give him some time.

"Well," Billy said, pasting a bright smile on her face. "Isn't this a reunion. Glenn, this is Dezi. Dezi, Glenn. How about the two of you don't make me completely redundant in this stare down you've got going on." In the middle of all of that, Billy slid the leather cord and beads from her wrist and dropped it into Dezi's hands while the surrounding guards had their heads turned.

Dezi slipped the beads in her pocket, eyeing Glenn up and down before giving him a thin-lipped smile. It wasn't unkind, just fatigued. "Didn't have any trouble getting in, did you? I could sense you before you hit the parking lot, ripe as a full dumpster left in the heat for a month before someone turns it over." Rather than being put off by her own description, Dezi seemed fascinated, albeit in an understated manner. She wasn't the excitable type these days.

"Dug a grave in the desert before coming to give you your costume jewelry," Glenn answered. "And the kid's truck's got *** AC," he glanced at Billy again, then back at Dezi. "What are you still doing here?"

"There's not an AC in the universe strong enough to disguise the craziness you've got going on." Dezi's finger stirred through the air in Glenn's direction, which pulled an odd look from Billy, though she remained silent through their exchange, getting the idea that there was more to Glenn's presence here than she'd understood before.

"I'm doing my time, same as you," Dezi said in answer to Glenn's latter question. "We're just looking out from behind different kinds of fences."

Glenn snorted, turning his head to spit into the grass. "You're doing *** all is what," he said. "Know where your son is?"

Dezi smiled, a generous, broad curve that carried glimmers of her youth in it, forgiving and patient, the kind that turned the other cheek. "I know what I need to."

"Where is he then?"

Dezi's smile faded naturally, sharp features softening with something along the lines of disappointment. She studied Glenn for a long while before speaking again, "Is that what you came in here to ask me?"

"No," he said. "But figured I'd shoot while I was here."

Billy stood nearby with a clenched fist to her mouth, watching a line of ants march across the dirt, first, and then at the dark patch of clouds gathering to the North.

Dezi gave Glenn a slow, if implacable, nod and then sat down at a nearby picnic table, thin arms folding over the top of it. "How about you move on from that one, then."

Glenn looked over at Billy, frowning, as Dezi went to sit down. "What's your deal?"

A violent shake of her head sent coal-dark tips of hair flying. Billy was reluctant to remove the self-imposed dam, but she did after another second or two, fist unfurling to tug at the neckline of her dress. "We can talk later. Do whatever it is you've gotten it in your head to do."

Glenn grunted and sat down across from Dezi. "She don't like me much," he commented, gesturing toward Billy. "But she keeps letting me tag along."

"Have you figured out why that is, yet?" Dezi asked, without specifying which comment the question belonged to.

"She don't like me because I'm abrasive and an asshole," he said. "Same reason most don't. Also 'cause I punched her not too long ago," Glenn rubbed at his jaw. "Can't say why she's letting me stick around yet, except maybe she ain't as cold a bad ass as she likes to think. Guilt? Just lost someone close to me, and someone else not long before that. I reckon you got some ideas of your own, with your spooky ***."

The sound of Dezi's laugh was hoarse with disuse, but there were hints of its former resonation in the way it surrounded them.

"I usually have an idea or two," she said, glancing over at Billy, then back to Glenn. "Billy told me about Bethany. Though now that you're here, I can say I would've known it immediately. You're still carrying something of her."

"She's my maker, you could say. Her and Leo Ortiz," Glenn said, eying the old woman. "What's wrong with you?"

"I didn't know Leo. Only heard about him." Dezi eyed him back, "What do you mean what's wrong with me?"

"I can smell death on you," he said. "Billy told me what you did, but I figured that was a long time ago. So why do you still stink of it?"

"It was a long time ago, yes, but I suppose he got bored wherever he was and thought I might be a good host for a while." Dezi vented the neck of her jumpsuit a few times, then set her arm back to the table. "Turns out I am. I haven't been able to shake him. That's why Billy came to give me something meant to help."

"She also said you ain't worried about getting out."

"Not right now, I'm not."

"Why?"

"Well, for one, because it's not a legal option."

"If you were worried about legality you wouldn't have killed a man."

"How about you tell her what she needs to do, Glenn, since you appear to be an expert on everyone else's business," Billy dropped down onto the bench beside Dezi, ignoring the look the woman shot in her direction.

"It's fine, Billy. He's just asking questions," Dezi said.

"No, it's not," Billy insisted. "He's being his usual jackass self. So go ahead, tell her what to do."

Glenn gave Billy a flat look, then turned back to Dezi. "I ain't telling her what to do. I'm asking why she made the choice to stay."

"Not all of it involves choice," Dezi said, reaching out to sneak a quick squeeze of Billy's hand before the guards could spot the contact. "But the part that does is personal."

Glenn shrugged. "I broke out of tighter places than this, so if you ever need an expert," he tapped the table and stood.

Glenn's comment earned a close-lipped smile. "I'll remember that. Likewise, if you ever decide you want to sort out all that mess running through you, I know someone who might could help."

Billy started to rise but a look from Dezi kept her where she was.

"This someone got a name?"

"He does. Benjamin. He's in New Mexico. Or was, last I knew. Benjamin Lee. You can give him my name."

"Might be I'll look him up sometime, if I get desperate enough," Glenn said, he glanced at Billy. "What about her? She got it, too. Came by and started meddling in ***."

"I've got an idea for that, too," Dezi said. "Thought I'd talk to Billy alone for a few minutes and then the two of you can be on your way."

Glenn nodded and walked over to stand by the fence, turning his back on the two women.

Ten minutes later, Billy stopped a few feet behind Glenn. "Ready?"

Glenn turned and stepped past her. "Gimme a moment," he said, approaching Dezi. He stopped by the table, leaning down to place a hand on the surface so he was just about eye-level with her. "Your son may have been involved in the death of someone I care about," he said. "So if you hear from him, you let him know I'm looking. I can't promise you I don't mean him harm, so the least you can do is make sure he's ready for what might be coming his way."

For the first time since they arrived, Dezi's demeanor shifted from relative openness to an inward curl as if coiling up tightly, though she had no trouble meeting Glenn's eyes evenly. "If you're talking about Madison Rye, then you can go ahead and let that one go. He wouldn't have thought twice about stepping in front of those bullets. Madison's got her own story, but I don't know that it'll get told anytime soon."

"It don't much matter if he'd step in front of them. What matters is if he had anything to do with it, one way or the other," Glenn said. "Just 'cause you care about someone don't mean it ain't your fault if you get them killed. I just got to know what happened, is all."

"I imagine you'll work it out for yourself one way or another," Dezi said, starting to rise. "You strike me as the dogged kind."

"That's one way to put it," he said, reaching out to pat her lightly on the arm. "Good meeting you, Mrs. Creeley."
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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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PostPosted: Mon Jul 10, 2017 5:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The moment his hand touched the old woman's arm, Glenn felt that darkness inside him uncoil and lash out. He felt it moving through his arm and into hers, a primordial force that sought to bring ruin to everything it met. It leapt between them, and though Glenn hardly understood the entity that had poisoned him, he could sense the desire to tear away at Dezi's soul. Glenn recoiled, but found he couldn't pull his arm away.

It happened in a second. He saw, through the black eyes of Leo's curse, two entities. Where it rushed toward one, Glenn used every ounce of will he could muster to steer it another way. Instead of trying to snatch away her soul, it grasped for the invasive entity that had latched itself onto her.

Dezi wasn't without her own defenses, weakened though they were. She felt the infringement immediately and acutely, felt what it wanted and, for a second, she entertained the thought of handing it over before recognizing that that was just her husband's influence. A strange tug of war occurred between the trio during which Dezi felt the black ooze of force from Glenn wrapping her bones and coating them in darkness. Afraid of what might happen if Glenn pulled away too quickly, Dezi reached out and grasped him by the wrist in turn, making a closed circuit of their connection. Darkness met weak light, but it began building slowly the longer she held onto Glenn. It wasn't enough to keep the curse from binding to the entity attached to her, but it wrapped her soul and kept it bound properly until she had enough strength to push free of the invasion.

"Didn't have enough troubles of your own, so you thought maybe you'd add one more?" Dezi asked, looking up in time to see the exterior door close behind Billy.

Glenn frowned at what was happening, at the grip on his wrist and the sensation of that other-part of him, which felt more like an extension of himself rather than the remnants of Leo, at that point. He sensed something inside of Dezi and it didn't make one lick of sense to him, he'd never been able to make heads nor tails of this spooky ***. So, he jerked his hand away from her arm and took hold her wrist, meaning to pry her grip free. He hesitated a moment, and instead of tearing her away like he might have a man or woman a few decades her junior, he carefully pried her fingers from his wrist and stepped back, feeling the connection snap, feeling the presence of that dark passenger settling back within that burrow it'd hollowed out in his soul. He felt something else there, too, something more foreign, something just as vile, he thought.

"What?" he asked after a pause. It took him a moment to process, but Glenn soon made sense of what had just transpired. "Offer stands," he said. "This *** ain't a place for an old woman to die."

"I won't die here," Dezi said, rubbing sensation back into the hand she'd had around Glenn's wrist. She spoke with conviction, though it'd be hard to say whether it was genuine or some kind of subtle well wish she meant to send Glenn on his way with. "You consider Benjamin. That thing in you is looking for outlets, and it's hungry, too. In case you hadn't noticed."

Glenn nodded at her. "I'll think on it," he rubbed his hand on his thigh and then took a step back. "My old man was a piece of ***, you know," he said. "I remember wanting to take that gun from his belt and empty it into his belly. My mother, she was too patient, too kind for the likes of him," he rubbed at his jaw, studying her again for a long moment. "She used to keep after his guns for him, was real familiar. She had all the opportunity to put him down, and I always wondered why she wouldn't do it. Suppose she was scared, same as me. But I can't help wondering, what might be different if one of us had the grit to do what needed doing."

Again, he paused, frowning at the old woman in front of him. "It's your business. But, way I see it, you done your time for killing him long before you put him in the dirt. You're just serving someone else's sentence, now. And it don't have to be that way."

Seeming, at last, like he'd said what he'd meant to, Glenn clucked his tongue and nodded curtly, hands on his hips. "So, don't die in here," then he turned and walked away.

Dezi remained where she was as Glenn spoke, fingers resting lightly atop the scarred wood of the picnic table. She didn't need to be absolved by anyone else, but she understood too that with Glenn it wasn't as straightforward as that anyway, even if he thought different. Folding her arms over her chest as he finished, she returned his nod with one that was slower and more contemplative. Once his back was to her, she watched him walk away. It wasn't until he was out of the yard and beyond sight that a small, clandestine smile shadowed the corners of her mouth as she turned around, looking through the links of the fence to the land beyond.


*********

Glenn's departure was just as noisy as his entrance. And like before, the guard posted beside the metal detector had no idea what was going on. He walked through the doors that spilled out into the parking lot again and crossed with that same slouch to his step on over to the truck, where Billy waited. "Where to next, boss?" he asked, reaching up for the passenger door.

Billy was leaned up against the truck's fender near the driver's side door, gaze fixing on Glenn sharp and flinty as arrow tips when he appeared and started across the parking lot. By the time he reached for the passenger door, Billy had jolted upright and stalked the distance between them, aiming a shove at his shoulder with the flat of her hand. There was more than just physical force behind it, though Billy was careful this time to keep things moving outward, away from her body, rather than pulling inward. "What the *** is wrong with you?" Mostly rhetorical since she kept going, "Who the *** do you think you are to just go in there and talk to a woman you've never met in your life like she's your goddamn charge and you know what's best for her. Asking her about her son, making threats when you don't know *** about ***." She had every intention of seeing him sprawled on his ass on the ground before she'd relent.

Glenn grit his teeth and took a slow, steadying breath. "You want to do this *** in the *** parking lot of a prison?" he asked. "Want to hash out your problem with me right here and now? Just 'cause they can’t see me don't mean they ain't gonna come throw cuffs on the crazy shouting and throwing *** around in their lot."

He'd moved back a step from her shove -- and though he'd felt the added pressure of something more than her hand, he felt too its diminished effects, like something was eating up the power she was trying to throw at him. He kept his hands at his sides, fearing what might happen if he took hold of her. There wasn't any dark passenger hanging out in her soul, far as he could tell. If what happened with Dezi happened with Billy, he'd have nowhere else to direct that flow of malice.

The direction of the wind shifted, cold drafts rushing from the north, cutting across Billy's shoulders and ballooning the bottom of her dress. She was heedless to it, and to most of Glenn's caution. This time it was her fist that came flying in his direction, but she hadn't given much attention to her aim, it was all wild swing and fury. "Good, they can drag me off in cuffs for all I care. I probably am crazy, turning around and coming back for you, thinking that maybe--" she swatted at the air, "I don't even know. I don't even know what I was thinking. I just know I should know *** better by now."

Glenn's hand closed around her fist with a vice-like-grip that stopped it just before meeting his face. He yanked down, hoping to pull her off balance. "You know what I just did for that woman?" he asked. "I just took the *** parasite crawling around inside her. Made it my problem, so it don't gotta be hers," he let go of her hand, one way or the other. "I don't need you to understand why I came to see her. It wasn't to make no *** threats, not toward her or that *** cousin of yours. If I mean to hurt a man I sure as *** ain't gonna go warn his momma for him. So back the *** off, Billy. Get in the *** truck and leave, if that's what you want. Hell, you can stand here and yell at me 'til your throat's raw for all I care. But you keep your goddamn hands to yourself if you know what's good for you."

"You did what?" Billy wrenched her fist to get it free of his grip, and shoved at the tangle of hair plastered to the side of her face as she tried to catch her breath. Confusion etched lines in the corners of her eyes while she processed everything Glenn had just said. "Why the hell would you take that on?"

"Ask me after I've had time to figure it out," he said, watching her warily. "Are you done?"

A vague nod for the first part of what he said transitioned into a brusque shake of her head for the second. "I don't know." Her fist was still balled up tight against her chest, like it was just waiting to lash out again. With effort, she relaxed her fingers, scooped up the end of her braid the baby fine hairs along the nape of her neck so the breeze could blow cool across it. Her cheeks were flushed as if fevered. "Do you dislike me as much as I dislike you right now or are you just beyond investing anything in the living anymore?"

"Does it matter?"

"No. Yes. Not really. Mostly I said it to distract myself from wanting to hit you again."

He smirked. "No."

Billy's lips went from purse to full on compression that bled them of their natural pink tint. "That's probably worse," she said, releasing her braid and swiping the palm of her hand across the side of her dress. Then she spun abruptly around and marched back to the driver's side of the truck, climbing inside to crank up the engine before the sky opened on them.

"You always this tightly wound?" he asked as she rounded the truck. He considered climbing into the truck bed again, but the sky was looking ominous and he decided against it. Glenn opened the passenger door and climbed in.

"No," Billy said, a second glance sliding back in his direction as he climbed in the truck. "But there's no reason for you to believe that, is there? Guess it's a special gift of your presence. You have that effect on most women or just the unlucky few?"

"They get over it," he ran a hand through his hair and looked out the window at the prison. "Most of the time."

"Oh yeah? Do you get them hammered or do they get worn down and apathetic over time?" Billy pulled from prison lot onto the road just as the rain started to fall.

"Neither," he smirked broadly, glad he was facing away so she couldn't see it. "Usually stop getting mad right around the time they decide they're ready to sleep with me."

Billy's laughter was as brittle as the paint chipping off the side of the old truck.

"Yeah, laugh it up," Glenn said. "Just remember that in a week's time."

Billy's foot accidentally hit the brake--not with enough force to send them skidding over the wet asphalt, but enough so that she was thrust into the steering wheel. A surprised gasp escaped her that quickly turned into more laughter, some of the bitter edge burned away with genuine humor. "A week, huh?"

Glenn's hand slapped against the console to keep him from jolting forward in his seat. "Yeah. If that."

"Alright, yeah, I'll remember that." Her laughter died down to a snicker, posture straightening in her seat so she wouldn't knock the brake again.

"I robbed Madison the first time we met. Held her at gunpoint, emptied the safe," he said. "Hung around town and she came, found me, demanded her money back. I put her out on the dirt and kept on, and she just kept coming after me. By the time I was willing to give her anything back, I'd spent every last penny."

"So were you a born bastard then, or a made one?" Billy asked. "Is there someone in this universe that'll tell a story about you that doesn't end in their regret?"

Glenn glanced at her. "First and last thing my old man ever did for me was give me a gun and teach me how to shoot. Biggest regret of my life is not turning it on him and sparing us all the trouble of his existence. That's why I like Dezi. She had the guts to do what I didn't, what my mother couldn't. Damn stupid of her, if you ask me, to rot away in there."

"Well I didn't ask you, and neither did she, though I'm inclined to agree with you, and she knows all that. She's stubborn and she'll do what she wants when she's ready." Billy slowed to turn onto a highway that would take them west of Yuma. "You think we're fated to become what we become? Say you killed your dad and things went differently. Maybe you'd still end up right here the exact same man by different means."

"I don't think we're fated for ***."

"So we're just blowing in the wind, then?"

"I just don't think we're smart enough to see where things went wrong. We tell ourselves it was here or there. I say my pops, but I left home at nineteen and didn't come back for five years. A lot happened in that time."

"I don't know if I think that, either," he shrugged. "Doesn't matter one way or the other. It is the way it is, no changing it."

"I'm not sure. I can definitely pinpoint a few places I went wrong." Billy's shrug mirrored his. "And I'm about 80 percent sure that you still being in this truck is a royal *** up waiting to happen. I think you're wrong about not being able to change it, though. Maybe."

"What's there to change? What's happened happened. Go forward, but you can't ever know if you're right or wrong until the dust settles."

Rain pelted the windshield and forced Billy to slow. It hardly ever rained that hard in Yuma, which was probably why the windshield blades were out of date and insufficient; they smeared more than they wiped away. "Alright, guru," she said, a little distracted as she fiddled with the knob to the wipers again. "That could easily become an excuse for not trying, though. That's all I'm saying."

"Another 45 miles and we'll stop again. Motel I know where we can spend the night. And then tomorrow...tomorrow we go see someone else about getting your mess sorted from mine."

"Could be," he said. "But the people who take that route are gonna take it no matter what road you put them on. If you're gonna try you'll try, damned what others say."

"So now you've gone from answering nothing to having an answer for everything. Can't say which I prefer, yet."

"You're the one asking the questions," he reminded her. "You don't like what I got to say, don't ask."

"Fine," she said, and went quiet for a few seconds before, "It's not that I necessarily have a problem with what you're saying, but just that you say it likes it's the damn law."

"What can I say?" he shrugged. "I believe what I believe."

"So that means everyone else should, too?"

"Ain't that the common consensus? Be strong in your convictions and ***?"

A little chuff of sound escaped Billy, the feminized version of one of those grunts she was so often subjected to by men like Glenn. She ticked a look over to Glenn, quick because the driving rain made the road nearly indistinguishable from the steely sky above. She decided she had nothing more to add.

"What? You think everyone’s beliefs should be shakable, flimsy? Think conviction should go by the wayside?"

"Did you hear that come out of my mouth?"

"No, but I hear the judgment in your tone."

"Oh, well good. Less work for me in the future then, now that I know you can read between the lines." Billy squinted at a sign up ahead as the truck slowed to a crawl. "You just have an awful lot of conviction for an outlaw, murderer, thief. I can't decide which one should take top priority there."

"Don't act like you know me or what I've had to do just 'cause you seen my face on a poster with a dollar-sign next to the name," he said. "That ***'s in the past, at any rate. Only reason I'm still wanted is 'cause what remains of the Hexx and Sarcina got it out for me, and always will. I killed my brother to save his family, save York. Leo burned it to the ground anyway. Bethany caged me like an animal and forced me to eat half-rotted flesh for thirty-seven days, until I agreed to eat a man alive. So *** off."

The sign in front of them was legible intermittently between the sweep of the wipers: Spindrift Inn--a misnomer if there'd ever been one, though Billy found it a strangely appropriate displacement that had echoes in her current frame of mind. Pulling into the lot and under the awning that slanted out over the lobby, Billy put the truck in park, Glenn's diatribe all the louder for the sudden quiet that descended now that the rain no longer offered competing decibels.

"Yeah, well maybe if you grant that POV to strangers like Dezi, people like me might be more inclined to grant it to you," she said, unbuckling her seatbelt and opening the door. Billy slid from the seat, catching the bottom of her dress as it tried to stay behind. She smoothed it out, then made a pass at her hair for good measure. "Besides, you're the one who said you can't change anything anyway, not me." She closed the door behind her before Glenn could get a word in edgewise and turned away to walk into the lobby.

She returned ten minutes later with two keys, one of which she dropped onto the seat between them before cranking the truck again and driving to the other side of the lot.

Glenn spent the time she was away in silent introspection. When she rejoined him, dropping his key onto the seat cushion, he shifted where he sat and studied her profile with an inscrutable gaze. When the truck was set in motion again, he asked, "You ever sit alone in the dark with another person, Billy? Sit there when that black is closing in all around them, and talk?"

"You mean someone dying?" Her voice was cautious, and she didn't look at him even though she could feel his gaze upon her. When she'd walked into the lobby, she'd had the benefit of distance to conceal what she'd felt when he'd spoken of his brother's family, of his time with Bethany. But Billy didn't have a natural poker face. It took effort on her part, and she was tired in a way that she felt down to her bones. So instead, she just evaded, kept giving him her profile even after she'd pulled into the parking spot and the truck was idling.

"No," he shook his head, turning his attention elsewhere. "You don't need the dark to get the truth from the dying," Glenn said. "People get right honest when they see their maker coming for them. Most times, anyhow. I mean someone alive and well. You sit in the dark and talk. You cut out all light and sound and it's just you and them and the sound of their breath, sound of their heart thudding in their chest. They can feel and hear it, too. Hear yours in you, become aware of how loud their bodies are. How fragile. Everything becomes more personal in the dark, the answers to your questions are more real. Even if they're lies."

"I... maybe. A long while ago." Even as Billy said it--and the words came out haltingly as if she'd had to pull them reluctantly from the well of her throat--she realized her answer didn't matter. She turned the keys quietly, pulled them free of the ignition and let them slide with a muted jingle from her hand to her lap as she tilted her head back against the seat and studied the tobacco-stained upholstery of the ceiling.

Glenn's answer was a noise caught somewhere between a hum and a grunt. He opened the door and got out, reaching over the edge of the truck bed to snatch up his bag. Turning, he scraped the key off the seat and closed the door.

Billy didn't move. She could see him from the corner of one eye, watch the shadows pour from the creases in the back of his shirt as he moved and form anew. And if she tilted her head ever so slightly, she could catch in a tiny sliver, hardly more than divided fields of color: skin and shirt, chestnut hair. She waited until the truck door shut, and then longer still, to the softer close of the motel door, fingers moving back and forth over the row of teeth on her keys. Forearms folded over the steering wheel and her chin followed, resting there as she stared blankly at the green paint of the door Glenn had disappeared behind.

Another five minutes passed before she let out a deep breath that fogged the base of the windshield in the humid air. Then she reached for her bag, got out of the truck and vanished through the other door.

The key to the room was placed on the small dresser. His bag on the bed. He kicked his boots off and unbuckled the guns and belt slung around his hips. These he spread out at the foot of the bed, just in front of his bag. He opened the bag, grabbing clean clothes to wear after his shower. Then he went into the small room's smaller bathroom, turned the water on to as hot as it could go, and stripped down as the bathroom started to fill up with steam.

Ten minutes later Glenn stepped out, dried, dressed, stared at himself in the mirror and haphazardly combed through his hair with his fingers. He wished he had a razor then, something to trim with. Out in the room again, he balled up his dirty clothes and set them on the bed beside his bag, which he once more dug through until he found, packed down at the bottom, a wooden puzzle box just shorter than his forearm, and just about as wide.

The walls were thin and the pipes were old and though Billy couldn't hear Glenn's footsteps, she'd swear for a second she felt them, like the floor sank a little beneath them. It was a ridiculous thought, one she physically batted at the air for, like something she could swat away. Listening to the water run through the pipes, she put her bag on the bed and unzipped it, pulling out the pillowcase Glenn had dropped at her feet in front of the waystation. She dumped the money out on the bed, sat down on the edge of the bedspread, and started counting the bills. When she finished, she collapsed backward, a stack of money in her hand that she fanned through with the tip of her thumb over and over, feeling the puff of air it sent across the underside of her chin each time. Billy wondered if a man like Glenn ever felt clean or if he was just scrubbing at layers of dirt. And then she thought a man like Glenn probably didn't think about that much, not the way she did.

She drifted off like that, boots still on the ground over the side of the bed, a stack of bills fanned across her chest.

A few minutes after his shower, Glenn was outside Billy's door. He had his bag lying against the wall just out of reach -- and perhaps out of sight. He knocked, the sound loud as his knuckles rasped against the door. In his other hand, he held the wooden puzzle box.

Billy didn't jolt upright when Glenn knocked. It was more like layers of sleep were peeled back until she was deposited gently into consciousness again. Fingers stroked through the sea of bills spread over her chest until they were swept free. She stumbled once over nothing on the way to the door, and when she unhooked the chain and opened it a few inches, the first thing she smelled was soap and the first thing she looked at, unintentionally, was the place near his collarbone where she remembered gouges. Billy opened the door another few inches, half of her body wedged into the frame, her eyes still glassed over with sleep. Her gaze dropped to the wooden box in his hand warily.

Glenn held it out to her, silent.

She traveled the curve of his thumb where it held the box all the way up to the lines on his face, where she looked for an answer. Nevertheless, she accepted the box. "What is this?" Billy wasn't even sure if she meant the box.

Glenn shrugged. "It's a puzzle box," he said. "Think of it as...an apology," he nodded. "Night," turning, Glenn stepped back over toward his door.

Billy's lips parted, but there wasn't a single syllable she could will out, at first. She shifted on her weight from the doorframe, reaching out to accept the box, eyes still on Glenn as he turned and stepped away. "Alright." Hardly more than an exhale, the word came belatedly.

Glenn picked up his bag from beside the door to his room, slipped his shoulders through the arm straps, and shrugged so that its weight settled properly against his back. Glanced briefly around the parking lot, eyes moving from her truck to a handful of other cars present. These, he considered breaking into. Instead, Glenn crossed the lot and headed for the road, hands in his pockets. The guns he normally wore were suspiciously missing from his hips. The silhouette he cast seemed lacking for their absence.
_________________
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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