Getting some work in before the weekend really starts.
Behind me, Mary was standing guard on the door. I could hear her breathing, which would have told me things were serious if I hadn’t already known. She’s got an amazing sense of smell, but to use it she needs a lot of air going through, and it’s hard not to notice that. If she was smelling something that justified making a potential scene…
“One more in the house,” she told me. “Maybe the other two are in the shed. Somebody spilled a ton of compost in there recently.” She flicked eyes over at Jimmy. “Can you get him moving?”
“Yeah,” I replied, ignoring her tone. Mary was just being very focused, that’s all. “Deputy! JIMMY! Look at me.” That got his attention, which was very good news. “Here’s the short version. Monsters exist, a really bad one just ate the people living here, now they’re monsters too. We have to put the ones down here, right now, and fast. Got me?”
I got a jerky nod, which was fine. Jimmy had a lot of hormones going through his system right now, including a few medical science wasn’t familiar with. Luckily, those hormones were the monster-killing ones. “Great. Reload while we move. The longer they survive, the tougher they get. Two-and-one might not knock down the next one.”
“Don’t throw up!” I yelled in the sudden silence, stepping forward and restraining myself from giving Jimmy a good shake. Cold of me, but we didn’t have time for any moral revulsion, or shame. “This isn’t over! Watch!”
Fortunately, the same unexpected reflexes that let Jimmy put three bullets in a teenager also made him pay attention as Rafe started pulling itself to its feet. Luckily — and unluckily — this was one of the ones that bled viscous black fluid when shot. You don’t need to explain black blood, really. People figure out right away that it’s a sign that some really heinous shit is going down.
Now I did start moving; I could feel Jimmy’s on my back as I pulled out a Bowie knife and buried it in a precise spot on Rafe’s husk, all in one smooth motion. I could also feel the unexpected resistance to the thrust, which was bad, bad, bad. Rafe the human couldn’t have been taken that long ago, but this husk felt far stronger than it should have been. That was a surprise, and surprises in my line of work are never nice ones. At least the husk collapsed properly into carbon dust, once the blade disrupted the framework that was keeping it coherent even in the absence of life force. So things weren’t hopeless, just pretty bad.
I had picked the Garcia house because I was absolutely sure that the target knew the area by now, and that it had been obsessively thinking about this night for the last decade. Mary and I also had to assume that our target knew that there’d be an immediate reaction from the federal government, although we had a potential ace up our sleeve there. It was for certain that we couldn’t count on it making stupid mistakes, although arguably making a break for it when the wind turbine blew would qualify as one. I was trusting my gut when it told me that the target would right away go somewhere indoors that had people, and this was the best prospect.
My gut call looked more like a guess as we parked in the Garcias’ driveway. Nothing looked off; it was a two story wooden house on one side of the extra-wide driveway, with a prefabricated garage on the other. There were two cars and a pickup truck parked on the grass leading up to the garage, all looking fairly new, and the whole place was kept up. “They don’t seem to be hurting for money,” I said to Jimmy as we both got out of our cars.
“They’re not,” Jimmy replied. “Adrian does a bunch of business with Lockheed, over in Johnstown. I don’t know exactly what, but it’s probably industrial. He’s got a machine shop in town. Rafe would totally bring him something that looks like a computer.”
“Got it,” I replied, noting uneasily that Mary had her blank face on.
I was working on the other thing, and I may get back to the other thing, but I did 1.2K words of this thing in one setting and I’m not done for the day. I can take a hint.
The guy sent over by the county’s sheriff’s office was stiff as he showed us around the wreckage. We get two types of local cops in this thing of ours: whipped dogs who act like us being there is their fault; and junkyard dogs who think we’re going to try to blame them for what happened. I like the junkyard dogs better, honestly. There’s only two things a whipped dog is good for, and one of them is getting out of my way.
This one was named Jimmy Weathers, and he had definitely started off bristling. He’d been on the scene for an hour before Mary and I showed up, and been barely polite to us when we got there. I wanted to think it was because he didn’t like being out of his bed, or just at the beck and call of Feds, but I knew better.
“Can’t say I know why you still have me out here, Agent Koshi,” he ventured after the three of us had walked the site. “This isn’t really a job for the Cambria County Sheriff’s Office. I don’t think anybody’s gonna walk off with the pieces.”
I looked around, noting unhappily that it was getting to be late afternoon. He had a point; these big wind turbines don’t shred themselves often; but when they do, you end up with crap everywhere. There just wasn’t anything worth stealing, at least to the unobservant eye.
“Deputy Weathers, I know that you’ve been stuck out here for a while, and I’m sorry about that.” Which I was, but not for the reasons he thought.
103,496 words. 220.127.116.11.9.6 words. Last word written! It’s a goram first draft now!
…Sorry, I’m at that stage of the novel-writing process. I’ll be better in a bit, I promise.
Even the fuzz seemed to recede for a moment. You learn out here very quickly that there are things you must never say aloud. There are topics so taboo, you may not even think about their outlines. At the top of that list — the very, very top — is the dread certainty that somehow, all of this death and destruction, all of the endless ghosts on alien winds and twisted fragments of a wondrous civilization, is our fault. None of us know why it’s our fault, but it is. You can forget about it, for a while, but not forever.
Maybe all of the myriad iterations of The Process isn’t sapient, after all. It must have deduced what we instinctively know; and yet, it does not hate us. I don’t think that I could extend that kind of grace, if I was the one being so wronged.
The trick is going to be keeping this one under control.
Yeah, obviously, I took the job. I’m telling the story, ain’t I?
Once we shook hands on it, we made it over to the scene of the crime. It was your basic professional hall, the kind where the lawyer shares a meeting room with the accountant and the alchemist moonlights as a notary public. “Annabelle rented a safety deposit box with Senor Lomax,” Father Miguel explained to me. “He’ll be able to tell you the details about what happened.”
“Good.” I didn’t explain to the good father that Lomax was also one of the three prime suspects, since he had a master key and he was a lawyer. Either one might not have been enough, but combine the two? Maybe there was something there. He wouldn’t be the first abogado who figured he knew enough law to wriggle out of trouble.
Lucky for him, he wasn’t the only suspect I had: there were two other people who had keys to the box.
“I’m afraid so, Mr. Vargas. She died two weeks ago. I received word that she fell overboard, off the ferry to Peñasco, only they didn’t find the body for a week. We buried her last Saturday.” Father Miguel looked unhappy. “There were more people attending the reading of the will than at her funeral.”
“Yeah. That happens. I take it the relic was one of the bequests?”
“Yes. It turns out that she left it to the Church — but when the executor opened the safe where she had stored her valuables, it was empty of that, and the other items listed in the will. That’s when I was brought into the situation.”
I gave him the old Shamus grin. We have several different versions of that, so I went with ‘good-natured.’ Father Miguel seemed like a good guy, even on short notice; besides, he could probably bench-press me. “So you took a look at the mess, decided that you weren’t the right guy for the job, and went looking for one who was?”
“Exactly. I will confess, I went first to the police.”
“Sure,” I agreed amiably. People are always making that mistake. It ain’t like Cin City cops are lazy; they just know what they’re good at. Somebody snatching pouches? They can sort that out. Week-old thefts where nobody’s talking? Not so much, at least as long as the corpses aren’t piling up. I didn’t have the good Father here pegged as somebody who’d want things to get that bad. “Did your parishioner stick around?” He looked confused, so I elaborated. “You know, as a ghost?”
“Oh! Sorry, Mr. Vargas. I have no idea.” Now I was confused. “My time in seminary didn’t include any lessons in necromancy. Just warding and exorcisms. I wouldn’t know where to start in talking to a spirit.”
He was in a perfect position to attack, too: he started off to one side, out of the blast zone of the door and the line of fire. And he didn’t have a knife, either; this guy’s weapon of choice was a blowpipe. Only works at short range, but he had that, didn’t he? His buddies had cleared a path.
We keep forgetting this about cultists. They have a list about things they care about, and ‘staying alive’ is on there, but it’s nowhere near the top. When a cult wants somebody assassinated, a lot of times they can do it just out of sheer and literal bloody-mindedness.
But I digress, to quote the classics. Third Bastard had me dead to rights; I could feel time slow down as I turned to face him, too slow to shoot him before the dart left the pipe. The dart was foul, too, all bone and glass fragments, and its tip was coated with a green liquid that I knew was poisonous. I remember a horrible buzzing silence surrounding me as I looked at my death, and there was nothing I could do.
I tried shooting at the dart anyway, because why not? But my hand and brain betrayed me; instead of shooting, I managed to lose the gun completely. I didn’t even just drop it; I flung it across the room. I also remember having just enough time to feel embarrassed…
…before the gun collided with the dart, sending it tumbling across the room, and away from my precious, precious hide.
Oft had been saying something, but I didn’t hear him over first the roaring in my ears, and then the roaring of my gun. Nothing wrong with his reflexes, though; he immediately had dived away from the door, clearing my line of fire as the door shattered from the shots. It’s bulletproof only one way, you see. Shoot from outside, it’ll deform and crack. Shoot from the inside, and it’ll explodes outward.
That particular feature saves at least four people’s lives a year, or so the manufacturer claims. Even a cultist slows down when he gets a face full of glass splinters.
And they were cultists: three of the bastards, and only one was on the floor, kicking and screaming and clawing at her face. I forced myself to ignore her to put three more rounds in the second cultist, since he had obligingly stepped on his fallen ‘sister’ in order to clear the doorway faster. Cultists can take a surprising amount of bullets and still keep going, but three in the center of mass knocked him down, and possibly out of the fight.
I’m trying not to add a dog. I’m trying real hard.
It was a tale as old as time. Somebody had something valuable enough to steal, so it got stolen. Now somebody else wanted it back, but quietly. I don’t know why they always want it back quietly. Maybe if enough people made a fuss, more thieves might get scared off.
I’d say that the Devil was in the details, but apparently that’d be exactly backward. “It’s a relic,” Father Miguel explained. “A piece of the True Cross — ah, do you know what that is?”
“Just the basics,” I replied. “Holy relic from the death of your god, right? Supposed to have miraculous healing powers, vaporizes demons on sight, that sort of thing. They’re supposed to be really powerful relics, too.” I politely didn’t add, So why does your church rate one?, because I’m classy that way.
From the pained look on Father Miguel’s face, he had heard my thought anyway.