Fiction Fun: Them

Little admission before the story starts. I’m a huge John Carpenter fan. Really huge. He’s one of my favorite directors, and one of my favorite movies he’s ever made was the campy classic They Live!.

If you haven’t seen it, you really should. It’s awesome.

One night, some years ago, after a rewatch of They Live! and a rather wild game of Hunter: The Reckoning with Storm and some friends, I rattled off this bit of a story. Never have had time to get back around to it, but I’m still fond of it.

Sometimes, my influences shine through pretty strong, I admit. This is such a case.

Like peek a boo, but with words, and better metaphors.

Jungle Java was the kind of coffee shop people went to when they weren’t pretentious enough to get into the upscale ones, but still had enough self respect not to be seen at Starbucks. The coffee itself was good enough, but what gave it the every day draw was the sandwiches. Affordable, tasty, and made fresh to order, that was where it earned the distinction of being one of New York’s hidden gems.

Ebony wasn’t there for the sandwiches, or really even the coffee. She had other business. The kind you don’t do in Starbucks or the art house coffee joints. Her matters were always best dealt with in the sorts of places people didn’t give each other much of a second look. The little corners of the sprawling city where people went about their own affairs, paying as little attention as possible to the person next to them.

She liked that about people. Their willful ability to ignore what was going on right in front of them. The way the middle class types clustered together, so caught up in just getting by that they didn’t care about anything else. She was certain a gunfight could break out and, so long as it wasn’t happening around them, the clientele of Jungle Java would go right on snacking.

It made them predictable, and in her line of work, predictability was survival. Almost as much as anonymity. That was the other thing she liked about the little corner shop. Nobody ever looked at her once, much less twice. It made everything easier, or at least, as easy as being a hitwoman for the mob ever was.

The jungle themed wallpaper along the back of the cafe was also funny as hell. She liked the little cartoon monkeys swinging from the little cartoon vines. She wasn’t sure why, but it always made her smile. It was possible she was not what most people would define as normal, but she’d made her peace with that a very long time ago, so whenever she walked in, she’d pause and grin at the wallpaper.

Jungle Java wasn’t a big place. Past the front door, set to the north corner facing the street, there were ten booths lining the big windows that wrapped around half the eatery, giving patrons a solid view of the corner of 8th Avenue and West 50th. A horseshoe shaped bar dominated the rest of the interior, with seating for twenty. Straight back from the entrance, opposite the windows, was a narrow hall that led to the restrooms. A tiny establishment, yet beloved these days as the old Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood became a go to place for those who would have once avoided it.

Ebony paused as she stepped inside, a slight grin playing over her lips at the goofy wallpaper, then headed for her favorite spot in the whole place. Last stool at the bar before the restrooms. From there, she could see everything happening both inside, and outside, the shop. The only thing behind her was the narrow hall, wide enough for a single person. The doors creaked back there, even over the classic rock of the ’50’s playing softly in the dining room, more than enough of a warning should she need it.

The waitress behind the bar was one she’d seen before. Her name-tag said Vera, but it wasn’t a detail Ebony would remember in five minutes. The woman was in her early forties by the look of her, and had that run down aura common to people who found themselves still doing the same thing long after their dreams had died and been buried in a shallow grave somewhere.

A cup of coffee found its way unbidden to the counter in front of her, and as a polite contract killer, she smiled and nodded. Vera didn’t give her a second look, same as everyone else in the cafe. Ebony, on the other hand, had already assessed every single one of them. It was the nature of the job, knowing what was what, and being able to read people in a blink.

Half the booths were filled, as were the bar stools. A common enough Saturday evening at Jungle Java. Just enough to keep the place running, but not to let it grow. That was the way the world worked now, she supposed. The little guy got stepped on by the big guy, while the medium sized guy just tried to go unnoticed. She knew that was always the way the world had been, but of late, it seemed to her to have become more honest about it. Whether or not that was a good thing was debatable.

Of the occupied booths, half were filled with nice nuclear family units. Mom, Dad, and their two point five kids. She sipped her coffee, wondering what exactly constituted point five of a kid. She’d always assumed it meant one on the way, but these days, it could mean disabled or something. She’d thought about looking it up, but had never cared enough to find out. Kids were for people who wanted them. Personally, they all seemed like little shit and scream machines to her.

Not that she didn’t enjoy the process of trying to make one. She just didn’t want to get to the last part of that program. Children weren’t for everyone, and that was why God had invented birth control. A regular subscriber to the pill, Ebony figured the making of babies was better left to people who enjoyed the smell of shit stained diapers.

The families were of no concern to her. She could tell by looking they were just what they seemed. The rough hands of the husbands, the circles under the mothers eyes, and the idiotically innocent grins of the kids was all she needed to see. It took her less than five seconds to sort that out.

The rest of the occupied booths held an assortment of old timers, teenagers, and one well dressed businessman. The elderly she examined for a moment, having learned a long time ago not to underestimate them just because their hair had gone gray. One of them had the shakes, his fingers trembling so badly he could barely hold his cup. It was legit, too, so she ignored him. The other, a woman, had two kids with her. Granny, by the looks, but they could be ploys, so she decided to keep an eye on that one.

The teenagers were too busy staring into each other eyes, but more than that was the general look of them. Middle class, dreams of being famous, vowing on their hearts to always be together, she could see it in their doe like eyes. Life hadn’t beaten the hope from them, not yet. Give it another ten years, and it would. She wrote them off as not worth worrying over. Even if they were up and comers in the game, they lacked the experience to be a real threat.

The last one, the businessman, him she watched carefully. Neat, tidy, with a hundred dollar haircut and carefully trimmed goatee, he stood out in his Armani suit. His glasses alone were worth more than poor Vera likely saw in a year. He appeared to be engrossed in his laptop, and Ebony knew Jungle Java had free wi-fi, but he was out of place. He didn’t belong here. She kept him where she could see him, the briefcase at his feet capable of concealing all manner of problems she didn’t need.

Around the bar was arranged a more interesting set of characters, not so easy to read. People with nothing to hide sat near windows. Everyone else, they made themselves smaller targets. It was a fact of life.

Straight across from her was a man she immediately distrusted. Huddled down in a heavy pea coat, he had the close cropped hair of a solider, a unique style few barbers were ever able to effectively copy. It was touched with gray at the temples, his age showing, and his eyes were those of a person that had seen horrors. He was fidgeting with his mug, too, which was never a good sign. Nervousness was common in those who left the military and pursued wet work in the private sector. That made him a potential risk.

A couple stools down from him was middle aged woman who was doing her best not too look middle aged. Ebony wrote her off as a threat instantly. Her outfit, too skimpy and definitely too tight, barely concealed the several grand she’d no doubt dropped on the midget twins currently wrestling about in the leopard print abomination she would only generously refer to as a shirt. Her hair had the off color of a cheap bleach job, and she was wearing enough make up to doll up every hooker in Los Angeles, just to cover the wrinkles.

There was also the way she pointedly ignored the very existence of the man next to her. He was obviously planning to go out for the role of Mr. Staypuft in the next Ghostbusters remake. He had one eye on her cleavage, and seemed to have trouble breathing, so he wasn’t anything to be concerned about.

Ebony’s eye traveled around the bar a bit, sizing up and writing off a used car salesman, an underpaid restaurant worker, and what she hoped to God was just a very masculine woman. Waxing kits, they can be your best friend. She tried not to snicker at that thought. Somewhere along the way, she’d turned into a real asshole.

She sized up a young man with long, greasy hair as he counted change on the counter. The guitar case leaning beside him told her all she needed to know. Another street musician, likely trying to gather enough money for a meal and an ounce or three of pot. Some kids had no ambition.

The rest of the patrons she wrote off after a brief exam. Middle class wage slaves, if they were lucky, stopping off for a bite to eat before going about their dreadfully dull lives. Punch the clock, pay the bills, give up on their dreams and try to just stay afloat. They were ghosts in the world as surely as she was.

That left Granny, Twitchy the Soldier Boy, and Armani as the only potential threats present. Of them, she was only really concerned about the old woman and the suit. Twitchy likely wouldn’t have the nerve, provided he was anything more than another broken wind up toy dropped back in the real world, plagued by nightmares he’d never be free of.

Ebony glanced up at the clock. It had only been about a minute since she’d walked in. Vinnie needed to hurry the hell up. She hated sitting still. At least the coffee was good.

Twitchy ordered a ham and cheese on rye. Ebony stopped paying attention to him. Hired guns didn’t eat when they were about to pull a job, especially when they were keyed up like a kid on a sugar rush. Either he was too new to the business to know what he was doing, or was just another solider back from the Middle East with ghosts gnawing at his soul. She figured it to be the later.

Armani got a call on his cell. She watched him for a minute as he argued with someone in hushed tones. He made several agitated jabs at his lap top. With a wry grin, she stopped paying attention to him. Another Wall Street type had just gotten some bad news that would likely land him working the register at the nearest McDonald’s. Her heart positively ached for him.

Yup. Somewhere along the course of her life, she’d become a bona fide asshole. Just like Dante.

That managed to kill her smile. Dumb ass had to go and get himself killed. Not that she was surprised. He’d been getting old. Still, he was as close as she’d ever had to family, and despite how much she sometimes hated him, she’d loved him as much as she was able. She knew he’d felt the same way. Or at least, she always assumed it. Dante hadn’t been one to talk about his feelings much.

She’d been five when he found her, rummaging around in a trash can for food on the back streets of Bejing. Almost more an animal than a person, he’d paused, staring down at her as she’d pulled a worn out knife she carried to keep the freaks and weirdos at bay.

“Hungry?” he had asked.

She hadn’t answered, looking for an escape route. Even then, her mind had been like a well oiled machine, assessing everything, calculating the risks, the options, and making plans in the time it took for her heart to beat.

Somehow, he’d convinced her to go with him. Something about the way he had spoken, his soft, calm tone, the trace of an Australian accent, lulling her into trusting him. He’d had no trouble getting her out of China. After that, her training had began.

Thirty years now spent with a gun in her hand. In that time, she had learned only what Dante wanted her to know of himself, which had amounted to nothing. The only time she’d asked why he had taken her in, he had given her a crooked smile and shrugged, admitting he didn’t know himself.

Ebony looked down at her hands. Dante had been her father, the only one she knew. She barely remembered her mother, just vague images of a woman crying, nothing more. Of her birth father, the only thing she knew was that he hadn’t been Chinese, the dark color of her skin that of an African, mixed with the fine features of an Asian.

Dante had never said it, but in his eyes, when she’d asked, she’d seen it. He’d felt sorry for the starving little mongrel. Probably the only time in his life he’d ever felt even an ounce of compassion for another living thing. Except cats. He had a weird thing about cats. She’d never seen him pass a stray without feeding it, even if he had to go get something.

She smiled slightly. That’s what she’d been to him. A stray cat. He’d cared, as much as he was capable, but in the end, he’d raised her to be a killer, like him. A shadow that floated through the world, leaving unanswered questions and blood in their wake.

The chimes over the door jingled, drawing her back. She ran a hand over her eyes, berating herself for getting emotional at a time like this. Dante was gone. There was no reason to get soggy eyed about it, either. He’d have chewed her ass for that.

She glanced to her right, taking in the woman that come through the door. Tall and well built, with a wild mane of strawberry blonde hair, her eyes twinkled. She wore a tie dyed tank top emblazoned with a cartoon figure of the Earth, giving a wink and a big thumbs up, the words Mother Nature Rocks circling it. Jeans hugged her deceptively curvy body like a second skin as she waved to Vera, moving past Ebony to the restrooms.

Hello, Ebony thought with a grin, turning her head to take in the rear view. Not bad.

Hippie Girl glanced back as she headed down the hall, a demure grin playing over her face as she assessed Ebony in return. Now this was promising.

“Eye on the ball, kiddo.”

Ebony frowned, wondering why her subconscious always had to sound like Dante. She could practically see him sitting next to her, slouched over the counter, giving her that stupid crooked grin.

“Looking doesn’t cost anything.”

Her mental image of Dante chuckled as he rested his head on one hand, staring up at her with an assessing gaze. “Considering the business you are here to attend, love, I’d think you’d be a wee bit more concerned with potential threats to your person than checking out girls bums.”

“Did ya see that bum?” she snorted.

“I did, and right fine it was, too,” he agreed. “Though, I do recall you having a beau, by the name of Nicky.”

Ebony wished he’d shut up. “Nicky didn’t want to come to New York, so what he misses out on is his problem. I’m horny, lonely, and she was damn cute.”

Dante sputtered, his entire opinion of that. “I raised you smarter than this, kiddo. When you’re on the clock, you don’t need distractions, no matter how comely they may be.”

“You also raised me to be capable of seducing men and women alike,” she reminded him. “Don’t get bent out of shape if I’ve come to like it. Besides, I’m not on the clock till Vinnie gets here, so I’m free to ogle whatever I please.”

“Aye, that you are,” he nodded, returning to his complete slouch. “It’s just, what with you having embezzled over two hundred million in cash and diamonds from the Sarconi’s, I figured you to be at least somewhat more anxious than the usual.”

Ebony shrugged. “Not my fault the Sarconi’s suck at accounting. If they really cared about that money, they wouldn’t have misplaced it.”

He gave a noncommittal look at that. “I suppose that’s true enough.”

The Sarconi’s were the largest crime family in eight states, so completely under the radar, not even the FBI knew anything about them. Ebony, like Dante before her, had been their go to gun for all the nasty parts of keeping them so well hidden from prying eyes. Over the last five years, they had paid her generously for her work, but with Dante gone, she’d decided she deserved a little something extra.

Namely, a real life. The kind people like her didn’t get. Not without a shit load of cash. It hadn’t been easy, but over the years, her jobs to eliminate targets and retrieve packages had let her build a nice nest egg for the day she retired from the life, and vanished without a trace to somewhere tropical.

When that day came, she and Nicky would be ghosts in the wind, leaving the Sarconi’s a couple hundred million poorer. All she had to do was complete this job, and the next plane she boarded would be the last anyone ever saw of her. Nicky was back in Philadelphia, making the arrangements. Her tickets would be waiting for her at the airport, and that would be that.

One last job.

“There’s no such thing as one last job, love,” Dante reminded her. “Sooner or later, you get that itch, and stick your head up to feel about for something that’ll scratch it. When you do, one of Sarconi’s men will be there to blow your pretty brains all over the place.”

“I’m not going to get the itch, Dante,” she scoffed. “I haven’t had it since you went missing over the Indian Ocean. I’m done.”

He frowned at that. “Ah, come on now, kiddo. Don’t be like that. You know as well as I do that our lives are fraught with danger. Just cause I met my end doesn’t mean you have to give up the life.”

“It really does,” she told him. “Besides, I can’t ever have anything like an actual life with Nicky like this.”

“Nicky,” he grumbled. “I don’t see what you see in him. Besides the nice hair, I mean. And the abs, of course. That’s superficial, I know, but past that, what’s he really got that makes him so special?”

“Me,” she replied.

Dante gave a reluctant nod to that. “I suppose. Now, comes the real question, though, love. Does he deserve you?”

“I think so.”

“I remain dubious.”

“Yeah, but your dead,” she pointed out.

“Which means you’re having this argument with yourself, leading me to suspect you aren’t so sure he’s worthy after all. Not to mention, checking out Hippie Girl there and considering ways you can fit a roll between her legs into your tight schedule.”

Ebony rolled her eyes. “Go away.”

“Make me,” he taunted, crooked grin in place.

“I’m trying,” she retorted.

“Tell me the truth, kiddo,” he said as he sat up. “You really want to run away to some tropical island with Nicky and live the rest of your days trying not to spit out two point five brats while doing everything in your power to bring that end upon yourself?”

Looking over at him, she nodded. “I really do.”

Dante scowled. “Then I guess I need to let you do that.”

“Thank you.”

“Though,” he said quickly, raising a finger. “I would like to point out that Nicky is just icky with an N attached. Not the sort of thing I would think is overly sexy in and of itself.”

She snorted into her coffee. “Thank you. I’ll bear that in mind. Now scram.”

“I’m gone,” he sighed. “Just be careful, love. I’m in no hurry to have your company in Hell.”

“I’m always careful,” she replied as she heard the bathroom door creak.

Glancing over, she gave a soft smile as Hippie Girl returned, a similar grin being shot back. The chimes from the entrance jingled, drawing Ebony’s eye back to see Vinnie and and seven heavies coming with him. The lights overhead flickers and buzzed.

Cutting her gaze up, she watched them for the span of a heart beat, certain she’d heard a voice in that electric hum. It was like a whisper, soft, yet comforting. She could almost make out what it was saying, but not quite.

Turning her eyes back down, she spotted Twitchy, Armani, Greasy, and Vera looking up curiously. No one else was. Spinning her head, Ebony spotted Hippie Girl, behind and to her left still, looking up, head cocked to the side.

No one else seemed to have noticed. Not a single other person present. That wasn’t odd, it was damn strange. She turned back just as the others looked down. Their eyes went wide in shock and fear. Ebony tensed, pivoting to face Vinnie, certain he was pulling on her. Why else would he have brought so many guys with him. Sarconi knew about the money. This wasn’t a job, it was a hit, and she was the target.

Her hand already moving to her jacket, she finished turning and saw Vinnie. She froze, staring in horror. He wasn’t pulling a gun. She wished he had been. That she could have dealt with. This, though, was a whole different level of shitstorm happening.

“Told you to keep your eye on the ball,” Dante whispered from behind her.

Not for the first time in the ten years since he’d died, Ebony wished Dante were with her. Not her imagined version, who always cropped up when she was neck deep in a situation that had gone pear shaped, but the real one. Usually because she genuinely missed the crabby old man, but sometimes, because she really wished she had the backup. His presence, contrary through it had always been, had comforted her when things got dicey.

The last time had been in Belize, when her contact had developed a bad case of conscious and sold her out. Naturally, she’d been right in the middle of a monastery filled to overflowing with armed guards. She’d finished the job, but ended up having to shoot her way out. There had been a dozen times in the course of that hour she’d thought for certain her ticket was getting punched.

Dante had been with her in spirit, and in her own head, advising her when she was doing something stupid, but his guns would have been a much bigger comfort. The only thing good to come out of that day was that the Vatican hadn’t been able to identify her, even after she’d killed nearly a hundred of the security force, and the Cardinal long thought a shoe in for the next Pope.

“Clocks ticking,” Dante reminded her.

Ebony stared at Vinnie, not sure what to do as he sidled up next to her, his heavies spreading out to take up advantageous positions. She’d missed her window. They had her in a corner. All because she couldn’t stop staring at the impossible thing in front of her.

Now and then, life had a way of reminding even an assassin they were only human, and hadn’t seen shit.

“Heya doll,” Vinnie said. “Waitin’ long?”

“Uh,” she managed.

Vinnie was, last she’d seen him, a typical Italian enforcer for the mob. Tall, broad, muscular, with hair so black it made the night look bright by comparison. He always wore nice suits, considering himself a respectable fellow, and sported a neatly trimmed mustache he probably spent more time with than was healthy. Ebony had known him for fifteen years, and on more than one occasion, enjoyed a good bed spread tag match with him.

What stood before her was not Vinnie. While it was in the same general size and build as a Vinnie shaped human, it was not human. It couldn’t be. Not even when it arched an eyebrowish at her in curiosity.

Greenish gray skin was stretched tight over a sunken face, pocked with rot, showing discolored bone. Hair, scraggly, sparse and off white, clung desperately to a decaying scalp. Eyes, what there were of them, writhed with something she didn’t want to pay too much attention to, least they actually be maggots. It was the teeth, though, that stole her ability to speak. Those terrible, razor sharp teeth. Not like a shark, that would have been less nightmarish. Distantly, she wondered how the thing in front of her even closed its mouth.

“Ebony?” the thing that sounded like Vinnie asked. “We got a problem?”

“What?” she stammered.

It turned its gaze down, or at least, she thought it did. “Why you got your hand in your jacket, sweetheart?”

It occurred to her the pressure against her palm was the grip of her trusted M1911. She didn’t remember reaching for it. She wasn’t even sure what she was going to do if she pulled it. Could an impossible thing be killed?

She spared a split second to look around the cafe. Every one of the men with Vinnie was like him. Not human. Rotting corpses up and walking. Or at least, that’s what she had to tell herself.

Twitchy was staring, as was Vera. Armani was too. Greasy couldn’t take his eyes off them, and she knew by the way Hippie Girl had stopped moving, she was seeing it as well. No one else was. Not a single other person in the shop was giving them so much as a glance.

They couldn’t see them. Why couldn’t they see them? Better question, why could she, and the others?

“Hey, Ebs,” Vinnie said. “You okay?”

“Say yes,” Dante told her.

“What the fuck are you?” she blurted instead.

Vinnie’s brow knitted in frustration, sending several maggots rolling down his cheeks. They didn’t get far, burrowing back into the skin quickly. Ebony felt like she was going to puke right there and then.

“Fuck,” Vinnie said. “You can see. That’s not good.”

“No shit,” she gagged.

“Okay, so this changes things,” he told her quickly, unbuttoning his jacket. “These things, these waking ups, then tend to happen to groups. It takes a couple minutes before people can process and react, so we need to move fast.”

“What?” she gasped.

He looked over at the guys he’d brought with him, pointing at what she could loosely define as his eyes, then making a weird hand gesture. They nodded and started reaching for their weapons. Things were about to go from pear shaped to shitsplosion.

“These people,” Vinnie said, his voice low, for her alone. “They are all potential seers. We need to cleanse the area. Help me do that, and I’ll tell the boss you’re still with us. Nothin’ has to change just cause you can see, okay? We can go on like it never happened. Just help me, so I can help you.”

Her hand tightened around the gun. This wasn’t right. Whatever he was, whatever they were, they had no right to exist. She needed to do something about it. She needed to eradicate them. All of them.

She hesitated, wondering where that thought had come from.

“Listen to the man,” Dante told her. “Do the smart thing here, kiddo.”

She nodded slightly. Vinnie smiled, she thought, and turned away from her. She could see right through the back of his skull, at the squirming mass beneath.

They have no right to exist. Destroy them all.

Was that what the voice in the hum had whispered? She was sure it was. The more she let the idea into her head, the more sure she became. She spared a glance around.

Hippie Girl’s face was moving from shock to hate, yet still calm, and somehow beautiful. Vera was stepping back, eyes moving over all the inhuman things arrayed about the cafe. Twitchy was starting to stand. Armani was lifting his briefcase. Greasy was grasping his guitar case. All of them were about to act.

All of them knew what she knew. All of them had heard what she had heard. All of them felt it.

Whatever stood before them, shouldn’t.

Ebony pulled her gun, planting it against Vinnie’s head.

“Dammit,” Dante groaned. “Now you really are in the shitstorm, love.”

“Not the first time,” she told him.

Vinnie half turned, his horrid eyes widening in shock. She squeezed the trigger, taking half his head off. 45 caliber hollow tips had always been her trademark. For the first time, she was proud of that as more than a matter of ego.

Swinging, she made to settle on another target, only to find Greasy on the move, swinging his guitar case like it was a paperweight, slamming a thing in the head, sending it to the floor. Armani dropped his briefcase, revealing the Desert Eagle, chromed to the nines, he’d had inside. His hand was shaking, though, his eyes still wide in shock and fear.

Twitchy had a bar stool in hand, swinging for the bleachers, taking a things head completely off. Vera had backed to the small window that the kitchen used to serve plates through, still trying to cope. Behind Ebony, Hippie Girl started moving.

A heavy pulled a Glock, aiming for Ebony. She pivoted, wanting to take him out before he got a shot off. She knew the math, though, and was already getting ready to kiss the Devil’s ring when the goon’s head exploded. Across the cafe, Armani stood, bracing his hand cannon with both hands.

Sorry, Hippie Girl, looks like I just found a new date, Ebony thought as she planted a foot on a bar stool and launched herself up, firing at the monsters in their midst.

“Dammit, Ebony,” one of the goons roared, raising a sawed off at her.

A coffee pot hurled past, shattering on his face. With a scream, he toppled. Ebony spared a look to Vera, finding her grabbing another and making ready to hurl.

Well, damn, she thought. Everybody was fucking kung fu fighting!

She dropped to her knees, letting her momentum carry her into a slide across the counter, taking out another heavy before one pulled an AK-47 out from under his long coat. Wide eyed as he made to spray the room, she rolled, hitting the floor behind the counter as lead flew, the ripping sound of the machine gun filling the air.

Vera was by her side somehow as she planted her back to the counter. A lot of people were dying, she was sure. Didn’t change a thing, though. She wasn’t going to, not here, and not to these bastards.

“Heya, Vera,” she laughed. “You know how to use a gun?”

“Point and click kinda thing, ain’t it?” the waitress shot back.

“Close enough,” Ebony nodded, yanking her Beretta from behind her back and handing it over. “Safety’s off and one is already in the pipe. I’m gonna move that way and draw their fire. When I jump up, you take them out. Can you do that?”

Vera’s face was a mask of determination. “Like a bear shits in the woods, girl.”

“I like you,” Ebony chuckled before scampering across to the far side.

Meathead had emptied the clip on the AK, giving her a brief moment. Popping up, she put a round through his head. To her surprise, Hippie Girl was not only still alive, but engaged with two of the things, moving like water, flowing around them with such grace it was beautiful to behold.

Ebony had seen more than one Mui Thai master in her life, just never one so hot.

Sorry, Armani, Hippie Girl is back on my to do list, she snickered to herself.

Sparing a glance back, she saw Twitchy struggling with one of the three left standing. Armani was trying to get a shot in, but was obviously worried about hitting Twitchy. Much to Ebony’s surprise, the rest of the patrons were still alive, having hit the deck at the first gunshot. Well, except Staypuft. He was very dead. Which is what happens when you aren’t able to move fast. He really should have laid off the Twinkies.

“Seriously?” Dante grumbled from where he sat on the bar.

“Seriously what?” she shot back, turning back to Hippie Girl.

“You are trying to decide which person you’re going to fuck after this?” The disbelief was thick in his voice.

Ebony grinned like a mad fool. “After this, I think I’m gonna need a good lay. Now shut up. I’m working here.”

“Fine, fine,” he muttered. “But don’t say I didn’t warn you, love.”

Vera was struggling to get a clear shot at one of the two Hippie Girl was tied up with. Greasy was on the move, swinging around the bar, bringing his guitar case into play, shattering a skull with a heavy blow.

Ebony lowered her gun, stepping over to push Vera’s down as well. Hippie Girl had this shit under control. Fast, nimble, and surprisingly strong, she evaded each grab the goon made for her, peppering his face with blows in return that staggered him. When he paused to shake his head, she had him, driving his face into the counter with enough force to kill him.

Nodding, Ebony turned around, finding Twitchy still grappling with the thing in front of him as Armani hesitated. Rolling her eyes, she put a bullet through the things head, saving both of them the trouble.

Eight hostiles down, one civilian casualty. Not bad.

As the stench of gunsmoke drifted in the air, she took in the room, moving to hop over the bar, wanting to be sure the creatures were really dead. They already looked dead, so it was best to be cautious and put a few more bullets in them for safety’s sake. To her surprise, not a trace of them remained.

She paused, scanning the front of the cafe. At least three of them should be there. Nothing, not their clothes, or even their weapons, was left. She frowned, wondering what the fuck that was about.

Around her, customers huddled under the tables or on the floor, whimpering and crying. Swallowing hard, she slid her gun away and rubbed her eyes. This was not something she had been expecting. She honestly wasn’t even sure what to do now.

Greasy solved that problem for her.

“What the holy fuck just happened?” he yelped.

She’d really wanted to know that herself.


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