Border, KS

Isn't Kansas a little northern for Southern Gothic? (Updates Tuesday and Thursday)

8.6 So Say We All

The door they walked through lead in to a large hallway, rather than directly in to a room. It was decorated like an office rather than a club, well lit in contrast to the bar behind them. The sheepish looking guard escorted them down it, passing two doors on their left that were signed as staff bathrooms, and a couple of doors on the right leading to offices. The door to accounting was dditionally barred and locked, in addition to having a key-card reader next to it.

“I almost prefer it when the bad guys have sprawling mansions and dungeons. Offices seem so boring,” Ryan offered with a sigh as they walked toward the door at the end of the hall. It was nicer wood, and also had an additional lock on it.

“Our last big fight was at a High School,” Walter pointed out. “I’m pretty sure an office is moving up.”

“Your last big fight,” Ryan corrected with a grin. The guard ignored their banter, as did the two Queens. “I got to mix it up with a drunk Valkyrie in February, and that was pretty intense.” He rubbed his face. “Kind of hot, too, come to think of it.”

“Uh…” Walter offered, shrugging. “Sweet?” He tried to think of something else to say, but then they were ushered through the door by the guard. They walked in to a dark paneled room set up more like an old school office or library—Walter thought it felt more like something an attorney would sit in for an advertisement than the main office of a club. It was softly lit but obviously by electric lights—no candles, just someone turning down the dimmer switch. There were three people seated around a large desk in the back.

A large man loomed out of the side of the room, coming right at Tania. He reached out and grabbed her by the shoulder. “Who the hell do you—ARGH!” He started out so well, before Tania reached up to grab him. The generally taught method of removing a hand from the shoulder involves reaching over to peel the hand off by pulling from the outside pinky finger, which naturally turns in to twisting the offending arm behind the offending person. Tania didn’t bother with such subtleties, however—she reach over and grabbed the man’s wrist, squeezing so hard that the bones snapped audibly. That was what prompted the man’s scream. In one easy motion she yanked the man’s arm around behind his back so strongly and severely that his shoulder clearly dislocated, and then she planted a foot on his ass and shoved him to sprawl in the center of the room.

“Queen of Faerie, no touchey,” Tania answered, and in a moment she was literally wreathed in fire—bright and flickering softly, and also singeing the carpet. “Next time one of your dogs touches me, Nadezhda, I won’t leave him one arm.”

One of the figures behind the desk was a woman, who stood up enough to lean over and make sure that the whimpering man was in fact still alive. Se sat back down, sighing. “If I apologize for my man, will you stop ruining a very expensive carpet? He acted without my knowledge or permission, and if you want to kill him or take him for recompense that is on him. But I like that carpet.”

Tania considered it, and Morgan leaned back to whisper softly to Walter. “By claiming his actions were his own, she’s throwing him to the wolves but saying it wasn’t her unless we have proof it was.” She paused for a moment. “We’re the wolves, in this scenario.”

“Yeah,” Walter whispered, “I got that. So we can’t use this as an excuse?” He asked softly.

“Not unless you want to look like giant assholes to the rest of the supernatural community,” Nadezhda answered from where she sat. “We can all hear your whispering.” She motioned to the seats in front of the desk. “Have a seat, and we can discuss this civilly; unless you want to finish off my guard first?” Walter started to glare, but then he noticed that Morgan didn’t look upsset—whiich meant that she had known that they would be overheard. He let the sisters take the two seats, and moved to stand behind Morgan.

“So,” the woman identified as Nadezhda leaned forward on her elbows. “I believe my next line is ‘To what do I owe the pleasure of a visit from Mab and Titania?’” She looked to Ryan and Walter then, and added. “And who are these charming gentlemen, unless you’ve brought me a snack? I do love them tall, dark, and obviously ex-Military?”

“This is Sir Ryan Aquino, a knight of Our court,” Morgan answered, with the capital ‘Our’ audible even to Walter. “And Deputy Marshal Walter Richards of the Border Police Department, representing the mortal population of the city. We’re here to discuss how Salvation is apparently turning people in to vampires.”

Nadezhda had been completely still before, and so her stillness in the face of that information didn’t tell Walter anything. After a moment she turned to consider him. “We don’t normally bring mortals in to this, your Majesties. Are you sure that you can guarantee his safety, in case of emergency?” She smiled, with too many teeth.

“You’re concern is touching,” Morgan responded sincerely. “But not really your concern. Given it is the police who are fighting the Salvation, his presence is relevant. Speaking of, let’s turn to the drug trade, shall we? We have been as patient as we are required to be, unless you’re planning on repudiating your treaty with us?”

Nadezhda leaned back in the chair, and spoke casually to the man behind her in flawless if somewhat archaic Russian. “Is everything in place?” The man nodded, and responded affirmatively in Russian. “I’m more than happy to discuss anything your Majesties want…”

“We all speak Russian,” Walter, Morgan, Tania, and Ryan all answered simultaneously in Russian.

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8.5 Lucky Man

They ended up waiting for a little under an hour, with Walter checking his phone with increasing frustration as the night wore on. He was getting text messages from Andre and Leah about some of the situations developing in the city, and none of them were particularly good.

“Every tactical unit in the city is deployed right now,” Walter informed the table with a grunt. “Pretty sure that’s not good.” He reached over to take a sip of his bourbon, and glanced at Morgan. “You guys didn’t order an apocalypse without telling me, right?”

Morgan shook her head. Tania looked like she was about to say something, but Morgan jumped in first. “I know you’re worried, but this is important too. If the Vampires really are related to Salvation, this could do more to help stop it in a night than anything you could do out there,” she offered reassuringly, reaching out to squeeze his hand before letting it go.

“The Major was never good sitting here when there were teams in the field,” Ryan offered in amusement, “Which is why it was such a shame they let him take the field-grade lobotomy, because it meant doing it a lot more. How bad is it?” He asked, his concern coming through despite his flippant commentary; he had spent a lot of time with a number of those officers, after all.

Walter looked down at his phone, flipping back through the text messages. “In addition to what we heard earlier apparently there is a gang shootout, a hostage situation, and there somebody threw a pipe-bomb at a gas station. Border has a good number of tactical teams, but apparently we’re hitting the limit. We’re rolling out any officer who can shoot a rifle,” he rattled off. He put the phone back in his pocket, and reached out to take anoother sip of bourbon. “At least I don’t have any texts from Antigone and Siobhan, so they have a chance at a normal night tonight.”

Tania frowned a little bit as she considered. “Ok, so that does sound like a lot of things happening tonight. Abnormally large?” She asked, and Walter nodded. She frowned a little bit, and shook her head. “I don’t know, but if I wanted to do something, wouldn’t you want to do it while everyone was distracted? Only question is…who is doing it?” Walter blinked a little bit at her, and she smirked. “Yes, let’s forget that we were general in battles and wars for centuries before you were born.”

Walter acknowledged the point with a little bow, and then looked back across the room to the door. “How bad is it going to be, diplomatically, if I just go kick in the door and start shouting at people in my best cop voice?” He asked curiously.

“Well,” Morgan responded after a moment of thought. “First, that is going to get you ridiculously killed—as in not just killed but killed in a ridiculous manner. There will probably be body parts in the ceiling. But beyond that…” She looked to her sister. “We grant the other supernatural entities in the city an embassy. The Border is technically neutral, because it is the Border, but it is owned and administered by Faerie; in order for us to act against one of the officially recognized groups they have to be working against the stability of the city, or against Faerie. Oberon was an internal problem, so we could do whatever the hell we want, but if we’re going to attack the Vampires it needs to be legitimate. So if you do go do that then you’ll pretty much be acting on your own,” she finished.

Walter weighed it for a moment, but it was only a moment; he was good, but nobody was that good. And nearly all of his potential backup was out in the field. “Is there any way that you can be super offended they’re making you wait so long and go drum up some management without going right to ‘Walter’s intestines bedeck the light fixtures’?” He asked finally.

Morgan and Tania shared another look, but this was less one between unfathomably old and powerful people than it was the exact same look Siobhan and Antigone would share before doing something unexpectedly fun. “Yeah,” Tania said, reaching out and shooting the rest of her scotch in one fluid motion, before doing the same to Morgan’s. “We can do that.”

“Hey!” Morgan protested. “I was going to drink that,” she complained as Tania slid out of the booth. Morgan followed her, as did Walter and Ryan.

“Too slow, we’ll get some more later,” Tania declared. “Come on, darling, let’s be divas.” She held out her hand, and Morgan reached out to squeeze it, before they both began to wal across the crowded club.

People respond to body language, even without realizing it; whole classes were given on the use of body language in interrogation. But Morgan and Tania were putting on their own class on movement as they stalked across the room toward the door. People shifted out of their way even if they didn’t really see them coming—the people they were near shifting was enough to cause them to do so as well. And the people who did see them coming had no desire to be in their way when they saw the looks on the two sisters faces. They had a completely unencumbered walk across the club as waitstaff, patrons, and even one security guard got out of their way. That still left a guard standing in front of the door to the manager’s office, however—apparently one had seen them coming and knew what his job was, unlike his colleague.

“Move, or I’ll put you through the wall,” Tania said simply as she pushed right up in to the man’s space. She was shorter than him, so she had to look up at him, but it didn’t seem to be a disadvantage—the man stepped back a half step up against the wall, and his eyes went wide.

“I…” he began.

“Can’t let us in or you’ll be killed,” Morgan offered with a nod. “Understandable. But!” She offered, and the way her face moved was only a distant cousin to a smile—it had way too many teeth. “If you don’t let us through we will rearrange your bones into a more pleasing structure. So why don’t you bump this up the chain and go ask your bosses if they’re ready to be done wasting our goddamn time, because all of this brick is so flammable when my sister is bored?” She offered this last, terribly disturbing part, with an almost saccharine sweetness that was undergirded by sheer menace. The bodyguard nodded, turned and badged his way through the door, and disappeared.

“Can you really burn brick when you’re bored?” Walter asked Tania in a whisper.

“Bored, angry, horny. There’s a whole range of emotions associated with me burning things to the ground,” Tania offered cheerily, as the door opened in front of them. “Excellent!” She offered, as she and Morgan entered.

Walter stared at Ryan for a moment, and then clapped him on the shoulder. “You’re a lucky man.”

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8.4 The Black Rabbit

The moment Walter opened the door to the Black Rabbit the music hit his ears. He had been braced for the kind of aural shock that most clubs portended, and was pleasantly surprised when it was only audible rather than bracing. It was some kind of jazzy number, with a woman singing words he couldn’t quite make out. The door opened in to a long hallway that went down, hit a little landing, and then went down further. The hallway was covered in dark green wallpaper and lit by peridic flickering electrical lights. He thought maybe they were designed to look lie gaslight, but he couldn’t be sure.

“That’s one thing they never get right about the past,” Morgan offered conversationally as they walked down the stairs. “Hollywood never shows anything really dark, it’s all kind of blue—but the past was really dark. I remembering growing up, candles were expensive. We made our own or bought tallow, but a lot of the time when the sun went down it was just dark.”

Tania nodded, smiling faintly at her sister. “I remember when we started getting Border wired for electricity. Turning on the lights for the first time…I’m not sure it was any less amazing than the first time we used magic. Probably more so, because it was something external and new to the world.”

They continued to walk in silence after that for a few seconds. “It is mind boggling sometims to think about what it means that you’re as old as you are,” Walter commented after considering the words to make sure they weren’t going to sound the wrong way. “Did you ever consider going Interview with the Faeries and telling someone about all the things you’ve seen?”

“No,” both women answered at the same time. “We continue to disagree about how much we should tell you,” Morgan explained. “Sometimes just knowing about things can make them notice you—because you react to it, or even because you see it when you shouldn’t. The world we move in has an incredibly steep learning curve, and there’s a lot of corpses of good people at the bottom of that curve.”

“I’m not sure that’s how learning curves work…” Ryan pointed out wryly, drawing a glare from both women. “Comment withdrawn.”

“Speaking of potentially fatal pieces of knowledge,” Walter asked as they passed the first landing and continued walking toward the bottom of the stairs. “What’s the plan once we get here? Presumably we’re not going to hash out if they’re all evil drug dealing monsters in the middle of the club?”

“You know how in a business meeting or an interview they’ll make you wait for a little while before bringing you back?” Morgan asked, reaching out to grab the nob to the door at the bottom of the steps. When Walter nodded, she smirked. “It’s like that, only we can be drinking while we do.”

The club beyond the door was dark, both in terms of lighting and decor. Dark polished wood chairs, tables, and booths made those pieces that did sparkle—gold and brass metal accents, the taps and bottles at the bar, the apparently custom made coasters—do so more brilliantly. It was way larger than Walter expected, with a long wrap around bar creating two sides and a front area. Each section had large tables on the open floor and many shadowed nooks and booths along the wall. Many of the booths had velvet curtains which could be drawn shut to offer those inside a bit more privacy.

“When we went to clubs in Eastern Europe that had those it was normally used for—” Ryan began, before he was interrupted by Tania.

“Substantially the same thing they’ve been used for here, from the smell,” Tania offered, wrinkling her nose slightly. “Albeit less often, and they attempt to clean more.” She gave Ryan an amused look. “I’ve been to Bucharest and Prague too,” she pointed out with a laugh. “This booth seems cleanest,” she gestured to a large booth in one corner that was unoccupied. The benches were well upholstered, and comfortable as they all slid down on to them.

The booth also gave them an almost unobstructed view of the entire large club. Walter could see in one corner was a woman on stage with a band, singing what appeared to be swing and big band inspired covers of modern songs; in the other he could see a couple of doors which appeared to lead back to offices or storage of some kind.

“Security back there, you think?” Ryan asked, his eyes having made the same circuit of the room that Walter’s had. Walter nodded.

“Yup, and management too, I bet,” Walter confirmed as he leaned back and considered the room. “If we’re going to have a meeting we’ll probably have it in one of the rooms back there.” He loooked back to the woman singing. “You know, they’re actually pretty good. Kind of like some of the things my kids watch on the internet.”

“I believe,” Morgan pointed out primly, “That you’re required to call it the intertubes if you’re going to sound that old. I would know,” she offered conciliatorily. Walter smirked, and was about to say something when a server came over, and asked for their drink orders.

“I’ll take a bourbon and soda,” Walter ordered. “Whatever your mid-shelf is.” He looked over to the others. Ryan ordered the same, and Tania ordered for both she and her sister.

“Scotch, expensive and old,” she ordered, before looking to Morgan. When Morgan nodded, Tania smiled. “And go back and tell your manager that Mab and Titania have come to discuss their treaty.”

The waitress blinked a little bit at that, scowling slightly. “Listen, if this is a LARP or something, we’re not playing and I’m not going to involve my manager…”

Morgan leaned in, and gave the woman a reassuring smile. “I know it’s strange, but you’re going to walk back in to your manager’s office and tell them that, after bringing us our drinks.” She put her hand on the woman’s arm as she said it, and met her eyes. The waitress blinked, but then nodded.

“Okaay…” the waitress offered hesitantly, before turning to go. Morgan smirked, and then shrugged to Walter.

“I figured we could have our drinks first, since they’ll make us wait anyway.”

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8.3 Shall We?

The club in question was called the Black Rabbit, and it was located—like so many other trendy establishments—in the Old Market. This at least was at the border of the district, basically the end of one of the red brick streets that constituted the vibrant evening destination. Beyond it to the west were normal streets and a mix of office spaces and lower end restaurants and bars, not yet revitalized by the money flowing a mere block to the east.

The sign on the plate glass window was a rabbit in a pinstripe zoot suit, reading a book. The fact that it looked like the store itself was a book store or library was apparently part of the charm. “You go through a door in the back,” Morgan explained as they pulled the car in to a parking spot half a block away. “To preserve the speak easy feeling they’re going for. It really did use to be a speak easy behind a book store—it just used to be more discrete.”

“Ok,” Walter offered as he took in the building from their vantage point. “It’s a bar, there’s probably a back door so that they’re not carrying alcohol down the stairs. It looks like the streets behind it are lower?”

Ryan nodded, leaning between the front seats of the car to point at an alley running next to the building, that took a drop. “The actual club is in the lower level that’s basically a walk out on to the lower street level. If we need to get out in a hurry we can get out that way.” Walter nodded, and pulled out his police radio.

“Do you want to bring too many mortals in to this situation?” Tanya asked with a raised eyebrow. “Seems like it is more likely to get them killed than save our skins, if we need them.” It wasn’t offered as a criticism but as a statement of fact for him to consider.

“Maybe, but we’ll make sure it’s ones who are clued in to what’s going on, because I’d rather have them and not need them,” Walter pointed out. He thumbed his police radio. “Requesting back-up at—”

“All units, shots fired at 22nd and Monaco, officers involved. SWAT and ERT teams respond immediately, hostages present-” The radio crackled to life, interrupting him. Officers began to respond to the call, and soon the radio was filled with the sounds of units coordinating a response. Walter blinked a little bit, but then set the radio to silent and put it in his pocket.

“Or we could do it without backup,” Walter offered with a shake of his head. “Bad night to be going to meet vampires, apparently. So what’s the game plan?” He asked as Morgan and Tania started sliding out of the car doors. Tania started to answer, but Morgan held up a hand.

“We’re going to go in and let them know that we’re here in an official capacity,” Morgan answered for her sister and the party. “Because we’re going to deal with the diplomatic niceties until and unless they give us a reason. And if that happens, we’ll beat the shit out of them,” she finished casually, shrugging.

Walter nodded as he adjusted his jacket, walking toward the door to the bookstore front of the bar. “Which we will accomplish because your power level compared to an average vampire is…” Walter trailed off meaningfully.

“So staggeringly and distressingly more powerful that it would pass beyond funny into seriously disturbing to watch,” Tanya answered. “We’re Queens of Faerie, for heaven’s sake, only the strongest vampires would even be a match for us.”

Walter nodded in consideration. “Alright, so let me try to do this before we go in. What exactly is going to screw us in here?” He asked. He got two sets of blinks from Tania and Morgan, and a smirk from Ryan. Walter was beginning to expect that to be the standard response to his questions, and kept rolling on. “There’s always a catch or a hitch, something that takes our brilliant and elegant plans and screws it up. No plan survives contact with the enemy,” Walter quoted, “So where is this one going to go wrong?”

Morgan and Tania shared a look, considering the situation. They paused just outside the door, and then both looked back to Walter simultaneously. He suppressed a shudder and resisted the urge to make a comment about hotels in Colorado. “We can’t interfere unless they attack our interests. If this is them, they haven’t done it yet—and if they don’t attack us, we can’t attack them.”

Walter opened the door, and they all walked in to the bookstore. “Ok, does attacking me count?” He asked curiously. “I mean, I’m working with you and we’re pursuing other extra-curricular activities.”

Ryan smirked. “And yet when I did that with Tania you two were grossed out…” he trailed off meaningfully, wiggling his eyebrows.

“One,” Morgan held up a finger. “No, because we haven’t claimed you as a member of our courts. I can claim you as a consort, but there’s some…stuff that comes along with that you may not want to be involved in,” she offered with a shrug. “Second, I wasn’t mad you two were boning, just that you did it on my goddamn couch,” Morgan groused in annoyance. “The only Border PD officer who is fully under our protection is the Marshal.”

Walter nodded. “So if I’m attacked when we go in there you can’t do anything to protect me?” He asked as they made their way between stacks of books. The front actually looked like a nice bookstore, and Walter was tempted to ask if they actually did sell books during the day.

“We can decide to start the fight if they want to kill you too badly, but we’ll weigh that when it happens,” Tania explained as they made their way to the door in the back. It wasn’t guarded or watched by a bouncer, but Walter expected there would be someone to at least check IDs.

“Great,” Walter offered cheerily. “So if I get jumped as a mortal getting involved in freaky made up nonsense politics, then someone who only kind of wants to keep me alive is one of two votes to help me. I love my life.” He reached to open the door. “Shall we?”

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8.2 Because Reasons

“Dad,” Antigone said breathlessly as she followed them down the stairs toward the door. “I have to go to the hospital,” she repeated. “We need to talk about that before you go.” Walter turned to look at his daughter, sighing. She had changed after school in to sweat pants and a tank top, and didn’t look like she was bound for anything but a night in or possibly working out. “We…” she looked over at Siobhan. “We have a feeling that it’s important.”

Walter considered that for a long moment. He didn’t really like anyone going off on a feeling, but he considered her face and she smiled reassuringly at him. He sighed, shaking his head. “It isn’t like I can stop you from getting involved with the crazy crap in this town anyway. Just a feeling, or a full on vision?” He asked.

Antigone paused to consider for a moment exactly what it was, before she shrugged. “More than one, less than the other? It’s hard to quantify sometimes. It just feels all….oracle-y that we should probably be at the hospital. We’ll have Lacey and Monica, and bring our homework, and probably nothing is going to happen.” She offered a reassuring smile to that, and then quickly amended when she saw him about to say something. “And our pepper spray, and the Eisenhund and Bonnie’s sword in an emergency.” Both Walter and Antigone paused to consider how ridiculous that list had gotten recently, before shaking their heads.

“Wear shoes, have your cell phones charged, and text or call at the first sign of trouble,” Walter said with a sigh. He moved over to pull Antigone in to a hug. “At the very first sign of trouble. Things are getting even weirder, and you need to be safe,” he offered softly. He kissed his daughter on the forehead, and then let her go with a sigh. She grabbed Siobhan and went off to get ready, already puling her cell phone out to call her friends. Walter sighed again as he watched it, and turned to the others. Tania was standing there, and the sight of her shocked Walter into a startled laugh. “Christ Jesus, you people need to make some kind of noise when you’re going to teleport into my pantry.”

Tania raised a flame red eyebrow imperiously. “Do I? I think my actual appearance here means I don’t,” she answered simply. She was dressed in a dress that could have been the match of Morgan’s, except for being shorter and more daring and the exact same shade as her hair. She flipped her hair in a challenge, and then snorted when Walter rolled his eyes. “We’re taking your SUV, just as an FYI. And other three letter acronyms.” Following that pronouncement, she turned and walked toward the door, apparently ready to go. Ryan chuckled but then moved to follow her—apparently he was assigned to her for the evening. Which meant that he was likely on…

Morgan answered that by walking up to him, and smiling softly. He could tell that something was bothering her, and she didn’t have plans to hide it as she reached out to put a hand on his shoulder and frowned. “Walter…” she began, taking a long moment to consider her words. “You’ve seen Doctor Winters, and you’ve seen Morgan. You’ve even seen Aoife,” she offered wryly, shaking her head before growing serious again. “But you’ve never seen me come the Queen. It isn’t always pleasant, and it is not infrequently violent. Just…remember that the woman you know isn’t a facade.”

Walter met her eyes, and took her hand off his shoulder. He gently kissed the back of it, and held it as he spoke to her. “I understand, Morgan. Aoife,” he amended wryly, glad she had told him how to pronounce it before he had seen it spelled. “I really do. Ryan has seen me as Walter, and the Major, and…whatever it is you want to call it when things like Prague happen.” Now it was his turn to be lost for a moment, before he too shook his head to clear away the memories. “But the kids haven’t really seen that last one.”

Morgan cocked her head to the side, and raised an eyebrow, the very essence of curiosity. “Even when you were fighting Oberon?” She asked curiously. Walter ran a hand back through his hair as he considered it.

“No. That was so…desperate and crazy that I was just throwing everything I had in to it,” Walter explained with a little bit of a shrug. “I didn’t have the time to be the killer, or whatever. That’s when there’s a plan, and stakes that I actually feel like I can win.” Walter offered a little bit of a sheepish smile. “I didn’t think I was going to survive fighting Oberon, so it wasn’t the same.”

Morgan snorted slightly, sighing. She moved in to put her head on his shoulder. “I didn’t think you were going to survive either,” she offered. “I knew you probably thought you had something up your sleeve, but I thought I was going to watch you die.” She pulled back, and Walter was surprised to see a little tear starting to roll down her cheek. She wiped it away, and turned to grab something off the table that she had apparently left there. “To avoid that this time, or at least give you an edge.”

Walter reached out and took the black velvet box from her. It was heavy, or what it held within it was heavy, and he set it down on the island to open. Inside was a dagger in a style that looked similar to the leaf-bladed pugio worn by Roman legionnaires, albeit an incredibly well constructed and handled one. The blade was a rich golden copper color, as was the guard; over the tang there was a handle of rich dark red wood, inset with swirling gold lines forming acanthus leaves. Walter could almost see lines in the blade as well, slight variations in color spiraling like an unearthly version of Damascus steel. When he picked it up it had a heft to it, but was far lighter than it should have been.

“Orichalcum,” Morgan answered before he could ask. “True orichalcum, like only we can make. It’s the universal antidote of the supernatural world—it effects everyone the same. To a Faerie it acts like iron, silver to a werewolf, or gold to a vampire. And some others we are far less likely to encounter,” she offered with a wry smile. “It is incredibly rare, because it is very difficult to make. I had to barter with some of the grandsons of Ivaldi for that one, and it cost a pretty penny.” Walter took the blade and slid it in to its sheath, tucking it in to his belt at his back.

“Gold?” Walter asked. “Also…we’re going to have to put a pin on whatever the hell it is you just said, because I only tracked about half of it. How much are we talking about for the bartering?” He settled his suit jacket over the new addition, trading out the knife he had tucked in to his belt anyway—he figured it looked sharp enough to cut a human pretty good too in an emergency.

“Gold,” Morgan confirmed. “Werewolves are symbolically and alchemically linked to the moon, so the moon’s metal—silver—hurts them. Vampires have a symbolic and alchemical link to the sun, so the sun’s metal—gold—hurts them. Faeries have a symbolic and alchemical link to the Earth, so the Earth’s metal—iron—hurts them,” she explained. “Then we get in to things like demons and ghosts which mess with things, but orichalcum will still stab them but good.”

Walter nodded slowly. “You said all of that like it made logical sense, but I just want to reassure you it did not,” he informed her, before sighing. “Nonetheless, lets go hit up a vampire night club because…reasons.”

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8.1 Sartorial Advice

There were, Walter reflected, really only so many different kinds of dark suits that a man could own before they started to blend together. His wardrobe could very much have been appropriate for the FBI, or for a sartorially conservative view of a politician. He had some black, dark gray, and dark navy suits; sure some had stripes and some didn’t, but that wasn’t much differentiation. He reached out to pull a black suit out of the wardrobe with a shrug. At least he had a really nice collection of colorful ties.

“You should buy like…two or three more light colored suits. Why do you only own dark suits?” Antigone asked from where she sat on his bed.

“A lifetime of conservative dress codes. Even when we weren’t in uniform we were expected to look professional,” Walter explained, shrugging. “And then I got to a point where I wasn’t wearing formal uniforms, but the places I was hanging out either called for fatigues and body armor or dark suits.”

“So…” Siobhan trailed off as she walked in. “Hitmen?” She ventured, and he wasn’t sure if her voice was hopeful or frightened of the answer. When he shrugged, she snorted. “You actually were in the military weren’t just a contract killer, right?” He reached for one of the hangers that his ties were on, and pulled them out along with a couple of shirt options. As he exited his closet, he pointed to his dresser.

“First, if I wasn’t, I couldn’t tell you. Second, pretty sure I didn’t fake all of that—or Army security is really dropping the ball.” The picture he pointed to was one of his favorites. It was him returning from one of his more recent deployments, wearing the camouflage Army Combat Uniform, embracing all three of his children at once. Rhiannon had snapped the picture before joining them in the group hug.

Antigone and Siobhan both smiled at the picture, in one of those moments where despite very different bearings and haircuts they were completely identical. “Fair enough,” Antigone allowed. “Still, a tan suit wouldn’t kill you.”

Walter laid out the suit, actually the suit he had worn for his interview with the Border PD and that had come from a very good and very inexpensive tailor in Prague, and considered it next to the ties and shirts. “You’d think that, but then people go crazy when politicians do it.” He hmm’d a little bit. “Do I wear a tie to talk to vampires, or do I go for the trendy open collar look?” He asked them.

“Do you now what Morgan is going to wear?” Antigone answered, focusing on the fashion aspect of it as she kicked her legs. Siobhan focused on more practical aspects, eying the tie.

“Does wearing a tie get in the way of pulling a gun?” She asked curiously. Walter raised an eyebrow, and gave a little bit of a smile to both of them at their suggestions.

“I don’t know what Morgan is wearing, although if she’s going in an official capacity I’m going to take a stab at blue or black,” Walter answered, shrugging. “Or both. And wearing a tie doesn’t normally get in the way of my draw, even with a shoulder holster; but I’ll probably go with a belt holster for speed.”

All three of them considered the clothing, before Siobhan pointed to an electric blue button up shirt that had actually been a gift from Morgan. “That one, no tie; it’s a club, not an assassin convention. And no one can choke you with it.”

Antigone was more considering as Walter peeled out of his shirt and reached for the button up. “Is this what it was always like for you, before you’d go out on a…mission? Operation? Heist?” She asked, struggling for the word. “I mean…not just picking shirts, but this kind of…I don’t know. Absurd little decisions in front of ridiculously terrifying ones?” She gestured at the clothing as Walter buttoned up his shirt.

He smiled, chuckling a little bit. “For the purposes of this conversation we can use mission and operation as synonyms. But…yeah, basically. A little less fashion—most of the time—and a little more ordnance choice, but it isn’t far off.” He paused, as he moved in to his bathroom to change his pants. “I remember we were going to be out in the field, back when we were still looking for people on playing cards, and the night before the biggest argument we had was over who should get what shitty MREs. When you’re terrified of what’s going to come, you focus on the little choices.” He shrugged. “And there is nothing quite so little as ‘should I wear a tie or not’,” he finished, coming it in the pants and shirt. “And for the record, veggie burger is the worst MRE.”

“Noted,” Siobhan commented. He went to get his personal pistol and holster, which he brought up before the fashion session had begun. The belt was the next to last piece, and then he flipped the jacket on to his body. Siobhan considered him for a moment as he settled it on his shoulders and buttoned it. “I don’t know, there’s something almost…harder about you in a black suit then even in your old uniform.”

“Yeah,” Antigone agreed, considering him critically. “I don’t know why. Maybe…its his shoulders? He stands differently.”

“That’s because,” a voice came from the hallway, which resolved itself in to Ryan Aquino. He was dressed very similarly to Walter save that his suit was a very dark gray and his shirt was a very dark red, “When he was in his uniform he was standing with the righteousness of the United States Army behind him. When you’re just a guy in a suit, you have to look that much more intimidating.”

Walter raised an eyebrow, and pulled back his jacket back to attach the clip on badge holder to his belt. “Still a uniform for me, and still not just working for myself,” he pointed out wryly.

“But it’s different, and you know it. Don’t tell me you don’t feel it. They don’t necessarily do you boys favors when they make you plainclothes,” Ryan pointed out. “Uniforms give you the feeling of an organization behind you, which gives you confidence; that’s why rental cops where them.”

Walter shrugged. “Sure,” he allowed. “But the badge does that too. And not wearing a uniform makes it easier to, you know, solve crimes.”

Another voice joined from the hallway. “Ryan also acts like he isn’t representing an organization,” Morgan explained. She stepped in the bedroom, and had gotten dressed as well. She was wearing a blue gown that almost perfectly matched Walter’s shirt, and looked like it was made of silk. It was done in a flapper style and ended at mid thigh with a fringe going down to her knees, where she wore blue heels with what Walter recognized as a short kitten heels only because he had teenage daughters.

“You look gorgeous,” Walter complimented, earning a smile from the Faerie queen. She had her long red hair done back in a braid held in place with a matching blue hair clip. “I expected something more…fight worthy.”

Morgan shrugged a little at the question. “I can go from zero to fighting in a hurry, I promise. Besides, as always there is more to the dress than there appears,” she offers with a mysterious smile. “And since this is allegedly a social visit, we’re matching the theme. And if it gets ugly,” she offered, her smile turning from the mysterious to the somewhat wicked, “Then we get to have fun.”

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8.0 Transport and Logistics

CHAPTER 8: SPEAKING EASY

 

“So what does one wear to meet vampires?” Walter asked as they pulled in to his driveway. Most of the drive home had been spent in a silence absorbing the the events of the last hour or two. It hadn’t been a tense silence, but a silence of processing and moving on—the kind of silence that helps rather than hurts. Walter might have been tempted to call it the unique silence of dealing with having decapitated someone, but he neither had nor desired enough of a reference pool to call it that for sure.

“Well, given we’re meeting them at a 1920’s speakeasy themed bar they own, we’re probably going with suits,” Morgan answered as she pulled herself out of the car smoothly.

“Why am I not surprised that Border has a speakeasy themed bar? For that matter, why am I not surprised it’s actually owned by vampires?” Walter asked with a sigh. He was about to join them outside when the police radio in the SUV crackled to life.

“All nearby officers in sector N-7 for BFD at Hamilton and 2nd Street; Code 3 and possible shots fired,” the radio operator broadcast, using the codes for ‘assist fire or other emergency services’ and ‘smoke and fire in building’ respectively. Walter looked out to the others. “Hamilton and 2nd, is that close to here?”

Morgan and Ryan shared a considering look for a moment before shaking their heads simultaneously. “Across the city. Not a great neighborhood either, but you’re by no definition a nearby officer.” She shrugged. “Besides, we have a meeting with vampires to go to. I need you to go get dressed up and armed.”

That became somewhat more difficult as he walked in the door, and was immediately mobbed by his children. “Did you really kill someone with a hatchet?” Siobhan asked, her voice torn between eagerness. Antigone’s voice, a moment later, was definitely more concerned than it was eager.

“Are you OK?” She asked, giving him a quick one over that was becoming increasingly familiar. Border, he reflected, was making his family far too used to checking each other for injuries. Walter nodded reassuringly, and reached out to pull his daughter in to a hug. He looked over to see his son Ryan standing there with a raised eyebrow. Chuckling as he squeezed Antigone, Walter nodded to his son—who took that as the confirmation he needed, and turned to go back to his video games.

“Yeah, Annie, I’m fine. And no, I didn’t kill someone with a hatchet. It was a knife,” he explained with a sigh. “And no, I don’t want to talk about it. We need to get going…” Walter looked over to Morgan. “How are you going to get dressed? Or Ryan, for that matter?”

Morgan gestured to his pantry, and Walter scowled. “Ryan can ride back to my apartment, and my wardrobe is linked to Tania’s Narnia style.” She stated this last fact in complete casualness, and then looked sheepish when the entire Richards clan turned to her at that. “It’s convenient, since otherwise we’d just steal clothing back and forth anyway. Our wards have trouble telling us apart.”

Siobhan laughed, although Walter couldn’t tell if it was because she recognized the sisterly clothes stealing or because of Morgan’s response. “We’re not boggling because of why, Morgan, just how.” She shook her head. “And Uncle Ryan has clothes at Tania’s apartment because…”

“Of all of the normal reasons an adult male has clothes at the apartment of an adult female,” Morgan responded evenly, walking to the pantry and opening it. Ryan and Walter both gave her a side eye at that, and she shrugged. “You want to keep it a secret, don’t have sex on my couch.” She was stepping in to the pantry when Siobhan reached out and grabbed her arm; she looked down at the hand on her arm with a raised eyebrow. Siobhan didn’t pull her hand back, but she did look a little bit sheepish.

“Can you teach us to teleport? I want to get my Nightcrawler on, like, something fierce,” Siobhan asked and then explained, her eyes flicking to the pantry hopefully. Morgan laughed, running a hand back through her hair as she considered it. She did look over to Walter, and he shrugged—a question he was completely unprepared to answer.

Finally, after a moment of consideration, Siobhan shrugged. “Eventually. Not now, because we’re in a hurry and because you’re not ready.” She held up her other hand to forestall any argument, having met Siobhan before. “I’m not talking about responsibility or giving teenagers a hard time crap, I mean literally you can’t manage the power output yet. It isn’t easy, despite looking like it is. Trying to use it isn’t like running before you can walk,” she explained, “It’s more like trying to build a 747 before you invent the wheel. But we can discuss it as your powers grow. Now then…” she trailed off, looking to Walter. “I’ll see you back in fifteen. Ryan, get in the pantry,” she gestured, and the elder Ryan shrugged and walked in to it. It wasn’t really big enough for both of them, and he barely managed to close the door when Morgan walked in. There was a flicker of the light inside, and when Walter opened the door again there were two raven feathers fluttering down to the ground.

“Our lives have gotten really weird, because that isn’t the strangest thing I’ve seen today,” Antigone offered with a sigh. “Daddy, we need to go to the hospital while you’re out.”

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7.4 Justified

“Bullshit,” Ashland pronounced with a decidedly annoyed air. It was a little over an hour later, and Walter and Ryan had both just finished simultaneously giving their statements to the police officers who had arrived as backup at the lab. They were cleared, and based on the statements the head of Border Internal Affairs had called their actions justified.

“What’s bullshit?” Walter asked, shrugging on the windbreaker that one of the other cops had handed them. He had surrendered his department issued sidearm and rifle, since it had been used with permission as part of his department kit, and shrugged out of the body armor. “It was justified.”

Ashland snorted and shook her head, rounding on Walter. From somewhere—presumably her car—she had produced her own windbreaker emblazoned with ‘FBI’ in gold letters on the back, so no one would doubt her authority to screw with them if she wanted to. “Even in the CIA I had to go through more hoops than that the one time I decapitated someone, and the CIA specializes in ugly and bloody. I got a bunch of high fives after, but I was still closeted with an admin goon for hours.”

Ryan shrugged. “You think I could con someone out of their windbreaker? I feel like I’m missing out here not having one that says ‘DUDE’ on the back,” he asked Walter with a grin. Now it was Walter’s turn to snort. “Remember, Border sees a lot of crazy crap, Ashland, and we’re the middle of the Salvation epidemic.”

Ashland looked sour but Walter nodded and continued his train of thought. “It was either that or try to find a shotgun again, and the knife seemed faster. It’s ugly, and a whole new set of merry nightmares to wake me up at night.” He shook his head, considering the bloody rooms behind him for a moment before sighing. “Regardless…”

Ashland considered him for a long moment, before she shook her head in turn. “I’m not sure I expected you’d have many things left that could give you nightmares.” She looked around. “Is this really the first time you’ve decapitated someone?” She asked, with a hint of blase that Walter didn’t think was forced at all.

“Manually?” Walter asked, a little shocked. “Yes, that’s a new one for me.” At the sound of something behind him he turned with the others, and raised an eyebrow as he saw the flaming red hair of Morgan coming in attached to the rest of her. She was wearing a lab coat and carried gloves and booties with her, for preserving evidence at the crime scene, but she wasn’t wearing them. Walter got the feeling that she wasn’t really here to do much investigating herself, and that the accoutrements were just a show.

“Walter,” Morgan greeted him, with genuine relief in her voice. She gave a polite smile to the others, although it was a genuine smile for Ryan, before she turned back to him. “I heard you were in an incident, and they just let me through to see you. Are you alright?” Walter couldn’t help but smile at the concern in her voice, and the relief that had been there when she saw him. He nodded.

“It was ugly, but we’re still on this side of the dirt,” Walter confirmed with a shrug. “Nothing but some new psychic trauma for our troubles, and some bruises from getting thrown around.” Morgan gave him an appraising look, as if she could divine the extent of his injuries—physical and mental—at a glance. Apparently deciding she couldn’t, or that she had the information she needed, she nodded.

“I told the Marshal that I would come get you; you’re needed,” she explained. “Tania also asked me to grab Ryan. If you’re cleared by IA, let’s roll?” She held out a hand in gesture to the door, which Walter reached out to take as if she had been offering it to him to hold. She looked surprised but also pleased, so Walter didn’t let it go.

“Want me to grab the other one so that we can swing you between us?” Ryan asked, raising an eyebrow curiously. Morgan’s smile from Walter taking her hand shifted, becoming both more amused and more edged.

“Remember that I have access to knives, sedatives, and ice, and that you have supremely sell-able kidneys,” she pointed out evenly. Ryan casually but purposefully took his hands and shoved them in to his pockets, before beginning to whistle. Walter looked to Ashland as he, Ryan, and Morgan began to walk back to their cars.

“We’re fine getting our own way back,” Ashland said with a wave, guessing his question. “If you’re corrupt ass podunk cops say you’re fine for decapitating someone, then who am I to judge.”

It was when they got all the way back to where they had parked before they started asking questions. “You decapitated someone?” Morgan said, slightly stunned and slightly impressed. “I could smell vampire on you as soon as I came in, so that answered the question of why…but damn,” she concluded..

Ryan nodded. “It was the only way to take him down. But the fucked up thing is he wasn’t a vampire when we met him, shot him, and arrested him. Somehow between being zip-tied and when he came back to the party, he became one.” Morgan went still considering that, before she started walking toward Walter’s car once more.

“What is it we’re going to” Walter asked. “I notice you didn’t say the Marshal is the one who needed me. And are we following you? I brought my car out here.” Morgan gave a little bit of a sheepish grin, as she pulled a black raven’s feather out of one of the pockets of her labcoat.

“I took the Faerie express. I figured it was the easiest way to get to you and not have an extra car,” she explained. At Walter’s blank look, she smirked. “What…you thought Ninja Grandpa could do it but I couldn’t?” She waggled the feather.

Walter shrugged slightly. “I never thought about it. I mean, the ability to instantly transport across the city makes your driving make a lot more sense; trying to recapture the speed.” He looked to his car. “So if you can sufficiently advanced science yourself around, why are we taking my car back?” Oddly, Ryan shuddered at that question. “And where are we going?”

Morgan gestured to the car, and he unlocked it. With a glance at Ryan and a smirk, she claimed the shotgun seat. “We’re taking the boring way because I want to preserve my energy; while I could bop around the city with passengers while we get ready, it would be a drain. My stores are considerable, but not unlimited.”

“Also,” Ryan added when she paused, “Going along as a passenger feels like someone trying to pull your stomach out through your asshole, and taking all your organs along for the ride.”

Morgan nodded. “And that. As for where…I think the time has long past come to visit us some vampires.”

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7.3 Not Quite

Walter and Ryan moved in to the next room smoothly, with Ryan moving in an almost crouch and Walter coming in over his shoulder. From behind them they heard the angry, pained grunting of the man they had left zip-tied in the hallway. But the room they had come from, with the files and the writing on the boards, was clear. Walter reached up to his jacket, and to the radio that he kept there—it was tied to the police band, and Ashland had a radio that would receive it.

“10-31, Officer involved shooting, five miles north of County Road 15, near the creek. Unknown number of suspects, all suspects signal 1. One suspect is Code Red, send a bus. Ashland, watch your six,” Walter rattled off in to the radio. A 10-31 was an emergency call, with all units standing by to respond; signal 1 meant the suspects were armed and dangerous, while code red was referring to the gun shot wounded man. Like many police departments, the Border PD used repeaters throughout their service area—they immediately began receiving acknowledgments. Walter waited, and then heard a double click that he knew was Ashland signaling her own receipt of information without transmitting over the radio.

“Work our way back to the front from our side, so we have the exit at our back and can’t be circled,” Walter murmured softly to Ryan, who nodded. They began to advance through the room, their rifles shouldered and ready. As they reached the door Walter heard a snap behind him, and stopped and turned quickly. He waited there, sighting the reflex sight to see what moved; Ryan stayed watching the door to the next room, trusting Walter to cover is back. Walter was prepared if it was someone trying to come behind them, or if there was a threat in the room they had missed.

He wasn’t prepared for when the door flew off the hinges, slamming in to the wall next to Walter with a clang that could probably be heard from space. A figure started to step through it, and Walter only took long enough to make sure it wasn’t (improbably) Morgan or Tania before he began squeezing the trigger on his rifle and firing at it. In the span of a heartbeat Walter had landed three shots into the heart, and none of them had apparently done any good.

“Ryan, incoming!” Walter shouted as the man charged. In the instant before the man got to them with almost impossible speed, Walter saw it was Handgun. Something had happened to his face—it was sharper, more angular somehow, and twisted in to a fierce and almost feral look. Blood was no longer coming out of his leg, and his wrists didn’t appear to be cut up at all from breaking out of the zip tie.

Then Handgun was in front of him, and Walter threw himself to one side in a roll. Ryan, trusting the warning, did the same the other way and spun to bring his own rifle up. He blinked, and cursed. “Pure Border,” Ryan grunted. He stepped forward and reached out in a way that Walter recognized from Morgan and Tania—and Siobhan—summoning their own Faerie swords. He filed that one away for later. After a few heartbeats there was a three foot long sword in his hand that looked almost like a Roman gladius, but made entirely out of a shimmery gray/silver material that all of them seemed to be made out of.

Walter fired a quick three shots in to Handgun’s throat and jaw, which sent him reeling and distracted him, but didn’t kill him. Walter watched as the gaping wounds that the 5.56 NATO rounds blew in his head filled in with bone and flesh and sinew; like watching the first Indiana Jones movie in reverse. It was, Walter had to admit, one of the most disturbing things that he had ever seen.

Handgun started to turn to him, but then Ryan was on him with his sword. He lashed out in a vicious slash designed to decapitate the man, but Handgun was damned fast. Not that Ryan wasn’t—he had been damned fast last year during the fight at the High School, and seemed faster now—but the other man was easily his match. Handgun jumped back and only suffered a cut on the chin as a result, but interestingly this one didn’t heal immediately. The man hissed and brought a hand up to his chin, as if surprised.

“Yeah, Broseph, welcome to Border,” Ryan taunted, moving to engage again. Once again Walter fired off a couple of shots to distract Handgun and let Ryan get in, this time two bullets hitting Handgun one per knee. It caused the man to slump a bit, but he turned it in to rolling his body forward and closing the to Ryan to get under his slashing blade. Ryan surprised him again by how strongly he pushed back against the charging man. Walter cursed and, lacking the ability to summon a definitely not magical sword from thin air, pulled his own knife out of his sheath.

While Ryan and Handgun grappled, Walter jumped forward and tried to ram the KA-BAR in to the fighting man’s heart, but he moved at the last second and Walter ended up stabbing him in the side of the stomach. Blood spurted out, but less than Walter would have expected—it seemed thick, like it came pre-coagulated. “Oh come on,” Walter grunted, as he tried to work the knife up. Instead he took a pained backhand from the man to his ribs that sent him sprawling and gasping for air; if Handgun had been in a better position, it probably would have broken ribs or a collapsed lung. “Shit,” he groaned, rolling over and pulling himself up.

Ryan managed to get a better grip, shifting his arms and twisting his body to throw the man to the ground. He followed the throw by pouncing, moving to the kind of ground work frequently seen in Mixed Martial Arts—or Army Combatives. “Get the knife,” Ryan grunted as he fought with the man to try to get him in to a lock. “Cut off his fucking head!” Walter grabbed his KA-BAR and moved over just as Ryan managed to get the man in a lock, every muscle in both of their bodies bulging as they fought for control.

Walter brought the knife down in a brutal chop to the back of Handgun’s neck, and bit bit deep. The man screamed, crying out in genuine agony and fear for the first time since the fight had begun, and it was a terrible sound that Walter figured would add to the litany of his nightmares. Even worse, as Walter brought the knife out to do it again the wound began to heal again. He put all of his strength in to the next blow and got most of the way through the mans neck. He torqued his shoulder in to it and began to saw, in a horrifying rush of dark blood and squishing sounds that he never wanted to hear again. Finally, with a horrifying wrench of strength and spray of blood on the both of them, Handgun’s head fell away and fell to the ground.

Ryan grunted, flopping back and breathing heavily as the energy seemed to flood out of his body; Walter did the same, and shook his head. “What…” he began, before they heard the rush of footsteps which heralded the arrival of others.

“Jesus Christ,” Ashland’s voice called as she came from the hallway the whole fight had fought in. “What the fuck did you two get up to?”

“He was…” Ryan panted, “Not quite dead the first time.”

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7.2 Tough Crowd

Things swiftly went from bad to worse. Walter and Ryan rolled in to the hallway to find themselves facing another gun, this one a handgun held by a tall and beefy man with a confident look on his features. He was backed up by two other men, all of them wearing dark and vaguely tactical clothing. The handgun man gave him a broad smile as he looked at the two kneeling figures in front of him.

“Just like fishing,” he proclaimed, motioning with his gun for Walter and Ryan to stand up. “You’re the Deputy,” Handgun offered to Walter, before looking to Ryan. “And you’re not on my list. So tell me who you are, and I’ll let you know if you get to live.” Walter and Ryan shared a look, followed by Ryan looking incredulously at Handgun.

“You’ve got Walt on a list, but you didn’t shoot both of us right away—so that means you’re not someone we pissed off before. You’re pointing the gun at him and don’t know who I am, which meas you’re not someone we pissed off last year,” Ryan ticked through a list, actually holding up his fingers.

Walter got involved, rolling his shoulders a little bit to keep them loose but covering it by looking like he had just hit the ground hard. “You brought pretty standard goon load-out, so you’re not expecting anything particularly tough,” Walter said, keeping his hands out to the sides and away from his rifle. Wouldn’t do to make the man just outright shoot him. “And you’re wearing a vest but none of your goon squad are, so you’re not military or paramilitary. So you’re just…” Walter looked at Ryan when he got to the end, as if asking if he was missing anything. When Ryan shrugged, Walter looked back to Handgun. “Normal guys?”

Handgun snorted. He had a good shooting stance, and was keeping a decent amount of distance given they had basically run in to one another, and seemed to know what he was doing. So Walter wasn’t surprised by his response. “These boys are some pretty tough pipe hitters and I’m Army Ranger, Keystone Cop.”

Walter made his eyes go wide and he looked at Ryan; despite the frightened look, he kept track of the men behind Handgun, who were relaxing in ‘bodyguard pose’—which coincidentally put their own handguns out of quick use.. “Oh shit, Ryan, this guy was an Army Ranger? You know what that means?” His voice was panicky and breathy, and Handgun started to puff his chest a little bit.

Ryan matched his look, gasping. “He’s been to Fort Benning?” Walter nodded. “And was probably pissed off when they switched beret colors?” Walter nodded again, but then let his face relax. “And probably wasn’t in the regiment until after we were?”

Walter nodded a final time, rubbing his chin. “Probably, although if he was in the Regiment and not just qualified then we might have overlapped. I mean, thats a lot of people.” He shrugged. “Going to have to try harder to be intimidating, man.”

Handgun shook his head from side to side. “Bullshit,” he declared. “You think I’m going to believe you jokers? We got the drop on you, and you’re trying to play with us to stall so the other two can come around.” His eyes moved from Walter to Ryan and back again, belying his words—he was clearly annoyed pertinent information hadn’t been given to him. He had a list, and it should have said if they were just random cops or not. He opened his mouth to say more, but Walter saw his eyes quickly flit to Ryan again. Walter sprung, trusting Ryan to handle the shotgun wielding men behind him.

He lashed out and slapped the handgun to the side, his other hand moving to the rifle on a sling at his side. He brought the barrel up and fired a quick shot in to Handgun’s knee, dropping him and causing him to drop his handgun. Continuing the motion Walter had the rifle up halfway to his shoulder when he fired two shots into the first man’s throat, and he had it fully shouldered when he fired two shots to drop the other bodyguard poser.

One of the two bodyguard posers managed to get his gun up and fire off a shot as Walter dropped him—the other did not. The bullet hit Handgun in the back where he was on the ground, thrown wide by his imminent death, and Handgun fell forward with a gasp of pain as the bullet flattened on his vest and laid him out on the ground. The sound of gunfire behind him, and the fact that it wasn’t a shotgun firing reassured him. When he looked over, he saw Ryan fine and lowering his rifle with a shrug.

“Do you think that we have too high a threshold for being impressed?” Ryan asked curiously as he moved to check on Handgun. “Nice shot, you didn’t hit the vein, and it didn’t shatter his kneecap.”

Walter sighed. “What if I was aiming for his knee-cap? I could be slipping. And…” Walter considered the hallway around them. He took a zip tie out of his pocket, and leaned down to pull Handgun’s arms behind his back and zip tie his wrists. “Maybe we are a little hard to impress,” he admitted. “Come on, let’s go see if he’s got any other guys. And give them a chance to stand down, please, this was ugly circumstances.”

Ryan nodded, and shouldered his rifle as the two of them started back down the hallway. “Still,” Ryan offered, “It’s nice to be fighting just…guys, you know?”

Walter nodded. “Amen.”

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