December Novella: When We Do Wrong

This month’s Patreon novella is When We Do Wrong. The whole thing is available on my Patreon, along with- at this point- a whole 9 others, for only a dollar a month! For five dollars a month, you can also vote for the novellas I do in the future, and have a chance at a free 10,000 word commission. Starting for February, the choices are

The Daring Adventures of Captain Rock Dove: Nazi War Hawks Terrorize the Skies! : Pulp, Action, Comedy. The Year is 1940. The Battle for France has been lost; The Battle for Britain now begins. In desperation to destroy Britain’s air defences, Hitler turns increasingly to powers he does not know how to control; Awakening an ancient Egyptian demon of flight and violence. Only one man can stop him: Captain Rock Dove, Commander of the Allied Pigeons. Can the hard-drinking, cigarette-smoking, two-winged commander face up to this threat without soiling some poor bastard’s coat? Find out, in The Daring Adventures of Captain Rock Dove!

Still Life: Horror, Post-Apocalypse, Romance. A young man wakes up to find the world suddenly emptied. Wandering the streets, he finds that the only other things are what he terms the Mannequins, plastic dolls that only move while he isn’t watching them. While slow and not particularly strong, he nonetheless finds himself being stalked by them, staying constantly ahead of their approaches. Then, he hears a radio signal being broadcast from nearby- By another human. Specifically, a young woman.

A Big, Bright, Shining Star: Sex Comedy, Action. A mysterious figure has been scouring the San Fernando Valley’s criminal underbelly for the better part of a week, claiming to be the goddess Ishtar, threatening to punish mankind for their sins- though her method of punishment is a bit unusual. The entrenched demonic figures in San Fernando Valley don’t want an outsider horning in on their business, but if she is who she claims to be, they may not stand a chance… Not to mention that the criminals she’s punished have been unsettlingly eager to do what she wants.

Chapter 1: Grievous Bodily Harm

“God, not another one.”

Detective Harris grimaced. The rain pouring down onto the asphalt had washed away the blood, and thank god for that. The long stretch of road just outside of town ran off into the vanishing point where mist and rain obscured the horizon entirely. The dusty, sun-parched earth, recovering from the long summer, drank the rain down greedily. It would be damn good for the corn, and well-received by the farmers.

He knew that he was thinking about the weather because it let him put off the inevitable. He’d have to look down eventually, he’d have to meet the eyes of the victim, he’d have to get down to figuring out what happened to the poor girl. As if he didn’t already know. As if he wasn’t damn well aware of who was behind this, and just how helpless he was to do anything about it.

So he stared out at the endless stretch of road, and the rain, and the corn rows on either side, stretching out past the point where they could be seen, perfect rows of green stalks and golden silk. He winced as the memory sprang up out of nowhere.

“Detective? Are you okay?”

“Fine, kid. Fine.” Harris wiped his hand across his face.

“Hey, look, I know you’re a detective, but you’re 23. Don’t give me that ‘kid’ shit.”

Harris crouched down, in lieu of developing an actual argument against the kid. He pulled on the gloves, frowning as he studied the scene.

The girl’s motorcycle had been headed into town. It lay across the ground about a hundred feet on, on its side. A Harley Davidson Sportster, its paint job worn but well cared for. Flakes of paint ran from the girl’s body all the way to the cycle. Road flares surrounded it, burning bright in the night, letting people know that something terrible had happened again. They were long since used to it.

Harris studied the motorcycle. There was scuffing on the accelerator. Maybe she’d been speeding up when she hit it. The engine was wrecked from the long slide, the wheels torn to shreds, the spokes bent out of shape. It’d never ride again.

The official story was that it was the work of some serial killer. Stringing piano wire across the road, at neck height. A psychotic prankster. Harris looked to either side, at the endless fields of corn stalks. There was a conspicuous lack of places to anchor a booby trap like that. Conceivably, someone could have set the wire up and then taken away the parts.

He knew that wasn’t what was happening. It wasn’t what had happened to the last nine girls, either. He took a deep breath, and ran his fingers down his face. He had to own up to this sooner or later. The longer he put it off, the worse it would make him feel. He had to look her in the eye.

The girl was small. Couldn’t have possibly been out of college. The cut had been perfect, removing her head smoothly without ripping. She probably had barely felt a thing. That was a small mercy. He flipped open the motorcycle helmet’s visor, and studied her features. Her eyes stared up at the sky, dull, glazed. It was the little things like that that marked a corpse. The way her eyes didn’t move. That, and the whole decapitation and the gore that he knew with a painful certainty lurked just below that neckline. He winced as his stomach rebelled at the look of her.

She was Indian. That was odd. Harris didn’t know many Indian families in the city. There were the Saujanis, who ran a small but thriving law firm, but that was about it. She didn’t look like either of the Saujani’s daughters. For all Harris knew, she’d come into town recently. And run into this shit-show.

She had the kind of features that promised great beauty, when- if she had ever finished growing. The kind of gawky awkwardness that spoke of potential. If the drugs that were flowing through the country didn’t get to her first. If things like this didn’t get to her first.

That didn’t make it any more or less tragic. It was just as much of a crime as if she’d been ugly as sin. That was how justice was supposed to work. It was blind, deaf, and dumb. It didn’t care about anything but when a crime had been committed. That was how it was supposed to be.

Harris sighed softly. “I’m sorry, girl. I wish I could say I was going to bring your killers to justice. I wish that I could tell you that you’ll be avenged. But I know the people who did this. And they’ll never be brought to justice.” He took out a lollipop from his pocket, one of those cheap ones he’d enjoyed so much when he was a kid. They helped him keep the bile down at these nasty scenes. And as a consequence, every time that he sucked on one of them, he could taste the sharp tang of blood. He popped it into his mouth, and fought his stomach’s twisting again.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It wasn’t supposed to end up like this. He had such high hopes when he’d been in the academy.

“So, detective, what’s the verdict?”

“Death by misadventure,” said Harris, staring down at the girl’s eyes. “Sorry,” he whispered softly. She didn’t seem to notice, and she sure as hell didn’t care about his empty apologies. He reached down, and closed her eyes with the tips of his fingers. It was all he could offer her.

He drove home as the sun rose, his eyes heavy. His stomach roiling painfully. He was sure he was getting an ulcer. A year on this job, and he was getting an ulcer. How many years to retirement? Forty-five? And that was assuming he lived that long.

His eyes drifted down to the service revolver sitting in its holster on the passenger seat. He’d known a couple of officers in the city who’d simply shot themselves in the past year. A ‘crisis in morale’, the chief was calling it. It’d be nice to say it was because they were moral, just people who couldn’t stand the pressure. The truth was, they just couldn’t stand being under someone’s thumb.

That’s why he wouldn’t do the same. If he was going to die, he’d take the bastards with them. That wasn’t possible, but it’d be so satisfying to try, wouldn’t it?

He looked up. There was a motorcycle in the driveway. A rice rocket, something incredibly sporty and sleek, deadly like a predatory cat. You could break your neck riding something like that. Of course, that wasn’t a problem for his visitor. It was painted a dull and crusty red-brown, pale black candles sitting on the handlebars. He didn’t know how the hell they stayed on, and they looked worthless for any actual lighting, but they were part of the image.

The front door was open. A reminder that home wasn’t safe from her. Just another reminder. He took a deep breath, sliding the service revolver and holster under his shoulder, covering it with the jacket. Another painfully hot September. He sighed, and pushed the door open.

“Well, ‘ello there, Harris,” said She. She smiled brightly through her motorcycle helmet, stretched out across his couch, legs spread provocatively. The full body biking leathers left something to the imagination, but not much. Her helmet’s visor was up, but she kept it on, despite the heat. The two of them had it in common. “Sorry about the mess today. You know how it is when you’ve got high standards. There’s a hell of an attrition rate. Everything cleared up nice and steady?”

“Yeah,” Harris said, trying not to choke on his words. She smiled brightly, those shining green eyes and that brilliant red hair flashing. She could’ve been a real beauty. If not for whatever it was that had happened to her face.

“Good boy, Harris. Who’s a good piggy?” She stood up. “And you know, good piggies get their trough filled. Oink oink.” She took out a manila envelope, and tossed it at his feet. He didn’t move to pick it up. “Something wrong, Harris?”

“No,” he said, his voice strangled. It felt as though there was an electric cord wound around his throat, cinching tighter, slowly biting into the skin, his face feeling red. Anger? Fear? Humiliation? Well, why choose just one? “Just business.”

“That’s right, Harris. It’s just business. Pick up the envelope, Harris.” She tilted her head. “You’re not growing a spine, are you?”

Not all of the cops who’d died because of the morale crisis had been suicides. Harris was pretty sure, anyway. Who would use piano wire as a noose? And the way their heads had come off…

“Pick up the money, Harris.”

“Yeah,” he rasped, picking up the envelope. “Just… recovering. It wasn’t a good scene.”

“Just another dead failure, Harris. No point thinking about the people who die. Life is for the living, isn’t it?” She stood up, and smiled brightly, her eyes fixed on him. Her expression was too bright, too focused. It was the kind of expression you only got on people who’d gone completely around the bend of sanity, and were now approaching the world from the other way around. When they had grabbed hold of a delusion and held onto it so tight it became their reality. Then they spread it around.

“Anything else?” he asked, trying not to choke on his tongue.

“Oh, yeah, one thing. You got a package!” She grinned, and picked up a small postal package. “Getting a new gun, Harris? You should be careful about those deliveries. Leaving it out on the street where anyone could get their hands on it.” She tossed it at him, and he caught it in mid-air. “Harris. We’re both benefitting from our current engagement. Don’t lose your shit.” Her eyes narrowed. “You know me. Death’s no escape.” She smiled, her teeth shining in the night, and rested a hand on her hip, where a bicycle chain hung, tarnished and rusted. “Say thank you, piggy.”

“Thank you, piggy-“

The fist collided with his jaw, knocking him hard to the ground, and his head bounced off of the rug, his brains slamming around the inside of his skull. His ears rang as he tried to focus, only for one of her boots to collide with his ribs just hard enough to hurt without breaking them. Fingers tightened in his hair, pulling him up bodily, his eyes meeting hers, trying to focus with limited success. “That’s why I like you, Blake. You have bollocks. Not enough to do anything, not enough to be a threat. But enough to be funny.” She planted a kiss on his mouth, the consistency of her lips nauseating and strange to the touch, breaking it with a smack of the lips. “Good doing business with you, piggy.”

She dropped him onto the ground, and walked out the door. He spent a few minutes getting reacquainted with humiliation and pain, a pair of old friends, before pulling himself off the ground, and slumping into the couch.

She suspected. She had to. Criminals were always paranoid, always suspicious, and those in charge more than anyone else. They lived outside of the law, which meant that they couldn’t trust anything. The law was the basis for all trust. The agreement that there were certain things you didn’t do. When you stepped out of that…

He took the package. No sign that it had been opened. She wouldn’t be able to feel it, he was sure. The website said that they needed to see it, or make direct skin contact, to be affected. He slowly opened the package, and stared at the tiny plastic tube within. The shining golden bullet rattled within, its weight reassuring.

He walked upstairs to the gun safe, and gently twisted the dial. Seventeen to the right, nineteen to the left, fifteen to the right. The ages of the first three victims. He turned the handle, and pulled it open.

The manila envelope went on top of the others. A few dozen of them, all stacked together, all unopened. And to one side, the speedloader. Designed for his service revolver. Five glittering bullets sat in the small wheel. He took out the plastic tube, and shook the sixth bullet onto his hand. He carefully lowered it into the empty space.

Six shots. A year’s saving and scraping to put them together, and he had six shots at her. It was the most he could hope to get. He could keep on saving, hoping to get more shots, but if a full chamber didn’t let him shoot her dead, he was unlikely to get a chance to reload. And today had been a reminder. Every day he delayed, every moment of cowardice, was paid for in the lives of innocent kids who got in over their head. Everything here was a reminder of that. The bullets, the money, even the combination. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and then stood up.

Was there even a point to the grand final gesture? You couldn’t change human nature. Even if he succeeded against all the odds and murdered that psychotic bitch, there would still be the power. There would still be the weak place. She would just be replaced.

But if you kept killing, if you murdered everyone who would take their place… Well, some men were wolves to other men. And look what happened to wolves.

He took out his revolver, and stared at it silently, holding the speedloader in his off-hand. He closed his eyes, and shifted his hands. There was a soft ringing sound as six normal bullets popped free of the chamber and landed on the ground. A smooth metal-on-metal sound as six golden bullets slid home. And with a flick of the wrist, it snapped shut.

They’d drop more than normal bullets. He’d done his best to simulate that, to practice for it, but there was only so much you could do. He’d just have to wing it.

Harris took a deep breath, and realized his hands were shaking. He set down the revolver on top of the gun safe, and walked into the kitchen. The sun was just peeking up from the horizon, bright golden light filling the kitchen. He stepped past the front door, and opened the fridge, looking at the disappointing contents. He considered ordering a pizza as he poured out a cup of burnt coffee, still steaming hot.

The front door let out a loud crunch. He spun and turned as the second kick tore it off its hinges. A figure, slim and feminine, stood in the doorway, framed by the bright sunlight. She was dressed in biker leathers and a motorcycle helmet, its visor closed. She took a step forward, her shoulders squared.

“Well,” said Harris. “I didn’t expect you’d come for me personally.” Then he moved. Threw the coffee at her, following up on the backswing by throwing the coffee cup at her face.

Detective Harris had watched a fair number of action movies. In an action movie, the protagonist moved as though they were a well-oiled machine. The true key to such movements was incessant practice. The sort of practice that had allowed him to reload the revolver with his eyes closed. The sort of practice that made him a good shot. The hundreds of hours of making sure his body knew exactly how to perform under pressure.

Detective Harris had not spent hundreds of hours throwing coffee cups, or coffee for that matter. The coffee splashed across the wall, the coffee cup hit the ground at the woman’s footsteps. She stared for a moment, and that was enough for Harris to run. Run for the gun.

It was what he’d read. All of the little affectations had rung a bell, and he’d looked up the old legends. The legends about the creature with the cottage-cheese face, the creature that rode a chariot and took away the eyes of those who saw it. The creature whose head was not attached solidly to its shoulders. The creature that feared the touch of gold.

He grabbed the gun, and spun back towards the kitchen. His aim adjusted as he realized she was already through the doorway from the kitchen, coming at him from his left.

Firing a gun at a moving, unpredictable target is difficult. More so when the adrenaline sings in the veins, when the muscles twitch and overcompensate and spasm beyond control. When the hands shake. His fingers tightened a little too much, and a small but significant hole appeared in the wall. His aim adjusted. Pull. Another miss.

She was in his face, swinging an elbow. It caught him in the chin, spun him completely around. His finger tightened involuntarily, and the shot struck the ground, ricocheting up and away from anything useful. He raised the gun again and fired, just as her wrist struck his, knocking his hand away, the fourth bullet missing entirely, and he had no idea where it had gone.

Six thousand dollars. Six thousand dollars he’d just wasted. She slammed a fist into his sternum, making him choke and stumble backwards, bile rising, barely able to hold it back as he stumbled backwards from her, his head spinning.

The gun rose. He breathed in as he saw her approaching him, his veins thrumming. The shakes calmed as the adrenaline took hold entirely, entering a flow state. He lifted his arm, ignoring the stinging pain in his wrist, his shoulder, his jaw. The iron sights lined up for just a single perfect moment. He fired. He didn’t miss. Her head left her shoulders, tumbling backwards, the motorcycle helmet knocking against the ground, the visor bouncing off.

Soft brown skin, and bright brown eyes, narrowed into a furious glare. The body moved, grabbing the gun from his hand and ripping it away. She struck him once, very hard in the chest, knocking him to the ground. She held the revolver as she gingerly bent down, and picked her own head up, placing it back on her shoulders. She spat, and a golden bullet, dented and battered, struck the floorboards in front of his face. She pulled the helmet off, and carefully balanced her head on her shoulders, zipping the collar up around her cheeks. Her long black hair hung around her head, catching wisps of golden light.

“What the fuck, man? Were those gold? How the fuck were you affording golden bullets? Why were you affording golden bullets?”

“You’re not her,” he said.

“Shit. Did I hit you too hard?” She crouched down, squatting, grabbing Harris’s hair, pulling it first one way, then another. “No blood. Hey, how many fingers am I holding up?” She held up a fist.

Harris blinked a couple of times. “You’re not holding up any fingers.”

“Good.” She grabbed his head, and pressed it against the ground, her foot on his throat. She glowered down at him, her expression ferocious. “Where are they?”

He choked for a moment, as the girl who he’d seen dead on the pavement interrogated him like a comic book antihero. “They- Gkkk-“

“Give me a name!”

“Ca-“ he gagged, and pointed at his throat. She went bright red, and removed her foot. “Can’t talk with a foot on my throat. The people who killed you, they’re a biker gang. They’ve been running this town for the past year. Three of them, one in charge and her two lieutenants working under her. A bunch of hangers-on who don’t actually qualify as part of the gang but try to be entertaining.” He rubbed his ribs as he stood up. “Their leader’s a Dullahan.”

“Dullawhat?”

“Irish corpse. Basis for the Headless Horseman myth. Can’t be killed by normal weapons. Needs gold. That’s why the bullets.” He closed his eyes. “Shit. Shit shit shit. I can’t believe I wasted them.”

She stared down at him. “I thought you were a dirty cop, not insane.”

He rubbed his face. “Your head just fell off. But you’re not a Dullahan. Uh.” He studied the girl. “Shit. You hit really hard. Really fucking hard. What are you?”

“How should I know? I just… I was going to infiltrate the gang, and they told me that there was an initiation, and they put a chain around my neck, and then they strapped me to the motorcycle, and the accelerator-“ Her voice cut off in a choking noise as her fingers went to her throat.

Instincts that had been dormant for nearly a year went into action. He grabbed her, and squeezed her into a bear hug. He fully expected to receive a blow to the sternum, but instead, she started to sob and cry against his chest. A terrifying headless warrior who had just beaten him nearly to a pulp and taken a bullet to the face without apparent injury, getting his shirt wet with tears.

It was familiar. It made his heart hurt. So he squeezed her a little bit tighter, and stroked her hair, until the tears stopped. Then he ordered a pizza.

She ate ravenously when it arrived. He frowned down at it. “Uh, is beef really, you know…”

“I’m not Hindu or anything.” She took another gigantic bite, chewing, swallowing. “’anks. For a cop, you’re pretty okay. So why the fuck were you working with those guys, Officer…?”

“Detective. Detective Blake Harris. They were going to kill me if I didn’t. I was planning to try to kill their leader.”

“So that’s why you had the gun.” She chewed. “Why didn’t you just shoot her?”

He didn’t answer.

“Like, she comes to visit you, you said. You could’ve just shot her. Right?”

“I was scared,” he whispered.

“What?”

“I was scared, damn it,” he said, and it had much less heat than he intended. He was just… tired. Couldn’t quite focus. “I always worried, what if I fucked up, what if I failed, what if I missed my chance. I was planning on doing it tonight. Just after…” He winced. “Just after you-“

“Yeah,” she murmured. “You know, my big brother, he was brave. He didn’t take shit from those bikers. They hassled us while we were travelling through town. He stood up to them, told them he wasn’t going to take any of their shit. The leader, she laughed. She asked him his name. He told her. She said it, and pointed at him, and he just… folded inward.” She stared down at her feet. “He was just gone. Just like that.”

“The power of a Dullahan. To mark those who are going to die. All she needs to know is your name, and…”

“Fucking unfair,” she said, her eyes narrowed. “I asked to be a part of the gang. I volunteered. They…” She took a deep breath. “It hurt a lot more than I expected. I remember them laughing as they drove off. Staring up at the sky. Trying to move, to do something, to fight. This woman appeared. She had this long, red hair, and these bright green eyes, but she was black. You know? Like, African-American. She told me… She told me that I could die, and go to see my brother, or I could survive, and see what happened next. She asked me which I’d prefer.”

“What did you say?”

“Nothing. I didn’t have lungs, I couldn’t talk.” She stared down at her hand. “I wanted to, though. I wanted to stay alive. I didn’t want to die yet. I had to make things right.” She shook her head. “Maybe I was just hallucinating it.”

“Damned if I know,” confessed Harris. “This is what I do know. They’ve been controlling the city for the last twelve months, roughly. Ever since last September. They started killing people, and I haven’t figured out why, exactly. They’ve been running drugs, prostitution, murdering for hire, all sorts of heinous shit, and any cop who doesn’t accept a bribe, who doesn’t go along with it, winds up dead. They’re untouchable.” Harris sighed. “I expected I’d die trying to do something about this, and even then I probably wouldn’t accomplish this. Do you really expect to do any better?”

“I feel…” She let out a slow breath. “Driven. I need to do this. I need to stop them. People like that shouldn’t have the power to just kill whoever they please. That’s not fair. That’s not right. And I can’t bear the idea that it’s happening.” She clenched her leather-clad hand into a fist, her teeth gritted. “I can do it. Kill them for what they’ve done”

“Killing people… That’s not a good thing, kid. When you kill someone, you tear a little piece of yourself out. I’ve seen it happen with cops. When you’ve killed someone, even for a good reason, it becomes easier to do it a second time. You understand the consequences, you set a precedent for when you’ll do it. And that kind of thing- It can consume a person. Twist them.”

“So what?!” she asked, her face furious. “They murder people! They’re above the law! Do you want to just give them a stern fucking lecture?”

“No.” He opened the chamber. Caught the round as it popped out, placed it back into the speedloader. Took out the second speedloader, where the normal bullets, the kinds that just killed humans, were stored. Slotted it into place. “I’m saying that you’re not the one who kills them.” He snapped it shut.

“You’re, what, a few years older than me?” She glared at him. “What makes you think that you’re better for killing people than I am? Anyway, I’m faster than you. I just proved that.”

“Yeah. So you need to get them into the right place for me to shoot them.” He frowned. “You kicked my ass. But I’ve seen what these people are capable of. We’re going to need to be prepared. We need a plan of attack.”

“Fine. Whatever.” She crossed her arms tightly. “What first?”

“There’s a biker bar on the outskirts, on the way west out of town. The people you’re looking for hang out there a lot. I’ll show you who you’re targeting, we’ll figure out a way to get them alone, isolated from their thugs, we’ll take them out. Quick, surgical strikes. We don’t have an advantage in numbers, or firepower, and you’ve already died once. I really… really don’t want you to die a second time.”

She looked to one side. “You’re the one who’s slow, old man.”

“Hey, I’m just a few years older than you.” She grinned at him, and he slowly managed to crack a smile in return. “Funny girl. But come on. We go in careful, quiet. We take our time, and make it count.” He stood up, and grabbed the golden bullet, a couple of speed-loader clips, and the packets of money out of the gun safe. The two of them walked out to the cruiser together.

“What’s your name?”

“What does it matter?” she asked, frowning, as the two of them sat at the stop light.

“Calling you ‘girl’ would probably get real embarrassing, real quick.”

“Fatima. Fatima Morgana.”

He paused for a moment, and glanced over at her.

“Light’s changed.”

“Fatima Morgana,” he said, as he smoothly accelerated. “What kind of parents do you have that you either were given that name, or knew enough about meteorological phenomena to make it up? ”

“The kind that have been dead for a long time,” she said, her legs crossed. “It might as well be my name. It’s something you can call me.”

“Whatever you say, Fati.” She glared at him, and he grinned easily. “Come on. You can call me Harry. We can be Fati and Harry. Buddy cops.”

She puffed out her cheeks, looking back out the front windshield, trying very hard not to smile.

“The three of them make up The Lost and The Damned. One of the men is Mustang. Big guy, typically acts as the muscle. I’m fairly sure he’s supernatural, but he’s never dropped any hints of what exactly he is. I think he’s Native American, from the warbonnet he keeps on his bike, but he doesn’t have much in the way of history. The other is MacClain. Serial rapist. Really nasty guy, really fond of…” He shook his head. “He’s got this weird charisma. Be really, really goddamn careful around him.”

“Yeah,” she murmured. “I met him. He told me I wasn’t his type.”

“Well, be careful. I suspect he’s a Kelpie, a type of seductive water spirit of Scotland. Lures people into riding him, then drowns them. Lot of women have died around him.”

“Sounds like a great guy to beat the shit out of.”

“And of course, you know about She. That’s the name she goes by. The Dullahan.” Harrison tapped the car. “I’m sorry about your motorcycle. It was totaled.”

“That’s fine,” she murmured. “I’ll just have to find a replacement.”

The Honest Man stood in the daylight, the blinds drawn across the windows to preserve the eyes of men who’d spent a long night drinking and incurring concussions. Harris rolled up into one of the few parking spots not occupied by a motorcycle, and stopped the car.

“Alright. Follow my lead- Hey! I said-”

He was getting out of the car as Fatima hit the door boot first. “Alright, you motherfuckers!” she announced, marching forward into the room, grabbing a bottle, and smashing it across the bar. “I’m looking for some shitheads! The girl with red-”

The pool cue striking the back of Fatima’s head snapped cleanly in half, knocking her head to the ground. It struck, rolled, and hit Harris’ foot. The man who’d struck her, a seven foot tall bear of a man- Or possibly just a bear, it was hard to tell with the facial hair- looked up sheepishly, holding the shattered weapon. “Ah-”

That’s when Fatima’s elbow struck him in the gut, doubling him over, pitching him forward. His chin met her fist as it rose up into the air, sending him in a tight backflip that ended on the broken glass-covered bar. Harris winced.

When the wince ended, three more men were on the ground, clutching at broken limbs. There were an even dozen men still standing. They stared for a moment, while Fatima stood with her hands on her hips, canting them to one side. “What’s the matter, boys?” emerged a voice from Harris’ feet. “You afraid of a girl?”

They charged at her. One of them went to grab her shoulders, trying to put her into some kind of wrestling hold that would’ve worked better if her head was still on her shoulders. She snapped her arms out to either side, and there was a very unpleasant noise from his wrist as he let her go, howling in pain. Another of them tried to tackle her from the side. Harris could barely follow the way she moved when she flipped to the side, leaping out of his hand. Three of the men went down as she landed on her feet, the imprints of her boots visible in their faces. He hadn’t even seen her move that time. His heart pounded as he watched her.

There was a click, as the bartender raised an old double-barreled coach gun. His bald pate was red, sweat pouring down his face and running along the strands of his long, braided beard, one eye twitching as he held the gun on her. Fatima stood still, her shoulders canted.

“I wouldn’t,” Harris said. The bartender turned his head to say something, and his mouth stopped dead as he saw the revolver pointed at his head. Harris’ arm shook slightly. The barrel of his gun was steady as a rock “Now’s about the right time to be asking questions.”

“Don’t mind if I do,” said Fatima, as she lifted her head off of the ground, placed it on her shoulders, and shifted it once. It seemed to lock into place.”Where’s the red-haired bitch with the cottage cheese face?” asked Fatima, her voice low, harsh.

“She- She left. Her and her whole gang. She said trouble was coming. They went west, along route 80.” The bartender let the coach gun lower very carefully until its barrel had sank down behind the bar again. “What the hell are you, girl?”

“Trouble.” She grinned, and stepped forward, grabbing his beard. “You were at that little initiation they held for me. I remember the grin on your face.”

He swallowed once, and opened his mouth. She yanked his head down, slamming his chin into the bar hard, his mouth closing with a crack that heralded quite a lot of expensive dental work. She turned towards Harris again.

“Let’s hit the road.”

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