Friday, 1 January 2016

Chapter 1 - A Way of Life

I'd barely finished my prayer when the bad decided he wasn't going to wait, and instead he came to me. I was leaning on the wall at the precise spot where he came through it, and those hepped-up hillbilly fellas are no more likely to stop for a wall than a Mack truck.

His charge took the tazer out of my hand, so I had to stop him the only other way I could. I stuck out my foot and he went right over it, through the rusty metal barrier opposite and down the scaffolding, all the way to the bottom.

Thirty feet down should've taken some sting out of him, but he didn't know when to quit. He was up on his feet again and running out towards the highway, and likely I'd have lost him if there hadn't been a support pole right there. I slid down three stories and landed slightly less than graceful, but it meant I could still give chase.

He was a strong one, that was for sure, and pretty damn shrewd too. He knew I was right behind him, and as he ran through the factory complex he pulled at every storage container and loose piece of machinery so they fell down behind him. I was hurdling and ducking, and it was no surprise when he reached the central staircase well ahead of me.

'Give it up, Waylon,' I said.

'Screw you, asshole!' As I reached the top of the staircase, a pile of pipes and other debris fell through the gap above. I stepped aside and let it clatter past.

'You're all just wasting my time, now.'

'I got all the time in the world,' he said. 'Just you wait and see.'

A half-second later I was on a level with him. 'Your time is running out. Best believe it.'

I was gaining then but he skipped onto a gantry and swung himself up before kicking one of the support bars out behind him. Instead of following him up, I went along the same way and met him coming down.

Waylon stopped, gave me the eyes and then kicked out at me, sending me sprawling. I was upright again in a flash, but he'd headed back where he'd come from. I was three whole steps behind. This wasn't my smartest move, as there was no room up there to swing a cat, but goddammit, if he didn't jump straight off the end, pull a damned somersault out of his ass and grab onto a pulley that was swinging from the ceiling. By the time my gun was in my hand, he'd circled around and was hanging directly over a container of rubbish way down on the floor below.

This was the first time I'd seen Waylon still, and with his long arms extended, every shining muscle and vein stood out for inspection. He may have had greasy hair and a beard you coulda lived in, but a good woman could have hosed him down, shaved him to the quick and maybe made something of him. Right now he was looking down, gauging distance, running everything over in his mind.

'Long way down,' I said, conversationally.

'Soft landing,' he replied.

'If you land on your head, maybe.'

There was a dumpster load of cardboard or paper or some similar shit down there in the container below, but no way to tell how deep it went. The thick layer of dust over all of it would probably count for something. I could tell he wasn't so sure about it, though, else he'd have already gone.

'Why in hell you chasing me anyway?' he said.

'You owe a man called Winters $500.'

'Fuck me, for real? Old Man Winters is a goddamn millionare.'

'I know, and he's got better things to do than chase your sorry ass. I wouldn't be here, except you done screwed his daughter.'

'Why's it his fucking business what I do?'

''Cos a rich man don't want no hick grandkids,' I said.

Waylon adjusted his grip and I could tell he was struggling. 'You ain't no better than me.'

'I ain't stupid enough to do the dirty with Missy Winters.'

He blinked back sweat. 'Hey now, it was her what got fresh with me, you hear?'

'That's not what she says.'

'She got a whore mouth. I'm telling you, that's the truth.'

Waylon's denims were hanging loose off his shoulders. They probably had a fortnight's wear in them, and were looking all the worse for it. He had a dark stain on his chest, probably from spilling gas while filling up his pickup.

'Are we done?' I said.

He looked at me, looked down one more time and then looked up again. I saw his eyes, saw his jaw set. Saw his intention. 'One way or another I gotta come down.'

'Aw, c'mon, Waylon, don't do nothing stupid, now,' I said.

'See you on the other side.'

'You're going to buy yourself a toe-tag,' I warned.

'Hang here or hang there, what's the difference?'

He had a point. 'Not much,' I said.

'When you see Old Man Winters again, tell him I gave it to her up the wazzoo, and she loved every goddamn minute of it.'

He dropped.

I'll tell you I'm a lucky man, blessed even, but Waylon must have paid his dues a hundred times in kind words, rosaries and votive candles. He landed perfectly in the container, chucking up a dust cloud that meant no chance of me getting a clear shot at him. I thought for a moment about jumping for the pulley and swallow-diving after him, but fortunately my love for the Good Lord doesn't compel me to push my luck too far. I could hear Waylon's footsteps disappearing deeper into the factory, and knew there was only one way to head him off – I had to get to the pickup before he did.

I barrel rolled down the stairs and sprinted for the massive window opposite. A round from the laser pistol cracked the frosted glass ahead and then it was elbows up by my face, head down, hit and hope.

Hitting the glass with a crack and splintering the damn thing near everywhere, I rolled out onto a balcony above the parking lot, picking up all sorts of scratches, cuts and other happy things that would have to wait until later. Right on cue, Waylon ran beneath and I dropped down. I managed to catch him with a boot between the shoulder blades and he went face first into a pile of loose boards someone had stacked up by the outer wall. I hoped it was less painful than it looked. Either way, this time he got up a lot more slowly than before.

I popped a candy jack for energy. 'Give it up now. I'm right out of breath.'

He goggled at me. 'Who in hell are you, anyway?'

I tugged my jacket open, showed him the Guild badge. 'My name is Phoenix. I'm working out of Hole Town.'

He hit me then, real fucking hard.

When everything had stopped spinning, I realized I'd fallen away to one side. My jaw was throbbing but I was in too much pain to close my mouth. Waylon wasn't done. He pulled my leg away to one side, and then gave me one of his size twelves, right in the balls.

I think I maybe cried a bit, though honestly all I remember is things going white and everything that wasn't my crotch ceasing to matter for a while. When I stopped rolling around and whimpering, I saw Waylon standing over me, lit cigarette in one hand.

'You asshole,' I said. 'My fuckin' kids ain't even been born yet and already they're hurtin'.' 

'Like you wouldn't have done the same to me.'

'I'm gonna do the same to you when I get a chance. Best believe it.' I rolled upright and tested each of my teeth in turn with my fingers. 'Goddamnit. You nearly broke my jaw.'

He punched me again, adding a whole new layer of pain to the ones I was in already. 'See, you goddamn hunters think this is some kind of game. You chase us down, slap us around and sell us back to your bosses. We do a spell in the Pen, and in a year or two, go back to our slave jobs and everything's forgiven. Well, fuck that. This is our lives, man. I shouldn't have to go back to hell for you. I shouldn't have to go back for anyone.'

'If you don't wanna go in the Pen, maybe you should learn some respect for other people's stuff.'

'Them same other people what do all the favours for me? Screw them, and screw you. I'll do what I damn well want,' he said.

I've been to many places and done many things in the handful of years since I left Twelve. Life is for the living, I truly believe that, and I've been out, doing my very best to embrace that principle. I got no fear of death. We're all on that road. But as I was lying there, I couldn't help but think about my mom. Is this how it ended for her? Down on her back, killed by some yahoo who got the drop on her?

Enough of thoughts like that.

My tazer and my gun were both gone, and I wasn't pulling a knife unless Waylon did likewise. I struggled upright and spat a mouthful of blood out into the desert. Someone once told me that a long time ago, people prepared for battles by spilling their own blood in the mornings before they started. Well, it weren't lunch time yet, and I was done playing around.

'Come on,' I said, trying my best to assume a fighting stance even though I was swaying slightly. 'Let's finish this.'

He gave me that look I love to see – that one where they're tired, like dog tired. That one they use when they're beat in the mind.

'Damn it all,' he said, 'can't you just let me go?'

'Ain't payin' no bills that way,' I replied. The candy jack kicked in, and then I was on him.


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