Here is the final version of the story I posted in "For My Next Trick, Anvils" post. Thanks to Sigboy for all the help!
"You sure you want to do this?" Keith asked me. I nodded, more to myself than to him.
"Don't see any other way, to be honest."
He sighed, like an older brother watching his brother do something he didn't think was the brightest idea in the world. Leaning on the hood of his pickup, he stretched his shoulders a bit. My only gun and only holster were already hanging off my hip, and I was leaning against my idling Civic. The women were inside with a few other trusted friends, getting things ready for what looked like a long, rough haul. All those little things we put away for a rainy day got dusted off and dragged out of safes and closets.
"You're going whether or not I come, aren't you?"
He stared at me another moment as I loaded three speedloaders of .357 and dumped them in my left pocket. I could damn near hear the scales creak in his mind as he weighed everything out.
"Suppose you want help, too."
"Wouldn't mind it, homes," I said with a shrug. I had already made up my mind. I was going.
"She want to be rescued?"
I answered with a shrug.
"She didn't exactly ask for help, per se..."
Another sigh. He stared at the hood a moment. I flashed a cocky grin. I already knew the answer, before he reached for his Sig, made sure he had a round chambered.
"Alright, let's go save the girl who isn't your girl."
The streets were choked with cars heading the other direction. We could see black pillars of smoke rising into the sky. The first day the power had been out, nothing happened. The second, day, nothing. Third day, all hell had broken loose. The big Smith dangled in my hand as we drove past people running, screaming. I saw a coupla people who looked like they were sleeping, but it hardly seemed that they were napping in the middle of a suburb being looted. It all flashed by as we broke speed limits heading against the traffic. I felt a lot better about riding to the rescue with his truck compared to my little Civic.
I nodded, dialed her number. My thumb shook a little, not from heading towards what was at best rioting and chaos. Her phone rung and rung, and I prayed my cell battery held out.
"Hey Jess, you alright? Still at home?"
"Yeah, I'm scared. They're lighting fires-"
"I'll be there in twenty, pack your bags."
"Cell's going, I'll see you in twenty, Jess."
I hung up on her. I needed the battery to last as long as it could. I looked at Keith, but he was unreadable behind his Oakleys. I looked down at the 870 between my legs, holstered up the .357.
"What do you think, man?"
"This is dumb. Your girlfriend would kill us if she had any idea what you were doing."
"So? Never stopped us before."
"Yeah, I got the door, don't worry about it."
He lapsed into a stern silence. He didn't like coming along for this adventure- I could understand that. A wife and kids makes a man rethink that nonsense. But I was young enough to believe in it yet. He flipped on a CD, and I heard the beats pound. I grinned, thumbed shells into the shotgun- his competition gun, on loan just in case things went bad. Fat red three-inchers, all 0000. I heard the lyrics, smiled. He didn't. Nope, he was pumping himself up, drawing out that bit of him that wanted to murder rapists. That wanted mayhem. That wanted to be the righteous, gauntleted fist of justice.
"Forged in the fire lit long ago, stand next to me, you'll never stand alone!
I'm last to leave, but the first to go
Lord, make me dead before you make me old!
I feed on the fear from the devil inside..."
Oh, I was definitely nerved up. I could feel my heart beating faster, that seductive strength that adrenaline gives you. Keith's loaner shotty was appreciated, I'll give him that. But the song was worth of a dozen of them. I felt my heart beat faster, head nodding to the lyrics.
"Right at the lights," I said, seeing a familiar intersection.
"Not that we have much choice. Look about two blocks down."
I squinted, trying to see past the bumper to bumper cars. Just barely above the roof of a Windstar I saw the first lick of flame rising, then a puff of oily black smoke. A Third World roadblock. Great. He made the turn, dodging a stalled Prius. The windows were broke.
We pulled up in the parking lot of Jess's building. It was one of those apartments above a set of stores, overlooking the street. There were actually five or six apartments in the building, none of them particularly nice but particularly affordable to young folk who didn't mind the odd shady customer, the odd loud noise in the dead of night. Semi-gentrified, she called it. Better than the barrio, worse than your average place. There were only a couple of other cars in the lot, all smashed except two. The door was closed, didn't look to be damaged. We both scanned the lot as we picked a spot close to the door. He turned off the engine, took a deep breath.
"Destiny has brought us together, I wonder where fate will lead us?" Keith finally said, after a pause.
"Way to gay up some thrilling heroics, yo," I responded, my voice a little choked. We bumped fists, coming out of the car on the bounce. I scanned the area behind the strip, Keith the area we came from.
"Hey," he said, still watching his zone with his gun at the low ready, "get the kit out of the bed."
I dropped the gate, saw what he meant. There was an AR and two H-harnesses. I dragged it close to us, tapped him on the shoulder.
"Nice," I said as he turned away from the street, "Expecting a small war?"
He turned around, grabbed the rifle and the webbing with the mag pouches, slinging it on with practiced ease as I stood watch. Then, he charged the bolt, and let me struggle into my rig. Well, his rig. I had worn it shooting a couple of times, felt the weight settle onto my hips.
"Alright," he said, "Let's do this."
We took up positions on either side of the door, backs to the wall. It didn't seem like anyone was paying attention to us, which was nice. I took a deep breath as soon as he put his hand on the knob, looking at me for the cue for him to open it. I nodded, and he heaved it open. It was dark in there, with the power out. The only light came from a window up two flights of stairs, filtering down an off yellow dimness we could just barely see by. As soon as we burst in, I hear a door next to us slam shut. Keith flicked his muzzle towards it, but we heard the bolt slam home before he got there. We heard something else, too.
“Open up, bitch!” someone called mockingly from above. We started up the stairs quietly, listening. I flinched when I heard the first thump of impact, flesh on wood. Muffled female voice.
“We're gonna get in sometime, Jess!”
And after that, I don't remember much of what happened. Looking back in the car, I broke into a run. I came up, and saw two guys, big tattooed white guys with an axe and a baseball bat. The axe was up to the eye in Jess's door, the bearded idiot grinning with malicious glee. It was simple, just like the drills. I lined them up over the bright green front sight, and squeezed the trigger mechanically. One, rack, two, rack, three, rack, four, rack, scan. There was a ringing sound, and I heard Keith shout behind me.
Numbly, I got into position on the far side of Jess's door.
“Jess, it's Des!”
I heard the clink of the chain, a little dragging noise, and then the deadbolt. The door opened a crack, and there she was. Long purple hair pulled back into a ponytail, pale skin stained with smeared mascara. Brown eyes, tears, beauty silhouetted between the door and the axe handle. Keith glanced at her, then at me. A smile ghosted across his face, and he turned to cover the hall. I smiled at her, and she opened the door some more. I walked in, shaking a little. I had never been in her new apartment- it was all thick paint, small pictures, bright and cheery. I smiled at her awkwardly, stepping carefully in blood-spattered boots.
I scanned the apartment, saw a tuft of black hair on the other side. The shotgun came up again, and Jess yelped.
“Hands on your head! Come out where I can see you!”
A raggedy man...boy...thing emerged from the kitchen, black bangs obscuring half his face. He trembled as he stood where he was, hands in the air.
“Des! That's Aaron!” she said to me, like I should know who he is. I imagine I looked pretty weird- a high school friend in a Team Realtree hat, World of Warcraft t-shirt, cargos and H-rig holding her boyfriend or whatever at gunpoint and rapidly turning red to boot. I lowered the shotgun, tried to look busy pulling shells from the rig and topping up the tube. I didn't look up.
“Keith's outside, ready to go. Got your stuff, Jess?”
“He can come with.”
“But we need to get moving.”
She sighed, rolled her eyes, went around back. I saw her cross my line of sight, and looked up. Aaron was leaning on her counter, looking at the floor.
“I don't have much...”
I walked over and halfheartedly covered the door for a few minutes while Jess grabbed her bag.
“Ready,” she announced, clearly a little unhappy with the situation. I looked back over my shoulder at her. She had an old knapsack over one shoulder, tight jeans and a baggy Misfits shirt on. Hardly what you're call practical, but I gave her half a smile anyways. Aaron stood off to the side, head down and hands jammed in pockets.
“Three comin' down.”
“Gotcha, come on down.”
It was just like drills, like I said. I didn't look down, just stepped over the bodies, covered the hall. Aaron apparently turned pale and ran down the stairs, while Jess retched. Not just retched, threw up violently at the sight of the two men who had probably wanted to rob and rape her. Buckshot does nasty stuff to a man, yeah. But it wasn't anything they didn't deserve. She still didn't need to see it.
“C'mon, keep moving!” Keith called from the bottom of the stairs, never taking his eyes off of his irons. I didn't even have to look. Me and Keith go way back, seen a lot of combat classes and competitive shooting together. Hell, you might as well say he's the one who got me into three-gun. I pulled back down the stairs in good order, looked at him briefly.
“Alright, let's go home.”
“You're gonna have a hell of a time 'splaining this one, man. I mean, I can see why you did it, she's gorgeous...”
“Don't I know it. Take Jess in the cab, I'm play trunk monkey with Captain Douchebag there.”
He nodded, and I covered the street as he walked back over to his truck, swung into the driver's seat and opened the door for her.
“So...like Brooks and Dunn?” I heard him rumble as I slung myself into the bed. I sat there a moment, fishing around before finding what I was looking for. The Wiley X sunglasses slid on easily. I turned to see Aaron just standing there, hands in pockets, not moving.
“Comin' or not?” I barked, with probably a little too much anger.
“Is that safe?”
“Hey, if you want to take your chances explaining those two bodies to the cops, or better yet, their hombres, be my guest.”
His eyes widened, and he scrambled inside, sitting close to the cab. I laid the shotgun across my lap, muzzle to the aft. I slapped the side of the truck twice, and wondered what in the hell I had been thinking riding the rescue of a girl who didn't see me as more than a passing acquaintance. I kept my eyes on the road behind us the rest of the way home, and tried not to think about it, or the girl in the cab.
It had worked a coupla years before, but like Georgia...she had always been on my mind. And I couldn't just leave her there, could I?