Well, it's been about six months since I've heard ANYTHING from the esteemed Halffast. I entered a piece of fiction into his solicitation. I figured since it's not going anywhere, I'd show everyone what I've written. Yeah, this blog is poorly written -usually when I've been drinking, often when I can't sleep, and sometimes both- so I thought this would be something nice and new. So I present...Extraction.
I sat on the hood of my car a long time, thinking. The Python was in its holster at my side, loaded with the best rounds in the self-defense game: 125 grain jacketed hollowpoints. Kicked like all hell, but they left a hole in a man you could throw a cat through. I thought about Jess as the sun seemed to stand still above me, hazed by low, dark clouds. It was havoc out there. I lived on the outskirts of town to boot, closer to Keith's new place than the city center- where Jess lived. I tried not to think of what might be happening to her. Happier times, like the last time I saw her.
It was a couple of weeks ago. We thundered through the night, dubstep blaring from the speakers of her car, thumping and echoing behind us. I smiled as the wind whipped by, her little Mitsubishi flowing through the traffic as we closed on the theater. It hardly took any time, and I caught her smiling at me as I helped her buckle down the drop top. We got out, not sure of what movie we wanted to see. We decided on that horrible-looking remake of Fright Night, laughing and pointing. Jess snuck a couple of Rockstars + Vodka! drinks into the film. She pulled them out of her purse as soon as the theater went dark, offered me one. I smiled at her, and without provocation, she wrapped those thin arms around me. "Thanks for taking me out, Des. I really needed to blow off some steam. You mean a lot to me." I couldn't help but smile. I held her tight, and I dared to dream she actually meant it. We put the popcorn between us, and settled in like nothing had happened.
It seemed like ages ago. Everything was going up in flames. She was out there, somewhere. Sue was safe in the house, sure. But how could I leave Jess out there? The way she made me feel was just plain criminal. She made life simple. She made me happy just to be by her. To hear her voice. So there I was, sitting on the hood of my car, trying to work out in my mind how I could leave her there. Everyone but her was inside, behind bricks, with a half-dozen trigger pullers. I heard the screen door slam, saw Keith start crunching his way down the gravel towards me. He was frowning, thumbs hooked into his jeans.
Keith stared at me evenly. I looked at the box of bullets, empty speedloaders, thought of Jess. Her alone, back there...
"I'm going to see if I can rescue Jess, homes."
"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 grill of his pickup, he stretched his broad shoulders a bit. My only gun and only holster were already hanging off my hip, and I was sitting on the hood of my idling Civic. My elbow rested on the carved wood grips of the Colt Python, and that kept me calm. It was like a safety blanket for me- I always felt like I had to be held to a higher standard when I picked it up. It's like a physical reminder of what I can be, y'know? Keith sighed again, and looked back at his big-ass house. 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 my last speedloader 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..."
“This is some Forty-Seven Ronin kinda bullshit, man.”
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 dollar collapsed, nothing happened. The second, day, nothing. Third day, all hell had broken loose. Well, that's what happens when the credit card companies scramble to recover their money while it's possible, the power company starts threatening to turn off the lights because they can't afford to give out free electricity, and the money in your wallet becomes worth less than the same amount of toilet paper overnight. Suddenly, no one can keep up with the cost of anything, and all the savings you have are worth nothing. Prices spike and money value drops. And that's a problem if you want to eat, or not wipe your ass with the Sears catalog. So, understandably, people started freaking the fuck out. And, unsurprisingly, given the option between working unpaid to contain the utter insanity of people braining each other over a pack of diapers or can of soup and protecting their families, most cops were taking off.
The big Python dangled in my hand as we drove past people running, screaming. My fingers danced on the grip, and the nickel finish glinted in the grey light. The sky was sort of overcast, I think. The odd burst of sunlight, you know? Looks kind like columns made of sun holding up the sky. I glanced out the window, 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 as I mashed the keys, not from heading towards what was at best rioting and chaos. I always got nervous talking to her. Jess's phone rung and rung, and I prayed my cell battery held out. One bar left.
"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 leaning on the dash between my legs, holstered up my big wheelgun. Comfort wasn't what I needed anymore, it was firepower. That's why we were in Keith's F-150, the two-seater with the big grill and the huge bed he used for work.
"What do you think, man?" I asked quietly.
"This is dumb. Your girlfriend would kill us if she had any idea what you were doing."
"So? Never stopped us before."
"Yeah, yeah. I got the door, don't worry about it," he murmured, bitterness clear. Keith didn't like this at all.
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.
Oh, I was definitely nerved up. I could feel my heart beating faster, that seductive strength that adrenaline gives you flowing through my veins. 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 broken.
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, along with a pile of full mags. I dragged the webbing 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 familiar 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. Two armed men was a lot to ignore, but I suppose people had their own problems. 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 carefully and quietly opened it. 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 crept 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. They didn't stand a chance. Didn't deserve to. 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. She reached to hug me, stopped mid-way. I smiled and shrugged, letting go of the shotty and letting it hang from the sling. She didn't come any closer, hugging herself.
I scanned the apartment, saw a tuft of black hair sticking up from behind her kitchen island. 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. At first, I wasn't even sure he was actually a male. 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, gleaming combat boots and H-rig holding her boyfriend or whatever at gunpoint and rapidly turning red. 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. He started speaking to me, shifting his feet awkwardly.
“I don't have much...”
I walked over and halfheartedly covered the door for a few minutes while Jess grabbed her bag. Aaron stood there a moment more before he walked off and grabbed his stuff.
“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. A small cloth satchel was slung over his shoulder, a toothbrush poking out of it.
“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 shooting, especially three-gun. I pulled back down the stairs in good order, looked at him briefly as he stood at the corner. Jess and Aaron were walking towards the truck.
“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 playing 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. I hate being embarrassed.
“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.
“So, uh, where'd you guys come from?”
I ignored Aaron as we weaved through through traffic. I felt like an ass, to be honest. I had dragged my best buddy out to a warzone to help me rescue a girl who had no desire to be saved. The sky was darkening, low clouds rolling in. Everything was cast in a grey light. The grip of the shotgun was sweaty as we hit the residential side streets trying to get around the traffic. Aaron fidgeted while I turned my head side to side almost mechanically. I watched the streets slowly glide past. Here, a smashed-in storefront. There, a chunky splatter on a wall. A man with a brick in hand, face contorted. I could hear the steel-string distantly trough the glass of the cab. Glancing, I saw Keith and Jess talking enthusiastically. I turned back to watching the city behind us, leaning up against the glass. I sighed. I didn't know this guy, why was I being an ass?
“Listen, we got off on the wrong foot. I'm Desmond. I've known Jess a long, long time. I'm real protective of her,” I managed through grit teeth. I continued to scan as we wound our way through suburbia. There were a lot of open doors, and a lot of empty driveways. A stray droplet of rain struck me on the neck, and I flinched a little.
“So...umm...what do you do? Military or something?”
“So what's with the guns?” he asked, pointing at the .357. I took my eyes off the semi-deserted subdivision and looked at him. He seemed confused and a little scared; pretty typical stuff.
“I've been shooting for fun for about three years now. Keith got me into it.”
He nodded and looked away. I turned back to scanning as the truck slowed. He turned and stopped hard, rocking Aaron's head against the glass hard enough to rattle it. I turned to look over the cab, saw the problem. Three men stood behind parked cars piled high with junk. Two had hunting rifles, one had a shotgun. They stared silently, one with a buttstock against his thigh as he pointed to a particleboard sign. The spray paint was pretty clear:
HIGH PARK CLOSED- GO AROUND
Keith waved, and one man nodded at him. We swung into reverse.
“What's going on?”
“Nothing. Keep your head down.”
I sat my ass back down as we started up again, driving past another roadblock. We took the next turn, and found ourselves stopped. I could hear cursing as we advanced a carlength at a time. It didn't take long for a couple of other cars to end up behind us. Before long, some other vehicles in a small convoy came in behind us. It was bumper to bumper, but I couldn't tell why. I poked my head over the cab, and saw more parked vehicles, with a little gap between them. Just enough to let a truck pass, actually. I shrugged, sat back down. Looking around, I saw more of the same- deserted houses, open doors, trash all over. Well, at least until the four guys came out of the townhouse near the corner. There was a shout, and a few more stood on a car hood, brandishing a baseball bat, a couple with guns. Keith looked back at me, then past. There wasn't enough room to go anywhere. The first one saw me, and gestured at me with a kitchen knife.
“Nice shades, man.”
The shotgun was on my legs, out of view to him.
“Give 'em here. I want a look.”
I started to haul the shotgun up, and there was a moment of shock before I leveled it at him. He stopped dead in his tracks, and put his hands up.
“Whoawhoawhoa...calm down buds,” he stuttered, stepping back. He didn't let go of the knife. His buddies stopped, looked at me warily as they started to circle.
“Back off. Back off now!” I yelled, voice cracking. They didn't. They glanced at each other. Aaron got as low as he could, and I swept the muzzle back and forth, trying to keep them at bay. It wasn't working. I chanced a glance back at Jess. She was low, out of the way. The instant I took my eyes off of 'em, they rushed me. I pulled the trigger, and Knifey took a full load of buck at point blank to the face. I heard Keith open up with his Sig, Jess start screaming. I racked the shotgun. That's when Baseball Bat clocked me with a glancing blow.
They rung my bell pretty good, I'll be the first to admit that.
My mind rewound for a second while I spat blood. I remembered hanging out with Jess once. We were blasting along in Jess's car at three in the morning, beats pounding. The top was down, and the highway was empty. We must have been flying a buck twenty. The warm summer air rushed past us as we laughed after a night at the movies. Some people, you find your center with. She does that to me. Something cold came over me, and I shivered. I opened my swelling eyes, and saw the grey sky pelting me with ice-cold rain. I groaned and rolled, seeing droplets of blood running from my mouth and nose hit the bed. I tried to shake my head, rolled over. I could hear gunshots, not just the sound of Keith's Sig.
I had dropped the shotty, and Aaron was trying to hold off another bad guy with a length of threaded rod left in Keith's truck bed. He swung it wildly, trading missed blows with Baseball Bat. My head felt fuzzy, and there was blood in my mouth. I didn't know quite where I was. I pulled my revolver, and extended it at him as I heard the AR start to bark. I pulled the trigger, and there was a jet of white flame a foot long as I blew the back of the guy's head off. Steam sizzled from the Python's barrel as the downpour cooled it. Aaron screamed, holding his ears. Fuck 'em. I stood, and looked around, staggering. Keith was shooting at a couple more of them. I couple hear someone leaning on the horn, and looked around. Someone was creeping around off to my left. Between my concussion, the sheets of rain, and the dim grey light, I could hardly see them. It was a monumental effort to get the .357 up, but I dropped it into my sights and cranked off a shot. Keith was still shooting, so I turned and fired two more rounds towards his target. The big gun bucked in my hand as I saw him turn to me.
“You okay, Des?”
Aaron helpfully held the shotgun up to me by the stock. He shivered as he did, and I could feel the vibrations up the gun's stock. The rain was miserable and frigid, but it kept me awake. I racked the shotgun, and a bright red shell thunked against the bed. I leveled it in the direction we had been shooting. I shook my head once, rain rolling off of me.
He dumped the rest of his mag, reloaded and hopped back in the car. There's a blank spot in my memory about there, but Jess tells me we plowed through the roadblock, I fell on my ass and hit my head a little. I was conscious, but I don't quite remember. We drove another three miles through the pouring rain before stopping at a laundromat. Keith jumped out, rifle slung. Jess was crying in the passenger. He looked at me, frowned.
“Shirt's a mess.”
“Nose's broke. Both eyes are black. They got you good, man. You'll never be pretty again,” he managed, smirking as he slapped my shoulder. He opened the door to the laundromat, and pushed me inside. I sat down on a bench, reeling. He looked me over quickly, bouncing back out to the truck. I saw him talk to Jess as the rain started to let up. I felt half-drunk, not all there. He returned with four green cans, still in the rings of a six-pack. He took one, and pushed one at me. He left the cans in my lap.
“Get some of that medicine up in ya,” he grunted. “You're concussed in for sure. Don't sleep until I get Vick to look you over.”
I nodded along dumbly. The energy drink was tasteless as I gulped half of it down.
“Almost home, man. Half an hour,” he managed. He turned away, getting back in the car. I stood, and more or less climbed into the bed of the truck. I turned to Aaron. One ear was leaking. I extended a hand through the drizzle to the shaking, almost fetal man.
“Thanks. You did good.”
“YOU DID...nevermind,” I trailed off. I regretted firing my gun so close to his head, but that was the situation. He shook my hand with a limp grip and I called it even. I looked down, and saw there was blood down to my belly button. The shirt was ruined. I tried to snort, ended up coughing instead. Shaking my head, I struggled to keep my head on a swivel for the rest of the ride.
We got back to the ranch, and everyone got out of the truck except me. The rain had stopped fifteen minutes ago. Jess didn't look at me, just headed for the house. I crawled to the lowered gate of the truck bed, and Keith put a hand on my shoulder.
“You did good, man. How you feeling?”
“Shitty. My head is pounding.”
“Well, you're all fucked up. But we rescued the girl. I'll send Vick out. I take it you don't want to come inside?”
“Just grab me a Goddamn Miller and some Kleenex, mang.”
I wasn't sure if my words were slurred because of the concussion or the scabs. But Keith frowned. I grinned lopsidedly at him.
“Sorry man. I'm hurtin' right now. A fresh shirt would go a long way too.”
“It's fine, man. Just...stay awake, awright?” Keith said, looking into my eyes. I was all over the place.
I nodded and started to slowly struggle out of the H-harness, and clear the shotgun. I stood up on the soggy ground, and jacked the slide of the shotgun until nothing came out. Red shells went everywhere. I lost track of time, but I heard a gentle cough behind me. I turned, and Jess had two cans of Miller. No shirt, though.
She walked up, and lifted herself up onto the truck bed. Her face was worn, drawn. Mascara ran down the sides of her face. I tossed the shotgun in, and eased myself up beside her.
“I just wanted to say thanks. Keith said you wanted a drink, and his wife jumped right on him. I went to the fridge, and then bailed.”
She kicked her feet a minute, and I reached over and opened my beer. Easing myself onto the bed of the Ford with her, I smiled. The sunset caught her, made her glow despite everything.
“Des, I just wanted to say...I appreciate you coming out for me.”
"I couldn't do anything else, Jess."
"You know why."
She looked at me, and I looked at her. She shook her head. I shrugged, took a gulp. She stared at the ground. Thunder rolled in the distance, along with the pops of gunfire. Neither of us spoke, looking away from each other, trying to ignore what was going through our heads. The whole day seemed like something far off. Another life. I looked at my hand, my knuckle as I opened the cylinder of my gun, started plucking out the empty brass. My knuckle hair was scorched away. I suddenly felt wet and cold and so very tired.
“Are you and...and Aaron alright?”
She shrugged slight shoulders. I plucked the fired brass out, flicked them into the grass. Another silence filled by far-off gunfire.
“Vicky's looking at him.”
She winced a little, and turned to me. Her mouth opened, danced as she tripped over her words. My heart was in my mouth.
“How...how many...” she managed. Tears ran down her face as she struggled. I held up a fired brass and she nodded.
“Enough. I killed enough of them. Jess.”
I nodded. I didn't look at her, didn't say anything. I pocketed the live rounds, took the last swig of beer. Jess put a hand on my shoulder.
“Desmond,” she said, shaking me. I looked at her, and she pointed. Storming down the gravel path, I could see Susanna. Her fists were balled, red hair a mess. I looked back to Jess, gave her half a grin as she sat there, pale and haunted.
“It was worth it,” I told her quietly, holstering the Python. She didn't say anything.
Sitting there, I watched Jess stand and walk off, going at a right angle to my charging girlfriend. In an instant, Susanna was an inch from her face, a silent challenge. Jess stepped around her, walking back to the house. My girlfriend turned to me, and glared.
“You didn't tell me you were going. You didn't tell anyone. I was worried as fuck about you, Desmond. I was freaking out so bad,” she managed through grit teeth. “I love you, and I've always done right by you, and you turn around and do this.”
“I couldn't let her die, Sue.”
“So you abandon me for some other girl? Come back all messed up, and not a word to me? You don't come back inside and tell me anything, don't even see me after everything. I come outside hearing you're hurt, and you're having beers with that skeletal slut? You did all of this for that whore?” she yelled at me. “We're through. Done. Fuck you, Desmond.”
She spun on her heel as the last of light of the day slipped out of the sky. I watched her storm back to the house.
“No matter the cost, it was worth it,” I told myself as I sat alone in the dark.