Thanks to Kim Tripp who (gently) reminded me that Burton had been in the Marines and not a SEAL Team (d’oh! Even I know the difference!) so that I could go back and fix that!
Also– brief family story here: The kids and I watched Frequency tonight–it’s an old movie, made in 1999, and a little slow in parts but they loved it. I felt like a hero. Gonna bask.
So, this may be short, because, uh, WEDNESDAY which is always busy (in this case Chicken came by and appropriately distracted me from my mission for much of the day) but hopefully we’ll get to hear Ernie speak.
Looking forward to it!
Hiding the Moon–Part 3
By the time Burton got down the stairs, the sounds coming from the shadows were both intimate and non-consensual–and the three gorillas with guns were nowhere to be seen.
“Mm… no. No. Not you. You’re not good–“
“C’mon, club boy–you put out for everybody. You’re legendary–“
“Who’re you? You’re not good. Don’t touch me. It feels like bugs when you touch me!”
The scream came from the pit of the boy’s stomach, but the next sound made Burton sick to his.
A crunch, a scuffle, and a low moan of mortal pain, and Burton could not run fast enough. His heart started beating in two more breath’s when Ernie’s voice–a low, dreamy tenor–echoed out of the alleyway.
“Stop touching me with bugs!
Jesus, kid, what did you take?
Burton crashed into the alleyway, pistol drawn and laser sight active, while his eyes adjusted quickly to the darkness.
Club kid was down in a crumpled pile in the corner of the alley. His body was twitching but Burton thought maybe that wouldn’t last long. Ernie stood panting in the center of the three operatives, panting, pants sliding down his hips and his hands out in front of him in classic martial arts pose. Burton would have found it laughable, like a little kid faking karate, but two of the assailants were bleeding and one was cradling his arm.
The kid had bought himself some time with the element of surprise, but there were two laser lights dotting him, one in center mass and one on his head.
Burton took out the headshot first and the center mass guy next, through the head both of them, and had the gun aimed on the guy who couldn’t draw before the bodies hit the floor.
“Corduroy Company,” the man barked. “I’m doing for my ID.”
“So I’m not supposed to shoot you because you’re a merc?” Burton asked, undeterred. “That club bunny with the mushed brain didn’t get to pull his stupidity card. What are you doing here?”
“Man, you should know! We got hired by the US Military–this here’s a high priority target!”
“When’d the contract come through?” Burton asked.
“Two days ago–apparently the guy assigned to the kid didn’t follow through.”
“The guy assigned to the target thought the job was hinky and wasn’t taking a life without asking any goddamned questions,” Burton snapped, feeling grumpy. Two kills defending this kid? Three if you counted the club-bunny with his nose through his brain, but Burton had no way of knowing if that had been the Corduroy mercenaries or the kid himself. “And look what you made me do.”
Mr. Corduroy company rolled his eyes. “We take orders, soldier–I don’t know how you get to have a conscience.”
Burton felt his brain and his chest go cold. He was going to have to kill this guy method like, without any more talk, because there was no reasoning with him.
“Wait,” Ernie said, holding up his hand. He practically wafted to where the mercenary stood.
“You broke my fucking wrist,” Merc snarled.
“You’re a bad man,” the boy told him, eyes wide. Gently, he laid his hand on the merc’s wrist through his jacket, then shuddered and dropped his hand. “Bad through and through,” he told Burton with a shrug. His shoulders drooped dejectedly and he moved to Burton’s other side.
He was well out of the line of fire when Burton dropped the final Corduroy mercenary, his silencer loud in the late night air.
* * *
“Where are we going, Cruller?” the boy asked five minutes later.
Burton wasn’t taking the easy route–he’d left his sniper rifle bolted to the top of the building, prints and all. First things first, and the first thing was to force the kid up the fire escape in front of him in a minute and a half so Burton could disassemble the rifle and they could beat a hasty retreat through the inside of the building.
“What’d you call me? And move your ass before I kick you up there myself!”
“It’s five stories,” the kid said mildly. “Nobody heard. That’s why the dance club is out here in the warehouse district.”
Burton growled and glared balefully at the kid’s back, wondering if sheer irritation would make him move any faster. “So noted. Now what did you call me?”
“Cruller. It’s your donut. The kind with the glaze but not the flavor,” he recited dutifully.
“You didn’t even see me that day,” Burton muttered, breathing a sigh of relief when they finally broke through to the roof.
“Yes, but you’re very definitely good. It radiates. That is a big gun. What are you going to do with that big gun? Why didn’t you just pick off the bug-touching guys with that? I was scared, you know. They were going to kill me.”
“They disappeared,” Burton muttered, getting on his knees and using the air drill to unbolt the base of the gun. “I couldn’t see them to shoot. And they were going to kill you–you’re lucky to still be alive.”
“Mm.” The kid nodded, and then sat down bonelessly, like cat flopping on a carpet, and closed his eyes while Burton worked.
“Did you take out Mr. Date-raping Octopus Hands?” Burton asked into the silence, because the question was making him crazy.
“No,” Ernie said sadly. “He would have left after I yelled. He was bad but… there’s bad that can be fixed and there’s those guys you killed. He could have been fixed. Those other guys are just bugs.”
Burton shuddered and clamped the case shut. “Fair enough. C’mon, Ernie, you and me need to get out of this bug-ridden town before those fuckers get you.”
“Who’s going to feed my cats?” Ernie asked–but he was following Burton without question, which was nice.
“How about half of Pheonix?” Burton was taking the steps two at a time and he wished fervently that Ernie could keep up with him. “That was every stray cat in the residential district!”
Ernie let out a laugh that should have been on a playground. “But I know all their names!” he said plaintively.
“I’ll make arrangements,” Burton told him, mind already going to the phone calls he’d have to make to take care of the matter.
“Really? Okay, Cruller–you are a good guy!”
“Burton.” Cruller could haunt a guy through four branches of the military. Burton had seen it happen.
“Cruller,” the boy said, the stubbornness a surprise when the tone was so amiable.
“Get a move on,” Burton snapped. “I got transport three blocks down, but we don’t know how many more Corduroys we’ve got on our tail.”
“Mm…” Ernie seemed to shut down then, his eyes going to half-mast, his body doing what Burton asked but not at triple time. Finally they were in Burton’s white Tahoe, heading west.
“Ernie!” Burton snapped, and Ernie’s eyes popped open.
“I was. You said you didn’t know how many Corduroys were there. Two. There were two more in one of the apartments we passed. They were getting upset.” He sighed, sadly. “Do you think they’ll miss their friends?”
“Yes,” Burton said, thinking about the four bodies on the alleyway. “I think all of them are going to be missed, which is why we need to be in California in less than six hours.”
“What’s in California?” Ernie asked.
“Haven, I hope.”
“Mm.. that’s nice. We need to stay in a hotel first though.”
Burton did a double take before gluing his eyes back on the road.
“You need to call your boss, and then you need to call your friends, and you need to get to know me.”
“Why in the world would I want to do that?” Burton snarled.
“I don’t know–you’re the one who’s screaming with need.”
“I”m screaming with frustration is what I’m doing–“
“Well, that too. It’s okay, Cruller. A crappy hotel will be fine. But at ten o’clock I need to sleep, so maybe find something soon.”
Burton could see the sun flirting with the horizon in his rearview mirror. “Damn– where did that time go? It’s almost six in the morning!”
“It was five when the killing started,” Ernie said sadly. “I don’t want to think about it. Tell me when you find the hotel.”
And then he closed his eyes and checked out. Just… checked out. No amount of calling his name mad him open his eyes and no attempts at conversation stirred him.
Burton screamed, long and satisfyingly after five minutes of trying to get his attention, and still the kid didn’t even interrupt his breathing.
“God,” Burton muttered to himself. “My God. What am I going to tell my boss?”
And that got the kid’s attention. “You’re going to tell him you walked away, Cruller. Because if you didn’t, the Corduroy people will be after you too.”
Burton blinked and checked on him again.
He hadn’t even opened his eyes.
Who was this kid?