“I’m here for the pickup. One carton of silver bullets, and those guns I called ahead about.”
The clerk behind the dusty gun store counter nodded, his saggy brows and moustache obscuring any kind of expression he may have had.
I opened my wallet and reached for a Franklin, my hands accidentally skimming over a picture of me and Annie. The emotions hit me like a bullet, leaving a small black lump to fester in my stomach. Fuck. Why did I have to see that now?
The clerk returned carrying a box of .357 magnum silver bullets with a little cartoon werewolf on the front giving you the thumbs up, and I laughed in spite of myself. Somehow I doubted any actual lycan would give these bullets the same endorsement.
“You don’t mind if I open these here, do you?”
He shook his head, still impossible to tell what kind of face he was making. I pushed the hundred dollar bill over the counter and he sauntered off with it into parts of the store unknown to get the rest of my order.
Taking out my knife, I opened the box and started carving little crosses and swastikas into the tips. It was a job that demanded monotony and an aptitude for mind-numbing menial labor, but I poured all of my attention into those sumbitches, if only to forget the feeling of having a knot tied in my gut by Annie’s smile.
A phone rang in the back. Hurrying on his stumpy little legs, the shopkeeper picked up the receiver. The voice on the other end wasn’t very clear, but I could tell it sounded authoritative. Shit. Give me a fucking break. Had Marq and the Council tracked me down already? I still had four hours on the clock!
I tried listening in on the conversation, but the old man with a fabulous moustache seemed to only communicate in grunts, hmmms, and other noises, making the whole thing impossible to follow. The shopkeeper shuffled back into view, holding the receiver. He held the phone out, trying to say, “it’s for you”.
I took the mouthpiece from him, ready to run out sprinting at a moment’s notice if I heard Marq’s voice.
“Mr. Anastasio, so glad you could take a minute to talk with us,” said the voice on the other end. I made a face like I’d just drank spoiled milk mixed with a can of bird egg blue.
“Agent Hobbes,” I said through grit teeth. “What a pleasant surprise.”
Ignoring me completely, he said, “We have confirmed your sister’s whereabouts after the events of yesterday’s attack. She’s in our care.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. “How is she? Is she okay?”
“She’ll be fine,” the shitty agent responded. “You’ll be expected to come and pick her up in the next twenty-four hours. Is that understood, Mr. Anastasio?”
“Crystal,” I said through clenched teeth.
“Good. Well then-”
I paused, thinking this over. Did I really wanna do this? Now? It could unravel everything I’d been building up to since I’d heard Leon give me the news. Annie’s smiling face was the only thing that kept stoking the fire in my belly, keeping me going with sheer rage. Could I really afford to put that out right now?
“… I’d like to talk to her,” I said. “If it’s possible.”
“It’s really not,” he said.
“Please,” I responded.
The shitty agent’s voice disappeared from the other end of the phone, leaving only the ambient sounds of the rustling receiver and murky whispers that weren’t quite audible over the phone.
“We’ve talked it over. We’re willing to make an exception this time on account of extraordinary circumstances. Please hold, and try to keep the conversation to a ten minute minimum. She needs her bedrest.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I said. “Just let me talk to my sister already.”
The phone was handed off again, and I couldn’t hear jack shit for the longest time. I started getting nervous. Was she okay? Was there some reason maybe that she couldn’t talk right? Was she hurt?
Finally, I got through.
I had to take a second to back away from the earpiece. Okay, she sounded fine. That was good.
For a few seconds I said nothing. What could I say? That I was sorry for not being there to protect her when she was in danger? That I was gonna make them all pay for what they’d done? That I’d been lying to her all this time and that’s why she was hurt? That I was gonna keep lying to her to protect her? How could I explain any of this to a teenage girl?
“Al?” she asked with fearful trepidation, her voice cracking.
“Yeah, I’m okay,” I said as I collected myself, trying to sound as calm and reassuring as I could.
“Oh good,” she said, her voice practically flooded with relief. I smiled, even though she sounded hoarse. That was supposed to be my line. “Is everything alright?”
“Yeah, everything’s fine. Don’t worry about me, Annie.”
“… You don’t really mean that, do you?”
I didn’t say anything.
“… no, I don’t. Your brother never could fool you, could he?” I laughed, trying not to betray what I was really thinking. “I’m down at the station with the police right now. My hospital got hit, and I’m helping them answer some questions about the crimes committed today.”
“Okay…” she said. “Agent Hobbes said you’d be coming to pick me up soon?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Soon. I just have some unfinished business to take care of first.”
“Unfinished business?” she asked. “What do you mean? Don’t tell me you’re going to go look for the man who did this?!”
“Yeah,” I said. “His name’s Mickey Donahue, and he’s a real piece of work. Don’t worry, your brother’s staying out of trouble this time. I’m leaving all the heavy lifting to the police. I’ve just… I’ve gotta see this through. He tried to hurt you, Annie. I’m not gonna let him get away with that.”
“Okay…” she said, downtrodden. “But if you get hurt-!”
“I know, I know,” I said, laughing. “Steak dinners for a month.”
“And dessert!” she said. “That was the deal!”
“Aye aye, ma’am. I won’t forget.”
“Good. And Al?”
“Deck him once for me!” she said enthusiastically.
I heard some coughing on the other end of the line. I frowned. Annie was overexerting herself to talk to me. Like I thought, she’d been hit harder than she was letting on. If I had to guess, the antidote had only started taking effect in the last few hours, and her chest was still feeling pretty tight, making it hard for her to breathe. She was in pain, she just wasn’t letting me see it. My grip on the phone tightened.
There was more rustling on the other end as the shitty agent wrestled the phone away from Annie, saying something about lying down and breathing deeply.
“As you can see, Mr. Anastasio, your sister is not in the best of conditions. Twenty-four hours. That’s how much time we’re allowing you to continue with this farce. Either you take her home then, or we will.”
“Understood,” I said icily. “I’ll be there.”
I hung up. I wasn’t sure what I was angry at anymore. Was I angry at that shitty agent trying to hand me his ultimatums when Annie was lying in bed sick? Was I angry at Marq for not being there for me to keep up his end of the bargain? Or was I angry at Mickey, for trying to take my sister away from me? Maybe it didn’t have to be one or the other. All I knew was that somehow I’d come out of that call angrier than ever before.
“Don’t worry, Annie,” I said to myself. “It won’t be long now…”
As it turns out, finding Mickey was about as easy as following the trail of destruction Theo had left in her wake yesterday. Mickey’s chemical weapons factory lay in ruins. I could see it in my head, picturing it based off of Mickey’s radio chatter. Theo had thought fast once Mickey revealed his hand, and had the car change course to the plant. They locked her inside and left her rampage until she found a way out and back to Mickey.
I surveyed the wreckage. Best guess? She’d knocked down all the support beams, brought the whole damn factory down on her head, then climbed out of the wreckage. That was the easiest explanation to accept. So if my theory held true, there would be a slightly elongated trail of dust and debris in the direction of Mickey’s last hideout. The shortest path between two points is a straight line, and a berserker homunculus wouldn’t let some weak shit like a few dozen brick walls slow her down.
I found the trail pointing to the docks after a few minutes of circling the wreckage.
On arrival, I chose my post carefully. Sitting under a water tower on the roof of an old brick building, I scouted Pier 6 for less than five minutes before turning up something suspicious. The abandoned studio warehouse. Six men outside, two guarding the entrance on the roof. I could count at least four more inside from passing glances through the windows. Needless to say, I think I’d found it.
I dropped the duffle bag full of my tools, and got to work assembling them.
Now me? I like to think I’m a pretty nice guy by the standards of the hood. I help old ladies across the street, I look out for my own, I only break the law for profit, not for fun, and I try to avoid killing people when I can. Except, y’know, when it’s absolutely necessary. That’s some pretty upstanding behavior for a kid brought up in the pits of New York with no parents. I’m not saying I’m going to heaven, but I try not to be a fucking douche.
That’s what I like to think. In reality, things are different.
I’ve been told that there are times when I become absolutely inhuman. It happens when you start taking things away from me. Important things. When you strip away my friends, my family, and all the flimsiest pretenses of morality that come with them, I will absolutely lash out at you with unholy fucking vengeance, and rain goddamn hellfire down on your sorry piece-of-shit ass. I will absolutely kill every last motherfucker you put in front of me without hesitation, just because you told me they’re someone I can blame. It’s happened before. And every time I wake up from it and I look around like I can’t remember what the fuck even happened. Like for a while, I was a whole other person.
I attached the scope to the antique M1903 Springfield, and loaded my first shot.
Yeah, it’s convenient to think like that, isn’t it? That there’s someone else in there making you think things and do things you would never do yourself. But that’s a fucking lie. When you get at the core of who I am, I’m a bad guy. I’m the monster at the end of this story, trying to cover himself up with all sorts of shit so he can continue pretending he’s something he’s not.
I’m a bad guy who wants to be good. More than anything else in the world. And I know the day I stop wanting that is the day I become the Devil himself.
I scouted out my targets. Four humans on ground level, as well as a bear lycan and a vampire on the roof. I leveled my sights on the humans. It was better to take out the easy targets first. A sniper rifle wouldn’t do much against either of those demihuman species.
It kills me, you know? Knowing that me and my little sister surviving means becoming something I don’t wanna be. This was gonna be one of those days. Because when I was up there, with my eyes on the scope, lining up the crosshair on their fucking tiny little heads, it was completely different than it was with the Madam.
I didn’t feel any hesitation at all.
I took the shot.
With Theo I was able to pretend. Pretend like I was doing this for the right reasons. Maybe I was. But not anymore. Now? This was just revenge. Revenge for Theo. Revenge for my sister. I was gonna put Mickey in the fucking ground.
When I ran out of things to shoot, I looked around, surveying the leftovers. No one was was daring to poke their heads out of cover now. I had a few seconds to bug out and make my next move.
I abandoned the rifle and dropped down into the abandoned back alley. Flanking them seemed like the best option. All of the remaining combatants were more than likely superhuman regenerators. I couldn’t shoot them, and I wouldn’t stand a chance in close-quarters combat. Rather, it was more like I’d be annihilated instantly. So I needed two things. I needed to get in close where they couldn’t dodge my bullets, and I needed to catch them by surprise.
Those clothes lines across the block looked promising…
I sailed in feet first, kicking the vampire square in the chest and into a wall. Before he could get his bearings backed, I rushed him, and slammed his head back into the wall. I could feel him struggling violently against my grip.
Rule number one of fighting vampires. Carry a cross.
Believe it or not, the hokiest advice works best. Somehow being turned into vampire rewires your brain in some pretty fucking weird ways we don’t quite understand yet. Obsessive-compulsive behavior is common, as is a violent and irrational fear of religious symbology. Basically, vampires are jumpy as shit when you show them a bible or a bowl with too much rice in it. And before coming here, I’d painted crosses on my clothes with holy water, and on the palms of my gloves.
While he was panickedly struggling, trying to get my hand away from him, I grabbed my gun out of its holster pressed the barrel right up against the floor of his jaw, and put a bullet halfway through his brain. Now I know what you’re thinking, and you’re wrong. Silver does nothing to a vampire. That’s lycans you’re thinking of. Dumbass. However, the swastika I’d carved into the tip? That was a different story. Once he regenerated, the bullet would remain in his body, and he’d spend hours trying to dig the thing out before he even thought of getting back up.
Claws raked my back and I stumbled forward. Speaking of lycans…
I stumbled forward, and felt the wounds on my back sizzling as Nayeli’s blood stitched me back up, right down to the claw marks on my spine. It hurt, almost more than the claws did, but pain was something I could live with. The lycan stared me down. Great, he’d already partially transformed. So that was a thing now.
I quickly started putting together my plan. Running from him was pointless. I couldn’t get behind any amount of cover that would hide me from his sense of smell, so I needed to confront him directly. This was where my silver bullets would come in handy.
I backed off slowly, keeping an eye on his movements. The best thing to do was to put distance between me and him, and as much of it as possible. Luckily for me, lycans aren’t fast like vampires are. In fact, I’d have to say they’re actually pretty damn slow. Unfortunately, they made up for that by being stronger than vampires, with much keener hunting instincts. It was pure luck his first attack hadn’t separated my top half from my bottom, and he’d only just grazed me.
Keeping all of that in mind, I needed to do exactly what I did with his vampire friend, and take him out in one hit. All while evading his advanced sense of smell and kinetic vision. Not easy.
I saw an abandoned bucket of paint thinner out of the corner of my eye. That could work.
The lycan started to lunge at me like a furry blur, and I put a couple of shots downwind with my revolver to remind him I was still packing. Regular bullets wouldn’t hurt him, but I knew from his sense of smell that he could tell these were silver bullets. And while silver doesn’t hurt vampires, it works wonders on lycans. There’s something about the chemical makeup of silver that’s like poison to them. They can’t regenerate when they’ve got too much silver in their blood, and it hurts them like Hell.
I made a mad dash for the paint thinner and ducked behind cover where he couldn’t see me, quickly dousing myself in paint thinner. It smelled fucking awful, but that was the idea. If I could mask my scent like this, I could use the empty bucket as a distraction and rush him. I rubbed the paint thinner over the silver knuckle dusters I was wearing.
Poking my head out from behind cover, I emptied the rest of my revolver in the lycan’s direction, ducked back down, then tossed the empty bucket and circled around. Now that I smelled like paint thinner, I could use the bucket as a decoy, assuming this actually worked and I wasn’t about to be turned into a cloud of red mist.
I heard the lycan crush the bucket of paint thinner with a swipe of his claws, and I knew he’d taken the bait.
I circled around and ran at his side, throwing a punch aimed right for his ribs. The spiked silver knuckle dusters hit home. It felt like punching leather, but it made it through, even if it was just a little bit, and dug into his flesh, releasing silver particles into his bloodstream. Infuriated, he knocked me aside. I hit one of the spinning ventilators hard enough to crush it (and a few of my vertebrae as well), but I could tell right away he was in worse shape than I was.
The lycan doubled over in pain, clawing at the tiny holes I’d poked in his side. He screamed inordinately for a few seconds before collapsing completely, twitching on the ground. “Go fuck your mother…” was what he gurgled, if I remember correctly. He began foaming at the mouth before he completely lost consciousness, leaving me with some slowly knitting wounds and a bunch of bodies, some of which would get back up if I waited too long.
“Well that was easier than I was expecting,” I said, brushing myself off as my wounds slowly began to heal. I downed the second vial of blood. “Now let’s see about the inside.”
I heard the click of a gun. “Hold it!”