Monday, April 21, 2014
Meanwhile, on the road to Talbot’s Peak, Cochrane had finally cooled down enough to realize he’d need more than a single gun and a couple grenades to take down a town full of shapeshifters. He needed more weapons. Also a plan. Also clothes. Otherwise he was just setting himself up for another dunk in purple paint, or another threat of butt probes. Or worse. Who knew what tortures the twisted minds of shifters could come up with?
He slowed and started watching the side of the road for signs of habitation. Talbot’s Peak was an aberration. Most shifters preferred to live solitary lives away from humans and even their own kind. Somewhere out here in No Human’s Land some lone shifter had a house, clothing, weapons and information Cochrane could use to carry out his assault.
Sure enough, that wide cut through the trees had to be an access road. He rolled the Chevy up it at a cautious creep. His guess was proven correct when he was stopped by a chain across the road. The sign dangling from its center read Private Road Keep Out Tresspassers Will Be Shot This Means You Asshole. The sign was only moderate size, the printing small but in blood-red letters.
Cochrane grinned. You’ll be shot meant We have guns, which mean soon Cochrane would have guns. He parked the car, palmed a grenade from his glove compartment, stepped over the chain and started up the road.
Damn, it was awfully quiet for dawn in the woods. Too damn quiet. Nothing but the sporadic gobble of wild turkeys. Cochrane climbed at a steady pace, slowed by the need to place his bare feet carefully to avoid jutting stones. Damned butt-probing bunny could’ve let a man keep his shoes. “The bunnies die first,” he muttered.
Something rustled the brush off to his left. Cochrane jerked in that direction. Almost at once he heard the clack of a shotgun. A voice said from his right, “This is as far as you go, mister.”
Cochrane turned slowly. Christ, it was a damn kid. A stupid shifter kid had got the drop on him. The kid was ugly, wiry and knock-kneed, but he held that gun like a pro. Cochrane peered around carefully and spotted another boy with a crossbow closing in from his left, and a girl with a wicked-looking knife edging up beside the boy with the shotgun. Noises from behind him indicated yet another one moving in from deeper in the woods.
Could they be human? Shifters didn’t normally go in for man-made armament.
Cochrane raised his arms, the grenade concealed in his hand. “I’m not here to cause trouble,” he said. “I need clothes and maybe—”
“You need to get your ass off our property.” The voice behind him was hard, no-nonsense and adult. “We don’t take kindly to visitors, especially not humans.”
Okay, that answered that. Must be herbivores. That meant they could be bluffed. Cochrane displayed his hand. “I got a grenade.”
“Big whoop. I got a grenade launcher.”
Cochrane risked a glance over his shoulder. Holy shit. That mother was almost as big as the wizened, ugly hillbilly wielding it. At this range there was no chance he’d miss. Cochrane snapped his jaw shut and froze.
“Good boy,” the man said. “Now toss that pineapple to my girl there. With the pin still intact, if you please.”
He did as ordered. The girl caught the grenade with the ease of an outfielder snagging a pop fly. She examined it while her brothers kept him under guard. “It’s real, Pa.”
“Thought so,” the old guy said. “You’re a hunter, ain’tcha? Thought you’d get the drop on us, eh? How come you’re nekkid?”
“How come you’ve got a grenade launcher?”
“’Cause the government won’t let me keep a bazooka. Goddam federal regulations.”
“Screw the Feds. Ever heard of Dingles Hooper?”
The man’s expression lightened. “Yeah. He’s that Canadian fellah runs the trading post up by the border.”
“You want a bazooka? Let me go and I’ll put in a good word for you. The man has a way of getting things.”
The old guy looked thoughtful. “What’s your name?”
“Abel Cochrane. Yeah, I’m a hunter. I know my weapons, and how to get ‘em.” He nodded toward the grenade launcher. “That is one fine piece of artillery.”
“Should be, for what I hadda pay for it.” He looked toward his daughter, who was casually tossing the grenade from palm to palm. She nodded. So did the boys. “Tell you what. Instead of splattering you all over the trees, we’re gonna take you in. Put in a call to Hooper. If he says you’re on the up-and-up … well, we’ll have to see.” He made an even uglier face. “We need to get you some clothes. That poor puny little thing is wretched.”
He gestured with the grenade launcher. Cochrane started walking, ringed by the males with the girl in the lead. He had no doubt any one of the males wouldn’t hesitate to fire his weapon of choice. The girl would probably hurl the grenade. He imagined her throw would be accurate.
In spite of the situation, he discovered he liked this bunch. They were his kind of people.
The boy with the crossbow sidled up to him. “Can Hooper get us a flamethrower? Our old one gave out.”
“Don’t bother the prisoner, Jimmy,” his dad snapped. “We gotta interrogate him first. You run on ahead and tell your ma to put fresh coffee on. This could take awhile.”
The kid took off. The old guy got the ball rolling by asking, “You get your grenades from Hooper?”
“No, from this guy Elkins in Wyoming. He only handles the little stuff, though. You want to get serious, you call Dingles Hooper.”
“And you say you know Hooper personal?”
“We’re not tight, but we don’t shoot each other on sight. Anything you want … well, I might be persuaded to assist.”
“Yeah,” the old guy said. “You will be.” But he was grinning now. Cochrane took in the first easy breath he’d drawn in a long while. For some reason, he felt like he’d come home.