FIC MC 68. Apr ’03 A Bunch Of Good Old Boys (1/?)
Jack Stanfield stopped at the lounge’s threshold, eyes widening and hands pausing in pulling off his tie as he recognised the grizzled man sat talking on the couch with his wife, an attache case resting on his guest’s lap. "Mr. Charles, it’s been a long time."
"Indeed it has," the man rose and smiled at his wife, "Elizabeth, it’s been a pleasure making your acquitance."
"And yours," his wife looked towards him, brow furrowing in puzzlement.
"Jack, can I speak to you in your office?" the stranger queried.
"Of course," Jack nodded dazedly, surprised to see this person after decades. "It’s this way." The moment the door had closed behind them, he spun to face the man, eyes firing. The three decades had been good to his tutor, his expensive suit oozed class as had the gleaming BMW he’d noted on the road outside. "Mr. Charles-."
"It’s Brill," the man interrupted as he sat down on the chair at the near desk, "Mr. Charles was just an identity I used in training classess at Langley. How long has it been anyway? Thirty years?"
"Thirty two," Jack dazedly replied as he stepped around the desk and sat in his upholstered chair, mind rushing back through the years to remember those days when he’d been a fresh-faced Masters graduate learning about computer security at the feet of the master.
"Seventy-one, ah yes," ‘Brill’ smiled wistfully, "a lifetime ago." Brill straightened, eyes narrowing. "You were very good you know, could have been the best. Why didn’t you finish your training?"
Jack shrugged evasively. "I wanted things that didn’t seem to fit the career path."
"A family," Brill nodded before opening the attache case and sliding it across his gleaming desk. "Open it." Jack’s eyes widened as he opened the case to find bundles of fifty dollar bills inside it. "There’s fifty bundles of five thousand dollars there, a quarter of a million in all."
"Not interested," Jack pushed the money back over, head firmly shaking. "I left the agency for a reason."
"Have you heard of A-Team Industries?" Brill queried.
"I read the business pages," he replied.
"Of course you do." Brill nodded. "However, you might be amazed to find out
who the chairman is." Stanfield stared at him. Brill smiled as he pushed a
Detroit Daily News across the desk. "Meet Mr. Burns."
Stanfield looked up from the three month old interview, his mouth dropping open. "That’s you!"
"Yeah," Brill leaned back in his chair and linked his fingers together across his belly, "so it is. I’ve gone legitimate," he smiled, "well more or less. I’m the board’s chairman, but I need to know if anyone can find out who are founders are."
Stanfield stared at him. "Why?"
"The founders are private people, they have certain enemies, which don’t include any western law enforcement agency or government, that wouldn’t react well to them finding about their involvement in our company." Lyle shoved a contract across the desk. "I’m here because you satisfy a number of requirements of mine, you’re very, very good at electronic survelliance and computers, you’re not involved with the government, you have no criminal record or associates, and I trust you. If you sign this confidentality agreement, I’ll hire you for a week."
"To do what exactly?"
Brill smirked, noting his interest despite his earlier disavowal. "To attempt a hack of our system and discovery of our founders. If you fail, you’ll get another quarter of a million dollars. If you succeed and provide me with their names and percentage ownership, you’ll get three quarters of a million. Either way, I’ll need detailed notes on what you tried, any weaknesses you found and recommedations to repair them, and how you stopped our systems tracking you back."
"I assume this will be above board?" Stanfield queried.
"Oh yes," Lyle hastened to reassure him, "you’ll be listed on our tax returns as ‘a security consultant’."
"And who designed your system?"
Brill smiled. "Myself, a former student of mine, and couple of inherant geniuses. I imagine a man with your skills and experiences will find the first few layers of security quite simple although time-consuming to peel away, but the really secret information is really squirelled away."
Stanfield looked at the contract, then at the attache case, and finally at his guest, then picked up a pen. "Where do I sign?"
* * *
Gunsmoke mingled with the screams of the dying as the twelve white men rode through theChickasaw village, their guns spitting fire and their weapons tearing through the native males’ chests even as their horses’ hooves rode down child and woman alike, recklessly flung burning torches setting fire to tepee after tepee. A spear flashed through the air, catching one of the riders in the stomach, dropping him screaming from his saddle, that act of defiance costing the thrower his life, a gunshot from another raider turning his face red, dropping him limply to the ground. Another paleskin caught a flung tomahawk to the back of his head, dropping him like a stone, but the rest of the Indians had no response to their enemy’s superior weaponry, dying under their guns’ onslaught. Smoke billowed in the crackling air as the remaining ten men turned their horses around, hooves kicking up bloody sand, and rode away from the devastated village, their cackles lingering long after they’d gone.
* * *
Wild Powers stared down at his devastated village, anger slowly replacing disbelief. "How many men?"
"Twelve, now ten," replied the pot-bellied man stood beside him, "they came with their fire sticks, rode straight through the camp-."
"I have eyes," he snapped, then moderated his tone, "I am sorry, my anger-."
"You would not be a son of our village if you did not feel rage."
Wild Powers nodded silently, the chief’s words failing to comfort him. He’d been out foraging for herbs for his potions, otherwise he’d have been here when the men had arrived and plundered their village. His magics were great but against twelve -. His head snapped back towards the chief. "You said you killed two?"
"Yes," the chief’s voice trailed off as he started down the track leading into his village, grim determination etched on his face. This would be the last spell of his life, but the mightiest.
"Show me!" he snapped before starting down into the village, the weeping of the bereaved filling the air. "Women! Cease your wailing," he bellowed. "Our lamentations will be nothing compared to those who think to prey on us!" He looked around until he spotted one of the paleskins’ corpses, then strode over to it, crouched and drew his knife, fingers suddenly sweaty with the terrible knowledge of the dark magics he was about to come on.
Was it worth it?
Finally he nodded. Yes his people must have their vengeance. Stomach churning with knowledge of what was to come, he sliced open the white men’s belly then reared back as his senses were assailed by a foul stench. His nose wrinkling at the stench that erupted, he began scooping out the guts, intestines slippery in his callused hands. "Make a fire in there," he pointed into the hole left by his foul work. "Our enemy is to be made to pay." He looked towards the chief. "Once this enchantment is finished, you should gather our people, and leave this place, and never return."
"What do you intend to do?" The chief queried then quailed before his burning gaze. "It will be as you say."
"Thank you," he nodded then looked towards the women rushing towards him with
wood. "I need a new knife, an unbloodied one."
"I’ll see that you get one," the chief promised before rushing off.
"Act like a beast.
Be like a beast.
Family or friend.
All will meet their end!
Land’s peace be severed!
From now to ever!"
He chanted over and over as he held the sacrificial knife over the crackling fire. When he judged it hot enough, he raised it stared intently at it, and thrust it into his throat, blood spurting from his mouth, his last thought the cheering certainty that his people would be avenged.
FIC MC 68. Apr ’03 A Bunch Of Good Old Boys (2/?)
"Those redskins didn’t know what hit them," Cletus gloated as he hawked and spat into their campfire, the fire sizzling with his spittle. "Damn!" He slapped a hand on his chaps and laughed. "Red, white, or black, it don’t make no difference to a man packin’ a Colt Dragoon revolver or a Sharps rifle. When they get hit, they go down!"
"We didn’t kill them all."
Cletus put down his bottle of whiskey and stared through the fire’s jumping flames to his pinch-faced brother sat opposite. "What did you say Jacob?"
His brother flinched at his growl, but then Jacob never had had much of a nerve. "We didn’t kill them all, they’ll come after us."
Cletus forced a laugh. "Those redskins will be too busy pissin’ themselves after what we did!"
"They had to be told," rumbled Zeke, the towering red-head’s squashed-flat nose wrinkling in disdain, "this is our land now, they need to leave."
"Hell yeah," Cletus took another swig of his bottle.
"Ain’t sayin’ we didn’t have the right," Jacob replied, his brother’s face stubborn. "But Jethro and Kirby got killed ‘cause of what we did today!"
"Aye," it was Lance’s turn to speak and nod, the lazy-eyed, unshaven bull of a man letting out a growl, "it’s tough they died, but this is a tough land, and it’ll take tough men to break and tame it!" Lance snatched the bottle off Cletus and took a swig, booze sloshing out of it and partially down the man’s top.
"Maybe so, but we don’t have to be the ones that tame it!" Jacob doggedly protested.
"You sayin’ we don’t have the right?" Zeke’s face mottled in outrage, flattened nose reddening.
"No," Jacob flinched before Zeke’s anger but continued arguing. "Just sayin’ it didn’t need to be us risking our lives fighting them damn savages, we could have waited for the cavla-."
"We can handle a bunch of savages ourselves!" Cletus snapped impatiently and shook his head.
"Hell," it was Zack’s turn to comment with a laugh, "we just did!"
"Yeah," Cletus nodded. Zack Madison was bad news, every one in the county
knew it, a vicious temper and a big mouth, but he was also a good man to have in
a fight. "We did, they’re finished."
"And what if they come-," Jacob’s eyes bulged, his throat seeming to ripple under the skin.
Heart racing, Cletus’ mouth opened to ask his brother what was wrong. "RRR! RRR!" Cletus’ eyes widened as his words came out as angry snarls, then blood-burning agony washed over him, dropping him writhing onto the ground, barely conscious of the others around him doing the same.
* * *
New Hope, Arkansas
Moses peered out of his window, heart thumping as he clung to his pa’s Colt Percussion Pocket Revolver. It was long past dark, and father and the other men wouldn’t be back from running those damn injunns off their land until the morning, so it was up to him to protect Mother and the little uns, a job he took very seriously as a man should take all his responsibilities. Moses shook his head slowly as he pulled back from the window, he was almost sure he’d heard somethin’, but there was nought but the shadows,
No, his heart raced as he saw a shadow shift, there was someone there-.
Suddenly the window exploded inwards, a thick-set, hairy creature with a protrouding brow, lantern jaw, bowed legs, and over-long arms crashed through it and into him. "Oooof!" Moses grunted as he hit the ground, heart sinking as he realised his revolver had fallen from his grasp. Moses scurried desperately for the gun, eyes fixed on the brutish monster stalking towards him, its footfalls incredibly light for so large a creature.
The blood drained from him as its eyes met his. "Pa?" he whispered, it was impossible, but-.
And then monster leapt on him, its howling anger shaking the cabin, and its pounding fists shattering bone after bone.
* * *
Blood and vital organs soaked the leafy, once green undergrowth, dismembered and mangled limbs lying everwhere, the flesh-shredd torso slumped against a tree, the head no-where to be seen. "Ah hell," the sheriff forced back the disgust he felt thanks to his decades of experience. He’d seen a lot of corpses in his thirty years as a peace officer, road accidents, old Jim Phillips when he fell off the roof he’d been fixing, spilt his brains like an over-ripe melon on the ground he had, two domestic incidents that had turned to murders, and even a barfight that had ended in a murder. But nothing caused the horror that the sight before him did.
Whatever was lying before him had been human once, that he was sure of, but other than that – age, gender, size, he couldn’t make a guess, who’d ever killed it, shit he knew who’d done this, hadn’t left enough. Damn tourists, travelling into places they didn’t belong, complicating life for everyone.
"Whhhhat’d we do chief?"
The chief glanced over his shoulder to the pale-faced, gawky deputy who’d spoken, the four men he’d brought with him all spread out at the opening’s edge, their hands pawing nervously at their guns. "Same as we always do in a case like this, bury the body and say nothing. Whoever this was, they were never here. Just be back before the town lights come on and keep your guns close," he counselled as he rose, groaning slightly as arthitic knees protested, "they know and fear guns."
"Shouldn’t we go after them?" The kid protested as the other three deputies began pulling on plastic gloves, their faces tinging green at what they were about to do.
"Kid," he sniffed as he looked into the thick forest, forcing back a shudder , "forget about that shotgun you’re carrying, you wouldn’t come back if you went into there after them carrying a damn bazooka. Be back ‘fore dark boys."
FIC MC 68. Apr ’03 A Bunch Of Good Old Boys (3/?)
Dennis Heverson stared across his shadowy office and at his guest, a man of medium height in his early thirties with combed back brown hair and creased features set in a square face. Dressed in jeans and a hooded grey sweatshirt, he looked like just the man Heverson might hire to look after his gardens or clean his pool.
That was until you looked into his cold, piercing blue eyes, noted his packed with muscle yet still functional physique, and his considered yet economical way of moving. Then you knew you didn’t hire this man to do odd jobs around the house. The sort of jobs he did, you wanted him to do far, far away from you.
Suddenly he exploded into a coughing fit, the force of it shaking the wheelchair he was sat on. All the while his guest watched impassively. Heverson wiped the spittle from his lips with tissue and the tears from his eyes with the back of his hand before taking a quick sip of his iced water before speaking. "Do you have any children?" His guest silently shook his head. "I have, three sons. Five grand-sons, but only one grand-daughter." He smiled weakly before gathering himself and continuing. "Melissa was meant to be starting Harvard this year, but took a year out to explore as kids do these day, said she wanted to explore our country’s history before studying it. Wouldn’t take a cent from me or her father, insisted on doing it ‘real’, whatever that meant." He coughed again, a lighter fit than before, then continued. "Her trip started in California, visiting all the museums, historical sites, and a few of the night clubs I shouldn’t wonder. Then she travelled across Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and finally into Arkansas, three weeks ago. That was the last we heard from her."
"Perhaps she’s just out having a good time."
The man’s dispassionate growl almost made him start, but instead he shook his head. "No, ever since she set off on her trip, she’s rung either me or her father at least twice a week to say she was alright." The seconds stretched by as his guest stared at him. Heverson sipped at his water then continued. "Last week I had the county of Heavensfield, that’s where my Melissa disappeared, investigated. The place has a troubled history."
The thick-set man raised an eyebrow. "Troubled how?"
Heverson concealed a smile as he noted the first bit of interest from the
man. "In 1852, a request for aid from Heavensfield’s only town, New Hope, to
deal with local Indians, Chickasaws according to the records, was sent to the
near-by fort. However events escalated before the cavalry could arrive. For some
unknown reason, between ten to fifteen of the local settlers took it upon
themselves to raid the injuns’ village, massacring several dozen of them."
Heverson shrugged. The morality of the strong taking from the weak had never worried him in his heyday, it worried him even less now when he was busy wondering just what had happened to his grand-daughter. "The same night of the attack, the settlement of New Hope was attacked and several dozen of the settlers were murdered."
"The Chickasaws retaliated did they?" his guest shook his head. "That’s what happens when you attack someone."
"According to the witness reports and what track the scouts could find, it wasn’t the Chickasaws," Heverson replied. "The witnesses reported their attackers as being some sort of beast, and to quote ‘I saw an ape at a show in Boston once, kinda looked like that only not’." His guest continued looking at him. "And this is where the story gets even odder. The cavalry went out in search of the Native Americans, but found their village had been deserted, and no trace of them. Even stranger, the men who’d attacked them never returned home. And over the past century and half, people who’ve entered Heavensfield’s forests have never come out. Fourteen people including my Melissa have disappeared in there since the second world war."
The guest’s eyes narrowed and his brow furrowed. "And how’s this not more widely known?"
Heverson shrugged. "I suspect the descendants of the people that settled New Hope in the wake of the mystery attack have hushed things up to avoid undue attention. There’s very few accounts of people actually living in the town being killed in such a manner, they either know how to deal with whatever’s killing strangers or are in actual partnership with it, perhaps committing the murders themselves."
"If it’s been hushed up, how do you know about it?" queried his guest.
"I’m a powerful man with deep pockets," Heverson explained. "I shouldn’t have to explain to you how these things work."
His guest nodded shortly. "Of course. It sounds like you already have quite the detective working for you, I’m not a detective."
"I know what you are Swagger," Heverson leaned forward in his chair, eyes igniting with a fire they hadn’t blazed with in decades. "I’ve seen your service record, you’re a hunter, a killer. That’s what I need now. A man who won’t be intimidated, forced to back down. I want you to find out whoever harmed my grand-daughter and bring them to MY justice, not a court’s, MINE!"
* * *
Xander whistled cheerfully as he drove through the thick forest, the hired 4 * 4 perfect for the rugged terrain and dirt track he was busy speeding up, dust billowing off their vehicle wheels. "Camping." Beside him Faith shook her head. "Freakin’ campin’, where’s my five star hotel? My spa?"
Xander was determined not to let his girl-friend spoil his mood. "Where’s the major population centre just breeding trouble and vampires? We’re in the Arkansas wild, peace!"
"Famous last words," Kennedy chirped up from behind.
"Ah shut up," Xander shot the potential a grin. "Hell!" His amusement turned to shock as the wheel was almost wrenched from his hands, the car spinning violently. "Hold on!" he yelled, heart stopping as the car tilted on its left wheels, his companions letting out shocked cries as they bounced around, their screams even drowning out the car’s screeches as he struggled to keep it on the road, muscles writhing as he wrestled with the wheel and jammed on the brakes.
Finally the car lurched to a halt. "Yeah, Harris," Faith growled after a second gulping in air. "Very peaceful."
"That wasn’t my fault!" Xander protested as he opened the car door and climbed out. "We hit something."
"I’ll hit you if you do that again," Faith continued to grouse as she climbed out and crouched down. "Shit Xander! Have you looked at the tires."
"I’m looking at them," Xander replied as he crouched and eyed the shredded rubber. "I don’t know what happened here, but it’s lucky I didn’t turn us over. We definitely went over something."
Faith shook her head. "Excuses," the Slayer’s eyes narrowed, "I’ll go back and have a look." Before he could say a word, the Slayer had rushed off back down the path they’d come.
"Why if she’s the strongest of us does she get to skip out on the manual labour?" Kennedy complained.
"You answered your own question," Xander replied. "Because she’s the strongest of us."
"And because you daren’t argue?" Tara queried.
"Shut up." Xander slapped his head. "Damn it, I don’t know if I got enough spares."
"What!" Kennedy squealed.
"I only brought two, who figures they’re going to have four blow-outs at once," he defended. "Maybe if I fix the two worst, we can get back to town."
"Unbelievable," Kennedy shook her head, "he carries around his own pocket dimension, knows we’re going on a camping trip to the back of beyond, but doesn’t store enough spare tires!"
Xander glared at the potential. "You get more like Faith every day you know."
Kennedy’s eyes bulged. "There’s no need to be insulting!"
Xander sighed at Tara’s giggles. "Oh boy."
"We got problems."
Xander turned, noting Faith hurrying back to them, his girl-friend’s expression worried. "What, more than your idiot boy-friend neglecting to bring enough spares?" Kennedy snapped.
"Moving on," Xander muttered.
"Hey guys," Faith shook her head, dark eyes troubled, "this weren’t accident,
someone’s laid barbed wire ‘cross the road. We never had a fuckin’ chance."
Tara sighed. "You were saying something about no trouble?"
FIC MC 68. Apr ’03 A Bunch Of Good Old Boys (4/?)
Xander glanced towards his girl-friend, eyes narrowing. "Are you sure?" he demanded as he shaded his eyes from the sun gleaming through the tree tops.
Faith shot him a volcanic glare. "No, ‘cause I’m a hick from the country. I ain’t never seen barbed wire ‘fore, shucks," she replied before rolling her eyes. "I just love it when youse big city folks come to the country and tell us bumpkins how to do things."
"I just knew there was inbreeding in her family," Kennedy muttered.
"It explains her and Xander. He must remind her of her cousin Billy Bob," Tara giggled.
Faith joined him in glaring at the two lesbians before continuing. "And it wasn’t an accident, there were leaves fastened to it, making it look like it was just some undergrowth lying on the road."
"Alright," Xander sighed, "so it was sabotage."
"So should we head back to town?" Tara queried.
"Oh no," Xander smiled grimly, "we should find who did this and thank them personally."
"Oh boy," Faith groaned. "Our vacation’s over isn’t it?"
"You’d have just got bored," Xander comforted as he began reaching into his Always Pocket and pulling out equipment.
"What’s the plan?" Tara asked.
"We walk," Xander ignored Faith and Kennedy’s twin sighs, "further into the
bush, follow the tracks of whoever laid the barbed wire-."
"And now he thinks he’s Grizzly Adams," Faith grunted.
Xander ignored that too. "Back to whoever did it, and take them into the town for questioning by the police."
"For what? Wrecking a few tires?" Faith queried. "Stopping us from camping?" Faith paused. "I might actually give them a happy for that."
"This is too well planned out," Xander said.
"Meaning?" asked Kennedy.
"Meaning they’ve done this before to other cars," Xander replied.
"Why?" Tara queried.
"You really don’t wanna be askin’ that question," Faith replied, her expression suddenly grim as she realised where he was heading. "So we thinkin’ in-bred hillbilly cannibals?"
"Oh god," Kennedy groaned, "we really are going to Faith’s family reunion."
* * *
Tara forced back a groan as they started through a marsh, dirty water coming up to mid-thigh even though they were on a walkway that rose far over most of the marsh, the stench reeking through the surrounding rushes. Even worse was Faith’s continual complaining, she loved her sister, but sometimes she just wished she’d shut up.
They’d been going for an hour and half, Xander following a track that only he
could see. "Hey!" Kennedy spoke. "There’s something moving in the water, over
Everyone turned and looked, Faith letting out an uneasy chuckle when they saw nothing in the greeny gunk. "Yeah, real funny, ti-."
"Ahhh!" Tara screamed as something resembling a huge, furry crocodile leapt out of the water at her. For a moment she thought it had missed her, its hulking torso flying past, but then its ripcord tail wrapped itself around her, digging powerfully into her ribs, and yanked her under the dirty water with her.
* * *
Bobby Lee slammed the door shut as he got out of his rented pick-up and looked around. He’d done a little research of his own on New Hope, and on the surface it was nothing more than your average small American town, a little out of the way, but nothing really out of the ordinary. It was a town almost permanently shadowed by the thick forest surrounding it on three sides.
But that was the surface, beneath it….
Bobby Lee pulled on his sunglasses. This wasn’t a big town, but it was big enough to expect the household names to be here, where was the Walmart, the Starbucks, and McDonalds? Instead it was all nondescript mom and pop outfits that had probably operated here since the town’s foundation. There was an atmosphere, a furtiveness in the air, hell the town reeked with fear. He was used to being the stranger in a new town, and the interest and wariness that went with it. This was different though, closer to fear.
Fear of what exactly?
And what was with the over-population of street lights, there was way more than there should be in a town of this size?
Bobby Lee shook his head as he started across the dusty road, hand reaching in his denim jacket pocket for the photo of Melissa Heverson. He blinked slightly as he entered the well stocked store, eyes adjusting to its artificial lighting as he picked up a couple of energy drinks and a pack of power bars before striding towards the counter, conscious of the eyes of the shoppers watching him.
"Hi," Bobby Lee flashed a smile at the reedy looking kid wearing frayed denim and a pair of coke-bottle thick glasses stood behind the counter, "I’ll take these."
The boy glanced at what he’d picked up. "That’ll be eight dollars fifty," the youth’s wheeze marking him as a smoker from a very early age.
"Here," Bobby Lee dropped a twenty on the counter, noting from the state of the place that several hygiene laws were probably being broken, "keep the change in exchange for information."
"Information?" the man’s Adam’s Apple jumped up and down. "I don’t know anything."
"Yeah," Bobby Lee could somehow believe this specimen hadn’t been his class’
valedictorian, "all I wanted to know is if," he put Melissa’s photograph down on
the counter, "you’ve seen her."
"No, no." The store clerk’s head shook so hard, Bobby Lee thought it might fly off. "Never seen her."
"Oh come on," Bobby Lee’s smile became even more fixed, "surely you’d remember a pretty girl like this coming through town maybe a month ago?"
"No, no." Now the store clerk’s prominent Adam’s Apple began bobbing up and down, sweat beading on his forehead. "Never seen her."
"Yeah," Swagger nodded slowly. "I got you the first time." Walking out, he looked left and right before starting across the road, heading towards a camping\sporting goods shop.
Thirty minutes later and he was heading back to his car, confused and very irritated. He’d asked in four stores but had gotten the same negative, frightened answer. His pace slowed, then picked up again as he received a possible reason for everyone’s fear from the three deputies leaning against his pick-up. "Oh good," he muttered, "I always appreciate a welcoming committee."
FIC MC 68. Apr ’03 A Bunch Of Good Old Boys (5/?)
Faith’s terror-filled scream filled Xander’s ears as he lunged towards his girl-friend, grabbed at her shotgun’s muzzle and yanked it up, the shotgun’s boom ringing through the air. "DON’T!" he yelled as the Slayer’s gaze snapped towards him, "you might hit Tara!"
"Yeah right," Faith nodded dazedly, her eyes suddenly hardening, "in that case!"
Xander groaned as Faith leapt in the water after Tara, then reached out to snatch hold of Kennedy’s collar as she lunged after the Slayer. "Don’t you start!" he snapped.
"That’s my girl-friend in there with that thing!" Kennedy shot him a burning
glare. "What am I supposed to do!"
"Don’t forget my girl-friend in there too!" Xander growled. "As to what we do," he sighed, shoulders slumping. "We wait."
* * *
Tara gurgled and spat as her strange attacker dragged her deeper and deeper, the foul water filling her mouth as she struggled to breathe, the combination of the lack of oxygen and her assailant squeezing around her making her vision blur and her head swim.
And then a shadow crashed into the beast’s side, its grip around her loosening with the collison’s shock, allowing her to pull loose and launch herself for the surface.
* * *
Faith’s blood pounded as she dived after her sis, eyes cutting through the murky water in her search. The moment she saw it, her thighs flexed powerfully as she dived after the freak, the knife she’d hastily drawn from her belt scabbard thrusting up in an uppercut motion.
The water took some of the blow’s momentum. Still, the blade’s point still managed to dig deep into the monster’s underside, crimson billowing out. Faith had the briefest moment to worry about the blood attracting others like it.
"FUCK!" All worries disappeared when the creature’s tail whipped around and snapped into the side of her head. Lights exploded in Faith’s head, only Slayer instinct managing to drag her head away from the beast’s flashing teeth.
"Uhhh," Faith grunted as the creature’s tail swung back and wrapped itself around her waist, clinging to her with a python’s bone-cracking intensity. Faith wheezed and gasped as the creature’s head snapped at her, the stench of its wet fur reaching her nostrils as she pulled her head this way and that, dodging the razor-sharp teeth even as she dug her blade into the beast over and over, red filling the water. "Uhhh!" Faith jerked her head back out of the way of the beast’s darting snout even as the creature’s tail shook her like she was a naughty child, bones jangling with the impact. Her lungs struggling for air, long past the point where a normal person would have passed out, and her vision beginning to darken, Faith twisted her shoulders and chest as the creature’s snout shot past her, and drove her dagger into its nearest eye.
"Uhhh!" Faith’s back wrenched as the beast reared back and uncoiled its tail, flinging her from it. Her eyes widened as the creature coiled itself up and then burst at her, forcing her to feint swimming to the surface then pulling back down, her knife swinging up and into the beast’s underbelly, guts and blood spilling out as she writhed away from under it and swum for the surface, lungs heaving.
* * *
"We hear you’ve been bothering people, making a nuisance of yourself."
Bobby Lee smiled as the three deputies took up positions around him, noting none of the trio had their hands near their guns or even their nightsticks, foolishly relying solely on numbers to intimidate him. "Asking questions, not bothering people," Bobby Lee calmly countered.
"You don’t need to get lippy with us," growled the biggest of the three, an African-American standing an easy six four, with the sort of build that suggested he’d line-backed for his high school. The three men advanced on him, crowding him on the sidewalk, people hurrying away from the escalating scene. The deputies looked slightly nonplussed when he stood his ground, but still weren’t bright or experienced enough to realise what his lack of concern meant. "We don’t like strangers comin’ to town, makin’ trouble. We’ll have to take you to jail for questioning."
Given the way this town seemed to work, he suspected that would be an one-way trip. Seeing the black reach out with a ham-sized hand, he waited until the hand was just inches away before snatching the man’s fingers and bending them back. Bones snapped like dry wood, the man’s scream lost in a gurgle when Bobby Lee jammed his other hand’s fingers into the man’s throat while simultaneously scoring a field goal with the man’s nuts.
For a split second the other deputies were frozen, eyes widening at his sudden violence. By the time they did start to move, the fight was already over, Bobby Lee gliding forward to bury a fist in the deputy to his left’s fat belly, followed up by an elbow to the back of the man’s head as he doubled up, driving him facefirst to the concrete. The other was still struggling with his holster, eyes fixed on Bobby Lee when his right fist caught the man square between his eyes while placing his leg behind his adversary’s and sweeping his leg back towards him, taking the deputy’s legs from him.
Sensing the first deputy attempting to rise behind him, he swung around, brought his knee up and cracked it into the man’s jaw, the blow’s impact flipping the man onto his back, the back of his head bouncing off the side of Bobby Lee’s pick-up. "Looks like I’ve over-stayed my welcome," Bobby Lee muttered as he took the deputies’ weapons off them. A town this size was bound to have more than three deputies and someone was bound to have rushed off and told the sheriff what had happened. "Time to go."
He’d be back though. Something was defnitely being covered up here.
* * *
Faith gasped as she made the surface, blood and dirty water clinging to her as Kennedy splashed out to her, grabbed her hand, and pulled her to her feet. "Is Tar-."
"She’s five by five," Ken grinned as she used Faith’s catchphrase, "they’re all over there," the potential glanced to the left where Xander and Tara were crouched by the creature’s corpse, her sis leaning on Xander.
"Wicked," Faith joined the potential in sloshing over to the scene.
"I can’t believe it," Tara shook her head. "They’re not supposed to exist."
"You know what it is?" Faith shook her head as she slumped down on a stone near the marsh’s edge, eyes warily watching for any more of these critters. "What am I sayin’? Of course you know what it is."
"Snoligosters are creatures of American folklore resembling furry crocodiles with no arms and legs, but using its tail as a weapon," Tara said. "They’re said to inhabit lakes and marshes, waiting for unawary travellers, but they’re supposed to have never existed!"
Xander shook his head. "This just got a lot weirder."
"Yeah, whatever," Faith snapped, "just get me some bottled water, a towel, and a change of clothes. I need to get into those bushes and change. I don’t even wanna think what half of this crap on me is."
"Probably crap," Kennedy cheerfully commented.
FIC: MC 68 A Bunch Of Good Old Boys (6/?)
"One man!" The sheriff’s hand slammed into the desk before you. "Three of you! And you couldn’t handle him!"
"Yes sir," he was only slightly mollified by the way the battered trio wilted before his rage. "Are we gonna get a posse up and chase after him?"
The Sheriff forced back a shudder at the very thought of sneaking into the thick forests with all their many dangers after a seemingly very formidable man. "No," he shook his head, "let the forest take care of him."
* * *
Faith rubbed the towel through her hair as she finished drying off, hidden from view behind a shoulder high bush, then re-dressed in clean clothes. "What the-," Faith’s eyes narrowed as she seemed to see a shape in the trees a couple of hundred yards away. Then she blinked and it was gone. Shaking her head, she must have imagined it, Faith finished tugging her jeans on.
"Xan," the moment she’d pulled a T-shirt and hooded sweatshirt on, Faith craned her neck around the bush, "you’re there aren’t you?"
"Yeah," Xander replied, "where else would I be?"
"Never mind. Must have imagined it," Faith shook her head. "Are we bringing our dirty clothes with us?"
"Nah," Xander shook his head. "We’ve got plenty of spares, just leave them. Make sure you’ve got your wallets and stuff though. Who’s next?"
"Me!" Kennedy leapt up and scurried behind the bush before either of the others could move, her clothes packed under her arm.
* * *
The road darkened and roughened the further Bobby Lee got from New Hope, great trees and thick bushes hanging over it, casting dark shadows, the neglected road shuddering under his car, frequent potholes and bumps making it shake. Bobby Lee’s eyes widened as he noted some foliage lying across the road that didn’t look just right. Pulling his car to a halt, he leapt out, the engine still running, glanced left and right, eyes searching the undergrowth for any sign of watching eyes and crouched over the foliage.
"Ah hell," he groaned. "I hate it when I’m right." The foliage wasn’t foliage at all, but leaves clumsily stuck to what appeared to be barbed wire. Bobby Lee glanced closer, gingerly picking up the foliage and holding it up to what light he could get. "Hell," his heart dropped as he noted the torn rubber stuck to the barbs. Someone had obviously obliviously driven over the foliage. His brow furrowed. This trap was obviously recently laid, but was this what had happened to Melissa? Pursing his lips, he strode back to his pick-up, grabbed a pair of bolt-cutters out of the surplus army bag he always carried his equipment in, and returned to the barbed wire, cutting through it, and throwing its severed remains into the road at either side before getting back in his car and starting down the path again.
His eyes widened as he noted the skid marks snaking across the road, as he’d expected someone had fallen prey to the trick. "Nice driving," he whistled as he noticed the 4 * 4 not lying on his side as he’d expected but parked half on and half off the road.
After parking behind the car, he got out and quickly examined the car. As far as he could see there was no damage to the car apart from the tyres. Meaning the car’s passengers hadn’t been forced from it by whoever laid the trap. Nor had it been hastily evacuated, the radio was off, all the doors locked, and no belongings remained in the car.
So they’d left more or less of their own volition. But left to go where?
Bobby Lee stared for a second at the parked car, almost as if willing it to give up the answers he needed. When it stayed resolutely silent, he turned back to his own car, got his surplus bag out, slung it over his shoulder and started into the forest.
Whoever had booby-trapped the road had possibly booby-trapped Melissa’s car. It stood to reason the booby-trappers were possibly after whoever had been this car, if he tracked them down, he might also find the booby-trappers.
And then he’d start getting a few answers.
* * *
Bobby Lee scowled as he dropped down to one knee and looked over the simmering marsh, the gases rising up off its green-grey surface making his belly curdle. There was something off about the marsh that made it different from any he’d ever trekked through. How he wasn’t sure, but it set the hairs on his neck prickling.
But then nothing about this damn assignment made any sense. The mysterious disappearances dating back decades, the hostile police, the barbed wire disguised as leaves, and the people, kids he guessed, on a camping trip, who after abandoning their car hadn’t walked back to the perceived safety of New Hope, but had willingly plunged into the unfriendly forest.
Bobby Lee turned away with a shake of the head. The only way he was gonna find anything out was by tracking down these people. That thought uppermost in his mind, he sloshed his way through the marsh, picked up his quarry’s tracks and made his way up a wooded hill that would perhaps suffice as a campsite for the night. He stopped, unease filling him, causing him to glance left and right into the shadows. Seeing nothing, he started on his way again, the reassuring weight of his shotgun in his hands.
* * *
Xander glared at his cell. "I can’t get any reception," he groused.
"Yeah, yeah," Faith yawned and nodded towards their tent, one of two they’d set up. "You ready?"
"Yeah," Xander found himself yawning as he strode into the tent.
"You thinkin’ this whole trek might have been a very bad idea?" Faith queried as she climbed into her own sleeping bag, his girl-friend having made it very clear that ‘there was no fucking way he was gettin’ any action on the ground’.
"Yeah," Xander grimaced as he made the admission. "But that non-existant beast suggests there’s something very wrong going on here."
"Hell, it signposts it," Faith agreed before scowling. "I’m pretty sure I saw
something earlier on."
"Yeah, that’s why we’re sitting watch, you’re on second remember."
"Yeah," Faith’s scowl deepened, "thanks for that."
Xander yawned, his eyes fluttering uncertainly open as he felt Faith straddle him. "Now’s not the time-." His eyes bulged, words snatched away together with his breath as he belatedly registered the cowled skeleton glaring down at him. He tried to move, but all he was conscious of was the air tearing from him, darkness falling before his eyes.
FIC: MC 68 A Bunch Of Good Old Boys (7/?)
Faith glanced over the shoulder to see Kennedy walking up, the potential still wiping sleep from her eyes. "Wicked," Faith rose from the fire she’d been sat beside.
"How does Xander get away with not having to do a watch, anyway?"
"His argument was leadership is hard work," Faith cracked a smile that faded as she glanced towards their tent and noted a silhouette straddling Xander. "What the fuck!"
Kennedy’s eyes widened as she spun to look in the same direction as Faith. "What-."
"Get Tar!" Faith hissed as she raced towards the tent, heart thumping, hand scrabbling at the K-Bar scabbarded on her right hip. How did this person get past her? What if she was too late?
Shoving the questions aside as unimportant, Faith leapt into the tent, the cowled figure straddling her man barely able to begin turning towards her when Faith thrust her knife deep into her throat. The cowled figure arched, an inarticulate howl escaping from its dark hood, as Faith dragged her knife out, eyes widening at the lack of blood on the naked blade, and thrust it back in, accompanying her attack with a kick to the thing’s torso, knocking it on its back and most importantly off Xander.
Before the mystery assailant could even howl, Faith stomped down hard on its face, the sound of shattering bone filling her ears. Satisfied the thing was out for the count, Faith spun to check on Xander.
The bottom dropped out of Faith’s world as she saw Xander’s limp, lifeless
corpse, his eyes staring blankly up, and his skin a waxy blue. "NOOOOOOO!"
"Let me through!" Even as she dropped to her knees, tears pouring from her eyes, Kennedy shoved past and dropped to her knees beside Xander’s still body, fists punching his chest as she lowered her head and blew air into his lungs. "Breathe damn it!"
Faith watched through tear-blurred eyes as Kennedy desperately performed CPR. The seconds ticked past, Faith’s despair growing with every one.
And then Xander’s back arched, the man letting out a hoarse splutter, and
rolling onto his side as he heaved and hacked. Faith let out her own breath that
she’d been barely aware she’d been holding before lunging past the potential to
grab a hold of Xander and squeeze. "You dumbass, never do that to me ‘gain!"
"Wasn’t planned," Xander wheezed, "ribs." The moment Faith began to release his grip, Xander grinned at the potential. "It took years, but my animal magnetism broke you down, I knew you’d eventually stick your tongue down my throat." Xander’s smile broadened. "Seriously, thanks."
"Yeah," Faith nodded and looked at Kennedy, "thanks."
"Oh goddess!" Everyone turned to see Tara in the tent’s entrance stood over
the corpse of Xander’s attacker. "A boo-hag!"
"Another folklore critter?" Faith watched with concern as Xander broke down into a series of hacking coughs as he pulled a water bottle out of the Always Pocket and chugged half of it down before settling back down.
"Yes," Tara nodded. "Xander-."
"I’m okay," Xander waved away the witch’s concerns. "You were saying?"
"Boo-hags," Tara shot her a worried look, "are an American legend. They’re similar to vampires in that they kill you to live, but instead of drinking your blood, they steal your breath while," the witch flushed briefly, "riding you."
"He cheats on you, and you were worried," Kennedy snorted. "Your image as a strong woman just got shot to hell."
"Hey Tar," Faith smirked, "Ken stuck her tongue down my man’s throat. Get her in line will ya?"
Tara didn’t respond, instead looking around, a vaguely disconcerted look on her face. "Did anyone else hear that?"
* * *
Time seemed to slow for Bobby Lee as he spun to face the growling creature behind him, jaw dropping open as he was greeted by the impossible sight of a tawny-furred big cat that looked something like a lynx but one with four lithe legs, and a pair of claw-ending arms jutting out of its muscled shoulders. "Wha-." Bobby Lee forced the shook away, his shotgun coming up.
The creature crashed into him before he could pull the shotgun’s trigger, its claws shredding his thick khaki jacket as he yanked his head back, away from its hissing teeth. Bobby Lee gritted his teeth together as the creature’s momentum knocked him on his backside, the shotgun’s trigger finally, impotently, firing shot up into tree tops, sending birds flying.
Bobby Lee’s breath came in desperate pants as the monster lunged at him, Bobby Lee swinging the shotgun’s barrel into the side of the beast’s head, knocking it from him. His heart pounded as he levelled his gun and fired at the monster. "Damn it!" Blood spurted from the creature’s shoulder, but the beast still leapt at him.
Bobby Lee’s blood raced as he twisted to meet the lunging animal, eyes widening as it crashed into him, then rolled off, its momentum tearing his gun from his grip. Bobby Lee blindly reached out behind him, his eyes fixed on the snarling beast readying itself for another leap. The moment his fingers touched bark, he grabbed a hold of the tree trunk behind him, and pulled himself up, hand dipping into his jacket to draw out his gun.
The H&K .USP bucked in his hand, its blast ringing out through the otherwise quiet forest. Crimson blossomed on the beast’s chest as it flew towards him, its claws lashing at him even as it bled out. "Uhh," Bobby Lee retreated even as he continued to pump shells into the monster. "Wha-!" He let out a gasp as he stumbled over a root, almost falling, then righting himself.
In time for the cat’s corpse to crash in him and send him flying over the hill’s edge. Bobby Lee flung the cat’s limp corpse from him as he rolled down the hill, gasping and grunting at every stone and branch he hit. Then his head smashed into something hard, and the last thing he knew was darkness.
FIC: MC 68 A Bunch Of Good Old Boys (8/?)
"Hear what?" Faith queried then sniffed and glanced suspiciously at Xander,
her stomach suddenly queasy. "Damn it boy-toy, bein’ almost killed is no excuse
for that stench!"
"What?" Xander stopped rubbing at his throat to peer back at her. "I haven’t done anything!"
"Huh," Faith glanced at Kennedy. "Anythin’ you wanna confess?"
"Don’t look at me!" Kennedy protested. "My farts don’t smell like that!" Faith raised an eyebrow. "Or at all!"
"Huh," Faith shook her head, "for fuck’s sake, no-one light a match. This stench could blow us straight to the moon."
"Oh boy," Xander started passing out weapons and rose, "if I’m right-."
"Ahhh!" Tara threw a fireball or light at the tent’s entrance when a hairy, ape-like face stuck its face through the tent.
"Gagggh!" The monster reared back with a howl, while at the same time the tent’s side tore in half and a second creature attempted to enter, only to be blown away by Xander’s hastily drawn shotgun.
And then Faith was lunging forward, eyes taking in every detail of the horde rampaging through their camp. The round-shouldered beasts were covered in thick dark hair, with pot-bellies and long, ropy arms that hung down almost to their ankles. And stunk like six month old eggs.
"Whoa!" Faith leaned away from a haymaker, thrusting one of her two blades into the beast’s trunk-like left thigh, then, the moment the beast’s yellow eyes glanced away from her and down to his leg, back-hand slashing the other sword across his throat. Blood spurted out and splattered thin air, because Faith had already sidestepped the falling monster.
"SHIT!" Her eyes widened as another beast dropped into a crouch, his fists thumping the grass as he utilised his arms’ thick muscles to throw himself into a leap at her. Faith hit the ground on her side and rolled away from the snorting, howling monster, the battle’s din background noise to her own desperate panting.
Rolling up into a crouch, Faith caught a haymaker to the head. Her legs suddenly woozy and vision briefly blackening, it was only instinct that allowed her to just sway away from the monster’s stumbling charge. The moment it was level with her, Faith thrust her far side blade across her body and through the side of the thing’s neck, while a half-second later back-hand hacking its hamstrings away with her other blade. The beast let out a final howl before crashing to the ground, its life fluids staining the grass under her.
Faith glanced around, relief filling her as she realised the fight was over and her friends and her had battled through unharmed. "What’d you know?" Kennedy chuckled as she peered down at one of the creature corpses. "Hairy, smelly, and ugly! It is Xander’s family!"
"Yeah, but look at it, obviously the advanced branch." Faith smirked at her fellow brunette. "A regular family reunion."
"No, they’re skunk apes," Tara soberly commented. "Foul-smelling," Faith snorted, like she needed telling that, they fuckin’ stunk, "ape-like creatures that are supposed to populate the south-eastern states." The witch shrugged. "But supposedly it’s just a myth."
"Like all the other beasties that have attacked us," Xander crouched by the nearest corpse. "What sort of spell could create these monsters?"
"A strong one," Tara shrugged at their looks. "Look I don’t have the answers here, I’m as much in the dark as the rest."
"Can’t you do a spell to track down the source?" Kennedy queried.
Tara grimaced. "I’m trying but this place is like a Hellmouth I guess."
"Like a what now?" Xander peered worriedly at the witch.
"Look I’m only guessing," Tara said. "Never been there, but this area is like a Hellmouth would be to a witch. It’s like I’m a radio, and my antenna’s picking up static, not allowing me to clearly hear the radio, or in this case track anything magical. If we get close enough, I’ll find the source, but it’s all dumb luck really."
"Reassuring," Faith scowled as she peered down at the skunk apes’ corpses, "could these things have laid the barbed wire across the road we ran over?"
After a long moment Tara shook her head. "No. They’re not smart enough for that."
"Which means there’s something more out there," Xander commented.
"Reassuring," Faith repeated.
"Yeah," Xander looked around then sighed. "Let’s move away from here and make camp somewhere else for the rest of the night. They really, really smell."
"Jesus," Faith shook her head. "This place is like Conan Doyle’s ‘Lost World’." Faith glowered at everyone’s surprised glances. "What?" It had been on Tara’s reading list for her. "I can read!"
"Pop-up books, maybe," Kennedy doubtfully commented.
* * *
"Uhhh." A nauseous wave swamped Bobby Lee as he raised his head. Blinking furiously, he rolled to the side and spat out bile, his eyes falling on the corpse of his adversary.
"Uhh." For a second he laid there, looking up at the not especially steep slope he’d fallen down, hand reaching gingerly behind him to feel at his head, wincing slightly as he felt at his bruised but thankfully not bleeding head. He’d probably have a lump the size of an egg but his vision was alright and his co-ordination appeared unaffected, he groaned again as he clambered to his feet, left shoulder and side aching from the various bumps he’d suffered. Walking over to the beast, his eyes widened as he examined it, confirming that it did in fact have the two arms and four legs he’d thought he’d seen. "What the hell?" he shook his head in disbelief. "A wampus cat?" He’d been brought up a woodsman, that was why he was so highly thought of in his previous career as a sniper, and had heard all the folklore myths swapped by such men. But he’d never thought to see one in person, much less have to fight one in a battle to the death.
He suddenly realised that several hours must have passed since his fall. It had been just turning dark when he’d fallen, now it looked to be near dawn. "I’ve been working too hard," he comforted himself as he started up the slope, groaning slightly as his right hip protested slightly, "I needed the nap."
Bobby Lee fell silent as he neared the hilltop cospe and crouched behind a bush, straining his ears and eyes as he sought to discern if an ambush was waiting him. When he was satisfied the cospe was empty, he strode back in and picked up his army surplus bag, winching slightly as he pulled it over his brusied shoulder. "Damn it," he cursed as he picked up his shotgun and noted its mangled barrel. It was ruined.
Slightly better news greeted him when he found his automatic. It had been scratched by the wampus cat’s claws and was dirty from lying all night in the dirt he found it in, but a quick clean and inspection assured him that it was fine. Answers about Melissa Heverson’s fate would have to wait, his priority had to be finding the campers who’d stumbled into this hellhole and getting them out.
FIC: MC 68 A Bunch Of Good Old Boys (9/?)
"You’re sure going on is the best idea, Xan?"
"Yeah," Xander nodded soberly, eyes looking left and right into the forest, the huge redwoods’ gloomy shadows everywhere and tension prevading the air. "All these monsters have to have a magical source bringing them here and if it continues, these things could stop preying on passer-bys and maybe over-run the whole state."
"That’s my boy-friend," Faith drawled, "always with the optimism."
* * *
"Man has firestick."
"We many, he one."
"Kill man, take girls."
* * *
Faith stopped, brow furrowing as the hairs on the back of her neck prickled uneasily. Faith unfastened her holster, pulled out her automatic and hefted it in her hand, its weight not as comforting as she thought it would be. Her eyes scanned the surrounding trees, glaring suspiciously into the stygian darkness. " Xan," Faith kept her gaze on the nigh-on impregnable shadows as she spoke in a stress-filled whisper, "there’s somethin’ out there."
"Have you seen something?" Xander muttered as he glanced back from his position at the point of their procession, Faith taking up the rear.
"No," Faith reluctantly admitted, "but I gotta a feel-."
Suddenly the forest’s thick bushes exploded open and a horde of thick-set, hairy creatures burst out of them. For a brief second Faith thought their attackers were more of the skunk apes, then she noted the subtle differences, the fact that although they stunk, it was a more natural body smell than the skunk apes’ stench, that the creatures’ sunken eyes seemed to have more intelligence than the apes, and that unlike the skunk apes, these things wore shredded aproximations of clothes, faded denim shirts and ripped jeans.
Then they were fighting and she didn’t have any more time to think about what the monsters were.
* * *
"Shit!" Xander swung his shotgun up as creatures erupted out of the surrounding undergrowth. Seemed like Faith was right again, Xander mused as he instincitvely aimed and tugged on the trigger of his shotgun.
Fire burst from the gun’s muzzle, blood blossoming on the nearest creature’s chest, a surprised bellow erupting from its wide mouth as it fell backwards, crashing to the ground. Xander spun to face a creature charging in from his right. "Damn it!" he cursed as the creature managed to step around his shotgun before he could fire it, almost as it instinctively knew its threat, then grunted when the monster’s hard-knuckled fist crashed into his forehead, blood spurting from his flesh.
Legs rubbery, Xander tried to re-position his shotgun, shoving its muzzle under the beast’s jaw as it closed with him, its sweaty stench reeking in his nostrils. A huge hand grabbed at the muzzle yanking it from under the creature’s jaw, his blast firing uselessly into the air as the creature wrenched it from Xander’s grip and flung it away. "Damn it!" Xander cursed again as he drove an elbow into the beast’s nose, flattening the squashed nostrils still further,
Xander opened the Always Pocket, reaching in it for-.
"Ahhh!" he staggered and reeled as a right-handed slap to the side of his head shattered his concentration, and then the creature’s fingers were wrapped around his throat, lifting him from his feet and flinging him into the air. Xander gasped as he smashed into something, blackness falling over him as he dropped to the ground.
* * *
"Fuck!" Faith cursed as she brought up her automatic and started firing even as she reached across and down, drawing her sword. "Shit!" Faith scowled as her bullets hit their targets, staggering but failing to put either of the three things charging her down, blood leaping from their torsos.
Heart pounding, Faith adjusted her aim. "Yes!" She cheered as she put a round through the right of the trio’s heads, knocking him on his ass. Faith changed to the middle of the three, eyes widening as her automatic clicked empty. "Oh crap!"
And then the monster crashed into her, knocking her back a step, but falling back a step himself. A shocked look had only just begun settling on the creature’s face when Faith’s blade sliced into his thick neck, blood jetting out as she dragged the blade out again, the beast falling to the ground.
Sensing a presence behind her, Faith spun into a spin-kick that swept the creature’s legs from under it, raised her blood-slicked sword for a killing strike then adjusted into a back-heel kick to the face of the monster charging behind her.
"Shit!" Faith cursed as pain shot through her leg, the monster having grabbed and twisted it, her other leg bucking under her as another beast grabbed her other leg and yanked it from the ground.
Faith twisted as she fell, pulling her legs up into her belly and shooting out to slam both feet into one of her attacker’s oversized-gut, the blow doubling up and downing her assailant. The other bent over and reached for her hair, insane giggling filling her ears.
Giggles that turned to pained roars when she thrust her sword up and through his shoulder. Then a boot crashed into her head, lights exploded in her head, and before she could react, boots were everywhere, kicking her into submission and unconsciousness.
FIC: MC 68 Apr ’03 A Bunch Of Good Old Boys (10/?)
Bobby Lee stopped at the sound of shooting in the distance, maybe two to three miles ahead of him. He licked his lips as he glanced at his holstered automatic, then drew and checked it, using the seconds it took to calm himself.
And then he was moving, not running, but not walking either, long strides eating up the yards as his eyes ceaselessly scanned the dark undergrowth around him.
* * *
"Oh goddess!" Tara ignored the corpses littering the clearing in favour of running over to Xander, the unconscious Sunnydaler slumped against a tree. Her heart thumped as she leaned over her friend, placing her face over his mouth until she was satisfied he was still breathing.
"They’ve taken Faith."
Tara looked up at her girl-friend’s taut whisper. "What?" she looked around, heart dropping as her eyes confirmed Kennedy’s words, corpses of their strange ambushers were scattered throughout the clearing, their blood drenched into the grass, but there was no sign of the bombastic Slayer.
"How is he?" Kennedy queried as she crouched down by the opposite side of the comatose man.
"He’s out cold," Tara grimaced. "I can’t call for help because of the poor reception and I can’t get a hold of Leo because of the magic static."
"Oh boy." Kennedy’s shoulders slumped as she picked up Xander’s shotgun, opened it, threw the spent shells onto the ground and started searching Xander’s pockets, pulling out his box of shells and shoving it in her jacket pocket. "Looks like I’ll have to go and rescue Faith." Kennedy grimaced as she looked towards the bloody trail left by their surviving attackers. "At least they’ll be easy to follow."
"What?" Tara’s eyes widened as she realised what her clearly insane
girl-friend meant. "You can’t! There has to be another four of them!"
"Doesn’t look like I have a choice," Kennedy replied. "You can’t leave Xander and god knows what those things will do to Faith if I don’t rescue her." Kennedy shook her head and sighed long-sufferingly. "Again."
"Have you got ammo for your automatic?" Tara nodded numbly. "Good, I’ve two magazines left. See you later."
Tara shook her head as her girl-friend strode off, wanting to protest, but knowing in her heart of hearts that she was right. Tara scowled as she looked back at the unconscious man. The Always Pocket was great when he was awake, but when it wasn’t, it meant all of her spell components were inaccessibly locked up in it.
Well most of them anyway, Tara reached into her backpack and pulled out her bag of herbs. It’d take a while, but she’d soon have a spell cast and Xander up on his feet.
Just as long as the bang to the head wasn’t too serious.
* * *
Bobby Lee crept through the forest, bushes barely rustling at his passing, an all too familiar stench reaching his nostrils. He stopped, forced the memories away, then continued stalking through the thick foliage, the sunlight beaming down on him increasing as the foliage thinned and he reached the edge of a clearing. His eyes narrowed as he noted the young woman tending an unconscious man, then stepped out into the clearing. The girl let out a shocked as she lunged for the gun by her knees, snatching it up and twisting at the waist to face him, eyes wide and mouth open as swung her automatic up with a precision that hinted at long practice. "Back up, mister."
"Relax," he slowly raised his hands over his head. He wasn’t nervous, at least not as nervous as he would be if the gun was in the hands of a panicky novice, someone this girl didn’t seem to be. Still, accidents could happen. "I’m not going to hurt you." His jaw dropped slightly as he noted the almost-human corpses sprawled across the ground. "What are they?"
"Haven’t worked that out yet." He was surprised when the girl lowered the gun and looked away, continuing to work on her friend as if he wasn’t even there, seemingly having decided he wouldn’t harm her without another word from him.
"What is this place, I ran into a wampus cat?" he shook his head then winced, his head still aching a little from his fall.
The girl looked up. "Don’t know, why are you here?"
"My name’s Bobby Lee," he replied as he crouched the other side of the man, "I was sent here to find out what happened to a client’s grand-daughter. You?"
"I’m Tara. Xander," the girl glanced towards the unconscious man, "thought it would be a good idea for a camping trip." The girl shook her head. "Another one of his good ideas."
"You’re well-armed for a camping trip," Bobby Lee commented as noted the Desert Eagle hanging on a shoulder holster inside the youth’s jacket.
"We’re not your usual campers," the girl wryly commented.
"What happened to your boy-fri-."
"So not my boy-friend," the girl’s laugh was edged with tension. "Those creatures attacked us. We killed some of them, but they grabbed his girl-friend and carried her off, my girl-friend went after them."
"Is that a problem?" the honey-blonde’s shyness was replaced with a low fire.
"No, I was just worried how she intends to deal with these things," Bobby Lee replied.
"Yeah," the blonde’s fire dimmed. "She’s armed but there were three or four of them still left."
"In that case," Bobby Lee pushed away questions about just what was happening in this insane forest to rise and deal with the more immediate problem, "I better get after her." Bobby Lee stopped. "Do you mind if I swap guns with him?" he looked towards the Desert Eagle hanging beneath the unconscious man’s jacket.
The girl laughed. "Sure, I can barely lift that cannon anyway."
"Thanks," Bobby leaned over, took the gun and the man’s two clips before passing his gun over to Tara, "and what’s your girl-friend called?"
"Kennedy," Tara pointed to where the blood trail went, "she went that way."
"I can see the trail," he nodded.
"Oh when you meet her," the girl half-smiled. "If she doesn’t trust you, tell her the first time we met, Faith thought Kennedy fancied her." Bobby Lee’s brow furrowed. "It’ll make sense to her, I promise."
"Right," Bobby Lee nodded slowly. He was more than half-convinced that this girl with her herbal potions was completely nuts.
"And also tell her I’ve read you."
"Read me?" Bobby Lee blinked. That cinched it, she was nuts.
FIC: MC 68 Apr ’03 A Bunch Of Good Old Boys (11/?)
Kennedy gulped as she strode through the darkened forest, sweat beading down her forehead and her hands shaking. She didn’t normally get this nervous before or during a fight, but then she wasn’t normally the only one going into action. Normally she had a Slayer, an uber-witch, and a warrior-god backing her play. Kennedy swallowed, forcing down a nervous lump. She had to get a hold of herself, Faith needed her.
And okay, she and Faith didn’t have the best of relationships, but she was still part of the team, and like Faith said, you had to be able to rely on your team.
Kennedy chuckled nervously as an errant thought popped into her head. Xander knocked out by head-butting a tree? Her and Faith would have bet money that the tree would have come off worse in that showdown.
Her chuckles died at the sound of rustling in the bushes to her left. "I really," she cocked the hammer on her shotgun as she peered towards the thick green foliage, her chest aching as her heart pounded within it, "hate the countryside." Kennedy took a breath. "Here goes."
She’d barely taken a step towards the bush when a hissing, thorny bobcatesque thing bounded out of the bushes. "What the!" Kennedy stumbled backwards as her finger tugged instinctively on the shotgun’s trigger.
The shotgun’s blast boomed in her ears, the leaping creature’s toothy maw parting in a screech as her shells shredded through it. Blood and flesh tore from the creature as it spun in mid-air and fell to the ground, its corpse briefly jerking, hissing its last defiance then finally stilling.
Kennedy’s eyes widened as she peered down at the bloody monster lying at her feet. It was about the size of a bobcat, but covered in what looked like a hedgehog’s spikes and a tail that ended in a vicious barb. "What is up with this place?"
Kennedy shook her head and reloaded her shotgun. She couldn’t think of that at the moment. She had a job to do.
Kennedy took a shaky breath then continued forward, eyes constantly darting from the blood streaked path to the surrounding bushes.
* * *
"What the?" Bobby Lee shook his head as he crouched over the remains of the monster, the smell of cordite still heavy in the air. Like the wampus cat he recognised this from the woodsmen legends. This had to be a cactus cat, but they were supposed to inhabit the south-east, particularly New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona.
"This is very weird." He glanced at the tracks. It would appear Kennedy was only minutes ahead of him, and heading into a fight with somewhere at least four ‘creatures’ of uncertain strength and ability.
In other words, he didn’t have time for internal debates on just what the hell was happening here.
* * *
"She make us feel good."
"She kill our friend."
"We kill her!"
"Girl taste yum! Eat girl!"
"No, she pretty!"
"No, girl soft!"
"Healthy girl, we use!"
"She make us feel good, then kill her!"
"Yeah! Yeah! Fun, then chop chop!"
The first thing Faith noticed as she began to waken was the stench, the mingled smells of dirt, dust, sweat, and even piss reeking in the fetid air. Next she noticed the barely recognisable as speech grunts, their continual noise forcing her heavy eyelids to flutter unwillingly open. Faith fought back a groan as she turned her aching head towards the noise, mouth opening to tell the annoying speakers to shut the hell up, her left eye apparently swollen shut.
The words died unspoken as she belatedly recognised the dire situation she was in. She was in what looked to be a derelict shack, tethered, spread-eagled and restrained by barbed-wire attached to four tent poles nailed into the wooden floorboards, dried blood ominously visible on the walls and floor. Worse, the arguing men stood by the shack’s solitary entrance were four ugly fuckers that made the family from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre look positively evolutionarily advanced. Fuck, Faith’s mouth dried as she wondered where the others were. Xander wouldn’t let her be in such a position, if she was here and he wasn’t, that could only mean….
Her heart stilled as one of the four turned towards her, head tilting as he stared as her, long tongue licking his lips. "Girl awake."
"Girl pretty," another of the men, a grey-bearded man with a bald head and thick, gorilla-like arms leered at her, her skin crawling in reply. "We like girl."
"Girl smell good," commented another, the fattest of them all, sausage fingers reaching down, pawing the air just above her.
"Oh fuck." Sweat on Faith’s forehead, her back arching as she tugged desperately at her restraints, arms and legs kicking, the back of her head bumping into the floorboards beneath her as she thrashed. "Oh fuck!" Her heart thumped as she quickly realised struggling would only shred her wrists and ankles. "No," she shook her head as the four savages crowded around her, "you get the fuck away from me!"
FIC: MC 68 Apr ’03 A Bunch Of Good Old Boys (13/?)
"Are you sure-."
"I’m okay," Xander lied as he shook away the queasiness swamping him. He peered forward, all too conscious both of the weariness ravaging him and the seconds ticking away. "It’s this way, right?"
"There’s blood all over the ground, can’t you see it?" Tara queried. "Xander, can you-."
"I’m fine," he leaned against a tree. To be honest, his eyes were a little blurry, but they were clearing up. And he couldn’t wait. "Come on."
* * *
Faith let out a choked scream as her shirt was ripped from her, flesh pimpling as a great horror gnawed at her, unable to do anything but gurgle helplessly. This was really happening, Xander and the others were dead, and these monsters were going to-.
"Girl lacy," purred the last of the monsters to arrive as he peered at her bra and thong, hot breath on her face. "Lacy nice-."
Tears streamed from Faith’s eyes, throat and lungs burning as the hut exploded in a cloud of smoke. From somewhere Faith heard the monsters roaring their disapproval and racing from the hut.
* * *
"They’re coming," Bobby Lee reported. "Take the left, I’ll deal with the right. Don’t shoot until we’re certain -."
"Faith isn’t with them, I know," Kennedy impatiently interrupted, her eyes fixed on the cloud-shrouded hut. Kennedy’s heart hammered as the seconds ticked by. God, this had to-.
The air reverberated to the sound of coughing, and then several unFaithlike shapes lumbered out of the hut. Kennedy swallowed as they staggered towards them, her worries not allayed when she didn’t see the Slayer with them. What if she was lying dead on the hut floor, killed in the monsters’ fury as the tear gas descended?
Kennedy shook her head, forcing her fears away as she raised her shotgun, sighted, and squeezed on her gun’s trigger.
The shotgun bucked in her hands, its boom obliterating the things’ collective coughs. Blood blossomed on one of the creatures’ thick torso, knocking him onto his ass. Kennedy turned her gun on the second monster charging heedlessly towards her and pulled the trigger again.
The gun’s roar filled her ears and the arid cordite stuck to her nostrils as her shell tore through the second monster’s chest, shredding it. Its pained bellow was still ringing in her ears as it fell, and she turned to the third.
Only to realise she’d been forced to wait until they were too close to ascertain Faith wasn’t with them. The beast snatched her gun’s hot barrel and wrenched it from her, its other hand swinging up to backhand her in the face, lights exploding before her eyes as she cartwheeled through the air.
* * *
The moment he was satisfied the girl wasn’t with the monsters, Bobby Lee dropped into a crouched marksman’s position, brought the Desert Eagle up in a two-handed position, the gun’s recoil tough even for a man of his size and strength, and pulled the trigger.
The cannon bucked, the recoil reverberating down his wrists as the shell smashed into the nearest of the things’ heads, ripping a good third off it, blood, brains, and bone spread across the clearing. The gunfire still ringing in his ears, Bobby Lee sighted on the second beast charging out of the smoke and pulled the trigger again.
Once again the gun bucked heavily in his hands. Once again his shot hit home, this one obliterating the beast’s forehead and spinning it around enroute to dropping it to the grass.
Eyes wide, he spun to face the growling mastodon, barely managing to duck under a wildly flung haymaker. His heart thundered as he swung his automatic up, only for one of the monster’s ham-sized fists to crash onto his shoulder, numbing his arm, gun falling uselessly from his grip.
"Shit!" His heart pounded as he jabbed the fingers of his remaining hand into the creature’s throat, ducked another haymaker, stepped to the left and brought up his elbow to slam it into the side of the creature’s head.
And then its thick, long fingers grabbed him by his throat, lifting him off the ground. "Uhhh!" Eyes bulging, Bobby Lee brought up his hands, feeling returning too late to his injured arm, and grabbed the creature’s wrists, his hands not coming even close to encircling the thicker than many men’s biceps’ wrists.
"Uhhh!" He purpled and wheezed as he struggled to pull the arms away, kicking uselessly at the creature’s belly. Dark dots appeared before his eyes.
"Oh I don’t think so."
"Ooofff!" Something wet splattered his face and then he crashed to the ground, the wind temporarily gusting from his lungs. "Shit," he groaned as he wiped at his face, belatedly realising the wet was blood, his attacker lying just a few feet from him, a crater-sized hole in the side of his head.
He looked up, eyes slowly re-focussing as oxygen rushed into his deprived body. "Xander?" he rasped a query as he recognised the battered-looking man stood over him.
"Yeah," the boy’s eyes were fixed on the hut a few yards away, "Bobby Lee, right? Thanks for your help." The youth swayed then staggered. "Tara, look after things here, I’ll go and get Faith."
"Don’t you need-," his voice trailed off as the youth limped away.
"He’ll be fine."
"Are you sure?" Bobby Lee rubbed at his throat and looked towards Tara knelt over Kennedy. "He looks like he can hardly stand, much less walk."
Tara smiled wryly even as she cradled her partner’s head in her arms. "For her, he’ll stand."
FIC: MC 68 Apr ’03 A Bunch Of Good Old Boys (14/?)
"Faith!" The gas was just about clearing when Xander entered the dirty hut, his breath caught, almost choking him as he caught sight of his girl-friend lying on the dirty floor, barbed wire around her wrists and ankles spread-eagling her, blood trickling down her left thigh from a knife-slash, her clothes cut from her, leaving her just in her bra and thong. "Oh Faith."
In a second he was crouched beside his wild-eyed girl-friend stroking her
hair. "Faith it’s alr-."
"JUST GET ME OUTTA HERE!"
"Sure." Xander nodded, jaw clenching as he pulled a pair of bolt-cutters out of the Always-Pocket, and started cutting through the restraints. God, he wished those bastard creatures were still alive, so he could kill them again, but slowly this time.
"Thanks," Faith leapt up the moment the last barbed wire was cut. Xander winced as he saw her look at him with a wariness he’d never seen in her eyes when she looked at him before. "Some clothes?"
"Sure," Xander nodded, unable to think of anything to say, "are you al-."
"Five by five," Faith interrupted with a shaky nod. "The clothes?" Xander nodded wordlessly as he passed Faith a pair of cargo pants, t-shirt, and hooded sweatshirt. "Thanks, I’ll just go change."
"Faith-," Xander reached for his girl-friend, but she wriggled away from his hand and rushed out. "Damn it!"
* * *
"Are you alright honey?" Tara softly asked. Tara smiled at Kennedy’s nod, and then scowled as she saw a semi-naked Faith flee from the hut, stop as she saw them, then bolt into the bushes. "Oh goddess!"
Her long skirt rustling around her feet, Tara hurried towards the hut in time
to intercept Xander exiting it, a helpless look in her friend’s eyes. "What
happened? Did they-."
"I don’t think so, she still had her bra and panties on," Xander said. "But she was so lost-," Xander looked into the bushes. "I’ll have to go after her."
"No," Tara shook her head. "Let me."
* * *
Faith’s hands shook as she stared at her forearms, already the welts left by the barbed wire were fading. The terror she’d felt was another matter entirely. She could still remember every despairing second, every word, every touch-.
Jagged fear shot through her at a rustle behind. Spinning around, she cursed inwardly as she realised she hadn’t asked for a weapon off Xander. Then a low growl erupted from her lips, she might be weaponless, but she was hardly helpless.
She was the mother-fucking Slayer!
"Faith," her heart-beat returned to something approaching normal as she
recognised her best friend’s voice, "it’s me, are you alright?"
"Yeah," Faith hated the quiver in her voice as her best friend stepped out of the thick bushes, a look of concern in her eyes.
"Good," her friend smiled, "are you alright? Did they -."
"No, no." Faith slumped against a tree, her legs barely holding her up. "When I was a kid," she tried but failed to stem the torrent of words spilling from her mouth. "When I was a kid, my mom was a junkie, and cause she was a looker she paid for her habit on her back. Her pimp was this guy called Marco, a real bad-ass, but he made sure no-one touched me." Faith let out a near-hysterical laugh. "When I was thirteen I found out it was ’cause he wanted to break me in himself, figured he could make way more money off me than he ever got off mom, on account of me bein’ young and fresh. Said that was why he’d let her keep me around."
"Oh Faith," Tara’s hand flew up to her open mouth.
"So he took me. I tried to fight him, but he beat me half to death, ain’t never felt that helpless. When I woke up I could hardly move, I was just one giant bruise." Faith wiped at the tears spilling from her eyes. "Guess I’d have been turned out soon as I healed up, but for dumb luck. After he’d fucked me, Marco left with my mom to do some drugs, bang her, don’t know, don’t care, but I crawled off to hide, and hid in the basement, behind the furnace, then passed out. Then that night, this other pimp who wanted me, popular huh, broke in and killed mom and Marco when he couldn’t find me. The cops picked me up and put me in Child Services, but I ran away and started runnin’ with this gang of kids, my age, maybe a lil older. Anyone of them who wanted a taste, got whatever they wanted. ‘Cause I figured if I gave it away, what Marco did to me didn’t mean anythin’, sex wasn’t important, just flesh."
"Oh Faith," Tara’s own eyes were moistening.
"But it matters, Tar!" Faith shrieked. "It matters, he hurt me so much, and they were gonna do the same!"
"I’ve got you," Tara’s hands were suddenly around her as she sobbed, holding her to her chest. "Nothing’s going to happen to you, none of us will ever let it happen."
* * *
Xander rose from where he’d been sitting when the bushes rustled and Tara and
Faith stepped out into the clearing, wincing as he noted the Slayer’s red eyes
and tear-tracks down her face. "Hey," he forced a smile and nodded awkwardly at
his girl-friend. "Are you-."
"Five by five," Faith interrupted. "Thanks for rescuing me." Faith looked towards the potential. "You too, Ken." Faith stuck her hand out to Bobby Lee. "And you, bud."
After a second Bobby Lee took the Slayer’s hand and shook it. "No problem at all."
"Bobby Lee’s been telling me he thinks the town we came through on the way here knows about these things and was covering up," Xander said for want of something to say.
Faith’s gaze snapped towards him. The pain fled his girl-friend’s eyes, replaced by an almost psychotic delight. "Yeah, do tell?"
FIC: MC 68 Apr ’03 A Bunch Of Good Old Boys (15/16)
"This the town jail?" Faith queried as they pulled in outside a
single-storey, flat-roofed building.
"That’s what the sign says," Xander said with a false lightness.
"Yeah," Faith forced a smile as she glanced at her boy-friend before looking towards the jail. Last night had been tense, forced to camp out as they’d not made it back to Bobby Lee’s car in time. Now it was edging around to lunch. "I’ll go in on my own."
Faith stilled Xander’s protests with a look. "Come in when you get the signal." Xander’s mouth opened. "Oh you’ll know."
Faith’s heart thundered as she advanced on the jail, her need for violence bubbling up inside her. These bastards had been covering up for those monsters for what looked to be years. How many people had died, gone through what she’d almost gone through, because of their lies?
They were gonna pay.
She was inches from the front door when it swung open and a massive black man loomed over her. "Hiya honey- ooof," the man greyed, his legs buckling as Faith field-goaled his nuts into his throat, grabbing his collar as he crumpled forward, and flung him into the road while stepping around him and into the office beyond.
A pimple-faced kid maybe a couple of years older than her had half-risen to greet her when she reached him. She grabbed him around his throat, lifted, and tossed him through the room’s outer window in one smooth motion, then leapt over the kid’s desk, landing feet first on the chest of a chubby guy aged in his early-forties, her landing’s impact lifting him from his chair and dumping him head-first on the ground.
"What the hell!" The first female deputy, maybe ten years her elder, lunged up out of her chair and at her, nightstick coming down to crack her skull.
Except Faith sidestepped to the right, grabbed the nightstick and reversed its swing, the woman’s face disappearing in blood as the stick crashed home, shattering her nose. The woman crashed onto her ass, and grabbed at the wall behind her, struggling to pull herself up as Faith side-heel kicked an on-rushing deputy in the gut, then grabbed his collar as he doubled up and flung him into the female deputy.
Hearing the echoing sound of onrushing feet coming from around the corner at the end of the office, Faith strode to the end, waited to the last second and reached out.
She grabbed the surprised man around the front of his shirt and his belt. "What the-!" The man let out a shocked cry she lifted him over her head, then released, flinging him into the filing cabinet at the office’s near end.
Cabinet and sheriff crashed to the floor, the man dazedly pulling himself up onto his hands and knees, unwittingly presenting his over-ripe ass as a target for Faith’s boot to crash into, knocking him back down onto the ground. And then she had him by his collar, pulling him back up to his feet, only to drive him facefirst into the wall, leaving a bloody smear on the announcement board. The moment he hit the floor, Faith yanked him back up, and drove her fist into his protruding belly, wind exploding from the man’s mouth. And then he was flying again, into the deputy she’d dropkicked to the floor, knocking the pulling himself back up his desk deputy back to the ground, and propelling the sheriff over the desk to crash to the floor.
Faith kicked the deputy’s legs away as he struggled to his feet, then grabbed the sheriff and yanked him back up. "Faith, we need him conscious to answer our questions."
"Yeah," Faith nodded then flung the man into the bench that she guessed served as the police department’s reception area, "ask ‘em then." Wood splintered as the sheriff hit the bench and went through it. Faith glanced towards Swagger who was staring open-mouthed around the devastated office. "Time of the month, y’all." Faith was surprised when Kennedy stepped up to stand beside her. "What?"
Faith forced a smile. "Gettin’ there."
"You can’t do this-," the sheriff spluttered, hands rubbing vainly at the blood soaking his face.
"Oh," Xander grabbed the man by his shirt and pulled him up, "I think we can. And I think you’re going to tell me what exactly you and your people know about these woods?"
"I’m a sheriff, you can’t-."
"Maybe I go out and start shooting out all these street lights and maybe tonight all those nasty beasties start comin’ in here ‘cause they’re not so frightened with the lights gone," Faith smirked as the sheriff paled. "I’m just spitballin’ tho’."
"When I came to town, your deputies were very determined to stop me from asking questions about missing people, maybe you could tell us why?" Bobby Lee added, the sniper’s arms crossed.
The sheriff glanced at each of them in turn before letting out a choked sob. "After our ancestors slaughtered those damn savages, their tribe’s witch doctor cast a curse that trapped the men in a state somewhere between human and beast, and brought creatures from folklore to life in that area. Since then we’ve been here, can’t grow our town much, cause if we do, we move onto their land, and they start coming into the town."
"And you let people drive into that without warning!" Faith snapped.
"Oh it’s worse than that," Tara whispered, eyes filled with shock. "If anyone like Bobby Lee came looking for lost ones, the Sheriff and the townspeople made sure they either disappeared or didn’t get anywhere."
"Why didn’t you just leave?" Bobby Lee demanded.
The sheriff’s bloody features contorted in rage. "This was our land! Those
damn savages should have moved!"
"Unfucking believable, still fighting a goddamn war one hundred and fifty years later," Faith shook her head. These numb-nuts were perpetrating every single hillbilly myth. "And to think we killed three of them for you."
"Three-," the sheriff choked, "but there’s- ooof," Faith’s foot crashed into the man’s groin, the sound of his pelvis fracturing bringing winces to Xander and Bobby Lee’s faces.
* * *
"Huh," Kennedy muttered as they strode out of the sheriff’s office, the crowd that had gathered outside hurriedly parting before Xander and Bobby Lee’s purposefully wielded shotguns, "correct if I’m wrong, but I thought we killed nine of those monsters, not three?"
"Yeah we did didn’t we?" Faith smirked as she strode back to the car. "My bad, I figure they’ll be worryin’ ‘bout the six monsters we haven’t killed comin’ into town for payback." Bile rose in Faith’s throat as she looked around the town. "Let’s head outta hicksville."
FIC: MC 68 Apr ’03 A Bunch Of Good Old Boys (16/16)
"Jack," Brill leaned across the desk in Stanfield’s office, his team having discreetly checked the place for bugs under the guise of being a maintenance team just this morning, and shook his former student’s hand, "how did your hacking go?"
The computer security expert smirked. "I got the four names you didn’t want me to get."
"Oh really?" Brill ignored the disappointment biting him. This was after all why he was here, to find any possible failings in the system.
"Yeah," the younger man’s expression sobered. "But I was thinking, what if this was a ruse? I’m not about to blurt their names out so you could get some under the table and very illegal industrial espionage for the agency."
"Fair point," Brill leaned back in his seat. "I assume you’ve thought of a solution?"
"Yes," Jack nodded. "You tell me the genders of the shareholders and their percentage ownerships, and I’ll assume you know the rest, and supply the names."
"Sounds fair." Brill nodded. Not completely fool-hardy, but if it acted as a sop to Jack’s conscience, he could work with it. "There’s four shareholders, one man, three women. The man and one of the women own thirty percent shares, the other two women twenty percent each."
"Okay," some of the tension left Jack. Indeed he grinned triumphantly. "Prepare to be a million dollars worse off, Alexander Harris and Faith Spenser each own thirty percent, and Tara McClay and Kennedy Lucas own the other forty percent between them."
Brill’s heart raced. "How hard was getting into the system?"
"Hard, very hard," Stanfield replied. "A lot of the usual tricks didn’t work, and your traceback programs would catch most people. You’ve got a very layered system. If I wanted everything from your system, it would take months-."
"Years," Brill corrected. Stanfield raced a querying eyebrow. "Several of the encryption algorithms randomise on the 1st of every month, only top level employees have access to the key, and can only use it when on-site. Plus there’s certain parts of our system that can only be accessed while on-site, and only by certain employees working within those sectors. My office’s internal security is impressive."
"How very paranoid of you," Stanfield’s features crinkled in a half-smile, striking blue eyes sparkling with mirth.
"I trust you’ve got your notes?" Brill queried.
"Everything," Stanfield replied. "Things that worked, things that failed, where the system could be tightened, alarms I triggered, how I diverted them, holes that could be plugged, the hours it took, the equipment I used."
"Right, thanks." Brill pocketed the CD Stanfield passed him, while glancing over the sheaf of notes. Looking up, he opened his attaché case and passed a contract over to Jack. "That’s a contract and confidentiality agreement detailing you’ve been paid a million dollars for security consultancy." He paused. "I assume this is the only copy of the work you’ve done?"
"I wiped it off my computer this morning with my own deletion program," Stanfield replied as he signed for the money. "Why the interest?"
"Certain special interest groups are after that quartet for various reasons,"
he evaded. "If they knew who really owned our business, they might try and come
at them through the corporation. I have a responsibility both to my employees
and our founders to ensure they’re both covered." Lyle didn’t bother to explain
the inexplicable loyalty he felt towards the kids, a loyalty he hadn’t felt
since his early, idealistic days in the agency.
Stanfield leaned back in his seat and stared at him. "There’s a lot you’re not telling me."
"Yes, there is," Brill agreed. "But all I can tell you is these people aren’t a threat to America or our way of life. Indeed, this work you’ve done for me today is the greatest service you’ve ever done our country."
"Great," Jack’s brow furrowed as he struggled to decipher Brill’s words then shrugged and grinned. "But I’m still cashing the cheque though."
* * *
Pine Bluff, Arkansas
The shower’s hot water jetted over her, cascading down her, easing her physical aches, but not the emotional maladies besieging her. She’d barely slept a wink last night, every time she shut her eyes, either Marco’s face or those monsters’ features leering over her. Faith stiffened as she heard the bathroom door opening. "Faith, are you okay?"
Faith forced herself to relax as she recognised Xander’s voice. "Five by five, stud."
"No really," Xander said from the doorway, concern filling his voice, "are you alright?"
Faith stuck her head outta the shower and managed a smile. "Not yet, but I’m tough, gonna be, ‘kay?"
Xander nodded. "Well if you need someone to talk to-."
"I’ll talk to Tara, the one of us asses with actual empathy," Faith winked at her boy-friend. "Now how ‘bout you leave a girl to get showered and dried?"
"Okay," Xander pulled out of the bathroom.
Five minutes later and she was walking out to meet Xander in their hotel room. "So," she nodded, "we gonna give Bobby Lee the big pitch?"
"Yeah," Xander nodded. "Just got off the phone with Tara-."
"Other women Xan? And lesbians too," Faith shook her head. "One night without sex and you’re chasing skirt! You’re a hound, Harris."
"Ha, ha." Xander offered a half-smile before shaking his head. "No, she was giving me a report on Bobby Lee."
"Yeah?" Faith glanced at her boy-friend as she dropped onto the side of the bed and pulled her sneakers on. "What’s the 411?"
"Thirty-five years old, a Marine sniper, recruited out of school and served from March ’87 until March last year. Served in Panama, Operation Desert Storm, Bosnia, and Afghanistan. He’s been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, a Bronze Star, and two Purple Hearts."
Faith smirked. "Guy must set off the metal detectors everywhere he goes.
Tara, read him, he’s okay, so you offerin’?"
Xander nodded. "I’m offering."
* * *
Bobby Lee listened as Xander finished his pitch. Ever since finishing his tour of duty, he’d been directionless, missing the uniform and the honour of serving his country, but not at all missing the frequently morally questionable black ops he’d often been called into. It was his belief he should be defending his country’s interests and people, not furthering the goals of multi-nationals.
This though, it had the mission he’d been seeking, the chance to make a difference. The reason he’d enlisted as a bright-eyed teen so many years ago. Maybe through this he could salve his wounded conscience. The monsters he’d faced the last few days were terrifying, but the resources offered by Harris and his group, and the opportunity to do some real, concrete good were just too tempting to turn down. Finally he nodded. "I’m from Missouri, is it taken?"
"No it isn’t," Xander beamed as he looked towards Tara. "What potential resources do we have in Missouri?"
Tara tapped at her laptop’s keyboard for a few seconds, the computer’s CD drive buzzing. "We’ve got two teams of eight in St. Louis, a witches’ coven and a team of ten demon hunters in Kansas City, and a team of eight in Springfield."
Bobby Lee was briefly rocked by the numbers fighting a secret war under his oblivious nose. "I’ll take it."
"Great," Xander’s beam increased. "Now, there’s a lot of paperwork to go through. Protocols, operating procedures…"
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