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June 27, 2022

Black Whiskey 2

By Mel Trent

Soon, even the light is gone, and the heat cools. He hears flames and feels sand between his fingers.

"Hey! Hey, wake up! Kaine! Wake the fuck up!" Jynx shouts.

Kaine sits up. He looks around long enough to know where he is, that Jynx is there and Iai is not, and then he falls back onto the sand.

"Kaine!"

"I'm all right. I'm here."

"What happened? Where are you?"

"I got beat up by a train."

"You got what?"

"We went out to see what was in the hole. We figured it was a new train station, and I think we were right. Except the train wasn't willing to give us a ride, so it tried to kill us."

"It destroyed the way station."

"Yeah."

"That's why you tried to lock us down there."

"Yeah."

"Moron. Why the hell didn't you wake me up?"

"Didn't think you'd wanna get beat up by a train."

"Is Iai with you?"

"Yeah. He's not doing real good right now."

"Where are you?"

"France. McBride brought us here. Is Kumiko okay?"

"She's worried sick about you, but yeah."

"Where are you?"

"Heading to Steelrain."

"I don't know when we'll be able to leave here. Something's happening."

"Something? What kind of something?"

"President Honda was assassinated this morning."

"Oh great. You know they'll wanna say McBride did it, and then you and Iai will be in trouble just for being near him."

"Yeah. But I don't think it'll work out that way."

"Well, be careful."

"Don't worry about us."

"Any interesting visions?"

"A wedding."

"Okay, you've gone insane."

"I don't think it'll work out that way."

"I won't tell her about it."

"Good."

"I don't like this."

"I know. I don't either. But trust me, okay. Don't go to France."

"Let me know when you start moving again."

"I will."

Kaine closes his eyes. The bonfire, the desert, the sky and the stars in it and Jynx all melt into a soft swirl of grey. He wakes up to a sharp cry of pain that's snuffed out before it's done. He sits up quickly, drawing Getsuei as he does and shoving the barrel of the gun against McBride's temple. McBride has his right hand on Iai's elbow and his left over Iai's mouth. Iai's teeth are buried in the flesh between McBride's thumb and index finger. Heavy silver tears slide from Iai's wide-open eyes. McBride slowly lifts his eyes to look at Kaine.

"Get your hands off him," Kaine says.

"What d'you think yer gonna do with that?" McBride asks.

"I said get --"

McBride pulls his hand from Iai's mouth and slaps the gun out of Kaine's hand. It clatters on the hardwood floor and skates under the dresser. Kaine pulls his hand to his chest and shakes it. "Listen, boy," McBride says. "I'm doin' the best I can. Ya see, his body heals too fast. It's tryna heal broken bones that aren't set properly. If I don't rebreak the bones and set 'em, he's gonna heal all mangled up. And this arm's gotta be right or he don't use his sword again. That'll mean certain death the next time you idiots decide to take on a train. And you ain't exactly in top shape, either, boy, so you just sit back and rest."

Kaine slinks off the bed and pours himself into a recliner. He watches McBride work on Iai's arm. There are already splints and bandages on Iai's left leg and arm. Thick pads of gauze are taped in place over deep gashes on Iai's side and the upper part of his left shoulder. There's blood on most of the bandages but not much. Kaine notices tiny needle holes on the inside of Iai's elbow. "What did you give him?" he asks.

"Antibiotics and morphine," McBride says. "The morphine didn't do a damn bit of good." He grits his teeth as he presses down on a bone in Iai's wrist. "Last one, I promise." He presses harder. Kaine shudders when he hears a snap. Iai makes no sound. He's unconscious again. McBride puts a splint on Iai's elbow and tapes up Iai's wrist. He wipes blood off the bite mark and inspects the wound. The puncture wounds are small and deep, but they seem to be healing already. He doesn't bother to clean them or cover them up. He goes to the dresser and pours two cups of coffee. "Two days, maybe three, then he'll be well enough to walk again. Course, he might not walk right. He dislocated both his hips when he jumped to shove you outta the way. Can't do much for that. Just pop 'em back in and hope for the best." He uncaps a bottle sheathed in silver with the name Boherboy stamped across it. He pours a slug of strong smelling black stuff into each cup of coffee. He hands one cup to Kaine.

Kaine sniffs it and makes a face.

"I ain't tryna kill you, boy. Ain't you figured that out yet?"

"Why the hell should I care?"

"Drink. The coffee'll open up your lungs, and the whiskey'll thin your blood. Two things you need right now."

Kaine takes a sip. It doesn't taste bad. It mostly tastes like coffee. Then the whiskey hits his throat and stomach. He coughs. "Shit, that's strong," he says. "What the hell is that stuff?"

"Black whiskey. Not much of it around any more. Figure I got enough to last me another twenty years or so. Don't waste it."

Kaine takes another sip. The whiskey doesn't hit as hard the second time. He takes a longer sip.

"And don't gulp it. Take it easy. You don't wanna be drunk."

"I don't? I think I do."

"Listen, boy --"

"I think you owe me an explanation."

"I don't owe you shit."

"And we don't need your help."

"You don't, huh? I think Iai might disagree."

Kaine says nothing and concentrates on the drink. It is making him feel better. His chest doesn't feel so tight, and his heart isn't hammering so hard.

McBride reaches under the dresser and picks up Getsuei. "Always wanted a pair of guns like this one and its twin. Ain't nothin' like 'em in the universe."

"Put it down. Please."

McBride lays the gun on top of the dresser. He rubs his fingers together. He doesn't like the way the gun felt in his hand when Kaine spoke. It felt almost as if Getsuei would have fired had Kaine told it to.

"I'm sorry," Kaine says after a long silence. "It's just that ... you know what people say."

"I don't give a damn what people say."

"Neither do I, but ... I mean, what else am I supposed to think?"

"I didn't think it mattered. I figured it was best to step out of the picture. I couldn't do a damn thing for you after they were killed. And I wasn't about to go take a revenge that wasn't mine to take."

"Jynx thinks you killed them."

"I didn't. I wasn't even on Phoenix that night. I was on Salvation."

"I know."

"Jake and I were good friends. And then we were both chasin' the same woman. She picked him, but I didn't really stop lovin' her. They asked me to be your godfather. I spent a lot of time with them at the hospital while those stupid fucking doctors tried to kill you. Why the hell do you think you ended up left-handed? That ain't your natural hand. You said you wanted to be like Uncle Mac, so I taught ya ta shoot left and use yer left eye for aimin'. It was because when Jake was ready to give up the guns, you didn't wanna have to decide which one of you would carry 'em. You took the left, and Jynx took the right."

"Then why the hell don't we remember you?"

McBride sighs and pours a straight shot of black whiskey into his empty coffee cup. He drains it and shoves his hands in his pockets to fish out the locket he had found in Iai's back pocket. He thumbs it open and stares at the pictures of Kaine and Jynx. He remembers when the pictures were taken. It was a few days before the baptism ceremony. The twins were nine months old. Kaine had already suffered two more heart attacks, and the doctors were talking about a synthetic heart. Even at nine months old, Kaine always had a serious expression on his face. In the picture inside the locket, he not only looks serious but a bit pissed off as well. He hadn't liked the camera at all. Jynx, on the other hand, had been all too happy to mug for the camera. "I took myself outta the picture," he says without looking up from the locket. "I was just as scared as you were when I found out they'd been killed. I didn't know what to do. I just knew I couldn't help. Figured if there was ever a right time to come back, I could tell you everything."

"No, I mean, how'd you do it? Brain washing magic? I know it's magic. It has to be magic."

"Time bending magic."

"You can use that to erase people's memories?"

"It's tricky. Especially with you."

"Can you reverse it?"

"No."

"Can I?"

"If you wanna commit suicide, you could try."

"It's in that locket, right?"

"Boy, that whiskey's gone to yer head already."

"It is the locket. I thought it looked funny. And it's not the whiskey. It's the caffeine. Can I have some more?"

"No, I think yer done."

"Just the whiskey. Just a little."

"All right. Just a little."

After another shot of black whiskey, Kaine falls asleep curled up in the chair. McBride leaves the room quietly, locking the door behind him. By then, President Honda's body has been taken to the morgue and the blood has been scrubbed off the cobblestones. People are starting to whisper, and McBride goes to the post office.

IV.

The post office in France isn't like the post offices in the smaller towns on Phoenix. It looks like some ancient temple where people would go to listen to women on hallucinogens spout garbled nonsense that the people would then say was prophecy straight from the old gods. Several white stone steps lead up to a wide porch. Fat columns with intricate scrollwork at their tops support a roof along which a frieze has been carved. The images are mostly from stories in the Book of the Stars, a newer section of the traditional Bible detailing the adventures of Talon Konstantine, his daughter Regan and Daigoro, the last group of star angels who crossed the Void into the new universe. McBride used to think the stories were crap. He used to think the star angels were just myths, like those old gods on the mountain. But then he saw two of them born. Maybe the stories are crap, but what those boys can do is no myth.

Two sets of double doors covered in gold leaf lead into a lobby with polished marble floors and oil paintings that echo the images on the frieze. It's part museum, part church. The post office functions are an afterthought. There's a bulletin board littered with wanted posters and small scraps of paper where posters were pulled down without the pushpins being removed. Most of the posters are out of date. Some are over a year old. Not many bounty hunters come to France, and when they do, they usually aren't working.

The marble of the counter matches the floors, and shiny brass railings guide the expected lines to the windows. There are no lines today, and a bored looking clerk is staring off into space with his chin propped up on the heels of his hands.

McBride stands in front of the bulletin board and looks over the posters. None for today have been put up. He walks up to the counter, bypassing the brass guidelines. "Hey, kid," he says to the clerk.

The clerk snaps out of his daydream and stares stupidly at the scars on McBride's face.

"Where's the posters for today?" McBride asks.

"Posters? Today? Oh, I um ..."

"I'll wait."

The clerk runs off through a door on his left. McBride listens to the sound of a printer spitting out the wanted posters. He feels someone standing behind him. He hadn't heard anyone walk in, and it's damn hard to walk quietly on a floor like that.

"I don't think you'll find anything that way, Mr. McBride," Elijah Exelby says.

McBride doesn't turn around. He looks down. In the face of the marble counter, he can see the vague reflection of a young boy wearing a big sombrero. "Who the hell are you?" he asks.

"It doesn't matter. I'm not here for you. I'm looking for angels. I found one of them. I figured if I killed President Honda, they'd come looking for me. Except I didn't know he'd been injured. I popped in on them back at the Blue Moody. They were both asleep. The blonde one's pretty. I'll kill him first, and then I'll make Shaman suffer."

The reflection vanishes. McBride looks over his shoulder. There's no one there. He hears no footfalls, no breathing; just the printer from the back room.

The clerk runs back to the counter, clutching several pages in his hand. McBride snatches the wanted posters and goes through them as he walks out. Most of them aren't interesting, and he drops these on the floor as he walks. Then he stops. The picture he's looking at isn't a mug shot or from a surveillance camera. It's from a security badge. It's Iai. The charges are conspiracy to commit murder, kidnapping and fraud. The bounty is fifty thousand stars. That's high for those charges. The next poster also has a picture from a security badge. It shows a good-looking man with dark hair and dark eyes. His name is Roland Lockhart. The charges and the bounty for him are the same as for Iai. The poster after Roland's is for a woman named Suada Zacharias. The charges are again the same, but murder has been added to the list. The bounty on her is seventy-five thousand stars. McBride folds the three pieces of paper and shoves them in his pocket. The rest he lets fall to the marble as he runs back to the Blue Moody Inn.

V.

Kaine wakes up suddenly. The energy in the room is crackling, but there's no one in the room except him and Iai. Then he feels it again; a familiar pop and snap. "Fuck," he says. He extracts himself from the chair, which proves harder than normal, and grabs Getsuei from the dresser.

Iai sits up. "What was that?" he asks.

"Pale Traveler," Kaine says. "Should you be moving?"

"Probably not."

"Then don't."

"So you leave, it pops back in here and kills me? I don't think so." Iai removes the splints and the bandages. All the cuts have healed, but his bones aren't quite there yet. He stands up and picks up his sword.

"Um ..."

"What?"

"Clothes?"

Iai looks down at himself. He hadn't noticed he was naked. "Does it matter?"

"Um ..."

"I have no genitals to hide. What difference does that make?"

"That's worse, actually."

Iai yanks the sheet off the bed. His bones shriek in pain, and the room fades into grey.

"You need to stay here."

Iai shakes his head.

"Please stay here. It'll be worse if you try to walk around and can't fight. If you stay here --"

"I have to protect you."

"You're broken. Stay."

Iai sits down on the bed and hangs his head.

"Good boy."

Kaine opens the door and steps out into the hallway. He's disoriented at first. After all, he was unconscious on the way in, and he's never seen the hallway before. There's a set of stairs on his right, leading down to the lobby. He can see the front desk and a clerk staring up at him in awe. Over the ornate wooden railing, he can see down into the lobby. There are tables and chairs, two couches and an open doorway on the left that leads into the dining room. The front doors are propped open to let in the breeze. The lobby is empty. Then he feels the pop. Elijah looks up at him.

"Shaman!" Elijah says. "I was wondering when you'd come out to play."

Kaine senses the shotgun before he sees it. Elijah doesn't aim it at him, though. "Get out of here!" Kaine shouts at the clerk as Elijah pumps his shotgun.

The clerk doesn't react fast enough. He's still surprised to see Kaine up and moving. What surprises him even more is the bright white shape of the angel that surrounds Kaine and the broken wings that droop from the angel's back.

Kaine shoots down a conveniently placed chandelier. It falls on the barrel of the shotgun just as Elijah fires, driving the shot into the floor. The clerk scrambles into the office and locks the door.

Elijah looks up at Kaine. "That wasn't fair," he says.

"It's no fair shooting at bystanders either, asshole," Kaine says.

"Then we'll just have to have a little showdown." Elijah pumps his shotgun and swings the barrel towards Kaine. He grins. "Is that fair, Shaman?"

"Bring it, punk."

Elijah fires before he realizes that Kaine isn't there any more. The door Kaine was standing in front of is in splinters. For a few seconds, Elijah doesn't see where Kaine is. Then Kaine reappears halfway down the stairs. "What the hell?" Elijah asks.

Kaine switches his gun to his right hand and uses his left hand to vault over the railing. Elijah pumps and fires again. Kaine spins and falls to his knees as the scattershot catches the left side of his body. He laughs.

"What?" Elijah shrieks.

Kaine stands up and throws the scattershot back at Elijah wrapped in flames. Elijah pops out into the street. The fire fizzles out, and the shrapnel drops to the floor. The manager, taking a chance and peeking out of his office, is glad to see that no more damage is done to his lobby. Kaine heads for the doors just as McBride comes in.

"What the hell are you doin' up?" McBride asks.

"Exelby. He's a star demon. He --"

Scattershot slams into the door. McBride pushes Kaine back into the lobby. "What's he do?" he asks.

"Well, he's got a fucking shotgun."

"His power?"

"He teleports. I can follow him."

McBride nods and steps back out into the street.

"Get out of the way, McBride," Elijah says. "You're not the one I want."

McBride pumps his own shotgun and brings the butt up to his shoulder. "Well, I'm the one ya got, kid," he says.

"Bring Shaman out here now!" He fires his shotgun into the window of a wine shop. People begin to scream. "Now!"

A window breaks on the second floor of a bookstore and showers Elijah with broken glass. He looks up in time to see Kaine leaping down on him, but something seems different about Kaine that time. Elijah can't quite tell what it is, but he knows it's bad news for him. He teleports. Kaine's hand slaps down on the back of his neck. Elijah turns to fire the shotgun, but Kaine is gone. Elijah turns around again. Kaine's knee slams into his stomach. Elijah drops the shotgun and falls to the cobblestones. He lies on his side with his arms wrapped around his gut.

"You want more?" Kaine asks.

Elijah coughs and groans. He reaches for the shotgun. It flings itself down the street and splits in half. "How the hell are you doing that?" he asks.

"Why should I tell you?"

"That's ... that's Yuusei's power."

"How observant of you."

"And ... and the fuh-fire. Tha - that's ... that's Fire Scar."

"Wow, this little fucker's smart."

"And you teleported! You can't do that! That's mine! You're stealing my power!"

"Oops, you got me."

Elijah scrambles to his feet and swings his fists at Kaine. Kaine teleports down the street back towards the Blue Moody. McBride is still standing in front of the inn with his shotgun at the ready. Elijah has forgotten about McBride. Kaine teleports to within five feet of McBride, and Elijah falls right into the trap. He moves in front of Kaine with his back to McBride.

"Fire!" Kaine shouts.

McBride's shotgun punches a hole through the small of Elijah's back. Kaine staggers backwards as Elijah falls into his arms. Elijah lifts his head. "I'll be back for you, Shaman," he snarls.

"I'll be waiting," Kaine says. He drops Elijah's body. He waits for the corpse to vanish, but it doesn't. It just spills more blood onto the cobblestones.

"That looked like somethin' Jake woulda done," McBride says.

Kaine says nothing. The sheriff arrives. People timidly step out of the buildings to see what happened. He thinks the sheriff is asking him questions, but he can't answer. Elijah's body is wrapped in thick grey linen and carried to the morgue. The body will be gone in the morning. Kaine wonders if he could follow Elijah then. When he figures out that he could and where he would end up, he decides not to try.

When the crowd disperses, Kaine lets McBride take him back up to their room and pour him a few shots of black whiskey.

Article © Mel Trent. All rights reserved.
Published on 2008-04-21
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