Heller with a Gun
When the five minutes are up, she carefully checks her surroundings again, then prowls through the shadows and up to the intercom at the ground floor of his building. She dislikes the exposed nature of the intercom and pushes the button quickly, her eyes constantly moving across the street, at all the parked cars and the one passing car, up to the building tops, watching for any potential threat. Waiting outside the old shelter where all those people disappeared, even though the threat has been dealt with, makes her more edgy than usual.
Within moments, she hears Matthew’s metallic voice coming through the box. “Yes?”
“Matthew? It’s Elena. Mind if I come in?”
She hears the question in his voice as he says, “Um, sure,” but the door buzzes and clicks open, anyway. With a swift, quiet movement, Elena is off the street and inside the building. She quietly closes the door behind her, hearing its lock click as the door slides back into place.
The lobby is badly lit, with three doors on her left, a single door marked “A” on her right, and the stairs straight ahead. Not a few months ago, this floor was packed with the angry spirits of the dead. Luckily for her, she had been on their side and had helped them get some resolution. She pads quietly to the stairs and goes up one flight. Two doors facing each other, with a window at each end of the hall. She stays close to the wall as she goes to Matthew’s door. She knocks, watching the peep-hole. Sure enough, she sees his shadow pass it and almost winces.
The door opens and Matthew stands there, smiling, his light brown hair damp from his recent shower. He’s barefoot, wearing dark sweats and a white t-shirt with a logo from a seminary, she assumes where he studied.
“Hey Elena. What brings you to my neck of the woods?”
She stands at the door, studying him patiently. “Can I come in?”
His eyebrow raises as his green eyes stare calmly at her. “I don’t know – can you?”
At least he’s not that naive. Just naive about normal world stuff. Didn’t he ever watch any assassin movies? She sighs and shrugs. “If I wanted to hurt you, I could have shot you through the door, or from across the street, or just now.”
“Yes, you could have.” She hears the inflection of his voice, and knows he’s not going to budge on this one. She really can’t blame him. He just stands there, waiting.
“Ugh! Fine!” Elena takes one step over his threshold and immediately feels her patrons’ departure. The sharp stab in her lower back slowly subsides to a dull ache. “Happy now?”
Matthew’s face lights up with a grin and he gestures at a chair. “As long as you don’t shoot me? Absolutely. What’s up?”
Before sitting, Elena glances around the room, her dark brown gaze immediately noting each exit, and any potential article available as a weapon, melee or thrown. Involuntarily, her hand goes to her lower back as she moves toward the chair, her walk not her normal fluid, predatory stride. Once her hand is there, however, she feels the grip of the pistol in the small of her back, and in spite of the ache she is reassured. She knows she was not helpless before her patrons found her. They just gave her a second chance.
Her piercing glance turns back to Matthew and she smiles at him. For once, her smile is easy and natural, not the normal feral grin that Matthew is used to seeing. It transforms her normally stern demeanor into that of an attractive woman. This is one person she knows she never need fear will betray her, unlike her ex-DEA partner. Something about Matthew’s faith in the Almighty, and the way His power works through this man is extremely comforting.
Old habits die hard, though, and Elena masks her instinctual grab for the pain in her lower back as an excuse to check her pistol. She sits gingerly on the chair offered, ready to leap off at a moment’s notice.
“Sorry to intrude. I try not to just drop in on friends. Especially without warning.” Her mouth twists wryly, and she shrugs. “You know I’m no good with social niceties, so maybe I should just get straight to the point.” Her gaze travels to a small table at the end of the worn couch, where an old beat up copy of the Holy Bible rests, obviously well read.
She looks back at Matthew. “I had a run in with a demon and had to use up the last of that ammo you blessed for me. I was wondering if it would trouble you in any way to do the same for me again?”
Matthew’s green eyes are watching her attentively as he listens to her request. “A demon? Your patrols have kept you busy.”
“I take it the bullets were effective? What kind of demon was it?” She can see his interest as he picks up a fountain pen and a piece of paper from among the loose papers on his desk. She also notes that there’s a leather-bound journal there, as well.
“I hope you don’t mind if I get some details from you about your encounter – I’m trying to get some notes together.” He gestures at the room with a decisive motion. “This kind of information helps me pay the rent now – my benefactors are always looking for information on supernatural threats – and how to defeat them. I’d like to hear the whole thing, but I’ll limit my notes to the particulars of the creature in question.” He sits down at the desk and looks over at Elena expectantly, pen poised over the paper.
“Let’s see.” Elena thinks back to the op in question, focusing on that “rock demon,” for lack of a better term, collecting her thoughts for the debriefing. “We had just exited the elevator when we were attacked by two ghouls. The team I was with was very efficient, and the ghouls were dispatched. During that fight, however, I could hear the rhythmic thump of what I assumed were very heavy footsteps, so I knew that combat wasn’t over after the two ghouls fell.”
“When the creature entered the room,” she continues, “it was one I had never seen before. It was about seven feet tall, and its weight indeterminable due to its anatomy being completely different than a human’s.” She pauses briefly, then goes on, “Okay, it was anthropomorphic in that it had a head and face, torso, two arms and two legs, but it was clearly more dense. The floor vibrated with its weight every step it took and the surface of its entire body was distinctly rock-like. It reminded me of that character The Thing from a comic book movie I had seen, although rather than orange, it was slate gray.”
She shakes her head as if to clear it. “The item that really stood out, though, and caused me to switch magazines, was the distinct smell of something strongly resembling volcanic ash.”
She listens to his pen scratching across the paper, and looks out the window. With the angle from the couch, someone would have to be right at the window to see her sitting there. As this is a second floor apartment, that is decent tactical positioning.
A predatory smile flashes across her face. “Now, we were in Reunion Tower, and yeah, the creature looked to be made of rock, but I didn’t see a logical reason for the volcano smell. I promptly switched to the magazine with the ammo you had blessed and put two judicially placed rounds in its head area, and then the creature collapsed into itself and fell in a pile of dust and rubble.”
She shrugs and glances back over at Matthew. “Any questions?”
“Two bullets… not to discount your shots or my blessings, but that’s pretty light damage for demons. Must have been a quick summoning…” Matthew looks up from his notes and at Elena. “There was a warlock involved?”
Elena shrugs, her lips twisting slightly with distaste. “Sure, the one I told the Freakshow about, to pass on to the White Council. Dude was a warlock with an affinity to air and clearly some mind control crap. He flew away, so he’s still out there doin’ evil.” Her eyebrow raises and she adds, “Oh, and don’t confuse the quickness of the demon’s death with a lack of danger to me or my allies. That thing could have crushed me with one blow, easy, and I’m no featherweight.”
Matthew looks up at her again, maybe catching something in her tone. “Oh, no – I don’t discount the threat it presented, but there’s a difference between a demon’s physical strength and the strength of its connection to our world.”
He writes quickly for a second, then sets the pen down and faces her. “Um… it was the rock. Instead of giving it an ectoplasmic body, he let it inhabit material from our world. That required less power for him to bring over the inhabiting demon from the Nevernever, but gave it tons of damage dealing capacity. But once you breached it…” Matthew mimes firing a gun. “Your bullet took care of the body, the blessing disconnected the demon. Great call on your part to change ammo. But you remember what it took to dislodge Malzen? That’s why I said it was light damage.”
Elena listens intently, and nods. “Yeah, I figure there have to be as many different demon types as there are different people, so I’m not surprised. However, I am convinced that if I had not had your blessed bullets, it would have been way more difficult to pierce through its rock skin. Dunno if my armor piercing rounds would have even done the trick.”
She thinks a moment and ads, “I knew it was nothing like Malzen – Malzen was a possession or something, and this creature had no human element to it other than its general structure.”
She watches as he blows on the paper he had been writing on. “The concept is the same – just the host was different – human as opposed to rock,” he says as he carefully sets the paper back on his desk.
“Thanks for that,” he adds.
He leans back in his chair and his gaze wanders past Elena for a brief moment before settling back on her. “Of course, I have no problem with blessing some additional bullets for you – I know that you’ve been judicious in how you use them.” He pauses. “I hope you’ll indulge me a bit first, though. I’ve been curious about your current patron – the source of the desert aura around you and your amazing speed. Could you tell me about… him? Her? Them?”
Elena shifts uncomfortably. Giving away too much is never good. Secrets never spoken are secrets that can never be used against you, and although she trusts Matthew (and Conor and Jaime) more than just about anyone, if he were ever forced to reveal her secrets…. How to tell him something without really telling him anything? She chooses her words carefully.
“So, you know I was DEA?” She watches Matthew attentively. “Yeah, well, a few years back, when I was part of the DEA, I was on a bust with my then-partner in the Big Bend area down south. We had just recovered the goods and I was checking them over when my partner shot me in the back. He left me for dead, taking a cool two million in cash and another half a million in merchandise with him.”
“While I was lying there, bleeding out, staring up at the clearest South Texas evening, looking at the brightest stars I had ever seen, two creatures just kind of appeared in the sky directly above me.” Her gaze drifts past what she knows is the bedroom. One window in there, she recalls based on her observation of the building. Only the single story drop, if she needs to use it for whatever reason.
“I thought I was hallucinating. I was starting to get cold from the blood loss, and the pain from being shot was already subsiding, along with pretty much every other sensation.” She looks back at Matthew and gives an ironic laugh. “When these translucent, floating beings, clearly not angels, started talking to me, I knew I was hallucinating.”
She shrugs again. “Of course, when they offered me the deal, I thought maybe they were devils sent to tempt me in my last minutes on earth. I almost didn’t take it. But when I thought of him not only getting away with murder, but also making a profit off the suffering of others, I took the deal.”
She shifts her weight on the couch a bit, leaning forward. The weight of the pistol in her Flashbang holster is reassuring. The ache in her lower back was almost gone. “The price seemed negligible, and there was no talk of souls, right? Accept their patronage and become an avatar for basically what amounted to defense of the Village, and they would fix me and help me achieve my goals as long as the goals were in line with theirs. Defend the Village? Yeah, I can get behind that.”
Her eyes lose focus and she is silent for a second while she thinks. “It was the weirdest thing. I could barely push enough breath out my lips to whisper ‘Yeah, it’s a deal,’ and suddenly I felt like I was twenty again. Fit, supremely alert, and pumped with adrenaline. When I moved, it was like I was some kind of Olympic athlete, fast and light on my feet.” She returns her gaze to Matthew. “I ran back down the mesa, faster than I had ever run before. Even weirder, my feet made almost no noise. When I got down, I could hear my ex-partner talking to two guys.”
Her head tilts to one side as she remembers, and her lips twist bitterly. “I turned on my recording device, cuz I knew I’d be dealing with the guys from PR* after this. My partner was laughing and talking about the failed bust.” She looks toward the kitchen, knowing there is a window there, and remembers the fire escape. Maybe twenty feet from her current position?
“When I came out of the shadows, they were shocked. We exchanged a few words, and then we exchanged fire. In the end, it was just me.”
“After the fire fight, they visited me again.” She pauses a moment, looking down at her hands. “Basically, they’re spirits of an ancient indigenous people, and found me a likely ally. Her goal is to literally take up arms to defend the people, and his is to back up the hunter and protect his turf. I think they were pissed that the cartel was using their mesa, initially. Maybe that’s what woke them up even.”
She shrugs, finally satisfied with her knowledge of the layout of his apartment. She doesn’t really relax, though. Never know when someone is going to turn up trying to kill you. “We don’t communicate often. They pretty much leave me to my own devices, and only occasionally point out a path to me, like with the biker thing, or all those missing people.”
She studies Matthew in silence a moment then grins. “So, I shared. What’s your story? You don’t exactly look like the average preacher.” She looks at his many tattoos and his visible piercings pointedly.
He’s been watching her as she recounted her story, and he nods at her conclusion. “You were fortunate to find such like-minded patrons.” He settles back in his chair. “As for me? I’m an orphan…..”
Elena listens to Matthew’s story with great interest. She often wonders how those on her team got sucked out of the ‘normal’ world and into this crazy new reality.
He stops and sips from his water, glancing at Elena. "Until I ran into you, Conor, and Jamie, I really felt somewhat isolated, you know?" He grins. “A bright, shining beacon… all alone in the night,” his voice deep, like a narrator from a movie. There is a pause, then he adds, “It’s been good to know that I have allies and friends to count on in the battle against What Goes Bump.”
She is mostly relaxed on the couch. Her feet are still apart and on the floor, but she has finally rested her back against the cushions. She’s still listening to the ambient noise, familiarizing herself with the ‘normal’ sounds of his building. She takes a long drink of water and nods. “I know what you mean. I’ve been working alone for so long, I’d forgotten what it’s like to be part of a team.”
She smiles and sets the water down reluctantly, realizing she’s starting to relax too much. “Thanks for the drink, and especially the conversation. I’d better get back out there, though,” she adds, “and on patrol. Evil never rests.”
Matthew tips up his water bottle and finishes it, then sets it down on the table. “That’s true, I suppose. But it’s ok for us – for you – to rest. Even God rested on the seventh day. You can spare one now and again.” He holds his hand out and smiles, saying, “I’ll need until tomorrow… the blessing seems to be most effective at sunrise.”
Elena reaches into one of the cargo pockets on her black BDUs and hands him a small, but quite heavy box.
He takes it, pauses, and shakes his head slightly. Elena wonders briefly what the headshake was about, but decides not to ask. “My door is always open, Elena. If you need anything – reloads, a drink, conversation… or just a rest.” He smiles again, “Don’t be a stranger, eh? I’ll even let you through the threshold next time.”
Elena smiles back. “Well, don’t let me through, just maybe re-invite me? It was a good call.” She looks over at the window, then back at Matthew with a wry grin. “Buy some heavy curtains, will you? And close them at night, at least?” She looks down at his hands holding her box of ammo and nods. .45 ACP. Her favorite. “I’ll remember your offer. Thanks.”
She walks towards the door, not with her usual fluidity, but still graceful. At the door, she turns. “See you tomorrow evening, then, if that’s cool?”
“Yeah, I’ve been meaning to get something for the windows… I’ll save up for it.” She sees him nod as he follows her to the door. There, he opens it for her. “Absolutely cool. I’ll be here.”
She takes a step past the threshold and into the hall. She immediately feels the companionship of her patrons again, as once again she feels totally whole and healthy. She hears Matthew add behind her, “I won’t bother telling you to stay safe, but watch your back out there.”
She turns and grins, then waves. She silently pads down the stairs to the lobby of his downtown Dallas building, and out into the Dallas night.
NOTE: I collaborated with Matthew’s player on this one. His version of this story is found here. :) ~Jaelie