After a long delay, Chapter Seven of Hunters! My apologies for the wait.Garrison spotted a man named Jesper following him on his flight to Seattle at the behest of two Cursed he knows nothing about. Now in Seattle, he s going to confront Jesper on who the Filitovs are and why they are following him. Feedback for this and previous chapters is appreciated.
Also,the anthology Saints and Sinners is now available, featuring the short story prequel to Hunters, Harsh Mistress! A pirate captain sails his ship into Hell to rescue the woman he loves.
Previous chapters can be found on the Hunters page.
Compare the latest version with the first draft here!
“You drew aggro from a couple of heavyweights, bro,” Eugene said over my earbuds. “And this Jesper dude is no slouch in the pain-in-the-butt department, either.”
“Tell me,” I said. Streetlights glittered off the water that rippled down the steep hills of the city. Cool, brackish mist hung suspended in the night. The drenched air flattened the echoes of horns and sirens that rebounded from the buildings that surrounded me.
“Let’s start with Mr. Hoodjink. Born in Finland in 1990. His family moved to St. Petersburg when he was six. He was an amateur MMA fighter until he joined the Russian mafia. I watched a couple vids of his fights. Guy seems to get off on getting hurt.”
“Forward me the links.”
“On the way. He’s been with the mob full time for the past few years, so I can’t say what other training he has.”
“He’s at the Queens Inn, room 220?”
“Room 212. You okay?” Eugene paused as soda gurgled through a straw. “Your voice sounds, I dunno, slurry.”
I felt the punctures at the crook of my arm twinge at his statement. “I’m fine.” I pulled up the pixelated videos of Jesper’s fights on my phone. He seemed to invite his opponents to batter him until he twisted them to the ground with his long limbs.
“That’s room 212 if he’s still there, I mean. If I were him, I’d assume you know where he’s staying. Your plane landed like twelve hours ago. What if he moved or he’s waiting-”
“Then I’ll deal with it,” I snapped.
Eugene inhaled sharply. “Um. Okay, then.”
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. “Sorry. What about the Filitovs?”
“You were right to assume they’re Cursed. Ursula and Vasily Filitov are legends. Most people think they’re code names or titles or something. A pair of Filitov siblings has been in charge of St. Petersburg for a century. We’re talking both the spy and mob circles. They’ve been involved since the Cheka days, back during the Bolshevik Revolution and Lenin. It would make the Filitovs one of the first connections between government espionage and Russian organized crime. Fascinating stuff.”
“Don’t get sidetracked. Did you go any further back? We know it’s been the same brother and sister the whole time.”
“Hold on, they’re not brother and sister. They’re like eight decades apart. Like, she’s his great aunt or something.”
“But they look like twins.”
“That’s the funny thing about genetics. Dominant genes get passed down through generations. Even with long breaks between offspring, grandchildren can share up to fifty percent of-”
“Right. I’ve got more info on the guy. Vasily was born in 1871. He was in the thick of the crime wave that followed St. Petersburg’s capitalist boom. But there’s a decade between his last record there and when I found him again. Get this, he was a captain in the Imperial Russian Army during the Russo-Japanese war.”
“How did he get to be a captain with no records?”
“Probably destroyed. He only shows up because he deserted. He disappears again until he shows up with Ursula after the Revolution. He was her liaison to the city’s crime bosses.”
I did a quick mental calculation. “He looked like he was in his thirties. He must have been Cursed abound when he deserted. What about Ursula?”
“She did a better job staying out of the spotlight. I found a possible birth record from 1788, and a few investments through the 1800s. She doesn’t really stick her head up until the Revolution. Her connections to the State since then are well documented.”
“She’s over two hundred years old.” I shuddered and unscrewed the top of my flask. “So why do they care about me?”
“No idea. Their interests seldom leave Russia. Hopefully Jesper knows something.”
“I can only hope.” I took a pull from the flask and slipped it back in my pocket. “212?”
“212. Watch yourself.”
“Call you back.” I slipped my earbuds out as I reached the parking lot of the Queens Inn.
Whether by luck or design, Jesper’s hotel was only a few blocks from mine. The Queens Inn was a three-story dive wrapped in a U around a mostly deserted parking lot. The lot’s mouth was the only way in or out. The room windows, most dark, looked down on the lot from a railed walkway that ran the length of the hotel. No great exit options. The exterior lights threw rainbow halos into the mist.
I slid the LeMat from my arm holster. The whole hotel would hear if I fired it, but it was menacing enough to intimidate and heavy enough to break bones. I kept out of the pools of illumination from the parking lot’s lights and made my way to the nearest stairwell.
A scarred and dented legacy of violence marked the door of room 212. The drawn curtains hung motionless over a cracked window framed at the corners by spiderwebs and gray stains. A Do Not Disturb sign on the doorknob rocked quietly in the breeze. I gripped the LeMat with both hands as I pressed my ear to the metal. Passing cars, the whisper of wind thickened with rain, but no sound from within. I took a step back and smashed my boot into the door.
The doorframe exploded, the lock and deadbolt tearing through wood, to reveal a room swallowed in darkness. Pale shadows of furnishings rose along the corridor of light that spilled from outside. I kept my gun raised and reached around the inside of the door to flick on the light.
“Jesper, it’s time for us to-” I said, then stopped. Blood pooled on the crumpled sheets of the bed. It took a moment to make out Jesper’s pale body sprawled atop the stained piles of bedding.
I swept my gaze over the room, the LeMat following the path of my eyes. The room was still and empty of anyone else. I looked back to the body.
Towels bound Jesper’s hands to the headboard, but there was no evidence he had struggled against them. His face appeared peaceful despite the skin flayed from his glistening chest. Blood splattered his teeth and lips under gray-blue eyes that stared at the ceiling. The cool air kept the scent of the carnage at bay, but Jesper had died too recently for the smell to thicken. Not even flies had begun to congregate.
“Damn it,” I muttered. I wasn’t sure if he was connected to Praest or not, but I had no other leads to find out why I was being followed.
I took a cautious step into the room and felt the explosion of thoughts just as a shape darted from the bathroom. Something made a popping sound in his hand. Two barbs snagged my pants, then the first click of a Taser discharge. Lightning crawled through my veins and dragged agony with it. Every muscle in my body clenched. Vision sparkled, flared. Body rebelling. Gun dropping. Floor. The Taser’s metronome beep counted the seconds of mind-numbing agony. On the second beep, my only thought through the pain was that I had three more to go.
A boot kicked my gun into the shadows under the bed. Whoever had tased me stepped over my body – I tried to see what kind of shoes, but my muscles refused to obey any commands – and the deadbolt and lock crunched shut in the shattered frame behind me. Springs squeaked on the bed as he sat down on its corner.
Sloppy. If I’d concentrated I would have picked up his thoughts before I entered the room. I clamped my teeth together and through force of will drug my head around. The short, bristling carpet scraped against my cheek.
The man staring down at me wore combat boots, camouflage shorts, a stained T-Shirt and torn blue Seahawks windbreaker. A matching sweatband circled his bald head. His braided white goatee, the only indication of age, glared against his black skin. The Taser rested on his lap while he dug at his nails with the tip of a foot-long army knife. Islamic symbols were tattooed across the knuckles of each hand.
“Who are you?” I grunted, my words muffled against the carpet. My muscles twitched every time I shifted my body.
The man said nothing and swept his dark eyes over me as if inspecting a slab of meat. Despite his silence, his name sprung to the surface of his thoughts.
“Why did you torture Jesper, Antoine?” I asked.
Antoine grinned. He nodded to Jesper’s corpse. “He said you read minds. Maybe he weren’t full of shit. The demon tale he spun true, too?”
The details of the contract, hazy and inexact, bobbed to the surface of his thoughts. No names of his employers, just the targets and the price. But it was a mafia job, and that meant Vasily had ordered it.
“Vasily didn’t ask you to torture Jesper.” My fall had pushed one of the barbs deep into my calf, and it throbbed. “You did it anyway.”
“Yeah, that was me time.” Antoine snorted. “This – Vasily, is it? – don’t care what I did. Jesper there cared lots, but in the wrong way. That was sick, man. I stopped after a bit and he just jawed till he bled out.”
“What did Ursula want, then?”
He stuck his newly-manicured thumb back over his shoulder at Jesper’s body. “Beyond whitey there dead and you caught? Fuck if I know.”
I sighed. “Vasily had you kill Jesper so I couldn’t learn more from him. And you don’t know anything.”
“Oh, I know plenty. Like I know Vasily don’t care what condition you’re in, neither, long as you’re still breathing when he gets here. Which might be awhile. Hope the staff don’t notice the number you did on the door and interrupt us.”
An emotional fist clenched my stomach. “You mean, you assume he won’t care.”
“Fine, I assume.”
“Are you willing to take that risk?”
“I assume,” he overemphasized the word, “he’ll do the same thing I’m gonna do when he gets hold of you anyway. I’ll just be saving him the trouble. I got my own mind reading powers, and they work damn good.” He tucked his middle finger under his thumb and flicked it against the blade of the knife. The metal sent a cold ring through the air.
The moment his finger struck the blade, I grabbed at the taser wires and rolled. My awkward fingers tangled in the wires, but my momentum was enough to drag the taser from Antoine’s lap. The electrodes popped free as the weapon clattered to the floor. I rolled twice more in an arc, stopping with my feet facing him.
Antoine leapt from the bed. An incoherent snarl erupted from his lips. He leveled the knife and dove at me.
My feet caught him in the chest, flattening his lungs. Spittle flew from his mouth as the breath rushed out of him. He spiraled through the air into the side of the room’s dresser, the impact cracking the cheap wood. His knife flew from his hands and sunk into the floor beside my head.
I tried to stand and toppled in the tangle of wire that wrapped me. I looked up just as Antoine dragged himself to his feet.
“Vasily gonna get you back alive,” he said between gulping breaths, “but not in one piece.”
He made it two steps before I stomped my boot heel down on his instep. He yelped and stumbled to one knee. I hauled myself up by the edge of the bed, the wires still snarled around my legs.
Antoine grabbed the knife hilt and started to pry it from the floor. I drove the heel of my hand into his forearm. His arm went limp and he let go of the knife. In the same move my fist shattered his nose. Tears flooded his eyes. Blood fanned down his face and through his beard like the branches of an inverted tree in winter. He fell backward, one arm flopping motionless against his chest.
“Broke my arm,” he groaned. He cupped his good hand under his nose, and in moments blood dribbled through his fingers from the puddle forming in his palm.
“Sprained,” I corrected. “The nose is broken. Stay down.” I struggled free of the coiled mess of wire and tore the barbed electrodes off my pants. The knife remained upright in the floor. I studied it before tugging it free.
“Nice knife. You ex-military, Antoine? Let me guess, Desert Storm. A sergeant, really? Too bad about the dishonorable discharge. Life would have been very different if you’d finished your twenty.”
“If I finished my twenty no drunk punk woulda put me down.” His voice was wet and slurred. “I smelled ya before I heard ya. What all you on? Shit, I can see the back of your head through your pupils.”
“You can thank that for why I didn’t notice you before you tased me. Let’s call it even.” I pulled out my phone. “How did you get the job to kill me?”
He tucked his sprained hand into the flap of his Seahawks jacket and winced. “Fuck you, man.” A wave of bloody snot bubbled from his nose and he moved his hand back over it.
“You shouldn’t take last-minute jobs from the Russians. Do you know Tricia Praest?”
I shook my head. “Of course you don’t. That would make things too easy.” I punched in Eugene’s number. “Hey, Eugene, change of plans.”
Eugene’s voice came muffled through a mouthful of something. “Did Jesper skip?”
“No, he’s here. He’s just dead.”
“Oh. Oh. What? You killed him?”
“Of course not. An ex-Army sergeant named Antoine Golden tortured him to death. Black, fifties maybe – oh, fifty-two.” Antoine’s eyes widened in surprise, and I winked back. “I need you to find out everything you can about him.”
“Hold on a second. How did this guy find our guy and-”
There was a thump as the phone bounced on the carpet. I heard scuffling, a few more thumps, and sounds of movement. No more sound from Eugene.
The background noise disappeared as someone picked up the phone, but still no one spoke.
“Is everything okay?” I said.
“If Antoine is still alive it is.”
I froze. The voice was not Eugene’s. Deeper, less emotion. Thick Russian accent.
“Vasily Filitov.” My heart pummeled my ribs. Millions of questions flooded my mind, but one screamed the loudest. “What happened to Eugene?”
Antoine started to laugh, a ragged, slurping sound. “You’ve gotta be shitting me.”
“Antoine is alive, then,” Vasily said. “Let him go.”
“Not until I know Eugene is-”
“I guarantee Eugene will be dead if you don’t do as I say.”
I tried to will Eugene to make a sound, give any indication he was still alive, but nothing. Antoine kept laughing and had pulled himself to a sitting position. Blood stained his white beard a brilliant crimson.
I clenched and unclenched my fist. God damn it. There was no sense belaboring the only choice open to me. I nodded to the door.
“Get out of here,” I said to Antoine.
His laughter dribbled away as he swiped his sleeve across his nose. He staggered to his feet and held out his open hand, glossy with bloody snot.
I glared at him, but flipped the knife hilt outward and slapped it into his palm.
He pulled it from my grasp and spun it once in his hand. “Well, I should get, then.” He winked at me, then whipped the pommel of the knife at my temple.
His thoughts telegraphed his plan before he moved. I slid to the side and felt the breeze from the hilt as it passed. I caught his forearm in my palm, but stopped my reflex before I did any more damage.
“You don’t want two sprained arms.”
His scowl could have melted concrete. “See you around,” he said, and jostled the askew door open. In moments the night mist had swallowed him.
I watched the darkness for a second to confirm he was gone, then clutched the phone to the side of my face. “Now where is-”
I heard a thump as Vasily dropped the phone.
“Eugene?” A beat, and nothing. “Eugene!”
Something dragged across carpet, then picked up the phone. “Good lord, that guy is fast.” His voice sounded weak and unsteady, but it was Eugene.
I let out a long sigh. “Thank God you’re okay. Where’s Vasily?”
“Gone. He’s, like, ridiculous fast. He just appeared next to me while we were talking and bam, I’m on the floor. Didn’t hear a door or anthing.”
“How’d he find you?”
“Russian intelligence, bro. Gotta be. They found your flight, found out we talked. Heck, sounds like they killed Jesper, too. Don’t you ever watch spy movies?”
“No. You’re sure he’s gone? You’re safe?”
“Yeah, sure. So who’s Antoine… holy wow there’s a lot of blood all over the….” His voice faded.
Silence on the other end of the line.
The stubble prickled on my scalp. “What’s the matter? What happened?”
“Um. My left hand is gone.”
“What do you mean, gone?”
Eugene sounded suddenly and eerily calm. “Cut off. Like, at the wrist. I didn’t know he did that. When did he do that?”
I pressed my eyes closed. “Listen to me. Hang up and call 911.”
“I’m going all Jackson Pollock on the carpet. Hey, aren’t you supposed to put parts in milk or something? To save them for reattachment. I wonder if it would work with a hand.” His voice started to slur, like he was half asleep. “How hard would it be to type with a fake hand? When did he do this? His sword must be really sharp. Oh, he had this big-ass sword-”
“You’re going into shock. You have to hang up and dial 911, now. Text me when you’re at the hospital.” I bit my lip. “Don’t contact me after that until I tell you, okay?”
“But how will you find out stuff? You can’t find out stuff. I can find out stuff. I need to find my hand and get it in milk. That’s what you’re supposed to do.”
“Eugene. 911. Don’t contact me.”
“Fine, bro, but I need to find milk.”
“911! Don’t contact me! Repeat it!”
“911. Don’t contact you.”
“Do it.” I ground my teeth together. “I’m sorry. Goodbye, Eugene.”
I hung up before he could say anything else.
God damn it. I would have dialed 911 myself, but I didn’t know where he lived. We had met exclusively online and over the phone to give him a measure of safety. I did this with as many of my network of rescued thralls as I could.
Nearing sirens warbled over the hiss of mist outside. If I were Antoine, I would have stopped at the front desk to report Jesper’s body. No time to dawdle.
I dropped on all fours to retrieve the LeMat, scooped up the taser and wires and slipped out the door. Once I was out of the danger I could think about my next move, but that would have to wait. Right now I had a crime scene to leave and cops to escape.
(c) 2015 by William Reid Schmadeka. All rights reserved.
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