"Born of the Blade" - Part Eleven

McCarthy was staring at me now, the knife lowered slightly, eyes slitted, mouth drawn in a snarl.
She was staring at Mouse.
"You little bitch! How dare you come back!"
"Elaine--" I said.
"You ripped out my heart! So I'm gonna rip yours out!"
She bolted toward Mouse, teeth bared, the knife held reverse grip overhead.

Subvocal, and the world slid into slo-mo.
Side-stepped left, the Twins tracking, took a bead on McCarthy.
Then Mouse danced in front of me in a fighting crouch, facing McCarthy, her trenchcoat billowing around her legs.
I checked fire, lowered the Twins.
McCarthy closed the distance and swung the knife in a slashing downward arc.
Mouse whirled aside and McCarthy stumbled forward.
She spun and lunged, lashing out.   
Again, Mouse danced away, trenchcoat tails swirling,.
McCarthy charged and slashed again.
Mouse darted past her, and the chef's knife cut empty air.
Each time McCarthy lunged, Mouse vanished, flitting past in flaps and swirls of black leather.
After a few more lunges, McCarthy started to slow, her breathing heavy, her face twisted in rage.
Then she sucked in a breath, and lunged, the knife extended.
Mouse skipped aside and I heard the rasp of metal, caught the flash of steel.
Then Mouse spun and McCarthy screamed and crumpled to her knees, holding the bloody stump of her right hand tight against her belly, blood gushing onto her clothes.
Her hand lay on the ground to one side next to the fallen knife.
Mouse flicked blood off her wakizashi and resheathed it in her back scabbard.
She gave me a nod.
I dropped out of boost, holstered the Twins.
The Demon regarded Mouse, head cocked to one side. "You are born of the blade," he said, pointing at her with one of his claw-fingers.
"Damn right," said Mouse.
A memory struck.
"You can be one of ours," said the Demon.
"Hell no," said Mouse.
"Then you cannot stay."
Flash of movement.
A bloodcurdling scream.
Sub-vocal and the world slid back into slo-mo.
McCarthy had scooped up the knife with her left hand, sprang to her feet, and charged toward Mouse.
Ahead of her by a full second. Grabbed for Mouse's wakizashi, yanked it from the scabbard, body-checking her at the same time. Pivoted into a low crouch, the short sword in both hands, blade tip pointed in front, then drove forward.
A meaty thunk.
McCarthy's eyes went wide and she gasped as she impaled herself on the the wakizashi, the blade sliding cleanly into her upper abdomen and out her back. She dropped the knife and slumped onto me and I felt blood cascade onto my hands.
Twisted to one side and McCarthy slid off the wakizashi blade and crumpled to the concrete, blood pooling beneath her.
Stepped back, short sword still in hand, my hands crimson coated.
Figures strode out from the darkness, human and not-human alike, flesh and metal fused, all sporting pulsing optics and clawed appendages.
I took several steps back, heard Mouse come up beside me.
"A dozen here," I said, handing back her wakizashi and drawing the Twins.
"A dozen behind us," said Mouse, her second wakizashi rasping out from her scabbard.
"Shit and a half."
Then the first Steel Demon held up a clawed hand.
The figures in my line of sight stopped.
The Demon looked from us to McCarthy's body then back to us, his optic pulsing.
"Do you wish the prize?" he said.
I shuddered inwardly and felt bile rise up in my throat. Cleared it, said, "No."
He nodded. "Then we will take it as tribute."
He moved, faster than us, and had McCarthy's severed head in hand in an eyeblink. He held it overhead and displayed it to the others.
An eerie chorus rose from the gathered Demons, a metallic otherworldly howl that prickled my skin.
The Demon turned back to us. "You have one minute to leave."
I inclined my head at him, then turned, and we jogged back to the Royale.

*   *   *

When we finally came out of the tunnel, I turned off 48th, pulled the Royale to an empty spot at the curb, and let out a long breath.
"You okay?" said Mouse.
"Yeah," I said. "You?"
"Five by," said Mouse.
"I think that was Kane," I said.
"I think you're right."
"Nobody's ever seen him before."
She gave a snort. "We got lucky?"
"We're still alive," I said.
Mouse nodded and turned to stare out the windshield.
I pulled my phone and called Absinthe. "Is Brandi still there?"
"She is," Absinthe said. "Marco's been sitting on her and her little friend since you called. I let Miss Renée know."
"Thanks again."
"Happy to help."
Hung up then dialed Miss Renée.
"It's done," I said.
I heard a relieved sigh. "Thank you."
"Anytime," I said.
"I'll send a courier to the Red Dog with the balance."
The call ended and I put my phone away.
"Hey," said Mouse.
"Yeah?" I said.
"Why'd you grease McCarthy with my blade? You had the Twins. Coulda' blown her head off."
"Steel Demons," I said. "When Kane said you were born to the blade, I remembered something Murphy once said. He told me they respected the blade. So I used it."
Mouse nodded. "And they let us walk."
"And they let us walk."
"Good thinking."
"It was a hunch."
"Good hunch."
I grinned at her.
She grinned back.
After a moment she said, "Technique was a little sloppy, though."
"Don't start," I said.
"And footwork needs practice."
"Not listening," I said and put the Royale into gear.  "Let's go check on Specs."
We pulled away from the curb and headed east on 48th.
Two blocks later, my phone chirped.
I put her on speaker and slid the phone in the dashboard holder.
"Go ahead, Val," I said.
"Kid and I have something," she said. "About Hiller and the others."
Mouse and I exchanged looks.
She quirked her brows at me.
"Give us about an hour, Val," I said. "We gotta go check on Specs."
"What's going on?" said Val.
"He got attacked earlier today."
"Oh shit," said Val. "Go, go. We'll see you afterwards."

*   *   *

Ten minutes later we were sitting in a recovery room in Doc's clinic where Specs lay on a hospital bed sprouting tubes and wires. Medical equipment attached to the head of the bed blinked and whirred and hummed. Revell stood on the left side, arms folded across his barrel chest, face creased with worry. Mouse perched on the edge of a chair on the right side of the bed, watching Specs, and frowning.
I stood at the foot of the bed and regarded Specs, feeling my stomach churn at the sight of his injuries. His face looked as if someone had taken a sledgehammer to it. And from what Revell described, they had taken the sledgehammer to the rest of him, too.
The door shushed open and Doc strode in, a fiftysomething barrel-chested black man with close-cropped curly white hair, an old pair of spectacles perched low on a wide nose, and a large paunch hanging over his beltline, slightly hidden by a dark brown canvas coat.
"Rev told you, right?" said Doc in his melodious, rumbling basso voice.
I nodded.
"They really did a number on him," said Doc, coming up next to me. "And it looks like someone was holding him while they did it. Lots of bruising on his upper arms."
"Fucking bastards," said Mouse.
The churning in my stomach turned into a tightening in the middle of my chest.
"You won't get anything from him for a while," said Doc. "I've got him doped up. He'll be out for at least a day."
"Thanks, Doc," I said.
"Thank me by finding the bastards who did this and putting them out of commission."
"We will."
"I know you will."
He clasped me on the shoulder, gave it a squeeze, then turned and left the room.
When the door shushed close, Revell said, "There is something more."
We turned to him.
"I found this in his shirt pocket." He held up a photoprint of Specs with a red 'X' drawn through the image.
The same photoprint from the case in the Halloween run.
I heard Mouse snarl.
I heard myself snarl.

NEXT TIME: "True Colors"

"Born of the Blade"
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10


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