|Vengeance III: Dead Crawl
Author: Guede Mazaka
"Revenge is a confession of pain."
//There's more back here.// Sleeve over nose, one of the men Cucuy hadn't picked himself stumbled out of the ruins that used to be the kitchen. //Shit, it stinks. Rotting meat all over, and the cook's definitely dead.//
//Is the cook being dead important?// Stupid jackass. Dead jackass, once Cucuy figured he'd gotten enough of a following to risk crossing his employer. Barillo was a real skinny fuck, old and weak-looking, and since they'd first met Cucuy hadn't been able to stop wondering how the hell a guy like that had ended up on top.
Not really his problem, he'd eventually decided. More important was the fact that it was clearly time for Barillo to step down, or be kicked out on his ass. Things changed in Mexico, and Cucuy had long ago chosen to be one of the men doing the changing, and not one of the unlucky bastards that got wiped out.
The other guy shrugged, still wrinkling his nose like a little baby. //Well, kinda. He works for us.//
//He used to. Busy frying souls for the devil now//, Cucuy grunted, a little amused but mostly bored. Dead was dead, and couldn't bother him anymore. Whereas the living were riding Barillo's ass, and so the piano-loving dick was riding Cucuy, who didn't enjoy that one bit.
Weird thing about the whole bar explosion, though…it didn't look like Sands' style. Okay, so Cucuy had barely ever known the man, and hadn't seen him in action since Guevara had done the eye-popping. But still, the place seemed too wrecked for just a blind man and a girl. Even if said girl was Barillo's daughter, and had a reasonably nasty reputation as an AFN agent. Federales…Cucuy would eat them for breakfast if the yellow-bellied whiners ever stopped running and actually faced him down.
What nagged at Cucuy the most was the enormous hole in the one wall that was still standing and the smushy body that had apparently made it. That kind of gunpower wasn't common, even around the cartel strongholds. In fact, it was downright legendary.
//Did you find anyone alive? Anyone that saw?// Cucuy demanded of another wandering hitman, who shook his head. Well, that was the bar and the nearby streets around, and that was nothing.
Maybe. Cucuy checked his gun-clip, then stalked out and grabbed the next local onlooker.
Two bullets later, he had a tantalizing description. Three showing up to see Barillo, and not the two that should've been around. Moreover, that third had been dressed like a mariachi, and had been carrying a guitar case. In all of Mexico, there was only one man who was rumored to be like that. Strange, given up-and-comers' tendencies to copy-cat strong-men styles in hopes that their weakness would magically disappear, but interesting as hell to Cucuy.
El in town. Now, that was a situation that Cucuy had never figured on, had barely even dreamed about, but that he could definitely use. Fuck Barillo-anyone that finally put down the famed guitar-case pistolero and could prove that he'd done it would be able to write his own ticket.
To be honest, Cucuy was slightly regretful about thinking that, because respect was due to El even if only half the stories were true. Just the existence of the legend alone had turned the cartels on their heads, driven them towards the walls so they started getting nerves. Started appreciating the muscle that kept them where they were, and that all those leaders forgot about the moment the bloodshed started paying off for them in money and women and fun.
Cucuy had spent the better part of his life slaving away for men like that, and he wasn't going to take it any longer. He was going to remind people that in the end, it wasn't influence or brains or blood-relations that ruled-it was force. And he was going to use anything at hand in order to get his message through.
Some wailing woman rushed out to the fallen bodies in the street while Cucuy was bundling his men back into the cars, eager to start looking for El. She was easy to ignore as long as she just howled over the corpses, but when she actually went for Cucuy with her nails, he decided he'd had enough.
//What should we do with those bodies?// a fresh-faced dumb-fuck that should've still been in a stroller asked. His daddy was connected somewhere so the fuckass had actually ranked higher than Cucuy until his first firefight, during which he'd royally pissed himself in front of the wrong people.
//Throw 'em in the ashes so I don't have to trip on them.// Christ, the idiots he had to put up with. What else did people do with bodies? Goddamn, but Cucuy couldn't wait to kill them. Or get them killed. Whichever drained the resources from Barillo faster.
For a second, he considered letting Barillo know about the new factor in the game, but then he snorted, reaching for his cigarette. Hell, no-let it just be him and El. If he told Barillo, then his boss would probably send out packs of morons like the one with which Cucuy had to work. Nothing but ashes, the lot of them. El deserved a decent opponent. And so did Cucuy.
//Boss, Barillo's calling. He wants us back for escorting to Marquez.// A cell dangled two inches from Cucuy's nose.
Fucking prick. But for now, Cucuy still had to play the nice faithful hound. He snatched up the cell and answered. //Hello? No, nothing…yes, sir. Yes, sir.//
Normally, Fideo wouldn't have bothered. He tried not to involve himself with much except violence and drinking-the one being guaranteed to be over and still just starting, a perfect complement to the other's induced state of mental drift-and he especially tried not to involve himself with El's social side. What twisted bit of that that his friend had, anyway.
Unfortunately, this seemed a little too serious to leave put if Fideo wanted El to stay walking like a man and not like…something too dark to be contemplated without another bottle of tequila. Fideo gave said bottle a sad last look and headed for the room upstairs.
The moment he stepped in, sex hit him in brutally drenching waves. It nearly rocked him right back out the door, and he actually had to lean out for some fresher, less aching air.
"If it's Lorenzo, I'm going to jump out the goddamned window." Sands was on the kitchen counter, ragged and worn thin enough for plain veracity to show through. He appeared to have come up with a new way of putting on pants, which consisted of lying on his side and performing a weird combination of squirm-tug-shift.
On the floor, a completely unbuttoned and unzipped Eva continued to stare at the ceiling, apparently no longer giving a damn who saw her breasts and crotch. "No. He would've done something stupid by now, or tried to jump me."
"He's not that bad. Actually, he's still kind of a kid." Yeah, Lorenzo had his idiotic points, but he was a lot better than most of the people walking around who ignored all the shit that happened until it landed on their doorstep. "So you two and El…"
"We got fucked." Pants finally over his ass, Sands dropped onto his back with an exhausted gasp. His mouth twisted around the irony of his words, less than amused. "And he was the one doing it. Tell me, does he do that to every stray he picks up? Is it part of the hang-with-El package?"
As if anyone on any side of that assumption would actually need the extra helping of self-destruction. Fideo felt a little sorry that it was taking Sands so long to get it, but then again, the man was still going faster than almost everyone else that had ever met El. "No."
Sands' chin tilted up, giving the impression that his sightless face was trying to look at Fideo. "Oh, come on. We're all failures here, so tell the truth: you and him, or hell, that whore-puppy and him never-"
"No." It was a really good idea to stay drunk, because getting angry at this sort of thing just took too much energy. "El stays loyal."
For the first time, Eva raised her head. "Not faithful?" she asked, odd twinge of interest in her voice.
"Faith means you believe in something. You believe in something, you can always lose it. So El believes in nothing. He knows what he knows, and that's it." Fideo wasn't expecting her to get it, either, so when the dark of her eyes suddenly intensified with realization, he was completely taken by surprise.
"Knows what he is, you mean." Her head went back down while her fingers absently lifted to do up her shirt. Some of the buttons were missing, and she ended up just knotting the bottom halves of it beneath her breasts, thus exposing a long stretch of belly.
Memory stumbled by, pointing out knife-shadows along Eva's jaw and throat. Fideo cocked his head, following the dagger-line to the wicked razor gleam of Sands' bared teeth. No wonder El hadn't been able to take it; these two were like Carolina fractured and mutilated, broken reminders of the lives shattered before that church.
And then the light changed, something sweeping by the outside of the windows, and Fideo looked again. Saw nothing of Carolina, and everything of dusty bloodstains, grit under the tongue and harsh sunshine pouring down the tongue. And no wonder El had first risen to the bait before leaving. He'd been born and raised in Mexico, after all.
"El's gone," Fideo told them, and then he waited for their reactions.
"I would say good riddance, but that's just too simple for this cock-up." Sands rolled over and off the counter, landing heavily on his feet. His knees didn't seem to be working quite right, and he listed significantly to the side whenever he tried to push away from the counter.
Eva finally pulled up her jeans and got painfully to her feet, wincing whenever she moved too quickly. Dark bruises floated over her sides to disappear down her waistband or into her shirt; there were layers of varying ages so she seemed dappled in ugly stains. "It's not good riddance anyway. We're fucked."
Again, they were slow to catch on. Fideo tried a slightly different version. "El left."
"Yeah, we heard-" in annoyed tandem.
"No. He went to go find Marquez." At this rate, they were never going to catch up. Unless El had been angry enough to let Lorenzo drive…which actually was very likely. So that was fine, but Fideo didn't have keys to the other car. He really hoped that someone else remembered how to hotwire ignitions because there wasn't enough time for him to sober up and do it.
"Oh, good for him. Revenge-wait." Sands' head went up like a dog pricking to the smell of a bitch in heat. "Marquez? Why the fuck can't El ever wait?"
"I told you sleeping with him was going to screw things up," Eva hissed, shocking into frenzied action. She almost ran into one of the bedrooms, only slowing a little to snag a gun off the floor, and then came back out wearing several other guns. Her hands were full with more, which she shoved at a still-uncomprehending Sands. "He's going to do it alone."
Sands blinked, reflexively taking the weapons but doing nothing with them. "Well, yeah, Marquez…"
"No, damn it, it's-it's-" Choking on aggravated hurry, Eva snatched back the guns and started arming Sands. "It's being a macho idiot, all right? You should know what that is."
"I am not a fucking macho idiot!" Sands grabbed a holstered gun from her and slapped on the straps himself. Then he yanked his stick from her arm and-abruptly stilled, understanding like a rifle-butt to his face. "Oh. Oh, shit. Damn it, didn't anyone teach El to not take revenge that doesn't belong to him?"
Fideo was in the middle of making sure his hip flask was filled, so he carefully screwed on its cap before answering. "Not really. Usually, people are asking him to do that, so he's not used to not doing it."
"Great fucking reflexes he's got," Sands snapped, storming for the door and dragging Eva with him. "Well, Guevara's mine, and so is Barillo if I get to him first. And El definitely isn't allowed to stand in line for that fuckmook."
After they passed, Fideo casually ambled in behind them, occasionally giving Eva a shove in the right direction. "So I take it you two are okay now?"
Eva tossed him a glare that could've given steel scorch marks. "Only a drunk would call this okay."
"Shut up before I add El's head to the list." Sands kept stomping along, cane a waving menace for yards around. "Where are we going?"
"Don't know." After a few moments, Fideo noticed the ominous silence. "Oh, you meant it that way. There's this villa nearby-I've got some directions."
Lorenzo was driving, so El was able to just sit still, ignore everything that was passing, and be constantly flooded with sense-recollections so vivid that his fingers were ripping open in their failing attempt to hold onto reality.
His hands were curled around themselves, full of nothing but clenched tension and scars, but he could still feel the burning of living flesh, hard and soft and giving only so far before pushing back. If he rolled his tongue around his mouth, there was Sands' sarcasm lurking behind his teeth, Eva's bitterness whetting itself on his gums. If he leaned his forehead against the window, trying to dump fever-heat into the cold glass, ghost-gasps burst wetly against his throat and phantom cocks and clits shoved at his determined limpness.
He tried to remember if being with Carolina had ever been like this. Had ever clawed itself out from inside him, flipping everything wrong-side up as it went. Had ever made him simultaneously want to harm and guard.
It hadn't. She hadn't been anything, anything like this. She'd been a precious flickering flame that had started out as a gift and then exacted a bloody price from a willing El. This, on the other hand, was like paying in pain before he even knew what the cost was for.
//Hey…// Lorenzo abruptly cracked into El's attention, a not-so-quiet reminder that the outside world was very much still there. //You all right?//
//You should stop asking me that.// El turned his face to his guns, taking out one and running his fingers over its bevels. Smoother than his guitar, but also sharper. The steel warmed to him faster than wood, a promise that he knew was false, but that attracted him nonetheless. Killer, he'd been called. Killer, he'd started to call himself. It was hard to remember what he'd been before he had started plucking triggers instead of metal strings.
His friend rolled his eyes, but worry lurked behind Lorenzo's careful façade. //Bullshit. I bother with Fideo, even though he's a lost cause if I ever saw one.//
A feeling was all he had left of the times before death formed in his hands. A feeling of endless possibility, of horizons and hard work and dreams as delicately shining as the soap bubbles his daughter had loved to blow. //I know. You're…a good friend, Lorenzo.//
//Christ, you're in a weird mood.// The smile on the other man's face edged quickly away from El's gaze, skittish like a spider fleeing the light. //You sure you're…do you want to stop and call Fideo, or…//
//Keep going.// El made his words short and unfairly curt; Lorenzo deserved better, but El didn't feel like talking anymore. He wanted to get out, to shake the itching heat from his bones and just get everything over with.
The air conditioning licked softly at his sweat, as softly as the last whimper Sands had made. As surprisingly sweetly as Eva had given in to El.
And therein was the confusion. Because lying with them was like that memory of the time before, only distorted and unfocused, as if El were standing so close to a picture that he could see color and line, but no image. It was like dropping his hands into chaos and whipping apart, particles of himself able to go anywhere and do anything and still live.
It frightened him. It kept him from looking into the rearview mirror, or from watching his transparent phantom reflect off the window glass. He couldn't even look himself in the eye anymore.
El couldn't be called suicidal in the traditional sense, but at the moment, he was seriously questioning what importance staying alive held for him.
Beside him, Lorenzo showed his unease in frequent glances, in little twitches of the legs he had casually sprawl-crossed, in the jiggling of one foot that was just starting to register as annoying. Too damned young, El thought. And this life wasn't the best way to learn. Gunfights didn't mature men; it was the accompanying deaths that did that, and there were only so many of those that any one man could bear without dying himself.
Insides that didn't match outsides. Maybe that was El's problem: he was fooling everyone, even himself, that being able to walk and shoot and fuck meant that he was still alive. That hadn't been true of Bucho. Staring into his brother's eyes, El remembered, had been like looking at the eyes of a freshly dead corpse, false glint sparking the flesh without any resultant resurrection.
//We're almost there.// Lorenzo waved a hand at some walls that were rapidly climbing up the sky as they approached. Then he slanted himself into the corner, long body awkwardly folding so he could stare directly at El. //So now what?//
So in that building was a man who'd slaughtered a woman and child that hadn't deserved anything but light and grace. Carolina had chosen to fight and get her hands dirty and El had been appreciative, but that decision shouldn't have been part of her life. She'd wanted to settle down, give their daughter at least a few years of peace to remember, but Marquez just couldn't leave a damn thing alone.
The General was another one of the type who thought it their right to wring Mexico by the neck whenever they pleased. He assumed that everything was either his for the taking or dead. Destroyed, slumped red spilling into the dust.
El held his gun up to the light, watching how the sun oiled the metal. For a painful, almost beautiful moment, the steel reflected brilliance back into his face that gently touched his brow with harshness. //We go in and kill him. What else?//
//Well, yeah, but shouldn't we wait for Fideo? I'm pretty sure that he's coming. Or…I don't know, take a look first?// Even as he was objecting, Lorenzo was pulling his case from the backseat. Like a dog whose loyalty El was about to abuse once more, because for all El's powers of observation, he still couldn't learn from those and make himself much better than those he fought. The qualities that separated him and them were really more of a matter of time than of a matter of difference in ideology. //El. Hey. I didn't come here to watch you die.//
Lorenzo's belligerence had a strange inflection at the end of it, a trace of fervent worry that skittered almost off the edge of El's consciousness, but somehow managed to catch and hang on. El reached for the door handle, but found his fingers slowing. //You can wait here for Fideo//, he finally said. //I'm going to take a look around.//
Lorenzo suddenly darted forward and grabbed El's arm. When El jerked away and looked at his friend, Lorenzo's face blanched almost to the color of milk, but the other man held his ground. //Take a look, or take a shot? Christ Jesus, El. You can't have it all to yourself.//
No, but he could try. Revenge was about all he had left, and he wasn't going to surrender that to any well-meaning but ultimately foolish attempt at dissuasion. Not when it felt like robbing him of a part of his life with Carolina. The bloodiest part, which clawed him night and day, but a part of it nonetheless.
//I'm just looking//, he lied, not even feeling the new layer of sin that coated him. //There's a few side-gates, and I'm going to find the best one for getting in. When Fideo comes, you two go to the front and make everyone come there.//
//Well…okay.// Lorenzo let go of El's arm and leaned back, clearly still unsatisfied, but unable to find anything on which he could raise a solid protest. He glanced out at the villa, then slapped a hand on El's shoulder. //Good luck.//
//Thanks.// Though El seriously doubted that that pattern of his life would change now. His mouth rolled around the irony, straining itself into an expression that probably wasn't very pretty to look at. Not that looks mattered with this.
When he was out of the car and bending to retrieve his case, Lorenzo spoke again. "El? About Sands and Ajedrez…look, whatever they've got, don't get yourself killed for them. They're not worth it."
"I'm not doing this for them." El didn't slow his steps from the car, which was parked an innocent distance away.
"What about because of them?"
That made El turn to look back, and sharply enough so that the dust whirled about his heel. He was slightly thrown forward and sideways by the weight of his case, which was probably the only thing that saved him.
Familiar pain as the bullet zinged through the top layer of El's skin, biting into his cheek like he'd bit into Sands' neck. He spun and dove for the nearest shelter, which was another car, eyes all the while searching for the shooter and the shouter. Likewise, Lorenzo shot out of the car and into the recessed doorway of a nearby house.
"El!" came the same yell.
"Yes?" El called back, flipping out his guns and checking all around for more shooters. He found them on roofs and ground and porches, circling a single man who slowly stepped from a side-alley.
Large, brawny and brutish, but not without some cunning in his dagger eyes. Long black hair half-obscured a truly unforgettable face, which seemed stitched together from scraps of scars of all kinds, and meaty butcher's hands carelessly tapped pistols against bull-thighs. "Christ, it is you. And walking right up just as we got home. Today must be my lucky day."
"Who the fuck are you, jackass?" Lorenzo called back. He caught El's eye and gestured as if to cross the street, but El negated that and silently waved for Lorenzo to circle around to attack the back.
"Cucuy! The nightmare that's going to kill the legend." Cucuy ambled out into the street while behind him, his men fanned to cover the whole stretch of clear space. "I'm honored, El. Never thought I'd meet you."
Barillo's assassin. The man that was going to kill the President, and apparently, the one that thought he could match El before the circle of vengeance had finished turning. It made El want to laugh.
"Well, you're meeting me." El slowly stood up and faced Cucuy, smiling as nicely as Sands would at the fool.
And then he jumped over the car, his bullets taking down the first men.
Eva kept whacking his hand down, so Sands continued to drum his fingers on the car door out of sheer spite. Also, it gave him something to do besides think about the soreness of his lips and ass, and how that had come about, and just why he desperately wanted that to happen again. He didn't do swooning, or anything that put him on his knees, really. Too much chance of getting pissed on while he was down there.
Of course, when it came to El all the little rules in Sands' life started to melt and run, streaking messily over his self-confidence. "So what are we doing?"
"Sands, I'm holding a gun." Eva slouched further down the backseat, making the leather whine as she threw her head back.
"And you're going to use it to do what? Rescue Mr. Fucking-God-But-Stupid-As-Hell? What are. We. Do. Ing? Really? We're chasing down a guy that's made it clear he doesn't want to help, doesn't want help, and we're risking our asses doing it." Depression was like a piece of soured food stuck between his back teeth, polluting his mouth and hurting his gums and refusing to go away. He picked at it with sarcasm and anger, yanked with the pinching of practicality, but he still couldn't work it loose. "I mean, look at it sensibly. He fucked us, he walked out. Heard you used to kill guys just for watching you funny."
She snorted herself into a slightly hysterical fit of giggling. Her head slid sideways into Sands' lap, jouncing his pained ass into tweaking him until he doubled over. Eva's nose was pointy and stabbed into his chest, while her hands kept shoving the side of her gun into his belly. "Christ, Sands. You of all people should know not to believe everything you hear. If I'd done that, they would've bounced me out on my ass."
"Well, El can't." It wasn't really a suggestion of anything. More like Sands' mouth going off because the rest of him was still working through the thorough scramble that El had done on him. Fucker. He should whack the mariachi just for making him realize that he still had bits of reservation floating around inside him.
Eva went still with thought, and Sands suddenly felt coldness sluice around him, gutter water dirtying him up some more. He started to take back his words, but then he realized what he was doing. Got tangled up in preconceptions and postconceptions of a Sheldon Jeffrey Sands that most definitely wasn't a static thing. Not that he'd ever figured himself for lacking flexibility, but hell, a little consistency shouldn't be too much to expect. Otherwise, where the fuck had civilization and mind-whopping drinks with little umbrellas and soft ragged slide of cash-packets come from?
Conversely, where the fuck had El come from? Even hell couldn't produce as twisted a conundrum.
Only humanity. Some days, Sands seriously considered species self-hatred.
"No, he can't. And I can't, either." Eva rolled over and buried her face in Sands' belly, like some little girl seeking comfort. With her bigass pistol shoved into Daddy's ribs. Yeah, right. "Anyway, if you think about it, can you really say that he did the fucking?"
"I can…" And then the real question came through her gaming, and Sands' mind flipped back into reboot-shuffle-data-illogic-crunch. "Eva, sugarpie, my ass is screaming."
She irritably poked him with the gun, then slapped his away when he slid it up into her hair. "I wasn't asking your ass."
He knew that. But he also knew the answer to the question she'd been asking, and he didn't want to give it to her. It was one thing to admit to himself that he'd messed up, and a completely other thing to tell Eva. Besides, to judge by the way she patted his cheek, condolence of another sinner, she didn't need him to.
Eva sat up again, her gunhand skating down so their pistols clinked together by Sands' hip. "Cheers," she muttered, kissing him through a veil of frustration.
"Yeah." He should've kept going, kept trying to convince her to get Fideo to turn the car around. That would've been the practical, reasonable thing to do. Unfortunately, he wasn't feeling much of that at the moment. "That bastard better appreciate the hell out of this."
"If he doesn't, you can have first crack at his eyes." A smirk pressed against each of Sands' eyelids, and then Eva was back on her side of the seat. As the sound of fighting slowly filtered in, she quietly clicked and snapped and checked her guns.
//He probably will//, Fideo broke in. //But you might have to wait for him to cool off first. Takes a while.//
Sands rolled his replacements and was gratified to find that even if he couldn't see it happening, that movement was still just as good at expressing his exasperation. He laid his cane across his lap and got out a gun. "No shit, compadre."
The first thing that happened after Eva stepped out of the car was that some fuckass nearly burnt her head off. "Shit!"
She went down to the ground and instantly got a beautiful view of legs running around under a layer of orange flame. None of them had pants chained to them, so she felt quite free to start making them collapse. Emptied her first clip in less than two minutes.
//Lorenzo!// yelled Fideo. //Turn it down, you jackass!//
//Sorry, but you're fucking late!// The flames retreated to sweep over the rest of the road, and Eva finally got a good view of the situation. Which lacked El.
Sands dropped softly beside her, gun trailing a little smoke. "Let me guess. Party's already moved?"
//El chased this huge fucker around back!// Lorenzo added, now switching to machine-gun. //And why the fuck did you bring them?//
"Because there's nothing like the anger of a ravaged whore." Eva could've used Sands' smile to cut open locks. "Unless it's a woman with her monthly. Hey, Eva-"
"You've got three seconds to get your ass moving, and then I'm going to start shooting at it instead of at them." For an emphasis that Sands wasn't going to give a fuck about, she stood up and blew two snipers off nearby roofs.
Still laughing, Sands whipped off his sunglasses and started across the street, his eerily accurate aim taking down anything that even started to make a sound. One guy used the cover of a car to get close enough for a charge, but the cane whipped him low in the belly and then on the back of the neck. Eva heard a definitive crack, but she put a bullet into the prick's head anyway before grabbing Sands' arm. "Left."
"Why, thank you, darling." He obligingly slewed that way, shooting over her shoulder. A gunfighter coming up that way saw his eyes and started to call on God. Sands promptly holed his neck arteries, which spurts just caught the edge of her elbow as they passed. "Frankenstein wasn't God either, and Guevara's not that freak's asshole."
"Literature?" Eva snickered, cordite-dusted humor of blood and adrenaline swing rushing up in her. An open gate loomed ahead, its doors crazed and half-off on their blasted hinges. She tried and failed to remember just what kind of explosives El had had in his case.
Sands shrugged and threw his empty gun into someone's eggshell skull. He popped up a new one and tripped over a corpse. "Goddamn it! And yeah, that. Hell, I should keep El just for reading purposes. Especially since you're probably not nice enough to do it."
"Reading purpose-" Eva started, but the next instant, she was thrown backward by hot lead slashing through her arm. Not seriously, but damn it, that was her blood.
Rage replaced the black amusement. She spin around, searching the inside courtyard, and soon found fucking coincidence staring back at her.
He looked surprised. God knew why-it wasn't like this was scheduled for the distant future or anything. Granted, she hadn't been planning to do it like this, but when the grudges were this bad, one meeting was as good as another.
//Hey, Papa. I've come to kill you.// She dragged Sands to his feet and threw them both into the shelter of a veranda pillar. "Sands, Guevara's up there."
Fingers puddled in the cooling stickiness on her arm. "You're bleeding."
"Well, you wanted a woman that was doing that. Now you've got one. Meet you at El." She pried off his hand and ran for the nearest staircase. Bullets chipped plaster and adobe and wood from around her, whipping little cuts into her face and neck as she ran through the hail; it hadn't taken very long for Barillo to get over his shock.
Time to give him a few more.
El stalked through the villa, following the trails of fleeing soldiers. It was easy to kill them. After all, they weren't protecting anything of value except their pay and their own skins, which everyone did. They didn't have anything to inspire them.
He had nothing to inspire him, but that wasn't the same. Nothing was like finding death everywhere. Nothing was knowing that wherever he went, peace would not follow. Nothing was being able to punch and kick and shoot without even noticing that he was moving, because he was always doing that. He barely remembered what it was like to sit still and just look. Just listen to silence.
Two soldiers turned back, the front of their pants stained wet, their rifles shaking in their hands. They looked young as Lorenzo, but they weren't the same, and so El had no problem marking their foreheads with smoking holes.
He heard the clatter behind him too late, but turned anyway to see the gun.
Goggle-eyed, the man who'd sneaked up from behind didn't take advantage of the perfect shot. Instead, he slowly fell to his knees, then onto his face in a mash of red and dark. Cucuy stood behind the body, breathing a little heavier than El's. "You're a hard man to find."
"I try." El gave the other a smile, recognizing a little bit of what lay inside Cucuy. He kicked his case behind him and loosened his grip on his gun. Not too tight, never too tight or else his fingers couldn't make the song sing. "My fight's not with you."
"Neither is mine." Blood matting hair to one mangled cheek, Cucuy carefully stepped over the corpse. "Barillo for me, Marquez for you, I hear. But you know, it's never the real fight that kills people."
He wasn't going to back down. Fine. He was hardly an innocent, he'd been given his choice, and now El was going to kill him.
Guns half-raised, they stalked circles around each other, waiting for a signal.
//You!// came suddenly from behind El.
He started, jagged onto his own nerves and threw himself down, but not before a bullet tore through his leg. It hurt, flash growing to explode up his body, and he kept collapsing as Marquez marched through the doorway.
//Get out!// Cucuy roared, and El reflexively shot. It wasn't good-took Cucuy through the high chest-but it made the man stagger long enough for El to stumble onto his good leg, to fall back against the wall and aim again.
Cucuy's second shot took a chunk from the wall by El's nose. El's took Cucuy through the heart.
//Rabid dog//, Marquez sniffed, spitting in Cucuy's direction. Then he turned toward El, the only unafraid one of the little knot of soldiers, which was all that remained. //You//, he repeated, staring.
El watched the soldiers, scenting their acrid fear and his blood, feeling their tremble and his weakening leg. He thought about his case, yards away. //I told you. We were going to settle this.//
Marquez still watched, eyes searching El's face. He must have fooled himself into thinking he'd seen something, because then he waved his soldiers out of the room and took up the old movie gunfighter's stance. The post El had never used himself because it gave gunfighting a honor that he knew wasn't there.
//How's your daughter?// Marquez inquired. His fingers flexed, an inch from the gun-butt.
//Dead.// El slowly pushed off the wall's support, staggering to find a new balance.
Outside, a bout of screaming abruptly started and ended: someone had run into Marquez's soldiers. //How's Carolina?// the General asked, not moving.
//Dead.// Dead and buried, and that fact suddenly turned from ghost to real within El. So real he could choke on the grave dirt.
//And you?// This time, Marquez didn't wait for an answer. He pulled out his gun.
And El yanked out his, twisted sideways on his good leg so he'd stay up, and shot. He felt another burn across his back, but Marquez just dropped. Simple as that, simple as Cucuy, meaning nothing. Doing nothing. Another dead body.
It was El's turn to stare.
Eventually, he struggled over and tore Carolina's necklace off Marquez's neck. It was surprisingly heavy, weighting his hand until it fell limp to his side.
//I don't know//, he finally replied.
Guevara was pretty easy to track, once everyone had realized that they weren't getting a free escape route anywhere. The doctor blubbered and whined and tried to cling to Barillo when the crimelord attempted to leave. "They're going to kill us!"
"That's the point! Now, get off and go with them." Barillo whisked the doctor from his shoulder, then divided his men into two groups, only one of which was going with him. "Get him out. I'm going to deal with that brat."
Brat, was Eva? Sands tried desperately not to laugh. God, he'd kill for a frontrow seat to that meeting-and therein was the rub. He had a nice little deathlist, and he was damn well going to follow it. Guevara needed his medical license gutting his belly.
Also, since Sands was going strictly by cane and hearing, he was somewhat limited in how many fuckmooks he could handle. He could take one of the groups, but not two. It all came down to which bastard he hated more.
Barillo left, amid much cursing and rebuking, and Sands reluctantly said goodbye to that notch on his belt. Yeah, he'd been the one to order Sands' eyes out, but Sands had fucked the man's girlfriend. It wasn't like Sands had ever expected much better from him. Guevara, on the other hand, was a refined gentleman that still owed Sands a hell of a lot of loans. The good doctor hadn't seemed too averse to turning coat on his employer, right up until the moment he'd looked at Sands and asked which one should pop out first. Goddamned shit-sucking scalpel-whore.
As soon as they were out of range of the others, Sands stepped out and started shooting.
Hell, they made it easy. It must have been dark inside or something like that, because their shots kept going into each other, and not coming anywhere near him. Though he was also darting up and slamming aside arms and legs with his stick, so that might've had something to do with it, too.
Guevara was a true pissant: if he'd had a gun, he'd promptly dropped it and crawled into a corner while Sands slaughtered his pathetic defenders. And when the last body fell, he started whining and cringing, pleading like a crackwhore for a freebie. Jesus. Even Belini had died better. //Please, please, I was ordered to do it, it wasn't-//
"Oh, just shut up," Sands muttered, casually flicking out a bullet.
Oops. Sands hadn't meant to kill the bastard yet. Not until after he'd suffered a little, but of course the shitwit had to be as delicate as a lily. Of course he had to lose that oily smooth torturer's manner and reveal his true self to just be nothing but worms. Of course he had to take the taste of revenge right out of Sands' mouth and replace it with god-fucking ashes. Ashes, ashes--fuck.
More firing. Boots tromping around. Sounds like a siren call, promising Sands a little something to take off the bitter edge. He whirled on his heel and went, hoping he'd get enough to satisfy him.
Except no, this was Mexico and nothing ever lived up to its first impressions. It was nothing more than some random hitmen, easy to shock with eyes and then blast into walls, and a gaggle of panicky soldiers. Goddamn it. This was not how things were supposed to go. This was supposed to feel better than…waking up every day and still being blind, knowing he couldn't do jack shit about it. This was supposed to be overfilling and explosive, wiping out everything and making Sands not care because it was so damned good. This was…
//I don't know//, El's voice suddenly said in the next room.
Sands slumped to the floor and laughed because fuck, how couldn't he? Describing everything that he'd wanted and not gotten-here-and then having El answer. Nice little reminder of heat and aching and teethmarks, nailmarks, bruises that Sands actually didn't mind because hell, that had been good.
Fucker. Fucked again.
Eva ran into her father by a fountain. Which was really ironic, because she'd found her mother's body in the town well.
Unamused by the coincidence, she kicked up a rifle from the ground and leveled the first two men that ran out of the house. Another one burst through a window and rolled across the intervening space, keeping her from doing more than shoot him in the side. Adrenaline-propelled, he rushed onto his feet and crashed past her swing with the rifle butt, knocking them both to the ground.
Hot breath in her breasts. She instinctively twisted away, clawing until her finger hooked into something soft and jelly-like. He screamed, thumping her so hard in the ribs that she thought she felt a few crack, but he fell away. Eva grabbed the nearest pistol and shot him, then curled around and shot a few more.
Someone kicked her from behind, and when she tried to turn, a boot slammed onto the back of her neck, grinding pain all the way through her into the dirt. "Real hell-cat, isn't she?"
"Shut up and shoot her, Chambers." Barillo came limping up, winged by one of her last shots. His face was set in brutal practicality, cold and calculated, but his eyes were flaming with anger.
"Wait…you want me to shoot your own daughter?"
Eva's father grinned at her as he wiped blood from his face. "Yes. She was trying to do the same to me, and I don't ever want it to be said that I didn't raise her with a double standard."
"You didn't raise me at all," she hissed, jerking under Chambers' foot. Her last gun was trapped under her hip, outline cutting impatience into her side, and she snaked a hand toward it. Chambers kicked her in her arm wound, and she gasped the tail-end of a scream.
"Look, nothing personal, but if he says…" Shrugging, Chambers pulled out his gun and pointed it at Eva's face.
A shot rang out, and she couldn't help herself: she closed her eyes. But then she wasn't dead, and Chamber's foot was suddenly gone. No time to think. Eva immediately rolled onto her back and tore her gun free.
Her father had his back to her, gaping at something, and it would've been fair to wait till he turned to shoot. Eva didn't. He didn't deserve that.
But he was Barillo, and so even when he was down, he still had enough strength to roll over and sneer. "You're…just as dead now, girl. Nothing…nothing but what I made you, and now…"
"Now you're dead." She pressed the gun to his forehead and pulled the trigger, eyes slitting from the hot red that sprayed into her face.
It took a moment to recover from how the recoil jarred her pain, but after that, Eva still couldn't get up. She was only vaguely aware of the man in the doorway, the one who'd shot Chambers. All of her sight was filled with the ruin of her father, the fall of everything toward which she'd built her life.
She wondered that she could still breathe.
Someone came up from behind him, but El didn't turn to look or shoot. He just let fingers roam over his back, down his sides, then twitch violently as they ran into his leg wound.
"Shit, El. How the hell are you still standing?" Tearing cloth, and then Sands was making an awkward wrap of it.
The gesture surprised El enough that he turned from the woman kneeling in the courtyard. "Do you know what you're doing?"
"Hey, don't question me when I'm acting weird. I might remember that I'm not supposed to give a shit." Sands finished bandaging and squatted at El's feet, smoky bruise with a pale smirk. "Everyone dead?"
"Yeah," Eva said. She slowly got to her feet, clutching at one arm, but didn't look away from Barillo's body. It was as if he still held her in some kind of thrall.
El didn't like that. Barillo wasn't worth that kind of treatment, and Eva was stronger than that. "He's wrong."
She favored him with a nasty look that told him he didn't understand. Except he did. Much better than she did right now, because she hadn't had enough time away from the shadows. "You say…"
"Men say a lot of things when they're dying. A lot of them are lies." El shrugged, then tried not to wince as he grabbed for the door frame.
Sands suddenly rose beside him and pressed in, making El press back and hang on if he didn't want to be knocked over. The other man sniffed at the blood clotted across El's throat. "Yeah? What about when they're alive?"
"This feels…I want to say wrong," Eva continued, wandering over. Her eyes were slightly fuzzed over with blood loss, but the intelligence was as present as ever. "I think I miss him."
"He's gone. You're supposed to. Things leave, you feel it." Like El was now, deep holes proving to him that there was always something to be lost. As long as he was living.
Like he was hearing El's thoughts, Sands poked him in the stomach. "You said you didn't feel anything."
"Maybe I lied," El snapped, grabbing Sands' shoulders. He thought he was trying to push the other man away, but Sands somehow ended up closer, tangled into El's ragged jacket. Suspicion started to nudge at El. "What are you doing?"
And then Eva was in front of him, raising her pistol to his face. She used the tip of the muzzle to brush away his sweaty hair. Her eyes mirrored his own face at him, and for the first time in a long, long time, he saw a man. "Looking at something that isn't my father's."
Sands made an outraged squeak.
"You didn't count until a few days ago," Eva told him, wry smile cracking her frozen features.
"Bitch." Sands shoved at her, she shoved back, and then El was suddenly holding two ardently-kissing people.
Uncomfortable, he tried to take a step back. His leg buckled, however, and he was forced to grab onto Sands again. "No. You shouldn't…"
"You've a shitty track record, more guys after your head than dicks after my cunt, and you're at least six or seven years older than me." Eva slipped her shoulder under El's arm, taking off some of the weight from Sands. "Still sounds better than my last boyfriend."
"Christ, what were you dating? An ass?" Sands dodged her smack and curled around El's side, rubbing his cheek along El's arm. "Damn it, El, you could've waited. We were setting it up so we'd save the President while we were slaughtering everyone. You know, shift the blame and all?"
El's mouth hurt. It took a moment for him to realize that was because he was grinning. "And you can't still do that?"
For that, Sands headbutted his chin. "Feed me, shower me, and then I'll think about it."
"How about we just fuck him?" Eva suggested.
Lorenzo was staring, so Fideo slapped him upside the head. //Stop that. It's rude.//
//The fuck do you care?// Lorenzo complained, rubbing his skull. He swung back from the door and finally let Fideo get a clear view. //Fuck, man. This is just weird.//
//What, El looking happy? Don't worry; Sands and Eva'll start arguing in a minute, and he'll go back to normal.// Especially since Sands appeared to be the least wounded, and thus had the most energy, Fideo noted. El wasn't going to be able to just throw Sands over a shoulder and carry him off.
A slap on the arm brought Fideo's attention back to Lorenzo, who still looked dissatisfied. //Not that. I'm glad El's happy-he's less scary that way. But Eva's better at this than I thought, and Sands is just psychotic. This can't be good.//
//I don't think it's supposed to.// Fideo took Lorenzo by the arm and pried his friend away. As long as they kept one person between Sands and Lorenzo, everything should be fine. //Come on. Time to buy me a beer.//