It was an old road, long neglected in preference for the modern four-lane to the North. The shoulder was clogged with un-mowed weeds, black serpents of tar slunk along the cracks in the asphalt and most of the road signs were peppered with rifle pocks. A spray can artist had gone to the trouble of adding an extra six to the numbers on the route markers. The late winter sun dipped toward the horizon where the road vanished in the distance.
There was one blue van moving west. There had been no other vehicles in the rearview for miles but the two men inside rode in a tense silence. Finally, the driver reached over to turn on the radio. Wincing at the static, he kept fiddling with the buttons until Mussorgsky’s wild music poured into the cab but, as he relaxed back against the seat, the man in the passenger seat reached over and abruptly turned it off.
"I thought you like that piece."
Some men might have taken the way Emil Fouchon said the name for a warning. Pik Van Cleaf took it as an invitation that some things could now be talked about. "Eh, we're lucky to be alive. Who knew ATF had an agent with a brain?" There was the pronounced cadence of Afrikaans to his speaking. "Only one. I think I pull a muscle in my back, hauling you off that pier." Pik smiled. "This still Texas?"
"It was the last time I looked at the map. Nothing out here but weeds and rattlesnakes."
"So fuck Texas." Pik scrubbed a hand through his hair, catching the stink of gun powder and sweat. "Why, the hell, didn’t you let me kill him?"
"Too many god-damned dead bodies. My coat's ruined."
It might have been all of a day’s work, but Pik heard the suppressed fury in Fouchon’s voice. The man was like a cat; being dirty, disheveled and reeking of gun smoke had be grating on nerves as much as the debacle back in Galveston. "You hungry?"
"Has to be some place soon. Relax."
"Don’t tell me what to do, Pik."
"Emil,” Pik said, “I am hating to make your day worse, but we got the clutch slipping bad."
"Well, that’s just perfect," Fouchon said.
The signs began about forty minutes later.
Flashing by on the right side of the road.
In black lettering on sun faded yellow boards.
—World’s Rarest Animal!
—Must Be Seen To Be Believed.
"What’s that?" Pik said. He risked a glance at Fouchon. "You don’t know what it is either."
"God, I need a cup of coffee," Fouchon said.
"Take the exit."
Pik turned off the highway and onto the service drive. A half-a-mile back they came to a ranch-gated compound with a sign—The Last Chance—hanging from the top bar.
The van rattled over the cattle guard and Pik stopped.
On the right was a cinder-block garage and on the left, a row of motel units. Six of them, painted chalky blue and their drawn shades stared like blind white eyes. The old swimming pool had been filled in to make a cactus garden with a sea serpent made of old tires swimming through it. The main concern was the building, larger and set back from the others, in the middle. It was framed out with a porch and a false second story and Last Chance up high in faded circus lettering. The porch roof and posts had been trimmed out with chrome hubcaps that reflected the last rays of the sun in glittering red sequins. Neon glowed in the windows: an orange Vacancy, blinking on and off, and Ice Cold Beer, Groceries, and Camping Supplies in red and blue. Out back, beyond, the prairie spread forever.
"Hell," Fouchon said.
"Looks like home." Pik’s lip quirked up; this could have been some outpost in the veldt.
He put the car in gear and pulled up to the one pickup in front of the main building. "You get us some coffee, eh?" Fouchon had already slammed the door and was stomping up the steps.
And twenty minutes later, after an unsatisfactory talk with the mechanic, Pik was climbing them, too, to find Fouchon.
The place was deeper than it looked from the outside. Every shelf and pillar, every nook and cranny was crammed with merchandise. Hunting trophies hung on the walls, dusty dear with glassy eyes surrounded a white jackrabbit with tiny antelope horns on its head. Two cowboys drinking beer at the bar along the wall were talking to a skinny waitress. Their eyes followed as Pik glided by. Unconsciously, she reached up and wound a few loose strands of brown hair around her fingers. The septuagenarian at the desk at the end of the bar, though, didn’t bother looking up from his paperback. There was a juke box yodeling, We’ll go honkey-tonkin’ round this town...
Fouchon was not going to be pleased when he found out they would be staying the night.
Pik searched the aisles between the shelves of groceries, the racks of clothing, and jumbles of camping supplies and hunting equipment until he spotted an arrow pointing to the back: The museum entrance. See the two-headed calf. Fouchon would gone to see any number of two-headed calves before submitting to the curiosity of the locals. Pik ducked around a rack of cowboy hats and found him standing under an antique railroad clock.
There were display cases mounted on the wall and Fouchon was looking at the contents.
"The kaffir at the garage says he can't look at it until tomorrow," Pik said. "I'll get a room." Fouchon didn’t answer. "Did you hear me?"
"I heard you." Fouchon didn’t look away from the heavy silver bracelet set with chunks of polished coral that had his attention.
Pik stepped closer and read the curled yellow label. "Navaho, circa 1910," he said. "Likker. Sweet. But look there." Pik pointed at a short-handled spear in the case. "I don’t know from Apache but that’s a Zulu assegai. That there—" He pointed to a round-bladed knife mounted on a ring large enough to fit a man’s thumb. It had a wicked point. "That’s a Zhosa finger knife. Some Yank must have fought in the Boer War."
"God, I’m tired," Fouchon said and turned away. "Let's get a room."
The musty room with its two beds and small green dinette cost them twenty-five dollars. The television on the metal stand was black and white Pik discovered when he flicked it on.
Fouchon took one look at the warped fly-specked prints of big-eyed waifs that hung over the headboards, slammed his suitcase onto the bed furthest from the door and vanished into the bathroom.
Pik finished unloading the car, stacking the gun cases under the window. By the time he was finished Fouchon had showered and the faint lemony scent of 4711 perfumed the air. He was sitting up against the headboard, dressed in a pair of fine wool black slacks, and sipping brandy slowly out of a bathroom glass.
"Catch," Pik said.
Fouchon’s eyes snapped open.
"Bloody Jesus, Pik, you are working my nerves overtime today!" He scowled at the silver bracelet Pik had tossed into his lap. "Did you suddenly get stupid? We don’t need the kind of trouble if you’d been caught!"
"I didn’t get caught," Pik said. "You wanted it."
"I want—" Fouchon took a deep breath. "What I want is for you to go drop leave that van at the garage. Then go get us something to eat. And don’t even think about doing anything else."
It was dark and the lights on the top of the gate poles were lit by the time Pik had finished leaving left the keys with the mechanic.
The temperature was dropping; Pik took a breath of the cold clean air and paused as he skirted the rock garden to breathe in its sweet subtle odor. Instinctively, he looked for the Southern Cross and felt a pang of loss for its absence. He was in no hurry return to that ugly room; the debacle on the pier had shaken Emil’s control in a way Pik had never seen before.
As he stood there a yellow RV came through the gate. It said Windjammer on the side and had miles of Texas dirt on it. Curiously, all of the windows, except for a narrow slit in the windshield, had been completely blocked with aluminum foil and cardboard. As it went by, spattering gravel, Pik made out a flag with dark bars and white stars in the back window.
It pulled up in front of the Last Chance, just as Pik had the van earlier. The engine died, the front door opened and two men stepped out. They were followed by a woman. The men headed inside, ignoring Pik, but the woman stopped to look at him as he stepped up on the porch. She was small, wearing tight leather pants. Her shirt was one button opened beyond decency and her hair had been bleached to straw, at some point in time. "Severen!" She called. "Jesse! Y’all come take a look here."
The first man ignored her but the other turned and came at her call. He was dark and he was young. Pik could hear the spurs on his worn black boots jangling as he walked right up to Pik.
"Oh, yeah.” His giggle was high pitched and, as he approached, there was a peculiar odor pouring off of him—unwashed clothing, yes, but something that was slightly sweetish and rotten as well. He stopped and stared at Pik, reaching to finger the material of Pik's jacket and Pik shifted his weight, getting ready— “Kin I have this one, Jess? He is shurly purty."
"Diamondback! Severen! You leave off!" The first man had stopped at the end of the porch. "I want to settle here tonight. "You can have your fun later."
Like dogs at the sound of their master’s voice, both the woman and the dark one turned and left Pik alone. In shock. He tried to see into the shadows where the first man was standing. All he could make out was a razor-thin figure eclipsed in the orange corona of the vacancy sign.
"Be seein' you, Mister."
Pik shuddered as a wave of vertigo swept over him.
It was Emil's voice!
No. Not Emil's voice. Not Emil's accent. Not Emil's inflection.
Too much time in the van. No food—it was just as well those idiots hadn’t pushed it—he was shaking.
All Pik wanted to do was sleep.
He took a deep breath and regained his balance. Food. Fouchon was already as mean as a cobra. Get some food…
Back in the room. Fouchon lying was lying down. He had refilled the brandy glass.
"Feel better? Come on and eat something. I don’t want to listen to your stomach all night." Pik said, unwrapping the food and spreading napkins and plastic cutlery on the dinette. "I got the best of American cuisine here."
Clearly, Fouchon wasn’t ready to give up his mood yet, but he came and sat down. He tried a few bites of barbecue and stuck his fork in to the cup of coleslaw before throwing it down in disgust. "I can’t eat this shit." He shoved the Styrofoam container away. Now, they were going to get into it. "I need to know what went wrong. Can’t I trust you to look after things anymore? The whole operation was fucked and if the CIA, as well as those damned firearms people, aren’t after our tails, it'll be a fucking miracle. Because you didn't check that bastard's connections thoroughly. That was sloppy, Pik, really sloppy."
The criticism stung, as much for the slur on his professionalism, as it was being unfair.
"Emil," he said. "You said you knew him from before in El Salvador. You are being unreasonable. If the CIA gives a damn about us, it will be for cutting into their profit margin." Suddenly, Pik had to put his fork down to cover a yawn. He opened his eyes. Fouchon was glaring murderously.
"Am I boring you Pik?"
"Emil," Pik said. "I’m just tired of getting shot at. Maybe we could consider another profession, eh?"
As an attempt to defuse the situation, it was a failure.
"Maybe you would like to go back to what I found you doing. You're older; maybe a little slower. You were bound to run into somebody else who didn’t find you quite so tough, or didn’t appreciate you other attributes."
Fouchon's smile was sweet but Pik could feel himself flushing. A cold fury settled in his gut and he watched Fouchon fold his hands together on the table. The diamond on the left hand glittered. He loved Fouchon’s hands—the hands of pianist—and they were deadly. A thrill of desire arced through him. He wanted to get down on his knees and unfold them—kiss their palms—suck on their fingertips.
He put his fork down very slowly instead and stood up. He walked around, behind Fouchon, and placed his hands on his shoulders and squeezed until he felt the muscles quiver. "You know," he said. "I’m not having such a good time, either."
Fouchon’s skin was satiny under his hands and Pik began to dig in, slowly massaging until he felt Fouchon relax. Then he moved up the back of his neck, pulled his head against his stomach and let his hands wander down the front of Fouchon's chest to play with the tiny hard nipples. Fouchon sighed and turned, rubbing his face against the white cotton shirt like a cat marking its property, twisting in the chair until he could wrap his arms around Pik's waist to bite at belt and zipper.
Taking hold of Fouchon's chin, Pik pushed his head back, forcing Fouchon to meet his gaze. "So you want something to eat after all?" he said.
"Oh, yeah. Let’s do it." Fouchon’s voice was husky with need. He tried to stand and push Pik back onto the bed. Pik took advantage of his superior position and grabbed hold of the other man’s wrists. He jerked Fouchon’s arms over his head and shoved him down on his knees.
"No," Pik said. "You been a pain in my ass all day."
Collecting both wrists in one hand, he undid his belt and zipper with the other, reached in and pulled out his swelling cock. "Now suck me, you bastard. If you want more, you suck."
Fouchon snarled, showing his teeth, and earned himself a hard slap.
Pik jerked his captive arms higher. "Be good or I’ll hurt you. Maybe I'll hurt you anyway."
Fouchon looked up and, assured that Pik was truly enraged, surrendered. He swallowed the now-hard cock in his mouth and began to suck.
Pik lowered Fouchon's hands to rest on the back of his neck and began to thrust with his hips.
"You like that, don’t you," he said, feeling the rough velvet of Fouchon’s tongue and forcing his cock deeper. "Suck me hard, because I’m going to use you like a mattress. Be in you so deep you never get me out. Do you hear?"
Fouchon made no answer. Pik took a grip of his copper hair and twisted. "You hear me, you answer me."
Fouchon let the wet cock slip from of his mouth and stropped his face against the rough pubic curls.
Pik let Fouchon’s hands go head and tilted his head up. This time Fouchon would not meet his eyes.
"Okay," Pik said.
He shoved Fouchon over to the bed, on his knees, face down in the spread. He pulled off his own clothes and then rifled the travel kit on the night stand until he had located the tube of gel. He knelt between Fouchon's knees forcing them apart and leaned over his back so that he could feel the entire length of it. He bit the back of Fouchon's neck and shook, liking the short guttural sounds Fouchon was making. Letting go, he reached around and undid Fouchon's trousers, pushing them down around his thighs. Pressing down harder, he thrust his tongue into Fouchon’s exposed ear. "You feel me?"
"Yes," Fouchon groaned.
Pik took hold of his buttocks and squeezed. Then pulled his cock up between them and stroked the sensitive skin between. As he did, he reached around and took hold of Fouchon's penis. He ran the velvety shaft through his fist several times. Fouchon bucked beneath him.
"Lord, you make me so mad I could kill you." Pik nipped the back of Fouchon's neck again. "It’s going to be all right. There is nowhere in you that I can’t go."
He found the up the tube of gel, squeezed some of it on his fingers and felt between the cleft of Fouchon's ass, pressing against the tightly puckered muscle, slipping inside, rotating gently, pushing more fingers in, until they could play easily in and out. Then he removed his fingers and substituted his cock, pushing in relentlessly, ignoring Fouchon's sharp gasp and instinctive attempt at pulling away. When he was fully inside, he paused to let Fouchon get used to him, and to enjoy the heat of Fouchon's body surrounding him. Then he began to thrust—hard and harder—until the desperate sounds that Fouchon was making told him how close he was. Then Pik sat back on his heels, pulled Fouchon onto his lap, wrapped his arms around him, holding him. Fouchon let his head fall back and Pik could feel the throbbing of the blood I his neck against his cheek.
They stayed, immobile, until Pik couldn’t help petting up and down Fouchon's stomach. Then, Fouchon took hold of Pik's hand and wrapped it around himself. "Hard," he whispered. Needing no more, Pik pushed up, onto his knees, and brought Fouchon to climax in a few short, hard strokes. "No! No, don't!" Fouchon groaned with the force of his orgasm and collapsed sobbing over Pik's arms.
Pik pulled free of Fouchon's gasping body, pushed him down to the floor and rolled him over. Striping off the black slacks at last, he positioned himself between Fouchon's leg, lifted up his hips and entered in one stroke.
He leaned forward, thrusting, with his forearms to either side of Fouchon’s head. Their eyes were locked now. Pik was enveloped by the acrid smell of musk and the sweet tang of cologne. He leaned down and touched his lips to Fouchon's. "Better?" he said.
"Yes," Fouchon said.
Thrusting, laughing, Pik threw his head back, keening. They had survived to this moment! The breaking edge of orgasm began to take him. He thrust, bending again and covered Fouchon's mouth with his own and tried to pour himself into him, body and soul.
Pik came back to himself as his penis slipped from Fouchon's body. He took a breath and tried to ease the sense of loss by stroking Fouchon's hair. The color varied from dark red to gold and he fluffed it softly around his forehead like a crown, fascinated at the highlights as his fingers played with the strands. "I have to get you really mad at me someday."
"Yeah. We could achieve continental drift." Fouchon’s laugh was high pitched and brittle as he jabbed Pik’s rib. "Let me up."
Pik stood and pulled Fouchon to his feet.
"I’ll catch the lights," he said.
Fouchon fell asleep almost immediately, but Pik lay awake. The outside chill was finally cooling off the room, and he considered getting up to see if the heater worked. Instead, he rolled over and pulled Fouchon into the curve of his body. Fouchon awake was all wire and edgy, but asleep he was as supple as the cat resembled.
Something was prickling at Pik's mind and, now, in the quiet dark his hunter’s instinct wouldn’t let him rest. He counted back over the last day and a half of their troubles, but it was like an itch he couldn’t scratch.Pik buried his face his hair, Fouchon murmured softly. Suddenly, Pik remembered.
"I saw the Devil today, Emil," he whispered. "He looks just like you."
On that thought, Pik fell asleep.
He woke as Fouchon lurched away from him.
Pik's brain had already registered the sharp crack of a gun and the dull impact of a bullet burying itself in the wall over the bed has he rolled off the opposite side of the bed.
"What the hell!" From the floor, Fouchon’s voice sounded hoarse with shock.
There was an undulating yowl, the sound of breaking glass and loud laughter.
"Idiots!" Pik said. "From earlier. I'll take care of it."
He stood up began putting on his pants.
"What are you doing?" Fouchon asked.
"Going to shut them down."
"You’re barefoot." Pik already had his hand on the doorknob. "Put your shoes on."
"I’ll be right back, Ooma, it's just the local talent." Smiling, Pik and slipped out the door
Outside it was colder than he expected. Nearly freezing. The stars shown gloriously in the desert air. The moon was low on the horizon and the only other lights were aglow were in the motel room next to theirs. The door was open, so Pik walked in.
The waitress from the bar was sprawled head down over the television stand. The woman who had noticed Pik earlier sat beside to her. She was holding a glass under the waitresses head and her other hand was resting on the back of her neck. It was almost a comforting gesture. She looked up as Pik walked in, and said, "Who sent out for room service?" The glass was filled with some red fluid. She set it down on the floor and stood up. "Severen."
Behind Pik, there was a displacement in the air. He reached for the knife that should have been in the sheath at the back of his neck. An arm wrapped around his throat and his wrist was seized in an iron grip. The door slammed shut and someone giggled in Pik’s ear. "Welcome to the party."
Pik tried for an instep blow, but his missed and his arm was jerked up and he was duck-walked him over to an empty chair and sat down hard. The dark punk who had challenged him earlier, smiled into Pik's face. "It's good you dropped in. I was really admiring that jacket you had on today. Jesse? You see this guy's jacket?"There were dark stains around his mouth and his breath was foul. Pik turned his head to avoid the stink and saw the man called Jesse for the first time clearly.
He was sitting at the table, cleaning one of a set of ivory-handled revolvers on the table in front of him. The overhead light threw the spikes of his hair into a soft white halo around his head and reflected off his high forehead. There were black shadows over his deep-set eyes and his hands were pale, the fingernails long and bone white—the hands of a Gothic angel. He had a wide sensuous mouth that was stretched in an ironic smile and he just went on cleaning his weapon.
"Good of you to stop by," he said. His voice was rich and the accent soft. "Travellin' alone?"
Pik turned his head and looked at the body of the waitress slumped next to him. Blood had overflowed the glass beneath her head and was spreading toward his bare foot. He looked back at the man in the chair.
"Yes," he said.
"Be that as it may." Pik watched him straighten in his chair. "Severen, I told you to check out those other rooms. Diamondback, honey, you watch our company."
Severen giggled again. Pik aimed a kick at his crotch. Severen blocked it on his thigh and backed handed Pik, laughing, "Oh, he is cute, Jess."
Jesse was on his feet, saying, “Severen, I want to make sure this time,” when the door blew open.
"Move it, Pik!" The blast from Fouchon’s single-shot caught Severen in the back and he was reloading it as he flew through the door.
Jesse and Diamondback both dove to the floor for cover.
"Move it! Move it!" Fouchon was screaming as he fired the second shot at Diamondback who had been reaching up for one of the guns on the table. The shot hit her full between her breasts and slammed her body into the wall behind her. Fouchon was across the room, pulling Pik from his chair and shoving him toward the door. "You hurt?"
He pushed Pik outside and into their room, slamming the door and falling against it as Pik collapsed against him and slipped to the floor.
"Where are you hurt?" Fouchon’s hands were warm on his body. "Habibe! Talk to me!"
"Nee, nee." Pik struggled through the chattering of his teeth. "Nee, nee. Hulle is dood. Hulle drink bloed. Emil, ek het jou dobbleganger gesien."
"English, Pik!" Fouchon shook him. "Speak English, for God’s sake! What’s got to you?"
A blow made the door rebound in its frame and knocked them apart.
"We’ve got to get out of here!" Fouchon said.
Pik nodded and scrambled awkwardly over to the gun cases. He had one of the cases open and was fumbling with the latches on the second case when the window exploded over his head, showering him with glass and whiskey.
"Don’t run away, the party was just starting." Jesse’s voice came from outside. "And I didn’t get to meet your friend."
Pik tossed Fouchon a rifle and pointed to the back of the room.
He stood and fired through the window until he heard Fouchon’s hissed, "Come."
Fouchon had pushed out bathroom window and was already outside. Pik climbed through and dropped to the ground. As he hit, shards of glass cut into his bare foot. He managed to stifle a yelp of pain but Fouchon heard him and ran back.
"What is it?" Fouchon ran back to where Pik had fallen.
"Glass," he said, showing a bloody foot.
"Shit." Fouchon hoisted him up and put his shoulder under Pik’s arm. Together they ran to the corner of the building. The RV was parked on the side. There was no one in sight. Hugging the ground as closely as possible, they crawled through the dark to the back of the Last Chance. The rear windows of the building were secured with steel bars. When Pik made a tentative move toward a padlocked cellar door, Fouchon shook his head.
"May be alarmed, come on up here." There was an conditioning unit. Standing on it, Fouchon boosted Pik up to a tar paper and gravel roof.
When Fouchon was up, Pik was able to sit down and pull the biggest pieces of glass from his feet. He was bleeding but there was no help for that.
Fire lit up the sky.
Crawling after Fouchon to the front building, they looked over and saw the motel was on fire. Flames leapt in the empty windows of the second and third rooms. Black figures were dancing along the row. There was more breaking glass and laughter.
"How many of them are there? I killed two." Fouchon asked.
Pik stared at the capering shadows. "They are not dead, Emil."
"I can see that," Fouchon snapped.
There was aloud explosion. Flames erupted out of the window of Number 4 and one of the scarecrows caught fire. Pik could hear more laughter as the others gathered around it.
Fouchon touched his arm, indicating they go down. Over the hubcaps, they dropped over the edge, and into the shadow of the porch. The front door was open. They ducked inside.
"They’ll be busy out there for a while. Get behind the counter and let me see your feet."
Using his body to shield the light of his micro-flash, Fouchon dug the last bits of glass out of Pik's feet.
"Tear that up for bandages." He handed Pik a dishtowel. "And if you ever do anything that stupid again, I’m going to leave you in it.
Damn, we are not in a good position. If we’re lucky, they may think we’re dead."
"Emil, I touched them. They’re not dead—" Pik grabbed hold of his arm. "They drink blood."
"Do you know what you’re saying?" Fouchon pulled his fingers loose and sat back.
"I know what I saw." Shaking with reaction, Pik wrapped his arms around himself. He felt like crying. The railroad clock began to chime. "What have we got?"
"Two rifles. One with a partial clip. Two rounds left for the Thompson. There’s got to be ammo somewhere in this place. Get that towel torn up. I’m going to look around and see what I can forage." Fouchon stood and vanished to the dark interior.
Pik was tying the last knot on his makeshift bandages when Fouchon returned and handed him a pair of moccasins and a shirt.
"Put these on before your freeze."
Fouchon had brought, as well, an antique shotgun, a box of shells and a can of kerosene. He placed these things on the counter before stooping down to Pik’s level. his face impossible to see.
"The old man and the mechanic are over by the desk. It’s a mess. They won’t leave this place standing."
The sound of an engine revving drew their attention. Fouchon helped Pik stand. They looked out. The RV was moving from its parking place across the compound to the gas pumps. Fouchon took a breath. "I'm going to blow those ugly bastards to kingdom come," he said, and began digging under the counter, pulling out a bottle of cooking oil and more towels. "You empty the load out of those shotgun shells."
"What are we doing?" Pik said.
"You have been in too many high tech-armies, Mr. Van Cleef." Pik could hear the amusement in Fouchon’s voice as he poured most of the oil on the floor and began to replace it with kerosene. "A shotgun makes a pretty effective grenade launcher for a Molotov cocktail. Get one of the dowels off of that hat rack. Finish emptying those shells and fill them back up with this." Fouchon handed him a blue box of salt. "Hurry up."
Pik looked out the window. The RV was taking on a load of gasoline, but it was clear that preparations were being made to fire the garage.
Minutes later they were crouching behind the tire loops of the sea serpent in the rock garden. He had duck-taped a dowel to the side of a tin can and dropped the contraption into the barrel of the shotgun. The Molotov cocktail went inside the tin.
Pik felt Fouchon’s lighter pressed into his hand. "When I say so, light it. And don’t lose that."
Fouchon braced the shotgun between Pik’s shoulder and a tire loop and sighted.
"Light it," Fouchon said. "Now!"
He fired and the barrel of the shotgun jumped on Pik’s shoulder, burning his neck. The missile rose in sharp arc, fell and burst between the pumps and the RV. The soft woomph of it exploding was followed by a small fireball. Then a a concussion as the gas tanks exploded and ignited the garage.
They lay behind the humps of the sea serpent, watching the flames leap higher and higher. Fouchon pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and lit one. Pik began to reload the shotgun. The black husk of the RV was collapsed in front of the pumps. The fire consumed its volatile fuel in a fairly short time. It would have found little to support itself in the cinder-block building. But a second larger explosion blew the garage doors out.
"Pik, did you leave the rockets in the van?"
Pik felt giddy and relieved.
"We got the lot of them."
A voice like a razor cut through the dying roar of the flames. A body seemed to coalesce in front of them.
Jesse, his figure black against the re-orange fire with his arms stretched out like the wings of a bird of prey descending and his head cocked back like the trigger of a gun. His mouth was stretched in a rictus of fury.
"Not hardly," he repeated. "But you put a hurt on me and you’ll pay for that."
Fouchon stood up to confront him, the Thompson level before him.
Pik stayed down to cover him with the shot gun. A motion to the left caught his attention. He turned and fired into Diamondback’s face. The impact threw her onto her back and small purple flames broke out on her face and breasts. She slapped at them with her hands.
"Aw, Jeezus, Jesse, salt,” she howled. “I’m getting sick of this. Kill the mother fuckers."
Jesse stopped his advance and stood still. He said, "Well, aren’t you a clever little shit?"
His nostrils flared as though he were sucking information out of the air. He tipped his head and first glared hard at Fouchon. His eyes were pale in his sooty face. He looked at Pik and Pik shivered as though a snake had slithered over his foot.
"You listen to me," he said. "I protect my own. You hurt me and mine and I am going to be wearing parts of your body for the next hundred years."
Diamondback scrambled over to Jesse’s side and stood up, keeping a wary eye on the shotgun.
"No closer, afreet." Fouchon moved in front of Pik and they stood confronting each other.
"Yeeehaa! What a blast!" Giggling maniacally, Severen came out of the dark kicking and dancing, his spurs making sharp little “chings” as he moved. "Jesse, you old blood sucker, that somethin' else! They’re almost as good as us." He was grinning like an idiot. "Shit, what are you waiting for? Waste them." He stood, looking from Jesse to Fouchon, the manic grin slipped off of his face. He, too, stared at Fouchon. "Ain’t that a pisser, Jesse? He’s almost as ugly as you."
"Yeah, he’s good looking, I’ll give him that." Jesse’s laughter was a soft heh, heh.
"Good looking? You gone blind Jess? He looks just like you—stringy old cat's meat." Severen was laughing again. "’cept he’s got red hair."
He was still laughing and pointing when Fouchon fired.
The shot hit Jesse point blank and Fouchon threw the gun at Severen’s head. Pik had been waiting for his move and they bolted together for the café door. Behind them, he heard a feline snarl of pain and rage as they pushed through, slammed shut it and hit the bolt.
Pik braced himself against the door, expecting that would be forced at any moment, but there was silence outside. He looked at
Fouchon, who was pressed against the wall on the other side of the door.
"They’ll burn this out now, ne?"
Fouchon looked around the large room, considering. "No, they need this place. Intact. And at least one of us alive."
Pik thought about that and felt his heart start to pound. The ticking of the old railroad clock was preternaturally loud in the darkness. God, don’t let it be me, he prayed.
"Emil that man..."
Fouchon stepped away form the wall.
"Pik, if they can be hurt, they can be killed. That monstrosity isn't the only one who can light a fire. There’s a trap in the floor in the back, maybe a storeroom. Go see if it’s locked; I’m going to get the rifles."
The direction Fouchon had indicated took Pik past the case of antique weapons. A sudden impulse made him smash the glass with his elbow.
"What are you doing?" Fouchon was beside him as he was reaching back into the case.
Pike held up the short assegai. After who knew how long the truncated shaft was still straight and the blade still sharp.
"I feel more comfortable with this. It will kill spooks."
"Your choice, Habibe, but this is one hell of a time to go native. Take this as well." He handed Pik one of the rifles and headed toward the shelves of camping equipment.
A few steps further Pik found the trap in the floor, closed with a substantial looking lock. As he turned back to look for Fouchon, there was a violent ripping sound. Wood and metal parted and the trap flew open to reveal a blacker pit in the darkness. Pik drew a breath and extended the rifle toward it. Someone hit him in the back. He was on the floor, struggling with something around his neck. Everything went black.
Pik came-to lying on his back with a leather whipcord around his neck and Severen leaning over, grinning at him. "Boo! Did you miss me sweet thing?" He looked up and called, "I got one, Jess."
"Well, good. Let's see what you got." Jesse walked up with Diamondback behind him.
Pik almost blacked out as Severen pulled him to his feet by the cord around his neck.
Air hissed out of Jesse’s mouth. "It's the other one I want," he said. He raised his voice, calling, "I know you’re out there; I can smell
you. If you want this one alive, show yourself." Then he bent down, picked up the assegai and pressed the point to the base of Pik’s neck. "Now. Or I’ll kill him where he stands."
"You’ll kill him anyway." Fouchon’s voice was loud in the darkness.
"Yeah. But I’ll take my time about it and that might make a difference to you." Jesse’s eyes tracked the blackness. Fouchon was circling around. Jesse knew it.
An orange flame flowered in the darkness. It came closer until Pik could see the lighter in Fouchon’s right hand.
"It works like this." Fouchon said. "You don’t hurt him in any way and I don’t drop this." He brought his left, holding, holding an open can of kerosene, toward the flame. "I think we understand each other."
"You do, do you?" Jesse hooted. "I can kill him and be on you before he hits the floor."
"You would have done that already."
In the darkness the clock sounded the quarter hour. Pik felt a tremor in Severen's arm through the leather cord.
Jesse reached over and took it from him, winding the cord slowly around the assegai, drawing Pik beside him, so close Pik could fee cool breath on his cheek.
"I’m starting to like you, Red, you’d be a hell of a poker player—you like to bluff. I’ve always been partial to stud myself. Won a saber off a cavalry colonel once. You’d have thought I was taking his wife, he was that broken up about it. Fact, he tried to kill me after. I kept that saber for years, don’t rightly remember where I lost it. Must have left it somewhere. It was one of those engraved ones, real fancy..."
"Call off your dogs." Fouchon's words rasped like a file on metal.
Severen and Diamondback had been moving out under the soft blanket of Jesse's voice. Pik could hear Severen's angry, "Who you callin’ a..."
"Don’t try that again," Fouchon snapped. "Accidents happen when people don’t stay alert."
A clear stream wet the floor as Fouchon tilted the kerosene can.
Jesse made a sound between a snarl and a chuckle. "Severen’s right, ya know, we look enough alike to be brothers—even if you are shorter an' balder—tell you what, why don’t we call it a draw. I keep him." Jesse gave the cord around Pik’s neck a jerk. "And you just leave here, now, alive."
"No? I could just rip his head off and toss it to you—want to play catch?" The flame bobbled in Fouchon's hand. He didn’t answer, but something in his aspect must have satisfied; Jesse turned to look at Pik. "So that’s how it goes. He’s a pretty thing; is he any good? Maybe I want to keep him."
Severen began to giggle again.
The smell of kerosene was rising. Pik thought he was going to be sick.
"Pik is a professional. I would regret losing him." Fouchon’s voice was cold and steady. "He knows the risk of the game."
"And I know you’re a liar." Jesse pulled Pik closer. His cold dry tongue snaked into Pik's ear and churned. "He’s nice real nice," Jesse crooned.
Pik couldn't stop the hot tears that began to spill down his cheeks. Somewhere a clock chimed the half-hour. He tried to turn his head to look for it but Jesse held him too tightly. All he could see was the outline of Fouchon’s body against the window. Black against blue.
"Do you know what I am?" Jesse said.
"I know you, afreet," Fouchon said.
"Yeah, I guess you could call me that. Whose are you, Red? What Missouri dirt farmer got you? I have to give it to you; you’d try to out-face the Devil himself. We’re too much alike not to be kin." Jesse pulled Pik in front of himself and slipped his free hand sunder Pik’s shirt. His nails, sharp as glass, raked Pik’s nipples. He’s going to slice them off, Pik thought. "Whose get are you, Red? Or don’t you know?"
Jesse's hand didn’t stop moving; now he was cupping Pik’s genitals through the fabric of his slacks.
"My name is Jesse Hooker; I died in 1863."
"So why don’t you put the fire down. Join me."
"What are you doin’, old man?"
Severen and Diamondback had been standing by, watching. Now they began to argue with him.
"Come on, old man! It’s late. Let’s get safe."
Jesse rounded on them both.
"Shut up and keep out of my way. He’s kin. I want him." He turned back to Fouchon. "What about it, Red?"
"What are you talking about?"
"You know what I’m talking about. You and me—we could pitch a ball together. Put the fire down. I’ll make you one of us. We could hunt forever. You’re already a killer"
They stared at each other, as Jesse’s grip on Pik’s neck tightened and black shoals swam in front of his eyes. The ringing in his ears sounded like the chiming of a clock.
"Jesse, you gone crazy? Sun’s coming!"
"You two get down that storm cellar and secure it. I want to finish this."
There was the sound of feet moving away.
"Now listen to me, Red, you can set that fire and, I admit, it would inconvenience me at the moment. But in the long run that would be all, because I will kill him and will hunt you down. But, I think you’ll take my offer."
"Because I know you, I know what your candy is—I can smell everything running through you—and you never felt anything like it—every sound and every smell full of more meaning than you can imagine. You’d be stronger than any man alive." Jesse laughed.
"You’re hard as a rock! You want the world under you—I told you I know what your candy is. It can be like that forever." Jesse’s voice had taken on its hypnotic cadence again. As he spoke, he slipped his hand into Pik's open shirt and with an ivory nail was drawing a red circle under Pik’s left breast. He dabbled his fingers in the blood and smeared it on Pik’s lips and chin. "You can have your pet here like you never did before. Want me to tell you abut that? It’s the best fuck you ever had; it’s all the fucks you ever had. And he’ll beg you to finish it."
Fouchon’s face was as hard as ever but in the pearly pre-dawn light Pik could see the flush staining his cheeks.
Out on the highway, the headlights of a car appeared, slowing as they approached the turn off for the Last Chance.
"I agree, and you let Pik go." Fouchon’s voice sounded strained.
"No. No, I’m afraid Pik feeds us." Jesse turned Pik’s head and kissed him full on the mouth. "It’s been a long night."
"I’m sorry Pik."
The lighter in Fouchon's hand went out.
That was Jesse shrieking as he clawed at the knife in his shoulder,.
Pik felt the strap binding him go slack. He grabbed the assegai as it fell from Jesse's hand and threw himself across the space that separated him from Fouchon.
Outside, a car pulled up to the building.
Pik pulled the whipcord from around his neck and stood beside Fouchon with the assegai pointed at Jesse.
The vampire jerked the knife from his shoulder and stood with his head thrust forward and his lips pulled back in a snarl; he was panting hard. He opened his coat to display the ivory handle of the Peacemaker in his belt just as the headlights of the car shinning through the window went out. Suddenly Jess laughed.
"You must be kin, Red, that was almost as good as me. No hard feelings if we finish this game some other night? It's getting on for daylight."
Like the white facing the red king across a chessboard, Jesse faced Fouchon.
Pik couldn’t help snarling, "I kill you!"
Jesse only laughed.
"I know you’d like to stick me with that, sweet thing. Don’t bother, it wouldn’t hurt me." He looked at Fouchon. "Come on, Red. I’m curious, aren’t you?"
Fouchon said, "Pik, go outside and wait for me."
"No. I’m not leaving you with him." Pik took hold of Fouchon’s arm.
"I need to ask him..."
"No you don't!" Pik said.
Fouchon looked at Pik’s face, then shook his hand off and walked out the door.
"Almost," Jesse chuckled.
"Ugly spook." Pik flared, jabbing with the assegai for emphasis. "I'll come back for you with a pack of mustard seeds."
"Just an old wives' tale," Jesse said. "Let’s agree this isn't over and you git!"
Outside, the driver of the car, a black ’59 Cadillac with historic plates, had finally decided to step out of it.
"What happened here?" He was looking around myopically through the thick lenses of horn rimmed glasses. "You guys had one hell of a barbecue."
In Afrikaans, Pik said, "Ja, n’ u is die hoofgereg, voetsal mampara."
"Be polite, Pik. Speak English," Fouchon said. To the newcomer, he said, "There was as accident last night, but no one was killed."
"Wow, that was lucky," the man said. He had a smile like an amiable marmot. "I lost the interstate a couple hundred miles back. Can you direct me?"
"No, we’re not from around here ourselves,” Fouchon said. He cocked his head to the door of the Last Chance. "There’s a man, though, inside, who might help."
"Great. I was starting to feel like I was in the Twilight Zone—ooh, eei, dooo, deee..." Both Pik and Fouchon must have looked equally blank. The man stopped tweetling as he came up the steps, and said, "Think I could get a cup of coffee?"
"Inside," Pik said and the man walked by him though the door.
"What a funny little man." Pik looked at the car and then at Fouchon. "It’s a classic. I'll get your gun; you can drive."
An hour later, he lay across the car's broad front seat. With his head in Fouchon's lap and his legs inelegantly, but comfortably, draped over the seat back, was sorting out the contents of the stranger’s briefcase on his stomach. "Credit cards, several hundred dollars in cash and a wallet of traveler's check," he said. "Where do you want to go?"
"Switzerland," Fouchon said.
Pik closed his eyes and turned his face into the soft black cotton of Fouchon's shirt. It smelled of fire but he could feel Fouchon’s heart beating. "That Jesse—he got to you."
"No." Fouchon took his hand off the wheel and cupped it possessively around Pik’s head. "That albino freak had only one thing I’d go to hell for."
Pik felt something flutter under his breast, but it was too painful to speak about. Instead, held up one black suede clad foot.
"I like my moccasins. When I was child in Natal, we used to play Cowboys and Indians. You know I was always Indians."
"Fool." Fouchon swatted his cheek.
Pik smiled to himself.
"That funny little man," hes aid, "was a writer. There is a letter from his publisher saying they are so please to have Mr. Backman’s fifth novel. It will be a bigger seller than 'Salem's Lot." He pulled a binder out of the brief case and began to turn the pages. "I think this must be the manuscript."
Fouchon unrolled his window. "Give me that," he said, pulling the binder out of Pik's hand. He threw it out of the window and the spine of the binder broke as it hit the pavement. Pik sat up to see the white pages blowing like the ghosts of dead leaves behind them.
"What did you do that for?" he demanded. "I wanted to read it."
"Go to sleep," Fouchon said. "I want you to drive later and that garbage will only give you nightmares."
1st publication 1995: “Falling From Grace”