Kylie let her fingertips drift across the creased sepia photograph of a young sailor with a trimmed beard, his hat in his hand, a baby cradled in his arm. A pretty girl in plain, light dress stood next to him, her arm in his. ‘Dory, Juliet et Michael – St. V e C 1917’ in faded ink across the bottom. The sailor was the grandfather of a man she thought held secrets to a life she’d been denied. A man, she’d discovered, who never knew she existed. More of her mother’s seemingly endless fabrications exposed. She raised her eyes to Evelyn’s. “Who am I?”
Evelyn Blanchard’s window shattered on the heels of a rifle shot, the glass lamp on the wall opposite popped and the room went dark. Kylie scrambled to her knees from her cross-legged seat on the floor, clutched at the photographs and transcription of her history that had vanished with the light and found shards of glass instead.
“Be still.” A huge shadow flew up in the room. Kylie felt the breeze as the shadow turned heavy blanket floated to the floor. “It’s not him, child, as he’d never harm you. Follow the blanket to the door, as it minds the glass for you.”
Kirklin and Caswell heard a second shot, saw the hole in the middle of the old truck’s safety glass windscreen expand just before the glass fell into bits around them. They banged open the doors, dropped and rolled under the truck. Two more rifle shots, two more dull metallic plunks hit the truck. Caswell looked to his left, saw the X5 roll up not ten yards away. Shona climbed out, closed the door and the driver’s side window exploded before he could shout a warning.
“Bloody hell, Cas? No harm to me.”
“No. I’m a detective, not armed response.” Two more shots, the truck plunked twice.
“Inside, Shown. Now.” Caswell rolled out and fired three evenly spaced rounds in the direction of the rifle shots, rolled back under the truck. “Goddammit, Kirklin. Is that petrol?”
“Tank runs behind the seats. A better shot from those woods and that’s our blood.”
“Shit. Go.” They rolled out their respective sides, Kirklin toward a stone shed, Caswell to a planter. The truck took two more random shots, the muzzle flashes gifted them the rifle’s location. Caswell rolled out from behind the planter box and sprinted around the far side of Cliftonwood, peered across the back. He knew Kirklin’s route to the woods would be along the stone fence from the far side of the shed, and fired twice in the rifle’s location to pull the shooter’s attention away. The return shot chipped mortar five feet from where he’d been. Whoever was out there didn’t have night vision, or a muzzle suppressor, or couldn’t shoot. Missing any of those meant amateur. Kirklin would have them in under five minutes.
Cas sprinted back and behind the truck to the shed. He stopped to catch his breath with a lean against its wall, noticed the old Volvo 240 roll slowly into the parking area. He caught the glow in the back seat, saw the hand with a Molotov cocktail start to reach out. He fired three quick shots, one in the front window, two in the back of the Volvo. The burning bottle of petrol disappeared, flared up in the back seat and the car bumped to a stop on Kirklin’s truck. He waited, no one got out. He crouched off behind the fence line and was halfway to the woods when the cars went up, their fireball lighting the night. Almost immediately Kirklin’s Walther popped once.
“You shot me! You could have killed me you stupid, old, man!” The kneeling sniper was holding his upper left arm, his dark jacket growing darker around his hand.
“I’ll agree with you being shot, and me being old. But stupid is yours.” Kirklin kicked the kneeling sniper between the shoulder blades, sent him face first into the dead leaves and mud. “The next one will break a bone. Hurts like hell, that.”
“The next one says he’s done.” Caswell yanked the youngish shooter up by the hair. “What pathetic excuse for a man shoots at unarmed women? Eh? You? What’s your bloody game?” He shook the shooter by the hair. “Answer me!”
“To shut the old woman and whoever was with her. You’ll not have other bed time stories from me.”
Caswell stuck his SIG in the shooter’s mouth, his other hand still in his hair. “Your friends have gone well done, your plan’s gone well shit and that’s my old woman you shot at. My unarmed women. You’ll tell me your game, or I’ll have you down there turning charcoal with your mates.” He pulled the gun out of the shooter’s mouth, started to drag him toward the Cliftonwood bonfire by the hair.
“You don’t have the balls, filth –”
Cas let go of the hair and the SIG barked in the shooter’s face, taking off the flesh tunnel hoop and the bottom of his left ear. The shooter screamed, pulled a hand covered in blood from his ear and his face went white with shock. Caswell grabbed another handful of hair. “I’ll have your balls. One at a time.” Cas lowered the SIG to crotch level and the shooter screamed again.
“DORY! DORY! Dory…DorianDoryDorian…”
“Dorian?” Cas glanced up at Kirklin, then back. “Dorian Simone?”
“YES! He’s going to bloody change things, make things right. No more zealots, no more religions, no more elections or crowned Man-Gods. Pure anarchy. From the inside. He’s on the inside, calls himself the poisonous, festering canker you can’t see because you’re all so fucking blind looking outside for a disease borne on a spectre’s myth.” He stared at both of his blood covered hands and collapsed into a kneeling fetal position.
“Standard anarchist coup. Points for originality.” Kirklin picked up the rifle, grabbed the bleeding arm of the shaking shooter. Caswell grabbed the other arm and they dragged the bloody, stumbling would-be sniper out of the woods, down the lawn, past the burning cars and the stench of seared death. Caswell threw the sniper down in the gravel, put his boot on the back of his head, pulled his phone.
“Caswell. Medical assist transport. Cliftonwood House.” He looked up in time to see Kylie run from the door, throw her arms around Kirklin and start sobbing. He waited, watched the arms Kirklin had held suspended and at bay above her drop around Kylie’s shoulders.
Cas closed the rear doors of the windowless metro van, tapped the door with his knuckles, turned to Kirklin and Shona as it pulled away. “How’s our Doc?”
“A short lifetime of lies and diffusion to sort. From comfortable to Shown, you and all in this mad business. Still, she wants the rolling Swedish camp stove lads on her table in the morning.”
“They’ll land on a different table. Shona, do us a favor and get them all back inside. Tell Kylie to expect company in the morning. She’s not to argue as usual, but go wherever they take her.” He waited while Shona collected Kylie and Evelyn and a half-dozen orderlies, ushered them back through the doors of Cliftonwood. “I put this mess off on the Moving Company, Kirklin. Until I start getting answers.”
“I heard the Moving Company was ‘absorbed’.”
“Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.” He folded his arms, leaned against Shona’s X5. “He was a kid. A stupid, dangerous kid.”
“We were all kids, once. Often stupid and occasionally dangerous in our causes.” He lit his last black cigarette, sailed the empty box backhand at the bed of his smoldering truck. “Necessary was it, the lad’s ear?”
Caswell shrugged. “Needed to shoot him. Couldn’t kill him.”
“All’s well, then.” Kirklin snorted a laugh. “Thought about taking target practice on that hole in his ear myself.”
Caswell pulled the vibrating burn phone from his pocket, thumbed it open. “Get out. Dunning.” He flipped it closed, expressionless. Kirklin watched the phone disappear back into Cas’s pocket, raised an eyebrow as a question.
“Elise. Warning us off.”
“Bloody woman needs to work on her timing.”
“I’ll mention that. Had she known sooner and passed it on, would it have mattered?”
“No, you had assets at risk. ‘Had she known sooner’? You need to think about that.” Kirklin took a long drag of the cigarette, blew it out the side of his mouth, nodded toward the two smoldering hunks of metal. “I’m going to miss that old truck.”
“Liars go to hell with the rest of us, Kirklin. You need to think about that.”
The Art of Drowning
What could possibly go wrong?