Deviant-Hunter, Killer of Saints
An Eve of Light Story
Series: Eve of Light: Deviant-Hunter
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There were obvious drawbacks to driving a certified gas guzzler. One of the most painful was having to drive a couple dozen miles from home to find a station where I could fill up without having to take out a small loan. I kept plenty of emergency fuel in the garage, but I was getting low. And since I had some spare time after lunch, I thought it’d be a good day to top off the tank and fill a few canisters. Stupid me.
During my drive there was a sharp drop in temperature as a clear-sky sunny March day went totally overcast out of nowhere. Unlike my late wife, I wasn’t sensitive to cold, but in this weather I would’ve worn something other than a reinforced short-sleeved shirt and jeans, which were also reinforced with a variety of strategic patches. The vest over my T-shirt was not for keeping warm; it was made for concealing weapons and lessening the damage of bullets and knives to my person. My composite-toe boots were not foot warmers. Surprisingly, even my all-weather, integrated-knuckle gloves were of little use. And though my belt buckle was as wide as a kitten’s head—fit for a Texan, though certainly not out of place in North Carolina—cold metal was cold metal. I could protect myself well enough if a deviant or two attempted to jump me, but nothing I was wearing helped keep me from shivering in the nipping breezes.
The boys on the motorbikes were even less brash. I’d noticed them roll up—one of them, the bigger boy, on a trike—but aside from their attire, I didn’t think much of them. They wore jeans and chaps with nothing under their cuts, possibly to show off their copious tats and modest physiques—the results of steady diets of beer and beef mixed with moderate if irregular gym work. The big guy seemed proud of his backpack, as if it conveyed some sort of status. They filled their tanks, pulled their bikes up closer to the store, and hung around near the door, chatting and—stupidly—smoking for a bit. I took in just enough of them to notice they didn’t seem to be part of any motorbike club (a poor Southern and Midwestern cousin to the more well-known motorcycle clubs); then I minded my business, focusing my eyes on more ambiguous surroundings.
My specs looked like sports goggles, and when I left the house, I had to always be ready to play, even if I never really wanted to. They functioned as my regular prescription glasses did, but they could be adjusted to run across spectrums, enhancing my vision to be even better than an animal’s and more like that of my true prey: the Fire-Virals. I could detect the invisible, see through most illusions, and see quite clearly in the dark. As I ran my eyes in every direction around me, though, I saw no potential threats, nothing hiding behind the veils gazing back at me, ready to strike fast and deadly when I blinked. There was, however, an odd smell of burning sulfur in the air, stronger even than the gasoline fumes.
Two cars left, leaving me alone in the lot by the time I was ready to put the nozzle back on its hook. Not willing to trust my card in the tank’s reader (skimmers were rampant in this area), I went inside to pay. The bikes and trike were still parked in front of the store, but the boys had disappeared. I figured maybe they had gone in for more smokes.
I saw them near the mag display: all three of them, a large backpack at their feet. Two were a couple of inches shorter than me, maybe about six feet, a buck eighty in weight. The one with the receding chin had a mullet; the one with the double chin wore a Mohican. Both of them kept their sunglasses on as they ogled car-porn magazines. The third one—taller, heavier, and with a receding hairline—gave me funny eyes. I rolled mine, landing them on the fridge toward the back of the store. I figured I could use a grape juice for the ride back home.
I headed to the back, grabbed two bottles of red grape, and made it halfway to the register when I saw what the little voice in the back of my head had been whispering about: a robbery. Of course. Just my luck. They’d been loitering outside, waiting for the customers to thin out. With just one left, they’d figured now was their best chance. Not exactly smart on their part. I was glad I’d opted for the glass bottles instead of plastic.
I was no cop. Hadn’t been one in years and then only for a blink of time. So I had no true authority here. I also had no rules.
The clown with the mullet was brandishing a gun and hassling the man at the register; the Mohican was looting from around the store, stuffing shit into a backpack; the big one had been near the front door, keeping his eyes on the lot. His formerly concealed pistol was now tucked in his waistband: a single-stack 9mm. As I neared, he turned to me and tried to grin with menace. I saw less than a dozen teeth and counted the ones I’d knock out if he gave me any grief.
It didn’t take an Einstein to know it wasn’t a good idea to use a firearm around gas, so I’d left my pieces secured and hidden in The Machine. Safety first. Problem was, most of the other accessories on my person were mostly harmless to anyone who didn’t have a billion light-devouring parasites nestled in their skin and swimming through their blood. Skrapnel capsules, Pixie eggs, a couple of choice syringes . . . no good. I’d have to do this the old-fashioned way—mostly.
I slipped the glass bottles of grape juice into two inner vest pockets and, from a smaller vest pocket, slipped out two pods of liquid black light, careful not to drop them and just as careful not to press them too tightly as I tucked them in my belt: one on the left hip, one on the right. My hands free, I kept on toward the register. Big boy eased away from the door and approached me. “What’s in those vest pockets, man?”
I mostly ignored him, keeping my eyes on the man brandishing the gun.
“I said”—he sucked in his bulbous gut—“what’s in your pockets, bro?”
“What’s in yours, bobo?” I asked while (mostly) keeping my eyes off him. “An extra pair of panties?”
“You—” He started toward me, apparently irritated by my lack of respect—the trifecta of me mouthing off, not looking at him, and continuing to advance as if he weren’t there. It was enough to agitate a man, make an insecure fool lose his shit—exactly what I was counting on. As his pal near the register turned to see what the hell was happening, big boy closed in on me and whipped the Glock of out his waistband.
Men and women who have spent their lives in a normal manner—going to school, getting a job, getting married, raising kids—they have their share of hell moments. To these normal men and women, such moments seem sped up and chaotic, comprehendible only in recollection. I haven’t spent my life in a normal manner. I’ve spent my life fighting deviant bastards who could manipulate light, shadow, and even snatches of space and time. To me, hell moments were fractured pieces of time that I was in charge of arranging if I wanted to live, so I’d long ago trained myself to see and move as necessary.
The fool close to me was too rattled to gracefully manage all his necessary tasks, which included moving his massive frame quickly toward me while properly gripping, aiming, and firing his gun. After getting a good enough sense of how the man by the register handled his piece—also a 9mm—I finally took my eyes off him and placed them on big boy. Then I removed the silver frontispiece of my belt buckle, rapidly configured it, wrapped it around my right knuckles, and ducked in, punching the metal knuckle into his gut and letting the metal claws extend. I used my left hand to knock his right away as he fired, his arm weak and his aim unfocused due to the sudden shock of the claws piercing several layers of his flab. Then I twisted and disarmed the claw, ripping it out and gripping the Glock firmly while (briefly) using big boy as a shield against the fool by the register, who fired poorly, as I’d figured he would from his mildly arthritic hands. The bullets didn’t hit big boy, but he ended up on the floor anyway, curled up in the fetal position and screaming. Big boys playing big men could be such big babies.
The clown by the register hesitated with his third shot. Maybe it was the sight of me with a gun in my left hand and his pal’s blood dripping from the glove and claw on my right hand. More likely, he was having issues with his grip. Either way, I’d had just enough time and space to anticipate the next shot, maneuver, and shoot the arthritic fool in the knees—right first, then left. He dropped his weapon and dropped to the floor. I didn’t hear the sound of either over his screaming. I tossed the silver claw, moved my gun to the right hand, and hustled for his weapon.
The third clown, the looter, also hustled. I hadn’t forgotten him but hadn’t realized he was so close. His gun was at the back of my head the moment I stooped to pick up the free 9mm with my left hand. He was the stealthy type. Maybe he’d seen actual combat.
“Leave that heater where it is,” he said. “Set your other gun on the counter, gently. And you”—he nodded at the clerk—“I wanna see both your hands on the register.”
The barrel was at the base of my skull, pressing skin. Any obvious deviation from his demands would no doubt turn out poorly for me, so I did as he said, rising slowly, knowing his eyes were primarily trained on my right hand as I deftly slipped the dazzle pod out of my belt with the left and kept it tight between two fingers. I laid the gun gently on the counter and raised my hands high so he’d be even less likely to look at them.
He kicked the 9mm on the floor away from us, closer toward the clown who’d originally held it but really out of everyone’s reach. “Now step away from the counter—back up with me—and keep those damn hands up! If I even think you’re inching forward, you’re dead!” I complied again as we backed up several steps in near unison and he began barking like a panicked dog at the clerk. “All the cash on the counter! Now! I wanna see everyone’s hands! Don’t even think about going for that gun!” The looter had gotten agitated quickly. He’d probably gotten a better look at my handiwork on his buddies. Or maybe he’d suddenly realized they were wasting more time in here than originally intended. They certainly weren’t skilled stickup men, but for the time being, they had the upper hand. Best to let the gunman think so anyway.
The clerk—a middle-aged Middle Eastern man—met my eyes in a panic. I gave him no sign, no reassurance. The Glock was out of my reach, and he didn’t seem fool enough to try for it, thankfully. He’d been stalling earlier, trying in his broken English to talk the gunman out of this whole thing, hoping for a miracle. Now he’d resigned himself to giving the bastards what they wanted—which is exactly what I wanted.
He opened the register and began to pull out the bills and lay them on the counter, far from the gun, next to the bag the man with busted kneecaps had given him. The bills and change would go in the bag soon. And if the looter had his way, I’d be destined to go into a body bag soon after. He had no use for me; he had to see to the cash, see to his comrades, and get out. I was an unnecessary obstacle. But he—like his boys—didn’t know how to chew gum and walk at the same time. While he focused his eyes on the clerk’s money and his ears on his boys’ moaning, threats, and curses, his gun’s barrel’s tip released a fraction of its pressure on my skin.
Oh, if only I had the abilities of my usual foes . . . I would’ve turned invisible right about then. Instead, I thought I’d do something else with light.
I slid the pod from between the base of my two fingers up to the tips, gave it a sharp pinch, then subtly flicked my wrist, tossing the pod away from us. The thwap of its landing took the gunman’s immediate interest, and the just-as-immediate color show held the interest long enough for me to close my eyes and prepare my dance in the dark.
On impact, the black liquid (“ignited,” in a way, by my pinch) had rapidly begun to change colors as it churned. The last color was white before the entire packet went clear and released a small-but-not-contained explosion of tight-white light—“tight” because it was impossible to see anything through or around it. It wasn’t quite as bright as the sun, but I’d take it. And I saw enough of the effect through closed lids that I didn’t need the gunman’s yelp as a signal to move—but again, I took it. My specs protected my retinas, and my reflexes protected my neck as I twisted my vitals away from his aim, took his gun after he got off a wild shot, and grabbed him by the neck, orienting him to make sure he finished watching the show.
I wished I could’ve warned the clerk, but I’d made sure the gun wasn’t aimed in his direction when the wild shot went off, and the light wouldn’t do him any real harm. Nor would it hurt the gunman—that’s what the grape juice was for. I slipped both glass bottles out of my vest—one in each hand—and cracked them both on his head, one on each temple. It wasn’t overkill, just a speed test. I’d wanted to see if I could get ’im with both before he hit the floor—and, yeah, I still had it. So did the gunman. He fell to the linoleum, his head resting on broken glass, cold juice, and warm blood.
I scrambled to retrieve all the guns and even patted down the fallen. Once I had everything, I disassembled them, laying the parts on the counter as I spoke to the clerk. “Sorry, pal, for the stains.” He couldn’t see me or what I was talking about, but he undoubtedly knew both my deeds and I deserved a rapid barrage of profanity, which he readily released. I ignored him and surveyed the damage. Two of the would-be looters weren’t unconscious, just smart or cowardly enough (I’d take either) to stay put. Still, loud enough for everyone to hear, I said to the clerk, “Hope you called the cops already, ’cause if these boys give me any more trouble before they show up, you’re goin’ to have to hire a part-timer to help you clean up all the mess.”
The clerk didn’t give me a straight answer, stuttering and cursing, switching between his native tongue and mine. I didn’t pay him more than a quarter of my attention, as the wealth of it was spent focusing on the three dumps and, lastly, my tricked-out Hummer, out there lonely among the pumps with a full belly, waiting for me to deliver it home. The custom-made silver-and-black Machine wasn’t lonely for too long before a Beemer sped into the station followed closely by three blaring black-and-whites. The Beemer almost hit a light pole trying to maneuver out of their way.
I remained where I was, watching the uniforms exit their vehicle and come hustling toward the store.
For the second time today, I did as I was told, letting them push, pull, shove, and turn me about like a perp in a bad cop drama, all while they barked orders, pointed weapons, cuffed me, shouted some more, and finally led me outside. I tuned out much of it as I thought about Frankie. She’d have to get another ride home from school if they took me in. I wouldn’t get as far as a cell, but the process from here to the requisite Q&A could take a couple of hours. It differed from town and town; who knew how they operated here?
I came back to the here and now as I saw and kind of heard an ambulance turning in to the lot.
“Sully, wait—check this out.” They’d apparently taken my wallet. A cop with a grating voice was holding up my golden I.D. Even from a few paces away, the other officer saw and recognized the holographic chip. He nodded at the card slowly and respectfully, inspecting it more closely as his eyes widened from slits to wonder before narrowing again to focus on me.
“Frank Sanders, huh?” Sully said. “Why didn’t you say you were HSA?”
“I respect the law, such as it is.”
They looked confused. I sighed and tried again.
“I believe I was told to remain silent.”
They looked at each other. Well, hell—maybe I was told no such thing.
“Anyway, I’m not Heartland Security anymore. Just former.” Plain truth spoken—though it meant a variety of things to law enforcement, as the other officer demonstrated when he moved to uncuff me.
Funny thing about the so-called “gold” card—a de facto badge that cut ice with some, not even butter with others—it was given to all retirees in good standing. But if any bad shit really went down, it was damn easy for the Agency to totally disown me.
I rubbed my wrists as Sully asked, “Why were you here?”
I raised an eyebrow and tossed a glance toward The Machine. “It doesn’t run on water, boys.”
“I mean why don’t you use the filling station near the base?”
I shook my head. “Ain’t military. No discounts for me.”
“Really?” Sully handed me my wallet. “I thought all you HSA boys served?”
“Only in the war at home, fellas.”
“Well, good work here,” the other officer said.
“Yeah,” Sully said. “Habib should go kiss his magic carpet that you were here.”
“And maybe tell it to whisk him back to his own shithole country.” Both officers chuckled.
My gaze narrowed. “He’s as American as you or me—officers. We need more productive citizens like him in this country, less of the trash on trikes.”
They had nothing much to say at that. Even if they did, they saw the look in my eyes (even through the specs), choked back their words, and seemed a tad relieved when the black sedan pulled into the lot. They retreated back to the shadows of their black-and-whites, conversing under their breaths. I forgot them and focused on the black sedan. It was totally nondescript except for the plates, which were tagged like my I.D. Word had traveled fast.
The driver stopped the car in no particular space. A man in a suit, tie, and aviators got out before the car was even in park. As he approached, he paid only a glance at the scene around him before he removed the shades and fixed his eyes on me. I met him halfway.
“The hell’s all this, Sanders?”
“Wish I could say a retirement party, Essen.”
“Yeah, like hell you do.” He extended his hand; I shook it with sincerity. “Was on my way to your place; then I got the call and intuition kicked in.” He looked at the ambulance and smirked a little. “Picked up your vehicle on satellite.”
“Sure it wasn’t hard to miss.”
“A bouncing ball of energy. Thinking of gettin’ her a dog.”
“I think you both could use one. Pets add years to your life, pal.”
“Frankie’s my life. Making the world better for her is the only thing I live for. I know where I’m going after all this mess I call a life.”
“Yeah”—he pulled out a cig and lit it—“you’re a blessed man.”
And he should’ve been on suicide watch, but I skipped that and just asked, “What’s the story? I know you didn’t drive out here to congratulate me on cracking a few skulls.”
He puffed then nodded me over toward his car. “No story, Frank. Just a premise.” He lowered his voice as we walked. “Saints Day party takes place in a North Carolina county. Dozens of kids raped, mutilated, murdered, infected with the Fire Virus—all of the above or some combination of it.”
I sighed. Fuckin’ SD parties. “Guess I need to be part of the plot.”
He blew smoke and nodded. “We would like you to help ensure a happy ending.”
We stopped by the passenger-side door of the sedan. The black window slid down. I gazed at the doughy face of a man who had the expression of a bullfrog.
Essen said, “Mr. Sanders, this is—”
“A friend,” the man interrupted. His voice was smoother than his appearance. “A good friend—and admirer—of you and your tribe.”
In other words, one of the benefactors who allowed the hunting clubs and me to operate freely on American soil—one who no doubt had a hand in providing us with all necessary supplies. I nodded a greeting and punctuated it with, “Pleased to meet you. But I choose my friends carefully.”
“You are wise to.”
I turned my head slowly toward Essen. “Why come to me with this?”
“Marcus Graham—remember him?”
How the hell could I forget? “Lost a couple of good hunters in that mission. Damn good people.”
“And we lost of couple of good handlers.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Heard they went fishin’ in a black lagoon. Shame about that, wasn’t it?”
“You know, you’d think expert fishers of men would know all about bait, hooks, and wires . . . flying squid . . .”
He lowered his head to his fist and coughed. The man in the car also cast a look downward but seemed to chuckle under his breath. No doubt he knew how dirty my previous handlers were. Maybe he was glad to be rid of them. I’m not sure I was ready to harden the new friendship just yet, though.
Essen raised his head and looked around us nonchalantly. “Yeah, well, you torched Graham and his wife—good job—but the kids got away. Disappeared.”
“I know. I’ve been looking.” Me and a few trusted associates.
“Heard your focus has actually been on other things,” he said, again turning his head casually to the left and right. “Unraveling bogus conspiracies and all that.”
I furrowed my brow and gazed at him till he was forced to meet my eyes dead-on. “What are you saying?”
“That you need to get back on track. The right path.”
“Graham’s kids. We have a good feeling they’ll be at this party.”
The skin on my face crawled a bit and then tightened as I swallowed. “You have the full intel?”
“What little of it there is to have,” the man in the car said. “We know the county but not the exact location. We have some ideas about potential hosts. Whoever they may be, intel says they’ll very likely have a special guest or two.”
In other words, The Infinite Definite. “Which cell?”
“Not sure yet.” Essen and I were apparently on the same wavelength. “Hope to have a better idea soon. But you’ll need to do some homework.”
“This should get you started.” The man in the car extended his right hand; in it was a black CD jewel box that undoubtedly contained a gold disk, one that could only be played on certain devices.
I tucked the thin box into my vest’s inner pocket. “How many fellow party crashers am I allowed to bring with me?”
“Keep it neat.”
No more than three then. Hunters were supposed to be unknown to the public, but a lot of the public might be at this party. We hunters couldn’t be in force, but—“Backup?”
“The HSA’s on alert,” Essen said. “FBI. Sheriff’s office. But as you full well know, all law enforcement is stretched thin these days. They can only do so much, especially when we don’t have much to go on up front.”
Not to mention no warrants, I thought.
“You and your crew will have to be the inside specialists. Once we narrow things down, we’ll try to get in some other guests. But no matter what we can or can’t do, be ready for anything.”
“Well you know I’m always ready for a party. I’ll be the clown who ruins the kids’ good time.”
I nodded a farewell to them both and headed back to The Machine. I’d listen to the disk once I got home. On the way there, I figured some Merle Haggard would help me unwind.