Serial Saturday: Road Trip, Part 12

JT unstuck her feet and made her way back to their table as Bryce went back to looking at his menu. She didn’t know he was carrying a gun, but it seemed pretty likely. She and Israel had brought along some firepower, but it was all in the form of longarms in the trunk of the car. Having some sort of confrontation in the restaurant probably wouldn’t have gone well even if their handguns hadn’t been hidden back in JT’s trailer, but she would have felt better about the possibility.

She glanced out the window at the parking lot as she slid into her chair. No one was hanging around the car or anything. She could see the black SUV that Bryce had been in the night before, parked at a respectful distance away. She switched her gaze to Israel, and after a moment he seemed to feel it and spoke without looking up from the dessert menu.

“It didn’t seem worth screaming about,” he said. “Bryce just likes to make sure I know he’s still following me.”

“Yeah, let’s talk about that, while we wait for the fucking chicken fried steak to arrive,” JT said quietly. “Why is he following you?”

“Well–” Israel broke off and looked up with a smile as the waitress arrived. She set down an iced tea in front of each of them, and left.

“Look,” he said, “they put the straw in for you but they leave a little piece of the paper on top so you can tell it’s new. That’s how you know this is a classy joint.” He tipped the slice of lemon perched on the rim into the glass and poured in a bit of sugar, then stirred the whole thing with the straw, making the ice cubes clink. He took a sip and let out a happy sigh, then looked at her expectantly.

“Bryce,” she said after a moment, leaning forward. “Why does that asshole have a hardon for you?”

“Oh, yes. Well, he wants the flute, basically.”

“Why him? Why this flute?”

Israel shrugged. “The flute is one of their artifacts. It has power, in the right hands. You know that.”

“I know that,” JT said, staring levelly at him across the table. It was like she could feel the tomahawk, and the knife. Tingling.

“As for Bryce, we have something of a history. He knew me back in Vermont. We had sort of a relationship, even if we’re supposed to hate each other. You know how that can happen, between us and the Badgers, sometimes.”

JT knew that, too, but didn’t say anything. Not for the first time, she wondered how much Israel had found out about her.

“Anyway, me and Bryce, we weren’t friends, exactly, but we respected each other,” Israel said. “Bryce caught wind of the flute around the same time I did. Whatever respect we had for each other didn’t survive the pursuit.”

“So you were hunting an artifact, huh?”

Israel’s brow wrinkled. “I…think so, yes. That’s around the time things got a little hazy.”

JT pulled the little piece of paper off her straw and took a sip, then stared at the glass for a moment.

“Good, isn’t it?” Israel asked.

JT looked up slowly. “Jesus H. Christ. You were hunting for artifacts from the Old Ones. That’s bad enough. But you don’t even remember it.”

“Well, I was in a mental institution. But I told you, I’m better now.”

“Maybe you are, but it sounds like you were a reckless fucking bastard.”

Israel took a thoughtful sip of his own tea. “That’s true, most likely. I’m a reckless fucking bastard now, after all.”

JT crumpled the little piece of straw paper she was still holding into a ball, and tossed it onto the table. “When did I get to be such an idiot?” she muttered.

“You’re just doing what you can to help your mother,” Israel replied.

“I am, huh?”

“Or maybe you’re just helping me. Out of the goodness of your heart.”

“No, I’m pretty sure that ain’t it.”

“Maybe you just got pissed off,” Israel said, jerking his chin toward where Bryce sat. Bryce looked up, and Israel grinned.

“Every time you grin like that, I have a harder time believing you got better,” JT said.

“Just happy to see that chicken fried steak coming,” Israel replied. JT glanced up to see the waitress approaching.

She ate it without enthusiasm, glaring at Israel like the answer to what was bothering her was going to appear on his face. Israel picked up the check, making her wonder again where he’d gotten the money. It wasn’t like he was spending huge amounts–gas on the way up, a cheap lunch–but he’d been in a place where he hadn’t needed money for a long time.

She had a feeling they hadn’t handed him the money he’d been carrying on the way in when he’d left, like they’d done for her when she’d left the Albion correctional facility. He’d been vague on how he’d left, of course. She sighed as she followed him out into the parking lot. He’d been vague about just about everything, and for some reason she’d let him be.

She was musing deeply enough on that thought that she almost ran into Israel when he stopped short in front of him.

“What-” she began, then followed his gaze to their car. The things sitting on the roof could have been blackbirds, probably would have looked like blackbirds to anyone else. Three of them, lined up and staring at them with liquid-black eyes. It took a close look, a hard thing to do, to see that they didn’t have feathers. JT couldn’t tell exactly what they did have, but whatever it was it seemed to be sliding slowly off them. As she watched, part of one of the things broke off and landed with a wet plop on the roof of the car.

“This car has really seen better days,” Israel sighed. JT’s eyes were drawn to the scratches on the roof that seemed to point toward more on the dimpled trunk. She’d noticed them before, but now they suddenly seemed more significant.

Whatever the things on the car now were, JT had an idea they could fly like blackbirds. One flapped its wings as she had the thought, spraying the car with droplets of black liquid. It took off, in painful, lumbering flight, and lurched toward them.

Hratk ch’an!” Israel said. His head was cocked to one side as if he were listening to something. “Gihurthla dyat kyala!” The bird-thing veered off and flapped away, and the others rose to follow it.

The tomahawk was in her hand, she realized, as all three creatures flapped clumsily off toward the trees surrounding the parking lot.

“Ah, the famous Old Weapon Aya’Ilana,” said a voice from behind them. JT whirled to see Bryce standing behind them, some twenty feet off. He had one hand behind his back.

“Yeah,” JT said, letting the tomahawk fall to her side as she shot a glance back at the restaurant. No one came out of it, and there was no one looking out the window at them. Bryce hadn’t moved; was still standing stock-still with a hand behind his back.

“You want to show me that hand?” she asked. The hair was standing up on the back of her neck and she wanted to look back at the car, see if there was something sitting on it again. Israel had scared them off, she thought, but that didn’t mean they’d stay scared.

“Not particularly,” Bryce replied. “Rather than my hands, Jane Temperance, I will show you things that will flay your mind raw in the moments before you die.”

JT sighed. “You think you can draw whatever’s back there without getting a tomahawk in your forehead?”

Bryce smiled. “Can you throw that underhand?” he asked.

“Care to find out?’

Bryce’s smile widened, and he slowly brought the hand into view, empty.

“That’s twice, now,” JT said. “You get up in my face one more time, it ain’t gonna end all smiley like this.”

“No, it won’t,” Bryce replied. “No smiles. Rictus grins, Jane.” He backed up a few steps, then sort of sidled over to his car. Once there, he paused. “I get the impression that Israel has not fully filled you in on what he’s been up to, Miss Quinn. If you’d asked me, you could have saved yourself some pain. Too late now, I’m afraid, but cut him loose and I’ll have Angela kill you quickly rather than turning you over to be a plaything to things you barely understand.” He waited for a bit, meeting her gaze, then finally opened the door with a smile and slid behind the wheel. The engine started, and he pulled out, onto the state highway.

Copyright © 2011 SM Williams

~ by smwilliams on June 25, 2011.