A loud knocking, and Elle’s insistent but gentle shake, awakens me.
“Wake up, they are ready. I’m sorry, but we need to get out of here before we drop. I don’t really trust Mott that much.”
I nod, rubbing sleep from my eyes.
Elle unlocks the door, and the little fellow with the abundance of whiskers she’d been waving at earlier is standing there.
“Grimes,” he says simply to me, and slaps his palm into Elle’s.
“Here you go, all ready. You must be planning on going on a rough trip by the shopping tab you’ve left,” he says, looking up to Elle.
“Mott knows I am good for it,” she replies shortly, with a brief smile.
She turns to me.
Alexander’s voice cuts into my head quite suddenly, warning me of danger.
Michael, I see something-
Damned cat is always late.
As Elle starts to move through the door, things seem to slow. Her hand, withdrawing from the Gamma’s, moves to her side as she takes one step forward.
“Elle!” I call to her.
Too late. She rocks forward with a surprised look on her face, and blood blossoms from a hole in her chest. The bullet that passed through her misses me by inches. The bed beside me erupts in a spray of feathers. Grimes calls out loudly, and sucks to one side.
I roll to Elle, grasping her arms and pulling her around out of the doorway as another bullet tears a chunk of plaster from the wall behind me. I can hear her gasping for breath from a lung that’s likely ruined.
“Elle, Elle, no, hang on, honey, hang on!” I shout to her above the din of gunfire.
Mott’s men are opening up on the would-be assassin, and the air reeks with the smell of cordite. I hear bullets impacting with walls, floors and bodies. Cries of the wounded ring out.
“Oh, ah, sh*t, I am hit!” Elle croaks to me, looking up from my lap with pink blood frothing upon her lips.
“Oh, don’t talk, love, hold on, please hold on, baby,” I am babbling, my fear for her rising.
I don’t want her to die. I put pressure on the front of her wound to stop the bleeding, but there’s so much of it. Too much.
“Ungh, uh, ahhh…Michael…I…ah, it hurts!”
“Please, just be still and be quiet!” I beg her.
I take off the jacket she gave me, her dead brother’s jacket, and lift her back to press the entry wound against it. My shirt is next, also her brother’s, and I press that into the exit wound hard.
“Just relax, hold on, don’t go anywhere, please,” I chant to her over and over again, a mantra for her to live, to keep breathing.
She does, but it’s ragged and pained, eyes looking up at me glazed with agony. I smile down, wipe the blood from her lips.
“It’ll be okay honey, it’ll be okay.”
She nods and tries to smile but it comes off more of a grimace. Then I notice the gunfire has stopped.
“I am going to lay you down, just hold here and be still, Elle,” I whisper to her, holding her hands on her chest and the shirt that’s pressed into the wound.
Cautiously, I duck my head around the doorway to see what is going on. Most of the revelers have cleared out; the pharmaceutical workers lie bleeding out their lives onto the hardwood floor. Grimes is spread across the floor not three feet away from me. A pepperbox pistol lies inches from his still hand, and a pool of blood slowly seeps into the floor beneath him.
I scuttle across the hardwood and take the pistol into my hand, then roll between a couple of the corpses of Mott’s gunmen and under the pharmaceutical table which is toppled over. I peek quickly once, twice, and then bob my head up a third time before I see him.
A tall man, whipcord lean, making his way among those who lie upon the floor; he kicks each over onto their back and looks them over carefully before shooting each in the forehead with a large, ugly black autopistol. He’s dressed in very understated but fashionable business attire, all black except for the red lining of his vest, speaking of a man of some means. A broad-rimmed hat covers his eyes, but I can see that he has a rather thick beard as well as very long locks of hair hanging down from the sides of the hat. And over his shoulder, a rifle of the like I’ve never seen.
He comes to Mott, lying on the floor wheezing and bleeding from a gut wound, trying to cover himself up with his attendants.
A loud click sounds as the man in black cocks his weapon.
“Where is he, Mott?”
“I-I am sure I don’t have any idea who you are talking about, Aryeh. Please, please, I thought we had an arrangement. I haven’t done anything to step on the Koyekh’s toes, please, ahhh.”
“Just tell me where’s the Scrivener, and I’ll let you live. I know he’s here, I followed him and the girl from the Association Hall. I thought I would kill two birds with one stone, eh? You’ve been cutting into the business with your whores again, after you were warned.”
“No, Aryeh, no whores, I promise you!”
“You are useless, I can find him myself. Koyekh does not give a second warning, you know this, Mott.”
The big gun bucks in the man’s hands, and Mott falls back in a splatter of blood. His head bounces on the floor before resting still.
“Ech hob dir in drerd,” I hear Aryeh say as he spits upon Mott’s lifeless body.
Shakily, I raise the pepperbox pistol in my hand and fire. My assassin recoils as the bullet strikes him in the gut. I rise up on shaky legs and fire again, but the bullet thunks into the hardwood. Aryeh flicks his arm towards me, and something bites painfully into the back of my hand. It goes numb, and I drop the pistol. Blood is gushing from a long and deep slash in my hand which extends from my knuckles to just past my wrist.
Aryeh rises to his feet and walks to me, that big black gun rising to take a bead on my forehead.
“So you are him, eh? Don’t look like much, do you boy?”
He pulls his coat aside to expose the heavy shirt beneath it. My bullet rests there on the cloth, just below his heart. He smiles coldly.
“And here’s where it ends, boy.”
As his finger grows taut on the trigger, my eyes close; I am expecting the end to come loudly. But I hear a loud grunt of shock and surprise, and a thump as something heavy falls upon the floor. I open my eyes to see the Hasidic assassin struggling with another man upon the floor, both grunting and growling at one another. My eyes go to the pepperbox pistol, lying a foot from me, and my left hand seeks its grip.
I raise the pistol, waiting for a clear shot which will not catch my sudden saviour. Aryeh looks back to see me, and thrusts the other man solidly between my sight of him. I hear a groan of pain, and Aryeh kicks the man away. In that moment, I fire upon him, but I see there is a small pistol in his hand, and its barrel is smoking.
Waves of pain and nausea crash through me as I see the blood coursing from my side down my pants leg. My finger tries to draw the trigger again, but to no avail. Aryeh rises, and a booted foot lashes out and kicks away his gun.
I hear a loud contact with the hardwood, and realize it is me; I am on my knees, and the pepperbox has again fallen from my grasp. I look up and, in amazement, recognize the face of my saviour.
“Leander,” I call weakly, watching the two combatants circle one another.
The Delta has no attention to spare me just yet, though. His face is grimly set, and that combat knife he is so fond of is gripped tightly in white-knuckled fingers. The Jew grins.
“Come on, whelp, show me what you’ve got.”
A thin wire blade sprouts into Aryeh’s grasp with a flick of his coat sleeve. Leander reverses his knife in his grasp, holding the blade at a slight angle to his forearm. The two watch each other closely and then, as one, dance towards each other with a speed that I can’t follow.
They part, Aryeh clutching his side and Leander brushing blood from his eyes where the wire blade has opened his scalp. The assassin chuckles.
“I’ll tell everyone you put up a good fight, dogboy,” he snarls derisively.
“I’ll do the same,” Leander says back, with no sign of venom.
They dance in towards each other again, a blur of motion, whirling arms and legs. Leander spins quickly, ducking beneath the wireblade. He spins around the assassin, and his blade opens the back of the man’s trousers low on the calf.
They part again, this time with the assassin swearing loudly in Yiddish. He staggers, barely able to move his right leg. Leander’s grin has turned to a snarling victory mask as he ducks in again, leaping and lifting both legs into the air up over the wireblade’s slowed arc. Leander’s feet thump onto the floor loudly as he comes down, and the two are chest to chest. The Delta’s arm comes up, moves across the assassin’s neck, and the Jew staggers back from him.
First a thin line of blood, then a gush begins as the assassin claws at his opened throat. He falls on his back, and his feet drum upon the hardwood for a moment as he issues a sickening gurgling cry. Then he lies still.
Leander cuts away a strip of cloth from his shirt and ties it around his head.
“Ech hob dir in drerd,” he says as he spits upon the still body of the assassin.
“You alright, kid?” he says as he turns to me.
I nod, eyes wide in shock.
“Come on, we have to get out of here now. You get what you came for?”
“What are you doing here? How did you find me?”
“It’s what I do kid, I find people. Now are we gonna sit here and have a nice cup o’ tea and conversation while the Koyekh Gang is organizing to bring your head in to whoever it is who’s got that bounty out, or we gonna get to work?”
I am confused, and I am sure it shows by his return look.
“Elle,” I croak, clutching my wound.
“The girl, she’s dying, she was helping me, I can’t let her die,” I rasp, feeling weaker by the second.
Leander walks into the room Elle and I shared.
“What girl? There’s no one here.”
“What? She was lying on the floor, bleeding, my coat and shirt were the only thing stopping-“
“Well there’s no one here now…wait…”
I hoist myself up to my feet again, and stagger into the room.
Leander is crouched, his fingers holding up something. It looks like a bullet casing.
“I know where she is, and I know who’s taken her. And they want you to know, too. They want something from you.”