They came a calling (new short story to wet your reading appetite)

They Came a Calling

The Black Garter, the kind of dive where a man could go to hide.  Situated on the bad side of right, it was just the kind of place Mason Lecroix was looking for to get a drink and some information.  After ten days on the run, he’d finally outrun the crooked lawmen looking for him. Now the only ones left to dodge were the dregs of the galaxy known as hunters.  They weren’t so easy to shake. Men looking to make an easy cred, from someone else’s blood, seldom were. It was only a matter of time before they found him again, the last time three hunters lost their lives.  He couldn’t help but wonder, how many more would meet the grave before they joined the lawmen and quit.

At a corner booth, his back to the wall, Mason kept his eyes wandering between a glass of whiskey, and the door.  Everyone he saw walk in looked a little rougher than the last. So far though, none were bounty hunters. For the most part, that type was easy to spot.  Loaded down with heavy pistols and armor, they tended to stick out in a crowd.

Taking a sip of whiskey, he leaned back in the chair, a faded brown Stetson pushed up on his forehead. He was waiting for a man, a strange acting Pelnhim with a nervous twitch in one eye.  For over an hour, he’d been sitting in the same spot, wishing the bastard would show up. After having spent two hundred cred, just to arrange the meeting, his account was starting to run low.  If the little four-legged alien didn’t show up soon, he’d have no choice but to try and find him. Which meant a good chance of running into the hunters on his tail.

Another sip of whiskey, and another minute went by.  The more time that passed, the more he found his foot tapping to what passed for music in the place.  Somehow, despite the loud, almost chaotic mix of instruments banging out of tune, it left an almost hypnotic trance echoing in his head.  From the look of the other patrons, his foot wasn’t the only one tapping. Staring into a half empty glass lost in thought, he almost didn’t see the short, hunched over, Pelnhim with a stubby tail and two oversized hands until it was too late.

It was his contact, had to be, since there was only one of them within a few thousand miles of the place.  With a racing, nervous heart, he downed the last of the whiskey. Starting up from the seat, he suddenly noticed two men walking close behind the little man.  From the way they looked, he figured they were hunters. Most likely, the same ones looking for him. There was little doubt about the Pelnhim sold him out. He just hoped they got paid good, he would need it after he beat the fool who betrayed him.  For the moment, there were only two choices left open. Sit back down, and hope they didn’t see him, or draw and fire before they could do the same.

Unlike them, he’d never taken much pleasure in killing.  Taking away everything a man was, or ever would be, wasn’t something to take lightly.  Neither was the noose so many were quick to want around his neck. So to him, the choice was obvious.  As smoothly as he could, he grabbed the mug off the table and made his way the few feet to the bar. He hoped to blend into the crowd, just another drunk in search of another glass.   

“So soon, sweety?” said the bartender, her melodic tone and dark skin making him wish he wasn’t in such a hurry to leave.

“Your drinkin’ whiskey, right Lecroix?” asked a tall black fur covered man sitting a stool away, his long muzzle and brown eyes marking him as a member of the dog looking race called Wuldrek.

“Do I know ya?,” said Mason, sliding a hand to the pistol on his hip.  Wuldrek’s were one species he hadn’t run into before. From what he’d heard about them though, they lived for violence.  Often times, the dog men hired themselves out as mercs. This one though, looked different than what he’d imagined one of his race looking like.    

“Keep your hand off the pistol there, boy.  I ain’t here for trouble. I’m just visiting.  Those two by the door though, I got a feelin’ they might be a whole different story,” said the man, his broad smile doing little to ease the tension building up in Mason’s chest.

“Since ya ain’t here to fight, why do ya care?” said Mason, his hand wrapping around the grip of the pistol.

“Suppose I shouldn’t.  Just got a soft spot for a man in a bad situation,” said the man, a forlorn expression on his face.

“Thanks, still doesn’t tell me anything about who ya are, or why ya even care what happens to me,” said Mason, turning to put his back against the bar; while keeping watch on the Wuldrek out of the corner of his eye.  He wasn’t long on trusting the bigger man’s intentions, the two steadily making their way through the crowd though, he knew exactly what they wanted. Most of the hunters he’d run into, were more likely to put a laser through his back, than try and take him in a straight fight.  

“The rude fleabags name is Kilano, and here you go sweety.  From the sour expression on that face of yours, you could use it,” said the bartender absently before setting another glass of whiskey beside Mason’s lone hand on the bar.  The one she called Kilano didn’t look too pleased to be called a flea-bag, but he didn’t seem too interested in doing anything about it either. To Mason, it spoke volumes about the man’s temperament.  Judging by his people’s legendary tempers, he’d half expected Kilano to shoot her down.

Looking over his shoulder, he noticed the bartender’s red eyes locked on something at the other side of the place.  Turning to follow her gaze, he saw a pair of bone plated Uligiads stalking closer to a quickly backpedaling Terran. The young Terran looked like a gambler he’d seen once at his step-father’s ranch.  Both wore their black hair slicked back and had a penchant for dressing in a black sport coat with a tidy dress shirt underneath. Mason figured the kid had a pistol concealed behind his back as well.  Would have completed the no-good image he held of gamblers. Hiding weapons and stealing other men’s creds, were two things he hated most about the many cardsharps wandering the galaxy.

His eyes travelled quickly between the unfolding scene, and the bartender’s souring expression.  Off to his side, he heard Kilano chuckle. It was the kind of sound, he didn’t figure he wanted to get used too.  Something in the way the bartender kept moving made him wonder what she was about to do. Ever since wandering into the place, things had been quiet.  By the angry scowl slowly appearing on her lips, he figured that was about to change. When he’d first walked in, he hadn’t given the peace much thought.  He’d only enjoyed it nearly as much as the relaxing whiskey burning its way down his throat. Now, watching her reach for something under the bar, he knew she was going to show him why trouble stayed away.  

Looking back towards the Terran and Uligiad’s, Mason saw one of the brutish bone-plated men reach a three fingered black-carapace covered hand towards the kid.  The Uligiad’s tan, almost fleshy looking plates made him wince. Between their four small glowing red eyes, and the narrow vertical fang covered gap they called a mouth, Uligiad’s were one of the ugliest races he saw in the place.  Before the ugly man could do whatever it was he had a mind to do, he heard the bartender scream above the too loud racket that passed for music; “That’s about enough!”

Every head in the place turned her direction, save for the three Mason noticed were still pushing their way through the gathering crowd towards him.  Flexing his gun hand, he hardly heard the bartender as she told the three to make tracks from her place. He figured they would do as she said. If they didn’t, he held no doubt she wasn’t above using the twin barreled scatterer in her hands.  Everything she did, made him like her even more. Raising the glass of whiskey her way, he nodded before taking a much needed drink.

“Hey pup, why don’t ya just run?” said Kilano, before reaching behind his jacket to draw a small laser pistol.  Mason watched with beads of nervous sweat starting down his forehead, as the Wuldrek placed the silver pistol on the bar a scant inch from where he rested his hand.  

“Ain’t never been much on running from a good fight.  Besides, the little fellow there has some information I’m not about to leave without,” said Mason, doing good just to keep the strain from his voice while keeping a broad twitching smile from forming.  

Two at once weren’t the worst odds he’d ever faced.  Not the best ones either. It also wasn’t his first go around with a couple no-good hunters.  Judging from how easily the men carried themselves, he figured they wanted it to be his last.

Mason spun around, a shocked look appearing on his face, at the feel of a fur covered hand gripping solidly on his shoulder.  What amazed him more was the fact he hadn’t drawn down on Kilano. Must be slipping.  The thought came as a surprise.  Self-doubt began to creep into an already packed consciousness as he stood there eye to eye with Kilano.  Too slow for comfort, a calm certainty reasserted itself.

“Relax, pup,” said Kilano, letting out a heavy sigh before continuing; “If even half the stories about you are true, them boys don’t stand a chance.”

“Wasn’t aware I was getting popular,” said Mason turning his gaze to the trio having nearly pushed their way through the crowd.

When he turned back Kilano was gone.  It seemed the Wuldrek was about as anxious to take the men on as he was.  Left alone against two seasoned hunters, he knew of only one other who might lend him a hand.  A glance was all it took to notice the bartender had disappeared to the other end of the bar as well.  She was one he wanted to know a whole lot better. When he saw her kiss a grey skinned woman with long pointy ears, all hope faded for that rendezous to ever happen.  

“You Lecroix?” said one of the hunters reaching a hand down to grip the handle of a pistol.   

In a blur of forgotten time, Mason drew and fired.  The man fell lifeless to the floor, a black hole the only sign of what happened.     

“Be best if ya didn’t try to go for your gun.  Wouldn’t want my finger to get the itch to tap this here firing nub again.”

With a look of pure anger escaping from beneath the pulled down brim of his hat, he walked towards the hunter, the barrel of his pistol never straying from where it lay aimed at the man’s head.  From all around them, he saw the crowd evaporate as patrons hurried to get out of his way. They weren’t his target, and from the scared looks on their faces, they didn’t want to be either. He hadn’t made it halfway to where they stood, when he saw the Pelnhim start waving his arms frantically, trying in vain to get the hunter to take his hand off a holstered pistol.  

He’d thought with the Pelnhim leaving a puddle on the floor, that the fight was over, until he saw the hunter shove the Pelnhim to the side before turning his direction.  Mason fired. The green tinted laser beam erupting from the barrel sizzled the air around it before burying itself in the hunter’s head. Blank, lifeless eyes never had the chance to close as the man fell to the floor, a look of surprise forever etched on his face.

“You next?” said Mason, dropping his aim until the front sight of his pistol rested in line with the Pelnhim’s chest.

“No, no please don’t kill me.  They made me tell them where you were, I promise,” screamed the man, his body shivering uncontrollably in fear.

“Think I’ll take the two hundred creds I paid ya and the information.  Then ya can gather up your friends, and forget ya ever saw me. Ya don’t, and theirs won’t be the only bodies laying on the ground.” said Mason, cold hazel eyes boring into the Pelnhim’s.  His rage longed to send the man to an early grave. It took everything he had to hold himself back, while he watched the Pelnhim drop a cred chip to the ground, right next to the wet spot the man had already deposited on the floor.  

“He’s… he’s on his way to Pinesville,” said the Pelnhim.

Behind him, Mason heard a woman’s voice say; “You are going to clean up your mess, all of your mess, before settling your tab, right?”  He didn’t have to turn around to know it was the bartender. Most likely with the scatterer pointed at his back. In the confusion of it all, he’d forgotten she even existed.  Now, it looked like he was in for cleaning duty before he could leave.

“Pinesville huh.  Guess it’s as good a place as any to start.  Not a word from you or I come back and finish this here dance,” said Mason letting the muzzle of his pistol rest on the man’s chest for a second before holstering it.

Almost as if on cue the Pelnhim hurried towards the door with Kilano a step or two behind.  Behind him the bartender laughed. All he could do was shake his head at the sight of a cred chip laying in a puddle with a dead man on either side.  

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