“Grab a couple of those chillies, would ya?”
Joshua looked at me, a smile on his lips. “You know canned chilli and pasta sauce can’t be your only source of vegetables right?”
“You’re forgetting burger toppings, lots of fresh nutrients there.”
I tensed when the door to the general store opened, jingling the bells hanging above it. I crouched and reached for the Glock in the small of my back, but my friend’s hand on my shoulder held me in place.
“Relax, man. It’s just a kid.”
At six feet, he was a little taller than me and could see over the top shelf. We were in the general store, in the middle of the five aisles dedicated to groceries. Yeah, five whole aisles. That meant there was the choice of four kinds of soups, two stews, and for some reason, more canned beans than you could shake a stick at.
Barry’s voice—the cashier—allowed me to exhale the breath I had been holding. “Hey Nick, what’s up? You’re here pretty late.”
The only answer was a grunt, which seemed appropriate for a teenager forced to come here late at night. It was almost midnight, and the only reason we were here was the lack of food back at the warehouse. I’d been forging blades all day, lost track of time, and had no interest in going to the diner.
I glanced at the plastic basket hanging on my arm. “You know what? We’ve got enough for a few days, let’s just get out of here.”
Joshua raised an eyebrow, skeptical of the bread, ham, cheese, lettuce, chilli, and cereal. “You don’t even have milk.”
“Here,” I handed him the basket, “I’ll meet you at the front.”
I turned and walked to the glass-doored cooler where the dairy and meats were located. The kid, Nick, was standing at the next end-cap, face covered by a cereal box as he read the back. His ragged jeans and MCR t-shirt had seen better days. His left shoulder kept jerking up, making his arm tremble. It was odd enough that I gave him a longer look than was polite. Even his head gave sporadic twitches.
Tweakers? Here? That was new. Roh—my boss, and owner of this mining village—ran a pretty tight ship. The only place that even sold booze was the microbrewery on factory row, just down from my place. And that, only because they agreed not to let their customers get wrecked.
I opened the door and reached for a half-gallon jug, wondering if I should mention my suspicions to someone. I didn’t want to narc the kid out, but I also didn’t want meth-heads setting up shop nearby. I had enough trouble going on without adding more close to home.
My thoughts were interrupted by a heavy weight slamming into my neck, smashing my face and shoulders into the door. My left thumb was caught on the outside, stuck in the door handle, and felt like it would tear off. Before my tired brain could react, I felt two sharp blows on my right shoulder blade. The third one slid on the armored plate and a lance of cold seared the juncture of my neck and shoulder.
Seeing that flash of steel and the twisted, maniacal look in the wielder’s face ripped the fog from my brain. I stomped on his instep with the heel of my boot and struggled against his forearm to face him. I was too slow and this time the knife pierced my shoulder. The pain was instant, sharp and in high definition.
Before the kid could pull it out, Joshua skidded around the corner, sending boxes and cans crashing to the ground. The blade tore into my upper arm as he grabbed my attacker by the collar of his jacket and threw him onto his back. He followed it by kneeling on the kid’s neck and grabbing the wrist of the knife-hand, trying to pry the weapon from his grasp.
His words stopped me. I was free of the door and had been reaching for the gun tucked in the back of my jeans. I was doing it with my left hand as my other arm didn’t appreciate moving right now. My friends and I had been thrust into so many kill or be killed situations lately that I immediately went there, forgetting about the civilised world. One of the rules of the supernatural community was don’t draw attention to it, and that applied to all sides, whatever the conflict. This guy may not be part of that world, but I was.
His clothes were stained and wrinkled, and the stench coming from them made me wonder how long it had been since he’d had a date with a bar of soap. The snarl of hate on his thin, sallow face made him look much older. Wild, greasy hair jutted every which way, but what stopped me were his eyes.
They were the eyes of a dead man.