I hear the tremble, sigh, invite the guy in. Shame; I was enjoyin’ the rain.
“I need your –“
“‘Course ya do. What is it?”
“My daughter.” I sigh again, pull a pad, urge him to continue. “She was taken, from my farm. I had to –“
“She wouldn’t have left herself?” I have no patience for jabber. Downcast, the man shakes his head.
Welcome to the New World, forced upon us like a hooker on a drunk. Not that anyone was responsible for most ‘the world’s populace dyin’, the mass pollution, or panicked warfare over dwindlin’ resources, ya understand. But someone, in their stupor, invited the wench in; no sooner was she lain down than she turned out the light.
These are dark times, make no mistake. And in times like these, in a job like mine, ya can’t be afraid of the dark.
“She’s cared for me since her ma –“
“Right,” I interrupt. Not like I don’t care — he’s hurtin’, I get it — who’s not? But I’m an artist — I need detail, not background.
A photo, “Adriana,” that’s rare. Pretty. Long blonde hair, slim, blue eyes. A smile. All else is they may have travelled West. Like an outhouse in a hurricane — not a lot to go on.
Barter’s just a fact of life, but as he talks money I sigh relief. Then nearly choke as he offers me his daughter’s hand! “Look fella, I ain’t the marryin’ type,” but he insists. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a pleasant looker, and I ain’t so fool as to think man can live without love. But mine?
He’s broke and he knows it; were she Charity, I still wouldn’t work for free. Spyin’ his watch I point, more than worth the cost, yet not willin’ to part one bit. “It was my Grandpa’s.”
“Who d’ya cherish more, the livin’ or the dead?”
The road out West’s a dangerous one; old man was right, no place for a woman to run. But that’s anarchy for ya, completely free. Free like beer; men are all piss, the women water; true beer is rare. All the more reason for keepin’ a level head in this game. Mark my words, women are a noose; I’ve seen too many a man entangled in their snare.
I arrange meetin’ a friend, an information broker, at a diner along the way. I sit, order a drink, but he’s a no show. So eyes wander, as they do, till fixin’ on some broad.
Stopped in her course, names exchange, other words beside, till the owner stirs, served a faceful of his own words. The fella stands, met by a glare, face to chest as the drunk’s friends join him. Me? I sigh; hardly the discrete drink planned. And at six to one the broad’s odds weren’t lookin’ as hot. I rise, right myself, walk over to make an introduction. Offerin’ his hand I take it, cease its travel through the air. “Now that’s no way to treat a –” I take a smack to the mouth.
We tango, she and I, back to back as though we’ve danced this way for years. Fists and feet a jumble, I protect her, blockin’ punch and kick aplenty. A couple to my gut, my eyebrow split, but I give better than I receive. They soon run, limpin’ and cursin’ as they go. Turnin’ to see them leave, I see her, realise she was protectin’ my back all along.
She’s not a scratch, wincin’ myself, sharp pain and blood as I wipe my brow. Asian, full jawed, a bob of black with a streak of grey within. A scar runs down the far side of her face, and I realise that she can handle herself.
I feel somethin’ for all her imperfections then. She was beer.
Heat and pain mix, a well aimed slap across my face. “Why? I could cope.”
I nod; “didn’t think ya should have to.”
Softenin’ her scowl, we talk, exchange names, other pleasantries. When she says she has to, she leaves. I wait a moment, think toward the door, then run, hopin’ to catch where she’s headed. There in a coach, just headin’ away, I see a blond starin’ straight back at me.
Knotted in frustration I throw my hat to the ground.
I left more questions than answers. Sure, I knew where she was headed — the coach told me that. But the old man lied; her eye’s were brown. It was her, no doubt, but why the photo didn’t match was puzzlin’. How did I know it was her for sure?
Destination reached I gather some information of my own. “An old warehouse on the outskirts,” I’m told, kind of place to give ya the creeps, so I ready my pistol and walk inside.
The door creaks.
I walk as quietly as the buildin’ allows, followin’ trails left in dirt and dust, gun ready as I climb higher. Why the caution? Max, my information buddy, knew somethin’, that’s why we had to meet. But he needed a leak, and did so, across three stalls courtesy of a new windpipe.
I find her, knife held to her throat, broad behind. My heart skips.
“Don’t come any closer.” I try lookin’ harmless.
The girl struggles, “Let go!”
But instead the broad just smiles. “Might have been brief, but I hope you know how I truly feel about you. We really could have been something.”
“Don’t do this; stop it!”
“Well?” She stiffens, as if to strike.
There’s silence as I pull the trigger; that moment my heart sinks, chamber yet to fire. The explosion shatters my wall of thoughts, tearin’ past to her forehead, and on right through.
There’s a scream as glass shatters from the pane behind, shocked sobs, percussion of a body as it flumps to the ground. The broad lies there, bleedin’ out like she did Max.
Were I able to pursue her differently; but not today.
I love the money too much.
Written for the Flash Fiction Challenge: Smashing Sub Genres at Chuck Wendig‘s site, Terrible Minds. The challenge: 1,000 words using two randomly selected genres. My story is 999 words and used post-apocalyptic and noir.