River of Blood Chapter 6

The Killing Work

Sunset. The sky burned a deep red, staining the city in amber and crimson, reflecting off windows and waters in pools of blinding radiance. Streetlamps flashed to life, vainly keeping the growing darkness at bay. Signboards lit up the streets in a thousand hues. From where he sat, it was if the city was on fire.

Zen had worked his techno-magic through the daylight hours. He had steadily compromised every machine connected to Cowan’s and Dave’s devices, rooted the street surveillance sensor network, prepared contingency plans for everything from police intervention to the wrath of the New Gods. Hacking was incredible, but Connor knew that in the end, it always boiled down to men with guns doing the killing work.

Dave spent the day wandering the streets, stopping in at a succession of houses. Some he watched from afar, others he entered. He had installed a series of microwork and gig economy apps on his device, accepting jobs as they came in through the day.

He was some kind of all-in-one handyman, everything from plumbing to maintenance to electrical work. He placed and fulfilled appointments throughout the day, working as an independent contractor. No boss to report to, flexible schedule, little attention from the authorities, jobs that paid tips in cash, perfect for an aspiring contract killer.

The profiles on his job apps revealed photos of his face and his full name: David Fernando. With a bit more digging around, Zen found his address. Apartment 02-02, 36 Burroughs Street. Connor drove by to find a low-rise building of brick and mortar, sandwiched between a pair of mixed-use apartments. At ground level, a grocery store faced the main street. Residents accessed the apartment through the rear entrance in a back alley. Black camera domes watched the alley with unblinking eyes.

Two blocks south of the apartments, Connor found a spot by the sidewalk with a clean line of sight to the back alley. He pulled his SUV over, set the gearbox to neutral, and slid low in his seat. Beside him, Kayla placed a set of binoculars on her lap.

They watched the world in silence. He maintained situational awareness, watching passers-by, staying on guard for unwanted guests. She kept her attention on the alley. Whenever she saw someone approach, she raised the binoculars to her eyes and studied the subject.

They’d run dozens of stakeouts together. They worked like a single well-oiled machine, falling smoothly into their roles, neither needing to say anything more than the absolute minimum to the other.

At half-past six, Kayla spoke.

“Visual on Fernando.”

Connor lifted his own binoculars. Dressed in stained blue overalls and a dark brown shirt, Fernando walked with an angry, rolling gait, chin thrust forward out at the world, fists bunched together. He held a huge toolbox in his left hand. Connor hadn’t gotten a good look at Alpha’s face, but he knew the walk instantly. Pure, fiery aggression, a bulldog only barely held in check by an invisible leash.

“Roger,” Connor said.

Fernando sauntered down the alley. Halfway down, he turned left, fished out a set of keys, unlocked and opened a door, and stepped through. The door swung shut behind him. And that was that.

They continued their long watch. Five more people entered the apartment. Two left. None of them resembled any persons of interest. The sun continued its downward trajectory, the last light of the day retreating with it.

At exactly two minutes after seven, a van parked by the alley. A young man—a kid—in a Moover uniform jumped out, carrying plastic bags bulging with rolls.

“That’s Cowan,” Kayla said.

“Yup,” Connor confirmed.

Cowan walked up to the apartment door and waited. Zen’s voice filtered through Connor’s earpieces.

“Cowan is calling Fernando.”

“Patch us through,” Connor said.

Ringing filled his earpieces. Two rings later, the receiver picked up.

“It’s me. I brought dinner,” Cowan said.

“About time. Coming to get you,” a man grumbled.

Connor recognized the voice immediately. David Fernando, the man also known as Alpha.

Cowan waited. Connor and Kayla waited. Everyone waited.

Finally, the door opened. Cowan hustled through.

“You’re late,” Fernando complained.

“Sorry. The chef was busy.”

“You gotta account for delays like that. That what makes a pro.”

“Sorry.”

“If I say seven, then be here by six forty-five. Or earlier. You got it?”

“Got it.”

“Earl’s already here. He had the sense to show up early. Unlike you.”

A twinge of sympathy ran through Connor. Cowan was just a kid. He sounded painfully eager to please, always trying, always failing, like a puppy constantly being scolded no matter what it did. He wondered if Fernando had dragged Cowan into the hit through sheer force of personality, if Cowan was just a boy dragged into something way over his head.

On the other hand, the kid had participated in an attempted hit. He could have called it off, called the cops, aborted the hit. Instead he went through with it and played his part. He was as guilty as Fernando. As much a soldier of the New Gods as Fernando.

He had to die too.

No mercy. No remorse. The STS had meted out justice in the only language the New Gods understood, the language of blood and bullets, steel and fire. Anything less would embolden them. A message had to be sent.

If that meant killing a boy… well, he shouldn’t have run with this crew to begin with.

“Stream Cowan’s video into my eyes,” Connor said.

A window popped up in his lenses, showing the feed from Cowan’s camera.

The boy was following Fernando up a dingy stairwell. A set of keys dangled from Fernando’s hands. Round and round the men went, ascending the narrow stairs. On the second floor, they stepped out into a gloomy hallway.

There were two doors on either side. Fernando walked to the further door on the left. As Cowan hung back, he unlocked the door and entered.

Cowan stepped in and kept on walking, without checking his sides. Another sign he was an amateur. A pro would have scanned his sides. In the living room, a third man was sprawled over the sofa, looking up at the two men. A huge, shiny revolver was stuck in his waistband, pointed at his groin.

“Yo, Chris,” the third man said.

Connor knew that voice, soft and smooth and placating. Earl. Alias Beta.

“Visual on Target Beta. Goes by Earl,” Connor said.

“Roger,” Kayla said.

Locks snapped into place behind Cowan. Cowan handed out the food, arranging them around the table. Three enormous fried chicken sandwiches drowned in sauce, with generous helpings of lettuce, pickles and farmslaw. Two tall cups of soda. A monstrous box of fries slathered in melted cheese and mayonnaise.

Settling on the couch, the men chowed down. Cowan’s smartglasses picked up and amplified the sounds of biting, chewing, mashing, smacking, swallowing. It was disgusting, hearing such intimate sounds so loudly. Connor endured the torture, studying the layout of the room.

“Dave, what did you want to talk to us about?” Earl asked.

“Will Connor is in Riveria.”

The words electrified everyone in the room. An icy fist gripped Connor’s heart.

What the fuck? How the fuck did they know that? What else did they know?

“Where is he now?” Earl asked.

“We don’t have a lock on his location. He rented an SUV last night, but he’s been careful to stay off the cameras, and we haven’t seen enough to figure out what he’s doing.”

Connor breathed sharply. The false license plate stickers and heavy disguise had kept them off the radar. For now.

“He’s found us, hasn’t he? He’s coming for us!” Cowan blabbered.

“Shut it,” Dave said. “If he did, he’d have nailed your ass already.”

“Maybe he’s asking around his friends, looking to hunt us down,” Earl offered.

“My thoughts too. Fucker thought he’s hunting us. We’re going to turn the tables on him.”

“How do you know he’s here?” Cowan asked.

“Tom called me and gave me the deets. His connections in the PD have flagged Connor. Informally, that is. Everywhere he goes in the city, everywhere he shows his ID, uses his credit cards, steps in front of a camera, RPD has him.”

Son of a bitch!

His worst case scenario was unfolding right in front of him. The one thing he couldn’t secure as the STS folded was a new identity. The government confiscated the STS safe houses, shut down operational bank accounts, flagged every legend, and kept a strict watch on the STS’ computer networks.

The Feds said they would protect the STS from retaliation. That protection never came.

“Connor isn’t here alone,” Dave continued. “One of his old STS buddies is in town too. Kayla Fox. City cameras spotted her car.”

Connor clenched his fists. This was not good. She had fastened stickers on her plates when she’d gone operational too, but that was after she had arrived in Riveria.

“She’s flagged too?” Earl asked.

“Everyone in the STS is flagged.”

“Are they working together?” Cowan asked.

“Must be. They showed up in town around the same time. He must have called in a favor.” Dave chuckled. “She’s a hot piece of ass too. Maybe she’s his squeeze or something.”

Dave took a huge bite of fried chicken sandwich. The men fell silent. Connor chose the moment to speak.

“ZT, do we have a subject named Tom in the address books?”

“Searching, wait one,” Zen replied.

“Deadeye, we’re both compromised.”

She remained completely still. She didn’t even blink. A heartbeat later, she spoke, her voice a dead calm.

“How?”

“RPD flagged us. One of their contacts, someone named Tom, has juice in the PD. City cameras picked up our license plates before we stickered them over.”

“Is Tom their handler?”

“Possible.”

Earl’s voice floated through the earbuds

“What’s the plan now?”

“We’ve got two options,” Dave said. “We wait for RPD to find Connor. Fox too. Once they find them, Tom calls us, and we roll heavy on them. And this time, we make sure they don’t get away.”

“And the second?” Cowan asked.

Dave smiled unpleasantly.

“We lure them out.”

“We?”

“Sure. They’re hunting us. But they don’t know that we know that they’re in town. That gives us an edge.”

“How do we do that?”

“That’s what we’re here to discuss.”

“Hey, uh, I think we’re forgetting something important,” Earl said.

“What?”

“They have a cyber guy on their team, right? Zen Tan? He doesn’t have to be in Riveria to hack our devices, right?”

“You’re saying they could have hacked our glasses?” Cowan asked.

“Anything’s possible. Did you receive any suspicious messages today? Any links or downloads?”

“Well…”

Connor balled his fists. Either Cowan wouldn’t make the connection, or…

“You know, I received a delivery job this morning,” he said thoughtfully. “Client canceled a few minutes after I accepted. Wonder why…”

“Same thing happened to me,” Fernando said. “A plumbing gig. This sort of thing happens all the time, but… how likely is this?”

“They’ve found us,” Cowan whispered.

He had to die. Everybody had to die.

Connor clicked off the window.

“We’re compromised. We have to hit them. Now.”

“Roger,” Kayla said.

Connor unzipped his jacket, revealing a low-profile plate carrier. He snatched up his assault pack from the floor, touch-checked the external pouches and the sheathed tomahawk mounted on its left side, and slipped it on. He dug into an inner jacket pocket, drew a ski mask, and slipped it on. He tore open the gun bag by his boots, removed his railgun, and slung it around his neck. Patted his side, felt the railgun pistol tucked in its belt-mounted holster. Touched his chest, sensed his revolver hidden in a kangaroo pouch behind his magazines. Glancing to his side, he saw Kayla sling her own railgun around her neck.

“Ready?” he asked.

“Go.”

Connor gunned the engine. The SUV surged out into the street. He spun the wheel, guiding it to the alley.

“Try to take Fernando alive,” Tan said. “Tom isn’t listed on his device. We need to know who this Tom is.”

“Roger,” Connor said.

He pulled up right in front of the alley. He checked ahead, checked the mirror, saw no cops, no civilians. He burst out the door, railgun shouldered, covering the alley.

Kayla squeezed past him, handgun in both hands. She took three steps towards the alley, raised her gun, pressed the trigger.

Glass shattered.

“Camera’s out,” she reported.

Connor’s eyes widened. He hadn’t heard the handgun’s report at all. Yeah, he test-fired his gun outside Riveria in the afternoon, but it was one thing to test a gun, another to use it live.

Kayla rushed down the alley. Connor shut the door and followed her, holding his weapon low. She stopped at the door and tried the knob.

“Locked,” she reported.

A heavy-duty security grille protected the sturdy wooden door. No way he was going to kick it open. But he didn’t have to.

Connor brushed past her, lowered his railgun, held his hand over his shoulder.

“Breach pen.”

Kayla opened the top most external pouch on his pack and handed him a long, black cylinder. He unscrewed one end, exposing a magnesium rod. He removed the cap on the other end, catching the thermite match that fell out. He rotated the cylinder under he found the striking paper adhered to the rod, then struck the match.

The match caught fire instantly. He brought the burning match to the magnesium rod. The reactive metal combusted, hissing and smoking, throwing out a long tongue of blinding flame.

He brought the breach pen to the upper hinge. The metal warped and melted under the intense heat. He slowly drew the pen downwards, cutting through the hinge. Moments later, the hinge fell apart.

He did the same to the lower hinge. Then he brought the still-burning breach pen to the lock. The flame sputtered and died. And the grille fell free.

He dropped the smoking breach pen by the doorway and shoved the caps into his dump pouch. Kayla tried the knob of the door.

“Locked.”

Connor took two giant steps back. And charged. And spun around into a donkey kick.

Wood splintered under the colossal blow. The door blasted inwards. Kayla rushed in, handgun up. Connor flowed in right beside her, railgun at the ready.

They were inside a crammed lift lobby. A man in a blue apron stood at a far door, gaping at the team.

“What the fuck!” he sputtered.

Kayla pivoted and fired.

The camera above the elevator shattered.

The civilian shrieked, dropping to the floor.

“Stay down! Don’t move!” Connor yelled.

The civilian curled up into the fetal position.

“Don’t kill me! Don’t kill me!”

“Stay down and we won’t!” Connor said.

Next to the lift, a door led into the stairwell. Connor and Kayla charged up the steps two at a time, weapons trained on the upper floors. Three steps from the second floor landing, Kayla halted for a moment, checking for traps and cameras. Then moved up to the door and tested it.

Unlocked.

Connor stepped in first, turning left. Kayla went right, shot out another camera, then turned right and stacked up behind Connor. The duo advanced down the corridor, weapons high, staying clear of the walls and doors.

They stacked on Fernando’s door, one on either side. Connor paused, breathed, felt the world.

He wasn’t much into woo-woo shit. But Yuri had taught him this, and it had worked every single time. He sent his awareness into the apartment beyond, feeling what was behind the door. He sensed three men gathered around the living room table, hot and agitated. One man sat at the couch facing the door, the other two stood and argued at each other.

“I’m telling you, they could be right outside!” Cowan shouted.

Connor reached around his body and drew his tomahawk. With a powerful stroke, he smashed the door knob.

“What the fuck was that?” Fernando yelled.

Another stroke.

“The door!” Earl yelled.

A third stroke and the entire knob assembly fell out of the battered door. Connor chambered his foot high and launched a powerful stomp. The door flew open—

Shuddered.

Stopped.

A sturdy security chain held it in place.

“Motherfuckers!” Earl yelled.

Connor chambered again.

Stomped again.

The wooden frame buckled. The chain blasted free. The door swung open.

And Connor found himself staring down three gun muzzles.

Connor ducked away.

The hitmen opened fire.

High-caliber guns thundered in the small space. Hot steel blasted through wood and drywall, smashing into and through the neighboring apartment and out into the world beyond. Clouds of choking dust exploded from the exit holes. Men, women and children screamed. Scrambling away, Connor hastily returned his tomahawk to its sheath.

Kayla reached under her jacket and grabbed a stun grenade.

Silence.

Metal clacked against metal. Heavy objects dropped on dense wood. Men cursed.

They were reloading, all at once.

Connor sensed they were still in the living room, spreading out to the right, rapidly backing away. He nodded at Kayla.

Kayla pulled the pin with a decisive CHINK.

“What the fuck was that?”

She tossed it through the open door.

“Son of a—”

The flash-bang blew. Searing light and deafening sound hammered the world. Connor swept up his railgun and stormed in.

Earl crouched behind the far sofa, his crown and revolver visible, stuffing loose cartridges into the open cylinder with shaking hands. Off to the side, backpedaling from the door, Cowan held a pistol with one hand, covered his eyes with the other. Fernando crouched in a doorway behind Cowan.

Connor fired.

The railgun shrieked. A half-power flechette ripped through the sofa, catching Earl in the side of the head. Stuffing and gore and bone shards erupted from the point of impact. Stepping clear of the doorway, Connor shot Cowan in the center of mass. Cowan shuddered under the ballistic insult, collapsing into the needlepoint wound, and keeled over. Connor snapped his gun up to Fernando—

Fernando scooted away.

Kayla stepped in, swinging to Connor’s left, checking his flank.

“Target, black red corner!” Connor called.

“You MOTHERFUCKERS!” Fernando screamed.

And a… thing lurched out the doorway.

It had the torso of an athlete, sleek and powerful, every muscle chiseled from stone. Ape-like arms ended in dark, glittering talons.  Everything below the waist fused into a large, fleshy tail. Shreds of clothing fell from its body. It wore the face of Dave Fernando, but its eyes were dark slits dividing egg-like ovals of glowing gold.

“I’m gonna kill you all!”

Connor and Kayla fired.

Flechettes ripped into the creature, tearing out chunks of flesh and bone. Half its gut blew away. Rounds stitched up its torso. Undeterred, it shot forward with blinding speed, trampling over Cowan, swiping for Connor’s neck.

Connor ducked, sidestepping to his left. Claws whooshed over his head, smashing into the drywall. Kayla circled away, back to the wall, giving Connor space, walking shots up the creature’s side. The Fernando-thing growled, struggling to free itself. Connor scooted away, brought his railgun around, fired.

Its head exploded in a crimson spray.

It slumped over.

Its flesh rippled.

Great lumps formed under its too-stretchy skin, surging upwards to its head. Its wounds sealed over. Its tail shrank. Its torso contracted. A bud of meat and bone burst out from the stump, blossoming into a long, sinuous neck, terminating in a great mouth lined with rows of razor-sharp teeth.

Connor blasted it in the chest. The flechette punched into its torso, tumbled and fragmented explosively, producing a crater-sized wound on the other side. The thing just shrank a little more, reforming and reorganizing its flesh to seal the wounds. Kayla cracked off two more shots, blasting deep wounds through its neck.

“Red! Red!” she shouted.

Her gun was empty.

And the monster charged.

At Connor.

Its teeth-lined mouth lunged at his face. Its talons swept through huge overhand arcs. A horrible gurgling sound issued from the depths of his belly, one part hate, one part triumph, one hundred percent demonic fury.

Bobbing his head, Connor weaved to his left. Claws swooped overhead, so close he felt the wind of their passage. The monster surged past him and smashed into the flimsy drywall. Connor stepped aside and pivoted around, bringing his railgun to bear.

The monster’s arms and head had plowed through the wall. The rest of its body remained within the unit, wriggling and writhing, trying to free itself. Flesh lumps crawled down its limbs, drawing mass away from its upper torso and into its tail.

Kayla slapped a fresh magazine into place.

Connor held up his left hand.

“I’m going in!”

With his right, he drew his tomahawk.

The monster’s arms shrank. Its neck narrowed. It pulled its right arm free from the wall.

Taking his tomahawk in both hands, Connor swung.

Steel cleaved through flesh and bone. Blood spurted. The monster howled.

Its forearm fell off.

Screaming, Connor stepped in and swung again, hacking through its muscled neck, severing the monster’s head from its body. Hot blood splashed against his hands, his face, his eyeshields.

What was left of the thing pulled back, drawing its diminished left arm from the hole in the wall. It raised its arm and swiped blindly at Connor. As it swung through the arc, it ballooned into elephantine proportions, a biological battering ram studded with claws.

Connor leapt in.

He cut into the arc of the swing, the humongous limb missing him by inches. This close to the foul creature, he smelled it, a nauseating reek of iron-rich blood and wet rotting meat. Bellowing at the top of his lungs, he swung.

The hardened steel tomahawk hewed through its humongous biceps. The limb flopped, suddenly dead. A second swing sundered heavy bone. A third chop, and the massive arm fell off.

The final stroke carried Connor clear into empty space. Sucking down air, he spun around, regarding the monster.

Its torso crawled away. Small buds of flesh capped the stumps, pulsating and expanding, rapidly growing. Its tail was almost completely gone. Now it cannibalized its torso, diverting flesh from his sculpted chest to regrow its form.

Connor swung.

And swung.

And swung again.

The tomahawk rose and fell, rose and fell, rose and fell again. Blood spattered across the room, across the blade, across Connor. Meat tore open to expose white bone. Bone broke under the heavy blade. And still he kept swinging, chopping, hacking, hacking it apart piece by piece.

At last, it was over.

It lay in a dozen rough pieces, scattered across the floor. A sea of blood soaked the wood and flowed out the open door. Connor bent over, huffing and wheezing. He was drenched in blood and strips of raw meat, still clutching his reddened tomahawk.

“Clear,” he gasped.

“Clear,” Kayla agreed.

“Pick it up people,” Zen said. “Locals have called 911. Cops are on their way. SWAT is right behind them.”

“Delay them,” Connor said.

“Erasing camera footage, DDOSing police dispatch, shutting down local sensors… Doing what I can, but you have to get out of there now.”

“Thirty seconds,” Kayla said. “Search the bodies.”

She rushed to Earl and patted him down. Connor reached deep into himself, drawing on his reserves of energy and willpower, and hustled to Cowan.

The kid, incredibly, was still alive. He lay in a growing puddle of blood. His breath came in short spurts. His arms lay splayed out at his sides. His chest was flattened, crushed under the monster’s weight as it rolled over him. Cowan looked up at Connor was pleading eyes.

His right hand clutched his pistol.

The slide was locked back.

Empty.

“Please…” Cowan whispered.

Connor swung the tomahawk.

The blade cleaved through flesh and bone, sinking into the wooden floor

“Sorry, kid,” Connor said.

He removed the bloody blade, wiped it down on Cowan’s shirt, then returned it to its sheath. He patted the kid down, feeling his pockets, belt, ankles, everywhere that could hide a weapon, a tool, anything of use. All he found was a wallet and his smartglasses. He dropped them into his dump pouch.

“We’re done! Let’s go!” Kayla said.

Connor opened his mouth. Then shut it.

“Wait one!”

Connor rushed to the door at the other end of the room.

“Where are you going?”

Bedroom. Single bed by the window. Closet on the other wall. Nightstand next to the bed.

Connor threw the closet doors open. Shirts hung from a rack. Shoes and folded pants nestled in shelves. Socks and underwear in plastic baskets.

Sirens screamed in the distance.

“We have to go!” Kayla screamed.

“Wait!”

Connor pulled the upper nightstand drawer open.

Nothing.

Lower drawer.

Empty.

Growled.

Then lifted the lower drawer up and out.

Exposing a third drawer, disguised as part of the lower frame.

He yanked out the third drawer. A black brick tumbled out into the light. A burner phone, timeless and antiquated, hailing from the previous century. The palm-sized device had actual, physical keys, a tiny screen, a single rear-mounted camera. Cheap and common, it was the perfect disposable phone.

The perfect phone for a hitman.

Connor scooped it up and dropped it into his dump pouch. A quick search yielded nothing else in the drawer. He peered under the bed and found only dust bunnies.

“Coming out!” Connor called.

“Come out!”

Kayla stood at the doorway, railgun shouldered. Connor stacked behind her and tapped her shoulder. She stepped out into the hallway, and he followed suit.

Sirens echoed in the streets. A baby wailed at the top of its lungs. They flew down the stairs, weapons at the ready. At the ground floor, the civilian in the apron was gone, the door he had come from shut tight.

At the apartment entrance, Connor paused, and looked around his feet. The breach pen, now cold, lay by his boot. He stuffed it into his bulging dump pouch and covered the rest of the distance to the SUV.

“Cops are cordoning off the area. Head south,” Zen advised.

Connor and Kayla hurled themselves into their vehicle. Connor stomped the accelerator and spun the wheel, pulling the van through a tight crescent. He swerved again, narrowly dodging a sedan, and headed south. The sirens grew louder, sharper, closing in from all directions.

A police cruiser loomed ahead.

He gripped the wheel.

The cruiser shot past.

He heaved a sigh.

“We’re clear. Extracting now,” Connor said.

For the men and woman of Team Black Watch, hunting horrors is just another day at work. Check out their stories here!

River of Blood Chapter 6

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