Post by Susan Hillwig on Sept 29, 2013 14:34:31 GMT -5
“‘The Worms of the Earth’...thet’s whut the Indians call ‘em in the old tales. They were supposed tuh be older’n mankind, more advanced, an’ they tried tuh enslave some of the early tribes. The Indians fought back an’ drove ‘em underground, which is where they stayed ‘til white folks began homesteadin’ on Indian land. The Worms rose up again, so me an’ a bunch of fellas had tuh whup ‘em so’s they’d quit eatin’ up cattle an’ people an’ such.”
Jonah and Greg were sitting on the tailgate of the pickup truck, with the animal carrier holding the mutilated carcass of the Worm on the ground before them. Earlier, they’d locked the Lopez brothers in the back of the delivery truck (their best option since they had no squad car), then Greg called the station in Warpath and asked for a crew to be sent out while Jonah retrieved their motorcycles. With nothing else to do but wait, Greg had Jonah fill him in on this “Worm” business, though he wasn’t too fond of what he was hearing. “Did you just say they eat people?”
“Eat the men an’ rape the women, if’n yuh want tuh pick nits. Hell, from whut Ah heard, they’d rape anything they could get their claws on, ‘specially the ones thet were half-Worm.”
“You mean like half human and half that?” Greg pointed towards the carcass.
“Yep...an’ the result is just as ugly as yuh think it is. Looks like this fella here is all Worm, though, so maybe they ain’t gotten busy again yet.” As Jonah spoke, he began to rub his palms against the sleeves of his dark gray shirt, like he was cold. “‘Course, whut’s really got me puzzled is how the damn thing is even here. We killed the big Mama Worm whut birthed ‘em, so they should’ve died out ages ago.”
“Maybe they’re a long-lived species, or this one could be from another group of Worms.”
“The latter seems likely. The ones we fought were up in the Texas Panhandle, an’ presumably the Los Magos fella brought this one from Mexico. Ah know Worms are good at burrowin’, but there’s gotta be at least five hunnert miles between here an’ there.”
A silence fell between them as they each mulled over the situation, then Greg began to sing under his breath in Spanish, “They fought the dragons deep in their lair...”
“Whut’re yuh goin’ on about, Saunders?”
“It’s from a narcocorrido...a song written about drug cartel or kingpin. It’s like Mexican gangsta rap...and you have no idea what that is so why am I botherin’ to explain it that way.” Greg sighed, then said, “You remember how some outlaws like the James gang or Billy the Kid would become folk heroes? It’s kinda the same thing, only in this case, the cartels usually hire the musicians to write these songs in their honor. When dragon sweat began hittin’ the area, I tracked down the musician Los Magos favored and convinced him to do some spy work for me.”
“He’s the contact yuh were talkin’ ‘bout?”
“Yep. Tonight’s lead was the first solid one he ever gave me. Anyhow, I was thinkin’ that...” He paused and looked at Jonah, who was now wringing his hands together. “Are you okay there?”
“Thet gunk won’t come off. Don’t remember Worms bein’ so slimy.”
“Yeah, it is kinda gross.” Greg examined his own hands and said, “Glad I wear gloves with my costume...gonna have to clean ‘em when we get home.” He peeled off the gloves so they were inside out, then stuffed them in his back pocket. “I brought some water along, maybe you can wash the slime off.” He eased himself off of the tailgate, hobbled over to the motorcycles, and pulled a bottle of spring water out of the saddlebag attached to the back of his cycle. As he walked over to Jonah again, he saw that his friend was now tearing at the skin with his fingernails, to the point where droplets of blood were falling onto his jeans. “What in...Jonah, stop it!” He dropped the bottle and tried to grab Jonah by the wrists, but the man jerked away so hard that he fell off the tailgate. “What the Hell is wrong with you?” Greg asked, but Jonah didn’t seem to hear, as he kept on tearing at his bloody hands, all the while muttering something incoherent. Greg had no idea what was causing this behavior, but getting Jonah to quit injuring himself seemed like a good plan of action, so Greg once again made a grab for his wrists, this time succeeding. “Dammit, Hex, quit fightin’ me!” Greg yelled as he pinned the man to the ground. “Tell me what’s goin’ on!”
Jonah stared right through Greg as he gasped, “Crawlin’...‘side me...eatin’...” He suddenly cried out and banged his head on the dry earth. “Nnngh...God! Geddout!”
“What are you talkin’ about? Is the ring makin’ you act like this?” But Jonah didn’t answer, he just continued to thrash about as if possessed. Then Greg noticed the foamy line of spittle running out of the corner of Jonah’s mouth. “Can’t be...” Greg muttered, then his eyes darted over to the animal carrier as the pieces all clicked into place. “Jonah, listen to me. You’ve been dosed with dragon sweat. Whatever you’re seein’ isn’t real, it’s just the drug playin’ with your mind. You’re gonna have to ride it out, y’hear?” Even as he said the words, Greg knew it wouldn’t be that simple: a dragon sweat trip could last for hours, sometimes days if the dose was large enough. Once the boys arrived, they’d have to get Jonah to the hospital and try to detox him, or at the very least keep him strapped to a bed until the drug wore off. Greg was silently debating whether he should tie him up during the interim when Jonah suddenly stiffened, then relaxed, the flesh of his body becoming gray and desiccated as he did so. Though Greg was aware of Jonah’s occasional “condition”, this was the first time he’d seen it, and he immediately let go of his friend and backpedaled away from the body, thinking, Oh Christ, it killed him. Then Jonah let out a groan and sat up, cradling his head in his bony hands. Not knowing how else to say it, Greg asked, “Are you gonna be okay, Hex?”
“Think this’ll take a few minutes,” Jonah replied, his voice taking on an unearthly tone that made the hair on the back of Greg’s neck stand up. “Everything was a mite fuzzy there...did yuh say something ‘bout me bein’ drugged?”
“I’m almost positive. You’re probably not familiar with the notion of lickin’ toads to get high, are you?”
“Ah beg yer goddam pardon?”
“I know, who’d think of something like that, but it really is a thing. There’s certain poisonous toads that you can get a buzz off of if you ingest just a little bit of that poison. I’m thinkin’ maybe these Worms of yours have something similar going on.”
“Ah didn’t lick the damn thing.”
“No, but you got slime all over your hands...or more accurately, your skin...while I didn’t get any on me because I was wearing gloves. I know it sounds crazy, but I think the Los Magos boys are makin’ dragon sweat out of that slime.” The majority of Hex’s body had finally reverted back to a living state -- the skin on his hands was still regenerating, but at least the slime was now gone -- so Greg came back over to sit next to him. “Y’know that narcocorrido I was singing? It’s a story about how Los Magos fought against a nest of dragons, cut their bellies open, and drew out piles of gold. I made the connection pretty quick that the ‘dragons’ were probably your Worms, but it didn’t occur to me that this drug might be exactly what its name says it is until you started foamin’ like a rabid dog.”
“Reckon thet explains why the fella killed it. He was hopin’ we wouldn’t figure it out.” Jonah shook his head, both in disbelief and to clear his mind. “Damnation, why would anybody want tuh take something thet makes yuh feel like there’s bugs crawlin’ around inside of yuh?”
“Sounds like you had a bad trip. It can vary from one dose to the next. Just be glad your body was able to flush it out all at once. I was about to hogtie you.”
Jonah sat quietly for a moment, then said, “Ah don’t remember nothin’ like this happenin’ back the first time Ah ran into ‘em. ‘Course, most of them Worms would bite yer arm clean off if’n yuh got close enough tuh touch one.”
“Well, not all toads are poisonous, either. If this is from another group of Worms, then maybe they evolved a little dif’rent.”
“Whut about yer musician friend? If’n he’s been singin’ ‘bout these Worms, then thet means he’s known ‘bout ‘em all this time.”
“I’d like to think he would’ve told me in advance if he’d seen one. It’s more’n likely that Los Magos told him about their finding the ‘dragons’ lair’, and he thought they were speaking figuratively. Hell, that’s what I thought.” Greg saw a light off in the distance and stood up, saying, “Looks like the crew’s rollin’ in.” Jonah followed his gaze to see two SUVs with police markings coming their way, as well as an ambulance and a truck that reminded him of Maggie’s rig, except this one had a long, flat bed like a lumber car. Realizing they’d be here within minutes, Jonah had the ring make him a pair of gloves to cover his still-healing hands. Maybe once he got to know these Warpath lawmen better, he’d let them in on his secret, but certainly not from the get-go.
The vehicles carefully drove through the maze of speaker poles that dotted the drive-in’s landscape until they reached the spot where Jonah and Greg stood. From out of one of the SUVs came a bear of a man, followed by a much-smaller man dressed in blue. “Heard you had a fun night, boss,” the big man said to Greg.
“Yep, damn shame you missed it.” As the newcomers walked over, Greg made a sweeping gesture with his hand, saying, “Boys, I’d like you to meet Jonah Hex...he’s the freelancer I was telling you about. Jonah, this here’s Silver and Henry.”
They shook hands all around, with Silver saying to him, “Welcome to the Wild Bunch.”
“Wild Bunch?” Jonah echoed, giving Greg a sideways glance.
“It’s just a nickname some of the boys gave themselves after a crazy incident a few years back. I’ll explain some other time.”
“Yuh’d best do thet.” So far as Jonah could remember, the name ‘Wild Bunch’ was associated with a couple of outlaw gangs in the 1890s -- not exactly fitting for a group of (presumably) respectable lawmen.
Henry was leaning over to take a look inside the animal carrier. “What the heck is in here? It stinks like one of Trevor’s socks.”
“Don’t touch it!” Greg ordered, then said loudly so all the other officers around could hear, “Everybody put on gloves before you handle anything in the area, including the vehicles, and don’t your bare skin brush anything. There’s a good chance that some of this stuff might have dragon sweat on it. We’ve already had one close call tonight, and I don’t want another.”
“What’s going on?” Silver asked.
“We think that thing in there is the source of dragon sweat,” Greg said, pointing at the carrier, “and if you’re not careful, you could get a contact buzz from it.”
Henry backed away from the carrier, hands held high. “If I’d known, I would’ve brought a hazmat suit. I don’t want to end up like one of those droolers.”
“If you put on some gloves, you should be fine,” he replied. “Go find a tarp or something to wrap that carrier in before you put it in the SUV. I want you guys to run it over to Saint James Medical so Trece can look it over. I already called ahead.”
“Ain’t nothin’ tuh look at. Damn thing’s dead,” Jonah said to Greg.
“Yeah, but we’ll need concrete proof that it’s the source of the drug if we want to use it as evidence.” He began to walk over to the ambulance so one of the EMTs could look at his injured leg, and Jonah followed. “If we can’t prove it, then all we’ve got is possible animal cruelty charges, and that sure as Hell won’t net us the rest of Los Magos.”
“Whut about them Lopez boys?” Jonah hitched a thumb at the delivery truck.
Greg stopped and muttered, “Damn, I almost forgot about ‘em. Tag an officer to help you hustle them into the other SUV. And remember: No rough stuff. They’ve got rights.”
Jonah grunted, but did as ordered. He hadn’t been at this “freelance” job for a day yet, and already the rules and regulations were chafing him. But he was going to keep at it, at least until this matter with the Worms was resolved...not that he relished the notion of facing those monsters again. The first time he’d fought them roughly a hundred and thirty-five years ago had been bad enough, but now he would have to contend with both Worms and crazy drug-running Mexicans, and he didn’t know which was worse.
His discomfort over the whole situation was stirring up the black ring. As Jonah waited over by the motorcycles for Greg and his fellow officers to wrap things up, the ring asked him, [Jonah Hex of Earth is at peace?] It had done this repeatedly ever since he’d been accidentally dosed, and each time he’d silently told it he was fine. Unfortunately, the ring knew that wasn’t the case and continued to pester him. “Ah don’t think Ah’m gonna be at peace fer a while yet,” he finally told the ring under his breath. “Maybe thet’s a good thing, ‘cause if’n these Worms are as nasty as the ones Ah ran into all them years ago, bein’ peaceable ain’t gonna help one bit.”
Post by Susan Hillwig on Sept 29, 2013 14:37:14 GMT -5
The sound wasn’t the best, but the green-tinged image was clear enough: the younger Lopez brother handing a duffle bag to the masked Los Magos man, who opened it to briefly inspect its contents. “I gotta tell ya, Luis, it’s a pretty sight,” Greg said as he paused the video, then turned away from the flatscreen monitor set up in the interrogation room and looked at the brother in the flesh. “I knew it was only a matter of time before I caught you boys red-handed.”
“When’s my lawyer get here?” Luis Lopez said, his arms crossed over his chest as he slumped in the chair. “I know I don’t have to say nothin’ without him here.”
“That’s right, you don’t.” Greg pulled out the other chair and sat down across from Luis. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t listen to what myself and my friend have to say.” He nodded towards Jonah, who stood in the corner near the door. “We know the truth about that creature in the cage, Luis. Matter of fact, it’s a sure bet that we know a lot more about it than you do. But that doesn’t mean you can’t provide us with some valuable information, like where Los Magos found it.”
“I’m not a snitch....and I want my lawyer!”
Greg glanced at the clock on the wall. “She should be here by three. That’s the drawback to bustin’ folks like you in the middle of the night: you gotta rouse the court-appointed attorneys outta bed. I don’t think a lawyer’s gonna make a lick of dif’rence in your case, though, seein’ as we’ve got the whole exchange on video. Most likely they’ll try and convince you to plea bargain. And I want you to plea bargain, Luis, ‘cause I think whatever you can tell us will be more valuable than finally landing your skinny ass in jail.”
Luis looked down at his handcuffed wrists laying in his lap, then replied, “I’m not saying a word until...”
Before the young man could finish his sentence, Jonah rushed across the room, put his hand around Luis’s throat, and lifted him out of the chair. “Say ‘lawyer’ again, an’ Ah’ll crack yer damn skull open,” he growled, pinning Luis to the wall.
“Hex, drop him!” Greg yelled.
The bounty hunter did no such thing. He was sick to death of coddling these owlhoots: they’d already spent over half an hour talking to the elder Lopez brother, only to get the same song-and-dance about lawyers, and had hoped the younger one would be more pliable. That obviously wasn’t the case, so Jonah decided to fall back upon more tried-and-true methods. He continued to squeeze Luis’s throat as he said to the young man, “Do yuh have any idea how dangerous thet thing yuh bought really is? All Worms do is eat an’ screw an’ kill, an’ they ain’t very particular ‘bout who or whut they do it tuh, or what order.” Jonah leaned in close. “Yo’re damn lucky it’s dead now, ‘cause otherwise Ah would’ve locked the two of yuh in a room together just tuh see whut it could do with only stumps an’ gums tuh work with.”
Greg came up behind Jonah and took hold of his arm, saying, “That’s enough!” He forced Jonah to let go of Luis, then said to the bounty hunter, “Outside, right now!” The two of them went into the hallway, leaving Luis to sputter and cough as he slumped in his chair again. “What the Hell were you thinkin’?” Greg snapped once the door to the interrogation room shut. “If I’d wanted to play ‘good cop, crazy cop’, I would’ve told you!”
“Ah’m sick tuh death of hearin’ ‘bout lawyers,” Jonah said. “We need tuh get some answers out of these yahoos.”
“And we will, but not by choking them to death. You can’t treat criminals these days the same way you used to, Hex. When we’re out bustin’ heads in the field, that’s one thing, but once they’re in custody, you’ve gotta keep your hands off of ‘em.”
“Who in blazes decided it was better tuh coddle skunks like them? Give me five minutes alone with these two, an’ Ah’ll...”
“You’re not gonna go anywhere near either of them,” Greg said evenly. “What you will do is march yourself up to my office and sit on your hands until I come fetch you. Understood?”
Jonah glared hard at Greg, then turned away with a scowl and headed for the corridor that led to the front end of the police station. [Compassion], Jonah heard the black ring say.
“Great, yo’re on his side, too?” he replied. “Whole damn world’s gone soft.”
“Compassion’s gonna get folks killed unless we figure out where these Worms are holed up!” Jonah realized one of the officers nearby was staring at him. “Mind yer own business,” he barked at the man, who quickly turned around and continued on with whatever he was doing.
Greg’s office was on the second floor that ringed the main area, with a steel staircase linking the two. Jonah clomped up the stairs, not giving a damn that the noise might disturb the officers who were working hard that night to keep Warpath safe. When he got to the office, he rummaged around for a few minutes in the hope that Greg kept a bottle of something stashed on the premises, but he had no luck in finding one, so he flopped down in the leather chair behind the desk and stared up at the ceiling. “Yep, definitely not likin’ this job,” he said.
Post by Susan Hillwig on Sept 29, 2013 14:39:20 GMT -5
Hours later, Greg came up to his office to find Jonah tilted back in the desk chair, a light snore coming from beneath the hat pulled over his face. “Hey, wake up, old man,” Greg said, and jostled Jonah’s shoulder. The bounty hunter mumbled something, then pushed his hat back as he sat up. “At least one of us got some rest,” Greg mused.
“Time is it?” Jonah asked, still half-asleep.
“Quarter ‘til six.” He cocked his head slightly. “You feelin’ okay? You look a mite peaked again.”
“Dreamin’ ‘bout Ears.”
“Do you normally dream about body parts?”
“No, no...Ears was a person. Had big ol’ jug handles.” Jonah put his hands on either side of his head and pulled his ears to they stuck out. “First time Ah saw a Worm was when it bit Ears in half. Ate everything from the waist up ‘cept them ears of his.”
Greg got a concerned look on his face for a moment, then said, “Maybe I should just send you home. This Worm stuff is too personal for you.”
“Ain’t goin’ home.” Jonah stood up and rolled his shoulders, making his back crack. “Ah’m gonna see this thing through. Yuh want tuh revoke thet whole ‘freelance’ deal with me once we’re done, fine, but Ah want tuh be sure these Worms are wiped out fer good this time.”
“I never considered revokin’ the deal, but I do think you’re better out there than in here.” Greg smirked. “The ‘out there’ part is more fun anyways. Less paperwork.”
“Amen tuh thet.” He rubbed hand over his face and said, “So, did them Lopez boys talk with their damn lawyer or not?”
“They did, and as I suspected, she convinced them to tell us everything they knew in exchange for some of the charges being dropped.”
“Yuh mean we gotta let them go?”
“Not right away.” Greg sat on the edge of the desk as he told Jonah, “They’ll do a little jail time, but nowhere near as much as they would’ve if they hadn’t cooperated. Problem is, they didn’t know a whole lot. Los Magos contacted them via the Internet about distributin’ dragon sweat, and they’d never met any members of the cartel until tonight. They didn’t even have a way to get a hold of Los Magos: the cartel always initiated the contacts, and the brothers claim both the email and IP addresses Los Magos used were masked.” He waved a hand when he saw the blank look on Jonah’s face. “Never mind, it’s technical junk. Rusty’s workin’ on their smartphones right now to see if maybe there’s some trick Los Magos might’ve missed.”
“Whut about the Worm? Do they know where it came from?”
“According to them, they didn’t know the ‘dragon’ they were coming to pick up was real until they saw the thing in the back of the truck. It’s like I was saying before about the narcocorrido: You hear the words, but you don’t think they’re being literal. Sure, we live in a world full of aliens and people that can fly, but that doesn’t mean folks believe right off the bat that everything fanciful is real.”
“Like thet musician fella yuh was talkin’ about,” Jonah said. “Speakin’ of which, why cain’t he tell us where Los Magos is hidin’?”
“Because the guys in Los Magos don’t fully trust him, either. Their whole gig is based on secrecy: Always wearin’ masks, never usin’ their real names, this stupid business with the Internet. He’s known Los Magos for about three years now, going back to when they just smuggled people across the border, so he has been to their hideout quite a few times. Trouble is, they always blindfold him on both the trip in and out, the same as they’ve done with the people they smuggled. They also keep him under guard while he’s there, won’t even let him bring his phone along. All the guy can tell me for sure is that it’s in a cavern somewhere. They’ve got it all tricked out, but it’s a cavern nonetheless.”
“The dragons’ lair,” Jonah said under his breath. He remembered descending into the tunnel system that the Worms had dug in order to fight them on their own turf. Some of the tunnels appeared to go on for miles, and they were all infested with the murderous creatures. Once again, the prospect of repeating such acts was not appealing.
His ruminations were cut off by the ringing of Greg’s cell phone. The lawman pulled it out of his pocket, looked at the screen, then tapped a few buttons. “Looks like it’s time to saddle up again,” he told Hex.
“Whut’s goin’ on?”
“Got a text from the doc,” said Greg, who was already walking out of the office. “She found something of interest on your little Worm friend that she wants to show us.”
Post by Susan Hillwig on Sept 29, 2013 14:48:41 GMT -5
The chemical smell that pervaded the morgue muted the smell of Worm, but not by much. When Doctor Trece offered them surgical masks, Jonah took one gladly. “Thanks again for coming in to do this, Doc,” Greg said as he slipped his on.
“I’ll just add it to the list of favors you owe me.” Doctor Trece was a Latino woman in her thirties, with long black hair pinned up so as to not get in the way as she went about her work. After pulling a fresh pair of latex gloves out of a box, she approached the examination table where the Worm carcass lay on its back. “I tested the skin secretions first, and you’re right: the chemical composition is nearly identical to dragon sweat. However, it’s not as strong.”
“You think Los Magos is...what, distilling it?” Greg asked.
“No, they’re just taking it directly from the source.” She carefully turned the Worm over, then indicated two small, white protrusions on its lower back. “I was finishing up my initial examination when I found this. I’ve snapped a few pictures for evidence already, but I didn’t want to proceed further until you got here.”
At first glance, Jonah thought they were small tentacles (not an unusual feature on a Worm), but as he leaned down to get a better look, he realized they were artificial. “Whut in blazes is thet?” Jonah asked the doctor.
“They’re called stents,” she explained. “They’re used to keep passages in the body open or, in this case, to help with drainage.” Trece fiddled with the end of one of them until a few drops of yellowish fluid collected on the tip of her gloved finger, which she held up as she said, “This is 100% pure dragon sweat.”
“Yo’re tellin’ me them fellas tapped this here Worm like a keg of beer?”
“Christ Almighty,” Greg said. “This whole thing just keeps gettin’ better and better.” He shook his head. “So what exactly do those stents tap into?”
“I won’t know until I’ve done the full autopsy, but going by the position, I’d say it’s the equivalent of adrenal glands for this....” The doctor turned to Hex. “What did you call it?”
“It’s a Worm,” he replied. “Ah’ve also heard ‘em called Planarians afore.”
“By whom? Planarians are flatworms: small invertebrates with, among other things, very rudimentary sensory organs.” She laid the Worm on its back once more and gestured to its remaining eye. “Admittedly, I haven’t done the full autopsy yet, but I’d say your ‘Worm’ has about as much relation to an actual planarian as you do to a jellyfish.”
“Ah’m just tellin’ yuh whut Ah was told, ma’am.”
Greg waved a hand at both of them. “Never mind what they should be called. What’s important is that we can prove in court this is source of the drug. ‘Course, we still have to figure out where Los Magos is based out of.”
“The stents might be able to narrow it down,” Trece told him. “Once I remove them, I’ll see what I can do about tracking them back to the manufacturer. Also, whomever did this would need to have some medical expertise. You can’t just shove these in blindly and expect results.”
As the others discussed possible avenues of investigation, Jonah stared down at the dead Worm, lost in thought. After a while, he asked, “Where’s the other body they brought in?”
“Still bagged up.” Trece motioned to a wall full of metal storage drawers at the other end of the morgue. “This seemed a higher priority, so I haven’t gotten to it yet.”
Without another word, Jonah began walking towards the drawers. Greg followed after him, saying, “What are you thinkin’, Hex?”
“Ah’m thinkin’ thet me an’ the Los Magos man should have us a palaver.”
“But he’s dead, remember? You emptied out his brainpan.” Then he saw Jonah pull off the glove on his left hand, exposing the ring. “It...you can do that?”
“Done it afore. Don’t see why Ah cain’t do it again.” Jonah flexed his hand, which had finally healed up, then nodded slightly towards the doctor and said, “Get her outta here. Ah don’t want an audience.”
“What about the Worm? You gonna need some time alone with that, too?”
“Won’t do no good. Full-blooded Worms cain’t talk...an’ Ah sure as Hell wouldn’t want tuh revive the thing even if it could.” He began to read the labels on the drawers as Greg and Trece left the room. It took a couple of tries before Jonah located the body, still partially-wrapped in the black bag the EMTs had slipped it into. The Los Magos man’s mask had been removed, exposing the bloody bullethole in the man’s forehead -- the other officers had already run the criminal’s photograph and fingerprints through the database, but it had turned up nothing. Now it was time to do a search with more unnatural methods. Standing on the corpse’s left side, Jonah put his ring hand upon the unmoving chest and said, “Yuh know whut tuh do.”
“Come on, dammit, just reach out an’ pull on his soul, or whutever it is yuh do.”
[Love...Maggie Dupree of Earth is at peace], the ring said. [Compassion...Jeb Turnbull of Earth is at peace].
Jonah was surprised to hear the ring speak names other than his own, then remembered that it had said Maggie and Jeb’s names when he’d made the connection with each of their souls. “Whut’re yuh gettin’ at? It won’t work unless Ah know him?”
[Love. Compassion], it repeated, more insistent this time.
“Love fer Maggie, compassion fer Jeb...Ah’ve gotta feel something. No emotion, no connection.” He snorted. “Ah don’t feel a damn thing towards this fella. He’s a skunk who poisons folks fer a livin’. Ah ain’t even sorry thet Ah killed him.” A thought then occurred to Jonah, and he pressed his hand down harder upon the corpse, saying under his breath, “Yo’re a no-good, lyin’ bastard who’s too cowardly tuh show yer face in public. Yuh sell poison tuh folks who’re too weak tuh resist. Yuh would’ve killed me an’ Saunders if’n we’d given yuh the chance. Ah hate yuh.”
[Rage!] the ring chimed in.
“Ah cain’t stand fellas like yuh,” Jonah continued, gritting his teeth as he pushed aside the peace in his soul in favor of darker emotions. “Ah made a career outta wipin’ skunks like yerself off’n the face of the Earth, an’ Ah’ll be damned if’n Ah’m gonna let the fact thet yo’re dead stand between me an’ the task at hand. Now wake up, yuh stupid sonovabitch! Wake up so’s Ah kin beat the damn answers outta yuh!”
When the rage within him reached a boiling point, he felt the connection form between himself and the Los Magos man, with the ring acting as conduit. The lifeless body suddenly jerked beneath Jonah’s hand, the bullet hole closing up and the skin turning gray as dark matter flooded into it, then the eyes flew open, revealing their now-cloudy appearance. “Qué...qué...” the man said, a note of confusion evident in his unearthly voice. When he looked down to see the body bag that enveloped his lower half, confusion quickly turned into panic as he let loose with a string of Spanish that Jonah just couldn’t keep up with. Ah’m too far out of practice, Jonah thought, trying to hold the man still as he wriggled about. Cain’t even recall the last time Ah heard the language, much less spoke it. He was about to tell the man to speak English instead when, to his surprise, the man’s voice seemed to split in two, with one continuing on in Spanish while the other switched to English. The Spanish voice soon became muffled, while the English voice came through loud and clear, though the man’s lip movements didn’t match the latter in the least. Are yuh doin’ thet? Jonah silently asked the ring.
Muh own personal interpreter...damnation. Presuming that it worked both ways, Jonah put aside his wonder about this new development and said to the man, “Best calm down, boy, or else Ah’m gonna put yuh right back where Ah fetched yuh from.”
“But what’s going on? Why does everything look so strange?” He twisted his head, trying to see what lay around him. “What is this place?”
“The morgue. Yo’re dead.” Jonah held up his ring hand, saying, “An’ this is the only thing keepin’ yuh in this world. Ah brought yuh back so’s Ah could ask yuh a few questions. If’n yuh cooperate, Ah’ll help yuh rest in peace. If’n yuh don’t...well, Ah reckon it’s up tuh the Lord where yuh end up.”
The Los Magos man’s eyes narrowed. “That is the biggest load of...”
Before he could finish the sentence, Jonah slapped his palm against the man’s chest, withdrawing the connection, and the Los Magos man turned back into an unmoving corpse. Jonah counted to ten under his breath, then put his hand on the man’s chest again to reestablish the connection. “Ah don’t know where yo’re goin,” Jonah said once the man was revived, “but Ah ain’t got no problem with leavin’ yuh there.”
“It’s a trick! A goddamned...”
Another slap, and the corpse went down. This time, Jonah counted to thirty before bringing him back. As soon as the man stopped screaming, Jonah told him, “Ah kin do this all day, an’ Ah will unless yuh answer muh questions. Yuh savvy?”
“Yes, yes! Anything you want! Just don’t send me back again!”
“Smart man.” Jonah backed up a little to let the man sit up. “Firstly, tell me where yuh found them ‘dragons’ y’all pump the drugs out of.”
The man gasped for air, more out of shock and fear than any actual need to breathe. “Lower chambers...we’d seen evidence of them for a while, but they hid...”
“Lower chamber of whut? Yuh talkin’ ‘bout the cavern y’all hole up in?”
He nodded. “It’s a cave system. We found it years ago...runs for miles.”
“Let me guess: this goes under the border ‘tween Mexico an’ the States,” Jonah said, to which the man vigorously nodded. “Certainly explains how yuh earned yer reputation as ‘magicians’, ‘specially since yuh’ve never let anyone see how yuh do the trick.” Jonah leaned closer. “Now...where’s the exit fer the caves on this side of the border?”
The man hesitated before saying, “Closest one is on the outer edge of the reservation.”
“Is the trail marked?” When he didn’t answer, Jonah told him, “Ah kin understand thet yuh don’t want tuh betray ‘em, but let me remind yuh thet whutever life yuh had is over now. All’s yuh got left is whut’s waitin’ fer yuh on the other side, an’ Ah kin make sure thet’s a touch more pleasant if’n yuh don’t jerk me around.”
The Los Magos man turned his head away for a moment, as if contemplating the possibilities. When he turned back again, there was a look of defeat upon his face. “We mark the entrances with GPS beacons. There’s an app on my phone that’s already tuned to that one.”
Jonah didn’t fully understand, but figured Greg could puzzle it out. “How many are down there? An’ Ah don’t just mean yer cohorts, Ah’m talkin’ ‘bout the ‘dragons’ too.”
“I don’t know,” he started to say, then shouted when he saw Jonah bring his hand up, “I don’t about the dragons! Last time I checked, there was around fifty, but that was a couple of weeks ago. The big one might’ve popped out a few more since then.”
Jonah repressed a shudder. Bad enough to be tussling against regular-sized Worms, but “the big one” could only be referring to a Mother Worm, and the only example he’d ever seen was a good thirty feet high. “An’ how many skunks like yerself?”
“Eight. We’ve lost a few to the dragons over the years.”
“Ah’ll bet yuh have.”
After a moment or two of silence, the man focused his milky-white eyes on Jonah and asked, “What are going to do with me? You said that I’m dead, but...”
“Ah cain’t bring yuh all the way back, if’n thet’s whut yo’re thinkin’. Ah kin only move yer soul along...an’ Ah reckon it’s time tuh be doin’ thet.” Jonah didn’t think it was entirely proper to grant peace to someone who profited from harming others, but he’d promised to do so in exchange for the man’s cooperation, and Jonah Hex always kept his word. He made the Los Magos man lay down again, then placed his ring hand on the man’s chest and let the rage he’d built up inside himself fade so the peace within his own soul could guide the way. “Don’t fight the urge when it comes,” Jonah said, “just follow it.”
This didn’t make sense to Jonah: he could feel that the path was wide open, to the point where his head was swimming a bit from the waves of serenity pouring into him. With Maggie and Jeb, the effect had been almost immediate, so why wasn’t the same thing happening with this man? Then Jonah recalled a phrase he’d read in the Bible long ago, during one of his rare periods when he attempted to be a touch more pious: There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked. “Ah’m sorry, but it looks like Ah kin only get yuh so far,” he told the man. “This method ain’t as cut an’ dry as Ah’d been led tuh believe. Reckon yuh’ve got some hard work ahead of yuh if’n yuh want tuh get any further.”
“What’re you...no! Don’t...” But Jonah was already in the midst of severing the connection, and the corpse became still and silent once more. “Good luck, son,” Jonah said, zipping the bag shut. “Ah’ll make sure yuh get a proper burial.”
Post by Susan Hillwig on Sept 29, 2013 14:51:37 GMT -5
The reservation in question belonged to the Tohono O’odham tribe, and straddled the U.S. and Mexico. Thanks to its sovereign-nation status and small police force, it had been the favored stomping ground of smugglers for years, and as Greg and the others saw once they pulled up the phone’s GPS map, the entrance to the cave lay just within a mile of the O’odham border. Needless to say, this was a little outside of their jurisdiction, so Greg had to call in a few favors. By the time the clock crept towards 10 A.M., he’d assembled a team of a dozen officers (counting himself and Jonah) to make a raid on the Los Magos hideout. The smuggler’s truck had been pressed back into service to lead the caravan out there, with an officer behind the wheel wearing a devil mask and clothes similar to the Los Magos man’s -- should there be a lookout, it was hoped they would spot this truck first before the other vehicles trailing a half-mile behind.
Jonah rode in the back of one of the SUVs, with Greg up front in the passenger seat and a federal marshal named Smythe driving. The marshal had worked with the Warpath P.D. before on a case, so Greg had asked for him specifically to act as liaison for both the O’odham tribal police and (since this involved illegal border crossings) U.S. Homeland Security. As they drove down a rutted back road, Smythe asked, “So, you any relation to that other Jonah Hex? The bounty hunter? I’d read somewhere that he had kids that became lawmen...”
“He’s a distant relation,” Greg answered for him, to Jonah’s relief. He hadn't given much thought yet as to what to do if somebody made the connection between his past life and his current one.
“Well, one thing’s for sure,” Smythe said as he looked at Jonah in the rearview mirror, “there certainly isn’t a family resemblance.” The marshal chuckled, as did Greg, while Jonah just stared out the window at the mesquite growing alongside the road.
As they reached the area where the cave was located, Greg signaled down the line for the caravan to stop, and let the decoy truck go on ahead alone. The plan was for the driver -- along with the officer hiding in the back of the truck -- to find the cave entrance using the GPS coordinates they’d found, then report back to Greg if the way was clear. As they waited, Greg called the station to see if Rusty had made any progress in cracking the memory on the Los Magos man’s phone. There was only one entrance marker loaded into the map, and they were under the impression that there were multiple entrances on the U.S. side at least. Unfortunately, they couldn’t wait around in the hope that they’d find and block off every possible escape route: it had been over ten hours since Greg and Jonah had nixed the exchange, and the remaining members of the cartel were sure to be on high alert since their man never returned. If they delayed the operation any longer, there was a good chance Los Magos would be long gone before they even got there.
Nearly twenty minutes passed between the truck dropping out of sight and the call coming in over the walkie-talkie. Not wanting to waste another second, Greg gave the “forward” signal as soon as the officer told him there was no one in sight. The caravan proceeded through the foothills until they saw the truck parked beside a rocky slope, with their disguised officer standing nearby and waving the devil mask like a flag. “Where’s Davis?” Greg asked as he climbed out of the SUV.
“Down there,” the officer said, his English accent contrasting against Greg’s drawl. “It’s just a hole in between some rocks. We had to roll a few aside to even get into it.”
Jonah peered down the slope at the collection of boulders indicated. “Ah was expectin’ something big enough tuh drive thet truck through.”
“Probably had one of his buddies help him haul the Worm through the caves, with the truck already parked on this side,” Greg replied. “The check we ran on the plates said it was stolen two days ago.” He turned to the officer, who was lighting up a smoke. “Trevor, pick out a couple of guys to stand guard with you topside. We don’t know if anyone from Los Magos has gone out searchin’ for their comrade, and I don’t want them sneakin’ up on us.”
Trevor sketched off a salute. “You got it, mate.”
“Everybody else, gets your butts down the slope. And make sure you’ve all got on protective gear...that means bulletproof vests and gloves of some kind. You’ve all been briefed on these creatures, and I don’t want anybody going goofy on me because they stuck their hand in some slime.” Greg began to head down the slope, favoring his wounded leg as best he could -- a sensible man would’ve stayed topside, but he’d suffered worse injuries as the Vigilante, and wasn’t going to let a little thing like a stab wound hinder him. When they got to the hole, Greg looked at Jonah and said, “You’ve got the experience...wanna take the lead?”
“Yo’re all heart.” Jonah slipped feet-first into the hole. The cave beyond was only about four feet in height, so Jonah had to crouch as he moved away from the entrance. The floor sloped sharply downward, and he soon found that he could stand upright, though the passage remained narrow -- ridges had been carved into the floor to help with footing. The others soon filed in, each of them producing a flashlight as they advanced into the darkness. “Where’s thet Davis fella?” Jonah said as they moved further down into the cave.
“Over here.” A light bobbed into view before them, illuminating a bend in the path. As the group reached it, they saw it opened onto a new chamber, this one about ten feet across and at least as tall. A path had been worn into the cave floor, leading off to parts unknown. “Lots of footprints down here,” Davis told them, “but no other signs of life.”
Greg said to Jonah, “What about you? See anything out of the ordinary?”
Jonah searched the walls. The black ring granted him perfect night vision, but it couldn’t show him something that just plain wasn’t there. “Nothin’. Place is a damn tomb.”
“There’s a lovely thought,” Silver muttered nearby.
“Okay, we proceed as planned. I want weapons drawn, but nobody fires without my orders. We don’t need to be shootin’ at shadows.” Greg pulled his own Peacemaker and began to follow the path, saying to Jonah under his breath, “It’s open season for ring-slingin’, though. Just keep it non-lethal.”
“Gotcha,” Jonah replied, silently adding, But if’n Ah see a Worm, Ah’m goin’ full-bore.
Post by Susan Hillwig on Sept 29, 2013 14:53:41 GMT -5
“I’m not so sure about what Sheriff Saunders told us,” one of the officers was saying to Trevor. The three men were leaning against one of the SUVs, their backs to the rocky slope -- standing guard over a hole in the middle of nowhere wasn’t the most exciting duty. “Do you really think these Mexicans are making drugs from a bunch of prehistoric lizard-men?”
“If that’s what he says, then it’s the truth.” Trevor took a drag on his cigarette. “Besides, Henry and Silver saw the thing, so I know the lizard-man part is real, at least.”
“You Wild Bunch boys always stick together, don’t you?” the other officer said with just a hint of sarcasm. “Like your own little club.”
“Maybe if you’d talk a little nicer, sunshine, we’d let you in.” He took another drag, then blew a perfect smoke ring. “Still and all, I’ll bring you up at the next meeting. We could use a mascot.” After Trevor finished his cigarette, he stubbed it out, then went to shake out a fresh one from the pack. “Blimey, I’m out. Can you spare a ciggie, Blake?”
“Left mine in the car. I’m trying to quit.” The officer walked around the SUV, towards the vehicle he’d arrived in, and fetched the pack. As Blake returned to the group, a bullet came flying at him from the direction of the slope and slammed into his skull, killing him instantly. The other two men immediately dropped to the ground, each of them taking shelter behind one of the SUV’s tires. Trevor cursed as he yanked the walkie-talkie off of his belt. “Sheriff, this is Trevor. Someone shot at us. Blake’s down.” There was a crackle over the line that sounded like someone talking, but nothing could be made out. “Do you hear me? Bloody Hell!” He tossed the walkie-talkie down, then looked over at the other officer, who was peering carefully around the SUV. “Can you see anything?”
Another shot rang out and passed dangerously close to the other officer’s head, but it missed. “Saw a muzzle flash from under the rocks...ten yards from the cave. Bastard must’ve been hiding there all this time.”
Trevor wiped sweat from his brow with his shirtsleeve as he tried to think of a plan. The one that came to him wasn’t the best, but it might work. “Take off your hat,” he told the other officer, “and hold it out like you’re leaning over to take another peek.”
“Like they do in the movies? Are you kidding?”
“Not a bit. Just humor me and give it a go.” The other officer did what he asked, and when the shooting started up again, Trevor slid under the SUV and took aim at the sniper, who was barely visible beneath the rocks he’d piled around himself. Trevor fired off shots from his handgun until he saw the sniper’s rifle barrel droop, then he yelled, “Come on out of that spider-hole with your hands up!” There was no movement at first, then some of the rocks rolled away, revealing a man with a few splashes of blood on his shirt and wearing a wolf’s-head mask. He’d dropped the rifle, but one of his hands was behind his back. “Both hands, mate, or else I’ll drop you!” Trevor said as he climbed out from under the SUV.
The other officer came up next to Trevor, his own handgun trained on the sniper as well, but the man didn’t seem intimidated by this show of force in the least. Then the man began to run across the slope, heading for the cave entrance. It was only then that he raised his other hand, revealing a makeshift bandolier strung with a half-dozen grenades. Both officers fired as one, hoping to stop him before he could reach the cave, but as the man’s pace began to falter, he pulled the wire attached to the grenade pins, then threw the bandolier into the cave.
Trevor dove for his walkie-talkie, which was still on ground. “Fire in the hole!” he screamed over the line in the vain hope that it would get through. “Repeat: Fire in the hole!”
Post by Susan Hillwig on Sept 29, 2013 14:55:51 GMT -5
The group was roughly a quarter-mile from the cave entrance and still moving downward when Trevor first tried to contact them. Greg called for a halt as he tried to make out the words, but the thick stone walls were blocking most of the signal. “Say again, Trevor,” he sent back, and received nothing but silence.
Smythe said to him, “Maybe we should try cells instead.”
“You really think we’re going to get any bars in a cave?”
The exchange was nonsense to Jonah, so he ignored it in favor of a vague sound echoing down the passageway. “Gunshots,” he finally determined.
“You sure?” Greg asked, then decided that he’d rather check and be wrong than ignore it and have three dead officers. “Henry, Alvarez, and Hex, we’re goin’ back up. Everybody else, just stay put.” Greg and the others were already running back the way they’d come when the walkie-talkie crackled to life again, spitting out only one clear word: “Fire...!”
There was barely any time for the warning to be comprehended before the explosion ripped through the cave.