Being Red: Chapter Three

Turns out Clint Woodsworth is exactly the kind of monster I thought I was hunting, the kind that goes bump in the night and is responsible for the first degree murder of innocents. So despite his recent dictate, Kellan has no problem with me ridding the city of Woodsworth’s slimy hide. Part of me is glad for the chance to justify my work and rub a big “I told you so” in Kellan’s face, but another is just happy to have an excuse to avoid Kellan for as long as possible.

My phone pings and I glance down at the message. As if he knows I’m thinking of him, Kellan’s text reads simply, Be careful.

I don’t bother to respond. You don’t live long in this business being careless. My thoughts flash to the events of yesterday and I force the memories away. Tonight I will play by the book and get the job done properly.

Another ping. And you’re welcome.

I roll my eyes even though he’s not here to see. Earlier, a bike messenger showed up at my front door with a package done up like a present. I was going to turn him away, but he said, “They told me you wouldn’t accept it and to say, ‘It’s from your dogs in the hood,’ whatever that means. Will you just take it?” Against my better judgement, my curiosity won. I took the gift and tipped the messenger so he would go away without a fuss. Inside the wrapping, I found my gun with a box of silver bullets. I don’t even know where you buy silver bullets and I’m pretty sure they’re not supposed to be fired, so in my mind this is a bit far to go for a joke. Regular bullets kill werewolves just fine; there’s no escaping the rending of flesh and bone, even for a paranormal, and whoever tries to argue otherwise is either trying to make a few bucks or is superstitious in a seriously old-timey way. Maybe both. But I grudgingly find it amusing, not that I would ever admit as much.

The gun is now strapped against my thigh where it belongs. An identical pistol rests against my rib cage under my left arm. My sights are set, and I’m out for blood.

“That’ll be two ninety-eight,” says the girl behind the counter. So okay, I’m out for quality black tea, also known as the cheapest thing on the menu, but the blood will come soon enough.

I hear Hayden in my earpiece, “Red, the mark was spotted leaving his office.”

Passing a few bills to the barista, I pay for my tea and nonchalantly take a seat in the coffee shop, which lies just across the street from the office building in which Clint works, and discreetly scan the other patrons. Everyone is sitting around nibbling scones and sipping sugary caffeinated drinks like it’s a normal thing to do at seven-thirty on a Tuesday night. Maybe it is. I suppose my meter for normal isn’t really on the same scale as everyone else’s.

I take out my phone and hold it to my ear. “Got it,” I answer when I’m sure I won’t look deranged if I begin a conversation with myself. “Let me know when he finishes eating,” I say into my cell as a woman walks past my table. I want to deny Clint a last meal because frankly the guy doesn’t deserve one, but he’ll be easier to handle if he’s allowed to complete as much of his usual routine as possible. And when he’s good and full, especially with Chinese food. That gut bomb would put anyone down for the count.

I “hang up” and sip my tea. I’m nearly finished when Hayden says, “He’s getting the check.”

Slipping from my chair, I peel out of the shop and onto the deserted sidewalk, heading towards the Chinese restaurant on the far corner of the block. The walk isn’t far, and soon I’m positioned in the alley behind the establishment, partially hidden behind a dumpster Hayden scoped out earlier this evening. The location is not visible from the buildings on either side of the narrow street, as neither owner bothered to install windows overlooking the terrible view, but can be seen from the sidewalk with a little effort.

I take a mini bottle of Jameson from my pocket and do a quick rinse. I even gargle the burning liquid a bit for good measure. I spit the booze on the ground after my mouth tingles and I’m sure it’s well-saturated.

I know instantly when Clint exits the restaurant. The small hairs on my neck stand at attention, and I can feel his presence like he’s hovering over me. I fake a retch, and bend over like I’m hurling my guts up beside the dumpster. Set in his routine and heading back to his office, Woodsworth doesn’t spare me more than a glance. I cough, and wipe my mouth with the back of my hand, making a show of being ill.

This time, he glances back at me, so quick I almost don’t notice. I can see the moment the light goes on in his head: his eyes narrow, appraising me, and his nostrils flare, scenting his prey.

Perfect.

The key to any job is allowing the mark to see, smell, and feel whatever he (or the occasional she) wants and expects to perceive. In this case, a drunk girl in a secluded place. Every detail is a part of the plan. Like the whiskey to distract from the fact there is no vomit.

“Go away,” I choke out, knowing this will ensure a guy like Clint will do the exact opposite.

As expected, he approaches, but slowly. “I wouldn’t feel right leaving you here all alone,” he says, turning on the charm with a winning smile.

Sure he wouldn’t. That would require him to show some restraint, which would be abnormal for him. What I say is, “I’m fine, really.” I go through the motions of smoothing my hair as if trying to appear more presentable for him.

“I must insist,” says Woodsworth, the words sweet poison like candy-colored antifreeze dripping from his tongue.

Now he’s right in front of me. He reaches for my arm, and I take a step back as if afraid. He presses forward, forcing me to step back to maintain the distance between us, or so I let him believe. When we are deep enough into the alley to be properly hidden from view, even from the sidewalk, I drop my charade and lunge at Clint. Again, I notice the moment when understanding hits, his eyes widening slightly in shock as my knife slices into his abdomen, not deep enough to kill (even if I had the time to wait), but the wound will slow him down.

Clint growls in pain, the sound feral like a wild animal prepared to defend itself. I watch for signs of the shift, but Woodsworth retains his human form. He circles me, and I follow his movements, waiting for him to strike. As we maneuver around one another, I sense another presence, but from all the angles I scan, the corners are full of nothing more than a few empty pallets, dust, and shadows.

Distracted by the ominous feeling, I’m not quite prepared for the strength of Woodsworth’s attack. My boots skid on asphalt as I struggle to maintain my footing through a barrage of punches, blocking the brunt of the strike with my forearms. Back against the wall, I force my head fully into the fight, hoping whoever is playing peeping Tom isn’t here for me. Woodsworth snarls, baring teeth now more akin to fangs, and I brace for another attack. He pulls back for a final strike, and I change my tactic, using Woodsworth’s momentary recoil to slip under his defenses and lodge my knife in his ribs. I know the chances of pulling the weapon free are slim to none with it wedged between bone, so I leave it and draw the gun at my side in one smooth motion.

In the time it takes us to switch places, Clint makes the change. During the shift, my knife is dislodged and clatters to the ground. The wound remains, oozing dark blood down the coat of the enormous grey and black peppered wolf now crouched in front of me.

My gun is already leveled at Woodsworth’s head, and as he lunges I pull the trigger. Twice. A double-tap just to be safe.

The silenced shots hit their mark, but the wolf maintains trajectory. I am thrown to the ground with the body, landing hard on my back.

Blood drips onto my face, glassy eyes staring lifelessly into mine.

I shove the body off me and get up quickly. I’m ready for this night to be over.

“Hayden,” I check in.

“Good to hear your voice, babe,” he answers.

“You didn’t send someone over or see anyone else in the area, did you?” I ask, knowing my team keeps tabs on me, and if anyone can explain the creepy feeling I’d had, it would be Hayden, ever my vigilant watchman.

“No, it was just you and Woodsworth,” Hayden says. “You okay? Did you see something?”

“Yes. And no,” I reply, not wanting to give further voice and credence to my concerns.

I switch the frequency on my transmitter. “It’s done,” I say into my radio.

Gregor cuts in, “Good work, Red.”

The compliment doesn’t feel genuine anymore, just routine, but it’s the only cue I need. I turn my back on the scene and walk away, head held high and shoulders back like I am the most confident woman alive. Because I still can’t get over the feeling I’m being watched.

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