Copyright 2013, S.A. Barton
Cover art copyright 2013, Erik Elliott
“It’s the Adversary’s servants,” he said, rooting around in his jacket with one hand. Oh, God. He’s got a gun, I thought. I wished I had one of my own, but the only gun I owned was a shotgun that didn’t come down out of the attic unless it was duck season.
“Satan?” I asked, mind spinning. There was no more shooting, but what if they came back?
“Who?” He shot me a sharp look, like I was the one who was crazy.
“The Devil. The Lord of Hell. The author of evil in the world. You know, Satan,” I said. I was giving a Sunday school lecture on my hands and knees in the broken glass of a shot-out window. Tires squealed outside in the street. They sounded distant, but not distant enough. The shooters turning around, maybe a block or two away, it sounded like. The other few customers were scrambling for cover, except for one damn fool who went right out through the broken frame of the front door. I silently wished him luck, then forgot about him. I had problems of my own to tend to. Behind the counter, two waitresses and the cook argued with each other about which one of them was going to stand up and call the cops.
“’Devil’ I get, but no. It’s Rikers, I’d guess. They think we’re trying to take over the world for Elvis. Probably because they’re trying to take over the world for Rike. Conversion by force of arms is part of their holy book.”
“But why are they here, why are they shooting at us?”
“Told you,” he said, peering over the top of the upended table. There were holes big enough to fit the bottom of a juice glass into along the upper edge that hadn’t been there before. Obviously it wasn’t tough enough to stop whatever the ‘Rikers’ were shooting. “They think we’re trying to take over the world for Elvis. Specifically, I’d guess they think I’m trying to change the past to wipe out their religion. We told them our project was just meant to verify the truth of the scriptures and nothing more. I don’t think they believed us.” He had something in his hand that looked like a travel sized electric razor with a black cap over the shaving heads. Outside, engines roared, the sound swelling fast.
This time I saw the action. Two cars roared past, two people hanging out of one and three out of the other, the third firing over the roof from the opposite rear window, butt hanging out in the breeze over the asphalt. There was a mass of flickerings, like little balls of that heat distortion you see over a hot road in the distance, but moving too fast for eyes to really get hold of. Things began to break and burst in the diner. Behind the counter, the argument about who was going for the phone stopped in favor of screaming. I flopped onto my back, wriggling backwards across the floor, looking for more cover. Bits of diner and diner tables flew through the air around me. In front of me, Elvison stood with fragments of table flying around him, returning fire with little bloops of distortion from his travel razor. Holes appeared in the metal side of the first car, and one of the shooters disappeared back into the car with a howl. The back tire of the second car exploded with a bass bomp and it slewed out of sight with a squeal and a crash of crumpling metal and breaking glass.
The last fragments fell to the floor. Outside, there was the metallic grunk-grunk of a missed shift, and the fading howl of an engine pushed hard, fleeing into the distance.
“Sonovabitch,” Elvison said, his back still to me. He put a hand up to his head.
“Are you hit?” I didn’t know what I’d do if he was. I could take him to a hospital, and they’d lock him up the minute he started talking about where he was from. He turned around. There was a neat hole through his coif, a little off center to the left. I could see neon flickering through it from the signs two streets over.
“Not so I’m bleeding,” he said.
“There were three guys in that car with the tire you shot out,” I said, looking around for a weapon, any weapon. I settled on the metal pole that had held a round two-top table before one of those squiggly gunshots had gone through it. Holding it by the pole, the flared base would make a fair mace. It was heavy enough. Maybe too heavy. The metal weight in the bottom probably weighed twenty pounds. But it was all I had.
“Four guys,” he corrected. “One of them was driving.” He stepped up to the frame that had once held a picture window’s worth of plate glass and stuck his head through it, peering down the street. He looked back at me. “C’mon. Or don’t, I guess. It’s not really your fight.” He stepped out through the empty pane, travel razor held out in front of him.
He was right, it wasn’t my fight. I had nothing to do with a religious war from the future. I found myself following, not quite sure why. Maybe it was because the odds didn’t seem too fair to me. And I kind of liked Elvison, never mind that he was weird as a petticoat on a pig.
Outside, the car of ‘Rikers’ was across the street, nose first in the brick corner of a pawnshop—luckily, not one of the 24-hour variety. The driver was face down in the remains of the airbag, blood trickling into his collar from his ear. The back doors were both open with nobody in sight. The passenger was struggling to pull himself out through the window. He froze when he saw us approaching. Without a word, Elvison raised his shaver and shot the man through the head. The struggling man’s left eye disappeared and a bowlful of bright pink oatmeal slopped against the broken bricks behind him. He collapsed, half in and half out of the car, flopping out of sight. I jumped at a sudden clang, and realized I’d dropped my makeshift club, nearly mashing my foot.
“What… why…” I stuttered, staring. Suddenly Elvison didn’t look like such a great companion after all. Shooting back at faceless assailants in speeding cars was one thing, but killing a wounded man while his legs were stuck in a wrecked car… that was cold-blooded murder. Wasn’t it? Or was that just what the end of a real fight—a life-or-death fight—looks like?
“Let’s move,” he said quietly. “The other two are bound to be nearby. Maybe they’re running, and maybe they’re hanging around waiting for a good shot, or for the other carload of zealots to come back. Plus there are the authorities to worry about. I can’t imagine the police around here just let gunfights in the street happen without doing anything about it.”
“Uh. No, they don’t. Look…”
“Follow me or don’t follow me. I could use your help, but we have to leave now and talk later.” He put the deadly electric shaver back in one pocket and pulled a cellphone out of the other. He pointed the cellphone at the nearest car and I heard the click as the power locks opened. Briskly, he walked toward the open drivers’ side door. “C’mon,” he said, but he didn’t look back.
Everything in me that gave a damn about self-preservation in me said no. There were people looking to kill him. Stealing a car was a crime. If I wasn’t picked up for questioning about what happened at the diner, I’d surely be arrested if we got pulled over in a stolen car.
On the other hand, I was curious as hell; it’s not just cats that curiosity kills. And twenty years towing cars in Ypsilanti… well, I didn’t have any regrets. But the most exciting thing I’d done since I was a kid was visit Niagara Falls on vacation ten years back. Niagara Falls is a pretty sight, but it’s not exciting at all.
I got in the car.