Southern Comfort
By
Staci Faulkenberry

Part 3

 

Jons rushed to the red-light district, driving blindly past beggars and the prostitutes who had come out at sunset.

I don’t want her, but… I can’t leave her with him. 

He remembered the girl helping out around the bar, wiping mugs, cleaning up spills, weaving her way through the drunks and dancers.  She hadn’t seemed shocked or frightened by the wild behavior.  She’d just hid behind the counter when things got really rough, like he’d told her to do.  At first, his patrons had laughed at her, but now, very few of them even took notice of her.

Finally, he came to a ramshackle house that looked as if it were about to topple with the next breeze.  At his knock, a large bear answered the door.  When the bear saw who his caller was, he scowled, grabbed the ferret’s arm, and pulled him inside.  He towered over the slight bartender by a head and the shabby, ill-fitting suit did little to conceal his muscular build.  He was the type who liked to use his size to intimidate, and he did so now. 

Jons was not impressed, however.  It was hard to be daunted by a man who sang love songs when he was plastered.  He’d been a regular customer at Jons’s bar for a year or two now, and after a particularly good assassination job, he liked to get good and drunk and entertain the bar with sentimental songs.

His voice was less than welcoming.  “What do you want?”

“Got a job for you, Hank.”

The bear’s scowl lightened and a grim smile touched the corners of his mouth.  “A job?  Thought you didn’t approve of my methods, bartender.”

“This time, I’ll make an exception.  But I don’t want any killing. I just want you to hurt somebody. Badly.”

“Who?”

“Fox by the name of Toby Fletcher.”

Hank was too professional to show his surprise, but Jons could tell he’d taken the assassin off-guard.  “Toby Fletcher?” he repeated.  “That rich guy who lives on the estate outside of town?”

Jons nodded.

“What’d he do to you?” Hank asked.

“That’s my business,” Jons said calmly.

The bear raised an eyebrow.  “What’s in it for me?”

Jons had been thinking about this on the way over.  Saving a life wasn’t enough for Hank.  Like most assassins, he was in it for himself.  “Two years of free drinks at my place.”

He held his breath as the assassin considered.  “Well, it’s not money, but I’m bored.”

“You’ll do it, then?”

“Sure. When do we leave?”

“Now.”  Jons was at the door in a stride.  “He’s got a friend of mine that he’s planning to hurt. We’re going to stop him.”

 

***

 

There were too many methods to inflict torture in that room.  Her eyes darted from the neat array of scalpels to the needles.  If he caught her in there…

He’s going to kill me.  Or worse.

She began to shake.

“I’m going to catch you, you know!” Fletcher’s called, his voice as smooth as molasses.

Stifling a cry, she started to leave the room, but stopped when she saw his shadow slowly advancing like a raptor stalking a mouse.  With a tiny whimper, she looked wildly around the room, grabbed a scalpel, and dove under the cloth-covered table.  It was the most obvious hiding place.

Unfortunately, it was also the only hiding place.

Hamstring him.  He gets close enough, just slash.  Hard.

She nearly wet her pants when she heard the door creak open and heard the slow, measured tread walking across the floor, drawing nearer and nearer…

When a dark shape blotted out the light, she held herself still and quiet, gripped her makeshift weapon firmly, and raised her arm.

 

***

Jons and Hank rode to the edge of town in the bartender’s truck, stopping in the woods at the edge of Fletcher’s property.  Jons backed far enough into the woods that the truck wouldn’t be noticed from the road.  He didn’t want anyone to know he and Hank were there.  With any luck, Hank would be persuasive enough that Fletcher wouldn’t call the cops.

And if Hank wasn’t persuasive, Jons had a plan.  He’d made a quick stop at the local costume store before going to Hank’s.  He’d stashed his purchases in a box in the back and he went to it now.

“Here.” He handed the assassin a rhinoceros head. “Put this on.”

Hank looked at him as if he’d lost his mind.  “Are you nuts?”

The other man just looked at him and despite the fact that Jons was much smaller, the big bear decided that it might be in his best interests to do as he was asked.  After all, the bartender was his drink supplier.

Grumbling, he snatched the mask and shoved it over his head, shuddering at the stench of dried sweat.  For good measure, he pulled on a pair of custom-fit leather gloves.

When he finished, he glanced at Jons, who had donned a rhinoceros mask as well.  He looked completely ridiculous in it; his slender body was far too slight to pass for the usual bulk of a rhino.

“Doesn’t fit you,” Hank grunted.

“Tough.  Come on.”

The walk to the gate was silent except for the crunch of gravel and dried leaves.  They approached the gate slowly, as if expecting an armed guard to stop them.  There was no one, however, and for a moment, they stood, considering.  Beyond the barrier, they could see the outlines of a looming mansion.  It looked to be at least two stories and sprawling.  All the downstairs and two of the upstairs lights were on, but they couldn’t see or hear anyone moving around.

            “Looks pretty calm, bartender.  You sure about this?”

“You arguing with the chance to cause a little mayhem?”

Hank’s smile wasn’t pleasant and Jons found himself hesitating.  If the bear killed Fletcher, he’d no doubt demand more payment than a couple of years of free drinks.  “Remember…no killing.”

Hank’s smile faded.  “You’re no fun.”

The gate was padlocked, but there was an intercom system beside the gate.  Jons pressed the button and waited a minute, his breath making a frosty cloud in the chilly night.  There was no answer.

Not a good sign.  If he’s hurting her…

 

***

Just as Cody was getting ready to slash Fletcher, the intercom buzzed.  Her wire taut nerves snapped.  With a shriek, she dropped the scalpel.  In a flash, her assailant reached under the table and jerked her roughly from beneath it.  The sheet covered her head and she frantically tore it away.

Fletcher just laughed at her.  “Fight all you want, sweetheart.  You’re not going anywhere.  You’re mine.  Who else would want you?” He let her go.  “You want to run some more?  Go ahead.  It’ll just make it better.”

Terrified, she ran, feverishly wondering where she could hide.  She hesitated to go outside, knowing his guard dogs would tear her to pieces.  She wasn’t afraid of dogs and had tried to make friends with them until he’d found out about it and had beaten her so badly she’d been confined to bed for three days.

After that, she’d left them alone.

Now, she wished she’d tried a little harder.  She was faced with equally unpleasant fates: death at Fletcher’s hands or death by attack dogs.

Still… if she were quiet and fast, she might have a chance of getting past the dogs.  She knew she wouldn’t survive Fletcher.

Making her decision, she bolted for the front door.

She never made it. 

As she fumbled with the lock, he grabbed her tail and jerked her back to him.  He hit her a few times before he threw her to the floor and straddled her midsection to keep her immobile.

“No!  Please!” She desperately tried to fend him off as he tore greedily at her shirt with one hand while reaching under her skirt with the other.  His fingers gouged her hips as he ripped her underwear, leaning on one knee so that he could strip her.

“Don’t worry, sweetheart.  This won’t hurt.  It’s what little girls are for.”  His deep voice sent chills down her spine.

While he was unbalanced, she shoved him with all her strength, sending him sprawling.  The girl stumbled to her feet and tried again to run.  She made it as far as the office when he grabbed her again.  She screamed as his hands clamped around her arms and he slammed her against the wall as hard as he could. As she slumped to the floor, dazed he kicked her viciously in the ribs.  She heard him panting above her, felt him grab a handful of her hair and roughly flip her over.  Reality began to blur, and she welcomed oblivion.

She wasn’t aware of the crashing glass.

 

***

 

“What do we do now?” Jons turned to the assassin and found himself staring blankly where Hank had stood a moment before.

“Coming?”

Startled, the ferret looked up to see the assassin grinning at him from the top of the ten-foot-high fence. 

“Couldn’t you have just picked the lock?”

Hank shook his head.  “Takes too long.  Speaking of which, you’re taking too long.”

Jons clumsily scaled the fence.

Hank jumped off the fence and landed in the grass.  Jons tried to do the same only to find himself sprawled facedown beside the bear.  “Get us caught, bartender, and I’m going to scalp you.   Now come on before somebody sees us.” 

“Don’t worry about me.” Jons got to his feet and they made their way cautiously to the mansion.

They were almost there when Hank stopped dead in his tracks.

“Dogs!”

Two slobbering, barking, growling Dobermans careened around the corner, intent on tearing the intruders to pieces.  The men raced up the porch and Jons tried to open the front door.

Locked!

He hesitated, but Hank didn’t. Taking a running start, the bear crashed through the window beside the door.  Jons took one look at the fast approaching fangs and followed him. Miraculously, the canines stopped at the window and refused to come into the house.

Hank cursed and Jons whirled around to find the man examining a rip in the hem of his jacket. “That was my best jacket! Are you sure I can’t kill this jerk?”

Jons grabbed the bear by the collar and shook him.  Hard.   No killing.  Listen, he’s got a little girl in here.”

Hank frowned and roughly shoved Jons away.  Then, his expression cleared.  “That bit that Tony was teaching to dance the other night?”

“Yeah.  He wants to hurt her.  Bad.  I want you to hurt him.  Bad.  Got it?”

Hank didn’t have time to reply before a scream and crash to their left startled them.  Jons shoved past the bigger man and skidded out into the hall and stopped dead.  All he could see were Cody’s feet. 

They weren’t moving. 

As Hank roughly shoved him forward, he stumbled further into the foyer as Fletcher, alerted by the crash, whirled to face them, obscuring the girl from view.

“Get out of here, ruffians, before I call the police!” 

“Is that supposed to be a threat?” Jons asked tightly.  “I don’t think you’re in any position to carry it out.”

The girl whimpered and feebly tried to crawl away, much to Jons’s relief.  As Fletcher casually stepped on her tail, however, he felt his blood begin to boil.  Never had Jons ever truly wanted to kill anyone, but he thought he could cheerfully disembowel this arrogant, rich bastard with no regrets.

“What do you want?” Fletcher demanded.

“You’re a rich man, you figure it out,” Hank said roughly.

Jons silently congratulated him.  He was so involved with rescuing Cody that he hadn’t even thought of using robbery as a smoke screen motive.  Taking his cue from Hank, he moved menacingly around so that they had Fletcher’s exits blocked.  The only thing he could do was turn tail and run, which Jons half hoped he would do.  As much as he would have liked to give in to his murderous side, a more rational part knew it would complicate the situation.

Hank glanced past Fletcher, then stared straight at him.  If he hadn’t been hidden behind the mask, the others would have seen the sneer, but it was plain in his voice.

“Looks like you’re having a little party,” he said.

“You’re not welcome here.”

Jons growled and started forward, but Hank held him back.  The smaller man fought him, trying to get to the fox.

“Stop it, idiot,” Hank snapped, knocking Jons backwards.  “Amateurs.”

The fox lunged suddenly.  Grabbing a fistful of the girl’s hair, he jerked her to her feet and pressed the edge of a scalpel to her neck.  “You wouldn’t want me to hurt this sweet little girl now, would you?”

Hank snorted.  “Think you’ve hurt her enough.  Now where’s your safe?”

“I don’t keep money in the house.”

“Who said I wanted money?”

“Then what are you going to do with my safe?”

“So you do have one.”

“It’s not for sale.  Or theft.”

“Who said I wanted to take something out of it?”  The assassin turned to Jons, who was standing slightly behind him.  “You grab the girl and get out of here.”

Fletcher’s hand tightened around her hair and he backed away. “She’s mine.  I have the papers.  It’s all legal and if you try to take her, I’ll call the police!”

Hank moved quietly towards him, but Fletcher saw him and pressed the scalpel tight enough into her neck that drops of blood glistened on the blade.  At her whimper, Jons involuntarily started forward.

“I said no.” Fletcher’s voice had lost its pleasant, melodic tone and had become harsh.

“You don’t know what that means,” Jons spat, dark eyes flashing as Cody began to stir.

“Neither do you, my good thief.  Now get out of here.  You think I don’t know what you want?  You can’t have her!  She’s mine!  Go get your own!”

The girl’s red-rimmed eyes were wide and fearful.  “Help me.  Help.”

Shut up, you ungrateful wretch,” Fletcher snarled, hand tightening in her hair until strands were ripped from her scalp.

Jons said flatly, “Don’t worry, Cody.  You’re not staying here.”

She gave a choked scream as Fletcher let go of her hair, his arm snaking around her waist as he roughly yanked her off the floor.

“Been doing your research, thief?  Know my little toy, do you? Know what she likes?  Know what she needs?”

Jons’s jaw tightened and his lips compressed into a tight line.  He wanted to rush the bastard and beat him until he no longer belonged to the land of the living.  But Fletcher had a firm grip on the letter opener and the bartender was no fool.  He knew that running forward would most likely mean Cody’s death.  It was a standoff.  The only sound in the room was the girl’s struggle for breath.

“Leave now,” Fletcher said finally.  “Leave peacefully and I won’t call the police.”

It was a lie and they all knew it.  The bartender glanced at Hank, who returned the glance out of the corner of his eye.  He gave a small nod.

“Y’think you’re a big man, doing what you do to little girls?” the assassin scoffed.

Then, Fletcher made two mistakes.  He took his eyes off Jons and smiled carelessly.  “That’s what they’re for.”

As Cody’s head dropped in shame, the bartender felt his face flush with anger and without stopping to think, he brought up his revolver and fired off two shots---one for each knee.  Cody was too close to his face and chest for him to take killing shots, and later, he was relieved.

Howling, the fox collapsed.  His captive yelped and moaned as he landed on top of her.  Hank was at them in two quick strides, grabbing the fox by the scruff of the neck and lifting him into the air, blood from his ruined knees dripping onto the girl.

“You think so?  Maybe I can change your mind.” The assassin’s voice was dangerously silky and Jons found himself shivering again as he grabbed Cody under her arms and pulled her out of the way.

Her clothes were blood soaked, her blouse ripped beyond repair.  So much blood spattered her body that it was impossible to tell what was hers and what was Fletcher’s.  She lay there, her eyes staring sightlessly at the ceiling and he felt a stab of fear.  Hurriedly, he felt for a pulse and was relieved to feel a weak throb in her wrist.

“I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry,” he said quietly. “Let’s get you out of here.” 

Cody blinked when she heard his voice, and her eyes seemed to focus on him for a brief instant before she closed them, trembling as tears streamed silently down her cheeks.

 “Cody, come on,” he said urgently.  “Come on, let’s go.”

She stiffly curled into a fetal ball.  “Don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me.”

With shock, he realized she thought he was here to…

Well, why shouldn’t she?  Two masked men breaking in while she’s being…

He glanced at Hank, who had Fletcher shielded from view, taking gleeful inventory of the office.  Hurriedly, he whipped the mask off.

“It’s me, Cody.  It’s me.  I’m not going to hurt you.  I’m here to help you.”

            She cried out when he reached for her chin and pulled her around to face him.  Her eyes were squeezed tightly shut and she made inarticulate sounds in the back of her throat.  Realizing she wasn’t going to calm down, Jons took off his coat, wrapped it around her, and carefully scooped her up.

“It’s okay,” he whispered, clumsily smoothing back her tousled hair.  “You’re going to be all right.”

The gentleness broke through to her and she slowly opened her eyes and looked up at him.

“Hi,” he said softly.  “Let’s get out of here.”

Her rigid body went limp.

Forgetting about the disguise, he whirled to face Fletcher, his normally pleasant face dark and murderous. “As for you, you’re not touching her. Ever again!”

Beneath the mask, Hank smiled and tightened his grip on the fox’s neck.

Without another word, the ferret turned and left.  He got to the door just as the howls began.

 

End Part 3

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