Shitload stared at John and said, “What’s in here?”
John said nothing, looked like he wasn’t too sure himself. I moved closer still, not understanding. Shitload stiffened his arm toward John in a “Heil Hitler” motion. This confused us for a second—before a slit appeared in his palm and something like a mouth puckered there. A thin stream of thick, yellow liquid dripped onto the floor, gathering in a small, smoking puddle that quickly ate through the floorboards with a soft hiss.
“Tell me,” Justin demanded.
I looked down at the label on the box. The package was addressed to John’s real name, to this house in this Nevada town. It was dated yesterday, sent via overnight delivery, with John’s own small, neat handwriting.
“Tell me, or I’ll melt your face, yo. What is it, like, a bomb?”
John shrugged, said, “Why don’t you open it and we’ll both find out?”
Shitload sat the box on the floor, said, “Take it outside.”
“Okay.” John bent over to pick it up.
“Stop! Leave it where it is.”
He pointed to the wig monster and said, “Open the box.”
The thing apparently understood, because it trundled over and started tearing at the flap with its beak. After several long, clumsy minutes of this, during which I tried to show it the little tear strip all FedEx boxes have, it finally stuck its snout inside and pulled out a sheet of wrinkled notebook paper.
Shitload picked it up, saw scrawled on it in big ink pen letters: “JOHN LOOK BY THE BUSH IN THE FRONT YARD.”
The Justin monster turned to John and said, “What’s out there? A weapon? You tryin’ to gank me?”
John didn’t answer. Shitload pointed to the wig beast and said, “If any of you try to move, that thing will rip off all of your limbs, leave you alive and plant five hundred eggs in your belly. You down with that?”
We were. Shitload tossed aside the note and strode out the front door.
We could indeed see a bush out there, shivering in the breeze. Had John, under the influence of the sauce, somehow planted something out there ahead of time? How? And what? A gun? A pipe bomb? A trained badger? Nothing would have surprised me.
The creature formerly known as Justin White walked out to the bush and looked down, kicking around at the base of it. I glanced over at John, who waited with the same anticipation, apparently having completely forgotten the plan once the sauce wore off. The wig monster prowled around between us and I wondered if we should all try sprinting out the back door.
Outside, Justin had found nothing. He turned to walk back—
And was blown off his feet.
A thunderous boom echoed in the desert air, followed by a faint mechanical ka-chunk of a pump shotgun. A second shot sounded, then a third.
The wig beast in front of us hissed, bearing its teeth (yes, it had both teeth and a beak), seeming to know that something was amiss and that we should all be ripped to shreds immediately. We were frozen by the thing, all of us desperate to jump up and watch our salvation, but any slight shift of a limb would cause the wig thing to spin in that direction.
A figure moved toward the open door out in the darkness. The creature spun toward it and when I saw who came through, I found myself rooting for the wig monster.
SAY WHAT YOU want about Shitload and his disjointed pet, but neither of them either tried to shoot me or set me on fire. The same cannot be said for Detective Lawrence “Morgan Freeman” Appleton, who strode into the house loading shells into a pistol-grip riot gun.
His eyes caught the jumbled creature on the floor. He raised the gun.
The thing turned toward him and meowed like a cat. It crouched, leaned his direction and vanished right as John screamed, “MOVE!”
Morgan spun and ducked off to his right.
The wig monster appeared in midair in the spot where Morgan was standing a half second earlier, flailing its limbs in his direction. The thing tumbled to the carpet. Morgan lowered the shotgun.
A blast thundered in the room. Bits of monster flew.
Morgan racked the shotgun, ejecting a blue plastic shell. “There any more of ’em?”
Jim said, “No, but that guy out there ain’t dead.”
We all got to our feet, everyone relieved at their rescue.
Everyone but me.
I still had a puncture in the middle of my chest like a third nipple, where the good detective here had shot me before trying to roast me alive. I wondered if they noticed Morgan didn’t exactly read Justin his rights before blowing a hole in him. I mean, I did the same thing but that’s why society doesn’t let me carry a badge.
Morgan started to speak, maybe to say, “I blew a hole in his chest the size of a football, jackass, I’m pretty sure he’s freaking dead,” but then his eyes locked on mine, realizing the other guy he’d shot in the heart this weekend was now standing and breathing in front of him.
There was a moment, when my eyes met Morgan’s, when once more I got a flash of his thoughts. Nothing coherent, just fear and exhaustion and cold, deadly purpose.
In that two seconds we shared, I knew the detective’s mind was working full time to crush any remaining doubts about what he had to do. He had a mission, and had traveled across the country to carry it out. He was saving the world, and in his mind that meant that anyone dumb enough, unlucky enough, or crazy enough to take the sauce, to risk becoming a conduit for whatever otherworldly invasion was waiting to use them as a doormat, needed to die.
Morgan had a decision to make. He glanced over his shoulder, squinting into the darkness for Justin. But he didn’t turn, and he still had the shotgun pointing in our direction.
Six of us, maybe we were hostages and maybe we were hives. Maybe he had thought he’d burst in and we’d all be in Alien-style cocoons and he could just torch the place and declare it mission accomplished. But here we were, exhausted and filthy and wounded. To this day I don’t know if he was struggling with the moral implications of gunning down half a dozen civilians, or if he was mentally counting to see if he had that many shells left in the gun.
John leaned over and picked up the FedEx box. He peered inside, turned it over. A pack of cigarettes and a lighter slid out into his hand. He plucked one cigarette out, and lit it. He reached into the waistband of his hospital pants and pulled out a little bottle of some kind of brown liquor he had lifted from the truck, took a drink. I was surprised he hadn’t mailed himself a burrito, too.
I said to Morgan, “It’s a long fucking story but we’re on your side. John totally lured Justin out there for you, just now.”
Just don’t fucking ask me how.
Morgan turned, pushing back through the door, leading with the shotgun. I followed, careful not to step in the wig monster chunks scattered on the floor underfoot.
The cop was a lot more surprised than I was to see Shitload was no longer on the desert floor. He poised the gun in front of him, turning like a turret, then spun on the beer truck as it rumbled to life and rolled onto the road.
Morgan ran, ripped off three shots as the red taillights shrank into the distance. He stomped back toward us, said, “Shit!”
“I know where he’s going,” I said. “And I’ll tell you if you promise to take us with you. And not to shoot me again.”
He sucked in a breath, scanning the faces of our group. Finally he said, “Okay.”
“Luxor Hotel. Don’t ask me how I know.”
THIRTY SECONDS LATER we were all crammed into Morgan’s rental SUV like it was a clown car, pealing down the blacktop.
From the passenger seat I watched the headlights swallowing up the road and said, “There’s something like a massive séance planned. It’s a guy named Marconi. Apparently Shitload—er, Justin, has business there.”
All ten of Morgan’s fingers were clamped around the steering wheel as the speedometer crept upward.
“You do? How?”
Everyone in the truck lurched first right, then left as Morgan swerved to pass a car.
“Brock Wholesale reported the liquor truck missing yesterday. I happened to catch word of a gas station attendant in Missouri who said a beer-truck driver told him he needed directions to Las Vegas, then punched him in the balls and told him his daughters would be live meat cocoons for the leech pool. Man thought that was strange, phoned it in. I just followed the same directions he gave Justin, drove balls to the wall. Then I came up on this exit and just had a feelin’, you know, like an intuition.”
The mention of “intuition” gave me a cold feeling in my gut. I glanced back at John. It got his attention, too.
“I followed my gut and there was the truck, parked by that old house.”
Morgan scratched the side of his cheek, two-day stubble sounding like sandpaper. The engine growled, the scenery sprayed past my window.
I asked, “If this thing makes it to the Luxor, what happens?”
“Let’s just say I came a long way to make sure that don’t happen.”
From behind us, John said, “If you’ve been following us since we got kidnapped, you must have been up for more than two days.”
“More like fifty hours.”
We rode silently for a minute. Less than a minute actually, according to Morgan.
“Make that fifty hours and thirty-seven-point-two-three seconds. It’s the adrenaline, I guess. I ain’t really been tired. The thrill of the hunt.”
We drove in silence for a moment. Red taillights appeared up ahead. I reached out and gripped the dashboard.
Morgan said, “That, and those loud, piercing voices in my head.”
Morgan’s eyes exploded.
He shrieked as two sprays of blood flecked over the windshield. Jennifer screamed behind me, John and Fred bellowed “OH, FUCK,” simultaneously.
Little white rods poured down the cop’s face, swirled around inside the truck. He let go of the steering wheel. I reached over and grabbed it. We left the road.
We shook, rattled, bumped. The horizon and sky swapped places in the windshield and the roof of the car bashed me in the shoulder. Glass bits rained down in my eyes and ears and up my nose, the dashboard punched me in the forehead, the roof hammered me a second time, and Molly’s furry ass rolled over my face.