13 August 2008

Unholy Crusade, part eight


He could have pushed to stay outside. Some other men would have. Another time, he might have but not this time. The way her flesh had burned in the sunlight, even the low light of the early dawn; the way that rotten stench had clawed at his lungs, getting worse by the second, as the dawn light grew stronger. In the end did he really have a choice?

Not if he wanted to know what was going on.

He followed her back inside. She opened the heavy metal door like it was hardly there. He closed it behind them, pulling with all his strength. The hinges were rusted and almost immovable. How much strength was hidden in her gaunt body? She'd done the seemingly impossible right before his eyes.

Cartwright had pulled his gun on her when she opened the door, but he didn't get the chance to fire. Seth grabbed the weapon as soon as he saw it, twisted the man's hand and disarmed him. The stupid bastard obviously needed a lot more training.

They walked down the stairs and back to the empty flat in silence. Questions could wait until they were out of sight of any prying eyes. People would be getting up to go to work within a few hours; chances are some were already up and about. No sense in letting ones self be overheard if you could help it.

Gretl headed straight for the kitchen, pulled a bag from her coat pocket and poured the contents into the glass on the counter. With her back to the door it was hard for Seth to see what exactly she had been carrying.

She picked up the carton of orange juice, shook it and put it down again.

'It's empty,' said Cartwright, nursing his right shoulder. 'We checked.'

'Pity,' Gretl replied. 'It takes the edge off.'

She sipped at the contents of the glass, keeping her back to the two men.

'Look,' Cartwright continued. 'Can someone please tell me what's going on here?'

'Ask your boss,' said Gretl. She downed the last of the glass's contents and started to cough. Seth stepped forward to help her. She raised a hand, stopping him. 'I'm fine. Tell your friend why you're here.'

'Not until you explain to me what the fuck happened on the roof.'

She turned and looked at him. Her skin looked smoother, less blemished. The sores were closing, healing, right before his eyes. 'We talked. What more is there to say?'

'Let's start with someone telling me what exactly you are,' said Cartwright. 'Cause I'm pretty sure dead people don't walk the streets and I've never in my life seen someone go from looking like a disease-ridden tramp to someone who's almost healthy in the blink of an eye.' He grabbed the glass from the woman's hand and sniffed the contents. 'What the hell is this stuff anyway?'

'Blood,' said Gretl. She looked from one man to the other and back again. 'Don't you two know anything?'

Cartwright stared at her, not sure whether to laugh or leave. Seth folded his arms and simply waited for her to continue.

'Look, I thought you were after Allemand. Clearly I was mistaken. So why are you here?'

'Why would we be after Allemand?' asked Seth.

'I asked first.'

Seth shook his head. 'Doesn't work like that. If you want my help, you'll answer my questions.'

'Got im Himmell,' Gretl muttered. She ran a hand through her hair. Seth noticed it had grown back and now looked full of vigour. 'He's the head of a cartel that spans Europe, Russia and parts of the Far East. Nasty little shit, too. Works through local crime mobs, keeps out of sight whenever he can. Very hard to track down.'

'And he's coming here?'

'I'll make sure of it. After the way the meeting at the docks went down, his favourite lap dog is already here. I can use him to lure him out.'

'So that's why you were down at the warehouse?' asked Cartwright.

Gretl nodded.

'You upset months of planning for us, you know.'

'Do I look like I care?' She turned to Seth. 'Are you going to help me or not?'

'You're sure Allemand is the one I should be going after?'

'Dupont is the one who ordered the hit, but he does nothing without Allemand's say so.'

'What are you talking about?' asked Cartwright.

Gretl ignored him. She kept her eyes on Seth, watching him for any hint of what he was thinking.

You don't get the man who killed him. Thanks to this bitch you'll never get the chance.

But you can get the man who sent him. Is that enough?

I honestly don't know but there's only one way to find out.

Seth nodded. Perhaps it was tiredness, or the realisation of what he was getting himself into but he felt every one of his fifty-three years.

'We'll help,' he said. 'But there are conditions.'

Gretl leaned against the counter, appraising her companions, weighing up their strengths and weaknesses in a glance. 'There always are. Name them.'

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