The steps behind the Eldo dropped beneath the Regulator and Sanna’s feet, leaving them in the dimly lit alley. To their right, the turning over of the Ford’s engine and the rumble of dual exhaust pipes broke the night air.
“Seems like mom has found her truck,” Bob said with slight amusement.
Barretta’s pulled, they felt their way through the alley and into the side parking lot. The Regulator floated up over the tailgate lightly landing in the bed of the truck. Sanna moved to the passenger door. Seeing the long hard case at his feet he holstered the pistol and quickly unsnapped the latches. Opening the case, he hefted out the assault rifle. As the truck reversed from its spot, he sat on the toolbox and scanned the dark spaces around him.
Bridget cursed herself for not backing into her spot. She mumbled something to herself about getting old and soft. Backing out of a parking spot was a waste of precious seconds. Sanna lowered her window and the pistol scanned. Her finger on the trigger held by a hair. She wanted to fire, she wanted to kill, but nothing nor anyone moved.
The Regulator smelled the air and listened to the dark. He saw only one vision as the truck rounded the corner and into the alley. A thin face, wide-eyed and familiar. Lit up red and full of calm. The Regulator locked eyes with the man, and he thought, “Just you? Do they send only you, my old friend? You have come a long way.” The two men nodded at one another and then the truck rounded the corner and into the alley.
Bridget worked her way through the gears, and the truck moved quickly out of the alley onto the third street. Then banked left on to Elk Avenue. The rifle lowered to his lap. Sanna still held her pistol out the window. The cold midnight air made its way into Bob’s clothes. Creeping into his soul and his mind. He closed his eyes and tried to find the memory.
The Peruvian sun loomed brutally overhead. While the air stuck to everything with an indifference. The only thing worse than the air was the mosquitos. They seemed to be in an all-out war with each other for every square inch of exposed skin. Bob and Fell stood above the jungle on a large moss-covered boulder. From their perch, they observed the torrent and froth below them. The river cascaded through a 12-foot-wide slot, then disappeared over a desperate horizon. Beyond they could see the edge of a turquoise pool, then another horizon. They knew the river fell five times in this section, but the first two were all they could see. Bob looked over at Fell. Fell looked back with wide eyes and a large grin. He was all energy, and he almost hopped back and forth with anticipation. He was black to the white calm of Bob. They would be dropping in blind and have to survival-kayak the bottom half. Neither one worried much. For some reason, they always came out of these things alive. Adventuring with Fell was never dull and thank the gods it was never safe.
The cold steel of the gun started to sting his fingers and he broke from his memories. The Regulator placed the rifle back in its case. They were heading out of town to the south, down highway 135. The only road in or out of Crested Butte this time of year. He sniffed and took a look behind them. Then he turned to look ahead facing the 55 mph air. Nothing. Bob knocked on the sliding window of the cab. A small click and it slid open. He wound his way into the back-seat head first. Rolled over and came up sitting in the center of the back of the cab.
“We should have killed him,” Sanna said evenly.
“Easier said than done,” Bob replied with indifference. “Fell would have killed everyone there to get just one of us. Coming from a long line of Berserkers, there is no turning him off once the switch is pulled. Confronting him in the Eldo would have been very bad for business.” Bob contemplated Fell for a second. He figured it would be soon enough for their relationship to end.
“Fell? That was Fell? What the fuck happened to him?” Sanna looked straight out the windshield. “I didn’t recognize him. He is so thin.”
“Certain life choices can leave permanent marks. He has chosen poorly.”
Bob looked at his sister. The dashboard lit up the highlights of her face. The defined thin nose between high rounded cheekbones. Straight lips and a supple jawline. She was just the same as he remembered. Not a day older. He could feel her tension and the radiating energy that almost made the front seat glow. He stared at her like he was reading her thoughts. Sanna wanted to look back at Bob, but something kept her eyes forward. It got quiet. Very quiet.
“Hiya, Sis!” Bob said with all the enthusiasm of a five-year-old.
Sanna dropped her gaze, gave a little chuckle and shook her head. “Hiya, little brother.” She could not help but smile. She turned and with a sideways glance asked, “Talk to any dogs today?”
Sanna used to ask this very question to Bob almost every day when they were young. For Bob had insisted he could talk with dogs and would expound on the discoveries of their ever-deepening wisdom. Telling what seemed to be a never-ending collaboration of stories and insights he would learn from them. Sanna would tease him about the self-proclaimed gift, but she always wondered to herself whether it was true. Bob always did have at least one dog in his presence. They seemed to all feel comfortable around him: even Dozer, the mean mutt that lived on the ranch. While no one could get near the animal without the chance of losing a finger, Bob would wrestle and play with him freely.
Bob’s face screwed up into a thoughtful look and he said, “Why yes! In fact, I had a wonderful chat with a burly old St. Bernard, named Olaf, just yesterday. He left me with a great little nugget of advice. ‘If you should come across your long-lost sister after some untold years of separation you should ask her one simple question.’ ”
Bob sat back with a theatrical pause as Sanna’s eyes pulled her head around to look more squarely at him. He sighed slapped his hand on his knees and asked, “What the fuck gives?”
Sanna half smiled in a bit of relief but then turned remorseful. She dropped her eyes and said, “I’m really sorry, Bob. I have been terribly unfair.” Her voice was full of penance and pity. Like she was talking to a young adolescent and not the full-grown man in the back seat. “There is no justifiable reason for my actions. Regardless of overwhelming obligations or business, I should have never abandoned you as I did. Letting you think I had just left or even worse that I might be dead, was plainly unfair.” Her high energy was gone. Her intensity was now piled up like a wet towel on the bathroom floor. She had become fully open and vulnerable.
Bob felt her change as they reach out and lightly touched Sanna’s left arm. This brought her gaze up. “We might have been born free, but we don’t have the luxury of free will. The gods have bestowed upon us great and powerful gifts. For these gifts, we have obligations: obligations to family, business and the clan. Of all the people, you don’t need to explain anything to me, sis. You are playing your role as I am playing mine.” His eyes left Sanna’s and shifted to his mother. In an exaggeratedly sarcastic voice, he continued, “You on the other hand. You have some explaining to do. How could you have kept this from me all these years? I mean, damn woman, you are one cold operator.”
Bridget had been preoccupied with getting them out of town safely and making sure no one was following them. She seemed to come to life now and was ready to join the party. “Hell Bob, you know I am. I am one cold bitch with the blood of Tyr running through my veins. If you wanted a loving and nurturing mother, you should have chosen to have been born into the line of Freya.” Her voice got stronger and more serious as she spoke. “Don’t mistake my cunning and coldness for having no heart. I love you two more than anything else in this world. Everything your father and I have done over the past decades has been for you two and don’t you forget it.”
Bob looked back at Sanna and they started to giggle like little kids. “We know,” they both said at the same time. Then both of their faces went slack and Bridget felt it too.
The Regulator yelled, “Duck!” A bullet shattered the front passenger window, cut through the headrest and lodged in the rear door panel. This happened just as Bridget swerved into the left lane and mashed on the gas. They were at the junction with Jack’s Cabin cut off, a left-handed ninety-degree turn. The junction was flanked by the Miller ranch house and a few barns. Bob had seen the flash come from the hayloft door of the barn across from the Jack’s Cabin road. Bridget dropped the left wheels of the truck into the inside ditch of the turn. Running through some willows and exploding up onto the asphalt of Jack’s Cabin road. The back end breaking loose and sliding sideways.
The Regulator yelled, “Stop!”
Bridget hit the brakes bringing the truck to a screeching halt in the middle of the road.
The Regulator said to Sanna, “Hayloft.” Another bullet ripped through the back window of the truck and took out the stereo.
Bridget looked at the hole in her beloved stereo and calmly said, “Nothing but death shall come of this, kids.”
Bob rolled out the door behind Bridget while Sanna went out her door. Both welded two Barrettas raised to the barn behind the truck and across 135, they opened fire. Releasing a hail of bullets into the large door opening. The firing was unrelenting as clips where emptied, dropped and new ones inserted. After each of them had emptied three clips they had moved themselves to the other side of 135. Loading their next set, they moved through the willow by the roadside, down through the ditch and into the open of the barnyard. They paused on either side of the open barn doors then entered into the pitch black of the barn. The opening for the hayloft was directly above them. Standing quietly they heard nothing: no movement, no voice. Then a groan and a scratch like someone crawling slow. Standing six feet apart, they listened. They smelled. They looked at each other in the dark and nodded. Lifted their pistols to the same spot in the wooden planks above, and they opened fire. The bullets blasted through the planks. Finish off their clips. Then a silence came with a cloud of gun smoke swirled around them. A quiet cracking sound soon turned louder and then the full crash of a body fell between them. A cloud of dust and hay rose up around them. They stood still for a few seconds. Listening into the night. Nothing was moving — not even the mice in the hay. The Regulator raised his nose to the air. Then put his pistol barrel to his lips, indicating to Sanna not move or make a sound. He raised the pistol above his head never taking his eyes off Sanna. One bullet left the barrel. A voice shouted out. Sanna lifted her pistols and let loose a volley of bullets. Another body fell through the hole in the floor, landing halfway across the first body.
Staring down at the bodies the Regulator shook his head and said, “Old lady Miller is not going to be happy with us, but at least we don’t have to climb up into the loft.” He smiled, then turned and vomited. To himself, he prayed to Thor, “Take me when you can. Let me come home. Let me stop being, death.”
Sanna gave Bob a quizzical look. She had heard about his physical aversion to killing, but she had never seen it in person. An awkward moment had started to brew when Bridget pulled into the yard and backed up to the barn doors. She jumped out and walked up to the bodies, kicking one. “Serves you right, shooting out an old woman’s radio.” She spit on the bodies and then turned to The Regulator, “Let’s get these two loaded and get the fuck out of here. I will explain to old lady Miller later.” The moment was broken.
Secure in the back of the truck Bridget started to turn down 135, but Bob told her to go over Jack’s Cabin. He had a little surprise for them and a way to throw anyone off their sent. After a few miles over to Taylor Canyon, they headed up to Spring Creek Canyon. A few miles up Bob had them turn into a drive and head up into a stand of pines at a cliff edge. Pointing to a tall fence made of logs they could park behind. To their left, about 30 yards away was an old fishing cabin. Bridget asked Bob when he had got this place. Bob said he had all kinds of places like this spread out across Colorado and southern Utah. Bridget was impressed that Bob could keep such things from her. She took it as a sign that she had raised him well.
They bagged up the bodies and wrapped them up tight in plastic wrap. Bridget said she would take care of them later. Then they covered the truck with a camouflage tarp. After grabbing their bags, the women started walking toward the cabin. Bob stood and stared after them. Sanna soon turned and asked why he was not coming.
“You guys can try to get in that cabin, but Gerry will be pretty pissed that you woke him up. He is a grumpy son of a bitch when in a good mood. I think you might want to follow me.”
He worked his way through the pines along the cliff wall for about 50 yards. Soon they stood in front of a large slab of rock that leaned back against the wall.
“Home, sweet home,” Bob said.
Sanna just giggled as the realization of where they were popped into her head. “You didn’t? Did you build the hideaway we always talked about? The superhero’s secret lair. I do love you, brother.”
Bridget was confused, but Bob motioned for them to follow as he ducked behind the large slab of stone. A glow of light was triggered on as they entered the cave-like entrance. Bob stood in front of a steel door set into the cliff wall. Bob stood and looked at the door for a second.
Sanna and Bridget looked at him quite puzzled. Sanna finally spoke up, “Well, aren’t we going in?”
“I forgot the code,” Bob said with a grin. “Maybe you can help me out.” He gave her a wink.
Sanna stood for a second in confusion and then she looked at the keypad. The keys were not numbers or letters but runes. Her face changed into realization. She stepped forward and pushed the keys for ice, stone, spear, and fire. The door clicked open. Bob pushed the door open and welcomed them to his “Bat Cave.”
Motion detectors turned on the lights as they entered the underground lair. They stood in a small entry with a hallway leading into the mountain. Dropping their belongings, Bob told them to go on in while he set up the security. The two women walked down the short hallway and through a door into the main room. Sanna and Bridget just stood in complete awe, as the lights came on to illuminate something amazing. They stood in a large dome-shaped room about forty feet across. The perimeter of the room was set up in four sections. A sleeping section with soundproof sleeping pods. An office section with a wall of computer screens. A living section with a midcentury couch sunk into the floor. A kitchen section complete with a beer tap fridge. The entire décor was fashioned after a midcentury superhero/James Bond/ bad guy secret layer. But it was the middle of the room that took the cake. In the center was a rotating platform and on that platform was a mint 1977 Pontiac, “Smokey and the Bandit” Firebird. Bob walked in behind them and saw their open-mouthed astonishment.
“Let me get this straight. You have places like this all-around Colorado and southern Utah?” Sanna asked in seer amazement.
“Nah, this is the only superhero cave. But, I do have lots of different hiding spots.” Bob smiled and looked around the room about as pleased as one could be. “Haven’t been here in a loooong time. Sure is cool, huh?”
“Um, fuck yeah it’s cool!” Sanna said.
Bob stood with his hands on his hips. Smiled with pride and said, “Let’s rest up, get a plan together tomorrow and then go secure your place at the head of this family.” He looked over at Sanna with determined eyes. Then at Bridget with a wink.
“Fuck that! I need a drink. Then we need to talk some more, and then maybe I can sleep.”
Bob shrugged. “OK.”
Bridget headed toward the bar and said, “Let me guess, tequila?”