Six Shooter

This is one of a series. You can find the continuing adventures of Benton and Seth at bentonandseth.wordpress.com

The night was humid. The city-dwellers’ clothes were sticky with sweat. Rain whipped through the streets, swirling in the lamp-light and rising in the gutters, a sign of the storm to come.
    Benton turned the key in the heavy iron lock and shoved the door open with one giant palm. Seth was sat at the table by light of the one gas lamp they had, reassembling his six shooter. Without looking up, he raised a hand in greeting. Benton hung up his hat and removed his coat, grimacing as he shrugged off the heavy duffel and it shed water over the frayed carpet.
    “It’s like a whore’s crotch out there, kiddo.”
    “How’s that?”
    “Warm and wet.” The big man straddled the chair opposite Seth, grinning at his own joke.
    Seth kept on oiling the barrel of his gun. “And disease-ridden, no doubt.”
    “Damn right.” Benton drummed his fingers on the arch of the chair a few times, observing his companion. Seth was impassive, withdrawn into the double-breasted military jacket he had taken to wearing. Dwarfed by Benton’s massive frame, he looked like a junior crew member who had stolen his superior’s jacket and jumped ship as soon as they made port. But this was the City. People wore what clothes they could find, make, or steal; and Seth was nobody’s cabin boy.
    Benton’s stomach rumbled, and he stretched his arms out to either side, yawning and glancing around. “We got any eggs in this place?”
    “You ate the last two yesterday.”
    Benton looked at his partner quizzically. “I did?”
    Seth looked up for a moment, then flicked out the cylinder and started systematically oiling the chambers. “You were blind drunk. I’m not surprised you don’t remember.”
    “You let me cook while I was drunk?”
    “You woke me up and asked me if I wanted any. You stank of beer and eggs.” His nimble fingers darted from hole to hole, applying gun-grease where it was needed.
    “Sorry ‘bout that.” Benton paused. “So, we got any beer left? Or did I drink all that too?”
    “I bought some more. It hasn’t been in the ice box long, though. Best to let it chill.”
    “Awright.” The big man’s eyes strayed to Seth’s repeater. “Every night I come home you’re oiling that piece of yours. Don’t you think you need to rest it sometime?”
    “Every night you say that, and I give you the same answer; it’s best to keep it in working condition. The minute I think I don’t need it, I’ll need it and it won’t be there.”
    “Awright,” Benton shrugged again, “but one of these days you’re gonna buy an automatic and wish you’d left that thing behind years ago.”
    Seth finished oiling the gun’s innards, drew six metal slugs from his belt and slipped them into their places. He swung the cylinder home, like a bone being slipped back into its socket. Sighting along the barrel, Seth tested the weight for a moment, then nodded, satisfied. He slipped the safety off, paused, then emptied five of the six rounds into Benton’s chest. The force of their impact tipped the chair backwards, and the hulking man landed sprawled on the floor.

Seth pulled a carton of cigarettes from his breast pocket, found a match on the table and struck it with his thumbnail. The flare briefly lit the rest of the room, illuminating the writhing mass on the floor, which was no longer entirely Benton. The fingers were elongating, and webs of stringy, insubstantial flesh were forming between them. Not even an attractive one this time, thought Seth. They’ve started sending pond scum. Just my luck. He lit a cigarette and drew on it pensively, stuffing the carton back into his pocket. Squatting beside the warping and distended form of the shape-shifter, who was spasming in pain and staining Benton’s clothes a dull blue, Seth exhaled a plume of steely grey smoke, then pushed the glowing end of the cigarette into one of the creature’s bullet-wounds.
    The rain was pounding on the street now, and people were hurrying to and fro, too busy running for shelter to hear the faint hiss and the distant sound of screams.
    Afterwards, when Seth had withdrawn the sputtering smoke-stick and thrown it in a can in the corner, the shifter croaked weakly at him, trying to form words. It was almost returned to its birth-form; the form it would die in. Seth stood over the thing’s body and put one foot on its chest. The shifter coughed up more blue-black blood, staining the tip of its tormentor’s boot.
    “Damn if you didn’t look just like him,” Seth conceded. “But Benton knows something you didn’t.” He hawked and spat on the floor. “My wife was a whore once. He’d never have the guts to walk through that door and tell me the night before a storm was like a whore’s crotch. I’d have blown his head off just for saying that.” He levelled the gun. “You people are amateurs,” he snarled, and before the shifter could raise its arms to cover its scaly head, the final bullet parked itself in the floor beneath, followed by chunks of brain that smelled like rotting fish.

A quick search of the clothing it had been wearing revealed nothing useful. He should have known as much. They certainly knew Benton’s dress code well, he was willing to concede that... But they weren’t going to give him any other clues. At least not without him getting his hands dirty. Well, Seth was used to that. Crossing to the kitchen drawer, he took out a sharp double-bladed knife, smiling thinly as he remembered the last thing he’d done with this knife was gut a sturgeon. It was funny how these things came around.
    A couple of minutes later he withdrew his hand from the shifter’s stomach, shaking the weak alkaline fluids off onto the floor. He’d found what he was looking for. A rough sphere of alloy metal, engraved with a roman numeral: IX. A chill wrapped itself around his guts and tugged. Another IX. This one wasn’t so close to the heart, but it was a bold move. All roads lead to Rome, thought Seth. Rome itself was long gone, but the saying lived on, even in this dark age. One thing was for sure, anyway. They were getting closer.
    Just as that thought came, Benton shoved the door open. Paying no attention to the identical hat and coat on the rack, he hung up his own hat and coat, grimacing as he shrugged off the heavy duffel and it shed water over the frayed carpet.
    “Hell of a night out there, kiddo.” He picked the fallen chair up off the floor, took his handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the blue blood from the slats of the backrest. Placing it back on its feet, he straddled the chair and surveyed the mess on the floor, then looked up at Seth and grinned.
    “Been fishin’?”

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