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Authors: j a cipriano

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BOOK: twice cursed mage 05 - claimed
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I swung the door open, sighted on the pretty blonde sitting on a barstool, and held down the trigger of the MAC-10. Gunfire lit from the tiny gun, tearing a diagonal slash of bullets in an upward arc across her body. The impact flung her sideways in a spray of blood as the bartender wearing a white cowboy hat, slammed one hand down hard on the polished surface and fixed me with a glare that could have melted steel.

“What the fuck are you doing, Mac? I just had this place painted,” Jack roared, fixing me with a dead-eyed stare as I marched into the room, surprised to see the old vampire, but ignoring him for now even though actual fire burned in his pupils.

Despite taking several rounds to the body, the girl I’d shot was moving, and as I got closer, I realized I could see body armor beneath her torn business suit. Fuck.

“Heard you had a pest problem,” I said, pointing the gun at the girl and unleashing another burst of fire. It caught her square in the back and pitched her forward onto the concrete. A guttural cry left her lips as she sprawled face first onto the ground.

Before she could recover, I leapt on top of her, driving my knee into the back of her neck to pin her there and pointed the submachinegun at the back of her skull.

“You must be Mac Brennan,” the girl said in a crisp, bitchy voice that immediately made me think she’d be really bad in bed, although I’m not sure why. “You know, you’re a dead man, right?”

“Well, when I die, bury me with my gun so when I wake up in Hell, I can shoot the Devil in the face.” I pulled the trigger, splattering her next thoughts all across the floor. As I did, lightning cracked through the cloudless sky outside and honest to God blood began to rain from the sky, painting the city crimson.

“What the fuck is going on?” I asked, getting to my feet, and staring wide-eyed out the window.

“You just killed one of the seven. Good thing you got the drop on her, Mac,” Jack said, still standing behind his bar. “Did you know she can deflect bullets with her bare hands?”

I thought about it. “Yeah, Yosemite Sam could do that too.” I shrugged. “Though now I wish, I’d said to ‘Deflect this!’ Oh well, I guess there’s six more of ‘em.”

“You’re a special kind of idiot.” Jack shook his head before turning around and grabbing something off the shelf behind him. “Still, I’m glad you’re here, Mac. You can help us save Duane from his ex.”

“What do you mean?” I asked as Jack poured two fingers of amber liquid into a dirty glass and slid it across the bar toward me.

“Why do you think she was here?” Jack asked, gesturing at the girl, and as I turned to look at her, she burst into flames. The smell of rotten eggs and swamp gas hit my nose as she was reduced to a pile of fucking cinders before I could blink three times.

“Whoa,” I said, taking a step back and gripping the bar for support. “That’s new.”

“Yeah, making a deal with a demon tends to end badly when you die.” Jack shrugged. “Now, drink up.”

“Are you giving me a glass of turpentine again?” I asked, eyeing the liquid warily. The last time I’d gotten a drink here, it’d scalded my soul, and I wasn’t in a hurry to repeat it.

“Maybe, but I’m inclined to keep you alive since you killed the girl who was going to sell Duane back to me. Now she can’t do that.” He gestured around. “I’d like you to note how my bar has been rebuilt after your last visit. Do you think Gremlin construction is cheap?”

“Van driving a semi-truck into your bar wasn’t my fault,” I said, taking hold of the drink and sipping from it. It wasn’t very good, like a cross between horse piss and varnish, but it didn’t burn like I’d expected. I set it back down as crept out of the backroom, took a deep breath and walked toward us. She sidled up to me and sat down on the stool next to me. Something about the whole scenario struck me as odd.

I mean, I’d literally just kicked Jack’s door open and killed a woman in cold blood. Worse, no one seemed bothered by it. Sure she worked for an evil demon and blood rained from the sky outside when she died, but still, it felt pretty fucked up. Man, I needed a vacation. This shit wasn’t supposed to seem normal.

“So you say,” Jack replied, glancing from my drink to me and back again. “Either way, Duane helped you. By all accounts, that means you owe him
and
me, but I’ll do you one better.” He glanced at Maya. “Help me save Duane, and I’ll help you get Ricky away from old Junkyard, and trust me, you want my help.”

“What makes you think I need your help?” I asked, irritated I was getting roped into the same scenario that always seemed to happen. It seemed like I always had to do this, that, and the other thing before I could just save the people I wanted to fucking save. No, I did not have time for this. Not with Ricky fighting for her life.

I placed the MAC-10 on the bar between us. It was a stupid show of force because I’d literally seen him stop bullets in midair like Neo from the Matrix, but still, I was pretty stupid at times.

“You do,” Maya said before Jack could even open his mouth. “You want all the help you can get. I mean, you’re taking on the council of seven by yourself, Mac. Asmodai only recruits from the top assassins in the world. He usually sets them up on an impossible job and betrays them, then with their dying breath they call out to him.” She shrugged. “It’s a hell of a way to live, but it ensures two things. The dudes who work for him owe him, and they’re all sorts of pissed off.”

Her story reminded me of exactly what had happened to Jenna. If all the people in his employ were like her, well, this was going to be pretty tough. I probably could use all the help I could get, but at the same time, I needed to save Ricky. Every moment she spent trapped in the gauntlet tore at my soul in a way I couldn’t explain. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get her back, but I was damned well going to try. I mean, seriously, saving Duane before Ricky? That wasn’t even a choice.

“Mac, we both know you’re going to save Duane anyway,” Jack added, coming around the bar while adjusting his chamois shirt. “The only question is how much whining you’re going to do beforehand.”

“Yeah, but I’m going to save him second.” I turned my eyes to where the ash from the dead girl still marked where her body had been like a perverse chalk outline. “Ricky comes first.”

“Duane doesn’t have that kind of time and Ricky does. Old Junkyard won’t be able to push her over easily. She owns the state, Mac. Even on a bad day, she’s twice the alpha he is. That’s why she’s fighting, so she gets worn down.” Jack pulled off his white cowboy hat and mopped his brow with his hand. “Do this, Mac. I’ll make it up to you, promise.”

“Fine,” I said even though every part of me was desperate to go after Ricky. If both Jack and Maya were telling me it was a bad idea, having some more backup wouldn’t hurt. That said, if Ricky got hurt because of this delay, the council of seven wasn’t going to be the only people I’d be murdering tonight. “But I want a better gun first. Something more my style.”

 

Chapter 7

“When I asked for something with style, this was not what I had in mind,” I said, staring at the contents of the glovebox. I sat in the passenger seat of Jack’s extended cab forest green Ford F-250. I wasn’t sure where he’d gotten it, but it was definitely an upgrade over the truck we’d totaled trying to fight off some werewolves. Wow, that felt like forever ago even though it’d been only a few days. Man, I needed a vacation, only, if I was being totally honest with myself, I was starting to enjoy ridding the world of monsters, partially because the looks on their faces when I sent them back to Hell was super satisfying. I guess we all have our callings, eh?

“James Bond uses a Walther PPK 7.65mm,” Jack said, throwing a sidelong glance at me as he fastened his seatbelt and put the big truck into gear. “You think you’re better than 007?”

“I don’t care if it has a delivery like a brick through a plate-glass window,” I said in my best Major Boothroyd impression. “It only carries seven rounds. What the hell am I going to do with that?”

“Use one bullet each?” Jack asked, sliding effortlessly into traffic while Maya snickered from behind us. “And you already killed one. You have an extra shot, even.”

“I’d much rather have one of his cars than one of his guns.” I let out a sigh as I pulled the Walther out of the glovebox and tested the weight in my hand. I’ll be honest, holding it did make me feel pretty cool, but honestly, James Bond was fictional. I’d have felt much more comfortable with a .40 caliber Glock 23 or even a 9mm Beretta M9, both of which held way more than seven bullets. When fighting monsters, you could never have enough bullets.

“I give you a submachinegun filled with silver bullets and you complain. Now you have a James Bond gun and you complain. There’s just no pleasing you,” Maya said, leaning forward in her the seat to peer at the weapon. She was sitting in the seat behind me and having her looking over my shoulder was a little weird.

“Seriously? You don’t even have an extended stock on your MAC-10. If you did, it wouldn’t be so inaccurate,” I grumbled as I checked out the gun. I’d never used it before, but nothing seemed wonky about it.

“Is this where you say you can’t work in these conditions?” Jack asked, keeping his eyes on the road as he made a right and began heading toward the edge of town. It was a little weird because I had expected Duane to be trapped within the city limits. Hopefully, the old Indian wasn’t playing me for a fool because, you know, I had a gun. Then again, I wasn’t sure how effective shooting him while sitting inside a moving vehicle he was driving would actually be.

“I can work with these conditions. I just don’t want to work in these conditions,” I said, not sure where to put the gun because I didn’t want to stick it in the waistband of my scrubs. Yeah, that’s right, I was still wearing the stupid scrubs, and to make matters worse, I was also wearing a pair of flip flops because I couldn’t fit into any of Jack’s clothing. I’d tried to stick on a pair of his cowboy boots, and had nearly broken my toes getting the damned things half on. Still, I was mostly just grateful that whatever Maya had done to my stomach had healed me. If I’d still had a gaping hole in my stomach this adventure, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be saving anyone.

“You’re officially the worst Bond ever,” Maya said, slouching back in the seat and popping her earbuds in her ears. “Next time you bring a reign of terror down on the city and I have to give a hand job to the toxic avenger to get you saved, try to do better than Timothy Dalton. I mean, I’m not saying you have to be Sean Connery, but Daniel Craig would be nice.”

“Wait, what?” I asked, spinning in my seat to look at Maya, surprised by both her admission and her knowledge of James Bond films. Had she really done that with Ramon to get him to save me?

Maya wasn’t looking at me, and when I tried to get her attention so I could ask her about it, she stared out the window with a smirk on her face. Then, very slowly, she wiped her right hand off on Jack’s seat before turning up the volume on her phone. I wasn’t sure if she was fucking with me, but I was reasonably sure she was. If not, I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.

As The Bad Touch by the Bloodhound Gang began to spill out of her earbuds, I shook my head and turned back around in my seat. What did I care if she’d paid Ramon in hand jobs to get me safe? And, you know what, now that I thought about it, the whole situation was weird. How had Ramon known to find me in the sewer? How had Maya even known I’d escaped? I’d only jumped into the sewer as a last resort.

I rubbed my chin as I tried to puzzle it out, but it just didn’t make sense unless Maya had seen me escape into the sewers, but if she’d seen me, why hadn’t she helped me earlier? Something was definitely off. I just didn’t know what it was. Hopefully, it wouldn’t bite me in the ass before I figured out what the hell it was. Still, I’d have to keep my eye on her. She might be helping me now, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t turn on me if it benefited her to do so.

“If you’re trying to figure out what’s going on in Little Miss Sunshine’s head, you’ll have a screw go loose yourself,” Jack said, turning on the radio. Highway to Hell by ACDC spilled out of the speakers in a way that made me think someone upstairs was fucking with me. “She’s got all sorts of daddy issues, and you’re the lucky guy she’s picked to fixate on for the moment.” He shot me a serious look. “Word of warning, don’t take her to the can.”

“What?” I asked, wondering why Jack knew so much about the girl. Then again, she’d said they were friends, and if she had daddy issues… Had the two of them hooked up? Fuck, that was a mental picture I’d never forget.

“Yeah, she wants you to fix her problems for her.” Jack shrugged and began to drum his fingers on the wheel in tune with the music. “Don’t reckon you can, but it’d be nice if you could.”

“How exactly am I supposed to fix her daddy issues?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Not in the way you think,” Jack said before pointedly turning up the radio so loud, I could barely hear myself think. “But I’m sure you’ll try nonetheless.” He shook his head and muttered something that sounded like, “dumbass.”

I opened my mouth to reply but was cut off by a gunfight, a car chase, and an explosion. Yes, in that order. Bullets slammed into the side of the truck, ricocheting off the green steel and causing Jack to twist hard on the wheel away from the gunfire. We veered into oncoming traffic as a hummer came flying out of a side street. It plowed into the bed of the truck, spinning us around in a squeal of rubber and buckling steel.

My head smacked into the passenger side window, causing stars to dance across my vision as a massive metal harpoon split the windshield like it was made of tinfoil and not bulletproof glass. Prongs on the side of the metal head spread, grabbing onto the window like a spider as the two-inch steel cable tethered to the harpoon snapped taut.

There was a shriek of breaking glass and tortured metal as the windshield ripped out of the F250, hit the hood, and bounced to the ground. I dropped just as a line of bullets from the military-style humvee’s belt-fed Browning M2 machinegun began pouring lead through the now missing windshield.

BOOK: twice cursed mage 05 - claimed
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