by Richard Harding
Copyright 1984 by Robert Tine
First Mass Market Printing: June, 1984
Bonner's eyes opened and he lay still, staring into the darkness, giving himself a moment to accustom himself to the night. Gently, he slipped off the weight of the woman who lay in the crook of his shoulder, her long hair trailing across his chest. She did not stir.
He swung out of the bed and pulled on a pair of pants and quickly laced his holster to his hip. In the faint light, the handles of the three knives he carried gleamed dully. Noiselessly, he crossed the room and stood by the door. On the other side of the door he heard the tentative step of a man, walking so slowly and placing his feet so carefully, that it was plain that he was approaching Bonner's lair stealthily. Bonner wondered who was being so stupid.
Outside the man paused. A second later, the door-frame shattered and Bonner caught a quick glimpse of a man, a big man, plunging into the room. Bonner was on him in a flash, throwing his weight at the intruder, scything his legs out from under him. The man fell heavily, and wheezed as the full strength of Bonner's foot slammed into the space between his shoulder blades. The wind was knocked from his lungs and he gasped for breath, his head spinning. He was not so disoriented, though, that he did not feel one of Bonner's knives lying with menacing weight at the nape of his neck, where the spine met the skull.
The girl was sitting up in bed, spotlighted by the light shining through the door. Her dark hair fell down her shoulders and curled around her breasts. Her eyes were wide with surprise, her mouth open, but she emitted no sound.
"Fuck, Bonner, Christ ..." gasped the man.
"Who are you?"
"It's me, man, Hatchet."
"Hatchet?" Bonner should have known. Only someone like Hatchet would have been so dumb . . .
"Yeah man, Christ, will you get that fucking blade out of my neck."
Bonner put a touch more pressure on the knife. "What are you doing here?"
"Leather sent me. I got a message from Leather . . ." Hatchet was the kind of person who lied even when telling the truth would have served him better. Bonner didn't believe him for a second. He also knew that Hatchet was no coward, he wasn't smart enough to figure out fear. "Leather? What does he want with me?"
"Shit, man, let me up and I'll tell you."
"Tell me now."
"Come on, Bonner . . ."
Bonner dug the tip of the blade into Hatchet's neck. A tiny spot of blood appeared in the ripple of the skin.
"Okay, okay, shit . . . Dara's alive."
"You're lying to me. Hatchet." Bonner's jaw had tightened and he had raised his voice for the first time since Hatchet ploughed through the door. Hatchet couldn't see Bonner's face, but he could feel his fury through the shaft of the blade.
"No, its for real. Honest."
"I can prove it, but I have to get up."
"Where's your gun?"
"I lost it when you jumped me."
"Where's your spare?"
"Ain't got one."
The knife dug a tiny bit more into Hatchet's thick neck.
"It's in my belt. I.'m lying on it for Chrissake."
"Get it, slowly ..."
That was just what Hatchet wanted to hear. If he was fast enough he might be able to roll away from Bonner and get off a shot. Maybe two.
Before Hatchet made his move, Bonner spoke. "Hatchet?"
"Before you do anything stupid, I want you to take a look at the bed."
Slowly, Hatchet raised his eyes. The woman still knelt on the bed, still naked, but she looked back at him along the twin barrels of a shotgun, the stock pressed into the firm flesh of her shoulder, her finger resting lightly on the two triggers. "Very pretty, Bonner. Really nice." "Now get your gun."
He pulled the gun from his belt and laid it on the floor next to him. The girl sprang from the bed and picked up the gun, allowing Hatchet a quick sideways glimpse at her smooth lithe legs and tight buttocks.
"All the comforts of home," said Hatchet. "Get up, slowly," ordered Bonner. The girl returned to bed, watching as Hatchet crept to his knees, then gradually straightened himself. H? held his arms away from his sides.
"Good. In there." Bonner gestured toward a doorway on the far side of the room. To the woman he said: "Go back to bed."
Without taking his eyes off Hatchet, Bonner lit the kerosene lamp that sat on the table between them. As the golden light filled the room. Hatchet could see that they were in a large space almost empty of furniture. A big room always favored a man with a gun. And Hatchet had a gun, tucked up under his left armpit, hidden by his leather jacket. Hatchet settled himself in a rickety wooden chair. Maybe Bonner wasn't as smart as they said, or he had gotten soft since his outriding days. Back then he didn't have to depend on a naked broad with a shotgun. If it hadn't been for her, Bonner would be dead now. Hatchet looked around the room. "Christ, Bonner, I heard you were making a fortune smuggling. This place is pig-shit. You ought to see how we live in the Capital. Leather runs the whole thing, we got slaves and women . . . You ought to come join us ..." Bonner ignored him. "So, where's the proof?" Hatchet did not have any proof. The way he figured it, he didn't need any.
"Okay," he said, "I'm going to reach inside my jacket and I'm going to pull out a letter. It's from her . . ."I'm going to pull out a forty-five and blow your fucking head off, he thought. Then take out the pussy in the next room—maybe have a little fun first—then head home to Leather and the ten thousand gold ones, the price Leather had put on Bonner's head.
Hatchet thrust his hand into his jacket, grasped the handle of his revolver and whipped it from its nest. As he did so, four inches of blade, thrown like lightning, slammed into his thick breast bone.
Bonner was on his feet. Hatchet had slumped to the floor, a fine trickle of blood running from his mouth. His breathing was short and labored. Bonner stood over him.
"Hatchet, listen to me . . ." Hatchet's eye's swiv-elled in their sockets. "Is Dara alive? Nod if she is."
Through a blaze of pain and shock. Hatchet had more than enough life left in him to hate Bonner. Fuck you, he tried to say.
"Hatchet, the way it is now you are going to live for a while, maybe three hours, maybe four . . . maybe till this time tomorrow. You tell me what I want to know and I'll finish it quick and easy, right now. If not, I'll walk, and you'll end up drowning in your own blood."
Bonner looked at Hatchet a long minute. Just how dumb can one man be, he wondered.
"Now, is she alive?"
Hatchet nodded: yes.
"Is she with Leather?"
Hatchet nodded again: yes.
"At the Capital?"
Another nod: yes.
"Nice going. Hatchet," said Bonner almost tenderly, "maybe you're not so dumb after all." Bonner leaned heavily on the black handle of the knife and felt the blade slip sideways, puncturing the cardial sac and slicing deep into the left ventricle of Hatchet's heart. As the black wave of death washed over him. Hatchet thought his last thought: I hope Leather cuts your balls off. He gave a spastic kick and died.
Unceremoniously, Bonner placed his foot on Hatchet's stomach and yanked the deeply embedded knife from the man's body. He snatched off Hatchet's bandana, cleaned the blade, then slid it back into the holster resting on his hip. Two other knives rested there and the three black bone handles gleamed, as if smiling at the job done and waiting alertly for another chance to strike.
The force behind Bonner's throw had been born of pure hate and, inwardly, he cursed himself for it. He could not afford to get worked up, not where Leatherman was concerned. He had to trust his instincts but keep anger out of things. Anger made you sloppy.
Leather wanted Bonner and he knew that there was only one piece of bait that would bring Bonner running into the Slavestates—Dara. In the Slavestates, Leatherman was the law. Bonner could not believe Dara was alive—that was the answer to his wildest dreams. That she was in Leather's hands was the darkest of his nightmares.
Maybe it was a trap, maybe Dara was dead. But maybe not, maybe she was rotting in that shell of a city that used to be Washington that Leather now called his capital. The thought raised Bonner's anger again and reminded him that there were old scores too long unsettled. Like a hungry mad shark Bonner swept out of the depths to snatch at the bait. He was headed East.
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