Very few things held any power over Atherin; she’d shaken all of her presumptions about the nature of humanity, whether it was inherently good or inherently bad, including the definitions of each that had been shoved down her throat at a very early age, years before she’d joined the Carnival. Rin had long ago accepted that the lines were indecipherable and she did not mind. While Jak took his little filcher and counted the scavenged profits of the evening, Rin crouched low beside the body to clean up the mess.
The bullets had entered separately; two holes oozed blood, barely an inch apart, mostly in the frontal bone, though one skirted the edges of the parietal bone. The third left a gnarly aperture above the man’s left eye, puncturing straight through the suborbital foramen framing it.
Rin didn’t bother with shots that would be less-than-flawless; she’d made that mistake once before, and only once. Shooting a man in the head should be the end-all; he should never, ever get back up. It was a large part of the reasoning she used for carrying around a triple barreled revolver.
Some called it overkill.
She called it insurance.
Gingerly, without removing her gloves, she lifted the back of the man’s head upward, to check underneath. His skull was a pandemonium of shards of bone and pulpy globules of brain matter, the entire hodgepodge was made sticky with blood and hair. She rose back to her full height and tossed an inattentive glance toward Glitch.
“Fetch the gurney, I have to get the clean-up kit.”
Glitch’s wide reflective eyes blinked once, twice, before his speech system engaged and he said, “Yes, Lady.” His steps were loud, the clanks echoing through the passageways long after he was gone. She smiled to herself and headed to the nearest supply closet.
Rin went out after she’d removed the stain of blood from the ground and taken a brief shower. She needed the cool night air and a hard drink. It wasn’t that she minded the clean-up - she didn’t; but Rin was the restless kind and being cooped up for too long made her edgy. Nestled on the corner where Sackville Street met Piccadilly, she found a run-down pub with dim lights and too many drunks. Inside she could barely breathe through the cigar smoke and the stench of body odor and vomit, but she pushed her way to the bar and ordered a double whiskey on the rocks.
Though she had been paying the tender none of her attention, her hand swept out to catch the tumbler as it slid down the bar to her stool. Heavy steps behind her indicated she would soon have a guest, and as a hairy forearm plopped down on the bartop beside her, she turned and walked outside, her drink in hand.
The man’s outrage followed her out the door, carried along by the jeering and hollering of his fellow drunks. “You don’t have to be such a cunt about it!”
Rin lit her cigarette, unperturbed, and took a comforting drag. Half her whiskey was gone after her first swig. In recent years she’d entirely lost interest in the bar crawlers; it used to be she’d drink away the shadows that crept around her mind with a few bottles of whiskey and find herself in an unfamiliar bed with unfamiliar company. One night stands did not ruffle her feathers, but she’d lost her taste for other people and no amount of alcohol could wipe that away. That, of course, did not keep others from seeking her out. There was always at least one. And he was never as brave as he thought himself to be.
The door swung wide open then closed, leaving a tall man with dimples and a thick layer of scruff in its absence. His hair was a mess of chocolate brown curls and when his amber eyes found her, he smiled a crooked smile. He said, “I paid for your drink. All I ask in return is your name.”
Her cigarette shivered as she breathed it in, but she said nothing. She finished her whiskey.
“Oh, come on,” said the stranger, once again producing an off-kilter grin in the hopes of wooing her. “I’ll even buy you another.”
“I owe you nothing for paying for my drink. Had it not been you, it would have been someone else. Someone smarter, maybe, than to come out here demanding recompense for the few shillings it cost you.” With two long fingers, she lifted her cigarette free from her lips and ashed it into her empty glass.
The stranger’s gaze hardened. He said, “Your name for a drink is hardly recompense.”
She laughed then, short and harsh and dangerous. “Who are you to say what my name is worth?”
Something akin to curiosity darted around in his irises, but she knew it well - it was not curiosity, it was intrigue, and intrigue was a malignant pastime. Intrigue implied that he had seen something he liked, something deeper than her raven hair or the glint of her mechanical eye. It was something about her, something in her personality, that had him interested.
Rapidly losing interest in further discussing anything at all with him or his crooked smile, Rin slipped behind him and back through the bar door. Something had changed since she’d gone outside. She could detect it in the way the cigar smokers in the corner leered at her over their playing cards, and in the sudden absence of music from the jukebox.
The crowd she’d had to push her way through previously parted upon seeing her. The barkeep gestured one finger at her glass and she nodded. He filled a fresh tumbler and held it out to her but the purpose was clear: she had to take it from his hand. It wasn’t to insure he was paid, she could figure that out quickly enough - he hadn’t chased her out of the bar for his money, and he hadn’t sent a thug for her either. What purpose would it serve to have her come all that way just to take it from his hand? Surely he had other drinks to make. And why had the crowd made such a show of providing a path for her?
The situation left her feeling suspicious, but Rin was not one to be overly cautious. She rarely found herself ill-prepared. Making her way to the bar, she accepted the drink just as thick fingers gripped the back of her skull and slammed her forehead into the bar.
Ah, so it was a set-up, she mused. Tiny stars littered her vision but it didn’t matter. She left the drink sit on the bar right beside her and swung her elbow around until it cracked - loudly - against the temple of her assailant. Rin enjoyed a good bar fight, and it seemed these folks were itching for a thorough beating. The convenience of the circumstances did not elude her.
Two more men rushed her, each grabbing an arm, and made valiant attempts to pin her back against the bar while a third unbuckled his belt in plain sight. It wasn’t until the barkeep slipped a rope around her throat to keep her flat against the counter that she felt the tiniest spark of surprise. Even with the rope digging into her neck, she managed to force the man gripping her left arm to lunge head-first against the one gripping her right arm. They stumbled, shouting obscenities at each other for the other’s incompetence, but meanwhile, Rin clasped mechanical fingers around the exposed throat of the barkeep and yanked violently, releasing her grip only when the wet tear of flesh and ligaments showered her in crimson. The rope went slack and she stood up, her cold gaze assessing the number of patrons in the bar.
In one hand she held one of her dual gold pistols, the intricate spider-web thin markings along the sides absorbing the light wherever the gold didn’t reflect it. In her mechanical hand, she clasped the leather-covered handle of her bull whip. Deliberately, she paused to connect her gaze with the man that had so readily began undoing his belt.
All at once, she pulled her arm back and the whip lashed out, twisting around his neck and tightening as she retracted her arm. The splitting sound of broken bone silenced the crowd as he crumpled to his knees in front of her, no longer almost half a dozen yards away.
The barrel of her pistol pressed into his forehead hard enough to break skin. His brown eyes were wide and terrified, pain giving deep creases to the outside of his eyes and a putrid sheen of sweat to his lumpy face. He was stammering incoherently, his words muffled beneath the constant hum of vocal agony. She thought she recognized the Catholic prayer for personal forgiveness.
She pulled the trigger with a laugh and kicked his limp body backward once his skull had exploded in red and gray confetti.
Rin lit a cigarette. Blood dripped from the sharp point of her nose, staining the paper. She swung a mostly-full bottle of whiskey from between the index and middle finger of her left hand. Her raven hair fell in dense dreadlocks, matted into knots by drying blood. Fragments of bone littered through the dreadlocks glinted in the moonlight. With the match still lit, she turned around and flicked it into the wreckage of the bar. The flames roared to life, feeding on the shattered bottles of scotch and the clothes of the dead patrons she’d soaked in whiskey. She began the walk home, feeling light and rather chipper. The streets were deserted and the moon was full, she turned her face up to it and smiled at nothing in particular. On her way back to the troupe, she passed the amber-eyed stranger she’d spoken with outside of the bar, and she offered him her own crooked grin as they went their separate ways. Instead of going to her own trailer, she made her way to Jak’s. As he had with her, she did not waste time knocking; instead, she simply swung the door open and let herself in.
Without bothering to observe his mood, she said, “I think we have to leave here before morning.”