A young bounty hunter with a past he'd quite literally kill to hide.
An undercover cop who wants to keep his reason for joining the force alive. A friendship without trust, without morals. A story without limits.
He sat on the step, feet dangling through the bars of the balcony. There wasn’t much to see in the dark, just the lamplike eyes of a stray cat on the opposite roof. He liked it better that way. The less he could see, the less he hated it. He just needed the distraction sometimes.
The cat stared at him for a while before hissing and turning away into the darkness. “Sorry,” Varner muttered, kicking at empty air. “Didn’t mean to disturb you.” There was no reply. He didn’t expect there to be.
He drew his coat tighter around him as the chill night wind crept closer. Somewhere below the hotel, a dog barked. Another returned with a howl moments later. He hated dogs. They just stayed there and stank, rotting away in their own mouths unless someone else took care of them. He hated dependents like that. When you were on your own, you ruined your own life. If you stuck with somebody else, you’d end up hurting them. Fact of life. Other people tried to deny it to themselves for the selfish pleasure of having a companion, but Varner had long since given up denial. Lies were meaningless.
Life was meaningless, more often than not. Somewhere in this city, at this moment, someone would be dead or dying. That was definite. Eulopor was enough for that truth. Big city, overcrowded, criminals aplenty. Money to be had. That was what it all boiled down to.
Scuffling from below drew Varner’s eyes downwards, into the alleyway. Several figures were visible in the darkness. He guessed about six, couldn’t make them all out. From the movement of the ones he could see, he guessed they were talking. Whispering. Either way, he was too far up to hear a word of what they were saying. One of them made a sudden movement that Varner thought might have a sharp blow to another’s head. Whatever they were doing or talking about, it looked like it might be interesting. He leaned closer to the edge of the balcony, straining his ears.
A gunshot rang into the night.
The shock of the sound alone was enough to send Varner reeling. He fell back onto the balcony, weight meeting iron with a loud clang. He cursed himself inwardly for letting his guard down. Idiot. The metallic scraping as he dragged his feet away from the edge was a mistake. They would know now that he was here. Not him specifically, but someone. And gunshots said well enough that whatever it was that they were doing down there, it meant that leaving him alive was riskier than being overheard by police. Shit. They’d want him dead. They’d shoot for him next.
Counting on his fast reflexes, Varner hurtled back into the hotel room, hoping they wouldn’t even have time to aim. He didn’t have much time himself. They knew which floor he was on, would have seen that at least. As soon as they’d concluded their business, they would come looking for him. He had to be away before that happened. Easier said than done. He headed into the bedroom and opened his rucksack, hastily throwing in the few items of clothing that he owned. A quick glance around the room assured him that he hadn’t left anything behind. His pistol was carefully stowed in the inner pocket of his coat. He had everything he needed. Everything he owned. He pulled the rucksack onto his shoulder and fell with a cry of pain.
Glancing across at his shoulder, he found his coat ripped and bloodied. It was a clean enough tear. The bullet must have snicked it. The first bullet. Shit. How the hell could he not have noticed that he’d been shot? The shock might have numbed the initial pain, but not for long. It disturbed him that he had been in such a panic. He’d lost his head, completely. And worse, if they had shot him with that first bullet, then they’d been aware of his presence for longer than he’d thought. Only for a few seconds, but they might prove to be crucial seconds. They’d be closer than he’d thought. Possibly already searching the hotel floor for the right room. Shit.
No time to lose, no time like the present. He swung the rucksack onto his other shoulder and bolted out of the door, already sprinting towards the stairwell. Luckily there was one nearby. He never took the lift. Lifts were deathtraps. Even if he met the men from the alleyway on the flight down, he’s still have the higher ground. An advantage. He could- No, he couldn’t shoot. He could still move his arm, but with his shoulder in its current condition, his reflexes would be slower than usual. He wouldn’t be able to rely on his aim, either. No advantage at all. His skill with a gun meant nothing now.
Hearing footsteps directly below, paranoia and instinct gripped him. He dodged from the staircase onto the nearest level, disappearing around a corner. He shuffled slowly down the corridor. With any luck, they wouldn’t realise where he’d gone. It was a vain hope, but so far as he could tell, they were only tracking him by sight. They were making too much noise themselves to be listening for him. Amateurs. Amateurs who had managed to shoot him from about thirty metres. His shoulder twinged in pain.
Varner heard a door click behind him before a hand grabbed his collar and yanked him backwards through a doorway. The door clicked shut again. He waited for the gunshot, for the cold press of metal against his neck. Neither came. Realising that he had instinctively screwed his eyes shut, he opened them. His kidnapper was not one of the men from the alleyway. Despite the fact that all of them had been shrouded in darkness, Varner was almost certain of this. It did not mean, of course, that the man standing before him was not dangerous, nor an enemy. It was merely that it was very difficult to feel afraid of a man in a dressing gown.
“You ought to put something on that.” The man nodded towards Varner’s shoulder. “Cold cloth or something. I’ll go get some bandages and a needle and thread.” He turned and walked over to the other side of the room, rootling around in drawers. Presumably he was looking for a medical kit.
Varner’s initial instinct was to run while the door was still unlocked. Even so, his legs refused to move. There were several men out hunting for him, at least one of them armed. He’d take the man in a dressing gown any day. He swallowed. “It’s not that deep,” he said finally, running his finger alongside the wound. “Doesn’t need stitches.”
The man turned to face him again, smirking. He suddenly seemed a lot younger. Thirty, maybe. Certainly not as old as Varner had initially thought. “I meant for your coat.”
“Oh, right.” Varner was silent for a moment. He looked around the room more closely. The bed was unmade, duvet crumpled back on itself and one of the pillows on the floor. But everything else in the room was spotless. Even the coins on the bedside table has been organised into neat piles. It didn’t quite add up, and this merely added to Varner’s growing paranoia. “Why are you helping me?”
“I’m an undercover cop.”
He said it with a straight face, but that meant very little. Varner eyed the man’s dressing gown. “Have to say, you look pretty undercover.”
The man walked back to him, carrying a bundle of bandages in his hand. “Very funny. I just got out of the bath.” He motioned for Varner to sit on the bed. “I couldn’t find a sewing kit.”
Varner perched himself on the edge of the mattress, holding his left arm away from his chest slightly. The movement made him wince. The shock had almost entirely worn off, leaving only pain in its stead. “D’you usually get involved in gunfights after having a bath?”
“Not if I can help it, but it’s better than getting involved while I’m in the bath.”
Varner couldn’t think of a suitable response to that. “So where’s your ID, then?”
“Don’t have it with me. It’d be dangerous if someone found it. Eulopor’s a dangerous enough place for normal cops, let alone undercover agents.”
“You expect me to believe that?” The guy nodded. “OK, let me see your police-issue gun, then.”
“I’m not handing my gun over to a civilian.”
Varner rolled his eyes. “I said let me see it, not give it to me.”
“Maybe.” Varner paused. “I’m not a civilian, anyway.” He slowly pulled the gun from his coat with his right hand.
The man looked startled for a second, then laughed. “Who’d you steal that baby from?” Seeing Varner’s momentary confusion, he added, “You don’t look like much of a gunfighter, kid. You can barely hold that thing straight.”
“I’m left-handed,” Varner replied, glaring.
“Huh.” The man didn’t look convinced. “You’ll have to show me when you recover.” He clapped Varner on the arm. “All done.”
Varner glanced across at his newly-bandaged shoulder. “You were just distracting me while you tied it.”
The man laughed. “You got me. No better pain relief than strong emotion. Anger’s easiest.”
“So you were just feeding me a line, then? About the cop thing?”
“Nope, it’s true. I made a call just after I heard the gunshot outside. I was going to wait for my backup when I saw you outside my door.”
“Shit,” Varner muttered. He couldn’t afford to assume that the man was lying anymore. If cops showed up, he’d be in as much trouble as the men in the alleyway. “I should go. Thanks for helping.”
“Woah, wait!” The man grabbed him by his good arm. “You can’t go out there again. You can’t move your left arm properly. You won’t be able to defend yourself if they shoot at you again.”
“I’d rather risk getting shot out there than stay here for cops who’ll shoot me for sure.”
The man frowned, but looked no meaner for it. “You on the run, kid?”
Varner smiled. “I’m a bounty hunter. More than one cop’s died because of my gun. Corrupt or not, they usually don’t stick around to hear my motives.” Sirens sounded in the distance, and he swallowed. “Look, I’ve gotta get going.”
“What makes you think I won’t just shoot you as soon as your back’s turned? I’m a cop too, y’know.”
Varner grinned. “If you were gonna shoot, you’d have done it by now. It’s not like I can defend myself, right?” He grimaced. “Sounds stupid, but I also think you’re kinda too nice to do it. If it was a fair fight, maybe. But you wouldn’t gun me down while I’m defenceless.”
“Too nice, huh?” The man looked thoughtful. “Maybe so.” His gaze wandered to Varner’s shoulder. “I could put in a word for you at the station, y’know. I could find somewhere for you to stay while you rest up. Nobody’d need to know about your job. I wouldn’t tell them. Cop’s honour.” He held up his hands.
“Sorry,” Varner said, turning away. “Thanks for the offer, but I work solo. My life is my own mess. Nobody else deserves to clean up after me. It’d only cause more trouble.”
“You’ve got your own sense of honour, huh? I can appreciate that.” He paused. “Hey, kid?” Varner turned. “Careful out there. Careful you don’t-”
“Don’t get shot again?”
“Don’t get too nice,” the man finished. Varner stared at him. “And if you ever change your mind, come down to the station and ask for Eli.”
Varner smiled again. “Thanks, but I’m not sticking around here.”
“Any station will do.”
“Right then.” Varner scratched the edge of his bandage. “You ever get in trouble on the streets, stare the guy in the face and tell them Varner’ll come for them.” He sighed. “Anyway, see ya.”
“See you, kid.”
The rucksack chafed Varner’s shoulder as he left the room. It didn’t even occur to him that the sirens had stopped. A lot of things didn’t occur to him that night.