"Son of a Bitch!" Sol exclaimed, then gave me a hug.
"Think you'd be happy to see me, not swear at me," I said gruffly, even as I happily let him wrap those crushing bear arms of his around me.
"I thought it would be months until I saw you again," Sol said evasively, stepping back quickly, as though I'd threatened to bite him. "When you stormed out, you acted like you might never be coming back."
I hadn't planned on coming back to Hayden anytime soon, either, with the mood I'd been in at my departure. But a month of not knowing what to do with myself had convinced me that the last thing I needed was more time laying around feeling sorry for myself. Yes, WWII had been a nightmare, one that kept coming alive for me in my dreams and in sporadic moments of waking life. I wasn't going to get back to normal unless I kept busy. The best thing I could do for myself was focus on a goal. I'd come up with a righteous, hefty one: revenge.
I wanted payback with interest on a bastard who more than had it coming. This time, no fucking vampire, werecreature, human, or anything else was going to stand in my way.
I leaned back in my chair, my eyes adjusting to the low light. The sun had set just a few minutes ago. The sky itself was still light blue, but all the landscape was black silhouette. I knew what each shape was, of course. My weresnake night vision was good as ever. But as I looked out into falling night, I still felt like eyes watched me in that blackness. A doom waited for me. The pisser of it was it was a doom of my own making. And stupid ass that I was, I had walked right into it.
Only twelve hours before, I'd been resolute on getting revenge for my best friend, and onetime Vampire Ruler of Louisiana, Abraham. The path had maybe been vague, but my goal had been clear. Now everything had gone to hell in a hand basket.
That feeling was too familiar. I'd just come back from WWII about a month before, and normal life without bombs being blown up inches from me was still hard to get used to. Every day I was less jumpy, but even someone with my experience with killing and death had baggage from years of war. The government could say what it liked about men being unaffected by combat. I was a weresnake, and I knew better from decades of fighting for my life before I'd even encountered the horrors of battle. The unbelievable thing was that in all those years, I still hadn't learned to mind my own goddamned business.
Saturday morning I'd gone into a bank to withdraw some cash to fund the vengeance I had planned. To my irritation, the lines were all long with humans wanting to cash paychecks or deposit the week's receipts. While I waited, I got out the right ID, making sure I familiarized myself with the fake info. Then I began making a plan to enact my revenge.
I'd likely need at least a few thousand dollars to start, just so I'd have money for hotels, food, gas, and bullets. There was also the demon Shaker, whose help would be a Hellsend on this road. With him on board-a.k.a., use of his teleportation-all the normal expenses for this kind of operation would likely be cut in half. But for all I knew, he didn't care anymore that some demon had impersonated him five years before. For many people, myself often included, a vow spoken in anger didn't have the same ring of impetus to the speaker years later. Demons were likely no exception. I might have to pay the Hellspawn to help, or at least give him a nice bribe. While I liked working alone, living through a war had given me a strong desire for backup. When going up against a demon, it was good reasoning to have one of your own on your side backing the play. There was no telling what I might have to fight before this was all over.
I'd taken the night before to go over what I knew. Abraham had come from out West before he'd been turned and settled in New Orleans as its Vampire Ruler. He'd reigned there for something like fifty years or so before our paths had crossed. To look into his past, I'd need the addresses that were on his letters to his wife, and hers to him. That wasn't much to go on, but it was a start, especially as it was likely I'd need to go out there to see what I could dig up about his old enemies. While I believed that I knew the reasons Abraham had been killed and who was responsible, I was taking nothing at face value. Before I killed anyone in revenge, I wanted to make sure I had the right son of a bitch. While I favored a Hellspawn for the crime, if he'd had other helpers, I wanted to make them pay, too.
The demon that had given Valerian and Ramirez the key to invading Hill House had given me his name once, the day he'd interviewed with Abraham for a job and been rejected: Shaker. But after meeting the real Shaker years later, I'd known the other to be an imposter. Not that I believed the bullshit Titus, Shaker's brother, had once tried to feed me about Shaker not being able to change his shape. That was a flat out lie, as I'd seen Shaker wear more than one glamour in the years I'd known him. No, it was simply that Shaker was far too protective of Titus to endanger his brother by pissing on the vampire elite-Abraham had been one of Devlin's personal turns-not to mention flat out powerful. The demon that had let Abraham die had been low level: a scavenger, not a player. But that might have changed in the years I'd been at war. He might have become allied with someone powerful, or he might even be dead. But he held the key to the truth, and he was where I'd start.
I was waiting patiently in line, thinking about if I should withdraw 2K instead of 1K, when a shot rang out behind me. I whipped around, hand already reaching for my gun as I dropped to the floor. Then I cursed to see the human foursome with guns at the ready.
Fuck no. Please let it not be a...
"This is a robbery," the lead man shouted, again firing into the air. "Put your hands up! Everyone get down on the floor!"
I was not putting my hands up. However, I also could not afford the attention killing these fucks would give me. As I hesitated, I was given the perfect excuse. The portly woman ahead of me in line fainted with a little cry of excitement. I caught her, then used her body as a cover to draw my gun.
This was none of my business. But if these fucks made it my business, they were going to regret it.
The bank robbers were already busy, demanding the manager open the vault. He looked back at them with dignity, then shook his head "no" once. As the second shake started, a bullet entered his skill over his left eye, and his shake became a backward nod as he hit the wall behind the register, and slid down, surprise now etching his pale face. Screams rang out, then were silenced by another shot from the leader.
"You," the lead man said to the bank teller, leveling his gun at the man's neck. "Open the vault, or you get what he got."
"I don't k-k-know the combination," the man stuttered. "P-p-please-"
"You can't hold out on me!" the man said, cocking the gun and holding it to the teller's head. "Open the fucking safe!"
"You don't need the safe," another teller spoke up from the next window over. "We have money in our drawers-"
A blast rocked his head back in parody of his boss, then he also slid down the wall, dying. The human woman in my arms chose that moment to come to her senses and start screaming, flailing as she tried to get free of my arms. We both ended up going to the floor, and my gun went under us.
"Police!" came a bullhorn from outside. "Throw down your weapons and come out!"