We rushed into the hut, guns shouldered and aimed at the goons who were right where Dyani had placed them. She shouted for them to empty their hands and put them in the air. Seeing that they didn’t have much choice, they did just that.
They weren’t much to look at, and there was no question they were Meeks. They wore their typical long cloaks and grouchy faces. The shorter of the two had gotten a good batting around recently, and the other one looked like a half-wit. But looks don’t always tell the story, and that’s the one who spoke to us. “Well, well. Looks like we’ve been careless,” he said. “I hope you’ll let us say our prayers before you shoot us down.”
Dyani considered the Meeks a bit and then answered. “That’d be the smart thing. Shooting you down, I mean. But just maybe we’ll let you go if you do some telling. It’d be good if we all live through this and go on our ways, right?”
The taller Meek looked at his companion and then back at Dyani. “That would be good indeed, sister. What’d you like to know?”
“I’m not your sister,” Dyani spat out. “Who’s that to start?” she asked, inclining her head in the direction of the tied-up fella on the ground.
“Convert…well, he is almost. He’ll be completely redeemed by the time we reach our gathering.”
“Now where’d that be?”
The short Meek answered, “None of your business, unless you hunger for redemption yourselves.”
Dyani snorted. “Not likely. What happened to you?”
His swollen lips twisted into a sneer, and he glanced over at their captive. “Some of those who don’t know they need redemption fight against it…at first.”
“Did you?” Dunc asked.
His grin vanished and he stared at Dunc. “No, brother, not me. I was born among the Meeks, bear the sign, and am redeemed.” His grin returned and he added darkly, “Unlike you.”
“Nobody’s getting redeemed today,” Dyani cut in, “including him there that you’ve got tied up. Cut ‘im loose. Now.”
The tall Meek took a step toward us, and I raised my gun to point at his head. “Uh-uh,” I said. “Back off before I go ‘n’ lose control of myself.”
He stepped back and looked to the short one. Waiting for a sign, I thought, and I added, “You twitch, and it’s on you, not me. You’ll be heading over to the other side, and I don’t think you’ll find much going on over there.”
That seemed to settle things down a bit. Dyani gave me a look of approval, leveled her gun at the short one’s gut, and said, “I’m going to ask this second and last time. Where’s your gathering?”
Maybe Dyani would have let the Meeks go after getting information out of them, but that’s not the way it went down. We’d been too caught up in our little chinwag with the Meeks and hadn’t heard a third one making his way down the path. The rushing wind had blocked out our talking, and he wasn’t prepared for seeing the likes of us either. He took a step through the entrance and gave a grunt of surprise. Dyani swung around and unloaded on him taking a chunk out of the side of his head. The other two took their chance to whip knives from the sleeves of their cloaks and rushed Dyani and me. The tall one almost got to her, his blade arcing down toward her neck, but she sidestepped him, tripped him up, and Dunc shot him between the shoulder blades as he scrambled back up for another swing at her. The short one ran up on me so fast I couldn’t get a proper shot off. He knocked my gun out of my hands and made a swipe at my face as he rushed past. Dyani racked her gun and got a shot off as he stumbled over the third Meek’s body, cleared the hut’s opening, and hightailed it left towards the trail. I picked up my gun and shouted, “I’ve got ‘im!” On my way up the path I saw a sizeable splash of his blood. Wounded bad, I thought. This won’t be so hard.
When I reached the trail, I quickly scanned along it in both directions and saw nothing. I looked a full circle around me. Nothing again. I thought that if he were at least as clever as I am, he’d have tried to keep from leaving a trail of blood and hidden himself nearby to wait out a search before making a run for it. I heard a clattering behind me and turned quickly to gun him down, but it was just Dunc stumbling through the loose rock at the top of the path. I dropped my aim, beckoned him over to the trail, and said, “Let’s move a piece both ways along the trail and spiral out from there. Dyani winged him, so look for blood.”
Just then Dyani, the Meeks’ captive, and Stashi topped the path. She looked around cautiously and called us over, frowning. “What’re you two doing?”
Dunc said, “We’re gonna circle around until we find the Meek.”
She shook her head. “Not near fast enough.” She glanced down at the dog and said, “Find ‘im, Stashi.”
The dog put her nose to the ground and took off into the undergrowth. It wasn’t but a few moments later that we were following the sound of her barking to a dense growth of berry brambles. There was another splotch of blood on the ground where it was plain that the Meek had crawled into the brambles. Dyani called him out.
“Can’t do that,” the Meek gasped. “I’m hurt bad.”
“Hey, send the dog in to chase ‘im out,” Dunc said to Dyani.
“Sure, and risk her getting hurt? She’s worth too much to us–least as much as you. Hell with him. We’ll just let him bleed out in there.”
The captive spoke up. “Don’tcha think it’d be better if you dragged him out and found out if there’s more of them around before he croaks?”
Dyani gave him a once over and asked, “You have an idea how to do that? I’m not tearing myself up crawling through those thorns.”
“I’ll go in,” he said. “What’s a few scratches?”
“He’s got his knife,” Dunc said.
“No, he doesn’t,” the captive replied. “He dropped it on his way out of the hut. I’ve got it.”
“What’s your name?” Dyani asked.
“Give the knife here, Marek,” Dyani said, holding her hand out and twitching her fingers. “I don’t want you getting too excited in there and sticking him. Just go in and pull ‘im out, okay?”
He gave her an appraising look. I could see that Dyani had read him correctly. “All right. Here,” he replied. He handed the knife over and squatted down before the brambles. “I think I see him back in there. Shit. There’s blood all over the fuckin’ place. Looks like he really might be hurt bad.” Marek carefully parted the thorny canes and duck-walked his way in. We heard a bit of a row as he grabbed the Meek and began to drag him out, but the Meek didn’t put up much of a struggle, and soon they emerged from the thicket, Marek crawling on knees and one hand, pulling the Meek along by his bunched up cloak.
When they fully emerged, Marek stood up fast and delivered two hard kicks to the Meek’s ribs making him grunt hard and roll over on his back, gasping for breath. Dunc and I grabbed Marek and pulled him back as he raised his foot to stomp the Meek’s face.
“Whoa, there,” I said, getting between them. “You said we should get what he knows outta him, not kill him.”
“Changed my mind,” Marek returned. “He’s a piece of shit, and he’s gonna tell us exactly nothing–unless maybe you let me dig it out of him. Won’t take long, I promise–and then I’ll kill him.”
It sounded like he’d really enjoy that, and for a moment I thought, well, why the hell not, that maybe it was a good idea to let Marek have at the Meek. But then Dunc spoke up. “I say no. He’s gonna die pretty quick on his own, and besides, it’d be wrong.” He glanced around at us. “It would be, wouldn’t it?”
I didn’t agree or disagree. I’d have to think about that later, the part about its being wrong. Maybe Dunc was right and maybe not. But practically speaking, it didn’t look like the Meek was going to be sucking air much longer, and wringing information out of him might just do him in before he’d tell us anything. “Maybe it would, I dunno. Let’s see if he’ll talk–without Marek’s help,” I said.