“What?!” he snapped stopping dead in his tracks, she slammed into the back of him the thick build of his back almost sending her sprawling to the floor. He turned slowly, his eyelids hung low over his dark and glaring eyes, his mouth was clenched tightly, it twitched, she flinched but he only waited for her to answer,
“Oh, um, I just-well you said the ‘king’, um William would know where to find you” she stuttered and when she realised that the following silence meant that he was waiting for her to clarify herself she continued,
“Um, Well I was wondering where that was?” she added, he started at her for a moment
“We’re going to see the old man” he said turning and continuing to his earlier pace. She breathed a sigh of relief before setting off after him. The black clouds had cleared while they had been inside with the Queen, rain had fallen and the air hung thick with the scent of clarity, fat rain drops sat on leaves and hung precariously on the end of tree branches, the sun’s rays shone through them sending twinkling rainbows to her eyes, it made her smile the innocence of it all. Though when she looked out over the rest of the town at the pink violet hue that was cast over it by the setting sun she remembered just what was lingering in wait for them. They walked along the quiet main street of the town, the silence was eerie and off setting, she rubbed at her eyes, sighing deeply, sleep was fighting with her, he stopped dead again, something he had a habit of doing though this time she managed to avoid walking into him,
“Liquor store, off licence, does the town still have one?” he asked dryly
“Yes but you don’t have the currency Gunner” she replied and he eyed her distastefully
“Sweetheart I wasn’t planning on using any currency” he spat and waited for her to point him in the right direction,
“That way” she muttered afraid if what he was going to do next, she pointed toward a small ‘off-shoot’ alleyway. He made his way toward the entrance,
“You stay here” he said over his shoulder but just this once she did not do what he ordered so she trailed after him and when he realised he turned and shot her a deadly glance,
“If I stay out here alone chances are I’ll be dead before the door closed behind you; the news of your arrival will have spread like wildfire and my helping you will not have gone unnoticed nor will it go down well with the American Brother” She said answering his silent question and though his eyes did not soften he did not argue her presence,
“Fine, just stay quiet” he hissed as they walked into the shop.
When he saw the great hulking figure of the Gunner walking toward him, though in consideration most men would have been ‘great and hulking’ in comparison to the short balding man, the shop keeper known only as Jacks looked terrified, he shrank back against the wall knocking bottles and sending the clinking of glass out into the room; when he realised he must look like a scared little mouse he did his best to right himself moving back to the counter and straightening his back, standing as tall as he could manage,
“I’ll take that 40 year old scotch” the gunner said calmly as he reached the counter
“We-we don’t serve your kind here” Jacks muttered, she was surprised at how much courage he still had though she thought it might be stupidity. She took a step backward as she watched the Gunners eyes narrow; he leaned across the counter,
“Either you pass me that bottle of 40 years old Scotch or I come over there and take it” he said keeping his tone low and dark
“I-I think it’d be better if you came over and took it” Jacks replied his words shaking slightly; it was then for the first time that the Gunner truly realised just how great a hold the American brother had on the town
“If that’s what you think is best” the Gunner replied and in one swift, fluid movement he slammed Jacks face down into the counter top, she cringed and fought vomiting as the audible sound of his nose crunching and breaking filled the small shop. Blood exploded in a star burst across the counter to; it splattered the Gunners shirt as he jumped over the still falling Jacks and retrieved the bottle of Scotch. She had moved outside when Jacks face had connected with the wooden top, craving fresh air to clear her head and to fight the rolling nausea in her stomach; he strode past her as she took in deep gulps of air and once again she found herself struggling to keep up with him.
From there they moved in silence and they were left in peace, no civilians came pestering them nor did the American Brothers ‘security’ come bumbling over with weapons in hand and this made her feel uneasy. She was sure that a group of men would be waiting for the when they rounded the corner but there was nothing, the night stood still; she chose not to voice her worry or express her concern as they walked the short distance from the off-licence to their destination, luckily Johnn99 did not live far from his favourite tipple. For the duration of the short journey everything remained calm and serene like nothing was out of place however as they rounded the corner on to the street where Johnny 99’s house stood she knew that something was off. The street lay quiet and sleepy but something hung in the air and as they moved toward the house the ‘thing’ that was wrong became more and more apparent; something was missing. She knew the Gunner had noticed it, the empty space, by the way his pace had quickened and his face held a slight worried urgency she had not seen him move in this way before and it made the uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach double. He reached the steps first though he did not react and she couldn’t see the past him though when she finally reached the bottom of the steps leading to the porch she knew what it was that was wrong; Johnny 99 was missing. He could always be found rocking away in his chair atop his porch swigging his favourite Scotch however today he wasn’t to be seen and it was because he had retired to bed or gone to the bathroom, they would not find him parked in front of the television or taking a bath for where Johnny 99 was usually perched there sat a great big hole.
The Gunner ran up the steps and lent over the hole, he did not need a torch to see what lay at the bottom of its depths and as she joined him and peered over the edge she jolted back at the sight below, tears stinging her eyes, she looked to the gunner,
“I’m so sorry Gunner” she whispered wiping the hot tears from her face, at the bottom of the hole lay Johnny 99 his chair and his bottle of fine scotch had fallen along with him, his eyes started up at them though they did not hold fear or pain or terror; they were soft and calm, serene,
“Do you think, maybe, he finally just fell through the rotten boards?” she asked hopefully, naively,
“The old man was forced down” a voice came from the shadows of the far side of the porch, the Gunner moved quick, smooth, flawless as he grabbed the shaded man by the throat with one hand and dragging him into the light. The King of Sorrow smiled back at him despite the hand cutting off his air supply, he laughed and she could smell the scotch on his breath from where she stood, the empty bottle hung loosely from his left hand
“Whoa Gunner, it wasn’t me knocked the old man out he was already down there when I got here, about 5 minutes ago. Look at the boards Gunner, they’ve been cut someone gave him a helping” he coughed the words out and finally the Gunners hand fell from the Kings neck, he moved away retrieving to pick up the dropped yet still intact full bottle of scotch. He bent and collected Johnny’s fallen glass and then sat down on the top step, she took a seat to his left and the King joined them on his right, the gunner filled the glass and passed it over to her,
“I swear to Jesus Christ himself, if you wipe that glass I will knock you down in that hole with Johnny” he snapped, he snatched the Kings empty bottle from his hand smashing the top off against the railing, he filled the bottle with a quarter of Scotch and passed it back to the King and then he raised the bottle to the night sky,
“The old man” he toasted and they each in unison toasted,
“Johnny” she said
“Johnny 99” The King toasted and the air rang with the clink of glass as they drank to Johnny 99.