Bullet Catchers
Twenty-Seven

Being alive sucked. Pluto had thought that often. Given the amount of utter exhaustion he felt over his entire being, it certainly seemed to fit his current condition. His arm, which had been broken some time ago, never had the chance to heal properly. A nasty little bump existed where the bone had originally been snapped. Then there was his face, covered in bruises and abrasions, making him look like a battered and abused child. It had given him sympathy and pity points from random women, but he hadn't the energy to initiate anything from those coos.

It didn't help that he hadn't partaken in much for drugs, either. That might sound a bit counterintuitive to those that had never felt the power of cocaine or the euphoric high of opioids, but for a semi-addict like him, it was draining and painful to not have a hit. He wasn't avoiding them without reason, however.

Pluto had always thought that he would meet his end in a firefight or brawl. Murder and chaos had been a part of his life from the moment he was born. If it wasn't state sponsored violence then it was organized crime. Everywhere he went, everything he did, was violent. It made sense that he would die that way. What's that saying? Live by the sword, die by the sword?

That being said, he was still alive. Since Malta, he had been hunted by all types of people and groups; he had faced gunfire and relentless fighting like he had never seen. Shit, he had even been attacked by a helicopter and walked away. Who does that?

So you see, Pluto realized he wasn't meant to die. God had other plans for him. Oh, God – that's another thing. Pluto had never really believed in one before. Growing up in a war-torn hellhole does that to people. Surviving everything from Malta until now meant that someone was looking out for him. Who was he to give away that blessing to drugs? He'd seen it many times in his life: the expert drug users overdosing accidentally. Did he want to throw away all the luck God had given him just for that few minute high?

That's why he was found by Tank nursing water rather than a whiskey when she tracked him down at The Dive, all alone. When she asked him about it, he simply told her that upon arriving back at their ransacked safe house in Union Island, Moses started screaming at Dingo about something or another. The shouting gave Pluto a headache, so he opted not to make it worse.

Tank didn't seem to believe him but she didn't press. She was oddly quiet, too. Pluto asked her about the mission they had been sent on, but she offered no details. So they sat in silence, each too wrapped up in their own thoughts to really pay attention to anything around them. Not that it really mattered – there was no one in that dingy bar besides them and a few locals.

"Wanna go hit up the docks, see if there's any tourists to fuck?" Tank asked. Even she didn't sound exactly interested in the idea, an odd thing.

Pluto rested his sore cheeks in his scraped hands and sighed. "I don't think I could," he admitted quietly. Damn, what a depressing thing sobriety was! And it had only been a day!

Something touched his shoulder. He would have jumped and swung had it not felt oddly feminine and friendly, a combination that he had felt only a few times in his entire life. However, given the disturbed expression he saw on Tank's face – mouth agape and all – he probably should've scurried away.

Instead he turned casually to glance over his shoulder. The first thing his eyes registered was a trench-like gash down a fair-skinned cheek, the bones of the face exposed and the cut swollen with infection. Blood-stained gauze was haphazardly taped over the person's eye, looking in desperate need of a change. It wasn't until his eyes finally fell onto the unscathed side that he recognized the woman. It was Koala's second-in-command.

"What the hell?!"

Pluto ended up rushing to move away, tripping over the chair and falling backwards. He would have cracked his head had he not caught himself on the one unoccupied chair that was with them. The woman and the man that was with her – one he had never met before – both looked absolutely wrecked. Their clothes were soaked, their wrists were bruised and bleeding… that wasn't even accounting the atrocious mess of her face or the sheer panic that was being emitted by the duo.

"Jan, where's Wes?" the woman asked.

Boy, did he hate being called by his birth name. He'd been hearing it a little too much given the last string of events. Maybe that's why he dodged her question and instead asked, "What the hell are you doing here, kurva? And what happened to your face?!"

"Please don't yell. We can't let anyone know we're alive," she whispered. Her one remaining eye was dancing about the room. The man behind her looked simply paranoid.

Pluto thought about the situation at hand. What did either he or Tank owe them? Well, given Panama, probably their lives, but still… They weren't friends of the Bullet Catchers, and certainly not friends of his. They were the enemy. Why were they looking for Dingo, anyway?

"We should talk outside."

That was Tank. Even Pluto couldn't hide his surprise. He watched her carefully as she stood from her seat and strolled toward the exit. The Four-Eyed Fleet duo followed wordlessly. It took Pluto a fair minute to get to his feet again. When he stepped out, he had to swing his head back and forth to find out where everyone had gone to.

Tank had led the duo to outside a rundown storage shed that was a small distance from the bar. It had a nice concave floorplan that allowed them some protection from strangers' eyes. Unless they were coming from the bar no one would see them; even then, the shadows were at just the right angle that they a person would have be specifically looking in that small area for a person's silhouette.

Naturally, things seemed tense when Pluto finally arrived. It wasn't until he was standing inches away that he realized things were tenser than before and the reason was obvious. Tank had drawn a pistol and was pointing it right at the woman's gut.

It wasn't necessary, and he wanted to point that out, but felt Tank might be on edge enough she'd probably shoot him, too. So he kept his mouth shut. Well, he had planned to, at least. One look at the woman in question causes Pluto to stuttered out, "Wh-what the hell? Uh, um, yo-your bandage…"

The tape securing the gauze on her eye had clearly had enough. Several straps had peeled off, causing the bandage to fall; it was clinging to life by one single strip that was on the bottom corner. Revealed to the entire world was the nasty remains of her gauged eye, slipping from the socket like some severed meatball strung together by spaghetti noodles.

"Your fucking boss did this!" she hissed, gesturing to the horrific sight on display. She had inched closer to Pluto; he had leaned back in attempt to stay a respectful distance away from the nightmare fuel.

"Moses?" Tank asked. What was that lingering in her tone? Shock? Acceptance? Disbelief? Apathy? No, it was a combination of all four, creating by far the most bizarre pitch any of them had heard.

"No, man, what the fuck – it was that girl he drags around everywhere," the man had said. "What's'er name?" he asked the woman quietly.

"Rita."

"Rita! What a cunt, that bitch," the man said.

"Li-listen. Your eye – "

"So what if Rita did that to you? What's your name again? O'Dell? You comin' here lookin' to start somethin' about it?" Tank asked, interrupting Pluto's concerns. Just to show she was quite serious, she raised her pistol a little more, so now it was chest level. It didn't seem to faze anyone.

O'Dell snarled, "Start something?! Something's already been started! We need to talk to Dingo!" When Tank did nothing other than shift her expression from mildly irritated to full-blown pissed off, O'Dell shifted her tune. It started with a sigh. "Look. Rita and Ji-Jo… Jabi…"

"Jibaro?"

"Jibaro!"

Pluto seemed shocked to hear the name when it came out of Tank's mouth, but at least O'Dell knew the woman's name. She continued, "Yeah, her. They were with an American."

"Big deal," Tank said. While she had sounded rather uninterested, there was something shining in her eyes that betrayed the fact she was getting nervous. "Jibaro is American. So am I."

"An American operative," O'Dell clarified.

"Shit," was all Tank had to say.

"And Jibaro? She was a hostage, right?" Pluto asked. His voice was a tad higher than normal. For the first time others around him felt some semblance of pity for the otherwise narssicitic and obnoxious man. When O'Dell's response was only a shake of her head, Pluto went off a string of Czech curses.

"I don't see what the problem is. Obviously, you guys are the fuckin' enemy right now. Just getting rid of the rats in the Circuit. How do you know the American was working for the military? Or the government. Could've been an operative for private firm," Tank said. "I think you're making everything up. Hurt yourself just to get us to put our guard down, huh?"

"Do I look like the kind of person that would stab their own fucking eye?!"

"You really don't," Tank conceded.

"Thank you!" O'Dell shouted, somewhat relieved. They were making headway in their conversation. Still, there was a lot more to discuss, and it needed to be discussed with everyone in the Bullet Catchers – well, except certain individuals, obviously. She sighed and said, "Look, is there any way you can take us to Dingo?"

"Sure," Tank said, finally holstering her weapon. O'Dell and her companion made small noises for joy. "But Moses is at the safe house right now." Their joy instantly turned into groans of frustration. "Bettin' he was expectin' word to get to us."

The group fell into silence. It wasn't comfortable at all. The tension seemed to have been dialed to a hundred. Everyone was put into an awkward position. During this lull of conversation, O'Dell decided it was time to put her eye back – well, what remained of it. As she cobbled it up and tried to squeeze it behind the filthy gauze, Pluto said something that even surprised him.

"You can't just leave that all mangled. It already looks infected. Even if we can't take you to Dingo, you should at least get that taken care of."

Maybe his sobriety and belief in God was granting him some sort of humanity? No, probably not. It was just really disgusting to look at. Who the hell just shoves a slashed and smashed eyeball back into its socket? The sight was making Pluto queasy. He might vomit.

"I'm not going to a hospital. I'm sure they're waiting for us. Just like they probably were waiting for Otokichi," O'Dell said, referencing Arai by his old gun running name.

Pluto and Tank shared a look between each other. Both of them were very aware that they were the least capable at solving a problem like this. They had really only one option, and that was to seek help from someone else. Who could they trust, though? If Jibaro had turned for Moses and Rita's sake then so could just about anyone else. With Dingo on lockdown thanks to Moses's rage, it wasn't like they could just waltz into the safe house and ask for him.

Before they did any of that, they figured they'd best get the two stragglers off the street and away from peering eyes. It wouldn't do them any good if they were gunned down then.

Then they could worry about whatever trouble was waiting for them at the end of it all.