Walked out of the kitchen and into the fire. Sounded like a cliche, huh? A clever play on a thing that somebody said once about the relative heat of a kitchen to the rest of the world. Except, here I meant a literal fire.
The large room that had been full of guests not fifteen minutes before had a line of fire running between the grand piano and the Christmas tree, as if someone had set the train set alight. Whatever had started the fire, it was strong and smelled nasty. I coughed and looked around the room.
Several people were in the far corner of the room crouched around something I could not see. Two more men, Captain Stein in the uniform of the Bannville Police and the other in a waiter's smock, were standing in the middle of the room. I stopped and watched them. It looked like they were dancing. Then another gunshot sounded.
The tall man in the police uniform fell. I watched his bald head bounce on the polished wooden floor. His eyes fell on me and widened. Then the life fell from his body and he relaxed.
The other man did not seem to see me. He raised himself up and flexed his arm. I thought about all the cramps I had had and how I had made the same motion of shaking out the overburdened muscle The struggle had not been what he had been expecting. He ran the hand through his hair, longer and darker than the dirty blonde I had seen him sporting and turned toward me.
Darling McCraw’s eyes fell on me and I saw his arm raise to fire the pistol. I started running across the room immediately and was on him before his hand was above his waste. Last time, he had had the advantage of, well, not being an out of shape loser. After running a foot race with him through the park, I had been in no shape to defend myself as I wheezed. This time I was prepared.
See, there was a time when, like my father before me, I had run from the library. Working in restaurants up and down the Florida coast had put me in touch with some interesting people with some interesting talents. As you can suspect, I can be a bit mouthy and was taught several lessons I wear as faded reminders up and down my body from various street and kitchen fights. But, I had also learned to fight back, my favorite weapon being the twelve inch chef knife.
Do you know why chef’s like the 12 inch chef’s knife so much? It is versatile Chop something fine with the blade near the hilt, smash garlic with the wide flat of the blade, cut thick slices of cake with the blade, whatever. There are few culinary feats that the 12 inch chef’s knife cannot do in a pinch in the kitchen. The same goes for in a fight.
Need a big ole blade for stabbing a fool? How about a sharp edge for cutting off a trophy? A large grip to act as an impromptu brass knuckle while you caved in a man’s face? The 12 inch chefs knife can do all that. Plus, while not very concealable it just looks big and mean with its utilitarian size. This knife was designed to work on cutting things and it does that perfect and one glance tells anyone the person holding it means business. Especially if that person had held the knife every day for years doing all sorts of awful things in the name of culinary perfection and learning the type of precision that only a desperate starving man with a hangover can achieve. I had learned long ago how to handle the blade and went at Darling as if he were a block of ham that was needed for a buffet.
I came in low and swiped across his forearm and hand that held the gun. It was a gamble because he could have jerked up and shot me anywhere below the waist, but I imagined Darling crazy enough to want to not shoot me just yet. He yelled as my knife went down the pink flesh and muscle down to his hand between the muscle. I turned at the end and felt the shallow cut near the end clip the bone of in his middle knuckle. I did not mean to do the move, but the minute I felt that skip in the cut I smiled knowing the pain that accompanies such a cut. Plus, if you ever have anything that goes deep enough to scrape or smack your bones, it startles the hell out of you. Your bones are normally packed in flesh like a package being sent through the mail and the alien feeling of them vibrating on their own, exposed, is a sensation most people do not get acquainted with. Darling sure was not as he dropped the gun to the floor and stepped back from me.
I did not let him get far. Still crouched, I spun the knife in my hand so it faced outward from my forearm. I swiped out toward his stomach meaning to spill everything he had from his stomach.
I know, it sounds brutal. Carnal. I have never killed anyone and do not know what it feels like. But I know what hurts. I know hate and what hurts and Darling had brought hell to me and mine. He deserved to die. I believe that. It would have been his reckoning. Accounts paid in full.
And as I felt the knife slice into the white waiter’s smock he wore, I thought about the return swipe that would be aimed more up into his rib cage. The one that I would twist and jerk until I had carved his internal organs to ragged trash. A cold reptile brain instructed me how best to kill my enemy and I went about doing just that.
Until my mother screamed.
I did stop. My mother's voice had fear and pain in it. Was she hurt? Darling made to move but I faked a slice at his groin. He jerked his pelvis back and when he did, I brought my hand up in an arch to meet his outstreched chin. With my fist clutched around the wooden handle of the knife to reinforce the blow, I sent Darling down to the floor next to Captain Stein in a spray of blood and a few teeth.
"Mama," I said, taking in a breath, "What's wrong?"
"He said... He’s got Natalie.”