Red Dragon

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Happy Ending (OR: Discarded in Translation)

Francis met Loretta. Loretta was a tough old bird, but when she is on-target, she’s on-target. The way she bucked in his hands, how she rocked him on his feet; it was love at first pull. He had his sights set on her, and she was more than happy to follow through. He knew just how to work her trigger to get her off, and she made it so easy to slip in the next few rounds when spent.

Indeed, he never thought he would fall for a bolt-action rifle, but here he was. Mister Crane probably expected him to help sight in the other guns, but he didn’t want any of the others. She was a bit cranky at the start, shooting off to the left, but that was before he accepted her, before he understood her kick and flowed with it. Now, he was hitting the head, the eye, the neck, the heart from over fifty yards away at the back of the estate. Most of the area was clear save for a gazebo and what appeared to be a forge, now being taken up by a full bevy of animal targets.

He pulled the pin back, a fresh bullet in the chamber, and aimed at the furthest: A pheasant “mid-flight”. His arms shook, still feeling the pounding Loretta gave him before, but he was never one to give in. Not when she was still raring to go. So he aimed, he exhaled, and caressed her trigger, letting her bellow into the estate once more. She spat out the shell, grazing by his left hand before it clattered to the ground... and the bullet... sunk through the pheasant’s wing. It dragged a bit; he was aiming for the head.

Francis sighed, and pulled off his hearing protection- before slapping them on as Mister Crane gave one more shot. Actually hitting the Pheasant in the dome.

“There we go,” he said, and put his rifle down. He eased his earmuffs down, and smiled as he clapped Francis’ shoulder. “You’ve got talent for someone who only shot a gun ‘once or twice’.”

“I guess? It’s as simple as point and click.” Francis sighed, finally letting Loretta rest, and pulled out his cell- “Ah shit.”

“What?”

“I lost track of time... I should have been back at the car two hours ago.” He looked at the target range. “Can’t believe I spent that long just... unloading.”

“I can,” Cassidy grumbled, sweeping away the shells around his feet... again... and even then there was another layer.

“As well as I,” Mister Crane said, nodding to the gun. “You found a gun you adore. The irony, though, that you chose that cantankerous weapon. She jammed every time when I first got her. The firing pin would stick or the trigger would give. I took it apart again and again, cleaning it and trying new ways; thought for the longest time I would have to sell it.”

“How did you fix her,” Francis asked.

“It was quite simple, really: The firing pin, when latched, was an inch too far back. It was a manufacturer error; once I sent them a message about it, they sent a corrected pin, and now it’s one of my favorite guns –and yours as well.”

“I suppose. You handed her to me first-”

“And, in doing so, spoiled you.” He chortled, then sighed as he pulled the firing pin out of all the guns. “Right. I need to clean these again. Most of them were sighted in proper, but I might have to squeeze off a few in yours to make sure it was only the wind or inexperience that dragged the last shot. If that’s the case, I’m taking her... and... this brass girl with me later on.”

“I’ll show you to the entrance,” Cassidy muttered, then gave her dad a kiss on the cheek. “I’ll be back, daddy. Sadly.”

“Now now. Don’t be so bitter. He made an obligation and now he needs to see it through... Until we meet again, Francis.”

The way he said it, though, made Francis think it would be sooner rather than later. If he wasn’t careful, of course. Really, it was a task to tell whom was more bitter about his departure, but, in a surprising turn of events, it appeared to be Bridget. The two of them could hear her in the car, screaming at her phone, as they descended the steps. Francis wasn’t sure what it was about, only that Lola was getting quite the earful.

“I don’t care if you guys... Oh! Oh, is that it? You can’t even- oh fuck off you rotten slag! I’ve been waiting here this entire ti- yes, I’m going back to that! Because at least I can get a man to spend time w- I did n- I DID N- HE HASN’T HAD ANY IN OVER A W- If you think you’re sooo much better, why don’t you t- oh, I know you’ll fail- I’ve gone over this enough, so fuck you a- I’m not going back in this loop, Lo- no! I refuse t- Just shut up! The moment he comes out, we are going to Chinese- YOU ARE NOT MEETING US TH- MAYBE THAT WAS THE ORIGINAL PLAN BUT YOU FUCKED IT U-”

Her jaw drop, and her pale skin somehow turned even paler as Francis knocked on the glass.

“I’ll call you back,” she said as he opened it, and ran her hands through her hair, smoothing it out as she tried so hard to dispel the heat in her cheeks to those faded red locks. Her smile was in place, though, so well practiced. “There you are. I was beginning to worry.”

“So I heard,” he said, and turned to Cassidy. “Right. I’ll see you tomorrow-”

“I want a date with you next weekend,” Cassidy declared. Catching both him and Bridget off-guard.

Bridget laughed, caressing Francis’s hair as she did.

“That’s a bit uncouth, Cassidy.” the witch said. “Francis and I are about to embark on our date, and you choose now to spring the question.”

“Well, Francis?”

“Francis, darling, you don’t need to answer her right now. You don’t need to worry this pretty little head of yours with such a trifle before the new week even begins. Let us enjoy our day out, and then, when we retire for the night, you can always text young miss Crane your answer.”

“You know, she has a point,” Francis said, mulling it over. “There’s nothing saying I have to answer right this moment-”

“But-” Cassidy blurted, but was cut off by Bridget.

“Exactly, Francis. It’s your choice, a decision that you shouldn’t be pressured into-”

“Sure,” Francis said.

“What?” Both women exclaimed.

“Sure. I’ll go on a date with you next weekend. I feel sort of bad just driving out here and wasting the hours shooting shit.”

“I think you mean shooting the, well, expletive,” Bridget tried to correct. “And, truthfully, it wasn’t that much a burden on them. Rather, think of how far we had to drive.”

“No no. I was right... and I didn’t forget. We’re going on our date tonight, though, so that should make up for this.”

“Francis... darling... I know you hate me saying it so much, but we have been out on five dates prior-”

“Which have equaled up to one with Cass. So you and her after tonight are pretty much dead even. You’re both on two.”

“Love isn’t a score system, Francis. Think of all we’ve done so far. The... skintimacy we have.”

“If we’re basing on that, then Nicole has you all beat. No contest... None whatsoe- drive.”

Bridget did, and Francis slammed the door as the harpy was finally forced to let go. He shoved Bridget’s hand away and locked his arms tight, his hands under them. Not matter how hard she tried to pry, they would not loose, forcing them on ten and two of the wheel. They passed back through the gates, and the car roared through the dark of night, returning to the highway.

The witch exclaimed, cracking a window as she wafted her hand.

“You weren’t joking. I smell it now. Gunpowder and polish,” she said, tittering. “Did you men have an honorable duel?”

“Not this time. Sighting in his guns to go hunting.”

“Oh yeah... it is getting to that time of the year... Maybe I should call dad and see if he’s going to go. I wouldn’t mind some fresh deer meat... and it’s been a while since I talked to him or mom. I think it was... huh... I can’t recall the last time I talked with them.”

That’s because they’re dead. And have been for nine years. Francis thought- but realized it might be in his best interest to steer the conversation elsewhere. That’s a mental break he did not want to console, and no therapist alive would even be able to come close to tackling it.

“So what exactly are we doing tonight?” He said. “The usual bowling alley run? Is that all there is to do around here, aside bar hopping?”

“In that town? Yeah, but that’s not what I have in mind. Not tonight.” She rubbed his leg, squeezing it as she caressed. “I thought we would change things up. We’ll go grab some Chinese food, then go plod around the mall a bit-”

“Aren’t the malls closed?”

“For normies, yes, but they have a special shift for himan.”

“Bitchin’. It’s been forever since I bummed around the mall- wait... Are you using this as an excuse to have me try on clothes?” She giggled, and squeezed his leg even tighter, confirming his suspicion. He groaned, disgusted, and finally let his arms open, gesturing to the polo shirt. “Okay. I’m gonna be honest: You are pushing it. I’m only wearing this because you forced it upon me. If I had it my way, I’d run around naked. I absolutely loathe clothes.”

“I do, too, but they are a necessary evil-”

“An evil I spit in the face of at every given moment.”

“You mean to tell me you would willingly walk everywhere with that... thing exposed? Without a single care?”

“Oh I would care. I would care a lot. I would care about the envy in the eyes of other men, and crave the desire from the women looking on-”

“Well, what if I walked everywhere naked? Would you care if others saw me?”

“People are going to look regardless. Guys don’t care if you are taken or not; if they like what they see, they are undressing you in their mind. All you are doing is taking away the allure for them while pissing off other women because they care that their men are looking, feigning ignorance and hypocrisy since they believe their boys are only doing it to them.”

“Is that your way of saying you have imagined every woman without her clothes?”

“Yes! God yes.”

“But... why? You have a woman who would gladly please you if ever needed-”

“Oh, God. Not you, too... To make it even simpler: Men are dogs.”

“And that’s why I’m your bitch.” She teased, her cheeks flushing as her hand slithered its way up to the hem of his pants- pushed away. The witch scoffed, then huffed as she slapped her refused digits back onto the wheel. “You suck at flirting. You know that?”

“I’m actually quite good at it. When I am trying. Why would I need to with you?”

“Oh, true. Very true... We can just be ourselves when we’re together. You don’t need to worry about wooing me-”

“I never had to worry about it! What are you talking about? This has always been how I act. Are you struggling that much to make small-talk?”

“I won’t lie. It is quite the challenge to find common ground with you. Even after all this time-”

“Yes! ‘All this time’ of one month- it really has only been one month, hasn’t it? Oh God... Why does it feel like a lifetime has passed since I arrived here, yet it has barely been ninety days!”

“It has felt like a lifetime? How so?”

“Well, for the last three years, I spent life pretty much alone in the middle of nowhere, preying upon idiots who took a wrong turn. Most days, especially during the fall, were quiet. There would be long stretches of literal nothing. The first month of that ‘imprisonment’ was the longest, since I needed to learn how to steal from the gas station without causing a scene. After that, though, and figuring out its keepers bathroom habits as well as... ‘smoke’ breaks, it was easy as slipping in and out. The area was so poor they didn’t even have a camera.”

“Wow. Sounds-”

“Boring? Maybe, but I was also laying low. I was there for a reason- but this isn’t helping us find common ground, is it? What sort of hobbies do you have, aside coffee making?”

“And tea?”

“Anything to do with brewing. In fact, let’s lump it all together and say no potion-making. Kind of an obvious thing for a witch to do.”

“That’s not true! Out of the four of us, I’m the only one that dabbles in anything of the sort. Lola loves eastern media -anime, manga, video games- while Tanya is... Tanya.”

“She doesn’t have anything, huh?”

“She does. It’s just... meditation.”

“Meditation? As a hobby?”

“Okay, I lumped several things in there, but it’s all pretty much the same. Yoga, audiophillia-”

“Audio-what?”

“She likes to listen to tapes.”

“So music.”

“Yes but no. It’s... she used this term: ASMR. I’m not really sure what it means, but she gave me a playlist to listen to and... it’s just not my thing. Essentially, it’s sounds.”

“... Sounds?”

“Yes... That’s as easy as I can explain it. They are sounds, specific noises, meant to illicit a feel or place you in a-”

“So music but not.”

“That complicates it further, but yes.”

“Sounds lame, but I suppose, given her disposition, meditative hobbies make sense. Can only imagine what would happen to a guy she gets her hands on, though.”

“Well, she’s not exactly looking. Lola isn’t, either.”

“You sure? She sounded thirsty as hell the last time we hung out.”

“She’s all show. Always has been; always will be.”

My, how defensive she got. In fact, her once fixed smile had cracked, showing the scowl and wrinkles under. She jerked the car onto an off-ramp, and they were at a new town center, this one far more barren than Robinson. Most of the stores were closed, but the giant red box that was Chinese food was still quite open. And rather rowdy; at first, at least. It might have started as a challenge to find a seat, but, once word passed around the restaurant, checks were paid and it was cleared. Leaving it silent.

They had center table, cleaned up just as they sat, and they were given menus. Unneeded for Francis; he always went with the general... and cheese wontons. Got to have the cheese wontons. Bridget, though, seemed to need time, her face buried behind her menu. Along with her phone.

“This fucking bitch. I swear... If she dares, I’m gonna... Not in a million fucking...” Francis managed to catch her mutter the odd phrase here and there, forgotten, as if nonexistent, as she lowered the menu once the waitress returned. From her looks, she appeared to be a normal human, but it was hard to tell with Chinese himans. At least it was for Francis.

Bridget gave her order, then Francis gave his... along with the wontons- and teriyaki chicken sticks- and fried bread- dumpling soup- and a touch of Mongolian beef... with pork lo mein on the side. The poor dear jotted every single one down before pardoning, giving him ample view of her heart-shaped rear in those dark jeans, seemingly bouncing away to the clashing music inside the restaurant. Because when he thought Chinese, he thought Bob Seger, Chuck Berry, and ZZ Top.

Bridget cleared her throat... quite a few times... If she kept going, maybe she should consider consulting a doctor. That just isn’t healthy- and it was becoming quite the issue. She was loud enough to drown out the music- and the hissing wok in the back. In fact, he was tempted to pull out his phone and dial 911, but he saw that she was perfectly fine as the girl meandered out of sight, taking that pillow derriere with her.

“What?” He said.

“Oh. Nothing... So how did she look?”

“Ass is nice. Legs are fantastic. Hard but with enough jiggle. Tiny feet, though. Painful... Thin shoulders, small front -expected- a bit of stomach, but no real shape. Almost a tube... But, again, that ass.”

“Mine is better.”

“Can’t argue with that, but you need to cut that out. Jealousy is an ugly trait.”

“And how would you feel if I started to eye-hump every guy I see?”

“Good on you? I don’t give a fuck enough about what others think. I only hate it when they talk shit thinking their being sly about it, and that’s because they’re being dumbasses... Now what did Lola say that pissed you off?”

“It was that obvious, huh?” She huffed- and thanked the waitress as she brought them their ice water and two cups for the pot of tea placed in between. Bridget poured them both a cup of the steaming green tea, put three packs of sugar in hers, then took a drink of her ice water, glowering at that clay cup. “She called me out for ditching them to be with you.”

“... You serious? They... they knew we were going out today, right?”

“Well, no-”

“Why! Why the Hell?”

“Because I expected us to see them before we headed off. Because I expected to get a round of pins in before we came here. Instead, you were firing guns with Cass’s father for over three hours, so they called and asked where we were at. I told them you were taking forever in Cass’s, and she told me that you were ‘getting a booty call’ and I was being ‘a total cuck’... She yelled at me to leave you.”

“Why, yes, because that would have ended well. If you left, I would have been stuck at the estate, and would have most likely spent the night with Cass- does she realize how stupid she just showed herself to be.”

“Very. Because that’s exactly what I told her... You were there to meet her father. Nothing more. You have shown to get distracted easily and lose track of time, so I knew it was only a matter of time. But that wasn’t good enough for her! ‘He’s just using you.’ ‘He doesn’t really care about you.’ ‘He just needs a ride. In both senses.’”

“I would have told her to go to Hell. If over the phone; in person, I wouldn’t have hesitated to punch in her teeth. Shame, too. I sort of liked her.”

“You shouldn’t be so hard on her. Or take her too seriously. She’s... bombastic, to say the least. An absolute hothead that flies off the handle.”

“Still... What did Tanya have to say?”

“She agreed with Lola, but not for the same reason. Instead, it’s because you are Penny’s friend.”

“Why do those two have such a hate-boner for each other? Good God.”

“Because Tanya, once upon a time, tried to be her friend... One day, Penny just completely flipped and tore into her, calling her a liar, a bad actor, an ugly... well, she went on a tirade that ended with her scorching the side of Tanya’s face with her staff. It took several months for it to clear, but those two... there is no reconciling- ah! Our food. Gomen nasai-”

“That’s Japanese,” the woman grumbled. “And not even ‘thank you’... Sorry, sir. The fried bread is going to take a bit longer.”

“I think I can manage,” he said, already four wontons in hand and two in his mouth. “Thank you very much.”

“YOU are welcome.”

The waitress left- and Bridget sighed, picking up a wonton as well.

Breaking in half as her gaze turned hard, staring beyond Francis at the door behind him, jingling merrily.

“Hello, bitches,” Lola exclaimed, and slung her arms around Francis’s neck while Tanya scuttled into the seat to the right. The blonde picked up his clay cup, filling it with the green tea, while the raven-haired witch stole one of his wontons, munching away. “We missed you at the bowling alley, so we decided to stalk you here... HOO MAN, you reek, boy. You smell like... gunpowder?”

“Mister Crane and I were shooting guns,” he stated, through five wontons. He wasn’t taking any chances. “I found one I really liked. Named her Loretta. Turns out she’s a favorite of his as well... the slut.”

“Her body, her choice. Can’t expect her to be faithful when you have your grubby claws all over every other one.”

“I actually didn’t. I only used Loretta.”

“Aww... then I feel sorry for you. So sad that you fell for a slut.” She cackled, and plopped into the last seat remaining- clapping as the waitress returned with two more menus. “Ah! Ohayou! Onakagasuita!”

“Again, Japanese,” the woman grumbled, groaning as she waggled a finger to them all... as well as gave Francis his fried bread. “This all together?”

“No.” Bridget stated. “Those two are paying for themselves.”

“Don’t be like that, Deckard-senpai,” Lola said, pushing her shoulder. “We’re all here to enjoy ourselves.”

“And annoy me, apparently,” the waitress muttered. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

She left again- and that time noticed she had long, black hair. It was tied back into a tight, traditional braid and looped thrice before allowed to stick out at her nape. She was very tan for a Chinese woman, and he could just make out a tan line along the back of her neck, showing she actually had very pale skin.

Lola sighed, drinking some of Francis’s water, and shook her head.

“I hate her,” she stated.

“Why?” Francis said.

“Every time we are here, without fail, she screws up one of our orders. It doesn’t matter how slow we talk, how we enunciate or even how hard we poke the menu. It. Always. Gets fucked up.”

“Are you sure it’s not on purpose?”

“Oh, I know it is, but it’s never enough to cause a scene or demand a refund. It’s small stuff... pisses me off... Anyways, where are we headed after this?”

“The mall. Bridget wants me to play dress-up.”

“Oh no... Not you, too.”

“Huh?”

“She does this to us every so often,” Tanya grumbled, reaching for the bread- wincing as Francis smacked her away.

“No... no! That’s the one thing I will defend- no- What part of no- back off, wenches!”

The chair toppled to the ground as he jumped out of it, clutching that plate of fried, sugar-powdered dough. Tanya tried to follow after, but nothing a bit of flame before her couldn’t stop. Lola tried to dive in as he was distracted, but he spun around her, letting her fall into one of the tables- as Tanya lunged and collapsed another. He sneaked one off the plate, growling into the sweet treat as Lola tried again, shouldered into one of the pillars of the place- while Tanya slipped- but her face saved from the ground as he hooked his foot under middle, stopping it from shattering on the black-and-red tile.

He swallowed that bit of dough, and took his seat again as the waitress returned. With a fresh round of wontons for him- AND General Tso’s.

“Ah! Thank you,” he said, biting into one of the wontons.

“No. Thank you,” she said. “Don’t worry about the tables. I’ll take care of them.”

“You are quite welcome –or should I say Xie xie. Renhe shijian? I’m a bit rusty, and I slurre most of it.”

“I’d rather you didn’t. I was born and raised here in West Virginia. But at least you were kind enough to ask AND get it somewhat right.”

“Kind of figured. Jek in Philly was the same way. He taught me a bit of Mandarin, Cantonese, and simplified Chinese, though I can’t say most of it stuck. He always told me not to worry about it and ‘keep acting like a stupid Burger’.”

Francis laughed, and so did the waitress. Much to Bridget’s chagrin. She left soon enough, and Francis tore into his meal. He was going to need it for the coming troubles ahead. The air was already tense, but it could break his knife as the other two witches picked themselves up and ate. All in silence... again, an ill omen.

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