by Trevor Hopkins

"Stay back, Gask!" Alva shouted, her cool reserve finally cracking, "I've told you!"

The tiny room seemed full: full of bulky furniture and emotions, and the desperation found in the last-chance saloon. There barely seemed room to breathe, let alone dodge around an armed lunatic. And beneath it all, there was the faintest tingle of active magic, filling the spaces around us with an eldritch haze.

Holding Alva's gaze, I advanced on her steadily, forced her to take a step back, and then another - steps away from the only really deadly weapon in the room. The little chromium-plated automatic was inches from my nose, but still held steady by a hand only slightly pale around the knuckles.

"Say your prayers, Gask," she said, waving the gun in my face again, "Your time's up."

Click, click, went the little automatic. No shots. Alva staggered backwards again, somehow failing to register that the weapon had not fired when she pulled the trigger.

"Give me the gun, Alva," I said softly, urgently, holding out my hand, "This has gone far enough. Just give it to me, now."

"You bastard!" Alva yelled, any pretence at calmness or gentility now entirely abandoned.

She looked at the useless weapon in her hand, then threw it viciously at me. I dodged it easily. I heard it thud against the rock wall behind me.

I made a grab for her and managed to pin her arms to her side. She kicked and struggled, and tried to bite, so I threw her in the direction of the armchair in which I had been sitting. She landed awkwardly, her shoes scraping over the surface of the coffee table. Clunie shrieked again, then jumped up, clasping the towel to her bosom and backed towards the door which led, I guessed, to the bedroom.

Alva struggled to her feet. With the strength of desperation behind her, she pushed past me, almost knocking me to the floor and rushed towards the door. I staggered after her, grabbed her by the shoulder as she reached for the door-handle and spun her around. I am normally hesitant to strike a lady, but I'm prepared to make an exception when the lady in question tries to stick a gun up my nose. So I hit her, once; a solid blow to the jaw, hard enough for her to sit down on the floor all of a sudden and not pay very much attention to what was going on for a while, although it did not quite knock her completely unconscious.

I picked up the semi-conscious Alva like a sack of potatoes and forced her back into the armchair recently vacated by Clunie. I pulled a set of those magical restraints from another of my pockets and hand-cuffed her. She didn't struggle or even move; she was still dazed by the un-gentlemanly punch I had landed on her. Her face really was going to ache for the next few days.

"Call the cops, right now," I instructed Clunie, who was clutching the door jam for support and looking pale.

She nodded and hurried into the bedroom. I hoped she had a phone in there. I bent to recover my own weapon - I didn't particularly want the police getting a really close look at that - and tucked it back into my coat pocket. I left Alva's gun where it lay, half-hidden under one of the armchairs; I didn't want to disturb the thing, especially as a forensic analysis would undoubtedly show that Alva had tried to blow my face off.

Part 94 Part 96