Chapter 13
More Than a Job

Jiexika (Santa Jésica), Lüshan County, Shannanxi Province

It almost would've been worth it to take an express train. It certainly seemed like a long time for Batista and Masako to be cooped up in that tiny cabin. Seven more days had passed and they finally reached the provincial border. They would've gotten there a lot sooner if he opted to cross into Shanzhong at Tres Pasos, but Batista figured that would be too obvious. Instead they went all the way to the westernmost part of Shannanxi. Once they got into Shanzhong, they could keep going west and approach Lingmu from the south. It was a longer route than going straight west, but if anyone knew where they were headed, they probably weren't watching the south as closely.
The train ground to a halt at the Santa Jésica Station. The conductor could be heard going down the corridor shouting, "Santa Jésica Station! All passengers, disembark! All passengers, disembark! If this is not your final destination, proceed to Border Control! Take all luggage and personal items with you! Any items left onboard will be confiscated!"
Batista looked to Masako and said, "Well, let's see if these papers're any good."
"What if they are not?" Masako asked.
"Then I'm gonna hafta think a' somethin' else. Come on."
He picked up his bag and led the way out of the cabin. There weren't that many people who came this far out east, comparatively speaking. The car they were in wasn't even at half capacity. That was why it was just the two of them in their cabin again. Still, the ones who came this far were bound to be crossing the border and who knew how many counters would be open at Border Control? It had been eight years since the last time Batista crossed the border and that was with a shipment of conscripts. It was different for a private citizen, but he'd have to pretend like he knew what he was doing.
Once they got off the train, it was simply a matter of following the mass of people moving toward Border Control. The amorphous blob started to form lines as they got closer to the checkpoint. Only four of the eight counters were open and there were at least two hundred people ahead of them.
If Batista had a watch, he could time how long it took one of the border agents to process a single person, then get a rough idea of how long it was going to take for their turn to come up. 'Too damn long' isn't any precise measurement, but it seemed accurate enough.
Not having a watch, Batista had no idea how long they had been standing in line when a man's voice said, "Nice coat, asshole. How's it fit?"
Dammit. He should've been keeping a closer watch out. There was a man in a longcoat only a couple meters away. He had some short tube, the barrel too big to be a shotgun. There was thunk sound and then it felt like a heavyweight gave him a solid punch to the ribs. While he was staggered, there was a pop and a blinding white cloud billowed around him. His eyes burned and he started hacking away while the people around him were thrown into panic, screaming and running off in all directions like frantic animals.
A part of him was piecing it all together even as the simple act of breathing felt like torture. He had been hit with a beanbag and it was followed up with a pepper bomb. Bounty hunters. It had to be. But how did they find him here?
Batista reached for his shotgun with every intention of cutting the beanbag man in half, but before he could to that, he was struck upside the head with a baton. Worse, it had an electric bite to it, further disorienting him.
There was another thunk and a second beanbag hit him. Staggered as he was, this one managed to drop him. He raised his his shotgun even as he hit the ground, but some very dumb part of him didn't want to risk shooting blindly with with all the people running about. That was a mistake. The one with the baton struck his wrist, making him drop the shotgun, then kicked it away, snapping the cord that tied it to him.
He reached for one of his revolvers and got a crack on the shoulder for trouble, followed by a kick to the ribs.
Half-blind from the pepper bomb, Masako tried to intervene, but what did she think she could do? A third one who was closing in--a big man--gave her a backhand to knock her to the ground. That should've done it, but something must've come over her, because she didn't stop there. She drew the machete at Batista's hip and thrust it into the groin of the big man who hit her.
As the big man howled in pain and horror, Batista exploited the opening for all it was worth. He took the other machete and hacked into the ankle of the man with the baton, then drew a revolver with his free hand, put three round into beanbag man, two into the man with the baton, and the last one into the big man.
Just as he was springing to his feet, a fourth bounty hunter he hadn't seen yet lunged at him a knife. Batista tried to dodge but still ended up catching the blade in the chest, thankfully in the meat near the shoulder and not down closer to the lungs. Batista hit him in the head with the machete, but the blow just glanced off his skull. It did manage to knock his head around a bit, though, opening up his neck for a decisive chop. He didn't waste time trying to take the bounty hunter's head. He'd bleed out in seconds anyway.
Looking around through the haze from the pepper bomb and the blinding tears it caused, Batista tucked away the empty revolver back in its holster and plucked out the knife that was still sticking out of him. Though it may have been useful later, he tossed it away.
Masako hadn't moved from where she was. She was still holding her hands up like she had the machete, but it had slipped out of her fingers when the big man fell backwards dead. Grabbing her by the collar, he pulled her up to her feet.
"Come on, princess, let's go."
He pulled the machete out of the big man's body and gave it a shake to get off most of the blood. He sheathed it as he went over to recover the shotgun. By now the crowd had mostly dispersed, so anyone who wanted to come at him would be getting both barrels with no hesitation.
Though it was still difficult to see, Batista could tell they shut down the checkpoint. No one would be getting through that way anytime soon. If they tried to sneak over on the train tracks, they'd probably just be shot by the border guards and if they stuck around any longer, they'd be stopped for questioning. Though he didn't want to be on this side of the border any longer than he had to, the best thing for now was to get clear of the area, blend in with everyone else who ran away once the pepper bomb went off.
He would've liked to ditch the longcoat, but it was too useful for concealing his weapons and carrying stuff. He awkwardly tried putting pressure on his stab wound while carrying his bag slung over his shoulder and keeping the shotgun hidden under his coat. He led Masako away from the train station. As he was expecting, there were several flophouses close by. A few of them offered single rooms. They'd barely have room enough to lay out flat, but there wouldn't be a lot of eyes on them and that was the main thing.
The nice thing about the kind of people who ran dives like this was that they weren't the sort to ask questions.
"It's 500 chips a night," the man at the front desk said the moment they stepped in. "If ya plan on doublin' up, I'll make it 800."
Batista put down two bloodstained silver pieces and said, "Keep the change."
The man took a key off the rows of hooks on the wall behind him and handed it to Batista.
"Third floor, Room 14," he said. Eyeing the wound Batista went back to covering, he added, "An extra 500 an' I'll tell ya someone who can patch that up."
"I can handle my own patch jobs," Batista replied. "Three-Fourteen."
"You're out by sunup or it's another day's worth."
Batista and Masako made their way up the rickety stairs to the third floor. There was barely a handsbreadth between the doors to each room. That's how tightly packed they were. It was a wonder they even bothered with locks. Their room was the second to last at the end of the hall. As Batista expected, there was barely enough room to lay flat. Even their cabin on the train was roomier.
"You expect us to stay here?" Masako asked.
"I expect ta do somethin' 'bout the hole that damn runt put in me," Batista replied. "We needed some cover until get patched up an' this place'll do. Now gimme a hand."
Having played nursemaid to him twice by now, Masako was already well accustomed to what he was asking of her. It was time he changed the bandages on his stomach anyway. He was going to do it once they were through the checkpoint and back on the train, but now was as good a time as any. The stab wound to his chest came first, though.
He might have stitched it up if he had the stuff for it, but the opening was small, even if it did go pretty deep. It happened to be in a sweet spot that not only missed his lung but also the big blood vessels piping into his arm. Still, tearing up the muscle like that made it hard for him to use his arm, even if he had been forcing it until now.
Masako bound up the stab wound, which was about all she could do for it, then doctored the mostly healed stomach wound. He'd probably take out the stitches next time. It was surprising they didn't break during the fight earlier.
And that did it for the bandages he brought along. The carbolic salve was almost all used up too. They needed to restock on supplies, but the money was running out as well. If only they hadn't been attacked in such a public place, Batista could've raided the bodies of those bounty hunters he killed. Now anything they had of value would go to the first person to lay claim to the bodies.
"What do we do now?" Masako asked.
"We wait it out," Batista replied. "Try again tamorra. Things oughta be settled down by then."
"What if there are more waiting for us?"
"I'll be ready for 'em," Batista said, patting the shotgun on the floor next to him. "I jus' need ta rest a bit an' then we might think 'bout gettin' some food an' some new clothes. No point in makin' it any easier for 'em by not lookin' any diff'rent."
Before he could give that rest any serious thought, someone kicked in the door and there was that thunk sound again as a beanbag pounded him right in his wounded chest.
There in the doorway stood the beanbag man, the one who was supposed to have three bullets in him.
"That was for Franco," he said.
Before Batista could go for the shotgun, the bounty hunter sprang at him, swinging his beanbag launcher at Batista's jaw.
"An' that was for Ortiz."
Without pausing, he punched Batista's chest wound.
"An' this is for Flaubert."
He took a moment to glance down at Batista's stomach, then asked, "Scylla give ya that? Then this is for her."
He punctuated the 'her' with a punch to Batista's gut, then did it again.
"An' this is for Chary too!"
He then backfisted Batista across the face.
"I'm takin' ya in, Rodrigues, but not before I beat the shit outta ya first, ya sonuvabitch."
If he focused more on that beating instead of talking, Batista might not have managed to pull himself back together. He returned the favor by punching the bounty hunter in the stomach, but it didn't have the impact he was hoping for.
"Didn't think I'd be wearin' a vest, did ya?" the bounty hunter taunted him while delivering a left hook to the ribs. "Torso shots don't get the job done, do they?"
He smacked Batista across the other side of his face with the beanbag launcher. Torso shots may not have been effective, but there was another vulnerability the bounty hunter probably didn't have defended. Batista went for the nut shot. It wasn't gentlemanly, but Batista never pretended to be a gentleman. Only the bounty hunter was wearing a cup, so Batista's knuckles cracked against hard plastic instead of softer bits. This guy was ready for just about anything.
The hit still managed to stagger him, though, giving Batista enough of an opening to get the shotgun. That cup wouldn't do much good against a load of buckshot at point-blank range. The surprising thing was that he didn't scream or anything like that. His eyes just bugged out a bit, like he was stunned and not fully registering what happened.
"You... dirty bastard..."
He slowly looked down at the bloody mess between his legs, where the shotgun was waiting for him with one barrel still loaded.
"Give my regards ta your buddies," Batista said.
Then he pulled the trigger.