TWENTY-SEVEN: GRUT THE BRAIN
I AIN’T ONE TO give over to cussing. Talking blue just never appealed to me. I’d always considered swearing the product of a lazy mind, one lacking in creativity. But I have to admit that when that second and third ogre showed up, I let loose with a string of curses the likes of which would have made a sailor blush.
Diana, to her credit, never once blinked.
The ogres, for the time being, seemed content to just stand and roar challenges. I think the fact that Diana had taken out their chum all by herself gave them pause. Which was fine with me, I took advantage of the lull to reload each Peacemaker.
“How many of those door buster rounds you got left?” I asked.
“One,” Diana replied.
“I don’t think Officer Singer fully realized what we might encounter this morning when he stocked the car.”
I finished loading the second gun and pulled both, wincing again at the stabbing pain in my torso.
The two ogres continued to stand a few dozen yards away, roaring and posturing like a pair of testosterone-laden book ends.
“I don’t like this,” I said.
“Yeah,” Diana replied, jacking her only remaining door buster round into the shotgun’s chamber. “Tell me about it.”
“No,” I said. “Something seriously messed up is going on here. There is someone, or something, out there with enough influence to coerce both goblins and ogres into working for them, or it, or whatever. Who can do that? Who has that power? And what the Hell do they want with Maggie Keaton? I’m telling ya, I ain’t happy about any of this.”
“Here they come,” she said. And sure enough, the two ogres charged, bellowing war cries as they came right at us.
We opened fire. Me with the Peacemakers, Diana with the shotgun.
Her shot took the ogre to the left in the head. It dropped like a stone and slid for a few feet before coming to a stop.
I emptied both guns into the chest of the other. I fired methodically, like a machine. Right gun, left gun, right. Left, then right, then left, then right. It did nothing more than slow the thing down.
Once out, I holstered both guns and raised my fists.
The ogre, shocked that I would raise fists to it slid to a stop, blinking.
“You fight, little man?” It said, and then laughed. “You fight me with fists?”
“I’ll do what I have to do,” I said.
Then it swung at me. One massive fist followed by an arm as big around as an elephant’s leg.
I ducked under the swing, spun, took hold of the thing’s wrist, then using its own momentum and weight, threw it over my shoulder and into the mud. It was back on its feet almost immediately, raging and spitting.
It charged, one fist out like a battering ram.
I stepped casually to the side, stuck out a foot, grabbed it once more by the wrist, and again using its weight and momentum, tripped it back into the mud where it slid to a halt.
It began to rise when suddenly Diana was there next to it. She slammed the stock of the shotgun into the side of the creature’s thick skull.
The ogre shrugged it off and brushed her aside like a stray lock of hair.
It pulled itself to its feet once more. But instead of charging headlong like an animal, it circled me. That wasn’t good. I was really banking on using its unbridled rage to take it down a peg or two. I had no illusions that I could get out of this encounter unscathed, but I hoped that I could at least buy some time for Diana to think of something more productive.
“You good fighter,” the creature said as it circled. “You make surprise for me.”
I didn’t respond. I rotated with the ogre as it circled, determined to keep at least one eye on it.
“You make Grut work for prize,” the ogre said. Apparently its name was Grut. “Working for prize means more to Grut. Makes Grut feel good about work. Grut earn prize.”
“Oh, you’ll earn this prize,” I said. “I’ll make you pay for every inch, you can be sure of that.”
I took advantage of Grut’s hesitation and began to reload the Peacemakers from rounds I kept in loops on the gun belt. I could load my guns blindfolded and hanging from the top of a flagpole by my feet, so I was able to keep an eye on Grut the entire time. Though I did steal a quick glance to see to the health of Diana.
She was no longer where she had fallen. In fact, I couldn’t immediately locate her at all. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I could only hope that she’d run for it. Maybe she’d come back with help, but I wouldn’t blame her if she just kept on running.
With both Peacemakers now fully loaded, I held one in each hand and waited.
“Grut not stupid like other ogre,” the thing said.
“I can see that,” I replied. “It’s obvious to me that Grut is one of the great ogre thinkers. Maybe, in light of this new information, Grut may want to handle our little dispute by participating in a contest of wills wherein our two combatants, that would be you and I, battle using only our respective intellect rather than engaging in barbarous fisticuffs?”
Grut stopped circling as he processed what I’d said. Occupied as he was with this intellectual puzzle, he hadn’t noticed that the headlights from the patrol car that had been shinning into the yard had changed.
I, on the other hand, had noticed the change. The lights had grown brighter, closer even. And so I dove to one side as the patrol car, driven by Diana, plowed into the beast from behind.
The ogre was thrown a few dozen feet. It recovered at once, however, and was soon back its feet, shrugging off being hit by a car as if it was nothing.
Diana gunned the engine but the tires only spun in the mud. Grut roared and moved slowly toward the patrol car. Diana, her foot pressed firmly on the gas, bounced up and down in the driver’s seat, hoping to rock the car into some traction. But the tires only continued to spin.
Grut reached the car, raised both fists over his head, and then brought them down together on the hood, roaring in frustration. The hood caved in, the sides flaring out. Diana’s foot remained on the gas.
I pulled myself to my feet with more of the wincing and the groaning. The ribs were having a hard time healing, what with all of the fighting, jumping, and falling in the mud. I ran for the back of the car, slamming into it with all of my strength. I can admit now that I screamed in pain. Tears may have even fallen from my face. But it had worked. The tires hit a layer of dry earth and the car shot forward, slamming into the ogre. I watched as Grut went for a ride, hanging off the front of the hood, his torso dangling in front of the radiator grill and push bumper.
Diana didn’t stop this time, driving through the yard and then crashing through the privacy fence that separated the yard from the Happy Hamburger. The ride ended when the car slammed into the drive-in’s concrete exterior with the ogre trapped between.
By the time I’d arrived, Diana was out and standing by the hood where Grut was, amazingly, still alive, though fading fast.
The ogre was pinned tight to the wall of the Happy Hamburger. Blood trickled from one corner of its mouth and its eyes had begun to cloud over as it coughed.
“Okoma,” it said in a voice weak with pain.
It took me a moment but I suddenly realized that the thing had just said my name. Or at least it had tried to.
“You know me?” I asked.
“Yes,” it coughed. “Master said you would come. Master was right.”
“And who is Master?” I said. “I’d really like to drop in and say hi or something.”
“Master is,” it coughed blood onto the hood of the car. “Master is secret. Grut not tell.”
Grut laughed and then its eyes rolled into the back of its head and it died there between the car and the Happy Hamburger.
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