A black, pitted stone bounced across the bar. I leaned back, picked up my beer, and made way for the rock, tracing its trajectory towards the front door.
The first beer bottle it broke belonged to a mercenary like me, and his wail drew everyone’s attention. The rock smacked into the bar, left a black smear, a gouge, and a few golden sparks before continuing its haphazard flight. Several more glasses and bottles fell to it, and frothy brew decorated the old, dull wood before spilling over the lip to the water pooled on the floor.
Curses chased after the stone, and out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed several men giving chase. They were cloaked, an annoyance for someone like me, who wanted to keep track of everyone nearby in case of trouble.
In the sunken ruins of Miami, where only the brave, the foolish, or the desperate stayed, trouble was plentiful. Today’s variant worried me more than most.
Where a Starfall stone went, catastrophe surely followed. Three men hunting for its sort of trouble meant someone was about to get hurt.
After the day I had, if I lost my hard-earned beer, I’d be the catastrophe. I could fight with many weapons, from staves to swords. In a pinch, I could even use a gun, although I worked damned hard to make sure people never realized combustibles functioned in my hands.
The man beside me spat curses, twisted his body, and cradled his pint to his chest. Taking another swig of my beer, I kept an eye on the stone and its trio of pursuers. I couldn’t blame the damned thing for wanting to make a getaway. There were dives, then there was Oyster Bay. If one of the usuals came after me, I’d run, too. As though losing hope of escape and finding me the best option in a room full of bad choices, the stone rolled to a halt in front of me.
The barkeeper stared at me, stared at the rock, and swept his bare hand over the bar to send a shower of broken glass splashing into the water washing over the floor of his establishment. “That yours?”
All three men splashed to a halt beyond the range of my sword. I twisted, pondering how much calamity I wanted to rain down on Petey and his wretched little bar if I lost even a single drop of my beer.
I matched him stare for stare. Stupid questions didn’t deserve an answer, and maybe if I got real lucky, Petey would forget he’d asked. After a month of me haunting his bar and renting a space in the communal flop in the back room above the water line, he’d stopped asking for my name.
The name most knew me by would only draw the wrong type of attention. No one liked knowing they shared a bar with an assassin. I didn’t like having to explain why I, a woman, had a man’s name. Jesse could go either way, something I was eternally grateful for, but the instant Alexander left my mouth, the questions started. Why did a woman have a man’s name? Was Alexander really my last name? Why would anyone name a pretty girl something as masculine as Jesse Alexander?
Everyone in the place watched me, and I took another swallow of my beer. If I wanted, I could break the bottle and get to work, turn the sea pink with their blood, and be done with the fetid sinkhole that had once been Miami, Florida. The bottle would complicate things for me, but after the dry spell I’d had on paying gigs, I needed a challenge to restore my reflexes and edge.
Why had I thought moving south would do me any good? The warmth was a selling point, but when the seas rose and every building still standing flooded out, I remembered everything came with a price.
What the ocean claimed, it didn’t like giving back, and in another year or two, there wouldn’t be a Miami at all. Dying cities were a horrible place for a mercenary wanting to make an honest living killing dishonest people.
“No games. That yours?”
I leaned back, and the metal stool shrieked a protest. “If it were mine, Petey, I wouldn’t be using it to waste beer.”