They met in the dining room, reporting back from their fruitless searches of the walls. "We found his den." Tiffany reported, her Goth fishnets now enhanced with real cobwebs.
"There were a lot of paintings, some of the forest, a few with dead bodies in them. But no sign of him." Sam added, dumping the tattered roll of art on the table.
"They might gives us clues where his old victims are." Crystal offered, "After we've nailed him we should totally dig out those pictures and go looking."
Terri nodded, "So we're certain he's not in the walls any more?" Her question drew a round of nods. "Who found exits?"
"Freddy and me found one." Loomis offered.
"Freddy and I." Freddy corrected.
"Whatever. Out the back of the building, close to a path into the woods."
"I found one." Todd volunteered, "But it was onto the roof. We'da seen him if he used it."
"Anyone else?" Terri's question was met with shaking heads all rounds. "Okay, so he's probably in the forest. It's dark now, and we know how much these guys love the dark, but we have to keep the pressure up on him. He should be scared, I bet no-one's ever hunted him before. He probably thinks being out there, where he knows the ground, gives him an advantage. He doesn't know about the equipment we brought with us."
"Is it time to break out the toys?" Prescott asked.
"I think it is."
* * *
When they were out of character they referred to the older SUV as the Fort. It didn't have as much space for passengers because it was kitted out for combat and laden with luggage. This was not the sort of luggage which would get through airport security, though. Clothing included knife proof vests- in all their hunts they had found that slashers never used firearms- and the accessories were mostly guns. The Fort's windows were inch thick bulletproof laminate and there was ceramic plating behind the body panels. The engine and suspension were uprated to take the extra weight, and had alternate settings programmed for cruising, pursuit and combat. No team had ever needed to use their Fort in anger, but they all had one.
Their cases were tessellated into the rear compartment. They were soon laid out on the gravel behind the vehicle. Loomis took a black flight case into the library and started building a gun with a very long barrel from the parts inside. Beside him Freddy was putting various different optics onto a frame which hooked into the back of a small monitor.
"We'll take the high ground as usual." Freddy told Terri
"There's an attic window looking out over the forest. We should be able to see all the way to the lake." Loomis slapped a magazine into the rifle he'd put together, adjusted the sling and put it over his shoulder. Freddy put the optics into a bag and picked up a heavy tripod. They both nodded to Terri and headed upstairs.
Todd had been showing off his shiny Desert Eagle, ostentatiously stripping and rebuilding it. Now he was outside, staring along the sights, aiming at trees and pulling the trigger on an empty chamber. Behind him, out of his vision, Crystal looked at Terri. She shook her head, held up her little finger and mouthed, "Compensating."
Crystal dropped the accusing finger as Todd turned toward her. She looked away quickly, hiding her grin. Todd turned to Terri, scowling. "I'm working with you on this one." he told her.
"If you want." Terri turned to Prescott. "I guess we get to change partners."
Prescott was adjusting twin shoulder holsters with Glocks in them. He looked across at Crystal and grinned, "Really. Is this going to be a permanent change?"
"Maybe." Crystal suggested. "How's your thrusting?"
"Deep and regular babe. Deep and regular."
The three groups stood at the back of the house, weapons ready and night vision goggles on. Terri adjusted the microphone of her headset, "You two in position?"
"Ready when you are." Loomis answered. "Just to warn you, infra red isn't much use more than a few trees into the forest and there's a rise to the East of the tree line which means we can't see all of the boat house or the area in front of it. We have you covered best we can, but this is not full hand of God territory, sorry."
"It will have to do. We're all packing. This guy ain't getting away a second time." Terri turned to the others. "You all heard that? Good. The blind spot's a danger zone, so keep Freddy and Loomis aware if you think you're entering it. Let's go hunting."
* * *
The path struck out into the wood, slightly uphill. Tiffany and Sam took point whilst Crystal and Prescott brought up the rear. Terri and Todd were the filling of the sandwich, spaced so they could see both of the other pairs.
Rough grass had pushed through the gravel from the edges, narrowing the path, and there were dead branches spanning it at irregular intervals. They couldn’t help but crunch something underfoot at almost every step. They weren't sneaking after the slasher, so they didn't try to tread lightly.
Their night sight goggles rendered the forest around them in shades of noisy green. They had learnt how to read the confusing images, looking for movement and filtering out the static items such as trees. "Heat source to your left." came a message over their radios, "Can't get a read on what it is."
There was a rustling off to the left, on the other side of a clearing small branches were shaken by something moving under them. Six guns pointed in the direction of the movement, laser dots danced over tree trunks then disappeared into the gap between them. A small triangular face, topped by thin sharp ears, appeared out of the gap and the laser dots settled between its eyes. The deer chewed on a leaf, confused by the odd lights. The laser dots flicked away and the deer, surprised by this movement, turned and ran.
"That could have been dinner." Todd commented.
"We are not eating Bambi." Crystal asserted.
The rise of the path became more pronounced as it headed up to a distinct ridge line. "Can you still see us?" Terri asked.
"Just." Freddy replied, "No way we can give you covering fire through the trees."
"Okay, just keep a look out."
"On it. Your four legged friend is out of our line of sight now. Nothing else I can see."
Tiffany and Sam sped up as they neared the ridge line. When they reached it the path split, heading off at right angles, the route straight ahead blocked by a waist high rock face. They took up guard positions one facing each way.
"Clear uphill." Tiffany announced.
"Clear downhill." Sam replied.
When all six were at the junction Terri did a quick assessment. Downhill the trees thinned out until the path reached a small meadow leading to the lake, where a boathouse stood, dark against the reflected moonlight on the water. Uphill, and curving away to the right, the trees gathered closer together. "Okay. You four go uphill, Todd and I will do the boathouse."
"Okay." Crystal nodded to Prescott and they took point on the uphill path. Tiffany and Sam followed closer than previously, keeping keen eyes on the high ground as they went.
"You still see us?" Terri asked her microphone.
"Just," Freddy replied, "and you're going to disappear behind the ridge about the time you leave the tree line."
"Okay. Well, don't shoot anything that pops back into view until you're absolutely certain it's not us."
The path became steeper, and Todd and Terri leant back and started making heavy, controlled steps to keep from starting a gravity assisted jog. For a short stretch they jumped from stone to stone down what may once have been steps. Then the path levelled out again and they could afford to concentrate on something other than where their feet were going next. Terri stopped abruptly, "Look."
For a moment Todd couldn't comprehend what he was supposed to be looking for. Then he recognised it. The window of the boathouse stood out from the black shape, flickering with a yellow light. "Lights in the boathouse." he told the radio net.
"You want us with you?" Crystal asked.
"Nah, 'sprobably a diversion. You know how these guys operate." Todd replied before Terri could, "We've got it." He raised his gun and acted putting a bullet through the window.
Terri removed her goggles and hung them on a branch. "What you doing?" asked Todd.
"Getting my eyes adjusted to the darkness. The light plays hell with the sensors."
"I just notch them down." Todd followed his own advice then led the way into the open.
"A straight on assault? That's your plan?"
"It works for me babe. Besides, what's he gonna do, throw stuff at us? These guys are only big in enclosed spaces where we can't stand off and use our fire-power."
Terri moved into the grass of the meadow, away from the path, as Todd strode along it with his gun out. The light in the window was too obvious, she kept her concentration on the shadows either side of the boathouse. Nothing moved as they drew closer, and Terri became more nervous. Where was their slasher hiding? What was his plan once he'd drawn Todd into the boathouse?
Research had shown that slashers often had prodigious lung capacities, lying in wait under water until their intended victims stepped too close then leaping out and pulling them under. Perhaps that was the plan, lure them into the boathouse then drown them. Or perhaps the slasher was simply waiting inside the door with an axe which would fall on the first one of them through. That was obviously what Todd thought, as he stopped six feet away and put shots through the panels either side of the door and another two through the door itself, shattering the lock so that it slowly swung open.
"Gunfire!" someone shouted over the radio net.
"Just putting some holes in some obvious hiding spots." Todd told them. "You cover me, I'm going in." he looked around, realising for the first time that Terri wasn't right behind him, "Hey, where you gone?"
"Standing off so I can shoot him from a distance. Don't panic, I've got you covered."
"Okay. I'm going in." There was the slightest quaver in Todd's voice. He raised his gun higher, so he was staring straight down the triangular top of the slide and then began moving forward in an odd shuffle.
Terri could see some of the boathouse's interior. A large wooden beam spanned her view and from it hung the lantern which lit the interior. Against the wall nearest the door several red cans, rusted and battered, were stacked on a sagging metal shelf. She shifted position, trying to get a look at more of the interior. The flickering shadows from the lamp flame gave the impression of movement, but she could filter them out and pick up details.
Todd had reached the door. He moved from side to side to check the interior, then kicked the door fully open. There was an extending table a few feet inside the shed, its leaves down. Beyond that, under the lamp, was an overturned dinghy, its cracked paint covered by years of dust. The far half of the boathouse was over the water and had no floor, only a narrow walkway along the edge. Todd danced his laser targeting spot over all of these details before he dared step inside.
Spinning quickly to his left as he went through the door Todd checked the area under the window. Satisfied that was clear he turned to the door and looked behind it. Still nothing. He spun round again and looked up into the rafters. The lamp filled his vision and greened out the view through his goggles. Ghosts of the image danced across the screen and in his eyes as he reached for the straps to release it. "Shit." he swore at his own stupidity.
"What's wrong?" Terri had started jogging toward the boathouse.
"Overloaded the fucking goggles. I'll be fine when I get them off."
Todd had taken a few steps forward, drawing level with the table. As he finally loosened the goggle straps the table rose off the floor, tilted and slammed into him. He staggered backwards and crashed into the shelf. The goggles cracked into his forehead and the gun fell from his grasp. As the table tumbled away it revealed a black clad figure standing over Todd with a heavy wooden canoe paddle raised ready to crack his skull.
Terri cursed herself for moving toward the door. Now she could only see the tip of the raised paddle through the window and Todd on the floor through the door. She aimed at the wall between them and fired.
Rotten luck and deflections meant that none of Terri's shots hit the slasher. Two tugged at his baggy clothing and one took a large splinter out of the paddle. They distracted the slasher long enough for Todd to grab the nearest thing to hand- one of the red cans- and swing it. The paddle came down and caught the can, cracking it along a corroded seam and causing a spray of kerosene to cover the slasher's clothes.
The slasher staggered back and Todd scrambled away toward his gun. Terri made it to the door, checked quickly on Todd and turned toward the slasher. But she was too slow. The paddle came at her in an arc, cracking hard against the slide of her gun. She managed to keep hold of the weapon, but stepped back, tripped and fell out of the door.
The slasher paused for a moment, unsure which victim to pummel next. He turned toward Todd. The roar of the Desert Eagle in the confined space was intense. The shot went wide, bursting three of the cans still on the shelf and soaking the slasher with even more kerosene. He grasped at his eyes, the only part of his face not covered by his mask, and stepped away from the wall, only to trip over the table. Flailing as he went down, the paddle caught the lantern and knocked it from its hook.
Flames raced across the floor and climbed up the slasher's fuel soaked clothing as he struggled to stand. Todd watched, fascinated, before deciding he should get out of the building. When he was safely out of the door he turned to watch the slasher writhe and stumble inside the flames. "Burn fucker! That's it! Burn!"
Terri had struggled up and stood beside Todd. She grimaced at the pain the slasher was obviously in. Despite the flames, however, the figure didn't make a sound. "That's right! Crispy critter!" Todd whooped beside her.
Terri raised her gun, and saw that the blow had damaged and jammed the slide. "Shoot him." she told Todd. He didn't even hear her to ignore her. She plucked the Desert Eagle easily from his hands, raised it two handed and aimed. It wasn't an easy shot, but she put a single round through the slasher's head. The body slumped and draped itself over the table to become the centre of a bonfire.
Todd looked confused as Terri passed the gun back. "What'd you do that for? He was already dead, good as."
"Yeah, I know."
The others had started racing down the path as soon as the second round of shooting had started. Now they had reached the meadow and were spreading out. Terri walked away from the boathouse. After a moment, Todd followed her. The fire found the last of the kerosene cans and they ignited in a rolling explosion. The window shattered, the door slammed shut and a huge finger of flame rolled out of the lakeside doors and across the water. Neither Todd nor Terri flinched or looked back at the explosion.