The canister thrown into the cabin occupied by Countryman’s and Cenine Gilmore was a modified flash-bang grenade. Rather than loudly exploding, the device went off with the sound of a can of spoiled corn imploding, though it emitted an intense burst of white light that permeated the bedroom.

“Dieter!” the younger woman shouted, instantly blinded and groping for physical or psychological mooring. “Dieter, where are you?” she went on, but her lover didn’t answer. He wasn’t going to give his position away.

Countryman had anticipated something like this and had averted his eyes as soon as he’d yelled a warning. The homemade grenade had shattered the glass and framing of the double-hung window. In those milliseconds of its bursting through and the arc it took to the floor, he’d calculated from its size and configuration that it wasn’t an explosive device meant to sever tendons and arteries by dispersing shrapnel. That, and he knew Riggs liked his wet work up close and personal. Just like he did.

A silenced round of automatic fire perforated the west wall of the cabin.

“Oh shit, shit!” Cenine Gilmore exclaimed, hearing the gunfire that sounded like wasps buzzing about her. In her panic she knocked over the nightstand with the bottle of Jameson’s Countryman had been sampling. She blinked rapidly, and her red eyes were teary and puffy as she crawled across the floor through spilled whiskey. “Goddammit, Dieter, you better be lying around her bleeding or knocked out,” she yelled. “That’s the only reason I’ll accept for you not helping me, you big chump!”

Countryman allowed himself a ghost of an appreciative smile as he moved through the darkened hallway in his Woody Woodpecker boxers. Cenine might have momentarily been off her stride, but now, even when she might be about to get her brains blown out, she was talking smack as always. The flash was fading, but it wasn’t like Riggs was going to come though the bedroom. The grenade and the lay-down gunfire were distractions.

Countryman was stooped low, his Sig-Sauer P226 an extension of his hand. Coming into the front room he paused, drawing in on himself as he sorted through the night sounds, seeking any impression of another presence. A solitary pearl of sweat made its way from the middle of his brow down the bridge of his nose as he slowed his breathing to a rhythm that would make a yogi proud.

Wait. Wait for it… then, momentarily, there was a disturbance of the air several feet to his right and he flung himself flat on the rug as more silenced rounds tore through the cabin. But these were coming from inside, he concluded, as he fired off several of his own and went prone. Riggs was crouched behind the couch and sprang up to fire at Countryman, then went flat as Countryman’s 9mm Parabellum bullets sliced through the upholstery. Riggs twisted his body, as he was now sticking out from cover, and pumped off shots again from his Ingram with its suppressor attached.

Countryman scrambled into the kitchen, letting the swing door close behind him. Riggs had the advantage of night-vision goggles but he wasn’t over-confident and didn’t rush into the kitchen, figuring Countryman would have gone out the back door into the frosty night. That left the woman.

Riggs turned toward the bedroom, stalking forward cautiously, still keeping an eye on the kitchen door. He could be wrong about Countryman bolting and didn’t want to be surprised. “Your boyfriend just left you holding the shit bag, baby.”

“Eat me,” she said from inside the bedroom. “Think I’m gonna curl up in a ball and be all girly-girl ’cause you got your big, bad gun in your hand?’ she taunted.

She must be holding too, Riggs assessed. Countryman would have shown her how to use whatever type of handgun she was packing. He had another flash grenade but he weighed using it now against the pluses and minuses of taking her hostage. What were the percentages that Countryman truly cared for her? This was something of a blank area for Riggs. Discounting the call girls he frequented, his own rare wobbly relationships with the opposite sex provided little experience for him to project whether Countryman would jeopardize himself for this woman. There was no such phrase as “significant other” to Riggs. Nor did the words “mother” or “father” hold much meaning for him.

“You sound pretty tough,” he said, “but what do you expect you can do to me?” Riggs talked to cover any sound he was making as he crept toward the bedroom. She didn’t answer as he pressed his back to the wall next to the opening into the hallway leading to the bedroom. What if she were seeing into the gloom like he was in a pale green hue? Or could be the woman had gone out the broken window, as he would have done, and was coming around the house from the other way?

How’d that Elvis song “Viva Las Vegas” go, “too much talk and not enough action”? “Fuck it,” he mumbled, and throwing himself into the hallway, laid down a spray with his weapon. He’d decided taking her hostage was a secondary goal at best. If he couldn’t have a woman like this, then neither should Countryman. Bulling his way into the bedroom, he flicked the Ingram to single-shot and put several ragged holes into the bed. It was empty, but the bunched-up covers gave the impression of a body lying there. But really, if he were being honest with himself, he relished doing this, because it further destroyed the façade of conventionalism that Countryman courted. Undeservedly so.

Pivoting toward the closet, he blasted that and ran into the bathroom, but it too was empty. He grinned, sweat causing his goggles to steam up. He pushed them up on his forehead coming back into the bedroom. He sucked in air. He was going on the hunt.

“Hey, asshole!” Countryman said, popping up from below the broken window, shooting.

To Be Continued…