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Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Asmodeus, Sep 13, 2012.
ACT ONE: THE THREE WISE MEN
I got the call around eleven. Course, with all this space dust blocking out the sun, it's hard to know the time 'less someone tells ya.
"It ain't yet midnight, Scribe. Get yer ass out the gutter!" the voice on the phone said. Chancey, one of my contacts on Mammon Street. I paid him to keep me informed.
I paid the barman too, with an extra tip for dragging me over to the phone booth. Most liquor men here will sell you the booze then leave you to choke on it. But not this guy. He said he didn't wanna be dealing with a corpse when Salome came on the air. I can appreciate that.
"Somethin' good, Chance?"
"You're gonna love this one, Scribe. Now hurry up. Loot Squad's on it's way."
I left the phone dangling and dropped the barman another twenty when I saw him wiping his fingers. He'd kept me from choking on my own vomit. That's worth a twenty.
The ride to Mammon Street comes courtesy of a beat-up pickup truck painted in the stars and stripes. The driver's a Shepherd, of course - all mutton chops and yellow teeth. Tells me the Star is slowing down, that the boys in the Shelter have a giant magnet they're using to pull Mars into orbit, so they could terraform it as a colony for the niggers.
I've heard 'em all.
Early Rain is what they call the space dust up there, faster-moving debris at the head of the meteor. And Later Rain... well... we all know what that'll be. When I get to Mammon Street I see there's been a storm overnight. Fist-sized rocks have made swiss cheese of the high rises. If anything it makes it easier to move though. I've bought some coffee-grounds from the taxi-driver to chew, so I can at least to stumble in a straight line through the ruins.
Flashing lights tell me the Loot Squad's already on the scene. Some of the bastards are even wearing their old police uniforms. What a joke. They laugh when they see me coming and sit back on the hoods of armoured trucks. There was a time when they were vigilantes, going after whores and pushers. Now they're no more than a street gang. I pick out the biggest one - a fat fuck called Jefferson. He used to run Internal Affairs before the Early Rain helped him get a headstart on that private army he always wanted.
"You got five minutes, Scribe - outta respect." He drops half his burger as he shouts at me. Man, I could go for one of those right now.
"No one saw a goddam thing. Bodyguards found him. Now get the fuck outta my face."
"Say hello to the wife."
He yells after me as I cross the police tape and climb a stairwell. "Take anything of value, Scribe, and I'll hunt you down!"
"The carcass is all yours, Chief!"
The body's on the ninth floor. Fuck my luck. Laughter follows me as I struggle up the steps, pausing at every turn to wheeze. The boys on the Force used to call me Scribe, cos my name's got the same root as Enoch: the first man who wrote for god. Everyone thought Enoch was a fool when he warned them about the Flood.
I hope I get the same punchline when my joke's up.
The block's on the edge of the banking district, where loan sharks and gold-hoarders make a show of respectable business. As I climb the stairwell the window curtains twitch. These are expensive pads, and each banker has their own security detail on alert. Some bodyguards pull the curtains too far and give me a glimpse into the apartments - wide open-plan suites crammed with artworks and hoarded sculptures. This is rich man's land.
The ninth floor apartment is no different. I enter through a window that's been shattered from the outside, and shine a flashlight over plush furniture, replica artwork, a grand piano, even a collection of china vases. Nothing's been touched. The killer wasn't here to loot. Jefferson's made a big score tonight.
A check of the papers on an old writing desk tells me the apartment belongs to one Rowland K. Ellis, a middle-aged banker, big in diamond hoarding and copper salvage. But he's been out of work a long time. The top drawer is stuffed with medical notes. It seems our victim was in the final stages of Leukemia.
So why the hell would anyone want to hurry him along?
My flashlight crosses the room, and finds Ellis in the bed, opposite where the window was broken. The man is laying there, under the sheets, still hooked up to a heart monitor and drip. It seemed Ellis had gone to great expense to get himself the right equipment. A counter beyond him is clustered with pill bottles, and he even has a wall chart, for his bodyguards to follow when attending to his needs.
Getting closer, I see his neck's been broken, his head near-twisted three-sixty. And he's been cut. Throat, wrists and thighs. Arterial spray makes a fine mess of this picture. Good thing I threw up before I got here.
My flashlight lifts and lights up the wall. Looks like our killer left a signature. Seven letters scrawled in blood over the headboard.
M E S S I A H
And only the letter in the middle doesn't drip.
It's drawn on with lipstick.
I'm gonna need more coffee.
The cops came at around 1 or 2 in the morning. I was on my bed listening to the radio, about the only thing that works nowadays. Salome was singing us insomniacs a lullaby when the door to my apartment is busted clean through. I do my best to look scared, because looking expectant is gonna raise questions. I don't exactly have a clean track record, no one does anymore. But the cops are quick and don't ask questions, just slap the cuffs on me. They read me my 'rights' but I ain't listenin'. Why bother when we're all gonna die soon?
They push me outside, and shove me into a van packed with their buddies. I'm sitting there surrounded by sausages in only my nightgown and robe. Bastards. Yeah, they all got a good look at me, even the driver. I ain't got no shame though, just pushed my chest out and batted my eyelashes like a good girl. The boys loved that, loved it so much that we almost died before we got to the police precinct. There's some humor for ya.
They become so stupid when they're around big breasts. Not that mine are big.
The police precinct ain't what it used to be, or so I'm told. There used to be plants that grew around that place, but now it's run down. Looks more like a place to make moonshine than a place for justice. Shit's depressing. I try not to think about it as I walk up the steps. The boys direct to me an office, with a desk and a porker of a man sitting behind it. The fucker's got a donut in his hand, but it's gone quickly. I swear he musta inhaled it.
I'm pushed into a cold metal folding chair and then cuffed to it. It ain't the best way to make me stay but I suppose I won't get far if I have to take a piece of furniture with me. A picture of me slamming the chair on a guys' head appears in my mind. It's a comical image, one that almost makes me chuckle. I stop myself though because the guy is lookin' all sinister. He shuffles some papers around to intimidate me and begins the grilling process.
"Rowland K. Ellis? Know 'im?" From a vanilla folder he takes out a mug shot and slaps it down in front of me.
"Yeah, what's it to ya?"
I pause, because it's what you do when you're told someone's been killed. "... Dead?"
"Neck broken, arteries slashed and throat cut open, yeah dead. Now if that ain't murder lady, I don't know what is." The man reaches underneath him and places a plastic bag in front of me. I take one glance at it and I know what's in it. "This here your shit?"
"Yeah, it's my make up."
"You a hooker or something?"
I admit, no woman bothers with make up no more. Sure it covers up winkles and fine lines, but it doesn't do much for tears.
He's looking at me all funny. There's shadows underneath those eyes and his lips turn up in a snarl. I don't like that look one bit, but it goes away quick. He's suddenly all professional again, that scum bag. "We found it in his bathroom, along with your other belongings. What I want to know is, what is your relationship to Mister Ellis? Pretty woman like yourself shouldn't be with no old fella."
Oooh, playing the flirt are we? I admit, I had to bite my tongue. What does it matter if someone's been murdered? People are murdered all the fucking time in cold blood. So what, Rowland was rich, but that don't make him special, it makes him wanted. And wanted people die quick. His death should have been written off as a casualty.
"He and I were in a relationship officer. I saw him once at the bar and feeling lonely, decided to talk. But that was weeks ago, and I'm moving out anyways."
"Why ya moving out?"
I finger the necklace Rowland gave me, it's a pretty thing with sapphires and diamonds."...He ain't fond of gold diggers sir, and I sure as hell am one, according to him."
"Are you angry with him?"
I pause and smile. "Oh... I'm mad as hell."
I knew I as good as written my death sentence. The cop sure as hell thinks so. He gets up and leaves me there, slamming the door. I'm still wondering why the hell they care, but politics still exists in this crummy world. Even when the apocalypse is coming and innocent people are dying on the streets, we still fight for power. Oh well, I've just about given up on humanity. Let the insects and the rodents take over, they'd probably do better than us.
I reach over and grab the vanilla folder he left on the desk. Without even thinking I dump everything out in front of me with a manicured hand - it's all mostly photos. I see dear sweet Rowland, lying there in his own blood and his machine hooked up to him. There's a clean slice over his throat where the killer done cut it open. His neck is definitely broken, from the angle that his head is leaning. The sight doesn't even phase me. Well, maybe a little...
"Must've pissed off the wrong people, didn't ya?"
I throw the folder to the wall and stare at the pictures, numb.
I start to ask myself why I gave myself up so easily. Tch, and I get a quick answer. Life just isn't worth it anymore. The only glimmer of hope now is the Holy Grail. The gangs and politicians of Rapture won't let anyone else get involved with that, else they'll get shot. Still, there's a reason why I fought so hard to get here. Be stupid to waste my efforts right?
I open up the plastic bag with my make up. The scent of powder, roses and plastic fills my nostrils, pleasing me more than any man ever could. I get my compact out and set it on the desk, over the photos of Rowland. The blood is starting to upset me some. I pop open my Lancome foundation and apply some on my face with my fingers. My Urban Decay palette is nearly used up, but I manage to dab some black onto my eyelids. My lipstick goes on last, the deep red color giving the cop pause.
Whoops. I didn't realize he had come back in.
"What are you doing, that's evidence!"
"I'm sorry officer, I just feel naked without my make up on." And I smile as he looks me over.
Cold in a summer breeze,
Yea, you’re shivering
On your bended knee.
Still, when you’re heart is sore
And the heavens pour,
Like a willow bending with the storm, you’ll make it.
Running against the wind
Playing the cards you get
Something is bound to give
There’s hope for the hopeless.
The poker scene at Ciro’s was buzzin’ with activity last night. People at the teller, people at the bar, people at the tables or Charleston on the floor. The sharks were out hunting for their night’s prize – any prize. Ciro was there himself, with me draping his arm. He was the biggest shark in the building, and everyone else was his minnows. All except for me; I was his lure – the reason for the game.
You see, that’s what poker is all about around here – the mob, a dame. In this case: the mob, a dame, and a debt. The mob, a dame, a debt, and a game where the debt started. The only reason the guy was playing the game was because of a dame - me.
All debts start with a game, and all games begin with a dame…
Ciro pointed him out, told me to hold him down, show him some skin to keep his attention, and lure him to Room 21 – which lead to the underground speakeasy of the same name. That’s it. No reason for a gal like me to question a shark like Ciro, especially when he’s spotting a lot of cabbage on me. So, I did what I was told.
It was simple for an old pro like me. Sometimes, I can tell what a guy favors – if he prefers blonds or brunettes, lollipops or crackerjacks. This guy – he was into me at the start, followin’ me around the dance floor, undressin’ me with his eyes. I hardly had to wet my lips or wink; he was already hard for me, with just my bloody smile and flappin’ hips; the rube followed me straight to the game – and the game led him to the debt.
Freaking two in the morning, I’m not much for paying any attention to the details, but if it wasn’t for me that guy would have been able to leave without the debt. Calling it quits when you’re down is the key point to avoid rollin’ yourself a bank roll you can’t push. The chump could have gotten up and walked away, if it hadn’t been for my sultry smile keeping him glued to his seat. Yea, I was told to give him something to play for, a possible chance at the jackpot. I circled him, kept eye contact, flirted from a distance…it was part of Ciro’s plans; makes me wonder if this guy pulled a few shark teeth recently.
Ciro’s not one to just put a guy on ice just because… But when he plays with his prey a bit, like he wants to watch the guy squirm, then you can bet he’ll be fitted in his very own Chicago overcoat by the end of the day.
The chips drained from the guy’s side of the table and piled up on Ciro’s side mighty quick. I kept feeding his ego – keeping the guy frisky, which kept the shark frisky; that’s my job. I kept my eyes on the guy though. He was losing on purpose…he already knew what the outcome would be. I read that page when our eyes meet – Guilt and Hopelessness; he was expecting to die tonight. I almost had a soft spot for him, since I was the one who lured him to the big one. But, then again, he was getting out of the game - in some way. I’m still stuck in it for life. He’s the lucky one.
One thing that I’ve discovered about the difference between tragedy and comedy is whether it happens to you or someone else.
Sometime after they let the guy go, keeping the illusion that he’s a survivor. He knew better; they gave him a five-minute head start. Ciro and I went upstairs to the third floor for the night. His club, his secrets, his suite… All alone with no one dumb enough to help, the Shark made absolutely sure I would forget any details from the game with a little bit of chin music. Really, all he had to do was ask. I would of listened, do as I was told – as always. But, Ciro’s use to those backstreet broads who give their secrets away as soon as they leave the bed. Us classy courtesans were taught better – there’s a way to speak without using your lips. Nevertheless, the Shark bit me several times, left his mark as a reminded. The Sister’s won’t be too happy about it; charge him double for damaging their merchandise. But, a man like him doesn’t give a damn about a dame like me. I’m just for show, just for a night, just a paid lure.
Another night, another dime, another mark to mark the time - across my face, across this place. I’m just another doll to play, to play the game and throw away.
I jump out of the sack, one dressed in satin and sex; empty on the other side. Rushing towards the bathroom I picked up my bread crumbs of clothes, slipping my beaded black appliquéd party dress over my head and found a hideous sight in the mirror before me. My mug’s a wreck, bloomin’ blueberries right across my cheek and near my left eye. They’re both smarts, but I dab more and more foundation on them to look presentable – enough. After fixing myself up and finding the rest of my things, I head downstairs, moving towards the back door, hoping to not meet a fair-well kisser on the way out.
“Yea, someone go ‘em alright – quick and snappy. Sliced open his life lines to write a nice little note for the coppers – thought boss would like to know what it was.”
I kept myself in the shadows playing the quiet mouse, as the bullies kept talking in the kitchen area.
“Well, what did it say?” one of them asked before clotting his grill with half of a grill-cheese sandwich.
“Messiah…go figure. Guess he was praying out loud, or somethin’; makes no sense to me.”
Made no sense to me either – at the time. High-tailing myself out of there, I reached the street to hail a cab, instructing him to head to the Everleigh House. I wanted to take a hot bath, eat something sensible, and hit the hay for nothing more than to rest. Something told me I can want all I want to – I still ain’t gonna get it.
“Where the hell have you been? You’re late for breakfast and your next appointment.” Ada Everleigh was waiting at the door for me, puffing on her slim like a steam engine, following me with her thickly shadowed eyes. The woman gives me the creeps – she’s not as nice as her sister Minna, and far too ugly to be a madam at a high class brothel, but she’s here and I have to deal with the bitch before I could set foot in my room.
“Mr. Ciro wanted me for the night, he paid for the night, and I gave him the night until he kicked me out. That’s what I’m to do, right?”
“You could’ve called.”
“And what, walk out on him without givin’ him the full special? That’s bad for business Ada, even for you.” I hung up my umbrella at the door. “But then again, he would probably be thrilled to miss your face in the morning…”
Sister Ada reared her hand up to give me what I’d deserved then. I raised my cheek and wiped my gloved hand over my face to show her that I’ve already heard that tune last night. That stopped her – turning her anger elsewhere.
“Ah hell, Minna!” She grabbed my wrist and dragged me through the foyer, through the Piano Room and into the Rose Room where her sister and a few other girls were chinning – more like gossiping - about their interesting nights. “He’s done it again, but this time…” I was tossed into the center of the circle.
Gasp from the other girls were heard all around – those were from the few I consider friends. The snickers I heard came from the two who were considered my competition in the house. They, of course, were happy to see that I would be retired for a few nights until my face healed. They were going to be the headliners now.
Minna shook her sweet motherly head. “Oh my sweet dear,” she stood before me and sandwiched by face in her hands, causing me to squint from the sting. “What was this about?”
“Silent movies… He suggested I go see one.”
“That’s the third time,” Charlene tweeted, “He’s done that to me after a meeting he had with a few chiefs. I’m not squawkin’, but he’s got no respect to you two Sisters. None at all.”
Minna and Ada shared a look and both of them escorted me upstairs, talking about something…I have no idea what. The fresh air, alcohol that still danced in my belly and the lack of sleep were starting to make me dopy. They took me to their room and I sat at the vanity while they tended to my bruises.
“This will not do,” Minna began to slave some aloe vera on my bruises hoping it would heal my skin. I fought her off like a two year old, but she kept on until she was satisfied. “Hopefully, that will help for the moment.”
“That shit’s no good,” Ada barked. “She’s gonna need a miracle to clear that up. We’ll just slap more make up on her and send her out. We can’t keep him waiting any longer.”
I popped awake instantly after that, “Wait, keep who waiting? If you’re talking about my bed, you’re right. I’m heading to get some sleep..”
“No, you’re not. You have an appointment – now!” Ada loves to yank on things. First it was my wrist, now the shoulder wings of my dress.
“HEY, WATCH IT! That’s more C’s than I see in a month! Don’t stretch it! ”
She ignores me, drags me down the hall to my room. With a skeleton key, she unlocks my door and throws me in. Hell, did this woman work at a potato farm in her younger days? She’s tossing me around like a sack-full!
“Wash up and dress for confession.”
“What do you mean, dress for confession? It’s noon – no sense of going now! Besides, I’m dog tired and starving…”
Ada charged at me, “If you think you sorry little pussy gives you the right to talk back to me, you’ve got another thing comin’”
“Oh really,” I took the challenge. She may look like a guy, but she hits like a girl. “Well, what’s comin’ to me now? I’ve had enough fisticuffs last night. You want to give me more and test your theory, then fine. Put my sorry ass in the hospital and see how quickly this place dives!”
I could see her eyes burn with hatred for me; Ada’s never favored me at all. Her girls were Monica and Harper. I’m Minna’s girl, and she knew it. But, usually that wouldn’t stop her from wailing on me like a piece of frozen pork. Again, her hand remained frozen in the air. Something was up – and I betcha it had to do with this appointment and the sugar the guy must have hovering over their heads. Obviously, they’re not rolling in it just yet, but I was their ticket…
“St. John’s on 14th and Switzer. You’re already late – don’t make it worse for yourself.”
The cathedral was the tallest building on the block, ancient on its foundation and doctrine, a value for an unseen deity that many people had lost all interest and knowledge of. But these days, because of the coming of the Last Rain, even I’ve gone to great attempts to persuade these higher beings to reconsider me as a worthy candidate for salvation. Hell, anything to get out of Rapture before we all are blown to a worse hell than the one we live in now.
I stood on the steps of the sanctuary, already feeling the butterflies loopy-looping in my gut. I was as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. Though, as always, I’m charmed by the magnitude of this place – such glory and gold, pomp and circumstance as I enter. All I see every day is the grime of the streets and the desolation and deformity of a man’s heart. But in here, I completely forget what kind of world I live in – for the moment. It’s like a breath of fresh, overly sweet air.
I do that ‘Father-Son-Holy Spirit' thing with the holy water before moving timidly to the left side of the building. The silence caused my heels to bounce off the walls like popping shells. Geez, I should have had a jorum of skee to calm my nerves before I left the house . The colorful stain glass light sprayed across the silent pews and I swear I could see the faint outlines of old prayers lingerin’ about. I had to be hallucinatin’ from lack of sleep. The place gave me the heebie jeebies, to say the least.
The last confessional on the far left – that’s where Minna told me to go, so that’s where I headed. The dark box reminded me of a wooden kimono…such a wonderful place to confess. I guess what they say is right, you have to die in order to be born again. Sittin’ in that box fell close enough for me.
“Forgive me Father, for I have sinned… (against my will). It’s been several months since my last confession (late nights of overtime so the Sisters can rack up cabbage on my pains). I just want to dust it all, Father, to find my family and forget any of this has ever happened; is that even possible for a twist like me?”
[size=+1]When it comes to that big old rock hurtling our way from the heavens, everyone’s got a theory. And believe me, I’ve heard most of them.
It’s an ancient god, coming down to judge us all. It’s an alien spacecraft, here to uplift the worthy into the heavens and destroy the rest. It’s a heavenly host of angelic beings, here to claim the righteous. Strange, how it always seems to come back to judgement. Like everyone in this city knows they’ve got something to answer for.
There are no innocents in Rapture.
As for me, I stopped believing in any of that shit a long time ago. It’s just a rock, a vast meteor screaming out of the heavens to level this Earth flat once more. Some people just can’t handle a cold, hard truth like that. They need to attach meaning to it, rationalise it, because sometimes reality is just too much of a bitch to accept.
That’s their prerogative, but I ain’t going to waste my last days chasing aliens and angels.
There are people I need to kill.
Like my latest assignment, the preacher man with a penchant for abusing girls. And if there is one thing I hate more than the people who took the only thing worthwhile in my life from me, it’s fucking child-abusers. When the Magdalenes came to me with the hit, I was only too happy to accept.
The Magdalenes. Now there’s an entity you’d only find in a city like this. In this place the only justice is that which you can inflict yourself. The girls who sell themselves for a chance to stay alive have always been at the bottom of the food chain, beneath the Johns who use them and the pimps who whore them. It surprises me it’s taken girls like that this long to decide they’ve had enough of this shit.
But had enough of this shit they have, and that’s where the Magdalenes come in. They’re the hookers out to protect other hookers, make sure the Johns behave and that those who would pimp them out don’t get greedy and abusive. They have the connections to make sure their own stay safe, and the firepower to back it up if need be.
Like a Romanticist painting that’s levelling an assault rifle at you.
They came to me asking for a hit on a priest who likes to lock girls up in steel coffins. I’d like to say that I was surprised to learn that such behaviour could come from a man of the cloth, but these days I know better. Apparently the Magdalenes are done with this sick fuck leaving their girls traumatised in his wake, and they’ve hired me to bring about the sort of permanent solution I’ve become quite well known for.
At first I thought this priest was the timely, methodical chap; sticking to his daily routine almost like clockwork, always following the same patterns. An assassin’s wet dream, the sort of contract I wish I got every time I’m hired. His residence was one of those cathedrals that have managed to last centuries; ancient and Gothic in design, a true rarity in these final days. I studied his movements, memorised his routines, and found myself actually enjoying spending time within such a rare locale; the contract was shaping up nice and simple.
Then the deal changed.
The routine got thrown out the window, and the movements stopped entirely. For the last three days the bastard has cooped himself up inside his private chambers, not coming out for anything or anyone. A fact that makes me nervous; perhaps he’s caught on to the fact that someone’s gunning for him. Either way, though, I’ve been hired to do a job and I aim to see it done.
Patience is not the strong point of anyone in Rapture, myself included; we all know we’re living on borrowed time, and I can’t wait for this man to die of natural causes.
My original plan was to take him from a distance; I had the perfect room across the road from his cathedral where I could have taken the shot. But that plan’s gone out the window, which means it’s time for a new one.
The close kill, raw and personal. The kill that ends with the smell of gunpowder in your nose and the look of a man who knows he’s about to die.
Make peace with your god, preacher man. For you are not long for this world.[/size]
"A family? Perhaps. To forget? Not so easy."
My voice wil be tinny to her. It will crackle, and tell her I am elsewhere - not inside that confessional booth. With my button on the intercom I thus achieve what all priests desire: the sense that I am speaking from somewhere else, somewhere hidden and full of promise. If only cavemen had had radios... perhaps this whole sorry business would never have started.
And I would not be here, fifty thousand years later, with the weight of the world upon me.
I press another button and admit the girl into my private sanctum. My private hell. There is a rumble as a wood panel retracts inside the booth and shows her the passageway to my door. A second perhaps of apprehension and then I hear her heels, clack clack clack. They always wear heels. It makes me think of snapping bone.
She will be my twelfth. Such a little number for what I seek, and yet so great for the toll it takes on me. The number is both insufficient and overwhelming, a feeble effort and a terrible over-indulgence. I suppose it is only fitting that my last days in the clergy should resound with paradox.
The door opens and she finds me stood amongst my sanctum. It was once the east chapel, before looters stole the leadwork, and now only electric bulbs swing from the bricked-in roof. It is comfortable. I am no monk. Canapé sofas in velvet and cherry hardwood. A mahogany dining table with my father's silverware. A bookshelf, floor-to-wall, with the paltry sum of Apocryphal works and scriptures that my life has accumulated. A fireplace fed with maple debris. A hanging of fine silkwork, depicting the Mother Mary. By all standards of Rapture, it is a place of luxury.
We meet in the fire-struck shadows. I have put on some music, the overture of Handel's Messiah, and there is cognac waiting for her. Her name is Everley. We toast and talk, as small as priests and whores can make. I see a measure of relief. Everley is glad I am not so old as the other bishops. But by the resignation in my voice she will count me among them - among those tired and bankrupt clergymen, who each night order whores as canvas for their sins.
They think these women will swallow us up - take our filfth and our rage and carry it away.
In that respect at least... I am the opposite of my brethren.
I show Everley the wall hanging, as the cognac takes effect. The drug is a trifling thing, enough to make her stumble, to dull her reactions. She is already falling when I pull aside the wall hanging and reveal the hole beyond. An alcove the size of a coffin and just as dark. I push her inside. She slaps at the metal lining and her scream is muffled as the glass slides shut.
She is my twelfth.
Retiring to the couch, I open a laptop. Handel's string are playful and mask the noise of Everley's struggle. I link up the monitor and sip my cognac as I watch. The fire throws shadows across me, and are copied by the data-streams, flashing contrary light upon my face. It takes five minutes for the scan to complete and my cognac glass drops, half-rolling, half-shattering, like a meteor come to earth.
I move the laptop aside and put my head in my hands.
I'm out of time.
The girl in the coffin is quite silent now. She waits. Perhaps she senses my own stillness, my own despair that has come like deluge to the room. Another five minutes pass and I move to the intercom, and once more we are connected by radio. Our first meeting mirrors our last.
"Forgive me, Everley, for I have sinned. The devil's face was revealed to me, but I did not act soon enough. I pray you will not repeat my mistakes."
I toss my laptop into the fire, watching metal and plastic burn. "There is a way to survive this apocalypse. It is already whispered. But it will be in your hands, Everley, that the Grail is carried. I leave this gift to you. This key."
My other hand takes off my crucifix and lets it drop. There is no place for it in this world. "Not because you were chosen. Not because you sought it. But because I have no time left."
It is the last I will say to her, outside my prayers. I set the coffin to cycle open in two minutes time. I do not want her to see me running. I stoop by the fire and take a piece of burning kindling, and then it is to the bookshelves and the sofas, the dining table and wall hangings. I start the flames wherever I can.
And then, as the fire spreads, I open the safe and take from it the box I will leave her. On a cushion, in front of where the coffin will open, I place the Key. It is no bigger than a shoebox, paint peeling from ancient wood.
Then it is through the passageway and out into the church aisle, smoke following me as I flee, pushing past sisters and choir boys, knocking over candles, vaulting pews.
Now is the time for running. The time for dying.
“Wow, is it me, or is the room spinnin’?”
The room was spinnin’ alright, like a cognac-twisted whirlpool! Either I’m far too exhausted to stand on my feet proper, or there was something more going on with this man-of-the-cloth.
My second thought was correct… I’ve just walked into the lair of a devil, one whose name was unknown, but his work was all over the papers. I’m stumblin’ swaying to classy Handel like its Cotton Club Swing. And that’s when I’d realized that cognac is an after dinner drink. We’re sitting with all hands at one on the dot. It’s strong smell and potent flavor made me sick to my empty stomach, but before I could ask for a glass of water, the Priest pushed me into a dark and tight place; the tulip glass smashes in my hand as I careen into a metal wall.
Mama always said never to walk down a dark hallway just because a door opens up for ya… I should have listened to her sooner…
“Hey? What’s the beef? Hey…HEY!!! Let me out!”
A glass door closes me in; and all I can see is the dark back of the tapestry that hid me from view. Well, of course I begin to panic, smashing my bag and hands, and then my fists, against the glass door isolating me from the world. I’m leaving a bloody mess though – my right-hand glove was covered in my blood. I didn’t even notice the sting from the shard in my palm, and figure that was the least of my worries right now. He seemed so nice though, they always are; treating us like little sinners to wash clean with their divine graces, wanting a bit of a sista’ rather than taking on another Alter Boy. But not this one, this was definitely that sicko that’s been roaming around picking up working girls and torturing them…dressed in the wool of the lamb. I’ve just walked right into one of his games…
There’s away a game… but this time, I've been lured.
Tears… Dammit! I don’t need that now, but they kept comin’, smearing my eyeliner and my fears turned me pale as the ghost I’m probably going to become when the Priest gets tired of my wailing… Well hell, I’m not goin’ without a fight! I grab for my purse and search for my switch blade. Even in such a tight cocoon, I’m trippin’ over my heels. I couldn’t find my weapon… Or, more like, my eyes were all skedaddled; I couldn’t see straight to save my life – literally! I drape the handle of my purse in the bend of my elbow and tried to speak some words of reason to the guy.
“Look, see… I’m just a silly doooll, ya kn'w…,” I sounded like I had more than one glass of his fixed juice that day. “Just a’hort ssstory on theess broke’ streeetttssss; no need to ‘arm lil’ ol’ me, right? I’m nothin’ to ya…”
My eyes began to deceive me so vial and I stopped slurring, suddenly frozen. There was a strange blue light glowing softly between the tiny threads of the wall hanging. It was an odd color, almost angelic-like. Was it true, that Angels do appear for those who were nearing the end? There was no other way for me to explain it to myself, but there’s no way this man, of all people, had anything to do with Angels.
Then, I could see a shadow move… Ah hell, I’ve done it this time. Ada always told me that my yapper’s going to get the best of me one day, and someone’s going to shut it for good…
There was a squawking again, just like in the confessional before the Priest spoke… This time, our roles had changed…
"Forgive me, Everley, for I have sinned. The devil's face was revealed to me, but I did not act soon enough. I pray you will not repeat my mistakes."
First, I was panicking. Then, defensive… Now, confused like a snowbird….as my abductor began to sing. I listened…listened to a loud smash and watch the lights blaze from the location of the fire place.
"There is a way to survive this apocalypse. It is already whispered. But it will be in your hands, Everley, that the Grail is carried. I leave this gift to you. This key. Not because you were chosen. Not because you sought it. But because I have no time left."
No way? He’s got to be joshin’ me?
Nothing made sense to me, except a few words – mistake, survive, the Grail, and no time left…
“Whadoya mean ‘bout allll this? HEY, open thisss cooler up ‘n let’s chin thiss out? Arr you talkin’bout…
He didn’t answer…but something did for him instead. The play of lights behind the tapestry began to dance more, brighter this time, and the tapestry moved to the new music that I couldn’t hear. The glass door scared me as it suddenly opened and gave me a breath of stinkin’ smokey air. I’m hacking a lung as I pull back the curtain to find the means of my death. The room was covered in flames of various degrees, and all of them were taking over the joint – leaving me with only one chance to escape.
So, he takes me, drugs me, tosses me in a cell; then confesses, leaves a memento, and burns me up in hell?
I drop to my hands and knees, cutting them on the forgotten cognac glass, and began to move in a line straight to the open door leading back from where I came. The room was covered in smoke, and my eyes began to water again from everything – the smoke, the make-up, the blurred view; it just wasn’t my day.
My hand bumped into something soft, and I remembered what he said about leaving me something… I was holding my breath as my hands found a box-like item. Not wasting any more time, I scoop it up into my bag and continued to crawl forward. I eventually found the wooden coffin I started out in, now filled with rollin’ grey smoke and the extreme heat of the inferno began to neck me from behind. I threw open the door and doggie my way out.
“FIRE! *coughcough* FIRE!” But, they already knew that…
I can’t find my feet, nor anything else, but someone found me; lifting me up and puppeting me out the front door. As soon as the fresh air hits my face, I felt the need to faint… Lucky for me, the person who helped me out was kind enough to not drop me.
Funny, how I’m throwing luck out there… There was nothing lucky about what just happened. But, and know my knowledge on this matter is not exactly the Bee’s Knees, but I had my hands on somethin’ of a blessing… not quite sure who’s blessing it was, or who it was meant to be, but I knew right then that my life would never be the same.
I remember the day my father first taught me to shoot.
This was many years ago, long before the Early Rains. Before the world went to hell. Before Rapture City. Before Darla.
Funny, how even now I’m so hopelessly trapped in a past I’ve irrevocably lost.
Even if I tried I could not fully describe my father to you; I do not remember features, just a presence. The smell of the cigarettes he smoked. A deep, booming voice that’s utterly unlike my own. That day he took me out into the woods near to where we lived with his two favourite rifles and the family dog at his side.
He was a patient man, and a good teacher. I remember the weight of that rifle, the feel of the polished wood stock. The first shot I took was deafening; I almost wanted to drop the damn thing and run back to the house. But my father got me to stick at it, and soon I was able to take the recoil, to not wince at the sound of the shot.
And even though I cannot remember his face, I will remember the words he imparted onto me at the end of that day until the moment I die.
“Son, I teach you these skills not because they are to be enjoyed, but because it’s necessary. That’s a weapon you’re holding. A device designed with one intention in mind; to take another man’s life. Never forget that fact.
And come the day that you should have to use such a weapon on another human being, you best make damn sure they deserve it.”
[size=+1]The priest has almost reached the door when I haul it open.
Like a lamb running straight into the jaws of a lion.
The scene behind my target is a backdrop of confusion; billowing smoke and panicking church-goers running for safety as the smell of flames hits my nostrils. But none of that is important; my arm darts out like a bullet, slamming into the priest’s chest and sending him sprawling backwards onto the stone floor. I wasn’t expecting the priest to almost run into me, but who am I to look such a gift horse in the mouth?
As the first of the nuns and alter boys race out through the open doors I stride forwards, the one calm face amidst a sea of fear and confusion. The priest is trying to scramble back, to pull himself to his feet, but he’s still reeling from the blow to his stomach; the bastard isn’t going anywhere. The fire beginning to spread is filling the vast chamber with thick, acrid smoke; hazing the vision, turning this mighty cathedral into a burning hellhole. The few who are still present won’t be able to see my face amidst all this.
This is an ideal time to fulfil the Magdalenes’ contract.
My hand reaches into my jacket like a smoker reaching for a cigarette lighter, emerging clutching a heavy piece of silver-plated metal that’s engraved with swirling, intricate patterns. An old friend of mine; alongside its double they are my tools of the trade, my instruments of revenge. We’ve taken many lives over the years, and now we are about to take another.
I loom over him, a black-suited angel of death with a bad haircut and an even worse temperament, quietly raising the silenced barrel.
“Last words?” I ask him, my voice barely audible amidst the pandemonium around us. He’s staring up at me, a resigned look upon his face. Unusual, and a little unnerving; I have seen many expressions on the faces of those about to die, but never have I seen someone who’s so accepting of their fate.
“I have already said them, and they are not for your ears. Do what you came here to do.”
So calm. Such dignity. He doesn’t plead or beg, offer me money or threaten me with damnation or vengeance. He just lies there, staring up at me. I could almost admire him.
I bring the pistol up and shoot him twice in the heart.
The click of the silenced shots still boom through the vast roof of the cathedral, and my feel that oh so familiar recoil. I look down upon the man’s face, his eyes staring up into the roof lifelessly. Five seconds ago he was a living, breathing human being. Now he is a corpse bleeding out on the floor. Like I’ve just flicked his life’s off-switch. I kneel down before the corpse and with one motion shut the man’s eyes for a final time, before tucking the handgun back into my jacket.
The contract is complete. The preacher’s life has been ended.
No reason for me to linger any longer.
Yet as I turn to move for the main doors, I catch sight of a small form crawling through the smoke. Not like the rest; this isn’t a priest or a nun, and anyone who was here for communion has already bolted. Such a small thing, barely visible amidst the strewn chandeliers, overturned pews and the thick, acrid smoke. But I have no time for distractions; I’ve just murdered a man and I don’t want to get caught at the scene of the crime before the vigilantes and former cops show up. Justice is dispensed down the barrel of a gun these days, and I still have work to do.
Then she raises her head slightly, scanning about amidst the smoke, and my heart stops for a moment.
She has her eyes.
Before I even know what I’m doing, I’ve darted across the stone floors to haul her up to her feet. That cold, hard rational voice I normally listen to is screaming at me to drop her and run. She’s a witness, a nobody, she’ll slow you down. But I tell that voice to go fuck itself and carry the girl out through the doors and into the street.
It doesn’t matter if this gets me caught.
This girl has her eyes.[/size]
"Male... Left-handed... Five-nine."
In my line of work you tend to know three things about a killer. How they got in, how they did it, and where they fucked up. Take any crime scene in any city and you can start your profile right there. A picture in three parts, waiting to be filed with the other scum.
But when it came to the Messiah Killer no profile existed. He was a ghost. No prints on the glass; no fibres on the carpet; not even a boot mark on that muddy stairwell I climbed. It was like the guy scaled the apartment block wall, put his fist through the window, levitated over to snap Rowland's neck with the force of a grizzly bear, then drained about a third of his blood. And he did it all without a single goddam mistake.
All I had to go on was his calling card, and thanks to a little help from Giles McGann, I got my three things. "Male... Left-handed... Five-nine."
Giles turned from his laptop and shrugged his skinny shoulders. He was my tech guy, a one-time sleaze journalist and now an expert in imaging and photography. He gets his kicks peddling snapshots of the rich and famous, or as rich and famous as they come in Rapture. If you got a tight ass and a full set of teeth and think it's wise to undress by a window, you can be damn sure Giles'll be there with his camera and your ass'll be streamed to the monkey spankers downtown within the hour. There's whole hotels in those parts for lowlifes to drown themselves in pornography and forget about the rock that's about to drop.
"Pressure marks are consistent, Scribe," Giles says. "It's a male's left finger-pad, writing at shoulder height." On the screen behind him a picture of the crime scene flickers. I've taken a close-up shot of the word MESSIAH that was scrawled over Rowland's headboard. The blood-red image throws light on the man's face - gaunt from too much junk, bug eyes and receding hair that sweeps back over his scalp, like it's hiding from me.
"So the Justice Freaks'll get their print." I've found one of the cleaner armchairs to sit in, and I've got a bourbon in my hand. Traded it for some morphine I snagged from the crime scene. Giles was happy with the trade. "I could be outta luck."
"I never said human now, did I?" Giles gives me this big old grin, like he's just caught the Queen of England with her pants down. "More like a monkey."
I check my bourbon, to see if it's laced. "You shitting me?"
"Straight up. And it's the middle finger that's been used. Maybe it's a message." He almost laughs at his own joke.
"Monkeys ain't the kind to wear lipstick." I pull myself up, and take a few moments to sway. The amber's got me real dizzy, a nice little buzz to get me through the night. I fish my notepad from my pocket and read what I've scrawled there. "The boys from Justice got Rowland's broad. Her delicates too. Hand mirror, Lancome foundation, palette, rose-scent perfume, nail file and maroon lipstick. If her handwriting even comes close, she'll be swinging from a rope; and no left-handed monkey theory's gonna dissuade 'em."
"Shit, Scribe. Even if I had better evidence I wouldn't step one foot near the Justice houses."
"Guess that's one of the many ways in which we differ, Giles." I take the bourbon bottle and put my hat on. I don't wanna spend another second in the stink of this flea-ridden apartment on Chronicle Lane.
"Oh, and Scribe..." He calls out as I open the door, and I just know he's got that shiteater grin again. "It's ruby."
I wonder if I've misheard him. A belch brings a Bourbon backlash in my throat. "Huh?"
"The middle 'S'... it's written with ruby lipstick... not maroon."
For a piece of gutter trash he's got a sharp eye. I leave without another word.
* * * * *
The bourbon lasts about two blocks, and not in the good way. It's knocked clean outta my hand when someone pins me to the wall. And not in the bad way. My throat is trapped between the tip and heel of a stiletto shoe, and I find myself peering down the outstretched leg of Lethal Leah.
"Leah... I reckon you're looking well."
She's got her veil on. Standard issue for the Magdalenes. All I can see is her red lips through the netting. And I have to wonder if the killer thighs are standard issue too; like you'd have to roundhouse a quarterback before they let you join the club.
"Heard you was over in the banking district, Scribe. You better tread carefully."
"You girls giving financial advice now?"
I swear I feel that stiletto tighten. "The Ellis killing ain't for crusading on, White Knight. You best keep well away."
"Is that a new shade of lipstick?"
I'm right on the mark, and so is she. The blow lands in my gut, and like a certain priest across town right now I'm left on the floor clutching my stomach. The broken bourbon bottle rolls next to me, its soothing nectar running into the storm drain. It's a sad thing. "You're a washed-up piece of shit, Hanack," Leah says as she stands over me, all legs and bosom. "I bet you couldn't hold a gun straight. Just another drunk who'll wind up dead on the streets. And that day's gonna be sooner than you think, Scribe, 'less you keep your nose outta the Ellis killing."
As meetings with the Magdalenes go, this one's run-o-the-mill. These Amazonian half-whore widows look after their own, but not all of them are in it for the sisterhood. Some just enjoy beating up guys. It wouldn't surprise me if they blamed the meteor on a man thinking with his dick. Lethal Leah's the more militant kind, just the lioness to put the thumbscrews on a man like me.
Her stilettos clack as she walks away, leaving me gasping. But she stops at the corner and says one last thing. "Are they gonna kill her?"
"Hmm?" I'm busy getting up and picking the glass out of my palms.
"The girl Ellis was banging. The one the Justice Freaks took."
I sit on the sidewalk. "Ah no, I'm sure they just wanna give her a foot rub. Maybe a facial. Loosen up those knots in the shoulders, y'know?"
At any other time a jibe like that would've had a Magdalene stomping back to rip my balls off in the street. But there's something different about Leah tonight. I feel her heart's not in it. Something's troubling the iron lady. And I swear I hear her sigh as she lowers her veiled face in the streetlight. "That just ain't right, Scribe." Her gloved hand moves to the crucifix on her bracelet and she ponders in the pale glow. "Can you get to Jefferson?"
"Honey, you buy me another bourbon and I'll get to the devil himself."
She comes back, her heels breaking glass, and sings a pretty tune in my ear.
* * * * *
By the time I get to the precinct the Justice Freaks are in full swing. A mob's gathered around the old station and they're calling for blood from Rowland's girl. Eva They call her Eva. The name's plastered on the boards they're waving and the effigies they're burning. Must be about fifty of them, most family or benefactors of the Loot Squad officers. These are the civvies that keep the street gangs fed and sheltered. And they take the low road when it comes to crime and punishment.
Jefferson's boys are keeping them back for now. But they want a fall guy for the murder. They want someone to hang. I gotta hope Eva's batting her eyelids and playing for time.
My mug can get me as far as the main desk. And the dirt Leah gave me on Jefferson should get me a few steps further. The rest, well, that'll be up to me and my boyish charm...
I down my new bourbon and smash the bottle on the sidewalk. Better than leaving it intact for some Justice Freak to fashion into a molotov. And then I pull my coat around me, make sure I'm walking straight, and head on into the crowd.
Hang in there, Eva. I'll get you outta this fix.
“Our Father Who art in Heaven,”
“Please. I’ve told you everything.”
“How’ll be thy name?”
“Thy Kingdom come,”
“Thy will be-“
“His name is Dexter!”
I pause, familiar words on my lips like the kiss of a Magdeline.
“His fucking name is Dexter. Dexter something. God, I don’t know. Fuck! They just call him the Scientist.”
My silence is his only encouragement.
“I don’t fucking know, God, I’d tell you if I did.”
He speaks easy for a man with a broken jaw. Commendable.
“Mother Mary keeps her murmurs on the hush. I’m just a guy, a runner. I just run parcels. I saw Dexter the night before last, leaving with something under his arm. A package? A dead kid? I don’t fucking know. I don’t fucking ask. I offered to help, pointdexter told me where I could shove my help. Fuckin left him.”
Johnny Kicks gives him some incentive, a dusty glass and cheap bourbon dulls the pain. I like my canaries happy. Dead birds sing no tales, or something like that. Easy to keep him talking when the back door’s still cracked. Gotta give these mooks some hope every now and then, give em a nice drag of the stuff. Doesn’t hurt to pay with lies.
God did it plenty.
“Saw him takin off down Mammon street, but heading to Cardinal Square. That’s your turf and I aint getting mixed up with Apostles, no sir. Fucking. Believe me, please fucking believe me. That’s all I fucking know.”
Ron Black gives me a nod. He’s seen truth more than anyone here, he knows when a tongue’s done all the dancing it’s gonna do. Mother Mary’s runner boy follows me with his eyes when I stand up. Funny. Same words you’d chant in a prayerbox to the rhythm of a preacher man scares men just as easy. No surprise. God showed us what kind of a prick he was when he flooded the world and plagued the Egyptians. Now his holy rock is hurtling on our little corner of Gomorrah and every soul alive wants to think they’ll be saved.
Fuckers got their jimmy’s rustled over superstition and some pigshit book. No help is coming, no God is watching. Even if he is. Fuck if he’s gonna save us now.
“Shoot the messenger.”
Johnny obliges me. One shot. Classy. We don’t make it messy like Mother Mary’s ‘mercies’. We’ll throw him into the Phlegrethon before morning, let him feed the fish or send those slack-jawed coppers on a merry chase.
“Fuck,” Johnny says, kicking at our messenger boy, delivering his last parcel to heaven while he bleeds out on a chair. “Took a fuckin shit.”
Ron shrugs. He’s seen it before. Most of us have. I forget Johnny’s new to this. Fast kid with a loose mouth and a looser trigger finger. Better picked up by my boys than plugging up a sewer grate somewhere. Kid doesn’t have class, not like Ron. But he’s a loyal dog and a quick hand at his gun. A man who doesn’t hesitate to ventilate a guy sits alright in my book. Mother Mary would have her kids do worse. Much worse.
I close his eyes, weigh them down with silver dollars. A little gift for when he crosses the river Styx. Charon is a greedy bastard, but he takes coin. I have what I wanted, least I can do is give the little Hermes dry feet in the underworld.
“Take care of the trash,” I nod at Johnny. He’s mad, but he’ll do it. “Get the boys down in the club,” This time it’s Ron. “Tell them to wallpaper every street from Mammon to Belphegor. I want every panhandler, whore, and kid shook down for news. Tell em they can grease the gears however they want, I’m not playing it close to the vest this time. Mother Mary’s about to come knockin and I want her by the balls when she does. Put the word out. Dexter’s mine by morning. Give the boys some incentive. Be creative.”
Ron nods, “Sure, boss.” He’s a simple guy like that. Straight to the point, “If we see the Shepherds?”
“Reward em for their sins,” I tell him, “Pay those little Judas bastards with silver. Thirty pieces. As we always do.”
Ron nods again, no smile. He never smiles. Not since his kid took the wrong alley and found out the meaning of the word Sodomites. I like to think that kid’s in a better place. But only God knows that, and sure as fuck he aint talkin.
“Q,” I call her from the hallway. She’s a tall breeze of jasmine and citrus, carved in marble and given life by the devil. “Slink on down to the precinct and see what our boys in blue have buzzing. Straight for the throat, sugar, and don’t leave me hungry.”
“Sure, Richie,” she says, stepping around the blood and folding against me. I hate it when she calls me Richie, but her hips have the keys to the Kingdom and I’m a forgiving type. “But a girl needs to have some walkin money. Ciro said he’d pay my weight in gold for a night with me.”
“Ciro doesn’t know your going price,” I remind her, pushing some cash into her palm, “Your payment will be waiting for you in your room when you get back. Give me a smile and I’ll slip you the key.”
She grins, tucking a kiss into the corner of my mouth. She won’t kiss the smokers, bad for her health or something. That girl will die young to the fingers of some maniac. But for now she’s mine, and that’s all I care about.
They clear out quick. No one needs me to remind them why I like punctuality.
Alone, I light up a cig and pull up a chair. Letter boy is gone, but his blood glistens on the rug. That’s enough.
“Sorry,” I lie, “Wrong place at the wrong time. Easier us than your Mother Mary, bitch has a powerful hate for rats.” I blow smoke like regret. “God and his Sonny J aren’t listening. All the street names, gang names, nicknames, and symbols in the world can’t wash the sin outta this city. We’re all gonna die, errand boy, every last goddamn one of us.”
I lean back. “Problem is,” I throw my arms out to the empty audience around me, “No one fuckin acts like it.”
Spitting the cigarette into his blood, I lean in close. He can smell the tobacco on my breath, if there was ever a soul to linger, I must look a sight. “Tell you a secret, boy, promise not to squeal to St. Peter now?”
“I’ve got God’s fury. Bottled wrath straight out of Old Testament. Gonna fix me up a-“
Pause. Not even ghosts can be trusted these days. Not with the loony’s muttering about Doomsday or the One-a-day-prophets shouting from their soap boxes about shit no man should hear.
Maybe dead birds do sing tales.
Instead I stand and check my piece and vest. Tonight’s a good night to stand strong with my boys, remind the North side of Rapture why Mother Mary doesn’t paint her cross on all the alley walls. Maybe I shoulda had Johnny string up our messenger on a crucifix, at the church, paint him like Jesus, like the rest, and pay our homage to the tortured King.
Nah. He’s better in cement galoshes.
Maybe we all are.
The porker is eyeing me all dopey eyed and it makes me crack a smile. It ain't a big smile, just enough to keep him looking at my lips. What a sucker. My hands open up my bath robe, and I let him take a gander. Yes that's right, look at my thighs, my hips and my breasts... I see where your eyes are going. Fucker's acting like he's never seen a woman before.
My leg comes up quick, the heel of my foot contacting with his chin. I hear his grunt of pain and I grin, wide. He falls to the floor like London Bridge, out cold. I stand over him and assess the damage. He's bleeding - that's a good sign, means I got him good. But just to be sure... I kick him once under his ribs. He howls like a baby and curls up.
I probably shouldn't have done that, his boys probably heard him and will be here soon.
My make up goes back into the bag and I grab the nearest photo of Rowland - unfortunately it's a close up of his face. I see that slash on his throat again and it makes me gag. I shove the photo into the bag too, don't got time to look for a more photogenic picture. As I'm shuffling around, I stop as I hear something. It's almost like a rumble, but not quite. No... It's voices, loud voices.
There's a window on the door, and I peek through the blinds. I can see the boys from the van, and they're talking amongst themselves all scared and mad like. One of them is pointing towards the front and shouting. One word gets through the door, "...mob..." It makes me raise an eyebrow and sneer. A mob? Surely the public can't care that much about a fella being killed. Oh sure Rowland's death wasn't the most peaceful anyone could ask for, but like I said, people are dropping like flies all over the place. Why should they give a rat's ass?
They scramble then, running over to the door to do some crowd control. One of them stays behind though, probably to make sure I don't do any funny business. I look over my shoulder and stare at the porker still out cold on the floor. Poking out of that jacket of his is a pistol - black and shiny looking. I never shot once in my life, but hell now's a good time to learn right?
I cock it and bust open the door. The guy jumps up and brings his gun up - too late though. I've already fired. The bullet hits him in the shoulder, and I see the blood spit out. The liquid gets on his desk and papers. I fire one more time, just for good measure. This one hits in the chest. Bulls eye.
He falls and dies -disbelief written on that boyish face of his. It's an invigorating feeling I gotta say, taking someone's life to save your own. Ain't nothing out there that can rival that feeling.
I high tail it out of there, already I can hear the mob going crazy and feet hitting the concrete. Obviously they heard the shots. I run out the back door and into the alley. There's street urchins everywhere, all different ages. Problem is I can't blend in, they're all in rags and I'm in a rose colored bathrobe. I just run, run as hard as I can, fast as I can. I weave through the twists and turns of Rapture's alleyways, but the boy aren't following me yet. They're probably tending to the soul I just shot. Or that porker I knocked out.
I come out to the front of precinct, and I toss my robe aside. It'd probably lure my captors away from me. I glance at the mob closing in on the building. Oh they're mad alright, mad as hell.
"What were you worth Rowland, that's got everyone all riled up for?"
I turn around and run down another alley, away from the mob and the police. Rapture isn't gonna be a safe heaven for me any longer. Least I got two weapons on me, a gun and my make up - I have a fighting chance at least.
“This is Black Gold with a little somethin’ something all you cool cats and super spooks can jive too.”
“We’re openin’ up the airwaves to our lonely listeners, so sit back, relax and let’s get to know each other a little better. Our first caller is Tammy from Mayfield Street. Say Hello, Tammy.”
((Nervous laughter.)) “Hello, Tammy.”
“What’s good, Tammy?”“Ain’t nothing good, Gold. This giant burning shit rock’s gonna slam into us any day, the Eden folks don’t give any care to the rest of us, and my husband sounds like he’s got gravel in his lungs everytime he coughs--which is all the time. Doc says it’s all this space dust.”
“I don’t do anything no more, just sit in the house with the lights off, in the dark.”
“Baby, sometimes you just gotta learn to live in the dark. It ain’t a bad thing. Beautiful, fantastic creatures spend they whole lives in complete black. After Orpheus lost Eurydice to the Underworld, she was alone in the dark with all the bats and wolves and lamprays and ghosts. They whispered to her secrets and Eurydice found that even the darkness shimmers. Humanity’s gotta see the shine to the dark.”
((sobs)) “Thanks, Black Gold.”
“It don’t need a nevermind, baby, keep on lovin’.”
“Our next caller is Giles from Cocker Avenue. Make it good, Giles.”
“I’m not one of these piss ants moping about the apacolypse, I’m banking. Nobody cares about me and my fucking insignificant problems. What I want to know is more about you, Gold. I want all that pillow talk shit: your childhood, your hopes and desires, what you ate for mother fucking breakfast. I want to know about your life, you chocolate covered jungle bunny, you.”
“That lovin’ feelin’, huh Giles?”
“I’m your biggest fan, Gold.”
“What’s a radio girl to do with that?” ((Laughter))
“Whatever you want, Goldie.”
“My daddy was a farmer-- was a farmer, like his daddy. And his father was an architect. His specialty was designing communities.”
“Like those suburbs outside of the city?”
“Something like that.”
“What else, Black?”
“I’m sorry, Biggie, that was your last question. What’s a girl got if she ain’t got her mystique? Better luck next time. Our next call comes all the way down from Eden.”
“Salome. He’s coming for you. Run.”
((Laughs))“To where, baby?”
((Line goes dead.))
“That’s all we’ve got time for tonight, cool cats and super spooks. This is Black Gold with the Early Warning. Stay tuned for the next exciting installment.”
[size=+1]Police sirens on the horizon, the wailing echoing and growing ever closer; angry hornets flashing red and blue, hurtling towards the reports of a fire at the cathedral. The good men of cloth pay their dues, so they warrant a decent response time for those glorified looters and thugs who used to police this town before the early rains.
I was anticipating this. I was prepared for this.
What I was not anticipating or prepared for was having to carry several pounds of semi-conscious dead-weight dressed up in a dress and stilettos.
Surprises are not good in my line of work. The slightest discrepancy or fault in a plan can mean the difference between a successful contract and bleeding out on the sidewalk, having just been gunned down by the weapons of the Loot Squads. And yet here I am, carrying a pretty fucking big surprise towards my secondary escape plan.
This is going to be a close call; thank fuck this girl barely weighs a thing, or else we’d both be dead.
The car’s tucked away down a side-alley a few blocks from the cathedral, hidden amidst debris and refuse of a civilisation that knows it’s dying. I haul the girl round to the passenger door and get her inside first before leaping over the hood to get to the driver’s seat; time is running out, and we need to be gone before the Loot Squads discover a burning cathedral with a dead priest inside.
We tear out of that alley, my foot pressing the gas to the floor, and swerve round towards the roads leading out of this district. Those flashing red and blue lights are dangerously close now, but somehow we’ve made it just in time; by the time they get here we’ll be gone, nothing but a couple skid marks from a stolen car announcing the fact that we were ever here.
Instinct has been running my brain for the last couple minutes, but as we peel away from the danger reality comes crashing back down upon me like the hangover to end all hangovers. There’s a girl that I’ve dragged from a cathedral lying slumped next to me in a stolen car, a potential witness who could well have seen me executing an extremely important religious figure in cold blood. Those eyes that made me drop the plan and leap aboard the crazy train are closed for now, but when she comes to what the fuck is she going to think?
So much for a nice, simple contract. This is turning into a complete clusterfuck.
“Hey,” I say to her after a minute, trying to snap the girl out of delirium, “Hey, wake up.”
This is going to end badly, I can already tell.
Damn those eyes of hers. She’s going to get me killed.[/size]
The movement, it felt different… not like I was still being held in someone’s arms, or laying on a gurney – or inside a coffin. This was like…I don’t know, floating on a bumpy surface with the sound of wind whistling near my ears. My head pounded like an off-beat bass drum, and my knees throbbed. All of my good senses were numb, like I’d been drinking far too heavy of a Sunday night, but my hearin’ horns are good. I can tell ya that much. And what I heard made no sense.
Who in the hell would be dumb enough to wake me up at this hour?
I tried to turn over in my bed, but there was no room to do so, and my sheets felt cold and leathery…
Wait…this isn’t my bed…
Suddenly, all I can recall was Cognac, flames, and Messiah…all of it whirling around in the pit of my stomach and clogging up my lungs. I began to cough like a chain-smoker, and that’s when I hear that voice again. My eyes fluttered, mainly because they still burned with all that ash and eyeliner. They watered enough to wash most of it away so I can find a face to the words.
“The..fire…,” God, my throat hurts like hell and I cough again attempting to clear the muck out so I can actually speak clearly. I keep thinking that I’m still in there, being cooked alive in a human oven. Frantically, I look around until my mind registers the surroundings. I’m not in the presence of the Priest – to my relief.
“Crap – where the hell am I?”
I push myself up slightly, wincing before looking at my palm. I’d forgotten about the cut. And then I noticed my good pair of black stockings was ripped and running, and blood and dirt soiled them. Looking up, still a bit dazed, I take a gander at the man sitting behind the wheel. He’s rough and cold in appearance at the same time, which only made me wonder why I was in his car…and where in the world he was taking me. The fear laced in this thought sobered me up pretty quick.
“Umm, thanks for the lift… *coughcough* I…ahh, live over on Dearborn street, if you don’t mind *cough* dropping me off there…” He wasn’t a taxi, but I was sure hoping he was a gentleman.
Pulling myself up gingerly, I try to remove the glove on my right hand, feeling the shard of glass inch its way out along with the fabric. I bit my lip and just got it over with. If I can, at least, look presentable when I get home, I won’t have Ada accusing me of screwing my appointment up, or causing my injuries intentionally just to spite her and her sister. I didn't need that right now… I needed sleep and Jack Daniels…
I grab my purse and instantly recalled a part of the night that I will never forget. I didn't open it, but just casually held on to it as I waited for the man’s response. I could ask him for help… could tell him what the crazy Priest told me. But I don’t know this man…and I definitely don’t want him charting me to the cops either… I just lean back, draping my bloody glove over my purse…
I'm not as sharp as I used to be. Impending Armageddon will do that to a man. All I see is the lynching mob suddenly break up and start going elsewhere. It's like the Red Sea parting. I flash my mug at a compound guard and he grudgingly lets me inside the precinct house. The kid's as confused as I am, but things soon straighten out. The inside of the old station's turned as crazy as the outside. Cops are rushing around, loading weapons, yelling at each other. Some are even tying god damn bandannas round their heads. And it ain't long till I see why. One of their own has been shot, killed at his desk while his buddies were dealing with the mob. They've got the body up on the front desk, raised like some viking funeral. If these boys could have slapped on horned helmets they would'a.
Jefferson's at the far end. I make my way to him, stepping over ammo belts, gun crates and tipped desks. The old porker's got a bruise on his chin and is flushed red as he loads up his beretta. Maybe one of the donuts had glass in it. "You boys have a party, Jefferson?"
He sees me, and it takes every ounce of his restraint (which he don't got much of) not to plug me with the first bullet in that chamber. "Not now, Scribe. Get the fuck out!"
"New piece, huh?" I nod at his beretta. "Drop your other one down the john?"
I've got too close - I've said too much. Jefferson gets his fat fingers on my shirt and hauls me straight onto the desk, knocking the wind outta me. Didn't think the old vulture had it in him. His new beretta's nuzzled up nice like to my jaw and he smells of too much liquor and not enough pussy. "You fucking roach. This whole thing's got your stink on it, Scribe! A banker dies in a locked a room, then his twist kills one of my men. You're a bad fucking omen, and I oughta..."
I pull him close, my bourbon breath matching his, my whisper in his ear. "You oughta stop flapping your gums before I flap mine. Had a run-in with the Magdalenes, Jeffy-Baby. They're about ready to sing a real cute song about you." I feel the son of a bitch freeze up. "Yeah, that's right. Word's gonna spread about how clean your gun-barrel is, 'less I can persuade them otherwise. So you best start treatin' me nice."
Lethal Leah gave me good news. I can see in Jefferson's eyes that what she told me about him was true. There ain't too many pleasures left in this world, and if word gets out that your equipment's rusting up, well, hell, you might as well swallow a bullet right then and there. In this city the Magdalenes know your dick as well as you do, and they can ruin its reputation with just one whisper. If Jefferson doesn't play ball right now, then there ain't a skirt in this town who'll open her legs for him.
He lets me up, and shouts at his cronies to go back to their gun-loading. I sit up on the table, fix my shirt, straighten my tie, then stand up. "Got any notion where she went?"
Jefferson gives me the hard look for all of twenty seconds, then turns and goes back to his prepping. He starts putting on combat boots, tying the laces. "We found her bathrobe on Jonah Street. No sign of the gun."
"Bath robe? Shit, Jeff - no wonder she's pissed. You gotta give a lady time to change."
"The bitch is gonna be swinging from a fucking rope tonight!" Jefferson pulls on a hunting jacket. It might have fit him once upon a time.
I look around at his men as they tool up. This is a gang vendetta right here. The Loot Squad's going to war, and the Justice Freak mob's gonna bang the drum. Ain't a whole lot of places Eva can hide now. I spy a bottle of Irish Whiskey on Jefferson's desk. "Well, you do what you gotta do. But you're gonna give me five minutes headstart. Have a group prayer. Do the Crispin's Day Speech. Whatever. Just make it last five minutes."
He whirls again, snapping his pistol into its holster. "You try saving her, Scribe, and we will fuck you up!"
"Hey," I smile innocently, "I just wanna get outta the precinct before your boys start pissing on the walls." We both know that's bullshit. He walks right up to me and I hold his stare. Ain't a damn thing he's gonna do while I've got Leah's bombshell. I snatch the whiskey bottle and take a swig right in front of him. "Five minutes. Count 'em."
And then I'm gone, moving as fast as my gum-dogs will take me. Five minutes is all I can hope for from these wolves. I just hope its enough. Something tells me it shouldn't be too hard to find a girl dressed in only a nightgown on these streets. Lord knows I've prayed for it sometimes - for some hot little half-naked doll to fall into my lap. Maybe tonight's the night.
One last kick before my luck runs out and the Loot Squad puts me in a Rapture Overcoat. Hell knows I've used up most of my leverage now with the Force, and next time I fuck with them they'll put me down hard.
Why am I risking my life for this case?
All I know is, every time I close my eyes I see that name, scrawled in blood and lipstick.
M E S S I A H
I should'a known Scribe would fuck this up. There was a time, way back, before the Rain, when people looked up to him. A paragon of law and order. Best detective in the game. Now he's a washed up sack of shit and I can't even count on him to spring a songbird from the Johns.
If you want something done right...
I've got Rhoda and Debs with me - good girls both of them, and sweet to the cause. They done their duties with me, night after night, and I'd trust them with my life, whatever's left of it. Rhoda keeps the wheel tight, turning the car round each block, while Debs shoots questions at any pros we find on street corners. We're circling, checking every alley and shopfront.
We picked up Debs on the way in. She'd been working the precinct as usual, and told us all about Eva's little escape. Pretty messy, if you ask me. What kinda Femme Fatale puts her own finger on the trigger? Amateur. Still, breaking out of a Freak House - that's pretty darb. No wonder Ellis liked her.
It's midnight when we spot her - a flash of sodden white and goose-flesh in a back alley. Rhoda spins the wheel and we turn right down there, knocking boxes and trash cans aside. Eva's halfway through climbing a ladderwell and the headlights dazzle her. She drops and skitters back against the dead end wall. The dame's got her gun, one barrel and two nipples pointing straight at us.
I crack the door, stick out my veiled face. She knows we're Magdalanes.
"Get in," I tell her.
....shit... what am I gonna do.
I shouldn't be here. But I need to rest. I just need to sit down... just one drink... so tired... so goddam tired...
One little drink can't hurt. And the singer... she's so sweet... so sweet, that voice. I can stop here a little while. Just a little while.
I've found a dark corner. No one will see me here - just an old guy with his drink, clutching his briefcase. Old guys do that, right? Some guys clutch their bibles, some clutch their guns. Me... I clutch the only thing I took from my lab before I torched it. The only thing that matters now. The answer to all of this.
Just one little drink, for the Wise Man, for the Scientist on the streets... then I'll run again. I just.... I just need to rest...
The man looked at the the two gangsters.
Troy and Caprice looked back.
The man straightened his dark glasses, his face unreadable.
Troy and Caprice glanced down at Cordell, who was rolling on the office floor, clutching his broken hand.
The man cleared his throat. "As I was saying... Please inform Miss Gold that I am here."
Troy squinted, the youngster as tall as his mother thanks to the afro. "Shit man, why you gotta bring down Poppa Bear like dat?" He pointed at the big man on the floor, who was now half-conscious. "Bitch needs 'is fingers!"
"Uuurgh!" murmured Cordell.
"You shut your mouth, Troy," Caprice chided. Her arms were folded, purple nails drumming as she looked at the intruder with thinly-veiled contempt. "Cracker, you got some nerve! You best me hauling your white ass outta here before shit get's REAL real, you know what I'm sayin'?"
The man in dark glasses simply fixed his cuff. Every movement was slight, and it made them wonder if he had even touched Cordell before the big man was on the floor with a broken hand. "No." He answered.
"Oh, we got a stoic motherfucka!" Troy cried. The youngster was jiggling his shoulders, trying to make out he was crazier than he looked. But he didn't make a move. He wasn't as dumb as Cordell, and he rather liked his hands. "'S'matter, Casper? Black Gold read your horoscope wrong?"
"I have no grievance with Miss Gold," the man answered fluently, bringing his lethal hands together, as if in prayer. "I assure you. Please inform your employer that a Mister Raphael would like to speak with her."
"Bitch, I don't care if you're the Angel Gabriel with chicken wings," Caprice answered. "You get the FUCK outta this office!"
"No," the man repeated.
"Uuuurgh... my hand..."
"Cordell, get yo' ass up!" Caprice kicked the Poppa Bear on the floor.
"Black Gold don't see nobody!" Troy pitched in, eyes wide, "'Specially no Matrix-wearin' honkey with an attitude problem!"
Raphael inclined his head slightly towards the Momma Bear. "I find your son insolent."
Troy's eyes went wider. "Wot you say?"
"TROY!" Caprice cut in, a mother's authority. Her eyes stayed on the man. "Go get Miss Gold."
"TELL HER.... that a Mister Raphael is wanting to speak with her."
The boy was furious but silent. He looked at Caprice, then down at Cordell, then pointed at the man. "This ain't over, white boy!" He waved his hands around. "I got kung fu shit o' my own!" He glared for a few seconds more then turned and ran up the stairs at the back of the office.
Meanwhile, as Caprice helped Cordell to a chair, the man in dark glasses merely brushed down his coat and turned, walking to a sofa, and taking a seat.
The words sound strange to my ears; it occurs to me just how long it’s been since I’ve had a conversation with some face-to-face when I wasn’t planning to murder them a few seconds after. The sound of my own voice is becoming foreign to me; low, dry and gravely, all too quiet.
Sighing, I swing the car around a bend, watching as the girl removes a painful looking shard of glass from her hand. It’s an action I’ve had to do myself on more than one occasion, a slow and painful process I’m not eager to repeat. Now my interest is peaked again; you don’t get glass stuck in your hand during a fire, after all.
“Interesting injuries,” I observe quietly, “You should bandage them.”
With one hand still on the wheel, I reach into my jacket and withdraw a white handkerchief; useful for cleaning off blood and dirt, and for wrapping wounds. I pass it across to her. “Use this. Tighter is better; stops the blood.
“Mind if I ask what happened?”
I don’t respond to her second question just yet. I’d like to find out more about this strange girl first.[/size]
My legs are burning like the Devil himself set them on fire, my lungs are aching and my feet are getting all kinds of cuts and bruises on these streets. I guess you could say I'm out of shape. I haven't been running like this since well... Forever. I blame it on that fucking meteor, all that dust is clogging my pipes, making it hard to breathe, let alone run.
But damnit I'm running like my life depends on it.
And it does, my life I mean. Still though, all this movement is doing nothing about the cold. Again, I blame it on that rock, blocking out the sun - I swear it's gonna be another ice age when it hits. Wasn't that what happened to the dinosaurs? Giant ass rock smashes into our planet, wipes them out, and life starts all over again. I don't think the dinosaurs deserved that kind of death. All they ever did was eat, shit and reproduce. Us? Well, we made our own little dust cloud before Miss Meteor arrived. Fuck it, we deserve to die, wiped off the map. I ain't no tree hugger but Earth needs a restart button.
I stop in the middle of an alley, I can't help it, I'm hacking up a lung here. The thought occurs to me that everyone must have asthma by now. Even if none of us have touched a cigarette in our lives - not denying that I've smoked a packet or twelve - we're all chain smokers, even the kids.
"God I need air."
I'm bent over, coughing onto the street. My eyes are watering, flooding more like. The rain water mixes with the space dust, making mud. The sight blurs, comes back to focus, blurs again. The water pools together and in that puddle I see my getaway.
It's a ladder.
I put the gun in my hand, and put the plastic bag with my make up in my teeth. (I ain't losing this shit, cost me a fortune.) I start climbing, but it ain't easy. My feet are all muddy so I'm playing Slip and Slide with the bars. Gets to the point where I'm hugging the ladder just to move up. No point in this though, they found me cos there's headlights in my eyes.
I drop, almost breaking my fucking ankle and try to run but there ain't no place for me to go. It's a dead end. I cock the gun, point it at the windshield. I'm near seconds to pulling the trigger when someone says,
Magdalanes - I can tell from the black veil. The fuck do they want with me? I stay outta their way, they stay outta mine. Maybe I've pissed them off somehow with this Rowland business, maybe sent the clientele running because of that mob back at the precinct. They'd care about that right, that I scared off their business? Shit I know they ain't in the whoring industry strictly cause they love dick, they'd much rather slice off the penis - that's how much they beat down the man.
I stare at the woman, knowing there's muscle backing up that pretty face. They gonna kill me? Beat me? Rape me? Fuck if I know. My gut tells me whatever they got in store probably's gonna be better than what that sausage fest of a police force is gonna do to me.
I get in.
“Umm, thanks for the lift…*coughcough*”
“I...ahh, live over on Dearborn street, if you don’t mind *cough* dropping me off there…”
There was silence … as if he was thinking about what to say next or already preoccupied with other things on his mind. The last tones of speech that bounced of the interior of the bucket, made me nervous. But, it’s not noticeable – I've learned in my profession to not show my feelings; only show them what they want to see. A gal gets use to flipping masks: I had my poker face on this time – remaining as white as snow, as much as I can be. Well, because I am – in some sense of the term.
Anywho, I had no way of knowing where this brawler was from. He was a hard book to read, and I’m an avid reader…
“Interesting injuries,” he broke the thick air around us this time, finally speaking to note the obvious in order to avoid my request. “You should bandage them.”
“Umm, thanks for the tip.”
When he moved, I ranked him quickly, giving him the once-over, trying to understand this man, search for clues as to his intentions…and holding back my fear as his hand reaches inside his jacket. Yea, before, fear and I had an understanding; I don’t bother it and it doesn't bother me. But after today, I don’t know… I might have developed a fear of fire.
“Use this. Tighter is better; stops the blood.”
A handkerchief… “Thanks.”
Umm, so the man didn't just snatched me up out of that Cathedral for collateral; as if saving my life was a down payment for my skills... He actually has a heart for chivalry. At least, that was some sort of chapter one. One thing I can honestly say, this man wasn't a sap – he had some intelligence about him. And he wasn't a cop. If he was, I would be wearing a different mask.
I take the offer, wrapping the crisp, white cloth around my palm and using my fingers and teeth to knot it tightly in place. I really hated to ruin his handkerchief – but, I was thankful for it.
“Mind if I ask what happened?”
Oh, now comes the 20 questions…
Was there a way to explain the unexplainable without revealing what business was mine to keep? Usually, I’m pretty good at being creative with my words, knowing how to use them and when to work them to my advantage. To give guys what they wanted without giving other things away. That would be very easy for me, but I’m practically blind – I had no advantage in this situation. This guy was not an easy read…
Well, I guess I can give him the basics…
“Well, I went in for confession, was told my regiment of Hail Mary’s, and was almost cooked to perfection. I guess, God decided to fry me up instead of save my soul.”
That’s what I deserve, I guess…
“You can make a right, right here…short cut to Dearborn St.”
The Phone screeches from the parlor, on the other end is Q, my little Nightengale, with news that tickles my interest.
“Richie,” She breathes across the phone. I imagine her like smoke, curling through the receiver holes and up into my ear, “I have news.”
“Sing to me.”
“Loot squad’s got the taste of blood in their mouth. Man by the name of Ellis earned himself a red smile, courtesy of a whore named Eva.”
“Not their usual way, killing the cash. Who’s the guy?”
“It was sloppy, especially for her. I have the notion she got wrapped up in something. Took a foot to the badge that held her, killed another. Last word was her running the street in a nightgown. Little word on the corpse. Some washed up banker used to be fist deep in copper and diamonds. Sick fellow, death’s door material.”
I sample the news, taste the weight of it. “Any other case specifics?”
“Sorry baby,” she isn’t sorry, “Jefferson’s too shook up and the rest of his boys take their motion from that churning ocean. Can’t get any closer than that, baby.”
I bite the cigarette in my mouth, guillotining the white from the brown and spitting the rest. “Not good enough.”
“Sorry baby,” She’s annoyed, but too professional to let it show, “No dice. I hear the Scribe is on her trail, sure you’re not gonna make this personal?”
“Hanack’s washed up,” I say, fishing for another cig in my coat pocket, “Ghost too drunk to remember how to solve a crime, much less finger me again.”
“Enough clout to stroll with the boys in blue.”
“And none of the good sense not to.”
“What do you want, baby?”
“I’ll send in some of my boys. Meet them near the Pearl. Take their car and keep out an eye for this Eva girl. You find her, bring her in. Put the word on the street. Let em know the Apostles are the protectin sort tonight from Jefferson’s pride. See if we can’t net us a girl and the Scribe.”
“So it is personal.”
“Q,” I turn to look out the window. The lights comes in slanted, like jail cell bars, “Not even God can turn the other cheek when Satan comes knocking. Now get to the streets and spread the word. I’ll have a car outside the Pearl in ten.”
“Anything for you, Richie baby,” she breathes.
I hang up.
Ron waits politely as I return the phone to its cradle. I didn’t hear him come up. I pay him to be quiet, to speak when he needs and to lay down the thunder of God’s wrath when words won’t do the trick. He doesn’t wear a smile, but he knows better than to interrupt me without cause. I flick a match into life, light up my new smoke and take a seat.
“We have him.” Ron says, “Patron from the Songbird says he entered half an hour ago, old man with too much jitter. Has a briefcase he won’t let go of. Best lead we have. I sent some of the boys, Allen, Slug, Salamander, to cover his escapes. Didn’t want to make a move without telling you first.”
“Trapped like a rat then?”
“Doesn’t seem to know it yet.”
“Perfect.” I take a drag and breathe my sin into the air. “Grab my car. I’ll see if we can’t settle this civil-like.”
A car almost hits me as I stumble across the road. Headlights flare, a horn honks. There's a couple inside - a long haired brooding type, and some broad wrapping a handkerchief round her mit. Good for them. I hope they fuck each other's brains out. I give them the finger and stagger to the sidewalk.
Man, this whiskey I swiped from Jefferson is strong stuff. Feels like I'm floatin'. I've circled about four blocks now, looking for signs of Eva. Don't know what she looks like, but she's in a nightgown, and there ain't many dames dressed in nightgowns on these streets, 'less they're asking for money. I got about a five minute headstart on the mob, but it ain't doing me no good. Hell, for all I know I've seen Eva already but had a blackout thanks to the booze.
Christ, Hanack, keep it together.
I hear a saxophone, winding like cigar smoke down the alleys, playing footsie with the moonlight. It's sweet, real sweat. The Songbird. Maybe I can pick up some scents there...
"Don't get comfy."
It's all I say to Eva as she leans back in the seat next to me. Debs is putting the pedal to the metal, getting us out of Justice Freak territory real tidy. And Rhoda's got a hand on her throwing knife, ready to give our ride the good news if she gets any big ideas. But I reckon Eva's not in the mood to tango. The girl's shivering in her night gown, her make-up's running, and she's got a lung full o' rain-dust. She looks like she's hit rock bottom, like plenty of the working girls we give sanctuary to, day in, day out.
But this is no ordinary skirt from the red light district fallen on hard times. This is Ellis's girl - a girl we didn't know about when we planned this. And I done her wrong.
"You're only here cos I got myself a conscience," I tell her, my face fixed ahead and covered by the veil. "You ain't s'posed to be caught up in what happened to Ellis."
No telling if she understands. With a face like that, do concepts like salvation and conscience really come into Eva's pretty little head? Does she know I'm playing for my soul here? Hell knows. I've done my part, and it ain't my job to enlighten her.
"You can get cleaned up at our safehouse, then you're on your own. We got things sweet with the Justice Freaks and we ain't gonna risk that for some gold-digger, toots. Count your blessings you ain't swinging right now."
My hands come into my lap, stroking the crucifix that hangs from my bracelet. I want this bitch out of my car, ASAP.
A car almost hits me as I stumble across the road. Headlights flare, a horn honks. There's a couple inside - a stoic goon who don't know how to smile, and some stubble-faced brooding type with a cancer stick. Good for them. I hope they blow each other's brains out. I give them the finger and stagger to the sidewalk.
The bouncer at the Songbird tells me to lose the whiskey. I toss the bottle over a wall. Parting is sweet sorrow. Then, with a few greens to excuse my duds, I'm inside the club and swaying to the sax. This is a happening place - real cool cats. It's Happy Hour, of course, and you get half-price on any drinks served on the rocks.
On the rocks.... get it?
I stumble into some nance's table - a bald-headed twitchy type who grips his briefcase and gives me a look like I pissed on his mother. "Ain't the end o' world, chief." Bam! I should do stand-up here. He ain't got nothing to say, so I saunter on to the bar, propping myself up and nodding to the sauce-shuffler.
"Hey Herb, what's up. Looking for a dame on the run. What's the word?"