Month: October 2014

Snatch 2.9d

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We couldn’t believe it. The man in the tank was still conscious. We had time. And better yet, now he knew there was nothing Mickey could do to him anymore, now that… oh. Right. Suddenly that felt a lot less fortunate.

Still, we had a way out of this. We could all take a moment to dwell on the tragedy later as family men. Or at least I could.

Not waiting for anyone’s permission, I raced inside and stabbed the tank with my knife, peeling it apart and letting air back in. If he passed out now, then this would have all been for nothing. Luckily for me, he seemed to be running on pure spite.

“Just keep breathing pal, we’re gonna get you out of there as soon as we disarm the switch!”

Marq rushed in behind me.

“Al!” he yelled.

“Marq!” I shouted, no time to waste on any of this. “Get back to work on Leon or whatever the fuck you were doing! I have things covered over here. Bomb squad! You think we’re paying you to stand around shitting in your pants like fucking four year olds?! Get over here and disarm this fucking thing! I’ll keep him conscious for as long as I can.”

I immediately switched gears back to helping out our mole. Five hours from now he was gonna be neck-deep in shit like you wouldn’t believe, but right now he was keeping us alive. And even if we’d just hauled his ass back from the brink by his short and curlies, there was no guarantee I could keep him conscious long enough if I didn’t do something right that second. Oxygen deprivation isn’t as simple as opening a fucking window and letting in sunshine and butterfly kisses, it’s complicated. Right then my biggest concern was whether or not he’d sustained any serious brain damage. Cerebral hypoxemia could still kill us all.

Fucking fortunately for us, I could hear him sobbing hysterically and cursing Mickey from outside the tank while he pressed that button so hard he’d probably pop his dick next time he jerked off with his right hand. It looked like he could still form full sentences and wasn’t pissing in his pants, so the odds of him being functional enough to keep pressing a button were pretty high.

“Mickey you fuuuuuuuuuuck!

That being said, there were no guarantees that he was right in the head. But he was still clinging to life, and that was something.

I got to work peeling open the tank with my knife. The thin edge of the blade pushed apart the individual molecules in its path as it steadily cut through the steel tank. It was like slicing through paper, but I had to be real goddamn careful with it if I didn’t want us all to die. Couldn’t be too fast or I might nick our guy. Or worse, cut through the wire bridging the switch to the bomb. That would be… bad.

Finally I finished cutting a hole big enough for a man to crawl through and pulled it back, shining a light on our guy. He looked fucking busted up to shit. Broken teeth, some major bruising and internal bleeding, and it even looked like someone had gouged out his eyes. Mickey, of course. The switch in his hand was just a tiny little button at the end of a wire, barely bigger than a pocket watch.

I got to work pulling him out of the tank, never letting him let go of the switch. I set him down, propped him up, and took his pulse. Heartbeat was regular, for now. Blood pressure in the green. Hyperventilation was setting in, getting oxygen back to his lungs. If we took him to a hospital and got him hooked up to an oxygen concentrator, he’d be back to normal in a few days, minus the parts Mickey had fucked up. Maybe he wouldn’t have been so lucky if we’d been a few seconds later. I mean he was bad, real fucking bad, but he wasn’t gonna die.

“You listening?” I asked. I slapped him a little. Just lightly, on the cheek. “Can you hear me?”

He choked out a yes.

“Alright, good. How long does that switch delay the detonation?” I asked.

“Thirty seconds,” he replied, still making that choking noise people do when they cry. “You got thirty seconds after I press this button. Just leave me. Get everyone else out of here, then go.”

“Nope,” I said, watching Marq grasping around for the hex bag. “Not happening, pal. We’ve lost too many good fellas today. Management is gonna want someone to blame once they’re done with Mickey, and I’m not letting anyone else die today. You can take the punishment like a man, or you can off yourself later, whichever you like. But today, you’re not dying on my watch. You said it, and I’m holding you to it. Hippocratic fucking oath.”

It was more like the Hypocritical oath, but he didn’t need to know that.

He shook his head. “I said I didn’t want to be Mickey’s bitch. There’s a difference. I don’t wanna live, but I don’t wanna kill anyone else either. So please, just go. There’s no point in saving me, they’re just gonna kill me anyway once they find out what I did. And Jessica… oh god…

“Join the club,” I said, grimacing. “You’re not the only one lining up for an assbeating. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry about your wife. You did this for her, didn’t you?”

He didn’t say anything to me after that. Wonder why.

“… I got a little sister at home,” I said, fishing out my wallet with the picture of Annie in it to show it to him. “Don’t know what I’d do if a psycho like Mickey got his hands on her. Maybe if I was you, I would’ve done the same.”

I heard explosions outside, felt the ground jump beneath my feet as they rocked the city. The other bombs were starting to go off. I turned back to the mole, still kind of uncomfortable. I wasn’t very good with these heroic, inspiring speeches.

“But your wife? Up there in heaven? She… she wouldn’t want this for you. Okay? She’d want you to fight. Can you do that for me?” I said, getting kinda desperate. “Please say you can do that for me, because I’ve been having the shittiest fucking day today and you dying on me is only going to make it worse.”

There was a second of silence before he started laughing. It sounded like coughing at first, but he was definitely laughing. I decided to laugh along. It sounded fake as hell, but if he was coming around, then whatever. Then he gave me the finger and I realized that wasn’t why he was laughing.

“Fuck you, kid. Just fuck you.”

I wanted to say something in retort, but right then Marq called me over. I left the guy, trying to think of something to say to him when I got back.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“What’s up? What do you think is up, because it’s sure as hell not Leon!” Marq said, standing over Leon as he sat doubled over, horking up another wad of phlegm, teeth and bugs. He cocked his head back, choking on something like he was trying to keep it down, and lurched as he regurgitated a live tarantula. You know, like, out of his mouth and stuff.

“How is he even-”

“You tell me, medicine man,” Marq snarked back at me. “I can’t find the bag.”

“So? Who cares?” I asked. “If he’s fucked, he’s fucked.”

“He also might know where the other bombs are planted.”

“Oh. Which means-”

“Which means we can send aid, yes. Now you see the importance?”

“Okay, okay,” I said. “I get it.”

I got it, but I didn’t know what to do about it. If I was medicine man, Marq was magic man. If he didn’t know what to do, then how should I?

As disgusting as it was, I tried getting inside Mickey’s mind for insight. If I was him, where would I put the bag? It wouldn’t be just anywhere, it would have to be some place we’d never look. He didn’t just want to beat us, he wanted to outsmart us. Prove he was better than us. A big “fuck you” he could have a yuk about later.

I looked around. Where in here could he hide a small leather bag? Well, goddamn near anywhere in a basement this size, but where specifically? Where was there the least chance a mobster would look?

The wine cellar.

“Marq, who does this restaurant belong to?”

Marq thought about it for a second. “Mmm… Eddy Provenza, I think.”

“Nonono,” I said. “No. The real owners.”

Marq thought again. “Pescatorres, I think.”

I knew it. The wine racks were stacked high across the room, shining in the yellow cellar light. Some of them looked like liquid rubies. Others were thicker, and looked like blood. No white wine on the racks. Real italians don’t drink white wine. I sniffed around. You could feel the scent of fermented grape paint the air around you like the most bourgeoisie shit you wouldn’t believe. It smelled like quality. Some of these bottles had probably been aged for years, just waiting for someone to drink them.

I picked up a bottle and smashed it. Too fucking bad.

“Al, what the hell?!” Marq cried.

“It’s in the wine!” I yelled back. “Mickey hid the bag in a bottle of wine!”

“You sure?”

“Would I be busting up Paulie’s private reserve if I wasn’t sure?”

And just like that we started painting the cellar red. Chianti, Amarone, Barolo, Barbaresco, Bardolino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. We fed it all to the ground. To this day, I swear to god the weeds around that restaurant smell fruitier than the finocchios.

Finally we found it, tied to the underside of the stopper in a barrel of Spanish sherry. The perfect hiding place. To get to it, we’d have to waste the Pescatorre’s own product. The perfect petty revenge. I tossed it to Marq, and he held it up by the stopper and lit the bag on fire, the alcohol soaked fabric burning up in a cloud of sweet smoke. Ankle-deep in a congealing clod of blood and spiders, Leon finally stopped belching up bugs long enough to catch his breath, the hex bag’s hold on him broken.

Distant arguing and rustling noises could be heard coming through the speakers of the jukebox. “Where’s the kaboom? There was supposed to be a earth-shattering kaboom!” “…” “What do you mean it didn’t detonate?!”

It sounded like Mickey was starting to catch on that we were still alive.

Marq stepped up to the jukebox. “Bet you didn’t expect to hear from us again. Just a heads up, we burnt your hex bag and disarmed your bomb again. Sorry about that.”

But Mickey didn’t seem like he was listening to us.

“Detonate the spares.” “…” “I don’t fucking care what the fuck you have to do, just fucking detonate the fucking spares you fuck!”

Ohhhhhhhh shit-on-a-biscuit.

“Okay, new plan,” Marq said. “Everyone out now.

Everyone herded out of the building in a fit of uncoordinated chaos, bumping into each other and everything else as they worked to squeeze through the doors. This time was for real. And if he was talking spares, that meant this bomb was WP.

I finally pushed my way out the door carrying Mr. Mole, who didn’t have the strength left in him to do anything but complain when I pulled him away from his bomb. Finally we got everyone out in the street to do a headcount.

Marq came up to. “Where’s Leon?”

“You don’t have him? I thought you had him! Did you think someone else was going to fucking carry him?!”

Fuck…” Marq cursed.

“I’ll go in and get him.”

We both turned around just in time to watch Nayeli sprint into the restaurant.

“Nayeli!” Marq yelled out. “The hell are you thinking?!”

Five seconds of silence passed. Then the world ended. The bomb went off, shattering glass and eardrums, and leaking burning, poisonous gas into the streets like a tide as the building collapsed, trunks of smoke shooting out from every window and door. The sound of the explosion was deafening. I scrambled out of the way as the jukebox nearly fell on top of me.

Someone finally looked out from behind cover a few seconds after the noise had stopped. There was hardly anything to see through the smoke and gas, and it was hard to tell which was which and what was what. Then Leon came flying out from a hole in the debris pile that used to be Eddy Provenza’s pride and joy, and tackled some of our men, even though he was by all rights knocked the fuck out. Hoisting his unconscious but alive form off of them, we waited for Nayeli.

Five seconds later, she emerged from the cloud of smoke and poisonous gas, her bandages burnt right off her face. She coughed, having trouble breathing probably, as flecks of spit rolled off her face. She’d gotten a double dose it looked like.

“Nayeli!!” Marq yelled, rushing to catch her as she collapsed. She vomited over his shoulder.

“Don’t touch her!” I yelled. “A person’s clothes can absorb and emit sarin gas for up to thirty minutes after exposure, and even coming into contact with the gas can breach the blood-brain barrier! You’re still at risk for exposure! Just let her bleed it out!”

“Fuck that!” he yelled. He grabbed the belladonna pill I gave him that he’d been keeping in his pocket, and crammed it into Nayeli’s mouth, forcing her to chew as she did her best to cough it back up. Goddamn him. He knew even better than I did that a demigod’s hyperactive metabolism meant their bodies processed poison out faster than a normal human’s. He was putting himself at risk for nothing.

Finally she stopped vomiting, and her pupils seemed to constrict back to their normal size. She coughed lightly, taking as deep a breath as possible, completely ignoring how some of her clothes and hair were still on fire. We all sighed in relief, but Marq especially.

“Why the hell did you do that?!” he asked her.

“You said it yourself boss, we needed him,” she coughed. “Leon’s a scumbag but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t help a brother out, especially when we need him.”

“And you think I don’t need you? Don’t be stupid!”

She smiled, even though Marq was anything but happy. “One of us has to be dumb.”

I signalled to Marq to tell him to break it up. Leon was regaining consciousness. He hoisted her over his shoulder and got down on his knees next to Leon.

“Alright Leon, can you tell me where the other bombs are located?” Marq asked. “If you can give me an address, any address, I can have relief there in five minutes.”

Leon gasped for breath. “Lincoln Medical Center. St. Barnabas Hospital. Cavalry Hospital. Richmond University. Staten Island University.”

I cursed. They were all hospitals. That sick bastard was bombing hospitals.

“Beth Israel Medical Center. Zucker Hillside.” He took a breath. “King’s County.”

My heart stopped, frozen in place. King’s County. That was the hospital where Annie had been spending the night.

“Are you fucking kidding me?! What the fuck do you mean she destroyed the factory?! She’s supposed to be fucking helping me!”

The noise from the jukebox was deafening. Mickey’s voice was all I could hear in that blasted hell. I walked up to the receiver on the trashed jukebox, and pressed the button.

“Mickey, this is Alfonso.”

He growled. “Yeah, what the fuck do you want? Here to cry about your little sister? I’m fucking busy right now, so quit it!”

“So you knew.” I chose my next words carefully, saying them out loud slowly. “I want you to know something else, then. You had one chance. One last chance, Mickey. You wasted it when you brought Annie into this. Now, I’m coming to kill you my fucking self.”

“Oh boo hoo, big woop. You think I care? I eat pieces of shit like you for break-”

I stomped on the jukebox, grinding the transceiver into dust.

“Shut up, Mickey.”

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Update

Bad news, guys. I made a blunder with my calendar management this semester, and it turns out I forgot to schedule a big Spanish midterm I have on Tuesday. I’m kinda pressed for time getting ready for this now after only finding out about this today on Sunday, so there won’t be two chapters this week like I said. Sorry.

That said, things will continue at their regular pace from here on out, and I will deliver another full length chapter next week (with bonuses if I am able to, and another Q&A corner if I am not).

Snatch 2.9c

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You could tell from the way he talked that the voice was Mickey’s. Not Not-Mickey’s, Mickey’s. It was coming to us from the jukebox. A fucking two-way radio. I scowled. Where did he get all these toys?

Marq nodded, and I gave the signal to the bomb squad to get to work while we evacuated the working joes and the rest of our nonessential soldiers. No need to put their asses on the line for a confirmed dead end if all we could do here was finish disarming the bomb.

They huddled around the bomb, a series of tanks and shit connected to the back of the jukebox by a bunch of wires and electrical tape. Stuck to the whole thing was a small alarm clock, counting down the bomb’s detonation sequence. A time bomb. Should be easy enough to dismantle. Something about the shape of the thing bothered me though. The tank in the middle was too big. Big enough for me to crawl around inside. They wouldn’t need a tank that size for two tons of gas, especially not with all of the smaller tanks it was connected to.

Marq cautiously took a step forward, kneeling in front of the jukebox. The track select had a note taped to it that said, ‘Press me!’.

Marq pressed it and spoke into the jukebox. “Hello, Mickey.”

Mickey’s voice crackled back through the box’s old speakers like an explosive shit. “Well if it isn’t the snob boss himself! How ya doing, black bird? Still kicking that gay pink suit or did you finally realize covering your ass in black is a bit more midnight dreary?”

Marq chuckled fakely. “Hate to tell you this Mickey, but real men wear pink.”

“Real man, huh? That’s not what your girlfriend said when I-”

“You can shove it, Mickey. I know what you tried to do, and I know you failed. She’s alive, by the way. That ‘dipshit moll’ you tried to kill. And trust me, she’s very eager to see you again.”

Nayeli cracked her knuckles audibly.

“Ouch. That’s harsh, doll, it really is. You missed out, you know. I coulda shown you the time of your fucking life. Now I’m just gonna have to kill ya. Real sorry I won’t be there to see that, by the way.”

“Better men than you have tried, Mickey,” Nayeli said. “And I mean a lot of better men.”

“That fucking right?”

“Enough of this.” Marq cut them off. “Why don’t you show us your face, Mickey? Why all the running and hiding? What happened to your so-called ‘secret weapon’?”

“I dunno.” I swore I could see him shrugging wherever he was. “Last I checked, dumb bitch was climbing into a van with some Pescatorre shit-twinkles. Man, if it didn’t smell like fish in there before, it sure fucking does now, am I right?”

The temperature in the room seemed to drop a few degrees as everyone’s blood turned ice-cold. Just like that, it was all over before it had even begun. The entire plan was compromised.

He knew.

Marq paused. “… How do you know about that, Mickey?”

“Aw come on, I thought the infamous Marquis would’ve figured that shit out already!” Mickey taunted us. “Here, tell you what. I’ll answer your question… if you beg for it.”

It wasn’t hard thinking that over. “Not on your life. Now tell me what you know.”

“Or what? You’re gonna call in the rest of the pride parade to come and beat me up?”

“Typical. You have no idea who you’re messing with, Mickey. I don’t think you ever did, else you wouldn’t have even dreamed of something this stupid.”

Mickey laughed. “What, are you serious? These last few days I’ve done nothing but make you assholes look like chumps! What makes you think that I, I of all people, would ever be afraid you? I make off with all the weapons and gear I could ever want from the fish tank, I raise a fucking army, and then I beat the piss out of your men and your little golden girl, and now you think you can intimidate me? You’ve taken so much shit from me that you might as well be my fucking septic tank!”

“You’re assuming that up until now we considered you to be worth our time.”

Mickey stopped talking. Marq continued.

“There’s a book I like to read, called The Art of War. It’s full of useful advice for business, life, war, the economy… just about everything, but there’s one quote in particular I take to heart. ‘If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.’

“Do you know what that means? It means that before you worry about yourself, you should consider your enemy. Something you clearly didn’t do, or else you would have realized that we control everything in this city. The police are all on our payroll, the military is just a call away, and the Mayor plays poker with Paulie on the weekends. Everyone in this city knows our names, and besides you, they all know better than to get in our way. Once the hammer is dropped, there will be nowhere for you to hide, and nowhere for you to run. We have you outnumbered and outgunned, and better yet? We have friends everywhere. You? Your only friend is the one hiding in your pants.

“When these bombs go off, you won’t just be our enemy. You’ll be the state’s enemy. The people’s enemy. And they will hunt you and your pet homunculus down with such prejudice it’ll make the Crusades look liberal. Get it now? There was never a chance for you to survive this. We just let you live because until now, you were too pathetic and inconsequential to deal with. Now here are your choices. You can either surrender peacefully and disarm the bombs before we shoot you in the back of the head, nice and quick, or you can go ahead with this half-assed revenge scheme to get your fifteen minutes in Broadway before we haul your ass out to the piers, kicking and screaming, and do things to you they won’t even be able to mention in the obituaries before we finally put you out of our misery. One way or another, you’ll be dead by the end of the week. It’s up to you to choose how.”

“… Are you threatening me?”

“No. Just informing you.”

“Heh.” Mickey’s laugh was faint, almost deranged. “That right… you know, I think I will tell you now. You’ve convinced me. I’m going to tell you everything. Starting with how everyone onboard that fucking van is already deader than a mummy’s puckered asshole.”

Well that was ominous and disgusting. Was he bluffing? It was hard for me to tell with Mickey. Sometimes you’d hear him say the craziest shit and you thought he had to be joking. Then it stopped being funny once he actually went through with it. Like with Nayeli.

I stepped up to the jukebox. “Come again?”

“You were interested in how I knew you’d taken that dumb bitch hostage, right? You think I’m so fucking stupid that it honestly didn’t occur to you that’s what I wanted you to do, you dumb fucks?”

“Now you’re just blowing smoke out of your ass,” Marq said. “How does us capturing her benefit you in any way? Right now she’s being locked up out of sight and out of mind, where nothing you tell her to do will help her escape and run back to you. You’ve lost your most valuable piece.”

“What was that you said earlier? ‘If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat’? Try putting that into practice next time before you fucking lecture me, you arrogant piece of shit. This whole time we’ve been talking? I’ve been putting that familiar of mine to use. I see what she sees, and I know what she knows.”

Mickey laughed under his breath. I cursed silently, remembering what Theo told me. He’s not supposed to know how to do that…

“Al…” Marq said, catching on.

“That’s right you dego fucks, I’ve known about the geas this entire time!” The dam burst and Mickey descended into full-on gut-busting villainy. “What, did you think I was fucking retarded? That I wouldn’t figure out what she could really do before I put her to use? Rule number one of auto dealerships, pussy, and familiars. Always take that shit for a test drive first. And mine was… comprehensive. Believe me, I had a lot of fun learning all of her ins and outs. Hell, she has more surprises hidden inside than a Vietnamese hooker! And once I figured out I had a little living spycam wrapped around my finger, I thought, ‘shit, why not use her?’ She was more than happy to play right into my hands with her little escape attempt, too. Led me right to you, and the dipshit never even knew she was doing it. It was fucking classic!”

“Okay, so you’ve been spying on us,” Marq said calmly. “You still have nothing of value to hold over us. During the course of our meetings with Theo, no valuable information about the Allesandri, Pescatorre, Sartini, Capello or Vitali family businesses was disclosed. There’s no way you could have heard anything useful unless Al wanted you to hear it.”

“Yeah, I admit that was disappointing. Couldn’t get close to you unless I wanted to blow my cover right out my ass. Fucking cunt was careful, I’ll give her that. Careful, not smart. Otherwise she woulda known not to fucking underestimate me. She’s listening in right now, you know? Every word of it. If you could see the look on her fucking face…” Mickey laughed, sighing. “Oh man, that shit is priceless. But anyway, you are right about one thing. I didn’t get any useful information. But I gave you something really fucking nice. Ain’t I generous?”

“Fuck…” I swore.

“That’s riiiiight! All the bombs you dickweeds worked so hard to find? They’re all fakes! Duds! Dummies I set up to throw the sniffers off our trail. They were never actually supposed to detonate! The real bombs are hidden in plain sight right next door to the fake ones, and they’re all packed with odorless, tasteless gas. That is, besides the one I tricked you deadbeats into standing on. Oh man, that’s gotta be one for the record books. Handsome auto-shop mechanic fools the city’s biggest criminal mastermind. The Marquis vs. Mickey Donahue, and I won. I fucking won! Suck. IT!

Words cannot express how pleased the shitweasel sounded with himself. He laughed until he was out of breath, and then finally turned his attention back to me.

“I have to give credit where credit is due though, Alfonso. Without you, none of this would have been possible! You were playing right into my hands the entire time, better than I could have ever hoped, and you never even knew, because you twusted her,” Mickey intoned mockingly. “It was so cute how you believed everything she said, you shrimp-dicked little fuck. What, did you think you were gonna be the one to rescue her from the big bad Mickey, and that you were just gonna run away and magically settle down to have two point five kids with the bitch somewhere in the ass-end of Missouri? I bet that’s what you thought, isn’t it? Man, you are just so fucking stupid it’s adorable.”

“What about Theo?” I asked. “Where does she factor in? She couldn’t have known anything about this-”

“Well she does now!” Mickey said, laughing. “And anyway, what about her? You honestly think I kept that stupid bint sky-high out of the goodness of my fucking heart? Hell no! Keeping her blazed was the only way I could get a little fucking privacy. Just drop some nep in a place that’s easy to find, let her think she’s being all sneaky and shit stealing it out from under my nose, then leave her with a convenient body double to coke herself off her tight little ass while I take care of the real bombs. She never knew the difference! Isn’t that right, Leon?”

“Fuck you, Mickey! You fucking sadistic retard! I hope they make a pearl necklace out of your balls!”

“Always did have a mouth on you, Leon.” Look who’s talking. “But you know what? I think you’ll learn to talk to me a bit more respectfully once my severance package starts turning that cockholster of yours inside out.”

“W-Wha-”

“Hex bag should start activating in 3, 2, 1…”

And that’s when shit got nasty. Ever seen the Exorcist? It was kinda like that, except when Leon started vomiting, it wasn’t anything as pretty as some green gak. As a matter of fact, the first thing he started coughing up was spiders.

You heard me right. The first thing.

Leon lurched, trying to keep it in as spiders started to fill his lungs. Finally he gave in and coughed, hacked really, spewing spiders everywhere in little clumps of tangled legs. People got out of the way real fucking fast once that happened. Some of the eight-legged bastards that had hung on started crawling out of his mouth, which had started to bleed from the bites. And it was only going to get worse.

“Help…” He gagged, blood dripping from the corner of his mouth. “Me…”

The next level was a cascade of sticky red blood and fat maggots. It was going downhill fast, and Marq was the first to react. He glared at me.

“Al! Help me out, will ya?!”

“Well what do you want me to do? He looks pretty well fucked from where I’m standing!” I kept still, utterly disgusted and transfixed. Marq on the other hand was on the move.

“Help me find the damn hex bag, you genius! How about that?”

Finally forcing myself to look away, I rushed over to Marq and started flipping through the desk we’d found Leon tied up in front of. The hex bag is a cheap and effective way to rub some son of a bitch out, but it does have a few weaknesses. First, it has to be somewhere nearby in order to work. If the victim strays too far from the bag, it loses all of its potency. Second, you need a personal item of the victim to bind the effects of the hex bag to them. It’s a form of sympathetic magic after all. Closely related to voodoo dolls in practice, really. If we could find the bag, we could save Leon. Although truth be told, I have no idea why Marq wanted to do that.

I heard Leon puke his guts out again. Everyone groaned. Needless to say, none of us were particularly happy to be here at the moment. If I was gonna find the hex bag for any one reason or another, I’d have to say it would probably be just so I wouldn’t have to watch someone die like that. There were fucked up ways to die, and then there were seriously fucked up ways to die. Mickey seemed like a fan of the latter.

I flipped over the desk. “Bomb squad! What’s the status on that bomb?!”

“Almost… there!” The point-man cut the wire, and the clock stopped ticking. “We’re good to go, it’s dead!”

“Oh wow, congratulations mister!” Mickey said.

“Mickey, I swear to god-” Marq growled.

“No really, congratulations on defusing the bomb and stopping the dead man’s switch!”

“Oh my god, really? Really?! How did you even do that? How did you make a dead man’s switch for a bomb?”

“I used actual dead men. Duh. Remember your little snitch buddies? I took their wives and kids hostage and told them that if they ever wanted to see them again, they’d get in the fucking tank and do what they were told.”

“And let me guess, you killed them anyway.”

“You know me too well, Marquis.”

Stupid. I should’ve realized that’s what the tank was for. If Mickey sealed them in there with only limited air, he’d have the perfect dead man’s switch. And he’d even used their families as blackmail to keep them obedient, then he’d just killed them anyway.

Marq sighed. “Everybody get the hell out! There’s nothing we can do to stop it at this point!”

Everyone started running, desperate to make it out in time before the dead man ran out of oxygen. I remember thinking I should follow them, but my body wouldn’t move for some reason. I’d failed. Even worse, I’d only exacerbated the fuck out of the problem. What point was there in running when I was already dead? Maybe my body realized that before I did.

I took a step forward, and decided I was determined to struggle to the end. I was gonna make Mickey fucking pay for what he’d done to Theo and those dead men. Tearing people apart from their families, from the ones they love most… there’s nothing crueler you can do to another human being. That’s what I was thinking before I felt my pant leg catch on something. I tried again. Still stuck.

Or maybe I the reason I couldn’t move before was because someone was holding me back! My luck was unbelievable. Leon gripped the left leg of my pants tightly.

“Hhhhelp meh!” Leon squealed in a muffled voice, still spitting blood, teeth, and bugs all over the floor. “Help meeehhhh!”

I grimaced. “Sorry, buddy.”

I kicked the chair over and left him for dead. There was nothing I could do at this point. I had to run if I wanted to live. That meant the same thing here as it would out there. After this, I had to disappear.

We cleared out of the building and took cover outside, scrambling for our gas masks. I squatted next to Marq.

“Everybody ready?” he yelled.

We waited. For a fifty solid seconds we waited. But there was no boom. Eventually, one of us poked our heads out, and took a listen.

“… fuck you… not gonna be your bitch… Mickey…!”

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Update

Been a busy week, as you might have been able to tell. I’ve had midterms, projects, and other prior engagements on my plate (and it’s probably not gonna stop any time soon), which is why I never released last week’s chapter. So to make up for that, I’ve decided this weekend is gonna be another double release. 2.9c should become available sometime this afternoon, and 2.9d should be coming sometime tomorrow.

Thank you all for your patience.

The First (Emergency) Q&A Corner is Open!

Hello guys! My Brit Lit. midterm is coming up on Monday, so I’ll be spending a lot of time this weekend studying. Which, as you probably guessed, means the chapter is going to be late this week. While I study and try my hardest to have the new chapter up before Monday, I decided now might be a good time to put that Q&A corner I mentioned a week or two back to use.

So cast your vote for whichever character you’d like to have answer your questions about the Goodfae universe in the comments between now (Friday 5:25 PM CT) and 12:00 PM Saturday morning/afternoon, and any questions you may have will be answered all weekend long. In the mean time, wish me luck and I will do my best to have the chapter out as soon as possible.

Snatch 2.9b

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A half an hour passed before we finally got visual confirmation of Theo exiting the restaurant. Looks like Thompson’s nose and ears had been right. This was where Mickey was holed up to watch the show. I waved her towards us while the intercept team moved in to do that thing they’re named after.

Holding out her hands, Theo patiently waited for them to cuff her before moving almost robotically towards the armored car we had prepared for her, a line of heavily armed men trailing behind her. Looking at it from above, the whole thing certainly seemed excessive, almost farcical. I mean, she was just one girl. Just one girl who could toss I-beams off of buildings and gut a man cock to sternum like she was filleting a fish.

Okay on second, maybe it wasn’t so excessive.

She kept a timely pace as she power-walked her way to the car, leaving everyone else behind. I was surprised when stopped in front of me, her security escort at her back, panting. We both looked at each other, silently acknowledging the inexplicable attachment we’d formed in the middle of this crazy shitstorm.

“You will keep your promise, yes?”

“On my life.”

“And what if he takes your life?”

“Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence.”

“I am merely being realistic,” she said. “Although… I do not mind the terms of our agreement at all, so I will pray for your safe return.”

I smiled. “Pray? For me? Now I know you’re trying to screw me.”

For the first time, I saw her laugh. Or something like it.

“Perhaps the gods will be merciful.”

I snorted in disbelief. “Yeah, and maybe I’ll win the lottery and become Prince of the Universe.”

The Big Guy cocked his head, nodding at the car. Time was running out. I pulled a pad and pencil out of my coat pocket and began writing. I made sure to press hard so the lead tip would leave a solid imprint. That way the note could be read even if the message was erased.

Carefully creasing the paper, I tore along the line and handed Theo the perfectly angular piece of paper. She studied it. I’m not sure if she understood the significance at first.

“Last time we did this, you gave me an address carved on that little piece of metal. Now I’m going to do you the same favor, ‘cept I’m not gonna deck you in the fucking jaw first.”

“You would only hurt yourself if you tried,” she said flatly.

“Yeah…” I said, deciding to ignore how she’d completely missed my attempt at humor. “Anyway, that piece of paper has my address written on it. If for some reason you can’t find me once this is all said and done, come visit me and my little kid sister here. You’ll have a home for as long as you need one, or for as long as we can spare it.”

“As long as? I was under the impression this was to be a permanent arrangement. Are you retroactively changing the terms of our agreement?” she said all too seriously. She looked like she was glaring at me. Was she mad at me?

“No,” I said, trying to explain the concept of a home to her. “It means you can come and go whenever you want. No strings attached. It can be your home whenever you want it to be.”

“Why would I ever want to leave my home?”

She caught me off-guard with how blunt she was, and how quick she’d been to make up her mind. Did she still feel like she had to repay me?

“Alright you two, break it up,” Marq said, dragging me off to the side. “We don’t need the waterworks right now. Big Guy, would you please escort our guest to the safehouse? I feel like I’m about to start crystallizing in the sap.”

I watched them herd Theo into the back of the armored van, letting her go bit by bit with every step she took. I’d leave it up to them to worry about her for now. My job was here, with Mickey. With Theo’s future. And, come to think of it, ours too.

Our group was about thirty strong. We had cops and robbers here together, working side by side under the family banner. The long and short arms of the law, each of them protecting the people in their own way. This was their city. This was our city. This was my city. We weren’t going to let Mickey have it.

I slung a shotgun over my soldier, my knife and .38 resting comfortably in my pants leg and back pocket respectively. With Marq’s permission, I turned to face our crew.

“Alright guys, who’s ready to break bad?”

We knew there was something wrong the moment we walked in. No guards. No soldiers. No men in sight. Just an empty pasta bar that looked like someone hadn’t so much as taken a shit in it in weeks. The air was staler than the bread, and smelled musty, like death. This place couldn’t have been more dead if it was a graveyard. Was Mickey really holed up here?

“Thompson, you sure this is the place?” I asked, keeping my voice down.

“Positive. Mickey’s men have been coming and going all day. And call me ‘Officer’, shortstuff.”

“Well then why the hell is there no one here?” I hissed. Him calling me ‘shortstuff’ hadn’t been funny the first time. Now it just pissed me off, and that did not help with the situation we were in.

“Maybe there’s some kind of secret entrance? How the fuck should I know? I keep my ears open, I’m not a fucking dolphin. Echolocation is not on my resume. All I know is that this place suddenly reeks of garlic when normally the food here is about as well-seasoned as cardboard. Take my word for it, you’re standing on one of the biggest WP bombs I’ve ever seen.”

“You mean you’ve seen one before?”

“Some of us were in the War, you know. It’s hard to forget the smell. Why do you think I don’t eat Italian food anymore?”

“Okay, so Mickey’s goons have been here and there’s an enormous gas bomb right beneath our feet that could burn us all alive if Mickey decides to go down with the ship. Is that all of the good news or do you have anything else you think we should know?” I said sarcastically.

“One other thing. I don’t smell many other WP bombs. This seems like the only one. The rest I can’t really make out for sure.”

“Which means most of them must be sarin,” I said, cursing internally. I could only hope the other teams remembered the instructions I gave them about when and how to use their belladonna tablets. “Alright, thanks. Keep us posted.”

We slowly made our way through the back and into the basement, inching further foot by foot with carefully measured steps. The situation had us all wound up like crank dolls, pushing us forward until we could finally let go of the tension in the air. Sadly, we’d been wound up pretty tight. Something was wrong here.

We all felt it. There was nothing worse than when something was wrong. Things could go wrong, but no matter how bad they got, it was still better than something being wrong. When something is wrong like it was now, that’s an x-factor that you don’t know about. It throws a wrench into things, and it makes you question every move you make like it’s gonna be your last. Because without full knowledge of the situation… well shit, it just might.

We gathered around the cellar door. On the count of three, we breached. What we found… well…

“Mickey…?” a few of us whispered in confusion. And I’ll be fucked with a chainsaw if it wasn’t him, strung up to the seat of a swivel-chair with enough black electrical tape and twine to make him look like an arts and crafts store mummy, his mouth duct-taped shut and spitting muffled curse words like an out-of-control slot machine. He stared at us, eyes angry and wide in terror. It looked like Mickey. It sounded like Mickey. It smelled like Mickey. It seemed to be so obviously Mickey that I knew right away that something here was dead wrong.

Frustrated and more confused than ever, I marched up to Not-Mickey and ripped the duct tape off, ignoring the pig-like sounds Not-Mickey made as I castrated the unkempt facial hair on his face. He coughed, spitting in my face, and I slapped him. Fucking disgusting.

“Alright, listen to me. I know you’re not Mickey, so let’s cut the crap. Where’s the real one?”

He coughed again, and I slapped his shit some more. Finally, he stopped hacking and choking on his own stale air and talked.

“Please, you gotta help me,” he said, panting and gasping for breath. “Those fuckers… they set me up! They fucking set me up and left me here to die! They fucking set me up and left me here to die, those fuckers!”

He began rocking the chair back and forth in a panic, so I decided to slap him again. Knock some fucking sense back into the hysterical twit.

“Enough with this bullshit! I’ll ask again. Where is Mickey?”

“Please don’t hurt me, man,” he said weakly. “I’m sorry…”

I scowled, and butted heads with him. He reeled back, moaning with pain as a tiny trickle of blood ran down his forehead.

“Sorry’s not fucking good enough! Drop the fucking act, you prick! Where the fuck is Mickey!”

I felt someone put a hand on my shoulder.

“Al,” Marq said, motioning for me to take a step back. It looked like there was something he wanted to do.

“W-What are you doing?!” Not-Mickey whimpered.

Carefully, Marq spun the chair around to face the back. He pulled Not-Mickey’s collar down to the base of his neck, looking to see if he could find what he already knew was there. We all saw it. A disfiguring black mark on his skin the size of a fist, dark pink in color with smooth ridges in the shape of the letters DÄ. It was a brand, and one with a very ugly history at that.

Specifically, it was the kind of brand you put on a doppelgänger.

The pit in my stomach grew from a pebble to a prize-winning marble, hungrily gnawing away at my insides like a black hole as I stared the ugly truth in the face. Hypothetically speaking, if you were told that someone who looked like you and talked like you could be living your life when you weren’t looking, how would you respond? My guess? Like most of us, you’d probably shit your fucking pants. You’d want to know where they are and what they’re doing at all times. You’d want people to know that you’re really you, instead of the fake. Most importantly, you’d want to protect people from being taken advantage of by a man wearing your face. It would only be natural to be fucking terrified.

Now imagine all that, except add in the possibility that this duplicate could become anyone. They could replace your neighbors, your friends, your family, and you’d never be able to tell. How could you sleep at night? Not knowing who is who, always living with the possibility that the person lying in bed beside you isn’t actually your wife, or that your kid is really your kid? Would you run, living in constant fear for your own fucking identity? Would you fight? Could you take it upon yourself to clip your own clone, or your brother’s? Would you end an innocent life to preserve your own? What would you do? To what lengths would you go to protect yourself and your family? I might be able to answer that question, but can you? Have you ever really thought about it?

Luckily, the United States government made that choice for us. The answer is: anything. Anything and everything.

The option they chose was blatantly inhumane, and it spoke volumes about what government policy would be like for demihumans in the days to come. They chose to brand them, to make them wear their deformity as a badge so people would know. That when they walked past someone in the street, they would be able to tell immediately if this person was an identity thief, if they were dressed up as another person they might meet. It let them know that they should fear them, that they should run far away, and fast. It was a crude, effective weapon for spreading fear. Humans feared doppelgängers. Doppelgängers feared the brand.

Nothing in US history short of outright slavery had ever been quite so inhumane and cruel. The systematic capture and branding of thousands of United States citizens, folks who had just been trying to live someone else’s normal life because they weren’t born with an identity of their own. People justified it to themselves by saying that other people with non-human features were already wearing a black mark, that a doppelgänger’s brand was no different. They weren’t the ones being poked with red-hot cattle brands.

“Damn…” Marq whispered. “Damn, damn, damn-”

“Fucking hell, you rubes really fell for that hook, line and sinker, didn’t you?”

Oh no.

Previous || Next

Snatch 2.9a

Previous || Next

“Why eleven?” I asked Marq.

“Because it’s one more than ten,” Marq responded, shoving the map with the marked locations of the bombs into his coat pocket. “If Mickey’s gonna do this, he’s going to need a place to lay low for a while once the smoke clears. Get ready to make his next move somewhere no one’s gonna find him, you know? So he sets himself up a fake bomb and hides it with the real ones. Figures we’ll either miss it or we won’t have the time and manpower to deal with it.”

“But we do, right?”

Ohhhh, you bet your ass we do.”

“So that’s where he’ll be then…” I paused. “One more question. How do you know all of this?”

Marq shrugged. “It’s what I’d do.”

“Yeah, about that. You sure about this, Marq?”

“Yes I’m sure,” Marq said resolutely, suiting up in full riot gear with the rest of us. “I want a piece of this bastard just as much as you do. Two pieces if I can.”

I grimaced, remembering the conversation we’d had when Nayeli told him about what almost happened in Central Park. Marq had gone fucking ballistic. I distinctly remember him saying something about slow-boiling Mickey’s testicles and wearing his spleen like a paddy cap.

Marq buttoned up his flak jacket, straightening his tie.

“First he kills my men, then he tries to rape my girlfriend… nothing’s gonna be left of him when I’m done,” he muttered. “Not a single fucking thing.”

“A-fucking-men, brother,” I said.

“I’d prefer it if you didn’t do that,” said a young voice behind us. Romeo Vitali walked out of the crowd of pigs and goons we’d assembled. “Some of us still respect that prayer.”

“It’s a free country, Romeo. He can say what he wants,” Marq said quickly. “Not like anyone gives goddamn except you…”

Romeo frowned. “Taking the Lord’s name in vain is even worse.”

Marq sighed. “Why are you here, Romeo?”

“Why, whatever do you mean?” he said, feigning ignorance.

“I mean what are you doing here? You’re the capofamiglia of the Vitalis. Realistically speaking, neither of us should be here to begin with. I’ve presented my excuse. Now what’s yours?”

“…”

“You just want to get rid of that homunculus, don’t you?”

At first, Romeo didn’t say anything. That’s how I knew it was true. He didn’t have anything to deny. My blood went cold. I couldn’t hear what he said next. I only saw his lips move, the sound coming in like an echo what felt like seconds later. But I knew what he said. I could see it on his lips.

I felt something wriggling and chewing inside me then. Some nasty shit that had been brewing in the pit of my stomach for years while it waited to show its face again. You couldn’t see it by looking at me, but it was there. Worse than frustration. Worse than anger. Worse than despair. It bubbled and boiled and spilled over the top of my throat into my mouth, the taste of bile burning like a fire.

That fucking foul taste from fourteen years ago was unmistakable. This feeling was rage.

I started seething and seeing red almost immediately. I could practically see myself reaching deep and punching his teeth into his shitter, like I was outside my body watching it happen. The desire was so strong I could feel it, literally feel it on the skin of my fingers. After all she’d gone through, this was the way the gods were going to treat her? This was their judgment? It was too cruel. It wasn’t fair. I wasn’t going to allow it.

Before I lost it, before I couldn’t control myself anymore, I decided to give him a chance. One chance to explain himself, and asked, “Why?”

“Why not?” I whipped my head around when I heard Marq’s voice. “That’s what you were about to say, right Romeo? After all, it’s just a homunculus. It’s not like it’s against the law to kill them. They shouldn’t even exist.” Marq looked disgusted. “I bet you used the same justification when you lynched that vampire five months back.”

Romeo looked at us coldly.

“Don’t talk about it like it’s human. It’s a just a crude facsimile of God’s work brought to life by illegal magic, the sword of a pagan deity housed in a body defiled by evil. It’s dangerous, and its very existence is a sin, so no one should have the right to complain if I kill it.”

I let myself lose it. I lunged at him.

“A sin?!” I yelled, grabbing him by the collar and slamming him against the brick wall. “You’ve got to be joking me! What sins did she commit?! The sin of existing? The sin of being born? Or was it the sin of expecting your pity, you heartless son of a bitch?!”

“Yes.”

“Alfonso!” Marq yelled, using my full name. “That’s enough!”

I hesitated. The bastard didn’t deserve it, but I let him go. Back on solid ground and standing on his own two feet, he brushed himself off, checked his collar and his cufflinks, and then decked me right in the fucking face in return. Mickey aside, I don’t think there was ever a time I wanted to kill someone as badly as I did then.

He waved his hand around, like the pussy had somehow hurt it clocking me. There was a bright red bloodstain about the size of a dime and a pin on the knuckles of his gloves, which were whiter than laundry detergent, and I realized then I was bleeding.

I laughed wheezily. “You son of a bitch…”

“Hey!” Marq yelled. “That’s enough, Romeo!”

“Now I’m going to have to get these things washed…” Romeo mumbled, still limp-wristedly flapping his jerk-off hand. He cast a glance at me and Marq. “I’m going to let this slide, since we’re all on edge here today. Don’t forget we’re all on the same side here. We’re all still human.”

“Well fuck you too, pally,” I said, spitting blood onto the pavement. “I’m only demihuman. Wanna see my card?”

Romeo raised an eyebrow. “That so? You look human enough. Also, I would be more careful when spreading rumors, Marquis. Those hanging allegations were never proven, and the Lord does not abide a liar and a gossiper.”

He turned to leave, picking his hat up off the ground and dusting off the brim. He put it back on, uttered a cursory “gentlemen”, and then turned his back to us and walked off. Arrogant prick.

Marq picked me up and took a step back, because I didn’t need any dusting off. My suit was dirty enough as it was. No use polishing a turd. He gave me the look.

“The hell did you do that for?”

“I thought you said that stuff because you were egging me on. Didn’t think you were just gonna let me get punched in the face.”

“Yeah, well I said that to get him pissed, not you.”

“Why the hell would you do that?”

“Have you met the guy?”

Looking around, I spotted my smoldering cigarette butt going to waste on the ground. Bending down, I picked it up and stuck it back between my teeth. I took a breath.

“Well, I have now. Thanks for warning me about him, by the way.”

Marq shrugged. “I told you they were assholes, didn’t I?”

Sostene dropped down next to us, coat flapping like a cape in the wind.

“I’m here. What did I miss?”

I smirked. “Just the Pope’s pet shit-weasel.”

“What?”

“Nothing. Whaddya got?”

Sostene sighed. “Well, they’re definitely in there, I can tell you that much. My guess is, so’s the bomb.”

“Your guess?” Marq questioned.

“Sorry boss, but ‘guess’ is the best I got. ‘Soldier’ and ‘engineer’ are not on my resume. I couldn’t tell a bomb from an engine block if my life depended on it. Which in this case, it probably does.”

“You’re talking about the white phosphorous,” I said, immediately grasping his concerns.

White phosphorous was some nasty-ass poison gas, but that wasn’t the real reason the army instruction manual read “apply liberally”. It doesn’t just choke, it burns. Not much unlike your distant cousin’s syphilis, white phosphorous spreads like wildfire, and everything it touches, it ignites. What’s worse, once it’s stuck on you, it doesn’t come off without help, something which as history has shown us is pretty hard to get when you’re flailing around on fire. Most victims die when they spread it all over their bodies trying to get it off, clawing at their throats and faces while third degree burns slowly develop over 90% of their bodies. So, you know. Fun stuff. Great for parties.

Now, the astute among us will remember what I once said about how vampires respond to being lit on fire. It’s pretty much the same reaction you’d have if someone dumped a backhoe full of hot, wet shit on you, except the shit’s also sticky like glue and full of pissed-off fire ants. Luckily for vamps, they tend to have a significant advantage in that they’re much faster than 90% of everything that’s trying to light them up like a witch hunt.

Too bad incendiary gas falls into that other 10%.

Marq frowned. “How many of the bombs are WP?”

“No way of knowing,” Sostene said. “I smelled garlic in there, but…”

We all looked at the glowing neon sign lighting up the restaurant back-alley, and the dumpster full of stale, unused ciabatta. Just our luck that we had to find this thing in an Italian restaurant.

I growled. “Mickey’s fucking with us…”

True to form, Marq played the part of the responsible leader and kept his cool. Taking a smoke, he ordered Sostene, “Have our scouts and sniffers working double-time till they’ve worked out all these bombs. I wanna know the fake from the fireballs before it’s too late. Or before Mickey catches wind of what we’re doing. We may not get any guarantees, but at least we can increase the odds of our success before going in. Sostene, get Thompson on the phone. Have him double check our coordinates.”

Sostene nodded, and disappeared.

“Thompson?” I asked.

“Yeah. Officer Thompson,” Marq replied. “He’s an old friend of Sostene’s.”

“And you think he can help?”

“With a lycan’s ears and nose? Yes.” Marq lit up the cigarette he’d been twiddling in his fingers. “Those experimental K-9 bomb units they’ve been deploying in other cities are supposed to have a success rate of 100%. Even an untrained sniffer can make out the chemical scent of a bomb when their sense of smell can detect a scent in the air in parts per trillion. He can give us an even more accurate readout of this place than Sostene without even leaving the office.”

“… Remind me again why we don’t employ more guys like this?”

Marq laughed. “That is something you’ll have to take up with my father. If I was the capofamiglia, it’d be different, but he’s a bit stuck in his ways. No Jews, no mickeys, and no freaks.”

“Except for me and Sostene.”

Marq shrugged. “I pulled some strings. Anyway, no one’s infallible. At best our odds would increase by maybe five tenths of what they already were if we employed more guys like Sostene and Thompson. It’s not a worthwhile investment right now. Not while human/demihuman relations are still so strained.”

“And yet somehow I can get a job with the pigs before I get to work with you.”

The voice sounded like it was right next to me, breathing into my ear, but when I turned around, there was… nothing. It was like I had a voice inside my head.

“Looking for me, shortstuff?”

There it was again. I was started to get a little fucking freaked out here.

“Okay, who said that?!” I said, whipping around trying to find the voice. But there was no one. No one was talking except me and Marq. No one within earshot anyway.

“It’s me, you jackass. Officer Thompson.”

“Oh, Thompson. Good to hear from you,” Marq said.

“Wait, I’m confused,” I said. “Is this a spell? I don’t see any ingredients but this has to be a spell. How can we hear him from all the way across town?”

“He’s a ventriloquist, Al,” Marq said, like that made any sense. “And he’s the real deal too, unlike those sideshow fakers. He can actually throw his voice like he’s making a telephone call, then pick up what’s being said on the other end with his little doggy ears.”

Thompson growled.

“Relax, I’m pulling your leg,” Marq said. “Sorry, but the books are still closed. You’re talking to one of our newest recruits right now.”

“Seriously? Man, fuck you Marquis. I told you I’ve been wanting that job for ages!”

“And I told you Daddy doesn’t want any of what you’ve got. Only reason I got Al accepted is no one would guess he’s not human just by looking at him.”

“Oh, so he’s a medium then?” The voice sighed. “You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me with this shit. Fucking mediums; always getting a free pass on everything. You’re a goddamn asshole, kid, you know that?”

“Excuse me?” Who did this guy think he was?

“I’m the only one keeping you assholes from getting blown up,” Thompson said. No. No fucking way. “I can’t hear your thoughts either, by the way. I just know what you’re thinking because you mobsters are just that fucking predictable.”

Watch it,” Marq reprimanded him. “‘We mobsters’ don’t appreciate talk like that, especially from someone who just wants into the New York books for the pretty dames and pretty cars.”

Thompson snorted. “Isn’t that what we all want? Sounds like I’d fit right in.”

“…”

“… he’s got you on that one, Marq.”

“Put a sock in it, Al. Take some pride in your work,” Marq muttered, lighting a cigarette.

“… Anyway, I figured I had better things to be doing besides going over this week’s latest vampire gangbang -and trust me that’s a lot less sexy than it sounds- and decided to help you guys out.”

“I can’t imagine why,” Marq snorted. “Nothing like a good ol’ hate crime to wash away the workday blues.”

So there’d been another one, huh? I cringed, remembering the Bifeld v. Romeo trial from a few years back. Our charming prince Romeo was, or so the story went, “falsely accused” of perpetrating a racially-motivated homicide in which thirty-two year old vampire Hayden Bifeld was lynched and hung out to dry from a tree branch just a few miles outside the city limits. They found his body still baking with a sign hung around his neck saying ‘kiss the sun lest he be angry, and ye perish in the way’. Evidence found at the scene pointed straight to the Vitalis, but Romeo managed to grease the right palms and got the whole thing swept under the rug like an ugly stain on the carpet of his reputation.

As a demihuman myself, I could appreciate the tension lingering in the air, but I knew it had to be nothing compared to the pressure vampire community was under. People still hadn’t forgotten. You could feel the fear as people walked across the street. Vamps always wondering when their luck would just run out and they’d be strung up like Bifeld. Humans living in a constant state of apprehension as they kept their eyes peeled for signs of retribution. It was scary how easy it was for a vampire to kill a man. It was scary how easy it was for a mob to kill a vampire.

Looking at Sostene though, I couldn’t help but wonder if vampires had unintentionally been the patsy this entire time, drawing people’s attentions away from the real dangers. No one wants to confront the reality of homicidal doppelgängers or humanoid typhoons like Nayeli, but a vampire is an easy target. They’re dangerous, but not too dangerous, they spread like wildfire, and they feed on human beings and make them their undead slaves (more on that later), making the morality of killing a vampire seem incredibly stark in comparison to say, an elf; whose only crime is looking beautiful and stealing jobs away from honest, hard-working Americans-… sorry, got carried away there.

But really, how much of that is true and how much of that is just our preconceived notions of them as humans? And yes, despite what’s on my card I still count myself as human. And why shouldn’t Sostene? I mean, he was too at one point. Does becoming a vampire just automatically invalidate the human life you had before all that, everything good and bad you’ve done up until then? Or is that just what we like to think because it makes it easier to kill them; to ignore that everything they are is in us too?

“Maybe…”

“… What the fuck are you spacing out about?” I whipped around to find Nayeli standing right behind me, arms crossed.

“Nayeli?!” Marq said, sounding just as surprised as me. “I thought I told you that you were on escort duty! The hell are you doing here?”

“Found a replacement,” Nayeli answered calmly.

“Replacement?” I asked, dumbfounded. “Who the hell could replace you on a security detail?”

“A few distant relatives, for starters. No way of knowing if they’re alive or dead though,” she said, dropping her dufflebag full of equipment. “Besides, Percy’s becoming a real bitch in his old age. Last time I saw him he was actually complaining about goiters, for crissakes…”

“So then who did you get?!” Marq and I both yelled, for different reasons. Nayeli threw up her hands.

“Relax, I got it under control! The Big Guy’s covering for me.”

“The Big Guy?” Marq asked.

“He’s one of Paulie’s hired goons. My guess is he works for Byron,” I explained. “I thought he was in the hospital.”

“Yeah, well, turns out one of his not-so-distant relatives was a godchild, which makes him… 1/8th god, I think? 1/16th? Anyway, he says he’s fine. The bullets don’t even hurt anymore.”

“What, you mean they didn’t even take them out?” Nayeli looked at me. “… Stupid question.”

Damn. Just damm.

Marq sighed. “I guess that’ll do, but I’d really rather have you there than here.”

“If you’re going in, I’m going in,” Nayeli said staunchly. “No buts.”

“And what are you gonna do? Break your head on the bomb until it disarms itself?” I asked, laying on the sarcasm thick.

“… I’m going to punch him,” Nayeli said, looking to Marq for permission. “Please tell me I can punch him.”

He smirked. “Maybe later.”

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