Month: November 2014

Update

I’m sorry to say that, as far as I can tell, Monday’s chapter will be somewhat delayed. Unfortunately I have to crack down and spend what little time remains between now and Tuesday studying for an exam that may very well make or break my grade in a class I’m already not doing spectacularly in. That’s not to say Monday’s chapter won’t be released on time, but it is saying… don’t be disappointed if it isn’t. I’ll do my best, but ultimately studying for this exam has to come first.

I hope you all understand and will bear with me through to the end of finals week(s).

Interlude 2.b (David)

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There weren’t many things worse in this universe than the events that had transpired in David Blade’s life up until his last day on this earth. Aside from having had the misfortune of being born into a family whose surname was “Blade”, David’s life had been nothing but one long, mathematically complex sequence of fuckups and unfortunate coincidences.

Born with an umbilical cord tied around his neck, the doctors had called it a miracle that he wasn’t born deaf, dumb, and blind, and said that he’d probably live the rest of his life never knowing the full scope and range of the vast, untapped intelligence he might have had had he exited the uterus just a few centimeters to the left. David of course only found this out when his mother told his ex-girlfriend, who used it against him in a particularly nasty public breakup five months later. It didn’t bother David that everyone knew. It bothered him that no one had ever told him.

Because of the unfortunate circumstances of his birth, David had never really lived a life half full. Always a deadbeat, always a failure. He hadn’t done well for himself in school, having been held back on multiple grades and always scraping by on the skin of his teeth despite pouring his best effort into it, trying as hard as he could. The disappointment was palpable. It had been the same when he’d gotten his first dead-end job out of many. His mother, his father, his teachers, his employers. They all said,

We know you could do this if you really wanted to

Why won’t you try just applying yourself a little more?

There’s no room in this world for failures

Do you want to be a nobody forever?

Is this really what you think you’re capable of?

We know you’re better than this, David

So show us

No, he’d told them time and time again. No I’m really not. I’m not who you think I am! I don’t care what you say! I’m not smart, I’m not a winner, and I’m not talented, so stop pretending like I am! You all know! I know you do! It’s your fault I’m like this to begin with, so stop trying to fix your mistake and listen to me!

He didn’t have high hopes for his life when his parents finally kicked him out. They said they weren’t able to afford him anymore and that the rent he paid them wasn’t nearly enough, but he’d had a sneaking suspicion they’d been meaning to get rid of him for a while. From there on out, it had been a sad cycle of sameness for the last six years or so. Find a new job, lose a new job. Find a new girlfriend, lose a new girlfriend. Find a new apartment, lose a new apartment. Slip in and out of poverty, barely staying clear of becoming homeless, then rinse and repeat all over again. His life was a step below mediocre. It was terrible.

And he’d had the gall to think that might have changed for once when he met him. Radio Brandy.

There was something special about Radio that David could never really place. When he looked at Radio, he felt safe. When Radio looked at him, he felt comforted. When Radio held him, he felt like he was always meant to be here, and that no one else could ever understand him or make him happy like Radio did. Best of all, Radio would show him things. Great things. Things so amazing you’d call them magic.

First came the nep. That was David’s feel-good when Radio wasn’t around (and sometimes when he was). It made him forget, relax and unwind after a long day of picking up trash, butchering meat, working construction, or whatever temp job he’d wrangled that week. When he and Radio made love in the nep smoke, it felt like a warm dream. Then came Red Dragon. Making love on Red Dragon felt like violence more than love, but David let Radio do it anyway.

Soma followed that, and berserkergang came after that once Radio started asking for his help in getting more drugs. He fell in with the wrong people, and began selling everything he owned for drugs and alcohol. At some point, David realized that Radio was probably just using him. For sex. For money. For drugs. But he didn’t care. Not an ounce, not an iota. Not in any single measurable way did he care, because for once, someone wanted him. Someone valued him. Even if he was using him, he acknowledged David. He cared about David, even if it was only for his own gain, and he valued David. That was something no one else had ever given him before. So it didn’t matter what Radio wanted from him, because he’d give it willingly. Everything he was and everything he had was free for Radio to take.

Then Radio died.

He’d finally been caught by the Prohibition agents who were after him for possession of alcohol and illegal narcotics, amongst other crimes David didn’t want to contemplate. The memories were still too fresh, and he didn’t want to remember Radio like that. He wanted his Radio, the Radio that comforted him and held him, not the Radio that had been shot to death by the police for killing an officer of the law.

But that Radio was gone now. He would never see him again. He could only contemplate the yawning hole where Radio used to be. The books he’d left unread. The clothes strewn across David’s apartment. The smell of the smoke and the memories he’d left behind. But most of all, the blood.

Oh yes. The blood.

As it so happened, Radio had been keeping more than one secret from David. All the times they’d made love on the floor of his dingy apartment or in his moldy, rotten bed, Radio had neglected to tell him he was carrying. Not a gun that is, but a disease. David didn’t know, like always. Always in the dark. So when he found out, the police had to tell him.

Radio was a vampire.

He’d never laid his hands on David, and all this time David had just assumed the supple Englishman was just naturally pale. He never saw Radio during the day, come to think of it. He would sleep in David’s apartment, working off the high while David went to work. He felt stupid for not piecing it all together sooner, but that was what he was, wasn’t it? Stupid.

He didn’t notice for weeks, thought maybe he was in the clear. He’d heard vampirism could spread through other kinds of fluid exchange besides biting, but he felt fine! Maybe it had passed him over like any other venereal disease. What David hadn’t accounted for was that vampirism was an affliction rooted in magic, not mundane biology. There were no maybes involved. If the cherry pops, the fluid swaps, and the vampire’s curse along with it.

The first incident happened when a coworker at deli received a package of freshly slaughtered lamb for processing. He remembered the blood, remembered smelling it. He remembered getting an erection as well. That first time, that first bloodlust was unforgettable. The fragrant, invasive aroma of iron and hemoglobin struck him, and suddenly it felt like the world was opening up, blooming into beautiful, violent life. For the first time David became acutely aware that in the world he’d grown up in, there was blood everywhere. Everywhere he looked it was impossible to escape it. He could smell it in the meat, hear it pumping through the veins of every living thing for miles, even see where it traced thin trails of warmth throughout the body with senses he never knew he had. He had always known but never understood. About blood. About life. Now he knew.

Everything was food.

It was like torture. The people he knew suddenly had two faces. Kind, friendly neighbors and… meat, like bags of blood walking on two fat drumstick legs, and although he tried to fight it, tried every second to remind him that they were people, people he knew, his cravings only acknowledged the scent. Would he describe it as temptatious, alluring maybe? Of course not. Would you ask a man dying of starvation if food looked tempting? The very nature of the question implies a choice not to drink, when in fact David never had such a choice. No vampire does. You don’t have to like it but you can’t escape it. A man can’t live without food, and a vampire can’t live without blood. There is no gluttony involved in survival. That is a truth so basic it doesn’t even deserve to be called harsh.

He tried everything to quell the hunger. Sex. Drugs. Binge-eating. Pornography. He found that each of them only made the problem worse. Drugs removed his inhibitions. The food he always used to eat only made him hungrier. And sex… he didn’t know how Radio had controlled himself around him. How he’d had the strength of will not to bite in those closest, warmest, most intimate moments where even greater pleasure was always only skin deep, a mere scratch away…

He couldn’t go to the doctor, because that would only affirm what he already feared. He tried hard not to be what he knew he was becoming, and so he isolated himself, emerging only for work. It helped cut down on exposure to sunlight, which he found he was becoming increasingly sensitive to. It was lucky for him they were in the middle of winter when Radio first died, or else life for him could have become impossible without leaving the coffin.

Sadly, David’s determination not to feed was admirable, but ultimately doomed from the beginning. Was he afraid to hurt others to satisfy his hunger? Probably. Was he more afraid to out himself as a vampire? Most definitely. So he tried to hold on as long as he could. If he could concentrate on not feeding, on ignoring that gnawing, aching hunger and the pain that wracked his body every day he went a little longer without giving it what it wanted, then maybe somehow he could keep living a normal life.

That concentration was broken the day when Eddy Rizzo sliced his hand open cutting roast beef.

David didn’t remember all too clearly what happened next. There was an eruption of something within him. Hunger, anger, temptation, lust? Whatever it was, it sapped his willpower and snapped him like a twig. He was on Eddy in seconds, all over him, trying to get inside of him and get as much of that sweet-smelling blood as possible. The lines blurred between hunger, violence, and sex as David forced himself on Eddy, trying to devour him. The bloodlust lasted only seconds, but by the time it was done he had taken ten men to restrain him, and Eddy had already lost over a pint of blood and all the muscle David could fit in his mouth. David barely could recall any of it.

There was one thing he did remember all too clearly though. Upon returning to his senses and feeling the spongy chunks of gore matting his lips and teeth, David clearly remembered vomiting, the things he’d taken from Eddy returning to him the only way they could. He remembered the vomits’ color: pink. It smelled like iron.

David didn’t kill Eddy, as luck would have it. His wounds were merely crippling, and while he’d never work another manual labor job again, he would recover and live normally sans the use of his missing right arm thanks to the techniques developed by doctors to treat soldiers coming home from the last Great War (not that David would ever know that). It was a tragic twist of fate for Eddy, but life would go on.

Although he pleaded with anyone he could, David had no such luck. Immediately sacked and saddled with half a dozen criminal charges, David knew there was no going back. He’d never work in this town again, and he’d be haunted by money and legal problems until the day he died. So that night he ran. Left his home and his family and everything else behind. The plan was to leave New York and build a home for himself with a new name and a new face somewhere else. Anywhere else. He hadn’t given much thought to it. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered if he did or didn’t. Angry mobs have a way of disrupting even the most well thought out plans.

“Gah!” was the only sound David could make as he was speared in the chest by a man in a white suit with more muscles than David had brain cells. He grasped the white shaft of bone, trying to pull it out. He didn’t know how they’d gotten the drop on him, but he knew they had already hurt him more than he thought he could be hurt. How long had they been chasing him? How long had he been running? It felt like an eternity, but it couldn’t have been more than a few minutes, and already he was becoming tired, his body protesting his every movement. This lifeless shell needed blood to heal the wounds. He had made it this far on borrowed time, but how long would it be until Eddy’s blood, what little of it he had retained, exhausted itself?

David hurked as he was yanked backwards, the length of chain at the end of the spear dragging him towards his attacker for another round. The man in the white suit curled his free hand into a large, meaty fist.

“Please!” David said, holding his hands up in front of his face to show the large, scary bald man he meant no harm. “You don’t have to do this! I’m-I’m just an idiot, I don’t wanna hurt no one! You know what I’m talking about, right big guy?”

He was hedging his bets on this guy being just like him: not too bright. If he was working as hired muscle for the mafia, maybe he was like David and had just made some poor life decisions. Hopefully he could sympathize with a fellow idiot.

“Just please, let me leave and you’ll never see me again, I promise. We idiots gotta stick together, right?”

The man glared, his face scrunching up around his sunglasses like an angry potato. “Why, I have no idea what you could possibly mean, good sir. Forgive me, my hearing apparatus must be failing me, because as a man of wealth and taste-”

He hiked back and punted David like a pig skin, sending him crashing into a street lamp.

“-I cannot fathom why you would ever presume to call me an idiot. Unless of course you were judging me by my outwards appearance, in which case I must reprimand you for being an ignorant motherfucker who neglects his personal hygiene and physical fitness.”

David watched his own blood paint the curb underneath the orange light of the lightpole. The situation was bad. Worse than bad. David’s body couldn’t take much more of this. If he couldn’t run away, then he would attack again.

The broad-set man approached him at a brisk, leisurely pace. His instincts taking over, David lunged at the man, only to be caught off-guard again and slammed into a steel garage door. How? He was a vampire! Why couldn’t he hit him?!

“You’re probably thinking to yourself, ‘How can this aged gentleman be keeping up with my speed? Is he perhaps a pugilist or world-renowned fighter pilot?’” the giant old man said as he casually dodged David’s feral attacks. “It’s time you learned that keeping up with a vampire really isn’t all that hard. The common man makes a big fuss about it, but really it’s no more different than catching a fly in the palm of your hand. Practice and a steady hand go a long way, and I always know where you’re going to land, little bug.”

The man in the white suit easily caught another one of David’s wild haymakers, and at that moment as he towered over him David noticed the man was wearing an iron cross. He started struggling even harder. He couldn’t help it. He panicked, his movements becoming erratic and unfocused as he broke free only to be wrestled into a one-armed chokehold, his face inches from the cross.

“And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.

With his free hand, the man put pressure on the left side of David’s head, pushing him towards the cross as every muscle and tendon in David’s neck resisted him, vertebrae popping and crinkling and making noises David was fairly certain they weren’t supposed to make. Fear overpowered his ability to even think about his own pain.

“Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

David fought him for every centimeter, but he could feel himself losing ground as tears rolled down his cheeks. He couldn’t. He didn’t want it. He couldn’t touch that thing! He’d die if he did! He’d rather die than touch it!

“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

David felt his neck snap halfway as he slowly kissed the cross, its cold feeling disgusting to the touch.

“Please stop…” he sobbed. But the man was merciless.

“If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land-”

“But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”

A slight and thinly shadow walked out of the dimly lit alley, revealing the beautiful capofamiglia of the Vitali crime family. The snowy, ethereal youth dressed in grey approached David and the large man.

“Ah, Romeo. Excellent timing,” the man said. “As the righteous right hand of our family commands, how shall we deal with this heathen, this modern-day Nimrod? What castigation, which punishment befits one as blind and ignorant as him?”

“Settle down, Felix,” Romeo commanded. “Let’s tone it back a bit. This is the neighborhood watch, not Broadway. You’re going to attract unwanted attention.”

“Yeah, so stop going all ‘alas, poor Yorick! I knew him’ on us, you friggin’ faggot. He’s a blood-sucking vampire, not a talent scout.” Another shadowed emerged from alley, this time a snickering, bug-eyed cockroach of a man. “Not that there’s much of a difference.”

“Shut the fuck up, Sylvester,” Felix said angrily. “You don’t get to talk to me like that.”

Romeo sighed. “Watch your mouth, you two. A man of the Lord does not speak like that. Though I have to agree with him, Felix. The theatrics are uncalled for.”

The large man loosened his grip on David. “My apologies.”

“Remember, we’re here to do a job we’ve been called upon by the community to do. Just because it’s off the books doesn’t mean it isn’t official business, so try to keep it professional.”

“So,” Sylvester said, running a hand through his greasy black hair. “What crimes is this no-good sack of shit guilty of?”

“The crimes of heresy, sodomy, attempted murder, consultation with evil spirits, trespassing in the Lord’s domain; the power of life over death, and the capital sin of vampirism,” Romeo recited as if reading off an official transcript.

“So he’s a cocksucker too then?”

Yes,” Romeo said, sighing. “Honestly, Sylvester. Were you even paying attention when I told you all of this earlier?”

“Nah,” Sylvester said dismissively, licking his lips. “You know how it is with me and our little midnight hunts. I get too excited to listen…”

Romeo frowned. “Well the hunt’s over now. It’s time get down to business.”

The lacy young man drew a 9mm and plugged David in the legs, destroying his kneecaps. David cried dryly, his screams barely audible to anyone outside his own small corner of Hell. After emptying a full clip, Romeo paused, reloaded, then shot again.

“That should prevent him from regenerating for a few minutes,” he said cooly. “No sense in wasting blessed Macedonian silver on a vampire who’s already half-dead. Sylvester, grab the rope. Felix, bring the car around.”

“What are you doing…” David said weakly. But Romeo wouldn’t hear him. To the young and beautiful capofamiglia, the dirty gunsel may as well not have existed, because all he did was keep ordering around his lackeys like he’d forgotten about David the moment he’d holstered his gun. Sylvester came back around, tying a length of rope into a knot with a loop at the end, and David knew exactly what they were planning on doing to him.

“No, stop! Please! You can’t do this, I’ve done nothing wrong!” David screamed as they worked the loop around his neck and tied it to the bumper of their car. “I didn’t mean to hurt Eddy, I swear!”

Sylvester got down on his knees, assuming a very beast-like stance. Smiling maniacally, he took his own weapon, a smaller version of that same bone-white spear, and shoved it into David’s chest, reopening the wound Felix had made. David screamed.

“Listen to that sweet honky-tonk music,” Sylvester said serenely. “That’s a replica holy lance, by the way. It keeps maggot fucks like you from moving around too much. It’s not quite up to snuff with the one that spilled the blood of Christ, but…” He laughed. “You’re a much shitter zombie than He was.”

“That’s enough, Sylvester,” Romeo said. “Felix, are we good to go?”

The large man nodded, and Romeo silently climbed into the backseat, Sylvester calling shotgun while Felix took the wheel. David weakly tried to remove the spear, tried to undo the knot, tried to do something. This couldn’t be happening, this just could not be happening! Where were the police? Where were the people? Someone had to have seen this, someone had to have heard him! So where were they? For christ’s sake, they couldn’t just execute him in the middle of the street!

The engine roared to life, filling David’s lungs with exhaust fumes. Shifting into drive, Felix took off and snapped David’s neck, ushering him into sweet silence.

David awoke hanging from a tree on the outskirts of town, the rope pressed tightly against his neck. He couldn’t breathe, but that was hardly the point. He couldn’t move.

Below him, the three men finished their business, passing around various tools to be loaded into the trunk of the car. Romeo motioned for Sylvester to grab something, and a sign was placed around David’s neck.

“Do either of you have anything you want to say?” he asked. Both men shook their heads. “Alright then, I suppose I will then.”

Romeo retrieved a pocket bible from the folds of his coat, and cleared his throat.

“Romans fourteen, verses seven through nine. ‘For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.’ Let your soul be cleansed as you are ushered into the kingdom of the Lord. Repent and let your sins be forgiven and washed away, as we have washed away this sinful form. Give thanks to the heavens, and rejoice with trembling as you are welcomed into the arms of the Almighty. Praise be to God.”

“Praise be to God,” Sylvester and Felix both echoed.

David struggled in his noose. He wanted to say something, tell them they were fucking idiots after all, or beg for them to let him go. Maybe both. But he couldn’t make a sound, not with the rope crushing his windpipe like this. What did they hope to achieve by this? Were they going to choke him to death? It would take hours for him to die like that.

David felt something pricking his eyes as he turned them to the horizon. After all the effort he’d spent struggling, he’d forgotten to take into account just how much time he’d lost after they’d carried him away in the dead of night. The darkness was giving way to smooth, cool blue as the stars started retreating back into the concealing embrace of the sky.

It was morning.

David felt the first few beams of sunlight crashing into him like a wave before he was engulfed by the tide of the rising sun, his body engulfed in light. His skin started to blister and peel like it was shrinking into leather, rapidly exposing the blood and raw muscle underneath. There was no smoke like he’d thought. No flames either. It was like he was being consumed by an invisible fire, his body turning into jerky of its own accord as his muscles tightened, tanned to a sickly brown.

All sense of self-preservation or reservations towards self-harm disappeared as David struggled wildly in the noose, his skin glistening with blood and sticky excretions as his body slowly burned away. This type of continuous damage would overpower his ability to regenerate, what little of it remained. He was dying. Romeo sniffed.

“Something the matter, Romeo?” Felix asked as the boyish capofamiglia turned away, averting his eyes.

“No, it’s nothing,” he responded.

“… Romeo, your father left Sylvester and I to care for you when he died. It would be negligent for me not to ask.”

“I’m fine,” he said curtly. “This needs to happen. The Vitalis have to get back on track and remember who we are. We are the hunters of monsters and those who would follow the heretical order of magic. After my failure-”

Our failure.”

“-to apprehend that rogue homunculus and stop the Allesandris from getting their hands on yet another vital asset, our war plans have suffered incredible setbacks. I have to make up for that as a leader if I’m going to see our dream fulfilled in my lifetime, and our hunts help our cause immensely. It’s just…”

“Just what?”

“How do you do it? I know what they are but they still look so human. Every time we hunt one it feels like we’re butchering one of our own kind.”

“But we’re not,” Felix reminded him. “Those things? They’re monsters. Every last motherfucking one of them. And we’re the only ones who can destroy them with lightning and fire and a strong oath, and wipe them off the face of the fucking Earth like Sodom and Gomorrah. We’re the only ones who can fight them, because we’re the only ones willing to see. The only ones willing to undertake this task of which we have been most righteously commanded.”

“… you’re right,” Romeo said, wiping away the weakness in his eyes. “We’re the only ones who can see them for what they really are.”

The Vitali’s boyish boss opened the car door, and looked back at the struggling David, his eyes strong and determined.

“They’re the monsters who killed my father.”

The three men piled into the car and drove off, leaving David to slowly cook in the light of the new morning.

That’s right. I’m the head of the Vitali family now. Our numbers may be few, but when the time comes, we will be the ones to cleanse this city of cancers like the five families, and wash away the blood and the filth of magic they leave behind. We are the forsaken, the believers who turn away from the light of God in order to do what must be done. No matter how ugly the means, our goals are worthy of pursuing. Saving people, hunting things, and protecting the innocent from the evils in this world worse than man. This is who the Vitalis are, and what we do.

When the police discovered David that morning, they found him quite literally hung out to dry, with a sign around his neck that read “our wrath hath been kindled”.

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Interlude 2.a (Dante Salvo)

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From the case files of Dante Salvo, written circa 1954:

New York City. The only place in America where a cop can be an outlaw and a gangster can be a lawman. Nowhere else was crime ever as rampant as it was here. I looked around and all I saw was a city of gamblers, playing dice with their lives instead of chips. Here, a man could step off the boat with nothing but the clothes on his back and a dream, and in five months he could make a fortune, be a high- roller. Live a life of whiskey and gams, spending every night chatting it up with the big leaguers in the senate all casual like he’s sharing a drink buddy-to-buddy at the bar back in the old country. Or, he could end up dead, nothing left to his name but a coffin and a few ounces of lead. It was all the same. You live to play the game long enough and eventually, one always leads to the other. Always.

My name’s Dante Salvo. I’m a police dick, a detective and investigative pathologist. I’m also a knight, but that’s another story for the boys back home. I came here in the spring of ’31 after I got transferred out of the Atlantic City office for “improper conduct”. I guess that’s what they call it now when you’re the only one not willing to compromise your principles for a paycheck.

The more I think about it, that’s the only way to stay sane in a world like this. You can’t lose your way, not even in the face of armageddon. Never say yes. Never compromise.

I’m sad to report that after almost four years on the job, getting shunted from department to department, I was the only one I knew who still felt that way. The only one who still had convictions, even after all the things you see and do in this line of work. Guys like me, we’re just like canaries in whorehouses, and just as common. Maybe it’s just something wrong with us. Or maybe it’s just something wrong with everyone else.

New York City. A city of six million people all looking for answers, and all of them in the wrong places. Here, you go all in, or you go home. You become a criminal or an accomplice, become a part of a system that’s rotten, or you die slow like a dog, like a slave starving for just one more piece of bread. I came here to buck that trend. I was going to take a third option, and I wasn’t gonna run. I was gonna make this place my home.

Walking into the office, I didn’t exactly have high hopes for the New York PD. Situated right in the heart of Gangland, it was about as dirty and rat-infested as the town, maybe more. I knew it wasn’t going to be much to work with. So I’d just have to make due. This was the last stop on the road to perdition. They had nowhere else to throw me, so this was where I would stick. I’d whip this office into shape like a slave driver, and no one would be able to tell me to hit the bricks. Not this time.

I cast an eye around the room as I looked for my coatrack. Everyone who crossed my eye looked either dangerously out of order, crooked, or both. Almost like I’d walked into an alligator pit, or Wall Street.

Everyone looked at me like they were on edge. As my luck would have it, I’d transferred in only days after one of the biggest bomb threats in New York history. Some whacko nutjob named Mickey Donahue had practically been holding the city hostage for hours before we even heard about it. I was there to find out why.

A fat- looking fella in-uniform walked up to me.

“My name is Sergeant Philips. You are?”

“Dante Salvo, the new detective. I just transferred in from Atlantic City.”

“Oh, uh, of course. Right this way…” He seemed nervous.

We passed row after row of open desks. I could only wonder where everyone was when the city was still recovering from such a crisis. I hoped they were all just busy with relief, but I sadly doubted that was the case. The few people that were around, the sergeant introduced me to personally.

“Michael here is our top-”

“Oi, kid. You lost?” someone asked me.

I turned to get a better look at him. The man was an officer, though you wouldn’t be able to tell if he wasn’t dressed and on the job. His appearance was sloppy and it looked like he didn’t want to be there, kinda like me when I found out the dame I’d been hitting up at the club wasn’t a dame at all, and then things just got all kinds of awkward. I mean all of a sudden you’re just not that into them anymore, and you really just wanna go home and try again tomorrow but you don’t want to leave early and hurt anyone’s feelings… so yeah. Just like this guy. Kinda. Maybe.

… I sorta lost track of that metaphor somewhere along the line, didn’t I?

The sergeant sighed as the other officer mouthed off at me. “And this here is Bobby Thompson, our resident wiseguy.”

I cast the sergeant a wary glance. “A wiseguy, huh? What exactly do you mean by that?”

“Oh, uhhh… nothing, really.”

I sighed with relief. “Oh good, because for a second there I thought you were implying-”

Anyway, don’t mind his surly attitude. He’s just having his time of the month. Otherwise, I’m sure he would’ve shown you just a bit more respect, right, Bobby?” He cleared his throat for emphasis. “Anyway, time for introductions. This is the detective top brass has been talking about. You know, the new guy? Officer Bobby Thompson, meet Special Detective Dante Salvo.”

I moved to shake his hand. Then I noticed his ears, and I stopped. He had some very interesting ones. Big and floppy, and covered in hair. And also perched on top of his head. They perked up.

“What’s up with you?” he questioned accusingly. “Something about me interesting to you?”

I studied him. Lycan. Aged thirty-two years. The scent of the pheromones leaking off of him indicated he was past the point of full maturity for his species. Seemed to be a tiger-breed as well. Alpha. That made me more concerned than it probably should have.

Was he a problem? Probably not. Then again, I just told you being a member of the police department doesn’t make you clean in this city. It was always better to be sure than sorry.

“You,” I said, responding to his question. “Are you carrying your card with you?”

“My… card?”

He looked at me like he was confused. Not a good sign. Not for him or this department.

“Yes, your card. Your license, identification and registration that lets people know who you are and what you are. As an officer of the law, you of all people should be carrying one at all times to set an example for others.”

The lycan sighed. I got the feeling he was getting impatient. “Look junior, I got my ears on display and everything. Isn’t that enough?”

“No,” I responded quickly, shooting him down faster than a red record-setting German fighter pilot on a sunny day. “The letter of law states that you are required to have your card on your person at all times. You must be willing to display it at a moment’s notice. If your species’ unique morphological traits was sufficient identification, we would not need to hand out demihuman registration applications to orks, gorgons, harpies, vampires, and people of a semi-divine nature.” Amongst others. “I’ve had a lot of problems with your kind before because you refuse to carry your licenses. Your ears and tail do not help identify you in an investigation, nor do they serve as adequate proof of registration and citizenship.”

“My kind?” That made him angry. Upset. I prepared for confrontation. Based on past experiences, he was likely to become aggressive with me. That’s just how lycans are, especially out here in the Big Apple, where everyone wants a piece of everyone. We’re all just worms fighting for a piece of Lady Liberty.

I tried talking him down. Didn’t want nothing nasty happening here, or else we might’ve seen more fur fly that day than a downtown pet show. “Yes, your kind. Demihumans. Ethnic groups of non-human, ex-human, or part-human heritage. That is how you identify yourself, isn’t it?”

We stared each other down for a few tense seconds. Finally he backed off. It didn’t look like anything I said did much to earn his goodwill back, but then again nothing ever does when you’re dealing with lycans. Still, it got him to calm down. That was good enough for me. He sat back down in his chair with a harumph. I could only hope that meant we could continue with business proper.

“As a police officer, you have a reputation to uphold for you and your fellow officers in this district. In the future, I’d ask you to refrain from being so casual on the job.” Adjusting my gloves, I asked the sergeant, “I was told there would be toxicology reports for me to examine?”

“Oh, ummmm… yes?” he said. “Our file system is a little out of control here. What specifically do you want to look at?”

“The results of the autopsies done on the bodies of Mickey Donahue’s men. The ones we recovered in the middle of the gas attack.”

“What?” the sergeant said, looking surprised. “Why do you wanna see those? They’re not even finished yet.”

“I’m looking for a powder trail. I think the five families might have something to do with enabling this Mickey Donahue business, but right now, I don’t have anything to go on. It won’t be much, but if we can find any nepenthe in their blood, hopefully we can follow the trail back to the Sartinis. The results of the chemical analysis on their blood might help us pinch one of the Big Apple’s big five.”

I didn’t want to tell him the truth, that I was just using this as an excuse to conduct an investigation into internal affairs. It had long been rumored the cops in this city had a hand in the drug trade, and now I was gonna find out if there was any meat to that. The information from the drug tests could give me insight on how the drugs were made, where they were made, and maybe even potential avenues for distribution. Psychometry might even help me put a time and a place on some of the deals that helped these men score their hit. I’d follow those leads as far as they’d take me, and maybe if I was lucky, I’d find something that would lead me back to their friends in the police department. This was all unauthorized of course, but given the lack of police reaction to the recent bomb threats, I had to do something. Figure out who was fresh and who was a bad apple.

“It’s baby steps, but anything that helps when you’re trying to make a case against some of the most powerful men in New York. Now do you have the files?”

“Yes,” the other man replied. “Aaaaand no.”

Eyebrows were raised. “No? What do you mean ‘no’?”

“I mean we don’t have them right now.. sir,” he said nervously. It was obvious he was offput by having to surrender his seniority to a younger person, despite the obvious disparity in rank. Oh well. I expected that. It was hardly the first time someone underestimated me because of my age. It wouldn’t be the last.

I sighed. “I don’t care how you address me, sergeant, I care about those toxicology reports. I was brought in here to do a job, and would like to begin doing so immediately. Now please tell me where they are.”

“If he says we don’t have ‘em, we don’t have ‘em,” the lycan said unhelpfully.

The sergeant hushed him quick-like. Couldn’t tell if it was fear, secrets, or both. “We loaned them out a few hours ago. Someone came into the office and requested them immediately following the autopsies.”

“… who?” The sergeant fidgeted like a vampire in church. I didn’t like that. I didn’t like it one bit. Where had those files gone, and who were the police handing them out to? “Tell me sergeant, who requested to see those files?”

“Marquis Allesandri, sir.”

I felt a bad taste take root in my mouth, like raw lemons washing over toothpaste. Marquis Allesandri. The illegitimate son of the head of the Allesandri crime family, Frankie Allesandri. Publicly, he headed a successful law firm and made a living as a finance banker and a scholar. He was quite well off. However, there were multiples lines of evidence and paper trails that pointed to him being deeply involved in his father’s illicit business dealings.

Bootlegging. Gun running. Theft. Larceny. Destruction of public and private property. Money laundering. Insurance fraud. Production and distribution of illegal narcotics like opium and cocaine. The Allesandris had a hand in pretty much everything rotten that goes on in this city. A little bit here, a little bit there. Never enough to draw too much attention to themselves. They liked to keep a low profile so they looked good in the eyes of the people, but they were just as guilty as any other gang in this city.

The department willingly gave the papers to a man like that?

I sighed. No choice then. “Get me all the copies of the reports you have on file. Everything on Mickey Donahue and his gang while you’re at it, too.”

“But-”

“Just,” I said, letting the word hang in the air like a dead man. “Do it. Please.”

The sergeant seemed to get my message and scurried off. I sat down. At that moment, I felt like the only thing I deserved in this world more than a break was a smoke. I reached around for the crumpled pack I’d been keeping in my back pocket this past week. They were broken just like this office, but that didn’t mean they burned any less sweet.

The lycan stayed silent. He seemed determined to ignore me. I sincerely hoped this wouldn’t mean he’d become a problem. Instead, he stared at the cross pin on my lapel. Finally, curiosity got the better of him, and he broke the silence.

“That pin… I’ve never seen that insignia before. What’s it supposed to be?”

“Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum.”

“Huh?”

“If you don’t know what that means, then it’s none of your business,” I responded flatly.

Finally the sergeant returned with a fat stack of folders thicker around than my great grandma Mavis. This was about as specific as things were gonna get, huh?

“I told you to only bring me what was relevant, sergeant.”

“It’s uhhh… it’s all relevant, sir. The top brass requested that you help them with the ongoing Broncos investigation before you take on your… thing. These are all the materials we have related to Mickey Donahue and his gang. That, and the preliminary toxicology reports, like you asked. I put those ones on top.” He tapped the thinnest, topmost folder. “They told me that if you want to help out with the next battery of drug tests, they’re ready and waiting for you in the autopsy room, but they won’t put it off any longer than an hour.”

I sighed. Guess I had a timetable now. “You wanna help me with this, sergeant?”

“I’d like to, but…” Excuses. Always excuses.

“Nevermind then.”

“Alright, then I’ll leave you with Bobby. He can help you out with the paperwork.”

The sergeant turned to leave while the lycan, Bobby, silently curses at him and made rude gestures behind his back. He had a vocabulary as colorful as a van Gogh.

“No point in waiting,” I said, grabbing a file. “Let’s get to work.”

Bobby grumbled, and picked up another.

“I don’t even get this. If you’re here to do drug tests, what the hell are we doing looking at…” He checked the label on the file, reading it aloud. “‘Case reports surrounding the rise in youth delinquency on the streets of New York’? The hell does this have to do with anything?”

“In order to understand the impact a drug has on a person’s final moments, you have to understand what came before all that. You have to take the temple apart and rebuild it, starting from the first brick. The more you know about the stiff, the more he can tell you. Understanding the past is the only way to understand the future.”

I flipped through the folder, and started reading. Bobby, although unhappy, did his part too, and spoke aloud from the folder.

“Mickey Donahue, caucasian male, age 29. Second- generation Irish immigrant, son of Richard Donahue and Marlene Donahue. Says here he was charged with his first murder when he was thirteen years old. Jesus, how the hell does that happen…”

I saw him scan the page, then pale a little bit, like he’d just seen the ghost of Christmas Future in July. He looked like he was going to be sick. Since he wasn’t protesting, I took the folder from him to have a look for myself.

As it turns out, the contents of the folder were very, very graphic, and not in a nudie mag kinda way. It showed Mickey Donahue, aged thirteen, half-naked from the waist down and covered in blood. He was holding a baseball bat, presumably the murder weapon, and stood over two dead bodies, both of them beaten and bruised beyond recognition with their heads mashed into pulp.

I kept reading. There were notes attached to the clipped-on photos, explaining that the dead bodies belonged to none other than Mickey’s own mother and father, who he’d killed that night sixteen years ago after his ill-tempered mother got drunk, beat him, and then tried to sexually assault him while his father was away at work. Reading further, it appeared there was a history of such violence in the household. It would explain Mickey’s own behavior rather nicely. A little too nicely. But not why he’d killed the father as well.

The scene began to play itself out in my mind. Mickey, only thirteen years old, cornered in his bed by his alcoholic mother. Resistant at first, but an uninhibited adult would eventually overpower a thirteen year old child. Plus, Mickey would have been used to it at this point. This would be the fifth time. Mother would drunkenly attempt to straddle him, beating him every time she thought he was resisting. Sometimes just for the hell of it. Eventually, she gets it right. Rest of the details are fuzzy. Her success doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things with what happens next. The father, concerned for his child and burdened with the guilt of leaving him with his mother, leaves work early. Comes home to find his boy being victimized by someone who used to be his wife. He grabs a baseball bat and hits her in the back of the head with it, incapacitating her. He tries to help Mickey up, but instead Mickey picks up the bat and starts hitting her. Blood flies everywhere. The father snaps out of it once Mickey’s made a dent the shape of the bat in her head. Tries to take it away from him. Mickey fights back, probably landing a shot on his groin. Doubled over in pain, the father is helpless to resist the first blow to the head, which disorients him but fails to knock him out. Subsequent hits make him lose consciousness. Mickey continues screaming and beating him until the police arrive.

I glanced at the court transcripts. Although the young Mickey made no attempts to deny the murders, his state-provided lawyer managed to dismiss the charges. Mickey was a child living in a broken home, and if the mental wellness tests they did on him were any indication, he had been unstable long before his mother’s abuse pushed him past the breaking point.

I handed Mickey’s folder back to Bobby. He could have it. I was done. I began perusing the other folders. Similar stories all around, though most of them not quite as gruesome. Most of the Broncos were the products of broken homes, broken relationships, and broken lives. People who’d lost any other reason to cling to besides frustration, and hate with no release. A veritable Wild Hunt of outcasts and lost boys. Almost made you think someone had been putting them out of their misery instead of ours.

Still, I had to admire Mickey for his charisma. Getting so much damaged goods together in one place; some mistook his behavior for crude vulgarity, but that took skill. Someone who was naturally good at picking out and exploiting a person’s insecurities, their flaws.

Sorting through the eye witness accounts was where things got interesting. In the few tense hours of infamy he’d enjoyed before what we could only assume was his untimely demise (no body had yet been recovered), Mickey had evolved into something of a local folktale, a boogeyman. Vastly fictionalized accounts of his exploits in the hours leading up to his death placed him at the sites of numerous bank robberies, the mayor’s office, and even atop the Statue of Liberty, spewing fire like he’d eaten a bad burrito, or my mom’s home cooking.

Inbetween all the tall tales, one detail kept coming back to me. Something really weird that I couldn’t quite place as fact or fake. Almost everyone described him as being with a dame in a red dress. Some of them said she had white hair while others said blonde, and all of them said she had something sticking out of her head. Horns, ears, the reports varied. We had no records of such a person, but she showed up in practically every eyewitness report. The weirdest thing about her though was that everyone agreed she was the only one spared from the massacre.

I knew right away that if I was going to get answers, I needed to find her first. She was my only lead, the only surviving Bronco who I could talk with.

“Bobby, I’m gonna be taking these. Tell the sergeant I’m on lunch break.”

“Huh? But you just got here!” Suddenly, he remembered the pile of reports still stacked in front of him. “And don’t leave me with all the paperwork, you bum! Do your own damn work!”

Ignoring him, I picked up the toxicology reports and a few folders full of the eyewitness accounts, and tucked them into my vest, right over my heart. I got up and grabbed my coat from the rack. I needed to think about this somewhere other than the office. Somewhere I wouldn’t be disturbed as much. Bobby wouldn’t like it, but Bobby could deal.

The weather outside had gone sour fast. Before I even knew it, it started raining, pouring down on me like God, or rather the gods were taking a piss on the whole damn city. I frowned at having to correct myself mid-thought like that. Even after ten years, it still felt weird to me. This whole gods and goddesses thing. I kinda wish the fae had never imparted that little tidbit of knowledge. Call me old-fashioned, but I still think there should be only one god, with a capital G. That’s how I was raised.

I defaulted to lunch in Soho. It wasn’t too far from the station, and stopping for a kosher-style sandwich at Katz’s had been on my to-do list since I stepped off that train. What was its name again? The K-Baller? City of Cleveland? Flying Pussyfoot?

… No, that last one was stupid.

Remembering it was called the Cinderdoss, I walked into Katz’s with high hopes. I wasn’t Jewish, but I’d heard great things about their sandwiches here, and I figured now was as good a time as any to try this food of theirs that was supposedly so great. The line was long, but I wasn’t going anywhere. If anything, it’d give me more time alone with these files.

“What, do I have to do a little song and dance for you? Say ‘open sesame’? Where’s the hooch, you old geezer?”

I heard him from all the way at the back of the line. Some tough in raggedy clothes was causing a scene with the pudgy, middle-aged manager at the counter. Now I wasn’t an official Prohibition agent, but as far as I was concerned, laws are laws. No self-respecting lawman would turn a blind eye to murder because it was inconvenient or because it wasn’t worth his time, so why should Prohibition be any different? If someone openly sold booze in public, it was my duty to treat it with the same urgency as any other criminal offence.

I decided to wait it out though. I didn’t have enough to make a move yet. All I could do was be patient and see how this played out. Like the tortoise waiting for the hare to tire himself and go to sleep so the tortoise could sleep with hare’s wife.

“Listen friend, this isn’t a gin-mill,” the shopkeeper responded, wiping sweat and grease off on his apron. “What kind of business do you think I am running here?”

“Well obviously you’re making a living serving up bullshit, because I have it on good word they make the rotgut here meaner than my ex-girlfriend, and I want in on that.”

The shopkeepr frowned. “I don’t know who told you that, but I have no idea what you’re talking about. Now are you going to order or just keep holding up the line like a shlemiel?”

“What did you say? You trying to tell me that the Marquis doesn’t know where to get himself some gin?” The shopkeeper didn’t seem to like hearing the Marquis’ name mentioned in his shop, because he flinched, and started looking around in a panic. The young tough grinned, and grabbed the panicked shopkeeper by his apron. “Now listen to me porky, because I’m the butter and egg man for some powerful people, and I’m over here sitting on top of more green than a cabbage farmer, high and dry because you feel like being stingy. Does that seem smart to you? Do you really feel like messing with me now that you know the kinda people I work for?”

For a second it seemed like the shopkeeper was about to relent, but he soon found his footing and shoved the little punk back on his keister. “For the last time, I told you, we don’t serve gin here! We are a clean, reputable establishment! Now are you going to order something or not, you-”

I cleared my throat before the shopkeeper could say anything that would besmirch the sensitive ears of any young Jewish children who might be eating here. I’d waited long enough. There wasn’t going to be an alcohol bust today. If he was guilty, that shopkeeper had tighter lips than a clam sucking on superglue. But I couldn’t let a fight break out in public like this.

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” I said, walking to the front of the line. “I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation.”

“Huhhhhh?” the troublemaker growled. “What do you want, pipsqueak?”

“Dante Salvo, detective and criminal investigator for the NYPD.” I flashed my badge. “You said you were the bankroll man for who exactly?”

It’s surprising how quickly bravado fades when a badge is flashed. He became submissive almost immediately, his eyes running around the room like a rat trying to find its way out of a maze.

“Well, I uh… you see, the thing is…”

“First, I highly doubt you even know the Marquis personally, much less work for him. The Allesandris are scum, but they do employ a higher calibre of men than you. Men who don’t mouth off about their supposed power and connections in a place where they might be overheard by cops.”

“Officer, you gotta understand, I was just-”

“Second, your claims to wealth are immediately and obviously false to anyone who thinks about it for more than half a second. Your clothes are worn and tattered, and those shoes are at least a few years old. And if you really had as much money as you claimed, why would you bother buying liquor from a public restaurant when you could simply have it imported? All it would cost is the regular shelf price and a small fee for the Pescatorre’s good will.”

“Come on G-man, I was fucking kidding!”

“Third, you do know the purchase and distribution of alcoholic beverages is illegal under the Eighth Amendment, right? Saying these kinds of things in front of an officer of the law is just asking to be arrested.” I let that sink in, and gave him some time to stew. “Well, today I’ll let you off with a warning. Seeing as I’m not an official Prohibition agent and this isn’t an actual cash transaction for ownership of illegal alcohol, there isn’t really much I can do to you. Remember that next time you have the bright idea to try and break the law in front of half-a-dozen witnesses. Actually, don’t. You’ll make my job a lot easier if you’d just let me arrest you.”

He’d had enough. The wannabe scurried off like a fat guy chasing a BLT sandwich, and I took his place in line.

“P-Please sir, you have to understand there was no t-truth to any of the things that pisher was saying!” the shopkeeper stammered. “Like the sign out front says, everything here is 100% kosher!”

He flashed a fake grin, obviously nervous.

I sighed. “Relax joe, I believe you.”

“Thank you, but… m-my name is not Joe…”

“Figure of speech,” I said. “I’d like to order now.”

“Certainly,” he said, sounding relieved. “What do you want? Anything for the city’s finest.”

“I’d like a reuben with provolone and extra peanut-butter. Double-wide, all the way.” He looked at me like I was a crazy person, with an extra side-order of crazy. “Oh, and a glass of milk too, to wash the chocolate down.”

“Huh?”

Milk,” I enunciated. “You know, baby juice?”

“Of course,” he said, still a bit nervous. “Coming right up.”

“Alright, good. How much do I owe you then?” I said, fishing a checker out of my wallet.

“Owe? It’s on the house!” he said, still faking his enthusiasm and gratitude. “A token of thanks to our wonderful police officers for helping this meager deli of mine to stay nice and clean and above all, legal.

“Yeah, well make sure it stays that way,” I said. I knew if I bothered getting a warrant I’d find bottles of that same rotgut stacked high to the ceiling, but the way the office was now, no one would ever believe me. Besides, I respected Lady Iustitia too much to unscrupulously manipulate the letter of the law to my own ends.

A table of harpies and succubi were chatting it up in the shop corner. Something about a club called the Castaway. It sounded like juicy gossip, so I picked up my sandwich and took a seat a few tables down. It never hurt to hear the words of the people in a job like mine.

I took my first bite of the sandwich. It was true what they’d said. The quality of the meat here was excellent, and the preparation above amazing. The thick chocolate fudge complemented the taste of the sauerkraut splendidly, the vanilla ice cream melting on top of the bread soaking in and giving it a delicate sweetness, and the meat was cooked to perfection, and excellently seasoned. And the range of serving sizes they were able to offer… this would definitely become my new lunch spot once I finished moving in to my apartment.

Setting aside my sandwich, I began examining the autopsy reports for Mickey’s gang. They’d certainly died gruesomely. All the bodies we’d recovered from the Central Park massacre had either been sliced into pieces, torn apart, shot up, chewed up, or all of the above. The manner of death suggested a higher level of violence that a normal human wasn’t capable of committing. Demihuman then? Maybe demigod? Hard to say. When the victim was just a flesh and blood human, there was hardly any functional difference between the strength of a vampire and the strength of a godchild.

I couldn’t rule out the possibility that these wounds had been inflicted by an exceptionally skilled and highly trained human, but it wasn’t likely. Heroes, champions, humans who could stand up to ghosts, ghouls and gods… well, they weren’t very common. You only get one Monkey King every few centuries or so, if that.

The toxicology reports were especially interesting, though. Mickey’s goons had been more hopped up on drugs than an herbalist in a spriggan’s pawn shop. Opium, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, berserkergang, Red Dragon… Red fucking Dragon? Seriously? I couldn’t believe someone would actually willingly ingest that stuff.

The list went on, and I sighed. Well, I suppose it was no loss. Even if these men had reformed and lead pious, god-fearing lives as productive members of society, it would’ve only been for one week. Their bodies would’ve shut down and calcified long before they even saw their next birthday. The politicians would shed a tear for them, lament the blight drugs had brought on this city, but they wouldn’t do anything about it after that. They’d forget it completely. That’s why it was my job to clean up this city, not theirs.

“Whaddya mean, ‘get out of here’? I’m a paying customer too, aren’t I?”

I looked up from my files. There was more trouble at the front counter.

“I said get out! We don’t serve your kind here,” the middle-aged shopkeeper spat at an ork who’d recently made it to the front of the line. “Remember the sign? This deli is kosher. That means no swine!”

“Swine?!” That seemed like it made him mad. “Listen buddy, you can’t talk to me like that! I have rights!”

“Good for you! Take them somewhere else then! I’m not going to have you just sitting around here in my deli, scaring away my customers and stroking your pork sausage while you make passes at my wife!”

“Wha- I’m not interested in your wife! Just what the hell are you implying?!”

“That you and your pig-nosed brothers should stick to humping sows instead of real women like nature intended! And what’s this I hear from you? Are you implying my wife is not beautiful? That she is ugly like your filthy, mud-covered pigsty children?”

“You want me to shove that baklava up your ass?!”

I sighed, and reached for my detective special. Squabbles like this might seem meaningless to most people, but they paint a clear picture to me. The work of a police officer is never done in this city.

“I wonder if Al’s having this hard of a time…”

Previous || Next

Snatch 2.14

Previous || Next

When I came to, all of Mickey’s goons had fled, and I was being seen to by Theo, who was no more worse for wear than when we’d started, minus some ruffles and cuts on her dress and leggings. Her gloved hands worked quickly, threading fibers from her dress through a needle as she closed up a bleeding gash just under my left eye with a pattern of red stitches. So she knew how to apply first-aid too.

I looked up at her, my head cradled in her lap.

“You are awake.”

“Yeah, I figured,” I said. “What happened? Last thing I remember is Mickey trying to-”

“Mickey is no longer a problem,” she said. I turned to look in the direction she was pointing to. Mickey was rolling around on the floor, gagged and stuffed into a barrel. I couldn’t help it. I laughed.

“And who do we have to thank for that?” I asked. “Papa Noel? Or was it l’Agnello?”

“Try me.”

Now there was a voice I recognized.

“Well whaddya know,” I said, turning my head to look at him. “It’s our own resident miracle-worker. Guess I was at least half-right. What took you so long? I thought you weren’t coming to save me.”

“And you really believed that?”

I grinned. “Not for a second. Thanks for hauling my ass out of the fire.”

“Eh,” he said shrugging. “Looks like you had things under control. Right up until that ‘choking you with your own gun’ bit. That got a little messy.”

“I would hardly say he had things ‘under control’,” Theo said. “What he did today was incredibly foolish, not to mention dangerous. His reckless endangerment of his own life is hardly worth admiring-”

Marq laughed. “Looks like you’ve got a real spitfire of your own, Al. Why didn’t you introduce us sooner?”

I winced. This was embarrassing.

“I still saved you, didn’t I?” I shot back, trying to save face. “As far as I’m concerned, that’s quid pro quo.”

She nodded. “Indeed. I am forever in your debt.”

“More like in my debt…” Marq muttered.

“I will have to repay you as well then I suppose, Mr. Allesandri.”

“Let’s try to avoid paying him the same way you tried to pay me,” I responded sarcastically. “He’s kind of spoken for.”

Marq laughed. “Twice over, actually. A girlfriend and a fiancee. Don’t worry, we can negotiate the exact terms and conditions later.”

I looked at Marq. “So? How’d you know where to find me?”

He laughed. “Really, Al? You think you ever left my sight for a second? You don’t take your eyes off your best pieces in chess, do you?”

I laughed back. “You sneaky bastard. Don’t tell me this was all part of some plan you cooked up. Man, that is fucked up, you know that, right?”

“Language,” he said, reprimanding me. “We are in the presence of a lady.”

I paused and took a moment to consider this new information. “… What about Nayeli?”

“Nayeli doesn’t care if I swear.”

“No, I mean what about Nayeli? Where does she factor into this? I can’t imagine what happened to her in Central Park was all part of the plan.” I paused, unsure if I wanted the answer. “Was it?”

Marq sighed. “Admittedly that was the result of poor foresight on my part. You two were never supposed to be in any real danger. I never thought he’d go that far, but I had rooftop snipers watching your little meeting just in case. And if I ever get my hands on the genius who thought it was a good idea to wait until Nayeli was in that kind of danger to pull the trigger, I swear to god, heads will roll.”

Knowing Marq, that probably wasn’t a metaphor.

Moving on, I asked, “So what was the endgame here?”

“Originally? Her,” Marq said as he pointed to Theo. “I was interested in acquiring whatever kind of new weapon Mickey was using to make a fool out of Paulie, so I decided to roll the dice on this little gambit just to see how things went. That was, of course, before this little hooligan…”

Marq stomped on the barrel Mickey was rolling around in.

“… decided he’d try and get frisky with my girlfriend. Then this fun little distraction from my real work became personal. The win condition changed from getting Theo to join our side to getting Mickey alone, here, so I could kill him myself. I didn’t want anyone else taking credit for the capture so I had you go in alone. Couldn’t have you letting on that you had backup though, otherwise the surprise would’ve been ruined.”

“So you pointed me in the right direction, then sat back and watched while everyone else turned on me,” I said coldly. “First the sympathy play with Theo, then the book. You even tipped me off about the blood. You manipulated me.”

“Only as much as I had to,” he said begrudgingly. “But yes, I did. I’m not going to say I’m sorry, either.”

We locked eyes, and it was on. The air turned cold as we stared each other down.

“… pfffft.” I broke out laughing. “You look like you’re about to pass a kidney stone. Relax, I’m pulling your fucking leg. It worked, didn’t it? What do I got to be mad about? We got the girl, got our man, and we even saved the city from Mickey and the Council.”

“Yeah, about that…” Marq said.

“About what?”” I asked.

A loud squealing noise signaled the presence of company as the massive loading bay doors were slowly forced open. Standing out front in the light of the open doors were the blackened silhouettes of the Council. They’d come to see Mickey, and hopefully revoke my death sentence.

Their shadows walking five feet ahead of them at all times, the consiglieres and capofamiglias of New York’s five largest families (save the Allesandris) stepped out of the darkness of the warehouse and into the light of the docks, with us. Paulie stared at me disapprovingly.

“Went and got yourself poisoned, shot up, beat up and almost killed just to prove your point…” he exhaled a cloud of thick smoke from his cigar. “Guess I can’t exactly have you executed now, can I?”

I grinned. “No sir, I suppose you can’t.”

“Hey, I said ‘exactly’. Just because you didn’t fuck up this time doesn’t mean you didn’t already fail me once. There’s still gonna be hell to pay for this, understand?” he said, agitated. “Those buildings Mickey destroyed weren’t cheap, and guess who everyone in the senate goes to when they need a loan to pay back the damages? I’m gonna save you the trouble and just tell you. It’s me. So the next time I have a favor that needs doing you’re gonna be the one to do it, or I might just start thinking about reconsidering the value of your life, understand?”

“… understood, sir.”

“Blows my fucking mind that you’d do all this just to keep us from raising a little hell…” Paulie mumbled.

I raised an eyebrow. “A little hell? With all due respect sir, you were going to bring a war to Harlem.”

“What?” Paulie exclaimed in confusion. “Who told you that, boy? I’ve seen my fair share of power struggles go bad over gang busts, but never anything like that.”

I paused. “… Come again?”

“A power struggle. That is what you’re talking about, right?” Paulie took a deep breath from his cigar, exhaling. “You gotta remember kid, this is the Broncos we’re talking about. They’re not exactly a well-oiled machine. We could’ve assassinated Mickey no problem and the whole operation would’ve fallen apart in a day without their leader. No muss, no fuss.”

I looked to Georgie, hoping he could explain what was going on.

Assassination,” Georgie said, sighing. “Calling in a hit. Rubbing him out. That thing we do when we don’t like a specific person very much. Ringing any fucking bells?”

“It would’ve been easy, too,” Paulie said, sounding disappointed. “We had a bunch of easy scapegoats we could’ve handed off to one of our friends in low places, and boom! Mickey dies from a deal gone wrong. Or right, depending on how you want to look at it, I guess.”

“Although I would prefer not to consort with demons, I must admit it would’ve been easier than… this,” Romeo said, gesturing to the carnage I’d left in my wake. It still didn’t seem real, honestly.

“So you mean,” I said, talking slowly and carefully, “that all this time you were just going to have Mickey knocked off by a demon? That we could’ve avoided all of this just by strongarming some poor sonuvabitch into making a deal with the devil and calling it a fucking day?”

“Of course,” Paulie said. “What did you think we were gonna do?”

I glared at Marq, who just shrugged sheepishly. That lying little son of a bitch…

Sighing, I said, “Well, on the bright side, we’ve still got Mickey all to ourselves. That’s gotta count for something.”

“Indeed it does,” Marq said, taking over. “And to the victor goes the spoils. He’s all yours, Al.”

Marq handed me a gun. Not mine, though. I tried to stand up, but I couldn’t. My body wasn’t in any kind of fucking condition for it, especially now that the blood’s effects had cleared up and I could start looking forward to all of the nasty side effects Marq had been hinting at. I just hoped Nayeli didn’t have any weird diseases.

Marq smirked. He’d gotten what he wanted.

“Well if you can’t, I suppose it’s only right that I should be the one to do the honors. And I have the perfect punishment in mind.”

Mickey’s eyes widened, and he squealed and squirmed in a panic inside his barrel.

“Whoawhoawhoa,” George interrupted. “You? Are you fucking kidding me, you little bastard? We got a whole graveyard fulla bones to pick with Mickey, starting first and foremost with Paulie. If your golden boy can’t step up to the plate, then the right falls to us. So step the fuck off, Marquis.” His sleeve-gun rolled out into his hand. “Before I make you.”

Us?” Paulie questioned accusingly. “Last I checked Georgie, the only one who lost anything in this whole charade was me. Those runts set my profit margin back by months with their little warehouse raid.”

“What, and you think my business ain’t gonna suffer because of these bozos?”

Paulie snorted derisively. “At least they purchased your shit.”

“Yeah, through an off-the-books dealer who turned out to be a mole, and who has probably hidden ‘my shit’ and my money all the fuck over New York fucking City!” Georgie screamed, looking like he was having an aneurysm. “That’s a few thousand dollars I’m never seeing again! So don’t you dare try to fucking gyp me on this, Paulie! I’m gonna take every cent out of this upstart fuck’s hide! Only question is are we gonna do it together, or are you gonna be a fucking prick and try to steal from me again?”

“If we may interrupt.” “We have an idea.”

Everyone turned to look at the Capello twins. Elizabeth, their stoney-faced consigliere and eye-candy secretary, properly judged the tension in the room and appropriately took one step back, distancing herself from the brothers.

“You ain’t got nothing to say about this, Straightjacket,” Georgie intoned threateningly. “He didn’t take nothing from you.”

“Which is what makes us perfect for settling this little impasse. Don’t you think so, brother?” “Of course, brother.” “I knew you’d agree with me, Jesse.” “I always do, Ivo.”

Paulie sighed. “Alright, so? What’s your brilliant idea?”

“It’s quite simple, really.” “We let the boy decide.”

I repressed the urge to blow them a raspberry. How come even they got to call me “boy”? They weren’t even in their thirties, for chrissakes! Get off your high horse…

“That’s fucking ridiculous,” Georgie said dismissively. “He’s just a soldato.”

“A soldato who took down Mickey-” “-and his entire gang of armed thugs-” “-pretty much singlehandedly,” the brothers said, coming to my defence. “Calling him ‘just a soldato’ is hardly fair.” “Don’t you think so, Paulie?”

“A boss is a boss and a soldato is a soldato,” Georgie growled. “Accomplishment is fucking irrelevant to rank. You salute the rank, not the man.”

“Then I guess-” “-you’ll just have to promote him.”

“Not. On your. Fucking. Lives.”

Georgie looked at Marq, who just shrugged.

“There aren’t any openings in the caporegime right now. I’m afraid that even if I wanted to, I couldn’t promote him. Not unless you wanna try telling one of my brother’s he gonna have to be demoted to make room for a week-old recruit. Which uh, good luck with that,” he said, chuckling and rubbing his nose.

“See?” Georgie said. “He has no fucking authority to throw around here.”

“… On the contrary,” Paulie said. “He has all the authority.”

“Wha-” Georgie heard that and was, for a moment, at a loss for words. “I can’t believe I’m hearing this. Is Paulie Pescatore- nonono, Paulie “The Rock” Pescatorre- crying for this kid? Are you saying that you think he’s fucking better than you?”

“Hardly,” Paulie said. “However, I respect his resolve. He put his own life on the line just for the chance to end someone else’s. When you pull that off and live, that person’s life becomes yours to do with as you please. You’ve earned that right. Taking that away from him after all he’s done to earn it… well it just doesn’t seem right, now does it Georgie?”

“But-”

“And if you disagree I’ll sue your rubber-covered ass into oblivion,” Paulie said. “You were the one who just said I’m the one who deserves the kill the most, so let me decide what to do with it and hand it off to the boy.”

That shut Georgie up quickly. Nothing like the threat of a long, protracted, and expensive legal battle to silence a lesser mob boss.

“Well then kid,” Paulie said, looking to me, “it’s all yours.”

I had to make my decision carefully, with respect to everyone involved. Save for the Capellos, everyone here had a stake in this. So who deserved it most?

I turned to Theo. Understanding what I meant, she replied, “To me, Mickey was never anything more than an obstacle. Something for me to overcome. Now that I am free, for however long that may be, I have no more interest in him. In fact, I’d rather not touch him ever again. Please choose someone else.”

I looked at Marq. “Alright, I guess that means it’s back to you, Marq.”

“Why thank you, Al,” he said cheekily. “I’ll be sure not to waste this extraordinary opportunity you’ve given me. And as it just so happens, I’ve got everything I need to finish this right here with me.”

“Where would you…”

There was a sudden gust of wind as something appeared in the door behind Marq. Something big. The dark shadow flapped its wings and blocked out all the light shining in from the dock, snorting rancid fumes as it settled in for a landing. Mickey screamed, the sound audible through his gag. I could hardly believe it. Was that Sigurd?

“Gentlemen, I believe you’ve all met my pet dragon.”

“Oh great,” Georgie said, paling. “This fucking thing again.”

I balked when I saw just how much Sigurd had grown. The last time I saw him he was about six feet long including his tail. Now? He was a fifteen-foot long monstrosity who looked like he was ready to devour cars. And this was how much a juvenile dragon like him could be expected to grow in a week?

“You do realize what this looks like, right Marquis?” Paulie said, feeling threatened.

“No need to fret, gentlemen. I’ve taught Siggy to play nice with strangers, and I have no intentions of siccing him on anyone here,” Marq said, playing innocent and acting like he didn’t know what this was (a blatant power play, for those not paying attention).

“Then what the fuck did you bring him here for?” Georgie asked. “You trying to scare Mickey to death? Because you and your pet lizard just about gave me a goddamn heart attack!”

“Excellent question, Georgie,” Marq said. “It has to do with the matter of Mickey’s execution. Now gentlemen, allow me to ask you what, historically, is considered the most painful method of executing someone? Is it crucifixion? Drawing-and-quartering? Mazzatello? I’ve been thinking a lot about this the past few days, as we all have I’m sure, and I’ve come to the conclusion that we can never really know. Death has a way of hindering the communication process with the afflicted.”

“Where is this going, Marquis?” Paulie said impatiently.

“Please bear with me, Paulie, I promise all will be revealed soon,” Marq said, flourishing like a proper showman. “So this got me thinking? What about the most prolonged methods of execution? Surely that would be just as miserable and easier to quantify. But then I realized that sadly, we often don’t have the time for that. So I settled instead on making the best of both worlds. What death could we possibly give Mickey that is both excruciatingly painful and as prolonged as possible? For inspiration, I turned to the history of this great nation, and a little bit of our own history, believe it or not.

“The Salem Witch Trials. Many of the women accused of witchcraft were burned alive at the stake like poor Giovanna of the arc, and those that weren’t were tied to heavy stones and drowned. It is from this last practice that we derive our infamous ‘cement shoes’ technique. However, for Mickey, I think we can all agree that just one of these horrific tortures will not suffice to atone for all of his sins. So here’s what I propose.”

Mickey futilely tried rolling away in his barrel, but Marq planted one foot on top of the barrel, resting his arm on his knee to keep him from running away. On Marq’s command, Sigurd opened his mouth in a gaping yawn, and for the first time I got a good look at his tongue. In exchange, his tongue got a good look at me.

Funny thing about dragons is, not all of them breathe fire. Only Europeans like Sigurd do, and there’s a reason for that. They’ve got some nasty parasites. Within days of a newborn dragon being welcomed into the world, the hatchling will ingest a salamander tadpole and form a symbiotic relationship with it. The tadpole takes up residence in the dragon’s mouth, latching onto its tongue and drinking the dragon’s blood, causing the tongue to slowly atrophy and fall off. Then -get this- the tadpole actually attaches itself to the dragon’s tongue stump and replaces it, connecting to the nerves in the dragon’s mouth and acting like its replacement tongue for the rest of its life. This lets it take advantage of the salamander’s natural fire attribute, and also gives it the most terrifying smile in the animal kingdom. Now isn’t that just the most fucked up thing you’ve ever heard?

Sigurd reared his head back, and his tiny little tongue-buddy swelled up like a balloon before the two of them let loose a giant blue gout of ultra-hot plasma that superheated the water, boiling the pier and every fish in it until steam started rising off it like a cloud.

“An old favorite meets a new classic.” Marq’s face took on that dangerous look again. “We’re gonna boil him alive, just like a lobster. Then we feed him to my pet.”

Mickey screamed in protest, trying to chew through his wet gag which was becoming harder and harder to breathe with. Finally he managed to use his tongue to loosen the gag.

“Are you out of your fuckin’ mind?! What the fuck is wrong with you?!”

Marq flipped out and shoved a balisong knife in Mickey’s mouth, gentle pressing the flat against his cheeks.

You’re what’s wrong with me, Mickey. Now shut up, or they’re gonna find our initials carved onto your bones.”

The other bosses looked on, not sure what to make of all this.

“Marquis… doesn’t this seem a bit… excessive?”

“Yeah, uh… this is kinda fucked up if you know what I’m saying.”

“I would have to agree.” “Same.”

Romeo stayed quiet.

“Well then gentlemen,” Marq said. “If that’s really what you think, then I have to ask. Do you have any problems with that?”

They all looked at each other, and responded in unison.

“Nope.”

Yeah, it was pretty much one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen. Says a lot about my sense of humor, doesn’t it?

Mickey whimpered. “Y-You… you can’t do this to me!… It isn’t right! It isn’t right, goddammit! I don’t wanna die like this! I don’t wanna diiie!”

“You should’ve thought about that then when you tried to rape my girlfriend.” Marq looked Mickey right in the eyes. “You remember that, right? What were your words, again? ‘I’m gonna fuck that pretty face of yours raw’?”

“P-Please, I didn’t-”

“Doesn’t matter what you did and what you didn’t. That doesn’t forgive you, and it sure as hell doesn’t earn you any sympathy. Nayeli is more precious to me than anything in this world. I would do anything to keep her safe. When you crossed that line, when you put your filthy hands on her, I promised myself that I was going to kill you. And I always keep my promises.”

“I-I’m s-sor-rry,” he blubbered, breaking down.

“It’s too late for that now,” Marq said mercilessly. “Hopefully next time you’ll remember. This is what happens to dogs when they shit where they eat, Mickey.”

Without another word, he kicked the barrel into the pier, and Mickey fell into the boiling hot water, screaming. There was a moment of silence where nobody talked before Mickey rose to the top gasping for breath, somehow breaking free of the cement shoes. His skin was bright red like raw steak and blistered, popping and stretching as the heat cooked him alive, bits of flesh rising to the surface as his body began to fall apart as he flailed. Almost like pulled pork.

“HELP MEEEEEE!” he wailed, blood pooling in his mouth as his tongue started to fall off. “HELPH MEEEEEEEHHH! AHM SORREHHHH! AHM SORREH! MOOOOMEEHHHHHHHHH!”

Sigurd shoved one clawed hand into the water, dunking Mickey back into the boiling soup that was turning brown and bright red with bits and pieces of him falling off the bone, his organs popping inside him. It took nearly six minutes to drown. Burning to death much less. I was surprised and horrified he was still clinging on to life at this point.

Finally Mickey stopped moving. He had either died, or lost consciousness. Sigurd pulled his mushy, wet body out of the water, and snapped it up like a moist treat, chewing up his bones and eating him alive, finally putting an end to Mickey Donahue. Marq looked on impassionately.

“Well I suppose that’s that, then.”

Like nothing had happened, he went about collecting what remaining tools he’d brought with him. I knew this was personal for him, but… damn. No one would say Mickey didn’t deserve it, but when the revenge was… that, I couldn’t understand how anyone could keep a straight face.

I felt a pit grow in my stomach. Is that what I was going to become? Or was that what I was already? A monster whose lack of humanity scared away the ones closest to him? Theo helped me up, and I decided to shelve the philosophy for the hospital.

“Hold it.”

I froze. A bone-white dagger slid out of Romeo Vitali’s sleeve. No, when I think about it, it was more like a lance. He pointed it at me and Theo.

“Romeo…” Paulie said, unnerved.

“We talked about this, didn’t we Paulie? I told you before, I’m not letting that thing live. It’s a danger to us all.”

“Romeo, for God’s sake-”

For God’s sake is exactly why I’m doing this!” Romeo yelled. “That creature is a monster, and it can’t be allowed to live. What if it hurts someone else? Someone in our families? How will I be able to live with myself knowing I didn’t take the chance and put it down here and now?”

“You fuck…” I choked out.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “But she can’t be allowed to live.”

Someone drew their gun. It was Paulie, and he pointed it at the back of Romeo’s head.

“I know you don’t know any vampires, Romeo, so there’s no way you’ll survive if I pull the trigger, and that’ll be the end of the Vitalis. Just like that.” Paulie frowned. “Put away the spear, Romeo. I don’t want to hurt you.”

Romeo didn’t do anything for the longest time. Finally, he let go of the spear, glaring at Paulie. Without even bothering to pick it up, he and his consigliere left without paying their respects.

Paulie sighed, putting away the gun and picking up the spear. “Sorry about that. The boy’s still technically my responsibility, so allow me to apologize on his behalf.”

“Somehow I don’t think he’d like that,” Marq said.

“That may be true… Well, as always it’s been a pleasure working with you, Marquis,” Paulie said sarcastically. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find a place to lose my lunch.”

“Ditto,” Georgie said. Without much more ceremony, they walked off, trailing their consiglieres behind them. Only Byron stopped to talk.

“I heard you found my no-good rat of a son-in-law.”

“Yes, we did,” Marq said.

“And?” Byron asked, agitated. “Do you intend to return him to me so he can face justice for his crimes against our family? Or will you let the man who so irresponsibly threw his wife, my daughter, into the den of a narcissistic psychopath for money go free?”

Marq smirked. “We’ll see about that, old-timer. Maybe someday. For now, we’ll take care of him for you, how does that sound?”

Byron sneered, and left. Like that, Marq helped Theo carry me onto Sigurd, and they sent me on ahead to the hospital. Trusting what Marq had said about Sigurd playing nice with others, I tried to ignore the rumbling sounds I could hear coming from his belly, and slowly fell asleep.

I swore to myself that day that I’d never become that thing ever again, but more for formality’s sake than anything. I knew better than to expect anything different. You know Murphy’s law? Well here’s Alfonso’s law: anything that happens once can and will probably happen again. It was only a matter of time, a matter of someone pushing the right buttons until I became Mr. Hyde again, Jekyll drinking the potion of madness out of his own volition. I could only wonder if… no, scratch that, when I’d lose my ability to control it, just like he did. How long did I have in this world I lived in before I became a monster full-time?

– from the memoirs of Alfonso Anastasio, written 1974

Previous || Next

Snatch 2.13

Previous || Next

You know, there comes a time even in the most noble endeavors when one begins to think “maybe this wasn’t such a great idea”. Like when you’re getting the crap beaten out of you by a five-foot-four bunny girl in a red dress.

I backed away desperately, pulling the trigger on my shotgun and sending a deer slug downrange at four hundred and seventy-five meters per second. Theo just sliced it out of the air with her trench knife, and punched the crap out of me.

“Oofghuugh!”

That was the sound of my solar plexus caving into my chest cavity in the shape of a fist. The grunting, heaving, grinding sound that came immediately after was that damage knitting itself back together again while the less manly part of me I like to pretend doesn’t exist curled up into a ball and started crying. A tenderized steak was in better shape than I was, let’s just leave it at that.

“I’m sorry!” Theo sobbed as she punched me over and over, her face running with tears and specks of my blood. “I’m sorry oh god I’m sorry!”

I smiled reassuringly to her before I feebly kicked her in the stomach and scrambled back onto my feet just in time to dodge one of her punches. Believe it or not, this was me faring comparatively better than I expected. Funny thing about me and my little memory palace. Turns out that I don’t just remember people, places and things. I remember the way they move, the way they walk, talk, and throw a punch. It’s like super muscle memory. The longer you beat the crap out of me, the better my body gets at fighting you. It was the only thing that was letting me dodge Theo’s more serious attacks.

Well, I say dodge, but what I mean is more like me moving out of the way just enough so she hits me in places I can afford to get hit in, and making it difficult for her to use her knife instead of just punching me. Yeah, it’s not very fucking dignified, but getting the shit beaten out of you is better than dying. And in a fight between a human and a non-human, that’s about the best you can hope for. Unless you can cheat, but I am positively fucking delighted to confirm for you that silver and crosses do not in fact work on homunculi.

I took a hit right to the face, and it felt like I was being shot with a goddamn cannon ball. Briefly I began to hallucinate that I was a schizophrenic French girl living in the fifteenth century, but then my brain remembered I was in fact a second-rate gunhand currently suffering from massive cranial trauma and a criminal lack of money and morals in the twentieth century. Or, in simpler terms, a fuckwit. And I was in a lot of pain.

I felt something in my leg break completely independently of Theo as I struggled to remain standing. Was it a muscle, a bone? Or something that ran deeper than that? I stumbled and made some room but I didn’t run. Even though rejection was fully starting to kick in, my body literally falling apart before just barely picking itself back up again, I wasn’t going to run.

Why was I in such a sorry state (besides the obvious reason of course)? Well, I could tell you but then you’d probably shut the book or close the window on your browser, or however the bloody hell you’re reading this right now, and promptly tell me to fuck off because you’d realize you were clearly reading the memoirs of a shitflinging madman with a messiah complex and a death wish. But I promise, when I tell you it’ll make sense. Just bear with me a little longer.

I got up, huffing, puffing and forcing myself onto two legs that felt like a pair of chopsticks trying to support the weight of an Olympic body builder. Nayeli’s blood and its life-giving properties were growing thinner and thinner. I didn’t have much time left before I’d really die in one hit. I had to sell this.

Mickey held up his hand, calling off Theo.

“You know, it occurs to me that I just don’t get you. I mean, I always knew you mobsters were fucked in the head something special-”

“Look who’s talking,” I wheezed.

“But you’re something different. Nah, not just different. You’re a whole new fucking ballgame of crazy. Or are you just a shit-for-brains idiot who thinks with his dick instead of his fucking head?”

“Again, look who’s talking.”

“Why the hell are you doing this, mafioso? You doing this because you think you’re better than me, you holier-than-thou cocksucker? You degos, I swear to fucking christ. It’s like you think that just ’cause you’re some kind of institution that it makes it okay for you to break every law anyone’s ever fucking put down. Like God is gonna judge you any differently than the rest of us just because-”

“Just because we wear the nicest suits and fuck the nicest dames,” I said, finishing for him. “Look Mickey, I’ve heard it all before. Your ‘manifesto’ is like a kid’s vinyl on repeat. Baby’s first labor union. The plight of the proletariat, the criminality of the common man. That’s what you’re always on about, right?”

I spat out a fat wad of blood and mucus.

“The mafia is the corrupt ruling-class to the working-class common criminal? If that’s what you wanna think, that’s fine. Maybe you’re right. But you think I’m doing this because of any of that shit? Because I think I’m a good person?” I laughed. “I am not a good person. I’ve put people in the hospital, put them out of business, and even put a few in the grave.

“Why am I doing this? Well, leaving out the part where you tried to kill my kid sister, and that’s a big friggin’ part, I’m doing this because I want to. Because when I look at a girl like her and see her stuck with a fucked-up, egotistical loser douchebag like you, it makes me sick. She deserves better. And I’m gonna give it to her.”

“What’re you gonna give to her, you little shrimp? Your tiny two-inch cock? Because I know that ain’t gonna satisfy her.” Mickey grabbed Theo, squeezing her cheeks and feeling her up in a way I can only describe as rapey on a level deserving of Zeus. “Oh, you should hear her when I fuck her. You’re never gonna be able to make her scream like I do. What’re you gonna give her that can top that?”

“How about a home? And a family? One that looks after her and appreciates her. You know, the things you could never give to her. The things Erik could never give her. The things that matter!” My trembling hand brought the shotgun back to life. “But most of all, I’m going to give her a life without you in it, Mickey.”

I pulled the trigger, and shot right at Mickey, praying I wasn’t so shaky I’d miss. My shot was good but way too fucking slow for the human Terminator I was fighting, who took the bullet for Mickey without hesitation, catching it in her teeth even though she whimpered from the pain. Once her mouth began to heal, she spat out the slug and punched me again, knocking me across the room, through a dozen stage props, and into a concrete wall. I felt the wall break, and my back along with it. I coughed up blood, and I knew I wasn’t getting back up again in any hurry.

Mickey called Theo off again. “Leave him.”

So that’s how it was, huh? He wanted to finish me off himself? If he reached me, he could. I wasn’t healing fast enough anymore. If he destroyed my brain, there was a chance I wouldn’t live to see another sunrise. I decided to put up one last futile display of resistance, raising my shotgun in my broken arms.

Mickey smirked, and kicked my gun away. I didn’t have the strength to hold onto it, and could only watch as it spun out of view into the dark recesses of the warehouse where I couldn’t reach it. I took out my knife, but he just stomped on my arm, and I dropped it, screaming. I couldn’t do anything.

“Family, huh? That’s a real nice word, isn’t it? Family. I never had one, but it seems like it’s all you fucking degos talk about. So what’s it really worth, huh? What does it mean? Family?” He got on top of me, and flashed me that grin. “Family means nothing!”

Without holding back, he punched me as hard as he could, my face so beaten and broken it was more like putty beneath his fist than skin and bone.

“Family is nothing but a crutch, a parasite. They’ll use you and take advantage of you, then once they’ve bled you drier than gramgram’s stale cunny they’ll throw you to the dogs because it’s convenient. It’s an obligation they never need to repay you for. You think I need, let alone want anything to do with that? Nonono, fuck that. I choose to not have a family. I choose to stand alone, and look where it’s gotten me! I’m on top of the fucking world! I am the Piss King of Shit Mountain, hefting my turds down the cliffside on top of your fucking heads so you peasants can all have a taste of what it’s like to shit bounteous craps of gold like me! Right now, I am the fucking god of New York!”

I laughed wheezily. “You fucking dumbass. You’re just the king of an anthill under a boot. They’re gonna fucking squash you before you even get to pop the top off the champagne.”

He kept punching me, over and over, and it just didn’t stop. My healing ability was almost nonexistent, and it’s a miracle I still look as good today as I do after that kind of punishment. I felt teeth fly out of my yap and then grow back in again. I felt my eyes bulging in their sockets, bobbing up and down as Mickey tried to punch them out of me like some doll. My nose was pressed flat against my face, and blood pooled in my mouth from my gums and my nose. Everything was bleeding. I really did look like a tenderized steak.

Finally he stopped, panting and laughing. “So what do you have to say about your posse of buttfuckers now, mobster?”

I smiled, showing off my bloody teeth. “This.”

Not so much throwing a punch as swinging my broken arm at him, I launched a haymaker right at his face, socking him in the jaw with the same spiked knuckles I’d used to take out his lycan. My monster-killers. Blood trickled down on me from above, mixing with mine through the bevy of open wounds that were still nobly trying to heal themselves. I felt the spell take effect.

“Ach!” Mickey grunted, stumbling backwards. “You son of a bitch-”

Mickey didn’t even get to finish his sentence. He started panting and heaving like he was desperate for breath, clutching at his sides. He croaked, making a noise like a dying animal, and then, right as he looked like he was about to die, he started yelling and screaming like nothing I’d ever seen.

“Heh,” I said, trying to make it back on my feet. “Yeah. Doesn’t feel so good, does it? To have something forced inside you by another man.”

“Aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” he screamed in pure agony. The sound was strangely melodic.

“What’s that?” I said. “You’re gonna have to speak up, I can’t hear you over all the screaming.”

He whimpered and cried in frustration, and in pain. “What did you do to me?!”

“Heh. Well, it’s a long story,” I said, brushing myself off as the blood finally had a second to rest and focus on healing me. “Let me explain. But first, do you know anything about magic, Mickey? ‘Cause I friggin’ don’t. But I got a friend who does. He tells me you can’t enchant anything more than once because the strain an enchantment puts on an object means it’s always on the verge of breaking. That pain you’re feeling? That’s my pain, after I enchanted my whole body with sympathetic magic. It activated as soon as I got a taste of your blood. The way I am right now, I’m like a walking voodoo doll.”

“Wha-”

“Yeah, you heard me right. I’m turning her magic against you,” I said, pointing to Theo. “If you try to make her take the bullet for you, and I’m sorry about this in advance, Theo-”

I wound up and punched Theo right in the face. Not very gentlemanly, but it was chump change compared to our fight before. She’d hardly feel it. Mickey on the other hand, did.

“-that happens. The damage gets reflected back to me, then on to you.”

“How did you-“

“I’ve been dosing up on demigod blood from a mutual acquaintance to control the damage, and I’ve been taking pills for the pain. Keeps me going long enough to punch you right in your smug fucking face, you rotting pile of horse-shit. You though? You don’t have either of those things. So you know, good luck with that.”

I kicked Mickey right in the stomach, sending him rolling. They say you should never kick a man when he’s down, but I think we can all agree an exception could be made for Mickey Donahue.

Instead, Theo rushed me again, running to her master’s aid by punching me again. Except this time, Mickey felt it too, adding to his pain. He screamed even louder than before as his head started to bleed.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing you crazy bitch?!” he yelled. “He’s trying to kill me! Don’t just stand there, help me up!”

“Yeah, I don’t think that’s gonna happen.”

As soon as Theo touched him, I punched myself in the gut, and Mickey felt that too. He screamed even louder, and Theo set him down.

“Again!”

Again she tried and again I punched myself, causing Mickey more pain. Though it wasn’t a walk in the park for me, either. I spat out a wad of blood.

“Every time you try to call her for help, I’m going to punch myself,” I said, ignoring the agonizing pounding in my head that grew louder and louder every second the blood kept thinning. “I’m a walking voodoo doll, remember? I’d advise you not to stick pins in me. So leave her out of this, Mickey. It’s time for you and I to have a little heart to heart. Man to man.”

I let Mickey try to get back up on his own, then headbutted him back down to the ground, enjoying the cracking sound our skulls made as they bounced off of each other. As I kicked him in the stomach over and over again, I focused on why I was doing this. Partly because the pain of the enchantment only kept getting worse and worse, but mostly because every time I hit him it felt like taking a hit off a mountain of cocaine. I just wanted more.

“This! Is what! You get! For hurting! My sister!” I grunted, punctuating every other word with a kick to his stomach. “You fucking! Piece! of! shit!”

I got carried away. I could’ve killed him any time I liked. But I enjoyed it too much. I enjoyed extracting every last ounce of misery I could from him with my foot as penance for what he’d done. It felt so good to make him suffer for everyone he’d hurt that I paid no attention to how much time I may have had.

“But most of all,” I said, reaching for my shotgun. I was huffing and wheezing with every breath, my body long past the point of quitting and letting me take over through hate and gumption alone. A distance of twenty meters felt like an eternity in my condition, but I walked it, got my shotgun, and dragged my ass back to Mickey, one of lying on the ground, and both of us in so much pain we could barely speak.

“Most of all,” I finished. “Most of all, this is for what you did to Theo, and everyone else you used. Goodnight, sweet fucking prince. I hope your time on top was everything you’d hoped for. All five seconds of it.”

I told my body it was time to pull the trigger. But like I said, I’d waited too long.

I tried again. No matter how much I wanted to, I couldn’t pull that trigger. I couldn’t move my arm either, the pain of keeping it upright holding that shotgun getting worse and worse in the backdrop until my entire body finally gave out on me, unable to endure the pain I’d been inflicting on Mickey. Difference was, I didn’t even have enough left in me to scream. I just slumped to the ground, my body finally having passed the point where it would even work at all.

A minute passed where neither of us moved. Fighting against what felt like the weight of our entire world, Mickey was the first to move. He got back on to his feet, and hobbled the three feet over to me. He looked like a mess. Good god, was that what I was going to look like?

He picked up the shotgun, wrenching it from my flaccid, noodle-like fingers without much resistance. I wanted to laugh. Fucking dumbass. You shoot me, you’ll just kill yourself, too.

He flipped the gun around so the butt hung over me like a fucking sword of Damocles. I didn’t much feel like laughing after that.

Jamming the stock into my mouth like a gag, Mickey leaned into the gun, putting all his weight on it so I couldn’t resist. I could barely breathe. I started to gag. So that was his angle. He couldn’t kill me, so he’d choke me to death instead.

“Hey,” he said, barely audible. “Wanna make a bet on who can hold their breath longer? All or nothing. Winner takes home the pot, loser dies.”

I couldn’t struggle anymore. I just didn’t have it in me. I wanted to rage against the dying of the light, like that poem said. I wanted to go out in a blaze of glory. But it just wasn’t possible for me anymore. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t do anything but sit here, sputter and gag, and hope that Mickey didn’t do much swimming as a kid. My life was completely in his hands.

“Where is your family now, mobster? Huh? Where is your family now?!”

There was a crack and a gunshot that sounded like God slamming his car door, and suddenly Mickey’s gag had no force to it. He lost his balance, and tumbled to the ground. Before I passed out, I heard someone reply.

“Right here.”

Previous || Next

Snatch 2.12

Previous || Next

I turned, and was amazed. Standing in the open stairwell mere feet from me was a familiar face. Too familiar.

I frowned. “Put the gun down, Gresham.”

“I remember you,” he said, his gun hand shaking in the cold. “You’re the asshole with the pet vampire. The one that outed me to the Pescis, and broke my goddamn arm!”

“I recall it being a bit worse than a break,” I said, looking at his cast. “Multiple compound fractures with some lasting tissue damage, major joint dislocation and a serious possibility of life-threatening infection. Some nasty shit, amigo. Do you want me to do worse?”

“W-What?”

“Get your fat ass out of the fucking way, Gresham,” I said.

“W-Why should I?” he said, angry but obviously unnerved. “I’m the guy with the fucking gun!”

“Yeah, and look how well that worked out for you last time.”

“You had a vampire catch it for you! That time doesn’t count!”

I sighed. “Listen, Gresham. Killing a sad sack of shit like you doesn’t inconvenience me. Not in the slightest. But it doesn’t benefit me either. Not unless you keep standing there with that gun pointed at me. Now move, and let me talk to Mickey so I can put a bullet in that psycho’s man-purse, and then another in his fucking head.”

I stepped up, and there was a loud bang accompanied by the acrid smell of gunpowder. The bullet made a splash in the pool of gravel beneath our feet, throwing tiny rocks into the air as it ripped past my tattered trousers, barely missing me. I looked at Gresham.

“Fuck off!” he said. “I fucking mean it! Don’t call me a sad sack when you were the one who fucking ruined me in the first place, you prick!”

I took another step forward towards Gresham. He pulled the trigger again, and a bullet whizzed past my face close enough to pop my eardrum. I kept walking. I didn’t break pace.

“I fucking said stop!”

I kept walking. I was so close he could’ve shot me and it would’ve been impossible to miss. So he did. I stopped as I heard a shattering crack and a dark red patch started to grow from beneath my chest pocket. He’d shot me just above my stomach, right on the edge of my liver. I dropped down on my knees, clutching the bright red hole in me. Gresham started sweating and laughing like a nervous hyena.

“You thought I wouldn’t do it, didn’t you? You thought I wasn’t man enough!” Gresham said, high on the moment and practically panicking. “Looks like there’s more to Gresham Walsh than you thought! You thought I wouldn’t shoot you? Well how does that gaping hole in you feel, motherfucker?! I shot you right in the heart!”

Fucking idiot. You missed the heart by at least an inch.

I didn’t respond to him beyond digging the bullet out of the wound, tossing it aside, then getting back up as I started to heal again. I think that by itself might have been response enough. Certainly scared the shit out of him.

Gresham stuttered, unable to articulate just how fucked we both knew he was. I grabbed his gun hand and crushed it, working my fingers into the grip while I turned his carpal bones into powder. I turned the gun on him using his own hand, and shot him five times two inches right and below his heart. The same place he’d shot me.

He screamed and dropped to the ground, both his arms and hands too fucked up to cover his bleeding wound. I dropped the gun in front of him, and stomped on the hand I broke, making him scream again.

“Want my medically sound diagnosis? You’ll fucking live, you pussy,” I muttered as I walked past him. As soon as I touched that door though, I felt something heavy coming up. Something hot. I doubled over holding my stomach, and coughed into my sleeve, practically heaving as the waves tore through my throat. When I looked down, my sleeve was speckled with blood. I felt my throat tingle as the blood knitted up the scrapes to the soft tissue.

Rejection was beginning to set in. The blood wouldn’t last me for much longer. I had to hurry, or soon I wouldn’t be able to move at all.

I avoided opening the door immediately, and instead I played Peeping Tom with my nose up against the dusty, grimy, filthy windows. The inside of the warehouse was much better guarded, but much less open. Props and stage equipment were everywhere, not counting the remnants of life left by various homeless people who’d moved in and out of here since it closed for business. Half the lights didn’t work, and ramping stairwells and catwalks would make sneaking around a piece of cake. And then there were the pyrotechnics…

I decided not to use the door, and instead I unscrewed the old window pane and dropped down onto the catwalk on the top floor. I found a large crate of stage flashes and fireworks, and rifled through it. There wasn’t much left in the crate but there were maybe two guys up there with me, three tops. One of them I could take out. The other I’d use as a… distraction.

Stashing all the fireworks I could carry in my coat and pants, I took cover behind the crate and waited for one of the guards to pass me by, all the while memorizing their patrol patterns, noting the slight deviations, and listening to their conversations. It made me wonder if this was what being an international spy or a man of mystery felt like. Looking back, I feel like it would make a great game. They could call it T.E.A for “Tactical Espionage Action” or some shit like that, I don’t care. Just make sure they credit me for the idea.

At the time though, it didn’t feel much like a game to me. It might have had something to do the poison seeping through my veins, the dull but ever-growing pain that was keeping me alert and on edge, or the hatred I felt towards Mickey.

Then again, maybe it had something to do with the scene’s god-awful dialogue.

“You fucking bitch!” I heard a loud thump. “You think you can fucking double-cross me like this?! I own you, you worthless cunt! Did you forget about that?! I FUCKING OWN YOU!”

Each word was punctuated by the soft, wet pounding of flesh. Listening to it was almost worse than watching.

Finally a guard walked past me, and I grabbed him by his belt and hauled him into the shadows behind the crate, cupping my hand over his mouth before he could scream. In one swift motion, I jammed my knife up through the base of his jaw and into the roof of his mouth, stabbing his medulla oblongata (or for you snipers out there, the “apricot”) like a pig skewer for a quick, quiet death. While the remaining guard looked the other way, I slid him into the empty crate and stuck a lit dazzler in his pocket.

Making a mad dash of a crawl, I got into position and waited for the other guard to take notice. In the silence, that meant I had no choice but to let my mind wander back to Mickey.

“You destroy my chemical factory, kill my guys, and draw them a map right to my front door, and you tell me you were ‘just following orders’? You trying to blame it on me? You think this is fucking funny?!”

I had no line of sight, but somehow I could see her smiling. Smiling through the pain like me. Except hers was much worse than some mild heartburn.

The sounds of him beating Theo continued. The seconds ticked by until the dazzler sparked a fire on the bottom of the crate and the whole thing went up. The guard had to get there within that window of opportunity for this to work, and to fucking spare me from having to listen to this another second longer. Finally, the other guard took the bait like a sucker, and as soon as he took his first steps onto the catwalk, I started counting under my breath. I had to time this perfectly.

I watched him open the crate. Now, his ass was mine.

Before he could scream out the news of his friend’s death, the box went up, showering him with sparks that lit all of his clothes (and by extension him) on fire. I cut the rope holding the sandbag, and that section of the catwalk dropped to the ground floor, dumping lit fireworks everywhere. The man himself screamed incoherently as he careened around the room desperately trying to put himself out. And just as I thought he would, he was setting fire to every container of stage fireworks he passed, knocking over hobo fires and sparking grease fires as he stumbled drunkenly around.

“Someone grab that idiot!” I heard Mickey yell. I cut another rope and used the sandbags to drop down myself, running into the thick of the confusion and lighting even more fireworks with some roman candles I held in each hand. Soon, everything was exploding and throwing out fire and sparks everywhere. Men ran from the exploding boxes, their shirts and hair catching on fire, while others who weren’t so lucky tried to crawl away, trailing blood from shrapnel wounds or just burning alive where they fell.

Mickey was the only one who took action, twisting the control valve for the emergency sprinklers which had long since rusted shut. Water poured into the warehouse causing a cascade of steam as the fire slowly faded. I heard Mickey trying to rally what troops were left so that he wouldn’t be left alone in the middle of what was clearly becoming an attack. I decided to put a stop to that.

I shot my gun into the air five times, disrupting everything. Instinctively, Mickey dived for Theo, grabbing her by her hair so he could prop her up in front of him as a human shield.

I lowered the gun as the steamy mist began to clear up, and Mickey scowled when he saw my face. He dropped Theo.

“You little shit.”

“Yeah, that’s me,” I said, entertaining him. “Alfonso Anastasio the Little Shit, resident meddler, do-gooder and neerdowell. And today, ladies and gentlemen, for a limited time only…”

I reached for the shotgun I’d kept slung around my back, bringing it to level with Mickey. I cocked it, just for dramatic effect.

“The guy who’s gonna put Mickey Donahue down like the rest of the dogs.”

“Alfonso…” Theo said, her eyes widening. Mickey sneered.

“Yo,” I said, waving and putting on a heroic face. “I’m here just like I said I would be. A promise is a promise.”

And revenge is revenge, I thought to myself bitterly.

Why?” she said, tearing up, looking utterly defeated. “If you wanted to keep your promise you shouldn’t have come here! You know what he’s capable of! Why did you-”

Just like that, Mickey kicked her in the face, sending her sprawling. I didn’t expect there to be a reason. There didn’t have to be with him.

“Shut up,” he said, his voice returning to a slimy, icy cool. I dropped the smiles.

“Well Mickey?” I asked. “What’s it gonna be? You gonna go? Let’s go. Right here, right now, with everyone watching. It’s what you’ve always wanted, right? A big showdown with your name in fucking lights. Mickey Donahue vs. the world, round one.”

He sneered. “Yeah right.”

Immediately everyone still able had their guns at the ready. Even Theo, who struggled against every motion like a spastic marionette, slowly got up and drew a gun on me. I raised my hands in surrender.

“Whoa there, take it easy,” I said, making sure not look like I was losing my cool. “I thought this was gonna be you and me, Mickey. Man to man.”

“Like I fucking have to bother with you, you tiny little shrimp. You really think you’re worth my fucking time when I got such bigger, juicier fish to fry?”

I smiled. It all hinged on this then. The secret weapon.

“Am I really hearing this right? The great Mickey Donahue doesn’t think he’s man enough to take me on by himself; he needs a fucking army instead?” I said, saying it loud enough for everyone to hear. “Man, I knew you were a pussy, but this takes the cake.”

That got his attention.

“What the fuck did you just say to me?” He turned around.

Pussy,” I said. “I said pussy. As in that thing you steal like cheap potatoes because you can’t get any yourself? Ringing any bells, shitface? I can get your mom to come in and show you hers if you like.”

“You must think you have some really big balls talking to me like that,” he said, pushing Theo aside.

“Bigger than yours,” I said, snorting.

“But you don’t!” he screamed. “And don’t you ever fucking interrupt me!”

“Oh, now you wanna go?” I said, challenging him. “Mickey the Baby wants to play in the big leagues? Come on, bambino. Why don’t you stop hiding behind your mother’s skirt and show us all how much of a man you really are. Knock it right out of the park! Make momma proud!”

We stared each other down, neither of us moving.

“… Oh Mickey you so fine, you so fine you blow me blind hey Mickey! Hey Mickey!” I sang mockingly in a false falsetto.

“That’s it!” Mickey screamed. It was juvenile but it worked, because I knew right then and there that I had him exactly where I wanted him. “Nobody fucking move! Homunculus!”

Theo struggled, trying to resist the words as they came. “Yes? ma-master?”

Mickey stared at me, digging into me with his eyes. “Kill him.”

Previous || Next

Snatch 2.11

Previous || Next

“I’m here for the pickup. One carton of silver bullets, and those guns I called ahead about.”

The clerk behind the dusty gun store counter nodded, his saggy brows and moustache obscuring any kind of expression he may have had.

I opened my wallet and reached for a Franklin, my hands accidentally skimming over a picture of me and Annie. The emotions hit me like a bullet, leaving a small black lump to fester in my stomach. Fuck. Why did I have to see that now?

The clerk returned carrying a box of .357 magnum silver bullets with a little cartoon werewolf on the front giving you the thumbs up, and I laughed in spite of myself. Somehow I doubted any actual lycan would give these bullets the same endorsement.

“You don’t mind if I open these here, do you?”

He shook his head, still impossible to tell what kind of face he was making. I pushed the hundred dollar bill over the counter and he sauntered off with it into parts of the store unknown to get the rest of my order.

Taking out my knife, I opened the box and started carving little crosses and swastikas into the tips. It was a job that demanded monotony and an aptitude for mind-numbing menial labor, but I poured all of my attention into those sumbitches, if only to forget the feeling of having a knot tied in my gut by Annie’s smile.

A phone rang in the back. Hurrying on his stumpy little legs, the shopkeeper picked up the receiver. The voice on the other end wasn’t very clear, but I could tell it sounded authoritative. Shit. Give me a fucking break. Had Marq and the Council tracked me down already? I still had four hours on the clock!

I tried listening in on the conversation, but the old man with a fabulous moustache seemed to only communicate in grunts, hmmms, and other noises, making the whole thing impossible to follow. The shopkeeper shuffled back into view, holding the receiver. He held the phone out, trying to say, “it’s for you”.

I took the mouthpiece from him, ready to run out sprinting at a moment’s notice if I heard Marq’s voice.

“Hello?”

“Mr. Anastasio, so glad you could take a minute to talk with us,” said the voice on the other end. I made a face like I’d just drank spoiled milk mixed with a can of bird egg blue.

“Agent Hobbes,” I said through grit teeth. “What a pleasant surprise.”

Ignoring me completely, he said, “We have confirmed your sister’s whereabouts after the events of yesterday’s attack. She’s in our care.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. “How is she? Is she okay?”

“She’ll be fine,” the shitty agent responded. “You’ll be expected to come and pick her up in the next twenty-four hours. Is that understood, Mr. Anastasio?”

“Crystal,” I said through clenched teeth.

“Good. Well then-”

“Wait.”

I paused, thinking this over. Did I really wanna do this? Now? It could unravel everything I’d been building up to since I’d heard Leon give me the news. Annie’s smiling face was the only thing that kept stoking the fire in my belly, keeping me going with sheer rage. Could I really afford to put that out right now?

“… I’d like to talk to her,” I said. “If it’s possible.”

“It’s really not,” he said.

“Please,” I responded.

The shitty agent’s voice disappeared from the other end of the phone, leaving only the ambient sounds of the rustling receiver and murky whispers that weren’t quite audible over the phone.

“We’ve talked it over. We’re willing to make an exception this time on account of extraordinary circumstances. Please hold, and try to keep the conversation to a ten minute minimum. She needs her bedrest.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I said. “Just let me talk to my sister already.”

The phone was handed off again, and I couldn’t hear jack shit for the longest time. I started getting nervous. Was she okay? Was there some reason maybe that she couldn’t talk right? Was she hurt?

Finally, I got through.

“OhmygodAlareyouokay?!”

I had to take a second to back away from the earpiece. Okay, she sounded fine. That was good.

For a few seconds I said nothing. What could I say? That I was sorry for not being there to protect her when she was in danger? That I was gonna make them all pay for what they’d done? That I’d been lying to her all this time and that’s why she was hurt? That I was gonna keep lying to her to protect her? How could I explain any of this to a teenage girl?

“Al?” she asked with fearful trepidation, her voice cracking.

“Yeah, I’m okay,” I said as I collected myself, trying to sound as calm and reassuring as I could.

“Oh good,” she said, her voice practically flooded with relief. I smiled, even though she sounded hoarse. That was supposed to be my line. “Is everything alright?”

“Yeah, everything’s fine. Don’t worry about me, Annie.”

“… You don’t really mean that, do you?”

I didn’t say anything.

“… no, I don’t. Your brother never could fool you, could he?” I laughed, trying not to betray what I was really thinking. “I’m down at the station with the police right now. My hospital got hit, and I’m helping them answer some questions about the crimes committed today.”

“Okay…” she said. “Agent Hobbes said you’d be coming to pick me up soon?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Soon. I just have some unfinished business to take care of first.”

“Unfinished business?” she asked. “What do you mean? Don’t tell me you’re going to go look for the man who did this?!”

“Yeah,” I said. “His name’s Mickey Donahue, and he’s a real piece of work. Don’t worry, your brother’s staying out of trouble this time. I’m leaving all the heavy lifting to the police. I’ve just… I’ve gotta see this through. He tried to hurt you, Annie. I’m not gonna let him get away with that.”

“Okay…” she said, downtrodden. “But if you get hurt-!”

“I know, I know,” I said, laughing. “Steak dinners for a month.”

“And dessert!” she said. “That was the deal!”

“Aye aye, ma’am. I won’t forget.”

“Good. And Al?”

“Hm?”

“Deck him once for me!” she said enthusiastically.

I heard some coughing on the other end of the line. I frowned. Annie was overexerting herself to talk to me. Like I thought, she’d been hit harder than she was letting on. If I had to guess, the antidote had only started taking effect in the last few hours, and her chest was still feeling pretty tight, making it hard for her to breathe. She was in pain, she just wasn’t letting me see it. My grip on the phone tightened.

There was more rustling on the other end as the shitty agent wrestled the phone away from Annie, saying something about lying down and breathing deeply.

“As you can see, Mr. Anastasio, your sister is not in the best of conditions. Twenty-four hours. That’s how much time we’re allowing you to continue with this farce. Either you take her home then, or we will.”

“Understood,” I said icily. “I’ll be there.”

I hung up. I wasn’t sure what I was angry at anymore. Was I angry at that shitty agent trying to hand me his ultimatums when Annie was lying in bed sick? Was I angry at Marq for not being there for me to keep up his end of the bargain? Or was I angry at Mickey, for trying to take my sister away from me? Maybe it didn’t have to be one or the other. All I knew was that somehow I’d come out of that call angrier than ever before.

“Don’t worry, Annie,” I said to myself. “It won’t be long now…”

As it turns out, finding Mickey was about as easy as following the trail of destruction Theo had left in her wake yesterday. Mickey’s chemical weapons factory lay in ruins. I could see it in my head, picturing it based off of Mickey’s radio chatter. Theo had thought fast once Mickey revealed his hand, and had the car change course to the plant. They locked her inside and left her rampage until she found a way out and back to Mickey.

I surveyed the wreckage. Best guess? She’d knocked down all the support beams, brought the whole damn factory down on her head, then climbed out of the wreckage. That was the easiest explanation to accept. So if my theory held true, there would be a slightly elongated trail of dust and debris in the direction of Mickey’s last hideout. The shortest path between two points is a straight line, and a berserker homunculus wouldn’t let some weak shit like a few dozen brick walls slow her down.

I found the trail pointing to the docks after a few minutes of circling the wreckage.

“Bingo.”

On arrival, I chose my post carefully. Sitting under a water tower on the roof of an old brick building, I scouted Pier 6 for less than five minutes before turning up something suspicious. The abandoned studio warehouse. Six men outside, two guarding the entrance on the roof. I could count at least four more inside from passing glances through the windows. Needless to say, I think I’d found it.

I dropped the duffle bag full of my tools, and got to work assembling them.

Now me? I like to think I’m a pretty nice guy by the standards of the hood. I help old ladies across the street, I look out for my own, I only break the law for profit, not for fun, and I try to avoid killing people when I can. Except, y’know, when it’s absolutely necessary. That’s some pretty upstanding behavior for a kid brought up in the pits of New York with no parents. I’m not saying I’m going to heaven, but I try not to be a fucking douche.

That’s what I like to think. In reality, things are different.

I’ve been told that there are times when I become absolutely inhuman. It happens when you start taking things away from me. Important things. When you strip away my friends, my family, and all the flimsiest pretenses of morality that come with them, I will absolutely lash out at you with unholy fucking vengeance, and rain goddamn hellfire down on your sorry piece-of-shit ass. I will absolutely kill every last motherfucker you put in front of me without hesitation, just because you told me they’re someone I can blame. It’s happened before. And every time I wake up from it and I look around like I can’t remember what the fuck even happened. Like for a while, I was a whole other person.

I attached the scope to the antique M1903 Springfield, and loaded my first shot.

Yeah, it’s convenient to think like that, isn’t it? That there’s someone else in there making you think things and do things you would never do yourself. But that’s a fucking lie. When you get at the core of who I am, I’m a bad guy. I’m the monster at the end of this story, trying to cover himself up with all sorts of shit so he can continue pretending he’s something he’s not.

I’m a bad guy who wants to be good. More than anything else in the world. And I know the day I stop wanting that is the day I become the Devil himself.

I scouted out my targets. Four humans on ground level, as well as a bear lycan and a vampire on the roof. I leveled my sights on the humans. It was better to take out the easy targets first. A sniper rifle wouldn’t do much against either of those demihuman species.

It kills me, you know? Knowing that me and my little sister surviving means becoming something I don’t wanna be. This was gonna be one of those days. Because when I was up there, with my eyes on the scope, lining up the crosshair on their fucking tiny little heads, it was completely different than it was with the Madam.

I didn’t feel any hesitation at all.

I took the shot.

With Theo I was able to pretend. Pretend like I was doing this for the right reasons. Maybe I was. But not anymore. Now? This was just revenge. Revenge for Theo. Revenge for my sister. I was gonna put Mickey in the fucking ground.

When I ran out of things to shoot, I looked around, surveying the leftovers. No one was was daring to poke their heads out of cover now. I had a few seconds to bug out and make my next move.

I abandoned the rifle and dropped down into the abandoned back alley. Flanking them seemed like the best option. All of the remaining combatants were more than likely superhuman regenerators. I couldn’t shoot them, and I wouldn’t stand a chance in close-quarters combat. Rather, it was more like I’d be annihilated instantly. So I needed two things. I needed to get in close where they couldn’t dodge my bullets, and I needed to catch them by surprise.

Those clothes lines across the block looked promising…

I sailed in feet first, kicking the vampire square in the chest and into a wall. Before he could get his bearings backed, I rushed him, and slammed his head back into the wall. I could feel him struggling violently against my grip.

Rule number one of fighting vampires. Carry a cross.

Believe it or not, the hokiest advice works best. Somehow being turned into vampire rewires your brain in some pretty fucking weird ways we don’t quite understand yet. Obsessive-compulsive behavior is common, as is a violent and irrational fear of religious symbology. Basically, vampires are jumpy as shit when you show them a bible or a bowl with too much rice in it. And before coming here, I’d painted crosses on my clothes with holy water, and on the palms of my gloves.

While he was panickedly struggling, trying to get my hand away from him, I grabbed my gun out of its holster pressed the barrel right up against the floor of his jaw, and put a bullet halfway through his brain. Now I know what you’re thinking, and you’re wrong. Silver does nothing to a vampire. That’s lycans you’re thinking of. Dumbass. However, the swastika I’d carved into the tip? That was a different story. Once he regenerated, the bullet would remain in his body, and he’d spend hours trying to dig the thing out before he even thought of getting back up.

Claws raked my back and I stumbled forward. Speaking of lycans…

I stumbled forward, and felt the wounds on my back sizzling as Nayeli’s blood stitched me back up, right down to the claw marks on my spine. It hurt, almost more than the claws did, but pain was something I could live with. The lycan stared me down. Great, he’d already partially transformed. So that was a thing now.

I quickly started putting together my plan. Running from him was pointless. I couldn’t get behind any amount of cover that would hide me from his sense of smell, so I needed to confront him directly. This was where my silver bullets would come in handy.

I backed off slowly, keeping an eye on his movements. The best thing to do was to put distance between me and him, and as much of it as possible. Luckily for me, lycans aren’t fast like vampires are. In fact, I’d have to say they’re actually pretty damn slow. Unfortunately, they made up for that by being stronger than vampires, with much keener hunting instincts. It was pure luck his first attack hadn’t separated my top half from my bottom, and he’d only just grazed me.

Keeping all of that in mind, I needed to do exactly what I did with his vampire friend, and take him out in one hit. All while evading his advanced sense of smell and kinetic vision. Not easy.

I saw an abandoned bucket of paint thinner out of the corner of my eye. That could work.

The lycan started to lunge at me like a furry blur, and I put a couple of shots downwind with my revolver to remind him I was still packing. Regular bullets wouldn’t hurt him, but I knew from his sense of smell that he could tell these were silver bullets. And while silver doesn’t hurt vampires, it works wonders on lycans. There’s something about the chemical makeup of silver that’s like poison to them. They can’t regenerate when they’ve got too much silver in their blood, and it hurts them like Hell.

I made a mad dash for the paint thinner and ducked behind cover where he couldn’t see me, quickly dousing myself in paint thinner. It smelled fucking awful, but that was the idea. If I could mask my scent like this, I could use the empty bucket as a distraction and rush him. I rubbed the paint thinner over the silver knuckle dusters I was wearing.

Poking my head out from behind cover, I emptied the rest of my revolver in the lycan’s direction, ducked back down, then tossed the empty bucket and circled around. Now that I smelled like paint thinner, I could use the bucket as a decoy, assuming this actually worked and I wasn’t about to be turned into a cloud of red mist.

I heard the lycan crush the bucket of paint thinner with a swipe of his claws, and I knew he’d taken the bait.

I circled around and ran at his side, throwing a punch aimed right for his ribs. The spiked silver knuckle dusters hit home. It felt like punching leather, but it made it through, even if it was just a little bit, and dug into his flesh, releasing silver particles into his bloodstream. Infuriated, he knocked me aside. I hit one of the spinning ventilators hard enough to crush it (and a few of my vertebrae as well), but I could tell right away he was in worse shape than I was.

The lycan doubled over in pain, clawing at the tiny holes I’d poked in his side. He screamed inordinately for a few seconds before collapsing completely, twitching on the ground. “Go fuck your mother…” was what he gurgled, if I remember correctly. He began foaming at the mouth before he completely lost consciousness, leaving me with some slowly knitting wounds and a bunch of bodies, some of which would get back up if I waited too long.

“Well that was easier than I was expecting,” I said, brushing myself off as my wounds slowly began to heal. I downed the second vial of blood. “Now let’s see about the inside.”

I heard the click of a gun. “Hold it!”

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