By David C Johnson
Prologue | Chapter 1
The drunk man lost track of the time long ago. It could’ve been midnight, or just before sunrise. He didn’t really care either way. He wandered by old brick warehouses, most of them abandoned, and all of them with rusted, leaky pipes. It was the pipes that reminded him.
The drunk man found a back alley between two abandoned warehouses, just like the last three he passed. He waddled his way through wet newspaper, empty plastic bottles and bits of rotten food while walking through the back alley, with rats scurrying out of his way. Next to a doorframe with no door stood an old rusted dumpster, and a flickering, buzzing light above it. How this building still got electricity no one knew.
In the light one could finally make some detail about this man. Slightly graying-black hair receded and came forward into a widow’s peak. Further back it dropped down into a trashy mullet. His jaw was abnormally wide and thick, and his nose seemed equally strong, despite the dimple indicating it had once been broken. His face was covered in scruff. From his fine lines one might guess he was in his mid fifties. His skin and eyes gave away his heritage as either Latino or South American, although his mannerisms were anything but. From the way he staggered about, belching, and sometimes making half assed efforts at dancing which he probably couldn’t even manage when he was sober, it was clear this man had lost all touch with whatever culture his parentage came from.
Though at first one might think this man was just a drunk bum, there were things about that conclusion that didn’t add up. Sure, he was filthy, and he wore jeans and sneakers that looked like they’d been pulled out of the trash, but outside that he wore a navy blue trench coat of silk weaved as thick as leather, and probably weighing more than leather. And his backpack slung over a single shoulder, scraps of canvas just as dirty as he was, glowed with gold from beneath the various holes torn through wear and grime. Even this man’s drunkenness had an air of wealth, for in his left hand he gripped a half empty bottle of Jack Daniels; whiskey from a company that no longer existed. To own a full bottle was a sign of prestige, and even the empty bottles were collector’s items.
Clearly, while this man might be a drunken bum now, he was at one point something much more.
With his free hand, the drunken man unzipped his decrepit jeans and then leaned up against the brick wall with it. His slightly clenched face began to relax as the sound of piss landing against concrete echoed through the alley.
When he was done, he reached back for his zipper, but paused. He felt something cold against his neck.
“That’s a nice coat you got,” said the voice of someone who was obviously a white trash gang banger.
The drunk man looked down. A skinny hand wrapped around his neck holding a most unusual knife to his throat. The blade was short and oval, and the handle had no real grip. It was all a single piece of flat steel, with holes drilled into where the grip would normally be fastened.
The drunk man spoke in a deep, raspy voice. There wasn’t the slightest hint of a Latino accent of any region. In fact, this supposed Latino sounded more like a Brooklyn gringo cab driver.
“Hellion by Nemesis Knives,” the drunken man whispered. “Only one man I know of uses them.”
Even with himself plastered and the other guy holding a knife, this man knew his mugger was no match for him.
In a blur of movement, the drunken man spun around and backhanded his mugger in the face. The mugger instantly dropped his knife and dropped to the ground, holding his jaw and groaning in pain. He was indeed a piece of white trash, as skinny as a rockstar, but with spiked up red hair. He dressed as some haphazard cross between biker and punk, for some reason wearing a skin tight leather vest beneath a jean jacket.
The drunken man knelt down and picked up the knife. Between his hands, and with some effort, he bent the steel ninety degrees before tossing it back to his mugger.
With the pain subsiding, the mugger let go of his face to reveal blood dripping from his nose and lip. He stared in shock at his not-quite victim.
“Small world Williams,” the drunk man muttered.
“Boss?” Williams whispered back. “What are you doing?”
“Hoping to find some wasted black market auction basement that’ll buy my old suit,” the boss responded. “What the hell are you doing?”
Williams paused and blinked before mustering the coherence of thought to respond. “Well… Uhh… I just mug drunks all day. It’s the only to survive in a place like this.”
“I thought you’d have started a cult by now.”
“Started a cult!” Williams shrieked. “What the hell kind of… actually that’s not a bad idea.”
“What about your crew?” the boss asked.
“I don’t want to think about them. Roper’s a bouncer at a titty bar now, Abobo’s a freakin’ bodyguard in a monkey suit. I don’t know what happened to Steve or Chin… and Linda’s a god damn telemarketer.”
“Terlermarkerter?” the drunk boss spattered almost coherently.
He smashed his bottle of Jack Daniel’s on the ground, spun around and smashed his fist into the brick wall, shattering the bricks around it and leaving an impression in the wall.
“What the fuck happened to this city? God damn fucking… fucker… how the fuck did… fuck!”
“You really like that word don’t you boss?” Williams asked.
“Shut up,” the drunken boss muttered back.
The drunken boss turned his head back to Williams. He reached into an inner pocket of his thick silk coat and pulled out a large pocket knife with a serrated edge and a black plastic handle. He tossed it on the ground next to Williams.
“Take it,” the drunk boss stuttered. “You won’t get much use out of your other one. I saw a few stoners back at Martin Luther King, you might wanna’ check it out. Just stay the hell away the crack heads, they all carry shivs.”
“Thanks,” Williams answered. “There’s this place on Clinton called The Limelight. It’s a queer joint on ground level, but the basement’s a black-market auction where all the rich fat asses go to get syndicate memorabilia. Your old suit would get you at least half a million in that place. Just remember you owe me one for tellin’ you that, so make sure a few grand heads my way.”
The drunken boss nodded before turning to leave the alley, not even bothering to zip his pants back up.
“Sure thing,” he mumbled. “See you Williams.”
“See you Willy,” Williams answered before reaching out for the pocket knife.
In the corner an old-fashioned jukebox played James Bond themes off a portable hard drive. The whole place reeked of cigarettes. The hardwood floors and punched copper ceilings were the only things keeping the smell from getting permanent, as it couldn’t soak into metal or wax coatings. Behind glass cabinets, all the walls were stocked with useless trinkets from the days when the Shadow Warriors ruled the city. There were bottles of hard liquor with certificates showing that someone high up in the syndicate supposedly owned them. There were over a hundred of those sunglasses that were issued to Shadow Warrior members. There were wrinkled old wanted posters. There were a few of those silver-colored, waxed vinyl boots worn by the old syndicate’s high ranking members. There was a pile of dud M-150 shells manufactured by the syndicate and given to their enforcers. The rarest item of them all was supposedly a head sawed off one of those animatronic statues, which Big Boss Willy himself used to adorn his mountain hideaway with. Art meeting lethal home security.
Behind a counter, each smoking a hand-rolled cigarette, were two short, stubby men with moustaches, glasses and pale gray skin. One looked like a rat and the other like a mole. They were chattering nonsense about who knows what, oblivious to the man coming down stairs into their room.
William Tanon slowly descended the steps, gripping the brass handrails almost tight enough to dent them to be sure he didn’t fall and tumble down the stairs in his drunken stupor.
Even if the men at the counter heard the footsteps, which were quite loud, they didn’t pay attention. They didn’t even look up. Willy still dressed in trashy street clothes beneath a world-class coat, still with the trashy canvas backpack slung over his shoulder.
He waddled up to the glass cabinets. They were selling his stuff here, or at least it used to be his stuff. Willy instantly recognized many of them as fake, the statue head in particular. But many were genuine.
He turned toward the rodent-faced men. They both talked in squeaky voices like they had sinus problems, and both leered beady eyed at a black piticany rail taken from the top of an old rifle.
“I’m telling you, it’s a perfect forgery,” the rat man insisted. “I used hundreds of photographs from hundreds of angles. I can’t possibly have produced a single flaw. This is absolutely identical to the scope attachment rail on Machine Gun Willy’s 417 carbine. I’m telling you we can get over a million for this.”
“And I’m telling you the real scope attachment rail is duller than this,” the mole man persisted. “Your reproduction is vastly shinier than the genuine article. Anyone who purchases this will check its authenticity with one of Willy’s old associates, people who’ve really seen the 417 carbine and know what it, and its scope attachment rail look like. And when they do, they’ll send goons after us!”
“We can just bribe them,” the rat man suggested.
“We may be financially gifted Hans, but we’re not obscenely stinking rich, unlike the people who buy our products,” the mole man rebutted.
“I’m telling you Sebastian,” Hans continued. “No person will ever be able to tell that this is a forgery.”
“Just like none of your customers was ever able to tell that you watered down your pot with ficus leaves.”
Willy’s irritation finally got the best of him. In the midst of their continued argument, he waddled over to them and picked up the fake rail. He took only a brief look at it before dropping it back onto the counter, finally grabbing the attention of Hans and Sebastian.
“This is the worst forgery I ever saw,” Willy grumbled. “No dumbass in their right mind would ever buy this piece of shit.”
The rodent-faced men stared wide eyed and open jawed at the man standing in front of them. For a while, nothing more happened, as if the scene was caught in time.
“The hell’s the matter with you two?” Willy growled. “My face that pretty?”
“It’s… it’s… it’s…” Hans stuttered pointing at his visitor. “It’s Machine Gun Willy!”
Half closed eyes, slurred words and wobbly hands suddenly turned to a flash of movement. Before they could react, Willy had a hand around each other their throats, and they both hung two feet in the air.
“I usually kill people for calling me that to my face!” Willy barked. “But since I need the cash so bad, I’ll let you live.”
Willy dropped them back to their feet. They doubled over the counter hacking and wheezing and rubbing their necks. Willy waited impatiently for them to come back to their senses.
“W… w… w…w… will… I mean… M… M… Mr. Tanon,” Hans stuttered. “What may I do for you?”
Willy flung his backpack forward and proceeded to empty its contents onto the counter. What fell out was a two-piece suit woven of shimmering goldenrod silk as thick as the coat he wore on his back. The jacket, meant to be warn without a shirt, looked almost more like an open tunic, if it weren’t for the platinum trimmings and jeweled cufflinks. The pants, of the same ultra-thick goldenrod silk, were somehow still perfectly pressed and creased. The suit was complete with silver vinyl boots and studded iron shoulder pad. Everything was there, and everything was genuine.
“Your suit,” Sebastian whispered.
“It’s beautiful,” Hans whispered.
“How much can you get me?” Willy asked.
“I don’t know,” Hans whispered again. “Millions… maybe even more than ten million. I’ll give you seventy-five percent!”
“Sure whatever,” Willy mumbled.
Willy stumbled back until he fell into a cushy chair shoved against the back wall. Seconds later, he was asleep.
“William Tanon,” a voice rang out inside Willy’s head.
It hurt too much to pay attention to.
There it went again. It was a sweet female voice, deep, but not too deep. It seemed to tingle. It was desirable, even though the sound also caused a headache.
Willy squeezed his eyes together before trying to open them. As soon as the first crack of dim light entered his eyes, all Willy could see was a blaring yellow blur. His head spun in circles and pulsated in pain. Willy grunted and then growled with his hand on his temple, trying in vain to give himself some comfort.
“Drink this,” the female voice commanded.
A steel thermos was shoved into Willy’s face. He could smell some kind of herbal tea inside. Willy hated tea. He liked coffee, double cream, double sugar. He hated people telling him what to do more, even if they were beautiful-sounding women.
But at this point Willy’s dry mouth was so bad that his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. He didn’t care much then. Willy upended the bottle and felt the herbal tea relieve his mouth and his stomach.
After downing the entire bottle of tea, Willy’s headache began to subside. Soon after, his head began to spin slower.
“What is this shit?” Willy grumbled.
“My own blend, grown on the most concentrated flow of the New England Ley Line,” the female voice said again.
“Magic tea?” Willy groaned.
“It doesn’t do much except relieve hangovers in less than a minute.”
At that time Willy’s vision started to clear. The bright yellow blur dimmed, and the fuzzy images in front of him came into focus.
What stood before him was a tall woman, perhaps five foot ten inches, dressed in a pure white suit with no tie, a white top hat and an iron cane. Willy eyed over her body. Besides the odd paleness, she looked like the kind of woman whom he would’ve picked out in his glory days from millions of candidates to be the head mistress of his personal harem. Her figure and curves seemed perfect. Her breasts were perfect. Her skin seemed as smooth and featureless as a porcelain mask.
Willy couldn’t help eyeing her a second time while chewing on his tongue. But that’s when he noticed her paleness. Her skin was between the color of cream and butter. She wore oval sunglasses. Willy thought for a moment she might be albino, but the slick bronze hair quickly put that notion to rest.
“Who are you?” Willy asked.
“No one of consequence,” the woman answered. “I’m here to give you something.”
The woman reached into her coat and unsnapped a button. Willy raised an eyebrow and gave a smirk imagining what that might be. But what he ended up with was something far greater than what he’d hoped for.
The woman pulled out a large molded machine of metal and polymer. It was something Willy was quite familiar with. He wasted no time in grabbing it from her arms and holding it just to make sure it was real. He intimately felt and saw all the subtle intricacies of this tool.
Willy whispered to himself. “Seven point six two millimeter Heckler & Koch 417 modular assault weapon, compact carbine configuration, all synthetic stock and shell, platinum tungsten coated barrel and barrel flute, hand print signature.”
Willy tightly gripped the handle of the gun with his right hand. A tiny green light lit up on the side of the frame, followed by the sound of the safety catch unlocking.
“Silvia…” Willy whispered. “After all these years you still recognize me.”
Willy stood up, holding his rifle at his side.
“Where did you find her?” Willy asked.
“Disassembled,” the woman answered. “In the Lee brother’s dojo.”
Willy’s face tightened and his teeth clenched. That name will make him cringe for the rest of his life. He shook his head and looked back at her.
“But I broke in at night, and what I was truly after wasn’t there,” the woman continued. “That’s where you come in.”
“What makes you think I won’t just kill you now that I got Silvia back?” Willy gnarred.
“Try me,” the woman dared.
Willy lifted his gun to his hip, gripped the barrel flute, and readied his finger on the trigger. But in the brief moment, the pale woman leapt forward, covering the distance between them in a single bound, her hat falling off her head behind her. She grabbed the barrel of the gun and pushed up.
Before Willy could register what he saw, he was bludgeoned in the face and thrown back into the chair he fell asleep on. His free hand felt his face to find hot impressions of the barrel flute on his nose and forehead. Willy snarled.
The woman calmly turned her back to Willy and walked back to her hat. As she knelt down to pick it up, Willy again raised his gun to her. It didn’t matter how fast this bitch was, there was no way she could stop him from gunning her down if she didn’t know he was aiming at her.
But she did know. Somehow, she did know.
Willy’s ears were shot by the sound of metal screeching against metal. A shower of sparks flew from the tip of the gun. Willy felt something warm against his ear. He felt it. There was a perfect horizontal slice through the edge of his ear, almost half an inch deep, and it was bleeding profusely.
Blood trickled down Willy’s neck. Only then did he realize that the pale woman had twisted around and thrown something at him. Willy looked back. A playing card was imbedded an inch into the glass of the wall cabinet next to him. Or at least that’s what it looked like. It was the same size, but the image of the playing card was painted on. Where the paint flaked off, was charcoal gray.
“That’s not a jack of hearts, it’s solid iron!” Willy growled.
“I could just as easily have killed you,” the pale woman replied.
“I know,” Willy whispered.
Willy knew then that he’d have to do whatever this woman asked. There would be few things in his life Willy would hate more, but he knew he had to.
The blood dripped from Willy’s jaw onto his coat.
The rodent-faced men from before entered the room from behind the counter, again neither of them noticing what was going on inside.
“I’ve already got a bid for six million on the jacket alone,” Hans spouted off. “I think we auction it off in pieces instead of the whole shebang.”
“If this continues we’ll be retired by next Thursday,” Sebastian spoke dreamily.
“First things first,” Willy whispered with a deep frown.
Willy stood up from his chair and lifted his gun to his shoulder, straight at the rodent faced men.
“Boys?” Willy proclaimed in an almost cheerful fashion, drawing their attention straight to the barrel of this rifle. “I’d like my suit back please.”