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"Take the fatal shot," said Horseshoe. He must have laid down his rifle because I remember him helping to steady my own. "Easy now, you'll own this forever—" I stared the thing in the eye and squeezed the trigger.It threw back its head, rising up. It gasped for breath, spitting more blood. It barked at the sky. Then it fell, head thumping against the deck. Its serpentine neck slumped. The rest of its blood spread over the boards and rolled around our boots and flowed between the planks.I was the first to step forward, looking down at the thing through drifting smoke.Its remaining eye seemed to look right back. I got down on my knees to look closer. The thing exhaled, causing the breathing holes at the top of its head, behind its eyes, to bubble. I waited for it to inhale, staring into its eye—I could see myself there as well as the others, could see the sky and the scattered clouds. The whole world seemed contained in that moist little ball. Then the eye rolled around white—it shrunk, drying, and the thing's neck constricted. And it died.Horseshoe slapped my back, massaged my neck. "How's it feel, little buddy?"But I didn't know what I felt. I could only stare at the eye, now empty.
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Seven Tales of Blood and Beauty
Wayne Kyle Spitzer
Published by Hobb's End Books, 2018.
Seven Tales of Blood and Beauty
I | Killer in the Looking Glass
II | That Thing We Killed
III | Faraway, Nearby
IV | Red Marillion
V | Lean Season
VI | Coffin Road
VII | Wet Bark
Copyright © 1986, 1989, 1992, 2000, 2004, 2010, 2017, 2018 Wayne Kyle Spitzer. All Rights Reserved. Published by Hobb’s End Books, a division of ACME Sprockets & Visions. Cover designs Copyright © 2018 Wayne Kyle Spitzer. Please direct all inquiries to: [email protected]
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this book is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author. This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Shimmering vaguely beyond a curtain of rain and gloom, there is a skyline peppered with glowing embers. Above is a pale moon of terrifying proportions. The moon has twin orbs for eyes. They are rimmed in red and full of loathing.
They are glaring at me.
They are my own eyes, reflected in the rain-drizzled Plexiglass portal of the lifter. Interior illumination and exterior darkness have transformed the portal into a looking glass. A mirror.
I don't like mirrors. Mirrors hurt.
Instinctively, I lift my Recoil pistol and blast the portal away. Cool wind washes in and splashes against my face, tosses my hair. Rain tickles my skin. Broken glass crunches underfoot as I step away from the opening. I feel much better now. Guns are like medicine, and are used as such often.
My Recoil is equipped with a silencer, of course, but the sound of shattering glass may have alerted my quarry above to my approach. It doesn't matter. Still, I ponder the possibility for a time, and conclude that he surely must have heard.
This is a good thing.
He'll have time to pray and collect his thoughts before I kill him. I am a murderer, but I am a thoughtful one.
His name is Tony Orchard, and I've been pursuing him for nearly two hours, ever since he rolled over me like a threshing machine at the notorious 76 Club where I 'd found him. I don't even know what he looks like. He spun on me so quickly in the dimly lit jazz cellar, I didn't have time to make out his facial features. The Pentagog doesn't give us photos, only names.
It's a sloppy system.
Mistakes happen. But not tonight. My doomed prey is Tony Orchard. He'd been the only person at the phones, where the bartender had gestured as the Recoil kissed his lips.
In a moment or two I’ll be at roof level, where I fully expect to see him standing at the edge of the Lorentz Tower and wishing with frantic desperation he had a parachute. Or a gun, like mine. To the best of my knowledge, he has neither. I would hope for the latter, so long as the gun is not a Recoil. I don' t get as sick when I kill an armed man. But I still get sick.
When you kill someone with a Recoil, it is physically impossible not to get sick. It is a bloated, black, sadistic weapon; yet it fires not a single bullet. Instead, it lobs white hot globs of molten steel at the target. And if that target is a man, the globs punch through his skin with a shattering impact. Then they settle inside where they quickly—but not quickly enough for the victim—expand and solidify. And burn. Like white phosphorous. In short, the Recoil likes to turn men inside-out.
The Pentagog tells us, confidentially, that this serves as a fine deterrent. They say it leaves corpses that are "TV Friendly"—twisted, smoldering corpses they tell the public are the work of vigilantes. What they don't tell the public is that these so-called vigilantes are commissioned by the Pentagog. With tax dollars.
My name is Orin. I am a Grimheel and my function is simple. I kill. When the need arises, the cops call me, for I am the hand Law keeps hidden behind its back. I am the black gloved hand with the blued blade in its grip, and my workload is heavy. I work Chinatown and the ghettos. I work the corporate spiderwebs that canopy the city.
I make no public appearances, but if you 're a rapist, you might meet me sometime. If you're a child molester or a child pornographer (the latter being redundant, for these are virtually the same term), you might meet me sometime. If you're a murderer, you might meet me sometime. We'll talk shop for awhile. Then I'11 murder you. But not before telling you a funny secret.
And for the good citizen, only this: Rest easy. The man who raped your wife and then hacked her into little pieces may have walked away from the trial, but he didn't walk away from me. But also be afraid. Stay home and go nowhere. For should you fall under suspicion, your fate at my hands will be no more humane than your wife’s.
I am the Grim Reaper who follows at the heels of those who have sinned, and those who may have sinned. I am a Grimheel and I wear my Hard Mask well.
It’s 2038 and the Law's acceptable margin of error has increased along with the crime rate, even as its tolerance has decreased. "Murder is murder," we Grimheels are told by the Pentagog's morale counselors, "be it premeditated or otherwise."
I've been killing their ghouls for nearly a year now, and they assure me I am an unsung hero. A protector. They tell me I'm saving innocent lives.
But my doubts concerning the ideology I serve increase with every kill. I try not to think about it. At a time when even the lowliest of service jobs is out of reach for the person without connections, killing is my only meal-ticket.
The sudden sound of the lifter's braking struts stirs me from my reverie. I've reached the top. It takes a second for my stomach to realize we've come to a stop. Then there's the butterflies. Trapped inside, suffocating, desperately trying to find a way out, their delicate wingtips brushing sporadically against the lining of my stomach. But there's no escape. They're trapped as I am trapped. As the frantic man above is trapped.
The word "roof" winks into glowing existence above the lifter doors. Instinctive caution grips me, and in turn I grip the foam-covered handle of the Recoil a little tighter. I level it out before me, and prepare to let loose flaming clusters of molten steel once again.
There's a telling hiss and I suddenly find myself gazing out across the rain-slicked rooftop. The rain is obscuring my view, while the lifter's interior light is showcasing me nicely for the cornered animal outside, perhaps crouched behind one of the many mushroom-shaped ventilators. Perhaps wrapping cold, wet, desperate fingers around the grip of a black-market Recoil.
I side-step hastily out of the illuminated doorway and crouch tensely in the chilly darkness, gun outstretched. The lifter doors slide shut beside me, their subtle, hydraulic hiss all but drowned out by the vast, staccato rhythm of the angry rain.
Despite the storm, I can hear the sounds of cars moving sluggishly through the absurd maze of streets and stoplights below. I can hear the sporadic sounding of horns and the occasional blaring of voices. I can hear angry motorists shooting at each other. I am grateful for the distraction. If not for the constant drone of activity from below, I might realize just how utterly alone I am up here. How detached. All around me, mist. Swirling and churning. Revealing and concealing. I grip the Recoil like a vise and begin to move forward.
Part of the cycle, that's all. I've been here before and I’ll be here again. Only ...
Only tonight there's something very different in the air. What is it? I ask myself, but I already know. It's initiative's old enemy, doubt. It' s the screaming, jumbled voices of indecision.
Something just fell against metal. My ears have grown very keen in my years as an assassin. Orchard just shifted his weight and lost his balance. Hazy contemplation vanishes. I stop momentarily and listen.
From out of nowhere a buzzcar passes overhead, illuminating the rooftop briefly with its strobing beacon. Through a veil of falling rain and spidery tendrils of fog, I glimpse the fleeting outline of a man. A heartbeat later it is gone.
I fight off the temptation to call out. To assure the fugitive I mean him no harm. To lure him out of the murky darkness and cut him down with one swift shot. But even killers have their own sense of honor. Their own perception of right and wrong. At least, this ... killer ... does.
Instead, I let unseen strings drag me forward.
Something awaits me in the gloom, and be it routine or revelation, I must face it.
I glide like a wraith over the rooftop, concealed from the knees down in a quagmire of listless fog. The rain covers for me. It obscures my form and renders the minute sounds of my passage silent.
I am wearing a black, elk skin coat which extends several inches beyond my knees, nearly to the ankles. It is tiger-striped from top to bottom with jagged bands etched in maroon. It is beautiful yet hideous in equal measure. It has a collar lined with my own amber hair—the long, flowing hair that used to so enchant Belladonna, but was shorn from my head upon my acceptance into the Grimheels. Now it’s cropped short and I am utterly alone in the world.
The Recoil is my lover now. And I despise her for it. But ... we need each other. She and I.
Now, only at night, when I walk the city with my Recoil and an onionskin hit list in my pocket, I wear my mane once again. Not a mane of short, bristly, synthetic fur, but a veritable lion's mane of tapering human hair, marred in spots with smears and blots of long-dried blood. I am a murderer, but I am a poetic and well-dressed one.
A large part of being a good Grimheel is knowing how to scare your prey. How to spread your cowl like the cobra and loom over them, leaving nothing but terror-filled eyes gleaming white and wet in the seamless black expanse of your shadow. The shadow that stretches. The long, alien-looking coat helps me do this. It's part of my act, part of my gig. Modus operandi.
Suddenly, a shuffling motion, a figure dashing from the refuge of one ventilator to the next. I train my pistol on it, but by the time I've begun to squeeze the trigger, the shape is hidden once again. I ease my finger away from the trigger very, very carefully, rain and sweat beading along my forehead. A round in vain now would be no less dangerous than firing off a flare and allowing it to sift down through the gloom, bathing the area in its harsh, green-white light. My quarry would still be hidden safely behind a ventilator, and I'd be exposed, if only for an instant, for what I am. Which is just a little guy with a big gun and a long shadow, no different from him in my possession of fear.
You've noticed, of course. My Hard Mask. It's beginning to slip a little. It always does. And the rain isn't helping. Nor is it helping my ability to judge distances correctly. In fact, the downpour is quite obviously playing tricks on my mind. Like a game of shells. I know he's behind a ventilator, but which one?
My arm is growing very tired now. The weight of the Recoil is taking its toll. If the man is armed, and I'm drawn into a fire-fight, I'll be at a disadvantage. Still, I move forward. In a few moments it will be decided. One of us will walk away alive, or neither of us will walk away at all. So be it. Doubt is for reverie. Right now, I have a job to do.
The edge of the building is now within my blurred field of vision. I can see the reflective surfaces of the opposite towers fading down, down, first to darkness, then to the multicolored haze of streetlamps and neon.
Now is the time for caution. If I'm not careful, the fugitive could maneuver around and escape. Or hit me from behind. God knows it's happened before.
The edge. So close now I can see the streets below. If he is indeed behind a ventilator (which he surely must be), I'll know in a matter of seconds. I walk. Slowly. My heart pounds in my chest like an unruly child.
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