ParaVice: Chapter 5
The following is a work of fiction.
This story features mature content and disturbing artwork not suitable for all ages. Read at your own risk!
What’s in the box:
A mad king is slayed in his penthouse suite.
Taron is going through the emotions as his skeletons begin to spill out from his closet. Dark memories are returning when he is forced to face an old ally on top of the world, in the worst part of a town, where one of the most powerful men in the nation has been murdered. But the hardest challenges are yet ahead.
Johnny the Scab is just a regular bum in the street for most but for the mysterious Red Lips he is a bountiful archive of malign secrets and dirty schemes. He has for a very long time slipped under the all-seeing eyes of her enemy... until now.
He could only recall a vague picture in his mind of the corpulent televangelist who would soon mold the world with his psychotic ramblings. He remembered a perpetually irate television icon roaring his sensational harangues against science, abortion, lechers, drug cartels and false prophets. All the monster lurking in the night were drawn in by the tantalizing spell of free-choice, free-voice, and wonder. He knew every hot key to press that got the blood boiling in the veins of his right-leaning extremist disciples, and he played them like a piano. Never did he breathe a word of condemnation against the malign and aggressive approach big pharma used to seed a virulent heroin epidemic that would run rampant and kill millions. Big pharma was in his pocket, and the users were his most devout supporters—thus they were sacrosanct. Never a scourge would he dare lash at the disgusting surge of gun violence, which has recently plagued Neuterra’s schools, parks, and festivals. For the National Weapons Rights Association (NWRA) was heavy in his pocket—thus they were sacrosanct. Neither did he admonish the oil industries for knowingly poisoning their environment, or billionaires who hoarded millions from government issued bailouts designed to help them pull their struggling communities out from poverty—they were sacrosanct. No, his enemy was the devil, and the devil was in the face of everything that failed to line his pockets. The devil was in the fault of the poor.
Taron used to think sardonic thoughts about the man’s overtly impassioned apocalyptic screeds, writing them off as no more than fodder for the media to eat up, the Left to cry about, and cheap fuel to splash over the raging fires that fed his ego. At the time, he never once entertained the possibility that he was a realistic contender for the throne. He never imagined he would grow like a cancer that might be trying to ride the pale horse all the way to the highest office of power in the world. Such passion usually burns bright for a short while before it peters out just as quickly. His did not. The bastard stayed prominent in the spotlight no matter how many times he could be proven false. He was impervious to truth and law, but with a frustrated society tired of being abused by the malicious antics of their partisan governing bodies he was also imminent.
Taron was a struggling young man with a plethora of problems to busy his worries when he first heard of him. Now Mr. Moor was well on his way toward seventy and the crazy fuck has since been crowned an icon, a political genius turned senator, turned presidential candidate, turned runaway train, before turning up dead in his broken city. Mr. Moor’s legacy was driven by unpopular bias and paranoia. His infectious charisma dumped the world on her head and seeded a pandemic of hate and fear that stretched across the seas. What once was wrong and strange suddenly became right and normal. But there was something more; little did Taron want to admit it. Joel Moor found his audience. He was setting kindle to thirsty torches across the nation that the country had long forgotten were still fervently brandished in anxious and eager fists. They drank the fire up greedily and spread it from torch to torch like a wildfire, like a pestilence. And woe to the people did the great conflagration catch, taking them all in the night.
When he announced his bid for an opening seat in congress his sycophants carried him there on the backs of the frustrated working class. He riled them up with promises to restore fallen institutions rendered obsolete by a paradigm shift moving brazenly close to globalism. He told them that God was coming back home, and that home was in the house of law. He fed them all exactly what they wanted to eat… bullshit. They gorged on it even after he was made to occupy that seat for years with no progress on any of the things he had set forth in his base. He used their willful ignorance to his advantage, and to fill the coffers of his colleagues and friends. Utilizing his resources, he steered the course of interest with the governing bodies farther away from the people, and closer to Einhardt Trust, a multinational financial institution that kept rooting their way into the powers that be like a stubborn parasite. In truth, the bank was only a subsidiary of the mega energy conglomerate Imhullu, the iron spear of human civilization. But the wolf behind sheep’s clothing is always so silent in the eyes of its prey. Now they wanted Joel Moor to be president. And Imhullu always got what they wanted.
A demagogue, a fraud, a religious zealot, a vainglorious, salacious idol of hypocrisy: behold, the apotheosis of a scumbag. Alas, someone even sicker than he put a stop to all that. But who, how, why and what would it cost the citizens of ParaVice? These were the questions that brought Taron and his senior field agent Jake Turner across the city to answer. They were both gazing apprehensively up at the garish façade of the dizzying Star Pool Tower hotel. It was a criminal’s totem pole. A crown jewel of the infamous First Street Strip, and a breeding ground for wolves and lions and snakes, oh my.
Vulpine Beach was a destination where the worst bred monsters in the world could come to play, but coincidentally it also housed the most luxurious hotels and casinos in the city. A high rise for every drug lord, and gangster who sought to nest their empires in the asshole of the world. It was where the rich who could afford a visit to such a dangerous place could go to hang their hats, but not without a stalwart staff and bulletproof killers for their security. It was not a place meant to treat a sojourning visitor as high profile as a candidate running for the prestigious office of President of Neuterra. To begin answering all of the questions that pressed them, first they had to ask one of their own.
“What the hell were they doing here,” Agent Turner spat out brusquely. The reporters were there, warded back by the crime-scene tape that was strung about the perimeter. They were making a raucous out of their millions of frantic inquiries, which were all trying to ask the same thing Taron’s field agent had so elegantly set it.
Rotor drones buzzed furiously overhead sounding like irritated wasps stirred into kill-mode. They captured every reach of the sprawling crowd with their onboard high definition cameras. One was from a news station, the other from the police department, but both of them were spying on the gatherers, though, for wholly different end reasons. Every entity had their spies in the skies now.
Taron never so much as blinked away from the building. He grinned icily at it and said, “Let us find out.”
The edifice enveloped them. It was quite impressive. The building was a precipitous skyscraper that soared fifteen thousand feet, appearing before them like a massive, gleaming, seamless piece of obsidian with gaudy threads of gold lining the beams here and there. The 111-story structure was stacked with austere shapes, and undulate sidings like parts to a great ethereal fortress built skyward. Battlement crowned the lobby entrance, where its famous street address was captured in bright boldfaced golden letters: 4 Square Ave.
Square Avenue and First Street were two parallel roads running along the shoreline like twin serpents vying to consume the sins of Man on Vulpine Beach. They were like binary dimensions trapped in the same universe, both featuring rival businesses, casinos, strip-clubs, and other lascivious dens of wicked temptation. But when a city is left to the criminals to decide it is destined to be transformed into a sort of ouroboros, forever eating its opponents and thus eating itself. 4 Square was vastly richer, taking up most of the ParaVice skyline with great towers, luxury hotels and banking institutions. Its prized landmark and most dominant structure, the great Star Pool Tower, housed several prominent offices including Imhullu’s Einhardt Trust Financial. Its main attractions, however, were in its extravagant skydeck on the penthouse floor and its lobby casino, which was made ready with a lavish auditorium and stage to entertain patrons of the arts and bloodthirsty revelers with barbaric contests. Nearly all of its exhibits were generously funded by the Canian mafia and their quiet inner dealings with Einhardt Trust, which was a fact that Taron was closing in on before his investigation was forcefully disrupted. It was an epic, garishly extravagant middle finger to anyone in the country who wanted to see the notorious mafia regime’s lavish empire at last dismantled. Einhardt backed them in secret, but Einhardt was also a major constituent of Senator Joel Moor, making the ground in this particular case a tad bit complex. With so many cards lying face down on the table, it was hard to see who was playing, who was dealing, and who was just there to lose all the guts in their wallet.
Taron had a morbid feeling in his gut that the latter fate was reserved for him.
The officers guarding the grand entrance only stopped the two stately dressed individuals for a moment before Taron flashed his ID badge. However, they were relieved of their sidearms before they were finally permitted entry. Cloying wallpaper of red and gold floral designs showed them the way to a waiting elevator down a commodious hallway. Taron stole a second glance into the lobby before he continued on. There was an office room just across from the vestibule. He saw a ticket window and recognized it as the box office where concerts and special engagements were handled. There was something abnormal about it though. An officer was watching over the official-personnel-only access door and the windows looking into the office were covered over with brown paper. When the elevator doors pinged and slid open, Taron boarded, but his curiosity remained with that ticket booth.
The police commissioner was sharing quiet words with a secret service member outside the room when they arrived at the scene. He paused to look up at them. Taron offered him a contrite grin. But the Commissioner only screwed his face upon seeing him. Chief Charles Campbell had worked with the DCW intimately in their efforts to expose a grievous human trafficking plot. His department helped them to decipher a code name floating around between badguy to badguy, though not without some arduous effort. Many close friends were caught dirty in the process. A lot of arrests were made by Internal Affairs, and the Chief would carry the wound of that burden for the rest of his career. But the code name was the missing piece. It connected all of their suspects and knocked over the first domino in a long ugly chain of them. Taron could still remember it: The Toybox. It came up in nearly every transcript and wiretap. The Toybox orchestrated everything. That operation ended in disaster and despair. It had cost the city dearly and left both the police and the government funded institution Taron directed to suffer the blame. An imbroglio was a word coined by one such politician in his devout crusade to abolish the DCW, a branch that the newly weaponized Right viewed as a money pit. That politician was now waiting for his arrival in the Penthouse Suite… waiting for them in pieces.
The Commissioner had on more than one such occasion attempted to shift the burden of blame onto Taron and the DCP for the internecine fallout. He believed someone high up in the department knowingly sabotaged their investigation. He believed it was Taron. But the girl… it was the girl and the fateful carnival that would at last silence his accusations. The day the Toybox brazenly unveiled itself. Chagrin and tremendous guilt tormented Chief Campbell, and as a result he allowed the issue to die. But the damage was done. His suspicions still lived on inside. Taron could see it written all over the old man’s withered, tired face.
Grimacing, Chief Campbell shook the Secret Serviceman’s hand and then stormed off. He didn’t waste a second more to acknowledge Taron or his accompanying field agent as he went by. Their shoulders nearly touched, but the Commissioner was gone before his rival could waste a word on reproach. He threw one last acid look at him before disappearing into the elevator to depart from the scene.
His field agent groused. Something pertaining to the Police Commissioner, but Taron quieted him and moved them along. They presented their badges to the waiting Secret Serviceman. He nodded and stepped aside. The stink of death seemed only to waft out into their faces just then. That acrid stench was enough to stop both men in their tracks. Agent Jake Turner almost swooned and recoiled, but his boss tapped his arm, reminding him to keep his composure. They were used to heinous things in their line of work, but the rich sent of decaying flesh and blood was one thing that was always hard to prepare your senses for. It was so heavy they could taste the iron in the back of their throats. The Iron in the blood of a man who was poised to drop an iron fist upon an unsuspecting democracy. Even through the Secret Serviceman’s black visors they could see that the agent pitied them. He had been in there. He surveyed the carnage. He knew what was there waiting inside, and he was grateful to be holding the door instead. He never wanted to see that room again.
Though to be fair, he never wanted to see Joel Moor again neither. In his line of work, you don’t get to choose who you protect. Duty is duty. But he did not like Mr. Moor. He didn’t like how he was forced to leave the planet, though, either.
Why this city, Taron despaired. He was clenching his jaw behind tightly-pressed, thin lips, and suppressing a disquieted sigh that still managed to escape out his flared-up nostrils. Then, reluctantly, they went in.
Johnny the Scab hadn’t always been known by that name. There was a time in a life long ago when he might have been considered quite the charmer, perhaps even a handsome young man. But a catastrophic break-up with a high school sweetheart from back in his youth left him with a stark condition of erosive heartbreak, he could only seem to remedy by way of drugs and alcohol. It would ultimately lead him to the streets. Lounging on the curb, obscured by a street-side trash receptacle, he caught the city wanderers unprepared, bombarding them with his pestiferous beggary. He importuned them for change, or cigarettes, or whatever else he might be able to squeeze out from their bleeding hearts. He cursed and spat at those who showed him a cold shoulder, and those unfortunate fools who did surrender something it was never quite enough. The paucity in their offering insulted him, and still he would give them a run with his lunatic grievances. A world of rot infected him, leading him on an unending rat-race for his next high until the alley became his home.
The threadbare bedding beneath him was covered in splotches of old sweat, shit, piss, and other human bodily fluids that were crusting over and under, turning parts of his comforter hard. The rancid, mildewy stink of him pervaded that corner he took as his domain, yet strangely, no one ever grew wise to his presence until it was too late. Alas, two young women in bougie designer ware—high heels, high skirts, and shoulder-bearing blouses—stumbled into the dragon’s lair. They were lugging with them bags from an expensive shopping binge that might just as well have had emblazoned over the fancy department store logo the words Just Rob Me Already, especially on this edge of town. The attractive blond with the long legs, supple build, squared face, high cheekbones and sunglasses like big, black bug-eyes seeing the world for its first time, sauntered over to dispose of her spent paper coffee cop in the dump. That’s when he sprang out.
Like a jaunty, rabid creature from the alley he beamed at them, grinning stupidly under a set of luridly checkered rimmed spectacles. One of the lenses was missing, and it was the lust dripping from that sick, drooping eye that seemed to draw a breath of shock from the woman’s lips as she recoiled. His skin was leathery, almost swarthy from countless sun showers, falling out cold in the open alley during his mini alcohol-induced comas. His matted hair had clots of white bird leavings stuck in the strands like dried-up, powdery paint. The straw-like, sweaty strands sticking out over his bandana looked to have once been a healthy bronze, perhaps even gold an age ago. He wore an audaciously busy bandana that was tied tight around his greasy head and appeared to have years of sweat preserved in the fabric. The sun visor attached to the rim of his glasses were left flipped open over his brow, making him appear as though he had dark cartoon eyebrows floating over a banner of confusing hippie colors. His sodden yellow and orange pro-wrestling-fanboy t-shirt used to have sleeves but they had been torn off to show-off the muscles he did not have in those spaghetti-noodle arms of his.
As if only quite pulling into focus the aesthetic figures standing before him, his dull, pitiful gaze transformed into leering, and he said, “Well, hello there.” The woman caught in his cross hairs shot a troubled glance back over at her friend; those were desperate eyes she saw. She looked again at the stranger once more, dismayed. Johnny the Scab was unmoved. He stepped out from behind the eclipsing trash receptacle, presenting himself, as one would unveil a greatly-anticipated art commission. Seeming to admire his own beauty, he looked down at his bare feet; his dirty toenails were chipped and painted over with purple nail polish; god knows why. He smiled at himself. His teeth were gross, but not so bad as she might have first suspected by the look of him. He probably had a bright set of chompers not too long before, and they probably could still be saved, but who in their right mind would even bother? Ol Johnny-boy nodded, proudly, and said, “The day is short, but I’ll let you stare as long as you like, babe!”
She didn’t know whether to blush or wretch. In a panic, she tossed her cup into the waste can and retreated to her girlfriend’s side. They scuttled off around the bend in a desperate flee for wherever there might be more crowds of people for them to get lost in.
Johnny the Scab watched them go despairingly. As they vanished, he cursed himself. “Wait,” he cried out, “Can I at least get a cigarette?” He wasn’t quite sure if that was right either. Change, damn you, his inner voice berated, you need food!
“Shit!” He would soon have to resort to foraging the dumpsters again. Fast food joints had the best trash to nab; their dregs never spoil. Seems like a fun-fact that should hold peoples’ curiosity more than it did, but Johnny the Scab did not care. He just needed something, anything to eat.
It was in this thought he suddenly noticed the mechanical whir coming from a group of robotic drones circling around the block west from his corner. He could see the titanic peek of spires peering over the reach of a dazzling skyline, which surrounded him like a council of brooding gods. Lots of activity was happening all morning out on 4 Square Ave, and that was never good. The Canians met there. They did business in that building. They worked the tables in the casino below. Now, the police were there, and the media. It was far from good. The Canians don’t like too much attention on their playground.
He had heard the gossip. He heard everything the loquacious streets had to whisper, and he learned to recognize the most frightening of talks as pieces of information imbued with the most veracity. His hard-earned intuition sent an icy chill running down his spine as he considered all the possible implications. Johnny the Scab was a scavenger, and a fiend to be sure, but he was not dumb, not so far as when it came to the darker matters stirring up in and around his home. On the surface he was a scab, but in the gutters, he was a scholar.
Something very bad was happening in ParaVice, and he knew well enough to recognize that whatever it might be, it was only bound to get worse. It always got worse. Beauty had a way of tarnishing fast in this city. The same went for peace. Where there was respite there was a wild species of mischief lurking just around the bend.
Then, almost as if on cue, she came.
The black beast of a vehicle moved into his line of sight, silent as death. The sleek SUV materialized sinisterly through a curtain of smog like a predator, revealing itself only so to torment her prey before she will have him. Johnny blanched; gulping a hard lump in his throat, sending whatever it was stuck there back down his gullet like a glob of hot, acidy, tar. Throwing up will have to wait until after whatever this was about. Madam Bassy did not relish seeing her beloved familiar strung out and yacking. He would have to do his best to mask the sickness.
The sinuous Impetus Model X: Luxury Class could be beautiful if it wasn’t so dreadfully terrible to behold. The austere opulence of its design spoke one message to all who would look unto her: I Am Power, worship me. Although they tried to sell it as a solution to the worsening climate crisis, it could only be afforded by the most affluent likes who only wanted to strut their immense worth. So in a world of toxic self-satisfaction the company may have missed its target mark. But Johnny always kinda saw the CEO of Impetus as something of an imperialistic snob so none of that was really all too surprising. Its xenon headlights burned hazily on daylight mode. The liquid azure pulsated within the circular lamps like white fire trapped in the fierce glower of a pissed-off black serpent. Even the damn wheels were scary, the way the state-of-the-art hexagonal tread shifted and moved under its weight like pads floating on a glowing blue stream. They were a prototype designed by Impetus with the patent Hex-Iconic technology, designed to adapt to any challenge the driver or the road could possible offer up, providing perfect handling in any situation. Johnny knew this because the streets talk, even about things that nobody should know. The machine was an all-wheel-drive, all-terrain, all-purpose luxury vehicle, equipped with a muscular, yet soundless, electric powered engine. It was capable of reaching high speeds in a snap, exploding from 0 to 60 in fewer than three seconds even with its considerable weight. It scared the shit out of Johnny. It was her black stallion, her royal chariot, and when she rode in with it, she meant business, or murder, all the same to Red-Lips.
Her dark vessel trundled up next to him like a quiet centipede. It always astounded Johnny how silent the machine was. Even when its breaks locked in, there was nothing but the wind and business-as-usual sounds of the city. Bassy playfully called it her Whip, referring to the Impetus emblem which was meant to be a swooshing lash of wind representing the swift speed of progress and change. The chrome logo on the hood winked under the light of the sun as it came to a still. Two bulky men in richly-tailored black suits stepped out from either side. They met him at the rear passenger door. They opened it. He could only see blackness inside: rigid, spectral shapes clad in a dark dress of shadows as dense as pitch. Standing awkwardly still, he looked pleadingly up at the massive men before him. He couldn’t see through their glasses, nor could he see past their igneous forged faces. But they saw him. He had become a boy afraid to look in his closet, knowing damn well there was a blood-thirsty tiger in there waiting to gulp him up. Clasping his trembling hands together, he moved forward, reluctant and diffident. Everyone went back to their formal selves when they were in the crossroads of death; here, you were only a child that knew nothing but fear and regret. No voices beckoned him inside the vehicle, but somehow, he heard a woman echoing his name from far inside his own mind. The door was then shut behind him, the two men got back in, and the suv was rolling on again.
“Johnny, Johnny, Johnny,” he could only see her pearl-white teeth, wet with saliva, and her blood-red lips oscillating in a mysterious sliver of light best he could tell had no discernable source. Light touched her only when and how she wanted it to, like magic.
He tensed up, pushing his back as deep into the soft fabric of his seat as he could manage. Next to the woman in the shadows he heard the clinking of chains whispering. A willowy hand opened a silken veil to show him what was hidden underneath. There, coiled on her naked, pink lap he found a lengthy cable of linked chains crafted of a metal that was pulsating with blue light like breathing embers. Most thought it was only some artful stage prop, but Johnny knew better than all that: it was of an ancient, forgotten alchemy, and it was quite deadly. He read a book on the legend of it many years ago, back when he was young and still had bright dreams of the future. They called it Phantom Glass. It reminded him of the incandescent headlights on the car. The chain spilt into her sculpted thighs, just barely hiding the cleft between her legs. His eyes instinctively climbed the undulate curves in her abdomen. He saw the diamond piercing in her belly button, hanging like a silver stalactite. That carnal hunger suddenly quickened again in his loins. He saw the fangs of a tattooed mouth that yawned from her navel to her womb. His eyes went even higher where the glow of the chain began to ebb at the curtain-peeled opening of her robe. Then he saw nothing, but he knew whoever the stranger was seated beside Red Lips she was grinning at him. She could taste his hunger, his lust, and his fear. And worst of all, he knew, she could taste his sins. When you were loaded with them the stink of it hit these ladies like a mouth-watering spice.
His eyes weren’t so lazy anymore; the life he wanted to keep filled them up. He looked hard at Red Lips, alive, wide, and horrified; more alert than a triple shot of espresso laced with cocaine shot straight to the heart with a hypodermic needled as long as a lance. She was wrapping those full, luscious lips around the mouth of a long cigarette holder, drawing in deep fire. The golden cherry at the end of the cigarette swelled and briefly ignited the handsome features of her face. She had a pretty, slightly upturned button nose, he saw in only a flash. When it was dark again, she filled the passenger hold with eddies of smoke and they looked like tiny hurricanes.
She said, “The killings at Star Pool… what do you know about them?”
Johnny the Scab didn’t realize how dry his mouth had gotten until he tried to talk, feeling his tongue peeling off from the roof of his mouth like a rip of Velcro. “I-I-I…” he swallowed and tried again. “I don’t know, m-m-m-Madam. I was drinking last night, I…”
Her lips paused a second away from another puff. She spat brusquely, “Quit with the bullshit, Johnny. You are my familiar. You will hold your tongue on information the day I rip it out from your throat and hand it to you. Until then, out with it!”
His lip quavered with fear as he spoke. “W-w-well, what I had heard… the politician… he came with a friend, they stayed at the hotel. They wanted a night in luxury.”
“There are better choices… safer choices.” Red Lips took another drag. Breathing a curtain of smoke over Johnny’s head, she said, “Why would they sojourn here?”
Johnny the Scab was becoming claustrophobic. The chains chimed, and he jolted. The sweat rag over his forehead was not helping much at all. Beads of perspiration rolled into the corners of his eye sockets. Distraught, and overwhelmed with panic he blurted, “H-h-he was with his friend, like I said… the movie guy… the billionaire that’s been paying for his campaign. George—George Winston! That’s the one.”
That name drew a pause of revelation from Red Lips. She almost gasped, and that alone in itself felt like a species of ecstasy, or amorous hunger. “Yes,” Johnny went on, seizing on the moment so desperately it was pathetic. “You understand. The Scandal… it’s been all over tv. I hear people talking about it.”
George Winston was the co-owner of a big screen entertainment company that has produced a number of box office masterpieces and has won prestigious awards in the industry throughout its lengthy run of twenty-five years. He had become a vital proponent that helped boost Senator Moor’s Presidential campaign. Not a stranger to scandal, he nearly fell in hot water some years ago when a report had gotten out to the public accusing his company of buying exclusive rights to stories that may have been detrimental to Mr. Moor’s political career had they not been destroyed by his spies abroad. Mr. Winston a longtime friend of Mr. Moor often acted as his media war horse on the frontlines of controversy. But a recent spate of accusations had fallen hard on the famed movie mogul, threatening his position in the world of power. A vast number of women had come into the spotlight telling heart-wrenching tales of a powerful man with powerful friends that had forced them to participate in disgusting acts, dangling promises of elevation in the movie empire in exchange for voyeuristic favors. Worse yet, they were only teenagers when the alleged misconduct had been seeded. His lawyers worked vigorously to muzzle them, and it had cost Mr. Winston a fortune in the end, but soon enough, the women stopped talking, and the predators went on hunting. But Red Lips remembered. She never forgets a gluttonous sinner. He was a ripe one!
“So then,” she let it hang wanting him to tell her more.
Johnny the Scab shook his head. He said, “It is rumored… I think there is more to their deaths… they haven’t said anything yet…to the media, I mean… but, I-I-I know what was going on up there, everybody does. They did not come here to drink wine and snort blow off a stripper’s ass, ya know what I’m saying?”
“What are you saying, Johnny. Please, you can be so cryptic sometimes.”
He bit his lip. “They came to… you know.”
The sleek machine performed a slow turn at an intersection. The hot sun burned against the sheen on its panels sharply, sending a stream of reflective light across the tattooed passengers of another conspicuous black car hidden away in a nearby alley. Theirs was a classic sedan with a twin-turbo, V8 gas-guzzling beast under the hood. It was not as well made as the Impetus they were watching, but it could keep up with her enough to get the job done anyway. They had not been there idling for too long; they crept around the block when Red Lips made her stop to pick up the derelict pestering folks by a city trash heap. Their target had obviously come to that end of town to acquire some information. They did not need to wonder why; the politician’s murder was national news. Indeed, it made frustrating business for their already complicated schemes. No doubt it would cause a similar annoyance for the Zipper Bitch and whatever illegal intrigues she was pursuing herself. The woman was who they had been sent to watch, and so long as her faculties were busy with other matters, she might never suspect the tail. They needed her blind. She and her omnipotent talents were far too dangerous otherwise; she has proven that too many painful times to count.
The driver brought his wrist up to his mouth. He spoke a message into his smart watch. He said, “She’s moving north.”
A moment past in silence, and then his watch pinged softly. He read the text that had suddenly materialized on the small LCD screen in response.
KEEP ON THEM.
He waited a few minutes for his target to gain some road ahead before he fired up the fierce engine once more. Then he was in pursuit.
Red Lips mulled thoughtfully over what Johnny the Scab had just told her. Age lines appeared around that delicious mouth of hers as she frowned in deep reticent thought. The wrinkles suggested a tale of thirty-three, perhaps thirty-five-year-old flesh, but they were lies. For even her flesh was a mirage.
She disappeared completely in the shadows to trade quiet words with her clandestine companion. The stranger’s chains jangled excitedly. When Red Lips had reappeared in the slice of light once more, she took a long drag from her cigarette and decided, “A nasty business these ones may have found for themselves. And if what you put for us today is true, then it might be that a great justice has been served at last… however, this is nothing I could not have learned for myself, my dear Johnny. Is there aught else you can tell me?”
“I thought that was a lot…” Johnny said, scratching his head, showing an expression of genuine chagrin for having failed to satisfy her. “The media doesn’t even know that yet…”
“What about the Canians.”
He froze. He was scared again. “W-w-what about them,” he responded coyly.
She smiled. “They have been positioning their men about the shipping docks. This is their hotel under siege, and they have been so quiet as of late. There is a tail on us, did you know?”
The bloodshot whites of his eyes swelled suddenly. He looked out the window, searching behind them. “Where? You… you have to let me out. If they find me talking to you, they’ll kill me!”
“They already know you’re with us, Johnny. If we let you go now, you will be sure as dead before the sun is down. Now, what is in their interest at the shipping docks?”
“I don’t know.”
She was smoking. Red Lips breathed it out slow, not saying another word. She just bore into him with eyes Johnny knew were redder than death. He could not see them, but he could feel them eating into his chest cavity, tearing through his heart. Cancer would be a mercy compared to her gaze.
Defeated, he frowned at his fidgeting feet and he told her all that he knew. “Tomorrow, at three a.m. a shipment should be coming in. They don’t want anybody to know, but ParaVice is a trove of secrets that can’t be quieted. My guy…”
“Your dealer,” she corrected him in a disparaging tone.
“…my guy,” he said back with defiance. Red Lips seemed to like that response; it at least showed some balls. A quiet trait that she long suspected Johnny had but rarely utilized. “He told me tonight is a dangerous night to be running around. The entire mafia is on edge. And with the murders now…” Johnny shook his head. “Shit has gotten real serious.”
“What does this shipment contain?”
He looked up at her through those ridiculous glasses, incensed, and done playing possum. Johnny replied, “Weapons… the illegal kind… military grade killing machines, purchased on the black market from a terrorist organization out in the Middle East somewhere, I don’t know it all.”
“Why? What are they preparing for?”
It was now his turn to test her emotions. A foreboding grin found his lips as he answered, “What do you think?” Red Lips frowned. Johnny continued, “Yes, the homicide is a setback to say the least of it, but it’s not enough to end the war.”
“That is quite enough sass from you, Johnny,” Red Lips said curtly, but winked playfully at him. Then she nodded to her shadowed companion, and in the next instant a fat wad of twenties folded under a rubber band was slapped against Johnny’s scrawny chest. “If they need these weapons then so do we.” Looking to the stranger Red Lips added, “Intercepting this package seems a requisite course to our survival. D, I’ll leave that for you to handle.”
A seductively provocative voice than replied from the underneath the darkness, “With pleasure, My Liege.”
Goosebumps ran cold across Johnny’s arms, while his stubborn manhood still wanted to test the fabric of his rotting shorts. The stranger was still eyeing him up, he could feel it. But she was doing more than that. She was tasting him. His sins were small, but they still had some flavor to them, and the one they called D was the most savage in their little clique. A merciless scorpion, a blood thirsty killer. Therefore, she required the most sustenance. She was a voracious member of the family.
“Also,” Red Lips added. “be sure to let in Mother on this little exchange. She will want to know.”
Mother? This is new. Johnny the Scab blinked curiously at the dark figure. He always wondered if there was someone else on top, now he caught himself a hint. “Well, it isn’t any of my business, but who…”
“Correct,” Red Lips interjected harshly. “It is not. What may be, however, is what you might do with your payment. I do so very much hope you will spend it wisely, old friend. It pains me to see you like this.”
“You’ve never known me any other way,” he challenged, eyeing her with a suspicious scrutiny.
“Too true, and I would especially prefer not to know you the way of dead. Which brings us to our current situation: what to do with you?”
“How do you mean?”
She put the cigarette holder at the edge of her mouth, sampling it pensively before she drew in again. “The enemy is watching us.” She anguished over it for a passing moment. Then she quickly made a decision. “You will stay with us for the now.”
“But…,” he protested fretfully. The last place he wanted to spend his remaining hours was in the company of the notorious Zipper sisters. “What about all of my stuff.”
“Gods be damned,” she cursed. “We will get you another piss-soaked blanket to sleep on, if that is your wish.” Her lissome hand then appeared, a long index finger pointing. She pressed a digital button on the glass divider behind his head, and he flinched. When the divider slid aside, she said to her driver. “My Basilica, if you will.” The driver nodded and accelerated. All they could hear were the state-of-the-art tires rumbling over the broken asphalt.
Red Lips sat back, a wicked grin playing across her mouth. “Trust me, my dear, you will love my place. Every night is heaven for a man like you,” she paused, setting a curious finger on her chin, “except maybe Tuesday night. That night is for my lovely Queens, unless of course if you are in to that sorta thing.” Another devilish grin crossed her lips.
Johnny knew that Queens meant the girly-men who sometimes prowled the strip at night. He has in the past scored some choice powder from them, but other than drugs he had no interest in any of their other recreational activities. Not to mention that they were often the most heavily armed and truculent denizens on First Street. Many haughty tourists looking for a good time in a bad city made the mistake of underestimating them. Johnny heard of one such encounter that left a man dead with a high heel lodged deep in his eye socket. But that was an answer that he did not wish to share with Bassy, so he went on with his mouth shut. There are those in the world with much higher educations than Johnny who could not grasp the wisdom of embracing their silence.
“Besides,” she continued, drawing in and breathing out yet another puff of smoke from her cigarette. “I need your brains to stay right where they are behind your eyes.”