The scent of gun oil teased in the fog.
You just don’t often see a good fog like this in Chicago. It’s not the wind, mind you, the official reason Chicago is called “The Windy City” is because our politicians blow a lot of hot air.
But a body of water the size of Lake Michigan land-locked right next door was like a big rock in the middle of a stream. It stopped the whole weather flow Chi thing. In my ninety-ish years here, I’ve seen weather fronts avoid this town like it was cursed. Everything – frog-choking rain downpours, feet-high snow and oven-caliber heat fronts get smacked away like so many insects. Lake Michigan was like a paperweight keeping sudden shifts in temperature from rushing in. If it weren’t for the weathermen telling us something big almost hit us, we’d never know.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, we got hit, and good, occasionally.
But tonight’s fog… it came here like it came home. It covered every street, rivet and brick until everything became slick in these deep hours of the night. Under fog, things move much slower, more luxuriously. The glare from office buildings get dimmed. Traffic cutting through Lower Wacker is stifled to a moan, and if you walked silently enough, Chicago would never notice your passing.
I am Marcus Victor Amfortas, and I had forgotten how much I love the fog – it was another buffer between me and the world that pushes itself into my life.
I sighed and placed my foot so I would have to stagger. As silently as I could walk, this night, I had to play a sports-event clown with a frickin neon target and an air horn. I staggered again, clomping in my Testoni loafers, heading north on Kingdom Avenue. For those of you not from Chicago, I was walking from the bar district into one of the rougher neighborhoods.
Trying not to overdo my act, I squinted up a street light, then down at my watch. I was well within the radius the CPD had given me as being a recent “hot spot” for crime, but the bait was still on the hook. I’d been doing this crappy favor for three days now.
Hell, if I don’t get any takers tonight, I’m going to try again dressed like a woman.
Never mind. With my legs, it could bring about a different, awkward situation.
I jaywalked the next corner, accentuating a difficulty with the curbs, took a deep breath to check out my surroundings.
The Unhallowed stirred. The shift was subtle, but the thing inside me had come to a higher awareness from its bored slumber. Finally. Some promise. The scent became more pronounced, and in sync with the yawning mouth of an alley up ahead.
I staggered close to the buildings, resisting the urge to look around.
Behind me. I slowed down enough to let them catch up. My legs twitched as my Unhallowed tried to get me to backpedal into them, catch them off guard, start the fight from a point of strength.
At some unspoken signal, they grabbed my suit coat, dragging me into the alley.
About frickin time.
The younger one, maybe 20 years old, slammed me up against the wall with his weight before thunking my chest… wait. I felt a pain and a pressure against my pectoral muscle over the space between my third and fourth ribs.
Right over my heart.
What the hell? I glanced down. My Unhallowed stopped straining deep within its confines, freezing solid at the sight. A numbness flushed across my face and limbs as life giving blood vacated them.
An ice pick. Why the hell did it have to be an ice pick? I heard the two punks come up behind me, I know I smelled gun oil and then… a friggin ice pick?
Dammit, I was just telling Bong about this the other day. There's a reason I keep routines. I can’t foresee every situation that lunges at me, but some things are just a good idea.
My Nomex tactical vest stops bullets. My armored bikers jacket stops blades.
Guess which one I wasn't wearing.
The kid was nearly drooling “Gimmie the… gimmie the… s-s-stuff, the cash and stuff.”
Panting hard and sweating, the stench of fear bathed the air when I inhaled to talk gently to him, settle him down. This kid was feeling the overpowering sting of detox. If I hadn’t been wearing the dense Nomex vest, he would have unintentionally pierced me through.
He still might.
I grimaced. Where was the gun?… ah. Behind the kid stood an older gangbanger, pointing his weapon at he ground. Teacher and apprentice.
I handed over my money clip and wallet, then my watch and ring.“
All right. Now. Now g-g-get on the ground-“
“Naw, not this time.” The other one corrected.
The kid looked over his shoulder. So did I.
“He’s seen our faces. You gotta blood in.” When we stared back, he pointedly looked at the ice pick.
Blood in. The kid was expected to spill blood to pass a rite of initiation.
“But... But... We never—”
“He’s seen you. Either do him or you gonna go down.”
I spoke slow, so the kid could understand me through his haze. It also tentatively fit with my drunk-guy-wanders-into-rough-part-of-town act. “I’m thinking you were told no one would get hurt,”
Blank expression, pleading eyes.
“My guess is you figured you could make some cash without hurting—”
“HEY! Shut your mouth.” The older gangbanger raised his weapon to make sure I’d see it.
I tried again “You can make your own choices, boy. No matter what you think.”
“I said; Shut it!” The teacher barked, taking a step closer so he couldn’t miss. "You’ve been tapped to be blow man. Do him."
The kid turned back to me, staring at the point where the ice pick poked into my suit.It didn’t take a stretch to figure out what this kid was thinking: “What would happen to me in jail?” “What would my family think?” “What about my future?” And if he was involved with someone, “what would she think? Would she leave?”
Heavy issues for a rational mind.
I can understand the desperation to stay free, his self image. Heck, in my experience, a relationship with the right person is more than enough to keep someone from doing something utterly stupid. Enough even to counter the fear of what his “teacher” might do…
But oh, the hunger.
That consuming drive to get more and more, the overwhelming need for that one thing in this life that cracks the pain in half and makes it fall away for a space, replacing it with an ever-fleeting glory.
Welcome to my world, kid.
I’m sure he didn't hear the tiny “snick” of the hammer cocking. To something like me, a .22 caliber wasn’t a great threat. Spiked through the heart, however was one of the few ways I could be killed for good. And if the kid got shot from behind, the impact might produce the same outcome.
The kid was breathing hard, staring at the ice pick like it was the only thing in existence. The older gangbanger had picked the timing for this “lesson” well. His student was too far gone to think about anything but the itching in his brain, the need cascading up his arms.
If I were him, I would have put the first person I saw on a damn pike to drown out the pain.
I unleashed my Unhallowed, bringing it forward. When the older punk cried out, the kid looked at my face and froze. I struck his elbow and wrist simultaneously, bending them and stunning the nerves. The pick clattered. The older punk got over the shock and started shooting. I swatted the kid out of the way and spread my arms, a begging target.
You see, a gun is merely a tool. Only as accurate as the person holding it… and terror does funny things to a steady hand.
Eight chances to hit me – not a damn one came close. He pulled the trigger ten times after the silence rose in the echoes of the last gunshot.
The kid looked like he wasn’t going to blink again, ever. The older gangbanger didn’t know what to believe. Neither made a sound.
The apprentice was just a kid who made a mistake, one that grabbed him by his futures and squeezed. This other one, this “teacher” was using that mistake for his own services. The son-of-a-bitch was twisting the kid to get what he wanted.
I gave him a look through my Unhallowed that said “yummy”.
That did it. He took off down the alleyway.I loped along behind him, giving the obligatory snarl when he started to slow down.
I slipped as we rounded a corner. Stupid Italian Loafers. $30,000 and they couldn’t put a tread on them? I made up ground and gave the teacher a light rabbit punch to get him to speed up.
I drew thick, foggy air in and out of my lungs in a deep sigh. I had such hopes for this mugging. Ah well; when life gives you lemons and all that – at least I was scaring them straight–supernatural style.
I growled again, this time nearly in the older punk’s ear. He gave a little yelp and burned more adrenaline.
We passed a few winos hunched over a shopping cart. The three of them looked up as we came near. The terrified man screamed “The devil! It’s the devil!” before shrieking like a prepubescent.
By the time I cleared the fog, I had pulled my Unhallowed back and just shrugged, making a crazy sign.
He turned down another alley with a chain link fence blocking the way. When we got there, he started shimmying up.
I sighed. That’s about all I could take.
I waited for him to get up there a ways, then leapt to the top of the twelve foot cyclone fence, reached down and plucked him off his handholds, letting him thump onto the concrete below. I caught him when he scrambled to his feet and he turned into a whirling dervish of kicks, elbows and high-pitched squeals. I smelled the signal that I was done here, so I shook him up and down until he stripped off his jacket like a lizard snapping off its tail to get away.
I did my duty; he crapped his pants.
Now that’s scared straight.