Syzygy for a Hard World
Syzygy for a Hard World
Letting God in, or letting the evil out, the Killer thought. The blood stung in his eyes. It might have been the extra oxygen getting to his gray matter. Evil is always in the why not the what, and his whys were fading.
“You’re dead men,” the Killer said. His eyes started to cross as he stared at the man with a pistol to Jane’s skull.
She was beautiful. There was no fear in her pale face, but her hand was tied up in a blue kerchief, stained red.
“That a threat, Carlisle?” the man asked, French accent with a face that looked more Greek.
“Nah,” the Killer said. “We’re all dead men.”
Jane laughed past her gag.
Just six hours earlier, the Killer woke up to the sunset through the little porthole window in the bedroom of their trailer. He found his bed empty, or Jane missing at least. He jumped up, thinking of how twitchy she’d been when they’d gone to bed that morning.
He hadn’t asked her; he knew he should have, but he hadn’t wanted to force her to lie. She hadn’t quite kicked the smack. Even if she hadn’t been shooting up, she had a bottle labeled aspirin that wasn’t filled with aspirin.
Drugs weren’t his thing, but that was because alcohol did it for him, so he didn’t feel he had the right to judge.
He knew she could take care of herself; she’d been capable enough before they’d met, but now she could kill most-anything that walked. He was sure a few slingers wouldn’t pose any threat, so he let the worries slip from his mind as he boiled water to go with his powdered eggs.
He sat down at the small Formica table in their trailer’s kitchen, and noticed a finger lying next to the salt and pepper. It was like a gift left for him by a pet, but they didn’t have any pets, and it would be a weird cat that left behind a human finger.
It was her index finger. The index finger from Jane’s right hand; he recognized it by the little wrinkles. It had been in his mouth that morning, when it was still attached to her hand. She seemed to like touching his teeth. He’d never understood.
He put the finger in his pocket, shoved a handful of pasty yellow eggs in his mouth, and slung the duffel bag over his shoulder as he left.
“I don’t know her Man!”
The Killer was pretty sure this asshole’s name was John, but it could have been Johnny.
“A little short. Black hair. Real skinny,” the Killer said, grinding the sole of his boot into the man’s neck as he aimed a big shiny pistol at his skull.
“I deal weed, Man. I don’t touch dirt- I haven’t seen your girlfriend-”
“I haven’t seen her!”
“She’s missing a finger,” the Killer said, taking it out of his pocket. “I need to get it back to her.”
“Fuck!” John screamed, wriggling on the floor.
“I need to find her-”
“I’ll help. I’ll help!”
“Good,” the Killer said, dragging him up. “How you gonna help?”
John’s greasy monobrowed face was blank. “…I know a few guys… -who deal smack, I can introduce you,” he said.
The Killer had already visited the dealers he knew Jane knew, and had already killed his way through what remained of the Caiazzo family; they didn’t seem to be involved. He was at a dead end that resembled an entire city.
“You try’n fuck me and I’ll kill you messy,” the Killer said.
“I wouldn’t… Mister… Masked Killer-”
“That’s not my name-”
John walked slowly out of his slum apartment with his arms raised over head. They walked down a yellowed hall, down five floors of creaking stairs, and out into an alley, but then John’s head popped, the sound of a melon hitting the sidewalk.
The Killer heard the sound of the gunshot arrive late and was tackled, knocked back through the doorway by a woman dressed head to toe in red vinyl.
“What the fuck was that?! Who was that?” Abernathy asked as she rolled off of him. Her face was painted, like it usually was when she went out, angular camo in Renaissance colors.
“John, I think,” the Killer said.
“Fuck. That’s who I was here for….”
“You see who shot him?” he asked.
“…It sounded like a rifle-”
“An M40, probably. But they must be down the block.”
“…From the delay?” Abi asked. He noticed what smelled like vodka on her breath. Again he felt no need to judge, but he was positive she was a T-totaler.
“Yeah… the delay. Have you seen Jane?”
“What. You have a fight?” she asked, sneering at him.
“No,” he said, and dragged out the finger again. “Somebody took her.”
“…And whose finger’s that?”
“That’s… Jane’s finger….” The smile left her lips. “I’m sorry- for jokin’ around I mean…. Jane’s a nice girl… once you get to know her, or…. You must like her, right?”
He considered correcting her, explaining that he loved Jane like a fish loves water. He didn’t feel the need to share, but not saying anything made it seem like his feelings were somehow out-of-sight-out-of-mind, and he didn’t want that to be true.
There was a shrill beep, like the sound a subway-car made pulling up to a station. It interrupted his thoughts and he realized he’d been staring at Abi, apparently putting her on edge, because she was clawing for the lead pipe in the back of her belt.
“Sam Carlisle,” a voice said over a loud speaker. “This is a message for Sam Carlisle.”
“Who’s that?” Abi asked.
“No idea,” the Killer said.
“Sam Carlisle,” the voice echoed again, “If you want the girl to go with that finger, be at the old power-plant. One hour.”
“…Aren’t there three of those?” Abi asked.
“He probly means the closest.”
“You want company?”
“Nah,” he said.
Abernathy hurt people, often and a lot, but she didn’t like killing, and killing was called for.
“…You really don’t know any Carlisles?” she asked, fishing.
“Not anymore,” he said.
At first, walking in the dark between towering transformers like props from a 50’s sci-fi set, the Killer thought the disembodied voice might have really meant a different power-plant, but then he saw movement.
They were just shadows in the corner of his eye, but it wasn’t the feeling he got from the itinerants. The hobos, Tom’s clan, blended into the city like those odd little deer blended into the African desert. These shadows felt dirty, walking corpses, spooks. The place was haunted.
He dropped his duffel to the fractured weed-infested asphalt and dragged out his biggest, favorite, knife. Jack had given it to him, his friend’s final gift. Something about that night made his thoughts turn morbid.
Abi had told him how she’d found Jack in a warehouse with an axe hole in his chest. She’d been pretty broken up, but the Killer wondered how she’d feel finding him the same way. She might laugh, but, even if Abi hated him a little, she’d probably grieve for him. He hated the idea.
The knife Jack had given him was like a machete shaved down until it resembled a hunting knife, but it seemed to have been forged that way, and forged not cast. It was all shimmery with rainbow ripples like marbled paper. It was like a portrait, of Jack or himself he couldn’t be sure, but it also cut people.
The Killer walked forward, pretending to be unaware of the men creeping closer. It seemed they wanted him alive, which meant that sniper bullet had actually been meant for the dealer he’d been pressing, which meant they had somebody who could make a head-shot at three-hundred yards. Definitely spooks, and he had an idea what he might have done to piss them off.
He tried the door to the big concrete building at the center of the lot. He was slightly curious what the inside of a power-station looked like. He imagined giant turbines, but his idle thoughts were swept aside when he found the door unlocked.
The door should have been locked, and the disappointingly mundane hall inside, though dark, should have been dusty. The place was clean like somebody had swept it that morning and the windows were painted black on the inside.
It wasn’t just a condemned power-plant. It was a safe-house, or, given the scale, a clandestine government facility.
To lure him there, inviting him into their safe-place, they must have had a dismal future planned for him. He’d heard stories about pits in extra-territorial protectorates where they dumped people they didn’t like. He didn’t want to visit one.
He paced down those clean dark halls, his eyes slowly adjusting. He found a broom closet and ducked in.
In other circumstances, if Jane had been at his side, he would have charged in headlong, but she wasn’t. Those assholes had her. For a moment he thought she could be in that same building, but that had to be a pleasant daydream.
She was probably dead, he thought. It was the first time the thought had even occurred to him, and he felt a pit growing in his stomach, not like any off-books prison, a grave so deep no holocaust could fill it, but he began to imagine how he’d try.
He gripped his knife tight and drew the pistol from his belt, hearing footsteps coming down the hall, and then voices. They were speaking French.
“English,” another voice said, American accent, Midwestern. “We speak English here.”
“…I am sorry my American friend. I forget myself.” It was one of the first voices, English now, but with an accent like he was holding his nose.
“We’re supposed to be quiet- You saw him make entry, yeah? What’re you talkin’ about anyway? ”
“…I say to my friend, ‘why the fuck we work with these assholes?’”
“…And he said?” the American asked.
“I said because you are paying us for work we would have done for free.” It was a second Frenchman speaking.
There seemed to be three of them, in that patrol anyway. The Killer crept out of his closet after the footsteps passed and saw light from their torch rounding a corner down the hall.
The Killer hopped on one foot, untying his boots and kicking them off as he chased after them. Now in socks, he silently slid around the corner and ran full out.
A knife makes a surprising amount of noise cutting into a man’s neck, like wet swimming trunks hitting a tile floor. The first man dropped as the Killer was flying for the second. He turned, still probably sensing more than hearing, and the Killer slit his throat without losing momentum.
The third man turned back, and they collided much harder than he’d expected. They flew to the ground together.
“Wait!” the man screamed. His eyes were spinning. He was on the bottom with the Killer straddling him, and his head had probably had a rough meeting with the tile.
“Quiet,” the Killer said, pressing his knife to the man’s throat. “Why’re you after me?”
“Don’t kill me…. Please?”
“…You’re Sam Carlisle, right?”
“That’s not my name.”
“…They said you’d say that- You killed a senator’s son,” the man said.
The kid had been named Chris something. The Killer hadn’t known who he was until the news broke the next day. As far as he’d known, Chris was just a lowlife who’d raped a girl and skated. Still, that was what he’d figured this was about.
“The Frenchies?” he asked. That was the missing piece, so far as this was a puzzle he wanted to solve.
“S-Some guy named Jameson- he didn’t seem to have a first name,” the man said. “The French guys are Algerian mob, or something…. I think Jameson was their business partner.”
Jameson was another man he’d killed. The puzzle fell into place. He’d pissed some people off.
“Jane,” the Killer said.
“I know where she is-”
“…Are you gonna kill me?” Tears were starting to well in the man’s eyes.
“Are you a bad person?”
“But nobody thinks they’re a bad person….” The first two had been impulse, and a matter of kill-or-be-killed, but killing this man would be cold blooded. The Killer tried to only kill bad people in cold blood. “How many people you killed?”
“…Only a few- and they were bad guys-”
“You raped anybody?”
“No,” the man said, and started to look more angry than frightened.
“Then let’s make a deal,” the Killer said. “I’m gonna cut off your finger, ’cause it’s poetic or something, and you tell me where Jane is.”
“…You’ll let me live?”
“Yeah. But if she’s dead, I’ll find you…. Deal then?”
The unreliable testimony of that maybe-CIA-operative-under-duress suggested the Killer would find Jane, alive, and in a warehouse down Alexandria Street, the Zheng He Import Export building.
Shit had led back to Chinatown a disproportionate number of times in the Killer’s experience. He’d wondered at first if it might have been some cultural difference, a difference in moral compass, or evidence of the pervasive influence of the Tong, but after years of hunting in those neon drenched streets he’d concluded it was just a combination of poverty and a language barrier limiting the noncriminal job opportunities.
They probably had Algeriatowns in France, he thought. He wondered if an Algerian would feel at home in a ghetto of another ethnic minority. He figured it was probably just the surface details, the color, that made every expat community feel similar. That and the smell of rotting chicken blood. They all seemed to have chicken blood in common.
Alexandria Street was more an alley than a street, lined with buildings that looked like they were made from rusted steel and popsicle sticks.
He couldn’t see anybody, no one, on a street in the heart of Chinatown. It was almost midnight, but those streets were never really empty. Something bad was about to happen and the fauna had fled.
The Killer checked his gear, the best weapons from his duffel, an AK with four spare clips, a pair of ‘1911s, and an M79, but he only had two grenades left. He was about to enter that dark alley when he heard footsteps coming and decided the first fight would be easier held on open ground.
“Hello there,” the man said, stepping out of the shadows and into the neon light.
The Killer knew this man and was tired of surprises. He had a gray beard and wore a bike jacket, shiny black that matched his hair. He looked kind of like Santa would if he rode a modified eight-cylinder Norton, except for the black hole where his left eye should have been.
“So…. Peace,” Declan said, holding up empty hands that usually held an axe or a broadsword.
“I’m not feeling peaceful,” the Killer said, but if Declan was serious, avoiding an unnecessary fight sounded good.
“This shit isn’t on me,” Declan said. “You hear I got married?”
“Yeah…. I was thinking we could do each other a favor.”
“You seen Jane?”
“Yeah,” Declan said.
The Killer imagined what an M79 round would do, going off in Declan’s face, littering the street with chunks of meat and scraps of bike leather.
“She’s back there,” Declan said, thumbing over his shoulder into the darkness down Alexandria. “These French guys called. They wanted me to do some work- You know married life’s expensive?”
“But you aren’t here to kill me?”
“That’s what they wanted…. I didn’t know who they wanted dead til I got here, and then I thought, maybe that wouldn’t be so bad, but…. You know they took her finger?”
“And it’s not just the French guys. I think it’s like a CIA kill squad. Anyway, I’m getting back to my wife. Ah, you know Becka?”
“Yeah,” the Killer said. Becka had been Jack’s friend, before he’d died. She wasn’t the Killer’s friend exactly, but they were friendly enough.
“I bumped into her on the way out,” Declan said, and laughed, deep and scratchy. “I thought my time was up…. Well, she’s here anyway, and it seems like not for me.”
Declan gave a little wave and started down the street toward a matte-black Norton parked at the end of the block.
The Killer took one step down the alley in front of him, and one step was all it took. The muzzles flared in the dark like monotonously-orange fireworks and the Killer charged in.
There was fire and blood, his ears were still ringing from the grenades, his and the spooks’. The night was starting to blur.
The Killer stood in front of the door to Zheng He Import Export. They might have been a kill squad, in theory, but they weren’t very good at their job.
He’d killed nineteen of them. They lay dead in the burning alley behind him, but now the Killer was out of ammo, and they’d put about as many bullets in him as he’d spent.
“Jane-” He tried to yell, but his voice came out as a gurgle and he felt the stringy mixture of blood and phlegm, hot as it slid down his chin. “Jane, I’m coming!”
He kicked in the door, and was about to head in, when he saw a man in a cheap black suit crawling toward him. He must have been one of the spooks; a mobster would never wear such a boring suit.
The man crawled forward, like a car with an oil leak. “I’m gonna take you in,” he croaked as blood drained from his stomach.
“Probably not,” the Killer said. “Don’t be here when I get back.”
Stepping into the Zheng He warehouse, he was reminded of the church basement Abernathy used as a squat. There were tall shelves placed in a kind of maze that might have made sense to somebody who worked there, but, where Abi seemed to collect statues of Mary, here it was all Guanyin and Mi Le Fo.
He heard something like a whimper, nothing so pitiful as a whimper, it was more like an angry scream muffled by something.
The Killer walked past the last row of shelves, drawing his knife. He stepped out into an open space, dark but lit in a grid of yellow beams by lamps hanging from the high ceiling.
Jane was gagged and on her knees, so close now, but ten yards was still too far. Her wrists were tied, and her right hand was bound in a blue handkerchief to stem the blood.
“Mr. Carlisle, my name is Adel,” said a man standing behind Jane and holding a pistol to her skull. “It has been a long evening, what do you say this ends now.”
He was French by accent, as were the two men at his side by their Easter-color suits, but the man with his pistol trained on Jane’s head was older, probably their boss.
“You let her go, and I’ll make it painless,” the Killer said.
Jane shook her head like she had a bee in her black hair. The pair of underlings laughed, and Adel raised his pistol.
For a moment the Killer was happy to see the gun pointed away from Jane, but then the man pulled the trigger.
He’d always imagined a shot to the head as painless, and this was, but he’d always thought the lights would go out. Instead, it felt like somebody bopping him on the head and calling him stupid. The Killer was knocked onto his back foot but he didn’t fall.
Adel maintained his aim, but his jaw went slack. His men, who should have been finishing the job, instead looked to their boss like they needed confirmation of what they were seeing.
“You’re dead men,” the Killer said. Blood filled his eyes and he had the sensation of being lifted up whole toward the ceiling, but then he noticed movement in the darkness behind them.
A girl crept out of the shadows. She wore pants in a kind of puce tartan, like she meant to go golfing later, and a Christmas sweater that was both filthy, brown-spotted with blood, and completely out of season.
Her name was Becka and, for a reason escaping the Killer at that moment, she was holding a two foot wide bear-trap in her hands.
“That a threat, Carlisle?” Adel asked.
“Nah. We’re all dead men,” the Killer said; Jane chuckled, and Becka slammed the bear-trap down on Adel’s head.
It made a noise like a steel shutter slamming closed as the glimmering jaws gnawed at Adel’s neck, and then a slop as his blood hit the floor.
“Jack says, he isn’t called that anymore,” Becka said.
Adel slumped forward and Jane grabbed his pistol in her bound hands. Adel’s lackeys were still reeling when Jane took aim from the floor and used her middle finger to pull the trigger, popping one in the head and putting two in the other’s chest. She jumped up and spun on her heels to aim at Becka.
“Hello, Jane,” Becka said, holding out her hand like she wanted a payoff.
“My weapon,” Becka said, trying to clap one handed.
The Killer knew, somewhere in his damaged gray matter, there were just three of them now, three of them living anyway. But there were two shadows standing at Becka’s back, a woman he’d met once or twice, and a man who felt like an old friend.
It took Jane a moment, but she seemed to get it, and handed over the pistol. Becka took it from her and smiled her slightly creepy smile before disappearing back into the darkness, taking Jack and the other ghost with her.
“You okay?” the Killer asked, finally hobbling over.
“Yeah,” Jane said, turning back to him. “What d’you mean am I okay- You got shot in the head!”
“I brought your finger-”
“You got shot in the head!” she screamed as tears made her eyeliner run.
He stroked her cheek with one hand while the other felt the inch wide hole in the back of his skull. “Don’t worry about it,” he said. “It’s a through and through.”