I moved along rooftops in the dark and rainy night, the tortured landscape of Empyreal City before me. I didn’t look up, though. I stared down, watching the scum of the city going about their business. But who am I to judge? Not Andriy, who I followed from above as he stepped down a short alley behind a front business. Ukrainian-owned bowling alley. Hive of scum and villainy. They don’t even clean the shoes, people!
I sound all “aggrieved nighttime avenger” doing all this. I was taking it out for a spin. I know, it’s hard to keep a straight face with it. Good thing I’m wearing a helmet.
So I stalked this Andriy fellow from rooftop to catch him outside while he conducted business. Yeah, one of the Ukrainians, but merely a stepping stone. He was in his thirties, with a well-trimmed beard and a widow’s peak, all a deep brown. He had left his jacket and tie inside and now walked out in slacks and a dress shirt, heedless of any nasty weather.
Andriy walked out to where a pair of guys stood in mismatched tracksuits, their hands on a woman and young boy. These thugs weren’t all big and imposing for looks. Andriy leaned down to the kid, who had a gag in his mouth. “Don’t make fun of a tracksuit. It is very good clothing. Cheap.” He ran his hand along the boys cheek and chin. “If you get too much blood on it from cut child, you can dispose of it easily. They can dispose of the child easily, too.”
He stood up and smirked. The mother struggled and got her hand free for a moment, but her captor grabbed her arm before she could slap Andriy. Good reflexes on that one. Andriy laughed and slapped her across the face hard enough that she would have fallen. Her guard kept her on her feet whether she liked it or not. I doubt she wanted to stay up. Andriy had rings on that hand.
“Calm down. Your husband probably loves you, unless he used my money for hookers. Ah, here he is,” Andriy turned to another door opening and a different pair of men dragging out a man with a torn t-shirt and a bloody scrape on the side of his head. Andriy shook his head and walked over to the man. He turned the fellow’s head and clucked. “Danny, Danny, Danny, you had a fall. This is why you should not run from me. Besides,” he turned to take in the woman and child with a gesture, “You do not want to leave your family behind, do you?”
Andriy held his hand out to one of the men restraining the other scraped man. That one passed him a baseball bat. Danny sputtered at the sight, “Please, I’ll get you the money. I had an accident is all. I- my priorities weren’t- I’ll get you-!” It’s a good thing Andriy hit him when he did. I don’t think that sentence was going to end otherwise. A bit all over the place, though Andriy’s aim was spot on. Right in the stomach. The two guards holding Danny didn’t have to worry so much about him getting free after that. Just fighting gravity to keep him in easy hitting range. If Danny fell too low, one of them would have to fetch Andriy a putter instead.
Andriy ignored his please. He gave him a few more good shots and waved downward with the bat. The two thugs let go of Danny. He fell onto his knees and wrapped his arms around his belly, gasping in pain and breathlessness. Then Andriy settled the end of the bat on the back of Danny’s head. “No, no, no,” Danny pleased. “I’ll get the money. I know how. Don’t do this.”
“Listen to me, Danny. I won’t kill you. How can I get money back from a dead man?” Andriy leaned forward, but made sure to speak loud enough everyone, especially Danny’s family, could hear. “This was to soften you up. You do not just say, first thing, you will get the money. I know you mean that out of fear in this moment. It does not mean anything deeper to you. You could run. That is why I had my men track down your loved ones.” He grabbed Danny’s head and lifted it so he could see the woman and son again.
“Mary, I’m sorry,” Danny said.
“Whatever they want, just do it, babe, please,” his wife said.
“You will, won’t you, Danny?” Andriy stepped over to the wife. Danny tried to stand up but, fell back down even before the guards could push him. “Don’t worry. I won’t hurt her… if you do what you need to do. I won’t kill you or you can’t pay me, but they don’t owe me money. One second late, and I will have her throat cut and her body dumped off a pier to be fed to the sharks!”
She started to cry out until he socked her in the stomach just enough to quiet her down to pained whimpers. Then he stepped over the boy and ruffled his hair. “You have a nice looking son. He is a very pretty boy. If I chop off his balls, he could make me a lot of money in a brothel. You think he would be popular?”
Danny didn’t even have words at that point. Just a defeated animal squeal.
Andriy let them all go together. A guard walked them out through another building. I could have jumped down there in the middle of all that, but think of the message that sends to that kid? It’s really important that people know they just can’t let their debts slide. Ok, so that’s obviously not why I waited, nor do I care if Andriy’s books are balanced. I did it, primarily, because it was entertaining to watch. Secondarily, it was also good for this Danny guy. I’ll elaborate on that more in a few minutes.
Once they were gone, Andriy started back toward the bowling alley with one of his guys. That’s when I made my entrance. I landed as gracefully and stealthily as anyone could who drops from a few stories up onto a human being. The snapping and squelching alone alerted Andriy something was up. He turned to find me standing in a pile of what used to be one of his men. The one next to me didn’t look to be in too good of shape either, not with that potato peeler sticking out of the eye socket of the other guard he’d left back there. I wiggled it around before aborting the lobotomy and yanking it out. The man cried out and fell to the ground, holding his eye.
Andriy’s guard pulled a pistol. I flipped the peeler around and pointed the end of its handle at his hand. He couldn’t very well aim once the laser severed the fingers of his hand. He yelled in pain and reached down to grab the gun with his other hand, but by then I stepped over. When he stood up, he got a fist through his face. “Hello Andriy!” I said, all friendly-like as I waved at Andriy through his guard’s skull. I tossed the man’s corpse on top of his screaming friend and chased after Andriy. He didn’t get too far before I nabbed him. My armor’s jump enhancers carried us to the rooftop of the bowling alley.
As I said before, not the kind of situation Danny would want to be associated with. If no one knew for a fact Danny had nothing to do with all this, they’d likely come after him. They still might, but I doubt it.
“Who the hell are you?” Andriy asked, frantic. I held him out over the rooftop. “You’re looking for a cut of the action?”
“I’m not opposed to making deals, but this isn’t that kind of situation. I don’t care about the fellow you just did a number on. Kudos, by the way. Well-handled. Very professional,” I told him. “It’s just important that you know I am a person with whom one does not fuck, even if one does not necessarily understand the structure of my sentences.”
“I think I know what you mean,” Andriy said, trying to calm down. He looked down. “So you do not want to kill me?”
I shrugged. “I don’t have anything against it, so I probably will.”
“Won’t do the trick. I know.” I shook my head. “It’s not supposed to. Just remember that your world’s lord works in mysterious ways.” I lowered him really quickly, as if dropping him, then pulled him back up, chuckling. “Gotcha, didn’t I?” I pulled him up onto the edge of the roof.
He smiled and let out a laugh of relief. “Yeah. Sure, sure.”
I nodded, then grabbed his tongue and pushed him. He rocked back on his heels but didn’t fall, instead being held up by his tongue. He didn’t much care for the situation. “And for dinner,” I said, pulling out the laser potato peeler again. “skinless ape tongue, served au jus.”
Now, I won’t go into too many specifics to save the stomachs of those reading this, but I will specificy that I did not cut the tongue out with either the blade or laser of the potto peeler. Not did I just rip the whole thing out. Technically, it did rip, but only after I shaved enough off that it had no choice but to snap off. It wasn’t a “whole tongue yanked out,” kind of deal, just the parts that were left.
Venus would almost be proud, too. Andriy didn’t die. I made sure of that. Got him to a hospital lickity-split and everything. And there he stayed, with me playing the silent, hidden guardian. Guardian’s a strong word, actually. It implies protection, and I certainly wasn’t there for that. Is there a name for some sort of predatory giant spider that dangles prey to attract to attract those who show up to help? I got it, anglerfish! And like the mighty anglerfish, I let the light shine on Andriy while I waited in the shadows for some other ugly deep-dwelling fish to stick its ugly head a little close.
In this case, the fishy who swam along was an older Ukrainian woman who looked like her father was a T-84 main battle tank and her mother was a very unhappy German POW. Or perhaps a medieval battleaxe. She could have been a Terminator. I have to wonder what unfortunate dancing circus bear she wrestled to the ground to conceive Andriy. Her name was Kseniya, and she walked in with a tall old man beside her. She wasn’t the boss of the Ukrainians, but she was damn high up. Like an underboss or caporegime? Or do Cosa Nostra terms even work with Ukrainians? According to Butterfly’s files, that fellow with her was something of a problem solver for her. And an older one, so probably at least a little decent.
They both stepped over a power cord that trailed out of the room then back into it on the other side of the doorway. The fixer looked confused as he followed it back to the window in both cases. “What are they doing here?”
“Quiet,” Kseniya said to him, then stepped to the bed. Sorrow crossed her face as she reached out and put a hand on Andriy’s shoulder. He woke up and jumped a little, then tried held his hand out and kept closing his fingers to his palm. She took his hand. “There, there, mama is here.”
He pushed her hand away and gestured with his left as if he was writing on his right hand.
“Do you have a pen and pad?” she asked, turning to look at her companion.
It was at that point that, resting outside the window, I rose up and tugged on the cord. I managed to knock it up before pulling back and kicking off the hospital. I landed in the parking garage nearby, quite safely. The same couldn’t be said of Kseniya’s fixer, who had been caught around the hips by the cord and pulled out the window. He might have been good, but he wasn’t gravity-defying good. Still, it was something of a surprise, and even calculated risk, that Kseniya didn’t go with him. Between Andriy grabbing for her as I pulled her over his bed and her loyal minion pushing her away, she got free. At least until my next jump carried me through the window.
She’d regained her footing and was fleeing through the door by then. I landed with a running start and took off again, leaping over the bed to skim the top of the doorway and grab her by her meaty shoulders. I hit the ground with a roll this time and used it to launch her in the direction I’d been headed. She crashed into a snack vending machine. One of the ones with a clear covering where you press letters like “A3” to get gum or chips or cookies. She wasn’t moving, and looked to be stuck on stiff metal springs in a couple of spots, including her head and chest.
I stepped over, rifled through her pockets for change, and fed the machine a few dollar bills before making my selection. The gears ground loud, and her body shook a little, as the machine complied. The spring finished turning and something hit the bottom bin with a wet thud. I bent down and pulled a heart out of the machine.
“Dammit!” I said. “I picked Pop Tarts, not popped… aw, nevermind.”