Monday, December 26, 2016

Pugnata Est

     Standing in the middle of the kitchen with a steaming cup of espresso, Jougs asked, “how much longer do you think he needs?”
     Vorant laughed. Then, laughed harder when he realized Jougs was serious.
     “Why ya laughin’?” Jougs asked.
     Without answering, Vorant crossed the kitchen to the espresso maker, took a cup out of the cupboard, and set it in the cradle. He’d managed to calm himself down a bit, but still wasn’t quite prepared to answer. After adjusting the dials and pressing the start button, Vorant turned to face Jougs. He shook his head, smiled lightly, and put a finger to his lips. Taking the cue, Jougs closed the distance between them and leaned his right ear toward Vorant, who promptly hissed, “the safe houses are rigged for sound. So, quit bitching.”
     For a split second, Jougs contemplated belting Vorant in the mouth. Instead, he nodded his understanding. The Inquisitor’s paranoia ran deep, had kept them from the hangman’s noose, and this was his house. I’ll shut my trap for now, Jougs thought, but, I’m not swinging for this. Not that he’d have a choice if they got caught. He sipped his espresso while Vorant poured enough sugar into his cup to cause the espresso to drip off the sides. “Dude,” Jougs said, “just ruin it.”
     “What?” Vorant asked innocently as he slurped the brimming cup.
     The duumviri stood bickering over the proper method for making espresso, when a blood-soaked Inquisitor walked into the kitchen. He ignored the duo, made his way to the sink, and washed his hands up to the elbows. A pointless effort since the second he stepped away from the sink his soaked sleeves fell from his elbows and dripped blood down his wet hands. The diluted pink puddled on the floor. “Boys,” he said in a fatherly tone, “I’ve got great news.” He turned to Vorant, ordering, “pour me a cup. Not a drop of sugar.” He glared at Vorant, before leaning toward Jougs, “you’re right, you know?”
     Air caught in Jougs throat, he asked, “right?”
     “Oh, yeah,” the Inquisitor nodded, “he might as well eat sugar.” Taking the cup from Vorant, the Inquisitor inhaled the magic aroma with his eyes closed. After thoroughly enjoying the aromatherapy, he took a light sip. “Ah, perfection.” Though, the duumviri were impatient to hear the ‘great news,’ both well knew that some rituals weren’t worth interrupting. Furthermore, when a sanguine Inquisitor contentedly sipped espresso as watered-down life juice fell to the floor around him, one tended towards patience. Is rushing a professional murderer really worth your life? Always attentive, he noticed them pretending not to watch him. Around the middle of his cup, the Inquisitor sighed wistfully. When a quarter of the cup was left, he handed it to Vorant, cheerfully saying, “another, if you will, Mr. Vorant.” Upon handing over his cup, the Inquisitor twisted his back—left, right, left—and brought his interlocked fingers above and behind his head where he continued stretching. Quickly popping his neck, he grunted in satisfaction.
     Once Vorant handed him the refilled cup, the Inquisitor began, “I said great news, which I’ll get to. Bad news first.” He paused long enough to verify his words registered, before continuing, “only moments ago our guest passed away. Arrangements must be made. Mr. Vorant, I suspect the Darin arrangements will be satisfactory for this. Assume nothing. The two of you will scout the area again. If anything seems amiss, abort.” After taking a sip, he inhaled, and then said, “Mr. Jougs, while Vorant prepares our guest, I need you to take a walk with me. As for the great news…” he paused for effect and to take another drink, “mhmm. I’ll miss this,” he held up the cup. “As you know, we’ve already breached a significant portion of the underground. It seems that some years ago the justice was involved in the Antigone’s remodeling effort, which resulted in a number of dangerous passages being cemented over. Including a passage that led directly from the courtroom to Raven’s Drop. We’ll hit the Public Works archives for an accurate map. And then, boys…then the fun begins.” When he took a step forward and slid through the blood puddle, his grin instantly disappeared as he choked on espresso.
     Throwing a hand over his mouth, Jougs closed his eyes and bit his tongue. Opting for diplomacy, Vorant turned to the espresso machine and began pushing buttons.

     Quickly maneuvering through the aisles of Chang’s Bazaar, Gabriel Seagrass couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. Not just with the blaring alarm, but with the Tampon Lady. She didn’t seem aware… “Hey!” Gab shouted at the two uniformed men who’d broken down his front door. “What are you doing?” The two men said nothing; one veered right, the other left. “Stop that!” Gab ordered the man on the right who knocked down a display of discounted beans in glass jars, the resultant crash and splattering of glass shards and bean juice caught Gabriel’s attention, he huffed, “I’m gonna have to clean that, you asshole!”
     Unable to contain his laughter, the man let loose with, “my, my, my! He actually thinks we’re just fucking around. Grab him, Rold.”
     “Sparks, I told you not to use my name!” Rold hissed from behind Gab.
     The cashier attempted to spin around, but found himself unable to move in Rold’s iron grip. Gab struggled as he yelled, “lemme go!”
     “Not fucking likely, sweetheart,” Rold whispered in the boy’s ear, which set Gab to throwing his weight back and forth in a feeble attempt to get free. Losing his patience, Rold said through clenched teeth, “stop struggling or your mother dies. You get me?” Going completely limp, Gabriel Seagrass bit his lip to keep from shouting. “I take it you do. Good boy,” Rold laughed heartily in Gab’s face.
     “Bring’im here,” Sparks said as he pulled his pants up and adjusted his gig-line. “Right there, against the counter. Good man, Rolly!”
     With Gab under his left arm, Rold backhanded Sparks, “call me that again and only one of us makes it back alive.” He shoved the shop boy into the counter, “don’t move.” To the surprised Sparks, he said, “Tages. You call me anything but Tages again and I swear to Iphigenia…”
     “Uh-rumph…” Sparks involuntarily bent in half holding his stomach. His narrowed eyes conveyed his hatred. “Alright, Tages,” he heaved.
     Watching from the aisle mirrors, Clara Darin held Kate Seagrass back in another iron grip. Clara couldn’t be sure, but the upright uniformed fellow looked very familiar. Except, she was positive that the last time she’d seen him… what is he doing here? The air rushed out of her, she sunk down a little lower, and gripped Kate tighter. “Shh, shh,” Clara just needed to figure out what he was doing. If she revealed their presence too soon…

     “…so you got one chance,” Tages explained to Gab, “either you show us where Chang keeps the women, or…”

     “Slavers?” Clara growled as she dug her fingernails into Kate’s arms, “you’re slavers?”
     In a panic Kate shook her head, while mouthing, “no, no, no. You don’t understand.”
     “Explain fast.”
     “We save them,” Kate’s whisper wavered as she struggled to look Clara in the eyes, “we save them.”
     Unwilling to risk exposure, Clara hissed, “they coming this way?” Shaking her head, Kate used her eyes to point out where Gab would lead the men. Clara let go of one of Kate’s arms, the other she squeezed until Kate bled. With her knife in hand, Clara pulled Kate back behind a display of children’s toys. With a little more room between them, she felt they just might make it through without drawing that psycho fucktard’s attention. She fought back the tidal memories of their last encounter, what is it with me and guys? she wondered. I’m never dating again, she decided. When the men and Gab disappeared behind a false wall covered in shelving units, she turned on Kate, “how do you help?”
     “We free them,” Kate confessed. “Well…some of them.”
     Ruefully, she lowered her eyes, “can’t help everyone.”

     Obnoxiously loud music blared from the Stadium, rattling the few windows left throughout the neighborhood. The Hellions favorite band, Death Daemons, screamed on the makeshift stage, “…r-aaa-ge a yer l-iii-fe, k-iii-llahs got yer w-iii-fe…”
     After receiving his promotion, Domino had taken a handful of guys with him to gather supplies for the party. They’d only just returned when someone, probably Steele, had the brilliant idea of lighting one end of the giant log on fire. A handful of the less intelligent guys took turns jumping on the top of the log and pissing into the fire. Not one person made an effort to stop them. In fact, most were waiting to see who’s pecker would burn first.
     Wandering around aimlessly, Willy Jessup took in everything: the log pissers, the tailgaters, the copulators, and the poppers. He had too much work to do for partying, but Steele’d made it clear that the only way they’d get the boys to cooperate was to give in to their more base desires. The blaring music of the Death Daemons was lost to the ruckus as Steele ploughed on the horn of the A-Track as he tore through the Stadium. The Hellions roared with delight when Steele squealed tires, spitting dirt everywhere. The A-Track screeched to a stop in front of the battered bandstand.  
     During Steele’s show, Jessup found himself standing next to Domino. The two men glanced at each other, nodded briefly, and then simultaneously lit up at the sight of Steele dropping the back of the A-Track. A whole mess load of scantily clad women began pouring out. The sight was enough to cause Jessup to mutter, “oh, shit.”
     Punching Jessup in the shoulder, Domino shouted, “race you!” It took Jessup a few seconds to process Domino’s challenge, which was long enough for Domino to get a lead. Spinning around the nearest group of Hellions, Jessup let out in a full run. The two were neck-and-neck for the space of a millisecond before Jessup veered left to avoid colliding into his cousin Tiny. When Jessup slid up to the side of the A-Track, Domino already had two of the women in his arms.
     “Hey, loser!” Domino laughed, “I thought about sharing, but asked the ladies.” He leaned closer to Jessup, “they said they don’t fuck losers. Sorry, chump.”
     Shrugging his shoulders as if it didn’t matter, Jessup linked his fingers together, and swung the doubled fist at Domino’s stomach. With the women in his arms, Domino had no way to defend himself, save to throw one or both of the women into Jessup’s path. The act failed to protect him from Jessup. The women fell out of the way with gasps, little screams, and the angered surprise of someone not expecting a fight. The two went at it with full force until they slammed head first into the A-Track. The solid steel military transport must have knocked some sense into them; they staggered off the ground, leaning on each other for support.
     “Ladies,” Jessup and Domino said in unison as they offered their hands to the fallen women who reluctantly took them.
     “It would seem, he’s not a loser, after all,” Domino whispered to the brunette in Jessup’s arms.
     “But, he is,” Jessup said to the blonde holding onto Domino.

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