A couple ribs gave; exploded like braided firecrackers, one after the other. Damn things. Never hold up under scrutiny.
Scrutiny had a name: Jack-of-all-Blades. A heavy for the bigs in Noirleans. He’d done tours with Mock Turtle, Plaster Gangboss, and, now, apparently The Haberdasher. That wasn’t here nor there. This wasn’t business. No, this was payback. This was a twenty year hard-on for Connor Frey. And Jack had skipped foreplay. Straight to the rough stuff.
All over spilled milk.
Jack Derveger and Connor Frey spent intimate years together as youths at The Dubreuil de Villars Retreat for Moral Readjustment. Fancy talk for a loony bin; a prison for deranged little shits.
They were too young for cigarettes and porn to be valued commodities. For them, it was milk. Forced to drink skunky tap water three meals a day, seven days a week and the kids of Dubreuil would drag a plastic butter knife across their bunkmate’s throat if it meant getting milk.
Milk little Jack had and Connor wanted. He skipped his fist across Jack’s eye socket until it splintered, then bashed his brains against the cafeteria table. Jack’s little nose split like peas, spilling puss everywhere. The milk lost.
He swore he’d kill Frey, and connecting the dots, Conney Frey to Dire Wolf ain’t tough. Just google one and you’ll find the other.
Now, here he was, damn close to snuffing out Frey’s vigilante persona, Dire Wolf. It didn’t matter that that was two lifetimes ago, literally. That Frey had died twice since then. That Frey and Dire Wolf were two different entities. Jack knew the two as the same and was hellbent on needing a third headstone.
Jack wasn’t much for fighting pretty. He was a beaut with a knife, nothing else, but he was at least six paces quicker than Frey and about three times as strong. He didn’t move like a human. Despite looking it, there was something else going on under the hood.
Another blow to the upper body, this time, the small of the back. No ribs to break, just a kidney. It ruptured like a frozen pipe, drowning his insides with spilled matter. Dire Wolf coughed violently twice. He gagged hard on the sour metal taste that filled his mouth. Blood. Another cough, thick syrupy gore dribbled from his lips and tongue. Blood soiled dark with bile seeped through his lips, tainting his chin a dirty purple.
Dire Wolf collapsed to his knees.
“Look’s like you’re fucking dead, Nancy-boy.” Jack showed a pleased, fanged grin. “Told you I’d kill you.”
“Looks like it.” Another cough. More blood this time. “I’ll either bleed out or suffocate on it before long.”
Jack clapped his massive paws across Dire Wolf’s shoulders, tossed him to his back. He steadied the sole of his boot on the ball of Dire Wolf’s right knee.
Jack-of-Blades tsked. “I’ll just have to be damn quick about breaking every bone in your body, then.”
His boot hung off the bone; his pupils faded into large whites and then the sole found floor again, shattering anything between.
“And Under the Moon We Went Down to the River to Dine”
A Noirleans Account
by [BEAT] BASTARDS:
with concepts from
The human shape ripped from the frayed ends of darkness, shedding shadow like a second skin. Into the bleed of cotton candy neon, he stalked. The sweltering pink light sparkled across shards of dodger blue in his garb before Dire Wolf once again soaked into darkness.
He was here on a tip. This was Philip Ambrose territory. That was, until Ambrose took a nap he wasn’t waking from. The Big Sleep. A knife in the back.
Ambrose, a trust-fund reject with an addiction to the underbelly had parlayed his charisma and scraps of Daddy’s cash into a clever racket. Information came in and information went out…for the right price. His place of business was his dance club on the Vieux Carre; Bourbon Street, prime real estate. And all the local bosses had their “realtors” out for a piece.
The worst of which was The Haberdasher. A newer kid on the block, or at least, more clever, it was a name not too familiar to Dire Wolf. He’d heard whispers, little more. But he had the other crooks spooked, peaching like pie.
If their dope was good, The Haberdasher had a real bogeyman doing his dirty work.
Jack-of-all-Blades. Jack Derveger. Frey’s old diapermate. Had a rep as a tough sonofabitch with any edged weapon, apparently he’d only gotten badder. An immune system on overdrive, for one. He still held a grudge against the troubled little kid who pummeled his ass and stole his milk two decades ago. He wanted blood.
Since The Haberdasher still operated out of the cloak and dagger spot, Frey couldn’t be sure how dirty the dope was. Coming from other crooks, he could assume it was a least a little dirty. They had no love lost for Dire Wolf. In the past three years, he’d killed a good sixty of their men. Wouldn’t hurt to get him or The Haberdasher out of the way.
It stunk of coincidence. Reeked worse of a trap. But Dire Wolf wasn’t one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Especially one with such pretty eyes. Ambrose, Jack-of-all-Blades. These were chapters in his life Dire Wolf – Frey – wanted written to end.
His ghastly silhouette berthed from the depths of night once more, lingering in the violent pink wash of neon sweating off the near nightclub. Dire Wolf stepped closer, deeper into the glow. The plodding babble of bass within those walls strengthened to a growl with each step. He focused on the neon signage, cracking a smile. “Hop-tu-naa” it read in burning coral script. Above charmed a buxom turnip girl, her exposed bust as hot pink taproot, writhing legs for stems; face concealed beneath a Casanova mask.
“Cute,” Dire Wolf confided to himself.
Quite the front Ambrose snagged himself. A trick-or-treat night club, costume required. Where the city’s cape-and-cowl sadists could hide in plain sight. But the door swung both ways. If the devil could lose himself inside, so could another fallen angel.
Dire Wolf gapped the distance between him and the nightclub; his slow heartbeat landing coolly between the heavy prods of music inside. A last, faint exhale. He was ready.
Dire Wolf caught glances from the two hooligans posted to the door. Both hollow muscle, barrel-chested meatheads. Their job was to look tough. Just look.
Two loosened climbing knives dropped into his palm, covered his bluff. Just in case anybody called it.
“Using the front door tonight, boys.”
Dire Wolf passed the pair without sparing a look. He shouldered his way through the doors, into the club. The air was a stout tinny, manufactured oxygen. A dirty little trick common to bars and casinos, the added hit of oxygen kept people drinking or gambling far past expiration. Dire Wolf huffed, satisfied. If need be, he could leverage that.
His eyes lapped the joint, making note of the important things. Of course main, rear and emergencies exits, as well as surveillance cameras. There were other important things, less obvious: makeshift weapons like fire extinguishers and bar stools. Just in case.
He also inspected the crowd of fifty, sixty, looking for obvious plants. This was made difficult, everybody in masks and costumes. Between spiderwebbed neon, lasers knotting and unfolding, dipping the club into a rainbow of green, pink, blue and orange, Dire Wolf spotted a few half-assed skeletons, a handful of hipster vampires and even a beer-gut matador.
The nonstop soundtrack knocked him dizzy with each furious bass hit. He squinted, disoriented, scanned again, sorting as much of the muck as he could. A clever ploy by the late Ambrose, no doubt. Nothing stuck out from the background.
Nothing. It all just bled together.
Dire Wolf’s eyes stopped. He smiled beneath the mask. Of course. Now, just to find Derveger.
Dire Wolf stepped across the dance floor, individual squares strobed across the color spectrum under each of his steps. The swaying mass of people parted slightly, allowing him to slither through.
He didn’t go far.
Dead ahead, about twenty yards out was a waist-high elevated dance platform. A platinum blonde in a ruby corset, black panties, slip and fishnets danced with a silver hackled wolfman, spectacles, sleeping mask and woman’s nightie. A wolf in grandma’s clothing.
Behind them Dire Wolf found someone staring back. Hidden behind a white Venetian mask, half shattered was a face battered like scrambled eggs; a smile ominous as the moon. Jack-of-all-Blades. A threadbare red hood covered his head, the frayed ends wrapped like a scarf over his neck and shoulders.
Beneath the hood a plain black tee, a tawny halter leather melee vest. His arms were covered in elbow length crimson leather gloves, with a set of aggressive black stripes. Matching pants ran down his legs, tucked into clunky black combat boots. Wound around his upper body and waist like spiderwebs were countless bandoliers. His ammunition of choices, blades.
Though both men concealed them, their eyes met.
He ripped free a HUG knife from his half belt. His fingers over the thin blade clenched, loosened, clenched.
Jack parted his tattered read hood, grumbled at Dire Wolf, the words dying between them.
The message didn’t.
Dire Wolf read the hitman’s lips. “Innocents.”
Dire Wolf smiled, drew first.
A sudden flick of the wrist and Dire Wolf slammed the HUG knife between two iron-on toe bones of a nearby Skeleton-Man, finding real ones beneath. The digits snapped apart like a dinner wishbone, one brittle crack. Skeleton-Man mewled in agony.
Dire Wolf thrust off the floor, aimed at Skeleton-Man’s head, catching him square in the jaw which gave way with ease. Skeleton-Man barely had time to bleed before he hit the floor.
There were no innocents; he’d known for a while. They were all ringers, Jack’s goons.
“The jig’s up, Derveger.” Dire Wolf hollered across the dance floor. Again the words died crossing the battlefield, but he knew the message would make it.
A single pencil-thin eyebrow traced high above Jack’s broken half-mask. A pause, all of half a second. He shrugged.
All around Dire Wolf, the mob closed in tighter, he saw Jack give a quick hand signal, turn his back.
“Not gonna happen, Derveger.” Dire Wolf gritted his teeth until they popped. He clawed Skeleton-Man’s dance partner with the two climbing knives pushed up between his fingers on his free hand. The edges left a bloody trail across the soft parts of her face, including her left eye; blood-soaked mutton exploding everywhere. Reversing his momentum, he launched the knives toward Jack. Each pierced the tender bits of meat just below the left shoulder blade. Jack-of-Blades didn’t even flinch.
Dire Wolf didn’t have time to dwell. In the ear-splitting thunder of bass, closing footfalls got lost. A heavy-breathing Tin Man wrangled Dire Wolf’s arms into a nelson from behind.
A rouge redcoat with a teased powder wig saw the opening and took it, juggling fists across Dire Wolf’s ribs. Dire Wolf squirmed under each blow, but he’d deal. His armor weave and muscles beneath could handle it.
He didn’t fight. Took the shots, saved energy. He instead watched, listened, gathered the redcoat’s rhythm. One, two, pop. One, two, pop.
One, two, Dire Wolf struck.
He swept his ankle behind the Tin Man’s calf and jerked backward. Both men pounded the dance floor, Tin Man gathering the brunt; dented lungs released a hard breath. Dire Wolf bounced the point of his elbow off Tin Man’s skull until it went soft.
Dire Wolf rolled off Tin Man, jerked into a handstand, hooking his knee length black spats behind the redcoat’s head, curled his face to the floor, head exploding like blood-filled grapefruit.
Back to hist feet, Dire Wolf snapped quick shots around the crowd, guessing who might attack next.
From the corner of his eye, he caught the glimmer of silver. A steel-plated Glock. Just enough warning. He dove again to the floor, across his knees. The first shot sailed harmlessly.
Dire Wolf leaped up again, charged the rooster-suited gunman.
The rooster steadied, fired. Dire Wolf read it, slung narrowly under the shot, the bullet grazing his shoulder.
He faltered slightly, slowed. The rooster gunman sighted once more. This time for the skull, center of the narrow, black T-shaped wolf-mask that obscured bits of Dire Wolf’s face. His finger danced across the trigger.
Too late. Dire Wolf narrowed the gap, lunged into the rooster with the stock of his shoulder. The gun jerked up toward the ceiling, loosing two rounds.
Both men tumbled toward the unmanned wet bar behind them. The glass counter gave under the weight; a surge of broken shards misted the air.
The rooster tossed a lazy jab, missed. Dire Wolf connected with his, solidly to the gut. He juggled a second fist across the chin. The rooster went limp, not quite dead.
Dire Wolf raised his fist for the final blow until a bar stool wrapped itself around his bum shoulder. He tucked to the floor, clutching his shoulder, wincing.
The werewolf in grandma’s get up, loomed above him, clutching the bar stool. He struck again, then again.
As Dire Wolf writhed under the blows, crumbs of glass and splintered bar stool clung to bare blots of flesh. Larger bits of which could be weapons.
The werewolf went to the well one too many times. Dire Wolf rolled out from under the strike, grabbed a massive shard of glass, and drove it through the werwolf’s vulnerable hand, staking him to the dance floor. Weak little bones in the back of the hand burst. The werewolf howled in agony before his throat was cut with another piece of glass. His scream soured, gargling blood all over himself.
Dire Wolf, woozy, came to an uneasy stand, another segment of glass in his opposite hand. He held it out from his body, warning off other attackers.
“Might not have heard about me,” he sputtered. “If you stick around, I will kill you. All of you.”
Bodies filtered backward into the shadows, but not all of them.
“Fine,” a blood spotted grin formed on his face. “Let’s dance.”
The first attack came from a leggy brunette in a black witch robe, face painted green. She swung at Dire Wolf with a broom, bristle end out. She leveled at his neck and chopped downward.
Dire Wolf shielded his face with his forearm, deflecting the blow. The end of the broom fractured, leaving the end jagged.
The leggy witch thrust at Dire Wolf’s chest with the barbed end, he sidestepped, planting the top of his boot hard into her chest. She staggered back, dropping the broom.
Dire Wolf kicked it up off the floor, into his free hand and blitzed her, digging the raw end of the broom into the side of her neck. He spiked the other side with the shard of glass. Schisms formed in her arteries, flushing bright red matter across the dance floor.
A nightstick from behind connected with Dire Wolf’s skull. He shriveled to the floor. Before the next blow rained down, he rolled off his belly, catching the pretend cop’s wrist in his hand.
He stomped upward into the blue’s elbow, snapping the joint in the wrong direction. He pulled the cop to his knees and noosed him with his own, raggedy arm. With a quick jerk, he attempted screwing his head off. Bones rattled as the spine snapped.
The music died.
Dire Wolf held onto the corpse, staring down the remaining numbers.
“And I had thought this was a place of entertainment!” Hands crackled together in a slow clap. Jack-of-all-Blade’s broken-masked snarl showed in a trickle of light from the above loft.
His eyes traced the carnage below. The skeleton, askew jaw, shattered foot. The hamburger-face of his dance partner. The Tin Man, face caved in and the pulped skull of the redcoat primly covered in a powdered wig. The brain dead rooster and the gilled wolfman. Lastly, the hag who’d fallen on her own broom and the rag doll cop. All drowned in a thick pool of their own blood, oil black atop the strobing neon floor.
“Alas, not.” Jack’s expression turned. “And you, you arid dregs…get out of here before I come down there myself and help him kill the rest of you!”
Skewed glances were traded.
“Now, Now, NOW!”
They saw no reason to stand between two loons, way off the track. A steady stream of thugs trickled from the club.
“Now,” Jack paused for dramatic effect. “Let’s you and me have some fun like back in Dubreuil. What do you say to that, Connor?”
“Give me a minute,” Dire Wolf grunted. “I’m on my way up.”