[Artifice Comics] Shadestalker #2 (2008 Ver.)

utsukushuu.dreamer utsukushuu.dreamer at gmail.com
Tue Aug 19 17:48:05 PDT 2008

>From Artifice Comics - http://www.artificecomics.com


Blood. 20 dollar bills. A haze of gun smoke. His best friend smiling
the way killers do.

This was the whole scene, but Reggie Evans could only see it in
fragmented, distorted little pieces. The color black still held
dominion over his field of vision, existing in small shadow-like
pools, censoring the things he didn't want to see.

Chief among them, the corpse of a man named Earl.

"$180.00," Devon Lane said, flipping through the roll of 20s again.

"What?" Reggie asked, still catatonic, unsure of how his lips had even

"That was in the register," Devon muttered. "Couldn't find the safe."

"$180.00," Reggie replied as his muscles thawed out. He moved his
right arm slowly to his hair. Something pressed against his finger.
Something sticky, warm. Something that had been alive moments earlier.

It was a piece of Earl's ear. It was a wake up call.

Reggie stepped forward. His shock at Devon's demeanor began to fade.

"$180.00," he said again.

"Yeah, you deaf? We scored $180.00," Devon replied, chuckling as he
folded the stack up. "Guess Earl wasn't lying."

The old man's words made sense now. They were broken up, like a
disembodied rant, like a poem Reggie couldn't quite understand, but
parts of the syntax screamed louder than the police sirens descending
upon them.

Reggie moved. His fist found Devon's adam's apple, stifling his
unsettling chuckle, choking out his glee.

"You killed somebody for $180.00!" Reggie screamed, his arm moving
like a piston, raining blow after blow on Devon's head.

"We could have made twice that if we hit the Marlboro homes and
peddled some shitty ass weed!" he shouted, as he bit down, drawing
blood from his own tongue and Devon's nose.

"Murderer! I should kill you," Reggie continued the beating, his hands
finding their way to Devon's throat. But his friend finally recovered
from the surprise of the attack and rolled Reggie on to his back,
getting his own forearm across Reggie's chest.

"That old man get inside your head or something?" Devon shouted. "I
didn't see you try and fucking stop me, but now that there's heat you
go soft on me. You can lecture me all you want, but facts is facts.
There's gonna be a lot of red and blue here in a few minutes, if you
know what I'm saying. So save the panic attack for later, and help me
clean this mess up."

Reggie shoved Devon off and they both rose to their feet, fists hungry
for more combat.

"Clean this up? Like we even know what that means. Do I look like a
professional to you?" Reggie asked. "Fuck, do you look like a
professional to you?"

The sirens grew louder. Their shriek bounced off the alleys and spaces
between buildings, through the doors of the White Castle. As if they
already knew what happened.

"You killed someone," Reggie whispered.

"We killed someone," Devon shot back. "And the police aren't going to
care whose holding the gun when they see two black guys and one dead
white guy."

Reggie trained his eyes on Earl. The shot hadn't been clean. There
were pieces of hair, and skin and brain in all corners of the room.
Devon had turned him into a human jigsaw puzzle.

And all the while, the siren song drew closer. Somehow, the police
were the least of Reggie's worries.

"We need to go, or we're going to end up on the floor next to Earl,"
Devon said, tugging on Reggie's arm.

"That's where we should be," Reggie muttered.

His wish was nearly granted. The barrel of Devon's revolver kissed the
side of his ear.

"Run," Devon hissed, speaking with an older voice, one that couldn't
have belonged to him.

"You going to shoot me too?" Reggie said, eyes closed, fledgling tears
forming in his eyes.

Devon exhaled.

"If I have to."

Reggie shook his head, resigned to the life he'd trapped himself in.
Urban hell, the hip-hop stereotype he'd run blindly towards. Devon
took off and Reggie followed suit. He heard the theme song from
C.O.P.S. in his head as his feet moved like they were programmed to,
following the beat and pace of his best friend's footsteps.

He was a statistic; fleeing the scene with someone else's guns and
money, just like everyone said he would. Even his father.

The alley they were running down split. Devon stopped short and looked
around frantically.

"Which way?"

"Left," Reggie said quietly.

Devon took off. Reggie went right. Ten seconds later, the gun was
trained on Reggie's back again.

"Where the fuck you going?" Devon asked.

"Somewhere else," Reggie said back.

"17 years and now one thing goes wrong and you're done with me?" Devon
screamed, drowning out the approaching cavalry. "You didn't know shit
about these streets without me. 17 years you motherfucker."

Reggie kept walking.

"Don't make yourself a witness man. Don't make me fucking shoot you,"
Devon yelped, more desperate now than threatening.

"Do what you have to Devon," Reggie said, finding the chain link fence
at the end of the alley, climbing it with ease born by experience he
wished he didn't have.

Tires squealed. The cops arrived. Devon Lane and Reggie Evans took one
final glance at each other, and then they both did the one thing they
had proved best at after 17 years of failure on Prospect Park's

They ran.

Shadestalker #2
"Don't Panic"
Homes and Churches (Part 2 of 3)

Eugene Evans rolled over to find his bed cold, the space usually
warmed by his wife's supple body vacant.

"Typical," he grumbled, clearing sleep from his throat. Two slaps to
his rough face were enough to get him out of bed and moving. Clumsily,
he navigated the staircase, following the hint of cigarette smoke to
the garage. He knew where she was, and where she was going.

"You know I'm used to catching Reggie sneaking out around one in the
morning," Eugene said, still squinting through the overhead lights to
see his wife. "But this is new."

Aryanna Evans pivoted towards her husband with her dainty Virginia
Slim in hand. She was wearing an expensive leather coat over a not-so
expensive, non-descript waitress' outfit.

"It's closer to two a.m. Gene," she replied, stubbing out the smoke
against the toe of her black and white striped running shoes.

"Oh, well that changes everything," he said, still struggling to join
the waking world. "What are you doing Aryanna? I mean tonight, of all

"You know, I don't yell at you when you go to work at all hours of the
night," she flashed him a smile. Eugene was disappointed that after 15
years of marriage, his wife still thought she could laugh her way out
of an argument with a criminal prosecutor.

"That's because I work in an office, with security guards," he
replied. "If I was working for the people you worked for, in the
neighborhoods you work in, you would also have cause for concern."

"Nothing's gone wrong yet Gene," she said.

"Yet," he snapped back.

Aryanna stepped into her husband's sleep-deprived stare, pressing a
cold hand against his face. He shuddered from the touch. The nights
were getting colder by the day, marking New York's long, icy march
into winter.

"I know this bothers you, but this is what I do. I chose to accept all
the crap that comes with your job when I said 'I do.' I let you do
what you have to, to have a purpose. Why can't you be fair and let me
do the same?"

Her hand grew colder, but it wasn't the late October winds anymore. It
was numbness, like an anesthetic. They would be having that
conversation again.

"Because you don't have to," he said, fully aware the next sentence
would drive his wife out of the garage and into the arms of fearful
men hiding in damp, dark spaces.

"Because we don't need it."

Aryanna stepped back, warming him as the distance grew.

"Here we go again Eugene. Tell me how you're the great provider. I'm

"You think this is about ego," Eugene howled. The frustration in his
throat shocked him to life faster than any amount of caffeine could.
He was awake now, wishing he was asleep, dreaming of a better home

"This is about you, and Reggie, and the fact that you gamble with your
lives every night," he continued. "You run out there and you interact
with people that could hurt you, that can and may break you just
because they have nothing better to do. And you do this in the face of
every opportunity you've both wasted, and every opportunity I have
been able to piece back together for you. You both act like I want you
to just sit home and bathe in all the furniture and the money. That's

As he'd expected, she was already heading down the driveway.

"Why? Can you just tell me why you need to do this to me? What's so
terrifying about living the dream?" he was breaking, pleading. He was
arguing from emotion, breaking every rule he founded his career upon.

"Because it's your dream," she shot back, continuing her long walk
towards Williamsburg.

Eugene raced after her, in nothing but a thin robe and his hard
calloused feet. The cold stunned him for a moment.

"Stop saying that, both of you. Just come in here. What is so hard
about staying in bed next to your husband for more than two nights a

Lights flickered to life in some of the adjacent upscale Prospect
homes. The neighbors weren't intrigued, they were aggravated. They had
heard this before.

Moments passed. Aryanna faded from view, her footfalls escaping even
the furthest street light.

"What the hell is out there?" Eugene screamed. "What the fuck is so

The District Attorney-to be turned around, glaring at his hollow
granite face three-story. The one that had more columns that it
needed, but he liked it. He wanted to show off when he got married.
Now he just wanted to understand why "the home you could raise any
happy family in" was normally a lonesome eyesore.

"What am I missing?" he whispered.

With that, he retreated to his bedroom, wondering how the street life
he battled from 9 to 5 was constantly defeating him outside the

* * *

"So how did you get into this field?" an eager Fusamasa asked his semi-
attractive 30 something target.

Sure, this was supposed to be business, but the deal seemed to be
locked. Miss Weiss was punching numbers and factoring... something.
His eyes weren't following the flow of data and digits across the
computer monitor, they were molding the curves of her snow white
fingernails to memory. She was attentive to her features. She was
Ren's type of woman by day, opportunistic and business-minded. But the
smoky mascara and pedicure told Fusamasa she was a different gal when
the sun went down.

"Do you mean the field of biochemistry?" she responded, her nails
still clacking away at the keys. "Or my private practice of
synthesizing dangerous chemical weapons for shady criminal
organizations like the..."

She shot a tense but playful look at Ren, who was facing out the
window, unconcerned by their conversation.

"Yakuza," she whispered.

They giggled, like students passing notes behind a school teacher.

"Yeah, the second thing," he said, smirking.

"Why does anyone do anything Mr. Yukonawa?" she said, snatching
something out of a nearby printer. "Money."

"This place doesn't pay well," he asked.

"Not well enough, not anymore," she muttered, suddenly more interested
in the figures on the computer paper than Fusamasa's playful
questioning. "Some NYU hotshot came in here with a whirlwind of
research grants. Papers say he found an enzyme that can cure something
that might put this place on the fast track to curing cancer."

Fusamasa feigned interest, but his mind went blank after the word

"He's light years from finding what they want, but if you say the word
cancer, the science world will throw money at you, at least until they
find another meal ticket."

Something caught her eye at the bottom of the read out. Fusamasa tried
to earn a peak but she creased it over twice, denying him the

"There's no money in cures Mr. Yukonawa," she said calmly. "It's the
world's suffering that signs my paychecks."

"Lady that's one of the most fucked up things I've ever heard,"
Fusamasa exclaimed, stirring Ren from his trance like state near the

"Really? I don't know if you noticed sir, but you're a mobster. How
many zeroes do blood and bullets add to your paychecks," she replied.

"We having a problem?" Ren hissed.

"Perhaps we can continue this argument another time, when my associate
buzz kill-san is not around," he whispered.

"Perhaps over dinner," she whispered back, letting her breath tingle
his ear lobe.

Fusamasa immediately produced a business card, with a name and a
disposable cell phone number. Something changed in her expression, as
if she'd started the conversation for the explicit purpose of reaching
that moment. The young Yakuza assumed she'd been taken back by his
excellent listening skills.

"Ahem," Ren growled, finally breaking up their flirtation. "Miss
Weiss, we have other things to attend to tonight. Can we please come
to an agreement on payment and distribution?"

"Certainly," she replied. "I have ten samples of the aerosol version
ready as a sign of good faith. You can take those with you when you
leave tonight. How much will you need beyond that?" she asked.

"100 units, weekly," Ren replied.

"100? Do you understand how potent this is sir? Do you really want a
large amount of a highly volatile substance lying around?" she said,
for the first time showing an emotion besides confidence.

"One should always come strapped for war," Ren said.

"One should," a foreign voice interjected.

Fusamasa, Ren and Catherine Weiss all spun to their left to see a pair
of men in business suits and sunglasses. They walked with the same
purpose and sense of entitlement that the two Japanese men did, but
their skin was olive and their voices carried a decidedly heavier

"You gentlemen are too late, a deal is already in place," Ren said,
his hand instinctively moving towards his waist. Fusamasa quickly
followed suit.

"Don't waste your breath with stupid statements jap," the man his own
fingers crawling, centimeter by centimeter towards his own holster.

Within seconds, four guns were drawn.

"After all," he spat. "You might not have much left."

* * *

The flip phone's neck was broken. The top and bottom halves of the
aged black Nokia were clinging together by virtue of a thin piece of
copper. Reggie wasn't sure what the wire did or why it was there, but
as he rifled through his phonebook searching for a number he should
have committed to memory, he begged the wire to allow him one last

Dialing ... Christina Hill.

He knew what Devon would say if he saw Reggie, shivering in a back
alley, teary eyed, sweaty and staring into the flashing LCD screen.

What you gonna do now? Call her and cry about your feelings, about how
bad that shit was? You gonna tell her everything? I always told you if
shit went wrong the only way it's gonna be all right again is if you
don't tell nobody nothing. Golden rule man.

It rang for a third time.

You always hung around me saying you wanted to be street. Now this?
Should've just stayed in that six-figure house with Daddy where you

The phone chirped again. Ring number six. At least he knew her phone
was on.

"Hi," she said.

"I'm sorry it's so late but..."

"You've reached Christina. My phone's probably off right now so leave
a message. Kay, bye."

A monotone female voice began passing instructions to leave a voice
mail. Reggie thought about spilling all the sordid details into her
mail box right then and there, but a pair of headlights paralyzed his
tongue. He slapped the phone shut and peered out from the fortress of
garbage and metal he was hiding behind.

The halogens belonged to a Chevy, but not an Impala. Not the typical
NYPD cruiser's make and model. Which meant he was safe for the moment.

Safety is a fleeting state of mind though.

The phone rang. Christina Hill must have been curious why her lover
was calling at three in the morning.

You tell her, she tells someone, and we're both done for.

Devon Lane's voice had served as gospel for most of Reggie's
adolescent life, but at that moment, in the waning desperation of an
early morning hideout amongst fast food wrappers and mildew, Reggie
Evans' decided to subscribe to a new kind of truth.

He answered the call.

"You never came," Christina whispered, referring to what should have
been their private birthday celebration.

"I got tied up," Reggie whispered, cursing himself.

You could have spent three hours cuddled up next to her pretty little
ass, instead, you had to go knock over White Castle and become an
accessory to murder.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

"Huh?" Reggie responded.

"Usually when you don't show up you just hit me with some lame excuse
the next day Reggie. You never call. What's wrong?" she asked again.

Devon's voice melted into the wind and passing of cars. Just
background noise.

"You're right," he said.

"Well then tell me Reggie," she replied.

"Devon and I were out, and, well you know how we are and..."

He stopped, hoping she'd respond. Say something or express confusion.
Just anything to delay his confession.

"Well we went out to eat..."

To rob a place.

"And Devon started yelling at somebody, said the wrong thing..."

He pulled a gun and said "Give me what I'm here for, and the only
stain that gets on your pretty little blue and white uniform is the
piss running down your leg."

"Devon started wailing on him..."

Pistol whipped him.

"And then..."

Little shit is about to get his brains splattered all over the

"The guy got hurt."


"Hurt? How bad, is he pressing charges?"

"No babe...No, I don't think so."

"Oh thank God. Your Dad would have killed you. But this was all Devon
right babe?"

Reggie said nothing.

"Right babe?"

I watched it happen.

"Reggie, please say something."

Another set of headlights came by, setting off every nerve cluster in
his body, speeding up his breathing, sending him into a full-fledged,
skin tightening, tongue quivering, paralyzing panic.

It was the feeling that must have gripped Earl when Reggie watched his
best friend steal his life.

"This is my fault."

* * *

Devon Lane was also hiding out in layers of filth. But his preferred
kind of filth  wore ill-motivated tattoos, black guinea-tees and
camouflage shorts. They smelled of liquor, sweat and grit. They spoke
in profanity-laced sentence fragments that "normal people" wouldn't
bother to translate.

But normal people didn't spend their nights or mornings at O'Neills.
They knew better. South of Caroll Avenue, where most of Prospect's
hoods held their ground, O'Neills was one the few bars where the
regular drinker was persona non grata. While working men went to
places like Fontana's or Piano's after work, sipping at scotch to peel
back the day's drudgery, Brooklyn's overworked criminals traded big
fish stories over beers and billiards at O'Neil's old Prospect pub.

Devon's tale of woe had been met by laughter and pitchers, the second
of which he was at least thankful for.

"Transfer money?" a self-proclaimed Blood chuckled as Devon poured
himself another pint of Miller. "You ever heard of online checking?"

"Shut the fuck up J," Devon replied.

"Any one else ever heard of anything that stupid? Stupid as transfer
money? No, because for all the talking and talking about shooting up
places in this bar, nobody is stupid enough to take a tip on transfer
money," the "gang member" continued.

"Leave it J," Devon grumbled. "Was a hell of a night."

"What, they forget your fucking chicken rings?" one of J's friends
chimed in. Another member of their "set" of Bloods.

"Nah, I forgot to let the guy live," Devon shot back, hoping to end
their taunting.

The beer stopped flowing for a minute. J and his friend exchanged
nervous glances. But their concern faded in seconds, their lips
ripping open like fissures, releasing a relentless, piecing laughter.

"You capped somebody? You?" J's friend continued. "Man, you ain't even
old enough to buy scratch offs. Now you're out shootin' a gat at
people? Please man. Your shits too weak for that. Always has been."

Without hesitation Devon pulled out his "gat," angry at the stupidity
of the slang.

"You wanna see how weak my shit is?" Devon spat, aiming his revolver
at the self-appointed gang banger's head, its barrel still hot from
splitting Earl's ear canal in two.

Someone turned up the volume in the room. All of the conversations in
the hazy, smoke-filled watering hole crashed into each other and
spiked the decibel level, as everyone rushed into a circle around
Devon and J's buddy.

"You got a fucking head problem?" the homeboy asked, the swagger
suddenly absent from his voice.

"So that's how it is? I put a gun to your head and you still gotta
talk shit? How about I prove to you that I got the stones to shoot
some guy in White Castle, an old lady playing bingo, or anybody I
wanna fucking shoot? How bout I start with you?"

J, in one swift panicked move, reached out towards Devon, whose gun
suddenly found a new target to wrap its crosshairs around.

"Holy shit kid, alright calm down," J said, sweating more than the
humid atmosphere should have made him.

"Why the fuck do I have to calm down?" Devon screamed.

"Cause your waving a gun around in a room full of thieves, rapists and
killers..." J responded.

"I am a fucking killer!" Devon screamed, salty, miniscule tears
welling up in his eyes.

"All right, all right. Ain't nobody here care whether or not you shot
somebody..." J started, turning to his friend. "Right?"

"Right," three or four people responded, just for safety's sake.

Devon lowered the gun.

"I killed somebody," he whispered.

J put a hand on his shoulder.

"Not something you want to be shouting in public man."

Devon lowered his gun. The crowd dispersed, some happy to return to
their drinks and card games, others disappointed to be left without
their nightly pound of flesh.

"What the fuck man?"

J checked to make sure his "Bloods" had found something to occupy
them, before he walked Devon over to a booth in the corner.

"You really fucking iced someone?" he whispered.

"Yeah," Devon replied.

"For what?" J spat.

"About 200 bucks," he said.

"Holy shit. Something is wrong in your head."

Devon stood up, reaching for the gun again, but J grabbed his wrist
and slammed him back first into a bar stool.

"Every day!" Devon screamed. "Every day all I here in this place is
about every body's big move. This was my big move."

"You killed a cashier over 200 bucks. That was your big move?"

Devon stared blankly.

"Every day..." he started.

"Every day, you here a bunch of drunk kids who think the Marlboro
Projects is the most dangerous place on earth talk about making it
big. You know this place is choking on bullshit. You've chilled here
long enough. The fuck? You think shooting up some burger and fries
stand is gonna make you a big name player around here? All it's gonna
make you is some rookie cop's collar, because he's gonna know where to
find your dumb ass."

Devon remained motionless, expressionless, made docile by the cold gun
metal across his palms.

"What do I do now?" he asked.

J checked the room again.

"Ain't no therapist. But I got some medicines, kind you like."

J tucked a bottle and a baggie into Devon's left hand.

"Oxycontin and your favorite white blend. I shouldn't have to tell
you, don't mix and match. Take one, sleep, take the other, sleep.
Hopefully your morals melt out in a nosebleed sometime between here
and Sunday."

"That's it?" Devon asked. "That's how you guys handle this shit?"

J scanned the room for a third time, growing tired of the exercise.

"Fucking nobody in here handles this shit because nobody does this
shit. You wanted to be the big bad motherfucker in this neighborhood?
Now you are. Dumb as shit, but now you got cred."

J pointed to a cracked wooden door leading to a private bathroom.

"Now go deal with it."

Devon disappeared into the dark corridor, kicking the wooden door shut
behind him, the swollen frame groaning as the latch caught. He placed
the gun on the left side of the sink and the coke on the right,
wondering how one had led him to the other. Devon had dabbled in the
white stuff before, but he'd never needed it to get through a night.

A fluorescent bulb flickered to life overhead. Devon drew his red
handled switch blade, and began forming a line over the cracked
porcelain counter top. J and Reggie had both been right on some
counts. He was using the gun too liberally. He was going to get
caught. Coke was an upper, but it would at least put his mind on
something beside violence. It usually mellowed his drinking binges.

Or it at least knocked you out cold.

A chorus of shouts and curses slid underneath the door, quickly
followed by the mass shuffling of feet across O'Neil's ancient dust
covered floor. Devon fell face first into the line, snorting as much
as he could from the staggered stretch of the drug. The room's stale
air had feeling now, stinging his face and eyes. An electric pulse
fired through his nerves. Something like an adrenaline rush. He
grabbed the gun, hands unsteady. This wasn't anything he'd put up his
nose before. Laced, maybe? No way to know. He reached for the pills J
had given him. Oxy...something. He gobbled down two of the tablets,
hoping to find the calm the coke was supposed to supply. Gun drawn he
burst out of the door.

Police. Two or three. They didn't have guns. He did. He had an
advantage. They were talking, but the words splintered and cracked
over the walls of liquor and laced cocaine between the cops and his

"...Tip about underage drinking in this place," one blue shape said.
"...some of you look under 18. Close...place down...for now. We're
gonna be writing some summons."

The beat cop on the right seemed to notice his haggard, stoned and
suspicious appearance. He became frantic.

"Check him out," he shouted.

They both saw the gun exposed.

"Drop it buddy," the first one shouted.

Devon raised his weapon.

They raised there's.

A flash of shadow shot across the room, a friendly build. The last
face he'd seen with a set of sober eyes.

It was J. One of the few innocent guys in the bar. Relatively innocent
anyway. And he was punching one of New York's Finest square in the
jaw. Ruining his life. Saving Devon's.

A fist sent J crashing into Devon's useless body.

"Run. They bring you in and they will put two and two together," J
yelled as the other bar patrons, getting the idea, stalled the
advancing cops.

Devon didn't move. Or comprehend. He just focused on breathing.
In. Out. In. Out.

"I just fucked myself to save your ass. You wanna be my cellmate?" J

Cell. Prison. Bad.

Everything became associative, and Devon granted the premise. He took
off, too fast for the cops who were still cutting a swath through the
wall of drunkards and drug users. A wall crashed behind Devon. Someone
had called for backup, and backup would clear a path.

He sprinted, and sprinted some more, racing until his legs turned to
rubber and his heart was pumping thin, used up blood. Blocks, upon
blocks, on sheer adrenaline. Everything was grainy. Like an old
western. The colors had disappeared somewhere between the bar and the
alleyway. He heard sirens far away. More cops after him or raiding
O'Neil's. Neither thing was good.

There was a door. He opened it, and closed it behind him.

The words "Laboratory Service Entrance" sounded funny, but they didn't
concern him.

* * *

The English language had chosen the wrong time to betray Ren.

At the moment, words were his best chance of leaving Atlas Labs with
all of his parts and pieces in tact. The modified silver Glock in his
left hand was a bargaining chip. A lethal one, but still, it was
glorified leverage. This wasn't barbarism, just business.

"So did they low ball you Miss Weiss?" Ren asked, eliciting a chuckle
from the Italians. "Is that why they've resorted to an ambush? A
Mexican standoff? Typical Sopranos level bullshit."

"This isn't an HBO special Ren," one of the gunmen replied. "You of
all people should know what's going on here. Asaiho Ren, the famed
street encyclopedia. I've heard about you. The Yakuza keep you around
because you're so plugged in. You had to know Miss Weiss had no
intention of selling you her little wonder drug."

Ren recognized the attitude of his foe. Leo Cuozzo. The Casa Nostra's
street and sidewalk intel. He liked to think he kept his finger as
close to the city's pulse as Ren did. It was a nice thought.

"Is that why she was preparing units for us on a weekly basis?" Ren
shot back.

"And how do you know the sprays she was prepping were anything more
than nasal spray?" Cuozzo replied.

"Doubtful," Ren said.

"But there is doubt, isn't there?" Cuozzo hissed, with a wry smirk.

Ren kept the gun steady. It was secondary. Cuozzo was playing the same
game that had kept Ren alive for years in Brooklyn's tumultuous
underworld. It was still about words. Whoever talked their opponent
off balance first would get a clear shot. Ren didn't mind being shot,
but he refused to be outsmarted.

"This from the man who marched in here all guns and flash? You've got
nothing but bullets Cuozzo. You're outclassed, accept it," Ren said.

"Yeah, Dr. Weiss would never sell to a pair of trigger-happy goombahs
like you," Fusamasa interjected.

His beretta was leveled. Ren knew his associate was playing by a
different set of rules. His kept the gun clutched tight in a two-
handed grip. This was a movie scene to him. Movies had different
rules, they introduced a structure neither Ren or Cuozzo adhered to.

"Trigger-happy?" Cuozzo's partner shouted, now aiming at Fusamasa's

And the rules changed.

Fusamasa advanced into the man's line of sight, his 12-shot now set on
his opponent's skull.

"Are we really looking to start a war here?" Ren yelled.

Cuozzo remained silent. He hadn't expected the gun play to start this
early. It was the opening Ren needed. He didn't like resorting to
violence, but he'd at least been trained for it.

"Both of you need to shut up and stand down," he continued. "If we
start shooting each other, we're all going to have answer to people
who will want to know why. And then it won't matter who walks out of
here. Because the men with the swords, and cigar cutters and soldering
irons aren't going to care. We'll all be very disfigured or dead, and
for what. Because he called you a goombah?"

Cuozzo grunted in approval. He was willing to let Ren do the talking.
He had given up control of the situation. Ren reminded himself to
smile later. His Italian counterpart wasn't stupid, he was simply to
young to know he could be beaten without a salvo being fired.

"Now Miss Weiss, I believe it would be in everyone's best interest if
you chose a buyer," Ren said.

The young doctor climbed out from behind the desk. She was changing
the rules again, walking towards the Italians.

"I think you all need to appreciate there are security roams through
this lab every hour. And if someone with a badge and gun walks in on
this, it will be very bad for all of us. I'll lose my job, and you
will all lose any hope of burning the city down with what I'm

Ren flicked his wrist, focusing his aim on Miss Weiss.

"Stop moving," he said.

"I'm just talking," she said, smirking, gliding closer to his enemies.

"You're getting too close to..." Ren started.

The younger mobster, the one with too much arrogance and ambition to
keep it together, took the opportunity Ren knew would be presented. He
got a hold of Weiss' arm and turned their standoff into a hostage

Fusamasa forged ahead, knuckles clenched and teeth barred. Ren and
Cuozzo shared a disappointed glance before they both leapt into
action, playing the parts they hated to be cast in. Cuozzo took aim.
He would have killed Fusamasa with ease. Except Ren had aimed faster.
Arms extended, he drove his shoulder into Fusamasa's midsection,
driving both he and his young charge to the ground. Inertia blessed
the pair and they rolled to a stop behind a lab station reinforced
with tempered steel. The volley of bullets crumpled like paper air
planes against it.

"I had her," Fusamasa complained.

"All you had was an obituary in tomorrow's Sentinel," Ren replied.

"You see, she's with us," the younger Italian yelled.

"You're pointing a gun at her head," Fusamasa yelled back.

Another hail of lead came their way. Another useless burst of noise.

They were going to get killed or arrested, or they were going to
escape just long enough so one of their bosses could beat and torture
them and then send them out on a fool's errand that would end with
them getting killed or arrested.

Ren knew that if he didn't grab this scenario by the throat and choke
it back into his control, he was going to meet his end courtesy of
something far worse than a bullet.

"You're a real brain trust Cuozzo," Ren yelled. "Let the kid keep
shooting. Why don't you just call 911 and get us all locked up. Even
better, why don't you just call Grimaldi and Kozu so we can both get
erased by our superiors."

"Erased? Grimaldi and all the old guard are going to make me a capo
after I bring them your head and Miss Weiss' product," Cuozzo yelled

"Capo? You're a slightly above average soldier at best. Capos need to
think. You wops may be stupid, but you wouldn't have lasted this long
if your people were that stupid," Ren continued.

"Chink. I'm the one who has you pinned down. Right where I want you. I
would be a little more polite if I was you," Cuozzo said.

"Pinned? Ha. Everybody within four blocks heard those shots. You want
to kill us, you've got to get closer, and then I shoot you. Or you run
away, without Miss Weiss and her recipes, and your bosses shoot you.
Or you stand here and wait for the police or security, which ever
comes first, and they shoot you."

Cuozzo went silent again. Ren loved when that happened.

"I can wait here all night. However it happens, it's going to end with
you dead."

Glass broke. Bullets flew. Ren's words came true.

The veteran criminal peered over his shield to find Cuozzo's partner
lying in a pool of his own blood, the good doctor Weiss screaming as
she plucked brain matter from her once fine hair.

"Thought that would take longer," Ren said.

* * *

Devon Lane quivered watching the splashes of red as they moved like
shore side waves across the floor. His second murder of the night.
This one was more confusing. But it was necessary. Right. They were
all mob. One had the other trapped. Trapped people need to be saved,
and then they're thankful and maybe they help you. Make you. Made
guys. Right?

The cocaine still had him by the neck.

The Japanese one who had been talking a lot walked over to the Italian
one who had been talking a lot. Devon must have shot him too. He was
bleeding, but he wasn't dying. Devon checked his revolver.

The Italian one was clutching his arm. There was a woman screaming.
The other Japanese one held her. Like a lover. Weird.

"You had back up! You planned this! You dishonorable,"

The Japanese one kicked the loud one in the face. Hard. Hard enough
that Devon wondered how his jaw would have felt.

"I don't know who that is, and I don't care. I told you, it was going
to end with you dead."

The Italian reached for his gun. The Japanese guy stepped on his hand.
Bones crunched. The Jap smiled, as if he had been waiting to.

"You know all that talk about starting a war Cuozzo," the Jap said.
"You know how I made you think someone dying in this room would be a
bad thing?"

The Italian, Cuozzo, was it? He nodded.

"It would have been. If it was me," the Jap said. "I'm the only person
that matters at all in what's coming. And I'm only telling you this
because in about five seconds I'm going to remove this short sword
from my hilt and decapitate you."

Something familiar showed in the Italian's face. Fear. Devon knew it

"Are you ready to die?"

The Italian shook his head "no." Then he shook it yes. But the yes was
weird because his head fell away from his neck.

"That was a rhetorical question."

He looked at the other Jap and the woman.

"Collect her, and her things."

Then finally, the Jap acknowledged Devon.

"I have no idea who you are, but you're incredibly smart or incredibly

Devon stood still. His tongue wasn't ready to move yet.

"Either way, you're coming for a ride."

Devon followed, stumbling but obedient. Like a sedated pitbull. He
would follow the Jap anywhere, because he decided anywhere was safer
than the places he had been that day.

* * *

A Sunday school teacher once told Reggie Evans to keep his faith
because "everyone believes in God at sometime or another because they
need to."

As the 17-year-old fugitive ascended the steps to St. Agnes Church, he
hoped those words were more than a tossed off phrase to keep a
mischievous student in line.

God. It was such an unfamiliar concept. After a ten year absence from
services, he'd forgotten all the basic teachings. A simple hand
motion, the sign of the cross, was all that remained. Reggie made it,
slowly, deliberately, as he rapped his knuckles against the ornate
wooden doors of the old church.

No answer.


Reggie tapped again, his knuckles forming a fist. As if force had
gotten him anywhere in the past couple of days.

The old house of worship remained as quiet and still as the Brooklyn

"Why did I even come here?" Reggie muttered, turning to leave.

"Hello," a strained voice called after him.

"Someone there?" Reggie asked, stopping but still looking away from
St. Agnes.

"There always is, it's just late, so we keep the door locked. This
isn't a great neighborhood," the voice said.

"You don't know the half of it," Reggie shot back. The boy turned to
see the great doors open, hanging in the wind like a massive yawn, but
the owner of the voice was nowhere to be found.

"Come in. You look you need someone to talk to," the voice called. It
was warm, inviting, like a priest's should be.

Reggie obeyed.

The inside of St. Agnes was old and messy, like most of Reggie's city.
Like most of his ideas. The pews were wracked with dust and age,
splintered at the legs in odd, warped angles. The lights flooded the
room, but they were dim, amber. As if they were being shone through
something else. The whole scene looked intentionally bleak.

"Not how I remember church," Reggie muttered.

"I'm afraid some of our regular congregation are experiencing a crisis
of faith. The ones that still come don't care what they see, just what
they feel. What they take away," the voice returned. It was closer
this time, but still obscured by the poor lighting. Too many shadows
to decipher the room's layout.

"Why can't I see you?" Reggie said.

"Because I'm not supposed to see you either," the voice called back.
"Those are the rules."

"Rules?" Reggie asked.

"You're here to make a confession aren't you," the voice said. "Why
else would you be here at this time of night...errr....morning?"

A light glowed to life over a pair of thin bronzed doors off to the
side of the altar. The confessional, structured for two seats assigned
to sinner and savior.

After this, I'm taking another ten years off.

He approached the confessional, thinking more and more about Sunday
school as he did. He didn't believe in God as much as he feared Him.
Mortal sins needed to be forgiven, or else you went to hell. And Hell
was the one place he feared more than prison.

Reggie sat down. For the disarray the rest of the church was in, the
confessional was surprisingly debonair. Plush seats, gold laden
crosses and molding. It was as if the entire archdiocese had dumped
its funding into one room.

"So?" the voice asked, now even closer, emanating from the other side
of the wall.

 "Yes?" Reggie responded.

"You know how to start these things," the priest said.

Reggie growled, annoyed.

"Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It's been ten years since my
last confession."

"That's a long time son. A lot on your mind tonight?" the priest

"Not a lot. Just one thing, but it needs some explaining," Reggie

"We're open 24 hours," the priest responded.

There was something strange about the way he said it. Reggie dismissed

"For years, I don't know how long exactly, I've been stealing things.
Small things. You know, for the thrill," Reggie started.

"The thrill?" the priest asked. "Of making other people suffer."

"No," Reggie growled. "Of accomplishing something."

The priest remained silent.

"Sounds stupid right? Well, that's the way I justified it. Doing what
I was doing. It's not like I was good at it, just worse at everything
else," Reggie said.

"You're kind of bleak for 17," the priest said. "But I find it hard to
believe that's the real reason you started stealing, or why you
continued for that matter."

"Well that's the reason I came up with. Why am I hiding it from you
anyway? I don't know why I started. Or why I continued. I just did.
And it was fine. I mean it was illegal. Nobody was getting hurt, and
we were making change without having to work in a mall or something
stupid like that."

"Like a normal person," the priest said.

"Why does everyone keep saying that?" Reggie shouted.

"Normal?" he asked.

"Yeah," Reggie muttered.

"Do you think what you do is normal?" his confessor asked.

"You looked around this neighborhood padre?" Reggie asked.

The priest stayed quiet, allowing his shallow breaths to fill the
silent space.

"Then perhaps there is something wrong with normal," he said.

"Either way, like I said nobody was getting hurt. But something
changed tonight. There was a gun. We took on something we shouldn't
have, and everything got crazy and..."

Reggie clasped his own hand over his mouth.

"You can't say any of this to like a cop can you?"

"No," the priest replied calmly.

Reggie exhaled deeply, folding his thumbs over one another. He started
to shake, realizing this would be the first time he actually admitted
it out loud. To himself. To the world. Once you let a thought out of
your mind, it was everyone else's property. That was how information
worked in Prospect. It was dangerous knowledge if it escaped his lips,
but it was going to burrow its way out from inside one way or another.

"Someone died. I killed someone."

Nothing moved. The earth didn't shake. And for a second Reggie thought
everything might be okay.

Except the priest had stopped talking.

"Father?" Reggie asked.

Still no sounds.

"Father, I'm sorry. I really am. Please, I came here for guidance."


"I'm going to hell," Reggie whispered.

"I'm sorry Reggie," the old man finally said.

"What?" Reggie asked.

"I expected you would have been able to stop Devon," the priest said.
Wood creaked. The door opened. He was exiting the confessional. Reggie
followed, an unsettling sense of familiarity setting in.

Reggie burst through the door and saw the wise, aged face of the man
from the White Castle. The man who had tried to warn him about Devon.
Who had tried to save him from the moral torment he had been pained
with for the past several hours.

His name was John McKinley. He was going to change his life.

Reggie wasn't sure he wanted that at the moment.

"No!" he shrieked, pushing past the old man, darting for a staircase.
He ran up into what looked like an orchestra pit. Tripping over a snag
in the carpet, he crashed into what appeared to be a long silent pipe
organ. The vintage instrument groaned in pain.

Reggie found his way to a copper rail that looked out over the absent
congregation. Something white flew up from the pews. McKinley appeared
before him, engulfed in ethereal white.

"You aren't completely innocent, but you aren't completely guilty,"
McKinley said. "There is a way out of this. Please, we have to talk.
There is a lot you need to know."

Panic engulfed Reggie. He found a dust covered blue missional and
hurled it at the floating priest.

"Fuck you!" the child screamed. "You let it happen. You, you made it
happen! You just watched me fuck my life up. Just like my dad. Just
like Devon."

"It wasn't supposed to happen this way. I need to explain everything
to you," McKinley said, trying to remain gentle in the face of the
enraged Reggie.

"Explain? You can fucking fly! You're going to tell me you couldn't
have stopped two kids with guns."

McKinley bowed his head.


"All of you. District Attorney. Superhero. You've got all this power,
but when it comes to me, you're all useless."

Reggie fell to the ground, nearly fainting. His left arm grabbed
something metallic. He crouched. He cried. He had to. There was
nothing left to do.

"I'm so fucked,"

McKinley landed, shutting off the lights surrounding him. He placed a
hand on the broken boy's shoulder.

"Calm down. Just listen to my voice and we can fix this."

The priest's voice didn't fix anything. It made things worse.
Something was moving inside of Reggie. It tore through his shoulders,
down his arms and into his wrists. The pressure was agonizing. It felt
like liquid. Moving, squirming, burning. Thousands of little blades
cutting through the lower layers of his skin.

And he screamed. A long, hellish, furious scream. His skin exploded.
Shadows flew everywhere. Razors and shapes. Some things with eyes and
some with mouths. Some that looked like him.


The darkness pouring from his body was hurting the priest. McKinley
was bleeding, and his face looked far less peaceful.

"Reggie! You have to stop! Control it! Please, there is so much about
what's happened that you don't understand!"


His voice was changing. It sounded like rock salt. It sounded like
something scraping against asphalt.


McKinley closed his eyes. When he opened them again, they were opaque.

"I said I was sorry."

There was an eruption from McKinley's body, large enough to counter
the black coming from his own. The shadows caught fire. Screaming like
he was. Suffering like he was.

The blast knocked him over the copper rail, the one that had supported
him just before he broke.

Reggie Evans fell towards the earth. As he accepted the fact that his
life was now measured in seconds, not decades, he felt something new.
Surprising. For the first time in his life, he actually was sorry.

* * *

Asaiho Ren looked across the room at his unknown savior. Well, savior
was a strong word. He would have eventually found a way past Cuozzo
and his goon, but the young black boy sleeping off a crack binge on
his couch had certainly made things much easier. Still, he was a
variable. But variables could be used, manipulated, harnessed for the
little good they posessed.

And Devon Lane, as the boy had called himself, had one good deed left
in him.

The cell phone chirped to life, dialing a name upon voice command that
Ren disliked uttering.

"Kozu-sama," Ren said, feigning what respect he could. "I believe I've
found a way to fix our little problem at the District Attorney's

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