In the end, death all amounts to emptiness and nothing.
The streets were freezing cold; blades of ice had built up around the up folded collars of his wool coat. As the wind blew a dust of white ash over his face, it lapped the tears from his eyes. There were voices, whispers that murmured his thoughts too low to decipher.
He gripped his fist into a tight ball and released it; a rush of blood ran through the knuckle and into the finger tips only briefly encouraging warmth and vitae into the palm and digits before the cold sapped the life out of them again leaving a dry cold husk of a palm in burrowed in his coat pockets. A few more cars roared by, the oil and frequency on this road turned the fine white powder to a black mush of engine oil and dirt.
The silence was only momentary, a large public transport’s headlights shined brightly through the slow drifting flakes of white. He related the snow to fire flys from the summer, they danced about, catching a wind and fluttering about without a care or direction.
The air brakes whined and hushed, the large bus had stopped less than a few feet from him. A particularly different place to meet for a drop off, however, he had seen the same bus nearly four times now. A few of the riders glanced down at him from their plastic seats through the fake glass and shrugged back into their thoughts.
A history of lives on display for the entire world to see, women battered and bruised, exhausted business men and the homeless all riding the large steel ferry to wherever they called home.
The bus soon roared off and its sound bellowed in the distance before fading into the sudden cold once more.
Amen glanced up and down the streets as people, couples, they ran for cover, some of them packed with heavy coats that inflated them three or four times.
He dreaded the thought, but, only after the anticipation of a failure to meet an appointment he withdrew his watch hand from the slight warmth of his coat pocket and glanced at the dial of his watch.
A quarter past midnight. Damn it, where was that courier?
In times of stress he fell back on this disgusting habit, his fair skin against the dark of his coat appeared pale as he pulled from the pocket a soft pack of cigarettes. He pulled out the stick by the orange tip and balanced it between his lips.
Damn it, his hands were trembling. He pulled up his silver lighter; a fine mirror finish reflected a few tired lines beneath those eyelids, he needed a shave, his hair needed to be combed.
The flame came on after a few snaps then popped upright to attention, an orange light with a blue tip that danced as the wind picked up. The herbs burned, the pungent smell, the taste of nicotine. He let the lighter click off and took a deep breathe on the end of the filter only to immediately choke on the smoke gathered in his lungs.
Grimacing with the still burning cigarette now in his fingers, he spat on the growing mounds of white ash falling from the sky. Smoking was still a terrible habit, it tasted terrible, but it fit for the mood. Back in his mouth, he held the filter by his teeth while thin trails of gray formed a gentle finger of touch beneath his nose before the smoke found its way inside.
The city that never sleeps whirled on by, treating Amen like a prisoner and a spectacle. Pedestrians walked by, as Amen stared, gaunt as ever into the street, the passing sedans and the puttering roar of motorcycles. Time seemed to pass slowly, Amen’s cigarette had long burnt out and he stood there in between his lips he held the filtered butt of his cigarette before he spat it out to the rattling clank of an approaching Norton Commando motorcycle engine. At the center of this growing snow storm he could make out the high beam light on the front of the cycle, it was slow approaching as the snow continued to fall, rolling to a stop, the breaks whined and the lean figure on the seat glared at Amen from behind their helmet.
At the rear of the bike were saddle bags that Amen eyed almost immediately. He took a few slow steps towards the curb, cars roaring by with their headlamps flaring the street in ominous white light. The motorist had there gloved hands on the throttle, a foot on the curb, reflecting Amens approach in their helmets visor. The rattling seemed to grow softer the longer he listened to it. He stopped at half arms length from this person.
“What the hell took you so long?” Amen barked. The messenger settled the kickstand, rocking back on the frame of his cycle and setting the bike down steady on the nub of the needle.
“I’m not late.” A voice came out muffled from behind the helmet.
in the end, death is fear, and nothing.
The Travesty was a corner bar, two or three stories of high narrow windows outlining the soft round edge of its outside. There were stone steps and a fashion show line of skinny, tooth pick, high-cheek bone and heavy on makeup. At the single red door at the top of the steps, one line was formed, only a couple hundred folks slow for the club, but, whoever was there made a killing every night.
Amen bought a few minutes by a lamp post across the street, studying the photos of his dearly beloved. A snapshot of her fine jawline, her discolored eyes and hair. A photograph immortalized his sister a few short moments, before he shuffled to the second, photo. The large neon sign written with the calligraphic exaggeration on the T and Y.
Why were you here of all places? Why didn’t you call me sooner?
He snorted, stuffing the photographs into the envelope, he folded it in half and stuffed the pack of evidence into his inner coat pocket. A few seconds, he paced, staring out anyone that might cause an uproar and the mood of the crowd, then, he stepped into a couple inches of snow with his leather boots. One slow step after the other, hands in pockets, his coat open and collars turned up high meeting his shoulder length curls of raven hair.
From less than a yard to a couple of feet away, a synthesized drum machine beat a familiar tune, slow and agonizing like a razor blade down the flesh before a man sang lyrics to a song Amen heard so many times before,
The sky is not the same, A shade of blue, every single thing, I believe I maybe true…
And the door was shut, reducing the highlight of the chorus to an inaudible murmur heightened by the crowd’s disdain for another cold night and long line. Amen couldn’t help hear the bouncer at the front, his eyes were fixed on that door, waiting for the entrance to open again, only to allow him another chance at the song..
“Hey man, Line starts in the back.” A gruff voice, about two-hundred plus pounds stuffed into a tight shirt and skinny jeans. Amen’s attention snapped, with a glare upwards at the bald man and his U shaped mustache over his lips. A sweat he could smell despite this cold weather was rolling down the back of his neck. Amen smirked slightly.
“I am here on business. You can tell can’t you.” Amen finally replied, despite standing two steps beneath him. The bouncer licked his lips then brushed his mustache.
“Five hundred” or something, Amen winced, he had horrible pitch in his deep voice. He pulled out a metal clip, took out a few fresh hundred dollar bills and as he walked closer slipped them into the bouncers open hand. The door was opened, the music was still playing, perhaps the end of the song. As he stepped into the threshold of the club, the atmosphere was suffocating, in that, broad open way. He could stay there, steeped in the back of the club while a man off in the distance sang into a microphone and all of the wonderful lights to heighten the experience.
God damn it. Amen snapped, clinching his fist and fingernails into his palm and sighed. Business.
As he walked through the growing crowd, the bass of the song faded completely, a piano roll started in slow, calculated numbers. The drum was lazy, but, the sound was still as full and surrounding. Unlike other artist, this man had the class and ability to draw him in; so much so, he kept a left eye on him while he maneuvered through the crowd towards the bar.
Still entranced by the songs end, he placed a hand on the edge of the bar; once again he ignored the bartender. Once again he stared off until the song came to a close. The lights faded around that man, his short hair, round and soft jaw line, those piercing eyes and large biceps.
“What’ll it be?” Another voice, he had never heard before. Amen had to turn completely revealing his back to the stage,
“Who was that just now.” He said, reaching into his coat pocket, the large envelope emerged, “Who? Trent? He comes and plays a few nights when he’s off tour. I don’t know how but the owner must’ve pulled some strings.” The pause in his statement, the man had stared at the envelope with suspicion, such a weird kid, carrying himself with a sense of pride and a voice a note or two deeper than his lean body said he deserved.
“I am looking for some one.” Amen said, the flap of the envelope he opened, never once did he look up into the eyes of the bartender. By memory his fingertips grazed along the sharp tip of his sisters last taken photograph. He plucked it out, and for the first time there eyes met, or the bartenders attempted to meet Amen’s, who stared directly at his chest as he raised the picture up.
Another investigator tipped the bouncer again. That idiot charlie had no class or balls to send these guys off. The bartender studied the photo a few moments.
“Oh..Yeah, Olivia, she used to come in once or twice a month. Haven’t seen her in a few months.” Amen was putting the photograph away.
“Strange girl, but, man, a body like that.” The envelope folded in half, placed into his inner coat pocket once more, “So, what, is there another investigation on a murder?”
“You could say that.” Amen murmured, bringing his fingers to interlace within one another. That name, a flash of a pale face and deep eyes swirling in a rainbow of colors. Her gaze set upon him, washed in the bleached white of light that he couldn’t pull away from. The noise of the murmurring crowd came rolling in, slowly settling as noise in the back of his mind. He was back in the club, on a stool, his gaze stoic and empty as he stared a hole into the man who shifted his weight from one side to the other.
“Look bro, I ain’t sayin’ nothing, I am not affiliated with those circles.”
“Then, what circles would you say you frequent in?”, The bartender sighed. Then, his eyebrows pinched together, bemused, Amen forgot to ask a simpler question.
“Look, if you want to question me, I want to see my manager first or I want some ID.” Amen was all smiles. “Alright, look” he started to say, planting his hands flat on the top of the bar, “it’s a little dark around here, let’s say we go into a room, where’s your lockers?”
Amen caught the man rolling around an explanation, then called to some one, “Vivi, can you watch the bar a sec? I gotta piss!”, Amen could hear a bark from the crowd as a lanky figure with deliciously long legs emerged. Her faux hawk bobbed gently under the flickering lights, she made it behind the bar and the man came around the other side. She looked sideways down the bar, and took a long look at Amen, who averted his eyes to the bar top.
“What’ll it be sugar?” she said with a growing smirk, the man, called up, “Nuh nuh..uh..I got to show him where the stalls are.” Amen took the invitation to leave. She snorted, and began attending to attendants, shouting back,”I hope he brought tweezers to help you shake it!”
The man was shaking his head, pushing through crowds of dancers and drunk patrons trying to slip their fingers a few inches north of the second or third girl they spent money on to get drunk.
The lockers were behind another door at the far left of the stage, swept into the bright lights of the backstage, Amen followed with speed and the occasional quick steps to keep up with the bartender. One more door, black, with a gold plate and crudely handwritten in marker ink,
in the center as best as possible.
“Can have some privacy, I don’t want swallow gettin’ suspicious, ever since that needle thing.” Amen shook his head, Swallow? Vivi? He could’ve let his curiosity get to him, possibly blow the cover. He remained silent as the man fiddled with the keys to the room, that eventually grated their way in like a rough lover, he turned the knob and the lights switched on automatically.
Amen came through the room first, it seemed like a converted bath house or basement with a few headlamps above head and a sink facing him.
“So, about that Ide-” The man would’ve never known what hit him as he kept his back to Amen to close the door. Long coats were ideal for a number of reasons, with the correct designer a nearly 14” long envelope disappears into the pockets with ease, they are thick, heavy for the winter and enough slack to hide a louisville slugger pro baseball bat.
Amen couldn’t have come across a better place to isolate a man, around six feet and inches, and outweighed him by a few several hundred pounds. He pulled back with the tight, quiet ease of a homer run all-star, then let his upper arms untense as the crushing force came in a square strike to his lower back near the kidneys.
In the eruption of force and the dull crack, Amen struck the man in a way that the split ripped up to the rounded blunt end of the bat instantly. The man made a noise between a gurgling outcry for help, but, when the sickening pain akin to a blow to the testicles set in, he was a little less than capable of exhaling anything else except the shuddering whimper from his back spasms.
“There wouldn’t be any way you’d know about my sisters nickname..unless she spoke to you..” Amen threw the bat on the floor, the clatter of wood echoed through the empty space. He grabbed him by the shoulders, dragging him along the floor towards the rusted sink in the distance.
“Four months ago, my sister was working on a job. A job that would get her killed, that bastard Enoch into the seat as prince of the city.” He dropped him, the pain wouldn’t cease and as debilitating as the strike remained, he was still coherent and listening.
“You fucked up.” Amen sighed, plunging the stopper into the bottom of the four foot sink; he turned on both handles and let the water flow at full blast. A small exhale before he stooped to the mans level on the floor.
“You see, my private investigator had more than a pretty little photo of my sister.” He pulled out the envelope, a photograph of many, showed the bartender approaching Cyanide outside of the club in line from his car.
“It’s funny, I thought employee’s took the rear entrance. You really went out of your way to make an impression.” The snapshots were thrown to the ground, leafs fluttering until they stopped face up, telling the store in silent poses and gestures.
“So, a couple months or two she’d come and visit. For what? Your looks? God no. You had connections she needed, hell, she would’ve killed you if you hadn’t the muscle. The backing of a few lycans here or there.” The man was grunting, still disabled in the pinching, excruciating pain that felt like a sandbag had pressed down on his spine. His legs wouldn’t respond.
The photographs piled on top of one another until the sink had over filled, dripping a stream of warm water onto the asphalt of the locker room. Amen scooped the pictures up onto the envelope, tossed the pile away from the puddle and turned off the water. Picking the man up in one motion by his shoulders, the bartender wrenched in pain before diving headlong into the water. He struggled, buckled and screamed as hard as he could, but Amens pressure proved useless to fight against.
One, two, three, four..Upright out of the bath, water splashed across Amens face and clothing.
“Take a deep breathe. That’s it. Now breathe..breathe.. I have one question. Where did you send her.” He stared, the man was terrified, sputtering in a despondent vowels and cries.
“Not quite the answer I was looking for.” And he threw him back down into the water, screaming, whining, hollering again. The more water he took in, the longer Amen held him face down in the clear bath.
One. two. three. four. five.
Upright, this time his victim had enough mind to vomit the resemblance of uncooked beef, tomato soup and a deep brown fluid.
“Last chance, save me the, they will kill me. What happened to my sister was monstrous, only heightened by that god damn disease.”
A few coughing fits, and the man was quiet a moment, collecting his thoughts he figured, that he could make it out of town before this psychopath would reveal him.
“..I..I’ll talk.” his voice horse, worn. Amen dropped him to his knees, a safe distance from the sink. “She asked me who, and where to meet her. I said, after drinks that evening, her targets would show up to the bar for a birthday party.”
Another deep breathe, as he continued, Amen silently collected the photographs, the envelope folding slowly and placed in his pocket.
“I took her in an unmarked sedan. Twelve miles outside of the city, a little county by number is all I can remember. Devon County, they told me to take her to an old saw mill in Devon county.”
A few gentle pats on his back sent tremors of terror down into his stomach.
“You did well friend. I hope we never meet one another again.”
Hands grasped the nape of his neck on both sides, pulling the skin like a shirt back. Down into the pool of his on vomit, water and choking until his lungs felt the pressure of water soaking in. Until his genitalia erupted an unstoppable flow of terrified urine on the floor, until Amen could only hear himself chanting a mantra over and over.
Breathe, ascend, slowly, slowly.
Breathe, ascend, slowly, slowly.
Breathe, ascend, slowly, slowly.
Breathe. Ascend. slowly. slowly.
Breathe. Ascend. Slowly.