The Nick of Time
(and other abrasions)
Blood And Snow
Al Bruno III
The following story was originally published by Eden Studios
It begins simply, with two men of little repute. They are minor players in the Gray Mandarin’s organization, a courier and his armed escort. They drove through the City’s snow-choked streets. It was a quiet night; the storm had driven most of the pedestrian traffic from the roads. The constabulary forces were busy chasing after accidents and directing traffic at the clogged intersections.
All in all, it was a perfect night to make a drop, at least it was in Liko’s opinion. The young courier wanted nothing to go wrong tonight. A quick exchange -- the briefcase for the money -- and it would be done. He shifted in his seat, checking his reflection in the passenger side view mirror. Of all the nights to have to work . . .
The car slowed to a crawl as the chauffeur /bodyguard inched his way around the vehicles parked on either side of the street. A snowplow had been through recently and each of the vehicles was half-buried under a mound of snow. Shing leaned forward in the driver’s seat, his thick hands tensing around the steering wheel. “I wish you would just go to an eye doctor!” Liko sighed.
“I don’t need glasses.”
“I said I don’t need glasses.”
The imbecile has probably never even heard of contact lenses! Liko chuckled at the thought.
“If you think its so damn funny,” Shing grumbled as they crawled past a double-parked taxicab, “you can drive.”
“Just get us there, this is taking all night!”
“Worried that you’re going to miss all the fun?”
“Look,” Liko was worried, he wanted to get there before the buffet and the whores where all picked over. “Don’t make me late just because you weren’t invited.”
Shing rounded on the smaller man, his expression a snarl. Before he could say anything, however, a sickening thump sounded. He slammed onto the brakes. The car skidded in slow motion, inching to a stop.
“You -- you ran someone over! You stupid motherfucker!” This was nothing short of disaster. Liko got out of the car and approached the figure lying spread-eagled in the middle of the street. It was a young man with his long hair in a ponytail. The snow was already peppering his black coat and clothes. Liko drew closer. It wasn’t anyone he knew -- thank heavens for that at least -- but whoever it was, he was lying perfectly still. He wasn’t even breathing.
So much for the party, Liko thought as he watched Shing kneel over the prone man and check for a pulse. He drew out his cell phone and started to dial. They couldn’t just leave the man lying here in the middle of the street, not if they wanted to work for the Gray Mandarin again. He was very particular about how his agents behaved in public. “At no time,” he had once lectured, “at no time should our affairs interfere with the daily comings and goings of the common citizens. If you so much as crack a window, I want you to pay for its replacement.”
Well, this was a Hell of a lot worse then a broken window. Visions of payments to grieving relatives and personal apologies danced in Liko’s eyes.
The man in black moved suddenly, his arm lashing out in a whip-like motion. There was a loud crack and Shing went flying.
The cellular phone clattered to the ground as Liko grabbed for his Glock. It was a set up! A frigging set up! The man in black stood, arching his back in a serpentine motion. He turned on his heel, his cool eyes meeting the courier’s, “Ah,” he said, “There you are.”
Liko fired twice, the bullets striking the man in the upper chest. The man in black didn’t go down, he didn’t even make a sound, he just stood there, patiently waiting.
“I can’t move my legs.” Shing voice was trembling, childlike, “I can’t move my legs!”
The man in black sprung on Liko. The courier got off one last shot -- as ineffective as the others -- before he was knocked to the ground. The Glock was wrenched from his grip and he started screaming, “The briefcase is in the car! Just take it!”
Shing was screaming too, “Somebody get a doctor! Somebody!”
Liko’s cries became gurgles as he was lifted off the ground by his neck. The man in black handled him with rag-doll like ease and threw him into an alley. Tumbling end over end through the air, Liko had time to think, This can’t be happening. This must be a dream. Then he stuck a dumpster with bone-jarring force and slid to the snowy Earth. Through watering eyes, he watched the man in black enter the alley, dragging Shing behind him. “We work for the Gray Mandarin!” Liko tried to shout but the pain in his ribs robbed his voice of its strength, “If you cross us, you cross him, and if you cross the Mandarin, you’re dead man!”
The man in black smiled indulgently at this. “I know,” he said as he propped Shing up in a sitting position.
“Please,” Shing scrabbled at the man’s black trenchcoat, “Please!”
Gritting his teeth against the blinding bolts of pain, it sent through him, Liko raised himself up on all fours. He had to try and get away, had to tell the Mandarin there was a new player in town.
“I want you to watch,” the man in black pushed Shing back against the cold brick wall, “I want you to remember and I want you to tell...”
“Anything -- I’ll do anything!”
The cold numbed Liko’s hands. Every breath was a rasping agony. Had he broken a rib? If he could just get back to the car, if he could just get away.
“I want you to tell everyone that you saw Mr. Nagaki. I want you to tell them, you saw no mercy in his eyes.”
At the sound of that name Liko froze in mid-crawl. Mr. Nagaki? The Dread Lord? He knew that infamous name and he knew what it meant. Nagaki was a demon, a demon of vengeance. Liko tried to crawl faster but a single well-placed kick to the ribs rolled him onto his back. He started to wail, tried to beg but his voice was cut short by the wet crunch of Mr. Nagaki’s expert hands shattering his skull like cheap pottery.
As the chewing noises began, Shing thanked the Gods for blighting his eyesight with a stigmatism.