The Nick of Time
(and other abrasions)
The Party's Over
Al Bruno III
The following story was originally published by Eden Studios
Powdered gold covered everything. It set the food on the buffet table sparkling; the exotic sushi, garnished with little gems, the endangered Ortolan birds, roasted alive and served on tiny platters of engraved silver. The gold dust clung to the furniture and tapestries; the passage of a score of footsteps sent it swirling across the room and coated the celebrants’ shoes. It also traced glittering paths over the oiled, nude bodies of the whores that lounged at the poolside waiting.
A woodwind quartet was seated in the center of the wide room, filling the air with ghostly melodies. Everyone on the Mandarin’s payroll was there, from the street level dealers to the politicians on the take. Tonight, on this night of nights, men whose paths would never ordinarily cross ate, drank and caroused like a band of brothers.
From his perch a rooftop away Mr. Nagaki stared through the skylight, surveying the celebration. Liko’s memories were rattling through his skull, dutifully attaching a name to every face.
The Mandarin’s bodyguards were milling about, looking conspicuous in their cookie-cutter outfits and their cookie-cutter suits. There was longhaired Shi Entian full time pimp, part time philosopher. He was talking to Niztche with a bored-looking Constable named Kong Zhimu. Kong Zhimu’s partner and lover Zhu Jiaoming was busily stuffing himself at the buffet table, eating the delicate, pan-fried Ortolans one after the other. Mr. Nagaki let his eyes roam over the sea of career criminals, musicians, hired killers, lawyers, mystics and computer programmers. Wu Han, the Gray Mandarin was standing in a quiet corner of the room, he was speaking with a westerner wearing mirrored sunglasses, a cheap suit and alligator boots.
Jack Diamond, Mr. Nagaki wrung the name from the last burning ember of Liko’s soul. The only man the Mandarin really trusts. The only man the Mandarin confides in. The hit men all say he’s a stone cold killer, the mystics all say he’s a devil in the flesh, the lawyers all say he’s a disaster waiting to happen, the girls all say he keeps a cannon down his pants.
Drawing the two pistols from his jacket Mr. Nagaki stepped onto the ledge. As he stood there, poised, he allowed a little smile to tug at the corners of his cold, dead lips; in a strange way he loved moments like this.
He leapt from the rooftop.
The skylight shattered into a rain of wood and glass, the buffet table collapsed under his weight. Mr. Nagaki fired five times. Four of the bodyguards died instantly. A fifth fell to his knees, his fingers struggling to stem the blood spewing from his throat.
“Jason Magwier,” Mr. Nagaki’s voice rumbled, “sends his regards.”
Suddenly everything was happening at once. The whores scrambled for their clothes as the politicians and entertainers dove for cover. The rest however drew whatever weapons they had and stood their ground, forming a wall between Mr. Nagaki and his quarry. To his credit, the Mandarin stayed in his seat. His narrow features curled into a mask of rage, the man called Jack Diamond at his side.
Swarms of bullets peppered him, tearing holes through his arms, torso and face, spraying the wall behind him with curdled gore. There was pain to be sure, but it was distant, like the memory of the voice of someone long gone to dust. In a way it made him sad.
Mr. Nagaki returned fire. The first bullet tore a hole in the side of Constable Zhu Jiaoming’s head. Blood and bone shards blinded Kong Zhimu as his partner and lover collapsed into his arms.
The second shot sent a hired killer of a dozen men stumbling backwards into the pool. Again and again Mr. Nagaki fired, emptying both clips, trading lives for bullets.
A thundering boom filled the chamber. A sledgehammer-like impact knocked Mr. Nagaki off the buffet table; he hit the floor with a surprised grunt. There was a grapefruit-sized hole in his belly. What in the Nine Hells was that? He wondered as he crawled to his feet, leaving the spent pistols on the floor.
The thunder sounded again, another impact sent Mr. Nagaki sprawling but not before he spied Jack Diamond in a wide-legged stance, gripping a .357 Desert Eagle automatic pistol in his tattooed hands.
The girls are right, Jack Diamond does keep a canon down his pants.
“I don’t know who or what you are.” The Gray Mandarin spoke coolly, “But you cannot hope to succeed here. Magwier has sent you on a fools errand.”
“You are the fool! No quarry has ever escaped Nagaki.” he crawled to his feet, organs slopped from the fist-sized wounds, vertebrae scraped and clattered loosely.
“Whoop-dee do.” Jack Diamond said as he fired again, this shot catching the dead man in the face, tearing away skin and muscle and shattering bone. It sent him spinning.
Shi Entian led a quartet of toughs over the buffet table and after the intruder. They were armed with knives and clubs and a predilection for brutality.
They rained blows down upon him; they cut deep furrows into his clothes and his flesh. Mr. Nagaki let himself go limp. Somewhere under the din of his attackers' jeers and curses he could hear Jack Diamond hurrying the Gray Mandarin to safety.
Good. The dead man thought, Let him run, let him hope.
There was a mass exodus in the wake of the Mandarin’s escape as the more gentle-natured partygoers rushed for the exits, trampling each other mindlessly. Soon the only people left in the room where the five thugs. They kicked and beat and stabbed at the man in black.
Mr. Nagaki let them have their fun for a few moments longer. The flesh of his fingertips was splitting apart, curling open. The bone beneath was impossibly jagged and unyielding. When the fingerblades were ready he lunged at one of his attackers, digging in and tearing upwards. Shing stumbled back, sobbing breathlessly as the thick, purple coils of his intestines bulged out from the rents in his flesh.
The others lasted no longer.
When it was over Mr. Nagaki took a moment to survey the room; the shattered skylight, the toppled buffet, the bodies lying sprawled here and there. He wondered briefly what Bao would think of him if she could see him now, would she be horrified? Would she understand?
Enough of this! He chided himself. I’ve been asking myself that question for centuries and I’ll never know the answer.
The dead man took a moment to retrieve and reload his weapons, then he moved on. His night was just beginning.