Sighing with boredom, Blackie leaned back in the doorway and took a swig from the flask he’d stowed in his pocket. It was a warm night and the mouthful of body-temperature Johnny Walker burned his throat on the way down. It didn’t bother Blackie, though, he was used to it. And he’d deal with being bored so long as he could get tanked.
Didn’t mean he couldn’t get pissed off, though, for having to stand out here in the hot humid night air just to earn a coupla extra bucks. Damn Uncle Clayton, he grumbled inwardly, Coulda done more. Coulda gotten me a better job.
Actually, Clayton Chambers had already done far more for his nephew Hayden (Blackie to his disreputable friends and, reluctantly, his family) than the strung-out young punk deserved. Simply getting him into the police academy hadn’t been difficult—a matter of a word or two places with the right cronies in city hall, getting Blackie’s criminal record buried too deep to find—but number of strings the old man had to pull to ensure Blackie’s graduation was a different thing altogether.
The boy hadn’t had any issues with the physical parts of the course; he was twenty-three and his body was a hundred and fifty pounds of firm, strong muscle. And, to everyone’s surprise, he turned out to be an excellent marksman. But that was where his appropriateness for the police academy ended.
It wasn’t just that Blackie got violent when he drank—and he drank a lot—it was that he was stupid. It was a stubborn stupidity that successfully resisted all attempts at improvement, making him sullen and ungrateful. His innate arrogance and sense of entitlement had made him a pariah in his graduating class and universally loathed on the force.
The annual salary of a rookie cop wasn’t much, but it was more than enough for most young men his age to live on. Blackie, though, continued to party like a teenager and his lack of responsibility naturally led to lack of funds. Hence his moonlighting as a security guard—and his attitude towards doing it.
Fuck it, at least I can still get fuckin’ drunk, he thought and took another swig.
The night was still, but not quiet; the warehouse he was patrolling, a small metal building set back from the street by a parking lot, was only a few blocks from the highway and a couple of major thoroughfares. The sounds of the city rose and fell like waves from all sides; even in the dead of night, it wasn’t silent.
Blackie checked the time; it was half past midnight. He sighed petulantly and began his perimeter walk; there were stickers placed at points along the perimeter that he had to scan with his phone by a certain time, to prove to his employer that he was actually doing his job.
Another fuckin’ indignity. Bastards couldn’t just trust him. Of course, if they had, he wouldn’t be patrolling the property; he’d likely be too drunk even to walk. As it was, he was having trouble keeping his feet. The thick soles of his heavy workboots made loud scuffling sounds as he staggered his way along the perimeter fence.
His figure, silhouetted by the parking lot lights, wasn’t a bad one; he was just under six feet tall and despite his dissipation, his build was tight. The hip styling of the black hair that gave him his nickname—buzzcut on the sides and rear with the longer hair on top spiked at the front—was offset by the heavy dark scruff of four days’ worth of growth shadowed his cheeks and his chin. If it weren’t for the dark blue short-sleeve button-down and tight chinos that were the required uniform of the job, he’d have looked exactly like what he was—an ex-high-school party boy several years past his glory days and rapidly going to seed.
Broad-shouldered and built, stupid and drunk, Blackie was already fulfilling his highest contribution to society—not as a cop, at which he was utterly incompetent, but as bullet-bait for a cartel-owned warehouse.
Blackie didn’t know that last part, of course, and if he had he wouldn’t have given a shit. He also didn’t know that he was steps away from a nightmarish world of torture and terror that would end only with his agonizing death.
There was an oak tree in the far corner of the parking lot. Massive and ancient, its limbs stretched up ninety feet and its vast umbrella of shade was more than sixty feet in diameter; the few cars that ever parked in the lot tended to crowd under the oak on hot summer days.
Tonight, the blackness under it was damn near impenetrable. But there was a sticker he had to scan on the corner post, back behind the tree. Squinting in the dark, the drunk young guard stumbled in his heavy boots but continued to plod sullenly forward.
The first hint that anything was off was also his last chance to save his life, but he was too fucked up to take it. His police academy training had taught him how to recover from being blindsided by a blow like the one that sent him stumbling into the tree, but he could only clutch drunkenly at the rough bark to keep from falling to his knees.
The most dangerous aspect of Blackie’s employment on the police force was that it gave him an excuse to carry a gun 24/7. He had one on him now, in a hip holster, but he was too stunned to even think of reaching for it. And then a hand clapped over his mouth, a hand in a leather glove that had no fingertips, to allow for a tactical grip—like the one sealing Blackie’s lips with an iron grasp.
He couldn’t see the glove on the hand over his mouth, of course—but he could see his mate. It was right in front of his face, holding the wickedest Ka-bar knife the young thug had ever seen. At least seven inches of serrated carbon-steel blade glimmered faintly in the darkness, three inches from his eyes…
…eyes. He could see eyes. The face across from his was masked; there was an opening for the mouth and one for both eyes, across the bridge of the nose. The rest was a hood of black material that completely covered the head. Some self-preservation instinct tried muzzily to jump-start his training; the inebriated punk was able to get at least a vague idea of his attacker.
The Other Dude was all in black—some kind of jumpsuit, with soft-soled boots. It made it harder to tell. He was slightly larger than Blackie—and definitely stronger—and judging by the wrinkles around the eyes, somewhat older, perhaps early thirties.
But that wasn’t what Blackie noticed most about the eyes.
The knife vanished but instantly Blackie could feel its tip pressed against his stomach. It was a pinprick, just barely there on his firm flat belly three inches above the navel.
“You feel it?” hissed the Other Dude—softly and abruptly. The pressure on Blackie’s mouth eased.
“Uh-huh,” he muttered shakily.
“I ask. You answer,” the Other Dude continued in a brisk, business-like manner. “If you don’t…”
The sentence wasn’t finished. It didn’t need to be. Blackie could see the end of the sentence in the Other Dude’s eyes. They were pale blue, opaque as deep-set ice. The intoxicated punk had never seen eyes so cold.
He knew that the moment his usefulness ended, so did his life. It scared him so bad he lost control of his bladder. The hardbodied young punk was forced to stand, pinned against a tree, as warm piss ran down his firm legs and pooled in his boots.
He was utterly helpless, utterly alone, and utterly in the Other Dude’s control. And he knew it.
“Y-yessir,” the young thug said, speaking to an older man in a respectful tone of voice for the first time in his life. It had taken a knife pointed at his gut to make him do it, but he did it.
“Ok,” the Other Dude said evenly, “Where’s Ramirez?”
“Who?” Blackie asked blankly. The hand clamped down on his mouth like a bear trap and then—
—and then it was inside him oh fuck the pain the knife was inside—
“Relax,” the Other Dude whispered, pressing his full body weight against the shuddering punk, steadying him up against the tree, “It ain’t even penetrated yer abdominal cavity. Yet. Every question you don’t answer, it goes in another inch.”
Cold despair seized Blackie as he realized that no matter how willing he was to cooperate, it wouldn’t save his life if he honestly didn’t know the answers. Tears rolled down his cheeks; he’d have begged for his life if the Other Dude wasn’t still handgagging him.
“Now tell me where Ramirez is,” the black-clad figure hissed menacingly. He released Blackie’s mouth.
“D-dunno any Ramirez,” Blackie sobbed frantically. It didn’t help; the Other Dude clamped down on his mouth again.
“That didn’t answer my question,” he snarled and sank the blade in another inch. Blackie, his mouth sealed by the leather glove, moaned and shuddered. “Ya feel that, bitch?” the Other Dude sneered, “I’m already through yer gut muscle. Next one, yer gonna start feelin’ in yer bowels. Answer me, ya fuckin’ sack a’ shit, or I’m gonna stick ya like a pig. Who’s in the goddam warehouse?”
His eyes wide, Blackie frenetically shook his head. The Other Dude let go. “I-I-I hons-onestly don’t know,” the panicked young thug gabbled, “I on-only been inside a cup-coupla times…” His hoarse, husky voice trailed off into broken weeping.
“Aw, bullshit!” the Other Dude spat out and rammed his blade up to the hilt in Blackie’s flat, firm belly. Leaning forward, he pressed his face up against that of the suffering punk, whispering quietly into his ear. Blackie could feel the Other Dude’s mask scraping against his own facial scruff as the cold, hard words penetrated his ear.
“I scoped it all out. Yer a fuckin’ cop–I’ve seen you in uniform. Ya gotta be in on this deal—Ramirez has too many contacts in the department. You ain’t playin’ innocent, motherfucker—ain’t nothin’ worse than a crooked cop.”
The Other Dude leaned back again, his features becoming lost in the darkness. Suddenly, he placed his hand in the middle of Blackie’s chest. What happened next would have made him scream had the unexpected blast of agony not put him in shock first. The Other Dude ripped the blade back out of Blackie’s stomach.
He didn’t twist the blade; he didn’t need to. The sudden brutal extraction of the serrated blade inflicted more physical damage than all of the initial thrusts had done. The exterior wound wasn’t very large, but Blackie felt like his abdomen had been ripped open. He clutched his bleeding gut, his eyes huge and dull with shock as the Other Dude held the bade up for him to see.
“Lookit that,” the vicious killer smirked, “See those shreds of meat danglin’ from my blade? That’s yer guts, boy. That’s what yer innards look like. Know what the best part is? You ain’t dead. Fuck, son, we could getcha to a hospital and save yer life even now. Good surgeon might have ta cut out some a’ yer bowels, but you’d live.”
Then he was back, the musty smell of leather flooding Blackie’s nose as the hand slammed down on his mouth again. This time, though, the Other Dude momentarily sheathed his weapon; the prey was already sufficiently dominated by pain and wouldn’t put up any resistance.
Blackie blinked and flinched as the Other Dude ripped the young guard’s shirt open. With the buttons of his short-sleeve uniform shirt torn off, it fluttered open, revealing his broad, smooth chest, nipples jutting from his pecs into the humid night air. The Other Dude yanked his knife up out of the sheath and placed the tip of the blade two inches above the left nipple.
Even though he was in pain and terror—and still drunk, for that matter—even an idiot like Blackie realized that the knife was aimed directly at his heart.
“You get a second chance, asswipe,” the Other Dude said calmly. “And this time, I’m goin’ slow, ya get me? So you’ll have time to think about it when ya lie. But after this, ain’t no fuckin’ doctor gonna be able to save yer worthless ass. Tell me the truth or die, fucker.”
The tip pierced his flesh; the merest prick—just enough to let a tiny rivulet of blood trickle down Blackie’s smooth, rounded pec and drip down his torso. He’d have pissed himself again if he hadn’t already emptied his bladder. He was alone, helpless, and on the brink of death.
“Ok, buddy, ya don’t know Ramirez—and I’ll betcha say ya don’t know Andros either, huh? But you been inside. That I believe. So where’s the safe?”
The contemptuous tone of the Other Dude’s voice was matched by the shove he gave the knife; not enough to actually wound Blackie, but more than enough to remind him it was still there. Just in case he’d forgotten.
Blackie froze. Safe? What fuckin’ safe? He’d never seen a safe—
“Where? Back office? Upstairs? Answer me, fucker!”
This time, he intended it to hurt. Exercising complete professional control over both his weapon and his victim, the Other Dude expertly drove the sharp steel tip of the blade into Blackie’s pectoral to a depth of one inch, as promised. It parted the young thug’s pec muscle like a steak knife through hamburger, the thick, firm tissue peeling back with no resistance.
Blackie’s scruffy, dissolute face was a mask of pain and shock. He could feel the muscle shearing apart and the blood spurt from the chest wound. It hurt worse than the gut stab—far worse.
The Other Dude knew it. “Just gettin’ started, cunt. Yer gonna regret not answerin’ me.”
Blackie tried to speak, but he couldn’t make his mouth work right; all he could do was moan and gibber like an idiot. He wanted to tell the Other Dude that he just didn’t know, please, stop the pain, don’t kill me I’d help you if I could oh please fuck no—
“Where is that goddam safe, motherfucker?!?”
Somewhere in the back of Blackie’s mind, some part of him realized how his own stupidity and irresponsibility had led him to this point. If he hadn’t been such an entitled, drunken fool, he would have learned the skills needed to avoid this situation. Problem was, it had taken the terror of impending death to sober him up enough to realize it.
By now, it was way too fucking late.
The Other Dude shoved the knife into Blackie again—this time with much more force. It was needed; the professional killer’s bicep flexed with the effort required to drive the steel blade through the ribcage, snapping one rib and almost literally sawing through another. Even so, he still retained enough finesse to halt the progress of the knife before it hit the pericardial sac.
Blackie’s face was contorted into a grimace; deep in his piss-flooded boots, his toes curled in agony. He didn’t—couldn’t—scream but was emitting a high-pitched keening sound of extreme suffering. His entire body was stiff, rigid with pain.
He held the pose; he had to. There was a knife in him, millimeters from his rapidly beating heart. His chest was sliced open. Oh holy fuck, he couldn’t move…
The Other Dude’s face came in close; once again the mask brushed his carefully sculpted facial scruff. “This is it, fuckwad. Yer last chance. Tell me where the safe is. Now.”
And that was when Blackie remembered. He had seen a safe. He’d never left the front room, but he’d seen it through an open door.
“It’s in the back. It’s embedded in the concrete. About five feet tall,” he said, gabbling it all out at once, then started sobbing. “Please don’t hurt me no more. I dunno anything else, I swear. I promise. Please—” he broke down into tears.
“Now see, that wasn’t so hard, now was it? Cheer up, punk; I’ll make it stop hurtin’,” the Other Dude said with a wide grin. With a sudden final shove, he rammed the knife into Blackie’s heart, popping it like a water balloon full of blood.
The hardbodied young guard grunted in mortal agony, gripped by a pain so intense he was unable to think or act—he could only feel and suffer. As his spasming heart pumped itself to shreds on the shaft of sharp steel, Blackie stared with horror and betrayal into the Other Dude’s cold eyes. He tried to breathe, but he couldn’t; there was fluid in his throat. The terrified young man gagged and retched, coughing up a gob of thick, coppery blood.
“Don’t worry, pal, it’ll stop hurting here in a sec. Gotta go; catch ya on the flip side,” came the soft, mocking voice. Blackie felt a deep tearing from within his vital organ as the Other Dude yanked his knife back out of the dying punk and, stepping back, vanished into the darkness.
Blackie sank to the ground, his face frozen in a look of stunned agony as his life drained away. He still didn’t know who the Other Dude was or why he was dying; he could only feel the excruciating chill of death drawing him into nothingness. He was terrified and suffering…and alone…
And then there was nothing left but a pile of manmeat, twitching in the darkness, its bootheels digging furrows around the oak’s roots as the corpse shuddered in its death throes.
The Other Dude had been right—the hurtin’ was over.
In the aftermath, Blackie’s body wasn’t found for more than six hours, by which time it was stiff with rigor. The investigating cops recognized him but let him be carted off in the meatwagon as a John Doe. His corpse was in the morgue three days before they got around to matching his fingerprints; no one had bothered to report him missing. The body was reluctantly claimed by family. With no public service—or even any death notice—Blackie vanished as if he’d never existed.
He wasn’t missed on the force. It was noticed with sneering contempt that for all his bullshit horseplay with his gun, he’d let himself be tortured and murdered by a single assailant without even unholstering his weapon. His name was stricken from the ranks with relief—and silent applause for the killer.